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Antonio Ngo filed a civil case against Visitacion Gabelo et al. Gabelo, in their Answer, alleged that the case should be dismissed because Ngo did not file a barangay case prior to filing in court. Trial ensued and the Regional Trial Court dismissed Ngo’s case. One of the reasons for the dismissal was his failure to refer the case for barangay conciliation. Ngo filed a motion for reconsideration. The trial court granted the motion and ordered the case to be referred for barangay conciliation. Gabelo filed a petition for certiorari questioning the reinstatement made by the trial court.
The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Gabelo and dismissed the case filed by Ngo.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, Ngo argued that his failure to refer the case to the barangay prior to filing the case was deemed waived because Gabelo et al never filed a motion to dismiss. Ngo further argued that he was actually able to later comply with the condition precedent when he filed a barangay case upon order of the trial court. He even submitted a Certificate to File Action as he claimed that Gabelo et al did not appear during the barangay conciliation proceedings.
ISSUE: Whether or not Failure to Undergo Barangay Conciliation is a ground for dismissal of a case.
HELD: Yes. But it is waivable. It must be raised at the earliest opportunity otherwise it is waived. In this case however, Gabelo et al never waived the ground because they had raised the same as an affirmative defense in their Answer. This is allowed under Section 6, Rule 16 of the Rules of Court which provides that if no motion to dismiss has been filed, any grounds for dismissal provided for in the Rules may be pleaded as an affirmative defense in the answer and, in the discretion of the court, a preliminary hearing may be had thereon as if a motion to dismiss had been filed. It is undisputed that the case was never referred to the Lupong Tagapayapa for conciliation. Gabelo et al successfully prevented the trial court from exercising jurisdiction over the case by timely invoking the ground in their answer as an affirmative defense. Thus, the complaint is dismissible for failure to comply with the mandatory requirement of barangay conciliation as a condition precedent before filing an action.
Anent the argument that the defect was cured upon submission of the Certificate to File Action, such argument has no merit. The Certificate to File Action is apparently defective because (1) it is indicated there that a settlement was made but was repudiated yet in his pleadings before the SC, Ngo said that Gabelo et al never appeared in the barangay proceedings, and (2) it appears that not all the opposing parties were summoned by the barangay.
The Supreme Court also emphasized that lack of barangay conciliation affects a plaintiff’s cause of action. A case is prematurely filed if filed without the requisite barangay conciliation. Lack of barangay conciliation is not jurisdictional as the court may still hear the case if the same is not invoked. Prior recourse to the conciliation procedure is not a jurisdictional requirement. However, if the fact of non-compliance with and non-observance of such procedure has been seasonably raised as an issue before the court first taking cognizance of the complaint, dismissal of the action is proper.