IMPERIAL vs. JOSON, G.R. No. 160067, November 17, 2010

At or about 2:00 o’clock in the morning of 11 May 2001, along the portion of the National Highway in Barangay Concepcion, Sariaya, Quezon, an Isuzu ten-wheeler truck collided with a Fuso six-wheeler truck. Owned by petitioner Imperial, the Isuzu ten-wheeler truck was then being driven by petitioner Francisco, while the Fuso six-wheeler truck was driven by respondent Santiago Giganto, Jr. who was, at the time, accompanied by a helper or pahinante, respondent Samuel Cubeta. After colliding with the Fuso six-wheeler truck, the Isuzu ten-wheeler truck further rammed into a Kia Besta Van which was, in turn, being driven by respondent Arnel Lazo. The KIA Besta Van was owned by Noel Tagle who was then on board said vehicle, together with the following passengers, namely, Gloria, Jonathan, Jaypee, Jervin, Jerald and Lydia, all surnamed Felix; Marvin, Martin and Jan-Jon, all surnamed Sadiwa; Antonio Landoy; and, respondents Evelyn Felix, and Jasmin Galvez.

There were multiple damages on the vehicles. Much more tragic than that, the accident resulted in the death of Noel Tagle, the owner of the KIA Besta Van, and seven of its passengers, namely, Gloria, Jonathan, Jaypee, Jervin, Jerald and Lydia, all surnamed Felix; and, Antonio Landoy. Although they survived the mishap, on the other hand, respondents Arnel Lazo, Evelyn Felix and Jasmin Galvez all suffered serious physical injuries and were immediately brought to the nearest hospital for treatment.

As a consequence of the collisions, a criminal complaint for Reckless Imprudence Resulting to Multiple Homicide, Multiple Serious Physical Injuries and Damage to Property was filed against petitioners Santos Francisco and Noel Imperial on 16 May 2001 before the MTC of Sariaya, Quezon.

Simultaneously, the parties filed various Civil cases in RTC Naga, MeTC Valenzuela, and RTC Paranaque for various reasons in relation to the accident in the instant case.

In the meantime, the Sariaya MTC proceeded to conduct the mandatory pre-trial conference in the Criminal Case after petitioner Francisco entered a plea of not guilty at the arraignment scheduled in the case.

In view of Prosecutor Rodolfo Zabella, Jr.’s refusal to stipulate on the foregoing matters, the Sariaya MTC went on to issue a pre-trial order dated 14 August 2001. petitioner Francisco filed on 30 August 2001 a motion styled as one “to compel and disqualify Prosecutor Zabella and to correct the pre-trial order” on the ground that the latter cannot refuse to stipulate on matters of which he has personal knowledge, and that the Judge’s recollection of the proposed stipulation was different from that actually proposed. With the Sariaya MTC’s denial of said motion in an order dated 18 October 2001, petitioner Francisco filed a motion for reconsideration on 19 November 2001.

On 9 January 2002, the Sariaya MTC issued an order which, while denying petitioner Francisco’s motion for reconsideration, directed that the pre-trial conference be set anew in view of the reassignment of the case to Prosecutor Francis Sia and the appearance of a new private prosecutor in the case. Dissatisfied, petitioner Francisco filed on 1 April 2002 the petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus before Lucena City RTC. Likewise contending that the nine postponements of the pre-trial conference were capricious, vexatious and oppressive, petitioner Francisco further moved for the dismissal of the case on 14 March 2004, on the ground that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated. Upon the Sariaya MTC’s 17 April 2002 denial of said motion as well as the motion for reconsideration he subsequently interposed, petitioner Francisco filed yet another petition for certiorari and prohibition before the Lucena RTC.

On 23 June 2003, the Lucena RTC rendered a consolidated decision dismissing petitioner Francisco’s petitions for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus for lack of merit. Elevated by petitioner Francisco to the CA via the petition for certiorari said decision was upheld in the 26 October 2005 decision rendered in the case by said court’s then Special Eighth Division. Undaunted, the latter filed the petition for review on certiorari docketed before the Supreme Court.

Whether the CA erred in sustaining the decision of the RTC of Lucena in upholding the decision of MTC Sariaya denying the motion to dismiss on the ground that his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

No, While justice is administered with dispatch, the essential ingredient is orderly, expeditious and not mere speed. It cannot be definitely said how long is too long in a system where justice is supposed to be swift, but deliberate. It is consistent with delays and depends upon circumstances. It secures rights to the accused, but it does not preclude the rights of public justice. Also, it must be borne in mind that the rights given to the accused by the Constitution and the Rules of Court are shields, not weapons; hence, courts are to give meaning to that intent.

A balancing test of applying societal interests and the rights of the accused necessarily compels the court to approach speedy trial cases on an ad hoc basis.

In determining whether the accused has been deprived of his right to a speedy disposition of the case and to a speedy trial, four factors must be considered: (a) length of delay; (b) the reason for the delay; (c) the defendant’s assertion of his right; and (d) prejudice to the defendant.” xxxx

Petitioner Francisco claims that his right to a speedy trial was violated when the Public Prosecutors assigned to the case failed to attend the nine hearings scheduled by the Sariaya MTC on 10 and 17 October 2001, 7 November 2001, 23 January 2002, 13 March 2002, 4 September 2002, 6 November 2002, 15 January 2003 and 5 March 2003. Far from being vexatious, capricious and oppressive, however, the delays entailed by the postponements of the aforesaid hearings were, to a great extent, attributable to petitioner Francisco’s own pursuit of extraordinary remedies against the interlocutory orders issued by the Sariaya MTC and the assignment of at least three public prosecutors to the case, namely, Prosecutors Rodolfo Zabella, Jr., Francis Sia and Joel Baligod. Indeed, the record shows that, on 30 August 2001, petitioner filed a motion styled as one to compel Prosecutor Zabella to agree to his proposed stipulations and/or to disqualify him from the case as well as to correct the pre-trial order issued on 14 August 2001. Considering that said motion was denied by the Sariaya MTC only on 18 October 2001, we find that Prosecutor Zabella’s absence at the 10 and 17 October 2001 pre-trial conference in the case can hardly be considered capricious, vexatious and oppressive.

The record further shows that, upon the Sariaya MTC’s issuance of the 9 January 2002 order denying his motion for reconsideration of said 18 October 2001 order and setting anew the pre-trial conference in the case, petitioner Francisco proceeded to file on 1 April 2002 the petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus docketed as Civil Case No. 2002-37 before Branch 58 of the Lucena City RTC. Although Prosecutor Sia, as replacement of Prosecutor Zabella, failed to attend the 7 November 2001, 23 January, 2002 and 13 March 2002 hearings scheduled in the case, petitioner Francisco cannot, consequently, complain of violation of his right to speedy trial in view of his pending petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus which raised, among other matters, issues pertinent to the conduct of the pre-trial conference by the Sariaya MTC. Without even taking into consideration the additional time Prosecutor Sia understandably needed to study the case, we find that the foregoing developments justified the Sariaya MTC’s 17 April 2002 denial of the motion to dismiss filed by petitioner Francisco on the ground that the cancellation of the hearings on the aforesaid dates violated his right to the speedy disposition of the case.

Although the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure concededly mandates commencement of the trial within 30 days from receipt of the pre-trial order and the continuous conduct thereof for a period not exceeding 180 days, Section 3 a (1), Rule 119 provides that delays resulting from extraordinary remedies against interlocutory orders shall be excluded in computing the time within which trial must commence. In determining the right of an accused to speedy trial, moreover, courts are “required to do more than a mathematical computation of the number of postponements of the scheduled hearings of the case” and to give particular regard to the facts and circumstances peculiar to each case. Viewed in the context of the above discussed procedural antecedents as well as the further reassignment of the case to Prosecutor Baligod as a consequence of Prosecutor Sia’s subsequent transfer to another government office, we find that the CA correctly brushed aside petitioner Francisco’s claim that the postponements of the pre-trial conferences in the case before the Sariaya MTC were violative of his right to a speedy trial.


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