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Mediation - An on-going concern in CA

by: Atty. Marie Claire Victoria Mabutas-Sordan
Division Clerk of Court

Sometime in 2002, in a bid to help this Court find a viable solution to the Court's backlog woes, the Supreme Court approved, on April 16, 2002, A.M. No. 02-2-17-SC (Re: Pilot Testing of Mediation in the Court of Appeals) upon the request of the Philippine Judicial Academy, which allows the pilot testing of mediation proceedings in the Court of Appeals with the following objectives:(a) to prove the viability of mediation in appealed cases before the Court; (b) to test the rules governing the mediation process in appealed cases before the Court; and (c) to discover the most efficient manner to implement the mediation program. Under the said S.C. Resolution, May 2002 was supposed to be the Settlement Month. This was, however, moved to September to allow the holding of orientation seminars/workshops for the Justices, Division Clerks and other Division Chiefs and the appellate court mediators.

Mediation is a process of resolving disputes with the aid of a neutral person who helps parties identify issues and develop proposals to resolve their disputes. Unlike in arbitration, the mediator is not empowered to decide disputes. Applied to cases in the Court of Appeals, the process requires parties to submit to a neutral party, the mediator, who works with them to which a settlement of their controversy. The mediator acts as a facilitator for the parties to arrive at a mutually acceptable arrangement, which will be the basis for the court to render a judgment based on a compromise.

In brief, mediation has the following advantages : it is effective, faster, cost-saving, durable, and restores relationships. Another good thing about it is that it is a purely voluntary process. The parties and the mediator can call it off at any time when it does not seem to be working. The parties can go back to the court and pursue litigation.

Nothing much was heard of the project after the pilot testing was terminated until in March or April of this year , the division clerks of court were called by the Philippine Judicial Academy, more particularly the Philippine Mediation Center, to a series of meetings in preparation for the institutionalization of mediation proceedings in the Court.

These meetings were scheduled on April 11, April 13, April 25 and April 27, 2005, and aimed at securing the cooperation of the Justices and Division Clerks of Court in the implementation of the Court of Appeals Mediation Project Phase Two: Internship of Newly-Trained Mediators. At these meetings, the Justices and Division Clerks of Court were introduced to Resolution No. 04-04 entitled: “ Proposed Revised Guidelines for the Implementation of Mediation in the Court of Appeals.”

Covered by the guidelines were the following cases:

    a. Civil cases brought on ordinary appeal or petition for review;

    b. Appeals from final orders, awards, judgments, resolution of quasi-judicial agencies in the exercise of their quasi-judicial functions through petition for review or certiorari;

    c. Special civil actions for certiorari, except those involving pure questions of law;

    d. Habeas corpus cases involving custody of minors, with the consent of the parties, provided that the minor is not detained for commission of a criminal offense;

    e. Criminal cases cognizable by the Katarungang Pambarangay, under Republic Act No. 7160, involving offenses punishable by imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding 5,000.00.

On the other hand, the following cases were not referable to mediation:

    a. Those civil cases which by law cannot be compromised;

    b. Criminal cases except those under paragraph d. above;

    c. Habeas corpus petitions involving custody of minors when the subject is detained for commission of a criminal offense; and

    d. Cases with pending application for restraining orders/preliminary injunctions, unless both parties have requested for mediation.

DCA (ret.) Bernardo Ponferrada represented to the seminar participants the results of the Pilot-Testing of Mediation in the Court of Appeals which showed a success rate of 67% and were considered by the Philippine Mediation Center as encouraging. The chairman of the project, Prof. Alfredo Tadiar, presented and discussed the Proposed Mediation Flow Guidelines for the Internship program. An outline of these guidelines is as follows:

    Guidelines for Prioritizing Selection of Cases for the Court of Appeals Mediation Project”

    A. Parties:
      A.1. Individual Persons
        1. Residence
          a. First Priority (Within Metro Manila)
          b. Second Priority (Surrounding Areas of Metro Manila)
        2. Relationship
          a. By blood or affinity
          b. Business relation
      A.2. Juridical Persons

    B. Nature of the Case
      B.1. Civil Case
        a. Collection/Sum of Money
        b. Breach of Contract
        c. Ejectment-Forcible Entry/ Unlawful Detainer
      B.2. Labor Cases – single parties
      B.3. Criminal Cases under the Katarungang Pambarangay Law

    C. Age of the Case
      C.1. First Priority – 10 years
      C.2. Second Priority – 5 years and below

Some modifications were made to suit certain cases such as petitions for annulment of judgment where applicable.

The Justices were finally asked to send 20 cases each to their Division Clerks of Court for referral to the mediation center. Thus, 60 cases were to be slated for mediation from each division of the Court. The court resolution for the parties to appear for mediation was to be prepared by the staff of the Philippine Mediation Center and brought to the division clerks of court for signature. Should the parties agree to mediate, they were to choose a mediator from the list of accredited mediators of the Court and fix the date and time of the preliminary mediation conference. Thereafter, the PMC would require the parties to execute an Agreement to Mediate in a form provided for the purpose.

As in the pilot-testing stage, it was emphasized that the parties must be assured of the confidentiality of the proceedings. Any and all matters discussed, or communications made, including requests for mediation, and documents presented before the PMC or during the mediation conferences were to be privileged and confidential and inadmissible as evidence for any purpose in any other proceeding.

Law interns were to be assigned to the offices of the Division Clerks of Court offices to prepare the necessary case briefs of the cases submitted for mediation. It is quite unfortunate that the law interns originally assigned to us were not able to do all their tasks. Be that as it may, the Philippine Mediation Center had began sending out notices to appear around the last week of May, 2005. The first day set for parties to appear before the Philippine Mediation Center was June 1, 2005.

The mediation process had not been without its share of problems. Notices were sent containing the wrong set of parties or were returned unserved. During the mediation meetings, the parties chose to bring their lawyers despite the caveat in the notices that they should appear without counsels.

But we have not lost hope and are, in fact, working hard to make the project a success. The mediation process proves to be fulfilling when parties come to agree. It becomes a nerve-wracking experience when we are caught in a cross-fire between parties who are hostile and unyielding to each other. I am quite lucky with my cases. Just this afternoon, I met with a set of parties, the third in a row, who happily ended their dispute with the complainant signing a quitclaim and release. The trips to the mediation center may be well worth the trouble after all.




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