“Some can walk away and not be held accountable for their false statements.”
Every so often we see witnesses in congressional investigations giving different affidavits and statements. What is more bothersome is their ability to narrate their respective stories as gospel truth, knowing full well that a part, if not the whole story, is false.
The sad reality is that some affiants and witnesses can walk away and not be held accountable for their false statements in a judicial, administrative, or quasi-judicial proceeding. They intentionally distort the truth and mislead the courts and investigating agencies.
The Philippine Revised Penal Code (RPC) penalizes three forms of false testimonies. The first is false testimony for and against the defendant in a criminal case (Articles 180 and 181, RPC); the second is false testimony in a civil case (Article 182, RPC); and the third is false testimony in other cases (Article 183, RPC) (Union Bank of the Philippines, et al. v. People, G.R. No. 192565, February 28, 2012).
The definition of a false testimony in Article 183 includes the making of an untruthful statement in an affidavit on a material matter. Interestingly, this provision was copied from Section 3, Act No. 1697, which was in turn copied with necessary changes from Sections 5392 and 5393 of the Revised Statutes of the United States (G.R. No. 192565, February 28, 2012).
Act No. 1697 (the source of Article 183) was intended to make the mere execution of a false affidavit by any person in our jurisdiction punishable. The intention was to hold liable any person for making any willful and false written testimonies, declarations, dispositions, or certificates of any material matter under oath.
Our law on false testimony is of Spanish origin, but our law on perjury (Art. 183 taken from Sec. 3 of Act 1697) is derived from American statutes. The provisions of the old Penal Code on false testimony embrace perjury committed in court or in some contentious proceeding, while perjury as defined in Act 1697 includes the making of a false affidavit (G.R. No. 192565, February 28, 2012).
For perjury to exist, it must be: (1) a sworn statement that is required by law; (2) made under oath before a competent officer; (3) a statement that contains a deliberate assertion of falsehood; and (4) that the false declaration is with regard to a material matter (Masangkay v. People, G.R. No. 164443, June 18, 2010, citing Sy Tiong Shiou v. Sy Chim and Chan Sy).
What is an oath? An oath includes any form of attestation by which a party signifies that he is bound in conscience to perform an act faithfully and truthfully (Evidence, Francisco, Third Edition).
Examples of statements required by the law or Rules to be accomplished under oath are certificates against forum-shopping, verifications of complaints or initiatory pleadings, affidavits of third-party claim, affidavit-complaints filed in the Prosecutor’s Office, and affidavits of adverse claim, among others. The false assertions that can expose the affiant or declarant to perjury are material matters or facts.
To satisfy the element of materiality, the material matter must be the main fact subject of the inquiry. It may also be any fact or circumstance which tends to prove the main fact or corroborates or strengthens the testimony relative to the inquiry. It may also be any fact that affects the credibility of any witness who testifies (G.R. No. 164443, June 18, 2010).
The materiality and falsity of the assertions or declarations in an affidavit, pleading, or document under oath have been the sources of charge and countercharge of perjury. In the case of Masangkay v. People, the Supreme Court said that the statements for which the petitioner is tried for perjury are the very grounds he relied upon in his petition for corporate dissolution (G.R. No. 164443, June 18, 2010).
The aforementioned statements refer to acts of the MFI directors which are allegedly fraudulent, illegal, and prejudicial, and which would allegedly justify corporate dissolution under Section 105 of the Corporation Code. Evidently, these statements are material to his petition for involuntary dissolution. The element of materiality is therefore present (G.R. No. 164443, June 18, 2010).
According to the Supreme Court however, the prosecution failed to prove the element of deliberate falsehood. The prosecution has the burden of proving beyond reasonable doubt the falsehood of the petitioner’s statement that the December 5, 1992 meeting “did not actually materialize” G.R. No. 164443, June 18, 2010).
In other words, the prosecution must establish that the said meeting in fact took place, i.e., that the directors were actually and physically present in one place at the same time and conferred with each other. To justify this, the prosecution relied mainly on the minutes of the alleged December 5, 1992 meeting, signed by the accused, which are inconsistent with his statement that the December 5, 1992 meeting did not actually materialize (G.R. No. 164443, June 18, 2010).
According to the minutes, a meeting actually took place. However, according to the petitioner’s statement in the petition for dissolution, the meeting did not. The two statements are obviously contradictory to each other (G.R. No. 164443, June 18, 2010).
But the mere contradiction of or inconsistency between the two statements only means that one of them is false. It cannot tell us which of the two statements is actually true. The minutes could be true and the sworn statement false. But it is equally possible that the minutes are false and the sworn statement is true, as explained by the petitioner who insists that the minutes were brought to his house for his signature, without a meeting actually transpiring (G.R. No. 164443, June 18, 2010).
The Supreme Court has previously held that a conviction for perjury cannot be obtained by the prosecution by merely showing the inconsistent or contradictory statements of the accused, even if both statements are sworn. The prosecution must also prove which of the two statements is false and must show the statement to be false by evidence other than the contradictory statement (G.R. No. 164443, June 18, 2010).
In another case, People v. Rufo Cruz, the record shows that on October 19, 1948, the accused Rufo B. Cruz answered a question on the application (Civil Service Form No. 2) that was given by the Bureau of Civil Service for the position of patrolman on November 13 of that year. The application was signed and sworn to by him before the municipal mayor of Cainta, Rizal (G.R. No. L-15132, May 25, 1960).
The application contained several questions, the sixth of which reads:
Have you ever been accused of, indicted for, or tried for the violation of any law, ordinance, or regulations, before any court, or have you ever been charged with or tried for any breach or infraction of military, naval, or constabulary tribunal or other authority?
To which the accused answered:
“No, I have never been accused of any sort whatsoever.”
During the trial, it was shown that the accused made his answer to question No. 6 knowing full well that he had previously been charged or criminally indicted before the Justice of the Peace Court of Cainta, Rizal, for the crimes of “atentado contrala autoridad” (attack against authority), “lesiones menos graves” (less serious injuries), and physical injury. The case for “lesiones menos graves” was forwarded to the Court of First Instance, while the other two were dismissed (G.R. No. L-15132, May 25, 1960).
The Supreme Court affirmed the charge of perjury against Cruz. It must be noted that the question did not ask for a previous conviction but whether the affiant or declarant has been accused, indicted or tried in any court or tribunal. The conviction for perjury was due to the false answer under oath to a question that requires disclosure of a material fact in the application.
Recently, Republic Act 11594 was passed, increasing the penalties for Perjury from arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correctional in its minimum period (ranging from 4 months and 1 day to 2 years and 4 months) to prision mayor minimum to prision mayor medium (6 years and 1 day to 10 years).
The same law now provides that if the person responsible for the commission of this felony is a public officer or employee, the penalty to be imposed is in its maximum period or from 10 years and 1 day to 12 years with a fine not exceeding P1,000,000 and perpetual disqualification from holding any appointive or elective position in the government or any agency, entity, or instrumentality thereof (RA 11594).
Even if a person does not testify but willfully and knowingly offers a false witness as evidence in a judicial or official proceeding, he or she shall be punished as guilty of false testimony (Article 184 as amended by RA 11594). This is also known as subornation of perjury, wherein the person instigating the presentation of the false witness or testimony is guilty of perjury as the principal by virtue of inducement.
The increase in the penalty of perjury has been much awaited since it has not been changed for more that eighty-nine years. Will the increase in penalty deter parties from presenting material and false assertions in judicial or official proceedings? This remains to be seen.