Full text of the Decision (Bersamin, J.)
Concurring and dissenting: Perlas-Bernabe, J.
Petitioners in this case are former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Budget and Accounts Officer Benigno Aguas.
The Ombudsman charged in the Sandiganbayan with plunder as defined by, and penalized under Section 2 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 7080, as amended by R.A. No. 7659 the following: (1) GMA, (2) Aguas, (3) former PCSO General Manager and Vice Chairman Rosario C. Uriarte, (4) former PCSO Chairman of the Board of Directors Sergio O. Valencia, (5) former members of the PCSO Board of Directors, and (6) two former officials of the Commission on Audit (COA).
The information read:
…[the] accused…all public officers committing the offense in relation to their respective offices and taking undue advantage of their respective official positions, authority, relationships, connections or influence, conniving, conspiring and confederating with one another, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and criminally amass, accumulate and/or acquire. Directly or indirectly, ill-gotten wealth in the aggregate amount or total value of THREE HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE MILLION NINE HUNDRED NINETY SEVEN THOUSAND NINE HUNDRED FIFTEEN PESOS (PHP365,997,915.00), more or less, through any or a combination or a series of overt or criminal acts, or similar schemes or means, described as follows:
(a) diverting in several instances, funds from the operating budget of PCSO to its Confidential/Intelligence Fund that could be accessed and withdrawn at any time with minimal restrictions, · and converting, misusing, and/or illegally conveying or transferring the proceeds drawn from said fund in the aforementioned sum, also in several instances, to themselves, in the guise of fictitious expenditures, for their personal gain and benefit;
(b) raiding the public treasury by withdrawing and receiving, in several instances, the above-mentioned amount from the Confidential/Intelligence Fund from PCSO’s accounts, and or unlawfully transferring or conveying the same into their possession and control through irregularly issued disbursement vouchers and fictitious expenditures; and
(c) taking advantage of their respective official positions, authority, relationships, connections or influence, in several instances, to unjustly enrich themselves in the aforementioned sum, at the expense of, and the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines.
CONTRARY TO LAW
The Sandiganbayan eventually acquired jurisidiction over most of the accused, including petitioners. All filed petitions for bail, which the Sandiganbayan granted except those of the petitioners. Their motions for reconsideration were denied. GMA assailed the denial of her petition for bail before the Supreme Court. However, this remains unresolved.
After the Prosecution rested its case, the accused separately filed their demurrers to evidence asserting that the Prosecution did not establish a case for plunder against them.
The Sandiganbayan granted the demurrers and dismissed the case against the accused within its jurisdiction, except for petitioners and Valencia. It held that there was sufficient evidence showing that they had conspired to commit plunder.
Petitioners filed this case before the Supreme Court on certiorari before the Supreme Court to assail the denial of their demurrers to evidence, on the ground of grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.
1.) Procedural Issue: WON the special civil action for certiorari is proper to assail the denial of the demurrers to evidence – YES.
PROSECUTION: The petition for certiorari of GMA was improper to challenge the denial of her demurrer to evidence.
HELD: Certiorari is proper since the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion in denying GMA’s demurrer to evidence.
General rule: The special civil action for certiorari is generally not proper to assail such an interlocutory order issued by the trial court because of the availability of another remedy in the ordinary course of law. Moreover, Section 23, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court expressly provides, “the order denying the motion for leave of court to file demurrer to evidence or the demurrer itself shall not be reviewable by appeal or by certiorari before judgment.”
Exception: “In the exercise of our superintending control over other courts, we are to be guided by all the circumstances of each particular case ‘as the ends of justice may require.’ So it is that the writ will be granted where necessary to prevent a substantial wrong or to do substantial” (citing Ong v. People [G.R. No. 140904, October 9, 2000]).
2.) Substantive Issue: WoN the Prosecution sufficiently established the existence of conspiracy among GMA, Aguas, and Uriarte – NO.
A. As regards petitioner GMA
HELD: The Supreme Court rejected the Sandiganbayan’s declaration in denying GMA’s demurrer that GMA, Aguas, and Uriate had conspired and committed plunder. The Prosecution did not sufficiently allege the existence of a conspiracy among GMA, Aguas and Uriarte.
A perusal of the information (quoted above) suggests that what the Prosecution sought to show was an implied conspiracy to commit plunder among all of the accused on the basis of their collective actions prior to, during and after the implied agreement. It is notable that the Prosecution did not allege that the conspiracy among all of the accused was by express agreement, or was a wheel conspiracy or a chain conspiracy. This was another fatal flaw of the Prosecution.
Section 2 of Republic Act No. 7080 (Plunder Law) requires in the criminal charge for plunder against several individuals that there must be a main plunderer and her co-conspirators, who may be members of her family, relatives by affinity or consanguinity, business associates, subordinates or other persons. In other words, the allegation of the wheel conspiracy or express conspiracy in the information was appropriate because the main plunderer would then be identified in either manner. Citing Estrada v. Sandiganbayan, “The gravamen of the conspiracy charge…is that each of them, by their individual acts, agreed to participate, directly or indirectly, in the amassing, accumulation and acquisition of ill-gotten wealth of and/or for former President Estrada.”
Such identification of the main plunderer was not only necessary because the law required such identification, but also because it was essential in safeguarding the rights of all of the accused to be properly informed of the charges they were being made answerable for.
In fine, the Prosecution’s failure to properly allege the main plunderer should be fatal to the cause against the petitioners for violating the rights of each accused to be informed of the charges against each of them.
PROSECUTION: GMA, Uriarte and Aguas committed acts showing the existence of an implied conspiracy among themselves, thereby making all of them the main plunderers. The sole overt act of GMA to become a part of the conspiracy was her approval via the marginal note of “OK” of all the requests made by Uriarte for the use of additional intelligence fund. By approving Uriaiie’s requests in that manner, GMA violated the following:
a. Letter of Instruction 1282, which required requests for additional confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) to be accompanied with detailed, specific project proposals and specifications; and
b. COA Circular No. 92-385, which allowed the President to approve the release of additional CIFs only if there was an existing budget to cover the request.
HELD: GMA’s approval of Uriarte’s requests for additional CIFs did not make her part of any design to raid the public treasury as the means to amass, accumulate and acquire illgotten wealth. Absent the specific allegation in the information to that effect, and competent proof thereon, GMA’s approval of Uriarte’s requests, even if unqualified, could not make her part of any criminal conspiracy to commit plunder or any other crime considering that her approval was not by any means irregular or illegal.
a. An examination of Uriarte’s several requests indicates their compliance with LOI No. 1282. The requests, similarly worded, furnished:
(1) the full details of the specific purposes for which the funds would be spent;
(2) the explanations of the circumstances giving rise to the necessity of the expenditure; and
(3) the particular aims to be accomplished.
The additional CIFs requested were to be used to protect PCSO’s image and the integrity of its operations. According to its terms, LOI No. 1282 did not detail any qualification as to how specific the requests should be made.
b. The funds of the PCSO were comingled into one account as early as 2007. Consequently, although only 15% of PCSO’s revenues was appropriated to an operation fund from which the CIF could be sourced, the remaining 85% of PCSO’s revenues, already co-mingled with the operating fund, could still sustain the additional requests. In short, there was available budget from which to draw the additional requests for CIFs.
PROSECUTION: GMA had known that Uriarte would raid the public treasury, and would misuse the amounts disbursed. This knowledge was imputed to GMA by virtue of her power of control over PCSO.
HELD: The Prosecution seems to be relying on the doctrine of command responsibility to impute the actions of subordinate officers to GMA as the superior officer. The reliance is misplaced, for incriminating GMA under those terms was legally unacceptable and incomprehensible.
The application of the doctrine of command responsibility is limited, and cannot be true for all litigations. This case involves neither a probe of GMA’s actions as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, nor of a human rights issue (compare to Rodriguez v. Macapagal-Arroyo [G.R. No. 191805, November 15, 2011]).
B. As regards Aguas
HELD: Aguas’ certifications and signatures on the disbursement vouchers were insufficient bases to conclude that he was into any conspiracy to commit plunder or any other crime. Without GMA’s participation, he could not release any money because there was then no budget available for the additional CIFs. Whatever irregularities he might have committed did not amount to plunder, or to any implied conspiracy to commit plunder.
3.) Substantive Issue: WoN the Prosecution sufficiently established all the elements of the crime of plunder – NO.
A. WoN there was evidence of amassing, accumulating or acquiring ill-gotten wealth in the total amount of not less than P50 million – NO.
HELD: The Prosecution adduced no evidence showing that either GMA or Aguas or even Uriarte, for that matter, had amassed, accumulated or acquired illgotten wealth of any amount. There was also no evidence, testimonial or otherwise, presented by the Prosecution showing even the remotest possibility that the CIFs of the PCSO had been diverted to either GMA or Aguas, or Uriarte.
B. WoN the predicate act of raiding the public treasury alleged in the information was proved by the Prosecution – NO.
SANDIGANBAYAN: In order to prove the predicate act of raids of the public treasury, the Prosecution need not establish that the public officer had benefited from such act; and that what was necessary was proving that the public officer had raided the public coffers.
HELD: The common thread that binds all the four terms in Section 1(d) of Republic Act No. 7080 together (misappropriation, conversion, misuse or malversation of public funds) is that the public officer used the property taken. Pursuant to the maxim of noscitur a sociis, raids on the public treasury requires the raider to use the property taken impliedly for his personal benefit.