Thursday, March 01, 2012

Balmadrid vs. Sandiganbayan, [195 SCRA 497, March 22, 1991]

Facts: Maximo Binos and Teodulo Alcantara were Superintendent and Cashier, respectively of the government-owned Catanduanes Agricultural and Industrial College (CAIC) located at Panganiban, Catanduanes. On the other hand, petitioners-spouses Jesus and Mila Balmadrid were suppliers of school and construction materials, whose company Ecbal Enterprises is located in Virac, Catanduanes. 

Binos and Alcantara were personally indebted to Mila in the total amount of P9,200.00. They told petitioners that they could pay them in the shortest possible time only if they would cooperate in a scheme through which funds of CAIC would be withdrawn to pay the debt. So, they issued 4 checks of the CAIC payable to Mila Balmadrid, in payment of ghost and/or fictitious deliveries of supplies and materials purportedly for the use of said institution. 

Sandiganbayan rendered a decision and found Binos, Alcantara and the petitioners-spouses guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Binos and Alcantara failed to appeal and were sentenced accordingly. Petitioners, on the other hand filed a motion for reconsideration but it was denied. 

(1) Whether or not petitioners, being private persons, were improperly charged and convicted without authority of law and in clear violation of their constitutional right to due process 

(2) Whether or not petitioners have conspired with their co-accused public officers in the commission of the crime. 

(3) Whether or not the findings of the facts of the Sandiganbayan are based on or supported by substantial evidence. 

(4) Whether or not Sandiganbayan committed a grave abuse of its discretion. 

(1) The Sandiganbayan has 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. In case private individuals are charged as co-principals, accomplices or accessories with the public officers or employees, they shall be tried jointly with said public officers and employees. It follows therefore that if a private person may be tried jointly with public officers, he may also be convicted jointly with them. 

(2) The allegations in the information clearly show the commission of a series of acts, ranging from its inception through the issuance by Binos and Alcantara of officially-issued CAIC checks for non-existent, fictitious or ghost purchases of school supplies and construction materials from Ecbal Enterprises up to the irregular and/or improper delivery of supplies and construction materials, to CAIC from Hi-Tone Construction and the illegal and criminal acts of petitioners to give semblance of regularity to the transaction. The crime, therefore charged and penalized, is not the singular or individual act of issuing CAIC checks in payment of a civil obligation. Rather, it involves the entire spectrum ranging from their issuance up to and including the falsification of public documents to simulate or justify a transaction which was initially intended to give the spouses Balmadrid unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in Binos’ and Alcantara’s discharge of their official duties, which were committed with manifest partiality and evident bad faith, thus causing undue injury to the CAIC. Conspiracy necessarily enters into the picture and its commission attributable to two or more persons acting in conspiracy. 

(3) Suffice it to say that settled is the rule that conspiracy need not be proved by direct evidence. Circumstantial evidence is sufficient if it shows a concerted plan, scheme or design to further a common objective, in this case the defraudation of government funds thru the execution of falsified public and commercial documents. As indisputably shown by more than adequate evidence, the individual and/or concerted acts of accused-spouses Balmaldrid were not merely acts of accomplices or accessories, as contemplated by the RPC, but were acts showing active participation and indispensable cooperation, which, if they were not discovered or unearthed, would have led to illegal, improper or irregular acts being given a semblance of legality, propriety or regularity. Since petitioners have been shown to have participated in the conspiracy, they must be held equally liable with co-accused Binos and Alcantara. In conspiracy, the act of one is the act of all. The fact that petitioners are private persons is of no consequence, considering that the rule of collective criminal responsibility includes even private individuals who participate with public officers in the perpetration of offenses ordinarily particularly applicable only to the latter. 

(4) The Court is bound by the facts found by the Sandiganbayan. The SC’s power to review the decision of that special tribunal is the same as their jurisdiction to review the decision of the Court of Appeals.

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