G.R. Nos. 233155-63. July 17, 2018

EN BANC [ G.R. Nos. 233155-63, July 17, 2018 ] JOSE TAPALES VILLAROSA V. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES.

This pertains to petitioner Jose T. Villarosa's (Villarosa) Urgent Motion for Reconsideration (of the 22 November 2017 Minute Resolution) with Motion for Leave to File and for the Admission of the Same and Motion for the Referral of the Case to the Honorable Court En Banc. We treat the same as a second motion for reconsideration of Our minute resolution dated September 13, 2017.

To recall, on November 17, 2016, Villarosa was convicted by the Sandiganbayan with nine (9) counts of Violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), as amended.[1] Subsequently, his motion for reconsideration was denied on March 6, 2017.[2] The case stemmed from a complaint filed against him by Ruben P. Soledad, the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) of Occidental Mindoro, for issuing sand and gravel extraction permits from September 2010 to June 2011 in his capacity as a Mayor of the Municipality of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, which were allegedly in violation of Section 138 of R.A. No. 7160 (Local Government Code of 1991)[3]Criminal Case Nos. 0348-0356 were filed based on the nine (9) Informations, all dated January 16, 2014.[4]

Before Us, Villarosa filed a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court (Rules).[5] In a minute resolution dated September 13, 2017, the petition was denied "for failure to sufficiently show any reversible error in the assailed judgment to warrant the exercise of this Court's discretionary appellate jurisdiction."[6] A motion for reconsideration was filed, but on November 22, 2017 it was denied with finality as no substantial argument was adduced to warrant the reconsideration sought;[7] hence, this pending incident.

We resolve to allow Villarosa's second motion for reconsideration and give due course to the petition by directing respondent to file its comment.

As a rule, a second motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading.[8] However, when a motion for leave to file and admit a second motion for reconsideration is granted by the Court, the filing of the second motion for reconsideration is allowed and, in such case, said motion is no longer a prohibited pleading.[9]Section 3, Rule 15 of A.M. No. 10-4-20-SC (Internal Rules of the Supreme Court) set forth the requirements that must be complied with for Us to entertain a second motion for reconsideration, to wit:
1. There is a vote of at. least two-thirds of the actual membership of the Court en banc.
2. The reconsideration is "in the higher interest of justice," i.e., when the assailed decision is not only legally erroneous but is likewise patently unjust and potentially capable of causing unwarranted and irremediable injury or damage to the parties.
3. The ruling sought to be reconsidered is not yet final by operation of law or by the Court's declaration.[10]
4. In the Division, a vote of three Members shall be required to elevate a second motion for reconsideration to the Court en banc.[11]
In several cases where a second motion for reconsideration was admitted, We even went on to the extent of granting the relief sought by reversing and setting aside the assailed decision/resolution.[12] Certainly, the court has the discretion to reverse itself upon the filing of a motion for reconsideration.[13] The inherent power of a court to amend and control its processes and orders so as to make them conformable to law and justice[14]includes the right to reverse itself, especially when in its honest opinion it has committed an error or mistake in judgment, and that to adhere to its decision will cause injustice to a party litigant.[15] Every court has the power and the corresponding duty to review, amend or reverse its findings and conclusions whenever its attention is seasonably called to any error or defect that it may have committed.[16]

Here, the Court finds sufficient basis to set aside Our earlier resolutions which are potentially capable of causing unwarranted and irremediable injury or damage to Villarosa as a convicted felon.

It must be stressed at the outset that the 1987 Constitution merely requires Us to state the legal basis for denying due course to a petition for review.[17] Thus, consistent with A.M. No. 10-4-20-SC, a minute resolution may be issued when We deny a petition filed under Rule 45 of the Rules by citing as legal basis the absence of reversible error committed in the challenged decision, resolution, or order of the court below.[18] The adjudication of a case by minute resolution is an exercise of judicial discretion and constitutes sound and valid judicial practice.[19] Minute resolutions dismissing the actions filed before this Court constitute actual adjudications on the merits and they are the result of thorough deliberation among the members of the Court.[20]

Villarosa nonetheless holds that the idea that an accused person's conviction by the Sandiganbayan may be set in stone through nothing more than a minute resolution should be carefully examined.

We concur. The Court is of the considered view that, henceforth, the better policy is to limit the rule on the issuance of a minute resolution denying due course to a Rule 45 petition to cases decided by the Sandiganbayan in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction.[21] Anent those resolved in the exercise of its exclusive original jurisdiction, the mode of adjudicating the appeal should be either a decision or unsigned resolution.[22] These include cases involving:
a. Violations of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Republic Act No. 1379, and Chapter II, Section 2,Title VII, Book II of the Revised Penal Code, where one or more of the accused are officials occupying the following positions in the government, whether in a permanent, acting or interim capacity, at the time of the commission of the offense: .
(1) Officials of the executive branch occupying the positions of regional director and higher, otherwise classified as Grade '27' and higher, of the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989 (Republic Act No. 6758), specifically including:
"(a) Provincial governors, vice-governors, members of the sangguniang panlalawigan, and provincial treasurers, assessors, engineers, and other provincial department heads;

"(b) City mayors, vice-mayors, members of the sangguniang panlungsod, city treasurers, assessors, engineers, and other city department heads;

"(c) Officials of the diplomatic service occupying the position of consul and higher;

"(d) Philippine army and air force colonels, naval captains, and all officers of higher rank;

"(e) Officers of the Philippine National Police while occupying the position of provincial director and those holding the rank of senior superintendent and higher;

"(f) City and provincial prosecutors and their assistants, and officials and prosecutors in the Office of the Ombudsman and special prosecutor;

"(g) Presidents, directors or trustees, or managers of government-owned or controlled corporations, state universities or educational institutions or foundations.
"(2) Members of Congress and officials thereof classified as Grade '27' and higher under the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989;

"(3) Members of the judiciary without prejudice to the provisions of the Constitution;

"(4) Chairmen and members of the Constitutional Commissions, without prejudice to the provisions of the Constitution; and

"(5) All other national and local officials classified as Grade '27' and higher under the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989.
"b. Other offenses or felonies whether simple or complexed with other crimes committed by the public officials and employees mentioned in subsection a. of this section in relation to their office.

"c. Civil and criminal cases filed pursuant to and in connection with Executive Order Nos. 1, 2,14 and 14-A, issued in 1986."[23]
The difference in treatment is vital. Notably, the accused persons in cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan in the exercise of its exclusive original jurisdiction are high-ranking government officials or employees with Salary Grade 27 or higher, as well as other government officials and employees, not classified as such but because of the nature of the crimes committed fall under the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan As correctly raised by Villarosa, citing Formilleza v. Sandiganbayan,[24] the Sandiganbayan is the first and last recourse of the accused before the case reaches the Supreme Court where findings of fact are generally conclusive and binding. If the accused desires to appeal, the sole legal option is to file a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules. In stark contrast, lower ranking government officials and employees are relatively privileged. As a matter of statutory right, they are entitled to appeal their conviction from the lower courts to the Sandiganbayan and up to the Supreme Court. Needless to state, they have wider opportunity to ventilate their cause and ensure their constitutionally-protected rights as the reviewing court prior to Us has another chance to reassess the factual findings and legal conclusions of the lower court.

Further, this Court agrees with Villarosa that Our issuance of minute resolutions denying Rule 45 petitions actually contemplates those that assail the decisions of an appellate court like the Court of Appeals. As expressed in Agoy v. Araneta Center, Inc.:[25]
x x x When the Court does not find any reversible error in the decision of the CA and denies the petition, there is no need for the Court to fully explain its denial, since it already means that it agrees with and adopts the findings and conclusions of the CA. The decision sought to be reviewed and set aside is correct. It would be an exercise in redundancy for the Court to reproduce or restate in the minute resolution denying the petition the conclusions that the CA reached.[26]
With regard to a petition elevated to this Court from a judgment of conviction of the Sandiganbayan in the exercise of its exclusive original jurisdiction, only We are in a position, as mandated by law, to review its findings of fact and conclusions of law. There are no findings and conclusions of an appellate court to speak of that We may agree with and adopt, or reproduce or restate. The reason being that the factual findings and legal conclusions would be reviewed for the first and last time by this Court.

The need to dispose this case through a decision or unsigned resolution is bolstered by the apparent persuasive merit of Villarosa's defense. He invites Our attention to alleged facts which may not have been properly appreciated by the Sandiganbayan. According to him, the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he acted with evident bad faith and has given unwarranted benefits in the issuance of the extraction permits, considering that: (i) the extraction permits went through the legitimate evaluation and assessment of both the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO) and the Municipal Administrator; (ii) the taxes collected were duly accounted and remitted to the Province and even formed part of its general fund and was duly appropriated by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan through its 2011 and 2012 Budget Ordinance; (iii) such regular receipt by the Province amounts to a tacit approval and acquiescence of the authority of Villarosa to issue the extraction permits; (iv) the extraction permits were issued without knowledge of any Cease-and-Desist Order (CDO) and before the CDOs were even issued; (v) the CDOs were issued only against the quarry operators and after the expiration of the validity of the extraction permits; and (vi) the Province of Occidental Mindoro had no effective and enforceable Ordinance in accordance with Section 138 of the LGC.[27] Villarosa further contends that he acted pursuant to the principle of local autonomy enshrined in the 1987 Constitution in relation to the general welfare clause under Section 16 of the LGC; that the decision to organize the MENRO was prompted by the failure of the Provincial Treasurer and/or Governor to remit to the municipality and to the barangays of San Jose their respective shares in the gravel and sand fees paid by the quarry operators licensed by the Governor; and that the organization of the MENRO was effected only upon the advice of the legal retainer of the Office of the Mayor which was relied upon in good faith.[28]

It is argued that the examination of the Sandiganbayan's conclusion that Villarosa stubbornly defied the letter of Soledad, which allegedly informed him that he had no right to issue the extraction permits, and insistently refused to acknowledge the right of the Provincial Governor to issue the same is not supported by the text and tenor of Villarosa's letters dated May 23, 2011 and August 23, 2011 and the undisputed fact that he did not issue new extraction permits after the issuance of the CDOs even if he interposed his vehement objection thereto.

With all the foregoing, there is a necessity to elevate the case records for Us to fully review the testimonial and documentary evidence of the parties.

A Rule 45 petition is a mode of appeal. As such, it is a continuation of the case subject of the appeal. It is a component of the appeal process, part of the trial which resulted in the rendition of the judgment complained of. The exercise of Our appellate jurisdiction refers to a process which is but a continuation of the original suit.[29] The general rule is only questions of law may be raised in a petition under Rule 45. While this Court is not a trier of facts and its role is to decide cases based on the findings of fact before it,[30] factual issues may be determined if any of the following situations is present:
(a) the conclusion is a finding grounded entirely on speculation, surmise and conjecture;
(b) the inference made is manifestly mistaken;
(c) there is grave abuse of discretion;
(d) the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts;
(e) the findings of fact are conflicting;
(f) the collegial appellate courts went beyond the issues of the case, and their findings are contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee;
(g) the findings of fact of the collegial appellate courts are contrary to those of the trial court;
(h) said findings of fact are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based;
(i) the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioner's main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondents;
(j) the findings of fact of the collegial appellate courts are premised on the supposed evidence, but are contradicted by the evidence on record; and
(k) all other similar and exceptional cases warranting a review of the lower courts' findings of fact.[31]
Indeed, although not a trier of facts, We may analyze, review, and even reverse findings of facts if there is compelling reason to do so.[32] When the trial court overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight and substance which can affect the result of the case, the Court is duty-bound to correct this palpable error for the right to liberty, which stands second only to life in the hierarchy of constitutional rights, cannot be lightly taken away.[33]

Moreover, the unique nature of an appeal in a criminal case is that the appeal throws the whole case open for review of all its aspects.[34]The appellate court is duty-bound to correct, cite and appreciate errors in the appealed judgment, whether they are assigned or unassigned.[35] This Court has the authority to review matters not specifically raised or assigned as an error by the parties if their consideration is necessary to arrive at a just resolution of the case.[36] An examination of the entire records of a case may be explored for the purpose of arriving at a correct conclusion.[37] It is incumbent upon the appellate court to render such judgment as law and justice dictate, whether it be favorable or unfavorable to the accused.[38] The rationale behind the rule stems from the recognition that an accused waives the constitutional safeguard against double jeopardy once he appeals from the sentence of the trial court.[39] This rule is strictly observed, particularly where the liberty of the accused is at stake.[40]

It is most unfortunate if, as Villarosa proclaims, the Sandiganbayan failed to cautiously examine facts and circumstances that are of substance and value which, if considered, would be favorable to him as an accused. An allegation of the perfunctory manner by which it handed down its guilty verdict constrains Us to modify the rules of procedure in the interest of substantial justice. In the instant case, particularly at risk are Villarosa's right to liberty and the quality of the remaining years of his life.[41]

To conclude, We sustain Villarosa's position that courts are required to take "a more than casual consideration" of every circumstance or doubt proving the innocence of an accused. As held in Ruzol v. Sandiganbayan, et al.:[42]
x x x [It] is settled that an accused in a criminal case is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved and that to overcome the presumption, nothing but proof beyond reasonable doubt must be established by the prosecution. As held by this Court in People v. Sitco:
The imperative of proof beyond reasonable doubt has a vital role in our criminal justice system, the accused, during a criminal prosecution, having a stake interest of immense importance, both because of the possibility that he may lose his freedom if convicted and because of the certainty that his conviction will leave a permanent stain on his reputation and name. (Emphasis supplied.)

Citing Rabanal v. People, the Court further explained:

Law and jurisprudence demand proof beyond reasonable doubt before any person may be deprived of his life, liberty, or even property. Enshrined in the Bill of Rights is the right of the petitioner to be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and to overcome the presumption, nothing but proof beyond reasonable doubt must be established by the prosecution. The constitutional presumption of innocence requires courts to take "a more than casual consideration" of every circumstance [or] doubt proving the innocence of petitioner. (Emphasis added.)
Verily, an accused is entitled to an acquittal unless his or her guilt is shown beyond reasonable doubt and it is the primordial duty of the prosecution to present its side with clarity and persuasion, so that conviction becomes the only logical and inevitable conclusion, with moral certainty. As explained by this Court in People v. Berroya:
The necessity for proof beyond reasonable doubt lies in the fact that "(i)n a criminal prosecution, the State is arrayed against the subject; it enters the contest with a prior inculpatory finding in its hands; with unlimited means of command; with counsel usually of authority and capacity, who are regarded as public officers, and therefore as speaking semi-judicially, and with an attitude of tranquil majesty often in striking contrast to that of defendant engaged in a perturbed and distracting struggle for liberty if not for life. These inequalities of position, the law strives to meet by the rule that there is to be no conviction when there is a reasonable doubt of guilt."
Indeed, proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean such a degree of proof, excluding possibility of error, produces absolute certainty; moral certainty only is required, or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind.[43]
Cliche as it may sound, in criminal law, the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own weight and cannot be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the defense.[44]

WHEREFORE, the Petition for Review on Certiorari of Jose T. Villarosa is REINSTATED. Respondent Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) is DIRECTED to file its Comment on the Petition for Review on Certiorari dated August 18, 2017 within ten (10) days from notice hereof." Perlas-Bernabe, J., on official business. Caguioa, J., on leave. (adv52)

[1]Penned by Associate Justice Reynaldo P. Cruz, with Associate Justices Efren N. De La Cruz and Michael Frederick L. Musngi concurring; rollo, pp. 43-62.

[2]Rollo, pp. 62-69.

[3]SECTION 138. Tax on Sand, Gravel and Other Quarry Resources. -
x x x x
The permit to extract sand, gravel and other quarry resources shall be issued exclusively by the provincial governor, pursuant to the ordinance of the sangguniang panlalawigan.
x x x.
[4]Rollo, pp. 43-45.

[5]Id. at 7-42.

[6]Id. at 77-78.

[7]Id. 88-108, 110-111.

[8]Section 2, Rule 52 of the Rules states:

SEC. 2. Second motion for reconsideration. -No second motion for reconsideration of a judgment or final resolution by the same party shall be entertained.

[9]See League of Cities of the Phils., et al. v. Commission on Elections, et al., 658 Phil. 275 (2011).

[10]A decision or resolution of the Court may be deemed final after the lapse of fifteen days from receipt by the parties of a copy of the same while the date of entry of judgment shall be the date such decision or resolution becomes executory, unless the Court directs its immediate execution. (Section 1 Rule 15 and Section 1, Rule 16, A.M. No. 10-4-20-SC).

[11]SEC. 3. Second motion for reconsideration. - The Court shall not entertain a second motion for reconsideration, and any exception to this rule can only be granted in the higher interest of justice by the Court en banc upon a vote of at least two-thirds of its actual membership. There is reconsideration "in the higher interest of justice" when the assailed decision is not only legally erroneous, but is likewise patently unjust and potentially capable of causing unwarranted and irremediable injury or damage to the parties. A second motion for reconsideration can only be entertained before the ruling sought to be reconsidered becomes final by operation of law or by the Court's declaration.

In the Division, a vote of three Members shall be required to elevate a second motion for reconsideration to the Court en banc.

[12]See Navarro, et al. v. Exec. Secretary Ermita, et al., 663 Phil. 546 (2011); League of Cities of the Phils., et al. v. Commission on Elections, et al., supra note 9; People v. Romualdez, et al., 605 Phil. 194 (2009); International Container Terminal Services, Inc. v. FGU Insurance Corp., et al., 604 Phil. 380 (2009); Ocampo v. Judge Bibat-Palamos, 546 Phil. 307 (2007); Sta. Rosa Really Development Corp. v. Amante, 493 Phil. 570 (2005); Galman v. Sandiganbayan, 228 Phil. 42 (1986); and Republic of the Philippine v. Keng, 145 Phil. 483 (1970).

[13]See Republic of the Philippines v. Yang Chi Hao, 617 Phil. 422, 431 (2009).

[14]Section 5, Rule 135, RULES OF COURT.

[15]Astraquillo, et al. v. Javier, et al., 121 Phil. 138, 144 (1965). See also Suplico v. Lokin, Jr., G.R. No. 199520, August 3, 2016 (Notice); Tegimenta Chemical Phils., et al. v. Oco, 705 Phil. 57, 68 (2013); D.B.T. Mar-Bay Construction, Inc. v. Panes, et al., 612 Phil. 93, 108-109 (2009); Republic of the Philippines v. Judge Gingoyon, 514 Phil. 657, 713 (2005); and Tocao v. Court of Appeals, 417 Phil. 794, 795(2001)

[16]Suplico v. Lokin, Jr., supra, and Herce, Jr. v. Municipality of Cabuyao, Laguna, 541 Phil. 318, 322 (2007).

[17]Agoy v. Araneta Center, Inc., 685 Phil. 246, 250 (2012).

[18]Section 6, Rule 13 of A.M. No. 10-4-20-SC provides:
SEC. 6. Manner of adjudication. - The Court shall adjudicate cases as follows:
x x x x
(d) By minute resolution when the Court (1) dismisses a petition filed under Rule 64 or 65 of the Rules of Court, citing as legal basis the failure of the petition to show that the tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions has acted without or in excess of jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction; (2) denies a petition filed under Rule 45 of the said Rules, citing as legal basis the absence of reversible error committed in the challenged decision, resolution, or order of the court below; (3) dismisses an administrative complaint, citing as legal basis failure to show a prima facie case against the respondent; (4) denies a motion for reconsideration, citing as legal basis the absence of a compelling or cogent reason to grant the motion, or the failure to raise any substantial argument to support such motion or the decision of the Court has already passed upon the basic issues in the case; and (5) dismisses or denies a petition on technical grounds or deficiencies.

[19]Agoy v. Araneta Center, Inc., supra note 17, at 247.

[20]Id. at 251. See also Borromeo v. Court of Appeals, 264 Phil. 388 (1990).

[21]The Sandiganbayan shall exercise exclusive appellate jurisdiction over final judgments, resolutions or orders of regional trial courts whether in the exercise of their own original jurisdiction or of their appellate jurisdiction (Section 4 of Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended by Republic Act No. 10660).

[22]In a decision, the Court disposes of the case on its merits, stating clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based and bearing the signatures of the Members who took part in the deliberation (Section 6 [a], Rule 13, A.M. No. 10-4-20-SC). In an unsigned resolution, the Court disposes of the case on the merits, stating clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based (Section 6 [c], Rule 13, A.M. No. 10-4-20-SC).

[23]Section 4 of Presidential Decree No. 1606, as amended by Republic Act No. 10660.

[24]242 Phil. 519(1988).

[25]Supra note 17.

[26]Id. at 247.

[27]Rollo, pp. 36-37.

[28]Id. at 89-90, 117.

[29]Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) v. City Advertising Ventures Corporation, G.R. No. 182944, November 9, 2016, 808 SCRA 53, 65.

[30]Section 2, Rule 3, A.M. No. 10-4-20-SC.

[31]Section 4, Rule 3, A.M. No. 10-4-20-SC.

[32]Digan v. Malines, G.R. No. 183004, December 6, 2017.

[33]Rimando v. People, G.R. No. 229701, November 29, 2017.

[34]Benabaye v. People, 755 Phil. 144, 157 (2015).

[35]See People v. Ramirez, G.R. No. 219863, March 6, 2018; People v. Santos, G.R. No. 223142, January 17, 2.018; Rimando v. People, supra note 33; Tabobo III v. People, G.R. No. 220977, June 19, 2017 (Resolution); People v. Samson, 768 Phil. 487, 495 (2015); and People v. Dahil, et al., 750 Phil. 212, 225 (2015).

[36]People v. Miranda, G.R. No. 229671, January 31, 2018; Digan v. Malines, supra note 32; Greenstar Express, Inc. v. Universal Robina Corporation, G.R. No. 205090, October 17, 2016, 806 SCRA 125, 156; Philippine Commercial International Rank v. Gomez, G.R. No. 199601, July 25, 2016 (Notice); Dela Cruz v. People, 776 Phil. 653, 673 (2016); and Grace Marine Shipping Corp. et al. v. Alarcon, 769 Phil. 474,497(2015).

[37]People v. Ragasa, G.R. No. 202863, February 21, 2018.

[38]People v. Miranda, supra note 36; Escalante v. People, G.R. No. 218970, June 28, 2017; and People v. Bugarin, G.R. No. 224900, March 15,2017.

[39]People v. Miranda, supra note 36, and People v. Bugarin, supra.

[40]Tabobo III v. People, supra note 35; People v. Samson, supra note 35; and People v. Dahil, et al, supra note 35.

[41]In each of the nine (9) counts of Violation of Section 3 (e) of R.A. No. 3019, Villarosa was sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of six (6) years and one (1) month as minimum up to ten (10) years as maximum, with perpetual disqualification from holding public office. Also, he claims to be already 75 years old. (Rollo, pp. 73, 380-381).

[42]709 Phil. 708(2013).

[43]Ruzol v. Sandiganbayan, et al, supra, at 750. (Citations omitted). See also Saguin, et al. v. People, 113 Phil. 614, 629-630 (2015).

[44]People v. CaƱete, 433 Phil. 781, 795 (2002) and People v. Dimalanta, 483 Phil. 56, 68 (2004).

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