Aspects of jurisdiction

In the case of Boston Equity v. Court of Appeals,[1] petitioner called attention to the fact that respondent's motion to dismiss questioning the trial court’s jurisdiction was filed more than six years after the latter's amended answer was filed. According to petitioner, respondent had several opportunities, at various stages of the proceedings, to assail the trial court’s jurisdiction but never did so for six straight years. Citing the doctrine laid down in the case of Tijam, et al. v. Sibonghanoy, et al.[2] petitioner claimed that respondent’s failure to raise the question of jurisdiction at an earlier stage bars her from later questioning it, especially since she actively participated in the proceedings conducted by the trial court.The Supreme Court declared petitioner's argument misplaced because it fails to consider that the concept of jurisdiction has several aspects, namely: (1) jurisdiction over the subject matter; (2) jurisdiction over the parties; (3) jurisdiction over the issues of the case; and (4) in cases involving property, jurisdiction over the res or the thing which is the subject of the litigation.[3] There is also what is called "jurisdiction over the remedies."

According to the case of Tijam, an aspect of jurisdiction which may be barred from being assailed as a result of estoppel by laches is jurisdiction over the subject matter. Thus, in Tijam, the issue involved was the authority of the then Court of First Instance [now Regional Trial Court] to hear a case for the collection of a sum of money in the amount of P1,908.00 which amount was, at that time, within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the municipal courts.

In subsequent cases citing the ruling of the Supreme Court in Tijam, what was likewise at issue was the jurisdiction of the trial court over the subject matter of the case. Accordingly, in Spouses Gonzaga v. Court of Appeals,[4] the issue for consideration was the authority of the Regional Trial Court to hear and decide an action for reformation of contract and damages involving a subdivision lot, it being argued therein that jurisdiction is vested in the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board pursuant to PD 957 (The Subdivision and Condominium Buyers Protective Decree). In Lee v. Presiding Judge, MTC, Legaspi City,[5] petitioners argued that the respondent Municipal Trial Court had no jurisdiction over the complaint for ejectment because the issue of ownership was raised in the pleadings. Finally, in People v. Casuga,[6] accused-appellant claimed that the crime of grave slander, of which she was charged, falls within the concurrent jurisdiction of first-level courts and the then second-level courts, and that the judgment of the Regional Trial Court, to which she had appealed her conviction, should be deemed null and void for want of jurisdiction as her appeal should have been filed with the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.

In all of these cases, the Supreme Court barred the attack on the jurisdiction of the respective courts concerned over the subject matter of the case based on estoppel by laches, declaring that parties cannot be allowed to belatedly adopt an inconsistent posture by attacking the jurisdiction of a court to which they submitted their cause voluntarily.[7]

In the Boston Equity case, what respondent was questioning in her motion to dismiss before the trial court was that court’s jurisdiction over the person of defendant. Thus, the principle of estoppel by laches finds no application in this case. Instead, the principles relating to jurisdiction over the person of the parties are pertinent herein.

At this point, however, it is extremely important to emphasize that the general rule remains to be that lack of jurisdiction can be raised at anytime even on appeal. The teaching in Tijam remains to be the exception rather than the general rule.[7.1]

The Rules of Court provide:
Section 1. Defenses and objections not pleaded. — Defenses and objections not pleaded either in a motion to dismiss or in the answer are deemed waived. However, when it appears from the pleadings or the evidence on record that the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter, that there is another action pending between the same parties for the same cause, or that the action is barred by a prior judgment or by statute of limitations, the court shall dismiss the claim.
RULE 15 
Sec. 8. Omnibus motion. — Subject to the provisions of Section 1 of Rule 9, a motion attacking a pleading, order, judgment, or proceeding shall include all objections then available, and all objections not so included shall be deemed waived.
Based on the foregoing provisions, the objection on jurisdictional grounds which is not waived even if not alleged in a motion to dismiss or the answer is lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter. Lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter can always be raised anytime, even for the first time on appeal, since jurisdictional issues cannot be waived, subject, however, to the principle of estoppel by laches as discussed in the Tijam case and subsequent ones citing it.[8]

Since the defense of lack of jurisdiction over the person of a party to a case is not one of those defenses which are not deemed waived under Section 1 of Rule 9, such defense must be invoked when an answer or a motion to dismiss is filed in order to prevent a waiver of the defense.[9] If the objection is not raised either in a motion to dismiss or in the answer, the objection to the jurisdiction over the person of the plaintiff or the defendant is deemed waived by virtue of the first sentence of the above-quoted Section 1 of Rule 9 of the Rules of Court.[10]

It would be error, therefore, to make a sweeping and unqualified pronouncement that "issue on jurisdiction may be raised at any stage of the proceeding, even for the first time on appeal," As the question of jurisdiction involved in the Boston Equity case is that over the person of the defendant, the same is deemed waived if not raised in the answer or a motion to dismiss. In any case, respondent cannot claim the defense since "lack of jurisdiction over the person, being subject to waiver, is a personal defense which can only be asserted by the party who can thereby waive it by silence."[11]

[2] 131 Phil. 556 (1968).

[3] Hasegawa v. Kitamura, G.R. 149177, 23 November 2007, 538 SCRA 261, 273-274 citing Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, Volume 1, 8[th] Revised Ed., pp. 7-8. See also Riano, Civil Procedure (The Bar Lecture Series), Volume I, 2011 edition, pp. 64-65.

[4] 442 Phil. 735, 740 (2002).

[5] 229 Phil. 405, 412 (1986).

[6] 153 Phil. 38, 42-43 (1973).

[7] Lee v. Presiding Judge, MTC, Legaspi City, 229 Phil. 405, 412 (1986) at 415.

[8] Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, Volume One, Tenth Edition, p. 187.

[9] Riano, Civil Procedure (The Bar Lecture Series), Volume I, 2011 Edition, p. 90.

[10] Id. at 89.

[11] Carandang v. Heirs of Quirino A. De Guzman, 538 Phil. 319, 331 (2006).