MANILA, Philippines – The warrant issued for the arrest of Globe Asiatique president Delfin Lee, his son Dexter, two other GA executives, and a Pag-IBIG lawyer over charges of syndicated estafa is deemed recalled, it was learned Sunday.
This after the Court of Appeals (CA) Former Special Tenth Division stuck to its earlier decision dismissing the syndicated estafa case filed by Pag-IBIG against Cristina Sagun, former head of Globe Asiatique documentation department, before a Pampanga regional trial court.
In a 16-page decision dated Feb. 11, 2013, the CA also covers the Lee father and son tandem, Lee, Globe Asiatique Accounting Department head Cristina Salagan, and Pag-IBIG lawyer Alex Alvarez.
Through Associate Justice Angelita Gacutan, the CA denied with finality the motion for reconsideration filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Home Development Mutual Fund (HDMF), also known as Pag-IBIG, of its October 5, 2012 decision absolving petitioner Sagun of the crime of syndicated estafa.
In that decision, the Former Special Tenth Division of the appellate court ruled that the DOJ committed grave abuse of discretion in including Sagun in the information filed before the San Fernando, Pampanga RTC Branch 42.
The CA agreed that Sagun’s duty was simply ministerial. Her duty as per the court’s findings was confined to collating and checking if documents of borrowers were duly accomplished and verifying from HDMF if the borrowers were indeed members or if they had no existing housing loans.
With the final dismissal of the charges against Sagun, the number of accused is down to four, effectively downgrading the syndicated estafa case to simple estafa, a bailable offense.
The CA took note of this as it ordered the recall of the warrant issued for the arrest of Sagun, Lee, his son Dexter, and two others by San Fernando, Pampanga RTC Branch 42 Judge Maria Amifaith Fider-Reyes, and the quashing or cancelling of the syndicated estafa charges in Criminal Case No. 18480.
‘Fewer than 5 cannot constitute a syndicate’
In dismissing the syndicated estafa case, the appeals court said: “Following the definition of the law, if only less than five (5) persons are charged of syndicated estafa, the estafa or swindling cannot be committed by a syndicate. To hold otherwise would be to deny such persons of the right to bail thus, violating their constitutional right to due process and liberty.”
The CA said the remaining four accused in Criminal Case No. 18480 cannot be tagged as a syndicate in contemplation of Sec. 1, P.D. 1689 because the lack of probable cause to indict Sagun for the offense of syndicated estafa and the dismissal of the DOJ Review Resolution dated August 10, 2011 changed the juridical nature of the offense charged against Sagun and the four other accused.
“In other words, since there would only now be four accused in the Information for Syndicated Estafa in view of our disquisition absolving the petitioner, the said Information would be constitutionally infirm at its core. The same can be said of the warrant of arrest issued against the petitioner. The flawed Information cannot serve as a basis for the issuance of a warrant of arrest without running afoul with the constitutional rights of the accused to due process and protection of individual liberty,” the CA said.
“Of course, the foregoing is understood to be without prejudice to the re-filing of the appropriate information/s against the other accused x x x On the strength of the above consideration, therefore, not only must the warrant of arrest be recalled but the Information itself must be quashed since only one Information was filed against all the accused for syndicated estafa,” the CA said.
At the same time, the CA rejected in the same resolution the argument of DOJ and HDMF that Globe Asiatique evaluated and approved the Pag-IBIG membership and the housing loan applications of its supposed spurious buyers/borrowers.
The appeals court explained, “We find absurd movant HDMF and the investigating panel’s putting the petitioner to the task of determining whether or not the housing loan applicants were indeed members of HDMF/Pag-IBIG Fund, or with updated contributions, or have no existing loans. Should not that be the duty of movant HDMF/Pag-IBIG Fund? Not only has the latter the primary responsibility to determine who is its members and who are qualified to apply for housing loans. It is in a much better position to do so. Petitioner could only verify with HDMF/Pag-ibig Fund, and this is what she apparently did. And HDMF/Pag-IBIG did approve the said documents!”
The appellate court’s ruling jived with the earlier final and executory Summary Judgment rendered by the Regional Trial Court of Makati, Branch 58 in Civil Case No. 10-1120 holding HDMF/Pag-IBIG Fund and members of its Board of Trustees, liable for breach of contract and damages to Globe Asiatique.
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