When an instrument or tool used in a crime is being claimed by a third-party not liable to the offense, such third-party must first establish its ownership over the same.

Petitioner contends that F/V Sea Lion should be released to it because it is the registered owner of said vessel and her captain and crew members were not among those accused of and convicted in Criminal Case Nos. 18965 and 19422. To buttress its contention, petitioner invokes Article 45 of the Revised Penal Code which provides:

ART. 45. Confiscation and forfeiture of the proceeds or instruments of the crime. – Every penalty imposed for the commission of a felony shall carry with it the forfeiture of the proceeds of the crime and the instruments or tools with which it was committed.

                Such proceeds and instruments or tools shall be confiscated and forfeited in favor of the Government, unless they be the property of a third person not liable for the offense, but those articles which are not subject of lawful commerce shall be destroyed.   (Emphasis supplied.)

Petitioner also claims that it was denied its right to due process of law when it was not notified of the judicial proceedings relative to the confiscation of the fishing vessel.  It argues that such notification was necessary considering that the provincial prosecutor was duly informed of its claim of ownership of the F/V Sea Lion.

            On the other hand, respondent People of thePhilippinesthrough the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) argues that since the 17 Chinese nationals were charged with violations of the provisions of RA 8550, a special law, Article 45 of the Revised Penal Code does not apply.  This is in view of Article 10 of said Code which specifically declares that acts punishable by special laws are not subject to the provisions of the Revised Penal Code.  They are only supplementary to such laws unless the latter should specifically provide the contrary.  Hence, the forfeiture and confiscation of the fishing vessel under RA 8550 are different from the forfeiture and confiscation under the Revised Penal Code which are additional penalties imposed in the event of conviction.  And, since RA 8550 provides that the vessel used in connection with or in direct violation of the provisions of RA 8550 shall be subjected to forfeiture in favor of the government without mention of any distinction as to who owns the vessel, the forfeiture of F/V Sea Lion was proper.

The OSG also contends that even if Article 45 of the Revised Penal Code is applicable, still the present petition must fail due to petitioner’s failure to present its third-party claim at the earliest opportunity.  It likewise argues that petitioner was not deprived its right to due process considering that it was given ample opportunity to be heard particularly when its motion for release of the F/V Sea Lion was granted by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor subject to certain conditions.  However, it opted not to comply with the conditions imposed by the prosecutor and instead waited for the trial court’s final disposition of the case.

 ….

Petitioner’s claim of ownership of F/V Sea Lion is not supported by any proof on record.  The only document on record that is relevant in this regard is a request for the release of the F/V Sea Lion based on petitioner’s alleged ownership filed with the Provincial Prosecutor.  While the latter authorized the release of said fishing vessel, this was conditioned upon petitioner’s submission of a proof of ownership and the filing of a bond, with which petitioner failed to comply. Even when judicial proceedings commenced, nothing was heard from the petitioner.  No motion for intervention or any manifestation came from petitioner’s end during the period of arraignment up to the rendition of sentence.  While petitioner later explained before the CA that its inaction was brought about by its inability to put up the required bond due to financial difficulties, same is still not a sufficient justification for it to deliberately not act at all.

It was only after the trial court ordered the confiscation of F/V Sea Lion in its assailed twin Sentences that petitioner was heard from again.  This time, it filed a Motion for Reconsideration dated June 24, 2005[41]  to which was attached a copy of an alleged Certificate of Registration issued by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA).[42]  However, as correctly observed by the CA:

Significantly, the lack of any factual basis for the third-party claim of ownership was not cured at all when the petitioner filed its motion for reconsideration before the trial court.  At that point, evidence should have been adduced to support the petitioner’s claim (so that a new trial or reopening of the trial on the confiscation aspect should have been prayed for, rather than a mere motion for reconsideration.)  There is firstly the factual issue – to be proved by proper evidence in order to be properly considered by the court – that the vessel is owned by a third party other than the accused.  Article 45 required too that proof be adduced that the third party is not liable for the offense.  After the admission by the accused through their guilty plea that the vessel had been used in the commission of a crime, we believe and so hold that this additional Article 45 requirement cannot be simply inferred from the mere fact that the alleged owner is not charged in the same case before the court.[43]

            Accordingly, petitioner’s recourse to a motion for reconsideration was not proper.  Although it attached a copy of an alleged Certificate of Registration, the same cannot be considered by the trial court because it has not been formally offered, pursuant to Section 34, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court.  As suggested by the CA, petitioner should have instead moved for a new trial or reopening of the trial on the confiscation aspect, rather than a mere motion for reconsideration.[44]

Finally, petitioner’s contention that it was deprived of its right to due process in the confiscation of F/V Sea Lion has no factual basis.  As correctly pointed out by the CA:

                That the trial court concluded that no denial of due process occurred is likewise legally correct, perhaps not in the exact way expressed in the assailed order, but for what the reason articulated in the assailed order directly implies.  As we discussed above, the petitioner did not intervene before the trial court to claim ownership of the fishing vessel, nor were there records before the court showing a third-party claim of ownership of the vessel; the formal introduction of evidence that would have formally brought the third-party ownership of the vessel to light was prevented by the plea of guilt of the accused.  There was therefore no third-party property right sought to be protected when the trial court ordered the confiscation of the vessel.

                Significantly, the lack of any factual basis for the third-party claim of ownership was not cured at all when the petitioner filed its motion for reconsideration before the trial court.  At that point, evidence should have been adduced to support the petitioner’s claim (so that a new trial or reopening of the trial on the confiscation aspect should have been prayed for, rather than a mere motion for reconsideration.)  There is firstly the factual issue – to be proved by proper evidence in order to be properly considered by the court – that the vessel is owned by a third party other than the accused.  Article 45 required too that proof be adduced that the third party is not liable for the offense.  After the admission by the accused through their guilty plea that the vessel had been used in the commission of a crime, we believe and so hold that this additional Article 45 requirement cannot be simply inferred from the mere fact that the alleged owner is not charged in the same case before the court.

                It was under this legal situation that the trial court issued its assailed order that correctly concluded that there had been no denial of due process.  Given the absence of any admissible evidence of third-party ownership and the failure to comply with the additional Article 45 requirement, the court’s order to confiscate the F/V Sea Lion pursuant to Article 87 of R.A. No. 8550 cannot be incorrect to the point of being an act in grave abuse of discretion.[45]

            In fine, it has been established beyond reasonable doubt that F/V Sea Lion was used by the 17 Chinese fishermen in the commission of the crimes.  On the other hand, petitioner presented no evidence at all to support its claim of ownership of F/V Sea Lion.  Therefore, the forfeiture of F/V Sea Lion in favor of the government was proper.

http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2011/march2011/172678.htm

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About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
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