Soliven/Beltran V Makasiar Essay

G. R. No. 82585 November 14, 1988 MAXIMO V. SOLIVEN, ANTONIO V. ROCES, FREDERICK K. AGCAOLI, and GODOFREDO L. MANZANAS, petitioners, vs. THE HON. RAMON P. MAKASIAR, Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 35, UNDERSECRETARY SILVESTRE BELLO III, of the Department of Justice, LUIS C. VICTOR, THE CITY FISCAL OF MANILA and PRESIDENT CORAZON C. AQUINO, respondents. G. R. No. 82827 November 14, 1988


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EXECUTIVE SECRETARY CATALINO MACARAIG, SECRETARY OF JUSTICE SEDFREY ORDONEZ, UNDERSECRETARY OF JUSTICE SILVESTRE BELLO III, THE CITY FISCAL OF MANILA JESUS F. GUERRERO, and JUDGE RAMON P. MAKASIAR, Presiding Judge of Branch 35 of the Regional Trial Court, at Manila, respondents. Angara, Abello, Concepcion, Regala and Cruz for petitioners in G. R. No. 82585. Perfecto V. Fernandez, Jose P. Fernandez and Cristobal P. Fernandez for petitioner in G. R. Nos. 82827 and 83979. R E S O L U T I O N PER CURIAM:

In these consolidated cases, three principal issues were raised: (1) whether or not petitioners were denied due process when informations for libel were filed against them although the finding of the existence of a prima facie case was still under review by the Secretary of Justice and, subsequently, by the President; (2) whether or not the constitutional rights of Beltran were violated when respondent RTC judge issued a warrant for his arrest without personally examining the complainant and the witnesses, if any, to determine probable cause; and (3) whether or not the President of the Philippines, under the Constitution, may initiate criminal proceedings against the petitioners through the filing of a complaint-affidavit. Subsequent events have rendered the first issue moot and academic. On March 30, 1988, the Secretary of Justice denied petitioners’ motion for reconsideration and upheld the resolution of the Undersecretary of Justice sustaining the City Fiscal’s finding of a prima facie case against petitioners. A second motion for reconsideration filed by petitioner Beltran was denied by the Secretary of Justice on April 7, 1988. On appeal, the President, through the Executive Secretary, affirmed the resolution of the Secretary of Justice on May 2, 1988. The motion for reconsideration was denied by the Executive Secretary on May 16, 1988.

With these developments, petitioners’ contention that they have been denied the administrative remedies available under the law has lost factual support. It may also be added that with respect to petitioner Beltran, the allegation of denial of due process of law in the preliminary investigation is negated by the fact that instead of submitting his counter- affidavits, he filed a “Motion to Declare Proceedings Closed,” in effect waiving his right to refute the complaint by filing counter-affidavits. Due process of law does not require that the respondent in a criminal case actually file his counter-affidavits before the preliminary investigation is deemed completed. All that is required is that the respondent be given the opportunity to submit counter-affidavits if he is so minded.

The second issue, raised by petitioner Beltran, calls for an interpretation of the constitutional provision on the issuance of warrants of arrest. The pertinent provision reads: Art. III, Sec. 2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination nder oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

The addition of the word “personally” after the word “determined” and the deletion of the grant of authority by the 1973 Constitution to issue warrants to “other responsible officers as may be authorized by law,” has apparently convinced petitioner Beltran that the Constitution now requires the judge to personally examine the complainant and his witnesses in his determination of probable cause for the issuance of warrants of arrest. This is not an accurate interpretation. What the Constitution underscores is the exclusive and personal responsibility of the issuing judge to satisfy himself of the existence of probable cause. In satisfying himself of the existence of probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest, the judge is not required to personally examine the complainant and his witnesses.

Following established doctrine and procedure, he shall: (1) personally evaluate the report and the supporting documents submitted by the fiscal regarding the existence of probable cause and, on the basis thereof, issue a warrant of arrest; or (2) if on the basis thereof he finds no probable cause, he may disregard the fiscal’s report and require the submission of supporting affidavits of witnesses to aid him in arriving at a conclusion as to the existence of probable cause. Sound policy dictates this procedure, otherwise judges would be unduly laden with the preliminary examination and investigation of criminal complaints instead of concentrating on hearing and deciding cases filed before their courts. On June 30, 1987, the Supreme Court unanimously adopted Circular No. 12, setting down guidelines for the issuance of warrants of arrest. The procedure therein provided is reiterated and clarified in this resolution. It has not been shown that respondent judge has deviated from the prescribed procedure.

Thus, with regard to the issuance of the warrants of arrest, a finding of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction cannot be sustained. Anent the third issue, petitioner Beltran argues that “the reasons which necessitate presidential immunity from suit impose a correlative disability to file suit. ” He contends that if criminal proceedings ensue by virtue of the President’s filing of her complaint-affidavit, she may subsequently have to be a witness for the prosecution, bringing her under the trial court’s jurisdiction. This, continues Beltran, would in an indirect way defeat her privilege of immunity from suit, as by testifying on the witness stand, she would be exposing herself to possible contempt of court or perjury.

The rationale for the grant to the President of the privilege of immunity from suit is to assure the exercise of Presidential duties and functions free from any hindrance or distraction, considering that being the Chief Executive of the Government is a job that, aside from requiring all of the office holder’s time, also demands undivided attention. But this privilege of immunity from suit, pertains to the President by virtue of the office and may be invoked only by the holder of the office; not by any other person in the President’s behalf. Thus, an accused in a criminal case in which the President is complainant cannot raise the presidential privilege as a defense to prevent the case from proceeding against such accused.

Moreover, there is nothing in our laws that would prevent the President from waiving the privilege. Thus, if so minded the President may shed the protection afforded by the privilege and submit to the court’s jurisdiction. The choice of whether to exercise the privilege or to waive it is solely the President’s prerogative. It is a decision that cannot be assumed and imposed by any other person. As regards the contention of petitioner Beltran that he could not be held liable for libel because of the privileged character or the publication, the Court reiterates that it is not a trier of facts and that such a defense is best left to the trial court to appreciate after receiving the evidence of the parties.

As to petitioner Beltran’s claim that to allow the libel case to proceed would produce a “chilling effect” on press freedom, the Court finds no basis at this stage to rule on the point. The petitions fail to establish that public respondents, through their separate acts, gravely abused their discretion as to amount to lack of jurisdiction. Hence, the writs of certiorari and prohibition prayed for cannot issue. WHEREFORE, finding no grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction on the part of the public respondents, the Court Resolved to DISMISS the petitions in G. R. Nos. 82585, 82827 and 83979. The Order to maintain the status quo contained in the Resolution of the Court en banc dated April 7, 1988 and reiterated in the Resolution dated April 26, 1988 is LIFTED.


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