SECOND DIVISION

 

 

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, G.R. No. 176819

Petitioner,

Present:

 

CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

VELASCO, JR.,*

- versus - NACHURA,

ABAD, and

MENDOZA, JJ.

ROBERT P. BALAO,

JOSEPHINE C. ANGSICO,

VIRGILIO V. DACALOS,

and SANDIGANBAYAN, Promulgated:

First Division, Respondents. January 26, 2011

x- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

 

D E C I S I O N

 

CARPIO, J.:

 

The Case

 

This is a petition1 for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. The petition challenges the 2 March 2007 Resolution2 of the Sandiganbayan in Criminal Case No. 26583.

 

 

The Facts

 

On 1 May 2001, Ombudsman Prosecutor II Raul V. Cristoria filed with the Sandiganbayan an information3 dated 5 March 2001 against respondents Robert P. Balao (Balao), Josephine C. Angsico (Angsico), Virgilio V. Dacalos (Dacalos), Felicisimo F. Lazarte, Jr. (Lazarte, Jr.), Josephine T. Espinosa, Noel A. Lobrido, and Arceo C. Cruz for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 (RA 3019), as amended. The information stated:

 

The undersigned Ombudsman Prosecutor II of the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas, accuses ROBERT P. BALAO, FELICISIMO F. LAZARTE, JR., VIRGILIO V. DACALOS, JOSEPHINE C. ANGSICO, JOSEPHINE T. ESPINOSA, NOEL A. LOBRIDO AND ARCEO C. CRUZ for VIOLATION OF SECTION 3(e) of REPUBLIC ACT NO. 3019, AS AMENDED (THE ANTI-GRAFT AND CORRUPT PRACTICES ACT), committed as follows:

 

That in or about the month of March, 1992, at Bacolod City, Province of Negros Occidental, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named accused, ROBERT P. BALAO, JOSEPHINE C. ANGSICO, VIRGILIO V. DACALOS, FELICISIMO LAZARTE, JR., JOSEPHINE T. ESPINOSA, and NOEL H. LOBRIDO, Public Officers, being the General Manager, Team Head, Visayas Mgt. Office, Division Manager (Visayas), Manager, RPD, Project Mgt. Officer A and Supervising Engineer, respectively, of the National Housing Authority, Diliman, Quezon City, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office and while in the performance of their official functions, conniving, confederating and mutually helping with each other and with accused ARCEO C. CRUZ, a private individual and General Manager of A.C. Cruz Construction, with address at 7486 Bagtikan Street, Makati City, with deliberate intent, with manifest partiality and evident bad faith, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously cause to be paid to A.C. Construction public funds in the amount of TWO HUNDRED THIRTY TWO THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED TWENTY EIGHT PESOS and THIRTY FIVE CENTAVOS (P232,628.35) PHILIPPINE CURRENCY, supposedly for the excavation and roadfilling works on the Pahanocoy Sites and Services Project in Bacolod City despite the fact that no such works were undertaken by A.C. Construction as revealed by the Special Audit conducted by the Commission on Audit, thus accused public officials in the performance of their official functions had given unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference to accused Arceo C. Cruz and A.C. Construction and themselves, to the damage and prejudice of the government.4

 

In its 22 May 2001 Order,5 the Sandiganbayan found the 5 March 2001 information inadequate. The Sandiganbayan stated that:

 

This morning the Court expressed its anxiety over the inadequacy of the Information in that the participation of each of the accused did not appear clear in the resolution, much less in the Information.

 

In view hereof, Pros. Raymundo Julio A. Olaguer will be given ten (10) days to review the records and to inform this Court as to the course of action he proposes to take in order to enlighten the Court and, if necessary, himself so that a proper Information and a proper prosecution may be had before this Court.6

 

On 4 August 2004, Assistant Special Prosecutor II Julieta Zinnia A. Niduaza (Assistant Special Prosecutor Niduaza) filed with the Sandiganbayan a memorandum7 dated 27 July 2004. In the memorandum, Assistant Special Prosecutor Niduaza recommended that the 5 March 2001 information be maintained.

 

In their 17 September 2004 motion,8 Balao, Lazarte, Jr., Angsico, and Dacalos prayed for a reinvestigation of the case. In its 27 March 2005 Resolution,9 the Sandiganbayan granted the motion. The Sandiganbayan held that:

 

The Court notes that the issue as to the participation of accused-movants in the acts complained of in the Information, as raised by the former First Division, appears not to have been addressed by the prosecution in the Memorandum dated July 27, 2004 of the Office of the Ombudsman, Office of the Special Prosecutor. In the said Memorandum, the prosecution found no reason to disturb the findings of probable cause and recommended that the Information be maintained.

 

x x x x

 

The former Chairman and Members of the First Division expressed anxiety over the inadequacy of the x x x Information in that the participation of each of the accused did not appear clear in the resolution, much less in the Information. Considering that the memorandum of the Ombudsman recommended that the Information filed in Criminal Case No. 26583 be maintained and the prosecution of this case must proceed accordingly, without complying with the directive quoted above to clarify the participation of each of the accused, the Court finds merit in the accused-movants prayer for reinvestigation.10

 

On 1 June 2006, Assistant Special Prosecutor Niduaza filed with the Sandiganbayan a memorandum11 dated 30 May 2006. In the memorandum, Assistant Special Prosecutor Niduaza recommended that the 5 March 2001 information be maintained.

 

In his motion12 dated 2 October 2006, Lazarte, Jr. prayed that the information be quashed. In their 4 October 2006 motion,13 Balao, Angsico, and Dacalos prayed that their motion to quash the information be admitted. In another motion,14 also dated 4 October 2006, Balao, Angsico, and Dacalos prayed that the information be quashed.

 

The Sandiganbayans Ruling

 

In its 2 March 2007 Resolution, the Sandiganbayan denied Lazartes 2 October 2006 motion and granted Balao, Angsico, and Dacalos 4 October 2006 motions. The Sandiganbayan held that:

 

The Court finds that the above Information and subsequent memoranda submitted by the prosecution in support of the said information, with respect to the accused-movants Balao, Angsico and Dacalos, fail to satisfy the requirements of Section 6, Rule 110. The Information and the supporting memoranda, still fail to state the acts or omissions of accused-movants Balao, Angsico and Dacalos with sufficient particularity so as to enable them to make a carefully considered plea to the charges against them.

 

It may be recalled that a reinvestigation of the case was ordered by this Court because the prosecution failed to satisfactorily comply with an earlier directive of the former Chairperson and Members of the first Division, after noting the inadequacy of the information, to clarify the participation of each of the accused. In ordering the reinvestigation, this Court noted the the prosecutions July 27, 2004 Memorandum did not address the apprehensions of the former Chairperson and Members of the First Division as to the inadequacy of the allegations in the information.

 

This time, despite a reinvestigation, the prosecutions Memorandum dated May 30, 2006 still failed to specify the participation of accused-movants Balao, Angsico and Dacalos. The most recent findings of the prosecution still do not address the deficiency found by the Court in the information. The prosecution avers that pursuant to Section 3, Rule 117 of the rules of Court, in determining the viability of a motion to quash based on the ground of facts charged in the information do not constitute an offense, the test must be whether or not the facts asseverated, if hypothetically admitted, would establish the essential elements of the crime as defined by law. The prosecution contends that matters aliunde should not be considered. However, in the instant case, the Court has found the information itself to be inadequate, as it does not satisfy the requirements of particularly alleging the acts or omissions of the said accused-movants, which served as the basis of the allegation of conspiracy between the aforementioned accused-movants and the other accused, in the commission of the offense charged in the information.

 

It appears from the prosecutions May 30, 2006 Memorandum that at the time material in this case, accused Roberto P. Balao was the General Manager of the NHA; accused Josephine C. Angsico, was the Team Head of the Visayas Management Office of the NHA; accused Virgilio V. Dacalos, was the Division Manager of the NHAs Visayas Management Office and accused Felicisimo F. Lazarte, Jr., was the Manager of the NHAs Regional Project Department. All four accused contend that they cannot be held accountable as they are high-ranking officials based in Metro Manila and that they relied solely on the recommendation of their subordinates in affixing their signatures. The prosecution concedes that high-ranking officials are not expected to personally examine every single detail of a transaction. But in this particular case, the general averment or conclusion of the prosecution in its memorandum that the accused allegedly had foreknowledge of the supposed anomalies and yet the accused did nothing to verify this, does not sufficiently show the basis of the charge of conspiracy insofar as accused Balao, Angsico and Dacalos are concerned.

 

 

 

 

 

The prosecutions May 30, 2006 Memorandum does not describe how accused Balao, Angsingco [sic] and Dacalos may have known or when they became aware of the alleged anomalies, before they allegedly caused payment to the alleged errant contractor. The said Memorandum states only that they failed to enforce the contract against the alleged errant private contractor, which is not even the act imputed against them in the information.

 

The prosecution contends that the allegation of conspiracy is sufficient, since there is no need to allege the individual acts of the conspirators because the act of one is imputable to all. The allegation of conspiracy in the information may be adequate if there is no uncertainty in the acts or omissions imputed against some of the accused and the findings of the prosecution, such as in the case at bar. To allow accused Balao, Angsico and Lazarte [sic] to be arraigned despite the seeming inadequacy of the instant information as to their actual involvement in the offense charged, which is not addressed by the mere allegation of conspiracy, infringes on the constitutional right of the accused to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against them.

 

Among the accused-movants, the public officer whose participation in the alleged offense is specifically mentioned in the May 30, 2006 Memorandum is accused Felicisimo Lazarte, Jr., the Chairman of the Inventory and Acceptance Committee (IAC), which undertook the inventory and final quantification of the accomplishment of A.C. Cruz Construction. The allegations of Lazarte that the IAC, due to certain constraints, allegedly had to rely on the reports of the field engineers and/or the Project Office as to which materials were actually installed; and that he supposedly affixed his signature to the IAC Physical Inventory Report and Memorandum dated August 12, 1991 despite his not being able to attend the actual inspection because he allegedly saw that all the members of the Committee had already signed are matters of defense which he can address in the course of the trial. Hence, the quashal of the information with respect to accused Lazarte is denied for lack of merit.15

 

Hence, the present petition. The People of the Philippines, represented by the Office of the Ombudsman, raises as issue that the Sandiganbayan acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in dismissing the information in Criminal Case No. 26583 which sufficiently charged repondents Balao, Angsico and Dacalos of violating Sec. 3(e) of R.A. 3019, as amended.16

 

 

The Courts Ruling

 

The petition is meritorious.

 

In Lazarte, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan,17 a case involving the same information, the Court held that the 5 March 2001 information is valid. The Court held that:

 

The Court finds that the Information in this case alleges the essential elements of violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019. The Information specifically alleges that petitioner, Espinosa and Lobrido are public officers being then the Department Manager, Project Management Officer A and Supervising Engineer of the NHA respectively; in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to the office and while in the performance of their official functions connived, confederated and mutually helped each other and with accused Arceo C. Cruz, with deliberate intent through manifest partiality and evident bad faith gave unwarranted benefits to the latter, A.C. Cruz Construction and to themselves, to the damage and prejudice of the government. The felonious act consisted of causing to be paid to A.C. Cruz Construction public funds in the amount of P232,628.35 supposedly for excavation and road filling works on the Pahanocoy Sites and Services Project in Bacolod City despite the fact that no such works were undertaken by said construction company as revealed by the Special Audit conducted by COA.18 (Emphasis supplied)

 

Sections 6 and 8, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court state, respectively:

 

SEC. 6. Sufficiency of complaint or information. A complaint or information is sufficient if it states the name of the accused; the designation of the offense given by the statute; the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense; the name of the offended party; the approximate date of the commission of the offense; and the place where the offense was committed.

 

When the offense is committed by more than one person, all of them shall be included in the complaint or information.

 

SEC. 8. Designation of the offense. The complaint or information shall state the designation of the offense given by the statute, aver the acts or omissions constitutiing the offense, and specify its qualifying and aggravating circumstances. If there is no designation of the offense, reference shall be made to the section or subsection of the statute punishing it.

 

In quashing the 5 March 2001 information, the Sandiganbayan held that the information fail to satisfy the requirements of Section 6, Rule 110. The Information x x x still fail to state the acts or omissions of accused-movants Balao, Angsico and Dacalos with sufficient particularity so as to enable them to make a carefully considered plea to the charges against them.

 

The Court disagrees. In Cabrera v. Sandiganbayan,19 the Court held that the fundamental test in determining the adequacy of the averments in an information is whether the facts alleged, if hypothetically admitted, would establish the essential elements of the crime. Matters extrinsic or evidence aliunde should not be considered.20

 

Section 3(e) of RA 3019, as amended, states:

 

SEC. 3. Corrupt practices of public officers. In addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful:

 

x x x x

 

(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.

 

In Dela Chica v. Sandiganbayan,21 the Court enumerated the essential elements of Section 3(e) of RA 3019, as amended. The Court held that:

 

In a number of cases, the elements of this offense have been broken down as follows:

 

 

1.      That the accused are public officers or private persons charged in conspiracy with them;

 

2.      That said public officers committed the prohibited acts during the performance of their official duties or in relation to their public positions;

3.      That they caused undue injury to any party, whether the Government or a private party;

4.      That such injury was caused by giving unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference to such parties; and

5.      That the public officers acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexusable negligence.22

 

Clearly, the allegations in the 5 March 2001 information, if hypothetically admitted, would establish the essential elements of the crime. The information stated that (1) Balao, Lazarte, Jr., Angsico, and Dacalos were the general manager, team head of the Visayas Management Office, and Visayas division manager, respectively, of the National Housing Authority; (2) they committed the prohibited acts in or about the month of March, 1992, while in the performance of their official functions; (3) they caused undue injury to the Government in the amount of P232,628.35, supposedly for the excavation and roadfilling works on the Pahanocoy Sites and Services Project in Bacolod City despite the fact that no such works were undertaken; (4) they gave unwarranted benefits, advantage and preference to accused Arceo C. Cruz and A.C. Construction and themselves; and (5) they acted with deliberate intent, with manifest partiality and evident bad faith.

 

WHEREFORE, the Court GRANTS the petition. The Court SETS ASIDE the 2 March 2007 Resolution of the Sandiganbayan in Criminal Case No. 26583 and orders that (1) respondents Robert P. Balao, Josephine C. Angsico, and Virgilio V. Dacalos be reinstated as accused in Criminal Case No. 26583; (2) the hold departure order against them be reinstated; and (3) they be arrested or they post a cash bond in sufficient amount.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

JOSE C. MENDOZA

Associate Justice

 

ATTESTATION

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairpersons Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

* Designated additional member per Raffle dated 21 June 2010.

1 Rollo, pp. 30-59.

2Id. at 60-66. Penned by Presiding Justice Teresita J. Leonardo de Castro, with Associate Justices Diosdado M. Peralta and Alexander G. Gesmundo concurring.

3 Id. at 93-96.

4 Id. at 93-94.

5 Id. at 97.

6 Id.

7 Id. at 98-110.

8 Id. at 111-122.

9 Records, Vol. 1, pp. 401-406.

10 Id. at 403-404.

11 Id. at 434-457.

12 Rollo, pp. 146-155.

13 Id. at 131-133.

14 Id. at 134-145.

15 Id. at 63-65.

16 Id. at 36.

17 G.R. No. 180122, 13 March 2009, 581 SCRA 431.

18 Id. at 447.

19 484 Phil. 350 (2004).

20 Id. at 359.

21 462 Phil. 712 (2003).

22 Id. at 720.