G. R. No. 151005 - June 8, 2004
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES and Heirs of ESTEBAN LIM JR., Petitioners, vs. The Honorable PRESIDING JUDGE of the REGIONAL TRIAL COURT of MUNTINLUPA CITY (Branch 276) and RICARDO TOBIAS, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
An order granting bail in a capital offense must contain a summary showing the strength or the weakness of the prosecution evidence, as well as the trial judges assessment thereof. Absent such summary and assessment, the order would not stand appellate scrutiny and must be struck down.
Before us is a Petition for Certiorari1 under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, seeking to annul the September 26, 2001 Order,2 the September 27, 2001 Order of Release,3 and the November 7, 2001 Order4 issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Muntinlupa City (Branch 276) in Criminal Case No. 1605. The assailed September 26, 2001 Order reads as follows:
The assailed September 27, 2001 Order directed the release from detention of herein private respondent. On the other hand, the November 7, 2001 Order denied the prosecutions Motion for Reconsideration of the two earlier rulings.
This case is intimately connected with the Decision of this Court in GR No. 114185 penned by then Justice, now Chief Justice, Hilario G. Davide Jr. In that earlier proceeding before the RTC of Santiago, Isabela (Branch 21), herein private respondent was charged on January 10, 1991, with "qualified illegal possession of firearm used in murder." The accusatory portion of the Information was worded as follows:
"That on or about the 5th day of October, 1990, in the [M]unicipality of Santiago, [P]rovince of Isabela, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, not being allowed or authorized by law to keep, possess and carry firearms, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have in his possession and under his control and custody one (1) Browning pistol, Caliber 9MM with Serial No. RPT 3221943 without first having obtained the necessary permit and/or license therefor and on the occasion of such possession, the said accused, with evident premeditation and treachery, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with intent to kill suddenly and unexpectedly and without giving him chance to defend himself, assault, attack and shoot with the said illegally possessed firearm one Esteban Lim, Jr. alias Jojo, inflicting upon him gunshot wounds on the different parts of his body which directly caused his death due to severe hemorrhage."6
On January 11, 1994, the RTC rendered its Decision finding private respondent guilty as charged and sentencing him to life imprisonment.7
On appeal, this Court affirmed on January 30, 1997, the lower courts Decision, with modifications consisting mainly of a change in the penalty from life imprisonment to reclusión perpetua. It also directed the provincial prosecutor of Isabela to institute a criminal action for murder against private respondent.
Without the knowledge of this Court, it turned out that as early as October 15, 1993, private respondent had already been charged with murder before the RTC of Santiago, Isabela.8 We quote the Information therein as follows:
He was arraigned, however, only on November 23, 1998.9
In the meantime, Republic Act (RA) No. 8294 was approved on June 6, 1997. It amended Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1866, for violation of which he had been convicted earlier. Relying upon RA 8294, private respondent filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus before the RTC of Muntinlupa City.10
On September 21, 2000, the trial court issued an Order declaring private respondents Petition moot and academic on the ground that he was being validly detained for murder -- a non-bailable offense -- and no longer for illegal possession of firearms. Nonetheless, on the basis of the retroactive effect of the provisions of RA 8294 that were beneficial to the accused, the RTC reduced the penalty for illegal possession of firearms from reclusion perpetua to prisión correccionál. Having already served the reduced penalty, he should have been freed from detention were it not for the murder charge.
On January 26, 2001, the murder trial commenced.
On August 9, 2001, private respondent filed a Petition for Bail on the ground that evident premeditation had not been proven. Moreover, no ballistic report was submitted by the prosecution. Despite opposition to the Petition, the trial court granted bail at
Ruling of the Trial Court
The trial court opined that private respondent had already completed the service of his sentence in the previous case for illegal possession of a low-powered firearm. After evaluating the evidence and the testimony of the prosecution witnesses in the pending murder case, it ruled that he could post bail therein.
Thus, it ordered his release11 from custody after he had posted the required bail bond12 through the Wellington Insurance Company, Inc.13
Hence, this Petition.14
Petitioners aver that the RTC committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it granted bail to the accused.15 On the other hand, private respondent counters that he cannot be tried anew for a crime for which he has already been convicted.16
Simply stated, the issues are as follows: first, whether bail was validly granted; and second, whether the accused may still be prosecuted for a crime for which he has already been convicted.
The Courts Ruling
The Petition is meritorious.
Propriety of Bail
As a general rule, a person "in custody shall, before final conviction, be entitled to bail as a matter of right."17 Bail is a security given for the release of a person under custody of the law, as a guarantee for his or her appearance before any court as required under specified conditions.18 The right to bail flows from the presumption of innocence.19 In the present case, private respondent is undergoing trial for murder. Is he entitled to bail?
His case falls within the exception to the aforesaid general rule on bail: When evidence of guilt is strong, a person shall not be admitted to bail20 if charged with a capital offense; or with an offense that -- under the law -- is punishable with reclusion perpetua at the time of its commission and at the time of the application for bail.21
At the time private respondent allegedly committed the felony in 1990, "[m]urder x x x was a crime punishable by reclusion perpetua."22 With the passage of RA 7659, murder is now punishable with reclusion perpetua to death. Consequently, depending on the strength of the evidence of the prosecution, bail is merely discretionary, not a matter of right. In People v. Hon. Cabral23 the Court explained:
Judicial discretion in granting bail may indeed be exercised only after the evidence of guilt is submitted to the court during the bail hearing.24 In the present case, no separate bail hearing was conducted. The Petition for Bail was filed on August 9, 2001. After the prosecution filed its Opposition, private respondent submitted a Reply. After the former had presented all its witnesses in the regular course of trial, but before it had rested its case, the Petition for Bail was deemed submitted for resolution. On the same day, the assailed September 26, 2001 Order was issued.
On its face, the one-page Order demonstrates grave abuse of discretion. "We have repeatedly stressed that the order granting or refusing the bail must contain a summary of the evidence presented by the prosecution."25 The Court, as it had done many times, patiently discussed the reasons for this requirement, thus:
The assailed September 26, 2001 Order was sorely defective in both form and substance. It had no summary of the evidence, but merely a curt one-sentence description of the evidence for the prosecution. Neither did the Order have a conclusion on whether the evidence of guilt was strong. Without such conclusion, there was no basis for granting bail. Thus, the Order cannot be sustained, allowed to stand, or given any semblance of validity.27 It was patently a product of whim, caprice, and outright arbitrariness.28 For the same reasons, we cannot also sustain the September 27, 2001 and the November 7, 2001 Orders, which are rooted in the invalid September 26, 2001 Order.
The arbitrariness of the trial judge is compounded by her failure to take into account this Courts Decision in GR No. 114185, which found the presence of treachery and directed the filing of an information for murder, as follows:
Aside from being unrebutted by the accused, the above-quoted ruling is reinforced by the clear and convincing proof adduced by the prosecution through Eyewitnesses Pacita Recto and Clarita Lim, who both affirmed that private respondent had killed Esteban "Jojo" Lim Jr. Clearly then, the evidence of private respondents guilt was strong; hence, bail should not have been allowed.
Private respondent makes a mountain out of the absence of a ballistic report, but thereby fails to make even a molehill of an argument. The presentation of such a report would have been a superfluity in the determination of whether the evidence of guilt was strong. Furthermore, contrary to his contention, there is absolutely no need to adduce evidence to prove evident premeditation. Since this circumstance was not alleged in the Information, any offer of proof thereof would neither qualify nor aggravate the offense under the present Rules of Procedure.30
Trial Valid for Another Crime
The crime for which private respondent was convicted by the RTC was committed on October 5, 1990. The applicable law at the time was PD 1866,31 which prescribed the death penalty if homicide or murder was committed with the use of an unlicensed firearm. The death penalty was, however, suspended by the 1987 Constitution.32 Thus, the penalty next lower in degree -- reclusión perpetua33 -- was imposed by this Court in GR No. 114185, when it affirmed private respondents conviction for violation of Section 1 of PD 1866.34
Under previous rulings of this Court, "one who kills another with the use of an unlicensed firearm commits two separate offenses of (1) x x x murder under the [Revised Penal Code], and (2) aggravated illegal possession of firearm under the [second] paragraph of Section 1 of [PD] 1866 x x x."35 In the present case, the filing of an Information for murder, after conviction for violation of Section 1 of PD 1866 -- a special law -- was in order. There was no violation of the constitutional rule proscribing double jeopardy.36
When RA 8294 took effect on July 6, 199737 -- nearly six months after the affirmation of private respondents conviction under PD 1866 -- the use of an unlicensed firearm was considered merely an aggravating circumstance,38 if murder or homicide or any other crime was committed with it.39 Hence, the use of an unlicensed firearm in killing a person "may no longer be the source of a separate conviction for the crime of illegal possession of a deadly weapon."40 Only one felony may be charged -- murder in this instance.41
Private respondent was convicted of qualified illegal possession of firearms used in murder under PD 1866, not of murder under the Revised Penal Code. To repeat, under RA 8294, the use of an unlicensed firearm is a mere aggravating circumstance in a charge for murder. In the prosecution thereof, the illegal possession of firearms has been explicitly decriminalized.42 Nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege.43
True, private respondent has been convicted of illegal possession of firearm. But his sentence has been effectively cancelled when the trial court reduced the penalty therefor.44 Hence, he was effectively given the benefit of the new law which decriminalized his offense.
However, private respondent may still be prosecuted for murder -- a crime that has not been decriminalized and is completely different from that for which he was convicted earlier. Evidently, the requisites45 of double jeopardy, which are (1) a first jeopardy must have attached prior to the second; (2) the first jeopardy must have terminated; (3) the second jeopardy must be for the same offense as that in the first, are not present here.
In the interest of substantial justice and a speedy disposition of this case, we now cancel his bail bond and direct the proper authorities to effect his arrest as soon as possible, so that he may continue to stand trial for the crime charged.46
WHEREFORE, the Petition is GRANTED. The challenged Orders are ANNULLED, and the bail bond of private respondent is CANCELLED.
Let copies of this Decision be furnished the director of the National Bureau of Investigation and the director-general of the Philippine National Police. Both are hereby DIRECTED to cause the immediate arrest of Ricardo Tobias and to inform this Court of their compliance within ten (10) days from notice. The trial judge is likewise DIRECTED to issue such other and further orders to take the accused into custody and to hasten the proceedings in the criminal prosecution for murder. This Decision shall be immediately executory. No costs.
Davide, Jr., Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
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