G.R. No. 144261-62 May 9, 2001
PRUDENTE D. SOLLER, M.D., PRECIOSA M. SOLLER, M.D., RODOLFO I. SALCEDO, JOSEFINA B. MORADA, MARIO M. MATINING, and ROMMEL M. LUARCA, petitioners,
THE HONORABLE SANDIGANBAYAN and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.
This special civil action for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus raises the issue of the propriety of the assumption of jurisdiction by the Sandiganbayan1 in Criminal Cases Nos. 25521 and 25522 both entitled "People of the Philippines vs. Prudente D. Soller, Preciosa M. Soller, Rodolfo Salcedo, Josefina Morada, Mario Matining and Rommel Luarca" wherein petitioners are charged with Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders as defined and penalized under P.D. No. 1829. The grounds for petitioners' Motion to Quash the Informations against them are that only petitioner Prudente D. Soller occupied a position classified as Grade 27 and higher and because the offenses charged were not committed by him in violation of his office as Municipal Mayor of Bansud, Oriental Mindoro.1âwphi1.nęt
It appears that in the evening of March 14, 1997, Jerry Macabael a municipal guard, was shot and killed along the national highway at Bansud, Oriental Mindoro while driving a motorcycle together with petitioner Soller's son, Vincent M. Soller. His body was brought to a medical clinic located in the house of petitioner Dr. Prudente Soller, the Municipal Mayor, and his wife Dr. Preciosa Soller, who is the Municipal Health Officer. The incident was reported to and investigated by petitioner SPO4 Mario Matining. An autopsy was conducted on the same night on the cadaver of Jerry by petitioner Dr. Preciosa Soller with the assistance of petitioner Rodolfo Salcedo, Sanitary Inspector, and petitioner Josefina Morada, Rural Health Midwife.
On the basis of the foregoing incident, a complaint was later filed against the petitioners by the widow of Jerry Macabael with the Office of the Ombudsman charging them with conspiracy to mislead the investigation of the fatal shootout of Jerry Macabael by (a) altering his wound (b) concealing his brain; (c) falsely stating in police report that he had several gunshot wounds when in truth he had only one; and d) falsely stating in an autopsy report that there was no blackening around his wound when in truth there was.
Petitioners spouses Soller denied having tampered with the cadaver of Jerry Macabael, and claimed, among others that Jerry Macabael was brought to their private medical clinic because it was there where he was rushed by his companions after the shooting, that petitioner Prudente Soller, who is also a doctor, was merely requested by his wife Preciosa Soller, who was the Municipal Health Officer, to assist in the autopsy considering that the procedure involved sawing which required male strength, and that Mrs. Macabael's consent was obtained before the autopsy. The two (2) police officers denied having planted three (3) shells at the place where the shooting took place.
The Office of the Ombudsman recommended the filing of an Information for Obstruction of Justice (Violation of P.D. 1829), and two (2) Informations2 were filed with the Sandiganbayan which were docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 25521 and 25522. The two (2) informations respectively read as follows:
"Criminal Case No. 25521
The undersigned Graft Investigation Officer I, Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, hereby accuses PRUDENTE SOLLER, PRECIOSA SOLLER, MARIO MATINING, ROMMEL LUARCA, RODOLFO SALCEDO, and JOSIE MORADA, of committing the offense of Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders as defined and penalized under Section 1, Paragraph b of P.D. 1829, committed as follows:
That on or about March 14, 1997, prior or subsequent thereto, at the Municipality of Bansud, Oriental Mindoro and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above name accused, all public officers, then being the Municipal Mayor, Municipal Health Officer, SPO II, PO 1, Sanitary Inspector and Midwife, respectively, all of said municipality, conspiring and confederating with one another, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully, and criminally alter and suppress the gunshot wound and conceal the brain of JERRY MACABAEL with intent to impair its veracity, authenticity, and availability as evidence in the investigation of criminal case for murder against the accused Vincent Soller, the son of herein respondents.
CONTRARY TO LAW."
"Criminal Case No. 25522
The undersigned Graft Investigation Officer, I, Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, hereby accuses PRUDENTE SOLLER, PRECIOSA SOLLER, MARIO MATINING, ROMMEL LUARCA, RODOLFO SALCEDO, and JOSIE MORADA, of committing the offense of Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders as defined and penalized under Section 1, Paragraph b of P.D. 1829, committed as follows:
That on or about March 14, 1997, prior or subsequent thereto, at the Municipality of Bansud, Oriental Mindoro and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above name accused, all public officers, then being the Municipal Mayor, Municipal health Officer, SPO II, PO 1, Sanitary Inspector and Midwife, respectively, all of said municipality, conspiring and confederating with one another, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully, and criminal give false and fabricated information in the autopsy report and police report to mislead or prevent the law enforcement agency, from apprehending the offender by reporting that there are several gunshot wounds in the body of the victim, JERRY MACABAEL and that there is no tattooing (blackening) around the wound of the said victim when in truth and in fact, there is only one gunshot wound and there is tattooing (blackening) around the wound which would indicate that the victim was shot by Vincent Soller, the son of the herein respondents spouses Prudente and Preciosa Soller.
CONTRARY TO LAW."
Petitioners filed a Motion to Quash on the principal ground that the Sandiganbayan had no jurisdiction over the offenses charged; this motion was opposed by respondent People. In its assailed Order dated April 14, 2000, the Sandiganbayan denied petitioners' Motion to Quash on the ground that the accusation involves the performance of the duties of at least one (1) of the accused public officials, and if the Mayor is indeed properly charged together with that official, then the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction over the entire case and over all the co-accused. The Order stated that "the accused is the Mayor of the municipality where the alleged incident took place and, therefore, any attempt to deviate or to present false evidence in connection with a criminal offense committed in his municipality for which he is charged would be an offense also in which the accused Mayor would be probably held accountable before this Court."
Motion for Reconsideration of the above order was filed on the premise that it is not among the functions of the mayor to conduct autopsies so that any misdeed, if indeed there was any, could not be an offense which would put him under the jurisdiction of the court. Motion for Reconsideration was denied, the Sandiganbyan ruling that:
"The enumeration of the functions of the mayor indicate very clearly that he is the primary executive and, therefore, necessarily the primary peace officer of the municipality, for which reason, any action on his part which deviates from that function is an office-related offense. In this particular instance, the accused is charged for having cooperated or co-participated with another public official of lower rank in the same municipality in the supposed falsification of the results of an autopsy. Additionally, even if the functions of an autopsy were totally unrelated to any of the administrative or executive functions over which the mayor may have supervision and, more specially, control, the fact of the matter is that the jurisdiction of the Court covers not only the offenses committed by the officials of Grade Level 27 or higher as the principal accused but even where such officials are also accused together with some other public officials who may be at a level below Grade Level 27 in connection with the performance of their duties.
In this instance, accused Mayor Prudente D. Soller, Sr. who occupies a position at Grade Level 27, is co-accused with his wife, the Municipal Health Officer who occupies a position at Grade Level 24, so that, necessarily, the offense attributed to the lower ranking officer elevates the entire case to this Court primarily because somebody over whom this Court has jurisdiction, the Mayor, is accused together with the lower ranking officer."3
Hence, this petition alleging that-
"RESPONDENT SANDIGANBAYAN ACTED WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF JURISDICTION IN HOLDING THAT IT HAS JURISDICTION OVER THE OFFENSE CHARGED IN SUBJECT CRIMINAL CASES NOS. 25521 and 25522."4
Citing Section 4 of P.D. 1606 as amended, which defines the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, petitioners claim that for an offense to fall within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, the offense must have been committed by the officials enunciated in paragraph (a) "in relation to their office", i.e. it should be intimately connected with the office of the offender, and should have been perpetrated while the offender was in the performance of his official functions. Moreover, these requisites must all be alleged in the information. Petitioners assert that in the subject criminal cases, the Informations do not contain factual averments showing that they committed the acts charged in relation to their office, i.e., the acts charged are intimately connected with their respective offices and were perpetrated by them while they were in the performance of their duties and functions.
On the other hand, respondent People of the Philippines, represented by the Office of the Ombudsman, through the Office of the Special Prosecutor, posits that even if the offense charged was not committed by the accused while in the performance of his official functions, the same could still be considered done in relation to his office if the acts were committed in line of duty. Respondent's position is that an offense may be considered committed in relation to office if it arose from misuse or abuse of public office or from non-performance of an official duty or function; thus the offense of falsifying autopsy and police reports is office-related considering that among the duties and functions of the municipal mayor in the exercise of general supervision and control over all programs, projects, services and activities of the municipal government, is that he shall ensure that all executive officials and employees of the municipality faithfully discharge their duties and functions. The fact that the informations do not allege that the acts charged were committed by petitioner Prudente Soller while he was in the performance of his official functions or duties is not a fatal defect, as the conclusion of law that his acts are in violation of his duties as municipal mayor could necessarily be deduced from the informations.
Petitioners, in their Reply, reiterate that the factual averments in the Information were fatally defective in view of the absence of any specific allegation that would indicate that the crimes charged were committed by the defendants in line of duty or in the performance of their official functions.
The petition is meritorious.
The rule is that in order to ascertain whether a court has jurisdiction or not, the provisions of the law should be inquired into.5 Furthermore, the jurisdiction of the court must appear clearly from the statute law or it will not be held to exist. It cannot be presumed or implied. For this purpose in criminal cases, the jurisdiction of the court is determined by the law at the time of the commencement of the action.6
The action here was instituted with the filing of the Informations on May 25, 1999 charging the petitioners with the offense of Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders as defined and penalized under Section 1, Paragraph b of P.D. 1829. The applicable statutory provisions are those of P.D. No. 1606 as last amended by the Republic Act No. 8249. Section 4 of P.D. No. 1606 as amended provides insofar as pertinent:
"SEC. 4. Jurisdiction - The Sandiganbayan shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction in all cases involving:
a. Violations of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act, Republic Act No. 1379, and Chapter II, Section 2, Title VII, Book II of the Revised Penal Code, where one or more of the accused are officials occupying the following positions in the government, whether in a permanent, acting or interim capacity, at the time of the commission of the offense:
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(5) All other national and local officials classified as Grade "27" and higher under the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989.
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b. Other offenses or felonies whether simple or complexed with other crime committed by the public officials and employees mentioned in subsection a of this section in relation to their office.
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In cases where none of the accused are occupying positions corresponding to salary Grade "27" or higher, as prescribed in the said Republic Act 6758, or military and PNP officers mentioned above, exclusive original jurisdiction thereof shall be vested in the proper regional trial court, metropolitan trial court, municipal trial court, and municipal circuit trial court, as the case may be, pursuant to their jurisdictions as provided by Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, amended.
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In Binay vs. Sandiganbayan,7 this Court held that the Municipal Mayor, who occupies Salary Grade 27 in the hierarchy of positions in the government under Republic Act No. 6758 and the Index of Occupational Services. Position Titles and Salary Grades, falls within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.
The bone of contention here is whether the offenses charged may be considered as committed "in relation to their office" as this phrase is employed in the above-quoted Section 4.
As early as Montilla vs. Hilario,8 this Court has interpreted the requirement that an offense be committed in relation to the office to mean that "the offense cannot exist without the office "or" that the office must be a constituent element of the crime" as defined and punished in Chapter Two to Six, Title Seven of the Revised Penal Code (referring to the crimes committed by the public officers). People vs. Montejo9 enunciated the principle that the offense must be intimately connected with the office of the offender and perpetrated while he was in the performance, though improper or irregular of his official functions. The Court, speaking 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 -
"xxx the offense therein charged is intimately connected with (the accused's) 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. The co-defendants of respondent Leroy S. Brown obeyed his instructions because he was their superior officer, as Mayor of Basilan City."10
The cited rulings in Montilla vs. Hilario and in People vs. Montejo were reiterated in Sanchez vs. Demetriou,11 Republic vs. Asuncion,12 and Cunanan vs. Arceo.13 The case of Republic vs. Asuncion categorically pronounced that the fact that offense was committed in relation to the office must be alleged in the information:
"That the public officers or employees committed the crime in relation to their office, must, however, be alleged in the information for the Sandiganbayan to have jurisdiction over a case under Section 4 (a) (2). This allegation is necessary because of the unbending rule that jurisdiction is determined by the allegations of the information."14
For this purpose what is controlling is not whether the phrase "committed in violation to public office" appears in the information; what determines the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan is the specific factual allegation in the information that would indicate close intimacy between the discharge of the accused's official duties and the commission of the offense charged in order to qualify the crime as having been committed in relation to public office.15
In this case, the Informations subject of Criminal Cases Nos. 25521 and 25522 quoted earlier, fail to allege that petitioners had committed the offenses charged in relation to their offices. Neither are there specific allegations of facts to show the intimate relation/connection between the commission of the offense charged and the discharge of official functions of the offenders, i.e. that the obstruction of and apprehension and prosecution of criminal offenders was committed in relation to the office of petitioner Prudente Soller, whose office as Mayor is included in the enumeration in Section 4 (a) of P.D. 1606 as amended. Although the petitioners were described as being "all public officers, then being the Municipal Mayor, Municipal Health Officer, SPO II, PO I, Sanitary Inspector and Midwife", there was no allegation that the offense of altering and suppressing the gunshot wound of the victim with intent to impair the veracity, authenticity and availability as evidence in the investigation of the criminal case for murder (Criminal Case No. 25521) or of giving false and fabricated information in the autopsy report and police report to mislead the law enforcement agency and prevent the apprehension of the offender (Criminal Case No. 25522) was done in the performance of official function. Indeed the offenses defined in P.D. 1829 may be committed by any person whether a public officer or a private citizen, and accordingly public office is not an element of the offense. Moreover, the Information in Criminal Case No. 25522 states that the fabrication of information in the police and autopsy report "would indicate that the victim was shot by Vincent Soller, the son of herein petitioners spouses Prudente and Preciosa Soller". Thus there is a categorical indication that the petitioners spouses Soller had a personal motive to commit the offenses and they would have committed the offenses charged even if they did not respectively hold the position of Municipal Mayor or Municipal Health Officer.
A cursory reading of the duties and functions of the Municipal Mayor as enumerated in Section 444 of the Local Government Code will readily show that the preparation of police and autopsy reports and the presentation and gathering of evidence in the investigation of criminal cases are not among such duties and functions, and the broad responsibility to maintain peace and order cannot be a basis for construing that the criminal acts imputed to petitioner Mayor fall under his functions as Municipal Mayor.16 What is obvious is that petitioners spouses probably acted as the parents of the alleged assailant and if at all, were motivated by personal reasons rather than official duty.
Consequently, for failure to show in the informations that the charges were intimately connected with the discharge of the official functions of accused Mayor Soller, the offenses charged in the subject criminal cases fall within the exclusive original function of the Regional Trial Court, not the Sandiganbayan.
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED and the challenged orders are SET ASIDE and declared NULL and VOID for lack of jurisdiction. No costs.1âwphi1.nęt
Melo, Vitug, Panganiban, and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur.
1 First Division composed of Presiding Justice Francis E. Garchitorena and Associate Justices Catalino R. Castañeda, Jr. and Gregory S. Ong.
2 Rollo, pp. 37-38.
3 Rollo, pp. 35-36.
4 Petition, p. 15.
5 Quiazon, Camilo, Philippine Courts and their Jurisdictions, 1993, p. 36.
6 Azarcon vs. Sandiganbayan, 268 SCRA 747; People vs. Magallanes, 249 SCRA 212.
7 316 SCRA 65.
8 90 Phil. 49.
9 108 Phil. 613.
10 At p. 622.
11 227 SCRA 627.
12 231 SCRA 211.
13 242 SCRA 88.
14 At p. 232.
15 Lacson vs. Executive Secretary, 301 SCRA 298.
16 See Natividad vs. Felix, 229 SCRA 680.
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