G.R. No. 107211 June 28, 1996
Petitioner, v. HON. COURT OF APPEALS, (Former Special Seventh Division), REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF MALABON, BRANCH 72, and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES,
"Does the constitutional right to a speedy trial include the right to a prompt disposition and judgment?" This is the question posed before this Court in the instant petition for review under Rule 45 seeking to set aside (a) the Decision
of the Court of Appeals
promulgated on February 18, 1992 in CA-G.R. SP No. 23737; and (b) the Resolution promulgated on September 10, 1992 denying the motion for reconsideration.
By a resolution dated November 13, 1935, the First Division of this Court transferred this case, along with several others, to the Third. After careful deliberation and consultation on the petition, comment, reply, memoranda and other submissions of the parties, this Court assigned the writing of this Decision to the undersigned ponente.
The antecedents are not disputed. As summarized by the Solicitor General in his memorandum, they are as follows:
On November 16, 1971, an Information for Triple Homicide Through Reckless Imprudence was filed against petitioner before the Court of First Instance, Branch XXXV, Caloocan City, presided by Judge Manuel A. Argel, and docketed as Criminal Case No. C-2073. which reads:
That on or about the 13th day of May, 1969, in the Municipality of Malabon, Province of Rizal, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused being then the pilot of non-commercial Aircraft, type Camanche PA-24-250 with registration marking PI-C515, then in-charge of, and has complete responsibility for, the maintenance and operation of said aircraft, without taking the necessary care and precaution to avoid accidents or injuries to persons, and without ascertaining as to whether the quantity of fuel in the tanks of said aircraft was sufficient for the flight from Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija to MIA, Parañaque, Rizal, did, then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously operate, fly, pilot, maneuver and/or conduct the flight of said aircraft from the airport at Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija with four (4) passengers on board, and while the said aircraft was already airborne after several minutes, the engine quitted twice indicating that there was no more fuel, prompting the accused to make an emergency manner landing on a fishpond which he executed in a careless, negligent and imprudent manner in the Piper Camanche Owner's handbook, and as a result of the improper execution of said emergency landing, the aircraft's landing gear collided with a dike and trees near the fishpond in Malabon, Rizal, resulting to the fatal injuries in three (3) passengers, namely, Cpl. Teodoro Neric, Jose Mari Garcia and Lourdes Garcia which directly caused their deaths.
Contrary to law.
Due to several postponements, all filed by the petitioner, the prosecution was finally able to start presenting its evidence on September 29, 1972 after petitioner entered his plea of "Not Guilty".
On August 19, 1975, the prosecution finally rested its case.
On February 7, 1978, the defense rested its case.
On March 16, 1978, the hearing was terminated and the parties were ordered by Judge Argel to submit their respective memoranda.
On January 19, 1979, Judge Bernardo P. Pardo who ostensibly took over as presiding judge vice Judge Argel, granted private prosecutor's omnibus motion to file memorandum up to January 29, 1979.
On December 21, 1979, petitioner filed his memorandum.
It would appear that from the RTC of Caloocan City, Branch XXXV, the case was subsequently assigned to Branch CXXV presided over by Judge Alfredo Gorgonio who apparently did not take action thereon.
On January 30, 1989, Court Administrator Meynardo Tiro ordered the reraffling of the case from the RTC of Caloocan City, Branch CXXV to the RTC of Navotas-Malabon which, under the provisions of B.P. 129, had jurisdiction over the case.
The case, now docketed as Criminal Case No. 7356-MN, was raffled to presiding Judge Benjamin N. Aquino of the RTC, Navotas-Malabon, Branch 72.
On March 14, 1990, Judge Aquino ordered the parties to follow-up and complete the transcript of stenographic notes within 30 days considering that the same was found to be incomplete.
On April 20, 1990, since the parties were not able to complete the transcript of stenographic notes, the court ordered the retaking of the testimonies of the witnesses.
On May 15, 1990, the private prosecutor submitted copies of the duplicate originals of the testimonies of Eusebio Garcia and Elena Obidosa (December 11, 1969), Celestino Nazareno (March 16, 1973), Cenen Miras (April 27, 1973), Ariston Agustin (February 10, 1977) and Francisco Guerrero (December 5 and 19, 1977). The private prosecutor manifested that he had communicated with one of the stenographers on record, Ms. Remedios S. Delfin, who promised to look into her files and hopefully complete the transcription of her stenographic notes.
On October 1, 1990, the presiding Judge set the retaking of the witnesses testimony on October 24, 1990.
On October 24, 1990, the retaking of the testimonies was reset to November 9, 1990 due to petitioner's failure to appear on the scheduled hearing.
On November 7, 1990, petitioner filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that his right to speedy trial has been violated.
On November 9, 1990, presiding Judge dented the motion to dismiss and reset the retaking of the testimonies to November 21, 1990.
On November 16, 1990, petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied oil November 21, 1990. The presiding Judge set anew the retaking of the testimonies December 5, 1990.
Hence, petitioner filed petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus for the review of the orders of the Regional Trial Court dated November 9, 1990 and November 20, 1990 anent petitioner's motion to dismiss, as well as his motion for reconsideration. The petition was anchored on the alleged violation of petitioner's constitutional right to speedy trial.
In its decision which was promulgated on February 18, 1992, the Honorable Court of Appeals dismissed the petition. In a resolution dated September 10, 1992, petitioner's motion for reconsideration was denied.
Petitioner now assigns the following errors
against the respondent Court:
The respondent Court of Appeals erred in not finding that the re-hearing of the instant case will not suit the intended purpose and will only result in untold prejudice to the petitioner.
The respondent Court of Appeals erred in not ruling that the petitioner is entitled to a dismissal of the criminal case equivalent to an acquittal on the merits based on the violation of his right to speedy trial resulting from the failure to render a prompt disposition of judgment.
The First Issue: Untold Prejudice
Petitioner claims that through no fault of his, seven of the ten witnesses who testified for the accused will no longer be able to testify anew.
So too, three witness for the prosecution have died and thus would not be able to appear during the re-hearing. And even if all witnesses would be able to testify again, "the passage of a long period of time spanning more than two decades since the incident complained of will tend to confuse or hinder than aid the accurate recall of the facts and circumstances of the case," as follows
(a) Capt. Ricardo B. Stohner of the Civil Aeronautics Administration has reportedly migrated to either the U.S.A. or Canada, after he retired from the CAA about eight (8) years ago. Capt. Stohner's indispensable testimony as an expert witness as well as to his personal knowledge of certain material facts as described in Francisco Guerrero's Memorandum of 17 December 1979, crucial to the defense, is now lost to the petitioner.
(b) Eduardo V. Guerrero, a son of Francisco Guerrero, has been undergoing psychiatric treatment for more than two years now, as he is suffering from chronic mental illness. He is in no condition to testify. Copies of medical certificates on Eduardo's condition were submitted to the respondent courts as annexes to various pleadings.
(c) Rosario V. Guerrero, wife of Francisco Guerrero. was operated on last August for tumor of the colon and is still suffering a partial disability. She is under medical advice to avoid activities which may cause her stress, including testifying in court. Copies of medical certificates on Mrs. Guerrero's operation and condition were submitted to the respondent courts as annexes to various pleadings.
(d) The whereabouts of Alberto Atanacio, Rodolfo Fontanilla, Editha Pangilinan, and Rizal and Belen Macabole, are unknown, and despite diligent efforts exerted by petitioner, they have not been found up to the present.
At this point, this argument is premature and at best speculative. As to whether the witnesses for the defense would be available at the trial, and if available, whether they will still be in a position to recall the events that transpired in the case more than twenty five years ago is a question of fact which cannot be determined now. As pointed out by the Solicitor General in his memorandum:
Contrary to petitioner's contention, the whereabouts of his witnesses (except Rizal and Evelyn Macabole) are ascertainable should a diligent search be made by him. This can be gleaned from the return of the subpoena dated October 1, 1990 which forms part of the record of the case. Eduardo Guerrero and Rosario Guerrero were respectively served with subpoena and their alleged mental and physical incapacity to testify should best be left to the assessment of respondent trial court. Edith (sic) Pangilinan was notified of the retaking and is, thus, available. Alberto Atanacio and Rodolfo Fontanilla, on the other hand, are in Lucena City. The exact whereabouts of the last two witnesses can be ascertained if diligent efforts were exerted to locate them.
The alleged unavailability of the witnesses for the prosecution should not be the concern of the petitioner at this time. The burden of proving his guilt rests upon the prosecution. And if the prosecution fails for any reason to present evidence sufficient to show his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, he will be acquitted.
. . . The burden of proof rests upon the prosecution and unless the State succeeds in proving his guilt. the presumption of innocence in favor of the accused-appellant applies. The conscience must be satisfied that, on the accused-appellant could be laid the responsibility of the offense charged.
. . . [C]ourts must exert utmost scrupulousness in evaluating the evidence of the prosecution for it is elementary that the conviction of an accused must rest on the strength of the prosecution and not on the weakness of the defense (People vs. Cruz, 215 SCRA 339 ). The prosecution must overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence by proof beyond reasonable doubt; otherwise, the acquittal of the accused is ineluctably demanded. . . .
. . . It is safely entrenched in our jurisprudence that unless the prosecution discharges its burden to prove the guilt of an accused beyond reasonable doubt, the latter need not even offer evidence in his behalf. Acquittal then of the accused-appellant is in order.
On this matter, the respondent Court,
citing the assailed order of the trial court, argues that there are really only two witnesses of the prosecution whose testimonies need to be retaken and the rehearing should not really present a monumental problem:
With only two (2) witnesses of the prosecution to be presented, coupled with a promise of expeditiousness by respondent Judge, the Court is of the view that petitioner's misgivings are rather exaggerated. And as to his expressed fear that his own witnesses for the defense can no longer testify "in the same manner as before," the same Order well and truly states in adequate refutation that --
. . . the fear that the witnesses to the incident which occurred in 1969 may no longer have the same perception of what they saw and, therefore, would not be able to testify in Court in the same manner they originally testified is not the concern of the defense but of the prosecution. If the prosecution witnesses cannot give convincing testimony in the retaking of their testimony, that is the worry of the prosecution. It is not even unfair to the accused if his witnesses cannot testify in the same convincing manner that they testified before as long as the prosecution witnesses are convincing. Everything in a criminal prosecution should be interpreted liberally in favor of the accused and strictly against the state. . . .
Anent petitioner's contention that the re-hearing would place him in double jeopardy, suffice it to say that there has been no termination of the criminal prosecution -- i.e. of that "first jeopardy." For double jeopardy to attach, the following elements must concur:
. . . It is a settled rule that to raise the defense of double jeopardy, the following requisites must concur: (1) a first jeopardy must have attached prior to the second; (2) the first jeopardy must have been validly terminated; and (3) the second jeopardy must be for the same offense, or the second offense includes or is necessarily included in the offense charged in the first information, or is an attempt, to commit the same or is a frustration thereof (emphasis omitted).
And legal jeopardy attaches only: (a) upon a valid indictment: (b) before a competent court; (c) after arraignment; (d) a valid plea having been entered; and (e) the case was dismissed or otherwise terminated without the express consent of the accused (emphasis omitted).
In the present case, there has not even been a first jeopardy, since the fourth element -- dismissal or termination of the case without the express consent of the accused -- is not present. Moreover, measured against the aforequoted standard, the re-taking of testimonies cannot in any wise be deemed a second jeopardy. Hence, it is beyond dispute that petitioner's claim of double jeopardy is utterly without basis.
The Second Issue: Speedy Trial and Speedy Disposition
True, indeed, the 1987 Constitution provides the right not only to a speedy trial but also to a speedy judgment after trial when in Section 16, Article III, it provides:
All persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative bodies.
Hence, the Constitution mandates dispatch not only in the trial stage but also in the disposition thereof, warranting dismissals in case of violations thereof without the fault of the party concerned, not just the accused.
In the recent case of People vs. Leviste,
this Court citing Gonzales vs. Sandiganbayan
and People vs. Tampal,
reiterated the ruling that the right to speedy trial is violated only where there is an unreasonable, vexatious and oppressive delay without the participation or fault of the accused, or when unjustified postponements are sought which prolong the trial for unreasonable lengths of time.
On the other hand, the case of Caballero vs. Alfonso, Jr.,
laid down the guidelines in determining the applicability of the "speedy disposition" formula:
. . . (S)peedy disposition of cases' is a relative term. Just like the constitutional guarantee of "speedy trial" accorded an accused in all criminal proceedings, "speedy disposition of cases" is a flexible concept. It is consistent with delays and depends upon the circumstances. What the Constitution prohibits are unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive delays which render rights nugatory.
In the determination of whether or not the right to a "speedy trial" has been violated, certain factors may be considered and balanced against each other. These are length of delay, reason for the delay, assertion of the right or failure to assert it, and prejudice caused by the delay. The same factors may also be considered in answering judicial inquiry whether or not a person officially charged with the administration of justice has violated the "speedy disposition of cases" guarantee.
In the case before us, the petitioner merely sat and waited after the case was submitted for resolution in 1979. It was only in 1989 when the case below was reraffled from the RTC of Caloocan City to the RTC of Navotas-Malabon and only after respondent trial judge of the latter court ordered on March 14, 1990 the parties to follow-up and complete the transcript of stenographic notes that matters started to get moving towards a resolution of the case. More importantly, it was only after the new trial judge reset the retaking of the testimonies to November 9, 1990 because of petitioner's absence during the original setting on October 24, 1990 that the accused suddenly became zealous of safeguarding his right to speedy trial and disposition.
While it may be said that it was not petitioner's fault that the stenographic notes of the testimonies of the witnesses were not transcribed, yet neither was it the prosecution's. The respondent trial judge can hardly be faulted either because he could not have rendered the decision without the transcripts in question. Let it be remembered that he was not the judge who conducted the trial and hence he would not have had sufficient basis to make a disposition in the absence of the said transcripts. As respondent Court of Appeals noted:
Indeed, it can be gleaned from the pleadings on file that the case was assigned to respondent Judge only in late 1989 or early 1990, and that he took prompt action thereon by setting the case for retaking of testimonies, obviously as a prelude to judgment. The case then was finally making progress toward termination. For such dispatch and diligence, respondent Judge hardly deserves condemnation. Petitioner also faults the prosecution for its failure to follow up the status of the case.
As regards the other judge to whom the case was assigned prior to 1989, the accused himself could not pinpoint the cause of the problem:
2) Reason for the delay No one knows why the Presiding Judge (Manuel A. Argel) of the respondent court who heard the trial did not render a decision during his tenure. No one knows either why another former Presiding Judge (Alfredo Gorgonio) failed to turn over the case to the Malabon court during the Judiciary Reorganization under B.P. Blg. 129.
It appears later on that the case became a victim of neglect and languished in the court docket, Not surprisingly, since the risk of such loss through neglect and other causes grew with each passing year, part of the records and several transcripts were lost in the time the case lay unattended. Before being finally assigned to the respondent trial court, the case was shuttled from court to court through various indorsements of Executive Judges and the Court Administrator of the Supreme Court as a result of the confusion as to which court had territorial jurisdiction over it.
In the present case, there is no question that petitioner raised the violation against his own right to speedy disposition only when the respondent trial judge reset the case for rehearing. It is fair to assume that he would have just continued to sleep on his right -- a situation amounting to laches -- had the respondent judge not taken the initiative of determining the non-completion of the records and of ordering the remedy precisely so he could dispose of the case. The matter could have taken a different dimension if during all those ten years between 1979 when accused filed his memorandum and 1989 when the case was reraffled, the accused showed signs of asserting his right which was granted him in 1987 when the new constitution took effect,
or at least made some overt act (like a motion for early disposition or a motion to compel the stenographer to transcribe stenographic notes) that he was not waiving it. As it is, his silence would have to be interpreted as a waiver of such right.
While this Court recognizes the right to speedy disposition quite distinctly from the right to a speedy trial, and although this Court has always zealously espoused protection from oppressive and vexatious delays not attributable to the party involved, at the same time, we hold that a party's individual rights should not work against and preclude the people's equally important right to public justice. In the instant case, three people died as a result of the crash of the airplane that the accused was flying. It appears to us that the delay in the disposition of the case prejudiced not just the accused but the people as well. Since the accused has completely failed to assert his right seasonably and inasmuch as the respondent judge was not in a position to dispose of the case on the merits due to the absence of factual basis, we hold it proper and equitable to give the parties fair opportunity to obtain (and the court to dispense, substantial justice in the premises.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The respondent trial court is directed to proceed with judicious dispatch in the re-taking of testimonies and in concluding the case in accordance with law.
Narvasa, C.J., Davide, Jr., Melo and Francisco, JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, pp. 42-51.
2 Seventh Division, composed of J. Serafin E. Camilon, ponente, JJ. Celso L. Magsino and Artemon D. Luna, members.
3 Rollo, pp. 171-174.
4 Rollo, p. 17.
5 Petition, pp. 14-15; rollo, 18-19.
6 Rollo, pp. 221-222.
7 People vs. Eslaban, 218 SCRA 534, 544 (February 8, 1993).
8 People vs. Mendiola, 235 SCRA 116, 120 (August 4, 1994).
9 People vs. Sulit, 233 SCRA 117, 125 (June 14, 1994).
10 CA Decision, pp. 3-4; rollo, pp. 44-45.
11 People vs. Puno, 208 SCRA 550, 557 (May 8, 1972). See also People vs. Assuncion, 208 SCRA 231, 239 (April 22, 1992), Gorion vs. Regional Trial Court of Cebu, Br. 17, 213 SCRA 138, 148 (August 31, 1992), and Martinez vs. Court of Appeals, 237 SCRA 575, 581 (October 13, 1994).
12 G.R. No. 104386 (March 28, 1996).
13 199 SCRA 298 (July 16, 1991).
14 244 SCRA 202 (May 22, 1995).
15 153 SCRA 153. 162-163 (August 21, 1987).
16 Petition, p. 24; rollo, p. 28.
17 The 1987 Constitution was ratified and took effect on February 2, 1987, per People vs. Albofera, 159 SCRA 523, 534 (April 8, 1988); also, Dytiapco vs. Civil Service Commission, 211 SCRA 88, 94 (July 3, 1992). See also Republic of the Philippines (PCGG) vs. Sandiganbayan, Sipalay Trading Corp. & Allied Banking Corp., G.R. No. 112708-09 (March 29, 1996), at p. 47.