SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 135503. July 6, 2000]

WILLIAM A. GARAYGAY, petitioner, vs. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondent.

D E C I S I O N

BELLOSILLO, J.:

WHICH COURT should resolve the motion to quash search warrant in a case where the court that issued it is not the court with which the case is filed as a consequence of the service of the warrant?

On 30 July 1996 the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, presiding over Branch 23, issued Search Warrant No. 96-505[1] upon application of the Presidential Task Force on Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence (PTFIC). The warrant authorized a search of the house of petitioner William A. Garaygay located in Marigondon, Lapu-Lapu City, a place outside the territorial jurisdiction of the issuing court. Thereafter the PTFIC through its Regional Task Group conducted a raid on the house of petitioner resulting in the seizure of several items of firearms, explosives, ammunition and other prohibited paraphernalia.

On 7 August 1996 an Information for violation of PD 1866[2] was filed before the Regional Trial Court of Lapu-Lapu City[3] against petitioner who upon being arraigned pleaded not guilty.

Subsequently, petitioner filed with the Regional Trial Court of Lapu-Lapu City a Motion to Quash Search Warrant and To Exclude Illegally Seized Evidence dated 26 September 1996 on the ground that the search warrant was issued in violation of Supreme Court Circular No. 19,[4] and that it was a general warrant.

On the other hand, the prosecution argued that the motion to quash should have been filed with the RTC of Manila which issued the warrant. But petitioner reminded the trial court of People v. Bans[5] where we ruled -

Generally, an order of a court of competent jurisdiction may not be modified or altered by any court of concurrent jurisdiction. Given the facts of this case, however, this rule cannot be applied.

There could have been no problem had the court which issued the search warrant was likewise the same court before which the criminal case is pending as a result of its issuance. But if the criminal case which was subsequently filed by virtue of the serach warrant is raffled off to a different branch, all incidents relating to the validity of the warrant issued should be consolidated with that branch trying the criminal case (see Nolasco v. Pao, 139 SCRA 152 [1985]), the rationale is to avoid confusion as regards the issue of jurisdiction over the case and to promote an orderly administration of justice.

Treating the argument of the prosecution as a prejudicial question, the trial court resolved the same ahead of the merits of petitioner's motion to quash and held -

x x x x Thus, the Court cannot afford to ignore the long established rule that "courts of equal rank and jurisdiction are proscribed from interfering with or passing upon the orders or processes of its coordinate counterpart, except in extreme situations authorized by law," People vs. Woolcock, et al., May 22, 1995, 244 SCRA 235. Further, in the light of the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in Malaloan v. Court of Appeals, May 6, 1994, 232 SCRA 249, this present motion under consideration should have been filed with the RTC-Branch 23 of Manila. Said guidelines are quoted below, thus:

1) The court wherein the criminal case is pending shall have primary jurisdiction to issue search warrants necessitated by and for purposes of said case. An application for a search warrant may be filed with another court only under extreme and compelling circumstances that the applicant must prove to the satisfaction of the latter which may or may not give due course to the application depending on the validity of the justification offered for not filing the same in the court with primary jurisdiction thereover.

2) When the latter court issues the search warrant, a motion to quash the same may be filed in and shall be resolved by said court, without prejudice to any proper recourse to the appropriate high court by the party aggrieved by the resolution of the issuing court. All grounds and objections then available, existent or known shall be raised in the original or subsequent proceedings for the quashal of the warrant, otherwise they shall be deemed waived (emphasis supplied).

x x x x Moreover x x x x we are of the considered view that the issuing court (RTC-Br. 23, Manila) is in a vantage position to resolve this instant motion inasmuch as it has in its possession all the available records and can, therefore, make an intelligible assessment of the evidence on hand.[6]

On 17 January 1997 the trial court thus denied petitioners motion to quash and ordered the Branch Clerk of Court to set the case for pre-trial conference.[7]

Petitioner questioned the denial of his motion to quash in a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals. In its assailed Decision of 18 May 1998 the appellate court dismissed the petition and on 11 September 1998 rejected likewise his motion for reconsideration. The Court of Appeals explained -

x x x x This ruling (People v. Bans) is, however, applicable only when, as in the Bans case, two different branches of the same Regional Trial Court are involved. With regard to the case at bar, the search warrant was issued by the Regional Trial Court of Manila (Branch 23). On the other hand, the criminal case is pending before the Regional Trial Court of Lapu-Lapu City (Branch 54). Thus, the ruling in the case of People v. Woolcock, 244 SCRA 235, is applicable. That case involved two courts having different geographical jurisdictions x x x x[8]

For resolution now before this Court are these issues: (a) whether the trial court of Lapu-Lapu City where the criminal case was filed is clothed with authority to resolve the Motion to Quash Search Warrant . . . ; and, (b) whether the search warrant issued by the RTC of Manila is valid.

Aside from invoking People v. Bans anew, petitioner cites Nolasco v. Pao[9] which was quoted in Bans -

It should be advisable that, whenever a Search Warrant has been issued by one Court, or Branch, and a criminal prosecution is initiated in another Court, or Branch, as a result of the service of the Search warrant, the SEARCH WARRANT CASE should be consolidated with the criminal case for orderly procedure. The later criminal case is more substantial than the Search Warrant proceeding, and the Presiding Judge in the criminal case should have the right to act on petitions to exclude evidence unlawfully obtained.

Assuming that the RTC of Lapu-Lapu City is not vested with authority to resolve the issue of the validity of the search warrant, petitioner now submits to this Court the issue for resolution. He argues that a search warrant to be valid must particularly describe the place to be searched. In the present case, the search warrant merely stated, among others, that "William Garaygay a.k.a. William Flores/Willy Ybaez of Brgy. Marigondon, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu x x x x" When the shanty where he was then sleeping was searched by the authorities they found one (1) 9mm Glock pistol duly licensed in his name. Thereafter, he was dragged to an abandoned building about ten (10) to fifteen (15) meters away. It was in that abandoned building where the authorities allegedly found the firearms, explosives, ammunition and other paraphernalia alluded to in the Information. Petitioner next argues that the search in his shanty and in the abandoned building was made by elements of the PTFIC without any witness, in violation of Sec. 7, Rule 126, of the Rules of Criminal Procedure which provides that "[n]o search of house, room, or any other premises shall be made except in the presence of the lawful occupant thereof or any member of his family or, in the absence of the latter, in the presence of two witnesses of sufficient age and discretion residing in the same locality." Petitioner submits that, necessarily, all the items confiscated by the authorities on the basis of the invalid search warrant should be excluded in the criminal case for being "fruits of the poisonous tree."

In 1967, in Pagkalinawan v. Gomez,[10] we ruled that relief from a search warrant claimed to be invalid should be sought in the court that issued it. We emphasized that any other view would be subversive of a doctrine that has been steadfastly adhered to, the main purpose of which is to assure stability and consistency in judicial actuations and to avoid confusion that may otherwise ensue if courts of coordinate jurisdiction are permitted to interfere with each other's lawful orders. This doctrine was reiterated in Templo v. de la Cruz[11] where the accused likewise questioned the validity of the search warrant before a court of concurrent jurisdiction, different from the court which issued the warrant. Subsequently however, in Nolasco v. Pao, we declared that "the pendency of the Search Warrant Case and of the Subversive Documents Case before two (2) different courts is not conducive to an orderly administration of justice. It should be advisable that, whenever a Search Warrant has been issued by one Court or Branch and a criminal prosecution is initiated in another Court or Branch as a result of the service of the Search Warrant, the Search Warrant Case should be consolidated with the criminal case for orderly procedure. The later criminal case is more substantial than the Search Warrant proceeding, and the Presiding Judge in the criminal case should have the right to act on petitions to exclude evidence unlawfully obtained."

People v. Bans substantially restated the doctrine in Nolasco v. Pao, i. e., when a search warrant is issued by one court, if the criminal case by virtue of the warrant is raffled off to a branch other than the one which issued the warrant, all incidents relating to the validity of the warrant should be consolidated with the branch trying the criminal case. We explained further therein the underlying reason for the rule

x x x x If the rule had been otherwise, i.e., if the issuing court had been allowed to resolve the Motion to Quash the search warrant despite the pendency of a criminal case arising therefrom before another court, it would give rise to the absurd situation where the judge hearing the criminal case will be bound by the declaration of of the validity of the search warrant made by the issuing judge, and the former will thereafter be restrained from reviewing such finding in view of the doctrine of non-interference observed between courts of concurrent and coordinate jurisdiction. Such a situation will thus make it difficult , if not impossible, for respondent court to make an independent and objective appreciation of the evidence and merits of the criminal case. For this reason, the court trying the criminal case should be allowed to rule on the validity of the search warrant in order to arrive at a judicious administration of justice.

People v. Woolcock upon which the trial court and the Court of Appeals heavily relied, appeared to have reverted to Templo v. de la Cruz when this Court said that "the remedy for questioning the validity of a search warrant can be sought in the court that issued it, not in the sala of another judge of concurrent jurisdiction." At any rate, the latest jurisprudence on the matter is People v. Court of Appeals[12] where, as in the present case, the second of five (5) "policy guidelines" laid down in Malaloan v. Court of Appeals was interpreted. The subject guideline, cited in the reasoning of the trial court, concerns possible conflicts in the exercise of jurisdiction where the criminal case is pending in one court and the search warrant is issued by another court for the seizure of personal property intended to be used as evidence in the criminal case. We clarified the principle in People v. Court of Appeals thus -

x x x x Where a search warrant is issued by one court and the criminal action based on the results of the search is afterwards commenced in another court, it is not the rule that a motion to quash the warrant (or to retrieve things thereunder seized) may be filed only with the issuing Court. Such a motion may be filed for the first time in either the issuing Court or that in which the criminal action is pending. However, the remedy is alternative, not cumulative. The Court first taking cognizance of the motion does so to the exclusion of the other, and the proceedings thereon are subject to the Omnibus Motion Rule and the rule against forum-shopping. This is clearly stated in the third policy guideline which indeed is what properly applies to the case at bar, to wit:

3. Where no motion to quash the search warrant was filed in or resolved by the issuing court, the interested party may move in the court where the criminal case is pending for the suppression as evidence of the personal property seized under the warrant if the same is offered therein for said purpose. Since two separate courts with different participations are involved in this situation, a motion to quash a search warrant and a motion to suppress evidence are alternative and not cumulative remedies. In order to prevent forum shopping, a motion to quash shall consequently be governed by the omnibus motion rule, provided, however, that objections not available, existent or known during the proceedings for the quashal of the warrant may be raised in the hearing of the motion to suppress. The resolution of the court on the motion to suppress shall likewise be subject to any proper remedy in the appropriate higher court (underscoring supplied).

Conformably therewith, we hold that petitioner's Motion to Quash Search Warrant and To Exclude Illegally Seized Evidence was properly filed with the Regional Trial Court of Lapu-Lapu City.

The second issue raised by petitioner involves factual matters which should be properly addressed to the trial court. No compelling reason exists for this Court to impinge on a matter more appropriately within the province of the trial court.[13]

WHEREFORE, the petition is partially GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals which sustained the Regional Trial Court of Lapu-Lapu City in denying petitioner's Motion to Quash Search Warrant and To Exclude Illegally Seized Evidence, as well as its Resolution denying reconsideration thereof is SET ASIDE. Instead, we rule that the Regional Trial Court of Lapu-Lapu City has jurisdiction to resolve the Motion to Quash Search Warrant and To Exclude Illegally Seized Evidence; accordingly, the Regional Trial Court of Lapu-Lapu City, particularly Branch 54 thereof, or whichever branch the case may be properly assigned therein, is directed to conduct its proceedings thereon with deliberate dispatch taking into account the time already lost. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Mendoza, Quisumbing, Buena, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.



[1] Search Warrant No. 96-505 was issued by Executive Judge William M. Bayhon of the Regional Trial Court of Manila.

[2] Codifying the laws on Illegal/Unlawful Possession, Manufacture, Dealing In, Acquisition or Disposition, of Firearms, Ammunition or Explosives or Instruments Used in the Manufacture of Firearms, Ammunition or Explosives, and Imposing Stiffer Penalties for certain Violations Thereof and for Relevant Purposes.

[3] The case was raffled to RTC-Br. 54, Lapu-Lapu City.

[4] Referring to amended Guidelines and Procedure on Applications for Search Warrants for Illegal Possession of firearms and other serious crimes filed in Metro Manila court and other courts with multiple salas dated 4 August 1987.

[5] G. R. No. 104147, 8 December 1994, 239 SCRA 48.

[6] Rollo, pp. 39-40.

[7] Decision penned by Judge Rumoldo R. Fernandez, RTC-Br. 54, Lapu-Lapu City; Rollo, p. 40.

[8] Rollo, p. 43.

[9] G. R. No. 69803, 8 October 1985, 139 SCRA 152.

[10] No. L-22585, 18 December 1967, 21 SCRA 1275.

[11] Nos. L-37393-94, 23 October 1974, 60 SCRA 295.

[12] G. R. No. 126379, 26 June 1998, 291 SCRA 400.

[13] People v. Caras, G. R. No. 112731, 18 July 1994, 234 SCRA 199.