Sunday, July 15, 2012

Falsification/forgery: The utterance or use of a forged instrument, when unexplained, is strong evidence tending to establish that the user himself either forged the instrument or caused it to be forged. - G.R. No. 155996

G.R. No. 155996

"x x x.

In the 1906 case of U.S. v. Castillo,[138] the Court laid down the rule that the utterance or use of a forged instrument, when unexplained, is strong evidence tending to establish that the user himself (or herself) either forged the instrument or caused it to be forged. In this case, the accused merely denied ever presenting the forged check to the complainant or receiving the amount it represented; the Court found no merit in these denials. In People v. De Lara[139] (a 1924 case), the Court again applied the presumption after finding the  explanation of the accused – on how he came into possession of  checks that were subsequently encashed – to be “unusual and unreasonable as to carry conviction.”[140]

In People v. Domingo (1926),[141] the Court applied the presumption because a few days after the certificate of title (over a property) was loaned to the accused, a forged deed of sale covering the property was executed by two alleged vendors. The Court ruled that the failure of the accused to explain what she did with the certificate of title loaned to her could only lead to the inference that she placed the certificate of title in the hands of her confederates as without the certificate, the forgery could not have been accomplished. 

In People v. Astudillo (1934),[142] the Court clarified[143] that for the presumption to apply, the use of the forged document must be accompanied by these circumstances: the use is so closely connected in time with the forgery,[144] or the user may be proved to have the capacity to undertake the forgery, or such close connection with the forgers to create a reasonable link. These additional circumstances have been loosely applied in subsequent cases.

In Alarcon v. Court of Appeals (1967),[145] the Court applied the presumption after considering the “patent irregularity in the transaction”[146] and the “extraordinary interest” of the accused in the property covered by the forged document/s in holding that “no reasonable and fair[-]minded man” would say that the accused had no knowledge of the falsification. Sarep v. Sandiganbayan (1989 case),[147]gave occasion for the ruling that since the accused was the only person who stood to benefit by the falsification of the document found in his possession, the presumption of authorship of the falsification applies in the absence of  contrary convincing proof by the accused.[148]

In the more recent (1992) Caubang v. People,[149] the accused - who claimed to have the authority to transact (in behalf of an entity) with a government agency in Manila - attempted to overthrow the presumption of authorship against him by alleging intervening circumstances from the time he arrived in Manila until the transaction with the government agency was made. The accused claimed the he did not carry the forged document when he arrived in Manila and that third persons (including a “fixer”) actually transacted with the government. Allegedly, these claims disproved that he had any knowledge or inference in the making of the submitted forged document. Rejecting this claim, the Court ruled that:  

[U]tilizing a fixer as part of the scenario becomes a convenient ploy to divert the mind of the court from the more plausible inference that the accused-petitioner engineered the spurious [document].

x x x x

Even if the allegation that some other person [did the transaction] was true, the accused-petitioner would still be subjected to the same conclusion.

x x x x

Having been the one responsible for the filing of the registration papers, including the means he felt necessary to accomplish the registration, the accused must likewise be accountable therefor. As the authorized representative, he is deemed to have been the one in custody or possession, or at least the one who has gotten hold even for a short while, of the papers which included the [falsified document]. That he knew of the execution of the statement is a possibility not too difficult to imagine under the circumstances.

       x x x x

The [submission] of the previously inexistent document [with the government] subjects the accused-petitioner to the inference that he used it as part of the registration papers. In the absence of a credible and satisfactory explanation of how the document came into being and then filed with the [government agency], the accused is presumed to be the forger [.][150] (italics supplied)

In Dava v. People (1991),[151] involving an accused who misrepresented to his friend that he had no driver’s license and thereafter induced his friend to deal with “fixers” so that he could have a driver’s license, the Court ruled that the “patent irregularity”[152] that attended the procurement of the license cannot escape the conclusion that the accused knew that the license he obtained was fake and that he acted as a principal by inducement in the falsification of the license.

The above case law instructs us that if a person had in his possession (actual or constructive) a falsified document and made use of it, taking advantage of it and/or profiting from such use, thepresumption that he authored the falsification also applies.[153]
These cited cases, however, already involve a determination of the guilt or innocence of an accused, requiring the application of the rigid standard of moral certainty. In a preliminary investigation that merely inquires into the probability of guilt of a respondent, no reason exists why the same presumption cannot apply mutatis mutandis, taking into account the different level of certainty demanded.

Where the evidence before the investigating prosecutor jibes with the factual premises[154]necessary for the application of the presumption of authorship, prima facie[155] case for falsification under Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code is created. Correspondingly, the legal presumption gives rise to the necessity for the presentation of contrary evidence by the party (against whom the presumption applies) to overcome the prima facie case established;[156] otherwise, the existence of probable cause cannot be disputed.[157]

Based on these standards, the twin-issue we confront is whether the presumption applies and whether the facts giving rise to it have been adequately rebutted by the respondents. 
 x x x."