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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. No. 125108. August 3, 2000.]

ALEJANDRA PABLO, Petitioner, v. HON. SILVERIO Q. CASTILLO, Presiding Judge, Branch 43, Regional Trial Court, First and Judicial Region, Dagupan City and PEOPLE of the PHILIPPINES, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N


PURISIMA, J.:


At bar is an original petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court imputing grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction to the Regional Trial Court, Branch 43, Dagupan City, for denying petitioner’s application for probation and the motion for reconsideration of two Orders dated March 25, 1996 and April 29, 1996, respectively.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

The antecedent facts are as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

On January 12, 1994, petitioner Alejandra Pablo was charged with a violation of Batas Pambansa Bilang 22, otherwise known as the Bouncing Checks Law, in three separate Informations, for issuing three bad checks in the total amount of 92,334.00 each to complainant Nelson Mandap.

All three Informations alleged that on or about the 25th of May, 1993, petitioner did then and there willfully, unlawfully and criminally draw, issue and deliver various checks to Nelson Mandap, in partial payment of a loan she obtained from him, knowing that at the time of the issuance of such checks, she did not have sufficient funds in or credit with the bank. Subject checks were dishonored by the drawee bank upon presentment for payment, it appearing that the current account of petitioner had been closed, and she failed to pay the amount or make arrangements for the payment thereof, despite notice of dishonor.

Docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 94-00197-D, 94-00198-D and 94-00199-D, respectively, the three cases were not consolidated. The first two were raffled and assigned to Branch 43 while the third case to Branch 41 of the Regional Trial Court in Dagupan City.

On June 21, 1995, Branch 41 of the said lower court rendered judgment in Criminal Case No. 944199-D, convicting petitioner of the crime charged and imposing upon her a fine of P4, 648.00.

On November 28, 1995, Branch 43 promulgated its decision in Criminal Cases Nos. 94-00197-D and 94-00198-D, finding petitioner guilty of violating B.P. Blg. 22, and sentencing her to pay the amount of P4,668.00 and to serve a prison term of thirty (30) days in each case.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Petitioner applied for probation in Criminal Cases Nos. 94-00197-D and 94-00198-D. Her application was given due course and the probation office was required to submit a post-sentence investigation report.

On March 25, 1996, the probation office arrived at a favorable evaluation on the suitability of petitioner for probation. However, the recommendation of the local probation office was overruled by the National Probation Office. It denied petitioner’s application for probation on the ground that the petitioner is disqualified under Section 9 of P.D. 968 (Probation Law). Respondent judge denied petitioner’s application for probation in the Order dated March 25, 1996. Petitioner moved for reconsideration but to no avail. The same was denied on April 29, 1996.

Undaunted, petitioner brought the present petition.

The sole issue for resolution here is whether or not the respondent court acted with grave abuse of discretion in denying petitioner’s application for probation on the ground of disqualification from probation under Section 9 of P.D. 968.

Under Section 9 of the Probation Law, P.D. 968, the following offenders cannot avail of the benefits of probation:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

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

b) those convicted of subversion or any crime against the national security or the public order;

c) those who have previously been convicted by final judgment of an offense punished by imprisonment of not less than one month and one day and/or fine of not less than two hundred pesos;chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

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

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

The National Probation Office denied petitioner’s application for probation under Section 9 paragraph (c) P.D. 968 because a prior conviction was entered against the petitioner on June 21, 1995 in Criminal Case No. 94-0199, penalizing her with a fine of P4,648.00; thereby placing her within the ambit of disqualification from probation under Section 9 paragraph (c) of P.D. 968.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Petitioner assails the denial of her application for probation; invoking the ruling of this Court in several cases favoring liberal interpretation of the provisions of P.D. 968 so as to afford first offenders a second chance to reform in consonance with the avowed purpose and objective of the Probation Law. She theorized that "previous conviction" under Section 9 paragraph (c) should not be literally and strictly interpreted but should rather be understood as referring to a situation wherein the accused was previously convicted of a crime that arose differently, or was done on a different date, from the conviction of a crime for which probation is applied for. It is contended by petitioner that Section 9 paragraph (c) should not refer, as in her particular case, where several crimes arose out of a single act or transaction.

To buttress her stance, petitioner placed reliance on this Court’s ruling in Rura v. Lopeña 1 In the said case, the accused was convicted of five counts of estafa committed on different dates. He was able to consolidate the five cases in a single sala such that the judgment of conviction against him in all the five cases was embodied in a single decision entered on the same date. When the accused applied for probation, the same was denied but on appeal, this Court granted the application for probation; ratiocinating thus:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

". . . applied for probation he had no previous conviction by final judgment. When he applied for probation the only conviction against him was the judgment which was the subject of his application. The statute relates "previous" to the date of conviction, not the date of the commission of the crime." (Emphasis ours)chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Precisely because of the aforecited ruling in Rura v. Lopeña the petition under scrutiny cannot prosper.

It is a basic rule of statutory construction that if a statute is clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without any interpretation. 2 Not only that; in the matter of interpretation of laws on probation, the Court has pronounced that "the policy of liberality of probation statutes cannot prevail against the categorical provisions of the law." 3

Section 9 paragraph (c) is in clear and plain language, to the effect that a person who was previously convicted by final judgment of an offense punishable by imprisonment of not less than one month and one day and/or a fine of not less than two hundred pesos, is disqualified from applying for probation. This provision of law is definitive and unqualified. There is nothing in Section 9, paragraph (c) which qualifies "previous conviction as referring to a conviction for a crime which is entirely different from that for which the offender is applying for probation or a crime which arose out of a single act or transaction as petitioner would have the court to understand.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

In the case of Rura v. Lopeña relied upon by petitioner, the Court declared that "previous" refers to conviction, and not to commission of a crime. At the time Rura was convicted of the crime for which he was applying for probation, he had no prior conviction. In the present case of petitioner, when she applied for probation in Criminal Cases Nos. 94-00197-D and 94-00198-D, she had a previous conviction in Criminal Case No. 94-00199-D, which thereby disqualified her from the benefits of probation.

It is well-settled that the probation law is not a penal statute; 4 and therefore, the principle of liberal interpretation is inapplicable. And when the meaning is clearly discernible from the language of the statute, there is no room for construction or interpretation.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

WHEREFORE, for want of merit, the petition is hereby DISMISSED. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, Vitug, Panganiban and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:



1. 137 SCRA 121, 123.

2. Victoria v. Commission on Elections, 229 SCRA 269.

3. Bernardo v. Balagot, 215 SCRA 526.

4. Llamado v. Court of Appeals, 174 SCRA 566, 577.

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