G.R. No. 145276. November 29, 2005.
RTC ordered the revival of the complaint priorly decided and required the parties to appear during the pre-trial conference scheduled on April 29, 1999. During the scheduled pre-trial, petitioner Rolando Agulto and his counsel were informed by an employee of the RTC that the presiding judge was on leave. The petitioners suggested that pre-trial to be rescheduled on June 17, 1999, however, the RTC employee informed them that the suggested setting was not yet official since it would depend on the calendar of the court and the counsel of respondent. The pre-trial proceeded on June 17, 1999. For failure of petitioners to appear at the pre-trial and to submit their pre-trial brief, the RTC issued an order allowing the respondent to present his evidence ex parte. Petitioners motion for reconsideration on the ground that they were not notified of the pre-trial was denied by the Court.
Whether or not the trial court’s order allowing the plaintiff to present his evidence ex parte without due notice of pre-trial to the defendant constitutes grave abuse of discretion.
Yes, under the present Section 3, Rule 18 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, the notice of pre-trial should be served on counsel. The counsel served with notice is charged with the duty of notifying the party he represents. It is only when a party has no counsel that the notice of pre-trial is required to be served personally on him. Sending a notice of pre-trial stating the date, time and place of pre-trial is mandatory. Its absence will render the pre-trial and subsequent proceedings void. This must be so as part of a party’s right to due process.
In the case, no notice of pre-trial was served on counsel of petitioners in connection with the pre-trial held on June 17, 1999. Hence, the RTC committed a grave abuse of discretion when it issued an order allowing respondent to present his evidence ex parte. What counsel of petitioners made was a mere suggestion. As a proposal, it was only provisional and subject to the schedule of the court. The RTC could have adopted her proposal (as it did) or it could have scheduled another date for the pre-trial. In any event, the RTC should have served a notice of pre-trial on petitioners’ counsel in accordance with the mandatory nature of such notice.
Sending a notice of pre-trial stating the date, time and place of pre-trial is mandatory—its absence will render the pre-trial and subsequent proceedings void.