[G.R. NO. 154714 : August 12, 2004]
RAFAEL T. FLORES, HERMINIO C. ELIZON, ARNULFO S. SOLORIA, Petitioners, v. HON. LYDIA QUERUBIN LAYOSA, In her capacity as Judge of RTC, Quezon City, Branch 217, BENIGNO S. MONTERA and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
On December 16, 1991, respondent Benigno Montera (Montera) of the Enforcement, Investigation and Prosecution Department of the National Food Authority (NFA) filed an affidavit-complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman, charging Judy Carol L. Dansal and Ronaldo Vallada, together with petitioners Rafael T. Flores, Herminio C. Elizon and Arnulfo S. Soloria, with Estafa through Falsification of Public Document.
After conducting a preliminary investigation, the Office of the Ombudsman filed an Information charging petitioners with the offense of Estafa through Falsification of Public Documents with the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City (RTC). The case was docketed as Criminal Case No. Q-96-66607 and raffled to Branch 217 of the RTC.
The Information reads:
Subsequently, the prosecutors filed a motion to suspend the accused pendente lite. 4 Petitioners opposed the motion. On January 17, 2001, the RTC issued an Order suspending petitioners pendente lite for a period of ninety (90)-days. The trial court held that Republic Act No. 3019 (R.A. No. 3019), otherwise known as the "Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act," mandates that a public official charged under a valid information for an offense under said
Act or under Title 7, Book II of the Revised Penal Code or any offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property shall be suspended from office while the criminal prosecution against him is pending in court.
Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the January 17, 2001 Order but the same was denied by the RTC in another Order dated June 8, 2001.
Petitioners thereafter filed a Petition for Certiorari with the Sandiganbayan, alleging that the RTC erred in ordering their suspension pendente lite even though the crime charged in the Information is within the ambit of Section 13 of R.A. No. 3019.
On May 2, 2002, the Sandiganbayan promulgated its Decision dismissing the petition for lack of merit. It affirmed the trial court's suspension pendente lite of the accused because the offense for which they are charged is included in the offenses referred to in Section 13, R.A. No. 3019. It further stated that the Information is valid because it sufficiently informs the accused that they are being charged for estafa through falsification of public document even though the word "fraud" or "deceit" is not used therein.5
Petitioners moved to reconsider the aforementioned decision but their motion was denied by the Sandiganbayan in a Resolution dated August 15, 2002.
Hence, the instant petition.
Petitioners contend that the Sandiganbayan erred in affirming their suspension pendente lite by the RTC since the offense for which they are charged does not fall under Section 13, R.A. No. 3019, and in ruling that the trial court's order of suspension is valid although it was issued upon motion of a person who had no right to intervene in the criminal case.6
While petitioners concede that the Information sufficiently alleges the elements of the offense of falsification of public document, they assert that it does not contain an averment of fraud or deceit on their part. Hence, they claim that the Information does not charge them with estafa but only falsification of public document. Accordingly, they claim that their suspension from office during the pendency of Criminal Case No. Q-96-66607 is not warranted under Section 13, R.A. No. 3019.7
Petitioners further contend that the Sandiganbayan disregarded settled doctrines in criminal procedure8 when it affirmed the RTC's order suspending them pendente lite even though the motion for their suspension was filed not by the prosecutor but by the private complainant Montera.9
In their Comment, the People of the Philippines, through the Office of the Special Prosecutor, argue that the Information sufficiently alleges the elements of estafa through falsification of public document under Article 318 in relation to Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code.10 According to the People, this complex crime is an "offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property" under Section 13, R.A. 3019. Thus, the suspension pendente lite of petitioners is justified under the aforementioned provision.11
The People also point out that the other ground raised by petitioners in support of their position that the RTC's order of suspension is invalid, i.e., that the order was issued upon motion of the private complainant, not the prosecutor was raised by them before the Sandiganbayan and cannot therefore be pleaded for the first time before this Court. In any case, the People explained that the filing by Montera of the first and second motions for petitioners' suspension pendente lite was with the conformity of the public prosecutor.12
In reply, petitioners assert that the Information states that they are being charged with estafa under paragraph 1(b) of Article 315, not Article 318, of the Revised Penal Code. Hence, they maintain that the Information is invalid because it does not sufficiently allege the elements of estafa under paragraph 1(b), Article 315.13
The issues presented by the petitioner are (i) whether the offense charged in the information falls within the coverage of Section 13 of R.A. No. 3019, and (ii) whether the motion for suspension filed by the counsel for the government agency concerned in this case, with the conformity of the public prosecutor, sufficed to enable the lower court to issue the suspension order pursuant to Section 13 of R.A. No. 3019.
There is no merit in the petition.
Section 13 of R.A. No. 3019 provides:
It is settled that once a court determines that the information charging a public officer with an offense under R.A. No. 3019 or Title 7, Book II of the Revised Penal Code,14 or any other offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property is valid, it is bound to issue an order of preventive suspension of the accused public officer as a matter of course.15
The order of suspension pendente lite, while mandatory in nature, is by no means automatic or self-operative. Before such suspension is imposed, a determination as to the validity of the information must first be made in a pre-suspension hearing. There is no hard and fast rule as to the conduct of such hearing, as the Court has previously explained in several cases:
It therefore suffices that the accused is afforded the opportunity of challenging the validity or regularity of the proceedings against him and that the information charging the accused of any of the offenses mentioned under Section 13, R.A. No. 3019 is found to be valid before the court suspends the accused pendente lite.
In the present case, the record shows that petitioners were given the chance to dispute the validity of the Information against them and the January 17, 2001 Order suspending them for ninety (90)-days while their case is pending when they opposed Montera's motion for their suspension.
More importantly, both the RTC and the Sandiganbayan found that the Information alleges the elements of the complex crime of estafa through falsification of public document and that the offense falls within the ambit of Section 13, R.A. No. 3019, thereby making their suspension pendente lite mandatory.
Parenthetically, it would seem that the averments in the Information allege the complex crime of estafa under paragraph 2(a),17 Article 315, through falsification of public document. Under paragraph 2(a), the elements of estafa are as follows: (1) the accused uses a fictitious name, or falsely pretends to possess power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions, or employs other similar deceits; (2) such false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means must be made or executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud; (c) the offended party must have relied on the false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means, that is, he was induced to part with his money or property because of the false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means; and (d) as a result thereof, the offended party suffered damage.18
The Information against petitioners alleges that petitioners took advantage of their respective official positions and, conspiring with one another, falsified the daily time record (DTR) of accused Ronaldo Vallada for July 1991 to make it appear that he reported for work during that month when, in truth, he did not, and used the falsified DTR to collect Vallada's salary in the amount of
Still, any error in the Information, with regard to the specification of the particular mode of estafa, allegedly committed by petitioners will not result in its invalidation because the allegations therein sufficiently inform petitioners that they are being charged with estafa through falsification of public document.
The Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that an information shall be deemed sufficient if it states, among others, the designation of the offense given by the statute and the acts of omissions complained of as constituting the offense.19 However, the Court has clarified in several cases that the designation of the offense, by making reference to the section or subsection of the statute punishing, it is not controlling; what actually determines the nature and character of the crime charged are the facts alleged in the information.20 The Court's ruling in U.S. v. Lim San 21 is instructive:
Thus, notwithstanding the discrepancy between the mode of commission of the estafa as alleged in the Information (which states that petitioners committed estafa under Article 315), or as claimed by the People in their Comment (that petitioners committed estafa under Article 318) and the absence of the words "fraud" or "deceit" in the Information, the Court agrees with the Sandiganbayan and the RTC that the factual allegations therein sufficiently inform petitioners of the acts constituting their purported offense and satisfactorily allege the elements of estafa in general committed through the offense of falsification of public document.23 As the Sandiganbayan correctly held:
It bears stressing that the words "fraud" or "deceit" need not be used in an information for the allegations therein to sufficiently allege the offense of estafa. It is enough that acts constituting abuse of confidence or deceit, which are indispensable to estafa, are averred in the information in such a manner that would sufficiently apprise an accused that he is being charged with that offense. Whether the act involved constitutes "abuse of confidence" or "deceit" within the technical meaning of the terms as used in Article 315, it is inescapable that it falls within the common and generic signification25 of "fraud" as used in Section 13 of R.A. No. 3019.
In any case, the information in question not only alleges the elements of estafa through falsification of public document with sufficiency, it also clearly states that petitioners are charged with having committed fraudulent acts involving government funds. Thus, whether on the face of the Information, the offense charged is estafa under paragraph 1(b),26 or paragraph 2(a)27 of Article 315, or under Article 318,28 through falsification of public document, or even only falsification of public document, is of no consequence. For the purpose of resolving the propriety of petitioners' suspension pendente lite, it is sufficient that the Information unequivocally recites that the offense charged involves fraud upon government or public funds or property.
Evidently erroneous is petitioners' contention that the offense of falsification of public document alone, which according to them is what is charged in the Information, would not warrant their suspension pendente lite. The Information alleges that petitioners falsified Vallada's DTR by making entries therein to make it appear that he reported for work at the NFA in July 1991 when, in truth and in fact, he did not. What was purportedly falsified is a DTR which the government agency, concerned here, as in other government agencies, had to use in determining the salary to be paid to the accused Ronaldo Vallada as its employee for the period covered thereby, as well as his earned leave credits.29 The falsification of one's DTR to cover up his absences or tardiness automatically results in financial losses to the government because it enables the employee concerned to be paid salary and to earn leave credits for services which were never rendered. Undeniably, the falsification of a DTR constitutes or foists a fraud involving government funds.
Now, the issue of whether the motion to suspend petitioners filed by Atty. Montera may validly trigger the assailed suspension order.
As the offense for which petitioners are charged clearly falls under Section 13, R.A. No. 3019, it follows that their suspension pendente lite is mandatory pursuant to the said law and pertinent jurisprudence. The trial court is left with no alternative but to order the suspension of the accused public official pendente lite upon being convinced that the information charges the accused with acts of fraud involving government funds. Its duty to order the suspension of the accused pendente lite is mandatory in character30 and must be issued by the court regardless of whether the prosecution files a motion for the preventive suspension of the petitioners, or if the motion is filed by the counsel of the government agency concerned, with or without the conformity of the public prosecutor. In fact, Section 13, R.A. 3019, as worded, allows the court to issue such suspension order motu proprio.
The Court in Bolastig v. Sandiganbayan 31 emphasized the mandatory nature of the preventive suspension required under Section 13 of R.A. No. 3019 in this wise:
Again, in Socrates v. Sandiganbayan, 33 the Court reiterated the doctrine that the preventive suspension under Section 13, R.A. No. 3019 is compulsory, thus:
The obligatoriness of the task of the trial court and the inevitability of the suspension from office of the accused pending termination of the case under Section 13 of the Anti-Graft Law effectively settle the second issue and cogently eviscerate petitioners' negative position on the question.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit. Costs against petitioners.
Puno, J., Chairman, Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Justice Godofredo L. Legaspi and concurred in by Justices Edilberto G. Sandoval and Raoul V. Victorino. 2 Rafael T. Flores, et al. v. Hon. Lydia Q. Layosa, in her capacity as the Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 217, et al. 3 Rollo, p. 19. 4 This motion which was filed on July 25, 2000 was the second motion to suspend pendente lite filed by the prosecution. Prior thereto, petitioners filed a Motion to Quash the information on the ground that the delay in the termination of their preliminary investigation was violative of their rights to due process of law and to a speedy disposition of the case against them, but the same was denied by the Sandiganbayan. Petitioners thereafter filed a Petition for Certiorari with this Court but said petition was dismissed for lack of merit (see Dansal v. Fernandez, Sr., G.R. No. 126814, March 2, 2000, 327 SCRA 145). The prosecution filed a motion to suspend the accused pending litigation but the motion was opposed by the accused who manifested before the RTC that they would be filing a motion for reconsideration of this Court's Decision in G.R. No. 126814. After their motion for reconsideration was denied by this Court, the prosecution filed the second motion to suspend accused pendente lite on July 25, 2000 (Petition, Id. at 14-15). 5 Id. at 38-41. 6 Id. at 17. 7 Petition, id. at 20-26, Reply, id. at 112-122. 8 Petitioners cited the cases of Caes v. Intermediate Appellate Court, G.R. Nos. 74989-90, November 6, 1989, 179 SCRA 54; People v. Beriales, G.R. No. L-39662, April 7, 1976, 70 SCRA 361; Gorospe and Gorospe v. Gatmaitan, 98 Phil. 600 ; and Tan v. Gallardo, G.R. NOS. L-41213-14, October 5, 1976, 73 SCRA 306. 9 Petition, id. at 28 - 29, Reply, id. at 119-122. 10 Rollo, p. 74. 11 Id. at 74-79. 12 Id. at 79-80. 13 Reply, id. at 112-118. 14 Title 7, Book II of the Revised Penal Code refers to crimes committed by public officers, including bribery, frauds against the public treasury and similar offenses and malversation. 15 Santiago v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 128055, April 18, 2001, 356 SCRA 636; Segovia v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 124067, March 27, 1998, 288 SCRA 328; Bayot v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. NOS. L-61776 to 61861, March 23, 1984, 128 SCRA 383. 16 Santiago v. Sandiganbayan, supra note 15, citing Luciano v. Mariano, G.R. No. L-32950, July 30, 1971, 40 SCRA 187; People v. Albano, G.R. NOS. L-45376-77, July 26, 1988, 163 SCRA 511. 17 Estafa under paragraph 2(a), Article 315 is committed with deceit, i.e., by means of false pretenses or fraudulent acts executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud; specifically, by using fictitious name, or falsely pretending to possess power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions, or by means of other similar deceits. 18 See Reyes, Luis B., Revised Penal Code Annotated, Book Two (1998 Ed.), p. 763. 19 Section 6, Rule 110, Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. 20 Naya v. Abing, G.R. No. 146770, February 27, 2003; People v. Tan, G.R. NOS. 116200-02, June 21, 2001, 359 SCRA 283; People v. Banihit, G.R. No. 132045, August 25, 2000, 339 SCRA 86; People v. Diaz, G.R. No. 130210, December 8, 1999, 320 SCRA 168; People v. Juachon, G.R. No. 111630, December 6, 1999, 319 SCRA 761; People v. Salazar, G.R. No. 99355, August 11, 1997, 277 SCRA 67; People v. Sandoval, G.R. NOS. 95353-54, March 7, 1996, 254 SCRA 436; People v. Escosio, G.R. No. 101742, March 25, 1993, 220 SCRA 475; U.S. v. Lim San, 17 Phil. 273 (1910). 21 Supra, note 20. 22 Supra note 20 at 278-279. 23 The elements of estafa in general are: (a) the accused defrauded another by abuse of confidence, or by means of deceit; and (b) the offended party or a third party suffered damage or prejudice capable of pecuniary estimation. (Santos v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. NOS. 71523-25, 72420-22, 72384-86, 72387-39, December 8, 2000, 347 SCRA 386, citing People v. Reyes, G.R. NOS. 104739-44, 282 SCRA 105 (1997)). The elements of falsification of public document, on the other hand, are as follows: (a) the offender is a public officer, employee or notary public; (b) he takes advantage of his official position; (c) he falsifies a document by committing any of the acts mentioned in Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code (i.e.,  Counterfeiting or imitating any handwriting, signature or rubric; Causing it to appear that persons have participated in an act or proceeding when they did not in fact so participate;  Attributing to persons who have participated in an act or proceeding statements other than those in fact made by them;  Making untruthful statements in a narration of facts;  Altering true dates;  Making any alteration or intercalation in a genuine document which changes its meaning;  Issuing in authenticated form a document purporting to be a copy of an original document when no such original exists, or including in such copy a statement contrary to, or different from, that of the genuine original; or  Intercalating any instrument or note relative to the issuance thereof in a protocol, registry or official book). 24 Sandiganbayan Decision, Rollo, pp. 40-41. 25 "Fraud" is defined as an instance or an act of trickery or deceit especially when involving misrepresentation (Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, 1993 Ed., p. 904). It is also defined as "An intentional perversion of truth for the purpose of inducing another in reliance upon it to part with some valuable thing belonging to him or to surrender a legal right. A false representation of a matter of fact, whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of that which should have been disclosed, which deceives and is intended to deceive another so that he shall act upon it to his legal injury. Anything calculated to deceive, whether by a single act or combination, or by suppression of truth, or suggestion of what is false, whether it be by direct falsehood or innuendo, by speech or silent, word of mouth or look or gesture. . . A generic term, embracing all multifarious means which human ingenuity can devise, and which are resorted to by one individual to get advantage over another by false suggestions or by suppression of truth, and includes all surprise, trick, dissembling, and any unfair way by which another is cheated. . . 'Bad faith' and 'fraud' are synonymous, and also synonyms of dishonesty, infidelity, faithlessness, perfidy, unfairness, etc." (Black's Law Dictionary, 1990 Ed. p. 660, citations omitted). 26 Article 315.
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