MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals (CA) has given the Department of Justice (DOJ) the green light to file syndicated estafa charges against Delfin Lee, owner of property firm Globe Asiatique (GA), and several others in connection with a P6 billion loan obtained by its property buyers from the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-ibig).
In a 21-page decision penned by Associate Justice Franchito Diamante, the appellate court's 17th Division ruled that Pasig City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 167 Judge Rolando Mislang committed grave abuse of discretion when he issued orders preventing the DOJ from filing a criminal case against Lee and others.
Mislang also issued an order preventing the DOJ from proceeding with the preliminary investigation of another case against Lee, pending the resolution of a civil case he filed against Pag-ibig before the Makati City RTC Branch 58.
In issuing a temporary restraining order in favor of Lee, Mislang gave weight to Lee’s arguments that the civil case must first be resolved before the criminal case may prosper as these are inter-related. Lee claimed that a prejudicial question exists in the civil case which must first be resolved before the estafa case can proceed.
In the meantime, the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG), representing the DOJ, argued before the appellate court that the doctrine of prejudicial question does not appliy in the case.
“The said element is wanting as the criminal complaint before the DOJ was filed by the NBI on Oct. 29, 2010 whereas Lee’s complaint for specific performance against Pag-Ibig Fund was filed before the Makati RTC on Nov. 15, 2010. Moreover, the Makati Civil case which Lee filed aims to compel Pag-Ibig Fund, among others to accept replacement buyers which clearly are not determinative of the former’s innocence or guilt for the crime of syndicated estafa,” the OSG petition read.
The appellate court agreed with the OSG and DOJ.
“A prejudicial question is understood in law as that which must precede the criminal action and which requires a decision before a final judgment can be rendered in the criminal action with which said question is closely connected. The civil action must be instituted prior to the institution of the criminal action,” the decision read.
The appellate court further held that even if the civil case was filed ahead of the criminal case, the prejudicial question invoked by Lee did not apply as the criminal case against him hinges on the existence of fraud and damages which is “irrelevant” to the civil case initiated by Lee.
The appellate court further stressed that public interest should prevail in instances like this.
“Injunction will not lie to enjoin a criminal prosecution because public interest requires that criminal acts be immediately investigated and protected for the protection of society… Public respondent Judge [Mislang] committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction when he issued the writ of preliminary injunction enjoining the DOJ from filing an information for estafa against Lee,” the decision read.
The criminal case against Lee alleged that GA used fictitious and "ghost buyers" to secure the Pag-ibig loan for the firm's Xevera housing project in Mabalacat, Pampanga.