People of the Philippines vs. Luzviminda S. Valdez, G.R. Nos. 216007-09, December 08, 2015, 774 Phil. 723

Facts:
Among the subjects of the cases were the reimbursements of expenses of private respondent Luzviminda S. Valdez (Valdez), a former mayor of Bacolod City, particularly: cash slips were altered/falsified to enable Valdez to claim/receive reimbursement from the Government the total amount of P279,150.00 instead of only P4,843.25; thus, an aggregate overclaim of P274,306.75.

The Public Assistance and Corruption Prevention Office (PACPO), Office of the Ombudsman – Visayas received the joint affidavit, which was thereafter resolved adverse to Valdez. Consequently, Valdez was charged with eight cases four of which (SB-14-CRM-0317 to 0320) were for Violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act No. 3019, while the remaining half (SB-14-CRM-0321 to 0324) were for the complex crime of Malversation of Public Funds thru Falsification… of Official/Public Documents under Articles 217 and 171, in relation to Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). All the cases were raffled before public respondent.

Since the Ombudsman recommended “no bail” in SB-14-CRM-0321, 0322, and 0324, Valdez, who is still at-large, caused the filing of a Motion to Set Aside No Bail Recommendation and to Fix the Amount of Bail. She argued that the three cases are bailable as a matter of right because no aggravating or modifying circumstance was alleged; the maximum of the indeterminate sentence shall be taken from the medium period that ranged from 18 years, 8 months and 1 day to 20 years; and applying Article 48 of the RPC, the imposable penalty is 20 years, which is the maximum of the medium period.

Petitioner countered in its Comment/Opposition that the Indeterminate Sentence Law is inapplicable as the attending circumstances are immaterial because the charge constituting the complex crime have the corresponding penalty of reclusion perpetua. Since the offense is punishable by reclusion perpetua, bail is discretionary. Instead of a motion to fix bail, a summary hearing to determine if the evidence of guilt is strong is, therefore, necessary conformably with Section 13, Article III of the 1987 Constitution and Section 4, Rule 114 of the Rules. Without filing a motion for reconsideration, petitioner elevated the matter before the SC.

Issue:
Whether an accused indicted for the complex crime of Malversation of Public Funds thru Falsification of Official/Public Documents involving an amount that exceeds P22,000.00 is entitled to bail as a matter of right

Held:
Yes. Mañalac, Jr. v. People already resolved that an accused charged with Malversation of Public Funds thru Falsification of Official/Public Documents where the amount involved exceeds P22,000.00 is not entitled to bail as a matter of right because it has an actual imposable penalty of reclusion perpetua. In Mañalac, Jr., the defendants argued that they should be allowed to post bail since reclusion perpetua is not the prescribed penalty for the offense but merely describes the penalty actually imposed on account of the fraud involved. It was also posited that Article 48 of the RPC applies “only after the accused has been convicted in a full-blown trial such that the court is mandated to impose the penalty of the most serious crime,” and that the reason for the imposition of the penalty of the most serious offense is “only for the purpose of… determining the correct penalty upon the application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law.”

This Court, through the Third Division, however, denied the petition and resolved in the affirmative the issue of whether the constitutional right to bail of an accused is restricted in cases whose imposable penalty ranges from reclusion temporal maximum to reclusion perpetua. To recall, the amounts involved in Pantaleon, Jr. were manifestly in excess of P22,000.00. We opined that the Sandiganbayan correctly imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua and that the ISL is inapplicable since it is an indivisible penalty. The rulings in Pantaleon, Jr. and analogous cases are in keeping with the provisions of the RPC. Specifically, Article 48 of which states that in complex crimes, “the penalty for the most serious crime shall be imposed, the same to be applied in its maximum period.” Thus, in Malversation of Public Funds thru Falsification of Official/Public Documents, the prescribed penalties for malversation and falsification should be taken into account. Under the RPC, the penalty for malversation of public funds or property if the amount involved exceeds P22,000.00 shall be reclusion temporal in its maximum period to reclusion perpetua, aside from perpetual special disqualification and a fine equal to the amount of the funds malversed or equal to the total value of the property embezzled. On the other hand, the penalty of prision mayor and a fine not to exceed P5,000.00 shall be imposed for falsification committed by a public officer.

Considering that malversation is the more serious offense, the imposable penalty for Malversation of Public Funds thru Falsification of Official/Public Documents if the amount involved exceeds P22,000.00 is reclusion perpetua, it being the maximum period of the prescribed penalty of reclusion temporal in its maximum period to… reclusion perpetua. For purposes of bail application, however, the ruling in Mañalac, Jr. should be revisited on the ground that Pantaleon, Jr. was disposed in the context of a judgment of conviction rendered by the lower court and affirmed on appeal by this Court.

The appropriate rule is to grant bail as a matter of right to an accused who is charged with a complex crime of Malversation of Public Funds thru Falsification of Official/Public Documents involving an… amount that exceeds P22,000.00.

The pivotal question is: How should We construe the term “punishable” under the provisions above-quoted? In Our mind, the term “punishable” should refer to prescribed, not imposable, penalty. The October 10, 2014 Resolution of public respondent is spot on had it not confused imposable penalty with prescribed penalty. Nonetheless, reading through the text of the assailed Resolution reveals that the anti-graft court actually meant prescribed penalty whenever it referred to imposable penalty. Therefore, in essence, the ruling is correct.

If the complex crime of Malversation thru Falsification shall be imposed in its maximum period, there is no doubt that, in case of conviction, the penalty to be imposed is reclusion perpetua. The cases, however, are still at their inception. Criminal proceedings are yet to ensue. This is not the proper time, therefore, to call for the application of the penalty contemplated under Article 48 by imposing the same in its maximum period. For purposes of determining whether a person can be admitted to bail as a matter of right, it is the imposable penalty prescribed by law for the crime charged which should be considered and, not the penalty to be actually imposed.

One thought on “People of the Philippines vs. Luzviminda S. Valdez, G.R. Nos. 216007-09, December 08, 2015, 774 Phil. 723

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