SPECIAL SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 131966             August 16, 2004

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, petitioners,
vs.
HON. ANIANO A. DESIERTO, as Ombudsman, EDUARDO C. CONJUANGCO, JR., JUAN PONCE ENRILE, MA. CLARA S. LOBREGAT, ROLANDO DE LA CUESTA, JOSE C. CONCEPCION, JOSE R. MENDOZA, EMMANUEL M. ALAMEDA, HERMENEGILDO C. ZAYCO, TEODORA A. REGALA, AMADO C. MAMURIC, DOUGLAS LU YM, JAIME GANDIAGA, NARCISO PINEDA and DANILO S. URSUA, respondents.


R E S O L U T I O N


AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

This resolves the motions for reconsideration filed by private respondent Eduardo M. Cojuangco, Jr. and petitioner Republic of the Philippines.

The Courtís decision dated September 23, 2002, granted the petition for certiorari filed by the Republic of the Philippines, set aside the resolution of the Ombudsman in OMB-0-90-2811 dismissing the Republicís complaint, and ordered the Ombudsman to proceed with the preliminary investigation in said case.

Also on record is a Notice filed by the counsel for the late Maria Clara L. Lobregat informing the Court of respondent Lobregatís demise on January 2, 2004,1 and praying for the dismissal of the case against her.

Respondent Cojuangco contends:

a. It was because of lack of evidence or probable cause that the Ombudsman dismissed the complaint in OMB-0-90-2811, not because the offense has prescribed or that LOI 926 and PD Nos. 961 and 1468 precluded prosecution under RA No. 3019 and Article 186 of the Revised Penal Code. Since the Court in its decision of September 23, 2002 did not overturn the Ombudsmanís finding of lack of probable cause, the Ombudsmanís Resolution of June 2, 1997 may not be nullified.

b. No evidentiary basis exists for the Courtís finding that the offense had not prescribed; it was, consequently, error for the Court to have found that the offense charged had not prescribed.

c. It was also error for the Court to have found that PD Nos. 961 and 1468, LOI No. 926 may not be taken into account in determining whether the respondent violated R.A. No. 3019 and Article 186 of the Revised Penal Code.

d. The Court, apparently, overlooked respondentís contention that his constitutional right to speedy disposition of his case has been violated warranting dismissal of OMB-0-90-2811.2

For its part, petitioner Republic of the Philippines assails the ruling of the Court ordering the exclusion of respondents Teodoro D. Regala and Jose C. Concepcion as defendants in OMB-0-90-2811.3

The Court finds no compelling reason to reconsider the assailed Decision.

While it is true that the Ombudsman concluded that there is "no sufficient evidence to engender a well-founded belief that violation of the Anti-Graft Law was committed and that respondents are probably guilty thereof," it must be pointed out that such conclusion is premised on its finding that the acquisition by UNICOM of the sixteen (16) oil mills was done in accordance with existing laws,4 and not because there was no evidence that respondent did not commit the crime at all. Thus, the Ombudsman stated, "respondents cannot be made criminally liable for implementing a government policy because there is no element of evident bad faith or malice."5 But, as was stated, in the assailed Decision, the validity of LOI No. 926, and Presidential Decree (P.D.) Nos. 961 and 1468 will not protect private respondents from criminal prosecution for violations of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019 and Article 186 of the Revised Penal Code.6

It is also incorrect for respondent to say that there is no evidentiary basis for the Courtís finding that the offense had not prescribed, as it was resolved in the assailed Decision that since the ten-year prescriptive period in violation of R.A. No. 3019 is governed by Section 2 of Act No. 3326, and applying further the ruling in Domingo vs. Sandiganbayan,7 the complaint in this case, which was filed on March 2, 1990, was well within the prescriptive period.8

At pain of being redundant, we restate our ruling in the assailed Decision that:

. . . the fact that the transactions were done pursuant to P.D. Nos. 961 and 1468 will not shield the respondents from being charged considering that prosecution for violations of R.A. 3019 involves questions as to whether the contracts or transactions entered pursuant thereto by the private respondents were manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government; whether they caused undue injury to the government; and whether the private respondents were interested for personal gain or had material interests in the transactions.9

In other words, while P.D. Nos. 961 and 1468 may have sanctioned UNICOMís acquisition of the sixteen (16) oil mills, it does not detract from the fact that such acquisition caused undue prejudice, disadvantage and injury to the government, or that private respondents had a material and personal interest in the acquisition thereof, acts which have already been defined as corrupt practices and declared unlawful under R.A. No. 3019.

If the Court were to adhere to private respondentís argument that valid laws may not be taken into account in determining whether there was a violation of R.A. No. 3019 and Article 186 of the Revised Penal Code, then the validity of laws would create a blanket shield and there would be no prosecution for violations of R.A. No. 3019 and Article 186 of the Revised Penal Code, as all acts committed by public officers will be beyond reach, despite the undue damage, injury and prejudice to the government, and the personal gain and material interest of the public officers involved.

As regards respondentís contention that the seven-year delay in the disposition of the preliminary investigation by the Ombudsman warrants the dismissal of the case against him, the Court finds the same wanting in merit.

In the case of Dela Peña vs. Sandiganbayan, the Court had the occasion to restate the doctrine that:

The concept of speedy disposition is relative or flexible. A mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved is not sufficient. Particular regard must be taken of the facts and circumstances peculiar to each case. Hence, the doctrinal rule is that in the determination of whether that right has been violated, the factors that may be considered and balanced are as follows: (1) the length of delay; (2) the reasons for the delay; (3) the assertion or failure to assert such right by the accused; and (4) the prejudice caused by the delay.10

Nevertheless, despite the finding that there was a considerable delay by the Sandiganbayan in the disposition of the petitionersí case, the Court

did not dismiss its case for the reason that the failure of the petitioner therein to assert its right to a speedy disposition of its case amounts to a waiver of such right. Thus, the Court held:

Moreover, it is worthy to note that it was only on 21 December 1999, after the case was set for arraignment, that petitioners raised the issue of the delay in the conduct of the preliminary investigation. As stated by them in their Motion to Quash/Dismiss, "[o]ther than the counter-affidavits, [they] did nothing." Also, in their petition, they averred: "Aside from the motion for extension of time to file counter-affidavits, petitioners in the present case did not file nor send any letter-queries addressed to the Office of the Ombudsman for Mindanao which conducted the preliminary investigation." They slept on their right Ė a situation amounting to laches. The matter could have taken a different dimension if during all those four years, they showed signs of asserting their right to a speedy disposition of their cases or at least made some overt acts, like filing a motion for early resolution, to show that they were not waiving that right. Their silence may, therefore be interpreted as a waiver of such right. As aptly stated in Alvizo, the petitioner therein was "insensitive to the implications and contingencies" of the projected criminal prosecution posed against him "by not taking any step whatsoever to accelerate the disposition of the matter, which inaction conduces to the perception that the supervening delay seems to have been without his objection, [and] hence impliedly with his acquiescence."11

In the present case, a review of the records shows that the last pleading filed prior to the Ombudsmanís Resolution dated June 2, 1997 was respondentís Motion to Suspend Filing of Counter-Affidavit, which was filed on May 15, 1991.12 Between 1991 and 1997, respondent did nothing to assert his right to a speedy disposition of his case. Clearly, his silence during such period amounts to a waiver of such right.

Moreover, respondentís right to a speedy disposition of his case should not work against and preclude the people's equally important right to public justice13 considering that the funds used to acquire the sixteen (16) mothballed oil mills came from the coconut levy funds, which are not only affected with public interest, but are, in fact, prima facie public funds.14

It is noted that the Courtís decision in the Orosa case,15 which we cited in the decision of the present case, was set aside per Resolution dated July 7, 2004, on the ground that two (2) of the respondents therein, Ma. Clara Lobregat and Jose C. Concepcion, were deprived of their right to file their comments on the petition, and as such, the case was not yet ripe for resolution when the Court rendered its decision. Be that as it may, said resolution does not bear any consequence on the present case as the jurisprudence relied upon in the Orosa case are still valid and binding precedents.

As regards petitioner Republicís motion that the assailed Decision be reconsidered insofar as the exclusion of respondents Teodoro D. Regala and Jose C. Concepcion as defendants in OMB-0-90-2811 is concerned, the Court finds the same bereft of merit.

According to petitioner, respondents Regala and Concepcion should not be excluded as respondents because they are being charged for illegal acts committed in their official capacity as members of the Board of Directors of UNICOM and UCPB, in conspiracy with the other private respondents.16 Such argument, however, has already been resolved by the Court in both the Regala17 and Castillo18 cases, wherein the Court found that the acts complained of were done by the respondents in connection with the legal services they rendered to the other respondents. Thus, the Court held in the Castillo case that:

This was the same argument raised by the Republic in the case of Regala. In overruling the Republicís position, this Court ruled:

"An argument is advanced that the invocation by petitioners of the privilege of attorney-client confidentiality at this stage of the proceedings is premature and that they should wait until they are called to testify and examine as witnesses as to matters learned in confidence before they can raise their objection. But petitioners are not mere witnesses. They are co-principals in the case for recovery of alleged ill-gotten wealth. They have made their position clear from the very beginning that they are not willing to testify and they cannot be compelled to testify in view of their constitutional right against self-incrimination and of their fundamental legal right to maintain inviolate the privilege of attorney-client confidentiality."19

Finally, during the pendency of this petition, respondent Maria Clara L. Lobregat died on January 2, 2004.20 The death of an accused prior to final judgment terminates his criminal liability as well as the civil liability based solely thereon.21 Consequently, the case should be dismissed with regard to her.

WHEREFORE, the Motions for Reconsideration filed by private respondent Eduardo M. Cojuangco, Jr. and petitioner Republic of the Philippines are hereby DENIED. The Courtís Decision dated September 23, 2002 is MODIFIED to the effect that the charges against deceased respondent Maria Clara L. Lobregat in OMB-0-90-2811, pending preliminary investigation before the Office of the Ombudsman, is ordered dismissed and any criminal as well as civil liability ex delicto that might arise from said case is declared extinguished by reason of her death.

SO ORDERED.

Quisumbing, Acting Chairman, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.


Footnotes

1 Rollo, Annex "1," p. 1137.

2 Rollo, pp. 637-638.

3 Rollo, p. 693.

4 Rollo, p. 81.

5 Rollo, pp. 81-82.

6 Republic vs. Desierto, 389 SCRA 452, 459 [2002].

7 G.R. No. 109376, January 20, 2000, 322 SCRA 655, cited in Republic vs. Desierto, G.R. No. 136506, August 23, 2001, 363 SCRA 585.

8 Republic vs. Desierto, supra., note 6.

9 Ibid.

10 G. R. No. 144542, June 29, 2001, 360 SCRA 478, 485.

11 Ibid., at pp. 487-488.

12 Records, Vol. 1, p. 672.

13 Guerrero vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 107211, June 28, 1996, 257 SCRA 703, 716.

14 Republic vs. COCOFED, G.R. Nos. 147062-64, December 14, 2001, 372 SCRA 462, 481.

15 Republic vs. Desierto, G.R. No. 136506, August 23, 2001, 363 SCRA 588.

16 Rollo, p. 695.

17 Regala vs. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 105938, September 20, 1996, 262 SCRA 122.

18 Castillo vs. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 138231, February 21, 2002, 377 SCRA 509.

19 Ibid., at pp. 514-515.

20 Rollo, Annex "1," p. 1137.

21 Article 89 of the Revised Penal Code; Benedicto vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 125379, September 4, 2001, 364 SCRA 334, 362.


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