Substantial compliance with "barangay justice" despite lack of "pangkat"

It must be noted that Presidential Decree No. 1508 has been repealed by codification in the Local Government Code of 1991 which took effect on January 1, 1992. The basic complaint was filed by petitioners before the trial court on July 10, 1991 before the effectivity of the Local Government Code. Nevertheless, Sections 4 and 6 of the former law have been substantially reproduced in Sections 410 (b) and 412, respectively, of the latter law. The pertinent provisions read as follows:

Sec. 410. PROCEDURE FOR AMICABLE SETTLEMENT. — (b) . . . . If he (lupon chairman) fails in his mediation effort within fifteen (15) days from the first meeting of the parties before him, he shall forthwith set a date for the constitution of the pangkat in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.

Sec. 412. CONCILIATION. — (a) Precondition to filing of Complaint in Court. — No complaint . . . shall be filed or instituted in court . . . unless there has been a confrontation of the parties before the lupon chairman or the pangkat, and that no conciliation or settlement has been reached as certified by the lupon secretary or pangkat secretary as attested to by the lupon or pangkat chairman . . . .

In the case at bar, it is admitted that the parties did have confrontations before the Barangay Chairman of Naval although they were not sent to the pangkat as the same was not constituted. Their meetings with said barangay chairman were not fruitful as no amicable settlement was reached. This prompted the issuance of a Certification to File Action.

According to private respondent, however, the above certification is "falsified" since no pangkat was constituted. She, therefore, insists that petitioners have not complied with the mandatory provision of Presidential Decree No. 1508 on compulsory arbitration. The Supreme Court disagrees.

While no pangkat was constituted, it is not denied that the parties met at the office of the barangay chairman for possible settlement. The efforts of the barangay chairman, however, proved futile as no agreement was reached. Although no pangkat was formed, the Supreme Court believes that there was substantial compliance with the law. It is noteworthy that under Section 412 of the Local Government Code aforequoted, the confrontation before the lupon chairman or the pangkat is sufficient compliance with the pre-condition for filing the case in court.

This is true notwithstanding the mandate of Section 410 (b) of the same law that the barangay chairman shall constitute a pangkat if he fails in his mediation efforts. Section 410 (b) should be construed together with Section 412, as well as the circumstances obtaining in and peculiar to the case. On this score, it is significant that the barangay chairman or punong barangay is himself the chairman of the lupon under the Local Government Code.

From the foregoing facts, it is undeniable that there was substantial compliance with Presidential Decree No. 1508 which does not require strict technical compliance with its procedural requirements. Under the factual antecedents, it cannot be said that the failure of the parties to appear before the pangkat caused any prejudice to the case for private respondents considering that they already refused conciliation before the barangay chairman and, as will hereafter be discussed, their sham insistence for a meeting before the pangkat is merely a ploy for further delay. The Supreme Court is thus forced to remind them that technicalities should not be made to desert their true role in our justice system, and should not be used as obstructions therein. (G.R. No. 115213; December 19, 1995)
The court a quo was likewise correct in invoking the doctrine in Tijam and, as indicated by the factual scenario in this case, private respondents are clearly in estoppel to assail the jurisdiction of the two lower courts. It is also worth stressing that while the case was filed when Presidential Decree No. 1508 was still in force, the procedural provisions of the Local Government Code, which Supreme Court has earlier noted as being supportive of the validity of the conciliation proceedings, are also applicable to this case. Statutes regulating procedure in courts are applicable to actions pending and undetermined at the time of their passage. Procedural laws are retrospective in that sense.

To indulge private respondents in their stratagem will not only result in a circuitous procedure but will necessarily entail undue and further delay and injustice. This is inevitable if this Court should dismiss the complaint and require the parties to meet before the pangkat, only to bring the case all over again through the hierarchy of courts and ultimately back to us for decision on the merits. Obviously, this is the game plan of private respondents. For, when private respondents appealed to respondent court, they did not at all assail the propriety or correctness of the judgment of the Regional Trial Court holding them liable to petitioners for the sum of money involved. Such primary substantive issue, therefore, has been laid to rest, but private respondents would wish to keep the case alive merely on a conjured procedural issue invoking their supposed right to confrontation before the pangkat.

However, from the very start of this action, private respondents failed to show or evince any honest indication that they were willing to settle their obligations with petitioners, notwithstanding the efforts of the latter to submit the matter to conciliation. It is, therefore, quite obvious that their insistence on technical compliance with the requirements of the barangay conciliation process is a dilatory maneuver. This is an evident and inevitable conclusion since the main argument of respondents in this petition is only the supposed failure of petitioners to comply with the barangay conciliatory procedure and not the denial or repudiation of their indebtedness.

The Supreme Court does not agree with the findings of respondent appellate court that inasmuch as private respondents pleaded in their answer the alleged lack of cause of action of petitioners, an objection to the complaint had been timely made. It will be readily observed that said defense was only one of the six affirmative defenses cryptically alleged in single short sentences in private respondents' Answer in the court a quo, running the implausible gamut from supposed defects in parties to res judicata and up to capacity to sue, without any statement of the facts on which they would rely to support such drivel. This calculated travesty of the rules on pleadings betrays the ulterior motives of private respondents and cannot be countenanced.

The failure of private respondents to specifically allege that there was no compliance with the barangay conciliation procedure constitutes a waiver of that defense. All that they alleged in their Answer in the trial court was that "the complaint states no cause of action" without giving even the semblance of any reason to support or explain that allegation. On the other hand, they admitted the confrontations before the barangay chairman in paragraph 13 of their Answer.

Since private respondents failed to duly raise that issue, their defense founded thereon is deemed waived, especially since they actually did not pursue the issue before the case was set for hearing. Also, the conciliation procedure under Presidential Decree No. 1508 is not a jurisdictional requirement and non-compliance therewith cannot affect the jurisdiction which the lower courts had already acquired over the subject matter and private respondents as defendants therein. (G.R. No. 115213; December 19, 1995)