People of the Philippines
Petitioner Joseph Cerezo filed a complaint for libel against respondents Juliet Yaneza, Pablo Abunda, Jr., and Vicente Afulugencia (respondents), as well as Oscar Mapalo (Mapalo). Finding probable cause to indict respondents, the Quezon City Prosecutors Office (OP-QC) filed the corresponding Information against them before the RTC. Respondents thereafter filed a Motion for Reconsideration and/or Motion to Re-evaluate Prosecutions Evidence before the OP-QC. In its resolution, the OP-QC reversed its earlier finding and recommended the withdrawal of the Information. Consequently, a Motion to Dismiss and Withdraw Information was filed before the RTC on December 3, 2003. During the intervening period, specifically on November 24, 2003, respondents were arraigned. All of them entered a not guilty plea. In deference to the prosecutor’s last resolution, the RTC ordered the criminal case dismissed in its Order.
Aggrieved, petitioner moved for reconsideration of the said Order, arguing that the OP-QC resolution has not yet attained finality, considering that the same was the subject of a Petition for Review filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ). The RTC deferred action on the said motion to await the resolution of the DOJ. The Secretary of Justice promulgated his resolution reversing and setting aside the OP-QCs resolution, and directing the latter to refile the earlier Information for libel. The RTC issued its first assailed Order granting petitioners motion for reconsideration, conformably with the resolution of the DOJ Secretary and setting aside its last Order granting the dismissal of the case against the respondents and order the reinstatement of the case.
Respondents moved for reconsideration, but the motion was denied in the RTC.
The respondents elevated their predicament to the CA arguing that the RTC Orders violated their constitutional right against double jeopardy. The CA found the RTC to have gravely abused its discretion in ordering the reinstatement of the case. The CA annulled the impugned RTC Orders, ruling that all the elements of double jeopardy exist. There was a valid Information sufficient in form and substance filed before a court of competent jurisdiction to which respondents had pleaded, and that the termination of the case was not expressly consented to by respondents; hence, the same could not be revived or refiled without transgressing respondents right against double jeopardy. The CA further found that the DOJ Secretary improperly took cognizance of the Petition for Review because DOJ Department Order No. 223 mandates that no appeal shall be entertained if the accused has already been arraigned or, if the arraignment took place during the pendency of the appeal, the same shall be dismissed.
Petitioner interposed the instant appeal when his motion for reconsideration of the CA Decision was denied.
Whether there was a valid termination of the case so as to usher in the impregnable wall of double jeopardy.
The Court held that in resolving a motion to dismiss a case or to withdraw an Information, the trial court should not rely solely and merely on the findings of the public prosecutor or the Secretary of Justice. It is the courts bounden duty to assess independently the merits of the motion, and this assessment must be embodied in a written order disposing of the motion. While the recommendation of the prosecutor or the ruling of the Secretary of Justice is persuasive, it is not binding on courts.
The Court noticed that it is obvious from the Order of the RTC, dismissing the criminal case, that the RTC judge failed to make his own determination of whether or not there was a prima facie case to hold respondents for trial. He failed to make an independent evaluation or assessment of the merits of the case. The RTC judge blindly relied on the manifestation and recommendation of the prosecutor when he should have been more circumspect and judicious in resolving the Motion to Dismiss and Withdraw Information especially so when the prosecution appeared to be uncertain, undecided, and irresolute on whether to indict respondents. The same holds true with respect to the Order, which reinstated the case. The RTC judge failed to make a separate evaluation and merely awaited the resolution of the DOJ Secretary.
By relying solely on the manifestation of the public prosecutor and the resolution of the DOJ Secretary, the trial court abdicated its judicial power and refused to perform a positive duty enjoined by law. The said Orders were thus stained with grave abuse of discretion and violated the complainant’s right to due process. They were void, had no legal standing, and produced no effect whatsoever.
The Court remanded the case to the RTC, so that the latter can rule on the merits of the case to determine if a prima facie case exists and consequently resolve the Motion to Dismiss and Withdraw Information anew.
The Court also held that double jeopardy did not set in. Double jeopardy exists when the following requisites are present: (1) a first jeopardy attached prior to the second; (2) the first jeopardy has been validly terminated; and (3) a second jeopardy is for the same offense as in the first. A first jeopardy attaches only (a) after a valid indictment; (b) before a competent court; (c) after arraignment; (d) when a valid plea has been entered; and (e) when the accused has been acquitted or convicted, or the case dismissed or otherwise terminated without his express consent.
Since the Court have held Order granting the motion to dismiss was committed with grave abuse of discretion, then respondents were not acquitted nor was there a valid and legal dismissal or termination of the case. The fifth requisite which requires the conviction and acquittal of the accused, or the dismissal of the case without the approval of the accused, was not met. Thus, double jeopardy has not set in. The petition was granted and the Supreme Court remanded the case to QC-RTC for evaluation on whether probable cause exists to hold respondents for trial.