Shadowy and indistinct interest

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Atty. Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

In criminal cases, the parties to the action are the People of the Philippines and the accused. The private offended party is regarded merely as a witness for the State because the purpose of the criminal action, in its purest sense, is to determine the penal liability of the accused for having outraged the State with his crime, and if he is found guilty, to punish him for it. The interest of the private offended party is limited only to the aspect of civil liability. This is the principle applied in this case of Nina.

Nina is the foster daughter of Jaime whose natural parents are unknown. She became Jaime’s foster daughter without having undergone the process of legal adoption. Later on, Jaime married Mely. However, Nina found out that Mely was already married to Randy way back when Mely was only 16 years old, although she has filed a petition for declaration of nullity of said marriage on the ground that no marriage ceremony took place and that her signature on the marriage certificate was not her signature but that of her sister.

Since said petition has not yet been granted, Nina filed a criminal complaint for Bigamy against Mely. In her complaint affidavit, she alleged that Mely contracted her second marriage with Jaime knowing fully well that her first marriage with her first husband Randy, who is still alive, has not been dissolved yet and is still existing.

Despite Mely’s claim in her counter-affidavit that she learned from her children with Randy that Randy filed a petition for declaration of nullity of their marriage and that Randy subsequently died, the Provincial Prosecutor still filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) an Information for Bigamy against Mely. Mely sought for the deferment of her arraignment and moved to quash the said complaint when her first marriage was already declared void ab initio by the RTC of the city where the marriage was celebrated.

The RTC granted Mely’s motion to quash and dismissed the criminal complaint. The RTC ruled that since the first marriage to Randy has already been declared void ab initio there is no first marriage to speak of, so the first element of the crime of Bigamy is lacking. This ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). The CA ruled that criminal liability never existed from the beginning as the first marriage never validly occurred due to the fact that a marriage ceremony never took place. Hence there was no criminal liability to extinguish in the first place.

After the CA denied Nina’s motion for reconsideration, Nina filed, in her personal capacity, a Petition for Review via Certiorari before the Supreme Court (SC) which, however denied it, because Nina has no legal personality to assail the dismissal of the criminal case.

According to the SC, all criminal actions commenced by a private complainant or by Information filed by the Government Prosecutor shall be prosecuted under the direction and control of a public prosecutor (Rule 110, Section 5, Rules of Court). In appeals of criminal cases before the SC, the authority to represent the State is vested solely on the Office of the Solicitor General (Section 35 (1) Chapter 12 Title III Book IV of the 1987 Administrative Code). Thus in criminal cases, the People of the Philippines is the real party in interest and only the OSG can represent the People in criminal proceedings before this Court. The private offended party is but a witness in the prosecution of offenses. His/her interest is limited only to the aspect of civil liability.

The private offended party may be allowed to pursue a criminal action on his or her own behalf when there is denial of due process which, however, does not exist in this case. Every action must be prosecuted or defended in the name of the real party in interest or the one who stands to be benefitted or injured by the judgment in the suit or by the party entitled to the avails of the suit.

“Interest” means material interest or an interest in the issue to be affected by the decree or judgment of the case as distinguished from mere interest in the question involved. Here, Nina’s natural parents are even unknown and she was merely raised as the foster daughter of Jaime. She claimed to be adopted but cannot present legal proof thereof. So Nina’s Petition for Review should be denied and the decision of the CA should be affirmed (Bumatay vs. Bumatay, G.R. 191320, April 25, 2017).

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