Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Guilty of forum shopping. - G. R. No. 193415

G. R. No. 193415

"x x x.

Petitioners are guilty of forum-shopping.
          Petitioners have committed two distinct acts of forum-shopping,[49] namely: (1) petitioners willfully and deliberately went to different courts to avail themselves of multiple judicial remedies founded on similar facts and raising substantially similar reliefs, and (2) they did not comply with their undertaking to report the filing of the Second Complaint within five days from its filing.

A.      Petitioners filed multiple suits based on similar facts while seeking similar reliefs—acts proscribed by the rules on forum-shopping.
We rule that petitioners were guilty of willful and deliberate forum-shopping when they filed their Second Complaint with the trial court insofar as they undertook to obtain similar reliefs as those sought in the instant Petition.
Respondent Bank argues that the rights asserted by petitioners, as well as the reliefs petitioners seek in the instant Petition, are identical to those raised in their Second Complaint.[50]
Petitioners, on the other hand, counter that the disparity between the two cases lies in the issue to be resolved. More particularly, they allege that the issue in this Petition is the summary application of the payment of 12% interest per annum as a precondition for the issuance of a writ, as opposed to the issue in the Second Complaint involving the validity of the real estate mortgage and compliance with the rules on the holding of the extrajudicial foreclosure sale.[51]
          Forum shopping is the act of litigants who repetitively avail themselves of multiple judicial remedies in different fora, simultaneously or successively, all substantially founded on the same transactions and the same essential facts and circumstances; and raising substantially similar issues either pending in or already resolved adversely by some other court; or for the purpose of increasing their chances of obtaining a favorable decision, if not in one court, then in another.[52] The rationale against forum-shopping is that a party should not be allowed to pursue simultaneous remedies in two different courts, for to do so would constitute abuse of court processes which tends to degrade the administration of justice, wreaks havoc upon orderly judicial procedure, and adds to the congestion of the heavily burdened dockets of the courts.[53]
          In Yu v. Lim,[54] this Court enumerated the requisites of forum-shopping, as follows:   
Forum-shopping exists when the elements of litis pendentia are present or where a final judgment in one case will amount to res judicata in another. Litis pendentia requires the concurrence of the following requisites: (1) identity of parties, or at least such parties as those representing the same interests in both actions; (2) identity of rights asserted and reliefs prayed for, the reliefs being founded on the same facts; and (3) identity with respect to the two preceding particulars in the two cases, such that any judgment that may be rendered in the pending case, regardless of which party is successful, would amount to res judicata in the other case.[55]        
          What is essential in determining the existence of forum-shopping is the vexation caused the courts and litigants by a party who asks different courts and/or administrative agencies to rule on similar or related causes and/or grant the same or substantially similar reliefs, in the process creating the possibility of conflicting decisions being rendered upon the same issues.[56]
          A comparison of the reliefs sought by petitioners in the instant Petition and in their Second Complaint confirms that they are substantially similar on two points: (1) revocation and cancellation of the Certificate of Sale and (2) permanent injunction on any transfer and/or consolidation of title in favor of respondent Bank. These similarities undoubtedly create the possibility of conflicting decisions from different courts: 
Instant Petition
Second Complaint
WHEREFORE, it is most respectfully prayed that immediately upon filing of this petition, the same be given due course, and an order issue, ex parte:

(1)                 A Resolution be issued directing the Ex-Officio Sheriff and his Assisting Sheriff to undo, cancel, revoke the Certificate of Sale they issued;

(2)                 Enjoining the Register of Deeds of Paranaque (or any of her subordinates, agents, representatives and persons acting in their behalf to cease and desist from allowing any transfer and/or consolidation of respondents banks title to the property in question and an order be issueddirecting the Register of Deeds to undo, cancel and revoke the registration of the Certificate of Sale on November 13, 2009 and other proceedings had thereafter, the petition be given due course and judgment be rendered as follows:

1.                   Making the injunction permanent.

2.                   Issuing a writ of mandatory injunction for the respondent Ex-Officio Sheriff to undo, revoke and cancel the Certificate of Sale issued and/or directing the Register of Deeds to undo, revoke and cancel the registration of the Certificate of Sale and/or defer any consolidation of title in favor of respondent bank pending final resolution of this petition.

3.                   Reversing and setting aside the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated March 24, 2010 and Resolution dated August 5, 2010.[57] (Emphasis supplied.)
WHEREFORE, it is respectfully prayed of the Honorable Court that pending consideration and hearing on the principal reliefs herein prayed for, a Temporary Restraining order (TRO) and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction be issued immediatelyrestraining and/or stopping the defendants Ex-Officio Sheriff Atty. Jerry R. Toledo and Deputy Sheriff Paulo Jose N. Cusi from executing and issuing a final deed of sale in favor of the defendant bank and further ordering the defendant Registrar of Deeds of Paranaque City to hold in abeyance the registration of the final deed of sale and other documents of consolidation pending resolution of this Honorable Court. Plaintiffs pray for the following additional reliefs:

1.           After hearing on the merits, the Real Estate Mortgage be declared and rescinded and/or null and void;

2.           The Certificate of Sale [dated November 4, 2009] issued by the defendant Sheriffs and its subsequent registration on November 13, 2009 with the Registry of Deeds be declared null and void;

3.           After due hearing, the preliminary injunction be declared permanent. x x x[58](Emphases supplied.)
As illustrated above, there is a clear violation of the rules on forum-shopping, as the Court is being asked to grant substantially similar reliefs as those that may also be granted by the trial court, in the process creating a possibility of conflicting decisions.  
We emphasize that the grave evil sought to be avoided by the rule against forum-shopping is the rendition by two competent tribunals of two separate and contradictory decisions.[59] To avoid any confusion, this Court adheres strictly to the rules against forum shopping, and any violation of these rules results in the dismissal of a case.[60]The acts committed and described herein can possibly constitute direct contempt.[61]  
B.      Petitioners did not report the filing of their Second Complaint within five (5) days, in violation of their undertaking to do so.
Aside from the fact that petitioners sought substantially similar reliefs from different courts, they likewise failed to disclose to this Court the filing of their Second Complaint within five (5) days from its filing, in violation of their previous undertaking to do so.[62]
Every litigant is required to notify the court of the filing or pendency of any other action or such other proceeding involving the same or similar action or claim within five (5) days of learning of that fact.[63] Petitioners claim that it was merely due to inadvertence that they failed to disclose the said filing within five (5) days, contrary to their undertaking. [64]
This Court is not inclined to accept this self-serving explanation. We cannot disregard the glaring fact that respondents had to call the attention of petitioners to the said requirement before the latter admitted that they had indeed filed their Second Complaint.
As previously established, petitioners have violated two (2) components of forum-shopping, more particularly: (1) petitioners willfully and deliberately went to different courts to avail themselves of multiple judicial remedies founded on similar facts and raising substantially similar reliefs, an act which may be punishable as direct contempt;[65] and (2) they did not comply with their undertaking to report the filing of the Second Complaint within five days from its filing. The latter action may also possibly be construed as a separate count for indirect contempt.
While in a limited sense, petitioners have already been given the chance to rebut the prayer to hold them in contempt, We hereby provide sufficient avenue for them to explain themselves by requiring them to show cause, within fifteen (15) days, why they should not be held in direct and indirect contempt of court.
x x x."

Prayer for preliminary injunction mooted by dismissal of complaint. - G. R. No. 193415

G. R. No. 193415

"x x x.

A case becomes moot and academic when there is no more actual controversy between the parties or useful purpose that can be served in passing upon the merits.[35]
There remains no actual controversy in the instant Petition because the First Complaint has already been dismissed by the trial court. Upon its dismissal, the question of the non-issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction necessarily died with it.
A writ of preliminary injunction is a provisional remedy. It is auxiliary to, an adjunct of, and subject to the outcome of the main case.[36] Thus, a writ of preliminary injunction is deemed lifted upon dismissal of the main case, any appeal therefrom notwithstanding,[37] as this Court emphasized in Buyco v. Baraquia[38] from which we quote:
The writ is provisional because it constitutes a temporary measure availed of during the pendency of the action and it is ancillary because it is a mere incident in and is dependent upon the result of the main action.
It is well-settled that the sole object of a preliminary injunction, whether prohibitory or mandatory, is to preserve the status quo until the merits of the case can be heard. It is usually granted when it is made to appear that there is a substantial controversy between the parties and one of them is committing an act or threatening the immediate commission of an act that will cause irreparable injury or destroy the status quo of the controversy before a full hearing can be had on the merits of the case.
x x x                                x x x                                    x x x
The present case having been heard and found dismissible as it was in fact dismissed, the writ of preliminary injunction is deemed lifted, its purpose as a provisional remedy having been served, the appeal therefrom notwithstanding.
Unionbank v. Court of Appeals enlightens:
xxx a dismissal, discontinuance or non-suit of an action in which a restraining order or temporary injunction has been granted operates as a dissolution of the restraining order or temporary injunction,” regardless of whether the period for filing a motion for reconsideration of the order dismissing the case or appeal therefrom has expired. The rationale therefor is that even in cases where an appeal is taken from a judgment dismissing an action on the merits, the appeal does not suspend the judgment, hence the general rule applies that a temporary injunction terminates automatically on the dismissal of the action. (Emphases supplied.)[39]
There will be no practical value in resolving the question of the non-issuance of an injunctive writ in this case. Setting aside the assailed Orders is manifestly pointless, considering that the First Complaint itself has already been dismissed, and there is nothing left to enjoin. The reversal of the assailed Orders would have a practical effect only if the dismissal were set aside and the First Complaint reinstated.[40] In this case, however, petitioner Spouses Arevalo admitted to the impossibility of the reinstatement of the First Complaint when they filed their Second Complaint.[41]
Even petitioners’ plea that this Court give due course to the Petition for a ruling on the proper application of the Procedure on Foreclosure[42] cannot compel us to resolve this issue.
The Constitution provides that judicial power “includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable.”[43] The exercise of judicial power requires an actual case calling for it. The courts have no authority to pass upon issues through advisory opinions, or to resolve hypothetical or feigned problems or friendly suits collusively arranged between parties without real adverse interests.[44] Furthermore, courts do not sit to adjudicate mere academic questions to satisfy scholarly interest, however intellectually challenging.[45] As a condition precedent to the exercise of judicial power, an actual controversy between litigants must first exist.[46] An actual case or controversy involves a conflict of legal rights, an assertion of opposite legal claims susceptible of judicial resolution, as distinguished from a hypothetical or abstract difference or dispute.[47]There must be a contrariety of legal rights that can be interpreted and enforced on the basis of existing law and jurisprudence.[48]
This Court cannot issue a mere advisory opinion in relation to the applicability of the provisions of the Procedure on Foreclosure.     
x x x."

Jurisdiction by estoppel or laches explained. - G.R. No. 179488

G.R. No. 179488

"x x x.

          Since the court has no jurisdiction over the complaint and respondent, petitioner is not estopped from challenging the trial court's jurisdiction, even at the pre-trial stage of the proceedings.  This is so because the issue of jurisdiction may be raised at any stage of the proceedings, even on appeal, and is not lost by waiver or by estoppel.[29]

          In Regalado v. Go,[30] the Court held that laches should be clearly present for the Sibonghanoy[31] doctrine to apply, thus:

            Laches is defined as the "failure or neglect for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which, by exercising due diligence, could or should have been done earlier,  it is negligence or omission to assert a right within a reasonable length of time, warranting a presumption that the party entitled to assert it either has abandoned it or declined to assert it.”

            The ruling in People v. Regalario that was based on the landmark doctrine enunciated in Tijam v. Sibonghanoy on the matter of jurisdiction by estoppel is the exception rather than the rule. Estoppel by laches may be invoked to bar the issue of lack of jurisdiction only in cases in which the factual milieu is analogous to that in the cited case. In such controversies, laches should have been clearly present; that is, lack of jurisdiction must have been raised so belatedly as to warrant the presumption that the party entitled to assert it had abandoned or declined to assert it.

            In Sibonghanoy, the defense of lack of jurisdiction was raised for the first time in a motion to dismiss filed by the Surety almost 15 years after the questioned ruling had been rendered. At several stages of the proceedings, in the court a quo as well as in the Court of Appeals, the Surety invoked the jurisdiction of the said courts to obtain affirmative relief and submitted its case for final adjudication on the merits. It was only when the adverse decision was rendered by the Court of Appeals that it finally woke up to raise the question of jurisdiction.[32]       

          The factual setting attendant in Sibonghanoy is not similar to that of the present case so as to make it fall under the doctrine of estoppel by laches.  Here, the trial court's jurisdiction was questioned by the petitioner during the pre-trial stage of the proceedings, and it cannot be said that considerable length of time had elapsed forlaches to attach.
 x x x."

When may a lawyer sign anti-forum shopping certification in a complaint? -G.R. No. 179488

G.R. No. 179488

"x x x.

          The main issue in this case is whether Atty. Lat was properly authorized by respondent to sign the certification against forum shopping on its behalf.

          The petition is meritorious.
          We have consistently held that the certification against forum shopping must be signed by the principal parties.[15]  If, for any reason, the principal party cannot sign the petition, the one signing on his behalf must have been duly authorized.[16] With respect to a corporation, the certification against forum shopping may be signed for and on its behalf, by a specifically authorized lawyer who has personal knowledge of the facts required to be disclosed in such document.[17] A corporation has no power, except those expressly conferred on it by the Corporation Code and those that are implied or incidental to its existence. In turn, a corporation exercises said powers through its board of directors and/or its duly authorized officers and agents. Thus, it has been observed that the power of a corporation to sue and be sued in any court is lodged with the board of directors that exercises its corporate powers. In turn, physical acts of the corporation, like the signing of documents, can be performed only by natural persons duly authorized for the purpose by corporate by-laws or by a specific act of the board of directors.[18]
          In Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP),[19] we ruled that only individuals vested with authority by a validboard resolution may sign the certificate of non-forum shopping on behalf of a corporation. We also required proof of such authority to be presented. The petition is subject to dismissal if a certification was submitted unaccompanied by proof of the signatory's authority.
          In the present case, since respondent is a corporation, the certification must be executed by an officer or member of the board of directors or by one who is duly authorized by a resolution of the board of directors; otherwise, the complaint will have to be dismissed.[20]  The lack of certification against forum shopping is generally not curable by mere amendment of the complaint, but shall be a cause for the dismissal of the case without prejudice.[21]  The same rule applies to certifications against forum shopping signed by a person on behalf of a corporation which are unaccompanied by proof that said signatory is authorized to file the complaint on behalf of the corporation.[22]

          There is no proof that respondent, a private corporation, authorized Atty. Lat, through a board resolution, to sign the verification and certification against forum shopping on its behalf.  Accordingly, the certification against forum shopping appended to the complaint is fatally defective, and warrants the dismissal of respondent's complaint for Insurance Loss and Damages (Civil Case No. 99-95561) against petitioner.

          In Republic v. Coalbrine International Philippines, Inc.,[23] the Court cited instances wherein the lack of authority of the person making the certification of non-forum shopping was remedied through subsequent compliance by the parties therein. Thus,

[w]hile there were instances where we have allowed the filing of a certificationagainst non-forum shopping by someone on behalf of a corporation without the accompanying proof of authority at the time of its filing, we did so on the basis of a special circumstance or compelling reason. Moreover, there was a subsequent compliance by the submission of the proof of authority attesting to the fact that the person who signed the certification was duly authorized.

In China Banking Corporation v. Mondragon International Philippines, Inc., the CA dismissed the petition filed by China Bank, since the latter failed to show that its bank manager who signed the certification against non-forum shopping was authorized to do so. We reversed the CA and said that the case be decided on the merits despite the failure to attach the required proof of authority, since theboard resolution which was subsequently attached recognized the pre-existing status of the bank manager as an authorized signatory.

In Abaya Investments Corporation v. Merit Philippines, where the complaint before the Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila was instituted by petitioner's Chairman and President, Ofelia Abaya, who signed the verification andcertification against non-forum shopping without proof of authority to sign for the corporation, we also relaxed the rule. We did so taking into consideration the merits of the case and to avoid a re-litigation of the issues and further delay the administration of justice, since the case had already been decided by the lower courts on the merits. Moreover, Abaya's authority to sign the certification was ratified by the Board.[24]                                    

          Contrary to the CA's finding, the Court finds that the circumstances of this case do not necessitate the relaxation of the rules.  There was no proof of authority submitted, even belatedly, to show subsequent compliance with the requirement of the law.  Neither was there a copy of the board resolution or secretary's certificate subsequently submitted to the trial court that would attest to the fact that Atty. Lat was indeed authorized to file said complaint and sign the verification and certification against forum shopping, nor did respondent satisfactorily explain why it failed to comply with the rules.  Thus, there exists no cogent reason for the relaxation of the rule on this matter.  Obedience to the requirements of procedural rules is needed if we are to expect fair results therefrom, and utter disregard of the rules cannot justly be rationalized by harking on the policy of liberal construction.[25]

          Moreover, the SPA dated May 11, 2000, submitted by respondent allegedly authorizing Atty. Lat to appear on behalf of the corporation, in the pre-trial and all stages of the proceedings, signed by Brent Healy, was fatally defective and had no evidentiary value.  It failed to establish Healy's authority to act in behalf of respondent, in view of the absence of a resolution from respondent's board of directors or secretary's certificate proving the same.  Like any other corporate act, the power of Healy to name, constitute, and appoint Atty. Lat as respondent's attorney-in-fact, with full powers to represent respondent in the proceedings, should have been evidenced by a board resolution or secretary's certificate.

          Respondent's allegation that petitioner is estopped by laches from raising the defect in respondent's certificate of non-forum shopping does not hold water.

          In Tamondong v. Court of Appeals,[26] we held that if a complaint is filed for and in behalf of the plaintiff who is not authorized to do so, the complaint is not deemed filed. An unauthorized complaint does not produce any legal effect. Hence, the court should dismiss the complaint on the ground that it has no jurisdiction over the complaint and the plaintiff.[27]  Accordingly, since Atty. Lat was not duly authorized by respondent to file the complaint and sign the verification and certification against forum shopping, the complaint is considered not filed and ineffectual, and, as a necessary consequence, is dismissable due to lack of jurisdiction.

          Jurisdiction is the power with which courts are invested for administering justice; that is, for hearing and deciding cases. In order for the court to have authority to dispose of the case on the merits, it must acquire jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties.  Courts acquire jurisdiction over the plaintiffs upon the filing of the complaint, and to be bound by a decision, a party should first be subjected to the court'sjurisdiction.[28] Clearly, since no valid complaint was ever filed with the RTC, Branch 8, Manila, the same did not acquire jurisdiction over the person of respondent.
x x x."

When and how should a complaint be amended? - G.R. No. 143264

G.R. No. 143264

"x x x.

   The Court shall first delve into the matter of the propriety of the denial of the motion to admit amended complaint.  Pertinent provisions of Rule 10 of the Rules of Court provide as follows:

                   Sec. 2.  Amendments as a matter of right. − A party may amend his pleadings once as a matter of right at any time before a responsive pleading is served  x   x   x.

                        Sec. 3.  Amendments by leave of court. − Except as provided in the next preceding section, substantial amendments may be made only upon leave of court.  But such leave may be refused if it appears to the court that the motion was made with intent to delay. x x x 

It should be noted that respondents Lilian S. Soriano and the Estate of Leandro A. Soriano, Jr. already filed their Answer, to petitioners' complaint, and the claims being asserted were made against said parties.  A responsive pleading having been filed, amendments to the complaint may, therefore, be made only by leave of court and no longer as a matter of right.  However, in Tiu v. Philippine Bank of Communications,[4]the Court discussed this rule at length, to wit:

x x x [A]fter petitioners have filed their answer, Section 3, Rule 10 of the Rules of Court specifically allows amendment by leave of court. The said Section states:

           SECTION 3. Amendments by leave of court. - Except as provided in the next preceding section, substantial amendments may be made only upon leave of court. But such leave may be refused if it appears to the court that the motion was made with intent to delay.Orders of the court upon the matters provided in this section shall be made upon motion filed in court, and after notice to the adverse party, and an opportunity to be heard.

                        This Court has emphasized the import of Section 3, Rule 10 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure in Valenzuela v. Court of Appeals, thus:

           Interestingly, Section 3, Rule 10 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure amended the former rule in such manner that the phrase "or that the cause of action or defense is substantially altered" was stricken-off and not retained in the new rules. The clear import of such amendment in Section 3, Rule 10 is that under the new rules, "the amendment may (now) substantially alter the cause of action or defense." This should only be true, however, when despite a substantial change or alteration in the cause of action or defense, the amendments sought to be made shall serve the higher interests of substantial justice, and prevent delay and equally promote the laudable objective of the rules which is to secure a "just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding.”

                        The granting of leave to file amended pleading is a matter particularly addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court; and that discretion is broad, subject only to the limitations that the amendments should not substantially change the cause of action or alter the theory of the case, or that it was not made to delay the action. Nevertheless, as enunciated in Valenzuela, even if the amendment substantially alters the cause of action or defense, such amendment could still be allowed when it is sought to serve the higher interest of substantial justice, prevent delay, and secure a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of actions and proceedings.

                        The courts should be liberal in allowing amendments to pleadings to avoid a multiplicity of suits and in order that the real controversies between the parties are presented, their rights determined, and the case decided on the merits without unnecessary delay. This liberality is greatest in the early stages of a lawsuit, especially in this case where the amendment was made before the trial of the case, thereby giving the petitioners all the time allowed by law to answer and to prepare for trial.

                        Furthermore, amendments to pleadings are generally favored and should be liberally allowed in furtherance of justice in order that every case, may so far as possible, be determined on its real facts and in order to speed up the trial of the case or prevent the circuitry of action and unnecessary expense. That is, unless there are circumstances such as inexcusable delay or the taking of the adverse party by surprise or the like, which might justify a refusal of permission to amend.[5]

         Since, as explained above, amendments are generally favored, it would have been more fitting for the trial court to extend such liberality towards petitioners by admitting the amended complaint which was filed before the order dismissing the original complaint became final and executory.  It is quite apparent that since trial proper had not yet even begun, allowing the amendment would not have caused any delay.  Moreover, doing  

so would have served the higher interest of justice as this would provide the best opportunity for the issues among all parties to be thoroughly threshed out and the rights of all parties finally determined.  Hence, the Court overrules the trial court's denial of the motion to admit the amended complaint, and orders the admission of the same.

         With the amendment stating “that plaintiff Lolita A. Soriano likewise made demands upon the Board of Directors of Lisam Enterprises, Inc., to make legal steps to protect the interest of the corporation from said fraudulent transaction, but unfortunately, until now, no such legal step was ever taken by the Board, hence, this action for the benefit and in behalf of the corporation,” does the amended complaint now sufficiently state a cause of action?   In Hi-Yield Realty, Incorporated v. Court of Appeals,[6] the Court enumerated the requisites for filing a derivative suit, as follows:

         a)  the party bringing the suit should be a shareholder as of the time of the act or transaction complained of, the number of his shares not being material;
            b)  he has tried to exhaust intra-corporate remedies, i.e., has made a demand on the board of directors for the appropriate relief but the latter has failed or refused to heed his plea; and
            c)  the cause of action actually devolves on the corporation, the wrongdoing or harm having been, or being caused to the corporation and not to the particular stockholder bringing the suit.[7]

A reading of the amended complaint will reveal that all the foregoing requisites had been alleged therein.  Hence, the amended complaint remedied the defect in the original complaint and now sufficiently states a cause of action. 

         Respondent PCIB should not complain that admitting the amended complaint after they pointed out a defect in the original complaint would be unfair to them.  They should have been well aware that due to the changes made by the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, amendments may now substantially alter the cause of action or defense.  It should not have been a surprise to them that petitioners would redress the defect in the original complaint by substantially amending the same, which course of action is now allowed under the new rules.
 x x x."

Due process requirements in indirect contempt proceedings. - G.R. No. 172538

G.R. No. 172538

"x x x.

Sections 3[16] and 4,[17] Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, specifically outlines the procedural requisites before the accused may be punished for indirect contempt. First, there must be an order requiring the respondent to show cause why he should not be cited for contempt. Second, the respondent must be given the opportunity to comment on the charge against him. Third, there must be a hearing and the court must investigate the charge and consider respondent's answer. Finally, only if found guilty will respondent be punished accordingly.[18]  The law requires that there be a charge in writing, duly filed in court, and an opportunity given to the person charged to be heard by himself or counsel.  What is most essential is that the alleged contemner be granted an opportunity to meet the charges against him and to be heard in his defenses.  This is due process, which must be observed at all times.[19]

The case of Mutuc v. Court of Appeals[20] is instructive as to what due process means in contempt proceedings.  This Court stated:

There is no question that the “essence of due process is a hearing before conviction and before an impartial and disinterested tribunal” x x x but due process as a constitutional precept does not always, and in all situations, require a trial-type proceeding x x x. The essence of due process is to be found in the reasonable opportunity to be heard and submit any evidence one may have in support of one’s defense. x x x  “To be heard” does not only mean verbal arguments in court; one may be heard also through pleadings. Where opportunity to be heard, either through oral arguments or pleadings, is accorded, there is no denial of procedural due process.[21]

In the case at bar, petitioners were indeed given ample opportunity to file their Answer.  In denying petitioners’ Omnibus Motion and Second Motion for Extension, the CA ratiocinated that the justifications advanced by petitioners do not warrant the grant of liberality in the application of the Rules and their omissions are unpardonable and should not be tolerated.[22]

It must be stressed, however, that indirect contempt proceedings partake of the nature of a criminal prosecution; hence, strict rules that govern criminal prosecutions also apply to a prosecution for criminal contempt; the accused is to be afforded many of the protections provided in regular criminal cases; and proceedings under statutes governing them are to be strictly construed.[23]  Moreover, in contempt proceedings, if the answer to the contempt charge is satisfactory, the contempt proceedings end.[24]

In the present recourse, petitioners plead for the liberal application of the Rules. Admittedly, in their Omnibus Motion before the appellate court, petitioners’ counsel acknowledged his shortcomings in complying with the resolution of the court and took full responsibility for such oversight and omission.  Petitioners’ counsel also reasoned that the lack of personal service of the motion for extension was due to the considerable distance between the parties’ respective offices and that the failure of filing the motion for extension on time was due to the fact that counsel’s liaison officer failed to follow his instructions.  Indeed, counsel’s liaison officer attested such facts in his Explanation/Affidavit,[25] which was attached to the Omnibus Motion.  More importantly, also attached to the Omnibus Motion was petitioners’ Answer to the petition to cite them in contempt.
It is settled that “subsequent and substantial compliance may call for the relaxation of the rules of procedure.”[26]  Time and again, this Court has held that a strict and rigid application of technicalities must be avoided if it tends to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice.[27]  Considering the nature of contempt proceedings and the fact that petitioners actually filed their Answer, albeit belatedly, the CA should have been more liberal in the application of the Rules and admitted the Answer.

Moreover, this Court finds that the CA also erred in considering the case deemed submitted for resolution sans the answer[28] of petitioners without setting and conducting a hearing on a fixed date and time on which petitioners may personally, or through counsel, answer the charges against them.

In contempt proceedings, the prescribed procedure must be followed.[29]  To be sure, since an indirect contempt charge partakes the nature of a criminal charge, conviction cannot be had merely on the basis of written pleadings.[30]  A respondent in a contempt charge must be served with a copy of the motion/petition. Unlike in civil actions, the Court does not issue summons on the respondent. While the respondent is not required to file a formal answer similar to that in ordinary civil actions, the court must set the contempt charge for hearing on a fixed date and time on which the respondent must make his appearance to answer the charge.  On the date and time of the hearing, the court shall proceed to investigate the charges and consider such answer or testimony as the respondent may make or offer. The mode of procedure and rules of evidence therein are assimilated to criminal prosecutions. If he fails to appear on that date after due notice without justifiable reason, the court may order his arrest, just like the accused in a criminal case who fails to appear when so required. The court does not declare the respondent in a contempt charge in default.[31]

Clearly, the contempt case against petitioners is still in the early stage of the proceedings.  The proceedings have not reached that stage wherein the court below has set a hearing to provide petitioners with the opportunity to state their defenses.  Verily, a hearing affords the contemner the opportunity to adduce before the court documentary or testimonial evidence in his behalf. The hearing will also allow the court a more thorough evaluation of the defense of the contemner, including the chance to observe the accused present his side in open court and subject his defense to interrogation from the complainants or the court itself.[32] In fine, the proper procedure must be observed and petitioners must be afforded full and real opportunity to be heard.
 x x x."