Substantial Justice

considered by the Court as meriting a relaxation of the rules in order to serve substantial justice. These are: (1) matters of life, liberty, honor or property; (2) the existence of special or compelling circumstances; (3) the merits of the case; (4) a cause not entirely attributable to the fault or negligence of the party favored by the suspension of the rules; (5) a lack of any showing that the review sought is merely frivolous and dilatory; and (6) the other party will not be unjustly prejudiced thereby.[20]  We find that Danilo’s situation merits a relaxation of the rules since special circumstances are involved; to determine if his allegation were true would allow a final resolution of the case.

Applicable, too, is what Sec. 5, Rule 135 of the Rules of Court states as one of the powers of a court:

Section 5. Inherent powers of the courts.¾Every court shall have power:

x x x x

(g) To amend and control its process and orders so as to make them conformable to law and justice.

Thus, the Court ruled in Mejia v. Gabayan:[21]

x x x The inherent power of the court carries with it the right to determine every question of fact and law which may be involved in the execution. The court may stay or suspend the execution of its judgment if warranted by the higher interest of justice. It has the authority to cause a modification of the decision when it becomes imperative in the higher interest of justice or when supervening events warrant it. The court is also vested with inherent power to stay the enforcement of its decision based on antecedent facts which show fraud in its rendition or want of jurisdiction of the trial court apparent on the record. (Emphasis supplied.)

While it is true that an issue which was neither alleged in the complaint nor raised during the trial cannot be raised for the first time on appeal as it would be offensive to the basic rules of fair play, justice, and due process,[54] the same is not without exception,[55] such as this case. The CA, under Section 3,[56] Rule 43 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, can, in the interest of justice, entertain and resolve factual issues. After all, technical and procedural rules are intended to help secure, and not suppress, substantial justice. A deviation from a rigid enforcement of the rules may thus be allowed to attain the prime objective of dispensing justice, for dispensation of justice is the core reason for the existence of courts.[57]

The Court notes that Manalang was not entirely at fault for the cancellation and resettings of the conferences. Let it be underscored that respondents’ representative and counsel, Atty. Miguel, came late during the January 19 andFebruary 9, 2008conferences which resulted in their cancellation and the final resetting of the mediation proceedings toMarch 1, 2008. Considering the circumstances, it would be most unfair to penalize petitioner for the neglect of her lawyer.

Assuming arguendo that the trial court correctly construed the absence of Manalang on March 1, 2008 as a deliberate refusal to comply with its Order or to be dilatory, it cannot be said that the court was powerless and virtually without recourse. Indeed, there are other available remedies to the court a quo under A.M. No. 01-10-5-SC-PHILJA, apart from immediately ordering the dismissal of the case. If Manalang’s absence upset the intention of the court a quo to promptly dispose the case, a mere censure or reprimand would have been sufficient for petitioner’s representative and her counsel so as to be informed of the court’s intolerance of tardiness and laxity in the observation of its order. By failing to do so and refusing to resuscitate the case, the RTC impetuously deprived petitioner of the opportunity to recover the land which she allegedly paid for.

Unless the conduct of the party is so negligent, irresponsible, contumacious, or dilatory as for non-appearance to provide substantial grounds for dismissal, the courts should consider lesser sanctions which would still achieve the desired end.  The Court has written “inconsiderate dismissals, even if without prejudice, do not constitute a panacea nor a solution to the congestion of court dockets, while they lend a deceptive aura of efficiency to records of the individual judges, they merely postpone the ultimate reckoning between the parties.  In the absence of clear lack of merit or intention to delay, justice is better served by a brief continuance, trial on the merits, and final disposition of the cases before the court.[17]

It bears emphasis that the subject matter of the complaint is a valuable parcel of land measuring 328 square meters and that petitioner had allegedly spent a lot of money not only for the payment of the docket and other filing fees but also for the extra-territorial service of the summons to the respondents who are now permanent residents of the U.S.A. Certainly, petitioner stands to lose heavily on account of technicality. Even if the dismissal is without prejudice, the refiling of the case would still be injurious to petitioner because she would have to pay again all the litigation expenses which she previously paid for. The Court should afford party-litigants the amplest opportunity to enable them to have their cases justly determined, free from constraints of technicalities.[18] Technicalities should take a backseat against substantive rights and should give way to the realities of the situation. Besides, the petitioner has manifested her interest to pursue the case through the present petition. At any rate, it has not been shown that a remand of the case for trial would cause undue prejudice to respondents.

In the light of the foregoing, the Court finds it just and proper that petitioner be allowed to present her cause of action during trial on the merits to obviate jeopardizing substantive justice. Verily, the better and more prudent course of action in a judicial proceeding is to hear both sides and decide the case on the merits instead of disposing the case by technicalities. What should guide judicial action is the principle that a party-litigant is to be given the fullest opportunity to establish the merits of his complaint or defense rather than for him to lose life, liberty or property on technicalities.[19] The ends of justice and fairness would best be served if the issues involved in the case are threshed out in a full-blown trial. Trial courts are reminded to exert efforts to resolve the matters before them on the merits and to adjudge them accordingly to the satisfaction of the parties, lest in hastening the proceedings, they further delay the resolution of the cases.

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