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G.R. No. 126995 – 247 SCRA 127 – Political Law – Due Process
Imelda was charged together with Jose Dans for Graft & Corruption for a dubious transaction done in 1984 while they were officers transacting business with the Light Railway Transit. The case was raffled to the 1st Division of the Sandiganbayan. The division was headed by Justice Garchitorena with J Balajadia and J Atienza as associate justices. No decision was reached by the division by reason of Atienza’s dissent in favor of Imelda’s innocence. Garchitorena then summoned a special division of the SB to include JJ Amores and Cipriano as additional members. Amores then asked Garchitorena to be given 15 days to send in his manifestation. On the date of Amores’ request, Garchitorena received manifestation from J Balajadia stating that he agrees with J Rosario who further agrees with J Atienza. Garchitorena then issued a special order to immediately dissolve the special division and have the issue be raised to the SB en banc for it would already be pointless to wait for Amores’ manifestation granted that a majority has already decided on Imelda’s favor. The SB en banc ruled against Imelda.
ISSUE: Whether or not due process has been observed.
HELD: The SC ruled that the ruling of the SB is bereft of merit as there was no strong showing of Imelda’s guilt. The SC further emphasized that Imelda was deprived of due process by reason of Garchitorena not waiting for Amores’ manifestation. Such procedural flaws committed by respondent Sandiganbayan are fatal to the validity of its “decision” convicting petitioner. Garchitorena had already created the Special Division of five (5) justices in view of the lack of unanimity of the three (3) justices in the First Division. At that stage, petitioner had a vested right to be heard by the five (5) justices, especially the new justices in the persons of Justices Amores and del Rosario who may have a different view of the cases against her. At that point, Presiding Justice Garchitorena and Justice Balajadia may change their mind and agree with the original opinion of Justice Atienza but the turnaround cannot deprive petitioner of her vested right to the opinion of Justices Amores and del Rosario. It may be true that Justice del Rosario had already expressed his opinion during an informal, unscheduled meeting in the unnamed restaurant but as aforestated, that opinion is not the opinion contemplated by law. But what is more, petitioner was denied the opinion of Justice Amores for before it could be given, Presiding Justice Garchitorena dissolved the Special Division.