Saturday, December 5, 2009

Doctrine of liberality of technical procedures

In a special action for certiorari that I have filed with the Court of Appeals (CA) in connection a criminal case for estafa pending trial on the merits before the trial court, the main issue was the desire of the accused for an order authorizing the conduct of a new and separate questioned document and handwriting examination to be conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the same to constitute as his own counter-expert evidence when he presents his defense evidence in due time.

In the said petition, I raised the following issues: doctrine of liberality of procedural rules in relation to minor delays in meeting court deadlines, honest mistakes of a party, and non-finality of interlocutory orders, excerpt as limited by Rule 65 on certiorari. (The original examination was conducted by the Philippine National Police crime laboratory. The accused was not notified thereof and had no participation therein, for reasons known only to the police examiners).

I wish to share the substance of my motion for reconsideration that I had filed with the Court of Appeals in connection with the said pending case, for legal research purposes of the visitors of this blog. (I deleted the references to the parties and the case caption).

X x x.

THE PETITIONER, by counsel, respectfully states:

1. Purpose and Material Dates. – This pleading seeks the reconsideration of the Decision, dated ___, of this Honorable Court, a copy of which was received by the undersigned counsel for the petitioner on __. The 15h day of the petitioner to file this motion would end on ___.

2. Sole Ground. - With all due respect to the Honorable Court, this motion is premised on the sole ground that the Honorable Court has failed to exercise its wise and fair discretion to apply the basic remedial law doctrine of liberality in the appreciation and application of technical and procedural rules to promote and achieve the noble and equitable ends of substantive justice.

3. Discussion. – By way of review, the petitioner reiterates the ultimate facts of his petition.

3.1. On ___, the petitioner, thru counsel, filed a MOTION FOR DOCUMENT AND HANDWRITING EXAMINATION BY THE NATIONAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, dated ___ (Annex D, petition).

3.2. The prosecution opposed the same. The petitioner filed a reply to the said opposition. On ___, Branch __of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of ___ City (JDR Judge) issued an order denying the aforecited motion. (Annex A, petition).

3.3. The petitioner received by mail on ____ a copy of the said Order, dated ___. His 15th day to file a motion for reconsideration thereof would have expired on ___, which fell on a Saturday. Thus, he had up to the next Monday therefrom, i.e., ____, to file his said motion for reconsideration.

3.4. The petitioner himself served copies (personal service) of his motion for reconsideration, dated ____, on the public and private prosecutors on ____, Monday (deadline). [Annex G, petition]. The petitioner himself had offered to do the service and filing of the said motion himself, instead of the paralegal staff of the undersigned counsel, so that he could save on the P1, 000.00/half day paralegal staff fee being charged by the law office of his counsel whenever his paralegal staff went out on legal field work. Such a huge amount of P1, 000.00, for an ordinary employee like the accused, meant a lot in terms of financial value, because it was equivalent to one-half sack of rice, which he might as well use to feed his family.

3.5. By inadvertence, because the petitioner is not a lawyer and was not adept with and trained in the technical procedures of the Courts, despite the prior briefing to him of his counsel, he inadvertently thought that he had duly completed the “filing” of the said motion for reconsideration by merely “serving” copies thereof on the public and the private prosecutors. Thus, he innocently missed the “formal filing” of the “original copy” of the said motion for reconsideration with the Trial Court (RTC __ [JDR Court]) on ____ (deadline). He erroneously thought (in good faith) that it was enough to serve the motion on the two prosecutors.

3.6. When the petitioner made a status report on the above matter to his counsel on ____ (two days after the ___ deadline), the innocent mistake of the petitioner was discovered by his undersigned counsel. Thus, on that very same day, i.e., ____, his undersigned counsel caused the “technical filing” of the “original copy” of the said motion for reconsideration with the RTC __ via REGISTERED MAIL, per Registry Receipt No. ___issued on ____ by the Post Office of ___ City. (See the upper right portion of the motion for reconsideration, marked as Annex G, Petition, showing the details of the said Registry Receipt.

3.7. On ___, the undersigned counsel for the petitioner reported the above matter (i.e., the fact of filing of the original copy of the motion for reconsideration) to the RTC ___ via a formal VERIFIED EX PARTE MANIFESTATION, dated ____. (See Annex H., Petition).

3.8. The prosecution opposed the abovementioned pleadings of the petitioner. Meanwhile, the parties agreed to terminate the JDR proceedings and moved to transfer the criminal case to a Trial Judge. The case was raffled for trial to RTC __ (public respondent), which thereafter set the initial prosecution evidence presentation on ___. On ___, the petitioner filed with the public respondent RTC __ a motion to resolve his pending motion for reconsideration. On ___, the undersigned counsel for the petitioner received a copy of the 2nd questioned interlocutory Order, dated ____ (see Annex B, Petition), denying the motion for reconsideration because of “late filing”.

4. The aforecited motion for reconsideration was filed by registered mail on ___ (Annex G, supra). The technical deadline was ___, a Saturday. The real deadline was thus ___, the following Monday. If the date ___, Monday, would be counted as the reckoning date, the filing of the motion for reconsideration was late by four (4) days. If the date ___, Monday, would be counted as the reckoning date, the filing of the said motion was late by two (2) days. The tardiness would range from two (2) to four (4) days. The petitioner submits that the he should be deemed as being late by two (2) days, and not four (4) days, considering that his final and ultimate deadline by operation of law was ___, the Monday following ___, Saturday.

At any rate, as discussed hereinbelow, the abovementioned “minor delay” should have been seen with the eye of kind and compassionate liberality by this Honorable Court as a dispenser of equitable justice.

5. As discussed in the petition, Sec. 49, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court provides that the opinion of an expert witness, as in the instant case, requires “special knowledge, skill, experience or training”. The Courts should avail themselves of such expertise where warranted in the interest of truth and justice. In the case of SPOUSES SAMUEL ULEP, etc., et. al. vs. HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, et. al., G.R. No. 125254, October 11, 2005, it was held that “due to the technicality of the procedure involved in the examination of forged documents, the expertise of questioned document examiners is usually helpful” and, the accused believes, should, as a rule, be encouraged by the Courts. In the case of PAN PACIFIC INDUSTRIAL SALES CO., INC., PETITIONER, VS. COURT OF APPEALS AND NICOLAS CAPISTRANO, G.R. No. 125283, February 10, 2006, the Supreme Court held that bare denial cannot prevail over expert testimonial evidence and that “he who disavows the authenticity of his signature on a public document bears the responsibility to present evidence to that effect”, that “mere disclaimer is not sufficient”, that “at the very least, he should present corroborating witnesses to prove his assertion, and that “at best, he should present an expert witness”.

6. As likewise discussed in the petition, in the case of LILIA SANCHEZ vs. COURT OF APPEALS, et. al., EN BANC, G.R. No. 152766. June 20, 2003, it was held, among other things, that the Rules of Court should be liberally construed in order to promote their object of securing a just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action or proceeding; the rules of procedure should be viewed as mere tools designed to aid the courts in the speedy, just and inexpensive determination of the cases before them; liberal construction of the rules and the pleadings is the controlling principle to effect substantial justice; and litigations should, as much as possible, be decided on their merits and not on mere technicalities.

7. In the case of LEY CONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, et. al. vs. UNION BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, G.R. No. 133801, June 27, 2000, it was held that “an interlocutory order is always under the control of the court and may be modified or rescinded upon sufficient grounds shown at any time before final judgment”.

8. In the case of LEY CONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, et. al. vs. UNION BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, G.R. No. 133801, June 27, 2000, it was held that “an interlocutory order is always under the control of the court and may be modified or rescinded upon sufficient grounds shown at any time before final judgment”. An interlocutory order does not become final within 15 days.

Under Rule 65 (certiorari), the deadline to question an interlocutory order via the special civil action of certiorari is 60 days from date of receipt of the resolution denying the petition or the motion for reconsideration, if one was filed.

Under Rule 37, the 15-day period to file a motion for new trial or motion for reconsideration refers to “a judgment or a final order”. A “judgment” presupposes the completion of trial on the merits. A “final order” presupposes an order that ends a case and leaves nothing else to be done therein, e.g., an order granting a motion to dismiss. An interlocutory order does not become final, in a sense.

With all due respect, to construe the 15-day “appeal period” as strictly applicable to an interlocutory order, as what had been done in this case by the trial courts and this Honorable Court, contradicts the foregoing jurisprudence and procedural rules.

9. To stress the abovementioned point, in the 1996 case of PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, vs. METROPOLITAN TRIAL COURT OF QUEZON CITY, Branch 32, and ISAH V. RED, G.R. No. 123263, December 16, 1996, the Supreme Court held that “only final orders -- i.e., those that finally dispose of a case, leaving nothing more to be
done by the court respecting the merits of a case -- can become final and executory -- in the sense of becoming unalterable through an appeal or review proceeding.” The Court stressed that “interlocutory orders, on the other hand -- i.e., those which resolve incidental motions or collateral matters but do not put an end to the case -- never become final in the sense of becoming unchangeable and impervious to impugnation after expiration of the period prescribed for taking an appeal from a final judgment.”

10. Just to emphasize a major point, mandatory deadlines must be perceived and applied with liberality where warranted by equitable circumstances. There are many Supreme Court decisions on “delay” which have been interpreted with compassionate liberality by the highest tribunal of the land.

11. An example is the 1988 analogous case PACIFIC ASIA OVERSEAS SHIPPING CORPORATION vs. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION and TEODORO RANCES, G.R. No. 76595, May 6, 1988, which held that “the brevity of the delay in filing an appeal is not, of course, by itself a sufficient basis for giving due course to the appeal. In the present case, however, the factual circumstances combine with the legal merits of the case urged by the petitioner to move us to the conviction that respondent NLRC should have recognized and heeded the requirements of orderly procedure and substantial justice which are at stake in the present case by allowing the appeal.”

The Supreme Court in the abovementioned case stressed that the right to appeal should not be lightly disregarded by a “stringent application of rules of procedure especially where the appeal is on its face meritorious and the interests of substantial justice would be served by permitting the appeal.”

It ruled that an appeal is an essential part of our judicial system. We have advised the courts to proceed with caution so as not to deprive a party of the right to appeal (National Waterworks and Sewerage Authority v. Municipality of Libmanan, 97 SCRA 138) and instructed that every party-litigant should be afforded the amplest opportunity for the proper and just disposition of his cause, freed from the constraints of technicalities (A. One Feeds, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 100 SCRA 590).

In the abovecited case, the Supreme Court further stated, thus:

“The rules of procedure are not to be applied in a very rigid and technical sense. The rules of procedure are used only to help secure not override substantial justice. (Gregorio v. Court of Appeals [72 SCRA 1201). Therefore, we ruled in Republic v. Court of Appeals (83 SCRA 453) that a six-day delay in the perfection of the appeal does not warrant its dismissal. And again in Ramos v. Bagasao, 96 SCRA 396, this Court held that the delay in four (4) days in filing a notice of appeal and a notion for extension of time to file a record on appeal can be excused on the basis of equity.

We should emphasize, however, that we have allowed (delayed appeals) in some cases (to) x x x serve the demands of substantial justice and in the exercise of our equity junction.

In the case at bar, the petitioner's delay in their record on appeal should not be strictly construed as to deprive them of the right to appeal especially since on its face the appeal appears to be impressed especially with merit.”

12. With all due respect, it is unfortunate that this Honorable Court, in giving more importance to “technical delay”, failed to appreciate the spirit and wisdom of the foregoing liberal and equitable jurisprudence.

WHEREFORE, in the interest of justice, it is respectfully prayed that judgment of this Honorable Court, dated ___, be reconsidered; and that a new judgment be promulgated (a) nullifying the two questioned orders of the trial court; (b) allowing the questioned document examination by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), subject to such guidelines and conditions as this Honorable Court may impose; and (c) suspending the presentation of defense evidence by the petitioner before the trial court until such time that the NBI questioned document examination report shall have been submitted to the trial court to form part of the defense evidence of the petitioner upon proper identification and authentication thereof.
Further, the petitioner respectfully prays for such and other incidental reliefs as may be deemed just and equitable in the premises.
Las Pinas City, ____..

Counsel for the Petitioner
Unit 15, Star Arcade, C. V. Starr Ave.
Philamlife Village, Las Pinas City 1743
Tel. No. 872-5443; Fax No. 874-2539

Roll No. 33640, 4/27/05
IBP Lifetime Member No. 1907
IBP PPLM Chapter
MCLE Compliance No. III-0002280
PTR No. 9802253, 1/5/09, Las Pinas