This case stemmed from the construction by respondent of a concrete perimeter fence around some parcels of land located behind the Civil Aviation Training Center of the Air Transportation Office (ATO) in 1996. As a result, the ATO was dispossessed of some 30,228 square meters of prime land. Respondent justified its action with a claim of ownership over the property. It presented Transfer Certificate of Titles which was fake. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), filed a complaint for revocation, annulment and cancellation of certificates of title in behalf of the Republic of the Philippines in the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City. Respondent filed its answer which was purportedly signed by Atty. Onofre Garlitos, Jr. as counsel for respondent.
During the pendency of the case, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and Committee on Justice and Human Rights conducted a hearing in aid of legislation on the matter of land registration and titling. In particular, the legislative investigation looked into the issuance of fake titles and focused on how respondent was able to acquire it.
During the congressional hearing Atty. Garlitos, respondent’s former counsel. He testified that he prepared respondent’s answer and transmitted an unsigned draft to respondent’s president, Mr. Victor Ong. The signature appearing above his name was not his. He authorized no one to sign in his behalf either. And he did not know who finally signed it.
With Atty. Garlitos’ revelation, the Republic promptly filed an urgent motion to declare respondent in default, predicated on its failure to file a valid answer. The Republic argued that, since the person who signed the answer was neither authorized by Atty. Garlitos nor even known to him, the answer was effectively an unsigned pleading.
The trial court issued a resolution granting the Republic’s motion. Meanwhile, respondent sought reconsideration but the trial court denied it.
Aggrieved, respondent elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals via a petition for certiorari seeking to set aside the RTC resolution. Respondent contended that the trial court erred in declaring it in default for failure to file a valid and timely answer which the CA yield to. The Republic moved for reconsideration but it was denied. Thus, this petition.
Whether the Court of Appeals err in reversing the trial court’s order which declared respondent in default for its failure to file a valid answer?
Yes, Contrary to respondent’s position, a signed pleading is one that is signed either by the party himself or his counsel. Section 3, Rule 7 is clear on this matter. It requires that a pleading must be signed by the party or counsel representing him.
Therefore, only the signature of either the party himself or his counsel operates to validly convert a pleading from one that is unsigned to one that is signed.
Counsel’s authority and duty to sign a pleading are personal to him. He may not delegate it to just any person.
The signature of counsel constitutes an assurance by him that he has read the pleading; that, to the best of his knowledge, information and belief, there is a good ground to support it; and that it is not interposed for delay.
Under the Rules of Court, it is counsel alone, by affixing his signature, who can certify to these matters.
The preparation and signing of a pleading constitute legal work involving practice of law which is reserved exclusively for the members of the legal profession. Counsel may delegate the signing of a pleading to another lawyer but cannot do so. in favor of one who is not.
No doubt, Atty. Garlitos could not have validly given blanket authority for just anyone to sign the answer. The trial court correctly ruled that respondent’s answer was invalid and of no legal effect as it was an unsigned pleading. Respondent was properly declared in default and the Republic was rightly allowed to present evidence ex parte.