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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 109920. August 31, 2000.]

CEFERINO A. SORIANO, Petitioner, v. HON. ADORACION C. ANGELES, in her capacity as Presiding Judge of the Caloocan City, Regional Trial Court, Branch CXXI, and RUEL GARCIA, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N


MENDOZA, J.:


This is a petition for certiorari to annul the decision rendered by the Regional Trial Court, Branch 121, Caloocan City, on March 15, 1993 in Criminal Case No. C-40740 which acquitted private respondent Ruel Garcia of direct assault.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

The prosecution’s evidence was as follows: Private respondent Ruel Garcia and his uncle, Pedro Garcia, were members of the Caloocan police. Shortly after midnight on November 7, 1991, they barged into the barangay hall of Barangay 56, Zone 5 in Caloocan City, looking for petitioner Ceferino A. Soriano, the barangay captain. Private respondent gave petitioner fist blows on the face four times with his left hand, while he poked a gun at him with his right hand, at the same time cursing him, "Putang ina mo cabeza" (You son of a bitch chief"). Although there were four barangay tanods (Manuel Montoya, Arturo del Rosario, Ramiro Samson, and Francisco Raton) in the barangay hall, they could not come to the aid of petitioner because they were held at bay by Pedro Garcia. The Garcias then left with their companions who had been waiting outside the hall. Petitioner was treated for his injuries in the hospital.

Private respondent denied petitioner’s allegations. He testified that he went to the barangay hall in the evening of November 6, 1991 because his younger brother had been reportedly arrested and beaten up by petitioner. (It appears that the younger Garcia was involved in a brawl with Dennis Mones and a certain Ocampo. They were arrested and taken to the barangay hall. One of the boys, who was apparently drunk, vomitted while their names were recorded. Petitioner, therefore, ordered the three boys to be taken to the Ospital ng Kalookan for a check-up. As private respondent saw petitioner near the door of the barangay hall, he asked for the whereabouts of his brother and the reason for the latter’s arrest. Apparently thinking that private respondent was trying to intervene in the case he was investigating, petitioner angrily told private respondent to lay off: "Walang pulis pulis dito" (Your being a policeman doesn’t pull strings here"). When private respondent insisted on going inside the barangay hall, petitioner blocked him and then pushed him on the chest. Private respondent also pushed petitioner, causing him to fall on a pile of nightsticks and injure himself. All the time, private respondent claimed he had his gun tucked at his waist. Private respondent’s uncle, Pedro Garcia, then arrived and took him home.

In acquitting private respondent, respondent Judge Adoracion C. Angeles found it incredible that petitioner did not resist or even say anything when private respondent allegedly assaulted him and that none of the four barangay tanods who were near him came to his aid. She thought that if petitioner had indeed been attacked, he would have suffered more serious injuries than a contusion on the forehead, erythema on the chest, and a lacerated wound on the lower lip. Respondent judge also excluded from the evidence the testimonies of petitioner and barangay tanod Manuel Montoya on the ground that their testimonies had not been formally offered in evidence as required by Rule 132, §534 to 35 of the Revised Rules on Evidence.chanrob1es virtua1 law library

Hence this petition for certiorari. Petitioner alleges that the decision is void because it was not rendered by an impartial tribunal. He contends that respondent judge was hell-bent on saving the private respondent from conviction and had prejudged the case" as shown by the fact that (1) on August 26, 1992, before private respondent’s arraignment, she called the parties and their counsels to her chambers and urged them to settle the case, and, when petitioner refused, she did not set the case for hearing until after three weeks allegedly to provide a "cooling off" period; (2) that at the initial trial on September 15 and 16, 1992, respondent judge again called on the parties to settle the case. Petitioner alleges that, while respondent judge stated in her order of September 15, 1992 cancelling the hearing on that date that this was done to enable Atty. Maria Lelibet Sampaga to study the case as she had been appointed as private respondent’s counsel only on that day, the same was actually a pretext, the real reason being to give private respondent another opportunity to persuade petitioner to settle the case. The records in fact show that Atty. Sampaga had been private respondent’s counsel at the arraignment on August 26, 1992; (3) that respondent judge excluded he testimonies of petitioner and his witness, Manuel Montoya, for failure of the prosecution to offer formally the same when the transcript of stenographic notes shows this was not so and that, at any rate, the defense waived the objection based on this ground by cross-examining petitioner and Montoya; and (4) that respondent judge failed to find private respondent guilty despite the testimonies of three eyewitnesses (barangay tanods Montoya, del Rosario, and Samson). Petitioner therefore prays that a mistrial be declared and that the case be ordered retried before another judge.

On the other hand, private respondent Ruel Garcia contends that, if at the outset, petitioner doubted respondent judge’s impartiality, he should have sought her inhibition right then and there; that it was not true respondent judge called the parties to her chambers on August 26, 1992 as only the arraignment took place on that day; that at said arraignment, his counsel, Atty. Emilio Bermas, was absent for which reason respondent judge designated Atty. Maria Lelibet S. Sampaga to assist him; that the schedule of the trial (September 15, 16, and 21, 1992) was not fixed by respondent judge but by the clerk in charge of the latter, taking into account the schedule of the other cases assigned to the court; that it was only on the first day of trial on September 15, 1992 that respondent judge first talked to the parties, and, upon learning that both were public officers, thought it proper to ask them if they were not willing to settle their dispute, and seeing the parties and their counsels to be receptive, she invited them to her chambers; that as petitioner later appeared to have second thoughts and, on the other hand, as Atty. Sampaga needed time to prepare for trial, respondent judge postponed the trial to the next day, September 16, 1992; that on September 16, 1992, respondent judge again called the parties to her chambers to see if they had come to any agreement, but as she was told by petitioner that "for him to withdraw his complaint against the private respondent, he must have to transfer his residence first, thus implying that he wished the case against private respondent to continue, respondent judge proceeded with the trial that morning.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Private respondent contends that the instant petition does not have the consent and conformity of the public prosecutor but was instead filed by the private prosecutor who does not have the requisite legal personality to question the decision acquitting him.

Required to comment, the Solicitor General argues that this petition should be dismissed:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

A perusal of the judgment of the trial court showed that the parties were heard conformably to the norms of due process, evidence was presented by both parties and duly considered, their arguments were studied, analyzed, and assessed, and judgment was rendered in which findings of facts and conclusions of law were set forth. These conclusions of fact or law cannot in any sense be characterized as outrageously wrong or manifestly mistaken or whimsically or capriciously arrived at. The worst that may perhaps be said of them is that they are fairly debatable and may even be possibly erroneous. But they cannot be declared to have been made with grave abuse of discretion (Bustamante v. NLRC, 198 SCRA 1991). Clearly, there was no mistrial in this case which would warrant the nullity of the assailed judgment. 1

The preliminary issue in this case is whether the petition should be dismissed outright because it was filed without the intervention of the OSG as counsel for the prosecution.

This question is not a novel one. In the case of People v. Santiago, 2 this Court held:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

The question as to whether or not U.P., as the private offended party, can file this special civil action for certiorari questioning the validity of said decision of the trial court should be answered in the affirmative.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

It is well-settled that in criminal cases where the offended party is the State, the interest of the private complainant or the private offended party is limited to the civil liability. Thus, in the prosecution of the offense, the complainant’s role is limited to that of a witness for the prosecution. If a criminal case is dismissed by the trial court or if there is an acquittal, an appeal therefrom on the criminal aspect may be undertaken only by the State through the Solicitor General. Only the Solicitor General may represent the People of the Philippines on appeal. The private offended party or complainant may not take such appeal. However, the said offended party or complainant may appeal the civil aspect despite the acquittal of the accused.

In a special civil action for certiorari filed under Section 1, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court wherein it is alleged that the trial court committed a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of Jurisdiction or on other jurisdictional grounds, the rules state that the petition may be filed by the person aggrieved. In such case, the aggrieved parties are the State and the private offended party or complainant. The complainant has an interest in the civil aspect of the case so he may file such special civil action questioning the decision or action of the respondent court on jurisdictional grounds. In so doing, complainant should not bring the action in the name of the People of the Philippines. The action may be prosecuted in name of said complainant. 3

The above ruling has been reiterated in De la Rosa v. Court of Appeals 4 and Perez v. Hagonoy Rural Bank, Inc., 5 in which the legal personality of private complainant to file a special civil action of certiorari questioning the dismissal by the trial court of a criminal case has been upheld subject to the limitation that the accused’s right to double jeopardy is not violated. 6 As explained by the Court in People v. Court of Appeals: 7

A judgment rendered with grave abuse of discretion or without due process is void, does not exist in legal contemplation, and, thus, cannot be the source of an acquittal. However, where the petition demonstrates mere errors in judgment not amounting to grave abuse of discretion or deprivation of due process, the writ of certiorari cannot issue. A review of the alleged errors of judgment cannot be made without trampling upon the right of the accused against double jeopardy. 8

In short, petitioner must establish that the judgment of acquittal resulted from a mistrial so as not to place private respondent, as accused, in double jeopardy.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

In only one case has the Court categorically declared a mistrial, and that is the case of Galman v. Sandiganbayan. 9 Petitioner would have the Court draw parallelisms between this case and Galman where the Court nullified the judgment of acquittal of the Sandiganbayan in Criminal Case Nos. 10010 and 10011 entitled "People of the Philippines v. General Luther Custodio, Et. Al."cralaw virtua1aw library

This cases is, however, a far cry from Galman. There, it was shown that evidence was suppressed in order to justify the acquittal of the accused. This Court held that "the secret Malacañang conference at which the authoritarian President called together the Presiding Justice of the Sandiganbayan [Manuel Pamaran] and Tanodbayan [Bernardo] Fernandez and the entire prosecution panel headed by Deputy Tanodbayan [Manuel] Herrera and told them how to handle and rig (moro-moro) the trial and the close monitoring of the entire proceedings to assure the pre-determined ignominious final outcome are without parallel and precedent in our annals and jurisprudence." 10

In contrast, petitioner does not allege any such irregularity in the trial of private Respondent. He simply claims that respondent judge’s bias and partiality denied the prosecution a fair and impartial trial. Why respondent judge was biased for the defense petitioner does not say. It is noteworthy that petitioner does not even dispute private respondent’s allegation that respondent judge was not personally acquainted with him until she heard the criminal case against him.

It is pertinent at this point to cite certain principles laid down by the Court regarding the disqualification of a judge for lack of the objectivity that due process requires. It is settled that mere suspicion that a judge is partial to one of the parties is not enough evidence to prove the charge. 11 Bias and prejudice cannot be presumed, especially weighed against a judge’s sacred allegation under oath of office to administer justice without respect to any person and do equal right to the poor and the rich. 12 There must be a showing of bias and prejudice stemming from an extrajudicial source resulting in an opinion in the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case. 13

The arguments which petitioner advances by way of proof of respondent’s judge’s alleged bias are not persuasive.

Respondent judge’s efforts to have the parties arrive at an amicable settlement is not evidence of partiality for Private Respondent. She could have been motivated by factors other than a desire to clear private respondent of criminal liability, i.e., the clearing of her court docket or, as pointed out by the OSG in its comment, 14 in setting a good example considering that petitioner and private respondent were neighbors occupying public offices charged with the maintenance of peace and order in the community.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

As for the allegation that the trial was not held until after three weeks to give private respondent more time to persuade petitioner to amicably settle the case, it has been shown that it was not respondent judge but court personnel in charge of scheduling cases who assigned the dates of trial taking into account the court calendar. The cancellation of the September 15, 1992 hearing, on the other hand, was made to give private respondent’s counsel, Atty. Maria Lelibet Sampaga, time to study the case and prepare for trial. Although Atty. Sampaga had once appeared in behalf of private respondent, it was for the purpose of assisting the latter at the arraignment because the regular counsel was absent. As new counsel, Atty. Sampaga needed to study the case. A postponement to the next day, September 16, 1992, was not an unreasonable request. Indeed, this did not involve resetting the case since September 16, 1992 had been originally designated as one of the initial trial dates.

Nor is there any showing that respondent judge decided the criminal case on grounds other than its merits. A reading of her decision acquitting private respondent shows that the same was made on the basis of her evaluation of the evidence of the prosecution and of the defense. Because of the conflicting versions of the parties as to what really happened, her decision was necessarily based on her appreciation of the eligibility of the witnesses for the prosecution and the defense.

True, petitioner is correct in his argument that respondent judge mistakenly excluded from the evidence his testimony as well as that of prosecution witness Manuel Montoya on the ground that the same had not been formally offered at the time they were called to the witness stand. For the fact was that petitioner and Montoya had been cross-examined at length by the defense and, therefore, the latter had waived objection to the failure of the prosecution to make an offer of the evidence. 15 It has been held in Go v. Court of Appeals, 16 however, that divergence of opinion between the trial judge and a party’s counsel as to the admissibility of evidence is not proof of bias or partiality. Besides, though respondent judge stated in her decision that the testimonies of petitioner and Montoya "cannot be considered by this Court as constituting part of the evidence for the prosecution," her decision shows that she actually considered the testimonies in piecing together the prosecution’s version of the events and in evaluating the evidence in the case. The testimonies of petitioner and Montoya were after all referred to by the other witnesses for the prosecution, namely, del Rosario and Samson. Thus respondent judge’s decision reads in pertinent part:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

The allegation of the private complainant that he neither resisted the punches of the accused nor said anything to the latter is quite hard to believe. No rational man would allow another to hurt him without offering any form of resistance, for he is instinctively concerned [with] his self-preservation. It is more in consonance with human nature that when one is hurt, especially if the feeling of innocence is within him, to immediately retaliate to an unjust act.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Another equally unbelievable allegation is that the four barangay tanods just stood and watched their barangay captain while he was being mauled. There were four of them inside the hall yet no one even dared to defend herein private complainant or stop herein accused. If they could not do it for their barangay captain and inside their hall, how can they be expected to protect the residents of their barangay outside their hall?

Furthermore, if herein private complainant was indeed mauled, he should have suffered a lot more serious injuries than he alleged[ly] incurred. Considering their allegation that the barangay tanods were guarded at the point of a gun by Pedro Garcia, herein accused thus had all the time and opportunity to inflict on the private complainant as many serious injuries as he could. But the results of the medical examination belie this point.

Well-settled is the rule that the prosecution must rely on the strength of its own evidence and not on the weakness of the defense (People v. Dennis Mendoza, 203 SCRA 148, G.R. No. 85176, October 21, 1991). After a thorough examination of the pieces of evidence presented by the prosecution, the latter failed to fulfill the test of moral certainty and establish such degree of proof necessary to support conviction. "If the inculpatory facts and circumstances are capable of one or more explanations, one of which is consistent with innocence and the other consistent with his guilt, then the evidence does not fulfill the test of moral certainty and is not sufficient to support a conviction. The constitutional presumption of innocence stands until overthrown by strong and convincing evidence, one of which will prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt" (People v. Gina Sahagun, 182 SCRA 91, G.R. No. 62024, February 12, 1990).

The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses are merely unfounded accusations insufficient to gain conviction. In the case of People v. Guinto, 184 SCRA 287, G.R. 88400, April 6, 1990, the Supreme Court held: "Accusation is not synonymous with guilt. The accused is protected by the constitutional presumption of innocence which the prosecution must overcome with contrary proof beyond reasonable doubt. Even if the defense is weak, the case against the accused must fail if the prosecution is even weaker. . . . If the prosecution has not sufficiently established the guilt of the accused, he has a right to be acquitted and released even if he presents naught a shred of evidence." 17

That respondent judge believed the evidence of the defense more than that of the prosecution does not indicate that she was biased. She must have simply found the defense witnesses to be more credible. 18

Indeed, no grave abuse of discretion may be attributed to a court simply because of its alleged misappreciation of facts and evidence. A writ of certiorari cannot be used to correct a lower tribunal’s evaluation of the evidence and factual findings. Thus, in People v. Court of Appeals, 19 the Court dismissed a petition for certiorari filed by the prosecution from decision of the Court of Appeals reversing that of the trial court and acquitting the accused of homicide and serious physical injuries on the ground that he acted in self-defense. The Court held:chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

To show grave abuse of discretion, herein petitioner contends that Respondent Court of Appeals committed manifest bias and partiality in rendering the assailed Decision. It claims that Respondent Court ignored and discarded "uncontroverted physical evidence" which the trial judge had relied upon. Furthermore, it allegedly erred in finding that he had "base[d] his decision on the testimony of witnesses whose demeanor he did not personally witness." In addition, it supposedly harped on insignificant inconsistencies in the testimonies of some prosecution witnesses, while unquestioningly accepting the private respondent’s claim of self-defense.

Finally, the solicitor general maintains that the assailed Decision (1) failed to discuss the effect of Maquiling’s escape from confinement during the pendency of the case; (2) shifted the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove Maquiling’s guilt, although he admitted killing the victim in self-defense; (3) ignored the physical evidence particularly the downward trajectory of the bullets that had hit the two victims, thereby showing that private respondent has still standing when he shot them; and the shotgun wound sustained by private respondent, which disabled him and rendered him incapable of shooting the victims.

It is quite obvious from the foregoing allegations that petitioner imputed grave abuse of discretion to Respondent Court because of the latter’s supposed misappreciation and wrongful assessment of factual evidence. However, as earlier stressed, the present recourse is a petition for certiorari under Rule 65. It is a fundamental aphorism in law that a review of facts and evidence is not the province of the extraordinary remedy of certiorari; which is extra ordinem — beyond the ambit of appeal. Stated elsewise factual matters cannot normally be inquired into by the Supreme Court in a certiorari proceeding. This Court cannot be tasked to go over the proofs presented by the parties and analyze, assess and weigh them again, in order to ascertain if the trial and the appellate courts were correct in according superior credit to this or that piece of evidence of one party or the other.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

The mere fact that a court erroneously decides a case does not necessarily deprive it of jurisdiction. Thus, assuming arguendo that a court commits a mistake in its judgment, the error does not vitiate the decision, considering that it has jurisdiction over the case.

An examination of the 65-page Decision rendered by the Court of Appeals shows no patent and gross error amounting to grave abuse of discretion. Neither does it show an arbitrary or despotic exercise of power arising from passion or hostility. . . . . 20

Finally, petitioner’s claim that respondent judge was biased is belied by his failure to move for respondent judge’s inhibition. Petitioner’s claim that he did not do so because of his belief and desire for said respondent judge to finally return to her normal sense of fairness" is a feeble excuse. His failure to file such motion stands as one more stark difference between this case and Galman since the private prosecutors in the latter case lost no time in seeking the disqualification of the members of the Sandiganbayan on grounds of manifest bias and partiality for the defense. 21

THEREFORE, the petition for certiorari is DISMISSED for lack of merit.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

SO ORDERED.

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

Endnotes:



1. OSG’s Comment pp. 3-4; Rollo pp. 112-113.

2. 174 SCRA 143 (1989).

3. Id., pp. 152-153.

4. 293 SCRA 499 (1996).

5. G.R. NO. 126210, Mar. 9, 2000.

6. CONST., Art. §21 provides:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"No person shall be twice put in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense. If an act is punished by a law and an ordinance, conviction or acquittal under either shall constitute a bar to another prosecution for the same act."cralaw virtua1aw library

7. 308 SCRA 687 (1999).

8. Id., p. 690.

9. 144 SCRA 43 (1986).

10. Id., pp. 82-83.

11. Geneblazo v. Court of Appeals, 174 SCRA 124, 134 (1989).

12. Pimentel v. Salanga, 21 SCRA 161, 167 (1967).

13. Webb v. People, 276 SCRA 243, 253 (1997).

14. OSG’s Comment, p. 3; Rollo, p. 112.

15. People v. Java, 227 SCRA 669, 680 (1992).

16. 21 SCRA 397, 413 (1993).

17. Petition, Annex A, pp. 10-11; Rollo, pp. 22-23.

18. See People v. Tabarno, 242 SCRA 456, 460 (1995).

19. 308 SCRA 687 (1999).

20. Id., pp. 700-701.

21. The Court in fact viewed in d negative light the Sandiganbayan’s rush to judgment notwithstanding the pendency of the motion for inhibition.

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