EN BANC

[G.R. No. 131652. March 9, 1998]

BAYANI M. ALONTE, petitioner, vs. HON. MAXIMO A. SAVELLANO JR., NATIONAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.

[G.R. No. 131728. March 9, 1998]

BUENAVENTURA CONCEPCION, petitioner, vs. JUDGE MAXIMO SAVELLANO, JR., THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, and JUVIELYN Y. PUNONGBAYAN, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

VITUG, J.:

Pending before this Court are two separate petitions, one filed by petitioner Bayani M. Alonte, docketed G.R. No. 131652, and the other by petitioner Buenaventura Concepcion, docketed G.R. No. 131728, that assail the decision of respondent Judge Maximo A. Savellano, Jr., of the Regional Trial Court ("RTC"), Branch 53, of Manila finding both petitioners guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape. The two petitions were consolidated.

On 05 December 1996, an information for rape was filed against petitioners Bayani M. Alonte, an incumbent Mayor of Bian, Laguna, and Buenaventura Concepcion predicated on a complaint filed by Juvie-lyn Punongbayan. The information contained the following averments; thus:

That on or about September 12, 1996, in Sto. Tomas, Bian, Laguna, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable court, the above named accused, who is the incumbent mayor of Bian, Laguna after giving complainant-child drinking water which made her dizzy and weak, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge with said JUVIELYN PUNONGBAYAN against her will and consent, to her damage and prejudice.

That accused Buenaventura `Wella Concepcion without having participated as principal or accessory assisted in the commission of the offense by bringing said complainant child to the rest house of accused Bayani `Arthur Alonte at Sto. Tomas, Bian, Laguna and after receiving the amount of P1,000.00 left her alone with Bayani Alonte who subsequently raped her.

Contrary to Law.[1]

The case was docketed Criminal Case No. 9619-B and assigned by raffle to Branch 25 of the RTC of Bian, Laguna, presided over by Judge Pablo B. Francisco.

On 13 December 1996, Juvie-lyn Punongbayan, through her counsel Attorney Remedios C. Balbin, and Assistant Chief State Prosecutor (ACSP) Leonardo Guiyab, Jr., filed with the Office of the Court Administrator a Petition for a Change of Venue (docketed Administrative Matter No. 97-1-12-RTC) to have the case transferred and tried by any of the Regional Trial Courts in Metro Manila.

During the pendency of the petition for change of venue, or on 25 June 1997, Juvie-lyn Punongbayan, assisted by her parents and counsel, executed an affidavit of desistance, quoted herein in full, as follows:

AFFIDAVIT OF DESISTANCE

I, JUVIE-LYN YAMBAO PUNONGBAYAN, 17 years of age, a resident of No. 5 Uranus Street, Congressional Avenue Subdivision, Quezon City, duly assisted by private legal counsel and my parents, after having duly sworn in accordance with law, depose and say:

1. That I am the Complainant in the rape case filed against Mayor Bayani `Arthur Alonte of Bian, Laguna, with the RTC-Branch 25 of Bian, Laguna;

2. That the case has been pending for some time, on preliminary issues, specifically, (a) change of venue, filed with the Supreme Court; (b) propriety of the appeal to the Court of Appeals, and after its denial by said court, brought to the Office of the President, on the veracity of the findings of the Five-Man Investigating Panel of the State Prosecutors Office, and the Secretary of Justice, and (c) a hold-departure order filed with the Bian Court;

3. That the legal process moves ever so slowly, and meanwhile, I have already lost two (2) semesters of my college residence. And when the actual trial is held after all the preliminary issues are finally resolved, I anticipate a still indefinite suspension of my schooling to attend the hearings;

4. That during the entire period since I filed the case, my family has lived a most abnormal life: my father and mother had to give up their jobs; my younger brother, who is in fourth grade, had to stop his schooling, like myself;

5. That I do not blame anyone for the long, judicial process, I simply wish to stop and live elsewhere with my family, where we can start life anew, and live normally once again;

6. That I pray that I be allowed to withdraw my complaint for rape and the other charge for child abuse wherein the Five-Man Investigating Panel of the Office of the State Prosecutor found a prima facie case although the information has not been filed, and that I will not at any time revive this, and related cases or file new cases, whether, criminal, civil, and/or administrative, here or anywhere in the Philippines;

7. That I likewise realize that the execution of this Affidavit will put to doubt my credibility as a witness-complainant;

8. That this is my final decision reached without fear or favor, premised on a corresponding commitment that there will be no reprisals in whatever form, against members of the police force or any other official of officer, my relatives and friends who extended assistance to me in whatever way, in my search for justice.

"WHEREOF, I affix my signature this 25 day of June, 1997, in Quezon City.

"(Sgd) JUVIE-LYN Y. PUNONGBAYAN

Complainant

"Assisted by:

(Sgd) ATTY. REMEDIOS C. BALBIN

Private Prosecutor

"In the presence of:

(Sgd) PABLO PUNONGBAYAN

Father

(Sgd) JULIE Y. PUNONGBAYAN

Mother

"SUBSCRIBED AND SWORN to before me this 25 day of June, 1997, in Quezon City.

"(Sgd) Illegible

Administering Officer"[2]

On 28 June 1997, Atty. Ramon C. Casino, on behalf of petitioners, moved to have the petition for change of venue dismissed on the ground that it had become moot in view of complainant's affidavit of desistance. On 22 August 1997, ACSP Guiyab filed his comment on the motion to dismiss. Guiyab asserted that he was not aware of the desistance of private complainant and opined that the desistance, in any case, would not produce any legal effect since it was the public prosecutor who had direction and control of the prosecution of the criminal action. He prayed for the denial of the motion to dismiss.

On 02 September 1997, this Court issued a Resolution (Administrative Matter No. 97-1-12-RTC), granting the petition for change of venue. The Court said:

"These affidavits give specific names, dates, and methods being used to abort, by coercion or corruption, the prosecution of Criminal Case No. 9619-B. It is thus incorrect for oppositors Alonte and Concepcion to contend that the fear of the petitioner, her private counsel and her witnesses are too generalized if not fabricated. Indeed, the probability that in desisting from pursuing her complaint for rape, petitioner, a minor, may have succumbed to some illicit influence and undue pressure. To prevent possible miscarriage of justice is a good excuse to grant the petition to transfer the venue of Criminal Case No. 9619-B from Bian, Laguna to the City of Manila.

"IN VIEW WHEREOF, the Petition for Change of Venue from Bian, Laguna to the City of Manila is granted. The Executive Judge of RTC Manila is ordered to raffle Crim. Case No. 9619-B to any of its branches. The judge to whom Crim. Case No. 9619-B shall be raffled shall resolve the petitioner's Motion to Resume Proceedings filed in Br. XXV of the RTC of Bian, Laguna and determine the voluntariness and validity of petitioner's desistance in light of the opposition of the public prosecutor, Asst. Chief State Prosecutor Leonardo Guiyab. The branch clerk of court of Br. XXV of the RTC of Bian, Laguna is ordered to personally deliver to the Executive Judge of Manila the complete records of Crim. Case No. 9619-B upon receipt of this Resolution."[3]

On 17 September 1997, the case, now re-docketed Criminal Case No. 97-159955 by the Clerk of Court of Manila, was assigned by raffle to Branch 53, RTC Manila, with respondent Judge Maximo A. Savellano, Jr., presiding.

On 07 October 1997, Juvie-lyn Punongbayan, through Attorney Balbin, submitted to the Manila court a "compliance" where she reiterated "her decision to abide by her Affidavit of Desistance."

In an Order, dated 09 October 1997, Judge Savellano found probable cause for the issuance of warrants for the arrest of petitioners Alonte and Concepcion without prejudice to, and independent of, this Courts separate determination as the trier of facts, of the voluntariness and validity of the [private complainant's] desistance in the light of the opposition of the public prosecutor, Asst. Chief State Prosecutor Leonardo Guiyab.

On 02 November 1997, Alonte voluntarily surrendered himself to Director Santiago Toledo of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), while Concepcion, in his case, posted the recommended bail of P150,000.00.

On 07 November 1997, petitioners were arraigned and both pleaded not guilty to the charge. The parties manifested that they were waiving pre-trial. The proceedings forthwith went on. Per Judge Savellano, both parties agreed to proceed with the trial of the case on the merits.[4] According to Alonte, however, Judge Savellano allowed the prosecution to present evidence relative only to the question of the voluntariness and validity of the affidavit of desistance.[5]

It would appear that immediately following the arraignment, the prosecution presented private complainant Juvie-lyn Punongbayan followed by her parents. During this hearing, Punongbayan affirmed the validity and voluntariness of her affidavit of desistance. She stated that she had no intention of giving positive testimony in support of the charges against Alonte and had no interest in further prosecuting the action. Punongbayan confirmed: (i) That she was compelled to desist because of the harassment she was experiencing from the media, (ii) that no pressures nor influence were exerted upon her to sign the affidavit of desistance, and (iii) that neither she nor her parents received a single centavo from anybody to secure the affidavit of desistance.

Assistant State Prosecutor Marilyn Campomanes then presented, in sequence: (i) Punongbayans parents, who affirmed their signatures on the affidavit of desistance and their consent to their daughters decision to desist from the case, and (ii) Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Alberto Nofuente, who attested that the affidavit of desistance was signed by Punongbayan and her parents in his presence and that he was satisfied that the same was executed freely and voluntarily. Finally, Campomanes manifested that in light of the decision of private complainant and her parents not to pursue the case, the State had no further evidence against the accused to prove the guilt of the accused. She, then, moved for the "dismissal of the case" against both Alonte and Concepcion.

Thereupon, respondent judge said that "the case was submitted for decision."[6]

On 10 November 1997, petitioner Alonte filed an "Urgent Motion to Admit to Bail." Assistant State Prosecutor Campomanes, in a Comment filed on the same date, stated that the State interposed no objection to the granting of bail and in fact Justice and Equity dictates that it joins the accused in his prayer for the granting of bail.

Respondent judge did not act on the application for bail.

On 17 November 1997, Alonte filed anew an Urgent Plea to Resolve the Motion for Bail. On even date, ASP Campomanes filed a Manifestation deeming "it proper and in accord with justice and fair play to join the aforestated motion.

Again, the respondent judge did not act on the urgent motion.

The records would indicate that on the 25th November 1997, 1st December 1997, 8th December 1997 and 10th December 1997, petitioner Alonte filed a Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Motion for Early Resolution, respectively, in respect of his application for bail. None of these motions were acted upon by Judge Savellano.

On 17 December 1997, Attorney Philip Sigfrid A. Fortun, the lead counsel for petitioner Alonte received a notice from the RTC Manila, Branch 53, notifying him of the schedule of promulgation, on 18 December 1997, of the decision on the case. The counsel for accused Concepcion denied having received any notice of the scheduled promulgation.

On 18 December 1997, after the case was called, Atty. Sigrid Fortun and Atty. Jose Flaminiano manifested that Alonte could not attend the promulgation of the decision because he was suffering from mild hypertension and was confined at the NBI clinic and that, upon the other hand, petitioner Concepcion and his counsel would appear not to have been notified of the proceedings. The promulgation, nevertheless, of the decision proceeded in absentia; the reading concluded:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered finding the two (2) accused Mayor Bayani Alonte and Buenaventura `Wella Concepcion guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the heinous crime of RAPE, as defined and penalized under Article 335(2) in relation to Article 27 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, for which each one of the them is hereby sentenced to suffer the indivisible penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA or imprisonment for twenty (20) years and one (1) day to forty (40) years.

In view thereof, the bail bond put up by the accused Buenaventura `Wella Concepcion for his provisional liberty is hereby cancelled and rendered without any further force and effect.

SO ORDERED.[7]

On the same day of 18th December 1997, petitioner Alonte filed a motion for reconsideration. Without waiting for its resolution, Alonte filed the instant "Ex Abundante Ad Cautelam" for "Certiorari, Prohibition, Habeas Corpus, Bail, Recusation of respondent Judge, and for Disciplinary Action against an RTC Judge." Petitioner Concepcion later filed his own petition for certiorari and mandamus with the Court.

Alonte submits the following grounds in support of his petition seeking to have the decision nullified and the case remanded for new trial; thus:

The respondent Judge committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when he rendered a Decision in the case a quo (Annex A) without affording the petitioner his Constitutional right to due process of law (Article III, 1, Constitution).

The respondent Judge committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when he rendered a Decision in the case a quo in violation of the mandatory provisions of the Rules on Criminal Procedure, specifically, in the conduct and order of trial (Rule 119) prior to the promulgation of a judgment (Rule 120; Annex A).

The respondent Judge committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when, in total disregard of the Revised Rules on Evidence and existing doctrinal jurisprudence, he rendered a Decision in the case a quo (Annex A) on the basis of two (2) affidavits (Punongbayans and Balbins) which were neither marked nor offered into evidence by the prosecution, nor without giving the petitioner an opportunity to cross-examine the affiants thereof, again in violation of petitioners right to due process (Article III, 1, Constitution).

The respondent Judge committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when he rendered a Decision in the case a quo without conducting a trial on the facts which would establish that complainant was raped by petitioner (Rule 119, Article III, 1, Constitution), thereby setting a dangerous precedent where heinous offenses can result in conviction without trial (then with more reason that simpler offenses could end up with the same result).[8]

On the other hand, Concepcion relies on the following grounds in support of his own petition; thus:

1. The decision of the respondent Judge rendered in the course of resolving the prosecutions motion to dismiss the case is a patent nullity for having been rendered without jurisdiction, without the benefit of a trial and in total violation of the petitioners right to due process of law.

2. There had been no valid promulgation of judgment at least as far as petitioner is concerned.

3. The decision had been rendered in gross violation of the right of the accused to a fair trial by an impartial and neutral judge whose actuations and outlook of the case had been motivated by a sinister desire to ride on the crest of media hype that surrounded this case and use this case as a tool for his ambition for promotion to a higher court.

4. The decision is patently contrary to law and the jurisprudence in so far as it convicts the petitioner as a principal even though he has been charged only as an accomplice in the information.[9]

The petitions deserve some merit; the Court will disregard, in view of the case milieu, the prematurity of petitioners' invocation, i.e., even before the trial court could resolve Alonte's motion for reconsideration.

The Court must admit that it is puzzled by the somewhat strange way the case has proceeded below. Per Judge Savellano, after the waiver by the parties of the pre-trial stage, the trial of the case did proceed on the merits but that -

"The two (2) accused did not present any countervailing evidence during the trial. They did not take the witness stand to refute or deny under oath the truth of the contents of the private complainant's aforementioned affidavit which she expressly affirmed and confirmed in Court, but, instead, thru their respective lawyers, they rested and submitted the case for decision merely on the basis of the private complainant's so called 'desistance' which, to them, was sufficient enough for their purposes. They left everything to the so-called 'desistance' of the private complainant."[10]

According to petitioners, however, there was no such trial for what was conducted on 07 November 1997, aside from the arraignment of the accused, was merely a proceeding in conformity with the resolution of this Court in Administrative Case No. 97-1-12-RTC to determine the validity and voluntariness of the affidavit of desistance executed by Punongbayan.

It does seem to the Court that there has been undue precipitancy in the conduct of the proceedings. Perhaps the problem could have well been avoided had not the basic procedures been, to the Court's perception, taken lightly. And in this shortcoming, looking at the records of the case, the trial court certainly is not alone to blame.

Section 14, paragraphs (1) and (2), of Article III, of the Constitution provides the fundamentals.

"(1) No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.

"(2) In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and shall enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, to have a speedy, impartial, and public trial, to meet the witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence in his behalf. However, after arraignment, trial may proceed notwithstanding the absence of the accused provided that he has been duly notified and his failure to appear is unjustifiable."

Jurisprudence[11] acknowledges that due process in criminal proceedings, in particular, require (a) that the court or tribunal trying the case is properly clothed with judicial power to hear and determine the matter before it; (b) that jurisdiction is lawfully acquired by it over the person of the accused; (c) that the accused is given an opportunity to be heard; and (d) that judgment is rendered only upon lawful hearing.[12]

The above constitutional and jurisprudential postulates, by now elementary and deeply imbedded in our own criminal justice system, are mandatory and indispensable. The principles find universal acceptance and are tersely expressed in the oft-quoted statement that procedural due process cannot possibly be met without a "law which hears before it condemns, which proceeds upon inquiry and renders judgment only after trial."[13]

The order of trial in criminal cases is clearly spelled out in Section 3, Rule 119, of the Rules of Court; viz:

"Sec. 3. Order of trial. - The trial shall proceed in the following order:

"(a) The prosecution shall present evidence to prove the charge and, in the proper case, the civil liability.

"(b) The accused may present evidence to prove his defense, and damages, if any, arising from the issuance of any provisional remedy in the case.

"(c) The parties may then respectively present rebutting evidence only, unless the court, in furtherance of justice, permits them to present additional evidence bearing upon the main issue.

"(d) Upon admission of the evidence, the case shall be deemed submitted for decision unless the court directs the parties to argue orally or to submit memoranda.

"(e) However, when the accused admits the act or omission charged in the complaint or information but interposes a lawful defense, the order of trial may be modified accordingly."

In Tabao vs. Espina,[14] the Court has underscored the need to adhere strictly to the above rules. It reminds that -

"x x x each step in the trial process serves a specific purpose. In the trial of criminal cases, the constitutional presumption of innocence in favor of an accused requires that an accused be given sufficient opportunity to present his defense. So, with the prosecution as to its evidence.

"Hence, any deviation from the regular course of trial should always take into consideration the rights of all the parties to the case, whether in the prosecution or defense. In the exercise of their discretion, judges are sworn not only to uphold the law but also to do what is fair and just. The judicial gavel should not be wielded by one who has an unsound and distorted sense of justice and fairness.[15]

While Judge Savellano has claimed in his Comment that -

"Petitioners-accused were each represented during the hearing on 07 November 1997 with their respective counsel of choice. None of their counsel interposed an intention to cross-examine rape victim Juvielyn Punongbayan, even after she attested, in answer to respondent judge's clarificatory questions, the voluntariness and truth of her two affidavits - one detailing the rape and the other detailing the attempts to buy her desistance; the opportunity was missed/not used, hence waived. The rule of case law is that the right to confront and cross-examine a witness 'is a personal one and may be waived.'" (emphasis supplied) -

it should be pointed out, however, that the existence of the waiver must be positively demonstrated. The standard of waiver requires that it "not only must be voluntary, but must be knowing, intelligent, and done with sufficient awareness of the relevant circumstances and likely consequences."[16] Mere silence of the holder of the right should not be so construed as a waiver of right, and the courts must indulge every reasonable presumption against waiver.[17] The Solicitor General has aptly discerned a few of the deviations from what otherwise should have been the regular course of trial: (1) Petitioners have not been directed to present evidence to prove their defenses nor have dates therefor been scheduled for the purpose;[18] (2) the parties have not been given the opportunity to present rebutting evidence nor have dates been set by respondent Judge for the purpose;[19] and (3) petitioners have not admitted the act charged in the Information so as to justify any modification in the order of trial.[20] There can be no short-cut to the legal process, and there can be no excuse for not affording an accused his full day in court. Due process, rightly occupying the first and foremost place of honor in our Bill of Rights, is an enshrined and invaluable right that cannot be denied even to the most undeserving.

This case, in fine, must be remanded for further proceedings. And, since the case would have to be sent back to the court a quo, this ponencia has carefully avoided making any statement or reference that might be misconstrued as prejudgment or as pre-empting the trial court in the proper disposition of the case. The Court likewise deems it appropriate that all related proceedings therein, including the petition for bail, should be subject to the proper disposition of the trial court.

Nevertheless, it is needful to stress a few observations on the affidavit of desistance executed by the complainant.

Firstly, the affidavit of desistance of Juvie-Lyn Punongbayan, hereinbefore quoted, does not contain any statement that disavows the veracity of her complaint against petitioners but merely seeks to "be allowed to withdraw" her complaint and to discontinue with the case for varied other reasons. On this subject, the case of People vs. Junio,[21] should be instructive. The Court has there explained:

The appellants submission that the execution of an Affidavit of Desistance by complainant who was assisted by her mother supported the `inherent incredibility of prosecutions evidence is specious. We have said in so many cases that retractions are generally unreliable and are looked upon with considerable disfavor by the courts. The unreliable character of this document is shown by the fact that it is quite incredible that after going through the process of having accused-appellant arrested by the police, positively identifying him as the person who raped her, enduring the humiliation of a physical examination of her private parts, and then repeating her accusations in open court by recounting her anguish, Maryjane would suddenly turn around and declare that `[a]fter a careful deliberation over the case, (she) find(s) that the same does not merit or warrant criminal prosecution.

Thus, we have declared that at most the retraction is an afterthought which should not be given probative value. It would be a dangerous rule to reject the testimony taken before the court of justice simply because the witness who has given it later on changed his mind for one reason or another. Such a rule will make a solemn trial a mockery and place the investigation at the mercy of unscrupulous witnesses. Because affidavits of retraction can easily be secured from poor and ignorant witnesses, usually for monetary consideration, the Court has invariably regarded such affidavits as exceedingly unreliable. [Flores vs. People, 211 SCRA 622, citing De Guzman vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 184 SCRA 128; People vs. Galicia, 123 SCRA 550.][22]

The Junio rule is no different from ordinary criminal cases. For instance, in People vs. Ballabare,[23] a murder case, the Court has ruled:

The contention has no merit. To begin with, the Affidavit executed by eyewitness Tessie Asenita is not a recantation. To recant a prior statement is to renounce and withdraw it formally and publicly. [36 WORDS AND PHRASES 683, citing Pradlik vs. State, 41-A 2nd, 906, 907.] In her affidavit, Tessie Asenita did not really recant what she had said during the trial. She only said she wanted to withdraw her testimony because her father, Leonardo Tacadao, Sr., was no longer interested in prosecuting the case against accused-appellant. Thus, her affidavit stated:

3. That inasmuch as my father, Leonardo Tacadao, Sr., the complainant therein, was no longer interested to prosecute the case as manifested in the Sworn Affidavit of Desistance before the Provincial Prosecutor, I do hereby WITHDRAW and/or REVOKE my testimony of record to confirm (sic) with my fathers desire;

It is absurd to disregard a testimony that has undergone trial and scrutiny by the court and the parties simply because an affidavit withdrawing the testimony is subsequently presented by the defense. In the first place, any recantation must be tested in a public trial with sufficient opportunity given to the party adversely affected by it to cross-examine the recanting witness. In this case, Tessie Asenita was not recalled to the witness stand to testify on her affidavit. Her affidavit is thus hearsay. It was her husband, Roque Asenita, who was presented and the matters he testified to did not even bear on the substance of Tessies affidavit. He testified that accused-appellant was not involved in the perpetration of the crime.

In the second place, to accept the new evidence uncritically would be to make a solemn trial a mockery and place the investigation at the mercy of unscrupulous witnesses. [De Guzman vs. Intermediate Appellate Court, 184 SCRA 128, 134, citing People vs. Morales, 113 SCRA 683.] For even assuming that Tessie Asenita had made a retraction, this circumstance alone does not require the court to disregard her original testimony. A retraction does not necessarily negate an earlier declaration. [People vs. Davatos, 229 SCRA 647.] For this reason, courts look with disfavor upon retractions because they can easily be obtained from witnesses usually through intimidation or for monetary considerations. [People vs. Clamor, 198 SCRA 642.] Hence, when confronted with a situation where a witness recants his testimony, courts must not automatically exclude the original testimony solely on the basis of the recantation. They should determine which testimony should be given credence through a comparison of the original testimony and the new testimony, applying the general rules of evidence. [Reano vs. Court of Appeals, 165 SCRA 525.] In this case we think the trial court correctly ruled.[24]

It may not be amiss to state that courts have the inherent power to compel the attendance of any person to testify in a case pending before it, and a party is not precluded from invoking that authority.[25]

Secondly, an affidavit of desistance by itself, even when construed as a pardon in the so-called "private crimes," is not a ground for the dismissal of the criminal case once the action has been instituted. The affidavit, nevertheless, may, as so earlier intimated, possibly constitute evidence whose weight or probative value, like any other piece of evidence, would be up to the court for proper evaluation. The decision in Junio went on to hold -

While `[t]he offenses of seduction, abduction, rape or acts of lasciviousness, shall not be prosecuted except upon a complaint filed by the offended party or her parents, grandparents, or guardian, nor in any case, if the offender has been expressly pardoned by the above named persons, as the case may be, [Third par. of Art. 344, The Revised Penal Code.] the pardon to justify the dismissal of the complaint should have been made prior to the institution of the criminal action. [People vs. Entes, 103 SCRA 162, cited by People vs. Soliao, 194 SCRA 250, which in turn is cited in People vs. Villorente, 210 SCRA 647.] Here, the motion to dismiss to which the affidavit of desistance is attached was filed after the institution of the criminal case. And, affiant did not appear to be serious in `signifying (her) intention to refrain from testifying since she still completed her testimony notwithstanding her earlier affidavit of desistance. More, the affidavit is suspect considering that while it was dated `April 1992, it was only submitted sometime in August 1992, four (4) months after the Information was filed before the court a quo on 6 April 1992, perhaps dated as such to coincide with the actual filing of the case.[26]

In People vs. Miranda,[27] applying the pertinent provisions of Article 344 of the Revised Penal Code which, in full, states -

"Art. 344. Prosecution of the crimes of adultery, concubinage, seduction, abduction, rape, and acts of lasciviousness. The crimes of adultery and concubinage shall not be prosecuted except upon a complaint filed by the offended spouse.

"The offended party cannot institute criminal prosecution without including both the guilty parties, if they are both alive, nor, in any case, if he shall have consented or pardoned the offenders.

"The offenses of seduction, abduction, rape or acts of lasciviousness, shall not be prosecuted except upon a complaint filed by the offended party or her parents, grandparents, or guardian, nor, in any case, if the offender has been expressly pardoned by the above named persons, as the case may be.

"In cases of seduction, abduction, acts of lasciviousness and rape, the marriage of the offender with the offended party shall extinguish the criminal action or remit the penalty already imposed upon him. The provisions of this paragraph shall also be applicable to the coprincipals, accomplices and accessories after the fact of the above-mentioned crimes." -

the Court said:

"Paragraph 3 of the legal provision above quoted prohibits a prosecution for seduction, abduction, rape, or acts of lasciviousness, except upon a complaint made by the offended party or her parents, grandparents, or guardian, nor, in any case, if the offender has been expressly pardoned by the above-named persons, as the case may be. It does not prohibit the continuance of a prosecution if the offended party pardons the offender after the cause has been instituted, nor does it order the dismissal of said cause. The only act that according to article 344 extinguishes the penal action and the penalty that may have been imposed is the marriage between the offended and the offended party."[28]

In People vs. Infante,[29] decided just a little over a month before Miranda, the Court similarly held:

"In this court, after the case had been submitted, a motion to dismiss was filed on behalf of the appellant predicated on an affidavit executed by Manuel Artigas, Jr., in which he pardoned his guilty spouse for her infidelity. But this attempted pardon cannot prosper for two reasons. The second paragraph of article 344 of the Revised Penal Code which is in question reads: 'The offended party cannot institute criminal prosecution without including both the guilty parties, if they are both alive, nor, in any case, if he shall have consented or pardoned the offenders.' This provision means that the pardon afforded the offenders must come before the institution of the criminal prosecution, and means, further, that both the offenders must be pardoned by the offended party. To elucidate further, article 435 of the old Penal Code provided: 'The husband may at any time remit the penalty imposed upon his wife. In such case the penalty imposed upon the wife's paramour shall also be deemed to be remitted.' These provisions of the old Penal Code became inoperative after the passage of Act No. 1773, section 2, which had the effect of repealing the same. The Revised Penal Code thereafter expressly repealed the old Penal Code, and in so doing did not have the effect of reviving any of its provisions which were not in force. But with the incorporation of the second paragraph of article 344, the pardon given by the offended party again constitutes a bar to the prosecution for adultery. Once more, however, it must be emphasized that this pardon must come before the institution of the criminal prosecution and must be for both offenders to be effective - circumstances which do not concur in this case."[30]

The decisions speak well for themselves, and the Court need not say more than what it has heretofore already held.

Relative to the prayer for the disqualification of Judge Savellano from further hearing the case, the Court is convinced that Judge Savellano should, given the circumstances, be best excused from the case. Possible animosity between the personalities here involved may not all be that unlikely. The pronouncement of this Court in the old case of Luque vs. Kayanan[31] could again be said: All suitors are entitled to nothing short of the cold neutrality of an independent, wholly-free, disinterested and unbiased tribunal. Second only to the duty of rendering a just decision is the duty of doing it in a manner that will not arouse any suspicion as to the fairness and integrity of the Judge.[32] It is not enough that a court is impartial, it must also be perceived as impartial.

The Court cannot end this ponencia without a simple reminder on the use of proper language before the courts. While the lawyer in promoting the cause of his client or defending his rights might do so with fervor, simple courtesy demands that it be done within the bounds of propriety and decency. The use of intemperate language and unkind ascriptions hardly can be justified nor can have a place in the dignity of judicial forum. Civility among members of the legal profession is a treasured tradition that must at no time be lost to it.

Finally, it may be opportune to say, once again, that prosecutors are expected not merely to discharge their duties with the highest degree of excellence, professionalism and skill but also to act each time with utmost devotion and dedication to duty.[33] The Court is hopeful that the zeal which has been exhibited many times in the past, although regrettably a disappointment on few occasions, will not be wanting in the proceedings yet to follow.

WHEREFORE, conformably with all the foregoing, the Court hereby RULES that -

(a) The submission of the "Affidavit of Desistance," executed by Juvie-Lyn Y. Punongbayan on 25 June 1997, having been filed AFTER the institution of Criminal Case No. 97-159935, DOES NOT WARRANT THE DISMISSAL of said criminal case;

(b) For FAILURE OF DUE PROCESS, the assailed judgment, dated 12 December 1997, convicting petitioners is declared NULL AND VOID and thereby SET ASIDE; accordingly, the case is REMANDED to the trial court for further proceedings; and

(c) Judge Maximo A. Savellano, Jr., presiding Judge of Branch 53 of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, is ENJOINED from further hearing Criminal Case No. 97-159935; instead, the case shall immediately be scheduled for raffle among the other branches of that court for proper disposition.

No special pronouncement on costs.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, Kapunan, Martinez, Quisumbing and Purisima, JJ., concur.

Narvasa, C.J., no part. Related to one of counsel.

Puno, J., see separate opinion.

Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Mendoza and Panganiban, JJ., joins Justice Puno in his separate opinion.



[1] Rollo of G.R. No. 131728, pp. 20-21.

[2] Rollo of G.R. No. 131728, pp. 34-35.

[3] Rollo of G.R. No. 131652, pp. 72-73

[4] Rollo of G.R. No. 131652, p. 42.

[5] Rollo, p. 7.

[6] TSN, 07 November 1997, p. 70.

[7] Rollo of G.R. No. 131652, pp. 65-66.

[8] Rollo of G.R. No. 131652, pp. 13-14.

[9] Rollo of G.R. No. 131728, p. 10.

[10] Rollo, p. 64.

[11] People vs. Dapitan, 197 SCRA 378.

[12] At p. 388.

[13] Darmouth College vs. Woodward, 4 Wheaton 518, citing Webster.

[14] 257 SCRA 298.

[15] At pp. 305-306.

[16] Brady vs. United States, 397 U.S. 742 (1970)

[17] Aetna Insurance Co. vs. Kennedy, 301 U.S. 389 (1937)

[18] Rules of Court, Rule 119, Sec. 3(b).

[19] Ibid., Sec. 3(c).

[20] Ibid., Sec. 3(e).

[21] 237 SCRA 826.

[22] At p. 834.

[23] 264 SCRA 350.

[24] At pp. 360-361.

[25] See Section 5(e), Rule 135, Rules of Court.

[26] 237 SCRA 826, 835.

[27] 57 Phil. 274.

[28] At p. 275.

[29] 57 Phil. 138.

[30] At pp. 139-140.

[31] 29 SCRA 165.

[32] Gutierrez vs. Santos, 30 May 1961. The excerpt was quoted in Austria vs. Masaquel, 31 August 1967.

[33] Section 4 (b), Republic Act No. 6713, entitled Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.