You are on page 1of 25

[G.R. No. 108619. July 31, 1997] EPIFANIO LALICAN, petitioner, vs. HON. FILOMENO A.

VERGARA, Presiding Judge, RTC Branch 52, Puerto Princesa City and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents. DECISION ROMERO, J.: The issue posed for resolution in this petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order is whether or not a charge of illegal possession of "lumber" is excluded from the crime of illegal possession of "timber" as defined in Sec. 68 of Presidential Decree No. 705 (The Forestry Reform Code of the Philippines), as amended, to warrant the quashal of an information charging the former offense or a "nonexistent crime." On July 23, 1991, an information for violation of Section 68 of P.D. No. 705, as amended by Executive Order No. 277, was filed i by the City Prosecutor of Puerto Princesa City against petitioner Epifanio Lalican, Ruben Benitez, Allan Pulgar and Jose Roblo before the Regional Trial Court of that city. Docketed as Criminal Case No. 9543, the information reads: "That on or about the 9th day of February, 1991, at Sitio Cadiz, Barangay Bacungan, City of Puerto Princesa, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, without lawful authority or permit, conspiring and confederating together and mutually helping one another, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have in their possession, custody and control 1,800 board feet of assorted species and dimensions of lumber on board two (2) passenger jeeps, with a value of Fourteen Thousand Pesos (14,000.00), Philippine Currency, to the damage and prejudice of the Government in the amount aforestated. CONTRARY TO LAW." At their arraignment on August 9, 1991, all the accused pleaded not guilty to the crime charged. On August 23, 1991, petitioner Lalican filed a motion to quash the information on the ground that the facts charged did not constitute an offense. Contending that Sec. 68 of P.D. No. 705 refers to "timber and other forest products" and not to "lumber," and asserting that "timber" becomes "lumber" only after it is sawed into beams, planks or boards, petitioner alleged that said decree "does not apply to 'lumber.'" He added that the law is "vague and standardless" as it does not specify the authority or the legal documents required by existing forest laws and regulations. Hence, petitioner asserted that the information should be quashed as it ii violated his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the law. The prosecution opposed the motion to quash on the ground that it is not for the courts to determine the wisdom of the law nor to set out the policy of the legislature which deemed it proper that the word "timber" should include "lumber" which is a "product or derivative after the timber is cut." The position of the prosecution was that to hold otherwise would result in the easy circumvention of the law, for one could stealthily cut timber from any forest, have it sawn into lumber and escape criminal prosecution. The iii prosecution asserted that the issue raised by petitioner was more semantical than a question of law. iv On September 24, 1991, the lower court, guided by the principles that penal laws should be construed strictly against the state and that all doubts should be resolved in favor of the accused, issued an Order quashing the information. It held that the distinction between "timber" and "lumber" is not artificial nor a matter of semantics as the law itself distinguishes the two terms. Sec. 3(q) of P.D. No. 705 classifies "timber" as a forest product while Sec. 3(aa) thereof considers "lumber" as a finished wood product. Adding that unlicensed cutting, gathering and/or collecting of "timber" is penalized under Sec. 68 while sale of "lumber" without compliance with grading rules established by the government is prohibited by Sec. 79, the lower court categorically stated that: "Logically, lumber, being a manufactured wood product, poses no more danger to forest lands by being cut, gathered, collected or removed. It is in fact, only bought and sold. Thus, Sec. 68 cannot be made to apply to lumber." The court, however, refrained from exploring the constitutional issues raised by petitioner upon a holding that the case could be v resolved on some other grounds or issues. The prosecution filed a motion for the reconsideration of this Order, pointing out that under the Primer on Illegal Logging of the Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR), timber is not just any piece of wood for it may consist of squared and manufactured timber or one which has been sawn to pieces to facilitate transportation or hauling. It stressed that to consider a person who had made lumber out of timber as not criminally liable is an absurd interpretation of the law. Moreover, the prosecution underscored the facts that when apprehended, the accused presented Private Land Timber Permit No. 030140 dated February 10, 1991 which had expired; that while the certificate of origin indicated Brgy. Sta. Cruz, the product actually came from Sitio Cadiz, and that the two jeeps bearing the product were not equipped with certificates of transport agreement. Added to this was the fact that, if the product were indeed lumber, then the accused could have presented a certificate vi of lumber origin, lumber sale invoices in case of sale, tally sheets and delivery receipts for transportation from one point to another. Petitioner opposed the motion for reconsideration contending that the DENR primer's definition of "timber" is erroneous because the law itself distinguishes "timber" from "sawn lumber." The non-inclusion of "lumber" in Sec. 68 could only mean a clear vii legislative intent to exclude possession of "lumber" from the acts penalized under that section. Pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration, the Presiding Judge of Branch 49 inhibited himself from taking cognizance of Criminal Case No. 9543. The case was subsequently assigned to Branch 52. viii On June 10, 1992, the lower court issued the herein questioned Order setting aside the quashal Order of the previous judge. It declared that from the law itself, it is evident that what is sought to be penalized is not the possession without the required legal documents, of timber only but also of "other forest products." It stated that even if lumber is not timber, still, lumber is a forest product and possession thereof without legal documents is equally prohibited by the law which includes "wood" in the definition of forest products. Petitioner sought the reconsideration of this Order but the lower court denied it. Hence, the instant petition arguing that the lower court gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction in setting aside the quashal order and in denying his motion for reconsideration on the ground that Sec. 68 of P.D. No. 705 neither specifies nor includes "lumber" in the phrase "timber or other forest products." The petition is devoid of merit. Sec. 68 of P.D. No. 705, as amended by Executive Order No. 277 which was issued on July 25, 1987 by then President Corazon C. Aquino, provides: "SEC. 68. Cutting, Gathering and/or collecting Timber, or Other Forest Products Without License.- Any person who shall cut, gather, collect, remove timber or other forest products from any forest land, or timber from alienable or disposable public land, or from private land, without any authority, or possess timber or other forest products without the legal documents as required under existing forest laws and regulations, shall be punished with the penalties imposed under Articles 309 and 310 of the Revised Penal Code: Provided, That in the case of partnerships, associations, or corporations, the officers who ordered the cutting, gathering, collection or possession shall be liable, and if such officers are aliens, they shall, in addition to the penalty, be deported without further proceedings on the part of the Commission on Immigration and Deportation. The Court shall further order the confiscation in favor of the government of the timber or any forest products cut, gathered, collected, removed, or possessed, as well as the machinery, equipment, implements and tools illegally used in the area where the timber or forest products are found." (Underscoring supplied.) Punished then in this section are: (a) the cutting, gathering, collection, or removal of timber or other forest products from the places therein mentioned without any authority; or (b) possession of timber or other forest products without the legal documents as required under existing forest laws and regulations. ix In the recent case of Mustang Lumber, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, this Court, thru Justice Hilario Davide, held: "The Revised Forestry Code contains no definition of either timber or lumber. While the former is included in forest products as

defined in paragraph (q) of Section 3, the latter is found in paragraph (aa) of the same section in the definition of 'Processing plant,' which reads: (aa) Processing plant is any mechanical set-up, machine or combination of machine used for the processing of logs and other forest raw materials into lumber, veneer, plywood, wallboard, blockboard, paper board, pulp, paper or other finished wood product. This simply means that lumber is a processed log or processed forest raw material. Clearly, the Code uses the term lumber in its ordinary or common usage. In the 1993 copyright edition of Webster's Third New International Dictionary, lumber is defined, inter alia, as 'timber or logs after being prepared for the market.' Simply put, lumber is a processed log or timber. It is settled that in the absence of legislative intent to the contrary, words and phrases used in a statute should be given their plain, ordinary, and common usage meaning. And insofar as possession of timber without the required legal documents is concerned, Section 68 of P.D. No. 705, as amended, makes no distinction between raw or processed timber. Neither should we. Ubi lex non distinguit nec nos distinguere debemus." Be that as it may, the legislative intent to include possession of lumber in Sec. 68 is clearly gleaned from the expressed reasons for enacting the law which, under Executive Order No. 277, are the following: "WHEREAS, there is an urgency to conserve the remaining forest resources of the country for the benefit and welfare of the present and future generations of Filipinos; WHEREAS, our forest resources may be effectively conserved and protected through the vigilant enforcement and implementation of our forestry laws, rules and regulations; WHEREAS, the implementation of our forestry laws suffers from technical difficulties, due to certain inadequacies in the penal provisions of the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines; and WHEREAS, to overcome these difficulties, there is a need to penalize certain acts to make our forestry laws more responsive to present situations and realities; x x x" To exclude possession of "lumber" from the acts penalized in Sec. 68 would certainly emasculate the law itself. A law should not be so construed as to allow the doing of an act which is prohibited by law, nor so interpreted as to afford an opportunity to defeat x compliance with its terms, create an inconsistency, or contravene the plain words of the law. After all, the phrase "forest products" is broad enough to encompass lumber which, to reiterate, is manufactured timber. Hence, to mention lumber in Sec. 68 would merely result in tautology. As the lower court said: "Even should it be conceded that lumber is not timber and is thus not covered by the prohibition, still it cannot be denied that lumber is a forest product and possession thereof without legal documents is equally and, to the same extent, prohibited. Sec. 3 (q) of PD 705 as amended or otherwise known as the Revised Forestry Code defines forest products, viz., x x x Stress must be given to the term WOOD embodied in the definition of forest product (supra). If we are to follow the rather tangential argument by the accused that lumber is not timber, then, it will be very easy for a person to circumvent the law. He could stealthily cut timber from any forest, have it sawn into lumber and escape criminal prosecution. It is rather too narrow an interpretation. But the law also provided a plug for the loophole. If lumber is not timber, then surely, lumber is wood. x x x. If in seeking to abate the proceedings the accused also seek to imply that lumber seized in their possession were procured from lawful source, all they have to do is produce the legal documents contemplated by the law. It is not the mere cutting or possession of timber, forest products or whatever that is prohibited and penalized by the law. What is prohibited and penalized is the act of cutting or possessing of timber, wood, or other forest products without lawful authority." The Court, therefore, finds that the lower court did not gravely abuse its discretion in denying the quashal of the information. The petition simply has no legal basis. Certiorari may be issued only where it is clearly shown that there is patent and gross abuse of discretion as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion or personal xi xii hostility. Grave abuse of discretion implies a capricious and whimsical exercise of power. On the other hand, certiorari may not be availed of where it is not shown that the respondent court lacked or exceeded its xiii jurisdiction or committed grave abuse of discretion. Where the court has jurisdiction over the case, even if its findings are not xiv correct, its questioned acts would at most constitute errors of law and not abuse of discretion correctible by certiorari. As this Court said: "x x x. When a court exercises its jurisdiction, an error committed while so engaged does not deprive it of the jurisdiction being exercised when the error is committed. If it did, every error committed by a court would deprive it of its jurisdiction and every erroneous judgment would be a void judgment. This cannot be allowed. The administration of justice would not survive such a rule. Consequently, an error of judgment that the court may commit in the exercise of its xv jurisdiction is not correctible through the original civil action of certiorari." In other words, certiorari will issue only to correct errors of jurisdiction and not to correct errors of procedure or mistakes in the xvi judge's findings and conclusions. The unavailability of the writ of certiorari, and even that of prohibition, in this case is borne out of the fact that what petitioner considers as grave abuse of discretion in this case is the denial of his motion to quash the information filed against him and three others. This Court has consistently defined the proper procedure in case of denial of a motion to quash. The accused has to enter a plea, go to trial without prejudice on his part to present the special defenses he had invoked in his motion and, if after trial on the xvii merits, an adverse decision is rendered, to appeal therefrom in the manner authorized by law. Certiorari is not the proper remedy where a motion to quash an information is denied. That the appropriate recourse is to proceed to trial and in case of conviction, to appeal such conviction, as well as the denial of the motion to quash, is impelled by the fact that a denial of a motion to quash is an interlocutory procedural aspect which cannot be appealed nor can it be the subject of a xviii xix petition for certiorari. The remedies of appeal and certiorari are mutually exclusive and not alternative or successive. An interlocutory order may be assailed by certiorari or prohibition only when it is shown that the court acted without or in excess of xx jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion. However, this Court generally frowns upon this remedial measure as regards interlocutory orders. To tolerate the practice of allowing interlocutory orders to be the subject of review by certiorari would not only xxi delay the administration of justice but also would unduly burden the courts. xxii Petitioner may not seek refuge under Flordelis v. Himalaloan for his contention that a denial of a motion to quash may be the subject of a petition for certiorari. That case has an entirely different factual milieu from the one at bar. The information herein not xxiii being "patently defective" nor that the offense charged has prescribed, this case may not be considered an exception to the rule on the proper remedy for the denial of a motion to quash. xxiv With respect to the constitutionality of Sec. 68 of P.D. No. 705 which petitioner would have this Court consider, this Court has always desisted from delving on constitutional issues. Thus, even if all the requisites for judicial review of a constitutional matter xxv are present in a case, this Court will not pass upon a constitutional question unless it is the lis mota of the case or if the case can xxvi be disposed of on some other grounds, such as the application of the statute or general law. The Court can well take judicial notice of the deplorable problem of deforestation in this country, considering that the deleterious effects of this problem are now imperiling our lives and properties, more specifically, by causing rampaging floods in the lowlands. While it is true that the rights of an accused must be favored in the interpretation of penal provisions of law, it is equally true that when the general welfare and interest of the people are interwoven in the prosecution of a crime, the Court must arrive at a

solution only after a fair and just balancing of interests. This the Court did in arriving at the foregoing interpretation of Sec. 68 of the Revised Forestry Reform Code. This task, however, has not at all been a difficult one considering that, contrary to petitioner's assertion, his rights to due process and equal protection of the law have not been clearly shown to have been jeopardized. WHEREFORE, the instant petition for certiorari and prohibition is hereby DISMISSED. The lower court is enjoined to proceed with dispatch in the prosecution of Criminal Case No. 9543. This Decision is immediately executory. Costs against petitioner. SO ORDERED.

CRISOSTOMO VILLARIN and ANIANO LATAYADA, Petitioners,

G.R. No. 175289

Present:

CORONA, C.J., Chairperson, LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, - versus BERSAMIN, DEL CASTILLO, and VILLARAMA, JR., JJ.

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.

Promulgated: August 31, 2011

x--------------------------------------------------------x DECISION DEL CASTILLO, J.: Mere possession of timber without the legal documents required under forest laws and regulations makes one automatically liable of violation of Section 68, Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 705,1 as amended. Lack of criminal intent is not a valid defense. This petition for review on certiorari seeks to reverse the June 28, 2005 Decision2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 26720 which affirmed in all respects the Judgment3 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 38, Cagayan De Oro City, finding petitioners guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 68, P.D. No. 705, as amended. Likewise assailed in this petition is the September 22, 2006 Resolution4 denying petitioners Motion for Reconsideration.5 Factual Antecedents In a Criminal Complaint6 filed before the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 4, Cagayan de Oro City by Marcelino B. Pioquinto (Pioquinto), Chief of the Forest Protection and Law Enforcement Unit under the TL Strike Force Team of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), petitioner Aniano Latayada (Latayada) and three others namely, Barangay Captain Camilo Sudaria (Sudaria) of Tagpangi, Cagayan de Oro City, Marlon Baillo (Baillo) and Cipriano Boyatac (Boyatac), were charged with violation of Section 68, P.D. No. 705 as amended by Executive Order No. 277.7

Subsequently, however, the Office of the City Prosecutor of Cagayan de Oro City issued a Resolution8 dated March 13, 1996 recommending the filing of an Information for the aforesaid charge not only against Latayada, Baillo and Boyatac but also against petitioner Crisostomo Villarin (Villarin), then Barangay Captain of Pagalungan, Cagayan de Oro City. The dismissal of the complaint against Sudaria was likewise recommended. Said Resolution was then approved by the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao through a Resolution9 dated May 9, 1996 ordering the filing of the Information in the RTC of Cagayan de Oro City. Thus, on October 29, 1996, an Information10 was filed against petitioners Villarin and Latayada and their co-accused Baillo and Boyatac, for violation of Section 68, P.D. No. 705 as follows: That on or about January 13, 1996, in Pagalungan, Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, pursuant to RA 7975, the accused, Crisostomo Villarin, a public officer being the Barangay Captain of Pagalungan, this City, with salary grade below 27, taking advantage of his official position and committing the offense in relation to his office, and the other above-named accused, all private individuals, namely: Marlon Baillo, Cipriano Boyatac, and Aniano Latayada, confederating and mutually helping one another did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously gather and possess sixty-three (63) pieces flitches of varying sizes belonging to the Apitong specie with a total volume of Four Thousand Three Hundred Twenty Six (4,326) board feet valued at P108,150.00, without any authority and supporting documents as required under existing forest laws and regulation to the damage and prejudice of the government. CONTRARY TO LAW.11

On January 14, 1997, Villarin, Boyatac and Baillo, filed a Motion for Reinvestigation.12 They alleged that the Joint Affidavit13of the personnel of the DENR which became one of the bases in filing the Information never mentioned Villarin as one of the perpetrators of the crime while the accusations against Baillo and Boyatac were not based on the personal knowledge of the affiants. They also asserted that their indictment was based on polluted sources, consisting of the sworn statements of witnesses like Latayada and Sudaria, who both appeared to have participated in the commission of the crime charged. Instead of resolving the Motion for Reinvestigation, the RTC, in its Order14 dated January 27, 1997, directed Villarin, Boyatac, and Baillo to file their Motion for Reinvestigation with the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao, it being the entity which filed the Information in Court. On March 31, 1997, only Villarin filed a Petition for Reinvestigation15 but same was, however, denied by the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao in an Order16 dated May 15, 1997 because the grounds relied upon were not based on newly discovered evidence or errors of fact, law or irregularities that are prejudicial to the interest of the movants, pursuant to Administrative Order No. 07 or the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman in Criminal Cases. The Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao likewise opined that Villarin was directly implicated by Latayada, his coaccused. The RTC thus proceeded with the arraignment of the accused who entered separate pleas of not guilty.17 Thereafter, trial ensued. The Version of the Prosecution

On December 31, 1995, at around five oclock in the afternoon, prosecution witness Roland Granada (Granada) noticed that a public utility jeep loaded with timber stopped near his house. The driver, petitioner Latayada, was accompanied by four to five other persons, one of whom was Boyatac while the rest could not be identified by Granada.18 They alighted from the jeep and unloaded the timber 10 to 15 meters away from the Batinay bridge at Barangay Pagalungan, Cagayan De Oro City. Another prosecution witness, Pastor Pansacala (Pansacala), also noticed the jeep with plate number MBB 226 and owned by Sudaria, loaded with timber.19 Being then the president of a community-based organization which serves as a watchdog of illegal cutting of trees,20 Pansacala even ordered a certain Mario Bael to count the timber.21 At six oclock in the evening of the same day, Barangay Captain Angeles Alarcon (Alarcon)22 noticed that the pile of timber was already placed near the bridge. Since she had no knowledge of any scheduled repair of the Batinay bridge she was surprised to discover that the timber would be used for the repair. After inquiring from the people living near the bridge, she learned that Latayada and Boyatac delivered the timber.23 Another prosecution witness, Ariel Palanga (Palanga), testified that at seven oclock in the morning of January 1, 1996, Boyatac bought a stick of cigarette from his store and requested him to cover the pile of timber near the bridge for a fee. Palanga acceded and covered the pile with coconut leaves.24 On January 13, 1996, at around ten oclock in the morning, prosecution witness Juan Casenas (Casenas), a radio and TV personality of RMN-TV8, took footages of the timber25 hidden and covered by coconut leaves. Casenas also took footages of more logs inside a bodega at the other side of the bridge. In the following evening, the footages were shown in a news program on television. On the same day, members of the DENR Region 10 Strike Force Team measured the timber which consisted of 63 pieces of Apitong flitches and determined that it totaled 4,326 board feet26 and subsequently entrusted the same to Alarcon for safekeeping. Upon further investigation, it was learned that the timber was requisitioned by Villarin, who was then Barangay Captain of Pagulangan, Cagayan de Oro City. Villarin gave Sudaria the specifications for the requisitioned timber. Thereafter, Boyatac informed Villarin that the timber was already delivered on December 31, 1995.27 On January 18, 1996, Felix Vera Cruz (Vera Cruz), a security guard at the DENR Region 10 Office, received and signed for the confiscated timber since the property custodian at that time was not around. The filing of the aforestated Information followed. The Version of the Defense In response to the clamor of the residents of Barangays Tampangan, Pigsag-an, Tuburan and Taglinao, all in Cagayan De Oro City, Villarin, decided to repair the impassable Batinay bridge. The project was allegedly with the concurrence of the Barangay Council. Pressured to immediately commence the needed repairs, Villarin commissioned Boyatac to inquire from Sudaria about the availability of timber without first informing the City Engineer. Sudaria asked for the specifications which Villarin gave. Villarin then asked Baillo and Boyatac to

attend to the same. When the timber was already available, it was transported from Tagpangi to Batinay. However, the timber flitches were seized by the DENR Strike Force Team and taken to its office where they were received by Vera Cruz, the security guard on duty.

Ruling of the Regional Trial Court In its Memorandum filed before the trial court, the defense notified the court of Boyatacs demise.28 However, the trial court did not act on such notice. Instead, it proceeded to rule on the culpability of Boyatac. Thus, in its Judgment, the trial court found herein petitioners and the deceased Boyatac guilty as charged. On the other hand, it found the evidence against Baillo insufficient. The dispositive portion of the Judgment reads: WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing findings, judgment is hereby rendered finding the accused Crisostomo Villarin, Cipriano Boyatac and Aniano Latayada guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 68 of Presidential Decree No. 705 as amended, and hereby sentences each of them to suffer an indeterminate sentence of twelve (12) years of prision mayor as minimum to seventeen (17) years of reclusion temporal as maximum. Accused Marlon Baillo is hereby acquitted for lack of evidence. SO ORDERED.29

In reaching said conclusions, the RTC noted that: Without an iota of doubt, accused Crisostomo Villarin, being then a Barangay Captain of Pagalungan, Cagayan de Oro City, was the one who procured the subject flitches, while accused Aniano Latayada and Cipriano Boyatac mutually helped him and each other by transporting the flitches from Sitio Batinay to the Pagalungan Bridge. The accused would like to impress upon the Court that the subject fltiches were intended for the repair of the Pagalungan Bridge and were acquired by virtue of Barangay Resolution No. 110 of Barangay Pagalungan. The Court is not impressed by this lame excuse. There is no dispute that the flitches were intended for the repair of the bridge. The Court finds it a laudable motive. The fact remains though that the said forest products were obtained without the necessary authority and legal documents required under existing forest laws and regulations.30

Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration31 which was denied by the RTC in its Order32 dated August 20, 2002. Ruling of the Court of Appeals Petitioners filed an appeal which was denied by the CA in its Decision dated June 28, 2005. The dispositive portion of which reads: WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, the judgment of the court a quo finding [d]efendant-[a]ppellants Crisostomo Villarin, Cipriano Boyatac and Aniano Latayada GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for violating Sec. 68 of Presidential Decree 705 is hereby AFFIRMED in toto. No pronouncement as to cost. SO ORDERED.33

Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration34 which the appellate court denied for lack of merit in its Resolution35 promulgated on September 22, 2006.

Issues Undeterred, petitioners filed the instant petition raising the following issues: 1. WHETHER X X X THE COURT OF APPEALS[,] ON [THE] MATTER OF PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION[,] DECIDED NOT IN ACCORD WITH JURISPRUDENCE OF THE SUPREME COURT; WHETHER X X X THE COURT OF APPEALS DEPARTED FROM WHAT THE SUPREME COURT HAS ALWAYS BEEN SAYING, THAT, TO CONVICT AN ACCUSED ALL ELEMENTS OF THE CRIME MUST BE PROVEN BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT and; WHETHER X X X THE COURT OF APPEALS[,] IN AFFIRMING THE PENALTY IMPOSED BY THE COURT A QUO[,] DEPARTED FROM JURISPRUDENCE THAT EVEN IN CRIMES [INVOLVING] VIOLATION OF SPECIAL LAWS[,] SPECIAL CONSIDERATION SHOULD BE GIVEN TO CIRCUMSTANCES THAT [CAN BE CONSIDERED AS MITIGATING HAD THE VIOLATION BEEN PENALIZED UNDER THE REVISED PENAL CODE, IN ORDER TO REDUCE PENALTY].36

2.

3.

Petitioners argue that the refusal of the Ombudsman to conduct a reinvestigation is tantamount to a denial of the right to due process. As Villarin was indicted in the Information despite his not being included in the criminal complaint filed by Pioquinto of the TL Strike Force Team of the DENR, they claim that he was not afforded a preliminary investigation. They also bewail the fact that persons who appear to be equally guilty, such as Sudaria, have not been included in the Information. Hence, they argue that the Ombudsman acted with grave abuse of discretion in denying their petition for reinvestigation because it deprived Villarin of his right to preliminary investigation and in refusing and to equally prosecute the guilty. They contend that the Ombudsman should not have relied on the prosecutors Certification37 contained in the Information to the effect that a preliminary investigation was conducted in the case. Moreover, petitioners contend that the evidence was insufficient to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt since they had no intention to possess the timber and dispose of it for personal gain. They likewise claim that there was failure on the part of the prosecution to present the timber, which were the object of the offense. Our Ruling The petition is unmeritorious. Villarin was properly afforded his right to due process. Records show that the investigating prosecutor received a criminal complaint charging Sudaria, Latayada, Baillo and Boyatac with violation of Section 68 of P.D. No. 705, as amended.38 The said complaint did not state the known addresses of the accused. Neither was the notarized joint-affidavit of the complainants attached thereto. The subpoena issued to the accused and the copy of their counter-affidavits were also not part of the record. Moreover, the complaint did not include Villarin as a respondent. However, said infirmities do not constitute denial of due process particularly on the part of Villarin. It is evidently clear from the Resolution dated March 13, 1996 of the Office of the City Prosecutor that Villarin and all the accused participated in the scheduled preliminary investigation that was conducted prior to the filing of the criminal case.39 They knew about the filing of the complaint and even denied any involvement in the illegal cutting of timber. They were also given the opportunity to submit countervailing evidence to convince the investigating prosecutor of their innocence. Foregoing findings considered, there is no factual basis to the assertion that Villarin was not afforded a preliminary investigation. Accordingly, we find no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao in denying Villarins motion for reconsideration. It validly relied on the certification contained in the Information that a preliminary investigation was properly conducted in this case. The certification was made under oath by no less than the public prosecutor, a public officer who is presumed to have regularly performed his official duty.40 Besides, it aptly noted that Villarin was implicated by x x x Latayada in his affidavit dated January 22, 1996 before Marcelino B. Pioquinto, Chief, Forest Protection and Law Enforcement Unit. The denial of Villarin cannot prevail over the declaration of witnesses.41

Moreover, the absence of a proper preliminary investigation must be timely raised and must not have been waived. This is to allow the trial court to hold the case in abeyance and conduct its own investigation or require the prosecutor to hold a reinvestigation, which, necessarily involves a re-examination and re-evaluation of the evidence already submitted by the complainant and the accused, as well as the initial finding of probable cause which led to the filing of the Informations after the requisite preliminary investigation.42 Here, it is conceded that Villarin raised the issue of lack of a preliminary investigation in his Motion for Reinvestigation. However, when the Ombudsman denied the motion, he never raised this issue again. He accepted the Ombudsman's verdict, entered a plea of not guilty during his arraignment and actively participated in the trial on the merits by attending the scheduled hearings, conducting cross-examinations and testifying on his own behalf. It was only after the trial court rendered judgment against him that he once again assailed the conduct of the preliminary investigation in the Motion for Reconsideration.43 Whatever argument Villarin may have regarding the alleged absence of a preliminary investigation has therefore been mooted. By entering his plea, and actively participating in the trial, he is deemed to have waived his right to preliminary investigation. Petitioners also contend that Sudaria should also have been included as a principal in the commission of the offense. However, whether Sudaria should or should not be included as co-accused can no longer be raised on appeal. Any right that the petitioners may have in questioning the non-inclusion of Sudaria in the Information should have been raised in a motion for reconsideration of the March 13, 1996 Resolution of the Office of the City Prosecutor which recommended the dismissal of the complaint against Sudaria.44 Having failed to avail of the proper procedural remedy, they are now estopped from assailing his non-inclusion. Two Offenses Penalized Under Sec. 68 of Presidential Decree No. 705.

Section 68 of P.D. No. 705, as amended, provides: Section 68. Cutting, Gathering and/or Collecting Timber or Other Forest Products Without License. Any person who shall cut, gather, collect, remove timber or other forest products from any forest land, or timber from alienable or disposable public land, or from private land, without any authority, or possess timber or other forest products without legal documents as required under existing forest laws and regulations, shall be punished with the penalties imposed under Articles 309 and 310 of the Revised Penal Code: Provided, that in the case of partnerships, associations, or corporations, the officers who ordered the cutting, gathering, collection or possession shall be liable, and if such officers are aliens, they shall, in addition to the penalty, be deported without further proceedings on the part of the Commission on Immigration and Deportation. There are two distinct and separate offenses punished under Section 68 of P.D. No. 705, to wit: (1) Cutting, gathering, collecting and removing timber or other forest products from any forest land, or timber from alienable or disposable public land, or from private land without any authorization; and Possession of timber or other forest products without the legal documents required under existing forest laws and regulations.45

(2)

The Information charged petitioners with the second offense which is consummated by the mere possession of forest products without the proper documents. We reviewed the records and hold that the prosecution had discharged the burden of proving all the elements of the offense charged. The evidence of the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that petitioners were in custody of timber without the necessary legal documents. Incidentally, we note that several transcripts of stenographic notes (TSNs) were not submitted by the trial court. No explanation was provided for these missing TSNs. Notwithstanding the incomplete TSNs, we still find that the prosecution was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt petitioners culpability. The prosecution adduced several documents to prove that timber was confiscated from petitioners. It presented a Tally Sheet46 to prove that the DENR Strike Force Team examined the seized timber on January 13, 1996. The number, volume and appraised value of said timber were also noted in the Tally Sheet. Seizure receipts were also presented to prove that the confiscated timber were placed in the custody of Alarcon47 and eventually taken to the DENR Office.48 There was a photograph of the timber taken by the television crew led by Casenas.49

The prosecution likewise presented in evidence the testimonies of eyewitnesses Granada and Pansacala who testified that Latayada and Boyatac were the ones who delivered the timber.50 More significantly, Villarin admitted that he was the one who commissioned the procurement of the timber51 for the repair of the Batinay bridge. He even deputized Boyatac to negotiate with Sudaria and gave Latayada P2,000.00 to transport the logs. Boyatac later informed him of the delivery of timber. However, he could not present any document to show that his possession thereof was legal and pursuant to existing forest laws and regulations. Relevant portions of the testimony of Villarin are as follows: Q A Q A Q A Q A As Barangay Captain of Pagalungan, of course, you heard reports prior to the incident on December 31, 1995 that Barangay Captain Camilo Sudaria was also engaged in supplying forest products like forest lumber? Yes, because I always go to Cagayan de Oro and I can always ride on his jeepney. And you were sure that information of yours was received by you and not only by one but several persons from Barangay Tagpangi even up to Barangay Pagalungan? Thats true because he even has a record with the police. And you learned [this] prior to January 1995? Yes, Sir. And your information was even to the effect that Sudaria was supplying illegally cut lumber regularly? What I have noticed because I always ride on his jeep wherein lumber was being loaded, the lumber will be taken when it arrived in Lumbia, kilometer 5. Even if there were already raids being conducted to the person of Camilo Sudaria, still he continued to load illegally cut lumber? He slowed down after several arrest because maybe he was ashamed because he was the Barangay Captain of Tagpangi. And his arrest and the slackening of his activities of illegally cut lumber occurred prior to June 1995? Yes, sir. [In spite] of your knowledge that he is engaged [in] illegally cut[ting] forest products, you as Barangay Captain of Pagalungan transacted with him for the purpose of acquiring lumber [for] the bridge at Pagalungan? As we rode together in his jeep, he informed me that he has some lumber to be used to build his house and he told me he will sell it for the repair of the bridge in Pagalungan. And because of that, in addition, you sent him the specifications of materials for the repair of the bridge in Pagalungan? I let Boyatac go to him and [inquire] from him if he has those specifications. And he communicated to you that he has available lumber of those specification? Yes, because he sent to Boyatac some requirements of the specifications and he let me sign it. And after that, you closed the [deal] with Sudaria? Yes, because I sent somebody to him and we did not talk anymore. And thereafter on December 31, 1995, according to your testimony before, Aniano Latayada delivered the lumber flitches you ordered on board the passenger jeep of Camilo Sudaria? When the specifications were given, we were informed that the lumber were already there. So, it was delivered. Who informed you that the lumber were already delivered? Boyatac. And he is referring to those lumber placed alongside the Batinay Bridge. Yes, Sir. And even without personally inspecting it, you immediately paid Latayada the compensation for the delivery of those lumber? There was already an advance payment for his delivery. To whom did you give the advance? To Latayada. You have not given the amount to Camilo Sudaria?

Q A

Q A Q A

Q A Q A Q A Q A Q A Q A Q A Q A Q

A Q A

No, Sir. In fact, the money that you paid to Latayada was specifically for the transportation of the lumber from Tagpangi to Batinay bridge? Yes, Sir.

PROS. GALARRITA: Q And at that time, you paid Latayada P2,000 as payment of the lumber? A Yes, Sir. COURT: Q Did you pay Latayada? A Yes, Sir. Q A Q A Q A Q A How much? P2,000. And you gave this to the conductor? Yes, Sir. You told the conductor to pay the money to Latayada? Yes, sir. What did the conductor say? The conductor said that the money was for the payment for the transporting of lumber from Tagpangi.52 (Underscoring ours.)

Violation of Sec. 68 of Presidential Decree No. 705, as amended, is malum prohibitum. As a special law, the nature of the offense is malum prohibitum and as such, criminal intent is not an essential element. However, the prosecution must prove that petitioners had the intent to possess (animus possidendi) the timber.53 Possession, under the law, includes not only actual possession, but also constructive possession. Actual possession exists when the [object of the crime] is in the immediate physical control of the accused. On the other hand, constructive possession exists when the [object of the crime] is under the dominion and control of the accused or when he has the right to exercise dominion and control over the place where it is found.54 There is no dispute that petitioners were in constructive possession of the timber without the requisite legal documents. Villarin and Latayada were personally involved in its procurement, delivery and storage without any license or permit issued by any competent authority. Given these and considering that the offense is malum prohibitum, petitioners contention that the possession of the illegally cut timber was not for personal gain but for the repair of said bridge is, therefore, inconsequential. Corpus Delicti is the Fact of the Commission of the Crime

Petitioners argue that their convictions were improper because the corpus delicti had not been established. They assert that the failure to present the confiscated timber in court was fatal to the cause of the prosecution. We disagree. [C]orpus delicti refers to the fact of the commission of the crime charged or to the body or substance of the crime. In its legal sense, it does not refer to the ransom money in the crime of kidnapping for ransom or to the body of the person murdered55 or, in this case, to the seized timber. Since the corpus delicti is the fact of the commission of the crime, this Court has ruled that even a single witness uncorroborated testimony, if credible, may suffice to prove it and warrant a conviction therefor. Corpus delicti may even be established by circumstantial evidence.56 Here, the trial court and the CA held that the corpus delicti was established by the documentary and testimonial evidence on record. The Tally Sheet, Seizure Receipts issued by the DENR and photograph proved the existence of the timber and its confiscation. The testimonies of the petitioners themselves stating in no uncertain terms the manner in which they consummated the offense they were charged with were likewise crucial to their conviction.

We find no reason to deviate from these findings since it has been established that factual findings of a trial court are binding on us, absent any showing that it overlooked or misinterpreted facts or circumstances of weight and substance.57 The legal precept applies to this case in which the trial courts findings were affirmed by the appellate court.58 The Proper Penalty Violation of Section 68 of P.D. No. 705, as amended, is penalized as qualified theft under Article 310 in relation to Article 309 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). The pertinent portions of these provisions read: Art. 310. Qualified Theft The crime of theft shall be punished by the penalties next higher by two degrees than those respectively specified in the next preceding articles, if committed by a domestic servant, or with grave abuse of confidence, or if the property stolen is motor vehicle, mail matter or large cattle or consists of coconuts taken from the premises of the plantation or fish taken from a fishpond or fishery, or if property is taken on the occasion of fire, earthquake, typhoon, volcanic eruption, or any calamity, vehicular accident or civil disturbance. Art. 309. Penalties. Any person guilty of theft shall be punished by: 1. The penalty of prision mayor in its minimum and medium periods, if the value of the thing stolen is more than 12,000 pesos but does not exceed 22,000 pesos; but if the value of the thing stolen exceeds the latter amount, the penalty shall be the maximum period of the one prescribed in this paragraph, and one year for each additional ten thousand pesos, but the total of the penalty which may be imposed shall not exceed twenty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed and for the purpose of the other provisions of this Code, the penalty shall be termed prision mayor or reclusion temporal, as the case may be. x x x

The Information filed against the petitioners alleged that the 63 pieces of timber without the requisite legal documents measuring 4,326 board feet were valued at P108,150.00. To prove this allegation, the prosecution presented Pioquinto to testify, among others, on this amount. Tally Sheets and Seizure Receipts were also presented to corroborate said amount. With the value of the timber exceeding P22,000.00, the basic penalty is prision mayor in its minimum and medium periods to be imposed in its maximum, the range of which is eight (8) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day to ten (10) years. Since none of the qualifying circumstances in Article 310 of the RPC was alleged in the Information, the penalty cannot be increased two degrees higher. In determining the additional years of imprisonment, P22,000.00 is to be deducted from P108,150.00, which results to P86,150.00. This remainder must be divided by P10,000.00, disregarding any amount less than P10,000.00. Consequently, eight (8) years must be added to the basic penalty. Thus the maximum imposable penalty ranges from sixteen (16) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day to eighteen (18) years of reclusion temporal. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum imposable penalty should be taken anywhere within the range of the penalty next lower in degree, without considering the modifying circumstances. The penalty one degree lower from prision mayor in its minimum and medium periods is prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods, the range of which is from two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day to six (6) years. Thus, the RTC, as affirmed by the CA, erroneously fixed the minimum period of the penalty at twelve (12) years of prision mayor. Finally, the case against Boyatac must be dismissed considering his demise even before the RTC rendered its Judgment. WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The assailed Decision dated June 28, 2005 and the Resolution dated September 22, 2006 in CA-G.R. CR No. 26720 are AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATIONS that petitioners Crisostomo Villarin and Aniano Latayada are each sentenced to suffer imprisonment of two (2) years, four (4) months, and one (1) day of prision correccional, as minimum, to sixteen (16) years, eight (8) months, and one (1) day of reclusion temporal, as maximum. The complaint against Cipriano Boyatac is hereby DISMISSED.

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, represented by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Petitioner,

G.R. No. 159308 Present: YNARES-SANTIAGO, J., Chairperson, AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, CHICO-NAZARIO, NACHURA, and REYES, JJ. Promulgated: September 16, 2008

- versus -

PAGADIAN CITY TIMBER CO., INC., Respondent.

x------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x DECISION

NACHURA, J.:

This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari59 under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court seeking to nullify and set aside the Decision60 dated October 18, 2001 and the Resolution61 dated July 24, 2003 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 59194 entitled Pagadian City Timber Co., Inc. v. Antonio Cerilles, as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Antonio Mendoza, as Regional Executive Director, DENR, Region IX. The antecedent facts are as follows: On October 14, 1994, petitioner, through the DENR, and respondent Pagadian City Timber Co., Inc. executed Industrial Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) No. R-9-04062 whereby petitioner, represented by then Regional Executive Director (RED) for Region IX, Leonito C. Umali, authorized respondent, represented by its President Filomena San Juan, to develop, utilize, and manage a specified forest area covering 1,999.14 hectares located in Barangays Langapod, Cogonan, and Datagan, Municipality of Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur, for the production of timber and other forest products subject to a production-sharing scheme. Respondent later submitted the required Comprehensive Development and Management Plan (CDMP) which the DENR approved on August 17, 1995. On October 8, 1998, in response to the numerous complaints filed by members of the Subanen tribe regarding respondents alleged failure to implement the CDMP, disrespect of their rights as an indigenous people, and the constant thre ats and harassment by armed men employed by respondent, RED Antonio Mendoza, DENR Region IX, issued Regional Special Order No. 217 creating a regional team to evaluate and assess IFMA No. R-9-040. Thus, the DENR sent a letter dated October 22, 1998 to respondent, giving notice of the evaluation and assessment to be conducted on the area from October 22-30, 1998 covering the years 1997 and 1998. In the notice, the DENR requested any representative of the company to appear at the CENRO Office, Pagadian City, and bring with him documents and maps concerning its IFMA operations. On October 23, 1998, a DENR Evaluation Team composed of Aniceto Wenceslao (Forester, DENR, Zamboanga del Sur), Isabelo Mangaya-ay (Intern Chief, RCBF/MCO), Philidor Lluisma (Forester II, Regional Office), Chanito Paul Siton (C. Forester, CENRO-Pagadian City), Adelberto Roullo (Forester, CENRO, Pagadian City), and Francisco Martin (Carto LEP, CENRO, Pagadian City) went to the IFMA site. After a briefing conference between the Evaluation Team and respondents Operations Manager, Inocencio Santiago, actual field evaluation and assessment followed. On October 29, 1998, an exit conference and dialogue on post evaluation and assessment of IFMA R-9-04 was held between DENR officials, namely, CENR Officer Maximo O. Dichoso, IFMA Regional Team Leader, Forester Isabelo C. Mangaya-ay, and IFMA Regional Team Member, Forester Philidor O. Lluisma, and IFMA Representative and Operations Manager Inocencio Santiago at the CENRO, Pagadian City.63 The exit conference was called to order at 1:30 p.m. and was concluded at 3:00 p.m. Forester Mangaya-ay presented the representative results and findings of the Evaluation Team, to wit: The presiding officer started with the mango plantation in the Noran, Langapod side. That out of the estimated number of seedlings planted of about 2,008 hills, within an equivalent area of 20 hectares, the result or finding of the inventory conducted at 100% intensity is only 98 hills of seedlings survived including the doubtful and badly deformed. The species planted along trails are Gmelina and Mahogany species. The said foot trail planted with the aforementioned species starts from the entrance of the IFMA are where the notice billboard is posted up to the only existing look-out tower. The estimated average of percent survival for Gmelina is more or less 30%. There are also portions where higher percentage of survival is recorded at 56% and lower at 14%. There are areas planted declared by Kagawad Cerning Becagas of Barangay Cogonan now covered by CSC. The areas covered by CSC, a waiver is needed to be issued by the IFMA holder. CENR Officer Maximo O. Dichoso commented that during a meeting held before, the IFMA holder was willing to give up the said areas. The presiding officer continued that on the courtesy call made to the Barangay Chairman of Barangay Cogonan, Mr. Roberto Palaran recounted the assistance extended by the IFMA holder to his barangay as Community Assistance/service which includes electric generator, handheld radio and laborers for the repair of

Noburan Cogonan road and the repair of the hanging bridge at Sitio Tialaic to which the said Barangay Chairman issued a duly signed certification to this effect. With regards, the seedling stock within the nursery, there are approximately a total number of about 44,460 seedlings of Gmelina species. That the infrastructure implemented or constructed, there exist only one look-out tower of the reported 4 look-out towers constructed. Moreover, the team had also noted only 1 bunkhouse and 1 stockroom or shedhouse. There is also 1 Multi-purpose shed and 1 dilapidated or neglected notice billboard poster at the entrance trail leading to the IFMA area. That with regards the concrete monument, there are only 2 recorded. The other corners visible are those located at junctions of creeks and rivers. But the others cannot be visibly or never planted for the same cannot be pinpointed or shown to the team allegedly for lack of knowledge by the representative of the IFMA holder. Finally, the presiding officer reminded the herein IFMA representative Mr. Inocencio Santiago that per actual survey, inspection and ground verification, the team believes that the other reported areas planted are located outside the designated IFMA area particularly the Noburan and Langapod sides.64

After the presentation, Mangaya-ay asked Santiago if he had comments, suggestions, or questions regarding the matter and the manner of the conduct of the evaluation and assessment by the Evaluation Team. Santiago said he had none, but requested a copy of the report of the Evaluation Team. Mangaya-ay informed him that it was only RED Mendoza who may furnish him a copy of the report. Later, the Evaluation Team submitted a report through a Memorandum65 dated November 6, 1998 to the DENR-RED of Region 9, Zamboanga City, on the evaluation and assessment of respondent under IFMA No. R-9-040. The said Memorandum stated In compliance with Regional Special Order No. 217, Series of 1998, please be informed that the herein information is the result or findings of the team for the conduct of evaluation and assessment following the guidelines setforth under Department Administrative Order (DAO) No. 11, Series of 1995 of Pagadian Timber Co., Inc. under IFMA No. R9-040 against their actual accomplishment as mandated under the terms and conditions of the IFMA including other applicable laws, rules and regulations of the department on the matter. At the onset, the team conducted a briefing conference and dialogue with the IFMA holder, the CENR Officer of Pagadian City and personnel concerned for the proper and orderly implementation and conduct of the evaluation and assessment (please see attached). The team was composed of the Regional Evaluating Team, the CENRO and PENRO representatives and the representatives of the IFMA holder. The team proceeded to the western portion of the area of the herein IFMA particularly Barangay Cogonan, Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur. The evaluation and assessment was then conducted on the main nursery, the established plantation, the look-out towers, the boundary of ISF and claimed or occupied areas, natural or residual forest, the IFMA boundary, monuments planted, foot trails, other improvements introduced and the billboard and signboard posted. The inspection, evaluation and assessment conducted were all undertaken in the presence of the IFMA holder, representatives, laborers and other personnel on the area. (please see attached report, tall sheets, pictorials and map). In the conduct of the same, the IFMA representatives or laborers that assisted the team could only show the subject area under evaluation but the other areas alluded to as accomplished or undertaken by the company appeared upon actual verification and inspection to be negative and non-existent thus dispelling their allegation. With regard the information and dissemination conducted by the IFMA holder including other services extended to the communities within the IFMA area and vicinities, it is noteworthy for recognition the donations made by the company. (Please see attached minutes of the dialogue with the barangay officials of Barangay Cogonan and pictorials). The evaluation conducted on the nursery operations show that the facilities and other necessary implements were generally below par. An inventory of the seedlings stock of pure Gmelina species have already lapsed its plantability or have overgrown in the seedbed with an average grand total of about 44,460 within the established 2-hectare main nursery area. There was no other subsidiary nursery established in the area. Also noted is the enrichment planting conducted along both sides of the foot-trail which extends approximately 18 kms. From the entrance of the IFMA area going to the lookout tower of the four (4) lookout towers reported, only one (1) has been noted remaining in the area and the rest were destroyed or burned (pls. see attached pictorials). The signboard posted was unattended and in the state of disrepair. There were no monument planted or any marking along the IFMA boundary and in residual forest except the monuments found in the ISF boundaries within the IFMA area (please see attached pictorials). The plantation established is composed of Gmelina species with 4 x 4 spacing over a total of about 10.18 hectares. Basing on 5% estimate inventory, the result is 43% seedling survival. Thereafter, the team also conducted evaluation and assessment at the eastern portion particularly at Langapod, Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur. The team inspected and verified on the ground the reported 20 hectares mango plantation with a spacing of 10 x 10 meters at 100% intensity inventory. The accounted number of mango seedlings planted of about 2,008 hills, only 98 seedlings survived. Wherefore, it generally represents 5% seedling survival. (Please see attached)

Finally, the team conducted an exit conference with the CENR Officer, and the IFMA holder where the tentative and general findings of the evaluation and assessment was laid-out and presented to the body. (Please see attached)66 On the basis of such findings, the Evaluation Team made the following recommendations 1. The lessee should be required to explain why they failed to develop their IFMA area (Plantation Development) in accordance with the approved Comprehensive Development and Management Plan (CDMP); The boundary and area coverage of IFMA No. R9-040 should be amended to exclude areas covered by Certificates of Stewardship Contracts (CSC) under the ISF Program with an area of 226.17 hectares, other areas previously identified as occupied/claimed and other conflict areas; The amended boundary should be delineated/surveyed on the ground with a precise instrument and all corners appropriately marked/monumented; The company should hire a full time forester.67

2.

3.

4.

Acting on the Memorandum dated November 6, 1998, RED Antonio M. Mendoza, DENR-IX, Zamboanga City, submitted to the DENR Secretary a Memorandum68 dated April 7, 1999 regarding the performance evaluation of IFMA No. R-9-040. The RED Memorandum reads This has reference with the instruction to validate the performance/accomplishment of IFMAs of Region IX, Western Mindanao. Validation of IFMAs is in accordance with the existing policy of the DENR, to determine the capabilities of the holders to develop their Lease areas in consonance with their submitted and approved Comprehensive Development Management Plan. xxxx On 6 November 1998, Foresters Isabelo C. Mangaya-ay and Philidor Lluisma, pursuant to Regional Special Order No. 217, Series of 1998, conducted the evaluation of the performance of IFMA No. R9-040 of Pagadian City Timber Company, Inc. located at Langapod and Cogonan, Municipality of Labangan and Datagan, Municipality of Sominot, all of Zamboanga del Sur. Result of the evaluation reveals that the holder violated the following DENR existing Rules and Regulations particularly Section 26 of DAO 97-04 GROUNDS FOR CANCELLATION of IFMA which provides that, any of the following violations shall be sufficient grounds for the cancellation of IFMA. 1. Paragraph 26.5, Section 26, DAO 97-04, Series of 1997, provides that failure to implement the approved Comprehensive Development and Management Plan. As of 1998, the 4 year of existence of IFMA No. R9-040, the holder must have developed a total of 1,597.0 hectares as per approved CDMP. However, based on the report submitted by the Evaluation Team only 365.2 hectares was planted which are about 22.8%. During the evaluation, however, the IFMA representative could not even pinpoint the planted areas. Per report of the Pagadian CENRO Composite Monitoring Team conducted on 21 August 1998 the plantation area was burned resulting to the damage of about 300 hectares leaving only about 20.0 hectares undamaged. No report had been submitted/received since then. In infrastructure, the holder managed to put up one (1) out of four (4) programmed look-out towers; developed one (1) out of two (2) forest nurseries and constructed only 6 km. foot trail which is only about 27% accomplishment of the whole infrastructure. 2. Paragraph 26.8 of Section 26, DAO 97-04, specifically provides that failure to implement or adopt agreements made with communities and other relevant sectors. Attached herewith, please find several petitions, sworn statements, affidavits and resolutions from various sectors particularly the Subanen Communities (IPs) within the area. The existence and approval of IFMA No. R9-040 contract is being protested and is demanding for its cancellation. The primary complaint was a blatant disrespect to their rights as an Indigenous People and the nonpeaceful co-existence between them and the holder of the IFMA R9-040. Accordingly, they were constantly threatened/harassed by armed men employed by the holder.
th

In the same Memorandum, RED Mendoza recommended to the DENR Secretary the cancellation of IFMA No. R-9-040. 69

It appears that RED Mendoza issued a subsequent but similar Memorandum70 dated April 21, 1999 to the DENR Secretary relative to IFMA No. R-9-040. It stated This has reference with the instruction to validate the performance/accomplishment of IFMAs of Region IX, Western Mindanao. Validation of IFMAs is in accordance with the existing policy of the DENR to determine the capabilities of the holders to develop their Lease areas in consonance with their approved Comprehensive Development and Management Plan. In furtherance thereto, Foresters Isabelo C. Mangaya-ay and Philidor Lluisma, pursuant to Regional Special Order No. 217, Series of 1998, conducted the evaluation of the performance of IFMA No. R9-040 of Pagadian City Timber Company, Inc. located at the Municipalities of Labangan, Datagan and Sominot, all of Zamboanga del Sur, on November 6, 1998. Result of the evaluation revealed that the holder violated Rules and Regulations which are sufficient ground for cancellation as stipulated under Section 26 of DAO 97-04, they are as follows 1. FAILURE TO IMPLEMENT THE APPROVED COMPREHENSIVE DEVELOPMENT AND MANAGEMENT PLAN.

Under the approved comprehensive and development plan, 1,597.0 ha of plantation should have been established from the Approval of the CDMP. However, only 365.2 ha were reportedly planted from CY 1995 to 1997. This represents only 28% of the targeted goal on plantation establishment. Field validation of the reported established plantation revealed otherwise. The findings of the team are: A. Portion of the area reported as established plantation by the IFMA holder is an ISF project with an area of 226.17 ha. These are covered with Certificate of Stewardship; Locations and boundaries of reported plantations established from 1995 to 1997 cannot be located on the ground by the team neither by the representative of the IFMA holder who accompanied the validating team; and No plantation was established during CY 1998.

B.

C.

On Infrastructure, the holder constructed only one (1) lookout tower as against the goal of 4 towers; established one (1) nursery as against the goal of two (2); and constructed only 6km foot trail. These represent only 27% of the total infrastructure to be undertaken by the holder over the area. 2. FAILURE TO IMPLEMENT OR ADOPT AGREEMENT WITH COMMUNITIES AND OTHER RELEVANT SECTORS.

Attached herewith are copies of petitions, sworn statements, affidavit and resolutions from Subanen Communities (IPs) and other sectors in the area demanding the cancellation of IFMA R9 -040. The complaints and demand for cancellation by the people where the IFMA is located is a manifestation and proof of non-social acceptance of the project by the residents in the locality. In view of the above findings, IFMA No. R9-040 is hereby recommended for cancellation.71

Acting on the latter Memorandum from RED Mendoza, then DENR Secretary Antonio H. Cerilles, on June 7, 1999, issued an Order72 canceling IFMA No. R-9-040 for failure to implement the approved CDMP and for failure of the lessee to protect the area from forest fires. The dispositive portion of the Order reads: WHEREFORE, premises considered, IFMA No. R9-040 issued to Pagadian City Timber Co., Inc. is hereby ordered cancelled. The IFMA holder is hereby ordered to immediately vacate the area and to surrender/return copy of the Agreement to the Regional Executive Director, DENR Region 9, Zamboanga City. The RED concerned or his duly authorized representative is hereby directed to serve this Order; determine best end use of the land; take appropriate measures to protect the same and inform this Office immediately of his compliance. SO ORDERED.73

On July 2, 1999, respondents President, Filomena S. San Juan, wrote DENR Secretary Cerilles that the company was surprised to receive the Order of the cancellation of IFMA No. R-9-040 on June 22, 1999. She claimed that The DENR regional office is fully aware that the company is doing its best to manage and develop the area by continually planting trees and protecting the area from forest fires and illegalities. No company would ever set fire on its own plantation for obvious reasons. The company observed precautionary measures especially during the time of the El Nio phenomenon. If there have been mistakes and miscommunications in the reports of the DENR field officers, these could have been threshed out by a conference between DENR and the Pagadian Timber Company Inc. The company was not accorded due process before the order of cancellation was issued. The company was not furnished copy of the evaluation and recommendation of the DENR Regional Executive Director of Region IX. Had the company been given the opportunity to contest the findings, evaluation and recommendation of the said office, the result would be otherwise.74

She appealed for the reconsideration of the Order asking that a re-investigation be conducted to comply with due process. Even as the said letter for reconsideration was not yet acted upon, respondent appealed to the Office of the President (OP). In the Resolution75 dated January 12, 2000, the OP affirmed the cancellation order based on the results of the actual evaluation and assessment of the DENR team. It ruled that the cancellation of IFMA No. R-9-040 was primarily and specifically governed by Section 26 of Department Administrative Order (DAO) 97-04. Relative to respondents invocation of due process, the OP held that respondent was afforded the right to be heard when it filed its motion for reconsideration and its subsequent appeal to the OP. The motion for reconsideration filed by respondent of the January 12, 2000 Resolution was denied by the OP in the Resolution76 dated May 8, 2000. Respondent went up to the Court of Appeals (CA) via a petition for review with a prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction against the implementation of the assailed Order dated June 7, 1999. In its Resolution dated January 17, 2001, the CA issued the writ of preliminary injunction prayed for, directing and ordering respondents (petitioner) and/or any other person acting under their command, authority and/or for and in their behalf, to DESIST from implementing the assailed Order of cancellation dated June 7, 1999, and/or taking over the IFMA premises of [respondent], pending the termination of this proceedin g. In its Decision77 dated October 18, 2001, the CA ruled in favor of respondents. In striking down the rulings of the OP and the Order dated June 7, 1999, the CA declared that IFMA No. R-9-040 was a contract that could not be unilaterally cancelled without infringing on the rights of respondent to due process and against impairment of contracts. The appellate court agreed with respondent when the latter argued that it was entitled to the benefits of Sections 3578 and 3679 of IFMA No. R-9-040 such that respondent should have been given 30 days, after due notice, to remedy any breach or default of the provisions of the IFMA and/or that the dispute regarding the bases for the cancellation of the IFMA should have first been submitted to arbitration. Petitioner moved to reconsider the CA Decision. In the Resolution80 dated July 24, 2003, the motion was denied for lack of merit. Hence, this petition based on the following grounds:

I. The Court of Appeals gravely erred in ruling that IFMA No. R9-040 is a contract and not a mere privilege granted by the State to respondent. II. The Court of Appeals seriously erred in ordaining that respondent can rightfully invoke prior resort to arbitration or the option to mend its violations under IFMA No. R9-040.81

In essence, petitioner argues that an IFMA is not an ordinary contract which is protected by the Constitution against impairment82 but a mere privilege granted by the State to qualified persons by means of a permit, license, franchise, agreement, or other similar concessions, which in this case is the exploration, development and utilization of the forest lands belonging to the State under its full control and supervision. Thus, the cancellation of the IFMA does not amount to a rescission of a contract but a mere withdrawal of this privilege. As such, the due process clause under the Constitution83 does not likewise apply since the IFMA area cannot be considered as property of respondent. According to petitioner, IFMA No. R-9-040, with the forest lands covered by it, is imbued with paramount considerations of public interest and public welfare such that whatever rights respondent may have under it must yield to the police power of the State. In this sense, respondent cannot take refuge in Sections 35 and 36 of IFMA No. R-9-040 to prevent the IFMAs cancellation. Inasmuch as the grounds cited by petitioner are interrelated, they shall be jointly discussed hereunder. The petition is impressed with merit. IFMA No. R-9-040 is a license agreement under Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 705 (Revised Forestry Code), the law which is the very basis for its existence.84 Under Section 3, paragraph (dd) thereof, a license agreement is defined as a privilege85 granted by the State to a person to utilize forest resources within any forest land with the right of possession and occupation thereof to the exclusion of others, except the government, but with the corresponding obligation to develop, protect and rehabilitate the same in accordance with the terms and conditions set forth in said agreement. This is evident in the following features, among others, of IFMA No. R-9-040, to wit: 1. The State agreed to devolve to the holder of IFMA No. R-9-040 the responsibility to manage the specified IFMA area for a period of 25 years, specifically until October 14, 2019, which period is automatically renewable for another 25 years thereafter; 2. The State imposed upon respondent, as holder of IFMA No. R-9-040, the conditions, the means, and the manner by which the IFMA area shall be managed, developed, and protected; 3. The State, through the DENR Secretary, shall not collect any rental within the first five (5) years of the IFMA, after which it shall be entitled to annual rental of fifty centavos (P0.50) per hectare from the sixth to the tenth year thereof, and one peso (P1.00) per hectare thereafter; 4. The IFMA area, except only the trees and other crops planted and the permanent improvements constructed by the IFMA holder, remains the property of the State; and 5. Upon cancellation of the IFMA through the fault of the holder, all improvements including forest plantations existing within the IFMA area shall revert to and become the property of the State.

An IFMA has for its precursor the Timber License Agreement (TLA), one of the tenurial instruments issued by the State to its grantees for the efficient management of the countrys dwindling forest resources. Jurisprudence has been consistent in holding that license agreements are not contracts within the purview of the due process and the non-impairment of contracts clauses enshrined in the Constitution. Our pronouncement in Alvarez v. PICOP Resources, Inc.86 is enlightening In unequivocal terms, we have consistently held that such licenses concerning the harvesting of timber in the countrys forests cannot be considered contracts that would bind the Government regardless of changes in policy and the demands of public interest and welfare. (citing Oposa v. Factoran, Jr., G.R. No. 101083, July 30, 1993, 224 SCRA 792, 811) Such unswerving verdict is synthesized in Oposa v. Factoran, Jr., (id., at pp. 811, 812) where we held:

In the first place, the respondent Secretary did not, for obvious reasons, even invoke in his motion to dismiss the non-impairment clause. If he had done so, he would have acted with utmost infidelity to the Government by providing undue and unwarranted benefits and advantages to the timber license holders because he would have forever bound the Government to strictly respect the said licenses according to their terms and conditions regardless of changes in policy and the demands of public interest and welfare. He was aware that as correctly pointed out by petitioners, into every timber license must be read Section 20 of the Forestry Reform Code (P.D. No. 705) which provides: x x x Provided, that when the national interest so requires, the President may amend, modify, replace or rescind any contract, concession, permit, licenses or any other form of privilege granted herein x x x. Needless to say, all licenses may thus be revoked or rescinded by executive action. It is not a contract, property or a property right protected by the due process clause of the constitution. In Tan vs. Director of Forestry, [125 SCRA 302, 325 (1983)] this Court held: x x x A timber license is an instrument by which the State regulates the utilization and disposition of forest resources to the end that public welfare is promoted. A timber license is not a contract within the purview of the due process clause; it is only a license or privilege, which can be validly withdrawn whenever dictated by public interest or public welfare as in this case. A license is merely a permit or privilege to do what otherwise would be unlawful, and is not a contract between the authority, federal, state, or municipal, granting it and the person to whom it is granted; neither is it property or a property right, nor does it create a vested right; nor is it taxation (37 C.J. 168). Thus, this Court held that the granting of license does not create irrevocable rights, neither is it property or property rights. ( People vs. Ong Tin, 54 O.G. 7576). x x x We reiterated this pronouncement in Felipe Ysmael, Jr. & Co., Inc. vs. Deputy Executive Secretary [190 SCRA 673, 684 (1990): x x x Timber licenses, permits and license agreements are the principal instruments by which the State regulates the utilization and disposition of forest resources to the end that public welfare is promoted. And it can hardly be gainsaid that they merely evidence a privilege granted by the State to qualified entities, and do not vest in the latter a permanent or irrevocable right to the particular concession area and the forest products therein. They may be validly amended, modified, replaced or rescinded by the Chief Executive when national interests so require. Thus, they are not deemed contracts within the purview of the due process of law clause. [See Sections 3(ee) and 20 of Pres. Decree No. 705, as amended. Also, Tan v. Director of Forestry, G.R. No. L-24548, October 27, 1983, 125 SCRA 302]. Since timber licenses are not contracts, the non-impairment clause, which reads: SEC. 10. passed. cannot be invoked. No law impairing, the obligation of contracts shall be

Even assuming arguendo that an IFMA can be considered a contract or an agreement, we agree with the Office of the Solicitor General that the alleged property rights that may have arisen from it are not absolute. All Filipino citizens are entitled, by right, to a balanced and healthful ecology as declared under Section 16,87 Article II of the Constitution. This right carries with it the correlative duty to refrain from impairing the environment,88 particularly our diminishing forest resources. To uphold and protect this right is an express policy of the State.89 The DENR is the instrumentality of the State mandated to actualize this policy. It is the primary government agency responsible fo r the conservation, management, development and proper use of the countrys environment and natural resources, including those in reservation and watershed areas, and lands of the public domain, as well as the licensing and regulation of all natural resources as may be provided for by law in order to ensure equitable sharing of the benefits derived therefrom for the welfare of the present and future generations of Filipinos.90

Thus, private rights must yield when they come in conflict with this public policy and common interest. They must give way to the police or regulatory power of the State, in this case through the DENR, to ensure that the terms and conditions of existing laws, rules and regulations, and the IFMA itself are strictly and faithfully complied with. Respondent was not able to overturn by sufficient evidence the presumption of regularity in the performance of official functions of the Evaluation Team when the latter inspected, assessed, and reported the violations respondent committed under DAO No. 97-04 which eventually led to the cancellation of IFMA No. R-9-040. It is worthy to note that petitioner followed regular procedure regarding the assessment of IFMA No. R-9-040. It gave notice of the evaluation on October 22, 1998 to be held within the period October 22-30, 1998. Respondent admitted through the affidavits of its President,91 Operations Manager,92 and workers93 that an Evaluation Team arrived at the IFMA area on October 23, 1998. On October 23, 1998, prior to the actual assessment, a briefing was held on the conduct thereof in the presence of the IFMA representatives. On October 29, 1998, an exit conference with IFMA Operations Manager Inocencio Santiago was held at the CENRO Office, Pagadian City, where the results of the assessment were presented. That day, the DENR officials asked Santiago if he had any questions or comments on the assessment results and on the manner the evaluation was conducted, but the latter replied that he had none. We do not understand why Santiago did not lift a finger or raise an objection to the assessment results, and only much later in his Affidavit executed almost ten months thereafter, or on August 12, 1999, to claim so belatedly that there was no notice given on October 22, 1998, that the Evaluation Team did not actually extensively inspect the IFMA area on October 23, 1998, and that there was no proper exit conference held on October 29, 1998. The same observation applies to respondents President herself, who instead claimed that she vehemently opposed the appointment of then DENR Secretary Cerilles because he was bent on canceling the IFMA at all costs, prior to the cancellation of IFMA No. R-9-040. Besides, the detailed findings on the failure of respondent to implement its CDMP under its IFMA, as shown by the November 6, 1998 Report of the Evaluation Team and the Memoranda dated April 7, 1999 and April 21, 1999, together with all its attachments, belie respondents claim that there was no actual evaluation a nd assessment that took place on October 23, 1998. That the Evaluation Report was dated November 6, 1998 does not conclusively show that the evaluation was actually held on that date. Neither was this properly proven by the Memoranda of RED Mendoza which stated that the evaluation was conducted on November 6, 1998, since RED Mendoza could have been merely misled into such an assumption because of the date of the Evaluation Report. The sweeping denials made by the IFMA representatives and their self-serving accomplishment reports cannot prevail over the actual inspection conducted, the results of which are shown by documentary proof. Respondent, likewise, cannot insist that, pursuant to Section 35 of IFMA No. R-9-040, it should have been given notice of its breach of the IFMA and should have been given 30 days therefrom to remedy the breach. It is worthy to note that Section 35 uses the word may which must be interpreted as granting petitioner the discretion whether or not to give such notice and allow the option to remedy the breach. In this case, despite the lack of any specific recommendation from the Evaluation Team for the cancellation of the IFMA, DENR Secretary Cerilles deemed it proper to cancel the IFMA due to the extent and the gravity of respondents violations. It is also futile for respondent to claim that it is entitled to an arbitration under Section 36 of IFMA No. R-9-040 before the license agreement may be canceled. A reading of the said Section shows that the dispute should be based on the provisions of the IFMA to warrant a referral to arbitration of an irreconcilable conflict between the IFMA holder and the DENR Secretary. In this case, the cancellation was grounded on Section 26 of DAO No. 97-04, particularly respondents failure to implement the approved CDMP and its failure to implement or adopt agreements made with communities and other relevant sectors. The contrary notwithstanding, what remains is that respondent never refuted the findings of the Evaluation Team when given the opportunity to do so but waited until IFMA No. R-9-040 was already cancelled before it made its vigorous objections as to the conduct of the evaluation, harping only on its alleged right to due process. Indeed, respondent was given the opportunity to contest the findings that caused the cancellation of its IFMA when it moved to reconsider the Order of cancellation and when it filed its appeal and motion for reconsideration before the OP. The essence of due process is simply an opportunity to be heard, or as applied to administrative proceedings, an opportunity to explain ones side or an opportunity to seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. What the law prohibits is the absolute absence of the opportunity to be heard; hence, a party cannot feign denial of due process where he had been afforded the opportunity to present his side.94 WHEREFORE, the Decision dated October 18, 2001 and the Resolution dated July 24, 2003 of the Court of Appeals in CAG.R. SP No. 59194 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the Order dated June 7, 1999 of then DENR Secretary Antonio Cerilles,

and the Resolutions of the Office of the President dated January 12, 2000 and May 8, 2000 affirming the said Order, are REINSTATED and AFFIRMED. No pronouncement as to costs.

OLYMPIO REVALDO, Petitioner,

G.R. No. 170589 Present: PUNO, C.J., Chairperson, CARPIO, CORONA, LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, and BERSAMIN, JJ. Promulgated:

- versus -

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.

April 16, 2009

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x DECISION CARPIO, J.: The Case Before this Court is a petition for review by petitioner Olympio Revaldo (petitioner) seeking to reverse the Decision dated 96 23 August 2004 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 22031 affirming the Decision dated 5 September 1997 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 25, Maasin, Southern Leyte (RTC -Branch 25), in Criminal Case No. 1652, finding petitioner guilty beyond 97 98 reasonable doubt of illegal possession of lumber in violation of Section 68 of the Revised Forestry Code (Forestry Code). The Facts Petitioner was charged with the offense of illegal possession of premium hardwood lumber in violation of Section 68 of the 99 Forestry Code, in an Information which reads: That on or about the 17 day of June 1992, in the (M)unicipality of Maasin, (P)rovince of Southern Leyte, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above -named accused, with intent of gain, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously possess 96.14 board ft. of the following species of flat lumber: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Six (6) pcs. 1x10x7 Molave; One (1) pc. 2x6x6 Molave; Two (2) pcs. 2x4x6 Molave; Two (2) pcs. 1x10x6 Narra; Two (2) pcs. 2x8x7 Bajong; One (1) pc. 1x6x6 Bajong; Four (4) pcs. 1x6x6 Magkalipay; and Three (3) pcs. 1x6x5 Magkalipay;
th 95

with a total value of P1,730.52, Philippine Currency, without any legal document as required under existing forest laws and regulations from proper government authorities, to the damage and prejudice of the government.

Upon arraignment, petitioner, assisted by counsel, pleaded not guilty. Trial ensued. The prosecution presented SPO4 Constantino Maceda (Maceda), Sulpicio Saguing (Saguing), and SPO4 Daniel Paloma Lasala (Lasala) as witnesses. Maceda, the person in charge of the operations section of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Maasin, Southern Leyte, testified that on 18 June 1992, at around 11:00 in the morning, he went with Chief Alejandro Rojas (Rojas), SPO3 Melquiades Talisic (Talisic) and SPO3 Nicasio Sunit (Sunit) to the house of petitioner to verify the report of Sunit that petitioner had in his possession lumber without the necessary documents. They were not armed with a search warrant on that day. They confiscated 20 pieces of lumber of different varieties lying around the vicinity of the house of petitioner. Maceda asked petitioner who the owner of the lumber was and petitioner replied that he owned the lumber. Petitioner stated that he would use the lumber to repair his house and to make furniture for sale. Maceda also testified that the lumber were freshly cut. Maceda loaded the lumber on the patrol jeep and brought them to the police station. For coordination purposes, Maceda informed the office of the Department of Environment and 100 Natural Resources (DENR) of the confiscated lumber. The DENR entrusted to the police custody of the lumber. Saguing, Forester II, CENRO-DENR, Maasin, Southern Leyte, testified that he went to the office of the PNP in Maasin, Leyte to scale the confiscated lumber which were of different varieties. The total volume was 96.14 board feet belonging to the first 101 group of hardwood lumber. Lasala, Responsible Supply Sergeant, Finance Sergeant and Evidence Custodian, PNP, Maasin, Southern Leyte, testified that he received the 20 pieces of assorted sizes and varieties of lumber from the Clerk of Court of the Municipal Trial Court, but only 102 ten pieces remained because some were damaged due to lack of storage space. For the defense, petitioner presented Dionisio Candole (Candole), Apolonio Caalim (Caalim), and himself as witnesses. Petitioner testified that he is a carpenter specializing in furniture making. He was in his house working on an ordered divider for a customer in the morning of 18 June 1992 when policemen arrived and inspected his lumber. Maceda, Sunit and Rojas entered his house while Talisic stayed outside. Petitioner admitted to the policemen that he had no permit to possess the lumber because those were only given to him by his uncle Felixberto Bug -os (Bug-os), his aunt Gliceria Bolo (Bolo), his mother-in-law Cecilia Tenio (Tenio). The seven pieces of magkalipay lumber were left over from a divider he made for his cousin Jose Epiz. He 103 explained further that the lumber were intended for the repair of his dilapidated house. The defense presented Caalim to 104 corroborate the testimony of petitioner. Defense witness Candole testified that it was Bug-os who hired him to cut a tugas tree on his land, sawed it into lumber and delivered the same to petitioner who paid for the labor transporting the sawn lumber. Candole further testified that while they 105 were on their way to Barangay Combado, Sunit stopped them but allowed the lumber to be brought to the house of petitioner. The Ruling of the Trial Court The trial court stated that petitioner failed to present Bug-os, Bolo, and Tenio to attest to the fact that they sought prior DENR permission before cutting the trees and sawing them into lumber. The trial court further stated that the Forestry Code is a special law where criminal intent is not necessary. The Secretary of the DENR may issue a Special Private Land Timber Permit to landowners to cut, gather, collect or remove narra or other premium hardwood species found in private lands. Transportation of timber or other forest products without authority or without the legal documents required under forest rules and regulations is punishable under Section 68 of the Forestry Code. Petitioner did not present any document as required by law. The RTC-Branch 25 rendered judgment on 5 September 1997 convicting petitioner of the offense charged and sentencing him as follows: WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered finding the accused OLYMPIO REVALDO GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the offense charged and, crediting him with one mitigating circumstance before applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law hereby SENTENCES him to an indeterminate imprisonment term of FOUR (4) YEARS and TWO (2) MONTHS of PRISION CORRECCIONAL as minimum to EIGHT (8) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of PRISION MAYOR, as maximum, and to pay the costs. The 21 pieces of flat lumber of different varieties, scaled at 96.14 board feet and valued at P1,730.52 are

hereby ordered CONFISCATED and FORFEITED in favor of the government particularly the CENRO, Maasin, Southern Leyte which shall sell the same at public auction and the proceeds turned over to the National 106 Treasury. Petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Ruling of the Court of Appeals On 23 August 2004, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. The Court of Appeals ruled that motive or intention is immaterial for the reason that mere possession of the lumber without the legal documents gives rise to criminal liability. Hence, the present petition.

The Courts Ruling Petitioner contends that the warrantless search and seizure conducted by the police officers was illegal and thus the items seized should not have been admitted in evidence against him. Petitioner argues that the police officers were not armed with a search warrant when they went to his house to verify the report of Sunit that petitioner had in his possession lumber without the corresponding license. The police officers who conducted the search in the premises of petitioner acted on the basis only on the verbal order of the Chief of Police. Sunit had already informed the team of the name of petitioner and the location the day before they conducted the search. Petitioner argues that, with that information on hand, the police officers could have easily convinced a judge that there was probable cause to justify the issuance of a search warrant, but they did not. Because the search was illegal, all items recovered from petitioner during the illegal search were prohibited from being used as evidence against him. Petitioner therefore prays for his acquittal. In its Comment, respondent People of the Philippines (respondent) contends that even without a search warrant, the 107 personnel of the PNP can seize the forest products cut, gathered or taken by an offender pursuant to Section 80 of the Forestry Code. There is no question that the police officers went to the house of petitioner because of the information relayed by Sunit that petitioner had in his possession illegally cut lumber. When the police officers arrived at the house of petitioner, the lumber were lying around the vicinity of petitioners house. The lumber were in plain view. Under the plain view doctrine, objects falling in plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure and may be presented as evidence. This 108 Court had the opportunity to summarize the rules governing plain view searches in the case of People v. Doria, to wit: The plain view doctrine applies when the following requisites concur: (a) the law enforcement officer in search of the evidence has a prior justification for an intrusion or is in a position from which he can view a particular area; (b) the discovery of the evidence in plain view is inadvertent; (c) it is immediately apparent to the officer that the item he observes may be evidence of a crime, contraband or otherwise subject to seizure. The law enforcement officer must lawfully make an initial intrusion or properly be in a position from which he can particularly view the area. In the course of such lawful intrusion, he came inadvertently across a piece of evidence incriminating the 109 accused. The object must be open to eye and hand and its discovery inadvertent. When asked whether he had the necessary permit to possess the lumber, petitioner failed to produce one. Petitioner merely replied that the lumber in his possession was intended for the repair of his house and for his furniture shop. There was thus probable cause for the police officers to confiscate the lumber. There was, therefore, no necessity for a search warrant. The seizure of the lumber from petitioner who did not have the required permit to possess the forest products cut is sanctioned by Section 68 of the Forestry Code which provides: Sec. 68. Cutting, Gathering and/or Collecting Timber, or Other Forest Products Without License. Any person who shall cut, gather, collect, remove timber or other forest products from any forest land, or timber from alienable or disposable public land, or from private land without any authority, or possess timber or other forest products without the legal documents as required under existing forest laws and regulations , shall be punished with the penalties imposed under Articles 309 and 310 of the Revised Penal Code: Provided, That in the case of partnerships, associations, or corporations, the officers who ordered the cutting, gathering, collection or possession shall be liable, and if such officers are aliens, they shall, in addition to the penalty, be deported without further proceedings on the part of the Commission on Immigration and Deportation. The Court shall further order the confiscation in favor of the government of the timber or any forest

products cut, gathered, collected, removed, or possessed, as well as the machinery, equipment, implements and tools illegally used in the area where the timber or forest products are found . (Emphasis supplied) There are two distinct and separate offenses punished under Section 68 of the Forestry Code, to wit: (1) Cutting, gathering, collecting and removing timber or other forest products from any forest land, or timber from alienable or disposable public land, or from private land without any authority; and (2) Possession of timber or other forest products without the legal documents required under existing forest 110 laws and regulations. As the Court held in People v. Que, in the first offense, one can raise as a defense the legality of the acts of cutting, gathering, collecting, or removing timber or other forest products by presenting the authorization issued by the DENR. In the second offense, however, it is immaterial whether the cutting, gathering, collecting and removal of the forest products are legal or not. Mere possession of forest products without the proper documents consummates the crime. Whether or not the lumber comes from a legal source is immaterial because the Forestry Code is a special law which considers mere possession of timber or other forest products without the proper documentation as malum prohibitum. On whether the police officers had the authority to arrest petitioner, even without a warrant, Section 80 of the Forestry Code authorizes the forestry officer or employee of the DENR or any personnel of the PNP to arrest, even without a warrant, any person who has committed or is committing in his presence any of the offenses defined by the Forestry Code and to seize and confiscate the tools and equipment used in committing the offense or the forest products gathered or taken by the offender. Section 80 reads: Sec. 80. Arrest; Institution of Criminal Actions. - A forest officer or employee of the Bureau or any personnel of the Philippine Constabulary/Philippine National Police shall arrest even without warrant any person who has committed or is committing in his presence any of the offenses defined in this chapter. He shall also seize and confiscate, in favor of the Government, the tools and equipment used in committing the offense, and the forest products cut, gathered or taken by the offender in the process of committing the offense. x x x (Emphasis supplied) Petitioner was in possession of the lumber without the necessary documents when the police officers accosted him. In open court, petitioner categorically admitted the possession and ownership of the confiscated lumber as well as the fact that he did not have any legal documents therefor and that he merely intended to use the lumber for the repair of his dilapidated house. Mere possession of forest products without the proper documentation consummates the crime. Dura lex sed lex. The law may be harsh but that is the law. On the penalty imposed by the lower courts, we deem it necessary to discuss the matter. Violation of Section 68 of the 112 Forestry Code is punished as Qualified Theft with the penalties imposed under Articles 309 and 310 of the Revised Penal Code, thus: Art. 309. Penalties. - Any person guilty of theft shall be punished by: 1. The penalty of prisin mayor in its minimum and medium periods, if the value of the thing stolen is more than 12,000 pesos but does not exceed 22,000 pesos; but if the value of the thing stolen exceeds the latter amount, the penalty shall be the maximum period of the one prescribed in this paragraph, and one year for each additional ten thousand pesos, but the total of the penalty which may be imposed shall not exceed twenty years. In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed and for the purpose of the other provisions of this Code, the penalty shall be termed prisin mayor or reclusin temporal, as the case may be. 2. The penalty of prisin correccional in its medium and maximum periods, if the value of the thing stolen is more than 6,000 pesos but does not exceed 12,000 pesos. 3. The penalty of prisin correccional in its minimum and medium periods, if the value of the property stolen is more than 200 pesos but does not exceed 6,000 pesos. 4. Arresto mayor in its medium period to prisin correccional in its minimum period, if the value of the property stolen is over 50 pesos but does not exceed 200 pesos. 5. Arresto mayor to its full extent, if such value is over 5 pesos but does not exceed 50 pesos. 6. Arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods, if such value does not exceed 5 pesos. 7. Arresto menor or a fine not exceeding 200 pesos, if the theft is committed under the circumstances enumerated in paragraph 3 of the next preceding article and the value of the thing stolen does not exceed 5 pesos. If such value exceeds said amount, the provisions of any of the five preceding subdivisions shall be made applicable. 8. Arresto menor in its minimum period or a fine not exceeding 50 pesos, when the value of the thing stolen is not over 5 pesos, and the offender shall have acted under the impulse of hunger, poverty, or the difficulty of earning a livelihood for the support of himself or his family. Art. 310. Qualified theft. - The crime of qualified theft shall be punished by the penalties next higher by two degrees than those respectively specified in the next preceding articles, x x x. The trial court applied Article 309(3), in relation to Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code, considering that the amount involved was P1,730.52. However, except for the amount stated in the Information, the prosecution did not present any proof as to
111

the value of the lumber. What the prosecution presented were the Seizure Receipt and Confiscation Receipt stating the number of pieces of lumber, their species, dimensions and volumes, with no pertinent supporting document. These do not suffice. 115 As we have held in Merida v. People, to prove the amount of the property taken for fixing the penalty imposable against the accused under Article 309 of the Revised Penal Code, the prosecution must present more than a mere uncorroborated estimate of such fact. In the absence of independent and reliable corroboration of such estimate, the courts may either apply the minimum penalty under Article 309 or fix the value of the property taken based on the attendant circumstances of the case. Accordingly, the prescribed penalty under Article 309(6) of the Revised Penal Code is arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods. However, considering that violation of Section 68 of the Forestry Code is punished as qualified theft under Article 310 of the Revised Penal Code pursuant to the Forestry Code, the prescribed penalty shall be increased by two degrees, that is, to prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods or two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day to six (6) years. Taking into account the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum term shall be taken from anywhere within the range of four (4) months and one (1) day to two (2) years and four (4) months of arresto mayor, which is the penalty next lower to the prescribed penalty. We find it proper to impose upon petitioner, under the circumstances obtaining here, the indeterminate penalty of four (4) months and one (1) day of arresto mayor, as minimum, to two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day of prision correccional, as maximum. WHEREFORE, we AFFIRM the appealed Decision convicting petitioner for violation of Section 68 (now Section 77) of the Forestry Code, as amended, with MODIFICATION as regards the penalty in that petitioner Olympio Revaldo is sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of four (4) months and one (1) day of arresto mayor, as minimum, to two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day of prision correccional, as maximum.

113

114