Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sales vs. Sabino (December 9, 2005)

Facts: In RTC Pasig City, Cyril Sabino filed an amended complaint for damages against, among others, Jowel Sales, driver of the vehicle involved in the accident which ultimately caused the death of Sabino’s son, Elbert. 

Before any responsive pleading could be filed, Sabino, notified the defendants that he will take the deposition of one Buaneres Corral before the Clerk of Court, RTC- Pasig City. 

On Dec. 27, 1995 and resumed on Jan. 3, 1996, the deposition on oral examination of Buaneres Corral was taken before the Clerk of Court of Pasig, in the presence and with the active participation of Sales’ counsel, Atty. Villacorta, who even lengthily cross-examined the deponent. In the course of trial, respondent had the deposition of Buaneres Corral marked as her Exhibits “DD” and “EE” with submarkings. 

Upon conclusion of her evidentiary presentation, Sabino made a Formal Offer of Exhibits, among which are Exhibits “DD” and “EE”. Also offered in evidence as Exhibit “BB” is a certification from the Bureau of Immigration attesting to the May 28, 1996 departure for abroad of Buaneres Corral via Flight No. PR 658. 

Sales opposed the admission of Exhs. “DD” and “EE” and asked that they be expunged from the records on the ground that the jurisdictional requirements for their admission under Section 4, Rule 23 of the ROC were not complied with. 

The TC admitted, among other evidence, Sabino’s Exhibits “DD”, “EE” and “BB”. 

Sales’ MR was denied by the court so he went on certiorari to the CA imputing grave abuse of discretion on the part of the TC in admitting in evidence the deposition (Exhibits “DD” and “EE”). 

CA affirmed the TC and effectively denied due course to and dismissed Sales’ recourse, explaining that Sales’ active participation, through counsel, during the taking of subject deposition and adopting it as his own exhibits, has thereby estopped him from assailing the admissibility thereof as part of Sabino’s evidence. 

Sales filed this petition. 

(1) Whether or not the requirements of Sec. 4, Rule 24 (now Sec. 3) ROC were satisfied by Sabino when it presented a certification attesting to the fact that deponent has left the country but silent as to WoN at the time his deposition was offered in evidence deponent is in the Philippines  

(2) Whether or not Sales in cross-examining the deponent during the taking of his deposition waived any and all objections in connection therewith 

(1) YES.  Sales contends that none of the conditions in Sec. 4, Rule 23 ROC exists to justify the admission in evidence of Sabino’s Exhibits “DD” and “EE”. Hence, it was error for the appellate court to have upheld their admission. Discounting the probative value of the certification from the Bureau of Immigration (Exh. “BB”) that deponent Buaneres Corral departed for abroad on May 28, 1996, Sales argues that said certification merely proves the fact of Corral having left the country on the date mentioned. It does not establish that he has not returned since then and is unavailable to be present in court to personally testify. 

While depositions may be used as evidence in court proceedings, they are generally not meant to be a substitute for the actual testimony in open court of a party or witness. Stated a bit differently, a deposition is not to be used when the deponent is at hand. Indeed, any deposition offered during a trial to prove the facts therein set out, in lieu of the actual oral testimony of the deponent in open court, may be opposed and excluded on the ground of hearsay. However, depositions may be used without the deponent being called to the witness stand by the proponent, provided the existence of certain conditions is first satisfactorily established. 5 exceptions for the admissibility of a deposition are listed in Section 4, Rule 23. Among these is when the witness is out of the Philippines. 

TC determined that deponent Bueneres Corral was abroad when the offer of his deposition was made. This factual finding of absence or unavailability of witness to testify deserves respect, having been adequately substantiated. The certification by the Bureau of Immigration provides that evidentiary support. It is customary for courts to accept statements of parties as to the unavailability of a witness as a predicate to the use of depositions. Had deponent Buaneres Corral indeed returned to the Philippines subsequent to his departure via Flight No. PR 658, Sales could have presented evidence to show such. 

(2) NO. As a rule, the inadmissibility of testimony taken by deposition is anchored on the ground that such testimony is hearsay, i.e., the party against whom it is offered has no opportunity to cross-examine the deponent at the time his testimony is offered. But it matters not that opportunity for cross-examination was afforded during the taking of the deposition; for normally, the opportunity for cross-examination must be accorded a party at the time the testimonial evidence is actually presented against him during the trial or hearing. In fine, the act of cross-examining the deponent during the taking of the deposition cannot, without more, be considered a waiver of the right to object to its admissibility as evidence in the trial proper. In participating, therefore, in the taking of the deposition, but objecting to its admissibility in court as evidence, petitioner did not assume inconsistent positions. He is not, thus, estopped from challenging the admissibility of the deposition just because he participated in the taking thereof. 

Section 29, Rule 23 provides that, while errors and irregularities in depositions as to notice, qualifications of the officer conducting the deposition, and manner of taking the deposition are deemed waived if not objected to before or during the taking of the deposition, objections to the competency of a witness or the competency, relevancy, or materiality of testimony may be made for the first time at the trial and need not be made at the time of the taking of the deposition, unless they could be obviated at that point. 

While perhaps a bit anti-climactic to state at this point, certiorari will not lie against an order admitting or rejecting a deposition in evidence, the remedy being an appeal from the final judgment. For this reason, the CA could have dismissed Sales’ invocation of its certiorari jurisdiction. 

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