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Rules of Procedure - Philippines

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Rules of Procedure; Modes of Discovery; Written Interrogatories. - The landmark case of Republic of the Philippines vs. Sandiganbayan (204 SCRA 212, 200) highlighted the significance and importance of the various modes of discovery. The Philippine Supreme Court said, thus: “now, if appears to the Court that among far too many lawyers (and not a few judges), there is, if not a regrettable unfamiliarity and even outright ignorance about the nature, purposes and operation of the modes of discovery, at least a strong yet unreasoned and unreasonable disinclination and adequate use of the deposition-discovery mechanism, coupled with pre-trial procedure, could, as the experience of other jurisdictions convincingly demonstrates, effectively shorten the period of litigation and speed up adjudication.”

Under Section 2, Rule 25 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, the written interrogatories must be answered by the party to whom it is directed, thus: “Section 2. Answer to interrogatories. – The interrogatories shall be answered fully in writing and shall be signed and sworn to by the person making them. The party upon whom the interrogatories have been served shall file and serve a copy of the answers fifteen (15) days after service thereof, unless the court on motion and for good cause shown, extends or shortens the time.”

Perforce a party served with the written interrogatories is bound to answer the questions propounded therein under pain of the penalties provided for in Rule 29 of the Rules of Civil Procedure among which is the dismissal of the complaint.

The various modes of discovery enumerated and provided for in the Rules of Civil Procedure is expressly made applicable to criminal proceedings (Agpalo, Handbook on Criminal Procedure, 2001 Edition, p. 351; citing Section 3, Rule 1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure).

It is of no moment that the questions are a sort of “fishing expedition” considering that the new rules explicitly allow it. The Supreme Court of the Philippines has repeatedly reminded the trial courts that they should encourage the use of deposition procedure and allow the adverse party to serve interrogatories to expedite the proceedings of the case.

In the aforementioned case of Republic of the Philippines vs. Sandiganbayan (supra), it was pronounced that “no longer can the time-honored cry of ‘fishing expedition’ serve to preclude a party from inquiring into the facts underlying his opponent’s case. Mutual knowledge of all the relevant facts gathered by both parties is essential to proper litigation. To that end, either party may compel the other to disgorge whatever facts he has in his possession. The deposition-discovery procedure simply advances the stage at which the disclosure can be compelled from the time of trial to the period preceding it, thus reducing the possibility of surprise.”

The case of Elena S. Ong versus Hon. Francisco V. Mazo, etc., et al. (G.R. No. 145542, June 04, 2004), is enlightening for both the bench and the bar. The Philippine Supreme Court said that “the thrust of the Rules is to even make the availment of the modes of discovery – depositions, interrogatories and request for admissions – without much court intervention since leave of court is not necessary to put into motion such modes after an answer to the complaint has been served. The rationale behind the recognition accorded the modes of discovery is that they enable a party to discover the evidence of the adverse party and thus facilitate an amicable settlement or expedite the trial of the case. Thus, to deny a party the liberty to have his written interrogatories answered by his opponent, as what the trial court did, on the premise that the interrogatories were a “fishing expedition,” is to disregard the categorical pronouncement in aforementioned case of Republic vs. Sandiganbayan that the time-honored cry of ‘fishing expedition’ can no longer provide a reason to prevent a party from inquiring into the facts underlying the opposing party’s case through the discovery procedures. The trial court’s orders, not being in accordance with law and jurisprudential dictum, are therefore correctible by writ of certiorari.”

The trial judges were earlier reminded in the case of Koh vs. Intermediate Appellate Court (G.R. No. 71388, September 23, 1986), that they should encourage the use of different modes of discovery; and that it is indeed “the duty of each contending party to lay before the court all the material and relevant facts known to him, suppressing or concealing nothing, nor preventing another party, by clever and adroit manipulation of the technical rules of evidence, from also presenting all the facts within his knowledge.” (Regalado: Remedial Law Compendium, Vol. 1, Sixth Revised Edition, pp. 305, 306)

The purpose of taking depositions as explained In the case of People vs. Webb (312 SCRA 573 [1993]; cited in Agpalo, Handbook on Civil Procedure, 2001 Edition, pp 274, 275), are to: (1) assist the parties in ascertaining the truth and in checking and preventing perjury; (2) provide an effective means of detecting and exposing false, fraudulent claims and defenses; (3) make available in a simple, convenient and inexpensive way, facts which otherwise could not be proved except with greater difficulty; (4) educate the parties in advance of trial as to the real value of their claims and defenses thereby encouraging settlements; (5) expedite litigation; (7) prevent delay; (8) simplify and narrow the issues; and (9) expedite and facilitate both preparation and trial.

The time within which to file and serve written interrogatories is explicitly fixed by the rules, that is, in civil cases before responsive answer is filed with leave of court or without leave of court after the filing of responsive answer; and in criminal cases before the setting of the arraignment and pre-trial conference. The admissions made in the verified answer to the written interrogatories may already be considered during the pre-trial conference and would definitely aid the parties for purposes of a plea-bargaining.

Further, it is expressly stated under Section 6 of Rule 25 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure that a party not served with written interrogatories may not be compelled by the adverse party to give testimony in open court, or to give deposition pending appeal.

Indeed, the various modes of discovery allow a party to uncover the opponent’s cause and will thus obviate further proof on facts elicited in the written interrogatories; and that the proceedings will be expedited with the use of the various modes of discovery.