G.R. No. 173319 - Federico Miguel Olbes v. Hon. Danilo A. Buemio, etc. et al.
[G.R. NO. 173319 : December 4, 2009]
FEDERICO MIGUEL OLBES, Petitioner, v. HON. DANILO A. BUEMIO, in his capacity as pairing presiding judge of Branch 22 of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila, PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, SAMIR MUHSEN and ROWENA MUHSEN, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
CARPIO MORALES, J.:
On complaint of Samir and Rowena Muhsen, Federico Miguel Olbes (petitioner) was indicted for Grave Coercion before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Manila by Information1 dated June 28, 2002 which was raffled to Branch 22 thereof. On October 28, 2002, petitioner posted bail and was released.
Denying petitioner's motion to defer or suspend his arraignment in light of his pending Petition for Review before the Department of Justice from the City Fiscal's Resolution finding probable cause to hale him into court, Judge Hipolito dela Vega proceeded with petitioner's arraignment on February 12, 2003 in which he pleaded not guilty to the charge.2 Pre-trial was thereupon set to May 28, 2003 which was, however, declared a non-working day due to the occurrence of typhoon "Chedeng." The pre-trial was thus reset to October 23, 2003.3
At the scheduled pre-trial on October 23, 2003, petitioner failed to appear, prompting the trial court to issue a warrant for his arrest, which warrant was, however, later recalled on discovery that neither petitioner nor his counsel was notified of said schedule. Pre-trial was again reset to January 21, 2004.4
Before the scheduled pre-trial on January 21, 2004 or on November 3, 2003, petitioner filed a Motion to Dismiss5 the Information on the ground of violation of his right to a speedy trial under Republic Act No. 84936 or the Speedy Trial Act of 1998 and Supreme Court Circular (SCC) No. 38-98.7 He argued that "considering that [he] was not - without any fault on his part - brought to trial within 80 days from the date he was arraigned, this case should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 119, Section 98 in relation to Rule 119, Section 6 of the Rules."9
The trial court, through pairing Judge Danilo A. Buemio (respondent judge), denied petitioner's Motion to Dismiss by Order10 of December 5, 2003, holding that petitioner played a big part in the delay of the case, and that technical rules of procedure were meant to secure, not override, substantial justice.
Petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration of the December 5, 2003 Order was denied by Order11 of March 3, 2004 after respondent judge noted that during petitioner's arraignment on February 12, 2003, he interposed no objection to the setting of the pre-trial to May 28, 2003. Besides, respondent judge held, strict compliance with the Speedy Trial Act was improbable, given the volume of cases being filed with the MeTC. Additionally respondent judge held that the term "speedy trial" as applied in criminal cases is a relative term such that the trial and disposition of cases depended on several factors including the availability of counsel, witnesses and prosecutor, and weather conditions.
Petitioner challenged respondent judge's orders via certiorari and prohibition before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, alleging that not only was he (petitioner) not brought to trial within 80 days from the date of his arraignment as required under Section 6, Rule 119, but the prosecution had failed to establish the existence of any of the "time exclusions" provided under Section 312 of the same Rule to excuse its failure to bring him to trial within the 80-day period.
By Decision13 of January 31, 2006, the RTC denied the petition, holding that Section 9 of Rule 119 of the Rules of Court does not call for the automatic dismissal of a case just because trial has not commenced within 80 days from arraignment; that the proceedings before the MeTC were not attended by vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays; and that the concept of a speedy trial is not a mere question of numbers that could be computed in terms of years, months or days but is understood according to the peculiar circumstances of each case, citing SPO1 Sumbang, Jr. v. Gen. Court Martial PRO-Region 6.14
The RTC further held that in "determining whether petitioner's right to speedy trial was violated,"15 the circumstances that respondent judge was the pairing judge of Br. 22 of the MeTC who "may be assumed also [to] preside over his own regular court and devotes limited time to his pairing court" and that first level courts in Manila have an excessive load of cases should also be taken into consideration.
His motion for reconsideration having been denied by the RTC,16 petitioner lodged the present Petition for Review which, in the main, faults the RTC
. . . IN AFFIRMING THE MTC-MANILA JUDGE'S RULING THAT COMPLIANCE WITH RULE 119, SECTION 9 OF THE RULES IS NOT MANDATORY. THE RIGHT OF AN ACCUSED TO A SPEEDY TRIAL IS A SUBSTANTIVE RIGHT THAT CANNOT BE DISREGARDED.
. . . IN AFFIRMING THE MTC-MANILA JUDGE'S RULING THAT THE ENUMERATION OF ALLOWABLE TIME EXCLUSIONS UNDER RULE 119, SECTION 3 IS NOT EXCLUSIVE, AND THAT THE FAILURE TO BRING PETITIONER TO TRIAL WITHIN THE PERIOD PROVIDED UNDER RULE 119, SECTION 6 WAS JUSTIFIED.
x x x x,17
errors which raise a question of law.
Petitioner argues that his right to speedy trial is a substantive right and that, contrary to the RTC ruling, Section 9 of Rule 119 is mandatory in character, having been taken from SCC No. 38-98, strict compliance with which is urged to remove any attempt on the part of judges to exercise discretion with respect to the time frame for conducting the trial of an accused; that the last paragraph of said Section 9 clearly indicates that it is the right of an accused to move for dismissal of the Information should the prosecution fail to prove the existence of the time exclusions under Section 3 of Rule 119; and that the enumeration of the allowable time exclusions under Section 3 is exclusive, hence, the RTC erred in considering the excessive caseload of respondent judge, as a mere pairing judge, to be an allowable time exclusion under the Rules.
In its Comment,18 the People, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), counters that "speed alone is not the chief objective of a trial" such that mere assertion of a violation of the right to speedy trial does not necessarily result in the automatic dismissal of an Information; that the time exclusions referred to in paragraphs (a) to (f) of Section 3, Rule 119 are not exclusive and admit of other exceptions; that petitioner himself contributed to the delay in the proceedings when he filed a frivolous motion to suspend proceedings and failed to appear during the scheduled pre-trial; and that the RTC statement about respondent judge being a mere pairing judge was not an apology for the court's congested dockets but a mere statement of fact as to the impossibility of setting the case for pre-trial at an earlier date.
Furthermore, the OSG asserts that respondent judge's denial of petitioner's motion to dismiss was in order as he correctly applied the principles of relativity and flexibility in determining whether petitioner's right to speedy trial had been violated.19
Respondents-private complainants, on the other hand, maintain in their Comment20 that several Supreme Court decisions21 dealing with the issue of the constitutional guaranty of a speedy trial, the Speedy Trial Act of 1998, and SCC No. 38-98 have held that the right is deemed violated only when the proceedings are attended by vexatious, capricious and oppressive delays, which did not obtain in the present case, petitioner himself having been instrumental in the delay in the prosecution of the case.
The petition does not impress.
Petitioner draws attention to the time gap of 105 days from his arraignment on February 12, 2003 up to the first pre-trial setting on May 28, 2003, and another gap of 148 days from the latter date up to the second pre-trial setting on October 23, 2003 or for a total of 253 days - a clear contravention, according to petitioner, of the 80-day time limit from arraignment to trial.
It bears noting, however, that on his arraignment on February 12, 2003, petitioner interposed no objection to the setting of the pre-trial to May 28, 2003 which was, as earlier stated, later declared a non-working day. Inarguably, the cancellation of the scheduled pre-trial on that date was beyond the control of the trial court.???ñr?bl?š
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