HANNAH EUNICE D. SERANA vs. SANDIGANBAYAN G.R. No. 162059, January 22, 2008

Petitioner was a senior student of the University of the Philippines-Cebu was appointed by then President Joseph Estrada as a student regent of UP. petitioner discussed with President Estrada the renovation of Vinzons Hall Annex in UP Diliman. petitioner, with her siblings and relatives, registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission the Office of the Student Regent Foundation, Inc. (OSRFI). One of the projects of the OSRFI was the renovation of the Vinzons Hall Annex. President Estrada gave Fifteen Million Pesos (P15,000,000.00) to the OSRFI as financial assistance for the proposed renovation. The source of the funds, according to the information, was the Office of the President. The renovation of Vinzons Hall Annex failed to materialize. The succeeding student regent, consequently filed a complaint for Malversation of Public Funds and Property with the Office of the Ombudsman who after due investigation, found probable cause to indict petitioner and her brother for estafa in the Sandiganbayan.

Petitioner moved to quash the information. She claimed that the Sandiganbayan does not have any jurisdiction over the offense charged or over her person, in her capacity as UP student regent, enumerates the crimes or offenses over which the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction. It has no jurisdiction over the crime of estafa that It only has jurisdiction over crimes covered by Title VII, Chapter II, Section 2 (Crimes Committed by Public Officers), Book II of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). Estafa falling under Title X, Chapter VI (Crimes Against Property), Book II of the RPC is not within the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction. Petitioner likewise posited that as a student regent, she was not a public officer since she merely represented her peers, She further contended that she had no power or authority to receive monies or funds. The Ombudsman opposed the motion. The Sandiganbayan denied petitioner’s motion for lack of merit. The Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration which was also denied with finality, hence this case.

Whether the Sandiganbayan has Jurisdiction over the Petitioner who is not Salary Grade 27, not compensated and merely represented her peers in the Board of Regent, and the crime committed was not within the its Jurisdiction.

Held: Yes, The rule is well-established in this jurisdiction that statutes should receive a sensible construction so as to avoid an unjust or an absurd conclusion. Interpretatio talis in ambiguis semper fienda est, ut evitetur inconveniens et absurdum. Where there is ambiguity, such interpretation as will avoid inconvenience and absurdity is to be adopted. Evidently, the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction over other felonies committed by public officials in relation to their office. We see no plausible or sensible reason to exclude estafa as one of the offenses included in Section 4(bB) of P.D. No. 1606. Plainly, estafa is one of those other felonies. The jurisdiction is simply subject to the twin requirements that (a) the offense is committed by public officials and employees mentioned in Section 4(A) of P.D. No. 1606, as amended, and that (b) the offense is committed in relation to their office.

It is not only the salary grade that determines the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. The court held that while the first part of Section 4(A) covers only officials with Salary Grade 27 and higher, its second part specifically includes other executive officials whose positions may not be of Salary Grade 27 and higher but who are by express provision of law placed under the jurisdiction of the said court. Petitioner falls under the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan as she is placed there by express provision of law. Section 4(A)(1)(g) of P.D. No. 1606 explictly vested the Sandiganbayan with jurisdiction over Presidents, directors or trustees, or managers of government-owned or controlled corporations, state universities or educational institutions or foundations. Petitioner falls under this category. As the Sandiganbayan pointed out, the BOR performs functions similar to those of a board of trustees of a non-stock corporation By express mandate of law, petitioner is, indeed, a public officer as contemplated by P.D. No. 1606.

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