SC Orders Sandiganbayan to Proceed with Graft Case Against Former Lapu-Lapu City Mayor

October 28, 2021

The Supreme Court has directed the Sandiganbayan to fully dispose of with dispatch the graft case against the former mayor of Lapu-Lapu City in connection with the alleged irregularities in the street lighting project for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit held in Cebu in 2007.

In a Decision penned by Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando, the Court’s Second Division dismissed the Petition for Certiorari of Arturo Radaza that assailed the November 2, 2011 and February 21, 2021 Resolutions of the Sandiganbayan denying Radaza’s Opposition and Motion to Quash Amended Information dated September 22, 2011.

The Court directed the Sandiganbayan to proceed with Radaza’s arraignment for violation of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

In 2006, the Province of Cebu was designated as venue for the 12th ASEAN Summit which was held from January 9 to 15, 2007. Among the beautification projects in preparation for the event were the acquisition and installation of street lighting facilities and decorative lampposts in the main roads of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu cities. The contract for the supply and installation of street lighting facilities in which Radaza, as then City Mayor, had entered into with the FABMIK Construction and Equipment Supply Co., Inc. was allegedly overpriced.

The Ombudsman-Visayas originally recommended that Radaza be indicted for violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019. It, however, amended the criminal charges against Radaza and his co-respondents from violation of Section 3(e) to Section 3(g) of RA 3019 and filed the charges with the Sandiganbayan.

Radaza opposed the Amended Information, and subsequently moved to quash the same on the theory that it was the result of the reinvestigation concluded by the Ombudsman-Visayas regarding the original charge for violation of Section 3(g) of RA 3019. Radaza theorized that the amended information could not be issued ahead of the resolution which contained the preliminary investigation conducted on the charge of Section 3(e) of RA 3019 against him.

This was denied by the Sandiganbayan, ruling that the absence or lack of preliminary investigation is not a ground to quash the Amended Information charging him with violation of Section 3(e) of RA 3019, nor does it render the Amended Information defective so as to affect jurisdiction   over   the   same   which    the   Sandiganbayan    has   already assumed. Radaza’s motion for reconsideration was also denied.

Section 3(e) of RA 3019 is causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefit, advantage, or preference in the discharge of his administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. The elements of violation thereof are: the accused must be a public officer; he acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or inexcusable negligence; and that his action caused any undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage, or preference in the discharge of his functions.

On the other hand, Section 3(g) of RA 3019 is defined as entering, on behalf of the Government, into any contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the same, whether or not the public officer profited or will profit thereby. The elements are: the accused is a public officer; that he or she entered into a contract or transaction on behalf of the government; and that such contract or transaction is grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the government.

Radaza’s petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court assails the Amended Information for lack of the written authority or approval of the incumbent Ombudsman at the time the Amended Information was filed before the Sandiganbayan. Radaza claims that while the Amended Information was approved to be filed by then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in the Supplemental Resolution, there was no such approval on the Joint Resolution by former Supreme Court Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, who was the incumbent Ombudsman at the time the Joint Resolution was issued. Radaza argues that this fact prevented the Sandiganbayan from acquiring jurisdiction over the offense charged under the Amended Information and over his person.

In rejecting Radaza’s argument, the Court, citing the 2020 case of Gomez v. People, said that “a handling prosecutor’s lack of prior written authority from the head prosecutor in the filing of an Information does not affect a trial court’s acquisition of jurisdiction over the subject matter or the person of the accused. Such handling prosecutor who filed an unauthorized Information but without bad faith or criminal intent is considered as a de facto officer coated with a color of authority to exercise acts that remain valid and official.”

The Court further held that lack of preliminary investigation does not affect the court’s jurisdiction over the case nor does it impair the validity or completeness of an Information. “As the lack of a preliminary investigation is not even one of the listed grounds for quashal of an Information, it is more so that the lack or prior written authority or approval on the part of the handling prosecutor is inconsequential in terms of jurisdiction and efficacy of the Information filed against the accused,” said the Court.

The Court stressed: “By the wordings of the assailed Informations, the Court finds all elements for both offenses properly alleged by the prosecution against Radaza.” It added that Radaza, being then the City Mayor of Lapu-Lapu City, had likewise never disputed the fact that he affixed his signature on the Program of Works and Detailed Estimates relative to the street lighting project.

The SC emphasized that denials of a motion to quash are improper subject of a petition for certiorari before the High Court. It stressed that “motions to quash are interlocutory orders that are generally unreviewable by appeal or by certiorari.”

The SC further said that certiorari corrects errors of jurisdiction and not errors of judgment. It stressed that a plain reading of the issues raised and discussions Radaza had propounded in his petition before the SC “reveals that his objections pertained to the Sandiganbayan appreciation of the evidence and application of the law in disposing his Opposition and Motion to Quash Amended Information. An attack against the correctness of a court’s judgment, without any real demonstration of its utter randomness and whimsicality, if any, is not the grave abuse of discretion contemplated by certiorari proceedings.”

“All said, Radaza may be indicted therefor. His arguments are too trivial to merit the quashal of the information, and too vacuous to justify the delay in the prosecution of this criminal case. This has fermented in the preliminary investigation stage for thirteen long years. While unnecessary, this Court indulged in a wordy discourse on the baselessness of Radaza’s prolonged saga against the Informations and Resolutions filed by the Ombudsman, all for the purpose of finally ending the same. The Sandiganbayan is hereafter enjoined to fully dispose of the case with dispatch and without tolerance for further needless delays,” the Court said.

(G.R. No. 201380, Radaza v. Sandiganbayan and People, August 4, 2021)

FULL TEXT: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/21855/