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BIENVENIDO DIO and RENATO COMPARATIVO, Petitioners,

G.R. No. 170447 Present: YNARES-SANTIAGO, J., Chairperson, CHICO-NAZARIO, VELASCO, JR., NACHURA, and PERALTA, JJ. Promulgated:

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PABLO OLIVAREZ, Respondent. June 23, 2009 x- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x DECISION

[1]

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

Petitioners Bienvenido Dio and Renato Comparativo assail the Decision[2] of the Court of Appeals dated 28 September 2005 in CA-G.R. SP No. 89230, nullifying the Orders[3] dated 12 January 2005, 9 March 2005, and 31 March 2005 of Judge Fortunito L. Madrona of Branch 274 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Paraaque City, in Criminal Cases No. 04-1104 and No. 04-1105. Petitioners instituted a complaint for vote buying against respondent Pablo Olivarez. Based on the finding of probable cause in the Joint Resolution issued by Assistant City Prosecutor Antonietta Pablo-Medina, with the approval of the city prosecutor of Paraaque, two Informations[4] were filed before the RTC on 29 September 2004 charging respondent Pablo Olivarez with Violation of Section 261, paragraphs a, b and k of Article XXII of the Omnibus Election Code, which read:
Criminal Case No. 04-1104 That on or about the 10th day of May 2004, in the City of Paraaque, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, Remedios Malibiran and Pablo Olivarez, conspiring and confederating together and both of them mutually helping and aiding one another, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, engage in vote buying activities on election day of May 10, 2004, by distributing or giving Uniwide gift certificates, a thing of value, as consideration to induce or influence the voters to

vote for candidate Pablo Olivarez, a candidate for the City Mayor of Paraaque, in violation of Omnibus Election Code. Criminal Case No. 04-1105 That on or about the 10th day of May, 2004, in the City of Paraaque, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, Carmelo Jaro and Pablo Olivarez, conspiring and confederating together and both of them mutually helping and aiding one another, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, engage in vote buying activities on election day of May 10, 2004, by distributing or giving Uniwide gift certificates, a thing of value, as consideration to induce or influence the voters to vote for candidate Pablo Olivarez, a candidate for the City Mayor of Paraaque, in violation of the Omnibus Election Code.

The arraignment of the respondent was initially set on 18 October 2004.[5] On 7 October 2004, respondent filed before the Law Department of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) an [a]ppeal of [the] Joint Resolution of the City Prosecutor of Paraaque City with Motion to Revoke Continuing Authority pursuant to Section 10, Rule 34 of the 1993 COMELEC Rules of Procedure. Respondent argued that the pendency of the appeal of the Joint Resolution before the COMELEC should prevent the filing of the Informations before the RTC as there could be no final finding of probable cause until the COMELEC had resolved the appeal. Moreover, he argued that the charges made against him were groundless.[6] In a letter[7] dated 11 October 2004, the Law Department of the COMELEC directed the city prosecutor to transmit or elevate the entire records of the case and to suspend further implementation of the Joint Resolution dated 20 September 2004 until final resolution of the said appeal before the COMELEC en banc. On 11 October 2004, respondent filed a Motion to Quash the two criminal informations on the ground that more than one offense was charged therein, in violation of Section 3(f), Rule 117 of the Rules of Court, in relation to Section 13, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court.[8] This caused the resetting of the scheduled arraignment on 18 October 2004 to 13 December 2004.[9] Before Judge Madrona could act on the motion to quash, Assistant Prosecutor Pablo-Medina, with the approval of the city prosecutor, filed on 28 October 2004 its Opposition to the Motion to Quash and Motion to Admit Amended Informations.[10] The Amended Informations sought to be admitted charged respondent with violation of only paragraph a, in relation to paragraph b, of Section 261, Article XXII of the Omnibus Election Code.[11]

On 1 December 2004, Judge Madrona issued an Order resetting the hearing scheduled on 13 December 2004 to 1 February 2005 on account of the pending Motion to Quash of the respondent and the Amended Informations of the public prosecutor.[12] On 14 December 2004, respondent filed an Opposition to the Admission of the Amended Informations, arguing that no resolution was issued to explain the changes therein, particularly the deletion of paragraph k, Section 261, Article XXII of the Omnibus Election Code . Moreover, he averred that the city prosecutor was no longer empowered to amend the informations, since the COMELEC had already directed it to transmit the entire records of the case and suspend the hearing of the cases before the RTC until the resolution of the appeal before the COMELEC en banc.[13] On 12 January 2005, Judge Madrona issued an order denying respondents Motion to Quash dated 11 October 2004, and admitted the Amended Informations dated 25 October 2004.[14] Respondent filed an Urgent Motion for Reconsideration dated 20 January 2005 thereon.[15] On 1 February 2005, Judge Madrona reset the arraignment to 9 March 2005, with a warning that the arraignment would proceed without any more delay, unless the Supreme Court would issue an injunctive writ.[16] On 9 March 2005, respondent failed to appear before the RTC. Thereupon, Judge Madrona, in open court, denied the Motion for Reconsideration of the Order denying the Motion to Quash and admitting the Amended Informations, and ordered the arrest of respondent and the confiscation of the cash bond.[17] On 11 March 2005, respondent filed an Urgent Motion for Reconsideration and/or to Lift the Order of Arrest of Accused Dr. Pablo Olivarez,[18] which was denied in an Order dated 31 March 2005. The Order directed that a bench warrant be issued for the arrest of respondent to ensure his presence at his arraignment.[19] On 5 April 2005, the Law Department of the COMELEC filed before the RTC a Manifestation and Motion[20] wherein it alleged that pursuant to the COMELECs powers to investigate and prosecute election offense cases, it had the power to revoke the delegation of its authority to the city prosecutor. Pursuant to these powers, the COMELEC promulgated Resolution No. 7457[21]dated 4 April 2005. The dispositive portion of Resolution No. 7457 states:
Considering the foregoing, the Commission RESOLVED, as it hereby RESOLVES, to APPROVE and ADOPT the recommendation of the Law Department as follows:

1.

To revoke the deputation of the Office of the City Prosecutor of Paraaque to investigate and prosecute election offense cases insofar as I.S. Nos. 04-2608 and 04-2774, entitled Renato Comparativo vs. Remedios Malabiran and Pablo Olivarez and Bienvenido et. al. vs. Sally Rose Saraos, et. al., respectively, are concerned; and 2. To direct the Law Department to handle the prosecution of these cases and file the appropriate Motion and Manifestation before the Regional Trial Court of Paraaque, Branch 274, to hold in abeyance further proceedings on Criminal Case Nos. 1104 and 1105 until the Commission has acted on the appeal of respondents. Let the Law Department implement this Resolution.

Thus, the Law Department of the COMELEC moved (1) that the RTC hold in abeyance further proceedings in Criminal Cases No. 04-1104 and No. 04-1105 until the COMELEC has acted on respondents appeal; and (2) to revoke the authority of the city prosecutor of Paraaque to prosecute the case, designating therein the lawyers from the Law Department of the COMELEC to prosecute Criminal Cases No. 04-1104 and No. 04-1105. On 8 April 2005, respondent filed a Special Civil Action for Certiorari before the Court of Appeals docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 89230, assailing the Orders, dated 12 January 2005, 9 March 2005 and 31 March 2005 of the RTC. The appellate court granted the appeal in a Decision dated 28 September 2005 declaring that the COMELEC had the authority to conduct the preliminary investigation of election offenses and to prosecute the same. As such, the COMELEC may delegate such authority to the Chief State Prosecutor, provincial prosecutors, and city prosecutors. The COMELEC, however, has the corresponding power, too, to revoke such authority to delegate. Thus, the categorical order of the COMELEC to suspend the prosecution of the case before the RTC effectively deprived the city prosecutor of the authority to amend the two informations. The appellate court also pronounced that Judge Madrona erred in admitting the amended informations, since they were made in excess of the delegated authority of the public prosecutor, and his orders to arrest the respondent and to confiscate the latters cash bond were devoid of legal basis.[22] The falloof the Decision reads:
UPON THE VIEW WE TAKE OF THIS CASE, THUS, the petition at bench must be, as it hereby is, GRANTED. The impugned Orders of the public respondent Judge Fortunito L. Madrona of Branch 274, Regional Trial Court of Paraaque City dated 12 January 2005, 9 March 2005, and 31 March 2005 are hereby VACATED and NULLIFIED. The Temporary Restraining Order issued in the instant petition is made PERMANENT. Without costs in this instance.[23]

Hence, the present petition under Rule 65 where the petitioners enumerate the following assignments of error, to wit:
I THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NULLIFYING THE ORDER OF THE COURT A QUO AS IT BASICALLY ERRED IN ITS APPRECIATION THAT THE TWO AMENDED INFORMATIONS WERE FILED AT A TIME WHEN THE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR HAD NO MORE AUTHORITY TO DO SO; II THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN GIVING CREDENCE TO ACCUSEDS ALLEGATION THAT COMELEC RESOLUTION WAS RECEIVED BY THE PROSECUTOR DAYS BEFORE THE (sic) FILED THE AMENDED INFORMATIONS; III THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN DECLARING AS PERMANENT THE TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER EARLIER ISSUED. [24]

This Court finds merit in the present petition. At the outset, it should be noted that the appropriate remedy for petitioners is to file a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, and not a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 as petitioners aver in their Manifestation and Motion dated 9 January 2006. However, in accordance with the liberal spirit pervading the Rules of Court and in the interest of justice, this Court has decided to treat the present petition for certiorari as having been filed under Rule 45, especially considering that it was filed within the reglementary period for the same. Petitioners received the Court of Appeals Resolution on 24 November 2005 and filed an Urgent Motion for Extension of Time to Appeal on 6 December 2005, within the 15-day reglementary period for the filing of a petition for review on certiorari. This Court granted the motion of petitioners for an extension of 30 days from 9 December 2005, the expiration of the reglementary period, and the petitioners were able to file their petition on 6 January 2006 within the period for extension granted by this Court. It cannot therefore be claimed that this petition is being used as a substitute for appeal after the remedy has been lost through the fault of the petitioner.[25]

The main issues in this case are (1) whether or not the Office of the City Prosecutor of Paraaque had acted in excess of its jurisdiction when it filed the Amended Informations, and whether Judge Madrona had acted in excess of his jurisdiction when he admitted the said Amended Informations and denied the respondents motion to quash; and (2) whether or not Judge Madrona had acted in accordance with law when he issued the warrant for the arrest of respondent and ordered the confiscation of his cash bond due to the latters failure to appear for arraignment. There is no dispute that the COMELEC is empowered to investigate and prosecute election offenses, and that the Chief State Prosecutor, the provincial prosecutors and city prosecutors, acting on its behalf, must proceed within the lawful scope of their delegated authority. Section 265 of the Omnibus Election Code provides:
Section 265. Prosecution.The Commission shall, through its duly authorized legal officers, have the exclusive power to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses punishable under this Code, and to prosecute the same. The Commission may avail of the assistance of other prosecuting arms of the government: Provided, however, That in the event that the Commission fails to act on any complaint within four months from his filing, the complainant may file the complaint with the office of the fiscal or with the Ministry of Justice for proper investigation and prosecution, if warranted.

Section 2, Rule 34 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure provides for the continuing delegation of authority to other prosecuting arms of the government, an authority that the COMELEC may revoke or withdraw in the proper exercise of its judgment.
Section 2. Continuing Delegation of Authority to Other Prosecution Arms of the Government.The Chief State Prosecutor, all Provincial and City Fiscals, and/or their respective assistants are herby given continuing authority, as deputies of the Commission, to conduct preliminary investigation of complaints involving election offenses under the election laws which may be filed directly with them, or which may be indorsed to them by the Commission or its duly authorized representative and to prosecute the same. Such authority may be revoked or withdrawn any time by the Commission whenever in its judgment such revocation or withdrawal is necessary to protect the integrity of the Commission, promote the common good, or when it believes that successful prosecution of the case can be done by the Commission.

Furthermore, Section 10 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure provides that the COMELEC is empowered to revise, modify and reverse the resolution of the Chief State Prosecutor and/or provincial/city prosecutors.
Section 10. Appeals from the Action of the State Prosecutor, Provincial or City Fiscal.Appeals from the resolution of the State Prosecutor or Provincial or City Fiscal on the recommendation or resolution of investigating officers may be made only to the Commission within ten (10) days from receipt of the resolution of said officials, provided, however that this shall not divest the Commission of its power to motu proprio review, revise, modify or reverse the resolution of the chief state prosecutor and/or provincial/city prosecutors. The decision of the Commission on said appeals shall be immediately executory and final.

Be that as it may, this Court finds that the public prosecutors, in filing the Amended Informations, did not exceed the authority delegated by the COMELEC. Resolution No. 7457, which effectively revoked the deputation of the Office of the City Prosecutor of Paraaque, was issued on 4 April 2005, after the Amended Informations were filed on 28 October 2004. The letter dated 11 October 2004, written by Director Alioden D. Dalaig of the COMELEC Law Department, did not revoke the continuing authority granted to the City Prosecutor of Paraaque. It simply reads:
In this connection, you are hereby directed to transmit the entire records of the case to the Law Department, Commission on Elections, Intramuros,Manila by the fastest means available. You are further directed to suspend further implementation of the questioned resolution until final resolution of said appeal by the Comelec En Banc.[26]

The filing of the Amended Informations was not made in defiance of these instructions by the COMELEC; rather it was an act necessitated by the developments of the case. Respondent filed a Motion to Quash on 11 October 2004 on the ground that more than one offense was charged therein. Section 14, Rule 110 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure, provides:
Section 14. Amendment or substitution. A complaint or information may be amended, in form or in substance, without leave of court, at any time before the accused enters his plea. After the plea and during the trial, a formal amendment may only be made with leave of court and when it can be done without causing prejudice to the rights of the accused. x x x. (Emphasis provided.)

Since the Rules of Court provided for a remedy that would avert the dismissal of the complaints on the ground that more than one offense was charged, the public prosecutor filed the Amended Informations. The instructions of the COMELEC, in the letter dated 11 October 2004, were clearly intended to allow sufficient time to reconsider the merit of the Joint Resolution, not to have the public prosecutor abandon the prosecution of the case and negligently allow its dismissal by not filing the Amended Informations, thus, leaving the COMELEC in a quandary should it later dismiss the appeal before it. By filing the Amended Informations, the public prosecutor had avoided such an undesirable situation, which would have forced the COMELEC to re-file the cases, waste government resources, and delay the administration of justice. Thus, the precautionary measure taken by the public prosecutor was clearly not intended to disobey the COMELEC, or to flout its authority or diminish its powers to review the appealed Joint Resolution. As such, the filing of the Amended Informations cannot in any way be considered improper. Consequently, Judge Madrona acted in accordance with law when he admitted these Informations and dismissed the respondents Motion to Quash, as the ground stated thereinthe informations charged more than one offensecould no longer be sustained. Moreover, no abuse of discretion can be attributed to Judge Madrona when he issued the Orders, dated 9 March 2005 and 31 March 2005, for the arrest of the respondent due to his failure to be present for his arraignment and for the confiscation of his cash bond. These Orders are consistent with criminal procedure. The filing of an information in the trial court initiates a criminal action. The trial court thereby acquires jurisdiction over the case. After the filing of the complaint or the information, a warrant for the arrest of the accused is issued by the trial court. When the accused voluntarily submits himself to the court or is duly arrested, the court then acquires jurisdiction over the person of the accused. [27] In this case, the trial court acquired jurisdiction over the persons of the accused Carmelo Jaro, Remedios Malibaran, and the respondent, who posted bail bonds after the trial court issued a Warrant of Arrest on 4 October 2004. While it is true that the fiscal has the quasi-judicial discretion to determine whether or not a criminal case should be filed in court, once the case has been brought to court, whatever disposition the fiscal may feel is proper in the case should be addressed to the consideration of the trial court.[28] Thereafter, arraignment shall follow as a matter of course. Section 11, Rule 116 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure, enumerates the instances that can suspend the arraignment of the accused:
Section 11. Suspension of arraignment.Upon motion of the proper party, the arraignment shall be suspended in the following cases:

xxxx (c) A petition for review of the resolution of the prosecutor is pending at either the Department of Justice, or the Office of the President;Provided, That the period of suspension shall not exceed sixty (60) days counted from the filing of the petition with the reviewing office.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the arraignment of the accused is not indefinitely suspended by the pendency of an appeal before the Department of Justice or, in this case, Law Department of the COMELEC; rather, the reviewing authority is allowed 60 days within which to decide the appeal. In this case, respondent filed his Appeal of the Joint Resolution at the Office of the City Prosecutor of Paraaque on 7 October 2004. Thus, the arraignment that was scheduled on 11 October 2004 was re-scheduled to 13 December 2004, approximately 60 days thereafter. On 1 December 2004, the arraignment scheduled on 13 December 2004 was reset to 1 February 2005 because of the pending Motion to Quash. When the respondent failed to appear on the scheduled arraignment, Judge Madrona nonetheless reset the arraignment to 9 March 2005, with the warning that the court would impose the appropriate sanctions, should respondent still fail to appear therein. It was only on 9 March 2005, or five months after the respondent filed his appeal before the Law Department of the COMELEC that Judge Madrona held the arraignment and issued the Bench Warrant of Arrest against respondent.[29] Five months, which far exceeded the sixty days provided by the rules, was ample time for the respondent to obtain from COMELEC a reversal of the Joint Resolution. In pronouncing that Judge Madrona acted in grave abuse of discretion when he failed to defer the arraignment of the respondent, the Court of Appeals cited Solar Team Entertainment, Inc. v. Judge How,[30] wherein this Court cautioned judges to refrain from precipitately arraigning the accused to avoid any miscarriage of justice. However, this case was decided before the Rules of Criminal Procedure were revised on 1 December 2000; and the rule setting the 60-day period for the suspension of the arraignment of the accused pending an appeal or a petition for review before a reviewing authority was not yet applicable. Nevertheless, it should be noted that even in Solar, this Court did not sanction an indefinite suspension of the proceedings in the trial court. Its reliance on the reviewing authority, the Justice Secretary, to decide the appeal at the soonest possible time was anchored on the rule provided under Department Memorandum Order No. 12, dated 3 July 2000, which mandates that the period for the disposition of appeals or petitions for review shall be 75 days.[31]

WHEREFORE, the instant appeal is GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 28 September 2005 in CA-G.R. SP No. 89230 is REVERSED. This Court orders the continuation of the proceedings in Criminal Cases No. 04-1104 and No. 04-1105 before the RTC, the prosecution of which shall be under the direction of the Law Department of the COMELEC. No costs. SO ORDERED.