CASE BrieF NO. 2019-0040


“In criminal cases, venue or where at least one of the elements of the crime or offense was committed must be proven and not just alleged.


CASE: Ruel Francis M. Cabral vs. Chris S. Bracamonte [G.R. No. 233174, January 23, 2019]

PONENTE: Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta

SUBJECT:

SUBJECT:

1.       REMEDIAL LAW:

          i.        Office of the Solicitor General – Authority to represent the State

          ii.       Territorial jurisdiction

          iii.      Jurisdiction over the subject matter

                   – How is it determined/ How is it conferred

                   – Barred by Laches

2.       CRIMINAL LAW:

          i.        Estafa -Elements of estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(d) of the Revised                  Penal Code.

FACTS:        In 2009, Chris S. Bracamonte and Ruel Francis Cabral executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in Makati City for the purchase of shares of stock in Wellcross Freight Corporation (WFC) and Aviver International Corporation (AVIVER). Simultaneous with the signing of the MOA, Bracamonte issued a postdated check to Cabral. When the check was presented for payment, however, the drawee bank in Makati City dishonored the same for lack of sufficient funds. Consequently, for failure to settle the obligation, Cabral instituted a complaint for estafa against Bracamonte in Parañaque City. Finding probable cause, the prosecutor filed an Information with the RTC of Parañaque City.

After arraignment and presentation of prosecution evidence, Bracamonte moved to quash the Information contending that the venue was improperly laid in Parañaque City, because the postdated check was delivered and dishonored in Makati City. Thus, the prosecution failed to show how the supposed elements of the crime charged were committed in Parañaque City. In contrast, Cabral maintained that the averments in the complaint and Information are controlling to determine jurisdiction. Since the complaint affidavit alleged that negotiations on the MOA were conducted in a warehouse in Parañaque City where Cabral was convinced to sell his shares in the two corporations, then the RTC of Parañaque City properly had jurisdiction. Moreover, Cabral contented that Bracamonte’s motion should be considered barred by laches as it took him four (4) years before he raised the issue of jurisdiction, actively participating in the proceedings by cross­ examining the prosecution witness.

The RTC denied the Motion to Quash explaining that it has jurisdiction over the case because Bracamonte employed fraudulent acts against Cabral in Parañaque City prior to the issuance of the postdated check. According to the trial court, based on the complaint affidavit, Cabral narrated that it was during their meeting in the old warehouse of AVIVER and WFC in Parañaque City that Bracamonte was able to persuade and convince him to sell his entire shares of stock. There, they triumphed in misleading and fooling him until he finally accepted their offer. Thus, since the complaint affidavit and the Information in the instant case duly alleged that Bracamonte deceived Cabral in Parañaque City, the Parañaque RTC appropriately had jurisdiction over the instant case.

In an appeal, however, the CA set aside the RTC Order and dismissed the Information against Bracamonte. Cabral moved for Motion for Reconsideration but it was denied by the CA.

Aggrieved by the CA’s denial of his Motion for Reconsideration, Cabral filed a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court with the Supreme Court.

ISSUES:

A.       Whether Cabral, a private complainant in a criminal case has the authority to file           appeal in CA and SC?

          a.       Who has the authority to represent the State in appeals of criminal cases                      before the Supreme   Court and the CA? Are there any exceptions?

B.       Whether the RTC Parañaque City has jurisdiction over the estafa case filed by      Cabral.

          a.       What is territorial jurisdiction in criminal cases?

          b.       How is jurisdiction over the criminal case determined?

          c.       What are the elements of estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(d) of the                      Revised Penal Code?

C.       Whether Bracamonte’s motion should be considered barred by laches.

RULING:

A.       In criminal cases, the acquittal of the accused or the dismissal of the case against him can only be appealed by the Solicitor General, acting on behalf of the State.

Here, Cabral filed the present petition without the participation of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG). Section 35(1), Chapter 12, Title III, Book IV of the 1987 Administrative Code explicitly provides that the OSG shall represent the Government of the Philippines, its agencies and instrumentalities and its officials and agents in any litigation, proceeding, investigation or matter requiring the services of lawyers. It shall have specific powers and functions to represent the Government and its officers in the Supreme Court and the CA, and all other courts or tribunals in all civil actions and special proceedings in which the Government or any officer thereof in his official capacity is a party. The OSG is the law office of the Government.

Thus, in criminal cases, the acquittal of the accused or the dismissal of the case against him can only be appealed by the Solicitor General, acting on behalf of the State. The private complainant or the offended party may question such acquittal or dismissal only insofar as the civil liability of the accused is concerned [Chiok v. People, 774 Phil. 230, 245, (2015)].

The rationale behind is that, the party affected by the dismissal of the criminal action is the State and not the private complainant. The interest of the private complainant or the private offended party is limited only to the civil liability. In the prosecution of the offense, the complainant’s role is limited to that of a witness for the prosecution.


There have been instances, however, where the Court permitted an offended party to file an appeal without the intervention of the OSG, such as when the offended party questions the civil aspect of a decision of a lower court, when there is denial of due process of law to the prosecution and the State or its agents refuse to act on the case to the prejudice of the State and the private offended party, when there is grave error committed by the judge, or when the interest of substantial justice so requires [Morillo v. People, et al., 775 Phil. 192, 210-211 (2015)].

In the instant case, however, the petition before the Court essentially assails the criminal, and not only the civil, aspect of the CA Decision. Thus, the petition should have been filed only by the State through the OSG and not by Cabral who lacked the personality or legal standing to question the CA Decision.

B.       Nevertheless, even assuming the procedural propriety of the instant petition, the Court still resolves to deny the same. Time and again, the Court has held that “territorial jurisdiction in criminal cases is the territory where the court has jurisdiction to take cognizance of or to try the offense allegedly committed therein by the accused. In all criminal prosecutions, the action shall be instituted and tried in the court of the municipality or territory wherein the offense was committed or where any one of the essential ingredients took place.” [Brodeth v. People, G.R. No. 197849, November 29, 2017].

Moreover, it has been held that the jurisdiction of a court over the criminal case is determined by the allegations in the complaint or information. Once it is so shown, the court may validly take cognizance of the case. However, if the evidence adduced during the trial shows that the offense was committed somewhere else, the court should dismiss the action for want of jurisdiction [Treñas v. People, 680 Phil. 368, 380 (2012)].

Here, the crime allegedly committed by Bracamonte is estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(d) of the Revised Penal Code. The elements of such crime consists of the following: (1) the offender has postdated or issued a check in payment of an obligation contracted at the time of the postdating or issuance; (2) at the time of postdating or issuance of said check, the offender has no funds in the bank or the funds deposited are not sufficient to cover the amount of the check; and (3) the payee has been defrauded.

 In the present petition, Cabral vehemently insists that since he alleged in his complaint affidavit that the business transactions with regard to the terms and conditions of the subject MOA were conducted in a warehouse in Parañaque City, the element of deceit definitely occurred therein, and as such, the RTC of Parañaque City has jurisdiction over the case. The Court, however, cannot subscribe to said contention.

It was merely stated in the Information, and alleged by Cabral in his complaint affidavit, that the crime of estafa was committed in Parañaque City because it was there that he was convinced to sell the subject shares of stock. Apart from said allegation, however, he did not present any evidence, testimonial or documentary, that would support or corroborate the assertion.

On the contrary, and as the appellate court pointed out, what were actually proven by the evidence on record are the following: (1) Cabral and Bracamonte executed a MOA in Makati City; (2) Bracamonte issued and delivered a postdated check in Makati City simultaneous to the signing of the agreement; (3) the check was presented for payment and was subsequently dishonored in Makati City. As such, the Court does not see why Cabral did not file the complaint before the Makati City trial court. Not only were the MOA and subject check executed, delivered, and dishonored in Makati City, it was even expressly stipulated in their agreement that the parties chose Makati City as venue for any action arising from the MOA because that was where it was executed. It is clear from the foregoing that the element of deceit took place in Makati City where the worthless check was issued and delivered, while the damage was inflicted also in Makati City where the check was dishonored by the drawee bank.

While Cabral is not wrong in saying that the crime of estafa is a continuing or transitory offense and may be prosecuted at the place where any of the essential ingredients of the crime took place, the pieces of evidence on record point only to one place: Makati City. Time and again, the Court has ruled that “in criminal cases, venue or where at least one of the elements of the crime or offense was committed must be proven and not just alleged. Otherwise, a mere allegation is not proof and could not justify sentencing a man to jail or holding him criminally liable. To stress, an allegation is not evidence and could not be made equivalent to proof.”There being no showing that the offense was committed within Parañaque City, the RTC of that city has no jurisdiction over the case.

C.       As to Cabral’s contention that Bracamonte’s motion should be considered barred by laches as it took him four (4) years before he raised the issue of jurisdiction, actively participating in the proceedings by cross­ examining the prosecution witness, the rule is settled that an objection based on the ground that the court lacks jurisdiction over the offense charged may be raised or considered motu proprio by the court at any stage of the proceedings or on appeal. Moreover, jurisdiction over the subject matter in a criminal case cannot be conferred upon the court by the accused, by express waiver or otherwise, since such jurisdiction is conferred by the sovereign authority which organized the court, and is given only by law in the manner and form prescribed by law [Fukuzume v. People 511 Phil. 192 (2005)].

Related case briefs:

          a)       Fukuzume v. People 511 Phil. 192 (2005)

          b)       Chiok v. People, 774 Phil. 230, 245, (2015)

          c)       Morillo v. People, et al., 775 Phil. 192, 210-211 (2015)

          d)       Brodeth v. People, G.R. No. 197849, November 29, 2017

          e)       Treñas v. People, 680 Phil. 368, 380 (2012)

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THINGS DECIDED:

A.       In criminal cases, the acquittal of the accused or the dismissal of the case against him can only be appealed by the Solicitor General, acting on behalf of the State.

B.       There have been instances, however, where the Court permitted an offended party to file an appeal without the intervention of the OSG, such as when the offended party questions the civil aspect of a decision of a lower court, when there is denial of due process of law to the prosecution and the State or its agents refuse to act on the case to the prejudice of the State and the private offended party, when there is grave error committed by the judge, or when the interest of substantial justice so requires.

C.       In all criminal prosecutions, the action shall be instituted and tried in the court of the municipality or territory wherein the offense was committed or where any one of the essential ingredients took place.

D.      The jurisdiction of a court over the criminal case is determined by the allegations in the complaint or information. Once it is so shown, the court may validly take cognizance of the case. However, if the evidence adduced during the trial shows that the offense was committed somewhere else, the court should dismiss the action for want of jurisdiction.

E.       An allegation is not evidence and could not be made equivalent to proof.

F.       An objection based on the ground that the court lacks jurisdiction over the offense charged may be raised or considered motu proprio by the court at any stage of the proceedings or on appeal.

G.      Jurisdiction over the subject matter in a criminal case cannot be conferred upon the court by the accused, by express waiver or otherwise, since such jurisdiction is conferred by the sovereign authority which organized the court, and is given only by law in the manner and form prescribed by law.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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