One of the most often used and abused legal terms is hearsay and I wonder if its real meaning is fully understood. Some use it to mean rumor or “chismis” but the legal consequences are different. Many convictions have been overturned because of hearsay testimonies. Sec. 36 of Rule 130 of the Rules of Court says: “A witness can testify only to those facts which he knows of his personal knowledge; that is, which are derived from his perception, except as otherwise provided in these rules.” Ricardo Francisco in his authoritative book on evidence quoting American Jurisprudence gives the reason why the Rules exclude hearsay: “Hearsay evidence is inadmissible according to the general rule. The real basis for the exclusion appears to lie in the fact that the hearsay testimony is not subject to the tests which can ordinarily be applied for the ascertainment of the truth of testimony, since the declarant is not present and available for cross examination.” This is the same reason why an ordinary affidavit is inadmissible in court.
Patula vs. People
Ms. Patula was charged with Estafa before the Regional Trial Court for allegedly misappropriating a certain amount of money in her possession as sales woman of the business of the private complainant. During the trial, only two witnesses were presented by the prosecution and the other identified and presented several ledgers containing the alleged inconsistencies of the sales record of the store where Patula worked. The defense lawyer interposed a continuous objection to the testimony of the said witness on the ground that it was hearsay since the personnel who made the entries on the ledger was not the one presented in court. After the prosecution rested its case the defense no longer presented any evidence and submitted the case for decision. Ms. Patula was convicted but filed a petition for review on certiorari directly to the Supreme Court alleging among others, that the RTC erred in admitting the testimony of a witness which is hearsay.
Patula was Acquitted
The Supreme Court favored Ms. Patula and acquitted her and one of the reasons is the failure of the prosecution to overcome the presumption of her innocence. Aside from other technicalities in the case, the testimony of one of the witnesses upon which the RTC based its decision was indeed hearsay since she was not the person who prepared the ledgers. The said testimony being hearsay, should not have been admitted by the Trial Court. The Court went on to state the reason why such statements cannot be admitted as evidence. “It is apparent, too, that a person who relates a hearsay is not obliged to enter into any particular, to answer any question, to solve any difficulties, to reconcile any contradictions, to explain any obscurities, to remove any ambiguities; and that she entrenches herself in the simple assertion that she was told so, and leaves the burden entirely upon the dead or absent author. Thus, the rule against hearsay testimony rests mainly on the ground that there was no opportunity to cross-examine the declarant. The testimony may have been given under oath and before a court of justice, but if it is offered against a party who is afforded no opportunity to cross-examine the witness, it is hearsay just the same.” (G.R. No. 164457, April 11, 2012). The High Tribunal added: “We thus stress that the rule excluding hearsay as evidence is based upon serious concerns about the trustworthiness and reliability of hearsay evidence due to its not being given under oath or solemn affirmation and due to its not being subjected to cross-examination by the opposing counsel to test the perception, memory, veracity and articulateness of the out-of-court declarant or actor upon whose reliability the worth of the out-of-court statement depends.”