MEL STA.MARIA | Tsismis, fishing expeditions and Chief Justice Sereno

November 24, 2017 - 9:10 AM
Philstar file photo of lawyer Lorenzo 'Larry' Gadon

Atty. Mel Sta. Maria is the Dean of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law. He also teaches at the Ateneo de Manila School of Law and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila College of Law.

For oral testimonies or documentary proofs to be believed, they must not only come from a credible source but must be credible in themselves.

But at the outset, it must first be worth admitting as evidence. Necessarily, if the evidence is not admissible but is admitted, it is absolutely devoid of any credibility. It is nothing.

Those rules are basic to the point of being elementary in any rendition of due process and justice.

One kind of obnoxious proof is hearsay-evidence. It is both not admissible and not credible per se in determining the truthfulness of a story. It is a declaration or a document, the contents of which are not personally known to a witness. He did not see, smell, hear, feel or experience what he testified about. Someone else only told him of the event or circumstance at issue.

So if Pedro testifies against Maria thus: “I know Maria is unfaithful to her spouse because my friend, Jose, told me about it,” that is hearsay.

In ordinary Pilipino: TSISMIS and Jose is the TSISMOSO.

Pedro has no personal knowledge of the truthfulness of Maria’s unfaithfulness. It is worse if the “tsismis” goes this way: “I know she is unfaithful to her spouse because my friend, Jose, was told by somebody, Mario, that she is so.” That is “super-tsimis.” Now, if that “somebody” declares that he was not and could not have been the source of the “friend,”that is plainly the pits.

Any proceeding should not continue if it is based on hearsay or tsismis. The Supreme Court, in a long line of cases, said hearsay has absolutely no probative or evidentiary value. To highlight its repulsiveness, the Supreme Court also consistently ruled that its uselessness as proof remains to be so, whether the tsimis is objected to or not.

And in the landmark case of Salonga vs. Pano where then Senator Salonga was incarcerated by the dictator Marcos based on hearsay evidence, the Supreme Court, in no uncertain terms, ruled that, even in a proceeding conducted only for the purpose of determining probable cause, such as in a normal preliminary investigation, hearsay evidence should not be considered at all. If the trier of facts detects that evidence is of such reprehensible nature, the proceeding must immediately be dismissed.

Now, let us go to the impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

It is a proceeding to determine probable cause about whether she culpably violated the Constitution or betrayed the public trust. Atty. Larry Gadon, in his testimony, claimed that he knew of the Chief Justice Sereno’s misconduct in the issuance of a temporary restraining order because a reporter told him so. That reporter also told him that the source of this information was Associate Justice Teresita De Castro who, later, denied being the source.

This is a classic case of hearsay evidence. It is good for nothing. It will not matter if the Chief Justice does not appear, despite an invitation by the House justice committee, to personally cross-examine Atty. Gadon. There can be no waiver of the absolute worthlessness of an inadmissible and untrustworthy evidence.

If the complainant’s strategy is to seek the aid of the impeachment committee in the introduction of possible testimonies — the contents of which are not personally known to him — by asking the committee to issue “requests” or orders addressed to certain people to appear in the proceeding and produce proofs, is this not “fishing for evidence”?

Our Supreme Court has ruled in Spouses Afulugencia vs. Metrobank et al and in other cases that the “fishing expedition” is an “unfair practice” and that such an “unnecessary processes can only constitute a waste of the court’s precious time, if not pointless entertainment.” The complainant must be prepared with his witnesses at the outset and not undertake courses of action that can possibly result to undue surprises. And a “fishing expedition” precisely creates surprises.

Now, if it is true that Justice De Castro will appear before the impeachment committee, will she not be participating in an “unfair practice” and “a pointless entertainment” as she will be the prime bait in the “fishing expedition”? If this happens, it will be an event discordant with and destructive of the dignity and respectability of the Supreme Court.

Besides, it is the burden of the complainant to prove his case. There is no duty on the part of the Chief Justice to disprove a no-case.

And whether the scheme or ploy is or is not a “fishing expedition,” the mere notion, much more possibility, of it being one is already providing more reason to believe that the impeachment case is, in law and in fact, baseless. The perception of unjust persecution against the Chief Justice is fomented.

It is quite legitimate for the public to again ask: is this not another “investigation” wasting precious taxpayers’ money? Should not the Congress devote its time to more substantial matters such as legislation abolishing “contractualization,” improving the MRT and LRT transport services, increasing the minimum wage of our workers and public school teachers, passing a divorce bill especially for the benefit of abused women, recognizing LGBT rights, creating housing projects for informal settlers, and providing more benefits for our soldiers, among others?