501 Phil. 532
That in or about February of 1993, or immediately prior or subsequent thereto, in Polillo, Quezon, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, accused Bernie H. Azaula, Rosendo N. Escara, Naime V. Ayuma, being the Barangay Captain, Municipal Mayor and Municipal Treasurer, respectively, of Polillo, Quezon, in the exercise of their administrative and/or official functions, with evident bad faith, conspiring and confederating with accused Virginia M. Guadinez, doing business under the V.M. Guadinez Construction Supply, did then and there wilfully and unlawfully cause undue injury and/or damage to the province of Quezon, by using in the construction of the Navotas Bridge in Sibulan, Polillo, Quezon, confiscated lumber consisting of 73 pieces with a volume of 4,172 board feet, valued at P11,172.00, more or less, and make it appear in a Disbursement Voucher, Delivery Receipt No. 0063, and Inspection Report dated January 28, 1993, that the lumber used in the construction of the Navotas Bridge were purchased from the V.M. Guadinez Construction Supply for P83,228.00, thus enabling accused Virginia Guadinez to receive the said purchase price, to the damage and prejudice of the Province of Quezon, in the aforementioned amount.Ayuma was eventually dropped from the information.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, this Court finds accused BERNIE H. AZAULA, ROSENDO N. ESCARA AND VIRGINIA M. GUADINES GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019, and hereby sentences each of them to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of six (6) years and one (1) month, as minimum, to ten (10) years as maximum. They are also ordered to pay, jointly and severally, the costs of this suit.Petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration was denied, hence this petition for review under Rule 45 raising the following issues:
Accused Guadines, having unlawfully received the amount of P70,924.00, representing payment for the confiscated lumber, is hereby ordered to return the said amount to the Province of Quezon.
The petition lacks merit.
a) THE HONORABLE SANDIGANBAYAN GRAVELY ERRED WHEN IT FOUND PETITIONER GUILTY OF VIOLATION OF REPUBLIC ACT NO. 3019 CONSIDERING THAT THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED BY THE PROSECUTION FAILED TO MEET THE NECESSARY QUANTUM OF EVIDENCE OF PROOF BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT. b) THE HONORABLE SANDIGANBAYAN GRAVELY ERRED WHEN IT PRESUMED BAD FAITH ON THE PART OF PETITIONER CONSIDERING THAT SUCH IS CONTRARY TO THE LEGAL PRESUMPTION OF REGULARITY IN THE PERFORMANCE OF OFFICIAL DUTY. c) THE HONORABLE SANDIGANBAYAN GRAVELY ERRED IN FAILING TO CONSIDER A NUMBER OF CRUCIAL FACTUAL CIRCUMSTANCES AND RELYING ON MERE SPECULATIONS AND CONJECTURES TO SUPPORT ITS FINDINGS. d) THE HONORABLE SANDIGANBAYAN GRAVELY ERRED WHEN IT FOUND THAT THERE WAS CONSPIRACY BETWEEN THE PETITIONER AND HIS CO-ACCUSED CONSIDERING THAT THE PROSECUTION DID NOT EVEN PRESENT EVIDENCE OF CONSPIRACY.
It would seem quite obvious that such issues raised by Meneses and Bautista in G.R. No. 71651 as whether or not conviction was on the basis of alleged weakness of the defense evidence rather than on the strength of the prosecution's proofs or was founded on mere suspicions and conjectures; or the existence of conspiracy was inferred in the absence of positive and convincing evidence; or the evidence on record does not justify arrival at a verdict of guilt, are issues of fact, and not of law. So, too, such issues as are set up by Silva, Cruz and Almendral in G.R. No. 71728, to wit: whether or not there is sufficient evidence of conspiracy among the accused; or Silva and Cruz acted truthfully and in utmost good faith; or the Sandiganbayan relied on the weakness of the defense rather than on the strength of the evidence of the State; or the judgment of the Sandiganbayan was unduly influence(d) by the findings of the Civil Service Commission of grave misconduct and neglect of duties as regards accused Darum; or the evidence of the prosecution is insufficient to establish moral certainty of guilt are factual, not legal issues. But it is axiomatic that in appeals to this Court from the Sandiganbayan only questions of law may be raised, not issues of fact (Sec. 7, PD 1606; Nuñez vs. Sandiganbayan, 111 SCRA 433). ...This well entrenched rule is, however, not without any exception. When the records clearly show a misapprehension of facts by the lower court, the Supreme Court — in the interest of speedy justice — may resolve the factual issue.
It is a known fact that the Provincial Engineering Office has already programmed its construction but due to interception of the Personnel of the local DENR the materials, especifically lumber purposely for its construction and having been delivered on the site, said lumber was marked 'confiscated', whereby hampering its construction.Clearly, petitioner knew of the confiscation by the DENR of the lumber delivered by Guadines. His contention that placing quotation marks on the word confiscated shows that he was unsure that the lumber were indeed confiscated, is flawed. If at all, this information should have made him more circumspect in signing the Inspection Report and Disbursement Voucher. As petitioner had admitted, he signed the Inspection Report in his capacity as internal control representative of the governor hence, extra-diligence is required of him in order to maintain and protect the integrity of the transactions that pass through his office.
Eversince said construction materials was 'confiscated' commuters and agricultural products was delayed and found it hard to traverse said bridge. ...
All heads of offices have to rely to a reasonable extent on their subordinates and on the good faith of those who prepare bids, purchase supplies, or enter into negotiations. If a department secretary entertains important visitors, the auditor is not ordinarily expected to call the restaurant about the amount of the bill, question each guest whether he was present at the luncheon, inquire whether the correct amount of food was served, and otherwise personally look into the reimbursement voucher's accuracy, propriety, and sufficiency. There has to be some added reason why he should examine each voucher in such detail. Any executive head of even small government agencies or commissions can attest to the volume of papers that must be signed. There are hundreds of documents, letters, memoranda, vouchers, and supporting papers that routinely pass through his hands. The number in bigger offices or departments is even more appalling.While in Magsuci, we held that:
There should be other grounds than the mere signature or approval appearing on a voucher to sustain a conspiracy charge and conviction. (Underscoring supplied)
Fairly evident, however, is the fact that the action taken by Magsuci involved the very functions he had to discharge in the performance of his official duties. There has been no intimation at all that he had foreknowledge of any irregularity committed by either or both Engr. Enriquez and Ancla. Petitioner might have indeed been lax and administratively remiss in placing too much reliance on the official reports submitted by his subordinate (Engineer Enriquez), but for conspiracy to exist, it is essential that there must be a conscious design to commit an offense. Conspiracy is not the product of negligence but of intentionality on the part of cohorts.We agree with the Sandiganbayan that Arias and Magsuci find no application to the instant case, thus:
The above defense of Escara cannot exonerate him from criminal liability. It is true that in the cases of Arias vs. Sandiganbayan (180 SCRA 309) and Magsuci vs. Sandiganbayan (240 SCRA 13), the Supreme Court rejected the theory of criminal liability where the head of office, in discharging his official duties, relied in good faith on the acts of his subordinate. The High Tribunal ruled that there should be other grounds than the mere signature or approval appearing on a voucher to sustain a conspiracy charge and conviction. In this case, however, accused Escara had foreknowledge of the irregularity attendant in the delivery of the lumber supplied by Guadines. In his letter (Exhibit "I") dated January 23, 1993 addressed to Engineer Bert Nierva, of the Provincial Engineering Office of Quezon, he acknowledged that the materials intended for the construction of the Navotas Bridge had been confiscated by the DENR officials. Such foreknowledge should have put him on alert and prompted him, at the very least, to make inquiries into the transaction and to verify whether Guadines had already rectified or submitted the proper legal documents to recover the ownership of the confiscated lumber from the DENR. This he did not do. Instead, he immediately signed the Inspection Report (Exhibits "F" and "38-B") and Disbursement Voucher (Exhibits "D" and "11") and looked the other way, thus, ignoring the fact that the lumber he was authorizing payment for had already been confiscated in favor of the government.What distinguishes petitioner's case from Arias and Magsuci is his foreknowledge of the existence of an anomaly. In Arias, the accused auditor was acquitted for lack of evidence that he participated in the scheme to defraud the government. As we ratiocinated in the said case:
Arias joined the Pasig office on July 19, 1978. The negotiations for the purchase of the property started in 1977. The deed of sale was executed on April 20, 1978. Title was transferred to the Republic on June 8, 1978. In other words, the transaction had already been consummated before his arrival. The pre-audit, incident to payment of the purchase, was conducted in the first week of October, 1978. Arias points out that apart from his signature on the voucher, there is no evidence linking him to the transaction. On the contrary, the other co-accused testified they did not know him personally and none approached him to follow up the payment. [Emphasis supplied]In Magsuci, the acquittal of the accused was predicated in this wise:
In concluding petitioner's involvement in the conspiracy, the Sandiganbayan could only point to Magsuci's having (1) noted the Accomplishment Report and Certification submitted by Enriquez, (2) signed the disbursement voucher with the usual certification on the lawful incurrence of the expenses to be paid, and (3) co-signed four checks for the payment of P352,217.16 to Ancla. The Sandiganbayan concluded that petitioner would not have thusly acted had he not been a party to the conspiracy.By signing the Inspection Report and Disbursement Voucher No. 001-9302-957 despite prior knowledge that the logs to which they pertained have been confiscated by the DENR, and by his failure to observe the requisite caution required by the circumstances, the petitioner has clearly taken himself out of the ambit of the protective blanket given to public officers by our rulings in Arias and Magsuci.
Fairly evident, however, is the fact that the action taken by Magsuci involved the very functions he had to discharge in the performance of his official duties. There has been no intimation at all that he had foreknowledge of any irregularity committed by either or both Engr. Enriquez and Ancla. ...[Emphasis supplied]
SEC. 3. Corrupt practices by public officers. — In addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practice[s] of any public officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful:Petitioner committed the prohibited act in relation to his public position as mayor of Polillo, Quezon. There was evident bad faith and manifest partiality when he signed the inspection report and the disbursement voucher because he had foreknowledge that the materials delivered by Guadines have already been confiscated by the DENR, which caused undue injury to the Government and gave unwarranted benefit to Guadines in the amount of P70,924.00....
(e) Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official, administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. This provision shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions....
Violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 requires proof of the following facts, viz:
- The accused is a public officer discharging administrative or official functions or private persons charged in conspiracy with them;
- The public officer committed the prohibited act during the performance of his official duty or in relation to his public position;
- The public officer acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross, inexcusable negligence; and
- His action caused undue injury to the Government or any private party, or gave any party any unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to such parties.
Since the lumber delivered by accused Guadines was illegally cut/obtained, it was confiscated by DENR officials. Having been confiscated, ownership over the lumber belonged to the government, hence, accused Guadines had no right to sell the same and receive payment therefor in the amount of P70,924.00, the amount disallowed by the COA. In fact, it was the National Government, or more directly, one of its agencies, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in whose favor the lumber had been confiscated, which had the right to dispose of the same in accordance with the applicable laws, rules and regulations.The penalty for violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019 is "imprisonment for not less than six years and one month nor more than fifteen years, perpetual disqualification from public office." Under the Indeterminate Sentence Law, if the offense is punished by special law, the Court shall sentence the accused to an indeterminate penalty, the maximum term of which shall not exceed the maximum fixed by said law and the minimum term shall not be less than the minimum prescribed by the same. Hence, the Sandiganbayan was correct in imposing the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from six (6) years and one (1) month, as minimum, to ten (10) years, as maximum, with perpetual disqualification from public office.