Here are select June 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:
Administrative Complaint; moot and academic. The Court dismissed the complaint filed by Inter-Petal Recreational Corporation against Chief Justice Renato Corona for being moot and academic after considering the judgment of the Senate sitting as an Impeachment Court, which found the Chief Justice guilty of the charge under Article II of the Articles of Impeachment, with the penalty of removal from office and disqualification to hold any office under the Republic of the Philippines as provided in Section 3(7), Article XI of the Constitution. Re: Complaint Against the Honorable Chief Justice Renato C. Corona dated September 14, 2011 filed by Inter-Petal Recreational Corporation, A.M. No. 12-6-10-SC. June 13, 2012
Attorneys; disbarment cases imprescriptible. The defense of prescription is untenable. The Court has held that administrative cases against lawyers do not prescribe. The lapse of considerable time from the commission of the offending act to the institution of the administrative complaint will not erase the administrative culpability of a lawyer. Otherwise, members of the bar would only be emboldened to disregard the very oath they took as lawyers, prescinding from the fact that as long as no private complainant would immediately come forward, they stand a chance of being completely exonerated from whatever administrative liability they ought to answer for. Fidela Bengco and Teresita Bengco vs. Atty. Pablo Bernardo, A.C. No. 6368, June 13, 2012.
Attorney; False and untruthful statements in pleadings. The practice of law is a privilege bestowed on those who show that they possess and continue to possess the legal qualifications for it. Lawyers are expected to maintain at all times a high standard of legal proficiency and morality, including honesty, integrity and fair dealing. They must perform their four-fold duty to society, the legal profession, the courts and their clients, in accordance with the values and norms of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility.
Atty. Magat’s act clearly falls short of the standards set by the Code of Professional Responsibility, particularly Rule 10.01, which provides:
Rule 10.01 – A lawyer shall not do any falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in Court; nor shall he mislead, or allow the Court to be misled by any artifice.
The Court ruled that there was a deliberate intent on the part of Atty. Magat to mislead the court when he filed the motion to dismiss the criminal charges on the basis of double jeopardy. Atty. Magat should not make any false and untruthful statements in his pleadings. If it were true that there was a similar case for slight physical injuries that was really filed in court, all he had to do was to secure a certification from that court that, indeed, a case was filed. Rodrigo Molina vs. Atty. Ceferino Magat A.C. No. 1900. June 13, 2012.
Attorney; Neglect etc.Acceptance of money from a client establishes an attorney-client relationship and gives rise to the duty of fidelity to the client’s cause. Once a lawyer agrees to handle a case, it is that lawyer’s duty to serve the client with competence and diligence. Respondent has failed to fulfill this duty. When the RTC ruled against complainant and her husband, they filed a Notice of Appeal. Consequently, what should apply is the rule on ordinary appealed cases or Rule 44 of the Rules on Civil Procedure. Rule 44 requires that the appellant’s brief be filed after the records of the case have been elevated to the CA. Respondent, as a litigator, was expected to know this procedure. Canon 5 of the Code reads:
CANON 5 — A lawyer shall keep abreast of legal developments, participate in continuing legal education programs, support efforts to achieve high standards in law schools as well as in the practical training of law students and assist in disseminating information regarding the law and jurisprudence.
The supposed lack of time given to respondent to acquaint himself with the facts of the case does not excuse his negligence. Rule 18.02 of the Code provides that a lawyer shall not handle any legal matter without adequate preparation. While it is true that respondent was not complainant’s lawyer from the trial to the appellate court stage, this fact did not excuse him from his duty to diligently study a case he had agreed to handle. If he felt he did not have enough time to study the pertinent matters involved, as he was approached by complainant’s husband only two days before the expiration of the period for filing the Appellant’s Brief, respondent should have filed a motion for extension of time to file the proper pleading instead of whatever pleading he could come up with, just to beat the deadline set by the Court of Appeals.
Also, as counsel, he had the duty to inform his clients of the status of their case. His failure to do so amounted to a violation of Rule 18.04 of the Code, which reads:
18.04 – A lawyer shall keep the client informed of the status of his case and shall respond within a reasonable time to the client’s request for information.
If it were true that all attempts to contact his client proved futile, the least respondent could have done was to inform the CA by filing a Notice of Withdrawal of Appearance as counsel. He could have thus explained why he was no longer the counsel of complainant and her husband in the case and informed the court that he could no longer contact them. His failure to take this measure proves his negligence.
The failure of respondent to file the proper pleading and a comment on Duigan’s Motion to Dismiss is negligence on his part. Under 18.03 of the Code, a lawyer is liable for negligence in handling the client’s case, viz:
Rule 18.03 – A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.
Lawyers should not neglect legal matters entrusted to them, otherwise their negligence in fulfilling their duty would render them liable for disciplinary action. Respondent has failed to live up to his duties as a lawyer. When a lawyer violates his duties to his client, he engages in unethical and unprofessional conduct for which he should be held accountable. Emilia R. Hernandez vs. Atty. Venancio B. Padilla, A.C. No. 9387, June 20, 2012.
Contempt; unauthorized practice of law. In Cayetano v. Monsod, the Court ruled that “practice of law” means any activity, in or out of court, which requires the application of law, legal procedure, knowledge, training and experience. To engage in the practice of law is to perform acts which are usually performed by members of the legal profession. Generally, to practice law is to render any kind of service which requires the use of legal knowledge or skill. The OCA was able to establish the pattern in Karaan’s unauthorized practice of law. He would require the parties to execute a special power of attorney in his favor to allow him to join them as one of the plaintiffs as their attorney-in-fact. Then, he would file the necessary complaint and other pleadings “acting for and in his own behalf and as attorney-in-fact, agent or representative” of the parties. The fact that Karaan did not indicate in the pleadings that he was a member of the Bar, or any PTR, Attorney’s Roll, or MCLE Compliance Number does not detract from the fact that, by his actions, he was actually engaged in the practice of law.
Under Section 3(e), Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, a person assuming to be an attorney or an officer of a court, and acting as such without authority, is liable for indirect contempt of court. Under Section 7 of the same rules, a respondent adjudged guilty of indirect contempt committed against a Regional Trial Court or a court of equivalent or higher rank may be punished by a fine not exceeding thirty thousand pesos or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months, or both. If a respondent is adjudged guilty of contempt committed against a lower court, he may be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand pesos or imprisonment not exceeding one (1) month, or both. Juvy P. Ciocon-Reer, et al., vs. Judge Antonio C. Lubao, RTC Br. 22, General Santos City, A.M. OCA IPI No. 09-3210-RTJ, June 20, 2012.
Court personnel; discourtesy. Unless specifically provided by the rules, clerks of court have no authority to pass upon the substantive or formal correctness of pleadings and motions that parties file with the court. Compliance with the rules is the responsibility of the parties and their counsels. And whether these conform to the rules concerning substance and form is an issue that only the judge of the court has authority to determine. The duty of clerks of courts to receive pleadings, motions, and other court-bound papers is purely ministerial. Although they may on inspection advise the parties or their counsels of possible defects in the documents they want to file, which may be regarded as part of public service, they cannot upon insistence of the filing party refuse to receive the same.
Canon IV, Section 2 of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel provides that court personnel shall carry out their responsibilities as public servants in as courteous a manner as possible. Atty. Ramos was counsel in a case before Teves’ branch. He was an officer of the court who expressed a desire to have the presiding judge, to whom he addressed his motion, see and consider the same. Teves arrogated onto himself the power to decide with finality that the presiding judge was not to be bothered with that motion. He denied Atty. Ramos the courtesy of letting the presiding judge decide the issue between him and the lawyer. As held in Macalua v. Tiu, Jr., an employee of the judiciary is expected to accord respect for the person and right of others at all times, and his every act and word should be characterized by prudence, restraint, courtesy and dignity. These are absent in this case.
Civil Service Resolution 99-1936 classifies discourtesy in the course of official duties as a light offense, the penalty for which is reprimand for the first offense, suspension of 1-30 days for the second offense, and dismissal for the third offense. In two consolidated administrative cases, one for grave misconduct and immorality and the other for insubordination, the Court meted out on Teves the penalty of suspension for six months in its resolution of October 5, 2011. The Court of course decided these cases and warned Teves to change his ways more than a year after the September 8, 2008 incident with Atty. Ramos. Consequently, it could not be said that he ignored with respect to that incident the warnings given him in the subsequently decided cases. Still those cases show Teves’ propensity for misbehavior. Thus, the Court imposed on Reynaldo S. Teves, Branch Clerk of Court of Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Cebu City, the penalty of 30 days suspension with warning that a repetition of the same or a similar offense will be dealt with more severely. Atty. Edward Anthony B. Ramos vs. Reynaldo S. Teves, Clerk of Court III, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 4, Cebu City. A.M. No. P-12-3061, June 27, 2012.
Court personnel; disgraceful and immoral conduct. The image of a court of justice is mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the women and men who work in the judiciary, from the judge to the lowest of its personnel. Like the rest of the personnel of the Court, the shuttle bus drivers are expected to observe the norms and ethics of conduct of public officials and employees. Judiciary employees should be circumspect in how they conduct themselves inside and outside the office. Any scandalous behavior or any act that may erode the people’s esteem for the judiciary is unbecoming of an employee. Court employees are supposed to be well-mannered, civil and considerate in their actuations.
Laribo Jr.’s utterances, are by themselves, malicious and cast aspersion upon Diomampo’s character. The Court cannot countenance such behavior. The Court sanctioned Laribo Jr. for his disgraceful and immoral conduct. Since such conduct is classified as a grave offense, the penalty for the first offense is suspension from 6 months and 1 day to one year. But the Court tempered OCA’s recommended penalty and imposed a penalty of one month suspension, with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely, taking into account that this is Laribo’s Jr. first infraction. Shirley D. Diomampo, Records Officer II, Sandiganbayan vs. Felipe C. Laribo Jr., Shuttle Bus Driver, Sandiganbayan. A.M. No. SB-12-18-P. June 13, 2012.
Court personnel; dishonesty. The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees enunciates the State’s policy of promoting a high standard of ethics and utmost responsibility in the public service. And no other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an employee than the judiciary. Persons involved in the dispensation of justice, from the highest official to the lowest clerk, must live up to the strictest standards of integrity, probity, uprightness and diligence in the public service. As the assumption of public office is impressed with paramount public interest, which requires the highest standards of ethics, persons aspiring for public office must observe honesty, candor and faithful compliance with the law.
Respondent committed dishonesty by causing the unauthorized insertion of an additional sentence in the trial court’s order. Dishonesty has been defined as a disposition to lie, cheat, deceive or defraud. It implies untrustworthiness, lack of integrity, lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle on the part of the individual who failed to exercise fairness and straightforwardness in his or her dealings. By her act, she has compromised and undermined the public’s faith in the records of the court below and, ultimately, the integrity of the Judiciary. To tolerate such act would open the floodgates to fraud by court personnel.
The insertion of an additional sentence in an order of the trial court, regardless of the reason is not among respondent’s duties. A legal researcher’s duty focuses mainly on verifying legal authorities, drafting memoranda on evidence, outlining facts and issues in cases set for pre-trial, and keeping track of the status of cases. In Salvador v. Serrano, the Court held that courts have the inherent power to amend and control their process and orders to make them conformable to law and justice. But such power rests upon the judge and not to clerks of court who only perform adjudicative support functions and non-adjudicative functions. In the same vein, the power to amend court orders cannot be performed by a legal researcher. It is well to remind that court personnel are obliged to accord the integrity of court records of paramount importance, as these are vital instruments in the dispensation of justice. Judge Amado Caguioa (ret.) vs. Elizabeth Aucena, Court Legal Researcher II, Regional Trial Court, Branch 4, Baguio City. A.M. No. P-09-2646, June 18, 2012.
Under Section 52 (A) (1), Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, promulgated by the Civil Service Commission through Resolution No. 99-1936 dated August 31, 1999 and implemented by Memorandum Circular No. 19, series of 1999, dishonesty is a grave offense punishable by dismissal from the service for the first offense. However, the Court, in certain instances, has not imposed the penalty of dismissal due to the presence of mitigating factors such as the length of service, being a first-time offender, acknowledgment of the infractions, and remorse by the respondent. The Court has also ruled that where a penalty less punitive would suffice, whatever missteps may be committed by labor ought not to be visited with a consequence so severe. It is not only for the law’s concern for the workingman; there is, in addition, his family to consider. Unemployment brings untold hardships and sorrows on those dependent on wage earners.
Considering that this is respondent’s first offense in her twenty-two (22) years of service in the Judiciary, the admission of her act and her sincere apology for her mistake, her firm resolve not to commit the same mistake in the future, and taking into account that she is a widow and the only one supporting her five children, the recommended penalty of suspension for a period of six (6) months is in order. Judge Amado Caguioa (ret.) vs. Elizabeth Aucena, Court Legal Researcher II, Regional Trial Court, Branch 4, Baguio City. A.M. No. P-09-2646, June 18, 2012.
Court personnel; dishonesty.For Aguam to assert that she herself took and passed the examination when in fact somebody else took it for her constitutes dishonesty. Every employee of the Judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty. Like any public servant, she must exhibit the highest sense of honesty and integrity not only in the performance of her official duties but also in her personal and private dealings with other people, to preserve the court’s good name and standing. The image of a court of justice is mirrored in the conduct, official and otherwise, of the personnel who work thereat, from the judge to the lowest of its personnel. Court personnel have been enjoined to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in their professional and private conduct in order to preserve the good name and integrity of the courts of justice. Here, Aguam failed to meet these stringent standards set for a judicial employee and does not therefore deserve to remain with the Judiciary.
In Cruz v. Civil Service Commission, Civil Service Commission v. Sta. Ana, and Concerned Citizen v. Dominga Nawen Abad, the Court dismissed the employees found guilty of similar offenses. In Cruz, Zenaida Paitim masqueraded as Gilda Cruz and took the Civil Service examination in behalf of Cruz. The Court said that both Paitim and Cruz merited the penalty of dismissal. In Sta. Ana, somebody else took the Civil Service examination for Sta. Ana. The Court dismissed Sta. Ana for dishonesty. In Abad, the evidence disproved Abad’s claim that she personally took the examination. The Court held that for Abad to assert that she herself took the examination when in fact somebody else took it for her constitutes dishonesty. Thus, Abad was for her offense. The Court found no reason to deviate from these consistent rulings. Under Section 52(A)(1) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, dishonesty is a grave offense punishable by dismissal for the first offense. Under Section 58(a) of the same rules, the penalty of dismissal carries with it cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification for reemployment in the government service. The OCA properly excluded forfeiture of accrued leave credits, pursuant to the Court’s ruling in Sta. Ana and Abad. The Court also consistently held that the proper penalty to be imposed on employees found guilty of an offense of this nature is dismissal from the service. Lourdes Celavite-Vidal vs. Noraida A. Aguam, A.M. No. SCC-10-13-P, June 26, 2012.
Court personnel; Disrespectful behavior. Section 2, Canon IV of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel, requires that court personnel shall carry out their responsibilities as public servants in as courteous a manner as possible. The image of a court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work there. Court personnel must at all times act with strict propriety and proper decorum so as to earn and rebuild the public’s trust in the judiciary as an institution. The Court 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 diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary.
Under Rule XIV, Section 23 of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292, discourtesy in the course of official dutiesis classified as a light offense. A first-time violation of this rule warrants the penalty of reprimand. Considering a) respondent’s apology and admission of his mistakes; b) his retirement from service on 1 July 2011 after long years of employment in the Judiciary; and c) this case being the first complaint against him, he should be held liable for discourtesy and be meted out the penalty of reprimand.
Respondent committed other lapses in the performance of his duties as Clerk of Court. Instead of strictly observing the required number of working hours in the civil service, he left his post in the middle of the day to attend a social event. Worse, he chose to return to the office and enter the judge’s chambers while under the influence of alcohol. His behavior constitutes a direct violation of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel, particularly Section 1, Canon IV on the Performance of Duties, which states: “Court personnel shall at all times perform official duties properly and with diligence. They shall commit themselves exclusively to the business and responsibilities of their office during working hours.” Judge Ethelwolda Jaravata vs. Precioso Orencia, Clerk of Court, MTC, Agoo, La Union A.M. No. P-12-3035, June 13, 2012.
Court personnel; falsification. Falsification of a DTR by a court personnel is a grave offense. The act of falsifying an official document is in itself grave because of its possible deleterious effects on government service. At the same time, it is also an act of dishonesty, which violates fundamental principles of public accountability and integrity. Under Civil Service regulations, falsification of an official document and dishonesty are distinct offenses, but both may be committed in one act.
The constitutionalization of public accountabilityshows the kind of standards of public officers that are woven into the fabric of our legal system. Public office is a public trust, which embodies a set of standards such as responsibility, integrity and efficiency. Reality may depart from these standards, but our society has consciously embedded them in our laws, so that they may be demanded and enforced as legal principles. This Court, in the exercise of its administrative jurisdiction, should articulate and apply these principles to its own personnel, as a way of bridging actual reality to the norms we envision for our public service.
The Supreme Court exercised its administrative jurisdiction despite respondent Kasilag’s resignation, more than two years after he was directed to file his Comment. The resignation of a public servant does not preclude the finding of any administrative liability to which he or she shall still be answerable. Even if the most severe of administrative sanctions— that of separation from service — may no longer be imposed, there are other penalties which may be imposed namely, the disqualification to hold any government office and the forfeiture of benefits. There are no mitigating circumstances for respondent Kasilag. Dishonesty and the act of falsifying detract from the notion of public accountability, as implemented by our laws. We apply the law as it is written. Office of the Court Administrator vs. Jaime Kasilag, Sheriff IV, Regionatl Trial Court, Branch 27, Manila. A.M. No. P-08-2573, June 19, 2012.
Court Personnel; gross insubordination. Respondent failed to explain why, despite her receipt of the Notices, she did not comply with the directives of this Court to submit her comment. The records show that the OCA had sent notices to her at RTC–Branch 93 of San Pedro, Laguna, where she is the branch sheriff. While she apologized to this Court for her failure to submit her comment, she did not explain the reasons for her non-submission thereof and only averred that it was the first time she learned of the Complaint against her. The OCA did not find her explanation satisfactory, because she did submit her Comment, but only after a Show-Cause Order had been issued to her– and almost a year after the first directive requiring her to file the Comment. Respondent’s prolonged and repeated refusal to comply with the directives of the Supreme Court constituted willful disrespect of its lawful orders, as well as those of the OCA. Respondent committed the infraction twice, yet failed to fully explain the circumstances that led to the repeated omissions. Hence, there no reason to overturn or mitigate the penalty recommended by the OCA. Ricardo Dela Cruz et al., vs. Ma.
Gross insubordination is the indifference of a respondent to an administrative complaint and to resolutions requiring a comment thereon. The offense is deemed punishable, because every employee in the judiciary should not only be an example of integrity, uprightness, and honesty; more than anyone else, they are bound to manifest utmost respect and obedience to their superiors’ orders and instructions.Ricardo Dela Cruz et al., vs. Ma. Consuelo Jole A. Fajardo, Sheriff IV, RTC, Br. 93, San Pedro, Laguna. A.M. No. P-12-3064, June 18, 2012.
Court personnel; gross misconduct and dishonesty. The Code of Conduct for Court Personnel stresses that employees of the judiciary serve as sentinels of justice, and any act of impropriety on their part immeasurably affects the honor and dignity of the Judiciary and the people’s confidence in it. No other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an employee than in the Judiciary. Thus, the failure of judicial employees to live up to their avowed duty constitutes a transgression of the trust reposed in them as court officers and inevitably leads to the exercise of disciplinary authority. By these standards, respondent was found wanting, as she never denied the allegations that she had stolen and encashed the ₱30,000 check payable to Judge Rojas. She did not even refute the allegations of Dauz and Corpuz that she misrepresented to both of them that she had authority to encash the check. Worse, neither did she ever deny the allegations pertaining to her previous acts of stealing from and paying off her obligations to other trial court judges. She has virtually admitted her wrongdoing.
Whether or not respondent has fully settled her obligation to Judge Rojas, and to the other trial court judges for that matter, will not exonerate her from any administrative wrongdoing. This Court in Villaseñor v. De Leon has emphasized that full payment of an obligation does not discharge the administrative liability, because disciplinary actions involve not purely private matters, but acts unbecoming of a public employee. The Court ruled that respondent’s admitted acts of pocketing checks and later encashing them for her benefit constitute grave misconduct. The Court has defined grave misconduct as follows:
Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer; and the misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, such as willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules, which must be established by substantial evidence.
Furthermore, stealing the checks and encashing them are considered acts of gross dishonesty. Dishonesty is defined as a disposition to lie, cheat, deceive or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray.
The image of a court of justice is mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the personnel who work therein. Court employees are enjoined to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in their professional and private conduct in order to preserve the good name and integrity of the court of justice. Both gross misconduct and dishonesty are grave offenses that are punishable by dismissal even for the first offense. Penalties include forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification from reemployment in government service.
The mere expedient of resigning from the service will not extricate a court employee from the consequences of his or her acts. The Court has often ruled that resignation should not be used either as an escape or as an easy way out to evade an administrative liability or an administrative sanction. Thus, respondent was still held administratively liable for gross misconduct and dishonesty.Her resignation, however, would affect the penalties the Court may impose. The penalty of dismissal arising from the offense was rendered moot by virtue of her resignation. Thus, the recommendation of the OCA is appropriate under the circumstances. The Court imposed upon respondent the penalty of a fine in the amount of ₱40,000 with forfeiture of all benefits due her, except accrued leave credits, if any. The ₱40,000 fine shall be deducted from any such accrued leave credits, with respondent to be personally held liable for any deficiency that is directly payable to the Court. She was further declared disqualified from any future government service. The Court emphasized that all court employees, being public servants in an office dispensing justice, must always act with a high degree of professionalism and responsibility. Their conduct must not only be characterized by propriety and decorum, but must also be in accordance with the law and court regulations. To maintain the people’s respect and faith in the judiciary, court employees should be models of uprightness, fairness and honesty. They should avoid any act or conduct that would diminish public trust and confidence in the courts. Executive Judge Melanio C. Rojas, Jr. RTC Branch 25, Tagudin, Ilocos Sur vs. Ana Marivic L. Mina, Clerk III, RTC, Bracnh 25, Tagudin Ilocos Sur. A.M. No. P-10-2867, June 19, 2012
Court personnel; misconduct defined. In Arcenio v. Pagorogon, the Court defined misconduct as a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by the public officer. As differentiated from simple misconduct, in grave misconduct the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of established rule, must be manifest. 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, which must be established by substantial evidence. In this case, respondent was a mere Utility Worker who had no authority to take custody of the office attendance logbook, the DTRs of his office mates, let alone case records. Yet, respondent, taking advantage of his position as a Utility Worker and the access to the court records and documents which such position afforded him, repeatedly wrought havoc on the proper administration of justice by taking case records outside of the court’s premises and preoccupying his office mates with the time-consuming task of locating documents. Without doubt his actions constitute grave misconduct which merits the penalty of dismissal. However, in view of his resignation, the Court found it proper to instead impose on respondent the penalty of fine in the amount of P10,000 with forfeiture of benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. This of course is without prejudice to any criminal liability he may have already incurred.
As regards the 68 missing court records to date have not yet been found, the Court deemed it proper to order complainant to explain why she should not be disciplinarily dealt with in view of the apparent failure on her part to exercise due care in the custody of the said case records. Our courts of justice, regarded by the public as their haven for truth and justice, cannot afford and does not have the luxury of offering excuses to litigants for negligence in its role of safekeeping and preserving the records of cases pending before it. The consequences of such failure or negligence, if there be any, are simply too damaging not just for the parties involved but worse, for our court system as a whole. Clerk of Court Arlyn A. Hermano vs. Edwin D. Cardeno, Utility worker I, Municipal Trial Court, Cabuyao, Laguna. A.M. No. P-12-3036, June 20, 2012.
Court Personnel; Procedure in the service and execution of court writs and processes. There was a valid substituted service of summons in this case. As a rule, personal service of summons is preferred as against substituted service and substituted service can only be resorted to by the process server if personal service cannot be made promptly. Most importantly, the proof of substituted service of summons must (a) indicate the impossibility of service of summons within a reasonable time; (b) specify the efforts exerted to locate the defendant; and (c) state that the summons was served upon a person of sufficient age and discretion who is residing in the address, or who is in charge of the office or regular place of business, of the defendant. It is likewise required that the pertinent facts proving these circumstances be stated in the proof of service or in the officer’s return.
Based on the records, Sheriff Villar exhausted efforts to personally serve the summons to Spouses Tiu as indicated in his Sheriff’s Return of Summons. When it was apparent that the summons could not be served personally on the spouses, Sheriff Villar served the summons through Bauco, their employee, at the office address of the couple’s business. It was evident that Bauco was competent and of sufficient age to receive the summons on their behalf as she represented herself to be their General Manager and Caretaker.
The Sheriff also complied with the requirement of prior coordination as mandated in Administrative Circular No. 12 which lays down the guidelines and procedure in the service and execution of court writs and processes in the reorganized courts. Documentary evidence indeed discloses that Sheriff Villar of Pasay City coordinated with the Sheriff of Pasig City before he implemented the writ of preliminary attachment. In the Certification, the Clerk of Court of Pasig City attested to the fact that Sheriff Villar formally coordinated with their office in connection with the implementation of the writ of attachment. Attached to said certification is a certified true copy of Sheriff Villar’s request for coordination on which the word “received” was stamped by the Office of the Clerk of Court and Ex-officio Sheriff, RTC Pasig City.
By law, sheriffs are obligated to maintain possession of the seized properties absent any instruction to the contrary. In this case, the writ of preliminary attachment authorizing the trial court to legally hold the attached items was set aside by the RTC Order dated July 8, 2010 specifically ordering Sheriff Villar to immediately release the seized items to Spouses Tiu. The instruction of the trial court was clear and simple. Sheriff Villar was to return the seized properties to Spouses Tiu. He should have followed the court’s order immediately. He had no discretion to wait for the finality of the court’s order of dismissal before discharging the order of attachment. Nevertheless, Sheriff Villar showed no deliberate defiance of, or disobedience to, the court’s order of release. Records show that he took the proper step under the circumstances and filed with the trial court his Sheriff’s Report with Urgent Prayer for the Issuance of a Clarificatory Order. There was nothing amiss in consulting the judge before taking action on a matter of which he is not an expert. Spouses Rainier Tiu and Jennifer Tiu vs. Virgilio Villar, Sheriff IV, RTC, OCC Pasay City. A.M. No. P-11-2986, June 13, 2012
Judge; delay in rendering decisions. Judges are continuously reminded to resolve cases with dispatch to avoid any delay in the administration of justice. Thus, under Section 9 (1), Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, undue delay in rendering a decision or order is considered a less serious charge.
The Supreme Court ruled that the prudent course of action would have been for Judge Asis to request an extension for acting on Civil Case No. 05-35013 instead of disposing the case only after being prompted to file a comment on the present Complaint. The Court nevertheless deemed it proper to reduce the fine, considering the existence of factors that mitigated the commission of the offense, namely: (a) this is his first infraction, and (b) his delay in the disposition of the case resulted from his serious medical conditions. Leticia Jacinto vs. Judge Josephus Joannes H. Asis, MeTC, Br. 40, Quezon City A.M. No. MTJ-12-1811, June 13, 2012
Judge; delay in rendering decision. Section 15(1), Article VIII of the Constitution, mandates that cases or matters filed with the lower courts must be decided or resolved withinthree months from the date they are submitted for decision or resolution. With respect to cases falling under the Rule on Summary Procedure, first level courts are only allowed 30 days following the receipt of the last affidavit and position paper, or the expiration of the period for filing the same, within which to render judgment. As a general principle, rules prescribing the time within which certain acts must be done, or certain proceedings taken, are considered absolutely indispensable to the prevention of needless delays and the orderly and speedy discharge of judicial business. By their very nature, these rules are regarded as mandatory.
Judges are oft-reminded of their duty to promptly act upon cases and matters pending before their courts. Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, directs judges to dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods. Canons 6 and 7 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics further exhort judges to be prompt and punctual in the disposition and resolution of cases and matters pending before their courts.
In addition, Administrative Circular No. 1 dated January 28, 1988 once more reminds all magistrates to observe scrupulously the periods prescribed in Section 15, Article VIII of the Constitution, and to act promptly on all motions and interlocutory matters pending before their courts. Prompt disposition of cases is attained basically through the efficiency and dedication to duty of judges. If they do not possess those traits, delay in the disposition of cases is inevitable to the prejudice of litigants. Accordingly, judges should be imbued with a high sense of duty and responsibility in the discharge of their obligation to promptly administer justice.
Unfortunately, respondent failed to live up to the exacting standards of duty and responsibility that her position requires. The case was submitted for resolution on July 19, 2006, yet it was still pending when complainant filed the present administrative complaint on June 4, 2010, and remained unresolved per complainant’s manifestation filed on September 8, 2010. More than four years after being submitted for resolution, the case was still awaiting decision by respondent. Respondent irrefragably failed to decide the case within the 30-day period prescribed by the Revised Rule on Summary Procedure. This action is contrary to the rationale behind the Rule on Summary Procedure, which was precisely adopted to promote a more expeditious and inexpensive determination of cases, and to enforce the constitutional rights of litigants to the speedy disposition of cases. Indeed, respondent even failed to decide the case within the three-month period mandated in general by the Constitution for lower courts to decide or resolve cases. Records do not show that respondent made any previous attempt to report and request for extension of time to resolve the case.
Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, classifies undue delay in rendering a decision as a less serious charge for which the penalty is suspension from office without salary and other benefits for one month to three months, or a fine of P10,000.00 to P20,000.00. Given that respondent had been previously dismissed from the service, the penalty of suspension is already inapplicable. Instead, the Court imposed upon respondent, for her undue delay in resolving the case, a fine in the maximum amount of P20,000.00, to be deducted from her accrued leave credits Fe Valdez vs. Judge Lizabeth Gutierrez-Torres, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 60, Mandaluyong City. A.M. No. MTJ-11-1796, June 13, 2012.
Judge; gross abuse of authority and gross ignorance. In this case, the contempt charge was commenced not through a verified petition, but by Judge Belen motu proprio through the issuance of an order requiring State Prosecutor Comilang to show cause why he should not be cited for indirect contempt. As such, the requirements of the rules that the verified petition for contempt be docketed, heard and decided separately or consolidated with the principal action find no application. Consequently, Judge Belen was justified in not directing the contempt charge against State Prosecutor Comilang to be docketed separately or consolidated with the principal action. However, Judge Belen blatantly violated the injunctive writ issued by the CA enjoining the implementation of his May 30, 2005 Order and December 12, 2005 Decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 94069.
As pointed out by the OCA, the CA’s disquisition is clear and categorical. In complete disobedience to the said Resolution, however, Judge Belen proceeded to issue (1) the Order requiring State Prosecutor Comilang to explain his refusal to file the supersedeas bond and to require his presence in court on September 26, 2007, as well as to explain why he should not be cited for indirect contempt; (2) the September 26, 2007 Order seeking State Prosecutor Comilang’s explanation for his defiance of the subpoena requiring his presence at the hearing of even date, and directing, once again, his attendance at the next hearing on October 1, 2007 and to explain once more why he should not be cited for indirect contempt; and (3) the October 1, 2007 Order finding State Prosecutor Comilang guilty of indirect contempt and sentencing him to pay a fine of P30,000.00 and to suffer two days’ imprisonment. In requiring State Prosecutor Comilang to explain his non-filing of a supersedeas bond, in issuing subpoenas to compel his attendance before court hearings relative to the contempt proceedings, and finally, in finding him guilty of indirect contempt for his non-compliance with the issued subpoenas, Judge Belen effectively defeated the status quo which the writ of preliminary injunction aimed to preserve. State Prosecutors II Josef Albert T.
Judges are expected to exhibit more than just a cursory acquaintance with statutes and procedural laws. They must know the laws and apply them properly in good faith as judicial competence requires no less. Moreover, refusal to honor an injunctive order of a higher court constitutes contempt, as in this case, where Judge Belen, in contumaciously defying the injunctive order issued by the CA, was found guilty of indirect contempt. Judge Belen’s actuations cannot be considered as mere errors of judgment that can be easily brushed aside. Obstinate disregard of basic and established rule of law or procedure amounts to inexcusable abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law. Likewise, citing State Prosecutor Comilang for indirect contempt notwithstanding the effectivity of the CA-issued writ of injunction demonstrated his vexatious attitude and bad faith towards the former, for which he must be held accountable and subjected to disciplinary action. Our conception of good judges has been, and is, of men who have a mastery of the principles of law, who discharge their duties in accordance with law. Hence considering the foregoing disquisitions and Judge Belen’s previous infractions, which are all of serious nature and for which he had been severely warned, the Court adopted the recommendation of the OCA to mete the ultimate penalty of dismissal against Judge Belen for grave abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law. The Court can no longer afford to be lenient in this case, lest it give the public the impression that incompetence and repeated offenders are tolerated in the judiciary. State Prosecutors II Josef Albert T. Comilang and Ms. Victoria Sunega-Lagman vs. Judge Medel Arnaldo B. Belen, RTC, Branch 36, Calamba City. A.M. No. RTJ-10-2216, June 26, 2012.
Judge; gross ignorance of the law. Not all administrative complaints against judges merit a corresponding penalty. In the absence of fraud, dishonesty or corruption, the acts of a judge in his judicial capacity are not subject to disciplinary action. The remedy of the complainants in this case is judicial in nature. Hence, the denial of their motion for reconsideration of the Supreme Court’s Resolution dismissing the administrative case against Judge Lubao is in order.
The records would show that Judge Lubao had been very careful in his actions on the case, as his branch clerk of court even wrote the Post Office of General Santos City asking for certification as to when the Order, sent under Registry Receipt, was received by the defendants. There was no evidence that Judge Lubao acted arbitrarily or in bad faith. Further, Judge Lubao could not be faulted for trying to give all the parties an opportunity to be heard considering that the records of the case would show that the court a quo summarily dismissed the case without issuing summons to the defendants. Juvy P. Ciocon-Reer, et al., vs. Judge Antonio C. Lubao, RTC Br. 22, General Santos City, A.M. OCA IPI No. 09-3210-RTJ, June 20, 2012.
Judge; gross ignorance of the law. The respondent deserves to be sanctioned for gross ignorance of the law. With her inaction on the petition for contempt, she betrayed her unbecoming lack of familiarity with basic procedural rules such as what was involved in the contempt proceedings before her court. She should have known that while the petitioners have the responsibility to move ex parte to have the case scheduled for preliminary conference, the court (through the branch clerk of court) has the duty to schedule the case for pre-trial in the event that the petitioners fail to file the motion. The respondent cannot pass the blame for the lack of movement in the case to her staff who, she claims, were monitoring the case. As presiding judge, she should account for the anomaly that since the respondents filed their answer, the petition for contempt had been gathering dust or had not moved in the respondent’s court. Clearly, the respondent fell short of the standards of competence and legal proficiency expected of magistrates of the law in her handling of the petition for contempt. As in Magpali v. Pardo, she should be fined P10,000.00 for gross ignorance of the law. It bears stressing that when the law is so elementary, not to know it or to act as if one does not know it constitutes gross ignorance of the law.” Eladio D.Perfecto vs. Judge Alma Consuelo Desales-Esideria, A.M. No. RTJ-11-2258, June 20, 2012.
Judges; inhibition. Judicial remedies were available to complainant in the main cases. The allegations in the instant complaint are a mere rehash of the allegations in complainant’s Urgent Omnibus Motion to Expunge Motion for Clarification and Recall the Resolution dated November 13, 2002 and the Urgent Motion to Inhibit and the Resolve Respondent’s Urgent Omnibus Motion filed in the main cases. These were in fact decided already on October 19, 2011. The Complainant charges Justice Sereno of unfairly refusing to inhibit herself from taking part in the deliberation in the main cases notwithstanding that Justice Carpio’s former law office supposedly worked for her appointment in the Supreme Court. The charge is purely conjectural and the Court, in its April 17, 2012 per curiam decision in A.C. No. 6332 has already ruled that the charge has no “extrinsic factual evidence to support it.” Re: Letter-Complaint Against Hon. Justices Antonio T. Carpio and Maria Loudes P.A Sereno dated September 16, 2011 filed by Atty. Magdaleno M. Pena, A.M. No. 12-6-11-SC. June 13, 2012.
Judges; undue delay in rendering a decision or order. Delay in case disposition is a major culprit in the erosion of public faith and confidence in the judiciary and the lowering of its standards. Failure to decide cases within the reglementary period, without strong and justifiable reasons, constitutes gross inefficiency warranting the imposition of administrative sanction on the defaulting judge.
In this case, the decision was purportedly issued on 7 April 2011, or more than four months since the last submission of the parties’ position paper. The pretrial Order was purportedly issued on 26 January 2010, or more than three months since the pretrial. Section 8 of the Rules on Summary Procedure provides that within five days after the termination of the preliminary conference, the court shall issue an order stating the matters taken up therein.
Further, paragraph 8, Title I(A) of A.M. No. 03-1-09-SC, entitled “Guidelines to be Observed by Trial Court Judges and Clerks of Court in the Conduct of Pre-Trial and Use of Deposition-Discovery Measures,” mandates that a judge must issue a pretrial order within 10 days after the termination of the pretrial. Since the ejectment case fell under the Rules on Summary Procedure, respondent judge should have handled it with promptness and haste. The reason for the adoption of those Rules is precisely to prevent undue delays in the disposition of cases, an offense for which respondent judge may be held administratively liable. Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court classifies undue delay in rendering a decision or order as a less serious charge, which under Section 1(b) of the same Rule is punishable with suspension from office, without salary and other benefits, for not less than one (1) nor more than three (3) months; or a fine of more than ₱10,000, but not exceeding ₱20,000. Considering that the instant administrative charge is only the third against respondent judge (the first has been dismissed, while the second is still pending), and considering his relatively long tenure in the judiciary starting in 1997, he may be reasonably meted out a penalty of ₱5,000 for being administratively liable for undue delay in rendering a decision. Pilar S. Tanoco vs. Judge Inocencio B. Saguin, Jr. MTCC Br. 3, Cabanatuan City. A.M. No. MTJ-12-1812. June 20, 2012.
Judge; unreasonable delay in the disposition of cases. Judges have the sworn duty to administer justice without undue delay, for justice delayed is justice denied. They have always been exhorted to observe strict adherence to the rule on speedy disposition of cases, as delay in case disposition is a major culprit in the erosion of public faith and confidence in the judicial system. Under the 1987 Constitution, trial judges are mandated to decide and resolve cases within 90 days from submission. Corollary to this constitutional mandate, Section 5, Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary requires judges to perform all judicial duties efficiently, fairly, and with reasonable promptness. In Office of the Court Administrator v. Javellana, the Court held that a judge cannot choose his deadline for deciding cases pending before him. Without an extension granted by the Court, the failure to decide even a single case within the required period constitutes gross inefficiency that merits administrative sanction. If a judge is unable to comply with the period for deciding cases or matters, he can, for good reasons, ask for an extension.
An inexcusable failure to decide a case within the prescribed 90-day period constitutes gross inefficiency, warranting the imposition of administrative sanctions such as suspension from office without pay or fine on the defaulting judge. The fines imposed vary in each case, depending chiefly on the number of cases not decided within the reglementary period and other factors, such as the presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances, the damage suffered by the parties as a result of the delay, the health and age of the judge, and other analogous circumstances.
In this case, records are bereft of showing that Judge Buenavista sought for an extension of time to decide and resolve most of the cases pending before him, save only for one instance. Having therefore failed to decide cases and resolve incidents within the required period constituted gross inefficiency, warranting the imposition of a fine of P10,000.00 which the Court finds reasonable under the circumstances. Re: Report of the Judicial Audit Conducted in the Regional trial Court, Branches 72 and 22, Narvacan Ilocos Sur. A.M. No. 06-9-525-RTC, June 13, 2012.
Public Officials; SALNs. While no prohibition could stand against access to official records, such as the SALN, the same is undoubtedly subject to regulation. Section 8 (c) and (d) of R.A. No. 6713 provides for the limitation and prohibition on the regulated access to SALNs of government officials and employees as well as the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. No. 6713. The power to regulate the access by the public to these documents stems from the inherent power of the Court, as custodian of these personal documents, to control its very office to the end that damage to, or loss of, the records may be avoided; that undue interference with the duties of the custodian of the books and documents and other employees may be prevented; and that the right of other persons entitled to make inspection may be insured. In this connection, Section 11 of the R.A 6173 provides for the penalties in case there should be a misuse of the SALN and the information contained therein. The Court found no reason to deny the public access to the SALN, PDS and CV of the Justices of the Court and other magistrates of the Judiciary subject, of course, to the limitations and prohibitions provided in R.A. No. 6713, its implementing rules and regulations, and in the guidelines set forth in the decretal portion.
The Court noted the valid concerns of the other magistrates regarding the possible illicit motives of some individuals in their requests for access to such personal information and their publication. However, custodians of public documents must not concern themselves with the motives, reasons and objects of the persons seeking access to the records. The moral or material injury which their misuse might inflict on others is the requestor’s responsibility and lookout. Any publication is made subject to the consequences of the law. While public officers in the custody or control of public records have the discretion to regulate the manner in which records may be inspected, examined or copied by interested persons, such discretion does not carry with it the authority to prohibit access, inspection, examination, or copying of the records. After all, public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.
The Supreme Court also provided the following guidelines:
1. All requests shall be filed with the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Tax Appeals; for the lower courts, with the Office of the Court Administrator; and for attached agencies, with their respective heads of offices.
2. Requests shall cover only copies of the latest SALN, PDS and CV of the members, officials and employees of the Judiciary, and may cover only previous records if so specifically requested and considered as justified, as determined by the officials mentioned in par. 1 above, under the terms of these guidelines and the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. No. 6713.
3. In the case of requests for copies of SALN of the Justices of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals, the authority to disclose shall be made by the Court En Banc.
4. Every request shall explain the requesting party’s specific purpose and their individual interests sought to be served; shall state the commitment that the request shall only be for the stated purpose; and shall be submitted in a duly accomplished request form secured from the SC website. The use of the information secured shall only be for the stated purpose.
5. In the case of requesting individuals other than members of the media, their interests should go beyond pure or mere curiosity.
6. In the case of the members of the media, the request shall additionally be supported by proof under oath of their media affiliation and by a similar certification of the accreditation of their respective organizations as legitimate media practitioners.
7. The requesting party, whether as individuals or as members of the media, must have no derogatory record of having misused any requested information previously furnished to them. Re: Request for copy of 2008 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth [SALN] and Personal Data Sheet or Curriculum Vitae of the Justices of the Supreme Court and Officers and Employees of the Judiciary/ Re; Request of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism [PCIJ] for the 2008 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth [SALN] and Personal Data Sheets of the Court of Appeals Justices, A.M. No. 09-8-6-SC/A.M. No. 09-8-07-CA. June 13, 2012.
Retirement under R.A 910; Retirement vs. Resignation. Resignation and retirement are two distinct concepts carrying different meanings and legal consequences in our jurisdiction. While an employee can resign at any time, retirement entails the compliance with certain age and service requirements specified by law and jurisprudence. Resignation stems from the employee’s own intent and volition to resign and relinquish his/her post. Retirement takes effect by operation of law. In terms of severance to one’s employment, resignation absolutely cuts-off the employment relationship in general; in retirement, the employment relationship endures for the purpose of the grant of retirement benefits. RA No. 910, as amended allows the grant of retirement benefits to a justice or judge who has either retired from judicial service or resigned from judicial office. In case of retirement, a justice or judge must show compliance with the age and service requirements as provided in RA No. 910, as amended. The second sentence of Section 1 imposes the following minimum requirements for optional retirement:
(a) must have attained the age of sixty (60) years old; and
(b) must have rendered at least fifteen (15) years service in the Government, the last three (3) of which shall have been continuously rendered in the Judiciary.
Strict compliance with the age and service requirements under the law is the rule and the grant of exception remains to be on a case to case basis. The Court allows seeming exceptions to these fixed rules for certain judges and justices only and whenever there are ample reasons to grant such exception.
On the other hand, resignation under RA No. 910, as amended must be by reason of incapacity to discharge the duties of the office. In Britanico, it was held that the resignation contemplated under RA No. 910, as amended must have the element of involuntariness on the part of the justice or judge. More than physical or mental disability to discharge the judicial office, the involuntariness must spring from the intent of the justice or judge who would not have parted with his/her judicial employment were it not for the presence of circumstances and/or factors beyond his/her control.
In either of the two instances above-mentioned, Judge Macarambon’s case does not render him eligible to retire under RA No. 910,as amended. First, Judge Macarambon failed to satisfy the age requirement since he was less than 60 years of age when he resigned from his judicial office before transferring to the COMELEC. Likewise, he failed to satisfy the service requirement not having been in continuous service with the Judiciary for three (3) years prior to his retirement. Second, Judge Macarambon’s resignation was not by reason of incapacity to discharge the duties of the office. His separation from judicial employment was of his own accord and volition. Thus, the ruling in Britanico cannot be properly applied to his case since his resignation was voluntary. Third, there are no exceptional reasons to justify Judge Macarambon’s request. Judge Macarambon failed to present similar circumstances, i.e., the presence of available and sufficient accumulated leave credits which we may tack in to comply with the age requirement. A verification from the Leave Division, OCA shows that at the time he left the Court Judge Macarambon only had 514 vacation leaves and 79 sick leaves which are insufficient to cover the gap in the age of retirement. Moreover, these accumulated leave credits were all forwarded to the COMELEC upon his transfer. Finally, unlike in Britanico, the nature of his separation from his judicial office was voluntary.
However, although Judge Macarambon is not qualified to retire under RA No. 910, as amended, he may retire under RA No. 1616 based on the documents he had presented before the Court which meets the age and service requirements under the said law. Re: Application for Retirement of Judge Moslemen Macarambon under Republic Act No. 910, as amended by Republic Act No. 9946, A.M. No. 14061-RET, June 19, 2012.
(Mon thanks Jennifer Go for assisting in the preparation of this post).