In People vs. Pangilinan, 687 Phil. 95 (2012), the Supreme Court explained that the prescriptive period for the filing is four (4) years. This is based on Act No. 3326, entitled "An Act to Establish Prescription for Violations of Special Acts and Municipal Ordinances and to Provide when Prescription Shall Begin", which lists the prescriptive period for municipal or city ordinances as well as special laws.
The question in this case, however, was not the duration of the prescriptive period, but the period when it starts, interrupted, and ends.
There is no question that the period starts to run from the lapse of the 5-day period given in a Notice of Dishonor, which has been duly received by the issuer. The period starts to run only after the 5-day period because it is only then that the crime is consummated, as Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 gives the issuer an opportunity to avoid criminal charges by making good (paying) the check issued within five (5) calendar days from receipt of the notice.
However, when is this period interrupted? Does this mean that an Information for violation of B.P. Blg. 22 must be filed with the court before the four (4) year-period ends, or is instituting an action before the prosecutor's office sufficient to toll the prescriptive period?
In People vs. Pangilinan, the Supreme Court explained that while the prescriptive period for violations of B.P. Blg. 22 is four (4) years, this period is interrupted once a complaint-affidavit is filed before the proper prosecutor's office charging respondent (or the issuer) with the said crime.
In People vs. Pangilinan, the accused therein argued that there was no interruption, as violations of special laws cannot be equated with violations under the Revised Penal Code. Thus, when the Information against her was filed in the year 2000, the case for violation of B.P. 22 had already prescribed as the checks were issued (and dishonored) sometime in the latter part of 1995.
The High Court, as mentioned, had a different view of the matter.
In sum, the Supreme Court refused to make a distinction between crimes punished in the Revised Penal Code and those punished under Special Laws. Further, it reiterated the rule that the institution of proceedings for preliminary investigations against the accused interrupts the period of prescription.
The rationale behind this is the policy that "[a]ggrieved parties, especially those who do not sleep on their rights and actively pursue their causes, should not be allowed to suffer unnecessarily further simply because of circumstances beyond their control, like the accused's delaying tactics or the delay and inefficiency of government agencies."
Thus, as explained by the High Court -
"x x x it is unjust to deprive the injured party of the right to obtain vindication on account of delays that are not under his control. The only thing the offended must do to initiate the prosecution of the offender is to file the requisite complaint."
Accordingly, for purposes of avoiding dismissals based on prescription, one must keep in mind that one need only file the necessary complaint-affidavit before the prosecutor's office to interrupt it, and that delays due to the actions of the prosecutor in investigating the complaint will not serve to extinguish this criminal violation.