[G.R. NOS. 147578-85 - January 28, 2008]
ROLANDO L. BALDERAMA, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES and JUAN S. ARMAMENTO, Respondents.
[G.R. NOS. 147598-605 - January 28, 2008]
ROLANDO D. NAGAL, Petitioner, v. JUAN S. ARMAMENTO, Private Respondent, and THE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR, Public Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before us are two consolidated Petitions for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, seeking to reverse the Joint Decision1 of the Sandiganbayan dated November 17, 2000 in Criminal Cases Nos. 20669, 20670, 20672, 20674, 20675, 20676, 20677, and 20678; and its Resolution dated March 20, 2001.
Rolando L. Balderama, petitioner in G.R. NOS. 147578-85, and Rolando D. Nagal, petitioner in G.R. NOS. 147598-605, were employed with the Land Transportation Commission (LTO) assigned to the Field Enforcement Division, Law Enforcement Services. Juan S. Armamento, respondent in both cases, operates a taxi business with a fleet of ten (10) taxi units.
Acting on complaints that taxi drivers in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport discriminate against passengers and would transport them to their destinations only on a "contract" basis, the LTO created a team to look into the veracity of the complaints. Petitioners in these cases were members of the team, popularly known as "Flying Squad," together with Cipriano L. Lubrica and Cresencio de Jesus.
On July 14, 1992, the team flagged down for inspection an "SJ Taxi" owned by respondent. The team impounded the taxi on the ground that its meter was defective. However, upon inspection and testing by the LTO Inspection Division, the results showed that contrary to the report of the team, the meter waiting time mechanism of the vehicle was not defective and was functioning normally. The vehicle was released to respondent.
On December 2, 1992, respondent, feeling aggrieved of the malicious impounding of his vehicle, filed with the Office of the Ombudsman a complaint for bribery and violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019, as amended,2 against herein petitioners as well as Lubrica and de Jesus. He alleged that prior to the impounding of his taxi, the four LTO officers had been collecting "protection money" from him. On February 15, 1992, they went to his office and proposed they would not apprehend his drivers and impound his vehicles for violations of LTO rules, provided he gives them the amount of
Eventually, the Office of the Ombudsman filed with the Sandiganbayan nine (9) Informations for violations of Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code3 against petitioners and the other members of the team, docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 20669-20677. All the Informations were identically worded, except the date of the commission of the crimes. For brevity, we reproduce the Information in Criminal Case No. 20669 as sample, thus:
They were also charged with violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019, as amended. The Information, docketed as Criminal Case No. 20678, reads:
Upon arraignment on June 30, 1994, the accused, assisted by counsel, pleaded not guilty. The cases were consolidated and tried jointly. Prior thereto, they were suspended pendente lite from the service for a period of ninety (90) days.
On March 5, 1999, accused de Jesus died. The cases against him were dismissed. The hearing proceeded against petitioners and Lubrica.
In a Decision dated November 17, 2000, the Sandiganbayan found petitioners and Lubrica guilty of direct bribery in seven (7) of the nine (9) Informations filed against them and were sentenced in each count "to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of 4 years and 2 months, as minimum, to 5 years, 4 months and 20 days, as maximum, within the range of prision correccional, and to suffer the penalty of special temporary disqualification." They were further ordered to pay a fine of
Petitioners and Lubrica were also convicted in Criminal Case No. 20678 for violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019, as amended, and were sentenced to suffer imprisonment of six (6) years and one (1) month, as minimum, to ten (10) years and one (1) day, as maximum. They were also disqualified perpetually from holding public office and were ordered to indemnify the respondent the amount of
Petitioners and Lubrica filed separate motions for reconsideration arguing that they were not yet grouped as a team on February 15, 1992, hence, there could be no conspiracy. While the motion was pending resolution, both petitioners filed separate motions for new trial based on an affidavit dated December 22, 2000 executed by respondent recanting his previous testimony and pointing to Lubrica and de Jesus as the only culprits.
On March 20, 2001, the Sandiganbayan denied the motions for reconsideration and the motions for new trial. In denying the motions for reconsideration, the Sandiganbayan ruled:
In denying the motions for new trial, the Sandiganbayan held:
Both petitioners filed with this Court separate Petitions for Review on Certiorari, both arguing that the Sandiganbayan erred: (1) in finding that they are guilty of the offenses charged; (2) in holding that petitioners and their co-accused acted in conspiracy; and (3) in disregarding the recantation made by respondent.
On January 4, 2003, Lubrica likewise filed with this Court a Petition for Review on Certiorari . In our Decision dated February 26, 2007, we denied his petition for being late. Our Decision became final and was recorded in the Book of Entries of Judgments on April 20, 2007.
The sole issue for our resolution is whether the guilt of the accused, now petitioners, in these cases has been proved by evidence beyond reasonable doubt.
The crime of direct bribery as defined in Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code contains the following elements: (1) that the accused is a public officer; (2) that he received directly or through another some gift or present, offer or promise; (3) that such gift, present or promise has been given in consideration of his commission of some crime, or any act not constituting a crime, or to refrain from doing something which is his official duty to do; and (4) that the crime or act relates to the exercise of his functions as a public officer.4
The Sandiganbayan found the above elements of direct bribery present. It was duly established that the accused demanded and received
Anent Criminal Case No. 20678, to hold a person liable under Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019, the concurrence of the following elements must be established beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution: (1) that the accused is a public officer or a private person charged in conspiracy with the former; (2) that the said public officer commits the prohibited acts during the performance of his or her official duties or in relation to his or her public positions; (3) that he or she causes undue injury to any party, whether the government or a private party; and (4) that the public officer has acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.5 The Sandiganbayan found that petitioners and Lubrica participated directly in the malicious apprehension and impounding of the taxi unit of respondent, causing him undue injury.6
Settled is the rule that findings of fact of the Sandiganbayan in cases before this Court are binding and conclusive in the absence of a showing that they come under the established exceptions, among them: 1) when the conclusion is a finding grounded entirely on speculation, surmises and conjectures; 2) the inference made is manifestly mistaken; 3) there is a grave abuse of discretion; 4) the judgment is based on misapprehension of facts; 5) said findings of facts are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; and, 6) the findings of fact of the Sandiganbayan are premised on the absence of evidence on record.7 We found none of these exceptions in the present cases.
Petitioners' prayer for complete acquittal on the strength of respondent's affidavit of recantation fails to impress us.
A recantation or an affidavit of desistance is viewed with suspicion and reservation.8 The Court looks with disfavor upon retractions of testimonies previously given in court. It is settled that an affidavit of desistance made by a witness after conviction of the accused is not reliable, and deserves only scant attention.9 The rationale for the rule is obvious: affidavits of retraction can easily be secured from witnesses, usually through intimidation or for a monetary consideration. Recanted testimony is exceedingly unreliable. There is always the probability that it will later be repudiated.10 Only when there exist special circumstances in the case which when coupled with the retraction raise doubts as to the truth of the testimony or statement given, can retractions be considered and upheld.11 As found by the Sandiganbayan, "(t)here is indubitably nothing in the affidavit which creates doubts on the guilt of accused Balderama and Nagal."
WHEREFORE, we DENY the petition. The challenged Decision of the Sandiganbayan dated November 17, 2000 in Criminal Cases Nos. 20669, 20670, 20672, 20674, 20675, 20676, 20677 and 20678 is AFFIRMED in toto.
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