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Lesaca vs. CA Case Digest


● When the defendant and his counsel failed to appear at the pre-trial conference and no compromise agreement was reached by the parties despite the opportunity given them by the court, the Court should have issued a "preliminary conference order" defining the issues in the case as provided in Section 6. Thereafter the parties should have submitted their affidavits and other evidence as provided in Section 7 of the Rule on Summary Procedure. 

● Only when the defendant failed to answer the complaint may the Court proceed to judgment.

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Facts: 

Lesaca filed in the MeTC of Manila a complaint for ejectment against Ravelo. Ravelo filed an answer to the complaint. During the first preliminary conference, only the plaintiff Lesaca  appeared. On motion of plaintiff's counsel, the MeTC declared defendant Ravelo "as in default" for failure to appear at the preliminary conference despite previous notice. Subsequently, the MeTC rendered a decision ordering the Ravelo to vacate the premises in question.

Ravelo appealed to the RTC which affirmed the decision of the MeTC. The CA, however, set aside the decision of the MeTC and RTC and remanded the case to the MeTC for reception of evidence.


Issue: 

May a defendant be declared "as in default" for failure to appear at the preliminary conference despite previous notice?


Held: 

No. Sections 6 and 7 of the Rule on Summary Procedure provides:

Sec. 6. Preliminary conference –– Not later than thirty (30) days after the last answer is filed, the case shall be calendared for a preliminary conference. Among other matters, should the parties fail to arrive at an amicable settlement, the court must clarify and define the issues of the case, which must be clearly and distinctly set forth in the order to be issued immediately after such preliminary conference together with the other matters taken up during the same.

Sec. 7. Submission of affidavits. — Within ten (10) days from receipt of the order mentioned in the next preceding section, the parties shall submit the affidavits of witnesses and other evidence on the factual issues defined therein, together with a brief statement of their positions setting forth the law and the facts relied upon by them.

When Ravelo and his counsel failed to appear at the pre-trial conference and no compromise agreement was reached by the parties despite the opportunity given them by the court, the Court should have issued a "preliminary conference order" defining the issues in the case as provided in Section 6. Thereafter the parties should have submitted their affidavits and other evidence as provided in Section 7 of the Rule on Summary Procedure.

Only when the defendant failed to answer the complaint may the Court proceed to judgment. Thus does Section 5 provide:

Sec. 5. Effect of failure to answer. — Should the defendant fail to answer complaint, cross-claim or permissive counterclaim within the reglementary 10-day period herein provided, the court motu proprio, or on motion of the plaintiff, shall render judgment as may be warranted by the facts alleged in the complaint and limited to what is prayed for therein except as to the amount of damages which the Court may reduce in its discretion.

In this case, since Ravelo did file an answer to the complaint, the trial court may not declare him as in default (despite his absence and that of his counsel at the pre-trial conference) because a motion to declare the defendant in default is a prohibited pleading under Section 15 (h) of the Rule on Summary Procedure.

It is the policy of the law to have every litigated case tried on the merits. It is for this reason that judgment by defaults are generally looked upon with disfavor. A judgment by default may amount to a positive and considerable injustice to the defendant; and the possibility of such serious consequence necessitates a careful examination of the grounds upon which the defendant asks that it be set aside." (Lesaca vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 96432, October 21, 1992)

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