Joel R. San Juan | BusinessMirror | May 31, 2017
THE Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed with finality its decision ordering the dismissal of the malversation of public funds case involving P4.33 million filed against businessman Robert John Sobrepeña and other officials of Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDevco) before the Regional Trial Court in Baguio City.
In a three-page order dated May 15, 2017, Judge Cecillia Corazon S. Dulay-Archog of the RTC in Baguio ordered the dismissal of the two criminal complaints filed against Sobrepeña, CJHDevco CEO and chairman; Ferdinand Santos, president; Alfredo Yñiguez, executive vice president and chief operating officer; and Emily Roces-Falco, chief finance officer, after it received an “Entry of Judgment” issued by the SC’s Second Division stating that the November 9, 2016, resolution promulgated by the Court “affirming the August 12, 2015, decision of the Court of Appeals [CA], which dismissed these cases, has become final and executory on December 21, 2016”.
The case was filed in 2012 by Arnel Casanova, former president of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).
“In view of the finality of the said resolution dated November 9, 2016, issued by the Second Division of the Supreme Court…as contained in the said Entry of Judgment received by this court on May 4, 2017, these instant cases pending before this court are hereby dismissed,” Archog ruled.
Subsequently, the Baguio City court ordered the cancellation and release of the cash and travel bonds earlier posted by the accused officials of CJHDevCo, the developer of the former American recreational facility in Baguio City.
Yñiguez lauded the SC decision to dismiss the complaint for malversation of public funds, saying it clearly shows Casanova’s abuse of power when he was still BCDA chief for instigating these “nuisance cases” as part of its propaganda against Sobrepeña and other CJHDevco officials.
“The Supreme Court’s dismissal of the malversation case only indicates that Casanova resorted to filing of nuisance cases as part of its propoganda against us, in his attempt to bismirch our reputation and integrity. This also clearly shows how Casanova abused his power as BCDA president,” Yñiguez lamented.
The SC, in a three-page Entry of Judgment, certified that on November 9, 2016, a resolution rendered in GR 220073, which resolved to affirm the August 12, 2015, decision of the Court of Appeals, “and that the same has, on December 21, 2016, become final and executory and is hereby recorded in the Book of Entries of Judgments”.
In its November 9, 2016, resolution, the SC’s Second Division denied the petition of the BCDA through the Office of the Solicitor General for its failure to show that the CA “committed any reversible error in setting aside the orders dated June 27, 2013, and October 31, 2013, of the Regional Trial Court in Baguio City, Branch 6,” finding probable cause for the arrest and trial of the CJHDevco officials concerning the charge of malversation of public funds in the amounts of P1,490,717.26 and P2,839,969.40.
“Under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code [RPC], malversation is committed when an offender misappropriates public funds, for which he or she is accountable, for his own personal use or allows any other person to take such public funds for the latter’s personal use. What is essential is that the misappropriated funds are public funds,” the SC stressed.
“In this case, however, the sums involved are derived from rentals due to the [BCDA] under a lease-back agreement entered by both parties. The sums of money in this case are not the public funds contemplated by the penal provision of Article 217 of the RPC since this is commercial transaction. The CA is correct when it held that the respondents are indebted to the BCDA to pay sum of money ex contractu, or derived from purely commercial terms. The amounts owed to the BCDA are merely corporate debts of the respondents, which were not timely paid,” the SC ruled.
According to the tribunal, the malversation case against the CJHDevco officials should be confined to a civil case for collection of sum of money.
“To allow the petitioner to enforce its rights to be paid through a criminal action will run counter to Section 20 of the Bill of Rights, which states that “no person shall be imprisoned for debt or nonpayment of a poll tax,” the SC declared, even as it affirmed the decision of the CA’s Special Tenth Division to set aside the Baguio City RTC ruling, and instead, ordered the dismissal of the charge of malversation of public funds against the CJHDevco officials.