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634 Phil. 452


[ G.R. No. 189402, May 06, 2010 ]




This is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, seeking to reverse and set aside the Court of Appeals (CA) Decision[1] dated May 20, 2009 and its Resolution[2] dated September 10, 2009. The assailed Decision reversed and set aside the Orders dated September 30, 2005 and December 28, 2005 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Parañaque City, Branch 274,[3] while the assailed Resolution denied the motion for reconsideration filed by petitioners Ligaya Santos (Ligaya) and Robert Bunda (Robert).

The facts of the case follow:

On April 2, 2001, Francis Orda (Francis), the son of respondent Domingo Orda, Jr., was shot to death in Parañaque City. He was then twenty years old and an engineering student.[4]

A certain Gina Azarcon (Gina) executed her sworn statement that she saw three male persons perpetrate the crime; two of them, later identified as Rolly Tonion (Rolly) and Jhunrey Soriano (Jhunrey), shot Francis inside his car. The City Prosecutor of Parañaque City thus filed an Information for the crime of murder against Rolly and Jhunrey, docketed as Criminal Case No. 01-0425. They pleaded "Not Guilty" during arraignment.[5]

Two more witnesses, Ernesto Regala (Ernesto) and his son, Dennis, surfaced. Dennis testified that before Francis was shot to death, the former went to the office of Ligaya, who was then a Barangay Chairperson, to deliver collections from the public toilet. When Dennis failed to return home, Ernesto proceeded to fetch him. They then saw Ligaya hand a gun to accused Rolly, saying, "Gusto ko malinis na trabaho at walang bulilyaso, baka makaligtas na naman si Orda." They learned the following day that, instead of respondent, it was Francis who was killed. Thereafter, Rolly asked Dennis to return to Ligaya the gun that Rolly used, but Dennis rebuffed such request. Ligaya later instructed Dennis to monitor the activities of respondent.[6] Hence, the Information was filed against Ligaya and a certain Edna Cortez. Upon further testimony of Gina, an Amended Information was filed implicating more accused, including petitioner Robert.[7]

Gina, Ernesto and Dennis later recanted their testimonies. On June 11, 2002, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a Joint Resolution directing the City Prosecutor to cause the withdrawal of the Informations for murder against the accused, holding that the prosecution witnesses' testimonies were not credible because of their recantation. On motion of the prosecution, the RTC, Branch 258, issued an Order dated July 5, 2005, allowing the withdrawal of the Informations against the accused and consequently recalling the warrants for their arrest.[8]

Respondent elevated the matter to the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 72962. The CA nullified the aforesaid Order, declaring that RTC, Branch 258, committed grave abuse of discretion in allowing the withdrawal of the Informations without making an independent evaluation on the merits of the case. On final review, this Court affirmed the CA decision in G.R. No. 158236 on September 1, 2004. Unsatisfied, Ligaya filed a motion for reconsideration.[9]

Pending the resolution of her motion, Ligaya filed an Urgent Petition for Bail before the RTC of Parañaque City, Branch 257, where the cases were subsequently re-raffled to upon the inhibition of the Presiding Judge of Branch 258. In opposition to the motion, the prosecution presented anew two witnesses, Sabino Frias (Sabino) and Jonas Agnote (Jonas). Sabino testified that, on that fateful day, he heard gunshots and saw three armed men run towards the parked van where Ligaya was. Jonas, on the other hand, revealed that Ligaya approached him to contact a hired killer who would be willing to assassinate respondent. He then contacted a certain "Dagul" to do the job. Jonas was likewise tasked to change the plate number of Ligaya's van. On December 29, 2004, the RTC debunked the petition for bail. [10]

Meanwhile, in G.R. No. 158236, the Court finally resolved petitioners' motion for reconsideration, holding that the RTC, Branch 258,[11] must make an independent evaluation of the records before allowing the withdrawal of the Informations against petitioners. This impelled Ligaya to file before the RTC, Branch 257, an Urgent Motion to Resolve Anew and on the Merits Previous Motion to Withdraw Criminal Informations Pursuant to the DOJ Finding on Lack of Probable Cause.[12]

The aforesaid incidents were assigned for resolution to the RTC, Branch 274, to which the case was re-raffled upon the inhibition of the Presiding Judge of Branch 257.[13]

On September 30, 2005, the RTC issued an Order[14] dismissing the case for murder, ratiocinating that no probable cause existed to indict them for their crime. Consequently, it lifted the warrants for their arrests and ordered their immediate release from detention. The prosecution's motion for reconsideration was denied on December 28, 2005.[15]

Aggrieved, respondent filed a Petition for Certiorari before the CA, claiming that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in finding that no probable cause existed against the accused.

On May 20, 2009, the CA granted the petition, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, the Petition for Certiorari is hereby GRANTED. The Orders dated 30 September 2005 and 28 December 2005 of the Regional Trial Court of Paranaque City, Branch 274, are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Parañaque City is DIRECTED to cause the re-raffle of Criminal Case No. 01- 0921 for appropriate proceedings.


The CA concluded that the RTC turned a deaf ear to the crucial testimonial evidence of the prosecution that, more likely than not, the crime charged was committed by the accused. It specifically pointed out that Sabino positively identified the accused and related in detail their supposed participation in killing Francis. The court could not also ignore the statements made by Jonas at the risk of incriminating himself. With these, the CA found it necessary that a full blown trial be conducted to unearth the truth behind their testimonies. In disregarding the evidence presented by the prosecution, the CA declared that, indeed, the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion. It, however, clarified that, in making the above pronouncements, the court was not enunciating that the accused were guilty of the crime charged.[17] For possible bias and prejudice, the court likewise ordered the inhibition of the Presiding Judge and the subsequent re-raffle of the case.[18]

On motion of petitioners, the CA clarified that the reversal of the RTC Orders carried with it the reversal of the trial court's finding that petitioners were entitled to bail.[19]

Hence, the present petition raising the following issues:

(a) Sec. 1, Rule 41 of the Rules of Court defines what are to be appealed. "Appeal may be taken from a judgment or final order that completely disposes of the case." The September 30, 2005 order of the RTC of Parañaque City dismissing the information for murder "disposes of the action in its entirety and leaves nothing more to be done to complete the relief sought." Hence, the remedy of the People of the Philippines is appeal. [Dy Chun vs. Mendoza, L-25461, October 4, 1968, 25 SCRA 431] The People and the private complainant did not appeal the September 30, 2005 Joint Order. Hence, the same became final and executory.

(b) "Once a decision becomes final, even the court which rendered it cannot lawfully alter or modify the same especially where the alteration or modification is material or substantial." [Samson vs. Montejo, 9 SCRA 419; De la Cruz vs. Plaridel Surety and Insurance Co., 10 SCRA 727; Ocampo vs. Caluag, 19 SCRA 971]

(c) On March 24, 2006, two (2) months after the September 30, 2005 final order has become final and executory, the private complainant Fiscal Domingo Orda, Jr. filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for certiorari questioning the orders of September 30, 2005 and December 28, 2005. Certiorari could not be a substitute for a lost appeal. "Where petitioner has failed to file a timely appeal from the trial court's order, it could not longer avail of the remedy of the special civil action for certiorari in lieu of his lost right of appeal." [Mabuhay Insurance & Guaranty, Inc. vs. Court of Appeals, 32 SCRA 245; Mathay, Jr. vs. Court of Appeals, 312 SCRA 91]

(d) The findings of fact of the Regional Trial Court of Parañaque City that there is no probable cause to warrant the filing of the information against the petitioners cannot be reviewed in the petition for certiorari because only jurisdictional issues may be raised in a certiorari proceedings. In a certiorari petition, "the court is confined to question of jurisdiction. The reason is that the function of the writ of certiorari is to keep an inferior court within its jurisdiction and not to correct errors of procedure or mistakes in the judge's finding or conclusion." [Pacis vs. Averia, 18 SCRA 907; Albert vs. Court of First Instance of Manila, Brancg VI, 23 SCRA 948; Estrada vs. Sto. Domingo, 28 SCRA 890]

(e) Moreover, "the findings and conclusions of the trial court command great respect and weight because the trial court has the opportunity to see and observe the demeanor of witnesses which the appellate court does not have." [People vs. Cristobal, L-13062, January 28, 1961, 1 SCRA 151; Medina vs. Collector of Internal Revenue, L-151113, January 28, 1961, 1 SCRA 302; Tuason vs. Luzon Stevedoring Company, Inc., L-13541, January 28, 1961, 1 SCRA 189; People vs. Sarmiento, L-19146, May 31, 1963, 8 SCRA 263]

(f) The Joint Order of September 30, 2005 was issued by the Regional Trial Court in compliance with the decision of the Supreme Court that the trial court must act on the issue of probable cause using its own discretion. Reversing the September 30, 2005 Joint Order is like reversing the Supreme Court.

(g) The Court of Appeals denied the motion for reconsideration citing Sec. 1, Rule 41 of the Rules of Court providing "that an order dismissing the action without prejudice is not appealable." The Court of Appeals ruled that the remedy from the finding of fact and final order dismissing the information "is to file a special civil action under Rule 65."

(h) The final order of September 30, 2005 does not state that the dismissal is "without prejudice." There is nothing in the order of September 30, 2005 from which we could derive that the dismissal of the action is "without prejudice." While it may be true that the defense of double jeopardy may not be invoked by the petitioners simply because they were not yet arraigned, it does not follow that another information for murder could be filed against them on the same evidence that the court dismissed the information for lack of probable cause. A new information could still be filed against the petitioners but the same must not be based on the same evidence already repudiated in the September 30, 2005 order.[20]

Simply put, the issues for resolution are: 1) whether a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court is the correct remedy in assailing the RTC decision allowing the withdrawal of the Informations and consequently dismissing the case for lack of probable cause; and 2) whether the CA erred in finding that there was probable cause against petitioners.

We grant the petition.

On the first issue, the petition for certiorari filed by respondent under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court is inappropriate. It bears stressing that the Order of the RTC, granting the motion of the prosecution to withdraw the Informations and ordering the case dismissed, is final because it disposed of the case and terminated the proceedings therein, leaving nothing to be done by the court. Thus, the proper remedy is appeal.[21]

Respondent filed with the CA the special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court instead of an ordinary appeal, not because it was the only plain, speedy, and adequate remedy available to him under the law, but, obviously, to make up for the loss of his right to an ordinary appeal. It is elementary that the special civil action of certiorari is not and cannot be a substitute for an appeal, where the latter remedy is available, as it was in this case. A special civil action under Rule 65 cannot cure a party's failure to timely appeal the assailed decision or resolution. Rule 65 is an independent action that cannot be availed of as a substitute for the lost remedy of an ordinary appeal.[22]

To be sure, a petition for certiorari is dismissible for being the wrong remedy. Indeed, we have noted a number of exceptions to this general rule, to wit: 1) when public welfare and the advancement of public policy dictate; 2) when the broader interest of justice so requires; 3) when the writs issued are null and void; 4) when the questioned order amounts to an oppressive exercise of judicial authority; 5) when, for persuasive reasons, the rules may be relaxed to relieve a litigant of an injustice not commensurate with his failure to comply with the prescribed procedure; or 6) in other meritorious cases.[23]

None of the above exceptions are present in the instant case; hence, we apply the general rule. Respondent not having availed himself of the proper remedy to assail the dismissal of the case against petitioners, the dismissal has become final and executory.[24]

For reasons that will be discussed below, even on the merits of the case, the CA erred in reversing the Orders of the RTC.

The task of the Presiding Judge when an Information is filed with the court is first and foremost to determine the existence or non-existence of probable cause for the arrest of the accused. Probable cause is such set of facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that the offense charged in the Information or any offense included therein has been committed by the person sought to be arrested. In determining probable cause, the average man weighs the facts and circumstances without resorting to the calibrations of the rules of evidence of which he has no technical knowledge. He relies on common sense. A finding of probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that, more likely than not, a crime has been committed and that it was committed by the accused. Probable cause demands more than suspicion; it requires less than evidence that would justify conviction.[25]

Moreover, when confronted with a motion to withdraw an Information on the ground of lack of probable cause based on a resolution of the DOJ Secretary, the bounden duty of the trial court is to make an independent assessment of the merits of such motion. Having acquired jurisdiction over the case, the trial court is not bound by such resolution, but is required to evaluate it before proceeding further with the trial and should embody such assessment in the order disposing the motion.[26]

Records show that the RTC, on motion of the prosecution, allowed the withdrawal of the Informations for murder, holding that the prosecution witnesses' testimonies were not credible. Pursuant to the Court's Decision in G.R. No. 158236, the RTC reviewed anew the records of the case and made an independent evaluation of the evidence presented to ascertain the existence or non-existence of probable cause to indict the petitioners. After such evaluation, the court, on September 30, 2005, dismissed the case for murder against the accused, including petitioners herein, ratiocinating that no probable cause existed to indict them for their crime. Consequently, it lifted the warrants for their arrest and ordered their immediate release from detention. The prosecution's motion for reconsideration was denied on December 28, 2005.

A closer scrutiny of the Order of the RTC reveals that the Presiding Judge allowed the withdrawal of the Informations, consequently dismissed the case against petitioners, and lifted the warrants for their arrest on the following grounds: 1) the incredibility of the earlier statements of Gina, Ernesto and Dennis because of their subsequent recantation;[27] 2) the improbability that Dennis and Ernesto saw and heard the conversations of the accused in view of the counter-evidence submitted by Ligaya, showing the physical set-up of her residence or building, the kind of door she maintained thereat, and the inner private room she had;[28] 3) the lack or insufficiency of evidence at the level of prosecution for purposes of determining probable cause;[29] and 4) the incredibility of the testimonies of Sabino and Jonas because of the absence of corroborating evidence.[30]

Given the foregoing, we find that the RTC did not err in finding that no probable cause existed to indict the petitioners for the crime of murder. Neither did it gravely abuse its discretion in making said conclusion. There was no hint of whimsicality, nor of gross and patent abuse of discretion as would amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law or to act at all in contemplation of law on the part of the Presiding Judge.[31] On the contrary, he came to the conclusion that there was no probable cause for petitioners to commit murder, by applying basic precepts of criminal law to the facts, allegations and evidence on record. Said conclusion was thoroughly explained in detail in the lengthy Order dated September 30, 2005. We would like to stress that the purpose of the mandate of the judge to first determine probable cause is to insulate from the very start those falsely charged with crimes from the tribulations, expenses and anxiety of a public trial.[32]

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is GRANTED. The Court of Appeals Decision dated May 20, 2009 and its Resolution dated September 10, 2009 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Orders of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 274, dated September 30, 2005 and December 28, 2005 are REINSTATED.


Corona, (Chairperson), Velasco, Jr., Peralta, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Japar B. Dimaampao, with Associate Justices Rebecca de Guia-Salvador and Sixto C. Marella, Jr., concurring; rollo, pp. 31-41.

[2] Id. at 55-57.

[3] Rollo, p. 40.

[4] Id. at 32.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 32-33.

[8] Id. at 33-34.

[9] Id. at 34.

[10] Id. at 34-35.

[11] The case was re-raffled to Branch 257.

[12] Rollo, pp. 35-36.

[13] Id. at 36.

[14] Id. at 58-93.

[15] Id. at 36.

[16] Id. at 40.

[17] Id. at 37-39.

[18] Id. at 40.

[19] Id. at 56.

[20] Id. at 5-7.

[21] Fuentes v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 164664, July 20, 2006, 495 SCRA 784, 797.

[22] Tanenglian v. Lorenzo, G.R. No. 173415, March 28, 2008, 550 SCRA 348, 366-367.

[23] Id. at 367.

[24] First Women's Credit Corporation v. Baybay, G.R. No. 166888, January 31, 2007, 513 SCRA 637, 647.

[25] Baltazar v. People, G.R. No. 174016, July 28, 2008, 560 SCRA 278, 293-294.

[26] Ark Travel Express, Inc. v. Abrogar, G.R. No. 137010, August 29, 2003, 410 SCRA 148.

[27] Rollo, p. 87.

[28] Id. at 88.

[29] Id.

[30] Id. at 89.

[31] Baltazar v. People, supra note 25, at 294-295.

[32] Id. at 294.

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