LUIS PANAGUITON, JR. vs. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, RAMON C. TONGSON and RODRIGO G. CAWILI, G.R. No. 167571, November 25, 2008
“X x x.
Petitioner assails the DOJ's reliance on Zaldivia v. Reyes, GR 102342, July 3, 1992, a case involving the violation of a municipal ordinance, in declaring that the prescriptive period is tolled only upon filing of the information in court. According to petitioner, what is applicable in this case is Ingco v. Sandiganbayan, 338 Phil. 1061 (1997), wherein this Court ruled that the filing of the complaint with the fiscal's office for preliminary investigation suspends the running of the prescriptive period. Petitioner also notes that the Ingco case similarly involved the violation of a special law, Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, petitioner notes. He argues that sustaining the DOJ's and the Court of Appeals' pronouncements would result in grave injustice to him since the delays in the present case were clearly beyond his control.
There is no question that Act No. 3326, appropriately entitled An Act to Establish Prescription for Violations of Special Acts and Municipal Ordinances and to Provide When Prescription Shall Begin, is the law applicable to offenses under special laws which do not provide their own prescriptive periods. The pertinent provisions read:
Section 1. Violations penalized by special acts shall, unless otherwise provided in such acts, prescribe in accordance with the following rules: (a) x x x; (b) after four years for those punished by imprisonment for more than one month, but less than two years; (c) x x x
Sec. 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.
We agree that Act. No. 3326 applies to offenses under B.P. Blg. 22. An offense under B.P. Blg. 22 merits the penalty of imprisonment of not less than thirty (30) days but not more than one year or by a fine, hence, under Act No. 3326, a violation of B.P. Blg. 22 prescribes in four (4) years from the commission of the offense or, if the same be not known at the time, from the discovery thereof. Nevertheless, we cannot uphold the position that only the filing of a case in court can toll the running of the prescriptive period.
It must be pointed out that when Act No. 3326 was passed on 4 December 1926, preliminary investigation of criminal offenses was conducted by justices of the peace, thus, the phraseology in the law, "institution of judicial proceedings for its investigation and punishment," and the prevailing rule at the time was that once a complaint is filed with the justice of the peace for preliminary investigation, the prescription of the offense is halted.
The historical perspective on the application of Act No. 3326 is illuminating. Act No. 3226 was approved on 4 December 1926 at a time when the function of conducting the preliminary investigation of criminal offenses was vested in the justices of the peace. Thus, the prevailing rule at the time, as shown in the cases of U.S. v. Lazada and People v. Joson, is that the prescription of the offense is tolled once a complaint is filed with the justice of the peace for preliminary investigation inasmuch as the filing of the complaint signifies the institution of the criminal proceedings against the accused. These cases were followed by our declaration in People v. Parao and Parao that the first step taken in the investigation or examination of offenses partakes the nature of a judicial proceeding which suspends the prescription of the offense. Subsequently, in People v. Olarte, we held that the filing of the complaint in the Municipal Court, even if it be merely for purposes of preliminary examination or investigation, should, and does, 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. In addition, even if the court where the complaint or information is filed may only proceed to investigate the case, its actuations already represent the initial step of the proceedings against the offender, and hence, the prescriptive period should be interrupted.
In Ingco v. Sandiganbayan, 338 Phil. 1061 (1997), and Sanrio Company Limited v. Lim, G.R. No. 168662, 19 February 2008, 546 SCRA 303, which involved violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (R.A. No. 3019) and the Intellectual Property Code (R.A. No. 8293), which are both special laws, the Court ruled that the prescriptive period is interrupted by the institution of proceedings for preliminary investigation against the accused. In the more recent case of Securities and Exchange Commission v. Interport Resources Corporation, et al., Securities and Exchange Commission v. Interport Resources Corporation, et al., G.R. No. 135808, 6 October 2008, the Court ruled that the nature and purpose of the investigation conducted by the Securities and Exchange Commission on violations of the Revised Securities Act, another special law, is equivalent to the preliminary investigation conducted by the DOJ in criminal cases, and thus effectively interrupts the prescriptive period.
The following disquisition in the Interport Resources case is instructive, thus:
While it may be observed that the term "judicial proceedings" in Sec. 2 of Act No. 3326 appears before "investigation and punishment" in the old law, with the subsequent change in set-up whereby the investigation of the charge for purposes of prosecution has become the exclusive function of the executive branch, the term "proceedings" should now be understood either executive or judicial in character: executive when it involves the investigation phase and judicial when it refers to the trial and judgment stage. With this clarification, any kind of investigative proceeding instituted against the guilty person which may ultimately lead to his prosecution should be sufficient to toll prescription.
Indeed, to rule otherwise would deprive the injured party the right to obtain vindication on account of delays that are not under his control. A clear example would be this case, wherein petitioner filed his complaint-affidavit on 24 August 1995, well within the four (4)-year prescriptive period. He likewise timely filed his appeals and his motions for reconsideration on the dismissal of the charges against Tongson. He went through the proper channels, within the prescribed periods. However, from the time petitioner filed his complaint-affidavit with the Office of the City Prosecutor (24 August 1995) up to the time the DOJ issued the assailed resolution, an aggregate period of nine (9) years had elapsed. Clearly, the delay was beyond petitioner's control. After all, he had already initiated the active prosecution of the case as early as 24 August 1995, only to suffer setbacks because of the DOJ's flip-flopping resolutions and its misapplication of Act No. 3326. 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.
We rule and so hold that the offense has not yet prescribed. Petitioner's filing of his complaint-affidavit before the Office of the City Prosecutor on 24 August 1995 signified the commencement of the proceedings for the prosecution of the accused and thus effectively interrupted the prescriptive period for the offenses they had been charged under B.P. Blg. 22. Moreover, since there is a definite finding of probable cause, with the debunking of the claim of prescription there is no longer any impediment to the filing of the information against petitioner.
X x x.”