Our justice system is a unique one in so far as certain cases should be referred to the barangay conciliation system and only if the case is not resolved there can the case go to court for litigation. This aims to maintain the good relationship of residents in a barangay since court cases can cause enmity among neighbours and even relatives. Another aim of the said system is to prevent “petty” cases from clogging the court dockets. The barangay conciliation proceedings can be very effective and efficient if availed of in good faith by litigants. It is often referred to as the “Barangay Justice System”, which for me gives the wrong notion to litigants into thinking that the said system is part of the justice system and for the members of the lupong tagapagkasundo to believe that they are to act like jury members and the pangkat chairman or the punong barangay as judges. It will be better if the term used by the Supreme Court will be used instead: “Barangay Conciliation Proceedings”.
The usual question asked by litigants is: What happens if the case was not referred to the barangay conciliation system before it was filed in court? Some might be quick to answer: It will be dismissed. The answer is partly correct. Dismissal of the case on the ground of non-referral is not automatic, meaning the court cannot dismiss it on its own. This is the ruling in Lansangan vs. Caisip (G.R. No. 212987. August 06, 2018)
Motu Proprio Dismissal
Petitioner filed with the MTC a case for collection of sum of money. The case was later due for resolution but before the judge issued his decision, he dismissed the case on the ground that the case was not first referred to the barangay conciliation system. The plaintiff appealed to the RTC but the ruling of the MTC was sustained. The CA also upheld the RTC ruling until the case was elevated to the Supreme Court.
The Dismissal is Improper
The Supreme Court reversed the decision which upheld the rulings of the RTC and MTC. A motu proprio dismissal on the ground that the case was not referred to the barangay conciliation system is not valid. “Ordinarily, non-compliance with the condition precedent [of prior barangay conciliation] could affect the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s cause of action and make his complaint vulnerable to dismissal on [the] ground of lack of cause of action or prematurity; but the same would not prevent a court of competent jurisdiction from exercising its power of adjudication over the case before it, where the defendants, as in this case, failed to object to such exercise of jurisdiction in their answer and even during the entire proceedings a quo.” Non-referral is not jurisdictional, meaning the court still has jurisdiction over the case even if it was not referred to the barangay conciliation first. Not being jurisdictional, the court cannot dismiss the case motu proprio. The court added: “such conciliation process is not a jurisdictional requirement, such that non-compliance therewith cannot affect the jurisdiction which the court has otherwise acquired over the subject matter or over the person of the defendant.” Also, since it is not jurisdictional, the non-referral when not invoked by the defendant at the proper time of the proceedings before the court will be considered waived. Absent any motion on the part of the defendant, the court cannot on its own dismiss the case.