EVANGELISTA vs PEOPLE

December 19, 2017
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READ CASE DIGEST HERE.

Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 163267               May 5, 2010

TEOFILO EVANGELISTA, Petitioner,

vs.

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

To be guilty of the crime of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, one does not have to be in actual physical possession thereof. The law does not punish physical possession alone but possession in general, which includes constructive possession or the subjection of the thing to the owner’s control.1

This Petition for Review on Certiorari2 assails the October 15, 2003 Decision3 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 21805 which affirmed the January 23, 1998 Decision4 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasay City, Branch 109 convicting petitioner Teofilo Evangelista for violation of Section 1, Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1866,5as amended, as well as the April 16, 2004 Resolution which denied petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration.

Factual Antecedents

In an Information6 dated January 31, 1996, petitioner was charged with violation of Section 1 of PD 1866 allegedly committed as follows:

That on or about the 30th day of January 1996, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Pasay City, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, did, then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have in his possession, custody and control the following items:

1. One (1) Unit 9mm Jericho Pistol, Israel with SN F-36283 with one (1) magazine;

2. One (1) Unit Mini-Uzi 9mm Israel Submachine gun with SN 931864 with two (2) magazines;

3. Nineteen (19) 9mm bullets.

without the corresponding permit or license from competent authority.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

After posting his bail, petitioner filed on February 14, 1996 an Urgent Motion for (a) Suspension of Proceedings and (b) the Holding of A Preliminary Investigation.7 The RTC granted the motion and, accordingly, the State Prosecutor conducted the preliminary investigation.

In a Resolution8 dated March 6, 1996, the State Prosecutor found no probable cause to indict petitioner and thus recommended the reversal of the resolution finding probable cause and the dismissal of the complaint. Thereafter, a Motion to Withdraw Information9 was filed but it was denied by the trial court in an Order10 dated March 26, 1996, viz:

Acting on the “Motion to Withdraw Information” filed by State Prosecutor Aida Macapagal on the ground that [there exists] no probable cause to indict the accused, the Information having been already filed in Court, the matter should be left to the discretion of the Court to assess the evidence, hence, for lack of merit, the same is hereby denied. Let the arraignment of the accused proceed.

When arraigned on March 26, 1996, petitioner pleaded not guilty to the charge. Thereafter, trial ensued.

Version of the Prosecution

In the morning of January 30, 1996, Maximo Acierto, Jr. (Acierto), a Customs Police assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) District Command, was informed by his superior that a certain passenger of Philippine Airlines (PAL) Flight No. 657 would be arriving from Dubai bringing with him firearms and ammunitions. Shortly after lunch, Acierto, together with Agents Cuymo and Fuentabella, proceeded to the tube area where they were met by a crewmember who introduced to them herein petitioner. Acierto asked petitioner if he brought firearms with him and the latter answered in the affirmative adding that the same were bought in Angola. Thereupon, Acierto was summoned to the cockpit by the pilot, Capt. Edwin Nadurata (Capt. Nadurata), where the firearms and ammunitions were turned over to him. Petitioner was then escorted to the arrival area to get his luggage and thereafter proceeded to the examination room where the luggage was examined and petitioner was investigated. In open court, Acierto identified the firearms and ammunitions.

During the investigation, petitioner admitted before Special Agent Apolonio Bustos (Bustos) that he bought the subject items in Angola but the same were confiscated by the Dubai authorities, which turned over the same to a PAL personnel in Dubai. Upon inquiry, the Firearms and Explosive Office (FEO) in Camp Crame certified that petitioner is neither registered with said office11 nor licensed holder of aforesaid firearms and ammunitions. Bustos likewise verified from the Bureau of Customs, but his effort yielded no record to show that the firearms were legally purchased. Among the documents Bustos had gathered during his investigation were the Arrival Endorsement Form12 and Customs Declaration Form.13 A referral letter14 was prepared endorsing the matter to the Department of Justice. Bustos admitted that petitioner was not assisted by counsel when the latter admitted that he bought the firearms in Angola.

SPO4 Federico Bondoc, Jr. (SPO4 Bondoc), a member of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and representative of the FEO, upon verification, found that petitioner is not a licensed/registered firearm holder. His office issued a certification15 to that effect which he identified in court as Exhibit “A”.

After the prosecution rested its case, petitioner, with leave of court, filed his Demurrer to Evidence,16 the resolution of which was deferred pending submission of petitioner’s evidence.17

Version of the Defense

The defense presented Capt. Nadurata whose brief but candid and straightforward narration of the event was synthesized by the CA as follows:

x x x On January 30, 1996, he was approached by the PAL Station Manager in Dubai, who informed him that a Filipino contract worker from Angola who is listed as a passenger of PAL flight from Dubai to Manila, was being detained as he was found in possession of firearms; that if said passenger will not be able to board the airplane, he would be imprisoned in Dubai; and that the Arabs will only release the passenger if the Captain of PAL would accept custody of the passenger [herein petitioner] and the firearms. Capt. Nadurata agreed to take custody of the firearms and the passenger, herein appellant, so that the latter could leave Dubai. The firearms were deposited by the Arabs in the cockpit of the airplane and allowed the appellant to board the airplane. Upon arrival in Manila, Capt. Nadurata surrendered the firearms to the airport authorities.

Meanwhile, in view of the unavailability of the defense’s intended witness, Nilo Umayaw (Umayaw), the PAL Station Manager in Dubai, the prosecution and the defense agreed and stipulated on the following points:

1. That PAL Station Manager Mr. Nilo Umayaw was told by a Dubai Police that firearms and ammunitions were found in the luggage of a Filipino passenger coming from Angola going to the Philippines;

2. That he was the one who turned over the subject firearms to Captain Edwin Nadurata, the Pilot in command of PAL Flight 657;

3. That the subject firearms [were] turned over at Dubai;

4. That the said firearms and ammunitions were confiscated from the accused Teofilo Evangelista and the same [were] given to the PAL Station Manager who in turn submitted [them] to the PAL Pilot, Capt. Edwin Nadurata who has already testified;

5. That [these are] the same firearms involved in this case.18

Ruling of the Regional Trial Court

On February 4, 1997, the RTC rendered its Decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:

In view of all the foregoing, the Court finds accused TEOFILO E. EVANGELISTA guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Sec. 1, P.D. 1866 as amended (Illegal Possession of Firearms and Ammunitions: (One (1) Unit Mini-Uzi 9mm Israel submachine gun with SN-931864 with two (2) magazines and nineteen (19) 9mm bullets) and hereby sentences him to imprisonment of Seventeen (17) Years and Four (4) Months to Twenty (20) Years.

The above-mentioned firearms are hereby ordered forfeited in favor of the government and is ordered transmitted to the National Bureau of Investigation, Manila for proper disposition.

SO ORDERED.19

On April 4, 1997, petitioner filed a Motion for New Trial20 which the RTC granted.21 Forthwith, petitioner took the witness stand narrating his own version of the incident as follows:

On January 28, 1996, he was at Dubai International Airport waiting for his flight to the Philippines. He came from Luwanda, Angola where he was employed as a seaman at Oil International Limited. While at the airport in Dubai, Arab policemen suddenly accosted him and brought him to their headquarters where he saw guns on top of a table. The Arabs maltreated him and forced him to admit ownership of the guns. At this point, PAL Station Manager Umayaw came and talked to the policemen in Arabian dialect. Umayaw told him that he will only be released if he admits ownership of the guns. When he denied ownership of the same, Umayaw reiterated that he (petitioner) will be released only if he will bring the guns with him to the Philippines. He declined and insisted that the guns are not his. Upon the request of Umayaw, petitioner was brought to the Duty Free area for his flight going to the Philippines. When he was inside the plane, he saw the Arab policemen handing the guns to the pilot. Upon arrival at the NAIA, he was arrested by the Customs police and brought to the arrival area where his passport was stamped and he was made to sign a Customs Declaration Form without reading its contents. Thereafter, he was brought to a room at the ground floor of the NAIA where he was investigated. During the investigation, he was not represented by counsel and was forced to accept ownership of the guns. He denied ownership of the guns and the fact that he admitted having bought the same in Angola.

Ruling of the Regional Trial Court

After new trial, the RTC still found petitioner liable for the offense charged but modified the penalty of imprisonment. The dispositive portion of the Decision dated January 23, 1998 reads:

In view of all the foregoing, the Court finds accused TEOFILO E. EVANGELISTA guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Sec. 1, P.D. 1866 as amended (Illegal Possession of Firearms and Ammunitions: One (1) Unit 9mm Jerico Pistol, Israel with SN F-36283 with one (1) magazine; One (1) Unit Mini-Uzi 9mm Israel submachine gun with SN-931864 with two (2) magazines and nineteen (19) 9mm bullets and hereby sentences him to imprisonment of Six (6) Years and One (1) Day to Eight (8) Years and a fine of ₱30,000.00.

The above-mentioned firearms are hereby ordered forfeited in favor of the government and [are] ordered transmitted to the National Bureau of Investigation, Manila for proper disposition.

SO ORDERED.22

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

On appeal, the CA affirmed the findings of the trial court in its Decision dated October 15, 2003. It ruled that the stipulations during the trial are binding on petitioner. As regards possession of subject firearms, the appellate court ruled that Capt. Nadurata’s custody during the flight from Dubai to Manila was for and on behalf of petitioner. Thus, there was constructive possession.

Petitioner moved for reconsideration23 but it was denied by the appellate court in its April 16, 2004 Resolution.

Hence, this petition.

Issues

Petitioner assigns the following errors:

1. The Court of Appeals gravely erred in not acquitting Evangelista from the charge of Presidential Decree No. 1866, Illegal Possession of Firearms.

2. The Court of Appeals gravely erred in not holding that Evangelista was never in possession of any firearm or ammunition within Philippine jurisdiction and he therefore could not have committed the crime charged against him.

3. The Court of Appeals gravely erred in holding that Evangelista committed a continuing crime.

4. The Court of Appeals gravely erred in disregarding the results of the preliminary investigation.24

We find the appeal devoid of merit.

At the outset, we emphasize that under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, a petition for review on certiorari shall only raise questions of law considering that the findings of fact of the CA are, as a general rule, conclusive upon and binding on the Supreme Court.25 In this recourse, petitioner indulges us to calibrate once again the evidence adduced by the parties and to re-evaluate the credibility of their witnesses. On this ground alone, the instant petition deserves to be denied outright. However, as the liberty of petitioner is at stake and following the principle that an appeal in a criminal case throws the whole case wide open for review, we are inclined to delve into the merits of the present petition.

In his bid for acquittal, petitioner argues that he could not have committed the crime imputed against him for he was never in custody and possession of any firearm or ammunition when he arrived in the Philippines. Thus, the conclusion of the appellate court that he was in constructive possession of the subject firearms and ammunitions is erroneous.

We are not persuaded. As correctly found by the CA:

Appellant’s argument that he was never found in possession of the subject firearms and ammunitions within Philippine jurisdiction is specious. It is worthy to note that at the hearing of the case before the court a quo on October 8, 1996, the defense counsel stipulated that the subject firearms and ammunitions were confiscated from appellant and the same were given to PAL Station Manager Nilo Umayaw who, in turn, turned over the same to Capt. Edwin Nadurata. Such stipulation of fact is binding on appellant, for the acts of a lawyer in the defense of a case are the acts of his client. Granting that Nilo Umayaw was merely told by the Dubai authorities that the firearms and ammunitions were found in the luggage of appellant and that Umayaw had no personal knowledge thereof, however, appellant’s signature on the Customs Declaration Form, which contains the entry “2 PISTOL guns SENT SURRENDER TO PHILIPPINE AIRLINE,” proves that he was the one who brought the guns to Manila. While appellant claims that he signed the Customs Declaration Form without reading it because of his excitement, however, he does not claim that he was coerced or persuaded in affixing his signature thereon. The preparation of the Customs Declaration Form is a requirement for all arriving passengers in an international flight. Moreover, it cannot be said that appellant had already been arrested when he signed the Customs Declaration Form. He was merely escorted by Special Agent Acierto to the arrival area of the NAIA. In fact, appellant admitted that it was only after he signed the Customs Declaration Form that he was brought to the ground floor of NAIA for investigation. Consequently, appellant was in constructive possession of the subject firearms. As held in People v. Dela Rosa, the kind of possession punishable under PD 1866 is one where the accused possessed a firearm either physically or constructively with animus possidendi or intention to possess the same. Animus possidendi is a state of mind. As such, what goes on into the mind of the accused, as his real intent, could be determined solely based on his prior and coetaneous acts and the surrounding circumstances explaining how the subject firearm came to his possession.

Appellant’s witness, Capt. Nadurata, the PAL pilot of Flight No. PR 657 from Dubai to Manila on January 30, 1996, testified that he accepted custody of the firearms and of appellant in order that the latter, who was being detained in Dubai for having been found in possession of firearms, would be released from custody. In other words, Capt. Nadurata’s possession of the firearm during the flight from Dubai to Manila was for and on behalf of appellant.26

We find no cogent reason to deviate from the above findings, especially considering petitioner’s admission during the clarificatory questioning by the trial court:

Court: So, it is clear now in the mind of the Court, that the firearms and ammunitions will also be with you on your flight to Manila, is that correct?

A: Yes, your honor.

Court: [You] made mention of that condition, that the Dubai police agreed to release you provided that you will bring the guns and ammunitions with you? Is that the condition of the Dubai Police?

A: Yes, your honor.

Court: The condition of his release was that he will have to bring the guns and ammunitions to the Philippines and this arrangement was made by the PAL Supervisor at Dubai and it was Mr. Umayaw the PAL Supervisor, who interceded in his behalf with the Dubai Police for his flight in the Philippines.27

To us, this constitutes judicial admission of his possession of the subject firearms and ammunitions. This admission, the veracity of which requires no further proof, may be controverted only upon a clear showing that it was made through palpable mistake or that no admission was made.28 No such controversion is extant on record.

Moreover, we cannot ignore the Customs Declaration Form wherein it appeared that petitioner brought the firearms with him upon his arrival in the Philippines. While there was no showing that he was forced to sign the form, petitioner can only come up with the excuse that he was excited. Hardly can we accept such pretension.

We are likewise not swayed by petitioner’s contention that the lower court erroneously relied on the Customs Declaration Form since it is not admissible in evidence because it was accomplished without the benefit of counsel while he was under police custody.

The accomplishment of the Customs Declaration Form was not elicited through custodial investigation. It is a customs requirement which petitioner had a clear obligation to comply. As correctly observed by the CA, the preparation of the Customs Declaration Form is a requirement for all arriving passengers in an international flight. Petitioner was among those passengers. Compliance with the constitutional procedure on custodial investigation is, therefore, not applicable in this case. Moreover, it is improbable that the customs police were the ones who filled out the declaration form. As will be noted, it provides details that only petitioner could have possibly known or supplied. Even assuming that there was prior accomplishment of the form which contains incriminating details, petitioner could have easily taken precautionary measures by not affixing his signature thereto. Or he could have registered his objection thereto especially when no life threatening acts were being employed against him upon his arrival in the country.

Obviously, it was not only the Customs Declaration Form from which the courts below based their conclusion that petitioner was in constructive possession of subject firearms and ammunitions. Emphasis was also given on the stipulations and admissions made during the trial. These pieces of evidence are enough to show that he was the owner and possessor of these items.

Petitioner contends that the trial court has no jurisdiction over the case filed against him. He claims that his alleged possession of the subject firearms transpired while he was at the Dubai Airport and his possession thereof has ceased when he left for the Philippines. He insists that since Dubai is outside the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines and his situation is not one of the exceptions provided in Article 2 of the Revised Penal Code, our criminal laws are not applicable. In short, he had not committed a crime within the Philippines.

Indeed it is fundamental that the place where the crime was committed determines not only the venue of the action but is an essential element of jurisdiction.29 In order for the courts to acquire jurisdiction in criminal cases, the offense should have been committed or any one of its essential ingredients should have taken place within the territorial jurisdiction of the court. If the evidence adduced during the trial shows that the offense was committed somewhere else, the court should dismiss the action for want of jurisdiction.30

Contrary to the arguments put forward by petitioner, we entertain no doubt that the crime of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition for which he was charged was committed in the Philippines. The accomplishment by petitioner of the Customs Declaration Form upon his arrival at the NAIA is very clear evidence that he was already in possession of the subject firearms in the Philippines.

And more than mere possession, the prosecution was able to ascertain that he has no license or authority to possess said firearms. It bears to stress that the essence of the crime penalized under PD 1866, as amended, is primarily the accused’s lack of license to possess the firearm. The fact of lack or absence of license constitutes an essential ingredient of the offense of illegal possession of firearm. Since it has been shown that petitioner was already in the Philippines when he was found in possession of the subject firearms and determined to be without any authority to possess them, an essential ingredient of the offense, it is beyond reasonable doubt that the crime was perpetrated and completed in no other place except the Philippines.

Moreover, the jurisdiction of a court over the criminal case is determined by the allegations in the complaint or information. In this case, the information specifically and categorically alleged that on or about January 30, 1996 petitioner was in possession, custody and control of the subject firearms at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Pasay City, Philippines, certainly a territory within the jurisdiction of the trial court.

In contrast, petitioner failed to establish by sufficient and competent evidence that the present charge happened in Dubai. It may be well to recall that while in Dubai, petitioner, even in a situation between life and death, firmly denied possession and ownership of the firearms. Furthermore, there is no record of any criminal case having been filed against petitioner in Dubai in connection with the discovered firearms. Since there is no pending criminal case when he left Dubai, it stands to reason that there was no crime committed in Dubai. The age-old but familiar rule that he who alleges must prove his allegation applies.31

Petitioner finally laments the trial court’s denial of the Motion to Withdraw Information filed by the investigating prosecutor due to the latter’s finding of lack of probable cause to indict him. He argues that such denial effectively deprived him of his substantive right to a preliminary investigation.

Still, petitioner’s argument fails to persuade. There is nothing procedurally improper on the part of the trial court in disregarding the result of the preliminary investigation it itself ordered. Judicial action on the motion rests in the sound exercise of judicial discretion. In denying the motion, the trial court just followed the jurisprudential rule laid down in Crespo v. Judge Mogul32 that once a complaint or information is filed in court, any disposition of the case as to its dismissal or the conviction or acquittal of the accused rests on the sound discretion of the court. The court is not dutifully bound by such finding of the investigating prosecutor. In Solar Team Entertainment, Inc v. Judge How33 we held:

It bears stressing that the court is however not bound to adopt the resolution of the Secretary of Justice since the court is mandated to independently evaluate or assess the merits of the case, and may either agree or disagree with the recommendation of the Secretary of Justice. Reliance alone on the resolution of the Secretary of Justice would be an abdication of the trial court’s duty and jurisdiction to determine prima facie case.

Consequently, petitioner has no valid basis to insist on the trial court to respect the result of the preliminary investigation it ordered to be conducted.

In fine, we find no reason not to uphold petitioner’s conviction. The records substantiate the RTC and CA’s finding that petitioner possessed, albeit constructively, the subject firearms and ammunition when he arrived in the Philippines on January 30, 1996. Moreover, no significant facts and circumstances were shown to have been overlooked or disregarded which if considered would have altered the outcome of the case.

In the prosecution for the crime of illegal possession of firearm and ammunition, the Court has reiterated the essential elements in People v. Eling34 to wit: (1) the existence of subject firearm; and, (2) the fact that the accused who possessed or owned the same does not have the corresponding license for it.

In the instant case, the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt the elements of the crime. The existence of the subject firearms and the ammunition were established through the testimony of Acierto. Their existence was likewise admitted by petitioner when he entered into stipulation and through his subsequent judicial admission. Concerning petitioner’s lack of authority to possess the firearms, SPO4 Bondoc, Jr. testified that upon verification, it was ascertained that the name of petitioner does not appear in the list of registered firearm holders or a registered owner thereof. As proof, he submitted a certification to that effect and identified the same in court. The testimony of SPO4 Bondoc, Jr. or the certification from the FEO would suffice to prove beyond reasonable doubt the second element.35

A final point. Republic Act (RA) No. 829436 took effect on June 6, 1997 or after the commission of the crime on January 30, 1996. However, since it is advantageous to the petitioner, it should be given retrospective application insofar as the penalty is concerned.

Section 1 of PD 1866, as amended by RA 8294 provides:

Section 1. Unlawful Manufacture, Sale, Acquisition, Disposition or Possession of Firearms or Ammunition or Instruments Used or Intended to be Used in the Manufacture of Firearms or Ammunition. x x x

The penalty of prision mayor in its minimum period and a fine of Thirty thousand pesos (₱30,000.00) shall be imposed if the firearm is classified as high powered firearm which includes those with bores bigger in diameter than .38 caliber and 9 millimeter such as caliber .40, .41, .44, .45 and also lesser calibered firearms but considered powerful such as caliber .357 and caliber .22 center-fire magnum and other firearms with firing capability of full automatic and by burst of two or three: Provided, however, That no other crime was committed by the person arrested.

Prision mayor in its minimum period ranges from six years and one day to eight years. Hence, the penalty imposed by the RTC as affirmed by the CA is proper.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 21805 affirming the January 23, 1998 Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City, Branch 109 dated January 23, 1998, convicting petitioner Teofilo Evangelista of violation of Section 1 of Presidential Decree No. 1866, as amended, and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of six years and one day to eight years and to pay a fine of ₱30,000.00 is AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

JJ. Carpio, Brion, Abad, Perez, concur.

 

READ CASE DIGEST HERE.

 

Footnotes

1 People v. Fajardo, 123 Phil. 1348, 1351 (1966).

2 Rollo, pp. 3-37.

3 CA rollo, pp. 181-194; penned by Associate Justice Marina L. Buzon and concurred in by Associate Justices Sergio L. Pestaño and Jose Catral Mendoza (now a member of this Court).

4 Records, Vol. II, pp. 133-141; penned by Judge Lilia C. Lopez.

5 Decree Codifying the Laws on Illegal/Unlawful Possession, Manufacture, Dealing In Acquisition or Disposition of Firearms, Ammunition or Explosives.

6 Records, Vol. I, pp. 1-2.

7 Id. at 54-59.

8 Id. at 75-79.

9 Id. at 73-74.

10 Id. at 86.

11 Exhibit “G”, records, p. 174.

12 Exhibit “I”, id. at 177.

13 Exhibit “J”, id. at 178.

14 Exhibit “H”, id. at 175-176.

15 Id. at 171.

16 Id. at 187-199.

17 Id. at 212.

18 Id. at 293-294.

19 Id. at 303-304.

20 Records, Vol. II, pp. 1-8.

21 Id. at 25.

22 Id. at 133-141.

23 CA rollo, 198-206.

24 Rollo, p. 16.

25 Dacut v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 169434, March 28, 2008, 550 SCRA 260, 267.

26 CA rollo, pp. 191-192. Citations Omitted

27 TSN, June 30, 1997, pp. 22-23.

28 Rules of Court, Rule129, Section 4.

Sec. 4 – Judicial admissions. – An admission verbal or written made by a party in the course of the proceedings in the same case does not require proof. The admission may be contradicted only by showing that it was made through palpable mistake or that no such admission was made.

29 People v. Macasaet, 492 Phil. 355, 370 (2005).

30 Uy v. Court of Appeals, 342 Phil. 329, 337 (1997).

31 Samson v. Daway, 478 Phil. 784, 795 (2004).

32 235 Phl. 465, 476 (1987).

33 393 Phil. 172, 181 (2000).

34 G.R. No. 178546, April 30, 2008, 553 SCRA 724, 738.

35 Valeroso v. People, G.R. No. 164815, February 22, 2008, 546 SCRA 450, 468-469.

36 An Act Amending the Provisions of Presidential Decree No. 1866.

 

READ CASE DIGEST HERE.

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