The issue to be resolved then is: does the suspension of “all claims” as an incident to a corporate rehabilitation also contemplate the suspension of criminal charges filed against the corporate officers of the distressed corporation?
This Court rules in the negative.
In Rosario v. Co (Rosario), a case of recent vintage, the issue resolved by this Court was whether or not during the pendency of rehabilitation proceedings, criminal charges for violation of Batas Pambansa Bilang 22 should be suspended, was disposed of as follows:
x x x the gravamen of the offense punished by B.P. Blg. 22 is the act of making and issuing a worthless check; that is, a check that is dishonored upon its presentation for payment. It is designed to prevent damage to trade, commerce, and banking caused by worthless checks. In Lozano v. Martinez,this Court declared that it is not the nonpayment of an obligation which the law punishes. The law is not intended or designed to coerce a debtor to pay his debt. The thrust of the law is to prohibit, under pain of penal sanctions, the making and circulation of worthless checks. Because of its deleterious effects on the public interest, the practice is proscribed by the law. The law punishes the act not as an offense against property, but an offense against public order. The prime purpose of the criminal action is to punish the offender in order to deter him and others from committing the same or similar offense, to isolate him from society, to reform and rehabilitate him or, in general, to maintain social order. Hence, the criminal prosecution is designed to promote the public welfare by punishing offenders and deterring others.
Consequently, the filing of the case for violation of B.P. Blg. 22 is not a “claim” that can be enjoined within the purview of P.D. No. 902-A. True, although conviction of the accused for the alleged crime could result in the restitution, reparation or indemnification of the private offended party for the damage or injury he sustained by reason of the felonious act of the accused, nevertheless, prosecution for violation of B.P. Blg. 22 is a criminal action.
A criminal action has a dual purpose, namely, the punishment of the offender and indemnity to the offended party. The dominant and primordial objective of the criminal action is the punishment of the offender. The civil action is merely incidental to and consequent to the conviction of the accused. The reason for this is that criminal actions are primarily intended to vindicate an outrage against the sovereignty of the state and to impose the appropriate penalty for the vindication of the disturbance to the social order caused by the offender. On the other hand, the action between the private complainant and the accused is intended solely to indemnify the former.
Rosario is at fours with the case at bar. Petitioners are charged with violations of Section 28 (h) of the SSS law, in relation to Article 315 (1) (b) of the Revised Penal Code, or Estafa. The SSS law clearly “criminalizes” the non-remittance of SSS contributions by an employer to protect the employees from unscrupulous employers. Therefore, public interest requires that the said criminal acts be immediately investigated and prosecuted for the protection of society.
The rehabilitation of SIHI and the settlement of claims against the corporation is not a legal ground for the extinction of petitioners’ criminal liabilities. There is no reason why criminal proceedings should be suspended during corporate rehabilitation, more so, since the prime purpose of the criminal action is to punish the offender in order to deter him and others from committing the same or similar offense, to isolate him from society, reform and rehabilitate him or, in general, to maintain social order. As correctly observed in Rosario, it would be absurd for one who has engaged in criminal conduct could escape punishment by the mere filing of a petition for rehabilitation by the corporation of which he is an officer.
The prosecution of the officers of the corporation has no bearing on the pending rehabilitation of the corporation, especially since they are charged in their individual capacities. Such being the case, the purpose of the law for the issuance of the stay order is not compromised, since the appointed rehabilitation receiver can still fully discharge his functions as mandated by law. It bears to stress that the rehabilitation receiver is not charged to defend the officers of the corporation. If there is anything that the rehabilitation receiver might be remotely interested in is whether the court also rules that petitioners are civilly liable. Such a scenario, however, is not a reason to suspend the criminal proceedings, because as aptly discussed in Rosario, should the court prosecuting the officers of the corporation find that an award or indemnification is warranted, such award would fall under the category of claims, the execution of which would be subject to the stay order issued by the rehabilitation court. The penal sanctions as a consequence of violation of the SSS law, in relation to the revised penal code can therefore be implemented if petitioners are found guilty after trial. However, any civil indemnity awarded as a result of their conviction would be subject to the stay order issued by the rehabilitation court. Only to this extent can the order of suspension be considered obligatory upon any court, tribunal, branch or body where there are pending actions for claims against the distressed corporation.
On a final note, this Court would like to point out that Congress has recently enacted Republic Act No. 10142, or the Financial Rehabilitation and Insolvency Act of 2010. Section 18 thereof explicitly provides that criminal actions against the individual officer of a corporation are not subject to the Stay or Suspension Order in rehabilitation proceedings, to wit:
The Stay or Suspension Order shall not apply:
x x x x
(g) any criminal action against individual debtor or owner, partner, director or officer of a debtor shall not be affected by any proceeding commenced under this Act.
Withal, based on the foregoing discussion, this Court rules that there is no legal impediment for Branch 51 to proceed with the cases filed against petitioners.