SC junks estafa raps vs. BPI

By on July 14, 2014


MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed a complaint of estafa filed by former Sen. Jamby Madrigal against the Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI) in connection with a USD 10.5-million loan for a failed shipping venture with former Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo.

In its decision, the SC’s First Division denied the petition filed by Madrigal and upheld the ruling dated March 31, 2005 and resolution dated July 8, 2005 of the Court of Appeals (CA).

The loan was granted to Madrigal Transport Inc. (MTI), but Madrigal claimed that she had been inveigled by BPI officers Celestino Palma III and Helen Chua into signing a blank set of documents.

Madrigal alleged that as president of MTI, she applied for a loan from the Far East Bank and Trust Company (FEBTC) in the amount of US$ 10.5 million to finance the acquisition of a feeder vessel pursuant to a Joint Venture Agreement between MTI and the Lapanday Holdings Corporation.

Assistant City Prosecutor Ramon Carisma found probable cause for the filing of the information on Oct. 16, 1998.

However, the CA ruled that there was “no probable cause to warrant the filing of the estafa case under Paragraph 1(c), Article 315 against respondents.

The CA found that the indispensable element in the crime of estafa under Paragraph 1(c) that “the paper with the signature of the offended party must be blank” was lacking and that an experienced businesswoman would thoughtlessly affix her signature to a blank document was considered incredible by the appellate court.”

It also found to be devoid of merit the assertion of Madrigal that she did not sign the Comprehensive Surety Agreement in her personal capacity, and that the agreement referred to an “abandoned” loan application.

In dismissing Madrigal’s complaint, the SC ruled that it found “no evidence that would constitute a prima facie case for estafa against respondents.”

“It is true that a finding of probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that, more likely than not, a crime has been committed and was committed by the accused. In the present case, however, no such evidence exists that would engender a well-founded belief that estafa was in fact committed by respondents,” the SC said.

“Courts are not empowered to substitute their judgment for that of the Secretary of Justice, save only when it was rendered with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. In this case, we find no abuse, much less grave abuse of discretion, on the part of the Secretary of Justice, [acting through Usec. Gutierrez], as to warrant a reversal of the CA Decision,” it added.