RICO ROMMEL ATIENZA vs. BOARD OF MEDICINE and EDITHA SIOSON G.R. No. 177407, February 9, 2011

FACTS
“Due to her lumbar pains, EdithaSioson went to Rizal Medical Center (RMC) for check-up. Sometime thereafter, due to the same problem, she was referred to Dr. Pedro Lantin III of RMC who, accordingly, ordered several diagnostic laboratory tests. The tests revealed that her right kidney is normal. It was ascertained, however, that her left kidney is non-functioning and non-visualizing. Thus, she underwent kidney operation. Five months after the operation, Editha’shusband, Romeo Sioson, filed a complaint for gross negligence and/or incompetence before the [BOM] against the doctors who allegedly participated in the fateful kidney operation, namely: Dr. Judd dela Vega, Dr. Pedro Lantin, III, Dr. Gerardo Antonio Florendo and petitioner Rico Rommel Atienza. It was alleged in the complaint that the gross negligence and/or incompetence committed by the said doctors, including petitioner, consists of the removal of private respondent’s fully functional right kidney, instead of the left non-functioning and non-visualizing kidney. The complaint was heard by the [BOM]. After Romeo Sioson presented his evidence, EdithaSiosonfiled her formal offer of documentary evidence. Attached to the formal offer of documentary evidence are her Exhibits “A” to “D,” which she offered for the purpose of proving that her kidneys were both in their proper anatomical locations at the time she was operated.
Atienza filed his comments/objections to Editha’s formal offer of exhibits. He alleged that said exhibits are inadmissible because the same are mere photocopies, not properly identified and authenticated, and intended to establish matters which are hearsay. He added that the exhibits are incompetent to prove the purpose for which they are offered. Yet, the [BOM] concluded that it should first admit the evidence being offered so that it can determine its probative value when it decides the case. According to the Board, it can determine whether the evidence is relevant or not if it will take a look at it through the process of admission. Disagreeing with the BOM, Atienza filed a petition for certiorari with the CA, assailing the BOM’s Orders which admitted Editha’s Formal Offer of Documentary Evidence. The CA dismissed the petition for certiorari for lack of merit.

ISSUE
Whether it is proper to admit the Exhibits presented by Editha

HELD
Yes.
To begin with, it is well-settled that the rules of evidence are not strictly applied in proceedings before administrative bodies such as the BOM. [I]t is the safest policy to be liberal, not rejecting them on doubtful or technical grounds, but admitting them unless plainly irrelevant, immaterial or incompetent, for the reason that their rejection places them beyond the consideration of the court, if they are thereafter found relevant or competent; on the other hand, their admission, if they turn out later to be irrelevant or incompetent, can easily be remedied by completely discarding them or ignoring them.

Atienzamistakenly relied on Section 20, Article I of the Professional Regulation Commission Rules of Procedure, which reads:

“Section 20. Administrative investigation shall be conducted in accordance with these Rules. The Rules of Court shall only apply in these proceedings by analogy or on a suppletory character and whenever practicable and convenient. Technical errors in the admission of evidence which do not prejudice the substantive rights of either party shall not vitiate the proceedings.”

As pointed out by the CA, the admission of the exhibits did not prejudice the substantive rights of petitioner because, at any rate, the fact sought to be proved thereby, that the two kidneys of Editha were in their proper anatomical locations at the time she was operated on, is presumed under Section 3, Rule 131 of the Rules of Court:

“Sec. 3. Disputable presumptions.—The following presumptions are satisfactory if uncontradicted, but may be contradicted and overcome by other evidence:
x x x x
(y) That things have happened according to the ordinary course of nature and the ordinary habits of life.”

The exhibits are certified photocopies of X-ray Request Forms filed in connection with Editha’s medical case. The documents contain handwritten entries interpreting the results of the examination. These exhibits were actually attached as annexes to Dr. Pedro Lantin III’s counter affidavit filed with the Office of the City Prosecutor of Pasig City, which was investigating the criminal complaint for negligence filed by Editha against the doctors of RMC who handled her surgical procedure. To lay the predicate for her case, Editha offered the exhibits in evidence to prove that her “kidneys were both in their proper anatomical locations at the time” of her operation.

The fact sought to be established by the admission of Editha’s exhibits, that her “kidneys were both in their properanatomical locations at the time” of her operation, need not be proved as it is covered by mandatory judicial notice.
Unquestionably, the rules of evidence are merely the means for ascertaining the truth respecting a matter of fact. Thus, they likewise provide for some facts which are established and need not be proved, such as those covered by judicial notice, both mandatory and discretionary. Laws of nature involving the physical sciences, specifically biology, include the structural make-up and composition of living things such as human beings. In this case, we may take judicial notice that Editha’s kidneys before, and at the time of, her operation, as with most human beings, were in their proper anatomical locations.

Contrary to the assertion of petitioner, the best evidence rule is inapplicable. The subject of inquiry in this case is whether respondent doctors before the BOM are liable for gross negligence in removing the right functioning kidney of Editha instead of the left non-functioning kidney, not the proper anatomical locations of Editha’s kidneys.

As previously discussed, the proper anatomical locations of Editha’s kidneys at the time of her operation at the RMC may be established not only through the exhibits offered in evidence.

These exhibits do not constitute hearsay evidence of the anatomical locations of Editha’s kidneys. To further drive home the point, the anatomical positions, whether left or right, of Editha’s kidneys, and the removal of one or both, may still be established through a belated ultrasound or x-ray of her abdominal area.

In fact, the introduction of secondary evidence, such as copies of the exhibits, is allowed.Witness Dr. Nancy Aquino testified that the Records Office of RMC no longer had theoriginals of the exhibits “because [it] transferred from the previous building, x x x to the new building.” Ultimately, since the originals cannot be produced, the BOM properly admitted Editha’s formal offer of evidence and, thereafter, the BOM shall determine the probative value thereof when it decides the case.

credit:

Eca Alim

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