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HEIRS OF NESTOR TRIA VS. OBIAS, 635 SCRA 91
Engr. Nestor Tria, RD of DPWH Region V was shot by a gunman while waiting to board his flight to Manila. He was brought to a hospital but died the following day from the lone gunshot wound on his nape. NBI Regional Director Alejandro R. Tenerife, Chairman of Task Force Tria, recommended to the Provincial Prosecutor of Camarines Sur the indictment of Obet Aclan, Totoy Ona, and Atty. Epifania “Fanny” Gonzales-Obias, for the murder of Engr. Tria. During the preliminary investigation, respondent filed her Counter-Affidavit denying that she was in anyway involved with the killing of Engr. Tria, and further asserted that from the totality of evidence gathered by the NBI, it has not established prima facie the existence of conspiracy as to implicate her in the death of Engr. Tria.
The Prosecutor issued a resolution directing the filing of an information for murder against Aclan and Ona but dismissed the case for insufficiency of evidence as against Obias. Petitioners appealed to the DOJ, assailing the Prosecutor’s order to dismiss the charge against Obias. As such, Justice Secretary Cuevas issued a Resolution directing the Prosecutor to include Obias in the information. The DOJ was convinced that the sequence of events and respondent’s conduct before, during and after the killing of Engr. Tria undeniably points to her complicity with Aclan and Ona.
Respondent Obias, along with Aclan and Ona, filed a motion for reconsideration of the DOJ’s resolution, to which the DOJ denied. An Information against Aclan, Ona, and Obias was then filed with the RTC.
Respondent filed a Notice of Appeal with the DOJ under the provisions of Administrative Order No. 18, series of 1987. In a letter dated December 3, 2001 addressed to respondent’s counsel, the DOJ denied respondent’s notice of appeal on the ground that pursuant to Memorandum Circular No. 1266 dated November 4, 1983, as amended by Memorandum Circular No. 58 dated June 30, 1993, appeals to the OP where the penalty prescribed for the offense charged is “reclusion perpetua to death,” shall be taken by petition for review.
Respondent filed a motion for reconsideration of the denial of her notice of appeal. However, the DOJ denied respondent’s motion for reconsideration stating that the proper procedure is the filing of an appeal or petition for review with the OP and not before the DOJ. Hence, the case was considered closed and terminated.
OP dismissed the murder charge. CA affirmed OP’s decision.
Whether or not the CA gravely abused its discretion in affirming the OP’s dismissal of the murder charge.
NO. In arguing that the CA gravely abused its discretion when it affirmed the OP’s dismissal of the murder charge against respondent, petitioner invoked SC’s ruling in Crespo v. Mogul that any disposition of the case rests on the sound discretion of the court once an information has been filed with it.
A prosecutor, by the nature of his office, is under no compulsion to file a particular criminal information where he is not convinced that he has evidence to prop up its averments, or that the evidence at hand points to a different conclusion. The decision whether or not to dismiss the criminal complaint against respondent is necessarily dependent on the sound discretion of the investigating prosecutor and ultimately, that of the Secretary of Justice.
The findings of the prosecutor with respect to the existence or non-existence of probable cause is subject to the power of review by the DOJ. Indeed, the Secretary of Justice may reverse or modify the resolution of the prosecutor, after which he shall direct the prosecutor concerned either to file the corresponding information without conducting another preliminary investigation, or to dismiss or move for dismissal of the complaint or information with notice to the parties. Ordinarily, the determination of probable cause is not lodged with the SC. Its duty in an appropriate case is confined to the issue of whether the executive or judicial determination, as the case may be, of probable cause was done without or in excess of jurisdiction or with abuse of discretion amounting to want of jurisdiction.
However, SC may ultimately resolve the existence or non-existence of probable cause by examining the records of the preliminary investigation when necessary for the orderly administration of justice, or to avoid oppression or multiplicity of actions.
Probable cause is defined as the existence of such facts and circumstances as would excite the belief in a reasonable mind, acting on the facts within the knowledge of the prosecutor, that the person charged was guilty of the crime for which he was prosecuted. It is a reasonable ground of presumption that a matter is, or may be, well-founded, such a state of facts in the mind of the prosecutor as would lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to believe, or entertain an honest or strong suspicion, that a thing is so. The term does not mean “actual and positive cause” nor does it import absolute certainty. It is merely based on opinion and reasonable belief. A finding of probable cause merely binds over the suspect to stand trial; it is not a pronouncement of guilt.
Preliminary investigation is executive in character. It does not contemplate a judicial function. It is essentially an inquisitorial proceeding, and often, the only means of ascertaining who may be reasonably charged with a crime. Prosecutor’s control and direct the prosecution of criminal offenses, including the conduct of preliminary investigation, subject to review by the Secretary of Justice. The duty of the Court in appropriate cases is merely to determine whether the executive determination was done without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion. Resolutions of the Secretary of Justice are not subject to review unless made with grave abuse.