Published 26 February 2021, The Daily Tribune

In the recent case of Gomez v. People (G.R. No. 216824, 10 November 2020), the Supreme Court en banc, speaking through Associate Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, revisited the almost seven decade-old jurisprudential rule in Villa v. Ibañez that “absence of the signature and approval of the provincial/city/state prosecutor on the face of an Information is as a jurisdictional defect that dismisses a criminal case.”

In dissecting the relationship between the concepts relative to jurisdiction and the handling prosecutor’s authority to file an Information, the High Court explained that, semantically, “jurisdiction” is derived from the Latin words ”Juris” and “dico” which means “I speak by the law”. In a broad and loose sense, it is  [t]he authority of law to act officially in a particular matter in hand. In a refined sense, it is  “the power and authority of a  court [or quasi-judicial tribunal] to hear, try, and decide a  case.”

The High Court reminded that jurisdiction over the subject matter or offense in a judicial proceeding is conferred by the sovereign authority which organizes the court –  it is given only by law and in the manner prescribed by law. It is the power to hear and determine the general class to which the proceedings in question belong. Thus, jurisdiction over a crime is vested by law upon a  particular court and may not be conferred thereto by the parties involved in the offense. More importantly, jurisdiction over an offense cannot be conferred to a court by the accused through an express waiver or otherwise.

Accordingly, “a trial court’s jurisdiction is determined by the allegations in the Complaint or Information and not by the result of proof. Clearly, the authority of the officer in filing an Information has nothing to do with the ultimate facts which describe the charges against the accused. The issue on whether or not the handling prosecutor secured the necessary authority from his or her superior before filing the Information does not affect or change the cause of the accusation or nature of the crime being attributed to the accused. The nature and cause of the accusation remains the same with or without such required authority.”

Stated differently, “The  law conferring a court with jurisdiction over a  specific offense does not cease to operate in cases where there is lack of authority on the part of the officer or handling prosecutor filing an Information. As such, the authority of an officer filing the Information is irrelevant in relation to a trial court’s power or authority to take cognizance of a criminal case according to its nature as it is determined by law. Therefore, absence of authority or prior approval of the handling prosecutor from the city or provincial prosecutor cannot be considered as among the grounds for the quashal of an Information which is non-waivable.”

It was further explained that for a clearer understanding of the nature of a  prosecutor’s duties and corresponding scope of authority, “the prosecution of crimes pertains to the Executive Branch of Government whose principal duty is to see to it that our laws are faithfully executed. A necessary component of this duty is the right to prosecute their violators. Concomitant to this duty is their function of conducting a preliminary investigation which is defined as “an inquiry or proceeding to determine whether there is sufficient ground to engender a  well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial.”

In sum, non-compliance with Sec. 4 of Rule 112 on the duty of a handling prosecutor to secure a  “prior written authority or approval” from the provincial, city or chief state prosecutor merely affects the “standing” of such officer “to appear for the Government of the Philippines” as contemplated in Sec. 33 of Rule 138.” In effect, the operative consequence of filing of an Information without a  prior written authority or approval from the provincial, city or chief state prosecutor is that the handling prosecutor’s representation as counsel for the State may not be recognized by the trial court as sanctioned by the procedural rules enforced by this Court pursuant to its constitutional power to promulgate rules on pleading, practice and procedure.

Stated otherwise, procedural infirmity regarding legal representation is not a jurisdictional defect or handicap which prevents courts from taking cognizance of a case. As a result, objections or challenges pertaining to a  handling prosecutor’s lack of authority in the filing of an Information may be waived by the accused through silence, inaction or failure to register a  timely objection.

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