Saturday, April 9, 2016

Forfeiture proceeding is action in rem or quasi in rem; jurisdiction over the res; theory of "potential jurisdiction"

FERDINAND R. MARCOS, JR. vs. REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, represented by the Presidential Commission on Good Government, G.R. No. 189434, March 12, 2014; IMELDA ROMUALDEZ-MARCOS vs. REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, G.R. No. 189505, March 12, 2014.

“x x x.

Petitioner Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. acknowledges that "the subject matter of the case (i.e. the power/authority to determine whether an asset may be forfeited under R.A. 1379) is within the (Sandiganbayan’s) jurisdiction."5 However, he objects to the graft court’s purported lack of territorial jurisdiction on the theory that forfeiture is an action in rem. He argues that the Sandiganbayan must first acquire territorial jurisdiction over the Arelma proceeds before the judgment may be enforced.

At the outset, this theory fails to make a distinction between the issuance of a judgment, and its execution. It is basic that the execution of a Court’s judgment is merely a ministerial phase of adjudication.6 The authority of the Sandiganbayan to rule on the character of these assets as ill-gotten cannot be conflated with petitioner’s concerns as to how the ruling may be effectively enforced.

More importantly, petitioner should be reminded of his earlier insistence that R.A. 1379 is penal, therefore petitions for forfeiture filed under this law are actions in personam, not in rem.7 We reiterate our observations in the Swiss Deposits case: 

"Petitioner Republic has the right to a speedy disposition of this case. It would readily be apparent to a reasonable mind that respondent Marcoses have been deliberately resorting to every procedural device to delay the resolution hereof…The people and the State are entitled to favorable judgment, free from vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays x x x."8

In any case, we find that the Sandiganbayan did not err in granting the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, despite the fact that the Arelma account and proceeds are held abroad. To rule otherwise contravenes the intent of the forfeiture law, and indirectly privileges violators who are able to hide public assets abroad: beyond the reach of the courts and their recovery by the State. Forfeiture proceedings, as we have already discussed exhaustively in our Decision, are actions considered to be in the nature of proceedings in rem or quasi in rem, such that:

Jurisdiction over the res is acquired either (a) by the seizure of the property under legal process, whereby it is brought into actual custody of the law; or (b) as a result of the institution of legal proceedings, in which the power of the court is recognized and made effective. In the latter condition, the property, though at all times within the potential power of the court, may not be in the actual custody of said court.9

The concept of potential jurisdiction over the res, advanced by respondent, is not at all new. As early as Perkins v. Dizon, deciding a suit against a non-resident, the Court held: 

"In order that the court may exercise power over the res, it is not necessary that the court should take actual custody of the property, potential custody thereof being sufficient. There is potential custody when, from the nature of the action brought, the power of the court over the property is impliedly recognized by law."10

X x x.”