Public offense

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2021 - 12:00am

Under our penal laws, a crime is a public offense against the people. So the charges are filed in court by the Public Prosecutor. But can a private person, particularly the victim, participate in the prosecution of the case even if she is not the one who filed a complaint affidavit? Why? These are the questions answered in this case of Charito.

Charito got married to Bert in a civil ceremony solemnized by a city judge. During the subsistence of their marriage about 40 years later, Berto contracted a second marriage with Trining under a different name of Nardo, solemnized by another city judge.

At that time Charito was already living in the United States and could not personally file a case for bigamy in the Philippines. So, she asked two of her relatives here in the Philippines, Ben and Willy, to commence the criminal proceeding against Berto. Thus, Ben and Willy filed a verified complaint-affidavit before the City Prosecutor of the city where Berto got married to Trining. Thereafter an Information was filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC). On arraignment, Bert a.k.a Nardo pleaded not guilty.

During the pre-trial Atty. Andres appeared in behalf of Charito, the private offended party, as private prosecutor with the conformity and under the control and supervision of Assistant City Prosecutor Gary. But Berto filed an omnibus motion to disqualify Atty. Andres, arguing that Charito could not be represented in the bigamy case because she was not a party thereto as she did not file the complaint affidavit. He also argued that Charito already waived her right to file a civil and criminal complaint against him and Trining. The RTC granted the motion and proceeded with the trial of the case without the participation of Atty. Andres as private prosecutor.

This ruling was questioned by Atty. Andres before the Court of Appeals which issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). But despite the TRO the RTC proceeded with the presentation of the prosecution evidence and subsequently dismissed the bigamy case based on the demurrer to the evidence filed by Berto. Eventually however, the CA annulled the RTC resolution disqualifying Atty. Andres from participation in the case and its order dismissing the bigamy case against Bert aka Nardo. Was the CA correct?

The Supreme Court (SC) said the CA is correct in ruling that the crime of bigamy, being public in nature, can be denounced by anyone, not only by the offended party, before the prosecuting authorities without the offended party losing her right to recover damages. The offended party could be deprived of the right to intervene in the criminal case only when he or she expressly waives the civil action or reserves the right to institute it. Here there is no such waiver and Atty. Andres’ appearance as private prosecutor is proof enough of Charito’s determination to enforce her claim for damages. The fact that Charito, who was already abroad, secured the services of an attorney in the Philippines shows her willingness and interest to participate in the prosecution of the bigamy case and to recover civil liability from Berto and Trining.

Charito, being the offended party, is afforded by law the right to participate through counsel in the prosecution of the offense with respect to its civil aspect. Section 16 of Rule 110 of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure expressly allows an offended party to intervene by counsel in the prosecution of the offense for the recovery of civil liability, which is deemed instituted with the criminal action unless he/she waives said right to institute it separately. (Villalon and Talde-Villalon vs. Chan, G.R. 196508, Sept. 24, 2014)

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