October 2008 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 133347 - ABS-CBN BROADCASTING CORPORATION, ET AL. v. OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN, ET AL.
[G.R. NO. 133347 : October 15, 2008
ABS-CBN BROADCASTING CORPORATION, EUGENIO LOPEZ, JR., AUGUSTO ALMEDA-LOPEZ, and OSCAR M. LOPEZ, Petitioners, v. OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN, ROBERTO S. BENEDICTO,* EXEQUIEL B. GARCIA, MIGUEL V. GONZALES, and SALVADOR (BUDDY) TAN,* Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
At bar is a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court challenging the Joint Resolution1 dated May 2, 1997 of then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto in OMB-0-94-1109, dismissing the complaint filed by petitioners against private respondents, and the Order2 denying their motion for reconsideration.
This case stems from an all too familiar chapter in Philippine history, i.e., the declaration of martial law by then President Ferdinand Marcos and the simultaneous sequestration of not a few private corporations, including one of the petitioners herein, ABS-CBN Broasting Corporation (ABS-CBN).
On April 18 and 26, 1994, petitioners Eugenio, Jr., Oscar and Augusto Almeda, all surnamed Lopez, as officers and on behalf of ABS-CBN, executed separate complaint-affidavits charging private respondents Roberto S. Benedicto, Exequiel B. Garcia, Miguel V. Gonzalez, and Salvador (Buddy) Tan with the following crimes penalized under the Revised Penal Code (RPC): (a) Article 298 - Execution of Deeds by Means of Violence or Intimidation; (b) Article 315 paragraphs 1[b], 2[a], 3[a] - Estafa; (c) Article 308 - Theft; (d) Article 302 - Robbery; (e) Article 312 - Occupation of Real Property or Usurpation of Real Rights in Property; and (f) Article 318 - Other Deceits.
Individual petitioners' complaint-affidavits3 uniformly narrated the following facts:
1. The day after the declaration of martial law, or on September 22, 1972, just before midnight, military troops arrived at the ABS-CBN Broast Center in Bohol Avenue, Quezon City, and informed the officers and personnel thereat of the seizure and closure of the premises by virtue of Letter of Instruction (LOI) No. 1 issued by President Marcos ordering the closure of all radio and television stations in the country.
2. LOI No. 1 authorized the Secretary of National Defense to "take over or control, or cause the taking over and control of all x x x newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media of communications" throughout the country. Consequently, a total of seven (7) television stations owned and operated by ABS-CBN were closed down by the government.4
3. When it became apparent that petitioners would not be granted a permit to re-open, ABS-CBN on October 31, 1972, terminated the services of all its employees, giving each employee his/her retirement benefits. Corollary thereto, sometime in November 1972, Eugenio Lopez, Jr., then president of ABS-CBN, wrote then Secretary of National Defense, Juan Ponce Enrile,5 of their desire to sell ABS-CBN to the government. In that same month, however, Eugenio Lopez, Jr. was arrested by the military, and detained at Fort Bonifacio for almost five (5) years until his escape therefrom on September 30, 1977.
4. Subsequently, after the proposal to sell ABS-CBN to the Marcos government did not materialize, ABS-CBN started negotiations with then Governor of Leyte, Benjamin "Kokoy" Romualdez, who expressed his desire and intention to acquire the former. However, the negotiations with Kokoy Romualdez in 1973 likewise did not result in the sale and re-opening of ABS-CBN.
5. On June 6, 1973, the television and radio stations of Kanlaon Broasting System (KBS) on Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City were consumed by fire. KBS was the umbrella corporation of the Benedicto Group of broasting companies, including Radio Philippines Network (RPN),6 which operated TV Channel 9, the only television station allowed to continue operating during the early years of the martial law regime. Respondent Benedicto, then Philippine Ambassador to Japan, managed, controlled, and was one of the principal stockholders of RPN.
6. On even date, both Benedicto and Alfredo Montelibano, who at that time was Chairperson of the Board of Directors (BOD) of ABS-CBN, were in Bacolod. Benedicto constituted Montelibano as his emissary to the Lopezes, relaying his plan to temporarily use ABS-CBN's broast studios in Quezon City, from which to operate TV Channel 9, for such period of time as may be necessary to rebuild KBS' burned studios.
7. On June 8, 1973, Montelibano met with other officers and executives of ABS-CBN, including herein petitioners Oscar and Augusto Lopez, informing them of Benedicto's request. Oscar and Augusto, and the rest of the ABS-CBN management team, strongly opposed the request. Eventually, however, when Montelibano mentioned that Malacañang and Romualdez had cleared said request, the possibility of a government-ordered confiscation of ABS-CBN, and not least of all, the possible release of Eugenio Lopez, Jr., petitioners Oscar and Augusto, as with the rest of ABS-CBN's executives, acquiesced to Benedicto's request.
8. Thus, at noontime on the same day, representatives of KBS headed by Jose Montalvo arrived at the Meralco Building to finalize the proposed arrangement with ABS-CBN. The transaction between ABS-CBN and KBS is evidenced by a letter-agreement dated June 8, 1973, which reads in relevant part:
This is to confirm the agreement arrived at between RPN and ABS-CBN to the following effect:
1. Commencing on the date hereof, ABS-CBN hereby conveys to RPN by way of lease its TV and radio equipment (excluding TV channels and radio frequencies) and its premises at the ABS-CBN Broast Center, Bohol Avenue, Quezon City (collectively called the "leased facilities") listed in the schedule attached hereto and marked as Annex "A".
2. RPN shall pay ABS-CBN monthly rental as is reasonable compensation for the use of the leased facilities. The amount of the rental shall be determined after a discussion with Ambassador Roberto Benedicto.
3. The term of this lease shall commence on the date hereof and continue for such reasonable time as may be normally necessary for the rehabilitation of RPN's facilities unless an earlier period may be fixed by RPN and ABS-CBN after discussion with Ambassador Benedicto.
4. RPN hereby assumes full and complete responsibility for the leased facilities and shall be answerable for any and all losses and damages to such facilities.
x x x
6. Upon termination of this lease, RPN shall return the possession of the leased facilities to ABS-CBN and vacate the same without the need of notice or demand.
7. ABS-CBN, through its Chairman, Mr. Alfredo Montelibano, shall have the right to select and designate the personnel (not to exceed 20 at any one time) to maintain and operate all specialized TV and radio equipment.
x x x
10. ABS-CBN shall have the right to enter the Broast Center at any reasonable time during the term of this lease for the purpose of determining compliance by RPN of the terms hereof.
x x x
12. RPN shall not, without the prior written consent of ABS-CBN, sub-lease the leased facilities or any part thereof nor shall any part be removed from the premises except the equipment, which are intended for operation the Broast Center in due course of operations.
9. Meanwhile, it appears that the parties were hard pressed to negotiate and fix the monthly rental rate. Several attempts by Oscar to set up a meeting with Benedicto for the fixing of the monthly rentals proved unsuccessful.
10. After more than four months of trying, a meeting between Oscar and Benedicto finally materialized on October 31, 1973. At that meeting, the discussion not only covered fixing of reasonable rentals for the lease of the ABS-CBN studios, but likewise included the possibility of an outright sale.
11. Thereafter, the discussions and negotiations stopped as none of the petitioners were able to meet anew with Benedicto who had supposedly referred the matter to "people above" and the "man on top."
12. Frustrated, then Senator Lorenzo Tañada, as counsel for ABS-CBN, in May 1976, wrote Benedicto demanding vacation of the ABS-CBN Broast Center and payment of back rentals for the use of the ABS-CBN studios and facilities.
13. In response, Senator Estanislao Fernandez, on behalf of Benedicto, met with Senator Tañada in June 1976. Another meeting took place between the parties' respective counsels which included respondent Gonzales, another counsel for Benedicto. Despite these meetings, no agreement was reached between Benedicto and ABS-CBN. On the whole, from June 8, 1973, the time KBS occupied the ABS-CBN studios in Quezon City, no rental was paid by the former to the latter.
14. In the years following until the Marcos government was toppled in 1986, the ABS-CBN stations were transferred to the National Media Production Center (NMPC) headed by Gregorio Cendaña of the Ministry of Information. Starting in January 1980, KBS, on a staggered basis, transferred possession, control and management of ABS-CBN's provincial television stations to NMPC. Some of the radio stations of ABS-CBN were turned over to the government's Bureau of Broast, while some were retained by KBS thru the Banahaw Broasting Corporation (BBC) and Radio Philippines Network (RPN).
15. Parenthetically, during a military inventory in 1979-1980, and a visit by ABS-CBN executives at ABS-CBN's radio transmitting stations in Meycauayan, Bulacan, headed by petitioner Augusto, on August 13, 1984, ABS-CBN properties and massive equipment were found to be missing. In addition, the musical records and radio dramas accumulated by ABS-CBN in a span of twenty-five (25) years and stored in its library were now gone.
16. In June 1986, President Corazon Aquino, acting on the request of ABS-CBN through Senator Tañada, returned to ABS-CBN these radio and TV stations on a gradual and scheduled basis.
As required by the Ombudsman, the respondents, except for Garcia, filed their respective counter-affidavits,7 with Benedicto adopting that of Gonzales', denying petitioners' charges, and averring that:
1. The execution of the June 8, 1973 letter-agreement was a free and voluntary act of ABS-CBN which agreed thereto fully expecting remuneration in the form of rentals, thus:
2. RPN shall pay ABS-CBN monthly rental as is reasonable compensation for the use of the lease facilities. The amount of the rental shall be determined after a discussion with Ambassador Roberto Benedicto.
2. In that regard, respondent Gonzales, counsel for KBS, RPN and Benedicto, participated in the negotiations and was present at three (3) meetings for the fixing of rentals. Also in attendance were former Senator Estanislao Fernandez, specially engaged to represent RPN and Benedicto, and Senator Tañada and petitioner Augusto for ABS-CBN.
3. Initially, the discussions centered on the possible formulas for the fixing of rentals. Later on, however, before an agreement on the rental rate could be reached, the discussions shifted to the possibility of an outright sale. The discussions on the sale were expanded as various creditors of ABS-CBN had made and presented claims before respondent Garcia, then Comptroller of KBS-RPN.
4. However, the discussions were discontinued when then Secretary of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile reminded KBS of the sequestered status of ABS-CBN facilities such that arrangements undertaken for the use and lease thereof should be taken up with the government.8
5. Meanwhile, in July 1974, Secretary Ponce Enrile authorized KBS, acting on behalf of BBC, to make use of the ABS-CBN provincial stations which were not covered by the June 8, 1973 letter-agreement. The authorization was granted in connection with the increased undertakings assigned by the Department of National Defense (DND) to KBS, specifically, for the government's mass-media developmental peace and order nationwide campaign.
7. Thereafter, in October 1977, RPN vacated the ABS-CBN studios and turned over the properties to George Viduya, the general manager of the government station GTV-4. Viduya continued operations of GTV-4 at the ABS-CBN properties, after which, the properties were all delivered in 1979 to the NMPC headed by Cendaña. The provincial stations were delivered and turned over on a staggered basis, with the DZRI station in Dagupan handed over in 1979. The successive transfer of all ABS-CBN studios and stations, in Quezon City and the provinces, were covered by receipts which were collated by the law firm of respondent Gonzales retained by KBS for that purpose.
8. The use of the ABS-CBN studios involved only three (3) juridical entities, RPN, ABS-CBN and the government. The charges leveled by petitioners in their complaint-affidavits merely point to civil liability as specified in the letter-agreement itself:
4. RPN hereby assumes full and complete responsibility for the leased facilities and shall be answerable for any and all losses and damages to such facilities.
On the whole, the allegations of petitioners do not support the elements of the crimes charged.
9. Lastly, respondents invoke the grant of absolute immunity to Benedicto as part of the Compromise Agreement in Sandiganbayan Civil Case No. 34 which states:
The Government hereby extends absolute immunity, as authorized under the pertinent provisions of Executive Orders Nos. 1, 2, 14 and 14-A, to Benedicto, the members of his family, officers and employees of the corporations above mentioned, who are included in past, present and future cases and investigations of the Philippine Government, such that there shall be no criminal investigation or prosecution against said persons for acts, omissions committed prior to February 25, 1986 that may be alleged to have violated any penal law, including but not limited to Republic Act No. 3019, in relation to the acquisition of any asset treated, mentioned or included in this Agreement.
Expectedly, the petitioners in their joint reply-affidavit refuted respondents' counter-affidavits. Contrary to respondents' allegations, petitioners reiterated Benedicto's over-all ploy, in conspiracy with the other respondents who were officers of KBS and/or RPN, to use and occupy ABS-CBN properties without paying compensation therefor. Petitioners maintain that respondents' grand scheme was to take-over ABS-CBN, albeit ostensibly covered by the letter-lease agreement, giving the take over a semblance of legality.
Thereafter, with the issues having been joined, the Ombudsman issued the herein assailed Joint Resolution dismissing petitioners' complaints. To the Ombudsman, the following circumstances did not give rise to probable cause necessary to indict respondents for the various felonies charged:
1. The Letter-Agreement of June 8, 1973 belie any illegal take-over of the ABS-CBN complex.
While the Lopezes are now complaining that the letter-agreement was virtually forced unto them thru intimidation, hence, the vitiated consent of Mr. Montelibano, there is nothing however which the complainants adduced to prove this allegation except their threadbare allegations of threats. On the contrary, it appears that the Lopezes blessed the letter-agreement hoping that their financial difficulties with respect to the affairs of the ABS-CBN and their problem concerning the continued detention of Eugenio Lopez, Jr. by the military, would at least be mitigated. x x x
It is thus clear that the ABS-CBN complex was freely leased by Montelibano upon consultation with the Lopezes who entertained some ulterior motives of their own which they expect would result from the agreement, either directly or indirectly. Of course, the Lopezes may not have realized some of these expectations (i.e., the rentals, the release of Eugenio, Jr. from detention) but this does not change the fact that the parties' consent to the contract appears to have been freely given. Perforce, the complaint under Article 298 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines must fail.
2. Other TV and radio stations were taken over pursuant to LOI 1-A, hence no violations of Art. 312, 302 and 308 of RPC.
To the alleged violation of Art. 312 of the Revised Penal Code, the respondents contended that their use of ABS-CBN's facilities other than those included in the lease-agreement, was in fact with the authority of the then Department of National Defense (DND). There is no denying that all of the ABS-CBN properties including the provincial ones are under sequestration pursuant to Presidential Letter of Instruction No. 1-A, issued on September 28, 1972. It was under the strength of this Presidential Letter of Instruction that KBS-RPN was authorized to enter, occupy and operate the facilities of ABS-CBN. This was also confirmed by DND Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile in his letter to RPN dated June 26, 1976. Unmistakably, KBS-RPN's possession of the ABS-CBN's property other than those in the ABS-CBN complex is primarily anchored on the authority pursuant to LOI 1-A. With this apparent authority, this investigation can not see in any which way how the respondents could have illegally taken over the properties of the [petitioners], particularly those in the province; there is therefore no convincing proof to support a charge under Article 312 of the Revised Penal Code. It may come to mind that "occupation of real property or usurpation of real rights in property" under Article 312 requires as one of its elements the presence of violence against or intimidation of persons as a means in securing real property or rights belonging to another. Plainly, this element is not shown. The complainants may have felt intimidated by the sequestration order, but it is in the nature of such Order to be coercive. It was an act flowing from the martial law powers of then President Marcos.
3. No unlawful taking as to justify charges for Robbery or Theft.
Robbery and Theft under Articles 302 and 308 of the Revised Penal Code were also attributed by the [petitioners] against the respondents. From the records, it is clear that KBS-RPN has juridical possession of the ABS-CBN properties subject of this complaint; a right which can be validly set-up even against ABS-CBN itself. It can be recalled that KBS-RPN was authorized to enter, occupy and operate ABS-CBN facilities by virtue of the authority granted by the President, pursuant to LOI No. 1-A. Aside, the Broast Center itself was covered by the lease-agreement. Under these situations, there is obviously no basis to charge the respondents for robbery and theft; for these penal offense require as an element the act of unlawful taking or asportation. Asportation is simply poles apart from the juridical possession which KBS-RPN enjoyed over the properties.
4. No deceit was employed to gain possession of the Broast Center and the provincial TV and radio stations.
In the prosecution for estafa under [Articles 315, paragraphs 2(a), 3(a) and 318] of the Revised Penal Code, it is indispensable that the element of deceit, consisting in the false statement of fraudulent representation of the accused, be made prior to, or, at least simultaneously with, the delivery of the thing by the complainants, it being essential that such false statement or fraudulent representation constitutes the very cause or the only motive which induces the complainants to part with the thing. If there be no such prior or simultaneous false statement or fraudulent representation, any subsequent act of the respondent, however fraudulent or suspicious it may appear, can not serve as basis for the prosecution of these crimes.
[From petitioners' complaint-affidavits], it is very clear that the late Alfredo Montelibano was the one who talked with Roberto Benedicto, preparatory to the signing of the lease-agreement. As the complainants did not identify exactly which constitute the deceitful act (or the intimidation) which could have induced the Lopezes into accepting the lease agreement, in most probability, the occurrences which vitiated their consent happened during this preliminary discussion. Noticeably however, it is not Alfredo Montelibano, the one who supposedly talked with Benedicto, who is testifying on the alleged "veiled threat" or deceits, if there are. Precisely, because he is already dead.
x x x [I]t is submitted that the Lopezes can not now testify on something which are not derived from their own personal perception. The bottomline is that what they are now trying to adduce, pertaining to the alleged deceits [or intimidation] attending the negotiation of the lease agreement are purely hearsay. This is a matter which only Alfredo Montelibano could testify competently.9
The Ombudsman saw no need to discuss the defenses of prescription and immunity from suit raised by the respondents given his dismissal of the complaint-affidavits on the merits. However, in a subsequent Order denying petitioners Motion for Reconsideration of the Joint Resolution, the Ombudsman lifted the Office of the Chief Legal Counsel's ratiocination for dismissing the complaint-affidavits, thus:
Incidentally, RPN has been identified as among the corporation in which respondent Benedicto has substantial interests. In fact, it was one of the subject matters of the Compromise Agreement reached by the government and respondent Benedicto in Sandiganbayan Civil Case no. 34.
In that Compromise Agreement, for and in consideration of respondent Benedicto's cession of equities, and assignment of his rights and interest in corporations therein listed, among them RPN, the government extended "absolute immunity" to Benedicto, including officers of his corporations as therein mentioned, "such that there shall be no criminal investigation or prosecution against said persons for acts or omissions committed prior to February 25, 1986 that may be alleged to have violated any penal law, including but not limited to Republic Act No. 3019, in relation to the acquisition of any asset treated or included in this Agreement."
In effect, the People of the Philippines as the offended party in criminal cases has waived its right to proceed criminally against Benedicto, et. al., for whatever crime they may have committed relative to, among others, the alleged plunder of ABS-CBN properties. Again, whatever liability that remains thereabout on respondents' part is perforce only civil in nature.10
Hence, this recourse by the petitioners alleging grave abuse of discretion in the Ombudsman's Joint Resolution and Order.
Before anything else, we note that on April 5, 1999 and June 13, 2000, the respective counsel for respondents Tan and Benedicto, in compliance with Section 16,11 Rule 3 of the Rules of Court, filed pleadings informing the Court of their clients' demise. Benedicto's counsel filed a Notice of Death (With Prayer for Dismissal)12 moving that Benedicto be dropped as respondent in the instant case for the reason "that the pending criminal cases subject of this appeal are actions which do not survive the death of the party accused."
Petitioners opposed the move to drop Benedicto as respondent, citing Torrijos v. Court of Appeals13 which held that "civil liability of the accused survives his death; because death is not a valid cause for the extinguishment of civil obligations."
Our ruling on this issue need not be arduous. The rules on whether the civil liability of an accused, upon death, is extinguished together with his criminal liability, has long been clarified and settled in the case of People v. Bayotas:14
1. Death of an accused pending appeal of his conviction extinguishes his criminal liability as well as the civil liability based solely thereon. As opined by Justice Regalado, in this regard, "the death of the accused prior to final judgment terminates his criminal liability and only the civil liability directly arising from and based solely on the offense committed, i.e., civil liability ex delicto in senso strictiore."
2. Corollarily, the claim for civil liability survives notwithstanding the death of accused, if the same may also be predicated on a source of obligation other than delict. Article 1157 of the Civil Code enumerates these other sources of obligation from which the civil liability may arise as a result of the same act or omission:
d) x x x
3. Where the civil liability survives, as explained in Number 2 above, an action for recovery therefor may be pursued but only by way of filing a separate civil action and subject to Section 1, Rule 111 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure15 as amended. The separate civil action may be enforced either against the executor/administrator or the estate of the accused, depending on the source of obligation upon which the same is based as explained above.
4. Finally, the private offended party need not fear a forfeiture of his right to file this separate civil action by prescription, in cases where during the prosecution of the criminal action and prior to its extinction, the private-offended party instituted together therewith the civil action. In such case, the statute of limitations on the civil liability is deemed interrupted during the pendency of the criminal case, conformably with provisions of Article 1155 of the Civil Code, that should thereby avoid any apprehension on a possible [de]privation of right by prescription.
Applying the foregoing rules, ABS-CBN's insistence that the case at bench survives because the civil liability of the respondents subsists is stripped of merit.
To begin with, there is no criminal case as yet against the respondents. The Ombudsman did not find probable cause to prosecute respondents for various felonies in the RPC. As such, the rule that a civil action is deemed instituted along with the criminal action unless the offended party: (a) waives the civil action, (b) reserves the right to institute it separately, or (c) institutes the civil action prior to the criminal action,16 is not applicable.
In any event, consistent with People v. Bayotas,17 the death of the accused necessarily calls for the dismissal of the criminal case against him, regardless of the institution of the civil case with it. The civil action which survives the death of the accused must hinge on other sources of obligation provided in Article 1157 of the Civil Code. In such a case, a surviving civil action against the accused founded on other sources of obligation must be prosecuted in a separate civil action. In other words, civil liability based solely on the criminal action is extinguished, and a different civil action cannot be continued and prosecuted in the same criminal action.
Significantly, this Court in Benedicto v. Court of Appeals,18 taking cognizance of respondent Benedicto's death on May 15, 2000, has ordered that the latter be dropped as a party, and declared extinguished any criminal as well as civil liability ex delicto that might be attributable to him in Criminal Cases Nos. 91-101879 to 91-101883, 91-101884 to 101892, and 92-101959 to 92-101969 pending before the Regional Trial Court of Manila.
Lastly, we note that petitioners appear to have already followed our ruling in People v. Bayotas19 by filing a separate civil action to enforce a claim against the estate of respondent Benedicto.20 The claim against the estate of Benedicto is based on contract-the June 8, 1973 letter - agreement-in consonance with Section 5,21 Rule 86 of the Rules of Court. Plainly, the dropping of respondents Benedicto and Tan as parties herein is in order.
We now come to the core issue of whether the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing petitioners' complaint against the respondents. We rule in the negative and, accordingly, dismiss the petition.
We cannot overemphasize the fact that the Ombudsman is a constitutional officer duty bound to "investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient."22 The raison d 'etre for its creation and endowment of broad investigative authority is to insulate it from the long tentacles of officialdom that are able to penetrate judges' and fiscals' offices, and others involved in the prosecution of erring public officials, and through the execution of official pressure and influence, quash, delay, or dismiss investigations into malfeasances and misfeasances committed by public officers.23
In Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) v. Desierto,24 we dwelt on the powers, functions and duties of the Ombudsman, to wit:
The prosecution of offenses committed by public officers is vested primarily in the Office of the Ombudsman. It bears emphasis that the Office has been given a wide latitude of investigatory and prosecutory powers under the Constitution and Republic Act No. 6770 (The Ombudsman Act of 1989). This discretion is all but free from legislative, executive or judicial intervention to ensure that the Office is insulated from any outside pressure and improper influence.
Indeed, the Ombudsman is empowered to determine whether there exist reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed and that the accused is probably guilty thereof and, thereafter, to file the corresponding information with the appropriate courts. The Ombudsman may thus conduct an investigation if the complaint filed is found to be in the proper form and substance. Conversely, the Ombudsman may also dismiss the complaint should it be found insufficient in form or substance.
Unless there are good and compelling reasons to do so, the Court will refrain from interfering with the exercise of the Ombudsman's powers, and respect the initiative and independence inherent in the latter who, beholden to no one, acts as the champion of the people and the preserver of the integrity of public service.
The pragmatic basis for the general rule was explained in Ocampo v. Ombudsman:
The rule is based not only upon respect for the investigatory and prosecutory powers granted by the Constitution to the Office of the Ombudsman but upon practicality as well. Otherwise, the functions of the courts will be grievously hampered by innumerable petitions assailing the dismissal of investigatory proceedings conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman with regard to complaints filed before it, in much the same way that the courts would be extremely swamped if they would be compelled to review the exercise of discretion on the part of the fiscals or prosecuting attorneys each time they decide to file an information in court or dismiss a complaint by private complainants.25
From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that we do not interfere with the Ombudsman's exercise of his investigatory and prosecutory powers vested by the Constitution. In short, we do not review the Ombudsman's exercise of discretion in prosecuting or dismissing a complaint except when the exercise thereof is tainted with grave abuse of discretion.
By grave abuse of discretion is meant such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment tantamount 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 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 or hostility.26 In this regard, petitioners utterly failed to demonstrate the Ombudsman's abuse, much less grave abuse, of discretion.
Apart from a blanket and general charge that remaining respondents herein, Gonzales and Garcia, are officers of KBS/RPN and/or alter egos of Benedicto, petitioners' complaint-affidavits are bereft of sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that crimes have been committed and the respondents, namely, Gonzales and Garcia, are probably guilty thereof and should be held for trial.27 Certainly, the Ombudsman did not commit grave abuse of discretion in dismissing petitioners' complaint-affidavits.
From the entirety of the records, it is beyond cavil that petitioners seek to attach criminal liability to an unequivocally civil undertaking gone awry. As pointed out by the Ombudsman, although the petitioners may not have realized their expectations in entering into the June 8, 1973 letter-agreement, such does not render their consent thereto defective.
The execution and validity of this letter-agreement is connected with respondents' culpability for the felonies charged as these include the element of whether they had juridical possession of the ABS-CBN properties. Essentially, petitioners claim they did not freely give their consent to the letter-agreement. However, on more than one occasion, petitioners have invoked the letter-agreement's provisions, and made claims thereunder.
First, petitioners met and discussed with respondents the fixing of the rental rate for the ABS-CBN studios in Quezon City as provided in paragraph 2 of the letter-lease agreement. Next, petitioners' counsel wrote a demand letter to respondents for the payment of rentals for the latter's occupation and use of ABS-CBN properties pursuant to the letter-agreement. Last and most importantly, petitioners have made a claim against the estate of Benedicto based on the same June 8, 1973 letter-agreement.
This action of petitioners clearly evinces their ratification of the letter-agreement. As previously discussed, the civil liability of respondents Benedicto and Tan hinging on the charged criminal acts herein was extinguished upon their death. But other civil liabilities founded on other sources of obligations under Article 1157 of the Civil Code may still be prosecuted either against the estate of the deceased if based on contract,28 or against the executors and administrators of the deceased's estate if based on quasi-delict.29
As petitioners have ratified the letter-agreement, even after the lifting of martial law and the toppling of the Marcos government, and advanced the validity of the letter-agreement in their claim against the estate of Benedicto, they cannot, in the same breath, aver that respondents' actuations in the execution of the letter-agreement were criminal in nature, or that the letter-agreement was more ostensible than real and to insist on the prosecution of respondents for felonies supposedly committed in connection with this ubiquitous letter-agreement.30
In fine, the Ombudsman did not abuse his discretion in determining that the allegations of petitioners against respondents are civil in nature, bereft of criminal character. Perforce, he was correct in dismissing petitioners' complaint-affidavits.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is hereby DISMISSED. Roberto S. Benedicto and Salvador Tan are dropped as private respondents without prejudice to the filing of separate civil actions against their respective estates. The assailed Joint Resolution and Order of the Ombudsman in OMB-0-94-1109 are AFFIRMED.
1 Rollo, pp. 36-54.
2 Id. at 55-61.
3 Id. at 62-99.
1. TV Channel 2
2. TV Channel 4
3. Batangas Channel 3
4. DZBC TV Channel 3
5. DYCB TV Channel 3
6. DYXL TV Channel 4
7. DXAW TV Channel 4
1. DZXL (AM) 620 Khz
2. DZAQ (AM) 960 Khz
3. DZYK (FM) 101.1 Khz
4. DZMM (AM) 1000 Khz
5. DZWL (AM) 830 Khz
6. DZMY (AM) 1160 Khz
7. DZYL (AM) 1340 Khz
8. DZBC (AM) 690 Khz
9. DZRI (AM) 1040 Khz
10. DZXI (AM) 660 Khz
11. DZQM (AM) 1020 Khz
12. DZRB (AM) 750 Khz
13. DZBL (AM) 690 Khz
14. DYPL (AM) 670 Khz
15. DYXL (AM) 870 Khz
16. DYCB (AM) 570 Khz
17. DXJW (AM) 1010 Khz
18. DXCL (AM) 700 Khz
Cagayan de Oro
19. DXAW (AM) 640 Khz
20. DXLI (AM) 910 Khz
21. DXLC (AM) 660 Khz
5 Now a senator of the Republic of the Philippines.
6 As alleged in petitioners' complaint-affidavits, KBS and RPN are treated as one and the same entity, unless otherwise separately identified.
7 Rollo, pp. 106-119.
8 Letter dated June 28, 1976, id. at 151.
9 Id. at 40-44, 47.
10 Id. at 59-60.
11 SEC. 16. Death of party; duty of counsel. - Whenever a party to a pending action dies, and the claim is not thereby extinguished, it shall be the duty of his counsel to inform the court within thirty (30) days after such death of the fact thereof, and to give the name and address of his legal representative or representatives. Failure of counsel to comply with this duty shall be a ground for disciplinary action.
The heirs of the deceased may be allowed to be substituted for the deceased, without requiring the appointment of an executor or administrator and the court may appoint a guardian ad litem for the minor heirs.
The court shall forthwith order said legal representative or representatives to appear and be substituted within a period of thirty (30) days from notice.
If no legal representative is named by the counsel for the deceased party, of if the one so named shall fail to appear within the specified period, the court may order the opposing party, within a specified time, to procure the appointment of an executor or administrator for the estate of the deceased and the latter shall immediately appear for and on behalf of the deceased. The court charges in procuring such appointment, if defrayed by the opposing party, may be recovered as costs.
12 Rollo, pp. 395-399.
15 Now the 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.
16 See RULES OF COURT, Rule 111, Sec. 1(a).
17 Supra note 14.
18 416 Phil. 722 (2001).
19 Supra note 14.
20 Rollo, pp. 475-491.
21 SEC. 5. Claims which must be filed under the notice. If not filed, barred; exceptions.-All claims from money against the decedent, arising from contract, express or implied, whether the same be due, not due, or contingent, all claims for funeral expenses and expenses for the last sickness of the decedent, and judgment for money against the decedent, must be filed within the time limited in the notice; otherwise they are barred forever, except that they may be set forth as counterclaims in any action that the executor or administrator commences an action, or prosecutes an action already commenced by the deceased in his lifetime, the debtor may set forth by answer the claims he has against the decedent, instead of presenting them independent to the court as herein provided, and mutual claims may be set off against each other in such action; and if final judgment is rendered in favor of the defendant, the amount so determined shall be considered the true balance against the estate, as though the claim had been presented directly before the court in the administration proceedings. Claims not yet due, or contingent, may be approved at their present value.
22 1987 CONSTITUTION, Art. XI, Sec. 13(1).
25 Id. at 121-122.
26 See Presidential Commission on Good Government v. Desierto, G.R. No. 139296, November 23, 2007, 538 SCRA 207, 216.
27 See RULES OF COURT, Rule 112, Sec. 1.
28 See RULES OF COURT, Rule 86, Sec. 5.
29 RULES OF COURT, Rule 87, Sec, 1.
SECTION 1. Actions which may and which may not be brought against executor or administrator. - No action upon a claim for the recovery of money or debt or interest thereon shall be commenced against the executor or administrator; but actions to recover real or personal property, or an interest therein, from the estate, or to enforce a lien thereon, and actions to recover damages for an injury to person or property, real or personal, may be commenced against him.
30 See Articles 1390 (2), 1391, 1392, 1393 and 1396 of the Civil Code.
Art. 1390. x x x
(2) Those where the consent is vitiated by mistake, violence, intimidation, undue influence or fraud.
Art. 1391. The action for annulment shall be brought within four years.
This period shall begin: In cases of intimidation, violence or undue influence, from the time the defect of the consent ceases.
In case of mistake or fraud, from the time of the discovery of the same.
And when the action refers to contracts entered into by minors or other incapacitated persons, from the time the guardianship ceases.
Art. 1392. Ratification extinguishes the action to annul a voidable contract.
Art. 1393. Ratification may be effected expressly or tacitly. It is understood that there is a tacit ratification if, with knowledge of the reason which renders the contract voidable and such reason having ceased, the person who has a right to invoke it should execute an act which necessarily implies an intention to waive his right.
Art. 1396. Ratification cleanses the contract from all its defects from the moment it was constituted.