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SC reverses RTC for misapplying Rules of Civil Procedure amendments

The High Court ruled the trial court gravely erred when it applied the 2019 amendments to resolve the affirmative defenses pleaded by respondent companies

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The Supreme Court (SC) said the application of the 2019 amendments to the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure must be done with utmost caution and strict adherence to its provisions.

This was the warning issued by the High Bench in reversing and setting aside an order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), which misapplied and used the said amendments in dismissing a complaint for declaration of nullity of deed of extrajudicial settlements of estate, deeds of sale, cancellation of titles and damages.

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

Petitioner averred 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 real properties were eventually sold to 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 22 May 2020, the RTC stated it was applying Section 12, Rule 8 of the 2019 amendments, which states that the court shall motu proprio resolve affirmative defenses within 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 SC Second Division reversed and set aside the 22 May 2020 order of the RTC.

It reinstated the complaint against the respondent companies, and directed the RTC to resolve the case with utmost dispatch.

The High Court ruled the trial court gravely erred when it applied the 2019 amendments to resolve the affirmative defenses pleaded by respondent companies, stressing their 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 1 May 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 the case commenced with the filing of the complaint in September 2018 and remained pending when the 2019 amendments took effect.

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