Payumo vs.Sandiganbayan – G.R. No. 151911, July 25, 2011

Facts:
The petitions stem from the facts of Criminal Case No. 4219 involving a shooting incident that occurred on February 26, 1980 at around 5:30 o’clock in the afternoon in Sitio Aluag, Barangay Sta. Barbara, Iba, Zambales. A composite team of Philippine Constabulary (PC) and Integrated National Police (INP) units allegedly fired at a group of civilians instantly killing Amante Payumo and wounding Teofilo Payumo, Barangay Captain of Sta. Barbara at Cabatuhan River; Edgar Payumo, Reynaldo Ruanto; Crisanto Ruanto; Apolinario Ruanto; and Exequiel Bonde. The following were indicted for Murder with Multiple Frustrated and Attempted Murder before the Sandiganbayan: Domiciano Cabigao, Nestor Domacena, Rolando Doblado, Ernesto Pampuan, Edgardo Prado, Romeo Dominico, Rodolfo Erese, Ramon Garcia and Carlos Pacheco.
After four (4) years of trial, the Second Division of the Sandiganbayan rendered its Decision dated October 5, 1984, penned by Justice Romeo M. Escareal, convicting the accused as co-principals in the crime of Murder with Multiple Frustrated and Attempted Murder.

On October 23, 1984, the accused jointly moved for a reconsideration of the aforesaid decision, but the motion was denied by the Second Division in its Resolution dated December 10, 1984 and promulgated on December 11,1984.
On January’ 11, 1985, the accused filed their Motion for New Trial anchored on the following grounds: (1) Error of law or irregularities have been committed during the trial prejudicial to the substantive rights of the accused; and (2) the accused were denied procedural due process of law.

On May 29, 1987, this Court rendered its Decision in G.R. No. 69422 granting the petition, setting aside the October 5, 1984 Decision of the Sandiganbayan and remanding the case for a new trial.

Later, the Criminal Case was transferred to the Fifth Division.

On February 23, 1999, the Fifth Division penned by Justice Godofredo T. Legaspi convicted the accused of the crime of Murder with Multiple Attempted Murder.

On March 8, 1999, the accused filed their Omnibus Motion to Set Aside Judgment and for New Trial contending that errors of law or irregularities had been committed during and after trial which were prejudicial to their substantive and constitutional rights. Later, the accused filed their Supplemental Omnibus Motion to Set Aside Judgment and for New Trial, and thereafter their Supplemental Omnibus Motion to Re-open Case and to Set for Oral Arguments.
Since the Fifth Division could not reach unanimity in resolving the aforesaid omnibus motion, a Special Fifth Division composed of five (5) members of the Sandiganbayan was constituted pursuant to Section 1 (b) of Rule XVIII of the 1984 Revised Rules of the Sandiganbayan. On September 27, 2001, Special Fifth Division, voting 3-2, issued the subject Resolution promulgated on October 24,. 2001, setting aside the November 27, 1998 Decision and granting a second new trial of the case.

The Special Fifth Division reasoned out that the November 27, 1998 Decision of the Fifth Division penned by Justice Godofredo T. Legaspi, (Justice Legaspi) could not have been validly promulgated and could not have acquired binding effect since Justice Legaspi had transferred to the Second Division and, hence, he ceased to be a member of the Fifth Division before the Decision was promulgated on February 23, 1999. Further, the Special Fifth Division ruled that a second new trial was necessary because the directive of this Court for the conduct of a trial de novo “has not yet been fully and completely complied with. The testimonies of prosecution witnesses Teofilo Payumo (Teofilo) and Edgar Payumo (Edgar), which had been tainted with the irregularity of “rigodon de juezes” pursuant to the ruling of the Court in the case of Cabigao v. The Sandiganbayan, were erroneously admitted during the trial de novo and, as such, had to be stricken out and taken anew. The Special Fifth Division also pronounced that a second new trial would enable it to allow the accused to adduce pertinent evidence including the records of the Judge Advocate General Office (JAGO), Armed Forces of the Philippines, to shed light on the “serious allegations” also referred to in the Cabigao case.

Ascribing grave abuse of discretion to the Sandiganbayan amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction for nullifying the November 27, 1998 Decision and granting new trial, the complainants Edgar Payumo, Reynaldo Ruanto, Crisanto Ruanto, Apolinario Ruanto, and Exequiel Bonde (petitioners) filed the present petition for certiorari and mandamus with prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or injunction to enjoin the Sandiganbayan from proceeding with the scheduled hearings for a second new trial.

Issue:
Whether the Sandiganbayan acted in excess of its jurisdiction when it granted the Second New Trial.

Held:
Yes, Rule 121, Section 2 of the 2000 Rules on Criminal Procedure enumerates the grounds for a new trial, to wit: Sec. 2. Grounds for a new trial. The court shall grant a new trial on any of the following grounds: (a) That errors of law or irregularities prejudicial to the substantial rights of the accused have been committed during trial; (b) That 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

Records disclosed that during the conduct of a new trial in the First Division of the Sandiganbayan, the testimonies of the prosecution and defense witnesses were retaken with the exception of those of prosecution witnesses, Teofilo and Edgar. The prosecution instead filed a Motion to Admit Former Testimonies of Prosecution Witnesses stating that Teofilo had died as shown by the attached death certificate and that Edgar was out of the country. The defense filed no opposition thereto. On September 14, 1989, the First Division issued a resolution allowing the adoption of said witnesses’ testimonies. Thereafter, the defense filed a motion for reconsideration of the aforesaid resolution, which was denied by the First Division.

It must be emphasized that an erroneous admission or rejection of evidence by the trial court is not a ground for a new trial or reversal of the decision if there are other independent evidence to sustain the decision, or if the rejected evidence, if it had been admitted; would not have changed the decision.

Neither would the presentation in evidence of the records of the JAGO warrant a new trial.

To begin with, the records of the JAGO relative to the February 26, 1980 incident do not meet the criteria for newly discovered evidence that would merit a new trial. A motion for new trial based on newly-discovered evidence may be granted only if the following requisites are met: (a) that the evidence was discovered after trial; (b) that said evidence could not have been discovered and produced at the trial even with the exercise of reasonable diligence; (c) that it is material, not merely cumulative, corroborative or impeaching; and (d) that the evidence is of such weight that, if admitted, would probably change the judgment. It is essential that the offering party exercised reasonable diligence in seeking to locate the evidence before or during trial but nonetheless failed to secure it. In this case, however, such records could have been easily obtained by the accused and could have been presented during the trial with the exercise of reasonable diligence. Hence, the JAGO records cannot be considered as newly discovered evidence. There was nothing that prevented the accused from using these records during the trial to substantiate their position that the shooting incident was a result of a military operation.

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