G.R. NO. 131966. August 31, 2005 (Case Brief / Digest)

**Title:** Republic of the Philippines vs. Hon. Aniano A. Desierto et al.

**Facts:** The Republic of the Philippines filed a complaint against Eduardo M. Cojuangco, Jr. and others for alleged violations related to the acquisition of sixteen oil mills, facilitated by the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and UNICOM. The Ombudsman, upon receiving the complaint (OMB-0-90-2811) and after a preliminary investigation, dismissed it on June 2, 1997, citing no sufficient evidence to suggest a violation of the Anti-Graft Law or that respondents were probably guilty thereof. The recommendation for dismissal by Graft Investigation Officer II Aleu A. Amante highlighted that the transactions pursued under P.D. No. 961 could not render the respondents criminally liable as they were enacting a governmental policy. This decision led the Republic to elevate the matter to the Supreme Court through a petition for certiorari, arguing the dismissal was erroneous, among other legal matters. Cojuangco, on one hand, filed motions for reconsideration, arguing against the findings of the Supreme Court, particularly on issues of probable cause, prescription, and the overlooking of his constitutional right to speedy disposition.

**Issues:** The core legal issues deliberated by the Supreme Court involved whether the Ombudsman’s dismissal of the complaint for lack of probable cause was justifiable, if the offense had prescribed, the relevance of P.D. Nos. 961 and 1468, LOI No. 926 in relation to the prosecution under R.A. No. 3019 and Article 186 of the Revised Penal Code, and finally, the assertion of Cojuangco’s right to a speedy disposition.

**Court’s Decision:**
– On the question of probable cause and the Ombudsman’s dismissal, the Supreme Court maintained that the Ombudsman failed to thoroughly assess whether the acquisition of the oil mills disadvantaged the government or if the respondents had personal gain, which are critical considerations under R.A. No. 3019.
– Regarding the offense’s prescription, the Court found that the ten-year prescriptive period had not lapsed from the time of discovery (post-1986 EDSA Revolution) to the filing of the complaint in 1990.
– The Court refuted the idea that LOI No. 926 and P.D. Nos. 961 and 1468 could exempt the respondents from prosecution under anti-graft laws, reinforcing that legality under one does not preclude liability under another.
– Concerning the right to speedy disposition, the Court noted Cojuangco’s failure to assert his right between 1991 and 1997, interpreting this as a waiver of such right.
– Finally, the motions for reconsideration filed by Cojuangco and the Republic were denied, yet the decision was modified to dismiss charges against the deceased respondent Maria Clara L. Lobregat due to principle.

**Doctrine:** The Supreme Court elucidated that the enactment of policies under specific decrees does not shield individuals from prosecution under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (R.A. No. 3019) and pertinent penal codes if their actions result in undue government disadvantage, injury, or personal gain. Moreover, the Court highlighted that the failure to assert the right to a speedy disposition may amount to waiving that right.

**Class Notes:**
– **Probable Cause in Administrative Dismissal:** The Court differentiates between dismissal due to policy enactment and dismissal based on lack of evidence of guilt, asserting that implementing policy does not negate probable cause for corrupt practices under R.A. No. 3019.
– **Prescription of Offenses:** The application of the ten-year prescriptive period under Act No. 3326, starting from the offense’s discovery to the complaint filing, is essential.
– **Legal Shielding by Policy Decrees:** Execution of acts under P.D. Nos. 961 and 1468, and LOI No. 926 does not inherently protect from prosecution under anti-graft laws.
– **Right to Speedy Disposition:** The right is deemed waived if not proactively asserted within reasonable timeframe post-complaint filing or during prolonged delays in investigation.
– **Effect of Death on Prosecution:** The death of an accused before final judgment results in the termination of criminal liability and civil liability based solely on the criminal act.

**Historical Background:** This case illustrates the intricate balance between ensuring accountability for public officials and respecting procedural rights such as the right to a speedy disposition. Also, it delves into how laws intended for governance (e.g., LOI No. 926, P.D. Nos. 961 and 1468) interact with anti-corruption statutes, highlighting the Supreme Court’s role in clarifying these intersections amidst the unique sociopolitical and historical context post-EDSA Revolution in the Philippines. Through this decision, the Court reiterated the principle that legality under overarching policies does not exempt public officials from accountability under anti-corruption laws, serving as a noteworthy precedent in the ongoing effort to navigate the complexities of governance, legality, and public accountability.


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