Friday, June 22, 2012

BP 22 cases; prescriptive period is 4 years (Act 3326)

See -

"x x x.

The key issue raised in this petition is whether the filing of the affidavit-complaint for estafa and violation of BP Blg. 22 against respondent with the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City on 16 September 1997 interrupted the period of prescription of such offense.

            We find merit in this petition.

          Initially, we see that the respondent’s claim that the OSG failed to attach to the petition a duplicate original or certified true copy of the 12 March 2002 decision of the CA and the required proof of service is refuted by the record.  A perusal of the record reveals that attached to the original copy of the petition is a certified true copy of the CA decision.  It was also observed that annexed to the petition was the proof of service undertaken by the Docket Division of the OSG.
With regard to the main issue of the petition, we find that the CA reversively erred in ruling that the offense committed by respondent had already prescribed.  Indeed, Act No. 3326 entitled “An Act to Establish Prescription for Violations of Special Acts and Municipal Ordinances and to Provide When Prescription Shall Begin,” as amended, is the law applicable to BP Blg. 22 cases.  Appositely, the law reads: 

   SECTION 1.  Violations penalized by special acts shall, unless otherwise provided in such acts, prescribe in accordance with the following rules:  (a) xxx; (b) after four years for those punished by imprisonment for more than one month, but less than two years; (c) xxx.

    SECTION 2.  Prescription shall begin to run from the day of the commission of the violation of the law, and if the same be not known at the time, from the discovery thereof and the institution of judicial proceedings for its investigation and punishment.

    The prescription shall be interrupted when proceedings are instituted against the guilty person, and shall begin to run again if the proceedings are dismissed for reasons not constituting jeopardy.
Since BP Blg. 22 is a special law that imposes a penalty of imprisonment of not less than thirty (30) days but not more than one year or by a fine for its violation, it therefor prescribes in four (4) years in accordance with the aforecited law.  The running of the prescriptive period, however, should be tolled upon the institution of proceedings against the guilty person.

In the old but oft-cited case of People v. Olarte,[16] this Court ruled that the filing of the complaint in the Municipal Court even if it be merely for purposes of preliminary examination or investigation, should, and thus, interrupt the period of prescription of the criminal responsibility, even if the court where the complaint or information is filed cannot try the case on the merits.    This ruling was broadened by the Court in the case of Francisco, v. Court of Appeals, et. al.[17] when it held that the filing of the complaint with the Fiscal’s Office also suspends the running of the prescriptive period of a criminal offense.

Respondent’s contention that a different rule should be applied to cases involving special laws is bereft of merit.  There is no more distinction between cases under the RPC and those covered by special laws with respect to the interruption of the period of prescription. The ruling in Zaldivia v. Reyes, Jr.[18] is not controlling in special laws.   In Llenes v. Dicdican,[19] Ingco, et al. v. Sandiganbayan,[20]Brillante v. CA,[21] and Sanrio Company Limited v. Lim,[22]  cases involving special laws, this Court held that the institution of proceedings for preliminary investigation against the accused interrupts the period of prescription.  In Securities and Exchange Commission v. Interport Resources Corporation, et. al.,[23] the Court even ruled that investigations conducted by the Securities and Exchange Commission for violations of the Revised Securities Act and the Securities Regulations Code effectively interrupts the prescription period because it is equivalent to the preliminary investigation conducted by the DOJ in criminal cases.

  In fact, in the case of Panaguiton, Jr. v. Department of Justice,[24] which is in all fours with the instant case, this Court categorically ruled that commencement of the proceedings for the prosecution of the accused before the Office of the City Prosecutor effectively interrupted the prescriptive period for the offenses they had been charged under BP Blg. 22.   Aggrieved parties, especially those who do not sleep on their rights and actively pursue their causes, should not be allowed to suffer unnecessarily further simply because of circumstances beyond their control, like the accused’s delaying tactics or the delay and inefficiency of the investigating agencies.

x x x."