G.R. No. 166199 - THE SECRETARY OF JUSTICE, ET AL. v. CHRISTOPHER KORUGA
[G.R. NO. 166199 : April 24, 2009]
THE SECRETARY OF JUSTICE, THE EXECUTIVE SECRETARY and THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF THE BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION, Petitioners, v. CHRISTOPHER KORUGA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before the Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Decision1 dated September 14, 2004 and the Resolution2 dated November 24, 2004 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 76578. The assailed Decision set aside the Resolution dated April 1, 2003 of the Secretary of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Judgment dated February 11, 2002 of the Board of Commissioners (BOC) of the Bureau of Immigration (BI), and dismissed the deportation case filed against Christopher Koruga (respondent), an American national, for violation of Section 37(a)(4) of Commonwealth Act No. 613, as amended, otherwise known as the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940; while the assailed Resolution denied petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration.
The factual background of the case is as follows:
Sometime in August 2001, then BI Commissioner Andrea Domingo received an anonymous letter3 requesting the deportation of respondent as an undesirable alien for having been found guilty of Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act in the State of Washington, United States of America (USA) for attempted possession of cocaine sometime in 1983.
On the basis of a Summary of Information,4 the Commissioner issued Mission Order No. ADD-01-1625 on September 13, 2001 directing Police Superintendent (P/Supt.) Lino G. Caligasan, Chief of the Intelligence Mission and any available BI Special Operations Team Member to conduct verification/ validation of the admission status and activities of respondent and effect his immediate arrest if he is found to have violated the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, as amended.
On September 17, 2001, respondent was arrested and charged before the Board of Special Inquiry (BSI) for violation of Section 37(a)(4) of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, as amended. The case was docketed as BSI-D.C. No. ADD-01-126. The Charge Sheet reads:
On September 17, 2001, at about 10:00 A.M., respondent was arrested by Intelligence operatives at his residence, located at 1001 MARBELLA CONDOMINIUM II, Roxas Boulevard, Malate, Manila, pursuant to Mission Order No. ADD-01-162;
That respondent was convicted and/or sentenced for Uniform Controlled Substance Act in connection with his being Drug Trafficker and/or Courier of prohibited drugs in the State of Washington, United States of America, thus, making him an undesirable alien and/or a public burden in violation of Sec. 37(4) [sic] of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, as amended.
CONTRARY TO LAW.6
On September 28, 2001, after filing a Petition for Bail7 and Supplemental Petition for Bail,8 respondent was granted bail and provisionally released from the custody of the BI.9
Following the submission of respondent's Memorandum10 and the BI Special Prosecutor's Memorandum,11 the BOC rendered a Judgment12 dated February 11, 2002 ordering the deportation of respondent under Section 37(a)(4) of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, as amended.
On February 26, 2002, respondent filed a Motion for Reconsideration,13 but it was denied by the BOC in a Resolution dated March 19, 2002.
Unaware that the BOC already rendered its Resolution dated March 19, 2002, respondent filed on April 2, 2002, a Manifestation and Notice of Appeal Ex Abundanti Cautelam14 with the Office of the President, which referred15 the appeal to the DOJ.
On April 1, 2003, then DOJ Secretary Simeon A. Datumanong rendered a Resolution16 dismissing the appeal. On April 15, 2003, respondent filed a Motion for Reconsideration17 which he subsequently withdrew18 on April 23, 2003.
On April 24, 2003, respondent filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition19
with the CA, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 76578, seeking to set aside the Resolution dated April 1, 2003 of the DOJ Secretary and the Judgment dated February 11, 2002 of the BOC.
On September 14, 2004, the CA rendered a Decision20 setting aside the Resolution dated April 1, 2003 of the DOJ Secretary and the Judgment dated February 11, 2002 of the BOC and dismissing the deportation case filed against respondent. The CA held that there was no valid and legal ground for the deportation of respondent since there was no violation of Section 37(a)(4) of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, as amended, because respondent was not convicted or sentenced for a violation of the law on prohibited drugs since the U.S. Court dismissed the case for violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act in the State of Washington, USA filed against respondent; that petitioners further failed to present or attach to their pleadings any document which would support their allegations that respondent entered into a plea bargain with the U.S. Prosecutor for deferred sentence nor did they attach to the record the alleged order or judgment of the U.S. Court which would show the conviction of respondent for violation of the prohibited drugs law in the USA; that even if respondent was convicted and sentenced for the alleged offense, his deportation under Section 37(a)(4) is improper, since the prohibited drugs law referred to therein refers not to a foreign drugs law but to the Philippine drugs law, then Republic Act No. 6425 or the "Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972"; that although the BOC is clothed with exclusive authority to decide as to the right of a foreigner to enter the country, still, such executive officers must act within the scope of their authority or their decision is a nullity.
Petitioners' Motion for Reconsideration21 was denied by the CA in its presently assailed Resolution22 dated November 24, 2004.
Hence, the present petition on the following grounds:
I. THE COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED IN TAKING COGNIZANCE OF THE SUBJECT CASE WHICH FALLS UNDER THE EXCLUSIVE PREROGATIVE OF THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH OF THE GOVERNMENT.
II. ASSUMING ARGUENDO THAT IT COULD TAKE COGNIZANCE OVER THE CASE, THE COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING AN ABUSE OF DISCRETION ON THE PART OF HEREIN PETITIONERS.
III. THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN FINDING THAT THE CHARGES AGAINST THE HEREIN RESPONDENT WERE DROPPED.
IV. THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN HOLDING THAT PRIOR CONVICTION IS REQUIRED BEFORE RESPONDENT COULD BE DEPORTED.23
Petitioners contend that the BI has exclusive authority in deportation proceedings and no other tribunal is at liberty to reexamine or to controvert the sufficiency of the evidence presented therein; that there was no grave abuse of discretion on the part of petitioners when they sought the deportation of respondent since he was convicted by the Supreme Court of the State of Washington for attempted Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act and underwent probation in lieu of the imposition of sentence; that the dismissal of the charge against respondent was only with respect to penalties and liabilities, obtained after fulfilling the conditions for his probation, and was not an acquittal from the criminal case charged against him; that there is a valid basis to declare respondent's undesirability and effect his deportation since respondent has admitted guilt of his involvement in a drug-related case.
On the other hand, respondent submits that the proceedings against him reek of persecution; that the CA did not commit any error of law; that all the arguments raised in the present petition are mere rehashes of arguments raised before and ruled upon by the CA; and that, even assuming that Section 37(a)(4) of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 does not apply, there is no reason, whether compelling or slight, to deport respondent.
There are two issues for resolution: (1) whether the exclusive authority of the BOC over deportation proceedings bars judicial review, and (2) whether there is a valid and legal ground for the deportation of respondent.
The Court resolves the first issue in the negative.
It is beyond cavil that the BI has the exclusive authority and jurisdiction to try and hear cases against an alleged alien, and that the BOC has jurisdiction over deportation proceedings.24 Nonetheless, Article VIII, Section 125 of the Constitution has vested power of judicial review in the Supreme Court and the lower courts such as the CA, as established by law. Although the courts are without power to directly decide matters over which full discretionary authority has been delegated to the legislative or executive branch of the government and are not empowered to execute absolutely their own judgment from that of Congress or of the President,26 the Court may look into and resolve questions of whether or not such judgment has been made with grave abuse of discretion, when the act of the legislative or executive department is contrary to the Constitution, the law or jurisprudence, or when executed whimsically, capriciously or arbitrarily out of malice, ill will or personal bias.27
In Domingo v. Scheer,28 the Court set aside the Summary Deportation Order of the BOC over an alien for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion in violation of the alien's constitutional and statutory rights to due process, since the BOC ordered the deportation of the alien without conducting summary deportation proceedings and without affording the alien the right to be heard on his motion for reconsideration and adduce evidence thereon.
In House of Sara Lee v. Rey,29 the Court held that while, as a general rule, the factual findings of administrative agencies are not subject to review, it is equally established that the Court will not uphold erroneous conclusions which are contrary to evidence, because the agency a quo, for that reason, would be guilty of a grave abuse of discretion.
When acts or omissions of a quasi-judicial agency are involved, a Petition for Certiorari or prohibition may be filed in the CA as provided by law or by the Rules of Court, as amended.30 Clearly, the filing by respondent of a Petition for Certiorari and prohibition before the CA to assail the order of deportation on the ground of grave abuse of discretion is permitted.
This brings us to the second issue.
The settled rule is that the entry or stay of aliens in the Philippines is merely a privilege and a matter of grace; such privilege is not absolute or permanent and may be revoked. However, aliens may be expelled or deported from the Philippines only on grounds and in the manner provided for by the Constitution, the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, as amended, and administrative issuances pursuant thereto.31
Respondent was charged with violation of Section 37(a)(4) of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, as amended, which provides:
Sec. 37. (a) The following aliens shall be arrested upon the warrant of the Commissioner of Immigration or of any other officer designated by him for the purpose and deported upon the warrant of the Commissioner of Immigration after a determination by the Board of Commissioners of the existence of the ground for deportation as charged against the alien.
x x x
(4) Any alien who is convicted and sentenced for a violation of the law governing prohibited drugs;
x x x x (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
Respondent contends that the use of the definite article "the" immediately preceding the phrase "law on prohibited drugs" emphasizes not just any prohibited drugs law but the law applicable in this jurisdiction, at that time, the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972.32
The Court disagrees.
The general rule in construing words and phrases used in a statute is that in the absence of legislative intent to the contrary, they should be given their plain, ordinary, and common usage meaning.33 However, a literal interpretation of a statute is to be rejected if it will operate unjustly, lead to absurd results, or contract the evident meaning of the statute taken as a whole.34 After all, statutes should receive a sensible construction, such as will give effect to the legislative intention and so as to avoid an unjust or an absurd conclusion.35 Indeed, courts are not to give
words meanings that would lead to absurd or unreasonable consequences.36
Were the Court to follow the letter of Section 37(a)(4) and make it applicable only to convictions under the Philippine prohibited drugs law, the Court will in effect be paving the way to an absurd situation whereby aliens convicted of foreign prohibited drugs laws may be allowed to enter the country to the detriment of the public health and safety of its citizens. It suggests a double standard of treatment where only aliens convicted of Philippine prohibited drugs law would be deported, while aliens convicted of foreign prohibited drugs laws would be allowed entry in the country. The Court must emphatically reject such interpretation of the law. Certainly, such a situation was not envisioned by the framers of the law, for to do so would be contrary to reason and therefore, absurd. Over time, courts have recognized with almost pedantic adherence that what is contrary to reason is not allowed in law.
Indubitably, Section 37(a)(4) should be given a reasonable interpretation, not one which defeats the very purpose for which the law was passed. This Court has, in many cases involving the construction of statutes, always cautioned against narrowly interpreting a statute as to defeat the purpose of the legislator and stressed that it is of the essence of judicial duty to construe statutes so as to avoid such a deplorable result of injustice or absurdity, and that therefore a literal interpretation is to be rejected if it would be unjust or lead to absurd results.37
Moreover, since Section 37(a)(4) makes no distinction between a foreign prohibited drugs law and the Philippine prohibited drugs law, neither should this Court. Ubi lex non distinguit nec nos distinguere debemos.38 Thus, Section 37(a)(4) should apply to those convicted of all prohibited drugs laws, whether local or foreign.ςrαlαω
There is no dispute that respondent was convicted of Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act in the State of Washington, USA for attempted possession of cocaine, as shown by the Order Deferring Imposition of Sentence (Probation).39 While he may have pleaded guilty to a lesser offense, and was not imprisoned but applied for and underwent a one-year probation, still, there is no escaping the fact that he was convicted under a prohibited drugs law, even though it may simply be called a "misdemeanor drug offense."40 The BOC did not commit grave abuse of discretion in ordering the deportation of respondent.
The Court quotes with approval the following acute pronouncements of the BOC:
x x x We note that the respondent admitted in his Memorandum dated 8 October 2001 that he pleaded guilty to the amended information where he allegedly attempted to have in his possession a certain controlled substance, and a narcotic drug. Further, he filed a "Petition for Leave to Withdraw Plea of Guilty and Enter Plea of Not Guilty" to obtain a favorable release from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the filing of the said charge.
Evidently, the U.S. Court issued the Order of Dismissal in exchange for the respondent's plea of guilty to the lesser offense. Though legally allowed in the U.S. Law, We perceive that this strategy afforded the respondent with a convenient vehicle to avoid conviction and sentencing. Moreover, the plea of guilty is by itself crystal clear acknowledgment of his involvement in a drug-related offense. Hence, respondent's discharge from conviction and sentencing cannot hide the fact that he has a prior history of drug-related charge.
This country cannot countenance another alien with a history of a drug-related offense. The crime may have been committed two decades ago but it cannot erase the fact that the incident actually happened. This is the very core of his inadmissibility into the Philippines. Apparently, respondent would like Us to believe that his involvement in this drug case is a petty offense or a mere misdemeanor. However, the Philippine Government views all drug-related cases with grave concern; hence, the enactment of Republic Act No. 6425, otherwise known as "The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972" and the creation of various drug-enforcement agencies. While We empathize with the innocent portrayal of the respondent as a man of irreproachable conduct, not to mention the numerous written testimonies of good character submitted in his behalf, this incomplete and sanitized representation cannot, however, outweigh our commitment and sworn duty to safeguard public health and public safety. Moreover, while the U.S. Government may not have any law enforcement interest on respondent, Philippine immigration authorities certainly do in the able and competent exercise of its police powers. Thus, this case of the respondent is no different from a convicted felon abroad, who argues that he cannot be removed from the Philippines on the ground that the crime was committed abroad. Otherwise, it would open the floodgates to other similarly situated aliens demanding their admission into the country. Indeed, respondent may not be a menace to the U.S. as a result of his being discharged from criminal liability, but that does not ipso facto mean that the immigration authorities should unquestionably admit him into the country.
x x x x41 (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
It must be remembered that aliens seeking entry in the Philippines do not acquire the right to be admitted into the country by the simple passage of time. When an alien, such as respondent, has already physically gained entry in the country, but such entry is later found unlawful or devoid of legal basis, the alien can be excluded anytime after it is found that he was not lawfully admissible at the time of his entry.42 Every sovereign power has the inherent power to exclude aliens from its territory upon such grounds as it may deem proper for its self-preservation or public interest.43 The power to deport aliens is an act of State, an act done by or under the authority of the sovereign power.44 It is a police measure against undesirable aliens whose continued presence in the country is found to be injurious to the public good and the domestic tranquility of the people.45
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 76578 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Judgment dated February 11, 2002 of the Board of Commissioners of the Bureau of Immigration ordering the deportation of respondent Christopher Koruga under Section 37(a)(4) of the Philippine Immigration Act of 1940, as amended, is REINSTATED.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Mariano C. del Castillo and concurred in by Associate Justices Romeo A. Brawner and Jose L. Sabio, Jr., CA rollo, p. 610.
2 Id. at 677.
3 CA rollo, p.140.
4 Id. at 139.
5 Id. at 138.
6 CA rollo, p. 141.
7 Id. at 144.
8 Id. at 154.
9 Id. at 157.
10 Id. at 159.
11 Id. at 187.
12 Id. at 243.
13 Id. at 72.
14 Id. at 103.
15 Id. at 124.
16 Id. at 74.
17 Id. at 126.
18 Id. at 133.
19 CA rollo, p. 9.
20 Supra note 1.
21 CA rollo, p. 630.
22 Supra note 2.
23 Rollo, pp. 36-37.
24 Board of Commissioners (CID) v. De la Rosa, G.R. NOS. 95122-23, May 31, 1991, 197 SCRA 853, 874; Lao Gi v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 81798, December 29, 1989, 180 SCRA 756, 761; Miranda v. Deportation Board, 94 Phil 531, 533 (1954).
25 Article VIII, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, states:
SECTION 1. The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.
Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government.
26 See Tatad v. Secretary of the Department of Energy, G.R. No. 124360, November 5, 1997, 281 SCRA 330, 347; Ledesma v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 113216, September 5, 1997, 278 SCRA 656, 681; Tañada v. Angara, G.R. No. 118295, May 2, 1997, 272 SCRA 18, 48-49.
27 Republic v. Garcia, G.R No. 167741, July 12, 2007, 527 SCRA 495, 502; Information Technology Foundation of the Philippines v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 159139, January 13, 2004, 419 SCRA 141, 148.
28 466 Phil. 235 (2004).
29 G.R. No. 149013, August 31, 2006, 500 SCRA 419.
30 Rules of Court, Rule 65, Section 4.
31 Supra note 28, at 269-270; 487.
32 Repealed by Republic Act No. 9165 or the "Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002" approved on June 7, 2002, or about four (4) months after the BOC rendered its Judgment on February 11, 2002.
33 Ruben E. Agpalo, Statutory Construction (1990), p. 131, citing Central Azucarera Don Pedro v. Central Bank, 104 Phil. 598 (1954); Espino v. Cleofe, G.R. No. 33410, July 13, 1973, 52 SCRA 92; Philippine Acetylene Co. v. Central Bank, 120 Phil. 829 (1964).
34 Solid Homes, Inc. v. Tan, G.R. NOS. 145156-57, July 29, 2005, 465 SCRA 137, 149; Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Solidbank Corporation, G.R. No. 148191, November 25, 2003, 416 SCRA 436, 460; In Re Allen, 2 Phil. 630, 643 (1903).
35 Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) v. Buñag, G.R. No. 143784, February 5, 2003, 397 SCRA 27, 37; Cosico, Jr. v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 118432, May 23, 1997, 272 SCRA 583, 591; Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Esso Standard Eastern, Inc., G.R. No. 28502-03, April 18, 1989, 172 SCRA 364, 370.
36 Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Solidbank Corporation, supra, note 35; People v. Rivera, 59 Phil. 236, 242 (1933).
37 Soriano v. Offshore Shipping and Manning Corporation, G.R. No. 78309, September 14, 1989, 177 SCRA 513, 519; Bello v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. L-38161, March 29, 1974, 56 SCRA 509, 518; Vda. de Macabanta v. Davao Stevedore Terminal Company, G.R. No. L 27489, April 30, 1970, 32 SCRA 553, 558; Automotive Parts & Equipment Co., Inc. v. Lingad, G.R. No. L-26406, October 31, 1969, 30 SCRA 248, 256.
38 BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) v. Exec. Sec. Zamora, G.R. No. 138570, October 10, 2000, 342 SCRA 449, 484; Pilar v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 115245, July 11, 1995, 245 SCRA 759, 763; Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 101976, January 29, 1993, 218 SCRA 203, 214-215.
39 CA rollo, p. 650.
40 Letters dated September 19, 2001 and September 20, 2001 of Michael A. Newbill, Vice Consul of the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, CA rollo, pp. 148 and 149.
41 CA rollo, p. 245.
42 Board of Commissioners (CID) v. Dela Rosa, supra note 24, at 896.
43 Lao Tan Bun v. Fabre, 81 Phil. 682 (1948).
44 In re McCulloch Dick, 38 Phil. 41 (1918).
45 Forbes v. Chuoco Tiaco, 16 Phil. 534 (1910).
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