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499 Phil. 672


[ G.R. NO. 128859, June 23, 2005 ]




In the Court’s Decision[1] on the herein case dated 29 June 2004, the petition was dismissed on the ground that it had become moot and academic, owing to the acquittal in 1999 of petitioner Aida Poblete in Criminal Case No. 95-700-MK by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Marikina, Branch 272.  The instant petition pertained to the grant of bail to Poblete, who had been charged with Estafa under paragraph 2(d) of the Revised Penal Code, with private respondent William Lu as the private complainant.

As narrated in the Decision, it was only in 2004 that the Court learned of the acquittal of Poblete in 1999, after the transmittal by the Marikina City RTC to this Court of the records of the said criminal case. Considering that the subject matter of the petition related to the grant of bail to Poblete, this petition could have been immediately dismissed as far back as 1999, had the Court been informed of the acquittal of the petitioner. Unfortunately, neither the petitioner nor private respondent bothered to inform the Court of the fact of acquittal.  Hence, the Court resolved in its Decision to direct the parties’ respective counsels, Atty. Roberto T. Neri for the petitioner, and Atty. Arturo E. Balbastro for the private respondent, to explain why they should not be held liable for indirect contempt for such failure to inform the Court.[2]

Both counsels having availed of their right to be heard by adducing their respective explanations, the Court now proceeds to rule on the question of indirect contempt.  Atty. Balbastro argues that he could not be held liable for indirect contempt owing to his good faith and lack of intention to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice.[3] On the other hand, Atty. Neri similarly invokes his lack of intention to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice, and adds that “due to extreme pressure of his work, occasioned by the numerous cases he has been handling . . . he totally forgot, albeit unfortunate (sic), about the petition that he had filed in this case.”[4]

If the resort to indirect contempt proceedings strike as unduly harsh, one would have to understand the detrimental effect the counsels’ inaction bears upon this Court. The Court’s docket is already overstocked as it is, and any and all attempts by the parties to lighten the burden by withdrawing those unnecessary litigations are always welcome. Conversely, parties who are aware of substantiated causes to prematurely terminate a case pending with this Court, but fail or refuse to inform the Court of such cause, earn judicial disfavor.  In this case, the Court would have been spared the burden of deliberating on the petition, which presented thorny issues on the constitutional right to bail.  In fact, it was only after thorough consideration of the issues presented that the Court learned, upon its own initiative, of the dismissal of the case.

We are inclined to hold Atty. Neri, counsel for petitioner, to a higher standard of responsibility than Atty. Balbastro, counsel for the private respondent.  Indubitably, Atty. Balbastro could have immensely aided the Court had he promptly informed us of the acquittal of the case, yet his was not the primary responsibility to undertake such action. The burden would lie on the party who instituted the action, the petitioner in this case.  Generally, it is the petitioner who bears greater interest in the resolution of a petition since it is such party who seeks remedial relief from a standing lower court issuance.

Moreover, the particular circumstances of this case highlight the lesser degree of urgency this petition bears on the private respondent.  The assailed orders pertain to the bail of Poblete, and the disposition thereupon would have no effect on private respondent’s liberty or property.  Certainly, the Court can understand if the private respondent in this case adopted a less-than-impassioned attitude towards this case, since it does not bear direct relevance unto him. Accordingly, Atty. Balbastro’s explanation is deemed satisfactory under these premises.

Atty. Neri manifests that he had forgotten about the present petition, an admission that does not speak too well of his professional work ethic.  Still, whatever extenuating effect this excuse may offer is extinguished by the particular circumstances of this case.  The acquittal of his client occurred only two years after the filing of this petition. Two years is not a significantly long span of time for Atty. Neri to have forgotten about his pending petition before this Court. There is no good reason why he should not have notified the Court of his client’s acquittal immediately after that fact.

Even worse, Atty. Neri filed before this Court a Notice of Change of Address which was dated on 20 October 1999, or just five (5) days after his client was acquitted.[5] Certainly, Atty. Neri could not have already forgotten about his client’s acquittal just five days earlier, and was probably even still flushed with the throes of victory.  It would have caused little inconvenience on the part of Atty. Neri to inform the Court of the fact of acquittal, since he was anyway letting the Court know of his change of address. This circumstance spirits away his defense beyond the realm of excusable.

It does not also escape this Court’s attention that in the litigation of this petition before this Court, Atty. Neri had previously been subjected to disciplinary action by this Court owing to inexcusable neglect.  Atty. Neri failed to file a reply in behalf of his client despite direction to do so, and was accordingly fined One Thousand Pesos (P1,000.00) in a Resolution dated 19 October 1998.[6]

Indeed, under the ethical standards the Court requires lawyers to observe, Atty. Neri’s liability is patent.  Under the Code of Professional Responsibility, a lawyer is obliged to exert every effort and consider it his duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice,[7] and correspondingly, precluded from unduly delaying a case.[8] Under appropriate circumstances, these violations may likewise constitute grounds for indirect contempt, as they are in this case.

Any improper conduct tending to impede the administration of justice is cause for punishment for indirect contempt.[9] A person adjudged guilty of indirect contempt may be punished by a fine not exceeding thirty thousand pesos or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months or both.  Under the circumstances, a fine of Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00) would be appropriate.

WHEREFORE, Atty. Roberto T. Neri is hereby found GUILTY of INDIRECT CONTEMPT and ordered to PAY A FINE of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00) within ten (10) days from notice, or to suffer imprisonment of ten (10) days in case he fails to pay the fine.


Puno, (Chairman), Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.

[1] Penned by Justice Dante O. Tinga, concurred in by Justices Reynato S. Puno, Leonardo A. Quisumbing and Romeo J. Callejo, Sr. See Rollo, pp. 125-131.

[2] Id. at 130.

[3] Id. at 119.

[4] Id., at 162.

[5] Rollo, p. 87.

[6] Id. at 84.

[7] See Canon 12, Code of Professional Responsibility.  See also Endaya v. Oca, A.C. No. 3967, 3 September 2003, 410 SCRA 244.

[8] See Rule 12.04, Code of Professional Responsibility.

[9] See Section 3(d), Rule 71, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

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