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Expediting civil cases in the Philippines

"It is the hope of the drafters that the often repeated legal maxim “justice delayed is justice denied” will be rendered obsolete in our jurisdiction."

I have been in the practice of law for quite some time and the usual observation I receive from parties’ litigants and judicial observers is that trials and the resolution of civil cases in the Philippines is extremely slow. I get offended and embarrassed by such statements.

Sadly, I also hear such statements from the members of the legal profession who peddle and inflame this negative observation. They say there are too many postponements of hearings, repeated extensions of time to file pleadings and court submissions, court dockets congestion, no limit to trial periods, intentional delays caused by lawyers, and repeated motion hearings only to set periods for filing of oppositions, among others.

The Philippine Supreme Court on Jan. 14, 2019 issued Memorandum Order No. 04-2019 under the leadership of former Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, created the Sub-Committee for the Revision of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure appointing then Associate Justice now Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta as the working Chairperson. The committee was tasked to prioritize the reform of procedural laws in order to make the disposition of every action just, speedy, and inexpensive. With the guidance of Chief Justice Peralta, the Committee identified problem areas and suggested solutions to speed up the judicial process without sacrificing the orderly dispensation of justice. The Supreme Court En Banc, on Oct. 15, 2019, approved the amendments as embodied in A.M. No. 19-10-20-SC which was to take effect on May 1, 2020.

The salient amendments cover: (a) the inclusion of evidence in allegations in pleadings; (b) the filing and service of pleadings and motions by express courier and electronic mail; (c) the expanded substituted service of summons to individual defendants; (d) the substituted service of summons to domestic juridical entities; (e) the certificate of the lawyer when he signs a pleading or motion; (f) the deletion of notice of hearing requirement in motions; (g) the classification of motions to those litigious or non-litigious; (h) the effect of the absence of lawyers during pre-trial; (i) the limited periods for presentation of evidence of the parties and for renditions of judgment; and (j) the motu proprio dismissal by the court through judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment.

Pleadings should now include and incorporate evidence upon which the party relies on for his claims or defenses (Section 1, Rule 8 of the Rules of Court). In particular, the pleadings shall state the name of the witnesses, a summary of the witnesses' intended testimonies together with the judicial affidavits, and documentary and object evidence. (Section 6, Rule 7 of the Rules of Court). Significantly, motions for extensions of time to file pleadings are prohibited and if filed are mere scraps of paper (Section 11, Rule 11). Only the period to file an Answer may be extended but only once and for a maximum period of thirty (30) calendar days.

Service and filing of pleadings and motions by accredited courier and electronic means have been introduced. Like in registered mail filing, the date of sending of the pleading or motion by an accredited courier is considered the date of filing, while transmission by electronic mail or other electronic means is considered as the date of filing. The provisions and application of substituted service of summons to defendant individuals have been expanded to include: (a) leaving copies of summons with any officer of the homeowner’s association or condominium corporation or its chief of security; and (b) sending an email to the defendant’s email address, if allowed by the court. The amendment also included substituted service of summons to domestic private juridical entities by leaving copies of the summons with the secretaries of the respective officers named in Section 12, Rule 14 of the Rules of Court, with the person who customarily receives correspondence for the corporation, and the serving of summons electronically if there is a refusal of said persons to receive summons despite at least three (3) attempts on two (2) different dates.

Motions based on the amendments are classified as either non-litigious or litigious. Both require no notice of hearing to be appended to the Motion but litigious motions are subject to opposition by the other party within a period of five (5) days and will have to be resolved by the court within fifteen (15) days from its receipt of the opposition. The hearing on a litigious motion, if necessary, is subject to the discretion of the court (Sections 4,5 and 6, Rule 15 of the Rules of Court). Filing of Motions to Dismiss are now prohibited except on the following grounds: (a) the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim; (b) there is another action pending between the same parties for the same cause; and (c) the cause of action is barred by a prior judgment or by the statute of limitations (Section 12, Rule 15 of the Rules of Court). The rest of the grounds under the old provisions of the Motion to Dismiss are now grounds for affirmative defenses (Section 5(b), Rule 6). The reason for limiting the grounds for a motion to dismiss is to cause the defendant to file an Answer with Affirmative Defenses instead of a Motion to Dismiss to have the issues joined so that the case can proceed to pre-trial.

The signature of a counsel now constitutes a certification that he has read the pleading and is not being presented for any improper purpose such as to harass or cause delay; that the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or jurisprudence; and that the factual contentions and denials have evidentiary support. Violations of the enumerated attestations by counsel may expose him to sanctions or disciplinary action (Section 3(b), Rule 7 of the Rules of Court).

In the pre-trial amendment, the presence of both the party and his counsel are required during the pre-trial conference. The failure of the plaintiff and counsel to appear without a valid reason when required shall cause the dismissal of the action. A similar failure on the part of the defendant and counsel shall allow the plaintiff to present his evidence ex-parte and the court to render judgment on the basis of the evidence offered (Section 5, Rule 18 of the Rules of Court). The court may now render judgment after pre-trial if there are no remaining controverted facts, genuine issues as regards to any material fact, absences of an issue, or the failure of an answer to tender an issue. Unlike the old rules, the pre-trial proper will have to be concluded before proceeding to court-annexed mediation and judicial dispute resolution (Sections 8 and 9, Rule 18 of the Rules of Court).

Another important amendment is the continuous schedule of the trial dates in civil cases. Each party shall be allowed to present its evidence within a period of three (3) months or ninety (90) calendar days which shall include the date of the judicial dispute resolution, if necessary. The trial dates may be shortened depending on the number of witnesses to be presented, provided that the presentation of evidence of all parties shall be terminated within a period of ten (10) months or three hundred (300) calendar days (Section 1, Rule 30 of the Rules of Court).

Although this article did not cover all the changes, the highlighted amendments in Civil Procedure will show the shift of our Supreme Court to a more dynamic, efficient, and public interest driven administration of justice. It is the hope of the drafters that the often repeated legal maxim “justice delayed is justice denied” will be rendered obsolete in our jurisdiction.

Topics: Tranquil G.S. Salvador III , civil cases in the Philippines , Supreme Court
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