Saturday, March 19, 2016

Perjury - G.R. No. 182291

"x x x.

At the outset, it must be stated that what the Court is essentially called upon to resolve in this case is the existence of probable cause sufficient to indict respondent for perjury.

Petitioner correctly pointed out that this Court will not ordinarily interfere with the conduct of preliminary investigation and leave to the investigating prosecutor adequate latitude of discretion in the determination of what constitutes sufficient evidence as will establish probable cause for the filing of an information against an offender.35Nonetheless, as petitioner himself admitted, the rule applies unless such determination is patently shown to have been made with grave abuse of discretion. Thus, as an exception, this Court may inquire into the determination of probable cause during preliminary investigation if, based on the records, the prosecutor committed grave abuse of discretion.36

The exception to the rule finds application here. As properly found by the Court of Appeals, the Secretary of Justice manifestly acted with or in excess of his authority when he ordered the filing of an information for perjury against respondent despite the absence of probable cause against him.37

Petitioner insists that the existence – or absence – of perjury should be defined by its own elements, and not those of forum shopping. Hence, petitioner argued, even if the elements of forum shopping may not all be present, such fact does not relieve the affiant from liability for perjury if all the elements of this latter offense are otherwise present.38

What this argument failed to consider, however, is that since perjury requires a willful and deliberate assertion of a falsehood in a statement under oath or in an affidavit, and the statement or affidavit in question here is respondent’s verification and certification against forum shopping, it then becomes necessary to consider the elements of forum shopping to determine whether or not respondent has committed perjury. In other words, since the act of respondent allegedly constituting perjury consists in the statement under oath which he made in the certification of non-forum shopping, the existence of perjury should be determined vis-à-vis the elements of forum shopping.

It is significant to note that, notwithstanding his protests and insistence against the application of the elements of forum shopping in deciding whether or not perjury exists, petitioner himself, in his petition, utilized the elements of forum shopping to support his argument that the statement of respondent that "the corporation has not commenced any other action or filed any claim involving the same issues in any other court" is "absolutely false". Thus, petitioner claimed that:

"(a) As to the principal party. HGL Development Corporation is the petitioner in both cases. x x x. The fact that in the civil case, x x x the parties involved are HGL and private respondent, among others, is of no moment. It is apparent that the parties are substantially identical, if not the same. x x x.

"(b) As to the essential facts. In both cases HGL Development Corporation is asserting legal ownership of five parcels of land located at Zamboanga City x x x.

"(c) As to the essential issues. The essential issues are identical in both cases. These issues refer to (a) the legal ownership of the subject parcels of land; (b) who between the parties are validly entitled to the owner’s duplicate copies of the titles; and (c) which of the titles – the ones in the corporation’s possession or in the other parties’ possession – should be declared valid. In both the cadastral case in Zamboanga City and the civil case in Caloocan City, HGL Development Corporation prayed for the upholding of its right of ownership over the properties and of the validity of the owner’s duplicate copies of titles in its possession and, inevitably, the cancellation or declaration as null and void of contrary owner’s duplicate copies of titles over the same properties.

"(d) As to the relief prayed for. In both cases, the corporation prayed for the declaration as null and void of the new owner’s duplicate copies and for the revival or restoration of the original duplicate copies in its possession. x x x."39

The foregoing is explicit acknowledgement of the necessity of determining first whether or not the elements of forum shopping are present in order to finally resolve the issue of perjury.

Forum shopping exists when the elements of litis pendentia are present or where a final judgment in one case will amount to res judicata in another. Litis pendentia requires the concurrence of the following requisites: (1) identity of parties, or at least such parties as those representing the same interests in both actions; (2) identity of rights asserted and reliefs prayed for, the reliefs being founded on the same facts; and (3) identity with respect to the two preceding particulars in the two cases, such that any judgment that may be rendered in the pending case, regardless of which party is successful, would amount to res judicata in the other case.40

What is pivotal in determining whether forum shopping exists or not is the vexation caused the courts and parties-litigants by a party who asks different courts and/or administrative agencies to rule on the same or related cases and/or grant the same or substantially the same reliefs, in the process creating the possibility of conflicting decisions being rendered by the different courts and/or administrative agencies upon the same issues.41

Based on the foregoing considerations, respondent did not have the legal obligation to disclose the previous filing and subsequent dismissal of the cadastral case in Zamboanga City.

As correctly put by the Assistant City Prosecutor of Caloocan City in his Resolution dismissing petitioner’s complaint for perjury:

"A perusal of the two cases would show that while it involves the same res, it does not involve the same parties or rights or relief prayed for. In sum, none of the requisites [of forum shopping were] satisfied.

"The case in Caloocan was of course founded upon the complainants’ failure to comply with its obligations as vendor, and therefore, it cannot be gainsaid that the rights asserted (by respondent as buyer and relief sought therein i.e., specific performance contract of sale) were entirely different from those asserted in Zamboanga (revival of the old owner’s duplicate that had been thought to be lost).1avvphi1 The latter case stemmed from the finding of the old certificates, leading to respondent’s filing a petition to declare the new certificates null and void and to revive the old owner’s duplicate. The former case arose from the deed of absolute sale and the failure of the complainant to fulfill its obligation under the contract of sale between the parties herein.

"The causes of action in the two cases are not the same: they are founded on different acts; the rights violated are different; and the relief sought is also different. The res judicata test when applied to the two cases in question shows that regardless of whoever will ultimately prevail in the Zamboanga case, the final judgment therein-whether granting or denying the petition-will not be conclusive between the parties in the Caloocan case, and vice versa. x x x."42

Moreover, in the Zamboanga case, what was invoked was the court’s cadastral or administrative authority, the issue being administrative in nature, involving as it does the correction of a wrongful issuance of duplicate titles. There were no judicial issues that required resolution.

In the Caloocan case, on the other hand, the issues are civil in nature, concerning the rights and responsibilities of the parties under the Deed of Absolute Sale which they executed. Hence, in this case, the Caloocan court is called upon to exercise its judicial powers.

Clearly, it cannot be said that respondent committed perjury when he failed to disclose in his Certification Against Forum Shopping the previous filing of the cadastral case.

More importantly, it must be emphasized that perjury is the willful and corrupt assertion of a falsehood under oath or affirmation administered by authority of law on a material matter. Thus, a mere assertion of a false objective fact or a falsehood is not enough. The assertion must be deliberate and willful.43

In the case at bar, even assuming that respondent was required to disclose the Zamboanga case, petitioner failed to establish that respondent’s failure to do so was willful and deliberate. Thus, an essential element of the crime of perjury is absent. As a result, there is no reason to disturb the ruling of the Court of Appeals.

x x x."