G.R. No. 128938             June 4, 2004
RONALD SORIANO, petitioner,
COURT OF APPEALS, and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
The present petition arises out of the same set of facts as that in the case of Soriano v. Court of Appeals,1 which the Court decided in 1999.
In a D E C I S I O N dated 7 December 1993, the Regional Trial Court ("RTC") of Iba, Zambales, Branch 69,2 found petitioner Ronald Soriano ("Soriano") liable for the death of Isidrino Dalusong ("Dalusong"), and convicted him of the crime of Homicide, Serious Physical Injuries and Damage to Property through Reckless Imprudence. The Decision was penned by Judge Rodolfo V. Toledano ("Hon. Toledano"), who sentenced Soriano to suffer imprisonment of two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day to six (6) years of prision correccional.3
Eschewing an appeal, Soriano instead filed on 12 January 1994 an Application for probation. The RTC granted probation for a period of three to six years in an Order dated 8 March 1994. Among the several terms and conditions of probation was that Soriano indemnify the heirs of Dalusong in the amount of Ninety Eight Thousand Five Hundred Sixty Pesos (₱98,560.00), as ordered by the RTC.4
On 26 April 1994, Provincial State Prosecutor Benjamin A. Fadera filed a Motion to Cancel Probation, on the ground that Soriano had failed to indemnify the heirs of Dalusong in the amount of Ninety Eight Thousand Five Hundred Sixty Pesos (₱98,560.00), contrary to Condition Number 11 of the Order of Probation. While Soriano opposed this motion, the Zambales Parole and Probation Office filed a Comment recommending that Soriano be allowed to continue with his probation but be required to submit a program of payment of his civil liability. The RTC, in an Order dated 20 June 1994, denied the Motion to Cancel Probation, but ordered Soriano to submit within ten (10) days from notice his program of payment of the civil liability.
A copy of the Order dated 20 June 1994 was received by Soriano’s counsel on 23 June 1994.5 Despite such receipt, no program of payment was submitted by Soriano, prompting the Zambales Parole and Probation Office to ask the RTC to require explanation from Soriano why he had not complied with this latest RTC Order. On 15 August 1994, the RTC issued an Order, directing Soriano to explain within ten (10) days why he should not be held in contempt of Court for failure to comply with the 20 June 1994 Order, and further directing him to submit his program of payment also within ten (10) days.
Instead of complying with this latest Order, Soriano filed a "Motion for Reconsideration", alleging that he had not personally received a copy of the 20 June 1994 Order, despite the fact that his counsel acknowledged its receipt on 23 June 1994. He also manifested therein that he was unemployed, dependent on his parents for support of his family, and incapable of figuring out any feasible program of payment.6
Unsatisfied with this explanation, the RTC issued an Order dated 4 October 1994, ordering the detention of Soriano for ten (10) days for contempt of court, revoking the 8 March 1994 Order granting probation, and ordering that Soriano serve the sentence originally imposed. The RTC noted that Soriano had apparently no intention of submitting a program of payment or eventually complying with his civil obligation to the heirs of Dalusong. The RTC also took note of the fact that Soriano was able to hire two private counsels in his behalf, belying the claim of his financial hardship. These circumstances, according to the RTC, were indicative of Soriano’s lack of repentance or predisposition to rehabilitate or reform, the purposes which the probation law sought to achieve.7
Soriano filed a Notice of Appeal dated 12 October 1994, specifically appealing the contempt of court judgment" against him.8 An Order dated 17 October 1994 was promulgated by the RTC, directing that the original records pertaining to the contempt charge be forwarded to the Court of Appeals.9 In the same Order, the RTC noted that an order revoking the grant of probation or modifying the terms and conditions thereof was not appealable, hence the directives revoking probation and ordering Soriano to serve his original sentence remained unaffected.
On 26 October 1994, Soriano filed a Petition for Certiorari before the Court of Appeals, alleging that Hon. Judge Toledano committed grave abuse of discretion in finding petitioner in contempt of court and in revoking the probation order.10 The petition was docketed as C.A. S.P. No. 35550 and raffled to the Eighth Division of the Court of Appeals.
In the meantime, the appeal filed by Soriano pertaining to the contempt charge was docketed as CA G.R. C.R. No. 17595. The appeal was raffled to the Tenth Division of the Court of Appeals. Soriano and the Office of the Solicitor General filed their respective briefs.
On 29 October 1995, the Court of Appeals Eighth Division promulgated its decision in C.A. S.P. No. 35550.11 It dismissed the Petition for Certiorari, ruling that Hon. Toledano did not commit grave abuse of discretion in declaring petitioner in contempt of court and in revoking the order of probation. Soon thereafter, Soriano timely challenged this decision before this Court, via a Petition for Review that was docketed as G.R. No. 123936.
On 11 September 1996, the Court of Appeals Tenth Division denied the appeal in CA G.R. C.R. No. 17595.12 In its D E C I S I O N, the Court of Appeals Tenth Division emphasized that Soriano was declared in contempt of court not because he was not financially capable of paying his civil liability, but because of his contumacious failure to comply with the RTC Orders dated 20 June 1994 and 15 August 1994. There was no question that counsel for Soriano had, on 23 June 1994, received a copy of the 20 June 1994 Order requiring Soriano to submit his program of payment, and it is well settled that notice to counsel is notice to the party himself.13 Nor did Soriano’s supposed financial incapacity excuse him from not complying with the RTC Orders, as he could have at the very least filed a manifestation with the Court that he was not yet in a position to settle the obligation.
After Soriano’s Motion for Reconsideration was denied by the Court of Appeals,14 he filed a Petition for Review on Certiorari before this Court. Docketed as G.R. No. 128938, this latter petition is now the subject of this ruling. Soriano, in his present petition, argued that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion in finding that there was a deliberate refusal on his part to comply with its Orders dated 20 June 1994 and 15 August 1994; and in revoking the probation order for failure to satisfy the civil liability to the heirs of the victim.15
On 4 March 1999, this Court rendered judgment in G.R. No. 123936.16 In its D E C I S I O N, the Court dismissed the petition, holding that the revocation of Soriano’s probation was lawful and proper. Soriano’s Motion for Reconsideration was denied,17 and the judgment in G.R. No. 123936 became final on 15 June 1999.
In its 4 March 1999 D E C I S I O N in G.R. No. 123936, the Court expressly stated that the only issue for resolution in that case was "whether or not the revocation of petitioner’s probation is lawful and proper."18 It was correct of the Court to have limited the issue in that manner, notwithstanding that Soriano also argued in his petition therein that Hon. Toledano committed grave abuse of discretion in declaring Soriano in contempt. The revocation of probation was properly assailed by Soriano through a special civil action of certiorari, which could not have similarly attacked the judgment of contempt. Under Section 11, Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, Soriano’s appropriate remedy from the judgment of contempt was an appeal to the proper court, as in criminal cases, and not the special civil action of certiorari.
Soriano correctly availed of the proper remedy from the contempt judgment by filing his Notice of Appeal on 12 October 1994. The proceedings arising from that appeal, and the rulings rendered therein are now for resolution in this Decision. Since the Court has already disposed of, with finality, the question of whether the RTC validly revoked Soriano’s probation, the sole question now before us is whether or not the RTC erred in declaring Soriano in contempt.
Soriano argues herein that there must be prior notice and hearing before he could be held liable for indirect contempt, and that no hearing was conducted as to the contempt charge.19 This contention has merit.
There are two kinds of contempt punishable by law: direct contempt and indirect contempt.20 The contempt charged against Soriano is properly classified as indirect contempt, as it consists of disobedience of or resistance to a lawful order of a court.21 Section 3, Rule 71 of the Revised Rules of Court provides for the following requisites prior to conviction of indirect contempt: (a) a charge in writing to be filed, (b) an opportunity given to the respondent to comment thereon within such period as may be fixed by the court and (c) to be heard by himself or counsel.22
The RTC did notify Soriano in writing of the charge of indirect contempt, by way of the 15 August 1994 Order. That same Order afforded Soriano the opportunity to comment on the charge, which Soriano essentially did through his Motion for Reconsideration. However, the third requisite laid down in Rule 71 was not complied with, as no hearing was ever conducted by the RTC on the charge of contempt.
As the Court ruled in Balasabas v. Hon. Aquilisan:23
On the proceedings for indirect contempt against the petitioner, the grave error of the respondent judge is manifest when, under the circumstances disclosed in the records, petitioner was denied his right to notice of hearing, to have his day in court and present witnesses in his behalf xxx.
x x x
Section 3, Rule 71 requires that there must be a hearing of the indirect contempt charge after notice thereof is validly served on the person charged with indirect contempt. As adverted to earlier, an order requiring petitioner to submit a written explanation constitutes the written charge for indirect contempt, and at the same time serves as notice of said charge. However, such notice cannot by all means, be considered as a notice of hearing itself. The two notices are different, for they have distinct object and purpose.24
With respect to constructive contempts or those which are committed without the actual presence of the court, it is essential that a hearing be allowed and the contemner permitted, if he so desires, to interpose a defense to the charges before punishment is imposed.25
The proceedings for punishment of indirect contempt are criminal in nature.26 The modes of procedure and rules of evidence adopted in contempt proceedings are similar in nature to those used in criminal prosecutions.27 Thus, any liberal construction of the rules governing contempt proceedings should favor the accused. It can be argued that Soriano has essentially been afforded the right to be heard, as he did comment on the charge of indirect contempt against him. Yet, since an indirect contempt charge partakes the nature of a criminal charge, conviction cannot be had merely on the basis of written pleadings. The contemner is assured of his or her day in court. If the contemner is served a notice of hearing, but fails to appear anyway, then that is a different matter. A hearing affords the contemner the opportunity to adduce before the court documentary or testimonial evidence in his behalf. The hearing will also allow the court a more thorough evaluation of the defense of the contemner, including the chance to observe the accused present his side in open court and subject his defense to interrogation from the complainants or the court itself.
In Soriano’s case, no hearing was ever set or held. Soriano’s claim was that he had no knowledge of the Order requiring him to submit the program of payment. This is a defense that is susceptible to ratification by testimonial evidence at the very least. Soriano should have been afforded the chance to prove his side by presenting evidence in his behalf in open court. However, the RTC denied Soriano the opportunity to adduce evidence in his behalf through a hearing, or at least explain his side or substantiate his defense through any opportunity which the RTC could have provided him. Instead, the RTC adjudged him guilty based on the bare assertions contained in the pleading he filed in response to the show cause order which is the 15 August 1994 Order of the RTC. Such finding, derived as it was without any comprehensive evaluation of the arguments or of the evidence, cannot be sanctioned by this Court and should be overturned.
The practical effects of this ruling may seem negligible considering the relative gravity of the ruling against Soriano in G.R. No. 123936. Yet, it is still important for this Court to reiterate that contempt proceedings, particularly for indirect contempt, take on the character of criminal proceedings. Judges are enjoined to extend to an alleged contemner the same rights accorded to an accused.
WHEREFORE, the Petition is granted. The Order dated 4 October 1994 is set aside insofar as it declared petitioner Ronald Soriano in contempt of court.
Puno, Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.
1 363 Phil. 573 (1999), said case docketed as G.R. No. 123936.
2Presided by Judge Rodolfo V. Toledano.
3 Rollo, p. 10.
4 Id. at 11.
5 Rollo, p. 32.
6 Id. at 33.
7 Rollo, pp. 34-35.
9 Records, p. 23.
9 Id. at 24.
10 See Rollo in G.R. No. 123936, p. 124.
11 The Decision was penned by Justice J. de la Rama, and concurred in by Justices J. Lantin and E. Montenegro.
12 Per D E C I S I O N penned by Associate Justice Salome A. Montoya, and concurred in by Associate Justices Godardo A. Jacinto and Maximiano C. Asuncion. Rollo, pp. 30-38.
13 Rollo, p. 36.
14 Per R E S O L U T I O N dated 16 April 1997. Rollo, p. 40.
15 Rollo, p. 16.
16363 Phil. 573 (1999). Decision penned by Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing, concurred in by Justices Josue N. Bellosillo, Reynato S. Puno, Vicente V. Mendoza, and Arturo B. Buena.
17 In a Resolution dated 26 April 1999.
18 363 Phil. 573, 580 (1999).
19 Rollo, p. 20.
20 See Sections 1 and 3, Rule 71, Revised Rules of Court.
21See Section 3(b), Rule 71, Revised Rules of Court.
22 Section 3, Rule 71, Revised Rules of Court.
23 193 Phil. 639 (1981).
24 Balasabas v. Hon. Aquilisan, 193 Phil. 639, 650 (1981).
25 V. Francisco, IV-B The Revised Rules of Court in the Philippines 390, citing 12 Am. Jur., 437.
26 Rustia v. People, 74 Phil. 105, 107 (1943).
27 See Garcia v. Court of Appeals, 330 Phil. 420, 439 (1996); citing Lee Yick Hon v. Collector of Customs, 41 Phil. 548 (1921); Benedicto v. Cañada, 21 SCRA 1066 (1967); Delgra v. Gonzales, 31 SCRA 237 (1970).
The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation