"x x x.
Probable cause, for purposes of filing criminal information, pertains to facts and circumstances sufficient to incite a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the accused is probably guilty thereof. Only such facts sufficient to support a prima facie case against the respondent are required, not absolute certainty. Probable cause implies mere probability of guilt, i.e., a finding based on more than bare suspicion but less than evidence that would justify a conviction. The strict validity and merits of a party’s accusation or defense, as well as admissibility of testimonies and pieces of evidence, are better ventilated during the trial proper of the case.
The determination of probable cause is essentially an executive function, lodged in the first place on the prosecutor who conducted the preliminary investigation on the offended party’s complaint. The prosecutor’s ruling is reviewable by the Secretary who, as the final determinative authority on the matter, has the power to reverse, modify or affirm the prosecutor’s determination. As a rule, the Secretary’s findings are not subject to interference by the courts save only when he acts with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction; or when he grossly misapprehends facts; or acts in a manner so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined by law; or when he acts outside the contemplation of law.
In order to arrive at probable cause, the elements of the crime charged, homicide in this case, should be present. Jurisprudence laid out the elements of homicide as: (1) a person was killed; (2) the accused killed him without any justifying circumstance; (3) the accused had the intention to kill, which is presumed; and (4) the killing was not attended by any of the qualifying circumstances of murder, or by that of parricide or infanticide. All of these elements are present in this case, as adequately shown by the affidavits of Edna and her witness, and by the autopsy report.
We agree with the CA that the Secretary, in this case, calibrated the evidentiary weight of the NBI opinion vis-a-vis the autopsy report, as well as Edna’s complaint-affidavit vis-à-vis the affidavit of Jovita, and in so doing, already went into the strict merits of Villanueva’s defenses. We note that the NBI opinion was procured at Villanueva’s instance and was based on the documents and in response to the questions Villanueva posed, while Jovita was unable to recall the events that transpired relative to Renato’s death when asked during the preliminary investigation. Whether the alternative scenario on the cause of Renato’s injuries and death (as supported by Jovita’s affidavit and the NBI opinion and which Villanueva proposed by way of defense) is more credible and more likely than the narrations of Edna in her complaint-affidavit, in the affidavit of her witness, and the NBI autopsy report should best be left for the trial court to determine after a full- blown trial on the merits. When the Secretary made a determination based on his own appreciation of the pieces of evidence for and against Villanueva, he effectively assumed the function of a trial judge in the evaluation of the pieces of evidence and, thereby, acted outside his jurisdiction.
x x x."