Acquittal and public trust

December 21, 2018

AFTER the controversial ruling of the First Division of the Sandiganbayan, in a vote of 3-2, that acquitted Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr. on the basis that he “cannot [be held] liable for the crime of plunder” due to the prosecution’s failure to “establish beyond reasonable doubt” that the former senator “received, directly or indirectly the rebates commission and kickbacks from his PDAF.” I sought the expert opinion of a dear friend, Atty. Howard M. Calleja (PPCRV legal counsel) to help me understand the legal implications of this court decision.

On the onset it is also noteworthy to mention that the court sentenced Cambe and Lim-Napoles to reclusion perpetua or imprisonment of up to 40 years. And that the Ombudsman, through Omb. Samuel Martires, said that the government is no longer appealing the decision of the Sandiganbayan on the basis of double jeopardy. That being said, here is the legal opinion of Atty. Calleja:

With the case not having been declared as final, prudence dictates that my comments be focused on the legal remedies available to the parties involved in the case and not on the guilt or innocence of accused Bong Revilla.

The 1987 Constitution guarantees the right of the accused against double jeopardy. Such rule, however, is not absolute and is not without exceptions.

The Supreme Court held in the case of People vs Pimentel, GR 223099, January 11, 2018, that one exception is when there has been a grave abuse of discretion. A judgment on acquittal can be assailed on such ground through a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court.

Similarly, in the case of People v. Laguio, Jr., the Supreme Court expounded as to what consists “grave abuse of discretion”, such as where the prosecution was denied the opportunity to present its case or where the trial was a sham.

If applied in the case at hand, a Petition for Certiorari may still be availed of on the ground of grave abuse of discretion with the prosecution clearly demonstrating that the Sandiganbayan, in blatantly disregarding material and relevant evidence such as the unexplainable wealth of Revilla coupled with the finding of the dissenting opinions that there exists an “insurmountable amount of evidence”, abused its authority to a point so grave as to deprive it of its very power to dispense justice and which resulted to the trial being a sham.

While the criminal aspect of the plunder charges against Revilla was ruled to have been insufficiently established by the prosecution, the same is not true as to the civil liability. Citing Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code, the First Division held that “In view of the discussion above, pursuant to Article 100 of the Revised Penal Code, accused are held solidarily and jointly liable to return to the National Treasury the amount of P124.5 million.”

It is a well-settled rule in law and jurisprudence that every person criminally liable is also civilly liable and that the acquittal of an accused of the crime charged will not automatically extinguish his civil liability.

In the recent case of Dy vs People, G.R. No. 189081, August 10, 2016, the Supreme Court reiterated that the acquittal of the accused does not preclude a judgment against him on the civil aspect of the case where the court declared that the liability of the accused is only civil. In the case at bar, the First Division already found and in fact, rendered a judgment holding the three accused jointly and severally liable for the civil aspect of the case in the amount of 124 million pesos.

Given the above-discussion, I maintain that first, the 124 Million Pesos adjudged against the three accused should be returned to the National Treasury as it rightfully belongs to the People and that second, the Ombudsman should re-think and consider taking an appeal as such remedy is very much available to them if there is truly a blatant disregard of the material evidence produced before the Sandiganbayan which would establish grave abuse of discretion.

Should an appeal be elevated to the Supreme Court to determine the propriety of the course of action taken by the First Division, I trust that the High Court will enlighten all of us and put to rest all doubts surrounding this matter.

Postscript: In a couple of days we will all celebrate the birth of Christ, I wish to personally extend my warmest Christmas Greetings first and foremost to all of you avid readers of this weekly column.  Your thoughts, insights and prayers have been an inspiration in this weekly reflection.  I would likewise wish to greet all my family (Gio, Sherwin, Sam, Migo and Ate Angel), friends and colleagues here at People’s Journal, Radio Veritas, FEU-Tech and PLM for being part of this journey.  

“Christ is born for us, let us rejoice in the day of our salvation! Let us open our hearts to receive the grace of this day, which is Christ himself. Jesus is the radiant “day” which has dawned on the horizon of humanity. A day of mercy, in which God our Father has revealed his great tenderness to the entire world. A day of light, which dispels the darkness of fear and anxiety. A day of peace, which makes for encounter, dialogue and, above all, reconciliation. A day of joy: a “great joy” for the poor, the lowly and for all the people (cf. Lk 2:10)” (Pope Francis).

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