People vs. Choi, GR 152950, 3 August 2006
Mario P. Nieto, Intelligence Operative of the Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau, Department of Finance, applied for a search warrant with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) against respondent Christopher Choi for violation of Section 168, paragraphs 2 and 3 (a) and (c), in relation to Section 169 of RA 8293,5 also known as the Intellectual Property. After examination of the applicant and her witnesses, Judge Gatbalite issued Search Warrant.
Respondent filed a “motion to quash search warrant” and a “supplemental motion to quash” but both were denied by Judge Gatbalite. Respondent then filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition before the CA. He alleged that Judge Gatbalite committed grave abuse of discretion in refusing to quash the search warrant, arguing that probable cause was not sufficiently established as the examination conducted was not probing and exhaustive and the warrant did not particularly describe the place to be searched. This was granted and according to the CA, in determining whether there was probable cause to believe that the cigarettes purchased by Nieto were fake and in violation of RA 8293,15 Judge Gatbalite failed to ask searching and probing questions of his witness. In addition, the CA ruled that Judge Gatbalite committed grave abuse of discretion when she merely relied on the conclusion of one of the witnesses that the cigarettes he received from Nieto were fake. She should have at least required the witness to present the alleged fake Marlboro cigarettes and the genuine ones for comparison, instead of relying on his testimony alone.
Whether or not Judge Gatbalite committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the search warrant allegedly because she failed to determine probable cause pursuant to Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 126 of the Rules of Court
No, Judge Gatbalite did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing the search warrant.
A search warrant can be issued only upon a finding of probable cause. Probable cause means such facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed and that the objects sought in connection with the offense are in the place sought to be searched. The determination of the existence of probable cause requires the following:
(1) the judge must examine the complainant and his witnesses personally;
(2) the examination must be under oath and
(3) the examination must be reduced in writing in the form of searching questions and answers.23
The searching questions propounded to the applicant and the witnesses depend largely on the discretion of the judge. The determination of probable cause does not call for the application of rules and standards of proof that a judgment of conviction requires after trial on the merits. As the term implies, probable cause is concerned with probability, not absolute or even moral certainty. The standards of judgment are those of a reasonably prudent man, not the exacting calibrations of a judge after a full-blown trial. No law or rule states that probable cause requires a specific kind of evidence. No formula or fixed rule for its determination exists. Probable cause is determined in the light of conditions obtaining in a given situation.
In the instant case, Judge Gatbalite’s questions were sufficiently probing, not at all superficial and perfunctory. The testimonies were consistent with each other and the narration of facts was credible. The testimonies and other evidence on record constituted adequate bases to establish probable cause that the alleged offense had been committed. Since probable cause is dependent largely on the opinion and findings of the judge who conducted the examination and who had the opportunity to question the applicant and his witnesses, the findings of the judge deserve great weight. The reviewing court can overturn such findings only upon proof that the judge disregarded the facts before him or ignored the clear dictates of reason.