Lying under oath is punishable under the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines as the crime of Perjury. The crime of perjury is committed by any person who shall knowingly make untruthful statements or make an affidavit, upon any material matter and required by law. It is punishable by imprisonment of up to 2 years and four months.
Law Punishing the Crime of Perjury
Specifically, Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code defines and penalizes the crime of Perjury, as follow:
“Art. 183. False testimony in other cases and perjury in solemn affirmation. – The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon any person who, knowingly make untruthful statements and not being included in the provisions of the next preceding articles, shall testify under oath, or make an affidavit, upon any material matter before a competent person authorized to administer an oath in cases in which the law so requires. x x x” [Emphasis and underscoring supplied.]
Elements of the Crime of Perjury
The elements of Perjury, culled from Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code, are as follows:
“(a) The accused made a statement under oath or executed an affidavit upon a material matter;
(b) The statement or affidavit was made before a competent officer authorized to receive and administer oaths;
(c) In the statement or affidavit, the accused made a willful and deliberate assertion of a falsehood; and
(d) The sworn statement containing the falsity is required by law or for a legal purpose.” (Reyes, Luis B., The Revised Penal Code Book II, p. 272, 1998 Ed.)
The First Element of Perjury: A False Statement upon a Material Matter
The first element of the crime of Perjury requires the offender to a) make a statement under oath, and b) upon a material matter. Therefore, not all lies made in an affidavit or other statement under oath can be subject of a perjury complaint. The Revised Penal Code further requires that the lie, made under oath, must be upon a material matter.
A material matter has been defined as the main fact, which is the subject of the inquiry, or any fact or circumstance which tends to prove that fact, or any fact or circumstance which tends to corroborate or strengthen the testimony relative to the subject of inquiry, or which legitimately affects the credit of any witness who testifies. (Masangkay vs. People, G.R. No. 164443, 18 June 2010.) Thus, where, for example, a false statement is made as regards the address of a person, in an affidavit concerning a vehicular collision to be submitted with an insurer, and the vehicular collision occurred somewhere else (the false address being part of the document as a requirement of form but not a legal requirement) such false statement, while deplorable, is not actionable as Perjury under the Revised Penal Code, because the address of a person, under such circumstances, is neither the main subject of the inquiry, or a main fact.
The Second Element of Perjury: Before a Person Competent to Administer Oath
As for the second requirement, all that the law requires is the sworn statement or affidavit containing the falsehood be made before a person competent to administer oaths. A notary public is the most common example of a person authorized to administer oaths. Also, certain public officers are granted such power or authority, in relation to the exercise of their functions, such as policemen, who in certain capacities, can subscribe to a sworn statement, thereby fulfilling the legal requisite.
The Third Element of Perjury: Willful or Deliberate
The third element of the crime of Perjury requires that the person making the false statement must do so willfully or deliberately. The term willfully has been defined as “intentionally, with evil intent and legal malice, with consciousness that the alleged perjurious statement is false with the intent that it should be received as a statement of what was true in fact. It is equivalent to “knowingly.” “Deliberately” implies “meditated” as distinguished from “inadvertent acts.” Therefore, to satisfy this requisite, it must appear that the accused knows his statement to be false or is consciously ignorant of its truth. (Monfort III, et. al. vs. Salvatierra, et. al., G.R. No. 168301, 05 March 2007.)
In relation to the third element of Perjury, quite clearly, honest mistakes in factual statements, made under oath, are forgivable. However, good faith must be proven – that the mistake was not made intentionally, or that the person who executed the affidavit with the falsity, did so through oversight or inadvertence.
The Fourth Element of Perjury: Required for A Legal Purpose
The final and arguably most significant element, for a willful assertion of falsehood to be punishable as Perjury, is that the affidavit or sworn statement must be required by law or for a legal purpose. Not all affidavits, even if containing absolute falsehoods, can subject a person to the crime of Perjury. The Revised Penal Code requires that the sworn statement or affidavit must be executed pursuance to a legal requirement.
Thus, in our previous example about the affidavit concerning a vehicular collision containing a false address, if there is a particular law that requires the submission of an affidavit prior to making an insurance claim, and, more importantly, a particular legal requirement to disclose such address in the affidavit or sworn statement, then the lie becomes a material matter. More importantly, the person that executed such false affidavit may arguably be liable for the crime of Perjury because the affidavit is submitted as part of a legal requirement or in compliance with the law.
The Penalty for Perjury
Article 183 of the Revised Penal Code provides that the penalty for the crime of Perjury is arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period.
Arresto mayor in its maximum period involves imprisonment from 4 months and 1 day to 6 months. On the other hand, Prision Correccional in its minimum period is imprisonment ranging from 6 months and 1 day to 2 years and 4 months. Thus, the penalty for Perjury is imprisonment ranging from 4 months and 1 day to 2 years and 4 months.
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