PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. COURT OF APPEALS and CASAN MAQUILING, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
The rule against double jeopardy proscribes an appeal from a judgment of acquittal. If said judgment is assailed in a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, as in the present case, the petitioner must prove that the lower court, in acquitting the accused, committed not merely reversible errors, but grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. A judgment rendered with grave abuse of discretion or without due process is void, does not exist in legal contemplation and, thus, cannot be the source of an acquittal. However, where the petition demonstrate mere errors in judgment not amounting to grave abuse of discretion or deprivation of due process, the writ of certiorari cannot issue. A review of alleged errors of judgments cannot be made without trampling upon the right of the accused against double jeopardy.
Through the solicitor general, Petitioner People of the Philippines brings before this Court a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, assailing the 65-page March 24, 1997 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA).2 Petitioner prays that said Decision be annulled and the case remanded to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Lanao del Norte, Branch 5, so that the latter can effect the entry of its judgment3 convicting herein Respondent Casan Maquiling of homicide and serious physical injuries.
The dispositive portion of the assailed Decision reads as follows:
WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Lanao del Norte, Branch 5 dated September 25, 1995 is hereby SET ASIDE and a new order is hereby issued ACQUITTING the accused of the crimes charged.
xxx xxx xxx
Costs de oficio.4
On the other hand, the dispositive portion of the RTC Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, the foregoing premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered declaring the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of homicide for killing the deceased Frederick Pacasum, and of serious physical injuries for having physically injured Oligario Villarimo.
For killing Frederick Pacasum, there being no aggravating or mitigating circumstances attendant, accused is condemned to suffer an indeterminate penalty of [n]ine (9) years of prision mayor to [f]ifteen (15) years reclusion temporal, and pay the civil liability herein above-awarded, including the cost of the suit.
For the physical injuries of Oligario Villarimo, there being no aggravating and mitigating circumstance attendant too, accused is condemned to suffer a straight penalty of six (6) months ar[r]esto mayor.
The period of detention that accused underwent during the pendency of trial shall be credited in full, in the service of his sentence.5
Both the prosecutions and the defenses versions of the incident that gave rise to this controversy were adequately summarized by the appellate court as follows:
The prosecutions witnesses insisted that it was Ramil Maquiling who first boxed the deceased Frederick Pacasum who was compelled to box back. That the appellant, elder brother of Ramil, appeared from nowhere and boxed the deceased. Thereafter the accused and his brother (Ramil) ran out of the disco but when the deceased and his companions followed outside, Ramil Maquiling and his companions were waiting and another fist fight ensued.
While the commotion was going on, appellant went to his parked Isuzu Trooper and got his .45 caliber pistol. Appellant then approached the deceased. Before he could reach him, Audie Pacasum who was with the group of the deceased, tried to prevent appellant from using his gun. Appellant then fired a warning shot causing the people around to scamper for safety. The deceased turned his back to see what was going on. At that moment, appellant shot the deceased twice on the left thigh. The deceased fell on the ground lying on his back with his hands clutching his left thigh. Appellant then approached the deceased and fired another shot hitting the deceased on the chest. Jojo Villarimo was himself shot in the leg. As a consequence of the gunshot wounds, Frederick Pacasum died while Jojo Villarimo suffered gunshot wounds on his upper right leg which required medical attendance for six (6) months.
The accused and his witnesses on the other hand, maintained that while the accused was entertaining his guests at the Spectrum Disco located in the basement of Iligan Village Hotel, he saw Frederic[k] Pacasum and Ramil Maquiling, his younger brother, pointing at each other, then Frederick boxed Ramil who was hit on the face and fell on the floor. As he approached Ramil and Frederick, he saw Frederick hit Ramil on his head with a bottle as the latter was attempting to stand up causing him to fall anew on the floor. He also saw Frederick kick Ramil in several parts of his body. Hence, he attempted to intervene to stop Frederick from mauling Ramil. Instead, Frederick boxed appellant on the side of the cheek below his right eye. Appellant wanted to retaliate by boxing Frederick but could not do so because of Raden Pacasum and Jojo Villarimo who were standing beside Frederick and who were much larger and bigger than appellant. The accused then opted to back out and left the disco. He then noticed the deceased Frederick and Raden Pacasum and Jojo Villarimo following him outside. He proceeded to his Isuzu Trooper which was parked about 12 meters from the entrance of the disco. As he was about to open the door of his vehicle, he looked back and saw Frederick coming from his vehicle and holding a shotgun. He then opened his trooper vehicle and got his .45 caliber pistol. Frederic[k] approached appellant holding the shotgun at hip level with the barrel pointed at the appellant. Appellant then fired two (2) warning shots to the air to deter the deceased from coming any closer. He then heard Raden Pacasum shout: Barilin mo na. Frederick fired the shotgun hitting the accused in the hip. The accused fell to the ground with his elbow and knees, his right hand still holding the pistol. He tried to stand up but could not. In a kneeling position with his right foot extended backward, he aimed at Frederick and shot him twice in the hip. His intention was not to kill but to disarm. But Frederick would not release the shotgun and instead prepared to aim the same at the accused. Left with no choice, the accused shot Frederick on the chest. Then Jojo Villarimo ran towards Frederick and picked up the shotgun. The accused then aimed at his leg to disarm him.
After shooting Jojo Villarimo, appellant examined his pistol and finding the same to be empty, released the pistols slide. He attempted to stand up but could not and just crawled to his trooper. Raden Pacasum then went near him and grabbed the pistol from his hand [,] pointed same at him and squeezed the trigger but the gun did not fire as it had no more bullets. Raden Pacasum then went away taking with him the pistol. The accused was thereafter loaded into a [T]amaraw vehicle which brought him to the Mindanao Sanitarium and Hospital where he was treated.6
On June 13, 1988, Iligan City Fiscal Ulysses V. Lagcao charged Respondent Casan Maquiling with homicide and frustrated homicide. Acting on the petition of the private complainants, the Department of Justice subsequently directed the upgrading of the charge of homicide to murder. The Amended Information reads:7cräläwvirtualibräry
That on or about June 3, 1988, in the City of Iligan, Philippines, and within the Jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, armed with a deadly weapon, to wit[,] a cal. 45 pistol, by means of treachery and abuse of superior strength, and with intent to kill, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault, shoot and wound one Frederick Pacasum, thereby inflicting upon him the following physical injuries, to wit:
- gunshot wounds
- hemorrhage shock
which caused his death.
Contrary to and in violation of Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, with the aggravating circumstances of treachery and abuse of superior strength.
To both charges, Respondent Maquiling, assisted by Counsel de Parte Moises Dalisay Jr., entered a plea of not guilty upon his arraignment on June 5, 1989.8 Trial ensued. Thereafter, the trial court rendered its Decision convicting private respondent of homicide and serious physical injuries.
Appellate Courts Ruling
In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals accepted the claim of self-defense and ruled:
xxx The witnesses have uniformly testified that a fight ensued between the deceased Frederick Pacasum and Ramil Maquiling in the course of which Frederick boxed Ramil causing him to fall on the floor. When the accused-appellant tried to pacify and stop Frederick from inflicting further harm on his brother, he was instead boxed on the right cheek by Frederick. And while he wanted to retaliate he could not do so because of the superiority in numbers and in strength of Frederick and his companions who were not only more in [number] but likewise taller and bigger. Hence accused had opted to leave the disco but was followed to his car by Frederick with a shotgun [i]n hand. The deceased Frederick not only aimed the shotgun [at] him but actually fired at the accused. And the accused shot at the deceased only after he was himself injured by the deceased who fired a shotgun at him. He likewise shot at Olegario Jojo Villaremo to disarm him as he likewise took possession of the shotgun.
There was reasonable necessity of the means used to prevent and[/]or repel the unlawful aggression. The accused fired a warning shot to deter the deceased from attacking and even after he was himself hit by the shotgun. He had fired first at the left thigh of the deceased, as his intention was merely to disarm Frederick, not to kill him. But when the appellant perceived that Frederick was still aiming the shotgun [at] him, xxx he decided to fire the fatal shot.
There was likewise lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself. It was the deceased Frederick, with a shotgun [in] hand, [who] approached the accused who was then about to open his Isuzu trooper. When accused looked back, he saw Frederick coming with a shotgun. Accused then opened his trooper and got his .45 caliber pistol. The deceased also disregarded the warning shots fired by the accused and was the first to shoot at the accused.9
The appellate court also noted various flaws and inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, in effect strengthening the version set forth by the accused. It held:
To the mind of the court, the discrepancies as to the manner the accused killed the deceased are material.
Major and evident discrepancies in the testimony of witnesses on various aspects, cannot but raise well founded and overriding doubts on their credibility. (xxx) Irreconcilable and unexplained contradictions in the testimonies of prosecution cast doubt on the guilt of the accused and such contradictory statements will not sustain a judgment of conviction (xxx).10
Through this special civil action for certiorari before us, the solicitor general now seeks11 to set aside Respondent Courts Decision, for having been allegedly rendered with grave abuse of discretion.
Assignment of Errors
In its Memorandum, the Office of the Solicitor General raises a single issue:
Whether or not the Assailed Decision, dated 24 March 1997, of respondent court is void ab initio, for having been rendered in denial of due process and with grave abuse of discretion.12
The Courts Ruling
The petition is not meritorious.
Ordinarily, the judicial recourse of an aggrieved party is to appeal the trial court's judgment to the Court of Appeals and thereafter, to the Supreme Court in a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. In such cases, this tribunal is limited to the determination of whether the lower court committed reversible errors13 or, in other words, mistakes of judgment.14 A direct review by the Supreme Court is the normal recourse of the accused, where the penalty imposed by the trial court is death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment.
The rule on double jeopardy, however, prohibits the state from appealing or filing a petition for review of a judgment of acquittal that was based on the merits of the case. Thus, Section 2, Rule 122 of the Rules of Court reads:
"Sec. 2. Who may appeal. -- Any party may appeal from a final judgment or order, except if the accused would be placed thereby in double jeopardy."
This rule stems from the constitutional mandate stating that no person shall be put twice in jeopardy for the same offense. xxx"15 It is rooted in the early case U.S. v. Kepner,16 in which the United States Supreme Court, reviewing a Philippine Supreme Court decision, declared that an appeal by the prosecution from a judgment of acquittal would place the defendant in double jeopardy.17cräläwvirtualibräry
Double jeopardy is present if the following elements concur: (1) the accused individuals are charged under a complaint or an information sufficient in form and substance to sustain their conviction; (2) the court has jurisdiction; (3) the accused have been arraigned and have pleaded; and (4) they are convicted or acquitted, or the case is dismissed without their express consent.18cräläwvirtualibräry
In the case at bar, there are no questions as regards the existence of the first, third and fourth elements. Petitioner, however, questions the presence of the second element and submits that Respondent Court of Appeals was ousted of its jurisdiction, because it denied the petitioner due process and because it committed grave abuse of discretion.
To question the jurisdiction of the lower court or the agency exercising judicial or quasi judicial functions, the remedy is a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. The petitioner in such cases must clearly show that the public respondent acted without jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.19 Grave abuse of discretion defies exact definition, but generally refers to capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. The abuse of discretion must be patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or 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."20cräläwvirtualibräry
It has been held, however, that no grave abuse of discretion may be attributed to a court simply because of its alleged misappreciation of facts and evidence.21 A writ of certiorari may not be used to correct a lower tribunal's evaluation of the evidence and factual findings. In other words, it is not a remedy for mere errors of judgment, which are correctible by an appeal or a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.22cräläwvirtualibräry
In fine, certiorari will issue only to correct errors of jurisdiction, not errors of procedure or mistakes in the findings or conclusions of the lower court.23 As long as a court acts within its jurisdiction, any alleged errors committed in the exercise of its discretion will amount to nothing more than errors of judgment which are reviewable by timely appeal and not by special civil action for certiorari.24cräläwvirtualibräry
A denial of due process likewise results in loss or lack of jurisdiction. Accordingly, no double jeopardy would attach where the state is deprived of a fair opportunity to prosecute and prove its case,25 or where the dismissal of an information or complaint is purely capricious or devoid of reason,26 or when there is lack of proper notice and opportunity to be heard.27
Grave Abuse of Discretion
To show grave abuse of discretion, herein petitioner contends that Respondent Court of Appeals committed manifest bias and partiality in rendering the assailed Decision. It claims that Respondent Court ignored and discarded uncontroverted physical evidence which the trial judge had relied upon. Furthermore, it allegedly erred in finding that he had base[d] his decision on the testimony of witnesses whose demeanor he did not personally witness. In addition, it supposedly harped on insignificant inconsistencies in the testimonies of some prosecution witnesses, while unquestioningly accepting the private respondents claim of self-defense.
Finally, the solicitor general maintains that the assailed Decision (1) failed to discuss the effect of Maquilings escape from confinement during the pendency of the case; (2) shifted the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove Maquilings guilt, although he admitted killing the victim in self defense; (3) ignored the physical evidence particularly the downward trajectory of the bullets that had hit the two victims, thereby showing that private respondent was still standing when he shot them; and the shotgun wound sustained by private respondent, which disabled him and rendered him incapable of shooting the victims.
It is quite obvious from the foregoing allegations that petitioner imputed grave abuse of discretion to Respondent Court because of the latter's supposed misappreciation and wrongful assessment of factual evidence. However, as earlier stressed, the present recourse is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65. It is a fundamental aphorism in law that a review of facts and evidence is not the province of the extraordinary remedy of certiorari, which is extra ordinem -- beyond the ambit of appeal.28 Stated elsewise, factual matters cannot normally be inquired into by the Supreme Court in a certiorari proceeding. This Court cannot be tasked to go over the proofs presented by the parties and analyze, assess and weigh them again, in order to ascertain if the trial and the appellate courts were correct in according superior credit to this or that piece of evidence of one party or the other.29cräläwvirtualibräry
The mere fact that a court erroneously decides a case does not necessarily deprived it of jurisdiction. Thus, assuming arguendo that a court commits a mistake in its judgment, the error does not vitiate the decision, considering that it has jurisdiction over the case.30cräläwvirtualibräry
An examination of the 65-page Decision rendered by the Court of Appeals shows no patent and gross error amounting to grave abuse of discretion. Neither does it show an arbitrary or despotic exercise of power arising from passion or hostility. In concluding that private respondent acted in self-defense, the Court of Appeals found the three requisites were present, viz.:
This Court is convinced that the accused acted in self-defense. There was unlawful aggression. The witnesses have uniformly testified that a fight ensued between the deceased Frederick Pacasum and Ramil Maquiling in the course of which Frederick boxed Ramil causing him to fall on the floor. When the accused-appellant tried to pacify and stop Frederick from inflicting further harm on his brother, he was boxed on the right cheek by Frederick. And while he wanted to retaliate he could not do so because of the superiority in number and in strength of Frederick and his companions who were not only more in number but likewise taller and bigger. Hence accused had opted to leave the disco but was followed to his car by Frederick with a shotgun [i]n hand. The deceased Frederick not only aimed the shotgun [at] him but actually fired at the accused. And the accused shot at the deceased only after he was himself injured by the deceased who fired a shotgun at him. He likewise shot at Olegario Jojo Villaremo to disarm him as he likewise took possession of the shotgun.
There was reasonable necessity of the means used to prevent and[/]or repel the unlawful aggression. The accused fired a warning shot to deter the deceased from attacking and even after he was himself hit by the shotgun. He had fired first at the left thigh of the deceased as his intention was merely to disarm Frederick[,] not to kill him. But when the appellant perceived that Frederick was still aiming the shotgun [at] him, xxx he decided to fire the fatal shot.
There was likewise lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself. It was the deceased Frederick with a shotgun [i]n hand [who] approached the accused who was then about to open his Isuzu trooper. When [the] accused looked back, he saw Frederick coming with a shotgun. Accused then opened his trooper and got his .45 caliber pistol. The deceased also disregarded the warning shots fired by the accused and was the first to shoot at the accused.31
Contrary to the contention of the petitioner, the appellate court based its findings of self-defense on the strength of private respondents evidence, not on the witness or inconsistencies of the prosecutions own.
Regarding the physical evidence, the Court of Appeals found that the gunshot wound sustained by the accused is the best evidence that there was an exchange of gunfire. Since the prosecution witnesses were silent on how it occurred, Respondent Court was indeed left with only the defense version to evaluate. Explaining the downward trajectory of the bullets that hit the victims thigh, private respondent stated that he was able to shoot in a kneeling position by using his elbows and his left knee to prop himself up. This fact, together with the various inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, cast doubt on their credibility and led the appellate court to believe that Casan Maquiling did act in self-defense; hence, his acquittal.
Denial of Due Process
Petitioner also argues that the prosecution was denied due process when the Respondent Court reviewed the trial court's assessment of the credibility of witnesses, despite its not having been raised as an issue in the appeal brief.32cräläwvirtualibräry
Such argument is untenable. Basic is the rule that an appeal in a criminal case throws the whole case wide open for review; and that the appellate court can correct errors, though unassigned, that may be found in the appealed judgment.33 The appeals court may even reverse the trial court's decision on the basis of grounds other than those that the parties raised as errors.34 We, therefore, find no denial of due process in Respondent Courts decision to review the entire case. Significantly, it did not entertain new evidence. Moreover, petitioner was not deprived of any opportunity to rebut any evidence on record.
We commend the solicitor general for his vigilance in questioning the acquittal of private respondent. We appreciate the tenacity of his arguments and his effort to protect the rights of the People and the State. However, the present Constitution bars an appeal or a review of an acquittal based upon mere errors of judgment of a lower court.
While certiorari may be used to correct an abusive acquittal, the petitioner in such extraordinary proceeding must clearly demonstrate that the lower court blatantly abused its authority to a point so grave as to deprive it of its very power to dispense justice. On the other hand, if the petition, regardless of its nomenclature, merely calls for an ordinary review of the findings of the court a quo, the constitutional right against double jeopardy would be violated. Such recourse is tantamount to converting the petition for certiorari into an appeal, contrary to the express injunction of the Constitution, the Rules of Court and prevailing jurisprudence on double jeopardy.
In dismissing this petition for certiorari, this Court is not ruling on the guilt or the innocence of Private Respondent Maquiling. Neither is it agreeing with the findings of the Court of Appeals that the accused is innocent. Such conclusions are rendered only in an appeal properly brought before this Court. But as already stated, an appeal or a petition for review of a judgment of acquittal is barred by the rule on double jeopardy.
In short, by rejecting this petition, the Court is merely ruling that the petitioner failed to show (1) that the Court of Appeals has committed grave abuse of discretion to such extent as to deprive it of the power to decide the case, or (2) that it denied due process of law to the People of the Philippines to such extent as to annulled the assailed judgment.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DISMISSED for its failure to clearly show grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Court of Appeals. No costs.
Vitug, Purisima, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.
Romero, (Chairman), J., abroad on official leave.
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