FACTS: Respondent The House Printers Corporation filed a complaint for a sum of money and damages against the 7107 Islands Publishing, Inc. before the RTC alleging that 7107 Publishing refused to pay for PHP 1,178,700.00 worth of magazines it purchased in 2005.

Manuel S. Paguyo, Sheriff IV, served the summons and a copy of the complaint on 7107 Publishing through its Chief Accountant Laarni Milan. The Sheriff explained on his return that the President and the in-house counsel were not at the office when he arrived so he served the summons on the highest ranking officer.

7107 Publishing filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that the RTC failed to acquire jurisdiction over its person. Arguing that: that if the defendant was a corporation, service of summons could only be made on the president, managing partner, general manager, corporate secretary, treasurer, or in-house counsel pursuant to Rule 14, Section 11 of the Rules of Court.

House Printers filed its opposition to petitioner’s motion to dismiss and argued that there was substantial compliance with the requirement of service, citing G&G Trading Corporation v. Court of Appeals and Millenium Industrial Commercial Corporation v. Tan.

RTC then denied the motion to dismiss for lack of merit ruling that: there was substantial compliance with the rule on service of summons.

7107 Publishing moved for the reconsideration of the denial reiterating that Rule 14, Section 11 is an exclusive list that requires strict compliance. But the RTC denied and held that although a Chief Accountant was not included in the enumeration, Chief Accountant Milan was able to turn over the summons and the complaint to the defendants.

It then filed a petition for certiorari before the CA, but dismissed the petition outright because the petitioner failed to pay the docket and the other legal fees. The CA also denied reconsideration ruling that: even if the court personnel refused to accept the petitioner’s tender of payment, it could have simply paid the required fees by postal, money order. Hence the present petition for review on certiorari.

Respondent maintains: (1) that the petitioner did not suffer any undue prejudice from the service of summons on its accountant; and (2) that the petitioner failed to substantiate its allegations that court personnel refused his tender of payment four times.

ISSUE: (1) Whether or not the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion when it denied its motion to dismiss because the RTC did not acquire jurisdiction over its person; and

(2) Whether or not the CA was not justified in dismissing its petition for certiorari for nonpayment of the required fees because of the court personnel’s refusal to accept its tender of payment on four separate occasions. 

HELD: (1) Rule 14 of the Rules of Court provides: SEC. 11. Service upon domestic private juridical entity. – When the defendant is a corporation, partnership or association organized under the laws of the Philippines with a juridical personality, service may be made on the president, managing partner, general manager, corporate secretary, treasurer, or in-house counsel.

We have long established that this enumeration is an exclusive list under the principle of expresso unius est exclusio alterius. Under the present Rules of Court, the rule of substantial compliance invoked by the respondent is no longer applicable.

To quote our decision in Sps. Mason v. Court of Appeals: Had the Rules of Court Revision Committee intended to liberalize the rule on service of summons, we said, it could have easily done so by clear and concise language. Absent a manifest intent to liberalize the rule, we stressed strict compliance with Section 11, Rule 14 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

Therefore, the petitioner’s argument is meritorious; service of summons on an officer other than those enumerated in Section 11 is invalid.

(2) However, although the petition before the CA was meritorious, the petitioner failed to pay the required docket fees and other legal fees. The payment of docket fees within the prescribed period is mandatory for the filing of a petition for certiorari. The court acquires jurisdiction over the case only upon the payment of the prescribed docket fees. The payment of the full amount of the docket fee is a condition sine qua non for jurisdiction to rest.

The payment of docket fees, like the rule of strict compliance in the service of summons, is not a mere technicality of procedure but is an essential requirement of due process. Procedural rules are not to be set aside simply because their strict application would prejudice a party’s substantive rights. Like all rules, they must be observed. They can only be relaxed for the most persuasive of reasons where a litigant’s degree of noncompliance with the rules is severely disproportionate to the injustice he is bound to suffer as a consequence.

However, we cannot overlook the inequity of relaxing the procedural rules for the petitioner in order to dismiss the respondent’s complaint in the civil case for the Sheriffs noncompliance with the rule on the service of summons. If we will be equitable to the petitioner, then fairness demands that we must also be equitable to the respondent.

In rendering justice, courts have always been, as they ought to be, conscientiously guided by the norm that on the balance, technicalities take a backseat against substantive rights, and not the other way around. As the petitioner itself said, the ends of justice would be best served if we do away with the technicalities as we dispense substantial justice. We thus believe that the best course of action under the circumstances is to allow the RTC to decide the case on the merits. WHEREFORE, premises considered, we hereby DENY the petition for lack of merit. 

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