Thomas F. Picaña | Amianan Balita Ngayon | June 6, 2017
The Supreme Court has finally cleared Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevCo) chairman Robert John Sobrepeña and three top officials of charges of malversation of public funds amounting to P4.33 million.
This paved the way for the Baguio City Regional Trial Court to eventually dismiss cases initiated in 2012 by Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) former president Arnel P. Casanova.
In a three-page order dated May 15, 2017, Baguio RTC Branch 6 Presiding Judge Cecilia Corazon S. Dulay-Archog ordered the dismissal of the two criminal complaints filed by BCDA against Sobrepeña, CJHDevCo chief executive officer and chairman; president Atty. Ferdinand T. Santos; executive vice president and chief operating officer Alfredo R. Yñiguez III; and chief finance officer Emily Roces-Falco after it received an "Entry of Judgment" issued by the SC's Second Division stating that the November 9, 2016 resolution promulgated by the high court "affirming the August 12, 2015 decision of the Court of Appeals, which dismissed these cases, has become final and executory on December 21, 2016."
"In view of the finality of the said resolution dated November 9, 2016 issued by the Second Division of the Supreme Court . . . as contained in the said 'Entry of Judgment' received by this Court on May 4, 2017, these instant cases pending before this Court are hereby dismissed," Judge Archog ruled.
Subsequently, the Baguio court ordered the cancellation and release of the cash and travel bonds earlier posted by the accused officials of CJHDevCo, the developer of the former American recreational facility.
Yñiguez lauded the Supreme Court decision to dismiss the complaint for malversation of public funds saying it clearly shows Casanova’s abuse of power when he was still BCDA chief for instigating these "nuisance cases" as part of its black propaganda against Sobrepeña and other CJHDevCo officials.
"The Supreme Court's dismissal of the malversation case only confirms that Casanova and other former BCDA officials in the previous administration resorted to filing of several "cooked-up, baseless nuisance cases" as part of its propaganda against us, in their attempt to besmirch our reputation and integrity. This also clearly shows how Casanova abused his power as BCDA president," Yniguez lamented. Most of these cases, which languished in the DOJ for over 4 years during the previous administration, have been dismissed for lack of merit.
In fact, Yñiguez said a Pasig City regional trial court has recently ordered the arrest of Casanova and other former BCDA officials after finding probable cause to hold them for trial libel for causing a "false" and "malicious" publication of a notice that tarnished the reputation of Sobrepeña. Casanova and these other ex-BCDA officials are currently out on bail.
The SC, in a three-page "Entry of Judgment", certified that on Nov. 9, 2016 a resolution rendered in GR No. 220073, which resolved to affirm the Aug. 12, 2015 decision of the Court of Appeals, "and that the same has, on December 21, 2016, become final and executory and is hereby recorded in the Book of Entries of Judgments."
In its Nov. 9, 2016 resolution, the SC's Second Division denied the petition of the BCDA through the Office of the Solicitor General for its failure to show that the Court of Appeals "committed any reversible error in setting aside the orders dated June 27, 2013 and October 31, 2013 of the Regional Trial Court of Baguio City, Branch 6," finding probable cause for the arrest and trial of the CJHDEVCO officials concerning the charge of malversation of public funds in the amounts of P1,490,717.26 and P2,839,969.40.
In Aug. 12, 2015, the CA had ordered the dismissal of the two complaints for malversation of public funds filed by the BCDA four top officials of the CJHDevCo for lack of probable cause.
In a 15-page decision penned by Associate Justice Zenaida Galapate-Laguilles, the CA's Special Tenth Division granted the petition filed by the four CJHDevCo officials seeking to set aside the orders issued by Judge Archog finding probable cause for their arrest and trial.
"Wherefore, premises considered, the instant petition for certiorari and prohibition is granted. The orders of the public respondent RTC dated 27 June 2013 and 31 October 2013 in criminal cases Nos. 34422-R and 34423-R finding probable cause for the petitioners' arrest and trial concerning the charges of malversation of public funds in the amounts of P1,490,717.26 and P2,839,969.40 are set aside.
Accordingly, the aforesaid criminal cases are dismissed for failure to establish probable cause pursuant to . . . the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure," the CA ruled.
"We are aware that even an unfounded criminal charge may expose the clearly innocent to severe distress and tarnished reputation, that even a subsequent acquittal may not serve to fully alleviate nor cleanse," it added.
In setting aside the ruling of the lower court, the appellate court stressed that in determination of probable cause for the arrest and trial of the accused, the courts are tasked by the Constitution "not only to acquit the innocent after trial, but to insulate them, from the very start, from tenuous charges and ensuing proceedings – for innocence, in itself, out to be enough."
CA Associate Justices Florito Macalino and Manuel Barrios concurred in the ruling.