MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Atty. Brigido Dulay, lawyer of former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos in the electoral sabotage case pending before a Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC), was able to secure a 60-day temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Court of Appeals (CA) on the arrest order issued against him by the trial court.
In an 8-page resolution dated January 10, 2012 signed by Associate Justices Francisco Acosta, Magdangal de Leon, and Angelita Gacutan, the appellate court's 13th Division granted the temporary relief prayed for by Dulay in his petition for certiorari and prohibition assailing Pasay City RTC Branch 112 Judge Jesus Mupas' arrest order dated December 22, 2011.
Mupas ordered Dulay and Abalos arrested after citing them guilty of direct contempt of court, and punished them with 10 days imprisonment and payment of fine of P2,000 each for accusing the judge of attempting to extort money from Abalos, allegedly through a lady emissary, in exchange for his exoneration.
Dulay, on behalf of Abalos, filed a motion for Mupas' inhibition on this basis.
In its resolution, the appellate court said "[a]n initial review of the contents of the motion for inhibition would reveal that petitioner, as counsel for Abalos, merely relayed to the court a quo (Pasay RTC) specific events which ultimately led petitioner's client to doubt the court a quo's impartiality."
"[I]t appears that petitioner merely performed his duty towards his client and to the court, as well, by demonstrating the bases why his client was praying for respondent's inhibition. We initially find that such action by petitioner is neither illegal nor contumacious per se as the same is consistent with the dictates of due process and is in fact allowed by the Rules of Court," the resolution read.
The appellate court further pointed out that a preliminary review of the lower court's transcript of stenographic notes of its December 16, 2011 hearing shows that statements made by Abalos at the witness stand "were part of the latter's narrative as to what transpired during the meetings with the alleged [emissary] of respondent (Mupas)."
"It thus initially appears to us that the references made by petitioner's client about the 'judge' were not actually directed towards respondent, but were merely relayed, demonstrated and testified to by petitioner's client as part of his testimony on why respondent should inhibit himself from further proceeding with the case," the resolution read.
The TRO was issued "so as not to render moot our findings in the instant petition and for the purpose of preserving the rights of all parties until the merits of the case can be disposed of."
Dulay was directed to post bond amounting to P4,000.
The Pasay RTC, through the Office of the Solicitor General, was meantime directed to file its comment on Dulay's petition within 10 days from notice.
Dulay's plea for issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction is set for hearing on February 10, 2 p.m., at the CA.