SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 103174. July 11, 1996]

AMADO B. TEODORO, petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

MENDOZA, J.:

This is a petition for review on certiorari of the decision of the Court of Appeals affirming the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Pasig, Metro Manila, finding petitioner guilty of grave slander by deed and sentencing him to imprisonment for three (3) months of arresto mayor and to pay the costs. The decision of the RTC was a modification of the original sentence of fine in the amount of P110.00 imposed by the Metropolitan Trial Court of Mandaluyong.

Petitioner Amado B. Teodoro was vice-president and corporate secretary of the DBT-Marbay Construction, Inc., while complainant, Carolina Tanco-Young, was treasurer of the same corporation. Petitioner is the brother of the president of the corporation, Donato Teodoro, while complainant is the daughter of the chairman of the board of the corporation, Agustin Tanco. The incident, which gave rise to this case, is narrated in the following portion of the decision dated February 12, 1986 of the RTC:

Records show that the incident complained of took place at the Room of the D.B.T. Mar Bay Construction Incorporated in the afternoon of August 17, 1984. Present at the meeting were Agustin Tanco, Chairman of the Board; the President, Donato Teodoro; the accused, Amado Teodoro, as Corporate Secretary; the complainant, Carolina Tanco-Young who is the Treasurer; and one Oscar Benares.

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It appears that there was a controversial document being insisted upon by the accused, as secretary, to be signed by the chairman. The Board Treasurer, Carolina Tanco-Young questioned the propriety of having the document signed as there was, according to her, no such meeting that ever took place as to show a supposed resolution to have been deliberated upon. A verbal exchange of words and tirades took place between the accused Secretary and the Treasurer. One word led to another up to the point where Carolina Tanco-Young, the treasurer, either by implication or expressed domineering words, alluded to the accused as a "falsifier" which blinded the accused-appellant to extreme anger and rage, thus leading him to slap Tanco-Young the alleged name caller. Carolina Tanco-Young's father, Agustin Tanco, being present and so proximate to the daughter, was helplessly observing and hearing the verbal tirades between the two members of the board and when the accused Teodoro slapped Tanco-Young, he stood and made a move to lunge at his daughter's assailant. Knowing that her father has a heart condition, Tanco-Young, in order to prevent her father from engaging a much younger man to a physical confrontation, simply embraced her father . . . . The [accused's claim] that he swung his arms which accidentally was done to parry the lunge of Tanco in which at the same time Carolina coming from her position in between them, is hardly demonstrable.[1]

The MeTC found petitioner guilty of simple slander by deed and sentenced him to pay a fine of P110.00. Petitioner appealed. It appears that the parties were required to file their memoranda by the RTC, but petitioner filed instead, on June 6, 1985, a motion to withdraw his appeal and, on July 16, 1985, paid the fine of P110.00 imposed in the judgment of the MTC.

On July 26, 1985, the RTC denied his motion for the following reasons stated in its order of that date:

The Appeal from the Metropolitan Trial Court has already been perfected. Records are already in the Regional Trial Court. The withdrawal of appeal should have been properly filed in the trial court within the period to perfect appeal.

Although this Court is given the discretion under Section 12 Rule 122 of the Interim Rules of Court to grant or not to grant withdrawal of appeal, the court chooses to deny the motion on the ground that the prosecution has already submitted its memorandum brief.[2]

The RTC gave petitioner ten (10) days within which to file his memorandum, but petitioner insisted on the withdrawal of his appeal, filing for this purpose a motion for reconsideration of the order denying his motion to withdraw appeal.

On November 11, 1985, the RTC denied reconsideration and, on February 12, 1986, it rendered a decision finding petitioner guilty of grave slander by deed and sentencing him to three (3) months of arresto mayor. In holding that the slander was serious in character, the RTC took into account the fact that Young is a woman and that, at the time of the incident, she was seven months pregnant and, therefore, could be emotionally upset by the incident.

Petitioner filed a petition for review, which the Court of Appeals dismissed in its decision rendered on November 27, 1987. Petitioner's motion for reconsideration was also denied. Hence this petition.

There are two points in the decision of the Court of Appeals. The first is that under Rule 122, 12 the withdrawal of appeals from the decisions of MTCs and MeTCs lies in the sound discretion of the RTC and that, in denying petitioner's motion for the withdrawal of his appeal, the RTC did not act with abuse of discretion. The second point is that because petitioner's motion to withdraw his appeal had been denied, his payment of the fine as imposed on the judgment of the MeTC did not render that decision final and executory. Hence, petitioner was not placed in double jeopardy by the decision of the RTC on his appeal.

We find no reversible error committed by the Court of Appeals. First, the appellate court agreed with the RTC that to allow the withdrawal of the appeal would be to allow an error of the MeTC to go uncorrected, because the crime committed was not simple slander by deed but a grave one. (Under Art. 359 of the Revised Penal Code, if the slander by deed is serious and insulting in nature, the penalty is arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period, or a fine ranging from P200.00 to P1,000.00, otherwise it is only arresto menor or a fine not exceeding P200.00.) In this case, the person slandered was a woman who was seven months pregnant, whose emotional stress could cause an abortion.

Petitioner maintains that he has an absolute right to withdraw his appeal and that because his appeal did not vacate the decision of the MeTC but only stayed it (Rule 122, 10), by playing the fine imposed in the judgment of the MeTC, the decision became final and his appeal in the RTC was automatically withdrawn (Petition pp. 11-22). Petitioner cites in support of his contention Rule 120, 7 which provides:

7. Modification of judgment. A judgment of conviction may, upon motion of the accused, be modified or set aside by the court rendering it before the judgment has become final or appeal has been perfected. A judgment in a criminal case becomes final after the lapse of the period for perfecting an appeal, or when the sentence has been partially or totally satisfied or served, or the accused has expressly waived in writing his right to appeal, or the accused has applied for probation.

The assumption underlying the above-quoted provision is that the decision of a court becomes final only if no appeal has been taken from it. Hence, any of the following conditions renders the decision final: (1) the period for perfecting an appeal has lapsed; (2) the sentence is partially or totally satisfied or served; (3) the accused expressly waives in writing his right to appeal; or (4) the accused applies for probation. Consequently, although an appeal does not vacate the judgment appealed from, it does prevent it from becoming final so that it does not bar the RTC from acting on the appeal and imposing on the accused such penalty as may be warranted by the law and the evidence. The fact is that petitioner appealed from the decision of the MeTC. Until that appeal is withdrawn, there is no decision of the MeTC to serve or satisfy because the appeal, at the very least, stayed the decision.

Second, as the Court of Appeals correctly ruled, the withdrawal of appeal is not a matter of right, but a matter which lies in the sound discretion of the court and the appellate court. Rule 122, 12 provides:

12. Withdrawal of Appeal.

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The Regional Trial Court may also, in its discretion, allow the appellant from the judgment of a Municipal Trial Court, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, or Metropolitan Trial Court to withdraw his appeal, provided a motion to that effect is filed before judgment of the case on appeal, in which case the judgment of the court a quo shall become final and the case shall be remanded to the court a quo for execution of the judgment.

In this case, petitioner filed a motion to withdraw his appeal on June 6, 1985, after he had been required to file his memorandum and after his counsel had received the memorandum of the prosecution. Apparently, he realized that his appeal was likely to result in the imposition of a higher penalty and he wanted to avoid that possibility. The prosecution in fact urged in its memorandum[3] that petitioner be held guilty of grave slander by deed (not just simple slander as did the MeTC) and demanded that the maximum of the penalty be imposed on him considering the following aggravating circumstances:

a. The accused is a businessman and a member of the Philippine Bar which actuation requires of him to act and behave at all times within the decorum befitting of a lawyer.

b. The offended party was a pregnant woman and on account of her physical condition and sex she was totally taken advantage of by the accused.

c. The accused deliberately committed the act complained of to dishonor and discredit the offended party.

There was no provocation whatsoever on the part of the offended party that could have triggered the slapping incident, nor has she nor her father ever called the accused a "falsifier." On account of the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense the act is serious in nature which should carry a penalty in its maximum period as provided for under Article 359 of the Revised Penal Code. Under our jurisprudence, whether an act constitutes slander by deed of a serious nature or not depends on the social standing of the offended party and the circumstances under which the act was committed. (Cited on p. 808, Revised Penal Code by Luis B. Reyes, 1965 ed.)

On the strength of the foregoing, the act committed by the accused is serious in character because of the social standing of the offended party and the circumstances under which it was committed. We beg to quote from the pertinent portion of her affidavit:

The actuation of Amado B. Teodoro took me by surprise and I was not all prepared when Amado B. Teodoro assaulted me.

I was too shocked or stunned to immediately feel the impact of his slap but instinctively looked toward my father as he is seated to my right. When I saw my father stood up and made a move to lunge at Amado B. Teodoro, I embraced him and pacified him, as my concern at the time was not myself although I am seven months pregnant, but my father as he is suffering from a heart ailment.

The humiliating incident has affected me seriously both physically and emotionally that for several days thereafter, I have not been able to sleep and could not concentrate on my mental work nor perform my usual activities as a wife, businesswoman and officer of the many corporations I own.

Amado B. Teodoro slapped me in the presence of the above named officers of DBT-Marbay, thereby casting dishonor, discredit and contempt upon my person. I have always conducted myself in a dignified manner as a lady and as the Treasurer of DBT-Marbay and officer of other corporations, which fact earns high respect from all concerned.

I come from a close and peaceful family with business interests recognized in the business world, raised in the best school of learning, travel abroad every now and then, married to a respectable businessman, and hold many responsible positions in other companies aside from the DBT-Marbay. I have a good image and reputation in the business community and civic and social functions as well.

Accordingly, the trial court correctly denied petitioner's motion for the withdrawal of his appeal. In People v. Rapirap,[4] the accused was found guilty of less serious physical injuries by the municipal court and sentenced to pay a fine of P25.00. He appealed to the Court of First Instance. As then provided by law, the case was called for trial de novo. He asked to be allowed to change his plea of not guilty to a plea of guilty and, having been allowed to do so, he moved to withdraw his appeal and asked the court to impose on him the penalty of P20.00 fine. The court denied his motion and sentenced him to 11 days of arresto menor, to pay P200.00 in damages and the costs of the proceedings. In affirming the decision of the CFI, this Court, through Justice J.B.L. Reyes, held:[5]

In the first place, it is clear from this provision of the Rules that the withdrawal of the appeal should be allowed upon motion, only before the trial of the case of appeal, and not during or after it . . . . A plea of guilty does not merely join the issues of the complaint or information, but amounts to an admission of guilt and of the material facts alleged in the complaint or information . . . and in this sense takes the place of the trial itself. Such plea removes the necessity of presenting further evidence and for all intents and purposes the case is deemed tried on its merits and submitted for decision. It leaves the court with no alternative but to impose the penalty prescribed by law. Secondly, it should be noted that the withdrawal of an appeal under this section rests within the sound discretion of the court. In imposing a higher penalty and not allowing the withdrawal of the appeal by the accused appellant, the court did not abuse its discretion; on the contrary, it was soundly exercised. The move to withdraw the appeal was made only at a time when the court appeared disposed to impose a higher penalty, when it denied the recommendation of one of her attorneys to impose a P20.00 fine. No one should be allowed to trifle with the solemn judicial procedure (People vs. Pangilinan, 74 Phil. 451) as permitting parties to a case to take appeals and withdraw them at pleasure, after they become certain that the forthcoming judgment would work adversely to them. Parties and attorneys should realize that the ethics of the market place are not those of courts of justice.

This case is governed by Rapirap. It is indeed true that under Rule 122, 12 of the 1964 Rules of Court, an appeal could be withdrawn only "before the trial of the case on appeal," whereas under the present Rule, as already seen, with the change in procedure from trial de novo to appeal on the basis of the records of the MTC, the withdrawal of appeal may be allowed "before judgment of the case of appeal."[6] However, as the Regional Trial Court said, even if no similar limitations as to the period for the withdrawal of appeal is provided in the new Rule, after the parties in this case had been required to file their memoranda and the memorandum of the prosecution had been filed and a copy served on appellant, it was too late for petitioner to move for the withdrawal of the appeal. It was apparent that petitioner's motion was intended to frustrate a possible adverse decision on his appeal. That is what exactly happened in this case. Withdrawal of the appeal at that stage would allow an apparent error and possibly an injustice to go uncorrected. Justice is due as much to the State the People of the Philippines as to the accused.

The RTC fixed the penalty in this case at 3 months. As already stated, the crime committed is grave slander by deed, punishable by arresto mayor maximum to prision correccional minimum, the duration of which is 4 months and 1 day to 2 years and 4 months. Since there is one mitigating circumstance (i.e., voluntary surrender) and no aggravating circumstance, the penalty should be imposed in its minimum period. Accordingly, the penalty should be modified.

WHEREFORE, the decision appealed from is MODIFIED, by sentencing the accused-appellant to a prision term of 6 months of arresto mayor. The fine paid by the accused in the amount of P110.00 is ordered returned to him.

SO ORDERED.

Regalado (Chairman), Romero, and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.

Puno, J., took no part.



[1] Decision p. 2, Rollo, p. 64.

[2] Rollo, p. 54.

[3] Memorandum Brief, pp. 3-5; Records, pp. 60-62.

[4] 102 Phil. 863 (1958).

[5] Id. at 865-66.

[6] Rule 122, 12 of the 1964 Rules of Court, which was applied in that case, provided:

12. Withdrawal of Appeal.

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The Court of First Instance may also, in its discretion, allow the appellant from the judgment of the justice of the peace court or judge of a municipal court to withdraw his appeal, provided a motion to that effect is filed before the trial of the case on appeal, in which case the judgment of the justice of the peace or municipal court shall become final, the provisions of Section 7, Rule 123, to the contrary notwithstanding, and the case shall be remanded to the court a quo for execution of the judgment.