G. R. No. 144332 - June 10, 2004
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS (ELEVENTH DIVISION), EFREN S. ALMUETE, JOHNNY ILA y RAMEL and JOEL LLOREN y DELA CRUZ, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
This is a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court of the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 49953 granting the petition for certiorari of the private respondents.
Respondents Efren S. Almuete, Johnny Ila and Joel Lloren were charged with violating Presidential Decree No. 705, as amended, in the Regional Trial Court of Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, Branch 27, docketed as Criminal Case No. 2672. The accusatory portion reads:
After due proceedings, the trial court set the promulgation of its decision on September 8, 1998. When the case was called, Atty. Rodolfo Lorenzo, the counsel of the respondents, informed the trial court that Almuete and Lloren were ill, and that Ila was not in court because he was not notified of the scheduled promulgation. The counsel presented to the court a medical certificate attesting to the illness of respondents Lloren and Almuete. The trial court found the absence of the respondents unjustified and proceeded with the promulgation of its decision, finding them guilty of the crime charged. The decretal portion of the decision reads:
The court also cancelled the bail bonds of the respondents. The latter filed a motion for the reconsideration of the decision on the following grounds: (a) they were deprived of their right to be present at the promulgation of the trial courts decision; (b) lack of factual and legal basis for their conviction of the crime charged; and, (c) the penalty imposed by the court was excessive. The respondents prayed, thus:
On October 12, 1998, the trial court issued an Order denying the motion of the respondents for lack of merit.5
The respondents filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court with the Court of Appeals, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 49953. They, likewise, prayed for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and for the reversal of the trial courts decision. The respondents claimed that the penalty of eighteen (18) years and two (2) months and twenty-one (21) days of reclusion temporal as minimum, to forty (40) years as maximum, was in excess of the maximum imposable penalty for violation of Article 309 of the Revised Penal Code. They claimed that the trial court erroneously applied Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code, and insisted that their absence at the scheduled promulgation of the decision was justified. The petitioners prayed that judgment be rendered in their favor, thus:
On May 19, 2000, the Court of Appeals (CA) rendered judgment granting the petition. The appellate court ordered a re-promulgation of the decision of the trial court against Ila and Lloren, but acquitted petitioner Almuete, the head (deacon) of the Iglesia ni Cristo, on the ground that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt for the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. The decretal portion of the decision reads:
Respondents Lloren and Ila filed a motion for the reconsideration of the decision of the appellate court, praying that they also be acquitted, on the ground that the prosecution failed to prove their guilt for the crime charged. The appellate court denied the said motion.
Aggrieved, the People of the Philippines now assails the decision of the CA. It contends that the appellate court acted beyond its jurisdiction when it acquitted respondent Almuete of the crime charged on a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, and that it erred when it ordered a re-promulgation of the trial courts decision.
In his comment on the petition, respondent Almuete asserts that the filing of the petition at bar would place him in double jeopardy; hence, the petition should be dismissed. He cites the ruling of this Court in Central Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals8 to buttress his stance. The respondent also asserts that in acquitting him of the crime charged, the appellate court acted within its jurisdiction because it merely acted on his plea for acquittal. It was, likewise, only proper for the appellate court to look into the merits of the trial courts decision in his petition for certiorari, since the settled rule is that on appeal, the entire record of the case is open for review by the appellate court.
Respondents Lloren and Ila, for their part, contend that the appellate court did not err in ordering a re-promulgation of the RTC decision, given the appellate courts findings and ratiocinations in its decision. By way of reply, the petitioner argues that since the CA acted without jurisdiction in acquitting respondent Almuete, its decision is null and void; as such, the respondent was never placed in first jeopardy.
The issues for resolution are the following: (a) whether the CA acted in excess of its jurisdiction or without jurisdiction when it acquitted private respondent Almuete in a petition for certiorari for the nullification of the trial courts decision; and, (b) whether the RTC acted with grave abuse of its jurisdiction amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction when it promulgated its decision, even in the absence of the private respondents.
The Ruling of the Court
For a petition for certiorari or prohibition to be granted, it must set out and demonstrate, plainly and distinctly, all the facts essential to establish a right to a writ.9 The petitioner must allege in his petition and establish facts to show that any other existing remedy is not speedy or adequate10 and that (a) the writ is directed against a tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions; (b) such tribunal, board or officer has acted without or in excess of jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction; and, (c) there is no appeal or any plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.11
The public respondent acts without jurisdiction if it does not have the legal power to determine the case; there is excess of jurisdiction where the respondent, being clothed with the power to determine the case, oversteps its authority as determined by law. There is grave abuse of discretion where the public respondent acts in a capricious, whimsical, arbitrary or despotic manner in the exercise of its judgment as to be said to be equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.12 Mere abuse of discretion is not enough. A remedy is plain, speedy and adequate if it will promptly relieve the petitioner from the injurious effects of that judgment and the acts of the tribunal or inferior court.13 A petition for certiorari cannot co-exist with an appeal or any other adequate remedy. The existence and the availability of the right to appeal are antithetical to the availment of the special civil action for certiorari. These two remedies are mutually exclusive.14
In a petition for certiorari, the jurisdiction of the court is narrow in scope. It is limited to resolving only errors of jurisdiction. It is not to stray at will and resolve questions or issues beyond its competence such as errors of judgment. Errors of judgment of the trial court are to be resolved by the appellate court in the appeal by and of error or via a petition for review on certiorari in this Court under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. Certiorari will issue only to correct errors of jurisdiction. It is not a remedy to correct errors of judgment.15 An error of judgment is one in which the court may commit in the exercise of its jurisdiction, and which error is reversible only by an appeal. Error of jurisdiction is one where the act complained of was issued by the court without or in excess of jurisdiction and which error is correctible only by the extraordinary writ of certiorari.16 Certiorari will not be issued to cure errors by the trial court in its appreciation of the evidence of the parties, and its conclusions anchored on the said findings and its conclusions of law.17 As long as the court acts within its jurisdiction, any alleged errors committed in the exercise of its discretion will amount to nothing more than mere errors of judgment, correctible by an appeal or a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.18
Whether or not the evidence adduced by the prosecution is sufficient to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt rests entirely within the sound discretion and judgment of the lower court.19 In Joseph v. Villaluz,20 we held that whether or not the evidence adduced by the prosecution has established beyond reasonable doubt, the guilt of the accused cannot be resolved in a special civil action of certiorari.
In this case, the RTC rendered judgment finding all the accused, respondents herein, guilty of the crime charged based on the evidence on record and the law involved, and sentenced them to suffer the penalty of imprisonment as provided for in P.D. No. 705, in relation to Articles 304 and 305 of the Revised Penal Code. They had a plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law to overturn the decision as, in fact, they even filed a motion for reconsideration of the decision on its merits, and for the nullification of the promulgation of the said decision. Upon the trial courts denial of their motion for reconsideration, the petitioners had the right to appeal, by writ of error, from the decision on its merits on questions of facts and of law. The appeal of the petitioners in due course was a plain, speedy and adequate remedy. In such appeal, the petitioners could question the findings of facts of the trial court, its conclusions based on the said findings, as well as the penalty imposed by the court. It bears stressing that an appeal in a criminal case throws the whole case open for review and that the appellate court can reverse any errors of the trial court, whether assigned or unassigned, found in its judgment.21 However, instead of appealing the decision by writ of error, the respondents filed their petition for certiorari with the CA assailing the decision of the trial court on its merits. They questioned their conviction and the penalty imposed on them, alleging that the prosecution failed to prove their guilt for the crime charged, the evidence against them being merely hearsay and based on mere inferences. In fine, the respondents alleged mere errors of judgment of the trial court in their petition. It behooved the appellate court to have dismissed the petition, instead of giving it due course and granting it.
The CA reviewed the trial courts assessment of the evidence on record, its findings of facts, and its conclusions based on the said findings. The CA forthwith concluded that the said evidence was utterly insufficient on which to anchor a judgment of conviction, and acquitted respondent Almuete of the crime charged.
The appellate court acted with grave abuse of its discretion when it ventured beyond the sphere of its authority and arrogated unto itself, in the certiorari proceedings, the authority to review perceived errors of the trial court in the exercise of its judgment and discretion, which are correctible only by appeal by writ of error. Consequently, the decision of the CA acquitting respondent Almuete of the crime charged is a nullity. If a court is authorized by statute to entertain jurisdiction in a particular case only, and undertakes to exercise the jurisdiction conferred in a case to which the statute has no application, the judgment rendered is void. The lack of statutory authority to make a particular judgment is akin to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.22 In this case, the CA is authorized to entertain and resolve only errors of jurisdiction and not errors of judgment.
A void judgment has no legal and binding effect, force or efficacy for any purpose. In contemplation of law, it is non-existent.23 It cannot impair or create rights; nor can any right be based on it. Thus, respondent Almuete cannot base his claim of double jeopardy on the appellate courts decision.
On the second issue, the CA nullified the trial courts promulgation of its decision, ratiocinating as follows:
This Court further finds the promulgation of the decision by the trial court on September 8, 1998 and the denial of the motion for reconsideration thereof on September 22, 1998 as being issued with grave abuse of discretion. The accused Almuete and Ila during the promulgation were not present as they were then sick. A medical certificate was issued to attest to their sickness. In the case of Lloren, he was not duly notified of the date of the promulgation.
Under Section 6, Rule 120 of the Rules of Court, the presence in person of the accused at the promulgation of judgment is MANDATORY in all cases except where the conviction is for a light offense (Florendo v. Court of Appeals, 239 SCRA 325 ).
The accused were, therefore, denied their right to be present during the promulgation of the decision since they have not waived their rights thereto.24
In contrast to the curt ratiocinations of the CA, the trial court amply explained why it proceeded to promulgate its decision despite the presentation of a medical certificate by Ila and Almuete:
We agree with the trial court. We do not discern any abuse of discretion in the trial courts promulgation of its decision in the absence of respondents Lloren and Ila, despite the presentation of a medical certificate thereon.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed decision and resolution of the Court of Appeals are REVERSED AND SET ASIDE. The Decision of the Regional Trial Court dated September 8, 1998 and its Order dated October 12, 1998 are REINSTATED. No costs.
Puno, Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Tinga, JJ., concur.
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