The issue here is whether the Court of Appeals gravely abused its discretion when it dismissed outright petitioners’ petition for review on the sole technical ground that it does not contain the affidavit of service as required by Section 11 in relation to Section 13, Rule 13 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended.
Sections 3 and 5, Rule 13 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, prescribe two modes of filing and service of pleadings, motions, notices, orders, judgments and other papers. These are: (a) by personal delivery, governed by Section 6 of the same Rule; and (b) by mail, under Section 7 thereof. If service cannot be done either personally or by mail, substituted service may be resorted to pursuant to Section 8 of the same Rule.
However, Section 11 of Rule 13 requires that “whenever practicable,” the filing of pleadings and other papers in court, as well as the service of said papers on the adverse party or his counsel, must be done “personally.” But if such filing and service were through a different mode, the party concerned must submit a “written explanation” why they were not done personally. Section 11 provides:
“SEC. 11. Priorities in modes of service and filing. – Whenever practicable, the service and filing of pleadings and other papers shall be done personally. Except with respect to papers emanating from the court, a resort to other modes must be accompanied by a written explanation why the service or filing was not done personally. A violation of this Rule may be cause to consider the paper as not filed. (n)”
In relation to Section 11, Section 13 provides:
“SEC. 13. Proof of service. – Proof of personal service shall consist of a written admission of the party served, or the official return of the server, or the affidavit of the party serving, containing a full statement of the date, place and manner of service. If the service is by ordinary mail, proof thereof shall consist of an affidavit of the person mailing of facts showing compliance with Section 7 of this Rule. If service is made by registered mail, proof shall be made by such affidavit and the registry receipt issued by the mailing office. The registry return card shall be filed immediately upon its receipt by the sender, or in lieu thereof the unclaimed letter together with the certified or sworn copy of the notice given by the postmaster to the addressee. (10a)” (Underscoring supplied)
Section 11 is a new provision incorporated in the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, prescribing the mode of filing and service of pleadings, motions and other papers. In Solar Team Entertainment, Inc. vs. Judge Ricafort (supra), we explained that the primary objective of this new provision is to foil the mischief of delay, thus:
“Personal service and filing are preferred for obvious reasons. Plainly, such should expedite action or resolution on a pleading, motion or other paper; and conversely, minimize, if not eliminate, delays likely to be incurred if service or filing is done by mail, considering the inefficiency of the postal service. Likewise, personal service will do away with the practice of some lawyers who, wanting to appear clever, resort to the following less than ethical practices: (1) serving or filing pleadings by mail to catch opposing counsel off-guard, thus leaving the latter with little or no time to prepare, for instance, responsive pleadings or an opposition; or (2) upon receiving notice from the post office that the registered parcel containing the pleading of or other paper from the adverse party may be claimed, unduly procrastinating before claiming the parcel, or worse, not claiming it at all, thereby causing undue delay in the disposition of such pleading or other papers.
The requirement under Section 11 is mandatory. Any violation of this Rule may be cause for the court to consider the paper as not filed.
However, such discretionary power of the court must be exercised properly and reasonably, taking into account the following factors: (1) “the practicability of personal service;” (2) “the importance of the subject matter of the case or the issues involved therein;” and (3) “the prima facie merit of the pleading sought to be expunged for violation of Section 11.” Thus, we stressed in Solar :
“If only to underscore the mandatory nature of this innovation to our set of adjective rules requiring personal service whenever practicable, Section 11 of Rule 13 then gives the court the discretion to consider a pleading or paper as not filed if the other modes of service or filing were resorted to and no written explanation was made as to why personal service was not done in the first place. The exercise of discretion must, necessarily, consider the practicability of personal service, for Section 11 itself begins with the clause ‘whenever practicable.’
We thus take this opportunity to clarify that under Section 11, Rule 13 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, personal service and filing is the general rule, and resort to other modes of service and filing, the exception. Henceforth, whenever personal service or filing is practicable, in light of the circumstances of time, place and person, personal service or filing is mandatory. Only when personal service or filing is not practicable may resort to other modes be had, which must then be accompanied by a written explanation as to why personal service or filing was not practicable to begin with. In adjudging the plausibility of an explanation, a court shall likewise consider the importance of the subject matter of the case or the issues involved therein, and the prima facie merit of the pleading sought to be expunged for violation of Section 11. x x x.” (Underscoring supplied)
In the present case, there is no question that petitioners violated Section 11 of Rule 13 by failing to append the affidavit of service to their petition for review filed with the Court of Appeals. We note, though, that petitioners, upon receipt of the Court of Appeals’ challenged Resolution dismissing outright their petition due to such omission, promptly filed a motion for reconsideration, readily acknowledging their procedural lapse and attaching therewith the required affidavit of service.
Significantly, Gabriel Manasan’s affidavit of service shows that the petition for review was filed with the Court of Appeals in Manila through registered mail. This mode of filing is permitted under Section 11 of Rule 13 since it s obviously impractical for petitioners and their counsel, who are all residents of Cagayan de Oro City, to personally file their petition in Manila. As to the service of copies of the petition, Manasan personally served the same on respondents’ counsel and the RTC in Cagayan de Oro City, thus fully complying with Section 11.
Clearly, Manasan’s affidavit of service is a substantial compliance with the requirement under Section 11. It bears stressing that petitioners’ procedural lapse in not appending such affidavit to their petition did not in any way thwart the laudable objective of Section 11 as stated in Solar, i.e., to quell the lawyers’ unethical practice of deliberately resorting to delays in the filing and service of pleadings, motions and other papers. Indeed, the evil sought to be prevented by the new rule is absent here. Also, there is absolutely no indication from petitioners’ omission that they demonstrated their contempt for the Rules and our directive in Solar, as claimed by respondents.
Moreover, we note that the Court of Appeals, despite petitioners’ motion for reconsideration showing compliance with Section 11, still denied the same, without taking into account the importance of the issues raised in the petition.
In Sebastian vs. Morales, we ruled that “rules of procedure must be faithfully followed except only when for persuasive reasons, they may be relaxed to relieve a litigant of an injustice not commensurate with his failure to comply with the prescribed procedure,” which exception is present here.
In fine, we hold that the Court of Appeals, in issuing its assailed Resolutions, acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.