Sasot v. People (Case Digest. G.R. No. 143193)

G.R. No. 143193. June 29, 2005 MELBAROSE R. SASOT and ALLANDALE R. SASOT, petitioners, vs. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, The Honorable court of of appeals, and REBECCA G. SALVADOR, Presiding Judge, RTC, Branch 1, Manila, respondents. AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

The case subject of the present special civil action for certiorari is a criminal prosecution against petitioners for unfair competition under Article 189 of the Revised Penal Code, filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila (Branch 1), and docketed as Criminal Case No. 98-166147.1

Some time in May 1997, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) conducted an investigation pursuant to a complaint by the NBA Properties, Inc., against petitioners for possible violation of Article 189 of the Revised Penal Code on unfair competition. In its Report dated June 4, 1997, the NBI stated that NBA Properties, Inc., is a foreign corporation organized under the laws of the United States of America, and is the registered owner of NBA trademarks and names of NBA basketball teams such as "USA Basketball,"etc. These names are used on hosiery, footwear, t-shirts, sweatshirts, tank tops, pajamas, sport shirts, and other garment products, which are allegedly registered with the Bureau of Patents, Trademarks and Technology Transfer. The Report further stated that during the investigation, it was discovered that petitioners are engaged in the manufacture, printing, sale, and distribution of counterfeit "NBA" garment products. Hence, it recommended petitioners’ prosecution for unfair competition under Article 189 of the Revised Penal Code.

In a Special Power of Attorney dated October 7, 1997, Rick Welts, as President of NBA Properties, Inc., constituted the law firm of Ortega, Del Castillo, Bacorro, Odulio, Calma & Carbonell, as the company’s attorney-in-fact, and to act for and on behalf of the company, in the filing of criminal, civil and administrative complaints, among others. The Special Power of Attorney was notarized by Nicole Brown of New York County and certified by Norman Goodman, County Clerk and Clerk of the Supreme Court of the State of New York. Consul Cecilia B. Rebong of the Consulate General of the Philippines, New York, authenticated the certification. Welts also executed a Complaint-Affidavit on February 12, 1998, before Notary Public Nicole J. Brown of the State of New York.

Thereafter, in a Resolution dated July 15, 1998, Prosecution Attorney Aileen Marie S. Gutierrez recommended the filing of an Information against petitioners for violation of Article 189 of the Revised Penal Code.

Before arraignment, petitioners filed a Motion to Quash the Information on the following grounds:

I. THAT THE FACTS CHARGED DO NOT CONSTITUTE AN OFFENSE
II. AND THIS HONORABLE COURT HAD NO JURISDICTION OVER THE OFFENSE CHARGED OR THE PERSON OF THE ACCUSED

In support of the foregoing, petitioners argue that the fiscal should have dismissed Welts’s complaint because under the rules, the complaint must be sworn to before the prosecutor and the copy on record appears to be only a fax transmittal. They also contend that complainant is a foreign corporation not doing business in the Philippines, and cannot be protected by Philippine patent laws since it is not a registered patentee. Petitioners aver that they have been using the business name "ALLANDALE SPORTSLINE, INC." since 1972, and their designs are original and do not appear to be similar to complainant’s, and they do not use complainant’s logo or design.

The trial prosecutor of the RTC-Manila (Branch 1), Jaime M. Guray, filed his Comment/Opposition to the motion to quash, stating that he has the original copy of the complaint, and that complainant has an attorney-in-fact to represent it. Prosecutor Guray also contended that the State is entitled to prosecute the offense even without the participation of the private offended party, as the crime charged is a public crime.

ISSUES: 1. WHETHER A FOREIGN CORPORATION NOT ENGAGED AND LICENSE (sic) TO DO BUSINESS IN THE PHILIPPINES MAY MAINTAIN A CAUSE OF ACTION FOR UNFAIR COMPETITION.

2. WHETHER AN OFFICER OF A FOREIGN CORPORATION MAY ACT IN BEHALF OF A CORPORATION WITHOUT AUTHORITY FROM ITS BOARD OF DIRECTORS.

3. WHETHER A FOREIGN CORPORATION NOT ENGAGED IN BUSINESS AND WHOSE EMBLEM IT SOUGHT TO PROTECT IS NOT IN ACTUAL USE IS ENTITLED TO THE PROTECTION OF THE PHILIPPINE LAW.

4. WHETHER THE RESPONDENT REGIONAL TRIAL COURT CORRECTLY ASSUMED JURISDICTION OVER THE CASE AND THE PERSONS OF THE ACCUSED.

5. WHETHER THE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF JURISDICTION WHEN IT DISMISSED THE PETITION.

HELD: The petition must be denied. WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit. 

QUASHAL OF INFORMATION: The Supreme Court found any justification for the quashal of the Information filed against petitioners.

For one, while petitioners raise in their motion to quash the grounds that the facts charged do not constitute an offense and that the trial court has no jurisdiction over the offense charged or the person of the accused, their arguments focused on an alleged defect in the complaint filed before the fiscal, complainant’s capacity to sue and petitioners’ exculpatory defenses against the crime of unfair competition.Section 3, Rule 117 of the 1985 Rules of Criminal Procedure, which was then in force at the time the alleged criminal acts were committed, enumerates the grounds for quashing an information, to wit:

a) That the facts charged do not constitute an offense;
b) That the court trying the case has no jurisdiction over the offense charged or the person of the accused;
c) That the officer who filed the information had no authority to do so;
d) That it does not conform substantially to the prescribed form;
e) That more than one offense is charged except in those cases in which existing laws prescribe a single punishment for various offenses;
f) That the criminal action or liability has been extinguished;
g) That it contains averments which, if true, would constitute a legal excuse or justification; and
h) That the accused has been previously convicted or in jeopardy of being convicted, or acquitted of the offense charged.

Nowhere in the foregoing provision is there any mention of the defect in the complaint filed before the fiscal and the complainant’s capacity to sue as grounds for a motion to quash.

WANT OF OATH: For another, under Section 3, Rule 112 of the 1985 Rules of Criminal Procedure, a complaint is substantially sufficient if it states the known address of the respondent, it is accompanied by complainant’s affidavit and his witnesses and supporting documents, and the affidavits are sworn to before any fiscal, state prosecutor or government official authorized to administer oath, or in their absence or unavailability, a notary public who must certify that he personally examined the affiants and that he is satisfied that they voluntarily executed and understood their affidavits. All these have been duly satisfied in the complaint filed before Prosecution Attorney Aileen Marie S. Gutierrez. It must be noted that even the absence of an oath in the complaint does not necessarily render it invalid. Want of oath is a mere defect of form, which does not affect the substantial rights of the defendant on the merits.

PRESUMPTION OF REGULARITY: In this case, Welts’s Complaint-Affidavit contains an acknowledgement by Notary Public Nicole Brown of the State of New York that the same has been subscribed and sworn to before her on February 12, 1998, duly authenticated by the Philippine Consulate. While the copy on record of the complaint-affidavit appears to be merely a photocopy thereof, Prosecution Attorney Gutierrez stated that complainant’s representative will present the authenticated notarized original in court, and Prosecutor Guray manifested that the original copy is already on hand. It is apt to state at this point that the prosecutor enjoys the legal presumption of regularity in the performance of his duties and functions, which in turn gives his report the presumption of accuracy.

CRIME OF UNFAIR COMPETITION, A PUBLIC CRIME: More importantly, the crime of Unfair Competition punishable under Article 189 of the Revised Penal Code is a public crime. It is essentially an act against the State and it is the latter which principally stands as the injured party. The complainant’s capacity to sue in such case becomes immaterial.

More important is the nature of the case which led to this petition. What preceded this petition for certiorari was a letter-complaint filed before the NBI charging Hemandas with a criminal offense, i.e., violation of Article 189 of the Revised Penal Code. If prosecution follows after the completion of the preliminary investigation being conducted by the Special Prosecutor the information shall be in the name of the People of the Philippines and no longer the petitioner which is only an aggrieved party since a criminal offense is essentially an act against the State. It is the latter which is principally the injured party although there is a private right violated. Petitioner's capacity to sue would become, therefore, of not much significance in the main case. We cannot allow a possible violator of our criminal statutes to escape prosecution upon a far-fetched contention that the aggrieved party or victim of a crime has no standing to sue.

In upholding the right of the petitioner to maintain the present suit before our courts for unfair competition or infringement of trademarks of a foreign corporation, we are moreover recognizing our duties and the rights of foreign states under the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property to which the Philippines and France are parties. We are simply interpreting and enforcing a solemn international commitment of the Philippines embodied in a multilateral treaty to which we are a party and which we entered into because it is in our national interest to do so.

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