April 2009 Decisions on Criminal Law, Remedial Law and Legal Ethics

Here are selected April 2009 decisions of the Supreme Court on criminal law, remedial law and legal/judicial ethics:

Criminal Law

Abuse of superior strength. Appellants enjoyed superiority in number (five) over the two victims, clearly showing abuse of superior strength and the force used by them was out of proportion to the means of defense available to the victims. People of the Philippines vs. Rogelio Aleta, Mario Aleta and Jovito Aleta, G.R. No. 179708, April 16, 2009.

Alibi. As for the alibi of Marcelo, Rogelio and Jovito, for it to prosper, it must be shown that it was physically impossible for them to have been at the scene of the crime at the approximate time of its commission. That they were in Marcelo’s house attending to a relative who was allegedly having difficulty breathing, did not render it impossible for them to have been at the scene of the crimes, the house being a mere 13.5 meters away, more or less.   Besides, it is impossible that they could not have noticed the commotion that preceded and attended the incidents. People of the Philippines vs. Rogelio Aleta, Mario Aleta and Jovito Aleta,  G.R. No. 179708,. April 16, 2009.

Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. The elements of the offense in Section 3(e) are: (1) that the accused are public officers or private persons charged in conspiracy with them; (2) that said public officers commit the prohibited acts during the performance of their official duties or in relation to their public positions; (3) that they cause undue injury to any party, whether the Government or a private party; (4) that such injury is caused by giving unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference to such parties; and (5) that the public officers have acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.

On the other hand, the elements of the offense in Section 3(g), are: (1) that the accused is a public officer; (2) that he entered into a contract or transaction on behalf of the Government; and (3) that such contract or transaction is grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the Government. Presidential Ad Hoc Fact Finding Committee on Behest Loans, represented by Orlando L. Salvador vs. Ombudsman Aniano A. Desierto, et al., G.R. No. 135703, April 15, 2009.

Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; falsification. Falsification, although penalized under Title Four and not Title Seven, Book II of the Revised Penal Code, constitutes fraud upon public funds. “The term fraud as used in Section 13 of Rep. Act No. 3019 is understood in its generic sense, which is, referring to an instance or an act of trickery or deceit especially when involving misrepresentation.” In Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of Law, fraud had been defined “as any act, expression, omission, or concealment calculated to deceive another to his or her disadvantage; or specifically, a misrepresentation or concealment with reference to some fact material to a transaction that is made with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity and with the intent to deceive another and that is reasonably relied on by the other who is injured thereby.” In the present petition, it is undeniable that the allegation of falsification of the three public documents by making it appear that the flood control project was 100% complete constitutes fraud upon public funds.  Macariola G. Bartolo and Violenda B. Sucro vs. The Honorable Sandiganbayan, et al., G.R. No. 172123, April 16, 2009.

Anti-Graft. The acquittal of Rivera means that there was no public officer who allegedly violated Section 3(g) of R.A. No. 3019.  There being no public officer, it follows that a private individual such as herein petitioner Go could not be said to have conspired with such public officer.  The basis for a finding of conspiracy against petitioner and Rivera has been removed; consequently, the case against Henry T. Go should likewise be dismissed. Henry T. Go vs. The Fifth Division, Sandiganbayan, et al., G.R. No. 172602, April 16, 2009.

BP 22.  When a corporate officer issues a worthless check in the corporate name, he may be held personally liable for violating a penal statute. The statute imposes criminal penalties on anyone who with intent to defraud another of money or property, draws or issues a check on any bank with knowledge that he has no sufficient funds in such bank to meet the check on presentment. Moreover, the personal liability of the corporate officer is predicated on the principle that he cannot shield himself from liability from his own acts on the ground that it was a corporate act and not his personal act.    The general rule is that a corporate officer who issues a bouncing corporate check can only be held civilly liable when he is convicted.  In the recent case of Bautista v. Auto Plus Traders Inc., the Supreme Court ruled decisively that the civil liability of a corporate officer in a B.P. Blg. 22 case is extinguished with the criminal liability. Jaime U. Gusicao vs. Letecia Ching and Edwin Casta, G.R. No. 173807,  April 16, 2009.

Conspiracy; proof.  Although there was no evidence in the present case showing a prior agreement among Pablo, Arnold, George, and Damaso, the following chain of events however show their commonality of purpose in killing the victim: first, the accused surrounded the victim on all sides: Damaso at the front, George at the victim’s rear, while Pablo and Arnold flanked the victim on  each side; second, Pablo then wrested the right arm of the victim and restrained his movement, while Arnold did the same to the left arm of the victim; third, George then hit the victim’s head with a piece of wood; and fourth, Damaso stabbed the victim three times.  People of the Philippines vs. Pablo Amodia,  G.R. No. 173791,  April 7, 2009.

Conspiracy; proof.  Appellants’ disclaimer of the presence of conspiracy fails.  The evidence shows that they cooperated in a common design to kill Chu. Regalado initiated the killing when he stabbed Chu on the chest, and the two other appellants joined Regalado in chasing Chu, with Regalado hitting Chu with firewood along the way.  Then, when the three of them had cornered Chu, Aragon boxed and kicked Chu, enabling Lopez to stab him several times. These indicate a conspiracy.

Conspiracy; proof. When two or more persons aim their acts towards the accomplishment of the same unlawful object, each doing a part so that their acts, though apparently independent, were in fact connected and cooperative indicating closeness of personal association and a concurrence of sentiment, conspiracy may be inferred.  And where there is conspiracy, the act of one is deemed the act of all. People of the Philippines vs. Rogelio Aleta, Mario Aleta and Jovito Aleta, G.R. No. 179708, April 16, 2009.

Conspiracy; proof. Appellants’ disclaimer of the presence of conspiracy fails.  The evidence shows that they cooperated in a common design to kill Chu. Regalado initiated the killing when he stabbed Chu on the chest, and the two other appellants joined Regalado in chasing Chu, with Regalado hitting Chu with firewood along the way.  Then, when the three of them had cornered Chu, Aragon boxed and kicked Chu, enabling Lopez to stab him several times. These indicate a conspiracy. People of the Philippines vs. Jaime Lopez, et al., G.R. No. 177302, April 16, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs Act.  In all prosecutions for violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act, the existence of all dangerous drugs is a sine qua non for conviction.  The dangerous drug is the very corpus delicti of the crime of violation of the said Act.  It is thus essential that the prohibited drug confiscated or recovered from the suspect is the very same substance offered in court as exhibit; and that the identity of said drug be established with the same unwavering exactitude as that requisite to make a finding of guilt.  Susan Sales y Jimena vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 182296, April 7, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs Act. A thorough review of the records clearly shows that the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that appellant sold the shabu to the poseur-buyer. The testimony of Alonzo on the sale of illegal drugs and the identification of appellant as the seller is clear and straightforward. The testimony of Alonzo was corroborated by members of the buy-bust team, particularly Calapati and Salazar, who both testified that they saw appellant hand Alonzo the VHS tape containing the shabu despite only partial payment for the shabu.  Appellant’s assertion that he was framed-up has no merit. In almost every case involving a buy-bust operation, the accused puts up the defense of frame-up. This Court has repeatedly emphasized that the defense of “frame-up” is viewed with disfavor, since the defense is easily concocted and is a common ploy of the accused.  Therefore, clear and convincing evidence of the frame-up must be shown for such a defense to be given merit.  People of the Philippines vs. German Agojo y LunaG.R. No. 181318, April 16, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs Act.  Well-entrenched is the rule that an appellate court will generally not disturb the assessment of the trial court on factual matters considering that the latter, as a trier of facts, is in a better position to appreciate the same.  The only exceptions allowed are when the trial court has plainly overlooked certain facts of substance which, if considered, may affect the result of the case; or in instances where the evidence fails to support or substantiate the lower court’s findings and conclusions, or where the disputed decision is based on a misapprehension of facts. This case does not fall under any of the exceptions.  Hence, there is no reason for us to modify the factual findings of the lower courts.  Moreover, the prosecution’s evidence sufficiently established the unbroken chain of custody of the seized drugs beginning from the entrapment team, to the investigating officer, to the forensic chemist whose laboratory tests were well-documented, up to the time they were offered in evidence. The chain-of-custody rule requires that the admission of an exhibit be preceded by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what the proponent claims it to be.

The Court also finds that the arresting officers strictly complied with the guidelines prescribed by law regarding the custody and control of the seized drugs.There was testimony regarding the marking of the seized items at the police station and in the presence of appellant. Likewise there was mention that an elected official was present during the inventory. In addition, it appears on record that the team photographed the contraband in accordance with law. Absent any indication that the police officers were ill-motivated in testifying against appellant, full credence should be given to their testimonies. In sum, contrary to appellant’s lone argument, the prosecution established the corpus delicti with moral certainty.  People of the Philippines vs. Eddie Gum-Oyen y Sacpa, G.R. No. 182231,  April 16, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs Act; elements of illegal sale. In prosecutions for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the following must be proven: (1) that the transaction or sale took place; (2) the corpus delicti or the illicit drug was presented as evidence; and (3) that the buyer and seller were identified. The dangerous drug is the very corpus delicti of the offense.

All told, the totality of evidence presented in the instant case does not support appellant’s conviction for violation of Section 5, Article II, R.A. No. 9165, since the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt all the elements of the offense. Following the constitutional mandate, when the guilt of the appellant has not been proven with moral certainty, as in this case, the presumption of innocence prevails and his exoneration should be granted as a matter of right. People of the Philippines vs. Cesar Cantalejo y Manlangit, G.R. No. 182790, April 24, 2009.

Dangeroud Drugs Act; elements of illegal sale. In a prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the following elements must be established: (1) proof that the transaction or sale took place; and (2) presentation in court of the corpus delicti or the illicit drug as evidence. The existence of dangerous drugs is a condition sine qua non for conviction for the illegal sale of dangerous drugs, it being the very corpus delicti of the crime.Central to this requirement is the question of whether the drug submitted for laboratory examination and presented in court was actually recovered from appellant.  Hence, the Court has adopted the chain of custody rule.

A unique characteristic of narcotic substances is that they are not readily identifiable as in fact they are subject to scientific analysis to determine their composition and nature.  The Court cannot close its eyes to the likelihood, or at least the possibility, that at any of the links in the chain of custody over the same there could have been tampering, alteration or substitution of substances from other cases — by accident or otherwise — in which similar evidence was seized or in which similar evidence was submitted for laboratory testing. Thus, the corpus delicti should be identified with unwavering exactitude. People of the Philippines vs. Ruben Robles, G.R. No. 177220, April 24, 2009.

Drug importation. Rep. Act No. 9502 also known as the “Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008” did not expressly repeal any provision of Republic Act No. 8203, also known as the Special Law on Counterfeit Drugs (SLCD). However, it is clear that the SLCO’s classification of “unregistered imported drugs” as “counterfeit drugs,” and of corresponding criminal penalties therefore are irreconcilably in the imposition conflict with Rep. Act No. 9502 since the latter indubitably grants private third persons the unqualified right to import or otherwise use such drugs. Where a statute of later date, such as Rep. Act No. 9502, clearly reveals an intention on the part of the legislature to abrogate a prior act on the subject that intention must be given effect. When a subsequent enactment covering a field of operation coterminus with a prior statute cannot by any reasonable construction be given effect while the prior law remains in operative existence because of irreconcilable conflict between the two acts, the latest legislative expression prevails and the prior law yields to the extent of the conflict. Irreconcilable inconsistency between two laws embracing the same subject may exist when the later law nullifies the reason or purpose of the earlier act, so that the latter loses all meaning and function. Legis posteriors priores contrarias abrogant. Roma Drug and Romeo Rodriguez vs. RTC of Guagua Pampanga, et al., G.R. No. 149907,  April 16, 2009.

Falsification; elements. The “use” of a falsified document is separate and distinct from the “falsification” of a public document.  The act of “using” falsified documents is not necessarily included in the “falsification” of a public document.  Using falsified documents is punished under Article 172 of the Revised Penal Code.

It is a settled rule that in the falsification of public or official documents, it is not necessary that there be present the idea of gain or the intent to injure a third person for the reason that in the falsification of a public document, the principal thing punished is the violation of the public faith and the destruction of the truth as therein solemnly proclaimed. Thus, the purpose for which the falsification was made and whether the offender profited or hoped to profit from such falsification are no longer material.

In the absence of satisfactory explanation, one who is found in possession of, and who has used, a forged document, is the forger and, therefore, guilty of falsification. The effect of a presumption upon the burden of proof is to create the need of presenting evidence to overcome the prima facie case created, which, if no contrary proof is offered, will thereby prevail. A prima facie case of falsification having been established, petitioner should have presented clear and convincing evidence to overcome such burden.

Petitioner was charged with falsifying her Employees Clearance under Article 171, paragraph 1 of the Revised Penal Code.  For one to be convicted of falsification under said paragraph, the followings elements must concur: (1) that the offender is a public officer, an employee, or a notary public; (2) that he takes advantage of his official position; and (3) that he falsifies a document by counterfeiting or imitating any handwriting, signature or rubric. All the foregoing elements have been sufficiently established. Normallah A. Pacasum vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 180314, April 16, 2009.

Illegal recruitment. To prove illegal recruitment in large scale, the prosecution must prove three essential elements, to wit: (1) the person charged undertook a recruitment activity under Article 13(b) or any prohibited practice under Article 34 of the Labor Code; (2) he/she did not have the license or the authority to lawfully engage in the recruitment and placement of workers; and (3) he/she committed the prohibited practice against three or more persons individually or as a group. People of the Philippines Vs. Larry “Lauro” Domingo y Cruz,   G.R. No. 181475,  April 7, 2009.

Malversation; elements. The elements of Art. 217 are: (1) the offender is a public officer, (2) he or she has custody or control of the funds or property by reason of the duties of his office, (3) the funds or property are public funds or property for which the offender is accountable, and, most importantly, (4) the offender has appropriated, taken, misappropriated or consented, or, through abandonment or negligence, permitted another person to take them.  The last and most important element of malversation was not proved in this case.  There is no proof that Pescadera used the GSIS contributions for his personal benefit.  The prosecution merely relied on the presumption of malversation which we have already disproved due to lack of notice.  Hence, the prosecution should have proven actual misappropriation by the accused.  While demand is not an element of the crime of malversation, it is a requisite for the application of the presumption. Without a formal demand, the prima facie presumption of conversion under Art. 217 cannot be applied. Munib S. Estino and Ernesto Pescadera vs. People of the Philippines/ Ernesto G. Pescadera vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. Nos. 163957-58/G.R. Nos. 164009-11, April 7, 2009.

Murder; abuse of superior strength. To take advantage of superior strength means to purposely use excessive force out of proportion to the means of defense available to the person attacked. Taking advantage of superior strength does not mean that the victim was completely defenseless.  In People v. Ventura, we opined that there are no fixed and invariable rules in considering abuse of superior strength or employing means to weaken the defense of the victim.  Superiority does not always mean numerical superiority.  Abuse of superiority depends upon the relative strength of the aggressor vis-à-vis the victim.  Abuse of superiority is determined by the excess of the aggressor’s natural strength over that of the victim, considering the position of both, and theemployment of the means to weaken the defense, although not annulling it.  The aggressor must have advantage of his natural strength to ensure the commission of the crime.  In the present case, we find that there was abuse of superior strength employed by Pablo, Arnold, George and Damaso in committing the killing.  The evidence shows that the victim was unarmed when he was attacked.  In the attack, two assailants held his arms on either side, while the other two, on the victim’s front and back, each armed with a knife and a piece of wood that they later used on the victim.  People of the Philippines Vs. Pablo Amodia,  G.R. No. 173791, April 7, 2009.

Prescription. Private respondent was charged with violations of Rep. Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, committed “on or about and during the period from 1976 to February 1986”. However, the subject criminal cases were filed with the Sandiganbayan only on 5 November 2001, following a preliminary investigation that commenced only on 4 June 2001. The time span that elapsed from the alleged commission of the offense up to the filing of the subject cases is clearly beyond the fifteen (15) year prescriptive period provided under Section 11 of Rep. Act No. 3019.

Admittedly, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) had attempted to file similar criminal cases against private respondent on 22 February 1989. However, said cases were quashed based on prevailing jurisprudence that informations filed by the PCGG and not the Office of the Special Prosecutor/Office of the Ombudsman are null and void for lack of authority on the part of the PCGG to file the same. This made it necessary for the Office of the Ombudsman as the competent office to conduct the required preliminary investigation to enable the filing of the present charges.

The initial filing of the complaint in 1989 or the preliminary investigation by the PCGG that preceded it could not have interrupted the fifteen (15)-year prescription period under Rep. Act No. 3019. As held in Cruz, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan, the investigatory power of the PCGG extended only to alleged ill-gotten wealth cases, absent previous authority from the President for the PCGG to investigate such graft and corruption cases involving the Marcos cronies. Accordingly, the preliminary investigation conducted by the PCGG leading to the filing of the first information is void ab initio, and thus could not be considered as having tolled the fifteen (15)-year prescriptive period, notwithstanding the general rule that the commencement of preliminary investigation tolls the prescriptive period. After all, a void ab initio proceeding such as the first preliminary investigation by the PCGG could not be accorded any legal effect by this Court.

The rule is that for criminal violations of Rep. Act No. 3019, the prescriptive period is tolled only when the Office of the Ombudsman receives a complaint or otherwise initiates its investigation. As such preliminary investigation was commenced more than fifteen (15) years after the imputed acts were committed, the offense had already prescribed as of such time.   People of the Philippines vs. Benjamin “Kokoy” T. Romuladez and the Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 166510,  April 29, 2009.

Probation.  The law expressly requires that an accused must not have appealed his conviction before he can avail himself of probation.  This outlaws the element of speculation on the part of the accused — to wager on the result of his appeal — that when his conviction is finally affirmed on appeal, the moment of truth well nigh at hand and the service of his sentence inevitable, he now applies for probation as an “escape hatch,” thus rendering nugatory the appellate court’s affirmance of his conviction.  Consequently, probation should be availed of at the first opportunity by convicts who are willing to be reformed and rehabilitated; who manifest spontaneity, contrition and remorse.  Lourdes A. Sable Vs. People of the Philippines, et al.G.R. No. 177961, April 7, 2009.

Rape. The gravamen of the offense of rape is sexual intercourse without consent.  In the instant case, accused-appellant obtained carnal knowledge of private complainant by the use of force, threat, and intimidation.  The testimony of private complainant that accused-appellant employed force by restraining her on the neck and punching her on the breast is substantially corroborated by the medical examination conducted on her, the same day of the assault, by Dr. Catherine Buban and Dr. Rico Nebres, who had no interest whatsoever in the outcome of the case.  The Medical Certificate indicates that private complainant sustained hematoma in her left mid clavicular line and showed tenderness on the breast.

The defense blames private complainant for not duly resisting accused-appellant, considering that she was an adult woman of 33 years while accused-appellant was only 22, drunk and unarmed.  Suffice it to say that in rape cases, the law does not impose a burden on the private complainant to prove resistance.  The degree of force and resistance is relative, depending on the circumstances of each case and on the physical capabilities of each party.  It is well settled that the force or violence required in rape cases is relative; when applied, it need not be overpowering or irresistible.  When force is an element of the crime of rape, it need not be irresistible; it need but be present, and so long as it brings about the desired result, all consideration of whether it was more or less irresistible is beside the point.  People of the Philippines vs. Pedro Nogpo, Jr. a.k.a. “TANDODOY”,  G.R. No. 184791,  April 16, 2009.

Rape; penalty. Under Republic Act No. 7659, the penalty of death shall be imposed in the crime of rape when the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a parent, ascendant, step-parent, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree, or the common-law spouse of the parent of the victim.  Being in the nature of qualifying circumstances, and not ordinary aggravating circumstances which merely increase the period of the penalty, minority and relationship must be specifically pleaded in the information and proved during trial with equal certainty as the crime itself. People of the Philippines vs. Dionisio Cabudbod y Tutor and Edgar Cabudbod y Lacroa, G.R. No. 176348,  April 16, 2009.

Robbery. The prosecution has proven beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of Eduarte of the charge of robbery when, with the use of violence against the person of Navarra, he managed to take away the latter’s jewelry.  The trial court aptly gave full credence to the testimonies of Navarra and Adoro, which unmistakably demonstrated how Eduarte successfully robbed Navarra and almost successfully eluded apprehension.  This finding was adopted by the appellate court, considering that the trial court was in the best position to ascertain credibility issues, having heard the witnesses themselves and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial.  Considering that the records show a dearth of evidence that reasonable doubt attended the conviction of Eduarte, we affirm the conclusion of the trial court and the appellate court that Eduarte is guilty of robbery under Article 294(5) of the Code and should be accorded with the proper penalty.  Eliseo Eduarte y Coscolla vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 176566,  April 16, 2009.

Simple negligence.  Negligence has been defined as the failure to observe for the protection of the interests of another person that degree of care, precaution, and vigilance which the circumstances justly demand, whereby such other person suffers injury.  The elements of simple negligence: are (1) that there is lack of precaution on the part of the offender; and (2) that the damage impending to be caused is not immediate or the danger is not clearly manifest.

The standard test in determining whether a person is negligent in doing an act whereby injury or damage results to the person or property of another is this: could a prudent man, in the position of the person to whom negligence is attributed, foresee harm to the person injured as a reasonable consequence of the course actually pursued?  If so, the law imposes a duty on the actor to refrain from that course or to take precautions to guard against its mischievous results, and the failure to do so constitutes negligence.  Reasonable foresight of harm, followed by the ignoring of the admonition born of this provision, is always necessary before negligence can be held to exist.  Norman A. Gaid vs. People of the PhilippinesG.R. No. 171636,  April 7, 2009.

Treachery; essence. The essence of treachery is a deliberate and sudden attack that renders the victim unable and unprepared to defend himself by reason of the suddenness and severity of the attack. In the case at bar, Chu was caught off-guard when, after he was asking forgiveness from Regalado, the latter suddenly drew a curved knife and stabbed and pursued the following victim.  And once Regalado and his co-appellants cornered Chu, Aragon kicked and punched him while Lopez stabbed him several times to thus preclude Chua from defending himself. People of the Philippines vs. Jaime Lopez, et al. , G.R. No. 177302, April 16, 2009.

Treachery; essence. 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 specially to insure its execution, without risk to himself arising from the defense which the offender might make. The essence of treachery is a swift and unexpected attack on an unarmed victim without the slightest provocation on the latter’s part.

In these cases, the circumstances showing how the victims were stabbed reveal that they had no opportunity to defend themselves.  They were unarmed and unsuspecting as they were just singing and drinking when accused-appellant stabbed them.  As properly observed by the trial court, the swift and unexpected attack by the accused rendered them helpless.  There was also no provocation on their part to justify the ire of appellant.  Treachery thus qualifies the killings to Murder. People of the Philippines vs. Rolly Gidoc @ Bayeng, G.R. No. 185162, April 24, 2009.

Voluntary surrender.  For the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender to be appreciated, the defense must prove that:

(a)    the offender had not been actually arrested;

(b)    the offender surrendered himself to a person in authority;

(c)     the surrender was spontaneous and voluntary.

In this case, SPO4 Sarto testified that appellant’s residence could be accessed only through a footpath where they met appellant.  Inasmuch as he was intercepted by the arresting officers there, appellant had no means of evading arrest.  His surrender therefore was neither voluntary nor spontaneous. On the contrary, the aforementioned circumstances revealed that he had no option but to yield to the authorities.   People of the Philippines  vs. Alejo Obligado y Magdaraog, G.R. No. 171735,  April 16, 2009.

Remedial Law

Annulment of judgment; finality. It is, thus, settled that the purpose of a Petition for Annulment of Judgment is to have the final and executory judgment set aside so that there will be a renewal of litigation.  If the judgment sought to be annulled, like in this case, is still on appeal or under review by a higher court, it cannot be regarded as final, and there can be no renewal of litigation because the litigation is actually still open and on-going.  In this light, the arguments of Nordec Phil. and Dr. Malvar that the judgments or final orders need not be final and executory for it to be annulled must fail. Marcelino Lopez, et al. vs. Hon. Court of Appeals, et al./ Noel Rubber and Development Corp, et al. vs. Jose Esquivel, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 168734/G.R. No. 170621,  April 24, 2009.

Annulment of judgment; fraud. Section 1 of Rule 38 of the Rules of Court provides that when a judgment or final order is entered, or any other proceeding is thereafter taken against a party in any court through fraud, accident, mistake, or excusable negligence, he may file a petition in such court and in the same case praying that the judgment, order or proceeding be set aside.

Where fraud is the ground, the fraud must be extrinsic or collateral.  The extrinsic or collateral fraud that invalidates a final judgment must be such that it prevented the unsuccessful party from fully and fairly presenting his case or defense and the losing party from having an adversarial trial of the issue.  There is extrinsic fraud when a party is prevented from fully presenting his case to the court as when the lawyer connives to defeat or corruptly sells out his client’s interest.  Extrinsic fraud can be committed by a counsel against his client when the latter is prevented from presenting his case to the court. Jose Sy Bang (Deceased), et al. vs. Rosario Sy (Deceased), et al., G.R. No. 179955,  April 24, 2009.

Appeal. As a general rule, appeals on pure questions of law are brought to the Supreme Court since Sec. 5 (2) (e), Art. VIII of the Constitution includes in the enumeration of cases within its jurisdiction “all cases in which only an error or question of law is involved.”  It should not be overlooked, however, that the same provision vesting jurisdiction in this Court of the cases enumerated therein is prefaced by the statement that it may “review, revise, reverse, modify, or affirm on appeal or certiorari as the law or the Rules of Court may provide,” the judgments or final orders of lower courts in the cases therein enumerated. Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure constitutes an exception to the aforesaid general rule on appeals.  Rule 43 provides for an instance where an appellate review solely on a question of law may be sought in the CA instead of this Court.

Undeniably, an appeal to the CA may be taken within the reglementary period to appeal whether the appeal involves questions of fact, law, or mixed questions of fact and law.  As such, a question of fact or question of law alone or a mix question of fact and law may be appealed to the CA via Rule 43. Jose Santos vs. Committee on Claims Settlement, et al.G.R. No. 158071,  April 2, 2009

Appeal;  failure to appeal.  The explanation given by petitioner as to the cause of the failure to appeal the judgment of conviction is flimsy.  Petitioner’s counsel claims that the Order of the RTC denying the Motion for Reconsideration dated 20 January 2001 was received by a certain Che, who was a student doing practicum in his law office, and he attributed the non-receipt of the Order to her and claimed that the mistake was excusable.  We agree with the Court of Appeals that to constitute excusable negligence, such must be due to some unexpected or unavoidable event, and not due to petitioner counsel’s self- admitted mistake or negligence in not giving proper instruction to his staff.

Time and again, the Court has admonished law firms to adopt a system of distributing pleadings and notices, whereby lawyers working therein promptly receive notices and pleadings intended for cases.  The Court has also often repeated that clerk’s negligence that adversely affects the cases handled by lawyers is binding upon the latter.   Lourdes A. Sable vs. People of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 177961,  April 7, 2009.

Appeal;  Office of the President.  Under the doctrine of qualified political agency, department secretaries are alter egos or assistants of the President and their acts are presumed to be those of the latter unless disapproved or reprobated by him. Thus, as a rule, an aggrieved party affected by the decision of a cabinet secretary need not appeal to the OP and may file a petition for certiorari directly in the Court of Appeals assailing the act of the said secretary.  Section 1 of Rule 65 of the Rules of Court provides that, for a petition for certiorari to prosper, petitioner must show (1) the public respondent acted without or in excess of his jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction and (2) there is no appeal or a plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.  In a petition for certiorari premised on grave abuse of discretion, it must be shown that public respondent patently and grossly abused his discretion and that such abuse amounted to an evasion of positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law or to act at all in contemplation of law. In other words, the public respondent exercised his power arbitrarily and despotically by reason of passion or hostility.  Here, inasmuch as respondent had a valid ground to deny petitioners’ application, he did not commit grave abuse of discretion.   Furthermore, DAR-AO No. 7, s. 1997 requires an appeal (of the denial of application of conversion) to the OP. It was the plain, speedy and adequate remedycontemplated by Section 1 of Rule 65.  Needless to state, elevating the matter to the OP was consistent with the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies. A party aggrieved by an order of an administrative official should first appeal to the higher administrative authority before seeking judicial relief. Otherwise, as in this case, the complaint will be dismissed for being premature or for having no cause of action.  Annie L. Manubay, et al.  vs. Hon. Ernesto Garilao,  G.R. No. 140717, April 16, 2009.

Appeal;  period.   Appeal should be taken within 15 days from the notice of judgment or final order appealed from.  A final judgment or order is one that finally disposes of a case, leaving nothing more for the court to do with respect to it.  It is an adjudication on the merits which, considering the evidence presented at the trial, declares categorically what the rights and obligations of the parties are; or it may be an order or judgment that dismisses an action.  The Heirs of George Y. Poe vs. Malayan Insurance Co. Inc., G.R. No. 156302,  April 7, 2009.

Appeal; right. The right to appeal is not a natural right and is not part of due process.  It is merely a statutory privilege and must be exercised in accordance with the law. Sesinando Polintan vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 161827,  April 21, 2009.

Appeal; solicitor general. Settled is the rule that only the Solicitor General may bring or defend actions on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, or represent the People or State in criminal proceedings before this Court and the Court of Appeals. Tiu, the offended party in Criminal Case No. 96-413 is without legal personality to appeal the decision of the Court of Appeals before this Court. Nothing shows that the Office of the Solicitor General represents the People in this appeal before this Court.  On this ground alone, the petition must fail. David Tiu vs. Court of Appeals and Edgardo Postanes, G.R. No. 162370,  April 21, 2009.

Certiorari; adequate remedy. The Supreme Court ruled that certiorari is not the appropriate remedy. One of the conditions for certiorari to lie is that “there is no appeal or any other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.” Petitioners in G.R. No. 130088 could have filed their answer in CA-G.R. S.P. No. 43344 after the Court of Appeals ordered them to file the same within ten days from notice. Likewise, certiorari does not lie in G.R. No. 131469, as petitioners had the remedy of proceeding with the trial of the case on the merits. NEVERTHELESS, in view of the merits of petitioners’ Motions to Dismiss filed before the respective trial courts, the Court relaxes the application of procedural rules and passes upon their merits. Tala Realy Services Corp., et al. vs. Hon. Alicia B. Gonzales-Decano, et al./Nancy L. Ty vs. Hon. Wenceslao E. Ebabao, etc. et al./Tala Realy Services Corp., et al. vs.Banco Filipino Savings and Mortage Bank/Tala Realy Services Corp., et al. vs. Banco Filipino Savings etc., G.R. No. 130088/G.R. No. 131469/G.R. No. 155171/G.R. No. 155201/G.R. No. 166608, April 7, 2009

Certiorari;  appeal.  Petitioner elevated this petition via a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65.  Under the Rules, subject to the exceptions, appeal to the Supreme Court must be via a petition for Review under Rule 45.  Since, this appeal is not within the exceptions, the proper mode of appeal should be a Petition for Review under Rule 45, not under Rule 65.

It has been held that the proper remedy of the party aggrieved by a decision of the Court of Appeals is a petition for review under Rule 45, which is not identical with a petition for review under Rule 65.  Under Rule 45, decisions, final orders or resolutions of the Court of Appeals in any case, i.e., regardless of the nature of the action or proceedings involved, may be appealed to us by filing a petition for review, which would be but a continuation of the appellate process over the original case. On the other hand, a special civil action under Rule 65 is an independent action based on the specific ground therein provided and, as a general rule, cannot be availed of as a substitute for the lost remedy of an ordinary appeal, including that to be taken under Rule 45.  One of the requisites of certiorari is that there be no available appeal or any plain, speedy and adequate remedy.  Where an appeal is available, certiorari will not prosper even if the ground therefor is grave abuse of discretion. Accordingly, when a party adopts an improper remedy, as in this case, his petition may be dismissed outright.  Lourdes A. Sable vs. People of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 177961, April 7, 2009.

Certiorari; conviction.   Equally important is this Court’s pronouncement in People v. Court of Appeals on the propriety of a special civil action for certiorari assailing a judgment of conviction. In that case, the trial court convicted the accused of homicide. The accused thereafter appealed his conviction to the CA which affirmed the judgment of the trial court but increased the award of civil indemnity. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), on behalf of the prosecution, then filed before this Court a petition for certiorari under Rule 65, alleging grave abuse of discretion. The OSG prayed that the appellate court’s judgment be modified by convicting the accused of homicide without appreciating in his favor any mitigating circumstance. In effect, the OSG wanted a higher penalty to be imposed. The Court declared that the petition constituted a violation of the accused’s right against double jeopardy; hence, dismissible. Certainly, we are not inclined to rule differently.

Indeed, a petition for certiorari may be resorted to on jurisdictional grounds.  In People v. Veneracion, we entertained the petition for certiorari initiated by the prosecution to resolve the issue of whether the RTC gravely abused its discretion in imposing a lower penalty.  In that case, the trial judge, fully aware of the appropriate provisions of the law, refused to impose the penalty of death because of his strong personal aversion to the death penalty law, and imposed insteadreclusion perpetua. In resolving the case in favor of the prosecution, the Court concluded that the RTC gravely abused its discretion, and remanded the case to the trial court for the imposition of the proper penalty.  By so doing, we allowed a modification of the judgment not on motion of the accused but through a petition initiated by the prosecution. But it was an exceptional case.  Here and now, we reiterate the rule that review is allowed only in apparently void judgments where there is a patent showing of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.  The aggrieved parties, in such cases, must clearly show that the public respondent acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction.  Rosario T. de Vera vs. Geren A. de Vera, G.R. No. 172832,  April 7, 2009.

Certiorari;  grave abuse. Certiorari lies only where it is clearly shown that there is a patent and gross abuse of discretion amounting to an evasion of positive duty or virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility. Certiorari may not be availed of where it is not shown that the respondent court lacked or exceeded its jurisdiction over the case, even if its findings are not correct.  Its questioned acts would at most constitute errors of law and not abuse of discretion correctible by certiorari.

In other words, certiorari will issue only to correct errors of jurisdiction and not to correct errors of procedure or mistakes in the court’s findings and conclusions.  An interlocutory order may be assailed by certiorari or prohibition only when it is shown that the court acted without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion.  However, this Court generally frowns upon this remedial measure as regards interlocutory orders.  To tolerate the practice of allowing interlocutory orders to be the subject of review by certiorari will not only delay the administration of justice but will also unduly burden the courts.

We must stress that the assailed RTC Orders are but resolutions on incidental matters that do not touch on the merits of the case or put an end to the proceedings.  The remedy against an interlocutory order is not to resort forthwith to Certiorari, but to continue with the case in due course; and, when an unfavorable verdict is handed down, to take an appeal in the manner authorized by law, incorporating in said appeal the ground for assailing the interlocutory Orders.  Thus, ALECO acted precipitately in resorting to Certiorari to test the correctness of the RTC orders dated 17 October 1997, 12 November 1997 and 11 February 1998.  Albay Electric Cooperative, Inc., et al. vs. Hon. Rafael P. Santelices, et al.,  G.R. No. 132540,  April 16, 2009.

Complaint;  failure to state a cause of action. Section 2, Rule 2 of the Rules of Civil Procedure defines a cause of action as the act or omission by which a party violates the right of another.  Its essential elements are as follows: (1) a right in favor of the plaintiff by whatever means and under whatever law it arises or is created; (2) an obligation on the part of the named defendant to respect or not to violate such right; and (3) an act or omission on the part of such defendant in violation of the right of the plaintiff or constituting a breach of the obligation of the defendant to the plaintiff, for which the latter may maintain an action for recovery of damages or other appropriate relief.

The elementary test for failure to state a cause of action is whether the complaint alleges facts which if true would justify the relief demanded.  The inquiry is into the sufficiency, not the veracity, of the material allegations. If the allegations in the complaint furnish sufficient basis on which it can be maintained, it should not be dismissed regardless of the defense that may be presented by the defendant.

This Court is convinced that each of the Complaints filed by petitioners sufficiently stated a cause of action. The Complaints alleged that petitioners are the owners of the subject properties by acquisitive prescription.  As owners thereof, they have the right to remain in peaceful possession of the said properties and, if deprived thereof, they may recover the same.  Heirs of Tomas Dolleton, et al. vs. Fil-Estate Management Inc., et al., G.R. No. 170750,  April 7, 2009.

Complaint;  failure to state cause of action.   Although the Petition in SEC Case No. 02-94-4678 does allege respondent’s right to subscribe to the IPOs of corporations listed in the stock market at their offering prices, and petitioners’ obligation to continue respecting and observing such right, the Petition utterly failed to lay down the source or basis of respondent’s right and/or petitioners’ obligation. Respondent merely quoted in his Petition the MKSE Board Resolution, passed sometime in 1989, granting him the position of Chairman Emeritus of MKSE for life.  However, there is nothing in the said Petition from which the Court can deduce that respondent, by virtue of his position as Chairman Emeritus of MKSE, was granted by law, contract, or any other legal source, the right to subscribe to the IPOs of corporations listed in the stock market at their offering price.  Makati Stock Exchange, Inc., et al. vs. Miguel V. Campos, G.R. No. 138814,  April 16, 2009.

Complaint; unlawful detainer. It is settled that a complaint sufficiently alleges a cause of action for unlawful detainer if it recites the following: (1) initially, possession of property by the defendant was by contract with or by tolerance of the plaintiff; (2) eventually, such possession became illegal upon notice by plaintiff to defendant of the termination of the latter’s right of possession; (3) thereafter, the defendant remained in possession of the property and deprived the plaintiff of the enjoyment thereof; and (4) within one year from the last demand on defendant to vacate the property, the plaintiff instituted the complaint for ejectment. Valentin Cabrera et al. vs. Elizabeth Getaruela et al., G.R. No. 164213,  April 21, 2009.

Counterclaim;  reply.  The CIAC is completely mistaken in denying the attempt of Romago to present evidence against the counterclaims of the SK-KG on the ground that the failure of Romago to file a Reply to the Answer of SK-KG was deemed an admission of the counterclaims in said Answer.  It is true that the Rules of Procedure Governing Construction Arbitration (CIAC Rules) does not mention any suppletory application of the Rules of Court to CIAC proceedings.  However, rules of procedure of courts are stricter than those of quasi-judicial bodies.  Administrative tribunals exercising quasi-judicial powers are unfettered by the rigidity of certain procedural requirements, subject to the observance of fundamental and essential requirements of due process in justiciable cases presented before them.  In administrative proceedings, technical rules of procedure and evidence are not strictly applied and administrative due process cannot be fully equated with due process in its strict judicial sense.

Hence, it is completely unreasonable for an administrative body such as CIAC to be even more severe than the courts when it comes to requiring the filing of a reply.  It does well for the CIAC Arbitrators to remember that the CIAC Rules explicitly direct them to use every and all reasonable means to ascertain the facts in each case speedily and objectively without regard to technicalities of law and procedure, all in the interest of substantive due process.

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals was correct in finding the judgment of the CIAC with respect to the counterclaims of SK-KG to have been rendered in disregard of the right of Romago to due process.  Considering the amounts involved in the case at bar, the CIAC should have been more circumspect in its admission or rejection of evidence presented before it.  CIAC should not have taken the evidence of SK-KG hook, line and sinker, and should have used all means to ascertain the facts in the interest of substantial justice. Summa Kumagai, Inc-Kumagai, Gumi Co. Ltd Joint Venture vs. Romago, Inc., G.R. No. 177210, April 7, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs Act; evidence. The accused in a prosecution for drug pushing or possession has to contend with the credibility contest that ensues between the accused and the police. In scrutinizing this issue, we are guided by the rule that findings of the trial courts, which are factual in nature and which involve the credibility of witnesses, are accorded respect when no glaring errors, gross misapprehension of facts, or speculative, arbitrary, and unsupported conclusions can be gathered from such findings. This rule is applied more rigorously where said findings are sustained by the CA. People of the Philippines vs. Reynaldo Capalad, G.R. No. 184174,  April 7, 2009. April 7, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs Act; evidence. There is no reason to disturb the factual findings of the RTC as affirmed by the CA. The prosecution established beyond doubt that appellant sold shabu to the poseur buyer for a consideration and that he had another sachet of the said substance in his possession. People of the Philippines vs. Ernesto Peña y Sarmiento, G.R. No. 175320,  April 21, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs Act; evidence. From a review of the records of the case, the Court entertains nagging doubts on whether the substance allegedly confiscated from appellant was the same specimen examined and established to be a regulated drug. The stipulation referred to the chemist’s receipt of an “allegedly” confiscated specimen which tested positive for shabu.   In other words, there is no certainty that what was submitted and subjected for chemical examination was the specimen obtained from appellant. People of the Philippines vs. Alex Balagat, G.R. No. 177163,  April 24, 2009.

Demurrer to Evidence. By its nature, a demurrer to evidence is filed after the plaintiff has completed the presentation of his evidence but before the defendant offers evidence in his defense.  Thus, the Rules provide that if the defendant’s motion is denied, he shall have the right to present evidence.  However, if the defendant’s motion is granted but on appeal the order of dismissal is reversed, he shall be deemed to have waived the right to present evidence. New Regent Sources, Inc. vs. Teofilo Victor Tanjuatco, Jr. and Vicente Cuevas, G.R. No. 168800, April 16, 2009.

Disposition Portion. In G.R. No. 153459, although the inclusion of the dividends, interests, and earnings of the 111,415 PTIC shares as belonging to the Republic was not mentioned in the dispositive portion of the Court’s Decision, it is clear from its body that what was being adjudicated in favor of the Republic was the whole block of shares and the fruits thereof, said shares having been found to be part of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth, and therefore, public money. It would be absurd to award the shares to the Republic as their owner and not include the dividends and interests accruing thereto.  An owner who cannot exercise the “juses” or attributes of ownership — the right to possess, to use and enjoy, to abuse or consume, to accessories, to dispose or alienate, to recover or vindicate, and to the fruits – is a crippled owner. Imelda O. Cojuangco, Prime Holdings, Inc., and the Estate of Ramon U. Cojuangco vs. Sandiganbayan, Republic of the Philippines and the Sheriff of Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 183278, April 24, 2009.

Evidence; circumstantial evidence. The testimony of Janet as corroborated by Oswaldo, though circumstantial, leaves no doubt that appellant had in fact conspired with Rolando in bringing about the death of her husband Reynaldo.  As a rule of ancient respectability now molded into tradition, circumstantial evidence suffices to convict, only if the following requisites concur: (a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and (c) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. People of the Philippines vs. Rolando Malibiran, Beverly Tibo-Taro, G.R. No. 178301,  April 24, 2009.

Evidence; credibility of witness. Findings of facts and assessment of credibility of witnesses is a matter best left to the trial court because of its unique position of having observed the witnesses’ deportment on the stand while testifying, which opportunity is denied to the appellate courts.  When the credibility of the witnesses is at issue, appellate courts will not disturb the findings of the trial court, the latter being in a better position to decide the question, having heard the witnesses and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial unless certain facts of substance and value had been overlooked, misunderstood or misappreciated which, if considered, might affect the results of the case. Minor variances in the details of a witness’ account, more frequently than not, are badges of truth rather than indicia of falsehood and they often bolster the probative value of the testimony. Indeed, even the most candid witnesses oftentimes make mistakes and would fall into confused statements, and at times, far from eroding the effectiveness of the evidence, such lapses could instead constitute signs of veracity.  If it appears that the same witness has not willfully perverted the truth, as may be gleaned from the tenor of his testimony and the conclusion of the trial judge regarding his demeanor and behavior on the witness stand, his testimony on material points may be accepted. . . The positive identification of the assailant, when categorical and consistent and made without any ill motive on the part of the prosecution witnesses, prevails over alibi and denial which are negative, self-serving and undeserving of weight in law.  The defense of denial, like alibi, is considered with suspicion and is always received with caution, not only because it is inherently weak and unreliable, but also because it can be fabricated easily. People of the Philippines vs. Lolito Honor y Aligway, et al., G.R. No. 175945,  April 7, 2009.

Evidence; credibility of witness. A few discrepancies and inconsistencies in the testimony of the victim referring to minor details and not in actuality touching upon the central fact of the crime do not impair the victim’s credibility. To every question asked, AAA gave straightforward and forthright answers which were credible and worthy of belief. People of the Philippines vs. Dionisio Cabudbod y Tutor and Edgar Cabudbod y Lacroa, G.R. No. 176348, April 16, 2009.

Evidence; credibility of witness. As in most criminal cases, the present appeal hinges primarily on the issue of credibility of witness and of testimony. As held in a number of cases, the trial court is best equipped to make the assessment on said issue and, therefore, its factual findings are generally not disturbed on appeal, unless: (1) the testimony is found to be clearly arbitrary or unfounded; (2) some substantial fact or circumstance that could materially affect the disposition of the case was overlooked, misunderstood, or misinterpreted; or (3) the trial judge gravely abused his or her discretion. People of the Philippines vs. Rogelio Aleta, Mario Aleta and Jovito Aleta, G.R. No. 179708,  April 16, 2009.

Evidence; credibility of witness. It is a settled rule that the findings of fact of the trial court, its calibration of the testimonies of the witnesses and its assessment of the probative weight thereof, as well as its conclusions anchored on said findings, are accorded high respect if not conclusive effect. The determination of the credibility of witnesses is the domain of the trial court, as it is in the best position to observe the witnesses’ demeanor.  The Sandiganbayan has given full probative value to the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses. Normallah A. Pacasum vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 180314.  April 16, 2009.

Evidence; credibility of witness. The testimony of a sole witness to the alleged rape must be closely examined when it is the pivotal point on which conviction or acquittal will turn. We should be ready to accept it if the victim’s sincerity is above reproach, and at the same time reject it if indicators point to her doubtful credibility.  In the present case, we opt for the latter option as various circumstances show that we cannot wholly believe the victim’s testimony. People of the Philippines vs. Joseph Fabito, G.R. No. 179933.  April 16, 2009.

Evidence; credibility of witness. It is well-settled that the credibility of witnesses is best determined by the trial judge, who has the direct opportunity and unique advantage to observe at close range their conduct and deportment on the witness stand. The general rule is that findings of fact of the trial court, its assessment of the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies, and the probative weight thereof, as well as its conclusions based on said finding, are accorded by the appellate court utmost respect, if not conclusive effect, and can only be set aside upon a clear showing that it overlooked, ignored, misconstrued and misinterpreted cogent facts and circumstances which, if considered, would alter the outcome of the case.

This principle notwithstanding, we hold that the appellate court did not err in reversing the trial court and convicting Cawaling of murder. People of the Philippines vs. Wilfredoo Cawaling, G.R. No. 157147,  April 17, 2009.

Evidence; credibility of witness. The Court has repeatedly held that it will not interfere with the trial court’s determination of the credibility of witnesses, unless there appears on record some fact or circumstance of weight and influence which has been overlooked or the significance of which has been misinterpreted. The reason for this is that the trial court is in a better position to do so because it heard the witnesses testify before it and had every opportunity to observe their demeanor and deportment on the witness stand. Ma. Corazon San Juan vs. Celeste M. Offrilm, G.R. No. 154609,  April 24, 2009.

Evidence; credibility of witness. AAA’s testimony was credible as she delivered her testimony in a clear, direct and positive manner. Through his voice, she positively identified appellant as the man who sexually abused her. Identification of an accused by his voice has been accepted, particularly in cases where, as in this case, the victim has known the perpetrator for a long time. People of the Philippines vs. Romeo Bandin, G.R. No. 176531,  April 24, 2009.

Evidence; crdeibility of witness. It is elementary that the issue of credibility of witnesses is “a question best addressed to the province of the trial court because of its unique position of having observed that elusive and incommunicable evidence of the witnesses’ deportment on the stand while testifying, which opportunity is denied to the appellate courts” and “[a]bsent any substantial reason which would justify the reversal of the trial court’s assessments and conclusions, the reviewing court is generally bound by the former’s findings, particularly when no significant facts and circumstances are shown to have been overlooked or disregarded which when considered would have affected the outcome of the case.” This Court even recognizes a more stringent application of the rule if the said findings of the trial court are sustained by the appellate court. People of the Philippines vs. Jaime Cadag Jimenez, G.R. No. 170235,  April 24, 2009.

Evidence; credibility of witness.The trial and appellate courts found AAA’s straightforward, candid, and spontaneous testimony credible as it bears the hallmarks of a truthful witness, unflawed by inconsistencies or contradictions. The credibility of a rape victim is augmented where, as here, there is absolutely no evidence which even remotely suggests that she could have been actuated by ill-motive to testify against appellant. People of the Philippines vs. Jaime Cadag Jimenez, G.R. No. 170235,  April 24, 2009.

Evidence; denial. Denial as a defense is weak and is looked upon with disfavor. Weakness of the defense, however, cannot be the basis for conviction. The primary burden still lies with the prosecution whose evidence must stand or fall on its own weight and who must establish by proof beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused before there can be conviction.  Under this rule, the defense of denial finds its special place and assumes primacy when the case for the prosecution is at the margin of sufficiency in establishing proof beyond reasonable doubt; a validly established denial then becomes sufficient to defeat the prosecution’s case and tilt the outcome in favor of the defense. People of the Philippines vs. Joseph Fabito, G.R. No. 179933, April 16, 2009.

Evidence; hearsay The hearsay rule states that a witness may not testify as to what he merely learned from others either because he was told, or he read or heard the same.  This is derived from Section 36, Rule 130, Revised Rules of Court, which requires that a witness can testify only to those facts that he knows of or comes from his personal knowledge, that is, that are derived from his perception.  Hearsay testimony may not be received as proof of the truth of what he has learned.

The law, however, provides for specific exceptions to the hearsay rule.  One is the doctrine of independently relevant statements, where only the fact that such statements were made is relevant, and the truth or falsity thereof is immaterial. The hearsay rule does not apply; hence, the statements are admissible as evidence. Evidence as to the making of such statement is not secondary but primary, for the statement itself may constitute a fact in issue or be circumstantially relevant as to the existence of such a fact.  The witness who testifies thereto is competent because he heard the same, as this is a matter of fact derived from his own perception, and the purpose is to prove either that the statement was made or the tenor thereof. People of the Philippines vs. Rolando Malibiran, Beverly Tibo-Taro, G.R. No. 178301,  April 24, 2009.

Evidence; notarized documents. While indeed, a notarized document enjoys this presumption, the fact that a deed is notarized is not a guarantee of the validity of its contents. The presumption is not absolute and may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. The presumption cannot be made to apply in this case because the regularity in the execution of the documents was challenged in the proceedings below where their prima facie validity was overthrown by the highly questionable circumstances pointed out by both trial and appellate courts. These circumstances include: (i) the registration by San Juan of the deeds of sale in 1990 notwithstanding  the  fact  that  the  deeds  were  allegedly made  in 1979; (ii) the execution of a deed of sale dated  2 April 1990 despite San Juan’s claim that the deeds of sale were antedated to avoid the payment of tax; and (iii) the execution of the  Deed of Partition on 2 May 1990, in spite of San Juan’s claim that she had acquired the entire property. Ma. Corazon San Juan vs. Celeste M. Offril, G.R. No. 154609,  April 24, 2009.

Evidence; photocopies. Even though the original of an alleged falsified document is not, or may no longer be produced in court, a criminal case for falsification may still prosper if the person wishing to establish the contents of said document via secondary evidence or substitutionary evidence can adequately show that the best or primary evidence – the original of the document – is not available for any of the causes mentioned in Section 3,Rule 130 of the Revised Rules of Court. Normallah A. Pacasum vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 180314,  April 16, 2009.

Evidence; rape. Umanito’s defense of alibi, together with his specific assertion that while he had courted AAA they were not sweethearts, lead to a general theory on his part that he did not engage in sexual relations with the complainant. The DNA testing has evinced a contrary conclusion, and that as testified to by AAA, Umanito had fathered the child she gave birth to on 5 April 1990, nine months after the day she said she was raped by Umanito. The People of the Philippines vs. Rufino Umanito, G.R. No. 172607,  April 16, 2009.

Evidence; rape. Medical evidence is merely corroborative, and is even dispensable, in proving the crime of rape. A medical certificate is not necessary to prove the commission of rape and a medical examination of the victim is not indispensable in a prosecution for rape. People of the Philippines vs. Dionisio Cabudbod y Tutor and Edgar Cabudbod y Lacroa, G.R. No. 176348,  April 16, 2009.

Evidence;  testimony.  The variance in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses is too trivial to affect their credibility.  This Court maintains that minor inconsistencies in the narration of a witness do not detract from its essential credibility as long as it is on the whole coherent and intrinsically believable.  Inaccuracies may in fact suggest that the witness is telling the truth and has not been rehearsed as it is not to be expected that he will be able to remember every single detail of an incident with perfect or total recall.  The positive identification of the petitioners as perpetrators made by the victim himself and the police officer cannot be overthrown by the weak denial and alibi of petitioners. Romeo Sayo y Aquino, et al. vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 157723.  April 30, 2009.

Evidence;  testimony. Forthright witnesses are not immune from committing minor inaccuracies in their narration of events. Trivial inconsistencies and inconsequential discrepancies on minor details in the testimonies of witness do not impair their credibility.   They could, in fact, be badges of truth for they manifest spontaneity and erase any suspicion of a rehearsed testimony. As long as the inconsistencies are immaterial or irrelevant to the elements of the crime and do not touch on material facts crucial to the guilt or innocence of the accused as in the present case, these are not valid grounds to reverse a conviction. The People of the Philippines vs. Solomon Dioneda y Dela Cruz,  G.R. No. 180923,  April 30, 2009.

Forum shopping.   Forum shopping exists when, as a result of an adverse opinion in one forum, a party seeks a favorable opinion (other than by appeal or certiorari) in another, or when he institutes two or more actions or proceedings grounded on the same cause, on the gamble that one or the other forum would make a favorable disposition.  Not only is it contumacious, it is also an act of malpractice that is proscribed and condemned because it tends to trifle with the courts and abuse existing legal processes.  Thus, as a measure of punishment, such act invariably merits the summary dismissal of both actions If for this basic and consequential consideration alone, the Court should dismiss the present petition as it did before in G.R. No. 158568.  Ordinarily, a dismissal on the ground of forum shopping dispenses with the need to address the other issues raised in the case.  But this rule is not hard-and-fast, more so since the dismissal occasioned by breach of the anti-forum shopping rule does not permeate the merits of the case.  Where such technical dismissal would otherwise lead to an inequitable result, the appropriate recourse is to resolve the issue concerned on its merit or resort to the principles of equity.  After all, rules of procedure should not operate at all times in such a rigid way that would override the ends of substantial justice.  Specifically, the rule on forum shopping was cobbled to foster and accelerate the orderly administration of justice and, therefore, should not be interpreted literally in every instance. Alicia D. Tagaro vs. Ester A. Garcia, etc., G.R. No. 173931,  April 2, 2009.

Forum shopping. Forum shopping exists when, as a result of an adverse opinion in one forum, a party seeks a favorable opinion (other than by appeal or certiorari) in another, or when he institutes two or more actions or proceedings grounded on the same cause, on the gamble that one or the other forum would make a favorable disposition. Not only is it contumacious, it is also an act of malpractice that is proscribed and condemned because it tends to trifle with the courts and abuse existing legal processes. Thus, as a measure of punishment, such act invariably merits the summary dismissal of both actions. Alicia D. Tagaro  vs. Ester A. Garcia, etc., G.R. No. 173931,  April 2, 2009.

Information. Settled is the rule that the Secretary of Justice retains the power to review resolutions of his subordinates even after the information has already been filed in court.  In Marcelo v. Court of Appeals, reiterated in Roberts, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, this Court clarified that nothing in Crespo v. Mogul forecloses the power or authority of the Secretary of Justice to review resolutions of his subordinates in criminal cases despite an information already having been filed in court.  However, once a complaint or information is filed in court, any disposition of the case such as its dismissal or its continuation rests on the sound discretion of the court. Trial judges are not bound by the Secretary of Justice’s reversal of the prosecutor’s resolution finding probable cause.  Trial judges are required to make their own assessment of the existence of probable cause, separately and independently of the evaluation by the Secretary of Justice. Maca-Angcos Alawiya y Abdul, et al. vs. Hon. Simeon A. Datumanong, et al.,  G.R. No. 164170,  April 16, 2009.

Information; evidence; rape. While the informations allege that the rapes were committed on or about the months of February and March 2000, the lack of particularity in time or date does not affect the outcome of the instant case. The allegations as to the dates of commission substantially apprised accused-appellant of the rape charges against him as the elements of rape were in the informations. He, therefore, cannot insist that he was deprived of the right to be informed of the nature of the charges against him. As the appellate court pertinently noted, the conviction of accused-appellant does not depend on the time the rapes were committed but on the credibility of AAA, whom the trial court found to have testified in a clear, straightforward, and consistent manner. Her testimony outweighs accused-appellant’s weak defense of alibi. He may be convicted on the sole testimony of the victim, provided that such testimony is credible, natural, convincing, and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things,a factor which exists in the present case. People of the Philippines vs. Eduardo Aboganda, G.R. No. 183565,  April 8, 2009.

Issues.    While this Court’s Decision ruled on the regular status of respondents, it must be deemed to be without prejudice to the resolution of the issue of illegal dismissal in the proper case.  Notably, subject of the Decision was respondents’ complaints for regularization and under-/non-payment of benefits.  The Court did not and could not take cognizance of the validity of the eventual dismissal of respondents because the matter of just or authorized cause is beyond the issues of the case.  That is why the Court did not order reinstatement for such relief presupposes a finding of illegal dismissal in the proper case which, as the parties now manifest, pends before the appellate court. Philippine Airlines, Inc. vs. Enrique Ligan, et al.G.R. No. 146408.  April 30, 2009.

Judgment;  modification. Records show that after the promulgation of the judgment convicting Geren of bigamy, it was petitioner (as private complainant) who moved for the reconsideration of the RTC decision.  This was timely opposed by Geren, invoking his right against double jeopardy. Although the trial court correctly denied the motion for lack of merit, we would like to add that the same should have been likewise denied.

As explained in People v. Viernes, the rule on the modification of judgments of conviction had undergone significant changes before and after the 1964 and 1985 amendments to the Rules.  Prior to the 1964 Rules of Court, we held in various cases that the prosecution (or private complainant) cannot move to increase the penalty imposed in a promulgated judgment, for to do so would place the accused in double jeopardy. The 1964 amendment, however, allowed the prosecutor to move for the modification or the setting aside of the judgment before it became final or an appeal was perfected.  In 1985, the Rules was amended to include the phrase “upon motion of the accused,” effectively resurrecting our earlier ruling prohibiting the prosecution from seeking a modification of a judgment of conviction. Significantly, the present Rules retained the phrase “upon motion of the accused.”  Obviously, the requisite consent of the accused is intended to protect him from having to defend himself anew from more serious offenses or penalties which the prosecution or the court may have overlooked. Rosario T. de Vera vs. Geren A. de Vera, G.R. No. 172832,  April 7, 2009.

Jurisdiction; boundary disputes. The records of the case reveal that the instant case was initiated by petitioners against respondents predicated on the latter’s refusal to allow the former entry into the disputed mining areas.  This is not a case where the sangguniang panlalawigans of Davao Oriental and Surigao del Sur jointly rendered a decision resolving the boundary dispute of the two provinces and the same decision was elevated to the RTC.  Clearly, the RTC cannot exercise appellate jurisdiction over the case since there was no petition that was filed and decided by the sangguniang panlalawigans of Davao Oriental and Surigao del Sur.  Neither can the RTC assume original jurisdiction over the boundary dispute since the Local Government Code allocates such power to the sangguniang panlalawigans of Davao Oriental and Surigao del Sur.  Since the RTC has no original jurisdiction on the boundary dispute between Davao Oriental and Surigao del Sur, its decision is a total nullity.  We have repeatedly ruled that a judgment rendered by a court without jurisdiction is null and void and may be attacked anytime.  It creates no rights and produces no effect. Leonora P. Calanza, et al. vs. Paper Industries Corp., et al., G.R. No. 146622,  April 24, 2009.

Jurisdiction; CIAC. Clause 20.4 of the EPCC states that a dispute between petitioner and respondent as regards the EPCC shall be initially referred to the DAB for decision, and only when the parties are dissatisfied with the decision of the DAB should arbitration commence.  This does not mean, however, that the CIAC is barred from assuming jurisdiction over the dispute if such clause was not complied with.

The bare fact that the parties herein incorporated an arbitration clause in the EPCC is sufficient to vest the CIAC with jurisdiction over any construction controversy or claim between the parties.The arbitration clause in the construction contract ipso facto vested the CIAC with jurisdiction. This rule applies, regardless of whether the parties specifically choose another forum or make reference to another arbitral body. Since the jurisdiction of CIAC is conferred by law, it cannot be subjected to any condition; nor can it be waived or diminished by the stipulation, act or omission of the parties, as long as the parties agreed to submit their construction contract dispute to arbitration, or if there is an arbitration clause in the construction contract. The parties will not be precluded from electing to submit their dispute to CIAC, because this right has been vested in each party by law. Hutama-RSEA joint Operations, Inc. vs. Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corporation, G.R. No. 180640,  April 24, 2009

Jurisdiction; CLOAS. Prior to registration with the Register of Deeds, cases involving the issuance, recall or cancellation of CLOAs are within the jurisdiction of the DAR and that, corollarily, cases involving the issuance, correction or cancellation of CLOAs which have been registered with the Register of Deeds are within the jurisdiction of the DARAB.  Lakeview Gold and Country Club, Inc. vs. Luzvimin Samahang Nayon, et al., G.R. No. 171253,  April 16, 2009.

Jurisdiction; defamation. Criminal and civil actions for damages in cases of written defamations shall be filed simultaneously or separately with the RTC to the exclusion of all other courts. A subsequent enactment of a law defining the jurisdiction of other courts cannot simply override, in the absence of an express repeal or modification, the specific provision in the RPC vesting in the RTC, as aforesaid, jurisdiction over defamations in writing or by similar means. The grant to the Sandiganbayan of jurisdiction over offenses committed in relation to (public) office, similar to the expansion of the jurisdiction of the MTCs, did not divest the RTC of its exclusive and original jurisdiction to try written defamation cases regardless of whether the offense is committed in relation to office. The broad and general phraseology of Section 4, Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended by Republic Act No. 8249, cannot be construed to have impliedly repealed, or even simply modified, such exclusive and original jurisdiction of the RTC. People of the Philippines vs. Alfredo L. Benipayo / Photokina Marketing Corporation Vs. Alfredo L. Benipayo, G.R. No. 154473,  April 24, 2009

Jurisdiction; labor cases. Although the complaint filed by Dy before the trial court was for injunction and damages, it does not only challenge the legality or propriety of the writ of execution, but also attacks the validity of the decision of the Labor Arbiter.  The complaint was in effect a motion to quash the writ of execution of a decision and an action to annul the decision itself, both of which were rendered in an illegal dismissal case. It is thus a case properly within the jurisdiction of the labor arbiter and not the trial court, since the subject matter of Dy’s complaint is an incident of a labor case.

Jurisprudence abound confirming the rule that regular courts have no jurisdiction to act on labor cases or various incidents arising therefrom, including the execution of decisions, awards or orders. Jurisdiction to try and adjudicate such cases pertains exclusively to the proper labor official concerned under the Department of Labor and Employment.  To hold otherwise is to sanction split jurisdiction which is obnoxious to the orderly administration of justice. Jose D. Del Valle, Jr. and Adolfo C. Alemania vs. Francis B. Dy, G.R. No. 170977,  April 16, 2009,

Jurisdiction;  unlawful detainer. A case for unlawful detainer must be instituted before the proper municipal trial court or metropolitan trial court within one year from unlawful withholding of possession.  Such one year period should be counted from the date of plaintiff’s last demand on defendant to vacate the real property, because only upon the lapse of that period does the possession become unlawful. Well-settled is the rule that the jurisdiction of the court, as well as the nature of the action, are determined by the allegations in the complaint.  To vest the court with the jurisdiction to effect the ejectment of an occupant from the land in an action for unlawful detainer, it is necessary that the complaint should embody such a statement of facts clearly showing attributes of unlawful detainer cases, as this proceeding is summary in nature.  The complaint must show on its face enough ground to give the court jurisdiction without resort to parol testimony.

Thus, in order that a municipal trial court or metropolitan trial court may acquire jurisdiction in an action for unlawful detainer, it is essential that the complaint specifically allege the facts constitutive of unlawful detainer.  The jurisdictional facts must appear on the face of the complaint.  When the complaint fails to aver facts constitutive of unlawful detainer, an action for unlawful detainer is not a proper remedy and, thus, the municipal trial court or metropolitan trial court has no jurisdiction over the case. Estate of Soledad Manantan etc. Vs. Aniceto Somera, G.R. No. 145867,  April 7, 2009.

Judgment;  void judgment.  where the denial of the fundamental right of due process is apparent, a decision rendered in disregard of that right is void for lack of jurisdiction.  In the case at bar, the Court is constrained to affirm the Decision of the Court of Appeals annulling the awards for the counterclaims of SK-KG granted by the CIAC for having been clearly rendered in disregard of the right of Romago to due process. Summa Kumagai, Inc-Kumagai, Gumi Co. Ltd Joint Venture vs. Romago, Inc.,G.R. No. 177210,  April 7, 2009.

Jurisdiction;  SEC. It is plain that proxy solicitation is a procedure that antecedes proxy validation. The former involves the securing and submission of proxies, while the latter concerns the validation of such secured and submitted proxies. GSIS raises the sensible point that there was no election yet at the time it filed its petition with the SEC, hence no proper election contest or controversy yet over which the regular courts may have jurisdiction. And the point ties its cause of action to alleged irregularities in the proxy solicitation procedure, a process that precedes either the validation of proxies or the annual meeting itself.  Under Section 20.1, the solicitation of proxies must be in accordance with rules and regulations issued by the SEC, such as AIRR-SRC Rule 4. And by virtue of Section 53.1, the SEC has the discretion “to make such investigations as it deems necessary to determine whether any person has violated” any rule issued by it, such as AIRR-SRC Rule 4. The investigatory power of the SEC established by Section 53.1 is central to its regulatory authority, most crucial to the public interest especially as it may pertain to corporations with publicly traded shares. For that reason, we are not keen on pursuing private respondents’ insistence that the GSIS complaint be viewed as rooted in an intra-corporate controversy solely within the jurisdiction of the trial courts to decide. It is possible that an intra-corporate controversy may animate a disgruntled shareholder to complain to the SEC a corporation’s violations of SEC rules and regulations, but that motive alone should not be sufficient to deprive the SEC of its investigatory and regulatory powers, especially so since such powers are exercisable on a motu proprio basis.  Government Service Insurance System vs. The Hon. Court of Appeals, et al. / SEC, et al. Vs. Anthony Rosete, et al.,  G.R. No. 183905/G.R. No. 184275.  April 16, 2009.

Jurisdiction; SEC. Under Section 5(c) of Presidential Decree No. 902-A, in relation to the SRC, the jurisdiction of the regular trial courts with respect to election-related controversies is specifically confined to “controversies in the election or appointment of directors, trustees, officers or managers of corporations, partnerships, or associations.” Evidently, the jurisdiction of the regular courts over so-called election contests or controversies under Section 5(c) does not extend to every potential subject that may be voted on by shareholders, but only to the election of directors or trustees, in which stockholders are authorized to participate under Section 24 of the Corporation Code. This qualification allows for a useful distinction that gives due effect to the statutory right of the SEC to regulate proxy solicitation, and the statutory jurisdiction of regular courts over election contests or controversies. The power of the SEC to investigate violations of its rules on proxy solicitation is unquestioned when proxies are obtained to vote on matters unrelated to the cases enumerated under Section 5 of Presidential Decree No. 902-A. However, when proxies are solicited in relation to the election of corporate directors, the resulting controversy, even if it ostensibly raised the violation of the SEC rules on proxy solicitation, should be properly seen as an election controversy within the original and exclusive jurisdiction of the trial courts by virtue of Section 5.2 of the SRC in relation to Section 5(c) of Presidential Decree No. 902-A.  Government Service Insurance System vs. The Hon. Court of Appeals, et al. / SEC, et al. Vs. Anthony Rosete, et al.,  G.R. No. 183905/G.R. No. 184275.  April 16, 2009.

Laches.  Laches has been defined as the failure of or neglect, for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time, to do that which by exercising due diligence, could or should have been done earlier; or to assert a right within reasonable time, warranting a presumption that the party entitled thereto has either abandoned it or declined to assert it.  Thus, the doctrine of laches presumes that the party guilty of negligence had the opportunity to do what should have been done, but failed to do so. Conversely, if the said party did not have the occasion to assert the right, then, he cannot be adjudged guilty of laches.  Laches is not concerned with the mere lapse of time; rather, the party must have been afforded an opportunity to pursue his claim in order that the delay may sufficiently constitute laches. Heirs of Tomas Dolleton, et al. Vs. Fil-Estate Management Inc., et al.,  G.R. No. 170750,  April 7, 2009.

Law of the case. Law of the case has been defined as the opinion delivered on a former appeal.  It is a term applied to an established rule that when an appellate court passes on a question and remands the case to the lower court for further proceedings, the question there settled becomes the law of the case upon subsequent appeal. It means that whatever is once irrevocably established as the controlling legal rule or decision between the same parties in the same case continues to be the law of the case, whether correct on general principles or not, so long as the facts on which such decision was predicated continue to be the facts of the case before the court.  Thus, the court reviewing the succeeding appeal will not re-litigate the case but instead apply the ruling in the previous appeal.  This enables the appellate court to perform its duties satisfactorily and efficiently which would be impossible if a question, once considered and decided by it, were to be litigated anew in the same case and upon any and subsequent appeal.

Given the foregoing, it is apparent that the Decisions of this Court in SantosCabuay, and Lopez, cited by the Lopez siblings in their instant Petition, cannot be regarded as the law of the case herein.  The law of the case applies only when (1) a question is passed upon by an appellate court, and (2) the appellate court remands the case to the lower court for further proceedings; the lower court and even the appellate courts on subsequent appeal of the case are, thus, bound by how such question had been previously settled.  It must be emphasized, therefore, that the law of the case finds application only in the same case between the same parties. Marcelino Lopez, et al.  vs. Hon. Court of Appeals, et al./ Noel Rubber and Development Corp, et al. vs. Jose Esquivel, Jr., et al., G.R. No. 168734/G.R. No. 170621,  April 24, 2009.

Motion to Dismiss;  reasons. The Rules prescribe that the resolution of the motion to dismiss shall clearly and distinctly declare the reasons therefor.  The directive proscribes the common practice of perfunctorily dismissing the motion for lack of merit which can often pose difficulty and misunderstanding on the part of the aggrieved party in taking recourse therefrom and likewise on the higher court called upon to resolve the same, usually on certiorari. In this case, the trial  court merely stated:  “Examining the allegations in the complaint the Court finds that a cause of action sufficiently exist[s] against defendants.”  The trial court did not explain why a sufficient cause of action existed in this case.  The trial court merely cited Article 19 of the Civil Code which provides that “[e]very person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the   performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.” The disposition of the trial court clearly fell short of the requirement set forth under Section 3, Rule 16 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.  Antero Luistro vs. Court of Appeals and First Gas Power Corporation, G.R. No. 158819,  April 16, 2009.

Motion to Dismiss; sufficiency of cause of action.   In a motion to dismiss based on lack of cause of action, the question posed to the court for determination is the sufficiency of the allegation of facts  made in the complaint to constitute a cause of action.  To sustain a motion to dismiss for lack of cause of action, it must be shown that the claim for relief does not exist, rather than that a claim has been defectively stated, or is ambiguous, indefinite or uncertain.   Antero Luistro vs. Court of Appeals and First Gas Power Corporation, G.R. No. 158819,  April 16, 2009.

Motion to Dimiss;  fraud.   In all averments of fraud or mistake, the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake must be stated with particularity. Again, the complaint falls short of the requirement that fraud must be stated with particularity.  Antero Luistro vs. Court of Appeals and First Gas Power Corporation, G.R. No. 158819,  April 16, 2009.

Motion to Quash. there is nothing in the Rules governing a motion to quash which requires that the accused should be under the custody of the law prior to the filing of a motion to quash on the ground that the officer filing the information had no authority to do so.  Custody of the law is not required for the adjudication of reliefs other than an application for bail.  However, while the accused are not yet under the custody of the law, any question on the jurisdiction over the person of the accused is deemed waived by the accused when he files any pleading seeking an affirmative relief, except in cases when the accused invokes the special jurisdiction of the court by impugning such jurisdiction over his person.  Maca-Angcos Alawiya y Abdul, et al. vs. Hon. Simeon A. Datumanong, et al., G.R. No. 164170,  April 16, 2009.

New trial.  Section 1, Rule 121 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure provides that “the remedies of motion for reconsideration and motion for new trial may be availed of at any time before a judgment of conviction becomes final, which is within fifteen (15) days from the promulgation of the judgment.”  In the present case, petitioner had already availed of a motion for reconsideration, which was denied by respondent Sandiganbayan. His next remedy is set forth under Section 7 of P.D. No. 1606, as amended by R.A. No. 8249, which provides that decisions and final orders of the Sandiganbayan shall be appealable to the Supreme Court by petition for review on certiorari raising pure questions of law in accordance with Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.  In Neypes v. Court of Appeals, the Court allowed a fresh period of 15 days within which to file a notice of appeal in the Regional Trial Court to be counted from receipt of the order dismissing a motion for new trial or motion for reconsideration. This “fresh period rule” shall also apply to Rule 45 governing appeals by certiorari to the Supreme Court. Without an appeal, the judgment becomes final upon expiration of the period and execution should necessarily follow. Unfortunately, petitioner failed to avail of the said remedy within the 15-day period and, instead, filed a motion for new trial.  The petitioner cannot be allowed to resort to another remedy as a substitute for an appeal. Cayetano A. Tejano, Jr. vs. The Hon. Sandiganbayan, et al., G.R. No. 161778,  April 7, 2009.

New Trial. As the court of last resort, we cannot and should not be hasty in convicting the accused when there are factual circumstances that could save them from imprisonment.  In this case, the accused should be afforded the chance to prove the authenticity of documents which have a tendency to prove their innocence. Procedural rules should be interpreted liberally or even set aside to serve the ends of justice.  Hence, we order the remand of Criminal Case No. 26192 to the Sandiganbayan for a new trial. Munib S. Estino and Ernesto Pescadera vs. People of the Philippines/ Ernesto G. Pescadera vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. Nos. 163957-58/G.R. Nos. 164009-11,  April 7, 2009.

Ombudsman.  Prior approval by the Ombudsman is not required for the investigation and prosecution of the criminal case against the accused policemen.  The OSG correctly cites the case of Honasan II v. The Panel of Investigating Prosecutors of the Department of Justice where the Court held that the power of the Ombudsman to investigate offenses involving public officers or employees is not exclusive but is concurrent with other similarly authorized agencies of the government such as the provincial, city and state prosecutors.

Ombudsman; appeal. The remedy from an adverse resolution of the Ombudsman is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65,but what was filed with the Court is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45.  Nevertheless, the Court will treat this petition as one filed under Rule 65 since a reading of its contents shows that the Committee imputes grave abuse of discretion to the Ombudsman for dismissing the complaint. Respecting the Committee’s failure to file a motion for reconsideration with the Ombudsman, the general rule is that before filing a petition for certiorari under Rule 65, the petitioner is mandated to comply with a condition precedent: the filing of a motion for reconsideration of the assailed order, which motion is denied. Presidential Ad Hoc Fact Finding Committee on Behest Loans, represented by Orlando L. Salvador vs. Ombudsman Aniano A. Desierto, et al., G.R. No. 135703,  April 15, 2009.

Parol evidence. The parol evidence rule states that generally, when the terms of an agreement have been reduced into writing, it is considered as containing all the terms agreed upon and there can be no evidence of such terms other than the contents of the written agreement. Assuming that the Deed of Assignment failed to accurately reflect an intent of the parties to retroact the effect of condonation to the date of the foreclosure sale, none of the parties, particularly UPSUMCO, availed of its right to seek the reformation of the instrument to the end that such true intention may be expressed. As there is nothing in the text of Deed of Assignment that clearly gives retroactive effect to the condonation, the parol evidence rule generally bars any other evidence of such terms other than the contents of the written agreement, such as evidence that the said Deed had retroactive effect. United Planters Sugar Milling Co., Inc., vs. The Honorable Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 126890, April 2, 2009.

Petition for review;  Rule 45.       A petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court should cover only questions of law.  Questions of fact are not reviewable.  A question of law exists when the doubt centers on what the law is on a certain set of facts.  A question of fact exists when the doubt centers on the truth or falsity of the alleged fact. There is a question of law if the issue raised is capable of being resolved without need of reviewing the probative value of the evidence.  The issue to be resolved must be limited to determining what the law is on a certain set of facts.  Once the issue invites a review of the evidence, the question posed is one of fact.  Concepcion Alcantara vs. Hilaria Roble De Temple, et al., G.R. No. 160918,  April 16, 2009.

Preliminary investigation. In a preliminary investigation, the public prosecutor merely determines whether there is probable cause or sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed, and that the respondent is probably guilty thereof and should be held for trial.  It does not call for the application of rules and standards of proof that a judgment of conviction requires after trial on the merits.  The complainant need not present at this stage proof beyond reasonable doubt.  A preliminary investigation does not require a full and exhaustive presentation of the parties’ evidence.   Precisely, there is a trial to allow the reception of evidence for both parties to substantiate their respective claims.  Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company vs. Hon. Sec of Justice Raul M. Gonzales, et al.,  G.R. No. 180165,  April 7, 2009.

Preliminary investigation; Ombudsman. Preliminary investigation is not the occasion for the full and exhaustive display of the parties’ evidence.  It is for the presentation of such evidence only as may engender a well-founded belief that an offense has been committed and that the accused is probably guilty thereof.  The validity and merits of a party’s accusation or defense, as well as admissibility of testimonies and evidence, are better ventilated during the trial proper. The duty of the Ombudsman in the conduct of a preliminary investigation is to establish whether there exists probable cause to file an information in court against the accused.  Considering the quantum of evidence needed to support a finding of probable cause, the Court holds that the Ombudsman gravely abused his discretion when he found such to be lacking here. Presidential Ad Hoc Fact Finding Committee on Behest Loans, represented by Orlando L. Salvador vs. Ombudsman Aniano A. Desierto, et al., G.R. No. 135703,  April 15, 2009.

Prescription;  motion to dismiss.  The affirmative defense of prescription does not automatically warrant the dismissal of a complaint under Rule 16 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. An allegation of prescription can effectively be used in a motion to dismiss only when the Complaint on its face shows that indeed the action has already prescribed.  If the issue of prescription is one involving evidentiary matters requiring a full-blown trial on the merits, it cannot be determined in a motion to dismiss.  In the case at bar, respondents must first be able to establish by evidence that the subject properties are indeed covered by their certificates of title before they can argue that any remedy assailing the registration of said properties or the issuance of the certificates of title over the same in the names of respondents or their predecessors-in-interest has prescribed.  Heirs of Tomas Dolleton, et al. vs. Fil-Estate Management Inc., et al.,  G.R. No. 170750,  April 7, 2009.

Prescription; behest loans. The counting of the prescriptive period for the acquisition of behest loans commenced from the discovery of the offenses in 1992 after an exhaustive investigation by the Committee.  When the complaint was filed in 1997 or after about five years, prescription had not set in. Presidential Ad Hoc Fact Finding Committee on Behest Loans, represented by Orlando L. Salvador vs. Ombudsman Aniano A. Desierto, et al., G.R. No. 135703,  April 15, 2009.

Prescription;  Property Registration Decree.  Section 32 of the Property Registration Decree provides that a decree of registration may be reopened when a person is deprived of land or an interest therein by such adjudication or confirmation obtained by actual fraud.  On the other hand, an action for reconveyance respects the decree of registration as incontrovertible but seeks the transfer of property, which has been wrongfully or erroneously registered in other persons’ names, to its rightful and legal owners, or to those who claim to have a better right. In both instances, the land of which a person was deprived should be the same land which was fraudulently or erroneously registered in another person’s name, which is not the case herein, if the Court considers the allegations in petitioners’ Complaints.

As previously established, petitioners’ main contention is that the subject properties from which they were forcibly evicted were not covered by respondents’ certificates of title.  Stated differently, the subject properties and the land registered in respondents’ names are not identical.  Consequently, petitioners do not have any interest in challenging the registration of the land in respondents’ names, even if the same was procured by fraud.

While petitioners improperly prayed for the cancellation of respondents’ TCTs in their Complaints, there is nothing else in the said Complaints that would support the conclusion that they are either petitions for reopening and review of the decree of registration under Section 32 of the Property Registration Decree or actions for reconveyance based on implied trust under Article 1456 of the Civil Code.  Instead, petitioners’ Complaints may be said to be in the nature of an accion reivindicatoria, an action for recovery of ownership and possession of the subject properties, from which they were evicted sometime between 1991 and 1994 by respondents.  An accion reivindicatoria may be availed of within 10 years from dispossession. There is no showing that prescription had already set in when petitioners filed their Complaints in 1997.   Heirs of Tomas Dolleton, et al. vs. Fil-Estate Management Inc., et al.,  G.R. No. 170750,  April 7, 2009.

Probable cause.  To determine the existence of probable cause, there is need to conduct preliminary investigation. A preliminary investigation constitutes a realistic judicial appraisal of the merits of a case.  Its purpose is to determine whether (a) a crime has been committed; and (b) whether there is a probable cause to believe that the accused is guilty thereof. It is a means of discovering which person or persons may be reasonably charged with a crime.

The conduct of preliminary investigation is executive in nature.  The Court may not be compelled to pass upon the correctness of the exercise of the public prosecutor’s function unless there is a showing of grave abuse of discretion or manifest error in his findings.  Grave abuse of discretion implies a capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment tantamount to lack or excess of jurisdiction.  The exercise of power must have been done in an arbitrary or a despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility.  It must have been so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law.  Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company vs. Hon. Sec of Justice Raul M. Gonzales, et al.,  G.R. No. 180165,  April 7, 2009.

Probable cause. The determination of probable cause to warrant the prosecution in court should be consigned and entrusted to the DOJ, as reviewer of the findings of the public prosecutors; to do otherwise is to usurp a duty that exclusively pertains to an executive official.

As department head, the Secretary of Justice has the power to alter, modify, nullify or set aside what a subordinate officer had done in the performance of his duties and to substitute the judgment of the former for that of the latter.  While it is the duty of the fiscal to prosecute persons who, according to evidence received from the complainant, are shown to be guilty of a crime, the Secretary of Justice is likewise bound by his oath of office to protect innocent persons from groundless, false or serious prosecutions.  He would be committing a serious dereliction of duty if he orders or sanctions the filing of charge sheets based on complaints where he is not convinced that the evidence would warrant the filing of an action in court.  He has the ultimate power to decide which as between the conflicting theories of the parties should be believed.  The Secretary is empowered to order or perform the very acts questioned in this case.

In Joaquin, Jr. v. Drilon, this Court affirmed the DOJ Secretary’s power of control over the authority of a state prosecutor to conduct preliminary investigations on criminal actions. Thus, we held:

In reviewing resolutions of prosecutors, the Secretary of Justice is not precluded from considering errors, although unassigned, for the purpose of determining whether there is probable cause for filing cases in court.  He must make his own finding of probable cause and is not confined to the issues raised by the parties during preliminary investigation.  Moreover, his findings are not subject to review unless shown to have been made with grave abuse.

It is only where the decision of the Justice Secretary is tainted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction that the Court of Appeals may take cognizance of the case in a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court of Appeals decision may then be appealed to this Court by way of a petition for review on certiorarQuo warranto;  NTC.  quo warranto as the appropriate recourse with respect to an allegation by petitioner therein that a rival telecommunications competitor had failed to construct its radio system within the ten (10) years from approval of its franchise, as mandated by its legislative franchise. It is beyond dispute that quo warranto exists as an available and appropriate remedy against the wrong imputed on private respondents.  April Joy Asetre, et al. vs. Junel Asetre, et al., G.R. No. 171536,  April 7, 2009.

Provisional dismissal; quashal. Quashal and provisional dismissal are different concepts whose respective rules refer to different situations that should not be confused with one another.  If the problem relates to an intrinsic or extrinsic deficiency of the complaint or information, as shown on its face, the remedy is a motion to quash under the terms of Section 3, Rule 117.  All other reasons for seeking the dismissal of the complaint or information, before arraignment and under the circumstances outlined in Section 8, fall under provisional dismissal. Ariel M. Los Baños, on behalf of P/Supt. Victor Arevalo, SP02 Marcial Olympia, SP01 Rocky Mercene and P01 Raul Adlawan and in his personal capacity vs. Joel R. Pedro, G.R. No. 173588,  April 22, 2009.

Quo warranto. Petitioners argue that since their prayer involves the cancellation of the provisional authority and CPCs, and not the legislative franchise, then quo warranto fails as a remedy. The argument is artificial. The authority of the franchisee to engage in broadcast operations is derived in the legislative mandate. To cancel the provisional authority or the CPC is, in effect, to cancel the franchise or otherwise prevent its exercise. By law, the NTC is incapacitated to frustrate such mandate by unduly withholding or canceling the provisional authority or the CPC for reasons other than the orderly administration of the frequencies in the radio spectrum.   Santiago C. Divinagracia vs. Consolidated Broadcasting System, Inc., et al.,   G.R. No. 162272.  April 7, 2009.

Rehabilitation; suspension of actions. The suspension of action for claims against a corporation under rehabilitation receiver or management committee embraces all phases of the suit, be it before the trial court or any tribunal or before this Court. Otherwise stated, what are automatically stayed or suspended are the proceedings of an action or suit and not just the payment of claims. Furthermore, the actions that are suspended cover all claims against a distressed corporation whether for damages founded on a breach of contract of carriage, labor cases, collection suits or any other claims of a pecuniary nature. Malayan Insurance Company, Inc. vs. Victorias Milling Company, Inc., G.R. No. 167768, April 17, 2009.

Rehearing; COMELEC. The Comelec was well within its authority to order a re-hearing, it having the inherent power to amend or control its processes and orders before these become final and executory. It can even proceed to issue an order motu proprio to reconsider, recall or set aside an earlier resolution which is still under its control. The Comelec’s own Rules of Procedure authorize the body to “amend and control its processes and orders so as to make them conformable to law and justice,” and even to suspend said Rules or any portion thereof “in the interest of justice and in order to obtain speedy disposition of all matters pending before the Commission.” Rodante Marcoleta, et al. vs. Commission on Elections, et al./ Alagad Party-list represented by Diogenes S. Osabel, President vs. Commission on Elections, et al., G.R. No. 181377,  April 24, 2009.

Remand.  Jurisprudence dictates that remand of a case to a lower court does not follow if, in the interest of justice, the Supreme Court itself can resolve the dispute based on the records before it.  As a rule, remand is avoided in the following instances:  (a) where the ends of justice would not be subserved by a remand; or (b) where public interest demands an early disposition of the case; or (c) where the trial court has already received all the evidence presented by both parties, and the Supreme Court is in a position, based upon said evidence, to decide the case on its merits.  In Lao v. People, the Supreme Court, in consideration of the years that it had taken for the controversy therein to reach it, concluded that remand of the case to a lower court was no longer the more expeditious and practical route to follow, and it then decided the said case based on the evidentiary record before it.  The consistent stand of the Court has always been that a case should be decided in its totality, resolving all interlocking issues in order to render justice to all concerned and to end the litigation once and for all.  Verily, courts should always strive to settle the entire controversy in a single proceeding, leaving no root or branch to bear the seed of future litigation.   Where the public interest so demands, the court will broaden its inquiry into a case and decide the same on the merits rather than merely resolve the procedural question raised.  Such rule obtains in this case.

The Court is convinced that the non-remanding of the case at bar is absolutely justified.  Petitioners have already suffered from the tragic loss of a loved one, and must not be made to endure more pain and uncertainty brought about by the continued pendency of their claims against those liable.   The case has been dragging on for almost 16 years now without the petitioners having been fully compensated for their loss.  The Court cannot countenance such a glaring indifference to petitioners’ cry for justice.   To be sure, they deserve nothing less than full compensation to give effect to their substantive rights.  The Heirs of George Y. Poe vs. Malayan Insurance Co. Inc.,   G.R. No. 156302,  April 7, 2009.

Remand. We find that a remand of the case to the lower courts is no longer necessary, given the pleadings and submissions filed, and the records of the proceedings below. A remand would delay the overdue resolution of this case (originally filed with the MTC on April 16, 1997), and would run counter to the spirit and intent of the RSP. Floraida Teraña vs. Hon. Antonio De Sagun etc.,  G.R. No. 152131. April 29, 2009.

Res judicata; bar by prior judgment. Res judicata refers to the rule that a final judgment or decree on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction is conclusive of the rights of the parties or their privies in all later suits on all points and matters determined in the former suit.  Res judicata has two concepts: (1) “bar by prior judgment” as enunciated in Rule 39, Section 47 (b) of the Rules of Civil Procedure; and (2) “conclusiveness of judgment” in Rule 39, Section 47 (c).

There is “bar by prior judgment” when, as between the first case where the judgment was rendered, and the second case that is sought to be barred, there is identity of parties, subject matter, and causes of action.  But where there is identity of parties and subject matter in the first and second cases, but no identity of causes of action, the first judgment is conclusive only as to those matters actually and directly controverted and determined and not as to matters merely involved therein.  There is “conclusiveness of judgment.”  Under the doctrine of conclusiveness of judgment, facts and issues actually and directly resolved in a former suit cannot again be raised in any future case between the same parties, even if the latter suit may involve a different claim or cause of action.  The identity of causes of action is not required but merely identity of issues.

Vda. de Cailles and Orosa cannot bar the filing of petitioners’ Complaints before the RTC under the doctrine of conclusiveness of judgment, since they involve entirely different subject matters.  In both cases, the subject matter was a parcel of land referred to as Lot 9 Psu-11411 Amd-2, while subject matter of the petitioners’ Complaints are lots which are not included in the said land.

It follows that the more stringent requirements of res judicata as “bar by prior judgment” will not apply to petitioners’ Complaints.  In Vda. de Cailles, the Court confirmed the ownership of Dominador Mayuga over a 53-hectare parcel of land located in Las Piñas, Rizal, more particularly referred to as Lot 9, Psu-11411, Amd-2. The Court also recognized that Nicolas Orosa was Dominador Mayuga’s successor-in-interest.  However, the judgment in said case was not executed because the records of the Land Registration Authority revealed that the property had previously been decreed in favor of Jose T. Velasquez, to whom OCT No. 6122 was issued. During the execution proceedings, Goldenrod Inc. filed a motion to intervene, the granting of which by the trial court was challenged in Orosa.  The Court held inOrosa that Goldenrod, Inc., despite having acquired the opposing rights of Nicolas Orosa and Jose T. Velasquez to the property sometime in 1987, no longer had any interest in the same as would enable it to intervene in the execution proceedings, since it had already sold its interest in February 1989 to the consortium composed of respondents, Peaksun Enterprises and Export Corporation, and Elena Jao. Heirs of Tomas Dolleton, et al. vs. Fil-Estate Management Inc., et al., G.R. No. 170750,  April 7, 2009.

Summary judgment. A summary judgment is a procedural technique designed to promptly dispose of cases where the facts appear undisputed and certain from the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits on record.  Its purpose is to avoid long drawn out litigations and useless delays.  When the pleadings on file show that there are no genuine issues of fact to be tried, the Rules allow a party to obtain immediate relief by way of summary judgment, that is, when the facts are not in dispute, the court is allowed to decide the case summarily by applying the law to the material facts.  Conversely, where the pleadings tender a genuine issue, summary judgment is not proper and the movant is not allowed to obtain immediate relief.   A “genuine issue” is such issue of fact which requires presentation of evidence as distinguished from a sham, fictitious, contrived, or false claim.

Section 3 of Rule 35 provides two requisites for summary judgment to be proper: (1) there must be no genuine issue as to any material fact, except for the amount of damages; and (2) the party presenting the motion for summary judgment must be entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

Applying these principles to the present case, we find that the Court of Appeals committed reversible error in affirming the assailed summary judgment of the trial court.  A perusal of the parties’ respective pleadings  shows that there are genuine issues of fact that necessitate the presentation of evidence in a formal trial.  Philippine Countryside Rural Bank Inc. vs. Jovenal B. Toring, G.R. No. 157862,  April 16, 2009.

Third party claim. Apart from the remedy of terceria available to a third-party claimant or to a stranger to the foreclosure suit against the sheriff or officer effecting the writ by serving on him an affidavit of his title and a copy thereof upon the judgment creditor, a third-party claimant may also resort to an independent separate action, the object of which is the recovery of ownership or possession of the property seized by the sheriff, as well as damages arising from wrongful seizure and detention of the property. If a separate action is the recourse, the third-party claimant must institute in a forum of competent jurisdiction an action, distinct and separate from the action in which the judgment is being enforced, even before or without need of filing a claim in the court that issued the writ. A third-party claim must be filed a person other than the judgment debtor or his agent.  In other words, only a stranger to the case may file a third-party claim.  the husband, who was not a party to the suit but whose conjugal property is being executed on account of the other spouse being the judgment obligor, may be considered a “stranger. Spouses Roberto Buado and Venus Buado vs. The Honorable Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 145222,  April 24, 2009.

TRO. While we do not entirely blame the CA for being too cautious in not granting any injunctive relief without first considering the counter-arguments of the opposing parties, it would have been more prudent for it to have, at the very least, on account of the extreme urgency of the matter and the seriousness of the issues raised in thecertiorari petition, issued a TRO while it awaits the respective comments of the respondents and while it judiciously contemplates on whether or not to issue a writ of preliminary injunction. Verily, the basic purpose of the restraining order is to preserve the status quo until the hearing of the application for preliminary injunction. It is a preservative remedy for the protection of substantive rights and interests. Gov. Enrique T. Garcia, Jr., et al. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 185132,  April 24, 2009.

Unlawful detainer;  requisites.  The special civil action for unlawful detainer has the following essential requisites:

1)    the fact of lease by virtue of a contract, express or implied;

2)    the expiration or termination of the possessor’s right to hold possession;

3)    withholding by the lessee of possession of the land or building after the expiration or termination of the right to possess;

4)    letter of demand upon lessee to pay the rental or comply with the terms of the lease and vacate the premises; and

5)    the filing of the action within one year from the date of the last demand received by the defendant. Floraida Teraña vs. Hon. Antonio De Sagun etc.,  G.R. No. 152131. April 29, 2009.

Unlawful detainer;  damages. This Court has no jurisdiction to award the reimbursement prayed for by both parties.  Both parties seek damages other than rentals or reasonable compensation for the use of the property, which are the only forms of damages that may be recovered in an unlawful detainer case.  Rule 70, Section 17 of the Rules of Court authorizes the trial court to order the award of an amount representing arrears of rent or reasonable compensation for the use and occupation of the premises if it finds that the allegations of the complaint are true.  An action for reimbursement or for recovery of damages may not be properly joined with the action for ejectment. The former is an ordinary civil action requiring a full-blown trial, while an action for unlawful detainer is a special civil action which requires a summary procedure. The joinder of the two actions is specifically enjoined by Section 5 of Rule 2 of the Rules of Court. Floraida Teraña vs. Hon. Antonio De Sagun etc.,  G.R. No. 152131. April 29, 2009.

Unlawful detainer. Respondent, in misrepresenting in its complaint for unlawful detainer that it is “the OWNER” of the property, attached a document entitled “Pahintulot Sa Paghahanap-buhay,” which document, as the title itself says, is simply a permit or authority to engage in business.  Apparently, respondent made such false declaration of ownership to make it appear that it had the right to lease the property to petitioner.  When respondent filed on February 11, 2002 the complaint for unlawful detainer against petitioner, it could not also have anchored its right to lease the property on the “tolerance” of its previous owner Bayani who had died more than 11 years earlier or on October 16, 1993.  Bayani’s act of tolerance in favor of respondent had automatically ceased with his demise.  In any event, when on January 1, 2001, Severina, the registered owner of the property since July 29, 1999, herself entered into a lease contract with petitioner, she severed the authority she may have previously given MAFODECO to lease the property to petitioner and to split the rentals therefor between her and MAFODECO.   To allow petitioner, under the circumstances, to vacate the property and pay respondent rentals until the property shall have been vacated, as ordered by the MeTC and affirmed by both the RTC and Court of Appeals, petitioner’s existing lease contract with Severina notwithstanding, would constitute unjust enrichment in favor of respondent and cause unjust poverty to petitioner. Gilbert Dela Paz vs. Marikina Footwear Development Cooperative, Inc., (MAFODECO), represented by its chairman Rodolfo De Guzman, G.R. No. 183232,  April 30, 2009.

Legal ethics

Delay.   A magistrate’s delay in rendering a decision or order and failure to comply with this Court’s rules, directives and circulars both constitute less serious offenses under Rule 140, Section 9 of the Rules of Court.  Dee C. Chuan & Sons, Inc. vs. Judge William Simon P. Peralta, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1917,  April 16, 2009.

Delay.  Respondent committed undue delay in disposing of the cases assigned to him. Judges have the sworn duty to administer justice without undue delay. A judge who fails to do so has to suffer the consequences of his omission, as any delay in the disposition of cases undermines the people’s faith in the Judiciary. Provincial Prosecutor Manuel F. Torrevillas vs. Judge Roberto A. Natividad etc., A.M. No. RTJ-06-1976/A.M. No. RTJ-06-1977,  April 29, 2009.

Delay; burden of proof. In the absence of fraud, bad faith, evil intention or corrupt motive, the complainant may not be allowed to question the judiciousness of the decisions rendered and orders issued by the respondent, since the same may only be assailed through the appropriate judicial remedies under the Rules of Court and not through an administrative complaint. In this case, complainant did not exhaust available judicial remedies to challenge the decisions and orders. Moreover, the OCA found that the complainant failed to prove that respondent was guilty of delay in the resolution of pending incidents.  Settled is the rule that in administrative proceedings, the burden of showing that the respondent committed the acts complained of devolves on the complainant.  In fact, if the complainant, upon whom rests the burden of proving his cause of action, fails to show in a satisfactory manner the facts upon which he bases his claim, the respondent is under no obligation to prove his exception or defense. Prosecutor Jorge D. Baculi vs. Judge Medel Arnaldo B. Belen, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2176,  April 20, 2009.

Disbarment. Penalties, such as disbarment, are imposed not to punish but to correct offenders. While the Court is ever mindful of its duty to discipline its erring officers, it also knows how to show compassion when the penalty imposed has already served its purpose. In cases where we have deigned to lift or commute the supreme penalty of disbarment imposed on the lawyer, we have taken into account the remorse of the disbarred lawyer and the conduct of his public life during his years outside of the bar. Re: 2003 Bar Examinations Atty. Danilo De Guzman (Petitioner), B.M. No. 1222,  April 24, 2009.

Dishonesty. There is no need to stretch one’s imagination to arrive at an inevitable conclusion that respondent committed dishonesty and abused the confidence reposed in him by the complainant and her spouse. Records show that two lots had been sold by respondent as evidenced by the Deed of Absolute Sale of 11 March 1990. Respondent, however, taking advantage of the absence of complainant and her spouse from the Philippines and their complete trust in him, deceitfully informed them in a letter dated 20 March 1990 that he had sold only one. It can be reasonably deduced from the exchanges between the parties that the proceeds of the first lot had been transmitted to complainant and her spouse. Respondent’s contention, though, that he had been authorized to retain the proceeds of the second is specious, as complainant and her spouse could not have given the same, having been left in the dark as regards its sale. And despite repeated demands, to date, there is no showing that the outstanding amount has been paid. Thus, respondent’s deceitful conduct warrants disciplinary sanction and a directive for the remittance of the remaining proceeds is in order.  Nelia Pasumbal De-Chavez-Blanco represented by Atty. Eugenia J. Muños vs. Atty. Jaime Lumasag, Jr., A.C. No. 5195,  April 16, 2009.

Disclosure of confidential information. The information the complainant disclosed does not qualify as confidential information, as the term is defined under Section I, Canon II of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel: Confidential information means “information not yet  made a matter of public record relating to pending cases, as well as information not yet made public concerning the work of any justice or judge relating to pending cases, including notes, drafts, research papers, internal discussions, internal memoranda, records of internal deliberations, and similar papers.” As the records indicate, the decision adverted to has already become final; in fact, a certificate of finality has already been issued, and an entry of judgment had already been made. At best, the complainant was only guilty of releasing information without observance of the internal procedures of the court, and for undertaking the dissemination of the copies of the documents disclosed without being the staff member authorized to do so. Dorothy Fe Mah-Arevalo vs. Elmer P. Mpe, A.M. No. P-09-2622,  April 7, 2009.

Dishonesty. The respondent’s conduct clearly shows lack of forthrightness and straightforwardness in his dealings with his superiors amounting to dishonesty. Dishonesty is a malevolent act that has no place in the judiciary. The Court had repeatedly held that everyone in the judiciary, from the presiding judge to the clerk, must always be beyond reproach; they carry this heavy burden to ensure that the institution we save – the judiciary – is always kept above suspicion.  Atty. Marlyds L. Estardo-Teodoro Vs. Carlos S. Segismundo, A.M. No. P-08-2523,  April 7, 2009.

Failure to notify client. The relationship of lawyer-client being one of confidence, there is ever present the need for the lawyer to inform timely and adequately the client of important developments affecting the client’s case.  The lawyer should not leave the client in the dark on how the lawyer is defending the client’s interests. The Court finds well-taken the recommendation of the IBP to suspend Atty. Gilbert S. Obmina from the practice of law for one year. Carlito P. Carangdang vs. Atty. Gilbert S. Obmina, A.C. No. 7813,  April 21, 2009.

Grave misconduct. Respondent sheriff was unauthorized to receive money intended for complainant’s bailbond. Whether or not respondent was able to file the bailbond for complainant was immaterial. The mere fact that respondent received money and agreed to facilitate the posting of bail created the wrong impression that he had the power and authority to secure a court process. Respondent opened himself to suspicion that he was going to benefit from the transaction. There is no doubt that respondent is guilty of grave misconduct. He used his position as sheriff for pecuniary gain when, in fact, he had no business getting involved in the processing of bail. He flagrantly disregarded established rules of procedure and law when he misrepresented that he could expedite complainant’s application for bail. Domingo U. Sabado, Jr. vs. Laniel P. Jornada etc., A.M. No. P-07-2344,  April 15, 2009.

Grave misconduct. We sustain the findings of the OCA and hold respondent Manio guilty of dishonesty and grave misconduct for the second time.  The detailed narration of the facts in the unrebutted affidavit of Mallonga and the letter of Judge Aquino, taken together with the copy of the fake resolution, substantially supported the administrative charges of dishonesty and grave misconduct against respondent Manio.  She took advantage of her official position and defrauded a potential litigant.  Her acts clearly constitute dishonesty which is the “disposition to lie, cheat, deceive or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity, or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray.”On the other hand, the forgery that she committed in furtherance of the deceit constitutes grave misconduct or a “flagrantly or shamefully wrong or improper conduct.” Peter B. Mallonga vs. Marites R. Manio / Hon. Lyliha Abella-Aquino vs. Marites R. Manio, A.M. No. P-07-2298/A.M. No. P-07-2299,  April 24, 2009.

Gross ignorance of the law. Judge Pagayatan displayed gross ignorance of the law  when he abandoned his duty to personally and independently evaluate the prosecution’s motion to admit the third amended Information, which excluded several accused therefrom, and relied entirely on the directive of Chief State Prosecutor Zuño ordering such an amendment.  Verily, Judge Pagayatan’s actions patently indicate his insufficient grasp of the law.  Dolores S. Bago vs. Judge Ernesto P. Pagayatan etc.A.M. No. RTJ-07-2058.  April 7, 2009.

Gross ignorance of the law. The judge showed gross ignorance of the law when he archived Criminal Case No. 2000-08-00-01 immediately after the warrant of arrest was issued against the accused.  He violated Administrative Circular No. 7-A-92, which allows the archiving of a criminal case if, after the issuance of the warrant of arrest, the accused remains at large for six (6) months from delivery of the warrant to the proper peace officer.  Everyone, especially a judge, is presumed to know the law; when the law is sufficiently basic or elementary, not to be aware of it constitutes gross ignorance of the law.  However, for full liability to attach for ignorance of the law, the assailed order, decision or actuation of the judge in the performance of official duties must not only found to be erroneous; more importantly, it must be established that he was motivated by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred or some other similar motive. Prosecutor Robert M. Visbal vs. Judge Wenceslao B. Vanilla, A.M. No. MTJ-06-1651,  April 7, 2009.

Gross ignorance of the law. In disregarding the rules and settled jurisprudence, Judge Rosete showed gross ignorance of the law, amounting to bad faith. Mutya B. Victorio vs. Judge Maxwell S. Rosete, A.M. No. MTJ-08-1706,  April 16, 2009.

Gross ignorance of the law. In the discharge of a judge’s duties, however, when the inefficiency springs from a failure to consider so basic and elemental a rule, a law or a principle, the judge is either too incompetent and undeserving of the position and title he holds, or is too vicious that the oversight or omission was deliberately done in bad faith and in grave abuse of judicial authority. If the rule or law is so elementary, as the above-quoted sections of Rule 114 are, not to know it or to act as if he does not know it constitutes gross ignorance of the law, without even the complainant having to prove malice or bad faith on the part of the judge, as it can be clearly inferred from the error committed. Provincial Prosecutor Manuel F. Torrevillas vs. Judge Roberto A. Natividad etc., A.M. No. RTJ-06-1976/A.M. No. RTJ-06-1977.  April 29, 2009

Gross ignorance of the law. Competence is the mark of a good judge. When a judge displays an utter lack of familiarity with the rules, he erodes the public’s confidence in the competence of the courts. Such is gross ignorance of the law. Having accepted the exalted position of a judge, he owes the public and the court the duty to be proficient in the law. Unfamiliarity with the Rules of Court is a sign of incompetence. Basic procedural rules must be at the palm of his hands. A judge must be acquainted with legal norms and precepts as well as with procedural rules. Thus, this Court has been consistent in ruling that when the law is so elementary, for a judge not to be aware of it constitutes gross ignorance of the law. Verily, failure to follow basic legal commands embodied in the law and the rules constitutes gross ignorance of the law, from which no one is excused, and surely not a judge like respondent. Prosecutor Jorge D. Baculi vs. Judge Medel Arnaldo B. Belen, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2176.  April 20, 2009

Gross misconduct. This Court agrees with the OCA’s recommendation that Tanudra be dismissed from service because of the following acts: her act of accepting money as facilitation fee which was clearly not part of her official duties as a Court Stenographer; refusing to return the same despite repeated demands for its return; and then later on blaming a fellow court officer for such failure.  Clearly, such actuations of Tanudra are tantamount to dishonesty and gross misconduct.

Gross misconduct has been defined as the transgression of some established or definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence. Dishonesty on the other hand is the “disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle.

Moreover, as correctly observed by the OCA, it is of no moment that the act of dishonesty of Tanudra does not relate to the performance of her official duties. The government cannot tolerate in its service a dishonest official, even if she performs her duties correctly and well, because by reason of her government position, she is given more ample pportunities to commit acts of dishonesty against her fellowmen, even against offices and entities of the government other than the office where she is employed; and by reason of her office, she enjoys and possesses a certain influence and power which render the victim of her great misconduct, oppression and dishonesty less disposed and prepared to resist and counteract her evil acts and actuations. Erlina P. Jolito vs. Marlene E. Tanudra/Erlina P. Jolito vs. George E. Gareza, A.M. No. P-08-2469/A.M. OCA IPI No. 08-2857-P,  April 24, 2009.

Insubordination. Insubordination is defined as a refusal to obey some order, which a superior officer is entitled to give and have obeyed.  The term imports a willful or intentional disregard of the lawful and reasonable instructions of the employer.

Clearly, respondent’s conduct towards complainant constitutes insubordination.  Complainant, as the chief of her office, acted within her authority when she summoned the employees involved in the reported November 2, 2006 incident into her chambers for a meeting to ascertain what actually happened during that time and to undertake the appropriate measures to maintain peace in her office.  In that meeting, however, respondent deported in a manner reflecting lack of restraint and disrespect towards his superior. And if this was not enough, he rudely and unceremoniously walked out of the meeting.  He even had the audacity to ignore complainant’s requests for him to return to the meeting.  Worse, after hiding in the comfort room of the clerk, he went home without so much as seeking leave from the judge.  Without a doubt, respondent’s actions amount to gross insubordination, not to mention gross disobedience and disrespect to the judicial authority and the position of complainant judge. Judge Pelagia Dalmacio-Joaquin vs. Nicomedes C. Dela Cruz etc., A.M. No. P-07-2321,  April 24, 2009.

Just cause for dismissal. There is substantial evidence to support the conclusion that petitioner was dismissed for a just cause. Petitioner was at the scene of the attack and actively encouraged her husband’s attack on her supervisor. Rosario A. Gatus vs. Quality Hounse Inc., and Christopher Chua, G.R. No. 156766,  April 16, 2009.

Negligence. The failure to implement a writ of execution maybe classified as simple neglect of duty which has been defined as the failure of an employee to give one’s attention to a task expected of him, and signifies a disregard of a duty resulting from carelessness or indifference. Under Rule IV, Section 52, B 1 of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, simple neglect of duty is a less grave offense punishable by suspension from office for one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months for the first offense.

Here, not only was there a long delay in the full implementation of the writs of execution issued in Civil Case Nos. 192-L, 193-L, 194-L and 197-L but there was likewise an utter failure to implement the writs issued in Civil Case Nos. 195-L and 198-L.  Hence, the Court deems it appropriate to impose on respondent sheriff a penalty of suspension from office for three (3) months. Estelito R. Marabe vs. Tyrone V. Tan, A.M. No. P-05-1996,  April 21, 2009; see also Wilson C. Ong vs. Ariel R. Pascaio, A.M. No. P-09-2628,  April 24, 2009.

Simple misconduct. Misconduct, on the other hand, is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, unlawful behavior, willful in character, improper or wrong behavior. It is any unlawful behavior by public officers in relation to the duties of their offices, willful in character.  The term embraces acts which the office holder had no right to perform, acts performed improperly, and failure to act in the face of an affirmative duty to act.

Respondent committed misconduct when he verbally abused his co-employees and appeared at his place of work drunk.  Drinking during office hours may constitute misconduct and is prohibited under the Civil Service Rules. Judge Pelagia Dalmacio-Joaquin vs. Nicomedes C. Dela Cruz etc., A.M. No. P-07-2321, April 24, 2009.

Solicitation. Soliciting is prohibited under The Code of Conduct for Court Personnel.  Section 2, Canon I thereof provides that “[c]ourt personnel shall not solicit or accept any gift, favor or benefit based on any explicit or implicit understanding that such gift, favor or benefit shall influence their official actions;” while Section 2(e), Canon III states that “Court personnel shall not x x x solicit or accept any gift, loan, gratuity, discount, favor, hospitality or service under circumstances from which it could reasonably be inferred that a major purpose of the donor is to influence the court personnel in performing official duties.”  Such acts are strictly prohibited to avoid the perception that in exchange for certain favors, court personnel can be influenced to act in favor of a certain party or person. In re: Improper Solicatation of Court Employees / Office of the Court Administrator vs.. Sheela R. Nobleza, A.M. No. 2008-12-SC/A.M. No. P-08-2510, April 24, 2009.