What’s happening to the Court of Appeals? Is it on the side of truth and justice, or the criminals? I ask the questions because two recent cases, both involving multiple murders, decided by it seem to have allowed the accused to run away laughing, free as birds, and left the families of their victims crying. (The murders were committed decades ago, but the appeals by the accused were decided by the CA only recently.)
One is the double murder case in Buguey town, Cagayan, where Mayor Licerio Antiporda III was convicted of killing two poll watchers of his father’s political rival. Antiporda elevated the case to the CA where the case lingered for 17 years, and 17 justices (repeat, 17 justices) inhibited themselves from the case one after another. Why were the justices so scared to handle the case? Doesn’t that make you wonder?
Finally, Justice Edwin Sorongon affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court. Antiporda filed a motion for reconsideration with a plea for Sorongon to inhibit himself, which the justice promptly did. The case was raffled, again, and landed on the lap of Justice Noel Tijam.
But here is the 64-dollar question: Although Antiporda was convicted of two capital offenses—one murder and one homicide—he was granted bail. This is contrary to jurisprudence. In the case of former Batangas Gov. Jose Leviste, he remains in prison while his motion for reconsideration and petition for bail are being heard. What’s so special with Antiporda?
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The other case involves the murder in December 1997 of brothers Michael and Paul Quintos while at a party in Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro. Charged were former Rep. Jose Villarosa, named as the mastermind, and 17 co-conspirators. Villarosa is the political rival of former Rep. Ricardo Quintos, father of the two victims. Villarosa is also the husband of Rep. Amelita Villarosa, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, close ally and traveling companion of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the alleged “bagman” who voluntarily and publicly admitted that Kampi was the source of the P500,000 given to each congressman who attended a Malacañang meeting years ago.
After eight years of trial, Judge Ma. Theresa Yadao of the Quezon City RTC convicted Villarosa and his gang of double murder and imposed the mandatory penalty of death.
Villarosa et al. appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. In December 2006, ex-Rep. Eduardo Nachura, then Solicitor General, recommended the acquittal of Villarosa. Less than 60 days after the filing of that manifestation, Nachura was appointed to the Supreme Court.
Villarosa’s appeal was assigned to the 5th Division of the CA, which acquitted him hastily although there were two motions still pending.
The 5th Division reasoned that while conspiracy existed and that the gunmen and lookouts played out their respective roles and therefore deserved to be convicted, there was no mastermind. It added that while the confession of a gunman was entitled to full credence and was sufficient to uphold his conviction and those of his co-conspirators, insofar as Villarosa was concerned, that confession cannot be used.
According to a statement by the group Justice for Paul and Michael Quintos, the CA “disregarded the conspiratorial facts, such as the established linkage between Villarosa and the gunmen before, during and after the murders, and that Villarosa gave financial assistance to the gunmen as proven by the encashed checks that were presented as evidence.”
The CA also ignored the testimony of Col. Winston Ebersole recounting how, four months prior to the murders, he attempted to arrest one of the gunmen on a robbery charge only to be prevented by Villarosa. The gunman eventually disappeared, only to be seen again on the night of Dec. 13, 1997, repeatedly shooting Michael Quintos until he ran out of bullets. A few weeks after his damaging testimony against Villarosa, Colonel Ebersole was murdered.
“The CA completely ignored the confession of one of the lookouts who disappeared from Mindoro right after the murders, only to be arrested in 2002 working as a security guard allegedly for an agency where Rep. Amelita Villarosa had been a long-time officer,” the group said.
It said that while the lookout was in the custody of the National Bureau of Investigation by virtue of an outstanding warrant of arrest, “Congresswoman Villarosa and her lawyer rushed to the NBI and tried to have the self-confessed lookout released in their custody, but this was aborted by the timely arrival and vigorous protest of former Congressman Quintos.”
The group continued: “Meanwhile, Malacañang, in rather bad taste, immediately congratulated Congresswoman Villarosa for her ‘early Easter gift.’ The acquittal apparently did wonders to Villarosa’s health, since he had been confined for months at the Makati Medical Center recuperating from ‘major lung surgery.’ He walked out of the hospital smiling the afternoon the CA promulgated its decision.”
In October 2011, the Solicitor General questioned before the Supreme Court the authority of the Court of Appeals to review and revise the rulings of the RTC in criminal cases punishable by life imprisonment.
Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz also asked the high court to take “a second look” at its decision in the case against Efren Mateo, which paved the way for the CA to amend the judgment of lower courts in criminal cases.
“The CA acted without jurisdiction when it took cognizance of and decided the case against Villarosa et al.,” the Solicitor General said. “The convictions should have been automatically elevated to the Supreme Court since all the accused were meted out the penalty of death.”
Again, what’s happening to the Court of Appeals?