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Under Section 3, Rule 17 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, the failure on the part of the plaintiff, without any justifiable cause, to comply with any order of the court or the Rules, or to prosecute his action for an unreasonable length of time, may result in the dismissal of the complaint eithermotu proprio or on motion by the defendant. The failure of a plaintiff to prosecute the action without any justifiable cause within a reasonable period of time will give rise to the presumption that he is no longer interested to obtain from the court the relief prayed for in his complaint; hence, the court is authorized to order the dismissal of the complaint on its own motion or on motion of the defendants. The presumption is not, by any means, conclusive because the plaintiff, on a motion for reconsideration of the order of dismissal, may allege and establish a justifiable cause for such failure. The burden to show that there are compelling reasons that would make a dismissal of the case unjustified is on the petitioners.
Under Section 1, Rule 18 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, it is the duty of the plaintiff, after the last pleading has been served and filed, to promptly move ex parte that the case be set for pre-trial. On August 16, 2004, A.M. No. 03-1-09-SC (Re: Proposed Rule on Guidelines to be Observed by Trial Court Judges and Clerks of Court in the Conduct of Pre-Trial and Use of Deposition-Discovery Measures) took effect, which provides that:
Within five (5) days from date of filing of the reply, the plaintiff must promptly move ex parte that the case be set for pre-trial conference. If the plaintiff fails to file said motion within the given period, the Branch COC shall issue a notice of pre-trial.
We note that when the above guidelines took effect, the case was already at the pre-trial stage and it was the failure of petitioners to set the case anew for pre-trial conference which prompted the trial court to dismiss their complaint.
In Olave v. Mistas, this Court said that even if the plaintiff fails to promptly move for pre-trial without any justifiable cause for such delay, the extreme sanction of dismissal of the complaint might not be warranted if no substantial prejudice would be caused to the defendant, and there are special and compelling reasons which would make the strict application of the rule clearly unjustified. In the more recent case of Espiritu v. Lazaro, this Court affirmed the dismissal of a case for failure to prosecute, the plaintiff having failed to take the initiative to set the case for pre-trial for almost one year from their receipt of the Answer. Although said case was decided prior to the effectivity of A.M. No. 03-1-09-SC, the Court considered the circumstances showing petitioners’ and their counsel’s lack of interest and laxity in prosecuting their case.
In this case, while there was no substantial prejudice caused to herein respondent, who has already consolidated the ownership of petitioners’ properties, secured new titles in its name and successfully implemented a writ of possession issued by another branch, there was neither patent abuse in the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint for the third time, the earlier two dismissals having been precipitated by petitioners’ non-appearance at the pre-trial conference. Contrary to petitioners’ assertion, the trial court did not find their offered excuses as meritorious or justifiable; the trial court in the exercise of discretion simply reinstated the case “in the interest of justice” but explicitly warned petitioners to be more circumspect in attending to the case.
However, despite the trial court’s leniency and admonition, petitioners continued to exhibit laxity and inattention in attending to their case. Assuming domestic problems had beset petitioners’ counsel in the interregnum, with greater reason should he make proper coordination with the trial court to ensure his availability on the date to be chosen by the trial court for the long-delayed conduct of a pre-trial conference. Petitioners themselves did nothing to get the case moving for nine months and set the case anew for pre-trial even as BDO was already seeking their judicial ejectment with the implementation of the writ of possession issued by Branch 143. Such circumstance also belies their pretense that the parties were then still negotiating for a settlement. We have held that a party cannot blame his counsel when he himself was guilty of neglect; and that the laws aid the vigilant, not those who slumber on their rights.Vigilantibus sed non dormientibus jura subveniunt.
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