G.R. Nos. L-50581-50617 January 30, 1982
RUFINO V. NUÑEZ petitioner,
SANDIGANBAYAN and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.
Information were filed against Rufino V. Nunez before Sandiganbayan on 21 February and 26 March 1979 for the crime of estafa through falsification of public and commercial documents committed in connivance with his co-accused, all public officials, in several cases. Thereafter, on 15 May, upon being arraigned, he filed a motion to quash on constitutional and juridical grounds. A week later, the Sandiganbayan denied the motion. A motion for reconsideration was filed a day later, and was likewise denied. Nunez filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition with the Supreme Court, claiming that Presidential Decree 1486, which created the Sandiganbayan, is violative of the due process, equal protection, and ex post facto clauses of the Constitution.
Petitioners contend that The Sandiganbayan proceedings violates petitioner’s right to equal protection, because:
- appeal as a matter of right became minimized into a mere matter of discretion;
- appeal likewise was shrunk and limited only to questions of law, excluding a review of the facts and trial evidence; and
- there is only one chance to appeal conviction, by certiorari to the Supreme Court, instead of the traditional two chances; while all other estafa indictees are entitled to appeal as a matter of right covering both law and facts and to two appellate courts, i.e., first to the Court of Appeals and thereafter to the Supreme Court.
Whether the trial of the accused, a public official, by the Sandiganbayan unduly discriminates against the accused, in light of the difference of the procedures (especially appellate) in the Sandiganbayan vis-a-vis regular courts.
The Constitution provided for but did not create a special Court, the Sandiganbayan, with “jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases involving graft and corrupt practices and such other offenses committed by public officers and employees, including those in government-owned or controlled corporations, in relation to their office as may be determined by law.” It came into existence with the issuance in 1978 of a Presidential Decree.
Classification must be based on substantial distinctions which make real differences; it must be germane to the purposes of the law; it must not be limited to existing conditions only, and must apply equally to each member of the class. The constitution specifically makes mention of the creation of a special court, the Sandiganbayan, precisely in response to a problem, i.e. dishonesty in the public service, the urgency of which cannot be denied. It follows that those who may thereafter be tried by such court ought to have been aware as far back as 17 January 1973, when the present Constitution came into force, that a different procedure for the accused therein, whether petitioner is a private citizen or a public official, is not necessarily offensive to the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
Further, the omission of the Court of Appeals as intermediate tribunal does not deprive protection of liberty. The innocence or guilt of an accused in the Sandiganbayan is passed upon by 3-judge court of its division. Moreover, a unanimous vote is required, failing which “the Presiding Justice shall designate two other justices from among the members of the Court to sit temporarily with them, forming a division of five justices, and the concurrence of a majority of such division shall be necessary for rendering judgment.” If convicted, the Sandiganbayan en banc has the duty if he seeks a review to see whether any error of law was committed to justify a reversal of the judgment.
The Constitution specifically makes mention of the creation of a special court, the Sandiganbayan precisely in response to a problem, the urgency of which cannot be denied, namely, dishonesty in the public service. It follows that those who may thereafter be tried by such court ought to have been aware as far back as January 17, 1973, when the present Constitution came into force, that a different procedure for the accused therein, whether a private citizen as petitioner is or a public official, is not necessarily offensive to the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Petitioner, moreover, cannot be unaware of the ruling of this Court in Co Chiong v. Cuaderno a 1949 decision, that the general guarantees of the Bill of Rights, included among which are the due process of law and equal protection clauses must “give way to [a] specific provision, ” in that decision, one reserving to “Filipino citizens of the operation of public services or utilities.” The scope of such a principle is not to be constricted. It is certainly broad enough to cover the instant situation.