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[G.R. No. 102502.June 19, 2001]

JACOBO C. CLAVE vs. SANDIGANBAYAN et al.

EN BANC

Gentlemen:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated JUN 19 2001.

G.R. No. 102502 (Jacobo C. Clave vs. The Honorable Sandiganbayan, Second Division, and the People of the Philippines.)

G.R. No. 103143 (Roman Cruz, Jr., vs. The Sandiganbayan and the People of the Philippines.)

These are consolidated petitions for Certiorari and Prohibition with prayers for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ for Preliminary Injunction.In G.R. No. 102502, petitioner Jacobo C. Clave assails the respondent court's Resolution promulgated August 22, 1991, which denied for lack of merit petitioner's Urgent Motion to Quash and Hold in Abeyance Issuance of Warrant of Arrest and Motion for Production of Record of the Preliminary Investigation; and Resolution promulgated November 11, 1991, which denied petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration.Similarly, in G.R. No. 103143, petitioner Roman Cruz, Jr. assails the respondent court's Resolution dated November 8, 1991, which denied for lack of merit petitioner's Motion to Quash.

We note at the outset the demise of petitioner Cruz.This renders his petition moot and academic.The dismissal of pending criminal actions against an accused is one of the legal consequences of his death. 1 Art. 89, The Revised Penal Code.

We shall therefore proceed to resolve the remaining petition of Clave.First, a brief background on its material antecedents.In a letter-complaint filed on March 14, 1986 with the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), a number of concerned lawyers and administrative staff of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) alleged as anomalous a Lease-Purchase Agreement dated May 10, 1982 entered into by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) with a certain Mr. Emilio La'O.The said agreement was for the lease and sale of the OGCC building located at 1203 A. Mabini St., Ermita, Manila.They claimed that the contract is "violative of the Anti-Graft law by reason of the gross inadequacy of the contract price which is very disadvantageous to the government; and therefore should be nullified, if still legally feasible."The complaint was referred to the Tanodbayan on May 14, 1986 for preliminary investigation.It was docketed as TBP Case No. 86-00665, entitled "Atty. Francis Eric V. Puzon, et. al. vs. Leonilo M. Ocampo, et. al."With the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, the Office of the Ombudsman took cognizance of said complaint. 2 Following our ruling in the case of Zaldivar v. Sandiganbayan, 169 SCRA 843 (1988).

On March 2, 1989, as the Office of the Ombudsman went on with its investigation, the complainants from the OGCC reiterated their allegations in a joint affidavit.A subpoena 3 Attached to the subpoena are the following important documents: (1) Resolution of the Overall Deputy Ombudsman dated April 10, 1991; (2) letter-complaint against the petitioners and several other co-accused; (3) Lease-Purchase Agreement dated May 10, 1982; (4) GSIS Board of Trustees Resolution No. 326, which approved the contested transaction; (5) minutes of the meeting of the GSIS Board of Trustees held on April 23, 1982 where the Board gave its approval to the transaction; and, (6) the letter of Emilio G. La'O. was issued on February 11, 1991 against petitioner Clave, as well as eight other respondents who were all members of the GSIS Board of Trustees at the time of the questioned transaction.They were directed to submit their counter-affidavits and other supporting documents.Petitioner Clave filed his counter-affidavit on March 15, 1991 denying any criminal liability.

On April 10, 1991, the Office of the Ombudsman issued a Resolution finding "sufficient evidence to charge the private respondent and the respondent members of the Board of Trustees, with the exception of Leonilo M. Ocampo and Benjamin C. Morales, with conspiracy to violate Sec. 3(e), R.A. No. 3019."On the strength of this recommendation, an Information 4 This was later amended on July 18, 1991. was filed against petitioner and five other co-accused on May 14, 1991.The criminal action was instituted with the respondent Sandiganbayan, where it was docketed as Crim. Case No. 16699, entitled "People of the Philippines vs. Hermenegildo C. Dumlao, et. al."

On May 17, 1991, before the respondent court could issue a warrant or arrest, petitioner Clave filed therewith an Urgent Motion to Quash Information and to Hold in Abeyance Issuance of Warrant of Arrest.Additionally, he filed on July 12, 1991 a Motion for Production of Record of the Preliminary Investigation in order for the respondent, according to him, to properly resolve the May 17 motion.The respondent court denied both motions in a Resolution dated August 22, 1991.Undaunted by this setback, he filed a Motion for Reconsideration.This was similarly rejected on November 11, 1991.

Hence, the present petition seeking to annul and set aside the assailed Resolutions of the respondent Sandiganbayan dated August 22, 1991 and November 11, 1991 and to enjoin it from (1) proceeding with the arraignment of the petitioner; (2) enforcing any warrant for the arrest of the petitioner; and (3) conducting any further proceedings in Criminal Case No. 16699.On January 3, 1992, we issued a Temporary Restraining Order directing respondent court to cease and desist from conducting further proceedings in said criminal case until final orders.

In assailing the questioned Resolutions of the respondent court, petitioner Clave contends that it acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction: (1) in holding that probable cause had been established, without any evidence at all before it; (2) in refusing to consider the documents attached to petitioner's Motion to Quash all of which formed part of the record of the preliminary investigation; (3) in leaving the determination of probable cause to the investigating prosecutor; (4) in holding that the requirements of due process have been met; and (5) in holding that the Tatad case is not applicable.

The petition lacks merit.

The first three arguments petitioner raised, pertaining to the alleged error committed by the respondent court in ruling that probable cause had been duly established after preliminary investigation and that the issuance of warrant of arrest is proper and justified when in truth there is complete lack of evidence before it, are untenable.The rule prevailing in our jurisdiction is that a judge, in determining the existence of a probable cause, is not precluded from relying on evidence earlier gathered by responsible officer, forming part of the record of the case.The extent to which a judge may rely thereon depends on the circumstances of each case and is limited only by his sound discretion. 5 Lim vs. Feliz, 194 SCRA 292 (1991).

We hold that respondent Sandiganbayan followed the proper procedure.In performing its constitutional duty to personally determine the existence of probable cause it relied on the following evidence earlier gathered by the Special Prosecutor, to wit: (1) Resolution of the Overall Deputy Ombudsman dated April 10, 1991; (2) the Lease-Purchase Agreement dated May 10, 1982; (3) letter-complaint against the petitioners and several other respondents; and (4) minutes of the meeting of the GSIS Board of Trustees held on April 23, 1982 where the Board gave its approval to the transaction and other relevant documents. 6 Consolidated Comment, G.R. No. 102502, p. 13; Rollo, p. 184.All these pertinent documents formed part of the basis for the respondent Sandiganbayan's finding of the existence of a probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest against petitioner.

Likewise unfounded is the claim of the petitioner that the respondent Sandiganbayan erred in its alleged refusal to consider the document he attached in his Motion to Quash.A cursory inspection of these documents will reveal that they are the very same documents enumerated above (i.e., the letter-complaint, the lease-purchase agreement, etc.) utilized by the respondent Sandiganbayan in determining the sufficiency of a probable cause.In fact, they came to his possession only after they were attached to the subpoena served upon him on February 11, 1991.Contrary, therefore, to his posturing that the documents were given no consideration by the respondent court, they were actually the very evidence it took into account.

Untenable, too, is petitioner's assertion that the respondent court was mistaken in holding that the requirements of due process have been met.He cannot complain that he was denied of his right to due process.He was notified of the proceedings against him and was given all the opportunity to controvert the suit against him and put forward his defense.Undeniable is the fact that he received from the Office of the Ombudsman the subpoena dated February 11, 1991, which he admits to have done so three days later. 7 Petition, G.R. No. 102502, p. 4; Rollo, p. 5.As long as the party was given the opportunity to defend his interests in due course, he cannot be said to have been denied due process of law, for this opportunity to be heard is the very essence of due process. 8 Ginete v. Court of Appeals, 296 SCRA 38 (1998).In fact, from the time he was subpoenaed, up to the time he filed this present petition, he was able to file his counter-affidavit and several motions with either the Office of the Ombudsman or with the Sandiganbayan, all of which were given due consideration.

Lastly, petitioner Clave's insistence on the applicability of the doctrinal teaching in the case of Tatad v. Sandiganbayan 9 159 SCRA 70 (1988). deserves scant attention.Notwithstanding that the preliminary investigation stage of the two cases took an enormous amount of time to finish, the parallelism ends there.First, there was a finding in Tatad that "political motivations played a vital role in activating and propelling the prosecutorial process."Here, there can obviously be no reasonable ground for imputing such similar motive.Second, we also noted in Tatad the prosecution's blatant departure from established rules of procedure in conducting its preliminary investigation.Again, this kind of procedural lapse is absent in the case at bar as the Ombudsman faithfully abided by the lawful process.

Third, and most important, we concluded that the delay in Tatad was "inordinate and inexcusable."In the case at bar, however, the delay is not inexcusable.According to the Office of the Ombudsman, as of 1990, there were 40,970 cases filed with its office from 1986.The delay in the evaluation and preliminary investigation was attributable to the lack of investigators to handle the volume of work resulting in the slow disposition of the case.The case is also not simple, involving as it does a number of public officials who allegedly conspired to violate the anti-graft law by entering into an anomalous transaction which would naturally require "a more painstaking and grueling scrutiny" to evaluate.Hence, no logical comparison can be made with the Tatad case.The latter was mainly concerned with non-filing of Statements of Assets and Liabilities.It must also be stressed that the speedy resolution of this case was affected by the judicial and statutory re-evaluation of the powers of the Tanodbayan (where the complaint of March 14, 1986 was originally referred) viz-a-viz the powers of the Ombudsman (which office eventually took cognizance of the complaint).That legal controversy itself took nine months to settle.Hence, even though the letter-complaint was referred to the Tanodbayan on May 14, 1986, preliminary investigation formally began only sometime after March 2, 1989 when the complainants from the OGCC reiterated their allegations in a joint affidavit.Finally, the three year delay in Tatad after all the affidavits and counter-affidavits were ready for disposition by the Tanodbayan.In the case at bar, the three-year period investigation.The records reveal that it only took one month for the Overall Deputy Ombudsman to issue its Resolution after all the affidavits, counter-affidavits and supporting documents of both parties had been tendered.

Under the Constitution, all persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies. 10 Section 16, Article III, 1987 Constitution.Nowhere is this guaranty more significant and meaningful than in criminal cases where not only the fortune, but the life and liberty of the accused as well, are at stake.But while an accused is entitled to speedy disposition of cases, this right is necessarily relative for it must be consistent with reasonable delays.In the determination of whether or not the right has been violated, the factors that may be considered and balanced are length of delay, assertion of the right or failure to assert it, and prejudice caused by the delay. 11 Alvizo v. Sandiganbayan, 220 SCRA 55 (1993).

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the instant consolidated petitions are hereby DISMISSED.G.R. No. 103143 is dismissed for being moot and academic as a result of the death of the petitioner therein.G.R. No. 102502 is similarly dismissed there being no showing that the impugned Resolutions of the respondent Sandiganbayan are tainted by grave abuse of discretion or jurisdictional defect.The Temporary Restraining Order we issued on January 3, 1992 is hereby LIFTED.J. Melo, no part due to past official relationship with a party.

Very truly yours,

LUZVIMINDA D. PUNO
Clerk of Court

(Sgd.) MA. LUISA D. VILLARAMA

Asst. Clerk of Court


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