The preliminary investigation of the complaint for illegal gambling filed by the National Bureau of Investigation Bohol District Office (NBI-BOHDO) against twenty-seven employees of Global Mobile Online Corporation (Globaltech) is suspended pending resolution of cases filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 161 of Pasig City and the Court of Appeals (CA) Eighth Division.
According to a joint resolution of the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Bohol on December 27, 2018, Investigating Prosecutor, Margie C.Tan Alvaro, Assistant Provincial Prosecutor recommended the suspension of the preliminary investigation pending the resolution of a prejudicial question arising from the operation of Peryahan ng Bayan lottery games.
The filing of a criminal action for illegal gambling against the Globaltech employees will depend on the resolution of the legality of the continued operation of the Peryahan ng Bayan despite the order of termination issued by the PCSO, according to Alvaro.
The issue of the validity of the continued operation of Peryahan raised before the RTC and CA raises a prejudicial question which “cannot be ignored” and served as the basis for the suspension of the preliminary investigation, according to Alvaro.
Jurisprudence defines a prejudicial question as a question based on a fact distinct and separate from the crime but so intimately connected with it that it determines the innocence or guilt of the accused.
The 13-page resolution approved by Provincial Prosecutor Macario Delusa also ordered the records of the complaints returned to the Prosecution Office Record Officer for appropriate action.
The joint resolution took a different path compared to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Task Force on Special Cases resolution dated December 3, 2018, dismissing a complaint for illegal gambling filed by the NBI National Capital Region against fourteen employees of Globaltech.
The DOJ Task Force found no probable cause to indict the 14 Globaltech employees of illegal gambling since the orders of RTC 161 are “self-explanatory and needs no further elucidation.”
The joint resolution of the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor was released on January 25, 2019, after the CA 8th Division promulgated a decision on January 14, 2019, upholding RTC 161 decision to issue a status quo ante order, suspension of the termination of the PCSO contract to operate STL and resolving their dispute under arbitration as mandated by Republic Act 9285.
The 27 employees of Globaltech claimed that their arrest by NBI agents on December 10, 2018 was illegal in the absence of a court-issued warrant of arrest.
The NBI anti-gambling operation was a coordinated raid on collection and betting stations operated by Globaltech using bet-bust money in the municipalities of Talibon, Getafe and Cortes.
The Globaltech employees alleged that the NBI made their arrest based on an unverified letter from Scorpio Games and Amusement Incorporated, the lone Authorized Agent Corporation (AAC) to operate small town lotto (STL) in Bohol.
The basis for the arrest is “hearsay and wanting of personal knowledge” and the case must be dismissed since the facts charged do not constitute an offense since “there is no illegal numbers game to speak of in the first place.”
Globaltech maintained that the Deed of Authority signed with the PCSO on April 2, 2014 is still in effect despite the termination order issued on February 17, 2016.
Globaltech argued that disputes arising from the agreement to operate shall be settled in accordance with Republic Act 9285 known as the “Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2004.”
Both the courts (RTC 161 and CA 8th Division) acknowledged the arbitration clause in the agreement thereby issuing orders to suspend the termination of the deed of authority to operate small town lotto in Bohol.
A similar case arising from the unilateral termination of a contract to operate STL in Bohol also met the same legal fate as RTC Branch 12 Presiding Judge Ofelia L. Calo granted on August 22, 2018 a writ of certiorari and prohibition to PF3 Games and Entertainment Corporation (PF3) directing the PCSO, Bohol Branch Office, Officer-in-charge (OIC) Roberto Pio Cinco to “cease and desist” from implementing the order terminating the deed of authority of the STL operator.
The court ruled that the termination order of the PCSO did not observe the requirements of due process which is the right to notice and hearing and it also failed to comply with the terms and conditions under the Deed of Authority that provides an arbitration clause in accordance with Republic Act 9285 in cases where disputes could not be settled amicably.
With more than 400 Peryahan yellow colored betting stations operating in 25 municipalities in the province, the outcome of the joint resolution of the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor and the implementation of the RTC orders is closely followed by thousands of daily STL bettors as the Local Government Units, the Philippine National Police, Bohol Provincial Office has kept their distance while awaiting the final ruling of the court. (Chito M. Visarra)