Couple loses certiorari case over lapse in procedure

Couple loses certiorari case over lapse in procedure

MANILA – The Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld the decision of a lower court, which said summons to the Provincial Legal Officer (PLO) are required in a suit filed against a municipality.

In an 11-page decision written by Associate Justice Elihu Ybañez dated October 19, the appellate court’s Eighth Division said Judge Edwin Buffe, of the Odiongan, Romblon Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 82, ruled correctly in the case filed by couple Lino and Gemma Morales against the municipality of Looc and its mayor, Lissette Arboleda, in 2019.

The couple claimed ownership of a 377-square-meter property in Barangay Poblacion.

The Deputy Provincial Prosecutor of Romblon initially appeared as counsel for the respondents.

On Jan. 13, 2020, the couple filed a motion to declare the municipality and Arboleda in default for failure to file an answer and respond to the complaint.

The court, however, denied the motion filed by the couple to declare the municipality and the mayor in default as the summons should have been served to the PLO as provided under the Local Government Code.

The Morales couple then filed a petition for certiorari, or a review of the case, before the CA.

The CA said the RTC judge “exercised sound discretion in adjudging that a declaration of default against respondents is not availing in the present case and that the answer filed by the office of the provincial prosecutor for the municipality and the mayor is merely noted pending due service of summons on private respondents’ legal counsel, the PLO”.

The PLO, according to the CA, may opt to “file another answer, or simply manifest that he or she is adopting the of-record answer as private respondents’ answer in the case”.

“Given that the Local Government Code itself provides for the lawfully mandated representative or counsel, the PLO, we find no error on the part of the judge in requiring that summons be first served on the PLO,” adding that “to outrightly deprive the respondents of their day in court would be inimical to the interest of substantial justice”. (PNA)

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