G.R. No. 139130, 27 November 2002, 393 SCRA 89
Petitioner is a prominent businessman who, at the time material to this case, was the Managing Director of Multinational Investment Bancorporation and the Chairman and/or President of several other corporations. He was a depositor in good standing of respondent bank, the Manila Banking Corporation, under current Checking Account No. 06-09037-0. As he was then running about 20 corporations, and was going out of the country a number of times, petitioner entrusted to his secretary, Katherine E. Eugenio, his credit cards and his checkbook with blank checks. It was also Eugenio who verified and reconciled the statements of said checking account.
Between the dates September 5, 1980 and January 23, 1981, Eugenio was able to encash and deposit to her personal account about seventeen (17) checks drawn against the account of the petitioner at the respondent bank, with an aggregate amount of P119,634.34. Petitioner did not bother to check his statement of account until a business partner apprised him that he saw Eugenio use his credit cards. Petitioner fired Eugenio immediately, and instituted a criminal action against her for estafa thru falsification before the Office of the Provincial Fiscal of Rizal. Private respondent, through an affidavit executed by its employee, Mr. Dante Razon, also lodged a complaint for estafa thru falsification of commercial documents against Eugenio on the basis of petitioner’s statement that his signatures in the checks were forged.
Petitioner then requested the respondent bank to credit back and restore to its account the value of the checks which were wrongfully encashed but respondent bank refused. Hence, petitioner filed the instant case.
At the trial, petitioner testified on his own behalf, attesting to the truth of the circumstances as narrated above, and how he discovered the alleged forgeries. Several employees of Manila Bank were also called to the witness stand as hostile witnesses. They testified that it is the bank’s standard operating procedure that whenever a check is presented for encashment or clearing, the signature on the check is first verified against the specimen signature cards on file with the bank.
Manila Bank also sought the expertise of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in determining the genuineness of the signatures appearing on the checks. However, the NBI informed the trial court that they could not conduct the desired examination for the reason that the standard specimens submitted were not sufficient for purposes of rendering a definitive opinion. The NBI then suggested that petitioner be asked to submit seven (7) or more additional standard signatures executed before or about, and immediately after the dates of the questioned checks. Petitioner, however, failed to comply with this request.
After evaluating the evidence on both sides and finding no sufficient basis for plaintiff’s cause herein against defendant bank, this case is hereby DISMISSED.
Aggrieved, petitioner elevated the case to the Court of Appeals by way of a petition for review but without success. The appellate court held that petitioner’s own negligence was the proximate cause of his loss. The judgment appealed from is AFFIRMED.
(1) Whether or not petitioner has a cause of action against private respondent; and
(2) Whether or not private respondent, in filing an estafa case against petitioner’s secretary, is barred from raising the defense that the fact of forgery was not established.
On the first issue, we find that petitioner has no cause of action against Manila Bank. To be entitled to damages, petitioner has the burden of proving negligence on the part of the bank for failure to detect the discrepancy in the signatures on the checks. It is incumbent upon petitioner to establish the fact of forgery, i.e., by submitting his specimen signatures and comparing them with those on the questioned checks. Curiously though, petitioner failed to submit additional specimen signatures as requested by the National Bureau of Investigation from which to draw a conclusive finding regarding forgery. The Court of Appeals found that petitioner, by his own inaction, was precluded from setting up forgery.
Moreover, petitioner’s contention that Manila Bank was remiss in the exercise of its duty as drawee lacks factual basis. Consistently, the CA and the RTC found that Manila Bank employees exercised due diligence in cashing the checks. The bank’s employees in the present case did not have a hint as to Eugenio’s modus operandi because she was a regular customer of the bank, having been designated by petitioner himself to transact in his behalf. According to the appellate court, the employees of the bank exercised due diligence in the performance of their duties.
As borne by the records, it was petitioner, not the bank, who was negligent. Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or the doing of something which a prudent and reasonable man would do. Article 2179 of the New Civil Code, when the plaintiff’s own negligence was the immediate and proximate cause of his injury, no recovery could be had for damages. In the present case, it appears that petitioner accorded his secretary unusual degree of trust and unrestricted access to his credit cards, passbooks, check books, bank statements, including custody and possession of cancelled checks and reconciliation of accounts.
Petitioner further contends that under Section 23 of the Negotiable Instruments Law a forged check is inoperative, and that Manila Bank had no authority to pay the forged checks. True, it is a rule that when a signature is forged or made without the authority of the person whose signature it purports to be, the check is wholly inoperative. No right to retain the instrument, or to give a discharge therefor, or to enforce payment thereof against any party, can be acquired through or under such signature. However, the rule does provide for an exception, namely: “unless the party against whom it is sought to enforce such right is precluded from setting up the forgery or want of authority.” In the instant case, it is the exception that applies. In our view, petitioner is precluded from setting up the forgery, assuming there is forgery, due to his own negligence in entrusting to his secretary his credit cards and checkbook including the verification of his statements of account.
On the second issue, the fact that Manila Bank had filed a case for estafa against Eugenio would not estop it from asserting the fact that forgery has not been clearly established. Petitioner cannot hold private respondent in estoppel for the latter is not the actual party to the criminal action. In a criminal action, the State is the plaintiff, for the commission of a felony is an offense against the State. Thus, under Section 2, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court the complaint or information filed in court is required to be brought in the name of the “People of the Philippines.”
Further, as petitioner himself stated in his petition, respondent bank filed the estafa case against Eugenio on the basis of petitioner’s own affidavit, but without admitting that he had any personal knowledge of the alleged forgery. It is, therefore, easy to understand that the filing of the estafa case by respondent bank was a last ditch effort to salvage its ties with the petitioner as a valuable client, by bolstering the estafa case which he filed against his secretary.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED for lack of merit. The assailed decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED.
*Case Digest by Paul C. Gandola, JD – 4, Andres Bonifacio College, SY 2019 – 2020