Criminal Law, Remedial Law

Soller v. Sandiganbayan G.R. No. 144261-62, May 9, 2001 Criminal Procedure, Jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan

FACTS:

In the evening of March 14, 1997, Jerry Macabael, a municipal guard, was shot and killed along the national highway at Bansud, Oriental Mindoro while driving a motorcycle together with petitioner Soller’s son, Vincent M. Soller. His body was brought to a medical clinic located in the house of petitioner Dr. Prudente Soller, the Municipal Mayor, and his wife Dr. Preciosa Soller, who is the Municipal Health Officer. 

An autopsy was conducted on the same night on the cadaver of Jerry by petitioner Dr. Preciosa Soller with the assistance of petitioner Rodolfo Salcedo, Sanitary Inspector, and petitioner Josefina Morada, Rural Health Midwife.

A complaint was later filed against the petitioners by the widow of Jerry Macabael with the Office of the Ombudsman charging them with conspiracy to mislead the investigation of the fatal shootout of Jerry Macabael by (a) altering his wound (b) concealing his brain; (c) falsely stating in police report that he had several gunshot wounds when in truth he had only one; and d) falsely stating in an autopsy report that there was no blackening around his wound when in truth there was.

Petitioners spouses Soller denied having tampered with the cadaver of Jerry Macabael, and claimed, among others that Jerry Macabael was brought to their private medical clinic because it was there where he was rushed by his companions after the shooting, and that Mrs. Macabael’s consent was obtained before the autopsy. 

Through the recommendation from the Office of the Ombudsman, two (2) Informations were filed with the Sandiganbayan, charging them with Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders as defined and penalized under Section 1, Paragraph b of P.D. 1829.

Petitioners filed a Motion to Quash on the principal ground that the Sandiganbayan had no jurisdiction over the offenses charged. 

In its assailed Order dated April 14, 2000, the Sandiganbayan denied petitioners’ Motion to Quash on the ground that the accusation involves the performance of the duties of at least one (1) of the accused public officials, and if the Mayor is indeed properly charged together with that official, then the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction over the entire case and over all the co-accused. 

The subsequent Motion for Reconsideration was denied.

Hence, this petition.

Petitioners assert that in the subject criminal cases, the Informations do not contain factual averments showing that they committed the acts charged in relation to their office, i.e., the acts charged are intimately connected with their respective offices and were perpetrated by them while they were in the performance of their duties and functions.

Respondent’s position is that an offense may be considered committed in relation to office if it arose from misuse or abuse of public office or from non-performance of an official duty or function; thus the offense of falsifying autopsy and police reports is office-related considering that among the duties and functions of the municipal mayor in the exercise of general supervision and control over all programs, projects, services and activities of the municipal government, is that he shall ensure that all executive officials and employees of the municipality faithfully discharge their duties and functions.¬†

ISSUE:

Whether the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction over the offenses charged.

RULING:

The petition is meritorious.

The rule is that in order to ascertain whether a court has jurisdiction or not, the provisions of the law should be inquired into. 

Furthermore, the jurisdiction of the court must appear clearly from the statute law or it will not be held to exist. It cannot be presumed or implied. 

For this purpose in criminal cases, the jurisdiction of the court is determined by the law at the time of the commencement of the action.

The action here was instituted with the filing of the Informations on May 25, 1999 charging the petitioners with the offense of Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders as defined and penalized under Section 1, Paragraph b of P.D. 1829.

The applicable statutory provisions are those of P.D. No. 1606 as last amended by the Republic Act No. 8249. Section 4 of P.D. No. 1606 as amended provides insofar as pertinent:

“SEC. 4. Jurisdiction – The Sandiganbayan shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction in all cases involving:

a. Violations of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, xxx, where one or more of the accused are officials occupying the following positions in the government, whether in a permanent, acting or interim capacity, at the time of the commission of the offense:

xxx xxx xxx

(5) All other national and local officials classified as Grade “27” and higher under the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989.

b. Other offenses or felonies whether simple or complexed with other crime committed by the public officials and employees mentioned in subsection a of this section in relation to their office.

xxx xxx xxx

In cases where none of the accused are occupying positions corresponding to salary Grade “27” or higher, as prescribed in the said Republic Act 6758, or military and PNP officers mentioned above, exclusive original jurisdiction thereof shall be vested in the proper regional trial court, metropolitan trial court, municipal trial court, and municipal circuit trial court, as the case may be, pursuant to their jurisdictions as provided by Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, amended.

In Binay vs. Sandiganbayan, this Court held that the Municipal Mayor, who occupies Salary Grade 27 falls within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.

The bone of contention here is whether the offenses charged may be considered as committed “in relation to their office.”

In Montilla v. Hilario, this Court has interpreted the requirement that an offense be committed in relation to the office to mean that “the offense cannot exist without the office “or” that the office must be a constituent element of the crime” as defined and punished in Chapter Two to Six, Title Seven of the Revised Penal Code (referring to the crimes committed by the public officers). 

People v. Montejo enunciated the principle that the offense must be intimately connected with the office of the offender and perpetrated while he was in the performance, though improper or irregular of his official functions.

In this case, the Informations fail to allege that petitioners had committed the offenses charged in relation to their offices. 

Neither are there specific allegations of facts to show the intimate relation/connection between the commission of the offense charged and the discharge of official functions of the offenders, i.e. that the obstruction of and apprehension and prosecution of criminal offenders was committed in relation to the office of petitioner Prudente Soller, whose office as Mayor is included in the enumeration in Section 4 (a) of P.D. 1606 as amended.

Consequently, for failure to show in the informations that the charges were intimately connected with the discharge of the official functions of accused Mayor Soller, the offenses charged in the subject criminal cases fall within the exclusive original function of the Regional Trial Court, not the Sandiganbayan.

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