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G.R. No. 161075 – 714 Phil. 1 – Remedial Law – Criminal Procedure – Arraignment – Deferment of Arraignment – Prejudicial Question; Independent Civil Action Not a Prejudicial Question
Sometime in the late 1990s, Rafael Jose Consing, Jr. and his mother obtained loans from Unicapital, Inc. amounting to Php18M. The loans were secured by a huge parcel of lot in Imus, Cavite. Later however, Unicapital discovered that the mortgaged property was actually owned by others and that the title presented by Consing and his mother was fake.
Unicapital demanded payments from Consing but he ignored the demand letters. Instead, in July 1999, Consing filed a case of injunctive relief as he sought to be declared as a mere agent of his mother and that the creditors should collect from his mother and not him.
In August 1999, Unicapital filed a collection suit against Consing.
In January 2000, an estafa case was filed in court against Consing.
In February 2001, Consing moved for the deferment of his arraignment on the ground that there is a prejudicial question. He argued that the two previously filed civil cases should fist be resolved in order to determine the propriety of the filing of a criminal case against him.
ISSUE: Whether or not there is a prejudicial question in this case.
HELD: No. An independent civil action based on fraud initiated by the defrauded party does not raise a prejudicial question to stop the proceedings in a pending criminal prosecution of the defendant for estafa through falsification. This is because the result of the independent civil action is irrelevant to the issue of guilt or innocence of the accused. A civil action based on defamation, fraud and physical injuries may be independently instituted pursuant to Article 33 of the Civil Code, and does not operate as a prejudicial question that will justify the suspension of a criminal case.
The SC also reiterated its ruling in G.R. No. 148193 (People vs Rafael Consing): Even if Consing is declared merely an agent of his mother in the transaction involving the sale of the questioned lot, he cannot be adjudged free from criminal liability. An agent or any person may be held liable for conspiring to falsify public documents. Hence, the determination of the issue involved in the Injunctive Relief is irrelevant to the guilt or innocence of Consing in the estafa case.