Death of the accused pending appeal of his conviction extinguishes his criminal liability as well as the civil liability based solely thereon. the claim for civil liability survives notwithstanding the death of the accused, if the same may also be predicated on a source of obligation other than delict

We note, first off, that the death of Angeles and of Mayor Comendador during the pendency of the case extinguished their criminal liabilities.

          We now hold, as did the Sandiganbayan that the civil liability of Mayor Comendador survived his death; and that of Angeles could have likewise survived had it not been for the fact that the resolution of the Sandiganbayan that his death extinguished the civil liability was not questioned and lapsed into finality.

          We laid down the following guidelines in People v. Bayotas:[46]

Death of the accused pending appeal of his conviction extinguishes his criminal liability as well as the civil liability based solely thereon. As opined by Justice Regalado, in this regard, “the death of the accused prior to final judgment terminates his criminal liability and only the civil liability directly arising from and based solely on the offense committed, i.e., civil liability ex delicto in senso strictiore.”

Corollarily, the claim for civil liability survives notwithstanding the death of (the) accused, if the same may also be predicated on a source of obligation other than delict. Article 1157 of the Civil Code enumerates these other sources of obligation from which the civil liability may arise as a result of the same act or omission:

a) Law

b) Contracts

c) Quasi-contracts

d) Acts or omissions punished by law; and

e) Quasi-delicts. (Emphasis ours)

Where the civil liability survives, as explained [above], an action for recovery therefore may be pursued but only by way of filing a separate civil action[47] and subject to Section 1, Rule 111 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure as amended. This separate civil action may be enforced either against the executor/administrator or the estate of the accused, depending on the source of obligation upon which the same is based as explained above.

Finally, the private offended party need not fear a forfeiture of his right to file this separate civil action by prescription, in cases where during the prosecution of the criminal action and prior to its extinction, the private-offended party instituted together therewith the civil action. In such case, the statute of limitations on the civil liability is deemed interrupted during the pendency of the criminal case, conformably with provisions of Article 1155 of the New Civil Code, which should thereby avoid any apprehension on a possible privation of right by prescription.

            Upon death of the accused pending appeal of his conviction, the criminal action is extinguished inasmuch as there is no longer a defendant to stand as the accused; the civil action instituted therein for recovery of civil liability ex delicto is ipso facto extinguished, grounded as it is on the criminal.[48]

The New Civil Code provisions under the Chapter, Human Relations, were cited by the prosecution to substantiate its argument that the civil action based therein is an independent one, thus, will stand despite the death of the accused during the pendency of the case.

On the other hand, the defense invoked Section 4 of Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended by Republic Act No. 8249, in support of its argument that the civil action was dependent upon the criminal action, thus, was extinguished upon the death of the accused.  The law provides that:

Any provision of law or the Rules of Court to the contrary notwithstanding, the criminal action and the corresponding civil action for the recovery of civil liability arising from the offense charged shall at all times be simultaneously instituted with, and jointly determined in the same proceeding by, the Sandiganbayan, the filing of the criminal action being deemed to necessarily carry with it the filing of the civil action, and no right to reserve the filing of such action shall be recognized. (Emphasis ours)

           We agree with the prosecution.

           Death of Mayor Comendador during the pendency of the case could have extinguished the civil liability if the same arose directly from the crime committed.  However, in this case, the civil liability is based on another source of obligation, the law on human relations.[49]  The pertinent articles follow:

           Art. 31 of the Civil Code states:

           When the civil action is based on an obligation not arising from the act or omission complained of as a felony, such civil action may proceed independently of the criminal proceedings and regardless of the result of the latter.

           And, Art. 32(6) states:

Any public officer or employee, or any private individual, who directly or indirectly obstructs, defeats, violates or in any manner impedes or impairs any of the following rights and liberties of another person shall be liable to the latter for damages:

(6) The right against deprivation of property without due process of law;

x x x x

In any of the cases referred to in this article, whether or not the defendant’s act or omission constitutes a criminal offense, the aggrieved party has a right to commence an entirely separate and distinct civil action for damages, and for other relief. Such civil action shall proceed independently of any criminal prosecution (if the latter be instituted), and may be proved by a preponderance of evidence.

           As held in Aberca v. Ver:

          It is obvious that the purpose of the above codal provision [Art. 32 of the New Civil Code] is to provide a sanction to the deeply cherished rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.  Its message is clear; no man may seek to violate those sacred rights with impunity. x x x.[50]

           Indeed, the basic facts of this case point squarely to the applicability of the law on human relations.  First, the complaint for civil liability was filed way AHEAD of the information on the Anti-Graft Law.  And, the complaint for damages specifically invoked defendant Mayor Comendador’s violation of plaintiff’s right to due process.  Thus:

x x x x

       In causing or doing the forcible demolition of the store in question, the individual natural defendants did not only act with grave abuse of authority but usurped a power which belongs to our courts of justice; such actuations were done with malice or in bad faith and constitute an invasion of the property rights of plaintiff(s) without due process of law.

x x x x

          The Court is in one with the prosecution that there was a violation of the right to private property of the Spouses Bombasi.  The accused public officials should have accorded the spouses the due process of law guaranteed by the Constitution and New Civil Code.  The Sangguniang Bayan Resolutions as asserted by the defense will not, as already shown, justify demolition of the store without court order. This Court in a number of decisions[51] held that even if there is already a writ of execution, there must still be a need for a special order for the purpose of demolition issued by the court before the officer in charge can destroy, demolish or remove improvements over the contested property.[52]  The pertinent provisions are the following:

Before the removal of an improvement must take place, there must be a special order, hearing and reasonable notice to remove. Section 10(d), Rule 39 of the Rules of Court provides:

(d) Removal of improvements on property subject of execution. – When the property subject of execution contains improvements constructed or planted by the judgment obligor or his agent, the officer shall not destroy, demolish or remove said improvements except upon special order of the court, issued upon motion of the judgment obligee after due hearing and after the former has failed to remove the same within a reasonable time fixed by the court.

The above-stated rule is clear and needs no interpretation. If demolition is necessary, there must be a hearing on the motion filed and with due notices to the parties for the issuance of a special order of demolition.[53]

This special need for a court order even if an ejectment case has successfully been litigated, underscores the independent basis for civil liability, in this case, where no case was even filed by the municipality.

          The requirement of a special order of demolition is based on the rudiments of justice and fair play. It frowns upon arbitrariness and oppressive conduct in the execution of an otherwise legitimate act. It is an amplification of the provision of the Civil Code that every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.[54]

          Notably, the fact that a separate civil action precisely based on due process violations was filed even ahead of the criminal case, is complemented by the fact that the deceased plaintiff Comendador was substituted by his widow, herein petitioner Victoria who specified in her petition that she has “substituted him as petitioner in the above captioned case.” Section 1, Rule III of the 1985 Rules in Criminal Procedure mentioned in Bayotas is, therefore, not applicable. Truly, the Sandiganbayan was correct when it maintained the separate docketing of the civil and criminal cases before it although their consolidation was erroneously based on Section 4 of Presidential Decree No. 1606 which deals with civil liability “arising from the offense charged.”

We must, however, correct the amount of damages awarded to the Spouses Bombasi.

To seek recovery of actual damages, it is necessary to prove the actual amount of loss with a reasonable degree of certainty, premised upon competent proof and on the best evidence obtainable.[55] In this case, the Court finds that the only evidence presented to prove the actual damages incurred was the itemized list of damaged and lost items[56] prepared by Engineer Cabrega, an engineer commissioned by the Spouses Bombasi to estimate the costs.

As held by this Court in Marikina Auto Line Transport Corporation v. People of the Philippines,[57]

x x x [W]e agree with the contention of petitioners that respondents failed to prove that the damages to the terrace caused by the incident amounted to P100,000.00. The only evidence adduced by respondents to prove actual damages claimed by private respondent were the summary computation of damage made by Engr. Jesus R. Regal, Jr. amounting to P171,088.46 and the receipt issued by the BB Construction and Steel Fabricator to private respondent for P35,000.00 representing cost for carpentry works, masonry, welding, and electrical works. Respondents failed to present Regal to testify on his estimation. In its five-page decision, the trial court awarded P150,000.00 as actual damages to private respondent but failed to state the factual basis for such award. Indeed, the trial court merely declared in the decretal portion of its decision that the “sum of P150,000.00 as reasonable compensation sustained by plaintiff for her damaged apartment.” The appellate court, for its part, failed to explain how it arrived at the amount of P100,000.00 in its three-page decision. Thus, the appellate court merely declared:

With respect to the civil liability of the appellants, they contend that there was no urgent necessity to completely demolish the apartment in question considering the nature of the damages sustained as a result of the accident. Consequently, appellants continue, the award of P150,000.00 as compensation sustained by the plaintiff-appellee for her damaged apartment is an unconscionable amount.

Further, in one case,[58] this Court held that the amount claimed by the respondent-claimant’s witness as to the actual amount of damages “should be admitted with extreme caution considering that, because it was a bare assertion, it should be supported by independent evidence.”  The Court further said that whatever claim the respondent witness would allege must be appreciated in consideration of his particular self-interest.[59] There must still be a need for the examination of the documentary evidence presented by the claimants to support its claim with regard to the actual amount of damages.

The price quotation made by Engineer Cabrega presented as an exhibit[60] partakes of the nature of hearsay evidence considering that the person who issued them was not presented as a witness.[61] Any evidence, whether oral or documentary, is hearsay if its probative value is not based on the personal knowledge of the witness but on the knowledge of another person who is not on the witness stand. Hearsay evidence, whether objected to or not, has no probative value unless the proponent can show that the evidence falls within the exceptions to the hearsay evidence rule.[62] Further, exhibits do not fall under any of the exceptions provided under Sections 37 to 47 of Rule 130 of the Rules of Court.

Though there is no sufficient evidence to award the actual damages claimed, this Court grants temperate damages for P200,000.00 in view of the loss suffered by the Spouses Bombasi. Temperate damages are awarded in accordance with Art. 2224 of the New Civil Code when the court finds that some pecuniary loss has been suffered but its amount cannot, from the nature of the case, be proven with certainty. The amount of temperate or moderated damages is usually left to the discretion of the courts but the same should be reasonable, bearing in mind that the temperate damages should be more than nominal but less than compensatory.[63] Without a doubt, the Spouses Bombasi suffered some form of pecuniary loss in the impairment of their store. Based on the record of the case,[64] the demolished store was housed on a two-story building located at the market’s commercial area and its concrete walls remained strong and not affected by the fire.  However, due to the failure of the Spouses Bombasi to prove the exact amount of damage in accordance with the Rules of Evidence,[65] this court finds that P200,000.00 is the amount just and reasonable under the circumstances.

          WHEREFORE, the instant appeal is DENIED. Accordingly, the Decision of the Sandiganbayan dated 28 April 2003 is hereby AFFIRMED WITH MODIFICATION. The Court affirms the decision finding the accused Paulino S. Asilo, Jr. and Demetrio T. Comendador guilty of violating Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019. We declare the finality of the dismissal of both the criminal and civil cases against Alberto S. Angeles as the same was not appealed. In view of the death of Demetrio T. Comendador pending trial, his criminal liability is extinguished; but his civil liability survives.  The Municipality of Nagcarlan, Paulino Asilo and Demetrio T. Comendador, as substituted by Victoria Bueta Vda. De Comendador, are hereby declared solidarily liable to the Spouses Bombasi for temperate damages in the amount of P200,000.00 and moral damages in the amount of P100,000.00.

About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
This entry was posted in Civil Liability, Criminal Liability, Obligations and Contracts, Torts and Damages and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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