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572 Phil. 244

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. NO. 161067, March 14, 2008 ]

DOMINADOR C. FERRER, JR., Petitioner, vs. SANDIGANBAYAN, HON. EDILBERTO G. SANDOVAL, HON. FRANCISCO H. VILLARUZ, JR., and HON. RODOLFO G. PALATTAO, as Members of the Sandiganbayan, Second Division, ANNA MARIA L. HARPER, ESPERANZA G. GATBONTON, and People of the Philippines, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

Does a finding of lack of administrative liability of a respondent government official bar the filing of a criminal case against him for the same acts?

Before the Court is a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, seeking to annul the Resolutions of the Sandiganbayan, Second Division (public respondent) dated July 2, 2003[1] and October 22, 2003[2] in Criminal Case No. 26546. The Resolution of July 2, 2003 denied the Motion for Re-determination of Probable Cause filed by accused Dominador G. Ferrer (petitioner), while the Resolution of October 22, 2003 denied petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration and/or Motion to Quash.

The following are the factual antecedents:

On January 29, 2001, an Information[3] for violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019 was filed against petitioner, as follows:
That on or about August 20, 1998 or for sometime prior or subsequent thereto, in Manila, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, DOMINADOR C. FERRER, JR., being the Administrator of the Intramuros Administration (IA), Manila, while in the performance of his official and administrative functions as such, and acting with manifest partiality, evident bad faith and gross inexcusable negligence, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and criminally give unwarranted benefits to Offshore Construction and Development Company, by causing the award of the Lease Contracts to said company, involving Baluarte de San Andres, Ravellin de Recolletos, and Baluarte de San Francisco de Dilao, Intramuros, Manila, without conducting any public bidding as required under Joint Circular No. 1 dated September 30, 1989 of the Department of Budget and Management, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Public Works and Highways, and by allowing the construction of new structures in said leased areas without any building permit or clearance required under the Intramuros Charter (P.D. 1616) and the National Building Code, to the damage and prejudice of public interest.

CONTRARY TO LAW.
Manila, Philippines, January 29, 2001.[4]

and assigned to the Sandiganbayan's Second Division.

On April 4, 2001, petitioner filed a Motion for Reinvestigation, alleging that the Office of the Ombudsman disregarded certain factual matters which, if considered, will negate the finding of probable cause.[5]

On July 13, 2001, public respondent issued a Resolution denying petitioner's Motion for Reinvestigation.[6] It held that petitioner's contentions are all evidentiary in nature and may be properly considered only in a full-blown trial.

On September 12, 2001, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration.[7] Shortly thereafter, he filed a Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration, asserting that the complainants were guilty of forum shopping, due to the earlier dismissal of the administrative case against him.[8]

On December 11, 2001, public respondent issued a Resolution denying the Motion for Reconsideration.[9]

Petitioner filed a Motion for Leave to File a Second Motion for Reconsideration.[10] Again, he cited as his ground the alleged forum shopping of the private complainants.

On April 29, 2002, public respondent issued a Resolution denying the Motion for Leave to File a Second Motion for Reconsideration.[11] It held that there was no forum shopping since the administrative and criminal cases are two different actions, so neither resolution on the same would have the effect of res judicata on the other. The public respondent dismissed the second motion for reconsideration as a pro forma and prohibited motion.

Petitioner then filed a Petition for Certiorari with this Court, docketed as G.R. No. 153592, which assailed the Resolution of public respondent dated April 29, 2002 as having been issued with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction. On July 1, 2002, the Court dismissed the petition for having been filed out of time and for failure to pay the required docket fees.[12]

Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration[13] which the Court denied with finality in its Resolution dated September 4, 2002.[14]

On May 19, 2003, before he can be arraigned, petitioner filed yet another motion with public respondent, this time a Motion for Re-determination of Probable Cause,[15] invoking the ruling of the Office of the President (OP), dated February 29, 2000,[16] which absolved petitioner of administrative liability. The OP reviewed the administrative case filed against petitioner with the Presidential Commission Against Graft and Corruption (PCAGC) and held that petitioner acted in good faith and within the scope of his authority.

On July 2, 2003, the Sandiganbayan issued herein assailed Resolution denying the Motion for Re-determination of Probable Cause, stating as follows:
The Court resolves to deny the motion for re-determination of probable cause, the argument advanced therein having been passed upon and resolved by this Court in accused's motion to dismiss as well as motion for reconsideration and where the resolution of this Court was sustained by the Supreme Court.[17]
On August 4, 2003, upon his receipt of the Resolution, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration and/or to Quash Information,[18] arguing that the Supreme Court's dismissal of his petition for certiorari was based on a mere technicality. He reiterated his argument that since he has been cleared of administrative liability, the criminal case that was pending against him should likewise be dismissed.

The public respondent denied the motion in the other assailed Resolution dated October 22, 2003, stating as follows:
Finding no merit in the accused [sic] Motion for Reconsideration and/or Motion to Quash dated August 4, 2003 and considering the Opposition of the prosecution, the same is DENIED.

Indeed, the dismissal of the administrative complaint does not negate the existing criminal case pending before the Court. Moreover the grounds and arguments raised thereat could be considered matter of defense that is more and properly to be considered during a full blown trial.

WHEREFORE, the Motion for Reconsideration and/or Motion to Quash by the accused is denied for lack of merit.

x x x x

SO ORDERED.[19]
Hence, the present Petition for Certiorari, seeking to annul the Resolutions of the Sandiganbayan for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion and in excess of and/or without jurisdiction.

Petitioner insists that the Sandiganbayan should have dismissed the criminal case filed against him, since the alleged wrongful acts complained of in the case are the same as those alleged in the administrative case against him which have been dismissed.

Both the public and private prosecutors contend that the issues raised by petitioner have already been raised and passed upon; and that the assailed Resolutions of the Sandiganbayan merely reiterate its earlier Resolutions denying petitioner's motion for reinvestigation and various motions for reconsideration questioning the Ombudsman's finding of probable cause.[20] They claim that the issue became settled and final as early as the December 11, 2001 Resolution of the public respondent, which denied petitioner's motions for reinvestigation.[21] They further argue that this Court's denial of petitioner's earlier petition for certiorari (G.R. No. 153592) barred petitioner from filing the present petition.

The respondents cite jurisprudence, which states that the dismissal of an administrative case does not necessarily bar the filing of a criminal prosecution for the same or similar acts.[22]

The petition is devoid of merit.

In Paredes, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan,[23] the Court denied a similar petition to dismiss a pending criminal case with the Sandiganbayan on the basis of the dismissal of the administrative case against the accused. The Court ratiocinated, thus:
Petitioners call attention to the fact that the administrative complaint against petitioner Honrada was dismissed. They invoke our ruling in Maceda v. Vasquez that only this Court has the power to oversee court personnel's compliance with laws and take the appropriate administrative action against them for their failure to do so and that no other branch of the government may exercise this power without running afoul of the principle of separation of powers.

But one thing is administrative liability. Quite another thing is the criminal liability for the same act. Our determination of the administrative liability for falsification of public documents is in no way conclusive of his lack of criminal liability. As we have held in Tan v. Comelec, the dismissal of an administrative case does not necessarily bar the filing of a criminal prosecution for the same or similar acts which were the subject of the administrative complaint.[24] (Emphasis supplied.)
It is clear from Paredes that the criminal case against petitioner, already filed and pending with the Sandiganbayan, may proceed despite the dismissal of the administrative case arising out of the same acts.

The same rule applies even to those cases that have yet to be filed in court. In Tan v. Commission on Elections,[25] it was held that an investigation by the Ombudsman of the criminal case for falsification and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and an inquiry into the administrative charges by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) are entirely independent proceedings, neither of which results in or concludes the other. The established rule is that an absolution from a criminal charge is not a bar to an administrative prosecution, or vice versa.[26] The dismissal of an administrative case does not necessarily bar the filing of a criminal prosecution for the same or similar acts which were the subject of the administrative complaint.[27]

The Court finds no cogent reason to depart from these rules.

Petitioner argues that the criminal case against him requires a higher quantum of proof for conviction -- that is, proof beyond reasonable doubt -- than the administrative case, which needs only substantial evidence. He claims that from this circumstance, it follows that the dismissal of the administrative case should carry with it the dismissal of the criminal case.

This argument, however, has been addressed in jurisprudence. In Valencia v. Sandiganbayan,[28] the administrative case against the accused was dismissed by the Ombudsman on a finding that the contract of loan entered into was in pursuance of the police power of the accused as local chief executive,[29] and that the accused had been re-elected to office.[30] The Ombudsman, however, still found probable cause to criminally charge the accused in court.[31] When the accused filed a petition with the Supreme Court to dismiss the criminal case before the Sandiganbayan, the Court denied the petition, thus:
In the final analysis, the conflicting findings of the Ombudsman boil down to issues of fact which, however, are not within our province to resolve. As has been oft-repeated, this Court is not a trier of facts. This is a matter best left to the Sandiganbayan.

Petitioners argue that the dismissal by the Ombudsman of the administrative case against them based on the same subject matter should operate to dismiss the criminal case because the quantum of proof in criminal cases is proof beyond reasonable doubt, while that in administrative cases is only substantial evidence. While that may be true, it should likewise be stressed that the basis of administrative liability differs from criminal liability. The purpose of administrative proceedings is mainly to protect the public service, based on the time-honored principle that a public office is a public trust. On the other hand, the purpose of the criminal prosecution is the punishment of crime.

Moreover, one of the grounds for the dismissal of the administrative case against petitioners is the fact that they were re-elected to office. Indeed, a re-elected local official may not be held administratively accountable for misconduct committed during his prior term of office. The rationale for this holding is that when the electorate put him back into office, it is presumed that it did so with full knowledge of his life and character, including his past misconduct. If, armed with such knowledge, it still re-elects him, then such re-election is considered a condonation of his past misdeeds.

However, the re-election of a public official extinguishes only the administrative, but not the criminal, liability incurred by him during his previous term of office x x x.

x x x x

There is, thus, no reason for the Sandiganbayan to quash the Information against petitioners on the basis solely of the dismissal of the administrative complaint against them.[32]
To sustain petitioner's arguments will be to require the Sandiganbayan and the Ombudsman to merely adopt the results of administrative investigations which would not only diminish the powers and duties of these constitutional offices, but also violate the independent nature of criminal and administrative cases against public officials. This will also amount to untold delays in criminal proceedings before the Sandiganbayan and Ombudsman, as every criminal trial and investigation before these bodies will be made to await the results of pending administrative investigations. Such is not the intent of the framers of the Constitution and the laws governing public officers.

Petitioner cites Larin v. Executive Secretary[33] to support his arguments. That case, however, is not on all fours with the present case.

In Larin, the accused was first convicted by the Sandiganbayan for violation of the National Internal Revenue Code and Section 3 (e) of Republic Act No. 3019. On the basis of this conviction, an administrative case was filed against him. On appeal of the criminal conviction to the Supreme Court, however, he was acquitted upon a finding that the acts he had committed were neither illegal nor irregular. When the accused sought a similar dismissal of the administrative case, the Supreme Court sustained him and ruled that since the same acts for which he was administratively charged had been found neither illegal nor irregular, his acquittal in the criminal case should entail the dismissal of the administrative case.

The present case differs from Larin because here, the administrative case was filed independently of the criminal case. The administrative case was not filed on the basis of a criminal conviction, as in fact, the administrative case was dismissed without regard for the results of the criminal case. This is in contrast with Larin, where the administrative case was dismissed only after its basis, the criminal conviction, was overturned on appeal.

We cannot reverse Larin by ruling that petitioner's discharge from the administrative action should result in the dismissal of the criminal case. The argument cannot be sustained without violating settled principles. The rule is

that administrative liability is separate and distinct from penal and civil liabilities.[34] In Larin, no less than the Supreme Court acquitted the accused of charges of wrongdoing; in the case at bar, no court of justice has yet declared petitioner not guilty of committing illegal or irregular acts.

The independent nature of a criminal prosecution dictates that the Sandiganbayan must determine petitioner's criminal liability without its hands being tied by what transpired in the administrative case. The court is duty-bound to exercise its independent judgment.[35] It is not ousted of its jurisdiction by the ruling in the administrative proceeding. It is axiomatic that when the court obtains jurisdiction over a case, it continues to retain it until the case is terminated.[36]

Under the Rules of Court, petitioner's absolution from administrative liability is not even one of the grounds for a Motion to Quash.[37]

Moreover, petitioner lacked the right to file the instant petition. Petitioner already raised the issue of his discharge from administrative liability in his supplemental motion for reconsideration of the Sandiganbayan's Resolution dated July 13, 2001.[38] When the motion was denied, he again alleged such fact in his motion for leave to file a second motion for reconsideration.[39] Both motions have already been denied by the Sandiganbayan in its Resolutions dated December 11, 2001[40] and April 29, 2002.[41] Petitioner's argument on private respondents' alleged forum shopping was not sustained by the Sandiganbayan, since administrative and criminal cases are two independent actions. It correctly held that neither action barred the filing of the other, and that both cases did not pray for a common relief or share the same parties.[42]

Thus, the question on the effect of the administrative case on the criminal case before the Sandiganbayan was settled as early as the Resolution dated December 11, 2001. When petitioner questioned this ruling before the Supreme Court in G.R. No. 153592, he again raised the issue of forum-shopping, but his efforts failed because he filed his petition out of time. With the dismissal of G.R. No. 153592, the Resolution of the Sandiganbayan dated December 11, 2001 has become final.

Such finality was evident in the public respondent's Resolution dated July 2, 2003,[43] which denied petitioner's Motion for the Re-determination of Probable Cause. In it, the public respondent aptly stated:
The Court resolves to deny the motion for re-determination of probable cause, the argument advanced therein having been passed upon and resolved by this Court in accused's motion to dismiss as well as motion for reconsideration and where the resolution of this Court was sustained by the Supreme Court.[44] (Emphasis supplied)
Thus, the petition now before the Court, which raises the same issues, must necessarily fail.

Petitioner's tactics to delay his arraignment and trial cannot be countenanced. In utter contempt of the Court's efforts to expedite all judicial

proceedings, he has filed a petition which merely raises issues that have long been resolved with finality. By so doing, petitioner has gone beyond merely

exhausting his available remedies and trodden in the realm of abusing legal processes.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED. The Sandiganbayan is ordered to proceed with the arraignment and trial of Criminal Case No. 26546. Petitioner and his counsel are ADMONISHED not to engage further in delaying tactics.

Costs against petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

Ynares-Santiago, (Chairperson), Chico-Nazario, Nachura, and Reyes, JJ., concur.



[1] Penned by Justices Edilberto G. Sandoval, Francisco H. Villaruz and Diosdado M. Peralta; rollo, pp. 18-20.

[2] Penned by Associate Justice Edilberto G. Sandoval and concurred in by Associate Justices Francisco H. Villaruz, Jr. and Rodolfo G. Palattao, id. at 21.

[3] Docketed as Criminal Case No. 26546.

[4] Rollo, p. 22

[5] Id. at 126.

[6] Id. at 127-128.

[7] Id. at 128, 215.

[8] Id. at 130-131.

[9] Id. at 129-130, 215.

[10] Rollo, pp. 132, 215.

[11] Id. at 132-134, 166-168, 215-216.

[12] Id. at 135, 216.

[13] Id.

[14] Id. at 216.

[15] Rollo, pp. 5, 24-41.

[16] Id. at 66-68.

[17] Id. at 19.

[18] Id. at 6, 44-62.

[19] Rollo, p. 21.

[20] Rollo, p. 126.

[21] Id. at 221.

[22] Id. at 136, 220.

[23] 322 Phil. 709 (1996).

[24] Id. at 730-731.

[25] 237 Phil. 353 (1994).

[26] Id. at 359.

[27] Paredes, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan, supra note 23, at 731; Tecson v. Sandiganbayan, 376 Phil. 191, 199 (1999).

[28] G.R. No. 141336, June 29, 2004, 433 SCRA 88.

[29] Id. at 91

[30] Id. at 99.

[31] Id. at 98.

[32] Id. at 98-100.

[33] 345 Phil. 962 (1997).

[34] Tecson v. Sandiganbayan, supra, note 27.

[35] Muñez v. Ariño, 311 Phil 537, 548 (1995).

[36] Denila v. Bellosillo,159-A Phil. 354, 358 (1975).

[37] RULES OF COURT, Rule 117, Sec. 3.

[38] Rollo, pp. 127, 131.

[39] Id. at 132.

[40] Id. at 129-130, 215.

[41] Id. at 166-168.

[42] Id. at 130-134. The Sandiganbayan stated that the administrative case was initiated by an anonymous complainant.

[43] Id. at 19.

[44] Id.

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