Saturday, September 8, 2012

PP V. ESPINOSA (2003)

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. Nos. 153714-20, August 15, 2003 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PETITIONER, VS. MARIO K. ESPINOSA, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N


PANGANIBAN, J.:

A waiver of the constitutional right against double jeopardy must be clear, categorical, knowing and intelligent. Corollary to this rule, the alleged conditions attached to an arraignment must be unmistakable, express, informed and enlightened. Otherwise, the plea should be deemed to be simple and unconditional.

The Case

Before us is a Petition for Certiorari[1] under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, seeking to nullify the April 10, 2002 Resolution[2] of the Sandiganbayan (SBN) in Criminal Case Nos. 26422-26428. The anti-graft court dismissed the criminal cases against Respondent Mario K. Espinosa on the ground of double jeopardy as follows:
"That being the case, the Court is constrained to concur with the accused that jeopardy has set in and that he is now at peril of punishment twice for the same offense in violation of the protection afforded by Sec. 21, Art. III of the Constitution.

"WHEREFORE, these cases are DISMISSED as against accused Mario K. Espinosa alone."[3]
The Antecedents

On February 4, 1998, separate cases of estafa and attempted corruption of public officers were filed before the SBN by the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) against (1) Respondent Espinosa, then provincial administrator of Masbate; (2) Emma Vasquez; and (3) Romeo Sanano. The cases were docketed as Criminal Case Nos. 24438 and 24439.

Prior to his arraignment, Espinosa filed a Motion for Reinvestigation of the cases. The SBN Fourth Division granted the Motion in an Order[4] dated March 23, 1988, and directed the Office of the Special Prosecutor to evaluate the evidence against the accused.

While the cases were being reevaluated, Espinosa filed with the SBN a Motion for Leave to Travel Abroad for the period May 2-13, 1999.

On the date set for the hearing of the Motion, the SBN (Fourth Division) issued an Order resetting the hearing to April 22, 1999. It required private respondent to be "conditionally arraigned on that date"[5] before it would act on his Motion to Travel.

As ordered, private respondent was arraigned, and thereafter granted his Motion to Travel. The Order of Arraignment dated April 22, 2000, stated that "upon being duly arraigned, [he] entered a plea of `Not Guilty' to both Informations in Crim. Case Nos. 24438 and 24439."[6] The Court also ordered the deferment of the pretrial of the cases, pending the reinvestigation then being conducted by the Ombudsman.

On December 28, 2000, the OMB -- through the Office of the Special Prosecutor -- moved to withdraw ex parte the two cases against private respondent. The SBN granted the Motion in a Resolution dated January 9, 2001.

Thereafter, the OMB filed in the same court seven Informations for Malversation of Public Funds against Espinosa and several others. These Informations were docketed as Criminal Case Nos. 24622 to 24628 and raffled to the SBN First Division.

On January 22, 2001, Espinosa filed a Motion to Quash the Informations. He argued that double jeopardy had already attached, because (1) he had been arraigned in the previous estafa cases; and (2) the Motion to Withdraw the two earlier ones had been granted without his express consent.

Petitioner countered that the arraignment for the two previous cases was "conditional," because it was made solely for the purpose of accommodating private respondent's request to travel abroad while the matters were pending reinvestigation.

Ruling of the Sandiganbayan

In its assailed Resolution, the SBN First Division ruled that jeopardy had attached in the first instance when Criminal Case Nos. 24438-24439 were dismissed upon the prosecution's "ex parte motion to withdraw the information." It noted that the dismissal had been sought and obtained without respondent's knowledge, much less express consent.

It likewise held private respondent's actual arraignment to be straightforward and unqualified. The records did not disclose any circumstance showing that the accused knew that his arraignment was subject to certain conditions.

Hence this recourse.[7]

Issue

Petitioner submits the following issue for the Court's consideration:

"Whether or not [the SBN] acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or x x x excess of jurisdiction in dismissing Criminal Cases Nos. 34622 to 24628 as against Respondent Espinosa."[8]

The Court's Ruling

The Petition is unmeritorious.

Preliminary Issue:
Procedural Lapses

Before tackling the main issue raised by petitioner, the Court will point out some procedural lapses.

First, prior to submitting the instant Petition to this Court, petitioner should have filed a motion for reconsideration before the SBN. The extraordinary remedy of certiorari will lie only if there is "no appeal or any other plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law."[9]

Here, the plain, speedy and adequate remedy expressly provided by law[10] is a motion for reconsideration to be filed within fifteen (15) days from promulgation or notice of the final order or judgment.[11] The purpose of the motion[12] is "x x x to afford public respondent an opportunity to correct any actual or fancied error attributed to it by way of a re-examination of the legal and factual aspects of the case."

Explaining further, the Court said:
"x x x. Petitioner's inaction or negligence under the circumstances is tantamount to a deprivation of the right and opportunity of the respondent commission to cleanse itself of an error unwittingly committed or to vindicate itself of an act unfairly imputed. An improvident resort to certiorari cannot be used as a tool to circumvent the right of public respondent to review and purge its decision of an oversight, if any. x x x."[13] (Italics supplied)
Second, the proper remedy is appeal under Rule 45, not certiorari under Rule 65. Section 7 of Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended by Republic Act No. 8249, provides that "[d]ecisions and final orders of the Sandiganbayan shall be appealable to the Supreme Court by [a] petition for review on certiorari raising pure questions of law in accordance with Rule 45 of the Rules of Court." Section 1, Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, likewise provides that a judgment or final order or resolution of the Sandiganbayan may be appealed to the Supreme Court via a verified petition for review on certiorari.

Clearly then, the remedy of appeal was available to petitioner. For unexplained reasons, it chose not to pursue this recourse. Neither has it cited grounds to exempt the Petition from the stringent rule forbidding a substitution of remedies. Verily, its cavalier disregard of procedural requirements, especially its erroneous choice of remedy, is indeed enough reason to throw out this Petition summarily.

Main Issue:
Attachment of Legal Jeopardy

Even if we are to gloss over these procedural infirmities, the Petition should nonetheless be dismissed for its lack of substantive merit.

Petitioner argues that the dismissal of the later Informations against private respondent on the ground of double jeopardy had no factual or legal basis,[14] because his arraignment in the earlier cases was only "conditional."

We are unconvinced.

Previous cases[15] have mentioned the SBN's practice of "conditionally" arraigning the accused pending the Ombudsman's reinvestigation of the case.[16] This practice is not mentioned or provided for in the regular rules of procedure.

Section 9 of PD 1606, as amended by RA 7975,[17] provides:
"Sec. 9. Rules of Procedure. - The Rules of Court promulgated by the Supreme Court shall apply to all cases and proceedings filed with the Sandiganbayan. The Sandiganbayan shall have no power to promulgate its own rules of procedure, except to adopt internal rules governing the allotment of cases among the divisions, the rotation of justices among them, and other matters relating to the internal operations of the court which shall be enforced until repealed or modified by the Supreme Court.
The Revised Internal Rules of the Sandiganbayan,[18] promulgated by this Court, do not mention any "conditional arraignment." Neither do the regular Rules of Court.

Arraignment is an indispensable requirement of due process. It consists of the judge's or the clerk of court's reading of the criminal complaint or information to the defendant. At this stage, the accused is granted, for the first time, the opportunity to be officially informed of the nature and the cause of the accusation.[19] Thus, arraignment cannot be regarded lightly or brushed aside peremptorily.

Espinosa pleaded simply and unconditionally on April 22, 1999. No unusual ceremony punctuated his arraignment. The SBN itself found this simple process inconsistent with its studied manner of "conditionally" arraigning the accused pending reinvestigation in other cases. We quote from its assailed Resolution as follows:
"Since it is the accused who wishes to travel even while his case is pending review, and in order that the Court might not lose jurisdiction over him while he is abroad, the accused and counsel are advised as part of the arraignment process, that the arraignment is `conditional', i.e., that arraignment is without prejudice to the results of the reinvestigation or review; that if the prosecution should recommend the filing of new charges, in lieu of the present charge, which would necessarily include or be included in the present accusation, the accused would now be understood as having waived his right against double jeopardy; and that if the prosecution sought to withdraw the information, the arraignment would be deemed to have been of no effect. If the accused accepts these conditions for arraignment, then he is arraigned and allowed to travel. In other words, in this instance, the accused is clearly aware of what is going on; at the time of his arraignment, there is an explicit waiver against the protection against double jeopardy as a condition for his travel."[20] (Italics supplied)
Under Section 11(c) of Rule 116 of the Rules of Court, the arraignment shall be suspended for a period not exceeding 60 days when a reinvestigation or review is being conducted at either the Department of Justice or the Office of the President. However, we should stress that the court does not lose control of the proceedings by reason of such review. Once it had assumed jurisdiction, it is not handcuffed by any resolution of the reviewing prosecuting authority.[21] Neither is it deprived of its jurisdiction by such resolution.[22] The principles established in Crespo v. Mogul[23] still stands, as follows:
Whether the accused had been arraigned or not and whether it was due to a reinvestigation by the fiscal or a review by the Secretary of Justice whereby a motion to dismiss was submitted to the Court, the Court in the exercise of its discretion may grant the motion or deny it and require that the trial on the merits proceed for the proper determination of the case.

x x x x x x x x x

The rule therefore in this jurisdiction is that once a complaint or information is filed in Court any disposition of the case as to its dismissal or the conviction or acquittal of the accused rests in the sound discretion of the Court. Although the fiscal retains the direction and control of the prosecution of criminal cases even while the case is already in Court he cannot impose his opinion on the trial court. The Court is the best and sole judge on what to do with the case before it. The determination of the case is within its exclusive jurisdiction and competence. A motion to dismiss the case filed by the fiscal should be addressed to the Court which has the option to grant or deny the same. It does not matter if this is done before or after the arraignment of the accused or that the motion was filed after a reinvestigation or upon instructions of the Secretary of Justice who reviewed the records of the investigation. [24] (Italics supplied)
In any event, petitioner insists that private respondent has waived his right to invoke double jeopardy in the light of his allegedly "conditional" arraignment.

Again, the Court is not persuaded.

The right against double jeopardy is enshrined in Section 21 of Article III of the Constitution, which reads:
"No person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense. If an act is punished by a law and an ordinance conviction or acquittal under either shall constitute a bar to another prosecution for the same act."
This constitutionally mandated right is procedurally buttressed by Section 17 of Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.[25] To substantiate a claim for double jeopardy, the following must be demonstrated:
"x x x (1) [A] first jeopardy must have attached prior to the second; (2) the first jeopardy must have been validly terminated; (3) the second jeopardy must be for the same offense, or the second offense includes or is necessarily included in the offense charged in the first information, or is an attempt to commit the same or is a frustration thereof.

"And legal jeopardy attaches only: (a) upon a valid indictment; (b) before a competent court; (c) after arraignment; (d) [when] a valid plea [has] been entered; and (e) the case was dismissed or otherwise terminated without the express consent of the accused."[26]
It has been the unwavering position of this Court that substantial rights cannot be trifled with or cast aside on the basis of mere suppositions and conjectures. The relinquishment of a constitutional right has to be laid out convincingly. Such waiver must be clear, categorical, knowing and intelligent.[27]

As can be gleaned from the Memorandum of petitioner, the alleged waiver falls short of the above requirement:
"Unfortunately, the records reveal that a lawyer for respondent Espinosa was present when the April 19,1999 Order of the Fourth Division was issued in open court. Thus, said lawyer must have heard that the hearing of the motion to travel was reset to April 22, 1999 so that the movant could be conditionally arraigned."[28]

x x x x x x x x x

"x x x. As stressed in the petition, the arraignment was conditional for if it was not so, respondent Espinosa would have been deemed to have abandoned his recourse for the reevaluation of his cases before the Office of the Ombudsman."[29] (Italics supplied)
As correctly pointed out in the challenged Resolution, the dismissal of the estafa and the corruption cases was made upon petitioner's ex parte Motion for the withdrawal of the Informations. Petitioner does not dispute the fact that private respondent was not notified of this Motion. Neither was a hearing held thereon.

On the other hand, private respondent has amply shown that he learned of the Motion only after the cases had been dismissed. It is clear that the dismissal, having been secured by petitioner without the express consent of the accused, does not amount to a waiver of the right against double jeopardy. But it does unequivocally show the fourth requisite for the proper invocation of such right.

In a nutshell, the alleged conditions attached to an arraignment must be unmistakable, express, informed and enlightened. They must be expressly stated in the Order disposing of the arraignment. Otherwise, the plea should be deemed to be simple and unconditional.

WHEREFORE, the Petition is DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 10-22.

[2] Penned by former Presiding Justice Francis E. Garchitorena and concurred in by Justices Catalino R. CastaƱeda Jr. and Gregory S. Ong.

[3] Resolution, p. 11; rollo, p. 37.

[4] Rollo, p. 39.

[5] Id., p. 41.

[6] Id., p. 42.

[7] This case was deemed submitted for decision on April 3, 2003, upon the Court's receipt of respondent's Memorandum signed by Attys. Joel Ruiz Butuyan and Roger R. Rayel of Roque Butuyan Law Offices. Petitioner's Memorandum, received on March 26, 2003, was signed by Special Prosecutor Dennis M. Villa-Ignacio, Deputy Special Prosecutor Robert E. Kallos, Atty. Rodrigo V. Coquia and Atty. Manuel T. Soriano Jr.

[8] Petitioner's Memorandum, p. 11; rollo, p. 101. Original in upper case.

[9] §1, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.

[10] Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended by RA 8249.

[11] Id., §7.

[12] Purefoods Corporation v. NLRC, 171 SCRA 415, March 21, 1989.

[13] Id., p. 425, per Regalado, J. Italics supplied.

[14] Petitioner's Memorandum, p. 7; rollo, p. 97.

[15] Cojuangco Jr. v. Sandiganbayan, 360 Phil. 559, December 21, 1998; Layus v. Sandiganbayan, 320 SCRA 233, December 8, 1999.

[16] Under Republic Act No. 6770 or the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman has primary jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan.

[17] RA 7975 is entitled "An Act to Strengthen the Functional and Structural Organization of the Sandiganbayan, Amending for that Purpose Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended."

[18] AM No. 02-6-07-SB, August 28, 2002.

[19] §14(2), Article III of the Constitution.

[20] Sandiganbayan Resolution, p. 10; rollo, p. 37.

[21] Ledesma v. Court of Appeals, 344 Phil. 207, September 5, 1997.

[22] Torralba v. Sandiganbayan, 230 SCRA 33, February 10, 1994.

[23] 151 SCRA 462, June 30, 1981, per Gancayco, J.

[24] Id., pp. 470-471.

[25] Rule 117 of Section 7 reads:

"Sec. 7. Former conviction or acquittal; double jeopardy. - When an accused has been convicted or acquitted, or the case against him dismissed or otherwise terminated without his express consent by a court of competent jurisdiction, upon a valid complaint or information or other formal charge sufficient in form and substance to sustain a conviction and after the accused had pleaded to the charge, the conviction or acquittal of the accused or the dismissal of the case shall be a bar to another prosecution for the offense charged, or for any attempt to commit the same or frustration thereof, or for any offense which necessarily includes or is necessarily included in the offense charged in the former complaint or information."

x x x x x x x x x

[26] Cuison v. Court of Appeals, 351 Phil. 1089, 1105, April 15, 1998, per Panganiban, J.; citing Guerrero v. Court of Appeals, 257 SCRA 703, 712, June 28, 1996, per Panganiban, J. Citations omitted.

[27] People v. Nicandro, 141 SCRA 289, February 11, 1986, citing People v. Caguioa, 95 SCRA 2, January 17, 1980; Chavez v. CA, 133 Phil. 661, August 19, 1968; Abriol v. Homeres, 84 Phil. 525, August 31, 1949.

[28] Petitioner's Memorandum, p. 19; rollo, p. 109.

[29] Id., pp. 15 105.




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