MANILA – The Supreme Court has upheld the 2003 ruling of the Court of Appeals reversing the award for damages against Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson and several others stemming from alleged torture incidents during the Martial Law regime.
In a 24-page ruling, the SC's Third Division through Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, said that the CA acted correctly when it reversed the findings of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in 1993 that Lacson, the late Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Fabian Ver and several others should pay damages to suspected subversives they allegedly arrested and tortured at the height of the martial rule of then President Ferdinand Marcos.
The SC said that Lacson, Ver together with Colonels Fidel Singson; Rolando Abadilla; Gerardo Lantoria and Galileo Kintanar; Maj. Rodolfo Aguinaldo; 1Lt. Pedro Tango and M/Sgt. Bienvenido Balaba were deprived of procedural due process when they were ordered by the Quezon City RTC to pay damages without giving them the chance to give their side.
"Procedural due process is that which hears before it condemns, which proceeds upon inquiry and renders judgment only after trial. It contemplates notice and opportunity to be heard before judgment is rendered affecting one's person or property," the SC said.
In 2003, the CA said that petitioners Rogelio Aberca, Rodolfo Benosa, Nestor Bodino, Noel Etabag, Danilo Dela Fuente and 14 others did not follow the Quezon City RTC's Aug. 17, 1990 order that they should report the addresses of Lacson and the other respondents in order that they be properly notified by the court.
The RTC eventually dismissed the case but it was reversed a year later and allowed petitioners to serve the notice to Lacson and the other via publication.
The notice to Lacson and the others were published in Balita newspaper in 1991.
However, Lacson and the others failed to answer the complaint for damages thus they were declared in default and allowed petitioners to submit evidence.
The RTC, based on the evidence presented, ordered Lacson and the others to pay jointly P350,000 each as damages to the petitioners.
The RTC decision was reversed by the CA in 2003 and remanded the case to the lower court.
"The rules on service of pleadings, motions, notices, orders, judgments and other papers were not strictly followed in declaring the respondents in default," the SC said.
It also dismissed the arguments raised by petitioners that publication of the notice to Lacson and the others was "to safeguard the defendants (Lacson, et al) and was done in pursuant to the inherent power of the courts to control its proceedings to make them comfortable to law and justice."
"The exercise of such inherent power must not violate basic court procedures and must not disregard one's basic constitutional right to procedural due process," the SC said.*PNA
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