How the Crime of Plunder is Defined and Penalized (Republic Act 7080)

Estrada vs. SandiganBayan (GR 148560)

As concisely delineated by this Court during the oral arguments on 18 September 2001, the issues for resolution in the instant petition for certiorari are: (a) The Plunder Law is unconstitutional for being vague; (b) The Plunder Law requires less evidence for proving the predicate crimes of plunder and therefore violates the rights of the accused to due process; and, (c) Whether Plunder as defined in RA 7080 is a malum prohibitum, and if so, whether it is within the power of Congress to so classify it.

On whether the Plunder law is unconstitutional for being vague:

The overbreadth and vagueness doctrines then have special application only to free speech cases. They are inapt for testing the validity of penal statutes.


In sum, the doctrines of strict scrutiny, overbreadth, and vagueness are analytical tools developed for testing “on their faces” statutes in free speech cases or, as they are called in American law, First Amendment cases. They cannot be made to do service when what is involved is a criminal statute.


The thesis that Sec. 4 does away with proof of each and every component of the crime suffers from a dismal misconception of the import of that provision. What the prosecution needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt is only a number of acts sufficient to form a combination or series which would constitute a pattern and involving an amount of at least P50,000,000.00. There is no need to prove each and every other act alleged in the Information to have been committed by the accused in furtherance of the overall unlawful scheme or conspiracy to amass, accumulate or acquire ill-gotten wealth. To illustrate, supposing that the accused is charged in an Information for plunder with having committed fifty (50) raids on the public treasury. The prosecution need not prove allthese fifty (50) raids, it being sufficient to prove by pattern at least two (2) of the raids beyond reasonable doubt provided only that they amounted to at least P50,000,000.00.


The legislative declaration in R.A. No. 7659 that plunder is a heinous offense implies that it is a malum in se. For when the acts punished are inherently immoral or inherently wrong, they are mala in se and it does not matter that such acts are punished in a special law, especially since in the case of plunder the predicate crimes are mainly mala in se. Indeed, it would be absurd to treat prosecutions for plunder as though they are mere prosecutions for violations of the Bouncing Check Law (B.P. Blg. 22) or of an ordinance against jaywalking, without regard to the inherent wrongness of the acts.

Organo vs. Sandiganbayan (133535)

In cases where none of the accused are occupying positions corresponding to Salary Grade 27 or higher, as prescribed in the said Republic Act No. 6758, or military and PNP officers mentioned above, exclusive original jurisdiction thereof shall be vested in the proper regional trial court, metropolitan trial court, municipal trial court, and municipal circuit trial court, as the case may be, pursuant to their respective jurisdictions as provided in Batas Pambansa Blg. 129, as amended.

This latest enactment collated the provisions on the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan. It is a special law enacted to declog the Sandiganbayan of “small fry” cases. In an unusual manner, the original jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan as a trial court was made to depend not on the penalty imposed by law on the crimes and offenses within its jurisdiction but on the rank and salary grade of accused government officials and employees.

However, the crime of “plunder” defined in Republic Act No. 7080, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, was provisionally placed within the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan “until otherwise provided by law.”  Republic Act No. 8429, enacted on February 5, 1997 is the special law that provided for the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan “otherwise” than that prescribed in Republic Act No. 7080.

Consequently, we rule that the Sandiganbayan has no jurisdiction over the crime of plunder unless committed by public officials and employees occupying the positions with Salary Grade “27” or higher, under the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989 (Republic Act No. 6758) in relation to their office.

In ruling in favor of its jurisdiction, even though none of the accused occupied positions with Salary Grade 27 or higher under the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989 (Republic Act No. 6758), the Sandiganbayan incurred in serious error of jurisdiction, entitling petitioner to the relief prayed for.

Garcia vs. Sandiganbayan (GR 170122)

Nowhere in RA 7080 can we find any provision that would indicate a repeal, expressly or impliedly, of RA 1379( Unexplained wealth Act). RA 7080 is a penal statute which, at its most basic, aims to penalize the act of any public officer who by himself or in connivance with members of his family amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth in the aggregate amount of at least PhP 50 million. On the other hand, RA 1379 is not penal in nature, in that it does not make a crime the act of a public official acquiring during his incumbency an amount of property manifestly out of proportion of his salary and other legitimate income. RA 1379 aims to enforce the right of the State to recover the properties which were not lawfully acquired by the officer.

It has often been said that all doubts must be resolved against any implied repeal and all efforts should be exerted to harmonize and give effect to all laws and provisions on the same subject. To be sure, both RA 1379 and RA 7080 can very well be harmonized. The Court perceives no irreconcilable conflict between them. One can be enforced without nullifying the other.