In 10 November 2020, the Supreme Court en banc promulgated its decision in Gomez v. People, effectively reshaping the tides of judicial policy. In Gomez, the Supreme Court discussed whether the absence of the City Prosecutor’s signature and approval in an Information constitutes a jurisdictional defect that may be raised as a ground for its quashal at any stage of the proceedings.
In said case, an Information was filed against accused Gina Villa Gomez for violation of Article 212 (Corruption of Public Officials) of the Revised Penal Code. The Information only contained the signature of Assistant City Prosecutor Paggao who certified that the same is “being filed with the prior authority of the City Prosecutor.” The OCP Resolution, on the other hand, from which the Information stemmed, states, among others, that “the attached Information is recommended to be approved for filing in court” and was signed as approved by City Prosecutor Feliciano Aspi.
After more than two years, and after Gomez was arraigned, the trial court dismissed the case on the basis of the supposed absence of City Prosecutor Aspi’s approval and signature in the Information. The trial court explained that the defect in the Information amounted to ACP Paggao’s lack of authority to file the Information, a jurisdictional defect that cannot be cured.
The Supreme Court took the opportunity to explain an important concept in criminal procedure as it upheld the validity of the Information and ACP Paggao’s authority to prosecute the case. The Supreme Court recognized that the lack of authority to file an Information must be raised before arraignment, otherwise any objection on such ground is deemed waived.
The Supreme Court then overturned existing jurisprudence. In previous cases, the handling prosecutor’s lack of authority was considered a jurisdictional infirmity since it supposedly resulted to lack of jurisdiction over the offense charged and over the person of the accused. In Gomez, however, the Supreme Court explained its misgivings on how a handling prosecutor’s lack of authority will divest the trial court of its jurisdiction over the offense charged and over the person of the accused.
The Supreme Court likewise expounded on the lack of correlation between jurisdiction and a handling prosecutor’s authority to file an Information, explaining that an officer’s authority to file an Information is irrelevant in determining subject matter jurisdiction in criminal cases. Jurisdiction is conferred by law and is determined from a scrutiny of the ultimate facts alleged in the Information which would not be affected by an officer’s lack of authority to file an Information. On the other hand, jurisdiction over the person of an accused is acquired only upon his or her arrest or voluntary submission to the court’s jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court also explained that Section 4, Rule 112 which provides, among others, that no complaint or information may be filed or dismissed by an investigating prosecutor without the prior written authority or approval of the provincial or city prosecutor or chief state prosecutor or the Ombudsman or his deputy,” must be interpreted in light of Section 1 of Republic Act (“RA”) No. 5180, otherwise known as “An Act Prescribing a Uniform System of Preliminary Investigation by Provincial and City Fiscals and their Assistants, and by State Attorneys or their Assistants,” from which it was lifted. Since RA No. 5180 merely imposed a duty to secure the prior authority or approval from the provincial, city, or chief state prosecutor before filing an Information, any defect in relation thereto would only affect the standing of the handling officer to appear for the State. The need of a prior written authority contemplated by Section 3(d) Rule 117 was perceived by the Supreme Court only as a procedural tool meant to regulate the rules on pleading, practice, and procedure, and not as determinative of conferring jurisdiction over a court.
The Supreme Court likewise mentioned in Gomez that following RA No. 5180, “whatever authority that a handling prosecutor may have pertaining to the filing of an Information, proceeds from the review and subsequent approval by the provincial, city, or chief state prosecutor of the underlying Resolution itself.” Thus, ACP Paggao’s authority proceeds from the Resolution recommending the filing of the case against Gomez (to which the Information was attached), which was signed and approved by City Prosecutor Aspi.
The Supreme Court also pointed out that the requirement for a handling prosecutor to secure the prior written authority or approval from the Provincial, City, or Chief State Prosecutor has no constitutional underpinnings. It is merely a statutory requirement. This further justifies why the same can be waived. Given the foregoing disquisitions, there is no basis to consider the requirement for a handling prosecutor to secure prior written authority or approval as a jurisdictional requirement that would affect the validity of an Information. The same would only create questions as to representation, but never as to jurisdiction.
Following Gomez, therefore, Informations need not have on its face the signature and approval of the Provincial, City, or Chief State Prosecutor. It is enough that the Resolution from which the Information stemmed contains the approval and signature of the Provincial, City, or Chief State Prosecutor. Gomez’ failure to timely raise the perceived lack of authority of ACP Paggao prior to her arraignment is deemed a waiver thereof.
This ruling acknowledges the practical difficulties of funneling all Informations to the Head of the Prosecutor’s office in the concerned area, and highlights the primacy of substance over form. Indeed, an Information, which is a recital of the charges against the accused, is but the starting point of a criminal case where the parties will be given every opportunity to thresh out the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence. It is, of course, hoped that in every litigation, decisions are rendered on the substance – ie whether a crime was committed and if the accused indeed stands responsible for it – rather on whether the Information was signed by the proper party. The decision is laudable as it returns our focus to what truly matters in a litigation.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This article is for general informational and educational purposes only and not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion.
Jessica Sharla G. Bustamante is an Associate of the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Department of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW), located at Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines.