That on or about 01 March 2006, or sometime prior or subsequent thereto, in Sto. Tomas, Isabela, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the accused, public officers, being then the Municipal Mayor, the Municipal Treasurer, and the Municipal Accountant, respectively, and as such has (sic) the legal obligation to timely remit to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) the GSIS premium contributions of the employees of the Municipal Government of Sto. Tomas, Isabela[,] did there and then willfully, unlawfully, and criminally, fail to remit the said GSIS premiums, with an aggregate amount of Php22,436,546.10, for the period 01 January 1997 to 31 January 2004 within thirty (30) days from the date on which payment thereof has become due and demandable, to the damage and prejudice of the municipal employees.The facts, as culled from the Sandiganbayan Decision, are as follows:
CONTRARY TO LAW.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court finds accused Antonio M. Talaue GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 52(g) in relation to Section 6(b) of Republic Act No. 8291. He is hereby sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment ranging from three (3) years[,] as minimumf,] to five (5) years[,] as maximum, and to pay a fine of Twenty Thousand Pesos (Php20,000.00). He shall further suffer the penalty of absolute perpetual disqualification from holding public office and from practicing any profession or calling licensed by the Government.On appeal to this Court, appellant assigned the following errors in his Brief:
Accused Florante A. Galasinao, on the other hand, is hereby ACQUITTED on reasonable doubt. The property or cash bonds posted by accused Galasinao for his provisional liberty is ordered returned, subject to the usual accounting and auditing procedures. The Hold Departure Order issued against him is ordered LIFTED.
I. In holding that the mere act of failing to remit GSIS contributions is criminally punishable. Although the offense charged is malum prohibitum, jurisprudence x x x says that intent to perpetrate the act must be proved.For its part, the People, through the Office of the Special Prosecutor, argue that appellant availed of the wrong mode of appeal under the Sandiganbayan Law and the Rules of Court, and that the period to appeal has thus lapsed, rendering the judgment of conviction final and immutable. Further, even assuming that appellant availed of the correct mode of appeal, the People argue that the Sandiganbayan correctly found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violation of the crime charged, and that the rulings in Arias v. Sandiganbayan and Magsuci v. Sandiganbayan are not applicable.
II. In not finding that the failure to remit the GSIS contributions was not intentional, and in holding, against the established facts, that appellant Talaue "did nothing" to settle the Municipality's GSIS obligations.
III. In convicting Talaue, simply because he was the head of office, and in ignoring the steps he took to settle the Municipality's obligations as well as the Municipality's financially straitened circumstances.
IV. In not applying the Arias doctrine.
V. In imposing the accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from public office, which accused-appellant challenges as unconstitutional, as the law imposes the same regardless of the absence of mens rea.
Section 7. Form, Finality and Enforcements of Decisions, -xxx x x x xIn the case of smaller fry over which the regular courts have exclusive original jurisdiction, Section 4 of P.D. No. 1606, as amended by R.A. No. 8249 provides:
Decisions and final orders of the Sandiganbayan shall be appealable to the Supreme Court by petition for review on certiorari raising pure questions of law in accordance with Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. Whenever, in any case decided by the Sandiganbayan, the penalty of reclusion perpetua, life imprisonment or death is imposed, the decision shall be appealable to the Supreme Court in the manner prescribed in the Rules of Court.
xxx. (Emphasis ours)
Section 4. Jurisdiction, — xxx x x x xDespite the noble goal of Congress in seeking to unclog the dockets of the Sandiganbayan, the appellate remedies provided in the law created a procedural disparity between the two categories of accused persons. While the smaller fry may seek appellate review before the Sandiganbayan of the factual findings of the regular courts via ordinary appeal under Rule 41 of the Rules of Court raising questions of fact or mixed questions of fact and law, or via petition for review under Rule 42 of the Rules of Court raising questions of fact, of law, or mixed questions of fact and law, the larger fish were limited to raising pure questions of law via petition for review on certiorari in accordance with Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. Moreover, while appeal by notice of appeal under Rule 41 is a matter or right, review under Rule 45 may be disallowed by this Court in its discretion. In other words, while lower-ranking public officials had the statutory right to appeal the findings of fact of the regular courts, higher-ranking public officials had no right to question the findings of fact of the Sandiganbayan which are generally conclusive upon this Court and which rule admits of only a few exceptions.
The procedure prescribed in Batas Pambansa Big. 129, as well as the implementing rules that the Supreme Court has promulgated and may hereafter promulgate, relative to appeals/petitions for review to the Court of Appeals shall apply to appeals and petitions for review filed with the Sandiganbayan. xxx
xxx. (Emphasis ours)
Section 1. Methods of Review. -In promulgating said Rules, this Court merely distinguished between the modes of review of the judgments and final orders of the Sandiganbayan in the exercise of its original jurisdiction and in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction. In the fonner, the facts are tried by the Sandiganbayan in the first instance and the accused is entitled to appeal the factual findings of said court via notice of appeal. In the latter, the facts had already been tried by the lower courts. Therefore, the factual findings of the Sandiganbayan in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction, just like those of the Court of Appeals when it affirms the factual findings of the lower courts, are given great weight and are generally conclusive upon this Court. That being the case, only questions of law may be raised in appeals to this Court in criminal cases decided by the Sandiganbayan in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction, and in civil cases, via petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.
(a) In General. - The appeal to the Supreme Court in criminal cases decided by the Sandiganbayan in the exercise of its original jurisdiction shall be by notice of appeal filed with the Sandiganbayan and by service a copy thereof upon the adverse party
The appeal to the Supreme Court in criminal cases decided by the Sandiganbayan in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction, and in civil cases shall be by petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.
xxx. (Emphases ours)
SECTION 6. Collection and Remittance of Contributions. — (a) The employer shall report to the GSIS the names of all its employees, their corresponding employment status, positions, salaries and such other pertinent information, including subsequent changes therein, if any, as may be required by the GSIS; the employer shall deduct each month from the monthly salary or compensation of each employee the contribution payable by him in accordance with the schedule prescribed in the rules and regulations implementing this Act.To ensure prompt compliance with the above provision, Section 52(g) of the GSIS Act of 1997 penalizes the heads of the offices of the national government, its political subdivisions, branches, agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled coiporations and government financial institutions, and the personnel of such offices who are involved in the collection of premium contributions, loan amortization and other accounts due the GSIS, who fail, refuse, or delay the payment, turnover, remittance or delivery of such accounts to the GSIS within thirty (30) days from the time the same have become due and demandable, to wit:
(b) Each employer shall remit directly to the GSIS the employees' and employers' contributions within the first ten (10) days of the calendar month following the month to which the contributions apply, xxx
(g) The heads of the offices of the national government, its political subdivisions, branches, agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations and government financial institutions, and the personnel of such offices who are involved in the collection of premium contributions, loan amortization and other accounts due the GSIS who shall fail, refuse or delay the payment, turnover, remittance or delivery of such accounts to the GSIS within thirty (30) days from the time that the same shall have been due and demandable shall, upon conviction by final judgment, suffer the penalties of imprisonment of not less than one (1) year nor more than five (5) years and a fine of not less than Ten thousand pesos (P1 0,000.00) nor more than Twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00), and in addition shall suffer absolute perpetual disqualification from holding public office and from practicing any profession or calling licensed by the government. (Emphases supplied)A municipality is a political subdivision of the national government. Appellant, as Municipal Mayor of Sto. Tomas, Isabela, is unquestionably the head of office of the said Municipality as the chief executive officer thereof. As head of office, he, as well as other employees involved in the collection of contributions due the GSIS, are responsible for the prompt and timely payment and/or remittance of the said premiums to the GSIS.
(h) The governor, mayor of any province, town or any political division or subdivision of the government or heads of other branches of the government who fails, refuses or delays the payment, turnover, remittance or delivery of all accounts due the system, i.e., contributions, loan repayments, and others, within thirty (30) days from the time such accounts are or have become due and demandable shall be punished with an imprisonment of not less than one (1) year nor more than five (5) years and a fine of not less than Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) nor more than Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00) and shall, moreover, be disqualified from holding public office and from practicing any profession or calling licensed by the government. (Emphasis ours.)The task of ensuring the remittance of accounts due the GSIS is, therefore, as much a burden and responsibility of the mayor as it is the burden and responsibility of those personnel who are involved in the collection of premium contributions. Congress purposely included heads of office in the list of those liable in order to create a sense of urgency on their part and deter them from passing the blame to their subordinates. Further, their liability is construed as waiver of the State of its immunity from suit. Just as the principle of state immunity from suit rests on reasons of public policy, so does waiver thereof in cases of violation of Section 52(g).
Section 3.9. Effects of Non-Remittance of Contributions on the Eligibility to Benefits of Members. - In cases of non-remittance of contributions, the following rules shall apply:Considering that a violation of Section 52(g) is malum prohibitum, it is the commission of that act as defined by the law, and not the character or the effect thereof, that determines whether the provision has been violated. An act may not be considered by society as inherently wrong, hence, not malum in se, but because of the harm that it inflicts on the community, it can be outlawed and criminally punished as malum prohibitum as part of the state's exercise of its police power. Criminal intent is not necessary where the acts are prohibited for reasons of public policy. Nevertheless, it must be shown that there was an intent to perpetrate the act. It is enough that the prohibited act be done freely and consciously. Hence, while the prosecution need not prove that the accused intended to commit the crime, it has the burden of proving that the prohibited act was done intentionally.
(a) All loan privileges of the member shall be suspended;
(b) Premium arrearages and outstanding service loan accounts and corresponding surcharges shall be deducted from the proceeds of the claim.
On cross-examination, appellant once again reiterated the steps that he allegedly took to address the situation of the municipality:
7. Q: Do you remember any peculiar circumstance in 1997 relative to this case? A: Yes, sir. 8. Q: What is that? A: I came to know of a decrease of five million pesos from our municipality's budget when we received it [in] 1997 from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). During that time, the amount of five million is quite considerable. 9. Q: What was your reaction to this decrease in the budget? A: I was surprised to know about this. Initially, I thought it was the amount withheld by [the] DBM. However, I noticed that for that particular year, the withheld amount was substantial compared to the previous years. 10. Q: What are these amounts being withheld by DBM? A: DBM used to withhold a certain portion of the municipality's annual budget to be applied as payments to the necessary government agencies, including the GSIS. This was regularly done for the previous years during my stint as municipal mayor. 11. Q: What did you do after knowing about this decrease in budget? A: I gave instructions that an inquiry be made with the DBM to clarify if the five million pesos pertains to the amount regularly withheld by DBM. 12. Q: What happened next? A: Later that year, the municipality was informed by DBM that there may have been errors in the computation and release of our municipality's budget for 1997. DBM likewise advised us that starting that year, it no longer withheld any amount from the municipality's budget as that of the previous years. 13. Q:
What did you do after knowing DBM's response?
A: I gave further instructions to follow-up with the DBM about the decrease in our municipality's budget to try to correct whatever irregularities that might have attended it in order to comply with our obligations. 14. Q: What else did you do, if any? A: I likewise instructed our municipal treasurer to make arrangements for the payment of our municipality's regular remittances, including the GSIS, as the DBM no longer withholds and makes remittances for us starting 1997. 15. Q: What did the municipal treasurer do about this instruction? A: He told me that by that time, the municipality is running short of funds due to other legitimate expenditures, considering that it was towards the end of the year, and that we all thought that the DBM was responsible for withholding and paying on our behalf the necessary remittances to GSIS. 16. Q: What else did he tell you, if any? A: He also told me that the decrease in our budget made a huge impact on the municipality's financial capability to sustain all our outstanding obligations. 17. Q: What does the municipal treasurer got to do with this matter? A: The municipal treasurer is the municipality's disbursing officer. He [safekeeps], allocates, manages and disburses our budget in relation to our municipality's expenses. Thus, he is primarily responsible for the payment of our municipality's obligations, including the GSIS contributions. 18. Q: What did you do after the municipal treasurer informed you about these matters? A: I reiterated my instructions to make arrangements with the DBM relative to our municipality's decreased budget. I had to resort to this to try to augment our budget and pay the necessary obligations. By this time, however, my tenure was almost over. 19. Q: What happened next? A: My term as mayor then ended, and I had to step down. The matter was still unresolved by the municipal treasurer that time. 20. Q: You said a while ago that you were the municipal mayor from 2001 to 2010. When you came back to office in 2001, what was the status of the municipality's GSIS contributions? A: I came to know that the municipal treasurer has not made arrangements for the payment of our obligations to GSIS, including the period where I left off when I stepped down from office. 21. Q: What did you do upon knowing this? A: I gave instructions to the municipal treasurer to make arrangements with GSIS regarding the settlement of whatever obligations the municipality may have. 22. Q: What else did you do, if any? A: I also instructed the municipal treasurer to make a reconciliation of accounts with the GSIS, as due to the lapse of time, our obligations may have ballooned to an amount which we may find difficulty settling in one transaction. In addition, I required him to make sure that he reconciles our municipality's data with that of the GSIS, as there may have been severed and/or newly-hired employees in the municipality. 23. Q: Why did you give these instructions to reconcile the municipality's accounts and data with GSIS? A: I gave such instructions to make sure that the payables and data with the GSIS are accurate, and for the municipal treasurer to clearly assess how to pay the municipality's obligations. 24. Q: What happened after you gave your instructions to the municipal treasurer? A: Despite my instructions to the municipal treasurer, no formal arrangements have been arrived at between our municipality and GSIS. The accounts and data likewise remained unreconciled until January 2004. 25. Q: What happened after that? A: In 2006, GSIS then decided to sue our municipality, me and my co-accused for collection of sum of money before the Pasay City Regional Trial Court Branch 118 docketed as Civil Case No. 06-0407-CFM relative to the municipality's obligations to GSIS. 26. Q: What did you do after knowing that a case has been filed against the municipality? A: We faced GSIS in court as the case ensued. In the meantime, I gave absolute instructions to the municipal treasurer to start paying our obligations to GSIS despite pendency of the court proceedings. 27. Q: What happened after you gave your instructions to the municipal treasurer? A: Funds were then allocated, and we made payments to GSIS. 28. Q: Do you have proof pertaining to the payments your municipality made with the GSIS? A: Yes, sir. I have here with me GSIS Official Receipt (OR) No. 0002237669 dated 28 August 2007 in the amount of One Million Pesos. GSIS also acknowledged our payments covered under OR No. 30366 dated 11 October 2007 in the amount of One Million Pesos and OR No. 524548 dated 16 November 2009 in the amount of Eight Hundred Fifty thousand pesos x x x.
Rather than inspiring confidence that appellant proactively ensured compliance with the GSIS Act of 1997, his testimony reveals a pattern of passing the buck to the municipal treasurer and contenting himself with repeating his oral instructions to make arrangements with the GSIS. It was only during the pendency of the civil case filed by the GSIS against him, his co-accused, and the municipality, that he instructed the treasurer to pay the municipality's obligations, albeit in partial amounts. Appellant's failure to take drastic measures to rectify the situation and demand accountability betrays his nonchalance at the treasurer's apparent lack of sense of urgency in complying with the law which appellant himself is equally, if not primarily, bound to observe. It cannot, therefore, be said that he did not intend to fail in remitting the contributions. His attitude toward the situation and toward the ineptitude of the municipal treasurer was the very recipe for failure.
Q: Mr. Witness, you mentioned in question 8 of your judicial affidavit, please go over your judicial affidavit. And you stated as your answer to the question that you came to know about a decrease of FIVE MILLION PESOS from the Municipalities [sic] budget, what proof do you have to support this statement Mr. Witness? A: Sa tagal na sir, wala learning hawak ngayon na dokumento tungkol diyan because when we found out we  to DBM and the Department of Finance then unfortunately, we were not able to get the exact data how and why we were deducted FIVE MILLION PESOS. What we did is I try to, I instruct my Treasurer to talk with the DBM personnel and the GSIS for that particular and to reconcile the amount or the figure that we ought [sic] with the GSIS, sir. Q: Mr. Witness, you mentioned about instructing your Municipal Treasurer to reconcile with the DBM and also to the GSIS, do you have any proof of this instruction you gave, ah, written proof written or order or did you put into writing this instruction you gave to the Treasurer about this reconciliation to the DBM and GSIS? A: It's not in writing with my Treasurer but the reconciliation to the DBM it is made in writing but unfortunately, again, our records were destroyed that time because the Municipality, ah, you know very well that Isabela and Cagayan is typhoon built [sic] wherein almost every year we are hit by the strong typhoons and flashfloods, then these records cannot be found.
The importance of the GSIS and the Pag-IBIG Fund cannot be underscored enough. "The GSIS was created for the purpose of providing social security and insurance benefits as well as promoting efficiency and the welfare of government employees." To this end, the state has adopted a policy of maintaining and preserving the actuarial solvency of GSIS funds at all times, xxx Hence, non-remittance of the contributions threatens the actuarial solvency of the fund.It is imperative to stress once again our pronouncement in Rios v. Sandiganbayan :
x x x x
We cannot accept petitioner's argument that the duty to remit the required amounts falls to his co-accused. Republic Act No. 8291, Section 52(g) clearly provides that heads of agencies or branches of government shall be criminally liable for the failure, refusal, or delay in the payment, turnover, and remittance or delivery of such accounts to the GSIS.
xxx This Court would like to stress adherence to the doctrine that public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives. Public servants must bear in mind this constitutional mandate at all times to guide them in their actions during their entire tenure in the government service. "The good of the service and the degree of morality which every official and employee in the public service must observe, if respect and confidence are to be maintained by the Government in the enforcement of the law, demand that no untoward conduct on his part, affecting morality, integrity and efficiency while holding office should be left without proper and commensurate sanction, all attendant circumstances taken into account."WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court AFFIRMS the Decision of the Sandiganbayan dated March 15, 2019 in Crim. Case No. SB-ll-CRM-0120, finding accused-appellant Antonio M. Talaue GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 52(g), in relation to Section 6(b) of Republic Act No. 8291, and sentencing him to suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment ranging from three (3) years, as minimum, to five (5) years, as maximum, and to pay a fine of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00). He shall further suffer the penalty of absolute perpetual disqualification from holding public office and from practicing any profession or calling licensed by the Government.