EN BANC

[G.R. No. 149453. April 1, 2003]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, THE SECRETARY OF JUSTICE, DIRECTOR GENERAL OF THE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE, CHIEF STATE PROSECUTOR JOVENCITO ZUO, STATE PROSECUTORS PETER L. ONG and RUBEN A. ZACARIAS; 2ND ASSISTANT CITY PROSECUTOR CONRADO M. JAMOLIN and CITY PROSECUTOR OF QUEZON CITY CLARO ARELLANO, petitioners, vs. PANFILO M. LACSON, respondent.

R E S O L U T I O N

CALLEJO, SR., J.:

Before the Court is the petitioners Motion for Reconsideration[1] of the Resolution[2] dated May 28, 2002, remanding this case to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 81, for the determination of several factual issues relative to the application of Section 8 of Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure on the dismissal of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689 filed against the respondent and his co-accused with the said court. In the aforesaid criminal cases, the respondent and his co-accused were charged with multiple murder for the shooting and killing of eleven male persons identified as Manuel Montero, a former Corporal of the Philippine Army, Rolando Siplon, Sherwin Abalora, who was 16 years old, Ray Abalora, who was 19 years old, Joel Amora, Jevy Redillas, Meleubren Sorronda, who was 14 years old,[3] Pacifico Montero, Jr., of the 44th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army, Welbor Elcamel, SPO1 Carlito Alap-ap of the Zamboanga PNP, and Alex Neri, former Corporal of the 44th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army, bandied as members of the Kuratong Baleleng Gang. The respondent opposed petitioners motion for reconsideration.[4]

The Court ruled in the Resolution sought to be reconsidered that the provisional dismissal of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689 were with the express consent of the respondent as he himself moved for said provisional dismissal when he filed his motion for judicial determination of probable cause and for examination of witnesses. The Court also held therein that although Section 8, Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure could be given retroactive effect, there is still a need to determine whether the requirements for its application are attendant. The trial court was thus directed to resolve the following:

... (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 it has already lapsed; (4) whether there is any justification for the filing of the cases beyond the 2-year period; (5) whether notices to the offended parties were given before the cases of respondent Lacson were dismissed by then Judge Agnir; (6) whether there were affidavits of desistance executed by the relatives of the three (3) other victims; (7) whether the multiple murder cases against respondent Lacson are being revived within or beyond the 2-year bar.

The Court further held that the reckoning date of the two-year bar had to be first determined whether it shall be from the date of the order of then Judge Agnir, Jr. dismissing the cases, or from the dates of receipt thereof by the various offended parties, or from the date of effectivity of the new rule. According to the Court, if the cases were revived only after the two-year bar, the State must be given the opportunity to justify its failure to comply with the said time-bar. It emphasized that the new rule fixes a time-bar to penalize the State for its inexcusable delay in prosecuting cases already filed in court. However, the State is not precluded from presenting compelling reasons to justify the revival of cases beyond the two-year bar.

In support of their Motion for Reconsideration, the petitioners contend that (a) Section 8, Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure is not applicable to Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689; and (b) the time-bar in said rule should not be applied retroactively.

The Court shall resolve the issues seriatim.

I. SECTION 8, RULE 117 OF THE REVISED RULES OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE IS NOT APPLICABLE TO CRIMINAL CASES NOS. Q-99-81679 TO Q-99-81689.

The petitioners aver that Section 8, Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure is not applicable to Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689 because the essential requirements for its application were not present when Judge Agnir, Jr., issued his resolution of March 29, 1999. Disagreeing with the ruling of the Court, the petitioners maintain that the respondent did not give his express consent to the dismissal by Judge Agnir, Jr., of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689. The respondent allegedly admitted in his pleadings filed with the Court of Appeals and during the hearing thereat that he did not file any motion to dismiss said cases, or even agree to a provisional dismissal thereof. Moreover, the heirs of the victims were allegedly not given prior notices of the dismissal of the said cases by Judge Agnir, Jr. According to the petitioners, the respondents express consent to the provisional dismissal of the cases and the notice to all the heirs of the victims of the respondents motion and the hearing thereon are conditions sine qua non to the application of the time-bar in the second paragraph of the new rule.

The petitioners further submit that it is not necessary that the case be remanded to the RTC to determine whether private complainants were notified of the March 22, 1999 hearing on the respondents motion for judicial determination of the existence of probable cause. The records allegedly indicate clearly that only the handling city prosecutor was furnished a copy of the notice of hearing on said motion. There is allegedly no evidence that private prosecutor Atty. Godwin Valdez was properly retained and authorized by all the private complainants to represent them at said hearing. It is their contention that Atty. Valdez merely identified the purported affidavits of desistance and that he did not confirm the truth of the allegations therein.

The respondent, on the other hand, insists that, as found by the Court in its Resolution and Judge Agnir, Jr. in his resolution, the respondent himself moved for the provisional dismissal of the criminal cases. He cites the resolution of Judge Agnir, Jr. stating that the respondent and the other accused filed separate but identical motions for the dismissal of the criminal cases should the trial court find no probable cause for the issuance of warrants of arrest against them.

The respondent further asserts that the heirs of the victims, through the public and private prosecutors, were duly notified of said motion and the hearing thereof. He contends that it was sufficient that the public prosecutor was present during the March 22, 1999 hearing on the motion for judicial determination of the existence of probable cause because criminal actions are always prosecuted in the name of the People, and the private complainants merely prosecute the civil aspect thereof.

The Court has reviewed the records and has found the contention of the petitioners meritorious.

Section 8, Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure reads:

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.

Having invoked said rule before the petitioners-panel of prosecutors and before the Court of Appeals, the respondent is burdened to establish the essential requisites of the first paragraph thereof, namely:

1. the prosecution with the express conformity of the accused or the accused moves for a provisional (sin perjuicio) dismissal of the case; or both the prosecution and the accused move for a provisional dismissal of the case;

2. the offended party is notified of the motion for a provisional dismissal of the case;

3. the court issues an order granting the motion and dismissing the case provisionally;

4. the public prosecutor is served with a copy of the order of provisional dismissal of the case.

The foregoing requirements are conditions sine qua non to the application of the time-bar in the second paragraph of the new rule. The raison d etre for the requirement of the express consent of the accused to a provisional dismissal of a criminal case is to bar him from subsequently asserting that the revival of the criminal case will place him in double jeopardy for the same offense or for an offense necessarily included therein.[5]

Although the second paragraph of the new rule states that the order of dismissal shall become permanent one year after the issuance thereof without the case having been revived, the provision should be construed to mean that the order of dismissal shall become permanent one year after service of the order of dismissal on the public prosecutor who has control of the prosecution[6] without the criminal case having been revived. The public prosecutor cannot be expected to comply with the timeline unless he is served with a copy of the order of dismissal.

Express consent to a provisional dismissal is given either viva voce or in writing. It is a positive, direct, unequivocal consent requiring no inference or implication to supply its meaning.[7] Where the accused writes on the motion of a prosecutor for a provisional dismissal of the case No objection or With my conformity, the writing amounts to express consent of the accused to a provisional dismissal of the case.[8] The mere inaction or silence of the accused to a motion for a provisional dismissal of the case[9] or his failure to object to a provisional dismissal[10] does not amount to express consent.

A motion of the accused for a provisional dismissal of a case is an express consent to such provisional dismissal.[11] If a criminal case is provisionally dismissed with the express consent of the accused, the case may be revived only within the periods provided in the new rule. On the other hand, if a criminal case is provisionally dismissed without the express consent of the accused or over his objection, the new rule would not apply. The case may be revived or refiled even beyond the prescribed periods subject to the right of the accused to oppose the same on the ground of double jeopardy[12] or that such revival or refiling is barred by the statute of limitations.[13]

The case may be revived by the State within the time-bar either by the refiling of the Information or by the filing of a new Information for the same offense or an offense necessarily included therein. There would be no need of a new preliminary investigation.[14] However, in a case wherein after the provisional dismissal of a criminal case, the original witnesses of the prosecution or some of them may have recanted their testimonies or may have died or may no longer be available and new witnesses for the State have emerged, a new preliminary investigation[15] must be conducted before an Information is refiled or a new Information is filed. A new preliminary investigation is also required if aside from the original accused, other persons are charged under a new criminal complaint for the same offense or necessarily included therein; or if under a new criminal complaint, the original charge has been upgraded; or if under a new criminal complaint, the criminal liability of the accused is upgraded from that as an accessory to that as a principal. The accused must be accorded the right to submit counter-affidavits and evidence. After all, the fiscal is not called by the Rules of Court to wait in ambush; the role of a fiscal is not mainly to prosecute but essentially to do justice to every man and to assist the court in dispensing that justice.[16]

In this case, the respondent has failed to prove that the first and second requisites of the first paragraph of the new rule were present when Judge Agnir, Jr. dismissed Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689. Irrefragably, the prosecution did not file any motion for the provisional dismissal of the said criminal cases. For his part, the respondent merely filed a motion for judicial determination of probable cause and for examination of prosecution witnesses alleging that under Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution and the decision of this Court in Allado v. Diokno,[17] among other cases, there was a need for the trial court to conduct a personal determination of probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest against respondent and to have the prosecutions witnesses summoned before the court for its examination. The respondent contended therein that until after the trial court shall have personally determined the presence of probable cause, no warrant of arrest should be issued against the respondent and if one had already been issued, the warrant should be recalled by the trial court. He then prayed therein that:

1) a judicial determination of probable cause pursuant to Section 2, Article III of the Constitution be conducted by this Honorable Court, and for this purpose, an order be issued directing the prosecution to present the private complainants and their witnesses at a hearing scheduled therefor; and

2) warrants for the arrest of the accused-movants be withheld, or, if issued, recalled in the meantime until the resolution of this incident.

Other equitable reliefs are also prayed for.[18]

The respondent did not pray for the dismissal, provisional or otherwise, of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689. Neither did he ever agree, impliedly or expressly, to a mere provisional dismissal of the cases. In fact, in his reply filed with the Court of Appeals, respondent emphasized that:

... An examination of the Motion for Judicial Determination of Probable Cause and for Examination of Prosecution Witnesses filed by the petitioner and his other co-accused in the said criminal cases would show that the petitioner did not pray for the dismissal of the case. On the contrary, the reliefs prayed for therein by the petitioner are: (1) a judicial determination of probable cause pursuant to Section 2, Article III of the Constitution; and (2) that warrants for the arrest of the accused be withheld, or if issued, recalled in the meantime until the resolution of the motion. It cannot be said, therefore, that the dismissal of the case was made with the consent of the petitioner. A copy of the aforesaid motion is hereto attached and made integral part hereof as Annex A.[19]

During the hearing in the Court of Appeals on July 31, 2001, the respondent, through counsel, categorically, unequivocally, and definitely declared that he did not file any motion to dismiss the criminal cases nor did he agree to a provisional dismissal thereof, thus:

JUSTICE SALONGA:

And it is your stand that the dismissal made by the Court was provisional in nature?

ATTY. FORTUN:

It was in (sic) that the accused did not ask for it. What they wanted at the onset was simply a judicial determination of probable cause for warrants of arrest issued. Then Judge Agnir, upon the presentation by the parties of their witnesses, particularly those who had withdrawn their affidavits, made one further conclusion that not only was this case lacking in probable cause for purposes of the issuance of an arrest warrant but also it did not justify proceeding to trial.

JUSTICE SALONGA:

And it is expressly provided under Section 8 that a case shall not be provisionally dismissed except when it is with the express conformity of the accused.

ATTY. FORTUN:

That is correct, Your Honor.

JUSTICE SALONGA:

And with notice to the offended party.

ATTY. FORTUN:

That is correct, Your Honor.

JUSTICE SALONGA:

Was there an express conformity on the part of the accused?

ATTY. FORTUN:

There was none, Your Honor. We were not asked to sign any order, or any statement, which would normally be required by the Court on pre-trial or on other matters, including other provisional dismissal. My very limited practice in criminal courts, Your Honor, had taught me that a judge must be very careful on this matter of provisional dismissal. In fact they ask the accused to come forward, and the judge himself or herself explains the implications of a provisional dismissal. Pumapayag ka ba dito. Puwede bang pumirma ka?

JUSTICE ROSARIO:

You were present during the proceedings?

ATTY. FORTUN:

Yes, Your Honor.

JUSTICE ROSARIO:

You represented the petitioner in this case?

ATTY. FORTUN:

That is correct, Your Honor. And there was nothing of that sort which the good Judge Agnir, who is most knowledgeable in criminal law, had done in respect of provisional dismissal or the matter of Mr. Lacson agreeing to the provisional dismissal of the case.

JUSTICE GUERRERO:

Now, you filed a motion, the other accused then filed a motion for a judicial determination of probable cause?

ATTY. FORTUN:

Yes, Your Honor.

JUSTICE GUERRERO:

Did you make any alternative prayer in your motion that if there is no probable cause what should the Court do?

ATTY. FORTUN:

That the arrest warrants only be withheld. That was the only prayer that we asked. In fact, I have a copy of that particular motion, and if I may read my prayer before the Court, it said: Wherefore, it is respectfully prayed that (1) a judicial determination of probable cause pursuant to Section 2, Article III of the Constitution be conducted, and for this purpose, an order be issued directing the prosecution to present the private complainants and their witnesses at the scheduled hearing for that purpose; and (2) the warrants for the arrest of the accused be withheld, or, if issued, recalled in the meantime until resolution of this incident.

JUSTICE GUERRERO:

There is no general prayer for any further relief?

ATTY. FORTUN:

There is but it simply says other equitable reliefs are prayed for.

JUSTICE GUERRERO:

Dont you surmise Judge Agnir, now a member of this Court, precisely addressed your prayer for just and equitable relief to dismiss the case because what would be the net effect of a situation where there is no warrant of arrest being issued without dismissing the case?

ATTY. FORTUN:

Yes, Your Honor. I will not second say (sic) yes the Good Justice, but what is plain is we did not agree to the provisional dismissal, neither were we asked to sign any assent to the provisional dismissal.

JUSTICE GUERRERO:

If you did not agree to the provisional dismissal did you not file any motion for reconsideration of the order of Judge Agnir that the case should be dismissed?

ATTY. FORTUN:

I did not, Your Honor, because I knew fully well at that time that my client had already been arraigned, and the arraignment was valid as far as I was concerned. So, the dismissal, Your Honor, by Judge Agnir operated to benefit me, and therefore I did not take any further step in addition to rocking the boat or clarifying the matter further because it probably could prejudice the interest of my client.

JUSTICE GUERRERO:

Continue.[20]

In his memorandum in lieu of the oral argument filed with the Court of Appeals, the respondent declared in no uncertain terms that:

Soon thereafter, the SC in early 1999 rendered a decision declaring the Sandiganbayan without jurisdiction over the cases. The records were remanded to the QC RTC: Upon raffle, the case was assigned to Branch 81. Petitioner and the others promptly filed a motion for judicial determination of probable cause (Annex B). He asked that warrants for his arrest not be issued. He did not move for the dismissal of the Informations, contrary to respondent OSGs claim.[21]

The respondents admissions made in the course of the proceedings in the Court of Appeals are binding and conclusive on him. The respondent is barred from repudiating his admissions absent evidence of palpable mistake in making such admissions.[22]

To apply the new rule in Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689 would be to add to or make exceptions from the new rule which are not expressly or impliedly included therein. This the Court cannot and should not do.[23]

The Court also agrees with the petitioners contention that no notice of any motion for the provisional dismissal of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689 or of the hearing thereon was served on the heirs of the victims at least three days before said hearing as mandated by Rule 15, Section 4 of the Rules of Court. It must be borne in mind that in crimes involving private interests, the new rule requires that the offended party or parties or the heirs of the victims must be given adequate a priori notice of any motion for the provisional dismissal of the criminal case. Such notice may be served on the offended party or the heirs of the victim through the private prosecutor, if there is one, or through the public prosecutor who in turn must relay the notice to the offended party or the heirs of the victim to enable them to confer with him before the hearing or appear in court during the hearing. The proof of such service must be shown during the hearing on the motion, otherwise, the requirement of the new rule will become illusory. Such notice will enable the offended party or the heirs of the victim the opportunity to seasonably and effectively comment on or object to the motion on valid grounds, including: (a) the collusion between the prosecution and the accused for the provisional dismissal of a criminal case thereby depriving the State of its right to due process; (b) attempts to make witnesses unavailable; or (c) the provisional dismissal of the case with the consequent release of the accused from detention would enable him to threaten and kill the offended party or the other prosecution witnesses or flee from Philippine jurisdiction, provide opportunity for the destruction or loss of the prosecutions physical and other evidence and prejudice the rights of the offended party to recover on the civil liability of the accused by his concealment or furtive disposition of his property or the consequent lifting of the writ of preliminary attachment against his property.

In the case at bar, even if the respondents motion for a determination of probable cause and examination of witnesses may be considered for the nonce as his motion for a provisional dismissal of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689, however, the heirs of the victims were not notified thereof prior to the hearing on said motion on March 22, 1999. It must be stressed that the respondent filed his motion only on March 17, 1999 and set it for hearing on March 22, 1999 or barely five days from the filing thereof. Although the public prosecutor was served with a copy of the motion, the records do not show that notices thereof were separately given to the heirs of the victims or that subpoenae were issued to and received by them, including those who executed their affidavits of desistance who were residents of Dipolog City or Pian, Zamboanga del Norte or Palompon, Leyte.[24] There is as well no proof in the records that the public prosecutor notified the heirs of the victims of said motion or of the hearing thereof on March 22, 1999. Although Atty. Valdez entered his appearance as private prosecutor,[25] he did so only for some but not all the close kins of the victims, namely, Nenita Alap-ap, Imelda Montero, Margarita Redillas, Rufino Siplon, Carmelita Elcamel, Myrna Abalora, and Leonora Amora who (except for Rufino Siplon)[26] executed their respective affidavits of desistance.[27] There was no appearance for the heirs of Alex Neri, Pacifico Montero, Jr., and Meleubren Sorronda. There is no proof on record that all the heirs of the victims were served with copies of the resolution of Judge Agnir, Jr. dismissing the said cases. In fine, there never was any attempt on the part of the trial court, the public prosecutor and/or the private prosecutor to notify all the heirs of the victims of the respondents motion and the hearing thereon and of the resolution of Judge Agnir, Jr. dismissing said cases. The said heirs were thus deprived of their right to be heard on the respondents motion and to protect their interests either in the trial court or in the appellate court.

Since the conditions sine qua non for the application of the new rule were not present when Judge Agnir, Jr. issued his resolution, the State is not barred by the time limit set forth in the second paragraph of Section 8 of Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. The State can thus revive or refile Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689 or file new Informations for multiple murder against the respondent.

II. THE TIME-BAR IN SECTION 8, RULE 117 OF THE REVISED RULES OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE SHOULD NOT BE APPLIED RETROACTIVELY.

The petitioners contend that even on the assumption that the respondent expressly consented to a provisional dismissal of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689 and all the heirs of the victims were notified of the respondents motion before the hearing thereon and were served with copies of the resolution of Judge Agnir, Jr. dismissing the eleven cases, the two-year bar in Section 8 of Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure should be applied prospectively and not retroactively against the State. To apply the time limit retroactively to the criminal cases against the respondent and his co-accused would violate the right of the People to due process, and unduly impair, reduce, and diminish the States substantive right to prosecute the accused for multiple murder. They posit that under Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code, the State had twenty years within which to file the criminal complaints against the accused. However, under the new rule, the State only had two years from notice of the public prosecutor of the order of dismissal of Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689 within which to revive the said cases. When the new rule took effect on December 1, 2000, the State only had one year and three months within which to revive the cases or refile the Informations. The period for the State to charge respondent for multiple murder under Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code was considerably and arbitrarily reduced. They submit that in case of conflict between the Revised Penal Code and the new rule, the former should prevail. They also insist that the State had consistently relied on the prescriptive periods under Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code. It was not accorded a fair warning that it would forever be barred beyond the two-year period by a retroactive application of the new rule.[28] Petitioners thus pray to the Court to set aside its Resolution of May 28, 2002.

For his part, the respondent asserts that the new rule under Section 8 of Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure may be applied retroactively since there is no substantive right of the State that may be impaired by its application to the criminal cases in question since [t]he States witnesses were ready, willing and able to provide their testimony but the prosecution failed to act on these cases until it became politically expedient in April 2001 for them to do so.[29] According to the respondent, penal laws, either procedural or substantive, may be retroactively applied so long as they favor the accused.[30] He asserts that the two-year period commenced to run on March 29, 1999 and lapsed two years thereafter was more than reasonable opportunity for the State to fairly indict him.[31] In any event, the State is given the right under the Courts assailed Resolution to justify the filing of the Information in Criminal Cases Nos. 01-101102 to 01-101112 beyond the time-bar under the new rule.

The respondent insists that Section 8 of Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure does not broaden the substantive right of double jeopardy to the prejudice of the State because the prohibition against the revival of the cases within the one-year or two-year periods provided therein is a legal concept distinct from the prohibition against the revival of a provisionally dismissed case within the periods stated in Section 8 of Rule 117. Moreover, he claims that the effects of a provisional dismissal under said rule do not modify or negate the operation of the prescriptive period under Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code. Prescription under the Revised Penal Code simply becomes irrelevant upon the application of Section 8, Rule 117 because a complaint or information has already been filed against the accused, which filing tolls the running of the prescriptive period under Article 90.[32]

The Court agrees with the respondent that the new rule is not a statute of limitations. Statutes of limitations are construed as acts of grace, and a surrender by the sovereign of its right to prosecute or of its right to prosecute at its discretion. Such statutes are considered as equivalent to acts of amnesty founded on the liberal theory that prosecutions should not be allowed to ferment endlessly in the files of the government to explode only after witnesses and proofs necessary for the protection of the accused have by sheer lapse of time passed beyond availability.[33] The periods fixed under such statutes are jurisdictional and are essential elements of the offenses covered.[34]

On the other hand, the time-bar under Section 8 of Rule 117 is akin to a special procedural limitation qualifying the right of the State to prosecute making the time-bar an essence of the given right or as an inherent part thereof, so that the lapse of the time-bar operates to extinguish the right of the State to prosecute the accused.[35]

The time-bar under the new rule does not reduce the periods under Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code, a substantive law.[36] It is but a limitation of the right of the State to revive a criminal case against the accused after the Information had been filed but subsequently provisionally dismissed with the express consent of the accused. Upon the lapse of the timeline under the new rule, the State is presumed, albeit disputably, to have abandoned or waived its right to revive the case and prosecute the accused. The dismissal becomes ipso facto permanent. He can no longer be charged anew for the same crime or another crime necessarily included therein.[37] He is spared from the anguish and anxiety as well as the expenses in any new indictments.[38] The State may revive a criminal case beyond the one-year or two-year periods provided that there is a justifiable necessity for the delay.[39] By the same token, if a criminal case is dismissed on motion of the accused because the trial is not concluded within the period therefor, the prescriptive periods under the Revised Penal Code are not thereby diminished.[40] But whether or not the prosecution of the accused is barred by the statute of limitations or by the lapse of the time-line under the new rule, the effect is basically the same. As the State Supreme Court of Illinois held:

This, in effect, enacts that when the specified period shall have arrived, the right of the state to prosecute shall be gone, and the liability of the offender to be punishedto be deprived of his libertyshall cease. Its terms not only strike down the right of action which the state had acquired by the offense, but also remove the flaw which the crime had created in the offenders title to liberty. In this respect, its language goes deeper than statutes barring civil remedies usually do. They expressly take away only the remedy by suit, and that inferentially is held to abate the right which such remedy would enforce, and perfect the title which such remedy would invade; but this statute is aimed directly at the very right which the state has against the offenderthe right to punish, as the only liability which the offender has incurred, and declares that this right and this liability are at an end. [41]

The Court agrees with the respondent that procedural laws may be applied retroactively. As applied to criminal law, procedural law provides or regulates the steps by which one who has committed a crime is to be punished. In Tan, Jr. v. Court of Appeals,[42] this Court held that:

Statutes regulating the procedure of the courts will be construed as applicable to actions pending and undetermined at the time of their passage. Procedural laws are retroactive in that sense and to that extent. The fact that procedural statutes may somehow affect the litigants rights may not preclude their retroactive application to pending actions. The retroactive application of procedural laws is not violative of any right of a person who may feel that he is adversely affected. Nor is the retroactive application of procedural statutes constitutionally objectionable. The reason is that as a general rule no vested right may attach to, nor arise from, procedural laws. It has been held that a person has no vested right in any particular remedy, and a litigant cannot insist on the application to the trial of his case, whether civil or criminal, of any other than the existing rules of procedure.

It further ruled therein that a procedural law may not be applied retroactively if to do so would work injustice or would involve intricate problems of due process or impair the independence of the Court. In a per curiam decision in Cipriano v. City of Houma,[43] the United States Supreme Court ruled that where a decision of the court would produce substantial inequitable results if applied retroactively, there is ample basis for avoiding the injustice of hardship by a holding of nonretroactivity.[44] A construction of which a statute is fairly susceptible is favored, which will avoid all objectionable, mischievous, indefensible, wrongful, and injurious consequences.[45] This Court should not adopt an interpretation of a statute which produces absurd, unreasonable, unjust, or oppressive results if such interpretation could be avoided.[46] Time and again, this Court has decreed that statutes are to be construed in light of the purposes to be achieved and the evils sought to be remedied. In construing a statute, the reason for the enactment should be kept in mind and the statute should be construed with reference to the intended scope and purpose.[47]

Remedial legislation, or procedural rule, or doctrine of the Court designed to enhance and implement the constitutional rights of parties in criminal proceedings may be applied retroactively or prospectively depending upon several factors, such as the history of the new rule, its purpose and effect, and whether the retrospective application will further its operation, the particular conduct sought to be remedied and the effect thereon in the administration of justice and of criminal laws in particular.[48] In a per curiam decision in Stefano v. Woods,[49] the United States Supreme Court catalogued the factors in determining whether a new rule or doctrine enunciated by the High Court should be given retrospective or prospective effect:

(a) the purpose to be served by the new standards, (b) the extent of the reliance by law enforcement authorities on the old standards, and (c) the effect on the administration of justice of a retroactive application of the new standards.

In this case, the Court agrees with the petitioners that the time-bar of two years under the new rule should not be applied retroactively against the State.

In the new rule in question, as now construed by the Court, it has fixed a time-bar of one year or two years for the revival of criminal cases provisionally dismissed with the express consent of the accused and with a priori notice to the offended party. The time-bar may appear, on first impression, unreasonable compared to the periods under Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code. However, in fixing the time-bar, the Court balanced the societal interests and those of the accused for the orderly and speedy disposition of criminal cases with minimum prejudice to the State and the accused. It took into account the substantial rights of both the State and of the accused to due process. The Court believed that the time limit is a reasonable period for the State to revive provisionally dismissed cases with the consent of the accused and notice to the offended parties. The time-bar fixed by the Court must be respected unless it is shown that the period is manifestly short or insufficient that the rule becomes a denial of justice.[50] The petitioners failed to show a manifest shortness or insufficiency of the time-bar.

The new rule was conceptualized by the Committee on the Revision of the Rules and approved by the Court en banc primarily to enhance the administration of the criminal justice system and the rights to due process of the State and the accused by eliminating the deleterious practice of trial courts of provisionally dismissing criminal cases on motion of either the prosecution or the accused or jointly, either with no time-bar for the revival thereof or with a specific or definite period for such revival by the public prosecutor. There were times when such criminal cases were no longer revived or refiled due to causes beyond the control of the public prosecutor or because of the indolence, apathy or the lackadaisical attitude of public prosecutors to the prejudice of the State and the accused despite the mandate to public prosecutors and trial judges to expedite criminal proceedings.[51]

It is almost a universal experience that the accused welcomes delay as it usually operates in his favor,[52] especially if he greatly fears the consequences of his trial and conviction. He is hesitant to disturb the hushed inaction by which dominant cases have been known to expire.[53]

The inordinate delay in the revival or refiling of criminal cases may impair or reduce the capacity of the State to prove its case with the disappearance or nonavailability of its witnesses. Physical evidence may have been lost. Memories of witnesses may have grown dim or have faded. Passage of time makes proof of any fact more difficult.[54] The accused may become a fugitive from justice or commit another crime. The longer the lapse of time from the dismissal of the case to the revival thereof, the more difficult it is to prove the crime.

On the other side of the fulcrum, a mere provisional dismissal of a criminal case does not terminate a criminal case. The possibility that the case may be revived at any time may disrupt or reduce, if not derail, the chances of the accused for employment, curtail his association, subject him to public obloquy and create anxiety in him and his family. He is unable to lead a normal life because of community suspicion and his own anxiety. He continues to suffer those penalties and disabilities incompatible with the presumption of innocence.[55] He may also lose his witnesses or their memories may fade with the passage of time. In the long run, it may diminish his capacity to defend himself and thus eschew the fairness of the entire criminal justice system.[56]

The time-bar under the new rule was fixed by the Court to excise the malaise that plagued the administration of the criminal justice system for the benefit of the State and the accused; not for the accused only.

The Court agrees with the petitioners that to apply the time-bar retroactively so that the two-year period commenced to run on March 31, 1999 when the public prosecutor received his copy of the resolution of Judge Agnir, Jr. dismissing the criminal cases is inconsistent with the intendment of the new rule. Instead of giving the State two years to revive provisionally dismissed cases, the State had considerably less than two years to do so. Thus, Judge Agnir, Jr. dismissed Criminal Cases Nos. Q-99-81679 to Q-99-81689 on March 29, 1999. The new rule took effect on December 1, 2000. If the Court applied the new time-bar retroactively, the State would have only one year and three months or until March 31, 2001 within which to revive these criminal cases. The period is short of the two-year period fixed under the new rule. On the other hand, if the time limit is applied prospectively, the State would have two years from December 1, 2000 or until December 1, 2002 within which to revive the cases. This is in consonance with the intendment of the new rule in fixing the time-bar and thus prevent injustice to the State and avoid absurd, unreasonable, oppressive, injurious, and wrongful results in the administration of justice.

The period from April 1, 1999 to November 30, 1999 should be excluded in the computation of the two-year period because the rule prescribing it was not yet in effect at the time and the State could not be expected to comply with the time-bar. It cannot even be argued that the State waived its right to revive the criminal cases against respondent or that it was negligent for not reviving them within the two-year period under the new rule. As the United States Supreme Court said, per Justice Felix Frankfurter, in Griffin v. People:[57]

We should not indulge in the fiction that the law now announced has always been the law and, therefore, that those who did not avail themselves of it waived their rights .

The two-year period fixed in the new rule is for the benefit of both the State and the accused. It should not be emasculated and reduced by an inordinate retroactive application of the time-bar therein provided merely to benefit the accused. For to do so would cause an injustice of hardship to the State and adversely affect the administration of justice in general and of criminal laws in particular.

To require the State to give a valid justification as a condition sine qua non to the revival of a case provisionally dismissed with the express consent of the accused before the effective date of the new rule is to assume that the State is obliged to comply with the time-bar under the new rule before it took effect. This would be a rank denial of justice. The State must be given a period of one year or two years as the case may be from December 1, 2000 to revive the criminal case without requiring the State to make a valid justification for not reviving the case before the effective date of the new rule. Although in criminal cases, the accused is entitled to justice and fairness, so is the State. As the United States Supreme Court said, per Mr. Justice Benjamin Cardozo, in Snyder v. State of Massachussetts,[58] the concept of fairness must not be strained till it is narrowed to a filament. We are to keep the balance true. In Dimatulac v. Villon,[59] this Court emphasized that the judges action must not impair the substantial rights of the accused nor the right of the State and offended party to due process of law. This Court further said:

Indeed, for justice to prevail, the scales must balance; justice is not to be dispensed for the accused alone. The interests of society and the offended parties which have been wronged must be equally considered. Verily, a verdict of conviction is not necessarily a denial of justice; and an acquittal is not necessarily a triumph of justice, for, to the society offended and the party wronged, it could also mean injustice. Justice then must be rendered even-handedly to both the accused, on one hand, and the State and offended party, on the other.

In this case, the eleven Informations in Criminal Cases Nos. 01-101102 to 01-101112 were filed with the Regional Trial Court on June 6, 2001 well within the two-year period.

In sum, this Court finds the motion for reconsideration of petitioners meritorious.

IN THE LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petitioners Motion for Reconsideration is GRANTED. The Resolution of this Court, dated May 28, 2002, is SET ASIDE. The Decision of the Court of Appeals, dated August 24, 2001, in CA-G.R. SP No. 65034 is REVERSED. The Petition of the Respondent with the Regional Trial Court in Civil Case No. 01-100933 is DISMISSED for being moot and academic. The Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 81, is DIRECTED to forthwith proceed with Criminal Cases Nos. 01-101102 to 01-101112 with deliberate dispatch.

No pronouncements as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Mendoza, Panganiban, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.

Bellosillo, J., see separate opinion, concurring.

Puno, J., please see dissent.

Vitug, J., see separate (dissenting) opinion.

Quisumbing, J., in the result, concur with J. Bellosillos opinion.

Ynares-Santiago, J., join the dissent of J. Puno and J. Gutierrez.

Sandoval-Gutierrez, J., dissent. Please see dissenting opinion.

Carpio, J., no part.



[1] Rollo, Vol. II, pp. 1203-1228.

[2] Id. at 1183-1200.

[3] NBI Report, pp. 309 and 311.

[4] Rollo, Vol. II, pp. 1237-1267.

[5] Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, Vol. II, 9th Revised Edition, p. 442; People v. Bellosillo, 9 SCRA 835 (1963).

[6] Section 5, Rule 112 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.

[7] People v. Hon. Vergara, 221 SCRA 561 (1993).

[8] People v. Hinaut, 105 Phil. 303 (1959).

[9] Pendatum v. Aragon, 93 Phil. 798 (1953); Caes v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 179 SCRA 54 (1989).

[10] People v. Ylagan, 58 Phil. 851 (1933).

[11] Baesa v. Provincial Fiscal of Camarines Sur, 37 SCRA 437 (1971).

[12] Rule 117, Section 3(i) of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.

[13] Benes v. United States of America, 276 F.2d 99 (1960).

[14] Sy v. Court of Appeals, 113 SCRA 335 (1982); Lava v. Gonzales, 11 SCRA 650 (1964); Bandiala v. CFI of Misamis Occidental, 35 SCRA 237 (1970); Luciano v. Mariano, 40 SCRA 187 (1971); Teehankee v. Madayag, 207 SCRA 134 (1992).

[15] SECTION 1. Preliminary investigation defined; when required. Preliminary investigation is an inquiry or proceeding to determine whether there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial.

Except as provided in Section 7 of this Rule, a preliminary investigation is required to be conducted before the filing of a complaint or information for an offense where the penalty prescribed by law is at least four (4) years, two (2) months and one (1) day without regard to the fine. (Section 1, Rule 112, 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure).

[16] Bandiala v. Court, supra.

[17] 232 SCRA 192 (1994).

[18] RTC Records, Vol. 10, p. 232.

[19] CA Rollo, p. 355.

[20] TSN, CA-G.R. SP No. 65034, July 31, 2001, pp. 13-18 (emphasis ours).

[21] CA Rollo, p. 378 (emphasis by respondent).

[22] Section 4, Rule 129 of the Revised Rules on Evidence.

[23] Vari v. Food Fair Stores, 13 A.L.R.3d 844 (1964).

[24] Victims Address (per Medico Legal Report)

Manuel Montero Pian, Zamboanga del Norte

Rolando Siplon Miputak, Dipolog City

Sherwin Abalora Miputak, Dipolog City

Ray Abalora Miputak, Dipolog City

Joel Amora Osmina St., Dipolog City

Jevy Redillas Pian, Zamboanga del Norte

Welbor Elcamel Bgy. Barra, Dipolog City

Carlito Alap-ap Pian, Zamboanga del Norte

Pacifico Montero, Jr. Bo. Tinago, Palumpon, Leyte

Meleubren Sorronda Miputak, Dipolog City

Alex Neri No address

(Unidentified Male in

Medico Legal Report)

[25] RTC Records, Vol. IX, p. 9.

[26] Rufino Siplon did not affix his signature on the Joint Affidavit of Desistance.

[27] Affiants Address (per Affidavit of Desistance)

Myra Abalora UST Abono Estaca, Dipolog City

(Mother of Sherwin Abalora

and Ray Abalora)

Leonora Amora Bgy. Sentral, Dipolog City

(Mother of Joel Amora)

Nenita Alap-ap 338 Sagin St. cor. Amaga St., Poblacio Santa,

(Wife of Carlito Alap-ap) Pian, Zamboanga del Norte

Imelda Montero Poblacion Norte, Pian, Zamboanga del Norte

(Wife of Manuel Montero)

Carmelita Elcamel Upper Dicayas, Dipolog City

(Wife of Welbor Elcamel)

Margarita Redillas Bgy. Poblacion South, Pian, Zamboanga del Norte

(Mother of Jevy Redillas)

[28] Rollo, Vol. 2, pp. 1205-1214.

[29] Id. at 1240.

[30] Id. at 1241-1247.

[31] Id.

[32] Id. at 1250-1251.

[33] 22 C.J.S., Criminal Law, 223, p. 574; United States v. Eliopoulos, 45 F. Supp. 777 (1942).

[34] People v. Allen, 118 P.2d 927, 47 C.A.2d. 735.

[35] Carpenter v. Cox, 182 So. 813 (1939).

[36] ART. 90. Prescription of crime.Crimes punishable by death, reclusion perpetua or reclusion temporal shall prescribe in twenty years.

Crimes punishable by other afflictive penalties shall prescribe in fifteen years.

Those punishable by a correctional penalty shall prescribe in ten years; with the exception of those punishable by arresto mayor, which shall prescribe in five years.

The crime of libel or other similar offenses shall prescribe in one year.

The offenses of oral defamation and slander by deed shall prescribe in six months.

Light offenses prescribe in two months.

When the penalty fixed by law is a compound one, the highest penalty shall be made the basis of the application of the rules contained in the first, second, and third paragraph of this article.

[37] People v. Allen, 14 NE2d 397; State v. Crawford, 98 SE 615.

[38] Republic v. Agoncillo, 40 SCRA 579 (1971).

[39] State of Kansas v. Ransom, 39 ALR 4th 892.

[40] 22 C.J.S., supra. at 575, citing People v. Di Franco, 184 N.Y.S.2d, p. 974, 17 Misc.2d 177.

[41] People v. Ross, 156 N.E. 303 (1927).

[42] G.R. No. 136368, January 16, 2002, p. 13.

[43] 395 U.S. 701 (1969).

[44] Id.

[45] Ursua v. Court of Appeals, 256 SCRA 147 (1996).

[46] City and County of Denver v. Holmes, 400 P.2d 1 (1965).

[47] Paat v. Court of Appeals, 266 SCRA 167 (1997).

[48] Linkletter v. Victor Walker, 381 U.S. 618 (1965).

[49] 393 U.S. 630 (1968).

[50] Glen Livestock Company v. Colwell, 185 U.S. 54 (1902).

[51] United States v. Mann, 201 F. Supp. 208 (1968); Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972).

[52] United States v. Fay, 313 F.2d 620 (1963).

[53] United States v. Mann, supra.

[54] Dickey v. State of Florida, 398 U.S. 30 (1970).

[55] Ibid.

[56] Barker v. Winggo, supra.

[57] 351 U.S. 12 (1956).

[58] 291 U.S. 97 (1933).

[59] 297 SCRA 679 (1998).