Civil Law, Constitutional Law

Sps. DACUDAO v. SECRETARY OF JUSTICE G.R. No. 188056, January 08, 2013 Right to Speedy Disposition of Cases, Laws with Retroactive Effect

FACTS: 

Petitioners were among the investors whom Celso G. Delos Angeles, Jr. and his associates in the Legacy Group of Companies allegedly defrauded through the Group’s “buy back agreement” that earned them check payments that were dishonored. 

They initiated a number of charges for syndicated estafa against Delos Angeles, Jr., et al. in the Office of the City Prosecutor of Davao City.

The Secretary of Justice issued DOJ Order No. 182 (DO No. 182), directing all Regional State Prosecutors, Provincial Prosecutors, and City Prosecutors to forward all cases already filed against Delos Angeles, Jr., et al. to the Secretariat of the DOJ Special Panel in Manila for appropriate action.

Pursuant to DO No. 182, the complaints of petitioners were forwarded by the Office of the City Prosecutor of Davao City to the Secretariat of the Special Panel of the DOJ.

Aggrieved, petitioners have filed a petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus, ascribing to respondent Secretary of Justice grave abuse of discretion in issuing DO No. 182. 

They claim that DO No. 182 violated their right to due process, their right to the equal protection of the laws, their right to the speedy disposition of cases, and that DO No. 182 was an obstruction of justice and a violation of the rule against enactment of laws with retroactive effect.

Petitioners also challenge as unconstitutional the issuance of DOJ Memorandum exempting from the coverage of DO No. No. 182 all the cases for syndicated estafa already filed and pending in the Office of the City Prosecutor of Cagayan de Oro City, as a violation of their right to equal protection under the Constitution.

Petitioners also assert that the assailed issuances should cover only future cases against Delos Angeles, Jr., et al., not those already being investigated. They maintain that DO No. 182 was issued in violation of the prohibition against passing laws with retroactive effect.

ISSUES:  

I.

Whether or not DO No. 182 violated their right to the speedy disposition of cases guaranteed by the Constitution.

II.

Whether or not DO No. 182 was issued in violation of the prohibition against passing laws with retroactive effect.

RULING:

I.

We cannot favor their contention.

In The Ombudsman v. Jurado, the Court has clarified that although the Constitution guarantees the right to the speedy disposition of cases, such speedy disposition is a flexible concept. To properly define that concept, the facts and circumstances surrounding each case must be evaluated and taken into account. 

There occurs a violation of the right to a speedy disposition of a case only when the proceedings are attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays, or when unjustified postponements of the trial are sought and secured, or when, without cause or justifiable motive, a long period of time is allowed to elapse without the party having his case tried. It is cogent to mention that a mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved is not determinant of the concept.

The consolidation of the cases against Delos Angeles, Jr., et al. was ordered obviously to obtain expeditious justice for the parties with the least cost and vexation to them. Inasmuch as the cases filed involved similar or related questions to be dealt with during the preliminary investigation, the Secretary of Justice rightly found the consolidation of the cases to be the most feasible means of promoting the efficient use of public resources and of having a comprehensive investigation of the cases.

On the other hand, we do not ignore the possibility that there would be more cases reaching the DOJ in addition to those already brought by petitioners and other parties. Yet, any delays in petitioners’ cases occasioned by such other and subsequent cases should not warrant the invalidation of DO No. 182. The Constitution prohibits only the delays that are unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive, and tend to render rights nugatory.  In fine, we see neither undue delays, nor any violation of the right of petitioners to the speedy disposition of their cases.

II.

Petitioners’ assertion is baseless.

As a general rule, laws shall have no retroactive effect. However, exceptions exist, and one such exception concerns a law that is procedural in nature. The reason is that a remedial statute or a statute relating to remedies or modes of procedure does not create new rights or take away vested rights but only operates in furtherance of the remedy or the confirmation of already existing rights. 

A statute or rule regulating the procedure of the courts will be construed as applicable to actions pending and undetermined at the time of its passage. All procedural laws are retroactive in that sense and to that extent. The retroactive application is not violative of any right of a person who may feel adversely affected, for, verily, no vested right generally attaches to or arises from procedural laws.

The Court DISMISSED the omnibus petition for certiorari, prohibition, and mandamus for lack of merit.

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