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Estino and Pescadera vs. People Case Digest


Rule 121 of the Rules of Court allows the conduct of a new trial before a judgment of conviction becomes final when new and material evidence has been discovered which the accused could not with reasonable diligence have discovered and produced at the trial and which if introduced and admitted would probably change the judgment.


Facts: 

Estino acted as Governor of Sulu from July 27, 1998 up to May 23, 1999. Pescadera, on the other hand, was the Provincial Treasurer of Sulu during Estino’s stint as Acting Governor.

In 1999, an audit of the disbursement vouchers and payrolls for the period starting July 27, 1998 up to May 23, 1999 was conducted in the Provincial Government of Sulu. The COA Special Audit Report stated that there were anomalies in  the payment of salary differentials, allowances, and benefits, among others. Pursuant to such findings, three informations were filed by the Ombudsman against Estino and Ernesto Pescadera. The said charges involve malversation of public funds under Art.  217  of  the Revised Penal  Code  and  two violations of  Sec. 3 (e)  of  R.A.  3019.

The Sandiganbayan, in  the consolidated criminal  cases,  convicted  both  Estino  and  Pescadera for  violation  of  Section  3(e)  of  R.A. 3019  for failure to  pay  the  Representation and Transportation Allowance (RATA) of the provincial government employees of Sulu but acquitted them as to the other charge for the same violation. As to the  charge  of  malversation  of  public funds,  the  Sandiganbayan  exonerated  Estino  but  convicted Pescadera for failure to remit the GSIS contributions of the provincial government employees

Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration and a Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration and New Trial which were denied in the Sandiganbayan Resolution. Petitioners insist that there is enough evidence to show that the RATA provided for in the 1998 reenacted budget was paid for the period January to May 1999. They presented to the Sandiganbayan a Certification dated May 11, 2002 issued by the Provincial Auditor, stating that the RATA for the period January to May 1999 was paid to the officials entitled to it and that the GSIS premiums pertaining to prior years were also settled by the Provincial Government of Sulu.They also submitted sworn statements of the provincial officials entitled to RATA, stating that they were paid such allowance from January to May 1999 and that they did not have any complaint to its alleged nonpayment. They also submitted 99 certified true copies of the Disbursement Vouchers showing the payment of the RATA from January to May 1999 provided for in the 1998 reenacted budget.


Issue:

Whether or not a remand of the case to the Sandiganbayan for new trial is proper


Held:

Rule 121 of the Rules of Court allows the conduct of a new trial before a judgment of conviction becomes final when new and material evidence has been discovered which the accused could not with reasonable diligence have discovered and produced at the trial and which if introduced and admitted would probably change the judgment.

Although the documents offered by petitioners are strictly not newly discovered, it appears that petitioners were mistaken in their belief that its production during trial was unnecessary. In their Supplemental Motion and/or Motion for New Trial, they stressed that they no longer presented the evidence of payment of RATA because Balabaran testified that the subject of the charge was the nonpayment of benefits under the 1999 budget, without mention of the RATA nor the 1998 reenacted budget. It seems that they were misled during trial. They were precluded from presenting pieces of evidence that may prove actual payment of the RATA under the 1998 reenacted budget because the prosecution’s evidence was confined to alleged nonpayment of RATA under the 1999 budget.

In this instance, we are inclined to give a more lenient interpretation of Rule 121, Sec. 2 on new trial in view of the special circumstances sufficient to cast doubt as to the truth of the charges against petitioners. The situation of the petitioners is peculiar, since they were precluded from presenting exculpatory evidence during trial upon the honest belief that they were being tried for nonpayment of RATA under the 1999 budget. This belief was based on no less than the testimony of the prosecution’s lone witness, COA Auditor Mona Balabaran. (Estino and Pescadera vs. People, G.R. Nos. 163957-58, April 7, 2009)

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