G.R. No. 112550 - February 5, 2001
DICK L. GO, Petitioner, v. COURT OF APPEALS and SECURITY BANK & TRUST COMPANY, respondents.
This is a petition for review of the decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA: G.R. CY No. 15268, which reversed and set aside the decision2 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 88 of Quezon City in Civil Case No. Q-35744.
The following facts were found by the trial court:
National Steel Corporation (NSC) purchased two Philippine National Bank (PNB) Manager's Checks to wit: Check No. J-81-006142, dated May 11, 1982 in the sum of P911,981.00 (hereinafter, the "first check"); and Check No. J-81-00698, dated May 14, 1982 in the sum of P1,511,293.00 (hereinafter, the "second check"), as payment for customs duties and taxes due on NSC's importation of steel plates. Both checks bore the notation: "For Payee's Account", and were made payable to the Collector of Customs. One Edmund Ulibarri, an NSC official, delivered the checks to LMC Brokerage Firm. Consequently, the steel plates were released from the Bureau of Customs and the official receipts, supposedly indicating payment, were delivered to NSC.
On May 31, 1982, the first check was deposited with private respondent Security Bank and Trust Company (SBTC), Caloocan City Branch, and credited on June 1, 1982 in Current Account No. 2110-0282-47, maintained by a certain Robert Santos with SBTC, Congressional Branch, Quezon City, which was opened only the day before, on May 31, 1982.
On June 21, 1982, another account in the name of Roberto Santos (C/A No. 3310-0031-03) was opened in SBTC's Caloocan City Branch. On the same day, the second check was deposited in C/A No.2110-0282-47 in the Congressional Branch, but credited to the newly opened C/A No. 3310-0031-03. The Congressional Branch accepted the check and sent it for clearing, and forwarded the deposit slip and the receipt for transfer of the account to the Caloocan City Branch. Thereafter, withdrawals of funds for the two Robert Santos accounts were made.
The NSC learned that the official receipts issued to it for payment of customs duties and taxes were fake, and was required to pay the customs duties a second time. Meanwhile, SBTC, after discovering the anomaly, paid PNB the sum of P2,352,966.00 as reimbursement for the proceeds of the two checks which PNB had to refund to NSC.
SBTC caused the conduct of an internal investigation, which revealed the participation of petitioner Dick Go, Assistant Manager-in-charge of SBTC Congressional Branch Accounting Department, together with his co-accused Eduardo L. Lauchengco and Generoso B. Fermin, in the opening of the Robert Santos accounts, the deposit in said accounts of the subject two checks although payable to the Collector of Customs, and the siphoning of the proceeds of the checks.
Thereafter, two (2) criminal informations for estafa through falsification of commercial documents were filed against petitioner, Eduardo L. Lauchengco and Generoso B. Fermin. At the same time, a complaint for sum of money was filed against petitioner together with Spouses Herminio and Clara Lauchengco, Luisito Honorio, Danilo Fiesta, B.S. Santos and Eugene Gan, docketed as Civil Case No. Q-35744. The two criminal cases were tried jointly with the civil case.
The lower court rendered judgment acquitting petitioner Dick Go and his co-accused of the crime of estafa for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The court likewise dismissed SBTC's complaint for recovery of sum of money against petitioner and his co-defendants, as well as petitioner's counterclaim.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed and set aside the decision of the trial court, disposing thus:
In reversing and setting aside the decision of the lower court, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's factual findings but made "corrections and deletions" therein, thus:
In addition to the above corrections and deletions in the lower court's factual findings, the Court of Appeals found the following "additional facts to complete the story":
In this petition for review, petitioner submits the following errors allegedly committed by the Court of Appeals:
Petitioner contends that the Court of Appeals made additional findings not supported by the evidence on record and that it abused its discretion in disregarding the factual findings of the lower court, He argues that the Court of Appeals' reversal of the decision of the lower court was based on unsupported conclusions and despite the absence of contrary evidence; and that it misappreciated the facts, thereby necessitating a review of factual matters by this Court.
In Reyes v. Court of Appeals,6 this Court held that factual findings of the trial court, when adopted and confirmed by the Court of Appeals, are final and conclusive and may not be reviewed on appeal; except: (1) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; (2) when there is a grave abuse of discretion; (3) when the finding is grounded entirely on speculations, surmises or conjectures; (4) when the judgment of the Court of Appeals is based on misapprehension of facts; (5) when the findings of fact are conflicting; (6) when the Court of Appeals, in making its findings, went beyond the issues of the case and the same is contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee; (7) when the findings of the Court of Appeals are contrary to those of the trial court; (8) when the findings of fact are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; (9) when the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties and which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion; and (10) when the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are premised on the absence of evidence and are contradicted by the evidence on record.
While the Court of Appeals characterized the lower court's factual findings as "accurate" and observed that the antecedent facts as found by the lower court were "not disputed" by the parties, it reached a different conclusion as regards petitioner's civil liability. The issue, therefore, is whether, on the basis of the same factual findings, petitioner can be held civilly liable. Stated differently, the issue is whether from the evidence adduced before the lower court, there is sufficient proof as to the indispensable participation of petitioner in the opening of the accounts in the name of one allegedly inexistent and fictitious Robert Santos, the depositing of the PNB checks in said accounts, and the siphoning of the proceeds of said checks as charged in private respondent's complaint.
In civil cases, the party having the burden of proof must establish his case by a preponderance of evidence. "Preponderance of evidence" is the weight, credit, and value of the aggregate evidence on either side and is usually considered to be synonymous with the term "greater weight of the evidence" or "greater weight of the credible evidence." Preponderance of evidence is a phrase which, in the last analysis, means probability of the truth. It is evidence which is more convincing to the court as worthy of belief than that which is offered in opposition thereto.7 Rule 133, Section 1 of the Rules of Court provides the guidelines in determining preponderance of evidence, thus:
In the case at bar, the judge who heard and saw the witnesses testify was not the same judge who penned the decision. As such, this Court is deprived of some important details necessary to determine the weight of evidence for either party. Be that as it may, this Court shall endeavour to weigh the evidence based on other factors 'available to this Court as can be gleaned principally from the recorded testimonies and the cold, hard transcripts of this case.
SBTC alleged that: 1) petitioner took advantage of his position as Assistant Branch Manager in facilitating the opening of Current Account No. 2110-0282-47 with the SBTC Congressional Branch in the name of one Robert Santos with full knowledge that he was inexistent; 2) petitioner took advantage of his position in processing the deposit .in the Robert Santos account of a crossed PNB--Manager's Check No.1-81-00698 in the amount of P911,981.00 with the notation "For Payee's Account Only", and made payable to the Collector of Customs; 3) petitioner took advantage of his position in causing the deposit in the Robert Santos account of a crossed PNB Manager's Check No. 1-81-006142, with the notation ."For Payee's Account Only", in the amount of P1,511,293.00, payable to the Collector of Customs; and 4) petitioner appropriated the proceeds of said checks despite knowledge that said checks were payable to the Collector of Customs, hence, were government funds which cannot be accepted by SBTC for deposit pursuant to a Central Bank prohibition.
In holding petitioner civilly liable, the Court of Appeals found the following facts: (a) petitioner initiated the opening of the Robert Santos account; and (b) Robert Santos is a fictitious or inexistent person, implying "that petitioner and Robert Santos are one and the same person. The Court of Appeals based its finding on the testimony of petitioner himself on cross-examination, stating that he did not bother to find out if Robert Santos actually exists, and that he failed to get in touch with Robert Santos at his given address despite attempts to do so.8 It also relied on the testimony of Teresita Hulinganga, the New Accounts clerk who assisted in the opening the subject account, to the effect that she never saw Robert Santos in person. Sergio Matutina corroborated Hulinganga's testimony by saying that he tried to verify the existence of Robert Santos by going to the given address only to be informed that there was no Robert Santos residing therein.9
Plainly, the above ratiocination is non sequitur. One cannot logically infer from petitioner's failure to get in touch with Robert Santos that the latter is a fictitious or inexistent person. Teresita Hulinganga's and Sergio Matutina's testimonies that they have never seen nor talked to Robert Santos or possess any knowledge about his existence do not prove that he does not exist. Their testimonies only tend to prove that they have neither seen nor talked to nor knew of the existence of Robert Santos and nothing else. From these, the most that can be inferred is that they have not met Robert Santos. On the other hand, it appears from SBTC's investigation report that Robert Santos exists. As testified to by Ester Mendoza, Manager of SBTC's Auditing Department:
Although the lower court did not directly state that Robert Santos exists, neither did it state that he does not exist. Instead, it found that:
In finding that petitioner caused the opening of Current Account No. 2110-0282-47 in the. name of Robert Santos, the Court of Appeals likewise relied on the testimony of Teresita Hulinganga and commented on the lower court's finding, thus:
We do not agree with the above findings of the Court of Appeals. As correctly observed by the trial court, the alleged non-existence of Robert Santos and the participation of petitioner in the opening of the Robert Santos account were based on the "bare verbal statements" of Hulinganga and Matutina. On the other hand, petitioner's oral testimony, that he met Robert Santos in person and that it was Hulinganga who opened the Robert Santos account, is corroborated by documentary evidence which were identified and admitted by Hulinganga herself. In the weighing of evidence, documentary evidence prevails over testimonial evidence.12
As to SBTC's allegation that petitioner caused to be deposited the PNB Manager's Check in the Robert Santos account, the Court of Appeals found that:
While admitting his participation in the opening of the Robert Santos account, petitioner nonetheless insists that his acts were limited to: 1) interviewing Robert Santos prior to his opening of a current account; and 2) approving the 'signature card and the application form. His role in the opening of the Robert Santos account were in line with his duties as assistant manager of the accounting department.14 In tact, prosecution witness Hulinganga acknowledged that petitioner had to sign the signature card as approving officer of the branch.15 The participation of petitioner in the processing of Robert Santos account were never questioned by the prosecution as irregular. Hence, the Court of Appeals cannot insinuate that petitioner's acts were "highly unusual and unexplainable". In fact, even the finding of the Court of Appeals that petitioner conveniently received the telephone call from Robert Santos for the transfer of his account from the Congressional Branch is not extraordinarily unusual and unexplainable.
On the other hand, as found by the trial court, "while it may be true that there was irregularity in the acceptance and deposit of the PNB Manager's checks into the account of Robert Santos because they were payable to the Collector of Customs, the fault therefor is traceable to the concerned tellers of the bank who admittedly, negligently, improperly, and in violation of their duties, accepted, the said checks into the account of Robert Santos."15a It is, therefore, the concerned tellers who acted unusually and unexplainably.
Oral testimonies based on documentary evidence validates the trial court's finding that the bank employees involved in the opening of the Robert Santos account were negligent. Prosecution witness Ester Mendoza testified thus:
As observed by the trial court:
As to SBTC's allegation that petitioner siphoned and appropriated the proceeds of said checks, the Court of Appeals found that it was Dick Go who received the checkbook of Robert Santos. In view of said finding, the Court of Appeals modified the lower court's finding that it is not clear under what circumstances the Caloocan City Branch account was opened and the proceeds of said account appropriated.
Petitioner disputes the findings made by the Court of Appeals that the checkbook of the Robert Santos account opened at SBTC Caloocan City was delivered by Eduardo Lauchenco "to defendant-appellee Dick Go". According to petitioner, "the basis of said finding is a hearsay testimony because the witness merely testified on the basis of what was related to her by the person who allegedly gave the checkbook, but the person who allegedly gave the checkbook himself did not testify to said effect at all." He added that "aside from the aforesaid 'corrected' finding, petitioner is not adversely affected at all by the rest of the 'corrected' findings."
Petitioner's contention is meritorious. The term "hearsay" as used in the rules of evidence signifies all evidence which is not founded upon the personal knowledge of the witness from whom it is elicited and which consequently does not depend for its credibility and weight upon the confidence which the court may have in him. Briefly, hearsay evidence is information relayed from another person to the witness before it reaches the court.18
From the testimony of prosecution witnesses Lourdes Gabriel and Ester Mendoza, it appears that both of them do not have first-hand knowledge that the checkbook was indeed delivered by Eduardo Lauchengco to Dick Go, and that it was received by Dick Go himself. Lourdes Gabriel testified only as to what Eduardo Lauchengco told her, that is, that Dick Go would be the one to sign the checkbook.19 As to Ester Mendoza, she testified that Eduardo Lauchengco told her that he left the checkbook on top of Dick Go's table.20 Hence, their testimonies on that point were clearly hearsay.
WHEREFORE, the petition for review is GRANTED. The decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CY No. 15268 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the judgment of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 88, in Civil Case No. Q-35744, dismissing the civil action filed by respondent SBTC against petitioner Dick Go and his co-defendants as well as the counterclaim, and ordering SBTC to return and/or release to petitioner Dick Go all funds in its control under the account of said Dick Go including accrued earnings, and lifting and setting aside all attachments and/or garnishments issued by reason of the said action against petitioner Dick Go, is REINSTATED.
Davide, Jr., Puno, Kapunan, and Pardo, JJ., concur.
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