Republic of the
SPOUSES ANTONIO F. ALGURA G.R. No. 150135
and LORENCITA S.J. ALGURA,
- versus - QUISUMBING, J., Chairperson,
THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT TINGA, and
UNIT OF THE CITY OF
ATTY. MANUEL TEOXON,
ENGR. LEON PALMIANO,
NATHAN SERGIO and Promulgated:
BENJAMIN NAVARRO, SR.,
Respondents. October 30, 2006
D E C I S I O N
VELASCO, JR., J.:
Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty
knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.
The Constitution affords litigantsmoneyed or poorequal access to the courts; moreover, it specifically provides that poverty shall not bar any person from having access to the courts. Accordingly, laws and rules must be formulated, interpreted, and implemented pursuant to the intent and spirit of this constitutional provision. As such, filing fees, though one of the essential elements in court procedures, should not be an obstacle to poor litigants opportunity to seek redress for their grievances before the courts.
Petition for Review on Certiorari seeks the annulment of the
Simultaneously, petitioners filed an Ex-Parte Motion to Litigate as Indigent Litigants, to which petitioner Antonio Alguras Pay Slip No. 2457360 (Annex A of motion) was appended, showing a gross monthly income of Ten Thousand Four Hundred Seventy Four Pesos (PhP 10,474.00) and a net pay of Three Thousand Six Hundred Sixteen Pesos and Ninety Nine Centavos (PhP 3,616.99) for [the month of] July 1999. Also attached as Annex B to the motion was a July 14, 1999 Certification issued by the Office of the City Assessor of Naga City, which stated that petitioners had no property declared in their name for taxation purposes.
Finding that petitioners motion to litigate as indigent litigants was meritorious, Executive Judge Jose T. Atienza of the Naga City RTC, in the September 1, 1999 Order, granted petitioners plea for exemption from filing fees.
Meanwhile, as a result of respondent Naga City Governments demolition of a portion of petitioners house, the Alguras allegedly lost a monthly income of PhP 7,000.00 from their boarders rentals. With the loss of the rentals, the meager income from Lorencita Alguras sari-sari store and Antonio Alguras small take home pay became insufficient for the expenses of the Algura spouses and their six (6) children for their basic needs including food, bills, clothes, and schooling, among others.
that the counterclaim of defendants (respondents) be dismissed, petitioners then
filed their Reply with Ex-Parte
Request for a Pre-Trial Setting
before the Naga City RTC on
To buttress their position as qualified indigent litigants, petitioners also submitted the affidavit of Erlinda Bangate, who attested under oath, that she personally knew spouses Antonio Algura and Lorencita Algura, who were her neighbors; that they derived substantial income from their boarders; that they lost said income from their boarders rentals when the Local Government Unit of the City of Naga, through its officers, demolished part of their house because from that time, only a few boarders could be accommodated; that the income from the small store, the boarders, and the meager salary of Antonio Algura were insufficient for their basic necessities like food and clothing, considering that the Algura spouses had six (6) children; and that she knew that petitioners did not own any real property.
Naga City RTC Acting Presiding Judge Andres B. Barsaga, Jr. issued his
Judge Barsaga ratiocinated that the
pay slip of Antonio F. Algura showed that the GROSS INCOME or TOTAL EARNINGS
of plaintiff Algura [was] ₧10,474.00 which amount [was] over and above the amount
mentioned in the first paragraph of Rule 141, Section 18 for pauper litigants
residing outside Metro Manila. Said rule provides that the gross income of
the litigant should not exceed PhP 3,000.00 a month and shall not own real
estate with an assessed value of PhP 50,000.00.
The trial court found that, in Lorencita S.J. Alguras
Unconvinced of the said ruling, the Alguras instituted the instant petition raising a solitary issue for the consideration of the Court: whether petitioners should be considered as indigent litigants who qualify for exemption from paying filing fees.
The Ruling of the Court
The petition is meritorious.
A review of the history of the Rules of Court on suits in forma pauperis (pauper litigant) is necessary before the Court rules on the issue of the Algura spouses claim to exemption from paying filing fees.
When the Rules of Court took effect on January 1, 1964, the rule on pauper litigants was found in Rule 3, Section 22 which provided that:
Section 22. Pauper litigant.Any court may authorize a litigant to prosecute his action or defense as a pauper upon a proper showing that he has no means to that effect by affidavits, certificate of the corresponding provincial, city or municipal treasurer, or otherwise. Such authority[,] once given[,] shall include an exemption from payment of legal fees and from filing appeal bond, printed record and printed brief. The legal fees shall be a lien to any judgment rendered in the case [favorable] to the pauper, unless the court otherwise provides.
From the same Rules of Court, Rule 141 on Legal Fees, on the other hand, did not contain any provision on pauper litigants.
On July 19, 1984, the Court, in Administrative Matter No. 83-6-389-0 (formerly G.R. No. 64274), approved the recommendation of the Committee on the Revision of Rates and Charges of Court Fees, through its Chairman, then Justice Felix V. Makasiar, to revise the fees in Rule 141 of the Rules of Court to generate funds to effectively cover administrative costs for services rendered by the courts. A provision on pauper litigants was inserted which reads:
Section 16. Pauper-litigants exempt from payment of court fees.Pauper-litigants include wage earners whose gross income do not exceed P2,000.00 a month or P24,000.00 a year for those residing in Metro Manila, and P1,500.00 a month or P18,000.00 a year for those residing outside Metro Manila, or those who do not own real property with an assessed value of not more than P24,000.00, or not more than P18,000.00 as the case may be.
Such exemption shall include exemption from payment of fees for filing appeal bond, printed record and printed brief.
The legal fees shall be a lien on the monetary or property judgment rendered in favor of the pauper-litigant.
To be entitled to the exemption herein provided, the pauper-litigant shall execute an affidavit that he does not earn the gross income abovementioned, nor own any real property with the assessed value afore-mentioned [sic], supported by a certification to that effect by the provincial, city or town assessor or treasurer.
When the Rules of Court on Civil Procedure were amended by the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure (inclusive of Rules 1 to 71) in Supreme Court Resolution in Bar Matter No. 803 dated April 8, 1997, which became effective on July 1, 1997, Rule 3, Section 22 of the Revised Rules of Court was superseded by Rule 3, Section 21 of said 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as follows:
Section 21. Indigent party.A party may be authorized to litigate his action, claim or defense as an indigent if the court, upon an ex parte application and hearing, is satisfied that the party is one who has no money or property sufficient and available for food, shelter and basic necessities for himself and his family.
Such authority shall include an exemption from payment of docket and other lawful fees, and of transcripts of stenographic notes which the court may order to be furnished him. The amount of the docket and other lawful fees which the indigent was exempted from paying shall be a lien on any judgment rendered in the case favorable to the indigent, unless the court otherwise provides.
Any adverse party may contest the grant of such authority at any time before judgment is rendered by the trial court. If the court should determine after hearing that the party declared as an indigent is in fact a person with sufficient income or property, the proper docket and other lawful fees shall be assessed and collected by the clerk of court. If payment is not made within the time fixed by the court, execution shall issue for the payment thereof, without prejudice to such other sanctions as the court may impose.
At the time the Rules on Civil Procedure were amended by the Court in Bar Matter No. 803, however, there was no amendment made on Rule 141, Section 16 on pauper litigants.
Section 18. Pauper-litigants exempt from payment of legal fees.Pauper litigants (a) whose gross income and that of their immediate family do not exceed four thousand (P4,000.00) pesos a month if residing in Metro Manila, and three thousand (P3,000.00) pesos a month if residing outside Metro Manila, and (b) who do not own real property with an assessed value of more than fifty thousand (P50,000.00) pesos shall be exempt from the payment of legal fees.
The legal fees shall be a lien on any judgment rendered in the case favorably to the pauper litigant, unless the court otherwise provides.
To be entitled to the exemption herein provided, the litigant shall execute an affidavit that he and his immediate family do not earn the gross income abovementioned, nor do they own any real property with the assessed value aforementioned, supported by an affidavit of a disinterested person attesting to the truth of the litigants affidavit.
Any falsity in the affidavit of a litigant or disinterested person shall be sufficient cause to strike out the pleading of that party, without prejudice to whatever criminal liability may have been incurred.
can be readily seen that the rule on pauper litigants was inserted in Rule 141 without revoking or amending Section 21
of Rule 3, which provides for the exemption of pauper litigants from payment of
filing fees. Thus, on
Sec. 19. Indigent litigants exempt from payment of legal fees.Indigent litigants (a) whose gross income and that of their immediate family do not exceed an amount double the monthly minimum wage of an employee and (b) who do not own real property with a fair market value as stated in the current tax declaration of more than three hundred thousand (P300,000.00) pesos shall be exempt from payment of legal fees.
The legal fees shall be a lien on any judgment rendered in the case favorable to the indigent litigant unless the court otherwise provides.
To be entitled to the exemption herein provided, the litigant shall execute an affidavit that he and his immediate family do not earn a gross income abovementioned, and they do not own any real property with the fair value aforementioned, supported by an affidavit of a disinterested person attesting to the truth of the litigants affidavit. The current tax declaration, if any, shall be attached to the litigants affidavit.
Any falsity in the affidavit of litigant or disinterested person shall be sufficient cause to dismiss the complaint or action or to strike out the pleading of that party, without prejudice to whatever criminal liability may have been incurred. (Emphasis supplied.)
Amendments to Rule 141 (including the amendment to Rule 141, Section 18) were made to implement RA 9227 which brought about new increases in filing fees. Specifically, in the August 16, 2004 amendment, the ceiling for the gross income of litigants applying for exemption and that of their immediate family was increased from PhP 4,000.00 a month in Metro Manila and PhP 3,000.00 a month outside Metro Manila, to double the monthly minimum wage of an employee; and the maximum value of the property owned by the applicant was increased from an assessed value of PhP 50,000.00 to a maximum market value of PhP 300,000.00, to be able to accommodate more indigent litigants and promote easier access to justice by the poor and the marginalized in the wake of these new increases in filing fees.
if there was an amendment to Rule 141 on
With this historical backdrop, let us now move on to the sole issuewhether petitioners are exempt from the payment of filing fees.
is undisputed that the Complaint (Civil Case No. 99-4403) was filed on
The old Section 16, Rule 141 requires applicants to file an ex-parte motion to litigate as a pauper litigant by submitting an affidavit that they do not have a gross income of PhP 2,000.00 a month or PhP 24,000.00 a year for those residing in Metro Manila and PhP 1,500.00 a month or PhP 18,000.00 a year for those residing outside Metro Manila or those who do not own real property with an assessed value of not more than PhP 24,000.00 or not more than PhP 18,000.00 as the case may be. Thus, there are two requirements: a) income requirementthe applicants should not have a gross monthly income of more than PhP 1,500.00, and b) property requirementthey should not own property with an assessed value of not more than PhP 18,000.00.
the case at bar, petitioners Alguras submitted the Affidavits of petitioner
Lorencita Algura and neighbor Erlinda Bangate, the pay slip of petitioner
Antonio F. Algura showing a gross monthly income of PhP 10,474.00,
and a Certification of the Naga City assessor stating that petitioners do not
have property declared in their names for taxation. Undoubtedly, petitioners do not own real
property as shown by the Certification of the
Unrelenting, petitioners however argue in their Motion for Reconsideration of the April 14, 2000 Order disqualifying them as indigent litigants that the rules have been relaxed by relying on Rule 3, Section 21 of the 1997 Rules of Civil procedure which authorizes parties to litigate their action as indigents if the court is satisfied that the party is one who has no money or property sufficient and available for food, shelter and basic necessities for himself and his family. The trial court did not give credence to this view of petitioners and simply applied Rule 141 but ignored Rule 3, Section 21 on Indigent Party.
The position of petitioners on the need to use Rule 3, Section 21 on their application to litigate as indigent litigants brings to the fore the issue on whether a trial court has to apply both Rule 141, Section 16 and Rule 3, Section 21 on such applications or should the court apply only Rule 141, Section 16 and discard Rule 3, Section 21 as having been superseded by Rule 141, Section 16 on Legal Fees.
The Court rules that Rule 3, Section 21 and Rule 141, Section 16 (later amended as Rule 141, Section 18 on March 1, 2000 and subsequently amended by Rule 141, Section 19 on August 16, 2003, which is now the present rule) are still valid and enforceable rules on indigent litigants.
one, the history of the two seemingly conflicting rules readily reveals that it
was not the intent of the Court to consider the old Section 22 of Rule 3, which
took effect on
Rule 141 on indigent litigants was amended twice: first
It may be argued that Rule 3, Section 21 has been impliedly repealed by the recent 2000 and 2004 amendments to Rule 141 on legal fees. This position is bereft of merit. Implied repeals are frowned upon unless the intent of the framers of the rules is unequivocal. It has been consistently ruled that:
(r)epeals by implication are not favored, and will not be decreed, unless it is manifest that the legislature so intended. As laws are presumed to be passed with deliberation and with full knowledge of all existing ones on the subject, it is but reasonable to conclude that in passing a statute[,] it was not intended to interfere with or abrogate any former law relating to same matter, unless the repugnancy between the two is not only irreconcilable, but also clear and convincing, and flowing necessarily from the language used, unless the later act fully embraces the subject matter of the earlier, or unless the reason for the earlier act is beyond peradventure removed. Hence, every effort must be used to make all acts stand and if, by any reasonable construction they can be reconciled, the later act will not operate as a repeal of the earlier. (Emphasis supplied).
Instead of declaring that Rule 3, Section 21 has been superseded and impliedly amended by Section 18 and later Section 19 of Rule 141, the Court finds that the two rules can and should be harmonized.
The Court opts to reconcile Rule 3, Section 21 and Rule 141, Section 19 because it is a settled principle that when conflicts are seen between two provisions, all efforts must be made to harmonize them. Hence, every statute [or rule] must be so construed and harmonized with other statutes [or rules] as to form a uniform system of jurisprudence.
Consequently, every statute should be construed in such a way that will harmonize it with existing laws. This principle is expressed in the legal maxim interpretare et concordare leges legibus est optimus interpretandi, that is, to interpret and to do it in such a way as to harmonize laws with laws is the best method of interpretation.
In the light of the foregoing considerations, therefore, the two (2) rules can stand together and are compatible with each other. When an application to litigate as an indigent litigant is filed, the court shall scrutinize the affidavits and supporting documents submitted by the applicant to determine if the applicant complies with the income and property standards prescribed in the present Section 19 of Rule 141that is, the applicants gross income and that of the applicants immediate family do not exceed an amount double the monthly minimum wage of an employee; and the applicant does not own real property with a fair market value of more than Three Hundred Thousand Pesos (PhP 300,000.00). If the trial court finds that the applicant meets the income and property requirements, the authority to litigate as indigent litigant is automatically granted and the grant is a matter of right.
However, if the trial court finds that one or both requirements have not been met, then it would set a hearing to enable the applicant to prove that the applicant has no money or property sufficient and available for food, shelter and basic necessities for himself and his family. In that hearing, the adverse party may adduce countervailing evidence to disprove the evidence presented by the applicant; after which the trial court will rule on the application depending on the evidence adduced. In addition, Section 21 of Rule 3 also provides that the adverse party may later still contest the grant of such authority at any time before judgment is rendered by the trial court, possibly based on newly discovered evidence not obtained at the time the application was heard. If the court determines after hearing, that the party declared as an indigent is in fact a person with sufficient income or property, the proper docket and other lawful fees shall be assessed and collected by the clerk of court. If payment is not made within the time fixed by the court, execution shall issue or the payment of prescribed fees shall be made, without prejudice to such other sanctions as the court may impose.
The Court concedes that Rule 141, Section 19 provides specific standards while Rule 3, Section 21 does not clearly draw the limits of the entitlement to the exemption. Knowing that the litigants may abuse the grant of authority, the trial court must use sound discretion and scrutinize evidence strictly in granting exemptions, aware that the applicant has not hurdled the precise standards under Rule 141. The trial court must also guard against abuse and misuse of the privilege to litigate as an indigent litigant to prevent the filing of exorbitant claims which would otherwise be regulated by a legal fee requirement.
Thus, the trial court should have applied Rule 3, Section 21 to the application of the Alguras after their affidavits and supporting documents showed that petitioners did not satisfy the twin requirements on gross monthly income and ownership of real property under Rule 141. Instead of disqualifying the Alguras as indigent litigants, the trial court should have called a hearing as required by Rule 3, Section 21 to enable the petitioners to adduce evidence to show that they didnt have property and money sufficient and available for food, shelter, and basic necessities for them and their family. In that hearing, the respondents would have had the right to also present evidence to refute the allegations and evidence in support of the application of the petitioners to litigate as indigent litigants. Since this Court is not a trier of facts, it will have to remand the case to the trial court to determine whether petitioners can be considered as indigent litigants using the standards set in Rule 3, Section 21.
Recapitulating the rules on indigent litigants, therefore, if the applicant for exemption meets the salary and property requirements under Section 19 of Rule 141, then the grant of the application is mandatory. On the other hand, when the application does not satisfy one or both requirements, then the application should not be denied outright; instead, the court should apply the indigency test under Section 21 of Rule 3 and use its sound discretion in determining the merits of the prayer for exemption.
Access to justice by the impoverished is held sacrosanct under Article III, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution. The Action Program for Judicial Reforms (APJR) itself, initiated by former Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., placed prime importance on easy access to justice by the poor as one of its six major components. Likewise, the judicial philosophy of Liberty and Prosperity of Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban makes it imperative that the courts shall not only safeguard but also enhance the rights of individualswhich are considered sacred under the 1987 Constitution. Without doubt, one of the most precious rights which must be shielded and secured is the unhampered access to the justice system by the poor, the underprivileged, and the marginalized.
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED and the April 14, 2000 Order granting the disqualification of petitioners, the July 17, 2000 Order denying petitioners Motion for Reconsideration, and the September 11, 2001 Order dismissing the case in Civil Case No. RTC-99-4403 before the Naga City RTC, Branch 27 are ANNULLED and SET ASIDE. Furthermore, the Naga City RTC is ordered to set the Ex-Parte Motion to Litigate as Indigent Litigants for hearing and apply Rule 3, Section 21 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure to determine whether petitioners can qualify as indigent litigants.
PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING
ANTONIO T. CARPIO CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
Associate Justice Associate Justice
DANTE O. TINGA
A T T E S T A T I O N
I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.
LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairpersons Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN