FIRST DIVISION

[A.M. No. RTJ-04-1852.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

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

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 ďPeople 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 Accusedís 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 Judgeís 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 complainantís 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:

(1)†††† Respondent Judge issued the warrant of arrest on May 23, 2003 despite complainantís pending omnibus motion to defer issuance of warrant of arrest or to recall the same if already issued and to remand case to Office of the City Prosecutor, and the very urgent motion to set for hearing the omnibus motion;

(2)†††† When the matter was elevated to the Court of Appeals and a temporary restraining order was issued, respondent seemed to have waited for the TRO to expire and for the dismissal of complainantís petition before the Court of Appeals because she did not resolve the motion for inhibition, and she immediately issued a warrant of arrest against him after said petition was dismissed.

(3)†††† Respondent had a predisposition to deny the motions filed by complainant since, although she was in haste in issuing the warrant of arrest, she nonetheless dilly-dallied in resolving the motions filed by complainant;

(4)†††† Despite complainantís notice for a change of address, respondentís order of November 18, 2002, setting his arraignment on December 11, 2002, was sent to his and counselís former address resulting in his failure to attend the arraignment;

(5)†††† In the same way, the notice of the resetting of arraignment from December 11, 2002 to January 22, 2003, was again sent to the wrong address, such that he was not notified of said scheduled arraignment. Such lack of notice however, did not stop respondent Judge from issuing a bench warrant of arrest for his failure to appear on the scheduled arraignment;

(6)†††† Although respondent Judge lifted the said bench warrant on February 28, 2003, she nevertheless denied complainantís motion for reconsideration relative to the Order dated November 2002 denying the motion for inhibition;

(7)†††† Respondent Judge exhibited partiality and malevolent attitude when she did not only deny all remedies available to complainant but also uttered hostile side-comments during hearings and even commented that complainant was overly fond of filing motions.[1]

In her comment, respondent Judge refuted the charges in this wise:

(1)†††† She did not consider the omnibus motion dated May 7, 2002 filed by complainant because its notice of hearing was addressed to the Public Prosecutor, for which reason, she issued the warrant of arrest on May 23, 2003;

(2)†††† She issued the order dated June 25, 2002 deferring the resolution of complainantís very urgent motion to set the case for hearing in view of the resolution of the Court of Appeals dated June 14, 2002, enjoining her from enforcing the warrant of arrest issued against complainant;

(3)†††† Since the trial court had not yet acquired jurisdiction over the person of the complainant when the court received the motion to set the case for trial filed by Asst. City Prosecutor, she again issued a warrant of arrest against complainant;

(4)†††† Respondentís issuance of warrant of arrest against complainant on May 23, 2002, despite the filing of the omnibus motion and the motion to set the omnibus motion for hearing, was sustained by the Court of Appeals in its decision dated August 14, 2002, dismissing complainantís petition;

(5)†††† Inasmuch as the trial court has not acquired jurisdiction over the person of the complainant, respondent, after the Court of Appeals denied complainantís petition and lifted the 60-day TRO, ordered the issuance of a warrant of arrest against complainant;

(6)†††† Since it was only on October 17, 2002 that the bail posted by complainant on September 26, 2002 for his provisional liberty before the Executive Judge of RTC, Makati, was received by respondent court, she could not resolve the motion for inhibition considering that the court has not acquired jurisdiction over his person;

(7)†††† Complainant is to blame for the delay in the resolution of his motions because of his penchant in filing defective motions and for not immediately submitting himself to the jurisdiction of the court;

(8)†††† The issuance of a warrant of arrest and confiscation of the bond of complainant on January 22, 2003 was in accordance with Sec. 21, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules on Criminal procedure in view of complainantís failure to appear despite notice to him and his bondsman. The notice of change of address filed by complainant pertains to the change of address of his counsel and not to himself, hence, court processes were sent to his ďallegedĒ old address.Moreover, Produce Orders of the December 11, 2002 and January 22, 2003 settings were sent to complainantís bondsman, but this notwithstanding, complainantís bondsman failed to produce him in court and it even filed a motion of extension of timeto do so;

(9)†††† Complainantís claim of bias and partiality on the part of respondent in denying complainantís motion for reconsideration and motion to inhibit is baseless and unfounded considering that the assailed orders of the respondent were made on the basis of law and facts of the case.[2]

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, complainantís 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 Appealsí 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 counselís residence, not to the complainantís. In view of this, it becomes reasonable for the court to assume that court processes could be sent to complainantís ďoldĒ and ďunchangedĒ residence. As correctly pointed out by respondent Judge, the Produce Order of the December 11, 2002 and January 22, 2003 settings were sent to complainantís 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 respondentís 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: ďa 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.ĒTaking together all the acts and conduct of respondent Judge relative to complainantís 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 respondentís 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.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Panganiban, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 115-116.

[2] Id., pp. 116-118.

[3] See Reply to Respondentís Comment.

[4] Agpalasin v. Agcaoili, A.M. No. RTJ-95-1308, 12 April 2000, 330 SCRA 253.