CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0069


“When bail is a matter of right, the fixing of bail is ministerial on the part of the trial judge even without the appearance of the accused.”


CASE: Allen C. Padua and Emelita F. Pimentel vs. People of the Philippines, Family Choice Grains Processing Center, Inc., and Golden Season Grains Center, Inc. [G.R. No. 220913, February 04, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Diosdado M. Peralta

SUBJECT:
A.       CRIMINAL LAW:
          i.        Estafa- Paragraph 2(a), Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code
          ii.       R.A. 10951 – Amending Article 315 of the RPC

B.       REMEDIAL LAW:
          i.        Right to bail – As a matter of right vs. discretionary
          ii.       Section 7, Rule 114 of the Rules of Court

C.       CONSTITUTIONAL LAW
          i.        Section 13, Article III (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution

FACTS:        Juanito A. Tio (Tio), in his capacity as representative of Family Choice Grains Processing Center of Cabatuan, Isabela filed a complaint for estafa against Allen Padua (Padua), Emelita Pimentel (Pimentel) and Dante Frialde (Frialde),as officials of Nviro Filipino Corporation (Nviro).

The public prosecutor found all the elements of the crime to be present, thus, the filing of four (4) separate Informations against the three accused for estafa under paragraph 2(a), Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).

Consequently, a Warrant of Arrestdated August 6, 2010 was issued by the RTC, in said criminal cases.

Four years after, or on July 21, 2014, Padua and Pimentel filed an Omnibus Motion Ex-Abundante Ad Cautelam (to Quash Warrant of Arrest and to Fix Bail)wherein they alleged that their co-accused Frialde had died. They also alleged that it was only recently that they were able to find a lawyer who explained to them that they are entitled to bail under the law and under existing jurisprudence.

Padua and Pimentel asserted that the Informations only charged them with estafa under paragraph 2(a), Article 315 of the RPC. They claimed that the Informations failed to allege that the crimes charged against them had been amended by Presidential Decree No. 1689, hence, the penalty for estafa under paragraph 2(a), Article 315 of the RPC shall be in the range of reclusion temporal, as maximum. Padua and Pimentel averred that the imposable penalty cannot exceed twenty (20) years of imprisonment which is the maximum of reclusion temporal, therefore, the charges in the Informations are bailable, and that they are entitled to bail for their provisional liberty.

The trial court denied Padua and Pimentel’s omnibus motion, the pertinent portion of which reads:

Records show, however, that the accused continue to be at large, thus, the Court has no jurisdiction over their persons as they have not surrendered nor have been arrested, as such, the accused have no legal standing in Court and they are not entitled to seek relief from the Court.

Padua and Pimentel filed a Joint Motion for Reconsideration. However, the RTC denied the same.

Padua and Pimentel filed a Petitionfor certiorari before the Court of Appeals (CA) alleging grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction when the court a quo denied their Omnibus Motion Ex-Abundante Ad Cautelam and Motion for Reconsideration.

In its assailed Decision, the CA denied the petition for certiorari, and affirmed the ruling of the court a quo, to wit:

A person applying for admission to bail must be in the custody of the law or otherwise deprived of his liberty. (T)he purpose of bail is to secure one’s release, and it would be incongruous to grant bail to one who is free. Here, despite the issuance of the Warrant of Arrest on 06 August 2010, the same remained unserved as petitioners appear to have gone into hiding without surrendering and submitting themselves to the custody of the law.

Hence, Padua and Pimentel filed a petition for review on certiorari (under Rule 45) before the Supreme Court (this Court).

Padua and Pimentel maintain that being charged with estafa which is an offense punishable by reclusion temporal, they should be granted bail as a matter of right. They also asserted that they already submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of the court when they filed their Omnibus Motion Ex-Abundante Ad Cautelam (to Quash Warrant of Arrest and to Fix Bail) and, thus, there is no need to make personal appearance.

Respondents, however, asserted that while Padua and Pimentel were indeed charged with estafa under par. 2(a), Art. 315 of the RPC which is bailable, bail cannot still be granted to them who are at large. They claimed that under the law, accused must be in the custody of the law regardless of whether bail is a matter of right or discretion.


ISSUES:
A.       Whether Padua and Pimentel are entitled to bail.
          a.       When is a criminal offense bailable?

B.       Whether the right to bail, whether as a matter of right or discretion, is subject to the limitation that the person applying for admission to bail should be in the custody of the law, or otherwise deprived of his liberty.


RULING:
A.      
The right to bail is expressly afforded by Section 13, Article III (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution, to wit:

Sec. 13. All persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law. The right to bail shall not be impaired even when the privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus is suspended. Excessive bail shall not be required.

This constitutional provision is repeated in Section 7, Rule 114 of the Rules of Court, as follows:

Section 7. Capital offense or an offense punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, not bailable. — No person charged with a capital offense, or an offense punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, shall be admitted to bail when evidence of guilt is strong, regardless of the stage of the criminal prosecution.

The general rule, therefore, is that any person, before being convicted of any criminal offense, shall be bailable, unless he is charged with a capital offense, or with an offense punishable with reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, and the evidence of his guilt is strong. Thus, from the moment an accused is placed under arrest, or is detained or restrained by the officers of the law, he retains his right to bail unless he is charged with a capital offense, or with an offense punishable with reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, and the evidence of his guilt is strong.

With the amendment of Article 315 of the RPC, in view of the recent enactment of R.A. 10951 (An Act Adjusting the Amount or the Value of Property and Damage on Which a Penalty is Based, and the Fines Imposed under the Revised Penal Code, August 29, 2017), the imposable penalty now for estafa is as follows:

SEC. 85. Article 315 of the same Act, as amended by Republic Act No. 4885, Presidential Decree No. 1689, and Presidential Decree No. 818, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

ART. 315. Swindling (estafa). — Any person who shall defraud another by any of the means mentioned herein below shall be punished by:

“1st. The penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period, if the amount of the fraud is over Two million four hundred thousand pesos (P2,400,000) but does not exceed Four million four hundred thousand pesos (P4,400,000), and if such amount exceeds the latter sum, the penalty provided in this paragraph shall be imposed in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional Two million pesos (P2,000,000): but the total penalty which may be imposed shall not exceed twenty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed and for the purpose of the other provisions of this Code, the penalty shall be termed prision mayor or reclusion temporal, as the case may be.

“2nd. The penalty of prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods, if the amount of the fraud is over One million two hundred thousand pesos (P1,200,000) but does not exceed Two million four hundred thousand pesos (P2,400,000).

“3rd. The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period, if such amount is over Forty thousand pesos (P40,000) but does not exceed One million two hundred thousand pesos (P1,200,000).

“4th. By arresto mayor in its medium and maximum periods, if such amount does not exceed Forty thousand pesos (P40.000) x x x.”

Here, applying paragraph 2(a), Article 315 of the RPC, as amended by R.A. 10951 – in one of the four criminal cases filed against Padua and Pimentel, the amount allegedly defrauded by them amounted to P2,600,000 which exceeded two million four hundred thousand pesos (P2,400,000) but not more than P4,400,000.00, the imposable penalty will be prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period. In the other three criminal cases, where the amounts allegedly defrauded all exceeded P4,400,000.00, the imposable penalty shall be in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional Two million pesos (P2,000,000.00). However, the law also provides that the total penalty which may be imposed shall not exceed twenty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed, the penalty shall be termed prision mayor or reclusion temporal, as the case may be.

Clearly, in the instant case, Padua and Pimentel are entitled to bail as a matter of right as they have not been charged with a capital offense. Estafa, under Art. 315 of the RPC as amended by R.A. 10951, which Padua and Pimentel have been charged with, has an imposable penalty of reclusion temporal in its maximum period, which is still bailable.


B.      
In Miranda, et al. v. Tuliao [520 Phil. 907 (2006)], the Court pronounced that “custody of the law is required before the court can act upon the application for bail, but is not required for the adjudication of other reliefs sought by the defendant where the mere application therefor constitutes a waiver of the defense of lack of jurisdiction over the person of the accused.”

Indeed, a person applying for admission to bail must be in the custody of the law or otherwise deprived of his liberty. A person who has not submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the court has no right to invoke the processes of that court.However, applying also the same pronouncement in Tuliao, the Court also held therein that, “in adjudication of other reliefs sought by accused, it requires neither jurisdiction over the person of the accused, nor custody of law over the body of the person.” Thus, except in applications for bail, it is not necessary for the court to first acquire jurisdiction over the person of the accused to dismiss the case or grant other relief.

In the instant case, there is no dispute that Padua and Pimentel were at large when they filed, their Omnibus Motion Ex-Abundante Ad Cautelam wherein they asked the court to quash the warrant of arrest and fix the amount of the bail bond for their provisional release pending trial. However, albeit, at large, it must be clarified that Padua and Pimentel’s Omnibus Motion Ex-Abundante Ad Cautelam (to Quash Warrant of Arrest and to Fix Bail) is not an application for bail. This is where the instant case begs to differ because what Padua and Pimentel filed was an Omnibus Motion Ex-Abundante Ad Cautelam (to Quash Warrant of Arrest and to Fix Bail). They were neither applying for bail, nor were they posting bail.

The subject Omnibus Motion Ex-Abundante Ad Cautelam (to Quash Warrant of Arrest and to Fix Bail) is distinct and separate from an application for bail where custody of law is required. A motion to quash is a consequence of the fact that it is the very legality of the court process forcing the submission of the person of the accused that it is the very issue. Its prayer is precisely for the avoidance of the jurisdiction of the court which is also as an exception to the rule that filing pleadings seeking affirmative relief constitutes voluntary appearance, and the consequent submission of one’s person to the jurisdiction of the court.

Thus, in filing the subject Omnibus Motion Ex-Abundante Ad Cautelam (to Quash Warrant of Arrest and to Fix Bail), Padua and Pimentel are questioning the court’s jurisdiction with precaution and praying that the court fix the amount of bail because they believed that their right to bail is a matter of right, by operation of law. They are not applying for bail, therefore, custody of the law, or personal appearance is not required. To emphasize, custody of the law is required before the court can act upon the application for bail but it is not required for the adjudication of other reliefs sought by the accused, as in the instant omnibus motion to quash warrant of arrest and to fix bail.

Furthermore, while there is a need to elucidate that insofar as the requirement that accused must be in the custody of the law for purposes of entitlement to bail, We must also distinguish, because bail is either a matter of right or of discretion.

The constitutional mandate is that all persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law.However, bail may be a matter of right or judicial discretion. The accused has the right to bail if the offense charged is “not punishable by death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment” before conviction. However, if the accused is charged with an offense and the penalty of which is death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment — “regardless of the stage of the criminal prosecution” — and when evidence of one’s guilt is not strong, then the accused’s prayer for bail is subject to the discretion of the trial court [People v. Escobar, G.R. No. 214300, July 26, 2017].

Clearly, bail is a constitutional demandable right which only ceases to be so recognized when the evidence of guilt of the person charged with a crime that carries the penalty of reclusion perpetua, life imprisonment, or death is found to be strong. Stated differently, bail is a matter of right when the offense charged is not punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, or death.

When the grant of bail is discretionary, the grant or denial of an application for bail is dependent on whether the evidence of guilt is strong which the lower court should determine in a hearing called for the purpose. The determination of whether the evidence of guilt is strong, in this regard, is a matter of judicial discretion. Judicial discretion in granting bail may indeed be exercised only after the evidence of guilt is submitted to the court during the bail hearing [People v. Presiding Judge of the RTC of Muntinlupa City, 475 Phil. 234, 244 (2004)]. It is precisely for this reason why an accused must be in the custody of the law during an application for bail because where bail is a matter of discretion, judicial discretion may only be exercised during bail hearing. However, where bail is not a matter of discretion, as in fact it is a matter of right, no exercise of discretion is needed because the accused’s right to bail is a matter of right, by operation of law. An accused must be granted bail if it is a matter of right.

Thus, an accused who is charged with an offense not punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, as in this case, they must be admitted to bail as they are entitled to it as a matter of right. Here, considering that estafa is a bailable offense, Padua and Pimentel no longer need to apply for bail as they are entitled to bail, by operation of law. Where bail is a matter of right, it is ministerial on the part of the trial judge to fix bail when no bail is recommended. To do otherwise, We will effectively render nugatory the provisions of the law giving distinction where bail is a matter of right, or of discretion.

Where bail is a matter of right, prior absconding and forfeiture is not excepted from such right, bail must be allowed irrespective of such circumstance. The existence of a high degree of probability that the accused will abscond confers upon the court no greater discretion than to increase the bond to such an amount as would reasonably tend to assure the presence of the defendant when it is wanted, such amount to be subject, of course, to the constitutional provision that “excessive bail shall not be required” [San Miguel v. Judge Maceda, 549 Phil. 12, 19 (2007)]. The recourse of the judge is to fix a higher amount of bail and not to deny the fixing of bail.

To reiterate, when bail is a matter of right, the fixing of bail is ministerial on the part of the trial judge even without the appearance of the accused. They must be admitted to bail as they are entitled to it as a matter of right. However, it must be further clarified that after the amount of bail has been fixed, Padua and Pimentel, when posting the required bail, must be in the custody of the law. They must make their personal appearance in the posting of bail. It must be emphasized that bail, whether a matter of right or of discretion, cannot be posted before custody of the accused has been acquired by the judicial authorities either by his arrest or voluntary surrender, or personal appearance. This is so because if We allow the granting of bail to persons not in the custody of the law, it is foreseeable that many persons who can afford the bail will remain at large, and could elude being held to answer for the commission of the offense if ever he is proven guilty. Furthermore, the continued absence of the accused can be taken against him since flight is indicative of guilt.

Related Case Briefs:
a.       Miranda, et al. v. Tuliao [520 Phil. 907 (2006)
b.       San Miguel v. Judge Maceda, 549 Phil. 12 (2007)
c.       People v. Presiding Judge of the RTC of Muntinlupa City, 475 Phil. 234 (2004)
d.       People v. Escobar, G.R. No. 214300, July 26, 2017
————————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

A.       The general rule, therefore, is that any person, before being convicted of any criminal offense, shall be bailable, unless he is charged with a capital offense, or with an offense punishable with reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, and the evidence of his guilt is strong. Thus, from the moment an accused is placed under arrest, or is detained or restrained by the officers of the law, he retains his right to bail unless he is charged with a capital offense, or with an offense punishable with reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, and the evidence of his guilt is strong.

B.       Custody of the law is required before the court can act upon the application for bail, but is not required for the adjudication of other reliefs sought by the defendant where the mere application therefor constitutes a waiver of the defense of lack of jurisdiction over the person of the accused.

C.       In adjudication of other reliefs sought by accused, it requires neither jurisdiction over the person of the accused, nor custody of law over the body of the person. Thus, except in applications for bail, it is not necessary for the court to first acquire jurisdiction over the person of the accused to dismiss the case or grant other relief.

D.      When bail is a matter of right, the fixing of bail is ministerial on the part of the trial judge even without the appearance of the accused. They must be admitted to bail as they are entitled to it as a matter of right. However, it must be further clarified that after the amount of bail has been fixed, the accused, when posting the required bail, must be in the custody of the law. The accused must make their personal appearance in the posting of bail. It must be emphasized that bail, whether a matter of right or of discretion, cannot be posted before custody of the accused has been acquired by the judicial authorities either by his arrest or voluntary surrender, or personal appearance.

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