Ian Alfredo Magno .
COURT rules came about essentially to establish a uniform guide by which conflicts are resolved. Such a guide serves not only litigants and their respective counsels but, principally, courts and judges as well.
Over time, these rules evolved into a seemingly complex texture of both the substantive and technical aspects of proving one’s case in court. Hence, “a day in court” may not be as simple as it may sound. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, court rules gravitate towards one culminating segment – the decision. And in every decision, the basic foundation lies in the evidence submitted by the parties, admitted and deemed relevant by the court.
In simple terms, evidence is that object, document or testimony, which helps the judge decide the case. Therefore, any particular decision is just as good as the evidence ably presented by the parties through their respective attorneys.
Meanwhile, the most dynamic among those types of evidence mentioned above is, more or less, the latter, better known as testimonial evidence. It is the narration of a person who is admitted as a witness, and made under oath in the course of a judicial proceeding.
Section 20, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules on Evidence says that “all persons who can perceive, and perceiving, can make their perception known to others, may be witnesses.” A hundred witnesses would mean a hundred different temperaments, personalities, traits, behavior, attitudes and demeanor – which the judge must likewise take note of with equal regard as with the gist of the testimony itself. This is the reason why the rules require the witness to personally testify in open court.
Among the testimonial characteristics which a judge must meticulously take note of are the following:
- The manner of testifying by a witness which includes his conduct and behavior on the witness stand, the emphasis, gestures, and inflection of his voice in answering questions.
- The intelligence of the witness.
III. The means and opportunity of knowing the facts which includes his presence and observation of the facts.
- The nature of the facts to which the witness is testifying such as: whether he did the act as a participant, whether he saw the occurrence of an accident as he was a passenger; the identity of a person who is an old acquaintance.
- Personal credibility of the witness.
- The probability or improbability of the testimony itself.
In view of such a gargantuan task, the high court had since given trial judges (who have first-hand encounter with witnesses at the first instance) sufficient elbow room in weighing and appreciating witnesses’ testimonies.
Thus, the Honorable Supreme Court pronounced in the case of People of the Philippines vs. Dillatan, G.R. No. 212191 dated 5 September 2018, to wit:
“It is doctrinal that findings of trial courts on the credibility of witnesses deserve a high degree of respect and will not be disturbed on appeal absent a clear showing that the trial court had overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight and substance which could reverse a judgment of conviction. In fact, in many instances, such findings are even accorded finality. This is so because the assignment of value to a witness’ testimony is essentially the domain of the trial court, not to mention that it is the trial judge who has the direct opportunity to observe the demeanor of a witness on the stand, which opportunity provides him the unique facility in determining whether or not to accord credence to the testimony or whether the witness is telling the truth or not.
x x x x
“. . . . . factual findings of the trial court are generally accorded great weight and respect on appeal, especially when such findings are supported by substantial evidence on record…. More importantly, it is an established principle in appellate review that the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of the witnesses and the probative weight of their testimonies are accorded great respect and even conclusive effect…”
In all practicality, a judge is not only knowledgeable with the totality of the rules; likewise he/she is skilled in extracting truth from sheer human demeanor as well. Herein, both his/her expertise and experience set in.
Speaking of experience (and expertise too), it would be fitting to quote Cagayan de Oro City Regional Trial Court Branch 41 Judge Jeoffre W. Acebido –– a Judicial Excellence Awardee (JEA) as Outstanding Judge in 2011, wherein he was aptly described by his nominators as the epitome of excellence in the Judiciary; himself a JEA finalist in 2009 and 2010; and among the very few shortlisted by the Judicial and Bar Council in 2016 as candidates for Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals –– who wrote:
“To emphasize, the exercise by a court of its discretion and prerogative cannot, by itself, be taken as a manifestation of bias and prejudice.”
(Ian Alfredo T. Magno is a lawyer and head of the legal unit of Philhealth in Cagayan de Oro. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)