CA orders Marikina judge out of SMHC theft case vs. Indonesian bizman

MANILA The Court of Appeals (CA) granted the petition filed by San Miguel Holdings Corporation (SMHC), the infrastructure arm of San Miguel Corporation (SMC), asking for the inhibition of a Marikina court judge from handling the qualified theft charges against Indonesian businessman Shadik Wahono and several others.

In a 16-page decision dated July 11 penned by Associate Justice Sesinando Villon, concurred by Associate Justices Manuel M. Barrios and Renato Francisco, the CA's Former Ninth Division ordered Marikina Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 193 Judge Alice Gutierrez to recuse herself from the qualified theft complaint filed by SMHC against Wahono for showing bias and partiality in favor of the accused.

The ruling stemmed from the petition filed by Holdings Corporation (SMHC) and Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corporation's (CMMTC) seeking the reversal of Gutierrez's decision denying their motion for inhibition.

However, during the pendency of the petition, Gutierrez issued an order on October 25, 2017 dismissing the qualified theft complaint.

This prompted the CA to issue a writ of preliminary injunction early this year enjoining Gutierrez from implementing its order dismissing the case.

It pointed out that Gutierrez's order has yet to attain finality, thus, an injunction may still be issued.

The CA ordered the continuation of the trial of the case to be handled by another Marikina RTC judge who will be chosen by raffle in accordance with the provisions of the Rules of Court.

Judge Gutierrez may not be legally prohibited from sitting in the case a quo. But there are suggestions which are made of record that she is predisposed to act in favor of private respondents, or with bias or prejudice against petitioners, the CA said.

All told, Judge Gutierrez has displayed more than a hint of bias and partiality in the proceedings before the court a quo. It is only proper for her to inhibit herself from further presiding therein, it added.

The appellate court held that the dismissal of the complaint against private respondents Wahono and Nadiya W. Stamboel, who are still at large, and acquitting private respondents Fema Christina Piramide-Sayson and Alvin Bugtas, did not necessarily render the actions taken by Judge Gutierrez fait accompli" (an accomplished fact).

The Court cannot turn a blind eye to the timing of the issuance of these questioned orders which petitioners now submit to have been tainted with manifest biasLike Caesar's wife, a judge must be beyond suspicion and that she should maintain nothing less than cold neutrality and impartiality. Otherwise, the wisest course for a judge would be to disqualify herself, the CA explained.

Aside from this, the CA said based on its review of the case, there are valid grounds that warrant Judge Gutierrez's recusal from the proceedings in the case.

In particular, the CA cited the July 18, 2016 pre-trial conference where she manifested a degree of aversion or hostility towards SMHC.

Based on the stenographic notes during the proceedings, the CA noted that Gutierrez was inclined to prevent SMHC's participation in the case before the court by accepting as gospel truth the submission of the private respondents' counsel that the latter did not have personality to participate in the proceedings because there was no civil aspect involved in the case.

A judge's official conduct should be free from the appearance of impropriety, and his personal behavior, not only upon the bench and in the performance of judicial duties, but also in his everyday life, should be beyond reproach, the CA reminded Gutierrez.

Judges shall not knowingly, while a proceeding is before or could come before them, make any comment that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome of such proceeding or impair the manifest fairness of the process, it added.

In dismissing the qualified theft complaint, the Marikina RTC held that "SMHC cannot claim the amount belongs to it considering that there are other stockholders of the corporation and that the court finds no probable cause for the issuance of warrant of arrest for qualified theft on the ground that they merely performed corporate acts when they transferred the amount from CMMTC to CCEC."

Wahono and Stamboel were charged with qualified theft case before the Marikina City RTC for allegedly causing CMMTC, which was jointly owned then by the SMHC and Wahono, to make an unauthorized disbursement, which he then used to incorporate another company called Citra Central Expressway Corp. (CCEC).

The SMHC accused Wahono for the alleged unauthorized disbursement of PHP50 million in funds of CMMTC, where both SMHC and Wahono were both major shareholders. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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