Criminal Law,  Legally Yours

Estrada v. Sandiganbayan

Estrada v. Sandiganbayan

Jose Jinggoy Estrada v. Sandiganbayan
G.R. No. 148965. February 26, 2002
Puno, J.

FACTS:

As an offshoot of the impeachment proceedings against Joseph Ejercito Estrada, then President of the Republic of the Philippines, five criminal complaints against the former President and members of his family, his associates, friends, and conspirators were filed with the respondent Office of the Ombudsman.

The respondent Ombudsman issued a Joint Resolution finding probable cause warranting the filing with the Sandiganbayan of several criminal Informations against the former President and the other respondents therein. One of the Informations was for the crime of plunder under Republic Act No. 7080 and among the respondents was herein petitioner Jose Jinggoy Estrada, then mayor of San Juan, Metro Manila.

ISSUE:

Should the charge against petitioner be dismissed on the ground that the allegation of conspiracy in the Information is too general?

HELD:

No. In the crime of plunder, different parties may be united by a common purpose. In the case at bar, the different accused and their different criminal acts have a commonality to help the former President amass, accumulate or acquire ill-gotten wealth. Sub-paragraphs (a) to (d) in the Amended Information alleged the different participation of each accused in the conspiracy. The gravamen of the conspiracy charge, therefore, is not that each accused agreed to receive protection money from illegal gambling, that each misappropriated a portion of the tobacco excise tax, that each accused ordered the GSIS and SSS to purchase shares of Belle Corporation and receive commissions from such sale, nor that each unjustly enriched himself from commissions, gifts, and kickbacks; rather, it is that each of them, by their individual acts, agreed to participate, directly or indirectly, in the amassing, accumulation and acquisition of ill-gotten wealth of and/or for former President Estrada.

Under the Philippine law, conspiracy should be understood on two levels. As a general rule, conspiracy is not a crime in our jurisdiction. It is punished as a crime only when the law fixes a penalty for its commission such as in conspiracy to commit treason, rebellion, and sedition. In contrast, under American criminal law, the agreement or conspiracy itself is the gravamen of the offense.  When conspiracy is charged as a crime, the act of conspiring and all the elements of the said crime must be set forth in the complaint or information. The requirements on the sufficiency of allegations are different when conspiracy is not charged as a crime in itself but only as the mode of committing the crime as in the case at bar.

There is less necessity of reciting its particularities in the Information because conspiracy is not the gravamen of the offense charged. The conspiracy is significant only because it changes the criminal liability of all the accused in the conspiracy and makes them answerable as co-principals regardless of the degree of their participation in the crime. The liability of the conspirators is collective and each participant will be equally responsible for the acts of others, for the act of one is the act of all.

A conspiracy indictment need not, of course, aver all the components of conspiracy or allege all the details thereof, like the part that each of the parties therein has performed, the evidence proving the common design or the facts connecting all the accused with one another in the web of the conspiracy. Neither is it necessary to describe conspiracy with the same degree of particularity required in describing a substantive offense. It is enough that the indictment contains a statement of facts relied upon to be constitutive of the offense in ordinary and concise language, with as much certainty as the nature of the case will admit, in a manner that can enable a person of common understanding to know what is intended, and with such precision that the accused may plead his acquittal or conviction to a subsequent indictment based on the same facts.

Following the stream of our own jurisprudence, it is enough to allege conspiracy as a mode in the commission of an offense in either of the following manner: (1) by use of the word conspire, or its derivatives or synonyms, such as confederate, connive, collude, etc; or (2) by allegations of basic facts constituting the conspiracy in a manner that a person of common understanding would know what is intended, and with such precision as would enable the accused to competently enter a plea to a subsequent indictment based on the same facts.

Thus, the petition is dismissed for failure to show that the respondent Sandiganbayan acted without or in excess of jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction.

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