The Supreme Court recently issued amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Revised Rules on Evidence (collectively, the Revised Rules). The Revised Rules will take effect on 1 May 2020. Like the earlier released Revised Guidelines on Continuous Trial of Criminal Cases, the Revised Rules are intended to expedite civil and criminal litigations and, to this end, streamline the litigation process.
Why this affects you
The Revised Rules introduce substantial changes to the litigation process, and will have a significant effect on how companies approach, avoid or prepare for, litigations.
The Revised Rules will apply to newly-filed cases (i.e. filed after 1 May 2020). It will also apply to those already pending as of the effectivity date, except to the extent that in the opinion of the court, application of the Revised Rules would not be feasible or would work injustice. In such case, the old rules will be applied.
10 Notable Changes Introduced by the Revised Rules
1. New rule on originals of documents
The Revised Rules allow the presentation of a "duplicate" of an original, and such duplicate is deemed admissible as an original unless (a) a genuine question is raised as to the authenticity of the original, or (b) in the circumstances, it is unjust or inequitable to admit the duplicate in lieu of the original. The practical effect is that, as a general rule, photocopies will be admissible into evidence, unless a genuine issue on its authenticity is raised, or it is shown that its admission is unjust or inequitable. The burden to show that the photocopies are not admissible is on the party opposing its admission.
2. A party must be ready to submit evidence upon filing of the Complaint or Answer
The Revised Rules require a Complaint and an Answer (or any other pleading containing a party's claims and defenses) to already contain or append the (a) names of the witnesses, (b) a summary of their intended testimonies, (c) judicial affidavits of the witnesses, and (d) the documentary and object evidence in support of a party's allegations. This means that anyone wishing to file a complaint or who finds itself being a respondent in a case, must immediately prepare the evidence in support of the Complaint or Answer. This is a significant change from the present practice where these information/documents are submitted in the course of pre-trial which usually takes place many months after the filing of the Complaint or Answer.
3. Counsel's signature
Under the present rules, signature of counsel constitutes a certificate by him/her that he/she has read the pleading and that to the best of his knowledge, information and belief, there is good ground to support it and it is not interposed for delay.
The Revised Rules expands this certification to include the following: (a) the document is not being presented for any improper purpose, (b) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or jurisprudence or by non-frivolous argument for modifying or reversing existing jurisprudence, (c) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or will have evidentiary support after availment of the modes of discovery, and (d) denials of factual contentions are warranted by evidence, or reasonably based on belief or lack of information.
Violation of the above warranties exposes the responsible attorney, law firm, or party to court sanctions. This provision applies to "every pleading and other written submissions to the court", and thus arguably applies not only to signatures by external counsel but also by in-house counsels who sign and submit papers in the course of the proceedings to the court. These may be construed as extending to submissions such as judicial affidavits, and documents verified by in-house counsel.
4. New ways to serve summons on a defendant
Under the present rules, summons are generally served on defendants by the court's sheriffs. Under the Revised Rules, a party, who is a complainant, may be authorized by the court to serve summons.
In addition, service of summons may be done through electronic mail to the defendant's electronic mail address, with the court's permission. Service may also be made not only on the president, managing partner, general manager, corporate secretary, treasurer, or in house counsel of the said corporations, but also on their respective secretaries, in their absence or unavailability. If service cannot be made upon such secretary, it shall be made upon the person who "customarily receives correspondence for the defendant at its principal office." If there is a refusal on the aforementioned persons to receive the summons despite at least 3 attempts on 2 different dates, service may be made to the corporation via e-mail, if allowed by the court.
The Revised Rules now make it clear that the rule on extraterritorial service of summons on foreign corporations not registered in the Philippines or without a resident agent, apply if such corporation "has transacted or is doing business in the Philippines". For reference, the rule on extraterritorial service of summons is that foreign corporations not registered in the Philippines or without a resident agent may be served summons by (a) personal service coursed through the foreign court with the assistance of the department of foreign affairs; (b) publication; (c) facsimile; (d) electronically; or (e) such other means as the court may direct.
More importantly, if a party, who claims that summon was not properly served on it, sends a lawyer to make a special appearance in its behalf to question the validity of the service of summons, the said counsel shall be deputized by the court to serve summons on his or her client. This will discourage the present practice wherein parties have their counsels enter special appearance for the sole purpose of challenging the validity of the service of summons, which often delays court proceedings.
5. Motions to Dismiss generally not allowed but shorter periods within which to resolve grounds for dismissal
The present rules allow the filing of a Motion to Dismiss on the basis of (a) lack of jurisdiction over the person of the defendant; (b) lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter; (c) improper venue; (d) lack of capacity to sue; (e) pendency of action between the same parties for the same cause; (f) cause of action is barred by a prior judgment or by the statute of limitations; (g) complaint states no cause of action; (h) claim has been paid, waived, abandoned or otherwise extinguished; (i) unenforceable due to statute of frauds; and (j) failure to comply with a condition precedent.
Under the Revised Rules, only the following grounds may be raised as grounds for a Motion to Dismiss: (a) lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter; (b) pendency of action between the same parties for the same cause; and (c) cause of action is barred by prior judgment or by the statute of limitations. Nevertheless, any other grounds for dismissal available under the present rules must, under the Revised Rules, be pleaded as an affirmative defense in the Answer which the court will have to resolve within 30 calendar days.
If a Motion to Dismiss is allowed, the same shall be resolved within 15 calendar days from the court's receipt of the opposition or upon expiration of the period within which to file such opposition (i.e., 5 calendar days from receipt of the Motion to Dismiss). While the Revised Rules generally prohibit a Motion to Dismiss, the changes will have a positive effect as they will expedite the resolution of the issue of whether the complaint should be dismissed.
6. New rules on motions to prevent delays in the proceedings
The Revised Rules now define motions which are to be considered litigious (i.e., motion for bill of particulars, motion to dismiss, motion for reconsideration) and non-litigious (i.e., motion for postponement, motion for extension to file Answer).
Non-litigious motions are resolved by the court within 5 calendar days from receipt, without having to wait for the other party's comment or opposition. The other party is not even given a period to file any comment or opposition.
Litigious motions, on the other hand, are no longer to be set for hearing by the moving party, unlike how it is done at present. It is up to the court if it considers a hearing necessary. The other party should file an opposition to the litigious motion within 5 calendar days from receipt thereof, without waiting for the court to order it to do so. No other submissions shall be considered by the court.
The Revised Rules also enumerate motions that are no longer allowed, including motions for extension of time, save in very limited exceptions.
7. Electronic Service and Filing
Electronic filing may, under the Revised Rules, be made where the court agrees and such court is equipped to handle such filings. Electronic service of documents upon a party may be done if the other party consents to such mode of service.
Some documents may not be filed or served electronically, without express permission from the Court. These documents are: (a) initiatory pleadings and initial responsive pleadings, such as an answer; (b) subpoena, protection orders, and writs; (c) appendices and exhibits to motions or other documents that are not readily amenable to electronic scanning; and (d) sealed and confidential documents or records.
8. New periods to be observed in filing responsive pleadings
Under the Revised Rules, an Answer is to be filed within 30 calendar days after service of summons. A 30-day extension to file the Answer may be allowed for meritorious reasons. The longer period is necessary in view of the additional requirements that must accompany the Answer, as discussed above.
It is important to note that any motion for extension to file any other pleading, other than with respect to an Answer, is prohibited.
A Reply may be filed within 15 calendar days from service of the Answer. However, a Reply may only be filed if an actionable document is attached to the Answer. A Rejoinder may also be filed only if an actionable document is attached to the Reply and the Rejoinder is limited to the said actionable document.
9. Pre-trial / court-annexed mediation (CAM) / judicial dispute resolution (JDR) process
Marking of evidence, stipulations and comparisons with originals, are to be done during the pre-trial hearing under the Revised Rules. The Pre-Trial Order will contain tentative schedules for CAM and JDR.
Once the court refers the parties to CAM, it should be finished within a non-extendible period of 30 calendar days. If CAM fails, the court will determine if JDR is still necessary.
If JDR is deemed necessary, the case will be raffled to another court who will conduct the JDR. JDR is to be conducted within a non-extendible 15 calendar days. If JDR fails, the case will be returned to the court where the case originated, for trial as scheduled in the Pre-Trial Order. This is a shift from the present practice of JDR being generally conducted by the court where the case was filed, and passed on to another court if the JDR fails.
10. Judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment
The court can, under the Revised Rules, make its own determination as to whether or not to render judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment (and thereby dispense with further trial). A party is not allowed to appeal the court's determination to the Court of Appeals.