Photocopies and the Original Document Rule 

By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III

In litigation, the ideal often yields to the practical. Ideally, the opposing lawyers are supposed to point out rules of procedure relevant to the case to assist the court in the efficient administration of justice. Yet most of the time, in their zeal to achieve success for their clients, lawyers selectively use only those which are favorable to their clients’ cause.

This leads to another truism: that the rules of procedure can either be applied strong-handedly or massaged liberally.

Jurisprudence teaches that “Procedural rules are not to be disdained as mere technicalities that may be ignored at will to suit the convenience of a party. Adjective law is important in insuring the effective enforcement of substantive rights through the orderly and speedy administration of justice. These rules are not intended to hamper litigants or complicate litigation but, indeed, to provide for a system under which suitors may be heard in the correct form and manner and at the prescribed time in a peaceful confrontation before a judge whose authority they acknowledge. The other alternative is the settlement of their conflict through the barrel of a gun”. (Antonio G. Ngo v. Visitacion Gebelo, et al.,G.R. No. 207707. August 24, 2020) 

Yet in the same breath, case law also holds that “[c]ourts have the prerogative to relax procedural rules of even the most mandatory character mindful of the duty to reconcile both the need to speedily put an end to litigation and the parties’ right to due process. In numerous cases, this Court has allowed liberal construction of the rules when to do so would serve the demands of   substantial justice and equity.”  (Helen L. Say, et al. v. Gabriel Dizon, G.R. No. 227457. June 22, 2020).  

This article tackles the admissibility of photocopies as evidence. The general rule is that when a document is being utilized as evidence in court, the “original” must be presented.    Section 3, Rule 130 of A.M. No. 19-08-15-SC or the 2019 Revised Rules on Evidence, states the general rule as well as the exceptions:

“Sec. 3. Original document must be produced; exceptions. – When the subject of inquiry is the contents of a document, writing, recording, photograph or other record, no evidence is admissible other than the original document itself, except in the following cases:  

(a)When the original is lost or destroyed, or cannot be produced in court, without bad faith on the part of the offeror;  

(b)When the original is in the custody or under the control of the party against whom the evidence is offered, and the latter fails to produce it after reasonable     notice, or the original cannot be obtained by local judicial processes or procedures; 

 (c) When the original consists of numerous accounts or other documents which cannot be examined in court without great loss of time and the fact sought to be   established from them is only the general result of the whole; 

 (d) When the original is a public record in the custody of a public officer or is recorded in a public office; and  

   (e) When the original is not closely-related to a controlling issue. (Emphasis, italics and underlining ours.)

Pursuant to one of the exceptions to the Original Document Rule (formerly the Best Evidence Rule), the original need not be presented when “the original is not closely-related to the controlling issue”. In the case of Conchita M. Dela Cruz v. People of the Philippines/Maximo A. Borje, et al. v. People of the Philippines (G.R. No. 236807/G.R. No. 236810. January 12, 2021), it was held that:

The Original Document Rule provides: “When the subject of inquiry is the contents of a document, writing, recording, photograph or other record, no evidence is admissible other than the original document itself xx x.”  

This revised version of the rule is similar to the previous recital of the rule under Section 3, Rule 130 of the recently amended 1989 Rules on Evidence: “When the subject of inquiry is the contents of a document, no evidence shall be admissible other than the original document itself x x x .”  

Interpreting the amended provision under the 1989 Rules, we have held that the Best Evidence Rule (now known as Original Document Rule) does not apply to proof of facts collateral to the issues or when a party uses a document to prove the existence of an independent fact. (Emphasis, italics and underlining supplied).

This is the first scenario where photocopies may be presented as evidence in court, ie., when the factual proposition they seek to prove “is not the subject of inquiry” but rather only “collateral” thereto. So, when the main fact in contention refers to an independent fact not related to what are found in the original document itself, then photocopies as substitutes will suffice. 

            Now on to the second scenario.

Photocopies are now admissible in evidence

pursuant to A.M. No. 19-08-15-SC or the 2019

Revised Rules on Evidence 

The innovation that was introduced by the new rules on Evidence is that photocopies are now admissible as “duplicates” pursuant to paragraph (b) of Section 4 of Rule 130 of A.M. No. 19-08-15-SC or the 2019 Revised Rules on Evidence which states that: 

Sec. 4. Original of document. —  

(a) An “original” of a document is the document itself or any counterpart intended to have the same effect by a person executing or issuing it. An “original” of a photograph includes the negative or any print therefrom. If data is stored in a computer or similar device, any printout or other output readable by sight or other means, shown to reflect the data accurate “original.”

(b) A “duplicate” is a counterpart produced by the same impression as the original, or from the same matrix, or by means of photography, including enlargements and miniatures, or by mechanical or electronic re-recording, or by chemical reproduction, or by other equivalent techniques which accurately reproduce the original. 

(C) A duplicate is admissible to the same extent as an original unless (1) genuine question is raised as to the authenticity of the original, or (2) in the circumstances, it is unjust or inequitable to admit the duplicate in lieu of the original. (Emphasis, italics and underlining ours.) 

It is readily observable that the new rules on Evidence had expanded the meaning of a “duplicate original” to include those “produced by the same impression as the original”, or “from the same matrix”, and “by means of photography, including enlargements and miniatures”. Too, in even more generic terms, the new rules now allow “chemical reproduction” or “other equivalent means which accurately reproduce the original” as acceptable methods of reproducing documents. This, it is humbly submitted, would allow for “screenshots”, “printouts” and “photocopies” to fall within the meaning of “duplicate” and would pave the way for documents reproduced through these more technologically-advanced methods to become admissible as evidence in court.

And this would chime with what John Henry Wigmore proposed in his Treatise as “Anti-Universalism or Modernism” approach. Wigmore wanted judges to exercise more discretion as he feared that the rules can become a “straitjacket”. In the end, he wanted courts to use the rules as guides because “any rule should stand as a suggestion rather than a dictate”. 

(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates– a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor and a book author. His website is