Significant changes in the rules on evidence

The proposed amendments to the Revised Rules on Evidence were initiated in 2008 during the term of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno. A Subcommittee was organized, the membership of which include then Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice (now Philippine Judicial Academy Vice Chancellor) Romeo J. Callejo, Sr., as Chairperson; then SC Associate Justice Bernardo P. Pardo and retired Court of Appeals (CA) Justice Oscar C. Herrera, as consultants; then CA Associate Justice (now retired Chief Justice) Lucas P. Bersamin, then Sandiganbayan Associate Justice (now Chief Justice) Diosdado M. Peralta, Judge Aloysius C. Alday, then Judge (now Deputy Court Administrator) Raul B. Villanueva, and Attys. Rogelio A. Vinluan, Francis Ed Lim, and Jose C. Sison, representing the academe and private practitioners, as members. (Read more: Supreme Court (2019). Primer on the 2019 Amendments to the 1989 Revised Rules on Evidence. 2019 Amendments to the 1989 Revised Rules on Evidence (A.M. No. 19-08-15-SC). Page 1)

After a series of consultative meetings, the Subcommittee submitted its proposed amendments in 2010. However, their approval was put on hold in view of advances in technology and developments in both procedural and substantive law, jurisprudence, as well as international conventions. After quite some time, the same proposals were reviewed and updated by the Committee on the Revision of the Rules of Court (also known as the Mother Rule Committee) which was reorganized in January 2019 during the term of Chief Justice Bersamin. Then SC Associate Justice, now Chief Justice, Peralta was the Working Chairperson of the Mother Rule Committee.

The Mother Rule Committee, presided by then Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, being its Working Chairperson, reviewed, deliberated on and fi nalized the proposed amendments to the Revised Rules on Evidence and to the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. The exhaustive study and review of proposed amendments were done within eight (8) months, from the time the Mother Rule Committee initially met on February 14, 2019 up to the approval of the proposed amendments by the Court En Banc on October 8 and 15, 2019.

The amendments to the Revised Rules on Evidence reflect various Supreme Court rulings on admissibility and evaluation of evidence. The introduction and appreciation of electronic evidence were also further refi ned. Signifi cant amendments include provisions implementing the Apostille Convention, to which the country is a party. The erstwhile “Best Evidence Rule” is now known as the “Original Document Rule” in order to avoid confusion, since the rule only applies to documents. Documentary evidence now includes recordings, photographs, words, sounds, numbers, or their equivalent.

Privileged communications were expanded with respect to attorney-client and physician-patient relationships. Persons reasonably believed to be attorneys and persons assisting the attorneys are now covered by the disqualification. Exceptions to the attorney-client privilege are now included, such as if the services or advice of lawyers are sought or obtained in furtherance of crime or fraud, and communications relevant to issues among claimants through the same deceased client and those concerning a breach of duty by the lawyer or client, documents attested by the lawyer, and joint clients. Aside from physicians, medical practitioners now include psychotherapists and those persons reasonably believed by the client to be authorized to practice medicine. The privilege extends to confidential communication made for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment of the patient’s physical, mental or emotional condition. There is likewise a new provision on communications obtained by third persons, which remain privileged provided that the original parties took reasonable precaution to protect its confidentiality.

Hearsay is now defined and differentiated from the rule requiring firsthand knowledge. Some exceptions to the hearsay rule were modified. The Deadman’s Statute was done away with and the testimony of the survivor, as well as hearsay evidence of the deceased, may now be admitted. Acts, declarations, and traditions about pedigree now cover family relations through adoption. Records of regularly conducted business activities as exceptions to the hearsay rule no longer require for the entrant to be dead or unable to testify, and covers written and electronic documents as well. A catchall provision, known as Residual Exception, was added to cover other statements having equivalent circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness as those enumerated, subject to certain conditions.

There is now a clear distinction between burden of proof and burden of evidence. Witnesses may be impeached by evidence of conviction of a crime only if such was punishable by a penalty in excess of one (1) year, or if the crime involved moral turpitude, regardless of the penalty. All evidence must now be offered orally. The off er of the testimony of a witness must be made at the time the witness is called to testify, while the offer of documentary and object evidence must be made after the presentation of a party’s testimonial evidence. Objections to the offer of evidence must likewise be made orally, immediately after the offer is made. Objections to the testimony of a witness for lack of a formal offer must be made as soon as the witness begins to testify.

The amendments are designed to benefit the public since they address head-on the twin problems of docket congestion and delays. Speedier proceedings will help in managing the heavy dockets of our courts since cases will be resolved much quicker. With the amendments, frivolous or baseless actions will be lessened, if not eliminated. The public and the ends of justice will surely be served by a more efficient judiciary.

In coming up with the amendments, the rules and procedures in other jurisdictions were considered, but always within the context of our legal system. For instance, our Revised Rules on Evidence draw heavily from the Federal Rules of Evidence in the United States of America. However, these were always seen and considered from the lenses of the Philippine courts. Ultimately, foreign rules were incorporated based on the potential value they may have on our jurisdiction.

The continuous improvement of our court proceedings, which will eventually translate into a more responsive judiciary for our people, is a constant concern for the Court. The Court has the exclusive power to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts. With such power comes the duty to ensure that the rules are responsive to the needs of all court users and stakeholders, adapt to technological advancements, and properly address problems that may come up.

The experiences and lessons learned in the implementation and success of the other rules were considered when the amendments to the Revised Rules on Evidence and the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure were drafted. Relevant statistical data, as well as anecdotal and experiential information, were discussed to properly frame the drafting of the new amendments.

All of us are stakeholders in our Justice system. The amendments are not meant to inconvenience anyone nor were they introduced merely for the sake of change. Rather, they were devised to improve the administration of justice and promote the just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of cases. Neither are the changes skewed in favor of any one stakeholder, as they were formulated with the interests of all stakeholders in mind. There will definitely be an adjustment period, but rest assured that the amendments will address more problems rather than create new ones. We encourage everyone’s sincere participation and ask for your support in following the rules in order for these changes to succeed.

The study of the rules is an ongoing endeavor and their amendment a work in progress. The rules will be studied as needed, and changes thereto carefully crafted. The implementation of duly approved revised Rules of Court and their continuous revision is part of Chief Justice Peralta’s Ten-Point Program for the Judiciary. Subcommittees have been recently reorganized to study and propose amendments to the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure and the Revised Rules of Procedure for Intellectual Property Rights Cases. Remote testimony is now under pilot testing and, lately, the Rules of Procedure for Admiralty Cases has just been implemented last January 1, 2020.

After the lapse of an expected adjustment period, it is hoped that the amendments will be easier to understand and implement, as these are meant to simplify and expedite proceedings. At any rate, the Court, through the Philippine Judicial Academy, will conduct the necessary trainings or seminars to familiarize judges, lawyers and the public in general with the changes in the Rules, as was done when the Revised Guidelines for Continuous Trial in Criminal Cases was adopted on April 25, 2017. (Read more: Supreme Court (2019). Primer on the 2019 Amendments to the 1989 Revised Rules on Evidence. 2019 Amendments to the 1989 Revised Rules on Evidence (A.M. No. 19-08-15-SC). Page 1)