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Republic of the Philippines

COURT OF APPEALS
Manila
**

SPECIAL THIRTEENTH DIVISION


PILAR
DEVELOPMENT
CORPORATION,
PHILIPPINE
CONCRETE
HOMES,
INC.,
and
APEX
HOME
DEVELOPERS, INC.,
Petitioners,

CA-G.R. SP NO. 111349


Members:
REYES, JR., J.C.,Chairperson
VILLAMOR, A.L., and
*
BUESER, D.Q., JJ.

versus
Promulgated:

THE
HONORABLE
PRESIDING
JUDGE
OF
REGIONAL
TRIAL
COURT
28 OCT 2010
OF
LAS
PIAS,
BRANCH
198,
HON.
ERLINDA
NICOLAS-ALVARO
and
ANTONIO V. MARTEL,
Respondents.
x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

DECISION
REYES, JR., J.C., J.:
This is a Petition for Certiorari filed pursuant to Rule 65 of the
1997 Rules of Civil Procedure assailing the April 29, 2009 Order
(Rollo, p. 17) of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Las Pinas City,
Branch 198, in Civil Case No. LP-02-0248, which dismissed
petitioners' Complaint for failure of the parties and their counsel to
appear for pre-trial despite notice, pursuant to Section 5, Rule 18 of
the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
On September 27, 2002, herein petitioners filed before the RTC
of Las Pinas City, a Complaint for Quieting of Title (Rollo, pp. 21-34)
*

Acting Junior Member per Office Order No. 307-10-ABR dated October 22, 2010.

CA-G.R. SP No. 111349


Decision

wherein private respondent Antonio Martel was named as defendant.


After private respondent filed his Answer to the Complaint, the
case was scheduled for a pre-trial conference between the parties on
February 23, 2009. At that time, it was still Atty. Edgar A. Pacis who
was the handling counsel for the petitioners. On the said date, the
new counsel (Atty. Leoville Ecarma) for the petitioners appeared and
manifested in open court that Atty. Edgar Pacis would be withdrawing
as counsel for petitioners and Atty. Ecarma would be entering his
appearance. In the meantime, the pre-trial was reset to April 29,
2009. Unfortunately, the new counsel inadvertently entered in his
personal digital assistant (PDA) the next hearing date as May 29,
2009 instead of April 29, 2009.

The new counsel incidentally, uses

Palm Zire 21 as his digital calendar and organizer.


As a result thereof, the new counsel was unable to attend the
pre-trial hearing on April 29, 2009, claiming that he believed in good
faith that the hearing was scheduled for May 29, 2009, which
appeared in his PDA.
On April 29, 2009, the RTC of Las Pinas City, Branch 198,
issued the now assailed Order (Roloo, p. 17) dismissing petitioners'
Complaint for failure of the plaintiffs to appear in the pre-trial pursuant
to Section 5, Rule 18 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. On the
same date, petitioners, through counsel, filed a Motion for
Reconsideration (Rollo, pp. 39-41) of the April 29, 2009 Order,
claiming that their failure to attend was due to excusable and
justifiable reason.

They pleaded the RTC to apply the rules with

leniency, since no substantial prejudice will be caused to private

CA-G.R. SP No. 111349


Decision

respondent if the case will be revived.


On September 8, 2009, the RTC of Las Pinas City, Branch 198,
issued an Order denying petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration
emphasizing that the pre-trial conference had already been
postponed for several times.

Hence, the RTC could no longer

tolerate petitioners' cavalier and lackadaisical attitude in taking the


orders of the court for granted. The postponement of the hearings,
according to the RTC glaringly show a lack of interest to prosecute on
the part of the plaintiffs (herein petitioners). Thus, it ruled:
Plaintiffs' claim that the notice of hearing was sent to former
counsel is not a sufficient excuse or justification for his absence.
x x x Besides, the present counsel cannot deny that he was not in
court when the April 29 pre-trial was scheduled.
The court finds incredible counsel's claim that he entered an
incorrect date in his digital calendar. Counsel cannot expect the
Court to accept such a self-serving explanation so as to justify his
absence in court. (Rollo, p. 19).

Dissatisfied, petitioners, through counsel, filed a Petition for


Certiorari with this Court ascribing grave abuse of discretion
amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction based on the following
grounds:
1.

THE RTC-LAS PINAS GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING THAT


THERE WAS NO JUSTIFIABLE REASON FOR THE
ABSENCE OF UNDERSIGNED COUNSEL DURING THE
PRE-TRIAL;

2.

SERVICE OF A NOTICE TO THE UNDERSIGNED


COUNSEL WOULD HAVE
BEEN PROPER AND
EQUITABLE;

3.

THE PUBLIC RESPONDENT COURT ACTED WITH


GRAVE ABUSE
OF DISCRETION IN DENYING THE
MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION AND IN STRICTLY

CA-G.R. SP No. 111349


Decision
APPLYING THE RULES
CIRCUMSTANCES.
4.

4
GIVEN

THE

PREVAILING

THERE IS NO OTHER PLAIN, SPEEDY AND ADEQUATE


REMEDY IN THE ORDINARY COURSE OF LAW (See:
Petition, Rollo, pp. 7-10).

The pivotal issue in the instant case is whether or not the RTC
committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess
of jurisdiction when it dismissed petitioners' Complaint for Quieting of
Title on the ground that herein petitioners failed to appear during the
pre-trial of the case.
It must be emphasized that a pre-trial is mandatory and
plaintiff's absence therein can result to the dismissal of the case.
Thus, Section 4 and 5 of Rule 18 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure
provide:
SEC. 4.
Appearance of Parties. It shall be the duty
of the parties and their counsel to appear at the pre-trial. The nonappearance of a party may be excused only if a valid cause is
shown therefor or if a representative shall appear in his behalf fully
authorized in writing to enter into an amicable settlement, to
submit to alternative modes of dispute resolution, and to enter into
stipulations or admissions of facts and of documents.
SEC. 5.
Effect of failure to appear. The failure of the
plaintiff to appear when so required pursuant to the next preceding
section shall be cause for dismissal of the action. The dismissal
shall be with prejudice, unless otherwise ordered by the court. A
similar failure on the part of the defendant shall be cause to allow
the plaintiff to present his evidence ex parte and the court to
render judgment on the basis thereof.

As interpreted by the Supreme Court, Section 4 imposes the


duty on litigating parties and their respective counsel to appear at the
pre-trial and cites the instance where non-appearance of a party may
be excused (Paredes vs. Verano, 504 SCRA 264, 275 [2006]).

CA-G.R. SP No. 111349


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Section 5, on the other hand, provides for penalties in case of failure


to appear during the pre-trial.

Although Section 5 stresses the

mandatory character of the penalty to be imposed (with the use of the


word shall),

the said provision shall be read in conjunction with

Section 4, wherein the rule admits of certain exceptions (See: Sps.


Paguirigan vs. Pilhino Sales Corporation, 494 SCRA 384, 390
[2006]).
In the case at bar, counsel for petitioners stated the reason
why he failed to appear on the April 29 pre-trial and explained that it
was due to honest mistake and unintentional. He admitted with all
honesty that he inadvertently entered in his Personal Digital Assistant
(PDA) a wrong date, which is May 29, 2009 instead of April 29, 2009.
While seemingly the excuse offered was self-serving, however, there
is nothing in the record to demonstrate that petitioners (and their
counsel) had manifested their lack of interest to prosecute the case.
As a matter of fact, petitioners' new counsel was already in
attendance in the February 23, 2009 hearing, eventhough he has not
formally filed his entry of appearance as new counsel for the
petitioners in view of the fact that the former counsel was still
handling the case. This only bespeaks of petitioners' (and their new
counsel's) strong and vigourous resolve to prosecute and pursue the
case.

Albeit his attendance in the February 23, 2009 hearing,

records do not show that the new counsel was formally furnished with
the notice of the pre-trial.

While it would have been prudent for

counsel of petitioners to inquire from the RTC whether or not the pretrial had in fact been scheduled on the date as suggested, it is still the
duty of the court to serve the notice of pre-trial to the parties, and
such duty should not be shifted to the counsels of the parties (or to

CA-G.R. SP No. 111349


Decision

the parties themselves) (Agulto vs. Tecson, 476 SCRA 395, 407
[2005]). Otherwise, the mandatory character of the notice of pre-trial
will be for naught (ibid.)
At any rate, We see no reason why petitioners' new counsel will
not be given another chance to proceed with the case.

As held by

the Supreme Court, a single instance of non-appearance at the pretrial does not amount to willlful disregard of the orders of the lower
court and will not justify the dismissal of the complaint (Paguirigan
vs. Pilhino Sales Corporation, 494 SCRA 384, 391-392 [2006]). As in
this case, petitioners' new counsel explained to the satisfaction of this
Court that his non-appearance (for the first time) was caused merely
by an honest and unintentional mistake on his part. Indeed, in the
absence of a pattern or a scheme to delay the disposition of the case
or a wanton failure to observe the mandatory requirement of the rules
on the part of the plaintiff, Courts should decide to dispense rather
than wield their authority to dismiss (Spouses Leyba vs. Rural Bank
of Cabuyao, Inc., 571 SCRA 160, 164 [2008], cited case omitted).
As held by the Supreme Court:
Unless a party's conduct is so negligent, irresponsible,
contumacious, or dilatory as to provide substantial grounds for
dismissal for non-appearance, the courts should consider lesser
sanctions which would still amount into achieving the desired end.
Inconsiderate dismissals, even if without prejudice, do not
constitute a panacea nor a solution to the congestion of court
dockets, while they lend a deceptive aura of efficiency to records of
the individual judges, they merely postpone the ultimate reckoning
between the parties. In the absence of clear lack of merit or
intention to delay, justice is better served by a brief continuance,
trial on the merits, and final disposition of the cases before the
court. (Paguirigan vs. Pilhino Sales Corporation, 494 SCRA 160,
163 [2006], citing Ruiz vs. Estenzo, 186 SCRA 8 [1990] and
Macasa vs. Herrera, 101 Phil. 44 [1957]).

CA-G.R. SP No. 111349


Decision

Besides, it is the policy of the Court to afford party-litigants the


amplest opportunity to enable them to have their cases justly
determined, free from the constraints of technicalities (Spouses
Leyba vs. Rural Bank of Cabuyao, Inc., 571 SCRA 160, 163 [2008]).
WHEREFORE, the petition for Certiorari is GRANTED and the
assailed Order dated April 29, 2009 of the Regional Trial Court of Las
Pinas City, Branch 198, in Civil Case No. LP-02-0248 is SET ASIDE.
Accordingly, the case is remanded to the RTC of origin to conduct
further proceedings.
SO ORDERED.
JOSE C. REYES, JR.
Associate Justice
WE CONCUR:
ANTONIO L. VILLAMOR
Associate Justice

DANTON Q. BUESER
Associate Justice

CERTIFICATION
Pursuant to Article VIII, Section 13 of the Constitution, it is
hereby certified that the conclusions in the above decision were
reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of
the opinion of the Court.

JOSE C. REYES, JR.


Associate Justice
Chairperson, Special 13th Division