“Ignorance of the law excuses no one. “
When a party that is a defendant to a civil case is served with summons and a complaint, the first thing that his or her lawyer needs to decide on is whether to file a Motion to Dismiss or an Answer. It is important to note that the procedural steps to be undertaken by the defendant must be aligned with the facts of the case and his or her defense.
The 2019 Amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a Motion to Dismiss is a prohibited pleading except on the grounds that: (a) the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim; (b) there is another action pending between the same parties for the same cause; and (c) the cause of action (claim) is barred by a prior judgment or by the statute of limitations (prescription) (Section 12, Rule 15).
The amended Rules limited the grounds for a Motion to Dismiss to stop its indiscriminate filing. Once denied, a Motion for Reconsideration may be filed, and if further denied a Petition for Certiorari to the next level court may be pursued. This practice had for decades delayed the conduct of the proceedings in the trial courts.
To further curb this practice without denying the defendant the immediate dismissal of baseless actions, the 2019 Amendments deleted Rule 16 on Motion to Dismiss and transferred the other grounds to Section 12, Rule 8 as affirmative defenses, in addition to the existing affirmative defenses in Section 5[b], Rule 6.
The deleted grounds for a Motion to Dismiss, and which are now just affirmative defenses, are: (a) lack of jurisdiction over the person of the defendant; (b) improper venue for the action; (c) lack of a plaintiff’s legal capacity; (d) a pleading asserting the claim states no cause of action; and (e) instances when a condition precedent has not been complied with (Section 12 (a), Rule 8).
The remaining grounds for a Motion to Dismiss were limited to the most essential. These are the same grounds for which the court can, motu proprio, or in its own initiative, dismiss the case (Section 1, Rule 9). With limited grounds for a Motion to Dismiss, the defendant/s will be more inclined to file an Answer resulting in the joinder of issues and leading the parties to pre-trial.
The desire to expedite the proceedings without depriving the defendant of the chance to dismiss a frivolous and baseless complaint at the first instance, was achieved when the trial court was given the power to motu proprio resolve the affirmative defenses in the Answer within thirty days from its filing.
However, the original affirmative defenses under Section 5(b), first paragraph, Rule 6 (such as fraud, release, payment, illegality, estoppel, and former recovery, among others), may be the subject of a summary hearing within fifteen days from the filing of an Answer. The affirmative defenses shall be resolved by the court within thirty days from the termination of the summary hearing (Section 12 (d), Rule 8).
Interestingly, the denial of affirmative defenses may not be the subject of a motion for reconsideration or petitions for certiorari, prohibition or mandamus; however, these may be among the issues or matters raised in an appeal after a judgment on its merits (Section 12 (e), Rule 8). This provision was introduced to deter the abuse of legal remedies such as petitions for certiorari, prohibition, or mandamus that delay the progress of legal proceedings.
Recently, the Supreme Court rendered a decision on the case of Colmenar v. Colmenar involving the application of the 2019 Amended Rules on motu proprio resolution by the court of the affirmative defenses. In the said case, the action was commenced in September 2018 and remained pending when the 2019 Amendments took effect on May 1, 2020.
In the same case, Defendant ProFriends filed its answer with an affirmative defense on December 2018; Defendant PEC and Crisanta Realty on January 3, 2019; and Defendant Amaia on February 27, 2020; all before the effectivity of the 2019 Amendments. According to the Supreme Court, Judge Gill should have desisted from applying the 2019 Amendments specifically, Section 12, Rule 8 (G.R. No. 252467, June 21, 2021).
The records show that when Judge Gill motu proprio resolved the affirmative defenses on May 22, 2020, the prescribed thirty (30) day period for resolution from the filing of the answer had long expired. It was also inaccurate for Judge Gill to say that she was motu proprio acting on the affirmative defenses when she had already resolved the common affirmative defense of failure to state a cause of action in her Omnibus Order dated February 12, 2020 (G.R. No. 252467, June 21, 2021).
In the Omnibus Order, she denied the motions to dismiss and motions to set the affirmative defenses for hearing because in her words, “the issues x x x are complex x x x and are x x x better threshed out in trial.” Furthermore, PEC, Crisanta Realty, and Amaia had pending motions for reconsideration when Judge Gill “motu proprio” dismissed the case based on the common affirmative defense (G.R. No. 252467, June 21, 2021).
Thus, instead of applying the 2019 Amendments, Judge Gill could have simply resolved the defendants’ pending motions for reconsideration. The worst part is that Judge Gill ignored the injustice caused by the application of the 2019 Amendments to the case (G.R. No. 252467, June 21, 2021).
As provided in the 2019 Proposed Amendments to the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, it “shall govern all cases filed after their effectivity on May 1, 2020, and also all pending proceedings, except to the extent that in the opinion of the court, their application would not be feasible or would work injustice” (G.R. No. 252467, June 21, 2021).
There is a legal maxim, ignorantia legis neminem excusat, which translated means: ignorance of the law excuses no one. It is with more reason that judges and lawyers must continue to study, update, and improve themselves in order to assist in the swift and orderly administration of justice.