Appearance of parties; effect of failure to appear

[Please note that the following discussion may have been heavily affected by the 2020 Rules of Civil Procedure. Read with caution.] In Leobrera v. Court of Appeals[1], the issue was the propriety of an order of the trial court granting a Motion to File Supplemental Complaint, when notice thereof was received by the other party only a day after the issuance of the said order, when it was already too late to contest the same. In addition, it was also observed that the notice did not even indicate the time and place of the scheduled hearing. As such, the order of the trial court granting the admission of the supplemental complaint was nullified for non-compliance with Sections 4,[2] 5,[3] and 6[4] of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court.

On the other hand, in Daaco v. Yu (G.R. No. 183398, June 22, 2015), it was undisputed that notice of the pre-trial conference was received by petitioner a day before the same. Said notice sufficiently indicated the time and place of the scheduled pre-trial. Thus, it was held by the Supreme Court that petitioner cannot invoke our ruling in the aforementioned case in view of the dissimilar factual circumstances. The issue in the Daaco case is the propriety of the trial court's order dismissing the case for petitioner's failure to appear at the pre-trial conference. In relation to this, Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 18 of the Rules of Court provides:

Section 4. Appearance of parties. — It shall be the duty of the parties and their counsel to appear at the pre-trial. The non-appearance of a party may be excused only if a valid cause is shown therefor or if a representative shall appear in his behalf fully authorized in writing to enter into an amicable settlement, to submit to alternative modes of dispute resolution, and to enter into stipulations or admissions of facts and of documents, (n)

Section 5. Effect of failure to appear. — The failure of the plaintiff to appear when so required pursuant to the next preceding section shall be cause for dismissal of the action. The dismissal shall be with prejudice, unless other-wise ordered by the court. A similar failure on the part of the defendant shall be cause to allow the plaintiff to present his evidence ex parte and the court to render judgment on the basis thereof. (2a, R20)

Thus, the failure of a party to appear at the pre-trial has adverse consequences. If the absent party is the plaintiff, then he may be declared non-suited and his case dismissed. If it is the defendant who fails to appear, then the plaintiff may be allowed to present his evidence ex parte and the court to render judgment on the basis thereof.[8]

In certain instances, however, the non-appearance of a party may be excused if a valid cause is shown. What constitutes a valid ground to excuse litigants and their counsels at the pre-trial is subject to the sound discretion of a judge.[9] Unless and until a clear and manifest abuse of discretion is committed by the judge, his appreciation of a party's reasons for his non-appearance will not be disturbed.

[1] 252 Phil. 737, 743 (1989).

[2] Section 4. Hearing of motion. — Except for motions which the court may act upon without prejudicing the rights of the adverse party, every written motion shall be set for hearing by the applicant.

Every written motion required to be heard and the notice of the hearing thereof shall be served in such a manner as to ensure its receipt by the other party at least three (3) days before the date of hearing, unless the court for good cause sets the hearing on shorter notice. (4a)

[3] Section 5. Notice of hearing. — The notice of hearing shall be addressed to all parties concerned, and shall specify the time and date of the hearing which must not be later than ten (10) days after the filing of the motion. (5a)

[4] Section 6. Proof of service necessary. —No written motion set for hearing shall be acted upon by the court without proof of service thereof. (6a)

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