Case Digest: Braza v. Sandiganbayan

G.R. No. 195032 : February 20, 2013

ISABELO A. BRAZA, Petitioner, v. THE HONORABLE SANDIGANBAYAN (1st Division), Respondents.

MENDOZA, J.:


FACTS:

The Philippines was assigned the hosting rights for the 12th ASEAN Leaders Summit scheduled in December 2006. In preparation for this international diplomatic event with the province of Cebu as the designated venue, the DPWH identified projects relative to the improvement and rehabilitation of roads and installation of traffic safety devices and lighting facilities. The then Acting Secretary of the DPWH, Hermogenes E. Ebdane, approved the resort to alternative modes of procurement for the implementation of these projects due to the proximity of the ASEAN Summit.

One of the ASEAN Summit-related projects to be undertaken was the installation of street lighting systems along the perimeters of the Cebu International Convention Center in Mandaue City and the ceremonial routes of the Summit to upgrade the appearance of the convention areas and to improve night-time visibility for security purposes. Four (4) out of eleven (11) street lighting projects were awarded to FABMIK Construction and Equipment Supply Company, Inc. (FABMIK).

Three other projects were bidded out only on November 28, 2006 or less than two (2) weeks before the scheduled start of the Summit. Thereafter, the DPWH and FABMIK executed a Memorandum of Agreement(MOA) whereby FABMIK obliged itself to implement the projects at its own expense and the DPWH to guarantee the payment of the work accomplished. FABMIK was able to complete the projects within the deadline of ten (10) days utilizing its own resources and credit facilities. The schedule of the international event, however, was moved by the national organizers to January 9-15, 2007 due to typhoon Seniang which struck Cebu for several days.

After the summit, a letter-complaint was filed before the Public Assistance and Corruption Prevention Office(PACPO), Ombudsman Visayas, alleging that the ASEAN Summit street lighting projects were overpriced. A panel composing of three investigators conducted a fact-finding investigation to determine the veracity of the accusation. Braza, being the president of FABMIK, was impleaded as one of the respondents. On March 16, 2007, the Ombudsman directed the DBM and the DPWH to cease and desist from releasing or disbursing funds for the projects in question.

Eventually, the OMB-Visayas filed several informations before the Sandiganbayan for violation of Sec. 3(g) of R.A. 3019 against the officials of DPWH Region VII, the officials of the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-lapu and private contractors, FABMIK President Braza and GAMPIK Board Chairman Gerardo S. Surla (Surla). It was alleged therein that Braza acted in conspiracy with the public officials and employees in the commission of the crime charged.

On August 14, 2008, the motions for reinvestigation filed by Arturo Radaza (Radaza), the Mayor of Lapu-lapuCity, and the DPWH officials were denied by the Sandiganbayan for lack of merit. Consequently, they moved for the reconsideration of said resolution. On August 27, 2008, Braza filed a motion for reinvestigation anchored on the following grounds: (1) the import documents relied upon by the OMB-Visayas were spurious and falsified; (2) constituted new evidence, if considered, would overturn the finding of probable cause; and (3) the finding of overpricing was bereft of factual and legal basis as the same was not substantiated by any independent canvass of prevailing market prices of the subject lampposts. He prayed for the suspension of the proceedings of the case pending such reinvestigation. The Sandiganbayan treated Braza's motion as his motion for reconsideration of its August 14, 2008 Resolution.

During the proceedings held on November 3, 2008, the Sandiganbayan reconsidered its August 14, 2008 resolution and directed a reinvestigation of the case. According to the anti-graft court, the allegations to the effect that no independent canvass was conducted and that the charge of overpricing was based on falsified documents were serious reasons enough to merit a reinvestigation of the case.

On October 12, 2009, the Sandiganbayan issued the first assailed resolution admitting the Amended Information, denying Braza's plea for dismissal of the criminal case. The Sandiganbayan ruled that Brazawould not be placed in double jeopardy should he be arraigned anew under the second information because his previous arraignment was conditional. It continued that even if he was regularly arraigned, double jeopardy would still not set in because the second information charged an offense different from, and which did not include or was necessarily included in, the original offense charged. Lastly, it found that the delay in the reinvestigation proceedings could not be characterized as vexatious, capricious or oppressive and that it could not be attributed to the prosecution.

On November 6, 2009, Braza moved for reconsideration with alternative motion to quash the information reiterating his arguments that his right against double jeopardy was violated and, thus, warranting the dismissal of the criminal case with prejudice. In the alternative, Braza moved for the quashal of the second information vigorously asserting that the same was fatally defective for failure to allege any actual, specified and quantifiable injury sustained by the government as required by law for indictment under Sec. 3(e) of R.A. 3019, and that the charge of overpricing was unfounded.

On October 22, 2010, the Sandiganbayan issued the second assailed resolution stating, among others, the denial of Braza's Motion to Quash the information. The anti-graft court ruled that the Amended Information was sufficient in substance as to inform the accused of the nature and causes of accusations against them. Further, it held that the specifics sought to be alleged in the Amended Information were evidentiary in nature which could be properly presented during the trial on the merits. Braza was effectively discharged from the first Information upon the filing of the second Information but said discharge was without prejudice to, and would not preclude, his prosecution for violation of Sec. 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019. The Sandiganbayan, however, deemed it proper that a new preliminary investigation be conducted under the new charge.

ISSUE: Whether or not double jeopardy has already set in basis of Braza "not guilty" plea in the first Information and, thus, he can no longer be prosecuted under the second Information.

HELD: The petition is devoid of merit.

It is Braza stance that his constitutional right under the double jeopardy clause bars further proceedings in Case No. SB-08-CRM-0275. He asserts that his arraignment under the first information was simple and unconditional and, thus, an arraignment under the second information would put him in double jeopardy.

His argument cannot stand scrutiny.

While it is true that the practice of the Sandiganbayan of conducting "provisional" or "conditional" arraignment of the accused is not specifically sanctioned by the Revised Internal Rules of the Procedure of theSandiganbayan or by the regular Rules of Procedure, this Court had tangentially recognized such practice inPeople v. Espinosa, provided that the alleged conditions attached to the arraignment should be "unmistakable, express, informed and enlightened." The Court further required that the conditions must be expressly stated in the order disposing of arraignment; otherwise, it should be deemed simple and unconditional.

A careful perusal of the record in the case at bench would reveal that the arraignment of Braza under the first information was conditional in nature as it was a mere accommodation in his favor to enable him to travel abroad without the Sandiganbayan losing its ability to conduct trial in absentia in case he would abscond. TheSandiganbayan's June 6, 2008 Order clearly and unequivocally states that the conditions for Braza'sarraignment as well as his travel abroad, that is, that if the Information would be amended, he shall waive his constitutional right to be protected against double jeopardy and shall allow himself to be arraigned on the amended information without losing his right to question the same. It appeared that these conditions were duly explained to Braza and his lawyer by the anti-graft court. He was afforded time to confer and consult his lawyer. Thereafter, he voluntarily submitted himself to such conditional arraignment and entered a plea of "not guilty" to the offense of violation of Sec. 3(g) of R.A. No. 3019.

Verily, the relinquishment of his right to invoke double jeopardy had been convincingly laid out. Such waiver was clear, categorical and intelligent. It may not be amiss to state that on the day of said arraignment, one of the incidents pending for the consideration of the Sandiganbayan was an omnibus motion for determination of probable cause and for quashal of information or for reinvestigation filed by accused Radaza. Accordingly, there was a real possibility that the first information would be amended if said motion was granted. Although the omnibus motion was initially denied, it was subsequently granted upon motion for reconsideration, and a reinvestigation was ordered to be conducted in the criminal case.

Having given his conformity and accepted the conditional arraignment and its legal consequences, Braza is now estopped from assailing its conditional nature just to conveniently avoid being arraigned and prosecuted of the new charge under the second information. Besides, in consonance with the ruling in Cabo v.Sandiganbayan, this Court cannot now allow Braza to renege and turn his back on the above conditions on the mere pretext that he affirmed his conditional arraignment through a pleading denominated as Manifestation filed before the Sandiganbayan on November 13, 2008. After all, there is no showing that the anti-graft court had acted on, much less noted, his written manifestation.

Assuming, in gratia argumenti, that there was a valid and unconditional plea, Braza cannot plausibly rely on the principle of double jeopardy to avoid arraignment under the second information because the offense charged therein is different and not included in the offense charged under the first information. The right against double jeopardy is enshrined in Section 21 of Article III of the Constitution, which reads:

No person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense. If an act is punished by a law and an ordinance conviction or acquittal under either shall constitute a bar to another prosecution for the same act.

This constitutionally mandated right is procedurally buttressed by Section 17 of Rule 117 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. To substantiate a claim for double jeopardy, the accused has the burden of demonstrating the following requisites:

(1) a first jeopardy must have attached prior to the second;
(2) the first jeopardy must have been validly terminated; and
(3) the second jeopardy must be for the same offense as in the first.

As to the first requisite, the first jeopardy attaches only (a) after a valid indictment; (b) before a competent court; (c) after arraignment, (d) when a valid plea has been entered; and (e) when the accused was acquitted or convicted, or the case was dismissed or otherwise terminated without his express consent. The test for the third element is whether one offense is identical with the other or is an attempt to commit it or a frustration thereof; or whether the second offense includes or is necessarily included in the offense charged in the first information.

Braza, however, contends that double jeopardy would still attach even if the first information charged an offense different from that charged in the second information since both charges arose from the same transaction or set of facts. Relying on the antiquated ruling of People v. Del Carmen,Braza claims that an accused should be shielded against being prosecuted for several offenses made out from a single act.

It appears that Braza has obviously lost sight, if he is not altogether aware, of the ruling in Suero v. Peoplewhere it was held that the same criminal act may give rise to two or more separate and distinct offenses; and that no double jeopardy attaches as long as there is variance between the elements of the two offenses charged. The doctrine of double jeopardy is a revered constitutional safeguard against exposing the accused from the risk of being prosecuted twice for the same offense, and not a different one.

There is simply no double jeopardy when the subsequent information charges another and different offense, although arising from the same act or set of acts. Prosecution for the same act is not prohibited. What is forbidden is the prosecution for the same offense.

Petition for certiorari is DENIED.

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