Republic of the Philippines
A.M. No. RTJ-93-964             February 28, 1996
LEOVIGILDO U. MANTARING, complainant,
JUDGE MANUEL A. ROMAN, JR., RTC Branch 42, Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro; and JUDGE IRENEO B. MOLATO, MTC, Bongabon, Oriental Mindoro, respondents.
Respondent Judge Ireneo B. Molato is the presiding judge of the Municipal Trial Court of Bongabon, Oriental Mindoro. On January 7, 1993, an administrative complaint was filed against him and Judge Manuel A. Roman, Jr., presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court of Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro, Branch 42, by Leovigildo U. Mantaring, Sr., who charged them with conduct unbecoming of members of the judiciary. On February 21, 1994, after the parties had filed their respective pleadings and supporting documents, this Court dismissed the complaint against the two for lack of merit. The motion for reconsideration filed by complainant was subsequently denied.
What is before us now is the Supplemental Complaint filed by Leovigildo U. Mantaring, Sr. against Judge Ireneo B. Molato, which charges him with harassment. It is alleged that because of the filing of the first complaint against him, respondent Judge Ireneo B. Molato should have inhibited himself from conducting the preliminary investigation of a criminal case considering that the respondents in that case were complainant and his son. Instead, it is alleged, he took cognizance of the case and ordered the arrest of complainant and his son, Leovigildo Mantaring, Jr., out of hatred and revenge for them because of the filing of the first case by the complainant.
The Supplemental Complaint was referred to the Office of the Court Administrator which, in a Memorandum dated 25 November 1994, recommended the dismissal of the case for lack of merit. Nonetheless, the Court required the respondent Judge Ireneo B. Molato to comment.
In his Comment dated July 6, 1995, respondent judge denies the allegations against him. He avers that on the application by SPO4 Pacifico L. Fradejas, he issued a search warrant which resulted in the seizure from a certain Joel Gamo of a home-made gun, a hand grenade, five live ammunitions for Cal. 38 and three live ammunitions for 12 gauge shotgun; that on August 25, 1993, a complaint for Illegal Possession of Firearms and Ammunition was filed against Joel Gamo in which the herein complainant Leovigildo, Sr. and his son, Leovigildo, Jr., were included; that finding that the house in which the firearms and ammunition had been found was owned by complainant and his son, he concluded that there was probable cause to believe that complainant and his son were guilty of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition and accordingly ordered their arrest. Respondent judge claims that he inhibited himself from the case after he was ordered by the Executive Judge, RTC, Branch 41, Pinamalayan Oriental Mindoro.
In his Reply complainant contends that as the search warrant was issued only against Joel Gamo and Mantaring, Jr. it was wrong for respondent judge to find probable cause against him on the theory that, as owners of the house in which the firearms and ammunition were found, they had constructive possession of the same. He likewise contends that respondent judge did not inhibit himself until after the preliminary examination was terminated and the warrant of arrest issued, and only after complainant had filed a petition for inhibition which the Executive Judge found to be well taken.
On October 16, 1995, this case was referred to the OCA for reevaluation, report and recommendation. On January 12, 1996, the OCA submitted a Memorandum, recommending dismissal of the supplemental complaint for lack of merit, for the following reasons:
(1) It is erroneous for herein complainant to equate the application for the issuance of search warrant with the institution and prosecution of criminal action in a trial court. (Malaloan vs. Court of Appeals, 232 SCRA 249) Complainant cannot insist that since his name was not included in the search warrant, the house designated to be searched did not belong to him, and that he was not present at the preliminary investigation of witnesses preparatory to the issuance of the questioned warrant of arrest, there was no basis for respondent judge to order his arrest.
(2) No taint of irregularity attended the issuance by respondent judge of the warrant of arrest against complainant and his son. Neither was the charge that the warrant of arrest was issued by respondent judge in the spirit of anger, hatred or harassment purposes substantiated.
To begin with, it cannot be contended that complainant Leovigildo Mantaring, Sr. could not be proceeded against simply because he was not included in the search warrant issued against Gamo and Leovigildo Mantaring, Jr., who is apparently his son. The determination of probable cause in preliminary investigations is based solely on the evidence presented by the complainant, regardless of whether or not the respondent in that case is named in the proceedings for a search warrant. As correctly pointed out by, the OCA,1 the issuance of a search warrant and of a warrant of arrest requires the showing of probabilities as to different facts. In the case of search warrants, the determination is based on the finding that (1) the articles to be seized are connected to a criminal activity and (2) they are found in the place to be searched. It is not necessary that a particular person be implicated. On the other hand, in arrest cases, the determination of probable cause is based on a finding that a crime has been committed and that the person to be arrested has committed it.
In this case, the arrest of herein complainant and his son, together with Joel Gamo, was ordered on the basis of respondent's finding that the place from where the guns and ammunition were seized belonged to complainant Leovigildo Mantaring, Sr. and the testimonies of witnesses presented by SPO4 Fradejas. Of course complainant denies that the house in which the firearms and ammunition were found belonged to him and claims that at the time of the search he was in Manila. The provincial prosecutor subsequently dismissed the case against complainant on precisely these grounds, i.e., that the house did not belong to complainant and he was in Manila at the time the search and seizure were conducted. But to say this is not to say that respondent acted arbitrarily or that he abused his powers so as to give ground for administrative disciplinary action against him. It is only to say that he committed an error of judgment for which complainant's remedy is judicial.
What we think requires serious consideration is the contention by the complainant that respondent judge should have inhibited himself from conducting the preliminary investigation of the criminal case, considering that the respondent was the present complainant, who had earlier filed an administrative case against the judge and another one.
We are not unmindful of the cases in which it was stated that the mere filing of an administrative case against a judge by one of the parties before him is not a ground for disqualifying him from hearing a case.2 An examination of these cases reveals, however, that the administrative cases were filed during the pendency of the cases, and it is evident that the administrative cases were filed only to force the judge to inhibit himself from the consideration of the case before him. As this Court held, if on every occasion the party apparently aggrieved were allowed to stop the proceedings in order to await the final decision on the desired disqualification, or demand the immediate inhibition of the judge on the basis alone of his being so charged, many cases would have to be kept pending or perhaps there would not be enough judges left to handle all the cases pending in all the courts.3 On the other hand, there is a remedy available to the party seeking the disqualification of the judge. If he is denied a fair and impartial trial, caused by the judge's bias or prejudice, he can ask for a new trial in the interest of justice which will be granted if that is really the case. 4
But, in the case at bar, an administrative complaint against respondent and Judge Manuel A. Roman, Jr. had previously been filed and it was paramount that respondent was free from any appearance of bias against, or hostility toward, the complainant. The impression could not be helped that his action in that case was dictated by a spirt of revenge against complainant for the latter's having filed an administrative disciplinary action against the judge. The situation called for sedulous regard on his part for the principle that a party is entitled to nothing less than the cold neutrality of an impartial judge.
This circumstance should have underscored for respondent the need of steering clear of the case because he might be perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be susceptible to bias and partiality. For his judgment must not be tainted by even the slightest suspicion of improbity or preconceived interest in order to preserve at all times the faith and confidence in courts of justice by any party to the litigation.5
Indeed prudence should have made respondent judge heed the admonition that "a spotless dispensation of justice requires not only that the decision rendered be intrinsically fair but that the judge rendering it must at all times maintain the appearance of fairness and impartiality."6
Moreover, we think it was improper for respondent judge to have issued the warrants of arrest against complainant and his son without any finding that it was necessary to place them in immediate custody in order to prevent a frustration of justice. It is now settled7 that in issuing warrants of arrest in preliminary investigations, the investigating judge must:
(a) have examined in writing and under oath the complainant and his witnesses by searching questions and answers;
(b) be satisfied that probable cause exists; and
(c) that there is a need to place the respondent under immediate custody in order not to frustrate the ends of justice.
In this case, respondent judge justified the issuance of the warrant of arrest on the following ground:
In view of the above considerations [referring to the antecedent facts], it is the honest belief and finding of the Court that there is sufficient probable cause that the crime of Illegal Possession of Firearm and Ammunition was committed and that the named three (3) accused Joel Gamo, Leovigildo Mantaring, Sr. and Leovigildo Mantaring, Jr. are the ones probably guilty thereof for which reason Warrant of Arrest was issued by undersigned against them.
He thus ordered the issuance of warrant of arrest solely on his finding of probable cause, totally omitting to consider the third requirement that there must be a need to place the respondent under immediate custody "in order not to frustrate the ends of justice."
The framers of the Constitution confined the determination of probable cause as basis for the issuance of warrants of arrest and search warrants to judges the better to secure the people against unreasonable searches and seizures. Respondent judge failed to live up to this expectation by refusing to inhibit himself even when his very impartiality was in question and worse by issuing a warrant of arrest without determining whether or not it was justified by the need to prevent a frustration of the ends of justice. Parenthetically, the records show that the criminal complaints against herein complainant and his son were eventually dismissed by the Provincial Prosecutor, but not without the following parting words:
It cannot be gainsaid that respondents Mantarings were greatly prejudiced and suffered damages as a consequence of their inclusion in the criminal complaint. The unfortunate incident could have been avoided had the Honorable Municipal Trial Judge exercised the necessary prudence and judicial perpecuity [sic] expected of an impartial Judge in the conduct of preliminary investigation before issuance of warrant of arrest.
WHEREFORE, respondent judge Ireneo B. Molato is REPRIMANDED and WARNED that commission of similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely. All other charges are dismissed for lack of merit.
Regalado, Romero and Puno, JJ., concur.
1 Quoting Webb v. De Leon, G.R. No. 121234, August 23, 1995, and companion cases.
2 Medina v. De Guia 219 SCRA 153 (1993); Aparicio v. Andal 175 SCRA 572 (1989); Rosello v. Court of Appeals, 168 SCRA 459 (1988); Pimentel v. Salanga, 21 SCRA 161 (1967).
3 Aparicio v. Andal, supra note 2.
4 Pimentel v. Salanga, supra note 2.
5 Urbanes, Jr. v. Court of Appeals, 236 SCRA 72, 77 (1994); See Parayno v. Meneses, 231 SCRA 807, 810 (1994).
6 People v. Serrano, 203 SCRA 171 (1991).
7 Samulde v. Salvani, Jr., 165 SCRA 734 (1988); Pangandaman v. Casar, 159 SCRA 599 (1988).
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