G. R. No. 150656 - April 29, 2003
MARGARITA ROMUALDEZ-LICAROS, Petitioner, vs. ABELARDO B. LICAROS, Respondent.
This is a petition for review on certiorari1 to annul the Decision2 dated 9 August 2001 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 58487, as well as the Resolution dated 23 October 2001 denying the motion for reconsideration. The Court of Appeals dismissed the petition to annul the following decisions3 rendered by Branch 143 of the Regional Trial Court of Makati:
The antecedent facts as found by the Court of Appeals are as follows:
As required by law, the case was referred to Trial Prosecutor Bruselas, Jr. to find out any possible collusion between the parties in the case. Thereafter, with the negative report of collusion, Abelardo was allowed to present his evidence ex-parte. On November 8, 1991, the Decision (Annex "A", Petition) was handed down in Civil Case No. 91-1757 declaring the marriage between Abelardo and Margarita null and void.
Almost nine (9) years later, on April 28, 2000, the petition at bench was commenced when Margarita received a letter dated November 18, 1991 from a certain Atty. Angelo Q. Valencia informing her that she no longer has the right to use the family name "Licaros" inasmuch as her marriage to Abelardo had already been judicially dissolved by the Regional Trial Court of Makati on November 8, 1991. Asseverating to have immediately made some verifications and finding the information given to be true, petitioner commenced the instant petition on the following grounds:
The Ruling of the Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals debunked the claim of Margarita that there was extrinsic fraud in the preparation and filing by Abelardo of the Petition for Dissolution of Conjugal Partnership of Gains and its annex, the Agreement of Separation of Properties. The Court of Appeals stated:
The Court of Appeals also rejected Margaritas claim that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear and decide the Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage for improper service of summons on her. The case involves the marital status of the parties, which is an action in rem or quasi in rem. The Court of Appeals ruled that in such an action the purpose of service of summons is not to vest the trial court with jurisdiction over the person of the defendant, but "only" to comply with due process. The Court of Appeals concluded that any irregularity in the service of summons involves due process which does not destroy the trial courts jurisdiction over the res which is the parties marital status. Neither does such irregularity invalidate the judgment rendered in the case. Thus, the Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for annulment of judgment, stating that:
Hence, the instant petition.
The issues raised by Margarita are restated as follows:
The Courts Ruling
The petition is bereft of merit.
First Issue: Validity of the Service of Summons on Margarita
Margarita insists that the trial court never acquired jurisdiction over her person in the petition for declaration of nullity of marriage since she was never validly served with summons. Neither did she appear in court to submit voluntarily to its jurisdiction.
On the other hand, Abelardo argues that jurisdiction over the person of a non-resident defendant in an action in rem or quasi in rem is not necessary. The trial and appellate courts made a clear factual finding that there was proper summons by publication effected through the Department of Foreign Affairs as directed by the trial court. Thus, the trial court acquired jurisdiction to render the decision declaring the marriage a nullity.
Summons is a writ by which the defendant is notified of the action brought against him. Service of such writ is the means by which the court acquires jurisdiction over his person.9
As a rule, when the defendant does not reside and is not found in the Philippines, Philippine courts cannot try any case against him because of the impossibility of acquiring jurisdiction over his person unless he voluntarily appears in court. But when the case is one of actions in rem or quasi in rem enumerated in Section 15,10 Rule 14 of the Rules of Court, Philippine courts have jurisdiction to hear and decide the case. In such instances, Philippine courts have jurisdiction over the res, and jurisdiction over the person of the non-resident defendant is not essential.11
Actions in personam12 and actions in rem or quasi in rem differ in that actions in personam are directed against specific persons and seek personal judgments. On the other hand, actions in rem or quasi in rem are directed against the thing or property or status of a person and seek judgments with respect thereto as against the whole world.13
At the time Abelardo filed the petition for nullity of the marriage in 1991, Margarita was residing in the United States. She left the Philippines in 1982 together with her two children. The trial court considered Margarita a non-resident defendant who is not found in the Philippines. Since the petition affects the personal status of the plaintiff, the trial court authorized extraterritorial service of summons under Section 15, Rule 14 of the Rules of Court. The term "personal status" includes family relations, particularly the relations between husband and wife.14
Under Section 15 of Rule 14, a defendant who is a non-resident and is not found in the country may be served with summons by extraterritorial service in four instances: (1) when the action affects the personal status of the plaintiff; (2) when the action relates to, or the subject of which is property within the Philippines, in which the defendant has or claims a lien or interest, actual or contingent; (3) when the relief demanded consists, wholly or in part, in excluding the defendant from any interest in property located in the Philippines; or (4) when the property of the defendant has been attached within the Philippines.
In these instances, extraterritorial service of summons may be effected under any of three modes: (1) by personal service out of the country, with leave of court; (2) by publication and sending a copy of the summons and order of the court by registered mail to the defendants last known address, also with leave of court; or (3) by any other means the judge may consider sufficient.
Applying the foregoing rule, the trial court required extraterritorial service of summons to be effected on Margarita in the following manner:
The trial courts prescribed mode of extraterritorial service does not fall under the first or second mode specified in Section 15 of Rule 14, but under the third mode. This refers to "any other means that the judge may consider sufficient."
The Process Servers Return of 15 July 1991 shows that the summons addressed to Margarita together with the complaint and its annexes were sent by mail to the Department of Foreign Affairs with acknowledgment of receipt. The Process Servers certificate of service of summons is prima facie evidence of the facts as set out in the certificate.16 Before proceeding to declare the marriage between Margarita and Abelardo null and void, the trial court stated in its Decision dated 8 November 1991 that "compliance with the jurisdictional requirements hav(e) (sic) been duly established." We hold that delivery to the Department of Foreign Affairs was sufficient compliance with the rule. After all, this is exactly what the trial court required and considered as sufficient to effect service of summons under the third mode of extraterritorial service pursuant to Section 15 of Rule 14.
Second Issue: Validity of the Judgment Dissolving the Conjugal Partnership of Gains
Margarita claims that Abelardo coerced her into signing the Petition for Dissolution of the Conjugal Partnership of Gains ("Petition") and its annex, the Agreement of Separation of Properties ("Agreement"). Abelardo allegedly threatened to cut off all financial and material support to their children if Margarita did not sign the documents.
The trial court did not find anything amiss in the Petition and Agreement that Abelardo filed, and thus the trial court approved the same. The Court of Appeals noted that a meticulous perusal of the Petition and Agreement readily shows that Margarita signed the same on the proper space after the prayer and on the portion for the verification of the petition. The Court of Appeals observed further that on 6 August 1990, Margarita appeared before Consul Amado Cortez in the Philippine Consulate Office in San Francisco, California, to affirm that she executed the Agreement of her own free will. There was no showing that Abelardo was at that time with her at the Philippine Consulate Office. Abelardo secured judicial approval of the Agreement as specifically required in the Agreement.
The Court is bound by the factual findings of the trial and appellate courts that the parties freely and voluntarily executed the documents and that there is no showing of coercion or fraud. As a rule, in an appeal by certiorari under Rule 45, the Court does not pass upon questions of fact as the factual findings of the trial and appellate courts are binding on the Court. The Court is not a trier of facts. The Court will not examine the evidence introduced by the parties below to determine if the trial and appellate courts correctly assessed and evaluated the evidence on record.17
The due and regular execution of an instrument acknowledged before an officer authorized to administer oaths cannot be overthrown by bare allegations of coercion but only by clear and convincing proof.18 A person acknowledging an instrument before an officer authorized to administer oaths acknowledges that he freely and voluntarily executed the instrument, giving rise to a prima facie presumption of such fact.
In the instant case, Margarita acknowledged the Agreement before Consul Cortez. The certificate of acknowledgment signed by Consul Cortez states that Margarita personally appeared before him and "acknowledged before me that SHE executed the same of her own free will and deed."19 Thus, there is a prima facie presumption that Margarita freely and voluntarily executed the Agreement. Margarita has failed to rebut this prima facie presumption with clear and convincing proof of coercion on the part of Abelardo.
A document acknowledged before a notary public is prima facie evidence of the due and regular execution of the document.20 A notarized document has in its favor the presumption of regularity in its execution, and to contradict the same, there must be evidence that is clear, convincing and more than merely preponderant.21
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 58487 dismissing the petition to annul judgment is AFFIRMED.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Vitug, Ynares-Santiago, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
Search for www.chanrobles.com
|Copyright © ChanRoblesPublishing Company| Disclaimer | E-mailRestrictions|
ChanRobles™Virtual Law Library ™ | chanrobles.com™