Tuason v. Court of Appeals

G.R. No. 116607, 10 April 1996

FACTS:

On June 1972, respondent Victoria Lopez Tuazon married petitioner Emilio Tuazon. Due to the series of physical abuse against the respondent, the petitioner use of prohibited drugs, cohabitating with three women, leaving the conjugal home and giving minimal child support, abuse of conjugal property use and incurring of bank debts without the respondent consent, respondent filed a petition for annulment of marriage in 1989 on the ground of psychological incapacity and prayed for powers of administration to save the conjugal properties from further dissipation.

Petitioner filed his Opposition in April 1990 and was scheduled to present his evidence. Counsel for petitioner moved for a postponement, however, petitioner failed to appear. The trial court rendered judgment declaring the nullity of marriage and awarding the custody of common children to respondent. No appeal was taken.

Thereafter, respondent filed Motion for Dissolution of Conjugal Partnership of Gains and Adjudication to Plaintiff of the Conjugal Properties which was opposed by petitioner. Petitioner filed a Petitioner from Relief of Judgment on the held decision. The trial court denied the petition which was affirmed by the CA. Hence, this petition for review on certiorari.

ISSUE:

Whether or not in the absence of petitioner in the hearing, the court should have ordered a prosecuting officer to intervene.

RULING:

A petition for relief from judgment is an equitable remedy; it is allowed only in exceptional cases where there is no other available or adequate remedy. When a party has another remedy available to him, which may be either a motion for new trial or appeal from an adverse decision of the trial court, and he was not prevented by fraud, accident, mistake or excusable negligence from filing such motion or taking such appeal, he cannot avail himself of this petition. Indeed, relief will not be granted to a party who seeks avoidance from the effects of the judgment when the loss of the remedy at law was due to his own negligence; otherwise the petition for relief can be used to revive the right to appeal which had been lost thru inexcusable negligence.

Petitioner also insists that he has a valid and meritorious defense. He cites the Family Code which provides that in actions for annulment of marriage or legal separation, the prosecuting officer should intervene for the state because the law looks with disfavor upon the haphazard declaration of annulment of marriages by default. He contends that when he failed to appear at the scheduled hearings, the trial court should have ordered the prosecuting officer to intervene for the state and inquire as to the reason for his non-appearance.

Articles 48 and 60 of the Family Code read as follows:

Art. 48. In all cases of annulment or declaration of absolute nullity of marriage, the Court shall order the prosecution attorney or fiscal assigned to it to appear on behalf of the State to take steps to prevent collusion between the parties and to take care that evidence is not fabricated or suppressed.

Art. 60. No decree of legal separation shall be based upon a stipulation of facts or a confession of judgment.

The facts in the case at bar do not call for the strict application of Articles 48 and 60 of the Family Code. For one, petitioner was not declared in default by the trial court for failure to answer. Petitioner filed his answer to the complaint and contested the cause of action alleged by private respondent. He actively participated in the proceedings below by filing several pleadings and cross-examining the witnesses of private respondent. It is crystal clear that every stage of the litigation was characterized by a no-holds barred contest and not by collusion.

The role of the prosecuting attorney or fiscal in annulment of marriage and legal separation proceedings is to determine whether collusion exists between the parties and to take care that the evidence is not suppressed or fabricated. Petitioner’s vehement opposition to the annulment proceedings negates the conclusion that collusion existed between the parties. There is no allegation by the petitioner that evidence was suppressed or fabricated by any of the parties. Under these circumstances, we are convinced that the non-intervention of a prosecuting attorney to assure lack of collusion between the contending parties is not fatal to the validity of the proceedings in the trial court.

* Case digest by Prince Dave C. Santiago, LLB-1, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2017-2018

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