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G.R. Nos. 164068–69, November 19, 2013 - ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA, Petitioner, v. THE SANDIGANBAYAN, FIRST DIVISION AND THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents.; G.R. NOS. 166305–06 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. EDUARDO M. COJUANGCO, JR., HERMENEGILDO ** C. ZAYCO, SALVADOR ESCUDERO III, VICENTE B. VALDEPEÑAS, JR., ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA AND THE HON. SANDIGANBAYAN (FIRST DIVISION), Respondents.; G.R. NOS. 166487–88 - REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. THE SANDIGANBAYAN AND EDUARDO M. COJUANGCO, JR., ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA, HERMINIGILDO C. ZAYCO, JOSE R. ELEAZAR, JR., FELIX V. DUEÑAS, JR., SALVADOR ESCUDERO III, AND VICENTE B. VALDEPEÑAS, JR., Respondents.

G.R. Nos. 164068–69, November 19, 2013 - ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA, Petitioner, v. THE SANDIGANBAYAN, FIRST DIVISION AND THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents.; G.R. NOS. 166305–06 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. EDUARDO M. COJUANGCO, JR., HERMENEGILDO ** C. ZAYCO, SALVADOR ESCUDERO III, VICENTE B. VALDEPEÑAS, JR., ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA AND THE HON. SANDIGANBAYAN (FIRST DIVISION), Respondents.; G.R. NOS. 166487–88 - REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. THE SANDIGANBAYAN AND EDUARDO M. COJUANGCO, JR., ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA, HERMINIGILDO C. ZAYCO, JOSE R. ELEAZAR, JR., FELIX V. DUEÑAS, JR., SALVADOR ESCUDERO III, AND VICENTE B. VALDEPEÑAS, JR., Respondents.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

G.R. Nos. 164068–69, November 19, 2013

ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA, Petitioner, v. THE SANDIGANBAYAN, FIRST DIVISION AND THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents.

[G.R. NOS. 166305–06]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES
, Petitioner, v. EDUARDO M. COJUANGCO, JR., HERMENEGILDO** C. ZAYCO, SALVADOR ESCUDERO III, VICENTE B. VALDEPEÑAS, JR., ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA AND THE HON. SANDIGANBAYAN (FIRST DIVISION), Respondents.

[G.R. NOS. 166487–88]

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES
, Petitioner, v. THE SANDIGANBAYAN AND EDUARDO M. COJUANGCO, JR., ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA, HERMINIGILDO C. ZAYCO, JOSE R. ELEAZAR, JR., FELIX V. DUEÑAS, JR., SALVADOR ESCUDERO III, AND VICENTE B. VALDEPEÑAS, JR., Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

ABAD, J.:

These cases refer to a government agency’s grant of financial assistance to a private non–profit organization representing the community whose interests such agency serves.

The Facts and the Case

On February 9, 1995 the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) filed two separate informations against former members of the Governing Board of the Philippine Coconut Administration (PCA), including its chairman, accused Rolando P. De La Cuesta, and a member, Eduardo M. Cojuangco, Jr., before the Sandiganbayan in Criminal Cases 22017 and 22018. They were charged with granting financial assistance of P2 million in 19841 and P6 million in 19852 to the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (COCOFED), a nationwide association of coconut farmers, in violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 (the Anti–Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).

The criminal Informations read:

In Criminal Case 22017

That on or about December 19, 1985, or sometime prior or subsequent thereto, in Quezon City, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above–named accused, all public officers, accused MARIA CLARA L. LOBREGAT, ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA, HERMENEGILDO C. ZAYCO, JOSE R. ELEAZAR, JR., SALVADOR ESCUDERO III and VICENTE B. VALDEPEÑAS, JR., being then Members of the Board of Directors and FELIX J. DUEÑAS, JR., being then the Administrator, all of the Philippine Coconut Authority, committing the crime herein charged in relation to, while in the performance and taking advantage of their official functions, with evident bad faith and manifest partiality, and all conspiring and confederating with each other, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and criminally donate and/or extend financial assistance to the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (COCOFED), a private entity, the total amount of Six Million Pesos (P6,000,000.00) which sum was taken from the Special Funds of the Philippine Coconut Authority, said accused knowing fully well that COCOFED is a private entity and that the same amount was not included in the budget Fund 503, thereby giving unwarranted benefit in favor of the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (COCOFED) and, consequently, causing undue injury to the Government in the aforestated amount.

In Criminal Case 22018

That on or about January 18, 1984, or sometime prior or subsequent thereto, in Quezon City, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above named accused, all public officers, accused EDUARDO M. COJUANGCO, JR., MARIA CLARA L. LOBREGAT, ROLANDO P. DE LA CUESTA, HERMENEGILDO C. ZAYCO, and JOSE R. ELEAZAR, JR., being then the members of the Board of Directors and FELIX J. DUEÑAS, JR., being then the Administrator, all of the Philippine Coconut Authority, committing the crime herein charged in relation to, while in the performance and taking advantage of their official functions, with evident bad faith and manifest partiality, and all conspiring and confederating with each other, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and criminally donate and/or extend financial assistance to the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (COCOFED), a private entity, the total amount of Two Million Pesos (P2,000,000.00) which sum was taken from the Special Funds of the Philippine Coconut Authority, said accused knowing fully well that COCOFED is a private entity and that the same amount was not included in the budget of Fund 503, thereby giving unwarranted benefit in favor of the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (COCOFED) and, consequently, causing undue injury to the Government in the aforestated amount.

Claiming that the informations were prematurely filed as they were not notified of the June 2, 1992 Resolution, a requirement provided for by law,3 the Sandiganbayan granted the accused leave to seek reconsideration of such Resolution from the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP),4 the prosecution arm of the OMB. The court gave the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) the chance to comment.5

On December 6, 1996 the OMB submitted to the Sandiganbayan6 the October 22, 1996 Memorandum of Special Prosecution Officer III Victorio U. Tabanguil, bearing the November 15, 1996 approval of Ombudsman Aniano A. Desierto7 recommending the dismissal of the cases. This prompted the accused to file their respective motions to dismiss.8cralawlawlibrary

Meantime, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) filed with the OMB a motion for reconsideration of the adverse position that it had taken in the cases.9 On learning of the OSG’s action, the Sandiganbayan directly ordered it to comment on the prosecution’s motion to withdraw the Informations and the accused to reply in turn.10 Both complied.11 On February 4, 1997 the Sandiganbayan ordered the OSG and the PCGG to appear before it on February 17. Further, it required the PCGG to respond to the OSG’s claim that the exhibits needed to prove the existence of probable cause remained with the PCGG.12

At the February 17 hearing of the withdrawal issue, the OSG told the court that, as it turned out, the documents needed to show probable cause had already been submitted to the OMB at the preliminary investigation but were simply not adequately explained and, therefore, not fully appreciated. With this development, the Sandiganbayan gave the OSG time to submit to the OSP a catalogue of the documents mentioned with the accompanying explanation of their significance, after which the latter was to inform the court whether it was maintaining its position or changing it.13

These documents are as follows:

(a)   The PCA Administrator’s separate 1984 and 1985 memoranda to the PCA Governing Board recommending the financial grants of P2 million and P6 million, respectively, for COCOFED’s use and providing justifications for the same;14

(b)   Minutes of the PCA Board Meetings of January 18, 1984 and December 19, 198515 during which the PCA Governing Board approved the grants under Resolutions 009–84 and 128–85, respectively;

(c)   The PCA Governing Board Resolutions 009–84 and 128–85;16

(d)   The Disbursement Vouchers showing PCA’s release of P2 million and P6 million (the latter in two equal payments) grants to COCOFED pursuant to the above Resolutions.17

(e)   The PNB check and the corresponding COCOFED official receipt covering the P2 million PCA “financial assistance” to COCOFED under Board Resolution 009–84.18

(f)   The PNB check and the corresponding COCOFED official receipt covering the first P3 million of the P6 million PCA “financial assistance” to COCOFED under Board Resolution 128–85.19

(g)   The PNB check and the corresponding COCOFED official receipt covering the second P3 million of the P6 million PCA “financial assistance” to COCOFED under Board Resolution 128–85.20

(h)   The letter dated 31 July 198621 of PCA Corporate Auditor Archimedes S. Sitjar to the PCA Administrator, disallowing the P2 million “financial assistance” to COCOFED paid out of the PCA Special Funds on the ground that this was not included in Fund 503 of that agency for the year 1984;

(i)   The letter bearing receipt dated October 6,198622 of PCA Auditor Sitjar to the PCA Administrator, disallowing the P6 million “financial assistance” to COCOFED paid out of the National Coconut Productivity Program (NCPP) fund on the ground that this was not included in the NCPP budget of that agency;

(j)   The letter dated December 29, 1986 of the PCA Office of the Auditor to the PCA Administrator,23 disallowing the P6 million “financial assistance” to COCOFED on the further ground of failure to secure the approval of the Chief Executive/President as provided for in Section 2 of P.D. 1997.24

On March 17, 1997 the OSP informed the Sandiganbayan that, even with the above documents, it still found no new evidence sufficient to overturn its earlier findings that no probable cause existed against the accused.25cralawred

Four years later on October 31, 2001 the Sandiganbayan ruled that probable cause existed to warrant the prosecution of the accused. It said:

Admittedly, the recipient of these donations was the COCOFED, a private corporation. When government funds are “donated” to private entities—which is against laws and regulations unless otherwise authorized by law—there is, at least at first blush, an apparent undue injury to the government and a corresponding unwarranted benefit to the private party favored with the donation. These make out prima facie the third and fourth elements above, or conversion for misuse of public funds, or some other offense which would be adequately covered by the present Informations.26

Petitioners Dela Cuesta and Cojuangco moved for reconsideration on December 727 and December 10, 2001,28 respectively. Meantime, Special Prosecutor Raymundo Julio A. Olaguer replaced Special Prosecutor Tabanguil who retired and on October 17, 2002 Ombudsman Simeon V. Marcelo took over the OMB,29 signalling a change in its position. On January 9, 2003 Special Prosecutor Olaguer recommended to Ombudsman Marcelo the adoption of the OSG’s position, which he approved.30 Subsequently, the Special Prosecutor conveyed this change of position to the Sandiganbayan.31

On July 23, 2004, following accused De La Cuesta’s filing of a petition before this Court in G.R. 164068–69, complaining of alleged denial of his right to speedy trial,32 the Sandiganbayan issued a Resolution33 granting the accused’s motions for reconsideration of its October 31, 2001 Resolution. The Sandiganbayan thus dismissed the cases against them for lack of probable cause, specifically since it found no prima facie evidence that evident bad faith, manifest partiality, or gross inexcusable negligence attended the PCA financial assistance to COCOFED.

The Sandiganbayan said that, based on the OSG–submitted documents, the grant of assistance to COCOFED followed a correct course: the PCA Administrator’s proposal outlined the justification for the grants and the law that allowed these; the Board of Directors adopted the proposal upon an assumption that funds were indeed available and that the grants were allowed by law and the PCA charter; the required checks were supported by approved disbursement vouchers that were passed in audit; and COCOFED received the checks in due time. While the payments were disallowed in post audit, this was not because the grants were irregular but because of the absence of certifications of availability of funds and a prior approval by the President.

The Sandiganbayan observed, however, that these omissions only gave rise to possible administrative or civil liability, given that the grants did not appear to be patently illegal. At best, said that court, such omissions were mere errors in management discretion or bad judgment. That court concluded that, in the absence of prima facie evidence of evident bad faith, manifest partiality or gross inexcusable negligence, no case for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act (R.A.) 3019 exists.

Further, the Sandiganbayan did not agree with the prosecution that the accused may be indicted for technical malversation, using the same informations without violating their right to know what they were accused of. The charges were for the violation of a special law, the Anti–Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, a malum prohibitum, which did not embrace or cover any other offense. Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 did not cover technical malversation or misuse of public funds under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code, a malum in se offense the elements of which were distinct from Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019.

The OSP and OSG filed their respective motions for reconsideration34 that the accused opposed.35 On December 15, 2004 the Sandiganbayan denied the motion, prompting the OSP and the OSG to file separate petitions with this Court in G.R. 166305–06 and 166487–88, respectively. Subsequently, this Court ordered the two petitions consolidated with the earlier petition in G.R. 164068–69.36

The Issues Presented

These cases present the following issues:

1. Whether or not the Sandiganbayan erred in not holding that it was bound by the findings and recommendations of the Ombudsman concerning the existence of probable cause in the two cases;

2. Whether or not the Sandiganbayan erred in dismissing for lack of probable cause the twin criminal informations against accused Rolando P. De La Cuesta, Eduardo M. Cojuangco, Jr., and the others with them for violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 covering the financial assistance that the PCA gave COCOFED in 1984 (P2 million) and 1985 (P6 million);

3. Whether or not the Sandiganbayan erred in failing to hold that the accused may be held for trial, using the same criminal informations, for the crime of technical malversation under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code; and

4. Whether or not the Sandiganbayan erred in declining to dismiss the criminal actions against the accused on the ground of denial of their right to speedy trial.chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

The Court’s Rulings

To simplify discussion, the Court will refer to the OSP and the OSG collectively as the prosecution.

1. The prosecution points out that the Sandiganbayan erred in dismissing the subject cases for lack of probable cause, given that the Ombudsman, who has the primary authority on the matter, found probable cause that warrants the filing of the informations against the accused.

But while it is true that the prosecution has the quasi–judicial discretion to determine whether or not a criminal case should be filed in court, once the case is filed, any disposition the prosecutor may afterwards deem proper should be addressed to the court for its consideration and approval.37 It is the court’s bounden duty to assess independently the merits of the same.38 The only qualification is that the action of the court must not impair the substantial right of the accused or the right of the People to due process of law.39 This has not happened in the cases below.

2. There is probable cause when the evidence at hand will persuade a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that the accused committed the offense of which he is charged. Only common sense, not the technical rules for weighing evidence, is required. But, although less than the evidence that would justify conviction is needed, probable cause demands more than bare suspicion.40

The corrupt practice committed by a public officer under Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 consists in his “causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official, administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.”

It will be recalled that, following a reinvestigation of the subject cases, the OSP reversed its previous position and informed the Sandiganbayan that no probable cause existed against the accused. But the OSG, as general counsel for the government, disagreed. It claimed that the documents before the OMB showed otherwise. To settle the issue, the Sandiganbayan let the OSG catalogue the documents mentioned and show how these could prove probable cause that the accused violated Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019.

Two of those documents, the PCA Administrator’s separate memoranda to the Board of Governors in 1984 and 1985 that recommended the financial grants to COCOFED, do not on their faces show some semblance of corruption. The January 17, 1984 Memorandum which recommended the P2 million grant to COCOFED informed the Board that the grant was meant to help COCOFED stave off an anticipated scaling down of its 992 chapters nationwide which were essential channels for the dissemination of information on the advances in coconut technology and other programs of the coconut industry. COCOFED, a non–profit organization, had a vast national membership of coconut farmers and it had consistently helped the PCA implement its programs for their industry. COCOFED was PCA’s indispensable link to farmers.41

Similarly, the December 16, 1985 Memorandum recommending the P6 million grant to COCOFED adequately explained that it was made to augment the resources of COCOFED due to the lifting of government funding to ensure the effective implementation of the national coconut replanting program which was carried out with its active assistance and participation.42

Notably, the prosecution does not dare diminish or malign COCOFED’s above role. Nor does it deny that the PCA has been working in partnership with COCOFED towards the attainment of the policy established by law for the industry. Consequently, it cannot be said that, in granting financial assistance to COCOFED, the accused PCA Governing Board members gave it “unwarranted benefits x x x through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.” The grant was not for any dishonest purpose.

COCOFED’s role in the coconut industry began with the enactment of R.A. 626043 in 1971. The law created a Coconut Investment Fund, initially capitalized by the government, but eventually supported by a levy on the farmers’ sale of their copra. Further, it directed the PCA to prescribe rules for the collection of the levy in consultation with “the recognized national association of coconut producers with the largest number of membership as determined by”44 the PCA.

COCOFED quickly qualified to that position on account of its large membership and no one had disputed its credentials. Notably, recognizing the organization’s importance, R.A. 6260 set aside P0.02 out of every P0.55 levied on farmers “for the maintenance and operation of its principal office which shall be responsible for continuing liaison with the different sectors of the industries, the government and its own mass base.”45 Relating to this, the financial grants that the PCA Board gave appear to serve a public purpose.

Furthermore, Presidential Decree (P.D.) 1972,46 and Executive Order (E.O.) 106447 required the PCA to undertake a coconut replanting program “with the active assistance and participation of the recognized organization of the coconut farmers pursuant to the provisions of R.A. 6260.”48 This meant COCOFED.49 Without this organization, the PCA would forfeit its important link to the coconut farmers that it primarily served, hampering the attainment of its objectives.50 Although the Coconut Investment Fund was scrapped in 1982, the PCA continued to work with COCOFED in its programs for coconut farmers; hence, the recommendation to grant the organization financial assistance so it could maintain its useful function.

Actually, the Sandiganbayan noted that, in charging the accused with violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3018, the prosecution completely relied on the COA disallowance of the disbursements upon post audit. But the post audits disallowed the twin financial assistance to COCOFED, not because government funds were used for something unrelated to the objectives of the PCA but because: a) the P2 million was not included in its budget for Fund 50351 and b) the P6 million was not included in the NCPP budget and had not been approved by the President.52

The prosecution points out that the P2 million grant was supposed to be taken from Fund 503 or the PCA Special Funds; yet, nothing in the laws that mandated the collection of fees for the PCA Special Funds authorized the PCA to grant assistance out of the same in COCOFED’s favor.53 But this is not altogether accurate. Sections 1 and 2 of P.D. 1854 grant the PCA Governing Board the authority to draw up its own budgetary requirements out of the earmarked collections. Thus:

Section 1. The PCA fee imposed and collected pursuant to the provisions of R.A. No. 1145 and Sec. 3(k), Article II of P.D. 1468, is hereby increased to three centavos per kilo of copra or husked nuts or their equivalent in other coconut products delivered to and/or purchased by copra exporters, oil millers, desiccators and other end–users of coconut products. The fee shall be collected under such rules that PCA may promulgate, and shall be paid by said copra exporters, oil millers, desiccators, and other end–users of coconut products, receipt of which shall be remitted to the National Treasury on a quarterly basis.

Section 2. The receipt and process of all collections pursuant to Section 1 hereof, shall be utilized exclusively for the operations of the Philippine Coconut Authority and shall be released automatically by the National Treasury upon approval by the PCA Governing Board of its budgetary requirements, as an exception to P.D. 1234 and the budgetary processes provided in P.D. 1177, as amended.

The above vested in the PCA Governing Board the authority to allocate and disburse PCA funds by board resolution without the need for presidential approval. The above of course provides that the PCA Special Funds are to be used “exclusively” for its operations. But this restriction was evidently intended to prevent the use of the money for other than the implementation of PCA plans and programs for the coconut industry. It bars the hands of other government agencies from dipping into those funds. As pointed out above, the initial P2 million grant to COCOFED was actually in furtherance of PCA’s operations, its partnership with that organization being an integral part of such operations.

The prosecution also claimed that the National Coconut Productivity Fund budget from which it was sourced did not include the grant of P6 million to COCOFED and, therefore, the PCA Board’s approval of the same on December 16, 1985 without the President’s approval was illegal.

But President Marcos indirectly authorized such expenditure. On January 14, 1985 he issued a Memorandum addressed to Prime Minister Cesar E.A. Virata, Budget and Management Minister Manuel S. Alba, and PCA Chairman Rolando P. De La Cuesta ordering the release of P118.7 million from the coconut productivity program and authorizing the PCA to implement the government’s long–term productivity program and its major components. Thus, the President said:

Further to my Memorandum dated September 19, 1984 directing the adoption and implementation of a long–term Coconut Productivity Program and providing for the utilization of a portion of the export tax on coconut products to finance the same, please be guided as follows:

1.  The special budget of the Coconut Productivity Program of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) for 1985 in the total amount of P118.7 million is hereby approved as a priority developmental project under the Special Activities Fund.

2.  To cover the herein–approved special budget, the Office of the Budget and Management is hereby directed to set aside the amount as may be necessary from out of the Special Productivity Fund to augment the funds earlier made available from out of the export tax on coconut products to finance the program.

3.  In order to hasten the implementation of the program, the amount of P60 million shall be immediately released to PCA not later than January 31, 1985, and the balance of P58.7 million not later than June 30, 1985 any provision of Letter of Instructions No. 1408 to the contrary notwithstanding.

4.  The PCA is hereby directed to start the full–scale implementation of the program effective on January 1, 1985 with priority given to coconut–producing areas recently affected by the recent typhoons and calamities. For this purpose and in order to ensure the success of the program, the PCA is authorized to purchase equipment/motor vehicles, to create positions and to hire new, and effect necessary movement of, personnel, and to undertake such other activities that may be required in the implementation of the program and its major components, as an exception to Letter of Implementation No. 146.54

Clearly, the President had approved the use of money out of the Special Activities Funds to finance and implement the PCA coconut productivity program. Further to this, on November 13, 1985 President Marcos issued E.O. 1064, Section 1 of which directed the PCA to immediately implement the government’s accelerated coconut hybrid planting and replanting program specifically “with the active assistance and participation of the recognized organization of coconut farmers pursuant to the provisions of R.A. 6260,” which was no other than COCOFED. Section 1 provides:

Section 1. The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is hereby directed to immediately formulate and implement an accelerated coconut hybrid planting and replanting program (the Program) aimed at increasing farm productivity. The annual program (January–December) shall be prepared by the PCA Board in consultation with the private sector and reviewed by the Cabinet and shall be effective upon approval of the President and 30 days after publication of the same in newspapers of general circulation. The Program shall include the rehabilitation of existing coconut trees as well as intercropping of areas planted to coconut with suitable crops and the replanting shall, together with the project(s) as hereinafter defined involve approximately 30,000 hectares per annum. PCA shall implement the Program with the active assistance and participation of the recognized organization of coconut farmers pursuant to the provisions of RA 6260 and shall service the requirements of small coconut farmers owning not more than twenty–four (24) hectares who volunteer to participate in the Program. Initially, the devastated areas in Visayas and Mindanao shall be given priority. (Emphasis supplied)

But, as stated above, COCOFED was in danger of disintegrating with the unwitting removal of the financial subsidy it was getting from the former Coconut Investment Fund. Consequently, in order to successfully carry out the President’s order under E.O. 1064 dated November 13, 1985 to pursue the government’s planting and replanting program,55 it was essential that PCA grant financial assistance to COCOFED.

3. Apparently conscious that its charge of violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 against the accused had not been strong, the prosecution claims that the latter may alternatively be prosecuted and tried under the same informations for two counts of technical malversation under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code.

The rule of course is that the real nature of the criminal charge is determined not by the caption of the information or the citation of the law allegedly violated but by the actual recital of facts in that information.56 Consequently, the issue is whether the facts alleged in the informations in the subject criminal cases make out a case for the crime of technical malversation.

Compare the facts alleged in the information and the elements of the crime of technical malversation:

 
Factual Allegations
In the Information
The Crime of
Technical Malversation
The accused as members of the PCA Board of Directors, acting in conspiracy with each other and with evident bad faith and manifest partiality, gave financial assistance to COCOFED, a private entity, without an appropriate budget, giving unwarranted benefit to the same and causing undue injury to the Government.
The crime is committed by a public officer who administers public fund or property that has been appropriated by law but he applies the same to a public use other than that for which such fund or property has been appropriated.57

The element in the crime of technical malversation that public fund be appropriated for a public use requires an earmarking of the fund or property for a specific project.58 For instance there is no earmarking if money was part of the municipality’s “general fund,” intended by internal arrangement for use in paving a particular road but applied instead to the payrolls of different barangay workers in the municipality. That portion of the general fund was not considered appropriated since it had not been earmarked by law or ordinance for a specific expenditure. Here, there is no allegation in the informations that the P2 million and P6 million grants to COCOFED had been earmarked for some specific expenditures.

What is more, the informations in question do not allege that the subject P2 million and P6 million were applied to a public use other than that for which such sums had been appropriated. Quite the contrary, those informations allege that those sums were unlawfully donated to “a private entity,” not applied to some public use. Clearly, the constitutional right of the accused to be informed of the crimes with which they are charged would be violated if they are tried for technical malversation under criminal informations for violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 filed against them.

4. With the Court’s affirmation of the Sandiganbayan’s Resolution dismissing the criminal informations against the accused De La Cuesta and Cojuangco, there is no point in resolving the question of whether or not they are entitled to dismissal on ground of denial of their right to speedy trial.

WHEREFORE, the Court DENIES the petitions in G.R. 166305–06, People v. Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., et al., and G.R. 166487–88, Republic v. Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., et al., for lack of merit and AFFIRMS the Resolutions of the Sandiganbayan dated July 23, 2004 and December 15, 2004 in Criminal Cases 22017 and 22018.

The Court further DENIES the petition in G.R. 164068–69, Rolando P. De La Cuesta v. Sandiganbayan, on ground of mootness.ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

SO ORDERED.

Velasco, Jr., Bersamin, Del Castillo, Villarama, Jr., Perez, Reyes, Perlas–Bernabe, and Leonen, JJ., concur.
Sereno, C.J., join the separate concurring opinion of J. Brion in G.R. 166306–06and 166487–88
Carpio, J., no part, prior inhibition in related cases.
Leonardo–De Castro, J., no part due to prior participation in the Sandiganbayan.
Brion, J., see separate concurring opinion.
Peralta, J., no part, penned the decision in the Sandiganbayan.
Mendoza, J., I agree with the separate concurring opinion of J. Brion.



Endnotes:


** Also referred to as Herminigildo and Hermenigildo in some parts of the records.

1 Under Board Resolution 009–84, rollo (G.R. 166305–06), pp. 245–247.

2 Under Board Resolution 128–85, id. at 254 and 1291; Cojuangco, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan, 360 Phil. 559, 568 (1998).

3 Administrative Order 7 and Sec. 27 of Republic Act 6770 or The Ombudsman Act of 1989.

4Rollo (G.R. 164068–69), pp. 100–107, 466, 691, 775; Cojuangco, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan, supra note 2, at 570.

5 Id. at 112–113.

6 Id. at 149–151.

7 Id. at 152–161.

8Rollo (G.R. 166305–06), pp. 150–158; 787–790.

9Rollo (G.R. 166487–88), pp. 21, 209–214.

10Rollo (G.R. 166305–06), pp. 792–793.

11 Id. at 168–171; 373–417.

12 Id. at 794–796.

13Rollo (G.R. 164068–69), pp. 175–176.

14Rollo (G.R. 166305–06), pp. 214–217. The first is dated January 17, 1984 and the second dated December 16, 1985.

15 Id. at 221, 246–247, 249, 254.

16 Id. at 218–220.

17 Id. at 263–265. Disbursement Vouchers (DV) No. 503–8403–546 (dated 20 March 1984) and DV Nos. 8601–003 (dated 9 January 1986); and 8601–0016 (dated 21 January 1986).

18 Id. at 266. PNB Check 574587 dated March 20, 1984 and Official Receipts 10499 dated March 29, 1984.

19 Id. at 267. PNB Check 671405 dated January 9, 1986 and COCOFED Official Receipt 11587 dated January 9, 1986.

20 Id. at 269. PNB Check 671729 dated January 21, 1986 and PCA Official Receipt 11603 dated January 22, 1986.

21 Id. at 271.

22 Id. at 273.

23 Id. at 274.

24Rollo (G.R. 166487–88), pp. 223–225.

25Rollo (G.R. 166305–06), pp. 797–811.

26Rollo (G.R. 166487–88), p. 112.

27Rollo (G.R. 164068–69), pp. 214–226.

28Rollo (G.R. 166305–06), pp. 838–883.

29 Id. at 1218.

30 Id. at 487.

31 Id. at 485–486.

32Rollo (G.R. 164068–69), pp. 3–36.

33Rollo (G.R. 166305–06), pp. 78–103. Penned by Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta (now a member of this Court) and concurred in by Associate Justices Teresita J. Leonardo–De Castro (now a member of this Court) and Roland B. Jurado.

34 Id. at 489–531; 532–576.

35 Id. at 577–599; 604–637.

36 Rollo (G.R. 164068–69), pp. 391 and 446.

37Leviste v. Alameda, G.R. No. 182677, August 3, 2010, 626 SCRA 575, 598–599, citing Galvez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 114046, October 24, 1994, 237 SCRA 685, 698–699.

38Cerezo v. People, G.R. No. 185230, June 1, 2011, 650 SCRA 222, 229.

39Leviste v. Alameda, supra note 37, at 599.

40 Sarigumba v. Sandiganbayan, 491 Phil. 704, 720 (2005).

41Rollo (G.R. 166305–06), pp. 214–215.

42 Id. at 216–217.

43 Entitled An Act Instituting a Coconut Investment Fund and Creating A Coconut Investment Company for the Administration Thereof.

44 Republic Act 6260, Sec. 8.

45 Id., Sec. 9.

46 April 8, 1985, An Act to Finance the Coconut Replanting Program.

47 November 13, 1985, Implementing the Coconut Productivity Program.

48 P.D. 1972, Sec. 1; E.O. 1064, Sec. 1.

49 Philippine Coconut Producers Federation, Inc. (COCOFED) v. Presidential Commission on Good Government, 258–A Phil. 1 (1989).

50 Rollo (G.R. 166305–06), pp. 214–215.

51 Id. at 272.

52 Id. at 273–274.

53 Id. at 1237–1239.

54 Id. at 1231–1232.

55 E.O. 1064, Sec. 1.

56Socrates v. Sandiganbayan, 324 Phil. 151, 173 (1996).

57Abdulla v. People, 495 Phil. 70, 83 (2005).

58Parungao v. Sandiganbayan, 274 Phil. 451, 462 (1991); Gil v. People, 258 Phil. 23, 41 (1989).






SEPARATE CONCURRING OPINION


BRION, J.:

The Case

I concur with the ponencia’s conclusion and submit this opinion to put into proper perspective: (1) the Court’s appreciation of the existence of probable cause against accused Rolando P. de la Cuesta and Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. (collectively, the accused) for alleged violations of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. (RA) 3019, the Anti–Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; and (2) the alleged violation of the accused’s rights to a speedy disposition of the case and to a speedy trial.

A.   The Factual Highlights

On February 9, 1995, the Office of the Ombudsman filed two separate informations against the accused, former members of the Governing Board of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), for violating Section 3(e) of RA 3019.1 The informations alleged that the accused authorized the PCA to unlawfully donate the amounts of P2,000,000.00 in 1984 and P6,000,000.00 in 1985, from its Special Funds, to the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (COCOFED).

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) took the position that the donation to COCOFED, a private entity, is contrary to law. It pointed out that the P2,000,000.00 donation was not included in the PCA’s Budget Fund 503 for the year 1984. The P6,000,000.00 donation was not part of  the PCA’s National Coconut Productivity Program fund, and was not approved by the President as required by Section 2 of Presidential Decree No. (PD) 1997.

Upon motion, the Sandiganbayan allowed the accused to seek reconsideration of the informations filed. The Ombudsman thereafter recommended the dismissal of the cases for lack of probable cause.  The prosecution accordingly filed a motion to withdraw the informations.

At the hearing of the motion to withdraw, the OSG told the Sandiganbayan that the documents needed to show probable cause had already been submitted to the Ombudsman during the preliminary investigation, but the OSG failed to adequately explain these documents. Thus, the Sandiganbayan gave the OSG time to submit its documentary evidence to the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP).

On March 17, 1997, the OSP informed the Sandiganbayan that it found no probable cause against the accused. On October 31, 2001, the Sandiganbayan, however, ruled that probable cause existed to warrant the prosecution of the accused. In response, the accused moved for reconsideration, raising in their motion, among others, the violation of their right to speedy trial.

The Office of the Ombudsman reversed its finding and found probable cause against the accused. The Sandiganbayan, however, in its own consideration of the matter, granted the accused’s motions for reconsideration in an order dated July 23, 2004. The OSP and the OSG (collectively, the prosecution) filed their respective motions for reconsideration which the Sandiganbayan denied.

B.   The Current Court’s Rulings 

In the present petition before this Court, the ponencia found that there was no probable cause to warrant the prosecution of the accused. The ponencia held that the accused authorized the donations in good faith and the PCA administrator’s memoranda recommending financial assistance to COCOFED did not, on their faces, indicate corruption. In fact, the donations were meant to help COCOFED stave off an anticipated scaling down of its chapters nationwide.

The ponencia also declared that the donations served a public purpose and were made in accordance with the following laws: Section 8 of RA 6260;2 Section 1 of  PD 1972;3 Section 1 of Executive Order No. 1064;4 and Sections 1 and 2 of PD 1854.5 On the P6,000,000.00 donation, the ponencia asserted that President Marcos indirectly authorized this expenditure in EO 1064 and in a memorandum dated January 14, 1985.

The ponencia also ruled that there was no point in resolving the claimed violation of the accused’s right to a speedy trial since the Court already affirmed the Sandiganbayan’s resolution dismissing the criminal case against the accused.

Discussion of the Case

With all due respect, I disagree with the ponencia’s finding that there is no probable cause that the accused committed violations of Section 3(e) of RA 3019. I posit that all the elements of Section 3(e) of RA 3019 appear in the informations and have been sufficiently established by the OSG’s documentary evidence.

I also posit that the determination of whether the accused’s rights to the speedy disposition of the case and to a speedy trial had been violated is a core issue that should have been disposed by this Court in finally determining the outcome of this case. The gross violations of the accused’s rights to a speedy disposition of the case and to a speedy trial lead me to concur with the ponencia’s results and to ultimately deny the present petitions.

A.   Existence of Probable Cause

None of the ponencia’s cited laws, executive
order and memorandum expressly or impliedly
authorize the PCA to make a donation to
COCOFED

I essentially disagree with the ponencia’s no probable cause finding as none of its cited laws, executive order, and memorandum expressly or impliedly authorize the PCA to make a donation to COCOFED. I discuss these laws, executive order, and memorandum separately below:

First, the ponencia interpreted Section 2 of PD 1854, in relation with Section 1 of the same law, as a prohibition only against the use by other government agencies of the PCA’s special funds. The relevant provisions state:

Section 1. The PCA fee imposed and collected pursuant to the provisions of R.A. No. 1145 and Sec. 3(k), Article II of P.D. 1468, is hereby increased to three centavos per kilo of copra or husked nuts or their equivalent in other coconut products delivered to and/or purchased by copra exporters, oil millers, desiccators and other end–users of coconut products. The fee shall be collected under such rules that PCA may promulgate, and shall be paid by said copra exporters, oil millers, desiccators, and other end–users of coconut products, receipt of which shall be remitted to the National Treasury on a quarterly basis.

Section 2. The receipt and process of all collections pursuant to Section 1 hereof, shall be utilized exclusively for the operations of the Philippine Coconut Authority and shall be released automatically by the National Treasury upon approval by the PCA Governing Board of its budgetary requirements, as an exception to P.D. 1234 and the budgetary processes provided in P.D. 1177, as amended. [emphasis and underscores ours]

The ponencia’s position that Section 2 of PD 1854 does not prohibit private entities from using the special funds of the PCA finds no support in RA 1145,6 and Section 3(k), Article 2 of PD 1468.7 The relevant provisions of RA 1145 state:

CHAPTER VI
Capitalization and Special Funds of the PHILCOA

Section 13. Capitalization. – To raise the necessary funds to carry out the provisions of this Act and the purposes of the PHILCOA, there shall be levied a fee of ten centavos for every one hundred kilos of dessicated coconut, to be paid by the desiccating factory, coconut oil to be paid by the oil mills, and copra to be paid by the exporters, dealers or producers as the case may be. This service fee shall be collected by the PHILCOA under such rules and regulations that it shall promulgate: Provided, however, That pending the collection of service fee, the PHILCOA is hereby authorized to borrow from any banking institution the sum of fifty thousand pesos to be used in the organization and maintenance of this office.

Section 14. Special Fund. – The proceeds of the foregoing levy shall be set aside to constitute a special fund to be known as the “Coconut Development Fund,” which shall be available exclusively for the use of the PHILCOA. All the income and receipts derived from the special fund herein created shall accrue to, and form part of, the said fund to be available solely for the use of the PHILCOA. [emphases and underscores ours]

On the other hand, Section 3(k), Article 2 of PD 1468 provides:

(k) To impose and collect, under such rules that it may promulgate, a fee of ten centavos for every one hundred kilos of desiccated coconut, to be paid by the desiccating factory, coconut oil to be paid by the oil mills and copra to be paid by the exporters, which shall be used exclusively to defray its operating expenses[.] [emphases and underscores ours]

A basic principle of interpretation is that words must be given their literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation where the words of a statute are clear, plain and free from ambiguity.8cralawlawlibrary

As quoted above, Section 2 of PD 1854, Section 14 of RA 1145 and Section 3(k), Article 2 of PD 1468 are all unequivocal in stating that the PCA’s service fees shall be exclusively utilized for its operations. In fact, Section 14 of RA 1145 clearly states that all income and receipts from the special funds shall be available solely for the use of the Philippine Coconut Administration (and subsequently, the PCA). The word “exclusive” in Section 2 of PD 1854 has a definite and unambiguous meaning. Black’s Law Dictionary defines the term as “[a]ppertaining to the subject alone, not including, admitting, or pertaining to any others. Sole. Shutting out; debarring from interference or participation; vested in one person alone.”9

It is a settled rule that where the law does not distinguish, we should not distinguish.10 Notably, the above provisions do not distinguish between government agencies and private entities. On the contrary, they categorically prohibit the utilization of the PCA’s funds for other than its operations.

Second, Section 8 of RA 6260 provides:

Section 8. The Coconut Investment Fund. There shall be levied on the coconut farmer a sum equivalent to fifty–five centavos (P0.55) on the first domestic sale of every one hundred kilograms of copra, or its equivalent in terms of other coconut products, for which he shall be issued a receipt which shall be converted into shares of stock of the Company upon its incorporation as a private entity in accordance with Section seven hereof. For every fifty–five centavos (P0.55) so collected, fifty centavos (P0.50) shall be set aside to constitute a special fund, to be known as the Coconut Investment Fund, which shall be used exclusively to pay the subscription by the Philippine Government for and in behalf of the coconut farmers to the capital stock of said Company: Provided, That this levy shall be imposed until the one hundred million pesos authorized capital stock is fully paid, but collection of said levy shall not continue longer than ten years from the start thereof: Provided, further, That the Philippine Coconut Administration (PHILCOA) shall, in consultation with the recognized national association of coconut producers with the largest number of membership as determined by the Philippine Coconut Administration, prescribe and promulgate the necessary rules, regulations and procedures for the collection of such levy and issuance of the corresponding receipts: Provided, still further, That the receipts and/or certificates shall be non–transferable except to coconut farmers only and to the company: Provided, furthermore, That operational expenses of the Company shall be limited to and charged against the earnings and/or profits of the Fund: Provided, finally, That one–tenth of such earnings of the fund for each year shall be used to finance technical and economic research studies, promotional programs, scholarships grants and industrial manpower development programs for the coconut industry. [italics supplied, emphases ours]

A plain reading of this provision shows that the legislature merely directs the PCA to prescribe rules for the collection of levy in consultation with the recognized national association of coconut producers. It also merely enumerates how one–tenth of the fund’s earnings shall be utilized, namely: to finance technical and economic research studies, promotional programs, scholarship grants and industrial manpower development programs for the coconut industry. The provision does not even hint that the donation of the PCA’s special funds to a private entity is allowed.

A close study of the relevant laws also reveals that Section 8 of RA 6260 has no relevance in determining whether the PCA has the power to donate its own special funds to COCOFED.  In fact, the PCA’s special funds are different from the Coconut Investment Fund.

The PCA’s special funds are sourced from the service fees originally collected by the defunct Philippine Coconut Administration for its exclusive use. RA 1145 constituted this fund from the levy of P0.10 for every 100 kilograms of desiccated coconut, coconut oil and copra on desiccating factories, oil mills, and exporters, dealers or producers of copra, respectively.11 PD 232, Creating a Philippine Coconut Authority, subsequently created the PCA and abolished the Philippine Coconut Administration. This decree transferred the Philippine Coconut Administration’s powers and functions, including the collection of service fees, to the PCA.12

RA 6260 established the Coconut Investment Fund on June 19, 1971. The coconut farmers capitalized this fund through the Coconut Investment Company for purposes of maximizing the coconut production, accelerating the growth of the coconut industry, expanding the coconut marketing system, and ensuring stable incomes for coconut farmers.13 Section 8 of RA 6260 provides that the Coconut Investment Company shall administer the Coconut Investment Fund that came from the P0.55 levy on the coconut farmer’s first domestic sale of every 100 kilograms of copra, or its equivalent. The collected levies were converted into shares of stock in the Coconut Investment Company.

Thus, the PCA’s special funds funded its operational budget, while the coconut farmers raised the capital for the Coconut Investment Fund through the Coconut Investment Company. Under Section 9 of RA 6260, the Philippine Coconut Administration (and subsequently, the PCA) was merely designated as the collection agent of the Coconut Investment Fund; the Coconut Investment Fund is not part of the operational budget of the PCA. These relationships belie the ponencia’s position, citing Section 8 of RA 6260, that the donations were warranted because they served a public purpose.

Third, Section 1 of PD 1972 states:

Section 1. The basic export duty imposed by Section 514 of Presidential Decree No. 1464, and the additional export duty imposed by Executive Order No. 920–A, on coconut products, as identified and at the rates prescribed by Executive Order No. 920–A, which is hereby incorporated made part hereof any reference, are hereby made permanently constituted as the initial source of financing for the Philippine Coconut Authority ("PCA” ), with the active assistance and participation of the recognized organization of the coconut farmers pursuant to the provisions of Act No. 6260. [emphases ours]

This provision only relates to the PCA’s source of financing. It has no relevance whatsoever to the authority of the PCA to make donations to COCOFED. The statement that the PCA operates with the active assistance and participation of COCOFED does not give the PCA the blanket authority to make a donation to COCOFED.

Fourth, Section 1 of EO 1064 declares:

Section 1. The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is hereby directed to immediately formulate and implement an accelerated coconut hybrid planting and replanting program (the Program) aimed at increasing farm productivity. The annual program (January–December) shall be prepared by the PCA Board in consultation with the private sector and reviewed by the Cabinet and shall be effective upon approval of the President and 30 days after publication of the same in newspapers of general circulation. The Program shall include the rehabilitation of existing coconut trees as well as intercropping of areas planted to coconut with suitable crops and the replanting shall, together with the project(s) as hereinafter defined involve approximately 30,000 hectares per annum. PCA shall implement the Program with the active assistance and participation of the recognized organization of coconut farmers pursuant to the provisions of RA 6260 and shall service the requirements of small coconut farmers owning not more than twenty–four (24) hectares who volunteer to participate in the Program. Initially, devastated areas in Visayas and Mindanao shall be given priority. [emphases ours]

This provision only directs the PCA to formulate and implement the accelerated coconut planting and replanting programs. Again, nowhere in this provision is it stated or implied that the PCA may donate to COCOFED pursuant to the government’s coconut planting and replanting program.

Lastly, a memorandum dated January 14, 1985 states:

Further to my Memorandum dated September 19, 1984 directing the adoption and implementation of a long–term Coconut Productivity Program and providing for the utilization of a portion of the export tax on coconut products to finance the same, please be guided as follows:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
  1. The special budget of the Coconut Productivity Program of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) for 1985 in the total amount of P118.7 million is hereby approved as a priority development project under the Special Activities Fund.
  2. To cover the herein–approved special budget, the Office of the Budget and Management is hereby directed to set aside the amount  as may be necessary from out of the Special Productivity Fund to augment the funds earlier made available from out of the export tax on coconut products to finance the program.
  3. In order to hasten the implementation of the program, the amount of P60 million shall be immediately released to PCA not later than January 31, 1985, and the balance of P58.7 million not later than June 30, 1985 any provision of Letter of Instructions No. 1408 to the contrary notwithstanding.
  4. The PCA is hereby directed to start the full–scale implementation of the program effective on January 1, 1985 with priority given to coconut–producing areas recently affected by the recent typhoons and calamities. For this purpose and in order to ensure the success of the program, the PCA is authorized to purchase equipment/motor vehicles, to create positions and to hire new, and effect necessary movement of, personnel, and to undertake such other activities that may be required in the implementation of the program and its major components, as an exception to Letter of Implementation No. 146.14 [emphases ours]

This memorandum authorizes the PCA to purchase equipment, to create positions, to hire new, and effect necessary movement of, personnel, and to undertake such activities that may be required in the implementation of the program and its major components. These terms do not give rise to the implication, as the ponencia recognized, that the President approved the PCA’s donation.

Under the principle of ejusdem generis, where a general word or phrase follows an enumeration of particular and specific words of the same class, the general word or phrase is to be construed to include things akin to, resembling, or of the same kind or class as, those specifically mentioned.15 Evidently, the power to donate is neither akin, nor related, to the enumerated powers of the PCA in the memorandum.

The OSG’s documentary evidence
is sufficient to engender a well–founded
belief that an offense under Section 3(e)
of RA 3019 has been committed and that
the accused are probably guilty thereof


The records show that the accused authorized, without legal authority, the disbursement of public funds in favor of COCOFED in Board Resolutions 009–84 and 128–85. They also allowed the release, without legal authority, of the PCA’s funds as evidenced by the disbursement vouchers, the PNB checks and the official receipts. These pieces of evidence, read in light of the law, already show probable cause that an offense under Section 3(e) of RA 3019 has been consummated. For this Court to require further evidence is to render public corporate directors and officers virtually immune from criminal liability under Section 3(e) of RA 3019.  Specifically, the ponencia’s ruling would allow corporate directors and officers to evade possible criminal prosecution by simply stating in their board resolutions, memoranda, and the like the alleged novel and public purpose of the conversion or transfer of public funds.

I emphasize at this point that the issue at hand is only probable cause and not the guilt of the accused. Probable cause is defined as the existence of such facts and circumstances sufficient to excite the belief, in a reasonable mind, acting on the facts within the knowledge of the prosecutor, that the person charged was guilty of the crime for which he was to be prosecuted. It is merely a reasonable ground of belief that a matter is, or may be, well founded, or a state of facts in the mind of the prosecutor that would lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to believe, or entertain an honest or strong suspicion, that a thing is so.16

A finding of probable cause need not be based on clear and convincing evidence of guilt, nor on evidence establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and definitely not on evidence establishing absolute certainty of guilt.  Probable cause does not import absolute certainty but is merely based on opinion and reasonable belief. It does not require an inquiry into whether there is sufficient evidence to secure a conviction. It is enough to reasonably believe, based on the appreciated facts, that the act or omission complained of constitutes the offense charged.17

While the ponencia is dissatisfied with the OSG’s documentary evidence, I take the contrary view that the accused’s evident bad faith or manifest partiality can be discerned from their acts of authorizing and allowing, without legal authority, the disbursement of the PCA’s funds in favor of COCOFED. Let it be remembered that ignorance of the law excuses no one from complying therewith.18 Also, the transfer of funds without legal authority already constitutes undue injury on the part of the government and unwarranted benefit on the part of the recipient private entity. To rule that the accused can evade criminal prosecution on the flimsy ground that the donation served a public purpose would create a very dangerous precedent and open loopholes in our criminal justice system.

B.   The Right to a Speedy Disposition of the Case 

The violation of the accused’s right
to a speedy disposition of the case
warrants the dismissal of the criminal
cases against them


The right to a speedy disposition of the case is guaranteed by Section 16, Article III of the Constitution which provides that “[a]ll persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi–judicial, or administrative bodies.” This constitutional guarantee is intended to stem the tide of disenchantment among the people in the administration of justice by judicial and quasi–judicial tribunals.19

The constitutional right to a speedy disposition of the case is not limited to the accused in criminal proceedings, but extends to all parties in all cases, including civil and administrative cases, and in all proceedings, including judicial and quasi–judicial hearings. Thus, any party to a case may demand the expeditious action by all officials who are tasked with the administration of justice.20

This right is deemed violated when the proceedings are attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays, but the concept of “speedy disposition” is relative and flexible. A mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved is not sufficient. Thus, a balancing test is used to determine whether a party has been denied his right and the conduct of both parties is weighed and the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case are taken into account. These circumstances include: (1) the length of delay; (2) the reasons for the delay; (3) the assertion or failure to assert such right by the accused; and (4) the prejudice caused by the delay.21

The factual circumstances of this case lead me to conclude that the dismissal of the criminal cases against the accused is warranted for gross violation of their right to a speedy disposition of the case. I point out that the accused have not yet been arraigned despite the lapse of eighteen (18) years from the filing of the informations against them. The delays in the proceedings of the case can largely be attributed to the prosecution and the Sandiganbayan: (1) the Ombudsman’s vacillating positions on whether there is probable cause to hold the accused for trial; (2) the OSG’s initial failure to adequately explain the documentary evidence submitted during the preliminary investigation; (3) the Sandiganbayan’s four–year delay in promulgating a ruling on the existence of probable cause; and (4) the Sandiganbayan’s three–year delay in resolving the accused’s motions for reconsideration.

These inordinate delays grossly violated the accused’s rights as the People of the Philippines had been given more than ample opportunity to prosecute the accused, yet it took a painful eighteen (18) years for the issue of  probable  cause  to  be  resolved  with  finality.  Again, I point out that the accused have not yet been arraigned after more than a decade of protracted proceedings before the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan. After eighteen (18) long years, the case is still at the initial phase of the proceedings – the filing of the information. Meanwhile, the accused are made to suffer the anxiety of unduly delayed proceedings and the expense of court litigation.

C.   The Right to a Speedy Trial

The violation of the accused’s right
to a speedy trial also warrants the
dismissal of the criminal cases
against them


Gross violation of the accused’s right to a speedy trial also serves as a reason for the dismissal of the criminal cases. The accused’s right to a speedy, impartial and public trial is a right enshrined under Section 14(2), Article III of the Constitution. RA 8493, the Speedy Trial Act of 1998, further elaborates on the right to a speedy trial by providing time frames: (1) between the filing of the information and the arraignment of the accused; (2) between arraignment and trial; and (3) the trial period. Before the indictment, there is no trial to speak of in the legal sense.22

Similar to the right to a speedy disposition of the case, the defendant may ask for the dismissal of the criminal case on the ground that his right to a speedy trial has been violated.  A violation of the right to a speedy trial transpires when the proceedings are attended by vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays.  As in the right to a speedy disposition of the case, the concept of speedy trial cannot be based on mere mathematical reckoning of time.

However, the right to a speedy trial only applies to criminal proceedings, unlike the right to a speedy disposition of the case which applies to all proceedings. The right to a speedy trial may also only be invoked during the trial stage, from the filing of information until the termination of trial. On the other hand, the right to a speedy disposition of the case may be invoked during the trial stage, as well as when the case has already been submitted for decision.23

Section 7 of RA 8493 states that the arraignment of an accused shall be held within thirty (30) days from the filing of the information, or from the date the accused appeared before the justice, judge or court in which the charge is pending, whichever date last occurs. The accused shall have at least fifteen (15) days to prepare for trial after pleading not guilty at the arraignment. Trial shall commence within thirty (30) days from arraignment as fixed by the court.24 Under Section 10 of RA 8493, certain delays are excluded from the computation of time within which trial must commence.25cralawred

The case is required to be set for continuous trial on a weekly or other short–term  trial  calendar  at  the earliest possible time. The entire trial period shall not exceed one hundred eighty (180) days from the first day of trial, except as otherwise authorized by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.26

Under  Section  13  of  RA 8493, the information shall be dismissed on motion of the accused if he is not brought to trial within the time limits required by Section 7,27 as extended by Section 9 of RA 8493.28 The accused should  ask  for  the  continuation of the case if he desires to exercise his right to a speedy trial during trial. Thereafter, the court shall proceed with the trial if the prosecution unjustly asks for the postponement of the hearing. The court shall dismiss the case, upon motion of the accused, if the prosecution fails to prove the case against the accused or is ill–prepared during trial.29

The dismissal of the criminal case for violation of the accused’s right to a speedy trial is equivalent to an acquittal. Double jeopardy will apply even if the dismissal is made with the express consent of the accused, or upon his own motion.30

As earlier discussed, the extraordinary delays of the proceedings in this case are unjustified. These undue delays, too, are not covered by the exclusions under Section 10 of RA 8493. To reiterate, under Section 7 of RA 8493, the arraignment of the accused shall be held within thirty (30) days from the filing of the information, or from the date the accused appeared before the justice, judge or court in which the charge is pending, whichever date last occurs. In the present case, it took eighteen (18) years for the issue of probable cause to be resolved with finality in seesaw developments that transpired after the filing of the informations. While certainty of the probable cause is the requisite for the validity of the informations filed, the extreme circumstances of the case demand that no less than the right to a speedy trial be recognized; to do any less is to allow this right to be negated by the People and by the very same adjudication arms of government against whom the guarantee of the right is addressed.

For all these reasons, I vote to deny the petitions.


Endnotes:


1   Section 3(e) of RA 3019 provides:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
(e) Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. This provision shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.
2   The Coconut Investment Act.

3   An Act to Finance the Coconut Replanting Program.

4   Implementing the Coconut Productivity Program.

5   Authorizing an Adjustment of the Funding Support of the PCA and Instituting a Procedure for the Management of Such Fund.

6   An Act Creating the Philippine Coconut Administration, Prescribing its Powers, Functions and Duties, and Providing for the Raising of the Necessary Funds for its Operation.

7   The Revised Coconut Industry Code.

8   Globe–Mackay Cable and Radio Corporation v. NLRC, G.R. No. 82511, March 3, 1992, 206 SCRA 701, 711.

9   Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Ed., p. 506.

10United BF Homeowners’ Associations, Inc. v. The Barangay Chairman, 532 Phil. 660, 669 (2006), citing Philippine Free Press v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 132864, October 24, 2005, 473 SCRA 639.

11 RA 1145, Section 13.

12 Section 6 of PD 232 provides:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
The Coconut Coordinating Council (CCC), the Philippine Coconut Administration (PHILCOA) and the Philippine Coconut Research Institute (PHILCORIN) are hereby abolished and their powers and functions transferred to the Philippine Coconut Authority, together with all their respective appropriations, funding from all sources, equipment and other assets, and such personnel as are necessary[.]
13 RA 6260, Section 4.

14Ponencia, pp. 10–11.

15Liwag v. Happy Glen Loop Homeowners Association, Inc., G.R. No. 189755, July 4, 2012, 675 SCRA 744, 754, citing Miranda v. Abaya, 370 Phil. 642 (1999).

16Pilapil v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 101978, April 7, 1993, 221 SCRA 349, 360.

17 Ibid.

18 CIVIL CODE, Article 3.

19Roquero v. Chancellor of UP–Manila, G.R. No. 181851, March 9, 2010, 614 SCRA 723, 733–734.

20 Id. at 732.

21 Id. at 732–733; and dela Peña v. Sandiganbayan, 412 Phil.  921, 929 (2001).

22Bermisa v. Court of Appeals, 180 Phil. 571, 576 (1979).

23Licaros v. Sandiganbayan, 421 Phil. 1075, 1089–1090 (2001).

24 RA 8493, Section 7.

25 Section 10 of Republic Act No. 8493 provides:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
Exclusions. – The following periods of delay shall be excluded in computing the time within which trial must commence:

(a) Any period of delay resulting from other proceedings concerning the accused, including but not limited to the following:

(1) delay resulting from an examination of the accused, and hearing on his/her mental competency, or physical incapacity;

(2) delay resulting from trials with respect to charges against the accused;

(3) delay resulting from interlocutory appeals;

(4) delay resulting from hearings on pre–trial motions: Provided, That the delay does not exceed thirty (30) days[;]

(5) delay resulting from orders of inhibition, or proceedings relating to change of venue of cases or transfer from other courts;

(6) delay resulting from a finding of the existence of a valid prejudicial question; and

(7) delay reasonably attributable to any period, not to exceed thirty (30) days, during which any proceeding concerning the accused is actually under advisement.

(b) Any period of delay resulting from the absence or unavailability of the accused or an essential witness.

For purposes of this subparagraph, an accused or an essential witness shall be considered absent when his/her whereabouts are unknown and, in addition, he/she is attempting to avoid apprehension or prosecution or his/her whereabouts cannot be determined by due diligence. An accused or an essential witness shall be considered unavailable whenever his/her whereabouts are known but his/her presence for trial cannot be obtained by due diligence or he/she resists appearing at or being returned for trial.

(c) Any period of delay resulting from the fact that the accused is mentally incompetent or physically unable to stand trial.

(d) If the information is dismissed upon motion of the prosecution and thereafter a charge is filed against the accused for the same offense, or any offense required to be joined with that offense, any period of delay from the date the charge was dismissed to the date the time limitation would commence to run as to the subsequent charge had there been no previous charge.

(e) A reasonable period of delay when the accused is joined for trial with a co–accused over whom the court has not acquired jurisdiction, or as to whom the time for trial has not run and no motion for severance has been granted.

(f) Any period of delay resulting from a continuance granted by any justice or judge motu [proprio] or on motion of the accused or his/her counsel or at the request of the public prosecutor, if the justice or judge granted such continuance on the basis of his/her findings that the ends of justice served by taking such action outweigh the best interest of the public and the defendant in a speedy trial. No such period of delay resulting from a continuance granted by the court in accordance with this subparagraph shall be excludable under this section unless the court sets forth, in the record of the case, either orally or in writing, its reasons for finding that the ends of justice served by the granting of such continuance outweigh the best interests of the public and the accused in a speedy trial. [italics ours]

26 RA 8493, Section 6; and RULES OF COURT, Rule 119, Section 2.

27 Section 7 of RA 8493 provides:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
Time Limit Between Filing of Information and Arraignment and Between Arraignment and Trial. – The arraignment of an accused shall be held within thirty (30) days from the filing of the information, or from the date the accused has appeared before the justice, judge or court in which the charge is pending, whichever date last occurs. Thereafter, where a plea of not guilty is entered, the accused shall have at least fifteen (15) days to prepare for trial. Trial shall commence within thirty (30) days from arraignment as fixed by the court.

If the accused pleads not guilty to the crime charged, he/she shall state whether he/she interposes a negative or affirmative defense. A negative defense shall require the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, while an affirmative defense may modify the order of trial and require the accused to prove such defense by clear and convincing evidence.
28 Section 9 of RA 8493 provides:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
Extended Time Limit. – Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 7 of this Act, for the first twelve–calendar–month period following its effectivity, the time limit with respect to the period from arraignment to trial imposed by Section 7 of this Act shall be one hundred eighty (180) days. For the second twelve–month period the time limit shall be one hundred twenty (120) days, and for the third twelve–month period the time limit with respect to the period from arraignment to trial shall be eighty (80) days.
29 Salcedo v. Judge Mendoza, 177 Phil. 749, 754, citing Gandicela v. Lutero, 88 Phil. 299, 307 (1951).

30Almario v. Court of Appeals, 407 Phil. 279, 286 (2001).
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