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354 Phil. 733


[ G.R. No. 109564, July 22, 1998 ]




On January 12, 1989, Loh Kuan Fatt filed with the Regional Trial Court of Makati a petition to be admitted as citizen of the Philippines.[1] After due proceedings, the Court rendered judgment on February 28, 1990, granting the petition. On behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, the Solicitor General appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals, but without success, the latter affirming the Trial Court’s decision by judgment promulgated on March 23, 1993.

The Solicitor General is now before this Court praying that both decisions be overturned as being contrary to law and applicable precedents.

Loh Kuan Fatt’s petition before the Makati Regional Trial Court[2] contained the usual allegations of initiatory pleadings of that nature.[3] It stated --
“** that his full name is Loh Khuan Fatt, and he is also known a Loh Khuan Fatt Peter and Peter Loh; that he is 37 years old, married and a dentist; that prior to residing at his present address at 11 East 4th St., Angela Village, Talon Las Piñas, Metro Manila, he had resided in an apartment located at 76 West Riverside, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City; that he was born on May 15, 1952 in Perak, Malaysia, under whose laws, Filipinos may become naturalized citizens of subjects thereof, that he graduated from the CEU in Manila; that he was married on November 13, 1982 to Dr. Monina Mondejar, a Filipino citizen, 32 years old, with whom he has three (3) children, namely: Stephanie Jean, born on June 19, 1984 in Minchen, West Germany, John Peter, born on April 10, 1986 in Manila, and Samantha Jean, born on October 14, 1987 in Manila; that he arrived in the Philippines from Bangkok on June 6, 1977, and continuously resided in the Philippines for more than ten (10) years immediately preceding the filing of the petition; that he left the Philippines with his wife on January 31, 1983 to pursue a scholarship grant in orthopedics in the Federal Republic of Germany; that since his return to the Philippines on October 29, 1985 he has been residing thereat continuously up to the present; that he has been living in his present address since 1977 up to the present; that he speaks and writes English and Tagalog; that although a dentist by profession, he cannot yet practice due to lack of license from the PRC; that he has been engaged in private tutoring since 1988; that as such private tutor he derives an annual income of about P120,000.00; that if given a license to practice his dental profession he could earn P400,000.00 annually; that Stephanie Jean, a minor child of school age is enrolled at the Benedictine Abbey School, where Philippine history, government and civics are taught as part of the school curriculum; that he is of good moral character and has conducted himself in a proper and irreproachable manner during the entire period of his residence in the Philippines in his relations with the constituted government, as well as with the community in which he lives; that he has filed his bona-fide intention to become a Filipino citizen with the Office of the Solicitor General; that it is his intention in good faith to become a Filipino citizen and to renounce absolutely forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign state or sovereignty; that he will reside continuously in the Philippines from the filing of his petition up to the time of his admission as a Filipino citizen; that Dr. Adelfa Rivera and Maricar T. Mondejar, both Filipino citizens, will appear and testify as witnesses at the hearing of the petition; that attached to his petition are: a) the affidavit of his character witnesses; b) his declaration of intention; c) his certificate of arrival; d) his two photographs; e) his Alien Certificate of Registration; and f) his Certificate of Residence; that he believes in the Philippines Constitution; that he can recite the Bill of Rights and State Policy, Education and Sports stated in the Constitution; that he commingles with the people in the community where he lives; that there are no complaints against him in the same community; that he embraces Filipino customs and traditions like friendliness, hospitality, courtesy and respect and closeness among family members; that he is in favor of the present government; that he was at EDSA during the 1986 revolution; and that he is not a member of any organization opposed to the present government; that he is not a polygamist; that he has not been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude; that he has not been convicted of any crime as evidenced by the clearances obtained from the police, immigration, courts, fiscals and NBI; that he is not mentally ill; that he is not afflicted with any contagious diseases; that if his petition is granted he will renounce absolutely and forever all allegiance and fidelity to the State of Malaysia; that up to and until his petition is granted he will continue residing in the Philippines; that he has not filed any petition for citizenship in any court.”
At the scheduled hearing of petition, neither the Solicitor General nor anyone else appeared in behalf of the Republic of the Philippines. The Trial Court then proceeded to receive Loh Kuan Fatt’s proofs in support of his application for naturalization.[4]

Loh gave testimony as follows:

“1.     Besides his present place of residence, he has also resided at 123 F. Roman St., San Juan, Metro Manila and at No. 76 West Riverside, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City;[5]

“2.     He earns about P45,000.00 a year from his private tutorial job, as he could not practice his profession as a dentist;[6]

“3.     He owns ** real estate worth about P500,000.00 located at Muntinlupa, Metro Manila, ** registered in the name of his wife;[7]

“4.     He also owns dental equipment insured for P500,000.00,[8] ** being used by his wife in her dental clinic;[9]

“5.     He likewise owns a car that is registered in the name of his wife with a market value of about P160,000.00.[10]

Loh’s character witnesses -- Maricar T. Mondejar, his sister-in-law, and Adelfa Rivera, a fellow professional -- also gave evidence, both asserting that they had known him since 1980 and 1978, respectively.[11]

Rivera’s testimony is in substance as follows:

She is 29 years of age, a dentist, Filipina, and residing at 88 D. Tuason, Quezon City; petitioner and his wife were her classmates at the College of Dentistry, Centro Escolar University; she graduated at the same time with petitioner; they are all members of the Philippine Dental Association; she often consults petitioner and refers to him cases involving orthodontics; to family affairs and other special occasions she is often invited by petitioner and his wife; petitioner does not charge her for the dental cases referred to him; being helpful to his classmates, petitioner is well-liked by fellow dentists; he is loyal to his wife and is a devoted husband and father; petitioner is sociable, believes in the democratic principles underlying the Constitution, and is not a member of any organization that is opposed to the government.[12]
For her part, the other character witness, Mondejar, testified essentially as follows:
She is 43 years old, single, businesswoman and resident of Mayamot, Antipolo, Rizal; petitioner is her brother-in-law she being the eldest sister of his wife; she came to know petitioner for the first time in 1978 when he had some printing jobs done at her printing shop; he is a loving husband and a good provider for his family; witness is not aware of any complaint filed against petitioner; and he is not a member of any association that advocates violence against or is opposed to the government.”[13]
On January 3, 1990, the trial court issued an order which: “1) admitted petitioner’s formal offer of exhibits; ** 2) (directed) the Solicitor General’s Office to manifest within 72 hours from notice whether it desires to present any evidence; and 3) in the absence of said manifestation, to consider the petition submitted for decision after the lapse of said period.”[14] To this order -- copy of which it received on January 17, 1990 -- the Solicitor General’s Office made no response whatever; it did not avail of the opportunity to present evidence or submit a pleading or document of any kind for the Government.

The Trial Court thus deemed the case submitted for decision,[15] and thereafter, as already stated, rendered judgment granting Loh’s petition.

In his appeal to the Court of Appeals, the Solicitor General advanced several grounds for the reversal of the Trial Court’s verdict. He argued, for one, that the petition was mortally flawed because it deliberately omitted to state one of Loh’s former residences,[16] i.e., No. 123 F. Roman St., San Juan, Metro Manila.[17] The Appellate Court rejected that argument, saying:[18]
“The fact that ** (Loh) submitted four (4) police clearances in the respective places he has resided in, including his residence in San Juan which was inadvertently missed in his application, belies the ** claim that ** (Loh) deliberately failed to include the said residence to limit his character witnesses to persons who could attest to his moral character only from the time he resided in Quezon City. Also, his testimony during the hearing wherein he enumerated all his former residences including the one missed in his application is a clear indication that ** (Loh) was not impelled by any sinister motive to hide the truth but that the failure was at most due to inadvertence of ** (his) counsel. At any rate, the inclusion of the ‘missed residence’ in the police clearances he submitted and the mention of the same during his direct testimony, in effect, cured the alluded infirmity.”
The Solicitor General also contended that Loh’s character witnesses (who testified in the Trial Court in 1989) had not known him for the entire period of his residence in the Philippines[19] -- i.e., since 1977 -- because admittedly, Dr. Rivera had known him only since 1980 and Ms. Mondejar, only since 1978. This contention was likewise rejected:
“The (Solicitor General’s) interpretation ** of the phrase, ‘during the entire period of residence in the Phils.,’ is to Our mind too literal and constricted. The import of said phrase should not be taken literally as to mean that character witnesses should have known the applicant ** from day one (1) that he has set foot on our ground. We are of the considered opinion that it is enough that character witnesses shall have known ** (applicant) for a substantial period of his residence in the Phils. so much so that they can fairly calibrate ** (his) conduct and manner. Moreover, the three (3) year difference in the case of witness Dr. Adelfa Rivera and the one (1) year difference in the case of witness Maricar Mondejar of knowing petitioner ** cannot be considered such a gap of time and does not make them less qualified to testify on ** (the latter’s) character during his period of residence in the Phils.”[20]
A third point sought to be made by the Solicitor General -- that the discrepancy between Loh’s estimate of his income in his application and that declared by him during his direct testimony indicated an intention to evade payment of taxes -- was dismissed by the Appellate Tribunal “as a mere supposition if not an outright speculation, ** ** (the discrepancy having been) magnified to a fault **.”[21]
“ ** This Court can not discern any untrustworthy motive behind the discrepancy ** because his declared income in his income tax return for 1988 and his testimony regarding the same in the hearing of September 29, 1989 was undeviating. His declaration of his expected income while preparing his petition is only a rough estimate and being a rough estimate We can not expect it to be a definitive statement of his income, hence the discrepancy should not be taken against him.”
The Solicitor General’s last argument -- that since Loh gave his testimony wholly in English, it could be assumed that he cannot speak and write any of the native dialects -- was also rebuffed. Citing Carmen Go de Seco v. Republic,[22] the Court said:[23]
“If ** (the Solicitor General’s office) only attended the hearings it could have afforded itself of the opportunity to place on record such fact and thus show that petitioner is not well-versed to communicate in our native tongue for which reason his application for naturalization should be denied. By and large, the unrebutted testimony of petitioner that he can speak and write Tagalog should be taken as true, in the light of the evidence presented ** such as his excellent grades in the subjects of Filipino for Foreign Students, Part I and Part II where he got a grade of 2.00 and 1.75 respectively; he is married to a Filipina and his eldest daughter is enrolled in a Filipino school."
Assailing these dispositions of the Court of Appeals, the Solicitor General would now insist that in light of voluminous precedents, it was grave error for said Court to reject his arguments against Loh Kuan Fatts’ petition,[24] reiterating that:

1)  the omission in Loh’s petition of one of his former places of residence was a fatal oversight,[25] not curable by testimony at the hearing of the petition;[26]

2)  he failed to prove his good moral character during the entire period of his residence in the Philippines, because his witnesses’ acquaintances and association with him did not cover that period;[27] apart from the fact that one of them is his sister-in-law;[28]

3)  he failed to divulge his true income thus tainting his moral character.[29]

The Court of Appeals ruled that, contrary to the Republic’s contention, Loh’s omission to state one of his former residences in his initiatory petition was not deliberate but due to mere inadvertence. The conclusion is obviously one of fact, drawn from the evidence on record. It is a conclusion that by entrenched doctrine is binding on this Court, absent any showing that the Appellate Tribunal overlooked any circumstance of weight in reaching it.[30] No such showing has been or could possibly be made in this case, no evidence whatever having been presented on the People’s behalf in the proceedings a quo bearing on whether or not the omission in the petition of one of Loh’s former residences was intentional. Moreover, in Republic v. Co Keng,[31] this Court considered as adequate substitutes for the statement of a former place of residence, clearances issued by the fiscal’s office, the clerk of court of the Court of First Instance, and the National Bureau of Investigation.

Much is attempted to be made of the circumstance that Loh’s witnesses had not known him for the entire period of his residence in the Philippines -- or since 1977 -- which, it is urged, rendered them incompetent to depose on his moral character during that span of time. It is pointed out that one of said witnesses, Dr. Rivera, had known Loh only since 1980; and the other, Ms. Mondejar, only since 1978.

More logical and reasonable, however, is the Appellate Court’s affirmance of the competency of the witnesses to give evidence of petitioner's moral character on the ground that it suffices for said witnesses to have known the latter for “a substantial period of his residence in the Phils. so much so that they can fairly calibrate ** (his) conduct and manner,” and that such time difference “cannot be considered such a gap of time ** (as to) make them less qualified to testify on ** (the latter’s) character during his period of residence in the Phils.” It is to be assumed that the Legislature intends its enactments to be construed and applied sensibly, rationally, so as to give full effect thereto, and not narrowly or constrictively -- in any case, not so constrictively as to make their application difficult, if not impossible.

Be this as it may, this “time-gap” issue is really small moment and need not be belabored; for with respect to Loh, the “ten years of continuous residence” generally required of applicants for naturalization, must -- by reason of his marriage to a Filipino woman -- be deemed shortened to five years in accordance with Section 3 of the Revised Naturalization Law (Act No. 473, as amended). The provision pertinently reads as follows:

“SEC. 3. Special qualifications. – The ten years of continuous residence required under the second condition of the last preceding section shall be understood as reduced to five years for any petitioner having any of the following qualifications:

***     ***        ***

(3) Being married to a Filipino woman; **.”

It is thus indisputable that Loh’s witnesses had know him for a span of time sufficient under the law to qualify them to depose respecting his moral character: i.e., the entire period of the five-year residence required of him by Section 3 of the Revised Naturalization Law (Act No. 473).

It is also argued in the People’s behalf that the testimony of Maricar T. Mondejar, one of Loh’s character witnesses, was unworthy of credit because of bias or partiality, she being Loh’s sister-in-law (his wife’s sister) and naturally interested in seeing his petition prosper. The argument is likewise untenable.

It is axiomatic that a witness’ “interest in the outcome of the case shall not be a ground for disqualification,”[32] and that such an interest, if shown, while perhaps indicating the need for caution in considering the witness’ testimony, does not of itself operate to reduce his credit; indeed, his testimony “must be judged on its own merits, and if ** (it) is otherwise clear and convincing and not destroyed by other evidence on record, it may be relied upon.”[33] In this case, both the Court of Appeals and Trial Court found Ms. Mondejar’s testimony to be “clear and convincing” and “not destroyed by other evidence or record,” a finding with which, in the premises, this Court will not and cannot take issue.

Finally, also ascribed as error on the part of the Appellate Court is its refusal to find that there had been a wilful failure by Loh to disclose his true income, which taints his moral character.[34] It is contended that Loh “declared a lower income to evade paying the correct tax thereon," which constitutes improper conduct on his part.[35] The record, however, does not bear out the contention. What the evidence establishes is that while there is a seeming discrepancy between his declared earnings in his income tax return for 1988 and the statement thereof in his petition, his testimony on the matter at the hearing of the petition in September, 1989 was an “undeviating” confirmation of the return, and the discrepancy was attributable merely to the fact that the statement in the application was “only a rough estimate ** (and not) a definitive statement on his income **.” More importantly, the Court of Appeals found no proof of “any untrustworthy motive behind the discrepancy.” Nothing of significance in the record would justify reversal of this conclusion.

WHEREFORE, the Court Resolves to AFFIRM the challenged judgment of the Court of Appeals of March 23, 1993, which sustained the decision of the Regional Trial Court rendered on February 28, 1990 granting the petition. No pronouncement as to costs.

Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Panganiban, Martinez, Quisumbing, and Purisima, JJ., concur.
Mendoza, J., no part due to his concurrence in the Court of Appeals decision when he was still there.

[1] Docket as Naturalization Case No. M-10, assigned in due course to Branch 145; Rollo, pp.21, 69.

[2] Rollo, pp. 22-24, 70-71.

[3] See Sections 2 and 7, Revised Naturalization Law (Commonwealth Act No. 473, as amended).

[4] Id., p. 21.

[5] Id., pp. 12-13.

[6] Id., p. 27.

[7] Id., pp. 30-32; Exhibit ‘I’.

[8] Exhibit ‘J’.

[9] Rollo, pp. 33-34; Exhibit ‘K’.

[10] Id., pp. 33-36, 72; Exhibit ‘L’.

[11] Id., p. 72.

[12] Rollo, p. 24; Decision of the Court of Appeals, p. 4.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Rollo, p. 21.

[15] Id., p. 22.

[16] This, according to the Solicitor General, “to suit petitioner’s character witnesses, who could vouch for his moral character only from the time he resided in Quezon City**. “Rollo, p. 12.

[17] His other places of abode being his present one, No. 11 East 4th Street, Angela Village, Talon, Las Piñas, and the other, No. 76 West Riverside, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City.

[18] Rollo, pp. 25-26.

[19] Section 2 (par.3), C.A. No. 437 requires an applicant for naturalization to prove that he has conducted himself in a proper and irreproachable manner during the entire period of his residence in the country.

[20] Rollo, p. 26.

[21] Id., pp. 26-27.

[22] 100 Phil. 867.

[23] Id., p. 27.

[24] Id., pp. 39 et seq: Memorandum dated April 21, 1994.

[25] Invoking: Republic vs. Barcelona, August 30, 1974, 58 SCRA 698, 706, citing Syson vs. Republic, May 29, 1967, 20 SCRA 268, 278; Yap Puey Eng vs. Republic, May 23, 1968, 23 SCRA 681, 682-683; Go vs. Republic, March 31, 1965, 13 SCRA 548, 549-550 (the latter also citing numerous cases); Chua Kian Lai vs. Republic, September 11, 1974, 59 SCRA 40, 43, citing Ang Ban Giok vs. Republic, L-26949, February 22, 1974, 55 SCRA 556, 560; Pe vs. Republic, L-20375, January 31, 1966, 16 SCRA 99; Republic vs. Cokeng, L-19829, Resolution on Motion to Reconsider, May 4, 1968, 23 SCRA 559, 563; Lim Tan vs. Republic, L-22192, April 30, 1966, 16 SCRA 948, 949; Ong Ping Seng vs. Republic, L-19575, February 26, 1965, 12 SCRA 249, 250 (with advertence to numerous decisions); Tan vs. Republic, L-22077, February 18, 1967, 19 SCRA 367, 370; O Ku Phuan vs. Republic, L-23406, August 31, 1967, 20 SCRA 1219, 1223 (and cases cited)

[26] Invoking: Qua vs. Republic, October 27, 1964, 12 SCRA 186, 188, which cites Lo vs. Republic, L-15919, May 19, 1961.

[27] Invoking: King vs. Republic, September 29, 1966, 18 SCRA 179, 181-182; Lim v. Republic, G.R. No. L-22437, June 21, 1966; Republic v. Hon. Andres Reyes, G.R. No. L-20602, December 24, 1965; Vy Tian alias Si Un v. Republic, G.R. No. L-19918, July 30, 1965; Ng v. Republic, G.R. No. L-21179, January 22, 1966; Yu An Kiong vs. Republic, January 31, 1966, 16 SCRA 129, 132; Sy Pinero vs. Republic, L-17399, October 30, 1962; Sheng vs. Republic, L-13496, April 27, 1960; Serwani vs. Republic, L-18219, December 27, 1963; Manuel de Lara vs. Republic, L-18203, May 29, 1964; Pio de Lara vs. Republic, L-18204, May 29, 1964.

[28] Chong King Keh Yeng vs. Republic, December 26, 1974, 61 SCRA 521; Lee Tit vs. Republic, L-21446, April 29, 1966, 16 SCRA 735; Albert Ong Ling Chuan vs. Republic, L-18550, February 28, 1964.

[29] Republic vs. Li Yao, October 20, 1992, 214 SCRA 748, 753; Lim Eng Yu vs. Republic, L-20809, August 21, 1966, 17 SCRA 1058.

[30] SEE, e.g.: P.M. Pastera Brokerage vs. Court of Appeals, 266 SCRA 365; Fuentes vs. Court of Appeals, 268 SCRA 703; Reyes vs. Court of Appeals, 258 SCRA 651; Floro vs. Llenado, 244 SCRA 713; Remalate vs. Tibe, 158 SCRA 138; Roblett Industrial Construction Corp. vs. Court of Appeals, 266 SCRA 71.

[31] 34 SCRA 668 (1970): see footnote 25, supra.

[32] SEC. 20 (2nd par.), Rule 130, Rules of Court, taken from Sec. 18, Rule 130 of the 1964 Rules of Court providing that “persons interested in the outcome of a case” shall not be excluded from testifying.

[33] Moran, Comments on the Rules of Court, 1980 ed., Vol. 5, p. 149; SEE Francisco, V.J., The Revised Rules of Court, 1990 ed., Vol. VII, p. 232, and Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, Sixth Revised Ed., Vol. 2, p. 458.

[34] Republic vs. Li Yao, October 20, 1992, 214 SCRA 748, 753; Lim Eng Yu vs. Republic, L-20809, August 21, 1966, 17 SCRA 1058.

[35] Rollo, p. 16. 

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