582 Phil. 275
Premises considered, it is respectfully recommended that the above cases for Murder and Frustrated Murder be dismissed and instead an Information for Reckless Imprudence Resulting to Homicide and Frustrated Homicide be filed against Joel Santos as he admitted to be the driver of the vehicle involved in the above case.The records of the cases were eventually transmitted to the Provincial Prosecutor of Bulacan for appropriate action.
The undersigned 1st Asst. Provincial Prosecutor accuses Armando C. Bautista @ Arman of the crime of murder, penalized under the provisions of Art. 248 of the Revised Penal Code, committed as follows:It was docketed as Criminal Case No. 3042-M-2002 and raffled to the sala of Hon. Judge Crisanto Concepcion, Presiding Judge of Branch 12 of the RTC of Malolos, Bulacan.
That on or about the 21st day of April, 2002, in the municipality of Pulilan, province of Bulacan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with intent to kill one Erlinda Cruz-Baltazar, with evident premeditation, treachery and with the use of a Mitsubishi Sedan car with plate No. TNM-606, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously run over the said Erlinda Cruz-Baltazar, thereby inflicting on her mortal injuries which directly caused her death.
The existence of probable cause having been fully determined from a personal evaluation of the facts as alleged in the information and its supporting documents filed by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Bulacan, justifying the arrest of accused, let the corresponding warrant be issued for that purpose, the same to be indorsed to the Chief Inspector, PNP, Plaridel, Bulacan, the Bulacan PNP Provincial Command, the Chief, PNP/CIDG, Malolos, Bulacan, and the Director, NBI, Pulilan, Bulacan, for service and implementation.On 28 February 2003, private respondent filed a Motion for Reinvestigation before the RTC, Branch 12. The same was denied in the order of the RTC dated 7 March 2003.
All told, We are of the view and so hold that respondent could not be held criminally liable for murder or less serious physical injury as there was no malice or intent to cause injury (dolo) to the victims. Neither can he be held liable for reckless imprudence resulting to homicide or less serious physical injury as there was no sufficient proof of negligence (culpa). This is a case of accident, an exempting circumstance under paragraph 4 Article 12 of the Revised Penal Code. Thus, Where the death of the deceased was due to an accident without any negligence on the part of the driver of the automobile, there being no sufficient proof on record to establish the latter's negligence, there is no criminal liability (United States vs. Tayongtong, 21 Phil. 476).Pursuant to the afore-quoted DOJ Resolution, a Motion to Withdraw Information dated 28 July 2004 was filed by the Assistant Provincial Prosecutor with the RTC and was granted by Judge Concepcion in an Order issued on 30 July 2004 based on the following ratiocination:
WHEREFORE, the Resolution dated September 23, 2002 of the Provincial Prosecutor of Bulacan is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. He is hereby directed to immediately cause the withdrawal of the information for murder and less serious physical injury filed against respondent Armando C. Bautista before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 12 of Malolos, Bulacan and to report the action taken thereon within ten (10) days from receipt hereof.
Acting on the Motion to Withdraw Information filed by 3rd Asst. Provincial Prosecutor Benjamin R. Caraig, the regular public prosecutor assigned to this Court, for the reason stated therein, there being no cogent reason to rule otherwise, considering further that the accused is a detention prisoner in this case, the same is hereby granted.A Motion for Reconsideration of the 30 July 2004 Order was filed by the private prosecutor, but Judge Concepcion denied the same in another Order dated 23 November 2004. The RTC Order reads:
WHEREFORE, as prayed for by the prosecution, the information for murder filed against herein accused is hereby considered withdrawn from the docket of this Court.
Unless herein accused Armando c. Bautista @ Arman should be further detained for any valid cause or reason, the Provincial Jail Warden of Bulacan is hereby directed to effect the immediate release from his detention in this case.
Let copies of this order be furnished the prosecution, the accused, his counsel, and the Provincial Jail Warden of Bulacan.
[A]fter reading the statements of the witnesses given to the police soon after the tragic accident occurred in the evening of April 21, 2002, nothing was mentioned by the witnesses of the alleged intentional killing of the victim by running over her with the car of the accused. What they said to the police was what appeared to be a simple case of criminal negligence in driving the car by the accused when said vehicle bumped the pedicab occupied by the victims who were thrown out, resulting to the death of one of them, without the accused rendering any help or assistance to them, but fleeing from the scene of the accident - a case of hit and run accident. Then later on one of these witnesses executed an affidavit stating that the car, after bumping the pedicab of the victims, stopped and then moved backwards intentionally to run over one of the victims who was killed as a result thereof. Such declaration is suspect of a mere afterthought to create a much graver offense than a case of criminal negligence, the Court not hesitating to say that from the statement of the police investigator in his affidavit, he clearly appears not an impartial police investigator but one who has expressed his bad opinions of the accused instead of giving an impartial report on his findings as a police investigator. And the Court could not help but suspect that the police investigation was so made to create a capital offense against the accused, maybe because the brother of the victim who died in the accident was a police officer himself by the name of SPO3 Cruz. Another important factor in this case is the admission of one Joel Santos in his own affidavit to be the driver of the car when the accident happened. Such admission under oath by Joel Santos should not have been ignored at all in finally resolving the case before filing it in Court. This probably is the reason why the Department of Justice directed the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Bulacan to immediately cause the withdrawal of the information for murder and less serious physical injury filed against accused Armando C. Bautista.Petitioner thus filed a Petition for Certiorari before the Court of Appeals, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 88237, seeking the nullification and setting aside of Judge Concepcion's Order dated 30 July 2004 for having been rendered in grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. In a Decision dated 26 April 2006, the appellate court found that:
In granting the motion to dismiss, respondent Judge did not rely solely on the resolution of the acting Secretary of Justice. The Order dated November 23, 2004 of respondent Judge granting the motion clearly demonstrates an independent evaluation or assessment of the evidence or the lack thereof against accused Bautista. In other words, the dismissal of the case was shown to be based upon the Judge's own individual conviction that there was no viable case against accused Bautista. For in the said Order, the respondent Judge stated his reasons for respecting the Secretary's recommendation. Hence, it can be deduced that he had studied and evaluated the Acting Secretary's recommendation as well as the sworn statements or evidence submitted finding the absence of probable cause to hold accused Bautista criminally liable for Murder.Hence, the Court of Appeals denied the Petition in this wise:
Therefore, contrary to the claim of the petitioner, public respondent judge did not commit grave abuse of discretion when he granted the withdrawal of Information for Murder filed against the private respondent considering that he made an independent assessment of the merits of the motion and embodied the same in at least one of his assailed Orders as mandated by existing jurisprudence (Ark Travel Express, Inc. vs. Abrogar, 410 SCRA 148, 158).
Anent the allegation of the petitioner that he was denied due process, We also agree with the OSG that same is without factual basis. Thus:"An examination of the machine copy of the motion to withdraw information filed by the Provincial Prosecutor which was marked as Annex `D' clearly indicates that copy thereof was furnished to the parties concerned. Hence, the petitioner was notified [of the hearing] of said motion. In fact, the petitioner appeared in court on the date of hearing of said motion on July 30, 2004 and argued for the denial of the withdrawal of the information (Petitioner's Petition for Certiorari, pp. 4-5). Hence, when petitioner appeared in court and was able to contest/oppose said motion, he was afforded the opportunity to be heard on a motion derogatory to his interest."
WHEREFORE, the foregoing premises considered, the instant Petition is hereby DENIED. Accordingly, the challenged Orders of public respondent Hon. Judge Crisanto C. Concepcion, Presiding Judge of Branch 12 of the Regional Trial Court of Malolos, Bulacan, are AFFIRMED.In a Resolution dated 1 August 2006, the appellate court denied petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration of its 26 April 2006 Decision for lack of merit.
WHETHER OR NOT THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN RULING THAT PETITIONER'S ARGUMENTS TO THE EFFECT THAT THE TRIAL JUDGE COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION WHEN HE GRANTED THE PROSECUTION'S MOTION WITHOUT TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION HIS EARLIER FINDING OF PROBABLE CAUSE, AND THAT THE PIECES OF EVIDENCE ON RECORD WERE MORE THAN SUFFICIENT TO ESTABLISH PROBABLE CAUSE AGAINST THE PRIVATE RESPONDENT CAN NOT BE PROPERLY RAISED IN THE PETITION FOR CERTIORARI PETITIONER FILED BEFORE IT.Petitioner contends that Judge Concepcion correctly found in his Order dated 14 November 2002 that, based on the facts obtaining from the records of the case, there was probable cause to justify the issuance of a warrant of arrest against private respondent. He further reasoned that while there had been a supervening event, i.e., the issuance by the DOJ of its Resolution dated 8 July 2004 reversing and setting aside the Resolution dated 23 September 2002 of the Provincial Prosecutor of Bulacan and directing the immediate withdrawal of the information for murder filed against private respondent before the RTC, Judge Concepcion still was the one in full control of the case. Petitioner insists that Judge Concepcion committed grave abuse of discretion in allowing the withdrawal of the Information against private respondent in his Order dated 30 July 2004; and that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming said Order in its herein assailed Decision and Resolution dated 26 April 2006 and 1 August 2006, respectively.
Judges and Prosecutors alike should distinguish the preliminary inquiry which determines probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest from the preliminary investigation proper which ascertains whether the offender should be held for trial or released. Even if the two inquiries are conducted in the course of one and the same proceeding, there should be no confusion about the objectives. The determination of probable cause for the warrant of arrest is made by the Judge. The preliminary investigation proper - whether or not there is reasonable ground to believe that the accused is guilty of the offense charged and, therefore, whether or not he should be subjected to the expense, rigors and embarrassment of trial - is the function of the prosecutor. (Emphasis supplied.)Under Section 1, Rule 112 of the Revised Rules of Court, the investigating prosecutor, in conducting a preliminary investigation of a case cognizable by the RTC, is tasked to determine whether there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed, and that the respondent therein is probably guilty thereof and should be held for trial. A preliminary investigation is for the purpose of securing the innocent against hasty, malicious and oppressive prosecution; and to protect him from an open and public accusation of a crime, as well as for the trouble, expense and anxiety of a public trial.
The rule therefore in this jurisdiction is that once a complaint or information is filed in Court any disposition of the case as its dismissal or the conviction or acquittal of the accused rests in the sound discretion of the Court. Although the fiscal retains the direction and control of the prosecution of criminal cases even while the case is already in Court he cannot impose his opinion on the trial court. The Court is the best and sole judge on what to do with the case before it. The determination of the case is within its exclusive jurisdiction and competence. A motion to dismiss the case filed by the fiscal should be addressed to the Court who has the option to grant or deny the same. It does not matter if this is done before or after the arraignment of the accused or that the motion was filed after a reinvestigation or upon instructions of the Secretary of Justice who reviewed the records of the investigation.We have likewise held that once a case has been filed with the court, it is that court, no longer the prosecution, which has full control of the case, so much so that the information may not be dismissed without its approval. Significantly, once a motion to dismiss or withdraw the information is filed, the court may grant or deny it, in the faithful exercise of judicial discretion. In doing so, the trial judge must himself be convinced that there was indeed no sufficient evidence against the accused, and this conclusion can be arrived at only after an assessment of the evidence in the possession of the prosecution. What was imperatively required was the trial judge's own assessment of such evidence, it not being sufficient for the valid and proper exercise of judicial discretion merely to accept the prosecution's word for its supposed insufficiency.
It is . . . imperative upon the fiscal or the judge as the case may be, to relieve the accused from the pain of going through a trial once it is ascertained that the evidence is insufficient to sustain a prima facie case or that no probable cause exists to form a sufficient belief as to the guilt of the accused. Although there is no general formula or fixed rule for the determination of probable cause since the same must be decided in the light of the conditions obtaining in given situations and its existence depends to a large degree upon the finding or opinion of the judge conducting the examination, such a finding should not disregard the facts before the judge nor run counter to the clear dictates of reasons. The judge or fiscal, therefore, should not go on with the prosecution in the hope that some credible evidence might later turn up during trial for this would be a flagrant violation of a basic right which the courts are created to uphold. It bears repeating that the judiciary lives up to its mission by visualizing and not denigrating constitutional rights. So it has been before. It should continue to be so.Petitioner's arguments before the Court of Appeals can be reduced to the allegation that respondent Judge gravely erred in appreciating the evidence presented; thus, he seriously abused his discretion, an act amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction - an error of jurisdiction, so termed. An error of jurisdiction is one in which the act complained of was issued by the court without or in excess of jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion, which is tantamount to lack or excess of jurisdiction, and which is correctible by the extraordinary writ of certiorari.