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Rodriguez vs. Ponferrada Case Digest


The single act of issuing a bouncing check may give rise to two distinct criminal offenses —  estafa and violation of BP22. The Rules of Court allows the offended party to intervene via a private prosecutor in each of these two penal proceedings. However, the recovery of the single civil liability arising from the single act of issuing a bouncing check in either criminal case bars the recovery of the same civil liability in the other criminal action. While the law allows two simultaneous civil remedies for the offended party, it authorizes recovery in only one.

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Facts: 

The City Prosecutor of QC found probable cause to charge Rodriguez with Estafa and Violation of BP 22. Consequently, separate informations were separately filed against Rodriguez. The BP 22 cases were filed with the MTC of Quezon City. The docket fees were accordingly paid by private complainant. The Estafa cases were filed with the RTC of Quezon City and raffled to Judge Ponferrada.

Atty. Solomon filed a Formal Entry of Appearance as private prosecutor in the Estafa case. Rodriguez, through counsel, opposed said entry of appearance.

Judge Ponferrada issued an Order allowing the appearance of Atty. Solomon as private prosecutor upon payment of the legal fees. Rodriguez filed a Motion for Reconsideration but it was denied.

Rodriguez appealed, theorizing that the civil action necessarily arising from the criminal case pending before the MTC for violation of BP 22 precludes the institution of the corresponding civil action in the criminal case for estafa now pending before the RTC.


Issue:

Can a private prosecutor be allowed to intervene and participate in the proceedings of the estafa cases for the purpose of prosecuting the attached civil liability arising from the issuance of the checks involved which is also subject mater of the pending B.P. 22 cases?


Held:

Yes. An offended party may intervene in the prosecution of a crime, except in the following instances: (1) when, from the nature of the crime and the law defining and punishing it, no civil liability arises in favor of a private offended party; and (2) when, from the nature of the offense, the offended parties are entitled to civil indemnity, but (a) they waive the right to institute a civil action, (b) expressly reserve the right to do so or (c) the suit has already been instituted. In any of these instances, the private complainants interest in the case disappears and criminal prosecution becomes the sole function of the public prosecutor. None of these exceptions apply to the instant case. Hence, the private prosecutor cannot be barred from intervening in the estafa suit.

True, each of the overt acts in these instances may give rise to two criminal liabilities -- one for estafa and another for violation of BP 22. But every such act of issuing a bouncing check involves only one civil liability for the offended party, who has sustained only a single injury.

The institution of the civil actions with the estafa cases and the inclusion of another set of civil actions with the BP 22 cases are not exactly repugnant or inconsistent with each other. Nothing in the Rules signifies that the necessary inclusion of a civil action in a criminal case for violation of the Bouncing Checks Law precludes the institution in an estafa case of the corresponding civil action, even if both offenses relate to the issuance of the same check.

The purpose of Section 1(b) of Rule 111 is explained by Justice Florenz D. Regalado (ret.), former chairman of the committee tasked with the revision of the Rules of Criminal Procedure. He clarified that the special rule on BP 22 cases was added, because the dockets of the courts were clogged with such litigations; creditors were using the courts as collectors. While ordinarily no filing fees were charged for actual damages in criminal cases, the rule on the necessary inclusion of a civil action with the payment of filing fees based on the face value of the check involved was laid down to prevent the practice of creditors of using the threat of a criminal prosecution to collect on their credit free of charge.

Clearly, it was not the intent of the special rule to preclude the prosecution of the civil action that corresponds to the estafa case, should the latter also be filed. The crimes of estafa and violation of BP 22 are different and distinct from each other. There is no identity of offenses involved, for which legal jeopardy in one case may be invoked in the other. The offenses charged in the informations are perfectly distinct from each other in point of law, however nearly they may be connected in point of fact.

Furthermore, the fact that the Rules do not allow the reservation of civil actions in BP 22 cases cannot deprive private complainant of the right to protect her interests in the criminal action for estafa. Nothing in the current law or rules on BP 22 vests the jurisdiction of the corresponding civil case exclusively in the court trying the BP 22 criminal case.

In promulgating the Rules, this Court did not intend to leave the offended parties without any remedy to protect their interests in estafa cases. Its power to promulgate the Rules of Court is limited in the sense that rules shall not diminish, increase or modify substantive rights. Private complainants intervention in the prosecution of estafa is justified not only for the prosecution of her interests, but also for the speedy and inexpensive administration of justice as mandated by the Constitution.

The trial court was, therefore, correct in holding that the private prosecutor may intervene before the RTC in the proceedings for estafa, despite the necessary inclusion of the corresponding civil action in the proceedings for violation of BP 22 pending before the MTC. A recovery by the offended party under one remedy, however, necessarily bars that under the other. Obviously stemming from the fundamental rule against unjust enrichment. (Rodriguez vs. Ponferrada, G.R. Nos. 155531-34, July 29, 2005)

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