Sunday, March 11, 2012

Santos vs. PNOC Exploration Corporation [G.R. No. 170943; September 23, 2008]

Facts: PNOC Exploration Corporation, respondent, filed a complaint for a sum of money against petitioner Pedro Santos Jr. in the RTC of Pasig. The amount sought to be collected was the petitioner’s unpaid balance of the car loan advanced to him by respondent when he was still a member of its board of directors. 

Personal service of summons were made to petitioner but failed because the latter cannot be located in his last known address despite earnest efforts to do so. Subsequently, on respondent’s motion, the trial court allowed service of summons by publication. Respondent caused the publication of the summons in Remate, a newspaper of general circulation in the Philippines. Thereafter, respondent submitted the affidavit of publication and the affidavit of service of respondent’s employee to the effect that he sent a copy of the summons by registered mail to petitioner’s last known address. 

Petitioner still failed to answer within the prescribed period despite the publication of summons. Hence, respondent filed a motion for the reception of its evidence ex parte. Trial court granted said motion and proceeded with the ex parte presentation and formal offer of its evidence. 

Petitioner filed an Omnibus Motion for Reconsideration and to Admit Attached Answer, alleging that the affidavit of service submitted by respondent failed to comply with Section 19, Rule 14 of the Rules of Court as it was not executed by the clerk of court. Trial court denied the said motion and held that the rules did not require such execution with the clerk of court. It also denied the motion to admit petitioner’s answer because the same was filed way beyond the reglementary period. 

Petitioner appeals to the CA via a petition for certiorari but failed and even sustained the trial courts decision and ordered the former to pay the amount plus legal interest and cost of suit. Hence, this petition. 

Issues: 

(1) Whether or not there is lack of jurisdiction over the petitioner due to improper service of summons. 

(2) Whether or not the rule on service by publication under Section 14, Rule 14 of the Rules of Court applies only to actions in rem, not actions in personam. 

(3) Whether or not the affidavit of service of the copy of the summons should have been prepared by the clerk of court and not respondent’s messenger. 

Held:

(1) Section 14, Rule 14 provides that in any action where the defendant is designated as an unknown owner or the like or when his whereabouts are unknown and cannot be ascertained by diligent inquiry, service may, by leave of court, be effected upon him by publication in a newspaper of general circulation and in such places and for such times as the court may order. Since petitioner could not be personally served with summons despite diligent efforts to locate his whereabouts, respondent sought and was granted leave of court to effect the service of summons upon him by publication in a newspaper of general circulation. Thus, petitioner was proper served with summons by publication and that there is jurisdiction over his person. 

(2) The in rem/in personam distinction was significant under the old rule because it was silent as to the kind of action to which the rule was applicable but this has been changed, it now applies to any action. The present rule expressly states that it applies “in any action where the defendant is designated as an unknown owner, or the like, or whenever his whereabouts are unknown and cannot be ascertained by diligent inquiry. Hence, the petitioner’s contention that the complaint filed against him is not covered by the said rule because the action for recovery of sum of money is an action in personam is not applicable anymore. 

(3) The service of summons by publication is complemented by service of summons by registered mail to defendant’s last known address. This complementary service is evidenced by an affidavit “showing the deposit of a copy of the summons and order for publication in the post office, postage for prepaid, directed to the defendant by registered mail to his last known address”. The rules, however, do not require that the affidavit of complementary service be executed by the clerk of court. While the trial court ordinarily does the mailing of copies of its orders and processes, the duty to make the complementary service by registered mail is imposed on the party who resorts to service by publication. 


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