Robbery, Qualified Trespass to Dwelling & Violation of P.D. No. 1829

In essence, Marietta ascribes reversible error in the Office of the City Prosecutors finding of lack of probable cause against private respondents for robbery, qualified trespass to dwelling, and for violation of P.D. No. 1829, which was uniformly affirmed by the DOJ and the Court of Appeals.

Probable cause has been defined as the existence of such facts and circumstances as would lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to entertain an honest and strong suspicion, that the person charged is guilty of the crime for which he is sought to be prosecuted. Being based merely on opinion and reasonable belief, it does not import absolute certainty. A finding of probable cause merely binds over the suspect to stand trial; it does not impose a guilty verdict. However, it requires more than bare suspicion.

The conduct of preliminary investigation for the purpose of determining the existence of probable cause is executive in nature. The right to prosecute crime is reposed in the executive department of the government primarily responsible for the faithful execution of the laws of the land. This right vests the government prosecutor with a wide latitude of discretion on what and whom to charge upon proper finding of probable cause, depending on a smorgasbord of factors best appreciated by him. The preliminary investigation also serves to secure the innocent against hasty, malicious, and oppressive prosecution, and to protect him from an open accusation of a crime, and the expense and anxiety of a public trial. It likewise protects the State from useless and expensive trials, if unwarranted.

Thus, a prosecutor, by the nature of his office, is under no compulsion to file a particular criminal information where he is convinced that there is not enough evidence to support its averments, or that the evidence at hand, to his mind, necessarily leads to a different conclusion. While his findings are not absolute and are subject to judicial review, this Court generally adheres to the policy of non-interference in the conduct of preliminary investigations, particularly when the said findings are well-supported by the facts as established by the evidence on record.

Findings of probable cause are essentially factual in nature. Accordingly, in assailing said findings on the contention that the prosecutor committed grave abuse of discretion, the petitioner clearly raises issues anchored mainly on the propriety or impropriety of the prosecutors appreciation of the facts. This Court is not duty bound to scrutinize anew established facts in a petition for review for we are not a trier of facts.

In this case, we find no compelling reason to deviate from our policy of non-interference with the investigating prosecutors findings of absence of probable cause. It is admitted by both parties that the registered owner of Penthouse Unit 43-C is Lakeridge. Aside from the allegation of Marietta, there is no sufficient evidence on record that Erlinda was indeed the lawful occupant of the unit. In fact, the letter dated October 7, 1999, by which she claimed Erlinda gave her authority to occupy, oversee, and secure Penthouse Unit 43-C, and belatedly received by the management of the Pacific Plaza on November 3, 1999, was signed by Erlinda for LAKERIDGE without the appropriate resolution of Lakeridges board of directors to support it. Likewise, Marietta is not armed with any board resolution authorizing her to institute the criminal charges against the private respondents.

Furthermore, Sylvia and Cristina were able to establish by competent evidence that they were then the Vice-President and the Assistant Vice-President of Lakeridge, respectively. As such officers, they would, ostensibly, have the right and authority to freely enter and perform acts of maintenance of Penthouse Unit 43-C. The right could include breaking open the door and replacing its locks, apparently due to loss of the keys.
Be that as it may, we still take time out to examine the pertinent provisions of the Revised Penal Code on robbery and qualified trespass to dwelling, and the violation of P.D. No. 1829 referred to by Marietta in her Complaint-Affidavit which read as follows:

Art. 293. Who are guilty of robbery. Any person who, with intent to gain, shall take any personal property belonging to another, by means of violence against or intimidation of any person, or using force upon anything shall be guilty of robbery.

Art. 299. Robbery in an inhabited house or public building or edifice devoted to worship. Any armed person who shall commit robbery in an inhabited house or public building or edifice devoted to religious worship, shall be punished by reclusion temporal, if the value of the property taken shall exceed 250 pesos, and if

(a) The malefactors shall enter the house or building in which the robbery was committed, by any of the following means:

1. Through an opening not intended for entrance or egress.
2. By breaking any wall, roof, or floor, or breaking any door or window.
3. By using false keys, picklocks, or similar tools.
4. By using any fictitious name or pretending the exercise of public authority.

Or if

(b) The robbery be committed under any of the following circumstances:

1. By the breaking of doors, wardrobes, chests, or any other kind of locked or sealed furniture or receptacle.
2. By taking such furniture or objects away to be broken or forced open outside the place of robbery.
Art. 280. Qualified trespass to dwelling.Any private person who shall enter the dwelling of another against the latters will, shall be punished by arresto mayor and a fine not exceeding 1,000 pesos.
If the offense be committed by means of violence or intimidation, the penalty shall be prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods and a fine not exceeding 1,000 pesos.
The provisions of this article shall not be applicable to any person who shall enter anothers dwelling for the purpose of preventing some serious harm to himself, the occupants of the dwelling or a third person, nor shall it be applicable to any person who shall enter a dwelling for the purpose of rendering some service to humanity or justice, nor to anyone who shall enter cafes, taverns, inns, and other public houses, while the same are open.

Presidential Decree No. 1829: Section 1. The penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period, or a fine ranging from 1,000 to 6,000 pesos, or both, shall be imposed upon any person who knowingly or willfully obstructs, impedes, frustrates or delays the apprehension of suspects and the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases by committing any of the following acts:
x x x x
(b) altering, destroying, suppressing, or concealing any paper, record, document, or object, with intent to impair its verity, authenticity, legibility, availability, as evidence in any investigation of or official proceedings in, criminal cases, or to be used in the investigation of, or official proceedings in, criminal cases;
(c) harboring or concealing, or facilitating the escape of, any person he knows, or has reasonable ground to believe or suspect, has committed any offense under existing penal laws in order to prevent his arrest, prosecution, and conviction.

We hold that the evidence adduced does not support a finding of probable cause for the offenses defined in the provisions cited above. Marietta failed to prove, by competent evidence, that: (1) Penthouse Unit 43-C was the dwelling place of Erlinda; (2) she has authority over the said unit; (3) Sylvia and Cristina had no authority to enter the unit and conduct acts of maintenance thereon; and (4) Sylvia and Cristina were armed when they effected entrance. Based on these circumstances, the charges of robbery and qualified trespass to dwelling must inevitably fail. Perforce, the charge against Jovito for violation of P.D. No. 1829 should also be dismissed.

We reiterate that Marietta, as the complainant in the criminal charges filed before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Makati City, has the burden to prove the allegations in her Complaint-Affidavit by convincing evidence to warrant the indictment of private respondents. Unfortunately, she failed to discharge this burden. Thus, we cannot fault the investigating prosecutor for dismissing the criminal charges, especially after the dismissal was uniformly affirmed in toto by the City Prosecutor, the Secretary of the DOJ, and the Court of Appeals. (G.R. No. 171659.  December 13, 2007)