SECOND DIVISION

June 3, 2019

G.R. No. 240843

JAIME CHUA CHING, Petitioner
vs.
FERNANDO CHING, Respondent

D E C I S I O N

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

Assailed in this petition for review on certiorari1 are the Decision2 dated November 28, 2017 and the Resolution3 dated May 15, 2018 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 150342 which reversed and set aside the Decision4dated February 15, 2017 of the Regional Trial Court of the City of Manila, Branch 30 (RTC) in Special Civil Action No. 16-136012, and consequently, reinstated the Orders dated January 15, 20165 and March 7, 20166 of the Metropolitan Trial Court of the City of Manila, Branch 9 (MeTC) denying petitioner Jaime Chua Ching's (petitioner) application for probation.

The Facts

This case stemmed from an Information7 dated July 2, 2010 filed before the MeTC charging petitioner with Falsification of a Public Document Committed by a Private Individual, defined and penalized under Article 172 in relation to Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). After due proceedings, the MeTC promulgated a Decision8 dated August 14, 2015 finding petitioner guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged, and accordingly, sentenced him to suffer the penalty of imprisonment for an indeterminate period of two (2) years, four (4) months, and one (1) day of prision correccional in its medium period, as minimum, to six (6) years of prision correccional in its maximum period, as maximum, and to pay a fine in the amount of P5,000.00. It found petitioner to have falsified his voter's registration with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) by making it appear that he is a citizen of the Philippines, when in truth, he is a Chinese citizen who has yet to acquire Filipino citizenship.9

Instead of filing an appeal, petitioner filed an Application for Probation10 dated September 1, 2015, manifesting that he is not among those disqualified offenders under Presidential Decree No. (P.D.) 968,11 otherwise known as the Probation Law of 1976, as amended (Probation Law), and that he undertakes to comply with the terms of probation, should the same be granted.12 However, in its Post-Sentence Investigation Report13 (PSIR), the Parole and Probation Office of Manila (PPO-Manila) ascertained that petitioner poses a great risk to the members of his community in particular and the society in general, as shown by his several derogatory records, and thus, recommended that his application for probation be denied. It found petitioner to be in need of correctional treatment that can be provided most effectively by his commitment to an institution, and that there is undue risk for him to commit another crime during the period of probation.14

The MeTC Ruling

In an Order15 dated January 15, 2016, the MeTC ordered the issuance of a warrant of arrest against petitioner for the enforcement of the judgment of conviction, "[c]onsidering the denial of the Application for Probation of Jaime Ching y Chua per Post Sentence Investigation Report of the Probation Officer x x x."16

Aggrieved, petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration17 wherein he refuted one by one the findings of the PPO-Manila in its PSIR, and even attached statements/certifications from his neighbors, acquaintances, and relatives attesting to his good moral character.18 The motion was, however, denied in an Order19 dated March 7, 2016. Hence, petitioner filed a petition for certiorari20 before the RTC.

The RTC Ruling

In a Decision21 dated February 15, 2017, the RTC reversed and set aside the MeTC ruling, and accordingly, granted petitioner's application for probation.22 It held that the MeTC gravely abused its discretion in relying solely on the recommendation of the PPO-Manila in denying petitioner's application for probation, ratiocinating that a careful analysis of the PSIR shows that: first, petitioner has neither been charged and convicted of any crime against national security nor convicted of any other crime that would disqualify him to avail of the benefits of probation, as in fact, all the cases filed against him had already been dismissed, or that he was already acquitted therein; and second, other than his existing derogatory records and the barangay blotters filed against him, there is no showing that petitioner is physically or medically unfit to be reformed outside of a correctional institution, and that his confinement in jail is not the only way for him to be remorseful of what he had done in the past.23 Finally, the RTC opined that any apprehension that petitioner is incapable of reform and will only be a menace to society may be . easily obviated by the imposition of various conditions to his probation, violations of which would cause the revocation thereof.24

Dissatisfied, petitioner's father,25 respondent Fernando Ching, appealed to the CA.26

The CA Ruling

In a Decision27 dated November 28, 2017, the CA reversed and set aside the RTC ruling, and accordingly, reinstated the MeTC's denial of petitioner's application for probation28 on the ground that his act of falsifying his voter's registration is an election offense under Section 261 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881,29 otherwise known as the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines (OEC). In relation thereto, Section 264 of the OEC states that those found guilty of election offenses shall not be subject to probation.30 Additionally, the CA opined that the MeTC correctly denied petitioner's application for probation in view of his acts which are not that of a penitent offender, as well as his derogatory records which manifest his dangerous character that may be considered a threat to the community where he resides.31

Undaunted, petitioner moved for reconsideration32 but the same was denied in a Resolution33 dated May 15, 2018; hence, this petition.

The Issue Before the Court

The issue for the Court's resolution is whether or not the CA correctly reinstated the denial of petitioner's application for probation.1шphi1

The Court's Ruling

The petition is meritorious.

Probation is a special privilege granted by the state to penitent qualified offenders who immediately admit their liability and thus renounce their right to appeal. In view of the acceptance of their fate and willingness to be reformed, the state affords them a chance to avoid the stigma of an incarceration record by making them undergo rehabilitation outside of prison. Some of the major purposes of the law are to help offenders develop themselves into law-abiding and self-respecting individuals, as well as assist them in their reintegration with the community.34 In Villareal v. People,35 the Court reiterated that probation is not a right enjoyed by the accused, but rather, an act of grace or clemency conferred by the State, viz.:

It is a special prerogative granted by law to a person or group of persons not enjoyed by others or by all. Accordingly, the grant of probation rests solely upon the discretion of the court which is to be exercised primarily for the benefit of organized society, and only incidentally for the benefit of the accused. The Probation Law should not therefore be permitted to divest the state or its government of any of the latter's prerogatives, rights or remedies, unless the intention of the legislature to this end is clearly expressed, and no person should benefit from the terms of the law who is not clearly within them.36

Section 8 of the Probation Law states that "[i]n determining whether an offender may be placed on probation, the court [where the application is filed] shall consider all information relative to the character, antecedents, environment, mental and physical condition of the offender, and available institutional and community resources. [Hence,] [p]robation shall be denied if [said] court finds that: (a) the offender is in need of correctional treatment that can be provided most effectively by his commitment to an institution; (b) there is an undue risk that during the period of probation the offender will commit another crime; or (c) probation will depreciate the seriousness of the crime committed."37 Moreover, probation shall be denied outright to offenders who are deemed disqualified by the Probation Law.38

In this case, the Court noted that the RTC granted petitioner's application for probation mainly on the ground that petitioner has no disqualifications under the Probation Law. In contrast, the CA and the MeTC ruled otherwise, albeit their reasons for denial are different. In denying petitioner's application for probation, the CA opined, inter alia, that since petitioner committed an election offense under Section 261 of the OEC, then he shall not be subject to probation, as provided by Section 264 of the OEC.39 On the other hand, the MeTC denied petitioner's application for probation in view of the PPO-Manila's "denial" of the same.

After a judicious perusal of the records, the Court disagrees with the reasons proferred by the CA and the MeTC in denying petitioner's application for probation, as will be explained hereunder.

Anent the reason proferred by the CA, the Court finds that while petitioner's act of falsifying his voter's registration with the COMELEC by making it appear that he is a citizen of the Philippines, when in truth, he is a Chinese citizen who has yet to acquire Filipino citizenship, may be considered as an election offense under Section 261 (y) (2)40 of the OEC, petitioner's conviction in this case does not involve this election offense. Rather, a plain reading of the Information,41 as well as the MeTC Decision42 dated August 14, 2015, would readily show that he was tried and subsequently found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Falsification of a Public Document Committed by a Private Individual, defined and penalized under Article 1 72 in relation to Article 171 of the RPC. Hence, the CA erred in applying the disqualification for probation found under Section 264 of the OEC as he was not adjudged guilty of an election offense in this case.

As to the MeTC's Decision, the Court agrees with the RTC's finding that the MeTC gravely abused its discretion when it denied petitioner's application for probation and issued a warrant for his arrest based solely on the recommendation of the PPO-Manila as indicated in the PSIR without conducting its own investigation on the matter. It is settled that the grant of probation is discretionary upon the court, and in exercising such discretion, it must consider the potentiality of the offender to reform, together with the demands of justice and public interest, along with other relevant circumstances. It should not limit the basis of its decision to the report or recommendation of the probation officer, which Is at best only persuasive.43 Otherwise stated, in determining whether or not to grant the application for probation, the court must not merely rely on the PSIR - as what the MeTC did in this case - but rather, it must make its own findings as to the merits of the application, considering that the Probation Law vests upon it the power to make a final decision on the matter. Had the MeTC thoroughly evaluated the merits of the application, it would have determined that petitioner is not a disqualified offender under the Probation Law and that there is a possibility that he can be reformed outside of a correctional institution.

In view of the foregoing, the Court agrees with the RTC that petitioner's application for probation should be granted. In so ruling, the Court stresses that the primary objective in granting probation is the reformation of the probationer. For this purpose, courts must be meticulous enough to ensure that the ends of justice and the best interest of the public, as well as the accused, be served by the grant of probation.44Finally, it must be emphasized that the underlying philosophy of probation is one of liberality towards the accused. Such philosophy is not served by a harsh and stringent interpretation of the statutory provisions. Verily, the Probation Law should be applied in favor of the accused not because it is a criminal law, but to achieve its beneficent purpose.45

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision dated November 28,2017 and the Resolution dated May 15,2018 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 150342 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Decision dated February 15, 2017 of the Regional Trial Court of the City of Manila, Branch 30 in Special Civil Action No. 16-136012 is hereby REINSTATED.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio (Chairperson), J. Reyes, Jr., and Lazaro-Javier, JJ., concur.1шphi1

Caguioa, J., on official leave.

Footnotes

1 Rollo, pp. 9-35-A.

2 Id. at 36-43. Penned by Acting Presiding Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando with Associate Justices Mario V. Lopez and Jhosep Y. Lopez, concurring.

3 Id. at 44-45.

4 Id. at 152-162. Penned by Judge Lucia P. Purugganan.

5 Id. at 83. Penned by Presiding Judge Yolanda M. Leonardo.

6 Id. at 121.

7 Id. at 46. The accusatory portion of which reads:

That on or about June 22, 1997, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said accused, being then a private[] individual, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously commit acts of falsification upon a public document in the following manner, to wit: the said accused having somehow obtained possession of a blank form of Voter Registration Record No. 42370697 issued by the Commission on Election (COMELEC), which is a requirement in registering with the COMELEC, and therefore a public document, forge and falsify an[d]/or caused to be forged and falsified the said document, by filling up and writing, or causing to be filled up and written the handwritten word "Filipino" appearing on the spaces "Citizenship," thus making untruthful statement (sic) in a narration of facts, by making it appear, as it did appear that the said accused is a Filipino citizen, when in truth and in fact as the said accused well knew, such was not the case as he was a Chinese citizen, to the damage and prejudice of the public interest.

Contrary to law.

8 Id. at 59-62.

9 See id. at 60.

10 Id. at 63-64.

11 Entitled "ESTABLISHING A PROBATION SYSTEM, APPROPRIATING FUNDS THEREFOR AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES" (July 24, 1976).

12 See rollo, p. 63.

13 Dated December 14, 2015. Id. at 65-71. Prepared and submitted by Probation and Parole Officer II Imelda N. Liongco and reviewed and approved by Chief Probation and Parole Officer Amelita S. Basibas.

14 See id. at 70-71.

15 Id. at 83.

16 Id.

17 Dated February 26, 2016. Id. at 84-91.

18 See the aforesaid statements/certifications; id. at 101-120-A.

19 Id. at 121.

20 Dated June 17, 2016. Id. at 122-135.

21 Id. at 152-162.

22 Id. at 161.

23 See id. at 158-160.

24 See id. at 161.

25 See id. at 13.

26 See Notice of Appeal dated March 1, 2017. Id. at 163-164.

27 Id. at 36-43.

28 Id. at 42.

29 (December 3, 1985).

30 See rollo, pp. 39-42.

31 See id. at 42.

32 Dated December 28, 2017. Id. at 187-199.

33 Id. at 44-45.

34 See Villareal v. People, 749 Phil. 16, 49 (2014); citation omitted.

35 Id.

36 Id.; citing Francisco v. CA, 313 Phil. 241, 254-255 (1995).

37 See Section 8 of P.D. 968, as amended.

38 See Section 9 of P.D. 968, as amended, which reads:

Section 9. Disqualified Offenders. - The benefits of this Decree shall not be extended to those:

(a) sentenced to serve a maximum term of imprisonment of more than six (6) years;

(b) convicted of any crime against the national security;

(c) who have previously been convicted by final judgment of an offense punished by imprisonment of more than six (6) months and one (1) day and/or a fine of more than one thousand pesos (₱1,000.00);

(d) who have been once on probation under the provisions of this Decree; and

(e) who are already serving sentence at the time the substantive provisions of this Decree became applicable pursuant to Section 33 hereof.

39 Section 264 of the OEC reads:

Section 264. Penalties. - Any person found guilty of any election offense under this Code shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and shall not be subject to probation. In addition, the guilty party shall be sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage. If he is a foreigner, he shall be sentenced to deportation which shall be enforced after the prison term has been served. Any political party found guilty shall be sentenced to pay a fine of not less than ten thousand pesos, which shall be imposed upon such party after criminal action has been instituted in which their corresponding officials have been found guilty. x x x x (Emphases and underscorings supplied)

40 Section 261 (y) (2) of the OEC reads:

Section 261. Prohibited Acts.- The following shall be guilty of an election offense:

x x x x

(y) On Registration of Voters:

x x x x

(2) Any person who knowingly makes any false or untruthful statement relative to any of the date or information required in the application for registration.

41 Rollo, p. 46.

42 Id. at 59-62.

43 See Santos v. CA, 377 Phil. 642, 652 (1999), citing Bernardo v. Balagot, 290 Phil. 1, 8 (1992). Emphasis, italics, and underscoring suppiied.

44 See Santos v. CA, id., citing Salgado v. CA, 267 Phil. 352, 361 (1990).

45 See Colinares v. People, 678 Phil. 482, 499-500 (2011); citations omitted.


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