CASE IN POINT | Prejudicial question

In Domingo v. Singson, et al., G.R. No. 203287, 207936, April 5, 2017, Reyes, J, Macario and Felicidad died leaving as heirs Engracia, Renato, Consolacion, Josefina, Rafael, Ramon & Rosario. Engracia filed an ejectment suit against Consolacion, Rosario, Rafael and Ramon claiming that she owned the property left by their parents having bought the same. The defendants contended that they learned of the sale only when they were served with summons. They (Renato, etc) filed an action seeking to nullify the deed of sale on the ground that their parents’ signatures were forged. In the meantime they also filed a criminal case for falsification of public document, estafa and use of falsified document. Engracia moved to suspend the criminal case on the ground of prejudicial question. When the issue reached the SC, it ruled in favor of the movants and

Held: A prejudicial question is understood in law to be that which arises in a case the resolution of which is a logical antecedent of the issue involved in said case and the cognizance of which pertains to another tribunal. The doctrine of prejudicial question comes into play generally in a situation where civil and criminal actions are pending and the issues involved in both cases are similar or so closely related that an issue must be pre-emptively resolved in the civil case before the criminal action can proceed (Quiambao v. Hon. Osorio, 242 Phil. 441, 444 [1988]). The rationale behind the principle of prejudicial question is to avoid two conflicting decisions (Ty-de Zuzuarregui v. Hon. Judge Villarosa, et al., 631 Phil. 375, 385 [2010]).

For a civil action to be considered prejudicial to a criminal case as to cause the suspension of the criminal proceedings until the final resolution of the civil case, the following requisites must -be present: (1) the civil case involves facts intimately related to those upon which the criminal prosecution would be based; (2) in the resolution of the issue or issues raised in the civil action, the guilt or innocence of the accused would necessarily be determined; and (3) jurisdiction to try said question must be lodged in another tribunal (Prado v. People, et al., 218 Phil. 573, 577 [1984]).

There indeed appears to be a prejudicial question in the case. The defense of the Spouses Singson in the civil case for annulment of sale is that Engracia bought the subject property from her parents prior to their demise and that their signatures appearing on the Absolute Deed of Sale are true and genuine. Their allegation in the civil case is based on the very same facts, which would be necessarily determinative of their guilt or innocence as accused in the criminal case.

If the signatures of the Spouses Domingo in the Absolute Deed of Sale are genuine, then there would be no falsification and the Spouses Singson would be innocent of the offense charged. Otherwise stated, a conviction in the criminal case, should it be allowed to proceed ahead, would be a gross injustice and would have to be set aside if it were finally decided in the civil case that indeed the signatures of the sellers were authentic.