CHIEF STATE PROSECUTOR JOVENCITO R. ZUÑO, vs.JUDGE ALEJADRINO C. CABEBE, A.M. OCA No. 03-1800-RTJ, November 26, 2004

Facts:
In his complaint, Chief State Prosecutor Zuño alleged that Criminal Case for illegal possession of prohibited or regulated drugs was filed with the Regional Trial Court, Branch 18, Batac, Ilocos Norte against Rey Daquep Arcangel, Victorino Gamet Malabed, William Roxas Villanueva, all police officers, Jocelyn Malabed Manuel and Pelagio Valencia Manuel. Upon arraignment, all the accused, assisted by their counsel de parte, pleaded not guilty to the crime charged. On March 14, 2001, the prosecution filed with this Court a petition for change of venue but was denied in a Resolution dated August 13, 2001. On October 8, 2001, the accused filed a motion for reconsideration. In the meantime, the proceedings before respondent’s court were suspended.

On May 6, 2002, the accused filed a motion to dismiss invoking as ground the right of the accused to a speedy trial. On November 5, 2002, respondent judge motu propio issued an Order granting bail to the accused, fixing the bail for each at P70,000.00 in cash or property bond at P120,000.00, except for accused Evelyn Manuel whose bail was fixed at P20,000.00 in cash. Respondent judge issued the Order without the accused’s application or motion for bail.

The prosecution then filed a motion for reconsideration. Instead of acting thereon, respondent judge issued an order inhibiting himself from further proceeding with the case, realizing that what he did was patently irregular. Complainant thus prays that respondent judge be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits and be disbarred from the practice of law.

Respondent denied the charges. While admitting that he issued the Order dated November 5, 2002 granting bail to the accused without any hearing, “the same was premised on the constitutional right of the accused to a speedy trial.” There was delay in the proceedings due to complainant’s frequent absences and failure of the witnesses for the prosecution to appear in court, resulting in the cancellation of the hearings. The prosecution did not object to the grant of bail to the accused.

Issue:
Whether the Bail hearing is mandatory for cases punishable by death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment, where bail is a matter of discretion even in the absence of the prosecution’s objection.

Held:
Yes, jurisprudence is replete with decisions on the procedural necessity of a hearing, whether summary or otherwise, relative to the grant of bail, especially in cases involving offenses punishable by death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment, where bail is a matter of discretion. Under the present Rules, a hearing is mandatory in granting bail whether it is a matter of right or discretion. It must be stressed that the grant or the denial of bail in cases where bail is a matter of discretion, hinges on the issue of whether or not the evidence of guilt of the accused is strong, and the determination of whether or not the evidence is strong is a matter of judicial discretion which remains with the judge. In order for the latter to properly exercise his discretion, he must first conduct a hearing to determine whether the evidence of guilt is strong. In fact, even in cases where there is no petition for bail, a hearing should still be held.

Even the alleged failure of the prosecution to interpose an objection to the granting of bail to the accused will not justify such grant without hearing. The SC has uniformly ruled that even if the prosecution refuses to adduce evidence or fails to interpose any objection to the motion for bail, it is still mandatory for the court to conduct a hearing or ask searching and clarificatory questions from which it may infer the strength of the evidence of guilt, or lack of it, against the accused. Where the prosecutor refuses to adduce evidence in opposition to the application to grant and fix bail, the court may ask the prosecution such questions as would ascertain the strength of the State’s evidence or judge the adequacy of the amount of bail. Irrespective of respondent judge’s opinion that the evidence of guilt against the accused is not strong, the law and settled jurisprudence demand that a hearing be conducted before bail may be fixed for the temporary release of the accused, if bail is at all justified.

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