Napoles vs. Sandiganbayan
JANET LIM NAPOLES vs. SANDIGANBAYAN
G.R. No. 224162
November 7, 2017
On September 16, 2013, the Ombudsman received the report of the NBI recommending that Napoles, former Senator Enrile, Atty. Reyes (Enrile’s former Chief of Staff) and several other named individuals be charged with the crime of Plunder, defined and penalized under Section 2 of RA No. 7080, as amended, for essentially misappropriating Enrile’s Priority Development Assistant Fund (PDAF) through non-governmental organizations that were selected without the required bidding procedure.
The Ombudsman Special Panel of Investigators found probable cause to indict Napoles, among other accused, with 1 count of Plunder and 15 counts of violating Section 3(e) of RA No. 3019. An Information was filed charging Napoles with Plunder before the Sandiganbayan.
On July 7, 2014, Napoles filed her Petition for Bail, arguing that the evidence of the prosecution is insufficient to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt. She particularly assailed the credibility of the State witnesses (whistle blowers) as these are allegedly mere hearsay, tainted with bias, and baseless. Citing the res inter alias acta rule, Napoles submitted that the testimonies of these whistleblowers are inadmissible against her.
In view of Napoles’ application for bail, the Sandiganbayan conducted bail hearings. After the conclusion of the prosecution’s presentation of evidence, Napoles manifested that she is not presenting any evidence for her bail application. The Sandiganbayan denied the petition for Bail.
Napoles thus filed the present petition, via Rule 65, alleging that the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion, amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, in denying her bail application.
Whether there is strong evidence of guilt on the part of Napoles, was resolved by the Sandiganbayan in accordance with the relevant laws, rules, and jurisprudence.
YES. Napoles bears the burden of showing that the Sandiganbayan’s denial of her bail application was capricious, whimsical, arbitrary, or despotic, so as to amount to grave abuse of discretion. The prosecution bears the burden of proving that the evidence of Napoles’ guilt for the crime of Plunder is strong.
The right to bail is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, except when the accused is charged with a capital offense. While bail may generally be granted as a matter of right prior to the conviction of the accused, those charged with a capital offense is granted bail only when the evidence of guilt is not strong.
The trial court is granted the discretion to determine whether there is strong evidence of guilt on the part of the accused. In Cortes v. Catral, this Court laid down the following duties of the trial court in cases of an application for bail:
- In all cases, whether bail is a matter of right or of discretion, notify the prosecutor of the hearing of the application for bail or require him to submit his recommendation (Section 18, Rule 114 of the Rules of Court);
- Where bail is a matter of discretion, conduct a hearing of the application for bail regardless of whether or not the prosecution refuses to present evidence to show that the guilt of the accused is strong for the purpose of enabling the court to exercise its sound discretion; (Sections 7 and 8, supra).
- Decide whether the guilt of the accused is strong based on the summary of evidence of the prosecution;
- If the guilt of the accused is not strong, discharge the accused upon the approval of the bailbond (Section 19, supra) Otherwise petition should be denied.
Since Napoles was charged with the crime of Plunder, which carries the imposable penalty of reclusion perpetua, she cannot be admitted to bail when the evidence of her guilt is strong. This was the burden that the prosecution assumed in the subsequent hearings that followed the filing of the Petition for Bail. The bail hearings are limited to the determination of whether there is a strong presumption of Napoles’ guilt. It is merely a preliminary determination, and the Sandiganbayan may deny admission to bail even when there is reasonable doubt as to the guilt of Napoles. As held in People v. Cabral:
By judicial discretion, the law mandates the determination of whether proof is evident or the presumption of guilt is strong. “Proof evident” or “Evident proof’ in this connection has been held to mean clear, strong evidence which leads a well-guarded dispassionate judgment to the conclusion that the offense has been committed as charged, that accused is the guilty agent, and that he will probably be punished capitally if the law is administered. “Presumption great” exists when the circumstances testified to are such that the inference of guilt naturally to be drawn therefrom is strong, clear, and convincing to an unbiased judgment and excludes all reasonable probability of any other conclusion. Even though there is a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of accused, if on an examination of the entire record the presumption is great that accused is guilty of a capital offense, bail should be refused.
As a lesser quantum of proof than guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the Sandiganbayan may deny the application for bail on evidence less than that required for the conviction of Napoles.
The prosecution was able to establish with evident proof that Napoles participated in the implied conspiracy to misappropriate public funds and acquire ill-gotten wealth. Napoles’ participation in the conspiracy was established through testimonial evidence, not only from one of her former employees, but from four (4) witnesses – all of whom corroborate each other on material points. More importantly, they testified on the minute details of the scheme that only those privy to the conspiracy would be able to provide. Notably, Napoles did not even refute their claims.
The Sandiganbayan may rely on the testimonies of the whistleblowers, especially since these were corroborated by other available evidence. The mere fact that the whistleblowers were conspirators themselves does not automatically render their testimonies incredible and unreliable. The Court is not the proper forum to weigh the credibility of the prosecution witnesses. It is elementary that the factual findings of the trial court, especially on the assessment or appreciation of the testimonies of witnesses, are accorded great weight and respect.
Unfortunately for Napoles, there is nothing in the records showing that the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED.
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