CASE BrieF NO. 2000-0005

CASE: Rogelio Juan, Pedro De Jesus, Delfin Carreon and Antonio Galguerra vs People of the Philippines [G.R. No. 132378 January 18, 2000]

PONENTE: Justice Artemio Panganiban

SUBJECT:

  1. R.A. 3019:
    i. Preventive Suspension – Pre-hearing Conference to determination of validity of information
  2. Remedial Law:
    i. Motion – Notice Requirement; Pro Forma Motion
    ii. Jurisdiction – Exclusive Jurisdiction of First Level and Regional Trial Courts

“Unlawful and unauthorized use of government property by incumbent public officers constitutes fraud. Thus, the provision on preventive suspension in the Anti-Graft Law applies to such officers even if the alleged violations are primarily considered as election offenses.”


FACTS: Rogelio Juan, Barangay Chairman and Barangay Kagawads Pedro de Jesus, Delfin Carreon, and Antonio Galguerra (Juan et. al.), were separately accused criminally for violation of Section 261-(o) of the Omnibus Election Code, before the Regional Trial Court. They were charged with willful and unlawful use of VHF radio transceiver and a tricycle owned by the barangay for election campaign or for partisan political activity. Private complainants assisted by Atty. Leonides S. Bernabe, Jr., representing himself as “Private Prosecutor,” filed a “Motion for Removal from Office,” for the removal of said local elective officials, to which Juan et.al. filed their comment, on the ground that movants have no legal standing in court, and neither was the COMELEC prosecutor notified of the motion to which he did not conform, and therefore, said motion should be expunged or stricken out from the records, or peremptorily denied.

In a Manifestation and Comment to Juan et. al.’s comment, the COMELEC prosecutor stated that he “conforms” with the subject motion of private complainants, hence, respectfully submits the same for the ruling of the court, followed by a Supplement to Motion for Removal from Office to which Juan et. al. also filed their opposition.

Subsequently, the RTC issued an Order, directing the immediate suspension from office of all the accused  (Juan et. al.) for a period of sixty (60) days.

The CA affirmed the RTC.

Juan et. al. filed a Petition for Review under Rule 45 to the Supreme Court raising the following arguments:

a) The RTC lacks jurisdiction because the penalty for the offenses charged did not exceed six years. They claim that the authority to hear the cases is vested by RA 7691 in the first-level courts. Section 32 of RA 7691 provides:

Sec. 32. Jurisdiction of Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in Criminal Cases. — xxxx

(1) xxx

(2) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all offenses punishable with imprisonment not exceeding six (6) years irrespective of the amount of fine, and 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 thereof.

b) Their cases are not subject to Section 13 of RA 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which mandates the preventive suspension of indicted public officials because they were charged of violation of Elections Laws.

c) The “Motion for Removal From Office” filed by the private complainant is a pro forma motion because it did not comply with the notice requirements provided under Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court.

ISSUES:

A) Whether the RTC has jurisdiction to hear and decide the case.

B) Whether the election cases filed against Juan et. al. are subject to Section 13 of RA 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which mandates the preventive suspension of indicted public officials.

C) Whether the “Motion for Removal From Office” filed by the private complainants is a pro forma motion.

D) Is the order of preventive suspension issued by the RTC valid despite the lack of pre-suspension hearing for the determination of the validity of the Information as mandated by R.A. 3019?

RULING:

A)      The RTC has jurisdiction. It is evident from Section 32, BP 129, as amended by Section 2 of RA 7691, that the jurisdiction of first-level courts does not cover those criminal cases which by specific provision of law are cognizable by regional trial courts. Section 32 provides:

Sec. 32. Jurisdiction of Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in Criminal Cases. — Except in cases falling within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Courts and of the Sandiganbayan, the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall exercise:

(1) xxxx

(2) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all offenses punishable with imprisonment not exceeding six (6) years irrespective of the amount of fine, and 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 thereof.

Juan et. al. were charged with violating Section 261 (o) of the Omnibus Election Code. Under Section 268 of the said Code, regional trial courts have exclusive jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceeding for violation of the Code, “except those relating to the offense of failure to register or failure to vote.” The said provision reads:

Sec. 268. Jurisdiction of courts. — The regional trial court shall have the exclusive jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceeding for violation of this Code, except those relating to the offense of failure to register or failure to vote, which shall be under the jurisdiction of the metropolitan or municipal trial courts. From the decision of the courts, appeal will lie as in other criminal cases.

By virtue of the exception provided for in the opening sentence of Section 32, the exclusive original jurisdiction of first level courts (MTC etc.) does not cover criminal cases which by specific provisions of law fall within the exclusive original jurisdiction of Regional Trial Courts regardless of the penalty prescribed therefor. Otherwise stated, even if those excepted cases are punishable by imprisonment not exceeding six (6) years, (i.e., prison correccionalarresto mayor or arresto menor) jurisdiction thereon is retained by the Regional Trial Courts.

Clearly then, regional trial courts have jurisdiction to hear and decide cases for violation of the Omnibus Election Code, such as those filed against Juan et. al..

B.       Section 13, R.A. 3019, as amended, provides:

Sec. 13. Suspension and loss of benefits. — Any incumbent public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this Act or under Title 7, Book II of the Revised Penal Code or for any offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property whether as a simple or as a complex offense and in whatever stage of execution and mode of participation, is pending in court, shall be suspended from office. xxxx

True, the cases against Juan et. al. involve violations of the Election Code; however, the charges are not unidimensional. Every law must be read together with the provisions of any other complementing law, unless both are otherwise irreconcilable. It must be emphasized that Juan et. al. were incumbent public officers charged with the unauthorized and unlawful use of government property in their custody, in the pursuit of personal interests. The crime being imputed to them is akin to that committed by public officers as laid down in the Revised Penal Code. Certainly, Juan et. al.’s acts constitute fraud against the government; thus, the present case is covered by Section 13 of RA 3019.

Unlawful and unauthorized use of government property by incumbent public officers constitutes fraud. Thus, the provision on preventive suspension in the Anti-Graft Law applies to such officers even if the alleged violations are primarily considered as election offenses.

C)      The Court has held time and again that a motion that does not meet the notice requirements of Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court is pro forma, and that the trial court has no authority to act on it.

The Rules mandate the service of a copy of a motion containing a notice of time and place of hearing, in order to afford the adverse party time to study and answer the arguments in the said motion before its resolution by the court.

Considering the circumstances of the present Petition, however, we believe that the requirements of procedural due process were substantially complied with, and that such compliance justifies a liberal interpretation of the above-mentioned rules.

In his “Manifestation on Comment of the Accused,” the COMELEC prosecutor adopted the assailed Motion as well as the “Supplement to Motion for Removal from Office.” This action should be considered to have thus cured the procedural defect pointed out by Juan et. al. More important, however, is the fact that the trial court heard Juan et. al. and considered their arguments. In their six-page Memorandum filed pursuant to the directive of the trial court, Juan et. al. were able to ventilate their arguments against the Motion for Removal from Office. They contended that neither RA 3019 nor Section 60 of the Local Government Code justified their suspension from office. Indeed, the purpose of a notice of hearing was served. The pleadings that were filed for and against them negated their allegations of procedural prejudice.

D)      Under Section 13 of RA 3019, the suspension of a public officer is mandatory after the validity of the information in a pre-suspension hearing conducted for that purpose. This pre-suspension hearing is conducted to determine basically the validity of the information, from which the court can have a basis to either suspend the accused and proceed with the trial on the merits of the case, or withhold the suspension of the latter and dismiss the case, or correct any part of the proceeding which impairs its validity.

In the case at bar, while there was no pre-suspension hearing held to determine the validity of the Informations that had been filed against Juan et. al., we believe that the numerous pleadings filed for and against them have achieved the goal of this procedure. The right to due process is satisfied by the filing and the consideration by the court of the parties’ pleadings, memoranda and other position papers.

———————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

A) It is evident from Section 32, BP 129, as amended by Section 2 of RA 7691, that the jurisdiction of first-level courts does not cover those criminal cases which by specific provision of law are cognizable by regional trial courts.

B) Unlawful and unauthorized use of government property by incumbent public officers constitutes fraud. Thus, the provision on preventive suspension in the Anti-Graft Law applies to such officers even if the alleged violations are primarily considered as election offenses.

C) The Court has held time and again that a motion that does not meet the notice requirements of Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court is pro forma, and that the trial court has no authority to act on it.

D) The Rules mandate the service of a copy of a motion containing a notice of time and place of hearing, in order to afford the adverse party time to study and answer the arguments in the said motion before its resolution by the court.

E) Under Section 13 of RA 3019, the suspension of a public officer is mandatory after the validity of the information in a pre-suspension hearing conducted for that purpose. This pre-suspension hearing is conducted to determine basically the validity of the information, from which the court can have a basis to either suspend the accused and proceed with the trial on the merits of the case, or withhold the suspension of the latter and dismiss the case, or correct any part of the proceeding which impairs its validity.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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