Facts: 

Petitioner Go and respondent Looyuko were business associates. Respondent is the registered owner of businesses collectively known as the Noah’s Ark Group of Companies. Go was the business manager or chief operating officer of the group of companies. Sometime in 1997, the business associates had a falling out that spawned numerous civil lawsuits. Among these actions are Civil Case No. 67921 and Criminal Case No. 98-1643 from which arose several incidents which eventually became subject of these consolidated petitions.

G.R. No. 147923 assails the September 11, 2000 CA Decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 58639, which upheld the December 16, 1999 Makati City RTC Order denying the requested inhibition of RTC Judge Nemesio Felix and the March 8, 2000 Order which denied the recall of the December 16, 1999 Order and which likewise required the prosecution to make a formal offer of evidence. Also challenged is the March 27, 2001 CA Resolution denying petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration.

The third, G.R. No. 154035, assails the January 31, 2002 CA Decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 62296, which affirmed the Makati City RTC May 9, 2000 Order in Criminal Case No. 98-1643, denying petitioner’s prayer to defer submission of the formal offer of evidence and at the same time granting leave to respondent to file demurrer to evidence, and the September 22, 2000 Orde denying reconsideration of the May 9, 2000 Order. Likewise challenged is the June 3, 2002 CA Resolution of the CA disallowing petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration.

The second, G.R. No. 147923, and third, G.R. No. 154035, petitions under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court arose from Criminal Case No. 98-1643 entitled People of the Philippines v. Alberto T. Looyuko for Estafa under Article 315, paragraph 1 (b) of the Revised Penal Code before the Makati City RTC, Branch 56.

In G.R. No. 154035, we consolidated the three petitions having originated from the same criminal case involving the same parties with interrelated issues. Although the latter petition raises the issue of the existence of a business partnership and propriety of the conduct of the inventory of assets and properties of Noah’s Ark Sugar Refinery in Civil Case No. 67921, all the foregoing actions trace their beginnings from the same factual milieu.

Criminal Case No. 98-1643 – Dismissed because Looyuko died

On May 21, 1998, petitioner filed People of the Philippines v. Alberto T. Looyuko, an Affidavit Complaint before RTC Makati, charging respondent with Estafa under Revised Penal Code. Petitioner alleged that respondent misappropriated and converted in his name petitioner’s 41,376 China Banking Corporation (CBC) shares of stock. Petitioner averred that he entrusted the stock certificates to respondent for the latter to sell. 

After respondent pleaded “Not Guilty,” and after the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses among them, Go and Amalia de Leon, an employee of CBC, who testified that certificates of stocks in Go’s name were cancelled and new certificates were issued in Looyuko’s name. Earlier, subpoena ad testificandum and subpoena duces tecum were issued to Peter Dee, President of CBC, Atty. Arsenio Lim, Corporate Secretary of CBC, and Gloria Padecio. The trial court also felt no need for the testimonies of Dee, Lim, and Padecio and ordered the prosecution to offer its evidence.

Petitioner filed a MR and asked that the prosecution be allowed to present its last witness from Amsteel Securities, Inc., Bohn Bernard J. Briones. The RTC granted the motion. However, at the conclusion of Briones’ testimony, the prosecution moved to subpoena Alvin Padecio which was vehemently objected to by the defense. The trial court denied the motion. The prosecution thereafter opted to ask for ten days to formally offer its documentary evidence. The trial court granted the request.

Instead of filing its formal offer of evidence, the prosecution filed an Urgent MR, then a Supplemental Motion with Manifestation, and a Second Supplemental Motion with Manifestation, all praying that the testimony of Alvin Padecio be allowed.

For his part, respondent filed a Motion to Declare the Prosecution as Having Waived its Right to Make a Formal Offer of Evidence. Hence, petitioner filed an Omnibus Motion to Withdraw the Urgent Motion for Reconsideration with Motion for Inhibition.

Subsequently, the trial court denied petitioner’s motion for inhibition; petitioner’s motion to declare the prosecution to have waived its right to file formal offer of evidence; and gave the prosecution a last chance to submit its formal offer of documentary evidence within ten days from notice.

Petitioner moved to defer compliance with the submission of its formal offer of documentary evidence pending petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of the trial court’s Order denying petitioner’s motion for inhibition. The RTC denied petitioner’s motion and granted the prosecution a last opportunity to submit its formal offer of documentary evidence within five days from notice.

Frustrated, petitioner adamantly reiterated his motion for inhibition in a Manifestation/Motion praying that the trial court reconsider its Order directing the prosecution to formally offer its documentary evidence in deference to the petition for certiorari it intends to file with the CA, where it would assail the two Orders denying the inhibition of the judge.

Subsequently, petitioner filed a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 before the CA. It again sought the reversal of the orders denying his motion for inhibition. 

Meanwhile, before the RTC hearing the criminal case, respondent filed an Omnibus Motion  to declare petitioner to have rested his case on the basis of the prosecution’s testimonial evidence and to grant respondent leave to file his demurrer to evidence. The RTC denied the Omnibus Motion. Petitioner timely filed a Motion for Reconsideration/Manifestation, which was denied. Respondent filed his demurrer to evidence incorporating in it his offer of evidence.

Petitioner filed another petition for certiorari before the CA seeking to reverse the orders of the trial court declaring petitioner to have waived his right to formally offer his documentary evidence and allowing respondent to file a demurrer to evidence.

While these motions were being considered by the trial court, petitioner filed an administrative case Judge Nemesio S. Felix. It charged Judge Felix with Partiality, relative to Criminal Case No. 98-1643.

Citing the administrative case he filed against Judge Felix, petitioner filed a Second Motion for Voluntary Inhibition before the trial court. The trial court denied the second motion. His Motion for Reconsideration was opposed by respondent.

Issue:

WON CA ered when it failed to apply the law and established jurisprudence on the matter by issuing the questioned Resolutions thereby affirming the questioned Orders of the Court a quo which were issued with grave abuse of discretion.

Held:

The petition in G.R. No. 147962 is GRANTED. The February 12, 2001 and April 24, 2001 Resolutions of the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 62438 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the Writ of Preliminary Injunction is LIFTED. The Petition for Certiorari of respondent Looyuko in CA-G.R. SP No. 62438 is DISMISSED for lack of merit, and the Orders dated September 25, 2000, December 19, 2000, and December 29, 2000 of the Pasig City RTC, Branch 69 are AFFIRMED. The Pasig City RTC, Branch 69 is hereby ordered to proceed with the case with dispatch.

The petition in G.R. No. 147923 is DENIED and the September 11, 2000 Decision and March 27, 2001 Resolution of the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 58639 are AFFIRMED.

The petition in G.R. No. 154035 is GRANTED. The January 31, 2002 Decision and June 3, 2002 Resolution of the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 62296 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Likewise, the Orders dated May 9, 2000 and September 22, 2000 of the Makati City RTC in Crim. Case No. 98-1643 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE.

Makati RTC is ordered to dismiss Crim. Case No. 98-1643 as Looyuko died, without prejudice to the filing of a separate civil action by petitioner Go.

Relevant Ratio:

Grave abuse of discretion in the denial of additional witnesses

The trial court gravely abused its discretion in patently and arbitrarily denying the prosecution the opportunity to present four witnesses in the instant criminal case. 

First, the testimonies of Dee and Lim from CBC would bolster and tend to prove whatever fact the prosecution is trying to establish. Truth to tell, only the testimony of de Leon corroborates petitioner’s testimony on the alleged transfer from petitioner’s name to that of respondent of the certificates of stock. More light can be shed on the transaction with the additional testimony of Dee and Lim.

Second, the superfluity of a testimony vis-à-vis what has already been proven can be determined with certainty only after it has been adduced. Verily, the testimonies of petitioner Go and de Leon on the issue of the transfer cannot be said to have truly proven and been corroborated with certainty as they are.

Third, the trial court cannot invoke its discretion under Sec. 6 of Rule 134, Rules of Court given that only two witnesses were presented when it denied the testimony of the three (3) witnesses. Sec. 6 of Rule 134 pertinently provides:

SEC. 6. Power of the court to stop further evidence. –– The court may stop the introduction of further testimony upon any particular point when the evidence upon it is already so full that more witnesses to the same point cannot be reasonably expected to be additionally persuasive. But this power should be exercised with caution.

The above proviso clearly grants the trial court the authority and discretion to stop further testimonial evidence on the ground that additional corroborative testimony has no more persuasive value as the evidence on that particular point is already so full. Indeed, it was only petitioner Go, whose testimony may be considered self-serving who testified on the issue of the transfer. Certainly, the additional testimony of de Leon on the issue of the transfer cannot be considered as so adequate that additional corroborative testimony has no more persuasive value. Besides, the discretion granted by the above proviso has the clear caveat that this power should be exercised with caution, more so in criminal cases where proof beyond reasonable doubt is required for the conviction of the accused.

Fourth, in consonance with the immediate preceding discussion, petitioner Go’s testimony on the alleged partnership is not confirmed and supported by any other proof with the exclusion of the testimony of Gloria Padecio. Certainly, it is imperative for the prosecution to prove by clear and strong evidence that the alleged partnership exists; otherwise, respondent Looyuko is entitled to exoneration as the element of trust is important in estafa by abuse of confidence. Corroborative testimony is a necessity given the nature of the criminal case.

Likewise, the trial court gravely abused its discretion in denying the prosecution to present the testimony of Alvin Padecio considering that Briones of Amsteel Securities, Inc. did not provide some details on the transfer. Alvin Padecio, petitioner claims, is the person who can shed light on these matters, more particularly if one considers the fact that he is the son of respondent Looyuko.

Based on the foregoing findings, we hold that the trial court whimsically, arbitrarily, and gravely abused its discretion amounting to a denial of the prosecution of its day in court.

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