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People vs.

Court of Appeals (12thDivision)


G.R. No. 154557
February 13, 2008

VELASCO, JR., J.:


FACTS
Rico Lipao and Rickson Lipao were accused and convicted by the RTC of unlawful
possession of eight (8) pieces of round timbers and 160 bundles of firewood which are not
supported with legal documents. Accordingly, the offense charged is punishable by Prision
Correctional in its medium period which is imprisonment from 2 years, 4 months, and 1 day
up to 4 years 2 months. While on its maximum, up to 6 years.

Aggrieved, respondents interposed their appeal to the CA contending that the search and
seizure done to Rickson was illegal. They insisted that the Department of Environment and
Natural Resources (DENR) personnel together with some Philippine National Police
personnel who stopped private respondent Rickson did not have a search warrant and that
the plainview doctrine is inapplicable since the seized items are not incriminatory. Thus, the
round posts and firewood cannot be used as an evidence against him.

Moreover, respondents argued that the prosecution failed to prove their lack of license to
possess timber. They contended that since private respondent Rico is merely the owner of
the pumpboat and was not present when the posts and firewood were seized, he could
never be held liable for illegal possession of timber as he was never in possession of the
round posts.

Amidst the proceeding and before the RTC rendered its decision, RA 7691 took effect
expanding the exclusive original jurisdiction of the MTC in criminal cases to cover all
offenses punishable with imprisonment not exceeding six years irrespective of the amount
of fine. This is why the CA granted the appeal on the ground of lack of jurisdiction of the
RTC and not on the assigned errors or on the merits of the case.

Hence this petition.

ISSUE
Whether or not the RTC has jurisdiction over the criminal case despite the effectivity of RA
7691.

HELD
YES. The court revised and set aside the assailed decision of the CA. The CA was directed
to resolve the appeal of private respondents on the merits. It has been consistently held as
a general rule that 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. Thus, the passage of RA 7691 did not ipso facto
relieve the RTC of the jurisdiction to hear and decide the criminal case against private
respondents.