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Luis A. Tabuena, et al. vs.

Sandiganbayan (268 SCRA 332, February 17, 1997)


FACTS:
Then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos instructed Luis Tabuena, General Manager of the ManilaInternat
ional Airport Authority (MIAA), over the phone to pay directly to the president’soffice and in cash
what the MIAA owes the Phil. National Construction Corp. The verbalinstruction was reiterated in
a Presidential memorandum.In obedience to Pres. Marcos’ instruction, Tabuena, with the help of
Gerardo Dabao
andAdolfo Peralta, the Asst. Gen. Mgr. and the Acting Finance Services Mgr. of MIAA,res
pectively, caused the release of P55M of MIAA funds of three (3) withdrawals anddelivered the
money to Mrs. Fe Roa-Gimenez, private secretary of Marcos. Gimenez issueda receipt for all the
amounts she received from Tabuena. Later, it turned out that PNCCnever received the money.The
case involves two (2) separate petitions for review by Luis Tabuena and Adolfo Peralta.They appeal the
Sandiganbayan decision convicting them of malversation of MIAA funds inthe amount of
P55M.Further, petitioners claimed that they were charged with intentional malversation, asalle
ged in the amended information, but it would appear that they were convicted formalversation
with negligence. Hence, their conviction of a crime different from that chargedviolated their constitutional
right to be informed of the accusation.
ISSUE:
(1)W hether or not the Sandiganbayan convicted them of a crime not charged in
theamended information; and(2)W hether or not Tabuena and Peralta acted in good faith.
HELD:
(1)No. Malversation is committed either intentionally or by negligence. The
dolo
or the
culpa
present in the offense is only a modality in the perpetration of the felony. Even if the mode charged differs
from the mode proved, the same offense of malversation isinvolved.(2)Yes. Tabuena acted in strict
compliance with the MARCOS Mem orandum. The order emanated from the
Office of the President
and bears the signature of the Presidenthimself, the highest official of the land. It carries with it the
presumption that it wasregularly issued. And on its face, the memorandum is patently lawful for no law
makesthe payment of an obligation illegal. This fact, coupled with the urgent tenor for its execution
constrains one to act swiftly without question.However, a more compelling reason for the ACQUITTAL
is the violation of the accused'sbasic constitutional right to due process. Records show that the
Sandiganbayan activelytook part in the questioning of a defense witness and of the accused
themselves.
Thequestions of the court were in the nature of cross exam inations characteristic of confro
ntation, probing and insinuation. Tabuena and Peralta may not have raised the issueas an error, there is
nevertheless no impediment for the court to consider such matter as additional basis for a reversal
since the settled doctrine is that an appeal throws the wholecase open to review, and it becomes the duty
of the appellate court to correct such errorsas may be found in the judgment appealed from whether
they are made the subject of assignments of error or not.The "
cold neutrality of an impartial judge
" requirement of due process was certainly deniedTabuena and Peralta when the court, with its
overzealousness, assumed the dual role of magistrate and advocate. Time and again the Court has
declared that due process requiresno less than the cold neutrality of an impartial judge. That the
judge must not only beimpartial but must also appear to be impartial, to give added assurance to the
parties thathis decision will be just. The parties are entitled to no less than this,
as a minimumguaranty of due process.HENCE, Luis Tabuena and Adolfo Peralta are acquitted of the
crime of malversation

He [the judge] may properly intervene in a trial of a case to promote expedition, and prevent unnecessary
waste of time, or to clear up some obscurity, but he should bear in mind that his undue interference,
impatience, or participation in the examination of witnesses, or a severe attitude on his part toward
witnesses, especially those who are excited or terrified by the unusual circumstances of a trial, may tend
to prevent the proper presentation of the cause, or the ascertainment of the truth in respect thereto.
The impartiality of the judge his avoidance of the appearance of becoming the advocate of either one side
or the other of the pending controversy is a fundamental and essential rule of special importance in
criminal cases...

Our courts, while never unmindful of their primary duty to administer justice, without fear or favor, and to
dispose of these cases speedily and in as inexpensive a manner as is possible for the court and the
parties, should refrain from showing any semblance of one-sided or more or less partial attitude in order
not to create any false impression in the minds of the litigants. For obvious reasons, it is the bounden duty
of all to strive for the preservation of the peoples faith in our courts.

Time and again this Court has declared that due process requires no less than the cold neutrality of an
impartial judge. Bolstering this requirement, we have added that the judge must not only be impartial but
must also appear to be impartial, to give added assurance to the parties that his decision will be just. The
parties are entitled to no less than this, as a minimum guaranty of due process.

We are well aware of the fear entertained by some that this decision may set a dangerous precedent
in that those guilty of enriching themselves at the expense of the public would be able to escape criminal
liability by the mere expedient of invoking good faith. It must never be forgotten, however, that we render
justice on a case to case basis, always in consideration of the evidence that is presented. Thus, where
the evidence warrants an acquittal, as in this case, we are mandated not only by the dictates of law but
likewise of conscience to grant the same. On the other hand, it does not follow that all those similarly
accused will necessarily be acquitted upon reliance on this case as a precedent. For the decision in this
case to be a precedent, the peculiar circumstances and the evidence that led to the petitioners acquittal
must also be present in subsequent cases.