Thursday, March 01, 2012

Azarcon vs. Sandiganbayan

Facts: Petitioner Alfredo Azarcon owned and operated an earth-moving business, hauling dirt and ore. His services were contracted by PICOP. Occasionally, he engaged the services of sub-contractors like Jaime Ancla whose trucks were left at the former’s premises. 

On May 25, 1983, a Warrant of Distraint of Personal Property was issued by BIR commanding one of its Regional Directors to distraint the goods, chattels or effects and other personal property of Jaime Ancla, a sub-contractor of accused Azarcon and a delinquent taxpayer. A Warrant of Garnishment was issued to and subsequently signed by accused Azarcon ordering him to transfer, surrender, transmit and/or remit to BIR the property in his possession owned by Ancla. Azarcon then volunteered himself to act as custodian of the truck owned by Ancla. 

After some time, Azarcon wrote a letter to the Reg. Dir of BIR stating that while he had made representations to retain possession of the property of Ancla, he thereby relinquishes whatever responsibility he had over the said property since Ancla surreptitiously withdrew his equipment from him. In his reply, the BIR Reg. Dir. said that Azarcon’s failure to comply with the provisions of the warrant did not relieve him from his responsibility. 

Along with his co-accused, Azarcon was charged before the Sandiganbayan with the crime of malversation of public funds or property. On March 8, 1994, the Sandiganbayan rendered a Decision sentencing the accused to suffer the penalty of imprisonment ranging from 10 yrs and 1 day of prision mayor in its maximum period to 17 yrs, 4 mos and 1 day of reclusion temporal. Petitioner filed a motion for new trial which was subsequently denied by Sandiganbayan. Hence, this petition. 

Issue: Whether or not Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction over a private individual designated by BIR as a custodian of distrained property. 

Held: SC held that the Sandiganbayan’s decision was null and void for lack of jurisdiction. 

Sec. 4 of PD 1606 provides for the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. It was specified therein that the only instances when the Sandiganbayan will have jurisdiction over a private individual is when the complaint charges the private individual either as a co-principal, accomplice or accessory of a public officer or employee who has been charged with a crime within its jurisdiction. 

The Information does no charge petitioner Azarcon of becoming a co-principal, accomplice or accessory to a public officer committing an offense under the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction. Thus, unless the petitioner be proven a public officer, Sandiganbayan will have no jurisdiction over the crime charged. 

Art. 203 of the RPC determines who public officers are. Granting that the petitioner, in signing the receipt for the truck constructively distrained by the BIR, commenced to take part in an activity constituting public functions, he obviously may not be deemed authorized by popular election. Neither was he appointed by direct provision of law nor by competent authority. While BIR had authority to require Azarcon to sign a receipt for the distrained truck, the National Internal Revenue Code did not grant it power to appoint Azarcon a public officer. The BIR’s power authorizing a private individual to act as a depositary cannot be stretched to include the power to appoint him as a public officer. Thus, Azarcon is not a public officer. 

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