G.R. No. 50581. Jan 30, 1982 (197 Phil. 407)

197 Phil. 407. EN BANC [ G.R. Nos. 50581-50617, January 30, 1982 ] RUFINO V. NUÑEZ, PETITIONER, VS. SANDIGANBAYAN AND PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENTS. FERNANDO, C.J.:

In categorical and explicit language, the Constitution provided for but did not create a special Court, the Sandiganbayan, with "jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases involving graft and corrupt practices and such other offenses committed by public officers and employees, including those in government-owned or controlled corporations, in relation to their office as may be determined by law."[1] It came into existence with the issuance in 1978 of a Presidential Decree.[2] Even under the 1935 Constitution, to be precise, in 1955, an anti-graft statute was passed,[3] to be supplemented five years later by another act,[4] the validity of which was upheld in Morfe v. Mutuc,[5] a 1968 decision. As set forth in the opinion of the Court: "Nothing can be clearer therefore than that the Anti-Graft Act of 1960 like the earlier statute was precisely aimed at curtailing and minimizing the opportunities for official corruption and maintaining a standard of honesty in the public service. It is intended to further promote morality in public administration. A public office must indeed be a public trust. Nobody can cavil at its objective; the goal to be pursued commands the assent of all. The conditions then prevailing called for norms of such character. The times demanded such a remedial device."[6] It should occasion no surprise, therefore, why the 1971 Constitutional Convention, with full awareness of the continuing need to combat the evils of graft and corruption, included the above-cited provision.

Petitioner in this certiorari and prohibition proceeding assails the validity of the Presidential Decree creating the Sandiganbayan. He was accused before such respondent Court of estafa through falsification of public and commercial documents committed in connivance with his other co-accused, all public officials, in several cases.[7] The informations were filed respectively on February 21 and March 26, 1979. Thereafter, on May 15 of that year, upon being arraigned, he filed a motion to quash on constitutional and jurisdictional grounds.[8] A week later, respondent Court denied such motion.[9] There was a motion for reconsideration filed the next day; it met the same fate[10] . Hence this petition for certiorari and prohibition. It is the claim of petitioner that Presidential Decree No. 1486, as amended, creating the respondent Court is violative of the due process,[11] equal protection,[12] and ex post facto[13] clauses of the Constitution.[14]

The overriding concern, made manifest in the Constitution itself, to cope more effectively with dishonesty and abuse of trust in the public service whether committed by government officials or not, with the essential cooperation of the private citizens with whom they deal, cannot of itself justify any departure from or disregard of constitutional rights. That is beyond question. With due recognition, however, of the vigor and persistence of counsel of petitioner[15] in his pleadings buttressed by scholarly and diligent research, the Court, equally aided in the study of the issues raised by the exhaustive memorandum of the Solicitor General,[16] is of the view that the invalidity of Presidential Decree No. 1486 as amended, creating respondent Court has not been demonstrated.

The petition then cannot be granted. The unconstitutionality of such Decree cannot be adjudged.

    It is to be made clear that the power of the then President and Prime Minister Ferdinand E. Marcos to create the Sandiganbayan in 1978 is not challenged in this proceeding. While such competence under the 1973 Constitution contemplated that such an act should come from the National Assembly, the 1976 Amendments made clear that he as incumbent President "shall continue to exercise legislative powers until martial law shall have been lifted."[17] Thus, there is an affirmation of the ruling of this Court in Aquino Jr. v. Commission on Elections[18] decided in 1975. In the language of the ponente, Justice Makasiar, it dissipated "all doubts as to the legality of such law-making authority by the President during the period of Martial Law, * * *."[19] As the opinion went on to state: "It is not a grant of authority to legislate, but a recognition of such power as already existing in favor of the incumbent President during the period of Martial Law."[20]
  1. Petitioner in his memorandum invokes the guarantee of equal protection in seeking to nullify Presidential Decree No. 1486. What does it signify? To quote from J. M. Tuason & Co. v. Land Tenure Administration:[21] "The ideal situation is for the law's benefits to be available to all, that none be placed outside the sphere of its coverage. Only thus could chance and favor be excluded and the affairs of men governed by that serene and impartial uniformity, which is of the very essence of the idea of law."[22] There is recognition, however, in the opinion that what in fact exists "cannot approximate the ideal. Nor is the law susceptible to the reproach that it does not take into account the realities of the situation. The constitutional guarantee then is not to be given a meaning that disregards what is, what does in fact exist. To assure that the general welfare be promoted, which is the end of law, a regulatory measure may cut into the rights to liberty and property. Those adversely affected may under such circumstances invoke the equal protection clause only if they can show that the governmental act assailed, far from being inspired by the attainment of the common weal was prompted by the spirit of hostility, or at the very least, discrimination that finds no support in reason."[23] Classification is thus not ruled out, it being sufficient to quote from the Tuason decision anew "that the laws operate equally and uniformly on all persons under similar circumstances or that all persons must be treated in the same manner, the conditions not being different, both in the privileges conferred and the liabilities imposed. Favoritism and undue preference cannot be allowed. For the principle is that equal protection and security shall be given to every person under circumstances which, if not identical, are analogous. If law be looked upon in terms of burden or charges, those that fall within a class should be treated in the same fashion, whatever restrictions cast on some in the group equally binding on the rest."[24]
  2. The premise underlying petitioner's contention on this point is set forth in his memorandum thus: "1. The Sandiganbayan proceedings violates petitioner's right to equal protection, because - appeal as a matter of right became minimized into a mere matter of discretion; - appeal likewise was shrunk and limited only to questions of law, excluding a review of the facts and trial evidence; and - there is only one chance to appeal conviction, by certiorari to the Supreme Court, instead of the traditional two chances; while all other estafa indictees are entitled to appeal as a matter of right covering both law and facts and to two appellate courts, i.e., first to the Court of Appeals and thereafter to the Supreme Court."[25] That is hardly convincing, considering that the classification satisfies the test announced by this Court through Justice Laurel in People v. Vera[26] requiring that it "must be based on substantial distinctions which make real differences; it must be germane to the purposes of the law; it must not be limited to existing conditions only, and must apply equally to each member of the class."[27] To repeat, the Constitution specifically makes mention of the creation of a special court, the Sandiganbayan, precisely in response to a problem, the urgency of which cannot be denied, namely, dishonesty in the public service. It follows that those who may thereafter be tried by such court ought to have been aware as far back as January 17, 1973, when the present Constitution came into force, that a different procedure for the accused therein, whether a private citizen as petitioner is or a public official, is not necessarily offensive to the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Petitioner, moreover, cannot be unaware of the ruling of this Court in Co Chiong v. Cuaderno,[28] a 1949 decision, that the general guarantees of the Bill of Rights, included among which are the due process of law and equal protection clauses must "give way to [a] specific provision," in that decision, one reserving to "Filipino citizens of the operation of public services or utilities."[29] The scope of such a principle is not to be constricted. It is certainly broad enough to cover the instant situation.
  3. The contention that the challenged Presidential Decree is contrary to the ex post facto provision of the Constitution is similarly premised on the allegation that "petitioner's right of appeal is being diluted or eroded efficacy wise * * *."[30] A more searching scrutiny of its rationale would demonstrate the lack of persuasiveness of such an argument. The Kay Villegas Kami[31] decision, promulgated in 1970, cited by petitioner, supplies the most recent and binding pronouncement on the matter. To quote from the ponencia of Justice Makasiar: "An ex post facto law is one which: (1) makes criminal an act done before the passage of the law and which was innocent when done, and punishes such an act; (2) aggravates a crime, or makes it greater than it was, when committed; (3) changes the punishment and inflicts a greater punishment than the law annexed to the crime when committed; (4) alters the legal rules of evidences, and authorizes conviction upon less or different testimony than the law required at the time of the commission of the offense; (5) assuming to regulate civil rights and remedies only, in effect imposes penalty or deprivation of a right for something which when done was lawful; and (6) deprives a person accused of a crime of some lawful protection to which he has become entitled, such as the protection of a former conviction or acquittal, or a proclamation of amnesty."[32] Even the most careful scrutiny of the above definition fails to sustain the claim of petitioner. The "lawful protection" to which an accused "has become entitled" is qualified, not given a broad scope. It hardly can be argued that the mode of procedure provided for in the statutory right to appeal is therein embraced. This is hardly a controversial matter. This Court has spoken in no uncertain terms. In People vs. Vilo,[33] a 1949 decision, speaking through the then Justice, later Chief Justice Paras, it made clear that seven of the nine Justices then composing this Court, excepting only the ponente himself and the late Justice Perfecto, were of the opinion that Section 9 of the Judiciary Act of 1948, doing away with the requirement of unanimity under Article 47 of the Revised Penal Code with eight votes sufficing for the imposition of the death sentence, does not suffer from any constitutional infirmity. For them its applicability to crimes committed before its enactment would not make the law ex post facto.
  4. It may not be amiss to pursue the subject further. The first authoritative exposition of what is prohibited by the ex post facto clause is found in Mekin v. Wolfe,[34] decided in 1903. Thus: "An ex post facto law has been defined as one - (a) Which makes an action done before the passing of the law and which was innocent when done criminal, and punishes such action; or (b) Which aggravates a crime or makes it greater than it was when committed; or (c) Which changes the punishment and inflicts a greater punishment than the law annexed to the crime when it was committed; or (d) Which alters the legal rules of evidence and receives less or different testimony than the law required at the time of the commission of the offense in order to convict the defendant."[35] There is relevance to the next paragraph of the opinion of Justice Cooper: "The case clearly does not come within this definition, nor can it be seen in what way the act in question alters the situation of petitioner to his disadvantage. It gives him, as well as the Government, the benefit of the appeal, and is intended as furnishing the means for the correction of errors. The possibility that the judge of the Court of First Instance may commit error in his favor and wrongfully discharge him appears to be the only foundation for the claim. A person can have no vested right in such a possibility."[36]
  5. Mekin v. Wolfe is traceable to Calder v. Bull,[37] a 1798 decision of the United States Supreme Court. Even the very language as to what falls within the category of this provision is well-nigh identical. Thus: "I will state what laws I consider ex post facto laws, within the words and the intent of the prohibition. 1st. Every law that makes an action done before the passing of the law; and which was innocent when done, criminal; and punishes such action. 2d. Every law that aggravates a crime, or makes it greater than it was, when committed. 3d. Every law that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when committed. 4th Every law that alters the legal rules of evidence, and receives less, or different, testimony, than the law required at the time of the commission of the offense, in order to convict the offender. All these, and similar laws, are manifestly unjust and oppressive."[38] The opinion of Justice Chase who spoke for the United States Supreme Court went on to state: "The expressions 'ex post facto laws,' are technical, they had been in use long before the Revolution, and had acquired an appropriate meaning, by legislators, lawyers, and authors. The celebrated and judicious Sir William Blackstone in his commentaries, considers an ex post facto law precisely in the same light I have done. His opinion is confirmed by his successor, Mr. Wooddeson; and by the author of the Federalist, who I esteem superior to both, for his extensive and accurate knowledge of the true principles of government."[39]
  6. Petitioner relies on Thompson v. Utah.[40] As it was decided by the American Supreme Court in April of 1898 – the very same year when the Treaty of Paris, by virtue of which, American sovereignty over the Philippines was acquired – it is understandable why he did so. Certainly, the exhaustive opinion of the first Justice Harlan, as was mentioned by an author, has a cutting edge, but it cuts both ways. It also renders clear why the obstacles to declaring unconstitutional the challenged Presidential Decree are well-nigh insuperable. After a review of the previous pronouncements of the American Supreme Court on this subject, Justice Harlan made this realistic appraisal: "The difficulty is not so much as to the soundness of the general rule that an accused has no vested right in particular modes of procedure as in determining whether particular statutes by their operation take from an accused any right that was regarded, at the time of the adoption of the constitution, as vital for the protection of life and liberty, and which he enjoyed at the time of the commission of the offense charged against him."[41] An 1894 decision of the American Supreme Court, Duncan v. Missouri[42] was also cited by petitioner. The opinion of the then Chief Justice Fuller, speaking for the Court, is to the same effect. It was categorically stated that "the prescribing of different modes of procedure and the abolition of courts and the creation of new ones, leaving untouched all the substantial protections with which the existing laws surrounds the person accused of crime, are not considered within the constitutional inhibition."[43]
  7. Even from the standpoint then of the American decisions relied upon, it cannot be successfully argued that there is a dilution of the right to appeal. Admittedly under Presidential Decree No. 1486, there is no recourse to the Court of Appeals, the review coming from this Court. The test as to whether the ex post facto clause is disregarded, in the language of Justice Harlan in the just-cited Thompson v. Utah decision taking "from an accused any right that was regarded, at the time of the adoption of the constitution as vital for the protection of life and liberty, and which he enjoyed at the time of the commission of the offense charged against him." The crucial words are "vital for the protection of life and liberty" of a defendant in a criminal case. Would the omission of the Court of Appeals as an intermediate tribunal deprive petitioner of a right vital to the protection of his liberty? The answer must be in the negative. In the first place, his innocence or guilt is passed upon by the three-judge court of a division of respondent Court. Moreover, a unanimous vote is required, failing which "the Presiding Justice shall designate two other justices from among the members of the Court to sit temporarily with them, forming a division of five justices, and the concurrence of a majority of such division shall be necessary for rendering judgment."[44] Then if convicted, this Court has the duty if he seeks a review to see whether any error of law was committed to justify a reversal of the judgment. Petitioner makes much, perhaps excessively so as is the wont of advocates, of the fact that there is no review of the facts. What cannot be too sufficiently stressed is that this Court in determining whether or not to give due course to the petition for review must be convinced that the constitutional presumption of innocence[45] has been overcome. In that sense, it cannot be said that on the appellate level there is no way of scrutinizing whether the quantum of evidence required for a finding of guilt has been satisfied. The standard as to when there is proof of such weight to justify a conviction is set forth in People v. Dramayo.[46] Thus: "Accusation is not, according to the fundamental law, as synonymous with guilt. It is incumbent on the prosecution to demonstrate that culpability lies. Appellants were not even called upon then to offer evidence on their behalf. Their freedom is forfeit only if the requisite quantum of proof necessary for conviction be in existence. Their guilt must be shown beyond reasonable doubt. To such a standard, this Court has always been committed. There is need, therefore, for the most careful scrutiny of the testimony of the state, both oral and documentary, independently of whatever defense, is offered by the accused. Only if the judge below and thereafter the appellate tribunal could arrive at a conclusion that the crime had been committed precisely by the person on trial under such an exacting test should the sentence be one of conviction. It is thus required that every circumstance favoring his innocence be duly taken into account. The proof against him must survive the test of reason; the strongest suspicion must not be permitted to sway judgment. The conscience must be satisfied that on the defendant could be laid the responsibility for the offense charged; that not only did he perpetrate the act but that it amounted to a crime. What is required then is moral certainty."[47] This Court has repeatedly reversed convictions on a showing that this fundamental and basic right to be presumed innocent has been disregarded.[48] It does seem far-fetched and highly unrealistic to conclude that the omission of the Court of Appeals as a reviewing authority results in the loss "vital protection" of liberty.
  8. The argument based on denial of due process has much less to recommend it. In the exhaustive forty-two page memorandum of petitioner, only four and a half pages were devoted to its discussion. There is the allegation of lack of fairness. Much is made of what is characterized as "the tenor and thrust" of the leading American Supreme Court decision, Snyder v. Massachusetts.[49] Again this citation cuts both ways. With his usual felicitous choice of words, Justice Cardozo, who penned the opinion, emphasized: "The law, as we have seen, is sedulous in maintaining for a defendant charged with crime whatever forms of procedure are of the essence of an opportunity to defend. Privileges so fundamental as to be inherent in every concept of a fair trial that could be acceptable to the thought of reasonable men will be kept inviolate and inviolable, however crushing may be the pressure of incriminating proof. But justice, though due to the accused, is due to the accuser also. The concept of fairness must not be strained till it is narrowed to a filament. We are to keep the balance true."[50] What is required for compliance with the due process mandate in criminal proceedings? In Arnault v. Pecson[51] this Court with Justice Tuason as ponente, succinctly identified it with "a fair and impartial trial and reasonable opportunity for the preparation of defense."[52] In criminal proceedings then, due process is satisfied if the accused is "informed as to why he is proceeded against and what charge he has to meet, with his conviction being made to rest on evidence that is not tainted with falsity after full opportunity for him to rebut it and the sentence being imposed in accordance with a valid law. It is assumed, of course, that the court that rendered the decision is one of competent jurisdiction."[53] The above formulation is a reiteration of what was decided by the American Supreme Court in a case of Philippine origin, Ong Chang Wing v. United States[54] decided during the period of American rule, 1910 to be precise. Thus: "This court has had frequent occasion to consider the requirements of due process of law as applied to criminal procedure, and, generally speaking, it may be said that if an accused has been heard in a court of competent jurisdiction, and proceeded against under the orderly processes of law, and only punished after inquiry and investigation, upon notice to him, with an opportunity to be heard, and a judgment awarded within the authority of a constitutional law, then he has had due process of law."[55]
  9. This Court holds that petitioner has been unable to make a case calling for a declaration of unconstitutionality of Presidential Decree No. 1486 as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1606. The decision does not go as far as passing on any question not affecting the right of petitioner to a trial with all the safeguards of the Constitution. It is true that other Sections of the Decree could have been worded to avoid any constitutional objection. As of now, however, no ruling is called for. The view is given expression in the concurring and dissenting opinion of Justice Makasiar that in such a case to save the Decree from the dire fate of invalidity, they must be construed in such a way as to preclude any possible erosion on the powers vested in this Court by the Constitution. That is a proposition too plain to be contested. It commends itself for approval. Nor should there be any doubt either that a review by certiorari of a decision of conviction by the Sandiganbayan calls for strict observance of the constitutional presumption of innocence.
WHEREFORE, the petition is dismissed. No costs. Aquino, Guerrero, Abad Santos, Melencio-Herrera, Plana, and Escolin, JJ., concur.

Teehankee, Fernandez, and De Castro, JJ., concurs with J. Makasiar’s separate concurring and dissenting opinion.
Barredo, J., concurs and adds a separate opinion.
Makasiar, J., submits a separate concurring and dissenting opinion.
Ericta and Concepcion, Jr., JJ., did not take part.

[1] Article XIII, Section 5 of the Constitution.

[2] Presidential Decree No. 1486 as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1606, both issued in 1978.

[3] Republic Act No. 1379.

[4] Republic Act No. 3019 (1960).

[5] L-20387, January 31, 1968, 22 SCRA 424.

[6] Ibid, 435.

[7] Petition, par. 2, enumerating such criminal cases as 027, 029, 054, 055, 059, 062-067, 111, 119, 120, 124-126, 130, 131, 139, 141, 142, 145, 153, 154, 157, 160, 161, 163-165, 167, 168, 171, 175, 179 and 186. Cf. Section 4, Presidential Decree No. 1606.

[8] Ibid, par 3.

[9] Ibid, par. 4.

[10] Ibid, par. 5.

[11] Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution provides: "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws."

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid, Sec. 12.

[14] Memorandum of Petitioner, 1.

[15] Attorney Raymundo A. Armovit.

[16] Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza was assisted by Assistant Solicitor General Reynato Puno and Trial Attorney Patria Manalastas.

[17] 1976 Amendments, par. 5.

[18] L-40004, January 31, 1975, 62 SCRA 275.

[19] Ibid, 298.

[20] Ibid, 298-299.

[21] L-21064, February 18, 1970, 31 SCRA 413.

[22] Ibid, 434-435.

[23] Ibid, 435.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Memorandum of Petitioner, 7-8.

[26] 65 Phil. 56 (1937).

[27] Ibid, 126.

[28] 83 Phil. 242.

[29] Ibid, 251.

[30] Memorandum of Petitioner, 7-9, 36.

[31] In re: Kay Villegas Kami, Inc., L-32485, October 22, 1970, 35 SCRA 429.

[32] Ibid, 431.

[33] 82 Phil. 524. It is worthy of mention that the then Justice Paras was the sole member of the Court relying on the 1908 decision, United States v. Gomez, 12 Phil. 279, cited by petitioner.

[34] 2 Phil. 74.

[35] Ibid, 77-78.

[36] Ibid, 78.

[37] 3 Dallas 386.

[38] Ibid, 390-391.

[39] Ibid, 391.

[40] 170 US 343 (1898).

[41] Ibid, 352.

[42] 152 US 377.

[43] Ibid, 382.

[44] Section 5, Presidential Decree No. 1606.

[45] According to Article IV, Section 19 insofar as pertinent: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, * * *."

[46] L-21325, October 29, 1971, 42 SCRA 59.

[47] Ibid, 64.

[48] To speak of 1981 decisions alone, the judgment of acquittal was handed down in the following cases: People v. Novales, L-47400, Jan. 19, 1981, 102 SCRA 86; People v. Mendoza, L-48275, Feb. 24, 1981, 103 SCRA 122; People v. Duero, L-52016, May 13, 1981, 104 SCRA 379; People v. Tabayoyong, L-31084, May 29, 1981, 104 SCRA 724; Perez v. People, L-43548, June 29, 1981; People v. Anggot, L-38101-02, June 29, 1981; People v. Utrela, L-38172, July 15, 1981; People v. Francisco, L-43789, July 15, 1981; People v. Cuison, L-51363, July 25, 1981; People v. Pisalvo, L-32886, Oct. 23, 1981; People v. Verges, L-36436, Oct. 23, 1981; People v. Tapao, L-41704, Oct. 23, 1981; People v. Delmendo, L-32146, Nov. 23, 1981; People v. Orpilla, L-30621, Dec. 14, 1981; People v. Marquez, L-31403, Dec. 14, 1981; People v. Rosales, L-31694, Dec. 14, 1981; People v. Felipe, L-54335, Dec. 14, 1981. In People v. Corpus, L-36234, Feb. 10, 1981, 102 SCRA 674, of the 10 accused, three were acquitted.

[49] 291 US 97 (1934).

[50] Ibid, 122.

[51] 87 Phil. 418 (1950).

[52] Ibid, 422.

[53] Cf. Vera v. People, L-31218, Feb. 18, 1970, 31 SCRA 711, 717.

[54] 218 US 272.

[55] Ibid, 279-280.

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