Archive for January, 2012


TRIVIA 0034: IMPEACHMENT – WHY THE SENATE SHOULD ALLOW PROSECUTION TO INTRODUCE EVIDENCE ON ALLEGED ILL-GOTTEN WEALTH OF CJ CORONA.

 

A CROWN OF DISTRUST

 

By: Randy David
Philippine Daily Inquirer

11:02 pm | Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

 

 

On the fifth day of his impeachment trial, Chief Justice Renato Corona’s lawyers objected to the presentation of evidence that meant to prove that he had accumulated ill-gotten wealth. They argued that this particular charge is not in any of the original articles of impeachment; hence the evidence offered is irrelevant.

 

Article 2 of the impeachment complaint is being narrowly interpreted as referring to the Chief Justice’s alleged failure to file and disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).  The defense says that, in fact, he did file his SALN, and that its non-disclosure to the public is in accordance with a long-standing policy of the Supreme Court. The question now before the Senate tribunal is whether to allow the presentation of evidence that purports to show that the information contained in the Chief Justice’s SALN is not truthful.  The defense warns that to do so would be to go beyond the scope of the articles of impeachment.

 

What should the senator-judges do?  The answer depends on what they think is relevant to their constitutionally mandated task as an impeachment tribunal. That task, as I understand it, is to determine the accused’s moral fitness to remain in the office he occupies.  Impeachment thus takes on the form both of an inquiry and a trial. The investigative part is assigned to the House, while the trial is assigned to the Senate.  That much is clear.  What is not clear—precisely because there is hardly any precedent to go by—is whether the Senate is strictly bound by the terms of the articles of impeachment filed by the House.  Or, whether it has the duty and prerogative to construe its role in such a way as to include inquiry into related issues not expressly stated in the charges.

 

My own view as a lay observer is that the tribunal’s duty is specific and comprehensive at the same time. It is specific in the sense that at the end of the trial, there is only one question to be decided: Should the accused remain in office or not?  But it is also comprehensive in the sense that the offenses for which an impeachable official may be charged do not have the exactness of criminal offenses.  For example, what constitutes “betrayal of public trust”?  This can be anything.  Senator-judges have the duty to arrive at its specific meaning on a case-by-case basis.

 

When a high government official like the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court files his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, as required by law, is he not expected, like all government employees, to be truthful in his declaration? Does the mere act of filing satisfy the law? Is it irrelevant to inquire into the veracity of the statement?

 

It is absurd to think that the House prosecutors were chargingCoronawith simple failure to file his SALN.  No matter how poorly phrased the formal charges may be, it is obvious to anyone who cares to see that Corona is being charged not so much with failure to file or disclose his SALN, but with concealing the true extent and value of his assets.  He stands accused not of negligence, but of corruption. It is this that the prosecution seeks to prove.  And it is this that the Senate impeachment tribunal is being asked to receive evidence and testimony for.

 

To allowCorona’s lawyers to block such evidence on the ground that it is irrelevant to the charges is to privilege form over substance.  It defies all common sense.  Why go through the trouble of impeaching a chief justice for merely failing to file his SALN?

No, the truthfulness ofCorona’s SALN is what is at issue here.  And there is no other way to determine the correspondence between what he actually owns and what he has declared, and between what he owns and what he legitimately earns, except by comparing his SALN with his tax declarations and government records of his properties.

Coronahimself has said many times that he has nothing to hide.  His lawyers and spokesmen in fact made a virtue out of his belated offer to surrender his SALN to the Senate after the Supreme Court clerk of court initially refused to do so.  If indeed he has nothing to hide, should he not, on his own initiative, authorize the disclosure of all his income tax returns, properties and bank accounts?  Should he not tell his lawyers to stop objecting to the presentation of testimony and evidence pertaining to his personal wealth?  I believe that if he does these, and thereby proves himself clean, he will instantly earn the public’s enduring sympathy.  All the other charges against him will lose force.

 

 

But it is unlikely that he will do any of these.  All signs point to the fact that he has a lot to hide.  The senator-judges can make it easy for him to conceal his undeclared properties, or they can make it hard for him by allowing him to be confronted with damning evidence and testimony. They can, in a manner of speaking, vote to keep the “second envelope” sealed, or they can authorize the revelation of its content.  Which will it be?

 

This is a moment of truth for the Senate.  The public is eager to know what is in those income tax returns and land and condominium titles.  It wants to hear the testimony of people who soldCoronathese properties or hold records of his real estate transactions. His lawyers may persist in their objections, invoking his right to privacy and due process.  But what good does it do their client? At the most,Coronamay get to keep his wealth under wraps—for now.  But, in the eyes of the public, he will continue to be burdened by the crown of distrust he has worn since the day he accepted his midnight appointment as Chief Justice from an outgoing and discredited president.

public.lives@gmail.com

 

TIP 0015: THE CASE OF JUDGE JAIME I. INFANTE, RTC BRANCH 38, ALABEL, SARANGANI.

 

=================

 

 

DISPOSITIVE:

 

       

WHEREFORE, we FIND AND DECLARE Judge Jaime I. Infante guilty of gross ignorance of the law and the rules; and, accordingly, FINE him in the amount of P20,000.00, with a stern warning that a repetition of the offense or the commission of another serious offense will be more severely dealt with.

 

          Let a copy of this Decision be furnished to the Office of the Court Administrator for proper dissemination to all trial judges.

 

            SO ORDERED.

 

=================

 

 

Republic of thePhilippines

Supreme Court

Manila

                                                                                     

FIRST DIVISION

 

 

ATTY. FRANKLIN G.  GACAL,      

                Complainant,     

 

 

 

                – versus

 

 

JUDGE JAIME I. INFANTE, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 38, IN ALABEL, SARANGANI,

              Respondent.

   A.M. No. RTJ- 04-1845

   [Formerly A.M. No. IPI No. 03-1831-RTJ] 

 

   Present:

CORONA, C.J.,

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,

BERSAMIN,

DELCASTILLO, and

VILLARAMA, JR., JJ.

 

   Promulgated:

 

     October 5, 2011

   

x—————————————————————————————–x

 

D E C I S I O N

 

 

BERSAMIN, J.:

 

          It is axiomatic that bail cannot be allowed to a person charged with a capital offense, or an offense punishable with reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, without a hearing upon notice to the Prosecution. Any judge who so allows bail is guilty of gross ignorance of the law and the rules, and is subject to appropriate administrative sanctions.

 

Atty. Franklin Gacal, the private prosecutor in Criminal Case No. 1136-03 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Alabel, Sarangani entitled People v. Faustino Ancheta, a prosecution for murder arising from the killing of Felomino O. Occasion, charges Judge Jaime I. Infante, Presiding Judge of Branch 38 of the RTC to whose Branch Criminal Case No. 1136-03 was raffled for arraignment and trial, with gross ignorance of the law, gross incompetence, and evident partiality, for the latter’s failure to set a hearing before granting bail to the accused and for releasing him immediately after allowing bail.

 

Antecedents

 

On March 18, 2003, Judge Gregorio R. Balanag, Jr. of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Kiamba-Maitum, Sarangani issued a warrant for the arrest of Faustino Ancheta in connection with a murder case. Judge Balanag did not recommend bail. Ancheta, who had meanwhile gone into hiding, was not arrested. Upon review, the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, acting through Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Alfredo Barcelona, Jr., affirmed the findings and recommendation of Judge Balanag on the offense to be charged, and accordingly filed in the RTC an information for murder on April 21, 2003 (Criminal Case No. 1136-03), but with a recommendation for bail in the amount of P400,000.00. Criminal Case No. 1136-03 was raffled to Judge Infante’s Branch.

 

          On April 23, 2003, Judge Infante issued twin orders, one granting bail to Ancheta, and another releasing Ancheta from custody.

 

On April 25, 2003, Atty. Gacal, upon learning of the twin orders issued by Judge Infante, filed a so-called Very Urgent Motion For Reconsideration And/Or To Cancel Bailbond With Prayer To Enforce Warrant Of Arrest Or Issue Warrant Of Arrest Anew Or In The Alternative Very Urgent Motion For This Court To Motu Prop[r]io Correct An Apparent And Patent Error (very urgent motion).

 

          In the hearing of the very urgent motion on April 29, 2003, only Atty. Gacal and his collaborating counsel appeared in court. Judge Infante directed the public prosecutor to comment on the very urgent motion within five days from notice, after which the motion would be submitted for resolution with or without the comment. Ancheta, through counsel, opposed, stating that the motion did not bear the conformity of the public prosecutor.

 

At the arraignment of Ancheta set on May 15, 2003, the parties and their counsel appeared, but Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Barcelona, Jr., the assigned public prosecutor, did not appear because he was then following up his regular appointment as the Provincial Prosecutor of Sarangani Province. Accordingly, the arraignment was reset to May 29, 2003.

 

On May 21, 2003, Judge Infante denied Atty. Gacal’s very urgent motion on the ground that the motion was pro forma for not bearing the conformity of the public prosecutor, and on the further ground that the private prosecutor had not been authorized to act as such pursuant to Section 5, Rule 110, of the Rules of Court. Judge Infante directed that the consideration of the bail issue be held in abeyance until after the public prosecutor had submitted a comment, because he wanted to know the position of the public prosecutor on  Atty. Gacal’s very urgent motion having been filed without the approval of the public prosecutor.[1][1]

 

          On May 29, 2003, the public prosecutor appeared, but did not file any comment. Thereupon, Atty. Gacal sought authority to appear as a private prosecutor. The public prosecutor did not oppose Atty. Gacal’s request. With that, Atty. Gacal moved for the reconsideration of the grant of bail to Ancheta. In response, Judge Infante required the public prosecutor to file his comment on Atty. Gacal’s motion for reconsideration, and again reset the arraignment of the accused to June 20, 2003.[2][2]

 

          On June 4, 2003, the public prosecutor filed a comment, stating that he had recommended bail as a matter of course; that the orders dated April 23, 2003 approving bail upon his recommendation and releasing the accused were proper; and that his recommendation of bail was in effect a waiver of the public prosecutor’s right to a bail hearing.

By June 20, 2003, when no order regarding the matter of bail was issued, Atty. Gacal sought the inhibition of Judge Infante on the ground of his gross incompetence manifested by his failure to exercise judicial power to resolve the issue of bail.

 

In his motion for inhibition,[3][3] Atty. Gacal insisted that the issue of bail urgently required a resolution that involved a judicial determination and was, for that reason, a judicial function; that Judge Infante failed to resolve the issue of bail, although he should have acted upon it with dispatch, because it was unusual that several persons charged with murder were being detained while Ancheta was let free on bail even without his filing a petition for bail; that such event also put the integrity of Judge Infante’s court in peril; and that although his motion for reconsideration included the alternative relief for Judge Infante to motu proprio correct his apparent error, his refusal to resolve the matter in due time constituted gross ignorance of law. 

 

          Atty. Gacal contended that Judge Infante was not worthy of his position as a judge either because he unjustifiably failed to exercise his judicial power or because he did not at all know how to exercise his judicial power; that his lack of judicial will rendered him utterly incompetent to perform the functions of a judge; that at one time, he ordered the bail issue to be submitted for resolution, with or without the comment of the public prosecutor, but at another time, he directed that the bail issue be submitted for resolution, with his later order denoting that he would resolve the issue only after receiving the comment from the public prosecutor; that he should not be too dependent on the public prosecutor’s comment considering that the resolution of the matter of bail was entirely within his discretion as the judge;[4][4] and that the granting of bail without a petition for bail being filed by the accused or a hearing being held for that purpose constituted gross ignorance of the law and the rules.[5][5]

 

          Finally, Atty. Gacal stated that Judge Infante and the public prosecutor were both guilty of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act[6][6] for giving undue advantage to Ancheta by allowing him bail without his filing a petition for bail and without a hearing being first conducted.[7][7]

 

          On July 9, 2003, Judge Infante definitively denied Atty. Gacal’s very urgent motion.

 

          On August 5, 2003, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCAd) received from the Office of the Ombudsman the indorsement of the administrative complaint Atty. Gacal had filed against Judge Infante (CPL-M-03-0581 entitled Gacal v. Infante, et al.), forwarding the records of the administrative case for appropriate action to the Supreme Court as the exclusive administrative authority over all courts, their judges and their personnel.[8][8]

 

          On August 21, 2003, then Court Administrator Prebitero J. Velasco, Jr. (now a Member of the Court) required Judge Infante to comment on the administrative complaint against him, and to show cause within 10 days from receipt why he should not be suspended, disbarred, or otherwise disciplinarily sanctioned  as a member of the Bar for violation of Canon 10, Rule 10.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility pursuant to the resolution of the Court En Banc in A.M. No. 02-9-02-SC dated September 17, 2002.[9][9]

 

          On October 6, 2003, the OCAd received Judge Infante’s comment dated September 22, 2003, by which he denied any transgression in the granting of bail to Ancheta, stating the following:

 

2.  At the outset, as a clarificatory note, accused Faustino Ancheta is out on bail, not because he applied for bail duly granted by the court but because he posted the required bail since in the first place the Fiscal recommended bail, duly approved by the Undersigned, in the amount of P400,000.00. Underscoring is made to stress the fact that accused Ancheta had actually never filed an application for bail. Perforce, the court had nothing to hear, grant or deny an application/motion/petition for bail since none was filed by the accused.

 

3.  Thus, the twin Orders dated April 23, 2003 are exactly meant as an approval of the bailbond (property) posted by accused Ancheta, it being found to be complete and sufficient. They are not orders granting an application for bail, as misconstrued by private prosecutor.  (Certified true machine copy of the twin Orders dated April 23 marked as Annex-2 and 2-a are hereto attached)

 

4.  On April 25, 2003, private complainant in the cited criminal case, thru counsel (the Gacal, Gacal and Gacal Law Office), filed a “Very Urgent Motion for Reconsideration or in the alternative Very Urgent Motion for this Court to Moto Propio Correct an Apparent Error”, praying that the twin Orders dated April 23, 2003 be reconsidered. (Certified machine copy of the said urgent motion marked as Annex 3 is hereto attached)

 

5. On April 29, 2003, during the hearing on motion, the private complainant and his counsel (private prosecutor) appeared. The Fiscal was not present. The court nonetheless ordered the Fiscal to file his comment/s on the said motion. The accused thru private counsel in an open court hearing opposed the subject motion inasmuch as the same bears no conformity of the Fiscal. In that hearing, the court advised the private prosecutor to coordinate and secure the conformity of the Fiscal in filing his motion.  (Certified machine copy of the Order dated April 29, 2003, marked as Annex 4 is hereto attached.)

 

6.  On May 15, 2003, the scheduled date for the arraignment of accused Ancheta, the parties and private prosecutor appeared.  Again, the 1st Asst. Provincial Fiscal, Alfredo Barcelona, Jr., failed to appear who, being the next highest in rank in their Office, was processing his application for regular appointment as Provincial Fiscal of Sarangani Province.  He was then the Acting Provincial Fiscal – Designate in view of the appointment of former Provincial Fiscal Laureano T. Alzate as RTC Judge inKoronadalCity.  Due to the absence of the Fiscal and the motion for reconsideration then pending for resolution, the scheduled arraignment was reset to May 29, 2003, per Order dated May 15, 2003, (certified machine copy of which marked as Annex 5 is hereto attached).

 

7.  On May 21, 2003, the Undersigned resolved to deny for being pro forma the pending motion for reconsideration. As held in the Order of denial, it was found that the private prosecutor was not duly authorized in writing by the provincial prosecutor to prosecute the said criminal case, nor was he judicially approved to act as such in violation of Section 5, Rule 110 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure. The bail issue, however, was held in abeyance until submission of the comment thereon by the Fiscal as this Presiding Judge would like then to know the position of the Fiscal anent to the cited motion without his approval. The arraignment was reset to June 20, 2003.  Again, the private prosecutor was orally advised to coordinate and secure the approval of the Fiscal in filing his motions/pleadings.  (Certified machine copy of the Order dated May 21, 2003 marked as Annex 6 hereto attached)

 

8.  On June 4, 2003, the Fiscal finally filed his “Comment on the Very Urgent Motion for Reconsideration filed by private complainant thru counsel (private prosecutor).  Consistently, the Fiscal in his comment recommended bail as a matter of course and that he claimed that Orders dated April 23, 2003 approving bail upon his recommendation are proper, waiving in effect his right for a bail hearing.  (Certified true machine copy of the Fiscal’s comment marked as Annex-7 is hereto attached).[10][10]  

 

          Under date of February 16, 2004, the OCAd recommended after investigation that the case be re-docketed as a regular administrative matter, and that Judge Infante be fined in the amount of  P20,000.00,[11][11] viz:

 

EVALUATION:  The 1987 Constitution provides that, all persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when the evidence of guilt is strong, shall before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law (Sec. 13, Art. III).

 

The Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that, no person charged with a capital offense or offense punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment shall be admitted to bail when the evidence is strong, regardless of the stage of the criminal prosecution (Sec. 7, Rule 114).

 

With the aforequoted provisions of the Constitution and the Rules of Criminal Procedure as a backdrop, the question is:  Can respondent judge in granting bail to the accused dispense with the hearing of Application for Bail?

 

The preliminary investigation of Criminal Case No. 03-61, entitled Benito M. Occasion vs. Faustino Ancheta for Murder was conducted by Judge Gregorio R. Balanag, Jr., of MCTC, Kiamba-Maitum, Sarangani.  Finding the existence of probable cause that an offense of Murder was committed and the accused is probably guilty thereof, he transmitted his resolution to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, together with the records of the case, with No Bail Recommended.  Upon review of the resolution of the investigating judge by the OIC of the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Sarangani, he filed the information for Murder against accused Faustino Ancheta but a bail of P400,000.00 for the provisional liberty of the latter was recommended. Relying on the recommendation of the Fiscal, respondent judge granted the Application for Bail of the accused.

 

The offense of Murder is punishable by reclusion temporal in its maximum period to death (Art. 248, RPC).  By reason of the penalty prescribed by law, Murder is considered a capital offense and, grant of bail is a matter of discretion which can be exercised only by respondent judge after the evidence is submitted in a hearing.  Hearing of the application for bail is absolutely indispensable before a judge can properly determine whether the prosecution’s evidence is weak or strong (People vs. Dacudao, 170 SCRA 489).  It becomes, therefore, a ministerial duty of a judge to conduct hearing the moment an application for bail is filed if the accused is charged with capital offense or an offense punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment.  If doubt can be entertained, it follows that the evidence of guilt is weak and bail shall be recommended.  On the other hand, if the evidence is clear and strong, no bail shall be granted.

 

Verily, respondent judge erred when he issued an order granting the application for bail filed by the accused (Annex “C”) based merely on the order issued by the Fiscal (Annex “A”) recommending bail of  P400,000.00 for the provisional liberty of the accused without even bothering to read the affidavits of the witnesses for the prosecution. Respondent judge cannot abdicate his right and authority to determine whether the evidence against the accused who is charged with capital offense is strong or not.

 

After the respondent judge has approved the property bond posted by the accused, the complainant, as private prosecutor filed a Motion for Reconsideration and/or Cancel Bailbond or in the alternative, Very Urgent Motion to Moto Proprio correct an Apparent Error.  On the hearing of the Motion on 29 April 2003, the Fiscal was absent but he (the Fiscal) was given five (5) days from receipt of the order within which to file his comment and, with or without comment the incident is deemed submitted for resolution and, hearing of the Motion was reset to May 15, 2003.  But the Fiscal again failed to appear on said date and, the arraignment of the accused was set on 29 May 2003.  On 21 May 2003, respondent judge resolved to deny the Motion on the ground that the private prosecutor was not authorized in writing by the Chief of the Prosecution’s Office or the Regional State Prosecutor to prosecute the case, subject to the approval of the court, pursuant to Sect. 5, Rule 110 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.

 

The need for an authority in writing from the Chief of the Prosecution’s Office or Regional State Prosecutor to the Private Prosecutor to prosecute the case, subject to the approval of the court, contemplates of a situation wherein there is no regular prosecutor assigned the court, or the prosecutor assigned, due to heavy work schedule, cannot attend to the prosecution of pending criminal cases to expedite disposition of the case.  This provision of the Rules of Criminal Procedure does not prevent the offended party who did not reserve, waive nor institute separate civil action, from intervening in the case through a private prosecutor.

 

Intervention of the offended party in Criminal Action – Where the civil action for recovery of civil liability is instituted in the criminal action pursuant to Rule 11, the offended party may intervene by counsel in the prosecution of the offense (Sec. 16, Rule 110 [Supra]).

 

When a criminal action is instituted, the civil action for recovery of civil liability arising from the offense charged shall be deemed instituted with the criminal action unless the offended party waives civil action, reserves the right to institute it separately or institutes the civil action prior to the criminal action (Sec. 1 (a), Rule 111 [Supra]).

 

The offended party in Criminal Case No. 1136-03 did not reserve his right to institute separate civil action, he did not waive such right and did not file civil action prior to the criminal action, so the offended party may under the law intervene as a matter of right. 

 

The authority to intervene includes actual conduct of trial under the control of the Fiscal which includes the right to file pleadings.  According to respondent judge, he advised the private prosecutor to coordinate with the fiscal and secure his approval in accord with the mandate of Section, 5, Rule 110 of the Revised Rule of Criminal Procedure:  On this point, respondent judge again erred.  The right of the offended party to intervene is conferred by law and the approval of the Fiscal or even the court is not all necessary (Sec. 1 (a), Rule 111, [Supra]).  Respondent Judge, however, is correct when he stated that the motions filed by the private prosecutor should be with the conformity of the Fiscal.

 

Respondent judge’s errors are basic such that his acts constitutes gross ignorance of the law.

 

RECOMMENDATION: Respectfully recommended for the consideration of the Honorable Court is the recommendation that the instant I.P.I. be re-docketed as a regular administrative matter and respondent Judge be held ordered to pay a fine of P20,000.00.  

 

          On March 31, 2004,[12][12] the Court directed that the administrative case be docketed as a regular administrative matter.

 

On December 01, 2004,[13][13] the Court denied Atty. Gacal’s ancillary prayer to disqualify Judge Infante from trying Criminal Case No. 1138-03 pending resolution of this administrative matter.

 

Ruling

 

          We approve and adopt the findings and recommendation of the OCAd, considering that they are well substantiated by the records. We note that Judge Infante did not deny that he granted bail for the provisional release of Ancheta in Criminal Case No. 1138-03 without conducting the requisite bail hearing.

 

I

Bail hearing was mandatory

in Criminal Case No. 1138-03

 

Judge Infante would excuse himself from blame and responsibility by insisting that the hearing was no longer necessary considering that the accused had not filed a petition for bail; that inasmuch as no application for bail had been filed by the accused, his twin orders of April 23, 2003 were not orders granting an application for bail, but were instead his approval of the bail bond posted; and that Atty. Gacal’s very urgent motion and other motions and written submissions lacked the requisite written conformity of the public prosecutor, rendering them null and void.

 

          We cannot relieve Judge Infante from blame and responsibility.

 

The willingness of Judge Infante to rely on the mere representation of the public prosecutor that his grant of bail upon the public prosecutor’s recommendation had been proper, and that his (public prosecutor) recommendation of bail had in effect waived the need for a bail hearing perplexes the Court. He thereby betrayed an uncommon readiness to trust more in the public prosecutor’s judgment than in his own judicious discretion as a trial judge. He should not do so.

 

          Judge Infante made the situation worse by brushing aside the valid remonstrations expressed in Atty. Gacal’s very urgent motion thusly:

 

       This Court is not unaware that the charge of murder being a capital offense is not bailable xxx

xxxx

         The phrase “xxx application for admission to bail xxx” is not an irrelevant but a significant infusion in the cited rule (section 8), the plain import of which is that bail hearing is preceded by a motion/petition for admission to bail filed by a detained accused himself or thru counsel.

The peculiar feature of the instant case, however, is the absence of a petition/motion for admission to bail filed by the herein accused. On the contrary, it is the consistent position of the fiscal to recommend bail since the prosecution evidence being merely circumstantial, is not strong for the purpose of granting bail. xxx. This court believes that bail hearing, albeit necessary in the grant of bail involving capital offense, is not at all times and in all instances essential to afford the party the right to due process especially so, when the fiscal in this case was given reasonable opportunity to explain his side, and yet he maintained the propriety of grant of bail without need of hearing since the prosecution evidence is not strong for the purpose of granting bail.

 

         Further, while it is preponderant of judicial experience to adopt the fiscal’s recommendation in bail fixing, this court, however, had in addition and in accord with Section 6(a) of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, evaluated the record of the case, and only upon being convinced and satisfied that the prosecution evidence as contained in the affidavits of all the prosecution witnesses, no one being an eye-witness are merely circumstantial evidence, that this court in the exercise of sound discretion allowed the accused to post bail.

xxxx 

The convergence of the foregoing factors – absence of motion for admission to bail filed by the accused, the recommendation of the fiscal to grant bail, the pro forma motion of the private prosecutor for lack of prior approval from the fiscal and this court’s evaluation of the records – sufficiently warrants the grant of bail to herein accused.[14][14]

 

 

          Judge Infante specifically cited judicial experience as sanctioning his adoption and approval of the public prosecutor’s recommendation on the fixing of bail. Yet, it was not concealed from him that the public prosecutor’s recommendation had been mainly based on the documentary evidence adduced,[15][15] and on the public prosecutor’s misguided position that the evidence of guilt was weak because only circumstantial evidence had been presented. As such, Judge Infante’s unquestioning echoing of the public prosecutor’s conclusion about the evidence of guilt not being sufficient to deny bail did not justify his dispensing with the bail hearing.

 

Judge Infante apparently acted as if the requirement for the bail hearing was a merely minor rule to be dispensed with. Although, in theory, the only function of bail is to ensure the appearance of the accused at the time set for the arraignment and trial; and, in practice, bail serves the further purpose of preventing the release of an accused who may be dangerous to society or whom the judge may not want to release,[16][16] a hearing upon notice is mandatory before the grant of bail, whether bail is a matter of right or discretion.[17][17] With more reason is this true in criminal prosecutions of a capital offense, or of an offense punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment. Rule 114, Section 7 of the Rules of Court, as amended, states that: “No person charged with a capital offense, or an offense punishable by reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment when the evidence of guilt is strong, shall be admitted to bail regardless of the stage of criminal action.”

 

          In Cortes v. Catral,[18][18] therefore, the Court has outlined the following duties of the judge once an application for bail is filed, to wit:

 

  1. In all cases whether bail is a matter of right or discretion, notify the prosecutor of the hearing of the application for bail or require him to submit his recommendation (Section 18, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended);

 

  1. Where bail is a matter of discretion, conduct a hearing of the application for bail regardless or whether or not the prosecution refuses to present evidence to show that the guilt of the accused is strong for the purpose of enabling the court to exercise its sound discretion (Sections 7 and 8, id);

 

  1. Decide whether the guilt of the accused is strong based on the summary of evidence of the prosecution;

 

  1. If the guilt of the accused is not strong, discharge the accused upon the approval of the bail bond (Section 19, id); otherwise, the petition should be denied. [emphasis supplied]

 

 

II

Judge Infante disregarded rules and guidelines

in Criminal Case No. 1138-03

 

Ostensibly, Judge Infante disregarded basic but well-known rules and guidelines on the matter of bail. 

 

1.

In case no application for bail is filed,

bail hearing was not dispensable

    

 

Judge Infante contends that a bail hearing in Criminal Case No. 1138-03 was not necessary because the accused did not file an application for bail; and because the public prosecutor had recommended bail.

 

          Judge Infante’s contention is unwarranted.

          Even where there is no petition for bail in a case like Criminal Case No. 1138-03, a hearing should still be held. This hearing is separate and distinct from the initial hearing to determine the existence of probable cause, in which the trial judge ascertains whether or not there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and that the accused is probably guilty of the crime. The Prosecution must be given a chance to show the strength of its evidence; otherwise, a violation of due process occurs.[19][19]

 

The fact that the public prosecutor recommended bail for Ancheta did not warrant dispensing with the hearing. The public prosecutor’s recommendation of bail was not material in deciding whether to conduct the mandatory hearing or not. For one, the public prosecutor’s recommendation, albeit persuasive, did not necessarily bind the trial judge,[20][20] in whom alone the discretion to determine whether to grant bail or not was vested. Whatever the public prosecutor recommended, including the amount of bail, was non-binding. Nor did such recommendation constitute a showing that the evidence of guilt was not strong. If it was otherwise, the trial judge could become unavoidably controlled by the Prosecution.

 

Being the trial judge, Judge Infante had to be aware of the precedents laid down by the Supreme Court regarding the bail hearing being mandatory and indispensable. He ought to have remembered, then, that it was only through such hearing that he could be put in a position to determine whether the evidence for the Prosecution was weak or strong.[21][21] Hence, his dispensing with the hearing manifested a gross ignorance of the law and the rules.

 

2.

Public prosecutor’s failure to oppose

application for bail or to adduce evidence

did not dispense with hearing

                                               

 

That the Prosecution did not oppose the grant of bail to Ancheta, as in fact it recommended bail, and that the Prosecution did not want to adduce evidence were irrelevant, and did not dispense with the bail hearing. The gravity of the charge in Criminal Case No. 1138-03 made it still mandatory for Judge Infante to conduct a bail hearing in which he could have made on his own searching and clarificatory questions from which to infer the strength or weakness of the evidence of guilt. He should not have readily and easily gone along with the public prosecutor’s opinion that the evidence of guilt, being circumstantial, was not strong enough to deny bail; else, he might be regarded as having abdicated from a responsibility that was his alone as the trial judge.

 

Judge Infante’s holding that circumstantial evidence of guilt was of a lesser weight than direct evidence in the establishment of guilt was also surprising. His training and experience should have cautioned him enough on the point that the lack or absence of direct evidence did not necessarily mean that the guilt of the accused could not anymore be proved, because circumstantial evidence, if sufficient, could supplant the absence of direct evidence.[22][22] In short, evidence of guilt was not necessarily weak because it was circumstantial.

 

Instead, Judge Infante should have assiduously determined why the Prosecution refused to satisfy its burden of proof in the admission of the accused to bail. Should he have found that the public prosecutor’s refusal was not justified, he could have then himself inquired on the nature and extent of the evidence of guilt for the purpose of enabling himself to ascertain whether or not such evidence was strong. He could not have ignored the possibility that the public prosecutor might have erred in assessing the evidence of guilt as weak.[23][23] At any rate, if he found the Prosecution to be uncooperative, he could still have endeavored to determine on his own the existence of such evidence,[24][24] with the assistance of the private prosecutor.

 

3.

Judge Infante’s granting of bail without a hearing was

censurable for gross ignorance of the law and the rules

 

          Every judge should be faithful to the law and should maintain professional competence.[25][25] His role in the administration of justice requires a continuous study of the law and jurisprudence, lest public confidence in the Judiciary be eroded by incompetence and irresponsible conduct.[26][26]

 

In that light, the failure of Judge Infante to conduct a hearing prior to the grant of bail in capital offenses was inexcusable and reflected gross ignorance of the law and the rules as well as a cavalier disregard of its requirement.[27][27] He well knew that the determination of whether or not the evidence of guilt is strong was a matter of judicial discretion,[28][28] and that the discretion lay not in the determination of whether or not a hearing should be held, but in the appreciation and evaluation of the weight of the Prosecution’s evidence of guilt against the accused.[29][29] His fault was made worse by his granting bail despite the absence of a petition for bail from the accused.[30][30] Consequently, any order he issued in the absence of the requisite evidence was not a product of sound judicial discretion but of whim and caprice and outright arbitrariness.[31][31]

 

III

Imposable Penalty

 

          We next determine the penalty imposable on Judge Infante for his gross ignorance of the law and the rules.

 

The Court imposed a fine of P20,000.00 on the respondent judge in Docena-Caspe v. Bugtas.[32][32] In that case, the respondent judge granted bail to the two accused who had been charged with murder without first conducting a hearing. Likewise, in Loyola v. Gabo,[33][33] the Court fined the respondent judge in the similar amount of P20,000.00 for granting bail to the accused in a murder case without the requisite bail hearing. To accord with such precedents, the Court prescribes a fine of P20,000.00 on Judge Infante, with a stern warning that a repetition of the offense or the commission of another serious offense will be more severely dealt with.

 

          WHEREFORE, we FIND AND DECLARE Judge Jaime I. Infante guilty of gross ignorance of the law and the rules; and, accordingly, FINE him in the amount of P20,000.00, with a stern warning that a repetition of the offense or the commission of another serious offense will be more severely dealt with.

 

          Let a copy of this Decision be furnished to the Office of the Court Administrator for proper dissemination to all trial judges.

 

            SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

 

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

 

 

WE CONCUR:

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO    MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO

         Associate Justice                                          Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 


 


[1][1]   Rollo, pp. 44 – 45.

[2][2]   Id., p. 4.

[3][3]   Id., pp. 121-123.

[4][4]   Rollo, pp 1 -8 , 6.

[5][5]   Id., pp. 67 -70, 70.

[6][6]   Id., p. 70.

[7][7]   Id.

[8][8]   Id., p. 67.

[9][9]   Id., p. 90.

[10][10]         Id., pp. 94-103 (bold emphasis is in the original text).

[11][11]         Id., pp. 205-212.

[12][12]         Id., p. 213.

[13][13]         Id., p. 224. 

[14][14]         Id., pp. 22-23 (bold emphasis supplied).

[15][15]         Id., pp. 101-102.

[16][16]         Basco v. Rapatalo, A.M. No. RTJ-96-1335, March 5, 1997, 269 SCRA 220.

[17][17]         Te v. Perez, A.M. No. MTJ-00-1286, January 21, 2002, 374 SCRA 130; Bangayan v. Butacan, A.M. No. MTJ-00-1320, November 22, 2000, 345 SCRA 301, 306.

[18][18]         A.M. No. RTJ-97-138, September 10, 1997, 279 SCRA 1, 18.

[19][19]         Directo v. Bautista, A.M. No. MTJ-99-1205, November 29, 2000, 346 SCRA 223.

[20][20]         Marzan-Gelacio v. Flores, A.M. No. RTJ-99-1488, June 20, 2000, 334 SCRA 1, 9.

[21][21]         Marzan-Gelacio v. Flores, supra.

[22][22]         Gan v. People, G.R. No. 165884, April 23, 2007, 521 SCRA 550.

[23][23]         Marzan-Gelacio v. Flores, supra, Note 20.

[24][24]         Te v. Perez, AM No. MTJ-00-1286, January 21, 2002, 374 SCRA 130.

[25][25]         Rule 3.01, Code of Judicial Conduct.

[26][26]         Taborite v. Sollesta, A.M. No. MTJ-02-1388, August 12, 2003, 408 SCRA 602.

[27][27]         Bantuas v. Pangadapun, RTJ-98-1407, July 20, 1998, 292 SCRA 622.

[28][28]         Aleria, Jr. v. Velez, G.R. No. 127400, November 16, 1998, 298 SCRA 611

[29][29]         Gimeno v. Arcueno, Sr., A.M. No. MTJ-94-981, November 29, 1995, 250 SCRA 376.

[30][30]         Delos Santos-Reyes v. Montesa, Jr., A.M. No. RTJ-93-983, August 7, 1995, 247 SCRA 85.

[31][31]         Baylon v. Sison, AM No. 92-7-360-0, April 6, 1995, 243 SCRA 284.

[32][32]         AM RTJ-03-1767, March 28, 2003, 400 SCRA 37.

[33][33]         A.M. No. RTJ-00-1524, January 26, 2000, 323 SCRA 348.

CASE 2011-0241: ESPINA & MADARANG CO. & MAKAR AGRICULTURAL COMMERCIAL & DEVELOPMENT CORP. (MAKAR), REPRESENTED BY RODRIGO A. ADTOON VS. HON. CADER P. INDAR AL HAJ, JUDGE, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 14, REGION 12, COTABATO CITY AND ITS OIC, BRANCH CLERK OF COURT, ABIE M. AMILIL (A.M. NO. RTJ-07-2069, 14 DECEMBER 2011,  LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.) SUBJECT: ISSUING AN ORDER WITHOUT READING PLEADINGS; NEGLIGENCE IN RECORD MANAGEMENT. (BRIEF TITLE: ESPINA VS. INDAR)

 

===============

 

DISPOSITIVE:

 

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Judge Cader P. Indar Al Haj GUILTY of gross misconduct for committing violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and is FINED the amount of Twenty-Five Thousand (P25,000.00) Pesos.  He is likewise WARNED that a repetition of the foregoing or similar transgressions shall be dealt with more severely. 

 

Respondent OIC Branch Clerk of Court Abie M. Amilil is also found GUILTY of neglect of duty and is SUSPENDED for two (2) months without pay with a stern warning that repetition of the same shall be dealt with more severely.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

===============

 

 

 

Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court

Manila

 

 

FIRST DIVISION

 

 

ESPINA & MADARANG CO. & MAKAR AGRICULTURAL COMMERCIAL & DEVELOPMENT CORP. (MAKAR), REPRESENTED BY RODRIGO A. ADTOON,

                     Petitioners,

 

 

–  versus  –

 

 

HON. CADER P. INDAR Al Haj, Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 14, Region 12, Cotabato City and its OIC, Branch Clerk of Court, ABIE M. AMILIL,

                     Respondents.

  A.M. No. RTJ-07-2069

(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 05-2257-RTJ)

 

 

Present:

 

CORONA, C.J.,

     Chairperson,     

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,

BERSAMIN,

DELCASTILLO, and

VILLARAMA, JR., JJ.

 

 

Promulgated:

 

 

December 14, 2011

x- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -x

 

 

D E C I S I O N

 

 

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:

 

 

          Before the Court is an administrative case against respondents Judge Cader P. Indar Al Haj (Judge Indar) and Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Clerk of Court Abie M. Amilil (Amilil), both of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 14, CotabatoCity, filed by complainants Espina & Madarang Company and Makar Agricultural Commercial & Development Corporation, represented by Rodrigo A. Adtoon (complainants).  In a verified complaint[1][1] dated April 12, 2005, complainants charged respondents Judge Indar and Amilil with serious misconduct, grave abuse of discretion, oppression, evident bad faith, manifest partiality and gross ignorance of the law in connection with the issuance of an Order[2][2] dated February 14, 2005 in Special Proceeding No. 2004-074, entitled In the Matter of Insolvencia Voluntaria de Olarte Hermanos y Cia, Heirs of the Late Alberto P. Olarte, etc., Petitioners.

 

          As gathered from the complaint and the subsequent documents filed, the antecedent facts of the case, originally docketed as OCA-I.P.I. No. 05-2257-RTJ, are as follows:

 

          On August 23, 1929, Olarte Hermanos y Cia (Olarte Hermanos) entered into a contract of loan and mortgage with El Hogar Filipino whereby the former mortgaged to the latter a parcel of land in Makar, Cotabato City and covered by Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 12 to secure a loan of P160,000.00.  When Olarte Hermanos defaulted in its payments on the loan, El Hogar Filipino filed an action for judicial foreclosure of the mortgage.  On August 17, 1932, the mortgage was ordered foreclosed and the decision became final on January 6, 1933. 

 

          On August 21, 1933, Olarte Hermanos filed a petition for voluntary insolvency, Insolvency Case No. 90, entitled In the Matter of Insolvencia Voluntaria de Olarte Hermanos y Cia.  On August 28, 1933, Olarte Hermanos was declared insolvent and the sheriff was ordered to take possession of all properties, books of accounts, and furniture of the insolvent corporation. 

 

          On October 14, 1933, the mortgaged property of Olarte Hermanos was sold at public auction with El Hogar Filipino as the highest bidder.  The sale was confirmed by the court on December 24, 1933.  Thereafter, El Hogar Filipino sold the land to Salud,Soledad, Mercedes andAsuncion, all surnamed Espina (the Espina sisters).  Sometime in 1958, the Espina sisters sold the same to Makar Agricultural Corporation, which in turn sold a portion to Espina and Madarang Company. 

 

          The insolvency case was archived without having been terminated with the onset of World War II. 

 

On November 18, 1983, Alberto Olarte, Sr. (Olarte) filed a motion for the appointment as receiver of the insolvent corporation.  Judge Eduardo P. Singayao (Judge Singayao), then the Presiding Judge of RTC, Branch 14, CotabatoCity, granted said appointment of Olarte and re-docketed the case as Spl. Proceeding No. 2004-074.  Subsequently, Rodolfo Pascual (Pascual) also petitioned the court to be a co-receiver of Olarte Hermanos.  As receivers, Olarte and Pascual took possession of the assets of the corporation, among which was the piece of land covered by OCT No. 12.  A portion of this land was, however, already registered in the name of herein complainants after the sale from the Espina sisters. 

 

On December 7, 1983, Judge Singayao issued an order[3][3] to the Provincial Sheriffs of Maguindanao and Cotabato City to place the receivers in possession of the property covered by OCT No. 12, as well as all subdivisions and portions thereof, its fruits and all proceeds of the sale of any portion of the property, and to submit to the court an inventory of any assets of the insolvent corporation.  

 

Herein complainants then filed a petition for certiorari before the Intermediate Appellate Court, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 02613 and entitled Espina & Madarang Co. v. Judge Eduardo Singayao.  On November 21, 1985, the Court of Appeals nullified and set aside the said orders of Judge Singayao and declared as permanent the writ of preliminary injunction it issued against Judge Singayao from implementing its orders.[4][4]  It held thus:

 

We are of the opinion that the order of 7 December 1983 was issued with grave abuse of discretion as it was issued without affording petitioners and other interested parties a chance to be heard thereon despite the fact that the circumstances demanded such a hearing.  The order in effect nullified a mortgage contract entered into more than fifty (50) years ago and which had not been challenged all that time.  The order set aside judicial foreclosure proceedings terminated more than fifty (50) years ago which has in its favor at least the presumption of regularity, especially when the proceedings were had in the very same court where the insolvency proceeding was pending.  The order nullified the mortgage contract entered into fifty (50) years earlier on the sole representation of private respondent Alberto Olarte that his brother, Jose Olarte, was not authorized to enter into the mortgage contract, and that his (Alberto Olarte’s) signature in the Board Resolution authorizing the mortgage was forged, without receiving evidence, or hearing petitioners, on the truth of such representation considering the rather belated accusation of Alberto Olarte.  The order dispossessed present owners and possessors of the property in question who have held title thereto prior to said order and had been in peaceful and unquestioned possession of their respective holdings all that time, some of whom have not even been made parties to the insolvency case.  The order does not only transfer possession of the property to private respondents, but directs that the proceeds of the sales thereof through the years be turned over to private respondents.  By this, private respondents would have their cake and eat it too.  The respondent Court correctly assessed the prejudicial effects of the questioned order when it set said order aside on 3 January 1984, for the reasons “that the right(s) of third parties are affected and considering further that the enforcement of the Order of (the) Court dated December 7, 1983 might cause deprivation of property without due process of law of third parties who are not impleaded in this case, and for the court to be given an opportune time to review the entire records of the case and hear the parties and their respective counsels.”

 

x x x x

 

WHEREFORE, the orders of 7 December 1983 and 12 January 1984 and the first order of 30 January 1984 advising Branch XXII of the RTC of General Santos City to stay all proceedings in Civil Case No. 2866 are declared null and void and are set aside. 

 

The portion of the second order of 30 January 1984 denying Makar’s motion to transfer the insolvency proceedings to the RTC in General Santos City is declared as valid, but the portion lifting the order of 3 January 1984 and directing the Register of Deeds of General Santos City to comply with the order of 7 December 1983, is declared null and void and is set aside. 

 

The writ of preliminary injunction issued by this Court is hereby made permanent.[5][5]

 

 

This decision of the Court of Appeals was appealed to the Supreme Court via a petition for review on certiorari, which was docketed as G.R. No. 73457.  On August 13, 1986, said petition was dismissed for lack of merit.  Thereafter, the decision of this Court became final and executory on September 22, 1986.

 

After almost twenty years, in February 2005, new incidents transpired in connection with the case. 

 

In the Order dated February 14, 2005, respondent Judge Indar, now the Presiding Judge of RTC, Branch 14 of Cotabato City, granted an ex parte petition for the issuance of a writ of possession filed by the heirs of Olarte to revive the December 7, 1983 Order of Judge Singayao.  In full, said order reads:

 

This is an action for Execution of the Order dated December 7, 1983, directing the registration thereof with the Registry of Deeds of General Santos City, the dispositive portion [of] which is hereunder quoted:

 

WHEREFORE, in pursuance of the Civil Code and the Insolvency Law, order is hereby issued, to the Register of Deeds of General Santos City, to annotate the deletion on the registry of book and on the face of Certificate of Title No. 12 and all subsequent titles derived therefrom, the annotation of the cancellation thereof by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 886 and annotation of the mortgage by virtue of this order.

 

Further, order is hereby issued to the Provincial Sheriffs of Maguindanao and Cotabato City, to place the receiver appointed by the Court in possession of the property covered by Certificate of Title No. 12 and/or covered by titles derived therefrom and all proceeds of the sale thereof of portions of the same and all its fruits[.]

 

Finally, order is issued to the receiver to register this Order with Register of Deeds of General Santos City, and to take possession of the property covered by Certificate of Title No. 12, all subdivisions and portions thereof, its fruits and all proceeds of the sale thereof or any portion of the same to submit to the Court an inventory of any assets of the insolvent that comes to this possession.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

Given at Cotabato City, Philippines, this 7th day of December 1983.

 

SGD. EDUARDO P. SINGAYAO

Regional Trial Court Judge

 

The issue in the instant case is whether or not the final and executory order can be implemented after the lapse of the 5-year and/or 10-year prescriptive period provided for under Rule 39 –

 

Section 6. Execution by motion or by independent action.

 

A final and executory judgment or order may be executed on motion within Five (5) years from the date of its entry.  After the lapse of such time and before it is barred by the statute of limitations, a judgment may be enforced by action.  The revived judgment may also be enforced by motion within Five (5) years from the date of its entry and thereafter by action before it is barred by the statute of limitations. 

 

The former Presiding Judge of this Court denied this action and the petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the order of denial on October 7, 2004, which issue was left unresolved that prompted the petitioners to file a Supplemental Motion now submitted for the consideration by this Court;

 

The petitioner posited that Section 6 of Rule 39 of the Rules on Civil Procedure is not applicable to Special Proceedings in land registration and cited are jurisprudence of the Honorable Supreme Court hereunder quoted:

 

“Neither this section is applicable to Special Proceedings such as land registration cases, hence, the right to ask for a writ of possession therein never prescribes (CF Heirs of Marcos vs. De Banwar, L-22110, September 28, 1968, Sta. Ana vs. Menia, L-15564, April 23, 1961).”

 

The Five-year limitation rule for the execution on motion of judgment does not apply to special proceedings, like Cadastral proceedings (Rodil vs. Benedicto 95 SCRA, January 22, 1980);

 

Further the petitioners in the Supplemental Motion for Execution argued that while the statute of limitations may constitute a bar to its execution, however, this is thoroughly explained and amplified by petitioners in their petition and in the motion for execution.

 

Consequently, this Court resolves to GRANT the petition.  The Order sought to be implemented has become final and executory, and therefore, a ministerial duty of this Court to order its execution directing the Provincial Sheriff to execute the Order dated December 7, 1983.[6][6]

 

 

On March 4, 2005, respondent Amilil issued a Certificate of Finality[7][7] of the Order dated February 14, 2005, stating therein that neither a motion for reconsideration nor an appeal had been filed within the fifteen (15)-day reglementary period.

 

It appears, however, that on February 28, 2005, complainants as intervenors in the case below, filed by registered mail a Motion for Reconsideration and To Set Aside Order of February 14, 2005.[8][8]  Said pleading was received by the lower court on March 7, 2005.[9][9]  Complainants stated that “[t]he order dated December 7, 1983 issued by Judge Eduardo P. Singayao in Sp. Case No. 90 was declared NULL AND VOID and set aside by the Court of Appeals in CA-GR No. 02613 entitled, Espina and Madarang Company v. Judge Eduardo Singayao in its decision dated November 21, 1985.”[10][10]  Complainants explained further that the said decision of the Court of Appeals, when appealed to the Supreme Court in G.R. No. 73457, was dismissed for lack of merit on August 13, 1986.

 

Complainants also filed a Motion to Withdraw or Revoke Certificate of Finality[11][11] dated March 5, 2005, alleging that:

 

The intervenors, Makar Agricultural Corporation and Espina and Madarang Company by counsel respectfully move the Honorable Court to order the Withdrawal or Revocation of the “Certificate of Finality” of the Order of this Honorable Court dated February 14, 2005 and in support of this motion respectfully allege:  THAT –

 

1.       The Intervenors were not served a copy of the order of this Honorable Court dated February 14, 2005 granting petitioner’s [the Olarte heirs’] motion for “enforcement” of the VOID order of Judge Eduardo Singayao dated December 7, 1983 declared NULL and VOID by the Court of Appeals in CA-GR No. 02613.

 

2.      The Intervenors whose appearance in the case was approved by the Honorable Court filed a motion for reconsideration on February 28, 2005 by Registered Mail per Registry Receipt No. 3180 of the Gen. Santos City Post Office.  Hence, said order has not become final and executory and the Sheriff should not yet comply with the said order which was declared by the Court of Appeals and affirmed by the Supreme Court NULL and VOID and permanently enjoined from execution.

 

3.      The Clerk of Court, Abie M. Amilil, should be advised to immediately withdraw his certification.

 

4.      Further, the insolvency case was ordered terminated and closed by Judge Japal Guiani on March 4, 1987 and affirmed by the Supreme Court in G.R. No. 80784 promulgated on August 2, 1984, copy of which is hereto attached as Annex “A”.

 

 

Thus, in an Order[12][12] dated April 12, 2005, respondent Judge Indar reconsidered and set aside his Order dated February 14, 2005 for the execution of the Order dated December 7, 1983 by Judge Singayao.  Respondent Judge Indar also ordered the recall of the Certificate of Finality issued by respondent Amilil.

 

Not satisfied with the recall of the said orders, complainants filed the instant administrative case charging respondents Judge Indar and Amilil with serious misconduct, grave abuse of discretion, oppression, evident bad faith, manifest partiality and gross ignorance of the law.  Complainants allege that respondents Judge Indar and Amilil are “guilty of violating the permanent writ of injunction which the Intermediate Appellate Court issued in CA-G.R. SP No. 02613 and affirmed by the Honorable Supreme Court in G.R. No. 73457, (which voided the December 7, 1983 order of Judge Singayao), by resurrecting the same in an order issued ex parte on February 14, 2005, and directed the implementation thereof, despite knowledge of its nullity.”[13][13]

 

In their undated Comment,[14][14] respondents Judge Indar and Amilil deny the allegations in the complaint.  Respondent Judge Indar claims that since the filing of the petition to revive the case was made on May 3, 2004, neither party made any reference to the fact that the Order dated December 7, 1983 of Judge Singayao had been nullified and set aside by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.  He also asserts that he issued the Order dated February 14, 2005 on the ground that he found the party’s motion for execution meritorious.  It was only when complainants filed a motion for reconsideration to set aside the said order did he come to know of the said Court of Appeals and Supreme Court decisions.  Respondent Judge Indar intimated that he even had to go through six volumes of rollo in the bodega and verify with the Court of Appeals the authenticity of its decision dated November 21, 1986 since what he found attached to the records was an unreadable and uncertified copy of the said decision.

 

Respondents Judge Indar and Amilil contend that the administrative case filed against them is designed to harass and malign them.  They allege that two other complaints have been filed against them by the complainants – for indirect contempt before the Court of Appeals, and for graft and corruption before the Ombudsman forMindanao.  Thus, respondents Judge Indar and Amilil also seek the disbarment of complainants’ counsels for allegedly being dishonest and in bad faith when they filed the instant administrative case. 

 

In the Resolution[15][15] dated July 25, 2007, this Court resolved, among others, to re-docket the administrative complaint as a regular administrative matter and to refer the case to the Executive Justice of the Court of Appeals, Cagayan de Oro Station, for raffle among the Justices for investigation, report and recommendation within sixty (60) days from receipt of records thereof.

 

Immediately thereafter, Associate Justice Elihu A. Ybañez of the Court of Appeals, to whom the instant case was raffled, sent notices to the parties for the setting of the hearings on October 17, 18 and 19, 2007.[16][16]

 

Respondents Judge Indar and Amilil filed a Manifestation for the Dismissal of Complaint for Being Moot and Academic and Charging complainants’ Counsel for Forum Shopping,[17][17] stating that respondent Judge Indar would be attending the Philippine Judges Association 2007 Convention in Manila and would then be unavailable for hearing on the said dates. 

 

Thus, on October 17, 2007, only counsel for complainants appeared and submitted a Motion to Withdraw Complaint[18][18] dated October 9, 2007.  In the meantime, the scheduled settings on October 18 and 19, 2007 were also cancelled. 

 

Respondents Judge Indar and Amilil also filed a Manifestation for Withdrawal of Counter-Complaint Against Atty. Nilo J. Flaviano[19][19] dated October 16, 2007, seeking the withdrawal of their counter-complaint against the complainants’ counsel “[a]s a matter of goodwill reciprocity to complainant’s (sic) counsel’s good faith.”[20][20]

 

In the Resolution[21][21] dated November 7, 2007, Investigating Justice Ybañez denied complainants’ motion to withdraw complaint, arguing that the court’s disciplinary authority over its officials and employees cannot be dependent on or frustrated by private arrangements between the parties, and that an administrative complaint cannot be simply withdrawn at any time by the complainants because there is a need to maintain the faith and confidence of the people in the government and its agencies and instrumentalities. 

 

Consequently, schedule for the hearings was again set for November 14 and 15, 2007.  Parties were also warned that failure to appear at the hearings and to present their evidence on the said dates shall be construed as a waiver of their right to present evidence, in which event the case will be determined on the basis of available records. 

 

On November 14, 2007, only Rodrigo A. Adtoon, complainants’ representative, appeared.  He informed the Investigating Justice that their counsel was indisposed and reiterated the withdrawal of the complaint but presented no authority to the effect that complainants were no longer interested in pursuing their complaint.  Thus, the Investigating Justice considered the case submitted for resolution.[22][22] 

 

Thereafter, in a Report[23][23] dated December 10, 2007, Investigating Justice Ybañez made the following recommendation:

 

Recommendation

 

The facts established from the records of the case and the pleadings filed before the Investigating Justice are insufficient to support a finding of gross ignorance of the law on the part of the respondent Judge.  To be held liable therefore, “the judge must be shown to have committed an error that was gross or patent, deliberate and malicious.”  Respondent Judge may have erred in the issuance of the February 14, 2005 Order, but such error has not been shown to be gross or patent.  Neither is there any clear and sufficient basis for finding respondent Judge liable for gross negligence and issuance of an unjust interlocutory order.  He cannot, however, be completely absolved of administrative liability. 

 

The respondent Judge displayed conduct that fell short of the standards expected of a magistrate of the law.  A judge should be industriously devoted to the study of the law, for having accepted his position, he owes it to the dignity of the court he sits in.  It is indeed demanded that a judge should strive for excellence.  To keep the idealism alive and the passion burning, a judge need not only remind himself of this stirring message on who is fit to be a judge:  “A man of learning who spends tirelessly the weary hours after midnight acquainting himself with the great body of traditions and the learning of the law.”

 

In the present case, respondent Judge was remiss in his duty to be attentive, patient, studious and careful to diligently ascertain the facts.  He should thus be CENSURED because the Code of Judicial Ethics requires him to observe due care in the performance of his official functions and to be the embodiment of, among other desirable characteristics, judicial competence.  His Order dated April 12, 2005 setting aside the Order dated February 14, 2005 and recalling the Certificate of Finality dated March 4, 2005 notwithstanding.

 

As regards the respondent OIC Branch Clerk of Court, the records and the pleadings filed before the Investigating Judge have established his administrative liability.  From his failure to inform the Judge of the existence of the IAC and SC Decisions nullifying the December 7, 1983 Order of the Court despite knowledge thereof, failure to make sure that parties were furnished a copy of the court orders as OIC Branch Clerk of Court, particularly the February 14, 2005 Order which complainants were not furnished a copy thereof, and questionable haste in the issuance of Certificate of Finality, respondent OIC Branch Clerk of Court should thus be SUSPENDED FOR TWO (2) MONTHS WITHOUT PAY with a stern warning that repetition of the same shall be dealt with more severely.[24][24]

 

 

          The findings of Investigating Justice Ybanez are well taken.  We, however, modify the penalties imposed upon respondents Judge Indar and Amilil, consistent with Rule 140 of the Rules of Court. 

 

          In Judge Salvador v. Serrano,[25][25] we ruled, thus:

 

 

This Court stresses once more that the administration of justice is a sacred task; by the very nature of their duties and responsibilities, all those involved in it must faithfully adhere to, hold inviolate, and invigorate the principle solemnly enshrined in the 1987 Constitution that a public office is a public trust and all public officers must at all times be accountable to the people and serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency.  It condemns and would never countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice which would violate the norm of public accountability and would diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary.  Thus, every employee or officer involved in this task should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility and their conduct must, at all times, be above suspicion.[26][26]

 

 

          Here, respondent Judge Indar failed to conform with the high standards of competence and diligence required of judges under Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, particularly the following Rules:

 

Rule 3.01.  A judge shall be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence.

 

Rule 3.02.  In every case, a judge shall endeavor diligently to ascertain the facts and the applicable law unswayed by partisan interest, public opinion or fear or criticism.

 

Rule 3.08.  A judge should diligently discharge administrative responsibilities, maintain professional competence in court management, and facilitate the performance of the administrative functions of other judges and court personnel.

 

Rule 3.09.  A judge should organize and supervise the court personnel to ensure the prompt and efficient dispatch of business, and require at all times the observance of high standards of public service and fidelity.

 

 

          In the instant case, respondent Judge Indar failed to exert due diligence required of him to ascertain the facts of the case before he came out with the Order dated February 14, 2005.  Had he taken time and effort to read and examine the pleadings and the records of the case, he could have known that the Order dated December 7, 1983 was already nullified and set aside by the Court of Appeals. 

 

          We likewise find unsatisfactory the excuses given by respondent Judge Indar that neither the previous judges handling the case nor the parties themselves made any reference to the fact that the Order of December 7, 1983 had already been nullified and set aside, and that there were voluminous records to read and study.  Respondent Judge Indar should be reminded of his personal responsibility in the making of his decisions and orders.  He should not rely on anybody else for the examination and study of the records to properly ascertain the facts of each case that he handles.  He cannot simply pass the blame on his staff and hide behind the incompetence of his subordinates.  Moreover, respondent Judge Indar should have been more cautious since the case involved was an old inherited case with voluminous records and what was sought to be executed was an order issued almost twenty (20) years ago.  It is incumbent upon him to devise an efficient court management system since he is the one directly responsible for the proper discharge of his functions. 

 

          While respondent Judge Indar had already issued an Order dated April 12, 2005 which set aside and recalled the Order dated February 14, 2005 and the Certificate of Finality dated March 4, 2005, he was still remiss of his duties to be circumspect, diligent and careful in the performance of his official functions and be the embodiment of judicial competence.

 

          We emphasized in Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority v. Judge Hontanosas, Jr.[27][27] that:

 

Admittedly, judges cannot be held to account for erroneous judgments rendered in good faith.  However, this defense has been all too frequently cited to the point of staleness.  In truth, good faith in situations of infallible discretion inheres only within the parameters of tolerable judgment and does not apply where the issues are so simple and the applicable legal principle evident and basic as to be beyond permissible margins of error.  Indeed, while a judge may not always be subjected to disciplinary action for every erroneous order or decision he renders, that relative immunity is not a license to be negligent or abusive and arbitrary in performing his adjudicatory prerogatives.[28][28]

 

 

          Thus, this Court is in agreement with the findings of Investigating Justice Ybanez that respondent Judge Indar displayed conduct that fell short of the standards of competence, integrity and diligence expected of a magistrate of law.    

 

          With regard to respondent Amilil, this Court agrees with the Investigating Justice that the records and pleadings filed have established his administrative liability.  First, respondent Amilil failed to inform respondent Judge Indar of the existence of the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court decisions which have nullified and set aside the Order dated December 7, 1983 which was sought to be enforced.  Second, he failed to inform and send the parties their respective notices and court orders particularly the Order dated February 14, 2005.  Third, respondent Amilil issued the Certificate of Finality dated March 4, 2005 without verifying if indeed a motion for reconsideration was filed in connection with the case. 

 

          To reiterate, complainants filed by registered mail a Motion for Reconsideration and To Set Aside Order of February 14, 2005.  It was therefore incorrect for respondent Amilil to certify that the Order dated February 14, 2005 had become final and executory because no appeal had been taken from it nor a motion for its reconsideration filed.  The issuance by respondent Amilil of a false certification creates confusion since the facts were neither verified nor confirmed.     

 

          In Atty. Legaspi, Jr. v. Atty. Montero III,[29][29] this Court expounded on the responsibility of the Clerks of Court, thus:

 

Under the 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court, the branch clerk of court as the administrative officer of the court, among others, controls and supervises the safekeeping of court records.  Moreover, Section 7, Rule 136 of the Rules of Court specifically mandates the clerk of court to “safely keep all records, papers, files, exhibits and public property committed to his charge.”  As custodian of the records of the court, it is the duty of the clerk of court to ensure not only that the same are safely kept in his or her possession, but also those [that] will be readily available upon the request of the parties or order of the court.

 

Indeed, the clerk of court is an essential officer of our judicial system.  As a ranking officer of the court, he performs delicate administrative functions vital to the prompt and proper administration of justice.  As custodian of judicial records, it is incumbent upon the clerk of court to ensure an orderly and efficient court management system in the court, and to supervise the personnel under his office to function effectively.  A clerk of court plays a key role in the complement of the court and cannot be permitted to slacken his job under one pretext or another.  In fact, it has been held that branch clerks of court are chiefly responsible for the shortcomings of subordinates to whom administrative functions normally pertaining to the branch clerk of court were delegated.  Hence, clerks of court must be assiduous in performing official duty and in supervising and managing court dockets and records.[30][30]

 

 

          Clearly, it is respondent Amilil’s duty as OIC Clerk of Court to safely keep all files, pleadings and files committed to his charge.  As custodian of these records, it is incumbent upon him to see to it that court orders were sent with dispatch to the parties concerned.  Respondent Amilil should ensure an orderly and efficient record management system to assist all personnel, including respondent Judge Indar, in the performance of their respective duties.  Unfortunately, respondent Amilil failed to live up to these standards.

 

          As to the penalties to be imposed upon respondent Judge Indar, this Court finds the same too light for the infractions he committed.  Rule 140 of the Rules of Court provides:

 

SEC. 8. Serious charges. – Serious charges include:

 

x x x x

 

3. Gross misconduct constituting violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

 

 

SEC. 11. Sanctions. – A.  If the respondent is guilty of a serious charge, any of the following sanctions may be imposed:

 

1. Dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all or part of the benefits as the Court may determine, and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Provided, however, That the forfeiture of benefits shall in no case include accrued leave credits;

 

2. Suspension from office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3) but not exceeding six (6) months; or

 

3. A fine of more than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00.

 

 

          To our mind, the gravity of the infractions committed by respondent Judge Indar merits a higher penalty than the censure recommended by the Investigating Justice.  We likewise note that this is not respondent Judge Indar’s first offense.  In A.M. No. RTJ-05-1953, we imposed upon him a fine of Ten Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos for violating Section 5, Rule 58 of the Rules of Court, when he issued a preliminary injunction without any hearing and prior notice to the parties.  Thus, this Court finds respondent Judge Indar guilty of gross misconduct for committing violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, for which we shall impose a fine of Twenty-Five Thousand (P25,000.00) Pesos.

 

          However, with regard to the penalty imposed on respondent Amilil, we find the same commensurate with his infractions.  Section 22, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order 292, as amended by CSC Memorandum Circular No. 19, provides that:

 

SEC. 22. Administrative Offenses with its corresponding penalties are classified into grave, less grave, and light, depending on the gravity of its nature and effect on said acts on the government service. 

 

x x x x

 

The following are less grave offenses with their corresponding penalties:

 

(a)    Simple Neglect of Duty

1st Offense – Suspension for one (1) month and (1) day to six (6) months

 

2nd Offense – Dismissal

 

 

          Clearly, the acts of respondent Amilil constitute simple neglect of duty for which he must be made administratively liable.  Under the Civil Service Rules and the Omnibus Rules implementing it, simple neglect of duty is a less grave offense penalized with suspension of one (1) month and one (1)  day to six (6) months for the first offense; and dismissal for the second offense. 

 

Respondents Judge Indar and Amilil are reminded that as public officers, they are recipients of public trust, and are thus under obligation to perform the duties of their offices honestly, faithfully, and to the best of their ability.  As held in Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Liwanag[31][31]:

 

Time and again, the Court has emphasized the heavy burden and responsibility which court officials and employees are mandated to observe, in view of their exalted position as keepers of the public faith. They are constantly reminded that any impression of impropriety, misdeed or negligence in the performance of official functions must be avoided.  The Court will never countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice which would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish the people’s faith in the judiciary.[32][32]

 

 

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Judge Cader P. Indar Al Haj GUILTY of gross misconduct for committing violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and is FINED the amount of Twenty-Five Thousand (P25,000.00) Pesos.  He is likewise WARNED that a repetition of the foregoing or similar transgressions shall be dealt with more severely. 

 

Respondent OIC Branch Clerk of Court Abie M. Amilil is also found GUILTY of neglect of duty and is SUSPENDED for two (2) months without pay with a stern warning that repetition of the same shall be dealt with more severely.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                 TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO

                                       Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

 

 

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


[1][1]           Rollo, pp. 1-13.

[2][2]          Id. at 63-64.

[3][3]          Id. at 75-79.

[4][4]          Id. at 99-106.

[5][5]          Id. at 104-106.

[6][6]          Id. at 20-21.

[7][7]          Id. at 22.

[8][8]          Id. at 119-121.

[9][9]          Id. at 119.

[10][10]        Id. at 265.

[11][11]        Id. at 271-272.

[12][12]        Id. at 262-263.

[13][13]        Id. at 11.

[14][14]        Id. at 52-62.

[15][15]        Id. at 240.

[16][16]        Id. at 245-246.

[17][17]        Id. at.247-252.

[18][18]        Id. at 303-309.

[19][19]        Id. at 320-321.

[20][20]        Id. at. 320.

[21][21]        Id. at 370-372.

[22][22]        Id. at 375-377.

[23][23]        Id. at. 388-410.

[24][24]        Id. at 408-410.

[25][25]         516 Phil. 412 (2006).

[26][26]        Id. at 430-431.

[27][27]         484 Phil. 194 (2004).

[28][28]        Id. at 212.

[29][29]         496 Phil. 46 (2005).

[30][30]        Id. at 52-54.

[31][31]         A.M. No. MTJ-02-1440, February 28, 2006, 483 SCRA 417.

[32][32]        Id. at 430.