1. REMEDIAL LAW; EVIDENCE; WITNESS; CREDIBILITY; FINDINGS OF TRIAL COURT, RESPECTED. — One of the highly revered dicta in our jurisprudence is that this Court will not interfere with the judgment of the trial court in passing on the on credibility of opposing witnesses unless there appears in the record some facts of circumstances of weight and influence which have been overlooked, which, if considered, could affect the result of the case. The reason therefor is founded on practical and empirical considerations. The trial judge is in a better position to decide the question of credibility since he personally heard the witnesses and observed their department and manner of testifying.chanroblesvirtual|awlibrary
2. ID.; ID.; TESTIMONIES; HEARSAY RULE; EXCEPTIONS; ENTRIES IN OFFICIAL RECORDS; CASE AT BAR. — Some confusion surrounds the issue of admissibility of the Fire Investigation Report. The record discloses that the officer who signed the report, Fire Major Enriquez, was subpoenaed at, the request of and testified in open court for petitioners. He identified the Report, which petitioners offered in their Offer of Exhibits. Since Major Enriquez himself took the witness stand and was available for cross-examination, the portions of the report which were of his personal knowledge or which consisted of his perceptions and conclusions were not hearsay. The rest of the report, may then be considered as independently relevant statements which were gathered in the course of the investigation and may thus be admitted as such, but not necessarily to prove the truth thereof. The testimony in open court of the officer who made the official record, considers the matter as an exception to the hearsay rule and makes the entries in said official record admissible in evidence as prima facie evidence of the facts therein stated. The underlying reasons for this exceptionary rule are necessity and trustworthiness.
3. CIVIL LAW; NEGLIGENCE; RES IPSA LOQUITUR, ELABORATED. — The trial court declared that "the fire was not caused by an instrumentality within the exclusive control of defendants," which is one of the requisites for the application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in the law of negligence. It may further be emphasized that this doctrine is not intended to and does not dispense with the requirement of proof of culpable negligence on the party charged. It merely determines and regulates what shall be prima facie evidence thereof and facilitates the burden of plaintiff of proving a breach of the duty of due care. The doctrine can be invoked when and only when, under the circumstances involved, direct evidence is absent or not readily available.chanrobles.com : virtual law library
In this petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, petitioners seek reversal of that portion of the 14 March 1995 decision 1 of respondent Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 36247 2 dismissing petitioners’ complaint in Civil Case No. CEB-8095 of the Cebu Regional Trial Court, Branch 21. The latter was an action for damages based on quasi-delict filed by petitioners against private respondents due to a fire which allegedly started in private respondents’ construction site and damaged petitioners’ building.
After trial on the merits, the trial court found that the fire was not caused by an instrumentality within the exclusive control of defendants (private respondents) and rendered a decision 3 against petitioners. The dispositive portion of the decision reads as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, judgment is hereby rendered:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
(1) Dismissing plaintiff’s complaint;
(2) Condemning plaintiffs to pay defendants,
(a) Moral damages of P500,000 for defendants Vilorias, and moral damages of P200,000 for defendant John F. Young;
(b) Exemplary damages of P75,000;
(c) Attorney’s fees of P30,000
(3) Ordering plaintiffs to pay, jointly and severally, the costs.
SO ORDERED." 4
Plaintiffs, herein petitioners, appealed from the judgment to respondent Court of Appeals which docketed the appeal as CA-G.R. CV No. 36247. In asking for the reversal of the judgment they imputed upon the trial court the commission of the following errors:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
THE LOWER COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN EVALUATING THE TESTIMONY OF EYEWITNESSES.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT ADMITTING IN EVIDENCE THE FIRE INVESTIGATION REPORT DONE BY THE FIRE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN AWARDING DAMAGES TO DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES (PRIVATE RESPONDENTS HEREIN).
ASSUMING ARGUENDO THAT DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES COULD LAWFULLY PRESENT EVIDENCE ON THEIR COUNTERCLAIM, THE TRIAL COURT SERIOUSLY ERRED IN AWARDING ASTRONOMICAL DAMAGES.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT FINDING A CASE FOR DAMAGES IN FAVOR OF PLAINTIFFS (HEREIN PETITIONERS). 5
Respondent Court of Appeals summarized the antecedents in this case as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
On March 15, 1989, a fire broke out which razed two apartment buildings, owned by plaintiffs-appellants Abdulia Rodriguez, Leonora Rodriguez Nolasco and Juanita Rodriguez, and partially destroying a commercial building.
Plaintiffs-appellants, with co-plaintiffs-appellants Leonora Prietos and Luzviminda Antig who were lessees of the apartment units, filed a case for damages against defendants-appellees Harry John Viloriam [sic], Margarita Milagros Viloria, and John P. Young. The complaint alleged that by reason of the gross negligence and want of care of the construction workers and employees of the defendants-appellees, the bunkhouse or workers’ quarters in the construction site caught fire spreading rapidly, burning the adjacent buildings owned by plaintiffs-appellants. Due to the negligence of defendants-appellees which resulted in the fire, plaintiffs-appellants suffered actual damages representing the value of the buildings and other personal properties.
Defendant-appellee John Young, the building contractor, in his answer contended that he can not be held responsible even if there was negligence on the part of the employees for he had exercised the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection and supervision of his workers. Plaintiffs-appellants had no cause of action against him. As counterclaim, defendant-appellee Young sought for moral damages in the amount of P200,000.00, and exemplary damages of P50,000.00 and attorney’s fees of P10,000.00.
Defendants-appell[ees] Harry and Margarita Viloria also alleged that plaintiffs-appellants had no cause of action against them. The fire court not have been caused by gross negligence of their workers for they did not have any worker in the construction of their building. The said construction was being undertaken by the independent contractor, John Young, who hired and supervised his own workers. The newly constructed building was partially destroyed by the fire. As counterclaim, defendants-appell[ees] prayed for moral damages in the sum of P2,500,000.00, exemplary damages of P100,000.00 and attorney’s fees of P20,000.00.
After trial and reception of evidence, the court a quo resolved that the fire was not caused by an instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendants-appellants. The decision stated that plaintiffs-appellants failed to establish that the fire was the result of defendants-appellees’ or their workers’ negligence. 6
Respondent Court of Appeals sustained petitioners only on the third assigned error. Its discussion on the assigned errors was as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
As to the first assigned error, the trial court did not err in the evaluation of the testimonies of the witnesses, specially in the testimony of applicants’ witness, Noel Villarin. It seemed unbelievable that witness Villarin was able to see Paner pour gasoline on the generator through a five-inch wide hole which was four meters away from where the former was eating. As pointed out by the appellees how could Villarin see what was going on at the ground floor which is about ten or eleven feet below. No other witness had testified having seen the same. No one had even pinpointed the real source of the fire. As it is, the conclusions reached by the trial court which has the opportunity to observe the witnesses when they testified as to what transpired [is] entitled to full respect 7 is applied. Where the issue is on the credibility of witnesses, generally the findings of a court a quo will not be disturbed on appeal. 8
As to the second assigned error stating that the report was an exception to the hearsay rule is [sic] untenable. The report was not obtained from informants who had the duty to do so. Even the reporting officer had no personal knowledge of what actually took place. Admittedly, the said report was merely hearsay as it failed to comply with the third requisite of admissibility pursuant to Sec. 35, Rule 123, to the effect that a public officer or other person had sufficient knowledge of the facts by him stated, which must have been acquired by him personally or through official information. 9 To qualify the statements as "official information" acquired by the officers who prepared the reports, the persons who made the statements not only must have personal knowledge of the facts stated but must have the duty to give such statements for [the] record. 10
We find the third assigned error to be meritorious. In the absence of a wrongful act or omission or of fraud or bad faith, moral damages cannot be awarded and that the adverse result of an action does not per se make the action wrongful and subject the actor to the payment of damages for the law could not have meant to impose a penalty on the right to litigate. 11 Neither may exemplary damages be awarded where there is no evidence of the other party having acted in [a] wanton, fraudulent or reckless or oppressive manner. 12 Since the award of exemplary damages is unwarranted, the award of attorney’s fees must necessarily be disallowed. 13 We find the award of damages to be without adequate evidential [sic] basis.
And more, appellants failed to establish that the proximate cause of their loss was due to defendants-appellees’ negligence. Strangely however, it was not even ascertained with definiteness the actual cause or even source of the fire. In sum, appellants failed to prove that the fire which damaged their apartment buildings was due to the fault of the appellees.
Considering the foregoing premises, We find as proper the dismissal of the complaint, however, as to the damages awarded to defendants-appellees, We find no legal basis to grant the same.
In Dela Paz v. Intermediate Appellate Court, [G.R. No. L-71537, 17 September 1987] it was held that —
"The questioned decision, however, is silent as to how the court arrived at these damages. Nowhere in the decision did the trial court discuss the merit of the damages prayed for by the petitioners. There should be clear factual and legal bases for any award of considerable damages." 14
The Court of Appeals thus decreed:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
ACCORDINGLY, the decision dated September 19, 1991 is hereby AFFIRMED. The award of damages in favor of defendants-appellees including the award of attorney’s fees are hereby DELETED and SET ASIDE. 15
Rebuffed in their bid for reconsideration of the decision, petitioners filed the instant petition, and as grounds therefor allege that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN MISAPPLYING FACTS OF WEIGHT AND SUBSTANCE AFFECTING THE CASE AT BAR.
THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN RULING THAT THE FIRE INVESTIGATION REPORT IS INADMISSIBLE IN EVIDENCE.
THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN RULING THAT SECTION 44, RULE 130 OF THE RULES OF COURT IS NOT APPLICABLE TO THE CASE AT BAR.
After private respondents filed their respective comments to the petition as required, we resolved to give due course to the petition and required the parties to submit their respective memoranda, which they subsequently did.
Under the first assigned error petitioners want us to give full credit to the testimony of Noel Villarin, their principal witness, who, they claimed, "maintained his straight-forward and undisguised manner of answering the questions" despite the "intense cross-examination." The trial court, however, refused to believe Villarin, not only because he had an ulterior motive to testify against private respondent Young, for which reason the trial court observed:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
It may be worth recalling that principal and lone plaintiff’s witness Noel Villarin did testify that only during the hearing did he tell his story about the fire because all his tools were burned, and John Young neither had replenish [sic] those tools with sympathy on [sic] him nor had visited him in the hospital (supra, p. 4). The Court, observing Villarin, could only sense the spiteful tone in his voice, manifesting released pent-up ill-will against defendant Young. 16
but more importantly, because the trial court found that "defendants’ witnesses have belied Villarin’s word," thus:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Talino" Reville told the Court that it was impossible to see the generator when one was upstairs of the bunkhouse — "it could not be seen because it was under the floor of the bunkhouse; it was not possible for Villarin to see it." He was with Villarin eating their supper then, and they were "already through eating but we were still sitting down" and so, how could Villarin have "peeped" through that "hole on the wall" high above them? All defendants’s [sic] witnesses testified that the generator never caught fire, and no one at all had heard any explosion anywhere before the fire was discerned. Exhibit I (a photograph of the fire while it was raging) reveals that the bunkhouse was intact.
And Paner — who, said Villarin, brought the gasoline which caught fire from a stove as it was poured by Villarin to [sic] the generator — was neither impleaded as another defendant nor called as a witness, or charged as an accused in a criminal action. Which omission also strikes the Court as strange. Such suppression of evidence gives rise to the presumption that if presented Paner would prove to be adverse to the plaintiffs (by analogy. People v. Camalog, G.R. 77116, 31 January 1989). 17
The trial court explained why it had to accept the version of defendants’ witnesses in this wise:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
The Court needs [sic] not suffer a paralysis of analysis as it compares the two conflicting claims. Plaintiffs have relied so much on their own assessment of the integrity and weight of Villarin’s testimony. But the court has found the same to be, under close scrutiny, not only less weighty but also a piece of evidence that taxes belief. Villarin said he saw Paner pour the gasoline, this while he and three other fellow-workers were sitting on the second floor of the bunkhouse and eating their supper, and Villarin elaborated by adding that he saw Paner doing this through a hole on the wall. What wall? Paner said the hole on the wall was at least four (4) meters from the floor of the bunkhouse on which they were eating, and he could "peep" through that hole which was higher than by more than double his height! And he did not reveal all this to the firemen who investigated him. The credibility of the witness may be affected where he tends to exaggerate, or displays propensity for needlessly detailed observation (People v. Wong, 23 SCRA 146).18
One of the highly revered dicta in our jurisprudence is that this Court will not interfere with the judgment of the trial court in passing on the credibility of opposing witnesses unless there appears in the record some facts or circumstances of weight and influence which have been overlooked, which, if considered, could affect the result of the case. The reason therefor is founded on practical and empirical considerations. The trial judge is in a better position to decide the question of credibility since he personally heard the witnesses and observed their deportment and manner of testifying. 19 Petitioners have offered no convincing arguments to accommodate their case within the exception; they did not even dare to refute the above observations and findings of the trial court.chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
The second and third assigned error are interrelated, involving the application of Section 44 of Rule 130, which reads as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
SEC. 44. Entries in official records. — Entries in official records made in the performance of his duty by a public officer of the Philippines, or by a person in the performance of a duty specially enjoined by law, are prima facie evidence of the facts therein stated. 20
Petitioners assert that the Fire Investigation Report 21 by an official of the Cebu City Fire Station should have been admitted in evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule. The trial and appellate courts rejected this applying Africa v. Caltex (Phil.) Inc., 22 wherein this Court laid down the three requisites for admissibility under the aforesaid section, viz.:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
(1) that the entry was made by a police officer, or by another person especially enjoined by law to do so;
(2) that it was made by the police officer in the performance of his duties, or by such other person in the performance of a duty especially enjoined by law; and
(3) that the public officer or other person had sufficient knowledge of the facts by him stated, which must have been acquired by him personally or through official information. 23
Elaborating on the third requisite, this Court further stated that for the statements acquired by the public officer under the third requisite to qualify as "official information," it is necessary that the persons who gave the statements "not only must have personal knowledge of the facts stated but must have the duty to give such statements for record." 24
The Court of Appeals ruled here that the reporting officer who prepared the Fire Investigation Report "had no personal knowledge of what actually took place;" besides, the information he received did not qualify as "official information" since those who gave the statements to the reporting officer had no personal knowledge of the facts stated and no duty to give such statements for the record.
Some confusion surrounds the issue of admissibility of the Fire Investigation Report (Exhibits "A," "A-1" to "A-4" inclusive). The record discloses that the officer who signed the report, Fire Major Eduardo P. Enriquez, was subpoenaed at the request of and testified in open court for petitioners. He identified the Report, which petitioners offered in their Offer of Exhibits 25 as:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
(1) Part of the testimony of Major Eduardo P. Enriquez;
(2) To prove that an impartial investigation has determined that the "fire started at the generator . . . within the construction site" (Exhibit "A-3").
Private respondents objected to Exhibits "A," "A-1" to "A-4," inclusive, for being "hearsay and incompetent evidence." 26 The trial court then denied their admission "for being hearsay, this fact admitted by witness himself, F/Maj. Eduardo Enriquez, as part of whose testimony said exhibits were offered." 27
In light of the purposes for which the exhibits in question were offered, as aforestated, the trial court erred in rejecting all of them as hearsay. Since Major Enriquez himself took the witness stand and was available for cross-examination, the portions of the report which were of his personal knowledge or which consisted of his perceptions and conclusions were not hearsay. The rest of the report, such as the summary of the statements of the parties based on their sworn statements (which were annexed to the Report) as well as the latter, having been included in the first purpose of the offer, may then be considered as independently relevant statements which were gathered in the course of the investigation and may thus be admitted as such, but not necessarily to prove the truth thereof. It has been said that:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Where, regardless of the truth or falsity of a statement, the fact that it has been made is relevant, the hearsay rule does not apply, but the statement may be shown. Evidence as to the making of such statement is not secondary but primary, for the statement itself may constitute a fact in issue, or be circumstantially relevant as to the existence of such a fact." 28
When Major Enriquez took the witness stand, testified for petitioners on his Report and made himself available for cross-examination by the adverse party, the Report, insofar as it proved that certain utterances were made (but not their truth), was effectively removed from the ambit of the aforementioned Section 44 of Rule 130. Properly understood, this section does away with the testimony in open court of the officer who made the official record, considers the matter as an exception to the hearsay rule and makes the entries in said official record admissible in evidence as prima facie evidence of the facts therein stated. The underlying reasons for this exceptionary rule are necessity and trustworthiness, as explained in Antillon v. Barcelon. 29
The litigation is unlimited in which testimony by officials is daily needed; the occasions in which the officials would be summoned from his ordinary duties to declare as a witness are numberless. The public officers are few in whose daily work something is not done in which testimony is not needed from official sources. Were there no exception for official statements, hosts of officials would be found devoting the greater part of their time to attending as witnesses in court or delivering their deposition before an officer. The work of administration of government and the interest of the public having business with officials would alike suffer in consequence. For these reasons, and for many others, a certain verity is accorded such documents, which is not extended to private documents. (3 Wigmore on Evidence, sec. 1631).
The law reposes a particular confidence in public officers that it presumes they will discharge their several trusts with accuracy and fidelity; and, therefore, whatever acts they do in discharge of their duty may be given in evidence and shall be taken to be true under such a degree of caution as the nature and circumstances of each case may appear to require.
It would have been an entirely different matter if Major Enriquez was not presented to testify on his report. In that case the applicability of Section 44 of Rule 130 would have been ripe for determination, and this Court would have agreed with the Court of Appeals that said report was inadmissible since the aforementioned third requisite was not satisfied. The statements given by the sources of information of Major Enriquez failed to qualify as "official information," there being no showing that, at the very least, they were under a duty to give the statements for record.
What appears to us to be the underlying purpose of petitioners in soliciting affirmance of their thesis that the Report of Major Enriquez should be admitted as an exception to the hearsay rule, is to shift the burden of evidence to private respondents under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in negligence cases. They claim, as stated in their offer of Exhibits, that "the fire started at the generator . . . within the construction site." This quotation is based on the penultimate paragraph of page 4 of the Report of Major Enriquez and is obviously misleading as there is nothing in said paragraph that unequivocally asserts that the generator was located within the construction site. The paragraph reads:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
After analyzing the evidences [sic] and the circumstances underlying the situation, one can easily came [sic] to the conclusion that the fire started at the generator and extended to the bunkhouse and spread among the combustible stored materials within the construction site. Among the combustible materials were the plastic (PVC) pipes and plywoods [sic].
Clearly, the phrase within the construction site could only refer to the immediately preceding term "combustible stored materials."cralaw virtua1aw library
The trial court itself concluded that the fire could not have started at the generator and that the bunkhouse was not burned, thus:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"All the defendants’ witness testified that the generator never caught fire, and no one at all had heard any explosion anywhere before the fire was discerned. Exhibit 1 (a photograph of the fire while it was raging reveals that the bunkhouse was intact." 30 (Emphasis supplied
It then declared that "the fire was not caused by an instrumentality within the exclusive control of defendants," 31 which is one of the requisites for the application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in the law of negligence. 32 It may further be emphasized that this doctrine is not intended to and does not dispense with the requirement of proof of culpable negligence on the party charged. It merely determines and regulates what shall be prima facie evidence thereof and facilitates the burden of plaintiff of proving a breach of the duty of due care. The doctrine can be invoked when and only when, under the circumstances involved, direct evidence is absent or not readily available. 33
More damaging to petitioners, which could have been enough reason for them to desist from insisting that the Report of Major Enriquez be admitted as an exception to the hearsay rule, are the officer’s conclusion and recommendation in his report, viz.:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
V. CONCLUSION:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
From the foregoing facts and all other evidences [sic] on hand, the investigator discerned that the cause of the fire was ACCIDENTAL in nature.chanrobles.com : virtual lawlibrary
VI. RECOMMENDATION:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
It is hereby recommended that the investigation of the case shall be closed.
Obviously then, the second and third assigned errors are likewise without merit.
IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the instant petition is DENIED and the challenged decision of respondent Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 36247 is AFFIRMED in toto.
Costs against petitioners.
, Melo and Panganiban, JJ.
, is on leave.
1. Rollo, 23-28. Per Torres, Jr., J., with the concurrence of Ibay-Somera, and Vasquez, Jr., JJ.,
2. Entitled Dra. Abdulia Rodriguez, Et Al., Plaintiffs-appellants v. Harry John Viloria, Et Al., Defendants-Appellees.
3. Original Record (OR), Civil Case No. CEB-8095, 141-153. Per Judge Peary G. Alronar.
4. Id., 23.
5. OR, 25.
6. Rollo, 24-25.
7. Citing People v. Garcia, 209 SCRA 164.
8. Citing People v. Andasa, 206 SCRA 636.
9. Citing Moran, Comments on the Rules of Court, Vol. 3, page 398.
10. Citing Africa, Et. Al. v. Caltex, 16 SCRA 448 .
11. Citing Albenson Enterprises Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 217 SCRA 16.
14. Rollo, 26-28.
15. Rollo, 28.
16. OR, Civil Case No. CEB-8095, 152.
17. Id., 151-152.
18. Id., 151.
19. People v. Conde, 322 Phil. 756, 766 .
20. This is a reproduction of Section 35, Rule 123 of the old Rules of Court.
21. Exh. "A," with pages 2, 3, 4, and 5 thereof marked and offered as Exhibits "A-1", "A-2", "A-3", and "A-4," respectively.
22. 16 SCRA 448, 452 .
23. Citing 3 MORAN, COMMENTS ON THE RULES OF COURT, 398 .
24. Africa, at 453.
25. OR, 61.
26. Id., 68.
27. Id., 75.
28. 7 VICENTE J. FRANCISCO, THE REVISED RULES OF COURT IN THE PHILIPPINES, (EVIDENCE — PART 1) 438 (1973 ed).
29. 37 Phil. 148, 151-152 . See also FRANCISCO, op. cit., 545, and 5 MANUEL V. MORAN, COMMENTS ON THE RULES OF COURT 381 (1980 ed).
30. OR, 151.
31. Id., 152.
32. The trial court discussed the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur and its requisites as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
It is a rule of evidence whereby negligence of the alleged wrongdoing may be inferred from the mere fact that the accident happened, provided that: (1) the occurrence is the kind of thing that does not ordinarily happen without negligence; (2) the occurrence must have been caused by an agency or instrumentality within the exclusive control of the defendant; (3) the occurrence was not due to contribution or voluntary action by the plaintiff (Gifi’s Law Dictionary); it is used to state the fact that the situation itself implies negligence or a duty to compensate whether negligence is in fact proved or not (Radin’s Law Dictionary); it is [a] rebuttable presumption that defendant was negligent, which arises upon proof that [the] instrumentality causing injury was in defendant’s exclusive control, and that the accident was one which ordinarily does not happen in absence of negligence (Black’s Law Dictionary). . . . (OR, 150-151).
33. See Batiquin v. Court of Appeals, 258 SCRA 334, 344-345  (Citations omitted).