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Estrada vs.

Sandiganbayan

G.R.Nos.164368-69,2April2009

FACTS
President Joseph Ejercito Estrada was forced to vacate his office at the call of
PeoplePowerIII,onJanuary20,2001,andthenVice-PresidentGloriaMacapagal-Arroyo
succeededhiminoffice.
TheSandiganbayan,fromitspreliminaryinvestigations,ruledthatfromJune1998
toJanuary2001,theaccusedformerPresidentEstrada,byhimselfand/orinconnivance/
conspirary with his co-accused (Jinggoy Estrada, Charlie Atong Ang, Edward Serapio,
Alma Alfaro, et cetera, who are either members of his extended family or business
partners), by taking undue advantage of his official position, authority, connection and
influence, willfully, unlawfully and criminally amass, accumulate and acquire by himself
ill-gotten wealth totaling P4.1B (P4,097,804,173.17), more or less, thereby unjustly
enrichinghimselftothedamageoftheFilipinopeopleandtheRepublicofthePhilippines.
He was issued a warrant of arrest. A motion for reconsideration was denied by the
Sandiganbayan. A series of Motions to Quash and Oppositions to the Motion to Quash,
basedontheapparentunconstitutionalityoftheactduetovagueness.
Includedinthecaseagainsthimarethefollowinginformation:
(a)moneyfromillegalgambling
(b)appropriatingpublicfundsfromthetobaccoexcisetaxinIlocosSur
(c)moneyfromcommissionsonpurchaseofsharesintheBelleCorporation
(d) unjust enrichment from gifts, percentages and kickback, depositing the same
underJoseVelardeattheEquitable-PCIBank
TheguiltofEstradaisnotinquestionatthispoint,butrathertheconstitutionality
ofthelawaimingtopenalizehisacts,RA7080.
The petitioner names a few words used in the Act that apparently exhibited
vaguenessandwouldthereforerendertheActunconstitutional.Thesewordsincludethe
operativemeaningofcombination,series,andpattern.

ISSUES
1. WONRA7080isconstitutionalduetocontentionsofvagueness
2. WON RA 7080 violates due process by dispensing with the reasonable doubt
standardincriminalprosecution

3. WON RA 7080 is malum prohibitum, which abolishes the element of mens rea in
thepatternofcrimesconstitutedasplunder,evenifindividualcrimesrequiremens
rea
OPINIONS
Bellosillo, J:
1. WONRA7080isconstitutionalduetocontentionsofvagueness
a. The petition is pure sophistry. A stature is not rendered uncertain and void
merelybecausegeneraltermsareusedtherein.
Todoubtistosustain,meaningthatwemustremoveallthedoubtsfromour
mindsinabletojustifythemajoritydecision.
In legal hermeneutics, a statute will be interpreted in the natural, plain and
ordinary acceptation and signification, UNLESS the legislature intended a
technicalorspeciallegalmeaningtoitswords.
A statute is vague only when it lacks comprehensible standards that men of
common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ in its
application.Thisvaguenessleadstotwothings:1.doesnotaccordpeoplewith
fairwarningofviolation,and2.givesthelawenforcementunbridleddiscretion
incarryingoutitsprovisions
InRA7080,asprovidedbytheintentoftheLegislaturewhileinsessionforthe
creation of the said act, combination would mean 2 or more acts of different
categorieswhileserieswouldmean2ormoresimilarly-categorizedacts.
Therefore, being that it was defined by the Legislature, there is no reason to
markitasvague.
b. Facialchallengesagainstallegedlyvoid-for-vaguenessrulesareappliedonlyto
casescoveredbytheFirstAmendment(freedomofspeech),notpenalstatutes.
Thetaskofanalyzingaproposedstatuteisrarely,ifever,anappropriatetask
for the judiciary. On-its-face invalidation of statutes are manifestly strong
medicinetobeemployedsparinglyandonlyalastresort.
Ambiguity,wherenoneexists,cannotbecreatedbydissectingpartsandwords
in the statute for want of scientific precision in the law. Each part should be
construedinrelationandwithreferencetoeveryotherpart.Furthermore,being
aSenatorwhovotedforthepassageofsaidlaw,petitionershouldhavehadfull
knowledgeandunderstandingofitslegalimplications.
In Gallego v. Sandiganbayan, this challenge was raised for the
term unwarranted. The court ruled that there is nothing ambiguous in the
term.
2. WON RA 7080 violates due process by dispensing with the reasonable doubt
standardincriminalprosecution
a. PetitionerassailsSec.4:notnecessarytoproveeachandeverycriminalact
it being sufficient to establish, beyond reasonable doubt, a pattern of overt or
criminalactsindicativeoftheoverallunlawfulschemingorconspiracy.

In the session of the Congress, what apparently needs to be proven is


theelementoftheoffense.Tofindthetotalityoftheamount,wewillsumup
the amounts involved in those transactions which were proved. The burden
stillremainswiththeprosecutiontoprovebeyondanyiotaofdoubteveryfact
or element necessary to constitute the crime. Sec. 4 is merely a procedural
measure,meaningevenwithoutinvokingittherecouldstillbeaconvictionfor
plunder.
Sec. 7 also attests to this, that even in cases where one or more of the
provisionswillbenotconsideredvalid,theotherprovisionscanstillbeusedto
convicttheaccusedofplunder.
3. WON RA 7080 is malum prohibitum, which abolishes the element of mens rea in
thepatternofcrimesconstitutedasplunder,evenifindividualcrimesrequiremens
rea
a. Plundershouldbemaluminse(evilinitself),thereforetherequirementofmens
rea(criminalintent)mustbeproven.Inindividualcasesthatmakeupplunder,
therequisitemensreamustbeshown.Furthermore,plunderisacrimeinwhich
abomination lies in the significance of the negative effects in the larger sociopoliticalandeconomiccontextofastatestrugglingtodevelopandprovidefor
itsunderprivileged,andtheactionoftheCongresstopenalizeitwithreclusion
perpetuaordeathmakesitmaluminsealready.
RA7080constitutional,petitiondismissed.

Mendoza, J (concurring):
1. WONRA7080isconstitutionalduetocontentionsofvagueness-concur
2. WON RA 7080 violates due process by dispensing with the reasonable doubt
standardincriminalprosecution
a. Test of strict scrutiny are not applicable to penal statutes. Petitioner cites
the most celebrated footnote in [American] constitutional law: narrower
scope of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on
its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution There is no
warrant for petitioners contention that the presumption of constitutionality
of a legislative act is applicable only where the Supreme Court deals with
facts regarding ordinary economic affairs, not where the interpretation of the
Constitutionisinvolved.
Instrictconstruction,justicesparsetheintentoflegislation.Strictscrutiny,on
theotherhand,callsforjudicialreviewonamatterofgovtinterest.
Indeferentialreview,lawsareupheldiftheyfurtheralegitimatestateinterest,
while in intermediate review the substantiability of the govt interest is looked
intoandtheavailabilityoflessrestrictivealternativesareconsidered.
b. CJ Rehnquist: We have not recognized the overbreadth doctrine outside the
limitedcontextoftheFirstAmendment.

c. Anyonereadingthelawinrelationtothischargecannotpossiblybemistakenas
towhatthepetitionerisaccusedof.Themeaningsofwordsaskedbypetitioner
are irrelevant: it is enough that the prosecution proves that a public officer,
by himself or in connivance with others, amasses wealth of at least P50 M by
committingtwoormoreovertorcriminalacts.
Whereambiguityisnotlatentandlegislativeintentionisdiscoverable,thevoidfor-vaguenessdoctrinehasnoapplication.
3. WON RA 7080 is malum prohibitum, which abolishes the element of mens rea in
thepatternofcrimesconstitutedasplunder,evenifindividualcrimesrequiremens
rea-concur
Panganiban, J (concurring):
1. WONRA7080isconstitutionalduetocontentionsofvaguenessInthenotesofthesession,thelegislatorsaredeemedtobeindecisiveandcannot
finish their sentences to conclude the meaning of the protested words. Justice
concludesthatthiscouldbeduetostenographers.
Judiciary is empowered to construe law, especially in a crime against national
interestwhichmustbestopped,andifpossible,stoppedpermanently.
Justastheaccusedisentitledtothepresumptionofinnocenceintheabsenceof
proof beyond reasonable doubt, so must a law be accorded the presumption of
constitutionalitywithoutthesamerequisitequantumofproof.
2. WON RA 7080 violates due process by dispensing with the reasonable doubt
standardincriminalprosecution
RA7080treatsconspiracyasmerelyamodeofincurringcriminalliability,butdoes
notcriminalizeitorpenalizeitperse.
3. WON RA 7080 is malum prohibitum, which abolishes the element of mens rea in
thepatternofcrimesconstitutedasplunder,evenifindividualcrimesrequiremens
rea
The acts constituting plunder are NOT innocent acts, they cannot be committed
sanscriminalintent.Evenifthatwerenotthecase,whetherplunderismalainse
or prohibita, it is the prerogative of the legislature to determine whether certain
actsarecriminalirrespectiveoftheactualintentoftheperpetrator.Petitionermust
notresorttolegalismstosavehimself,butratherdisprovethefactsofthecase,to
provehisconsciencetotheteemingmassesheclaimstolove.
SeeNotes.

Kapunan, J (dissenting)
1. WONRA7080isconstitutionalduetocontentionsofvagueness
Given the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death, the standards for clarity of this
lawmustbehigher.Vaguenessandoverbreadthshouldbeapplicablehereaswell,
sincewhatsatstakeisapersonslife,libertyandproperty.IntheUS,thesecases
wereallowed(ex:Springfieldv.Oklahoma).

a. Mensteepedinlawfinddifficultyinunderstandingplunder.PresidingJudgeof
Sandiganbayan, Justice Garchitorena, admits that the said court quarrels with
each other in finding ways to understand plunder. Senator Neptali Gonzales
admitstoitbeingvague.Fr.Bernasaskedthequestionofwhetheraseriesof
criminalactsisstillsoiftheelementsareprovedtobenotcriminal?
ThefactthatJusticeshavetoresorttothedictionaryaswellasthedeliberation
of the lawmakers only serve to prove RA 7080 failed to satisfy strict
constitutionalrequirementsofclarityanddefiniteness.
In most penal laws, series usually means a number or percentage must be
given,(ex:band-3ormore;conspiracy-2ormore)
Even the legislators have a dearth of focus to render precise the definition of
theterms.
Furthermore, the acts prohibited by RA 7080 are too vague and subject to
misinterpretation.(ex:misuseofpublicfundscouldmeanabuse,orsimplyan
administrativeerror)
The term pattern has not been defined, that with which we could distinguish
whatplunderisfromisolatedcriminalacts.Cantwoactsformapattern?
Notes that RA 7080 is patterned after the RICO Law, wherein pattern is not
definedexceptastothetimeoftheactscommittedinracketeering.However,
individual state laws define pattern their own way, which we have not yet
done. US Supreme Court rules this as continuity plus relationship. But what
is continuous? Time continuity, perhaps? What constitutes a relationship?
However, individual state laws define pattern their own way, which we have
notyetdone.JusticeScalianotedthatthesaiddefinitionincreasedvagueness
instead.
2. WON RA 7080 violates due process by dispensing with the reasonable doubt
standardincriminalprosecution
a. Beingaparticipantchargesyouwiththepenaltiesimposedontheplundereras
well,meaningadegreeofarbitraryenforcementofthelaw
3. WON RA 7080 is malum prohibitum, which abolishes the element of mens rea in
thepatternofcrimesconstitutedasplunder,evenifindividualcrimesrequiremens
rea
a. Why would a law punish a series of acts with death or reclusion perpetua is
by themselves individual acts are punishable merely by correctional penalties?
It shows cruel and inhuman punishment. Penalty would then be blatantly
disproportionatetotheoffense.
(ex: bribery with prision correcional plus fraud against public treasury with
prisioncorrecionalequalsplunderwithreclusionperpetuaordeath)
Goingbacktothefirstargument,whatconstitutesaseriesthatcouldeventually
costapersonhislife,libertyorproperty?Itshouldbedefined.
b. Lack of mens rea or a clarifying scienter (intent to wrongdoing) increases the
vaguenessofthestate,andeffectivelyrendersplunderasmalumprohibita.

The idea that petitioner is estopped from questioning the constitutionality of the
said Law because he was a signatory to it means that people could not question the
constitutionalityofanyLawbecauseitisarepresentativewhotheychosewhosignedfor
it.ThegoalbehindRA7080iscommendable,butthemeanstogettosaidgoalcouldbe
used as a tool against political enemies and a weapon of hate and revenge by whoever
wieldstheleverofpower.

Pardo, J (dissenting):
Noneedtoquestionconstitutionalityofthelaw.However,themultiplicityoftheoffenses
charged must be held instead of one offense only. We must prove that these singular
casesmusthavehadmensreaforthesingleoffenseofplundertobegranted.Nodeath
penalty,though.

Ynares-Santiago (dissenting):
Substantivedueprocessdictatesthatthereshouldbeclarityinanylawthatcouldpossibly
deprive a person of his life or liberty. If the law itself is not reasonable legislation, due
processisviolated.
1. WONRA7080isconstitutionalduetocontentionsofvagueness
Even members of the Senate who are illustrious lawyers found the Plunder Law
vague. Furthermore, the acts prohibited by RA 7080 are too vague and subject
tomisinterpretation.(ex:misuseofpublicfundscouldmeanabuse,orsimplyan
administrativeerror)
Series punishable by separate penal statutes, why the need to supply for the
missingelementsofanewcrimeofplunder?Thiswouldtakeoverthecorrectiveor
punitivelegislationfromtheCongress.Definitenessisadueprocessrequirement.
Due process commands that even though the governmental purpose is legitimate
andsubstantial,thepurposecannotbepursuedbyameanssovague.
Iftheguiltyintentiseliminated,eveninnocentactscanbeplunder.
(ex:misuseofpublicfundscouldmeanabuse,orsimplyanadministrativeerror)

Sandoval-Gutierrez (dissenting):
1. WONRA7080isconstitutionalduetocontentionsofvagueness
Individual crimes as means for plunder, meaning that if any two of the six
conditions are in place, the justices do not necessarily have to be in accordance
whichtwoarecorrect,theymerelyhavetoagreethattwoconditionsarepresent,
andthatresultstoaninstantconviction,leadingtothedeprivationofthelifeand
libertyoftheaccused.

RA 7080 is a means to make it convenient for law enforcement and the judiciary
system. Instead of many crimes, they will lumped into one huge crime. The
problem is, the crimes in themselves are not necessary, only the conspiracy to
committhem.
Pattern could mean time or relation. A pattern, an indefinite one at that, could
extend indefinitely, meaning that two acts, spaced decades apart, that would fall
undertheelementsforplunder,couldbelinkedandconvictionbemade.Acut-off
periodissuggested.
ThedisparityoftheProsecutionandOSGshowshowimpreciseseriesis.
Crimesarenottobecreatedbyinference.Wemustsetgroundrules.RA7080isa
novellaw,hencethegreaterneedforprecisionofterms.
Also, even if the amassed wealth equals or exceeds P50 M, a person cannot be
prosecutedifthereisonlyasinglecriminalact.

NOTES
Petitioner opened with a line about a befuddled law student who cannot make
headsortailsoutofthemeaningofseries,combinationandpattern.Solicitor-general,on
theotherhand,parodiesRA7080spurportedvaguenessbycomparingittothetailorsof
the emperors new clothes. Metaphorical illustration of pattern as a wheel with spokes
(theovertorcriminalacts)meetingatthecommoncenter(acquisitionofill-gottenwealth)
andwitharim(unlawfulconspiracy).