Case Brief: JM Dominguez Agronomic Company vs. Liclican

G.R. No. 208587, July 29, 2015
JM DOMINGUEZ AGRONOMIC COMPANY, INC., HELEN D. DAGDAGAN, PATRICK PACIS, KENNETH PACIS, AND SHIRLEY DOMINGUEZ, Petitioners,
v.
CECILIA LICLICAN, NORMA D. ISIP, AND PURITA DOMINGUEZ, Respondents.

Facts:
During the annual stockholders meeting of petitioner JM Dominguez Agronomic Company, Inc. (JMD) held on December 29, 2007 at the Baguio City Country Club, the election for its new set of directors was conducted. This event was presided by then company president, and herein respondent, Cecilia Liclican, and attended by her co-respondents Norma Isip and Purita Rodriguez, and by petitioners Helen Dagdagan, Patrick Pacis, Kenneth Pacis, and Shirley Dominguez as well. Conflict ensued when petitioners Patrick and Kenneth Pacis were allegedly not allowed to vote on the ground that they are not registered stockholders of JMD. As pointed out, it was their mother and grandmother, both deceased, who are the stockholders in JMD, and that there is still no settlement of their respective estates to effectively transfer their shares in the company to Patrick and Kenneth Pacis.
Tensions rose and respondents, allegedly, walked out of the meeting. But since the remaining stockholders with outstanding shares constituted a quorum, the election of officers still proceeded.
Subsequently, JMD, represented by petitioners Dagdagan and Patrick Pacis, executed an Affidavit-Complaint dated December 15, 2008 charging respondents Liclican and Isip with qualified theft. Petitioners alleged in the complaint, docketed as I.S. No. 3011 with the Office of the City Prosecutor in Baguio City, that on January 2, 2008, Liclican and Isip, without any authority whatsoever, conspired to withdraw the amount of P852,024.19 from the corporation’s savings account with the Equitable-PCI Bank; and that the following day, they issued Check No. C00024899018in the amount of P200,000, payable to cash, and to be drawn against JMD’s account with Robinson’s Savings Bank.
In a separate complaint,docketed as I.S. No. 3118, the corporation claimed that respondents Liclican and Isip likewise issued Equitable-PCI Bank Check No. 32095311 payable to one Atty. Francisco Lava, Jr. for P200,000 to be debited from the corporation’s account.

Issue:
Whether there exists a prejudicial question that could affect the criminal proceedings for qualified theft against respondents. (i) whether Civil Case No. 6623-R constituted a prejudicial question warranting the suspension of the proceedings in Criminal Case Nos. 29175-R and 29176-R.

Held:
The resolution of the prejudicial question did not, in context, cure the grave abuse of discretion already committed. The fact remains that when the RTC, Branch 7 issued its challenged Orders on March 10, 2009, the Judgment in favor of petitioners was not yet rendered. Consequently, there was still, at that time, a real dispute as to who the rightful set of officers were. Plainly, Judge Tiongson-Tabora should not have issued the challenged Orders and should have, instead, suspended the proceedings until Civil Case No. 6623-R was resolved with finality.
To grant the instant petition and rule that the procedural infirmity has subsequently been cured either by the Judgment or by Judge Tiongson-Tabora’s inhibition would mean condoning the continuation of the criminal proceedings despite, at that time, the existence of a prejudicial question. Such condonation would create a precedent that renders inutile the doctrine on prejudicial question, such that the court trying the criminal case will be permitted to proceed with the trial in the aberrant assumption that the resolution of the prior instituted civil case would benefit the private complainant in the criminal proceedings. To reiterate, there was no certainty yet on how the RTC, Branch 59 would rule; thus, no assumption on Civil Case No. 6623-R’s resolution can be made when the challenged Orders were issued. Indeed, had the RTC, Branch 59 not given credence to petitioners’ arguments,it would have led to an awkward situation wherein much time and effort is wasted by the RTC, Branch 7 in trying criminal cases it should not have entertained.
The foregoing notwithstanding, it should be made clear that the nullification of the March 10, 2009 Orders does not, under the premises, entail the dismissal of the instituted criminal cases, but would merely result in the suspension of the proceedings in view of the prejudicial question. However, given the resolution of the prejudicial question and Judge Tiongson-Tabora’s inhibition, Criminal Case Nos. 29175-R and 29176-R may already proceed, and ought to be re-raffled to re-determine the existence of probable cause for the issuance of warrants of arrest against respondents.

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