YOKOHAMA TIRE PHILIPPINES, INC., PETITIONER, V. SANDRA REYES AND JOCELYN REYES, RESPONDENTS.

FIRST DIVISION
[ G.R. No. 236686, February 05, 2020 ]

YOKOHAMA TIRE PHILIPPINES, INC., PETITIONER, V. SANDRA REYES AND JOCELYN REYES, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

PERALTA, C.J.:

Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the July 10, 2017 Decision[1] and the November 7, 2017 Order[2] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Angeles City, Branch 56 in Case No. R-ANG-16-00138-SC. The disputed RTC Decision dismissed herein petitioner’s petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the same Rules questioning a portion of the Decision of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Clarkfield, Pampanga, in Criminal Case No. 12-5960 which acquitted herein respondents of the crime of attempted theft. The challenged RTC Order, on the other hand, denied petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration of the above Decision of the RTC.

The facts are as follows:

Herein respondents, together with one Celeste Tagudin (Tagudin), were former employees of herein petitioner company.

On June 17, 2011, petitioner filed a criminal complaint[3] for qualified theft against respondents and Tagudin, accusing them of having taken HP ink cartridges from the company’s stock room through stealth and without the consent of petitioner or any of its authorized representatives.

In a Resolution/Recommendation[4] dated March 22, 2012, the Assistant City Prosecutor (ACP) of Angeles City recommended that the complaint against Tagudin be dismissed for insufficiency of evidence, while an Information for Attempted Theft be filed against respondents. The City Prosecutor of Angeles City approved the Resolution /Recommendation of the ACP. Thus, on May 23, 2012, an Information for Attempted Theft was filed with the MTC of Clarkfield, Pampanga and the case was docketed as Criminal Case No. 12-5960.

On June 14, 2012, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration[5] of the March 22, 2012 Resolution of the Angeles City ACP, but the same was denied by the latter in his Resolution/Recommendation[6] dated June 20, 2012, which was, likewise, approved by the City Prosecutor.

Thereafter, trial proceeded. Hence, on November 10, 2015, the MTC of Clarkfield, Pampanga rendered its Decision[7] acquitting herein respondents of the crime of attempted theft.

Herein petitioner, then, filed a petition[8] for certiorari with the RTC, docketed as R-ANG-16-00138, contending that the MTC acted without or in excess of jurisdiction and/or with grave abuse of discretion in ruling that the pieces of HP ink cartridges found by petitioner’s representatives inside the vehicle of one of respondents, which was subsequently presented as evidence by the prosecution, were inadmissible for having been obtained in violation of the law and of respondents’ right against unreasonable search and seizure. Petitioner prayed for the annulment of the November 10, 2015 Decision of the MTC.

In its Decision[9] dated July 10, 2017, the RTC dismissed the certiorari petition for lack of merit.

Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration, but the same was denied by the RTC in its Order [10] dated November 7, 2017.

Hence, the present petition based on the following arguments:

RTC-ANGELES CITY UNDULY DEVIATED FROM THE ESTABLISHED LAWS AND SETTLED JURISPRUDENCE THAT:

I
THE COURTS MUST ABIDE BY THE EVIDENCE FORMALLY OFFERED DURING THE TRIAL SUCH THAT OBJECT AND OTHER EVIDENCE ALREADY ADMITTED SHOULD BE THE BASES OF THE FINDINGS OF FACTS AND THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURTS x x x.

II
THE LAW AGAINST UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURE IS A RESTRAINT AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT AND NOT PRIVATE ENTITIES x x x. [11]

Petitioner contends that the RTC committed error in affirming the assailed decision of the MTC. Ultimately, petitioner basically seeks to annul the decision of the MTC which acquitted herein respondents. In so doing, petitioner contends that the pieces of HP ink cartridges which were submitted as part of the evidence for the prosecution should have been admitted and considered by the MTC in determining the guilt or innocence of respondents. Petitioner argues that, under prevailing jurisprudence, the constitutional guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures, which was cited by the MTC in excluding the HP ink cartridges from the prosecution’s evidence, is made applicable as a restraint against the government only and not against private entities.

The petition lacks merit.

At the outset, the Court notes that petitioner lacked authority in filing a special civil action for certiorari with the RTC to seek the annulment of the decision of the MTC which acquitted herein respondents from the crime of attempted theft.

It is settled that in criminal cases, the State is the offended party and the private complainant’s interest is limited to the civil liability arising therefrom.[12] Hence, if a criminal case is dismissed by the trial court or if there is an acquittal, a reconsideration of the order of dismissal or acquittal may be undertaken, whenever legally feasible, insofar as the criminal aspect thereof is concerned and may be made only by the public prosecutor; or in the case of an appeal, by the State only, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).[13] The private complainant or offended party may not undertake such motion for reconsideration or appeal on the criminal aspect of the case.[14] However, the offended party or private complainant may file a motion for reconsideration of such dismissal or acquittal or appeal therefrom but only insofar as the civil aspect thereof is concerned.[15]

The rationale behind this rule is that in a criminal case, the party affected by the dismissal of the criminal action is the State and not the private complainant.[16] The interest of the private complainant or the private offended party is limited only to the civil liability.[17] In the prosecution of the offense, the complainant’s role is limited to that of a witness for the prosecution such that when a criminal case is dismissed by the trial court or if there is an acquittal, an appeal therefrom on the criminal aspect may be undertaken only by the State through the Solicitor General.[18] The private offended party or complainant may not take such appeal, but may only do so as to the civil aspect of the case.[19]

Thus, this Court’s ruling in the earlier case of People v. Santiago[20] is instructive, to wit:

It is well settled that in criminal cases where the offended party is the State, the interest of the private complainant or the private offended party is limited to the civil liability. Thus, in the prosecution of the offense, the complainant’s role is limited to that of a witness for the prosecution. If a criminal case is dismissed by the trial court or if there is an acquittal, an appeal therefrom on the criminal aspect may be undertaken only by the State through the Solicitor General. Only the Solicitor General may represent the People of the Philippines on appeal. The private offended party or complainant may not take such appeal. However, the said offended party or complainant may appeal the civil aspect despite the acquittal of the accused.

In a special civil action for certiorari filed under Section 1, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court wherein it is alleged that the trial court committed a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction or on other jurisdictional grounds, the rules state that the petition may be filed by the person aggrieved. In such case, the aggrieved parties are the State and the private offended party or complainant. The complainant has an interest in the civil aspect of the case so he may file such special civil action questioning the decision or action of the respondent court on jurisdictional grounds. In so doing, complainant should not bring the action in the name of the People of the Philippines. The action may be prosecuted in [the] name of said complainant.[21]

Thus, the Court has definitively ruled that in a criminal case in which the offended party is the State, the interest of the private complainant or the private offended party is limited to the civil liability arising therefrom. If a criminal case is dismissed by the trial court or if there is an acquittal, an appeal of the criminal aspect may be undertaken, whenever legally feasible, only by the State through the Solicitor General. As a rule, only the Solicitor General may represent the People of the Philippines on appeal. The private offended party or complainant may not undertake such appeal.

In its petition for certiorari filed with the RTC, petitioner seeks the annulment of the MTC decision acquitting herein respondents. In so doing, petitioner raises issues on the admissibility of evidence which it submitted to prove the guilt of the accused. These issues necessarily require a review of the criminal aspect of the case and, as such, is prohibited. As discussed above, only the State, and not herein petitioner, who is the private offended party, may question the criminal aspect of the case.

In any event, even granting that petitioner has the requisite authority to question the subject RTC Decision, this Court, after a careful review of the arguments of the parties, finds no error in the questioned Decision of the RTC.

In the instant case, the Court agrees with the ruling of the RTC that the disputed acts of the MTC in denying admissibility to the subject ink cartridges as part of the prosecution’s evidence, its appreciation of the entirety of evidence presented by both parties to the case, and its subsequent finding that the prosecution failed to prove the crime charged, are assailable as errors of judgment and are not reviewable by the extraordinary remedy of certiorari.

The Court finds no error in the ruling of the RTC that petitioner was not able to establish its allegation of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the MTC. Where a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court alleges grave abuse of discretion, the petitioner should establish that the respondent court or tribunal acted in a capricious, whimsical, arbitrary or despotic manner in the exercise of its jurisdiction as to be equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.[22]

Thus, this Court has explained that:

The term “grave abuse of discretion” has a specific meaning. An act of a court or tribunal can only be considered as with grave abuse of discretion when such act is done in a “capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.” The abuse of discretion must be so patent and gross as to amount to an “evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility.” Furthermore, the use of a petition for certiorari is restricted only to “truly extraordinary cases wherein the act of the lower court or quasi-judicial body is wholly void.” From the foregoing definition, it is clear that the special civil action of certiorari under Rule 65 can only strike an act down for having been done with grave abuse of discretion if the petitioner could manifestly show that such act was patent and gross x x x.[23]

As found by the RTC, there was no hint of whimsicality, nor of gross and patent abuse of discretion as would amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law or to act at all in contemplation of law on the part of the MTC. If at all, the mistake committed by the MTC is only an error of judgment and not of jurisdiction, which would have amounted to a grave abuse of discretion.

This Court sustains the RTC ruling that even if the subject ink cartridges are admitted as evidence, it does not necessarily follow that they are given probative weight. The admissibility of an evidence is different from its probative value. Thus, this Court held in Mancol, Jr. v. Development Bank of the Philippines[24] that:

x x x [a]dmissibility of evidence should not be confused with its probative value.

The admissibility of evidence depends on its relevance and competence, while the weight of evidence pertains to evidence already admitted and its tendency to convince and persuade. The admissibility of a particular item of evidence has to do with whether it meets various tests by which its reliability is to be determined, so as to be considered with other evidence admitted in the case in arriving at a decision as to the truth. The weight of evidence is not determined mathematically by the numerical superiority of the witnesses testifying to a given fact, but depends upon its practical effect in inducing belief on the part of the judge trying the case. “Admissibility refers to the question of whether certain pieces of evidence are to be considered at all, while probative value refers to the question of whether the admitted evidence proves an issue.” “Thus, a particular item of evidence may be admissible, but its evidentiary weight depends on judicial evaluation within the guidelines provided by the rules of evidence.”[25]

Petitioner chose to simply focus on the MTC’s act of denying admissibility to the subject ink cartridges. Petitioner lost sight of the fact that respondents were acquitted not because the ink cartridges were excluded as evidence but because the MTC, after considering the entirety of evidence presented by the prosecution, found that the latter failed to prove all the elements of the crime charged.

Stated differently, even if the seized ink cartridges were admitted in evidence, the Court agrees with the OSG that the probative value of these pieces of evidence must still meet the various tests by which their reliability is to be determined. Their tendency to convince and persuade must be considered separately because admissibility of evidence is different from its probative value. As contended by the OSG, “[e]ven granting arguendo that the MTC indeed committed an error in ruling that there was illegal search and seizure in this case, the prosecution still has to prove that the seized cartridges were indeed the property of petitioner.”[26] However, the prosecution failed in this respect. This Court agrees with the OSG that since the employee of petitioner who allegedly discovered the theft of the subject cartridges, and who was supposedly the one who put identifying marks thereon was not presented in court, nobody could verify if the cartridges seized from respondents were the ones missing from the stockroom. Parenthetically, what is very damaging to the cause of the prosecution is its failure to present the alleged video recording which supposedly shows respondents in the act of putting ink cartridges inside a bag.

Thus, the Court finds neither error nor grave abuse of discretion on the part of the MTC when it ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the essential element of taking in the alleged crime of theft, to wit:

First. The prosecution attempted to establish the fact of taking through a set of pictures (exhibits DD to UU) allegedly lifted from a video file – in DVD form – copied from a video recording allegedly taken inside stockroom no. 2 on October 22, 2010. The pictures were not even clear – mostly black; with the exception on (sic) Exhibit RR and SS – resembling a female individual, identified by prosecution witness as accused Sandra Reyes. Accused Jocelyn was not even depicted in any of the pictures. However, the video recording itself nor (sic) the DVD copy thereof was not presented nor identified by any witness.

The testimony of witness Dolo as to the report of Edward Buan – in support of the aforementioned pictures – was not sufficient to prove the fact of taking. Without the testimony of Buan – as to the truth of the contents of his report – there could be no sufficient basis for the testimonies of the other prosecution witnesses. In fact, witness Do1o had no personal knowledge of the statements made in Buan’s report nor did he had (sic) prior knowledge of the video recording taken in stockroom no. 2 on October 22, 2012.

Witness Jose Bermundo testified that Buan told him about the missing HP ink cartridges in stockroom no. 2. This was, without question, second-hand information. Bermuda testified that he gave his camera to Buan – to be installed by Buan inside stockroom no. 2. Bermuda testified that he watched the alleged video recording and narrated what he allegedly saw therein; but he never presented nor identified the video recording from which he based most of his testimony.

Witness Jovita Matias testified that he lifted pictures from the DVD copy of the video recording; however, his testimony on what were depicted on the pictures (Exhibits DD to UU) could not be given much weight, as the pictures themselves were not clear and the video file from which the said pictures were lifted from was (sic) not presented. If it were true that the video recording clearly showed accused Sandra in the act of taking the cartridges, then the pictures which had been lifted from said video recording should have clearly depicted such fact. Thus, it is the court’s opinion that the best evidence of the fact of taking should have been the video recording itself; however, no witness for the prosecution ever identified said video recording nor any DVD copy thereof.

The court cannot consider any evidence which has not been presented, identified and offered.

All of the prosecution witnesses had no personal knowledge of the fact of taking: thus, there was no clear and convincing evidence as to the fact of taking.[27]

In sum, this Court finds that the RTC did not err when it held that the MTC did not commit grave abuse of discretion in rendering its assailed decision.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED. The July 10, 2017 Decision and the November 7, 2017 Order of the Regional Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch 56 in Case No. R-ANG-16-00138-SC are AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

J. Reyes, Jr., Lazaro-Javier, and Lopez, JJ., concur.
Caguioa, J., see concurring opinion.

[1] Penned by Judge Irin Zenaida S. Buan; rollo, pp. 468-471.
[2] Id. at 544.
[3] Annex “C” to Petition, id. at 73-89.
[4] Annex “D” to Petition, id. at 125-127.
[5] Annex “E” to Petition, id. at 128-142.
[6] Annex “F” to Petition, id. at 143.
[7] Penned by Presiding Judge Ma. Arabella G. Eusebio-Rodolfo; Annex “U” to Petition, id. at 410-422.
[8] Annex “V” to Petition, id. at 423-451.
[9] Annex “X” to Petition, id. at 468-471.
[10] Annex “DD” to Petition, id. at 544.
[11] Rollo, pp. 28-29.
[12] Lydia Cu v. Trinidad Ventura, G.R. No. 224567, September 26, 2018; Allan S. Cu v. Small Business Guarantee and Finance Corporation, etc., G.R. No. 211222, August 7, 2017; Chiok v. People, et al., 774 Phil. 230, 246 (2015).
[13] Id.
[14] Id.
[15] Id.
[16] Id.
[17] Id.
[18] Id.
[19] Id.
[20] 255 Phil. 851 (1989).
[21] Id. at 861-862. (Emphasis supplied)
[22] Chua v. People, et al., G.R. No. 195248, November 22, 2017, 846 SCRA 74, 81-82.
[23] Yu v. Judge Reyes-Carpio, et al., 667 Phil. 474, 481-482 (2011).
[24] G.R. No. 204289, November 22, 2017, 846 SCRA 131.
[25] Id. at 143-144. (Citations omitted)
[26] Rollo, p. 605.
[27] Id. at 603-605. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

CONCURRING OPINION

CAGUIOA, J.:

I concur. The ponencia was correct in denying the petition and in recognizing the right of the accused against double jeopardy.

Brief review of the facts

Petitioner Yokohama Tire Philippines, Inc. (Yokohama) filed a complaint for qualified theft against Sandra Reyes and Jocelyn Reyes (collectively, the accused-respondents), former employees of Yokohama, for allegedly taking ink cartridges from the company’s stock room without the company’s consent.

After preliminary investigation, the prosecutor found probable cause to indict the accused-respondents with attempted theft. Thus, an Information was filed charging the accused-respondents with attempted theft before the Municipal Trial Court of Clarkfield, Pampanga (MTC).

After trial, the MTC issued its Decision acquitting the accused­ respondents of the crime.

Aggrieved by the Decision issued by the MTC, Yokohama filed a petition for certiorari with the Regional Trial Court (RTC), arguing that the MTC issued the Decision with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction by acquitting the accused-respondents on the basis of its finding that the ink cartridges were inadmissible in evidence for having been obtained in violation of the accused-respondents’ right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The RTC, however, dismissed the petition for certiorari. Undaunted, Yokohama sought recourse directly to the Court, ascribing error on the part of the RTC for dismissing its petition for certiorari. Yokohama’s main argument was that the MTC committed grave abuse of discretion in applying the exclusionary rule under Section 3(2), in relation to Section 2, Article III of the Constitution, when the said exclusionary rule applies only when the violator of the right was the State or its agents and not private parties.

The ponencia denies the present petition for two reasons, namely, that the petition was filed without the conformity of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and that the RTC did not err in not ascribing grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the MTC.

I fully agree with the result of the ponencia’s ruling. But while I ultimately agree with the result, I respectfully submit that a different framework should have been adopted by the ponencia in arriving at the conclusion. In ruling the way it did, the ponencia explained:

As found by the RTC, there was no hint of whimsicality, nor of gross and patent abuse of discretion as would amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law or to act at all in contemplation of law on the part of the MTC. If at all, the mistake committed by the MTC is only an error of judgment and not of jurisdiction, which would have amounted to a grave abuse of discretion.

This Court sustains the RTC ruling that even if the subject ink cartridges are admitted as evidence, it does not necessarily follow that they are given probative weight. The admissibility of an evidence is different from its probative value. x x x

x x x x

Stated differently, even if the seized ink cartridges were admitted in evidence, the Court agrees with the OSG that the probative value of these pieces of evidence must still meet the various tests by which their reliability is to be determined. Their tendency to convince and persuade must be considered separately because admissibility of evidence is different from its probative value. As contended by the OSG, “[e]ven granting arguendo that the MTC indeed committed an error in ruling that there was illegal search and seizure in this case, the prosecution still has to prove that the seized cartridges were indeed the property of petitioner.” However, the prosecution failed in this respect. This Court agrees with the OSG that since the employee of petitioner who allegedly discovered the theft of the subject cartridges, and who was supposedly the one who put identifying marks thereon was not presented in court, nobody could verify if the cartridges seized from respondents were the ones missing from the stockroom. Parenthetically, what is very damaging to the cause of the prosecution is its failure to present the alleged video recording which supposedly shows respondents in the act of putting ink cartridges inside a bag.

Thus, the Court finds neither error nor grave abuse of discretion on the part of the MTC when it ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the essential element of taking in the alleged crime of theft[.][1]

Based on the foregoing reasoning, one can be led into believing that errors in judgment may ripen into errors in jurisdiction depending on the gravity or severity of the error committed.

It is in this regard that I disagree.

The right against double jeopardy

The right against double jeopardy was brought into the Philippine legal system by the Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in Kepner v. United States2. In the said case, the Supreme Court of the Philippines reversed a ruling of the court of first instance acquitting the accused therein of estafa. When the accused therein appealed to the SCOTUS, the SCOTUS reversed the ruling of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, holding that the principles of law in the United States which were deemed by then President William McKinley as necessary for the maintenance of individual freedom — which includes the right against double jeopardy — were brought to the Philippines by Congress’ act of passing the Philippine Bill of 1902. The SCOTUS explained:

When Congress came to pass the act of July 1, 1902, it enacted, almost in the language of the President’s instructions, the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. In view of the expressed declaration of the President, followed by the action of Congress, both adopting, with little alteration, the provisions of the Bill of Rights, there would seem to be no room for argument that, in this form, it was intended to carry to the Philippine Islands those principles of our Government which the President declared to be established as rules of law for the maintenance of individual freedom, at the same time expressing regret that the inhabitants of the islands had not theretofore enjoyed their benefit.[3] (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Kepner was the standing doctrine when the 1935 Constitution was being drafted. In the deliberations, efforts were exerted to reject Kepner and to change the wording of the constitutional provision such that the right against double jeopardy would be applicable only once the accused has been acquitted or convicted “by final judgment.”[4] These efforts, however, were rejected.[5]

Since then, the understanding of what the right against double jeopardy entails has remained the same even with the subsequent changes in the Constitution. Jurisprudence has provided that for the said right to attach, the following requisites must be present: (1) a valid indictment, (2) a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) the arraignment of the accused, (4) a valid plea entered by him, and (5) the acquittal or conviction of the accused, or the dismissal or termination of the case against him without his express consent.[6]

To give life to the right against double jeopardy, the Court has, in numerous occasions, adhered to the finality-of-acquittal doctrine, which provides that “a judgment of acquittal, whether ordered by the trial or the appellate court, is final, unappealable, and immediately executory upon its promulgation.”[7] As the Court in People v. Court of Appeals and Francisco[8] explained:

As earlier mentioned the circumstances of the case at bar call for a judicial inquiry on the permissibility of appeal after a verdict of acquittal in view of the constitutional guarantee against double jeopardy

In our jurisdiction, the finality-of-acquittal doctrine as a safeguard against double jeopardy faithfully adheres to the principle first enunciated in Kepner v. United States. In this case, verdicts of acquittal are to be regarded as absolutely final and irreviewable. The cases of United States v. Yam Tung Way, People v. Bringas, Gandicela v. Lutero, People v. Cabarles, People v. Bao, to name a few, are illustrative cases. The fundamental philosophy behind the constitutional proscription against double jeopardy is to afford the defendant, who has been acquitted, final repose and safeguard him from government oppression through the abuse of criminal processes. As succinctly observed in Green v. United States “(t)he underlying idea, one that is deeply ingrained in at least the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence, is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent, he may be found guilty.”[9] (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

The finality-of-acquittal doctrine, of course, is not without exception. The finality-of-acquittal doctrine does not apply when the prosecution — the sovereign people, as represented by the State — was denied a fair opportunity to be heard. Simply put, the doctrine does not apply when the prosecution was denied its day in court — or simply, denied due process. As the Court explained in the case of People v. Hernando:[10]

Notwithstanding, the error committed can no longer be rectified under the cardinal rule on double jeopardy. The judgment of acquittal in favor of an accused necessarily ends the case in which he is prosecuted and the same cannot be appealed nor reopened because of the doctrine that nobody may be put twice in jeopardy for the same offense. Respondents have been formally acquitted by respondent Court, albeit erroneously. That judgment of acquittal is a final verdict. Errors or irregularities, which do not render the proceedings a nullity, will not defeat a plea of antrefois acquit. The proceedings in the Court below were not an absolute nullity as to render the judgment of acquittal null and void. The prosecution was not without the opportunity to present its evidence or even to rebut the testimony of Leonico Talingdan, the witness on new trial. It cannot be justifiably claimed, therefore, that the prosecution was deprived of its day in Court and denied due process of law, which would have rendered the judgment of acquittal a nullity and beyond the pale of a claim of double jeopardy. What was committed by respondent Judge was a reversible error but which did not render the proceedings an absolute nullity.[11] (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

The foremost example of this denial of due process was the case of Galman v. Sandiganbayan12 where, despite the acquittal of the several accused in the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., the Court declared that double jeopardy could not be invoked because the whole trial was a sham. The Court found that the trial “was but a mock trial where the authoritarian president ordered respondents Sandiganbayan and Tanodbayan to rig the trial and closely monitored the entire proceedings to assure the predetermined final outcome of acquittal and total absolution as innocent of all the respondents-accused.”[13]

Due to the influence that the Executive exerted over the independence of the court trying the Galman case, the Court ruled that the Decision therein was issued in violation of the prosecution’s due process. For instance, the Court found that in the trial in the Sandiganbayan, there were, among others, (1) suppression of evidence, (2) harassment of witnesses, (3) deviation from the regular raffle procedure in the assignment of the case, (4) close monitoring and supervision of the Executive and its officials over the case, and (5) secret meetings held between and among the President, the Presiding Justice of the Sandiganbayan, and the Tanodbayan. From the foregoing, the Court saw the trial a sham.

From these observations, the Court ruled in Galman that the right against double jeopardy, absolute as it may appear, may be invoked only when there was a valid judgment terminating the first jeopardy. The Court explained that no right attaches from a void judgment, and hence the right against double jeopardy may not be invoked when the decision that “terminated” the first jeopardy was invalid and issued without jurisdiction.[14]

The facts of Galman constitute the very narrow exception to the application of the right against double jeopardy. The unique facts surrounding Galman — and other similar scenarios where the denial of due process on the part of the prosecution was so gross and palpable — is the limited area where an acquittal may be revisited through a petition for certiorari. As reiterated by the Court in the case of People v. Velasco15, “the doctrine that ‘double jeopardy may not be invoked after trial’ may apply only when the Court finds that the ‘criminal trial was a sham’ because the prosecution representing the sovereign people in the criminal case was denied due process.”[16]

Verily, this means that not every error in the trial or evaluation of the evidence by the court in question that led to the acquittal of the accused would be reviewable by certiorari. Borrowing the words of the Court in Republic v. Ang Cho Kio,[17]” [n]o error, however flagrant, committed by the court against the state, can be reserved by it for decision by the [S]upreme [C]ourt when the defendant has once been placed in jeopardy and discharged, even though the discharge was the result of the error committed.”[18]

As applied in this case, it is thus immaterial whether the MTC was correct or that there was indeed insufficient evidence to convict the accused-respondents. Whether the MTC was correct in its ruling on the merits, the fact remains that the accused-respondents’ right against double jeopardy already attached upon their acquittal, and such right demands that the case be terminated immediately, with any form of re-litigation barred.

In other words, the ponencia need not have done a re-evaluation of the evidence before the MTC. Again, whether the MTC committed any error in its appreciation of the evidence, no matter how flagrant or grave, was already immaterial. No amount of error of judgment will ripen into an error of jurisdiction such that the acquittal would be reviewable by an appellate court through a petition for certiorari. It is only in cases where the State was denied its day in court — like in Galman — that a decision acquitting the accused, or an order terminating the case without the accused’s consent, may be revisited.

To end, it is well to emphasize the purpose for this insistence on having a very narrow exception to the finality-of-acquittal doctrine. To borrow the words of the Court in Velasco:

The fundamental philosophy highlighting the finality of an acquittal by the trial court cuts deep into “the humanity of the laws and in a jealous watchfulness over the rights of the citizen, when brought in unequal contest with the State x x x” Thus, Green expressed the concern that “(t)he underlying idea, one that is deeply ingrained in at least the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence, is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent, he may be found guilty.”

It is axiomatic that on the basis of humanity, fairness and justice, an acquitted defendant is entitled to the right of repose as a direct consequence of the finality of his acquittal. The philosophy underlying this rule establishing the absolute nature of acquittals is “part of the paramount importance criminal justice system attaches to the protection of the innocent against wrongful conviction.” The interest in the finality-of-acquittal rule, confined exclusively to verdicts of not guilty, is easy to understand: it is a need for “repose,” a desire to know the exact extent of one’s liability. With this right of repose, the criminal justice system has built in a protection to insure that the innocent, even those whose innocence rests upon a jury’s leniency, will not be found guilty in a subsequent proceeding.

Related to his right of repose is the defendant’s interest in his right to have his trial completed by a particular tribunal. This interest encompasses his right to have his guilt or innocence determined in a single proceeding by the initial jury empanelled to try him, for society’s awareness of the heavy personal strain which the criminal trial represents for the individual defendant is manifested in the willingness to limit Government to a single criminal proceeding to vindicate its very vital interest in enforcement of criminal laws. The ultimate goal is prevention of government oppression; the goal finds its voice in the finality of the initial proceeding. As observed in Lockhart v. Nelson, “(t)he fundamental tenet animating the Double Jeopardy Clause is that the State should not be able to oppress individuals through the abuse of the criminal process.” Because the innocence of the accused has been confirmed by a final judgment, the Constitution conclusively presumes that a second trial would be unfair.[19] (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Based on these premises, I vote to DENY the Petition.

[1] Ponencia, pp. 6-7.
[2] 195 U.S. 100 (1904).
[3] Id. at 124.
[4] The proposed wording was “No person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for an offense upon which the final judgment has been rendered.”
[5] Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J., THE 1987 CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES: A COMMENTARY 589 (2009 Edition).
[6] Condrada v. People, 446 Phil. 635, 641 (2003).
[7] Chiok v. People, 774 Phil. 230, 248 (2015).
[8] 468 Phil. 1 (2004).
[9] Id. at 12-13.
[10] 195 Phil. 21 (1981).
[11] Id. at 32.
[12] 228 Phil. 42 (1986).
[13] Id. at 83.
[14] Id. at 90.
[15] 394 Phil. 517 (2000).
[16] Id. at 555.
[17] 95 Phil. 475 ( 1954).
[18] Id. at 480.
[19] People v. Velasco, supra note 15 at 555-557.