THE Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed two orders of a Makati court suspending the criminal proceedings against Bonifacio Sumbilla for two separate crimes of using a falsified document in connection with the legal dispute between two contending factions, which both lay claim to the leadership of Stradcom Corp. (Stradcom), the information technology provider of the Land Transportation Office (LTO).
In a 12-page decision penned by Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang and concurred in by Associate Justices Romeo Barza and Edwin Sorongon, the CA’s Special Fifth Division denied the appeal filed by the group of Cezar Quiambao seeking to reverse and set aside the decision dated January 17, 2013 and the order dated April 16, 2013 rendered by Judge Josefino Subia of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 138 of Makati City which dismissed their petition for certiorari and denied their motion for reconsideration, respectively.
On May 18, 2011, the Quiambao group filed with the Office of the Makati City Prosecutor a joint complaint against Bonifacio Sumbilla alleging that the latter used a falsified 2010 General Information Sheet (GIS) of Stradcom and an Assistant Secretary’s Certificate dated December 11, 2010 to make it appear to Metrobank that members of the Sumbilla group were the new directors and officers of the corporation.
Previously, on February 10, 2011, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) filed with the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QCRTC) a case for interpleader against the Sumbilla and the Quiambao groups to determine which between them has the rightful control and management of Stradcom.
On August 23, 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that there is a need to resolve the underlying intra-corporate dispute between them, thereby ordering that the interpleader case be raffled off to any designated commercial courts in Quezon City for the resolution of their legal tussle. The Quiambao group filed a motion for the SC to reconsider its decision, but the said motion was denied.
Meanwhile, on August 26, 2011, the Office of the Makati City Prosecutor found probable cause against Sumbilla for two counts of use of falsified documents.
On November 29, 2011, the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Makati directed that an arrest warrant be issued against Sumbilla, but it suspended the subsequent proceedings of the case on the ground that the interpleader case posed a prejudicial question – the resolution of which could determine Sumbilla’s guilt or innocence. The Quiambao group filed a petition for certiorari, but the said petition was dismissed.
The MetC ruling was later affirmed by the Makati RTC, prompting the Quiambao group to seek redress with the appeals court.
The tribunal, however, ruled that its appeal lacked merit.
“Wherefore, premises considered, the instant petition is hereby denied for lack of merit. The assailed orders are hereby affirmed,” the ruling stated.
“[T]here is still no conclusive ruling on the issue as to who are Stradcom’s stockholders, directors, and officers, notwithstanding the finality of the RTC Urdaneta’s resolution. If indeed the RTC Urdaneta case settled once and for all the said issue, there would be no need for the Supreme Court to issue the 23 August 2011 and 24 January 2012 resolutions,” the CA ruling pointed out.
“[T]here is a prejudicial question in this case which warrants the suspension of the proceedings in the criminal cases [against Sumbilla.]As we have previously discussed, these issues, among others, are logical antecedents to the issue of whether the respondent-appellee attached falsified documents to his letter to the Metrobank,” the CA pointed out.
The appeals court also opined that “the suspension of the criminal cases by the Makati MeTC does not partake of the nature of an injunction but is justified by the existence of a prejudicial question recognized by our rules of procedure.”
“As the interpleader case involves issues that are intimately related to those upon which the criminal cases would be based, these issues must be pre-emptively resolved before the criminal cases can proceed.”