Before I discuss anything, let me greet you all!
With all the celebrations and gift-giving we had last Christmas and New Year, a lot of us are delighted and thrilled of all the presents we have given to and received (of course!) from friends, colleagues, relatives and family. Some of you here, however, have to face the reality of a serious and inescapable situation. What else could it be? Paying DEBTS. DEBTS. DEBTS.
There are two sides of the coin here. One, you are the creditor (“C”) and you would like to collect the debt already. Second, you are the debtor (“D”) and you already got a demand from C to pay your debt. I will focus more on the options available for C. In a way, if you are a debtor reading this, you will already have an idea of what will happen to you, in case you don’t pay your debt! So beware!
TIP # 1. If you are a creditor, make sure to DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT!
Regardless of the amount of money that you will lend to another, may it be big or small, go ahead and prepare a written agreement. It does not matter if it is a loan of only One Thousand Pesos, just do it. It can be typewritten or even handwritten, whatever suits you. What is important and for your own protection, is that you have something to hold on to when the right time comes. Better safe than sorry.
So, assuming that you have a document proving that D owes you this amount of money and that the time has come for you to collect the money. What you need to do first is to verbally demand payment from D. Who knows? You might get paid after all. Lucky you! Unfortunately, not all people are like that. Not all who borrow money pay right away. If you are in that unfortunate situation and do not know what to do next, do not fret! You still have an option. If verbal demand did not work, try and send a written demand letter to D. You can send this letter via personal delivery or through registered mail (go to the nearest post office!).
Question! What if D refuses to receive my demand letter personally?
TIP # 2. Always have someone with you when you choose to serve the demand letter personally.
In case D refuses to receive your demand letter (which is what usually happens based on my experience), you have a WITNESS (“X”) to attest to this refusal. This person will have to sign on your demand letter. A simple note of “Refused to Receive” signed by you and witnessed by X (with complete name and signature, date and time) will suffice. This note on your demand letter will come in handy eventually.
There are several instances I know of wherein debtors pay off their debt after they have received a formal written demand letter. Still, there are a lot of people who do not take this seriously and still do not pay, despite several demands (Kapal lang!). If previous attempts to collect payment prove to be futile, you have no other recourse but to go to court and file a case. Hep! Hep! Hep! Chill… I know. I know. Your usual reactions would be something like these:
“Going to court to collect my debt is really expensive! It will cost me more than the money I have to collect!”
“It will take me several years to get a final decision if I file a collection case against D. Never mind.”
“Ummm… Can you help me file this case in court? Free of charge?”
I do not blame you if you feel that way. I cannot deny that majority of the cases filed in courts here in the Philippines drag on for several years, even decades. But there is still hope!
Lucky for those of you who need to collect an amount NOT more than Three Hundred Thousand Pesos (P300,000.00) [Update: Now up to P400k in Metropolitan trial courts ], you have an easier, CHEAPER and faster alternative. What is it? You can file a SMALL CLAIMS case in court!
The next discussion of the rules and procedures was simplified in order to be easily understandable and more reader friendly.
What is a Small Claims Case?
It is a case filed that is purely for reimbursement or payment of sum of money. If another person owed you money based on a lease contract (rental payment), loan agreement/promissory note (debt), service contract (service fee), mortgage contract (debt), or liquidated damages arising from contract, AND if the amount you wish to collect is P300,000 or less, then you can definitely file a small claims case. If the amount involved is more than P300,000, you have to file an ordinary collection suit, which can sadly drag on for years. What is most important here is that you must have a CONTRACT or DOCUMENT that you can show to the court that proves you have an amount to collect. See my Tip # 1 above.
How do I file a Small Claims Case?
1. Go to the nearest court where you live or where the debtor lives. You decide.
You have to go to the nearest Metropolitan Trial Court or Municipal Trial Court in City or Municipal Trial Court or Municipal Circuit Trial Court where you live or where the debtor lives. Do NOT go to Regional Trial Court (“RTC”). RTCs do not handle small claims cases.
If you live in Makati, go to Metropolitan Trial Court of Makati.
If the debtor lives in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, you may go to Municipal Trial Court of Sta. Cruz, Laguna.
TIP # 3. It is more convenient for you if you file the case in the court where you reside. Anyway, the choice is yours.
Once you decide which court to go to, just go to the Office of the Clerk of Court or ask any court personnel where you can file a small claims case. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask questions.
2. Fill out the Forms and Prepare your Supporting Documents.
You need to secure the following forms from the Clerk of Court or any court personnel:
(1) Form 1-SCC (Statement of Claim) – 2 copies;
(2) Form 1-A-SCC (Certificate Against Forum Shopping) – 2 copies.
Prepare a certified photocopy of your supporting documents – 2 copies each:
(1) Applicable contract (contract of loan, lease, mortgage, service);
(2) Affidavits of witnesses (must be notarized);
(3) Demand letter/s, receiving copy, registry return receipt (in case of registered mail);
(4) Other documents to support your claim.
3. Submit the forms and documents in court.
4. Pay the docket and legal fees.
How much do you have to pay? It depends on the amount of your claim. The maximum amount you have to pay is P4,500.
5. The court will examine the documents.
The court can dismiss the case right away if there is a valid ground for its dismissal. If there is no ground for the dismissal of the case, the case will proceed.
6. The court will issue SUMMONS to the Defendant (debtor) directing him to submit a RESPONSE.
Defendant must submit his response within ten (10) days from the date of his receipt of the Summons. This 10-day period is non-extendible.
7. The court will also issue a NOTICE to the Plaintiff (creditor) and Defendant (debtor), directing both to appear at a specific date and time for a HEARING.
Note: The judge usually includes a warning that no unjustified postponement of hearing shall be allowed. Meaning, there must be proof that the plaintiff or defendant is physically incapable of going to court to attend the hearing. The judge will only allow ONE postponement for each party.
TIP # 4. If you have a lawyer friend or relative, you can ask assistance in reviewing the contents of your forms and relevance of your supporting documents.
You cannot, however, ask a lawyer to represent you during the hearing. In fact, a lawyer is PROHIBITED to appear in small claims cases, unless the lawyer is the plaintiff or defendant in the case.
TIP # 5. If you are the plaintiff, make sure to attend the hearing. Otherwise, the court can dismiss your case if you are absent while the defendant is present. If you appear during the hearing and the defendant is absent, the court can render a decision on that same day based on the facts presented to it.
TIP # 6. During the hearing, you may still amicably settle and enter into a compromise agreement with the defendant. The judge will then evaluate and approve your compromise agreement. Just make sure that the terms and conditions are very clear in the agreement.
8. After the hearing, the judge will render a DECISION within 24 hours.
The decision will be entered immediately in the court docket. A copy of the decision will be given to both the plaintiff and the defendant.
The decision shall be FINAL, EXECUTORY and CAN NO LONGER BE APPEALED.
So there you have it. Filing a small claims case is definitely a simplified and an inexpensive option for everyone. It also gives you a faster result. Once filed, you can have a decision within a month or two (if there is no postponement).
Just try to remember the tips I shared above. They may be useful for you in the future.
Let me know if you have any questions or clarifications in the comment section below.
Until the next blog post. This is Attorney Mommy, at your service!