MANILA, Philippines – The National Press Club (NPC) won anew in its legal battle against the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) over a Vicente Manansala mural that was sold to a private gallery in 2007 for P10 million.
The Court of Appeals’ (CA) Fourth Division affirmed the order issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila City on March 17, 2014 dismissing the estafa complaint filed by the GSIS against former officers and members of the Board of Directors of the NPC in connection with the sale of the mural.
The appellate court held that the trial court did not err in granting the prosecution’s motion to withdraw the information for estafa filed against the former NPC board members.
The CA did not give merit to GSIS’ claim that the order of then acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra was for the withdrawal of the case for qualified theft, and not for estafa.
“Whether the motion to withdraw pertains to the case for qualified theft and not for estafa, the RTC correctly granted the same,” the CA said in a 19-page ruling penned by Associate Justice Carmelita Salandanan Manahan.
“It must be noted that, in granting the motion to withdraw the information, the RTC did not merely rely on the assessment of the acting secretary. Contrary to GSIS’s claim, the RTC made its own evaluation of the case and consequently found no probable cause to prosecute the accused-appellees for the crime of estafa,” it added.
The CA agreed with the trial court that there is no probable cause to push for the trial of the estafa complaint against the former NPC board of directors.
It explained that the based on the records of the case, the GSIS failed to provide evidence showing that the mural was received by the NPC in trust or on commission, or for administration, or under the obligation to return the same to GSIS.
The CA gave weight to the NPC’s claim that although the real property that is the site of the NPC building is registered in the name of GSIS, NPC is still considered the owner of the mural.
It noted that the trial court’s decision declaring NPC as the owner of the mural was affirmed by the CA’s Seventh Division in a ruling in 2011.
The decision, according to the CA, put to rest the issue of ownership over the subject mural.
“Therefore, there is also doubt to the presence of trust relatioship or obligation involving the duty to return the mural. Accordingly, GSIS failed to prove the first element of estafa,” the ruling stated.
Likewise, the CA said the second element of misappropriation is lacking.
If the NPC is the true owner of the mural, the CA said, then it cannot be said that it misappropriated its own property.
On the other hand, if GSIS really owner the mural, the NPC cannot be considered to have misappropriated the same since its sale was a corporate act by virtue of a board resolution passed by the NPC.
Likewise, the CA pointed out that there is no evidence to prove that the accused-appellees (NPC), either as a corporate officers or in their personal capacities, benefitted themselves from the proceeds of the sale.
“Being a corporate act, it is the NPC which clearly benefitted from the sale of the mural,” the decision read.
In its ruling in 2011, the CA upheld the NPC’s right over the contested mural, although it did not resolve the issue on the ownership of the NPC building from where it was taken.
“Being the owner of the mural, NPC has all the rights to dispose of the same in whatever manner it desires. NPC cannot be made liable, in any way, in exercising what is merely a propriety act,” the CA ruled.
The GSIS had claimed ownership of the mural, saying it is an immovable part of the NPC building which it owns by virtue of Transfer Certificate of Title No. 265236.
The NPC, on the other hand, insisted on its right over the property through Letter of Instructions No. 500 issued by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1977 directing GSIS to donate to NPC the subject property.
The NPC, then under Roy Mabasa as president, sold the mural to Heritage Galleries for P10 million.
The Pasay City regional trial court Branch 112, in a decision on July 16, 2009, sided with NPC and not only granted it ownership of the mural but also directed GSIS to donate the building to the organization.
It upheld the arguments of the NPC that the mural was a movable object not intended to be part of the wall of the building and that its theme, “Freedom of the Press,” shows its connection to the organization. – Rappler.com