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[G.R. No. 149453.

May 28, 2002]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, et al., vs. PANFILO M. LACSON.

RESOLUTION

Before us is a petition for review on certiorariseeking to reverse and set aside the
Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals dated August 24, 2001 in CA-G.R. SP No. 65034.
[2] The said Decision of the appellate court granted respondent Lacsons Second
Amended Petition for Prohibition with application for the issuance of a Temporary
Restraining Order, (1) assailing the Order issued by Judge Herminia Pasamba of the
Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, Branch 40, that allowed the continuation of the
re-investigation of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689 or the Kuratong
Baleleng cases; and (2) praying for the dismissal of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-01101102 to Q-01-101112 entitled People of the Philippines v. Panfilo Lacson, et al.
pending before Branch 81 of the RTC of Quezon City.

The following appear in the records of this case:

(1) On May 18, 1995, then PNP Director-General Recaredo Sarmiento II announced,
in a press conference, the killing of eleven (11) members of the Kuratong
Baleleng Gang (KBG) in a shootout with police elements near the fly-over along
Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City at about 4:00 A.M. that day.[3]

(2) On May 22, 1995, morning papers carried the news that SPO2 Eduardo delos
Reyes had claimed that the killing of the eleven (11) gang members was a rub-out
or summary execution and not a shootout.[4]

(3) In an affidavit he executed the following day, delos Reyes stated, among others,
that he was part of a composite police team called the Anti-Bank Robbery and
Intelligence Task Force Group (ABRITFG) composed of elements of the National
Capital Region Command (NCRC) and headed by Chief Superintendent Jewel
Canson; Traffic Management Command, headed by Senior Superintendent Francisco
Subia, Jr.; Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC), headed by Chief

Superintendent Panfilo M. Lacson; Central Police District Command, headed by Chief


Superintendent Ricardo de Leon; and Criminal Investigation Command (CIC),
headed by Chief Superintendent Romeo Acop. Delos Reyes claimed that the police
team arrested the eleven (11) gang members in early morning of May 18, 1995 at
the gangs safe house in Superville Subdivision, Paraaque; that after their arrest, the
gang members were made to board two vans, their hands tied behind their backs,
and brought initially to Camp Crame where a decision to summarily execute them
was made, and later to Commonwealth Avenue where they were shot to death by
elements of ABRITFG.[5]

(4) On May 26, 1995, SPO2 Corazon dela Cruz, another CIC investigator, executed
an affidavit corroborating the material allegations of delos Reyes. Dela Cruz claimed
that she was with delos Reyes from the time the eleven (11) KBG members were
arrested up to the time they were killed in Commonwealth Avenue.[6]

(5) On May 31, 1995, Armando Capili, a reporter ofRemate, executed an affidavit
stating that he was present when the KBG members were arrested in Superville
Subdivision.[7]

(6) On June 1, 1995, Chief Superintendent Job A. Mayo, PNP Director for
Investigation, filed murder charges with the Office of the Ombudsman against
ninety-seven (97) officers and personnel of ABRITFG. The next-of-kin of the slain
KBG members also filed murder charges against the same officers and personnel.[8]

(7) Ombudsman Aniano Desierto then created a panel of investigators to conduct a


preliminary investigation of the murder charges. The panel was headed by Deputy
Ombudsman for Military Affairs Bienvenido Blancaflor. On October 20, 1995, the
panel issued a resolution recommending the dismissal of the charges for lack of
probable cause.

(8) Ombudsman Desierto referred the resolution for review by a panel composed of
Over-all Deputy Ombudsman Francisco Villa as head, and Special Prosecutor
Leonardo Tamayo and Assistant Ombudsman Abelardo Aportadera as members. On
November 20, 1995, the review panel reversed the Blancaflor resolution and found
probable cause for the prosecution of multiple murder charges against twenty-six
(26) officers and personnel of ABRITFG.[9]

(9) On November 2, 1995, the Ombudsman filed before the Sandiganbayan eleven
(11) Informations for MURDER, docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 23047 to 23057,
against respondent Panfilo M. Lacson and twenty-five (25) other accused. All
twenty-six (26) of them were charged as principals.[10] The following appear to be
the victims: Meleubren Sorronda in Crim. Case No. 23047; Welbor Elcamel in Crim.
Case No. 23048; Carlito Alap-ap in Crim. Case No. 23049; Jevy Redillas in Crim. Case
No. 23050; Ray Abalora in Crim. Case No. 23051; Joel Amora in Crim. Case No.
23052; Alex Neri in Crim. Case No. 23053; Rolando Siplon in Crim. Case No. 23054;
Manuel Montero in Crim. Case No. 23055; Sherwin Abalora in Crim. Case No. 23056;
and Pacifico Montero in Crim. Case No. 23057.

(10) Upon motion of the respondent, the criminal cases were remanded to the
Ombudsman for reinvestigation. On March 1, 1996, Amended Informations were
filed against the same twenty-six (26) suspects but the participation of respondent
Lacson was downgraded from principal to accessory. Arraignment then followed and
respondent entered a plea of not guilty.[11]

(11) With the downgrading of charges against him, respondent Lacson questioned
the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan to hear the criminal cases as none of the
principal accused in the Amended Informations was a government official with a
Salary Grade (SG) 27 or higher, citing Section 2 of R. A. No. 7975 then prevailing.
Accordingly, theSandiganbayan ordered the cases transferred to the Regional Trial
Court.[12]

(12) The Office of the Special Prosecutor filed a motion for reconsideration of the
transfer. Pending resolution of the motion, R. A. No. 8249 took effect on February 23,
1997, amending R. A. No. 7975. In particular, the amendatory law deleted the word
principal in Section 2 of R. A. No. 7975, thereby expanding the jurisdiction of
the Sandiganbayan to include all cases where at least one of the accused, whether
principal, accomplice or accessory, is a government official of Salary Grade (SG) 27
or higher. The amendment is made applicable to all cases pending in any court in
which trial has not yet begun as of the date of its approval.[13]

(13) In Lacson v. Executive Secretary,[14]respondent Lacson challenged the


constitutionality of the amendment and contended that theSandiganbayan had no
jurisdiction over the criminal cases. This Court, while dismissing the constitutional
challenge, nonetheless ordered the transfer of the criminal cases to the Regional

Trial Court on the ground that the Amended Informations for murder failed to
indicate that the offenses charged therein were committed in relation to, or in
discharge of, the official functions of the respondent, as required by R. A. No. 8249.

(14) Criminal Cases Nos. 23047 to 23057 were raffled off to Branch 81 of the
Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, then presided by Judge, now Associate Justice of
the Court of Appeals, Wenceslao Agnir, Jr., and re-docketed as Criminal Cases Nos.
Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689.

(15) Before the accused could be arraigned, prosecution witnesses Eduardo de los
Reyes, Corazon de la Cruz, Armando Capili and Jane Gomez recanted their affidavits
which implicated respondent Lacson in the murder of the KBG members.

On the other hand, private complainants Myrna Abalora,[15] Leonora Amora,


[16] Nenita Alap-ap,[17]Imelda Montero,[18] Margarita Redillas,[19]Carmelita
Elcamel[20] and Rolando Siplon[21] also executed their respective affidavits of
desistance declaring that they were no longer interested to prosecute these cases.
[22]

(16) Due to these developments, the twenty-six (26) accused, including respondent
Lacson, filed five separate but identical motions to (1) make a judicial determination
of the existence of probable cause for the issuance of warrants of arrest; (2) hold in
abeyance the issuance of the warrants, and (3) dismiss the cases should the trial
court find lack of probable cause.

(17) The records of the case before us are not clear whether the private offended
parties were notified of the hearing on March 22, 1999[23] held by Judge Agnir to
resolve the motions filed by respondent Lacson and the other accused.

(18) During the said hearing, the private offended parties who desisted do not
appear to have been presented on the witness stand. In their stead, Atty. Godwin
Valdez testified that he assisted them in preparing their affidavits of desistance and
that he signed said affidavits as witness. On the other hand, Atty. Aurora Bautista of
the Philippine Lawyers League presented the affidavits of recantation of prosecution
witnesses Eduardo de los Reyes, Armando Capili and Jane Gomez. Only prosecution
witness Corazon de la Cruz testified to affirm her affidavit.[24]

(19) On March 29, 1999, Judge Agnir issued a Resolution[25] dismissing Criminal
Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689, as follows:

As already seen, the documents attached to the Informations in support thereof


have been rendered meaningless, if not absurd, with the recantation of the principal
prosecution witnesses and the desistance of the private complainants. There is no
more evidence to show that a crime has been committed and that the accused are
probably guilty thereof. Following the doctrine above-cited, there is no more reason
to hold the accused for trial and further expose them to an open and public
accusation. It is time to write finis to these cases and lay to rest the ghost of the
incident of May 18, 1995 so that all those involved--- the accused, the prosecution
witnesses and the private complainants alike--- may get on with their lives.

The Court is not unmindful of the admonition in the recent case of People vs. Court
of Appeals (G.R. No. 126005, January 21, 1999) where the Supreme Court said that
the general rule is that if the Information is valid on its face and there is no showing
of manifest error, grave abuse of discretion or prejudice on the part of the public
prosecutor, courts should not dismiss it for want of evidence, because evidentiary
matters should be presented and heard during the trial, and that the ruling in Allado
vs. Diokno is an exception to the general rule and may be invoked only if similar
circumstances are clearly shown to exist.

This Court holds that the circumstances in the case at bench clearly make an
exception to the general rule.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court finds no probable cause for the
issuance of the warrants of arrest against the accused or to hold them for trial.
Accordingly, the Informations in the above-numbered cases are hereby ordered
dismissed.

SO ORDERED.[26]

(20) On March 27, 2001, PNP Director Leandro R. Mendoza indorsed to the
Department of Justice the new affidavits of P/Insp. Ysmael S. Yu and P/S Insp.

Abelardo Ramos regarding the Kuratong Balelengincident for preliminary


investigation. On the strength of this indorsement, Secretary of Justice Hernando B.
Perez formed a panel to investigate the matter. On April 17, 2001, the respondent
was subpoenaed to attend the investigation of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to
Q-99-81689.[27]

(21) On May 28, 2001, respondent Lacson, et al., invoking, among others, their
constitutional right against double jeopardy, filed a petition for prohibition with
application for temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction with
the Regional Trial Court of Manila, primarily to enjoin the State prosecutors from
conducting the preliminary investigation. The petition was docketed as Civil Case
No. 01-100933 and raffled to Branch 40, presided by Judge Herminia V. Pasamba.
[28]

(22) The plea for temporary restraining order was denied by Judge Pasamba in an
Order[29] dated June 5, 2001, viz:

After a study, this Court submits that the dismissal of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-9981679 to Q-99-81689 is not one on the merits and without any recorded
arraignment and entered plea on the part of the herein petitioners. The dismissal
was a direct consequence of the finding of the Quezon City RTC that no probable
cause exists for the issuance of warrants of arrest against petitioners herein and to
hold them for trial. The arraignment had with theSandiganbayan does not put the
case in a different perspective since the Sandiganbayan was adjudged to be without
any jurisdiction to try the cases. It is the People of the Philippines who is the
complainant in the Kuratong Baleleng case and remains to be the complainant in
the present investigation initiated thru a letter of PNP Chief Mendoza dated March
27, 2001 (Exhibit B) together with the sworn statements of witnesses Ramos and Yu
(Exhibits 2 and 3 - supportive of the refiling of the case (Exhibit 9).

xxx xxx xxx

Above considered, this Court finds petitioners have not preliminarily established
that they have a right to be preserved pending hearing on the injunctive relief.

WHEREFORE, the prayer for temporary restraining order is hereby DENIED.

SO ORDERED.[30]

(23) On June 6, 2001, eleven (11) Informations for murder involving the killing of the
same members of the Kuratong Baleleng gang were filed before the Regional Trial
Court of Quezon City and were docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 01-101102 to 01101112. The new Informations charged as principals thirty-four (34) people,
including respondent Lacson and his twenty-five (25) other co-accused in Criminal
Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689. The criminal cases were assigned to Judge
Ma. Theresa L. Yadao.

(24) On the same day, respondent Lacson filed before the Court of Appeals a
petition for certiorari[31] against Judge Pasamba, the Secretary of Justice, the PNP
Chief, State Prosecutors Ong and Zacarias, 2nd Assistant City Prosecutor Jamolin,
and the People of the Philippines. The said petition was amended to implead as
additional party-respondents State Prosecutor Claro Arellano and the RTC, Quezon
City, Branch 81 in which the Informations in Criminal Cases Nos. 01-101102 to 01101112 were filed.[32]

(25) The Second Amended Petition[33] dated June 14, 2001 and admitted by the
Court of Appeals on June 26, 2001, alleged:

The reliefs of certiorari, prohibition and injunction against the questioned Order
(Annex A) and the new Informations in Criminal Cases Nos. 01-101102 to 01-101112
pending before respondent Yadao (Annex B) are founded upon the grave abuse of
discretion by respondent Judge Pasamba of her discretion in its issuance, the
illegality of the proceedings of the respondent State Prosecutors as they cannot
revive complaints which had been dismissed over two (2) years from the date the
dismissal order was issued, and the invalidity of the new Informations for Murder
filed against petitioners and others, all in defiance of law and jurisprudence as
shown by the following:

(a) Respondent judge had ruled on the merits of the main prohibition action a
quo rendering the same moot and academic by concluding that the dismissal of
Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679-Q-99-81689 by the QC RTC was not final and
executory, hence [i] the complaints therein can be reinvestigated, and [ii]

petitioners arraignment while the case had not yet been remanded to the QC RTC
and while the Sandiganbayan had valid jurisdiction thereover [Criminal Cases No.
23047-2048] was void, notwithstanding that the only issue in the TRO application
was the existence or lack of a valid complaint as defined in S1 and S3, Rule 110.

(b) Respondent Judge ruled that respondent State Prosecutors could proceed to reinvestigate and thereafter file new Informations on June 6, 2001 covering those
offenses subject of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679-Q-99-81689 on the basis of
affidavits filed after said cases were dismissed on March 29, 1999, despite the fact
that under Section 8, Rule 117, cases similar to those filed against the petitioner
and others (where the penalty imposable is imprisonment of six (6) years or more)
cannot be revived after two (2) years from the date the dismissal order was issued.

(c) Respondent Judge held that the petitioner had not shown a right to be preserved
despite evidence showing the short cuts taken by respondent State prosecutors in
re-investigating a dismissed case, in not complying with Rules in respect of its reopening, and in insisting that a valid complaint was filed in clear violation of the
Rules and case law thereon, and despite the fact that the petitioner had shown that
an inextendible deadline of June 5, 2001 was given him to file his counter-affidavit
without which his indictment for a non-bailable offense is assured because of DOJ
Secretary Hernando Perezs political schemes.[34]

(26) In the meantime, on June 8, 2001, respondent Lacson also filed with the RTCQC Branch 81 (presided by Judge Ma. Theresa Yadao), a Motion for Judicial
Determination of Probable Cause and in the absence thereof, to dismiss the cases
outright. Respondent Lacson, however, filed a Manifestation and Motion dated June
13, 2001 seeking the suspension of the proceedings before the trial court.[35]

(27) The Court of Appeals issued a temporary restraining order enjoining Judge
Yadao from issuing a warrant of arrest or conducting any proceeding or hearing in
Criminal Cases Nos. 01-101102 to 01-101112.[36]

(28) On August 24, 2001, the Court of Appeals (Special Third Division), rendered the
now assailed Decision. It characterized the termination of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-9981679 to Q-99-81689 as provisional dismissal, and considered Criminal Cases Nos.
01-101102 to 01-101112 as mere revivals of the same. Applying Section 8, Rule 117

of the 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, it dismissed the criminal cases
against the respondent, viz:

In sum, this Court is of the considered view that the subject dismissal of [the]
criminal cases was provisional in nature and that the cases presently sought to be
prosecuted by the respondents are mere revival or re-opening of the dismissed
cases. The present controversy, being one involving provisional dismissal and
revival of criminal cases, falls within the purview of the prescriptive period provided
under Section 8, Rule 117 of the 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. The
second paragraph of the said provision is couched in clear, simple and categorical
words. It mandates that for offenses punishable by imprisonment of more than six
(6) years, as the subject criminal cases, their provisional dismissal shall become
permanent two (2) years after the issuance of the order without the case having
been revived. It should be noted that the revival of the subject criminal cases, even
if reckoned from the DOJs issuance of subpoenas to petitioner, was commenced
only on April 19, 2001, that is, more than two (2) years after the issuance, on March
29, 1999, of RTC-Quezon Citys Resolution, provisionally dismissing the criminal
cases now sought to be revived. Applying the clear and categorical mandate of
Section 8, Rule 117, supra, such efforts to revive the criminal cases are now
definitely barred by the two-year prescriptive period provided therein.

xxx xxx xxx

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. As prayed for, the Temporary Restraining


Order earlier issued against the conduct of further proceedings in Criminal Cases
Nos. 01-101102 to 01-101112, including the issuance of warrants of arrest against
the petitioner, PANFILO M. LACSON, is hereby made PERMANENT. Accordingly, with
respect to said accused, the proceedings conducted by respondent State
Prosecutors in respect of the said criminal cases are declared NULL AND VOID and
the corresponding Informations, docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 01-101102 to 01101112, entitled People of the Philippines vs. Panfilo M. Lacson, et al. and filed
before respondent Judge Maria Theresa L. Yadao of Branch 81 of the Regional Trial
Court of Quezon City, are hereby ordered DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.[37]

The issue is whether Section 8, Rule 117 bars the filing of the eleven (11)
informations against the respondent Lacson involving the killing of some members
of the Kuratong Baleleng gang. This rule which took effect on December 1, 2000
provides:

SEC. 8. Provisional dismissal.- A case shall not be provisionally dismissed except


with the express consent of the accused and with notice to the offended party.

The provisional dismissal of offenses punishable by imprisonment not exceeding six


(6) years or a fine of any amount, or both, shall become permanent one (1) year
after issuance of the order without the case having been revived. With respect to
offenses punishable by imprisonment of more than six (6) years, their provisional
dismissal shall become permanent two (2) years after issuance of the order without
the case having been revived.

Like any other favorable procedural rule, this new rule can be given retroactive
effect. However, this Court cannot rule on this jugular issue due to the lack of
sufficient factual bases. Thus, there is need of proof of the following facts, viz: (1)
whether the provisional dismissal of the cases had the express consent of the
accused; (2) whether it was ordered by the court after notice to the offended party,
(3) whether the 2-year period to revive has already lapsed, and (4) whether there is
any justification for the filing of the cases beyond the 2-year period.

There is no uncertainty with respect to the fact that the provisional dismissal of the
cases against respondent Lacson bears his express consent. It was respondent
Lacson himself who moved to dismiss the subject cases for lack of probable cause
before then Judge Agnir, hence, it is beyond argument that their dismissal bears his
express consent.

The records of the case, however, do not reveal with equal clarity and
conclusiveness whether notices to the offended parties were given before the cases
against the respondent Lacson were dismissed by then Judge Agnir. It appears from
the resolution of then Judge Agnir that the relatives of the victims who desisted did
not appear during the hearing to affirm their affidavits. Their affidavits of desistance
were only presented by Atty. Godwin Valdez who testified that he assisted the
private complainants in preparing their affidavits and he signed them as a witness.

It also appears that only seven (7) persons submitted their affidavits of desistance,
namely:

a. Myrna Abalora, mother of the victims Sherwin Abalora and Rey Abalora

b. Carmelita Elcamel, wife of Wilbur Elcamel;

c. Leonora Amora, mother of victim Joel Amora;

d. Nenita Alap-ap, wife of victim Carlito Alap-ap;

e. Imelda Montero, wife of victim Manuel Montero;

f. Margarita Redillas, mother of victim Hilario Jevy Redillas; and

g. Rolando Siplon.

From the records of the case before us, it cannot be determined whether there were
affidavits of desistance executed by the relatives of the three (3)[38] other victims,
namely: Meleubren Soronda, Pacifico Montero, Jr., and Alex Neri. The same records
do not show whether they were notified of the hearing or had knowledge thereof. To
be sure, it is not fair to expect the element of notice to be litigated before then
Judge Agnir for Section 8, Rule 117 was yet inexistent at that time.

The fact of notice to the offended parties was not raised either in the petition for
prohibition with application for temporary restraining order or writ of preliminary
injunction filed by respondent Lacson in the RTC of Manila, presided by Judge
Pasamba, to enjoin the prosecutors from reinvestigating the said cases against him.
The only question raised in said petition is whether the reinvestigation will violate
the right of respondent Lacson against double jeopardy. Thus, the issue of whether

or not the reinvestigation is barred by Section 8, Rule 117 was not tackled by the
litigants.

Nor was the fact of notice to the offended parties the subject of proof after the
eleven (11) informations for murder against respondent Lacson and company were
revived in the RTC of Quezon City presided by Judge Yadao. There was hardly any
proceeding conducted in the case for respondent Lacson immediately filed a
petition for certiorari in the appellate court challenging, among others, the authority
of Judge Yadao to entertain the revived informations for multiple murder against
him.

This is not to be wondered at. The applicability of Section 8, Rule 117 was never
considered in the trial court. It was in the Court of Appeals where respondent Lacson
raised for the first time the argument that Section 8, Rule 117 bars the revival of the
multiple murder cases against him. But even then, the appellate court did not
require the parties to elucidate the crucial issue of whether notices were given to
the offended parties before Judge Agnir ordered the dismissal of the cases against
respondent Lacson and company. To be sure, there is a statement in the Decision of
the appellate court to the effect that records show that the prosecution and the
private offended parties were notified of the hearing x x x.[39] It is doubtful whether
this finding is supported by the records of the case. It appears to be contrary to
Judge Agnirs finding that only seven (7) of the complainants submitted affidavits of
desistance.

Indeed, the records of this case are inconclusive on the factual issue of whether the
multiple murder cases against respondent Lacson are being revived within or
beyond the 2-year bar. The reckoning date of the 2-year bar has to be first
determined - - - whether it is from the date of the Order of then Judge Agnir
dismissing the cases or from the dates the Order were received by the various
offended parties or from the date of the effectivity of the new rule.

If the cases were revived only after the 2-year bar, the State must be given the
opportunity to justify its failure to comply with said timeline. The new rule fixes a
timeline to penalize the State for its inexcusable delay in prosecuting cases already
filed in courts. It can therefore present compelling reasons to justify the revival of
cases beyond the 2-year bar.

In light of the lack of or the conflicting evidence on the various requirements to


determine the applicability of Section 8, Rule 117, this Court is not in a position to
rule whether or not the re-filing of the cases for multiple murder against respondent
Lacson should be enjoined. Fundamental fairness requires that both the prosecution
and the respondent Lacson should be afforded the opportunity to be heard and to
adduce evidence on the presence or absence of the predicate facts upon which the
application of the new rule depends. They involve disputed facts and arguable
questions of law. The reception of evidence on these various issues cannot be done
in this Court but before the trial court.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the case at bar is remanded to the RTC - Quezon City,
Branch 81 so that the State prosecutors and the respondent Lacson can adduce
evidence and be heard on whether the requirements of Section 8, Rule 117 have
been complied with on the basis of the evidence of which the trial court should
make a ruling on whether the Informations in Criminal Cases Nos. 01-101102 to 01101112 should be dismissed or not. Pending the ruling, the trial court is restrained
from issuing any warrant of arrest against the respondent Lacson. Melo and
Carpio, JJ.,take no part.

SO ORDERED.