The amendments to the Revised Rules on Evidence (Administrative Matter No. 19-08-15-SC) and Rules of Civil Procedure (Administrative Matter No. 19-10-20-SC) (collectively, the “Amended Rules”) will take effect on May 1, 2020. The Philippine Supreme Court approved these amendments to help minimize delays in court litigation and to expedite the resolution of cases.  

The full copies of the Amended Rules are available on the Philippine Supreme Court’s website at http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/9284/ and http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/9282/. 

The Amended Rules will apply to all newly filed cases and even to pending cases, based on the discretion of the court and the attendant circumstances. While there have been efforts by members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to request the postponement of the effectivity of the Amended Rules, especially considering the conditions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, [1] which led to the physical closure of courts [2] the Supreme Court has yet to issue any announcement on a postponement.  

The Amended Rules reflect developments in law, codify Supreme Court rulings and international conventions, and incorporate technological advancements. They also introduce significant changes that will affect how cases are initiated, tried, and resolved.  

The following are some issues which parties and their counsel may consider in the course of preparing for and litigating a court case: 

A.   Evidence Submitted with the Filing of Complaint and Answer (Rules 7 and 11) 

Parties to a case are now required to attach to their opening pleading (i.e., the complaint for the plaintiff or the answer for the defendant) copies of all the pieces of evidence supporting their claims and defenses. They must also indicate the names of intended witnesses and the summaries of their testimonies.  

With this new rule, the prospective plaintiff must now frontload a substantial portion of work before the filing of the complaint, including the preparation of documentary evidence, interview of witnesses, preparation of the witnesses’ judicial affidavits, among others.  

The answering party, in turn, would have a very limited period to complete the same amount of work in an effort to submit a complete and viable defense.  

This approach, which is a complete turnaround from previous procedure that only required litigants to present a basic overview of their positions before trial, could impact a party’s strategies in addressing an emerging dispute, engaging counsel, negotiating a settlement, and projecting costs. 

B.   Electronic Filing and Service of Pleadings (Rule 13)  

If the parties consent, a court may now allow documents, except for certain pleadings, to be filed in court and served on the other party through private courier or email. While electronic filing and service may expedite matters, issues are expected to arise on the sufficiency of proof of sending and receipt, especially in complex disputes involving voluminous submissions.   

C.   Service of Summons (Rule 14)  

The Amended Rules have liberalized the rules on service of summons on defendant corporations. Previously, service may only be made on the president, managing partner, general manager, corporate secretary, treasurer, or in-house counsel.  

Now, summons can be served through these individuals’ respective secretaries in their absence or unavailability. If service cannot be made through the secretaries, it may also be made through the person who customarily receives the correspondence for the defendant at its principal office, such as a receptionist or security guard.  

With this development, companies must now consider implementing measures to expeditiously refer any summons received to their in-house or external counsel, especially considering the new requirement, as noted above, to include all supporting evidence in the defendant’s answer. 

D. Minimizing Delays in Motion Practice and Mediation (Rules 11, 15, and 18)

A motion for extension is now strictly prohibited except for a one-time extension for the filing of the defendant’s initial answer to the complaint. Unlike the current practice of setting for hearing every motion that can affect the rights of the adverse party, a hearing will only be conducted if the judge considers it necessary and the adverse party is given only five days to comment on or oppose the motion.

Further, the second round of court mediation conducted before trial, called Judicial Dispute Resolution, is no longer required in all instances.

Mediation before the judge will only be conducted if the judge is convinced that a settlement between the parties is still possible. This particular change may expedite the pre-trial process but the absence of an additional mediation forum should be taken into account in any settlement negotiation strategy. 

E. Final Judgment after Pre-Trial (Rule 18)

After the pre-trial, the courts are now empowered to unilaterally render a judgment (even without a motion by a litigant) if the court opines that there are no more controverted facts, no more genuine issue as to any material fact, absence of any issue, or the answer fails to tender an issue. 

The court’s order submitting the case for resolution due to the foregoing grounds is included in the pretrial order and cannot be subject of an appeal or a special civil action for certiorari before the higher courts. With this, a party can suffer an adverse decision without further recourse while denied the opportunity to fully present its case or to properly cross examine the other party’s witnesses, thus requiring increased care and planning in the preparation of court submissions from the inception of a proceeding. 

F. Duplicates as Original Documents (Rule 130)

The Amended Rules appear to have relaxed the stringent requirements on presenting the original of a document by defining an “original” as including any printout or other output shown to accurately reflect the data, if the data is stored in a computer or similar device. A “duplicate” is also now considered as an original document unless a genuine question is raised as to its authenticity or if it would be unjust to allow the duplicate in lieu of the original. It appears that a photocopy, depending on the circumstances, may be admitted as an original document. 

G. Privileged Communications (Rule 130)

The Amended Rules codified additional exceptions to the attorney-client privilege, such as those communications relative to the furtherance of a crime or fraud, a breach of duty by the lawyer or the client, or a document where the lawyer is the attesting witness. Further, privileged communications remain privileged even in the hands of a third party who may have obtained the information if the original parties to the privileged communication took reasonable precautions to protect confidentiality.