Regional Trial Court's venue for public officer's crime (RA No. 10660)

In Non v. Ombudsman[1], the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the "Supreme Court has yet to promulgate the pertinent rules on RA No. 10660[2] and there are no implementing rules yet on this particular matter. [Therefore, the] default regime is found in Section 15(a), Rule 110 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, viz., the criminal action shall be instituted and tried in the proper court of the municipality, city, or province where the offense was committed and where any of its essential ingredients took place." According to the Supreme Court, despite the absence of rules implementing RA No. 10660, the provision of the law on trial "in a judicial region other than where the official holds office" shall prevail.Section 15(a), Rule 110 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure says that, when a law specifically provides a venue, then the criminal action shall be instituted in such place.
SEC. 15. Place where action is to be instituted. —

(a) Subject to existing laws, the criminal action shall be instituted and tried in the court of the municipality or territory where the offense was committed or where any of its essential ingredients occurred.

According to the Supreme Court, Section 2 of R.A. No. 10660 clearly provides that the RTC has original and exclusive jurisdiction when the information either: (a) does not allege any damage to the government or any bribery; or (b) alleges damage to the government or bribery arising from the same or closely related transactions or acts in an amount not exceeding One Million Pesos (P1,000,000.00). Moreover, such cases falling within the jurisdiction of the RTC shall be tried in a judicial region other than the place where the accused official holds office.

R.A. No. 10660 took effect in 2015. In the Non v. Ombudsman case, when the Information against petitioners was filed in 2018, petitioners were still Commissioners of the ERC, holding office in Ortigas, Pasig City. The Information also did not allege any amount of damage to the government, or any bribery. Applying Section 2 of R.A. No. 10660, the Information against petitioners should have been filed in a judicial region outside of the National Capital Judicial Region. Since jurisdiction is a matter of substantive law, the established rule is that the statute in force at the time of the commencement of the action determines the jurisdiction of the court.[3]

It was also held that the proviso ''subject to the rules promulgated by the Supreme Court" should not stand as a hindrance to the application of the clear intention of the law.

The Senate deliberations on R.A. No. 10660 support the view that the RTC's jurisdiction under said law shall be tried in a judicial region outside of the place where the accused public official holds office.

As regards the amendment on page 3, lines 28 to 31, on the trial of cases falling within the jurisdiction of the RTC in a judicial region other than where the official holds office, Senator Angara believed that the basic reasoning behind the provision is to prevent a public official from exerting influence over the RTC judge who is hearing the case. Senator Pimentel agreed, saying that it is the assumption of the amendment.

Senator Angara expressed concern that the proposed amendment could be used as harassment against a public official. For instance, he noted that if cases are filed against a mayor or governor x x x in Region III and these cases are referred to RTCs in Regions I, II and IV, that would entail substantial expenses and time on their part. Senator Pimentel explained that the provision would only apply when there is already an information and it could not be considered harassment because those cases would have to go through the Ombudsman. He stated that under existing procedures, there are sufficient safeguards in detailing with such kind of situation, and he believed that the Ombudsman would not file harassment cases. Besides, not all cases filed with the Sandiganbayan lead to convictions, he said.[4]

Contrary to the interpretation of the respondent judge and the Ombudsman, the applicability of R.A. No. 10660 is not conditioned upon the promulgation of rules by the Court. As was declared in Government Service Insurance System v. Daymiel:[5]

Jurisdiction over a subject matter is conferred by the Constitution or the law, and rules of procedure yield to substantive law. Otherwise stated, jurisdiction must exist as a matter of law. Only a statute can confer jurisdiction on courts and administrative agencies.

If the application of R.A. No. 10660 shall be put on hold while waiting for the Supreme Court to promulgate the necessary rules, then the former would be rendered nugatory by the mere expediency of the Supreme Court's non-issuance of such rules. This would result in an absurd situation in which the force and effect of the law depends on the Judiciary, which is clearly not the intention of the framers of the law in placing the proviso. Sure, the Supreme Court would not tolerate such a scenario; after all, the Judicial Branch cannot enlarge, diminish, or dictate when jurisdiction shall be removed, given that the power to define, prescribe, and apportion jurisdiction is, as a general rule, a matter of legislative prerogative.[6]

However, it must be noted that there arguments against the Supreme Court's conclusion in the Non case.[7]


[1] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2021/08/gr-no-251177-september-08-2020.html.

[2] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2021/08/ra-no-10660-april-16-2015.html.

[3] Anama v. Citibank, N.A., 822 Phil. 630, 640 (2017).

[4] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2021/08/gr-no-251177-september-08-2020.html.

[5] G.R. No. 218097, March 11, 2019.

[6] Gonzales v. GJH Land, Inc., 772 Phil. 483, 510 (2015).

[7] https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2021/08/scs-error-in-non-v-ombudsman-other.html.

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