On May 18, 2009 and June 11, 2009, Montero (a former employee of the BSJ Company owned by the Jimenezes) executed sworn statements confessing his participation in the killing of Ruby Rose Barrameda (Ruby Rose), and naming petitioner Jimenez, Lope Jimenez (Lope, the petitioner Jimenez’s younger brother), Lennard A. Descalso (Lennard) alias “Spyke,” Robert Ponce (Robert) alias “Obet,” and Eric Fernandez (Eric), as his coconspirators.
The statements of Montero which provided the details on where the alleged steel casing containing the body of Ruby Rose was dumped, led to the recovery of a cadaver, encased ina drum and steel casing, near or practically at the place that Montero pointed to.
On August 20, 2009, the People, through the state prosecutors, filed an Information before the RTC, charging Jimenez, Lope, Lennard, Robert, Eric and Montero of murder for the killing of Ruby Rose.
Montero thereafter filed a motion for his discharge entitled “Motion for the Discharge of the Witness as Accused Pursuant to the Witness Protection Program” pursuant to Republic Act No. 6981. The People also filed a motion to discharge Montero as a state witness for the prosecution. Jimenez opposed both motions.
The RTC thru Acting Presiding Judge Hector B. Almeyda (Judge Almeyda) denied the motion to discharge Montero as a state witness. Montero and the People filed separate motions for reconsideration.
On July 30, 2010, Judge Docena, the newly-appointed regular judge, reconsidered and reversed Judge Almeyda’s order and ruled that the prosecution had presented clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence showing compliance with the requisites of Section 17, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.
During the pendency of the motion for reconsideration, Jimenez filed a motion for inhibition, praying that Judge Docena inhibit himself from hearing the case on the ground of bias and prejudice. Judge Docena denied the motion in his order of December 29, 2010.
On June 29, 2011, Judge Docena issued an omnibus order: 1) denying the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of the July 30, 2010 order; 2) denying the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of the December 29, 2010 order; and 3) granting Manuel Jimenez III’s alternative motion to suspend the proceedings, as his inclusion in the Information was still pending final determination by the Office of the President.
Jimenez responded to these adverse rulings by filing with the CA a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. The petition sought the annulment of Judge Docena’s orders dated July 30, 2010, December 29, 2010, and June 29, 2011. The petition also prayed for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and a writ of preliminary injunction that the CA both granted in its resolutions of December 8, 2011, and February 6, 2012, respectively.
The CA held that Judge Docena did not gravely abuse his discretion in ordering Montero’s discharge to become a state witness because the prosecution had complied with the requirements of Section 17, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. Hence this Petition.
1. Whether Montero qualifies to be a State-witness
2. Whether there is an Absolute necessity of the testimony of Montero
1. Yes, In the discharge of an accused in order that he may be a state witness, the following conditions must be present, namely:
a. Two or more accused are jointly charged with the commission of an offense;
b. The motion for discharge is filed by the prosecution before it rests its case;
c. The prosecution is required to present evidence and the sworn statement of each proposed state witness at a hearing in support of the discharge;
d. The accused gives his consent to be a state witness; and
e. The trial court is satisfied that:
i. There is absolute necessity for the testimony of the accused whose discharge is requested;
ii. There is no other direct evidence available for the proper prosecution of the offense committed, except the testimony of said accused;
iii. The testimony of said accused can be substantially corroborated in its material points;
iv. Said accused does not appear to be the most guilty; and,
v. Said accused has not atany time been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude.
No issues have been raised with respect to conditions (1), (2), (4), and 5(e). The parties dispute the compliance with conditions (3) and 5(a) to (d) as the issues before us. We shall discuss these issues separately below.
2. Yes, Absolute necessity exists for the testimony of an accused sought to be discharged when he or she alone has knowledge of the crime. In more concrete terms, necessity is not there when the testimony would simply corroborate or otherwise strengthen the prosecution’s evidence. We do not agree with Jimenez that the Court’s pronouncement in Chua v. CA et al.is inapplicable in the present case simply because more than two accused are involved in the present case. The requirement of absolute necessity for the testimony of a state witness depends on the circumstances of each case regardless of the number of the participating conspirators.
In the present case, not one of the accused-conspirators, except Montero, was willing to testify on the alleged murder of Ruby Rose and their participation in her killing. Hence, the CA was correct in ruling that Judge Docena acted properly and in accordance with jurisprudence in ruling that there was absolute necessity for the testimony of Montero. He alone is available to provide direct evidence of the crime. That the prosecution could use the voluntary statements of Montero without his discharge as a state witness is not an important and relevant consideration. To the prosecution belongs the control of its case and this Court cannot dictate on its choice in the discharge of a state witness, save only when the legal requirements have not been complied with.