MANILA - The Court of Appeals (CA) found the Batangas Regional Trial Court (RTC) to have erred in ordering former Manila solon Mario Crespo, also known as Mark Jimenez, to pay former Justice Sec. Hernando "Nani" Perez P10 million in damages in connection with the former's public statement labeling the latter as a "legal terrorist."
In a 16-page decision by the Special Fifth Division penned by Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang, the appellate court said the Batangas Court erred in declaring Jimenez in default for failure to answer interrogatories filed by Perez in connection with the latter's complaint for damages. The case was remanded to the Batangas RTC for further proceedings.
Interrogatories, under Section 1 Rule 25 of the Revised Rules of Court, are a formal set of questions by one litigant required to be answered by the opposing party to clarify issues significant to the lawsuit.
The appellate court held that the lower court should not have issued a ruling on the case after Jimenez failed to answer the interrogatories.
"[T]he trial court should not have rendered a judgment by default. Substantial justice would be better served if the case is decided on the merits. This is also in keeping with the rule that rules on technicality were promulgated to secure, not to override substantial justice," the appellate court said.
"It would be in the paramount and overriding interest of justice if we allow the defendant-appellant to air his side of the story and present evidence to support his defense," it added.
Jimenez was being held in prison in the US for federal election fraud at the time the interrogatories were filed before the lower court.
Perez, Justice Secretary during the term of former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, filed the damage suit against Jimenez, who, in a privilege speech, accused him of extorting US $2 million allegedly deposited at Coutts Bank in Hong Kong.
In the same speech, Jimenez said the amount was supposed to facilitate the immediate approval of the US $470 million contract with Industrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona Sociedad Anonima of Argentina for the rehabilitation of the Caliraya-Botocan-Kalayaan hydro powerplant in Laguna.