[G.R. NO. 156132 : October 12, 2006]
CITIBANK, N.A. (Formerly First National City Bank) and INVESTORS' FINANCE CORPORATION, doing business under the name and style of FNCB Finance, Petitioners, v. MODESTA R. SABENIANO, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before this Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari,1 under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court, of the Decision2 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 51930, dated 26 March 2002, and the Resolution,3 dated 20 November 2002, of the same court which, although modifying its earlier Decision, still denied for the most part the Motion for Reconsideration of herein petitioners.
Petitioner Citibank, N.A. (formerly known as the First National City Bank) is a banking corporation duly authorized and existing under the laws of the United States of America and licensed to do commercial banking activities and perform trust functions in the Philippines.
Petitioner Investor's Finance Corporation, which did business under the name and style of FNCB Finance, was an affiliate company of petitioner Citibank, specifically handling money market placements for its clients. It is now, by virtue of a merger, doing business as part of its successor-in-interest, BPI Card Finance Corporation. However, so as to consistently establish its identity in the Petition at bar, the said petitioner shall still be referred to herein as FNCB Finance.4
Respondent Modesta R. Sabeniano was a client of both petitioners Citibank and FNCB Finance. Regrettably, the business relations among the parties subsequently went awry.
On 8 August 1985, respondent filed a Complaint5 against petitioners, docketed as Civil Case No. 11336, before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati City. Respondent claimed to have substantial deposits and money market placements with the petitioners, as well as money market placements with the Ayala Investment and Development Corporation (AIDC), the proceeds of which were supposedly deposited automatically and directly to respondent's accounts with petitioner Citibank. Respondent alleged that petitioners refused to return her deposits and the proceeds of her money market placements despite her repeated demands, thus, compelling respondent to file Civil Case No. 11336 against petitioners for "Accounting, Sum of Money and Damages." Respondent eventually filed an Amended Complaint6 on 9 October 1985 to include additional claims to deposits and money market placements inadvertently left out from her original Complaint.
In their joint Answer7 and Answer to Amended Complaint,8 filed on 12 September 1985 and 6 November 1985, respectively, petitioners admitted that respondent had deposits and money market placements with them, including dollar accounts in the Citibank branch in Geneva, Switzerland (Citibank-Geneva). Petitioners further alleged that the respondent later obtained several loans from petitioner Citibank, for which she executed Promissory Notes (PNs), and secured by (a) a Declaration of Pledge of her dollar accounts in Citibank-Geneva, and (b) Deeds of Assignment of her money market placements with petitioner FNCB Finance. When respondent failed to pay her loans despite repeated demands by petitioner Citibank, the latter exercised its right to off-set or compensate respondent's outstanding loans with her deposits and money market placements, pursuant to the Declaration of Pledge and the Deeds of Assignment executed by respondent in its favor. Petitioner Citibank supposedly informed respondent Sabeniano of the foregoing compensation through letters, dated 28 September 1979 and 31 October 1979. Petitioners were therefore surprised when six years later, in 1985, respondent and her counsel made repeated requests for the withdrawal of respondent's deposits and money market placements with petitioner Citibank, including her dollar accounts with Citibank-Geneva and her money market placements with petitioner FNCB Finance. Thus, petitioners prayed for the dismissal of the Complaint and for the award of actual, moral, and exemplary damages, and attorney's fees.
When the parties failed to reach a compromise during the pre-trial hearing,9 trial proper ensued and the parties proceeded with the presentation of their respective evidence. Ten years after the filing of the Complaint on 8 August 1985, a Decision10 was finally rendered in Civil Case No. 11336 on 24 August 1995 by the fourth Judge11 who handled the said case, Judge Manuel D. Victorio, the dispositive portion of which reads '
All the parties appealed the foregoing Decision of the RTC to the Court of Appeals, docketed as CA-G.R. CV No. 51930. Respondent questioned the findings of the RTC that she was still indebted to petitioner Citibank, as well as the failure of the RTC to order petitioners to render an accounting of respondent's deposits and money market placements with them. On the other hand, petitioners argued that petitioner Citibank validly compensated respondent's outstanding loans with her dollar accounts with Citibank-Geneva, in accordance with the Declaration of Pledge she executed in its favor. Petitioners also alleged that the RTC erred in not declaring respondent liable for damages and interest.
On 26 March 2002, the Court of Appeals rendered its Decision12 affirming with modification the RTC Decision in Civil Case No. 11336, dated 24 August 1995, and ruling entirely in favor of respondent in this wise '
Apparently, the parties to the case, namely, the respondent, on one hand, and the petitioners, on the other, made separate attempts to bring the aforementioned Decision of the Court of Appeals, dated 26 March 2002, before this Court for review.
G.R. No. 152985
Respondent no longer sought a reconsideration of the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 51930, dated 26 March 2002, and instead, filed immediately with this Court on 3 May 2002 a Motion for Extension of Time to File a Petition for Review,13 which, after payment of the docket and other lawful fees, was assigned the docket number G.R. No. 152985. In the said Motion, respondent alleged that she received a copy of the assailed Court of Appeals Decision on 18 April 2002 and, thus, had 15 days therefrom or until 3 May 2002 within which to file her Petition for Review. Since she informed her counsel of her desire to pursue an appeal of the Court of Appeals Decision only on 29 April 2002, her counsel neither had enough time to file a motion for reconsideration of the said Decision with the Court of Appeals, nor a Petition for Certiorari with this Court. Yet, the Motion failed to state the exact extension period respondent was requesting for.
Since this Court did not act upon respondent's Motion for Extension of Time to file her Petition for Review, then the period for appeal continued to run and still expired on 3 May 2002.14 Respondent failed to file any Petition for Review within the prescribed period for appeal and, hence, this Court issued a Resolution,15 dated 13 November 2002, in which it pronounced that '
The said Resolution was duly recorded in the Book of Entries of Judgments on 3 January 2003.
G.R. No. 156132
Meanwhile, petitioners filed with the Court of Appeals a Motion for Reconsideration of its Decision in CA-G.R. CV No. 51930, dated 26 March 2002. Acting upon the said Motion, the Court of Appeals issued the Resolution,16 dated 20 November 2002, modifying its Decision of 26 March 2002, as follows '
Assailing the Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 51930, dated 26 March 2002 and 20 November 2002, respectively, petitioners filed the present Petition, docketed as G.R. No. 156132. The Petition was initially denied17 by this Court for failure of the petitioners to attach thereto a Certification against Forum Shopping. However, upon petitioners' Motion and compliance with the requirements, this Court resolved18 to reinstate the Petition.
The Petition presented fourteen (14) assignments of errors allegedly committed by the Court of Appeals in its Decision, dated 26 March 2002, involving both questions of fact and questions of law which this Court, for the sake of expediency, discusses jointly, whenever possible, in the succeeding paragraphs.
Before proceeding to a discussion of the merits of the instant Petition, this Court wishes to address first the argument, persistently advanced by respondent in her pleadings on record, as well as her numerous personal and unofficial letters to this Court which were no longer made part of the record, that the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 51930, dated 26 March 2002, had already become final and executory by virtue of the Resolution of this Court in G.R. No. 152985, dated 13 November 2002.
G.R. No. 152985 was the docket number assigned by this Court to respondent's Motion for Extension of Time to File a Petition for Review. Respondent, though, did not file her supposed Petition. Thus, after the lapse of the prescribed period for the filing of the Petition, this Court issued the Resolution, dated 13 November 2002, declaring the Decision of the Court of Appeals, dated 26 March 2002, final and executory. It should be pointed out, however, that the Resolution, dated 13 November 2002, referred only to G.R. No. 152985, respondent's appeal, which she failed to perfect through the filing of a Petition for Review within the prescribed period. The declaration of this Court in the same Resolution would bind respondent solely, and not petitioners which filed their own separate appeal before this Court, docketed as G.R. No. 156132, the Petition at bar. This would mean that respondent, on her part, should be bound by the findings of fact and law of the Court of Appeals, including the monetary amounts consequently awarded to her by the appellate court in its Decision, dated 26 March 2002; and she can no longer refute or assail any part thereof.19
This Court already explained the matter to respondent when it issued a Resolution20 in G.R. No. 156132, dated 2 February 2004, which addressed her Urgent Motion for the Release of the Decision with the Implementation of the Entry of Judgment in the following manner '
To sustain the argument of respondent would result in an unjust and incongruous situation wherein one party may frustrate the efforts of the opposing party to appeal the case by merely filing with this Court a Motion for Extension of Time to File a Petition for Review, ahead of the opposing party, then not actually filing the intended Petition.21 The party who fails to file its intended Petition within the reglementary or extended period should solely bear the consequences of such failure.
Respondent Sabeniano did not commit forum shopping.
Another issue that does not directly involve the merits of the present Petition, but raised by petitioners, is whether respondent should be held liable for forum shopping.
Petitioners contend that respondent committed forum shopping on the basis of the following facts:
While petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration of the Decision in CA-G.R. CV No. 51930, dated 26 March 2002, was still pending before the Court of Appeals, respondent already filed with this Court on 3 May 2002 her Motion for Extension of Time to File a Petition for Review of the same Court of Appeals Decision, docketed as G.R. No. 152985. Thereafter, respondent continued to participate in the proceedings before the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 51930 by filing her Comment, dated 17 July 2002, to petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration; and a Rejoinder, dated 23 September 2002, to petitioners' Reply. Thus, petitioners argue that by seeking relief concurrently from this Court and the Court of Appeals, respondent is undeniably guilty of forum shopping, if not indirect contempt.
This Court, however, finds no sufficient basis to hold respondent liable for forum shopping.
Forum shopping has been defined as the filing of two or more suits involving the same parties for the same cause of action, either simultaneously or successively, for the purpose of obtaining a favorable judgment.22 The test for determining forum shopping is whether in the two (or more) cases pending, there is an identity of parties, rights or causes of action, and relief sought.23 To guard against this deplorable practice, Rule 7, Section 5 of the revised Rules of Court imposes the following requirement '
Although it may seem at first glance that respondent was simultaneously seeking recourse from the Court of Appeals and this Court, a careful and closer scrutiny of the details of the case at bar would reveal otherwise.
It should be recalled that respondent did nothing more in G.R. No. 152985 than to file with this Court a Motion for Extension of Time within which to file her Petition for Review. For unexplained reasons, respondent failed to submit to this Court her intended Petition within the reglementary period. Consequently, this Court was prompted to issue a Resolution, dated 13 November 2002, declaring G.R. No. 152985 terminated, and the therein assailed Court of Appeals Decision final and executory. G.R. No. 152985, therefore, did not progress and respondent's appeal was unperfected.
The Petition for Review would constitute the initiatory pleading before this Court, upon the timely filing of which, the case before this Court commences; much in the same way a case is initiated by the filing of a Complaint before the trial court. The Petition for Review establishes the identity of parties, rights or causes of action, and relief sought from this Court, and without such a Petition, there is technically no case before this Court. The Motion filed by respondent seeking extension of time within which to file her Petition for Review does not serve the same purpose as the Petition for Review itself. Such a Motion merely presents the important dates and the justification for the additional time requested for, but it does not go into the details of the appealed case.
Without any particular idea as to the assignments of error or the relief respondent intended to seek from this Court, in light of her failure to file her Petition for Review, there is actually no second case involving the same parties, rights or causes of action, and relief sought, as that in CA-G.R. CV No. 51930.
It should also be noted that the Certification against Forum Shopping is required to be attached to the initiatory pleading, which, in G.R. No. 152985, should have been respondent's Petition for Review. It is in that Certification wherein respondent certifies, under oath, that: (a) she has not commenced any action or filed any claim involving the same issues in any court, tribunal or quasi-judicial agency and, to the best of her knowledge, no such other action or claim is pending therein; (b) if there is such other pending action or claim, that she is presenting a complete statement of the present status thereof; and (c) if she should thereafter learn that the same or similar action or claim has been filed or is pending, she shall report that fact within five days therefrom to this Court. Without her Petition for Review, respondent had no obligation to execute and submit the foregoing Certification against Forum Shopping. Thus, respondent did not violate Rule 7, Section 5 of the Revised Rules of Court; neither did she mislead this Court as to the pendency of another similar case.
Lastly, the fact alone that the Decision of the Court of Appeals, dated 26 March 2002, essentially ruled in favor of respondent, does not necessarily preclude her from appealing the same. Granted that such a move is ostensibly irrational, nonetheless, it does not amount to malice, bad faith or abuse of the court processes in the absence of further proof. Again, it should be noted that the respondent did not file her intended Petition for Review. The Petition for Review would have presented before this Court the grounds for respondent's appeal and her arguments in support thereof. Without said Petition, any reason attributed to the respondent for appealing the 26 March 2002 Decision would be grounded on mere speculations, to which this Court cannot give credence.
It is already a well-settled rule that the jurisdiction of this Court in cases brought before it from the Court of Appeals by virtue of Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court is limited to reviewing errors of law. Findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are conclusive upon this Court. There are, however, recognized exceptions to the foregoing rule, namely: (1) when the findings are grounded entirely on speculation, surmises, or conjectures; (2) when the interference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd, or impossible; (3) when there is grave abuse of discretion; (4) when the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts; (5) when the findings of fact are conflicting; (6) when in making its findings, the Court of Appeals went beyond the issues of the case, or its findings are contrary to the admissions of both the appellant and the appellee; (7) when the findings are contrary to those of the trial court; (8) when the findings are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; (9) when the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioner's main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondent; and (10) when the findings of fact are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record.24
Several of the enumerated exceptions pertain to the Petition at bar.
It is indubitable that the Court of Appeals made factual findings that are contrary to those of the RTC,25 thus, resulting in its substantial modification of the trial court's Decision, and a ruling entirely in favor of the respondent. In addition, petitioners invoked in the instant Petition for Review several exceptions that would justify this Court's review of the factual findings of the Court of Appeals, i.e., the Court of Appeals made conflicting findings of fact; findings of fact which went beyond the issues raised on appeal before it; as well as findings of fact premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record.
On the basis of the foregoing, this Court shall proceed to reviewing and re-evaluating the evidence on record in order to settle questions of fact raised in the Petition at bar.
The fact that the trial judge who rendered the RTC Decision in Civil Case No. 11336, dated 24 August 1995, was not the same judge who heard and tried the case, does not, by itself, render the said Decision erroneous.
The Decision in Civil Case No. 11336 was rendered more than 10 years from the institution of the said case. In the course of its trial, the case was presided over by four (4) different RTC judges.26 It was Judge Victorio, the fourth judge assigned to the case, who wrote the RTC Decision, dated 24 August 1995. In his Decision,27 Judge Victorio made the following findings '
Disagreeing in the foregoing findings, the Court of Appeals stressed, in its Decision in CA-G.R. CV No. 51930, dated 26 March 2002, "that the ponente of the herein assailed Decision is not the Presiding Judge who heard and tried the case."28 This brings us to the question of whether the fact alone that the RTC Decision was rendered by a judge other than the judge who actually heard and tried the case is sufficient justification for the appellate court to disregard or set aside the findings in the Decision of the court a quo?cralawlibrary
This Court rules in the negative.
What deserves stressing is that, in this jurisdiction, there exists a disputable presumption that the RTC Decision was rendered by the judge in the regular performance of his official duties. While the said presumption is only disputable, it is satisfactory unless contradicted or overcame by other evidence.29 Encompassed in this presumption of regularity is the presumption that the RTC judge, in resolving the case and drafting his Decision, reviewed, evaluated, and weighed all the evidence on record. That the said RTC judge is not the same judge who heard the case and received the evidence is of little consequence when the records and transcripts of stenographic notes (TSNs) are complete and available for consideration by the former.
In People v. Gazmen,30 this Court already elucidated its position on such an issue '
Irrefragably, by reason alone that the judge who penned the RTC Decision was not the same judge who heard the case and received the evidence therein would not render the findings in the said Decision erroneous and unreliable. While the conduct and demeanor of witnesses may sway a trial court judge in deciding a case, it is not, and should not be, his only consideration. Even more vital for the trial court judge's decision are the contents and substance of the witnesses' testimonies, as borne out by the TSNs, as well as the object and documentary evidence submitted and made part of the records of the case.
This Court proceeds to making its own findings of fact.
Since the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 51930, dated 26 March 2002, has become final and executory as to the respondent, due to her failure to interpose an appeal therefrom within the reglementary period, she is already bound by the factual findings in the said Decision. Likewise, respondent's failure to file, within the reglementary period, a Motion for Reconsideration or an appeal of the Resolution of the Court of Appeals in the same case, dated 20 November 2002, which modified its earlier Decision by deleting paragraph 3(v) of its dispositive portion, ordering petitioners to return to respondent the proceeds of her money market placement with AIDC, shall already bar her from questioning such modification before this Court. Thus, what is for review before this Court is the Decision of the Court of Appeals, dated 26 March 2002, as modified by the Resolution of the same court, dated 20 November 2002.
Respondent alleged that she had several deposits and money market placements with petitioners. These deposits and money market placements, as determined by the Court of Appeals in its Decision, dated 26 March 2002, and as modified by its Resolution, dated 20 November 2002, are as follows '
This Court is tasked to determine whether petitioners are indeed liable to return the foregoing amounts, together with the appropriate interests and penalties, to respondent. It shall trace respondent's transactions with petitioners, from her money market placements with petitioner Citibank and petitioner FNCB Finance, to her savings and current accounts with petitioner Citibank, and to her dollar accounts with Citibank-Geneva.
Money market placements with petitioner Citibank
The history of respondent's money market placements with petitioner Citibank began on 6 December 1976, when she made a placement of
As presented by the petitioner FNCB Finance, respondent rolled-over only the principal amounts of her money market placements as she chose to receive the interest income therefrom. Petitioner FNCB Finance also pointed out that when PN No. 4962, with principal amount of
Based on the foregoing records, the principal amounts of PNs No. 5757 and 5758, upon their maturity, were rolled over to PNs No. 8167 and 8169, respectively. PN No. 816745 expressly canceled and superseded PN No. 5757, while PN No. 816946 also explicitly canceled and superseded PN No. 5758. Thus, it is patently erroneous for the Court of Appeals to still award to respondent the principal amounts and interests covered by PNs No. 5757 and 5758 when these were already canceled and superseded. It is now incumbent upon this Court to determine what subsequently happened to PNs No. 8167 and 8169.
Petitioner FNCB Finance presented four checks as proof of payment of the principal amounts and interests of PNs No. 8167 and 8169 upon their maturity. All the checks were payable to respondent's savings account with petitioner Citibank, with the following details '
Then again, Checks No. 77035 and 77034 were later returned to petitioner FNCB Finance together with a memo,47 dated 6 September 1978, from Mr. Tan of petitioner Citibank, to a Mr. Bobby Mendoza of petitioner FNCB Finance. According to the memo, the two checks, in the total amount of
On 3 September 1979, petitioner FNCB Finance issued Check No. 100168, pay to the order of "Citibank N.A. A/C Modesta Sabeniano," in the amount of
Savings and current accounts with petitioner Citibank
Respondent presented and submitted before the RTC deposit slips and bank statements to prove deposits made to several of her accounts with petitioner Citibank, particularly, Accounts No. 00484202, 59091, and 472-751, which would have amounted to a total of
Although the RTC and the Court of Appeals did not make any definitive findings as to the status of respondent's savings and current accounts with petitioner Citibank, the Decisions of both the trial and appellate courts effectively recognized only the
Since both the RTC and the Court of Appeals had consistently recognized only the
Dollar accounts with Citibank-Geneva
Respondent made an effort of preparing and presenting before the RTC her own computations of her money market placements and dollar accounts with Citibank-Geneva, purportedly amounting to a total of United States (US) $343,220.98, as of 23 June 1985.51 In her Memorandum filed with the RTC, she claimed a much bigger amount of deposits and money market placements with Citibank-Geneva, totaling US$1,336,638.65.52 However, respondent herself also submitted as part of her formal offer of evidence the computation of her money market placements and dollar accounts with Citibank-Geneva as determined by the latter.53 Citibank-Geneva accounted for respondent's money market placements and dollar accounts as follows '
According to the foregoing computation, by 25 October 1979, respondent had a total of US$156,942.70, from which, US$149,632.99 was transferred by Citibank-Geneva to petitioner Citibank in Manila, and was used by the latter to off-set respondent's outstanding loans. The balance of respondent's accounts with Citibank-Geneva, after the remittance to petitioner Citibank in Manila, amounted to US$7,309.71, which was subsequently expended by a transfer to another account with Citibank-Zuerich, in the amount of US$6,998.84, and by payment of various bank charges, including closing charges, in the amount of US$310.87. Rightly so, both the RTC and the Court of Appeals gave more credence to the computation of Citibank-Geneva as to the status of respondent's accounts with the said bank, rather than the one prepared by respondent herself, which was evidently self-serving. Once again, this Court shall limit itself to determining whether or not respondent is entitled to the return of the amount of US$149,632.99 should the off-set thereof by petitioner Citibank against her alleged outstanding loans be found invalid. Respondent cannot claim any greater amount since she did not perfect an appeal of the Decision of the Court of Appeals, dated 26 March 2002, which found that she is entitled only to the return of the said amount, as far as her accounts with Citibank-Geneva is concerned.
Petitioners' version of events
In sum, the following amounts were used by petitioner Citibank to liquidate respondent's purported outstanding loans '
According to petitioner Citibank, respondent incurred her loans under the circumstances narrated below.
As early as 9 February 1978, respondent obtained her first loan from petitioner Citibank in the principal amount of
When respondent was unable to pay the first set of PNs upon their maturity, these were rolled-over or renewed several times, necessitating the execution by respondent of new PNs in favor of petitioner Citibank. As of 5 April 1979, respondent had the following outstanding PNs (second set),56 the principal amount of which remained at
All the PNs stated that the purpose of the loans covered thereby is "To liquidate existing obligation," except for PN No. 34534, which stated for its purpose "personal investment."
Respondent secured her foregoing loans with petitioner Citibank by executing Deeds of Assignment of her money market placements with petitioner FNCB Finance. On 2 March 1978, respondent executed in favor of petitioner Citibank a Deed of Assignment57 of PN No. 8169, which was issued by petitioner FNCB Finance, to secure payment of the credit and banking facilities extended to her by petitioner Citibank, in the aggregate principal amount of
In addition to the Deeds of Assignment of her money market placements with petitioner FNCB Finance, respondent also executed a Declaration of Pledge,60 in which she supposedly pledged "[a]ll present and future fiduciary placements held in my personal and/or joint name with Citibank, Switzerland," to secure all claims the petitioner Citibank may have or, in the future, acquire against respondent. The petitioners' copy of the Declaration of Pledge is undated, while that of the respondent, a copy certified by a Citibank-Geneva officer, bore the date 24 September 1979.61
When respondent failed to pay the second set of PNs upon their maturity, an exchange of letters ensued between respondent and/or her representatives, on one hand, and the representatives of petitioners, on the other.
The first letter62 was dated 5 April 1979, addressed to respondent and signed by Mr. Tan, as the manager of petitioner Citibank, which stated, in part, that '
Respondent sent a reply letter63 dated 26 April 1979, printed on paper bearing the letterhead of respondent's company, MC Adore International Palace, the body of which reads '
A week later or on 3 May 1979, a certain C. N. Pugeda, designated as "Executive Secretary," sent a letter64 to petitioner Citibank, on behalf of respondent. The letter was again printed on paper bearing the letterhead of MC Adore International Palace. The pertinent paragraphs of the said letter are reproduced below '
This was followed by a telegram,65 dated 5 June 1979, and received by petitioner Citibank the following day. The telegram was sent by a Dewey G. Soriano, Legal Counsel. The telegram acknowledged receipt of the telegram sent by petitioner Citibank regarding the "re-past due obligation" of McAdore International Palace. However, it reported that respondent, the President and Chairman of MC Adore International Palace, was presently abroad negotiating for a big loan. Thus, he was requesting for an extension of the due date of the obligation until respondent's arrival on or before 31 July 1979.
The next letter,66 dated 21 June 1979, was signed by respondent herself and addressed to Mr. Bobby Mendoza, a Manager of petitioner FNCB Finance. Respondent wrote therein '
On even date, respondent sent another letter67 to Mr. Tan of petitioner Citibank, stating that '
Unlike respondent's earlier letters, both letters, dated 21 June 1979, are printed on plain paper, without the letterhead of her company, MC Adore International Palace.
By 5 September 1979, respondent's outstanding and past due obligations to petitioner Citibank totaled
Mr. Tan of petitioner Citibank subsequently sent a letter,69 dated 28 September 1979, notifying respondent of the status of her loans and the foregoing compensation which petitioner Citibank effected. In the letter, Mr. Tan informed respondent that she still had a remaining past-due obligation in the amount of
On 5 October 1979, respondent wrote Mr. Tan of petitioner Citibank, on paper bearing the letterhead of MC Adore International Palace, as regards the
Almost three weeks later, or on 25 October 1979, a certain Atty. Moises Tolentino dropped by the office of petitioner Citibank, with a letter, dated 9 October 1979, and printed on paper with the letterhead of MC Adore International Palace, which authorized the bearer thereof to represent the respondent in settling the overdue account, this time, purportedly, of MC Adore International Palace Hotel. The letter was signed by respondent as the President and Chairman of the Board.
Eventually, Atty. Antonio Agcaoili of Agcaoili & Associates, as counsel of petitioner Citibank, sent a letter to respondent, dated 31 October 1979, informing her that petitioner Citibank had effected an off-set using her account with Citibank-Geneva, in the amount of US$149,632.99, against her "outstanding, overdue, demandable and unpaid obligation" to petitioner Citibank. Atty. Agcaoili claimed therein that the compensation or off-set was made pursuant to and in accordance with the provisions of Articles 1278 through 1290 of the Civil Code. He further declared that respondent's obligation to petitioner Citibank was now fully paid and liquidated.
Unfortunately, on 7 October 1987, a fire gutted the 7th floor of petitioner Citibank's building at Paseo de Roxas St., Makati, Metro Manila. Petitioners submitted a Certification70 to this effect, dated 17 January 1991, issued by the Chief of the Arson Investigation Section, Fire District III, Makati Fire Station, Metropolitan Police Force. The 7th floor of petitioner Citibank's building housed its Control Division, which was in charge of keeping the necessary documents for cases in which it was involved. After compiling the documentary evidence for the present case, Atty. Renato J. Fernandez, internal legal counsel of petitioner Citibank, forwarded them to the Control Division. The original copies of the MCs, which supposedly represent the proceeds of the first set of PNs, as well as that of other documentary evidence related to the case, were among those burned in the said fire.71
Respondent's version of events
Respondent disputed petitioners' narration of the circumstances surrounding her loans with petitioner Citibank and the alleged authority she gave for the off-set or compensation of her money market placements and deposit accounts with petitioners against her loan obligation.
Respondent denied outright executing the first set of PNs, except for one (PN No. 34534 in particular). Although she admitted that she obtained several loans from petitioner Citibank, these only amounted to
She borrowed another
Respondent likewise questioned the MCs presented by petitioners, except for one (MC No. 228270 in particular), as proof that she received the proceeds of the loans covered by the first set of PNs. As recounted in the preceding paragraph, respondent admitted to obtaining a loan of
As to the second set of PNs, respondent acknowledged having signed them all. However, she asserted that she only executed these PNs as part of the simulated loans she and Mr. Tan of petitioner Citibank concocted. Respondent explained that she had a pending loan application for a big amount with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), and when Mr. Tan found out about this, he suggested that they could make it appear that the respondent had outstanding loans with petitioner Citibank and the latter was already demanding payment thereof; this might persuade DBP to approve respondent's loan application. Mr. Tan made the respondent sign the second set of PNs, so that he may have something to show the DBP investigator who might inquire with petitioner Citibank as to respondent's loans with the latter. On her own copies of the said PNs, respondent wrote by hand the notation, "This isa (sic) simulated non-negotiable note, signed copy given to Mr. Tan., (sic) per agreement to be shown to DBP representative. itwill (sic) be returned to me if the
Findings of this Court as to the existence of the loans
After going through the testimonial and documentary evidence presented by both sides to this case, it is this Court's assessment that respondent did indeed have outstanding loans with petitioner Citibank at the time it effected the off-set or compensation on 25 July 1979 (using respondent's savings deposit with petitioner Citibank), 5 September 1979 (using the proceeds of respondent's money market placements with petitioner FNCB Finance) and 26 October 1979 (using respondent's dollar accounts remitted from Citibank-Geneva). The totality of petitioners' evidence as to the existence of the said loans preponderates over respondent's. Preponderant evidence means that, as a whole, the evidence adduced by one side outweighs that of the adverse party.78
Respondent's outstanding obligation for
The second set of PNs is a mere renewal of the prior loans originally covered by the first set of PNs, except for PN No. 34534. The first set of PNs is supported, in turn, by the existence of the MCs that represent the proceeds thereof received by the respondent.
It bears to emphasize that the proceeds of the loans were paid to respondent in MCs, with the respondent specifically named as payee. MCs checks are drawn by the bank's manager upon the bank itself and regarded to be as good as the money it represents.79 Moreover, the MCs were crossed checks, with the words "Payee's Account Only."
In general, a crossed check cannot be presented to the drawee bank for payment in cash. Instead, the check can only be deposited with the payee's bank which, in turn, must present it for payment against the drawee bank in the course of normal banking hours. The crossed check cannot be presented for payment, but it can only be deposited and the drawee bank may only pay to another bank in the payee's or indorser's account.80 The effect of crossing a check was described by this Court in Philippine Commercial International Bank v. Court of Appeals81 '
The crossed MCs presented by petitioner Bank were indeed deposited in several different bank accounts and cleared by the Clearing Office of the Central Bank of the Philippines, as evidenced by the stamp marks and notations on the said checks. The crossed MCs are already in the possession of petitioner Citibank, the drawee bank, which was ultimately responsible for the payment of the amount stated in the checks. Given that a check is more than just an instrument of credit used in commercial transactions for it also serves as a receipt or evidence for the drawee bank of the cancellation of the said check due to payment,82 then, the possession by petitioner Citibank of the said MCs, duly stamped "Paid" gives rise to the presumption that the said MCs were already paid out to the intended payee, who was in this case, the respondent.
This Court finds applicable herein the presumptions that private transactions have been fair and regular,83 and that the ordinary course of business has been followed.84 There is no question that the loan transaction between petitioner Citibank and the respondent is a private transaction. The transactions revolving around the crossed MCs - from their issuance by petitioner Citibank to respondent as payment of the proceeds of her loans; to its deposit in respondent's accounts with several different banks; to the clearing of the MCs by an independent clearing house; and finally, to the payment of the MCs by petitioner Citibank as the drawee bank of the said checks - are all private transactions which shall be presumed to have been fair and regular to all the parties concerned. In addition, the banks involved in the foregoing transactions are also presumed to have followed the ordinary course of business in the acceptance of the crossed MCs for deposit in respondent's accounts, submitting them for clearing, and their eventual payment and cancellation.
The afore-stated presumptions are disputable, meaning, they are satisfactory if uncontradicted, but may be contradicted and overcome by other evidence.85 Respondent, however, was unable to present sufficient and credible evidence to dispute these presumptions.
It should be recalled that out of the nine MCs presented by petitioner Citibank, respondent admitted to receiving one as proceeds of a loan (MC No. 228270), denied receiving two (MCs No. 220701 and 226467), and admitted to receiving all the rest, but not as proceeds of her loans, but as return on the principal amounts and interests from her money market placements.
Respondent admitted receiving MC No. 228270 representing the proceeds of her loan covered by PN No. 34534. Although the principal amount of the loan is
Respondent denied ever receiving MCs No. 220701 and 226467. However, considering that the said checks were crossed for payee's account only, and that they were actually deposited, cleared, and paid, then the presumption would be that the said checks were properly deposited to the account of respondent, who was clearly named the payee in the checks. Respondent's bare allegations that she did not receive the two checks fail to convince this Court, for to sustain her, would be for this Court to conclude that an irregularity had occurred somewhere from the time of the issuance of the said checks, to their deposit, clearance, and payment, and which would have involved not only petitioner Citibank, but also BPI, which accepted the checks for deposit, and the Central Bank of the Philippines, which cleared the checks. It falls upon the respondent to overcome or dispute the presumption that the crossed checks were issued, accepted for deposit, cleared, and paid for by the banks involved following the ordinary course of their business.
The mere fact that MCs No. 220701 and 226467 do not bear respondent's signature at the back does not negate deposit thereof in her account. The liability for the lack of indorsement on the MCs no longer fall on petitioner Citibank, but on the bank who received the same for deposit, in this case, BPI Cubao Branch. Once again, it must be noted that the MCs were crossed, for payee's account only, and the payee named in both checks was none other than respondent. The crossing of the MCs was already a warning to BPI to receive said checks for deposit only in respondent's account. It was up to BPI to verify whether it was receiving the crossed MCs in accordance with the instructions on the face thereof. If, indeed, the MCs were deposited in accounts other than respondent's, then the respondent would have a cause of action against BPI.90
BPI further stamped its guarantee on the back of the checks to the effect that, "All prior endorsement and/or Lack of endorsement guaranteed." Thus, BPI became the indorser of the MCs, and assumed all the warranties of an indorser,91 specifically, that the checks were genuine and in all respects what they purported to be; that it had a good title to the checks; that all prior parties had capacity to contract; and that the checks were, at the time of their indorsement, valid and subsisting.92 So even if the MCs deposited by BPI's client, whether it be by respondent herself or some other person, lacked the necessary indorsement, BPI, as the collecting bank, is bound by its warranties as an indorser and cannot set up the defense of lack of indorsement as against petitioner Citibank, the drawee bank.93
Furthermore, respondent's bare and unsubstantiated denial of receipt of the MCs in question and their deposit in her account is rendered suspect when MC No. 220701 was actually deposited in Account No. 0123-0572-28 of BPI Cubao Branch, the very same account in which MC No. 228270 (which respondent admitted to receiving as proceeds of her loan from petitioner Citibank), and MCs No. 228203, 228357, and 228400 (which respondent admitted to receiving as proceeds from her money market placements) were deposited. Likewise, MC No. 226467 was deposited in Account No. 0121-002-43 of BPI Cubao Branch, to which MCs No. 226285 and 226439 (which respondent admitted to receiving as proceeds from her money market placements) were deposited. It is an apparent contradiction for respondent to claim having received the proceeds of checks deposited in an account, and then deny receiving the proceeds of another check deposited in the very same account.
Another inconsistency in respondent's denial of receipt of MC No. 226467 and her deposit of the same in her account, is her presentation of Exhibit "HHH," a provisional receipt which was supposed to prove that respondent turned over
Neither can this Court give credence to respondent's contention that the notations on the MCs, stating that they were the proceeds of particular PNs, were not there when she received the checks and that the notations appeared to be written by a typewriter different from that used to write the other information on the checks. Once more, respondent's allegations were uncorroborated by any other evidence. Her and her counsel's observation that the notations on the MCs appear to be written by a typewriter different from that used to write the other information on the checks hardly convinces this Court considering that it constitutes a mere opinion on the appearance of the notation by a witness who does not possess the necessary expertise on the matter. In addition, the notations on the MCs were written using both capital and small letters, while the other information on the checks were written using capital letters only, such difference could easily confuse an untrained eye and lead to a hasty conclusion that they were written by different typewriters.
Respondent's testimony, that based on her experience transacting with banks, the MCs were not supposed to include notations on the purpose for which the checks were issued, also deserves scant consideration. While respondent may have extensive experience dealing with banks, it still does not qualify her as a competent witness on banking procedures and practices. Her testimony on this matter is even belied by the fact that the other MCs issued by petitioner Citibank (when it was still named First National City Bank) and by petitioner FNCB Finance, the existence and validity of which were not disputed by respondent, also bear similar notations that state the reason for which they were issued.
Respondent presented several more pieces of evidence to substantiate her claim that she received MCs No. 226285, 226439, 226467, 226057, 228357, and 228400, not as proceeds of her loans from petitioner Citibank, but as the return of the principal amounts and payment of interests from her money market placements with petitioners. Part of respondent's exhibits were personal checks95 drawn by respondent on her account with Feati Bank & Trust Co., which she allegedly invested in separate money market placements with both petitioners, the returns from which were paid to her via MCs No. 226285 and 228400. Yet, to this Court, the personal checks only managed to establish respondent's issuance thereof, but there was nothing on the face of the checks that would reveal the purpose for which they were issued and that they were actually invested in money market placements as respondent claimed.
Respondent further submitted handwritten notes that purportedly computed and presented the returns on her money market placements, corresponding to the amount stated in the MCs she received from petitioner Citibank. Exhibit "HHH-1"96 was a handwritten note, which respondent attributed to Mr. Tan of petitioner Citibank, showing the breakdown of her BPI Check for
Exhibits "III" and "III-1," the front and bank pages of a handwritten note of Mr. Bobby Mendoza of petitioner FNCB Finance,98 also did not deserve much evidentiary weight, and this Court cannot rely on the truth and accuracy of the computations presented therein. Mr. Mendoza was not presented as a witness during the trial before the RTC, so that the document was not properly authenticated nor its contents sufficiently explained. No one was able to competently identify whether the initials as appearing on the note were actually Mr. Mendoza's.
Also, going by the information on the front page of the note, this Court observes that payment of respondent's alleged money market placements with petitioner FNCB Finance were made using Citytrust Checks; the MCs in question, including MC No. 228057, were issued by petitioner Citibank. Although Citytrust (formerly Feati Bank & Trust Co.), petitioner FNCB Finance, and petitioner Citibank may be affiliates of one another, they each remained separate and distinct corporations, each having its own financial system and records. Thus, this Court cannot simply assume that one corporation, such as petitioner Citibank or Citytrust, can issue a check to discharge an obligation of petitioner FNCB Finance. It should be recalled that when petitioner FNCB Finance paid for respondent's money market placements, covered by its PNs No. 8167 and 8169, as well as PNs No. 20138 and 20139, petitioner FNCB Finance issued its own checks.
As a last point on this matter, if respondent truly had money market placements with petitioners, then these would have been evidenced by PNs issued by either petitioner Citibank or petitioner FNCB Finance, acknowledging the principal amounts of the investments, and stating the applicable interest rates, as well as the dates of their of issuance and maturity. After respondent had so meticulously reconstructed her other money market placements with petitioners and consolidated the documentary evidence thereon, she came surprisingly short of offering similar details and substantiation for these particular money market placements.
Since this Court is satisfied that respondent indeed received the proceeds of the first set of PNs, then it proceeds to analyze her evidence of payment thereof.
In support of respondent's assertion that she had already paid whatever loans she may have had with petitioner Citibank, she presented as evidence Provisional Receipts No. 19471, dated 11 August 1978, and No. 12723, dated 10 November 1978, both of petitioner Citibank and signed by Mr. Tan, for the amounts of
Mr. Tan, in his deposition, further explained that provisional receipts were issued when payment to the bank was made using checks, since the checks would still be subject to clearing. The purpose for the provisional receipts was merely to acknowledge the delivery of the checks to the possession of the bank, but not yet of payment.99 This bank practice finds legitimacy in the pronouncement of this Court that a check, whether an MC or an ordinary check, is not legal tender and, therefore, cannot constitute valid tender of payment. In Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 100 this Court elucidated that:
In the case at bar, the issuance of an official receipt by petitioner Citibank would have been dependent on whether the checks delivered by respondent were actually cleared and paid for by the drawee banks.
As for PN No. 34534, respondent asserted payment thereof at two separate instances by two different means. In her formal offer of exhibits, respondent submitted a deposit slip of petitioner Citibank, dated 11 August 1978, evidencing the deposit of BPI Check No. 5785 for
According to petitioner Citibank, the PNs in the second set, except for PN No. 34534, were mere renewals of the unpaid PNs in the first set, which was why the PNs stated that they were for the purpose of liquidating existing obligations. PN No. 34534, however, which was part of the first set, was still valid and subsisting and so it was included in the second set without need for its renewal, and it still being the original PN for that particular loan, its stated purpose was for personal investment.104 Respondent essentially admitted executing the second set of PNs, but they were only meant to cover simulated loans. Mr. Tan supposedly convinced her that her pending loan application with DBP would have a greater chance of being approved if they made it appear that respondent urgently needed the money because petitioner Citibank was already demanding payment for her simulated loans.
Respondent's defense of simulated loans to escape liability for the second set of PNs is truly a novel one.ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
It is regrettable, however, that she was unable to substantiate the same. Yet again, respondent's version of events is totally based on her own uncorroborated testimony. The notations on the second set of PNs, that they were non-negotiable simulated notes, were admittedly made by respondent herself and were, thus, self-serving. Equally self-serving was respondent's letter, written on 7 October 1985, or more than six years after the execution of the second set of PNs, in which she demanded return of the simulated or fictitious PNs, together with the letters relating thereto, which Mr. Tan purportedly asked her to execute. Respondent further failed to present any proof of her alleged loan application with the DBP, and of any circumstance or correspondence wherein the simulated or fictitious PNs were indeed used for their supposed purpose.
In contrast, petitioner Citibank, as supported by the testimonies of its officers and available documentation, consistently treated the said PNs as regular loans - accepted, approved, and paid in the ordinary course of its business.
The PNs executed by the respondent in favor of petitioner Citibank to cover her loans were duly-filled out and signed, including the disclosure statement found at the back of the said PNs, in adherence to the Central Bank requirement to disclose the full finance charges to a loan granted to borrowers.
Mr. Tan, then an account officer with the Marketing Department of petitioner Citibank, testified that he dealt directly with respondent; he facilitated the loans; and the PNs, at least in the second set, were signed by respondent in his presence.105
Mr. Pujeda, the officer who was previously in charge of loans and placements, confirmed that the signatures on the PNs were verified against respondent's specimen signature with the bank.106
Ms. Cristina Dondoyano, who worked at petitioner Citibank as a loan processor, was responsible for booking respondent's loans. Booking the loans means recording it in the General Ledger. She explained the procedure for booking loans, as follows: The account officer, in the Marketing Department, deals directly with the clients who wish to borrow money from petitioner Citibank. The Marketing Department will forward a loan booking checklist, together with the borrowing client's PNs and other supporting documents, to the loan pre-processor, who will check whether the details in the loan booking checklist are the same as those in the PNs. The documents are then sent to Signature Control for verification of the client's signature in the PNs, after which, they are returned to the loan pre-processor, to be forwarded finally to the loan processor. The loan processor shall book the loan in the General Ledger, indicating therein the client name, loan amount, interest rate, maturity date, and the corresponding PN number. Since she booked respondent's loans personally, Ms. Dondoyano testified that she saw the original PNs. In 1986, Atty. Fernandez of petitioner Citibank requested her to prepare an accounting of respondent's loans, which she did, and which was presented as Exhibit "120" for the petitioners. The figures from the said exhibit were culled from the bookings in the General Ledger, a fact which respondent's counsel was even willing to stipulate.107
Ms. Teresita Glorioso was an Investigation and Reconcilement Clerk at the Control Department of petitioner Citibank. She was presented by petitioner Citibank to expound on the microfilming procedure at the bank, since most of the copies of the PNs were retrieved from microfilm. Microfilming of the documents are actually done by people at the Operations Department. At the end of the day or during the day, the original copies of all bank documents, not just those pertaining to loans, are microfilmed. She refuted the possibility that insertions could be made in the microfilm because the microfilm is inserted in a cassette; the cassette is placed in the microfilm machine for use; at the end of the day, the cassette is taken out of the microfilm machine and put in a safe vault; and the cassette is returned to the machine only the following day for use, until the spool is full. This is the microfilming procedure followed everyday. When the microfilm spool is already full, the microfilm is developed, then sent to the Control Department, which double checks the contents of the microfilms against the entries in the General Ledger. The Control Department also conducts a random comparison of the contents of the microfilms with the original documents; a random review of the contents is done on every role of microfilm.108
Ms. Renee Rubio worked for petitioner Citibank for 20 years. She rose from the ranks, initially working as a secretary in the Personnel Group; then as a secretary to the Personnel Group Head; a Service Assistant with the Marketing Group, in 1972 to 1974, dealing directly with corporate and individual clients who, among other things, secured loans from petitioner Citibank; the Head of the Collection Group of the Foreign Department in 1974 to 1976; the Head of the Money Transfer Unit in 1976 to 1978; the Head of the Loans and Placements Unit up to the early 1980s; and, thereafter, she established operations training for petitioner Citibank in the Asia-Pacific Region responsible for the training of the officers of the bank. She testified on the standard loan application process at petitioner Citibank. According to Ms. Rubio, the account officer or marketing person submits a proposal to grant a loan to an individual or corporation. Petitioner Citibank has a worldwide policy that requires a credit committee, composed of a minimum of three people, which would approve the loan and amount thereof. There can be no instance when only one officer has the power to approve the loan application. When the loan is approved, the account officer in charge will obtain the corresponding PNs from the client. The PNs are sent to the signature verifier who would validate the signatures therein against those appearing in the signature cards previously submitted by the client to the bank. The Operations Unit will check and review the documents, including the PNs, if it is a clean loan, and securities and deposits, if it is collateralized. The loan is then recorded in the General Ledger. The Loans and Placements Department will not book the loans without the PNs. When the PNs are liquidated, whether they are paid or rolled-over, they are returned to the client.109 Ms. Rubio further explained that she was familiar with respondent's accounts since, while she was still the Head of the Loan and Placements Unit, she was asked by Mr. Tan to prepare a list of respondent's outstanding obligations.110 She thus calculated respondent's outstanding loans, which was sent as an attachment to Mr. Tan's letter to respondent, dated 28 September 1979, and presented before the RTC as Exhibits "34-B" and "34-C."111
Lastly, the exchange of letters between petitioner Citibank and respondent, as well as the letters sent by other people working for respondent, had consistently recognized that respondent owed petitioner Citibank money.
In consideration of the foregoing discussion, this Court finds that the preponderance of evidence supports the existence of the respondent's loans, in the principal sum of
Best evidence rule
This Court disagrees in the pronouncement made by the Court of Appeals summarily dismissing the documentary evidence submitted by petitioners based on its broad and indiscriminate application of the best evidence rule.
In general, the best evidence rule requires that the highest available degree of proof must be produced. Accordingly, for documentary evidence, the contents of a document are best proved by the production of the document itself,113 to the exclusion of any secondary or substitutionary evidence.114
The best evidence rule has been made part of the revised Rules of Court, Rule 130, Section 3, which reads '
As the afore-quoted provision states, the best evidence rule applies only when the subject of the inquiry is the contents of the document. The scope of the rule is more extensively explained thus '
In Estrada v. Desierto,116 this Court had occasion to rule that '
This Court did not violate the best evidence rule when it considered and weighed in evidence the photocopies and microfilm copies of the PNs, MCs, and letters submitted by the petitioners to establish the existence of respondent's loans. The terms or contents of these documents were never the point of contention in the Petition at bar. It was respondent's position that the PNs in the first set (with the exception of PN No. 34534) never existed, while the PNs in the second set (again, excluding PN No. 34534) were merely executed to cover simulated loan transactions. As for the MCs representing the proceeds of the loans, the respondent either denied receipt of certain MCs or admitted receipt of the other MCs but for another purpose. Respondent further admitted the letters she wrote personally or through her representatives to Mr. Tan of petitioner Citibank acknowledging the loans, except that she claimed that these letters were just meant to keep up the ruse of the simulated loans. Thus, respondent questioned the documents as to their existence or execution, or when the former is admitted, as to the purpose for which the documents were executed, matters which are, undoubtedly, external to the documents, and which had nothing to do with the contents thereof.
Alternatively, even if it is granted that the best evidence rule should apply to the evidence presented by petitioners regarding the existence of respondent's loans, it should be borne in mind that the rule admits of the following exceptions under Rule 130, Section 5 of the revised Rules of Court '
The execution or existence of the original copies of the documents was established through the testimonies of witnesses, such as Mr. Tan, before whom most of the documents were personally executed by respondent. The original PNs also went through the whole loan booking system of petitioner Citibank - from the account officer in its Marketing Department, to the pre-processor, to the signature verifier, back to the pre-processor, then to the processor for booking.117 The original PNs were seen by Ms. Dondoyano, the processor, who recorded them in the General Ledger. Mr. Pujeda personally saw the original MCs, proving respondent's receipt of the proceeds of her loans from petitioner Citibank, when he helped Attys. Cleofe and Fernandez, the bank's legal counsels, to reconstruct the records of respondent's loans. The original MCs were presented to Atty. Cleofe who used the same during the preliminary investigation of the case, sometime in years 1986-1987. The original MCs were subsequently turned over to the Control and Investigation Division of petitioner Citibank.118
It was only petitioner FNCB Finance who claimed that they lost the original copies of the PNs when it moved to a new office. Citibank did not make a similar contention; instead, it explained that the original copies of the PNs were returned to the borrower upon liquidation of the loan, either through payment or roll-over. Petitioner Citibank proffered the excuse that they were still looking for the documents in their storage or warehouse to explain the delay and difficulty in the retrieval thereof, but not their absence or loss. The original documents in this case, such as the MCs and letters, were destroyed and, thus, unavailable for presentation before the RTC only on 7 October 1987, when a fire broke out on the 7th floor of the office building of petitioner Citibank. There is no showing that the fire was intentionally set. The fire destroyed relevant documents, not just of the present case, but also of other cases, since the 7th floor housed the Control and Investigation Division, in charge of keeping the necessary documents for cases in which petitioner Citibank was involved.
The foregoing would have been sufficient to allow the presentation of photocopies or microfilm copies of the PNs, MCs, and letters by the petitioners as secondary evidence to establish the existence of respondent's loans, as an exception to the best evidence rule.
The impact of the Decision of the Court of Appeals in the Dy case
In its assailed Decision, the Court of Appeals made the following pronouncement '
What this Court truly finds disturbing is the significance given by the Court of Appeals in its assailed Decision to the Decision119 of its Third Division in CA-G.R. CV No. 15934 (or the Dy case), when there is an absolute lack of legal basis for doing such.
Although petitioner Citibank and its officer, Mr. Tan, were also involved in the Dy case, that is about the only connection between the Dy case and the one at bar. Not only did the Dy case tackle transactions between parties other than the parties presently before this Court, but the transactions are absolutely independent and unrelated to those in the instant Petition.
In the Dy case, Severino Chua Caedo managed to obtain loans from herein petitioner Citibank amounting to
In the Petition at bar, respondent dealt with Mr. Tan directly, there was no third party involved who could have perpetrated any fraud or forgery in her loan transactions. Although respondent attempted to raise suspicion as to the authenticity of her signatures on certain documents, these were nothing more than naked allegations with no corroborating evidence; worse, even her own allegations were replete with inconsistencies. She could not even establish in what manner or under what circumstances the fraud or forgery was committed, or how Mr. Tan could have been directly responsible for the same.
While the Court of Appeals can take judicial notice of the Decision of its Third Division in the Dy case, it should not have given the said case much weight when it rendered the assailed Decision, since the former does not constitute a precedent. The Court of Appeals, in the challenged Decision, did not apply any legal argument or principle established in the Dy case but, rather, adopted the findings therein of wrongdoing or misconduct on the part of herein petitioner Citibank and Mr. Tan. Any finding of wrongdoing or misconduct as against herein petitioners should be made based on the factual background and pieces of evidence submitted in this case, not those in another case.
It is apparent that the Court of Appeals took judicial notice of the Dy case not as a legal precedent for the present case, but rather as evidence of similar acts committed by petitioner Citibank and Mr. Tan. A basic rule of evidence, however, states that, "Evidence that one did or did not do a certain thing at one time is not admissible to prove that he did or did not do the same or similar thing at another time; but it may be received to prove a specific intent or knowledge, identity, plan, system, scheme, habit, custom or usage, and the like."120 The rationale for the rule is explained thus '
The factual backgrounds of the two cases are so different and unrelated that the Dy case cannot be used to prove specific intent, knowledge, identity, plan, system, scheme, habit, custom or usage on the part of petitioner Citibank or its officer, Mr. Tan, to defraud respondent in the present case.
Savings Account with petitioner Citibank
Compensation is a recognized mode of extinguishing obligations. Relevant provisions of the Civil Code provides '
There is little controversy when it comes to the right of petitioner Citibank to compensate respondent's outstanding loans with her deposit account. As already found by this Court, petitioner Citibank was the creditor of respondent for her outstanding loans. At the same time, respondent was the creditor of petitioner Citibank, as far as her deposit account was concerned, since bank deposits, whether fixed, savings, or current, should be considered as simple loan or mutuum by the depositor to the banking institution.122 Both debts consist in sums of money. By June 1979, all of respondent's PNs in the second set had matured and became demandable, while respondent's savings account was demandable anytime. Neither was there any retention or controversy over the PNs and the deposit account commenced by a third person and communicated in due time to the debtor concerned. Compensation takes place by operation of law,123 therefore, even in the absence of an expressed authority from respondent, petitioner Citibank had the right to effect, on 25 June 1979, the partial compensation or off-set of respondent's outstanding loans with her deposit account, amounting to
Money market placements with FNCB Finance
Things though are not as simple and as straightforward as regards to the money market placements and bank account used by petitioner Citibank to complete the compensation or off-set of respondent's outstanding loans, which came from persons other than petitioner Citibank.
Respondent's money market placements were with petitioner FNCB Finance, and after several roll-overs, they were ultimately covered by PNs No. 20138 and 20139, which, by 3 September 1979, the date the check for the proceeds of the said PNs were issued, amounted to
What petitioner Citibank actually did was to exercise its rights to the proceeds of respondent's money market placements with petitioner FNCB Finance by virtue of the Deeds of Assignment executed by respondent in its favor.
The Court of Appeals did not consider these Deeds of Assignment because of petitioners' failure to produce the original copies thereof in violation of the best evidence rule. This Court again finds itself in disagreement in the application of the best evidence rule by the appellate court.
To recall, the best evidence rule, in so far as documentary evidence is concerned, requires the presentation of the original copy of the document only when the context thereof is the subject of inquiry in the case. Respondent does not question the contents of the Deeds of Assignment. While she admitted the existence and execution of the Deeds of Assignment, dated 2 March 1978 and 9 March 1978, covering PNs No. 8169 and 8167 issued by petitioner FNCB Finance, she claimed, as defense, that the loans for which the said Deeds were executed as security, were already paid. She denied ever executing both Deeds of Assignment, dated 25 August 1978, covering PNs No. 20138 and 20139. These are again issues collateral to the contents of the documents involved, which could be proven by evidence other than the original copies of the said documents.
Moreover, the Deeds of Assignment of the money market placements with petitioner FNCB Finance were notarized documents, thus, admissible in evidence. Rule 132, Section 30 of the Rules of Court provides that '
Significant herein is this Court's elucidation in De Jesus v. Court of Appeals,124 which reads -
The rule on the evidentiary weight that must be accorded a notarized document is clear and unambiguous. The certificate of acknowledgement in the notarized Deeds of Assignment constituted prima facie evidence of the execution thereof. Thus, the burden of refuting this presumption fell on respondent. She could have presented evidence of any defect or irregularity in the execution of the said documents125 or raised questions as to the verity of the notary public's acknowledgment and certificate in the Deeds.126 But again, respondent admitted executing the Deeds of Assignment, dated 2 March 1978 and 9 March 1978, although claiming that the loans for which they were executed as security were already paid. And, she assailed the Deeds of Assignment, dated 25 August 1978, with nothing more than her bare denial of execution thereof, hardly the clear and convincing evidence required to trounce the presumption of due execution of a notarized document.
Petitioners not only presented the notarized Deeds of Assignment, but even secured certified literal copies thereof from the National Archives.127 Mr. Renato Medua, an archivist, working at the Records Management and Archives Office of the National Library, testified that the copies of the Deeds presented before the RTC were certified literal copies of those contained in the Notarial Registries of the notary publics concerned, which were already in the possession of the National Archives. He also explained that he could not bring to the RTC the Notarial Registries containing the original copies of the Deeds of Assignment, because the Department of Justice (DOJ) Circular No. 97, dated 8 November 1968, prohibits the bringing of original documents to the courts to prevent the loss of irreplaceable and priceless documents.128
Accordingly, this Court gives the Deeds of Assignment grave importance in establishing the authority given by the respondent to petitioner Citibank to use as security for her loans her money her market placements with petitioner FNCB Finance, represented by PNs No. 8167 and 8169, later to be rolled-over as PNs No. 20138 and 20139. These Deeds of Assignment constitute the law between the parties, and the obligations arising therefrom shall have the force of law between the parties and should be complied with in good faith.129 Standard clauses in all of the Deeds provide that '
Petitioner Citibank was only acting upon the authority granted to it under the foregoing Deeds when it finally used the proceeds of PNs No. 20138 and 20139, paid by petitioner FNCB Finance, to partly pay for respondent's outstanding loans. Strictly speaking, it did not effect a legal compensation or off-set under Article 1278 of the Civil Code, but rather, it partly extinguished respondent's obligations through the application of the security given by the respondent for her loans. Although the pertinent documents were entitled Deeds of Assignment, they were, in reality, more of a pledge by respondent to petitioner Citibank of her credit due from petitioner FNCB Finance by virtue of her money market placements with the latter. According to Article 2118 of the Civil Code '
PNs No. 20138 and 20139 matured on 3 September 1979, without them being redeemed by respondent, so that petitioner Citibank collected from petitioner FNCB Finance the proceeds thereof, which included the principal amounts and interests earned by the money market placements, amounting to
Dollar accounts with Citibank-Geneva
Despite the legal compensation of respondent's savings account and the total application of the proceeds of PNs No. 20138 and 20139 to respondent's outstanding loans, there still remained a balance of
Certain principles of private international law should be considered herein because the property pledged was in the possession of an entity in a foreign country, namely, Citibank-Geneva. In the absence of any allegation and evidence presented by petitioners of the specific rules and laws governing the constitution of a pledge in Geneva, Switzerland, they will be presumed to be the same as Philippine local or domestic laws; this is known as processual presumption.131
Upon closer scrutiny of the Declaration of Pledge, this Court finds the same exceedingly suspicious and irregular.
First of all, it escapes this Court why petitioner Citibank took care to have the Deeds of Assignment of the PNs notarized, yet left the Declaration of Pledge unnotarized. This Court would think that petitioner Citibank would take greater cautionary measures with the preparation and execution of the Declaration of Pledge because it involved respondent's "all present and future fiduciary placements" with a Citibank branch in another country, specifically, in Geneva, Switzerland. While there is no express legal requirement that the Declaration of Pledge had to be notarized to be effective, even so, it could not enjoy the same prima facie presumption of due execution that is extended to notarized documents, and petitioner Citibank must discharge the burden of proving due execution and authenticity of the Declaration of Pledge.
Second, petitioner Citibank was unable to establish the date when the Declaration of Pledge was actually executed. The photocopy of the Declaration of Pledge submitted by petitioner Citibank before the RTC was undated.132 It presented only a photocopy of the pledge because it already forwarded the original copy thereof to Citibank-Geneva when it requested for the remittance of respondent's dollar accounts pursuant thereto. Respondent, on the other hand, was able to secure a copy of the Declaration of Pledge, certified by an officer of Citibank-Geneva, which bore the date 24 September 1979.133 Respondent, however, presented her passport and plane tickets to prove that she was out of the country on the said date and could not have signed the pledge. Petitioner Citibank insisted that the pledge was signed before 24 September 1979, but could not provide an explanation as to how and why the said date was written on the pledge. Although Mr. Tan testified that the Declaration of Pledge was signed by respondent personally before him, he could not give the exact date when the said signing took place. It is important to note that the copy of the Declaration of Pledge submitted by the respondent to the RTC was certified by an officer of Citibank-Geneva, which had possession of the original copy of the pledge. It is dated 24 September 1979, and this Court shall abide by the presumption that the written document is truly dated.134 Since it is undeniable that respondent was out of the country on 24 September 1979, then she could not have executed the pledge on the said date.
Third, the Declaration of Pledge was irregularly filled-out. The pledge was in a standard printed form. It was constituted in favor of Citibank, N.A., otherwise referred to therein as the Bank. It should be noted, however, that in the space which should have named the pledgor, the name of petitioner Citibank was typewritten, to wit '
The pledge, therefore, made no sense, the pledgor and pledgee being the same entity. Was a mistake made by whoever filled-out the form? Yes, it could be a possibility. Nonetheless, considering the value of such a document, the mistake as to a significant detail in the pledge could only be committed with gross carelessness on the part of petitioner Citibank, and raised serious doubts as to the authenticity and due execution of the same. The Declaration of Pledge had passed through the hands of several bank officers in the country and abroad, yet, surprisingly and implausibly, no one noticed such a glaring mistake.
Lastly, respondent denied that it was her signature on the Declaration of Pledge. She claimed that the signature was a forgery. When a document is assailed on the basis of forgery, the best evidence rule applies '
Respondent made several attempts to have the original copy of the pledge produced before the RTC so as to have it examined by experts. Yet, despite several Orders by the RTC,136 petitioner Citibank failed to comply with the production of the original Declaration of Pledge. It is admitted that Citibank-Geneva had possession of the original copy of the pledge. While petitioner Citibank in Manila and its branch in Geneva may be separate and distinct entities, they are still incontestably related, and between petitioner Citibank and respondent, the former had more influence and resources to convince Citibank-Geneva to return, albeit temporarily, the original Declaration of Pledge. Petitioner Citibank did not present any evidence to convince this Court that it had exerted diligent efforts to secure the original copy of the pledge, nor did it proffer the reason why Citibank-Geneva obstinately refused to give it back, when such document would have been very vital to the case of petitioner Citibank. There is thus no justification to allow the presentation of a mere photocopy of the Declaration of Pledge in lieu of the original, and the photocopy of the pledge presented by petitioner Citibank has nil probative value.137 In addition, even if this Court cannot make a categorical finding that respondent's signature on the original copy of the pledge was forged, it is persuaded that petitioner Citibank willfully suppressed the presentation of the original document, and takes into consideration the presumption that the evidence willfully suppressed would be adverse to petitioner Citibank if produced.138
Without the Declaration of Pledge, petitioner Citibank had no authority to demand the remittance of respondent's dollar accounts with Citibank-Geneva and to apply them to her outstanding loans. It cannot effect legal compensation under Article 1278 of the Civil Code since, petitioner Citibank itself admitted that Citibank-Geneva is a distinct and separate entity. As for the dollar accounts, respondent was the creditor and Citibank-Geneva is the debtor; and as for the outstanding loans, petitioner Citibank was the creditor and respondent was the debtor. The parties in these transactions were evidently not the principal creditor of each other.
Therefore, this Court declares that the remittance of respondent's dollar accounts from Citibank-Geneva and the application thereof to her outstanding loans with petitioner Citibank was illegal, and null and void. Resultantly, petitioner Citibank is obligated to return to respondent the amount of US$149,632,99 from her Citibank-Geneva accounts, or its present equivalent value in Philippine currency; and, at the same time, respondent continues to be obligated to petitioner Citibank for the balance of her outstanding loans which, as of 5 September 1979, amounted to
In summary, petitioner Citibank is ordered by this Court to pay respondent the proceeds of her money market placements, represented by PNs No. 23356 and 23357, amounting to
Petitioner Citibank is also ordered to refund to respondent the amount of US$149,632.99, or its equivalent in Philippine currency, which had been remitted from her Citibank-Geneva accounts. These dollar accounts, consisting of two fiduciary placements and current accounts with Citibank-Geneva shall continue earning their respective stipulated interests from 26 October 1979, the date of their remittance by Citibank-Geneva to petitioner Citibank in Manila and applied against respondent's outstanding loans.
As for respondent, she is ordered to pay petitioner Citibank the balance of her outstanding loans, which amounted to
Petitioners protest the award by the Court of Appeals of moral damages, exemplary damages, and attorney's fees in favor of respondent. They argued that the RTC did not award any damages, and respondent, in her appeal before the Court of Appeals, did not raise in issue the absence of such.
While it is true that the general rule is that only errors which have been stated in the assignment of errors and properly argued in the brief shall be considered, this Court has also recognized exceptions to the general rule, wherein it authorized the review of matters, even those not assigned as errors in the appeal, if the consideration thereof is necessary in arriving at a just decision of the case, and there is a close inter-relation between the omitted assignment of error and those actually assigned and discussed by the appellant.140 Thus, the Court of Appeals did not err in awarding the damages when it already made findings that would justify and support the said award.
Although this Court appreciates the right of petitioner Citibank to effect legal compensation of respondent's local deposits, as well as its right to the proceeds of PNs No. 20138 and 20139 by virtue of the notarized Deeds of Assignment, to partly extinguish respondent's outstanding loans, it finds that petitioner Citibank did commit wrong when it failed to pay and properly account for the proceeds of respondent's money market placements, evidenced by PNs No. 23356 and 23357, and when it sought the remittance of respondent's dollar accounts from Citibank-Geneva by virtue of a highly-suspect Declaration of Pledge to be applied to the remaining balance of respondent's outstanding loans. It bears to emphasize that banking is impressed with public interest and its fiduciary character requires high standards of integrity and performance.141 A bank is under the obligation to treat the accounts of its depositors with meticulous care whether such accounts consist only of a few hundred pesos or of millions of pesos.142 The bank must record every single transaction accurately, down to the last centavo, and as promptly as possible.143 Petitioner Citibank evidently failed to exercise the required degree of care and transparency in its transactions with respondent, thus, resulting in the wrongful deprivation of her property.
Respondent had been deprived of substantial amounts of her investments and deposits for more than two decades. During this span of years, respondent had found herself in desperate need of the amounts wrongfully withheld from her. In her testimony144 before the RTC, respondent narrated '
For the mental anguish, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, moral shock and social humiliation suffered by the respondent, the award of moral damages is but proper. However, this Court reduces the amount thereof to
Having failed to exercise more care and prudence than a private individual in its dealings with respondent, petitioner Citibank should be liable for exemplary damages, in the amount of
With the award of exemplary damages, then respondent shall also be entitled to an award of attorney's fees.148 Additionally, attorney's fees may be awarded when a party is compelled to litigate or to incur expenses to protect his interest by reason of an unjustified act of the other party.149 In this case, an award of
In contrast, this Court finds no sufficient basis to award damages to petitioners.ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
Respondent was compelled to institute the present case in the exercise of her rights and in the protection of her interests. In fact, although her Complaint before the RTC was not sustained in its entirety, it did raise meritorious points and on which this Court rules in her favor. Any injury resulting from the exercise of one's rights is damnum absque injuria.150
IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the instant Petition is PARTLY GRANTED. The assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. No. 51930, dated 26 March 2002, as already modified by its Resolution, dated 20 November 2002, is hereby AFFIRMED WITH MODIFICATION, as follows '
Panganiban, C.J. (Chairperson), Ynares-Santiago, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.
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