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Floresta v. Judge Ubadias, A.M. No. RTJ-03-1774, 27 May 2004.

17 May

Third Division

[CARPIO-MORALES, J.]

FACTS: By a Sworn Complaint, then Provincial Prosecutor, now Regional Trial Court Judge Dorentino Z. Floresta (complainant) administratively charged Judge Eliodoro G. Ubiadas of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court (RTC) with “gross ignorance of [the] law, grave abuse of authority and violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.” Among other grounds, complainant faults respondent for granting, “without giving notice to the prosecution,” the petition for bail of Jose Mangohig, Jr. who was arrested by virtue of a warrant issued by the Municipal Trial Court of Subic, Zambales which found probable cause against him for violation of Section 5(b), Art. III of Republic Act No. 7610 (“Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act”). Respondent avers that in Crim. Case No. 271-99, upon motion filed close to noon time of January 3, 2000, the prosecutor was furnished a copy of the petition for bail by Mangohig, who was then under preliminary investigation. During the hearing set on the following day, or on January 4, 2000 at 8:30 a.m, there was no appearance from the Prosecutor’s Office. Since the offense for which Mangohig was charged is ordinarily a bailable offense, respondent granted him bail.

ISSUE: Is the Judge correct in granting the petition for bail even without the participation of the Prosecution during the bail hearing?

HELD: NO, the Judge is not correct.

Whether bail is a matter of right or discretion, and even if no charge has yet been filed in court against a respondent-suspect-detainee, reasonable notice of hearing is required to be given to the prosecutor, or at least his recommendation must be sought. So Fortuna v. Penaco-Sitaca instructs:

[A]dmission to bail as a matter of discretion presupposes the exercise thereof in accordance with law and guided by the applicable legal principlesThe prosecution must first be accorded an opportunity to present evidence because by the very nature of deciding applications for bail, it is on the basis of such evidence that judicial discretion is weighed against in determining whether the guilt of the accused is strong. In other words, discretion must be exercised regularly, legally and within the confines of procedural due process, that is, after the evaluation of the evidence submitted by the prosecution. Any order issued in the absence thereof is not a product of sound judicial discretion but of whim and caprice and outright arbitrariness. (Italics in the original; underscoring supplied)

True, a hearing of the petition for bail was conducted in Crim. Case No. 271-99 on January 4, 2000 at 8:30 a.m. Given the filing of the petition only the day before, at close to noontime, it cannot be said that the prosecution was afforded reasonable notice and opportunity to present evidence after it received a copy of the petition minutes before it was filed in court. It bears stressing that the prosecution should be afforded reasonable opportunity to comment on the application for bail by showing that evidence of guilt is strong.

While in Section 18 of Rule 114 on applications for bail, no period is provided as it merely requires the court to give a “reasonable notice” of the hearing to the prosecutor or require him to submit his recommendation, and the general rule on the requirement of a three-day notice for hearing of motions under Section 4 of Rule 15 allows a court for good cause to set the hearing on shorter notice, there is, in the case of Mangohig, no showing of good cause to call for hearing his petition for bail on shorter notice. Reasonable notice depends of course upon the circumstances of each particular case, taking into account, inter alia, the offense committed and the imposable penalties, and the evidence of guilt in the hands of the prosecution. In Crim. Case No. 271-99, Mangohig was arrested for violation of Sec. 5(b), Art. III of R.A. 7610 which is punishable by reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua, and subsequently indicted for statutory rape qualified by relationship which is punishable by death. Under the circumstances, by respondent’s assailed grant of bail, the prosecution was deprived of due process for which he is liable for gross ignorance of the law or procedure which is a serious charge under Sec. 8 of Rule 140 of the Rules of Court.

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