Case Brief: Agullo vs. Sandiganbayan

G.R. No. 132926       July 20, 2001

ELVIRA AGULLO, petitioner,
vs.
SANDIGANBAYAN and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.

 

FACTS:

On September 30,1988 Elvira was Charge of malversation germinated from an audit conducted on 14 July 1986 by Ignacio Gerez, Auditing Examiner III, as a result of which a P26,404.26 cash shortage was discovered on petitioner’s accountability. In the course of the pre-trial, petitioner Agullo conceded the fact of audit and admitted the findings in the Report of Cash Examination and the facts set forth in the Letter of Demand. In effect, she admitted the fact of shortage in the amount stated in the Information. Notwithstanding, petitioner  Agullo, at all stages of the criminal indictment, persistently professed her innocence of the charge and categorically denied having malversed or converted the public funds in question for her own personal use or benefit. With petitioner’s admission of the fact of cash shortage, the prosecution then rested its case For its part, the defense, in its bid to overturn the presumption of malversation and shatter the prima facie evidenceof conversion, offered the testimony of the following witnesses: petitioner Elvira Agullo; Rene Briones Austero, Cashier III of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Region VIII; and Engracia Camposano-Camaoy, Barangay Captain of Hinabuyan, Dagame, Leyte. Striking down the defense as “incredible and without basis,” the Sandiganbayan rendered its assailed decision, convicting petitioner  Agullo of the crime of malversation of public funds, ratiocinating principally that “no evidence has been presented linking the loss of the government funds with the alleged sudden heart attack of the accused (herein petitioner).”

 

ISSUE:

Whether or not the Sandiganbayan disregarded or overlooked certain evidence of substance for the crime of malversation.

 

HELD:

The Supreme Court ruled that the Sandiganbayan undoubtedly disregarded or overlooked certain evidence of substance which, to a large extent, bear considerable weight in the adjudication of petitioner’s guilt or the affirmation of her constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Upon thorough scrutiny of the evidence adduced by both prosecution and defense, we hold that petitioner Agullo has satisfactorily overcome and rebutted by competent proof, the prima facie evidence of conversion so as to exonerate her from the charge of malversation. To this end, petitioner presented evidence that satisfactorily prove that not a single centavo of the missing funds was used for her own personal benefit or gain. Notably, the Sandiganbayan, in convicting petitioner, obviously relied more on the flaws and deficiencies in the evidence presented by the defense, not on the strength and merit of the prosecution’s evidence This course of action is impermissible for the evidence of the prosecution clearly cannot sustain a conviction “in an unprejudiced mind. “The constitutional presumption of innocence is not an empty platitude meant only to embellish the Bill of Rights. Its purpose is to balance the scales in what would otherwise be an uneven contest between the lone individual pitted against the People of the Philippines and all the resources at their command. Its inexorable mandate is that, for all the authority and influence of the prosecution, the accused must be acquitted and set free if his guilt cannot be proved beyond the whisper of doubt.”

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Hierarchy of Rights: Basic Concepts and Principles

The following is an excerpt from the case of Philippine Blooming Mills Employment Organization v Philippine Blooming Mills Co Inc, stating the basic concepts and principles of the Bill of Rights. 

(1) In a democracy, the preservation and enhancement of the dignity and worth of the human personality is the central core as well as the cardinal article of faith of our civilization. The inviolable character of man as an individual must be “protected to the largest possible extent in his thoughts and in his beliefs as the citadel of his person.” 

(2) The Bill of Rights is designed to preserve the ideals of liberty, equality and security “against the assaults of opportunism, the expediency of the passing hour, the erosion of small encroachments, and the scorn and derision of those who have no patience with general principles.” 

In the pithy language of Mr. Justice Robert Jackson, the purpose of the Bill of Rights is to withdraw “certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s rights to life, liberty and property, to free speech, or free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” Laski proclaimed that “the happiness of the individual, not the well-being of the State, was the criterion by which its behaviour was to be judged. His interests, not its power, set the limits to the authority it was entitled to exercise.” 

(3) The freedoms of expression and of assembly as well as the right to petition are included among the immunities reserved by the sovereign people, in the rhetorical aphorism of Justice Holmes, to protect the ideas that we abhor or hate more than the ideas we cherish; or as Socrates insinuated, not only to protect the minority who want to talk, but also to benefit the majority who refuse to listen. And as Justice Douglas cogently stresses it, the liberties of one are the liberties of all; and the liberties of one are not safe unless the liberties of all are protected. 

(4) The rights of free expression, free assembly and petition, are not only civil rights but also political rights essential to man’s enjoyment of his life, to his happiness and to his full and complete fulfillment. Thru these freedoms the citizens can participate not merely in the periodic establishment of the government through their suffrage but also in the administration of public affairs as well as in the discipline of abusive public officers. The citizen is accorded these rights so that he can appeal to the appropriate governmental officers or agencies for redress and protection as well as for the imposition of the lawful sanctions on erring public officers and employees.

(5) While the Bill of Rights also protects property rights, the primacy of human rights over property rights is recognized. Because these freedoms are “delicate and vulnerable, as well as supremely precious in our society” and the “threat of sanctions may deter their exercise almost as potently as the actual application of sanctions,” they “need breathing space to survive,” permitting government regulation only “with narrow specificity.” 

Property and property rights can be lost thru prescription; but human rights are imprescriptible. If human rights are extinguished by the passage of time, then the Bill of Rights is a useless attempt to limit the power of government and ceases to be an efficacious shield against the tyranny of officials, of majorities, of the influential and powerful, and of oligarchs — political, economic or otherwise.

In the hierarchy of civil liberties, the rights of free expression and of assembly occupy a preferred position as they are essential to the preservation and vitality of our civil and political institutions;  and such priority “gives these liberties the sanctity and the sanction not permitting dubious intrusions.”

The superiority of these freedoms over property rights is underscored by the fact that a mere reasonable or rational relation between the means employed by the law and its object or purpose — that the law is neither arbitrary nor discriminatory nor oppressive — would suffice to validate a law which restricts or impairs property rights.  On the other hand, a constitutional or valid infringement of human rights requires a more stringent criterion, namely existence of a grave and immediate danger of a substantive evil which the State has the right to prevent. So it has been stressed in the main opinion of Mr. Justice Fernando in Gonzales vs. Comelec and reiterated by the writer of the opinion in Imbong vs. Ferrer It should be added that Mr. Justice Barredo inGonzales vs. Comelecsupra, like Justices Douglas, Black and Goldberg in N.Y. Times Co. vs. Sullivan,  believes that the freedoms of speech and of the press as well as of peaceful assembly and of petition for redress of grievances are absolute when directed against public officials or “when exercised in relation to our right to choose the men and women by whom we shall be governed,” even as Mr. Justice Castro relies on the balancing-of-interests test. Chief Justice Vinson is partial to the improbable danger rule formulated by Chief Judge Learned Hand, viz. — whether the gravity of the evil, discounted by its improbability, justifies such invasion of free expression as is necessary to avoid the danger.

Case Brief: PMBEO v PMB

G.R. No. L-31195 June 5, 1973

PHILIPPINE BLOOMING MILLS EMPLOYMENT ORGANIZATION, NICANOR TOLENTINO, FLORENCIO, PADRIGANO RUFINO, ROXAS MARIANO DE LEON, ASENCION PACIENTE, BONIFACIO VACUNA, BENJAMIN PAGCU and RODULFO MUNSOD, petitioners,

vs.

PHILIPPINE BLOOMING MILLS CO., INC. and COURT OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS, respondents.

Facts:

The petitioner Philippine Blooming Mills Employees Organization (PBMEO) is a legitimate labor union composed of the employees of the respondent Philippine Blooming Mills Co., Inc., with the officers and members of the petitioner Uuion.

Petitioners claim that on March 1, 1969, they decided to stage a mass demonstration at Malacañang on March 4, 1969, in protest against alleged abuses of the Pasig police, to be participated in by the workers in the first shift (from 6 A.M. to 2 P.M.) as well as those in the regular second and third shifts (from 7 A.M. to 4 P.M. and from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M., respectively); and that they informed the respondent Company of their proposed demonstration.

The parties stipulated that the company, after learning the mass demonstration, informed the union panel that they even if the demonstration is an inalienable right granted by the Constitution, it should not unduly prejudice the normal operation of the company.  As such, they warned the PBMEO representatives that workers who belong to the first and regular shifts, who without previous leave of absence approved by the Company, particularly , the officers present who are the organizers of the demonstration, who shall fail to report for work the following morning (March 4, 1969) shall be dismissed, because such failure is a violation of the existing CBA (collective bargaining agreement which fixes the working shifts of the employees) particularly Article XXIV: NO LOCKOUT — NO STRIKE’; and, therefore, would be amounting to an illegal strike.

Because the petitioners and their members proceeded with the demonstration despite the pleas of the respondent Company that the first shift workers should not be required to participate in the demonstration and that the workers in the second and third shifts should be utilized for the demonstration, respondent Company charged the petitioners with a “violation of Section 4(a)-6 in relation to Sections 13 and 14, as well as Section 15, all of Republic Act No. 875, and of the CBA providing for ‘No Strike and No Lockout.’ ”

In their answer, petitioners claim that they did not violate the existing CBA because they gave the respondent Company prior notice of the mass demonstration on March 4, 1969; that the said mass demonstration was a valid exercise of their constitutional freedom of speech against the alleged abuses of some Pasig policemen; and that their mass demonstration was not a declaration of strike because it was not directed against the respondent firm.

After considering the aforementioned stipulation of facts submitted by the parties, Judge Joaquin M. Salvador, in an order dated September 15, 1969, found herein petitioner PBMEO guilty of bargaining in bad faith and herein petitioners, as directly responsible for perpetrating the said unfair labor practice were considered to have lost their status as employees of the respondent Company.

Issue:

Whether the respondents’ act of concluding that the petitioners acted in bad faith for proceeding with the demonstration and expelling them from the company is unconstitutional.

Held:

No.  The pretension of their employer that it would suffer loss or damage by reason of the absence of its employees is a plea for the preservation merely of their property rights. Such apprehended loss or damage would not spell the difference between the life and death of the firm or its owners or its management.

While the Bill of Rights also protects property rights, the primacy of human rights over property rights is recognized. Because these freedoms are “delicate and vulnerable, as well as supremely precious in our society” and the “threat of sanctions may deter their exercise almost as potently as the actual application of sanctions,” they “need breathing space to survive,” permitting government regulation only “with narrow specificity.”

In seeking sanctuary behind their freedom of expression well as their right of assembly and of petition against alleged persecution of local officialdom, the employees and laborers of herein private respondent firm were fighting for their very survival, utilizing only the weapons afforded them by the Constitution — the untrammelled enjoyment of their basic human rights.  The condition in which the employees found themselves vis-a-vis the local police of Pasig, was a matter that vitally affected their right to individual existence as well as that of their families. Material loss can be repaired or adequately compensated. The debasement of the human being broken in morale and brutalized in spirit-can never be fully evaluated in monetary terms.

The primacy of human rights — freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of petition for redress of grievances — over property rights has to be sustained.

There was a lack of human understanding or compassion on the part of the firm in rejecting the request of the Union for excuse from work for the day shifts in order to carry out its mass demonstration. And to regard as a ground for dismissal the mass demonstration held against the Pasig police, not against the company, is gross vindictiveness on the part of the employer, which is as unchristian as it is unconstitutional.

The respondent company is the one guilty of unfair labor practice. Because the refusal on the part of the respondent firm to permit all its employees and workers to join the mass demonstration against alleged police abuses and the subsequent separation of the eight (8) petitioners from the service constituted an unconstitutional restraint on the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom petition for redress of grievances, the respondent firm committed an unfair labor practice defined in Section 4(a-1) in relation to Section 3 of Republic Act No. 875, otherwise known as the Industrial Peace Act. Section 3 of Republic Act No. 8 guarantees to the employees the right “to engage in concert activities for … mutual aid or protection”; while Section 4(a-1) regards as an unfair labor practice for an employer interfere with, restrain or coerce employees in the exercise their rights guaranteed in Section Three.”  The insistence on the part of the respondent firm that the workers for the morning and regular shift should not participate in the mass demonstration, under pain of dismissal, was as heretofore stated, “a potent means of inhibiting speech.”

Apart from violating the constitutional guarantees of free speech and assembly as well as the right to petition for redress of grievances of the employees, the dismissal constitutes a denial of social justice likewise assured by the fundamental law to these lowly employees. Section 5 of Article II of the Constitution imposes upon the State “the promotion of social justice to insure the well-being and economic security of all of the people,” which guarantee is emphasized by the other directive in Section 6 of Article XIV of the Constitution that “the State shall afford protection to labor …”. Respondent Court of Industrial Relations as an agency of the State is under obligation at all times to give meaning and substance to these constitutional guarantees in favor of the working man; for otherwise these constitutional safeguards would be merely a lot of “meaningless constitutional patter.” Under the Industrial Peace Act, the Court of Industrial Relations is enjoined to effect the policy of the law “to eliminate the causes of industrial unrest by encouraging and protecting the exercise by employees of their right to self-organization for the purpose of collective bargaining and for the promotion of their moral, social and economic well-being.” It is most unfortunate in the case at bar that respondent Court of Industrial Relations, the very governmental agency designed therefor, failed to implement this policy and failed to keep faith with its avowed mission — its raison d’etre — as ordained and directed by the Constitution.

Management has shown not only lack of good-will or good intention, but a complete lack of sympathetic understanding of the plight of its laborers who claim that they are being subjected to indignities by the local police, It was more expedient for the firm to conserve its income or profits than to assist its employees in their fight for their freedoms and security against alleged petty tyrannies of local police officers. This is sheer opportunism. Such opportunism and expediency resorted to by the respondent company assaulted the immunities and welfare of its employees. It was pure and implement selfishness, if not greed.

If free expression was accorded recognition and protection to fortify labor unionism such as in the Republic Savings Bank vs CIR, where the complaint assailed the morality and integrity of the bank president no less, such recognition and protection for free speech, free assembly and right to petition are rendered all the more justifiable and more imperative in the case at bar, where the mass demonstration was not against the company nor any of its officers.

WHEREFORE, judgement is hereby rendered:

(1) setting aside as null and void the orders of the respondent Court of Industrial Relations dated September 15 and October 9, 1969; and

(2) directing the re instatement of the herein eight (8) petitioners, with full back pay from the date of their separation from the service until re instated, minus one day’s pay and whatever earnings they might have realized from other sources during their separation from the service.

With costs against private respondent Philippine Blooming Company, Inc.

Case Brief: City Govt of Quezon City v Ericta

G.R. No. L-3491 June 24, 1983
CITY GOVERNMENT OF QUEZON CITY and CITY COUNCIL OF QUEZON CITY, petitioners,
vs.
HON. JUDGE VICENTE G. ERICTA as Judge of the Court of First Instance of Rizal, Quezon City, Branch XVIII; HIMLAYANG PILIPINO, INC., respondents.

Facts:

Section 9 of Ordinance No. 6118, S-64 provides that at least 6% of the total area of the memorial park cemetery shall be set aside for the charity burial of deceased persons who are paupers and have been residents of Quezon City for at least 5 years prior to their death. As such, the Quezon City engineer required the respondent, Himlayang Pilipino Inc, to stop any further selling and/or transaction of memorial park lots in Quezon City where the owners thereof have failed to donate the required 6% space intended for paupers burial.

The then Court of First Instance and its judge, Hon. Ericta, declared Section 9 of Ordinance No. 6118, S-64 null and void.

Petitioners argued that the taking of the respondent’s property is a valid and reasonable exercise of police power and that the land is taken for a public use as it is intended for the burial ground of paupers. They further argued that the Quezon City Council is authorized under its charter, in the exercise of local police power, ” to make such further ordinances and resolutions not repugnant to law as may be necessary to carry into effect and discharge the powers and duties conferred by this Act and such as it shall deem necessary and proper to provide for the health and safety, promote the prosperity, improve the morals, peace, good order, comfort and convenience of the city and the inhabitants thereof, and for the protection of property therein.”

On the otherhand, respondent Himlayang Pilipino, Inc. contended that the taking or confiscation of property was obvious because the questioned ordinance permanently restricts the use of the property such that it cannot be used for any reasonable purpose and deprives the owner of all beneficial use of his property.

Issue:
Is Section 9 of the ordinance in question a valid exercise of the police power?

Held:

No. The Sec. 9 of the ordinance is not a valid exercise of the police power.

Occupying the forefront in the bill of rights is the provision which states that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law’ (Art. Ill, Section 1 subparagraph 1, Constitution). On the other hand, there are three inherent powers of government by which the state interferes with the property rights, namely-. (1) police power, (2) eminent domain, (3) taxation. These are said to exist independently of the Constitution as necessary attributes of sovereignty.

An examination of the Charter of Quezon City (Rep. Act No. 537), does not reveal any provision that would justify the ordinance in question except the provision granting police power to the City. Section 9 cannot be justified under the power granted to Quezon City to tax, fix the license fee, and regulate such other business, trades, and occupation as may be established or practised in the City. The power to regulate does not include the power to prohibit or confiscate. The ordinance in question not only confiscates but also prohibits the operation of a memorial park cemetery.

Police power is defined by Freund as ‘the power of promoting the public welfare by restraining and regulating the use of liberty and property’. It is usually exerted in order to merely regulate the use and enjoyment of property of the owner. If he is deprived of his property outright, it is not taken for public use but rather to destroy in order to promote the general welfare. In police power, the owner does not recover from the government for injury sustained in consequence thereof.

Under the provisions of municipal charters which are known as the general welfare clauses, a city, by virtue of its police power, may adopt ordinances to the peace, safety, health, morals and the best and highest interests of the municipality. It is a well-settled principle, growing out of the nature of well-ordered and society, that every holder of property, however absolute and may be his title, holds it under the implied liability that his use of it shall not be injurious to the equal enjoyment of others having an equal right to the enjoyment of their property, nor injurious to the rights of the community. A property in the state is held subject to its general regulations, which are necessary to the common good and general welfare. Rights of property, like all other social and conventional rights, are subject to such reasonable limitations in their enjoyment as shall prevent them from being injurious, and to such reasonable restraints and regulations, established by law, as the legislature, under the governing and controlling power vested in them by the constitution, may think necessary and expedient. The state, under the police power, is possessed with plenary power to deal with all matters relating to the general health, morals, and safety of the people, so long as it does not contravene any positive inhibition of the organic law and providing that such power is not exercised in such a manner as to justify the interference of the courts to prevent positive wrong and oppression.

However, in the case at hand, there is no reasonable relation between the setting aside of at least six (6) percent of the total area of an private cemeteries for charity burial grounds of deceased paupers and the promotion of health, morals, good order, safety, or the general welfare of the people. The ordinance is actually a taking without compensation of a certain area from a private cemetery to benefit paupers who are charges of the municipal corporation. Instead of building or maintaining a public cemetery for this purpose, the city passes the burden to private cemeteries.

The expropriation without compensation of a portion of private cemeteries is not covered by Section 12(t) of Republic Act 537, the Revised Charter of Quezon City which empowers the city council to prohibit the burial of the dead within the center of population of the city and to provide for their burial in a proper place subject to the provisions of general law regulating burial grounds and cemeteries. When the Local Government Code, Batas Pambansa Blg. 337 provides in Section 177 (q) that a Sangguniang panlungsod may “provide for the burial of the dead in such place and in such manner as prescribed by law or ordinance” it simply authorizes the city to provide its own city owned land or to buy or expropriate private properties to construct public cemeteries. This has been the law and practise in the past. It continues to the present. Expropriation, however, requires payment of just compensation. The questioned ordinance is different from laws and regulations requiring owners of subdivisions to set aside certain areas for streets, parks, playgrounds, and other public facilities from the land they sell to buyers of subdivision lots. The necessities of public safety, health, and convenience are very clear from said requirements which are intended to insure the development of communities with salubrious and wholesome environments. The beneficiaries of the regulation, in turn, are made to pay by the subdivision developer when individual lots are sold to home-owners.

WHEREFORE, the petition for review is hereby DISMISSED. The decision of the respondent court is affirmed.