Family reputation or tradition regarding pedigree ‘may be received in evidence if the witness testifying thereon be also a member of the family, either by consanguinity, affinity, or adoption’
There are criminal and civil cases wherein the fact of death is in issue during the trial.
“The amount of evidence required to establish the fact of death is somewhat affected by the nature of the case in which the question arises” (A treatise on the Law of Evidence, Wigmore, Greenleaf, and Harriman).
In murder, parricide, or homicide cases the fact of death must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. “In civil cases it is ordinarily sufficient to prove it by the mere preponderance of evidence…, [t]hus, in a claim of…title by… succession, or of the right of administration, the party is held to a… strict[er] proof of the death of the ancestor…” (A treatise on the Law of Evidence, Wigmore, Greenleaf, and Harriman).
However, when the question of death “arises incidentally and collaterally in the proceedings, as, for example, on a motion to read the deposition of a witness, or to give evidence of his testimony at a former trial… these are cases addressed to the discretion of the court…” (A treatise on the Law of Evidence, Wigmore, Greenleaf, and Harriman).
In the Philippines, the proof of death is required in probate of wills, petitions for letters testamentary or administration, death claims arising from life insurance policies, and death benefit entitlements from government insurance systems.
A death certificate is conclusive evidence only as to the fact of death of the deceased.
In this jurisdiction, the rule is that a death certificate, if duly registered with the Civil Register, is considered a public document and the entries found therein are presumed correct (Stronghold Insurance Company, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 83376, May 29, 1989, citing Tolentino v. Paras and Art. 410 of the Civil Code).
“The books making up the civil register and all documents relating thereto shall be considered public documents and shall be prima facie evidence of the facts therein contained” (Article 410, Civil Code of the Philippines). “As public documents, they are admissible in evidence even without further proof of their due execution and genuineness” (Iwasawa v. Gangan, et al., G.R. 204169, September 11, 2013).
In the case of Iwasawa v. Gangan, et al., “the RTC erred when it disregarded said documents (including death certificate) on the sole ground that the petitioner did not present the records custodian of the NSO who issued them to testify on their authenticity and due execution since proof of authenticity and due execution was not anymore necessary” (G.R. 204169, September 11, 2013).
“Moreover, not only are said documents admissible, they deserve to be given evidentiary weight because they constitute prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein.
“And in the instant case, the facts stated therein remain unrebutted since neither the private respondent nor the public prosecutor presented evidence to the contrary” (G.R. 204169, September 11, 2013).
In the case of People v. Masilang regarding the Murder of Rose Clarita A. Yuzon, “the prosecution proved the first element that Rose Yuzon was killed by submitting in evidence her death certificate, and presenting eyewitness Edgardo Gamboa who testified that he saw the killing of Rose Yuzon [and] [t]he accused-appellant admitted the death of the victim during pre-trial” (G.R. 246466, January 26, 2021).
“The direct and most satisfactory proof of the death of a person is the testimony of those who saw him die, or who, having known him when living, saw and recognized his body after his [death]” (A treatise on the Law of Evidence, Wigmore, Greenleaf, and Harriman).
In case of a violent or sudden death, the testimony of a medico-legal officer or an expert witness may be secured.
“The indirect evidence of death is either documentary or oral.”
“The oral evidence, indirectly proving death, consists of those circumstances from which the death of the person may reasonably be inferred; such as long absence, without any intelligence respecting him, reputation in the family, and their conduct thereupon, and other circumstances” (A treatise on the Law of Evidence, Wigmore, Greenleaf, and Harriman).
“[L]ong absence… without the aid of other facts, has been said not to furnish any presumption of the party’s death, on the ground of another rule, namely, that the last-proved state of things is presumed to continue; and that, therefore, the existence of a living person being once shown, he is presumed to continue alive, and the burden of proof is upon the party asserting his death” (A treatise on the Law of Evidence, Wigmore, Greenleaf, and Harriman).
Under Rule 131, Section 3 (w), “after an absence of seven years, it being unknown whether or not the absentee still lives, he or she is considered dead for all purposes, except for those of succession.” However, a person shall be considered dead for all purposes including the division of the estate among his heirs if he has been absent for four years.
The shorter period of four years will apply if (a) a person is on board a vessel lost during a sea voyage, or an aircraft which is missing; (b) a member of the armed forces who has taken part in armed hostilities; and (c) a person who has been in danger of death under other circumstances (Rule 131, Section 3(w), 2019 Amended Rules on Evidence).
Presumption of death being “a mere presumption of law, the rule is now settled, for most judicial purposes, that the presumption of life, with respect to persons of whom no account can be given, ends at the expiration of seven years from the time they were last known to be living, after which the burden of proof is devolved on the party asserting the life of the individual in question” (A treatise on the Law of Evidence, Wigmore, Greenleaf, and Harriman).
“The issue [presumption of death], in such cases, is an issue of fact; and the jury [judge] are at liberty to find the fact of death within the period of seven years, upon the circumstances proved in the case.” There must also be evidence of diligent inquiry at the place of the person’s last residence…, and among his relatives, and any others who probably would have heard of him…” (A treatise on the Law of Evidence, Wigmore, Greenleaf, and Harriman).
“[M]aterial to this issue are, the age of the party, his situation, habits, employment, state of health, physical constitution, the place or climate of the country whither he went, and whether he went by sea or land, the facilities of communication between that country and his former home… , in short, any circumstances tending to… [find] the fact of life or death” (A treatise on the Law of Evidence, Wigmore, Greenleaf, and Harriman).
The act or declaration about pedigree may be admissible to prove the death of a member of the family. “The word “pedigree” includes relationship, family genealogy, birth, marriage, death, the dates when and the places where these facts occurred, and the names of the relatives” (Section 41, Rule 130, 2019 Amended Rules of Evidence).
Family reputation or tradition regarding pedigree “may be received in evidence if the witness testifying thereon be also a member of the family, either by consanguinity, affinity, or adoption.
Entries in family bibles or other family books or charts, engraving on rings, family portraits and the like, may be received as evidence of pedigree” and can prove death (Section 42, Rule 130, 2019 Amended Rules of Evidence).