Friday, December 23, 2011

Error of judgment is not grave abuse of discretion - G.R. No. 152375

G.R. No. 152375

"x x x.

In light of the above discussions and conclusions, the Sandiganbayan undoubtedlyerred on a question of law in its ruling, but this legal error did not necessarily amount to a grave abuse of discretion in the absence of a clear showing that its action was a capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment affecting its exercise of jurisdiction.[62] Without this showing, the Sandiganbayan’s erroneous legal conclusion was only an error of judgment, or, at best, an abuse of discretion but not a grave one. For this reason alone, the petition should be dismissed.

Despite this conclusion, however, we opt not to immediately dismiss the petition in light of the unique circumstances of this case where the petitioner cannot entirely be faulted for not availing of the remedy at the opportune time, and where the case, by its nature, is undoubtedly endowed with public interest and has become a matter of public concern.[63] In other words, we opt to resolve the petition on the merits to lay the issues raised to rest and to avoid their recurrence in the course of completely resolving the merits of Civil Case No. 0009.

Although the word “rested” nowhere appears in the Rules of Court, ordinary court procedure has inferred it from an overview of trial sequence under Section 5, Rule 30 (which capsulizes the order of presentation of a

party’s evidence during trial), read in relation to Rule 18 on Pre-Trial,[64] both of the Rules of Court. Under Section 5, Rule 30, after a party has adduced his direct evidence in the course of discharging the burden of proof,[65] he is considered to have rested his case, and is thereafter allowed to offer rebutting evidence only.[66] Whether a party has rested his case in some measure depends on his manifestation in court on whether he has concluded his presentation of evidence.[67]

In its second and third motions, respectively, the petitioner expressly admitted that “due to oversight, [the petitioner] closed and rested its case”;[68] and that it “hadterminated the presentation of its evidence in x x x Civil Case No. 0009.”[69] In the face of these categorical judicial admissions,[70] the petitioner cannot suddenly make an about-face and insist on the introduction of evidence out of the usual order. Contrary to the petitioner’s assertion, the resting of its case could not have been conditioned on the admission of the evidence it formally offered. To begin with, the Bane deposition, which is the lone piece of evidence subject of this present petition, was not among the pieces of evidence included in its formal offer of evidence and thus could not have been admitted or rejected by the trial court.

The Court observes with interest that it was only in this present petition forcertiorari that the petitioner had firmly denied having rested its case.[71] Before then, the petitioner never found it appropriate to question on certiorari the Sandiganbayan’s denial of its 2nd motion which prayed, inter alia, for the reopening of the case. This is a fatal defect in the petitioner’s case.

Although the denial of the petitioner’s first motion did not necessitate an immediate recourse to the corrective writ of certiorari, the denial of the 2nd motion dictated a different course of action. The petitioner’s non-observance of the proper procedure for the admission of the Bane deposition, while seemingly innocuous, carried fatal implications for its case. Having been rebuffed on its first attempt to have the Bane deposition adopted in Civil Case No. 0009, and without seeking reconsideration of the denial, the petitioner presented its other pieces of evidence and eventually rested its case. This time, the petitioner forgot about the Bane deposition and so failed to include that piece of evidence in its formal offer of evidence.

More than two years later, the petitioner again tried to squeeze in the Bane deposition into its case. In resolving the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of the Sandiganbayan’s 2000 resolution, the Sandiganbayan held that the Bane deposition has “become part and parcel” of Civil Case No. 0009. This pronouncement has obscured the real status of the Bane deposition as evidence (considering that, earlier, the Sandiganbayan already denied the petitioner’s attempt to adopt the Bane deposition as evidence in Civil Case No. 0009 for the deponent cannot be cross-examined in court). Nevertheless, the Sandiganbayan ultimately denied the petitioner’s motion to reopen the case. Having judicially admitted the resting of its case, the petitioner should have already questioned the denial of its 2nd motion by way of certiorari, since the denial of its attempt to reopen the case effectively foreclosed all avenues available to it for the consideration of the Bane deposition. Instead of doing so, however, the petitioner allowed the 60-day reglementary period, under Section 4, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, to lapse, and proceeded to file its 3rd motion.

Significantly, the petitioner changed its legal position in its 3rd motion by denying having rested its case and insisting on the introduction of the Bane deposition. Rebuffed once more, the petitioner filed the present petition, inviting our attention to the Sandiganbayan’s resolutions,[72] which allegedly gave it “mixed signals.”[73] By pointing to these resolutions, ironically, even the petitioner impliedly recognized that they were then already ripe for review on certiorari. What the petitioner should have realized was that its 2nd motion unequivocally aimed to reopen the case for the introduction of further evidence consisting of the Bane deposition. Having been ultimately denied by the court, the petitioner could not have been prevented from taking the proper remedy notwithstanding any perceived ambiguity in the resolutions.

On the other end, though, there was nothing intrinsically objectionable in the petitioner’s motion to reopen its case before the court ruled on its formal offer of evidence. The Rules of Court does not prohibit a party from requesting the court to allow it to present additional evidence even after it has rested its case. Any such opportunity, however, for the ultimate purpose of the admission of additional evidence is already addressed to the sound discretion of the court. It is from the prism of the exercise of this discretion that the Sandiganbayan’s refusal to reopen the case (for the purpose ofintroducing, “marking and offering” additional evidence) should be viewed. We can declare this Sandiganbayan action invalid if it had acted with grave abuse of discretion.

x x x."