SC Reverses RTC Order which Misapplied the 2019 Amendments to Rules of Civil Procedure

September 24, 2021

The application of the 2019 Amendments to the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure must be done with utmost caution and strict caution and  strict adherence to its provisions.

Thus cautioned the Supreme Court as it reversed and set aside an Order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) which misapplied and used the said 2019 Amendments in dismissing a complaint for declaration of nullity of deed of extrajudicial settlements (EJS) of estate, deeds of sale, cancellation of titles, and damages.

Petitioner Frank Colmenar filed on September 11, 2018 a complaint for declaration of nullity of deeds of extrajudicial settlement of estate before the RTC, Branch 23, Trece Martires, Cavite. He claimed he was the second child of Francisco Jesus Colmenar, who died and left real properties registered in his own name.

Petitioner averred that respondents Apollo Colmenar, Jeannie Colmenar Mendoza, and Victoria Jet Colmenar executed two extrajudicial settlements of the estate of Francisco where they made it appear that they were the surviving heirs of Francisco. The subject real properties were eventually sold to respondent companies Philippine Estates Corporation, Crisanta Realty Development Corporation, Amaia Land Corporation, and Property Company of Friends without petitioner’s knowledge and consent.

In its assailed Order dated May 22, 2020, the RTC stated that it was applying Section 12, Rule 8 of the 2019 Amendments, which states that the court shall motu proprio resolve affirmative defenses within thirty

(30) calendar days from the filing of an answer, and dismissed petitioner’s complaint on the ground that it failed to state a cause of action as against the respondent companies.

In the Decision penned by Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier, the Court’s Second Division reversed and set aside the May 22, 2020 Order of the RTC. The Court reinstated the complaint against the respondent companies, and directed the RTC to resolve the case with utmost dispatch.

The Court ruled the trial court gravely erred when it applied the 2019 Amendments to resolve the affirmative defenses pleaded by respondent companies. It stressed that its application must be done with utmost caution and strict adherence to its provisions.

Rule 144 of the 2019 Rules provides: “The 2019 Proposed Amendments to the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure shall govern all cases filed after their effectivity on May 1, 2020, and also all pending proceedings, except to the extent that in the opinion of the court, their application would not be feasible or would work injustice, in which case the procedure under which the cases were filed shall govern.”

The SC stressed that the case commenced with the filing of the complaint in September 2018 and remained pending when the 2019 Amendments took effect.

The SC noted that the RTC motu proprio resolved the affirmative defenses on May 22, 2020, which was beyond the 30-day period from when respondents filed their answer on February 27, 2020. Therefore, the RTC should have desisted from applying the 2019 Amendments to  the case at bar, specifically Section 12, Rule 8, because when it did, the same was no longer feasible.

The Court added that it was inaccurate for the RTC to say that it was motu proprio acting on the affirmative defense. In truth, the RTC had already resolved this common affirmative defense of failure to state a cause of action, together with the other affirmative defenses in an earlier ruling. In its Omnibus Order dated February 12, 2020, the RTC denied the motions to dismiss and motions to set the affirmative defenses for hearing because in its words, “the issues x x x are complex x x x and are x x x better threshed out in trial.”

Furthermore, the Court said that the worst part was the RTC ignored the injustice caused by the application of the 2019 Amendments to the case. For as a consequence, petitioner Frank Colmenar lost his substantial right to be heard on the common affirmative defense of the respondent companies, and his right to seek a reconsideration of the order of dismissal which were both granted him under the 1997 Revised Rules on Civil Procedure.

(G.R. No. 252467, Colmenar v. Colmenar, June 21, 2021)