Remedial Law

Luisa Montañer vs. Shari’a District Court

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G.R. No. 174975 – 596 Phil. 815 – 576 SCRA 746 – Remedial Law – Special Proceedings – General Principles; Nature of Special Proceedings – Special Proceedings are non-adversarial; has one definite party (the petitioner), but no definite adverse party

Alejandro Montañer, Sr. died in May 1995. During his lifetime, he had two families:

1st Family 2nd Family
Liling Disangcopan (widow spouse) Luisa Kho Montañer (widow spouse)
Child: Almahleen Liling S. Montañer Children: Alejandro Montañer, Jr., Lillibeth Montañer-Barrios, and Rhodora Eleanor Montañer-Dalupa

In 2005, Liling filed a complaint against the estate of Montañer Sr. Her case was docketed as a “Special Civil Action” and the case was entitled as “Almahleen Liling S. Montañer and Liling M. Disangcopan v. the Estates and Properties of Late Alejandro Montañer, Sr., Luisa Kho Montañer, Lillibeth K. Montañer, Alejandro Kho Montañer, Jr., and Rhodora Eleanor K. Montañer.” The case was filed before the Shari’a District Court of Marawi. It was filed there because Liling alleged that Montañer Sr. was a Muslim.

The heirs from the second family moved for the dismissal of the case on the grounds, among others, that (1) the estate of Montañer Sr. could not be made a defendant in a civil action, and (2) Montañer Sr. was not a Muslim.

ISSUE: Whether or not the arguments of the second family are correct.

HELD: No. The erroneous title and caption does not remove the fact that the petition filed by the 1st family is a special proceedings case. It is the allegations in the initiatory pleading that determines jurisdiction, not the title, not the caption, nor the designation of the pleading (in this case the initiatory pleading was designated as a complaint, not a petition).

To reiterate, the proceedings before the Shari’a Court are for the issuance of letters of administration, settlement, and distribution of the estate of the deceased, which is a special proceeding.

Section 3(c) of the Rules of Court defines a special proceeding as “a remedy by which a party seeks to establish a status, a right, or a particular fact.”

The issue on whether or not Montañer Sr. is part of the special proceedings. The allegation in the Answer/Motion to Dismiss of the 2nd family that Montañer Sr. was a catholic (this not covered by the Muslim Code and thus outside the jurisdiction of the Shari’a Court) cannot be the basis of determining jurisdiction. Again, it is the allegation in the initiatory pleading that determines jurisdiction. Here, the determination of whether or not Montañer Sr. was a Muslim is a question of fact which may be established in a special proceedings case which is exactly what the 1st family seeks in the case they filed.

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