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Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

G.R. No. 184197 : February 11, 2010

RAPID CITY REALTY AND DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Petitioner, v. ORLANDO VILLA and LOURDES PAEZ-VILLA,1cralaw Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO MORALES, J.:

Sometime in 2004, Rapid City Realty and Development Corporation (petitioner) filed a complaint for declaration of nullity of subdivision plans . . . mandamus and damages against several defendants including Spouses Orlando and Lourdes Villa (respondents). The complaint, which was docketed at the Regional Trial Court of Antipolo City as Civil Case No. 04-7350, was lodged at Branch 71 thereof.

After one failed attempt at personal service of summons, Gregorio Zapanta (Zapanta), court process server, resorted to substituted service by serving summons upon respondents househelp who did not acknowledge receipt thereof and refused to divulge their names. Thus Zapanta stated in the Return of Summons:

THIS IS TO CERTIFY that on September 24, 2004, the undersigned caused the service of summons together with a copy of the complaint with its annexes to defendant Spouses Lourdes Estudillo Paez-Cline and Orlando Villa at their given address at 905 Padre Faura Street, Ermita Manila, as per information given by two lady househelps who are also residing at the said address, the defendant spouses are not around at that time. On the 27th of September, 2004, I returned to the same placeto serve the summons. I served the summons and the copy of the complaint with its annexes to the two ladies (The same lady househelp I met on Sept. 24, 2004) but they refused to sign to acknowledge receipt and they refused to tell their name as per instruction of the defendants. With me who can attest to the said incident is Mr. Jun Llanes, who was with me at that time.2cralaw x x x (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Despite substituted service, respondents failed to file their Answer, prompting petitioner to file a "Motion to Declare Defendants[-herein respondents] in Default" which the trial court granted by Order of May 3, 2005.

More than eight months thereafter or on January 30, 2006, respondents filed a Motion to Lift Order of Default,3cralaw claiming that on January 27, 2006 they "officially receivedall pertinent papers such as Complaint and Annexes. Motion to Dismiss of the Solicitor General and the ORDER dated May 3, 2005 granting the Motion to Declare [them] in Default." And they denied the existence of two women helpers who allegedly refused to sign and acknowledge receipt of the summons. In any event, they contended that assuming that the allegation were true, the helpers had no authority to receive the documents.4cralaw

By Order of July 17, 2006, the trial court set aside the Order of Default and gave herein respondents five days to file their Answer. Respondents just the same did not file an Answer, drawing petitioner to again file a Motion to declare them in default, which the trial court again granted by Order of February 21, 2007.

On April 18, 2007, respondents filed an Omnibus Motion for reconsideration of the second order declaring them in default and to vacate proceedings, this time claiming that the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over their persons due to invalid service of summons.

The trial court denied respondents Omnibus Motion by Order of May 22, 2007 and proceeded to receive ex-parte evidence for petitioner.

Respondents, via certiorari , challenged the trial court's February 21, 2007 and April 18, 2007 Orders before the Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, the trial court, by Decision of September 4, 2007, rendered judgment in favor of petitioner.

By Decision of April 29, 2008,5cralaw the appellate court annulled the trial court's Orders declaring respondents in default for the second time in this wise:

In assailing the orders of the trial court through their Motion to Lift and later their OmnibusMotion the petitioners [herein-respondents] never raised any other defense in avoidance of the respondents [herein petitioners] claim, and instead focused all their energies on questioning the said court's jurisdiction. The latter motion clearly stated prefatorily their counsel's reservation or "special appearance to question jurisdiction" over the persons of the petitioners. "A party who makes a special appearance in court challenging the jurisdiction of said court based on the ground of invalid service of summons is not deemed to have submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the court."6cralaw (citation omitted; italics, emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Petitioner's motion for reconsideration having been denied by the appellate court by Resolution of August 12, 2008, it comes to the Court via petition for review on certiorari , arguing in the main that respondents, in filing the first Motion to Lift the Order of Default, voluntarily submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of the court.

The petition is impressed with merit.

It is settled that if there is no valid service of summons, the court can still acquire jurisdiction over the person of the defendant by virtue of the latter's voluntary appearance. Thus Section 20 of Rule 14 of the Rules of Court provides:

Sec. 20. Voluntary appearance . The defendant's voluntary appearance in the action shall be equivalent to service of summons. The inclusion in a motion to dismiss of other grounds aside from lack of jurisdiction over the person shall not be deemed a voluntary appearance.

And Philippine Commercial International Bank v. Spouses Wilson Dy Hong Pi and Lolita Dy, et al. enlightens:

Preliminarily, jurisdiction over the defendant in a civil case is acquired either by the coercive power of legal processes exerted over his person, or his voluntary appearance in court. As a general proposition, one who seeks an affirmative relief is deemed to have submitted to the jurisdiction of the court. It is by reason of this rule that we have had occasion to declare that the filing of motions to admit answer, for additional time to file answer, for reconsideration of a default judgment, and to lift order of default with motion for reconsideration, is considered voluntary submission to the court's jurisdiction. This, however, is tempered by the concept of conditional appearance, such that a party who makes a special appearance to challenge, among others, the court's jurisdiction over his person cannot be considered to have submitted to its authority.

Prescinding from the foregoing, it is thus clear that:

(1) Special appearance operates as an exception to the general rule on voluntary appearance;

(2) Accordingly, objections to the jurisdiction of the court over the person of the defendantmust be explicitly made, i.e., set forth in an unequivocal manner; and

(3) Failure to do so constitutesvoluntary submission to the jurisdiction of the court, especially in instances where a pleading or motion seeking affirmative relief is filed and submitted to the court for resolution.7cralaw (italics and underscoring supplied)

In their first Motion to Lift the Order of Default8cralaw dated January 30, 2006, respondents alleged:

x x x x

4. In the case of respondents, there is no reason why they should not receive the Orders of this Honorable Court since the subject of the case is their multi-million real estate property and naturally they would not want to be declared in default or lose the same outright without the benefit of a trial on the merits;

5. It would be the height of injustice if the respondents is [sic] denied the equal protection of the laws[;]

6. Respondents must be afforded "Due process of Law" as enshrined in the New Constitution, which is a basic right of every Filipino, since they were not furnished copies of pleadings by the plaintiff and the Order dated May 3, 2005;

x x x x9cralaw

and accordingly prayed as follows:

WHEREFORE, . . . it is most respectfully prayed . . . that the Order dated May 5, 2005 declaring [them] in default be LIFTED.10cralaw

Respondents didnot, in said motion, allege that their filing thereof was a special appearance for the purpose only to question the jurisdiction over their persons. Clearly, they had acquiesced to the jurisdiction of the court.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Court of Appeals Decision of April 29, 2008 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE.

Let the original records of Civil Case No. 04-7350 be remanded to the court of origin, Regional Trial Court of Antipolo City, Branch 71.

SO ORDERED.

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

REYNATO S. PUNO
Chief Justice
Chairperson

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA*
Associate Justice
LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Associate Justice

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
Associate Justice

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.

REYNATO S. PUNO
Chief Justice



Endnotes:

1cralaw The Court of Appeals was originally impleaded as respondent. Pursuant however to Rule 45, Sec. 4 of the Rules of Court, the courts or judges rendering the assailed judgment shall not be impleaded as respondents in a petition for review on certiorari .

*Additional member per Special Order No. 821.

2cralaw Records, p. 219.

3cralaw Id. at 367-372.

4cralaw Rollo, pp. 70-71.

5cralaw Penned by Associate Justice Apolinario O. Bruselas, Jr. with the concurrence of Associate Justices Rebecca de Guia-Salvador and Vicente S.E. Veloso.

6cralaw Supra note 4.

7cralaw G.R. No. 171137, June 5, 2009.

8cralaw Records, pp. 367-371.

9cralaw Id. at 368-369.

10cralaw Id. at 370.





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