PEOPLE VS SANDIGANBAYAN (529 SCRA 685)
In November 2000, as an offshoot of the impeachment proceedings against Joseph Ejercito Estrada, five criminal complaints against the former President and members of his family, his associates, friends and conspirators were filed with the Office of the Ombudsman. One of the informations was for the crime of plunder and among the respondents was Jose Jinggoy Estrada.
Jinggoy and his co-accused were arrested and placed in the custody of law. He then filed a “Very Urgent Omnibus Motion” alleging that: (1) no probable cause exists to put him on trial and hold him liable for plunder, alleging that that he was only involved in illegal gambling and not plunder; and (2) he is entitled to bail as a matter of right. He filed a motion to resolve to fix bail on the ground that the facts charged in the information does not make out a non-bailable offense. The Sandiganbayan set his alternative prayer to post bail for hearing after arraignment of all the accused. Jinggoy moved for reconsideration of the resolution. Respondent court denied the motion and proceed to arraign him.
From the denial of action of the Sandiganbayan, Jinggoy interposed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court claiming that the Sandiganbayan committed grave abuse of discretion in not fixing bail for him. Pending the resolution of this petition, Jinggoy filed with the Sandiganbayan an “Urgent Second Motion for Bail for Medical Reasons.” Jinggoy prayed for early resolution on his petition for bail on medical considerations. The respondent court denied the motion for bail for lack of factual basis. According to the court, Jinggoy failed to submit sufficient evidence to convince the court that medical condition for the accused requires that he be confined at home and for that purpose be allowed to post bail.
On April 2002, Jinggoy filed before the Sandiganbayan filed before the Sandiganbayn an Omnibus Application for Bail against which the prosecution filed its opposition. Bail hearings were conducted, followed by the submission by the parties of their respective memoranda. The resolution of the Sandiganbayan granted the omnibus application for bail. The motion for reconsideration of the petitioner was denied hence this present petition.
Whether or not the Sandiganbayn acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in granting Jinggoy Estrada’s motion for bail.
No. The imputation of grave abuse of discretion to the public respondent is untenable.
To begin with, Section 13 of Article III of the Constitution mandates:
Section 13. All persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law.
Even if the capital offense charged is bailable owing to the weakness of the evidence of guilt, the right to bail may justifiably still denied if the probability of escape is great. Here, ever since the promulgation of the assailed Resolutions a little more than four years ago, Jinggoy does not, as determined by the Sandiganbayan, seem to be a flight risk. The likelihood pf escape on the part of the individual is now almost nil, given his election as a Senator of the Republic of the Philippines. The Court cannot accept any suggestion that someone who has a popular mandate to serve as Senator is harboring any plan to give up his Senate seat in exchange for becoming a fugitive from justice.
It must be categorically stated herein that in making resolution to grant bail, the Sandiganbayan is not making any judgment as to the final outcome of plunder case. This Court (Sandiganbayan) is simply called to determine whether, at this stage, the evidence of movant’s guilt is strong to warrant temporary release on bail. Revoking the bail thus granted to respondent Jinggoy, as the petitioner urges, which necessarily implies that the evidence of his guilt is strong, would be tantamount to pre-empting the Sandiganbayan ongoing determination of facts and merits of the main case.
With the view we take on this case, the respondent court did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing its assailed resolutions, because the grant of bail therein is predicated only on it preliminary appreciation of the evidence adduced in the bail hearing to determine whether or not deprivation of the right to bail is warranted.