Available Defense against Petition Seeking Forfeiture of Properties Allegedly due to Unexplained Wealth

Applicable law:

Republic Act No. 1379, entitled “An Act Declaring Forfeiture in Favor of the State of Any Property Found to Have Been Unlawfully Acquired By Any Public Officer or Employee and Providing for the Procedure Thereof,” provides:

Sec. 2. Filing of petition. — Whenever any public officer or employee has acquired during his incumbency an amount of property which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer or employee and to his other lawful income from legitimately acquired property, said property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired….

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Sec. 6. Judgment. — If the respondent is unable to show to the satisfaction of the court that he has lawfully acquired the property in question, then the court shall declare such property, forfeited in favor of the State, and by virtue of such judgment the property aforesaid shall become property of the State: Provided, That no judgment shall be released within six months before any general election or within three months before any special election. The Court may, in addition, refer this case to the corresponding Executive Department for administrative or criminal action, or both.”

Brief facts:

Respondent is an Assistant Civil Engineer of the Bureau of Public Highways in Cebu City who was charged with having unexplained wealth totalling a little more than Php100,000.00.  More specifically, it was alleged that the respondent and his wife acquired parcels of land and constructed a house that were beyond their incomes, savings or declared assets.   During the trial, the respondents’ counsel was able to show other sources of funding for the properties in question– loans and donations to them.

The Supreme Court said:

Republic Act No. 1379, entitled “An Act Declaring Forfeiture in Favor of the State of Any Property Found to Have Been Unlawfully Acquired By Any Public Officer or Employee and Providing for the Procedure Thereof,”  creates a presumption against the public officer or employee who acquires property grossly disproportionate to his income, i.e. that the property was unlawfully acquired.

However, this presumption is juris tantum. It may be rebutted by the public officer or employee by showing to the satisfaction of the court that his acquisition of the property was lawful.

“In the instant case, both the trial and the appellate courts had found satisfactory the private respondents’ explanation of their acquisition of the properties and consequently held that they do not have any unexplained wealth as contemplated by the law.

“x x x the presumption under See. 2 of R.A. No. 1379 that the subject properties were unlawfully acquired had been successfully rebutted by private respondents through competent evidence.”

Counsel for respondents was Atty. Bernardito Florido.

Case Title:  REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES vs. INTERMEDIATE APPELLATE COURT, SIMPLICIO BERDON, GAUDIOSA BERDON and LUIS BERDON  (G.R. No. 74225 April 17, 1989) 

You may read the full text of the decision here.

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