Final Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted at the Regional Trial Court Branch 67, Paniqui,Tarlac

A.M. No. 06-7-414-RTC,19 October 2007

FACTS:

This administrative matter arose from the judicial audit and physical inventory of cases conducted on 20-24 June 2005 at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Paniqui, Tarlac, Branch 67, then presided by Judge Cesar M. Sotero who compulsorily retired on 23 February 2006. The Audit Team recommended in its Memorandum dated 11 July 2005 that Judge Sotero and Clerk of Court Paulino I. Saguyod be directed to explain the following within ten (10) days from notice among others, why petitions for change of name and/or correction of entries in the civil registry were granted without the required hearing and publication, in gross violation of the provisions of Rule 108 of the Rules on Civil Procedure.

Judge Sotero and Clerk of Court Saguyod explained that almost all of these petitions may be covered by Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9048 which authorizes city or municipal civil registrars to correct clerical or typographical errors in an entry and/or change the first name or nickname in the civil registry without need for a judicial order. The petitions were filed before the trial court because there was no incumbent Local Civil Registrar and the OIC-Civil Registrar could not act on these petitions under R.A. No. 9048. Since R.A. No. 9048 allows corrections of entries without hearing and publication for as long as the necessary documents are submitted, the trial court considered the same procedure as applicable to the petitions for correction of entries filed before it.

ISSUE:

Whether or not Judge Sotero is guilty of gross ignorance of the law in granting petitions for change of name and/or correction of entries in the civil registry were granted without the required hearing and publication.

RULING:

The Court agrees that indeed Judge Sotero is guilty of gross ignorance of the law.

Articles 376 and 412 of the New Civil Code are the substantive laws covering the alteration or correction of entries in the civil registry. Civil registry records are public documents and are accepted as prima facie evidence of the facts contained therein, which is why prior to the enactment of R.A. No. 9048, changes or corrections thereof could be made only upon judicial authorization. Rules 103 and 108 of the Revised Rules of Court provide the procedure for such alterations in the civil registry.

The procedure for change of name under Rule 103 is a proceeding in rem and as such strict compliance with all jurisdictional requirements, particularly on publication, is essential in order to vest the court with jurisdiction. The reason for this is that a change of name is a matter of public interest.

Petitions for cancellation or correction of entries in the civil registry are governed by Rule 108. This rule covers petitions for corrections of clerical errors of a harmless or innocuous nature, as well as petitions which seek to effect substantial changes or corrections in entries for as long as all the procedural requirements in said rule are followed. In Republic v. Bautista, citing Republic v. Valencia, it was declared that the proceedings under Rule 108 may either be summary or adversarial in nature. If the correction sought to be made in the civil registry is clerical, the procedure to be adopted is summary. If the rectification affects the civil status, citizenship or nationality of a party, it is deemed substantial and the procedure to be adopted is adversarial. The procedure under Rule 108 becomes the appropriate adversarial proceeding to effect substantial changes in the registry only if the procedural requirements therein are complied with.

R.A. No. 9048, enacted in 2001, substantially amended Articles 376 and 412 of the New Civil Code, to wit:

SECTION 1. Authority to Correct Clerical or Typographical Error and Change of First Name or Nickname.No entry in a civil register shall be changed or corrected without a judicial order, except for clerical or typographical errors and change of first name or nickname which can be corrected or changed by the concerned city or municipal civil registrar or consul general in accordance with the provisions of this Act and its implementing rules and regulations.

Thus, under this new law, clerical or typographical errors and change of first name or nickname may be corrected or effected by the concerned city or municipal registrar or consul general, without need of any judicial order.

A review of the deliberations on R.A. No. 9048 clearly shows that it was enacted to give the people an option to have the erroneous entries in their civil records corrected via an administrative proceeding before the local civil registrar that is less expensive and more expeditious.

Under the bill, any person who wants an entry corrected needs only to file a verified petition supported by certain documents with the local civil registry office of the city or municipality where the records sought to be corrected are kept and, in case the petitioner has already migrated to another place, the petition may be filed with the local civil registrar where he resides. Publication of the petition for correction of entry is dispensed with and in lieu of publication; the petition needs only to be posted in a conspicuous place in the office of the local civil registrar for ten (10) consecutive working days. However, regarding petitions for change of first name, the petition has to be published once a week for two (2) consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation, with the petitioner also submitting a certification that he has no pending case or prior criminal record. The local civil registrar is mandated to decide the petition not later than five (5) working days after the prescribed posting period. The decision of the local registrar is subject to the automatic review of the Civil Registrar General who shall act within ten (10) working days from receipt of the decision. If the Civil Registrar General finds that the correction is not clerical or typographical in nature or that it affects the civil status of the person, he shall set aside the decision and advise the petitioner to file the necessary petition with the RTC in accordance with the Revised Rules of Court.

Since R.A. No. 9048 refers specifically to the administrative summary proceeding before the local civil registrar it would be inappropriate to apply the same procedure to petitions for the correction of entries in the civil registry before the courts. The promulgation of rules of procedure for courts of justice is the exclusive domain of the Supreme Court. Moreover, as observed by the OCA, there is nothing in R.A. No. 9048 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations that warrants the adoption of the procedure set therein for petitions before the courts even for the purpose of expediting the resolution of said petitions.

Thus, there should be recourse to the procedure prescribed for the courts as if R.A. No. 9048 were not enacted at all. In other words, the procedure provided in the Revised Rules of Court for such petitions remains binding and should be followed by the courts. The procedural requirements laid down in Rules 103 and 108 still have to be complied with. In the case at hand, Judge Sotero should have applied the procedure prescribed in Rules 103 and 108 in resolving the petitions before him, not the procedure prescribed in R.A. No. 9048 or the procedure provided in Section 3, Rule 9 which applies in civil cases where the defendant is declared in default.

Petitions for change of name and correction of entries in the civil registry are actions in rem, the decision on the petition being binding not only on the parties thereto but on the whole world. An in rem proceeding is validated essentially through publication. Publication gives notice to the whole world that the proceeding has for its object to bar indefinitely all who might be minded to make an objection of any sort against the right sought to be established. It is the publication of such notice that brings in the whole world as a party to the case and vests the court with jurisdiction to hear and decide it.

In the case at bar, the more than 300 cases for correction of entries filed before the RTC of Paniqui and decided by Judge Sotero do not fall within the purview of R.A. No. 9048. In other words, not all of said petitions pertain to the change of first name or nickname or the correction of typographical errors in the entries of the registry. Some of said petitions involve substantial changes in the registry such as change of age, sex, status, and nationality, and even of middle names and surnames of the petitioners. Judge Soteros conduct in acting on the petitions, without full compliance with the procedural requirements under Rules 103 and 108 of the Revised Rules of Court, is appalling. The records of the cases show that Judge Sotero did not comply with the administrative procedure under the said law. Thus, while R.A. No. 9048 requires that the petition for correction of entries be posted in a conspicuous place for ten (10) consecutive days, the records show that some of the petitions were decided less than ten (10) days from the date of filing. Clearly then, there was no way that the 10-day posting requirement could have been accomplished. The petitions for change of name were also granted even without publication of the order of hearing in a newspaper of general circulation.

* Case digest by Paula Bianca B. Eguia, LLB-1, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2017-2018

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