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G.R. No. 172198 - Ma. Lourdes C. De Castro v. Crispino De Castro, Jr., Office of the City Prosecutor for Manila, and the Office of the Solicitor General

G.R. No. 172198 - Ma. Lourdes C. De Castro v. Crispino De Castro, Jr., Office of the City Prosecutor for Manila, and the Office of the Solicitor General

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 172198 : June 16, 2009]

MA. LOURDES C. DE CASTRO, Petitioner, v. CRISPINO DE CASTRO, JR., OFFICE OF THE CITY PROSECUTOR FOR MANILA, and THE OFFICE OF THE SOLICITOR GENERAL, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

PUNO, C.J.:

This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari of the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 81856, dated April 4, 2006, which found no grave abuse of discretion in the Orders dated August 20, 2003 and December 12, 2003, issued by Acting Judge Marvic Balisi-Umali of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila in Civil Case No. 96-79135 for the declaration of nullity of marriage.

First, the facts:

Petitioner Ma. Lourdes C. De Castro and private respondent Crispino De Castro, Jr. were married on January 1, 1971. In 1996, private respondent filed a petition2 for the declaration of nullity of their marriage before the RTC of Manila.

In his petition, private respondent alleged that he was impulsive and reckless in his youth; that while still in school, he impregnated petitioner, and they got married so as not to expose both their families to further embarrassment; that their quarrels intensified during the marriage; that due to immaturity and inability to cope with their problems, he abandoned his family many times and became involved in affairs with different women. He further alleged that they tried to save their marriage through counseling, but to no avail. In 1992, he left the family home for good, and lived with another woman with whom he had three illegitimate children.

For failure of petitioner to file her Answer to the petition and upon motion of private respondent, the case was set for hearing and private respondent testified. Further, he presented psychiatrist, Dr. Cecilia Albaran, as an expert witness. He then rested his case, with no opposition from the public prosecutor.

On June 22, 1998, the RTC annulled the marriage between petitioner and private respondent, viz.:

After a thorough review of the evidence adduced and the testimonies of petitioner [herein private respondent] and Dra. Cecilia Albaran, the Court finds and so holds that both parties are psychologically incapacitated to enter into marriage. The Court, therefore, is convinced that from the evidence presented, there appears sufficient basis to declare that herein parties are psychologically incapacitated to enter into marriage, which, under the provisions of the Family Code, is a valid ground for the annulment of marriage.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, Decision is hereby rendered declaring the marriage entered into by the parties herein on January 1, 1971 at Santuario de San Jose, Greenhills, Mandaluyong City null and void and of no legal effect.

The Local Civil Registrar of Mandaluyong City is hereby directed to cancel from the Registry of Marriages the marriage contract entered into by the parties herein on January 1, 1971 at Mandaluyong City.

Let a copy of this Decision be furnished the Local Civil Registrar of Mandaluyong City for proper annotation and recording, as required by law; the Local Civil Registrar of Manila and the National Census and Statistics Office for record purposes.

SO ORDERED.3

On August 3, 1998, petitioner filed a Motion for Leave4 to file an Omnibus Motion5 seeking a new trial or reconsideration of the June 22, 1998 Decision. She alleged that she was misled and prevented from participating in the annulment case by private respondent, because of his promise of continuous adequate support for the children, and the transfer of title to their three children of their family home, including its lot, located in Blue Ridge Subdivision, Libis, Quezon City and another piece of real property in Tagaytay.

The trial court granted the omnibus motion in an Order dated December 11, 1998. In the Order, petitioner was required to submit a question-and-answer form affidavit which would constitute her direct testimony. Further, the cross-examination of petitioner and her witnesses was scheduled on February 4, 1999.

On December 27, 1999, petitioner filed her Answer. She controverted the allegations of private respondent. She alleged that they were both psychologically and emotionally prepared for marriage; that, except for a few slightly turbulent months in 1981, their life as a married couple was smooth and blissful and remained so for twenty years, or until 1990; that they were well adapted to each other, and their quarrels were few and far between; that the communication lines between them were always open and they were able to settle their differences through discussion; that private respondent was a devoted and faithful husband, and did not abandon them repeatedly; and that petitioner knew of only one extramarital affair of private respondent.

The trial court conducted hearings on petitioner's (1) application for support pendente lite and (2) urgent motion for judicial deposit of petitioner's [herein private respondent's] separation benefits,6 in light of his retirement/separation from employment at Petron Corporation, effective August 31, 2000; and private respondent's (3) motion for judicial approval of the alleged voluntary agreement on the dissolution of the conjugal partnership of gains and partition of the conjugal properties.7 The first has been resolved,8 but the second and third remain pending.

On July 17, 2002, petitioner was to present her first witness. The trial court reset the hearing to August 21, 2002 as there was no return of the notice sent to private respondent and his counsel.9

On August 21, 2002, petitioner started her direct testimony. However, considering the length of her testimony, the continuance of her direct examination was set on October 2, 2002.

On September 30, 2002, private respondent moved to reset the October 2, 2002 hearing to November 13, 2002, due to his trip to Europe.10

On November 8, 2002, private respondent again moved to reset the November 13, 2002 hearing to December 11, 2002 or at the earliest possible date as the calendar of the trial court would allow, for the reason that his counsel was "out of the country for important personal reasons and cannot attend the hearing."11

During the hearing on December 11, 2002, petitioner's counsel moved for its cancellation because of the absence of petitioner who was at that time attending a very urgent business meeting in connection with her volunteer work for Bantay Bata. The hearing was reset to February 6, 2003.12 However, the records reveal that no hearing was conducted on said date.

On the next hearing of February 20, 2003, petitioner's counsel again moved for the resetting of the hearing to March 27, 2003.13

On March 27, 2003, the hearing was reset to April 10, 2003 because the Presiding Judge was on official leave.14

On April 10, 2003, the hearing was again reset to May 8, 2003, by agreement of the parties.15

On May 8, 2003, the hearing was likewise reset to July 25, 2003 because of the absence of counsel of both petitioner and private respondent.16

During the hearing on July 25, 2003, petitioner's counsel moved to reset the hearing because of the absence of petitioner who was then in the U.S. helping her daughter in taking care of her newborn baby. The trial court then ordered the resetting of the hearing to August 20, 2003 for the last time, viz.:

As prayed for by respondent's counsel for the cancellation of today's hearing as according to her the respondent is out of the country, over the vehement objection of petitioner's counsel, the hearing today is cancelled and reset for the last time to August 20, 2003 at 9:30 o'clock (sic) in the morning.

In the event the respondent cannot present any evidence on the next scheduled hearing, on proper motion the case shall be submitted for decision.

It appears that the presentation of respondent's evidence had been reset twice at the instance of defendant's counsel, the respondent is hereby directed to pay a postponement fee of Php100.00 and to show proof of compliance.

Both counsels are notified in open Court.

SO ORDERED.

Given in open Court this 25th day of July 2003 in the City of Manila, Philippines.17

In the hearing on August 20, 2003, counsel for petitioner again requested that it be cancelled and reset due to the unavailability of witnesses. Petitioner was still in the U.S. taking care of her newborn grandchild, while Dr. Maria Cynthia Ramos-Leynes, who conducted a psychiatric evaluation on petitioner, was likewise out of the country, attending a convention. The motion was denied by the trial court, viz.:

In its Order of July 25, 2003, respondent was given today her last chance to present her evidence, with the warning that if no evidence is presented today, then the case shall be submitted for decision.

In today's hearing, respondent failed to present any evidence. As ordered and on motion of petitioner's counsel, the Court deems the respondent to have waived her right to present further evidence. In view thereof, she is hereby given fifteen (15) days from today within which to make an offer of her exhibits, copy of which she shall furnish the petitioner's counsel, who is hereby given the same period of time from receipt thereof within which to make his comments thereon. Within thirty (30) days from receipt of the Court's resolution on respondent's offer of exhibits, parties are directed to file their respective Memorandum of Authorities.

Thereafter, this case which is of 1996 vintage shall be submitted for the decision once again.

SO ORDERED.

Given in open Court, this 20th day of August, 2003 in Manila.18

Petitioner moved to reconsider the August 20, 2003 Order. She claimed that her reasons for her absence during the hearings were justifiable and she had no intention to delay the proceedings of this case. Further, she argued that there were pending incidents yet to be resolved by the trial court, referring to her motion for judicial deposit of private respondent's separation benefits and private respondent's motion for judicial approval of the alleged voluntary agreement on the dissolution of the conjugal partnership of gains and partition of the conjugal properties.19

This motion was denied in an Order dated December 12, 2003, which states:

This resolves respondent's Motion for Reconsideration on the August 20, 2003 Order directing her to submit her formal offer of exhibits after the Court deemed her to have waived her right to present further evidence for her failure to appear on the hearing which was previously set on said date by her counsel.

The record of the case reveals that respondent commenced the presentation of her evidence on August 21, 2002. The subsequent settings were all cancelled on motion of respondent's counsel for one reason or another.

On July 25, 2003, the hearing was again cancelled on motion of respondent's counsel and was reset for the last time to August 20, 2003 with the warning that if the respondent still fails to present evidence, the case shall be submitted for decision. On August 20, 2003, respondent failed to adduce her evidence.

The respondent's Motion for Reconsideration deserves a DENIAL.

It is more than apparent that the respondent was given all opportunity to adduce her evidence but she failed to do so. The Court had stretched its leniency to the limit but it is apparent the respondent is merely trifling with the Court's precious time.

Wherefore, respondent's Motion for Reconsideration is hereby DENIED. Respondent is given ten (10) days from notice to file her offer of exhibits.

SO ORDERED.

Manila, December 12, 2003.20

Petitioner filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court before the Court of Appeals, seeking to annul the Orders dated August 20, 2003 and December 12, 2003, for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion. Upon motion of petitioner, the trial court held in abeyance its Order to file the formal offer of exhibits, pending resolution by the Court of Appeals of the petition for certiorari .

The Court of Appeals dismissed the petition. It ruled:

. . . A reading of the assailed Orders reveals that public respondent's denial of petitioner's motion for cancellation and resetting of the hearing for continuance of her testimony was for cause. We take notice of the several postponements of the hearings on the continuation of petitioner's testimony, mostly on account of petitioner's own urgings. Particularly, we find remarkably militating against petitioner's cause the Order dated 25 July 2003 where public respondent, maybe exasperated at petitioner's seemingly shallow interest to proceed with the case as manifested in the prior motions to cancel the hearing, dutifully warned that another postponement of the scheduled presentation of testimony would compel the court to consider the case submitted for decision. We see this as a reasonable exercise of discretion on the part of public respondent. Petitioner was properly apprised and warned of the consequence of another non-appearance in the hearing. Petitioner insists that her inability to be present on the scheduled hearing on August 20, 2003 was due to physical impossibility to appear as she was out of the country on that day. We find the excuse flimsy. Aware in advance that she could not make it on the 20 August 2003 hearing, the least that she could have done was to instruct her counsel to make a timely representation with the court by filing an early motion-manifestation for the resetting of the hearing. Between July 25, 2003 and August 20, 2003 she had sufficient time to file one. Had the counsel not waited for the August 20, 2003 hearing to make the motion, petitioner may have elicited a kinder action from public respondent.

x x x

The Orders being assailed are interlocutory that will lead to a rendering of a judgment in the case by public respondent. Should such judgment be adverse to petitioner as she assumes it would be, she is not completely rendered helpless and without remedy as there will always be the remedy of appeal where facts and issues raised in the instant petition such as errors of law and errors of facts will still be ventilated and passed upon.

Certiorari is not available as a remedy against an interlocutory order except when such interlocutory order is patently erroneous and the remedy of appeal would not afford an adequate and expeditious relief. We do not find the assailed Orders patently erroneous and in case of an eventual unfavorable judgment, the remedy of appeal is an adequate relief always available to petitioner. Hence, certiorari, in the case at bar, will not lie.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED.21

Hence, this petition where petitioner invokes the following grounds:

THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN RULING THAT JUDGE UMALI DID NOT COMMIT GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN ISSUING HIS ORDERS DATED 20 AUGUST 2003 AND 12 DECEMBER 2003.22

Petitioner argues that the lower courts erred in ruling that she waived her right to present further evidence when she failed to appear at the August 20, 2003 hearing. She contends that in effect, she was declared in default, which is violative of the state policy on marriage as a social institution and the due process clause of the Constitution.

We disagree.

The instant case was set for hearing twelve times, or on the following dates:

1. July 17, 2002

2. August 21, 2002

3. October 2, 2002

4. November 13, 2002

5. December 11, 2002

6. February 6, 2003

7. February 20, 2003

8. March 27, 2003

9. April 10, 2003

10. May 8, 2003

11. July 25, 2003

12. August 20, 2003

The hearing of March 27, 2003 was cancelled because the presiding judge was on official leave, while the April 10, 2003 hearing was reset by agreement of the parties. Likewise, the hearing of May 8, 2003 was reset because the counsels of both parties were absent.

On the other hand, the following postponements were made at the instance of private respondent: (1) October 2, 2002 hearing, where private respondent, on September 30, 2002, moved to reset the hearing because of his trip to Europe; and (2) November 13, 2002 hearing, where private respondent, on November 8, 2002, moved to reset the hearing because his counsel was out of the country for important personal reasons.

In contrast, the following postponements were made at the instance of petitioner: (1) December 11, 2002 hearing, where petitioner's counsel, on the day itself, moved for the cancellation of the hearing because of the absence of his client who was at that time attending a very urgent business meeting in connection with her volunteer work for Bantay Bata; (2) February 20, 2003 hearing, where petitioner's counsel, on the day itself, moved for the resetting of the hearing; (3) July 25, 2003 hearing, where petitioner's counsel, on the day itself, moved to reset the hearing because his client was in the U.S. taking care of her newborn grandchild; and (4) August 20, 2003 hearing, where petitioner's counsel, again only on the day itself, moved to cancel the hearing because his client was still in the U.S. Further, Dr. Ramos-Leynes, petitioner's witness who conducted a psychiatric evaluation on her, was likewise out of the country.

We take note of the fact that all motions for postponement by petitioner were made on the scheduled hearing dates themselves. On the August 20, 2003 hearing, despite previous warning that no further postponement would be allowed, petitioner still failed to appear. We agree with the Court of Appeals when it pointed out that petitioner obviously knew in advance that she could not make it to the August 20, 2003 hearing. As of the last scheduled hearing of July 25, 2003, she was still out of the country. The least that petitioner could have done was to instruct her counsel to make a timely representation with the trial court by filing an early motion-manifestation for the resetting of the hearing. Between July 25, 2003 and August 20, 2003 she had sufficient time to file one. Obviously, the warning by the court of the consequence of another non-appearance in the hearing fell on deaf ears. After having been granted numerous motions for postponement, petitioner cannot now claim that she was denied due process. In Ortigas, Jr. v. Lufthansa German Airlines,23 we ruled that:

Where a party seeks postponement of the hearing of this case for reasons caused by his own inofficiousness, lack of resourcefulness and diligence if not total indifference to his own interests or to the interests of those he represents, thereby resulting in his failure to present his own evidence, the court would not extend to him its mantle of protection. If it was he who created the situation that brought about the resulting adverse consequences, he cannot plead for his day in court nor claim that he was so denied of it.

Further in Hap Hong Hardware Co. v. Philippine Company,24 we sustained the trial court's denial of a motion for postponement on the ground that the defendant's witnesses, officers of the company, could not come because it was the beginning of the milling season in the municipality of San Jose, Mindoro Occidental and their presence in the Central was necessary. We held that the reason adduced was "not unavoidable and one that could not have been foreseen." We ratiocinated:

The reason adduced in support of the motion for postponement is not unavoidable and one that could not have been foreseen. Defendant ought to have known long before the date of trial that the milling season would start when the trial of the case would be held. The motion should have been presented long in advance of the hearing, so that the court could have taken steps to postpone the trial without inconvenience to the adverse party. As it is, however, the motion was presented on the day of the trial. Knowing as it should have known that postponements lie in the court's discretion and there being no apparent reason why the defendant could not have presented the motion earlier, thus avoiding inconvenience to the adverse party, the appellant can not claim that the trial court erred in denying postponement. Under all the circumstances we hold that the court was perfectly justified in denying the motion for postponement.

In the case at bar, petitioner's excuse - that she was still in the U.S. taking care of her newborn grandchild, while her witness, Dr. Maria Cynthia Ramos-Leynes, who conducted a psychiatric evaluation on her, was likewise out of the country, attending a convention - was unjustified. These reasons were "not unavoidable and one that could not have been foreseen." The date of the trial was set one month prior, and as of July 25, 2003, petitioner was in the U.S. Certainly, petitioner would know in advance if she could make it to the August 20, 2003 hearing. Likewise, attending a convention is a scheduled event, also something known in advance. It is the basic duty of a litigant to move for postponement before the day of the hearing, so that the court could order its resetting and timely inform the adverse party of the new date. This was not the case at bar for the subject motion was presented only on the day of the trial without any justification. We thus hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for postponement.

Consequently, we cannot strike down the trial court's following orders: (1) dated August 20, 2003, which denied petitioner's motion for postponement, and, instead, directed petitioner to submit her formal offer of exhibits after the trial court considered her to have waived her right to present further evidence; and (2) dated December 12, 2003, which denied petitioner's motion for reconsideration. These orders are not violative of the state policy on marriage as a social institution, for the trial judge has the duty to resolve judicial disputes without unreasonable delay.

Petitioner contends that because her direct examination has not been completed and as she has not been cross-examined, her testimony has become useless. Apparently, petitioner is alluding to the rule that oral testimony may be taken into account only when it is complete, that is, if the witness has been wholly cross-examined by the adverse party; until such cross-examination has been finished, the testimony of the witness cannot be considered as complete and may not, therefore, be allowed to form part of the evidence to be considered by the court in deciding the case.25 The rule will not apply to the instant case.

Private respondent, who was present in court during the August 20, 2003 hearing and did not register any objection to the trial court's order nor move to strike out petitioner's testimony from the records, is deemed to have waived his right to cross-examine petitioner. Thus, petitioner's testimony is not rendered worthless. The waiver will not expunge the testimony of petitioner off the records. The trial court will still weigh the evidence presented by petitioner vis - à-vis that of private respondent's. The situation is not akin to default at all, where, for failure of defendant to file his responsive pleading and after evidence for the plaintiff has been received ex parte, the court renders a judgment by default on the basis of such evidence.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

Lastly, the appellate court correctly pointed out that the assailed Orders are interlocutory and there is yet no judgment in the case by the court a quo. If the trial court renders a judgment that is adverse to petitioner, she can always avail of the remedy of appeal to protect her legal rights.

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the petition is DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 81856, dated April 4, 2006, is AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.


Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 36-47.

2 Annex "B," rollo, pp. 48-52.

3 Rollo, p. 57.

4 Annex "D," rollo, pp. 58-59.

5 Rollo, pp. 60-69.

6 Annex "H," rollo, pp. 89-96.

7 Annex "I," rollo, pp. 97-103.

8 Annex "G," rollo, p. 88.

9 Annex "L," rollo, p. 119.

10 Annex "M," rollo, p. 120.

11 Annex "N," rollo, pp. 122-123.

12 Annex "O," rollo, p. 124.

13 Annex "P," rollo, p. 125.

14 Annex "Q," rollo, p. 126.

15 Annex "R," rollo, p. 127.

16 Annex "S," rollo, p. 128.

17 Annex "T," rollo, p. 129.

18 Annex "U," rollo, p. 130.

19 Annex "V," rollo, pp. 131-137.

20 Annex "W," rollo, pp. 138-139.

21 CA rollo, pp. 223-226.

22 Rollo, p. 24.

23 G.R. No. L-28773, June 30, 1975, 64 SCRA 610.

24 G.R. No. L-16773, May 23, 1961, 2 SCRA 68, cited in id.

25 Bachrach Motor Co. v. Court of Industrial Relations, G.R. No. L-26136, October 30, 1978, 86 SCRA 27, citing Ortigas, Jr. v. Lufthansa German Airlines, supra note 23 at 636-637.

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