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Macalinao vs. Ong Case Digest


● Photographs are admissible in evidence in motor vehicle accident cases when they appear to have been accurately taken and are proved to be a faithful and clear representation of the subject, which cannot itself be produced, and are of such nature as to throw light upon a disputed point. Before a photograph may be admitted in evidence, however, its accuracy or correctness must be proved, and it must be authenticated or verified first. 

● Although police blotters are of little probative value, they are nevertheless admitted and considered in the absence of competent evidence to refute the facts stated therein. Entries in police records made by a police officer in the performance of the duty especially enjoined by law are prima facie evidence of the fact therein stated, and their probative value may be either substantiated or nullified by other competent evidence


Facts:

Macalinao and Ong worked as utility man and driver, respectively, at the Genetron International Marketing, a single proprietorship owned and operated by Sebastian. They were instructed to deliver a heavy piece of machinery to Sebastian's plant in Bulacan. While in the process of complying with the order, the vehicle driven by Ong collided with a private jeepney. Macalinao sustained serious injuries. Before he died, Macalinao filed an action for damages against Ong and Sebastian.

After trial in the civil action, the RTC held that based on the evidence, Ong drove the Isuzu truck in a reckless and imprudent manner thereby causing the same to hit the private jeepney. It observed that while respondents claimed that Ong was driving cautiously and prudently at the time of the mishap, no evidence was presented to substantiate the claim. Consequently, the trial court pronounced the two of them jointly liable to pay actual, moral, and exemplary damages as well as civil indemnity for Macalinaos death. The CA reversed the ruling.


Issue:

Which court made the correct determination?


Held:

Contrary to the above conclusion of the appellate court, the evidence on record coupled with the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur sufficiently establishes Ong's negligence.

The photographs of the accident which the appellate court cavalierly brushed aside as insignificant deserve substantial cogitation. In Jose v. Court of Appeals, we upheld the trial courts reliance on photographs of the accident as opposed to a party's obviously biased testimony. In so doing, we stated:

In criminal cases such as murder or rape where the accused stands to lose his liberty if found guilty, this Court has, in many occasions, relied principally upon physical evidence in ascertaining the truth. In People v. Vasquez, where the physical evidence on record ran counter to the testimonial evidence of the prosecution witnesses, we ruled that the physical evidence should prevail.
 
Physical evidence is a mute but an eloquent manifestation of truth which ranks high in our hierarchy of trustworthy evidence.

In this case, while there is a dearth of testimonial evidence to enlighten us about what actually happened, photographs depicting the relative positions of the vehicles immediately after the accident took place do exist. It is well established that photographs, when duly verified and shown by extrinsic evidence to be faithful representations of the subject as of the time in question, are, in the discretion of the trial court, admissible in evidence as aids in arriving at an understanding of the evidence, the situation or condition of objects or premises or the circumstances of an accident.

According to American courts, photographs are admissible in evidence in motor vehicle accident cases when they appear to have been accurately taken and are proved to be a faithful and clear representation of the subject, which cannot itself be produced, and are of such nature as to throw light upon a disputed point. Before a photograph may be admitted in evidence, however, its accuracy or correctness must be proved, and it must be authenticated or verified first. In the case at bar, the photographer testified in open court and properly identified the pictures as the ones he took at the scene of the accident.

An examination of said photographs clearly shows that the road where the mishap occurred is marked by a line at the center separating the right from the left lane. Based on the motorists right of way rule, the Isuzu truck which was headed towards Norzagaray, Bulacan should have been occupying the left lane while the private jeepney which was traversing the road to the town proper of Sta. Maria, Bulacan should have been in the right lane. Exhibits L and L-4 among the photographs, however, reveal that in the aftermath of the collision, the Isuzu truck usurped the opposite lane to such an extent that only its right rear wheel remained in the left lane, a few inches from the demarcation line. Its two front wheels and left rear wheel were planted squarely on the private jeepneys lane and the Isuzu truck had rotated such that its front no longer pointed towards Norzagaray but partially faced the town proper of Sta. Maria instead.

While ending up at the opposite lane is not conclusive proof of fault in automobile collisions, the position of the two vehicles gives rise to the conclusion that it was the Isuzu truck which hit the private jeepney rather than the other way around. The smashed front of the Isuzu truck is pressed against the private jeepneys left front portion near the drivers side. The private jeepney is positioned diagonally in the right lane; its front at the rightmost corner of the road while its rear remained a few feet from the demarcation line. Based on the angle at which it stopped, the private jeepney obviously swerved to the right in an unsuccessful effort to avoid the Isuzu truck. This would support the statement of the police investigator that the Isuzu truck lost control and hit the left front portion of the private jeepney. It would also explain why the driver of the private jeepney died immediately after being brought to the hospital, since in such a scenario, the brunt of the collision logically bore down on him.

Moreover, the unequal size and weight of the two vehicles would make it improbable for the relatively lighter private jeepney to have stricken the heavier truck with such force as to push the latter to the formers side of the road. Had that been the case, the two vehicles would have ended up crushed together at the center of the road or at the Isuzu trucks lane instead of rolling to a stop at the private jeepneys lane.

Another piece of evidence which supports a finding of negligence against Ong is the police report of the incident denoted as Entry No. 04-229 of the Sta. Maria Police Station. The report states that the Isuzu truck was the one which hit the left front portion of the private jeepney. This piece of evidence was disregarded by the Court of Appeals on the ground that entries in police blotters should not be given significance or probative value as they do not constitute conclusive proof of the truth thereof.
 
While true in most instances, it must still be remembered that although police blotters are of little probative value, they are nevertheless admitted and considered in the absence of competent evidence to refute the facts stated therein. Entries in police records made by a police officer in the performance of the duty especially enjoined by law are prima facie evidence of the fact therein stated, and their probative value may be either substantiated or nullified by other competent evidence.

In this case, the police blotter was identified and formally offered as evidence and the person who made the entries thereon was likewise presented in court. On the other hand, aside from a blanket allegation that the driver of the other vehicle was the one at fault, respondents did not present any evidence to back up their charge and show that the conclusion of the police investigator was false. Given the paucity of details in the report, the investigators observation could have been easily refuted and overturned by respondents through the simple expedient of supplying the missing facts and showing to the satisfaction of the court that the Isuzu truck was blameless in the incident. Ong was driving the truck while the two other truck helpers also survived the accident. Any or all of them could have given their testimony to shed light on what actually transpired, yet not one of them was presented to substantiate the claim that Ong was not negligent.

Since respondents failed to refute the contents of the police blotter, the statement therein that the Isuzu truck hit the private jeepney and not the other way around is deemed established. The prima facie nature of the police report ensures that if it remains unexplained or uncontradicted, it will be sufficient to establish the facts posited therein.  (Macalinao vs. Ong, G.R. No. 146635, December 14, 2005)

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