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ESTARIJA V. PEOPLE

JURISDICTION OF SANDIGANGBAYAN

GR NO. 173990

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

D E C I S I O N

This Petition for Review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court seeks to reverse and set aside the 25 November 2005 Decision [1] and the 11 July 2006 Resolution [2] of the Court of Appeals, which affirmed with modifications the Decision and Resolution of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Davao City, Branch 8, finding petitioner, Captain Edgardo V. Estarija (Estarija), then Harbor Master of the Philippine Ports Authority, Davao City, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 3, paragraph b of Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

On 7 August 1998, an Information was filed before the RTC of Davao City against Estarija for violating Section 3, paragraph b of Republic Act No. 3019. The accusatory portion of the Information reads:

That on or about August 6, 1998, in the City of Davao, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, EDGARDO ESTARIJA, a public officer, being then the Harbor Master of the Philippine Ports Authority at Sasa, Davao City, while in the performance of his official function as such, did then and there, 1ilfully, unlawfully and feloniously request and consequently receive the amount of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00) from Davao Pilot Association in consideration of accused’s issuance of berthing permits. [3]

Upon his arraignment on 26 August 1998, Estarija, assisted by a counsel de parte, pleaded not guilty to the charge. [4] Thereafter, trial on the merits ensued.

On 15 March 2000, the RTC rendered a decision convicting Estarija of the crime charged and imposing upon him a straight penalty of seven years. The decretal portion of the RTC decision reads:

For the foregoing, this Court finds accused Capt. Edgardo Estarija GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of violating Par. B, Sec. 3 of Republic Act 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Accordingly, he is hereby sentenced to suffer a penalty of imprisonment of SEVEN (7) YEARS. [5]

Estarija filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied by the RTC.

On 10 August 2000, Estarija filed a notice of appeal.

 

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Estarija. The Court of Appeals, however,

modified the penalty to an indeterminate sentence ranging from 6 years and 1 day to 9 years, with the

accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from public office

, thus:

WHEREFORE, this Court x x x hereby AFFIRMS the finding of guilt of the accused- appellant but ORDERS the modification of the sentence imposed upon the accused- appellant. Conformably, accused-appellant is hereby sentenced to an Indeterminate penalty of Six (6) Years and One (1) Month to Nine (9) Years of imprisonment, with the accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from public office. [6]

Hence, the instant petition.

 

In the main, the issue for resolution is whether or not error attended the RTC’s findings, as affirmed

by the Court of Appeals, that Estarija is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 3, paragraph b of

Republic Act No. 3019

.

Quite apart from the foregoing issue raised by Estarija, the question that comes to the fore, as made

evident by the proceedings below,

is whether or not Estarija correctly filed his appeal with the Court of

Appeals; or put differently, whether the Court of Appeals had appellate jurisdiction over the RTC decision

convicting Estarija of the charge

. Although not assigned as an error, said issue can be entertained by the

Court, since, in a criminal proceeding,

an appeal throws the whole case open for review, and it becomes the

duty of the Court to correct any error in the appealed judgment, whether it is made the subject of an

assignment of error or not

[7]

.

Republic Act No. 8249 entitled, “An Act Further Defining the Jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, Amending for the Purpose Presidential Decree No. 1606, as Amended, Providing Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes,” which further defined the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, took effect on 23 February 1997. Paragraph 3, Section 4(c) of Republic Act No. 8249 reads:

 

In cases where none of the accused are occupying positions corresponding to salary

Grade ‘27’ or higher, as prescribed in the said Republic Act No. 6758, or military and PNP officers mentioned above, exclusive original jurisdiction thereof shall be vested in the proper regional trial court, metropolitan trial court, municipal trial court, and municipal circuit trial court, as the case may be, pursuant to their respective jurisdictions as provided in Batas

Pambansa Blg. 129, as amended

.

 

The

Sandiganbayan

shall

exercise exclusive

appellate

jurisdiction over

final

judgments, resolutions or orders of regional trial courts whether in the exercise of their

own original jurisdiction or of their appellate jurisdiction as herein provided.

(Emphasis

supplied.)

It is manifest from the above provision that the decisions of the Regional Trial Court convicting an accused who occupies a position lower than that with salary grade 27 or those not otherwise covered by the enumeration of certain public officers in Section 4 of Presidential Decree No. 1606 as amended by Republic

Act No. 8249

are to be appealed exclusively to the Sandiganbayan.

 

SO ORDERED.

PEOPLE V SANDIGANGBAYAN

GR NO 167304

 

Time and again, it has been held that the right to appeal is not a natural right or a part of due process,

D E C I S I O N

but merely a statutory privilege and may be exercised only in the manner and in accordance with the provisions of the law. The party who seeks to avail himself of the same must comply with the requirements of

PERALTA, J.:

the rules, failing in which the right to appeal is lost.

 

Having failed to comply with the requirements set forth in the rules, Estarija’s appeal should have been dismissed by the Court of Appeals.

In the instant case, instead of appealing his conviction to the Sandiganbayan, Estarija erroneously filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals, in utter disregard of paragraph 3, Section 4(c) of Republic Act No.

8249. The Court of Appeals did not notice this conspicuous misstep, since it entertained the appeal.

This fatal

flaw committed by Estarija did not toll the running of the period for him to perfect his appeal to the Sandiganbayan. Because of Estarija’s failure to perfect his appeal to the Sandiganbayan within the period granted therefor, the Decision of the RTC convicting him of violating Section 3(a) of Republic Act No. 3019 has

thus become final and executory.

 
 

Inasmuch as the decision of the RTC has long been final and executory, it can no longer be altered or

modified

. [8]

Nothing is more settled in law than that

when a judgment becomes final and executory, it

becomes immutable and unalterable

[9]

The same may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the

.

modification is meant to correct what is perceived to be an erroneous conclusion of fact or law, and whether or not made by the highest court of the land. The reason is grounded on the fundamental considerations of public policy and sound practice that, at the risk of occasional error, the judgments or orders of courts must be

final at some definite date fixed by law.

 

The RTC imposed upon Estarija the straight penalty of seven (7) years. This is erroneous. The penalty for violation of Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 is imprisonment for not less than six years and one month nor more than fifteen years, and perpetual disqualification from public office. Under the

Indeterminate Sentence Law,

if the offense is punished by a special law, the Court shall sentence the accused

to an indeterminate penalty, the maximum term of which shall not exceed the maximum fixed by said law,

and the minimum term shall not be less than the minimum prescribed by the same

.

Thus, the correct penalty

should have been imprisonment ranging from six (6) years and one (1) month, as minimum, to nine (9) years as maximum, with perpetual disqualification from public office. However, since the decision of the RTC has

long become final and executory, this Court cannot modify the same

.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant petition is DENIED. The Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 8, dated 15 March 2000, finding Edgardo V. Estarija GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 is declared FINAL and EXECUTORY.

Before this Court is a petition [1] under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court seeking to reverse and set aside the Resolution [2] of the Sandiganbayan (Third Division) dated February 28, 2005 dismissing Criminal Case No. 27991, entitled People of the Philippines v. Victoria Amante for lack of jurisdiction.

The facts, as culled from the records, are the following:

Victoria Amante was a member of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Toledo City, Province of Cebu at the time pertinent to this case. On January 14, 1994, she was able to get hold of a cash advance in the amount of P71,095.00 under a disbursement voucher in order to defray seminar expenses of the Committee on Health

and Environmental Protection, which she headed

. As of December 19, 1995, or

after almost two years since

she obtained the said cash advance, no liquidation was made

. As such, on December 22, 1995, Toledo City

Auditor Manolo V. Tulibao issued a demand letter to respondent Amante asking the latter to settle her unliquidated cash advance within seventy-two hours from receipt of the same demand letter. The Commission on Audit, on May 17, 1996, submitted an investigation report to the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Visayas (OMB-Visayas), with the recommendation that respondent Amante be further investigated to ascertain whether appropriate charges could be filed against her under Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1445,

otherwise known as The Auditing Code of the Philippines.

Thereafter, the OMB-Visayas, on September 30,

1999, issued a Resolution recommending the filing of an Information for Malversation of Public Funds against

respondent Amante.

The Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP), upon review of the OMB-Visayas' Resolution,

on April 6, 2001, prepared a memorandum finding probable cause to indict respondent Amante.

On May 21, 2004,

the OSP filed an Information [3] with the Sandiganbayan accusing Victoria Amante of violating

Section 89 of P.D. No. 1445

, which reads as follows:

That on or about December 19, 1995, and for sometime prior or subsequent thereto at Toledo City, Province

of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the abovenamed accused VICTORIA AMANTE, a high-ranking public officer, being a member of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Toledo City, and committing the offense in relation to office, having obtained cash advances from the City Government of Toledo in the total amount of SEVENTY-ONE THOUSAND NINETY-FIVE PESOS (P71,095.00), Philippine Currency, which she received by reason of her office, for which she is duty-bound to liquidate the same within the period required by law, with deliberate intent and intent to gain, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and criminally fail to liquidate said cash advances ofP71,095.00, Philippine Currency, despite demands to the damage and prejudice of the government in aforesaid amount.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

The case was raffled to the Third Division of the Sandiganbayan. Thereafter, Amante filed with the said court a MOTION TO DEFER ARRAIGNMENT AND MOTION FOR REINVESTIGATION [4] dated November 18, 2004 stating that the Decision of the Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas) dated September 14, 1999 at Cebu City from of

an incomplete proceeding in so far that respondent Amante had already liquidated and/or refunded the

unexpected balance of her cash advance, which at the time of the investigation was not included as the same liquidation papers were still in the process of evaluation by the Accounting Department of Toledo City and that the Sandiganbayan had no jurisdiction over the said criminal case because respondent Amante was then a local official who was occupying a position of salary grade 26, whereas Section 4 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 8249 provides that the Sandiganbayan shall have original jurisdiction only in cases where the accused holds a position otherwise classified as Grade 27 and higher, of the Compensation and Position Classification Act of

1989, R.A. No. 6758.

The OSP filed its Opposition [5] dated December 8, 2004 arguing that respondent Amante's claim of settlement of the cash advance dwelt on matters of defense and the same should be established during the trial of the

case and not in a motion for reinvestigation.

As to the assailed jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, the OSP

contended that the said court has jurisdiction over respondent Amante since at the time relevant to the case, she was a member of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Toledo City, therefore, falling under those enumerated under Section 4 of R.A. No. 8249. According to the OSP, the language of the law is too plain and

unambiguous that it did not make any distinction as to the salary grade of city local officials/heads

.

The Sandiganbayan, in its Resolution [6] dated February 28, 2005, dismissed the case against Amante, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, this case is hereby dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The dismissal, however, is without prejudice to the filing of this case to the proper court.

The Motion for Reinvestigation filed by the movant is hereby considered moot and academic.

SO ORDERED.

Hence, the present petition.

Petitioner raises this lone issue:

WHETHER OR NOT THE SANDIGANBAYAN HAS JURISDICTION OVER A CASE INVOLVING A SANGGUNIANG PANLUNGSOD MEMBER WHERE THE CRIME CHARGED IS ONE COMMITTED IN RELATION TO OFFICE, BUT NOT FOR VIOLATION OF RA 3019, RA 1379 OR ANY OF THE FELONIES MENTIONED IN CHAPTER II, SECTION 2, TITLE

VII

OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE.

 

In claiming that the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction over the case in question, petitioner disputes the former's appreciation of this Court's decision in Inding v. Sandiganbayan. [7] According to petitioner, Inding did not categorically nor implicitly constrict or confine the application of the enumeration provided for under Section 4(a)(1) of P.D. No. 1606, as amended, exclusively to cases where the offense charged is either a violation of R.A. No. 3019, R.A. No. 1379, or Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code. Petitioner adds that the enumeration in Section (a)(1) of P.D. No. 1606, as amended by R.A. No. 7975 and R.A. No. 8249, which was made applicable to cases concerning violations of R.A. No. 3019, R.A. No. 1379 and Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code, equally applies to offenses committed in relation to public office.

Respondent Amante, in her Comment [8] dated January 16, 2006, averred that, with the way the law was phrased in Section 4 of P.D. No. 1606, as amended, it is obvious that the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan was defined first, enumerating the several exceptions to the general rule, while the exceptions to the general rule are provided in the rest of the paragraph and sub-paragraphs of Section 4. Therefore, according to respondent Amante, the Sandiganbayan was correct in ruling that the latter has original jurisdiction only over cases where the accused is a public official with salary grade 27 and higher; and in cases where the accused is public official below grade 27 but his position is one of those mentioned in the enumeration in Section 4(a)(1)(a) to (g) of P.D. No. 1606, as amended and his offense involves a violation of R.A. No. 3019, R.A. No. 1379 and Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code; and if the indictment involves offenses or felonies other than the three aforementioned statutes, the general rule that a public official must occupy a

position with salary grade 27 and higher in order that the Sandiganbayan could exercise jurisdiction over him must apply. The same respondent proceeded to cite a decision [9] of this Court where it was held that jurisdiction over the subject matter is conferred only by the Constitution or law; it cannot be fixed by the will of the parties; it cannot be acquired through, or waived, enlarged or diminished by, any act or omission of the parties, neither is it conferred by acquiescence of the court.

In its Reply [10] dated March 23, 2006, the OSP reiterated that the enumeration of public officials in Section 4(a)(1) to (a) to (g) of P.D. No. 1606 as falling within the original jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan should include their commission of other offenses in relation to office under Section 4(b) of the same P.D. No.

1606. It cited the case of Esteban v. Sandiganbayan, et al. [11] wherein this Court ruled that an offense is said to

have been committed in relation to the office if the offense is “intimately connected” with the office of the offender and perpetrated while he was in the performance of his official functions.

The petition is meritorious.

The

thoroughly discussed the history of the conferment of jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan in Serana v. Sandiganbayan, et al., [12] thus:

. As a background, this Court had

focal issue raised in the petition is the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan

x x x The Sandiganbayan was created by P.D. No. 1486, promulgated by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos on June 11, 1978. It was promulgated to attain the highest norms of official conduct required of public officers and employees, based on the concept that public officers and employees shall serve with the highest degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency and shall remain at all times accountable to the people. [13]

P.D. No. 1486 was, in turn, amended by P.D. No. 1606 which was promulgated on December 10, 1978. P.D. No. 1606 expanded the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. [14] P.D. No. 1606 was later amended by P.D. No. 1861 on March 23, 1983, further altering the Sandiganbayan jurisdiction. R.A. No. 7975 approved on March 30, 1995 made succeeding amendments to P.D. No. 1606, which was again amended on February 5, 1997 by R.A. No. 8249. Section 4 of R.A. No. 8249 further modified the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. x x x

Specifically,

the question that needs to be resolved is whether or not a member of the Sangguniang

Panlungsod under Salary Grade 26 who was charged with violation of The Auditing Code of the Philippines falls

within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

 

This Court rules in the affirmative.

the principal accused are officials occupying the following positions in the government, whether in a permanent, acting or interim capacity, at the time of the commission of the offense:

(1) Officials of the executive branch occupying the positions of regional director and higher, otherwise classified as grade “27” and higher, of the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989 (Republic Act No. 6758), specifically including:

(a) Provincial governors, vice-governors, members of the sangguniang panlalawigan and provincial treasurers,

assessors, engineers, and other city department heads;

(b) City mayors, vice-mayors, members of the sangguniang panlungsod, city treasurers, assessors, engineers,

and other city department heads.

The applicable law in this case is Section 4 of P.D. No. 1606, as amended by Section 2 of R.A. No. 7975 which took effect on May 16, 1995, which was again amended on February 5, 1997 by R.A. No. 8249. The alleged commission of the offense, as shown in the Information was on or about December 19, 1995 and the filing of

(c)

Officials of the diplomatic service occupying the position of consul and higher;

(d)

Philippine army and air force colonels, naval captains, and all officers of higher rank;

the Information was on May 21, 2004.

The jurisdiction of a court to try a criminal case is to be determined at

(e)

PNP chief superintendent and PNP officers of higher rank;

the time of the institution of the action, not at the time of the commission of the offense

. [15] The exception

contained in R.A. 7975, as well as R.A. 8249, where it expressly provides that to determine the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan in cases involving violations of R.A. No. 3019, as amended, R.A. No. 1379, and Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code is not applicable in the present case as the offense involved herein is a violation of The Auditing Code of the Philippines. The last clause of the opening sentence of paragraph (a) of the said two provisions states:

(f)

City and provincial prosecutors and their assistants, and officials and prosecutors in the Office of the

Ombudsman and Special Prosecutor;

(g)

Presidents, directors or trustees, or managers of government-owned or controlled corporations, state

universities or educational institutions or foundations;

Sec. 4. Jurisdiction. -- The Sandiganbayan shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction in all cases involving:

A. Violations of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, other known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Republic Act No. 1379, and Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII, Book II of the Revised Penal Code, where one or more of the accused are officials occupying the following positions in the government, whether in a permanent, acting or interim capacity, at the time of the commission of the offense:

The present case falls under Section 4(b) where other offenses and felonies committed by public officials or employees in relation to their office are involved. Under the said provision, no exception is contained. Thus, the general rule that jurisdiction of a court to try a criminal case is to be determined at the time of the institution of the action, not at the time of the commission of the offense applies in this present case. Since the present case was instituted on May 21, 2004, the provisions of R.A. No. 8249 shall govern. Verily, the pertinent provisions of P.D. No. 1606 as amended by R.A. No. 8249 are the following:

Sec. 4. Jurisdiction. -- The Sandiganbayan shall exercise original jurisdiction in all cases involving:

A. Violations of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Republic Act No. 1379, and Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code, where one or more of

(2) Members of Congress and officials thereof classified as Grade “27” and up under the Compensation and

Position Classification Act of 1989;

(3) Members of the judiciary without prejudice to the provisions of the Constitution;

(4) Chairmen and members of Constitutional Commissions, without prejudice to the provisions of the Constitution; and

(5) All other national and local officials classified as Grade “27” and higher under the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989.

B. Other offenses or felonies, whether simple or complexed with other crimes committed by the public officials and employees mentioned in subsection (a) of this section in relation to their office.

C. Civil and criminal cases filed pursuant to and in connection with Executive Order Nos. 1, 2, 14 and 14-A.

The above law is clear as to the composition of the original jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. Under Section 4(a), the following offenses are specifically enumerated: violations of R.A. No. 3019, as amended, R.A. No.

1379, and Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code. In order for the Sandiganbayan to acquire jurisdiction over the said offenses, the latter must be committed by, among others, officials of the executive branch occupying positions of regional director and higher, otherwise classified as Grade 27 and higher, of the

Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989. However, the law is not devoid of exceptions.

Those

that are classified as Grade 26 and below may still fall within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan provided

that they hold the positions thus enumerated by the same law.

Particularly and exclusively enumerated are

provincial governors, vice-governors, members of the sangguniang panlalawigan, and provincial treasurers, assessors, engineers, and other provincial department heads; city mayors, vice-mayors, members of the sangguniang panlungsod, city treasurers, assessors, engineers , and other city department heads; officials of the diplomatic service occupying the position as consul and higher; Philippine army and air force colonels, naval captains, and all officers of higher rank; PNP chief superintendent and PNP officers of higher rank; City and provincial prosecutors and their assistants, and officials and prosecutors in the Office of the Ombudsman and special prosecutor; and presidents, directors or trustees, or managers of government-owned or controlled

corporations, state universities or educational institutions or foundations.

In connection therewith, Section

4(b) of the same law provides that other offenses or felonies committed by public officials and employees

mentioned in subsection (a) in relation to their office also fall under the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

 
By simple analogy, applying the provisions of the pertinent law, respondent Amante, being a member

By simple analogy, applying the provisions of the pertinent law, respondent Amante, being a member of the Sangguniang Panlungsod at the time of the alleged commission of an offense in relation to her office, falls

within the original jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

alleged commission of an offense in relation to her office, falls within the original jurisdiction of

However, the Sandiganbayan, in its Resolution, dismissed the case with the following ratiocination:

x x x the ruling of the Supreme Court in the Inding case, stating that the Congress' act of specifically including

the public officials therein mentioned, “

obviously intended cases mentioned in Section 4 (a) of P.D. No. 1606,

as amended by Section 2 of R.A. No. 7975, when committed by the officials enumerated in (1)(a) to (g)

thereof, regardless of their salary grades, to be tried by the Sandiganbayan.”

Obviously,

the Court was

referring to cases involving violation of R.A. No. 3019, R.A. No. 1379 and Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code only because they are the specific cases mentioned in Section 4 (a) of P.D. No. 1606 as amended, so that when they are committed even by public officials below salary grade '27', provided they

belong to the enumeration, jurisdiction would fall under the Sandiganbayan

.

When the offense committed

however, falls under Section 4(b) or 4(c) of P.D. No. 1606 as amended, it should be emphasized that the

general qualification

that

the public official

must

belong to

grade

'27'

is

a

requirement

so

that

the

Sandiganbayan could exercise original jurisdiction over him. Otherwise, jurisdiction would fall to the proper

regional or municipal trial court.

 

In the case at bar, the accused is a Sangguniang Panlungsod member, a position with salary grade '26'. Her office is included in the enumerated public officials in Section 4(a) (1) (a) to (g) of P.D. No. 1606 as amended by Section 2 of R.A. No. 7975. However, she is charged with violation of Section 89 of The Auditing Code of the Philippines which is not a case falling under Section 4(a) but under Section 4(b) of P.D. No. 1606 as

amended.

This being the case, the principle declared in Inding is not applicable in the case at bar because as

stated, the charge must involve a violation of R.A. No. 3019, R.A. No. 1379 or Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of

the Revised Penal Code. Therefore

, in the instant case, even if the position of the accused is one of those

enumerated public officials under Section 4(a)(1)(a) to (g), since she is being prosecuted of an offense not

mentioned in the aforesaid section, the general qualification that accused must be a public official

mentioned in the aforesaid section, the general qualification that accused must be a public official occupying a position with salary grade '27' is a requirement before this Court could exercise jurisdiction over her. And since the accused occupied a public office with salary grade 26, then she is not covered by the jurisdiction of

the Sandiganbayan.

accused occupied a public office with salary grade 26, then she is not covered by the

Petitioner is correct in disputing the above ruling of the Sandiganbayan. Central to the discussion of the Sandiganbayan is the case of Inding v. Sandiganbayan [16] where this Court ruled that the officials enumerated in (a) to (g) of Section 4(a)(1) of P. D. No. 1606, as amended are included within the original jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan regardless of salary grade. According to petitioner, the Inding case did not categorically nor implicitly constrict or confine the application of the enumeration provided for under Section 4(a)(1) of P.D. No. 1606, as amended, exclusively to cases where the offense charged is either a violation of R.A. No. 3019, R.A. No. 1379, or Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code. This observation is true in light of the facts contained in the said case. In the Inding case, the public official involved was a member of the Sangguniang Panlungsod with Salary Grade 25 and was charged with violation of R.A. No. 3019. In ruling that the Sandiganbayan had jurisdiction over the said public official, this Court concentrated its disquisition on the provisions contained in Section 4(a)(1) of P.D. No. 1606, as amended, where the offenses involved are specifically enumerated and not on Section 4(b) where offenses or felonies involved are those that are in relation to the public officials' office. Section 4(b) of P.D. No. 1606, as amended, provides that:

b. Other offenses or felonies committed by public officials and employees mentioned in subsection (a) of this section in relation to their office.

A simple analysis after a plain reading of the above provision shows that those public officials enumerated in Section 4(a) of P.D. No. 1606, as amended, may not only be charged in the Sandiganbayan with violations of R.A. No. 3019, R.A. No. 1379 or Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code, but also with other offenses or felonies in relation to their office. The said other offenses and felonies are broad in scope but are

limited only to those that are committed in relation to the public official or employee's office.

This Court had

ruled that as long as the offense charged in the information is intimately connected with the office and is alleged to have been perpetrated while the accused was in the performance, though improper or irregular, of his official functions, there being no personal motive to commit the crime and had the accused not have committed it had he not held the aforesaid office, the accused is held to have been indicted for “an offense committed in relation” to his office. [17] Thus, in the case of Lacson v. Executive Secretary, [18] where the crime involved was murder, this Court held that:

The phrase “other offenses or felonies” is too broad as to include the crime of murder, provided it was

committed in relation to the accused’s official functions. Thus

, under said paragraph b, what determines

the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction is the official position or rank of the offender that is, whether he is one of

those public officers or employees enumerated in paragraph a of Section 4

. x x x.

Also, in the case Alarilla v. Sandiganbayan, [19] where the public official was charged with grave threats, this Court ruled:

x x x In the case at bar, the amended information contained allegations that the accused, petitioner herein,

took advantage of his official functions as municipal mayor of Meycauayan, Bulacan when he committed the crime of grave threats as defined in Article 282 of the Revised Penal Code against complainant Simeon G. Legaspi, a municipal councilor. The Office of the Special Prosecutor charged petitioner with aiming a gun at and threatening to kill Legaspi during a public hearing, after the latter had rendered a privilege speech critical of petitioner’s administration. Clearly, based on such allegations, the crime charged is intimately connected with the discharge of petitioner’s official functions. This was elaborated upon by public respondent in its April 25, 1997 resolution wherein it held that the “accused was performing his official duty as municipal mayor when he attended said public hearing” and that “accused’s violent act was precipitated by complainant’s criticism of his administration as the mayor or chief executive of the municipality, during the latter’s privilege speech. It was his response to private complainant’s attack to his office. If he was not the mayor, he would not

have been irritated or angered by whatever private complainant might have said during said privilege speech.” Thus, based on the allegations in the information, the Sandiganbayan correctly assumed jurisdiction over the case.

Proceeding from the above rulings of this Court, a close reading of the Information filed against respondent Amante for violation of The Auditing Code of the Philippines reveals that the said offense was committed in relation to her office, making her fall under Section 4(b) of P.D. No. 1606, as amended.

According to the assailed Resolution of the Sandiganbayan, if the intention of the law had been to extend the application of the exceptions to the other cases over which the Sandiganbayan could assert jurisdiction, then there would have been no need to distinguish between violations of R.A. No. 3019, R.A. No. 1379 or Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code on the one hand, and other offenses or felonies committed by public officials and employees in relation to their office on the other. The said reasoning is misleading because

a

distinction apparently exists.

In the offenses involved in Section 4(a), it is not disputed that public office is

essential as an element of the said offenses themselves, while in those offenses and felonies involved in Section 4(b), it is enough that the said offenses and felonies were committed in relation to the public officials

or employees' office.

In expounding the meaning of offenses deemed to have been committed in relation to

office, this Court held:

In Sanchez v. Demetriou [227 SCRA 627 (1993)], the Court elaborated on the scope and reach of the term

“offense committed in relation to [an accused’s] office” by referring to the principle laid down in Montilla v. Hilario [90 Phil 49 (1951)], and to an exception to that principle which was recognized in People v. Montejo [108 Phil 613 (1960)]. The principle set out in Montilla v. Hilario is that an offense may be considered as committed in relation to the accused’s office if “the offense cannot exist without the office” such that “the office [is] a constituent element of the crime x x x.” In People v. Montejo, the Court, through Chief Justice Concepcion, said that “although public office is not an element of the crime of murder in [the] abstract,” the facts in a particular case may show that

x x x the offense therein charged is intimately connected with [the accused’s] respective offices and was perpetrated while they were in the performance, though improper or irregular, of their official functions.

Indeed, [the accused] had no personal motive to commit the crime and they would not have committed it had they not held their aforesaid offices. x x x [20]

Moreover, it is beyond clarity that the same

provision of Section 4(b) does not mention any qualification as to

the public officials involved. It simply stated, public officials and employees mentioned in subsection (a) of the same section. Therefore, it refers to those public officials with Salary Grade 27 and above, except those

specifically enumerated. It

is a well-settled principle of legal hermeneutics that words of a statute will be

interpreted in their natural, plain and ordinary acceptation and signification, [21] unless it is evident that the legislature intended a technical or special legal meaning to those words. [22]

or special legal meaning to those words . [ 2 2 ] is always presumed .

is always presumed. [23]

WHEREFORE, the Petition dated April 20, 2005 is hereby GRANTED and the Resolution of the Sandiganbayan (Third Division) dated February 28, 2005 is NULLIFIED andSET ASIDE. Consequently, let the case be REMANDED to the Sandiganbayan for further proceedings. SO ORDERED.

PEOPLE V BUSTAMANTE GR NO. 172357 D E C I S I O N

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

The police authorities are the ones tasked to promote and maintain peace and order in our country. Thus, it becomes doubly deplorable when they themselves commit the criminal act. In this case, appellants insist on their innocence; they deny that they killed the victim Romeleo Quintos on June 1, 1997 inside the detention cell of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). But we are not persuaded. We took a second hard look at the evidence presented and we hold that both the trial court and the appellate court correctly found that the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that the appellants are guilty of murder.

This is an appeal from the July 19, 2005 Decision [1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 00665 which affirmed in toto the March 17, 2000 Decision [2] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasay City, Branch 109, finding the appellants guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder. Also assailed is the March 6, 2006 Resolution [3] of the CA denying the separate motions for reconsideration filed by the appellants.

Factual Antecedents

On May 22, 1998, two Informations were filed against the herein appellants, together with Carlito Lingat and Mutalib Abdulajid, charging them with the crimes of Murder and Arbitrary Detention. The Informations read:

Crim. Case No. 98-0547 (for Murder):

The undersigned Ombudsman Investigator, Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military, hereby accuses NEIL BALUYOT, RICHARD DELOS TRINO, HERMINIO JOSE, EDWIN SORIANO, MARCELO BUSTAMANTE, CARLITO LINGAT, MUTALIB ABDULAJID, AND ELMER SALVADOR of the crime of MURDER defined and penalized under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, committed as follows:

That in the early morning of June 01, 1997, between 2:00 to 3:00 o’clock [in the morning], or sometime prior or subsequent thereto, in Pasay City, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the accused NEIL BALUYOT, RICHARD DELOS TRINO, HERMINIO JOSE, EDWIN SORIANO, MARCELO BUSTAMANTE, and CARLITO LINGAT, all public officers, being then members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Force, assigned [at] the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), and accused ELMER SALVADOR and MUTALIB ABDULAJID, security guards, also assigned at the NAIA, conspiring and confederating with one another, with intent to kill and taking advantage of their superior strength, did then and there 7ilfully, unlawfully and feloniously tie a plastic nylon cord around the neck of one Romeleo A. Quintos, and hang him at the end portion of the detention cell, which caused the instantaneous death of said Romeleo A. Quintos to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of said victim.

CONTRARY TO LAW. [4] Criminal Case No. 98-0548 (for Arbitrary Detention)

The undersigned Ombudsman Investigator, Office of the Ombudsman for the Military, hereby accuses EDWIN D. SORIANO, MARCELO Z. BUSTAMANTE, HERMINIO M. JOSE, CARLITO D. LINGAT and NEIL T. BALUYOT of the crime of ARBITRARY DETENTION, defined and penalized under Article 124 of the Revised Penal Code, committed as follows:

That on or about June 01, 1997, in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the abovenamed accused, all public officers, being then members of the Philippine National Police Force assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, conspiring and confederating with each other, committing the offense in relation to their office, and without any legal ground, did then and there 7ilfully, unlawfully, and feloniously detain and restrain Romeleo A. Quintos of his personal liberty, without his consent

and against his will since midnight of May 31, 1997 until around 3:15 a.m. of June 01, 1997 when said Romeleo A. Quintos was found dead inside the detention cell.

CONTRARY TO LAW. [5]

Neil Baluyot (Baluyot), Richard Delos Trino (Delos Trino), Herminio Jose (Jose), Edwin Soriano (Soriano), Marcelo Bustamante (Bustamante), Carlito Lingat (Lingat) and Elmer Salvador (Salvador), were arraigned on July 14, 1998 where they all entered a plea of not guilty. [6] Mutalib Abdulajid (Abdulajid) remains at large.

The records show that at around midnight of May 31, 1997, Romeleo Quintos (Romeleo) and his friend, Ancirell Sales (Ancirell), went to the NAIA to fetch Rolando Quintos(Rolando), brother of Romeleo, who was arriving from the United States. At the arrival extension area of the NAIA, Ancirell alighted from the car driven by Romeleo to check whether Rolando had already arrived. Upon his return, he was surprised to see Romeleo arguing with a man in uniform later identified as Soriano who arrested Romeleo for expired license.

Romeleo vehemently denied the charge causing a heated altercation. Outraged, Romeleo challenged Soriano to a gun duel. Thinking that Romeleo was a military man, Soriano called for reinforcement. In a few minutes, Lingat and Bustamante arrived followed by Jose. They asked Romeleo to hand over his license but the request went unheeded. Thus, Jose seized the ignition key of the vehicle and ordered Romeleo to alight from the vehicle but the latter refused. Thereupon, Soriano, Lingat, Bustamante and Jose pulled Romeleo out of the vehicle and brought him to the Intelligence and Investigation Division of the NAIA (IID-NAIA) supposedly for questioning. At the IID-NAIA, it was decided that Romeleo be brought to the Pasay General Hospital for examination where he was found positive for alcoholic breath. Thereafter, Romeleo was brought back to the IID-NAIA for further investigation.

Romeleo was shoved into a cell already occupied by prosecution witness Noel Gabornes (Gabornes), who had earlier been arrested for being an unauthorized porter. Professing his innocence, Romeleo cursed and shouted at Baluyot, Delos Trino, Jose, Soriano, Bustamante, Lingat, Salvador and Abdulajid to release him as he was only at the airport to fetch his brother. Jose ordered him to stop but Romeleo persisted. Infuriated, Jose entered the cell and kicked the victim hard on the stomach. Salvador also entered the cell followed by Baluyot while Delos Trino stayed near the door. Romeleo was still reeling from the blow delivered by Jose when Baluyot boxed him in the abdomen. Salvador also punched him at the solar plexus causing the victim to writhe in pain at a corner of the cubicle. To avoid being hit, Gabornes went outside the cell.

Gasping for breath, Romeleo sought succour from Gabornes but the latter declined, afraid to get involved. After a while, Gabornes asked Jose if he could go home but the latter did not answer. Instead, Jose directed Salvador to transfer Gabornes to an adjacent cell. Thereafter, Gabornes overheard Jose saying

tapusin na natin ito”. Intrigued, Gabornes peered through the iron grill to see what was happening. From his vantage point, he saw Baluyot handing a piece of grayish plastic cord to Salvador. Thereafter, he heard Romeleo coughing and gasping for breath as if he was being strangled. Peering closely, the witness saw Salvador and Abdulajid twisting the cord with a piece of wood, “8ilfully” style. Romeleo’s hand could be seen trying to reach for the piece of wood in a backward angle in a vain effort to stop the twisting. After a couple of minutes, Gabornes saw a body being carried out of the cell. DelosTrino then approached Gabornes and said: “Kung anong nakita mo, nakita mo lang. Kung anong narinig mo, narinig mo lang. Sana huwag mo ng ikalat ito.Fearing for his life,Gabornes promised not to tell anybody about the incident. Thereafter, he was released.

At about that time, the victim’s brother, Rolando, had already arrived from the United States. Informed by Ancirell of the detention of his brother Romeleo, Rolando set out for home to deposit his luggage but immediately went back to the airport with Ancirell and a cousin, Rabadon Gavino (Gavino), to check on Romeleo. At around 3:00 a.m. of the same day, they arrived at the IID-NAIA office and were met in the hallway by Bustamante who told them that Romeleo was in the detention cell. Asking for directions, the group was ushered towards a dark cell. When the lights were turned on, they were horrified to see the lifeless body of Romeleo hanging with a cord around his neck with the other end tied around the iron grills of the cell window.

Rolando, Ancirell and Gavino, along with Soriano and Lingat, immediately brought the victim to the San Juan De Dios Hospital aboard a police car. Rolando and his companions carried the victim to the emergency room. Soriano and Lingat remained in the vehicle but returned to the NAIA after a while. Romeleo was declared dead on arrival by the attending physician. Gabornes later learned of the victim’s identity through the newspapers.

Baluyot, Delos Trino, Jose, Soriano, Bustamante, and Lingat, were all members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) assigned with the IID-NAIA, while Salvador and Abdulajidwere security guards of the Lanting Security Agency assigned at NAIA.

Ruling of the Regional Trial Court

After

due

proceedings,

the

trial

the decretal portion reads:

court

promulgated

its

Decision

dated March

17,

2000,

In view of all the foregoing, the Court finds the accused Neil Baluyot y Tabisora, Richard delos Trino y Sarcilla, Herminio Jose y Mozon, Edwin Soriano y dela Cruz, Marcelo Bustamante y Zapanta,Carlito Lingat y Salvador, Elmer Salvador y Javale, and Mutalib Abdulajid guilty beyond reasonable

doubt of MURDER in Criminal Case No. 98-0457. It appearing on evidence that the accused voluntarily surrendered at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group as evidenced by Exh. 21, the Court credits them with the mitigating circumstances of voluntary surrender and hereby sentences each of them to RECLUSION PERPETUA and for each accused to pay the heirs of the victim indemnity in the amount of P50,000.00.

In Criminal Case No. 98-0548 for Arbitrary Detention, it appearing from the evidence that the

victim Romeleo Quintos was detained at the IID for three (3) hours and fifteen (15) minutes, the same is punished or penalized under Art. 124, paragraph 1 of the Revised Penal Code which is herein below

reproduced:

ART. 124. Arbitrary Detention. Any public officer or employee who, without legal grounds, detains

a

person, shall suffer:

 
 

(1)

The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correctional in its minimum period if the detention has not exceeded three days;

x

x x x

hence the case is not within the jurisdiction of this Court.

The OIC of this Court is hereby ordered to transmit the records of Criminal Case No. 98-0548 for Arbitrary detention to the Metropolitan Trial Court.

The Petition for Bail filed by all the accused is hereby considered moot and academic.

Let an Alias Warrant of arrest be issued in so far as accused Mutalib Abdulajid is concerned who remains at large.

SO ORDERED. [7] Ruling of the Court of Appeals

The CA affirmed the Decision of the RTC in a Decision dated July 19, 2005, thus:

IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the appealed decision is hereby AFFIRMED in toto. Costs de officio.

SO ORDERED. [8]

Aggrieved,

appellants

filed

their

respective

Motions

for

Reconsideration.

meantime, Lingat died. On March 6, 2006, the CA denied the motions for reconsideration. [9]

In

the

All the appellants, except Bustamante, filed notices of appeal. Bustamante filed an Urgent Motion for Leave to Admit Second Motion for Reconsideration [10] but it was denied by the CA in its Resolution [11] dated April 28, 2006. Thereafter, Bustamante filed a Petition for Review on Certiorari but the same was treated as an appeal in the Resolution [12] datedJanuary 15, 2007.

Issues

The issues raised are: (1) whether the uncorroborated testimony of the lone eyewitness, Gabornes, is sufficient to produce a judgment of conviction; (2) whether conspiracy was proven beyond reasonable doubt; and (3) whether appellants should be held liable only for homicide, and not for murder.

Our Ruling

Upon careful consideration of the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense, we are unable to consider the appellants’ appeal with 9ilful.

The uncorroborated testimony of a single witness, if credible, is enough to warrant conviction.

We find that the CA did not err in affirming the Decision of the trial court convicting the appellants of

murder based on the testimony of Gabornes, the lone eyewitness

. It is settled jurisprudence that the

testimony of a single witness, if credible, is enough to warrant conviction.

Both the trial court and the CA

found Gabornes to be credible and whose testimony is entitled to full faith. We find no cogent reason to depart from said findings.

As borne out by the records, Gabornes positively identified and categorically pointed to appellants as the ones who conspired with one another to kill Romeleo on June 1, 1997. He narrated the incident in a clear and convincing manner. He testified on the degree of participation of each of the accused with regard to the killing of Romeleo inside the IID-NAIA detention cell in such a manner that only an unbiased eyewitness could narrate. Gabornes was not shown to have had any ill motives to testify falsely against the appellants. As correctly observed by both the trial court and the CA, the fact that Gabornes was previously arrested for being an unauthorized porter is not enough reason for him to falsely accuse appellants of a very grave offense.

We also hold that the CA correctly disregarded the affidavit of recantation of Gabornes dated February 21, 2005. In the said affidavit, Gabornes denied that he was inside the detention cell of the NAIA on June 1,

1997. Instead, he claimed that he was under the fly-over near the NAIA playing a card game. Consequently,

he averred that there is no truth to his testimony given before the trial court pointing to the appellants as the

perpetrators of the crime. We are not persuaded.

Our ruling in People v. Ballabare [13] is instructive:

It is absurd to disregard a testimony that has undergone trial and scrutiny by the court and the parties simply because an affidavit withdrawing the testimony is subsequently presented by the defense. In the first place, any recantation must be tested in a public trial with sufficient opportunity given to the party adversely affected by it to cross-examine the recanting witness. X x x

In the second place, to accept the new evidence uncritically would be to make a solemn trial a mockery and place the investigation at the mercy of unscrupulous witnesses. For even assuming that Tessie Asenita had made a retraction, this circumstance alone does not require the court to disregard her

For this reason, courts

look with 9ilfully9 upon retractions because they can easily be obtained from witnesses usually through intimidation or for monetary considerations. Hence, when confronted with a situation where a witness recants his testimony, courts must not automatically exclude the original testimony solely on the basis of the recantation. They should determine which testimony should be given credence through a comparison of the original testimony and the new testimony, applying the general rules of evidence. X x x [14]

original testimony.

A retraction does not necessarily negate an earlier declaration.

As we have already discussed, Gabornes’ testimony given before the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)

and the trial court was replete with details that only a person who witnessed such gruesome crime could

narrate. Even during cross-examination, he remained steadfast in his account that the appellants were the ones who killed Romeleo. Also, both the trial court and the appellate court had several opportunities of taking

a hard look at the records of the case considering the motions for reconsideration filed by the

appellants. Both the CA and the RTC found beyond reasonable doubt that the appellants were indeed the

authors of the crime.

The prosecution satisfactorily established

that

appellants

conspired with each other in killing Romeleo.

We are not persuaded by the contention of the appellants that there was no conspiracy considering that they were in different areas of the NAIA premises when the crime took place. As correctly held by the CA:

At bar, appellants claimed that they were either at the NAIA parking lot or were at the adjacent IID-NAIA office

when the crime took place. These places, however, are but a short distance away from the scene of the crime and one could travel to and from these points in a little over a few seconds or minutes of leisure walking, as

readily admitted by appellants in their own version of the event. Verily, the possibility of appellants to be at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission, is thus not farfetched. [15]

Besides,

it is not required for conspiracy to exist that there be an agreement for an appreciable period

prior to the occurrence. It is sufficient that at the time of the commission of the offense, the accused had the same purpose and were united in its execution. Direct proof of such agreement is not necessary. It may be deduced from the mode and manner in which the offense was perpetrated, or inferred from the acts of the

accused which point to a joint purpose and design, concerted action and community of interest

.

This community of design is present among the appellants as deduced from their individual acts. The RTC observed thus:

The act of the accused Elmer Salvador, Neil Baluyot y Tabisora, and Richard Delos Trino y Sarcilla of boxing the victim on the stomach and the act of accused Herminio Jose who said ‘tapusin nanatin ito’ together with the act of accused Neil Baluyot of handing a ‘tale’ or cord to Elmer Salvador who thereafter twisted the cord which was around the neck of the victim with a piece of wood with the help of accused Mutalib Abdulajid who up to the present remained at large, all acts of which were done in the presence of all the accused namely: Neil Baluyot y Tabisora, Richard Delos Trino y Sarcilla,Herminio Jose y Mozon, Edwin Soriano y dela Cruz, Marcelo Bustamante y Zapanta, Carlito Lingat y Damaso and Elmer Salvador (including the accused who is at large) clearly show that all accused conspired, confederated and helped one another in murdering the victim with abuse of superior strength by strangling and hanging the victim Romeleo Quintos causing him to die of asphyxia. In conspiracy, the act of one is the act of all.

X x x x

Likewise, the act of accused Carlito Lingat y Damaso and Edwin Soriano y Dela Cruz of not coming to the hospital to give the medical clerk the name and circumstances of the victim including the facts surrounding the victim’s death is very suspicious indeed and is contrary to the SOP of officers who bring victims to the hospital. Also the failure of all the accused to immediately report to the police investigator of Pasay City is quite unusual. In the same manner the acts of accused Neil Baluyot y Tabisora, Herminio Jose y Mozon and Richard Delos Trino y Sarcilla of leaving the IID office and cell which is the scene of the crime and then going to Biňan and to Atty. Augusto Jimenez is quite unusual for persons who professed innocence. [17]

Moreover, the doctrine is well settled that conspiracy need not be proved by direct evidence

Moreover, the doctrine is well settled that conspiracy need not be proved by direct evidence but may

be proven through the series of acts done by each of the accused in pursuance

be proven through the series of acts done by each of the accused in pursuance of their common unlawful purpose. For collective responsibility among the accused to be established, it is sufficient that at the time of

the aggression, all of them acted in concert, each doing his part to 10ilful their common design to kill the

victim.

The CA correctly observed that:

A fortiori, appellants should be held liable for the death of Romeleo Quintos. Their sequential attack, one after another, revealed their unlawful intent to kill the victim. Herminio Jose’s utterances of

“tapusin na natin ito” only strengthens the link that binds the acts of the appellants in their coordinated effort to kill Romeleo. X x x [19]

The circumstance of abuse of superior strength qualified the killing to murder.

There is likewise no merit to appellants’ contention that they should only be held liable for homicide, and not for murder, because the qualifying circumstance of abuse of superior strength was not specifically alleged in the Information. Contrary to the assertion of the appellants, the Information specifically alleged that the appellants were

x x x conspiring and confederating with one another, with intent to kill and taking advantage of their superior strength, did then and there 10ilfully, unlawfully and feloniously tie a plastic nylon cord around the neck of one Romeleo A. Quintos, and hang him at the end portion of the detention cell, which caused the instantaneous death of said Romeleo A. Quintos to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of said victim.

It has been satisfactorily established that Baluyot, Delos Trino, Jose, Soriano, Bustamante, and Lingat, were all members of the PNP assigned with the IID-NAIA, while Salvador andMutalib were security guards of the Lanting Security Agency assigned at NAIA. The eight of them acted in concert and definitely took advantage of their superior strength in subduing and killing their lone victim who was unarmed. Thus, all the appellants must be held liable for the crime of murder.

All told, appellants miserably failed to show convincing reasons to overturn the Decision of both the trial court and the CA. In this case, the CA ascertained the factual findings of the trial court to be supported by proof beyond reasonable doubt which led to the conclusion that appellants acted in unison in killing Romeleo. It is worthy to stress that findings of fact of the CA, especially if they affirm factual findings of the trial court, will not be disturbed by this Court, unless these findings are not supported by evidence. [20]

The liabilities of Carlito Lingat and Mutalib Abdulajid

It has not escaped our notice that Abdulajid was not arraigned and remains at large up to this time. However, in the Decision of the trial court which was affirmed by the CA,Abdulajid was likewise found

guilty as charged. This is erroneous considering

that without his having been arraigned, the trial court did not

acquire jurisdiction over his person

.

As regards Lingat, his death pending appeal and prior to the finality of conviction extinguished his criminal and civil liabilities. [21] Moreover, the death of Lingat would result in the dismissal of the criminal case against him. [22]

Damages

We note that both the trial court and the CA awarded the heirs of the victim only the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity. In line with prevailing jurisprudence, [23] we also award the amount of P50,000.00 as moral damages. Further, we also award the amount of P25,000.00 as exemplary damages pursuant to our ruling in People v. Angeles [24] where we held that “under Article 2230 of the Civil Code,

exemplary damages may be awarded in criminal cases when the crime was committed with one or more

aggravating circumstances, (in this case, abuse of superior strength).

This is intended to serve as deterrent to

serious wrongdoings and as vindication of undue sufferings and wanton invasion of the rights of an injured, or as a punishment for those guilty of outrageous conduct. The imposition of exemplary damages is also justified under Article 2229 of the Civil Code in order to set an example for the public good.” In addition, and in lieu of actual damages, we also award temperate damages in the amount of P25,000.00. [25]

Likewise, we note that both the trial court and the CA overlooked the fact that during the testimony of Clementina Quintos, the mother of the victim, sufficient evidence was presented to show that the victim before his untimely death, was gainfully employed in a private company with a monthly salary of P15,000.00.

Fiscal Barrera:

Q

A He was gainfully employed. He is an executive at IPC (International product Corporation), Makati as

operation officer.

Would you describe Romeleo Quintos prior to his death?

Q

project engineer?

A

Do you have any evidence to show that he earn Five Thousand pesos [sic] (P15,000.00) a month as

Yes, sir.

Fiscal Barrera:

May I request that the Certification dated January 22, 1999 issued by IPC be marked as Exh. “EEE”; the name appearing thereat that Romeleo Quintos has been an employee of IPC from January 8, 1997 up to June 1, 1997 with the position of operation officer with monthly salary of P15,000.00 x x x be marked as Exh. “EEE-1” and the signature of a person who issued the certification be marked asExh. “EEE-2”. [26]

The formula [27] for unearned income is as follows:

Life Expectancy x [Gross Annual Income (GAI) less Living Expenses (50% GAI)] Where Life Expectancy= 2/3 x (80 age of the deceased)

Article 2206 of the Civil Code provides:

Art. 2206. That amount of damages for death caused by a crime or quasi-delict shall be at least Three Thousand Pesos, even though there may have been mitigating circumstances. In addition:

(1) the defendant shall be liable for the loss of the earning capacity of the deceased, and the indemnity shall be paid to the heirs of the latter, such indemnity shall in every case be assessed and awarded by the court, unless the deceased on account of permanent physical disability not caused by the accused, had no earning capacity at the time of his death;

x x x x

Hence, the testimony of the victim’s mother that Romeleo was earning P15,000.00 per month is sufficient basis for an award of damages for loss of earning capacity.

It is well settled that the factors that should be taken into account in determining the compensable amount of lost earnings are: (1) the number of years for which the victim would otherwise have lived; (2) the rate of loss sustained by the heirs of the deceased.

X

x x x

The unearned income of Romeleo is computed as follows:

Q

How much was your son Romeleo Quintos receiving as operation officer at IPC?

Unearned Income = 2/3 (80 30 [28] ) [(P15,000.00 x 12) ½ (P15,000.00 x 12)]

A

P15,000.00, sir, monthly.

= 2/3 (50) (P180,000.00 P90,000.00)

= 2/3 (50) (P90,000.00)

= 9,000,000.00/3

= P 3,000,000.00

The undersigned accuses ALFIE LORENZO, ALLEN MACASAET, NICOLAS QUIJANO JR., ROGER B. PARAJES and JORDAN CASTILLO, of the crime of LIBEL, committed as follows:

WHEREFORE, the July 19, 2005 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 00665 is MODIFIED. Appellants Neil Baluyot, Richard Delos Trino, HerminioJose, Edwin Soriano, Marcelo Bustamante, and Elmer Salvador, are hereby found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder

and are sentenced to suffer the penalty ofreclusion perpetua and to pay the heirs of Romeleo Quintos the amounts of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, P50,000.00 as moral damages, P25,000.00 as temperate damages,P25,000.00 as exemplary damages, and P3,000,000.00 as lost income. In view of the death of Carlito Lingat pending appeal and prior to the finality of his conviction, Criminal Case No. 98-0547 is DISMISSED and the appealed Decision is SET ASIDE insofar as Carlito Lingat is concerned. Insofar

theRegional Trial Court of Pasay City,

as Mutalib Abdulajid is concerned, the March 17, 2000 Decision of

Branch 109 in Criminal Case No. 98-0547 is NULLIFIED for failure of the trial court to acquire jurisdiction over his person. Consequently, the appealed July 19, 2005 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No.

00665 is likewise SET ASIDE insofar as Mutalib Abdulajid is concerned.

SO ORDERED.

G. R. No. 156747

JURISDICTION IN CRIMINAL CASES

February 23, 2005

ALLEN A. MACASAET, NICOLAS V. QUIJANO, JR., and ALFIE LORENZO, petitioners, vs. THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES and JOSELITO TRINIDAD, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

Before Us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court of the

Decision 1 dated 22 March 2002 and Resolution dated 6 January 2003 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No.

22067 entitled, "People of the Philippines v. Alfie Lorenzo, et al."

The factual antecedents are as follows:

In an Information dated 10 July 1997, Alfie Lorenzo, Allen Macasaet, Nicolas Quijano, Jr., and Roger Parajes, columnist, publisher, managing editor, and editor, respectively of the newspaper "Abante" were charged before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, with the crime of libel. The information, which was raffled off to Branch 93 of said court, reads:

That on or about the 13th day of July, 1996 in Quezon City, Philippines, the said accused ALFIE LORENZO, columnist, ALLEN MACASAET, publisher, NICOLAS QUIJANO JR., managing editor, ROGER B. PARAJES, editor, respectively of "Abante" a newspaper of general circulation in the Philippines, and JORDAN CASTILLO, conspiring, confederating together and mutually helping one another, with evident intent of exposing JOSELITO MAGALLANES TRINIDAD, a.k.a. JOEY TRINIDAD a.k.a. TOTO TRINIDAD to public hatred, dishonor, discredit and contempt and ridicule, did, then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and maliciously write, publish, exhibit and circulate and/or cause to be written, published, exhibited and circulated in the aforesaid newspaper, in its issue of July 13, 1996 an article which reads as follows:

"Humarap sa ilang reporters si Jordan Castillo hindi para magkaroon ng writeups kundi para ituwid lang ang ilang bagay na baluktot at binaluktot pang lalo ng isang Toto Trinidad.1a\^/phi1.net

Hindi namin naging barkada si Joey Trinidad. Bah, Toto na pala siya ngayon. Anong palagay niya sa sarili niya, si Direk Toto Natividad siya? Nakikibuhat lang talaga yang taong ‘yan sa amin sa Liberty Ave. noon. Ni hindi nga pinapansin ni Tito Alfie ‘yan dahil nga sa amoy-pawis siya pagkatapos mag-barbell. Kami naka-shower na, si Joey punas lang nang punas sa katawan niya ng T-shirt niyang siya ring isusuot niya pagkatapos na gawing pamunas!

Madalas ngang makikain sa amin yan noon. Galit na galit nga ang mayordoma naming si Manang Hilda noon dahil nagkukulang ang rasyon namin dahil dagdag pakainin nga yang si Joey. Tamang-tama nga lang sa amin ang kanin at ulam, pero sinusugod pa niya ang kaldero para magkayod ng natitirang tutong sa kaldero. Naaawa nga ako madalas diyan kaya sineshare ko na lang ang pagkain ko sa kanya.

Ewan ko kung anong naisipan ng taong ‘yan at pagsasalitaan pa niya ng masama si Tito Alfie. Hindi man lang siya tumanaw ng utang na loob na kahit konti at kahit na sandali ay naitawid ng gutom niya. Hindi ko alam kung may kunsenya pa ang gangyang klaseng tao, pero sana naman ay makunsensya ka, Pare!

Madalas nga itinatago ka na nga namin ni Tito Alfie para hindi mahighblood sa iyo, ganyan pa ang gagawin mo. Napupuyat nga si Manang Hilda sa pagbabantay sa iyo at hindi makatulog ang matanda hangga’t hindi ka pa umuuwi, magsasalita ka pa ng mga inimbento mo. Pati nga si Eruel ay madalas mabanas sa iyo, natatandaan mo pa ba, dahil sa kakulitan mo! Pilit mo kaming binubuyo na sabihin kay Tito Alfie na tulungan ka rin tulad ng tulong na ibinibigay ni Tito Alfie na pag-aalaga sa amin. Pero hate na hate ka nga ni Tito Alfie dahil sa masamang ugali, natatandaan mo pa ba yun? Kaya tiyak ko na imbento mo lang ang lahat ng pinagsasabi mo para makaganti ka kay Tito Alfie," ani Jordan sa mga nag-interbyu sa kanyang legitimate writers.

Hindi na siguro namin kailangan pang dagdagan ang mga sinabi ng sinasabi ni Toto Trinidad na mga barkada niya at kapwa niya kuno Liberty Boys!"

thereby publicly imputing a crime, vice or defect, real or imaginary or an act, omission, condition, status or circumstance and causing in view of their publication, discredit and contempt upon the person of said JOSELITO MAGALLANES TRINIDAD a.k.a. JOEY TRINIDAD a.k.a. TOTO TRINIDAD, to his damage and prejudice. 2

In an Order dated 16 July 1997, Judge Apolinario D. Bruselas, Jr., presiding judge of RTC, Branch 93, Quezon City, set the arraignment of the petitioners on 27 August 1997. 3

On 22 August 1997, petitioners filed before the court a quo an Urgent Motion to Suspend Arraignment and/or Defer Proceedings dated 21 August 1997 claiming that they intended to elevate the adverse Resolution of the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for review. Despite this motion, the scheduled arraignment of petitioners pushed through on 27 August 1997. During said proceeding, petitioners Lorenzo and Quijano, Jr., together with their co-accused Parajes and Castillo, refused to enter any plea and so the trial court ordered that a plea of not guilty be entered into the records on their behalf. 4 As for petitioner Macasaet, his arraignment was rescheduled to 20 October 1997 due to his failure to attend the previously calendared arraignment.

On 12 September 1997, petitioners filed a Motion to Dismiss the libel case on the

On 12 September 1997, petitioners filed a Motion to Dismiss the libel case on the ground that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over the offense charged. According to petitioners, as the information discloses that the residence of private respondent was in Marikina, the RTC of Quezon City did not have jurisdiction over the

case pursuant to Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code, to wit:

the RTC of Quezon City did not have jurisdiction over the case pursuant to Article 360

The criminal and civil action for damages in cases of written defamations as provided for in this chapter, shall be filed simultaneously or separately with the Court of First Instance of the province or city where the libelous article is printed and first published or where any of the offended parties actually resides at the time of the

commission of the offense

5 (Emphasis supplied.)

Subsequently, on 23 September 1997, the trial court received by way of registered mail, petitioners’ Motion for Reconsideration and to Withdraw Plea dated 3 September 1997. 6 Petitioners argued therein that the trial court committed grave error when it denied the petitioners’ Urgent Motion to Suspend Arraignment and/or Defer Proceedings and continued with the scheduled arraignment on 27 August 1997. According to petitioners and their co-accused, by the trial judge’s denial of their Urgent Motion to Defer Arraignment and/or Defer Proceedings, he had effectively denied them their right to obtain relief from the Department of Justice. Moreover, banking on the case of Roberts, et al. v. Court of Appeals, 7 the petitioners and their fellow accused contended that since they had already manifested their intention to file a petition for review of the Resolution of the city prosecutor of Quezon City before the DOJ, it was premature for the trial court to deny their urgent motion of 21 August 1997. Finally, petitioners and their co-accused claimed that regardless of the outcome of their petition for review before the DOJ, the withdrawal of their "not guilty" pleas is in order as they planned to move for the quashal of the information against them.

In an Order dated 26 September 1997, 8 Judge Bruselas, Jr., ruled that "with the filing of the ‘Motion to Dismiss,’ the court considers the accused to have abandoned their ‘Motion for Reconsideration and to Withdraw Plea’ and sees no further need to act on the same."

In his Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss dated 23 September 1997, 9 the public prosecutor argued that the RTC, Quezon City, had jurisdiction over the case. He maintained that during the time material to this case, private respondent (private complainant below) was a resident of both 28-D Matino St. corner Malumanay St., Sikatuna Village, Quezon City and Karen St., Paliparan, Sto. Niño, Marikina, Metro Manila, as shown in his Reply-Affidavit of 11 October 1996 filed during the preliminary investigation of the case.

For their part, the petitioners and their co-accused countered that it was incorrect for the public prosecutor to refer to the affidavit purportedly executed by private respondent as it is "axiomatic that the resolution of a motion to quash is limited to a consideration of the information as filed with the court, and no other." Further, as both the complaint-affidavit executed by private respondent and the information filed before the court state that private respondent’s residence is in Marikina City, the dismissal of the case is warranted for the rule is that jurisdiction is determined solely by the allegations contained in the complaint or information. 10

On 16 October 1997, petitioners and their fellow accused filed a Supplemental Reply 11 attaching thereto certifications issued by Jimmy Ong and Pablito C. Antonio, barangay captains of Barangay Malaya, Quezon City and Barangay Sto. Niño, Marikina City, respectively. The pertinent portion of the barangay certification 12 issued by Barangay Captain Ong states:

This is to certify that this office has no record on file nor with the list of registered voters of this barangay regarding a certain person by the name of one MR. JOSELITO TRINIDAD.

This further certifies that our BSDO’s (have) been looking for said person seeking information regarding his whereabouts but to no avail.

On the other hand, the certification 13 issued by Barangay Captain Antonio, reads in part:

This is to certify that JOSELITO TRINIDAD of legal age, single/married/separate/widow/widower, a resident ofKaren Street, Sto. Niño, Marikina City is a bonafide member of this barangay.

.

.

.

This is being issued upon request of the above-named person for "IDENTIFICATION."

During the hearing on 20 October 1997, the trial court received and marked in evidence the two barangaycertifications. Also marked for evidence were page 4 of the information stating the address of private respondent to be in Marikina City and the editorial box appearing in page 18 of Abante indicating that the tabloid maintains its editorial and business offices at Rm. 301/305, 3/F BF Condominium Bldg., Solana cor. A. Soriano Sts., Intramuros, Manila. The prosecution was then given five (5) days within which to submit its comment to the evidence submitted by the petitioners and their fellow accused.

In his Rejoinder to Supplemental Reply, 14 private respondent contended that the certification issued by thebarangay captain of Barangay Malaya was issued after he had already moved out of the apartment unit he

was renting in Sikatuna Village, Quezon City; that owners of residential houses do not usually declare they rent out rooms to boarders in order to avoid payment of local taxes; and that there is no showing that a census was conducted among the residents of Barangay Malaya during the time he resided therein.

As regards the certification issued by the barangay chairman of Sto. Niño, Marikina City, private respondent argued that it is of judicial notice that barangay and city records are not regularly updated to reflect the transfer of residence of their constituents and that a perusal of said certification reveals that the barangay captain did not personally know him (private respondent). Finally, private respondent claimed that his receipt of the copy of petitioners’ Appeal to the DOJ, which was sent to his alleged address in Sikatuna Village, Quezon City, proved that he did, in fact, reside at said place.

On 24 November 1997, the trial court rendered an Order dismissing the case due to lack of jurisdiction. 15 The court a quo noted that although the information alleged the venue of this case falls within the jurisdiction of

Quezon City, the evidence submitted for its consideration indicated otherwise.

First, the editorial box

of Abante clearly indicated that the purported libelous article was printed and first published in the City of

Manila.

In addition, the trial court relied on the following matters to support its conclusion that, indeed,

jurisdiction was improperly laid in this case: a) on page 4 of the information, the address of private respondent appeared to be the one in Marikina City although right below it was a handwritten notation stating "131 Sct. Lozano St., Barangay Sacred Heart, QC"; b) the two barangay certifications submitted by the petitioners; and c) the Memorandum for Preliminary Investigation and Affidavit-Complaint attached to the information wherein the given address of private respondent was Marikina City.

On 03 December 1997,

private respondent filed a motion for reconsideration 16 insisting that at the time the

alleged libelous article was published, he was actually residing in Quezon City

. According to him, he mistakenly

stated that he was a resident of Marikina City at the time of publication of the claimed defamatory article because he understood the term "address" to mean the place where he originally came from. Nevertheless, the error was rectified by his supplemental affidavit which indicated Quezon City as his actual residence at the time of publication of the 13 July 1996 issue of Abante.

On 22 January 1998, private respondent filed a supplemental motion for reconsideration to which he attached an affidavit executed by a certain Cristina B. Del Rosario, allegedly the owner of the house and lot in Sikatuna Village, Quezon City, where private respondent supposedly lived from July 1996 until May 1997. She also stated in her affidavit that she was not aware of any inquiry conducted by the barangay officials of Barangay Malaya regarding the residency of private respondent in their locality.

Through an Order dated 12 February 1998, the trial court denied private respondent’s motion for reconsideration, ruling thus:

[Del Rosario’s] affidavit appears to have been executed only on 19 January 1998 to which fact the court can only chuckle and observe that evidently said affidavit is in the nature of a curative evidence, the weight and sufficiency of which is highly suspect. 17

Undaunted, the public and the private prosecutors filed a notice of appeal before the court a quo. 18 In the Decision now assailed before us, the Court of Appeals reversed and set aside the trial court’s conclusion and ordered the remand of the case to the court a quo for further proceedings. The dispositive portion of the appellate court’s decision reads:

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Order dated November 24, 1997 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 93, Quezon City, in Criminal Case No. Q-97-71903, dismissing the case filed against herein accused-appellees on the ground of lack of jurisdiction, is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and a new one entered remanding the case to the court a quo for further proceedings. 19

The Court of Appeals held that jurisprudentially, it is settled that the

"residence of a person must be his

personal, actual or physical habitation or his actual residence or abode" and for the purpose of determining

venue, actual residence is a person’s place of abode and not necessarily his legal residence or domicile

. 20 In

this case, the defect appearing on the original complaint wherein the residence of private respondent was indicated to be Marikina City was subsequently cured by his supplemental-affidavit submitted during the preliminary investigation of the case. Moreover, as the amendment was made during the preliminary investigation phase of this case, the same could be done as a matter of right pursuant to the Revised Rules of Court. 21

As for the barangay certifications issued by the barangay chairmen of Barangay Malaya and Barangay Sto. Niño, the Court of Appeals ruled that they had no probative value ratiocinating in the following manner:

.

.

.

With respect to the requirement of residence in the place where one is to vote, residence can mean either

domicile or temporary residence

(Bernas, The 1987 Constitution A Primer, 3rd Ed., p. 209). Therefore, one

who is a resident of Quezon City can be a voter of Marikina if the latter is his domicile. Conversely, a person

domiciled in Marikina can vote in Quezon City if he resides in the latter

. It is just a matter of choice on the part

of the voter. Thus, logic does not support the supposition that one who is not a registered voter of a place is

also not a resident thereof.

Furthermore, the right to vote has the corollary right of not exercising it.

Therefore, one need not even be a registered voter at all. The same principle applies to the certification issued by the barangay in Marikina. 22

The appellate court likewise gave weight to the affidavit executed by Del Rosario and observed that petitioners failed to controvert the same.

The petitioners thereafter filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied by the Court of Appeals in a Resolution promulgated on 6 January 2003. 23

Hence, this petition raising the following issues:

I

THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED A REVERSIBLE ERROR IN RULING THAT THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF QUEZON CITY HAS TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION OVER THE CRIME CHARGED.

II

THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN ADMITTING THE AFFIDAVIT OF CRISTINA B. DEL ROSARIO.

III

THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN SUSTAINING RESPONDENT TRINIDAD’S PERSONALITY TO APPEAL A CRIMINAL CASE. 24

Petitioners insist that the evidence presented before the trial court irrefutably established the fact that private respondent was not a resident of Quezon City at the time the alleged libelous publication saw print. According to them, the information dated 10 July 1997 filed before the RTC of Quezon City indicated private respondent’s address to be in Karen St., Paliparan, Sto. Niño, Marikina City. Further supporting this claim were the affidavit-complaint 25 and the memorandum for preliminary investigation 26 where references were explicitly made to said address. Thus, petitioners are of the view that the Court of Appeals erred in relying on the supplemental affidavit executed by private respondent claiming that its execution amounted to nothing more than a mere afterthought.1awphi1.nét

In addition, petitioners argue that the appellate court erred when it took into account the affidavit executed by Del Rosario. They insist that its belated submission before the trial court and the prosecution’s failure to present the affiant to testify as regards the veracity of her statements undermined the evidentiary value of her affidavit. More, as the affidavit was not formally offered as evidence, it was only proper that the trial court disregarded the same in dismissing the case.

Finally, petitioners contend that private respondent did not have the requisite personality to appeal from the decision of the trial court as it is only the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) which is authorized by law to institute appeal of criminal cases. Thus, the Court of Appeals made a mistake in holding that -

… While it is true that only the OSG can file an appeal representing the government in a criminal proceeding, the private complainant nevertheless may appeal the civil aspect of the criminal case. The case at bar was dismissed due to the alleged improper laying of venue resulting in the alleged lack of jurisdiction of the trial court and not based on the merits of the case. It cannot therefore be argued that private complainant’s appeal pertains to the merits of the criminal case as what happened in accused-appellees’ cited case in the motion to strike, VicentePalu-ay vs. Court of Appeals(GR No. 112995, July 30, 1998). Needless to say, the private complainant has an interest in the civil aspect of the dismissed criminal case which he had the right to protect. In the interest of justice and fair play, therefore, the Brief filed by private complainant in the present case should be treated as pertaining only to the civil aspect of the case. 27

In his Comment/Opposition dated 25 April 2003, 28 private respondent reiterated his position that the RTC of Quezon City had jurisdiction over this libel case. According to him, the affidavit executed by Del Rosario, the alleged owner of the house he leased in Sikatuna Village, Quezon City, established, beyond doubt, that he resided in said place during the time the claimed defamatory article appeared on the pages of Abante. In addition, he draws attention to the fact that petitioners and their co-accused furnished him a copy of the petition for review, filed before the DOJ, at the aforementioned address in Quezon City.

Anent the affidavit of Del Rosario, private respondent maintains that the prosecution exerted efforts to present the affiant before the trial court. Unfortunately, Del Rosario was out of town when she was supposed to be presented and so the public and the private prosecutors decided to submit for resolution their motion for reconsideration sans the affiant’s testimony. Citing the case of Joseph Helmuth, Jr. v. People of the Philippines, et al., 29 private respondent avers that this Court had previously admitted the affidavits of witnesses who were not presented during the trial phase of a case.

As regards the petitioners’ contention that he (private respondent) did not have the personality to bring this case to the appellate level, private respondent contends that the proper party to file the Notice of Appeal before the trial court is the public prosecutor as what happened in this case.

On its part, the OSG filed its Comment dated 07 July 2003 30 wherein it prayed for the dismissal of this petition based on the following: First, as the petition is concerned with the determination of the residence of private respondent at the time of the publication of the alleged libelous article, Rule 45 should be unavailing to the petitioners because this remedy only deals with questions of law.

Second, venue was properly laid in this case as private respondent’s residency in Quezon City during the time material to this case was sufficiently established. The OSG claims that the errors appearing in the memorandum for preliminary investigation and in the affidavit complaint with regard to private respondent’s residence were corrected through the supplemental affidavit private respondent executed during the preliminary investigation before the Quezon City prosecutor’s office.

Third, the OSG takes the view that the public prosecutor was the proper party to file the notice of appeal before the trial court since its (OSG’s) office is only "authorized to bring or defend actions on appeal on behalf of the People or the Republic of the Philippines once the case is brought before this Honorable Court of the Court of Appeals.

We find merit in the petition and therefore grant the same.

Jurisdiction has been defined as "the power conferred by law upon a judge or court to try a case the cognizance of which belongs to them exclusively" 31 and it constitutes the basic foundation of judicial proceedings. 32 The term derives its origin from two Latin words "jus" meaning law and the other, "dicere" meaning to declare. 33 The term has also been variably explained to be "the power of a court to hear and determine a cause of action presented to it, the power of a court to adjudicate the kind of case before it, the power of a court to adjudicate a case when the proper parties are before it, and the power of a court to make the particular decision it is asked to render." 34

In criminal actions, it is a fundamental rule that venue is jurisdictional.l^vvphi1.net Thus, the place where the crime was committed determines not only the venue of the action but is an essential element of jurisdiction. 35 In the case ofUy v. Court of Appeals and People of the Philippines, 36 this Court had the occasion to expound on this principle, thus:

It is a fundamental rule that for jurisdiction to be acquired by courts in criminal cases the offense should have been committed or any one of its essential ingredients took place within the territorial jurisdiction of the court. Territorial jurisdiction in criminal cases is the territory where the court has jurisdiction to take cognizance or to try the offense allegedly committed therein by the accused. Thus, it cannot take jurisdiction over a person charged with an offense allegedly committed outside of that limited territory. Furthermore, the jurisdiction of a court over the criminal case is determined by the allegations in the complaint or information. And once it is so shown, the court may validly take cognizance of the case. However, if the evidence adduced during the trial show that the offense was committed somewhere else, the court should dismiss the action for want of jurisdiction. 37

The law, however, is more particular in libel cases. The possible venues for the institution of the criminal and the civil aspects of said case are concisely outlined in Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 4363. It provides:

Art. 360. Persons responsible. -

The criminal action and civil action for damages in cases of written defamations as provided for in this chapter, shall be filed simultaneously or separately with the Court of First Instance of the province or city where the libelous article is printed and first published or where any of the offended parties actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense: Provided, however, That where one of the offended parties is a public officer whose office is in the City of Manila at the time of the commission of the offense, the action shall be filed in the Court of First Instance of the City of Manila or of the city or province where the libelous article is printed and first published, and in case such public officer does not hold office in the City of Manila, the action shall be filed in the Court of First Instance of the province or city where he held office at the time of the commission of the offense or where the libelous article is printed and first published and in case one of the offended parties is a private individual, the action shall be filed in the Court of First Instance of the province or city where he actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense or where the libelous matter is printed and first published.

In Agbayani v. Sayo, 38 we summarized the foregoing rule in the following manner:

1. Whether the offended party is a public official or a private person, the criminal action may be filed

in the Court of First Instance of the province or city where the libelous article is printed and first

published.

2. If the offended party is a private individual, the criminal action may also be filed in the Court of

First Instance of the province where he actually resided at the time of the commission of the offense.

3. If the offended party is a public officer whose office is in Manila at the time of the commission of

the offense, the action may be filed in the Court of First Instance of Manila.

4. If the offended party is a public officer holding office outside of Manila, the action may be filed in

the Court of First Instance of the province or city where he held office at the time of the commission of the offense. 39

In the case at bar, private respondent was a private citizen at the time of the publication of the alleged

libelous article, hence, he could only file his libel suit in the City of Manila where Abante was first published or

in the province or city where he actually resided at the time the purported libelous article was printed.

A perusal, however, of the information involved in this case easily reveals that the allegations contained

therein are utterly insufficient to vest jurisdiction on the RTC of Quezon City. Other than perfunctorily stating "Quezon City" at the beginning of the information, the assistant city prosecutor who prepared the information did not bother to indicate whether the jurisdiction of RTC Quezon City was invoked either because Abante was printed in that place or private respondent was a resident of said city at the time the claimed libelous article came out. As these matters deal with the fundamental issue of the court’s jurisdiction, Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, mandates that either one of these statements must be alleged in the information itself and the absence of both from the very face of the information renders the latter fatally defective.l^vvphi1.net Sadly for private respondent, the information filed before the trial court falls way short of this requirement. The assistant city prosecutor’s failure to properly lay the basis for invoking the jurisdiction of the RTC, Quezon City, effectively denied said court of the power to take cognizance of this

case.1a\^/phi1.net

For the guidance, therefore, of both the bench and the bar, this Court finds it appropriate to reiterate our earlier pronouncement in the case of Agbayani, to wit:

In

order to obviate controversies as to the venue of the criminal action for written defamation, the complaint

or

information should contain allegations as to whether, at the time the offense was committed, the offended

party was a public officer or a private individual and where he was actually residing at that time. Whenever possible, the place where the written defamation was printed and first published should likewise be alleged. That allegation would be a sine qua non if the circumstance as to where the libel was printed and first published is used as the basis of the venue of the action. 40

Anent private respondent and OSG’s contention that the supplemental affidavit submitted during the preliminary investigation of this libel suit cured the defect of the information, we find the same to be without merit. It is jurisprudentially settled that jurisdiction of a court over a criminal case is determined by the allegations of the complaint or information. 41 In resolving a motion to dismiss based on lack of jurisdiction, the general rule is that the facts contained in the complaint or information should be taken as they are. 42 The exception to this rule is where the Rules of Court allow the investigation of facts alleged in a motion to quash 43 such as when the ground invoked is the extinction of criminal liability, prescriptions, double jeopardy,

or

insanity of the accused. 44 In these instances, it is incumbent upon the trial court to conduct a preliminary

trial to determine the merit of the motion to dismiss. As the present case obviously does not fall within any of the recognized exceptions, the trial court correctly dismissed this action.

In the assailed decision, the Court of Appeals likewise put premium on the affidavit executed by Del Rosario which was attached to private respondent’s supplemental motion for reconsideration. According to the appellate court, said document "supports private (respondent’s) claim that indeed, he was a resident of Quezon City at the time the alleged libelous article was published." 45 The pertinent provision of the Rules of Court, under Rule 10, Section 6 thereof, states:

Sec. 6. Supplemental Pleadings. - Upon motion of a party the court may, upon reasonable notice and upon such terms as are just, permit him to serve a supplemental pleading setting forth transactions, occurrences or events which have happened since the date of the pleading sought to be supplemented. The adverse party may plead thereto within ten (10) days from notice of the order admitting the supplemental pleading.

By the very nature of a supplemental pleading, it only seeks to reinforce and augment the allegations contained in the principal pleading. It does not serve to supplant that which it merely supplements; rather, it ought to co-exist with the latter. Further, the admission of a supplemental pleading is not something that parties may impose upon the court for we have consistently held that its admittance is something which is addressed to the discretion of the court. 46

Explicit in the aforequoted provision of the Rules of Court is the requirement that the contents of a supplemental pleading should deal with transactions, occurrences or events which took place after the date of the pleading it seeks to supplement. A reading of the supplemental motion for reconsideration filed by private respondent discloses no additional or new matters which transpired after he filed his original motion for reconsideration. The fact that he attached thereto the affidavit of his alleged lessor fails to persuade us into giving to said supplemental motion the same evidentiary value as did the Court of Appeals. For one, private respondent did not even bother to explain the reason behind the belated submission of Del Rosario’s affidavit nor did he claim that he exerted earnest efforts to file it much earlier in the proceedings.l^vvphi1.net He must, therefore, bear the consequences of his own lethargy.

Finally, we come to the issue of whether the private prosecutor and the public prosecutor had the personality to file the notice of appeal before the trial court. Petitioners insist that the OSG should have been the one to file said notice in its capacity as the "sole representative of the [g]overnment in the Court of Appeals in criminal cases." 47

Under Presidential Decree No. 478, among the specific powers and functions of the OSG was to "represent the government in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals in all criminal proceedings." This provision has been carried over to the Revised Administrative Code particularly in Book IV, Title III, Chapter 12 thereof. Without doubt, the OSG is the appellate counsel of the People of the Philippines in all criminal cases. In such capacity, it only takes over a criminal case after the same has reached the appellate courts. 48

The next question should then be: when does the jurisdiction of the trial court end and that of the Court of Appeals commence? Happily, the Revised Rules of Court is clear on this point. Rule 41, Section 9 of the Rules

states that "(i)n appeals by notice of appeal, the court loses jurisdiction over the case upon the perfection of the appeals filed in due time and the expiration of the time to appeal of the other parties." 49 When a party files a notice of appeal, the trial court’s jurisdiction over the case does not cease as a matter of course; its only effect is that the appeal is deemed perfected as to him. 50 As explained by our former colleague, Justice Florenz Regalado

[I]n the meantime, the trial court still retains jurisdiction over the case. However, where all the parties have either thus perfected their appeals, by filing their notices of appeal in due time and the period to file such notice of appeal has lapsed for those who did not do so, then the trial court loses jurisdiction over the case as of the filing of the last notice of appeal or the expiration of the period to do so for all the parties. 51

Applied to the case at bar, we deem it proper that the notice of appeal was filed by the private and the public prosecutors before the trial court. The Rules cannot be any clearer: until the filing of the last notice of appeal and the expiration of the period to perfect an appeal by all the parties, the lower court still has jurisdiction over the case. It is only after the occurrence of these two incidents when the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals begins and at which time the OSG is supposed to take charge of the case on behalf of the government.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision dated 22 March 2002 and Resolution dated 6 January 2003 of the Court of Appeals are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE and the 24 November 1997 Decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 93, Quezon City, dismissing Criminal Case No. Q-97-71903 is hereby REINSTATED. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

G.R. No. 145498

January 17, 2005

BENJAMIN LEE, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

Petitioner is now before us on a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court seeking the reversal of the Decision 1 of the Court of Appeals dated July 30, 1999, which affirmed the judgment of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 79, Quezon City (RTC) convicting him of violating Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 in Criminal Case No. Q-93-50094; and the Resolution 2 dated October 11, 2000, denying his motion for reconsideration.

The facts are as follows:

On October 4, 1993, an Information was filed against petitioner Dr. Benjamin F. Lee and a certain Cesar Al. Bautista, for violation of B.P. Blg. 22, which reads:

That on or about the 24th day of July 1993, in Quezon City, Philippines, the said accused, conspiring together, confederating with, and mutually helping each other, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously make or draw and issue to Rogelio G. Bergado to apply on account or for value United Coconut Planters Bank Check No. 168341 dated July 24, 1993 payable to the order of Rogelio G. Bergado in the amount of P980,000.00, Philippine Currency, said accused well knowing that at the time of issue they did not have sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank for payment of such check in full upon its presentment, which check when presented for payment was subsequently dishonored by the drawee bank for Account Closed and despite receipt of notice of such dishonor, said accused failed to pay said Rogelio G. Bergado the amount of said check or to make arrangement for full payment of the same within five (5) banking days after receiving said notice.

CONTRARY TO LAW. 3

Petitioner pleaded not guilty in his arraignment on February 1, 1995. 4 Presiding Judge Godofredo L. Legaspi noted in the assailed judgment that trial proceeded insofar only as petitioner is concerned, "since accused Cesar Bautista is presently detained at Municipal Jail at Calapan, Mindoro where he has a pending case before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC), Calapan, Mindoro and despite several notices to the jail warden of Calapan, Mindoro, the latter failed to bring the person of said accused to this Court for arraignment." 5

For the prosecution, private complainant Rogelio Bergado testified that: on July 19, 1992, he loaned Unlad Commercial Enterprises (Unlad for brevity), through its agent Norma Ilagan, the amount of P500,000.00 with an interest of 4% a month; on September 10, 1992, he loaned another P400,000.00 through Ilagan for the same interest rate; in exchange, he received a total of twenty-six checks, four of which were dishonored for the reason "drawn against insufficient funds"; he went to Calapan, Mindoro and talked to Bautista and the latter replaced the dishonored checks with United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) Check No. ARA 168341, signed by Bautista and herein petitioner dated July 24, 1993, in the amount of P980,000.00 representing the total amount loaned plus interests; when Bergado deposited the check at UCPB, the same was dishonored due to "account closed"; through his lawyer, he sent demand letters to Bautista and petitioner, who, despite having received the same still failed and refused to make any payment. Upon cross-examination, Bergado admitted that he did not see or meet petitioner prior to July 24, 1993 nor did he go to Calapan, Mindoro to check the existence of Unlad prior to lending it the amount of P900,000.00. 6

The prosecution also presented Zenaida 7 Katigbak, Branch Operations Officer of UCPB Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, who testified that Bautista and petitioner are the authorized signatories of Current Account No. 130-000406-2, against which the check subject of the present criminal case was issued; and that the account was opened on August 22, 1988 and closed on January 31, 1992 due to mishandling of the account, i.e., a check was previously issued against it without sufficient funds. 8

The prosecution presented UCPB Check No. ARA 168341, 9 UCPB Check Return Slip dated August 5, 1993 stating that Check No. ARA 168341 was returned unpaid due to "account closed"; 10 a demand letter addressed to petitioner dated August 9, 1993; 11 registry return slip; 12 a copy of the complaint affidavit of private complainant; 13 signature card of the current account of petitioner and Bautista at UCPB; 14 and the bank

statement of the current account of petitioner and Bautista dated January 31, 1992 reflecting that said account has been closed on said date. 15

For the defense, petitioner testified that: it is Bautista who is the sole owner of Unlad; he knew Bautista and became his "compadre" because of Bautista’s wife who was his employee; he does not know anything about the check issued by Bautista in favor of Bergado nor did he receive any amount from Bergado or any other person; he agreed to open an account with Bautista in 1988 because Bautista promised to give him 5% interest from the proceeds of loans that will be made in favor of other people from said account; before July of 1989, Bautista also asked him to sign several checks in exchange for 2.5% interest a month from the proceeds of loan to be made in favor of other people; after July 1989, he terminated his accommodation arrangement with Bautista after learning that Bautista was also giving 5% interest to other investors without any accommodation agreement; he asked for the checks he previously signed but Bautista refused to return them saying that he did not have them anymore; and inspite of these, he continued investing in Bautista’s business in the amount of more than P500,000.00. 16

On cross-examination, petitioner admitted that he signed several checks in blank on different occasions; that he was the one who asked and insisted that Bautista execute Exhs. "1" and "2", affidavits of Bautista stating that Unlad shall be Bautista’s sole responsibility; and that despite having severed his relationship with Bautista in July of 1989, he did not inform UCPB Araneta, Quezon City branch of such fact and he continued investing in Unlad, from July 1989 to April 1994. 17

To bolster his claim, petitioner presented: an affidavit executed by Bautista dated May 31, 1993 stating that Bautista is the sole proprietor of Unlad and that any business transaction entered into by Unlad shall be Bautista’s personal responsibility; 18 an affidavit executed by Bautista on June 4, 1990, stating that petitioner is no longer connected with Unlad and that petitioner should not be held liable regarding any transaction entered into by Unlad after July 1989 since petitioner is no longer a signatory; 19 a business permit issued by the Municipality of Calapan certifying that Bautista has been granted a permit to operate a "general merchandise"; 20 a certification from the Department of Trade and Industry, Oriental Mindoro Provincial Office stating that Unlad is registered in the name of Cesar Bautista and/or Placer Bautista; 21 orders of attachment issued by the Regional Trial Court of Oriental Mindoro on the properties of Bautista and petitioner; 22 and checks issued by Bautista in favor of petitioner and his wife Amelia Lee. 23

On July 22, 1997, the RTC promulgated its decision, the dispositive portion of which reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered in this case finding accused Benjamin Lee guilty beyond reasonable doubt of Violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 and accordingly sentences him to suffer an imprisonment of one (1) year of prision correccional, and to pay the offended party P980,000.00 and to pay a fine of P200,000.00 with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency and non-payment of the fine by the accused.

SO ORDERED. 24

Petitioner went to the Court of Appeals which modified the trial court’s judgment, thus:

WHEREFORE, the Decision is hereby MODIFIED by imposing a penalty of one (1) year and for the accused to pay the private party the sum of Nine Hundred Eighty Thousand Pesos (P980,000.00) as civil indemnity.

With cost against the accused.

SO ORDERED. 25

Petitioner’s motion for reconsideration was denied on October 11, 2000.

Hence, the present petition with the following assignment of errors:

1. THE COURT A QUO COMMITTED A REVERSIBLE ERROR OF LAW IN DISREGARDING PETITIONER’S DEFENSE THAT HE HAD ALREADY SEVERED, SINCE JULY 1989, HIS ACCOMODATION ARRANGEMENT WITH HIS CO- ACCUSED BAUTISTA WHO WAS SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL THE TRANSACTIONS ENTERED INTO BY UNLAD COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISES AND THEREFORE PETITIONER HAD NO KNOWLEDGE OF THE SUFFICIENCY OR INSUFFICIENCY OF FUNDS OF UNLAD’S BANK ACCOUNT.

2. THE COURT A QUO HAS DECIDED IN (A) WAY NOT IN ACCORD WITH LAW IN FAILING TO RULE THAT THE

SUBJECT CHECK, UCPB CHECK NO. ARA 168341, WAS NOT ISSUED BY PETITIONER TO PRIVATE COMPLAINANT ON ACCOUNT OR FOR VALUE.

3. THE COURT A QUO COMMITTED AN ERROR OF LAW WHEN IT FAILED TO CONSIDER THAT AT THE TIME THE

SUBJECT CHECK WAS ISSUED BY BAUTISTA IN FAVOR OF PRIVATE COMPLAINANT, THE LATTER WAS ALREADY AWARE THAT THE RESPECTIVE ESTATES OF THE ACCUSED WERE ALREADY ATTACHED BY THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF CALAPAN, ORIENTAL MINDORO.

4. THE COURT A QUO COMMITTED A REVERSIBLE ERROR OF FACT AND LAW IN NOT ACQUITTING PETITIONER

ON GROUND OF REASONABLE DOUBT.

5. THE COURT A QUO AND THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR OF LAW WHEN THEY FAILED TO

DISMISS THE INFORMATION FOR VIOLATION OF B.P. 22 AGAINST THE ACCUSED FOR LACK OF JURISDICTION. 26

In support of his first assigned error, petitioner claims that: he had no actual knowledge of the sufficiency or insufficiency of the funds handled by his co-accused Bautista; while it is true that he opened a joint account with Bautista at UCPB Araneta Avenue, Quezon City and that he signed several UCPB checks in blank to accommodate Bautista, he already severed his accommodation arrangement with Bautista as early as July of 1989; this is evidenced by the affidavits executed by Bautista dated June 4, 1990 and May 31, 1993 which the court a quo ignored; the Court of Appeals erroneously held that the affidavits of Bautista are "self-serving" since there was no showing that Bautista was lying when he made the statements therein; also, the declarant in this case is Bautista and not petitioner, thus the principle of self-serving statements cannot apply; the affidavits of Bautista are declarations against the interest of the person making it, which are admissible notwithstanding their hearsay character, since such declarations are relevant to the case and the declarant is

not available as a witness despite efforts of petitioner to present Bautista in court; the true test of the reliability of the declaration is not whether it was made ante litem motam as in this case but whether the declaration was uttered under circumstances justifying the conclusion that there was no probable motive to falsify; also, the affidavits of Bautista, having been acknowledged before a notary public, should be given evidentiary weight. 27

Petitioner also points out that in Lao vs. Court of Appeals 28 the Court held that if knowledge of the insufficiency of funds is proven to be actually absent or non-existent, the accused should not be held liable for the offense defined under Sec. 1 of B.P. Blg. 22; in said case, petitioner was acquitted, even though she was still connected with the corporation at the time of the issuance of the check, since she was not expected or obliged to possess under the organizational structure of the corporation, knowledge of the insufficiency of funds; and that in the case at bar, the court a quo affirmed the conviction of petitioner even though it was established that he had ceased to be connected with co-accused Bautista’s business for more than three years prior to the issuance of the subject check and even though it was clear from the testimony of private complainant himself that he had dealt with Bautista and Ilagan only. 29

Anent the second and third assigned errors, petitioner argues that: in the case at bar, there was neither a pre- existing obligation nor an obligation incurred on the part of petitioner when the subject check was given by Bautista to private complainant on July 24, 1993 since petitioner was no longer connected with Unlad or Bautista starting July of 1989; when Bautista issued the subject check to Bergado on July 24, 1993, Bautista had no more authority to use petitioner’s pre-signed checks thus there was no consideration to speak of; petitioner was deceived by Bautista into believing that all the pre-signed checks were already used or issued as of 1989; the court a quo should not have presumed that when petitioner signed the checks and handed the same to Bautista, petitioner had knowledge that their account had no funds; in all criminal cases, suspicion, no matter how strong cannot sway judgment; even assuming that petitioner had issued the subject check when he signed the same sometime before July 1989 and that he had an undertaking to whoever would be the payee, still petitioner should be exempted from criminal liability since petitioner could not comply with the said undertaking due to an insuperable cause, i.e., as early as June 18, 1993, all the properties of petitioner had already been attached/garnished by the Regional Trial Court of Oriental Mindoro. 30

Petitioner further argues that: private complainant is not a holder in due course because he knew that the account of Bautista and petitioner with UCPB Araneta branch had been closed at the time that he deposited UCPB Check No. ARA 168341 on August 5, 1993; Check No. ARA 374058 in the amount of P500,000.00, which bounced earlier, was drawn from the same UCPB account of Bautista and petitioner which had already been closed by the UCPB on January 31, 1992; 31 private complainant also had knowledge that the respective estates of both accused were already attached by the RTC at the time the subject check was given to him by Bautista since the first order of attachment was issued on June 18, 1993 and was recorded with the Registry of Deeds of Oriental Mindoro on the same date; applying the principle that registration of instrument is notice to the world, Bergado is presumed to know the various orders of attachment/garnishment issued by the court. 32

As to his fourth assigned error, petitioner argues that: the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt; the prosecution failed to rebut the allegation of petitioner that he was not anymore connected with the business of Bautista and therefore he had no knowledge of the insufficiency of the funds

handled by Bautista; and the prosecution and the trial court relied solely on the authenticity of petitioner’s signature on the subject check which fact is not enough to convict petitioner of the offense charged. 33

Finally, anent his fifth assigned error, petitioner claims that the Regional Trial Court which tried and convicted petitioner had no jurisdiction over violations of B.P. Blg. 22 considering that the penalty therefor is imprisonment of thirty days to one year and/or a fine not less than, and not more than double, the amount, but not to exceedP200,000.00; and that at the time the Information was filed on October 4, 1993, violations of B.P. Blg. 22 fell under the jurisdiction of the MTC in view of Sec. 32 (2) of B.P. Blg. 129 which provides that the MTC has exclusive original jurisdiction over all offenses punishable with imprisonment of not more than four years and two months or a fine of not more than P4,000.00 or both such fine and imprisonment, regardless of other imposable accessory or other penalties including the civil liability arising from such offenses or predicated thereon, irrespective of kin, nature, value or amount thereof. 34

In his Comment, the Solicitor General contends that: the mere fact that petitioner was a signatory to the check makes him solidarily liable with his co-signatory; if it is true that petitioner severed his accommodation arrangement with Bautista as early as July of 1989, he should have informed the UCPB Araneta Avenue, Quezon City branch that any check that would be issued bearing his signature and that of Bautista and drawn against their joint account after July of 1989 should no longer be honored; the affidavit of Bautista to the effect that petitioner should not be held answerable for any liability of Unlad after July 1989 is not admissible as Bautista was not presented in court nor the prosecution afforded any opportunity to test the veracity of his allegations; having failed to convincingly establish that petitioner has severed his accommodation arrangement with his co-accused Bautista, the presumption stands that he was aware that they no longer had sufficient funds at the time the check was issued; the presumption also stands that the check was issued on account or for value; petitioner also cannot claim that private complainant was aware that petitioner and Bautista’s joint account was already closed at the time the subject check was issued and delivered to complainant since there is nothing on record to show that the reason for the non-payment of the checks earlier issued to complainant was due to "account closed"; Bergado claims that the earlier checks were dishonored due to lack of sufficient funds; there is also no merit to the argument of petitioner that private complainant was already aware that petitioner together with Bautista could no longer make good the subject check in view of the various writs of attachment issued by the court against their properties, which writs of attachment were duly recorded with the Register of Deeds; the registration of the various writs of attachment affected only the real properties of petitioner and such registration served as warning to those who may have or intend to have dealings affecting such lands covered by the attachments; with regard to the attachment of their bank accounts, there was no showing that private complainant was aware of the same; there is also no merit to the claim of petitioner that his guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt; the prosecution was able to establish that petitioner, together with Bautista, issued the subject check to the complainant in payment of the money loaned by the latter to Unlad; the check bounced for the reason "account closed" and despite demand to make good the check, petitioner and his co-accused failed and refused to pay the complainant; and there is no merit to the claim of petitioner that the RTC had no jurisdiction over the present case following Sec. 32 (2) of B.P. Blg. 129 where it is provided that in order that the offense under the jurisdiction of Municipal Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts, the imposable penalty must not exceed four years and two months or a fine of not more than P4,000.00 or both

such fine and imprisonment; in the case at bar, the imposable fine is way beyond the limit of P4,000.00 as the amount of the check is P980,000.00 thus the RTC had jurisdiction over the case. 35

Simply stated, the issues that need to be resolved are as follows: (1) whether the RTC, which tried and convicted petitioner, has jurisdiction over the case; (2) whether petitioner had actual knowledge of the sufficiency or insufficiency of funds handled by his co-accused; (3) whether the check was issued on account or for value; (4) whether the private complainant, at the time of issuance, had knowledge that the check had no sufficient funds; and (5) whether the guilt of the accused was proven beyond reasonable doubt.

First issue. Whether the RTC, which tried and convicted petitioner, had jurisdiction over the case.

Petitioner claims that the RTC which tried and convicted him had no jurisdiction over violations of B.P. Blg. 22since such jurisdiction is vested on the MTC in view of Sec. 32 (2) of B.P. Blg. 129.

We do not agree.

As clearly provided by Sec. 32 (2) of B.P. Blg. 129, to wit:

Sec. 32. Jurisdiction of Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in Criminal Cases.---Except in cases falling within the exclusive original jurisdiction of Regional Trial Courts and the Sandiganbayan, the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall exercise:

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.

.

(2) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all offenses punishable with imprisonment of not exceeding four years and two months, or a fine of not more than four thousand pesos, or both such fine and imprisonment, regardless of other imposable accessory or other penalties, including the civil liability arising from such offenses or predicated thereon, irrespective of kind, nature, value or amount thereof: Provided, however, That in offenses involving damage to property through criminal negligence they shall have exclusive original jurisdiction where the imposable fine does not exceed twenty thousand pesos. (Emphasis supplied)

the MTC has exclusive jurisdiction over offenses punishable with imprisonment of not exceeding four years and two months, OR, a fine of not more than four thousand pesos or both such fine and imprisonment.

The Information in this case was filed on October 4, 1993.

On March 25, 1994, Republic Act No. 7691 took effect and amended Sec. 32 (2) of B.P. Blg. 129 to read as follows:

Sec. 32. Jurisdiction of Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in Criminal Cases. --- Except in cases falling within the exclusive original jurisdiction of Regional Trial Courts and

of the Sandiganbayan, the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts

shall exercise:

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(2) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all offenses punishable with imprisonment not exceeding six (6) years irrespective of the amount of fine, and regardless of other imposable accessory or other penalties, including the civil liability arising from such offenses or predicated thereon, irrespective of kind, nature, value or amount thereof: Provided, however, that in offenses involving damage to property through criminal negligence, they shall have exclusive original jurisdiction thereof. (Emphasis supplied)

Since the Information in the present case was filed prior to the amendment of R.A. No. 7691, the old rule governs and therefore, considering that the imposable penalty for violation of B.P. Blg. 22 per Section 1, thereof is imprisonment of not less than thirty days but not more than one year OR by a fine of not less than but not more than double the amount of the check which fine shall in no case exceed P200,000.00, or both fine and imprisonment; and inasmuch as the fine imposable in the present case is more than P4,000.00 as the subject amount of the check is P980,000.00, it is the Regional Trial Court that has jurisdiction over the present case. As we held in People vs. Velasco : 36

…as a general rule…the jurisdiction of a court to try a criminal action is to be determined by the law in force at the time of the institution of the action. Where a court has already obtained and is exercising jurisdiction over

a controversy, its jurisdiction to proceed to the final determination of the cause is not affected by new

legislation placing jurisdiction over such proceedings in another tribunal. The exception to the rule is where the statute expressly provides, or is construed to the effect that it is intended to operate as to actions pending before its enactment. Where a statute changing the jurisdiction of a court has no retroactive effect, it cannot be applied to a case that was pending prior to the enactment of a statute.

A perusal of R.A. No. 7691 will show that its retroactive provisions apply only to civil cases that have not yet reached the pre-trial stage. Neither from an express proviso nor by implication can it be understood as having retroactive application to criminal cases pending or decided by the Regional Trial Courts prior to its

effectivity…At the time the case against the appellant was commenced by the filing of the information on July

3, 1991, the Regional Trial Court had jurisdiction over the offense charged.

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.

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…In fine, the jurisdiction of the trial court (RTC) over the case of the appellant was conferred by the aforecited law then in force (R.A. No. 6425 before amendment) when the information was filed. Jurisdiction attached upon the commencement of the action and could not be ousted by the passage of R.A. No. 7691 reapportioning the jurisdiction of inferior courts, the application of which to criminal cases is, to stress, prospective in nature. 37

Second issue. Whether petitioner had actual knowledge of the insufficiency of funds.

We have held that knowledge involves a state of mind difficult to establish, thus the statute itself creates a prima facie presumption that the drawer had knowledge of the insufficiency of his funds in or credit with the bank at the time of the issuance and on the check’s presentment for payment if he fails to pay the amount of the check within five banking days from notice of dishonor. 38

Sec. 2 of B.P. Blg. 22, provides:

Section 2. Evidence of knowledge of insufficient funds. - The making, drawing and issuance of a check payment of which is refused by the drawee bank because of insufficient funds in or credit with such bank, when presented within ninety (90) days from the date of the check, shall be prima facie evidence of knowledge of such insufficiency of funds or credit unless such maker or drawer pays the holder thereof the amount due thereon, or makes arrangements for payment in full by the drawee of such check within five (5) banking days after receiving notice that such check has not been paid by the drawee.

As a rule, the prosecution has a duty to prove all the elements of the crime, including the acts that give rise to theprima facie presumption. Petitioner, on the other hand, has a right to rebut such presumption. Thus, if such knowledge of insufficiency of funds is proven to be actually absent or inexistent, the accused should not be held liable for the offense defined under the first paragraph of Sec. 1 of B.P. Blg. 22, 39 thus:

SECTION 1. Checks without sufficient funds. Any person who makes or draws and issues any check to apply on account or for value, knowing at the time of issue that he does not have sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank for the payment of such check in full upon its presentment, which check is subsequently dishonored by the drawee bank for insufficiency of funds or credit or would have been dishonored for the same reason had not the drawer, without any valid reason, ordered the bank to stop payment, shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than thirty days but not more than one (1) year or by a fine of not less than but not more than double the amount of the check which fine shall in no case exceed Two hundred thousand pesos, or both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.

The same penalty shall be imposed upon any person who having sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank when he makes or draws and issues a check, shall fail to keep sufficient funds or to maintain a credit or to cover the full amount of the check if presented within a period of ninety (90) days from the date appearing thereon, for which reason it is dishonored by the drawee bank.

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In the present case, the prosecution has established the prima facie presumption of knowledge of petitioner of insufficient funds through the demand letter sent to petitioner, Exhibit "C" 40 which was duly received by petitioner as shown by the registry return receipt, Exhibit "D". 41

Petitioner tried to rebut the prima facie presumption by insisting that he is not an owner of Unlad and he has already severed his accommodation arrangement with Bautista as early as 1989. He argues that the affidavits of Bautista exonerating him from any responsibility as well as the private complainant’s own testimony that he never dealt with petitioner, should be given weight.

We are not persuaded.

It is a hornbook doctrine that unless the affiant himself takes the witness stand to affirm the averments in his affidavits, the affidavits must be excluded from the judicial proceeding, being inadmissible hearsay. 42 The trial court and the Court of Appeals were correct in considering the same as hearsay evidence and in not giving probative weight to such affidavits.

Moreover, petitioner had admitted that he continued investing in Unlad until April 1994. Hence, he now cannot claim that he has completely severed his ties with Bautista as of 1989. With nothing but his bare assertions, which are ambiguous at best, petitioner has failed to rebut the prima facie presumption laid down by the statute and established by the prosecution.

Petitioner’s insistence that since he is not an owner of Unlad, he could not have had any knowledge as to the insufficiency of funds is devoid of merit. As clarified in Lao vs. Court of Appeals, 43 the very case petitioner is invoking, the doctrine that a mere employee tasked to sign checks in blanks may not be deemed to have knowledge of the insufficiency of funds applies only to corporate checks and not to personal checks. 44 In this case, what is involved is a personal and not a corporate check.

Worth mentioning also is the fact that in the Lao case, the notice of dishonor was never personally received by petitioner, thus the prima facie presumption of knowledge of insufficiency of funds never arose. Here, as correctly found by the RTC, petitioner was duly notified of the dishonor of the subject check as shown by Exh. "C," 45 a letter, specifically mentioning that the subject check was dishonored for reason "Account Closed," with the corresponding registry return receipt showing that petitioner received the notice on August 16, 1993 which petitioner did not impugn. 46

Third issue. Whether or not the check was issued on account or for value.

Petitioner’s claim is not feasible. We have held that upon issuance of a check, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it is presumed that the same was issued for valuable consideration. 47 Valuable consideration, in turn, may consist either in some right, interest, profit or benefit accruing to the party who makes the contract, or some forbearance, detriment, loss or some responsibility, to act, or labor, or service given, suffered or undertaken by the other side. It is an obligation to do, or not to do in favor of the party who makes the contract, such as the maker or indorser. 48

In this case, petitioner himself testified that he signed several checks in blank, the subject check included, in exchange for 2.5% interest from the proceeds of loans that will be made from said account. This is a valuable consideration for which the check was issued. That there was neither a pre-existing obligation nor an obligation incurred on the part of petitioner when the subject check was given by Bautista to private complainant on July 24, 1993 because petitioner was no longer connected with Unlad or Bautista starting July 1989, cannot be given merit since, as earlier discussed, petitioner failed to adequately prove that he has severed his relationship with Bautista or Unlad.

At any rate, we have held that what the law punishes is the mere act of issuing a bouncing check, not the purpose for which it was issued nor the terms and conditions relating to its issuance. This is because the thrust of the law is to prohibit the making of worthless checks and putting them into circulation. 49

Fourth issue. Whether the private complainant, at the time of issuance, had knowledge that the checks had no sufficient funds.

We have held that knowledge of the payee that the drawer did not have sufficient funds with the drawee bank at the time the check was issued is immaterial as deceit is not an essential element of the offense under B.P. Blg. 22. 50 This is because the gravamen of the offense is the issuance of a bad check, hence, malice and intent in the issuance thereof are inconsequential. 51

In Yu Oh vs. Court of Appeals 52 the Court held that there is no violation of B.P. Blg. 22, if complainant was actually told by the drawer that he has no sufficient funds in the bank. 53 In the present case, since there is no evidence that a categorical statement was given to private complainant when the subject check was issued to him, the above ruling cannot apply.

Fifth issue. Whether the guilt of the accused was proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Petitioner maintains that the prosecution has failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt since the prosecution failed to rebut his allegation that he was not anymore connected with the business of Bautista and the trial court relied solely on the authenticity of petitioner’s signature on the subject check to convict him of the offense charged. We are not convinced.

Proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean absolute certainty. Suffice it to say the law requires only moral certainty or that degree of proof which produces conviction in a prejudiced mind. 54

After reviewing the entire records of this case, we find that there is no reason to depart from the trial court’s judgment of conviction. The weight and quantum of evidence needed to prove the guilt of petitioner beyond reasonable doubt were met and established by the prosecution and correctly affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

However, in view of Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 12-2000, as clarified by Administrative Circular No. 13-2001, establishing a rule of preference in the application of the penalties provided for in B.P. Blg. 22; and the recommendation of the Solicitor General in its Comment that the policy laid down in Vaca vs. Court of

unnecessary

deprivation of personal liberty and economic usefulness, be considered in favor of petitioner who is not shown to be a habitual delinquent or a recidivist, 57 we find that the penalty imposed by the Court of Appeals should be modified by deleting the penalty of imprisonment and imposing only a fine of P200,000.00.

Appeals , 55 and Lim

vs.

People, 56 of

redeeming

valuable

human

material

and

preventing

An appeal in a criminal case throws the entire case for review and it becomes our duty to correct any error, as may be found in the appealed judgment, whether assigned as an error or not. 58 Considering that the civil

aspect of the case is deemed instituted with the criminal case and considering that the trial court and the Court of Appeals failed to award, in their respective judgments, the interest on the amount due to private complainant, it is incumbent upon us to correct the patent error of the lower courts. Private complainant is entitled to a 12% legal interest per annum from the date of finality of judgment. 59

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED with the following MODIFICATIONS: The sentence of imprisonment is deleted. Instead, petitioner is ordered to pay a fine of P200,000.00, subject to subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency pursuant to Article 39 of the Revised Penal Code; and petitioner is ordered to pay the private complainant the amount of P980,000.00 with 12% legal interest per annum from the date of finality of herein judgment.

SO ORDERED.