Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 165751. April 12, 2005

DATU GUIMID P. MATALAM, Petitioners,
vs.
THE SECOND DIVISION OF THE SANDIGANBAYAN and THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents.

R E S O L U T I O N

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

Before Us is a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the 1997 Rules on Civil Procedure assailing the resolutions1 of the Sandiganbayan in Criminal Case No. 26381, admitting the Amended Information2 and denying petitionerís Motion for Reconsideration,3 dated 12 January 2004 and 03 November 2004, respectively.

An information dated 15 November 2004 was filed before the Sandiganbayan charging petitioner Datu Guimid Matalam, Habib A. Bajunaid, Ansari M. Lawi, Muslimin Unga and Naimah Unte with violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, for their alleged illegal and unjustifiable refusal to pay the monetary claims of Kasan I. Ayunan, Abdul E. Zailon, Esmael A. Ebrahim, Annabelle Zailon, Pendatun Mambatawan, Hyria Mastura and Faizal I. Hadil. The accusatory portion of the information reads:

That from the period January 1998 to June 1999, in Cotabato City, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the accused ARMM Vice-Governor and Regional Secretary, DAR, DATU GUIMID MATALAM, a high ranking public official, HABIB A. BAJUNAID, ANSARI M. LAWI, MUSLIMIN UNGA and NAIMAH UNTE, all low-ranking public officials, committing the offense while in the performance of their official duties and taking advantage of their public position, conspiring, confederating and mutually aiding one another, did there and then, willfully, unlawfully and criminally, cause undue injury to several employees of the Department of Agrarian Reform, cotabato City, thru evident bad faith in the performance of their official duties to wit: by illegally and unjustifiably refusing to pay the monetary claims of the complaining DAR employees namely: KASAN I. AYUNAN, ABDUL E. ZAILON, ESMAEL A. EBRAHIM, ANNABELLE ZAILON, PENDATUN MAMBATAWAN, HYRIA MASTURA and FAIZAL I. HADIL, for the period of January 1998 to June 1999 amounting to P1,606,788.50 as contained in Civil Service Resolutions Nos. 982027 and 990415 in the nature of unpaid salaries during the period when they have been illegally terminated, including salary differentials and other benefits.4

On 14 August 2002, petitioner filed a Motion for Reinvestigation.

Per order of the court, a reinvestigation of the case was conducted where petitioner filed his Counter-Affidavit.5

After the reinvestigation, the public prosecutor filed a "Manifestation and Motion to Admit Amended Information Deleting the Names of Other Accused Except Datu Guimid Matalam"6 to which petitioner filed a Motion to Dismiss and Opposition to the Motion to Admit the Alleged Amended Information Against the Accused Guimid P. Matalam.7 Thereafter, the public prosecutor filed his Reply8 to which petitioner filed a Rejoinder.

The Amended Information reads:

That on December 16, 1997 and for sometime prior or subsequent thereto, in cotabato City, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above named accused a public officer being then the ARMM Vice-Governor and Regional Secretary DAR, committing the offense while in the performance of his official duties and thru evident bad faith and manifest partiality did there and then, willfully, unlawfully and criminally, cause undue injury by illegally dismissing from the service complaining DAR-Maguindanao employees, cotabato City, namely: Kasan I. Ayunan, Abdul E. Zailon, Annabelle Zailon, Pendatum Mambatawan, Hyria Mastura and Faizal I. Hadil, to their damage and prejudice amounting to P1,606,788.50 by way of unpaid salaries during the period when they have been illegally terminated including salary differentials and other benefits.9

In his Motion to Dismiss, petitioner alleged that the amended information charges an entirely new cause of action. The corpus delicti of the amended information is no longer his alleged refusal to pay the backwages ordered by the Civil Service Commission, but the alleged willful, unlawful and illegal dismissal from the service of the complaining witnesses. He insists that the amended information charging a separate and entirely different offense cannot be admitted because there would be a serious violation of due process of law. He claims he is entitled to a preliminary investigation since he was not informed that he is being charged for the alleged dismissal of the complaining witnesses and that he was not given the opportunity to explain.

On 12 January 2004, the Sandiganbayan granted the Manifestation and Motion to Admit Amended Information Deleting the Names of Other Accused Except Datu Guimid P. Matalam. It admitted the Amended Information charging solely petitioner for Violation of Section 3(e) of Rep. Act No. 3019. The court a quo ruled:

What seems to be more crucial here is, whether the amendments made are not prejudicial to the rights of the accused and are considered as a matter of form only, so that, if the Amended Information is admitted, there would be no need to require the Public Prosecutor to conduct another preliminary investigation in the observance of the rights of the accused to due process. On the other hand, if the amendment would be substantial, necessarily, another preliminary investigation should be accorded to the accused. Distinction of the two is thus imperative.

. . .

The Amended Information charges essentially the same offense as that charged in the original Information which is a Violation of Sec. 3(e) of R.A. 3019. Theoretically, therefore, the amendment is a matter of form only.

Interestingly, however, the change in the recital of cause of action in the Amended Information is very much noticeable. As correctly pointed out by accused Matalam, the corpus delicti in the original Information was the alleged willful and confederated refusal of the accused to pay the backwages of the complaining witnesses. The corpus delicti in the Amended Information is now altered into the alleged illegal dismissal of the complainants from their service by accused Matalam. Certainly, the two causes of action differ differently from each other.

Following the aforementioned principles laid down by the Supreme Court, the amendments seem to be substantial considering that the main defense of all the accused in the original information Ė the lack of a corresponding appropriation for the payment of the monetary claims of the complaining witnesses Ė would not, in itself alone, stands [sic] as a defense for accused Matalam in the Amended Information anymore. In the same manner, the evidence that accused Matalam would have to present in the original Information, had it not been found to be without prima facie evidence, will not be equally available to bail him out in the Amended Information anymore. And further, although the nature of the offense charged has not changed, the theory of the case as against accused Matalam is now deemed to have been changed because the cause of action now varies and therefore, he would have to formulate another defense again.

However, after making a meticulous and independent assessment on the evidence obtaining on record, this Court agrees with the findings and recommendation of the Public Prosecutor that the real and exact issue in this case is actually the alleged illegal dismissal of the complaining witnesses. The issue of non-payment of their backwages is merely incidental because had it not been for the alleged illegal dismissal, their demand for monetary claims should have not arisen. Put in another perspective, the surrounding circumstances that brought about the issue of the alleged illegal dismissal were actually the ones that spewed the issue of unpaid backwages.

Furthermore, as correctly observed by the Public Prosecutor, the change in the recital of the cause of action does not conceivably come as a surprise to the accused. In fact, in his counter-affidavit submitted before the Public Prosecutor, accused Matalam already took the occasion to elaborate his version on the surrounding circumstances that brought about the alleged illegal dismissal of the complaining witnesses. And these chain of circumstances, actually, were the very preceding circumstances as to why the complaining witnesses had suffered their alleged injury. The need for another preliminary investigation is therefore not necessary.

Given the foregoing factual milieu, the rights of accused Matalam are not, after all, in any way prejudiced because an inquiry to the allegations in the original cause of action would certainly and necessarily elicit substantially the same facts to the inquiry of the allegations in the new cause of action contained in the Amended Information.

To remand this case again to the Public Prosecutor would certainly be a waste of time considering that accused, in his counter-affidavit, had already explained extensively his defense on the new allegations contained in the Amended Information sought to be admitted. And definitely, his projected defense would be the same assuming that another preliminary investigation be conducted and that he would be required to submit another counter-affidavit again.10

On 11 February 2004, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration11 which the prosecution opposed.12 On 03 November 2004, the Sandiganbayan denied the Motion.13 It explained:

While it is true that accused-movantís defense in the original information could not by itself stand alone as his defense to the amended one, however, the same would still be available for the latter because although the two questioned causes of action literally varied, they are nonetheless interrelated with each other. The essential ingredients of the amended information are actually identical with those constituting the original, such that, the inquiry into one would elicit substantially the same facts that an inquiry into the other would reveal. And since these two causes of action had emanated from the same set of factual settings, the evidence that accused-movant might have under the original information would still be available and applicable to the amended one.

Be it noted that the private complainants lodged their complaint due to the alleged injury they suffered as a consequence of the alleged refusal of the accused-movant to pay them of their backwages. And notably, based on the affidavit that the accused-movant had submitted, his defense to this was due to the lack of funds appropriated for the said purpose. But why was there no appropriation? Because, allegedly, the private complainants were illegally dismissed from their service and as a result thereof, their names were subsequently stricken off from the roster of employees in the government agency where they were connected.

Culled from these factual settings, the root cause of the alleged injury suffered by the private complainants would therefore be their alleged illegal dismissal from the service. Otherwise, their names would not have been stricken off from the roster of employees in the agency which they were connected with and the appropriation for the payment of their salaries would have been continuously made.

Thus, from the foregoing, although there was a change in the recital of the cause of action (from non-payment of backwages into illegal dismissal), the amendment of the information did not however affect or alter the nature of the offense that was originally charged. Neither did it change the basic theory of the prosecution since this remained to be a violation of Sec. 3(e) of R.A. 3019 on account of the alleged injury caused to the private complainants. And even if the prosecutionís theory would now be premised on the new cause of action (illegal dismissal), this would not however cause surprise to the accused-movant nor would require him to undergo a material change or modification in his defense because in presenting his defense, he still has to commence from the very same set of factual settings that preceded the original cause of action. And evidently, this is the reason why in the affidavit he submitted during the reinvestigation, his discussions therein consisted not only of his defense to the original information but also included an extensive discussion regarding his defense to the amended one.

This being so, the outright admission of the amended information even without affording the accused-movant a new preliminary investigation did not amount to a violation of his rights. To afford him another process of preliminary investigation would no longer serve him and this court any better considering that he had already explained in the said affidavit his defense to the amended information. Otherwise, if he is allowed to submit another one, he is likely to elaborate again the very same arguments that he had already invoked in his previous affidavit.

Hence, this petition.

Petitioner argues that the resolutions of the Sandiganbayan dated 12 January 2004 and 03 November 2004 admitting the Amended Information charging a new offense without conducting a preliminary investigation were issued without jurisdiction and/or with grave abuse of jurisdiction amounting to lack of jurisdiction.

From the arguments raised by petitioner, the issue boils down to whether or not petitioner was deprived of due process of law when the Sandiganbayan admitted the Amended Information without conducting another or new preliminary investigation. Firstly, petitioner maintains that a new preliminary investigation should have been ordered because the corpus delicti in the Amended Information is the termination of services of the complaining witnesses, while the corpus delicti in the Original Information is the alleged refusal to pay the backwages of the complaining witnesses. In other words, there being a new and distinct offense, he should be entitled to a new preliminary investigation. Secondly, he contends he was denied due process when the Sandiganbayan ruled that if "he were allowed to submit another counter-affidavit, he is likely to elaborate again the very same argument that he had invoked in his previous affidavit" considering that he would have pointed out certain facts not contained in his counter-affidavit. He added that despite the finding of the Sandiganbayan that "the theory of the case against him changed because the cause of action varies, and that he would have to formulate another defense," the Sandiganbayan did not remand the case to the public prosecutor for preliminary investigation because it was a waste of time since he had already explained extensively in his counter-affidavit his defense on the new allegations contained in the Amended Information. Thirdly, he asserts he was not given the opportunity to show that he did not act with manifest partiality and evident bad faith in the dismissal of the seven employees inasmuch as there are other factors and circumstances that would support his posture.

In its Comment, respondent People of the Philippines, thru the Office of the Special Prosecutor, stated that the admission of the Amended Information without another preliminary investigation would not violate petitionerís right to due process on the ground that the amendment is merely formal, and to require another preliminary investigation would not be in obedience to, but in disregard of, the prime purpose for which a preliminary investigation is ordained by law and jurisprudence. It maintains that petitioner acted with evident bad faith and manifest partiality in illegally terminating the complainants from service.

On 10 March 2005, petitioner filed his Reply.14

The initial question to be resolved is what kind of amendment was made in the Information?

Section 14 of Rule 110 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure provides:

SEC. 14. Amendment or substitution. Ė A complaint or information may be amended, in form or in substance, without leave of court, at any time before the accused enters his plea. After the plea and during the trial, a formal amendment may only be made with leave of court and when it can be done without causing prejudice to the rights of the accused.

However, any amendment before plea, which downgrades the nature of the offense charged in or excludes any accused from the complaint or information, can be made only upon motion by the prosecutor, with notice to the offended party and with leave of court. The court shall state its reasons in resolving the motion and copies of its order shall be furnished all parties, especially the offended party.

Before the accused enters his plea, a formal or substantial amendment of the complaint or information may be made without leave of court. After the entry of a plea, only a formal amendment may be made but with leave of court and if it does not prejudice the rights of the accused. After arraignment, a substantial amendment is proscribed except if the same is beneficial to the accused.15

A substantial amendment consists of the recital of facts constituting the offense charged and determinative of the jurisdiction of the court. All other matters are merely of form.16

The following have been held to be merely formal amendments: (1) new allegations which relate only to the range of the penalty that the court might impose in the event of conviction; (2) an amendment which does not charge another offense different or distinct from that charged in the original one; (3) additional allegations which do not alter the prosecutionís theory of the case so as to cause surprise to the accused and affect the form of defense he has or will assume; (4) an amendment which does not adversely affect any substantial right of the accused;17 (5) an amendment that merely adds specifications to eliminate vagueness in the information and not to introduce new and material facts, and merely states with additional precision something which is already contained in the original information and which adds nothing essential for conviction for the crime charged.18

The test as to whether a defendant is prejudiced by the amendment has been said to be whether a defense under the information as it originally stood would be available after the amendment is made, and whether any evidence defendant might have would be equally applicable to the information in the one form as in the other. An amendment to an information which does not change the nature of the crime alleged therein does not affect the essence of the offense or cause surprise or deprive the accused of an opportunity to meet the new averment had each been held to be one of form and not of substance.19

In the case at bar, the amendment was indeed substantial. The recital of facts constituting the offense charged was definitely altered. In the original information, the prohibited act allegedly committed by petitioner was the illegal and unjustifiable refusal to pay the monetary claims of the private complainants, while in the amended information, it is the illegal dismissal from the service of the private complainants. However, it cannot be denied that the alleged illegal and unjustifiable refusal to pay monetary claims is related to, and arose from, the alleged illegal dismissal from the service of the private complainants.

According to Retired Senior Associate Justice Florenz D. Regalado, before the plea is taken, the information may be amended in substance and/or form, without leave of court; but if amended in substance, the accused is entitled to another preliminary investigation, unless the amended charge is related to or is included in the original charge.20

Thus, the rule is: Before or after a plea, a substantial amendment in an information entitles an accused to another preliminary investigation. However, if the amended information contains a charge related to or is included in the original information, a new preliminary investigation is not required.

The Sandiganbayan and the public prosecutor maintain that petitioner is not entitled to a new preliminary investigation because the charges in the original information and amended information are related and the latter has already presented his defense on the amended charge. Further, remanding the case to the Public Prosecutor for another preliminary investigation would be a waste of time considering that petitioner had already explained extensively his defense on the new allegations contained in the Amended Information, that is, the accused already elaborated his version on the surrounding circumstances that brought about the alleged dismissal of the complaining witnesses. It added that the change in the recital of the cause of action will not come as a surprise to the accused because the causes of action, though different, are nonetheless interrelated, and that the rights of the accused will not be prejudiced since the inquiry to the allegations in the original information will certainly and necessarily elicit substantially the same facts to the inquiry of the allegations in the Amended Information.

On the other hand, petitioner insists he should be given a new preliminary investigation because he was not, among other things, given the opportunity to show that he did not act with manifest partiality and evident bad faith in the dismissal of the private complainants.

While it is true that the charges in the original and amended informations are related, i.e., an inquiry into one would have elicited substantially, if not precisely, the same facts that an inquiry into the other would have brought into light,21 this fact should not necessarily deprive an accused to his right to a new preliminary investigation. As above-stated, the rule is that a new preliminary investigation is needed if there is a substantial amendment. The exception, i.e., charge is related or included in the original information, should not be applied automatically. The circumstances in every case must be taken into consideration before the accused is deprived of another preliminary investigation.

The following indispensable elements must be established to constitute a violation of Section 3(e) of Rep. Act No. 3019, as amended:

1. The accused is a public officer discharging administrative or official functions or private persons charged in conspiracy with them;

2. The public officer committed the prohibited act during the performance of his official duty in relation to his public position;

3. The public officer acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence; and

4. His action caused undue injury to the government or any private party, or gave any party any unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to such parties.22

The third element of the offense states that the public officer acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence in committing the prohibited act. Admittedly, the alleged illegal dismissal contained in the amended charge gave rise to the original charge of failure to pay the monetary claims of private complainants. It cannot be disputed that petitioner already discussed circumstances surrounding the termination of services of the private complainants in his counter-affidavit. However, we find nothing therein that would show that he had already touched the issue of evident bad faith or manifest partiality. As can be gathered from the counter-affidavit, there were arguments tending to counter the presence of evident bad faith, manifest partiality or gross inexcusable negligence, but the same refer to the allegation of failure to pay the monetary claims and not to the alleged illegal dismissal. Although one allegation stemmed from the other, the court a quo and the public prosecutor cannot say the element of evident bad faith, manifest partiality or gross inexcusable negligence is the same in both. This being an element of the offense charged, petitioner should be given the opportunity to thoroughly adduce evidence on the matter.

If petitioner is not to be given a new preliminary investigation for the amended charge, his right will definitely be prejudiced because he will be denied his right to present evidence to show or rebut evidence regarding the element of evident bad faith and manifest partiality on the alleged dismissal. He will be denied due process.

A component part of due process in criminal justice, preliminary investigation is a statutory and substantive right accorded to the accused before trial. To deny their claim to a preliminary investigation would be to deprive them of the full measure of their right to due process.23

Our rulings in the cases of People v. Magpale24 and Lava v. Gonzales25 where no new preliminary investigation was given because the charges in the amended informations were related to, or included in, the original charges cannot apply in the case at bar. The factual milieu in those cases is different from the case before us.

In Magpale, the accused was charged with violation of Article 176 of the Revised Penal Code for illegal possession of iron brand, and making or ordering the making thereof. In the notices sent to the accused in connection with the preliminary investigation of the complaint, the accused was informed not of one but of both. He was given the chance, and was placed on guard, to defend himself for both charges. Moreover, the right of the accused to have another preliminary investigation was waived when he went forward with the trial.

In Lava, the accused was charged with Complex Rebellion but the charge was later amended to Simple Rebellion. This court held that a new preliminary investigation was not necessary there being no change in the nature of the crime charged, and that accused failed to ask for a reinvestigation upon learning of the amended information.

In the case of petitioner herein, although the charge remained the same (Violation of Section 3(e), Rep. Act No. 3019, as amended), the prohibited act allegedly committed changed, that is, failure to pay monetary claims to illegal dismissal, and he was not given the opportunity to submit his evidence on the absence or presence of evident bad faith and manifest partiality as to the illegal dismissal. Petitioner has not waived his right to a new preliminary investigation and, instead, is asking for one.

It is settled that the preliminary investigation proper, i.e., the determination of whether there is reasonable ground to believe that the accused is guilty of the offense charged and should be subjected to the expense, rigors and embarrassment of trial, is the function of the prosecution.26

Our ruling in this case does not in any way divest the public prosecutor of its duty under the Rules. This Court is not determining if petitioner should or should not be brought to trial. What we are looking into is whether or not petitioner was given all the opportunity to present countervailing evidence on the amended charge. Accordingly, finding that petitioner was not given the chance to fully present his evidence on the amended information which contained a substantial amendment, a new preliminary investigation is in order.

As to statement of the court a quo that the conduct of another preliminary investigation would be merely a waste of time, it must be emphasized that though the conduct thereof will hold back the progress of the case, the same is necessary in order that the accused may be afforded his right to a preliminary investigation. The right of the accused to a preliminary investigation should never be compromised or sacrificed at the altar of expediency.

Finally, as to petitionerís prayer that the Amended Information be quashed and dismissed, the same cannot be ordered. The absence27 or incompleteness28 of a preliminary investigation does not warrant the quashal or dismissal of the information. Neither does it affect the courtís jurisdiction over the case or impair the validity of the information or otherwise render it defective. The court shall hold in abeyance the proceedings on such information and order the remand of the case for preliminary investigation or completion thereof.

WHEREFORE, the petition for certiorari is hereby GRANTED. Respondent courtís resolutions dated 12 January 2004 and 03 November 2004 in Criminal Case No. 26381 are REVERSED AND SET ASIDE. Respondent court is directed to order the Office of the Ombudsman to forthwith conduct a preliminary investigation of the charge embodied in the Amended Information filed against petitioner. It is further directed to suspend the proceedings in the said case pending termination of the preliminary investigation, and thereafter to take such action on petitionerís case as may be warranted by the results of said preliminary investigation.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.


Footnotes

1 Penned by Associate Justice Francisco H. Villaruz, Jr., with Associate Justices Edilberto G. Sandoval and Efren N. Dela Cruz, concurring.

2 Rollo, pp. 27-33.

3 Id., pp. 49-53.

4 Id., p. 55.

5 Id., pp. 60-65.

6 Id., pp. 66-79.

7 Id., pp. 80-87.

8 Id., pp. 88-91.

9 Id., p. 77.

10 Rollo, pp. 30-32.

11 Id., pp. 34-42.

12 Id., pp. 92-99.

13 Id., pp. 49-53.

14 Id., pp. 138-145.

15 People v. Janairo, G.R. No. 129254, 22 July 1999, 311 SCRA 58, 67.

16 Almeda v. Villaluz, G.R. No. L-31665, 06 August 1975, 66 SCRA 38, 45.

17 Teehankee, Jr. v. Madayag, G.R. No. 103102, 06 March 1992, 207 SCRA 134, 142; Villaflor v. Vivar, G.R. No. 134744, 16 January 2001, 349 SCRA 194, 201-202; People v. Degamo, G.R. No. 121211, 30 April 2003, 402 SCRA 133, 141.

18 Poblete v. Sandoval, G.R. No. 150610, 25 March 2004, 426 SCRA 346, 356, citing People v. Montenegro, G.R. No. L-45772, 25 March 1988, 159 SCRA 236, 241.

19 People v. Casey, G.R. No. L-30146, 24 February 1981, 103 SCRA 21, 31-32.

20 Remedial Law Compendium by Florenz D. Regalado, Vol. 2, Ninth Revised Edition, p. 276.

21 People v. Magpale, 70 Phil. 176, 180.

22 Quibal v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 109991, 22 May 1995, 244 SCRA 224, 231.

23 Villaflor v. Vivar, supra, note 17.

24 Supra, note 21..

25 G.R. No. L-23048, 31 July 1964, 11 SCRA 650.

26 Sistoza v. Desierto, G.R. No. 144784, 03 September 2002, 388 SCRA 307, 323.

27 Villaflor v. Vivar, supra, note 17; Paredes v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 89989, 28 January 1991, 193 SCRA 464, 469.

28 Torralba v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 101421, 10 February 1994, 230 SCRA 33, 41.


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