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Ricafranca v. Judge Lopez Complainant Pastor O. Ricafranca, Jr.

filed this administrative complaint against respondent Judge Lilia C. Lopez for violation of Rule 1.02, Canon 1 and Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct which read: "Rule 1.02.--A judge should administer justice impartially and without delay. Rule 3.05.--A judge shall dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required periods." Complainant was the accused in Criminal Case No. 93-3796 tried before Branch 109, Regional Trial Court of Pasay City presided by respondent judge. He alleged that the case was submitted for decision in February 1994, but it was set for promulgation of judgment only on September 3, 1999. The scheduled promulgation, however, was reset to October 15, 1999 due to the absence of respondent judge. During the promulgation, respondent judge read only the dispositive portion of the decision convicting complainant of attempted homicide and thereafter asked complainant's counsel if he was appealing the decision. Respondent judge required complainant to post a bond after his counsel manifested that they would appeal the judgment of conviction. Before leaving the courtroom, complainant's counsel asked for a copy of the decision but respondent judge told them that they would be furnished with a copy later as there was something to add to the decision. On October 18 and 19, 1999, complainant's wife, Yolanda Ricafranca went to the office of respondent judge to obtain a copy of the decision, to no avail. On October 22, 1999, complainant filed with the trial court a notice of appeal although it stated that they have not yet received a copy of the decision. It was only on October 26, 1999 that the trial court mailed a copy of the decision to complainant's counsel. Commenting on the complaint, respondent judge narrated that during the time referred to in the complaint, she was suffering from a serious ailment and at the same time, she was also heavily burdened with family, as well as other official responsibilities. She stated: "That on or about those dates, the undersigned was in and out of the hospital for the removal of a mass on both (sic) her uterus and in fact was scheduled for operation several times and was rolled in and out of the operating table (sic) five (5) times only to be brought out of the operating room

upon advice of her cardiologist because of extremely high blood pressure. Likewise, on or about said times, she lost both her parents and had to take care of her handicapped sister (a retardate) and a brother (who is suffering from nervous breakdown and always lost his way) and the undersigned single-handedly has to look for him least (sic) he dies of hunger and exposure to the elements, thus even aggravating further her health condition. Additionally, she was designated as one of the Special Criminal Courts and lately as the only Family Court continuously hearing cases mornings and afternoons not to mention her administrative duties as a former executive judge and representing courts in other official functions. Further, all the records of this case has been forwarded to the Court of Appeals and her schedule prevented her from borrowing or going over the records of the instant case." Upon evaluation of the complaint and respondent judge's comment, the Office of the Court Administrator found respondent judge guilty of the charge and recommended that a fine of twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) be imposed upon her. In our resolution dated August 28, 2000, this case was docketed as a regular administrative matter and the parties were required to manifest if they are willing to submit the case for resolution based on the pleadings filed. Complainant filed his manifestation dated September 18, 2000 stating that he is willing to submit the case for resolution based on the pleadings. Respondent, on the other hand, filed her compliance with the resolution of August 28, 2000 and therein denied all the allegations in the complaint and claimed that the complaint at bar was only meant to harass her. She nonetheless stated that she "defers to the wisdom of this Honorable Court in the disposition of the instant administrative complaint."1 We observe that although respondent judge denied the charges in her compliance with the resolution of August 28, 2000, she never controverted the same in her comment to the complaint and instead offered an explanation for the delay in the disposition of Criminal Case No. 93-3796. Her failure to controvert the allegations in the complaint amounts to an admission of these

allegations. Respondent's admission renders unnecessary the holding of a formal investigation in this case. We find the respondent administratively liable for excessive delay in deciding Criminal Case No. 93-3796. The records show that the case was submitted for decision on February 16, 1994 after the accused has made his offer of evidence and the trial court has acted thereon.2 Respondent had three (3) months from said date within which to decide the case in accordance with Section 15, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution.3 However, the case was only decided five (5) years later, on October 15, 1999.4 The Court has always impressed upon all members of the judiciary the need to decide cases promptly and expeditiously on the principle that justice delayed is justice denied.5 The Code of Judicial Conduct enjoins judges to administer justice impartially and without delay.6 They must dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.7 Failure of a judge to decide a case within the prescribed period is inexcusable and constitutes gross inefficiency warranting a disciplinary sanction.8 We note that this is not the first time that an administrative case was filed against respondent judge for delay in deciding a case pending before her sala. In 1997, in the case of Dizon vs. Lopez,9 the Court reprimanded respondent judge for a similar offense. Nonetheless, we also note, as in the case of Dizon, that there were factors beyond the control of respondent that prevented her from giving her full attention to her official duties and responsibilities at the time. Aside from the fact that she was afflicted with a grave illness, she also had to take care of her sister and brother who were both suffering some disability. Although these do not justify her failure, they nonetheless serve to mitigate her culpability. In the light of these circumstances, we hold that the imposition of a fine of five thousand pesos upon respondent judge is just and reasonable.10 Lachica v. Flordeliza In the instant case, this Court once again deals with the standard of behavior and decorum expected of magistrates of the law. In an affidavit-Complaint 1 dated October 7, 1993, Dr. Amparo A. Lachica, the Municipal Health Officer of Jose Abad Santos, Davao del Sur, charged the respondent, Judge Rolando A. Flordeliza of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Jose Abad Santos-Sarangani, Davao del Sur, with abuse of judicial position and intimidation, for

allegedly compelling her to sign a death certificate even though she was not the attending physician. Due to the conflicting averments in the Complaint-Affidavit, respondent's Comment/Discussion and complainant's Reply to Comment, along with their respective annexes consisting of affidavits of witnesses, this Court, thru its First Division, issued a Resolution on May 11, 1994 referring the case to Judge Magno C. Cruz 2 for investigation, report, and recommendation. The latter submitted his Report and Recommendation 3 dated July 24, 1995, based on the documentary evidence and submissions of the parties, consistent with the summary mode of procedure they had earlier agreed to adopt in order to facilitate the speedy disposition of this case. The Antecedent Facts Since the findings of fact as contained in said Report and Recommendation are substantiated by the evidence on record, the same are herein adopted, to wit: That on the morning of 12 August 1993, while complainant was at the Tomasa Lachica District Hospital, Dina Masaglang and Norma Puton were referred to her for the signing of the Death Certificate of Hilario Kiawan. Knowing the importance of a death certificate and considering that the deceased was not her patient and that she has no personal knowledge of the cause of his death, she refused to sign the certificate and told them that the attending physician in General Santos City should sign the same. Complainant politely explained her reasons for refusing but the two women insisted that complainant sign it because General Santos is very far and the Municipal Judge will no longer be around after the Fiesta. Despite their repeated insistence, complainant did not sign the Certificate. Later in the afternoon, the two women returned to the hospital, handed over to complainant the death certificate and arrogantly demanded "Pirmahan mo daw sabi ni Judge Flordeliza." Again, complainant refused. Complainant did not pay much attention. to the aforesaid incidents, thinking that the two women were engaged in name-dropping. However, later in the evening, during the Municipal Employees Night Party, Judge Flordeliza, through the Municipal Assessor,

invited Dr. Lachica to sit next to him. When she was seated, Judge Flordeliza, who was drunk, told her in an angry manner: "Bakit hindi mo pinirmahan ang Death Certificate?" Complainant tried to explain her reasons but no to avail. After exchanges of words, respondent threatened complainant that he will file an administrative case against her if she will refuse to sign the death certificate. Complainant further avers that on 13 August 1993, on her way to the Health Center, she again met Dina Masaglang and Norma Puton and without saying anything, the latter handed to her the Death Certificate. She (complainant) again refused and advised the two women to let the attending physician of General Santos sign the Certificate. Respondent, in his comment, dated 13 December 1993, denied all the accusations against him and narrated his version of the story. He avers that he did not order said two women to force complainant to sign the death Certificate; that he has no interest in the case; that the two women are not his relatives nor even casual friends; that during the Municipal Employees Night Party, he could not have been drunk when he talked with complainant because the conversation took place shortly after his arrival (accompanied by P02 Tayong) and the drinks were served only after the end of the program; that the incident took place after he was offered to join the table occupied by Mayor Jeol [sic] Lachica and his group: that upon seeing Dr. Lachica, respondent invited her for a conversation which she accepted; that in a casual conversation, in good faith and without malice, he inquired casually why complainant refused to sign the certificate when it should be signed in Jose Abad Santos where the deceased died; that after the conversation and before rejoining her group, complainant requested respondent to inform the two ladies to see her at the Health Center the following day. Respondent claims that the allegations of Dr. Lachica are contrary to human experience. It is not usual for a stranger like him to coerce, intimidate and threaten complainant in the presence of her influential relatives like Mayor Joel Lachica, Municipal Kagawad David Lachica, Jr., and Dr. Ignacio Matbagan.

To substantiate respondent's allegations, he submitted Affidavits of Lolita Pardios, Interpreter, Norma Puton, P02 Nestor Branzuela, Domingo Ambaan, Jr., and P02 C. Tayong. In her reply, complainant denied the allegations of respondent and reiterated her charges against him, saying that respondent lied when he said that they talked at a table with Mayor Lachica. Mayor Lachica attested (Annex "A" Rollo, p. 29) that he was not with them at their table during the incident; that if Judge Flordeliza has really no interest in the case, he would not have summoned complainant to his table and lectured her on the importance of the death certificate. In rebuttal, complainant submitted a copy of at the "Daily Disposition of Troops of Jose Abad Santos Police Station" (Annex "B" of the reply) to show that P02 Tayong was not with the group of the Judge, thus, he could not have witnessed the incident. She likewise submitted an Affidavit of David Lachica who was with Judge Flordeliza in a drinking spree hours before the party. (Rollo, p. 35). The Issue: Credibility The investigating judge summed up the issue posed for resolution as being a factual question of whether respondent-judge is guilty as charged of abuse of judicial position and intimidation amounting to violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. He added, "The resolution of this issue hinges mainly on credibility." The investigating judge made the following evaluation of the evidence on record: 4 The original affidavit complaint of Dr. Amparo Lachica, as well as, her Comment to the Reply of the respondent-judge to said affidavit, cannot be taken lightly. On the other hand, the comment to the affidavit-complaint by the respondent-judge is replete with denials of his alleged act of coercing and intimidating said lady physician for refusing to sign a Death Certificate of a deceased person involved in a case pending in his Court. The counter-affidavits of the respondent's witnesses, more particularly, those witnesses who were allegedly present during the incident were all belied by the affidavits executed by persons who are not expected to fabricate the same for

purposes of lending credence to the complaint of the complainant-physician. One of them was the incumbent Mayor of Jose Abad Santos, Davao del Sur, Hon. Joel Lachica, who appears to be related to both the complainant and the respondent. Likewise, the affidavit of P02 Louie C. Tayong (Exhibit "5"), has been belied by the excerpts of the Daily Disposition of Troops of the Jose Abad Santos Police Station, to show that said alleged witness to the incident could not have been present during said date. It is worthy to note that no counter-affidavit has been submitted by the respondent-judge as regards Exhibit "I" and sub-markings, which show a photograph taken during the pre-fiesta celebration at Jose Abad Santos, Davao del Sur, on August 13, 1993, the date of the incident, showing the respondent-judge with a group of persons who were drinking beer, and with said respondent-Judge clearly inebriated. Even without going over each and every affidavits (sic) and counter-affidavits (sic) filed by both parties, it is very evident that the imputation of misconduct by the respondent-Judge have (sic) been proven by substantial evidence which is the quantum of proof required in administrative cases. Granting that the respondentJudge has not intimidated or coerced the complainant in issuing a Certificate of Death precipitating the filing of this Complaint, we cannot see our way clear why said respondent-Judge should be interested in such trivial matter which could be well attended to by the Prosecutor in the case where said Certificate is a subject of inquiry. A judge is not supposed to be an active combatant in court proceedings and must leave it to the parties themselves to secure their evidence and argue their respective positions on any matter without his participation. It should be recognized that the Judge's role is to decide and not to litigate. (Emphasis supplied) Summing up, the recommendation: Investigating Judge made the following

CONFORMABLY WITH THE FOREGOING, the undersigned Investigator respectfully recommends to hold respondent JUDGE ROLANDO A. FLORDELIZA administratively liable for Violation of Canons 1 and 2 of

the Code of Judicial Conduct and impose on him a fine of TEN THOUSAND (P10,000.00) PESOS, with a stern warning that a repitition (sic) of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely. The Court's Ruling As noted by the Investigating Judge, this is yet another occasion for reminding members of the bench to conduct themselves beyond reproach, not only in the discharge of their official duties, but in their private lives as well. Canons 1 and 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provide as follows: Canon 1. A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary. xxx xxx xxx Canon 2. A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities. On the other hand, item 3 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics reads: 3. Avoidance of Appearance of Impropriety. A judge's official conduct should be free from the appearance of impropriety, and his personal behaviour, not only upon the bench and in the performance of judicial duties, but also in his everyday life, should be beyond reproach. From all the foregoing, as well as the evidence on record, this Court is convinced that the charge of misconduct against the respondent judge has been established by substantial evidence, which is the quantum of proof required in administrative cases. 5 His undue interest in having complainant sign the Death Certificate is highly questionable, to say the least. Further, his inebriated demeanor and incoherent behavior during the festivities, as attested to by a witness 6, is reprehensible in a judge and should be subjected to disciplinary action. As previously held by this Court: The undue surrender of respondent Judge to the proddings of his self-defined pleasure failed him in his duty to conduct himself within the confines of propriety and to behave in a manner shorn of reproach. When he yieled to the strength of the "spirit", losing judicial

composure and acting like an uninhibited drunkard in the streets and public places, he not only stripped himself of his dignity as a man but disrobed the court of the respect of the people it serves. Such act demeans his judicial office and elicits suspicion of his capacity to discharge justice. The apprehension may lie where such suspicion may be stretched too far by the people themselves and may unduly include the whole judicial machinery. And that would lay the way for the people to weaken, if not lose, their faith in the administration of justice. 7 A similar pronouncement was made in the case of Arcenio vs. Pagorogon 8: . . . as we have often stated, "(a)lthough every office in the government service is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand on moral righteousness and uprightness of an individual than a seat in the Judiciary. A magistrate of the law must comport himself at all times in such manner that his conduct, official or other wise, can bear the most searching scrutiny of the public that looks up to him as the epitome of integrity and justice" (Dia-Anonuevo vs. Bercasio, 68 SCRA 81, 89 [1975]). WHEREFORE, in view of the above considerations, respondent Judge ROLANDO A. FLORDELIZA is hereby HELD ADMINISTRATIVELY LIABLE for violation of Canons 1 and 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct as well as item 3 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics and is hereby FINED in the amount of TEN THOUSAND (P10,000.00) PESOS, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely. Let a copy of this decision be spread on the records of the respondent judge. Paz v. Tiong The instant administrative case was initiated by Judge Segundo B. Paz, Presiding Judge of Branch 54 of the Regional Trial Court, of the First Judicial Region stationed in Alaminos, Pangasinan, when he sent the following letter dated August 18, 1994, to the Court Administrator: August 18, 1994

THE COURT SUPREME MANILA. Sir:

HON.

ERNANI

CRUZ PAO ADMINISTRATOR COURT

The undersigned, who is the Presiding Judge of Branch 54 of the Regional Trial Court in Alaminos, Pangasinan, respectfully informed your good office about the action of Honorable Antonio V. Tiong, the Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court of Bolinao, Pangasinan, in connection with a case which is pending before the sala of the undersigned. Criminal Case No. 2859-A which is for Aggravated Illegal Possession of Firearm and Ammunitions wherein the accused is Ernesto Tugade, was raffled to the sala of the undersigned. A Motion for Bail was filed on August 10, 1994 and the same was set for hearing on August 16, 1994. At the hearing, no abjection was made to the Motion by the Government Prosecutor. The undersigned granted the said motion for bail and set the amount of P50,000.00 as his bond. A copy of the said Order is hereto attached as Annex A. The same afternoon, the wife of the accused presented a bailbond of the accused and an Order of Release issued by Judge Tiong. The bailbond of Ernesto Tugade and the Order of Release are hereto attached as Annexes B and C. Upon examination of the bond papers and the Order of Release submitted to the undersigned, the dates thereon is August 15, 1994 or a day before hearing of the Motion for Bail. In other words, even before the Motion for Bail was resolved, Judge Tiong has already issued an Order for the release of the accused. Moreover, when the undersigned showed Annexes B and C to the Executive Judge, Hon. Vivencio A. Bantugan of Branch 55 of this Court, the latter stated that Judge Tiong filed a one day leave for August l5, 1994 and that the leave was favorably endorsed to your office by Judge Bantugan on the same date. In view of the foregoing, the undersigned respectfully brings this matter to your attention for whatever action your office deems fit to undertake.

Thank you very much.. (p. 2, Rollo.) Required to comment, respondent averred:. That the days prior to August 15, 1994, the undersigned experienced gastro abdominal pain and aching of both his lower ribs; That on the 15th day of August 1994, despite the pain and aching, reported to the Court in the early office hour in the morning in view of the desire of the undersigned to attend to some paper works for and over view of the Court cases set for hearing for the day, Criminal Case No. 762, entitled People of the Philippines vs. Domingo Caacbay and Civil Case No. 782, entitled Spouses Edeluisa P. Peralta, et al. vs. Braulio Jacalan, et al., both set in the afternoon Court Calendar, xerox copies hereto attached as Annexes "A" and "B", respectively; That notwithstanding the increasing pain and aching, undersigned managed to withstand and at this juncture, a person representing to act in behalf of accused Ernesto Tugade, for bail purposes, in criminal case no. 2859-A, for Aggravated Illegal Possession of Firearms before the Regional Trial Court of Alaminos, Pangasinan, appeared before this Court with information of the grant of right to bail of by the accused by the Regional Trial Court carrying a blank bailbond form and some pertinent papers relative thereto; That as an Office Standing Operating Procedure (SOP), undersigned the instructed the person to consult and refer the matter to Clerk of Court of this office for verification and for proper affixation of their initial as an indication of the completeness of the corresponding pertinent papers and documents of the said bailbond, some few samples of the abundant Orders of Release bearing their initials of personnel of this office as evidence of the Standing Operating Procedure long been existing, are submitted by the undersigned for ready perusal and consideration, xerox copies hereto attached as Annexes, "C", "D" & "E", respectively; That undersigned was disturbed by the intermittent pain and aching, but forced himself to ignore it, on the belief that it

will subside, as in the previous days after taking palliative pills; That it was the time when the above mentioned person returned inside the Court's chamber with the prepared Order of the Release bearing the corresponding initial by one of the personnel of this Court, and as, above stated is safe indication of the completeness of the required supporting pertinent papers, the undersigned nonetheless went on to examine the documents and the bailbond while in the state of laboring in pain and aching of the ribs, xerox copy of the initiated Order of Released hereto attached as Annex "F"; That to the vivid recollection of the undersigned, there was at the time, a purported order issued by the Regional Trial Court, Alaminos, Pangasinan, granting the accused Ernesto Tugade the right to bail, a bond fixed by the said Court in the amount of P50,000.00, otherwise the undersigned have not acted on the matter in the absence of that basic important essential requirement, affidavit of Romulo C. Villareal hereto attached as Annex "G"; That a bond in the amount of P50,000.00 as set in the Order of the Regional Trial Court, a property bailbond was on the basis thereof accordingly accomplished, duly initialed, so that have there been indeed no Order, the undersigned has no basis as to how much was the bond of the accused Ernesto Tugade, which was really the amount fixed by the Regional Trial Court, xerox copy hereto attached as Annex "H"; That viewed from the circumstance above-stated no room for doubt was entertained by the undersigned, but to find legality and propriety for the issuance of the said Order of Release of the accused Ernesto Tugade, hence the signing; That after the undersigned have signed the bailbond and the Order of Release of to be exact at 11:30 o'clock in the morning of the same day of August 15, 1994, the pain and aching turned worst, severe and continuous, and it was upon the brotherly advice of Atty. Efren Peralta who was then in the Court house, to appear in the hearing of his two cases, for the undersigned to file sick leave of absence for immediate medical check up and treatment, thus explaining the circumstance of having signed the Order of Release although on sick leave of absence on said day, that it was performed before undersigned finally decided to go an sick leave when the pains and aching was beyond the point of

human endurance following the cancellation of the hearing of the two scheduled cases, affidavit of Atty. Efren Peralta, Sick Leave of Absence and Order of cancellation of hearing hereto attached as Annexes "I", "J" & "K", respectively; That undersigned immediately proceeded to the nearest resident physician of Bolinao, Pangasinan, in the person of Doctor Miguel R. de Perio, who is now abroad up to the present in the United States of America, for medical checkup and treatment; That the records of the undersigned can readily attest to the fact that on subsequent dates after August 15, 1994, several sick leaves of absence were further file by him due to his lingering ailment, who was finally constrained to undergo executive medical check-up and as recommended to be by means of ultrasound and nine X-ray shots, and as concrete proof and evidence thereof, are xerox copies of the result of the medical check-up, hereto attached as Annexes "L" and "M", respectively; That after consultation with the records of the case at the Regional Trial Court, Alaminos, Pangasinan, it consisted of forty seven (47) folios and it appears that the said order of release issued by the undersigned did not form part of the official records of the case, neither has it been utilized in the release of the accused nor serve any purpose whatsoever in connection with the case, xerox copy hereto attached is Annex "N"; That the undersigned acted favorably on the bailbond and Order of Release only after finding the supporting pertinent documents complete especially and Order of the Regional Trial Court, Alaminos, Pangasinan, granting the right to bail of the accused Ernesto Tugade, such fault duly corroborated by Atty. Efren P. Peralta and Romulo C. Villareal, in their affidavits already marked as Annexes "G" and "I", which were nevertheless did not form part of the officials Records of the case, affidavit of undersigned hereto attached as Annex "O"; (pp. 16-21, Rollo.) A reading of Judge Tiong's comment clearly shows that there is no factual issue involved. He admits that on August 15, 1994 he signed the bailbond and the Order of Release of Ernesto Tugade, the accused in Criminal Case No. 2859-A, pending before the

Regional Trial Court, Branch 54, Alaminos, Pangasinan and presided over by Judge Paz. Respondent had absolutely no authority to approve the bailbond and issue the order of release. He totally ignored or disregarded Section 14 of Rule 114, which reads: Sec. 14. Bail, where filed. (a) Bail in the amount fixed may be filed with the court where the case is pending, or, in the absence or unavailability of the judge thereof, with another branch of the same court within the province or city. If the accused is arrested in a province, city or municipality other than where the case is pending, bail may be filed also with any regional trial court of said place, or, if no judge thereof is available, with any metropolitan trial judge, municipal trial judge or municipal circuit trial judge therein. As afore-stated, Criminal Case No. 2859-A was pending before Branch 54 of the Regional Trial Court stationed in Alaminos, Pangasinan, and only said Regional Trial Court may approve the bailbond and issue the order of release. The record is devoid of any showing that no RTC judge was available to act on the bailbond. Neither does the record show that the accused was arrested in another province, city, or municipality. Respondent judge, therefore, had no reason or authority to act as he did. The defense interposed by respondent that "it appears that the said Order of Release issued by the undersigned did not form part of the official records of the case, neither has it been utilized in the release of the accused nor served any purpose whatsoever in connection with the case" is unavailing. It is immaterial whether or not the order of release issued by him was used by the accused in obtaining his release. Respondent judge is charged with approving the bailbond and issuing the order of release. His further defense that at the time he approved the bail bond he had a "vivid recollection" of an order of the Regional Trial Court of Alaminos, Pangasinan, "granting the accused Ernesto Tugade the right to bail, a bond fixed by the said court in the amount of P50,000.00" is obviously a figment of his imagination. According to Judge Paz, a motion for bail was filed on August 10, 1994 and set for hearing on August 16, 1994. However, respondent approved the bail bond and issued the order of release on August 15, 1994, or one day before the motion for bail was heard by judge Paz. Respondent's other excuse that he was on leave of absence on August 15, 1994, is likewise immaterial. As a matter of fact, it

would make matters worse for him if he were on leave of absence on August 15, 1994 for then he would have absolutely no authority to discharge the duties or exercise the powers of a judge. A judge's conduct should be above reproach, and in the discharge of his judicial duties he should be conscientious, studious, thorough, courteous, patient, punctual, just, impartial . . . (paragraph 31, Code of Judicial Ethics). It is patent that respondent Judge Tiong was remiss in observing the conduct expected of a member of the judiciary. He failed to exert such conscientiousness, studiousness, and thoroughness expected and demanded of a judge. WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Antonio V. Tiong is hereby found guilty of abuse of authority and ordered to pay a fine in the amount of Three Thousand (P3,000.00) Pesos. Munez v. Arino This is an administrative complaint 1 against respondent Judge Ciriaco C. Ario of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of San Francisco, Agusan del Sur for knowingly rendering an unjust judgment as defined and penalized under Article 204 of the Revised Penal Code. The complaint was originally filed with the Office of the Ombudsman which, after dismissing the case for lack of probable cause for filing in court, nevertheless referred the case to this Court "for possible administrative action against respondent." It appears that on December 26, 1989, Mayor Irisari of Loreto, Agusan del Sur summoned to his office herein complainant Apolinario S. Muez for conference respecting a land dispute which Muez had with one Tirso Amado. As complainant failed to attend the conference, Mayor Irisari issued a warrant of arrest against him on December 27, 1989. 2 The warrant was served on complainant by CFC Redelio Caballes and Cpl. Rolando Limayan and by virtue of it complainant was brought before Mayor Irisari, although no investigation was later conducted. Complainant filed a complaint 3 against Mayor Irisari for grave misconduct and usurpation of judicial function with the Office of the Ombudsman as well as administrative complaint 4 for violation of the Constitution, misconduct in office and abuse of authority with the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Agusan del Sur.

After preliminary investigation, the investigating officer of the Office of the Ombudsman filed a case 5 for usurpation of judicial function against Mayor Asuero Irisari in the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Loreto, Agusan del Sur. Originally raffled to the judge of that court, the criminal case was later assigned to respondent Judge Ciriaco Ario on account of the inhibition of the first judge. Accused Irisari moved to quash the information on the ground that the acts complained of did not constitute a crime under the law. He contended that under 143(3) of the former Local Government Code (Batas Pambansa Blg. 337), mayors were authorized to issue warrants of arrest. 6 On July 28, 1992, respondent Judge Ario denied the motion to quash on the ground that the power of mayors to issue warrants of arrest had ceased to exist as of February 2, 1987 when the Constitution took effect. For its part the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, acting on the administrative complaint against the mayor, found him guilty of misconduct in office and abuse of authority and accordingly ordered him suspended for eight (8) months without pay. On appeal, however, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) reversed on the ground that what the mayor had issued to the complainant, although denominated "Warrant of Arrest," was actually just an invitation or a summons. On September 21, 1992, Mayor Irisari filed a motion for reconsideration of the order of denial of respondent judge, invoking the resolution of the DILG. In an order dated February 15, 1993, respondent Judge Ario reconsidered his previous order and dismissed the case. Respondent said in his order: The accused, in his Motion for Reconsideration, asserts that since the question about the warrant of arrest issued against Apolinario Muez has been resolved in an administrative proceedings as not the warrant of arrest contemplated by law, it would follow then that this case now before this Court against the accused be dismissed. The Court finds that the subject matter in this case and that in the administrative complaint arose from one and the same incident and it involved the same parties. Courts are not bound by the findings of administrative agencies like the DILG as in this case if such findings

are tainted with unfairness and there is arbitrary action or palpable serious error. . . . The Court believes that the resolution by the administrative agency in DLG-AC-60-91 is not tainted with unfairness and arbitrariness neither it shows arbitrary action or palpable and serious error, therefore, it must be respected (Mangubat vs. de Castro, G.R. 33892; July 28, 1988; Blue Bar Coconut Philippines vs. Tantuico, Jr., et al., G.R. 47051, July 29, 1988, Cuerdo vs. Commission on Audit, G.R. 84592, October 27, 1988). Upon receipt of this order, complainant Muez sent two letters dated July 5 and 12, 1933 to the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission charging respondent Judge Ciriaco C. Ario with knowingly rendering an unjust judgment for dismissing the case against Mayor Irisari. The matter was indorsed to the Office of the Ombudsman which, as already stated, referred it to this Court for possible disciplinary action against respondent judge. 7 We agree with the Office of the Ombudsman that while respondent judge may have acted in good faith, he should nevertheless be administratively held liable. The acts alleged in the information constitute a crime. Under Art. 241 of the Revised Penal Code, the crime of usurpation of judicial authority involves the following elements: (1) that the offender is an officer of the executive branch of the government; and (2) that he assumes judicial powers, or obstructs the execution of any order or decision rendered by any judge within his jurisdiction. These elements were alleged in the information. Mayor Irisari was an officer of the executive branch. It is not true that what he had issued against the complainant was not a warrant of arrest. It was. In plain terms it stated: Republic of PROVINCE OF MUNICIPALITY Office of the Mayor the AGUSAN OF Philippines DEL SUR LORETO

27 Dece 1989 WARRANT OF ARREST

TO: ANY This Municipality G R E E T I N G S:

OFFICE

OF

THE

LAW

You are hereby requested/ordered to effect the arrest of Apolinario Muez of Poblacion, Loreto, Agusan del Sur, for his refusal to acknowledge the Summons dated December 26, 1989, and bring him before the Office of the Municipal Mayor to answer an inquiry/investigation in connection with the complaint of one Tirso Amado held pending before this Office. FOR COMPLIANCE.

(Sgd) ASU S. IR Municipal Mayor For and in the Municipal Circuit Judge the absence of

Any one reading the warrant could not have been mistaken that it was a warrant for the arrest of the complainant Apolinario Muez. As a matter of fact Mayor Irisari justified his order on the basis of 143(3) of the former Local Government Code (Batas Pambansa Blg. 337) which expressly provided that in cases where the mayor may conduct preliminary investigation, the mayor shall, upon probable cause after examination of witnesses, have the authority to order the arrest of the accused." This provision had, however, been repealed by Art. III, 2 of the 1987 Constitution, as this Court held in Ponsica v. Ignalaga, 8 in which it was explained: No longer does the mayor have at this time the power to conduct preliminary investigations, much less issue orders of arrest. Section 143 of the Local Government Code, conferring this power on the mayor has been abrogated, rendered functus officio by the 1987 Constitution which took effect on February 2, 1987, the date of its ratification by the Filipino people. Section 2, Article III of the 1987 Constitution pertinently provides that "no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized." The

constitutional proscription has thereby been manifested that thenceforth, the function of determining probable cause and issuing, on the basis thereof, warrants of arrest or search warrants, may be validly exercised only by judges, this being evidenced by the elimination in the present Constitution of the phrase, "such other responsible officer as may be authorized by law" found in the counterpart provision of said 1973 Constitution who, aside from judges, might conduct preliminary investigation and issue warrants of arrest or search warrants. That there was no pending criminal case against the complainant did not make the order against him any less an order of arrest, contrary to the opinion of DILG. On the other hand, the issuance of the warrant when there was before him no criminal case, but only a land dispute as it is now being made to appear, only made it worse for the mayor, for it would then appear that he assumed a judicial function which even a judge could not have done. All the more, therefore, respondent judge should not have dismissed the criminal case against the mayor. It cannot be pretended that Mayor Irisari merely intended to invite or summon Muez to his office because he had precisely done this the day before he issued the warrant of arrest, and he ordered the arrest of complainant because the latter had refused to appear before him. The summons issued by Mayor Irisari shows clearly that he understood the difference between a summons and a warrant of arrest. The summons read: Republic of PROVINCE OF MUNICIPALITY Office of the Mayor the AGUSAN OF Philippines DEL SUR LORETO

26 Dece 1989 SUMMON TO: Mr. Loreto, Agusan del Sur G R E E T I N G S: Apolinario Muez

You are hereby demanded to appear before the Office of the Municipal Mayor on 27 December 1989 at around 9:30 A.M. then and there to answer in an inquiry/investigation in connection with a certain complaint of Mr. Tirso Amado lodged in this office. PLEASE FAIL NOT under the penalty of the law. Loreto, Agusan del Sur, Philippines.

(Sgd) ASUERO S. IRISARI Municipal Mayor Indeed, respondent had previously denied the motion to dismiss which the accused Mayor Irisari had filed on the ground that the authority (B.P. Blg. 337, 143[3]) invoked by him as basis for his warrant of arrest had been abrogated by the Constitution. He subsequently reversed himself on the ground that the decision of the DILG, finding Mayor Irisari not guilty, "must be respected." He said, "Courts are not bound by findings of administrative agencies like the DILG as in this case if such findings are tainted with unfairness and there is arbitrary action or palpable serious error." Since the DILG decision was not so tainted, "therefore, it must be respected." Respondent Judge Ciriaco Ario should have known that the case of Mayor Irisari was not before him on review from the decision of an administrative agency and, therefore, there was no basis for applying the rule on substantiality of evidence. What was before him was a criminal case and he should have considered solely the facts alleged in the information in resolving the motion to dismiss of the accused. At the very least, he showed poor judgment and gross ignorance of basic legal principles, for which he should be reminded of what this Court said inLibarios v. Dabalos: 9 In the absence of fraud, dishonesty or corruption, the acts of a judge done in his judicial capacity are not subject to disciplinary action, even though such acts may be erroneous. But, while judges should not be disciplined for inefficiency on account merely of occasional mistakes or errors of judgment, yet, it is highly imperative that they should be conversant with basic legal principles.

In every case, a judge should endeavor diligently to ascertain the facts and the applicable law unswayed by partisan or personal interests, public opinion or fear of criticism. . . . A judge owes it to the public and the administration of justice to know the law he is supposed to apply to a given controversy. He is called upon to exhibit more than just a cursory acquaintance with the statutes and procedural rules. There will be faith in the administration of justice only if there be a belief on the part of litigants that the occupants of the bench cannot justly be accused of a deficiency in their grasp of legal principles. 10 But there is more than just gross ignorance of legal principles shown here. Although he denies it, what the respondent judge appears to have actually done in this case was to rely on the opinion of the DILG which found the mayor not guilty of serious misconduct in office on the ground that he had not really issued a warrant of arrest against the complainant but only an invitation or a summons. To justify his reliance on the opinion of the DILG, respondent judge invoked the rule in administrative law that the findings of facts of administrative agencies when supported by substantial evidence, are binding on the courts in the absence of a showing of fraud, imposition or dishonesty. We have already stated why that is grossly erroneous. What we are here concerned is that by relying on the opinion of the DILG, disregarding a previous ruling he had made which was in accordance with law, respondent judge showed lack of capacity for independent judgment. WHEREFORE, a FINE of P5,000.00 is imposed on respondent Judge Ciriaco Ario. He is enjoined to exercise greater care and diligence in the performance of his duties as a judge and warned that a repetition of the similar offense will be dealt with more severely.