CASE DIGEST: Demaala vs. Sandiganbayan

G.R. No. 173523: February 19, 2014

LUCENA D. DEMAALA, Petitioner, v. SANDIGANBAYAN (Third Division) and OMBUDSMAN,Respondents.



Petitioner is the Municipal Mayor of Narra, Palawan, and is the accused in criminal cases and for violations of Section 3(h) ofRA 3019, which cases are pending before the Sandiganbayan.

On January 9, 2006, the Office of the Special Prosecutor filed before the Sandiganbayan a Motion to Suspend the Accused Pursuant to Section 13, RA 3019arguing that under such sectionpetitioners suspension from office was mandatory. Petitioner opposedthe motion claiming that there is no proof that the evidence against her was strong; that her continuance in office does not prejudice the cases against her nor pose a threat to the safety and integrity of the evidence and records in her office; and that her re-election to office justifies the denial of suspension.

On February 9, 2006, Sandiganbayan issued a Resolution granting the motion to suspend, thus, petitioner is suspended from her present position for 90 days.

On March 23, 2006, petitioner filed her Motion for Reconsideration.She argued that the motion to suspend should have been filed earlier and not when the prosecution is about to conclude the presentation of its evidence; that the prosecution evidence indicates that petitioners acts are not covered by Section 3(h) of RA 3019, and thus not punishable under said law; that the evidence failed to show that petitioner was committing further acts of malfeasance in office; and that suspension while mandatory is not necessarily automatic. Petitioner scheduled the hearing of her Motion for Reconsideration on April 26, 2006. However, the Ombudsman (prosecution) opposed petitioners Motion for Reconsideration.

On April 19, 2006, the prosecution filed a Manifestation with Motion to Reset the Trial Scheduled on April 26 and 27, 2006.It sought to reset the scheduled April 26 and 27, 2006 hearing for the continuation of the presentation of the prosecutions evidence to a later date.

Per the January 19, 2006 Order of the Honorable Court, trial of these cases will continue on April 26 and 27, 2006, both at 1:30 in the afternoon.

On April 21, 2006, the Sandiganbayan issued an Ordergranting the prosecutions motion to reset trial and scheduled the continuation thereof on August 2 and 3, 2006.

On May 23, 2006, the Sandiganbayan issued the assailed Resolution denying petitioners March 23, 2006 Motion for Reconsideration.

Aggrieved, petitioner filed the instant Petition.

ISSUE: Whether Petitioner was denied due process when the Sandiganbayan issued its May 23, 2006 Resolution denying her Motion for Reconsideration even before the same could be heard on the scheduled August 2 and 3, 2006 hearings.

HELD: Petitioner was not denied due process


The April 21, 2006 Order of the Sandiganbayan indicates that what it referred to were the two hearing dates of April 26 and 27, 2006 covering the continuation of the trial proper the ongoing presentation of the prosecutions evidence and not the single hearing date of April 26, 2006 for the determination of petitioners Motion for Reconsideration. The prosecutions manifestation and motion to reset trial itself unmistakably specified that what was being reset was the trial proper which was scheduled on April 26 and 27, 2006 pursuant to the courts previous January 19, 2006 Order; it had nothing at all to do with petitioners Motion for Reconsideration.

Petitioners failure to attend the scheduled April 26, 2006 hearing of her own Motion for Reconsideration is fatal to her cause. Her excuse that she no longer bothered to go to court on April 26, 2006 since "she had no business to be there" is unavailing. By being absent at the April 21, 2006 hearing, petitioner did not consider the prosecutions manifestation and motion to reset trial as related to her pending Motion for Reconsideration. Thus, it was incumbent upon her to have attended the hearing of her own motion on April 26, 2006. Her absence at said hearing was inexcusable, and the Sandiganbayan was therefore justified in considering the matter submitted for resolution based on the pleadings submitted.

Consequently, there was nothing procedurally irregular in the issuance of the assailed May 23, 2006 Resolution by the Sandiganbayan.

With the Courts ruling in Batul v. Bayron, later reiterated in De La Salle University, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 565 Phil. 330 (2007)thus Where a party was afforded an opportunity to participate in the proceedings but failed to do so, he cannot complain of deprivation of due process. Notice and hearing is the bulwark of administrative due process, the right to which is among the primary rights that must be respected even in administrative proceedings. The essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard, or as applied to administrative proceedings, an opportunity to explain one's side or an opportunity to seek reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. So long as the party is given the opportunity to advocate her cause or defend her interest in due course, it cannot be said that there was denial of due process.

"To be heard" does not only mean presentation of testimonial evidence in court - one may also be heard through pleadings and where the opportunity to be heard through pleadings is accorded, there is no denial of due process.