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[G.R. No. 126995. October 6, 1998]

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 Justice Balajadia and Justice 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 Sandiganbayan to include Justices 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 Sandiganbayan 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 Sandiganbayan en banc ruled
against Imelda.

Whether or not due process has been observed.

The SC ruled that the ruling of the Sandiganbayan 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.