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55 Phil. 345

[ G.R. No. 34334, November 28, 1930 ]




The ruling appealed from holds that Virginia Santos, a minor, accused in the municipal court of Manila of violating an ordinance, and by said court committed to the Philippine Training School for Girls, is entitled to her liberty, and orders that she be immediately released, and that the bond filed by her be cancelled.

This ruling is based on the contention that the act for which she was tried in the municipal court had already prescribed when the complaint was filed, and that there was therefore no cause of action against her.

The Attorney-General assails the ruling of the court below. He contends that the evidence does not positively show the violation prosecuted has prescribed, and that even if it has, the defense of prescription is of no avail in habeas corpus proceedings.

We agree with the court below that the alleged prescription has been proved of record. Nor is the fact that the date shown in the complaint may be changed by the evidence a bar to this conclusion. There is, indeed, no evidence to prove a different date, and so, that set forth in the complaint must stand; and such an allegation amounts to an admission by the prosecution of one of the essential elements to the computation of prescription; and upon the date thus alleged and not altered at the hearing, the defense was certainly entitled to rely. Nor is the doctrine cited by the Attorney-General, laid down in the case of United States vs. Cardona (1 Phil., 381), a bar to this conclusion, though it upholds the right of the prosecution to adduce evidence to show that the crime was committed on a different date from that alleged in the information; it was not said in that case that the date of the offense as given in the information was not sufficient proof for the purposes of prescription. This allegation, if not altered by the evidence, is a solid and sufficient ground for invoking prescription against the prosecution.

But it happens that the plea of prescription now invoked by the petitioner was not advanced during the hearing of the case before the municipal court, and as the Attorney-General correctly contends, such a plea will not lie in habeas corpus proceedings. In granting the writ, the lower court relied upon the ruling by this court in People vs. Moran (44 Phil., 387), which was an ordinary criminal case and not an habeas corpus proceedings and where the prescription of the violation of the Election Law was only alleged after the whole proceedings were over, because only then had the Legislature passed a law to that effect. In that case there was no waiver of that defense for the simple reason that there was no prescription. If the plea of prescription will not be admitted by the courts in habeas corpus proceedings, it is precisely for the reason that it is deemed to have been waived. Although that decision in People vs. Moran arose from the allegation of prescription made after the proceedings had terminated, it is but an affirmance of the principle that penal laws have a retroactive effect in so far as they favor the culprit. Therefore it is not applicable in the case before us.

That the defense of prescription must be alleged during the proceedings in prosecution of the offense alleged to have prescribed, is a doctrine recognized by this court in United States vs. Serapio (23 Phil, 584) where the principle is supported by citations of Aldeguer vs. Hoskyn (2 Phil., 500), Domingo vs. Osorio (7 Phil., 405), Maxilom vs. Tabotabo (9 Phil., 390), Harty vs. Luna (13 Phil., 31), and Sunico vs. Ramirez (14 Phil., 500).

That the defense of prescription is no ground for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus is a doctrine recognized by the North. American jurisprudence, as may be seen from the following:

"If the statute of limitations is relied upon, it must be set up at the trial, either by a special plea or under the general issue. It is not a ground for a demurrer to the indictment, at least where the indictment does not show on its face that defendant is not within the exception of the statute. Nor is the defense available on a motion in arrest of judgment, or on a application for a writ of habeas corpus" (16 C. J., 416.) (Italics ours.)

"All questions which may arise in the orderly course of a criminal prosecution are to be determined by the court to whose jurisdiction the defendant has been subjected by the law, and the fact that a defendant has a good and sufficient defense to a criminal charge on which he is held will not entitle him to his discharge on habeas corpus" (12 R. C. L,, 1206.) (Italics ours.)

The petitioner cites cases both local and from the courts of the United States to the effect that lack of jurisdiction over the defendant or the offense is a ground for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. This is true, inasmuch as lack of jurisdiction constitutes a fatal defect annulling all proceedings; but the prescription of an offense does not deprive a court of jurisdiction. By prescription the State or the People loses the right to prosecute the crime or to demand the service of the penalty imposed; but this does not mean that the court loses jurisdiction either over the matter of litigation or over the parties.

For this reason, the action which should be taken by a competent court upon the plea of prescription of the offense or the penal action, duly alleged and established, is not to inhibit itself, which would be proper if it had no jurisdiction, but on the contrary to exercise jurisdiction, and to decide the case upon its merits, holding the action to have prescribed, and absolving the defendant.

Thus, the Spanish Law of Criminal Procedure of September 14, 1882, known as suppletory law and as a sound doctrine contained in rule 95 of the Provisional Law for the application of the provisions of the Penal Code to the Philippine Islands, in treating in articles 666 et seq. of the preliminary defenses (the prescription of crimes is there so considered), distinguishes cases of prescription from those of lack of jurisdiction, and clearly provides (article 674) that when the question of lack of jurisdiction is raised, and the court deems it well taken, it shall abstain from taking cognizance of the case, whereas if the exception taken refers to the prescription of the crime, then (article 675) the court decides the case by dismissing it and ordering that the defendant be set at liberty.
  It cannot be contended that the municipal court had no jurisdiction to commit Virginia Santos to the Philippine Training School for Girls, for Act No. 3203 confers such jurisdiction upon any court before whom a minor is accused. Section 3 of said Act provides:

Whenever any boy or girl less than eighteen years of age shall be accused in any court of an offense not punishable by life imprisonment or death etc.

Finding no merit in the habeas corpus petition filed by the petitioner, the order appealed from is reversed and the writ denied, without express pronouncement of costs. So ordered.

Avanceña, C. J., Johnson, Street, Malcolm, Ostrand and Villa-Real, JJ., concur.


Villamor, J., :

The petitioner-appellee applied to the Court of First Instance of Manila for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that his daughter Virginia Santos was unlawfully detained in the Philippine Training School for Girls under the supervision of the respondent-appellant, by order of Judge Roldan of the municipal court of Manila.

Virginia Santos, a 17-year old girl, was tried in the municipal court by virtue of an information dated July 3, 1930, accusing her of violating section 819 of the Revised Ordinances of the City of Manila, on April 13th of this year. As a result of the trial, and in view of the defendant's minority, the municipal judge suspended the sentence and ordered her commitment in the reformatory.

This order was not appealed from in due time, but after two months had elapsed, the counsel for the defendant filed the application for the writ of habeas corpus mentioned above. Proceedings were taken in accordance with the law, and the Court of First Instance of Manila held that the commitment and deprivation of liberty of Virginia Santos was not justified, and that she was entitled to liberty, and therefore ordered her immediate release.

Such is the order appealed from.

The majority opinion revokes this order on the ground that the prescription of the violation of the municipal ordinance in question is not a defense in habeas corpus proceedings, although the majority opinion admits that the alleged prescription has been proved of record. A liberal interpretation of the petitioner's allegations leads me to believe that the real ground for asking the writ is the lack of jurisdiction on the part of the municipal judge to try and commit Virginia Santos, whose criminal liability has become extinguished by an express provision of the law. And the question of jurisdiction is a proper matter in cases of this character.

If the doctrine laid down in the majority opinion prevails, we shall have the legal paradox of committing a person for alleged violation of a municipal ordinance, although that person's criminal liability has become extinguished by an express provision of the law; or, in other words, we shall have the case of a person who, alleging illegal commitment and praying for release, is, in spite of proving freedom from criminal liability, condemned to remain in confinement because the defense was not alleged in time. This is not, to my mind, in accord with the principles of justice and equity. If the record shows that the alleged prescription of the infraction has been established, as the majority opinion admits, it would seem that the order appealed from must inevitably be affirmed, since there is no right to punish or chastise a. person exempt from criminal liability.

Undoubtedly, Virginia Santos, when accused in the municipal court on July 3, 1930, of having violated section 819 of the Revised Ordinances of the City of Manila committed on April 13, 1930, was already exempt from criminal liability, because article 130 of the Penal Code and section 1 of Act No. 3326 provide that misdemeanors or violations of municipal ordinances prescribe in two months, and this prescription has the legal effect of extinguishing the criminal liability of the person who may have committed such a misdemeanor or violation.

But setting its technicality aside, inasmuch as in the present case the law declares the violation of the municipal ordinance in question to have prescribed, I understand that the People has no right to prosecute the defendant, nor to chastise her, nor to hold her subject to its penal action, and she should therefore be released. The petitioner could have resorted to the municipal court in order to ask, not for judgment, as he erroneously did, but for the final dismissal of the case by virtue of the doctrine established in People vs. Moran (44 Phil., 387).

But since he has come to this court by virtue of the appeal taken by the respondent, we should not allow technicalities to stand in the way of letting the institution of the writ of habeas corpus produce its natural effects, and safeguard individual liberty.

For all these reasons, I dissent from the opinion of the majority,


Johns, J.:

The question involved is the construction of Act No. 3203 entitled "An Act relating to the care and custody of neglected and delinquent children; providing probation officers therefor; imposing penalties for violations of its provisions and for other purposes."

Section 3 of which provides :

"Whenever any boy or girl less than eighteen years of age shall be accused in any court of an offense not punishable by life imprisonment or death, the court, before passing sentence of conviction, shall suspend all further proceedings in the case and shall commit such minor to the custody of any of the institutions mentioned in sections one and two of this Act, until said minor shall have reached his majority or for such less period as to the court may seem proper, subject to the conditions provided in section seven hereof, * * *

It is admitted that Virginia Santos was tried in ,the municipal court of Manila for a violation of a municipal ordinance, and that the order in question was made by the municipal judge of that court It will be noted that Act No. 3203 is a legislative act. The real question here is the legal construction which should be placed upon the words, in section 3, "shall be accused in any court of an offense." It is admitted that Virginia Santos is not charged with having committed an offense against a legislative act, and that she. is charged with a violation of a municipal ordinance. As we construe it, the word "offense," as used in section 3, should be confined and limited to a legislative act or statutory offense, and the word "court" there used should be confined and limited to Courts of First Instance only. In other words, the Legislature never intended to vest in a municipal court the power to apply the provisions of Act No. 3203 for a violation of a municipal ordinance. Neither did it intend to vest that power in a justice of the peace court. If it be a fact, as the majority opinion holds, that for a violation of a municipal ordinance, the judge of a municipal court or a justice of the peace, for some trivial offense, has the power to commit a boy or girl under 18 years of age to the Welfare Commission, it will only be a very short time until the number of inmates there will rival the population of Bilibid. That was never the intention of the Legislature, and for such reasons, I dissent.