[G.R. No. 137010. August 29, 2003]
ARK TRAVEL EXPRESS, INC., petitioner, vs. The Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Makati, Branch 150, HON. ZEUS ABROGAR, VIOLETA BAGUIO and LORELEI IRA, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Before us is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court seeking to nullify the Order dated October 2, 1998 issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati City (Branch 150) in Civil Case No. 98-2125 which considered Criminal Cases Nos. 200894 and 200895 pending before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) of Makati (Branch 67) as withdrawn; and, the Order dated November 23, 1998 which denied petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration.
The facts of the case:
Herein petitioner Ark Travel Express, Inc. (Ark Travel for brevity) filed with the City Prosecutor of Makati a criminal complaint for False Testimony in a Civil Case under Article 182 of the Revised Penal Code against herein private respondents Violeta Baguio and Lorelei Ira. In a resolution dated November 20, 1996, the City Prosecutor found probable cause to indict private respondents for violation of said law and accordingly filed the respective Informations against each of them before the MTC, docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 200894 and 200895, which, except for the names of the accused, uniformly read as follows:
The undersigned 2nd Assistant Prosecutor accuses VIOLETA S. BAGUIO of the crime of Violation of Article 182 of the Revised Penal Code (False Testimony), committed as follows:
That on or about the 19th day of February, 1996, in the City of Makati, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously give false testimony upon a material fact in Civil Case No. 95-1542, relative to a complaint for Collection of sum of money, torts and damages filed by Ark Travel Express, Inc. (Ark Inc. for short) against New Filipino Maritime Agencies, Inc. (NFMA, Inc. for short) in the following manner, to wit: during the trial of the aforesaid civil case on aforestated date before Branch 137 of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Metro Manila, in which one of the principal issues was whether or not payment of the claim of ARK, Inc. has been made by NFMA, Inc., the said accused while testifying for NFMA, Inc., with malicious intent, did, then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and knowingly testified on direct testimony, by way of a sworn statement, and while under oath on the witness stand, that the claims of ARK, Inc. supported by a statements of accounts (Exhibit “E” to “GG”) sent to and received by defendant-corporation NFMA, Inc. is baseless and/or been paid, which testimony as accused very well knew and ought to know, by reason of accused’s position as cashier, was false inasmuch as the claim based on the statement of accounts of ARK, Inc. (Exhibits “E” to “GG” are, in truth and in fact, valid, legal and unpaid accounts of NFMA, Inc. with ARK Travel Inc., herein represented by private complainant MA. PAZ ALBERTO, to the damage and prejudice of the latter.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
Private respondents filed a petition for review of the City Prosecutor’s resolution dated November 20, 1996 with the Department of Justice (DOJ). In a resolution dated March 9, 1998, Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito P. Zuño reversed the City Prosecutor’s resolution dated November 20, 1996. The prosecution office of Makati then filed with the MTC a Motion to Withdraw Information.
However, on May 15, 1998, Ark Travel filed an “Urgent Petition for Automatic Review” with the DOJ. In a letter dated May 27, 1998, Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III resolved to treat the urgent petition as a motion for reconsideration, reversed its resolution dated March 9, 1998 and directed the City Prosecutor to proceed with the prosecution of Criminal Cases Nos. 200894 and 200895. For this reason, the MTC issued an Order dated June 10, 1998, denying the aforesaid Motion to Withdraw Information filed by the prosecution, to wit:
It appearing that the Department of Justice had reconsidered its previous ruling directing the City Prosecutor of Makati City to withdraw the information filed against the accused in the above-entitled cases, the Motion to Withdraw Information filed by the prosecution is hereby DENIED.
Set these cases therefore for arraignment on July 30, 1998 at 8:30 in the morning.
In the meanwhile, private respondents Baguio and Ira filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the May 27, 1998 resolution of then Secretary Bello III, alleging that: (1) the March 9, 1998 resolution of Chief State Prosecutor Zuño finding no probable cause to indict them has become final and executory because the Urgent Petition for Automatic Review was filed way beyond the 10-day reglementary period; and (2) the said resolution of May 27, 1998 did not reverse the finding of the March 9, 1998 resolution that respondents did not really act with malice/criminal intent because the resolution of the Secretary merely stated that there was false testimony.
DOJ Undersecretary Jesus A. Zozobrado, Jr., signing “For the Secretary”, granted the Motion for Reconsideration in a resolution dated June 26, 1998, disposing thus:
WHEREFORE, our resolution dated May 27, 1998 is reconsidered and set aside; and consequently, our resolution dated March 9, 1998 is reinstated. You are accordingly, directed to immediately cause, with leave of court, the withdrawal of the informations for false testimony in a civil case filed against Violeta S. Baguio and Lorelei Ira. Report to us the action taken within ten (10) days from receipt hereof.
Consequently, private respondents filed with the MTC a Motion for Reconsideration of its June 10, 1998 Order alleging that there is no longer any obstacle, legal or otherwise, to the granting of the Motion to Withdraw Information previously filed by the prosecution. The MTC denied the motion in an Order, dated July 21, 1998, which we quote verbatim, as follows:
Submitted for resolution is a Motion for Reconsideration filed by the accused through counsel which seeks a reversal of the court’s order denying the Motion to Withdraw filed by the prosecution.
In the Crespo Mogul case, it was held by the Supreme Court that once an information is filed in court, such filing sets in motion the criminal action against the accused before the court, and any motion to dismiss or withdraw information is always addressed to the discretion of the court. The denial or grant of any motion is done by the court not out of subservience to the secretary of justice but in faithful exercise of its judicial prerogative. This is the ruling in the case of Robert Jr. et al. vs. CH et al. vs. CA G.R. No. 113930 promulgated on March 5, 1996.
A reading of the information sufficiently alleges the facts which make out the offense charged and in keeping with the above ruling of the Supreme Court, this court hereby denies the Motion for Reconsideration.
Set this case for arraignment of both accused on July 30, 1998 at 8:30 in the morning.
Private respondents questioned the MTC Orders dated June 10, 1998 and July 21, 1998 via a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 with the respondent RTC of Makati.
The RTC issued herein assailed Order dated October 2, 1998, portions of which read:
. . .
As aptly stated in Ledesma vs. CA (Supra) and Marcelo vs. CA (Aug. 4, 1994) the trial Court nonetheless should make its own study and evaluation of the said motion and not reply merely on the awaited action of the secretary.
No such evaluation was ever conducted by the respondent Court before it issued the two (2) questioned orders.
In view hereof, it is this Court’s opinion and stand that the respondent Court may have indeed acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it denied the Motion to Withdraw and the motion for reconsideration based solely on its bare and ambiguous reliance on the Crespo Doctrine, since an independent evaluation and assessment of the existence of a probable cause is necessary before such orders denying the said motions could be issued.
Foregoing Premises Considered, the petition for Certiorari is hereby granted. The questioned orders dated June 10 and July 21, 1998 are hereby set aside and the Informations in Criminal Cases Nos. 200894 and 200895 are hereby considered withdrawn. (Emphasis ours)
The RTC denied Ark Travel’s motion for reconsideration in its Order dated November 23, 1998, to wit:
This resolves the motion for reconsideration filed by private respondent which was temporarily held in abeyance on account of the manifestation of movant’s counsel that they intend to file a motion to inhibit; however, despite the lapse of the 10-day period given to them to do so, the intended motion has not been filed.
After an extensive study of the motion as well as the opposition thereto, and with careful consideration and assessment of the circumstances which led to its earlier order, the Court finds no compelling reason to alter, amend and/or reconsider its order dated October 2, 1998.
Wherefore, the above-mentioned motion is hereby DENIED for lack of merit.
Hence, the present petition for certiorari which raises the following issue:
WHETHER OR NOT THE RESPONDENT COURT COMMITTED A GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION, WHEN IT NULLIFIED THE ORDERS OF THE COURT A QUO, ENJOINED THE SAID COURT A QUO FROM HEARING CRIMINAL CASES NOS. 200894 AND 200895, AND THEREAFTER, ORDERED THE OUTRIGHT DISMISSAL OF SAID CRIMINAL CASES.
Ark Travel argues that the ruling of the RTC contravenes the doctrine laid down by this Court in the case of Crespo vs. Mogul which enunciated that once a complaint or information is filed in court any disposition of the case such as its dismissal or the conviction or acquittal of the accused rests in the sound discretion of the court. Ark Travel likewise insists that criminal prosecutions cannot be enjoined.
In their Comment, private respondents counter: (1) Appeal and not certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court is the appropriate remedy. But even if the petition at bar is treated as an appeal, the filing thereof way beyond the 15-day reglementary period within which to appeal, renders the instant petition outrightly dismissable; (2) Assuming arguendo that petition for certiorari under Rule 65 is the correct remedy, the petition should still be denied and/or dismissed outright for having been filed beyond the 60-day reglementary period provided by Rule 65 of the Rules of Court; (3) The RTC’s Orders have become final and executory, and consequently may no longer be disturbed; (4) The filing of the petition with this Court is grossly violative of the principle of hierarchy of courts; (5) There is no ground to reverse public respondent RTC’s Orders which considered the criminal cases as withdrawn because the petition does not rebut the validity of the ruling of the DOJ that there is no probable cause to charge herein private respondents with the crime of false testimony.
In its Reply, Ark Travel argues that herein petition for certiorari is the proper remedy and not appeal because what is being questioned is not the correctness of the subject Orders but the jurisdiction of the RTC in considering the criminal cases as withdrawn when said cases are not pending with it but the MTC; that appeal is not a speedy and/or adequate remedy; and that herein petition does not violate the principle of hierarchy of court because it presents a question of law.
We shall first address the procedural aspect.
The issue raised in the present petition concerns the jurisdiction of the RTC in ordering the dismissal of the criminal cases pending before the MTC and therefore, the proper remedy is certiorari. As such, the present petition for certiorari ought to have been dismissed for late filing. The assailed Order dated October 2, 1998 was received by Ark Travel on October 16, 1998. Ark Travel filed the Motion for Reconsideration fourteen days later or on October 30, 1998. On November 27, 1998, Ark Travel received the Order of the denial of the Motion for Reconsideration. Pursuant to Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules on Civil Procedure, then prevailing, the petition should have been filed on the forty-sixth day (60 days minus 14 days) from November 27, 1998 or on January 12, 1999, the last day of the 60-day reglementary period; instead, the petition was filed on January 26, 1999.
However, during the pendency of herein petition, the Court promulgated A.M. No. 00-2-03, amending Section 4, Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules on Civil Procedure, effective September 1, 2000, to wit:
SEC. 4. When and where petition filed. – The petition shall be filed not later than sixty (60) days from notice of judgment, order or resolution. In case a motion for reconsideration or new trial is timely filed, whether such motion is required or not, the sixty (60) day period shall be counted from notice of the denial of said motion.
in which case, the filing of the petition on January 26, 1999 was filed on the 60th day from November 27, 1998, Ark Travel’s date of receipt of notice of the order denying Ark Travel’s motion for reconsideration.
We have consistently held that statutes regulating the procedure of the courts will be construed as applicable to actions pending and undetermined at the time of their passage – procedural laws are retroactive in that sense and to that extent. In view of such retroactive application of procedural laws, the instant petition should be considered as timely filed.
Further, herein case is a clear exception to the principle of hierarchy of courts. The Court has full discretionary power to take cognizance of the petition filed directly to it for compelling reasons or if warranted by the nature of the issues raised. This case commenced in the MTC way back 1996 and still pends. We therefore set aside such principle for this particular case, in the interest of speedy justice.
Anent the substantive aspect.
The general rule is that the denial of a motion to withdraw information, just like a motion to dismiss a complaint, is an interlocutory order and therefore it cannot be the proper subject of an appeal or certiorari until a final judgment on the merits of the case is rendered. However, there are certain situations where recourse to certiorari or mandamus is considered appropriate, to wit:
a) when the trial court issued the order without or in excess of jurisdiction; (b) where there is patent grave abuse of discretion by the trial court; or, (c) appeal would not prove to be a speedy and adequate remedy as when an appeal would not promptly relieve a defendant from the injurious effects of the patently mistaken order maintaining the plaintiffs baseless action and compelling the defendant needlessly to go through a protracted trial and clogging the court dockets by another futile case.
All three situations are present in this case. Thus, the petition for certiorari filed with this Court is the proper remedy.
In the petition for certiorari filed with the RTC, Ark Travel claims that the MTC committed grave abuse of discretion in denying the Motion to Withdraw Informations on the ground that the MTC disregarded the DOJ’s finding of lack of probable cause without making an independent evaluation of the same.
Indeed, the MTC Order dated June 10, 1998 shows that the Motion to Withdraw Informations was denied by the MTC solely on the basis of the ruling of the DOJ that there exists a probable cause; while the MTC Order dated July 21, 1998 denied the motion for reconsideration of the June 10, 1998 order on the basis of the principle laid down in the Crespo vs. Mogul case that once an Information was filed in court, its disposition rests in the discretion of the court and that the allegations of facts in the Information make out the offense charged.
It is settled that when confronted with a motion to withdraw an Information on the ground of lack of probable cause based on a resolution of the Secretary of the Department of Justice, the bounden duty of the trial court is to make an independent assessment of the merits of such motion. Having acquired jurisdiction over the case, the trial court is not bound by such resolution but is required to evaluate it before proceeding further with the trial and should embody such assessment in the order disposing the motion.
The subject MTC Orders do not show that the MTC made an independent assessment of the merits of the Motion to Withdraw Informations. The MTC merely based its first order on the ruling of the DOJ that probable cause existed. In the second order, the MTC merely stated that from its reading of the Informations, and in keeping with the Crespo ruling, it is denying the motion for reconsideration.
The MTC should have made an independent evaluation and embodied its assessment in at least one of its assailed orders, especially considering that the DOJ had issued contradicting rulings on the existence of probable cause. Hence, on this point, we agree with the RTC that the MTC committed grave abuse of discretion.
But the RTC, acting on the petition for certiorari before it, not only committed grave abuse of discretion but acted in excess of or beyond its jurisdiction in considering the criminal cases pending in the MTC as withdrawn, which in effect, causes the dismissal of the two criminal cases. First, the subject cases are not within the jurisdiction of the RTC to dismiss. The only issue brought to it is whether or not the MTC committed grave abuse of discretion in denying the motion to withdraw without making any independent evaluation as to whether or not there is a probable cause. Second, while ruling that the MTC should have made an independent assessment on the merits of the Motion to Withdraw Informations, the RTC itself omitted to do the very thing that it prescribed the MTC to do. It unceremoniously considered the criminal cases as withdrawn, without evaluation or determination of the existence of the probable cause.
The RTC should have only nullified the subject MTC Order and remanded the case to the MTC for its determination of the existence of probable cause pursuant to the aforementioned Crespo and Ledesma cases.
However, inasmuch as we have taken cognizance of this case in the interest of speedy justice and considering that the entire records have been forwarded to us, it is befitting that we determine the existence of probable cause to put an end to this issue which had been unresolved since 1998, not to mention the fact that the subject Informations were initially filed in 1996. A remand of the case to the MTC for an independent evaluation of the existence of probable cause will only delay the disposition of the case and contribute in the clogging of the dockets.
To constitute the crime of False Testimony in a Civil Case under Article 182 of the Revised Penal Code, the following requisites must concur:
1. the testimony must be given in a civil case;
2. the testimony must relate to the issues presented in the case;
3. the testimony is false;
4. the false testimony must be given by the defendant knowing the same to be false; and
5. such testimony must be malicious and given with and intent to affect the issues presented in the case.
There is no doubt that the first two requisites are extant in this case. The records show that Ark Travel filed a complaint for collection of sum of money, torts and damages against New Filipino Maritime Agencies, Inc. (NFMAI) and Angelina T. Rivera with the Regional Trial Court of Makati (Branch 137), docketed as Civil Case No. 95-1542. In said civil case, private respondents were presented by NFMAI as witnesses. They executed their respective sworn statements and testified before the trial court that NFMAI has no outstanding obligation with Ark Travel as the same had been paid in full.
The existence of the last three requisites is quite dubious. The falsity of the subject testimonies of private respondents is yet to be established. It is noted that at the time of the filing of the criminal complaints, the civil case filed by Ark Travel is still pending decision. Ark Travel has yet to prove the validity of its monetary claims and damages against NFMAI. It is only after trial that the RTC can assess the veracity or falsity of the testimony and correspondingly render a decision. Thus, the civil case is so intimately connected with the subject crime that it is determinative of the guilt or innocence of the respondents in the criminal cases. In other words, whether or not the testimonies of private respondents in the civil cases are false is a prejudicial question. It is clear that the elements of a prejudicial question are present as provided in Section 7, Rule 111 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, to wit:
SEC. 7 Elements of Prejudicial question. – The elements of a prejudicial question are: (a) the previously instituted civil action involves an issue similar or intimately related to the issue raised in the subsequent criminal action; and (b) the resolution of such issue determines whether or not the criminal action may proceed.
Section 6, Rule 111 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedures provides:
SEC. 6. Suspension by reason of prejudicial question. – A petition for suspension of the criminal action based upon the pendency of a prejudicial question in a civil action may be filed in the office of the prosecutor or the court conducting the preliminary investigation. When the criminal action has been filed in court for trial, the petition to suspend shall be filed in the same criminal action at any time before the prosecution rests. (Emphasis supplied)
Hence, pending determination of the falsity of the subject testimonies of private respondents in the civil case, the criminal action for false testimony must perforce be suspended. As such, under the attendant circumstances, although there is no motion to suspend proceedings on the part of the private respondents, orderly administration of justice dictates that the criminal cases should be suspended.
WHEREFORE, the assailed Orders dated October 2, 1998 and November 23, 1998 of the Regional Trial Court are NULLIFIED and SET ASIDE insofar only as said court, acting as an appellate court, considered Criminal Cases Nos. 200894 and 200895 as withdrawn.
The Orders dated June 10, 1998 and July 21, 1998 of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Makati (Branch 67) in Criminal Cases Nos. 200894 and 200895 are likewise NULLIFIED and SET ASIDE for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion. In lieu thereof, the said Metropolitan Trial Court is directed to SUSPEND the criminal proceedings until after the final decision in Civil Case No. 95-1542 of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City (Branch 137).
Bellosillo, (Chairman), Quisumbing, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.
 Entitled, “Violeta S. Baguio and Lorelai Ira, Plaintiffs vs. Judge Leticia Q. Ulibari, in her capacity as Presiding Judge of Metropolitan Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 67 and Ark Travel Express, Inc., Defendants”.
 Records, p. 83.
 Id., p. 120.
 Id., p. 124.
 Id., p. 133.
 Records, p. 21.
 Records, p. 137.
 Records, p. 20.
 Records, pp. 239-240.
 Rollo, p. 23.
 Rollo, p. 5; Petition, p. 3.
 151 SCRA 462, 471 (1987).
 Unity Fishing Development Corporation vs. CA, 351 SCRA 140, 143 (2001).
 PCGG vs. Desierto 349 SCRA 767, 772 (2001).
 Fortich vs. Corona, 289 SCRA 624, 645 (1998).
 Eugenio vs. Drilon, 252 SCRA 106, 110 (1996).
 Gonzales vs. Court of Appeals, 277 SCRA 518 (1997).
 Emergency Loan Pawnshop Incorporated vs. Court of Appeals, 353 SCRA 89, 92-93 (2001).
 Ledesma vs. CA, 278 SCRA 656, 665 (1997).
 Ibid., p. 683.
 U.S. vs. Isidoro Aragon, 5 Phil. 469, 476 (1905).
 May 27, 1998 DOJ Resolution, p. 3; Records, p. 157; Counter-Affidavit of Respondent Baguio, Records, p. 71; Counter-Affidavit of Respondent Ira, Records, p. 75.