March 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are select March 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Attorney; lifting of indefinite suspension. Professional misconduct involving the misuse of constitutional provisions for the purpose of insulting Members of the Supreme Court is a serious breach of the rigid standards that a member of good standing of the legal profession must faithfully comply with. Thus, the penalty of indefinite suspension was imposed. However, in the past two years during which Atty. Lozano has been suspended, he has repeatedly expressed his willingness to admit his error, to observe the rules and standards in the practice of law, and to serve the ends of justice if he should be reinstated.  And in these two years, this Court has not been informed of any act that would indicate that Atty. Lozano had acted in any unscrupulous practices unsuitable to a member of the bar. While the Court will not hesitate to discipline its erring officers, it will not prolong a penalty after it has been shown that the purpose for imposing it had already been served. Re: subpoena Duces Tecum dated January 11, 2010 of Acting Director Aleu A. Amante, PIAB-C, Office of the Ombudsman/Re: Order of the Office of the Ombudsman referring the complaint of Attys. Oliver O. Lozano & Evangeline J. Lozano-Endriano against Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno(ret.). A.M. No. 10-1-13-SC & A.M. NO. 10-9-9-SC, March 20, 2012.

Court personnel; administrative case; quantum of evidence. The Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service govern the conduct of disciplinary and non-disciplinary proceedings in administrative cases. In Section 3, it provides that, “Administrative investigations shall be conducted without necessarily adhering strictly to the technical rules of procedure and evidence applicable to judicial proceedings.”

The weight of evidence required in administrative investigations is substantial evidence. For these reasons, only substantial evidence is required to find Malunao guilty of the administrative offense charged against her. In the hierarchy of evidentiary values, substantial evidence, or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable man might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion, is the lowest standard of proof provided under the Rules of Court. In assessing whether there is substantial evidence in administrative investigations such as this case, the Court is not bound by technical rules of procedure and evidence. Dela Cruz’s Sinumpaang Salaysay, the joint affidavit of arrest executed by the NBI agents, the Booking Sheet and Arrest Report, photocopy of the marked money, the Complaint Sheet, and the photographs of Malunao entering Dela Cruz’s house, and the contents of Malunao’s bag after receipt of the money, all prove by subsantial evidence the guilt of Malunao for the offense of grave misconduct. Sheryll C. Dela Cruz vs. Pamela P. Malunao, Clerk III, RTC, Branch 28, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. A.M. No. P-11-2019, March 20, 2012.

Court personnel; grave misconduct. Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by the public officer. The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules. Corruption, as an element of grave misconduct, consists in the act of an official or fiduciary person who unlawfully and wrongfully uses his position or office to procure some benefit for himself or for another person, contrary to duty and the rights of others. Section 2, Canon 1 of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel states: “Court personnel shall not solicit or accept any gift, favor or benefit based on any or explicit understanding that such gift, favor or benefit shall influence their official actions.” Respondent’s use of her position as Clerk III in Branch 28 to solicit money from Dela Cruz with the promise of a favorable decision violates Section 2, Canon 1 of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel and constitutes the offense of grave misconduct meriting the penalty of dismissal. Sheryll C. Dela Cruz vs. Pamela P. Malunao, Clerk III, RTC, Branch 28, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. A.M. No. P-11-2019, March 20, 2012.

Judges; judicial clemency. In A.M. No. 07-7-17-SC (Re: Letter of Judge Augustus C. Diaz, Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 37, Appealing for Clemency), the Court laid down the following guidelines in resolving requests for judicial clemency, thus:

“1. There must be proof of remorse and reformation. These shall include but should not be limited to certifications or testimonials of the officer(s) or chapter(s) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, judges or judges associations and prominent members of the community with proven integrity and probity. A subsequent finding of guilt in an administrative case for the same or similar misconduct will give rise to a strong presumption of non-reformation.

2. Sufficient time must have lapsed from the imposition of the penalty to ensure a period of reform.

3. The age of the person asking for clemency must show that he still has productive years ahead of him that can be put to good use by giving him a chance to redeem himself.

4. There must be a showing of promise (such as intellectual aptitude, learning or legal acumen or contribution to legal scholarship and the development of the legal system or administrative and other relevant skills), as well as potential for public service.

5. There must be other relevant factors and circumstances that may justify clemency.”

Applying the foregoing standards to this case, the Court finds merit in petitioner’s request. A review of the records reveals that petitioner has exhibited remorse for her past misdeeds, which occurred more than ten (10) years ago. While she was found to have belatedly filed her motions for additional time to resolve the cases then pending in her sala, the Court noted that she had disposed of the same within the extended period sought, except in A.M. No. 99-2-79-RTC where she submitted her compliance beyond the approved 45-day extended period. Nevertheless, petitioner has subsequently shown diligence in the performance of her duties and has not committed any similar act or omission. In the Memorandum of the Office of the Court Administrator, her prompt compliance with the judicial audit requirements of pending cases was acknowledged and she was even commended for her good performance in the effective management of her court and in the handling of court records.

Moreover, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Bohol Chapter has shown its high regard for petitioner per the letter of support signed by a number of its members addressed to the IBP dated October 15, 1999 during the pendency of her administrative cases and the IBP Resolution No. 11, Series of 2009 endorsing her application for lateral transfer to the RTC of Tagbilaran City. Re: Petition for judicial clemency of Judge Irma Zita V. Masamayor. A.M. No. 12-2-6-SC, March 6, 2012.

(Mon thanks Maricar Ramos for her assistance in the preparation of this post.)