G.R. No. 208146, June 08, 2016
VIRGINIA DIO, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES AND TIMOTHY DESMOND, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
When a motion to quash an information is based on a defect that may be cured by amendment, courts must provide the prosecution with the opportunity to amend the information.
This resolves a Petition for Review on Certiorari1 assailing the Court of Appeals Decision2 dated January 8, 2013 and Resolution3 dated July 10, 2013. The Court of Appeals reversed and set aside the Regional Trial Court Order that quashed the Informations charging petitioner Virginia Dio (Dio) with libel because these Informations failed to allege publication.4ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Private respondent Timothy Desmond (Desmond) is the Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium, of which Dio is Treasurer and Member of the Board of Directors.5ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On December 9, 2002, Desmond filed a complaint against Dio for libel.6 Two (2) separate Informations, both dated February 26, 2003, were filed and docketed as Criminal Case Nos. 9108 and 9109.7 The Information in Criminal Case No. 9108 reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
That on or about July 6, 2002 in Morong, Bataan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused with malicious intent to besmirch the honor, integrity and reputation of Timothy Desmond, Chairman and Chief Executive Office of Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously send electronic messages to the offended party and to other persons namely: Atty. Winston Ginez, John Corcoran, and Terry Nichoson which read as follows:The Information in Criminal Case No. 9109 reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
'NOW THAT WE ARE SET TO BUILD THE HOTEL SO THAT YOU COULD SURVIVED, (sic) YOU SHOULD STOP YOUR NONSENSE THREAT BECAUSE YOU COULD NOT EVEN FEED YOUR OWN SELF UNLESS WE PAY YOUR EXHORBITANT (sic) SALARY, HOUSE YOU ADN (sic) SUPPORT ALL YOUR PERSONAL NEEDS. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED IN DOING THIS. AS FAR AS WE ARE CONCERNED, YOU ARE NOTHING EXCEPT A PERSON WHO IS TRYING TO SURVIVED (sic) AT THE PRETEXT OF ENVIRONMENTAL AND ANIMAL PROTECTOR [sic]. YOU ARE PADI (sic) TO THE LAST CENTS ON ALL YOUR WORK IN THE WORK (sic). AT THE SAME TIME, YOU BLOATED THE PRICE OF EACH ANIMAL YOU BROUGHT TO THE PHILIPPINES from US$500,000.00 to US$750,000.00 each so that you could owned (sic) more shares that you should. Please look into this deeply.
IF YOU INSISTS (sic) TO BE CALLED AN ENVIRONMENTAL AND ANIMAL PROTECTOR IN OUR COUNTRY, THEN YOU AND YOUR WIFE SHOULD STOP BLEEDING THE COMPANY WITH YOUR MONTHLY PAYROLL OF ALMOST P1 MILLION A MONTH.'
The above-quoted electronic message being defamatory or constituting an act causing or tending to cause dishonor, discredit or contempt against the person of the said Timothy Desmond, to the damage and prejudice of the said offended party.
CONTRARY TO LAW.8cralawred
That on or about July 13, 2002 in Morong, Bataan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, with malicious intent to besmirch the honor, integrity and reputation of Timothy Desmond, Chairman and Chief Executive Office of Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously send electronic messages to the [sic] Atty. Winston Ginez and Fatima Paglicawan, to the offended party, Timothy Desmond and to other persons namely: Hon. Felicito Payumo, SBMA Chariman [sic], Terry Nichoson, John Corcoran, and Gail Laule which read as follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryOn April 22, 2003, Dio filed a Petition to suspend the criminal proceedings,10 but it was denied in the Order dated February 6, 2004.11ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary'Dear Winston and Fatima:The above-quoted electronic message being defamatory or constituting an act causing or tending to cause dishonor, discredit or contempt against the person of the said Timothy Desmond, to the damage and prejudice of the said offended party.
UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF TIM DESMOND AS CHAIRMAN AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF SBME, AS OF THIS DATE THE COMPANY HAD INCURRED A LOSS OF MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED MILLION. A BALANCE SHEET SUBMITTED TODAY BY THEIR ACCOUNTANT JULIET REFLECT AND (sic) ASSETS OF MORE THAN THREE HUNDRED MILLION PESOS, 50% OF WHICH IS OVERVALUED AND NON-EXISTENT. TIM DESMOND AND FAMILY HAD ACCUMULATED A (sic) SHARES OF MORE THAN 70% OF THE RECORDED PAID UP CAPITAL BY OVERVALUING OF THE ASSETS CONTRIBUTION, PAYMENT TO THEIR OWN COMPANY IN THE USA, ETC. AT THE SAME TIME, TIM DESMOND AND FAMILY BLEED THE COMPANY FROM DATE OF INCORPORATION TO PRESENT FOR AN AVERAGE OF ONE MILLION PER MONTH FOR THEIR PERSONAL GAIN, LIKE SALARY, CAR, ET, [sic] ETC.'cralawred
CONTRARY TO LAW.9cralawred
Premises considered, the Motion For Reconsideration of the Order dated February 6, 2004 and the Motion To Quash, both filed for accused, as well as the Motion For Issuance of a Hold Departure Order filed by the Prosecution, are hereby DENIED.Dio moved for partial reconsideration of the July 13, 2004 Order, but the Motion was denied in the trial court's Order dated September 13, 2005.16ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Arraignment will proceed as previously set on July 20, 2005 at 9:00 a.m.
WHEREFORE, the Motion For Partial Reconsideration filed by the accused in Criminal Cases (sic) Nos. 9108 and 9109, on the ground that the Informations in the said cases fail (sic) to allege publication, is GRANTED and, accordingly, the Informations filed against the accused are thereby QUASHED and DISMISSED.After filing a Notice of Appeal on March 5, 2009,23 Desmond raised before the Court of Appeals the following issues:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
No finding as to costs.
In its January 8, 2013 Decision, the Court of Appeals sustained that the Informations did not substantially constitute the offense charged.25 It found that the Informations did not contain any allegation that the emails allegedly sent by Dio to Desmond had been accessed.26 However, it found that the trial court erred in quashing the Informations without giving the prosecution a chance to amend them pursuant to Rule 117, Section 4 of the Rules of Court:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
WHETHER OR NOT THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN UPHOLDING THE ACCUSED'S ARGUMENT THAT THE PRESENT CHARGES SHOULD BE QUASHED FOR FAILURE OF THE INFORMATIONS TO ALLEGE PUBLICATION.
WHETHER OR NOT THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN DISMISSING THE CASE AND QUASHING THE INFORMATIONS WITHOUT GIVING THE PROSECUTOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO AMEND THE INFORMATIONS.24cralawred
Although we agree with the trial court that the facts alleged in the Informations do not substantially constitute the offense charged, the most prudent thing to do for the trial court is to give the prosecution the opportunity to amend it and make the necessary corrections. Indeed, an Information may be defective because the facts charged do not constitute an offense, however, the dismissal of the case will not necessarily follow. The Rules specifically require that the prosecution should be given a chance to correct the defect; the court can order the dismissal only upon the prosecution's failure to do so. The trial court's failure to provide the prosecution with this opportunity constitutes an arbitrary exercise of power.27cralawredThe dispositive portion reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appeal is GRANTED. The order of the Regional Trial Court of Balanga City, Branch 3 dated February 12, 2009 in Criminal Case Nos. 9108 and 9109 is REVERSED AND SET ASIDE. The case is remanded to the trial court and the Public Prosecutor of Balanga City is hereby DIRECTED to amend the Informations.Dio moved for reconsideration,29 but the Court of Appeals denied the Motion in its July 10, 2013 Resolution.30ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
We do not agree with the ruling of the CA that the defects in the Informations are merely formal. Indeed, the absence of any allegations in the Informations that the offended party was actually residing in Baguio City, where the crimes charged were allegedly committed, is a substantial defect. Indeed, the amendments of the Informations to vest jurisdiction upon the court cannot be allowed.41 (Citations omitted)cralawredDio also cites Leviste v. Hon. Alameda,42 where this Court has stated that not all defects in an Information are curable by amendment prior to arraignment:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
It must be clarified though that not all defects in an information are curable by amendment prior to entry of plea. An information which is void ab initio cannot be amended to obviate a ground for quashal. An amendment which operates to vest jurisdiction upon the trial court is likewise impermissible.43 (Citations omitted)cralawredDio argues that the Informations were void as the prosecutor of Morong, Bataan had no authority to conduct the preliminary investigation of the offenses charged.44 The complaint filed before the prosecutor did not allege that the emails were printed and first published in Morong Bataan, or that Desmond resided in Morong, Bataan at the time of the offense.45 In the absence of these allegations, the prosecutor did not have the authority to conduct the preliminary investigation or to file the information.46ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
SEC. 4. Amendment of complaint or information. - If the motion to quash is based on an alleged defect of the complaint or information which can be cured by amendment, the court shall order that an amendment be made.This Court has held that failure to provide the prosecution with the opportunity to amend is an arbitrary exercise of power.51 In People v. Sandiganbayan:52
If it is based on the ground that the facts charged do not constitute an offense, the prosecution shall be given by the court an opportunity to correct the defect by amendment. The motion shall be granted if the prosecution fails to make the amendment, or the complaint or information still suffers from the same defect despite the amendment.cralawred
When a motion to quash is filed challenging the validity and sufficiency of an Information, and the defect may be cured by amendment, courts must deny the motion to quash and order the prosecution to file an amended Information. Generally, a defect pertaining to the failure of an Information to charge facts constituting an offense is one that may be corrected by an amendment. In such instances, courts are mandated not to automatically quash the Information; rather, it should grant the prosecution the opportunity to cure the defect through an amendment. This rule allows a case to proceed without undue delay. By allowing the defect to be cured by simple amendment, unnecessary appeals based on technical grounds, which only result to prolonging the proceedings, are avoided.In this case, petitioner Virginia Dio has not yet been arraigned; thus, Rule 117, Section 4 of the Rules of Court applies. If the information is defective, the prosecution must be given the opportunity to amend it before it may be quashed.
More than this practical consideration, however, is the due process underpinnings of this rule. As explained by this Court in People v. Andrade, the State, just like any other litigant, is entitled to its day in court. Thus, a court's refusal to grant the prosecution the opportunity to amend an Information, where such right is expressly granted under the Rules of Court and affirmed time and again in a string of Supreme Court decisions, effectively curtails the State's right to due process.53cralawred
We do not agree with the ruling of the CA that the defects in the Informations are merely formal. Indeed, the absence of any allegations in the Informations that the offended party was actually residing in Baguio City, where the crimes charged were allegedly committed, is a substantial defect. Indeed, the amendments of the Informations to vest jurisdiction upon the court cannot be allowed.55cralawredIn turn, Agustin cited Agbayani v. Sayo.56 However, Agbayani does not involve the amendment of a defective information before or after arraignment. Subsequent cases have cited Agustin as basis that amendment of an information to vest jurisdiction in the trial court is impermissible. Thus, in Leviste, this Court cited Agustin and stated that certain amendments are impermissible even before arraignment:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
It must be clarified though that not all defects in an information are curable by amendment prior to entry of plea. An information which is void ab initio cannot be amended to obviate a ground for quashal. An amendment which operates to vest jurisdiction upon the trial court is likewise impermissible.57cralawredIt may appear that Leviste supports petitioner's contention that an amendment operating to vest jurisdiction in the trial court is impermissible. However, the statement in Leviste was obiter dictum. It cites only Agustin, which did not involve the amendment of an information before arraignment.
Section 3, Rule 117 of the 1985 Rules of Criminal Procedure, which was then in force at the time the alleged criminal acts were committed, enumerates the grounds for quashing an information, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryOn the other hand, lack of authority to file an information is a proper ground. In Cudia v. Court of Appeals:60Nowhere in the foregoing provision is there any mention of the defect in the complaint filed before the fiscal and the complainant's capacity to sue as grounds for a motion to quash.59cralawred
a) That the facts charged do not constitute an offense; b) That the court trying the case has no jurisdiction over the offense charged or the person of the accused; c) That the officer who filed the information had no authority to do so; d) That it does not conform substantially to the prescribed form; e) That more than one offense is charged except in those cases in which existing laws prescribe a single punishment for various offenses; f) That the criminal action or liability has been extinguished; g) That it contains averments which, if true, would constitute a legal excuse or justification; and h) That the accused has been previously convicted or in jeopardy of being convicted, or acquitted of the offense charged.
With respect to the second requisite, however, it is plainly apparent that the City Prosecutor of Angeles City had no authority to file the first information, the offense having been committed in the Municipality of Mabalacat, which is beyond his jurisdiction. Presidential Decree No. 1275, in relation to Section 9 of the Administrative Code of 1987, pertinently provides that:However, for quashal of an information to be sustained, the defect of the information must be evident on its face. In Santos v. People:62
"Section 11. The provincial or the city fiscal shall:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary. . . .It is thus the Provincial Prosecutor of Pampanga, not the City Prosecutor, who should prepare informations for offenses committed within Pampanga but outside of Angeles City. An information, when required to be filed by a public prosecuting officer, cannot be filed by another. It must be exhibited or presented by the prosecuting attorney or someone authorized by law. If not, the court does not acquire jurisdiction.
(b) Investigate and/or cause to be investigated all charges of crimes, misdemeanors and violations of all penal laws and ordinances within their respective jurisdictions and have the necessary information or complaint prepared or made against the persons accused. In the conduct of such investigations he or his assistants shall receive the sworn statements or take oral evidence of witnesses summoned by subpoena for the purpose.
. . . .cralawred
Petitioner, however, insists that his failure to assert the lack of authority of the City Prosecutor in filing the information in question is deemed a waiver thereof. As correctly pointed out by the Court of Appeals, petitioner's plea to an information before he filed a motion to quash may be a waiver of all objections to it insofar as formal objections to the pleadings are concerned. But by clear implication, if not by express provision of the Rules of Court, and by a long line of uniform decisions, questions relating to want of jurisdiction may be raised at any stage of the proceeding. It is a valid information signed by a competent officer which, among other requisites, confers jurisdiction on the court over the person of the accused (herein petitioner) and the subject matter of the accusation. In consonance with this view, an infirmity in the information, such as lack of authority of the officer signing it, cannot be cured by silence, acquiescence, or even by express consent.
In fine, there must have been a valid and sufficient complaint or information in the former prosecution. If, therefore, the complaint or information was insufficient because it was so defective in form or substance that the conviction upon it could not have been sustained, its dismissal without the consent of the accused cannot be pleaded. As the fiscal had no authority to file the information, the dismissal of the first information would not be a bar to petitioner's subsequent prosecution. Jeopardy does not attach where a defendant pleads guilty to a defective indictment that is voluntarily dismissed by the prosecution.
Petitioner next claims that the lack of authority of the City Prosecutor was the error of the investigating panel and the same should not be used to prejudice and penalize him. It is an all too familiar maxim that the State is not bound or estopped by the mistakes or inadvertence of its officials and employees. To rule otherwise could very well result in setting felons free, deny proper protection to the community, and give rise to the possibility of connivance between the prosecutor and the accused.
Finally, petitioner avers that an amendment of the first information, and not its dismissal, should have been the remedy sought by the prosecution. Suffice it to say that this Court, in Galvez vs. Court of Appeals has ruled that even if amendment is proper, pursuant to Section 14 of Rule 110, it is also quite plausible under the same provision that, instead of an amendment, an information may be dismissed to give way to the filing of a new information.61 (Emphasis in the original, citations omitted)cralawred
First, a motion to quash should be based on a defect in the information which is evident on its face. The same cannot be said herein. The Information against petitioner appears valid on its face; and that it was filed in violation of her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the laws is not evident on the face thereof. As pointed out by the CTA First Division in its 11 May 2006 Resolution, the more appropriate recourse petitioner should have taken, given the dismissal of similar charges against Velasquez, was to appeal the Resolution dated 21 October 2005 of the Office of the State Prosecutor recommending the filing of an information against her with the DOJ Secretary.63cralawredFor an information to be quashed based on the prosecutor's lack of authority to file it, the lack of the authority must be evident on the face of the information.
Article 355. Libel by means of writings or similar means. - A libel committed by means of writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, phonograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition, or any similar means, shall be punished by prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to civil action which may be brought by the offended party.cralawredPetitioner argues that at the time of the offense, emails were not covered under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. Petitioner claims this is bolstered by the enactment of Republic Act No. 10175, otherwise known as the Anti-Cybercrime Law, which widened the scope of libel to include libel committed through email, among others.64ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
We find no reason to depart from said conclusion. Section 3, Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Court enumerates the grounds for quashing an information. Specifically, paragraph (g) of said provision states that the accused may move to quash the complaint or information where it contains averments which, if true, would constitute a legal excuse or justification. Hence, for the alleged privilege to be a ground for quashing the information, the same should have been averred in the information itself and secondly, the privilege should be absolute, not only qualified. Where, however, these circumstances are not alleged in the information, quashal is not proper as they should be raised and proved as defenses. With more reason is it true in the case of merely qualifiedly privileged communications because such cases remain actionable since the defamatory communication is simply presumed to be not malicious, thereby relieving the defendant of the burden of proving good intention and justifiable motive. The burden is on the prosecution to prove malice. Thus, even if the qualifiedly privileged nature of the communication is alleged in the information, it cannot be quashed especially where prosecution opposes the same so as not to deprive the latter of its day in court, but prosecution can only prove its case after trial on the merits. In People v. Gomez we held, inter alia:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryThus, the Court of Appeals did not err in disregarding petitioner's purported good faith. This should be a matter of defense properly raised during trial."The claim of the accused . . . that the letter is privileged communication is not a ground for a motion to quash. It is a matter of defense which must be proved after trial of the case on the merits."68 (Citations omitted)cralawred
1Rollo, pp. 3-22. The Petition was filed under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.
2 Id. at 24-32. The Decision, docketed as CA-G.R. CR No. 32514, was penned by Associate Justice Amelita G. Tolentino and concurred in by Associate Justices Ramon R. Garcia and Danton Q. Bueser of the Fourth Division, Court of Appeals, Manila.
3 Id. at 34-35. The Resolution was penned by Associate Justice Amelita G. Tolentino and concurred in by Associate Justices Ramon R. Garcia and Danton Q. Bueser of the Fourth Division, Court of Appeals, Manila.
4 Id. at 31.
5 Id. at 24.
8 Id. at 28.
9 Id. at 28-29.
10 Id. at 25.
21 Id. at 26.
24 Id. at 26-27.chanrobleslaw
25 Id. at 27-28.
26 Id. at 29.
27 Id. at 30-31.
28 Id. at 31.
29 Id. at 36-44.
30 Id. at 34-35.
31 Id. at 57-70, Desmond's Comment, and 76-87, Office of the Solicitor General's Comment.
32 Id. at 90-97.
33 Id. at 99.
34 Id. at 100.
33 Id. at 104-116.
36 Id. at 130-151.
37 Id. at 139.
38 Id. at 140.
40 505 Phil. 103 (2005) [Per J. Callejo, Sr., Second Division].
41 Id. at 113.
42 640 Phil. 620 (2010) [Per J. Carpio Morales, Third Division].
43 Id. at 640.
44Rollo , pp. 15-16, Petition.
47 Id. at 147.
48 Id. at 145.
49 Id. at 147.
51Go v. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, 619 Phil. 306, 321 (2009) [Per J. Brion, Second Division].
52 G.R. No. 160619, September 9, 2015 <http://scjudiciary.gov.ph/pdf/web/viewer.html?file=/jurisprudence/2015/september2015/160619.pdf> [Per J. Jardeleza, Third Division].
53 Id. at 10, citing People v. Andrade, G.R. No. 187000, November 24, 2014 <http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/pdf/web/viewer.html?file=/jurisprudence/2014/november2014/187000.pdf> [Per J. Peralta, Third Division].
54 Id. at 112.
55 Id. at 113.
56 178 Phil. 574 (1979) [Per J. Aquino, Second Division].
57 Id. at 640.
58 500 Phil. 527 (2005) [Per J. Austria-Martinez, Second Division].
59 Id. at 536.
60 348 Phil. 190 (1998) [Per J. Romero, Third Division].
61 Id. at 199-202.
62 585 Phil. 337 (2008) [Per J. Chico-Nazario, Third Division].
63 Id. at 361, citing Gozos v. Hon. Tac-An, 360 Phil. 453,464 (1998) [Per J. Mendoza, Second Division].
64Rollo, p. 145, Memorandum.
65See J. Leonen, Dissenting and Concurring Opinion in Disini v. Secretary of Justice, G.R. No. 203335, February 18, 2014, 716 SCRA 237, 602-621 [Per J. Abad, En Bane], which proffered the view that continued criminalization of libel, especially in platforms using the internet unqualifiedly produces a "chilling effect" that stifles freedom of expression:
"The crime of libel in its 1930 version in the Revised Penal Code was again reenacted through the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. It simply added the use of the internet as one of the means to commit the criminal acts. The reenactment of these archaic provisions is unconstitutional for many reasons. At minimum, it failed to take into consideration refinements in the interpretation of the old law through decades of jurisprudence. It now stands starkly in contrast with the required constitutional protection of freedom of expression.
. . . .
With the definite evolution of jurisprudence to accommodate free speech values, it is clear that the reenactment of the old text of libel is now unconstitutional. Articles 353, 354, and 355 of the Revised Penal Code — and by reference, Section 4(c)4 of the law in question — are now overbroad as it prescribes a definition and presumption that have been repeatedly struck down by this court for several decades.
. . . .
The effect on speech of the dangerously broad provisions of the current law on libel is even more palpable in the internet.
. . . .
The broad and simplistic formulation now in Article 353 of the Revised Penal Code essential for the punishment of cyber libel can only cope with these variations produced by the technologies in the Internet by giving law enforcers wide latitude to determine which acts are defamatory. There are no judicially determinable standards. The approach will allow subjective case-by-case ad hoc determination. There will be no real notice to the speaker or writer. The speaker or writer will calibrate speech not on the basis of what the law provides but on who enforces it.
This is quintessentially the chilling effect of this law.
The threat of being prosecuted for libel stifles the dynamism of the conversations that take place in cyberspace. These conversations can be loose yet full of emotion. These can be analytical and the product of painstaking deliberation. Other conversations can just be exponential combinations of these forms that provide canisters to evolving ideas as people from different communities with varied identities and cultures come together to test their messages.
Certainly, there will be a mix of the public and the private; the serious and the not so serious. But, this might be the kind of democratic spaces needed by our society: a mishmash of emotion and logic that may creatively spring solutions to grave public issues in better and more entertaining ways than a symposium of scholars. Libel with its broad bright lines, thus, is an anachronistic tool that may have had its uses in older societies: a monkey wrench that will steal inspiration from the democratic mob" (Id. at 50-62).
66 CONST., art. XI, sec. 1.
67 G.R. No. 103618, May 20, 1994, 232 SCRA 460 [Per J. Romero, Third Division].
68 Id. at 467-468.