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Republic of the Philippines

SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. 102342 July 3, 1992 LUZ M. ZALDIVIA, petitioner, vs. HON. ANDRES B. REYES, JR., in his capacity as Acting Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Fourth Judicial Region, Branch 76, San Mateo, Rizal, and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.

CRUZ, J.: The Court is asked to determine the applicable law specifying the prescriptive period for violations of municipal ordinances. The petitioner is charged with quarrying for commercial purposes without a mayor's permit in violation of Ordinance No. 2, Series of 1988, of the Municipality of Rodriguez, in the Province of Rizal. The offense was allegedly committed on May 11, 1990. 1 The referral-complaint of the police was received by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Rizal on May 30, 1990. 2 The corresponding information was filed with the Municipal Trial Court of Rodriguez on October 2, 1990. 3 The petitioner moved to quash the information on the ground that the crime had prescribed, but the motion was denied. On appeal to the Regional Trial Court of Rizal, the denial was sustained by the respondent judge. 4 In the present petition for review on certiorari, the petitioner first argues that the charge against her is governed by the following provisions of the Rule on Summary Procedure: Sec. 1. Scope This rule shall govern the procedure in the Metropolitan Trial Courts, the Municipal Trial Courts, and the Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in the following cases: xxx xxx xxx B. Criminal Cases: 1. Violations of traffic laws, rules and regulations; 2. Violations of rental law; 3. Violations of municipal or city ordinances; 4. All other criminal cases where the penalty prescribed by law for the offenses charged does not exceed six months imprisonment, or a fine of one thousand pesos (P1,000.00), or both, irrespective of other imposable penalties, accessory or otherwise, or of the civil liability arising therefrom. . . . (Emphasis supplied.) xxx xxx xxx

Sec. 9. How commenced. The prosecution of criminal cases falling within the scope of this Rule shall be either by complaint or by information filed directly in court without need of a prior preliminary examination or preliminary investigation: Provided, however, That in Metropolitan Manila and chartered cities, such cases shall be commenced only by information; Provided, further, That when the offense cannot be prosecuted de oficio, the corresponding complaint shall be signed and sworn to before the fiscal by the offended party. She then invokes Act. No. 3326, as amended, entitled "An Act to Establish Periods of Prescription for Violations Penalized by Special Acts and Municipal Ordinances and to Provide When Prescription Shall Begin to Run," reading as follows: Sec. 1. Violations penalized by special acts shall, unless provided in such acts, prescribe in accordance with the following rules: . . . Violations penalized by municipal ordinances shall prescribe after two months. Sec. 2. Prescription shall begin to run from the day of the commission of the violation of the law, and if the same be not known at the time, from the discovery thereof and the institution of judicial proceedings for its investigation and punishment. The prescription shall be interrupted when proceedings are instituted against the guilty person, and shall begin to run again if the proceedings are dismissed for reasons not constituting jeopardy. Sec. 3. For the purposes of this Act, special acts shall be acts defining and penalizing violations of law not included in the Penal Code. (Emphasis supplied) Her conclusion is that as the information was filed way beyond the two-month statutory period from the date of the alleged commission of the offense, the charge against her should have been dismissed on the ground of prescription. For its part, the prosecution contends that the prescriptive period was suspended upon the filing of the complaint against her with the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor. Agreeing with the respondent judge, the Solicitor General also invokes Section 1, Rule 110 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, providing as follows: Sec. 1. How Instituted For offenses not subject to the rule on summary procedure in special cases, the institution of criminal action shall be as follows: a) For offenses falling under the jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court, by filing the complaint with the appropriate officer for the purpose of conducting the requisite preliminary investigation therein; b) For offenses falling under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts, by filing the complaint directly with the said courts, or a complaint with the fiscal's office. However, in Metropolitan Manila and other chartered cities, the complaint may be filed only with the office of the fiscal. In all cases such institution interrupts the period of prescription of the offense charged. (Emphasis supplied.) Emphasis is laid on the last paragraph. The respondent maintains that the filing of the complaint with the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor comes under the phrase "such institution" and that the phrase "in all cases" applies to all cases, without distinction, including those falling under the Rule on Summary Procedure. The said paragraph, according to the respondent, was an adoption of the following dictum in Francisco v. Court of Appeals: 5 In view of this diversity of precedents, and in order to provide guidance for Bench and Bar, this Court has re-examined the question and, after mature consideration, has arrived at the conclusion

that the true doctrine is, and should be, the one established by the decisions holding that the filing of the complaint in 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 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 complaint. It is important to note that this decision was promulgated on May 30, 1983, two months before the promulgation of the Rule on Summary Procedure on August 1, 1983. On the other hand, Section 1 of Rule 110 is new, having been incorporated therein with the revision of the Rules on Criminal Procedure on January 1, 1985, except for the last paragraph, which was added on October 1, 1988. That section meaningfully begins with the phrase, "for offenses not subject to the rule on summary procedure in special cases," which plainly signifies that the section does not apply to offenses which are subject to summary procedure. The phrase "in all cases" appearing in the last paragraph obviously refers to the cases covered by the Section, that is, those offenses not governed by the Rule on Summary Procedure. This interpretation conforms to the canon that words in a statute should be read in relation to and not isolation from the rest of the measure, to discover the true legislative intent. As it is clearly provided in the Rule on Summary Procedure that among the offenses it covers are violations of municipal or city ordinances, it should follow that the charge against the petitioner, which is for violation of a municipal ordinance of Rodriguez, is governed by that rule and not Section 1 of Rule 110. Where paragraph (b) of the section does speak of "offenses falling under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts," the obvious reference is to Section 32(2) of B.P. No. 129, vesting in such courts: (2) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all offenses punishable with imprisonment of not exceeding four years and two months, or a fine of not more than four thousand pesos, or both such fine and imprisonment, regardless of other imposable accessory or other penalties, including the civil liability arising from such offenses or predicated thereon, irrespective of kind, nature, value, or amount thereof; Provided, however, That in offenses involving damage to property through criminal negligence they shall have exclusive original jurisdiction where the imposable fine does not exceed twenty thousand pesos. These offenses are not covered by the Rule on Summary Procedure. Under Section 9 of the Rule on Summary Procedure, "the complaint or information shall be filed directly in court without need of a prior preliminary examination or preliminary investigation." 6 Both parties agree that this provision does not prevent the prosecutor from conducting a preliminary investigation if he wants to. However, the case shall be deemed commenced only when it is filed in court, whether or not the prosecution decides to conduct a preliminary investigation. This means that the running of the prescriptive period shall be halted on the date the case is actually filed in court and not on any date before that. This interpretation is in consonance with the afore-quoted Act No. 3326 which says that the period of prescription shall be suspended "when proceedings are instituted against the guilty party." The proceedings referred to in Section 2 thereof are "judicial proceedings," contrary to the submission of the Solicitor General that they include administrative proceedings. His contention is that we must not distinguish as the law does not distinguish. As a matter of fact, it does. At any rate, the Court feels that if there be a conflict between the Rule on Summary Procedure and Section 1 of Rule 110 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure, the former should prevail as the special law. And if there be a conflict between Act. No. 3326 and Rule 110 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure, the latter must again yield because this

Court, in the exercise of its rule-making power, is not allowed to "diminish, increase or modify substantive rights" under Article VIII, Section 5(5) of the Constitution. Prescription in criminal cases is a substantive right. 7 Going back to the Francisco case, we find it not irrelevant to observe that the decision would have been conformable to Section 1, Rule 110, as the offense involved was grave oral defamation punishable under the Revised Penal Code with arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period. By contrast, the prosecution in the instant case is for violation of a municipal ordinance, for which the penalty cannot exceed six months, 8 and is thus covered by the Rule on Summary Procedure. The Court realizes that under the above interpretation, a crime may prescribe even if the complaint is filed seasonably with the prosecutor's office if, intentionally or not, he delays the institution of the necessary judicial proceedings until it is too late. However, that possibility should not justify a misreading of the applicable rules beyond their obvious intent as reasonably deduced from their plain language. The remedy is not a distortion of the meaning of the rules but a rewording thereof to prevent the problem here sought to be corrected. Our conclusion is that the prescriptive period for the crime imputed to the petitioner commenced from its alleged commission on May 11, 1990, and ended two months thereafter, on July 11, 1990, in accordance with Section 1 of Act No. 3326. It was not interrupted by the filing of the complaint with the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor on May 30, 1990, as this was not a judicial proceeding. The judicial proceeding that could have interrupted the period was the filing of the information with the Municipal Trial Court of Rodriguez, but this was done only on October 2, 1990, after the crime had already prescribed. WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED, and the challenged Order dated October 2, 1991 is SET ASIDE. Criminal Case No. 90-089 in the Municipal Trial Court of Rodriguez, Rizal, is hereby DISMISSED on the ground of prescription. It is so ordered. Narvasa, C.J., Gutierrez, Jr., Paras, Feliciano, Padilla, Bidin, Grio-Aquino, Medialdea, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Nocon and Bellosillo, JJ., concur.

Footnotes 1 Rollo, p. 18. 2 Ibid. 3 Id., p. 19; Through Judge Andres B. Reyes, Jr. 4 Id., p. 21 5 122 SCRA 538 6 The phrase "filed directly in court without need of prior preliminary examination or preliminary investigation" was deleted under the Revised Rule on Summary Procedure effective on November 15, 1991. 7 People vs. Castro, 95 Phil. 463. 8 Section 447, Local Government Code.

SECOND DIVISION
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, G.R. No. 152662 Present: CARPIO, Chairperson, BRION, PEREZ, SERENO, and REYES, JJ. Promulgated: June 13, 2012

- versus -

MA. THERESA PANGILINAN, Respondent.

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x

DECISION
PEREZ, J.: The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) filed this petition for certiorari[1] under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, praying for the nullification and setting aside of the Decision[2] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 66936, entitled Ma. Theresa Pangilinan vs. People of the Philippines and Private Complainant Virginia C. Malolos. The fallo of the assailed Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, the instant petition is GRANTED. Accordingly, the assailed Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 218, is REVERSED and SET ASIDE and Criminal Cases Nos. 89152 and 89153 against petitioner Ma. Theresa Pangilinan are hereby ordered DISMISSED.[3]

Culled from the record are the following undisputed facts: On 16 September 1997, Virginia C. Malolos (private complainant) filed an affidavit-complaint for estafa and violation of Batas Pambansa (BP) Blg. 22 against Ma. Theresa Pangilinan (respondent) with the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City. The complaint alleges that respondent issued nine (9) checks with an aggregate amount of Nine Million Six Hundred Fifty-Eight Thousand Five Hundred Ninety-Two Pesos (P9,658,592.00) in favor of private complainant which were dishonored upon presentment for payment. On 5 December 1997, respondent filed a civil case for accounting, recovery of commercial documents, enforceability and effectivity of contract and specific performance against private complainant before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Valenzuela City. This was docketed as Civil Case No. 1429-V-97. Five days thereafter or on 10 December 1997, respondent filed a Petition to Suspend Proceedings on the Ground of Prejudicial Question before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City, citing as basis the pendency of the civil action she filed with the RTC of Valenzuela City. On 2 March 1998, Assistant City Prosecutor Ruben Catubay recommended the suspension of the criminal proceedings pending the outcome of the civil action respondent filed against private complainant with the RTC of Valenzuela City. The recommendation was approved by the City Prosecutor of Quezon City. Aggrieved, private complainant raised the matter before the Department of Justice (DOJ). On 5 January 1999, then Secretary of Justice Serafin P. Cuevas reversed the resolution of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City and ordered the filing of informations for violation of BP Blg. 22 against respondent in connection with her issuance of City Trust Check No. 127219 in the amount of P4,129,400.00 and RCBC Check No. 423773 in the amount of P4,475,000.00, both checks totaling the amount of P8,604,000.00. The estafa and violation of BP Blg. 22 charges involving the seven other checks included in the affidavit-complaint filed on 16 September 1997 were, however, dismissed. Consequently, two counts for violation of BP Blg. 22, both dated 18 November 1999, were filed against respondent Ma.Theresa Pangilinan on 3 February 2000 before the Office of the Clerk of Court, Metropolitan Trial Court

(MeTC), Quezon City. These cases were raffled to MeTC, Branch 31on 7 June 2000. On 17 June 2000, respondent filed an Omnibus Motion to Quash the Information and to Defer the Issuance of Warrant of Arrest before MeTC, Branch 31, Quezon City. She alleged that her criminal liability has been extinguished by reason of prescription. The presiding judge of MeTC, Branch 31, Quezon City granted the motion in an Order dated 5 October 2000. On 26 October 2000, private complainant filed a notice of appeal. The criminal cases were raffled to RTC, Branch 218, Quezon City. In a Decision dated 27 July 2001, the presiding judge of RTC, Branch 218, Quezon City reversed the 5 October 2000 Order of the MeTC. The pertinent portion of the decision reads:
xxx Inasmuch as the informations in this case were filed on 03 February 2000 with the Clerk of Court although received by the Court itself only on 07 June 2000, they are covered by the Rule as it was worded before the latest amendment. The criminal action on two counts for violation of BP Blg. 22, had, therefore, not yet prescribed when the same was filed with the court a quo considering the appropriate complaint that started the proceedings having been filed with the Office of the Prosecutor on 16 September 1997 yet. WHEREFORE, the assailed Order dated 05 October 2000 is hereby REVERSED AND SET ASIDE. The Court a quo is hereby directed to proceed with the hearing of Criminal Cases Nos. 89152 and 89153.[4]

Dissatisfied with the RTC Decision, respondent filed with the Supreme Court a petition for review[5] on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. This was docketed as G.R. Nos. 149486-87. In a resolution[6] dated 24 September 2000, this Court referred the petition to the CA for appropriate action. On 26 October 2001, the CA gave due course to the petition by requiring respondent and private complainant to comment on the petition.

In a Decision dated 12 March 2002, the CA reversed the 27 July 2001 Decision of RTC, Branch 218, Quezon City, thereby dismissing Criminal Case Nos. 89152 and 89153 for the reason that the cases for violation of BP Blg. 22 had already prescribed. In reversing the RTC Decision, the appellate court ratiocinated that:
xxx this Court reckons the commencement of the period of prescription for violations of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 imputed to [respondent] sometime in the latter part of 1995, as it was within this period that the [respondent] was notified by the private [complainant] of the fact of dishonor of the subject checks and, the five (5) days grace period granted by law had elapsed. The private respondent then had, pursuant to Section 1 of Act 3326, as amended, four years therefrom or until the latter part of 1999 to file her complaint or information against the petitioner before the proper court. The informations docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 89152 and 89152(sic) against the petitioner having been filed with the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City only on 03 February 2000, the said cases had therefore, clearly prescribed. xxx Pursuant to Section 2 of Act 3326, as amended, prescription shall be interrupted when proceedings are instituted against the guilty person. In the case of Zaldivia vs. Reyes [7] the Supreme Court held that the proceedings referred to in Section 2 of Act No. 3326, as amended, are judicial proceedings, which means the filing of the complaint or information with the proper court. Otherwise stated, the running of the prescriptive period shall be stayed on the date the case is actually filed in court and not on any date before that, which is in consonance with Section 2 of Act 3326, as amended. While the aforesaid case involved a violation of a municipal ordinance, this Court, considering that Section 2 of Act 3326, as amended, governs the computation of the prescriptive period of both ordinances and special laws, finds that the ruling of the Supreme Court in Zaldivia v. Reyes[8] likewise applies to special laws, such as Batas Pambansa Blg. 22.[9]

The OSG sought relief to this Court in the instant petition for review. According to the OSG, while it admits that Act No. 3326, as amended by Act No. 3585 and further amended by Act No. 3763 dated 23 November 1930, governs the period of prescription for violations of special laws, it is the institution of criminal actions, whether filed with the court or with the Office of the City

Prosecutor, that interrupts the period of prescription of the offense charged. [10] It submits that the filing of the complaint-affidavit by private complainant Virginia C. Malolos on 16 September 1997 with the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City effectively interrupted the running of the prescriptive period of the subject BP Blg. 22 cases. Petitioner further submits that the CA erred in its decision when it relied on the doctrine laid down by this Court in the case ofZaldivia v. Reyes, Jr.[11] that the filing of the complaint with the Office of the City Prosecutor is not the judicial proceeding that could have interrupted the period of prescription. In relying on Zaldivia,[12] the CA allegedly failed to consider the subsequent jurisprudence superseding the aforesaid ruling. Petitioner contends that in a catena of cases, [13] the Supreme Court ruled that the filing of a complaint with the Fiscals Office for preliminary investigation suspends the running of the prescriptive period. It therefore concluded that the filing of the informations with the MeTC of Quezon City on 3 February 2000 was still within the allowable period of four years within which to file the criminal cases for violation of BP Blg. 22 in accordance with Act No. 3326, as amended. In her comment-opposition dated 26 July 2002, respondent avers that the petition of the OSG should be dismissed outright for its failure to comply with the mandatory requirements on the submission of a certified true copy of the decision of the CA and the required proof of service. Such procedural lapses are allegedly fatal to the cause of the petitioner. Respondent reiterates the ruling of the CA that the filing of the complaint before the City Prosecutors Office did not interrupt the running of the prescriptive period considering that the offense charged is a violation of a special law. Respondent contends that the arguments advanced by petitioner are anchored on erroneous premises. She claims that the cases relied upon by petitioner involved felonies punishable under the Revised Penal Code and are therefore covered by Article 91 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) [14] and Section 1, Rule 110 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure.[15] Respondent pointed out that the crime imputed against her is for violation of BP Blg. 22, which is indisputably a special law and as such, is governed by Act No. 3326, as amended. She submits that a distinction should thus be made between offenses covered by municipal ordinances or special laws, as in this case, and offenses covered by the RPC.

The key issue raised in this petition is whether the filing of the affidavitcomplaint for estafa and violation of BP Blg. 22 against respondent with the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City on 16 September 1997 interrupted the period of prescription of such offense. We find merit in this petition. Initially, we see that the respondents claim that the OSG failed to attach to the petition a duplicate original or certified true copy of the 12 March 2002 decision of the CA and the required proof of service is refuted by the record. A perusal of the record reveals that attached to the original copy of the petition is a certified true copy of the CA decision. It was also observed that annexed to the petition was the proof of service undertaken by the Docket Division of the OSG. With regard to the main issue of the petition, we find that the CA reversively erred in ruling that the offense committed by respondent had already prescribed. Indeed, Act No. 3326 entitled An Act to Establish Prescription for Violations of Special Acts and Municipal Ordinances and to Provide When Prescription Shall Begin, as amended, is the law applicable to BP Blg. 22 cases. Appositely, the law reads:
SECTION 1. Violations penalized by special acts shall, unless otherwise provided in such acts, prescribe in accordance with the following rules: (a) xxx; (b) after four years for those punished by imprisonment for more than one month, but less than two years; (c) xxx. SECTION 2. Prescription shall begin to run from the day of the commission of the violation of the law, and if the same be not known at the time, from the discovery thereof and the institution of judicial proceedings for its investigation and punishment. The prescription shall be interrupted when proceedings are instituted against the guilty person, and shall begin to run again if the proceedings are dismissed for reasons not constituting jeopardy.

Since BP Blg. 22 is a special law that imposes a penalty of imprisonment of not less than thirty (30) days but not more than one year or by a fine for its violation, it therefor prescribes in four (4) years in accordance with the aforecited law. The running of the prescriptive period, however, should be tolled upon the institution of proceedings against the guilty person. In the old but oft-cited case of People v. Olarte,[16] this Court ruled that the filing of the complaint in the Municipal Court even if it be merely for purposes of

preliminary examination or investigation, should, and thus, interrupt the period of prescription of the criminal responsibility, even if the court where the complaint or information is filed cannot try the case on the merits. This ruling was broadened by the Court in the case of Francisco, et.al. v. Court of Appeals, et. al.[17] when it held that the filing of the complaint with the Fiscals Office also suspends the running of the prescriptive period of a criminal offense. Respondents contention that a different rule should be applied to cases involving special laws is bereft of merit. There is no more distinction between cases under the RPC and those covered by special laws with respect to the interruption of the period of prescription. The ruling in Zaldivia v. Reyes, Jr.[18] is not controlling in special laws. In Llenes v. Dicdican,[19] Ingco, et al. v. Sandiganbayan,[20] Brillante v. CA,[21] and Sanrio Company Limited v. Lim, [22] cases involving special laws, this Court held that the institution of proceedings for preliminary investigation against the accused interrupts the period of prescription. In Securities and Exchange Commission v. Interport Resources Corporation, et. al.,[23] the Court even ruled that investigations conducted by the Securities and Exchange Commission for violations of the Revised Securities Act and the Securities Regulations Code effectively interrupts the prescription period because it is equivalent to the preliminary investigation conducted by the DOJ in criminal cases. In fact, in the case of Panaguiton, Jr. v. Department of Justice,[24] which is in all fours with the instant case, this Court categorically ruled that commencement of the proceedings for the prosecution of the accused before the Office of the City Prosecutor effectively interrupted the prescriptive period for the offenses they had been charged under BP Blg. 22. Aggrieved parties, especially those who do not sleep on their rights and actively pursue their causes, should not be allowed to suffer unnecessarily further simply because of circumstances beyond their control, like the accuseds delaying tactics or the delay and inefficiency of the investigating agencies. We follow the factual finding of the CA that sometime in the latter part of 1995 is the reckoning date of the commencement of presumption for violations of BP Blg. 22, such being the period within which herein respondent was notified by private complainant of the fact of dishonor of the checks and the five-day grace period granted by law elapsed. The affidavit-complaints for the violations were filed against respondent on 16 September 1997. The cases reached the MeTC of Quezon City only on 13

February 2000 because in the meanwhile, respondent filed a civil case for accounting followed by a petition before the City Prosecutor for suspension of proceedings on the ground of prejudicial question. The matter was raised before the Secretary of Justice after the City Prosecutor approved the petition to suspend proceedings. It was only after the Secretary of Justice so ordered that the informations for the violation of BP Blg. 22 were filed with the MeTC of Quezon City. Clearly, it was respondents own motion for the suspension of the criminal proceedings, which motion she predicated on her civil case for accounting, that caused the filing in court of the 1997 initiated proceedings only in 2000. As laid down in Olarte,[25] it is unjust to deprive the injured party of the right to obtain vindication on account of delays that are not under his control. The only thing the offended must do to initiate the prosecution of the offender is to file the requisite complaint. IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the instant petition is GRANTED. The 12 March 2002 Decision of the Court of Appeals is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Department of Justice is ORDERED to re-file the informations for violation of BP Blg. 22 against the respondent. SO ORDERED. JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

ANTONIO T. CARPIO Senior Associate Justice Chairperson

ARTURO SERENO

D.

BRION

MARIA

LOURDES

P.

A.

Associate Justice

Associate Justice

BIENVENIDO L. REYES Associate Justice

CERTIFICATION I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO Senior Associate Justice (Per Section 12, R.A. 296, The Judiciary Act of 1948, as amended)

[1] [2]

Rollo, pp. 33-66. Penned by Associate Justice Perlita J. Tria Tirona with Associate Justices Eubulo G. Verzola and Bernardo P. Abesamis, concurring. CA rollo, pp. 162-170. [3] Id. at 169. [4] Rollo, p. 133. [5] Id. at 134-167. [6] Id. at 169. [7] G.R. No. 102342, 3 July 1992, 211 SCRA 277. [8] Id. [9] CA rollo, pp. 167-168. [10] Section 1, Rule 110 of the 1997 Rules of Criminal Procedure [11] Supra note 7 at 284-285. [12] Supra. [13] Calderon-Bargas v. RTC of Pasig, Metro Manila, Br. 162, G.R. Nos. 103259-61, 1 October 1993, 227 SCRA 56; Francisco v. CA, G.R. No. L-45674, 30 May 1983, 122 SCRA 538; Ingco v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 112584, 23 May 1997, 272 SCRA 563. [14] Article 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 Philippine Archipelago. [15] Section 1. Institution of criminal actions.Criminal actions shall be instituted as follows: xxx xxx The institution of the criminal action shall interrupt the running of the period of prescription of the offense charged unless otherwise provided in special laws. [16] G.R. No. L-22465, 28 February 1967, 19 SCRA 494, 500. [17] 207 Phil 471, 477 (1983). [18] Supra note 7. [19] 328 Phil. 1272 (1996). [20] Supra note 13. [21] 483 Phil. 568 (2004) [22] G.R. No. 168662, 19 February 2008, 546 SCRA 303. [23] G.R. No. 135808, 6 October 2008, 567 SCRA 354, 415-416. [24] G.R. No. 167571, 25 November 2008, 571 SCRA 549, 562. [25] Supra note 16.

Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila SECOND DIVISION G.R. Nos. 118757 & 121571 October 19, 2004

ROBERTO BRILLANTE, petitioner, vs. 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 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 the Peoples 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 the News Today.4 The open letter was subsequently published under the title "Plea to Cory--Save Makati" in newspapers such as thePeoples 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." xxx xxx 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 Editorin-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 co-accused 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 the Malaya;13 (iii) Sison, Public Relations Officer and Federico D. Pascual (Pascual), Publisher and Executive Editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer;14 and (iv) Sison, Public Relations Officer and Quimlat, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Balita.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 of P1,000,000.00 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 charged de 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 RTC-Manila. 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, 88-1412, 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 89-721, 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 CA-G.R. CR No. 14475. On February 28, 1995, the Court of Appeals rendered its Decision in CA-G.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 coaccused 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 aResolution dated 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 EXCESSIVE34 With respect to the issue of prescription, Brillante anchors his claim on the Courts ruling in People v. Tayco35 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. Olarte36 did not modify the doctrine inTayco because in Olarte, the Court referred to a complaint filed "in court," not in the "fiscals office." The ruling inFrancisco v. Court of Appeals37 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 the Informations 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 no prima facie case had been shown.59 Thereafter, the Court in Francisco v. Court of Appeals60 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.Olarte laid 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 Olarte also applies to criminal complaints filed with the prosecutors office was settled in Francisco. Specifically, the Court in Francisco 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. 64 Brillantes 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.65In 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 and Philippine 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 Philippines70 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. Caete75 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. Galeza76 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 illwill 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 Gui82 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 co-accused 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 in Soriano 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 8969617; and the award of moral damages to private complainant Binay is reduced to Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00) in Criminal Cases No. 88-1410, 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. 89-69614, 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 89-721, and Twenty Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000.00) in Criminal Case No. 88-3060, respectively. SO ORDERED.

Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 125066 July 8, 1998 ISABELITA REODICA, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS, and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.

DAVIDE, JR., J.: On the evening of 17 October 1987, petitioner Isabelita Reodica was driving a van along Doa Soledad Avenue, Better Living Subdivision, Paraaque, Metro Manila. Allegedly because of her recklessness, her van hit the car of complainant Norberto Bonsol. As a result, complainant sustained physical injuries, while the damage to his car amounted to P8,542.00. Three days after the incident, or on 20 October 1987, the complainant filed an Affidavit of Complaint 1 against petitioner with the Fiscal's Office. On 13 January 1988, an information 2 was filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati (docketed as Criminal Case No. 33919) charging petitioner with "Reckless Imprudence Resulting in Damage to Property with Slight Physical Injury." The information read: The undersigned 2nd Asst. Fiscal accuses Isabelita Reodica of the crime of Reckless Imprudence Resulting in Damage to Property with Slight Physical Injury as follows: That on or about the 17th day of October, 1987 in the Municipality of Paraaque, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the abovementioned accused, Isabelita Velasco Reodica, being then the driver and/or person in charge of a Tamaraw bearing plate no. NJU-306, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously drive, manage and operate the same in a reckless, careless, negligent and imprudent manner, without regard to traffic laws, rules and regulations and without taking the necessary care and precaution to avoid damage to property and injuries to person, causing by such negligence, carelessness and imprudence

the said vehicle to bump/collide with a Toyota Corolla bearing plate no. NIM-919 driven and owned by Norberto Bonsol, thereby causing damage amounting to P8,542.00, to the damage and prejudice of its owner, in the aforementioned amount of P8,542.00. That as further consequence due to the strong impact, said Norberto Bonsol suffered bodily injuries which required medical attendance for a period of less that nine (9) days and incapacitated him from performing his customary labor for the same period of time. Upon arraignment, petitioner pleaded not guilty to the charge. Trial then ensued. On 31 January 1991, the RTC of Makati, Branch 145, rendered a decision 3 convicting petitioner of the "quasi offense of reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property with slight physical injuries," and sentencing her:
[t]o suffer imprisonment of six (6) months of arresto mayor, and to pay the complainant, Norberto Bonsol y Atienza, the sum of Thirteen Thousand Five Hundred Forty-Two (P13,542), Philippine Currency, without subsidiary impairment in case of insolvency; and to pay the costs. 4

The trial court justified imposing a 6-month prison term in this wise:
As a result of the reckless imprudence of the accused, complainant suffered slight physical injuries (Exhs. D, H and I). In view of the resulting physical injuries, the penalty to be imposed is not fine, but imprisonment (Gregorio, Fundamental of Criminal Law Review, Eight Edition 1988, p. 711). Slight physical injuries thru reckless imprudence is now punished with penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period (People v. Aguiles, L11302, October 28, 1960, cited in Gregorio's book, p. 718). 5

As to the sum of P13,542.00, this represented the cost of the car repairs (P8,542.00) and medical expenses (P5,000.00). Petitioner appealed from the decision to the Court of Appeals, which docketed the case as CA-G.R. CR No. 14660. After her motions for extension of time to file her brief were granted, she filed a Motion to Withdraw Appeal for Probation Purposes, and to Suspend, Ex Abundanti Cautela, Period for Filing Appellant's Brief. However, respondent Court of Appeals denied this motion and directed petitioner to file her brief. 6 After passing upon the errors imputed by petitioner to the trial court, respondent Court of Appeals rendered a decision 7 on 31 January 1996 affirming the appealed decision. Petitioner subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration 8 raising new issues, thus:
NOW THAT AN ACQUITTAL SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE, MAY WE REVISIT THE PENALTY AND MOVE THAT IT BE REVIEWED AND SET ASIDE SINCE IT IS RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED TO BE ERROR TO COMPLEX DAMAGE TO PROPERTY AND SLIGHT PHYSICAL INJURIES, AS BOTH ARE LIGHT OFFENSES, OVER WHICH THE RESPONDENT COURT HAD NO JURISDICTION AND EVEN ASSUMING SUCH JURISDICTION, IT CANNOT IMPOSE A PENALTY IN EXCESS OF WHAT IS AUTHORIZED BY LAW. 9

xxx xxx xxx


REVERSAL OF THE DECISION REMAINS POSSIBLE ON GROUNDS OF PRESCRIPTION OR LACK OF JURISDICTION. 10

In its Resolution of 24 May 1996, the Court of Appeals denied petitioner's motion for reconsideration for lack of merit, as well as her supplemental motion for reconsideration. Hence, the present petition for review on certiorariunder Rule 45 of the Rules of Court premised on the following grounds: RESPONDENT COURT OF APPEALS' DECISION DATED JANUARY 31, 1996 AND MORE SO ITS RESOLUTION DATED MAY 24, 1996, ARE CONTRARY TO LAW AND GROSSLY ERRONEOUS IN THAT THEY IMPOSED A PENALTY IN EXCESS OF WHAT IS AUTHORIZED BY LAW FOR THE CRIME OF RECKLESS IMPRUDENCE RESULTING IN SLIGHT PHYSICAL INJURIES, ON THE BASIS OF A CLERICAL ERROR IN A SECONDARY SOURCE.
A. IN THE CASE OF PEOPLE V. AGUILAR, 11 THE SAME CASE WHERE THE COURT A QUO BASED ITS FINDING OF A PENALTY WHEN IT AFFIRMED THE DECISION OF THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, WHAT WAS STATED IN THE ORIGINAL TEXT OF SAID CASE IS THAT THE PENALTY FOR SLIGHT PHYSICAL INJURIES THROUGH RECKLESS IMPRUDENCE IS ARRESTO MENOR AND NOT ARRESTO MAYOR. IT IS GRAVE ERROR FOR THE RESPONDENT COURT TO PUNISH PETITIONER MORE THAN SHE SHOULD OR COULD BE PUNISHED BECAUSE OF A CLERICAL ERROR COPIED FROM A SECONDARY SOURCE.

B. THE RESPONDENT COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ABUSED ITS DISCRETION WHEN IT COMPLEXED THE CRIME OF RECKLESS IMPRUDENCE RESULTING IN DAMAGE TO PROPERTY AND SLIGHT PHYSICAL INJURIES IMPOSING A SINGLE EXCESSIVE PENALTY IN ITS ELLIPTICAL RESOLUTION OF MAY 24, 1996. C. THE RESPONDENT COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED WHEN IT AFFIRMED THE TRIAL COURT'S DECISION NOTWITHSTANDING THE DEFENSE OF PRESCRIPTION AND LACK OF JURISDICTION. Anent the first ground, petitioner claims that the courts below misquoted not only the title, but likewise the ruling of the case cited as authority regarding the penalty for slight physical injuries through reckless imprudence. Concretely, the title of the case was not People v. Aguiles, but People v. Aguilar; while the ruling was that the penalty for such quasi offense was arresto menor not arresto mayor. As regards the second assigned error, petitioner avers that the courts below should have pronounced that there were two separate light felonies involved, namely: (1) reckless imprudence with slight physical injuries; and (2) reckless imprudence with damage to property, instead of

considering them a complex crime. Two light felonies, she insists, "do not . . . rate a single penalty of arresto mayor or imprisonment of six months," citing Lontok v. Gorgonio, 12 thus: Where the single act of imprudence resulted in double less serious physical injuries, damage to property amounting to P10,000.00 and slight physical injuries, a chief of police did not err in filing a separate complaint for the slight physical injuries and another complaint for the lesiones menos graves and damage to property (Arcaya vs. Teleron, L-37446, May 31, 1974, 57 SCRA 363, 365). The case of Angeles vs. Jose, 96 Phil. 151, cited by investigating fiscal, is different from the instant case because in that case the negligent act resulted in the offenses of lesiones menos graves and damage to property which were both less grave felonies and which, therefore, constituted a complex crime. In the instant case, following the ruling in the Turla case, the offense of lesiones leves through reckless imprudence should have been charged in a separate information. She then suggests that "at worst, the penalties of two light offenses, both imposable in their maximum period and computed or added together, only sum up to 60 days imprisonment and not six months as imposed by the lower courts." On the third assigned error, petitioner insists that the offense of slight physical injuries through reckless imprudence, being punishable only by arresto menor, is a light offense; as such, it prescribes in two months. Here, since the information was filed only on 13 January 1988, or almost three months from the date the vehicular collision occurred, the offense had already prescribed, again citing Lontok, thus: In the instant case, following the ruling in the Turla case, the offense of lesiones leves through reckless imprudence should have been charged in a separate information. And since, as a light offense, it prescribes in two months, Lontok's criminal liability therefor was already extinguished (Arts. 89[5], 90 and 91, Revised Penal Code in relation to sec. 2[e] and [f], Rule 117, Rules of Court). The trial court committed a grave abuse of discretion in not sustaining Lontok's motion to quash that part of the information charging him with that light offense. Petitioner further claims that the information was filed with the wrong court, since Regional Trial Courts do not deal with arresto menor cases. She submits that damage to property and slight physical injuries are light felonies and thus covered by the rules on summary procedure; therefore, only the filing with the proper Metropolitan Trial Court could have tolled the statute of limitations, this time invoking Zaldivia v. Reyes. 13 In its Comment filed on behalf of public respondents, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) agrees with petitioner that the penalty should have been arresto menor in its maximum period, instead of arresto mayor, pursuant to Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code. As to the second assigned error, the OSG contends that conformably with Buerano v. Court of Appeals, 14 which frowns upon splitting of crimes and prosecution, it was proper for the trial court to "complex" reckless imprudence with slight physical injuries and damage to property because what the law seeks to penalize is the single act of reckless imprudence, not the results thereof; hence, there was no need for two separate informations.

To refute the third assigned error, the OSG submits that although the Municipal Trial Court had jurisdiction to impose arresto menor for slight physical injuries, the Regional Trial Court properly took cognizance of this case because it had the jurisdiction to impose the higher penalty for the damage to property, which was a fine equal to thrice the value of P8,542.00. On this score, the OSG cites Cuyos v. Garcia. 15 The OSG then debunks petitioner's defense of prescription of the crime, arguing that the prescriptive period here was tolled by the filing of the complaint with the fiscal's office three days after the incident, pursuant to People v. Cuaresma 16 and Chico v. Isidro. 17 In her Reply to the Comment of the OSG, petitioner expressed gratitude and appreciation to the OSG in joining cause with her as to the first assigned error. However, she considers the OSG's reliance on Buerano v. Court of Appeals 18 as misplaced, for nothing there validates the "complexing" of the crime of reckless imprudence with physical injuries and damage to property; besides, in that case, two separate informations were filed one for slight and serious physical injuries through reckless imprudence and the other for damage to property through reckless imprudence. She then insists that in this case, following Arcaya v. Teleron 19 and Lontok v. Gorgonio, 20two informations should have been filed. She likewise submits that Cuyos v. Garcia 21 would only apply here on the assumption that it was proper to "complex" damage to property through reckless imprudence with slight physical injuries through reckless imprudence. Chico v. Isidro 22 is likewise "inapposite," for it deals with attempted homicide, which is not covered by the Rule on Summary Procedure. Petitioner finally avers that People v. Cuaresma 23 should not be given retroactive effect; otherwise, it would either unfairly prejudice her or render nugatory the en banc ruling in Zaldivia 24 favorable to her. The pleadings thus raise the following issues: I. Whether the penalty imposed on petitioner is correct. II. Whether the quasi offenses of reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property in the amount of P8,542.00 and reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries are light felonies. III. Whether the rule on complex crimes under Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code applies to the quasi offenses in question. IV. Whether the duplicity of the information may be questioned for the first time on appeal. V. Whether the Regional Trial Court had jurisdiction over the offenses in question. VI. Whether the quasi offenses in question have already prescribed. I. The Proper Penalty We agree with both petitioner and the OSG that the penalty of six months of arresto mayor imposed by the trial court and affirmed by respondent Court of Appeals is incorrect. However, we cannot subscribe to their submission that the penalty of arresto menor in its maximum period is the proper penalty.

Art. 365 of the Revised Penal Code provides: Art. 365. Imprudence and negligence. Any person who, by reckless imprudence, shall commit any act which, had it been intentional, would constitute a grave felony, shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its medium period; if it would have constituted a less grave felony, the penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods shall be imposed; if it would have constituted a light felony, the penalty of arresto menor in its maximum period shall be imposed. Any person who, by simple imprudence or negligence, shall commit an act which would otherwise constitute a grave felony, shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor in its medium and maximum periods; if it would have constituted a less serious felony, the penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum period shall be imposed. When the execution of the act covered by this article shall have only resulted in damage to the property of another, the offender shall be punished by a fine ranging from an amount equal to the value of said damages to three times such value, but which shall in no case be less than 25 pesos. A fine not exceeding 200 pesos and censure shall be imposed upon any person who, by simple imprudence or negligence, shall cause some wrong which, if done maliciously, would have constituted a light felony. In the imposition of these penalties, the courts shall exercise their sound discretion, without regard to the rules prescribed in Article 64. The provisions contained in this article shall not be applicable: 1. When the penalty provided for the offense is equal to or lower than those provided in the first two paragraphs of this article, in which case the courts shall impose the penalty next lower in degree than that which should be imposed in the period which they may deem proper to apply. According to the first paragraph of the aforequoted Article, the penalty for reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries, a light felony, is arresto menor in its maximum period, with a duration of 21 to 30 days. If the offense of slight physical injuries is, however, committed deliberately or with malice, it is penalized with arresto menor under Article 266 of the Revised Penal Code, with a duration of 1 day to 30 days. Plainly, the penalty then under Article 266 may be either lower than or equal to the penalty prescribed under the first paragraph of Article 365. This being the case, the exception in the sixth paragraph of Article 365 applies. Hence, the proper penalty for reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries is public censure, this being the penalty next lower in degree to arresto menor. 25 As to reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property in the amount of P8,542.00, the third paragraph of Article 365, which provides for the penalty of fine, does not apply since the reckless imprudence in this case did not result in damage to property only. What applies is the first paragraph of Article 365, which provides for arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods (1 month and 1 day to 4 months) for an act committed through reckless imprudence which, had it been intentional, would have constituted a less grave felony. Note that if the damage to the extent of P8,542.00 were caused deliberately, the crime would have been malicious mischief under Article 329 of the Revised Penal Code, and the penalty would then be arresto mayor in its medium and maximum periods (2

months and 1 day to 6 months which is higher than that prescribed in the first paragraph of Article 365). If the penalty under Article 329 were equal to or lower than that provided for in the first paragraph, then the sixth paragraph of Article 365 would apply, i.e., the penalty next lower in degree, which is arresto menor in its maximum period to arresto mayor in its minimum period or imprisonment from 21 days to 2 months. Accordingly, the imposable penalty for reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property to the extent of P8,542.00 would be arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods, which could be anywhere from a minimum of 1 month and 1 day to a maximum of 4 months, at the discretion of the court, since the fifth paragraph of Article 365 provides that in the imposition of the penalties therein provided "the courts shall exercise their sound discretion without regard to the rules prescribed in article 64." II. Classification of the Quasi Offense in Question. Felonies committed not only by means of deceit (dolo), but likewise by means of fault (culpa). There is deceit when the wrongful act is performed with deliberate intent; and there is fault when the wrongful act results from imprudence, negligence, lack of foresight or lack of skill. 26 As earlier stated, reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries is punishable by public censure only. Article 9, paragraph 3, of the Revised Penal Code defines light felonies as infractions of law carrying the penalty ofarresto menor or a fine not exceeding P200.00, or both. Since public censure is classified under Article 25 of the Code as a light penalty, and is considered under the graduated scale provided in Article 71 of the same Code as a penalty lower than arresto menor, it follows that the offense of reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries is a light felony. On the other hand, reckless imprudence also resulting in damage to property is, as earlier discussed, penalized with arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods. Since arresto mayor is a correctional penalty under Article 25 of the Revised Penal Code, the quasi offense in question is a less grave felony not a light felony as claimed by petitioner. III. Applicability of the Rule on Complex Crimes . Since criminal negligence may, as here, result in more than one felony, should Article 48 of the Revised Code on complex crimes be applied? Article 48 provides as follows: Art. 48. Penalty for complex crimes. When a single act constitutes two or more grave or less grave felonies, or when an offense is necessary a means for committing the other, the penalty for the most serious crime shall be imposed, the same to be applied in its maximum period. Clearly, if a reckless, imprudent or negligent act results in two or more grave or less grave felonies, a complex crime is committed. However, in Lontok v. Gorgonio, 27 this Court declared that where one of the resulting offenses in criminal negligence constitutes a light felony, there is no complex crime, thus: Applying article 48, it follows that if one offense is light, there is no complex crime. The resulting offenses may be treated as separate or the light felony may be absorbed by the grave felony. Thus, the light felonies of damage to property and slight physical injuries, both resulting from a single act of imprudence, do not constitute a complex crime. They cannot be charged in one information. They are separate offenses subject to distinct penalties (People vs. Turla, 50 Phil. 1001; See People vs. Estipona, 70 Phil. 513).

Where the single act of imprudence resulted in double less serious physical injuries, damage to property amounting to P10,000 and slight physical injuries, a chief of police did not err in filing a separate complaint for the slight physical injuries and another complaint for the lesiones menor graves and damage to property [Arcaya vs. Teleron, L-37446, May 31, 1974, 57 SCRA 363, 365]. Hence, the trial court erred in considering the following felonies as a complex crime: the less grave felony of reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property in the amount of P8,542.00 and the light felony of reckless imprudence resulting in physical injuries. IV. The Right to Assail the Duplicity of the Information. Following Lontok, the conclusion is inescapable here, that the quasi offense of reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries should have been charged in a separate information because it is not covered by Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code. However, petitioner may no longer question, at this stage, the duplicitous character of the information, i.e., charging two separate offenses in one information, to wit: (1) reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property; and (2) reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries. This defect was deemed waived by her failure to raise it in a motion to quash before she pleaded to the information. 28 Under Section 3, Rule 120 of the Rules of Court, when two or more offenses are charged in a single complaint or information and the accused fails to object to it before trial, the court may convict the accused of as many offenses as are charged and proved and impose on him the penalty for each of them. 29 V. Which Court Has Jurisdiction Over the Quasi Offenses in Question. The jurisdiction to try a criminal action is to be determined by the law in force at the time of the institution of the action, unless the statute expressly provides, or is construed to the effect that it is intended to operate as to actions pending before its enactment. 30 At the time of the filing of the information in this case, the law in force was Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, otherwise known as "The Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980." Section 32(2) 31 thereof provided that except in cases falling within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Courts and of the Sandiganbayan, the Metropolitan Trial Courts (MTCs), Municipal Trial Courts (MTCs), and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts (MCTCs) had exclusive original jurisdiction over "all offenses punishable with imprisonment of got exceeding four years and two months, or a fine of not more than four thousand pesos, or both fine and imprisonment, regardless of other imposable accessory or other penalties, including the civil liability arising from such offenses or predicated thereon, irrespective of kind, nature, value or amount thereof." The criminal jurisdiction of the lower courts was then determined by the duration of the imprisonment and the amount of fine prescribed by law for the offense charged. The question thus arises as to which court has jurisdiction over offenses punishable by censure, such as reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries. In Uy Chin Hua v. Dinglasan, 32 this Court found that a lacuna existed in the law as to which court had jurisdiction over offenses penalized with destierro, the duration of which was from 6 months and 1 day to 6 years, which was co-extensive with prision correccional. We then interpreted the law in this wise: Since the legislature has placed offenses penalized with arresto mayor under the jurisdiction of justice of the peace and municipal courts, and since by Article 71 of the

Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 3 of Commonwealth Act No. 217, it has placed destierro below arresto mayor as a lower penalty than the latter, in the absence of any express provision of law to the contrary it is logical and reasonable to infer from said provisions that its intention was to place offenses penalized withdestierro also under the jurisdiction of justice of the peace and municipal courts and not under that of courts of first instance. Similarly, since offenses punishable by imprisonment of not exceeding 4 years and 2 months were within the jurisdictional ambit of the MeTCs, MTCs and MCTCs, it follows that those penalized with censure, which is a penalty lower than arresto menor under the graduated scale in Article 71 of the Revised Penal Code and with a duration of 1 to 30 days, should also fall within the jurisdiction of said courts. Thus, reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries was cognizable by said courts. As to the reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property in the amount of P8,542.00, the same was also under the jurisdiction of MeTCs, MTCs or MCTCs because the imposable penalty therefor was arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods the duration of which was from 1 month and 1 day to 4 months. Criminal Case No. 33919 should, therefore, be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction on the part of the RTC of Makati. VI. Prescription of the Quasi Offenses in Question . Pursuant to Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code, reckless imprudence resulting in slight physical injuries, being a light felony, prescribes in two months. On the other hand, reckless imprudence resulting in damage to property in the amount of P8,542.00, being a less grave felony whose penalty is arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods, prescribes in five years. To resolve the issue of whether these quasi offenses have already prescribed, it is necessary to determine whether the filing of the complaint with the fiscal's office three days after the incident in question tolled the running of the prescriptive period. Art. 91 of the Revised Penal Code provides: 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 of information, and shall commence to run again when such proceedings terminate without the accused being convicted or acquitted, or are unjustifiably stopped by any reason not imputable to him. (emphasis supplied) Notably, the aforequoted article, in declaring that the prescriptive period "shall be interrupted by the filing of the complaint or information," does not distinguish whether the complaint is filed for preliminary examination or investigation only or for an action on the merits. 33 Thus, in Francisco v. Court of Appeals 34 and People v. Cuaresma, 35 this Court held that the filing of the complaint even with the fiscal's office suspends the running of the statute of limitations. We cannot apply Section 9 36 of the Rule on Summary Procedure, which provides that in cases covered thereby, such as offenses punishable by imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, as in the

instant case, "the prosecution commences by the filing of a complaint or information directly with the MeTC, RTC or MCTC without need of a prior preliminary examination or investigation; provided that in Metropolitan Manila and Chartered Cities, said cases may be commenced only by information." However, this Section cannot be taken to mean that the prescriptive period is interrupted only by the filing of a complaint or information directly with said courts. It must be stressed that prescription in criminal cases is a matter of substantive law. Pursuant to Section 5(5), Article VIII of the Constitution, this Court, in the exercise of its rule-making power, is not allowed to diminish, increase or modify substantive rights. 37 Hence, in case of conflict between the Rule on Summary Procedure promulgated by this Court and the Revised Penal Code, the latter prevails. Neither does Zaldivia control in this instance. It must be recalled that what was involved therein was a violation of a municipal ordinance; thus, the applicable law was not Article 91 of the Revised Penal Code, but Act. No. 3326, as amended, entitled "An Act to Establish Periods of Prescription for Violations Penalized by Special Acts and Municipal Ordinances and to Provide When Prescription Shall Begin to Run." Under Section 2 thereof, the period of prescription is suspended only when judicial proceedings are instituted against the guilty party. Accordingly, this Court held that the prescriptive period was not interrupted by the filing of the complaint with the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, as such did not constitute a judicial proceeding; what could have tolled the prescriptive period there was only the filing of the information in the proper court. In the instant case, as the offenses involved are covered by the Revised Penal Code, Article 91 thereof and the rulings in Francisco and Cuaresma apply. Thus, the prescriptive period for the quasi offenses in question was interrupted by the filing of the complaint with the fiscal's office three days after the vehicular mishap and remained tolled pending the termination of this case. We cannot, therefore, uphold petitioner's defense of prescription of the offenses charged in the information in this case. WHEREFORE, the instant petition is GRANTED. The challenge decision of respondent Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 14660 is SET ASIDE as the Regional Trial Court, whose decision was affirmed therein, had no jurisdiction over Criminal Case No. 33919. Criminal Case No. 33919 is ordered DISMISSED. No pronouncement as to costs. SO ORDERED.