Sunday, April 01, 2012

Domingo vs. Domingo (2005)

Facts: Bruno Domingo, a widower and retired military man, was the registered owner of a house and lot in Project 4, Quezon City. In December 1970, Bruno needed money for his medical expenses, so he sold the property to his children (private respondents herein) for P10,000. There were two witnesses to the execution of the Deed of Absolute Sale and the same was also notarized. Jose, one of the private respondents, brought the deed to the Register of Deeds of Quezon City as a result of which the old TCT was cancelled and a new one was issued in the name of the children. 

Bruno eventually died but one of his children, Turadio, was still living in the said property. Sometime in 1981, he received a notice from Quezon City Hall declaring him a squatter and directing him to demolish his shanty on the lot. He soon discovered that this was at the instance of his siblings who brought the property earlier. 

It was only five years later that Turadio learned of the existence of the Deed when an ejectment suit was filed against him. His lawyer advised him to have the signature compared and examined in the PNP Crime Laboratory. The police issued a Report to the effect that the questioned signature and the standard signatures were written by two different persons. The police came up with another Report with the same conclusion. 

Turadio then filed a complaint for foregery, falsification by notary public, and falsification by private individuals against his siblings and the notary public before the QC public prosecutor. This time, the NBI conducted an examination and it concluded that the questioned signature and the specimen signatures were written by one and the same person. As a result, the prosecutor dismissed the case which the DOJ affirmed. 

Subsequently, Turadio filed a civil case for the declaration of nullity of the said Deed. He alleged the same case of forgery. Private respondents relied on the NBI findings again. RTC dismissed. CA affirmed. Hence, this appeal. 

Issue: Whether or not the trial court correctly applied the rules of evidence in disregarding the conflicting PNP and NBI questioned document reports? 

Held: YES. Under the Rules of Court, the genuineness of a handwriting may be proved by the following: 

(1) A witness who actually saw the person writing the instrument; 

(2) A witness familiar with such handwriting and who can give his opinion thereon, such opinion being an exception to the opinion rule; 

(3) A comparison by the court of the questioned handwriting and admitted genuine specimen thereof; and 

(4) Expert evidence. 

The law makes no preference, much less distinction among and between the different means stated above in proving the handwriting of a person. It is likewise clear from the foregoing that courts are not bound to give probative value or evidentiary value to the opinions of handwriting experts, as resort to handwriting experts is not mandatory. 

In finding that the trial court correctly disregarded the PNP Crime Laboratory questioned document report, the CA observed that the said crime lab used as standards of comparison Bruno’s alleged signature in letters and documents that were signed eight years before the questioned Deed was executed. This circumstance makes the PNP’s finding questionable. 

The passage of time and a person’s increase in age may have decisive influence in his handwriting characteristics. Thus, in order to bring about an accurate comparison and analysis, the standards of comparison must be as close as possible in point of time to the suspected signature. As correctly found by the CA, the examination conducted by the PNP Crime Laboratory did not conform to the foregoing standard. Recall that in the case, the signatures analyzed by the police experts were on documents executed several years apart. A signature affixed in 1958 or in 1962 may involve characteristics different from those borne by a signature affixed in 1970. Hence, neither the trial court nor the appellate court may be faulted for refusing to place any weight whatsoever on the PNP questioned document report. 

The SC sustains the findings of the lower courts concerning the testimonies of the private respondents to the effect that they saw Bruno affixing his signature to the questioned deed. They were unrebutted. Genuineness of handwriting may be proven, under Rule 132, Section 22, by anyone who actually saw the person write or affix his signature on a document. Petitioner has shown no reason why the ruling made by the trial court on the credibility of the respondent’s witnesses below should be disturbed by us. Findings by the trial court as to the credibility of witnesses are accorded the greatest respect, and even finality by appellate courts, since the former is in a better position to observe their demeanor as well as their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial. 

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