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‘I accuse you’

"A party to a case is only referred to as the accused when the State prosecutes a person for an act or omission punishable by law."

It is a phrase frequently used when someone is charged or blamed for an offense. Some commit the mistake of using “accused” to refer to anyone who has a case in court, a quasi-judicial agency or an administrative agency. Strictly speaking, a party to a case is only referred to as the accused “when the State prosecutes a person for an act or omission punishable by law” (Section 3(b), Rule 1, Rules of Civil Procedure).

In simple words, a criminal action is entitled People of the Philippines against an identified accused. For example, the criminal case title will be People of the Philippines v. Juan de la Cruz or People of the Philippines v. Pepito Santos aka (also known as) Boy Tisoy. If, for instance, when the name of the accused is not known, he or she is referred to as John Doe or Jane Doe. The People of the Philippines is the “prosecution” or the plaintiff while the person prosecuted is the “accused.”

The reference to parties charged in criminal actions apply to the trial courts, the Sandiganbayan or the Court of Tax Appeals. This is unlike in civil actions which may be instituted or pursued against a natural or juridical person, or entities authorized by law. The term “Plaintiff” may refer to the claiming party while the “Defendant” may refer to the original defending party (Section 1, Rule 3, Rules of Civil Procedure).

For Petitions for Review in the Court of Appeals (Rules 42 and 43, Rules of Civil Procedure) or Petitions for Review on Certiorari in the Supreme Court (Rule 45, Rules of Civil Procedure) in the nature of appeals, the appealing party is referred to as “Petitioner” while the appellee is called the “Respondent.” However, in another kind of appeal to the Court of Appeals, known as an “ordinary appeal,” the appealing party shall be referred to as it was in the original court but further referred to as the “Appellant” and the non-appealing party the “Appellee” (Section 1, Rule 44, Rules of Civil Procedure).

The Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court also have “original cases.” However, unlike the trial courts whose original cases are primarily rooted on a “cause of action” – which is an act or omission that violates (or breaches) the rights of another (Section 2, Rule 2, Rules of Civil Procedure) – these cases are brought to them due to grave abuses of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, absence of speedy and adequate relief available, constitutionality of a law or ordinance, usurpation of an office or franchise, or cases of illegal confinement or detention.

In these cases, the party filing the action shall be called the “Petitioner” and the opposing party the “Respondent” (Section 1, Rule 46 and Section 2, Rule 56, Rules of Civil Procedure). Examples of original actions in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court are the Special Civil Actions for Certiorari, Prohibition, Mandamus, Quo Warranto and the Special Proceeding of Habeas Corpus (Section 1, Rule 46 and Section 2, Rule 56, Rules of Civil Procedure)

For Special Proceedings, the rules on ordinary actions shall apply as far as practicable (Section 2, Rule 72, Rules of Court). Since these are cases which establish a status, a right, or a particular fact (Section 3(c), Rules of Civil Procedure), the party filing the action is called a “Petitioner” while the adverse party is the “Respondent.” Examples are: Escheat, Settlement of Estate, Adoption, Guardianship, and Change of Name.

In labor cases with the National Labor Relations Commission, the party initiating the action is the “Complainant” or “Petitioner,” and the opposing party is the “Respondent”(Section 2, Rule III, 2011 NLRC Rules of Procedure as amended) for claims arising from employer-employee relationships, unfair labor practices, and termination disputes, among others (Section 2, Rule III, 2011 NLRC Rules of Procedure as amended). With the Department of Trade and Industry, the person who claims consumer protection is named the “Complainant” and the seller, manufacturer, distributor, or retailer who violates the rights of the consumer is called the “Respondent” (Section 9 (2) (2.2), Joint DTI-DOH-DA Administrative Order No. 01, Series of 2008).

In the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) the party bringing the action is referred to as the “Complainant” or “Petitioner” and the other party is called the “Defendant” or “Respondent” (Section 1, Rule II, 2009 DARAB Rules of Procedure). Some of the cases in DARAB are those involving annulment or rescission of lease contracts or deeds of sale of lands under disposition of the Department of Agrarian Reform or Land Bank of the Philippines; ejectment and dispossession of tenants and/or leaseholders; and sale, alienation, pre-emption, and redemption of agricultural lands under the Comprehensive Land Reform Law (Section 1, Rule IV, 2009 DARAB Rules of Procedure).

In the Office of the Prosecutor and the Office of the Ombudsman, the complaining party is referred to as the “Complainant” while the adverse party is the “Respondent” (Section 3 (a), Rule 112, Rules of Criminal Procedure and Section 4, Rule II, Administrative Order No. 07, Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman). If there is a finding of probable cause by these Offices to indict the Respondent in court the reference to “Respondent” will then be changed to “Accused” in the criminal information (or charge).

Where does that leave the Complainant? He or she becomes the complaining witness or the witness of the People or the State. Regardless of how parties are referred to in an action, it is the allegations in the complaint or the criminal information that determines the nature of the action and the judgment that can be rendered by the court (People v. Magallanes, G.R. Nos. 118013-14, October 11, 1995).

In criminal cases, the primary interest of the court is to ascertain whether a crime or offense was committed and if so, impose the corresponding penal sanction which may be imprisonment or a fine or both. Otherwise, the accused has to be acquitted or the case against him dismissed. On the other hand, in civil, quasi-judicial and administrative actions, the courts or government agencies will have to determine whether there is a need to enforce or protect a right, or prevent or seek redress of a wrong (Section 3(a), Rule 1, Rules of Civil Procedure).

Undoubtedly, our courts and government agencies performing quasi-judicial functions have the power to hear, try and decide cases but complainants must be mindful that the allegations in the complaint or initiatory pleading must be: (a) true and correct based on his or her personal knowledge, or based on authentic records; (b) filed not to harass, cause unnecessary delay or needlessly increase the cost of litigation; and (c) filed with evidentiary support (Section 4, Rules of Civil Procedure).

Complainants should not be motivated by ill-will or revenge; nor desire to wear out the resources of the adverse party, or use the legal system to leverage his position in some commercial or business interest. The trial courts, in turn, in rendering decisions must show that the facts were carefully studied, and that the law and legal procedures were properly applied. It is only when these factors are genuinely evident in the workings of our legal system will our people’s trust be reinforced in the government.

Topics: National Labor Relations Commission , Law , Court of Tax Appeals , Sandiganbayan
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