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Sablas vs Sablas
G.R. No. 144568. July 3, 2007
Respondents Esterlita S. Sablas and Rodulfo S. Sablas filed a complaint for judicial partition, inventory and accounting against petitioner spouses Pascual Lumanas and Guillerma S. Sablas in the Leyte RTC. Petitioners successfully requested an extension of time to answer the complaint, and their new deadline was set on November 5, 1999; However, they filed their answer on November 8, which was still admitted by the court as there was no motion to declare petitioners in default. The following day, November 9, 1999, respondents filed a motion to declare petitioner spouses in default, which was denied by the court. After their motion for reconsideration was also denied, the respondents appealed the case to the CA, which ruled that the trial court committed grave abuse of discretion because, pursuant to Section 3, Rule 9 of the Rules of Court, the trial court had no recourse but to declare petitioner spouses in default when they failed to file their answer on or before November 5, 1999. Petitioners then filed current petition for review on certiorari, contending that the CA decision was not in accord with the rules of procedure as it misconstrued Section 3, Rule 9 of the Rules of Court and was in contravention of jurisprudence.
Whether or not CA was correct in ruling that the RTC had no recourse but to declare petitioners in default even if respondents had not filed notice of default on November 5.
CA ruling reversed. The SC explained that there are three requirements that must be fulfilled before the court can declare the defending party in default: (1) the claiming party must file a motion asking the court to declare the defending party in default; (2) the defending party must be notified of the motion to declare him in default and (3) the claiming party must prove that the defending party has failed to answer within the period provided by the Rules of Court. The trial court cannot motu proprio declare a defendant in default as the rules leave it up to the claiming party to protect his or its interests. The Rules of Court provides for discretion on the part of the trial court not only to extend the time for filing an answer but also to allow an answer to be filed after the reglementary period. Where the answer is filed beyond the reglementary period but before the defendant is declared in default and there is no showing that defendant intends to delay the case, the answer should be admitted. Therefore, the trial court correctly admitted the answer of petitioner spouses even if it was filed out of time because, at the time of its filing, they were not yet declared in default nor was a motion to declare them in default ever filed. Neither was there a showing that petitioner spouses intended to delay the case.