Dealing with delinquent borrowers is a total headache. It’s exhausting to keep them to pay you back. Perhaps this borrower is a friend who seemingly has forgotten they owe you. Perhaps you have a store, and one of your friends have accumulated so much credit that they start avoiding you. Now, you are worried: Can I get my money back? How?
From a legal perspective, well, yes, you can. The Rules of Procedure for Small Claims Cases now allows individuals and business to file a case against someone who owes you money (you don’t have to hire a lawyer for this).
The purpose of a small claims process is to provide a simpler and a more inexpensive and expeditious means of settling disputes involving purely money claims. Just a reminder though, to be able to file a case against your debtor under the Rules of Procedure for Small Claims Cases, the money claim should not exceed P200,000 (including interests and penalty fees). If the money claim is more than that amount, then you (the plaintiff) will have to go to regular court.
Basic Steps in Filing for A Small Claims Case in the Philippines
A small claims case is filed with the Metropolitan Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Municipal Trial Court and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts. Since this is a civil case, it must be filed in the city;
- Where the Plaintiff (the person suing) resides; or
- Where the Defendant (the person being sued) resides; or
- If the Plaintiff is in the business of lending, banking and similar activities, in the city where the Defendant resides, if the Plaintiff has a branch in that city.
A small claims action is commenced by filing with the court the following:
- An accomplished and verified Statement of Claim in duplicate,
- Accompanied by a Certification of Non-Forum Shopping, Splitting a Cause of Action and Multiplicity of Suits and two (2) duly certified photocopies of the actionable document/s subjects of the claim, as well as the affidavits of witnesses and other evidence to support the claim. To wit:
- Signed contracts by the defendants
- Promissory notes, receipts, bank deposit slips, checks and other “paper trails”
- Latest demand letter with proof of delivery and proof of receipt
- Affidavits of witnesses
Note: No evidence shall be allowed during the hearing which was not attached to or submitted together with the Claim, unless good cause is shown for the admission of additional evidence.
After submitting the abovementioned documents, you (the plaintiff) shall pay the docket and other legal fees (around 1, 200 pesos or so), unless allowed to litigate as an indigent.
Then, the court will examine the merits of the claim. It may dismiss the case outright if it finds grounds to justify the dismissal. If no ground for dismissal is found, the court shall issue Summons on the day of receipt of the Statement of Claim, directing the defendant to submit a verified Response. The rules states how Summons should be served:
“If the Defendant cannot be served with Summons, the court shall order the Plaintiff to cause the service of summons within thirty (30) days from Notice. Otherwise, the case shall be dismissed. The court shall also issue a Notice to both parties, directing them to appear before it on a specific date and time for hearing, with a warning that no unjustified postponement shall be allowed.
The defendant shall file with the court and serve on the plaintiff a duly accomplished and verified Response within a non – extendible period of ten (10) days from receipt of summons. The Response shall be accompanied by certified photocopies of documents, as well as affidavits of witnesses and other evidence in support thereof. No evidence shall be allowed during the hearing which was not attached to or submitted together with the Response, unless good cause is shown for the admission of additional evidence.”
Both parties are expected to appear in court at the designated date of hearing. They must appear personally or through a representative authorized under a Special Power of Attorney. A lawyer cannot appear to represent the party.
At the hearing, the judge shall exert efforts to bring the parties to an amicable settlement. If the case is settled, the settlement shall be reduced into writing, signed by the parties and submitted to the court for approval. If no settlement is reached, the hearing shall so proceed in an informal and expeditious manner and terminated within the same day.
After the hearing, the court shall render its decision within twenty-four (24) hours from termination of the hearing. The decision shall immediately be entered by the Clerk of Court in the court docket and a copy thereof forthwith served on the parties. The decision shall be final, executory and unappealable.
Additional Questions and Answers:
Q: What exactly are examples of small claims cases?
A: Here are some examples of small claims cases:
- Case to collect money from a person who owes you money (debtor)
- Case to collect unpaid rental payments from a lessee
- Case to recover the deposit made for a lease after the expiration of the lease
- Case to collect payment for commission
- Case to collect payment for services rendered
- Case to collect payment for goods or property sold and delivered
- or reimbursement for property, deposit, or money loaned;
- Purely civil action for payment of money covered by bounced or stopped check.
- Case to enforce settlement agreements of money claims made before the barangay
Q: Can the decision of the small claims court be appealed?
A: No. The decision shall be final, executory and unappealable.
Q: I do not know how to make statements of claims and other legal documents. What can I do?
A: The Supreme Court has already made templated forms, which may be secured from the courts, for the following:
- Statement of Claim
- Verification and Certification of Non-forum Shopping, Splitting a Cause of Action and Multiplicity of Suits
- Plaintiff’s Return/ Manifestation
- Motion to Plead as Indigent
- Special Power of Attorney
- Joint Motion for Dismissal
- Motion for Approval of Compromise Agreement
- Motion for Execution
Q: Can one get jailed for failing to settle debts?
A: No. The prohibition against imprisonment for a debt is a basic right enshrined in no less than the Constitution (Article III): “No person shall be imprisoned for debt or non-payment of a poll tax.” In other words, no one could be compelled to pay a debt under pain of criminal sanctions (estafa is a different matter). No one could also substitute the payment of debt through imprisonment or other criminal penalties (subsidiary imprisonment is also another matter). Settling debts is coursed through civil sanctions.
Q: So, what happens when they file a civil suit, and still can’t pay?
A: If the plaintiff wins a civil suit. The court will issue a Notice of Garnishment; they’ll have a portion of your future wages allocated to paying it. The courts can also seize property to sell at auction.
Q: You mentioned estafa being a criminal offense. How is estafa different from failure to settle debts? What makes it a criminal offense?
A: Estafa, as mentioned, is a criminal offense. It is characterized by fraud, wherein a person defrauds another by the following means:
- By UNFAITHFULNESS or ABUSE OF CONFIDENCE;
- By DECEIT;
- By FRAUDULENT MEANS
Estafa is committed by a person who defrauds another causing him to suffer damage, by means of unfaithfulness or abuse of confidence, or of false pretense or fraudulent acts. In can be observed that estafa has two indispensable basic elements:
- Fraud; and
- Resulting damage or intent to cause damage capable of pecuniary estimation.
Q: What is Fraud?
A: Fraud, in its general sense, is deemed to comprise anything calculated to deceive, including all acts, omissions and concealment involving a breach of legal or equitable duty, trust or confidence justly reposed, resulting in damage to another, or by which an undue and unconscientious advantage is taken of another. It is a generic term embracing all multifarious means which human ingenuity can devise, and which are resorted to by one individual to secure an advantage over another by false suggestions or by suppression of truth and includes all surprise, trick, cunning, dissembling and any unfair way by which another is cheated. And deceit is the false representation of a matter of fact whether by words or conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of that which should have been disclosed which deceives or is intended to deceive another so he shall act upon it to his legal injury. The false pretense or fraudulent act must be committed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud. (Alcantara v. Court of Appeals, 416 SCRA 418 (1998))
Deceit is a species of fraud. (Garcia v. People, G.R. No. 144785, 11 September 1985)