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[G.R. No. 157943. September 12, 2006]

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES v. GILBERT REYES WAGAS

En Banc

Sirs/Mesdames:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated SEPT. 12, 2006

G.R. No. 157943 (The People of the Philippines v. Gilbert Reyes Wagas)

X -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- X

This is regarding the action of Judge Gabriel T. Ingles in granting bail pending appeal to the accused in People v. Gilbert Reyes Wagas, which appeal is docketed as G.R. No. 157945 before this Court. The case involves a prosecution for large scale estafa through the issuance of bouncing checks punishable under Presidential Decree No. 818.

Judge Ingles convicted the accused and sentenced him to an Indeterminate penalty of twelve years of prision mayor as minimum to thirty years of reclusion perpetua as maximum, on the basis of his finding that the accused was guilty of the charge for having issued a check for P200,000 in payment of 200 sacks of rice, which check bounced upon presentment for payment.

The order granting bail is dated December 3, 2002 and states, as follows:

This resolves the Petition for Admission to Bail filed by the accused and opposed by the public prosecutor.

In People vs. Reyes [,] 212 SCRA 402, the Supreme Court held that in large scale estafa thru the issuance of bouncing checks punishable under Presidential Decree No. 818 where the amount involved exceeds P22,000.00 the penalty is reclusion perpetua, and where evidence of guilt is strong, the accused is not entitled to bail.

However in People vs. Hernando, 317 SCRA 617, the Supreme Court ruled that the imposition upon the accused of a straight penalty of thirty (30) years of reclusion perpetua is an error for the penalty imposable should not be thirty (30) years but an indeterminate penalty. The Court declared, to wit:

"Hence, if the amount of the fraud exceeds twenty two thousand pesos (P22,000.00), the penalty of reclusion temporal is imposed in its maximum, adding one (1) year for each additional ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00) but the total penalty shall not exceed thirty (30) years, which shall be termed reclusion perpetua. As used herein, reclusion perpetua is not the prescribed penalty of the offense. It merely describes the penalty actually imposed on account of the amount of the fraud involved, which exceeds twenty two thousand pesos (P22,000.00)" (underscoring supplied)

Following this later ruling, this Court imposed an indeterminate penalty upon the accused and not a straight penalty.

Further, this ruling in People vs. Hernando means that large scale estafa is not really a capital offense because it is not punishable by reclusion perpetua considering that "reclusion perpetua is not the prescribed penalty for the offense. It merely describes the penalty actually imposed on account of the amount of fraud involved."

Consequently, it renders the People vs. Reyes ruling of doubtful application and bail a matter of discretion on appeal though there is a judgment of conviction, pursuant to Section 5, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.

In today's hearing on this Petition for Admission to Bail while the defense expressed willingness to put up a cash bond to show that accused has no intention to evade liability, the prosecution however did not present any evidence that would establish any of the grounds enumerated in Sec. 5, Rule 114 for the denial of the right to bail.

Accordingly, the petition for bail is granted. Bail is fixed in the sum of Forty Thousand Pesos (P40,000.00) cash, which the accused may deposit with the nearest collector of internal revenue or provincial city or municipal treasurer.

SO ORDERED.[1]cralaw

On November 17, 2003, the Court required Judge Ingles to explain why the accused is out on bail.

In his Manifestation and Compliance, dated January 13, 2004, Judge Ingles stated that in issuing the Order, he "took into consideration the discussion of Retired Justice Oscar M. Herrera of the Court of Appeals in his book Remedial Law Volume IV, 2001 Edition, pp. 388-390."

Retired Justice Oscar M. Herrera's book states:

REMEDIAL LAW

Volume IV

4. No absolute Right to Bail for Offenses Punishable by Reclusion Perpetua

In People vs. Reyes, 212 SCRA 402, the Court en banc speaking thru Justice Regalado held that in large scale, estafa the issuance of bouncing checks punishable under Presidential Decree No. 818 where the amount involved exceeds P22,000.00 the penalty is reclusion perpetua, and where evidence of guilt is strong, the accused is not entitled to bail.

According to Justice Regalado "* * * under the rule of contemporanea exposion perpetua and since the felony of estafa was not expressly or impliedly excluded from the aforestated provisions on non-bailability, we see no reason why an accused charged with estafa punishable by reclusion perpetua should now be given the exceptional and favored treatment of being admitted to bail. The same may be said of any accused charged with any offense so punished, whether the penalty of reclusion perpetua is by direct statutory prescription or is imposed as a consequence of the interplay of related provisions of the Code.

It will further be observed that Presidential Decree No. 818 does not apply to all forms of staff but only to estafa by means of deceit under paragraph 2(d) of Article 315, that is, estafa through the use of so-called bouncing checks. (People v. Villaraza, et al., 81 SCRA 95 [1978]; People v. Reyes, 212 SCRA 410).

In People vs. Hernando, G.R. No. 125214, Oct. 28, 1999, 317 SCRA 617

Accused spouses were charged with estafa under Article 315, par. 2(d) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 818. (Amending Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code by increasing the penalties for estafa committed by means of bouncing checks), which increased the penalty for estafa committed by means of bouncing checks. The trial court convicted accused spouses and sentenced them "to each suffer imprisonment of thirty (30) years of reclusion perpetua." The Court held: This is an error. The proper penalty imposable should not be thirty (30) years (straight) but an indeterminate penalty. (People vs. Viente, 225 SCRA 361, 373 [1993]; Argoncillo vs. Court of Appeals, 96 SCAD 41, 292 SCRA 313, 330 [1998]) The requirement of imposing an Indeterminate sentence in all criminal offenses, whether punishable by the Revised Penal Code or by special laws, with definite maximum and maximum terms, as the Court deems proper within the legal range of the penalty specified by the law is mandatory. (Bacar vs. de Guzman, 81 SCAD 708, 271 SCRA 328, 340 [1997]; People vs. Lee, Jr., 132 SCRA 66 [1984]; Argoncillo v. Court of Appeals, supra).

Hence, if the amount of the fraud exceeds twenty-two thousand pesos, the penalty of reclusion temporal is imposed in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional ten thousand (P10,000.00) pesos but the total penalty shall not exceed thirty (30) years, which shall be termed reclusion perpetua. As used herein, reclusion perpetua is not the prescribed penalty for the offense. It merely describes the penalty actually imposed on account of the amount of the fraud involved, which exceeds twenty two thousand (P22,000.00) pesos. (People vs. Elpidio Hernando and Elena Aban Hernando, G.R. No. 125214, October 28, 1999, J., Pardo) Thus, the Indeterminate Sentence Law is applicable to large scale estafa. The rule was reiterated in People vs. Panganiban, G.R. No. 133028, July 10, 2000.

The Indeterminate Sentence Law is not applicable to persons convicted of offenses punished with death penalty or life imprisonment.

Under the Constitution: "All persons except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law."

Before conviction by the Regional Trial Court bail is a matter of right for an offense not punishable by death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment. (Sec. 4, Rule 114).

It would, thus, seem that the pronouncement in Crecencia vs. Reyes that "an accused charged with estafa punishable by "reclusion perpetua" should not be given the exceptional and favored treatment of being admitted to bail," may not stand on solid grounds since according to Hernando and Panganiban reclusion perpetua is not the prescribed penalty for the offense for large scale estafa committed by bouncing check (P.D. No. 818) but merely describes the penalty actually imposed on account of the amount of the fraud involved, which exceeds twenty two thousand (P22,000.00) pesos. If it is not punishable by reclusion perpetua, it is mandatory for the court to apply the indeterminate sentence law, the minimum of which shall be in the range of the penalty next lower in that prescribed by the Code for the offense. For offenses charging violation of large scale estafa thru bouncing checks such penalty is prision mayor, with a range of six years and one (1) day to twelve years (People v. Elpidio Hernando and Elena Aban Hernando, G.R. No. 125214, October 28, 1999; People v. Panganiban, G.R. No. 133028, July 10, 2000) Under this formulation, the penalty prescribed by law is reclusion temporal. Any person charge with such offense should before conviction be therefore entitled to bail as a matter of right.[2]cralaw

The Court referred the matter to Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr.,[3]cralaw who recommended that Judge Ingles be administratively charged with simple ignorance of the law. Court Administrator Velasco stated that People v. Reyes still prevails, namely, that those sentenced to reclusion perpetua under Presidential Decree No. 818 are not entitled to bail. People v. Hernando, he stressed, merely held that the Indeterminate Sentence Law can be applied to such a sentence, because it is really a penalty of thirty years although described as reclusion perpetua, but it did not hold that the accused would be entitled to bail.[4]cralaw

The Court, upon such recommendation, resolved on July 5, 2005, to direct the Court Administrator to file administrative charges against Judge Ingles for simple ignorance of the law.

On August 7, 2006, however, new Court Administrator Christopher O. Lock wrote the Chief Justice a letter which recommended that the resolution of July 5, 2005 be reconsidered, stating in part as follows:

x x x

For purposes of complying with the resolution dated July 5, 2005 this Office has finalized the draft of the complaint against Judge Ingles a copy of which is hereto attached. This notwithstanding, this Office is of the opinion that, after a closer study of the jurisprudence on this matter, Judge Ingles may not be administratively liable.

In People vs. Cortez (G.R. No. 92560, October 15, 1991) Court laid down certain policies on the matter of whether or not an accused may be admitted to bail after conviction. One of those policies is:

"3) When an accused is charged with a capital offense or an offense which under the law at the time of its commission and at the time of the application for bail is punishable by reclusion perpetua and is out on bail, and after trial is convicted by the trial court of the offense charge, his bond shall be cancelled and the accused shall be placed in confinement pending resolution of his appeal." (p. 405)

As a result of this decision this Court issued Administrative Circular No. 2-92 (January 20, 1992) reiterating the aforementioned policies.

In People vs. Reyes (212 SCRA 402) this Court ruled that the afore-quoted policy covers cases of estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(d) of the Revised Penal Code where the accused was sentenced to suffer imprisonment for more than twenty (20) years. First, this Court noted that by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 818, the Penalty for estafa under Article 315, paragraph 2(d) has been increased as follows:

"SECTION 1. Any person who shall defraud another by means of false pretenses or fraudulent acts as defined in paragraph 2(d) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 4885, shall be punished by:

1st . The penalty pf reclusion temporal if the amount of the fraud is over 12,000 pesos but does not exceed 22,000 pesos, and if such amount exceeds the latter sum, the penalty provided in this paragraph shall be imposed in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional 10,000 pesos but the total penalty which may be imposed shall in no cases exceed thirty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which maybe imposed under the Revised Penal Code, the penalty shall be termed reclusion perpetua.

Second, this Court held that a penalty higher than reclusion temporal (above twenty years) imposed pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 818 may be properly categorized and considered as embraced within the penalty of reclusion perpetua (p. 407) so much so that pursuant to the policy laid down in People vs. Cortez and Administrative Circular No. 2-92, the accused is no longer entitled to bail pending his appeal.

Then came the case of People vs. Hernando (317 SCRA 617) Although in this case, the Supreme Court discussed the penalty imposed pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 818 in connection with the failure of the trial courts to apply the Indeterminate Sentence Law, it was nevertheless categorically stated therein that as used in Presidential Decree No. 818, reclusion perpetua is not the prescribed penalty for the offense, but merely describes the penalty actually imposed on account of the amount of the fraud involved which exceeds twenty two thousand (P22,000.00) pesos. (p.629) This was reiterated in People vs. Panganiban. (335 SCRA 354, 368-369).

Judge Ingles was aware of the decision in People vs. Reyes and People vs. Hernando, having cited these cases in his order dated December 3, 2002. Judge Ingles did not apply the ruling in People vs. Reyes but in so doing he was not swayed by personal preference but because of the pronouncement in People vs. Hernando. In this sense his order was not totally baseless since he relied on a decision of this Court. This is why this Office believes that Judge Ingles should not be held administratively liable. The error, if it may be called one, of Judge Ingles arose out of an honest difference of opinion brought about by what seems to be conflicting decisions of this Court.

It may not amiss to point out that Judge Ingles is not the only one who believes that the ruling in People vs. Hernando should prevail over that of People vs. Reyes. An eminent jurist, whose book has been considered as a "scholarly reference in the field of law," has the same opinion as Judge Ingles. In his book, the said jurist, after discussing the rulings in People vs. Reyes, People vs. Hernando and People vs. Panganiban, offered this opinion.

"It would, thus, seem that the pronouncement in Crecencia vs. Reyes (sic) that "an accused charged with estafa punishable by "reclusion perpetua" should not be given the exceptional and favored treatment of being admitted to bail, "may not stand on solid grounds since according to Hernando and Panganiban reclusion perpetua is not prescribed penalty for the offense for large scale estafa committed by bouncing check (P.D. No. 818) but merely described the penalty actually imposed on account of the amount of the fraud involved, which exceeds twenty two thousand (P22,000.00)..." (Oscar M. Herrera, Remedial Law, Vol. Vol. IV, Rules 110 to 127, Rev. Rules of Criminal Procedures, 2001 Ed., pp. 389-390)

In asking for a reconsideration of the resolution dated July 5, 2005, this Office is guided by the spirit behind the ruling in Re: Joaquin T. Borromeo (214 SCRA 405, 464-465) wherein this Court held that judges are not generally liable for acts done within the scope of their jurisdiction and in good faith. We certainly do not find any proof of malice, bad faith or corrupt motive behind the act of Judge Ingles in issuing the order dated December 3, 2002. Furthermore, in Dela Cruz vs. Concepcion (235 SCRA 597, 607) it was held that judicial discretion involves the exercise of judgment on the part of the judge. The judge must be allowed reasonable latitude for the operation of his own individual view of the case, his appreciation of the facts, and his understanding of the applicable law on the matter. If the judge committed any error at all, it was an error of judgment and it is firmly established principle that a judge may not be administratively charged for mere error of judgment in the absence of a showing of any bad faith, malice or corrupt purpose.

In Vda. De Zaala vs. Pamaran (39 SCRA 430) this Court held that no one, called upon to try facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice can be infallible in his judgment. All that is expected of him is that he follow the rules prescribed to ensure a fair and impartial hearing. He then assesses the different facts that emerge therefrom and the issues presented by the parties, and on the basis thereof make his conclusions, with only his conscience and knowledge of the law to guide him and decided the case accordingly.

In view of the foregoing, it is most respectfully recommended that the resolution dated July 5, 2002 of this Court directing this Office to file administrative charge for simple ignorance against Judge Gabriel T. Ingles be reconsidered and set aside, and that the explanation of Judge Ingles as to the reason why the accused is out on bail be considered satisfactory.[5]cralaw

The Court finds that the matters raised by the new Court Administrator are best raised by way of defense by the Judge himself.

WHEREFORE, the Court Administrator is hereby DIRECTED to forthwith COMPLY with the Resolution of this Court of July 5, 2005 and cause the filing of the administrative charges against Judge Ingles for simple ignorance of the law.

Furthermore, appellant, GILBERT REYES WAGAS, is required to EXPLAIN, in ten (10) days from receipt of this Resolution, why his bail should not be cancelled for having been erroneously granted.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) MA. LUISA D. VILLARAMA
Clerk of Court



Endnotes:

[1]cralaw Rollo, pp. 30-31.

[2]cralaw Annex "B," Manifestation and Compliance; Rollo, pp. 50-51.

[3]cralaw Now a Member of this Court.

[4]cralaw Memorandum, dated January 7, 2005; Rollo, pp. 153-155.

[5]cralaw Letter dated August 7, 2006, pp. 1-5.


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