617 Phil. 38

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. NO. 149588, September 29, 2009 ]

FRANCISCO R. LLAMAS AND CARMELITA C. LLAMAS, PETITIONERS, VS. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS, BRANCH 66 OF THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT IN MAKATI CITY AND THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

GARCIA, J.:

In this petition captioned as "Annulment of Judgment and Certiorari, with Preliminary Injunction," petitioners assail, on the ground of lack of jurisdiction, the trial court's decision convicting them of "other form of swindling" penalized by Article 316, paragraph 2, of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).

The antecedent facts and proceedings that led to the filing of the instant petition are pertinently narrated as follows:

On August 16, 1984, petitioners were charged before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati with, as aforesaid, the crime of "other forms of swindling" in the Information,[1] docketed as Criminal Case No. 11787, which reads:

That on or about the 20th day of November, 1978, in the municipality of Parañaque, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring and confederating together and mutually helping and aiding one another, well knowing that their parcel of land known as Lot No. 11, Block No. 6 of the Subdivision Plan (LRC) Psd 67036, Cadastral Survey of Parañaque, LRC Record No. N-26926, Case No. 4869, situated at Barrio San Dionisio, Municipality of Parañaque, Metro Manila, was mortgaged to the Rural Bank of Imus, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell said property to one Conrado P. Avila, falsely representing the same to be free from all liens and encumbrances whatsoever, and said Conrado P. Avila bought the aforementioned property for the sum of P12,895.00 which was paid to the accused, to the damage and prejudice of said Conrado P. Avila in the aforementioned amount of P12,895.00.

Contrary to law.[2]

After trial on the merits, the RTC rendered its Decision[3] on June 30, 1994, finding petitioners guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged and sentencing them to suffer the penalty of imprisonment for two months and to pay the fine of P18,085.00 each.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals, in its February 19, 1999 Decision[4] in CA-G.R. CR No. 18270, affirmed the decision of the trial court. In its December 22, 1999 Resolution,[5] the appellate court further denied petitioners' motion for reconsideration.

Assailing the aforesaid issuances of the appellate court, petitioners filed before this Court, on February 11, 2000, their petition for review, docketed as G.R. No. 141208.[6] The Court, however, on March 13, 2000, denied the same for petitioners' failure to state the material dates. Since it subsequently denied petitioners' motion for reconsideration on June 28, 2000,[7] the judgment of conviction became final and executory.

With the consequent issuance by the trial court of the April 19, 2001 Warrant of Arrest,[8] the police arrested, on April 27, 2001, petitioner Carmelita C. Llamas for her to serve her 2-month jail term. The police, nevertheless, failed to arrest petitioner Francisco R. Llamas because he was nowhere to be found.[9]

On July 16, 2001, petitioner Francisco moved for the lifting or recall of the warrant of arrest, raising for the first time the issue that the trial court had no jurisdiction over the offense charged.[10]

There being no action taken by the trial court on the said motion, petitioners instituted, on September 13, 2001, the instant proceedings for the annulment of the trial and the appellate courts' decisions.

The Court initially dismissed on technical grounds the petition in the September 24, 2001 Resolution,[11] but reinstated the same, on motion for reconsideration, in the October 22, 2001 Resolution.[12]

After a thorough evaluation of petitioners' arguments vis-à-vis the applicable law and jurisprudence, the Court denies the petition.

In People v. Bitanga,[13] the Court explained that the remedy of annulment of judgment cannot be availed of in criminal cases, thus --

Section 1, Rule 47 of the Rules of Court, limits the scope of the remedy of annulment of judgment to the following:

Section 1. Coverage. --This Rule shall govern the annulment by the Court of Appeals of judgments or final orders and resolutions in civil actions of Regional Trial Courts for which the ordinary remedies of new trial, appeal, petition for relief or other appropriate remedies are no longer available through no fault of the petitioner.

The remedy cannot be resorted to when the RTC judgment being questioned was rendered in a criminal case. The 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure itself does not permit such recourse, for it excluded Rule 47 from the enumeration of the provisions of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure which have suppletory application to criminal cases. Section 18, Rule 124 thereof, provides:

Sec. 18. Application of certain rules in civil procedure to criminal cases. - The provisions of Rules 42, 44 to 46 and 48 to 56 relating to procedure in the Court of Appeals and in the Supreme Court in original and appealed civil cases shall be applied to criminal cases insofar as they are applicable and not inconsistent with the provisions of this Rule.

There is no basis in law or the rules, therefore, to extend the scope of Rule 47 to criminal cases. As we explained in Macalalag v. Ombudsman, when there is no law or rule providing for this remedy, recourse to it cannot be allowed x x x.[14]

Here, petitioners are invoking the remedy under Rule 47 to assail a decision in a criminal case. Following Bitanga, this Court cannot allow such recourse, there being no basis in law or in the rules.

In substance, the petition must likewise fail. The trial court which rendered the assailed decision had jurisdiction over the criminal case.

Jurisdiction being a matter of substantive law, the established rule is that the statute in force at the time of the commencement of the action determines the jurisdiction of the court.[15] In this case, at the time of the filing of the information, the applicable law was Batas Pambansa Bilang 129,[16] approved on August 14, 1981, which pertinently provides:

Section 20. Jurisdiction in criminal cases. -- Regional Trial Courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction in all criminal cases not within the exclusive jurisdiction of any court, tribunal or body, except those now falling under the exclusive and concurrent jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan which shall hereafter be exclusively taken cognizance of by the latter.

x x x x

Section 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 Regional Trial Courts and of the Sandiganbayan, the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall exercise:

(1) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all violations of city or municipal ordinances committed within their respective territorial jurisdiction; and

(2) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all offenses punishable with imprisonment of not exceeding four years and two months, or a fine of not more than four thousand pesos, or both such fine and imprisonment, 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 where the imposable fine does not exceed twenty thousand pesos.

Article 316(2) of the RPC, the provision which penalizes the crime charged in the information, provides that --

Article 316. Other forms of swindling.--The penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods and a fine of not less than the value of the damage caused and not more than three times such value, shall be imposed upon:

x x x x

2. Any person who, knowing that real property is encumbered, shall dispose of the same, although such encumbrance be not recorded.

The penalty for the crime charged in this case is arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods, which has a duration of 1 month and 1 day to 4 months, and a fine of not less than the value of the damage caused and not more than three times such value. Here, as alleged in the information, the value of the damage caused, or the imposable fine, is P12,895.00. Clearly, from a reading of the information, the jurisdiction over the criminal case was with the RTC and not the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC). The MeTC could not have acquired jurisdiction over the criminal action because at the time of the filing of the information, its jurisdiction was limited to offenses punishable with a fine of not more than P4,000.00.[17]

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED.

SO ORDERED.

Ynares-Santiago, (Chairperson), Corona*, Brion**, and Peralta, JJ., concur.



* In lieu of Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., per Raffle dated September 22, 2009.

** In lieu of Associate Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario per Raffle dated March 18, 2009.

[1] Rollo, pp. 77-78.

[2] Id. at 77.

[3] Id. at 20-26.

[4] Penned by Associate Justice Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos, with Associate Justices Buenaventura J. Guerrero and Teodoro P. Regino, concurring; id. at 27-33.

[5] Id. at 34-36.

[6] Rollo, pp. 7, 148.

[7] Id. at 151.

[8] Id. at 76.

[9] Id. at 163.

[10] Id. at 70-74.

[11] Id. at 85-87.

[12] Id. at 101.

[13] G.R. No. 159222, June 26, 2007, 525 SCRA 623.

[14] Id. at 628. (Citations omitted.)

[15] Escobal v. Justice Garchitorena, 466 Phil. 625, 635 (2004); Yu Oh v. Court of Appeals, 451 Phil. 380, 387 (2003); Alarilla v. Sandiganbayan, 393 Phil. 143, 155 (2000).

[16] The law has subsequently been amended by Republic Act No. 7691 on March 25, 1994.

[17] Palana v. People, G.R. No. 149995, September 28, 2007, 534 SCRA 296, 303.



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