THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. No. 140633. February 4, 2002]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, petitioner, vs. THE SANDIGANBAYAN (Fourth Division) and GERONIMO Z. VELASCO, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, J.:

Assailed in the instant petition for certiorari[1] is the Resolution dated October 11, 1999 of public respondent Sandiganbayan (Fourth Division) in Criminal Case No. 13006 (People of the Philippines v. Geronimo Z. Velasco) granting the Demurrer to Evidence filed by the accused and dismissing the said criminal case for insufficiency of evidence.

The Information filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) against Geronimo Velasco, then Minister of Energy, for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 (The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), as amended, reads:

That on or about and during the period from 1977 to 1986, in Metro Manila, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, being then the Minister of Energy and Chairman of the Board and President of the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC), a government owned and controlled corporation, did then and there deliberately and unlawfully, in evident bad faith and shameless abuse of his administrative official function and power as such Minister of Energy and PNOC President and Chairman of the Board, spend funds and utilize equipment and personnel of PNOC and its subsidiaries at a total cost to PNOC of P3,032,993.00 in the construction and maintenance of his own Telin Beach Resort located at Bagac, Bataan, Philippines, managed by Telin Development Corporation and owned by Gervel, Inc., a corporation wholly owned by said accused, thereby giving himself unwarranted benefits and causing undue injury to PNOC, to the damage and prejudice of the government in the aforesaid amount of P3,032,993.00, Philippine Currency.

CONTRARY TO LAW.[2]

Upon arraignment, Velasco pleaded not guilty.

After the prosecution rested its case, the accused filed, with leave of court, a Demurrer to Evidence[3] on the ground of insufficiency of evidence. However, it was denied by the Sandiganbayan.

Velasco filed a Motion for Reconsideration which was granted by the Sandiganbayan in its Resolution dated October 11, 1999. Consequently, the case was dismissed for insufficiency of evidence.

Hence the present petition.

Petitioner contends that respondent Sandiganbayan committed grave abuse of discretion, amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, when it granted respondent Velascos motion for reconsideration and dismissed Criminal Case No. 13006. According to petitioner, respondent Velasco cannot invoke the rule on double jeopardy since the assailed Resolution is null and void for failure of the Sandiganbayan to state therein a summary of the facts proved by the prosecutions evidence, in violation of Section 14 (1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution,[4] and Section 7 of P. D. No. 1606,[5] as amended, and Section 2, Rule 120 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure.[6]

The petition has no merit.

Under Section 23, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, as amended, the trial court may dismiss the action on the ground of insufficiency of evidence upon a demurrer to evidence filed by the accused with or without leave of court. Thus, in resolving the accuseds demurrer to evidence, the court is merely required to ascertain whether there is competent or sufficient evidence to sustain the indictment or support a verdict of guilt.[7] The grant or denial of a demurrer to evidence is left to the sound discretion of the trial court, and its ruling on the matter shall not be disturbed in the absence of a grave abuse of discretion.[8] Significantly, once the court grants the demurrer, such order amounts to an acquittal; and any further prosecution of the accused would violate the constitutional proscription on double jeopardy.[9] This constitutes an exception to the rule that the dismissal of a criminal case made with the express consent of the accused or upon his own motion bars a plea of double jeopardy.[10]

In People v. Velasco,[11] this Court had the opportunity to stress the finality-of-acquittal rule, thus:

The fundamental philosophy highlighting the finality of an acquittal by the trial court cuts deep into the humanity of the laws and in a jealous watchfulness over the rights of the citizen, when brought in unequal contest with the State x x x. Thus, Green expressed the concern that (t)he underlying idea, one that is deeply ingrained in at least the Anglo-American system of jurisprudence, is that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal and compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent, he may be found guilty.

It is axiomatic that on the basis of humanity, fairness and justice, an acquitted defendant is entitled to the right of repose as a direct consequence of the finality of his acquittal. The philosophy underlying this rule establishing the absolute nature of acquittals is part of the paramount importance criminal justice system attaches to the protection of the innocent against wrongful conviction. The interest in the finality-of-acquittal rule, confined exclusively to verdicts of not guilty, is easy to understand: it is a need for repose, a desire to know the exact extent of ones liability. With this right of repose, the criminal justice system has built in a protection to insure that the innocent, even those whose innocence rests upon a jurys leniency, will not be found guilty in a subsequent proceeding.

Such is the magnitude of the accuseds right against double jeopardy that even an appeal based on an alleged misappreciation of evidence by the trial court will not lie.[12] The only instance when double jeopardy will not attach is when the trial court acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction due to a violation of due process, i.e., that the prosecution was denied the opportunity to present its case, as in Gorion v. Regional Trial Court of Cebu, Br. 17,[13] People v. Bocar,[14] Portugal v. Reantaso,[15] People v. Albano,[16] Saldana v. Court of Appeals,[17] People v. Court of Appeals,[18] or that the trial was a sham, as in Galman v. Sandiganbayan.[19] However, while certiorari may be resorted to cure an abusive acquittal, the petitioner in such extraordinary proceeding must clearly demonstrate that the trial court blatantly abused its authority to a point so grave as to deprive it of its very power to dispense justice.[20]

Here, respondent Velasco filed his demurrer to evidence after the prosecution adduced its evidence and rested its case. Obviously, petitioner was not deprived of its right to due process. Thus, respondent Velascos plea of double jeopardy must be upheld.

Section 14 (1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution provides that (n)o decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based. One of the purposes of the constitutional requirement is to assure the parties that the judge arrived at his decision through the processes of legal and factual reasoning. Thus, it is a shield against the impetuosity of the judge, preventing him from deciding by ipse dixit.[21] Vouchsafed neither the sword nor the purse by the Constitution but nonetheless vested with the sovereign prerogative of passing judgment on the life, liberty or property of his fellowmen, the judge must ultimately depend on the power of reason for sustained public confidence in the justness of his decision.[22]

A careful review of the assailed Resolution shows that respondent Sandiganbayan painstakingly and exhaustively passed upon, considered and evaluated the evidence, both documentary and testimonial, adduced by the prosecution. It likewise cited factual and legal bases for its conclusions, thus:

The Information charges the accused with having by himself committed the offense, without any allegations that he has conspired with others in doing so. Moreover, that the accused committed the offense in evident bad faith is the sole mode or means of commission alleged. Perforce, it was incumbent upon the prosecution to adduce evidence that the accused directly and personally committed the crime charged through evident bad faith.

However, there is a complete vacuum as to any evidence of direct personal participation by the accused in the subject transactions. An element of the offense is that the act of the accused must have been in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions, i.e., that said public officer committed the prohibited acts during the performance of his official duties or in relation to his public position. This is absent here. No evidence has been presented to show that the accused himself, in his capacity as Minister of Energy and/or as Chairman of the Board and President of PNOC, spent government money and used government equipment and personnel for the construction and maintenance of the Telin Beach Resort. No evidence has likewise been presented that the accused, in his capacity as Minister of Energy and/or as Chairman of the Board and President of PNOC, directed, ordered, induced or caused others to do so. What the evidence does show is that the transactions relating to Telin, while they were duly approved by top management, did not require approval by the accused and were not approved by or at the level of the accused and that not one of the hundreds of documents presented was signed or approved by the accused. In short, no nexus exists between the evidence presented and the liability sought to be imputed against the accused.

Of great significance is the manner by which PNOC has characterized the account as advances approved by operating management, which were duly recorded and fully documented as such in the usual manner, and were complete and regular, and which upon audit were found to be regular. These circumstances are wholly inconsistent with, and inherently contrary to, any notion that the transactions were made with evident bad faith or with intent to injure PNOC.

We reject the prosecutions theory that since the accused knew of the work that was done or being done at the Telin Resort, it follows that he had caused the same to be done. In the first place, the evidence is not enough to lead to any conclusion or inference that the accused knew that work was being done at the Telin Resort by the PNOC. Indeed, even assuming that the accused did have knowledge of such work being done, it would be too tenuous to conclude on the sole basis thereof that he had in fact caused such work, much less that he did so with evident bad faith.

x x x

We also are unconvinced of the existence of the element of undue injury in this case. There is no reason to deviate from the very manner by which PNOC itself has chosen to treat the account as advances approved by operating management, duly recorded and fully documented as such, and which passed muster upon audit. The alleged unpaid amount of P3,032,993.00 was not even considered a collectible or receivable, nor was the same billed or such account considered delinquent by PNOC. Given this state of facts, injury suffered by the PNOC, if any, is hardly of an undue nature.

At best, all that the prosecution has presented is circumstantial evidence. However, (i)n order to convict a person accused of a crime on the strength of circumstantial evidence alone, it is incumbent upon the prosecution to present such circumstantial evidence which will and must necessarily lead to the conclusion that the accused is guilty of the crime charged beyond reasonable doubt, excluding all and each every reasonable hypothesis consistent with his innocence. Furthermore, if the inculpatory facts and circumstances are capable of two or more explanations, one of which is consistent with the innocence of the accused of the crime charged and the other consistent with their guilt, then the evidence does not fulfill the test of moral certainty and is not sufficient to support a conviction. We believe that the facts borne out by the evidence are entirely consistent with the proposition advanced by the accused that the transactions are purely commercial in character, so much so that any liability that the accused may have would be merely civil in nature. In this connection, it appears that the prosecution has opted to pursue the issue of any such civil liability in Civil Case No. 0003; hence, we are left with nothing to proceed with in this case.

In fine, applying the standards set by Dramayo, we hold that the evidence of the prosecution has failed to meet the degree of proof required to overcome the presumption of innocence in favor of the accused, and the case should thus be dismissed for insufficiency of evidence.[23] (Emphasis supplied)

Clearly, no trace of impetuosity or wantonness on the part of respondent Sandiganbayan exists which would place this case within the purview of the evil sought to be prevented by the said constitutional proscription. In Yao v. Court of Appeals,[24] this Court, through Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., struck down a decision of a Regional Trial Court for being starkly hollow, otiosely written, vacuous in its content and trite in its form. The challenged Resolution can hardly be characterized as such.

All told, we find no grave abuse on the part of respondent Sandiganbayan warranting the nullification of its October 11, 1999 Resolution.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, (Chairman), Vitug, and Panganiban, JJ., concur.

Carpio, J., abroad on official business.



[1] Under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules of Civil procedure, as amended.

[2] Petition, Rollo, p. 4.

[3] Annex A, Comment, Rollo, pp. 141-171.

[4] No decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.

[5] All decisions and final orders determining the merits of a case or finally disposing of the action or proceedings of the Sandiganbayan shall contain complete findings of the facts and the law on which they are based, on all issues properly raised before it and necessary in deciding the case.

[6] Now Section 1 of the same Rule under the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure, as amended, which states:

Judgment is the adjudication by the court that the accused is guilty or not guilty of the offense charged and the imposition on him of the proper penalty and civil liability, if any. It must be written in the official language, personally and directly prepared by the judge and signed by him and shall contain clearly and distinctly a statement of the facts and the law upon which it is based.

[7] Gutib v. Court of Appeals, 312 SCRA 365 (1999).

[9] Ong v. People, G.R. 140904, October 9, 2000; People v. City Court of Silay, 74 SCRA 247 (1976).

[10] Almario v. Court of Appeals, G.R. 127772, March 22, 2001; People v. Bans, 239 SCRA 48, 55 (1994); People v. Gines, 197 SCRA 481 (1991); People v. Quizada, 160 SCRA 516 (1988).

[11] 340 SCRA 207, 242 (2000).

[12] People v. Velasco, supra; Palu-ay v. Court of Appeals, 293 SCRA 358 (1998).

[13] 213 SCRA 138 (1992).

[14] 138 SCRA 166 (1985).

[15] 167 SCRA 712 (1988).

[16] 163 SCRA 511 (1988).

[17] 190 SCRA 396 (1990).

[18] 101 SCRA 450 (1980).

[19] 144 SCRA 43 (1986).

[20] People v. Court of Appeals, 308 SCRA 687 (1999).

[21] Madrid v. Court of Appeals, G.R. 130683, January 31, 2000; Yao v. Court of Appeals, G.R. 132428, October 24, 2000, citing People v. Bugarin, 273 SCRA 384, 393 (1997).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Sandiganbayan Resolution dated October 11, 1999, pp. 6-11, Rollo, pp. 27-32.

[24] Supra.