OPHELIA HERNAN v. THE HONORABLE SANDIGANBAYAN
GR No. 217874 December 5, 2017
TOPIC: Reopening of case, malversation of public funds
Petitioner Hernan worked as a Supervising Fiscal Clerk at DOTC-CAR in Baguio City. By virtue of his position, she was designated as cashier, disbursement and collection officer.
As such, petitioner received cash and other collections from customers and clients for the payment of telegraphic transfers, toll fees, and special message fees. The collections she received were deposited at the bank account of the DOTC at the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), Baguio City Branch.
On December 17, 1996, a cash examination of accounts handled by Hernan was conducted. It was found out that the deposit slips dated September 19, 1996 and November 29, 1996 bearing the amounts of P11,300.00 and P81,348.20, respectively, did not bear a stamp receipt by LBP nor was it machine validated. Petitioner was then informed that the two aforesaid remittances were not acknowledged by the bank. The auditors then found that petitioner duly accounted for the P81,348.20 remittance but not for the P11,300.00.
Accused-petitioner was charged with malversation of public funds with the amount of P11,300.00. RTC found the accused guilty. Petitioner appealed to CA which affirmed her conviction but modified the penalty imposed. Upon motion, however, the CA set aside its decision on the finding that it has no appellate jurisdiction over the case.
Petitioner appealed the case to Sandiganbayan which affirmed RTC’s decision but modified the penalty imposed. Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration which was denied in a Resolution dated August 31, 2010. On June 26, 2013, the Resolution denying petitioner’s MR became final and executory.
On July 26, 2013, accused filed an Urgent Motion to Reopen the Case with Leave of Court and with Prayer to Stay the Execution. Sandiganbayan denied the same and directed the execution of the judgment of conviction.
Thereafter, petitioner filed her Petition for Reconsideration with Prayer for Recall of Entry of Judgment in lieu of the Prayer for the Stay of Execution of Judgement on January 9, 2014 which was likewise denied.
- Whether or not accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the crime of malversation of public funds.
- Whether or not the case may be reopened for further reception of evidence.
FIRST ISSUE: YES.
The Court affirmed the finding of guilt of accused for the crime of malversation of public funds.
The elements of malversation of public funds under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) are: (1) that the offender is a public officer; (2) that he had the custody or control of funds or property by reason of the duties of his office; (3) that those funds or property were public funds or property for which he was accountable; and (4) that he appropriated, took, misappropriated or consented or, through abandonment or negligence, permitted another person to take them. This article establishes a presumption that when a public officer fails to have duly forthcoming any public funds with which he is chargeable, upon demand by any duly authorized officer, it shall be prima facie evidence that he has put such missing funds to personal uses.
As duly found by the trial court, and affirmed by the Sandiganbayan, petitioner’s defense that she, together with her supervisor Cecilia Paraiso, went to the LBP and handed the subject P11,300.00 deposit to the teller Ngaosi and, thereafter, had no idea as to where the money went failed to overcome the presumption of law.
For one, Paraiso was never presented to corroborate her version. For another, when questioned about the subject deposit, not only did petitioner fail to make the same readily available, she also could not satisfactorily explain its whereabouts. Indeed, in the crime of malversation, all that is necessary for conviction is sufficient proof that the accountable officer had received public funds, that she did not have them in her possession when demand therefor was made, and that she could not satisfactorily explain her failure to do so. Thus, even if it is assumed that it was somebody else who misappropriated the said amount, petitioner may still be held liable for malversation.
SECOND ISSUE: NO, but the instant case was nevertheless reopened ONLY to modify the penalty imposed in view of the enactment of an amendatory law favorable to the accused.
The Court upheld Sandiganbayan’s ruling that the absence of the first requisite that the reopening must be before the finality of a judgment of conviction already cripples the Motion to Reopen the Case. The records of the case clearly reveal that the August 31, 2010 Resolution of the Sandiganbayan denying petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration had already become final and executory and, in fact, was already recorded in the Entry Book of Judgments on June 26, 2013.
Requirements for reopening of the case (Section 24, Rule 119 of Rules of Court)
- The reopening must be before the finality of a judgment of conviction;
- The order is issued by the judge on his own initiative or upon motion;
- The order is issued only after a hearing is conducted;
- The order intends to prevent a miscarriage of justice; and
- The presentation of additional and/or further evidence should be terminated within thirty days from the issuance of the order
However, the Court held that it is still necessary to reopen the instant case and recall the Entry of Judgment dated June 26, 2013 of the Sandiganbayan, not for further reception of evidence, however, as petitioner prays for, but in order to modify the penalty imposed by said court.
The general rule is that a judgment that has acquired finality becomes immutable and unalterable, and may no longer be modified in any respect even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact or law and whether it will be made by the court that rendered it or by the highest court of the land. When, however, circumstances transpire after the finality of the decision rendering its execution unjust and inequitable, the Court may sit en banc and give due regard to such exceptional circumstance warranting the relaxation of the doctrine of immutability.
To the Court, the recent passage of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 10951 which accordingly reduced the penalty applicable to the crime charged herein is an example of such exceptional circumstance.
Pursuant to the aforequoted provision, therefore, we have here a novel situation wherein the judgment convicting the accused, petitioner herein, has already become final and executory and yet the penalty imposed thereon has been reduced by virtue of the passage of said law. Because of this, not only must petitioner’s sentence be modified respecting the settled rule on the retroactive effectivity of laws, the sentencing being favorable to the accused, she may even apply for probation, as long as she does not possess any ground for disqualification, in view of recent legislation on probation, or R.A. No. 10707.
Thus, in order to effectively avoid any injustice that petitioner may suffer as well as a possible multiplicity of suits arising therefrom, the Court deems it proper to reopen the instant case and recall the Entry of Judgment dated June 26, 2013 of the Sandiganbayan, which imposed the penalty of six (6) years and one (1) day of prision mayor, as minimum, to eleven (11) years, six (6) months, and twenty-one (21) days of prision mayor, as maximum. Instead, since the amount involved herein is P11,300.00, which does not exceed P40,000.00, the new penalty that should be imposed is prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods, which has a prison term of two (2) years, four (4) months, and one (1) day, to six (6) years.
The Court also held that when exceptional circumstances exist, such as the passage of the instant amendatory law imposing penalties more lenient and favorable to the accused, the Court shall not hesitate to direct the reopening of a final and immutable judgment, the objective of which is to correct not so much the findings of guilt but the applicable penalties to be imposed.