A. M. No. RTJ-04-1852 [OCA-IPI No. 03-1759-RTJ] - June 3, 2004
WILFREDO M. TALAG, Complainant, vs. JUDGE AMOR A. REYES, Regional Trial Court, Manila Branch 21, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is an administrative complaint filed against Judge Amor A. Reyes of the Regional Trial Court, Manila for partiality, grave abuse of authority and oppression in connection with Criminal Case No. 02-201852 entitled "People of the Philippines v. Wilfredo Talag."
The instant case arose when, on April 18, 2001, a certain Romeo Lacap filed a complaint against Wilfredo Talag, Leticia Talag and Kenneth Bautista, for violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 and Estafa occasioned by the dishonor of four checks.
On June 4, 2001, during the preliminary investigation, Wilfredo Talag, Leticia Talag, and Kenneth Bautista, submitted their counter-affidavits denying any participation in the transaction allegedly perpetrated by them to defraud the complainant.
On December 15, 2001, the Assistant City Prosecutor issued a Resolution recommending the filing of an Information for Estafa against herein complainant and the dismissal of all the charges against Leticia Talag and Kenneth Bautista. The Information was filed with the RTC of Manila, Branch 21, presided by respondent Judge Amor A. Reyes, and docketed as Criminal Case No. 02-201852.
On May 7, 2002, complainant filed a motion for reconsideration before the Office of the City Prosecutor, praying for the dismissal of the complaint against him for utter lack of merit. On even date, he filed an Omnibus Motion before the trial court: (1) to defer issuance of warrant of arrest and/or to recall the same if already issued; and (2) to remand case to the Office of the City Prosecutor pending review of the motion for reconsideration.
On May 31, 2002, complainant filed with the trial court a Very Urgent Motion to Set for Hearing Accuseds Omnibus Motion to defer issuance of warrant of arrest and/or to remand case to the Office of the City Prosecutor pending review of the motion for reconsideration.
According to complainant, on June 11, 2002, he requested his counsel to determine whether the hearing for the pending motions had already been set. To his consternation, he was told by his counsel that respondent Judge ordered the issuance of a warrant of arrest without first resolving the said motions.
Complainant immediately filed a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals challenging the issuance of the warrant of arrest. The Court of Appeals issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the trial court from enforcing the said warrant. Accordingly, respondent Judge issued an Order on June 25, 2002, deferring the resolution of the Very Urgent Motion until after the expiration of the TRO issued by the Court of Appeals. Thereafter, the petition was dismissed by the Court of Appeals for lack of merit.
On August 20, 2002, complainant filed a motion for respondent Judges inhibition. Two days after, i.e., on August 22, respondent Judge issued the assailed warrant of arrest against complainant. Meanwhile, complainant through counsel filed a Notice of Change of Address.
On September 30, 2002, complainant filed a Very Urgent Motion to Consider Motion to Remand Case to the Office of the City Prosecutor pending Review of the Motion for Reconsideration and Motion for Re-investigation and to Resolve the Same with Urgency. On October 2, 2002, he filed a Motion to Resolve Motion for Inhibition.
Respondent Judge denied the motion for inhibition and set the case for arraignment on December 11, 2002. Complainant claims that said order never reached him or his counsel since it was sent by registered mail to his previous address at No. 1 Zaragosa Street, San Lorenzo Village, Makati City, inspite of the Notice of Change Address which was filed as early as August 28, 2002.
Since complainant failed to attend his arraignment allegedly due to lack of notice, respondent Judge reset the same to January 22, 2003. However, the second notice was again sent to the wrong address at Makati City, again resulting in complainants failure to attend his arraignment. As a consequence, respondent judge issued a bench warrant of arrest.
Subsequently, complainant filed a Motion to Recall Warrant of Arrest and a Very Urgent Motion for Reconsideration. On February 28, 2003, an order was issued by the respondent Judge which lifted the bench warrant but denied the motion for reconsideration.
On May 12, 2003, complainant filed a verified complaint before the Office of the Court Administrator charging respondent Judge with partiality, grave abuse of authority and oppression allegedly committed in the following manner:
In her comment, respondent Judge refuted the charges in this wise:
On August 8, 2003, the Office of the Court Administrator submitted its recommendation for the dismissal of the complaint for lack of merit.
We have closely scrutinized the arguments of the contending parties and find the charges filed against respondent are baseless.
The Information was filed on May 7, 2002 while the warrant of arrest was issued May 23, 2003. When complainant filed the omnibus motion on May 7, 2002, the court has not yet acquired jurisdiction over his person. With the filing of Information, the trial court could then issue a warrant for the arrest of the accused as provided for by Section 6 of Rule 112 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure. The issuance of the warrant was not only procedurally sound but it was even required considering that respondent had yet to acquire jurisdiction over the person of complainant. Consequently, complainants charge that respondent Judge failed to act on the omnibus motion before issuing the arrest warrant is untenable. Whether respondent correctly disregarded the omnibus motion in view of the alleged fatal defects is a judicial matter, which is not a proper subject in an administrative proceeding. It bears noting that respondent court immediately deferred the execution of the warrant of arrest upon issuance by the Court of Appeals of the TRO. Incidentally, although the Court of Appeals issued a temporary restraining order, it eventually sustained the issuance by respondent of the arrest warrant and dismissed the petition for certiorari.
Neither can we ascribe partiality nor grave abuse of authority on the part of respondent for issuing anew an alias warrant after the expiration of the Court of Appeals 60-day TRO. With the lifting of the retraining order, no legal obstacle was left for the issuance of the arrest warrant and thus set in motion the stalled prosecutorial process by acquiring jurisdiction over the person of the accused.
Complainant blames the respondent for his failure to appear at his arraignment because the notice was sent to the wrong address despite a prior notice for change of address. A cursory reading of the notice of change of address will show that it pertains to the counsels residence, not to the complainants. In view of this, it becomes reasonable for the court to assume that court processes could be sent to complainants "old" and "unchanged" residence. As correctly pointed out by respondent Judge, the Produce Order of the December 11, 2002 and January 22, 2003 settings were sent to complainants bondsman. Hence, in accordance with Sec. 21, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Court, his bondsman must produce him before the court on the given date and failing to do so; the bond was forfeited as it was.
On the matter of respondents denial of the motion for inhibition, suffice it to say that the issue of whether a judge should voluntarily inhibit himself is addressed to his sound discretion pursuant to paragraph 2 of Section 1 of Rule 137, which provides for the rule on voluntary inhibition and states: "a judge may, in the exercise of his sound discretion, disqualify himself from sitting in a case, for a just or valid reasons other than those above-mentioned." Taking together all the acts and conduct of respondent Judge relative to complainants case, we believe that she did not exhibit any bias or partiality to warrant her voluntarily inhibition from the case. Curiously, while complainant decries the alleged respondents predilection for denying all his motions, he himself conceded that respondent Judge has done everything pursuant to law and jurisprudence.3 Bias and partiality cannot be presumed, for in administrative proceedings no less than substantial proof is required. Apart from bare allegations, there must be convincing evidence to show that respondent Judge is indeed biased and partial. In administrative proceedings, the burden of proof that respondent Judge committed the act complained of rests on the complainant.4 Complainant failed to discharge this burden.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court resolves to adopt the recommendation of the Court Administrator, and accordingly, DISMISS the instant complaint for lack of merit.
Davide, Jr., Panganiban, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
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