SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 143736             August 11, 2004

OFELIA HERRERA-FELIX, Represented by JOVITA HERRERA-SEÑA, petitioner,
vs.
COURT OF APPEALS, and ST. JOSEPH RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT, INC., respondents.


R E S O L U T I O N


CALLEJO, SR., J.:

This is a petition for review on certiorari assailing the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals which dismissed the petition to annul the Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court of Malabon, Metro Manila, Branch 73, in Civil Case No. 1967, on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the person of herein petitioner Ofelia Herrera-Felix.

The Antecedents

On March 11, 1993, respondent St. Joseph Resource Development, Inc. filed a complaint for sum of money against the Spouses Restituto and Ofelia Felix with a prayer for a writ of preliminary attachment. It was alleged therein that, during the period from November 16, 1992 to December 14, 1992, the Felix Spouses purchased from the respondent tubs of assorted fish, as follows:

Date of Purchase

Amount of Fish Purchased

November 16, 1992

P 183,360.00

November 17, 1992

114,380.00

November 19, 1992

56,014.00

November 20, 1992

183,400.00

December 2, 1992

70,000.00

December 3, 1992

159,100.00

December 5, 1992

73,500.00

December 8, 1992

79,025.50

December 9, 1992

275,190.00

December 11, 1992

102,840.00

December 12, 1992

78,300.00

December 13, 1992

108,692.00

December 14, 1992

32,379.50

Total . . . . .

P 1,516,181.00

It was also alleged that the Felix Spouses still had an outstanding obligation amounting to P1,132,065.50, after deducting their total payment of P438,615.50 from their aggregate purchases. The respondent prayed that, after due proceedings, judgment be rendered in its favor, thus:

WHEREFORE, it is respectfully prayed that judgment be rendered in favor of plaintiff and against defendants, ordering the latter to pay the former the following:

1. P1,132,065.50, representing their unpaid obligation, including unpaid tubs, plus legal interest from the date of filing of the complaint;

2. Attorney's fees equivalent to 25% of the foregoing amount; and

3. Costs of suit.

Plaintiff likewise prays that a writ of preliminary attachment be issued ex parte against the properties of defendants as security for the satisfaction of any judgment that may be recovered.

Other just and equitable relief is also prayed for.3

The case was docketed as Civil Case No. 1967.

The trial court granted the respondent's prayer for a writ of preliminary attachment on a bond of P1,132,065.50 which was posted on March 26, 1993. The Sheriff levied and took custody of some of the personal properties of the Felix Spouses. On March 26, 1993, a copy of the writ of preliminary attachment, summons and complaint were served on them at their residence, through the sister of Ofelia Herrera-Felix, Ma. Luisa Herrera.4 According to the Sheriff's Return, Ofelia Herrera-Felix was out of the country, as per the information relayed to him by Ma. Luisa Herrera. On April 5, 1993, the Felix Spouses, through Atty. Celestino C. Juan, filed a motion praying for an extension of time to file their answer to the complaint.5 On April 6, 1993, the trial court issued an Order granting the motion. However, the Felix Spouses failed to file their answer to the complaint. The respondent then filed a Motion dated April 23, 1993 to declare the said spouses in default,6 which motion was granted by the court in its Resolution7 dated May 13, 1993. A copy of the said resolution was sent to and received by the counsel of the Felix Spouses through registered mail.

On August 11, 1993, the court a quo rendered a decision in favor of the respondent, the decretal portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered ordering:

1. The defendants to pay, jointly and severally, the plaintiffs the amount of ONE MILLION SEVENTY-SEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED SIXTY-FIVE PESOS AND FIFTY CENTAVOS (P1,077,565.50) plus legal rate of interest from the date of the filing of the complaint;

2. The defendants to pay, jointly and severally, the amount of TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P25,000.00) as/for reasonable Attorney's fees;

3. The defendants to pay the costs of this suit.

SO ORDERED.8

Copies of the said decision were mailed to the Felix Spouses and their counsel, Atty. Celestino C. Juan, by registered mail. The copy of the decision addressed to the spouses was returned to the court after two notices for having been "Unclaimed." However, then counsel for the Felix Spouses received his copy of the decision.

The decision of the trial court became final and executory after the Felix Spouses failed to appeal the same. The respondent filed a motion for a writ of execution. A copy thereof was served on the said spouses by registered mail, but they failed to oppose the motion. The court thereafter issued an order granting the motion and directing the issuance of a writ of execution. The counsel for the Felix Spouses received a copy of the said order. Thereafter, the following personal properties of the latter were levied upon and sold by the sheriff at public auction for P83,200.00 to the respondent as the winning bidder:

(1) unit Jeep-semi stainless

(1) unit Jeep-stainless

(1) Victor-Radio/TV/Cassette Recorder

(1) Sony "17" TV w/ remote control

(1) Kawai Electric Organ

(3) Hitachi Stand Fan

(1) Standard Desk Fan

(1) 6 pieces Sala Set.9

On August 14, 1995, the Sheriff executed a Certificate of Sale of personal properties.10

On September 13, 1996, petitioner Ofelia Herrera-Felix, represented by another sister, Jovita Herrera-Seña, filed a petition with the Court of Appeals under Rule 47 of the Rules of Court for the nullification of the trial court's judgment by default, the writ of execution issued by the said court, and the sale of her properties at public auction. The petitioner alleged, inter alia, that the complaint and summons were handed over to her sister, Ma. Luisa Herrera, who was merely a visitor in her house and, as such, was not a valid substituted service under Rule 14, Section 7 of the Rules of Court. She also alleged that her husband Restituto Felix had died as early as April 23, 1988, as evidenced by his Certificate of Death.11

In its comment on the petition, the respondent alleged that the substituted service of the complaint and summons on the petitioner, who was then temporarily outside the Philippines, through her sister Ma. Luisa Herrera, was valid and effective. The respondent, likewise, averred that even if such substituted service on the petitioner was defective, the defect was cured when the latter, through her counsel, Atty. Celestino C. Juan, appeared in court and moved for an extension of time to file her responsive pleading. The respondent also maintained that the petitioner and her counsel were served with copies of the decision of the court a quo, but that the petitioner failed to appeal the decision.

In her reply to the comment of the respondent, the petitioner alleged that since she failed to file a responsive pleading to the complaint, the appearance of Atty. Celestino C. Juan, as her counsel, did not constitute as a voluntary submission to the jurisdiction of the court.

On June 7, 2000, the CA rendered a decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, finding that the court a quo validly acquired jurisdiction over the action and absent any ground warranting the annulment of its judgment, this petition is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit

SO ORDERED.12

The petitioner, through her sister, Jovita Herrera-Seña, now comes to this Court via a petition for review on certiorari praying for the reversal of the decision of the Court of Appeals. She alleges that the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over her person through the service of the complaint and summons on her sister, Ma. Luisa Herrera. She maintains that the latter was a mere visitor in her house, not a resident therein; hence, the decision of the trial court is null and void. She further alleges that even assuming the validity of the trial court's decision, such decision never became final and executory since she was not served a copy of the same. As such, the writ of execution issued by the trial court, the sale of her personal properties at public auction, as well as the issuance of the Certificate of Sale, are null and void. She asserts that the actuations of both the trial court and the Sheriff deprived her of her right to due process.

The contentions of the petitioner have no merit.

The court acquires jurisdiction over the person of the defendant by service of the complaint and summons on him, either by personal service or by substituted service or by extra-territorial service thereof or by his voluntary personal appearance before the court or through counsel. In this case, the petitioner appeared before the court, through counsel, and filed a motion for extension of time to file her answer to the complaint which the trial court granted. She even admitted in the said motion that she was served with a copy of the complaint as well as the summons. The admissions made in a motion are judicial admissions which are binding on the party who made them. Such party is precluded from denying the same unless there is proof of palpable mistake or that no such admission was made.13

By filing the said motion, through counsel, the petitioner thereby submitted herself to the jurisdiction of the trial court. Indeed, in Busuego vs. Court of Appeals,14 we ruled that:

A voluntary appearance is a waiver of the necessity of a formal notice. An appearance in whatever form, without explicitly objecting to the jurisdiction of the court over the person, is a submission to the jurisdiction of the court over the person. While the formal method of entering an appearance in a cause pending in the courts is to deliver to the clerk a written direction ordering him to enter the appearance of the person who subscribes it, an appearance may be made by simply filing a formal motion, or plea or answer. This formal method of appearance is not necessary. He may appear without such formal appearance and thus submit himself to the jurisdiction of the court. He may appear by presenting a motion, for example, and unless by such appearance he specifically objects to the jurisdiction of the court, he thereby gives his assent to the jurisdiction of the court over his person. When the appearance is by motion objecting to the jurisdiction of the court over his person, it must be for the sole and separate purpose of objecting to the jurisdiction of the court. If his motion is for any other purpose than to object to the jurisdiction of the court over his person, he thereby submits himself to the jurisdiction of the court.15

Equally barren of factual basis is the claim of the petitioner that she was not served with a copy of the decision of the trial court. The records show that aside from the copy of the decision sent to her by the Branch Clerk of Court by registered mail, another copy of the decision was served on her through her counsel, Atty. Celestino C. Juan, who received the same. The service of the decision on the petitioner, through counsel, is binding on her, conformably to Rule 13, Section 2 of the Rules of Court.16

We reject the petitioner's plaint of having been deprived of her right to due process.

The essence of due process is a reasonable opportunity to be heard and submit evidence in support of one's defense. What the law proscribes, therefore, is the lack of opportunity to be heard.17 A party who opts not to avail of the opportunity to answer cannot complain of procedural due process. There can be no denial of due process where a party had the opportunity to participate in the proceedings but failed to do so through his own fault.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED DUE COURSE. The assailed decision of the Court of Appeals dated June 7, 2000 is hereby AFFIRMED. Costs against the petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.


Footnotes

1 Penned by Associate Justice Ramon A. Barcelona (retired), with Associate Justices Marina L. Buzon and Edgardo P. Cruz, concurring.

2 Penned by Presiding Judge Amanda Valera Cabigao.

3 Records, pp. 3-4.

4 Id. at 43.

5 Id. at 37.

6 Id. at 42.

7 Id. at 48.

8 Id. at 69.

9 Id. at 221.

10 Id. at 231.

11 CA Rollo, p. 44.

12 Id. at 79.

13 Section 4, Rule 129, of the Revised Rules of Evidence reads:

Sec. 4. Judicial admissions. An admission, verbal or written, made by a party in the course of the proceedings in the same case, does not require proof. The admission may be contradicted only by showing that it was made through palpable mistake or that no such admission was made.

14 151 SCRA 376 (1987), citing Flores v. Zurbito, 37 Phil. 746 (1918).

15 Id. at 385.

16 SEC. 2. Filing and service, defined. Filing is the act of presenting the pleading or other paper to the clerk of court.

Service is the act of providing a party with a copy of the pleading or paper concerned. If any party has appeared by counsel, service upon him shall be made upon his counsel or one of them, unless service upon the party himself is ordered by the court. Where one counsel appears for several parties, he shall only be entitled to one copy of any paper served upon him by the opposite side.

17 Douglas F. Anama vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 128609, January 29, 2004.


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