[G.R. NO. 145370 - March 4, 2004]
MARIETTA B. ANCHETA, Petitioner, v. RODOLFO S. ANCHETA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari of the Resolution1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 59550 which dismissed the petitioners petition under Rule 47 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure to annul the Order2 of the Regional Trial Court of Naic, Cavite, Branch 15 in Special Proceedings No. NC-662 nullifying the marriage of the petitioner and the respondent Rodolfo S. Ancheta, and of the resolution of the appellate court denying the motion for reconsideration of the said resolution.
This case arose from the following facts:ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
After their marriage on March 5, 1959, the petitioner and the respondent resided in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila. They had eight children during their coverture, whose names and dates of births are as follows:
On December 6, 1992, the respondent left the conjugal home and abandoned the petitioner and their children. On January 25, 1994, petitioner Marietta Ancheta filed a petition with the Regional Trial Court of Makati, Branch 40, against the respondent for the dissolution of their conjugal partnership and judicial separation of property with a plea for support and support pendente lite. The case was docketed as Sp. Proc. No. M-3735. At that time, the petitioner was renting a house at No. 72 CRM Avenue cor. CRM Corazon, BF Homes, Almanza, Las Piñas, Metro Manila.4
On April 20, 1994, the parties executed a Compromise Agreement5 where some of the conjugal properties were adjudicated to the petitioner and her eight children, including the following:ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
b. A parcel of land (adjoining the two lots covered by TCT Nos. 120082 and TCT No. 120083-Cavite) located at Bancal, Carmona, Cavite, registered in the name of the family Ancheta. Biofood Corporation under TCT No. 310882, together with the resort Munting Paraiso, Training Center, four-storey building, pavilion, swimming pool and all improvements. All of the shares of stocks of Ancheta Biofoods Corporation were distributed one-third (1/3) to the petitioner and the eight children one-twelfth (1/12) each.6
The court rendered judgment based on the said compromise agreement. Conformably thereto, the respondent vacated, on June 1, 1994, the resort Munting Paraiso and all the buildings and improvements thereon. The petitioner, with the knowledge of the respondent, thenceforth resided in the said property.
In the meantime, the respondent intended to marry again. On June 5, 1995, he filed a petition with the Regional Trial Court of Naic, Cavite, Branch 15, for the declaration of nullity of his marriage with the petitioner on the ground of psychological incapacity. The case was docketed as Sp. Proc. No. NC-662. Although the respondent knew that the petitioner was already residing at the resort Munting Paraiso in Bancal, Carmona, Cavite, he, nevertheless, alleged in his petition that the petitioner was residing at No. 72 CRM Avenue corner CRM Corazon, BF Homes, Almanza, Las Piñas, Metro Manila, "where she may be served with summons."7 The clerk of court issued summons to the petitioner at the address stated in the petition.8 The sheriff served the summons and a copy of the petition by substituted service on June 6, 1995 on the petitioners son, Venancio Mariano B. Ancheta III, at his residence in Bancal, Carmona, Cavite.9
On June 21, 1995, Sheriff Jose R. Salvadora, Jr. submitted a Return of Service to the court stating that the summons and a copy of the petition were served on the petitioner through her son Venancio Mariano B. Ancheta III on June 6, 1995:ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
RETURN OF SERVICE
This is to certify that the summons together with the copy of the complaint and its annexes was received by the herein defendant thru his son Venancio M.B. Ancheta [III] as evidenced by the signature appearing on the summons. Service was made on June 6, 1995.
June 21, 1995, Naic, Cavite.
(Sgd.) JOSE R. SALVADORA, JR.
The petitioner failed to file an answer to the petition. On June 22, 1995, the respondent filed an "Ex-Parte Motion to Declare Defendant as in Default" setting it for hearing on June 27, 1995 at 8:30 a.m. During the hearing on the said date, there was no appearance for the petitioner. The public prosecutor appeared for the State and offered no objection to the motion of the respondent who appeared with counsel. The trial court granted the motion and declared the petitioner in default, and allowed the respondent to adduce evidence ex-parte. The respondent testified in his behalf and adduced documentary evidence. On July 7, 1995, the trial court issued an Order granting the petition and declaring the marriage of the parties void ab initio.11 The clerk of court issued a Certificate of Finality of the Order of the court on July 16, 1996.12
On February 14, 1998, Valentines Day, the respondent and Teresita H. Rodil were married in civil rights before the municipal mayor of Indang, Cavite.13
On July 7, 2000, the petitioner filed a verified petition against the respondent with the Court of Appeals under Rule 47 of the Rules of Court, as amended, for the annulment of the order of the RTC of Cavite in Special Proceedings No. NC-662. The case was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 59550. The petitioner alleged, inter alia, that the respondent committed gross misrepresentations by making it appear in his petition in Sp. Proc. No. NC-662 that she was a resident of No. 72 CRM Avenue cor. CRM Corazon, BF Homes, Almanza, Las Piñas, Metro Manila, when in truth and in fact, the respondent knew very well that she was residing at Munting Paraiso, Bancal, Carmona, Cavite. According to the petitioner, the respondent did so to deprive her of her right to be heard in the said case, and ultimately secure a favorable judgment without any opposition thereto. The petitioner also alleged that the respondent caused the service of the petition and summons on her by substituted service through her married son, Venancio Mariano B. Ancheta III, a resident of Bancal, Carmona, Cavite, where the respondent was a resident. Furthermore, Venancio M.B. Ancheta III failed to deliver to her the copy of the petition and summons. Thus, according to the petitioner, the order of the trial court in favor of the respondent was null and void (1) for lack of jurisdiction over her person; and (2) due to the extrinsic fraud perpetrated by the respondent. She further contended that there was no factual basis for the trial courts finding that she was suffering from psychological incapacity. Finally, the petitioner averred that she learned of the Order of the RTC only on January 11, 2000. Appended to the petition, inter alia, were the affidavits of the petitioner and of Venancio M.B. Ancheta III.
The petitioner prayed that, after due proceedings, judgment be rendered in her favor, thus:ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
WHEREFORE, petitioner respectfully prays this Honorable Court to render Judgment granting the Petition.
On July 13, 2000, the CA issued a Resolution dismissing the petition on the following ground:ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
We cannot give due course to the present petition in default or in the absence of any clear and specific averment by petitioner that the ordinary remedies of new trial, appeal, petition for relief or other appropriate remedies are no longer available through no fault of petitioner. Neither is there any averment or allegation that the present petition is based only on the grounds of extrinsic fraud and lack of jurisdiction. Nor yet that, on the assumption that extrinsic fraud can be a valid ground therefor, that it was not availed of, or could not have been availed of, in a motion for new trial, or petition for relief.15
The petitioner filed a motion for the reconsideration of the said resolution, appending thereto an amended petition in which she alleged, inter alia, that:
The petitioner also alleged therein that the order of the trial court nullifying her and the respondents marriage was null and void for the court a quos failure to order the public prosecutor to conduct an investigation on whether there was collusion between the parties, and to order the Solicitor General to appear for the State.
On September 27, 2000, the CA issued a Resolution denying the said motion.
The petitioner filed a Petition for Review on Certiorari with this Court alleging that the CA erred as follows:
The petition is meritorious.
An original action in the Court of Appeals under Rule 47 of the Rules of Court, as amended, to annul a judgment or final order or resolution in civil actions of the RTC may be based on two grounds: (a) extrinsic fraud; or (b) lack of jurisdiction. If based on extrinsic fraud, the remedy is subject to a condition precedent, namely, the ordinary remedies of new trial, appeal, petition for relief or other appropriate remedies are no longer available through no fault of the petitioner.18 The petitioner must allege in the petition that the ordinary remedies of new trial, appeal, petition for relief from judgment, under Rule 38 of the Rules of Court are no longer available through no fault of hers; otherwise, the petition will be dismissed. If the petitioner fails to avail of the remedies of new trial, appeal or relief from judgment through her own fault or negligence before filing her petition with the Court of Appeals, she cannot resort to the remedy under Rule 47 of the Rules; otherwise, she would benefit from her inaction or negligence.19
It is not enough to allege in the petition that the said remedies were no longer available through no fault of her own. The petitioner must also explain and justify her failure to avail of such remedies. The safeguard was incorporated in the rule precisely to avoid abuse of the remedy.20 Access to the courts is guaranteed. But there must be limits thereto. Once a litigants rights have been adjudicated in a valid final judgment of a competent court, he should not be granted an unbridled license to sue anew. The prevailing party should not be vexed by subsequent suits.21
In this case, the petitioner failed to allege in her petition in the CA that the ordinary remedies of new trial, appeal, and petition for relief, were no longer available through no fault of her own. She merely alleged therein that she received the assailed order of the trial court on January 11, 2000. The petitioners amended petition did not cure the fatal defect in her original petition, because although she admitted therein that she did not avail of the remedies of new trial, appeal or petition for relief from judgment, she did not explain why she failed to do so.
We, however, rule that the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing the original petition and denying admission of the amended petition. This is so because apparently, the Court of Appeals failed to take note from the material allegations of the petition, that the petition was based not only on extrinsic fraud but also on lack of jurisdiction over the person of the petitioner, on her claim that the summons and the copy of the complaint in Sp. Proc. No. NC-662 were not served on her. While the original petition and amended petition did not state a cause of action for the nullification of the assailed order on the ground of extrinsic fraud, we rule, however, that it states a sufficient cause of action for the nullification of the assailed order on the ground of lack of jurisdiction of the RTC over the person of the petitioner, notwithstanding the absence of any allegation therein that the ordinary remedy of new trial or reconsideration, or appeal are no longer available through no fault of the petitioner.
In a case where a petition for the annulment of a judgment or final order of the RTC filed under Rule 47 of the Rules of Court is grounded on lack of jurisdiction over the person of the defendant/respondent or over the nature or subject of the action, the petitioner need not allege in the petition that the ordinary remedy of new trial or reconsideration of the final order or judgment or appeal therefrom are no longer available through no fault of her own. This is so because a judgment rendered or final order issued by the RTC without jurisdiction is null and void and may be assailed any time either collaterally or in a direct action or by resisting such judgment or final order in any action or proceeding whenever it is invoked,22 unless barred by laches.23
In this case, the original petition and the amended petition in the Court of Appeals, in light of the material averments therein, were based not only on extrinsic fraud, but also on lack of jurisdiction of the trial court over the person of the petitioner because of the failure of the sheriff to serve on her the summons and a copy of the complaint. She claimed that the summons and complaint were served on her son, Venancio Mariano B. Ancheta III, who, however, failed to give her the said summons and complaint.
Even a cursory reading of the material averments of the original petition and its annexes will show that it is, prima facie meritorious; hence, it should have been given due course by the Court of Appeals.
In Paramount Insurance Corporation v. Japzon,24 we held that jurisdiction is acquired by a trial court over the person of the defendant either by his voluntary appearance in court and his submission to its authority or by service of summons. The service of summons and the complaint on the defendant is to inform him that a case has been filed against him and, thus, enable him to defend himself. He is, thus, put on guard as to the demands of the plaintiff or the petitioner. Without such service in the absence of a valid waiver renders the judgment of the court null and void.25 Jurisdiction cannot be acquired by the court on the person of the defendant even if he knows of the case against him unless he is validly served with summons.26
Summons and complaint may be served on the defendant either by handing a copy thereof to him in person, or, if he refuses to receive and sign for it, by tendering it to her.27 However, if there is impossibility of prompt service of the summons personally on the defendant despite diligent efforts to find him, service of the summons may be effected by substituted service as provided in Section 7, Rule 14 of the said Rules:ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
SEC. 7. Substituted service. If, for justifiable causes, the defendant cannot be served within a reasonable time as provided in the preceding section, service may be effected (a) by leaving copies of the summons at the defendants residence with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, or (b) by leaving the copies of defendants office or regular place of business with some competent person in charge thereof.28
In Miranda v. Court of Appeals, 29 we held that the modes of service should be strictly followed in order that the court may acquire jurisdiction over the person of the defendant. Thus, it is only when a defendant cannot be served personally within a reasonable time that substituted service may be made by stating the efforts made to find him and personally serve on him the summons and complaint and the fact that such effort failed.30 This statement should be made in the proof of service to be accomplished and filed in court by the sheriff. This is necessary because substituted service is a derogation of the usual method of service. It has been held that substituted service of summons is a method extraordinary in character; hence, may be used only as prescribed and in the circumstances categorized by statutes.31
As gleaned from the petition and the amended petition in the CA and the annexes thereof, the summons in Sp. Proc. No. NC-662 was issued on June 6, 1995.32 On the same day, the summons was served on and received by Venancio Mariano B. Ancheta III,33 the petitioners son. When the return of summons was submitted to the court by the sheriff on June 21, 1995, no statement was made on the impossibility of locating the defendant therein within a reasonable time, or that any effort was made by the sheriff to locate the defendant. There was no mention therein that Venancio Mariano Ancheta III was residing at No. 72 CRM Avenue cor. CRM Corazon, BF Homes, Almanza, Las Piñas, where the petitioner (defendant therein) was allegedly residing. It turned out that Venancio Mariano B. Ancheta III had been residing at Bancal, Carmona, Cavite, and that his father merely showed him the summons and the complaint and was made to affix his signature on the face of the summons; he was not furnished with a copy of the said summons and complaint.
We, thus, rule that the Court of Appeals acted arbitrarily in dismissing the original petition of the petitioner and the amended petition for annulment of the assailed order grounded on lack of jurisdiction over the person of the petitioner.
The action in Rule 47 of the Rules of Court does not involve the merits of the final order of the trial court. However, we cannot but express alarm at what transpired in the court a quo as shown by the records. The records show that for the petitioners failure to file an answer to the complaint, the trial court granted the motion of the respondent herein to declare her in default. The public prosecutor condoned the acts of the trial court when he interposed no objection to the motion of the respondent. The trial court forthwith received the evidence of the respondent ex-parte and rendered judgment against the petitioner without a whimper of protest from the public prosecutor. The actuations of the trial court and the public prosecutor are in defiance of Article 48 of the Family Code, which reads:ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
Article 48. In all cases of annulment or declaration of absolute nullity of marriage, the Court shall order the prosecuting attorney or fiscal assigned to it to appear on behalf of the State to take steps to prevent collusion between the parties and to take care that evidence is not fabricated or suppressed.
In the cases referred to in the preceding paragraph, no judgment shall be based upon a stipulation of facts or confession of judgment.35
The trial court and the public prosecutor also ignored Rule 18, Section 6 of the 1985 Rules of Court (now Rule 9, Section 3[e] of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure) which provides:ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
Sec. 6. No defaults in actions for annulment of marriage or for legal separation. If the defendant in an action for annulment of marriage or for legal separation fails to answer, the court shall order the prosecuting attorney to investigate whether or not a collusion between the parties exits, and if there is no collusion, to intervene for the State in order to see to it that the evidence submitted is not fabricated.36
In the case of Republic v. Court of Appeals, 37 this Court laid down the guidelines in the interpretation and application of Art. 48 of the Family Code, one of which concerns the role of the prosecuting attorney or fiscal and the Solicitor General to appear as counsel for the State:ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
(8) The trial court must order the prosecuting attorney or fiscal and the Solicitor General to appear as counsel for the state. No decision shall be handed down unless the Solicitor General issues a certification, which will be quoted in the decision, briefly stating therein his reasons for his agreement or opposition, as the case may be, to the petition. The Solicitor General, along with the prosecuting attorney, shall submit to the court such certification within fifteen (15) days from the date the case is deemed submitted for resolution of the court. The Solicitor General shall discharge the equivalent function of the defensor vinculi contemplated under Canon 1095.38
This Court in the case of Malcampo-Sin v. Sin 39 reiterated its pronouncement in Republic v. Court of Appeals,40 regarding the role of the prosecuting attorney or fiscal and the Solicitor General to appear as counsel for the State.41 The trial court, abetted by the ineptitude, if not sheer negligence of the public prosecutor, waylaid the Rules of Court and the Family Code, as well as the rulings of this Court.
The task of protecting marriage as an inviolable social institution requires vigilant and zealous participation and not mere pro-forma compliance. The protection of marriage as a sacred institution requires not just the defense of a true and genuine union but the exposure of an invalid one as well.42
A grant of annulment of marriage or legal separation by default is fraught with the danger of collusion. Hence, in all cases for annulment, declaration of nullity of marriage and legal separation, the prosecuting attorney or fiscal is ordered to appear on behalf of the State for the purpose of preventing any collusion between the parties and to take care that their evidence is not fabricated or suppressed. If the defendant-spouse fails to answer the complaint, the court cannot declare him or her in default but instead, should order the prosecuting attorney to determine if collusion exists between the parties. The prosecuting attorney or fiscal may oppose the application for legal separation or annulment through the presentation of his own evidence, if in his opinion, the proof adduced is dubious and fabricated.
Our constitution is committed to the policy of strengthening the family as a basic social institution. Our family law is based on the policy that marriage is not a mere contract, but a social institution in which the State is vitally interested. The State can find no stronger anchor than on good, solid and happy families. The break-up of families weakens our social and moral fabric; hence, their preservation is not the concern of the family members alone.43 Whether or not a marriage should continue to exist or a family should stay together must not depend on the whims and caprices of only one party, who claims that the other suffers psychological imbalance, incapacitating such party to fulfill his or her marital duties and obligations.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is GRANTED. The Resolutions of the Court of Appeals dated July 13, 2000 and September 27, 2000 in CA-G.R. SP No. 59550 are hereby SET ASIDE and REVERSED. Let the records of CA-G.R. SP No. 59550 be remanded to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings conformably with the Decision of this Court and Rule 47 of the Rules of Court, as amended.
Quisumbing, (Acting Chairman),
Austria-Martinez, and TINGA, JJ., concur.
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