May 31, 2004
On April 8, 1997, petitioners Rodolfo G. Valencia, Pedrito Reyes, Remedios Marasigan, Bayani Anastacio, Rumulado Bawasanta, Jose Enriquez, Nelson Gabutero, Jose Genilo, Jr., Jose Leynes and Alfonso Umali were charged with Violation of Section 3 (e) in relation to Section 3 (g) of Republic Act No. 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, in an Information which reads:
That on or about January 12, 1994 or sometime prior or subsequent thereto, in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, accused Rodolfo G. Valencia, then Provincial Governor of Oriental Mindoro, Pedrito A. Reyes, then Vice-Governor and Presiding officer of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Oriental Mindoro, Bayani Anastacio, Romualdo J. Bawasanta, Emmanuel B. Buenaventura, Cesareo M. Cueto, Violeta D. Dakis, Jose A. Enriquez, Nelson B. Cabutero, Jose G. Genilo, Jr., Jose C. Leynes, Dante A. Manao, Remedios E. Marasigan, all members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Oriental Mindoro, and Alfonso V. Umali, Jr., then Provincial Administrator, all of whom are public officials of the provincial government of Oriental Mindoro, while in the performance of their official and/or administrative functions, and acting in evident bad faith and manifest partiality, conspiring and confederating with private accused Engr. Alfredo M. Atienza, and mutually helping one another , did then and there willfully, unlawfully and criminally give said accused Alfredo M. Atienza unwarranted benefit, privilege and advantage by entering into a grossly disadvantageous contract of loan, whereby the provincial funds of Oriental Mindoro in the sum of P2,500,000.00 was given to Alfredo M. Atienza to finance the cost of repair, operation and maintenance of his vessel, thereby causing the provincial government of Oriental Mindoro damage and undue injury.
CONTRARY TO LAW.1
The Information was filed with the Sandiganbayan and docketed as Criminal Case No. 23624.
On April 11, 1997, petitioners filed a "Motion Seeking an Order to Allow Accused to File with the Ombudsman Motion for Reconsideration/Reinvestigation and to Defer Issuance of Warrant of Arrest."2 This was followed by a "Motion to Quash" filed by petitioner Valencia on April 14, 1997.3
The prosecution manifested that it had no objection to a reinvestigation of the case. Hence, on October 23, 1997, the Sandiganbayan granted petitioners? motion for reinvestigation and directed the Office of the Special Prosecutor to conduct a reinvestigation.4
On March 23, 1998, the Office of the Special Prosecutor/Ombudsman issued a Joint Resolution wherein Ombudsman Aniano A. Desierto and Prosecution Bureau Director Victorio U. Tabanguil approved the recommendation of Special Prosecution Officer II Manuel A. Corpuz that the motion for reinvestigation be denied but that the complaint as against Emmanuel B. Buenaventura, Violeta A. Daquis and Damte A. Manzo be dismissed for insufficiency of evidence. However, Deputy Special Prosecutor Robert E. Kallos and Special Prosecutor Leonardo P. Tamayo recommended the dismissal of the complaint against all accused on the ground that their liability is civil in nature.5
Accordingly, the prosecution filed an Amended Information.6
Petitioners filed with the Sandibangayan a Motion for Leave to File Motion for Reconsideration of the Joint Resolution of the Office of the Special Prosecutor/Ombudsman,7 which was denied in the first assailed Resolution dated June 23, 1999.8
In the meantime, petitioners learned that in the administrative case against them docketed as OMB-ADM-1-96-0316, which involved the same subject matter as the criminal case, the Ombudsman dismissed the complaint against them after finding that the contract of loan was entered into in pursuance of the police power of the local chief executive.9 Invoking this Resolution, petitioners filed with the Sandiganbayan a Motion for Reconsideration of the Order dated June 23, 1999 and/or Motion to Resolve Motion to Quash Information.10 In the second assailed Resolution dated September 27, 1999, the Sandiganbayan denied the Motion.11
Hence, this petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, based on the following grounds:
Respondent Sandiganbayan committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction in not dismissing the information or in not granting the Motion to Quash information despite the fact that:
a) Respondent ombudsman had already dismissed the administrative case against the petitioners regarding the same subject matter of the criminal case against the petitioners;
b) The facts alleged in the information have already become moot and academic and no longer constitute an offense;
c) No satisfactory reason was given by the respondent Ombudsman in delaying inordinately (close to three  years) the filing of the information against the petitioners.
Similarly, respondent Sandiganbayan committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction in the Resolution dated September 27, 1999 in holding that the dismissal of the administrative case against all the petitioners is not determinative of the outcome of the criminal case despite the facts following:
a) The subject matter in both criminal and administrative cases against the same petitioners are one and the same;
b) The degree of proof in criminal case is proof beyond reasonable doubt. Whereas, in administrative case the proof required is only substantial evidence; and
c) Two of the reviewing prosecutors, namely: Deputy Prosecutor Roberto Kallos and Special Prosecutor Leonardo Tamayo held in the Joint Resolution dated March 23, 1999 that the criminal case against the petitioners should be dismissed, and they both concurred with the findings of GIO I Medwin Dizon, Dir. Angel Mayoralgo, Jr., and Hon. Assistant Ombudsman Abelardo Aportadera, Jr., in their Resolution dated October 8, 1996, which recommended the dismissal of the case as they found that the contract of loan entered into by the petitioners with a certain Alfredo Atienza was in pursuance of the General Welfare Clause of Section 16 of the Local Government Code.12
In a Minute Resolution dated January 31, 2000, the petition was dismissed for failure to show grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Sandiganbayan.13
Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration14 as well as a Supplemental thereto.15 The respondents were required to comment on the Motion for Reconsideration and the Supplement.16 The prosecution filed a Comment on the petition for certiorari.17 Thereafter, petitioners filed their Reply.18
In the meantime, on May 29, 2000, a Temporary Restraining Order was issued enjoining respondents "from further proceeding with the pre-trial and trial in Criminal Case No. 23624 entitled ?People of the Philippines vs. Rodolfo G. Valencia, et al.,? scheduled [on] May 22, 23, 24 and 25, 2000 and from acting on the motion to suspend petitioners pendente lite."19
On November 27, 2000, petitioners? Motion for Reconsideration was granted and the petition was reinstated.20
The petition lacks merit.
The grounds on which a complaint or information may be quashed are:
(a) That the facts charged do not constitute an offense;
(b) That the court trying the case has no jurisdiction over the offense charged;
(c) That the court trying the case has no jurisdiction over the person of the accused;
(d) That the officer who filed the information had no authority to do so;
(e) That it does not conform substantially to the prescribed form;
(f) That more than one offense is charged except when a single punishment for various offenses is prescribed by law;
(g) That the criminal action or liability has been extinguished;
(h) That it contains averments which, if true, would constitute a legal excuse or justification; and
(i) That the accused has been previously convicted or acquitted of the offense charged, or the case against him was dismissed or otherwise terminated without his express consent.21
Save where the Rules expressly permit the investigation of facts alleged in a motion to quash, the general rule is that in the hearing of such motion only such facts as are alleged in the information, and those admitted by the prosecutor, should be taken into account in the resolution thereof. Matters of defense can not be produced during the hearing of such motions, except where the rules expressly permit, such as extinction of criminal liability, prescription and former jeopardy.22 Otherwise put, facts which constitute the defense of the accused against the charge under the information must be proved by them during trial. Such facts or circumstances do not constitute proper grounds for a motion to quash the information on the ground that the material averments do not constitute the offense.23
As a general proposition, a motion to quash on the ground that the allegations of the information do not constitute the offense charged, or any offense for that matter, should be resolved on the basis alone of said allegations whose truth and veracity are hypothetically admitted. The informations need only state the ultimate facts; the reasons therefor could be proved during the trial.24
The fundamental test in reflecting on the viability of a motion to quash under this particular ground is whether or not the facts asseverated, if hypothetically admitted, would establish the essential elements of the crime defined in the law. In this examination, matters aliunde are not considered.25 However, inquiry into facts outside the information may be allowed where the prosecution does not object to the presentation thereof.26 In the early case of People v. Navarro,27 we held:
Prima facie, the facts charged are those described in the complaint, but they may be amplified or qualified by others appearing to be additional circumstances, upon admissions made by the people?s representative, which admissions could anyway be submitted by him as amendments to the same information. It would seem to be pure technicality to hold that in the consideration of the motion the parties and the judge were precluded from considering facts which the fiscal admitted to be true, simply because they were not described in the complaint. Of course, it may be added that upon similar motions the court and the fiscal are not required to go beyond the averments of the information, nor is the latter to be inveigled into a premature and risky revelation of his evidence. But we see no reason to prohibit the fiscal from making, in all candor, admissions of undeniable facts, because the principle can never be sufficiently reiterated that such official?s role is to see that justice is done: not that all accused are convicted, but that the guilty are justly punished. Less reason can there be to prohibit the court from considering those admissions, and deciding accordingly, in the interest of a speedy administration of justice.
It should be stressed, however, that for a case to fall under the exception, it is essential that there be no objection from the prosecution. Thus, the above rule does not apply where the prosecution objected to the presentation of extraneous facts and even opposed the motion to quash.28
In the case at bar, petitioners are charged with violation of Section 3 (e), in relation to 3 (g), of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. The pertinent provisions read:
Sec. 3. Corrupt practices of public officers. ? In addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful:
x x x           x x x           x x x.
(e) Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official, administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. This provision shall apply to officers and employees of officers or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.
x x x           x x x           x x x.
(g) Entering, on behalf of the Government, into any contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the same, whether or not the public officer profited or will profit thereby.
x x x           x x x           x x x.
The elements of the crime of violation of Section 3 (e) are the following:
1. The accused is a public officer discharging administrative, judicial or official functions;
2. He must have acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or inexcusable negligence; and
3. His action has caused undue injury to any party, including the Government, or has given any party any unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference in the discharge of his functions.29
On the other hand, the elements of the crime of violation of Section 3 (g) are:
1. The offender is a public officer;
2. He enters into a contract or transaction on behalf of the government; and
3. The contract or transaction is grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the government.30
A careful scrutiny of the Information shows that all the above elements are averred therein. It sufficiently alleges that petitioners are public officials discharging official or administrative functions who, in evident bad faith and with manifest partiality, entered into a grossly disadvantageous contract on behalf of the government with a private person which gives the latter unwarranted benefit and advantage.
Petitioners invoke the earlier Resolution of the Ombudsman which recommended the dismissal of the case against them. There, the Graft Investigation Officer opined that the contract of loan extended by petitioners to Engr. Alfredo M. Atienza for the repair, maintenance and operation of the latter?s motor vessel was necessary for the transportation needs of the inhabitants of the Province of Oriental Mindoro, which had just suffered three successive typhoons. The loan of provincial funds was supposedly extended by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Oriental Mindoro under Section 46831 of R.A. 7160 (The Local Government Code of 1991), pursuant to the General Welfare provision embodied in Section 16 thereof, which states:
SEC. 16. General Welfare. ? Every local government unit shall exercise the powers expressly granted, those necessarily implied therefrom, as well as powers necessary, appropriate, or incidental for its efficient and effective governance, and those which are essential to the promotion of the general welfare. Within their respective territorial jurisdictions, local government units shall ensure and support, among other things, the preservation and enrichment of culture, promote health and safety, enhance the right of the people to a balanced ecology, encourage and support the development of appropriate and self-reliant scientific and technological capabilities, improve public morals, enhance economic prosperity and social justice, promote full employment among their residents, maintain peace and order, and preserve the comfort and convenience of their inhabitants.
As enunciated above, however, the Resolution must be established as their defense during the trial. It was not even offered and admitted as evidence by the Sandiganbayan. It was merely attached to petitioners? "Supplemental Pleading in Support of Motion to Quash Information."32 Furthermore, the Resolution does not bear the approval of the Ombudsman.33
In any event, the Ombudsman subsequently denied petitioners? motion for reinvestigation. The fact that Special Prosecutor Leonardo P. Tamayo and Deputy Special Prosecutor Robert E. Kallos recommended the dismissal of the case against petitioners is of no moment, especially since the same Special Prosecutor and Deputy Special Prosecutor signed the Comment filed before this Court wherein they extensively argued against the instant petition. The continuing objection and opposition of the prosecution to petitioners? motion to quash the Information removes this case from the exception to the above-cited rule that in the determination of whether the facts alleged constitute an offense, only the allegations in the Information, whose truth and veracity are hypothetically admitted, should be considered.
Indeed, the findings of the Graft Investigation Officer are contradicted by the following disquisition by the Ombudsman in the Resolution finding probable cause to charge petitioners, to wit:
The subject loan does not fall within the context of the "general welfare clause" under Section 16 of the Local Government Code. The loan in question was more inclined to promote the personal or business interest of Engr. Atienza rather than to boost the common welfare of the people in Mindoro. In the "credit agreement" itself, while the problem of transport system was addressed in passing under its "whereas clause" (introductory part) of the said contract, however, the same was not mentioned in the body of the said agreement. There is no provision in the contract to obligate Engr. Atienza towards the improvement of transport service for the people of Oriental Mindoro. In short, it is not clear in the said agreement that Engr. Atienza is mandated to render transport service for the general welfare of the people in Mindoro. x x x           x x x           x x x.
x x x           x x x           x x x.
As embodied in the credit agreement, the purpose of the loan being stated therein was to finance the cost of the repair, operation and maintenance of Atienza?s vessel. This in essence is indeed a private affair. It suits Atienza?s personal aggrandizement. In synthesis, the subject loan has the attributes of a private interest as opposed to public purpose. Consequently the subject loan does not rhyme with the requirement that "government funds shall be used/spent strictly for public purpose." x x x           x x x           x x x.34
In the final analysis, the conflicting findings of the Ombudsman boil down to issues of fact which, however, are not within our province to resolve. As has been oft-repeated, this Court is not a trier of facts.35 This is a matter best left to the Sandiganbayan.
Petitioners argue that the dismissal by the Ombudsman of the administrative case against them based on the same subject matter should operate to dismiss the criminal case because the quantum of proof in criminal cases is proof beyond reasonable doubt, while that in administrative cases is only substantial evidence. While that may be true, it should likewise be stressed that the basis of administrative liability differs from criminal liability. The purpose of administrative proceedings is mainly to protect the public service, based on the time-honored principle that a public office is a public trust. On the other hand, the purpose of the criminal prosecution is the punishment of crime.36
Moreover, one of the grounds for the dismissal of the administrative case against petitioners is the fact that they were reelected to office. Indeed, a reelected local official may not be held administratively accountable for misconduct committed during his prior term of office. The rationale for this holding is that when the electorate put him back into office, it is presumed that it did so with full knowledge of his life and character, including his past misconduct. If, armed with such knowledge, it still reelects him, then such reelection is considered a condonation of his past misdeeds.37
However, the re-election of a public official extinguishes only the administrative, but not the criminal, liability incurred by him during his previous term of office, thus:
The ruling, therefore, that ? "when the people have elected a man to his office it must be assumed that they did this with knowledge of his life and character and that they disregarded or forgave his faults or misconduct if he had been guilty of any" ? refers only to an action for removal from office and does not apply to a criminal case, because a crime is a public wrong more atrocious in character than mere misfeasance or malfeasance committed by a public officer in the discharge of his duties, and is injurious not only to a person or group of persons but to the State as a whole. This must be the reason why Article 89 of the Revised Penal Code, which enumerates the grounds for extinction of criminal liability, does not include reelection to office as one of them, at least insofar as a public officer is concerned. Also, under the Constitution, it is only the President who may grant the pardon of a criminal offense.38
There is, thus, no reason for the Sandiganbayan to quash the Information against petitioners on the basis solely of the dismissal of the administrative complaint against them.
Finally, petitioners invoke the ruling in Tatad v. Sandiganbayan,39 where this Court dismissed the criminal cases against petitioner for the inordinate delay of three years in the conduct of preliminary investigations which violated his right to due process and the constitutional guarantee of speedy disposition of cases. In the case at bar, petitioners allege that while the letter-complaint against them was dated March 10, 1994, the Ombudsman resolved to file the Information against them three years later, on February 14, 1997, and in fact the Information was filed with the Sandiganbayan on April 8, 1997.
By way of explanation for the perceived delay, the Special Prosecutor, in his Comment to the petition, enumerated the chronology of events beginning from the receipt of the letter-complaint to the filing of the Information. It appears therefrom that in most cases the extended periods of time were devoted to verifications and investigations, first by the National Bureau of Investigation and then by the Ombudsman. Within the Office of the Ombudsman, the complaint had to undergo separate investigations by the Fact-Finding Investigation Bureau and the Evaluation and Preliminary Investigation Bureau. During the preliminary investigation itself, petitioners sought extensions of time before they filed their counter-affidavits.
Thus, the ruling in Tatad does not apply here. In that case, the delay was exacerbated by the fact that the charges against petitioner were found to be politically motivated. In the case at bar, there is no indication that the complaint against petitioners was filed to serve political ends. Neither is the delay vexatious, capricious or oppressive. On the contrary, what appears is that the prosecutors exercised extreme care in verifying, evaluating and assessing the charges against petitioners before making a finding of probable cause.
For certiorari to lie, it must be shown that the Sandiganbayan acted with grave abuse of discretion,40 or more specifically, that it exercised its power arbitrarily or despotically by reason of passion or personal hostility; and such exercise was so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty, or to a virtual refusal to perform it or to act in contemplation of law.41 Petitioners failed in this respect.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petition for certiorari is DISMISSED. The Temporary Restraining Order issued by this Court on May 16, 2000 is LIFTED. The Sandiganbayan is DIRECTED to conduct proceedings in Criminal Case No. 23624 with deliberate dispatch.
Davide, Jr., Panganiban, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
1 Record, Vol. I, pp. 2-3.
2 Id., pp. 39-41.
3 Id., pp. 42-52.
4 Id., p. 204.
5 Id., pp. 244-247.
6 Id., p. 267-269.
7 Id., pp. 271-279.
8 Record, Vol. II, pp. 60-64.
9 Id., pp. 79-81.
10 Id., pp. 66-78.
11 Id., pp. 136-141.
12 Rollo, pp. 13-15.
13 Id., pp. 132-133.
14 Id., pp. 134-147.
15 Id., pp. 148-162.
16 Id., p. 163.
17 Id., pp. 191-210.
18 Id., pp. 242-248.
19 Id., pp. 182-183.
20 Id., p. 258.
21 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 117, Sec. 3.
22 Cruz, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 83754, 18 February 1991, 194 SCRA 145, 151-152, citing People v. Cadabis, 97 Phil. 829, 832 .
23 Torres v. Garchitorena, et al., G.R. No. 153666, 27 December 2002, 394 SCRA 494, 503.
24 Domingo v. Sandiganbayan, et al., G.R. No. 109376, 20 January 2000, 322 SCRA 655, 664-665.
25 Ingco, et al., v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 112584, 23 May 1997, 272 SCRA 563, 573.
26 Garcia v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 119063. 27 January 1997, 266 SCRA 678, 692.
27 75 Phil. 516, 518-519 .
28 Torres v. Garchitorena, et al., supra.
29 Katigbak v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 140183, 10 July 2003.
30 Morales v. People, G.R. No. 144047, 26 July 2002, 385 SCRA 259, 273.
31 SEC. 468. Powers, Duties, Functions and Compensation. ? (a) The sangguniang panlalawigan, as the legislative body of the province, shall enact ordinances, approve resolutions and appropriate funds for the general welfare of the province and its inhabitants pursuant to Section 16 of this Code xxx.
32 Rollo, pp. 64-82.
33 Id., p. 82.
34 Rollo, p. 215.
35 Añonuevo v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 152998, 23 September 2003.
36 Caña v. Gebusion, A.M. No. P-98-1284, 30 March 2000, 329 SCRA 132, 145.
37 Garcia v. Mojica, G.R. No. 139043, 10 September 1999, 314 SCRA 207, 227.
38 Conducto v. Monzon, A.M. No. MTJ-98-1147, 2 July 1998, 291 SCRA 619, 630; citing Ingco v. Sanchez, 21 SCRA 1292, 1295 .
39 G.R. No. L-72335-39, 21 March 1988, 159 SCRA 70.
40 Microsoft Corporation v. Best Deal Computer Center Corporation, G.R. No. 148029, 24 September 2002.
41 Go v. Tong, G.R. No. 151942, 27 November 2003.
May 31, 2004
This is an appeal from the Decision1 of the Regional Trial Court of Dipolog City, Branch 8, convicting the appellant Quirico Dagpin y Esmade of murder and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua.
The appellant was charged with murder in an Information, the accusatory portion of which reads:
That on March 20, 1996, at about 1:00 o?clock dawn, in Sitio Bababon, Barangay Diwa-an, City of Dapitan, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with a home-made shotgun, with intent to kill, by means of treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and shot with the use of a home-made shotgun one NILO CAERMARE thereby resulting to his instantaneous death thereafter.
That as a result of the criminal acts of the accused, the heirs of the victim suffered the following damages to wit:
1. Loss of earning capacity – - – - – - -P20,000.00
2. Death Indemnity – - – - – - – - – - – - -50,000.00
Total – - – - – - – - – - – - -P70,000.00
CONTRARY TO LAW.2
The appellant was arraigned, assisted by counsel, and entered a plea of not guilty.
The Case for the Prosecution
On November 10, 1991, Danilo Taruc and his friend, Nilo Caermare, went to Barangay Tamion, Dapitan City, because it was a market day. The appellant was a resident of the place. Late in the afternoon, Nilo and Danilo saw the appellant, who was with his friends. Suddenly, the appellant boxed Nilo. As Nilo and Danilo were outnumbered, they could not retaliate.
At 7:00 p.m. on February 29, 1996, Nilo, along with Jose Bulagao and Reynaldo Bantayana, arrived at the Sulangon National High School to attend a dance party later that evening. To pass the time, they had a drinking spree and consumed six bottles of Tanduay rhum. At 11:00 p.m., while in the premises of the school, the appellant arrived, armed with a shotgun, and punched Nilo on the mouth. Nilo fled. The appellant aimed his gun at the fleeing Nilo and pulled the trigger three times, but the gun did not fire. Nilo returned, while the appellant fled towards the direction of Sitio Tamion where he resided. Nilo did not report the incident to the police nor filed charges against the appellant for any crime.
Randy Labisig, one of Nilo?s nephews, had seen the appellant during fiestas in Barangay Diwa-an, Dapitan City. Randy?s sister, Rona Labisig, also used to see the appellant in Sulangon when she was still studying at the Sulangon National High School. The appellant used to ride a bicycle and would pass by the house of her aunt where she stayed.
In the evening of March 19, 1996, Randy attended a dance party at the feeding center in Sitio Bababon, Barangay Diwa-an. At about 1:00 a.m., March 20, 1996, Randy, in the company of his Uncle Nilo, his sisters Rena and Rona, and Mario Aliman, were on their way home from the party. They walked along a narrow trail, single file, with Aliman walking first, followed by Rona; the latter was followed by Rena and Nilo who walked side by side, with Randy at the tail end. Momentarily, a man who wore a dark shirt with a baseball cap on his head came from Randy?s left side and inserted himself between Nilo and Randy, in the process pushing the latter to the right side. The man was armed with a long shotgun. Suddenly, the man raised his gun, and, with the muzzle only about a foot away from Nilo?s back, pulled the trigger. Nilo fell to the ground.
When they heard the gunfire, Rona and Rena fled, but stopped at a short distance and looked back. In the meantime, Randy was so shocked at the sudden turn of events and attempted to help his uncle. However, the assailant returned, this time, holding an unlighted flashlight and pressed it hard on Randy?s chin. Randy then saw the face of the malefactor and recognized him as the appellant, although he did not know the latter?s name at the time. The appellant left and returned shortly, this time, armed with the same long shotgun which he used to shoot Nilo. When Randy saw the appellant cock his gun, he fled, fearing that he was about to be shot next. After a short distance, he stopped near where his sisters Rona and Rena were, and looked back. They saw the appellant with three other men, each holding a lighted flashlight which illumined the left side of the appellant?s head. Randy, Rona and Rena then fled to the house of Melborga Taruc, about a kilometer away from the place of the shooting, where they spent the rest of the morning.
On March 27, 1996, Randy, Rona and Rena went to the police station and saw the appellant, whom they pointed to the police as the person who shot their uncle. It was only then that they learned the name of their uncle?s assassin, Quirico Dagpin. They executed sworn statements of their respective accounts of the killing.
City Health Officer Dr. Bernardino D. Palma performed an autopsy on the cadaver of Nilo and signed a necropsy report containing the following findings:
1. Gunshot wounds with fracture of the left fronto-parietal bones.
2. Gunshot wounds 9 ? with powder burns at left infrascapular area directed downward and anteriorly ? 2 pilets (sic) removed at the right chest, one was lost along transit.3
The doctor found powder burns on each of the wounds sustained by the victim, signifying that he was shot at close range, at a distance of six inches to two feet.
The Case for the Appellant
The appellant denied killing Nilo. He testified that he was from Sitio Tamion which was adjacent to Barangay Sulangon. He knew Nilo because the latter had a girlfriend in Sulangon, whose name was Reina. He saw Nilo whenever the latter was with his girlfriend in Sulangon. He disliked Nilo?s actuations because although the latter was not from Sulangon, he acted as if he was "the king of Saudi Arabia" every time he was there.
On March 19, 1996, Pedro Elcamel came by and told the appellant that his daughter was going to graduate the following day, and that he was giving a party for her at his house. Pedro asked him to come along and butcher pigs for the occasion. He agreed, and went with Pedro to Brgy. Burgos near the boundary of Tamion, about two kilometers from his own house. They arrived at Pedro?s place at about 7:00 p.m. The appellant, Falconere Elcamel and several others butchered a pig and made preparations for the party. The appellant slept at Pedro?s house that evening, and went home only in the morning of the next day. He was already at home by 8:00 a.m.
Pedro Elcamel testified that at 6:00 a.m. on March 19, 1996, the appellant was with him at his house in Barangay Tamion, about two kilometers away from that of the appellant. They were there to butcher a pig for the graduation of his daughter, Maricel, the next day. With the help of Falconere and his son, he and the appellant finished butchering the pig at 10:00 p.m. They cooked the meat at 1:00 a.m. He left his house at 6:00 a.m. for his daughter?s graduation at the Rizal Memorial Institute in Dapitan City at 8:00 a.m. He and his daughter arrived back home at 1:00 p.m. and saw the appellant helping in serving food to the guests, including the Barangay Captain of Barangay Oyan, his sister?s husband. Neither the appellant nor any of the guests told him that there had been a killing the night before.
Rene Jauculan, the Barangay Captain of Barangay Diwa-an, testified that when he learned of the shooting at Sitio Bababon, he was in the company of policemen. Dr. Bernardino Palma arrived at Nilo?s house at about 12:00 midnight. The policemen then inquired from the people around who the perpetrators were, but no one knew. He learned from the companions of the victim, Randy and his sisters, Rona and Rena, Reynaldo Bantayana and Danilo Taruc, that they knew the culprits but that they were afraid to divulge the latter?s identities as they had not yet been arrested. He then learned that the appellant had been arrested for the crime a month later. He also testified that on February 16, 1996, he received a complaint from the husband of a woman, and a confrontation ensued between Nilo and the complainant. The matter was then settled. The victim was also rumored to be the paramour of his cousin?s wife.
SPO2 Ildefonso Jamolod of the Dapitan police station testified that at 9:00 a.m. on March 20, 1996, he and Police Investigator Jonathan Bolado and Dr. Bernardino Palma arrived at the house of Nilo where his cadaver was brought from Sitio Bababon. He talked to Nilo?s sister, who told him that before his death, Nilo had two or three enemies. He was also told that the suspect was the appellant, and relayed the information to SPO3 Manuel Acabal. He and Acabal left the next day, March 21, 1996, and stopped by a store beyond the hanging bridge. They asked the store owner where the appellant?s house was, and they were told that the appellant stayed up all night in a drinking spree in a house about ten meters away from the store. They looked for the appellant but failed to find him. They told the barangay captain that they wanted to talk to the appellant and would bring the latter to the police station. The following day, March 22, 1996, the barangay captain and the appellant arrived at the police station. SP02 Jamolod took custody of the appellant and turned him over to SPO3 Acabal. Acabal later told him that there was no sufficient evidence against the appellant.
SPO3 Manuel Acabal testified that he was informed by his subordinates that Nilo and the appellant were known enemies. In the afternoon of March 20, 1996, he and his operatives left the police station, coordinated with the barangay captain and saw the appellant in his house. He was then brought to the police station for identification. The appellant was in the company of police officers when he was identified by the complainant, and was then turned over to Police Investigator SPO3 Julio Galleposo and SPO4 Segundo Balladares.
Gil Dagpin testified that he was a farmer and a carpenter, and the appellant?s third cousin. He and Nilo had a disagreement sometime in 1990. During the third week of June 1996, Barangay Captain Tarcisio Bayron told him that there had been a killing, and instructed him to go to the police station. The appellant was also invited for questioning, and the two of them went to the police station in the company of the barangay captain. There were persons in the police station who stayed with the appellant. He and the appellant were entrusted to SPO3 Acabal, who brought them to someone who told them that Nilo had been killed. SPO3 Acabal then investigated them for about an hour. They were allowed to go back home afterwards, but the appellant was later arrested for the killing.
Police Inspector Pepe Nortal testified that per the police blotter entry at 1:00 a.m. of March 20, 1996, the victim?s assailant was still unidentified. A team of police investigators and the Assistant City Health Officer proceeded to the crime scene to investigate the killing.
After trial, the court rendered judgment finding the appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder. The decretal portion of the decision reads:
Wherefore, for all of the foregoing considerations and finding the guilt of the accused established beyond reasonable doubt, herein accused Quirico Dagpin y Esmade is convicted of the crime of MURDER charged against him, as principal by direct participation, and in the light of Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 6 of Republic Act 7659, hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of Reclusion Perpetua, to indemnify the heirs of the deceased victim Nilo Caermare, the sum of P50,000.00 by way of civil damages for (sic) death of the victim and the added sum of P20,000.00 for consequential damages, and to pay the cost.
The appellant now assails the decision of the trial court contending that:
THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN NOT ACQUITTING THE ACCUSED BASED ON REASONABLE DOUBT.5
The appellant avers that the trial court erred in convicting him of the crime charged on the basis mainly of his having been identified by Randy, Rona and Rena at the police station on March 27, 1996. He was not assisted by counsel when the three pointed to him as the culprit in the police station. Hence, according to the appellant, such identification is inadmissible in evidence.
The appellant also contends that the trial court erred in not sentencing him to an indeterminate penalty, since reclusion perpetua is now a divisible penalty with a range of from twenty (20) years and one (1) day to forty (40) years.
For its part, the Office of the Solicitor General asserts that Randy, Rona and Rena, saw and recognized the appellant as the person who shot the victim at the situs criminis. It also maintains that the appellant was not deprived of his constitutional rights when he was identified by the prosecution witnesses at the police station without counsel, because he was not then under custodial investigation. It avers that the penalty meted by the trial court on the appellant is correct.
The Ruling of the Court
The appeal has no merit.
The evidence on record shows that even before the killing of Nilo on March 26, 1996, Randy and Rona had already seen the appellant, although they did not know his name. This can be gleaned from the testimony of Randy:
Q You said that you have seen the accused prior to the incident at Diwa-an. Can you tell the Honorable Court how many times have you seen him in that place?
A We used to see each other always, Sir.
Q In what occasion (sic) you used to see him?
A I saw him especially during fiestas, Sir.
Q How many fiestas have you seen Quirico Dagpin at Diwa-an?
A Everytime there is (sic) a fiesta, we used to see each other, Sir.
Q In what place (sic) you used to see him at Diwa-an during fiestas?
A In the "Tabo" of that place.
Q But despite that fact that you used to see him at the "tabo" at Diwa-an, Dapitan City, you don?t know that this guy was actually Quirico Dagpin?
A Yes, Sir.6
Rona?s testimony on this matter reads:
Q Prior to the incident at dawn of March 20, 1996, have you ever seen the accused Quirico Dagpin?
A Yes, Sir. There were times when I saw him riding on a bicycle.
Q In what particular place have you seen him in the past?
A In Sulangon, Sir.
Q Where else?
A I used to see him in Sulangon because I once studied in Sulangon.
Q In what particular place did you usually see the accused Quirico Dagpin?
A I used to see him passing by the house of my aunt Lingling because at the (sic) time, when I was studying in Sulangon, I was staying with my aunt Lingling.
Q Because you usually saw him in the past, that was the reason why you are familiar with his face?
I object to the question, Your Honor. That is an opinion.
Q Can you inform the court how many times, more or less, have you seen the accused prior to the incident on March 20, 1996?
A Maybe four (4) times, Sir.7
Randy and Rona recognized their uncle?s assassin; they were certain it was the appellant. Randy testified how he recognized the appellant:
Q Okay, let?s clarify this. The first time you observed (sic) that man, I am referring to the assailant, was when he inserted (sic) between you and the victim while holding the rifle and shot the victim at his back. Then he went away and went back to his place. The next time around, he got a flashlight, pressing it at your chin, forcing you to stand, then he went away again. This time you don?t know where he placed the flashlight, got the rifle and cocked it and you ran away. Then he went to your uncle again and shot him the second time. Is that your stand?
A Yes, Sir. After that I ran away but when I ran away, I turned my face and I saw him because he was lighted by the light coming from the flashlight. He was bringing (sic) with him a rifle and he shot my fallen uncle again.
Q But in the direct examination, when you were confronted several times even by the Honorable Court, you said you were not able to recognize the person who shot first your uncle and the person who shot again your uncle. Do you recall that?
Your Honor, please, that is (sic) well explained by the witness already. There is no use propounding the same trend of questioning because that is (sic) already explained by the witness.
Witness may answer.
A What I mean is that, at (sic) the first time he inserted himself between us and Nilo Caermare, I was not able to recognize him very well but the second time when he came back, because he was being lighted by the flashlight, that was the time when I was able to recognize him and also the hat he was wearing.
Q You said in the direct examination that you cannot tell whether that person who shot first your uncle was the same person who pressed the flashlight to your chin, forcing you to stand up?
A The first time he came near us, I was not able to recognize him. But the second time when he came near us when he came back, because of the hat he was wearing, I was able to recognize him as the very person who went first near us and inserted himself between myself and Nilo Caermare.
Q But all you have told to this Honorable Court in my questions a while ago is that part of the body of the assailant, especially the back part of his body was lighted, do you still recall that?
A It is not exactly the center but at the back of his neck that was lighted. Also on the left side of his head.
Q All those times, from the time he inserted (sic) between you and the victim to the time you held or he held the flashlight and pressed it to your chin and the next time you observed him shot again your uncle, he was wearing a hat?
A Yes, Sir.
Q That is (sic) why you were able to identify him because of the hat that he was wearing?
A That includes also the left side of his face that was being lighted by the flashlight.8
Q Aside from the flashlight, was the man holding a gun?
A No, Sir, he was not bringing (sic) a gun but he was bringing (sic) a
Q You said you recognized the man. Who was that whom you recognized?
I pray, Your Honor, that the question be clarified. It is vague. It was not said that if that person identified by the witness first was the one who shot the victim.
C O U R T :
Not actually the man who shot but the person who pressed the flashlight to his chin.
A Yes, Sir, I recognize the person.
Q Who was that person whom you recognized who pressed the flashlight to your chin?
A The man who came to me was that man.
Witness pointing to a man whom he recognized just a while ago as Quirico Dagpin, the accused in this case.
Q According to you, when that man whom you pointed to as Quirico Dagpin pressed his flashlight to your chin, you were forced to stand up, is that correct?
A Yes, Sir.
Q What did you do when you were forced to stand up?
A When that man pressed the flashlight to my chin, I was forced to stand up and when I was standing, the man stepped backward and when he returned, he was bringing (sic) with him a gun.
Q How did that man hold the gun?
A When he came near me, he was bringing (sic) the gun holding it with his two hands but the muzzle was pointed downward.
Q What was your reaction when you saw that he was holding a gun pointed downwards?
A When that man who was bringing (sic) that gun with the muzzle pointed downward came near me and because I noticed that there was a sound cocking the gun, I was so afraid that he might fire the gun again. That was the time when I ran away.9
Randy testified that the man who returned with the flashlight and with the gun was the same man who shot his uncle:
Q And that person was not holding an arm or weapon?
A At that time, he was bringing (sic) with him a flashlight.
C O U R T :
You have not noticed him carrying a firearm?
A But after he pressed that flashlight to my chin, Your Honor, he moved away again and when he returned, he was bringing (sic) with him a gun.
C O U R T :
Q Do you mean to say that the person who pressed the flashlight to your chin was the same person who got again with (sic) a gun?
A The same person, Sir.
Q So, because of the pressure exerted to your chin by that person holding the flashlight, you stood up and when you heard the cocking of the rifle, you ran away?
A Yes, Sir, I moved forward.
Q Have you actually seen the person cocking his rifle?
A Yes, Sir, because he was very near.10
Rona testified that she herself recognized the appellant, thus:
Q You said you heard a gunfire and you turned your back and ran forward and stopped at a little distance?
A Yes, Sir. I ran at a little distance and then I turned my back to the place where the gunburst occurred and then I saw a man wearing [a] black t-shirt and dark pants and a hat at the time.
Q What happen (sic) while you were looking back, what did you see?
A When I looked back to the place, I saw that man at the time and he was bringing (sic) with him a flashlight and so I just kept looking and when he returned back (sic), he was bringing (sic) with him a gun and there were lights of flashlights coming from his back (sic).
Q Towards what direction was the flashlight directed?
A The lights of the flashlights (sic) were directed to the place where my Uncle Nilo was but I did not see my uncle and the light lighted the left side of the face of that man wearing a hat.
Q What did that man wearing, a hat, dark t-shirt and pants do?
A I noticed that the man wearing a hat and dark t-shirt and pants was holding a gun and pointed it downward to the place where my Uncle Nilo was and my brother Randy ran away and when that gun burst or fired, I also ran away.
Q Did you recognize that man who fired the gun?
A Yes, Sir.
Q Can you point to that man if he is in court?
A Yes, Sir.
Witness pointing to a man who is sporting a wrist watch with his hands folded in front of him and is known already to the court as (sic) accused Quirico Dagpin.
If your Honor, please, may we ask that the accused be made to stand up for identification purposes?
He is already known to the court.
How far were you from that man who fired the gun?
A I was only very near because I was situated at the lower portion of the trail which has a distance of about one (1) fathom from the man who fired the gun.
Q You said that the left side of the face of the man was lighted by a flashlight directed towards the ground where your uncle was. How many flashlights did you notice?
A Three, Sir.
Q From what direction did the lights come from in relation to the gunman?
A The two (2) lights coming from the flashlights were situated at an upper portion and the third flashlight was situated on the left side which caused the lighting of the left side of the man who fired the gun.
Q You said after hearing the second gunburst and seeing that person who fired the gun, you ran away. Towards what direction did you run?
A Towards our road because I was left behind in that place because my brother was already ahead of me.
Q All right, you said you heard the gunburst and saw that (sic) man who fired the gun. The gun was pointed down. That was the second gunfire. To whom was that gunfire directed?
A As I narrated a while ago, the gun was pointed downward to the ground.11
No less than the appellant?s witness, Barangay Captain Rene Jauculan, testified that when he talked with Rona and Randy after the shooting, they confirmed to him that they knew the suspects, but were afraid to divulge their identities before they were arrested:
Q Now, you said that the victim in this case had companions in going home, did you try to ask who were his companions at the time of the incident when you were already in (sic) the scene of the incident?
A Yes, Sir.
Q Who were they, if you did ask his companions?
A The two Labisigs.
Q Rona Labising (sic) and Randy Labisig, right?
A Yes, Sir.
Q Did you ask also Joselito Bantayana?
A I do not know.
Q How about Danilo Taroc (sic)?
A Yes, I think he was with me.
Q How about Reynaldo Matugan?
A I am not very certain, Sir.
Q How about Reina Labisig?
A She was with him.
Q Now, did you ask them, what really happened if they were there at the scene of the incident?
A Yes, Sir, I asked them.
Q Where did you ask them, in the house or at the scene of the incident?
A In the house.
Q You mean, when you went to a certain place, these persons I mentioned or his companions were no longer there?
A They were not there anymore.
Q Now, you had an occasion to ask them in what house?
A In the house of the father of the victim.
Q Did they tell you that they have now the suspects but they were still afraid to arrest them because there were no policemen around?
A Yes, Sir.
Q And that was what they told you, right?
A Yes, Sir.
Q And, of course, they told you that they could not tell you because they were afraid because the suspects were not yet arrested?
A Yes, Sir.
Q And because of that you did not insist in asking them the name of the suspects, right?
A I did not.
Q Because you leave (sic) this matter to the police?
A Yes, Sir.12
We have ruled that illumination produced by a kerosene lamp or a flashlight is sufficient to allow identification of persons.13
The trial court gave credence and probative weight to the testimonies of Randy and Rona. The well-settled rule is that findings of a trial court on the credibility of witnesses deserve great weight, as the trial judge has a clear advantage over the appellate magistrate in appreciating testimonial evidence. The trial judge is in the best position to assess the credibility of the witness as he had the unique opportunity to observe the witness firsthand and note his demeanor, conduct and attitude under grueling examination. Where, as in this case, there is no showing that the trial court ignored, misconstrued or misinterpreted cogent facts and circumstances of substance which, if considered, will alter the outcome of the case. The findings of the trial court are accorded high respect, if not conclusive effect.14
The appellant?s denial of the crime charged cannot prevail over the positive declarations of prosecution witnesses Randy and Rona.
of alibi is inherently weak and crumbles in the light of positive declarations of truthful witnesses who testified on affirmative matters. Positive identification where categorical and consistent and without any showing of ill motive on the part of the eyewitness testifying on the matter prevails over a denial which, if not substantiated by clear and convincing evidence, is negative and self-serving evidence undeserving of weight in law.15
The appellant was not deprived of his right under the Constitution to be assisted by counsel because the appellant was not subjected to a custodial investigation where he was identified by the prosecution?s witnesses in a police line-up.16 Indeed, the appellant even denied that there was no police line-up and that he was merely with the police officers when the prosecution?s witnesses arrived in the police station.
The killing was qualified by treachery. There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means or methods in the execution thereof which tend, directly and specifically, to insure its execution, without risk to the offender, arising from the defense which the offended party might make.17 The essence of treachery is that the attack is deliberate and without warning, done in swift and unexpected manner of execution, affording the hapless and unsuspecting victim no chance to resist or escape.18 In this case, the victim was shot from behind, at close range, impervious to the peril to his life. The victim was unarmed and had no chance or means to defend himself or avert the appellant?s assault.
Although the Information alleges that the appellant used a gun in killing the victim, there is no allegation therein that the appellant had no license to possess the firearm. Neither is there proof that he had no such license. Under Rule 110, Section 8 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, an aggravating circumstance must be alleged in the Information. While the rule became effective after the crime was committed, the same must be applied retroactively because it is favorable to the appellant.19
Under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Rep. Act No. 7659, murder is punishable by reclusion perpetua to death. Where no mitigating or aggravating circumstance attended the commission of the crime, the proper penalty is reclusion perpetua, conformably to Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code.
We sustain the award of P50,000 as civil indemnity to the heirs of the victim without need of any proof.20 Exemplary damages in the amount of P25,00021 must, likewise, be awarded, in accordance with Article 2230 of the Civil Code, the qualifying circumstance of treachery being present. The heirs of the victim are entitled to moral damages of P50,000,22 the prosecution having proved, through the father of the victim, the factual basis therefor. The heirs are not entitled to actual damages in the form of the victim?s unearned income because the prosecution failed to present any documentary evidence to prove the victim?s employment and the amount of his monthly salary.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the appealed Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Dipolog City, Branch 8, finding the appellant Quirico Dagpin y Esmade guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS. The appellant Quirico Dagpin y Esmade is ORDERED to pay the heirs of the victim, Nilo Caermare, Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000) as civil indemnity; Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000) as moral damages; and Twenty-Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000) as exemplary damages. The award of actual damages is deleted.
Puno, Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Tinga, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Judge Pacifico M. Garcia.
2 Records, p. 1.
3 Id. at 79.
4 Rollo, p. 36.
5 Id. at 48.
6 TSN, 9 January 1997, pp. 6-7.
7 TSN, 10 January 1997, pp. 19-21.
8 TSN, 9 January 1997, pp. 21-25.
9 TSN, 8 January 1997, pp. 18-21.
10 TSN, 9 January 1997, pp. 15-16.
11 TSN, 10 January 1997, pp. 11-15.
12 TSN, 29 March 2000, pp. 26-28.
13 People vs. Penillos, 205 SCRA 546 (1992); People vs. Loste, 210 SCRA 614 (1992).
14 People vs. Caabay, G.R. No. 129961-62, August 25, 2003.
15 People vs. Errol Rollon, G.R. No. 131915, September 3, 2003.
16 People vs. Amestuzo, 361 SCRA 184 (2001).
17 People vs. Ruben Cañete, et al., G.R. No. 138366, September 11, 2003.
18 People vs. Eusebio Duban, G.R. No. 141217, September 26, 2003.
19 People vs. Caabay, supra.
20 People vs. Errol Rollon, supra.
21 People vs. Nicolas, 400 SCRA 217 (2003).
22 People vs. Caabay, supra.
May 31, 2004
The sole issue in this petition for review on certiorari is whether or not the grandchildren of the late Dr. Nicolas Valisno Sr. are entitled to retention rights as landowners under Republic Act No. 6657, or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (hereafter, "CARL").
The original 57-hectare property, situated in La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija, was formerly registered in the name of Dr. Nicolas Valisno, Sr. under Transfer Certificate of Title No. NT-38406. Before the effectivity of Presidential Decree No. 27,1 the land was the subject of a judicial ejectment suit, whereby in 1971, the Valisnos? tenants were ejected from the property.2 Among these tenants was Dominador Maglalang, who represents the SMSJ in the instant proceedings.
Meanwhile, on October 20 and 21, 1972, Dr. Valisno mortgaged 12 hectares of his property to Renato and Angelito Banting.3 Thereafter, the property was subdivided into ten lots and on November 8, 1972, individual titles were issued in the name of the eight children of Nicolas, Angelito Banting, and Renato Banting.4
After the mortgage on the 12 hectare portion was foreclosed and the property sold at public auction, four grandchildren of Dr. Nicolas Valisno, namely: Maria Cristina F. Valisno, daughter of Romulo D. Valisno; and Leonora Valisno Yujuico, Benedicto Valisno Yujuico and Gregorio Valisno Yujuico, children of Marietta Valisno redeemed the same from the mortgagees.5 At the time of the redemption, Maria Cristina, Leonora and Gregorio were all minors; only Benedicto was of legal age, being then 26 years old.6 The redemption was made on October 25, 1973, but the titles to the land were not transferred to the redemptioners until November 26, 1998.7
Subsequently, the entire 57-hectare property became the subject of expropriation proceedings before the Department of Agrarian Reform ("DAR"). In 1994, Dominador Maglalang, in behalf of the SMSP, filed a petition for coverage of the subject landholding under the CARL, which petition was dismissed for want of jurisdiction.8 On June 14, 1995, Rogelio Chaves, DAR Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer ("PARO"), issued a Memorandum stating that the property had been subdivided among the heirs of Dr. Nicolas Valisno Sr. before the issuance of PD 27 into tracts of approximately six hectares each.9 Nevertheless, PARO Chaves added that the excess over the five-hectare retention limit could still be covered under RA 6657.10
On appeal, the Office of the Regional Director issued an Order dated January 2, 1996, declaring the Valisno property exempt from the coverage of PD 27 and RA 6657.11 This was reversed by then Secretary Garilao, who held that the property is covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, subject to the retention rights of the heirs of Nicolas, Sr. The Valisno heirs filed a motion for reconsideration of the said order, but the same was denied.
On September 25, 1997, the Valisno heirs filed a Consolidated Application for Retention and Award under RA 6657. Specifically, the petition was filed by (1) Adela, Aquiles, Leandro, Honorio, Lumen, Nicolas and Marietta Valisno, seven children of Nicolas Valisno, Sr., who applied for retention rights as landowners; (2) Randy V. Wagner, Maria Marta B. Valisno, Noelito Valisno, Mary Ann L. Valisno, Philip V. Branzuela and Brendon V. Yujuico, grandchildren of Nicolas Sr. (hereafter collectively the "Grandchildren-Awardees"), who applied to be considered qualified child-awardees; and (3) Ma. Cristina Valisno, Benedicto V. Yujuico, Gregorio V. Yujuico and Leonora V. Yujuico, likewise grandchildren of Nicolas Sr. (hereafter collectively the "Redemptioner-Grandchildren"), who applied for retention rights as landowners over the 12-hectare portion of the property alleged to have been mortgaged by Nicolas Sr. in 1972 to Angelito and Renato Banting.
The SMSJ, through Dominador Maglalang, opposed the Consolidated Application for Retention, specifically objecting to the award in favor of the Grandchildren-Awardees because they are not actually tilling nor directly managing the land in question as required by law.
On November 4, 1998, Regional Director Renato F. Herrera issued an Order which pertinently reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, an ORDER is hereby issued as follows:
1. GRANTING the application for retention of the heirs of Dr. Nicolas Valisno, Sr., namely: Marietta Valisno; Honorio Valisno; Leandro Valisno; Adela Valisno; Nicolas Valisno, Jr.; Aquiles Valisno; and Lumen Valisno of not more than five (5) hectares each or a total of 35 hectares covered by Title Nos. 118446, 118443, 118442, 118440, 118445, 118441 and 118444, respectively, all located at La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija;
2. PLACING the excess of 19.0 hectares, more or less, under RA 6657 and acquiring the same thru Compulsory Acquisition for distribution to qualified farmer-beneficiaries taking into consideration the basic qualifications set forth by law;
3. DENYING the request for the award to children of the applicants for utter lack of merit; and
4. DIRECTING the applicants-heirs to cause the segregation and survey of the retained area at their own expense and to submit within thirty (30) days the final approved survey plan to this Office.
On appeal, the DAR Secretary affirmed the Order of the Regional Director with the following relevant ratiocination:
In the second assignment of error, appellants faulted the Regional Director for not giving due consideration to the two (2) mortgages constituted by the original owner over a portion of his landholding in 1972 and redeemed by the latter?s grandchildren in 1973, when the 12-hectare land subject of the mortgages were ordered to be distributed to CARP beneficiaries.
x x x           x x x           x x x
The alleged redemption of the mortgaged property by the four (4) grandchildren of Nicolas Valisno, Sr., namely Ma. Cristina, Leonora, Gregorio and Benedicto, is not likewise worthy of any credence. The mortgaged property was allegedly redeemed on October 25, 1973. From the evidence on record, three (3) of the alleged redemptioners represented to be of legal age in the Discharge of Mortgage were still minors, hence, without any legal capacity at the time the redemption was made.13
On June 23, 2000, the motion for reconsideration filed by the heirs of Dr. Valisno was denied.14
Respondent heirs filed a petition for review with the Court of Appeals, arguing that the Secretary of Agrarian Reform erred (1) in disallowing the award of one hectare to each of the seven Grandchildren-Awardees of Dr. Nicolas Valisno, as qualified children-awardees under the CARL; and (2) in not recognizing the redemption made by the four grandchildren of Dr. Nicolas Valisno over the 12-hectare riceland mortgaged to Renato and Angelito Banting.15
On March 26, 2002, the Court of Appeals reversed the Orders of the DAR Secretary, granted the award of one hectare each for the seven Grandchildren-Awardees, and affirmed the retention rights of the Redemptioner-Grandchildren over three hectares each, or a total of 12 hectares.16
Petitioners filed a partial motion for reconsideration, assailing the right of retention of the four Redemptioner-Grandchildren over the 12-hectare property, and praying that an amended decision be rendered placing the 12 hectares under the coverage of the CARP.17 This motion was denied on March 25, 2003.18
Hence, this appeal, on the sole assignment of error:
THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED WHEN, IN EFFECT, IT RULED THAT THE REDEMPTIONERS (GRANDCHILDREN OF THE DECEASED NICOLAS VALISNO, SR.) WERE ENTITLED TO RETENTION RIGHTS AS LANDOWNERS UNDER THE AGRARIAN REFORM LAW DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE REDEMPTION WAS DONE BY THEIR PARENTS (CHILDREN OF THE DECEASED) ONLY IN THEIR NAME AND FOR THEIR BENEFIT.19
The appeal lacks merit.
The Court of Appeals found the following facts relevant: First, that the mortgages were constituted over a 12-hectare portion of Dr. Valisno?s estate in 1972. Second, that the titles to the property were transferred to the names of the mortgagees in 1972, viz., TCT No. NT-118447, covering a 6-hectare property in La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija, issued in the name of Angelito Banting; and TCT No. NT-118448, likewise covering a 6-hectare property in La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija, issued in the name of Renato Banting. Third, these properties were redeemed by the Redemptioner-Grandchildren on October 25, 1973, at the time of which redemption three of the four Redemptioner-Grandchildren were minors.
It is a well-settled rule that only questions of law may be reviewed by the Supreme Court in an appeal by certiorari.20 Findings of fact by the Court of Appeals are final and conclusive and cannot be reviewed on appeal to the Supreme Court.21 The only time this Court will disregard the factual findings of the Court of Appeals (which are ordinarily accorded great respect) is when these are based on speculation, surmises or conjectures or when these are not based on substantial evidence.22
In the case at bar, no reason exists for us to disregard the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals. The factual findings are borne out by the record and are supported by substantial evidence.
Given these settled facts, the resolution of the sole issue in this case hinges on (1) the validity of the redemption in 1973, made when three of the Redemptioner-Grandchildren were minors; and (2) if the redemption was valid, the determination of the retention rights of the Redemptioner-Grandchildren, if any, under RA 6557.
The relevant laws governing the minors? redemption in 1973 are the general Civil Code provisions on legal capacity to enter into contractual relations. Article 1327 of the Civil Code provides that minors are incapable of giving consent to a contract. Article 1390 provides that a contract where one of the parties is incapable of giving consent is voidable or annullable. Thus, the redemption made by the minors in 1973 was merely voidable or annullable, and was not void ab initio, as petitioners argue.
Any action for the annulment of the contracts thus entered into by the minors would require that: (1) the plaintiff must have an interest in the contract; and (2) the action must be brought by the victim and not the party responsible for the defect.23 Thus, Article 1397 of the Civil Code provides in part that "[t]he action for the annulment of contracts may be instituted by all who are thereby obliged principally or subsidiarily. However, persons who are capable cannot allege the incapacity of those with whom they contracted." The action to annul the minors? redemption in 1973, therefore, was one that could only have been initiated by the minors themselves, as the victims or the aggrieved parties in whom the law itself vests the right to file suit. This action was never initiated by the minors. We thus quote with approval the ratiocination of the Court of Appeals:
Respondents contend that the redemption made by the petitioners was simulated, calculated to avoid the effects of agrarian reform considering that at the time of redemption the latter were still minors and could not have resources, in their own right, to pay the price thereof.
We are not persuaded. While it is true that a transaction entered into by a party who is incapable of consent is voidable, however such transaction is valid until annulled. The redemption made by the four petitioners has never been annulled, thus, it is valid.24
The transfer of the titles to the two 6-hectare properties in 1972 removed the parcels of land from the entire Valisno estate. The evidence clearly demonstrates that Renato Banting and Angelito Banting became the registered owners of the property in 1972. These two separate properties were then transferred to the Redemptioner-Grandchildren in 1973. Regardless of the source of their funds, and regardless of their minority, they became the legal owners of the property in 1973.
Moreover, although Maria Cristina, Leonora and Gregorio were all minors in 1973, they were undoubtedly of legal age in 1994, when SMSP initiated the petition for coverage of the subject landholding under the CARL, and of course were likewise of legal age in 1997, when all the Valisno heirs filed their Consolidated Application for Retention and Award under RA 6657.
As owners in their own right of the questioned properties, Redemptioner-Grandchildren enjoyed the right of retention granted to all landowners. This right of retention is a constitutionally guaranteed right, which is subject to qualification by the legislature.25 It serves to mitigate the effects of compulsory land acquisition by balancing the rights of the landowner and the tenant and by implementing the doctrine that social justice was not meant to perpetrate an injustice against the landowner.26 A retained area, as its name denotes, is land which is not supposed to leave the landowner?s dominion, thus sparing the government from the inconvenience of taking land only to return it to the landowner afterwards, which would be a pointless process.
In the landmark case of Association of Small Landowners in the Philippines, Inc. v. Secretary of Agrarian Reform,27 we held that landowners who have not yet exercised their retention rights under PD 27 are entitled to the new retention rights under RA 6657.28 The retention rights of landowners are provided in Sec. 6 of RA 6657, which reads in relevant part:
SECTION 6. Retention Limits. ? Except as otherwise provided in this Act, no person may own or retain, directly or indirectly, any public or private agricultural land, the size of which shall vary according to factors governing a viable family-size, such as commodity produced, terrain, infrastructure, and soil fertility as determined by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) created hereunder, but in no case shall retention by the landowner exceed five (5) hectares. Three (3) hectares may be awarded to each child of the landowner, subject to the following qualifications: (1) that he is at least fifteen (15) years of age; and (2) that he is actually tilling the land or directly managing the farm; Provided, That landowners whose land have been covered by Presidential Decree No. 27 shall be allowed to keep the area originally retained by them thereunder, Provided further, That original homestead grantees or direct compulsory heirs who still own the original homestead at the time of the approval of this Act shall retain the same areas as long as they continue to cultivate said homestead.
The right to choose the area to be retained, which shall be compact or contiguous, shall pertain to the landowner. Provided, however, That in case the area selected for retention by the landowner is tenanted, the tenant shall have the option to choose whether to remain therein or be a beneficiary in the same or another agricultural land with similar or comparable features. In case the tenant chooses to remain in the retained area, he shall be considered a leaseholder and shall lose his right to be a beneficiary under this Act. In case the tenant chooses to be a beneficiary in another agricultural land, he loses his right as a lease-holder to the land retained by the landowner. The tenant must exercise this option within a period of one (1) year from the time the landowner manifests his choice of the area for retention.
This section defines the nature and incidents of a landowner?s right of retention. For as long as the area to be retained is compact or contiguous and it does not exceed the retention ceiling of five hectares, a landowner?s choice of the area to be retained must prevail.
Each of the four Redemptioner-Grandchildren is thus entitled to retain a parcel of land with a ceiling of five hectares, for a total of 20 hectares. The parcels of land in question total only 12 hectares, or only three hectares each, which is well within the statutory retention limits.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 59752 dated March 26, 2002, and Resolution of the Court of Appeals dated March 25, 2003, which upheld the retention rights of respondents Ma. Cristina Valisno, Benedicto V. Yujuico, Gregorio V. Yujuico and Leonora V. Yujuico, are AFFIRMED.
Davide, Jr., Panganiban, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
1 "Decreeing the Emancipation of Tenants from the Bondage of the Soil, Transferring to them the Ownership of the Land They Till and Providing the Instruments and Mechanisms Therefor", which took effect on 21 October 1972.
2 Rollo, pp. 27-29.
3 CA Records, p. 31.
4 The ten individual lots are as follows:
TitleRegistered OwnerArea (ha.)Location
NT-118440Adela Valisno6La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, N.E.
NT-118441Aquiles Valisno6La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, N.E.
NT-118442Leandro Valisno6La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, N.E.
NT-118443Honorio Valisno6La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, N.E.
NT-118444Lumen Valisno6La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, N.E.
NT-118445Nicolas Valisno, Jr.6La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, N.E.
NT-118446Marietta Valisno6La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, N.E.
NT-118447Angelito Banting6La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, N.E.
NT-118448Renato Banting6La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, N.E.
NT-118449Romulo Valisno3.7849La Fuente, Sta. Rosa, N.E.
5 CA Records, p. 31.
6 Id., p. 51.
8 Rollo, p. 30.
9 It appears that seven of the eight children of Dr. Valisno received six hectares each. The remaining child, Romulo D. Valisno, received a share of only 3.7849 hectares. His share was reduced because of a money debt to his father. Narrative Investigative Report on the Property of Dr. Valisno, Sr., DAR Region III Municipal Agrarian Reform Office, CA Records, p. 31.
10 Rollo, p. 30.
11 Id., p. 99; CA Records, p. 206.
12 Id., p. 33.
13 CA Records, pp. 50-53.
14 Id., pp. 55-57.
15 Rollo, p. 37.
16 Id., p. 44.
17 CA Records, p. 233.
18 Id., p. 264.
19 Rollo, pp. 15-16.
20 Rules of Court, Rule 45, sec. 1; Solangon v. Salazar, G.R. No. 125944, 29 June 2001, 360 SCRA 379; Fuentes v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 109849, 26 February 1997, 268 SCRA 703.
21 Titong v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 111141, 6 March 1998, 287 SCRA 102; Atillo III v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 119053, 23 January 1997, 266 SCRA 596.
22 Milestone Realty & Co., Inc. and William Perez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 135999, 19 April 2002.
23 4 Tolentino, Civil Code of the Philippines 604-05.
24 CA Records, p. 264.
25 Const., Art. XIII, Sec. 4.
26 Cabatan v. Court of Appeals, G.R. Nos. L-44875-76, L-45160 and L-46211-12, 22 January 1980, 95 SCRA 323; Dequito v. Llamas, G.R. No. L-28090, 4 September 1975, 66 SCRA 504.
27 175 SCRA 343 (1989).
28 Id. at 392.
May 31, 2004
This is a petition for review of the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 38333 reversing the Decision,2 on appeal, of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 215, in Civil Case No. Q-94-21698.
On September 3, 1993, the respondents, Spouses Emmanuel and Edna Chua, filed a complaint for unlawful detainer against the petitioners, Spouses Elpidio and Amelia Apostol, in the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Metro Manila, docketed as Civil Case No. 7660. The respondents alleged, inter alia, that they had contracted with the Spouses Paulo and Georgina Pascua for the purchase of a parcel of land. The petitioners, who were present during the negotiations, verbally assured the respondents that they would vacate the property within ten (10) days from the execution of the sale. The petitioners then acknowledged that their stay in the property was only upon the tolerance of its former owners. On June 7, 1993, the Spouses Pascua executed a Deed of Absolute Sale over the property and the improvements thereon in favor of the respondents for P1,000,000. On the basis of the said deed, the respondents were issued Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 87610 over the property on June 8, 1993. Despite demands, however, the petitioners refused to vacate the property.
The respondents prayed that, after due proceedings, judgment be rendered in their favor, thus:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is respectfully prayed of this Honorable Court that after a summary hearing, judgment be rendered in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants, as follows:
1. Ordering the defendants and all persons claiming under them to immediately vacate the above-mentioned parcel of land;
2. Ordering the defendants to pay the plaintiffs the sum of P5,000.00 per month from the filing of the complaint until they finally vacate and turn over completely the above-mentioned parcel of land representing the reasonable compensation for the use and occupancy of the above-mentioned parcel of land;
3. Ordering the defendants to pay the plaintiffs the sum of P10,000.00 for and as attorney?s fees, plus the sum of P1,000.00 appearance fee for every court attendance of plaintiffs? counsel; and
4. Ordering defendants to pay plaintiffs the costs of suit.
PLAINTIFFS further pray for such other reliefs and remedies as may be deemed just and equitable in the premises.3
In their answer with special and affirmative defenses and compulsory counterclaim, the respondents alleged, inter alia, that Luz B. Pascua was the owner of the parcel of land located in Quezon City covered by TCT No. 198936 with an area of 315 square meters. She sold a portion of the property, an area of 285.32 square meters, to the respondents on July 8, 1976 for P45,548 of which P15,548 was paid. On the same day, the parties executed a memorandum agreement covering the property, in which the respondents agreed that the balance of the purchase price would be paid in installments. Thereafter, a deed of absolute sale was executed in favor of the respondents over an unsegregated portion of the property, with an area of 29.68 square meters, for P7,350 and, later, a deed of confirmation of deed of absolute sale with waiver over the said property. On June 20, 1979, the respondents executed an Affidavit of Adverse Claim over the property, stating, inter alia, that they could not cause the registration of the said deeds because the owner?s duplicate of TCT No. 198936 was in the possession of Teresita B. Jimenez, a former co-owner of the property. The respondents further alleged that Luz Pascua, in her letter to the Register of Deeds dated August 6, 1979, confirmed that she failed to turn over the owner?s duplicate of TCT No. 198936 because the same was in the possession of Jimenez, who, in turn, gave it to Jose J. Burgos. Thereafter, on May 15, 1980, Luz Pascua filed a Complaint against the petitioners in the RTC of Quezon City for rescission and damages docketed as Civil Case No. 29895 but the same was dismissed on December 19, 1983 for lack of interest to prosecute. Paulo Pascua filed a similar complaint against the petitioners in the RTC, docketed as Civil Case No. 88-523, but the same was, likewise, dismissed. Finally, the petitioners alleged that the Spouses Pascua?s possession of the property after the sale thereof to the respondents was by mere tolerance.
In the meantime, the petitioners filed a complaint against the respondents, the Spouses Chua, the Spouses Pascua, and the Register of Deeds in the RTC of Quezon City, for annulment of deed of sale and TCT No. 86338, and for reconveyance with damages. The petitioners alleged, inter alia, that they had been in possession of the property since 1973; their adverse claim over the property was annotated on June 20, 1979 as Entry No. PE 8812; Luz Pascua died on December 2, 1984 but Paulo Pascua did not inherit the property from her because the same had already been sold to the respondents; Paulo Pascua executed a falsified affidavit for self-adjudication over the property on the basis of which he was able to secure, on May 20, 1993, TCT No. 86338.
The petitioners prayed that, after due proceedings, judgment be rendered in their favor, thus:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is respectfully prayed that judgment be rendered as follows:
1. Nullifying the deed of sale executed by Paulo Pascua in favor of Edna Chua, marked as Annex "G" hereof and TCT No. 87610 (Annex "H") in the name of Edna L. Chua; including TCT No. 86338 RT-432 (Annex "F") in the name of Paulo Pascua; and in the alternative to reconvey the aforesaid property to herein plaintiffs;
2. Ordering the Register of Deeds of Quezon City to cancel TCT Nos. 87610 and 86338;
3. Sentencing defendants to pay plaintiffs:
a) P100,000 as actual and consequential damages;
b) P50,000 as moral damages;
c) Exemplary damages, P50,000;
d) P15,000 as attorney?s fee;
e) Cost; and,
f) Praying for other reliefs and remedies, equitable and just under the premises.4
On February 17, 1994, the MeTC issued an Order in Civil Case No. 7660 defining the issues, thus:
1. Whether or not the complaint is for Forcible Entry or Unlawful Detainer;
2. Who is entitled to the lawful possession of the subject property;
3. Whether this case has to be suspended in view of the filing of an action for Annulment of Title in the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City; and
4. Whether the plaintiffs can lawfully eject the defendants from the premises.5
The MeTC rendered judgment in favor of the respondents on August 11, 1994. The decretal portion of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court hereby renders judgment in favor of plaintiffs and against defendants by ordering as follows:
1) Defendants and all persons claiming rights under them to vacate the premises denominated as No. 39, Visayas Ave., Project 6, Diliman, Quezon City, and to surrender the peaceful possession thereof to plaintiffs;
2) Defendants to pay plaintiffs the sum of P5,000.00 per month representing the reasonable compensation for the use and occupancy of the premises from the time of formal demand until the possession of the premises shall have been fully restored to plaintiffs;
3) Defendants to pay plaintiffs the sum of P5,000.00 as attorney?s fees; and
4) Defendants to pay the costs of this suit.
The MeTC ruled that having acquired the property from the Spouses Pascua, and being the registered owners of the property, the respondents are entitled to the possession thereof:
The Court holds that plaintiffs are the ones entitled to the material or physical possession of the subject property. This is so because they have sufficiently established their title over the premises in question. They have shown that they are the registered owners of the subject premises located at No. 39 Visayas Avenue, Project 6, Diliman, Quezon City, as evidenced by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 87610 issued in their name by the Registry of Deeds of Quezon City, which property they acquired from its former registered owners, the Sps. Paulo and Georgiana (sic) Pascua. Hence, as an incident to their ownership over said property, plaintiffs are entitled to its possession.7
The court also ruled that the proceedings were not suspended by the pendency of Civil Case No. Q-94-19352.
The respondents appealed the decision to the RTC, which rendered judgment on April 15, 1996 in their favor, reversing the decision of the MeTC and ordering the dismissal of the complaint. The RTC anchored its decision on the following findings:
It is the contention of the plaintiff that as registered owners of the subject lot, they have the right to take possession thereof and eject defendants from the premises. On the other hand, it is the contention of the defendants that they are the rightful owners of the land and have been in possession thereon from the time they acquired the land from the real owner Luz B. Pascua.
In ejectment cases, the only issue to be determined by the Court is the fact of prior physical and material possession over the subject property. Under Article 538 of the New Civil Code (NCC), it is provided that:
"Article 538. Possession as a fact cannot be recognized at the same time in two different personalities except in cases of co-possession. Should a question arise regarding the fact of possession, the present possessor shall be preferred, if there are two possessors, the one longer in possession; if the dates of the possession are the same, the one who presents a title; and if all these conditions are equal, the thing shall be placed in judicial deposit pending determination of its possession or ownership through proper proceedings."
In this case, defendants were able to establish the fact that they have been in physical and material possession of the subject premises from the time they purchased the same from Luz B. Pascua on July 8, 1976. Defendants, therefore, are in possession of the property in the concept of an owner, and under the law, a possessor in the concept of an owner has in his favor the legal presumption that he possesses with a just title and he cannot be obliged to show or prove it (Art. 541, NCC).
Moreover, it is important to note that defendants purchased the subject premises from Luz B. Pascua on July 8, 1976 while plaintiffs purchased the same from Paulo Pascua only on June 4, 1993, a much later date. This is shown by the Deed of Absolute Sale executed by Luz B. Pascua in favor of defendants on July 8, 1976 (Annex 1); Deed of Absolute Sale of Unsegregated Portion of Land executed by Luz B. Pascua and Paulo Pascua in favor of the defendants on July 14, 1977 (Annex 2) and a Deed of Confirmation of Deed of Absolute Sale of a Parcel of Land with Waiver dated July 14, 1977 executed by Paulo Pascua (Annex 3). These documents put in doubtful validity the subsequent sale of the same land by Paulo Pascua in favor of the plaintiffs. Paulo Pascua had no right, therefore, to transfer ownership of the subject land to plaintiffs because, Luz B. Pascua, the original owner, had already sold the same land to defendants during her lifetime. And upon the death of Luz B. Pascua, Paulo Pascua had no right to adjudicate the subject lot to himself because he even confirmed such sale and waived any rights, interest and participation over the subject residential house and lot in a Deed of Confirmation of Absolute Sale with Waiver dated July 14, 1977 (Annex 3). It bears emphasis, however, that the validity of the respective titles of the parties is now the subject of controversy in Civil Case No. Q-94-19352 pending before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 102.
From the foregoing, it is clear that defendants have priority of right and possession over the subject property and have, therefore, the right to be respected in their present possession thereon.8
The petitioners filed a petition for review with the Court of Appeals, which later rendered judgment reversing the decision of the RTC and reinstated the decision of the MeTC. The CA held that in ruling against the petitioners, who were the registered owners of the property, the RTC thereby violated the prescription against the collateral attack of a torrens title.
The Present Petition
In the present recourse, the petitioners, the Spouses Apostol, assert the following: (a) their possession of the property since 1976 preceded the sale of the property to the private respondents; (b) the respondents were purchasers of the property in bad faith; and, (c) in declaring that the petitioners had priority of possession of the property on the sale thereof by Luz Pascua and Paulo Pascua way back in 1976 and 1977, the RTC did not thereby collaterally attack the title of the respondents over the property. According to the petitioners, an inflexible adherence to the proscription against a collateral attack of a torrens title may result to gross injustice.
In their comment on the petition, the respondents assert that contrary to the petitioners? claim, the petition raises questions of facts. The respondents also aver that the CA did not commit any error in its decision.
The petitioners contend that the respondents themselves admitted in their complaint before the MeTC that they knew that the petitioners were in actual possession of the property even before they purchased the same. Hence, the petitioners argue, the respondents were purchasers in bad faith.
The petitioners also point out that since they purchased the property before the respondents, they cannot be ejected therefrom. Under Article 1544 of the Civil Code which, according to Justice Jose C. Vitug, is "self-operating," the sale of the property to them prevails over the sale in favor of the respondents. Thus, the sale in favor of the respondents is null and void; consequently, TCT No. 87610 issued in favor of the respondents is, likewise, null and void. Finally, the petitioners aver that they may very well have become the owners of the property by prescription under Article 1134 of the New Civil Code.
For its part, the CA held as follows:
The respondent court erred in dismissing the action for unlawful detainer on the sole ground that the private respondents are possessors in the concept of an owner of the subject premises and cannot, thus, be dispossessed of the same. The subject property is registered under the Torrens System in the names of the petitioners whose title to the property is presumed legal and cannot be collaterally attacked, much less in an action for unlawful detainer. No title to registered land in derogation of the title of the registered owner may be acquired by prescription or adverse possession (Caina vs. Court of Appeals, 239 SCRA 256; Odsigue vs. Court of Appeals, 233 SCRA 615; Calang vs. Register of Deeds of Quezon City, 231 SCRA 257). The presumption of ownership granted by law to a possessor in the concept of an owner under Article 541 is only prima facie and cannot prevail over a valid title registered under the Torrens System.9
The Ruling of the Court
We agree with the Court of Appeals. In Pangilinan v. Aguilar,10 we held that it is an accepted rule that a person who has a torrens title over the property, such as the respondents, is entitled to the possession thereof. We reiterated our ruling in the Pangilinan Case in Javelosa v. Court of Appeals,11 and declared that the registered owners are entitled to the possession of the property covered by the said title from the time such title was issued in their favor. Moreover, the fact that the respondents were never in prior physical possession of the subject land is of no moment, as prior physical possession is necessary only in forcible entry cases.
The petitioners claim that, as alleged in their answer to the complaint for unlawful detainer, the respondents? title over the property is a nullity; hence, the complaint for unlawful detainer against the petitioners should be dismissed for lack of merit. Such allegation does not help their present recourse. Under Section 48 of Presidential Decree No. 1529, a certificate of title shall not be subject to collateral attack. It cannot be altered, modified or cancelled, except in a direct proceeding for that purpose in accordance with law. The issue of the validity of the title of the respondents can only be assailed in an action expressly instituted for that purpose.12 Whether or not the petitioners have the right to claim ownership over the property is beyond the power of the court a quo to determine in an action for unlawful detainer.13
The following issues are now the subject of Civil Case No. Q-94-19352 before the RTC of Quezon City: (1) whether the respondents were buyers in bad faith; (2) the validity of the deed of absolute sale over the property executed by the Spouses Pascua in favor of the respondents; and (3) the validity of the title issued to and in the names of the respondents. Hence, the Court shall no longer delve into such issues.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is DENIED. The assailed decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 38333 is AFFIRMED. Costs against the petitioners.
Puno, Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Tinga, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Minerva P. Gonzaga-Reyes, with Associate Justices Ramon Mabutas, Jr. and Salvador J. Valdez, Jr., concurring.
2 Penned by Judge Marcelino F. Bautista, Jr.
3 CA Rollo, pp. 27-28.
4 Id. at 76.
5 Id. at 62.
6 Id. at 114.
7 Id. at 113.
8 Rollo, pp. 69-70.
9 Rollo, p. 76.
10 43 SCRA 136 (1972).
11 265 SCRA 493 (1996).
12 Eduarte v. Court of Appeals, 311 SCRA 18 (1999).
13 Co v. Court of Appeals, 196 SCRA 705 (1991).
May 31, 2004
For review before this Court is the July 21, 2000 Decision1 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 16, Zamboanga City convicting herein appellants Zeng Hua Dian a.k.a. Chan Chang Hua Tian a.k.a. Bobong Chua and Yang Yan Giou alias Jackson Yu a.k.a. Jackson Yang for violation of Section 15, Article III of Republic Act 6425, otherwise known as the Dangerous Drugs Act, as amended by Republic Act 7659.
The Information, dated April 17, 1999, charged appellants as follows:
That on or about the 16th day of April 1999, in the City of Zamboanga, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named, both Chinese [n]ationals, not being authorized by law to sell, deliver, distribute, transport or give away to another any regulated drug, conspiring and confederating together, mutually aiding and assisting with one another, did then and there wil[l]fully, unlawfully, and feloniously, SELL and DELIVER to SPO2 SALIM SAHAJI y SAHIOL, a member of the PNP designated as Chief Clerk/ Operative of the Special Operation Group of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, who acted as buyer, eight (8) heat-sealed white plastic packs each containing white crystalline substance having a total weight of 389.2963 grams which when subjected to qualitative examination gave positive result to the tests for METHAMPHETAMINE HYDROCHLORIDE (shabu), both accused knowing the same to be a regulated drug.
CONTRARY TO LAW.2
Appellants were arraigned on May 24, 1999.3 They pleaded not guilty to the offense charged. After trial in due course, the lower court rendered its assailed Decision, the dispositive portion of which states:
WHEREFORE, the Court finds accused ZENG HUA DIAN alias "Chan Chang Hua Tian" a.k.a. Bobong Chua and Joseph Chan and accused YANG YAN GIOU alias Jackson Yu, Jackson Yang, Yu Yang Giou, and Yang Yan Piao GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT of the crime of Violation of Section 15, Article III in relation to Section 20, Article IV of Republic Act No. 6425, otherwise known as the Dangerous Drug Act of 1972, as amended, and SENTENCES each of said accused to suffer the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA and its accessory penalties, to pay a fine of EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND (P800,000.00) PESOS each, and to pay the costs.
The 389.2963 grams of methamphetamine hydrocholoride or shabu (Exhs. "E;" "E-1" to "E-7") confiscated from both accused are ordered to be turned over to the Dangerous Drugs Board thru the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Zamboanga City, upon finality of this decision, for disposition in accordance with law.
The buy-bust money in the total amount of P2,000.00 ("G;" "G-1") shall be returned to the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), Mindanao II Area, Zamboanga City, after the finality of the decision.
In its Brief, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) presents the prosecution?s version of the facts, as follows:
On April 15, 1999, at around 11:15 a.m., P/Sr. Supt. Jihani Valdez Nani, Chief of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), Mindanao II Area, summoned P/Supt. Ahmadul Tindin Pangambayan to his office. There, the latter was introduced to a civilian informant and briefed that two Chinese nationals were involved in the business of selling illegal drugs or shabu in Zamboanga City. A few minutes thereafter, P/Sr. Supt. Nani summoned another police officer, SPO2 Salim Sahiol Sahaji and also introduced him to the civilian informant. SPO2 Sahaji was then instructed to go to Platinum Pension House at Barcelona St., Zamboanga City, where the alleged drug dealers were reportedly based, and conduct a test-buy of initially P100 worth of shabu. If given the genuine substance, they would then make a deal to make a further purchase of P200,000 worth of shabu.
The next day, April 16, 1999, at around 9:55 a.m., SPO2 Sahaji and the civilian informant arrived at the aforesaid pension house. They proceeded to Room 304 and once there, the civilian informant introduced SPO2 Sahaji to the person who opened the door, a man named Bobong. He was later identified in open court as appellant Zeng Hua Dian. Another person was also in the room and he was introduced to SPO2 Sahaji as Jackson. This man was also later identified as appellant Yang Yan Giou.
SPO2 Sahaji made an initial purchase of P100 worth of shabu during that meeting. He handed the money to appellant Zeng and the latter took out five (5) decks of shabu from his pocket, gave one (1) deck to SPO2 Sahaji and returned the remaining four (4) inside his pocket. SPO2 Sahaji then told appellant Zeng that if the shabu was of good quality, he would buy up to P200,000 worth of the merchandise. Appellant Zeng replied that they may return by 5:30 p.m. that day and even showed to SPO2 Sahaji a key to a bodega where the shabu was purportedly kept. Thereafter, SPO2 Sahaji and the civilian informant left the pension house and returned to the police headquarters.
Upon their arrival at the police headquarters, SPO2 Sahaji and the civilian informant reported to P/Supt. Pangambayan and gave him the shabu worth P100 which they had bought earlier. P/Supt. Pangambayan inspected the shabu and handed it to another police officer, PO2 Arthur Valdez, for the requisite laboratory examination at the PNP Crime Laboratory. PO2 Valdez was the one who prepared the request for laboratory examination, which was signed by P/Sr. Supt. Nani.4 The PNP Crime Laboratory Service Unit 9, Zamboanga City received the said request together with the specimen at around 11:20 a.m. that very same day. By 1:00 p.m., the laboratory submitted a report which revealed that the said specimen tested positive for Methamphetamine Hydrochloride or shabu.5
The buy-bust operation was immediately planned thereafter at around 4:30 p.m. with P/Supt. Pangambayan assigned as the over-all supervisor of the team. SPO2 Sahaji was designated to act again as the poseur-buyer. The other members of the team were SPO3 Warid Argueli, SPO2 Menting Arab, PO2 Jul-Anni Karimuddin, PO2 Jauhal Usman, and the civilian informant. They agreed that the civilian informant would step out of the room to signal that the sale of shabu had already been consummated. They also prepared the boodle money to be used for the buy-bust operation. Two bundles of bond paper cut into the size of money bills were placed inside a white envelope. On top of each bundle was a genuine P1,000 bill to be used as the marked buy-bust money. The two police officers, P/Supt. Pangambayan and SPO2 Sahaji, placed their initials and markings on the bills. After everybody had been briefed about the plan, they all proceeded to the Platinum Pension House to commence the operation.
Upon their arrival at the pension house, SPO2 Sahaji and the civilian informant proceeded directly to the room at the third floor where they planned to meet the drug dealers. P/Supt. Pangambayan positioned himself around five meters from the door of the room, near the stairs. The other members of the team took their positions in other areas of the pension house. The civilian informant then knocked on the door and it was opened by appellant Zeng who ushered them inside. Appellant Zeng was alone inside the room. SPO2 Sahaji asked about the shabu, but appellant Zeng asked that he be shown the money first. SPO2 Sahaji opened his leather bag and showed appellant Zeng the buy-bust money. The latter then used his cellular phone and spoke to somebody in Chinese. Afterwards, he then informed the two poseur-buyers that somebody will soon arrive with the merchandise. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door and when appellant Zeng opened it, appellant Yang entered the room. SPO2 Sahaji saw that appellant Yang had a cellular phone in his hand. Then, appellant Yang took out four (4) plastic heat-sealed packs of transparent cellophane from the pockets of his pants and gave these packs to SPO2 Sahaji, who in turn inspected them. After the latter was satisfied that the packs indeed contained the illegal substance, shabu, he placed these packs in his bag. Appellant Yang again took out another four (4) plastic heat-sealed packs from his pockets and handed these packs to SPO2 Sahaji. Again, these packs were inspected by SPO2 Sahaji and placed inside his bag after he was satisfied that these packs contained shabu. SPO2 Sahaji then took out the marked money and immediately, the civilian informant left the room.
Right away, P/Supt. Pangambayan rushed into the room just when appellant Zeng had the buy-bust money in his hand. P/Supt. Pangambayan and SPO2 Sahaji identified themselves to the two appellants as police officers and ordered them to place all their belongings on the bed. SPO2 Sahaji confiscated all the items belonging to appellants. He also took the buy-bust money from appellants and the eight (8) packs of the merchandise alleged to be shabu. SPO2 Sahaji also searched the room, but did not find any bag or clothing belonging to appellants, who, meanwhile, were being informed by P/Supt. Pangambayan of their constitutional rights.
Appellants were brought to the PAOCTF office at around 6:20 p.m. and presented to P/Sr. Supt. Nani. All the confiscated items were inventoried by PO2 Valdez. He also prepared the complaint sheet against appellants that evening. SPO2 Sahaji and P/Supt. Pangambayan wrote some markings on the eight (8) packs of shabu. PO2 Valdez likewise wrote some markings on the said packs.
The next morning, PO2 Valdez prepared a request for laboratory examination of the contents of the eight (8) plastic heat-sealed packs. The PNP Crime Laboratory received the said request at 10:15 a.m. that day.6 Later, at around 12:10 p.m., the laboratory submitted a report which revealed that the eight (8) heat-sealed packs containing some white crystalline substance tested positive for Methamphetamine Hydrochloride or shabu.7 The laboratory report was made by P/Sr. Inspector and Forensic Chemist Mercedes Delfin Diestro.
Appellants, on the other hand, question the identification by the prosecution of the shabu allegedly seized during the buy-bust operation. In their Brief, appellants claim that the chain of custody of the seized shabu was broken and this, therefore, is detrimental to the prosecution?s case. Appellants assert that other witnesses should have been presented by the prosecution to prove that the chain of custody of the evidence was not broken and that the shabu presented before the court was the same substance seized during the buy-bust operation. They question the non-presentation as witness of PO3 Alamia, the police officer on duty who received the specimen together with the request for laboratory examination from PO2 Valdez. They maintain that the specimen which PO3 Alamia turned over to P/Sr. Insp. Diestro, the forensic chemist, may no longer be the same specimen given to him by PO2 Valdez. They also question the non-presentation as witness of SPO1 Grafia, the evidence custodian. According to appellants, SPO1 Grafia should have been presented as witness since P/Sr. Insp. Diestro turned over the shabu to his custody after examining the same.
Appellants further claim that when the packs of shabu were already presented before the court, the prosecution witnesses failed to identify properly these packs as the very same ones seized during the buy-bust operation. They argue that SPO2 Sahaji?s testimony identifying the shabu should not be given much credence. Allegedly, SPO2 Sahaji was not able to identify the marks he himself placed on the plastic packs. During his testimony, SPO2 Sahaji stated that he placed a mark using a pentel pen on the plastic packs which resembled the letter "W." However, when he was asked to point out these marks before the court, he had some difficulty finding the said marks since only blots of ink were found on the said packs.
After a thorough review of the records of this case, we find that the chain of custody of the seized substance was not broken and that the prosecution did not fail to identify properly the drugs seized in this case. The non-presentation as witnesses of other persons such as SPO1 Grafia, the evidence custodian, and PO3 Alamia, the officer on duty, is not a crucial point against the prosecution. The matter of presentation of witnesses by the prosecution is not for the court to decide. The prosecution has the discretion as to how to present its case and it has the right to choose whom it wishes to present as witnesses.
Furthermore, the prosecution had other witnesses who were able to prove sufficiently that the chain of custody of the shabu was never broken from the time the police officers took the shabu from the possession of appellants up to the moment it was offered in evidence.
It was clearly proven that when SPO2 Sahaji and P/Supt. Pangambayan arrested appellants, they confiscated the shabu. SPO2 Sahaji placed the said shabu inside his brown leather bag. When they boarded the vehicle going to the PAOCTF office, SPO2 Sahaji was still in possession of the said bag. Upon their arrival at the PAOCTF office, the group immediately proceeded to the office of P/Sr. Supt. Nani. SPO2 Sahaji then placed all the confiscated articles on top of the table of P/Sr. Supt. Nani, who meanwhile had PO2 Valdez summoned. When PO2 Valdez entered the office, he was ordered by P/Sr. Supt. Nani to prepare a complaint sheet. Following the orders, PO2 Valdez made the complaint sheet and recorded therein not only the arrest of appellants but also the confiscated articles. While PO2 Valdez was writing down the articles, P/Supt. Pangambayan started placing his markings on the said articles, using as his mark the name he usually uses when he transmits messages over the radio. SPO2 Sahaji likewise placed his own mark on the confiscated items, using "S" which with his handwriting, looked like the letter "W." PO2 Valdez himself also marked the eight (8) plastic packs containing shabu with his initials "AV." After marking all the articles, PO2 Valdez then placed everything inside a bag and put the same inside his drawer. Before leaving the office, he locked the said drawer. The next day, April 17, 1999, PO2 Valdez arrived at around 8:00 a.m. and started preparing the request for laboratory examination. He himself submitted the said request for laboratory examination at 10:15 a.m. together with the eight (8) plastic packs of shabu to the PNP Crime Laboratory. These items were received by PO3 Alamia, the duty officer at that time, who immediately transmitted the items to the forensic chemist, P/Sr. Insp. Diestro. In her testimony, the latter stated that it is standard operating procedure for them to conduct an examination of the substance submitted to them the moment they receive the request. P/Sr. Insp. Diestro, therefore, lost no time in examining the substance and making her report. She also wrote on the plastic packs her signature and the marks "D-118-99" and "10:15 HRS, 17 April 1999," the time and date when she examined the same. Thereafter, she turned these over to SPO1 Grafia, the evidence custodian of the PNP Crime Laboratory Regional Office 9. SPO1 Grafia placed the packs inside the evidence room, particularly in a box marked "Dangerous Drugs Cases for the Year 1999." Before P/Sr. Insp. Diestro went to the court to testify on this case, she requested for the substance from SPO1 Grafia from the evidence room.
As to appellants? allegation of the prosecution?s failure to identify properly the substance in court as the same one seized from appellants, the trial court noted that SPO2 Sahaji was still able to identify his markings on the plastic packs, albeit with a little difficulty since the markings were almost no longer apparent. Moreover, the other persons who placed their own markings on the plastic packs, namely P/Supt. Pangambayan and PO3 Arthur Valdez, were still able to identify their own marks on the said plastic packs. It was proven, therefore, that the plastic packs of shabu presented before the court were the very same packs seized from appellants during the buy-bust operation.
Appellants? defense that they were victims of ?hulidap? or a frame-up cannot be given any merit. It must once more be emphasized that such a defense is viewed with disfavor, for it can easily be concocted and is a common ploy by the accused in cases for violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act.8 Therefore, clear and convincing evidence of ?hulidap? must be shown for such a defense to be given merit.9
Finally, appellants impugn the credibility of the prosecution witnesses and claim that these witnesses? testimonies did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that appellants had indeed committed the crime. Time and again, this Court has deferred to the factual findings of the trial court, considering that it has the unique position of having observed the witnesses? deportment or demeanor on the stand, an opportunity denied to appellate courts.10
In a prosecution for illegal sale of regulated or prohibited drugs, conviction is proper if the following elements are present: (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. What is material is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the prohibited or regulated drug. The delivery of the contraband to the poseur-buyer and the receipt of the marked money consummate the buy-bust transaction between the entrapping officers and the accused.11 In this case, the sale of the illegal substance was adequately established and the prosecution witnesses clearly identified both appellants as the offenders. Furthermore, the substance itself, was properly identified and presented before the court.
Under Section 15 of Article III of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended by RA 7659, the sale of regulated drugs without proper authority is penalized with reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from P500,000 to P10,000,000. Under Section 20 thereof, the penalty in Section 15, Article III shall be applied if the dangerous drug involved in the case is Methamphetamine Hydrochloride or shabu and the quantity of said substance is 200 grams or more.
The rules on penalties in the Revised Penal Code have suppletory application to the Dangerous Drugs Act after the amendment of the latter by Republic Act No. 7659 on December 31, 1993.12 Since no mitigating nor aggravating circumstance attended appellants? violation of the law, and since the aggregate quantity of shabu seized from appellants was 389.2963 grams, we find that pursuant to Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code the trial court correctly imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua and the fine of Eight Hundred Thousand Pesos (P800,000).
WHEREFORE, the appealed Decision is hereby AFFIRMED. Costs against appellants.
Davide, Jr., Panganiban, Ynares-Santiago, and Carpio, JJ., concur.
* On Leave.
1 Rollo, pp. 27-84; Penned by Judge Jesus Carbon, Jr.
2 Rollo, p. 9.
3 Records, p. 26; assisted by counsel, Atty. Eduardo Ledesma.
4 Request for Laboratory Examination dated April 16, 1999; Exhibit "A."
5 Laboratory Report No. D-117-99; Exhibit "C."
6 Request for Laboratory Examination dated April 17, 1999; Exhibit "D."
7 Laboratory Report No. D-118-99; Exhibit "F."
8 People v. Barita, 325 SCRA 22 (2000) cited in People v. Patayek, G.R. No. 123076, March 26, 2003.
9 People v. Lacbanes, 270 SCRA 193 (1997).
10 People v. Guambos, G.R. No. 152183, January 22, 2004 citing People v. Sorongon, G.R. No. 142416, February 11, 2003.
11 People v. Mala, G.R. No. 152351, September 18, 2003.
12 People v. Corpuz, G.R. No. 148919, December 17, 2002 citing People v. Simon, 234 SCRA 555 (1994) and People v. Medina, 292 SCRA 439 (1998).
May 31, 2004
Appellant Juan G. Escote appeals from the decision1 dated 15 October 2001 of the Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan, Branch 78, in Criminal Case No. 193-M-2000, which found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder and sentenced him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay the heirs of the victim P50,000 as death indemnity and P50,000 as indemnity ex delicto.
On 31 January 2000, Escote, together with Roland Garcia, Angelito Lisona, Joey Vic Peras, and one alias Buboy, was charged with Murder for the death of Carlos Dueñas. The accusatory portion of the information reads:
That on or about the 16th day of June 1999, in the municipality of Meycauayan, province of Bulacan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with firearms and with intent to kill one Carlos DueÔas, conspiring, confederating and mutually helping one another, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with evident premeditation, abuse of superior strength and treachery, attack, assault and shoot with the said firearms they were then provided the said Carlos DueÔas, hitting him in his body, thereby causing him serious physical injuries which directly caused his death.2
Upon their arraignment on different dates, all the accused pleaded not guilty except the one alias Buboy whose true name and identity were never known.
The evidence for the prosecution established the following facts:
On the evening of 16 June 1999, while Liza de la Cruz, a resident of Pandayan, Meycauyan, Bulacan, was on her way to buy bread, she noticed a gray Lancer box-type car parked alongside the Pandayan Memorial Cemetery. She became suspicious of the men inside the car, as she observed them to bow their heads whenever light from oncoming vehicles hit them. Curious, she approached the car and met the eyes of the man on the driver?s seat. The man glared at her ("pinandilatan ng mata"). Very much intimidated, she ran away. Upon arriving home, she heard gunshots.3
Meanwhile, Allan Manalo was watching TV at his home. During the commercial break, he went outside and saw a gray Lancer box-type car at about eight meters away and near the Pandayan Memorial Cemetery. Suspicious that the car?s engine was running while parked, he wrote down the car?s plate number.4
At the gate of the memorial cemetery, Ricardo Caitum was having a conversation with the guard when he saw a man alight from a gray Lancer box-type car, which was parked at the side of the cemetery. The man flagged down an approaching orange Honda Civic car. When the orange car stopped, the man asked its driver to alight, but the latter refused. Using a short firearm, the man shot the driver of the orange car, who thereafter attempted to escape the assault by speeding away. The man, however, fired again at the driver of the orange car.5
The driver of the orange car was Carlos Dueñas, who died of hypovolemic shock as a result of a gunshot wound in the left lower extremity.6
In open court, Liza de la Cruz identified Escote as the driver of the gray Lancer box-type car who glared at her.7 Ricardo Caitum likewise identified Escote as the person who alighted from the gray Lancer box-type car and shot the driver of the orange Honda Civic car.8
For its part, the defense presented Escote as its lone witness. He testified that on 19 July 1999, when the crime was committed, he was already in hiding at Camiguin Island, being an escaped death convict from the Provincial Jail of Malolos, Bulacan. He lived with his cousins and worked as a fisherman from 30 September 1998 to 18 August 1999. Unable to bear rural life, he went to Quezon City, Metro Manila, where he was arrested on 26 September 1999. He vehemently denied the charge against him. He also denied knowing the other accused prior to his arrest. He claimed that he was merely implicated by a certain Willy who was tortured by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.9
In its decision, the trial court gave full faith and credit to the witnesses for the prosecution. It upheld the witnesses? positive identification of Escote as the author of the crime and rejected his uncorroborated denial and alibi. It therefore convicted him of murder, with treachery as the qualifying circumstance. Finding no proof of the participation of the other accused in the execution of the crime, the trial court acquitted the three other named accused.10
Before us, Escote challenges the decision of the trial court convicting him of the murder of Carlos Dueñas on the ground of reasonable doubt. Escote would like us to believe his defenses of alibi and frame-up. He additionally contends that the darkness of the night and the dimly lighted locus criminis precluded a clear identification of the assailant; hence, the prosecution witnesses were merely making wild guesses. He further questions the credibility of prosecution witness Liza de la Cruz by pointing out her inconsistent statements about the assailant having a thin moustache and no moustache.11
The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) maintains that Escote?s guilt has been proved beyond reasonable doubt by the positive testimonies of the prosecution witnesses. They could not have erred in their identification of Escote as the assailant, since the place where the crime took place was adequately illuminated by the lights coming from the residential houses nearby. Besides, these prosecution witnesses had no improper motive to implicate him, and therefore, the finding of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses should not be disturbed. Further, the OSG asserts that Escote?s defense of alibi is unsubstantiated. It also agrees with the trial court?s appreciation of treachery.12
The appeal is without merit. We find no cogent or compelling reason to overturn the trial court?s decision.
Well-entrenched in our jurisprudence is the doctrine that the assessment of the credibility of witnesses lies within the province and competence of trial courts. This doctrine is based on the time-honored rule that the matter of assigning values to declarations on the witness stand is best and most competently performed by the trial judge who, unlike appellate magistrates, can weigh the testimony in the light of the declarant?s demeanor, conduct, and attitude at the trial and is thereby placed in a more competent position to discriminate between truth and falsehood. Thus, appellate courts will not disturb the credence accorded by the trial court to the testimonies of witnesses unless it is clearly shown that the trial court has overlooked or disregarded arbitrarily facts and circumstances of significance in the case.13 None of the exceptions was shown in the case at bar.
Verily, we find no reason to doubt the identification by the prosecution witnesses of Escote as the perpetrator of the crime despite the dimly-lighted condition of the place where the crime was committed. Visibility is indeed a vital factor in the determination of whether an eyewitness could have identified the perpetrator of a crime. We have consistently held that the illumination produced by kerosene lamp, flashlight, wick lamps, moonlight, or starlight in proper situations is considered sufficient to allow identification of persons. In this case, the light coming from the electric bulbs of nearby houses was sufficient to illumine the place where Escote was, and to enable the eyewitness to identify him as the person who shot Carlos Dueñas. Settled is the rule that when conditions of visibility are favorable and the witnesses do not appear to be biased, their assertion as to the identity of the malefactor should normally be accepted.14
Moreover, Escote failed to offer adequate proof that the prosecution witnesses held a grudge against him or that they had a score to settle with him so as to give them motive to falsely testify against him. Where there is nothing to indicate that the witnesses for the prosecution were actuated by improper motive, the presumption is that they were not so actuated and their testimonies are entitled to full faith and credit.15
The alleged inconsistent statements of Liza de la Cruz in her sworn statement and testimony in open court are not relevant and material to overturn the positive identification of Escote. Minor discrepancies or inconsistencies in the declarations or testimonies of a witness do not affect, but even enhance, the witness? credibility, for they remove any suspicion that the testimonies were contrived or rehearsed. What is important is that the testimonies agree on the essential facts and substantially corroborate a consistent and coherent whole.16
Necessarily, the defenses of denial and alibi interposed by Escote must fail. We view them with disfavor for being unsubstantiated and uncorroborated. Being negative and self-serving evidence, they cannot secure worthiness more than that placed upon the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses who testified on clear and positive evidence17 and who positively identified Escote as the perpetrator of the crime.18
Treachery was properly appreciated by the trial court. There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods, or forms in the execution thereof which tend directly and especially to ensure the execution of the crime without risk to himself arising from the defense which the offended party might make.19 The essence of treachery is that the attack is deliberately without warning ? done in a swift and unexpected manner, affording the hapless, unarmed, and unsuspecting victim no chance to resist or to escape.20 Carlos Dueñas was completely unarmed and totally unaware of what Escote wanted or planned to do. He was suddenly shot by Escote, causing a gunshot wound which resulted to his death.
There being no other aggravating or mitigating circumstances alleged in the information and proved during the trial,21 we sustain the penalty imposed by the trial court, which is reclusion perpetua, the lower of the two indivisible penalties prescribed by law for murder. Other circumstances like quasi-recidivism and the use of an unlicensed firearm were intimated in the records, but were not alleged in the information. They cannot, therefore, affect the determination of the proper penalty to be imposed upon Escote.
As to the civil aspect of the case, the trial court awarded in favor of the victim?s heirs "the amounts of P50,000.oo as indemnity for [the victim?s] death and P50,000.oo as indemnity ex delicto." Such an award is duplicitous. Article 2206 of the Civil Code authorizes an award of civil indemnity for death caused by a crime, which current jurisprudence has set at P50,000. We, therefore, modify the decision by deleting the other award of P50,000. However, an award of exemplary damages in the sum of P25,000 is warranted because of the presence of the aggravating circumstance of treachery.22 Exemplary damages is awarded when the commission of the offense is attended by an aggravating circumstance, whether ordinary or qualifying.23
WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, judgment is hereby rendered AFFIRMING the 15 October 2001 Decision of the Regional Trial Court, Malolos, Bulacan, Branch 78, in Criminal Case No. 193-M-2000, finding appellant Juan G. Escote guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua with the MODIFICATION that he is ordered to indemnify the heirs of the victim Carlo Dueñas P50,000 as death indemnity or civil indemnity ex delicto and P25,000 as exemplary damages.
Panganiban, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
F O R       C O N C U R R E N C E
G.R. No. 151834
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee,
JUAN G. ESCOTE, JOEY VIC PERAS (Acquitted), ROLAND GARCIA (Acquitted), ANGELITO R. LISONA (Acquitted), and "BUBOY," Accused.JUAN G. ESCOTE, Appellant.
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COUNSEL FOR THE APPELLANT:
ATTY. BENJAMIN C. MENDRANOPAO, 2nd Floor, Hall of Justice3000 Malolos, Bulacan
COUNSEL FOR THE APPELLEE:
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL134 Amorsolo StreetLegaspi Village1229 Makati City
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RTC of Malolos, Bulacan – Decision of 15 October 2001:
Branch 78 Per Judge Gregorio S. Sampaga
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(Please return to the Office of Chief Justice HILARIO G. DAVIDE, JR.)
1 Original Record (OR), 183-189; Rollo, 11-17. Per Judge Gregorio S. Sampaga.
2 OR, 2-3.
3 TSN, 21 November 2000, 4-6.
4 Id., 18-21.
5 TSN, 18 June 2001, 2-6.
6 Exhibit "C," OR, 158.
7 TSN, 21 November 2000, 5-6.
8 TSN, 18 June 2001, 3-6.
9 Id., 13-17.
10 OR, 183-189.
11 Rollo, 42-51.
12 Id., 66-81.
13 People v. Bolivar, G.R. No. 130597, 21 February 2001, 352 SCRA 438, 451.
15 People v. Eribal, 364 Phil. 829, 838 (1999).
16 See People v. Realin, G.R. No. 126051, 21 January 1999, 301 SCRA 495, 510-511.
17 People v. Alib, 379 Phil. 103, 112 (2000).
18 See People v. Grefaldia, G.R. No. 121787, 17 June 1997, 273 SCRA 591, 606.
19 People v. Conde, 386 Phil. 859, 868 (2000).
20 People v. Galano, 384 Phil. 206, 218-219 (2000).
21 Art. 63, Revised Penal Code.
22 People v. Astudillo, G.R. No. 141518, 29 April 2003; People v. Opuran, supra.
23 People v. Catubig, G.R. No. 137842, 23 August 2001, 363 SCRA 621.
May 31, 2004
In an Information1 dated January 15, 1997, filed with the Regional Trial Court, Branch 12, Lipa City (RTC for brevity), appellant Gonzalo Masagnay alias "Jun Masagnay" is charged with the crime of Murder, committed as follows:
That on or about the 12th day of January, 1997 at about 10:00 o?clock in the evening at the Railroad site located at Brgy. Balintawak, Lipa City, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, together with Edwin Masagnay y Barera, Jun Icabande, Richard Icabande, Rollie dela Cruz, Mardelissa dela Cruz, Edgar whose family name is unknown and one alias "Pilong" whose cases are pending preliminary investigation, while armed with bladed instruments, with intent to kill, with treachery and evident premeditation and taking advantage of their superior strength, conspiring and confederating together, acting in common accord and willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and stab with the use of said bladed instruments suddenly and without warning one Romeo L. Garcia thereby inflicting upon the latter multiple stab wounds which directly caused his death.2
to which he pleaded not guilty upon his arraignment. Trial on the merits ensued.
Practically adopted by appellant in his Brief is the narration of facts by the RTC in its decision which was principally based on the testimonies of Estrella Garcia (Estrella for brevity) and Rolando Garcia (Rolando), wife and son, respectively, of deceased victim Romeo L. Garcia (Romeo), as follows:
Stripped of non-essentials, the evidence for the prosecution show that on January 12, 1997, at around 10:00 o?clock in the evening, Estrella Garcia (Estrella, for brevity) and her four (4) children were sleeping inside their small one (1) storey house, with two (2) rooms, made of lawanit and galvanized iron at Brgy. Balintawak, Lipa City; that suddenly Estrella heard people shouting, whose voices she could recognize, though she does not see them, and they were chasing her husband Romeo L. Garcia (Romeo, for brevity); that Estrella heard the voice of "Manang", who is a sister of the accused Gonzalo Magsanay, shouting "Ka Romy, huwag muna kayong pumasok sa inyong bahay"; that Estrella immediately stood up and opened their door and her husband entered their house; that after her husband entered their house, they immediately closed the door and heard the people chasing Romeo kicking and forcibly opening the same; that the spouses helped each other in pushing back the door so that it will not open; that, at this juncture, their eldest son, Rolando, who is 17 years old, was awaken (sic) but did nothing; that Estrella told the people outside "Baka puwedeng ipagbukas na iyan. Bukas na ho natin pag-usapan iyan kung ano man ang problema"; that "Manang" retorted "Hindi puwede, kailangang lutasin na ngayon. Hindi puwedeng abutan ng sikat ng araw"; that the people outside the house succeeded in forcibly opening their door, the galvanized iron they were using to cover their window was detached and fell inside the house, and four (4) persons entered their house, one after another; that the first to enter the house was Gonzalo Masagnay alias "Jun Masagnay", who immediately stab (sic) the shocked Romeo Garcia with a "gulukan" at the right side of his body; that Edwin Masagnay, who is a brother of Gonzalo, followed and immediately hit Romeo Garcia on the head and several times on his body with the lead pipe he was carrying until the latter fell down; that, then Rolando heard his father utter the following: "Rolando labas na, baka ikaw ay madamay pa"; that Rolando obeyed his father and went out of their house passing through the kitchen door ran towards the cornfield; that Edwin Masagnay saw and pursued Rolando and when he failed to catch the latter, he stopped; that Rolando hid in the cornfield for a long time; that meanwhile, inside the house, while Romeo was already lying down, a certain Jun, whose surname Estrella does not know, entered the house and stab the former once on the chest with a knife with wooden handle; that the fourth person to enter the house was a certain "Pilong", whose surname Estrella does not know; that "Pilong" dropped several hollow blocks many times on the face and body of Romeo, who was then helplessly lying down and could not do anything; that thereafter, the assailants ran away and Estrella went out of their house to ask for help from their neighbors; that while Estrella was still outside their house, Rolando returned and saw the dead body of his father lying on top of the detached galvanized iron, which they used to cover their window; that when the incident was taking place, Estrella, who was only about five (5) to six (6) meters away, was not able to do anything because she was shocked and could not move; that although the incident happened at 10:00 o?clock in the evening, Estrella and Rolando were able to identify and recognize the assailants of Romeo because their "gasera" at the center of their house was lighted; and, that Estrella and Rolando identified Gonzalo Masagnay in open court.3
On January 15, 1998, the RTC rendered a decision,4 the dispositive portion of which reads as follows:
WHEREFORE, the Court finds accused, GONZALO MASAGNAY @ "JUN MASAGNAY", guilty beyond reasonable doubt, as co-conspirator and principal by direct participation of the crime of Murder, as defined and penalized under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code and sentences him to suffer the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA, to pay the heirs of Romeo L. Garcia the amount of P26,150.00, as actual damages, the amount of P50,000.00, as civil indemnity for his death, and to pay the costs of this suit.
Also, pursuant to Supreme Court Circular No. 12-94, the City Jail Warden of Lipa City is directed to immediately transfer the custody and/or detention of the accused to the National Bureau of Prisons, Muntinlupa City, Metro Manila.
IT IS SO ORDERED.5
Hence, the present petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, raising the following Assignment of Errors:
THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN FINDING ACCUSED-APPELLANT A CO-CONSPIRATOR, AND PRINCIPAL BY DIRECT PARTICIPATION IN THE COMMISSION OF THE CRIME.
THE LOWER COURT LIKEWISE ERRED IN FINDING THAT THE AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCE OF ABUSE OF SUPERIOR STRENGTH ATTENDED THE COMMISSION OF THE CRIME.6
An appeal from a conviction for a capital offense opens the whole case for review.7 Before proceeding to resolve the assignment of errors raised by petitioner, the Court will ascertain first if the RTC committed a reversible error in giving credence to the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, on which basis, it convicted appellant of the crime of Murder beyond reasonable doubt.
The trial court found the testimonies of Estrella and Rolando to be candid, positive and steadfast. It is a well-entrenched doctrine that the trial court?s findings on the credibility of witnesses are entitled to the highest degree of respect and will not be disturbed on appeal in the absence of any clear showing that the trial court overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts and circumstances of weight and substance which would have affected the result of the case.8
The Court had carefully examined the testimonies of both Estrella and Rolando and there is no indication that the trial court?s assessment of their credibility is tainted with arbitrariness or oversight of some fact and circumstance of weight and influence.9 A wife?s identification of the accused draws strength from the rule that family members who have witnessed the killing of their loved one usually strive to remember the faces of the assailants.10 As the Court has held in People vs. Villarama,11 blood relationship between a witness and the victim does not, by itself impair the credibility of witnesses ? on the contrary, relationship strengthens credibility, for it is unnatural for an aggrieved relative to falsely accuse someone other than the actual culprit.12
The defense evidence consists only of the testimony of appellant. His testimony is likewise aptly narrated by the RTC, as follows:
Briefly, the accused testified that he does not know his co-accused Edwin Masagnay, Jun Icabande, Pilong Dolino, Rollie dela Cruz, Richard Icabande, Mardelissa dela Cruz and a certain Edgar; that he is not a co-conspirator of his co-accused; that he does not know the complainant Estrella Garcia, Roland Garcia and the other witnesses who testified against him; that on January 12, 1997, he was at his house at Brgy. Sto. Toribio, Lipa City, and at around 9:00 o?clock in the evening, he went to a store at the boundary of Barangay Balintawak and Brgy. Sto. Toribio, both of Lipa City, to buy bread; that from the store and while he was walking towards his house, he heard a commotion at the side of the street; that he does not recognize the persons involved in the commotion; that he does not also know how many persons were involved in the commotion ; that suddenly, he felt that he was stabbed at his right shoulder by someone, whom he did not recognized; that he requested somebody, whom he does not know, to bring him to the hospital and said person obliged by accompanying him in walking towards Lipa Medix; that at Lipa Medix, he was treated by a certain Dr. dela Cruz; that his wound was cleaned and sutured and he stayed at the hospital for two (2) days; that on January 4, 1997, he was fetched from the hospital by the police detachment of Lipa City and brought to the Lipa City Police Headquarters, where he was detained at the City Jail; that he never questioned the police authorities why he was detained nor filed any case against any of them; that his elder brother was the one who shouldered the expenses at Lipa Medix; and, that he did not get any medical certificate.13
While records disclose that prosecution witness SPO1 Mario Magnaye indeed saw appellant in the hospital,14 there is no sufficient evidence to corroborate the testimony of appellant that he was attacked by an unknown assailant on the date and time that Romeo Garcia was killed. The defense failed to establish that he could not have been at the scene of the crime. Appellant failed to produce a medical certificate showing that he was admitted in the hospital before the crime happened at 10:00 in the evening of January 12, 1997. Appellant?s bare testimony is self-serving and the trial court did not err in not giving credence to it. Besides, the defense of alibi is worthless in the face of positive identification by the prosecution witnesses.15
Neither had the defense presented evidence as to any improper motive that could have moved the principal witnesses of the prosecution to testify against appellant. The absence thereof sustains the conclusion that no improper motive existed and that the testimonies of Estrella and Rolando are worthy of full faith and credence.16 With the prosecution witnesses? positive identification of appellant as one of the perpetrators in the killing of Romeo Garcia, the trial court did not err in convicting appellant of Murder beyond reasonable doubt.
In his Brief, appellant assails the decision of the RTC only on two grounds: (1) that appellant did not conspire in the killing of Romeo Garcia; and (2) that abuse of superior strength did not qualify the crime committed to Murder.
Appellant argues that he could not have possibly conspired with the accused Jun Icambande in stabbing Romeo to death, or be considered as a principal in the commission of the crime of Murder because he stabbed Romeo only once hitting him at the right side of his body which was found on record to be only superficial. The Court is not convinced with appellant?s argument.
As the Court has held in People vs. Tuppal,17 conspiracy can be inferred from the acts of the accused which clearly manifest a concurrence of wills, a common intent or design to commit a crime.18 In conspiracy, it is sufficient that at the time of the aggression, all the accused manifested by their acts a common intent or desire to attack so that the act of one accused becomes the act of all.19
The fact that appellant together with Edwin Masagnay, a certain Jun and Pilong whose surnames are not known to the prosecution witnesses, forcibly entered the house of victim Romeo by destroying its door, and then one after another, inflicted injury on the victim with appellant stabbing Romeo with a gulukan, followed by Edwin hitting Romeo with a lead pipe, then Jun stabbing Romeo with a knife with a wooden handle and while Romeo laid prostrate, face up, Pilong dropped several hollow blocks on the face and body of Romeo; after which, they ran away,20 certainly manifest a common intent or desire to kill Romeo. They acted in concert in the commission of the same, manifesting a common purpose or design and unity in its execution.21
Conspiracy is thus established by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. Conspiracy having been proven, the precise degree of culpability of each of the accused is of no moment.22 The familiar rule in conspiracy is that when two or more persons agree or conspire to commit a crime, each is responsible, when the conspiracy is proven, for all the acts of the others, done in furtherance of the conspiracy.23 Thus, the Court finds no merit to appellant?s claim that having merely inflicted a superficial wound on the victim, he should not be held liable for Murder.
Furthermore, the fact that appellant chased Rolando when the latter ran towards the cornfield before his co-accused Jun dealt the fatal blow on the right side of the chest of Romeo,24 does not relieve appellant of or reduce his criminal liability as a principal in the commission of the crime. To be a conspirator, one need not participate in every detail of execution; he need not even take part in every act or need not even know the exact part to be performed by the others in the execution of the conspiracy.25
As to the second assigned error of the RTC, appellant argues that before the qualifying circumstance of abuse of superior strength can be legally appreciated, it must be indubitably shown that there was deliberate intent on the part of the malefactors to take advantage thereof, citing People vs. Cañete26 and the prosecution must duly prove that the assailants purposely used excessive force out of proportion to the means of defense available to the person attacked, citing People vs. Castillo.27
In the Cañete case, the Court held:
Before abuse of superior strength may be appreciated, it must be clearly shown that there was deliberate intent on the part of the malefactor to take advantage thereof. To justifiably appreciate said circumstance, not only is it necessary to evaluate the physical conditions of the protagonists or opposing forces and the arms or objects employed by both sides, but it is further necessary to analyze the incidents and episodes constituting the total development of the event (People vs. Escoto, 244 SCRA 87; 97-98 , citing People vs. Cabiling, 72 SCRA 285 ).28
Tested against those requirements, the prosecution, in the present case, had amply established the existence of the qualifying circumstance of abuse of superior strength. Appellant together with his three co-accused, namely: Edwin Masagnay, a certain Jun and one Pilong whose surnames are not known to the prosecution witnesses, barged into the house of the victim after the latter had taken refuge therein, and notwithstanding the couple?s plea that they settle their differences the next day, by forcibly breaking the door and one after the other took their turn in inflicting the injuries sustained by the unarmed victim, resulting to his death. Clearly, without any doubt, each of appellant and his co-accused acted in concert with the evident purpose of killing the victim. The attackers cooperated in such a way as to secure advantage of their combined strength to perpetrate the crime with impunity.29
Under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. No. 7659, any person who, not falling within the provisions of Article 246 shall kill another, shall be guilty of murder, if committed with the qualifying circumstance of taking advantage of superior strength and shall be punished by reclusion perpetua to death. There being no aggravating or mitigating circumstance, the lesser penalty shall be applied, pursuant to Article 63(2) of the Revised Penal Code. Thus, the RTC correctly imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua.
We come now to the damages awarded by the RTC to the heirs of deceased victim Romeo. The Court has held that in every case, trial courts must specify the award of each item of damages and make a finding thereon in the body of the decision.30
The RTC correctly awarded the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity for the death of the victim.31 However, the RTC erred in awarding the amount of P26,150.00 for actual damages. Its only basis for awarding said amount is the testimony of Estrella Garcia, the victim?s wife who presented no receipts but only an itemized list prepared by her
consisting of expenses for the wake and the burial and other items related thereto.32 The Court has held that to be entitled to actual damages, it is necessary to prove the actual amount of loss with a reasonable degree of certainty, premised upon competent proof.33 The list submitted by Estrella is self-serving and therefore not a competent evidence. The Court can only award actual damages if supported by receipts.34 However, current jurisprudence grants the award of the amount of P25,000.00 as temperate damages when it appears that the heirs of the victims had suffered pecuniary losses but the amount thereof cannot be proved with certainty.35
Both Estrella and Rolando witnessed the killing of their husband and father, respectively, which indubitably caused them emotional shock and distress. As such, they are entitled to moral damages in the amount of P50,000.00.36
Although the circumstance of dwelling was not appreciated by the Court as an aggravating circumstance in the ascertainment of appellant?s criminal liability for the reason that the same, while proven by the prosecution, was not alleged in the Information, pursuant to Secs. 8 and 9, Rule 110 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, the heirs of the victim
are entitled to exemplary damages in the amount of P25,000.00, insofar as the civil aspect of the case is concerned.
WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS the decision dated June 15, 1998 of the Regional Trial Court (Branch 12), Lipa City convicting Gonzalo Masagnay alias "Jun Masagnay" of the crime of Murder and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua with modifications as to damages. He is ordered to pay the Heirs of Romeo L. Garcia, the following amounts: Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) as civil indemnity for the death of the victim; P50,000.00 as moral damages; Twenty-Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000.00) as temperate damages; and Twenty-Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000.00) as exemplary damages, or a total of One Hundred Fifty Thousand Pesos (P150,000.00), and to pay the costs of the suit.
Puno, Quisumbing, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.
1 Docketed as Crim. Case No. 0026-97.
2 Records, p. 156.
3 Penned by Judge Vicente F. Landicho.
4 Id., pp. 157-159.
5 Id., p. 168.
6 Brief of Accused-Appellants, p. 1.
7 People vs. Manalili, 294 SCRA 220, 256-257 (1998).
8 People vs. Bon, 396 SCRA 506, 511 (2003).
9 People vs. Toyco, Jr., 349 SCRA 385, 397 (2001).
10 People vs. Lovedorial, 349 SCRA 402, 413 (2001).
11 People vs. Villarama, 397 SCRA 306, 319 (2003).
12 Id., p. 319.
13 Ibid.; People vs. De Leon, 350 SCRA 11, 27 (2001).
14 TSN, July 7, 1997, pp. 38-39.
15 People vs. Corral, 398 SCRA 494, 504 (2003); People vs. Casita, Jr., 397 SCRA 382, 397 (2003).
16 People vs. Garillo, 398 SCRA 118, 130 (2003).
17 395 SCRA 72 (2003).
18 Id., p. 81.
19 People vs. Buayaban, 400 SCRA 48, 63 (2003).
20 TSN, Estrella Garcia, April 1, 1997, pp. 4-22.
21 People vs. Caraig, 400 SCRA 67, 80 (2003).
22 People vs. Caballero, 400 SCRA 424, 437 (2003).
23 People vs. Acosta, Jr., 396 SCRA 348, 373 (2003).
24 TSN, Testimony of Dra. Avelyn Garin, July 7, 1997, pp. 22-25; TSN, Testimony of Estrella Garcia, April 1, 1997, pp. 14-17.
25 People vs. Tulin, 364 SCRA 10, 28 (2001).
26 287 SCRA 490 (1998).
27 289 SCRA 213, 209 (1998).
28 Note 25, p. 501.
29 People vs. Aliben, 398 SCRA 255, 285 (2003).
30 People vs. Galo, 349 SCRA 161, 178 (2001).
31 People vs. Delina, 396 SCRA 386, 419 (2003).
32 TSN, April 15, 1997, pp. 3-4.
33 People vs. Alfon, 399 SCRA 64, 74 (2003).
34 People vs. Diaz, 395 SCRA 52, 71 (2003).
35 People vs. De los Santos, G.R. No. 135919, May 9, 2003.
36 People vs. Garcia, Jr., 400 SCRA 229, 241-242 (2003).
May 31, 2004
This is an appeal from the Decision1 of the Regional Trial Court of Caloocan City, Branch 129, finding the appellant Jesus Aquino y Dimacali guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua.
An Information charging Jesus Aquino y Dimacali with murder was filed on November 17, 1999.2 The accusatory portion reads:
That on or about the 13th day of November, 1999 in Caloocan City and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused without any justifiable cause and with deliberate intent to kill, treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously stab with a double-bladed dagger one FILIPINA DE LEON y VILLA, hitting her on the different parts of the body, thereby inflicting upon the latter serious physical injuries, which injuries caused her instantaneous death.3
The appellant was arraigned on December 16, 1999, assisted by counsel, and entered a plea of not guilty.4
The appellant Jesus Aquino and his live-in partner, Filipina "Sweet" de Leon, lived at No. 115 Libis, Talisay, Dulo, Caloocan City.5 However, when Sweet got pregnant, her parents, who lived at No. 73 Kapak St., Libis, Dulo, Caloocan City,6 took her away.7
In the afternoon of November 13, 1999, three months after she had given birth, Sweet, with her baby, went to the house of her sister, Helen Grace de Leon-de Ocera.8 Momentarily, Leslie, the appellant?s daughter by another woman, went to Helen?s house to fetch Sweet, and told the latter that a male person was in their house waiting for her. Sweet told Leslie that she would just follow later.9 Thereafter, Sweet, with her three-month-old son, arrived at the appellant?s house.10
When the appellant saw Sweet, he asked her what she was doing in the house of his friend Jun-Jun. Sweet did not answer. He forced Sweet to admit that she was having an affair with his friend Jun-Jun. Sweet raised her voice, prompting the appellant to slap her.11 Sweet then saw the knife placed on top of the television and was poised to stab the appellant with it, but the latter grabbed possession of the knife. Sweet slapped the appellant in the process.12 The appellant then lost control of himself, and stabbed Sweet eleven times. When he regained his senses and saw Sweet sprawled on the floor, bloodied all over, he fled to the cemetery and slept there.13 At 6:00 a.m., he surrendered to Barangay Captain Conrado "Bebot" Cruz, who brought him to the police station.
A post-mortem examination of the victim?s cadaver was conducted by Dr. Ludivino J. Lagat. He found that Sweet died of multiple stab wounds. She sustained a total of eleven stab wounds, nine of which were at the back.14
On November 16, 1999, the appellant executed a sworn statement15 after being apprised of his rights under the Constitution, in which he admitted killing Sweet.
During the trial, the appellant admitted having executed his sworn statement in the police station and the truth of the contents thereof.
On February 19, 2001, the trial court promulgated a decision finding the appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder qualified by treachery, the dispositive portion of which is herein quoted:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, this Court finds the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt as principal of the crime of murder, as defined and penalized under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 6 of Rep. Act No. 7659. Accordingly, he shall serve the penalty of reclusion perpetua with all the accessory penalties under the law, and shall pay the costs.
The accused shall be credited with the period of his preventive detention.
By way of civil liabilities, the accused shall pay the following amounts to the victim?s heirs, without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency:
P80,000.00 ? for funeral services;
P59,270.00 ? for burial expenses;
P100,000.00 ? for the victim?s father?s travel expenses; and
P50,000.00 ? for attorney?s fees to Atty. Arnel Magcalas
The Branch Clerk of this Court shall now issue the corresponding Commitment Order for the accused?s confinement at the Bureau of Corrections, Muntinlupa City.16
The trial court appreciated in favor of the appellant the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender.
The Present Appeal
The appellant now appeals the decision, contending that the trial court erred in convicting him of murder, absent proof of treachery attendant to the crime.
The appellant avers that the stabbing incident was the offshoot of a quarrel. He asserts that the prosecution failed to prove that he killed the victim with treachery, and that while the victim sustained stab wounds at the back, the same does not constitute proof of such qualifying circumstance.
The Ruling of the Court
We agree with the appellant that he is guilty only of homicide. The qualifying circumstance of treachery was not sufficiently established by the prosecution. To prove treachery, the evidence must show that the accused made some preparation to kill the victim in such a manner as to ensure the execution of the crime or to make it impossible or hard for the person attacked to defend himself.17 The essence of treachery is the sudden and unexpected attack by an aggressor on an unsuspecting victim, depriving the latter of any real chance to defend himself, thereby ensuring its commission without risk to the aggressor, without the slightest provocation.18
Treachery must be proven as clearly and as cogently as the crime itself.19 It is herein noted that the prosecution witnesses did not see the actual stabbing of the victim. As such, there is no way of determining how the attack was initiated, in the same way that no testimony would prove that the appellant contemplated upon the mode to insure the killing.20 Absent any particulars as to the manner in which the aggression commenced, treachery cannot be appreciated against the appellant.21
What is clear after our review of the records is that the appellant and the victim were engaged in a quarrel, a heated argument which culminated in the appellant?s stabbing the victim in the heat of anger. As a rule, there can be no treachery when an altercation ensued between the appellant and the victim.22
Under Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty for homicide is reclusion temporal. However, as the trial court found, the appellant voluntarily surrendered to Barangay Captain Conrado Cruz the day after the crime was committed. To be entitled to the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender, the same must be shown to have been spontaneous and made in such manner that it shows the intent of the accused to surrender unconditionally to the authorities, either because he acknowledges his guilt or he wishes to save them the trouble and expense that will be incurred in his search and capture.23
The surrender of the appellant to Barangay Captain Conrado Cruz was reflective of such intent. Thus, the trial court correctly appreciated the mitigating circumstance in his favor. Since the appellant is entitled to such mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender, and there is no aggravating circumstance to offset it, the maximum of the penalty should be imposed in its minimum period, pursuant to Article 64(1) of the Revised Penal Code. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the appellant may, thus, be sentenced to an indeterminate penalty, the minimum of which should be within the range of the penalty next lower in degree than that prescribed by law for the offense, which is prision mayor, and the maximum of which should be within the range of reclusion temporal in its minimum period. Thus, the appellant may be sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of from six (6) years and one (1) day of prision mayor in its minimum period, as minimum, to fourteen (14) years and eight (8) months of reclusion temporal in its minimum period, as maximum.24
Consistent with the prevailing jurisprudence, civil indemnity in the amount of P50,000 should be awarded without need of further proof.25
WHEREFORE, the decision appealed from finding Jesus Aquino y Dimacali guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder is MODIFIED. The Court finds the appellant GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of homicide punishable by reclusion temporal under Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code. Appreciating the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender in favor of the appellant, he is sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of from six (6) years and one (1) day of prision mayor in its minimum period, as minimum, to fourteen (14) years and eight (8) months of reclusion temporal in its minimum period, as maximum.
The appellant is further ORDERED to pay the heirs of the victim Filipina Villa de Leon the sum of P50,000 as civil indemnity and P50,000 as moral damages.
The award of P80,000 for funeral services,26 P59,720 for burial expenses,27 and P100,000 for the plane fare of the father of the victim from the United States28 to the Philippines to attend the wake and funeral services of the victim are AFFIRMED. The award of P50,000 for attorney?s fees is DELETED. No costs.
Puno, Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Tinga, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Judge Bayani S. Rivera.
2 Rollo, p. 4.
4 Records, p. 12.
5 TSN, 26 October 2000, p. 5.
6 TSN, 10 March 2000, p. 3.
7 TSN, 26 October 2000, p. 5.
8 TSN, 24 January 2000, p. 6.
11 TSN, 26 October 2000, p. 13.
12 Id. at 7-9.
13 Id. at 15.
14 Exhibit "B," Records, p. 57.
15 Exhibit "1-B," Id. at 2.
16 Records, pp. 117-118.
17 People v. Antonio, 335 SCRA 646 (2000).
18 People v. Dela Cruz, G.R. No. 152176, October 1, 2003.
19 People v. Real, 308 SCRA 244 (1999).
20 People v. Dela Cruz, supra.
21 People v. Flores, G.R. Nos. 143435-36, November 28, 2003.
22 People v. Perez, G.R. No. 134485, October 23, 2003.
23 People v. Flores, supra.
24 People v. Eribal, 305 SCRA 341 (1999).
25 People v. Delim, 396 SCRA 386 (2003).
26 Exhibit "S," Records, p. 74.
27 Exhibit "S-1," Id. at 75.
28 Exhibit "T," Id. at 76.
May 31, 2004
In this petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, petitioner Civil Service Commission (CSC) seeks to reverse and set aside the decision1 of 23 July 2002 of the Court of Appeals and its resolution2 of 18 October 2002 in CA-G.R. SP No. 65096. The former modified the penalty imposed by the CSC on respondent Delia T. Cortez from dismissal from the service with forfeiture of benefits and disqualification from reemployment in the government service without prejudice to any civil or criminal liability in a proper action to that of being considered resigned from the service with entitlement to all the benefits under the law. The latter denied petitioner?s motion to reconsider the former.
The antecedent facts follow.
Respondent Delia T. Cortez, Chief Personnel Specialist of the Examination and Placement Services Division (EPSD) of Civil Service Regional Office (CSRO) No. X, Cagayan de Oro City, was formally charged with dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service in Resolution No. 99-0039 of the CSC dated 7 January 1999. Pertinent portions of the formal charge read as follows:
1. That on June 26, 1998 at about 3 p.m., two teenagers, namely June Grace Abina and Rubielyn Ofredo appeared at the CSRO No. X for the purpose of filing application forms for the Career Service Professional Examination for their aunt and her [their aunt?s] co-employees;
2. That on the above-mentioned date and time Abina and Ofredo proceeded to the CSRO No. X, Cashier’s Office to purchase the required examination fee stamps. A personnel from the Cashier?s Office, however, told them to first proceed to the EPSD for the approval of the said application forms;
3. That when Abina and Ofredo presented the said application forms at the EPSD, respondent Cortez pasted a stamp worth P150.00 on each of the application forms. Thereafter, she asked from them the payment corresponding to the value of the stamps pasted on the said application forms;
4. Thereafter, Abina and Ofredo returned to the Cashier?s Office to inquire as to whether there are still other fees to be paid. But when the Cashier saw that the said application forms were already pasted with stamps, she examined the same and she noted that the serial numbers of the said stamps did not correspond with the serial numbers of the stamps issued to said Office;
5. This prompted the cashier, accompanied by Abina and Ofredo[,] to proceed to the EPSD and confronted [sic] respondent Cortez on the unauthorized selling of stamps. Consequently, respondent immediately removed the stamps from the application forms, kept them, and brought out the money which Abina and Ofredo earlier gave her and handed the same to the Cashier who subsequently, issued them another stamps;
6. That the stamps which respondent Cortez sold to Abina and Ofredo bearing serial numbers 0216430, 0216432, 0216441, and 0116443 were issued to the CSRO No. X way back in 1995 for the Professional Board Examination for Teachers (PBET).3
Respondent Cortez filed an answer vehemently denying the charges against her. She averred that the application forms submitted to her by June Grace Abina (hereafter, Abina) and Rubielyn Ofredo (hereafter, Ofredo) for the actual applicants were already pasted with stamps. Noticing that the stamps were not the ones being currently sold, she asked Abina and Ofredo where the applicants were and told them to tell the applicants to personally file their application forms since the rules require that applicants must personally thumbmark their application forms in the EPSD. She thereafter removed the stamps so that she could show them to the applicants when they personally would come to file their application forms. After she removed the stamps, Abina and Ofredo ran towards the gate. She waited, but the applicants never came to her office. She denied that she collected money for the stamps and that there was a confrontation between her and the cashier. She branded the charges against her as "brazen lies and concoctions" of some people determined to destroy her more than twenty years of service in the CSC, eight years of which she served as Chief of the EPSD.4
In its resolution of 1 February 1999, the CSC placed respondent under a 90-day preventive suspension pending formal investigation of the serious charges against her.5
During the formal investigation, Abina and Ofredo identified and affirmed their joint-affidavit6 wherein they narrated that upon perusal by a clerk in the Cashier?s Office of their aunt?s and their aunt?s officemates? application forms, they were told to first go to the EPSD for approval of the application forms. Once there, they saw a woman, who was later identified as respondent Delia T. Cortez, attending to three applicants who were in the process of buying examination fee stamps from her. When it was their turn, respondent pasted examination fee stamps worth P150 each on each of the four application forms, took Abina?s and Ofredo?s money (P900) and gave them their change (P300). When they went back to the Cashier?s Office to inquire for further requirements, the clerk asked them where they got the stamps and they told the clerk that they got them from the EPSD. The clerk immediately brought the matter to the Acting Cashier and the latter accompanied them to the EPSD where a confrontation took place between respondent and the cashier regarding the unauthorized sale of stamps. Respondent removed the stamps, but only after the cashier was able to successfully copy the serial numbers of the stamps. The respondent, followed by the cashier, then went inside the adjacent room, where, from outside, they saw respondent took their money from a cabinet. Respondent then handed back to them their money, which the latter thereafter used to buy another set of examination fee stamps at the Cashier?s Office.7
Eva S. Alcalde and Angeline P. Lim, clerk and Acting Cashier of CSRO No. X, respectively, also identified and affirmed their affidavits8 supporting the joint-affidavit of Abina and Ofredo.
Eva S. Alcalde affirmed that she told Abina and Ofredo to first go to the EPSD for the approval of their aunt?s and their aunt?s officemates? application forms before she could issue to them examination fee stamps. However, when the two teenagers went back to the Cashier?s Office from the EPSD, Alcalde noticed that the application forms were already pasted with stamps. Puzzled, she referred the matter to her superior, Acting Cashier Angeline P. Lim.9
Acting Cashier Angeline P. Lim affirmed that Alcalde referred to her certain application forms containing stamps whose serial numbers did not correspond to the serial numbers of the stamps the Cashier?s Office was authorized to issue for that particular day. Upon information from Abina and Ofredo that the stamps came from the EPSD, Lim, with Abina and Ofredo, immediately proceeded to the EPSD where a confrontation took place between Lim and respondent regarding the questionable stamps. Respondent feigned innocence, saying "Unsa man diay ni day?" ("What is this all about?"). However, after Lim copied the serial numbers of the stamps in front of respondent, respondent detached the stamps and went inside the Records Section of the EPSD. Lim followed her inside the room, and respondent handed to her P600 which Lim did not accept but instead told respondent to personally return the money to Abina and Ofredo. When Lim returned to her office, she immediately traced the origin of the questionable stamps and discovered that they were among the batch of stamps bearing serial numbers 0215993 to 0216492 issued by then Cashier Marilyn S. Tapay and sold two years ago (18 May 1995) by the Cashier?s Office under O.R. No. 1332901 for the Professional Board Examination for Teachers. Around 5:00 p.m. of the same day, respondent approached Lim and told her that someone just asked her to sell the recycled stamps. When Lim asked respondent who made her do such a thing, respondent vaguely answered that the person was their co-employee and a mere rank and file personnel. When Lim inquired further the person?s real identity, respondent did not reply. The following day, respondent once again approached Lim during the general assembly and told her that they had to talk after the meeting. After the meeting, respondent told Lim that it would be better if the matter would not reach top management because the person she referred to yesterday as the source of the recycled stamps would see to it that they (respondent and Lim) would be the first ones to lose their jobs.10
Respondent Cortez, for her part, identified and affirmed the contents of her counter-affidavit.11 Her counter-affidavit contained almost the same averments as that in her answer, that is, that the application forms were already pasted with stamps when presented to her by Abina and Ofredo and that the charges against her were "brazen lies." In addition, respondent alleged in her counter-affidavit that Acting Cashier Lim concocted the charges against her in order for Lim to be promoted.12
After carefully evaluating the evidence of the parties, petitioner CSC in its Resolution No. 010499 of 22 February 2001 concluded that the version of the complainants was more credible. It noted that witnesses Abina and Ofredo categorically pointed to respondent as the source of the questionable stamps and material portions of their testimonies were corroborated by two other witnesses, Eva S. Alcalde and Acting Cashier Angeline P. Lim. In contrast, the CSC noted that respondent Cortez relied on mere denials which could not prevail over the clear, positive and categorical testimonies against her. It also pointed out that respondent never presented any competent and credible evidence to show why the witnesses against her, especially Abina and Ofredo, would falsely testify against her. Thus, it ruled that respondent was guilty of illegally selling recycled stamps for her own financial gain, an act which constituted dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service. It ordered respondent dismissed from the service with forfeiture of benefits and disqualification from reemployment in the government service, without prejudice to any civil or criminal liability in a proper action.13
Respondent filed a motion for reconsideration, but the CSC denied it in its Resolution No. 010926 of 11 May 2001, on the ground that the motion was a mere rehash of the allegations in her answer and counter-affidavit which had already been passed upon by the Commission in its decision.14
Respondent promptly filed a petition for review before the Court of Appeals under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court. She raised in her petition the issues of violation of administrative due process and the propriety of the penalty of dismissal.15 The appeal was docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 65096.
In its decision of 23 July 2002, the Court of Appeals granted respondent?s petition. It ruled that although respondent was properly accorded administrative due process as evidenced by the fact that she was able to file an answer, a counter-affidavit and even a motion for reconsideration, the penalty of dismissal imposed on her was too harsh considering (a) her twenty-one years of service in the government, (b) the fact that it was her first offense and (c) that no damage was sustained by the Government. Accordingly, it modified the penalty imposed on respondent from dismissal from the service with all its accessory penalties to that of forced resignation from the service with entitlement to all the benefits under the law. Pertinent portions of the decision of the Court of Appeals read as follows:
Applying these principles and given the fact that Petitioner duly filed her Answer, Counter-Affidavit and even a Motion for Reconsideration, there is no denying that she was duly accorded administrative due process.
Nonetheless, We agree with the Petitioner that the penalty of dismissal would be too harsh for the offense she has committed. Considering that the Petitioner has been in the service for twenty one (21) years, the fact that this is her first offense, during the length of her service she was never administratively called upon to answer for any official misconduct not to mention that no damage was sustained by the government for the misconduct she has committed, should be considered mitigating circumstances for which a penalty less than dismissal would be justified. In her motion for reconsideration, Petitioner prayed that if the penalty imposed upon her be mitigated, that she would just be considered forcibly resigned.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant Petition for Review is GRANTED. Petitioner is hereby considered forcibly resigned from the service with a right to all the benefits to which she may be entitled under the law.
Its motion for reconsideration having been denied by the Court of Appeals for having been filed one day late,17 petitioner filed the petition at bar, assigning the following issue for our consideration:
WHETHER THE PENALTY OF DISMISSAL METED OUT TO RESPONDENT IS TOO HARSH TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION HER BEING A FIRST-TIME OFFENDER AND HER OVER TWENTY-ONE (21) YEARS IN GOVERNMENT SERVICE.
After the issues were joined, we gave due course to the petition and required the parties to submit their respective memoranda.
To be sure, respondent?s guilt for the administrative offense charged has long been settled when she did not question before the Court of Appeals the decision of the CSC finding her guilty of dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service. What respondent questioned before the Court of Appeals was the penalty of dismissal imposed on her, which she considered to be too harsh considering her length of service in the government and the fact that the offense she was found guilty of was her first offense.18
Petitioner contends that respondent is not entitled to any penalty lesser than dismissal considering the gravity of her offense. Respondent?s act constituted dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service which, under Section 52 in relation to Section 55 of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, are all grave offenses punishable by dismissal from the service. Based on jurisprudence, dishonesty warrants dismissal from the service, with forfeiture of benefits and disqualification from reemployment in the government service. The mitigating circumstances of length of service and "first offense" invoked by respondent cannot be considered since dismissal is an indivisible penalty. In any case, if length of service is to be considered at all, it should be taken against the respondent because despite her long service in the government, she did not exhibit any sense of loyalty; instead, she abused the government?s trust by taking advantage of her position. Petitioner also asserts that the Court of Appeals erred in imposing the penalty of forced resignation on respondent since forced resignation as an administrative penalty is not provided under the Administrative Code of 1987. Besides, the penalty of forced resignation without forfeiture of benefits and disqualification from reemployment in the government service for the grave offenses of dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service is reprehensible because this, in effect, would be rewarding an erring employee instead of punishing her for her offense.
Upon the other hand, respondent maintains that dismissal from the service with forfeiture of benefits is not commensurate with the offense she committed and that considering the mitigating circumstances mentioned above, the lesser penalty of forced resignation with entitlement to all benefits under the law is the proper penalty. She emphasizes that the amount involved was only P600, which she returned to the complainants. Since the complainants thereafter bought examination fee stamps at the Cashier?s Office using the money she returned to them, no damage was caused to the Government. Her case, she claims, warrants the appreciation of the mitigating circumstances of length of service and "first offense," not because she deserves sympathy or pity, but because she is entitled to the said mitigating circumstances as a matter of right.
We rule in favor of petitioner CSC.
Under the Civil Service Law19 and its implementing rules,20 dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service21 are grave offenses punishable by dismissal from the service.22 Thus, as provided by law, there is no other penalty that should be imposed on respondent than the penalty of dismissal.
Of course, the rules allow the consideration of mitigating and aggravating circumstances23 and provide for the manner of imposition of the proper penalty: Section 54 of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service provides:
Section 54. Manner of imposition. When applicable, the imposition of the penalty may be made in accordance with the manner provided herein below:
a. The minimum of the penalty shall be imposed where only mitigating and no aggravating circumstances are present.
b. The medium of the penalty shall be imposed where no mitigating and aggravating circumstances are present.
c. The maximum of the penalty shall be imposed where only aggravating and no mitigating circumstances are present.
d. Where aggravating and mitigating circumstances are present, paragraph (a) shall be applied where there are more mitigating circumstances present; paragraph (b) shall be applied when the circumstances equally offset each other; and paragraph (c) shall be applied when there are more aggravating circumstances.`
Jurisprudence is abound with cases applying the above rule in the imposition of the proper penalty and even in cases where the penalty prescribed by law, on commission of the first offense, is that of dismissal, which is, as argued by petitioner, an indivisible penalty, the presence of mitigating or aggravating circumstances may still be taken into consideration by us in the imposition of the proper penalty. Thus, in at least three cases,24 taking into consideration the presence of mitigating circumstances, we lowered the penalty of dismissal imposed on respondent to that of forced resignation25 or suspension for 6 months and 1 day to 1 year without benefits.26 This being so, is respondent entitled to a penalty lesser than dismissal, considering (1) her length of service in the government and (2) the fact that the offense she was found guilty of was her first offense?
Under the facts of this case, respondent is not entitled to a lower penalty.
Petitioner CSC is correct that length of service should be taken against the respondent. Length of service is not a magic word that, once invoked, will automatically be considered as a mitigating circumstance in favor of the party invoking it. Length of service can either be a mitigating or aggravating circumstance depending on the factual milieu of each case. Length of service, in other words, is an alternative circumstance. That this is so is clear in Section 53 of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, which amended the Omnibus Civil Services Rules and Regulations dated 27 December 1991. The title and opening paragraph of Section 53 provides that the attendant circumstances enumerated therein may either be considered as mitigating, aggravating or alternative circumstances by the disciplining body:
Section 53. Extenuating, Mitigating, Aggravating, or Alternative Circumstances. ? In the determination of the penalties imposed, mitigating, aggravating and alternative circumstances attendant to the commission of the offense shall be considered.
The following circumstances shall be appreciated:
a. Physical illness
b. Good faith
c. Taking undue advantage of official position
d. Taking undue advantage of subordinate
e. Undue disclosure of confidential information
f. Use of government property in the commission of the offense
h. Offense is committed during office hours and within the premises of the office or building
i. Employment of fraudulent means to commit or conceal the offense
j. Length of service in the government
k. Education, or
l. Other analogous circumstances (emphasis ours)
In University of the Philippines vs. Civil Service Commission, et al.,27 we did not consider length of service in favor of the private respondent; instead, we took it against said respondent because her length of service, among other things, helped her in the commission of the offense. Thus:
Respondent Commission contends that it did not err in upholding the decision of the Merit Systems Protection Board since the decision of said Board took into account private respondent?s length of service and the fact that it was her first offense. We do not Agree. . . Private respondent?s length of service cannot be considered as a mitigating circumstance since it was her length of service, among others, that earned her the position she was in and the trust she enjoyed through which she illicitly allowed her relatives to enjoy unmerited privileges and, in the case of Fernando B. Manicad, an unwarranted diploma. (emphasis ours)
Moreover, a review of jurisprudence shows that, although in most cases length of service is considered in favor of the respondent,28 it is not considered where the offense committed is found to be serious.29 Thus, in Yuson vs. Noel,30 we ruled:
The mere length of his service (for ten years) cannot mitigate the gravity of his offense or the penalty he deserves. It is clear from facts here established that the respondent does not deserve to remain in the Judiciary, where integrity is an indispensable credential. (emphasis ours)
And, in Concerned Employee vs. Nuestro,31 we held:
Dishonesty is a malevolent act that has no place in the court system. In the present case, respondent?s misconduct constitutes grave dishonesty that disqualifies her from holding any position in the judiciary. . . The recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator for six (6) months suspension is therefore too lenient in view of the gravity of the offense charged. It may be true that respondent has been in the service for eleven years but she has blemished her record irreparably and, under the circumstances, we believe that her dismissal is warranted. (emphasis ours)
Applying the above-cited cases to the case at bar, we cannot also consider length of service in favor of the respondent because of the gravity of the offense she committed and of the fact that it was her length of service in the CSC which helped her in the commission of the offense.
Respondent was in the Civil Service Commission for twenty-one years, the last eight years of which (1990-1998) she spent as Chief of the Examination and Placement Services Division (EPSD). Surely, respondent earned the last position because of her length of service in the CSC. As Chief of the EPSD, she naturally had access to the previously processed and approved application forms wherefrom she detached the stamps and later on sold to new civil service examination applicants and pocketed the proceeds of the sale. It is worthy to note that the stamps respondent was caught selling were issued in 1995, the time respondent was already in the EPSD, serving as its chief. Respondent?s length of service in the CSC, therefore, clearly helped her in the commission of the offense.
As to the gravity of the offense, which is the other factor why we cannot consider length of service in favor of the respondent, it is clear from the ruling of the CSC that respondent?s act irreparably tarnished the integrity of the CSC. Respondent was the Chief of the EPSD, but despite such important and senior position which should have impelled her to set a good example to her co-employees and other civil servants, respondent flagrantly and shamelessly violated the law by selling, for her own financial gain, used examination fee stamps, right in her own office and during office hours. Such flagrant and shameless disregard of the law by a senior officer seriously undermined the integrity of the CSC, the body mandated by the Constitution to preserve and safeguard the integrity of the civil service.32 She should be a model of honesty and integrity. By irreparably tarnishing the integrity of the Civil Service Commission, respondent did not deserve to stay in the said agency and in the government service.
The gravity of the offense committed is also the reason why we cannot consider the "first offense" circumstance invoked by respondent. In several cases,33 we imposed the heavier penalty of dismissal34 or a fine of more than P20,000,35 considering the gravity of the offense committed, even if the offense charged was respondent?s first offense. Thus, in the present case, even though the offense respondent was found guilty of was her first offense, the gravity thereof outweighs the fact that it was her first offense.
Respondent also insists in her memorandum that she is entitled to a penalty lesser than dismissal because no damage was caused to the Government; she returned the money to the complainants and the latter thereafter paid the Cashier?s Office for the proper issuance of examination fee stamps. She further emphasizes that the money involved was only six hundred pesos, not a "multi-million pesos scam." These arguments show respondent?s distorted sense of values. It seems all right for respondent to steal from the government as long as it does not involve millions of pesos.
Respondent should be reminded that a public servant must exhibit at all times the highest sense of honesty and integrity for no less than the Constitution mandates that a public office is a public trust and public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.36 This constitutionally-enshrined principles, oft-repeated in our case law, are not mere rhetorical flourishes or idealistic sentiments. They should be taken as working standards by all in the public service. In addition, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (R.A. No. 6713) enunciates the State Policy of promoting a high standard of ethics and utmost responsibility in the public service.
To end, it must be stressed that dishonesty and grave misconduct have always been and should remain anathema in the civil service. They inevitably reflect on the fitness of a civil servant to continue in office.37 When an officer or employee is disciplined, the object sought is not the punishment of such officer or employee but the improvement of the public service and the preservation of the public?s faith and confidence in the government.38
WHEREFORE, the Decision of 23 July 2002 and the Resolution of 18 October 2002 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 65096 are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Resolution No. 010499 of the Civil Service Commission dated 22 February 2001, dismissing respondent Delia T. Cortez from the service with forfeiture of leave credits and retirement benefits, cancellation of eligibility and disqualification from reemployment in the government service, without prejudice to civil or criminal liability in a proper action, is hereby REINSTATED.
No pronouncement as to costs.
Davide, Jr., Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, and Tinga, JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, 33-38. Per Labitoria, J., with Regino and Enriquez, Jr., JJ., concurring.
2 Id., 30-31.
3 Rollo, 40-41.
4 Rollo, 41-44.
5 Id., 44-45.
6 Exhibit "A," Rollo, 45-46.
7 Rollo, 45-46.
8 Exhibits "B" and "C," Rollo, 46-49.
9 Exhibit "B," 46-47.
10 Exhibit "C," Rollo, 47-49.
11 Exhibit 28, Rollo, 49-52.
12 Rollo, 49-52.
13 Rollo, 53-54.
14 Id., 55-58.
15 Id., 37.
16 Rollo, 37-38.
17 Id., 30-31.
18 Rollo, 37.
19 Subtitle A, Title I, Book V of E.O No. 292, otherwise known as the Administrative Code of 1987.
20 Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations dated 27 December 1991, amended by the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service dated 31 August 1999.
21 Section 52, Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service.
22 Under Section 55 of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, if respondent is found guilty of two or more charges, the penalty to be imposed shall be that corresponding to the most serious charge and the rest shall be considered as aggravating circumstances. Thus, although conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service is punishable by dismissal only on commission of the second offense, if we take it with the two other charges respondent was found guilty of (dishonesty and grave misconduct), the penalty imposable on respondent is dismissal from the service, the penalty for dishonesty or grave misconduct which is the most serious charge.
23 Section 53, Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, dated 31 August 1999.
24 Marasigan v. Buena, 348 Phil. 1 (1998); Office of the Court Administrator v. Ibay, A.M. No. P-02-1649, 29 November 2002; Office of the Court Administrator v. Sirios, A.M. No. P-02-1659, 28 August 2003.
25 In Marasigan v. Buena, supra, the Court, taking into consideration respondent?s demonstrated repentance, immediate full restitution and sincere effort to reform her life, modified the penalty of dismissal to that forced resignation ("deemed resigned from the service") with entitlement to leave credits and retirement benefits, without prejudice to reemployment in the government service.
26 In Office of the Court Administrator v. Ibay, supra, the Court, after ruling that the penalty next lower to dismissal from the service is suspension for 6 months and 1 day to 1 year without benefits including leave credits, ordered respondent suspended from the service for 7 months without benefits including leave credits, while in Office of the Court Administrator v. Sirios, supra, the Court reduced the imposable penalty from dismissal to suspension for 3 months without pay.
27 G.R. No. 89454, 20 April 1992, 208 SCRA 174.
28 Perez v. Abiera, A.C. No. 223-J, 11 June 1975, 64 SCRA 302, 309-310; Garcia v. Asilo, A.M. No. P-1769, 28 February 1979, 88 SCRA 606, 609; Seguisabal v. Cabrera, 193 Phil. 809 (1981); Civil Service Commission v. Lucas, 361 Phil. 486, 491 (1999); Velasquez v. Inacay, A.M. No. CA-02-11-P, 29 May 2002, 382 SCRA 389, 395; Reyes v. Vidor, A.M. No. P-02-1552, 3 December 2002; Albello v. Galvez, A.M. No. P-01-1476, 16 January 2003.
29 University of the Philippines v. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 89454, 20 April 1992, 208 SCRA 174; Yuson v. Noel, A.M. No. RTJ-91-762, 23 October 1993, 227 SCRA 1; Concerned Employee v. Nuestro, A.M. No. P-02-1629, 11 September 2002.
30 A.M. No. RTJ-91-762, 23 October 1993, 227 SCRA 1.
31 A.M. No. P-02-1629, 11 September 2002.
32 Article IX-B, Section 3, 1987 Constitution.
33 Monsanto v. Palarca, 211 Phil. 237, 251 (1983); Cajot v. Cledera, A.M. No. P-98-1262, 12 February 1998, 286 SCRA 238, 243; Gutierrez v. Quitalig, A.M. P-02-1545, 2 April 2003.
34 Cajot v. Cledera, supra.
35 Monsanto v. Palarca, supra; Gutierrez v. Quitalig, supra.
36 Section 1, Article XI, 1987 Constitution.
37 Nera v. Garcia, 106 Phil. 1031, 1035-36 (1960).
38 Bautista v. Negado, 108 Phil. 283, 289 (1960).
May 31, 2004
The essence of due process is the right to be heard. Therefore, every motion which may prejudice the rights of a party should be set for hearing. The intendment of the law will never be achieved if notice is not served, such as in this case.
On November 27, 1998, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) received the sworn Letter-Complaint1 of Ms. Meriam Balagtas (Balagtas) dated November 11, 1998 accusing Judge Olegario R. Sarmiento, Jr., MTCC, Branch 2, Cebu City, of knowingly rendering an unjust interlocutory order, gross ignorance of the law and serious irregularities in the performance of judicial duties in connection with Criminal Cases Nos. 82863-R and 83186-R, entitled "People of the Philippines versus Hermann Peith," for violation of B.P. 22.
Balagtas was the private complainant in the aforementioned criminal cases.
In the Letter-Complaint she submitted, Balagtas alleges that on May 25, 1998, accused Hermann Peith (Peith) filed an Urgent Ex-Parte Motion to Leave for Abroad2 which was granted by the respondent judge on the same day it was filed without notice to her or the prosecution.3 Moreover, as shown in the Order4 dated May 25, 1998, the respondent judge granted the motion simply because Peith executed a Deed of Real Estate Mortgage covering the value of the bounced checks.
Consequently, Balagtas filed an Urgent Motion for Reconsideration of the Order Dated May 25, 1998 dated May 26, 1998, arguing that the fact that Peith executed a Deed of Real Estate Mortgage to secure the payment of the checks is of no consequence, the cases being criminal in nature.5 Besides, Peith cannot own real properties in the Philippines since he is a foreigner.6
The respondent judge denied the motion for reconsideration in his Order7 dated May 28, 1998.
Balagtas then filed a Motion for the Inhibition of Judge Olegario Sarmiento8 dated August 24, 1998 on grounds of bias and partiality. She claimed therein that she filed a Motion for the Issuance of a Hold Departure Order against Peith which the respondent judge did not act upon. However, in a move evincing bias in favor of Peith, the respondent judge granted his Urgent Ex-Parte Motion to Leave for Abroad.
The respondent judge granted the motion for inhibition in his Order9 dated August 31, 1998. In the same Order, he stated that he cannot act upon Balagtas? Motion for the Issuance of a Hold Departure Order against Peith since he is prohibited from doing so by Circular No. 39-97 of the Supreme Court which limits such authority to criminal cases within the jurisdiction of second level courts. Moreover, Balagtas had already foreclosed Peith?s property and the value of the bounced checks had already been satisfied. He further remarked that "[H]erein judge is responsibly informed that the herein parties have had a special personal relationship only that accused married another woman. This Court does not want to be an instrument of the misgivings, sourgrapings and importunings of complainant."10
Balagtas now asserts that the respondent judge?s Orders dated May 25, 1998 and August 31, 1998 are unjust and amount to gross ignorance of the law. She also claims that the respondent judge committed serious irregularities in the performance of his duties.
Balagtas essentially contends that the respondent judge should not have allowed Peith to leave the country since, as the accused in two criminal cases, he is not only liable for the amount of the checks that bounced but also for the imposable penalty for violation of the Bouncing Checks Law. She likewise objects to what she claims to be derogatory remarks made by the respondent judge against her in his Order of August 31, 1998.
In his Letter-Comment11 dated May 24, 1999, the respondent judge explains that he allowed Peith to leave the country for one month to avail of his retirement benefits in Switzerland for the following reasons: (a) Peith has properties, family and a reputation to maintain in Cebu City; (b) he was appreciative of Peith?s gesture of asking permission to travel because Peith need not have done so; (c) he was hoping that Peith can bring in money to pay his obligation under the checks; (d) Peith had already been arraigned; hence, he may be tried in absentia; and (e) Peith executed a Deed of Real Estate Mortgage in favor of Balagtas to secure the payment of his obligation. Besides, Balagtas had allegedly already foreclosed Peith?s property and the value of the bounced checks had already been satisfied.
The respondent judge also claims that the case is already before another judge since he inhibited himself from hearing the cases in his Order dated August 31, 1998. Lastly, the respondent judge avers that Balagtas "can push through with her personal agenda of vendetta without unnecessarily dragging" him into it once Peith sets foot on Philippine soil.12 He further states that he "cannot act as ?Berdugo? for complainant?s personal ill motive and selfish interest."13
In her Letter-Reply14 dated June 26, 1999, Balagtas insists that had she been notified of Peith?s motion, she could have opposed the motion with the following points, to wit: Peith has no legal wife but only a live-in-partner in Cebu; as a foreigner, Peith cannot own real property anywhere in the Philippines; and the value of the mortgaged real estate is not sufficient to satisfy Peith?s monetary obligation. She adds that the respondent judge delved into irrelevant issues when he stated in his August 31, 1998 Order that he was "informed that the herein parties have had a special personal relationship only that the accused married another woman."15
In a R E S O L U T I O N16 dated September 17, 2001, the Court referred the complaint to Executive Judge Galicano C. Arriesgado of RTC, Cebu City for investigation, report and recommendation. During the pendency of the investigation, Judge Pampio A. Abarintos took over from Judge Arriesgado as Executive Judge. Thus, Judges Abarintos and Arriesgado conducted the investigation with 1st Vice Executive Judge Isaias P. Dicdican.
The investigating judges submitted their report and recommendation17 dated August 1, 2003 to the OCA finding as follows: (1) as a first level court judge, the respondent is not authorized to issue hold departure orders as this power is vested in a Regional Trial Court judge; (2) Balagtas erred in filing her Motion for the Issuance of a Hold Departure Order against Peith before the respondent judge?s court, hence, she is not entirely blameless; (3) upon the inhibition of the respondent judge, the cases were transferred to MTCC, Branch 5, Cebu City, presided over by Judge Oscar D. Andrino, who rendered a judgment on the cases on November 11, 2002; and (4) Peith was acquitted but was ordered to indemnify Balagtas for the face value of the checks with interest thereon. In view of these findings, the investigating judges recommend that the charges against the respondent judge be dismissed and the case considered closed and terminated.
In its Memorandum18 dated March 16, 2004, the OCA sustains with modification the findings and recommendation of the investigating judges. The OCA notes that since Peith was charged with two counts of violation of B.P. 22, which is under the exclusive jurisdiction of first level courts and not among the criminal cases covered by Circular No. 39-97 dated June 19, 1997 of this Court where hold departure orders may be issued, the respondent judge may not deny his Urgent Ex-parte Motion to Leave for Abroad or grant Balagtas? Motion for Issuance of a Hold Departure Order against him. The OCA, therefore, recommends the dismissal of the case against the respondent judge but admonishes him to refrain from resorting to insulting and offensive language in his future judicial actions.
The Court agrees that the remark of the respondent judge in his Order dated August 31, 1998, aside from being totally irrelevant, was improper, offensive and uncalled for. He insinuated that the reason for Balagtas? filing of criminal cases against Peith was she was incensed for being dumped by the latter in favor of another woman. The respondent judge repeated his tirade against Balagtas in his Letter-Comment19 dated May 24, 1999 where he stated that Balagtas has a "personal agenda of vendetta" against Peith and that she was motivated by "personal ill motive and selfish interest."
The respondent judge deserves the sternest reproof for making these remarks. Judges should refrain from expressing irrelevant opinions in their decisions which may only reflect unfavorably upon their competence and the propriety of their judicial actuations.20 Moreover, intemperate speech detracts from the equanimity and judiciousness that should be the constant hallmarks of a dispenser of justice.21
The Court, however, deviates from the conclusion of both the OCA and the investigating judges that the respondent judge should not be held liable for gross ignorance of the law.
The OCA and the investigating judges overlooked the fact that when Peith requested permission to leave for abroad on May 25, 1998, the latter filed a motion without the required notice to the parties. The Urgent Ex-Parte Motion to Leave for Abroad attached as Annex "A" to the Letter-Complaint even states that the motion was to be submitted for resolution of the court "without further argument."22 This was never denied by the respondent judge.
Considering the litigious nature of Peith?s motion and the fact that the criminal and civil aspects of the cases were simultaneously instituted, the public prosecutor and the private offended party should have been notified, failing which, the respondent judge should not have acted upon the motion.
The Rules of Court is explicit on this point.23 A motion without notice of hearing is pro forma, a mere scrap of paper. It presents no question which the court could decide. The court has no reason to consider it and the clerk has no right to receive it. The rationale behind the rule is plain: unless the movant sets the time and place of hearing, the court will be unable to determine whether the adverse party agrees or objects to the motion, and if he objects, to hear him on his objection. The objective of the rule is to avoid a capricious change of mind in order to provide due process to both parties and to ensure impartiality in the trial.24
In granting Peith?s Urgent Ex-Parte Motion to Leave for Abroad, the respondent judge violated a basic and fundamental constitutional principle, due process. When the law is elementary, not to be aware of it constitutes gross ignorance thereof. After all, judges are expected to have more than just a modicum of acquaintance with the statutes and procedural rules.25 Hence, the respondent judge is guilty of gross ignorance of the law.
Gross ignorance of the law is classified as a serious charge26 for which any of the following sanctions may be imposed: (a) dismissal from service with forfeiture of benefits and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office including a government-owned or controlled corporation; (b) suspension for three to six months without salary and benefits; or (c) a fine of not less than P20,000.00 but not more than P40,000.00.27 However, in the case of De Jesus v. Obnamia, Jr.28 where the respondent judge failed to ensure compliance with the three (3)-day notice rule, the Court ordered him to pay a fine of Three Thousand Pesos (P3,000.00) with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely. This Court finds the respondent judge herein similarly situated.
ACCORDINGLY, respondent Judge Olegario R. Sarmiento, Jr., Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 2, Cebu City, is hereby ordered to pay a FINE in the amount of THREE THOUSAND PESOS (P3,000.00) and ADMONISHED to refrain from resorting to insulting and offensive language in his future judicial actions, with a WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.
Puno, Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-21, with Annexes.
2 Id. at 7, Annex A of the Letter-Complaint.
3 Id. at 2-3.
4 Id. at 8.
5 Id. at 13.
6 Id. at 14.
7 Id. at 16.
8 Id. at 17-19.
9 Id. at 21.
11 Id. at 23-24.
12 Id. at 23.
13 Id. at 24.
14 Id. at 26-48, with Annexes.
15 Supra, note 9.
16 Supra, note 1 at 75.
17 Id. at 108-113.
18 Id. at 137-140.
19 Supra, note 11.
20 Director of Prisons v. Ang Cho Kio, No. L-30001, June 23, 1970, 33 SCRA 494.
21 Dela Cruz v. Bersamira, A.M. No. RTJ-00-1567, January 19, 2001, 349 SCRA 626, citing Kalalang v. Fernandez, 39 SCRA 418 (1971).
22 Supra, note 2.
23 "Sec. 4. Hearing of motion.?Except for motions which the court may act upon without prejudicing the rights of the adverse party, every written motion shall be set for hearing by the applicant.
Every written motion required to be heard and the notice of the hearing thereof shall be served in such a manner as to ensure its receipt by the other party at least three (3) days before the date of hearing, unless the court for good cause sets the hearing on shorter notice.
Sec. 5. Notice of hearing.?The notice of hearing shall be addressed to all parties concerned, and shall specify the time and date of the hearing which must not be later than then (10) days after the filing of the motion." Rule 15, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
24 Fajardo v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 140356, March 20, 2001, 354 SCRA 736, citing Meris v. Ofilada, 293 SCRA 606 (1998) and Santos v. Court of Appeals, 253 SCRA 632 (1996).
25 Domondon v. Lopez, A.M. No. RTJ-02-1696, June 20, 2002, 383 SCRA 376.
26 Section 3, Rule 140.
27 Section 10, Rule 140.
28 A.M. No. MTJ-00-1314, September 7, 2000, 340 SCRA 1.