PCGG v. Sandiganbayan (G.R. No. 165878; March 30, 2010)


FACTS: The PCGG filed before the Sandiganbaan a case against the former President Marcos and his wife Imelda, Tomas Manotoc, Spouses Araneta and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to recover alleged ill-gotten wealth, assets and other properties which they had acquired and/or conspired to acquire during Marcos 20-year rule. Included in the list of alleged ill-gotten wealth was a list of assets belonging to respondent Heacock, Inc.The filing of Civil Case No. 0002 arose out of the Writ of Sequestration, issued by the PCGG on June 13, 1986 thru the lone signature of then Commissioner Mary Concepcion Bautista, placing under the control and possession of petitioner three corporations including Heacock.

Protesting its sequestration and the take-over of its warehouse at the South Harbor in Port Area, Manila, Heacock sought to intervene in Civil Case No. 0002, alleging that petitioner had arbitrarily and forcibly taken over the warehouse which it (petitioner) had leased to Greenfil Corporation, Inc. (Greenfil), despite the fact that it (Heacock) had already agreed to lease the same to the Inland Group of Companies (Inland).

Petitioner opposed the motion for intervention, arguing that Heacocks cause of action was completely unrelated to those in Civil Case No. 0002. Hence, the motion was denied by the Sandiganbayan 3rd Division.

Heacock thereupon filed a complaint dated February 22, 1990 with the Sandiganbayan against petitioner and Greenfil, docketed as Civil Case No. 0101, alleging that since petitioner failed to take the requisite judicial action against Heacock arising from the writ of sequestration, earlier issued against it, within six months from ratification of the 1987 Constitution, the writ should be deemed automatically lifted pursuant to Section 26, Article XVIII of the 1987 Constitution. Heacock stressed that, inter alia, petitioner could not point to Civil Case No. 0002 as the constitutionally-mandated judicial action or proceeding, said case having failed to implead it as a party-defendant. It added that only Araneta's shares of stock should have been seized. Thus, Heacock moved to lift the sequestration.

The Sandiganbayan ruled in favor of Heacock and ordered petitioner to turn over the sequestered properties. Petitioner moved to reconsider the Sandiganbayan's Resolution of September 12, 1991, citing, inter alia, its inability to turn over possession of the warehouse and premises to Heacock as it had already turned them over to the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA). And even if it can do so, petitioner maintained that Heacock had already lost its right to possession over the warehouse and premises due to non-payment of rentals. However, this motion for reconsideration was denied. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: Did the Sandiganbayan err when it lifted the writ of sequestration?

HELD: The Sandiganbayan has full authority to decide any and all incidents pertaining to an ill-gotten case, including the propriety of the issuance of the writs of sequestration.

The task of ascertaining the validity of writs of sequestration issued by the PCGG, when called into question, is the sole province of the Sandiganbayan, the issues involved therein being factual in nature. Thus, any question on the correctness of the lifting of the sequestration writ against Heacock upon its motion, either in Civil Case No. 0002 - had Heacock been allowed to intervene - or in Civil Case No. 0101, hardly merits further discussion.

A perusal of the records discloses the existence of legal and factual grounds for the Sandiganbayan's decision to lift the sequestration of Heacock.

Section 26, Article XVIII of the 1987 Constitution, as earlier cited, mandates petitioner to file the corresponding judicial action or proceedings within a six-month period (from ratification thereof on February 2, 1987) in order to maintain sequestration, non-compliance with which would result in the automatic lifting of the sequestration or freeze orders. It was a task petitioner was unable to accomplish.

The Court's earlier ruling in Presidential Commission on Good Government v. Sandiganbayan, which remains good law, reiterates the necessity of petitioner actually impleading corporations as defendants in the complaint out of recognition for their distinct and separate personalities, failing which petitioner would necessarily be denying such entities their right to due process. This ruling a fortiori applies in the present case, the sequestration of the unimpleaded Heacock being invalid due to the issuance of the writ of sequestration by a lone Commissioner of petitioner.

Even assuming arguendo that Civil Case No. 0002 was the constitutionally-mandated judicial action or proceeding, it is apparent that petitioner was only after Aranetas shares of stock in Heacock, hence, the impropriety of sequestering Heacock itself. Petitioners arbitrariness becomes more pronounced as the Court notes that Aranetas holdings in Heacock comprise a mere four percent (4%) of its outstanding capital stock. DISMISSED.