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G.R. No. L-52241 – 133 SCRA 271 – Political Law – Due Process – Impartial and Competent Court
Rosalinda Tecson filed a case for collection of sum of money before the Rizal RTC against Pedro Azul. The case was raffled to Judge Sarmiento. On 27 Mar 1979, Azul received the copy of the complaint. On 10 Apr 1979, Azul filed a motion for a 15 day extension to file for responsive pleading. Azul was unaware that J. Sarmiento retired and was temporarily substituted by J. Anover who granted the extension but only for 5 days starting the next day. However, Azul only received the order granting his on the 23rd of the same month way past the 5 day period granted. On the 17th of April, Tecson already filed a motion to declare Azul in default averring that Azul’s 5 day extension has already lapsed. On the 18th of the same month, J Castro, the permanent judge who replaced J Sarmiento took office and he declared Azul to be in default due to the lapse of the 5 day extension. J Castro proceeded with the reception of evidence the next day and of course without Azul’s evidence as he was still unaware of him being in default. On April 27th, J Castro ruled in favor Tecson. On May 2nd Azul, unaware that J Castro already decided the case moved for reconsideration to remove his default status. On May 7th Azul received the decision rendered by the court on Apr 27th (but on record the date of receipt was May 5th). Azul filed a motion for new trial on June 6th. The lower court denied the same on the 20th of the same month. On Aug 1st, Azul filed a notice of appeal it was denied on the 3rd but was reconsidered on the 7th hence Azul filed his record on appeal on the 21st and J Castro approved it on the 27th but upon motion of Tecson on the 30th, J Castro set aside its earlier decision on the 27th. Finally, J Castro disallowed Azul’s record on appeal on the 7th of September.
ISSUE: Whether or not Azul has been denied due process.
HELD: Yes. The SC agreed with the Azul that he was denied due process. The constitutional provision on due process commands all who wield public authority, but most peremptorily courts of justice, to strictly maintain standards of fundamental fairness and to insure that procedural safeguards essential to a fair trial are observed at all stages of a proceeding. It may be argued that when Azul’s counsel asked for a fifteen (15) day extension from April 11, 1979 to file his answer, it was imprudent and neglectful for him to assume that said first extension would be granted. However, the records show that Atty. Camaya personally went to the session hall of the court with his motion for postponement only to be informed that J Sarmiento had just retired but that his motion would be considered “submitted for resolution.” Since the sala was vacant and pairing judges in Quezon City are literally swamped with their own heavy loads of cases, counsel may be excused for assuming that, at the very least, he had the requested fifteen (15) days to file his responsive pleading. It is likewise inexplicable why J Anover, who had not permanently taken over the sala vacated by the retired judge, should suddenly rule that only a five-day extension would be allowed. And to compound Azul’s problems, the order was sent by mail and received only twelve (12) days later or after the five-day period. A court should have known that court orders requiring acts to be done in a matter of days should not be sent by mail.
Further, Azul was declared in default. However, it appears that Azul was not furnished a copy of the motion from Tecson seeking for him (Azul) to be declared in default. Also, the motion was dated April 17, 1979. Judge Castro acted on and granted said motion on April 18, 1979 – the first day that Judge Castro assumed office.