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Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Baguio City THIRD DIVISION G.R. No.

168641 April 27, 2007

Respondent sought the dismissal of the case against him on the ground that by the time the Information was filed, the 60-day period of prescription from the date of the commission of the crime, that is, on June 12, 1999 had already elapsed. The MeTC ruled that the offense had not yet prescribed. Respondent elevated the issue to the RTC via a Petition for Certiorari, but the RTC denied said petition and concurred with the opinion of the MeTC. Respondent then filed a Petition for Certiorari with the CA. On June 22, 2005, the CA rendered its Decision wherein it held that, indeed, the 60-day prescriptive period was interrupted when the offended party filed a Complaint with the OCP of Manila on August 16, 1999. Nevertheless, the CA concluded that the offense had prescribed by the time the Information was filed with the MeTC, reasoning as follows: In the case on hand, although the approval of the Joint Resolution of ACP Junsay-Ong bears no date, it effectively terminated the proceedings at the OCP. Hence, even if the 10-day period for the CP or ACP Sulla, his designated alter ego, to act on the resolution is extended up to the utmost limit, it ought not have been taken as late as the last day of the year 1999. Yet, the information was filed with the MeTC only on June 20, 2000, or already nearly six (6) months into the next year. To use once again the language of Article 91 of the RPC, the proceedings at the CPO was "unjustifiably stopped for any reason not imputable to him (the accused)" for a time very much more than the prescriptive period of only two (2) months. The offense charged had, therefore, already 3 prescribed when filed with the court on June 20, 2000. x x x (Emphasis supplied) The dispositive portion of the assailed CA Decision reads as follows:

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, vs. CLEMENTE BAUTISTA, Respondent. DECISION AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.: Before us is a Petition for Review on Certiorari filed by the People of the 1 Philippines assailing the Decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated June 22, 2005 in CA-G.R. SP No. 72784, reversing the Order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 19, Manila and dismissing the criminal case for slight physical injuries against respondent on the ground that the offense charged had already prescribed. The undisputed facts are as follows. On June 12, 1999, a dispute arose between respondent and his co-accused Leonida Bautista, on one hand, and private complainant Felipe Goyena, Jr., on the other. Private complainant filed a Complaint with the Office of the Barangay of Malate, Manila, but no settlement was reached. The barangay chairman then 2 issued a Certification to file action dated August 11, 1999. On August 16, 1999, private complainant filed with the Office of the City Prosecutor (OCP) a Complaint for slight physical injuries against herein respondent and his co-accused. After conducting the preliminary investigation, Prosecutor Jessica Junsay-Ong issued a Joint Resolution dated November 8, 1999 recommending the filing of an Information against herein respondent. Such recommendation was approved by the City Prosecutor, represented by First Assistant City Prosecutor Eufrocino A. Sulla, but the date of such approval cannot be found in the records. The Information was, however, filed with the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Manila, Branch 28 only on June 20, 2000.

WHEREFORE, we hereby REVERSE and SET ASIDE the appealed Orders of both courts below and Criminal Case No. 344030-CR, entitled: "People of the Philippines, Plaintiff, -versus- Clemente Bautista and Leonida Bautista, Accused," is ordered DISMISSED. Costs de oficio. SO ORDERED.
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Petitioner now comes before this Court seeking the reversal of the foregoing CA Decision. The Court gives due course to the petition notwithstanding the fact that petitioner did not file a Motion for Reconsideration of the decision of the CA before the filing of herein petition. It is not a condition sine qua non for 5 the filing of a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. The Court finds merit in the petition.

It is not disputed that the filing of the Complaint with the OCP effectively interrupted the running of the 60-day prescriptive period for instituting the criminal action for slight physical injuries. However, the sole issue for resolution in this case is whether the prescriptive period began to run anew after the investigating prosecutors recommendation to file the proper criminal information against respondent was approved by the City Prosecutor. The answer is in the negative. Article 91 of the Revised Penal Code provides thus: Art. 91. Computation of prescription of offenses. - The period of prescription shall commence to run from the day on which the crime is discovered by the offended party, the authorities, or their agents, and shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information, and shall commence to run again when such proceedings terminate without the accused being convicted or acquitted, or are unjustifiably stopped for any reason not imputable to him. The term of prescription shall not run when the offender is absent from the Philipppine Archipelago. (Emphasis supplied) The CA and respondent are of the view that upon approval of the investigating prosecutor's recommendation for the filing of an information against respondent, the period of prescription began to run again. The Court does not agree. It is a well-settled rule that the filing of the complaint with the 6 fiscals office suspends the running of the prescriptive period. The proceedings against respondent was not terminated upon the City Prosecutor's approval of the investigating prosecutor's recommendation that an information be filed with the court. The prescriptive period remains tolled from the time the complaint was filed with the Office of the Prosecutor until such time that respondent is either convicted or acquitted by the proper court. The Office of the Prosecutor miserably incurred some delay in filing the information but such mistake or negligence should not unduly prejudice the 7 interests of the State and the offended party. As held in People v. Olarte, it is unjust to deprive the injured party of the right to obtain vindication on account of delays that are not under his control. All that the victim of the offense may do on his part to initiate the prosecution is to file the requisite 8 complaint. The constitutional right of the accused to a speedy trial cannot be invoked by the petitioner in the present petition considering that the delay occurred not in

the conduct of preliminary investigation or trial in court but in the filing of the Information after the City Prosecutor had approved the recommendation of the investigating prosecutor to file the information. The Office of the Solicitor General does not offer any explanation as to the delay in the filing of the information. The Court will not be made as an unwitting tool in the deprivation of the right of the offended party to vindicate a wrong purportedly inflicted on him by the mere expediency of a prosecutor not filing the proper information in due time. The Court will not tolerate the prosecutors apparent lack of a sense of urgency in fulfilling their mandate. Under the circumstances, the more appropriate course of action should be the filing of an administrative disciplinary action against the erring public officials. WHEREFORE, the Petition is hereby GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 72784 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE and the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Manila in Civil Case No. 02-103990 is hereby REINSTATED. Let the Secretary of the Department of Justice be furnished a copy of herein Decision for appropriate action against the erring officials. SO ORDERED. MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ Associate Justice WE CONCUR: CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO Associate Justice Chairperson ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR. Associate Justice MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO Asscociate Justice

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA Associate Justice

an open letter addressed to then President of the Republic of the Philippines Corazon C. Aquino discussing the alleged participation of Atty. Jejomar Binay (Binay), then the OIC Mayor[2 and a candidate for the position of Mayor in the Municipality (now City) of Makati, and Dr. Nemesio Prudente (Prudente), then President of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, in an assassination plot against Augusto Syjuco (Syjuco), another candidate for Mayor of Makati at that time. On January 7, 1988, Brillante, then a candidate for the position of Councilor in Makati, held a press conference at the Makati Sports Club which was attended by some 50 journalists. In the course of the press conference, Brillante accused Binay of plotting the assassination of Syjuco. He further accused Binay of terrorism, intimidation and harassment of the Makati electorate. Brillante also circulated among the journalists copies of an open letter to President Aquino which discussed in detail his charges against Binay.[3 Several journalists who attended the press conference wrote news articles about the same. Angel Gonong, a writer for thePeoples Journal, wrote a news article entitled Binay Accused of Plotting Slays of Rivals. It was cleared for publication by Max Buan, Jr. (Buan), and Luis Camino (Camino), Editor-in-Chief and News Editor, respectively, of the Peoples Journal.Gloria Hernandez (Hernandez) wrote a similar article entitled Binay Slay Plan on Syjuco which was cleared for publication by Augusto Villanueva (Villanueva) and Virgilio Manuel (Manuel), Editor-in-Chief and News Editor, respectively, of theNews Today.[4 The open letter was subsequently published under the title Plea to Cory--Save Makati in newspapers such as the Peoples Journal, Balita, Malaya and Philippine Daily Inquirer.[5 The pertinent portions of the open letter read: 4. We have received reports that Atty. Binay and his group are plotting the assassination of Mr. Augusto Bobby Syjuco, now frontrunner in the Makati mayoralty race. These reports are: 1. On December 14, 1987, Atty. Binay and Dr. Nemesio Prudente, president of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), met at Puerto Azul in Cavite with, among others, a Commander Luming, a Major Rafael Nieva, and a commander Francis Baloloy. Subject of the meeting was Winning the Election at all Costs.

SECOND DIVISION [G.R. Nos.118757 & 121571. October 19, 2004 ROBERTO BRILLANTE, Petitioner, v. COURT OF APPEALS and THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents. DECISION TINGA, J.: Good name in man and woman, dear my Lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls: Who steals my purse steals trash; tis Something, nothing; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed. - Shakespeare: Othello, III, iii, 155. Every man has a right to build, keep and be favored with a good name. This right is protected by law with the recognition of slander and libel as actionable wrongs, whether as criminal offenses or tortious conduct. In these consolidated petitions for review on certiorari,[1 petitioner Roberto Brillante (Brillante), also known as Bobby Brillante, questions his convictions for libel for writing and causing to be published in 1988

xxx 3. On December 17, 1987, Dr. Prudente, Atty. Binay and others including some unidentified government officials discussed operation Dirty Fingers after the ASEAN Summit Meeting. The operation involves terrorism, the use of public school teachers, the threat to kill or hurt political ward and precinct leaders not supporting or opposed to Atty. Binay, and to use these as samples to show rivals that his group is capable of doing so, the planting of his squads in places close to potential targets, the mobilization of marshals who will bring firearms and to ferry hitmen to target points. The marshals will also be used as pointers and to shelter the hitmen after accomplishing or performing their missions. xxx xxx xxx 4. On December 8, 1987, a certain Emilio Anecito, tagged as a hitman in the group of Dr. Prudente, has been specifically assigned to assassinate Mr. Syjuco, Aniceto has been described as Iranian mestizo looking, about five (5) feet in height, fair complexioned curly haired, sporting a mustache, and fairly built bodily. He is said to be a silent person and supposedly has a perfect score in hit missions assigned to him. xxx xxx xxx 5. On December 10, 1987, it was reported that Major Rafael Nieva had been assigned to work with Mr. Aniceto, Nievas background report is that he: xxx xxx xxx c. Was hired by Dr. Prudente as security officer and personal bodyguard. d. Is a notorious killer used by the PUP forces and only his employer can control or stop him.[6 As a result of the publication of the open letter, Binay filed with the Makati fiscals office four complaints for libel against Brillante, as the author of the letter; Gonong, Buan and Camino for writing and publishing the news article on Brillantes accusations against him in the Peoples Journal;[7 Hernandez, Villanueva and Manuel for writing and publishing a similar news article in the News Today;[8 and for publishing the open letter, Buan and Camino of the Peoples

Journal;[9 and Arcadio A. Sison (Sison) as President of A. Sison and Associates, an advertising agency.[10 Francisco Baloloy (Baloloy), who was identified in the open letter as among the persons who attended the meeting organized by Binay and Prudente to plan the assassination of Syjuco, likewise filed a criminal complaint for libel against Brillante, Domingo Quimlat (Quimlat), Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Balita, and Sison as President of A. Sison and Associates.[11 Subsequently, five Informations for libel against Brillante were filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati. Similarly, on January 15, 1988, Prudente filed four complaints for libel against Brillante and the editors and publishers of the newspapers where the open letter was published. On January 16, 1989, four Informations for libel were filed against Brillante and several coaccused with the RTC of Manila. Brillantes co-accused in these cases were: (i) Buan, Editor-in-Chief of the Peoples Journal;[12 (ii) Amado P. Macasaet (Macasaet), Publisher, and Noel Albano (Albano), Editor, of theMalaya;[13 (iii) Sison, Public Relations Officer and Federico D. Pascual (Pascual), Publisher and Executive Editor of thePhilippine Daily Inquirer;[14 and (iv) Sison, Public Relations Officer and Quimlat, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief ofBalita.[15 Buan was not included in the trial of the cases in the RTC-Manila because he eluded arrest and was not arraigned. The charges against Pascual and Quimlat were dropped upon motion of the Assistant Prosecutor. The charges against Macasaet and Albano were also eventually dismissed upon motion of the prosecution. Only Brillante and Sison remained as accused.[16 Both pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. On January 25, 1993, the RTC-Manila acquitted Sison but found Brillante guilty of libel on four counts. The dispositive portion of the trial courts Decision in the consolidated cases reads: WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered pronouncing accused Bobby Brillante, also known as Roberto Brillante, guilty beyond reasonable doubt on four (4) counts, as author or writer, of LIBEL defined under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code and penalized under Article 355 of the same code, and sentencing him in each count to the indeterminate penalty of FOUR (4) MONTHS of arresto mayor, as minimum, to TWO (2) YEARS of prision mayor, as maximum, and to pay a fine of P2,000.00 with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency

at the rate of ONE (1) DAY for every P8.00 that he is unable to pay, but which subsidiary imprisonment shall not exceed EIGHT (8) months. Accused Bobby Brillante is ordered to pay the private offended party, Dr. Nemesio Prudente, the total sum ofP1,000,000.00 in these four (4) cases for moral damages which the latter suffered. Accused Arcadio Sison is acquitted in the two cases against him, his guilt of the charges against him not having been established beyond reasonable [doubt]. Two-third (2/3) of the costs is assessed against accused Bobby Brillante while the remaining one-third (1/3) is chargedde oficio.[17 Subsequently, Brillante appealed the Decision of the RTC-Manila to the Court of Appeals.[18 Brillante contended that when the Informations in Criminal Cases No. 89-69614 to 17 were filed by the prosecutor on January 16, 1989, the offense had already prescribed because more than one year had elapsed since the publication of the open letter on January 10, 11 and 12, 1988. He also averred that the open letter which he wrote and caused to be published was not defamatory and was without malice. Brillante also claimed that the publication is considered privileged communication. Finally, he argued that he is entitled to equal protection of the laws and should be acquitted of the offenses charged like his co-accused.[19 On September 27, 1994, the Court of Appeals promulgated its Decision in CA-G.R. No. 14475 affirming the decision of the RTCManila. The appellate court held that the offense of libel had not yet prescribed because the one-year prescription period should be reckoned from the time that the private complainant Prudente filed his complaint with the fiscals office on January 15, 1988 and not when the Informations were filed by the prosecutor on January 16, 1989. The Court of Appeals added that under Section 1, Rule 110, which took effect during the pendency of the cases against Brillante, the institution of the complaint before the fiscals office or the courts for preliminary investigation interrupts the prescriptive period of the offense charged. It held that being a procedural rule, Section 1, Rule 110, applies to the cases against Brillante.[20 The Court of Appeals further held that the RTC-Manila did not err in finding that Brillante had committed libel against Prudente. It explained that the open letter, when read in its entirety, gives the impression that Prudente is part of a purported criminal conspiracy to kill Syjuco. According to the appellate court, the open letter is a malicious

defamation which produced in the minds of the readers Brillantes intent and purpose to injure the reputation of Prudente, thereby exposing him to public hatred, contempt and ridicule.[21 The Court of Appeals rejected Brillantes argument that the open letter may be considered privileged communication because the evidence does not show that Brillante wrote and published it out of a legal, moral or social duty.[22 The appellate court also debunked Brillantes allegation that he was denied the equal protection of the laws because while the charges against his co-accused were dropped, those against him were not. According to the appellate court, he and his co-accused are not similarly situated because he was convicted of libel upon a finding that there existed evidence beyond reasonable doubt to sustain his conviction. In contrast, the charges against his co-accused were dismissed and their guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.[23 Brillantes contention that his conviction for libel on four counts gave rise to double jeopardy because under our jurisdiction protection against double jeopardy may be invoked only for the same offense or identical offenses was also overruled by the appellate court. It held that each and every publication of the same libel constitutes a separate distinct offense and the charge for one instance of publication shall not bar a charge for subsequent and separate publications.[24 Brillante filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the decision of the Court of Appeals, but the motion was denied in aResolution dated January 19, 1995.[25 In the meantime, Brillante was likewise convicted for libel on five counts by the RTC-Makati in Criminal Cases Nos. 88-1410, 88-1411, 881412, 88-3060 and 89-721. The dispositive portion of the Decision dated March 22, 1993 of the RTC-Makati reads: WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered as follows: 1. In Criminal Cases Nos. 88-1410, 88-1411, 88-1412, 88-3060 and 89721, finding accused Bobby Brillante, also known as Roberto Brillante, GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the offense of libel charged in each of these five (5) cases, and sentencing him in each of the cases to suffer imprisonment of FOUR (4) MONTHS of arresto mayor, as minimum, to TWO (2) YEARS prision correccional, as maximum, and to pay fine, likewise in each of these (5) cases, of Four Thousand (P4,000.00) Pesos, Philippine Currency, with subsidiary imprisonment

in case of insolvency pursuant to Article 39, paragraph 1, of the Revised Penal Code. 2. As to moral damages, said accused is also ordered to pay complainant, Jejomar C. Binay, the sum of One Million Pesos (P1,000,000.00), Philippine Currency, in all the four (4) charges (Crim. Cases Nos. 88-410, 88-1411, 88-1412 and 89-721), considering the latters professional and political standing in society, he being a lawyer and former Governor of the Metro Manila Commission as well as director of various government agencies. 3. As to moral damages, said accused is also ordered to pay complainant, Francisco Baloloy, the sum of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00), Philippine Currency, in Criminal Case No. 88-3060. 4. In Criminal Cases Nos. 88-1410 and 88-1412, ACQUITTING accused Max Buan, Jr., Angel Gonong and Louie Camino, of the two charges against them on the ground that their guilt has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. 5. In Criminal Case No. 88-1411 (except for accused Brillante) ordering the same ARCHIVED on the ground that the other accused herein, Gloria Hernandez, Augusto Villanueva and Virgilio Manuel, have not been brought to the jurisdiction of this Court; let alias warrant issue for their arrest. 6. In Criminal Cases Nos. 88-3060 and 89-721, likewise ordering the same ARCHIVED ONLY WITH RESPECT TO accused Arcadio Sison, who has not been brought to the jurisdiction of this Court; let alias warrant issue for his arrest. 7. In all these cases, ordering accused Bobby Brillante, also known as Roberto Brillante, to pay the proportionate costs. SO ORDERED.[26 Brillante appealed the Decision of the RTC-Makati to the Court of Appeals,[27 raising essentially the same arguments in his appeal in CAG.R. CR No. 14475. On February 28, 1995, the Court of Appeals rendered its Decision in CAG.R. CR No. 15174 affirming the decision of the RTC-Makati. It held that the filing of the complaint before the fiscals office interrupts the period of prescription because Article 91 of the Revised Penal Code did not make any distinction whether the complaint is filed in court for

preliminary investigation or for trial on the merits, because the filing of the complaint for preliminary investigation is the initial step of criminal proceedings. It added that it would be unfair to deprive the injured party of the right to obtain vindication on account of delays which are not within his control.[28 The appellate court also ruled that the open letter cannot be considered privileged communication because it contains libelous matter and was circulated to the public. Citing U.S. v. Galeza,[29 it held that while it is the right and duty of a citizen to file a complaint regarding a misconduct on the part of a public official, such complaint must be addressed solely to the officials having jurisdiction to inquire into the charges.[30 Lastly, the Court of Appeals sustained the trial courts observation that unlike Brillante, his co-accused editors and publishers could not be held liable for libel because the news reports regarding the January 7, 1988 press conference which were published in their respective newspapers sufficiently informed the readers that the reference to Binays involvement in the assassination plot were allegations made by Brillante during the press conference and that said allegations were reported for the sole purpose of informing the public of the news regarding the candidates adverted to in the report.[31 Brillante filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the appellate courts decision, but the motion was denied in a Resolutiondated August 17, 1995.[32 Thereafter, Brillante filed the present Petitions for Review on March 13, 1995 in G.R. No. 118757 and on October 10, 1995 in G.R. No. 121571. In G.R. No. 118757, he raises the following arguments: I THE OFFENSE OF LIBEL CHARGED IN THE INFORMATION (sic) HAD ALREADY PRESCRIBED WHEN THE SAID INFORMATION (sic) WAS FILED. II HE IS NOT GUILTY OF LIBEL HE IS CHARGED WITH, BECAUSE THE LETTER HE CAUSED TO BE PUBLISHED WAS WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED WITHOUT ANY MALICE [N]OR MALICIOUS INTENT TO MALIGN THE PERSON, HONOR AND REPUTATION OF THE COMPLAINANT [PRUDENTE/BINAY] BUT SOLELY FOR THE JUSTIFIED

AND HONEST PURPOSE OF BRINGING TO THE ATTENTION OF ALL AUTHORITIES CONCERNED THE REPORTS THEREIN MENTIONED FOR APPROPRIATE ACTION. WHERE THERE IS NO MALICE, THERE IS NO LIBEL. III IN TRUTH, PUBLICLY KNOWN PARAMILITARY ACTIVITIES OF COMPLAINANT, DR. NEMESIO PRUDENTE, ALREADY IN OPERATION LONG BEFORE JANUARY 12, 1988, INDICATE THAT HE WAS NOT INCAPABLE OF NOURISHING VIOLENT INTENTIONS AGAINST THE POLITICAL OPPONENTS OF MAYOR BINAY. IV MOREOVER, CONSIDERING THAT THE MATTER REFERRED TO IN THE LETTER INDUBITABLY RELATES TO THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN THEN GOING ON AS WELL AS THE PARTICIPATION OF PETITIONER AND COMPLAINANT THEREIN, WHATEVER IS CONTAINED IN SAID LETTER CAN AT MOST BE NO MORE THAN A POLITICAL LIBEL, WHICH IS NOT PUNISHABLE. WE EARNESTLY URGE THAT THIS PROPOSITION BE ENUNCIATED AS A FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE IN THE LAW ON LIBEL. V IN THE REMOTE POSSIBILITY THAT THIS HONORABLE COURT MAY PERCEIVE ANY CRIMINAL LIBEL IN THIS CASE, THE PENALTY IMPOSED UPON PETITIONER IS CRUEL AND EXCESSIVE, PARTICULARLY, AS TO THE AMOUNT OF DAMAGES AWARDED TO COMPLAINANT.[33 In G.R. No. 121571, he makes the following assignments of error: I THE OFFENSE HAD PRESCRIBED II THE PUBLICATION WAS A PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION III

THE PUBLICATION WAS MADE WITHOUT MALICE IV IT MAY, AT MOST, ALSO BE CONSIDERED A POLITICAL LIBEL WHICH IS NOT PUNISHABLE V THE DECISION VIOLATES PETITIONERS RIGHT TO EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAWS VI THE PENALTY IS CRUEL AND EXCESSIVE[34 With respect to the issue of prescription, Brillante anchors his claim on the Courts ruling in People v. Tayco[35 that the prescriptive period of a crime is interrupted only upon the filing of the complaint in court and not the filing thereof with the fiscals office. According to Brillante, the ruling in People v. Olarte[36 did not modify the doctrine in Tayco because inOlarte, the Court referred to a complaint filed in court, not in the fiscals office. The ruling in Francisco v. Court of Appeals[37 that a complaint filed with the fiscals office also interrupts the prescriptive period of a criminal offense allegedly cannot overturn the ruling in Olarte because the latter was decided by the Court En Banc while Francisco was decided by a mere division of the Court.[38 It is further asserted by Brillante that the rule in the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure that the filing of the criminal complaint with the fiscals office interrupts the prescriptive period, cannot be applied retroactively to the cases against him because it impairs his vested right to have the cases against him dismissed on the ground of prescription.[39 In addition, he claims that Section 6(b), Rule 3 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure which states that [t]he pendency of a petition for suspension of the criminal action still undergoing preliminary investigation in the fiscals office shall interrupt the prescriptive period for filing the corresponding complaint of information supports his position that prior to the amendment of the Rules on Criminal Procedure in 1985, the prevailing rule was that only the filing of the complaint or information in court tolls the prescriptive period for a criminal offense.[40 Brillante denies that he is liable for libel for causing to be published his open letter implicating Binay, Prudente and their associates in a

planned assassination of Syjuco as well as election-related terrorism, and in uttering remarks against Binay and his associates during the January 7, 1988 press conference. According to Brillante, his statements and utterances were privileged communication because he made them public out of a legal, moral and social duty to safeguard the sanctity of the elections to be held on January 18, 1988, and to avoid the unnecessary loss of life.[41 Since his statements were privileged communication, malice cannot be presumed from them.[42 Brillante adds that at the time he made the statements, he honestly believed that they were true. Citing an American case, Bays v. Hunt,[43 he contends that where there is an honest belief in the truth of the charges made, and the publication is in good faith, one is not responsible even for publishing an untruth.[44 It is further asserted by Brillante that since Binay, the subject of the allegedly defamatory statements is a public figure, his (Brillantes) comments affecting Binays reputation is constitutionally protected speech.[45 Brillante also urges the Court to reverse his convictions, reasoning that at most, what he may have committed is political libel which should exempt him form criminal liability, considering that election campaigns can become very heated and candidates from rival camps often make charges and countercharges which are offensive to the name, honor and prestige of their opponents. He contends that statements made by a candidate against his rivals, although derogatory, are for the purpose of convincing the electorate to prevent suspicious characters from holding public office. In essence, he posits the view that political libel should be deemed constitutionally protected speech.[46 Brillante likewise argues that the multiple publication rule, i.e., that each publication constitutes one offense of libel, should not have been applied to him, considering the factual background of the open letter and the statements uttered by him during the press conference.[47 Anent the issue of equal protection, Brillante contends that he should have been acquitted like his co-accused Angel Gonong who wrote the news article in the Peoples Journal regarding the January 7, 1988 press conference and Buan and Camino who were the editors of that publication.[48 The Solicitor General filed a Comment on each of the petitions. The Solicitor General insists that the one-year prescriptive period for libel should be reckoned from the date of filing of the complaints with

the office of the prosecutor as clarified by the Court in Olarte and Francisco and as stated in the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, as amended in 1988, which applies to the complaints filed against Brillante as of October 1988.[49 On the issue of libel, the Solicitor General insists that Brillantes statements in the open letter clearly impute upon Prudente and Binay a criminal conspiracy to assassinate Syjuco.[50 The Solicitor General also maintains that contrary to Brillantes claims, the open letter cannot be considered privileged communication because it was published without justifiable motives and it was circulated for the information of the general public instead of addressing the letter solely to the authorities who had the power to curb the dangers alleged by Brillante in the letter.[51 The Solicitor General disagrees with Brillantes contention that his statements are constitutionally protected because they are criticisms of official conduct and deal with public figures. According to the Solicitor General, the record shows that Brillante did not have enough basis to pass off his accusations as true considering that he admitted to relying on unnamed intelligence sources.[52 It is also argued by the Solicitor General that Brillantes statements cannot be exempt from criminal liability on the ground that such statements were political libel. Brillantes claim, the Solicitor General asserts, has no basis in law or jurisprudence.[53 With respect to the issue of equal protection, the Solicitor General avers that Brillante cannot be acquitted like his co-accused publishers, editors and writers because their alleged participation in the commission of the libel are different from Brillante who is the author of the libelous statements. The writers of the news reports were only narrating what took place during the January 7, 1988 press conference, and wrote the news articles to inform the public of Brillantes statements. In the case of the editors and publishers who published the open letter, they indicated in their respective publications that the open letter was a paid advertisement. The publication of the news reports in the newspapers was also done to inform the public of what transpired during the January 7, 1988 press conference.[54 The Solicitor General further argues that the penalty imposed upon Brillante is not excessive but is in accordance with law, which considers one publication of a libelous statement as a distinct offense from another publication of the same statement.[55

Thus, the Solicitor General prays that Brillantes petitions be denied.[56 Brillante thereafter filed a Reply to each of the Solicitor Generals Comments. The replies reiterate Brillantes arguments in his petitions.[57 The Court is tasked to resolve the following issues: (1) whether the offense of libel had already prescribed when theInformations were filed with the RTC-Manila and RTC-Makati; (2) whether Brillante is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of libel; (3) whether Brillante was denied the equal protection of the laws; and (4) whether the penalty imposed upon him is excessive. Save for the issue on the amount of moral damages, there is no merit in the petitions. With respect to the issue of prescription, the fourth paragraph of Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code provides that the crime of libel or other similar offenses shall prescribe in one year. In determining when the one-year prescriptive period should be reckoned, reference must be made to Article 91 of the same code which sets forth the rule on the computation of prescriptive periods of offenses: Computation of prescription of offenses.The period of prescription shall commence to run from the day on which the crime is discovered by the offended party, the authorities, or their agents, and shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information, and shall commence to run again when such proceedings terminate without the accused being convicted or acquitted, or are unjustifiably stopped for any reason not imputable to him. The aforequoted provision expressly states that prescriptive period shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information. The meaning of the phrase shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information in Article 91 has been settled in the landmark case of People v. Olarte,[58 where the Court settled divergent views as to the effect of filing a complaint with the Municipal Trial Court for purposes of preliminary investigation on the prescriptive period of the offense. The Court therein held that the filing of the complaint for purposes of preliminary investigation interrupts the period of prescription of criminal responsibility. It explained thus: the filing of the complaint with the Municipal Court, even if it be merely for purposes of preliminary examination or investigation, should, and does, interrupt the period of prescription of the criminal responsibility,

even if the court where the complaint or information is filed can not try the case on its merits. Several reasons buttress this conclusion: first, the text of Article 91 of the Revised Penal Code, in declaring that the period of prescription shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information without distinguishing whether the complaint is filed in the court for preliminary examination or investigation merely, or for action on the merits. Second, even if the court where the complaint or information is filed may only proceed to investigate the case, its actuations already represent the initial step of the proceedings against the offender. Third, it is unjust to deprive the injured party the right to obtain vindication on account of delays that are not under his control. All that the victim of the offense may do on his part to initiate the prosecution is to file the requisite complaint. And it is no argument that Article 91 also expresses that the interrupted prescription shall commence to run again when such proceedings terminate without the accused being convicted or acquitted, thereby indicating that the court in which the complaint or information is filed must have the power to convict or acquit the accused. Precisely, the trial on the merits usually terminates in conviction or acquittal, not otherwise. But it is in the court conducting a preliminary investigation where the proceedings may terminate without conviction or acquittal, if the court should discharge the accused because noprima facie case had been shown.[59 Thereafter, the Court in Francisco v. Court of Appeals[60 clarified that the filing of the complaint with the fiscals office also suspends the running of the prescriptive period of a crime: As is a well-known fact, like the proceedings in the court conducting a preliminary investigation, a proceeding in the Fiscal's Office may terminate without conviction or acquittal. As Justice Claudio Teehankee has observed: To the writer's mind, these reasons logically call with equal force, for the express overruling also of the doctrine in People vs. Tayco, 73 Phil. 509, (1941) that the filing of a complaint or denuncia by the offended party with the City Fiscal's Office which is required by law to conduct the preliminary investigation does not interrupt the period of prescription. In chartered cities, criminal prosecution is generally initiated by the filing of the complaint or denuncia with the city fiscal for preliminary investigation. In the case of provincial fiscals, besides being empowered like municipal judges to conduct preliminary

investigations, they may even reverse actions of municipal judges with respect to charges triable by Courts of First instance . . ..[61 There is no conflict in the pronouncements of the Court in Olarte and Francisco as Brillante erroneously suggests. Olartelaid down the doctrine that a complaint filed for purposes of preliminary investigation tolls the running of the prescriptive period of a criminal offense. The criminal complaint for libel in that case was filed, for the purpose of preliminary investigation, with the Justice of the Peace Court in Pozorrubio, Pangasinan. Hence, in setting the doctrine, the Court referred to the filing of the complaint in the Municipal Court.[62 The question of whether the doctrine laid down in Olartealso applies to criminal complaints filed with the prosecutors office was settled in Francisco. Specifically, the Court inFrancisco amplified the Olarte doctrine when it categorically ruled that the filing of a complaint with the fiscals office suspends the running of the prescriptive period of a criminal offense. Thus, the Court of Appeals committed no reversible error in ruling that the offense of libel had not yet prescribed when the informations against Brillante and his co-accused were filed in the RTC-Manila and RTC-Makati. Neither did the appellate court err in sustaining Brillantes conviction for libel. Libel is defined under Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. To be liable for libel, the following elements must be shown to exist: (a) the allegation of a discreditable act or condition concerning another; (b) publication of the charge; (c) identity of the person defamed; and (d) existence of malice.[63 There could be no dispute as to the existence of the first three elements of libel in the cases at bar. An allegation made by a person against another is considered defamatory if it ascribes to the latter the commission of a crime; the possession of a vice or defect, whether real or imaginary; or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance which tends to dishonor or discredit or put him in contempt, or which tends to blacken the memory

of one who is dead.[64Brillantes statements during the January 7, 1988 press conference and in the open letter explicitly referred to reprehensible acts allegedly committed by Binay, Prudente and their associates, such as the use of goons to threaten Binays opponents in the election and the plotting of Syjucos assassination. The element of publication was likewise established. There is publication if the defamatory material is communicated to a third person, i.e., a person other than the person to whom the defamatory statement refers.[65 In the cases at bar, it was proven that Brillante uttered defamatory statements during the press conference attended by some fifty journalists and caused the open letter to be published in several newspapers, namely, News Today, Peoples Journal, Balita, Malaya andPhilippine Daily Inquirer. Further, Brillante himself admitted that he named Binay, Prudente and their associates as the persons who participated in the planning of the election-related terrorism and the assassination of Syjuco not only in his open letter but also during the press conference. Thus, the determination of Brillantes culpability for libel hinges on the question of whether his statements were made with malice. Malice is a term used to indicate the fact that the offender is prompted by personal ill-will or spite and speaks not in response to duty, but merely to injure the reputation of the person defamed; it implies an intention to do ulterior and unjustifiable harm.[66 It is present when it is shown that the author of the libelous remarks made such remarks with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity thereof.[67 Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code states, as a general rule, that every defamatory imputation is presumed to be malicious, even if true, if no good intention and justifiable motive is shown.[68 As an exception to the rule, the presumption of malice is done away with when the defamatory imputation qualifies as privileged communication.[69 Privileged communication may either be absolutely privileged or conditionally privileged. The Court in Orfanel v. People of the Philippines[70 differentiated absolutely privileged communication from conditionally privileged communication in this manner:

A communication is said to be absolutely privileged when it is not actionable, even if its author acted in bad faith. This class includes statements made by members of Congress in the discharge of their functions as such, official communications made by public officers in the performance of their duties, and allegations or statements made by the parties or their counsel in their pleadings or motions or during the hearing of judicial proceedings, as well as the answers given by witnesses in reply to questions propounded to them, in the course of said proceedings, provided that said allegations or statements are relevant to the issues, and the answers are responsive or pertinent to the questions propounded to said witnesses. Upon the other hand, conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those which, although containing defamatory imputations, would not be actionable unless made with malice or bad faith.[71 (Emphasis supplied.) Conditionally or qualifiedly privileged communications are those mentioned in, Article 354 of the Revised Penal Code, to wit: 1. A private communication made by a person to another in the performance of any legal, moral, or social duty; and 2. A fair and true report, made in good faith, without any comments or remarks, of any judicial, legislative, or other official proceedings which are not of confidential nature, or of any statement, report, or speech delivered in said proceedings, or of any act performed by public officers in the exercise of their functions.[72 Brillante claims that he wrote the open letter and uttered the statement complained of during the January 7, 1988 press conference out of a social duty to disclose to all concerned the dangers to which he and his fellow candidate Syjuco were exposed in view of the concerted actions of Binay and Prudente.[73 In effect, he argues that his defamatory statements and utterances fall under Article 354, No. 1 and are in the nature of privileged communication; hence, malice cannot be presumed but must be established beyond reasonable doubt. The Court is not convinced. In order to prove that a statement falls within the purview of a qualifiedly privileged communication under Article 354, No. 1, the following requisites must concur: (1) the person who made the communication had a legal, moral, or social duty to make the communication, or at least, had an interest to protect, which interest may either be his own or of the one to whom it is made; (2) the

communication is addressed to an officer or a board, or superior, having some interest or duty in the matter, and who has the power to furnish the protection sought; and (3) the statements in the communication are made in good faith and without malice.[74 With respect to the first requisite, the Court in U.S. v. Caete[75 clarified that the interest sought to be protected by the person making the communication need not be his own, but may refer to an interest shared by the other members of society. It may therefore be argued that Brillantes statements, which according to him were made in order to protect himself and Syjuco as Binays rivals in the 1988 elections, as well as to protect the electorate from possible acts of terrorism by Binay, Prudente and their associates and from casting their votes for undeserving candidates, satisfy the first requisite. However, as the Solicitor General noted, Brillantes statements were based merely on unconfirmed intelligence reports. His belief in such intelligence reports hardly justifies the publication of such serious imputations against his political rivals. As a journalist and as a candidate for public office, Brillante should have known that it is necessary to further verify the truth or at least the reliability of the intelligence reports before making them public. His hasty publication thereof negates the existence of good faith and justifiable motives. The pronouncement of the Court in U.S. v. Galeza[76 is enlightening: Every communication is privileged which is made in good faith with a view to obtain redress for some injury received or to prevent or punish some public abuse. The privilege should not be abused. If such communication be made maliciously and without probable cause, the pretense under which it is made, instead of furnishing a defense, will aggravate the case of the defendant. And a party will be taken to have acted maliciously if he eagerly seizes on some slight and frivolous matter, and without any inquiry into the merits, without even satisfying himself that the account of the matter that has reached him is correct, hastily concludes that a great public scandal has been brought to light which calls for the immediate intervention of the people. (Citations omitted.)[77 It is, however, the absence of the second element of a privileged communication that unequivocally negates the characterization of Brillantes statements as privileged communication. The law requires that for a defamatory imputation made out of a legal, moral or social

duty to be privileged, such statement must be communicated only to the person or persons who have some interest or duty in the matter alleged, and who have the power to furnish the protection sought by the author of the statement. In the cases at bar, although the open letter was primarily addressed to then President Aquino, the communication thereof was not limited to her alone. It was also published in several newspapers of general circulation and was thus made known to the general public. Even if the interest sought to be protected belongs not just to Brillante but to the public in general, certainly, the general public does not have the power to remedy the alleged dangers sought to be prevented by Brillante in publishing the open letter or in uttering similar statements during the January 7, 1988 press conference. Brillante employed the shotgun approach to disseminate the information which essentially destroyed the reputations of the complainants. His lack of selectivity is indicative of malice and is anathema to his claim of privileged communication. In Daez v. Court of Appeals,[78 Daez was charged with libel for publishing a letter which accused the Mayor of Meycauayan, Bulacan of corruption. The letter addressed to the Mayor was sent not only to him but also to the Municipal Court, Municipal Council and Chief of Police of Meycauayan, Bulacan. Daez contended therein that he was not guilty of libel because he was not motivated by malice or ill-will in publishing the letter, but rather, he did it out of good intentions and a social duty to bring about reforms in the administration of the municipal government of Meycauayan, Bulacan. The Court affirmed his conviction for libel and held: The goodness of the intention is not always sufficient by itself to justify the publication of an injurious fact; thus the goodness of the end is not a sufficient motive to warrant the employment of illicit means to obtain it. The existence of justifiable motives is a question which has to be decided by taking into consideration not only the intention of the author of the publication but all the other circumstances of each particular case. A communication made bona fide upon any subject matter in which the party communicating has an interest, or in reference to which he has a duty, is privileged, if made to a person having a corresponding interest or duty, although it contained criminatory matter which without this privilege would be slanderous and actionable. However, a written letter containing libelous matter cannot be classified as privileged when it is published and circulated among the public.As a rule, it is the right and duty of a citizen to make a complaint of any misconduct on the part of public officials, which comes to his notice, to those charged with supervision over them. Such a communication is qualifiedly privileged and the author is not guilty of

libel. The rule on privilege, however, imposes an additional requirement. Such complaints should be addressed solely to some official having jurisdiction to inquire into the charges, or power to redress the grievance or has some duty to perform or interest in connection therewith. In the instant case, none of the persons to whom the letter was sent, was vested with the power of supervision over the mayor or the authority to investigate the charges made against the latter. (Citations omitted.)[79 Thus, the Court agrees with the finding of the Court of Appeals that the statements made by Brillante during the press conference and in the open letter do not qualify as privileged communication. Indeed, the purpose of affording protection to privileged communication is to permit all interested persons or citizens with grievances to freely communicate, with immunity, to the persons who could furnish the protection asked for. However, to shield such privilege from abuse, the law itself requires at all times that such petitions or communications shall be made in good faith or with justifiable motives. If it is established that the communication was made maliciously or to persons who could not furnish the protection sought, then the author thereof cannot seek protection under the law.[80 As was explained by the Court in Caete: The plainest principles of natural right and sound public policy require that the utmost possible freedom should be accorded every citizen to complain to the supervising, removing and appointing authorities of the misconduct of the public officials with whom he comes into contact, and like considerations make it equally proper that members of a religious organization should enjoy equal freedom in bringing to the attention of the church authorities the misbehavior of their spiritual leaders or of fellow-members. Manifestly, the right must be exercised in good faith, and may not with impunity be made the occasion for the venting of private spite. It is subject to the limitation and restriction that such complaints must be made to a functionary having authority to redress the evils complained of; that they must be made in good faith and that they must not be actuated by malice.[81 The Court in Lu Chu Sing v. Lu Tiong Gui[82 clarified that the fact that a communication is privileged does not mean that it is not actionable; the privileged character of the communication simply does away with the presumption of malice, and the plaintiff has to prove the fact of malice in such case.

However, since the open letter and the statements uttered by Brillante during the January 7, 1988 press conference are defamatory and do not qualify as conditionally privileged communication, malice is presumed and need not be proven separately from the existence of the defamatory statement.[83 Considering that all the elements of libel are present in the cases against Brillante, the Court finds that no reversible error was committed by the Court of Appeals in affirming his convictions by the RTC-Manila and RTC-Makati. Neither does the Court find any basis in law to uphold Brillantes proposition that his statements made during the January 7, 1988 press conference and those in his open letter constitute political libel and should thus be exempt from liability. Unfounded and malicious statements made by one against another in the course of an election campaign, or by reason of differences in political views are not per se constitutionally protected speech. Our laws on defamation[84 provide for sanctions against unjustified and malicious injury to a persons reputation and honor. Although wider latitude is given to defamatory utterances against public officials in connection with or relevant to their performance of official duties,[85 or against public figures in relation to matters of public interest involving them,[86 such defamatory utterances do not automatically fall within the ambit of constitutionally protected speech. If the utterances are false, malicious or unrelated to a public officers performance of his duties, the same may give rise to criminal and civil liability. With respect to the third issue, the Court agrees with the appellate court that Brillantes right to equal protection of the laws was not violated when he was convicted of libel while his co-accused were acquitted. The equal protection clause is not absolute; rather, it permits of reasonable classification. If the classification is characterized by real and substantial differences, one class may be treated differently from another.[87 It is sufficient that the law operates equally and uniformly on all persons under similar circumstances or that all persons are treated in the same manner, the conditions not being different, both in the privileges conferred and the liabilities imposed.[88 As mentioned earlier, the cases against some of some of Brillantes coaccused were dismissed during the pendency of the cases before the trial courts.[89 Still, some of his co-accused remained at large,[90 leaving the trial courts with no option but to archive the case

as against them. Brillantes other co-accused were acquitted since, unlike Brillante, their guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.[91 The foregoing clearly shows that Brillante was in a situation different from his co-accused. The prosecution was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt his liability for libel, as the author of the open letter and the source of the defamatory statements uttered against Binay, et al. during the January 7, 1988 press conference. As such, his conviction for libel was not violative of the equal protection clause. The Court likewise finds no error on the part of the Court of Appeals in affirming the penalties imposed upon him by the trial courts of Manila and Makati. The penalty for libel by means of writing or similar means is prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods, or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party.[92 It is likewise settled that a single defamatory statement, if published several times, gives rise to as many offenses as there are publications. This is the multiple publication rule which is followed in our jurisdiction, as explained inSoriano v. Intermediate Appellate Court:[93 We follow the "multiple publication" rule in the Philippines. Thus, in the cases of Montinola D. Montalvo (34 Phil. 662, [1916]) and United States v. Sotto (36 Phil. 389 [1917]), this Court ruled that each and every publication of the same libel constitutes a distinct offense. Stated more succinctly for purposes of ascertaining jurisdiction under Art. 360 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, every time the same written matter is communicated such communication is considered a distinct and separate publication of the libel. We explained this as follows: "The common law as to causes of action for tort arising out of a single publication was to the effect that each communication of a written or printed matter was a distinct and separate publication of a libel contained therein, giving rise to a separate cause of action. This rule ('multiple publication' rule) is still followed in several American jurisdictions, and seems to be favored by the American Law Institute. Other jurisdictions have adopted the 'single publication' rule which originated in New York, under which any single integrated publication, such as one edition of a newspaper, book, or magazine, or one

broadcast, is treated as a unit, giving rise to only one cause of action, regardless of the number of times it is exposed to different people. . .(50 Am. Jur. 2d 659 cited in Time, Inc. v. Reyes)" (39 SCRA 301, 313 [1971]).[94 There is therefore no legal basis for Brillantes claim that the penalties imposed upon him are excessive. The Court however agrees with Brillante that the awards of moral damages in the two cases to private complainants Binay, Prudente and Baloloy are excessive considering the circumstances surrounding the making and the publication of the defamatory statements. Accordingly, the award of moral damages in favor of private complainant Prudente is reduced to a total of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00) in Criminal Cases No. 89-69614, 89-69615, 89-69616 and 89-69617; and the award of moral damages to private complainant Binay is reduced to Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00) in Criminal Cases No. 881410, 88-1411, 88-1412 and 89-721. The award of moral damages to private complainant Baloloy in Criminal Case No. 88-3060 is likewise reduced to Twenty Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000.00). WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petitions are GRANTED in part. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 14475 is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the award of moral damages to private complainant Dr. Nemesio Prudente in Criminal Cases No. 8969614, 89-69615, 89-69616 is reduced to Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00). The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. CR No. 15174 is likewise AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the award of moral damages to private complainants Atty. Jejomar Binay and Francisco Baloloy is reduced to Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00) in Criminal Cases No. 88-1410, 88-1411, 88-1412 and 89721, and Twenty Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000.00) in Criminal Case No. 88-3060, respectively. SO ORDERED. Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur. Chico-Nazario, J., on leave

FIRST DIVISION G.R. No. 141718. January 21, 2005 BENJAMIN PANGAN y RIVERA, Petitioner, vs. HON. LOURDES F. GATBALITE, as the Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch 56, and COL. JAMES D. LABORDO, as the City Jail Warden of Angeles City, Respondents. DECISION AZCUNA, J.: Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, assailing the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch 56, rendered on January 31, 2000.[1] The facts of this case are undisputed. The petitioner was indicted for simple seduction in Criminal Case No. 85-816, at the Municipal Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch 3. During the trial of the case, Atty. Eduardo Pineda, counsel for petitioner, submitted the case for decision without offering any evidence, due to the petitioner's constant absence at hearings. On September 16, 1987, the petitioner was convicted of the offense charged and was sentenced to serve a penalty of two months and one day of arresto mayor . On appeal, the Regional Trial Court, on October 24, 1988, affirmed in toto the decision of the Municipal Trial Court. On August 9, 1991, the case was called for promulgation of the decision in the court of origin. Despite due notice, counsel for the petitioner did not appear. Notice to petitioner was returned unserved with the notation that he no longer resided at the given address. As a consequence, he also failed to appear at the scheduled promulgation. The court of origin issued an order directing the recording of the decision in the criminal docket of the court and an order of arrest against the petitioner.[2] Pursuant to the order of arrest, on January 20, 2000, the petitioner was apprehended and detained at the Mabalacat Detention Cell. On January 24, 2000, petitioner filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus at the Regional Trial Court of Angeles City. He impleaded as respondent the Acting Chief of

Police of Mabalacat, Pampanga.[3] Petitioner contended that his arrest was illegal and unjustified on the grounds that: (a) the straight penalty of two months and one day of arresto mayor prescribes in five years under No. 3, Article 93 [of the] Revised Penal Code, and (b) having been able to continuously evade service of sentence for almost nine years, his criminal liability has long been totally extinguished under No. 6, Article 89 [of the] Revised Penal Code.[4] After his transfer to the City Jail of Angeles City on January 25, 2000, petitioner filed an Amended Petition with the Regional Trial Court, impleading herein respondent Col. James D. Labordo, the Jail Warden of Angeles City, as respondent.[5] In response, the Jail Warden alleged that petitioner's detention was pursuant to the order of commitment (mittimus), issued by Marlon P. Roque, Clerk of Court III of the Municipal Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch 3, dated January 25, 2000.[6] On January 31, 2000, respondent Judge rendered the decision, which is the subject of this present appeal, which pronounced: The Court cannot subscribe to the contention of the petitioner that the penalty imposed on him in the decision adverted to above had already prescribed, hence, his detention is illegal for under Article 93 of the Revised Penal Code: The period of prescription of penalties shall commence to run from the date when the culprit should evade the service of sentence, and it shall be interrupted if the defendant should give himself up, be captured, should go to some foreign country with which this Government has no extradition treaty, or should commit another crime before the expiration of the period of prescription. The elements of prescription are: 1. That the penalty is imposed by final judgment; 2. That convict evaded the service of the sentence by escaping during the term of his sentence;

3. That the convict who had escaped from prison has not given himself up, or been captured, or gone to a foreign country with which we have no extradition treaty, or committed another crime; 4. The penalty has prescribed, because of the lapse of time from the date of the evasion of the service of the sentence by the convict. In this case, the essential element of prescription which is the evasion of the service of sentence is absent. Admittedly, the petitioner herein has not served the penalty imposed on him in prison and that during the service of the sentence, he escaped therefrom. Notably, at the trial of Crim. Case No. 85-816 in the Municipal Trial Court, Branch III, Angeles City and on the date set for the promulgation of the affirmed decision, the petitioner failed to appear and remained at large. There was no evasion of the service of the sentence in this case, because such evasion presupposes escaping during the service of the sentence consisting in deprivation of liberty. (Infante vs. Warden, 48 O.G. No. 122) (92 Phil. 310). Corollarily, the detention of the petitioner in Angeles City Jail in compliance with the Order of Commitment (Exhibit E) is not illegal for ' A commitment in due form, based on a final judgment, convicting and sentencing the defendant in a criminal case, is conclusive evidence of the legality of his detention, unless it appears that the court which pronounced the judgment was without jurisdiction or exceeded it. (U.S. vs. Jayne, 24 Phil 90, 24 J.F. 94, Phil. Digest, Vol. 2, 1398). WHEREFORE, for not being meritorious and well-founded, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is hereby denied. SO ORDERED. Angeles City, January 31, 2000.[7] From the above quoted decision, petitioner filed the instant petition for review on a question purely of law and raised the following issue: HOW SHOULD THE PHRASE 'SHALL COMMENCE TO RUN FROM THE DATE WHEN THE CULPRIT SHOULD EVADE THE SERVICE OF SENTENCE IN ARTICLE 93 OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE ON THE COMPUTATION OF THE PRESCRIPTION OF PENALTIES BE

CONSTRUED? PUT A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY, WHEN DOES THE PRESCRIPTIVE PERIOD OF PENALTIES BEGIN TO RUN?[8] Petitioner claims that: xxx the period for the computation of penalties under Article 93 of the Revised Penal Code begins to run from the moment the judgment of conviction becomes final and the convict successfully evades, eludes, and dodges arrest for him to serve sentence.[9] Petitioner supports his claim in the following manner: The Decision subject of this appeal, which was based on the 1952 ruling rendered in Infante vs. Warden, 48 O.G. No. 122, 92 Phil. 310, is, petitioner most respectfully submits, not good case law. It imposes upon the convict a condition not stated in the law. It is contrary to the spirit, nature or essence of prescription of penalties, creates an ambiguity in the law and opens the law to abuse by government. THE INFANTE RULING IMPOSES A CONDITION NOT STATED IN THE LAW. It appears that the Infante ruling imposes that, as an essential element, the convict must serve at least a few seconds, minutes, days, weeks or years of his jail sentence and then escapes before the computation of prescription of penalties begins to run. This, petitioner respectfully submits is not a condition stated in Article 93, which states that, the prescription of penalties 'shall commence to run from the date when the culprit should evade the service of sentence. There is no dispute that the duty of government to compel the service of sentence sets in when the judgment of conviction becomes final. The dispute, however, is in the construction of the phrase 'should evade the service of sentence. When does the period of prescription of penalties begin to run? The Infante ruling construes this to mean that the convict must escape from jail 'because such evasion presupposes escaping during the service of the sentence consisting in deprivation of liberty. Petitioner, with due respect, disagrees because if that were the intention of the law, then the phrase 'should evade the service of sentence in Article 93 would have read: 'should escape during the service of the sentence

consisting in deprivation of liberty. The legislature could have very easily written Article 93 to read this way ' The period of prescription of penalties shall commence to run from the date when the culprit should escape during the service of the sentence consisting in deprivation of liberty, and it shall be interrupted if the defendant should give himself up, be captured, should go to some foreign country with which this Government has no extradition treaty, or should commit another crime before the expiration of the period of prescription. But they did not. The legislature wrote 'should evade the service of sentence to cover or include convicts like him who, although convicted by final judgment, were never arrested or apprehended by government for the service of their sentence. With all the powers of government at its disposal, petitioner was able to successfully evade service of his 2 months and 1 day jail sentence for at least nine (9) years, from August 9, 1991 to January 20, 2000. This is approximately 3 years and 5 months longer than the 5-year prescriptive period of the penalty imposed on him. That, as the respondent RTC Judge noted, petitioner did not attend the trial at the Municipal Trial Court and the promulgation of his judgment of conviction in August 9, 1991 is of no moment. His bond for provisional release was surely cancelled and an order of arrest was surely issued against petitioner. The undisputed fact is that on August 9, 1991 the judgment of conviction was promulgated in absentia and an order for petitioner's arrest was issued by the Municipal Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch III. The duty of government, therefore, to arrest petitioner and compel him to serve his sentence began on August 9, 1991. The 5-year prescriptive period of his arresto mayor penalty also began to run on that day considering that no relief was taken therefrom. Since petitioner never gave himself up [n]or was [he], until January 20, 2000, ever captured, for the service of his sentence nor did he flee to some foreign country with which [our] government has no extradition treaty, that 5-year prescriptive period of his penalty ran continuously from August 9, 1991 when his judgment of conviction was promulgated in absentia and was never interrupted. For reasons known only to it, however, government failed or neglected, for almost nine (9) years, to arrest petitioner for the service of his arresto mayor sentence [which] should not be taken against petitioner. He was able to successfully evade service of his sentence for a period longer than the 5-

year prescriptive period of his penalty and, as such, is entitled to total extinction of his criminal liability. To say, as was said in Infante, that the prescriptive period of the penalty never began to run in favor of petitioner because he never escaped from jail during the service of his sentence imposes a condition not written in the law. It also violates the basic principle that the criminal statutes are construed liberally in favor of the accused and/or convict and is contrary to the spirit behind or essence of statutes of limitations [and] prescription, in criminal cases.[10] The Regional Trial Court based its decision on the case of Infante v. Warden [11]. In said case, Infante, the petitioner, was convicted of murder and was sentenced to seventeen years, four months and one day of reclusion temporal. After serving fifteen years, seven months and eleven days, he was granted a conditional pardon. The condition was that 'he shall not again violate any of the penal laws of the Philippines. Ten years after his release on conditional pardon, Infante was found guilty by a Municipal Court for driving without a license. Infante was immediately ordered rearrested for breach of the condition of his pardon. One of the issues raised by Infante in his petition, xxx was that the remitted penalty for which the petitioner had been recommitted to jail ' one year and 11 days ' had prescribed. xxx [12] The Court disagreed and reasoned out thus: The contention is not well taken. According to article 93 of the Revised Penal Code the period of prescription of penalties commences to run from the date when the culprit should evade the service of his sentence. It is evident from this provision that evasion of the sentence is an essential element of prescription. There has been no such evasion in this case. Even if there had been one and prescription were to be applied, its basis would have to be the evasion of the unserved sentence, and computation could not have started earlier than the date of the order for the prisoner's rearrest.[13] A perusal of the facts in Infante v. Warden reveals that it is not on all fours with the present case. In Infante, the convict was on conditional pardon when he was re-arrested. Hence, he had started serving sentence but the State released him. In the present case, the convict evaded service of sentence from the start, and was arrested eight years later. The RTC decision, however, must stand, since it is in accord with applicable decisions of this Court. The issue raised by petitioner is not novel. Article 93

of the Revised Penal Code[14] has been interpreted several times by the Court. The case of Tanega v. Masakayan [15] falls squarely within the issues of the present case. In that case, petitioner Adelaida Tanega failed to appear on the day of the execution of her sentence. On the same day, respondent judge issued a warrant for her arrest. She was never arrested. More than a year later, petitioner through counsel moved to quash the warrant of arrest, on the ground that the penalty had prescribed. Petitioner claimed that she was convicted for a light offense and since light offenses prescribe in one year, her penalty had already prescribed. The Court disagreed, thus: xxx The period of prescription of penalties ' the succeeding Article 93 provides ' "shall commence to run from the date when the culprit should evade the service of his sentence". What then is the concept of evasion of service of sentence? Article 157 of the Revised Penal Code furnishes the ready answer. Says Article 157: "ART. 157. Evasion of service of sentence. ' The penalty of prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods shall be imposed upon any convict who shall evade service of his sentence by escaping during the term of his imprisonment by reason of final judgment. xxx" Elements of evasion of service of sentence are: (1) the offender is a convict by final judgment; (2) he "is serving his sentence which consists in deprivation of liberty"; and (3) he evades service of sentence by escaping during the term of his sentence. This must be so. For, by the express terms of the statute, a convict evades "service of his sentence" by "escaping during the term of his imprisonment by reason of final judgment." That escape should take place while serving sentence, is emphasized by the provisions of the second sentence of Article 157 which provides for a higher penalty if such "evasion or escape shall have taken place by means of unlawful entry, by breaking doors, windows, gates, walls, roofs, or floors, or by using picklocks, false keys, disguise, deceit, violence or intimidation, or through connivance with other convicts or employees of the penal institution, . . ." Indeed, evasion of sentence is but another expression of the term "jail breaking." xxx We, therefore, rule that for prescription of penalty of imprisonment imposed by final sentence to commence to run, the culprit should escape during the term of such imprisonment.

Adverting to the facts, we have here the case of a convict who ' sentenced to imprisonment by final judgment ' was thereafter never placed in confinement. Prescription of penalty, then, does not run in her favor.[16] In Del Castillo v. Torrecampo [17], the Court cited and reiterated Tanega. Petitioner, Del Castillo, was charged for violation of Section 178 (nn) of the 1978 Election Code. The trial court found Del Castillo guilty beyond reasonable doubt and sentenced him to suffer an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment of 1 year as minimum to 3 years as maximum. On appeal the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court in toto. During the execution of judgment on October 14, 1987, petitioner was not present. The presiding Judge issued an order of arrest and the confiscation of his bond. Petitioner was never apprehended. Ten years later, petitioner filed a motion to quash the warrant of arrest on the ground that the penalty imposed upon him had already prescribed. The motion was denied by the trial court. Del Castillo, on a petition for certiorari to the Court of Appeals, questioned the denial by the trial court. The Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for lack of merit. Upon denial of his Motion for Reconsideration, Del Castillo raised the matter to this Court. The Court decided against Del Castillo and after quoting theratio decidendi of the Court of Appeals in full, it ratiocinated, thus: The foregoing conclusion of the Court of Appeals is consistent with the ruling of this Court in Tanega vs. Masakayan, et al., where we declared that, for prescription of penalty imposed by final sentence to commence to run, the culprit should escape during the term of such imprisonment. The Court is unable to find and, in fact, does not perceive any compelling reason to deviate from our earlier pronouncement clearly exemplified in the Tanega case. Article 93 of the Revised Penal Code provides when the prescription of penalties shall commence to run. Under said provision, it shall commence to run from the date the felon evades the service of his sentence. Pursuant to Article 157 of the same Code, evasion of service of sentence can be committed only by those who have been convicted by final judgment by escaping during the term of his sentence. As correctly pointed out by the Solicitor General, "escape" in legal parlance and for purposes of Articles 93 and 157 of the RPC means unlawful departure of prisoner from the limits of his custody. Clearly, one who has not been committed to prison cannot be said to have escaped therefrom. In the instant case, petitioner was never brought to prison. In fact, even before the execution of the judgment for his conviction, he was already in hiding. Now petitioner begs for the compassion of the Court because he has

ceased to live a life of peace and tranquility after he failed to appear in court for the execution of his sentence. But it was petitioner who chose to become a fugitive. The Court accords compassion only to those who are deserving. Petitioner's guilt was proven beyond reasonable doubt but he refused to answer for the wrong he committed. He is therefore not to be rewarded therefor. The assailed decision of the Court of Appeals is based on settled jurisprudence and applicable laws. It did not engage in judicial legislation but correctly interpreted the pertinent laws. Because petitioner was never placed in confinement, prescription never started to run in his favor.[18] Consistent with the two cases cited above, this Court pronounces that the prescription of penalties found in Article 93 of the Revised Penal Code, applies only to those who are convicted by final judgment and are serving sentence which consists in deprivation of liberty. The period for prescription of penalties begins only when the convict evades service of sentence by escaping during the term of his sentence. Since petitioner never suffered deprivation of liberty before his arrest on January 20, 2000 and as a consequence never evaded sentence by escaping during the term of his service, the period for prescription never began. Petitioner, however, has by this time fully served his sentence of two months and one day of arresto mayor and should forthwith be released unless he is being detained for another offense or charge. WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch 56 is AFFIRMED, but petitioner is ordered released effective immediately for having fully served his sentence unless he is detained for another offense or charge. No costs. SO ORDERED. Quisumbing, (Acting Chairman), Ynares-Santiago, and Carpio, JJ., concur. Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), on leave.

FIRST DIVISION [G.R. No. 174654 : August 17, 2011] FELIXBERTO A. ABELLANA, PETITIONER, VS. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES AND SPOUSES SAAPIA B. ALONTO AND DIAGA ALONTO, RESPONDENTS. DECISION DEL CASTILLO, J.: The only issue that confronts this Court is whether petitioner Felixberto A. Abellana could still be held civilly liable notwithstanding his acquittal. Assailed before this Court are the February 22, 2006 Decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 78644 and its August 15, 2006 [2] Resolution denying the motion for reconsideration thereto. The assailed CA [3] Decision set aside the May 21, 2003 Decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Cebu City, Branch 13, in Criminal Case No. CBU-51385 and acquitted the petitioner of the crime of falsification of public document by a private individual because the Information charged him with a different [4] offense which is estafa through falsification of a public document. [5] However, the CA still adjudged him civilly liable. Factual Antecedents In 1985, petitioner extended a loan to private respondents spouses Diaga [6] and Saapia Alonto (spouses Alonto), secured by a Deed of Real Estate [7] Mortgage over Lot Nos. 6471 and 6472 located in Cebu City. Subsequently, or in 1987, petitioner prepared a Deed of Absolute Sale conveying said lots to him. The Deed of Absolute Sale was signed by spouses Alonto in Manila. However, it was notarized in Cebu City allegedly [8] without the spouses Alonto appearing before the notary public. Thereafter, petitioner caused the transfer of the titles to his name and sold the lots to third persons. On August 12, 1999, an Information was filed charging petitioner with Estafa through Falsification of Public Document, the accusatory portion of which reads: That on or about the 9 day of July, 1987, in the City of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, with deliberate intent, and with intent to defraud, did then and there falsify a public
th [9] [10] [1]

document consisting of a Deed of Absolute Sale of a parcel of land consisting of 803 square meters executed before Notary Public Gines N. Abellana per Doc. No. 383, Page No. 77, Book No. XXIII, Series of 1987 of the latter's Notarial Register showing that spouses Saapia B. Alonto and Diaga Alonto sold their parcel of land located at Pardo, Cebu City, for a consideration of P130,000.00 in favor of accused by imitating, counterfeiting, signing or [causing] to be imitated or counterfeited the signature[s] of spouses Saapia B. Alonto and Diaga Alonto above their typewritten names in said document as vendor[s], when in truth and in fact as the accused very well knew that spouses Saapia B. Alonto and Diaga Alonto did not sell their aforestated descri[b]ed property and that the signature[s] appearing in said document are not their signature[s], thus causing it to appear that spouses Saapia B. Alonto and Diaga Alonto participated in the execution of said document when they did not so participate[. Once] said document was falsified, accused did then and there cause the transfer of the titles of said land to his name using the said falsified document, to the damage and prejudice of spouses Saapia B. Alonto and Diaga Alonto in the amount of P130,000.00, the value of the land . CONTRARY TO LAW.
[11]

During arraignment, petitioner entered a plea of "not guilty". termination of the pre-trial conference, trial ensued. Ruling of the Regional Trial Court

[12]

After the

In its Decision dated May 21, 2003, the RTC noted that the main issue for resolution was whether petitioner committed the crime of estafa through [13] falsification of public document. Based on the evidence presented by both parties, the trial court found that petitioner did not intend to defraud the spouses Alonto; that after the latter failed to pay their obligation, petitioner prepared a Deed of Absolute Sale which the spouses Alonto actually signed; but that the Deed of Absolute Sale was notarized without the spouses Alonto personally appearing before the notary public. From these, the trial court concluded that petitioner can only be held guilty of Falsification of a Public [14] Document by a private individual under Article 172(1) in relation to Article [15] 171(2) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and not estafa through falsification of public document as charged in the Information. The dispositive portion of the RTC Decision reads: WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered finding the accused Felixberto Abellana GUILTY of the crime of falsification of public document by private individuals under Article 172 of the Revised Penal Code and sentences him to an indeterminate penalty of TWO (2) YEARS and FOUR (4) MONTHS of Prision Correccional, as minimum, to SIX (6)YEARS, as maximum.

He is directed to institute reconveyance proceedings to restore ownership and possession of the real properties in question in favor of private complainants. After private complainants shall have acquired full ownership and possession of the aforementioned properties, they are directed to pay the accused the sum of P130,000.00 [with] legal interest thereon reckoned from the time this case was instituted. Should the accused fail to restore full ownership and possession in favor of the private complainants [of] the real properties in question within a period of six (6) months from the time this decision becomes final and executory, he is directed to pay said complainants the sum of P1,103,000.00 representing the total value of the properties of the private complainants. He is likewise directed to pay private complainants the following:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, We resolve to set aside the Decision th dated May 21, 2003 of the Regional Trial Court, 7 Judicial Region, Branch 13, Cebu City only insofar as it found the petitioner guilty of a crime that is different from that charged in the Information. The civil liability determinations are affirmed. SO ORDERED.
[19]

Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied in the Resolution dated August 15, 2006. Hence, petitioner comes before us through the present Petition for Review on Certiorari raising the lone issue of whether he could still be held civilly liable notwithstanding his acquittal by the trial court and the CA. Our Ruling

1. 2. 3. 4.

P15,000.00 for nominal damages; P20,000.00 for attorney's fees; P50,000.00 as and for litigation expenses; P30,000.00 as and for exemplary damages;

The petition is meritorious. It is an established rule in criminal procedure that a judgment of acquittal shall state whether the evidence of the prosecution absolutely failed to prove the guilt of the accused or merely failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable [20] doubt. In either case, the judgment shall determine if the act or omission [21] from which the civil liability might arise did not exist. When the exoneration is merely due to the failure to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, the court should award the civil liability in favor of [22] the offended party in the same criminal action. In other words, the "extinction of the penal action does not carry with it the extinction of civil liability unless the extinction proceeds from a declaration in a final judgment [23] that the fact from which the civil [liability] might arise did not exist." Here, the CA set aside the trial court's Decision because it convicted petitioner of an offense different from or not included in the crime charged in the Information. To recall, petitioner was charged with estafa through falsification of public document. However, the RTC found that the spouses Alonto actually signed the document although they did not personally appear before the notary public for its notarization. Hence, the RTC instead convicted petitioner of falsification of public document. On appeal, the CA held that petitioner's conviction cannot be sustained because it infringed on his right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against [24] him. The CA, however, found no reversible error on the civil liability of [25] petitioner as determined by the trial court and thus sustained the same. We do not agree.

plus the cost of this suit. SO ORDERED.


[16]

Ruling of the Court of Appeals On appeal, petitioner raised the issue of whether an accused who was acquitted of the crime charged may nevertheless be convicted of another crime or offense not specifically charged and alleged and which is not necessarily included in the crime or offense charged. The CA, in its Decision [17] dated February 22, 2006, ruled in the negative. It held that petitioner who was charged with and arraigned for estafa through falsification of public document under Article 171(1) of the RPC could not be convicted of Falsification of Public Document by a Private Individual under Article 172(1) in relation to Article 171(2). The CA observed that the falsification committed in Article 171(1) requires the counterfeiting of any handwriting, signature or rubric while the falsification in Article 171(2) occurs when the offender caused it to appear in a document that a person participated in an act or proceeding when in fact such person did not so participate. Thus, the CA opined that the conviction of the petitioner for an offense not alleged in the Information or one not necessarily included in the offense charged violated his constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the [18] accusation against him. Nonetheless, the CA affirmed the trial court's finding with respect to petitioner's civil liability. The dispositive portion of the CA's February 22, 2006 Decision reads as follows:

In Banal v. Tadeo, Jr., we elucidated on the civil liability of the accused despite his exoneration in this wise: While an act or omission is felonious because it is punishable by law, it gives rise to civil liability not so much because it is a crime but because it caused damage to another. Viewing things pragmatically, we can readily see that what gives rise to the civil liability is really the obligation and moral duty of everyone to repair or make whole the damage caused to another by reason of his own act or omission, done intentionally or negligently, whether or not the same be punishable by law. x x x Simply stated, civil liability arises when one, by reason of his own act or omission, done intentionally or negligently, causes damage to another. Hence, for petitioner to be civilly liable to spouses Alonto, it must be proven that the acts he committed had caused damage to the spouses. Based on the records of the case, we find that the acts allegedly committed by the petitioner did not cause any damage to spouses Alonto. First, the Information charged petitioner with fraudulently making it appear that the spouses Alonto affixed their signatures in the Deed of Absolute Sale thereby facilitating the transfer of the subject properties in his favor. However, after the presentation of the parties' respective evidence, the trial court found that the charge was without basis as the spouses Alonto indeed signed the document and that their signatures were genuine and not forged. Second, even assuming that the spouses Alonto did not personally appear before the notary public for the notarization of the Deed of Absolute Sale, the same does not necessarily nullify or render void ab initio the parties' [27] transaction. Such non-appearance is not sufficient to overcome the presumption of the truthfulness of the statements contained in the deed. "To overcome the presumption, there must be sufficient, clear and convincing evidence as to exclude all reasonable controversy as to the falsity of the [28] [deed]. In the absence of such proof, the deed must be upheld." And since the defective notarization does not ipso facto invalidate the Deed of Absolute Sale, the transfer of said properties from spouses Alonto to petitioner remains valid. Hence, when on the basis of said Deed of Absolute Sale, petitioner caused the cancellation of spouses Alonto's title and the issuance of new ones under his name, and thereafter sold the same to third persons, no damage resulted to the spouses Alonto. Moreover, we cannot sustain the alternative sentence imposed upon the petitioner, to wit: to institute an action for the recovery of the properties of spouses Alonto or to pay them actual and other kinds of damages. First, it has absolutely no basis in view of the trial court's finding that the signatures of the spouses Alonto in the Deed of Absolute Sale are genuine and not

[26]

forged. Second, "[s]entences should not be in the alternative. There is nothing in the law which permits courts to impose sentences in the [29] alternative." While a judge has the discretion of imposing one or another [30] penalty, he cannot impose both in the alternative. "He must fix positively [31] and with certainty the particular penalty." In view of the above discussion, there is therefore absolutely no basis for the trial court and the CA to hold petitioner civilly liable to restore ownership and possession of the subject properties to the spouses Alonto or to pay them P1,103,000.00 representing the value of the properties and to pay them nominal damages, exemplary damages, attorney's fees and litigation expenses. WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The February 22, 2006 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 78644 and its August 15, 2006 Resolution are AFFIRMED insofar as they set aside the conviction of the petitioner for the crime of falsification of public document. The portion which affirmed the imposition of civil liabilities on the petitioner, i.e., the restoration of ownership and possession, the payment of P1,103,000.00 representing the value of the property, and the payment of nominal and exemplary damages, attorney's fees and litigation expenses, is deleted for lack of factual and legal basis. SO ORDERED. Corona, C.J., (Chairperson), Leonardo-De Castro, Bersamin, and Villarama, Jr., JJ., concur. Endnotes: