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573 Phil. 451

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 173360, March 28, 2008 ]

LT. COL. PACIFICO G. ALEJO, PETITIONER, VS. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

This petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assails the Decision[1] dated 31 January 2006 of the Sandiganbayan, Fifth Division in A/R No. 064 which affirmed the Decision[2] dated 26 July 2002 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Palayan City, Branch 40, finding petitioner Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.) Pacifico G. Alejo guilty of Malversation of Public Property punishable under paragraph 4, Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code.

On 29 December 1994, petitioner was charged before the RTC with the crime of Malversation of Public Property, allegedly committed as follows:
That on or about June 8, 1992, in Nueva Ecija, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, a public officer, being then the Commanding Officer of the Real Estate Preservation Economic Welfare Center, and accountable for confiscated illegal logs he received by reason of his position and office, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, and with grave abuse of confidence, misappropriate, embezzle and take away 1,000 board feet of logs confiscated by elements of the 56th IB, 7th ID, PA, valued at P20,000.00 Philippine Currency and converted for his own personal use and benefit, to the damage and prejudice of the government.[3]
When arraigned on 22 November 1995, petitioner pleaded not guilty.

It appears that petitioner was also charged with two different crimes, namely, Violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 and Direct Bribery, which were allegedly interrelated with the malversation case. Thus, during the hearing on 6 June 1996, petitioner's counsel moved that the two other cases filed against him, i.e., for direct bribery and violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, be jointly tried with the malversation case. The RTC granted the motion for joint trial.

At trial, the prosecution presented the following witnesses: (1) Colonel Gerardo Lantoria, Deputy Chief of Office, Office of Ethical Standards and Public Accountability, Judge Advocate General's Office (JAGO), who received the complaint against petitioner, had the said complaint investigated, and was the one who prepared the Affidavit-Complaint against petitioner after the Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army recommended the elevation of the case to the Ombudsman for preliminary investigation; (2) Lieutenant Rodolfo Estremos, then a master sergeant and a subordinate of petitioner, who testified that he loaded and brought the 1,000 board feet of confiscated logs to the house of petitioner upon the latter's instruction; (3) Sergeant Nelson Flores, who was the driver of the truck used in transporting the confiscated logs to petitioner's house; and (4) Amrodin Sultan, then the Commander of Atate Detachment where the logs were stored, testified that Estremos took the logs from the detachment after Sultan gave his consent upon being informed that such was upon the order of petitioner who was a superior officer.

As gathered from the combined testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, the prosecution was able to establish that at the time of the commission of the crime, petitioner was the Commanding Officer of the Real Estate Preservation Economic Welfare Center (REPEWC), 7th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, Palayan City. As a higher unit, REPEWC controls smaller units, one of which is Task Force Sagip Likas Yaman (TFSLY). TFSLY is composed of the military, as the armed component, and the Office of the Community Environment and Natural Resource of the Department of Environment and Natural Resouces (DENR), as the civilian element, in the drive against illegal logging. Petitioner was the Task Force Commander of the TFSLY. Being the commanding officer of the REPEWC and the task force commander of the TFSLY, petitioner was involved in the anti-illegal logging campaign. Witnesses Rodolfo Estremos, Amrodin Sultan, and Nelson Flores were among his subordinates.

To further strengthen the anti-illegal campaign, the DENR- Region III Office and the 7th Infantry Division (7th ID) of the Philippine Army entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on 23 September 1991, wherein it was agreed upon, inter alia, that the 7th ID would accept custody of confiscated mineral and forest products, tools, equipment and conveyances for safekeeping.[4]

On 8 June 1992, there were 46 logs, measuring about 10 to 12 meters, stockpiled at Atate Detachment, the detachment which was primarily created to confiscate illegally-transported logs. The confiscated logs were valued at P20,000.00 per stipulation of the counsel of the accused.[5] On the same day, Amrodin Sultan, the Detachment Commander thereof, was notified by Rodolfo Estremos that petitioner instructed him to load the confiscated lumber into a 6x6 truck driven by Nelson Flores. When the confiscated logs were loaded, Flores and Estremos drove to petitioner's house at Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija, and unloaded the said logs in the presence of the petitioner, his wife and mother-in-law.

Rodolfo Estremos executed an Affidavit against petitioner dated 15 July 1992, while Amrodin Sultan and Nelson Flores executed their respective affidavits on 16 July 1992 before Captain Simeon T. Infante of the Division Headquarters, 7th ID, Fort Magsaysay, Palayan City. The affidavits contained declarations that they delivered the confiscated lumber to the residence of the petitioner.

The defense, on the other hand, presented petitioner and Romeo Buenaventura, the then Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer. Petitioner denied the allegations against him. He declared that he knew the prosecution witnesses who were his subordinates. He asserted that prosecution witnesses Rodolfo Estremos and Amrodin Sultan testified against him because they were intimidated by people in the military's higher echelon, one of whom was a certain General Soriano. He claimed that these witnesses executed affidavits sometime in July of 1993 repudiating their earlier affidavits accusing him of taking the confiscated logs for his benefit.

Romeo Buenaventura testified that on 7 December 1992, he executed a citation of commendation for petitioner for the latter's support in the campaign against illegal logging.

On 26 July 2002, the RTC rendered a decision acquitting petitioner of the crimes of direct bribery and violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, but convicting him of the crime of Malversation of Public Property. The relevant decretal portion of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered:

x x x x

2.) Finding the accused GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Malversation of Public Property corresponding to Criminal Case No. 0639-P. Considering that the subject lumber is valued at TWENTY THOUSAND PESOS (P20,000.00), the imposable penalty under Article 217 (4) of the Revised Penal Code is Reclusion Temporal in its medium period which is 14 yrs., 8 months and 1 day to 17 yrs. and 4 mos. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, in the absence of any mitigating or aggravating circumstance, the Court hereby sentences the accused, LTC. PACIFICO G. ALEJO, to suffer imprisonment of eight (8) years and one (1) days as minimum to seventeen (17) years as maximum. The accused is furthermore ordered to pay the State the amount of TWENTY THOUSAND PESOS (P20,000.00) representing the value of the lumber misappropriated as well as the costs of suit.[6]
On 4 September 2002, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration and/or to Reopen the Proceedings. Petitioner contended that the evidence for the prosecution failed to show that he was an accountable officer of the subject lumber; thus, he could not be liable for the crime of malversation of public property.

The RTC, without the objection of the prosecution, ordered the reopening of the case for the presentation of additional evidence.

On 31 July 2003, the defense presented witness Atty. Hermilo Barrios, the Deputy JAGO of the 7th ID in 1991-1993. He testified that he prepared the 23 September 1991 MOA entered into by the 7th ID of the Philippine Army and DENR, Region III. According to him, it was the DENR that gave the orders to the military component to confiscate and seize illegal logs. The military component had no authority and accountability with respect to the confiscated vehicles and forest products that were being seized. He said that the military compound was used only as impounding area, inasmuch as the DENR was ill-equipped to accommodate the numerous logs seized during the anti-illegal logging campaign.[7] He stated further that it was the DENR that had total control of the impounding area.[8]

On 25 September 2003, the prosecution presented Atty. Salome Cansino, Chief Legal Counsel of the DENR when the MOA was executed. She testified that based on the MOA, whenever apprehension or confiscation was made by the TFSLY, the forest products or equipment would be placed in the custody of the REPEWC or the 7th ID depot. She stressed that the disposition of these forest products lies with the DENR which would evaluate and determine the legality of said products.[9] The military component of the task force, therefore, cannot release the confiscated products without the authority from the DENR.[10]

In an order dated 2 October 2003, the RTC denied the motion for reconsideration and affirmed its decision dated 26 July 2002, convicting petitioner of the crime of malversation.

Dissatisfied by the ruling of the RTC, petitioner elevated the case to the Sandiganbayan.

In a decision dated 31 January 2006, the Sandiganbayan affirmed the decision of the RTC convicting petitioner of the crime of malversation, viz:

In view of all the foregoing, we hereby affirm the decision of the lower court finding the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of malversation. However, after applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law in the absence of any aggravating and mitigating circumstance, the penalty imposed by it should be modified to TEN (10) YEARS AND ONE (1) DAY prision mayor as minimum, to SIXTEEN (16) YEARS, FIVE (5) MONTHS AND ELEVEN (11) DAYS of reclusion temporal, as maximum; perpetual special disqualification; and to pay a fine of Php20,000.00 equal to the amount malversed, and the costs of the suit.[11]

Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration which was denied by the Sandiganbayan in its resolution dated 26 June 2006.

Hence, the instant petition.

Petitioner maintains that the prosecution failed to discharge its burden of proving his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Petitioner asserts that the testimonies of prosecution witnesses Rodolfo Estremos, Amrodin Sultan and Nelson Flores should be appreciated with careful scrutiny since these witnesses were pressured or intimidated by General Soriano to testify against him and considering that before they took the witness stand, they had already executed their respective affidavits recanting their accusations against petitioner. Their act of taking the witness stand and reviving the accusations against petitioner become suspect in view of the fact that they are being used by General Soriano to pin him down.

Aside from the bare testimonies of Estremos, Sultan and Flores, petitioner claims that the prosecution failed to present any documentary evidence showing that the confiscated logs actually existed and were included in the inventory of the DENR as confiscated logs, which were turned over to the custody of the TFSLY and which were subsequently lost. Petitioner insists that the audit or inventory of confiscated logs under the possession and custody of the TFSLY is crucial to the case and in the absence thereof, the charge of malversation must fail. He adds that the prosecution's failure to establish that there were indeed confiscated logs could mean acquittal. If indeed these logs exist, it cannot be considered vested with public character absent proper documentation of confiscation pursuant to the MOA. Since the logs were not vested with public character, he said he cannot be considered as an "accountable officer" within the purview of Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code. Moreover, he avers that the prosecution failed to prove the actual value of the confiscated logs.

Petitioner also capitalizes on the inconsistencies of the prosecution witnesses on the quantity of the lumber or logs that were misappropriated. He points out that witness Estremos's testimony conflicts with that of witness Flores because the former said the logs were unloaded in the presence of the wife of the petitioner and his mother-in-law, while the latter stated that unloading was done in the presence of the accused only. This glaring inconsistency, petitioner stresses, shatters the credibility of the prosecution witnesses.

In the main, petitioner wants this Court to weigh the credibility of the prosecution witnesses vis-a-vis that of the defense witnesses. It has often been said, however, that credibility of witnesses is a matter best examined by, and left to, the trial courts. [12] When the factual findings of the trial court are affirmed by the appellate court, the general rule applies.[13] This Court will not consider factual issues and evidentiary matters already passed upon. The petitioner raises the same issues he brought before the appellate court which gave credence to the findings and decision of the trial court.

Factual findings of the trial court are entitled to respect and are not to be disturbed on appeal unless some facts or circumstances of weight and substance, having been overlooked or misinterpreted, might materially affect the disposition of the case.[14] The assessment by the trial court of the credibility of a witness is entitled to great weight. It is even conclusive and binding if not tainted with arbitrariness or oversight of some fact or circumstance of weight and influence.

In the case under consideration, we find that the trial court did not overlook, misapprehend, or misapply any fact of value for us to overturn the findings of the trial court.

The prosecution, through the testimonies of the key witnesses Rodolfo Estremos, Nelson Flores, and Amrodin Sultan, was able to establish beyond reasonable doubt the existence of the elements of the crime hurled against petitioner.

Malversation of public property is defined and penalized under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code, the pertinent provisions of which read:
Art. 217. Malversation of public funds or property - Presumption of malversation. - Any public officer who, by reason of the duties of his office, is accountable for public funds or property, shall appropriate the same or shall take or misappropriate or shall consent, through abandonment or negligence, shall permit any other person to take such public funds or property, wholly or partially, or shall otherwise be guilty of the misappropriation or malversation of such funds or property, shall suffer:

x x x x

4. The penalty of reclusion temporal, in its medium and maximum periods, if the amount involved is more than twelve thousand pesos but is less than twenty-two thousand pesos. If the amount exceeds the latter, the penalty shall be reclusion temporal in its maximum period to reclusion perpetua.

In all cases, persons guilty of malversation shall also suffer the penalty of perpetual special disqualification and a fine equal to the amount of the funds malversed or equal to the total value of the property embezzled.
The elements of malversation of public property, essential to the conviction of an accused under the above penal provision, are:
  1. That the offender is a public officer;

  2. That he has the custody or control of the property by reason of the duties of his office;

  3. That the property is a public property for which he is accountable; and

  4. That he appropriated, took, misappropriated or consented to, or through abandonment or negligence, permitted another person to take them.[15]
It is beyond dispute that petitioner, during the time relative to the case, was a public officer, as he was then the Commanding Officer of the REPEWC, 7th Infantry Division, Philippine Army and the Task Force Commander of the TFSLY.

The evidence of the prosecution had sufficiently shown that TFSLY was created pursuant to the 23 September 1991 MOA between the 7th ID of the Philippine Army and the DENR, Region III. Under the MOA, it is the 7th ID of the Philippine Army, specifically the Task Force Commander of the TFSLY, which has the duty to accept custody of confiscated logs and other forest mineral products, viz:
WHEREAS, The DENR-3 and the 7 ID, PA agree and cooperate in curbing the pernicious illegal logging and mining activities through closer coordination in the strict enforcement of forestry and mining laws, rules and regulations;

Now, therefore, for and in consideration of the foregoing promises, and the mutual covenants hereinafter set forth, the parties agree on the following:

x x x x

II. That the 7ID, PA, thru its authorized representative(s) shall have the following functions and duties:

x x x x

2.8 To accept custody of confiscated mineral and forest products, tools equipment and conveyances for safekeeping;

2.9 To be responsible for the loss of any of the said items under its custody;

x x x x

III. That DENR-3 and the 7ID, PA shall organize a Task Force to be named "Task Force Sagip Likas Yaman" composed of selected officials and personnel to implement this Memorandum of Agreement.[16]
Being the Commanding Officer of the REPEWC, which is the higher unit, he was also the Task Force Commander of the TFSLY; hence, petitioner had control and custody over the confiscated forest products that were placed within the Atate Detachment.

Prosecution witness Atty. Salome Cansino, Chief Legal Counsel of the DENR when the MOA was entered into, affirmed that it was the military component of the TFSLY, specifically the task force commander, in this case petitioner, who had supervision and control of the confiscated forest products, viz:

Q:
In other words, Atty. Cansino, who is accountable for these confiscated logs?
A:
Based on our agreement, whenever apprehension or confiscation are made by the Joint Task Force, the DENR has no compound or place where they can store the forest products. Based on our agreement, the forest products or equipments or vehicles shall be placed at the 7th ID depot for custody and security.[17]

Although the DENR had concurrent supervision over the confiscated forest products, as the release of the same cannot be done without the authority of the DENR representative, this does not diminish the fact that these forest products - after their confiscation and inventory - were deposited in the military depot, over which petitioner had power and control as the commanding officer.

An accountable public officer, within the purview of Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code, is one who has custody or control of public funds or property by reason of the duties of his office. To be liable for malversation, an accountable officer need not be a bonded official. The name or relative importance of the office or employment is not the controlling factor. What is decisive is the nature of the duties that he performs and that as part of, and by reason of, said duties, he receives public money or property, which he is bound to account for.[18] In this case, the confiscated logs were delivered for safekeeping at the Atate Detachment over which petitioner had control. He had the obligation to safeguard and account for the same.

The confiscated logs are considered public property since the same were impressed with public attributes or character for which the public officer was accountable. While these logs were not strictly government property, they partook of the nature of public property. Article 222 of the Revised Penal Code states that private property seized or deposited by public authority may be the object of malversation.

Although the prosecution failed to present any documentary evidence showing that the confiscated logs existed and that the same were turned over to the custody of TFSLY, there was, however, an admission or a stipulation as to the existence of such logs on the part of the defense, as evidenced by the 5 August 1998 Order of the RTC, which states: "The Public Prosecutor dispensed with the presentation of prosecution witness Leoncio Alvaran, the counsel for the accused having admitted the valuation of the lumber subject matter of Crim. Case No. 0639-P in the amount of P20,000.00 (1,000.00 bd. ft.), with a qualification that the valuation was at the time the lumber were confiscated and not while in the possession of accused."[19] Furthermore, the prosecution, through the testimony of Detachment Commander Amrodin Sultan, was able to present testimonial evidence as to the existence of the confiscated logs, which were stored in the Atate Detachment:
Q:
What were those logs which according to you were confiscated all about?


A:
When I was assigned here in Atate, those logs were already stocked, sir.


Q:
As a Detachment Commander, have you actually seen those logs?


A:
Yes, sir.[20]
Anent the last element, this Court has held that to justify conviction for malversation of public funds or property, the prosecution has only to prove that the accused received public funds or property, and that he could not account for them or did not have them in his possession and could not give a reasonable excuse for their disappearance.[21] An accountable public officer may be convicted of malversation even if there is no direct evidence of misappropriation, and the only evidence is that there is a shortage in his accounts which he has not been able to explain satisfactorily.[22] Here, the prosecution was able to muster direct evidence that petitioner had misappropriated the subject confiscated logs. Three prosecution witnesses, Rodolfo Estremos, Nelson Flores and Amrodin Sultan, all of whom were petitioner's subordinates, corroborated each other in declaring categorically that it was petitioner who ordered them to pick up the confiscated lumber and to deliver the same to his residence.

Estremos, during the direct examination, declared that petitioner instructed him to get the confiscated logs and bring the same to petitioner's residence:
Q:
x x x Noong June 8, 1992 ay sinundo ako ng 6x6 truck ng 525 EBM, na hiniram ni Lt. Col. Alejo sa REPEWC, Fort Magsaysay, Palayan City at inutusan ako na pumunta sa Atate Detachment, Palayan City at isakay sa truck ang nakaimbak na mga kahoy doon na nakakumpiska at iti-turned over ng 56 IB. Pagkakuha ko ng mga nasabing kahoy ay dinala ko sa kanyang bahay sa Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija x x x.



x x x x


Q:
You said that you were ordered by Col. Alejo to proceed to Atate Detachment and load the lumber therein to be taken to his house. How were you ordered by Col. Alejo?


A:
Verbal, sir.


Court:
Tinawag ka?


A:
Opo.[23]
Estremos likewise testified that the one who drove the truck was witness Flores:
Q:
You said that you were fetched by six by six truck on the said date which was borrowed by Col. Alejo. Who was then driving the said six by six truck?


A:
I remember sir, Sgt. Flores.[24]



Flores confirmed the testimony of Estremos that he was the driver of the vehicle that brought the confiscated logs to petitioner's house, thus:

Q: And during that time and date, do you remember having met Lt. Col. Alejo?

A:
Yes, sir.

Q: What transpired or what happened when you met Col. Alejo on that time and date?

x x x x


A:
x x x We are instructed to unload the lumber beside his house after that we left.



x x x x


Court: What is the participation of this witness here in that particular incident of loading and unloading the lumber, are you the driver?


A: Yes, Your Honor.[25]
Witness Sultan, the Detachment Commander of the Atate Detachment, also testified that Estremos and Flores went to Atate Detachment and informed him they were there upon the order of petitioner to take the confiscated lumber to the petitioner's house:
Q:
So, upon being told by Estremos that he was ordered by Col. Alejo to take those lumber stock filed in the building you were then referred to, what did you tell him or what did you do?

A:
When the lumber was already loaded, they asked permission from me that they are going to bring the logs to the house of Col. Alejo, sir.[26]
Against these damning pieces of evidence adduced by the prosecution, all that petitioner could interpose as defense are mere denials and finger-pointing. He claimed that it was General Soriano who was behind the plot to indict him of the crime. Sadly, petitioner did not substantiate such defense and he merely said that it was based on his gut feeling. Under settled jurisprudence, denial could not prevail over the positive testimony of witnesses.[27] Denial is intrinsically a weak defense which must be buttressed by strong evidence of non-culpability to merit credibility.[28]

Contrary to petitioner's postulation, it is sufficient that the prosecution established by competent evidence that there existed confiscated logs under the control and custody of petitioner and that he misappropriated the same. Inventory or audit of the confiscated logs under the custody of the TFSLY is not necessary, since the prosecution was able to prove all the elements of the crime charged. There is no requirement under the law that for one to be convicted of malversation of public property, such property must first be inventoried or audited.

Petitioner cannot utilize the testimonial inconsistencies committed by the prosecution witnesses. They clearly and affirmatively gave a full account of what actually transpired on 8 June 1992. They were consistent in their respective narrations on the witness stand, except as to the number of logs unloaded and the number of persons present during the unloading. It is understandable that witnesses varied in their estimates of the logs, since it was unlikely for them to bother counting said logs as their instruction from their superior officer was not to count said logs, but to deliver them to his residence. Besides, such minor inconsistencies on insignificant details cannot diminish their credibility. We have held that inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses which refer to minor and insignificant details cannot destroy their credibility.[29] Minor inconsistencies even guarantee truthfulness and candor.[30]

The affidavits of recantation executed by witnesses Estremos, Flores and Sultan prior to the trial cannot prevail over their testimonies made before the trial court. Their testimonies effectively repudiated the contents of the affidavits of recantation. The recantation could hardly suffice to overturn the finding of guilt by the trial court which was based on their clear and convincing testimonies, given during a full-blown trial. As held by this Court, an affidavit of recantation, being usually taken ex parte, would be considered inferior to the testimony given in open court.[31]

This Court agrees with the Sandiganbayan that there is no need for the prosecution to present evidence as to the value of the confiscated logs, which, in turn, is the basis for determining the period of imprisonment of petitioner. Petitioner's counsel stipulated the quantity and the valuation of the confiscated logs as evidenced by the RTC Order dated 5 August 1998 which reads:
The Public Prosecutor dispensed with the presentation of prosecution witness Leoncio Alvaran, the counsel for the accused having admitted the valuation of the lumber subject matter of Crim. Case No. 0639-P in the amount of P20,000.00 (1,000.00 bd. ft.), with a qualification that the valuation was at the time the lumber were confiscated and not while in the possession of accused.[32]
It is doctrinal that the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt in criminal law does not mean such a degree of proof as to exclude the possibility of error and produce absolute certainty. Only moral certainty is required or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind. The prosecution sufficiently established that petitioner had custody of the subject logs of which he is accountable and he appropriated the same for his own benefit. Unmistakably, petitioner malversed public property.

The Sandiganbayan imposed upon petitioner the penalty ranging from 10 years and 1 day of prision mayor as minimum, to 16 years, 5 months and 11 days of reclusion temporal, as maximum. Under Article 217, paragraph 4 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty for malversation is reclusion temporal in its medium and maximum periods, if the amount involved is more than P12,000.00 but less than P22,000.00. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, and there being no mitigating or aggravating circumstances, the maximum imposable penalty shall be within the range of 16 years, 5 months and 11 days to 18 years, 2 months and 20 days, while the minimum shall be within the range of 10 years and 1 day to 14 years and 8 months.[33] Therefore, the penalty imposed by the Sandiganbayan is proper.

Under the second paragraph of Article 217, persons guilty of malversation shall also suffer the penalty of perpetual special disqualification and a fine equal to the amount of funds malversed or equal to the total value of the property embezzled, which in this case is P20,000.00.

WHEREFORE, the 31 January 2006 Decision of the Sandiganbayan, Fifth Division, in A/R No. 064 finding Lieutenant Colonel Pacifico G. Alejo guilty of Malversation of Public Property and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of imprisonment ranging from 10 years and 1 day of prision mayor as minimum, to 16 years, 5 months and 11 days of reclusion temporal, as maximum, with the accessories of the law, with the additional penalty of perpetual special disqualification and a fine of P20,000.00 is AFFIRMED in toto.

SO ORDERED.

Austria-Martinez, (Acting Chairperson), Tinga*, Nachura, and Reyes, JJ., concur.



[*] Per Special Order No. 497, dated 14 March 2008, signed by Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno designating Associate Justice Dante O. Tinga to replace Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, who is on official leave under the Court's Wellness Program and assigning Associate Justice Alicia Austria-Martinez as Acting Chairperson.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Ma. Cristina G. Cortez-Estrada with Associate Justices Roland B. Jurado and Teresita V. Diaz-Baldos, concurring; rollo pp. 29-39.

[2] Penned by Judge Erlinda PestaƱo Buted; rollo, pp. 48-65.

[3] Id. at 46.

[4] Id. at 110-112.

[5] Id. at 43.

[6] Id. at 65.

[7] TSN, 31 July 2003, p. 4.

[8] Id. at 5.

[9] TSN, 25 September 2003, p. 3.

[10] Id. at 4.

[11] Id. at 37.

[12] People v. Matito, 468 Phil. 14, 24 (2004).

[13] People v. Gallego, 453 Phil. 825, 849 (2003).

[14] People v. Piedad, 441 Phil. 818, 838-839 (2002).

[15] Diego v. Sandiganbayan, 394 Phil. 88, 100-101 (2000).

[16] Rollo, pp. 111-112.

[17] TSN, 25 September 2003, p. 3.

[18] People v. Hipol, 454 Phil. 679, 689 (2003).

[19] Records, Vol. 1, p. 190.

[20] TSN, 13 November 1997, p. 6.

[21] People v. Pepito, 335 Phil. 37, 46 (1997).

[22] Villanueva v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 95627, 16 August 1991, 200 SCRA 722, 734.

[23] TSN, 6 June 1996, pp. 14-16.

[24] Id. at 15.

[25] TSN, 23 July 1997, pp. 4-6.

[26] TSN, 13 November 1997, p. 8.

[27] People v. Alagon, 382 Phil. 179, 192 (2000).

[28] Id.

[29] People v. Belibet, G.R. No. 91260, 25 July 1991, 199 SCRA 587, 592.

[30] Id.

[31] People v. Nardo, 405 Phil. 826, 842 (2001).

[32] Records, Vol. 1, p. 190.

[33] Arriola v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 165711, 30 June 2006, 494 SCRA 344, 357.

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