Document Authentication – Manila Standard
“Our courts cannot make a fair judgment if the documents presented and identified are based on fabricated facts”
Documents are commonly used in courts or tribunals as evidence to prove a party’s claim, accusation or defense.
It is imperative that documentary evidence marked, presented and identified in court is authentic. Otherwise, the truth will not be established by our courts.
There is a notion that an original document presented and identified by a witness is automatically authentic or genuine. This is inaccurate because what may appear to be an original document may have been tampered with, forged or forged.
It is for this reason that any document presented, identified and marked in court must be authenticated.
During the pre-trial, the parties are required to mark their respective evidence, examine the copy and compare it to the original, and demonstrate in open court that the copy presented is a faithful reproduction of the original. (article 2, rule 18, rules of civil procedure).
Even after this point, the documentary evidence is still not definitively authenticated. Marking and matching of documents is done only to ensure that all evidence is available and marked before trial.
However, there are cases in the preliminary phase where the parties can agree on the authenticity and proper execution of the documents (article 2, rule 18).
There are also documents which are judicially admitted for authenticity and execution, such as litigant documents (which are the basis of the claim) not specifically denied under oath by the opposing party, and documents subject to and attached to an application for admission (section 7, rule 8; rule 26).
There are two categories of documents, public and private.
Public records include: (a) official written acts or records of sovereign authority, whether of the Philippines or a foreign country; (b) documents acknowledged before a notary public; (c) documents deemed to be public documents under treaties and conventions; and (d) public registers of private documents required to be registered in the Philippines (Article 19, Rule 132, Rules of Evidence).
All other documents or writings are private.
However, it is not enough to present, mark and identify a document to authenticate it. It must go through an authentication process in accordance with the requirements of the Rules of Court, which may vary depending on the nature and type of document.
Official written acts or records of sovereign authority may be authenticated by official publication or certificate of the officer holding the document (Section 24, Rule 132).
This is publicly known as a “certified true copy,” obtained from government agencies or entities. Examples of these documents are laws, government rules and regulations, letters of authorization from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, or court decisions.
Any person who has obtained an official published copy or a certified copy of the public document may be called as a witness. The author of the official document or the head of the agency is not required to appear in court to authenticate the public document.
Documents acknowledged before the notary public are authenticated by presenting the notarized document with the “acknowledgment” as evidence.
It is not necessary to present the notary public as a witness since the acknowledgment is a prima facie proof of the execution of the document (article 30, rule 132).
The notary public will only be presented if there are questions about the authenticity and proper execution of the document, such as falsification, insertion of information or falsification of signatures.
Absent these issues, a party or witness to a notarized document can testify to identify the document in court.
Not all notarized documents should be considered public documents. Only those that are duly acknowledged before the notary public are considered public documents within the meaning of the Regulations.
A “jurat” is a deed, but will not convert or make the document a public document (Francisco, Evidence; citing court rules review committee minutes).
Public documents under existing treaties and conventions between the Philippines and the country of origin are authenticated by a certificate or form prescribed in the treaty or convention.
An example is the Apostille Convention, which entered into force in the Philippines on May 14, 2019 after the Philippines acceded to it on September 12, 2018.
Under this convention, cumbersome legalization requirements in different jurisdictions are eliminated. The internationally accepted certificate, also called an “extension”, satisfies the authentication requirement.
However, this only applies between and among countries that have signed or acceded to the convention. The certificate must contain: (a) authentication of the signer’s signature; (b) the capacity in which the signatory is acting; and (c) where applicable, the identity of the seal or stamp it bears (Article 2, Apostille Convention).
The officer or the diplomatic agent does not need to be presented as a witness in court, since the presentation of the extension will suffice to authenticate the document attached to it and to which reference is made. The person who requested and processed the certificate or extension may be presented in court as a witness to identify him or her.
In the event that the foreign country from which the document originates is not a party to the Apostille Convention or other conventions, the secretary of the embassy or consular officers of the Philippines in the foreign country, in which the document is preserved, may authenticate it by the seal of their office (Article 24, Rule 132).
The consular office certificate can be identified in a Philippine court by a witness who has requested and authenticated it.
Consular officials who have signed the certificate and affixed the office seal are not required to appear as witnesses.
The most common public documents are private documents registered in a public office.
It is the registration of the document, as required by law, that makes it a public document. Examples are birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, affidavits of adverse claim, and land registry certificates, among others.
This type of public document is proven by the original of the document in the custody of the person concerned or by obtaining a certified copy of the private document registered in the public office where it is kept ( article 27, rule 132).
Conversely, if there is no such registration in the office, it will issue a certificate of no registration. In both cases, the person who requested it can be presented as a witness to identify the certificate.
On the other hand, private documents can be proven authentic by (a) anyone who has seen the signed or written document; (b) proof of the authenticity of the handwriting or signature of the manufacturer; or (c) other evidence demonstrating its proper execution and authenticity (Article 20, Rule 132).
A witness who saw the person writing, or who acted or was responsible for the person’s documents, may be called as a witness to prove the authenticity of the handwriting.
A comparison made by the witness or the court, with a specimen of handwriting considered authentic by the other party, can be used to prove its authenticity (article 22, rule 132).
Also, a person sufficiently familiar with another person’s handwriting may be called as a witness (Article 53, Rule 130).
After complying with the authentication of the documents, these must then be formally offered.
According to the Rules, the Court will not consider evidence that has not been formally presented (article 34, rule 132). In simpler terms, only documents formally offered and admitted by the court can be taken into account in rendering judgment.
Authentication of documents is essential to the orderly administration and fair settlement of business.
Our courts cannot make a fair judgment if the documents presented and identified are based on fabricated facts.