Wednesday, February 1, 2012

G.R. No. 132365 July 9, 1998

COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, petitioner,

vs.

HON. TOMAS B. NOYNAY, Acting Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 23, Allen, Northern Samar, and DIOSDADA F. AMOR, ESBEL CHUA, and RUBEN MAGLUYOAN, respondents.

DAVIDE, JR., J.:

The pivotal issue raised in this special civil action for certiorari with mandamus is whether R.A. No. 7691 1 has divested Regional Trial Courts of jurisdiction over election offenses, which are punishable with imprisonment of not exceeding six (6) years.

The antecedents are not disputed.

In its Minute Resolution No. 96-3076 of 29 October 1996, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) resolved to file an information for violation of Section 261(i) of the Omnibus Election Code against private respondents Diosdada Amor, a public school principal, and Esbel Chua and Ruben Magluyoan, both public school teachers, for having engaged in partisan political activities. The COMELEC authorized its Regional Director in Region VIII to handle the prosecution of the cases.

Forthwith, nine informations for violation of Section 261(i) of the Omnibus Election were filed with Branch 23 of the Regional Trial Court of Alien, Northern Samar, and docketed therein as follows:

a) Criminal Cases Nos. A-1439 and A-1442, against private respondents Diosdada Amor, Esbel Chua, and Ruben Magluyoan.

b) Criminal Case No. A-1443, against private respondents Esbel Chua and Ruben Magluyoan.

c) Criminal Cases Nos. A-1444 and A-1445, against private respondent Esbel Chua only;

d) Criminal Cases Nos. A-1446 to A-1449, against private respondent Diosdada Amor only.

In an Order 2 issued on 25 August 1997, respondent Judge Tomas B. Noynay, as presiding judge of Branch 23, motu proprio ordered the records of the cases to be withdrawn and directed the COMELEC Law Department to file the cases with the appropriate Municipal Trial Court on the ground that pursuant to Section 32 of B.P. Blg. 129 as amended by R.A. No. 7691, 3 the Regional Trial Court has no jurisdiction over the cases since the maximum imposable penalty in each of the cases does not exceed six years of imprisonment. Pertinent portions of the Order read as follows:

[I]t is worth pointing out that all the accused are uniformly charged for [sic] Violation of Sec. 261(i) of the Omnibus Election Code, which under Sec. 264 of the same Code carries a penalty of not less than one (1) year but not more than six (6) years of imprisonment and not subject to Probation plus disqualification to hold public office or deprivation of the right of suffrage.

Sec. 31 [sic] of the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980 (B.P.) Blg. 129 as Amended by Rep. Act. 6691 [sic] (Expanded Jurisdiction) states: Sec. 32. Jurisdiction — Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Circuit Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts in Criminal Cases — Except [in] cases falling within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Courts and the Sandiganbayan, the Municipal Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts and the Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall exercise:

(1) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all violations of city or municipal ordinance committed within their respective territorial jurisdiction; and

(2) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all offenses punishable with an imprisonment of not exceeding six (6) years irrespective of the amount or fine and regardless of other imposable accessory and other penalties including the civil liability arising from such offenses or predicated thereon, irrespective of time [sic], nature, value and amount thereof, Provided, However, that in offenses including damages to property through criminal negligence, they shall have exclusive original jurisdiction thereof.

In light of the foregoing, this Court has therefore, no jurisdiction over the cases filed considering that the maximum penalty imposable did not exceed six (6) years.

The two motions 4 for reconsideration separately filed by the COMELEC Regional Director of Region VIII and by the COMELEC itself through its Legal Department having been denied by the public respondent in the Order of 17 October 1997, 5 the petitioner filed this special civil action. It contends that public respondent "has erroneously misconstrued the provisions of Rep. Act No. 7691 in arguing that the Municipal Trial Court has exclusive original jurisdiction to try and decide election offenses" because pursuant to Section 268 of the Omnibus Election Code and this Court's ruling in "Alberto [sic] vs. Judge Juan Lavilles, Jr.," Regional Trial Courts have the exclusive original jurisdiction over election offenses.

On 17 February 1998, we required the respondents and the Office of the Solicitor General to comment on the petition.

In its Manifestation of 5 March 1998, the Office of the Solicitor General informs us that it is "adopting" the instant petition on the ground that the challenged orders of public respondent "are clearly not in accordance with existing laws and jurisprudence."

In his Manifestation of 12 March 1998, public respondent avers that it is the duty of counsel for private respondents interested in sustaining the challenged orders to appear for and defend him.

In their Comment, private respondents maintain that R.A. No. 7691 has divested the Regional Trial Courts of jurisdiction over offenses where the imposable penalty is not more than 6 years of imprisonment; moreover, R.A. 7691 expressly provides that all laws, decrees, and orders inconsistent with its provisions are deemed repealed or modified accordingly. They then conclude that since the election offense in question is punishable with imprisonment of not more than 6 years, it is cognizable by Municipal Trial Courts.

We resolved to give due course to the petition.

Under Section 268 of the Omnibus Election Code, Regional Trial Courts have exclusive original jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceedings for violation of the Code except those relating to the offense of failure to register or failure to vote. 6 It reads as follows:

Sec. 268. Jurisdiction of courts. — The regional trial court shall have the exclusive original jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceedings for violation of this Code, except those relating to the offense of failure to register or failure to vote which shall be under the jurisdiction of the metropolitan or municipal trial courts. From the decision of the courts, appeal will lie as in other criminal cases.

Among the offenses punished under the Election Code are those enumerated in Section 261 thereof. The offense allegedly committed by private respondents is covered by paragraph (i) of said Section, thus:

Sec. 261. Prohibited Acts. — The following shall be guilty of an election offense:

(i) Intervention of public officers and employees. — Any officer or employee in the civil service, except those holding political offices; any officer, employee, or member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, or any police forces, special forces, home defense forces, barangay self-defense units and all other para-military units that now exist or which may hereafter be organized who, directly or indirectly, intervenes in any election campaign or engages in any partisan political activity, except to vote or to preserve public order, if he is a peace officer.

Under Section 264 of the Code the penalty for an election offense under the Code, except that of failure to register or failure to vote, is "imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years" and the offender shall not be subject to probation and shall suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage.

Section 32 of B.P. Blg. 129 as amended by Section 2 of R.A. No. 7691, provides as follows:

Sec. 32. Jurisdiction of Metropolitan Trial Court, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts in Criminal Cases. — Except in cases falling within the exclusive original jurisdiction of Regional Trial Court and of the Sandiganbayan, the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall exercise:

(1) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all violations of city or municipal ordinances committed within their respective territorial jurisdiction; and

(2) Exclusive original jurisdiction over all offenses punishable with imprisonment not exceeding six (6) years irrespective of the amount of fine, and regardless of other imposable accessory or other penalties, including the civil liability arising from such offenses or predicated thereon, irrespective of kind, nature, value or amount thereof: Provided, however, That in offenses involving damage to property through criminal negligence, they shall have exclusive original jurisdiction thereof.

We have explicitly ruled in Morales v. Court of Appeals 7 that by virtue of the exception provided for in the opening sentence of Section 32, the exclusive original jurisdiction of Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts does not cover those criminal cases which by specific provisions of law fall within the exclusive original jurisdiction of Regional Trial Courts and of the Sandiganbayan, regardless of the penalty prescribed therefor. Otherwise stated, even if those excepted cases are punishable by imprisonment of not exceeding six (6) years (i.e., prision correccional, arresto mayor, or arresto menor), jurisdiction thereon is retained by the Regional Trial Courts or the Sandiganbayan, as the case may be.

Among the examples cited in Morales as falling within the exception provided for in the opening sentence of Section 32 are cases under (1) Section 20 of B.P. Blg. 129; (2) Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended; (3) the Decree on Intellectual Property; 8 and (4) the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972, 9 as amended.

Undoubtedly, pursuant to Section 268 of the Omnibus Election Code, election offenses also fall within the exception.

As we stated in Morales, jurisdiction is conferred by the Constitution or by Congress. Outside the cases enumerated in Section 5(2) of Article VIII of the Constitution, Congress has the plenary power to define, prescribe, and apportion the jurisdiction of various courts. Congress may thus provide by law that a certain class of cases should be exclusively heard and determined by one court. Such law would be a special law and must be construed as an exception to the general law on jurisdiction of courts, namely, the Judiciary Act of 1948, as amended, and the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980. R.A. No. 7691 can by no means be considered as a special law on jurisdiction; it is merely an amendatory law intended to amend specific sections of the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980. Hence, R.A. No. 7691 does nut have the effect of repealing laws vesting upon Regional Trial Courts or the Sandiganbayan exclusive original jurisdiction to hear and decide the cases therein specified. That Congress never intended that R.A. No. 7691 should repeal such special provisions is indubitably evident from the fact that it did not touch at all the opening sentence of Section 32 of B.P. Blg. 129 providing for the exception.

It is obvious that respondent judge did not read at all the opening sentence of Section 32 of B.P. Blg. 129, as amended. It is thus an opportune time, as any, to remind him, as well as other judges, of his duty to be studious of the principles of law, 10 to administer his office with due regard to the integrity of the system of the law itself, 11 to be faithful to the law, and to maintain professional competence. 12

Counsel for petitioner, Atty. Jose P. Balbuena, Director IV of petitioner's Law Department, must also be admonished for his utter carelessness in his reference to the case against Judge Juan Lavilles, Jr. In the motion for Reconsideration 13 he filed, with the court below, Atty. Balbuena stated:

As a matter of fact, the issue on whether the Regional Trial Court has exclusive jurisdiction over election offenses is already a settled issue in the case of Alberto Naldeza -vs- Judge Juan Lavilles, Jr., A.M. No. MTJ-94-1009, March 5, 1996, where the Supreme Court succinctly held:

A review of the pertinent provision of law would show that pursuant to Sec. 265 and 267 of the Omnibus Election Code, the COMELEC, has the exclusive power to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses punishable under the Code and the RTC shall have the exclusive original jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceedings for violation of the same. The Metropolitan, or MTC, by way of exception exercises jurisdiction only on offenses relating to failure to register or to vote. Noting that these provisions stand together with the provisions that any election offense under the code shall be punishable with imprisonment of one (1) year to six (6) years and shall not be subject to probation (Sec. 263, Omnibus Election Code), we submit that it is the special intention of the Code to vest upon the RTC jurisdiction over election cases as a matter of exception to the general provisions on jurisdiction over criminal cases found under B.P. 129 by RA 7691 does not vest upon the MTC jurisdiction over criminal election offenses despite its expanded jurisdiction. (Emphasis ours)

Also, in this petition, Atty. Balbuena states:

16. This Honorable Supreme Court, in the case of "Alberto -vs- Judge Juan Lavilles, Jr.," 245 SCRA 286 involving the same issue of jurisdiction between the lower courts and Regional Trial Court on election offenses, has ruled, thus:

With respect to the other charges, a review of the Pertinent Provision of Law would show that pursuant to Section 265 and 267 of the Omnibus Election Code the Comelec has the power to conduct preliminary investigations all election offenses punishable under the code and the Regional Trial Court shall have the exclusive original jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceedings for violation of the same. The Metropolitan Trial Court, by way of exception exercise jurisdiction only on offenses relating to failure to register or to vote. Noting that these provisions stands together with the provision that any election offense under the code shall be punishable with imprisonment for one (1) year to six (6) years and shall not be subject to probation (Section 264, Omnibus Election Code). We submit that it is the special intention of the code to vest upon the Regional Trial Court jurisdiction over election cases as matter of exemption to the provisions on jurisdiction over criminal cases found under B.P. Reg. 129, as amended. Consequently, the amendment of B.P. Reg. 129 by Republic Act. No. 7691 does not vest upon the MTC jurisdiction over criminal election offenses despite its expanded jurisdiction.

If Atty. Balbuena was diligent enough, he would have known that the correct name of the complainant in the case referred to is neither Alberto Naldeza as indicated in the motion for reconsideration nor Alberto alone as stated in the petition, but ALBERTO NALDOZA. Moreover, the case was not reported in volume 245 of the Supreme Court Reports Annotated (SCRA) as falsely represented in the paragraph 16 of the petition, but in volume 254 of the SCRA.

Worse, in both the motion for reconsideration and the petition, Atty. Balbuena deliberately made it appear that the quoted portions were findings or rulings, or, put a little differently, our own words. The truth is, the quoted portion is just a part of the memorandum of the Court Administrator quoted in the decision.

Rule 10.02 of Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility 14 mandates that a lawyer shall not knowingly misquote or misrepresent the text of a decision or authority.

IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the instant petition is GRANTED. The challenged orders of public respondent Judge Tomas B. Noynay of 25 August 1997 and 17 October 1997 in Criminal Cases Nos. A-1439 and A-1442 to A-1449 are SET ASIDE. Respondent Judge is DIRECTED to try and decide said cases with purposeful dispatch and, further, ADMONISHED to faithfully comply with Canons 4 and 18 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and Rule 3.01, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Atty. Jose P. Balbuena is ADMONISHED to be more careful in the discharge of his duty to the court as a lawyer under the Code of Professional Responsibility.

No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Regalado, Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Martinez, Quisumbing and Purisima, JJ., concur.

# Footnotes

1 Entitled An Act Expanding the Jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts, Amending for the Purpose Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, Otherwise Known as the "Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980."

2 Rollo, 13-15.

3 Erroneously cited as "Rep. Act. 6691."

4 Rollo, 16-17; 18-22.

5 Id., 24-28.

6 The penalty for the offense of failure to register or failure to vote is fine of P100.00 plus disqualification to run for public office in the next succeeding election following his conviction or to be appointed to a public office for a period of one year following his conviction. However, the provisions of the Omnibus Election penalizing failure to register and failure to vote [Sec. 261, paragraph (y), subparagraph (1) and paragraph (z), subparagraph (1), respectively] were expressly repealed by Section 17 of Executive Order No. 134 promulgated on 27 February 1987 by then President Corazon C. Aquino.

7 G.R. No. 126623, 12 December 1997.

8 P.D. No. 49, as amended.

9 R.A. No. 6425, as amended.

10 Canon 4, Canons of Judicial Ethics.

11 Canon 18, id.

12 Rule 3.01, Canon 3, Code of Judicial Conduct.

13 Rollo, 21-22.

14 Applicable to lawyers in government service in the discharge of their official tasks pursuant to Canon 6 thereof.

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