CASE 2013-0031: PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, versus – HON. SANDIGANBAYAN, FIRST DIVISION & THIRD DIVISION, HERNANDO BENITO PEREZ, ROSARIO PEREZ, RAMON ARCEO and ERNEST ESCALER, Respondents; PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, – versus – HON. SANDIGANBAYAN, SECOND DIVISION, HERNANDO BENITO PEREZ, ROSARIO SALVADOR PEREZ, ERNEST DE LEON ESCALER and RAMON CASTILLO ARCEO (G.R. No. 188165; G.R. No. 189063, 13 DECEMBER 2013, BERSAMIN, J.) SUBJECT/S: CONCEPT OF CERTIORARI, RIGHT TO SPEEDY DISPOSITION OF CASES, THE ELEMENT OF TRANSACTION OR CONTRACT IN BRIBERY (BRIEF TITLE: PEOPLE VS. SANDIGANBAYAN AND HERNANDO PEREZ ET AL.)
“WHEREFORE, the Court DISMISSES the petitions for certiorari for their lack of merit.
No pronouncement on costs of suit.
IS THE OMBUDSMAN EMPOWERED TO FILE AN APPEAL OR CERTIORARI FROM THE SANDIGANBAYAN TO THE SUPREME COURT?
THE GENERAL RULE IS THAT ONLY THE SOLICITOR GENERAL COULD FILE PETITIONS IN THE SUPREME COURT PURSUANT TO THE ADMINSTRATIVE CODE. BUT THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS: CASES ELEVATED TO THE SANDIGANBAYAN AND FROM THE SANDIGANBAYAN TO THE SUPREME COURT.
Respondents contend that the Office of the Ombudsman has no authority to file the petitions for certiorari because only the Solicitor General could file the petitions in this Court pursuant to Section 35, Chapter 12, Title III, Book IV of the Administrative Code as amended by E.O. No. 292 ,which pertinently states:
Section 35. Powers and Functions.-The Office of the Solicitor General shall represent the Government of the Philippines, its agencies and instrumentalities and its officials and agents in any litigation, proceedings, investigation or matter requiring the services of a lawyer. When authorized by the President or head of the office concerned, it shall also represent government-owned or controlled corporations. The Office of the Solicitor General shall constitute the law office of the Government and, as such, shall discharge duties requiring the services of a lawyer. It shall have the following specific powers and functions:
(1) Represent the Government in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals in all criminal proceedings; represent the Government and its officers in the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and all other courts or tribunals in all civil actions and special proceedings in which the Government or any officer thereof in his official capacity is a party.
The contention of the respondents is grossly erroneous. That only the Solicitor General may represent the People on appeal or certiorari in the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals in all criminal proceedings is the general rule, but the rule admits the exception concerning “all cases elevated to the Sandiganbayan and from the Sandiganbayan to the Supreme Court, the Office of the Ombudsman, through its special prosecutor, shall represent the People of the Philippines, except in cases filed pursuant to Executive Order Nos. 1, 2, 14 and 14-A, issued in 1986.”
The procedure prescribed in Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, as well as the implementing rules that the Supreme Court has promulgated and may hereafter promulgate, relative to appeals/petitions for review to the Court of Appeals, shall apply to appeals and petitions for review filed with the Sandiganbayan. In all cases elevated to the Sandiganbayan and from the Sandiganbayan to the Supreme Court, the Office of the Ombudsman, through its special prosecutor, shall represent the People of the Philippines, except in cases filed pursuant to Executive Order Nos. 1, 2, 14 and 14-A, issued in 1986.
Consequently, the filing of the petitions in these cases by the Office of the Ombudsman, through the OSP, was authorized by law.
WAS THERE GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION WHEN THE SANDIGANBAYAN DISMISSED THE CASE FOR FINDING THAT THERE HAD BEEN AN INORDINATE DELAY IN THE RESOLUTION AGAINST RESPONDENTS?
THERE WAS NO GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION. THE RIGHT TO THE SPEEDY DISPOSITION OF CASES IS ENSHRINED IN ARTICLE III OF THE CONSTITUTION, WHICH DECLARES: SECTION 16. ALL PERSONS SHALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO A SPEEDY DISPOSITION OF THEIR CASES BEFORE ALL JUDICIAL, QUASI-JUDICIAL, OR ADMINISTRATIVE BODIES.
WHAT IS A CIVIL ACTION FOR CERTIORARI?
IT IS AN INDEPENDENT ACTION BASED ON SPECIFIC GROUNDS IN SECTION 1, RULE 65 OF THE RULES OF COURT?
WHEN CAN SUCH ACTION PROSPER?
ONLY WHEN THE JURISDICTIONAL ERROR, OR THE GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION COMMITTED BY THE INFERIOR COURT OR JUDGE IS ALLEGED AND PROVED TO EXIST
A special civil action for certiorari is an independent action based on the specific grounds provided in Section 1, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, and can prosper only the jurisdictional error, or the grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction committed by the inferior court or judge is alleged and proved to exist.
WHAT IS THE NATURE AND REACH OF THE REMEDY OF CERTIORARI?
THE WRIT OF CERTIORARI – IS A REMEDY NARROW IN SCOPE AND INFLEXIBLE IN CHARACTER, WHOSE PURPOSE IS TO KEEP AN INFERIOR COURT WITHIN THE BOUNDS OF ITS JURISDICTION, OR TO PREVENT AN INFERIOR COURT FROM COMMITTING SUCH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO EXCESS OF JURISDICTION, OR TO RELIEVE PARTIES FROM ARBITRARY ACTS OF COURTS (I.E., ACTS THAT COURTS HAVE NO POWER OR AUTHORITY IN LAW TO PERFORM).
IT IS NOT A GENERAL UTILITY TOOL IN THE LEGAL WORKSHOP, AND CANNOT BE ISSUED TO CORRECT EVERY ERROR COMMITTED BY A LOWER COURT.
In De las Santos v. Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, the Court has expounded on the nature and reach of the extraordinary remedy of certiorari, to wit:
We remind that the writ of certiorari – being a remedy narrow in scope and inflexible in character, whose purpose is to keep an inferior court within the bounds of its jurisdiction, or to prevent an inferior court from committing such grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess of jurisdiction, or to relieve parties from arbitrary acts of courts (i.e., acts that courts have no power or authority in law to perform) – is not a general utility tool in the legal workshop, and cannot be issued to correct every error committed by a lower court.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE REMEDY OF CERTIORARI?
IT IS ROOTED IN COMMON LAW. THE WRIT WAS ISSUED OUT OF THE CHANCERY OR THE KING’S BENCH, COMMANDING AGENTS OR OFFICERS OF THE INFERIOR COURTS TO RETURN THE RECORD OF A CAUSE PENDING BEFORE THEM, SO AS TO GIVE THE PARTY MORE SURE AND SPEEDY JUSTICE, FOR THE WRIT WOULD ENABLE THE SUPERIOR COURT TO DETERMINE FROM AN INSPECTION OF THE RECORD WHETHER THE INFERIOR COURT’S JUDGMENT WAS RENDERED WITHOUT AUTHORITY.
In the common law, from which the remedy of certiorari evolved, the writ certiorari was issued out of Chancery, or the King’s Bench, commanding agents or officers of the inferior courts to return the record of a cause pending before them, so as to give the party more sure and speedy justice, for the writ would enable the superior court to determine from an inspection of the record whether the inferior court’s judgment was rendered without authority. The errors were of such a nature that, if allowed to stand, they would result in a substantial injury to the petitioner to whom no other remedy was available. If the inferior court acted without authority, the record was then revised and corrected in matters of law. The writ of certiorari was limited to cases in which the inferior court was said to be exceeding its jurisdiction or was not proceeding according to essential requirements of law and would lie only to review judicial or quasi-judicial acts.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CERTIORARI UNDER COMMON LAW AND CERTIORARI UNDER PHILIPPINE LAW?
IN THIS JURISDICTION, CERTIORARI IS REGULATED BY SECTION 1, RULE 65 OF THE RULES OF COURT WHICH PROVIDES:
SECTION 1. PETITION FOR CERTIORARI. – WHEN ANY TRIBUNAL, BOARD OR OFFICER EXERCISING JUDICIAL OR QUASI-JUDICIAL FUNCTIONS HAS ACTED WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF ITS OR HIS JURISDICTION, OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION, AND THERE IS NO APPEAL, OR ANY PLAIN, SPEEDY, AND ADEQUATE REMEDY IN THE ORDINARY COURSE OF LAW, A PERSON AGGRIEVED THEREBY MAY FILE A VERIFIED PETITION IN THE PROPER COURT, ALLEGING THE FACTS WITH CERTAINTY AND PRAYING THAT JUDGMENT BE RENDERED ANNULLING OR MODIFYING THE PROCEEDINGS OF SUCH TRIBUNAL, BOARD OR OFFICER, AND GRANTING SUCH INCIDENTAL RELIEFS AS LAW AND JUSTICE MAY REQUIRE.
THE PETITION SHALL BE ACCOMPANIED BY A CERTIFIED TRUE COPY OF THE JUDGMENT, ORDER OR RESOLUTION SUBJECT THEREOF, COPIES OF ALL PLEADINGS AND DOCUMENTS RELEVANT AND PERTINENT THERETO, AND A SWORN CERTIFICATION OF NON-FORUM SHOPPING AS PROVIDED IN THE THIRD PARAGRAPH OF SECTION 3, RULE 46. (1 A)
The concept of the remedy of certiorari in our judicial system remains much the same as it has been in the common law. In this jurisdiction, however, the exercise of the power to issue the writ of certiorari is largely regulated by laying down the instances or situations in the Rules of Court in which a superior court may issue the writ of certiorari to an inferior court or officer. Section 1, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court compellingly provides the requirements for that purpose, viz:
Section 1. Petition for certiorari. – When any tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions has acted without or in excess of its or his jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, and there is no appeal, or any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law, a person aggrieved thereby may file a verified petition in the proper court, alleging the facts with certainty and praying that judgment be rendered annulling or modifying the proceedings of such tribunal, board or officer, and granting such incidental reliefs as law and justice may require.
The petition shall be accompanied by a certified true copy of the judgment, order or resolution subject thereof, copies of all pleadings and documents relevant and pertinent thereto, and a sworn certification of non-forum shopping as provided in the third paragraph of section 3, Rule 46. (1 a)
PURSUANT TO SECTION 1, RULE 46, WHAT ARE THE TWO REQUISITES FOR THE ISSUANCE OF WRIT OF CERTIORARI?
FIRST, THE PETITIONER MUST SHOW THAT, THE TRIBUNAL, BOARD OR OFFICER EXERCISING JUDICIAL OR QUASI-JUDICIAL FUNCTIONS ACTED WITHOUT OR IN EXCESS OF JURISDICTION OR WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION.
SECOND THE PETITIONER MUST SHOW THAT THERE IS NEITHER AN APPEAL NOR ANY PLAIN, SPEEDY AND ADEQUATE REMEDY IN THE ORDINARY COURSE OF LAW FOR THE PURPOSE OF AMENDING OR NULLIFYING THE PROCEEDING.
Pursuant to Section 1, supra, the petitioner must show that, one, the tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions acted without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, and, two, there is neither an appeal nor any plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law for the purpose of amending or nullifying the proceeding.
Considering that the requisites must concurrently be attendant, the herein petitioners’ stance that a writ of certiorari should have been issued even if the CA found no showing of grave abuse of discretion is absurd. The commission of grave abuse of discretion was a fundamental requisite for the writ of certiorari to issue against the RTC. Without their strong showing either of the RTC’s lack or excess of jurisdiction, or of grave abuse of discretion by the RTC amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, the writ of certiorari would not issue for being bereft of legal and factual bases. We need to emphasize, too, that with certiorari being an extraordinary remedy, they must strictly observe the rules laid down by law for granting the relief sought.
WHAT IS THE SOLE OFFICE OF THE WRIT OF CERTIORARI?
IT IS THE CORRECTION OF ERRORS OF JURISDICTION WHICH INCLUDES THE COMMISSION OF GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION.
IS MERE ABUSE OF DISCRETION SUFFICIENT?
IT IS NOT ENOUGH. IT MUST BE GRAVE.
WHAT IS MEANT BY GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION?
IT MEANS EITHER THAT THE JUDICIAL OR QUASI-JUDICIAL POWER WAS EXERCISED IN AN ARBITRARY OR DESPOTIC MANNER BY REASON OF PASSION OR PERSONAL HOSTILITY, OR THAT THE RESPONDENT JUDGE, TRIBUNAL OR BOARD EVADED A POSITIVE DUTY, OR VIRTUALLY REFUSED TO PERFORM THE DUTY ENJOINED OR TO ACT IN CONTEMPLATION OF LAW, SUCH AS WHEN SUCH JUDGE, TRIBUNAL OR BOARD EXERCISING JUDICIAL OR QUASI-JUDICIAL POWERS ACTED IN A CAPRICIOUS OR WHIMSICAL MANNER AS TO BE EQUIVALENT TO LACK OF JURISDICTION.
The sole office of the writ of certiorari is the correction of errors of jurisdiction, which includes the commission of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction. In this regard, mere abuse of discretion is not enough to warrant the issuance of the writ. The abuse of discretion must be grave, which means either that the judicial or quasi-judicial power was exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility, or that the respondent judge, tribunal or board evaded a positive duty, or virtually refused to perform the duty enjoined or to act in contemplation of law, such as when such judge, tribunal or board exercising judicial or quasi-judicial powers acted in a capricious or whimsical manner as to be equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. (citations omitted)
THE SANDIGANBAYAN DISMISSED THE SUBJECT CASE OF BRIBERY BECAUSE THE PROSECUTION FAILED TO PROVE AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT: THAT A TRANSACTION OR CONTRACT WAS INVOLVED AND THAT THE ACCUSED IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY HAS TO INTERVENE. DID THE SANDIGANBAYAN COMMIT GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION?
NO. IT FOLLOWED A PRECEDENT RULING WHERE THE RESTRICTIVE MEANING OF THE TERM TRANSACTION WAS APPLIED. THE THREE CASES CITED BY PETITIONER OMBUDSMAN WERE NOT RELEVANT AS THE DEFINITION OF TRANSACTION WAS NOT AN ISSUE IN SAID CASES.
FURTHER, LAWS CREATING, DEFINING OR PUNISHING CRIMES AND LAWS IMPOSING PENALTIES AND FORFEITURES ARE TO BE CONSTRUED STRICTLY AGAINST THE STATE OR AGAINST THE PARTY SEEKING TO ENFORCE THEM, AND LIBERALLY AGAINST THE PARTY SOUGHT TO BE CHARGED.
DID THE PETITIONER SHOW GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION THAT WOULD WARRANT THE ISSUANCE OF THE WRIT OF CERTIORARI PRAYED FOR?
THE SANDIGANBAYAN CORRECTLY APPLIED THE RESTRICTIVE MEANING OF THE TERM TRANSACTION AS USED IN SECTION 3 (B) OF REPUBLIC ACT NO. 3019 ADOPTED IN SORIANO, JR. V. SANDIGANBAYAN.
In its questioned resolution dismissing Criminal Case No. SB-08- CRM-0265, the Sandiganbayan relied on the ruling in Soriano, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan,81 in which the principal issue was whether or not the preliminary investigation of a criminal complaint conducted by petitioner Soriano, Jr., then a Fiscal, was a “contract or transaction” as to bring the complaint within the ambit of Section 3 (b) of Republic Act No. 3019, which punished any public officer for “[ d]irectly or indirectly requesting or receiving any gift, present, share, percentage, or benefit, for himself or for any other person, in connection with any contract or transaction between the Government and any other party, wherein the public officer in his official capacity has to intervene under the law.” The Soriano, Jr. Court ruled in the negative, and pronounced:
It is obvious that the investigation conducted by the petitioner was not a contract. Neither was it a transaction because this term must be construed as analogous to the term which precedes it. A transaction, like a contract, is one which involves some consideration as in credit transactions and this element (consideration) is absent in the investigation conducted by the petitioner.
In the light of the foregoing, We agree with the petitioner that it was error for the Sandiganbayan to have convicted him of violating Sec. 3 (b) of R.A. No. 3019. (Emphasis supplied).
The State now argues, however, that the Sandiganbayan thereby committed grave abuse of discretion resulting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction for applying the interpretation of the term transaction in Soriano, Jr. considering that the term transaction should be construed more liberally, and positing that Soriano, Jr. was already abandoned by the Court, citing for that purpose the rulings in Mejia v. Pamaran,82 Peligrino v. People,83 and Chang v. People. 84
We disagree with the petitioner, and find for the respondents.
First of all, the interpretation in Soriano, Jr. of the term transaction as used in Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 has not been overturned by the Court.
In Mejia v. Pamaran, decided en bane on April 15, 1988, Mejia had demanded and received money from some persons involved in certain cases in a trial court where Mejia was then serving as the branch clerk of court in consideration of a promise that she would help in getting a favorable judgment for them. The issue was whether or not Mejia could be convicted under the information that alleged that she had demanded a certain amount, although the Sandiganbayan found that the amount was different from that charged in the information. The Court dismissed her petition, and ruled that “[i]n a prosecution under the foregoing provision of the Anti-Graft Law the value of the gift, money or present, etc. is immaterial xxx [w ]hat is penalized is the receipt of any gift, present, share, percentage, or benefit by a public officer in connection with a contract or transaction with the Government, wherein the public officer has to intervene in his official capacity.” The Court nowhere ruled on the proper interpretation of the term transaction.
In Peligrino v. People, decided on August 13, 2001, Peligrino, an examiner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, was convicted of violating Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 for demanding the amount of P200,000.00 from the complainant in connection with the latter’s tax liabilities. Peligrino’s defense was that he did not “demand” the money, but the money was just given to him. He argued that he had only informed the complainant of his tax deficiencies, and that the complainant had then requested the reduction of the amount claimed as his tax deficiencies. The Court found no merit in Peligrino’s argument. The ruling had nothing to do with the interpretation of the term transaction.
Chang v. People, decided on July 21, 2006, was a case in which two persons – Chang and San Mateo – were convicted of violating Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 after being found to have received P125,000.00 in consideration of their issuance of a Certificate of Examination to the effect that the complainant had “no tax liability” in favour of the municipality, notwithstanding that it had not settled with them on their assessed deficiency tax of P494,000.00. Chang and San Mateo contended that the charge had resulted from an involuntary contact whereby complainant Magat had simply tossed to them the brown envelope; that there had been no conspiracy between them; and that what had transpired had been an instigation, not an entrapment. In affirming their conviction, the Court did not touch on the proper interpretation of the term transaction as used in Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019.
The three rulings the State has cited here did not overturn the interpretation made in Soriano, Jr. of the term transaction as used in Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 because the proper interpretation of the term was clearly not decisive in those cases.
On the contrary, in the later ruling in Merencillo v. People, 85 promulgated in 2007, the Court reiterated the restrictive interpretation given in Soriano, Jr. to the term transaction as used in Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 in connection with a differentiation between bribery under the Revised Penal Code and the violation of Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 by holding that the latter is “limited only to contracts or transactions involving monetary consideration where the public officer has the authority to intervene under the law.”
And, secondly, it does not help the State any that the term transaction as used in Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 is susceptible of being interpreted both restrictively and liberally, considering that laws creating, defining or punishing crimes and laws imposing penalties and forfeitures are to be construed strictly against the State or against the party seeking to enforce them, and liberally against the party sought to be charged.
Clearly, the Sandiganbayan did not arbitrarily, or whimsically, or capriciously quash the information for failing to properly state the fourth element of the violation of Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019.
THE ALLEGED CRIME WAS COMMITTED SOMETIME IN FEBRUARY 2001. CRIMINAL COMPLAINT WAS INITIATED IN NOVEMBER 2002. IN NOVEMBER 2006 JOINT RESOLUTION WAS ISSUED RECOMMENDING THE FILING OF INFORMATION. IN APRIL 2008 SUCH RECOMMENDATION WAS APPROVED.PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION TOOK FIVE YEARS AND FIVE MONTHS. WAS THERE GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION WHEN THE SANDIGANBAYAN DISMISED THE CASE FOR BEING IN VIOLATION OF THE RIGHT TO SPEEDY DISPOSITION OF CASES?
IT IS CLEAR FROM THE FOREGOING THAT THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN HAD TAKEN AN UNUSUALLY LONG PERIOD OF TIME JUST TO INVESTIGATE THE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT AND TO DETERMINE WHETHER TO CRIMINALLY CHARGE THE RESPONDENTS IN THE SANDIGANBAYAN. SUCH LONG DELAY WAS INORDINATE AND OPPRESSIVE, AND CONSTITUTED UNDER THE PECULIAR CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE AN OUTRIGHT VIOLATION OF THE RESPONDENTS’ RIGHT UNDER THE CONSTITUTION TO THE SPEEDY DISPOSITION OF THEIR CASES.
The acts of the respondents that the Office of the Ombudsman investigated had supposedly occurred in the period from February 13, 2001 to February 23, 2001. Yet, the criminal complaint came to be initiated only on November 25, 2002 when Ombudsman Marcelo requested PAGC to provide his office with the documents relevant to the expose of Cong. Villarama. Subsequently, on December 23, 2002, Cong. Jimenez submitted his complaint-affidavit to the Office of the Ombudsman. It was only on November 6, 2006, however, when the Special Panel created to investigate Cong. Jimenez’s criminal complaint issued the Joint Resolution recommending that the criminal informations be filed against the respondents. Ombudsman Gutierrez approved the Joint Resolution only on January 5, 2007.93 The Special Panel issued the second Joint Resolution denying the respondents’ motion for reconsideration on January 25, 2008, and Ombudsman Gutierrez approved this resolution only on April 15, 2008. Ultimately, the informations charging the respondents with four different crimes based on the complaint of Cong. Jimenez were all filed on April 15, 2008, thereby leading to the commencement of Criminal Case No. SB-08- CRM-0265 and Criminal Case No. SB-08-CRM-0266. In sum, the fact- finding investigation and preliminary investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman lasted nearly five years and five months.
It is clear from the foregoing that the Office of the Ombudsman had taken an unusually long period of time just to investigate the criminal complaint and to determine whether to criminally charge the respondents in the Sandiganbayan. Such long delay was inordinate and oppressive, and constituted under the peculiar circumstances of the case an outright violation of the respondents’ right under the Constitution to the speedy disposition of their cases. If, in Tatad v. Sandiganbayan,94 the Court ruled that a delay of almost three years in the conduct of the preliminary investigation constituted a violation of the constitutional rights of the accused to due process and to the speedy disposition of his case, taking into account the following, namely: (a) the complaint had been resurrected only after the accused had a falling out with former President Marcos, indicating that political motivations had played a vital role in activating and propelling the prosecutorial process; ( b) the Tanodbayan had blatantly departed from the established procedure prescribed by law for the conduct of preliminary investigation; and ( c) the simple factual and legal issues involved did not justify the delay, there is a greater reason for us to hold so in the respondents’ case.
THE OMBUDSMAN ARGUED THAT THE DELAY WAS ATTRIBUTABLE TO A JUST CAUSE WHICH IS THE RATIFICATION BY THE SENATE OF TREATIES WHICH ENABLED THEM TO SECURE EVIDENCE. IS THEIR CONTENTION CORRECT?
AT NO TIME SHOULD THE PROGRESS AND SUCCESS OF THE PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION OF A CRIMINAL CASE BE MADE DEPENDENT UPON THE RATIFICATION OF A TREATY BY THE SENATE THAT WOULD PROVIDE TO THE PROSECUTORIAL ARM OF THE STATE, ALREADY POWERFUL AND OVERWHELMING IN TERMS OF ITS RESOURCES, AN UNDUE ADVANTAGE UNAVAILABLE AT THE TIME OF THE INVESTIGATION. TO ALLOW THE DELAY UNDER THOSE TERMS WOULD DEFINITELY VIOLATE FAIR PLAY AND NULLIFY DUE PROCESS OF LAW – FAIR PLAY, BECAUSE THE FIELD OF CONTEST BETWEEN THE ACCUSER AND THE ACCUSED SHOULD AT ALL TIMES BE LEVEL; AND DUE PROCESS OF LAW, BECAUSE NO LESS THAT OUR CONSTITUTION GUARANTEES THE SPEEDY DISPOSITION OF THE CASE.
To emphasize, it is incumbent for the State to prove that the delay was reasonable, or that the delay was not attributable to it. In both regards, the State miserably failed.
For one, the State explains that the criminal cases could not be immediately filed in court primarily because of the insufficiency of the evidence to establish probable cause, like not having a document showing that the funds (worth US$1,999,965.00 as averred in the complaint of Cong. Jimenez) had reached Secretary Perez;95 and that it could not obtain the document, and to enable it to obtain the document and other evidence it needed to await the ratification of the Agreement Concerning Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters with the Hongkong Special Administrative Region (RP-HKSAR Agreement),96 and the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters between the Republic of the Philippines and the Swiss Confederation (RP-Swiss MLAT).97
To us, however, the State’s dependence on the ratification of the two treaties was not a sufficient justification for the delay. The fact-finding investigation had extended from January 15, 2003, when Ombudsman Marcelo approved the recommendation of the Special Panel and referred the complaint of Cong. Jimenez for fact-finding investigation, until November 14, 2005, when the FIO completed its fact-finding investigation. That period accounted for a total of two years and 10 months. In addition, the FIO submitted its report only on November 14, 2005, which was after the Department of Justice had received on September 8, 2005 the letter from Wayne Walsh, the Deputy Government Counsel of the Hongkong Special Administrative Region in response to the request for assistance dated June 23, 2005,98 and the reply of the Office of Justice of Switzerland dated February 10, 2005 and a subsequent letter dated February 21, 2005 from Liza Favre, the Ambassador of Switzerland, to Atty. Melchor Arthur Carandang, Acting Assistant Ombudsman, FIO, together with documents pertaining to the bank accounts relevant to the investigation.99 For the Office of the Ombudsman to mark time until the HKSAR Agreement and the Swiss-RP MLAT were ratified by the Senate before it would proceed with the preliminary investigation was oppressive, capricious and vexatious, because the respondents were thereby subjected to a long and unfair delay.
We should frown on the reason for the inordinate delay because the State would thereby deliberately gain an advantage over the respondents during the preliminary investigation. At no time should the progress and success of the preliminary investigation of a criminal case be made dependent upon the ratification of a treaty by the Senate that would provide to the prosecutorial arm of the State, already powerful and overwhelming in terms of its resources, an undue advantage unavailable at the time of the investigation. To allow the delay under those terms would definitely violate fair play and nullify due process of law – fair play, because the field of contest between the accuser and the accused should at all times be level; and due process of law, because no less that our Constitution guarantees the speedy disposition of the case.
OMBUDSMAN ARGUES THAT THE FACT-FINDING INVESTIGATION SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED AS PART OF PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION. IS THEIR ARGUMENT CORRECT?
NO. THE GUARANTEE OF SPEEDY DISPOSITION UNDER SECTION 16 OF ARTICLE III OF THE CONSTITUTION APPLIES TO ALL CASES PENDING BEFORE ALL JUDICIAL, QUASI- JUDICIAL OR ADMINISTRATIVE BODIES.
The State further argues that the fact-finding investigation should not be considered a part of the preliminary investigation because the former was only preparatory in relation to the latter; 100 and that the period spent in the former should not be factored in the computation of the period devoted to the preliminary investigation.
The argument cannot pass fair scrutiny.
The guarantee of speedy disposition under Section 16 of Article III of the Constitution applies to all cases pending before all judicial, quasi- judicial or administrative bodies. The guarantee would be defeated or rendered inutile if the hair-splitting distinction by the State is accepted. Whether or not the fact-finding investigation was separate from the preliminary investigation conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman should not matter for purposes of determining if the respondents’ right to the speedy disposition of their cases had been violated.
There was really no sufficient justification tendered by the State for the long delay of more than five years in bringing the charges against the respondents before the proper court. On the charge of robbery under Article 293 in relation to Article 294 of the Revised Penal Code, the preliminary investigation would not require more than five years to ascertain the relevant factual and legal matters. The basic elements of the offense, that is, the intimidation or pressure allegedly exerted on Cong. Jimenez, the manner by which the money extorted had been delivered, and the respondents had been identified as the perpetrators, had been adequately bared before the Office of the Ombudsman. The obtention of the bank documents was not indispensable to establish probable cause to charge them with the offense. We thus agree with the following observation of the Sandiganbayan, viz:
With the Ombudsman’s finding that the extortion (intimidation) was perpetrated on February 13, 2001 and that there was transfer of Mark Jimenez US $1,999,965.00 to Coutts Bank Account HO 133706 on February 23, 2001 in favor of the accused, there is no reason why within a reasonable period from these dates, the complaint should not be resolved. The act of intimidation was there, the asportation was complete as of
February 23, 2001 why was the information filed only on April 18, 2008. For such a simple charge of Robbery there is nothing more to consider and all the facts and circumstances upon which to anchor a resolution whether to give due course to the complaint or dismiss it are on hand. The case is more than ripe for resolution. Failure to act on the same is a clear transgression of the constitutional rights of the accused. A healthy respect for the constitutional prerogative of the accused should have prodded the Ombudsman to act within reasonable time.
In fine, the Office of the Ombudsman transgressed the respondents’ right to due process as well as their right to the speedy disposition of their case.
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