Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 140484             January 28, 2008

ISABELITA SEVILLA CASTRO, petitioner,
vs.
LAMBERTO RAMOS CASTRO; RTC of Valenzuela, Branch 75 JUDGE JAIME F. BAUTISTA, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

AZCUNA, J.:

This is a petition for certiorari1 seeking the nullification of the Decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Valenzuela, Metro Manila, Branch 75, on August 19, 1998, and its Orders issued respectively on May 5, 1999, July 1, 1999 and September 20, 1999, in Civil Case No. 180-V-98 entitled "Lamberto R. Castro v. Isabelita S. Castro."

The facts are as follows:2

A petition for annulment of marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity under Article 36 of the Family Code was filed by private respondent Lamberto R. Castro against petitioner Isabelita S. Castro on July 1, 1998.

Summons, along with a copy of the petition for annulment, was allegedly received by petitionerís nephew on her behalf at her residence.

For failure of petitioner to file an answer, the RTC ordered the state prosecutor to conduct an investigation and to submit to the court a report thereon.

The state prosecutor submitted a report stating that no collusion existed between the parties in the filing of the petition. The petition was set for hearing on August 18, 1998 at 8:30 a.m. For failure of petitioner to appear and to file any responsive pleading to contest the petition, the trial court allowed private respondent to present his evidence ex parte in the presence of the state prosecutor.

At the ex-parte hearing, private respondent stated that he married petitioner in 1958. They have four children but they have been living apart for a number of years prior to the filing of the petition. Private respondent alleged that their relationship did not last because petitioner was irresponsible, violent, and had failed to show love and affection towards him and their children, and had an illicit affair with the family driver which prompted him (private respondent) to file an adultery case against her. He added that petitioner had neurotic and psychotic tendencies, and was always mad at him for no apparent reason.

To support private respondentís petition, Regine Marmee C. Cosico, a clinical psychologist, was presented to testify on petitionerís psychological incapacity based on the psychological tests that she conducted on both parties. According to her, the tests revealed that petitioner is psychologically incapacitated, hence, unable to perform her marital obligations.

On August 19, 1998, public respondent Judge Jaime F. Bautista granted the petition. The dispositive portion of the decision reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of the petitioner and the marriage of petitioner and respondent on January 30, 1958 is hereby declared ANNULLED.

SO ORDERED.3

On September 8, 1998, petitioner filed a Motion to Set Aside/Declare Judgment Null and Void4 on the ground that the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over her person for failure to serve summons and a copy of the petition. She averred that the sheriffís return was invalid because she had no nephew residing with her, and no earnest effort was shown by the sheriff to serve the summons and a copy of the petition before resorting to substituted service. Petitioner also claimed that the allegations made by private respondent were false, and that the real reason for filing the petition for annulment was so that he can marry his concubine.

Private respondent filed an Opposition to Respondentís Motion to Set Aside Judgment asserting that summons was properly served on petitioner. After petitioner had filed her Reply, the trial court issued an Order on March 2, 1999 declaring that:

Before this court is respondentís Ö Motion for Reconsideration, whereupon the petitioner, through counsel, filed [his] Opposition.

Finding the Opposition to be with merit, insofar as the absence of contrary evidence from the respondent, the Motion for Reconsideration is hereby GRANTED PARTIALLY, hence, the decision or judgment of this court is hereby tentatively set aside and the respondent is hereby allowed to present contrary evidence which is hereby set for March 29, 1999 at 10:00 oíclock in the morning.

. . .

SO ORDERED.5

Petitionerís counsel filed a motion for postponement which was granted by the trial court. The hearing was reset to May 5, 1999 at 8:30 a.m.

On April 21, 1999, however, petitionerís counsel again moved for the postponement of the May 5, 1999 hearing to June 16, 1999.6

Notwithstanding petitionerís motion for postponement, the trial court, on May 5, 1999, issued an Order affirming the Decision dated August 19, 1998, thus:

When this case was called for hearing today, only Atty. Froilan Zapanta was present in court. Although absent, respondentís counsel, Teresita Marbibi, had earlier filed a "Motion for Postponement."

Upon manifestation of Atty. Zapanta, considering that the respondentís counsel, time and again, has been filing motions to postpone, the respondent is hereby deemed to have waived her right to present countervailing evidence and the Decision dated August 19, 1998 is hereby ordered MAINTAINED.

SO ORDERED.7

Petitioner received a copy of the Order on May 7, 1999. She filed a motion for reconsideration8 on May 19, 1999, asserting that private respondent neither opposed the motion for postponement nor did she receive any order from the court denying the same. She likewise pointed out that public respondent should have allowed her the chance to present contrary evidence in court.

After private respondent filed his Opposition to the Motion for Reconsideration, the case was deemed submitted for resolution. On July 1, 1999, the trial court issued an Order denying petitionerís motion for reconsideration.9

Petitioner received the Order on July 16, 1999, and on July 19, 1999, she filed a Notice of Appeal with the trial court10 against which a Motion to Dismiss Appeal was filed by private respondent.11

On September 20, 1999, the trial court issued an Order maintaining its Decision dated August 19, 1998, thus:

Before this Court are several contrasting pleadings propounded by the contending parties through their respective counsels. It appears, however, that the petitionerís "Motion to Dismiss Appeal" vis-à-vis the Opposition thereto as well as the related pleadings, is with MERIT. In other words, the arguments or reasons propounded therein by the movant appear to be INDUBITABLE, hence, the Opposition thereto is accordingly DENIED, and consequently, the said Motion to Dismiss Appeal is hereby GRANTED.

The Decision of this court dated August 19, 1998 is hereby ordered MAINTAINED.

SO ORDERED. 12

The decision having become final and executory on October 11, 1999, the trial court issued an entry of judgment on October 29, 1999.13

Hence, this petition.

Petitioner contends that:

One, the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over her (petitioner);

Two, the trial court acted with grave abuse of discretion which is tantamount to lack of jurisdiction when it issued the Decision dated August 19, 1998; and

Lastly, the trial court acted with grave abuse of discretion when it denied her appeal, and maintained the assailed decision.

Petitioner argues as follows:

First, there was no valid service of summons; hence, the trial court had no right or power to render judgment against her. The sheriffís return stated that summons was served through petitionerís nephew without an explanation why a substituted service was resorted to. Also, petitioner does not have any nephew living at her residence;

Second, the finding of the trial court that petitioner is suffering from psychological incapacity is devoid of merit. The allegations of private respondent merely showed that they could not get along with each other. There had been no showing of any psychological defect on the part of petitioner or the gravity of the problem, neither its juridical antecedence nor its incurability;

Third, the trial court erred in not setting the case for pre-trial and trial which is a mandatory requirement under Section 2, Rule 18 of the Rules of Court. It rendered a decision without any evidence presented by petitioner. The court merely relied on the fabricated report of the public prosecutor as the latter did not actually interview her or conduct any investigation on the matter; and

Lastly, the notice of appeal filed by petitioner on July 19, 1999 was an appeal from the Order dated July 1, 1999, which was an interlocutory order. This was, however, dismissed by public respondent. Petitioner, therefore, has no other recourse but to file the present petition for certiorari.

The petition fails.

This Court finds no reason to set aside the findings of the trial court. The records show that petitioner was personally informed of the petition for annulment, and as stated by the trial court, petitioner received the summons and the petition on July 15, 1998. She "acknowledged receipt thereof by affixing her signature on the original copy of said summons dated July 13, 1998."14 Petitioner neither denied nor refuted this.

Petitionerís claim that she was never informed of the proceedings is unbelievable because she even submitted herself to a series of psychological examination performed by public respondentís expert witness, Regine Marmee C. Cosico, a clinical psychologist.

Petitioner was afforded due process and the trial court acquired jurisdiction over her person. Even assuming that petitioner did not receive the summons, she was deemed to have submitted herself to the jurisdiction of the trial court when she filed a motion to set aside/declare judgment null and void.15 After the trial court had granted her motion and she was given the opportunity to present contrary evidence, she and her counsel failed to appear on the scheduled hearings for this purpose.

Finally, the trial courtís decision had already become final and executory, and judgment was entered on October 29, 1999. For this reason and on account of private respondentís death on January 14, 2004,16 the judgment is binding on both parties. Section 24 of the Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages17 provides:

Sec. 24. Effect of death of a party; duty of the Family Court or Appellate Court. Ė Ö(b) If the party dies after the entry of judgment of nullity or annulment, the judgment shall be binding upon the parties and their successors in interest in the settlement of the estate in the regular courts.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED. The Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Valenzuela, Metro Manila, Branch 75, on August 19, 1998, and its Orders issued respectively on May 5, 1999, July 1, 1999 and September 20, 1999, in Civil Case No. 180-V-98, are AFFIRMED.

No costs.

SO ORDERED.

ADOLFO S. AZCUNA
Associate Justice


WE CONCUR:

REYNATO S. PUNO
Chief Justice
Chairperson

ANGELINA SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ
Associate Justice

RENATO C. CORONA
Associate Justice

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
Associate Justice


CERTIFICATION

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 Courtís Division.

REYNATO S. PUNO
Chief Justice


Footnotes

1 Under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.

2 Rollo, pp. 22-26.

3 Rollo, p. 26.

4 Records, p. 27.

5 Records, p. 39.

6 Id. at 45.

7 Id. at 47.

8 Records, p. 48.

9 Id. at 60.

10 Id. at 61.

11 Id. at 70.

12 Id. at 93.

13 Records, p. 94.

14 Rollo, p. 22.

15 Francisco Motors Corporation v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 100812, June 25, 1999, 309 SCRA 72.

16 Rollo, p. 199.

17 A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC.


The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation