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336 Phil. 949


[ G.R. No. 107019, March 20, 1997 ]




Petitioners seek the reversal of the Resolutions of respondent Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 25080 dated January 31, 1992 and September 2, 1992 affirming the Orders, dated February 8, 1991 and May 14, 1991, of respondent Judge George C. Macli-ing which denied herein petitioner’s Motion to Dismiss the complaint filed in Civil Case No. Q-90-6073 by respondent Homobono Adaza.

The facts are not in dispute.

In a letter-complaint to then Secretary of Justice Franklin Drilon[1] dated March 20, 1990, General Renato de Villa,[2] who was then the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, requested the Department of Justice to order the investigation of several individuals named therein, including herein private respondent Homobono Adaza, for their alleged participation in the failed December 1989 coup d’etat. The letter-complaint was based on the affidavit of Brigadier General Alejandro Galido, Captain Oscarlito Mapalo, Colonel Juan Mamorno, Colonel Hernani Figueroa and Major Eduardo Sebastian.

Gen. de Villa’s letter-complaint with its annexes was referred for preliminary inquiry to the Special Composite Team of Prosecutors created pursuant to Department of Justice Order No. 5 dated January 10, 1990. Petitioner then Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Aurelio Trampe,[3] the Team Leader, finding sufficient basis to continue the inquiry, issued a subpoena to the individuals named in the letter-complaint, Adaza included, and assigned the case for preliminary investigation to a panel of investigators composed of prosecutors George Arizala, as Chairman, and Ferdinand Abesamis and Cesar Solis as members. The case was docketed as I.S. No. DOJ-SC-90-013.

On April 17, 1990, the panel released its findings, thru a Resolution, which reads:

“PREMISES CONSIDERED, we find and so hold that there is probable cause to hold herein respondents for trial for the crime of REBELLION WITH MURDER AND FRUSTRATED MURDER. Hence we respectfully recommend the filing of the corresponding information against them in court.”[4]

The above Resolution became the basis for the filing of an Information,[5] dated April 18, 1990, charging private respondent with the crime of rebellion with murder and frustrated murder before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, with no recommendation as to bail.[6]

Feeling aggrieved by the institution of these proceedings against him, private respondent Adaza filed a complaint for damages,[7]dated July 11, 1990, before Branch 100 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City. The complaint was docketed as Civil Case No. Q-90-6073 entitled, “Homobono Adaza, plaintiff versus Franklin Drilon, et al., respondents.” In his complaint, Adaza charged petitioners with engaging in a deliberate, willful and malicious experimentation by filing against him a charge of rebellion complexed with murder and frustrated murder when petitioners, according to Adaza, were fully aware of the non-existence of such crime in the statute books.

On October 15, 1990, petitioners filed a Motion to Dismiss Adaza’s complaint on the ground that said complaint states no actionable wrong constituting a valid cause of action against petitioners.

On February 8, 1991, public respondent judge issued an Order[8]denying petitioners’ Motion to Dismiss. In the same Order, petitioners were required to file their answer to the complaint within fifteen (15) days from receipt of the Order.

Petitioners moved for a reconsideration of the Order of denial, but the same was likewise denied by respondent Judge in another Order dated May 14, 1991.[9] The subsequent Order reiterated that petitioners file their responsive pleading within the prescribed reglementary period.

Instead of filing their answer as ordered, petitioners filed on June 5, 1991 a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 before the Court of Appeals, docketed as CA-G.R. No. 25080, alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of the respondent Judge in ruling that sufficient cause of action exists to warrant a full-blown hearing of the case filed by Adaza and thus denying petitioners’ Motion to Dismiss.

In its Resolution promulgated on January 31, 1992, the appellate court dismissed the petition for lack of merit and ordered respondent Judge to proceed with the trial of Civil Case No. Q-90-6073.[10] A Motion for Reconsideration having been subsequently filed on February 28, 1992, the court a quo denied the same in a Resolution dated September 2, 1992.[11]

Hence, this petition, dated October 9, 1992, pleading this Court to exercise its power of review under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court.

On January 13, 1993, however, this Court, thru the Second Division, dismissed the petition for failure to comply with Revised Circular No. 1-88, particularly the requirement on the payment of the prescribed docketing fees.[12]

On March 8, 1993,[13] we reinstated the petition and required the respondents to comment on the aforesaid petition. In the same Resolution, a temporary restraining order was issued by this Court enjoining respondent Judge from further proceeding with Civil Case No. Q-90-6073 until further orders from this Court.

The petition has merit.

In his Comment,[14] dated March 23, 1993, respondent Adaza maintains that his claim before the trial court was merely a suit for damages based on tort by reason of petitioners’ various malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance in office, as well as for violation by the petitioners of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. It was not a suit for malicious prosecution.

Private respondent is taking us for a ride. A cursory perusal of the complaint filed by Adaza before respondent Judge George Macli-ing reveals that it is one for malicious prosecution against the petitioners for the latter’s filing of the charge against him of rebellion with murder and frustrated murder. An examination of the records would show that this latest posture as to the nature of his cause of action is only being raised for the first time on appeal. Nowhere in his complaint filed with the trial court did respondent Adaza allege that his action is one based on tort or on Section 3 (e) of Republic Act No. 3019. Such a change of theory cannot be allowed. When a party adopts a certain theory in the court below, he will not be permitted to change his theory on appeal, for to permit him to do so would not only be unfair to the other party but it would also be offensive to the basic rules of fair play, justice and due process.[15] Any member of the Bar, even if not too schooled in the art of litigation, would easily discern that Adaza’s complaint is no doubt a suit for damages for malicious prosecution against the herein petitioners. Unfortunately, however, his complaint filed with the trial court suffers from a fatal infirmity -- that of failure to state a cause of action -- and should have been dismissed right from the start. We shall show why.

The term malicious prosecution has been defined in various ways. In American jurisdiction, it is defined as:
“One begun in malice without probable cause to believe the charges can be sustained (Eustace v. Dechter, 28 Cal. App. 2d. 706,83 P. 2d. 525). Instituted with intention of injuring defendant and without probable cause, and which terminates in favor of the person prosecuted. For this injury an action on the case lies, called the action of malicious prosecution (Hicks v. Brantley, 29 S.E. 459, 102 Ga. 264; Eggett v. Allen, 96 N.W. 803, 119 Wis. 625).”[16]
In Philippine jurisdiction, it has been defined as:

“An action for damages brought by one against whom a criminal prosecution, civil suit, or other legal proceeding has been instituted maliciously and without probable cause, after the termination of such prosecution, suit, or other proceeding in favor of the defendant therein. The gist of the action is the putting of legal process in force, regularly, for the mere purpose of vexation or injury (Cabasaan v. Anota, 14169-R, November 19, 1956).”[17]

The statutory basis for a civil action for damages for malicious prosecution are found in the provisions of the New Civil Code on Human Relations and on damages particularly Articles 19, 20, 21, 26, 29, 32, 33, 35, 2217 and 2219 (8).[18] To constitute malicious prosecution, however, there must be proof that the prosecution was prompted by a sinister design to vex and humiliate a person, and that it was initiated deliberately by the defendant knowing that his charges were false and groundless. Concededly, the mere act of submitting a case to the authorities for prosecution does not make one liable for malicious prosecution.[19]Thus, in order for a malicious prosecution suit to prosper, the plaintiff must prove three (3) elements: (1) the fact of the prosecution and the further fact that the defendant was himself the prosecutor and that the action finally terminated with an acquittal; (2) that in bringing the action, the prosecutor acted without probable cause; and (3) that the prosecutor was actuated or impelled by legal malice, that is by improper or sinister motive.[20] All these requisites must concur.

Judging from the face of the complaint itself filed by Adaza against the herein petitioners, none of the foregoing requisites have been alleged therein, thus rendering the complaint dismissible on the ground of failure to state a cause of action under Section 1 (g), Rule 16 of the Revised Rules of Court.

There is nothing in the records which shows, and the complaint does not allege, that Criminal Case No. Q-90-11855, filed by the petitioners against respondent Adaza for Rebellion with Murder and Frustrated Murder, has been finally terminated and therein accused Adaza acquitted of the charge. Not even Adaza himself, thru counsel, makes any positive asseveration on this aspect that would establish his acquittal. Insofar as Criminal Case No. Q-90-11855 is concerned, what appears clear from the records only is that respondent has been discharged on a writ of habeas corpus and granted bail.[21] This is not, however, considered the termination of the action contemplated under Philippine jurisdiction to warrant the institution of a malicious prosecution suit against those responsible for the filing of the informaion against him.

The complaint likewise does not make any allegation that the prosecution acted without probable cause in filing the criminal information dated April 18, 1990 for rebellion with murder and frustrated murder. Elementarily defined, probable cause is the existence of such facts and circumstances as would excite the belief, in a reasonable mind, acting on the facts within the knowledge of the prosecutor, that the person charged was guilty of the crime for which he was prosecuted. It is well-settled that one cannot be held liable for maliciously instituting a prosecution where one has acted with probable cause. Elsewise stated, a suit for malicious prosecution will lie only in cases where a legal prosecution has been carried on without probable cause. The reason for this rule is that it would be a very great discouragement to public justice, if prosecutors, who had tolerable ground of suspicion, were liable to be sued at law when their indictment miscarried.[22]

In the case under consideration, the decision of the Special Team of Prosecutors to file the information for rebellion with murder and frustrated murder against respondent Adaza, among others, cannot be dismissed as the mere product of whim or caprice on the part of the prosecutors who conducted the preliminary investigation. Said decision was fully justified in an eighteen (18)-page Resolution dated April 17, 1990.[23] While it is true that the petitioners were fully aware of the prevailing jurisprudence enunciated in People v. Hernandez,[24] which proscribes the complexing of murder and other common crimes with rebellion, petitioners were of the honest conviction that the Hernandez Case can be differentiated from the present case. The petitioners thus argued:

“Of course we are aware of the ruling in People vs. Hernandez, 99 Phil. 515, which held that common crimes like murder, arson, etc. are absorbed by rebellion. However, the Hernandez case is different from the present case before us. In the Hernandez case, the common crimes of murder, arson, etc. were found by the fiscal to have been committed as a necessary means to commit rebellion, or in furtherance thereof. Thus, the fiscal filed an information for rebellion alleging those common crimes as a necessary means of committing the offense charged under the second part of Article 48, RPC.

We, however, find no occasion to apply the Hernandez ruling since as intimated above, the crimes of murder and frustrated murder in this case were absolutely unnecessary to commit rebellion although they were the natural consequences of the unlawful bombing. Hence, the applicable provision is the first part of Article 48 of the RPC.”[25]

While the Supreme Court in the case of Enrile v. Salazar,[26] addressing the issue of whether or not the Hernandez doctrine is still good law, in a 10-3 vote, did not sustain the position espoused by the herein petitioners on the matter, three justices[27] felt the need to re-study the Hernandez ruling in light of present-day developments, among whom was then Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan who wrote a dissenting opinion in this wise:

“I am constrained to write this separate opinion on what seems to be a rigid adherence to the 1956 ruling of the Court. The numerous challenges to the doctrine enunciated in the case of People vs. Hernandez, 99 Phil. 515 (1956), should at once demonstrate the need to redefine the applicability of said doctrine so as to make it conformable with accepted and well-settled principles of criminal law and jurisprudence.

To my mind, the Hernandez doctrine should not be interpreted as an all-embracing authority for the rule that all common crimes committed on the occasion, or in furtherance of, or in connection with, rebellion are absorbed by the latter. To that extent, I cannot go along with the view of the majority in the instant case that ‘Hernandez remains binding doctrine operating to prohibit the complexing of rebellion with any other offense committed on the occasion thereof, either as a means necessary to its commission or as an unintended effect of an activity that constitutes rebellion’ (p. 9, Decision).

The Hernandez doctrine has served the purpose for which it was applied by the Court in 1956 during the communist-inspired rebellion of the Huks. The changes in our society in the span of 34 years since then have far-reaching effects on the all-embracing applicability of the doctrine considering the emergence of alternative modes of seizing the powers of the duly-constituted Government not contemplated in Articles 134 and 135 of the Revised Penal Code and their consequent effects on the lives of our people. The doctrine was good law then, but I believe that there is a certain aspect of the Hernandez doctrine that needs clarification.”[28]

Apparently, not even the Supreme Court then was of one mind in debunking the theory being advanced by the petitioners in this case, some of whom were also the petitioners in the Enrile case. Nevertheless, we held in Enrile that the Information filed therein properly charged an offense -- that of simple rebellion --[29]and thereupon ordered the remand of the case to the trial court for the prosecution of the named accused[30] in the Information therein. Following this lead, the Information against Adaza in Criminmal Case No. Q-90-11855 was not quashed, but was instead treated likewise as charging the crime of simple rebellion.

A doubtful or difficult question of law may become the basis of good faith and, in this regard, the law always accords to public officials the presumption of good faith and regularity in the performance of official duties.[31] Any person who seeks to establish otherwise has the burden of proving bad faith or ill-motive. Here, since the petitioners were of the honest conviction that there was probable cause to hold respondent Adaza for trial for the crime of rebellion with murder and frustrated murder, and since Adaza himself, through counsel, did not allege in his complaint lack of probable cause, we find that the petitioners cannot be held liable for malicious prosecution. Needless to say, probable cause was not wanting in the institution of Criminal Case No. Q-90-11855 against Adaza.

As to the requirement that the prosecutor must be impelled by malice in bringing the unfounded action, suffice it to state that the presence of probable cause signifies, as a legal consequence, the absence of malice.[32] At the risk of being repetitious, it is evident in this case that petitioners were not motivated by malicious intent or by a sinister design to unduly harass private respondent, but only by a well-founded belief that respondent Adaza can be held for trial for the crime alleged in the information.

All told, the complaint, dated July 11, 1990, filed by Adaza before Branch 100 of the Regional Trial Court against the petitioners does not allege facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action for malicious prosecution. Lack of cause of action, as a ground for a motion to dismiss under Section 1 (g), Rule 16 of the Revised Rules of Court, must appear on the face of the complaint itself, meaning that it must be determined from the allegations of the complaint and from none other.[33] The infirmity of the complaint in this regard is only too obvious to have escaped respondent judge’s attention. Paragraph 14 of the complaint which states:

“x x x                                                                    x x x                                                                             x x x

14. The malicious prosecution, nay persecution, of plaintiff for a non-existent crime had severely injured and besmirched plaintiff’s name and reputation and forever stigmatized his stature as a public figure, thereby causing him extreme physical suffering, serious anxiety, mental anguish, moral shock and social humiliation.”[34]

is a mere conclusion of law and is not an averment or allegation of ultimate facts. It does not, therefore, aid in any wise the complaint in setting forth a valid cause of action against the petitioners.

It is worthy to note that this case was elevated to the public respondent Court of Appeals and now to this Court because of respondent Judge Macli-ing’s denial of petitioners’ motion to dismiss the Adaza complaint. The ordinary procedure, as a general rule, is that petitioners should have filed an answer, go to trial, and if the decision is adverse, reiterate the issue on appeal.[35] This general rule, however, is subject to certain exceptions, among which are, if the court denying the motion to dismiss acts without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion, in which case certiorari under Rule 65 may be availed of. The reason is that it would be unfair to require the defendants (petitioners in this case) to undergo the ordeal and expense of trial under such circumstances, because the remedy of appeal then would then not be plain and adequate.[36] Judge Macli-ing committed grave abuse of discretion in denying petitioners’ motion to dismiss the Adaza complaint, and thus public respondent Court of Appeals should have issued the writ of certiorari prayed for by the petitioners and annulled the February 8, 1991 and May 14, 1991 Orders of respondent Judge. It was grievous error on the part of the court a quo not to have done so. This has to be corrected. Respondent Adaza’s baseless action cannot be sustained for this would unjustly compel the petitioners to needlessly go through a protracted trial and thereby unduly burden the court with one more futile and inconsequential case.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Resolutions of respondent Court of Appeals dated January 31, 1992 and September 2, 1992 affirming the February 8, 1991 and May 14, 1991 Orders of respondent Judge George C. Macli-ing are all hereby NULLIFIED AND SET ASIDE. Respondent Judge is DIRECTED to take no further action on Civil Case No. Q-90-6073 except to DISMISS the same.

Padilla, (Chairman), Bellosillo, and Vitug, JJ., concur.
Kapunan, J.,concurs in the result.

[1] Now Senator.

[2] Now Secretary of the Department of National Defense.

[3] Now Judge of the Regional Trial Court.

[4] Resolution, p. 18; Rollo, p. 85.

[5] Docketed as Crim. Case No. Q-90-11855.

[6] Rollo, pp. 99-103.

[7] Annex “D”; Rollo, pp. 86-95.

[8] Annex “E”; Rollo, pp. 105-107.

[9] Annex “F”; Rollo, p. 108.

[10] Decision, p.6; Rollo, p. 60.

[11] Annex “B”; Rollo, p. 62.

[12] Rollo, pp. 116-117.

[13] Rollo, p. 135.

[14] Rollo, pp. 147-150.

[15] Cruz v. Court of Appeals, 233 SCRA 301, 309 [1994], citing BA Finance Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 201 SCRA 157; Galicia v. Palo, 179 SCRA 375; Ramos v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 175 SCRA 70; Ganzon v. Court of Appeals, 161 SCRA 641; Dulos Realty and Development Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 157 SCRA 425; Dihiansan, et. al. v. Court of Appeals, 153 SCRA 712; Dela Santa v. Court of Appeals, 140 SCRA 44; Soriano v. Philippine National Railways, 84 SCRA 722; Mejorada v. Municipal Council of Dipolog, 52 SCRA 451.

[16] Black’s Law Dictionary, Rev. 4th ed., 1986, p. 1111, cited in 199 SCRA 63 [1991].

[17] Moreno, Philippine Legal Dictionary, 3rd ed., 1988, p. 25, cited in 199 SCRA 63-64 [1991].

[18] See Albenson Enterprises Corp. v. Court of Appeals, 217 SCRA 16, 28 [1993]; Ponce v. Legaspi, 208 SCRA 377, 388 [1992]; 199 SCRA 63, 68-70 [1991].

[19] Albenson Enterprises Corp., supra., citing Manila Gas Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 100 SCRA 602 [1980].

[20] Ponce, supra., citing Lao v. Court of Appeals, 199 SCRA 58 [1991]; Rehabilitation Finance Corporation v. Koh, 4 SCRA 535 [1962]; Buchanan v. Viuda de Esteban, 32 Phil. 363 [1915].

[21] Memorandum for the Petitioners, p. 39; Rollo, p.185.

[22] Albenson Enterprises Corp., supra., at 29, citing Que v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 169 SCRA 137 [1989].

[23] Rollo, pp. 64-85.

[24] 99 Phil. 515[1956].

[25] Rollo, pp. 83-84.

[26] 186 SCRA 217 [1990].

[27] Justices Irene Cortes and Carolina Griño-Aquino, however, were on leave at the time the Enrile case was promulgated. See Id., at 226.

[28] Enrile, supra., at 234-235 [1990].

[29] Id., at 229.

[30] Juan Ponce Enrile and Spouses Rebecco E. Panlilio and Erlinda E. Panlilio.

[31]Tatad v. Garcia, Jr., 243 SCRA 436, 463 [1995].

[32] Albenson Enterprises Corp., supra.

[33] Sumulong v. Court of Appeals, 232 SCRA 372, 378 [1994].

[34] Complaint, p. 8; Rollo, p. 93.

[35] Newsweek, Inc. v. IAC, 142 SCRA 171, 177 [1986].

[36] National Power Corporation v. Court of Appeals, 185 SCRA 169, 173 [1990].

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