THIRD DIVISION

 

P/Chief Inspector Fernando Billedo,

SPO3 Rodrigo Domingo, PO3 Jorge Lopez, Ferdinand Cruz,

and Mariano Cruz,

Petitioners,

 

 

- versus -

 

 

Wilhelmina Wagan, Presiding Judge of the

Regional Trial Court

of Branch III, Pasay City,

Public Respondent.

 

ALBERTO MINA, NILO JAY MINA and FERDINAND CAASI,

Private Respondents.

 

 

 

G.R. No. 175091

 

Present:

 

CARPIO,* J.

VELASCO, JR., Chairperson,

ABAD,

MENDOZA, and

SERENO,* * JJ.

 

 

 

 

Promulgated:

 

July 13, 2011

 

 

X ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- X

 

D E C I S I O N

 

MENDOZA, J.:

 

At bench is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 as petitioners Police Chief Inspector (PCI) Fernando Billedo, Senior Police Officer 3 (SPO3) Rodrigo Domingo, Police Officer 3 (PO3) Jorge Lopez, Ferdinand Cruz, and Mariano Cruz (petitioners), allege grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Judge Wilhelmina Wagan (public respondent) of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 111, Pasay City (RTC), in issuing the Orders dated: (1) May 8, 2006;[1] (2) July 12, 2006,[2] and (3) August 26, 2006,[3] in Civil Case No. 00-0089, entitled Nilo Jay Mina, et al. v. Mariano Cruz, et al. for damages. The assailed orders denied the Motion to Dismiss filed by one of the petitioners, Ferdinand Cruz.

 

The Facts:

 

The case stemmed from the arrest of complainants Alberto Mina, Nilo Jay Mina and Ferdinand Caasi on February 27, 2000 along an alley, Interior 332, Edang Street, Pasay City, by petitioners-police officers. They were reported to have been caught in flagrante delicto drinking liquor in a public place. The complainants alleged that their arrest was unlawful and was only upon the inducement and unjustifiable accusation of Ferdinand Cruz and Mariano Cruz (the Cruzes).[4] Thereafter, they were charged before the Metropolitan Trial Court of Pasay City (MeTC) with a violation of City Ordinance No. 265 (Drinking Liquor in Public Places), which was docketed as Criminal Case No. 00-621.

 

On March 20, 2000, after the said incident, the complainants filed Civil Case No. 00-0089 against the petitioners for damages.

Subsequently, criminal complaints were also filed against the petitioners before the City Prosecution Office (CPO) and the Office of the Ombudsman (Ombudsman) for Unlawful Arrest and Violation of R.A. No. 7438 (Act Defining Rights of Person Under Custodial Investigation). The CPO dismissed the case for lack of merit while the Ombudsman, in its Joint Resolution dated October 13, 2000,[5] dismissed both complaints for lack of probable cause, but recommended the filing of 3 corresponding criminal informations for Violation of Section 3(e), R.A. No. 3019. Thus:

 

WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is hereby recommended that an Information of VIOLATION OF R.A. 3019, SEC. 3 (e), for three (3) counts be FILED in court against SPO3 RODRIGO DOMINGO, PO3 JORGE LOPEZ, MARIANO CRUZ and FERDINAND CRUZ. While the other respondents, P/CINSP. FERNANDO BILLEDO and SPOI DANIEL OCAMPO be ABSOLVED from any criminal liability for lack of sufficient evidence. Further, there being an administrative case filed before the PLEB-Pasay City against police respondents, let the said forum continue its proceedings, and that the same be considered CLOSED and TERMINATED, insofar as this Office is concerned.

 

SO RESOLVED.

 

 

After the criminal informations for Violation of R.A. No. 3019 were filed, the cases were remanded to the CPO for the conduct of the new preliminary investigation on motion of the accused.

 

On July 27, 2001, the CPO recommended the dismissal of the cases for lack of merit.[6] Pertinently, 2nd Assistant City Prosecutor Joselito Vibandor explained that there was no fault on the part of the Cruzes when they reported a group of individuals drinking along an alley which prompted the police officers to respond to a call of duty. The facts and circumstances surrounding their arrest were clearly spelled out in the Affidavit of Arrest of the police officers. While it may be argued that the Cruzes may have been biased, there appeared to be a semblance of truth to their report when private respondents were arrested by the police officers. Besides, the subsequent filing of the corresponding information after the inquest investigation for a violation of a city ordinance, is per se an imprimatur of the legality of their arrest.

 

On August 29, 2001, the Ombudsman recommended the approval of the CPO Resolution. Specifically, the Review and Recommendation[7] of the Ombudsman reads:

 

After giving a careful look at the records of the case and the facts and incidents that transpired, the undersigned Ombudsman Prosecutor agrees with prosecutor Vibandor that there is doubtful merit of the offenses filed for Violation of Section 3 (e), RA 3019 against the accused. It appears that the arresting policemen have in fact filed a case for Violation of Ordinance against the three (3) complainants which was indorsed for Inquest Investigation and later filed in court. This shows that there was substantial basis, of their performance of official duty, for otherwise, it would not have passed the inquest. Hence, the presence of manifest partiality or evident bad faith is gravely questionable to warrant filing of Violation of Section 3(e), RA 3019.

 

PREMISES CONSIDERED, undersigned respectfully recommends for the APPROVAL of the instant Resolution of Atty. Vibandor and the RECALL of the Informations filed with the Pasay City Regional Trial Court.

 

 

Meanwhile, the complainants were found guilty by the MeTC for Violation of City Ordinance No. 265.[8] Their conviction was affirmed by the RTC, Branch 114, Pasay City.[9] Complainants Motion for Reconsideration was denied.[10]

 

Civil Case No. 00-0089, on the other hand, proceeded with the trial with the complainants presenting their first witness. Before cross-examination, Ferdinand A. Cruz, one of the petitioners, filed his Motion to Dismiss,[11] alleging therein that it is the Sandiganbayan which has jurisdiction over the civil case and not the RTC; and that conformably to Section 4 of R.A. No. 8249,[12] the complainants are barred from filing a separate and independent civil action.

Public respondent denied the motion to dismiss in her assailed May 8, 2006 Order stating, among others, that under Article 269 of the Revised Penal Code, the crime of unlawful arrest is punishable by arresto mayor and a fine not exceeding 500 pesos which, under R.A. No. 7691, falls within the jurisdiction of appropriate Metropolitan Trial Court or Municipal Trial Court, as the case may be, contrary to the movants claim that it was the Sandiganbayan which has jurisdiction over the ancillary action for damages.

 

Public respondent further explained that had there been a criminal case for unlawful arrest filed before the MeTC, the civil case for damages should have been transferred to it, but, there was none. She also stated that the movant failed to attach certified copies of resolutions/orders dismissing the complaint for unlawful arrest. Thus, she could not simply rely on bare assertions or conjectures but must resolve the issues raised based on competent proof.

 

Petitioner Ferdinand Cruz then filed a motion for reconsideration[13] but it was denied in the assailed July 12, 2006 Order.[14] Public respondent wrote that the situation was not within the purview of Section 4 of R.A. No. 8249. The provision suggests of two (2) situations. First, a criminal action has been instituted before the Sandiganbayan or the appropriate courts after the requisite preliminary investigation, and the corresponding civil liability must be simultaneously instituted with it. Second, the civil case, filed ahead of the criminal case, is still pending upon the filing of the criminal action, in which case, the civil case should be transferred to the court trying the criminal case for consolidation and joint determination.

 

Considering the circumstances surrounding the case, the public respondent opined that the case did not fall in any of the two cited situations. Thus, she wrote:

By reason of the dismissal of the criminal complaint for unlawful arrest during the preliminary investigation stage, there was no criminal action for unlawful arrest, from which the instant civil case was based, that was ultimately filed with the Metropolitan Trial Court of Pasay City, the appropriate court to hear and try such offense under R.A. 8249. Consequently, there is no appropriate court to which the instant case should be transferred as mandated under Section 4 of R.A. 8294. There should not have been any problem had the criminal case for unlawful arrest prospered or reached the appropriate court as ratiocinated by this Court in its Order dated May 8, 2006. But there was none.

 

xxxx

 

Well-settled in our jurisprudence is the rule that a cause of action for damages arising from the acts or omission complained of as an offense is different and distinct from the prosecution of the offense itself. Extinction of the penal action does not carry with it the extinction of the civil action, unless the extinction proceeds from a declaration in a final judgment that the fact from which the civil liability might arise did not exist. Besides, it is elementary that an accused may be civilly liable even if acquitted of the crime charged.[15]

 

 

A Second Motion for Reconsideration[16] was filed but it was also denied by public respondent in her questioned August 26, 2006 Order.[17]

 

Aggrieved, petitioners come before this Court. While they admit that they are aware of the principle of the hierarchy of the courts, they opted to directly appeal before this Court considering that the issue to be resolved entails an interpretation of Section 4, R.A. No. 8249, otherwise known as the Sandiganbayan Act, which provides:

 

Section 4. Section 4 of the same decree is hereby further amended to read as follows:

 

x x x

 

In case private individuals are charged as co-principal, accomplices or accessories with the public officers or employees, including those employed in government-owned or controlled corporations, they shall be tried jointly with said public officers and employees in the proper courts which shall exercise jurisdiction over them.

 

Any provisions of law or Rules of Court to the contrary notwithstanding, the criminal action and the corresponding civil action for the recovery of civil liability shall at all times be simultaneously instituted with and jointly determined in, the same proceeding by the Sandiganbayan or the appropriate courts, the filing of the criminal action being deemed to necessarily carry with it the filing of the civil action, and no right to reserve the filing of such civil action separately from the criminal action shall be recognized: Provided, however, that where the civil action had heretofore been filed separately but judgment therein has not yet been rendered, and the criminal case is hereafter filed with the Sandiganbayan or the appropriate court, said civil action shall be transferred to the Sandiganbayan or the appropriate court, as the case may be, for consolidation and joint determination with the criminal action, otherwise, the separate civil action shall be deemed abandoned. [Emphasis Supplied]

 

In this petition, the petitioners presented this lone

 

ISSUE

 

WHETHER OR NOT THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OR ANY OTHER COURTS HAS THE JURISDICTION TO TRY CIVIL CASE NO. 00-0089 GIVEN THE MANDATORY SIMULTANEOUS INSTITUTION AND JOINT DETERMINATION OF A CIVIL LIABILITY WITH THE CRIMINAL ACTION AND THE EXPRESS PROHIBITION TO FILE THE SAID CIVIL ACTION SEPARATELY FROM THE CRIMINAL ACTION AS PROVIDED FOR UNDER SECTION 4 OF REPUBLIC ACT 8249?[18]

 

After a careful review of the records, the Court finds no commission of a grave abuse of discretion which can be attributed to the public respondent in issuing the challenged Orders dated May 8, 2006, July 12, 2006 and August 26, 2006.

 

As correctly pointed out by the public respondent, the subject civil case does not fall within the purview of Section 4 of R.A. No. 8249 as the latter part of this provision contemplates only two (2) situations. These were correctly pointed out by the public respondent as follows: First, a criminal action has been instituted before the Sandiganbayan or the appropriate courts after the requisite preliminary investigation, and the corresponding civil liability must be simultaneously instituted with it; and Second, the civil case, filed ahead of the criminal case, is still pending upon the filing of the criminal action, in which case, the civil case should be transferred to the court trying the criminal case for consolidation and joint determination.

 

Evidently, Section 4 of R.A. No. 8249 finds no application in this case. No criminal action has been filed before the Sandiganbayan or any appropriate court. Thus, there is no appropriate court to which the subject civil case can be transferred or consolidated as mandated by the said provision.

 

It is also illogical to consider the civil case as abandoned simply because the criminal cases against petitioners were dismissed at the preliminary stage. A reading of the latter part of Section 4 of R.A. No. 8294 suggests that the civil case will only be considered abandoned if there is a pending criminal case and the civil case was not transferred to the court trying the criminal case for joint determination.

 

The criminal charges against petitioners might have been dismissed at the preliminary stage for lack of probable cause, but it does not mean that the civil case instituted prior to the filing of the criminal complaints is already baseless as the complainants can prove their cause of action in the civil case by mere preponderance of evidence.

 

While the dismissal of the criminal cases against them for Violation of R.A. No. 7438 (Acts Defining Rights of Persons Under Custodial Investigation) and unlawful arrest and the conviction of the complainants for Violation of City Ordinance No. 265 (Drinking Liquor in Public Place),[19] might be factors that can be considered in their favor, the petitioners should have proceeded with the trial of the civil case pending before the public respondent instead of filing this petition.

 

The rule is that an order denying a motion to dismiss is merely interlocutory and, therefore, not appealable,[20] even on pure questions of law.[21] Neither can it be subject of a petition for review on certiorari. Such order may only be reviewed in the ordinary course of law by an appeal from the judgment after trial. The rule is founded on considerations of orderly procedure, to forestall useless appeals and avoid undue inconvenience to the appealing party by having to assail orders as they are promulgated by the court, when all such orders may be contested in a single appeal.[22]

 

All told, the Court finds that the public respondent committed no grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in issuing the assailed orders.

 

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

 

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR. ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO

Associate Justice

 

 

A T T E S T A T I O N

 

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

Chairperson, Third Division

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairpersons Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice



* Designated as additional member in lieu of Justice Diosdado M. Peralta per Special Order No. 1029 dated June 30, 2011.

** Designated as additional member of the Third Division per Special Order No. 1028 dated June 21, 2011.

 

[1] Rollo, pp. 33-37.

[2] Id. at 59-62.

[3] Id. at 69.

[4] Id. at 24.

[5] Id. at 20-23.

[6] Id. at 24-27.

[7] Id. at 28-29.

[8] Id. at 4.

[9] Id. at 13-15.

[10] Id. at 17.

[11] Id. at 30-32.

[12] An Act Further Defining the Jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, Amending for the Purpose Presidential Decree No. 1606, as Amended, Providing Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes.

[13] Rollo, pp. 38-42.

[14] Id. at 59-62.

[15] Id. at 61-62.

[16] Id. at 63-68.

[17] Id. at 69.

[18] Id. at 6.

[19] Id. at 4.

[20] United Overseas Bank (formerly Westmont Bank) v. Hon. Judge Ros, G.R. No. 171532, August 7, 2007, 529 SCRA 334, 343.

[21] Atty. Sarsaba v. Fe, G.R. No. 175910, July 30, 2009, 594 SCRA 410, 423.

[22] United Overseas Bank v. Hon. Judge Ros, supra note 20, citing Rudecon Mananagement Corporation v. Singson, G.R. No. 150798, March 31, 2005, 454 SCRA 612, 629.