FACTS: Plaintiff Samsung Construction Company Philippines, Inc. (“Samsung Construction”), maintained a current account with defendant Far East Bank and Trust Company (“FEBTC”) at the latter’s Bel-Air, Makati branch. The sole signatory to Samsung Construction’s account was Jong Kyu Lee (“Jong”), its Project Manager, while the checks remained in the custody of the company’s accountant, Kyu Yong Lee (“Kyu”). On 19 March 1992, a certain Roberto Gonzaga presented for payment FEBTC Check No. 432100 to the bank’s branch in Bel-Air, Makati . The check, payable to cash and drawn against Samsung Construction’s current account, was in the amount of Nine Hundred Ninety Nine Thousand Five Hundred Pesos (P999,500.00). The bank teller, Cleofe exercise the bank procedure in encashment using check. She then asked Gonzaga to submit proof of his identity, and the latter presented three (3) identification cards.The bank officer Syfu also noticed Jose Sempio III (“Sempio”), the assistant accountant of Samsung Construction , who supported the claim of Gonzaga. Syfu showed the check to Sempio, who vouched for the genuineness of Jong’s signature. Confirming the identity of Gonzaga, Sempio said that the check was for the purchase of equipment for Samsung Construction. Satisfied with the genuineness of the signature of Jong, Syfu authorized the bank’s encashment of the check to Gonzaga.
The following day Kyu, discovered that a check in the amount of Nine Hundred Ninety Nine Thousand Five Hundred Pesos (P999,500.00) had been encashed. Kyu perused the checkbook and found that the last blank check was missing. He reported the matter to Jong, who then proceeded to the bank. Jong learned of the encashment of the check, and realized that his signature had been forged. The Bank Manager reputedly told Jong that he would be reimbursed for the amount of the check. Jong proceeded to the police station and consulted with his lawyers. Subsequently, a criminal case for qualified theft was filed against Sempio before the Laguna court. FEBTC on the other hand, said that it was still conducting an investigation on the matter. Unsatisfied, Samsung Construction filed aComplaint on 10 June 1992 for violation of Section 23 of the Negotiable Instruments Law, before the Regional Trial Court (“RTC”) of Manila , Branch 9.
During the trial, both sides presented their respective expert witnesses to testify on the claim that Jong’s signature was forged. Samsung Corporation, which had referred the check for investigation to the NBI, presented Senior NBI Document Examiner Roda B. Flores. She testified that based on her examination, she concluded that Jong’s signature had been forged on the check. On the other hand, FEBTC, which had sought the assistance of the Philippine National Police (PNP), presented Rosario C. Perez, a document examiner from the PNP Crime Laboratory. She testified that her findings showed that Jong’s signature on the check was genuine.
ISSUE: Whether or not the signature of Jong in the subject check was forged?
RULING Upon examination of the record, and based on the applicable laws and jurisprudence, we reverse the Court of Appeals decision. Indeed there was forgery in this case.
Section 23 of the Negotiable Instruments Law states: When a signature is forged or made without the authority of the person whose signature it purports to be, it is wholly inoperative, and no right to retain the instrument, or to give a discharge therefor, or to enforce payment thereof against any party thereto, can be acquired through or under such signature, unless the party against whom it is sought to enforce such right is precluded from setting up the forgery or want of authority. (Emphasis supplied)
The crucial fact in question is whether or not the check was forged, not whether the bank could have detected the forgery. The latter issue becomes relevant only if there is need to weigh the comparative negligence between the bank and the party whose signature was forged. In this case, indeed there was forgery.
A bank is liable, irrespective of its good faith, in paying a forged check. WHEREFORE, the Petition is GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 28 November 1996 is REVERSED, and the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 9, dated 25 April 1994 is REINSTATED. Costs against respondent. SO ORDERED.