Estrada vs Desierto (GR No. 146710-15 March 2, 2001)

Estrada vs Desierto
G.R. No. 146710-15 March 2, 2001
 

Facts: In the May 11, 1998 elections, petitioner Joseph Ejercito Estrada was elected President while respondent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was elected Vice-President. Some ten (10) million Filipinos voted for the petitioner believing he would rescue them from life’s adversity. Both petitioner and the respondent were to serve a six-year term commencing on June 30, 1998. From the beginning of his term, however, petitioner was plagued by a plethora of problems that slowly but surely eroded his popularity. His sharp descent from power started on October 4, 2000. Ilocos Sur Governor, Luis “Chavit” Singson, a longtime friend of the petitioner, went on air and accused the petitioner, his family and friends of receiving millions of pesos from jueteng lords. The exposẻ immediately ignited reactions of rage. The next day, October 5, 2000, Senator Teofisto Guingona, Jr., then the Senate Minority Leader, took the floor and delivered a fiery privilege speech entitled “I Accuse.” He accused the petitioner of receiving some P220 million in jueteng money from Governor Singson from November 1998 to August 2000. He also charged that the petitioner took from Governor Singson P70 million on excise tax on cigarettes intended for Ilocos Sur. The privilege speech was referred by then Senate President Franklin Drilon, to the Blue Ribbon Committee (then headed by Senator Aquilino Pimentel) and the Committee on Justice (then headed by Senator Renato Cayetano) for joint investigation. The House of Representatives did no less. The House Committee on Public Order and Security, then headed by Representative Roilo Golez, decided to investigate the exposẻ of Governor Singson. On the other hand, Representatives Heherson Alvarez, Ernesto Herrera and Michael Defensor spearheaded the move to impeach the petitioner. Calls for the resignation of the petitioner filled the air. Petitioner’s allies started to cut connections with him. The political temperature rose despite the cold December. On December 7, the impeachment trial started. The battle royale was fought by some of the marquee names in the legal profession. The dramatic point of the December hearings was the testimony of Clarissa Ocampo, senior vice president of Equitable-PCI Bank. She testified that she was one foot away from petitioner Estrada when he affixed the signature “Jose Velarde” on documents involving a P500 million investment agreement with their bank on February 4, 2000. After the testimony of Ocampo, the impeachment trial was adjourned in the spirit of Christmas. When it resumed on January 2, 2001, more bombshells were exploded by the prosecution. On January 11, Atty. Edgardo Espiritu who served as petitioner’s Secretary of Finance took the witness stand. He alleged that the petitioner jointly owned BW Resources Corporation with Mr. Dante Tan who was facing charges of insider trading. Then came the fateful day of January 16, when by a vote of 11-10 the senator-judges ruled against the opening of the second envelope which allegedly contained evidence showing that petitioner held P3.3 billion in a secret bank account under the name “Jose Velarde.” The public and private prosecutors walked out in protest of the ruling. In disgust, Senator Pimentel resigned as Senate President. The ruling made at 10:00 p.m. was met by a spontaneous outburst of anger that hit the streets of the metropolis. By midnight, thousands had assembled at the EDSA Shrine and speeches full of sulphur were delivered against the petitioner and the eleven (11) senators. At about 12:00 noon, Chief Justice Davide administered the oath to respondent Arroyo as President of the Philippines. At 2:30 p.m., petitioner and his family hurriedly left Malacañang Palace. After his fall from the pedestal of power, the petitioner’s legal problems appeared in clusters. Several cases previously filed against him in the Office of the Ombudsman were set in motion. These are: (1) OMB Case No. 0-00-1629, filed by Ramon A. Gonzales on October 23, 2000 for bribery and graft and corruption; (2) OMB Case No. 0-00-1754 filed by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption on November 17, 2000 for plunder, forfeiture, graft and corruption, bribery, perjury, serious misconduct, violation of the Code of Conduct for Government Employees, etc; (3) OMB Case No. 0-001755 filed by the Graft Free Philippines Foundation, Inc. on November 24, 2000 for plunder, forfeiture, graft and corruption, bribery, perjury, serious misconduct; (4) OMB Case No. 0-00-1756 filed by Romeo Capulong, et al., on November 28, 2000 for malversation of public funds, illegal use of public funds and property, plunder, etc.; (5) OMB Case No. 0-00-1757 filed by Leonard de Vera, et al., on November 28, 2000 for bribery, plunder, indirect bribery, violation of PD 1602, PD 1829, PD 46, and RA 7080; and (6) OMB Case No. 0-00-1758 filed by Ernesto B. Francisco, Jr. on December 4, 2000 for plunder, graft and corruption. 

Issue: Whether or not petitioner’s allegation against respondent Ombudsman is meritorious.

Held: No. The evidence proffered by the petitioner is insubstantial. The accuracy of the news reports referred to by the petitioner cannot be the subject of judicial notice by this Court especially in light of the denials of the respondent Ombudsman as to his alleged prejudice and the presumption of good faith and regularity in the performance of official duty to which he is entitled. Nor can we adopt the theory of derivative prejudice of petitioner, i.e., that the prejudice of respondent Ombudsman flows to his subordinates. In truth, our Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, give investigation prosecutors the independence to make their own findings and recommendations albeit they are reviewable by their superiors. They can be reversed but they can not be compelled cases which they believe deserve dismissal. In other words, investigating prosecutors should not be treated like unthinking slot machines. Moreover, if the respondent Ombudsman resolves to file the cases against the petitioner and the latter believes that the findings of probable cause against him is the result of bias, he still has the remedy of assailing it before the proper court. 

There is not enough evidence to warrant this Court to enjoin the preliminary investigation of the petitioner by the respondent Ombudsman. Petitioner needs to offer more than hostile headlines to discharge his burden of proof. He needs to show more weighty social science evidence to successfully prove the impaired capacity of a judge to render a bias-free decision. Well to note, the cases against the petitioner are still undergoing preliminary investigation by a special panel of prosecutors in the office of the respondent Ombudsman. No allegation whatsoever has been made by the petitioner that the minds of the members of this special panel have already been infected by bias because of the pervasive prejudicial publicity against him. Indeed, the special panel has yet to come out with its findings and the Court cannot second guess whether its recommendation will be unfavorable to the petitioner.

The question is whether this Court has jurisdiction to review the claim of temporary inability of petitioner Estrada and thereafter revise the decision of both Houses of Congress recognizing respondent Arroyo as president of the Philippines. Following Tañada v. Cuenco, we hold that this Court cannot exercise its judicial power or this is an issue “in regard to which full discretionary authority has been delegated to the Legislative xxx branch of the government.” Or to use the language in Baker vs. Carr, there is a “textually demonstrable or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it.” Clearly, the Court cannot pass upon petitioner’s claim of inability to discharge the power and duties of the presidency. The question is political in nature and addressed solely to Congress by constitutional fiat. It is a political issue, which cannot be decided by this Court without transgressing the principle of separation of powers. 

In fine, even if the petitioner can prove that he did not resign, still, he cannot successfully claim that he is a President on leave on the ground that he is merely unable to govern temporarily. That claim has been laid to rest by Congress and the decision that respondent Arroyo is the de jure, president made by a coequal branch of government cannot be reviewed by this Court.

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