JOSEPH EJERCITO ESTRADA, petitioner, vs. SANDIGANBAYAN (Third Division) and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
JOHN STUART MILL, in his essay On Liberty, unleashes the full fury of his pen in defense of the rights of the individual from the vast powers of the State and the inroads of societal pressure. But even as he draws a sacrosanct line demarcating the limits on individuality beyond which the State cannot tread - asserting that "individual spontaneity" must be allowed to flourish with very little regard to social interference - he veritably acknowledges that the exercise of rights and liberties is imbued with a civic obligation, which society is justified in enforcing at all cost, against those who would endeavor to withhold fulfillment. Thus he says -
The sole end for which mankind is warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.
Parallel to individual liberty is the natural and illimitable right of the State to self-preservation. With the end of maintaining the integrity and cohesiveness of the body politic, it behooves the State to formulate a system of laws that would compel obeisance to its collective wisdom and inflict punishment for non-observance.
The movement from Mill's individual liberalism to unsystematic collectivism wrought changes in the social order, carrying with it a new formulation of fundamental rights and duties more attuned to the imperatives of contemporary socio-political ideologies. In the process, the web of rights and State impositions became tangled and obscured, enmeshed in threads of multiple shades and colors, the skein irregular and broken. Antagonism, often outright collision, between the law as the expression of the will of the State, and the zealous attempts by its members to preserve their individuality and dignity, inevitably followed. It is when individual rights are pitted against State authority that judicial conscience is put to its severest test.
Petitioner Joseph Ejercito Estrada, the highest-ranking official to be prosecuted under RA 7080 (An Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder), as amended by RA 7659, wishes to impress upon us that the assailed law is so defectively fashioned that it crosses that thin but distinct line which divides the valid from the constitutionally infirm. He therefore makes a stringent call for this Court to subject the Plunder Law to the crucible of constitutionality mainly because, according to him, (a) it suffers from the vice of vagueness; (b) it dispenses with the "reasonable doubt" standard in criminal prosecutions; and, (c) it abolishes the element of mens rea in crimes already punishable under The Revised Penal Code, all of which are purportedly clear violations of the fundamental rights of the accused to due process and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him.
Specifically, the provisions of the Plunder Law claimed by petitioner to have transgressed constitutional boundaries are Secs. 1, par. (d), 2 and 4 which are reproduced hereunder:
Section 1. x x x x (d) "Ill-gotten wealth" means any asset, property, business, enterprise or material possession of any person within the purview of Section Two (2) hereof, acquired by him directly or indirectly through dummies, nominees, agents, subordinates and/or business associates by any combination or series of the following means or similar schemes:
(1) Through misappropriation, conversion, misuse, or malversation of public funds or raids on the public treasury;
(2) By receiving, directly or indirectly, any commission, gift, share, percentage, kickbacks or any other form of pecuniary benefit from any person and/or entity in connection with any government contract or project or by reason of the office or position of the public office concerned;
(3) By the illegal or fraudulent conveyance or disposition of assets belonging to the National Government or any of its subdivisions, agencies or instrumentalities, or government owned or controlled corporations and their subsidiaries;
(4) By obtaining, receiving or accepting directly or indirectly any shares of stock, equity or any other form of interest or participation including the promise of future employment in any business enterprise or undertaking;
(5) By establishing agricultural, industrial or commercial monopolies or other combinations and/or implementation of decrees and orders intended to benefit particular persons or special interests; or
(6) By taking advantage of official position, authority, relationship, connection or influence to unjustly enrich himself or themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines.
Section 2. Definition of the Crime of Plunder, Penalties. - Any public officer who, by himself or in connivance with members of his family, relatives by affinity or consanguinity, business associates, subordinates or other persons, amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts as described in Section 1 (d) hereof, in the aggregate amount or total value of at least fifty million pesos (P50,000,000.00) shall be guilty of the crime of plunder and shall be punished by reclusion perpetua to death. Any person who participated with the said public officer in the commission of an offense contributing to the crime of plunder shall likewise be punished for such offense. In the imposition of penalties, the degree of participation and the attendance of mitigating and extenuating circumstances as provided by the Revised Penal Code shall be considered by the court. The court shall declare any and all ill-gotten wealth and their interests and other incomes and assets including the properties and shares of stocks derived from the deposit or investment thereof forfeited in favor of the State (underscoring supplied).
Section 4. Rule of Evidence. - For purposes of establishing the crime of plunder, it shall not be necessary to prove each and every criminal act done by the accused in furtherance of the scheme or conspiracy to amass, accumulate or acquire ill-gotten wealth, it being sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt a pattern of overt or criminal acts indicative of the overall unlawful scheme or conspiracy (underscoring supplied).
On 4 April 2001 the Office of the Ombudsman filed before the Sandiganbayan eight (8) separate Informations, docketed as: (a) Crim. Case No. 26558, for violation of RA 7080, as amended by RA 7659; (b) Crim. Cases Nos. 26559 to 26562, inclusive, for violation of Secs. 3, par. (a), 3, par. (a), 3, par. (e) and 3, par. (e), of RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), respectively; (c) Crim. Case No. 26563, for violation of Sec. 7, par. (d), of RA 6713 (The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees); (d) Crim. Case No. 26564, for Perjury (Art. 183 of The Revised Penal Code); and, (e) Crim. Case No. 26565, for Illegal Use Of An Alias (CA No. 142, as amended by RA 6085).
On 11 April 2001 petitioner filed an Omnibus Motion for the remand of the case to the Ombudsman for preliminary investigation with respect to specification "d" of the charges in the Information in Crim. Case No. 26558; and, for reconsideration/reinvestigation of the offenses under specifications "a," "b," and "c" to give the accused an opportunity to file counter-affidavits and other documents necessary to prove lack of probable cause. Noticeably, the grounds raised were only lack of preliminary investigation, reconsideration/reinvestigation of offenses, and opportunity to prove lack of probable cause. The purported ambiguity of the charges and the vagueness of the law under which they are charged were never raised in that Omnibus Motion thus indicating the explicitness and comprehensibility of the Plunder Law.
On 25 April 2001 the Sandiganbayan, Third Division, issued a Resolution in Crim. Case No. 26558 finding that "a probable cause for the offense of PLUNDER exists to justify the issuance of warrants for the arrest of the accused." On 25 June 2001 petitioner's motion for reconsideration was denied by the Sandiganbayan.
On 14 June 2001 petitioner moved to quash the Information in Crim. Case No. 26558 on the ground that the facts alleged therein did not constitute an indictable offense since the law on which it was based was unconstitutional for vagueness, and that the Amended Information for Plunder charged more than one (1) offense. On 21 June 2001 the Government filed its Opposition to the Motion to Quash, and five (5) days later or on 26 June 2001 petitioner submitted his Reply to the Opposition. On 9 July 2001 the Sandiganbayan denied petitioner's Motion to Quash.
As concisely delineated by this Court during the oral arguments on 18 September 2001, the issues for resolution in the instant petition for certiorari are: (a) The Plunder Law is unconstitutional for being vague; (b) The Plunder Law requires less evidence for proving the predicate crimes of plunder and therefore violates the rights of the accused to due process; and, (c) Whether Plunder as defined in RA 7080 is a malum prohibitum, and if so, whether it is within the power of Congress to so classify it.
Preliminarily, the whole gamut of legal concepts pertaining to the validity of legislation is predicated on the basic principle that a legislative measure is presumed to be in harmony with the Constitution. Courts invariably train their sights on this fundamental rule whenever a legislative act is under a constitutional attack, for it is the postulate of constitutional adjudication. This strong predilection for constitutionality takes its bearings on the idea that it is forbidden for one branch of the government to encroach upon the duties and powers of another. Thus it has been said that the presumption is based on the deference the judicial branch accords to its coordinate branch - the legislature.
If there is any reasonable basis upon which the legislation may firmly rest, the courts must assume that the legislature is ever conscious of the borders and edges of its plenary powers, and has passed the law with full knowledge of the facts and for the purpose of promoting what is right and advancing the welfare of the majority. Hence in determining whether the acts of the legislature are in tune with the fundamental law, courts should proceed with judicial restraint and act with caution and forbearance. Every intendment of the law must be adjudged by the courts in favor of its constitutionality, invalidity being a measure of last resort. In construing therefore the provisions of a statute, courts must first ascertain whether an interpretation is fairly possible to sidestep the question of constitutionality.
In La Union Credit Cooperative, Inc. v. Yaranon we held that as long as there is some basis for the decision of the court, the constitutionality of the challenged law will not be touched and the case will be decided on other available grounds. Yet the force of the presumption is not sufficient to catapult a fundamentally deficient law into the safe environs of constitutionality. Of course, where the law clearly and palpably transgresses the hallowed domain of the organic law, it must be struck down on sight lest the positive commands of the fundamental law be unduly eroded.
Verily, the onerous task of rebutting the presumption weighs heavily on the party challenging the validity of the statute. He must demonstrate beyond any tinge of doubt that there is indeed an infringement of the constitution, for absent such a showing, there can be no finding of unconstitutionality. A doubt, even if well-founded, will hardly suffice. As tersely put by Justice Malcolm, "To doubt is to sustain." And petitioner has miserably failed in the instant case to discharge his burden and overcome the presumption of constitutionality of the Plunder Law.
As it is written, the Plunder Law contains ascertainable standards and well-defined parameters which would enable the accused to determine the nature of his violation. Section 2 is sufficiently explicit in its description of the acts, conduct and conditions required or forbidden, and prescribes the elements of the crime with reasonable certainty and particularity. Thus -
1. That the offender is a public officer who acts by himself or in connivance with members of his family, relatives by affinity or consanguinity, business associates, subordinates or other persons;
2. That he amassed, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of the following overt or criminal acts: (a) through misappropriation, conversion, misuse, or malversation of public funds or raids on the public treasury; (b) by receiving, directly or indirectly, any commission, gift, share, percentage, kickback or any other form of pecuniary benefits from any person and/or entity in connection with any government contract or project or by reason of the office or position of the public officer; (c) by the illegal or fraudulent conveyance or disposition of assets belonging to the National Government or any of its subdivisions, agencies or instrumentalities of Government owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries; (d) by obtaining, receiving or accepting directly or indirectly any shares of stock, equity or any other form of interest or participation including the promise of future employment in any business enterprise or undertaking; (e) by establishing agricultural, industrial or commercial monopolies or other combinations and/or implementation of decrees and orders intended to benefit particular persons or special interests; or (f) by taking advantage of official position, authority, relationship, connection or influence to unjustly enrich himself or themselves at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines; and,
3. That the aggregate amount or total value of the ill-gotten wealth amassed, accumulated or acquired is at least P50,000,000.00.
As long as the law affords some comprehensible guide or rule that would inform those who are subject to it what conduct would render them liable to its penalties, its validity will be sustained. It must sufficiently guide the judge in its application; the counsel, in defending one charged with its violation; and more importantly, the accused, in identifying the realm of the proscribed conduct. Indeed, it can be understood with little difficulty that what the assailed statute punishes is the act of a public officer in amassing or accumulating ill-gotten wealth of at least P50,000,000.00 through a series or combination of acts enumerated in Sec. 1, par. (d), of the Plunder Law.
In fact, the amended Information itself closely tracks the language of the law, indicating with reasonable certainty the various elements of the offense which petitioner is alleged to have committed:
"The undersigned Ombudsman, Prosecutor and OIC-Director, EPIB, Office of the Ombudsman, hereby accuses former PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, a.k.a. 'ASIONG SALONGA' and a.k.a. 'JOSE VELARDE,' together with Jose 'Jinggoy' Estrada, Charlie 'Atong' Ang, Edward Serapio, Yolanda T. Ricaforte, Alma Alfaro, JOHN DOE a.k.a. Eleuterio Tan OR Eleuterio Ramos Tan or Mr. Uy, Jane Doe a.k.a. Delia Rajas, and John DOES & Jane Does, of the crime of Plunder, defined and penalized under R.A. No. 7080, as amended by Sec. 12 of R.A. No. 7659, committed as follows:
That during the period from June, 1998 to January 2001, in the Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, accused Joseph Ejercito Estrada, THEN A PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, by himself AND/OR in CONNIVANCE/CONSPIRACY with his co-accused, WHO ARE MEMBERS OF HIS FAMILY, RELATIVES BY AFFINITY OR CONSANGUINITY, BUSINESS ASSOCIATES, SUBORDINATES AND/OR OTHER PERSONS, BY TAKING UNDUE ADVANTAGE OF HIS OFFICIAL POSITION, AUTHORITY, RELATIONSHIP, CONNECTION, OR INFLUENCE, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and criminally amass, accumulate and acquire BY HIMSELF, DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, ill-gotten wealth in the aggregate amount or TOTAL VALUE of FOUR BILLION NINETY SEVEN MILLION EIGHT HUNDRED FOUR THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY THREE PESOS AND SEVENTEEN CENTAVOS (P4,097,804,173.17), more or less, THEREBY UNJUSTLY ENRICHING HIMSELF OR THEMSELVES AT THE EXPENSE AND TO THE DAMAGE OF THE FILIPINO PEOPLE AND THE REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, through ANY OR A combination OR A series of overt OR criminal acts, OR SIMILAR SCHEMES OR MEANS, described as follows:
(a) by receiving OR collecting, directly or indirectly, on SEVERAL INSTANCES, MONEY IN THE AGGREGATE AMOUNT OF FIVE HUNDRED FORTY-FIVE MILLION PESOS (P545,000,000.00), MORE OR LESS, FROM ILLEGAL GAMBLING IN THE FORM OF GIFT, SHARE, PERCENTAGE, KICKBACK OR ANY FORM OF PECUNIARY BENEFIT, BY HIMSELF AND/OR in connection with co-accused CHARLIE 'ATONG' ANG, Jose 'Jinggoy' Estrada, Yolanda T. Ricaforte, Edward Serapio, AND JOHN DOES AND JANE DOES, in consideration OF TOLERATION OR PROTECTION OF ILLEGAL GAMBLING;
(b) by DIVERTING, RECEIVING, misappropriating, converting OR misusing DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, for HIS OR THEIR PERSONAL gain and benefit, public funds in the amount of ONE HUNDRED THIRTY MILLION PESOS (P130,000,000.00), more or less, representing a portion of the TWO HUNDRED MILLION PESOS (P200,000,000.00) tobacco excise tax share allocated for the province of Ilocos Sur under R.A. No. 7171, by himself and/or in connivance with co-accused Charlie 'Atong' Ang, Alma Alfaro, JOHN DOE a.k.a. Eleuterio Ramos Tan or Mr. Uy, Jane Doe a.k.a. Delia Rajas, AND OTHER JOHN DOES & JANE DOES; (italic supplied).
(c) by directing, ordering and compelling, FOR HIS PERSONAL GAIN AND BENEFIT, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) TO PURCHASE 351,878,000 SHARES OF STOCKS, MORE OR LESS, and the Social Security System (SSS), 329,855,000 SHARES OF STOCK, MORE OR LESS, OF THE BELLE CORPORATION IN THE AMOUNT OF MORE OR LESS ONE BILLION ONE HUNDRED TWO MILLION NINE HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED SEVEN PESOS AND FIFTY CENTAVOS (P1,102,965,607.50) AND MORE OR LESS SEVEN HUNDRED FORTY FOUR MILLION SIX HUNDRED TWELVE THOUSAND AND FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY PESOS (P744,612,450.00), RESPECTIVELY, OR A TOTAL OF MORE OR LESS ONE BILLION EIGHT HUNDRED FORTY SEVEN MILLION FIVE HUNDRED SEVENTY EIGHT THOUSAND FIFTY SEVEN PESOS AND FIFTY CENTAVOS (P1,847,578,057.50); AND BY COLLECTING OR RECEIVING, DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, BY HIMSELF AND/OR IN CONNIVANCE WITH JOHN DOES AND JANE DOES, COMMISSIONS OR PERCENTAGES BY REASON OF SAID PURCHASES OF SHARES OF STOCK IN THE AMOUNT OF ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY NINE MILLION SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS (P189,700,000.00) MORE OR LESS, FROM THE BELLE CORPORATION WHICH BECAME PART OF THE DEPOSIT IN THE EQUITABLE-PCI BANK UNDER THE ACCOUNT NAME 'JOSE VELARDE;'
(d) by unjustly enriching himself FROM COMMISSIONS, GIFTS, SHARES, PERCENTAGES, KICKBACKS, OR ANY FORM OF PECUNIARY BENEFITS, IN CONNIVANCE WITH JOHN DOES AND JANE DOES, in the amount of MORE OR LESS THREE BILLION TWO HUNDRED THIRTY THREE MILLION ONE HUNDRED FOUR THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY THREE PESOS AND SEVENTEEN CENTAVOS (P3,233,104,173.17) AND DEPOSITING THE SAME UNDER HIS ACCOUNT NAME 'JOSE VELARDE' AT THE EQUITABLE-PCI BANK."
We discern nothing in the foregoing that is vague or ambiguous - as there is obviously none - that will confuse petitioner in his defense. Although subject to proof, these factual assertions clearly show that the elements of the crime are easily understood and provide adequate contrast between the innocent and the prohibited acts. Upon such unequivocal assertions, petitioner is completely informed of the accusations against him as to enable him to prepare for an intelligent defense.
Petitioner, however, bewails the failure of the law to provide for the statutory definition of the terms "combination" and "series" in the key phrase "a combination or series of overt or criminal acts" found in Sec. 1, par. (d), and Sec. 2, and the word "pattern" in Sec. 4. These omissions, according to petitioner, render the Plunder Law unconstitutional for being impermissibly vague and overbroad and deny him the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, hence, violative of his fundamental right to due process.
The rationalization seems to us to be pure sophistry. A statute is not rendered uncertain and void merely because general terms are used therein, or because of the employment of terms without defining them; much less do we have to define every word we use. Besides, there is no positive constitutional or statutory command requiring the legislature to define each and every word in an enactment. Congress is not restricted in the form of expression of its will, and its inability to so define the words employed in a statute will not necessarily result in the vagueness or ambiguity of the law so long as the legislative will is clear, or at least, can be gathered from the whole act, which is distinctly expressed in the Plunder Law.
Moreover, it is a well-settled principle of legal hermeneutics that words of a statute will be interpreted in their natural, plain and ordinary acceptation and signification, unless it is evident that the legislature intended a technical or special legal meaning to those words. The intention of the lawmakers - who are, ordinarily, untrained philologists and lexicographers - to use statutory phraseology in such a manner is always presumed. Thus, Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary contains the following commonly accepted definition of the words "combination" and "series:"
Combination - the result or product of combining; the act or process of combining. To combine is to bring into such close relationship as to obscure individual characters.
Series - a number of things or events of the same class coming one after another in spatial and temporal succession.
That Congress intended the words "combination" and "series" to be understood in their popular meanings is pristinely evident from the legislative deliberations on the bill which eventually became RA 7080 or the Plunder Law:
DELIBERATIONS OF THE BICAMERAL COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE, 7 May 1991
REP. ISIDRO: I am just intrigued again by our definition of plunder. We say THROUGH A COMBINATION OR SERIES OF OVERT OR CRIMINAL ACTS AS MENTIONED IN SECTION ONE HEREOF. Now when we say combination, we actually mean to say, if there are two or more means, we mean to say that number one and two or number one and something else are included, how about a series of the same act? For example, through misappropriation, conversion, misuse, will these be included also?
REP. GARCIA: Yeah, because we say a series.
REP. ISIDRO: Series.
REP. GARCIA: Yeah, we include series.
REP. ISIDRO: But we say we begin with a combination.
REP. GARCIA: Yes.
REP. ISIDRO: When we say combination, it seems that -
REP. GARCIA: Two.
REP. ISIDRO: Not only two but we seem to mean that two of the enumerated means not twice of one enumeration.
REP. GARCIA: No, no, not twice.
REP. ISIDRO: Not twice?
REP. GARCIA: Yes. Combination is not twice - but combination, two acts.
REP. ISIDRO: So in other words, that’s it. When we say combination, we mean, two different acts. It cannot be a repetition of the same act.
REP. GARCIA: That be referred to series, yeah.
REP. ISIDRO: No, no. Supposing one act is repeated, so there are two.
REP. GARCIA: A series.
REP. ISIDRO: That’s not series. Its a combination. Because when we say combination or series, we seem to say that two or more, di ba?
REP. GARCIA: Yes, this distinguishes it really from ordinary crimes. That is why, I said, that is a very good suggestion because if it is only one act, it may fall under ordinary crime but we have here a combination or series of overt or criminal acts. So x x x x
REP. GARCIA: Series. One after the other eh di....
SEN. TANADA: So that would fall under the term “series?”
REP. GARCIA: Series, oo.
REP. ISIDRO: Now, if it is a combination, ano, two misappropriations....
REP. GARCIA: Its not... Two misappropriations will not be combination. Series.
REP. ISIDRO: So, it is not a combination?
REP. GARCIA: Yes.
REP. ISIDRO: When you say combination, two different?
REP. GARCIA: Yes.
SEN. TANADA: Two different.
REP. ISIDRO: Two different acts.
REP. GARCIA: For example, ha...
REP. ISIDRO: Now a series, meaning, repetition...
DELIBERATIONS ON SENATE BILL NO. 733, 6 June 1989
SENATOR MACEDA: In line with our interpellations that sometimes “one” or maybe even “two” acts may already result in such a big amount, on line 25, would the Sponsor consider deleting the words “a series of overt or,” to read, therefore: “or conspiracy COMMITTED by criminal acts such as.” Remove the idea of necessitating “a series.” Anyway, the criminal acts are in the plural.
SENATOR TANADA: That would mean a combination of two or more of the acts mentioned in this.
THE PRESIDENT: Probably two or more would be....
SENATOR MACEDA: Yes, because “a series” implies several or many; two or more.
SENATOR TANADA: Accepted, Mr. President x x x x
THE PRESIDENT: If there is only one, then he has to be prosecuted under the particular crime. But when we say “acts of plunder” there should be, at least, two or more.
SENATOR ROMULO: In other words, that is already covered by existing laws, Mr. President.
Thus when the Plunder Law speaks of "combination," it is referring to at least two (2) acts falling under different categories of enumeration provided in Sec. 1, par. (d), e.g., raids on the public treasury in Sec. 1, par. (d), subpar. (1), and fraudulent conveyance of assets belonging to the National Government under Sec. 1, par. (d), subpar. (3).
On the other hand, to constitute a series" there must be two (2) or more overt or criminal acts falling under the same category of enumeration found in Sec. 1, par. (d), say, misappropriation, malversation and raids on the public treasury, all of which fall under Sec. 1, par. (d), subpar. (1). Verily, had the legislature intended a technical or distinctive meaning for "combination" and "series," it would have taken greater pains in specifically providing for it in the law.
As for "pattern," we agree with the observations of the Sandiganbayan that this term is sufficiently defined in Sec. 4, in relation to Sec. 1, par. (d), and Sec. 2 -
x x x x under Sec. 1 (d) of the law, a 'pattern' consists of at least a combination or series of overt or criminal acts enumerated in subsections (1) to (6) of Sec. 1 (d). Secondly, pursuant to Sec. 2 of the law, the pattern of overt or criminal acts is directed towards a common purpose or goal which is to enable the public officer to amass, accumulate or acquire ill-gotten wealth. And thirdly, there must either be an 'overall unlawful scheme' or 'conspiracy' to achieve said common goal. As commonly understood, the term 'overall unlawful scheme' indicates a 'general plan of action or method' which the principal accused and public officer and others conniving with him follow to achieve the aforesaid common goal. In the alternative, if there is no such overall scheme or where the schemes or methods used by multiple accused vary, the overt or criminal acts must form part of a conspiracy to attain a common goal.
Hence, it cannot plausibly be contended that the law does not give a fair warning and sufficient notice of what it seeks to penalize. Under the circumstances, petitioner's reliance on the "void-for-vagueness" doctrine is manifestly misplaced. The doctrine has been formulated in various ways, but is most commonly stated to the effect that a statute establishing a criminal offense must define the offense with sufficient definiteness that persons of ordinary intelligence can understand what conduct is prohibited by the statute. It can only be invoked against that specie of legislation that is utterly vague on its face, i.e., that which cannot be clarified either by a saving clause or by construction.
A statute or act may be said to be vague when it lacks comprehensible standards that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ in its application. In such instance, the statute is repugnant to the Constitution in two (2) respects - it violates due process for failure to accord persons, especially the parties targeted by it, fair notice of what conduct to avoid; and, it leaves law enforcers unbridled discretion in carrying out its provisions and becomes an arbitrary flexing of the Government muscle. But the doctrine does not apply as against legislations that are merely couched in imprecise language but which nonetheless specify a standard though defectively phrased; or to those that are apparently ambiguous yet fairly applicable to certain types of activities. The first may be "saved" by proper construction, while no challenge may be mounted as against the second whenever directed against such activities. With more reason, the doctrine cannot be invoked where the assailed statute is clear and free from ambiguity, as in this case.
The test in determining whether a criminal statute is void for uncertainty is whether the language conveys a sufficiently definite warning as to the proscribed conduct when measured by common understanding and practice. It must be stressed, however, that the "vagueness" doctrine merely requires a reasonable degree of certainty for the statute to be upheld - not absolute precision or mathematical exactitude, as petitioner seems to suggest. Flexibility, rather than meticulous specificity, is permissible as long as the metes and bounds of the statute are clearly delineated. An act will not be held invalid merely because it might have been more explicit in its wordings or detailed in its provisions, especially where, because of the nature of the act, it would be impossible to provide all the details in advance as in all other statutes.
Moreover, we agree with, hence we adopt, the observations of Mr. Justice Vicente V. Mendoza during the deliberations of the Court that the allegations that the Plunder Law is vague and overbroad do not justify a facial review of its validity -
The void-for-vagueness doctrine states that "a statute which either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application, violates the first essential of due process of law." The overbreadth doctrine, on the other hand, decrees that "a governmental purpose may not be achieved by means which sweep unnecessarily broadly and thereby invade the area of protected freedoms."
A facial challenge is allowed to be made to a vague statute and to one which is overbroad because of possible "chilling effect" upon protected speech. The theory is that "[w]hen statutes regulate or proscribe speech and no readily apparent construction suggests itself as a vehicle for rehabilitating the statutes in a single prosecution, the transcendent value to all society of constitutionally protected expression is deemed to justify allowing attacks on overly broad statutes with no requirement that the person making the attack demonstrate that his own conduct could not be regulated by a statute drawn with narrow specificity." The possible harm to society in permitting some unprotected speech to go unpunished is outweighed by the possibility that the protected speech of others may be deterred and perceived grievances left to fester because of possible inhibitory effects of overly broad statutes.
This rationale does not apply to penal statutes. Criminal statutes have general in terrorem effect resulting from their very existence, and, if facial challenge is allowed for this reason alone, the State may well be prevented from enacting laws against socially harmful conduct. In the area of criminal law, the law cannot take chances as in the area of free speech.
The overbreadth and vagueness doctrines then have special application only to free speech cases. They are inapt for testing the validity of penal statutes. As the U.S. Supreme Court put it, in an opinion by Chief Justice Rehnquist, "we have not recognized an 'overbreadth' doctrine outside the limited context of the First Amendment." In Broadrick v. Oklahoma, the Court ruled that "claims of facial overbreadth have been entertained in cases involving statutes which, by their terms, seek to regulate only spoken words" and, again, that "overbreadth claims, if entertained at all, have been curtailed when invoked against ordinary criminal laws that are sought to be applied to protected conduct." For this reason, it has been held that "a facial challenge to a legislative act is the most difficult challenge to mount successfully, since the challenger must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid." As for the vagueness doctrine, it is said that a litigant may challenge a statute on its face only if it is vague in all its possible applications. "A plaintiff who engages in some conduct that is clearly proscribed cannot complain of the vagueness of the law as applied to the conduct of others."
In sum, the doctrines of strict scrutiny, overbreadth, and vagueness are analytical tools developed for testing "on their faces" statutes in free speech cases or, as they are called in American law, First Amendment cases. They cannot be made to do service when what is involved is a criminal statute. With respect to such statute, the established rule is that "one to whom application of a statute is constitutional will not be heard to attack the statute on the ground that impliedly it might also be taken as applying to other persons or other situations in which its application might be unconstitutional." As has been pointed out, "vagueness challenges in the First Amendment context, like overbreadth challenges typically produce facial invalidation, while statutes found vague as a matter of due process typically are invalidated [only] 'as applied' to a particular defendant." Consequently, there is no basis for petitioner's claim that this Court review the Anti-Plunder Law on its face and in its entirety.
Indeed, "on its face" invalidation of statutes results in striking them down entirely on the ground that they might be applied to parties not before the Court whose activities are constitutionally protected. It constitutes a departure from the case and controversy requirement of the Constitution and permits decisions to be made without concrete factual settings and in sterile abstract contexts. But, as the U.S. Supreme Court pointed out in Younger v. Harris
[T]he task of analyzing a proposed statute, pinpointing its deficiencies, and requiring correction of these deficiencies before the statute is put into effect, is rarely if ever an appropriate task for the judiciary. The combination of the relative remoteness of the controversy, the impact on the legislative process of the relief sought, and above all the speculative and amorphous nature of the required line-by-line analysis of detailed statutes, . . . ordinarily results in a kind of case that is wholly unsatisfactory for deciding constitutional questions, whichever way they might be decided.
For these reasons, "on its face" invalidation of statutes has been described as "manifestly strong medicine," to be employed "sparingly and only as a last resort," and is generally disfavored. In determining the constitutionality of a statute, therefore, its provisions which are alleged to have been violated in a case must be examined in the light of the conduct with which the defendant is charged.
In light of the foregoing disquisition, it is evident that the purported ambiguity of the Plunder Law, so tenaciously claimed and argued at length by petitioner, is more imagined than real. Ambiguity, where none exists, cannot be created by dissecting parts and words in the statute to furnish support to critics who cavil at the want of scientific precision in the law. Every provision of the law should be construed in relation and with reference to every other part. To be sure, it will take more than nitpicking to overturn the well-entrenched presumption of constitutionality and validity of the Plunder Law. A fortiori, petitioner cannot feign ignorance of what the Plunder Law is all about. Being one of the Senators who voted for its passage, petitioner must be aware that the law was extensively deliberated upon by the Senate and its appropriate committees by reason of which he even registered his affirmative vote with full knowledge of its legal implications and sound constitutional anchorage.
The parallel case of Gallego v. Sandiganbayan must be mentioned if only to illustrate and emphasize the point that courts are loathed to declare a statute void for uncertainty unless the law itself is so imperfect and deficient in its details, and is susceptible of no reasonable construction that will support and give it effect. In that case, petitioners Gallego and Agoncillo challenged the constitutionality of Sec. 3, par. (e), of The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for being vague. Petitioners posited, among others, that the term "unwarranted" is highly imprecise and elastic with no common law meaning or settled definition by prior judicial or administrative precedents; that, for its vagueness, Sec. 3, par. (e), violates due process in that it does not give fair warning or sufficient notice of what it seeks to penalize. Petitioners further argued that the Information charged them with three (3) distinct offenses, to wit: (a) giving of "unwarranted" benefits through manifest partiality; (b) giving of "unwarranted" benefits through evident bad faith; and, (c) giving of "unwarranted" benefits through gross inexcusable negligence while in the discharge of their official function and that their right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against them was violated because they were left to guess which of the three (3) offenses, if not all, they were being charged and prosecuted.
In dismissing the petition, this Court held that Sec. 3, par. (e), of The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act does not suffer from the constitutional defect of vagueness. The phrases "manifest partiality," "evident bad faith," and "gross and inexcusable negligence" merely describe the different modes by which the offense penalized in Sec. 3, par. (e), of the statute may be committed, and the use of all these phrases in the same Information does not mean that the indictment charges three (3) distinct offenses.
The word 'unwarranted' is not uncertain. It seems lacking adequate or official support; unjustified; unauthorized (Webster, Third International Dictionary, p. 2514); or without justification or adequate reason (Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. US Dept. of Justice, C.D. Pa., 405 F. Supp. 8, 12, cited in Words and Phrases, Permanent Edition, Vol. 43-A 1978, Cumulative Annual Pocket Part, p. 19).
The assailed provisions of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act consider a corrupt practice and make unlawful the act of the public officer in:
x x x or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official, administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence, x x x (Section 3 [e], Rep. Act 3019, as amended).
It is not at all difficult to comprehend that what the aforequoted penal provisions penalize is the act of a public officer, in the discharge of his official, administrative or judicial functions, in giving any private party benefits, advantage or preference which is unjustified, unauthorized or without justification or adequate reason, through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.
In other words, this Court found that there was nothing vague or ambiguous in the use of the term "unwarranted" in Sec. 3, par. (e), of The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which was understood in its primary and general acceptation. Consequently, in that case, petitioners' objection thereto was held inadequate to declare the section unconstitutional.
On the second issue, petitioner advances the highly stretched theory that Sec. 4 of the Plunder Law circumvents the immutable obligation of the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt the predicate acts constituting the crime of plunder when it requires only proof of a pattern of overt or criminal acts showing unlawful scheme or conspiracy -
SEC. 4. Rule of Evidence. - For purposes of establishing the crime of plunder, it shall not be necessary to prove each and every criminal act done by the accused in furtherance of the scheme or conspiracy to amass, accumulate or acquire ill-gotten wealth, it being sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt a pattern of overt or criminal acts indicative of the overall unlawful scheme or conspiracy.
The running fault in this reasoning is obvious even to the simplistic mind. In a criminal prosecution for plunder, as in all other crimes, the accused always has in his favor the presumption of innocence which is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and unless the State succeeds in demonstrating by proof beyond reasonable doubt that culpability lies, the accused is entitled to an acquittal. The use of the "reasonable doubt" standard is indispensable to command the respect and confidence of the community in the application of criminal law. It is critical that the moral force of criminal law be not diluted by a standard of proof that leaves people in doubt whether innocent men are being condemned. It is also important in our free society that every individual going about his ordinary affairs has confidence that his government cannot adjudge him guilty of a criminal offense without convincing a proper factfinder of his guilt with utmost certainty. This "reasonable doubt" standard has acquired such exalted stature in the realm of constitutional law as it gives life to the Due Process Clause which protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged. The following exchanges between Rep. Rodolfo Albano and Rep. Pablo Garcia on this score during the deliberations in the floor of the House of Representatives are elucidating -
DELIBERATIONS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ON RA 7080, 9 October 1990
MR. ALBANO: Now, Mr. Speaker, it is also elementary in our criminal law that what is alleged in the information must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. If we will prove only one act and find him guilty of the other acts enumerated in the information, does that not work against the right of the accused especially so if the amount committed, say, by falsification is less than P100 million, but the totality of the crime committed is P100 million since there is malversation, bribery, falsification of public document, coercion, theft?
MR. GARCIA: Mr. Speaker, not everything alleged in the information needs to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. What is required to be proved beyond reasonable doubt is every element of the crime charged. For example, Mr. Speaker, there is an enumeration of the things taken by the robber in the information – three pairs of pants, pieces of jewelry. These need not be proved beyond reasonable doubt, but these will not prevent the conviction of a crime for which he was charged just because, say, instead of 3 pairs of diamond earrings the prosecution proved two. Now, what is required to be proved beyond reasonable doubt is the element of the offense.
MR. ALBANO: I am aware of that, Mr. Speaker, but considering that in the crime of plunder the totality of the amount is very important, I feel that such a series of overt criminal acts has to be taken singly. For instance, in the act of bribery, he was able to accumulate only P50,000 and in the crime of extortion, he was only able to accumulate P1 million. Now, when we add the totality of the other acts as required under this bill through the interpretation on the rule of evidence, it is just one single act, so how can we now convict him?
MR. GARCIA: With due respect, Mr. Speaker, for purposes of proving an essential element of the crime, there is a need to prove that element beyond reasonable doubt. For example, one essential element of the crime is that the amount involved is P100 million. Now, in a series of defalcations and other acts of corruption in the enumeration the total amount would be P110 or P120 million, but there are certain acts that could not be proved, so, we will sum up the amounts involved in those transactions which were proved. Now, if the amount involved in these transactions, proved beyond reasonable doubt, is P100 million, then there is a crime of plunder (underscoring supplied).
It is thus plain from the foregoing that the legislature did not in any manner refashion the standard quantum of proof in the crime of plunder. The burden still remains with the prosecution to prove beyond any iota of doubt every fact or element necessary to constitute the crime.
The thesis that Sec. 4 does away with proof of each and every component of the crime suffers from a dismal misconception of the import of that provision. What the prosecution needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt is only a number of acts sufficient to form a combination or series which would constitute a pattern and involving an amount of at least P50,000,000.00. There is no need to prove each and every other act alleged in the Information to have been committed by the accused in furtherance of the overall unlawful scheme or conspiracy to amass, accumulate or acquire ill-gotten wealth. To illustrate, supposing that the accused is charged in an Information for plunder with having committed fifty (50) raids on the public treasury. The prosecution need not prove all these fifty (50) raids, it being sufficient to prove by pattern at least two (2) of the raids beyond reasonable doubt provided only that they amounted to at least P50,000,000.00.
A reading of Sec. 2 in conjunction with Sec. 4, brings us to the logical conclusion that "pattern of overt or criminal acts indicative of the overall unlawful scheme or conspiracy" inheres in the very acts of accumulating, acquiring or amassing hidden wealth. Stated otherwise, such pattern arises where the prosecution is able to prove beyond reasonable doubt the predicate acts as defined in Sec. 1, par. (d). Pattern is merely a by-product of the proof of the predicate acts. This conclusion is consistent with reason and common sense. There would be no other explanation for a combination or series of
overt or criminal acts to stash P50,000,000.00 or more, than "a scheme or conspiracy to amass, accumulate or acquire ill gotten wealth." The prosecution is therefore not required to make a deliberate and conscious effort to prove pattern as it necessarily follows with the establishment of a series or combination of the predicate acts.
Relative to petitioner's contentions on the purported defect of Sec. 4 is his submission that "pattern" is "a very important element of the crime of plunder;" and that Sec. 4 is "two pronged, (as) it contains a rule of evidence and a substantive element of the crime," such that without it the accused cannot be convicted of plunder -
JUSTICE BELLOSILLO: In other words, cannot an accused be convicted under the Plunder Law without applying Section 4 on the Rule of Evidence if there is proof beyond reasonable doubt of the commission of the acts complained of?
ATTY. AGABIN: In that case he can be convicted of individual crimes enumerated in the Revised Penal Code, but not plunder.
JUSTICE BELLOSILLO: In other words, if all the elements of the crime are proved beyond reasonable doubt without applying Section 4, can you not have a conviction under the Plunder Law?
ATTY. AGABIN: Not a conviction for plunder, your Honor.
JUSTICE BELLOSILLO: Can you not disregard the application of Sec. 4 in convicting an accused charged for violation of the Plunder Law?
ATTY. AGABIN: Well, your Honor, in the first place Section 4 lays down a substantive element of the law x x x x
JUSTICE BELLOSILLO: What I said is - do we have to avail of Section 4 when there is proof beyond reasonable doubt on the acts charged constituting plunder?
ATTY. AGABIN: Yes, your Honor, because Section 4 is two pronged, it contains a rule of evidence and it contains a substantive element of the crime of plunder. So, there is no way by which we can avoid Section 4.
JUSTICE BELLOSILLO: But there is proof beyond reasonable doubt insofar as the predicate crimes charged are concerned that you do not have to go that far by applying Section 4?
ATTY. AGABIN: Your Honor, our thinking is that Section 4 contains a very important element of the crime of plunder and that cannot be avoided by the prosecution.
We do not subscribe to petitioner's stand. Primarily, all the essential elements of plunder can be culled and understood from its definition in Sec. 2, in relation to Sec. 1, par. (d), and "pattern" is not one of them. Moreover, the epigraph and opening clause of Sec. 4 is clear and unequivocal:
SEC. 4. Rule of Evidence. - For purposes of establishing the crime of plunder x x x x
It purports to do no more than prescribe a rule of procedure for the prosecution of a criminal case for plunder. Being a purely procedural measure, Sec. 4 does not define or establish any substantive right in favor of the accused but only operates in furtherance of a remedy. It is only a means to an end, an aid to substantive law. Indubitably, even without invoking Sec. 4, a conviction for plunder may be had, for what is crucial for the prosecution is to present sufficient evidence to engender that moral certitude exacted by the fundamental law to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, even granting for the sake of argument that Sec. 4 is flawed and vitiated for the reasons advanced by petitioner, it may simply be severed from the rest of the provisions without necessarily resulting in the demise of the law; after all, the existing rules on evidence can supplant Sec. 4 more than enough. Besides, Sec. 7 of RA 7080 provides for a separability clause -
Sec. 7. Separability of Provisions. - If any provisions of this Act or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remaining provisions of this Act and the application of such provisions to other persons or circumstances shall not be affected thereby.
Implicit in the foregoing section is that to avoid the whole act from being declared invalid as a result of the nullity of some of its provisions, assuming that to be the case although it is not really so, all the provisions thereof should accordingly be treated independently of each other, especially if by doing so, the objectives of the statute can best be achieved.
As regards the third issue, again we agree with Justice Mendoza that plunder is a malum in se which requires proof of criminal intent. Thus, he says, in his Concurring Opinion -
x x x Precisely because the constitutive crimes are mala in se the element of mens rea must be proven in a prosecution for plunder. It is noteworthy that the amended information alleges that the crime of plunder was committed "willfully, unlawfully and criminally." It thus alleges guilty knowledge on the part of petitioner.
In support of his contention that the statute eliminates the requirement of mens rea and that is the reason he claims the statute is void, petitioner cites the following remarks of Senator Tañada made during the deliberation on S.B. No. 733:
SENATOR TAÑADA . . . And the evidence that will be required to convict him would not be evidence for each and every individual criminal act but only evidence sufficient to establish the conspiracy or scheme to commit this crime of plunder.
However, Senator Tañada was discussing §4 as shown by the succeeding portion of the transcript quoted by petitioner:
SENATOR ROMULO: And, Mr. President, the Gentleman feels that it is contained in Section 4, Rule of Evidence, which, in the Gentleman's view, would provide for a speedier and faster process of attending to this kind of cases?
SENATOR TAÑADA: Yes, Mr. President . . .
Senator Tañada was only saying that where the charge is conspiracy to commit plunder, the prosecution need not prove each and every criminal act done to further the scheme or conspiracy, it being enough if it proves beyond reasonable doubt a pattern of overt or ciminal acts indicative of the overall unlawful scheme or conspiracy. As far as the acts constituting the pattern are concerned, however, the elements of the crime must be proved and the requisite mens rea must be shown.
Indeed, §2 provides that -
Any person who participated with the said public officer in the commission of an offense contributing to the crime of plunder shall likewise be punished for such offense. In the imposition of penalties, the degree of participation and the attendance of mitigating and extenuating circumstances, as provided by the Revised Penal Code, shall be considered by the court.
The application of mitigating and extenuating circumstances in the Revised Penal Code to prosecutions under the Anti-Plunder Law indicates quite clearly that mens rea is an element of plunder since the degree of responsibility of the offender is determined by his criminal intent. It is true that §2 refers to "any person who participates with the said public officer in the commission of an offense contributing to the crime of plunder." There is no reason to believe, however, that it does not apply as well to the public officer as principal in the crime. As Justice Holmes said: "We agree to all the generalities about not supplying criminal laws with what they omit, but there is no canon against using common sense in construing laws as saying what they obviously mean."
Finally, any doubt as to whether the crime of plunder is a malum in se must be deemed to have been resolved in the affirmative by the decision of Congress in 1993 to include it among the heinous crimes punishable by reclusion perpetua to death. Other heinous crimes are punished with death as a straight penalty in R.A. No. 7659. Referring to these groups of heinous crimes, this Court held in People v. Echegaray:
The evil of a crime may take various forms. There are crimes that are, by their very nature, despicable, either because life was callously taken or the victim is treated like an animal and utterly dehumanized as to completely disrupt the normal course of his or her growth as a human being . . . . Seen in this light, the capital crimes of kidnapping and serious illegal detention for ransom resulting in the death of the victim or the victim is raped, tortured, or subjected to dehumanizing acts; destructive arson resulting in death; and drug offenses involving minors or resulting in the death of the victim in the case of other crimes; as well as murder, rape, parricide, infanticide, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, where the victim is detained for more than three days or serious physical injuries were inflicted on the victim or threats to kill him were made or the victim is a minor, robbery with homicide, rape or intentional mutilation, destructive arson, and carnapping where the owner, driver or occupant of the carnapped vehicle is killed or raped, which are penalized by reclusion perpetua to death, are clearly heinous by their very nature.
There are crimes, however, in which the abomination lies in the significance and implications of the subject criminal acts in the scheme of the larger socio-political and economic context in which the state finds itself to be struggling to develop and provide for its poor and underprivileged masses. Reeling from decades of corrupt tyrannical rule that bankrupted the government and impoverished the population, the Philippine Government must muster the political will to dismantle the culture of corruption, dishonesty, greed and syndicated criminality that so deeply entrenched itself in the structures of society and the psyche of the populace. [With the government] terribly lacking the money to provide even the most basic services to its people, any form of misappropriation or misapplication of government funds translates to an actual threat to the very existence of government, and in turn, the very survival of the people it governs over. Viewed in this context, no less heinous are the effects and repercussions of crimes like qualified bribery, destructive arson resulting in death, and drug offenses involving government officials, employees or officers, that their perpetrators must not be allowed to cause further destruction and damage to society.
The legislative declaration in R.A. No. 7659 that plunder is a heinous offense implies that it is a malum in se. For when the acts punished are inherently immoral or inherently wrong, they are mala in se and it does not matter that such acts are punished in a special law, especially since in the case of plunder the predicate crimes are mainly mala in se. Indeed, it would be absurd to treat prosecutions for plunder as though they are mere prosecutions for violations of the Bouncing Check Law (B.P. Blg. 22) or of an ordinance against jaywalking, without regard to the inherent wrongness of the acts.
To clinch, petitioner likewise assails the validity of RA 7659, the amendatory law of RA 7080, on constitutional grounds. Suffice it to say however that it is now too late in the day for him to resurrect this long dead issue, the same having been eternally consigned by People v. Echegaray to the archives of jurisprudential history. The declaration of this Court therein that RA 7659 is constitutionally valid stands as a declaration of the State, and becomes, by necessary effect, assimilated in the Constitution now as an integral part of it.
Our nation has been racked by scandals of corruption and obscene profligacy of officials in high places which have shaken its very foundation. The anatomy of graft and corruption has become more elaborate in the corridors of time as unscrupulous people relentlessly contrive more and more ingenious ways to bilk the coffers of the government. Drastic and radical measures are imperative to fight the increasingly sophisticated, extraordinarily methodical and economically catastrophic looting of the national treasury. Such is the Plunder Law, especially designed to disentangle those ghastly tissues of grand-scale corruption which, if left unchecked, will spread like a malignant tumor and ultimately consume the moral and institutional fiber of our nation. The Plunder Law, indeed, is a living testament to the will of the legislature to ultimately eradicate this scourge and thus secure society against the avarice and other venalities in public office.
These are times that try men's souls. In the checkered history of this nation, few issues of national importance can equal the amount of interest and passion generated by petitioner's ignominious fall from the highest office, and his eventual prosecution and trial under a virginal statute. This continuing saga has driven a wedge of dissension among our people that may linger for a long time. Only by responding to the clarion call for patriotism, to rise above factionalism and prejudices, shall we emerge triumphant in the midst of ferment.
PREMISES CONSIDERED, this Court holds that RA 7080 otherwise known as the Plunder Law, as amended by RA 7659, is CONSTITUTIONAL. Consequently, the petition to declare the law unconstitutional is DISMISSED for lack of merit.
Buena, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.
Davide, Jr. C.J., Melo, Quisumbing, JJ., join concurring opinion of J. Mendoza.
Puno, Vitug, JJ., concurred and joins J. Mendoza's concurring opinion.
Kapunan, Pardo, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Ynares-Santiago, JJ., see dissenting opinion.
Mendoza, J., please see concurring opinion.
Panganiban J., please see separate concurring opinion.
Carpio, J., no part. Was one of the complainants before Ombudsman.