FIRST DIVISION

 

 

ERLINDA GUANZON,

                              Petitioner,

 

 

 

 

-  versus  -

 

 

 

 

ANDREW P. ARRADAZA, FRANCISCA MAIDIN and  ERLINDA LEBITA,

                              Respondents.

 

G.R. No. 155392

 

Present:

 

PANGANIBAN, C.J.

       Chairperson,

YNARES-SANTIAGO,

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ,

CALLEJO, SR., and

CHICO-NAZARIO, JJ.

 

 

Promulgated:

 

December 6, 2006

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D E C I S I O N

 

 

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

 

          Respondent Andrew B. Arradaza filed with the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Manila, Branch 13, an Amended Complaint[1]  against Francisca Maidin and Erlinda Lebita, Reynaldo Lebita, Erlinda Guanzon and Ruel Escarilla for Damages.  He alleged that on 22 May 1995 at around 2:45 A.M., he boarded a jeepney that was cruising along Magsaysay Boulevard near Pureza Street, Manila. Respondent sat at the jeepney’s rear portion.

 

          The Amended Complaint further alleged that the jeepney was owned and operated by Francisca Maidin (Maidin) and Erlinda Lebita (Erlinda) with plate number NVD 734.   Erlinda’s husband, defendant Reynaldo Lebita (Reynaldo) was behind the wheel of the jeepney.  Meanwhile, following the jeepney was a dump truck with plate number PCP 827 registered in the name of Erlinda Guanzon (Guanzon).  On its wheel was defendant Ruel Escarilla (Escarilla).  As neither of the two drivers were willing to give way to the other, the two vehicles collided. 

 

        Owing to the said accident, respondent sustained injuries which required his confinement at the Orthopedic Hospital where he incurred medical expenses in the amount of seven thousand pesos (P7,000.00).  He contends that  defendant Reynaldo Lebita failed to exercise diligence in the operation of his vehicle while defendant Guanzon, the registered owner of the dump truck, failed to exercise due diligence in the selection and hiring of her driver  in the person of Escarilla.  Despite several demands, the defendants failed to reimburse the respondent for his actual damages.  He claims,[2] that, he had since been absent from his work as a service crew member of a fastfood restaurant earning a salary of P145.00 per day and had been unable to enroll as an Engineering student in the 5th year.

 

          Defendants Maidin and Erlinda filed their Answer with cross-claim[3] against Escarilla and Guanzon, substantially arguing that it was defendant Escarilla who was at fault and whose negligence was the proximate and immediate cause of the accident and that Escarilla’s employer, Guanzon, failed to exercise the diligence of a good father of the family in the selection and hiring of Escarilla.

 

          Defendant Reynaldo Lebita also filed his Answer with cross-claim[4] against Escarilla and Guanzon Lime Development Co. owned by defendant Guanzon.

 

          Summons was not served on Escarilla apparently on the ground that he was “no longer connected with the firm” Guanzon Lime and Development Co.

 

          Defendant Guanzon was furnished on 13 June 1996 with copies of the amended complaint and other pertinent papers via substituted service through a certain Susan Ador, after attempts exerted to cause personal service failed.[5]  For having failed to file an answer, Guanzon was declared in default in an Order dated 12 July 1996. 

 

          Almost two years later, defendant Guanzon argued through a Motion to Dismiss[6] dated 9 July 1998 that the court did not acquire jurisdiction over her person by reason of defective service of summons.

 

          The Motion to Dismiss was denied by the MeTC in an Order dated 7 August 1998.[7]  Guanzon filed a Motion for Reconsideration[8]  which the MeTC denied in the Order dated 5 October 1998.[9]

 

          After hearing, the MeTC in its judgment[10] dated 12 April 1999, held:

 

            WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the plaintiff, ordering defendants Francisca Maidin, Reynaldo Lebita, and Erlinda Guanzon, to pay, jointly and severally, the following amount:

 

1.         TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED THREE PESOS AND TEN CENTAVOS (P2,103.10) as actual medical expenses;

 

2.         SIX THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED SIXTY PESOS (P6,960.00) as loss of earning capacity for the two remaining months of the plaintiff’s contract;

 

3.         FOUR HUNDRED FIFTEEN PESOS (P415.00) as litigation expenses;

 

4.         THIRTY THOUSAND PESOS (P30,000.00) as moral damages.

 

            On defendant Francisca Maidin, Erlinda Lebita, and Reynaldo Lebita’s cross-claim against defendant Erlinda Guanzon, answering defendants can recover from Erlinda Guanzon the amount they will pay to the plaintiff.[11]

 

 

          Defendant Guanzon appealed to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila.[12]  In a Decision[13] of the RTC dated 9 August 1999, it affirmed the decision of the MeTC.[14]

 

          From the decision of the RTC, defendant Erlinda Guanzon filed a Petition for Review before the Court of Appeals[15] on the single issue of the correctness of service of summons on her person.  In a Decision[16] of the Court of Appeals dated 30 August 2002, the petition of defendant Guanzon was denied and dismissed.

 

          Defendant Guanzon is now before this Court on Petition for Review on Certiorari submitting the same issue that:

 

          THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NOT GIVING DUE COURSE TO AND IN DENYING THE PETITION FOR REVIEW DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE SHERIFF’S RETURN CLEARLY SHOWED THAT THE SUBSTITUTED SERVICE OF SUMMONS ON THE PETITIONER WAS DEFECTIVE AND PRODUCED NO EFFECT OTHER THAN NULLITY OF THE PROCEEDING.[17]

 

 

          We deny the Petition.

 

          Records clearly show that defendant Guanzon was declared in default by the MeTC on 12 July 1996 for failure to file an Answer within the reglementary period.[18]

 

          First off, in Cerezo v. Tuazon,[19] the Court reiterated the remedies available to a party declared in default:

 

            a)         The defendant in default may, at any time after discovery thereof and before judgment, file a motion under oath to set aside the order of default on the ground that his failure to answer was due to fraud, accident, mistake or excusable negligence, and that he has a meritorious defense (Sec. 3, Rule 18 [now Sec. 3(b), Rule 9]);

 

            b)         If the judgment has already been rendered when the defendant discovered the default, but before the same has become final and executory, he may file a motion for new trial under Section 1(a) of Rule 37;

 

            c)         If the defendant discovered the default after the judgment has become final and executory, he may file a petition for relief under Section 2 [now Section 1] of Rule 38; and

 

            d)         He may also appeal from the judgment rendered against him as contrary to the evidence or to the law, even if no petition to set aside the order of default has been presented by him (Sec. 2, Rule 41).

 

 

          Moreover, a Petition for Certiorari to declare the nullity of a judgment by default is also available if the trial court improperly declared a party in default, or even if the trial court properly declared a party in default, if grave abuse of discretion attended such declaration.[20]

 

          Instead of resorting to the above remedies, defendant Guanzon filed on 9 July 1998 or almost two years after having been declared in default, a Motion to Dismiss the complaint predicated on defective service of summons. 

 

          In any event, we rule that there was proper service of summons on defendant Guanzon and that the court a quo properly took cognizance of the case.

 

          It appears that a document from the Land Transportation Commission reveals that the motor vehicle registration of the Isuzu dump truck then driven by Escarilla is under the name of Erlinda A. Guanzon as owner with address at 22 Sapocoy St., Bo. Manresa, Quezon City.  Thus, summons was first attempted to be served personally on Guanzon at such address.[21]  However, the attempt failed for the reason that she was unknown at said address. 

 

          Thereafter, further inquiry was made on Guanzon’s real address.  A General Information Sheet obtained from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), shows that Erlinda Guanzon, director of Guanzon Lime Development Company, Inc., is a resident of 478 Rizal Ave. Ext., Caloocan City.  Hence, summons was effected by way of substituted service.  Apparently, Guanzon was not in the premises at that time, so the service was made on a certain Susan Ador, of suitable age, and working within the premises. 

 

          The Sheriff’s Return reads:

 

                    The undersigned sheriff respectfully states:

 

            That the Summons together with the copy of Complaint and Annexes issued in the above-entitled case was served in the following manner to wit:

 

            Defendant Erlinda Guanzon of 478 Rizal Avenue Ext., Kalookan City, was served with copies of Complaint/Annexes/Summons on June 13, 1996 by substituted service thru Susan Ador, who is of suitable age, presently employed where defendant Erlinda Guanzon is also working, affixed her signature as evidenced (sic) for the receipt thereof.

 

            Defendant Ruel D. Escarilla of the given address was not served with the copy of Summons with Complaint with Annexes for reason that he is no longer connected with the firm.

 

            Several attempts were being made by the undersigned to serve the Summons to both defendants personally but to no avail, hence the same was served by substituted services pursuant of Sec. 8 (a) and (b) Rule 14, Rules of Court in the Phil.[22]

 

 

          We find that the service of summons upon the petitioner, first attempted by personal service, and subsequently by substituted service, more than meets the requirement set by the Rules of Court and the due process clause.     

 

          Summons is the writ by which the defendant is notified of the action brought against him.  Service of such writ is the means by which the court may acquire jurisdiction over his person.[23]  As a rule, summons should be personally served on the defendant.  It is only when summons cannot be served personally within a reasonable period of time that substituted service may be resorted to.

 

          Secs. 6 and 7, Rule 14 of the Rules of Court, provides:

 

          SEC. 6.  Service in person on defendant. – Whenever practicable, the summons shall be served by handing a copy thereof to the defendant in person, or, if he refuses to receive and sign for it, by tendering it to him.

 

            SEC. 7.  Substituted service. – If, for justifiable causes, the defendant cannot be served within a reasonable time as provided in the preceding section, service may be effected (a) by leaving copies of the summons at the defendant’s residence with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, or (b) by leaving the copies at defendant’s office or regular place of business with some competent person in charge thereof.

 

 

          The rules specify two modes for effecting substituted service of summons, to wit:

 

            a)  by leaving copies of the summons at the defendant’s residence with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, or

 

            b)  by leaving the copies at defendant’s office or regular place of business with some competent person in charge thereof.[24]

 

 

          The certificate of service of the process server of the court a quo is prima facie evidence of the facts as set out therein.[25]  This is fortified by the presumption of the regularity of performance of official duty.  To overcome the presumption of regularity of official functions in favor of such sheriff’s return, the evidence against it must be clear and convincing.  Sans the requisite quantum of proof to the contrary, the presumption stands deserving of faith and credit.

 

          Substituted service is valid service expressly authorized by the Rules.  It is allowed when the defendant cannot be served personally within a reasonable time, in which event, service may be effected by leaving copies of the summons at defendant’s dwelling house or residence with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, or at his office or regular place of business with some competent person in charge thereof.  It is not necessary that the person in charge of the defendant’s regular place of business be specifically authorized to receive the summons.  It is enough that he appears to be in charge.[26]

 

          The constitutional requirement of due process exacts that the service be such as may be reasonably expected to give the notice desired.  Once the service provided by the rules reasonably accomplishes that end, the requirement of justice is answered; the traditional notions of fair play are satisfied and due process is served.[27]

 

          Wherefore, premises considered, the instant Petition is denied for lack of merit.  The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 30 August 2002 affirming the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 30, dated 9 August 1999 and the Decision of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila, Branch 13, dated 12 April 1999 is Affirmed.

 

          SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

 

MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN

Chief Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO     MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ    

            Associate  Justice                                         Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

 

            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’s Division.

 

 

 

 

ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1]               Docketed as Civil Case No. 149001 filed before the Metropolitan Trial Court (METC) of Manila Branch 31; CA rollo, pp. 45-48.  Arradaza amended his initial complaint by dropping Guanzon Lime Development Corporation and impleading Erlinda Guanzon as defendant.

[2]               Rollo, pp. 38-41.

[3]               Id. at 45-47.

[4]               Id. at 48-51.

[5]               Id. at 44.

[6]               Id. at 51.

[7]               Id. at 61.

[8]               Id. at 62.

[9]               Id. at 66.

[10]             Penned by Presiding Judge Eduardo B. Peralta, Jr.

[11]             Rollo, p. 78.

[12]             Branch 30, docketed as Civil Case No. 99-94224.

[13]             Penned by Judge Senecio O. Ortile.

[14]             Rollo, p. 79.

[15]             Docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 54831.

[16]             Penned by Associate Justice Ruben T. Reyes with Associate Justices Renato G. Dacudao and Amelita G. Tolentino, concurring; rollo, pp. 27-33.

[17]             Rollo, p. 17.

[18]             CA rollo, p. 69.

[19]             G.R. No. 141538, 23 March 2004, 426 SCRA 167, 180.

[20]             Crisologo v. Globe Telecom, Inc., G.R. No. 167631, 16 December 2005, 478 SCRA 433, 439.

[21]             Rollo, p. 56.

[22]             Rollo, p. 43.

[23]             Romualdez-Licaros v. Licaros, G.R. No. 150656, 29 April 2003, 401 SCRA 762, citing Cano-Guttierrez v. Guttierrez, G.R. No. 138584, 2 October 2000, 341 SCRA 670.

[24]             Casimina v. Legaspi, G.R. No. 147530, 29 June 2005, 462 SCRA 171, 177-178.

[25]             Aboitiz International Forwarders, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 142272, 2 May 2006  488 SCRA 492; Rubia v. Government Service Insurance System,  G.R. No. 151439, 21 June 2004, 432 SCRA 529, 538; Spouses Madrigal v. Court of Appeals, 377 Phil. 345, 352 (1999).

[26]             Gochangco v. CFI of Negros Occidental, G.R. No. L-49396, 15 January 1988, 157 SCRA 40, 49.

[27]             Montalban v. Maximo, 131 Phil. 154, 162 (1968), cited in Boticano v. Chu, Jr., G.R. No. L-58036, 16 March 1987, 148 SCRA 541, 551.