THIRD DIVISION

G.R. No. 136806               August 22, 2000

EDUARDO A. ALARILLA, petitioner,
vs.
THE HONORABLE SANDIGANBAYAN (First Division), respondent.

D E C I S I O N

GONZAGA-REYES, J.:

In this petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, petitioner alleges that the Sandiganbayan1 gravely abused its discretion when it issued its Resolution dated July 28, 1998 denying his demurrer to evidence and the subsequent Resolution dated December 17, 1998 denying his motion for reconsideration in Criminal Case No. 23069.2

The factual background of this case is set out herein:

On December 1, 1995, the Office of the Ombudsman, acting through the Office of the Special Prosecutor, filed an information3 with the Sandiganbayan charging petitioner Eduardo A. Alarilla with the crime of grave threats as defined in Article 282 of the Revised Penal Code. On the same day, a second information4 was filed charging petitioner of having violated section 3 (e) of Republic Act No. 3019. These informations were docketed as Criminal Case Nos. 23069 and 23070, respectively.

Criminal Case No. 23070 was raffled to the Second Division of the Sandiganbayan. Acting upon a motion for reinvestigation filed by petitioner, the Office of the Special Prosecutor filed a motion to withdraw the information5 , which motion was eventually granted by the Sandiganbayan on July 16, 1996.6

Meanwhile, Criminal Case No. 23069 was assigned to the First Division of the Sandiganbayan. Petitioner also filed a motion for reinvestigation with the court on May 8, 1996, to which the prosecution objected. On June 18, 1996, the court issued a resolution deferring action on petitionerís motion for reinvestigation until compliance by the prosecution with the courtís resolution of March 20 and 28, 1996, requiring the amendment of the information so as to indicate the "office-related" character of the crime charged. On November 8, 1996, the Office of the Special Prosecutor filed an ex-parte motion7 for the admission of an amended information which reads -

That on or about October 13, 1982, in Meycauayan, Bulacan, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, a public officer, being then the Municipal Mayor of Meycauayan, Bulacan, committing the crime herein charged in relation to and taking advantage of his official functions, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously level and aim a .45 caliber pistol at and threaten to kill one Simeon G. Legaspi, during a public hearing about the pollution from the operations of the Giant Achievers Enterprises Plastic Factory and after the said complainant rendered a privilege speech critical of the abuses and excesses of the administration of said accused.

In its resolution8 of January 30, 1997, the Sandiganbayan admitted the amended information.

Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration,9 praying that the court reconsider its admission of the amended information. He claimed that the crimes charged in Criminal Case Nos. 23069 and 23070 arose out of the same incident; that considering that the latter case had already been dismissed by the court on the ground that it had no jurisdiction over the same since the crime charged was not "office-related," the same ruling should apply to the former case. After the prosecution had filed its comment,10 the First Division issued a resolution11 on April 25, 1997, denying petitionerís motion for reinvestigation of Criminal Case No. 23069 and his motion for reconsideration. With regards to the issue of jurisdiction, the Sandiganbayan held that Ė

In criminal cases, the courtís jurisdiction in the first instance is determined by the facts alleged in the complaint or information. The complaint or information must be examined for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not the facts set out therein and the punishment provided for by law for such acts fall within the jurisdiction of the court in which the complaint or information is presented. If the facts set out in the complaint or information are sufficient to show the court in which the complaint or information is presented has jurisdiction, then the court has jurisdiction (U.S. vs. Mallari, 24 Phil 366; Magay vs. Estiandan, 69 SCRA 456; Enerio vs. Alampay, 64 SCRA 142).

A perusal of the Amended Information in the instant case readily shows that the felony allegedly committed was "office-related," hence, within the jurisdiction of this court. It is alleged therein that accused mayor committed the crime of grave threats when he levelled and aimed his gun at and threatened to kill private complainant Simeon Legazpi during a public hearing about the pollution which resulted from the operation of Giant Achievers Enterprises Plastic Factory and after said complainant rendered a privileged speech critical of the abuses and excesses of the administration of the accused. As the local chief executive, the health and sanitation problem of the community was one of the accusedís main concern[s]. Thus, accused was performing his official duty as municipal mayor when he attended said public hearing. It is apparent from the allegations, that, although public office is not an element of the crime of grave threat[s] in abstract, as committed by the accused, there is an intimate connection/relation between the commission of the offense and accusedís performance of his public office.

Moreover, accusedís violent act was precipitated by complainantís criticism of his administration as the mayor or chief executive of the municipality, during the latterís privilege speech. It was his response to private complainantís attack to his office. If he was not the mayor, he would not have been irritated or angered by whatever private complainant might have said during said privilege speech.

x x x           x x x          x x x

The ruling in Criminal Case No. 23070 relied upon by the accused will not apply in this case, because the offense involved there was [a] [v]iolation of Section 3 (e) of R.A. 3019. It is an essential element of said offense that the act of the accused in causing undue injury to any party including the Government or the giving to any party of unwarranted benefits, advantage or perference was done in the course of the discharge of his official, administrative or judicial function. The ponente, the Hon. Jose S. Balajadia, however, found the said circumstance not obtaining in the said case (Crim. Case No. 23070) because the incident complained of took place after the public hearing when the accused was not anymore performing any of his official administrative functions. The difference lies in the fact that in the case at bar (grave threats), said condition is not a component element. All that the law requires for the crime to be within the jurisdiction of this court is the fact that the felony was committed "in relation to his office" (not during the discharge of his official function).

PREMISES CONSIDERED, and on the further ground that accusedís primary intent in pleading a reinvestigation is the determination of the "office-related" character of the crime, which is now passed upon, his Motion for Reinvestigation is hereby DENIED due course. His Motion for Reconsideration of the Courtís Resolution dated January 30, 1997 is likewise DENIED for lack of merit.

Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration of the above cited ruling, but the Sandiganbayan denied the same in its resolution12 dated June 18, 1997. Thus, petitioner was prompted to file a petition for certiorari13 with this Court questioning the Sandiganbayanís April 25, 1997 and June 18, 1997 resolutions, which case was docketed as G.R. No. 130231. However, in our resolution14 dated September 22, 1997, we dismissed the petition "for failure to sufficiently show that the questioned [resolutions were] tainted with grave abuse of discretion."

Thus, the trial of Criminal Case No. 23069 proceeded. On May 19, 1998, after the prosecution had completed the presentation of its evidence, petitioner filed a demurrer to evidence15 on the ground that the prosecution had failed to prove that he had committed the crime charged in the information and that the act complained of took place while he was performing his official functions.

In a resolution16 dated July 28, 1998, the Sandiganbayan denied petitionerís demurrer to evidence. The resolution states that Ė

x x x           x x x          x x x

The accused herein is charged with having threatened to kill Simeon Legaspi by pointing a .45 caliber pistol at him. There is evidence on record that the acts were indeed committed. Regardless of whether or not the pistol was cocked, the pointing of a firearm at a person in a hostile manner is an act demonstrating an intent to inflict harm to that person. Whether or not the accused Mayor was in the performance of his proper duties when he pointed the .45 caliber pistol is not a proper issue of jurisdiction for this Court since all illegal acts are never proper acts of oneís public office. What is at evidence is that an ordinary citizen was not in a position to convoke the Sanggunian Bayan nor to preside over the same, much less to interfere with the legislative proceedings of the Municipal Council which, because he as mayor, the accused could and did, even if unlawfully.

x x x           x x x          x x x

Petitionerís motion for reconsideration was similarly denied by the Sandiganbayan in its December 17, 1998 resolution17 explaining that Ė

x x x           x x x          x x x

Indeed, an illegal act is not an official act; rather the question boils down to whether or not the acts attributed to the accused herein were performed by him in the occasion of either the performance of his duties or of his assertion of his authority to do so. Were the rule to be otherwise, the Sandiganbayan would never have jurisdiction of criminal acts of public officers since these acts would never be the performance of official duties or be official acts, although they might be in the occasion thereof.

x x x           x x x          x x x

Hence, the present petition wherein petitioner asks this Court to set aside the July 28, 1998 and December 17, 1998 resolutions of the Sandiganbayan and to dismiss Criminal Case No. 23069. In addition, petitioner prays for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction to enjoin public respondent from further proceeding with said case until this petition has been resolved.18

The Office of the Special Prosecutor filed its Comment19 on April 22, 1999. On May 18, 1999, petitioner filed a motion to resolve20 his application for a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction in order to enjoin the Sandiganbayan from further proceeding with the case, which prayer he reiterated in a subsequent motion21 filed with this Court on July 22, 1999. On September 6, 1999, the Court denied petitionerís July 22, 1999 motion for lack of merit.22 Petitioner filed a Reply23 on December 6, 1999. The prosecution and the defense then filed their respective Memorandums on March 16, 200024 and on March 30, 2000,25 respectively, after which the case was deemed submitted for decision.

Petitioner sets forth the following issues for the Courtís resolution -

I. WHETHER OR NOT THE FIRST DIVISION OF THE SANDIGANBAYAN ACTED WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF ITS JURISDICTION OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN DENYING PETITIONERíS DEMURRER TO EVIDENCE.

II. WHETHER OR NOT THE FIRST DIVISION OF THE SANDIGANBAYAN ACTED WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF ITS JURISDICTION OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN RULING THAT THE OFFENSE CHARGED IN CRIMINAL CASE NO. 23069 FALLS WITHIN ITS JURISDICTION.

III. WHETHER OR NOT PETITIONER SHOULD BE GRANTED INJUNCTIVE RELIEF.26

With regard to the first issue, petitioner claims that the elements constituting the crime of grave threats have not been proven. He insists that the prosecution had not established that his act of pointing a gun at complainant Simeon Legaspi, assuming that it had actually occurred, constituted grave threats.27 However, quite to the contrary, the Sandiganbayan found that the prosecutionís evidence, standing unrebutted by any opposing evidence, sufficiently established the crime charged.28

The resolution of a demurrer to evidence should be left to the exercise of sound judicial discretion. A lower courtís order of denial shall not be disturbed, that is, the appellate courts will not review the prosecutionís evidence and precipitately decide whether or not such evidence has established the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, unless accused has established that such judicial discretion has been gravely abused, thereby amounting to a lack or excess of jurisdiction.29 Mere allegations of such abuse will not suffice. For the special civil action of certiorari to lie, it is crucial that

Öthere must be a capricious, arbitrary and whimsical exercise of power, the very antithesis of judicial prerogative in accordance with centuries of both civil law and common law traditions. To warrant the issuance of the extraordinary writ of certiorari, the alleged lack of jurisdiction, excess thereof, or abuse of discretion must be so gross or grave, as when power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion, prejudice or personal hostility, or the abuse must be so patent as to amount to an evasion of positive duty, or to a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all, in contemplation of law. xxx 30

When there is no showing of such grave abuse, certiorari is not the proper remedy.31 Rather, the appropriate recourse from an order denying a demurrer to evidence is for the court to proceed with the trial, after which the accused may file an appeal from the judgment of the lower court rendered after such trial.32 In the present case, we are not prepared to rule that the Sandiganbayan has gravely abused its discretion when it denied petitionerís demurrer to evidence. Public respondent found that the prosecutionís evidence satisfactorily established the elements of the crime charged. Correspondingly, there is nothing in the records of this case nor in the pleadings of petitioner that would show otherwise.

Coming now to the second issue, petitioner assails the Sandiganbayanís jurisdiction over the case on the ground that the crime was not committed in relation to his office. He contends that it has not been established that the crime charged was committed by him while in the discharge of or as a consequence of his official functions as municipal mayor. Additionally, he claims that public office is not an essential ingredient of the crime of grave threats, which may be committed by a public officer and a private individual alike, with the same facility. Therefore, the Sandiganbayan erroneously assumed jurisdiction over the present case.33

It is well established that the jurisdiction of a court to try a criminal case is determined by the law in force at the time of the institution of the action. Once the court acquires jurisdiction over a controversy, it shall continue to exercise such jurisdiction until the final determination of the case and it is not affected by subsequent legislation vesting jurisdiction over such proceedings in another tribunal. A recognized exception to this rule is when the statute expressly provides, or is construed to the effect that it is intended to operate upon actions pending before its enactment. However, where such retroactive effect is not provided for, statutes altering the jurisdiction of a court cannot be applied to cases already pending prior to their enactment.34

The original information in Criminal Case No. 23069 was filed with the Sandiganbayan on December 1, 1995, whereas the amended information was filed with the same court on November 8, 1996 and admitted by the Sandiganbayan on January 30, 1997. The applicable law at this time would be Presidential Decree No. 1606 (PD 1606), as amended by Republic Act No. 7975 (RA 7975),35 which took effect on May 16, 1995.36 Section 4 of PD 1606, as amended by RA 7975, provides that Ė

The Sandiganbayan shall exercise original jurisdiction in all cases involving:

a. Violations of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Republic Act No. 1379, and Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII of the Revised Penal Code, xxx

x x x           x x x          x x x

b. Other offenses or felonies committed by the public officials and employees mentioned in subsection (a) of this section in relation to their office.

x x x           x x x          x x x

Thus, to fall within the exclusive and original jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, the crime charged must be either one of those mentioned in paragraph (a) abovementioned or one committed by a public officer in relation to his office. The Court has held that an offense is deemed to be committed in relation to the accusedís office when such office is an element of the crime charged37 or when the offense charged is intimately connected with the discharge of the official functions of accused. This was our ruling in Cunanan v. Arceo38 wherein the Court explained several decisions dealing with the Sandiganbayanís jurisdiction. The Court held Ė

In Sanchez v. Demetriou [227 SCRA 627 (1993)], the Court elaborated on the scope and reach of the term "offense committed in relation to [an accusedís] office" by referring to the principle laid down in Montilla v. Hilario [90 Phil 49 (1951)], and to an exception to that principle which was recognized in People v. Montejo [108 Phil 613 (1960)]. The principle set out in Montilla v. Hilario is that an offense may be considered as committed in relation to the accusedís office if "the offense cannot exist without the office" such that "the office [is] a constituent element of the crime x x x." In People v. Montejo, the Court, through Chief Justice Concepcion, said that "although public office is not an element of the crime of murder in [the] abstract," the facts in a particular case may show that

"x x x the offense therein charged is intimately connected with [the accusedís] respective offices and was perpetrated while they were in the performance, though improper or irregular, of their official functions. Indeed, [the accused] had no personal motive to commit the crime and they would not have committed it had they not held their aforesaid offices. x x x"

The jurisdiction of a court is determined by the allegations in the complaint or information.39 In the case at bar, the amended information contained allegations that the accused, petitioner herein, took advantage of his official functions as municipal mayor of Meycauayan, Bulacan when he committed the crime of grave threats as defined in Article 282 of the Revised Penal Code against complainant Simeon G. Legaspi, a municipal councilor. The Office of the Special Prosecutor charged petitioner with aiming a gun at and threatening to kill Legaspi during a public hearing, after the latter had rendered a privilege speech critical of petitionerís administration. Clearly, based on such allegations, the crime charged is intimately connected with the discharge of petitionerís official functions. This was elaborated upon by public respondent in its April 25, 1997 resolution wherein it held that the "accused was performing his official duty as municipal mayor when he attended said public hearing" and that "accusedís violent act was precipitated by complainantís criticism of his administration as the mayor or chief executive of the municipality, during the latterís privilege speech. It was his response to private complainantís attack to his office. If he was not the mayor, he would not have been irritated or angered by whatever private complainant might have said during said privilege speech." Thus, based on the allegations in the information, the Sandiganbayan correctly assumed jurisdiction over the case.1‚wphi1

WHEREFORE, the petition for certiorari is hereby DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, (Chairman), Vitug, Panganiban, and Purisima, JJ., concur.


Footnotes

1 The assailed resolutions were issued by the First Division composed of Presiding Justice Francis E. Grachitorena and Justices Catalino R. Castaneda, Jr. and German G. Lee, Jr. However, by the time the December 17, 1998 Resolution was issued, Justice Lee, Jr. was replaced by Justice Gregory S. Ong.

2 Rollo, 8.

3 Records, vol. II, 2-A Ė 2-B.

4 Rollo, 73.

5 Ibid., 100-101.

6 Ibid., 87-90.

7 Records, vol. 1, 100-101.

8 Rollo, 118.

9 Ibid., 119-122.

10 Ibid., 123-124.

11 Ibid., 126-132.

12 Ibid., 134-136.

13 Records, vol. I, 307-424.

14 Ibid., 476.

15 Ibid., vol. II, 6-18.

16 Rollo, 49.

17 Ibid., 50.

18 Ibid., 44.

19 Ibid., 182-193.

20 Ibid., 194-200.

21 Ibid., 203-208.

22 Ibid., 209.

23 Ibid., 220-225.

24 Ibid., 228-238.

25 Ibid., 241-280.

26 Ibid., 256.

27 Ibid., 256-259.

28 Ibid., 49.

29 Tan v. Court of Appeals, 283 SCRA 18 (1997). See also Antonio v. Court of Appeals, 273 SCRA 328 (1998); People v. Mercado, 159 SCRA 453, 459 (1988).

30 Gamboa v. Cruz, 162 SCRA 642 (1988).

31 Morales v. Court of Appeals, 283 SCRA 211 (1997).

32 Cruz v. People, 144 SCRA 677 (1986), citing People v. Court of Appeals, 119 SCRA 162 (1982); Joseph v. Villaluz, 89 SCRA 324 (1979); People v. Romero, 22 Phil 565.

33 Rollo, 260-272.

34 People v .Cawaling, 293 SCRA 267 (1998); Azarcon v. Sandiganbayan, 268 SCRA 747 (1997); People v. Velasco, 252 SCRA 135 (1996), citing People v. Mariano, 71 SCRA 600 (1976) and People v. Paderna, 22 SCRA 273 (1968).

35 Entitled "AN ACT TO STRENGTHEN THE FUNCTIONAL AND STRUCTURAL ORGANIZATION OF THE SANDIGANBAYAN, AMENDING FOR THAT PURPOSE PRESIDENTIAL DECREE NO. 1606, AS AMENDED. Approved on March 30, 1995.

36 Azarcon v. Sandiganbayan, supra.

37 People v. Cawaling, supra.

38 242 SCRA 88 (1995).

39 People v. Cawaling, supra., citing Lim v. Court of Appeals, 251 SCRA 408 (1995); Tamano v. Ortiz, 291 SCRA 584 (1998); Chico v. Court of Appeals, 284 SCRA 33 (1998); Cunanan v. Arceo, supra.


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