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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Conciliation in the barangay

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“The cases range from civil disputes to the commission of petty crimes.”

Every so often we hear our neighbors and friends saying that they have pending cases in the barangay, either as a complainant or a respondent. The cases range from civil disputes to the commission of petty crimes.

What is a barangay? It is a basic political unit that serves as the primary planning and implementing unit of government policies, plans, programs, projects, and activities in the community, and where disputes are amicably settled (Section 384, Chapter 1, Book III, Republic Act 7160).

A barangay may be created out of a contiguous territory with a population of at least two thousand inhabitants. For cities and municipalities within Metro Manila and other metropolitan political subdivisions or highly urbanized cities a barangay shall have five thousand inhabitants (Section 386, Republic Act 7160).

Consistent with the mandate of Republic Act (R.A.) 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code, for barangays to amicably settle disputes, it created the lupong tagapamayapa (“lupon”). Interestingly, the settlement of disputes at the barangay level was first introduced by Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1508 in 1978. Hence, the Katarungang Pambarangay was not an original creation of R.A. 7160.

The primordial objective of PD No. 1508 (the Katarungang Pambarangay Law; now included under R.A. 7160) is to reduce the number of court litigations and prevent the deterioration of the quality of justice being brought about by the indiscriminate filing of cases in the courts. To attain this objective, R.A. 7160 requires the parties to undergo a conciliation process before the Lupon Chairman or the Pangkat (see below) before filing a complaint in court (Zamora v. Izquierdo, G.R. No. 146195, November 18, 2004).

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R.A 7160 increased the authority of the lupon in criminal offenses, from handling only those punishable by imprisonment not exceeding thirty days or fines not exceeding P200.00 (as provided in P.D. No. 1508), to those offenses punishable by imprisonment not exceeding one year or fines not exceeding P5,000.00 (Uy v. Contreras, G.R. No. 111416, September 26, 1994).

It also broadened the authority of the lupon over civil and criminal cases arising from incidents occurring in workplaces or institutions of learning, which shall be brought for amicable settlement in the barangay where it is located (Section 409, Republic Act 7160; G.R. No. 111416, September 26, 1994).

For each dispute brought before the lupon, a conciliation panel composed of three members shall be known as the pangkat ng takapagkasundo (“pangkat”). The parties shall choose from the list of members of the lupon. If the parties fail to agree on the members of the pangkat, this shall be determined by the drawing of lots by the lupon chairman (Section 404, Republic Act 7160).

The lupon of each barangay shall have the authority to bring together the parties actually residing in the same city or municipality for the amicable settlement of all disputes. In the case of Vercide v. Hernandez, the trial judge dismissed the action for recovery of possession of real property due to the failure of the complainants to refer their case to the lupon before filing it in court.

However, the parties resided in different barangays in two different provinces where the property in question was also located in one of the latter. With this, the requirement of prior referral to the Lupon does not apply. The Supreme Court explained that for the rule to apply the parties must be residing in the same city or municipality, and reside in the same barangay or in different but adjoining barangays within the same city or municipality. (Vercide v. Hernandez, A.M. No. MTJ-00-1265, April 6, 2000)   Because of this, the judge was administratively sanctioned.

There is also no requirement of prior referral to the lupon where one party to the action is the government, or any subdivision or instrumentality thereof; or where one party is a public officer or employee and the dispute relates to the performance of his official functions (Section 408, Republic Act 7160).

The lupon shall also have no authority in bringing parties to barangay settlement where there is no private offended party, or where the offense committed is punishable by imprisonment exceeding one year or fines exceeding five thousand pesos (Section 408, Republic Act 7160). The following are examples of offenses that require prior barangay settlement: slight physical injuries, light coercion, unjust vexation, or simple slander.

All amicable settlements shall be in writing and attested to by the lupon or pangkat chairman (Section 411, Republic Act 7160). The settlement may be enforced by execution with the lupon within six months from the date of the settlement. After the period lapses, the settlement may be enforced by action in the appropriate city or municipal court (Article 417, Republic Act 7160).

No complaint, petition, action, or proceeding involving any matter within the authority of the lupon shall be filed or instituted directly in court or any government office for adjudication, unless there has been a confrontation between the parties before the lupon or pangkat, and that no conciliation or settlement has been reached as certified by the lupon or pangkat (Section 412, Republic Act No. 7160).

In the case of Lansangan v. Caisip, petitioner Lansangan, a resident of Camanse Street, Purok 4, Rose Park, Concepcion, Tarlac, alleged that respondent Caisip, a resident of Barangay Sto. Niño, Concepcion, Tarlac, executed a promissory note in her favor amounting to €2,522.00, payable in three installments. As Caisip defaulted in his obligation under the promissory note, Lansangan was constrained to file the complaint in the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Capas-Bamban-Concepcion, Tarlac  (Lansagan v. Caisip, G.R. No. 212987, August 6, 2018).

Respondent Caisip failed to file a responsive pleading. Hence, petitioner Lansangan moved to declare him in default and for the MCTC to render judgment. The MCTC motu proprio dismissed without prejudice the complaint for its failure to comply with the requirement of prior referral of the dispute to the barangay before filing the case in court, since the parties are residents of the same barangay (Lansagan v. Caisip, G.R. No. 212987, August 6, 2018).

The MCTC opined that petitioner Lansangan’s failure to refer the matter for barangay conciliation proceedings rendered it without jurisdiction to rule on her complaint. Citing Aquino v. Aure, the Supreme Court clarified that such a conciliation process is not a jurisdictional requirement, and non-compliance cannot affect the jurisdiction which the court has otherwise acquired over the subject matter or over the person of the defendant (Lansagan v. Caisip, G.R. No. 212987, August 6, 2018).

Referral for barangay conciliation of a dispute is a condition precedent before filing an action in court for cases falling under R.A. 7160 on Katarungang Pambarangay. The failure of the defendant to raise it in an Answer or Motion to Dismiss will result to a waiver of such grounds to dismiss.

However, under the 2019 Amendments to the Rules of Civil Procedure, non-compliance with a condition precedent is no longer grounds for a motion to dismiss, but an affirmative defense. It must be noted that an affirmative defense will also lead to a dismissal of the case; but if denied, the parties will have no choice but to proceed to pre-trial.

In yet another case, a dismissal of an unlawful detainer case was sought because the parties allegedly failed to reach an amicable settlement before the lupon, and the Chairman did not constitute the pangkat before whom the mediation proceedings should have been conducted (Zamora v. Izquierdo, G.R. No. 146195, November 18, 2004).

The Supreme Court said that the defendant’s contention that the lupon conciliation alone, without the proceeding before the pangkat, contravenes the law on Katarungang Pambarangay, is misplaced. Republic Act No. 7160 clearly provides that, as a precondition to filing a complaint in court, the parties shall go through the conciliation process either before the Lupon Chairman (as what happened in this case), or the Pangkat (Section 412(a); G.R. No. 146195, November 18, 2004).

Here, while the pangkat was not constituted, the parties met nine (9) times at the Office of the Barangay Chairman for conciliation where not only was the issue of water installation discussed, but also the petitioners’ violation of the lease contract. It is thus manifest that there was substantial compliance with the law which does not require strict adherence thereto (G.R. No. 146195, November 18, 2004).

The Katarungang Pambarangay effectively explores the use of the mediation and conciliation process at the barangay level. If properly utilized, cases may be settled quicker and more efficiently, precluding filing in the first level courts. Justice would be achieved at less expense to the litigants, and at the same time promoting peace and harmony within the community.

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