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G.R. No. 174759 September 7, 2011

DENIS B. HABAWEL and ALEXIS F. MEDINA, Petitioners,


vs.
THE COURT OF TAX APPEALS, FIRST DIVISION, Respondent.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

Found guilty of direct contempt by the First Division of the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA First
Division), and sanctioned with imprisonment for a period of ten days and a fine of P2,000.00, the
petitioners have come to the Court for relief through certiorari, claiming that the CTA First
Divisions finding and sentence were made in grave abuse of its discretion because the language
they used in their motion for reconsideration as the attorneys for a party was contumacious.
Specifically, they assail the resolution dated May 16, 2006,1 whereby the CTA First Division
disposed as follows:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, this Court finds Attorneys Denis B. Habawel and Alexis F.
Medina of the Ponce Enrile Reyes and Manalastas Law Offices guilty of DIRECT CONTEMPT. Each
counsel is

hereby ORDERED TO PAY a fine of Two Thousand Pesos and to SUFFER IMPRISONMENT for a
period of ten (10) days.

SO ORDERED.2

and the resolution dated July 26, 2006,3 whereby the CTA First Division denied their motion for
reconsideration and reiterated the penalties.

Antecedents

The petitioners were the counsel of Surfield Development Corporation (Surfield), which sought
from the Office of the City Treasurer of Mandaluyong City the refund of excess realty taxes paid
from 1995 until 2000.4 After the City Government of Mandaluyong City denied its claim for
refund,5 Surfield initiated a special civil action for mandamus in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in
Mandaluyong City, which was docketed as SCA No. MC03-2142 entitled Surfield Development
Corporation v. Hon. City Treasurer of Mandaluyong City, and Hon. City Assessor of Mandaluyong
City, and assigned to Branch 214.6 Surfield later amended its petition to include its claim for
refund of the excess taxes paid from 2001 until 2003.7

On October 15, 2004, the RTC dismissed the petition on the ground that the period to file the
claim had already prescribed and that Surfield had failed to exhaust administrative remedies.
The RTC ruled that the grant of a tax refund was not a ministerial duty compellable by writ of
mandamus.8

Surfield, represented by the petitioners, elevated the dismissal to the CTA via petition for review
(CTA AC No. 5 entitled Surfield Development Corporation v. Hon. City Treasurer and Hon. City
Assessor, Mandaluyong City).9 The appeal was assigned to the First Division, composed of
Presiding Justice Ernesto D. Acosta, Associate Justice Lovell R. Bautista and Associate Justice
Caesar A. Casanova.

In its decision dated January 5, 2006,10 the CTA First Division denied the petition for lack of
jurisdiction and for failure to exhaust the remedies provided under Section 25311 and Section
22612 of Republic Act No. 7160 (Local Government Code).
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Undeterred, the petitioners sought reconsideration in behalf of Surfield,13 insisting that the CTA
had jurisdiction pursuant to Section 7(a)(3) of Republic Act No. 9282;14 and arguing that the CTA
First Division manifested its "lack of understanding or respect" for the doctrine of stare decisis in
not applying the ruling in Ty v. Trampe (G.R. No. 117577, December 1, 1995, 250 SCRA 500), to
the effect that there was no need to file an appeal before the Local Board of Assessment Appeals
pursuant to Section 22 of Republic Act No. 7160.

On March 15, 2006, the CTA First Division denied Surfields motion for reconsideration. On the
issue of jurisdiction, the CTA First Division explained that the jurisdiction conferred by Section
7(a)(3) of Republic Act No. 1125, as amended by Republic Act No. 9282, referred to appeals from
the decisions, orders, or resolutions of the RTCs in local tax cases and did not include the real
property tax, an ad valorem tax, the refund of excess payment of which Surfield was claiming.
Accordingly, the CTA First Division ruled that the jurisdiction of the CTA concerning real property
tax cases fell under a different section of Republic Act No. 9282 and under a separate book of
Republic Act No. 7160.

In addition, the CTA First Division, taking notice of the language the petitioners employed in the
motion for reconsideration, required them to explain within five days from receipt why they
should not be liable for indirect contempt or be made subject to disciplinary action, thusly:

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, petitioners Motion for Reconsideration is hereby DENIED for lack of
merit. And insofar as the merits of the case are concerned let this Resolution be considered as
the final decision on the matter.

However, this Court finds the statements of petitioners counsel that "it is gross ignorance of the
law for the Honorable Court to have held that it has no jurisdiction over this instant petition; the
grossness of this Honorable Courts ignorance of the law is matched only by the unequivocal
expression of this Honorable Courts jurisdiction over the instant case" and "this Court lacked the
understanding and respect for the doctrine of "stare decisis" as derogatory, offensive and
disrespectful. Lawyers are charged with the basic duty to "observe and maintain the respect due
to the courts of justice and judicial officers;" they vow solemnly to conduct themselves "with all
good fidelityto the courts." As a matter of fact, the first canon of legal ethics enjoins them "to
maintain towards the courts a respectful attitude, not for the sake of the temporary incumbent of
the judicial office, but for the maintenance of its superior importance." Therefore, petitioners
counsel is hereby ORDERED to explain within five (5) days from receipt of this Resolution why he
should not be held for indirect contempt and/or subject to disciplinary action.

SO ORDERED.15

The petitioners submitted a compliance dated March 27, 2006,16 in which they appeared to
apologize but nonetheless justified their language as, among others, "necessary to bluntly call
the Honorable Courts attention to the grievousness of the error by calling a spade by spade."17

In its first assailed resolution, the CTA First Division found the petitioners apology wanting in
sincerity and humility, observing that they chose words that were "so strong, which brings
disrepute the Courts honor and integrity" for brazenly pointing to "the Courts alleged ignorance
and grave abuse of discretion," to wit:

In their Compliance, the Court finds no sincerity and humility when counsels Denis B. Habawel
and Alexis F. Medina asked for apology. In fact, the counsels brazenly pointed the Courts alleged
ignorance and grave abuse of discretion. Their chosen words are so strong, which brings
disrepute the Courts honor and integrity. We quote:
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a) "Admittedly, the language of the Motion for Reconsideration was not endearing. However, the
undersigned counsel found it necessary to bluntly call the Honorable Courts attention to the
grievousness of the error by calling a spade a spade. The advocacy needed a strong articulation
of the gravity of the error of the Honorable Court in avoiding the substantial and transcendental
issues by the simple expedient of dismissing the petition for alleged lack of jurisdiction, in
violation of Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution, which requires that the Decision must
express clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which the Decision was based" (par. 3 of
the Compliance; docket, p. 349);

b) "Since the Honorable Court simply quoted Section 7(a)(5) and it totally ignored Section 7(a)
(3), to perfunctorily find that "(U)ndoubtedly, appeals of the decisions or rulings of the Regional
Trial Court concerning real property taxes evidently do not fall within the jurisdiction of the CTA,"
the undersigned counsel formed a perception that the Honorable Court was totally unaware or
ignorant of the new provision, Section 7(a)(3). Hence, the statements that it was gross ignorance
of the law for the Honorable Court to have held that it has not [sic] jurisdiction, as well as, the
grossness of the Honorable Courts ignorance of the law is matched only by the unequivocal
expression of this Honorable Courts jurisdiction over the instant case were an honest and frank
articulation of undersigned counsels perception that was influenced by its failure to understand
why the Honorable Court totally ignored Section 7(a)(3) in ruling on its lack of jurisdiction" (par.
10 of the Compliance; docket, p. 353);18

Accordingly, the CTA First Division adjudged both of the petitioners guilty of direct contempt of
court for failing to uphold their duty of preserving the integrity and respect due to the courts,
sentencing each to suffer imprisonment of ten days and to pay P2,000.00 as fine.

Seeking reconsideration,19 the petitioners submitted that they could not be held guilty of direct
contempt because: (a) the phrase gross ignorance of the law was used in its legal sense to
describe the error of judgment and was not directed to the character or competence of the
decision makers; (b) there was no "unfounded accusation or allegation," or "scandalous,
offensive or menacing," "intemperate, abusive, abrasive or threatening," or "vile, rude and
repulsive" statements or words contained in their motion for reconsideration; (c) there was no
statement in their motion for reconsideration that brought the authority of the CTA and the
administration of the law into disrepute; and (d) they had repeatedly offered their apology in
their compliance.20

Their submissions did not convince and move the CTA First Division to reconsider, which declared
through its second assailed resolution that:

The tone of an irate lawyer would almost always reveal the sarcasm in the phrases used. The
scurrilous attacks made in the guise of pointing out errors of judgment almost always result to
the destruction of the high esteem and regard towards the Court.21

and disposed thusly:

WHEREFORE, petitioners Motion for Reconsideration is hereby DENIED for lack of merit. Each
counsel is hereby ORDERED TO PAY a fine of Two Thousand Pesos and to SUFFER IMPRISONMENT
for a period of ten (10) days.

SO, ORDERED.22

Issues

Arguing that they were merely prompted by their "(z)ealous advocacy and an appalling error"
committed by the CTA First Division to frankly describe such error as gross ignorance of the law,
the petitioners now attribute grave abuse of discretion to the CTA First Division in finding that:
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THE PETITIONERS LANGUAGE IN THE SUBJECT MOTION AND COMPLIANCE WAS CONTUMACIOUS;

II

THE PETITIONERS WERE NOT SINCERE IN THEIR APOLOGY AND WERE ARROGANT;

III

THE EXERCISE OF CONTEMPT POWER WAS WITHIN THE LIMITS SET BY THE SUPREME COURT; AND

IV

THE PETITIONERS WERE GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF DIRECT CONTEMPT.

The petitioners continue to posit that the phrase gross ignorance of the law was used in its strict
legal sense to emphasize the gravity of the error of law committed by the CTA First Division; and
that the statements described by the CTA First Division as "abrasive, offensive, derogatory,
offensive and disrespectful" should be viewed within the context of the general tone and
language of their motion for reconsideration; that their overall language was "tempered,
restrained and respectful" and should not be construed as a display of contumacious attitude or
as "a flouting or arrogant belligerence in defiance of the court" to be penalized as direct
contempt; that the CTA First Division did not appreciate the sincerity of their apology; and that
they merely pointed out the error in the decision of the CTA First Division.

For its part, the CTA First Division contends that a reading of the motion for reconsideration and
the character of the words used therein by the petitioners indicated that their statements
reflected no humility, nor were they "expressive of a contrite heart;" and that their submissions
instead "reflected arrogance and sarcasm, that they even took the opportunity to again deride
the public respondent on the manner of how it wrote the decision."23

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) opines that submitting a pleading containing
derogatory, offensive and malicious statements to the same court or judge in which the
proceedings are pending constitutes direct contempt; and that the CTA First Division did not
abuse its discretion in finding the petitioners liable for direct contempt under Section 1, Rule 71
of the Rules of Court.24

Ruling

We dismiss the petition for certiorari, and declare that the CTA First Division did not abuse its
discretion, least of all gravely, in finding that the petitioners committed direct contempt of court.

Canon 11 of the Code of Professional Responsibility mandates all attorneys to observe and
maintain the respect due to the courts and to judicial officers and to insist on similar conduct by
others. Rule 11.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility specifically enjoins all attorneys
thus:

Rule 11.03. A lawyer shall abstain from scandalous, offensive or menacing language or
behavior before the Courts.

It is conceded that an attorney or any other person may be critical of the courts and their judges
provided the criticism is made in respectful terms and through legitimate channels. In that
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regard, we have long adhered to the sentiment aptly given expression to in the leading case of In
re: Almacen:25

xxx every citizen has the right to comment upon and criticize the actuations of public officers.
This right is not diminished by the fact that the criticism is aimed at a judicial authority, or that it
is articulated by a lawyer. Such right is especially recognized where the criticism concerns a
concluded litigation, because then the courts actuation are thrown open to public consumption.

xxx

Courts and judges are not sacrosanct. They should and expect critical evaluation of their
performance. For like the executive and the legislative branches, the judiciary is rooted in the soil
of democratic society, nourished by the periodic appraisal of the citizens whom it is expected to
serve.

Well-recognized therefore is the right of a lawyer, both as an officer of the court and as a citizen,
to criticize in properly respectful terms and through legitimate channels the acts of courts and
judges.xxx

xxx

Hence, as a citizen and as officer of the court, a lawyer is expected not only to exercise the right,
but also to consider it his duty to avail of such right. No law may abridge this right. Nor is he
"professionally answerable for a scrutiny into the official conduct of the judges, which would not
expose him to legal animadversion as a citizen." xxx

xxx

But it is the cardinal condition of all such criticism that it shall be bona fide, and shall not spill
over the walls of decency and propriety. A wide chasm exists between fair criticism, on the one
hand, and abuse and slander of courts and the judges thereof, on the other. Intemperate and
unfair criticism is a gross violation of the duty of respect to courts. It is such a misconduct that
subjects a lawyer to disciplinary action. (emphasis supplied)26

The test for criticizing a judges decision is, therefore, whether or not the criticism is bona fide or
done in good faith, and does not spill over the walls of decency and propriety.

Here, the petitioners motion for reconsideration contained the following statements, to wit: (a)
"[i]t is gross ignorance of the law for the Honorable Court to have held that it has no jurisdiction
over the instant petition;"27 (b) "[t]he grossness of the Honorable Courts ignorance of the law is
matched only by the unequivocal expression of this Honorable Courts jurisdiction;"28 and (c) the
"Honorable Courts lack of understanding or respect for the doctrine of stare decisis."29

The CTA First Division held the statements to constitute direct contempt of court meriting prompt
penalty.

We agree.

By such statements, the petitioners clearly and definitely overstepped the bounds of propriety as
attorneys, and disregarded their sworn duty to respect the courts. An imputation in a pleading of
gross ignorance against a court or its judge, especially in the absence of any evidence, is a
serious allegation,30 and constitutes direct contempt of court. It is settled that derogatory,
offensive or malicious statements contained in pleadings or written submissions presented to the
same court or judge in which the proceedings are pending are treated as direct contempt
because they are equivalent to a misbehavior committed in the presence of or so near a court or
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judge as to interrupt the administration of justice.31 This is true, even if the derogatory,
offensive or malicious statements are not read in open court.32 Indeed, in Dantes v. Judge
Ramon S. Caguioa,33 where the petitioners motion for clarification stated that the respondent
judges decision constituted gross negligence and ignorance of the rules, and was pure chicanery
and sophistry, the Court held that "a pleading containing derogatory, offensive or malicious
statements when submitted before a court or judge in which the proceedings are pending is
direct contempt because it is equivalent to a misbehavior committed in the presence of or so
near a court or judge as to interrupt the administration of justice."34

In his dissent, Justice Del Castillo, although conceding that the petitioners statements were
"strong, tactless and hurtful,"35 regards the statements not contemptuous, or not necessarily
assuming the level of contempt for being explanations of their position "in a case under
consideration" and because "an unfavorable decision usually incites bitter feelings."36

Such contempt of court cannot be condoned or be simply ignored and set aside, however, for the
characterization that the statements were "strong, tactless and hurtful," although obviously
correct, provides no ground to be lenient towards the petitioners, even assuming that such
"strong, tactless and hurtful" statements were used to explain their clients position in the
case.37 The statements manifested a disrespect towards the CTA and the members of its First
Division approaching disdain. Nor was the offensiveness of their "strong, tactless and hurtful"
language minimized on the basis that "snide remarks or sarcastic innuendos made by counsels
are not considered contemptuous considering that unfavorable decision usually incite bitter
feelings."38 By branding the CTA and the members of its First Division as "totally unaware or
ignorant" of Section 7(a)(3) of Republic Act No. 9282, and making the other equally harsh
statements, the petitioners plainly assailed the legal learning of the members of the CTA First
Division. To hold such language as reflective of a very deliberate move on the part of the
petitioners to denigrate the CTA and the members of its First Division is not altogether
unwarranted.

The petitioners disdain towards the members of the CTA First Division for ruling against their
side found firm confirmation in their compliance, in which they unrepentantly emphasized such
disdain in the following telling words:

3. Admittedly, the language of the Motion for Reconsideration was not endearing. However, the
undersigned counsel found it necessary to bluntly call the Honorable Courts attention to the
grievousness of the error by calling a spade a spade. The advocacy needed a strong articulation
of the gravity of the error of the Honorable Court in avoiding the substantial and transcendental
issues by the simple expedient of dismissing the petition for alleged lack of jurisdiction, in
violation of Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution, which requires that the Decision must
express clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which the Decision was based.

xxx

10. Since the Honorable Court simply quoted Section 7(a)(5), and it totally ignored Section 7(a)
(3), to perfunctorily find that "(U)ndoubtedly, appeals of the decisions or rulings of the Regional
Trial Court concerning real property taxes evidently do not fall within the jurisdiction of the CTA,"
the undersigned counsel formed a perception that the Honorable Court was totally unaware or
ignorant of the new provision, Section 7(a)(3). Hence the statements that it was gross ignorance
of the law for the Honorable Court to have held that it has no jurisdiction, as well as, the
grossness of the Honorable Courts ignorance of the law is matched only by the unequivocal
expression of this Honorable Courts jurisdiction over the instant case were an honest and frank
articulation of undersigned counsels perception that was influenced by its failure to understand
why the Honorable Court totally ignored Section 7(a)(3) in ruling on its lack of jurisdiction.
(emphasis supplied)39
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We might have been more understanding of the milieu in which the petitioners made the
statements had they convinced us that the CTA First Division truly erred in holding itself bereft of
jurisdiction over the appeal of their client. But our review of the text of the legal provisions
involved reveals that the error was committed by them, not by the CTA First Division. This result
became immediately evident from a reading of Section 7(a)(3) and Section 7(a)(5) of Republic
Act No. 9282, the former being the anchor for their claim that the CTA really had jurisdiction, to
wit:

Section 7. Jurisdiction. The CTA shall exercise:

(a) Exclusive appellate jurisdiction to review by appeal, as herein provided:

xxx

(3) Decisions, orders or resolutions of the Regional Trial Courts in local tax cases originally
decided or resolved by them in the exercise of their original or appellate jurisdiction; (emphasis
supplied)

xxx

(5) Decisions of the Central Board of Assessment Appeals in the exercise of its appellate
jurisdiction over cases involving the assessment and taxation of real property originally decided
by the provincial or city board of assessment appeals; (emphasis supplied)

xxx

As can be read and seen, Section 7(a)(3) covers only appeals of the "(d)ecisions, orders or
resolutions of the Regional Trial Courts in local tax cases originally decided or resolved by them in
the exercise of their original or appellate jurisdiction." The provision is clearly limited to local tax
disputes decided by the Regional Trial Courts. In contrast, Section 7(a)(5) grants the CTA
cognizance of appeals of the "(d)ecisions of the Central Board of Assessment Appeals in the
exercise of its appellate jurisdiction over cases involving the assessment and taxation of real
property originally decided by the provincial or city board of assessment appeals." In its
resolution of March 15, 2006, therefore, the CTA First Division forthrightly explained why,
contrary to the petitioners urging, Section 7(a)(3) was not applicable by clarifying that a real
property tax, being an ad valorem tax, could not be treated as a local tax.40

It would have been ethically better for the petitioners to have then retreated and simply
admitted their blatant error upon being so informed by the CTA First Division about the
untenability of their legal position on the matter, but they still persisted by going on in their
compliance dated March 27, 2006 to also blame the CTA First Division for their "perception"
about the CTA First Divisions "being totally oblivious of Section 7(a)(3)" due to "the terseness of
the Decision dated 05 January 2006," viz:

12. Undersigned counsel regrets having bluntly argued that this Honorable Court was grossly
ignorant of Section 7(a)(3) because from the terseness of the Decision dated 05 January 2006,
the undersigned counsel perceived the Honorable Court as being totally oblivious of Section 7(a)
(3). Had the reasons discussed in the Resolution dated 15 March 2006 been articulated in the 05
January 2006 decision, there would have been no basis for undersigned counsels to have formed
the above-mentioned perception.41 (emphasis supplied)1avvphi1

The foregoing circumstances do not give cause for the Court to excuse the petitioners
contemptuous and offensive language. No attorney, no matter his great fame or high prestige,
should ever brand a court or judge as grossly ignorant of the law, especially if there was no
sincere or legitimate reason for doing so. Every attorney must use only fair and temperate
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language in arguing a worthy position on the law, and must eschew harsh and intemperate
language that has no place in the educated ranks of the Legal Profession. Truly, the Bar should
strive to win arguments through civility and fairness, not by "heated and acrimonious tone," as
the Court aptly instructed in Slade Perkins v. Perkins,42 to wit:

The court notices with considerable regret the heated and acrimonious tone of the remarks of
the counsel for appellant, in his brief, in speaking of the action of the trial judge. We desire to
express our opinion that excessive language weakens rather than strengthens the persuasive
force of legal reasoning. We have noticed a growing tendency to use language that experience
has shown not to be conducive to the orderly and proper administration of justice. We therefore
bespeak the attorneys of this court to desist from such practices, and to treat their opposing
attorneys, and the judges who have decided their cases in the lower court adversely to their
contentions with that courtesy all have a right to expect. (emphasis supplied)

We do not hesitate to punish the petitioners for the direct contempt of court.1wphi1 They threw
out self-restraint and courtesy, traits that in the most trying occasions equate to rare virtues that
all members of the Legal Profession should possess and cherish. They shunted aside the nobility
of their profession. They wittingly banished the ideal that even the highest degree of zealousness
in defending the causes of clients did not permit them to cross the line between liberty and
license.43 Indeed, the Court has not lacked in frequently reminding the Bar that language,
though forceful, must still be dignified; and though emphatic, must remain respectful as befitting
advocates and in keeping with the dignity of the Legal Profession.44 It is always worthwhile to
bear in mind, too, that the language vehicle did not run short of expressions that were emphatic,
yet respectful; convincing, yet not derogatory; and illuminating, yet not offensive.45 No attorney
worthy of the title should forget that his first and foremost status as an officer of the Court calls
upon him to be respectful and restrained in his dealings with a court or its judge. Clearly, the
petitioners criticism of the CTA First Division was not bona fide or done in good faith, and spilled
over the walls of propriety.

The power to punish contempt of court is exercised on the preservative and not on the vindictive
principle, and only occasionally should a court invoke its inherent power to punish contempt of
court in order to retain that respect without which the administration of justice must falter or
fail.46 We reiterate that the sanction the CTA First Division has visited upon the petitioners was
preservative, for the sanction maintained and promoted the proper respect that attorneys and
their clients should bear towards the courts of justice.

Inasmuch as the circumstances indicate that the petitioners tone of apology was probably
feigned, for they did not relent but continued to justify their contemptuous language, they do not
merit any leniency. Nonetheless, the penalty of imprisonment for ten days and a fine of
P2,000.00 is excessive punishment of the direct contempt of court for using contemptuous and
offensive language and verges on the vindictive. The Court foregoes the imprisonment.

The Courts treatment of contemptuous and offensive language used by counsel in pleadings and
other written submissions to the courts of law, including this Court, has not been uniform. The
treatment has dealt with contemptuous and offensive language either as contempt of court or
administrative or ethical misconduct, or as both. The sanction has ranged from a warning (to be
more circumspect), a reprimand with stern warning against a repetition of the misconduct, a fine
of P2,000.00, a fine of P5,000.00, and even indefinite suspension from the practice of law.

The sanction has usually been set depending on whether the offensive language is viewed as
contempt of court or as ethical misconduct. In Re: Letter Dated 21 February 2005 of Atty. Noel S.
Sorreda,47 the errant lawyer who made baseless accusations of manipulation in his letters and
compliance to this Court was indefinitely suspended from the practice of law. Although he was
further declared guilty of contempt of court, the Court prescribed no separate penalty on him,
notwithstanding that he evinced no remorse and did not apologize for his actions that resulted
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from cases that were decided against his clients for valid reasons. In Re: Conviction of Judge
Adoracion G. Angeles,48 the complaining State Prosecutor, despite his strong statements to
support his position not being considered as direct contempt of court, was warned to be more
circumspect in language. In contrast, Judge Angeles was reprimanded and handed a stern
warning for the disrespectful language she used in her pleadings filed in this Court, which
declared such language to be below the standard expected of a judicial officer. In Nuez v. Atty.
Arturo B. Astorga,49 Atty. Astorga was meted a P2,000.00 fine for conduct unbecoming of a
lawyer for hurling insulting language against the opposing counsel. Obviously, the language was
dealt with administratively, not as contempt of court. In Ng v. Atty. Benjamin C. Alar,50 the Court
prescribed a higher fine of P5,000.00 coupled with a stern warning against Atty. Alar who, in his
motion for reconsideration and to inhibit, cast insults and diatribes against the NLRC First
Division and its members. Yet again, the fine was a disciplinary sanction.

Despite having earlier directed the petitioners through its resolution of March 15, 2006 that they
should "explain within five (5) days from receipt of this Resolution why (they) should not be held
for indirect contempt and/or subject to disciplinary action,"51 the CTA First Division was content
with punishing them for direct contempt under Section 1,52 Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, and
did not anymore pursue the disciplinary aspect. The Court concurs with the offended courts
treatment of the offensive language as direct contempt. Thus, we impose on each of them a fine
of P2,000.00, the maximum imposable fine under Section 1 of Rule 71, taking into consideration
the fact that the CTA is a superior court of the same level as the Court of Appeals, the second
highest court of the land. The penalty of imprisonment, as earlier clarified, is deleted. Yet, they
are warned against using offensive or intemperate language towards a court or its judge in the
future, for they may not be as lightly treated as they now are.

ACCORDINGLY, we DISMISS the petition for certiorari; UPHOLD the resolutions dated May 16,
2006 and July 26, 2006; and MODIFY the penalty imposed on Attorney Denis B. Habawel and
Attorney Alexis F. Medina by deleting the penalty of imprisonment and sentencing them only to
pay the fine of P2,000.00 each.

SO ORDERED.

A.M. No. RTJ-13-2366 February 4, 2015


[Formerly OCA IPI No. 11-3740-RTJ]

JILL M. TORMIS, Complainant,


vs.
JUDGE MEINRADO P. PAREDES, Respondent.

DECISION

MENDOZA, J.:

For consideration is the Report and Recommendation1 of Justice Maria Elisa Sempio Diy (Justice
Diy), Court of Appeals, Cebu City, submitted to this Court pursuant to its January 14, 2013
Resolution,2 referring the complaint filed by Jill M. Tormis (Jill) against respondent Judge Meinrado
P. Paredes (Judge Paredes), Presiding Judge, Branch 13, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Cebu City, for
investigation, report and recommendation.

The Facts

In her Affidavit/Complaint,3 dated September 5, 2011, Jill charged Judge Paredes with grave
misconduct. Jill was a student of Judge Paredes in Political Law Review during the first semester
of school year 2010-2011 at the Southwestern University, Cebu City. She averred that sometime
in August 2010, in his class discussions, Judge Paredes named her mother, Judge Rosabella
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Tormis (Judge Tormis),then Presiding Judge of Branch 4, Municipal Trial Court in Cities
(MTCC),Cebu City, as one of the judges involved in the marriage scams in Cebu City. Judge
Paredes also mentioned in his class that Judge Tormis was abusive of her position as a judge,
corrupt, and ignorant of the law.

Jill added that Judge Paredes included Judge Tormis in his discussions not only once but several
times. In one session, Judge Paredes was even said to have included in his discussion Francis
Mondragon Tormis (Francis),son of Judge Tormis, stating that he was a "court-noted addict."4 She
was absent from class at that time, but one of her classmates who was present, Rhoda L. Litang
(Rhoda), informed her about the inclusion of her brother. To avoid humiliation in school, Jill
decided to drop the class under Judge Paredes and transfer to another law school in Tacloban
City.

Jill also disclosed thatin the case entitled "Trinidad O. Lachica v. Judge Tormis"5 (Lachica v.
Tormis), her mother was suspended from the service for six (6) months for allegedly receiving
payment of a cash bail bond for the temporary release of an accused for the warrant she had
issued in a case then pending before her sala. Judge Paredes was the one who reviewed the
findings conducted therein and he recommended that the penalty be reduced to severe
reprimand.

Jill, however, claimed that Judge Paredes committed an offense worse than that committed by
her mother. She averred that on March 13, 2011, Judge Paredes accepted a cash bail bond in the
amount of Six Thousand Pesos (P6,000.00) for the temporary release of one Lita Guioguio in a
case entitled, "People of the Philippines v. Lita Guioguio,"docketed as Criminal Case No. 148434-
R,6 then pending before Branch 8, MTCC, Cebu City (Guioguio case).

Thus, she prayed that Judge Paredes be administratively sanctioned for his actuations.

Comment of Judge Paredes

In his Comment,7 dated October 28, 2011, Judge Paredes denied the accusations of Jill. He stated
thatJudge Tormis had several administrative cases, some of which he had investigated; that as a
result of the investigations, he recommended sanctionsagainst Judge Tormis; that Judge Tormis
used Jill, her daughter, to get back at him; that he discussed in his class the case of Lachica v.
Tormis, but never Judge Tormis involvement in the marriage scams nor her sanctions as a result
of the investigation conducted by the Court; that he never personally attacked Judge Tormis
dignity and credibility; that the marriage scams in Cebu City constituted a negative experience
for all the judges and should be discussed so that other judges, court employees and aspiring
lawyers would not emulate such misdeeds; that the marriage scams werealso discussed during
meetings of RTC judges and in schools where remediallaw and legal ethics were taught; that he
talked about past and resolvedcases, but not the negative tendencies of Judge Tormis; that there
was nothing wrong in discussing the administrative cases involving Judge Tormis because these
cases were known to the legal community and some were even published in the Supreme Court
Reports Annotated (SCRA) and other legal publications; and that when he was the executive
judge tasked to investigate Judge Tormis, he told her to mend her ways, butshe resented his
advice.

Judge Paredes further stated that when Jill was still his student, she did not complain about or
dispute his discussions in class regarding the administrative liabilities of her mother; that the
matter was not also brought to the attention of the Dean of Southwestern University or of the
local authorities; that he admitted saying that Judge Tormis had a son named Francis who was a
drug addict and thatdrug dependents had no place in the judiciary; and that he suggested
thatFrancis should be removed from the judiciary.
Page 11 of 100

He denied, however, having stated that Francis was appointed as court employee as a result of
the influence of Judge Tormis. She is not an influential person and it is the Supreme Court who
determines the persons to be appointed as court employees. JudgeTormis, however, allowed her
drug dependent son to apply for a position in the judiciary.

Regarding the specific act being complained of, Judge Paredes admitted that he personally
accepted a cash bail bond of 6,000.00 for the temporary release of Lita Guioguio onMarch 13,
2011. He claimed though that the approval of the bail bond was in accordance with Section 14,
Chapter 5 of A.M. No. 03-8-62-SC which allowed executive judges to act on petitions for bail and
other urgent matters on weekends, official holidays and special days. Judge Paredes explained
that he merely followed the procedure. As Executive Judge, he issued a temporary receipt and on
the following business day, a Monday, he instructed the Branch Clerk of Court to remit the cash
bond to the Clerk of Court. The Clerk of Court acknowledged the receipt of the cash bond and
issued an official receipt. It was not his fault that the Clerk of Court acknowledged the receipt of
the cash bond only in the afternoon of March 21, 2011.

Lastly, Judge Paredes averred thatthe discussions relative to the administrative cases of Judge
Tormiscould not be the subject of an administrative complaint because it was not done in the
performance of his judicial duties.

Reply of the Complainant

In her Verified-Reply,8 dated November 23, 2011, Jill countered that her mother had nothing to
do with the filing of the present complaint; that she was forced to leave her family in Cebu City to
continue her law studies elsewhere because she could no longer bear the discriminating and
judgmental eyes of her classmates brought about by Judge Paredes frequent discussions in class
of her mothers administrative cases; that her mother was indeed one of the judges implicated in
the marriage scams, but when Judge Paredes discussed the matter in his classes, the case of her
mother was not yet resolved by the Court and, thus, in 2010, it was still premature; and that
Judge Paredes was aware that administrative cases were confidential in nature.

Jill claimed that the intention to humiliate her family was evident when Judge Paredes branded
her brother, Francis, as a "drug addict."

Rejoinder of Judge Paredes

In his Rejoinder,9 dated December 2, 2011, Judge Paredes asserted that it was not premature to
discuss the marriage scams in class because the scandal was already disclosed by Atty. Rullyn
Garcia and was also written in many legal publications, and that the drug addiction of Francis
was known in the Palace of Justice of Cebu City.

In its Report,10 dated September 12, 2012, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) stated
that the conflicting allegations by the parties presented factual issues that could not be resolved
based on the evidence on record then. Considering the gravity and the sensitive natureof the
charges, a full-blown investigation should be conducted by the CA.

On January 14, 2013, pursuant tothe recommendation of the OCA, the Court referred the
administrative complaint to the Executive Justice of the CA, Cebu Station, for investigation,
report and recommendation within sixty (60) days from receipt of the records.11

On March 26, 2013, the case was raffled to, and the records were received by, Justice Diy.
Thereafter, the appropriate notices were issued and the confidential hearings were conducted.
Afterwards, Justice Diy received the respective memoranda of the parties.
Page 12 of 100

In her memorandum,12 Jill contended that Judge Paredes act of discussing Judge Tormis cases in
class where she was present was an open display of insensitivity, impropriety and lack of
delicadezabordering on oppressive and abusive conduct, which fell short of the exacting
standards of behavior demanded of magistrates. She asserted that the defense of Judge Paredes
that he could not be made administratively liable as the act was not made in the performance of
his official duties did not hold water because a judge should be the embodiment of whatwas just
and fair not only in the performance of his official duties but also in his everyday life.

Jill also averred that Judge Paredes violated the subjudicerule when he discussed the marriage
scam involving Judge Tormis in 2010 because at that time, the case was still being investigated;
that the administrative case relative to the marriage scam was decided only on April 2, 2013;
that Judge Paredes was not the Executive Judge ofthe MTCC when he received the cash bail bond
in the Guiguiocase; that he could not prove that the executive judge of the MTCC was unavailable
before accepting the cash bail bond; and that the assertion of Judge Paredes of his being an anti-
corruption judge and a lone nominee of the IBP Cebu City Chapter to the Foundation of Judicial
Excellence did not exculpate him from committing the acts complained of. In his Reply-
Memorandum,13 Judge Paredes reiterated the allegations contained in his previous pleadings. He
added that the marriage scams scandalized the Judiciary and became public knowledge when
Atty. Rullyn Garcia of the OCA held a press conference on the matter; that, hence, every citizen,
including him, may comment thereon; that in the hierarchy of rights, freedom of speech and
expression ranked high; that Judge Tormis never intervened in the present case; that ifhe indeed
made derogatory remarks against Judge Tormis, she should havefiled a criminal action for oral
defamation; and that calling for the ouster of drug addicts could not be considered an abuse, but
was meant for the protection of the Judiciary.14

In her Report and Recommendation, Justice Diy found Judge Paredes guilty of conduct
unbecoming of a judge. She opined that his use of intemperate language during class discussions
was inappropriate. His statements in class, tending to project Judge Tormis as corrupt and
ignorant of the laws and procedure, were obviously and clearly insensitive and inexcusable.

Justice Diy disregarded the defense of Judge Paredes that his discussions of the administrative
case of Judge Tormis in class was an exercise of his right to freedom of expression. She cited the
New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary15 which urged members of the Judiciary
to be models of propriety at all times. She quoted with emphasis Section 6 which stated that
"Judges, like any other citizen, are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and
assembly, but in exercising such rights, they shall always conduct themselves in such a manner
as to preserve the dignity of the judicial office and the impartiality and independence of the
judiciary."16

Justice Diy likewise rejected Judge Paredes position that he could not be held administratively
liable for his comments against Judge Tormis and Francis as these were uttered while he was not
in the exercise of his judicial functions. Jurisprudence,17 as well as the New Code of Judicial
Conduct, required that he conduct himself beyond reproach, not only in the discharge of his
judicial functions, but also inhis other professional endeavors and everyday activities.

Justice Diy found merit in Jills allegation that Judge Paredes violated the subjudicerule when the
latter discussed the marriage scams involving Judge Tormis in 2010 when the said issue was still
being investigated. She cited, as basis for JudgeParedes liability, Section 4, Canon 3 of the New
Code of Judicial Conduct.

As regards Judge Paredes receipt of the cash bail bond in relation to the Guioguiocase, Justice
Diy absolved him ofany liability as the charge of grave misconduct was not supported by
sufficient evidence. She accepted Judge Paredes explanation that he merely followed the
procedure laid down in Section 14, Chapter 5 of A.M. No. 03-8-02-SC when he approved the bail
bond.
Page 13 of 100

Based on these findings, Justice Diy came up with the following recommendations, thus:

The undersigned Investigating Justice finds that indeed Judge Paredes is guilty of conduct
unbecoming of a judge. Conduct unbecoming of a judge is classified as a light offense under
Section 10, Rule 140 of the Revised Rules of Court, penalized under Section 11 (c) thereof by any
of the following: (1) a Fine of not less than P1,000.00 but not exceeding P10,000.00; (2) Censure;
(3) Reprimand; and (4) Admonition with warning.

Inasmuch as this is Judge Paredes first offense and considering the factual milieu and the
peculiar circumstances attendant thereto, it is respectfully recommended that Judge Paredes be
meted out with the penalty of REPRIMAND with a warning that a repetition of the same or a
similar offense will be dealt with more severely.18

The Courts Ruling

The Court adopts the findings and recommendations of Justice Diy except as to the penalty.

Misconduct is defined as a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more
particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer. The misconduct is grave if
it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law, or to
disregard established rules, which must be established by substantial evidence. As distinguished
from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant
disregard of established rule, must be manifest in a charge of grave misconduct. Corruption, as
an element of grave misconduct, consists in the act of an official or fiduciary person who
unlawfully and wrongfully uses his station or character to procure some benefit for himself or for
another person, contrary to duty and the rights of others.19

To constitute misconduct, the act or acts must have a direct relation to and be connected with
the performance of his official duties.20 Considering that the acts complained of, the remarks
against Judge Tormis and Francis, were made by Judge Paredes in his class discussions, they
cannot be considered as "misconduct." They are simply not related to the discharge of his official
functions as a judge. Thus, Judge Paredes cannot be held liable for misconduct, much less for
grave misconduct.

Discussion of a subjudicematter, however, is another thing.

On subjudice matters, Section 4, Canon 3 ofthe New Code of Judicial Conduct provides: CANON 3

IMPARTIALITY

SEC. 4. Judges shall not knowingly, while a proceeding is before or could come before them,
make any comment that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome of such proceeding
or impair the manifest fairness of the process. Nor shall judges make any comment in public or
otherwise that might affect the fair trial of any person or issue. (Emphasis supplied)

The subjudice rule restricts comments and disclosures pertaining to the judicial proceedings in
order to avoid prejudging the issue, influencing the court, or obstructing the administration of
justice.21 The rationale for the rule was spelled out in Nestle Philippines, Inc. v. Sanchez,22
where it was stated that it is a traditional conviction of civilized society everywhere that courts
and juries, in the decision of issues of fact and law should be immune from every extraneous
influence; thatfacts should be decided upon evidence produced in court; and that the
determination of such facts should be uninfluenced by bias, prejudice or sympathies.23 Notably,
when Judge Paredes discussed the marriage scams involving Judge Tormis in 2010, the
investigation relative to the said case had not yet been concluded. In fact, the decision on the
Page 14 of 100

case was promulgated by the Court only on April 2, 2013.24 In 2010, he still could not make
comments on the administrative case to prevent any undue influence in its resolution.
Commenting on the marriage scams, where Judge Tormis was one of the judges involved, was in
contravention of the subjudicerule. Justice Diy was, therefore, correct in finding that Judge
Paredes violated Section 4, Canon 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Court shares the view of Justice Diy that although the reasons of Judge Paredes for
discussing the marriage scams in his classes seemed noble, his objectives were carried out
insensitively and in bad taste. The pendency of the administrative case of Judge Tormis and the
publicity of the marriage scams did not give Judge Paredes unrestrained license to criticize Judge
Tormis in his class discussions. The publicity given to the investigation of the said scams and the
fact that it was widely discussed in legal circles let people expressed critical opinions on the
issue. There was no need for Judge Paredes to "rub salt to the wound,"25 as Justice Diy put it.

Judge Paredes in using intemperate language and unnecessary comments tending to project
Judge Tormisas a corrupt and ignorant judge in his class discussions, was correctly found guilty of
conduct unbecoming of a judge by Justice Dy.

Indeed, the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary requires judges to exemplify
propriety at all times. Canon 4 instructs:

CANON 4
PROPRIETY

SEC. 1. Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities.

xxx

SEC. 2. As a subject of constant public scrutiny, judges must accept personal restrictions that
might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly. In
particular, judges shall conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the
judicial office.

A judge should always conduct himself in a manner that would preserve the dignity,
independence and respect for himself, the Court and the Judiciary as a whole. He must exhibit
the hallmark judicial temperament of utmost sobriety and self-restraint. Heshould choose his
words and exercise more caution and control inexpressing himself. In other words, a judge should
possess the virtue of gravitas. Furthermore, a magistrate should not descend to the level of a
sharp-tongued, ill-mannered petty tyrant by uttering harsh words, snide remarks and sarcastic
comments. He is required to always be temperate, patient and courteous, both in conduct and in
language.26

In this case, records show that Judge Paredes failed to observe the propriety required by the
Code and to use temperate and courteous language befitting a magistrate. Indeed, Judge
Paredes demonstrated conduct unbecoming of a judge.

When Judge Paredes failed to restrain himself and included Francis, whose condition and personal
circumstances, as properly observed by Justice Diy, had no relevance to the topic that was then
being discussed in class, it strongly indicated his intention to taint their reputations.

The inclusion of Judge Tormis and Francis in his class discussions was never denied by Judge
Paredes who merely justified his action by invoking his right to freedom of expression. Section 6,
Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct recognizes that judges, like any other citizen, are
entitled to freedom of expression. Such right, however, is not without limitation. Section 6, Canon
4 of the Code also imposes a correlative restriction on judges: in the exercise of their freedom of
Page 15 of 100

expression, they should always conduct themselves in a manner that preserves the dignity of the
judicial office and the impartiality and independence of the Judiciary. In the exercise of his right
to freedomof expression, Judge Paredes should uphold the good image of the Judiciary ofwhich he
is a part. He should have avoided unnecessary and uncalled for remarks in his discussions and
should have been more circumspect inhis language. Beinga judge, he is expected to act with
greater circumspection and to speak with self-restraint. Verily, Judge Paredes fell short of this
standard.

The Court cannot sustain the assertion of Judge Paredes that he cannot be held administratively
liable for his negative portrayal of Judge Tormis and Francis in his class discussions. Judge
Paredes should be reminded of the ethical conduct expected of him asa judge not only in the
performance of his judicial duties, but in his professional and private activities as well. Sections 1
and 2, Canon 2 of the Code mandates:

CANON 2
INTEGRITY

Integrity is essential not only to the proper discharge of the judicial office but also to the personal
demeanor of judges.

SECTION 1. Judges shall ensure thatnot only is their conduct above reproach, but that it is
perceived to be so in the view of a reasonable observer.

SECTION 2. The behavior and conduct of judges must reaffirm the peoples faith in the integrity
of the judiciary.1wphi1 Justice must not merely be done but must also be seen to be done.
(Emphases supplied)

Any impropriety on the part of Judge Paredes, whether committed in or out of the court, should
not be tolerated for he is not a judge only occasionally. It should be emphasized that the Code of
Judicial Ethics mandates that the conduct of a judge mustbe free of a whiff of impropriety not
only with respect to his performance of his judicial duties, but also to his behavior outside his
salaand as a private individual. There is no dichotomy of morality, a public official is also judged
by his private morals. The Code dictates that a judge, in order to promote public confidence in
the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, must behave with propriety at all times. A judges
official life cannot simply be detached or separated from his personal existence. Thus, being a
subject of constant public scrutiny, a judge should freely and willingly accept restrictions on
conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen. He should personify
judicial integrity and exemplify honest public service. The personal behavior of a judge, both in
the performance of official duties and in private life should be above suspicion.27

Regarding the act of receiving the cash bail bond in the Guioguio case,Justice Diy correctly found
that it cannot be regarded as grave misconduct. The Court findsmerit in the position of Judge
Paredes that the approval, as well as the receipt, ofthe cash bail bond, was in accordance with
the rules. Thus:

Finally, the Investigating Officer disagrees with Jills allegation that Judge Paredes committed
grave misconduct when he personally received cash bailbond in relation to the Guioguio case.
Judge Paredes justified his action by stating that he was merely following the procedure set forth
in Section 14, Chapter 5 of A.M. No. 03-02-SC, which authorizes executive judges to act on
petitions for bail on Saturdays after 1:00 oclock in the afternoon, Sundays, official holidays, and
special days. Said rule also provides that should the accused deposit cash bail, the executive
judge shall acknowledge receipt of the cash bail bond in writing and issue a temporary receipt
therefor. Considering that Judge Paredes merely followed said procedure, he cannot beheld
administratively liable for his act of receiving the cash bail bond in the Guioguio case.
Page 16 of 100

Moreover, respondent judge is authorized to receive the cash bail bond under Section 17 (a),
Rule 114 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure. Under said provision, the bail bond may be
filed either with the court where the case is pending, or with any Regional Trial Court (RTC) of the
place of arrest, or with any judge of the Metropolitan Trial Court or the Municipal Trial Court of the
place of arrest.

Lastly, Section 1 (h), Chapter 4 of A.M. No. 03-8-02-SC provides that executive judges are
authorized to exercise other powers and prerogatives which are necessary or incidental to the
performance of their functions in relation to court administration. In the instant case, Judge
Paredes was merely exercising powers incidental to his functions as anExecutive Judge since he
was the only judge available when Lita Guioguio posted bail. Notably, Lita Guioguios payment
for cash bail bond was made on a Sunday. In addition, the judge assignedto the court where the
Guioguio case was then pending and the executive judge of the MTCC, Cebu City were not
available to receive the bail bond. Judge Paredes was the only judge available since the practice
was for one judge to be present on Saturdays. However, there was no judge assigned for duty
during Sundays.

Relative to the matter above-discussed, the insinuation made by complainant Jill of any
irregularity reflected in the issuance of the two (2) orders of release of different dates is not
backed up by sufficient evidence.28

Conduct unbecoming of a judge is classified as a light offense under Section 10, Rule 140 of the
Rules of Court and penalized under Section 11(C) thereof by any of the following: (1) A fine of not
less than P1,000.00 but not exceeding P10,000.00; (2) Censure; (3) Reprimand; and (4)
Admonition with warning.

Considering that this is the first offense of Judge Paredes, the appropriate penalty under the
circumstances is admonition.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Judge Meinrado P. Paredes, Presiding Judge of Branch 13 of the
Regional Trial Court of Cebu City, administratively liable for conduct unbecoming of a judge and
ADMONISHES him therefor.

SO ORDERED.

March 09, 201

A.C. No. 7158

YOLANDA A. ANDRES,MINETTE A. MERCADO, and ELITO P. ANDRES, Complainants,


vs.
ATIY. SALIMATHAR V. NAMBI, Respondent.

DECISION

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

This is a Complaint for Disbarment1 filed against then Labor Arbiter Salimathar V. Nambi
(respondent) on the ground of gross ignorance of the law in issuing an Amended Alias Writ of
Execution against M.A. Blocks Work, Inc. and its incorporators,whothe herein complainants, are
not parties to the case.

Factual Antecedents
Page 17 of 100

On December 10, 2003, respondent rendered a Decision2 in a consolidated labor case3 against
M.A. Mercado Construction and spouses Maximo and Aida Mercado (spouses Mercado), thefallo of
which reads: ~~

WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered ordering respondents, M.A.


Mercado Construction and Maximo and Aida Mercado to reinstate the complainants to their
former position[s] without loss of seniority rights and to pay jointly and severally, their full
backwages from October 28, 2000 up to the date of this decision plus ten (10%) percent
attorneys fees of the total monetary award.

The Research and Information Unit of this Office is hereby directed to compute complainants[]
monetary award which shall form part of this decision.

The complaint for damages is dismissed. The complaint against Shoemart, Inc., is likewise
DISMISSED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.4

The respondents in the labor case, namely the Spouses Mercado, doing business under the name
and style of M.A. Mercado Construction, interposed an appeal which was dismissed for failure to
post an appeal bond. Thus, an Alias Writ of Execution was issued to implement the Decision.

Thereafter, the complainants in the labor case filed an Ex Parte Motion for Amendment of an
Alias Writ of Execution.5 They claimed that they could hardly collect the judgment award from
M.A. Mercado Construction because it allegedly transferred its assets to M.A. Blocks Work, Inc.
They thus prayed that the Alias Writ of Execution be amended to include M.A. Blocks Work, Inc.
and all its incorporators/stockholders6 as additional entity/personalities against which the writ of
execution shall be enforced.

In an Order7 dated February 10, 2006, respondent granted the motion to amend the alias writ of
execution. Accordingly, on February 17, 2006 an Amended Alias Writ of Execution was issued to
enforce the monetary judgment amounting to P19,527,623.55 against M.A. Blocks Work, Inc. and
all its incorporators.

By way of special appearance, M.A. Blocks Work, Inc., together with three of its stockholders who
are the complainants in this administrative case, namely Yolanda A. Andres, Minette A. Mercado
and Elito P. Andres, filed an Urgent Motion to Quash8 the Amended Alias Writ of Execution,
contending that they are not bound by the judgment as they were not parties to the labor case.
In an Order9 dated March 13, 2006, however, respondent denied the Urgent Motion to Quash.

Aggrieved, herein complainants filed the instant Complaint for Disbarment, which we referred to
the IBP on March 4, 2007 for investigation, report and recommendation.10

IBPs Report and Recommendation

In his Report and Recommendation11 dated September 6, 2010, the Investigating Commissioner
found respondent guilty of gross ignorance of the law and recommended that he be suspended
from the practice of law for a period of six months. This was adopted and approved with
modification by the IBP Board of Governors in an April 12, 2011 Resolution, to wit:

RESOLUTION NO. XIX-2011-110


Adm. Case No. 7158
Yolanda A. Andres, et al. vs.
Atty. Salimathar V. Nambi
Page 18 of 100

RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby unanimously ADOPTED and APPROVED, with
modification the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner in the above-
entitled case herein made part of this Resolution as Annex "A"; and, finding the recommendation
fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, considering
respondent[s] contumacious disregard of the lawful Order of Supreme Court and the
Commission on Bar Discipline of the IBP, and for his failure to appear despite due notices, Atty.
Salimathar V. Nambi is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for six (6) months.12
(Emphasis in the original).

Issue

Whether respondent is guilty of gross ignorance of the law and of violating the Code of
Professional Responsibility.

Our Ruling

At the outset, it must be emphasized that in this administrative proceeding, our discussion
should be limited only on the issue of whether respondent acted in gross ignorance of the law
when he granted the motion to amend the alias writ of execution; when he issued an Amended
Alias Writ of Execution to enforce the monetary judgment against M.A. Blocks Work, Inc. and all
its incorporators; and when he denied complainants Urgent Motion to Quash.

As a rule, for one to be held administratively accountable for gross ignorance of the law, there
must be a showing that the error was gross and patent as to support a conclusion that the actor
was so moved with malice, bad faith, corruption, fraud, and dishonesty. As such, our discussion
should be focused primarily on whether respondent grossly erred in issuing the above orders as
to amount to malice, bad faith, corruption, fraud and dishonesty.

On the other hand, we need not delve into the issue of whether there is an apparent
misapplication of the doctrine of piercing the veil of corporate fiction when respondent issued the
Amended Alias Writ of Execution. For one, it is outside the ambit of this administrative
proceeding. Moreover, the issue of whether the doctrine of piercing the veil of corporate fiction
applies is the subject of an appeal brought by complainants before the National Labor Relations
Commission and eventually to the Court of Appeals.13

We perused the records of the case particularly respondents Order14 dated March 13, 2006
denying complainants Urgent Motion to Quash. Therein, we note that respondents ruling was
not arrived at arbitrarily; on the contrary, he cited grounds based on his personal assessment of
the facts at hand, viz:

As culled from the case record, there is substantial evidence that respondents Maximo A.
Mercado and Aida A. Mercado, who are doing business under the name and style of M.A. Mercado
Construction put up a corporation in the name of M.A. Block Works, Inc. where individual
movants are one of the incorporators. We give credence to the argument of the complainants
that the incorporators therein are relatives of Maximo A. Mercado and Aida Mercado as shown by
the Articles of Incorporation adduced by the former. The incorporators listed have similar family
names of the Mercados and the Andreses and common address at Gen. Hizon, Quezon City and
50 Daisy St., Quezon City, and Maximo A. Mercado is the biggest stockholder. Aside from the
Articles of Incorporation, complainants also submitted a Letter of Intent/Notice To Proceed where
respondents, despite their representation that they have already ceased their business
operation, are still continuing their business operation. The documents submitted by the
complainants were corroborated by certification issued by Maggie T. Jao, AVP-Assistant Controller
of SM Prime Holdings, Inc. that based on their records, an amount of P3,291,300.00 representing
a sum total of all goods, effects, money and credit that was garnished belong to M.A. Mercado
Page 19 of 100

Construction and/or Maximo Mercado and/or Aida Mercado and/or M.A. Block Works, Inc. and/or
Gertrudes Casilda A. Mercado, Yolanda A. Andres, Minette A. Mercado and/or Elito P. Andres.

This Office has therefore, enough reason to conclude that respondents Maximo A. Mercado and
Aida Mercado and the movants herein are one and the same. Movants are alter egos or business
conduits to defraud the complainants and to consequently evade payment of judgment award. x
x x As respondents are duly notified and aware of the execution proceedings, the argument of
denial of due process is untenable.15

It is apparent from the foregoing disquisition that respondents conclusion had some bases and
was not plucked from thin air, so to speak. Clearly, respondent did not act whimsically or
arbitrarily; his ruling could not in any manner be characterized as imbued with malice, fraud or
bad faith. To reiterate what we have already stated above, we are not here to judge in this
present administrative proceeding whether respondents ratiocination on the application of the
piercing of corporate veil is correct; our only concern here is to decide whether respondents
error was so gross as to amount to fraud and dishonesty. Based on the above-quoted disquisition,
it cannot be said, by any stretch of imagination, that respondents error, if any, was so gross or
that he was actuated by malice when he issued the above orders. His conclusion was reached
after an examination of the documents presented and evaluation and assessment of the
arguments raised by the parties. He did not capriciously rule on the issues presented; on the
contrary, he exerted efforts to weigh the positions of the contending parties.

In any event, we hold that respondent should not be held accountable for committing an honest
mistake or an error in the appreciation of the facts of the case before him. Otherwise every labor
arbiter or any judicial or quasi-judicial officer for that matter, would be continually plagued with
the possibility of being administratively sanctioned for every honest mistake or error he commits.
For sure, this would not augur well to the administration of justice as a whole.

Pertinently, the Court ruled in Andrada v. Judge Banzon,16 viz:

Well-settled is the rule that unless the acts were committed with fraud, dishonesty, corruption,
malice or ill-will, bad faith, or deliberate intent to do an injustice, respondent judge may not be
held administratively liable for gross misconduct, ignorance of the law or incompetence of official
acts in the exercise of judicial functions and duties, particularly in the adjudication of cases.

Further, to hold a judge administratively accountable for every erroneous rule or decision he
renders would be nothing short of harassment and would make his position doubly unbearable.
To hold otherwise would be to render judicial office untenable, for no one called upon to try the
facts or interpret the law in the process of the administration of justice can be infallible in his
judgment.17

Based on the foregoing, we have no basis to hold respondent administratively liable for gross
ignorance of the law.

However, we note that respondent had consistently and obstinately disregarded the Court's and
IBP's orders. It is on record that respondent totally ignored the Court's June 7, 2006 Resolution18
directing him to file his Comment. He also failed to attend the mandatory conference before the
IBP's Commission on Bar Discipline despite notice.19 Neither did he file his Position Paper. As a
former Labor Arbiter, respondent should know that orders of the court "are not mere requests but
directives which should have been complied with promptly and completely."20 "He disregarded
the oath he took when he was accepted to the legal profession 'to obey the laws and the legal
orders of the duly constituted legal authorities.' x x x His conduct was unbecoming of a lawyer
who is called upon to obey court orders and processes and is expected to stand foremost in
complying with court directives as an officer of the court."21
Page 20 of 100

Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court provides:

Sec. 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court; grounds therefor.1wphi1 - A


member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme
Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral
conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation
of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience
of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a
party to a case without authority so to do. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose
of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice. (Emphasis
supplied)

Considering that this appears to be respondent's first infraction, we find it proper to impose on
himpenaltythe of reprimand with warning that commission of the same or similar infraction will
be dealt with more severely.

WHEREFORE, the Court REPRIMANDS respondent Atty. Salimathar V. Nambi for obstinately and
unjustifiably refusing to obey lawful orders of the Court and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines,
with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar act or offense shall be dealt with more
severely.

Let copies of this Resolution be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant and noted in Atty.
Nambi's record as a member of the Bar.

SO ORDERED.

March 17, 2015

OCA IPI NO. 14-220-CA-J

RE: COMPLAINT DATED JANUARY 28, 2014 OF WENEFREDO PARREO, ET AL., AGAINST HON.
CELIA C. LIBREA-LEAGOGO, HON. ELIHU A. YBAEZ AND HON. AMY C. LAZARO-JAVIER,
ASSOCIATE JUSTICES OF THE COURT OF APPEALS, RELATIVE TO CA G.R. SP NO. 108807

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

We hereby resolve the administrative complaint1 brought against Court of Appeals (CA)
Associate Justice Celia C. Librea-Leagogo, Associate Justice Elihu A. Ybaez and Associate Justice
Amy C. Lazaro- Javier for their undue delay in rendering the decision in C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807
entitled Susan Enriquez and Alma Rodriguez v. Wenefredo Parreo, Ronnie Cuevas and Joseph
Denamarca.

Antecedents

Complainants Wenefredo Parreno and Ronnie Cuevas, with Joseph Denamarca, filed a protest in
the Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the National Capital Region (DENR-
NCR) against the issuance of Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 14391 and TCT No. 14188 in
favor of Susan Enriquez and Alma Rodriguez covering two lots inside the Signal Village, Taguig.2
The DENR-NCR dismissed the protest,3 but the dismissal was subsequently reversed by the
DENR.4 Aggrieved, Enriquez and Rodriguez appealed to the Office of the President (OP), which
denied their appeal.5 With their motion for reconsideration having been similarly denied,6
Enriquez and Rodriguez appealed to the CA by petition for review,7 and it is such appeal from
which this administrative complaint arose.
Page 21 of 100

It appears that on June 26, 2012, the Special Sixteenth (16th) Division of the CA issued its
resolution submitting C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807 for decision.8 However, the complainants lament
that from the issuance of the resolution until the filing of their complaint on February 8, 2014, the
respondents, who comprised the Special 16th Division of the CA, had not rendered the decision,
which the complainants insist was in patent violation of the mandatory period within which the
respondents should decide under Section 15(1 ), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution.9

The Court required the respondents to submit their comments on the administrative complaint.

In her comment,10 Justice Librea-Leagogo narrated that she became the Chairperson of the CA
16th Division effective June 4, 2012 conformably with CA Office Order No. 220-12-ABR, and she
served as such until July 5, 2012 in accordance with the successive reorganizations implemented
in the CA under CA Office Order No. 198-12-ABR11 and CA Office Order No. 220-12-ABR,12
respectively. Citing Section 1, Rule VI of the 2009 Internal Rules of the Court of Appeals (2009
IRCA),13 Justice Librea-Leagogo denied liability for incurring any undue delay because of her
short stint as the Chairperson of the 16th Division, and considering further that C.A.-G.R. SP No.
108807 followed Justice Ybaez as the assigned ponente in his transfer to the Fourteenth (14th)
Division pursuant to CA Office Order No. 220-12-ABR, and eventually to the Thirteenth (13th)
Division, the Division that ultimately promulgated the awaited decision on February 28, 2014.14

Justice Ybaez admitted in his comment15 that C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807 was part of his initial
caseload following his transfer to Manila in December 2009. He stated that he had
conscientiously complied with the Zero Backlog Project (ZBP) initiated by Presiding Justice Andres
B. Reyes, Jr. by giving utmost priority to the older cases assigned to him; that he had already
assigned C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807 to a member of his legal staff, but the latter had meanwhile
fallen seriously ill; that due to lack of personnel and a heavy caseload, he had hired a
contractual-lawyer who later resigned upon being offered a permanent position in another
agency of the Government; that after disposing of the older cases assigned to him, he had
rendered the decision in C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807 on February 28, 2014 before becoming aware
of the administrative complaint; and that he had not been remiss in his duty and responsibility to
promptly administer justice by virtue of his disposing a monthly average of 15 cases.16

Justice Lazaro-Javier explained her participation in C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807 as limited to the
adoption and promulgation on June 26, 2012 of the resolution submitting the case for decision
because only filled in the brief vacancy occasioned by the temporary absence of Justice Victoria
Isabel Paredes, then the regular Member of the 16th Division. She pointed out, however, that she
had nothing more to do with the case upon the return of Justice Paredes; hence, she could not be
administratively liable for any delay in deciding the case.17

Issue

Are the respondents liable for undue delay in deciding C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807?

Ruling

The administrative complaint is without merit.

The Constitution mandates a lower collegiate court like the CA to resolve a case within 12
months from the submission of the last required pleading or as set by the court itself. This is
clear from paragraphs (1) and (2), Section 15 of Article VIII of the Constitution, to wit:

Section 15. (1) All cases or matters filed after the effectivity of this Constitution must be decided
or resolved within twenty-four months from date of submission for the Supreme Court, and,
Page 22 of 100

unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all lower collegiate courts, and three
months for all lower courts.

(2) A case or matter shall be deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the
last pleading, brief, or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court itself.

xxxx

Did the respondents incur any administrative liability for the delay?

Although C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807 was submitted for decision by the Special 16th Division on
June 26, 2012 after the parties did not file their memoranda,18 it was the 13th Division of the CA
(composed of Justice Ybaez as the ponente, Justice Japar B. Dimaampao as the Chairman, and
Justice Melchor Quirino C. Sadang) that promulgated the decision on February 28, 2014, or nearly
20 months later. Accordingly, the Court answers the query in the negative, for, pursuant to
Section 1, Rule VI of the 2009 IRCA, the adjudication of cases was the responsibility of the
assigned Justice and the Members of the Division to which he or she then belonged. Determining
who should be administratively accountable must consider the specific role each of the
respondents played leading to the resolution of C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807. Under the applicable
rule of the 2009 IRCA, the liability for undue delay in resolving C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807 might
devolve only on the Members of the 13th Division who actually promulgated the decision.

Justice Librea-Leagogo and Justice Lazaro-Javier were not accountable for the delay in rendering
the judgment. Justice Librea-Leagogo had a limited participation in respect of C.A.- G.R. SP No.
108807 because the reorganization of the CA ensuing after the promulgation of the resolution by
the Special 16th Division on June 26, 2012 caused her transfer to the 15th Division through CA
Office Order No. 220-12-ABR,19 terminating her responsibility in C.A.- G.R. SP No. 108807. Justice
Lazaro-Javier should also be exculpated because her participation was limited to her acting as a
special Member of the 16th Division in lieu of Justice Paredes. Such substitution prevented a
vacuum in the regular 16th Division, and conformed to the procedure stated in Section 6(d), Rule
I of the 2009 IRCA.20 The constitution of the Special 16th Division was by virtue of CA Office
Order No. 220-12-ABR.21

Justice Ybaez, as the ponente for C.A. G.R. SP No. 108807, carried the case with him when he
was transferred to the 13th Division. But whether or not he was administratively liable for the
delay of eight months should depend on the relevant circumstances. Although often holding that
a heavy caseload is insufficient reason to excuse a Judge from disposing his cases within the
reglementary period,22 the Court has applied this rule by considering the causes of the delay. In
Marquez v. Manigbas,23 the Court relieved the respondent judge from liability because the delay
had been caused by the sudden deluge of cases brought about by the expansion of the
jurisdiction of the municipal trial courts. In Santos v. Lorenzo,24 the Court held that a delay of
seven months in deciding a case could be excused because of the heavy caseload of the trial
courts in the National Capital Judicial Region. In Lubaton v. Lazaro,25 the Court, in sparing the
respondent from the sanctions earlier imposed for undue delay, cited the good faith of the judge,
the motivation of the complainant for bringing the charge, and the excessively heavy caseload of
3,500 cases, 1,800 of which involved detainees, leaving her only Fridays for the study of her
cases and the resolution of pending incidents and issuance of the proper orders. The Court, in
reversing the sanctions, observed that "it would be unkind and inconsiderate on the part of the
Court to disregard respondent Judge's limitations and exact a rigid and literal compliance with
the rule."26

The delay in C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807 could not be said to have been incurred by Justice Ybaez
with malice or deliberate attempt to impede the dispensation of justice.1wphi1 He assigned
C.A.-G.R. SP No. 108807 to a member of his legal staff, but the latter had fallen seriously ill in the
meantime, forcing him to hire a contractual-lawyer for the purpose. The latter subsequently
Page 23 of 100

joined another agency of the Government on a permanent basis. Thus, Justice Ybaez could
promulgate the decision only on February 28, 2014. His explanation for the delay, being entirely
plausible, is accepted.

WHEREFORE, the Court DISMISSES for lack of merit the administrative complaint against Justice
Celia C. Librea-Leagogo, Justice Elihu A. Ybaez and Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier.

SO ORDERED.

A.M. No. RTJ-11-2290 November 18, 2014


[Formerly OCA IPI No. 08-2954-RTJ]

MARILOU T. RIVERA, Complainant,


vs.
JUDGE JAIME C. BLANCAFLOR, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 26, STA. CRUZ, LAGUNA,
Respondent.

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

Before the Court is the administrative matter that stemmed from the complaint-affidavit1 filed on
July 16, 2008 by Marilou T. Rivera (Rivera) with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA),
charging Judge Jaime C. Blancaflor [Judge Blancaflor, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 26, Sta.
Cruz, Laguna] with Bribery, Gross Misconduct, Immorality and violation of the Anti-Graft and
Corrupt Practices Act [Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019].

The Antecedents

The facts as set out in the final report and recommendation2 of Associate Justice Remedios A.
Salazar-Fernando (Justice Fernando) of the Court of Appeals are summarized below.3

Rivera alleged that she had been engaged in assisting litigants to obtain judicial bonds since
year 2000. Sometime in February 2008, she asked her daughter Shiela T. De Mata (De Mata),
who was also a bondsman, to help her secure a bail bond for accused Ricardo Catuday
(Catuday). Catuday was charged of violating Section 11 of R. A. No. 9165 (the Comprehensive
Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002) by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor (OPP) of Laguna.

On February 27, 2008, Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Dan B. Rodrigo (Prosecutor Rodrigo)
recommended a bail of 200,000.00 for Catuday who moved to reduce his bail to120,000.00
before the Office of the Executive Judge, RTC, Sta. Cruz, Laguna. De Mata brought a copy of the
motion to Prosecutor Rodrigo who did not object to the motion and who signified his conformity
by writing "no objection" and affixing his signature and the date "4/14/08" on the face of the
motion.4

De Mata thereafter brought the document to the Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC), RTC, Sta.
Cruz, Laguna for the approval of Judge Blancaflor who was then the Executive Judge. De Mata
failed to see Judge Blancaflor; she was told by Dennis Trinidad (Trinidad), a member of the OCC
staff, that Judge Blancaflor was not in the court. Trinidad volunteered to bring the motion to Judge
Blancaflor at Tagpuan Restaurant(in Pila, Laguna that the judge allegedly owned) for the judges
approval. Trinidad, however, returned without securing the requested approval. De Mata was told
to come back the next day.

De Mata went back to the OCC the following morning and was advised this time by Gemma
Gallardo (Gemma), another OCC personnel, to personally approach Judge Blancaflor about
Page 24 of 100

Catudays motion. De Mata acted as advised, but Judge Blancaflor simply told De Mata that it
was not her job to ask for the motions approval and that she should return it to the OCC. De
Mata at that point approached a Kuya Moring, the process server of Branch 27, about her
predicament. Kuya Moring introduced her to Judge Blancaflors driver who tried to help, but the
judge still refused to act on the motion. De Mata next approached Manuel Bugain (Bugain), a
court employee at Branch 26. Bugain offered to bring the motion to Judge Blancaflor who was
then in Barangay Layugan, Pagsanjan, Laguna. When Bugain returned, he told De Mata that
Judge Blancaflor refused to sign the motion because it did not bear the signature of Prosecutor
Rodrigo.

De Mata went back to Branch 26, together with Councilor Cecil Magana (Magana), whose
assistance she sought upon Bugains advice, to secure the requested approval. Whilethe motion
was being handed to Judge Blancaflor, he blurted out: "Hindi granted yan! Magbayad siya ng
P200,000.00. Ayaw ko ng drugs! Hindi granted yan!" Frustrated by the turn of events, De Mata
returned the unapproved motion to Rivera.

On May 27, 2008, Rivera brought the motion to Branch 91, RTC, Sta. Cruz, Laguna as Judge
Blancaflor was then out on a seminar. The following day, Judge Divinagracia Ongkeko (Judge
Ongkeko), the Presiding Judge of Branch 91 and Vice-Executive Judge of RTC, Sta. Cruz, Laguna,
issued an order granting Catudays motion to reduce bond. Rivera immediately secured a bail
bond for Catuday from the Industrial Insurance Company and presented it to Branch 26 for
Catudays provisional release.

Still, Judge Blancaflor refused to issue a release order, saying that he never approved Catudays
reduced bailbond of P120,000.00. Rivera then learned from one Teresa Mirasol (Mirasol) that
Judge Blancaflor refused to approve Catudays motion because it was Rivera who was working for
it. According to Mirasol, the information was given to her over the phone by Noralyn Villamar
(Villamar), a.k.a.Macky, allegedly Judge Blancaflors live-in partner.

Rivera further alleged that she experienced the same treatment from Judge Blancaflor when she
worked for the approval of the bail of Roel Namplata (Namplata) who was charged with violation
of Section 15 of R.A. No. 9165, also by the OPP, Laguna. Namplatas recommended bail was
P60,000.00. After securing Prosecutor Rodrigos consent and with the help of Gemma, she
succeeded in securing Judge Blancaflors approval with the handwritten notation: "Approved
P40,000.00 for surety bond. 3-27-08 (SGD.) Judge Blancaflor."

After obtaining a bail bond for Namplata, Rivera tried to secure a release order from Judge
Blancaflor who refused to honor the bond as it had been belatedly filed. He even brought back
the cost of the bond to P60,000.00. In the afternoon of June 12, 2008, Rivera learned that Judge
Blancaflor declared that he would not release Namplata unless a criminal case is filed against her
by Rina Tranilla (Tranilla), a sister of Namplata. True enough, Tranilla filed a complaint for estafa5
against Rivera at around 4:00 oclock that afternoon. The following day, Judge Blancaflors order6
was issued, dated June 10, 2008, for Namplatas release.

Explaining her difficulties with Judge Blancaflor in relation with her work as a bondsman, Rivera
claimed that the judge harbored ill will against her because of her involvement in Special
Proceeding No. 4605 entitled Arsenio S. Leron, et al. v. Benjamin S. Leron, et al.,then pending
before Judge Blancaflors sala. Rivera alleged that she was the attorney-in-fact of one of the
defendants in the case, Dr. Emelita R. Leron (Dr. Leron) who filed on March 2, 2007 a motion for
inhibition against Judge Blancaflor.7 The motion allegedly recited in detail Judge Blancaflors
misdeeds and gross misconduct, manifest partiality and indiscretion in fraternizing with clients
and litigants in connection with the case.

Rivera further alleged that Judge Blancaflor inhibited himself from the case after she executed an
affidavit attesting to (1) the judges recommendation to the plaintiff, Normita Leron, to secure
Page 25 of 100

the services of Atty. Ricardo Pilares, Jr. (Atty. Pilares); (2) the rigging of the raffle of the case to
Judge Blancaflor; and (3) the irregular service of summons to the defendants in the case.
Moreover, her son Byron Torres (Byron) and son-inlaw Ricel De Mata (Ricel)) also executed a joint
affidavit8 stating that Judge Blancaflor "bribed" them not to testify in connection with the motion
for inhibition.

Lastly, Rivera maintained that Judge Blancaflor should be charged with immorality for
maintaining an illicit relationship with Villamar, who is not his wife.

In a Supplemental Affidavit,9 dated July 29, 2008, Rivera reiterated her charge that Judge
Blancaflor committed gross misconduct in (1) fraternizing with litigants;(2) maintaining an illicit
affair with a woman not his wife; and (3) exhibiting personal bias and prejudice against her in her
efforts to obtain bail bonds for Catuday and Namplata.

Judge Blancaflors Comment

In his Comment10 dated August 26, 2008, Judge Blancaflor denied Riveras accusations and
dismissed them as "mere concoctions" of her "fertile imagination."

Judge Blancaflor claimed that neither Rivera nor her daughter approached him regarding
Catudays and Namplatas bail bonds. Even assuming that they did, he refused their requests
because they were not authorized bondsmen or agents of any duly accredited surety company.
They were acting as fixers, he explained; thus, he was justified in denying their requests. Further,
Judge Blancaflor claimed that he strictly observes a policy of refusing to reduce the required bail
in drug-related cases even if approval is recommended by the investigating prosecutor. He could
not also order Catudays release because it was Judge Ongkeko who granted his motion to
reduce bail; in his view, Judge Ongkeko should also order Catudays release.

Judge Blancaflor considered as "fantastic" Riveras account that she and De Mata brought the
motions to reduce bail of Catuday and Namplata to Tagpuan Restaurant in Pila, Laguna for his
approval. He maintained that Riveras account was simply untrue because as a matter of policy,
he does not allow court personnel orany other person for thatmatter, to bring the case records or
any part thereof outsidethe court premises. Moreover, he does not own a restaurant in Pila,
Laguna, nor a house, chapel and resort in Pagsanjan, Laguna.

In the Leron case, Judge Blancaflor recalled that Rivera asked him to extend assistance to her
boss, Dr. Leron, a defendant in the case. He denied her request and since then, she started
harassing and blackmailing him and even filed an administrative case against him.

Shortly thereafter, the Lerons (defendants in Special Proceeding No. 4605), with Riveras active
participation, started circulating stories against him, which culminated in the filing ofa letter-
complaint before Executive Judge Mary Ann E. Corpus-Maalac (Judge Corpus-Maalac) accusing
him of bias, partiality and bribery. The Lerons however eventually withdrew the complaint after
being enlightened aboutthe raffle of cases. Also, he had absolutely no involvement in the
engagement of Atty. Pilares as a lawyer in the case as he does not entertain fixers.

Judge Blancaflor brushed off the immorality charge against him. He branded it as malicious and a
mere fabrication of Rivera. He alleged that Rivera even hired a Solomon Ondevilla (Ondevilla) to
execute an affidavit against him,[11]] but Ondevilla subsequently denied that he executed and
signed the affidavit.12

Judge Blancaflor questioned Riveras credibility, claiming that she is known for filing fabricated
charges and malicious complaints against lawyers, judges and other public officials, among
them, an Atty. Cayetano Santos.13 Further, she has also been charged with numerous criminal
Page 26 of 100

offenses, mostly swindling or estafa cases and violations of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22, and is
known to have an illicit relationship withdifferent men.

In his Comment14 to Riveras supplemental affidavit,15 Judge Blancaflor reiterated his denial of
Riveras charges against him. In particular, he took exception to Annex "B"16 of the
supplemental affidavit, which referred to Namplatas motion to reduce bail bond and which
allegedly carried his marginal note of approval. Judge Blancaflor claimed that the document was
manufactured and was not on file with the court. He added that the marginal note approving a
reduced bail of P40,000.00 was forged; even assuming that it was genuine, it was not a formal
order and he still had the discretion on whether toreduce the P60,000.00 recommended bail. By
way of a reply-affidavit,17 Rivera countered that she is a legitimate bondsman as she is an agent
of Genric Insurance and that she is also a swimming instructor and in business through her
"Rivera Swimming Lessons." With respect to Tagpuan Restaurant, she clarified that the property
is registered in the name of Villamar, Judge Blancaflors live-in partner, and that the two also
purchased and co-owned several parcels of land in Layugan, Pagsanjan, Laguna.

Rivera also claimed that Ondevilla withdrew his affidavit relating Judge Blancaflors illicit
relationship with Villamar because the two of them threatened to file a case against him and
would have him imprisoned. She stressed that Judge Blancaflors attack on her person has
nothing to do with the case she filed against him.

Justice Fernandos Investigation/Findings/Recommendation

In compliance with the Courts resolution of August 17, 2011,18 Justice Fernando conducted a
thorough investigation of the complaint, in the course of which, she conducted several hearings,
received affidavits and documentary evidence, heard testimonies of witnesses, and even
conducted an ocular inspection.19

Justice Fernando found Judge Blancaflor guilty of (1) bribery, gross misconduct and violation of
R.A. 3019; and (2) immorality. She recommended that the judge be dismissed from the service,
with prejudice to his reinstatement or appointment to any public office, and likewise
recommended the forfeiture of the judges retirement benefits, if any.

The OCA Report and Recommendation

On July 24, 2013, the Court referred Justice Fernandos final report to the OCA for evaluation,
report and recommendation.20 In its memorandum21 of February 25, 2014, the OCA submitted
its report to the Court, adopting the findings and recommendations of Justice Fernando.

The Courts Ruling

After considering Justice Fernandos report and the records of the case, we note that she
conducted a very thorough investigation. We uphold her findings and recommendation as we find
sufficient basis to dismiss respondent Judge Blancaflor from the service.

Re: charge of bribery, gross misconduct


and violation of R.A. No. 3019

The first count against Judge Blancaflor regarding this charge involved his alleged: (1) refusal to
approve Catudays motion to reduce bail bond, despite a "no objection" from the prosecutor; (2)
refusal to order Catudays release, despite Judge Ongkekos grant of the motion; (3) refusal to
order Namplatas release, despitehis own approval of the motion to reduce bail bond; and (4)
offer of money to Byron and Ricel to prevent them from testifying in the motion for his inhibition
in the Leron case.
Page 27 of 100

While Judge Blancaflor has the discretion to approve or disapprove a motion to reduce bail, it
appears from the records that he abused this prerogative in the cases of Catuday and Namplata.
Through Judge Blancaflors inaccessibility (he was usually not in the court in the afternoon)22
and refusal to take action on their pleas for provisional liberty, Catuday and Namplata and the
people working for the approval of their motions (Rivera and De Mata) suffered inordinate delay
and frustrations in securing the motions approval. In more ways than one, Judge Blancaflor gave
De Mata and Riveraa run-around in Catudays and Namplatas cases for no plausible reason other
than the judges strong antipathy towards Rivera.

This is serious misconduct and a violation of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine
Judiciary23 which mandates that "judges shall perform their judicial duties without favor, bias or
prejudice,"24 and that they "shall ensure that his or her conduct, both in and out of court,
maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants in the
impartiality of the judge and of the judiciary."25

For instance, when De Mata learned that Judge Blancaflor said that he did not approve Catudays
motion for reduction of his bail because Prosecutor Rodrigo was against the motion, she went to
see the prosecutor about it. Prosecutor Rodrigo told her that there was no problem with the
motion, so he signed it, but he did not know why Judge Blancaflor would not approve the motion.
De Mata then asked the help of Magana, yet even with Maganas intercession, Judge Blancaflor
refused to sign the motion, saying that he did not like drugs. Magana wondered why Catudays
motion was not approved when all the other surety bonds were approved. The following
testimony of De Mata confirmed the difficulties De Mata and her mother experienced in their
work as bondsmen in Judge Blancaflors sala:

xxxx

Q: After Mr. Bugain told you that Judge Blancaflor refuses to sign for the reason that Fiscal
Rodrigo also does not approve of the said motion, what did you do?

A. I went to Fiscal Rodrigo and asked him what was the problem with the motion?

Q: What did Fiscal Rodrigo [tell] you?

A: He said there was really no problem with the motion so he signed it. He did not know why the
motion of Catuday was left pending.

xxxx

Q: During this time, this Mayora was also in branch 26?

A: Yes, mam, and she was also wondering why our application cannot be approved while all the
other surety bonds were approved.

Q: Can you tell us who this Mayora is, what is her occupation?

A: She was a councilor, the wife of the previous mayor. If there are people who cannot afford to
pay bail, they ask her for help and she helps people.26

xxxx

Judge Blancaflor denied the allegations, contending that Catudays motion was not filed with the
OCC and never reached him.27 Justice Fernando found otherwise, citing the Order28 dated May
28, 2008 of Judge Ongkeko, Vice-Executive Judge of the RTC, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, granting the
motion when Judge Blancaflor was attending a seminar in Tagaytay City. Judge Ongkeko could not
Page 28 of 100

have issued the order had it not been filed with the OCC. But what was more surprising was
Judge Blancaflors refusal to acknowledge and to act on the order of approval. This belies Judge
Blancaflors excuses for not acting on Catudays motion and lends credence to Riveras
submission that the judges refusal was to spite her.

The same thing happened when Rivera processed Namplatas bail bond. As the records show,
Judge Blancaflor approved Namplatas motion for reduction of bail. The judge admitted his
approval during the investigation. When he was asked: "Do you clearly remember Judge that you
reduced it as shown by your signature from P60,000,00 to P40,000.00 bail?," he answered: "That
is correct sir, that day," referring to March 27, 2008.29 Yet, he refused to approve Namplatas
temporary release. In fact, in his Comment to Riveras supplemental complaint,30 he disowned
the marginal note he made on a copy of Namplatas motion reducing his bail bond to P40,000.00.

The following exchanges during the investigation further indicate that Judge Blancaflor
overstepped and abused his authority as a judge when he took time to release Namplata, despite
his approval of Namplatas bail bond at its original amount which he earlier reduced to
P40.000.00:

J. Fernando:

But you admit you issued a March 27 Order reducing it to P40,000.00?

Judge Blancaflor:

The marginal note I admit, Your Honor.

J. Fernando:

Yes, thats fine.

Atty. Aguirre (Riveras, counsel):

Q: The reason Judge Blancaflor why you did not anymore honor your marginal note reducing the
amount from 60 to 40 is that you came to know that it was Waling, the complainant, and her
daughter Shiela who was (sic) following it up with you?

A: That is not correct, sir. What you claim that I did not honor the original marginal note is
because I did not see it in the original file of the case.

Q: But the more important reason Judge is that you came to know that it was the complainant
and her daughter who were following up this bail bond case and when you came to know that
follow up of the complainant and her daughter, you wanted it returned back to 60 because you
said it was too long in coming, the P40,000.00 bond, is that correct?

A: That is not correct sir:

Q: And another condition of yours before the bail could be approved by you is that the sister or
Namplata must file a case of estafa against the complainant which she did and one day after, the
case against the complainant for estafa was filed before the Office of the City Prosecutor, you
issued the Order of Release, is that correct?

A: That is not correct. That is your own language, sir.

Q: That is the testimony of the witnesses.31


Page 29 of 100

In an effort to justify his errors and omissions in relation to Catudays and Namplatas motions,
Judge Blancaflor argued that he refused to act on the motions because he hates drugs and,in the
case of Namplata, there was a delay in the processing of the bail bond.

We are not at all convinced by Judge Blancaflors explanations. His excuses which were marked
by inconsistencies and typified by his initial denial that he approved Namplatas motion, only to
admit the approval before Justice Fernando cannotjustify his failure to act. Action by the judge
was clearly called for by the urgency of the matter before him the plea for provisional liberty of
Catuday and Namplata who enjoy the right to bail despite the serious offenses they were
charged with. His unexplained refusal in these cases can only support Riveras claim that his
inaction was due to Riveras intervention in the approval of the motions, a clear sign of his
personal bias and prejudice against her. This, in our view, ispatently a gross misconduct on the
part of Judge Blancaflor.

It appears from the records that Judge Blancaflors antipathy towards Rivera arose from her
involvement in the Leron case when she testified against the judge in a motion for his inhibition
from the case. The motion must have caused considerable anxiety and concern for the judge so
that he even exerted efforts to neutralize Rivera, to the extent of offering cash to Byron (Riveras
son) and Ricel (Riveras son-in-law) who executed a joint Affidavit32 that Judge Blancaflor and
Villamar offered them P10,000.00 each and even warned them not to testify atthe hearing on the
motion. The two showed the cash to Rivera and they had the incident entered in the police
blotter.33 In this regard, Torres and Ricel deposed:

xxxx

1. x x x Kami ay namamasukan kay Armando Q. Torres ("ARMANDO") na tatay ni BYRON at


biyenan na lalaki ni RICEL. Kami ay laging nagkakaroon ng komunikasyon kay Noralyn M.
Villamar a.k.a. Macky ("Macky") dahil may mga transaksiyon silang pinag-uusapan ng aming
tatay na si Armando.

2. Noong ika-02 Marso 2007, araw ng Biyernes, mga 5:00 5:30 ng hapon, tumawag si Macky
kay Byron at sinabi na gusto daw siya makausap nito tungkol sa pagtetestigo nila laban kay
Judge Jaime C. Blancaflor ("Judge Blancaflor"), at sinabihan na pumunta sa bahay nila.

3. Pagdating ni Byron sa bahay nila Macky at Judge Blancaflor sa Brgy. Layugan ng mga bandang
6:00 ng gabi, tinanong ni Macky si Byron "Bakit natin kailangang maglaban?"Nagkunwari akong
walang alam at tumahimik na lang ako.

4. Nilapitan ako (Byron) ni Judge Blancflor at sinabi na: "Byron, ayaw ko tayong mag-kabanggaan.
Kung lilitaw kayo sa hearing sa petsa 6 ay ipapakulongko kayo. Ito ang ten thousand
(P10,000.00), ito ay hindi suhol. Wag ka lang tumistigo. Kung tetestigo ka, mapipilitan kaming
lumaban. Kayang-kaya kitang gawan ng kaso tulad ng rape at anumang kaso na puwedeng
isaksak sa iyo.

5. Pinahabol pa ni Macky na: "Kahit patayan pwede kami."

6. Noong 03 ng Marso 2007, araw ng Sabado, bandang 5:10 ng hapon, pumunta si Macky at si
Guillen Almonte sa bahay ng tatay namin na si Armando sa Brgy. Duhat kung saan kami ay
nagtratrabaho.

7. Galit na galit si Macky at sinabi nito kay Armando ngunit nakatingin sa amin: "Pare, bakit
ganito? Ano ang ginawa ng mga bata? Kayong dalawa, tinanggap namin kayo nang maayos sa
Layugan."

8. Hindi na kami umimik at hinayaan naming magsalita na lamang si Macky.


Page 30 of 100

9. Sinabi pa ni Macky na: "Huwag na nating patagalin ito. Ayaw kong tayo ang magkabanggaan.
Kung lalaban kayo, lalaban kami hanggang patayan."

10. Nagtangkang umalis si Byron kaya sumigaw si Macky na: "Byron! Huwag kang umiwas.
Problema natin to. Huwag kang umalis!"

11. Nag-isip si Byron ng dahilan upang maka-alis. Bago siya nakaalis, pahabol na sinabi ni Macky
na: "Mag-aabot ako ng tulong, huwag lang kayong sumali."

12. Nang nakaalis na si Byron mga bandang 6:00 pm, naglabas ng pera si Macky at inaabot ito
kay Ricel, ngunit hindi niya ito kinuha. Kaya ang ginawa ni Macky ay kinausap si Armando at
inilagay ang pera sa mesa at sinabi na: "Pare, kung ayaw magtiwala ng anak mo sa amin, ito ang
P20,000.00 para kay Byron at para kay Ricel. Ikaw na ang bahala. Meron pang kasunod yan kung
pipirma sila ng Affidavit of Desistance."34

In his comment35 on Riveras complaint, Judge Blancaflor denied the alleged offer, claiming that
the alleged sums did not come from him but from Armando Torres (Torres) and were "given as
support to his son Byron and son-in-law Ricel." When Rivera saw the P20,000.00, she grabbed it
from Byron and proceeded to the police station and made a false story of bribery against him.36
Judge Blancaflor offered in evidence two affidavits Armando executed37 dated March 6, 2007
and August 22, 2008.

Again, the explanation fails to persuade us. Armando is Riveras estranged husband. Their union
produced Byron and De Mata, the wife of Ricel. Rivera and Armando separated in 1983. It was a
case of a marriage turned sour where the spouses filed cases against one another, as Armando
himself stated in his affidavit of August 22, 2008.38 We should not be too quick therefore to
admit Armandos statements as unvarnished truth, especially when he did not even appear
during the investigation to affirm the statements attributed to him, despite several subpoenas for
him to testify, the last one being on December 6, 2012.39

On the other hand, Rivera and Byron reported the bribery incident to the police. The following
exchanges on what transpired in the police station significantly shed light on this incident and
bolstered Riveras claim that Judge Blancaflor committed a serious misconduct in relation with
the Leron case, thus:

Q: Now, do you remember what thisis all about, the incident reported by Byron Torres?

A: It was a threat.

Q. Will you please read it again to refresh your memory?

(Witness reading the blotter)

Q: What you read, the entry in the blotter is in your handwriting?

A. Yes sir.

Q: What do you remember about this P10,000.00?

J. Fernando: 10 or 20?

A: P10,000.00

J. Fernando: 10 lang?
Page 31 of 100

A: Yes, P10,000.00.

Wag siyang aatend sa hearing saa-sais kung hindi sila ang magkakabangga ni Judge Blancaflor.
Q: What is that P10,000.00 there?

A: Ang akin pong pagkakaintindi ito ay suhol dahil nakalagay dito hindi ito suhol. Wag kang
tumestigo dahil kung tetestigo ka ay mapipilitan lumaban gawan ka ng kaso. Pag tumestigo siya
gagawa siya ng kaso.

Translation:

If he testified, he would have a case filed against him.

xxxx

Q: But the signature here of Byron, did he sign it in your presence?

A: Yes sir.

Q: And the witness also signed it in your presence?

A: Yes, sir, in my presence.40

The root cause of the Leron case, as Justice Fernando established and stressed, was the irregular
assignment of the case which was directly brought to Judge Blancaflors sala without going
through a raffle. Atty. Arthur Trinidad, Jr. (Atty. Trinidad), then RTC Clerk of Court, Sta. Cruz,
Laguna, testified that the case, Special Proceeding No. 4605, which was filed on November 15,
2006 was not included in the schedule of raffle of cases for the period November 10 to 30, 2006
and was brought to the judges sala even before the case was supposed tobe raffled on
November 30, 2006 because he was made to understand, based on the judges letter to him,
that the case a settlement of estate dispute belonged to the Family Court then handled by
Judge Blancaflor.41 Due to the judges letter, he assumed that the case was within the
jurisdiction of the Family Court so that it was his ministerial duty to forward the case to Judge
Blancaflors sala.42

Not only does it appear that Judge Blancaflor intervened in the assignment of the Leron case, he
also had a hand in ensuring who would represent the disputants, by suggesting, in the presence
of and with the active participation of Villamar, that the lawyers for the parties would be Atty.
Pilares for the plaintiffs43 and Atty. Stephen David (Atty. David) for the defendants.44 He even
went to the extent of voicing out how the case should turn out.

Thus, Dr. Leron deposed: "Tinanong ko si Judge Blancaflor kung matatalo ako kahit sabihin ko na
wala naman talaga ang lahat ng hinahanap nila. Sagot ni Judge Blancaflor Pwede, depende sa
presentasyon ng abogado mo. Tinanong ko kung sino yong abogado na sinasabi ni Macky. Sagot
ni Judge Blancaflor[,] si [Atty. David] at dinagdag pa niya kumpare ko yan,magaling yan, at taga-
Tektite, madali nating maayos ang kaso. Nabanggit din niya na kumpare ni Atty. David si

Atty. Pilares. Sinabi niya pa mas lamang kayo kasi mas alam niyo nangyayari kaysa sa
kabila."45

Also, Ricel, Riveras son-in-law, stated under oath that he saw Judge Blancaflor and plaintiff
Gilbert Leron (Gilbert) during the blessing of the chapel inside the compound of the judges
house on January 16, 2007 and he overheard Judge Blancaflor assuring Gilbert not to worry about
Page 32 of 100

the case saying: "Pare wag na kayo mag-alala, ayos na ang kaso nyo nina Dr. Leron," while they
were drinking beer.46

Judge Blancaflor argued that he had no interest whatsoever in the Leron case as it was forwarded
to Branch 26 in the ordinary course of business since cases falling within the exclusive
jurisdiction of the Family Court are directly forwarded to Branch26, his branch. His letter to Atty.
Trinidad should not be considered against him because he was then a new family court judge. He
further argued that he did not refer Atty. Pilares to the plaintiffs; he even dismissed the case for
prematurity and inhibited himself from the case after it was re-raffled.47

We do not find Judge Blancaflors explanations convincing.The circumstances of the Leron case
left Judge Blancaflor no other recourse but to inhibit. As Justice Fernando aptly observed, it was
more prudent for the judge to inhibit than to be placed under a cloud of distrust by the parties.
On the matter of the parties legal representation alone, we find credible the statements of
Rivera, Dr. Leron and Ricel that not only did Judge Blancaflor refer lawyers to the parties but,
more seriously, he gave them hints that they would prevail in the case.

Judge Blancaflors interference in the case in the way just described is not only gross misconduct;
it also constitutes a violation of R.A. No. 3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,
particularly Section 3(e) which provides: "In addition to acts or omissions of public officers
already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public
officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful: x x x Causing any undue injury to any party,
including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or
preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest
partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence x x x."

To be sure, even if Judge Blancaflor inhibited himself from the Leron case, he cannot extricate
himself from the legal mess he brought upon himself. His interference in the case caused an
undue injury to the party who should have prevailed had the case pushed through; and an
unwarranted benefit to the party who should have lost had the case been decided on the merits.
Worse, he exhibited evident bad faith when he gave both parties expectations of winning the
case. Thus, there is every reason to find probable cause against him for violation of R.A. No.
3019.

It is unfortunate that Judge Blancaflor lost sight of the exacting standards demanded of the office
of a judge in the Leroncase. Time and again, judges have been reminded thatas magistrates,
they must comport themselves in such a manner that their conduct, official or otherwise, can
bear the most searching scrutiny of the public that looks up to them as the epitome of integrity
and justice.48 Sad to state, Judge Blancaflor failed to pass this "searching scrutiny."

Re: charge of immorality

On the charge of immorality for allegedly maintaining an illicit relationship with Villamar who is
nothis wife Justice Fernando aptly observed that Judge Blancaflor offered no evidence, except
general denials to disprove his moral indiscretion, which appeared to be widely known in the
community at the time material to the case. As the records show, statements made here and
there by witnesses and personalities drawn into the case confirm the special relationship
between Judge Blancaflor and Villamar such that Villamar had no hesitation in speaking for the
judge on matters concerning him and his work.

The community, it seemed, had accepted them as man and wife, given that they stayed in
Layugan, Pagsanjan, Laguna and owned Tagpuan Restaurant in Pila, Laguna. This restaurant,
incidentally, even became Judge Blancaflors extension office, usually in the afternoons, as
deposed by Rivera, De Mata, Byron, Ricel and Judge Blancaflors staff whose assistance Rivera
and De Mata sought in their effort to secure the provisional liberty for their clients Catuday and
Page 33 of 100

Namplata. The depositions were backed up by pictures of (1) the places where Tagpuan
Restaurant used to stand and where the two were residing, and (2) the events in the life of the
live-in partners. Notably, Exhs. "N," "N-1," and "N-2"49 were separate camera shots of the place
where Tagpuan Restaurant used to stand; Exh. "A-15-C"50 was a picture of Gilbert, a party in the
Leron case, attending the blessing of the chapel inside the compound of Judge Blancaflors
house; Exh. "E"51 was a picture of Judge Blancaflor and Villamar together in a hut located inside
the compound of their house in Layugan, Pagsanjan, Laguna, apparently relaxing; and Exhs. "F,"
"G," and "H" were pictures of Villamar picking up Judge Blancaflor from his office at the RTC, Sta.
Cruz, Laguna, using her Pajero with plate no. XHF 887.52

Judge Blancaflor belittled the immorality charge, dismissing it as merely a fabrication and a
product of Riveras fertile imagination. To substantiate his claim, he cited the withdrawal of
Ondevillas affidavit confirming Riveras charge that he was maintaining an illicit liaison with
Villamar.53

Again, we are not persuaded by the judges response. Given the fact that Judge Blancaflor is a
person of authority and his involvement in the "bribery" incident (as revealed by Byron and Ricel
whom the judge even threatened if they would testify against him), we find more credibility in
Riveras submission that Ondevilla withdrew his affidavit on the immorality charge because the
judge likewise threatened him.

The confluence of the statements of Rivera and the others (Byron, De Mata, Ricel and Mirasol),
the information provided by Judge Blancaflors staff, and the exhibits described above, constitute
more than enough support for the immorality charge against Judge Blancaflor. These interwoven
pieces of evidence pointing to the relationship between the judge and Villamar, several of which
materialized over a period of time, could not conceivably have been the result of Riveras
fabrications. As De Mata testified during the investigation:

ATTY. SHALIM:

Q: Ms. Witness, you mentioned that Noralyn Villamar is the live-in partner of Judge Blancaflor.
How do you know this?

A: Because Tita Macky herself was the one who told me that Judge Blancaflor is her live-in
partner.

xxxx

J. FERNANDO:

Q: If you know, how long have JudgeBlancaflor and Noralyn been living together as live-in
partners?

A: 2006, your Honor.

Q: So they started as live-in partners since 2006?

A: June of 2006, Your Honor, because that was when I came back from Manila.

Q: As far as you are concerned, you only learned about it in 2006?

A. Yes , Your Honor.

Q: Have you seen them really living together as live-in partners?


Page 34 of 100

A: No, Your Honor. It was my husband because they were still at Layugan because my husband
was the driver of my father at that time.

xxxx

Q: Are you saying that Judge and Macky are living in Layugan?

A: Yes, Your Honor.

xxxx

Q: Are you sure that Macky told you that Judge Blancaflor is her live-in partner?

A: Yes, Your Honor.

Q: How did she tell you?

A: It was just in a casual way that she told me that Judge is her current live-in partner because
previously it was a Colonel.

Q: So despite the fact that you are not close to Macky, Macky intimidated (sic) to you that Judge
Blancaflor is her live-in-partner?

A: Yes, Your Honor.54

Justice Fernando stressed that Judge Blancaflor did not categorically deny the allegations of an
illicit relationship with Villamar. While he stated that his marriage to his wife NoraLopez was
already annulled, the annulment became final only on July 18, 2012 by virtue of an entry of
judgment from the RTC, Br. 199, Las Pias City. Thus, he was still a married man at the time of his
liaison with Villamar.55

For maintaining a relationship with Villamar, Judge Blancaflor crossed the line of a proper and
acceptable conduct as a magistrate and a private person. In Re: Complaint of Mrs. Rotilla A.
Marcos and her children against Judge Ferdinand J. Marcos,56 we said: "x x x The Code of Judicial
Ethics mandates that the conduct of a judge must be free of a whiff of impropriety not only with
respect to his performance of his official duties, but also to his behavior outside his sala and as a
private individual. There is no dichotomy of morality: a public official is also judged by his private
morals. The code dictates that a judge, in order to promote public confidence in the integrity and
impartiality of the judiciary, must behave with propriety at all times. x x x."

In sum, we find substantial evidence to hold Judge Blancaflor guilty as charged. This conclusion,
as correctly observed by Justice Fernando:

x x x jibes with the affidavits and testimonies of complainant Rivera and her witnesses. His acts
of fraternizing with lawyers and litigants, his partiality in the performance of his duties, his act of
giving bribe money to two (2) witnesses to a case in order for them to withdraw, and maintaining
an illicit affair with a woman not his wife tarnished the image of the judiciary. Respondent judge
demonstrated himself to be wanting of moral integrity x x x He is therefore unfit to remain in
office and discharge his functions and duties as judge.57 (Emphasis supplied)

Indeed, as observed by the OCA, it has been established that "[t]he findings of investigating
magistrates on the credibility of witnesses are given great weight by reason of their unmatched
opportunity to see the deportment of the witnesses as they testified."58
Page 35 of 100

Gross misconduct, bribery, violation of R.A. No. 3019 and immorality, all of them constituting
violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct,59 are serious charges under Section 8, Rule 140 of the
Rules of Court punishable under Section 11 of the same Rule by any of the following: (1)
dismissal from the service, forfeiture of the benefits as the Court may determine, and
disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-
owned or controlled corporations; forfeiture of benefits shall in no case include accrued leave
credits; (2) suspension from office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3)
months but not exceeding six (6) months; or (3) a fine of more than P20,000.00 but not
exceeding P40,000.00.

Considering the gravity of theoffenses committed by Judge Blancaflor, we approve and adopt the
recommendations of Justice Fernando and the OCA for his dismissal from the service, with the
accessory penalties.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, Presiding Judge Jaime C. Blancaflor, Branch 26, Regional Trial
Court, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, is found GUILTY of gross misconduct, violation of the Anti-Graft and
Corrupt Practices Act (R.A. No. 3019) and immorality, constituting serious violations of the Code
of Judicial Conduct under Section 8,Rule 140 of the Rules of Court.

Judge Blancaflor is DISMISSED from the service, with forfeiture of his retirement and other
monetary benefits, except accrued leave credits. He is DISQUALIFIED from reinstatement or
appointment to any public office, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

This ruling shall be without prejudiceto any disciplinary action that may be brought against Judge
Blancaflor as a lawyer under A.M. No. 02-9-02-SC.60 Accordingly, Judge Blancaflor is directed to
COMMENT within ten (10) days from receipt of this decision and to show cause why heshould not
alsobe suspended, disbarred or otherwise disciplinarily sanctioned as a member of the Philippine
Bar.

SO ORDERED.

A.M. No. RTJ-09-2200 April 2, 2014


(formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 08-2834-RTJ)

ANTONIO M. LORENZANA, Complainant,


vs.
JUDGE MA. CECILIA I. AUSTRIA, Regional Trial Court, Branch 2, Batangas City, Respondent.

DECISION

BRION, J.:

We resolve in this Decision the administrative complaints1 filed by Antonio M. Lorenzana


(complainant) against Judge Ma. Cecilia I. Austria (respondent), Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch
2, Batangas City.

The records show that the administrative complaints arose from the case "In the Matter of the
Petition to have Steel Corporation of the Philippines Placed under Corporate Rehabilitation with
Prayer for the Approval of the Proposed Rehabilitation Plan," docketed as SP. Proc. No. 06-7993,
where the respondent was the presiding judge. The complainant was the Executive Vice
President and Chief Operating Officer of Steel Corporation of the Philippines (SCP), a company
then under rehabilitation proceedings.

i. Complaint
Page 36 of 100

In his verified complaint dated January 21, 2008, the complainant alleged that in the course of
SP. Proc. No. 06-7993, the respondent committed Gross Ignorance of the Law, Grave Abuse of
Authority, Gross Misconduct, Grave Incompetence, Irregularity in the Performance of Duty, Grave
Bias and Partiality, Lack of Circumspection, Conduct Unbecoming of a Judge, Failure to Observe
the Reglementary Period and Violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as shown by the
following instances:

1. The respondent appointed Atty. Santiago T. Gabionza, Jr. as rehabilitation receiver over SCPs
objections and despite serious conflict of interest in being the duly appointed rehabilitation
receiver for SCP and, at the same time, the external legal counsel of most of SCPs creditors; he
is also a partner of the law firm that he engaged as legal adviser.

2. The respondent conducted informal meetings (which she termed as "consultative meetings" in
her Order2 dated May 11, 2007) in places outside her official jurisdiction (i.e., a first class golf
club, a hotel and sports club facilities in Metro Manila) and where she arbitrarily dictated the
terms, parameters and features of the rehabilitation plan she wanted to approve for SCP. She
also announced in the meetings that she would prepare the rehabilitation plan for SCP.

3. The modified rehabilitation plan submitted by Atty. Gabionza is a replica of what the
respondent dictated to him. Thus, the respondent exceeded the limits of her authority and
effectively usurped and pre-empted the rehabilitation receivers exercise of functions.

4. The respondent ordered that the proceedings of the informal meetings be off-record so that
there would be no record that she had favored Equitable-PCI Bank (EPCIB).

5. The respondent had secret meetings and communications with EPCIB to discuss the case
without the knowledge and presence of SCP and its creditors.

6. The respondent appointed Gerardo Anonas (Anonas) as Atty. Gabionzas financial adviser and,
at the same time, as her financial adviser to guide her in the formulation and development of the
rehabilitation plan, for a fee of P3.5M at SCPs expense. Anonas is also the cousin-in-law of the
managing partner of Atty. Gabionzas law firm.

7. The respondent encouraged EPCIB to raise complaints or accusations against SCP, leading to
EPCIBs filing of a motion to create a management committee.

8. When requested to conduct an evidentiary meeting and to issue a subpoena (so that SCP
could confront EPCIBs witnesses to prove the allegation that there was a need for the creation of
a management committee), the respondent denied SCPs requests and delayed the issuance of
the order until the last minute.

9. At the hearing of September 14, 2007, the respondent intimidated SCPs counsel, Atty.
Ferdinand Topacio; blocked his every attempt to speak; refused to recognize his appearances in
court; and made condescending and snide remarks.

10. The respondent failed to observe the reglementary period prescribed by the Interim Rules of
Procedure on Corporate Rehabilitation (Rules). She approved the rehabilitation plan beyond the
180 days given to her in the Rules, without asking for permission to extend the period from the
Supreme Court (SC).

11. The respondent erroneously interpreted and applied Section 23, Rule 4 of the Rules (the
courts power to approve the rehabilitation plan) to include the power to amend, modify and alter
it.
Page 37 of 100

12. The respondent took a personal interest and commitment to decide the matter in EPCIBs
favor and made comments and rulings in the proceedings that raised concerns regarding her
impartiality.

13. The respondent adamantly refused to inhibit herself and showed special interest and
personal involvement in the case.

ii. Supplemental Complaint

The complainant likewise filed a supplemental complaint3 dated April 14, 2008 where he alleged
that the respondent committed an act of impropriety when she displayed her photographs in a
social networking website called "Friendster" and posted her personal details as an RTC Judge,
allegedly for the purpose of finding a compatible partner. She also posed with her upper body
barely covered by a shawl, allegedly suggesting that nothing was worn underneath except
probably a brassiere.

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) in its 1st Indorsement4 dated March 18, 2008,
referred the complaints to the respondent for comment.

a. Comment to January 21, 2008 Complaint

The respondent vehemently denied the allegations against her. While she admitted that she
crafted a workable, feasible rehabilitation plan best suited for SCP, she maintained that she did
so only to render fairness and equity to all the parties to the rehabilitation proceedings. She also
submitted that if indeed she erred in modifying the rehabilitation plan, hers was a mere error of
judgment that does not call for an administrative disciplinary action. Accordingly, she claimed
that the administrative complaints were premature because judicial remedies were still
available.5

The respondent also argued that the rules do not prohibit informal meetings and conferences. On
the contrary, she argued that informal meetings are even encouraged in view of the summary
and non-adversarial nature of rehabilitation proceedings. Since Section 21, Rule 4 of the Rules6
gives the rehabilitation receiver the power to meet with the creditors, then there is all the more
reason for the rehabilitation judge, who has the authority to approve the plan, to call and hold
meetings with the parties. She also pointed out that it was SCP which suggested that informal
meetings be called and that she only agreed to hold these meetings on the condition that all the
parties would attend.

As to her alleged failure to observe the reglementary period, she contended that she approved
the rehabilitation plan within the period prescribed by law. She argued that the matter of
granting extension of time under Section 11, Rule 4 of the Rules7 pertains not to the SC, but to
the rehabilitation court.

The respondent likewise refuted the allegations of bias and partiality. First, she claimed that her
denial of the complainants motion for inhibition was not due to any bias or prejudice on her part
but due to lack of basis. Second, she argued that her decision was not orchestrated to favor
EPCIB, as evidenced by the fact that EPCIP itself (as some other creditors did) promptly appealed
her decision to the Court of Appeals (CA). Third, she did not remove Atty. Gabionza as SCPs
rehabilitation receiver because she disagreed that the grounds the complainant raised warranted
his removal.

She also found no merit to the allegation of conflict of interest. Lastly, she maintained that the
rest of the complainants allegations were not substantiated and corroborated by evidence.
Page 38 of 100

The respondent further alleged that she did not gravely abuse her authority in not issuing a
subpoena as Section 1, Rule 3 of the Interim Rules on Corporate Rehabilitation of the Rules
specifically states that the court may decide matters on the basis of affidavits and other
documentary evidence.

On the allegation of conflict of interest, she maintained that the allegations were not proven and
substantiated by evidence. Finally, the respondent also believed that there was nothing improper
in expressing her ideas during the informal meetings.

b. Comment to April 14, 2008 Supplemental Complaint

In her comment8 on the supplemental complaint, the respondent submitted that the photos she
posted in the social networking website "Friendster" could hardly be considered vulgar or lewd.
She added that an "off-shouldered" attire is an acceptable social outfit under contemporary
standards and is not forbidden. She further stated that there is no prohibition against attractive
ladies being judges; she is proud of her photo for having been aesthetically made. Lastly, she
submitted that the ruling of the Court in the case of Impao v. Judge Makilala9 should not be
applied to her case since the facts are different.

On July 4, 2008, the complainant filed a reply,10 insisting that the respondents acts of posting
"seductive" pictures and maintaining a "Friendster" account constituted acts of impropriety, in
violation of Rules 2.01,11 2.0212 and 2.03,13 Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

In a Resolution14 dated September 9, 2009, the Court re-docketed the complaints as regular
administrative matters, and referred them to the CA for investigation, report and
recommendation.

The CAs Report and Recommendation

On November 13, 2009, Justice Marlene Gonzales-Sison, the Investigating Justice, conducted a
hearing, followed by the submission of memoranda by both parties. In her January 4, 2010
Report and Recommendation,15 Justice Gonzales-Sison ruled that the complaints were partly
meritorious. She found that the issues raised were judicial in nature since these involved the
respondents appreciation of evidence.

She also added that while the CA resolved to set aside the respondents decision in the
rehabilitation proceedings, it was not by reason of her ignorance of the law or abuse of authority,
but because the rehabilitation plan could no longer be implemented in view of SCPs financial
predicament.

On the allegation of grave bias and partiality in handling the rehabilitation proceedings, Justice
Gonzales-Sison ruled that the complainant failed to present any clear and convincing proof that
the respondent intentionally and deliberately acted against SCPs interests; the complaint merely
relied on his opinions and surmises.

On the matter of the respondents inhibition, she noted that in cases not covered by the rule on
mandatory inhibition, the decision to inhibit lies within the discretion of the sitting judge and is
primarily a matter of conscience.

With respect to the respondents informal meetings, Justice Gonzales-Sison found nothing
irregular despite the out-of-court meetings as these were agreed upon by all the parties,
including SCPs creditors. She also found satisfactory the respondents explanation in approving
the rehabilitation plan beyond the 180-day period prescribed by the Rules.
Page 39 of 100

The foregoing notwithstanding, Justice Gonzales-Sison noted the respondents unnecessary


bickering with SCPs legal counsel and ruled that her exchanges and utterances were reflective of
arrogance and superiority. In the words of the Justice Gonzales-Sison:

Rather than rule on the manifestations of counsels, she instead brushed off the matter with what
would appear to be a conceited show of a prerogative of her office, a conduct that falls below the
standard of decorum expected of a judge. Her statements appear to be done recklessly and were
uncalled for. xxx. Section 6[,] Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine
Judiciary states that: judges shall maintain order and decorum in all proceedings before the court
and be patient, dignified and courteous in relation to litigants, witnesses, lawyers and others
whom the judge deals in an official capacity. Judicial decorum requires judges to be temperate in
their language at all times. Failure on this regard amounts to a conduct unbecoming of a judge,
for which Judge Austria should be held liable.16

On the respondents Friendster account, she believes that her act of maintaining a personal
social networking account (displaying photos of herself and disclosing personal details as a
magistrate in the account) even during these changing times when social networking websites
seem to be the trend constitutes an act of impropriety which cannot be legally justified by the
publics acceptance of this type of conduct. She explained that propriety and the appearance of
propriety are essential to the performance of all the activities of a judge and that judges shall
conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the dignity of the judicial office.

Finally, Justice Gonzales-Sison noted the CAs May 16, 2006 Decision17 in CA-G.R. SP No. 100941
finding that the respondent committed grave abuse of discretion in ordering the creation of a
management committee without first conducting an evidentiary hearing in accordance with the
procedures prescribed under the Rules. She ruled that such professional incompetence was
tantamount to gross ignorance of the law and procedure, and recommended a fine of
P20,000.00. She also recommended that the respondent be admonished for failing to observe
strict propriety and judicial decorum required by her office.

The Action and Recommendation of the OCA

In its Memorandum18 dated September 4, 2013, the OCA recommended the following:

RECOMMENDATION: It is respectfully recommended for the consideration of the Honorable Court


that:

1) the Report dated January 4, 2010 of Investigating Justice Marlene Gonzales-Sison be NOTED;

2) respondent Judge Ma. Cecilia I. Austria, Branch 2, Regional Trial Court, Batangas City,
Batangas, be found GUILTY of conduct unbecoming a judge and for violation of Section 6, Canon
4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct;

3) respondent Judge Austria be FINED in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (Php20,000.00);
and

4) respondent Judge Austria be ADMONISHED to refrain from further acts of impropriety with a
stern warning that a repetition of the same or any similar act will be dealt with more severely.19

In arriving at its recommendation the OCA found that the respondent was not guilty of gross
ignorance of the law as the complainant failed to prove that her orders were motivated by bad
faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption.
Page 40 of 100

The OCA also found that the charges of bias and partiality in handling the rehabilitation
proceedings were not supported by evidence. It accepted the respondents explanation in the
charge of failure to observe the reglementary period.

Lastly, the OCA maintained that the allegations of grave abuse of authority and gross
incompetence are judicial in nature, hence, they should not be the subject of disciplinary action.
On the other hand, on allegations of conduct unbecoming of a judge, violation of the Code of
Professional Responsibility (Code), lack of circumspection and impropriety, the OCA shared
Justice Gonzales-Sisons observations that the respondents act of posting seductive photos in
her Friendster account contravened the standard of propriety set forth by the Code.

The Courts Ruling

We agree with the recommendation of both Justice Gonzales-Sison and the OCA for the
imposition of a fine on the respondent but modify the amount as indicated below. We sustain
Justice Gonzales-Sisons finding of gross ignorance of the law in so far as the respondent ordered
the creation of a management committee without conducting an evidentiary hearing. The
absence of a hearing was a matter of basic due process that no magistrate should be forgetful or
careless about.

On the Charges of Grave Abuse of Authority;


Irregularity in the Performance of Duty; Grave
Bias and Partiality; and Lack of Circumspection

It is well settled that in administrative cases, the complainant bears the onus of proving the
averments of his complaint by substantial evidence.20 In the present case, the allegations of
grave abuse of authority, irregularity in the performance of duty, grave bias and partiality, and
lack of circumspection are devoid of merit because the complainant failed to establish the
respondents bad faith, malice or ill will. The complainant merely pointed to circumstances based
on mere conjectures and suppositions. These, by themselves, however, are not sufficient to
prove the accusations. "[M]ere allegation is not evidence and is not equivalent to proof."21

"[U]nless the acts were committed with fraud, dishonesty, corruption, malice or ill-will, bad faith,
or deliberate intent to do an injustice, [the] respondent judge may not be held administratively
liable for gross misconduct, ignorance of the law or incompetence of official acts in the exercise
of judicial functions and duties, particularly in the adjudication of cases."22

Even granting that the respondent indeed erred in the exercise of her judicial functions, these
are, at best, legal errors correctible not by a disciplinary action, but by judicial remedies that are
readily available to the complainant. "An administrative complaint is not the appropriate remedy
for every irregular or erroneous order or decision issued by a judge where a judicial remedy is
available, such as a motion for reconsideration or an appeal."23 Errors committed by him/her in
the exercise of adjudicative functions cannot be corrected through administrative proceedings
but should be assailed instead through judicial remedies.24

On the Charges of Grave Bias and Partiality

We likewise find the allegations of bias and partiality on the part of the respondent baseless. The
truth about the respondents alleged partiality cannot be determined by simply relying on the
complainants verified complaint. Bias and prejudice cannot be presumed, in light especially of a
judges sacred obligation under his oath of office to administer justice without respect to the
person, and to give equal right to the poor and rich.25 There should be clear and convincing
evidence to prove the charge; mere suspicion of partiality is not enough.26
Page 41 of 100

In the present case, aside from being speculative and judicial in character, the circumstances
cited by the complainant were grounded on mere opinion and surmises. The complainant, too,
failed to adduce proof indicating the respondents predisposition to decide the case in favor of
one party. This kind of evidence would have helped its cause. The bare allegations of the
complainant cannot overturn the presumption that the respondent acted regularly and
impartially. We thus conclude that due to the complainants failure to establish with clear, solid,
and convincing proof, the allegations of bias and partiality must fail.

On the Charges of Grave Incompetence


and Gross Ignorance of the Law

We agree with the findings of the OCA that not every error or mistake of a judge in the
performance of his official duties renders him liable.27 "[A]s a matter of policy, in the absence of
fraud, dishonesty or corruption, the acts of a judge in his judicial capacity are not subject to
disciplinary action even though such acts are erroneous."28

In the present case, what was involved was the respondents application of Section 23, Rule 4 of
the Rules, which provides:

Sec. 23. Approval of the Rehabilitation Plan. - The court may approve a rehabilitation plan even
over the opposition of creditors holding a majority of the total liabilities of the debtor if, in its
judgment, the rehabilitation of the debtor is feasible and the opposition of the creditors is
manifestly unreasonable.29

The respondent approved the rehabilitation plan submitted by Atty. Gabionza, subject to the
modifications she found necessary to make the plan viable. The complainant alleged that in
modifying the plan, she exceeded her authority and effectively usurped the functions of a
rehabilitation receiver. We find, however, that in failing to show that the respondent was
motivated by bad faith or ill motives in rendering the assailed decision, the charge of gross
ignorance of the law against her should be dismissed. "To [rule] otherwise would be to render
judicial office untenable, for no one called upon to try the facts or interpret the law in the process
of administering justice can be infallible in his judgment."30

To constitute gross ignorance of the law, it is not enough that the decision, order or actuation of
the judge in the performance of his official duties is contrary to existing law and jurisprudence. It
must also be proven that he was moved by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption31 or had
committed an error so egregious that it amounted to bad faith.

In the present case, nothing in the records suggests that the respondent was motivated by bad
faith, fraud, corruption, dishonesty or egregious error in rendering her decision approving the
modified rehabilitation plan. Besides his bare accusations, the complainant failed to substantiate
his allegations with competent proof. Bad faith cannot be presumed32 and this Court cannot
conclude that bad faith intervened when none was actually proven.

With respect to the action of the respondent in ordering the creation of a management
committee without first conducting an evidentiary hearing for the purpose, however, we find the
error to be so egregious as to amount to bad faith, leading to the conclusion of gross ignorance
of the law, as charged.

Due process and fair play are basic requirements that no less than the Constitution demands. In
rehabilitation proceedings, the parties must first be given an opportunity to prove (or disprove)
the existence of an imminent danger of dissipation, loss, wastage or destruction of the debtor-
companys assets and properties that are or may be prejudicial to the interest of minority
stockholders, parties-litigants or the general public.33 The rehabilitation court should hear both
sides, allow them to present proof and conscientiously deliberate, based on their submissions, on
Page 42 of 100

whether the appointment of a management receiver is justified. This is a very basic requirement
in every adversarial proceeding that no judge or magistrate can disregard.

In SCPs rehabilitation proceedings, SCP was not given at all the opportunity to present its
evidence, nor to confront the EPCIB witnesses. Significantly, the CA, in its May 16, 2006 decision,
found that the respondents act of denying SCP the opportunity to disprove the grounds for the
appointment of a management committee was tantamount to grave abuse of discretion. As aptly
observed by Justice Gonzales-Sison:

[T]he acts of the respondent judge (Judge Austria) in creating a MANCOM without observing the
procedures prescribed under the IRPGICC clearly constitute grave abuse of discretion amounting
to excess of jurisdiction.34

Indeed, while a judge may not be held liable for gross ignorance of the law for every erroneous
order that he renders, this does not mean that a judge need not observe due care in the
performance of his/her official functions.35 When a basic principle of law is involved and when an
error is so gross and patent, error can produce an inference of bad faith, making the judge liable
for gross ignorance of the law.36 On this basis, we conclude that the respondents act of
promptly ordering the creation of a management committee, without the benefit of a hearing
and despite the demand for one, was tantamount to punishable professional incompetence and
gross ignorance of the law.

On the Ground of Failure to Observe


the Reglementary Period

On the respondents failure to observe the reglementary period prescribed by the Rules, we find
the respondents explanation to be satisfactory.

Section 11, Rule 4 of the previous Rules provides:

Sec. 11. Period of the Stay Order. xxx

The petition shall be dismissed if no rehabilitation plan is approved by the court upon the lapse
of one hundred eighty (180) days from the date of the initial hearing. The court may grant an
extension beyond this period only if it appears by convincing and compelling evidence that the
debtor may successfully be rehabilitated. In no instance, however, shall the period for approving
or disapproving a rehabilitation plan exceed eighteen (18) months from the date of filing of the
petition.37

Under this provision, the matter of who would grant the extension beyond the 180-day period
carried a good measure of ambiguity as it did not indicate with particularity whether the
rehabilitation court could act by itself or whether Supreme Court approval was still required. Only
recently was this uncertainty clarified when A.M. No. 00-8-10-SC, the 2008 Rules of Procedure on
Corporate Rehabilitation, took effect.

Section 12, Rule 4 of the Rules provides:

Section 12. Period to Decide Petition. - The court shall decide the petition within one (1) year
from the date of filing of the petition, unless the court, for good cause shown, is able to secure an
extension of the period from the Supreme Court.38

Since the new Rules only took effect on January 16, 2009 (long after the respondents approval of
the rehabilitation plan on December 3, 2007), we find no basis to hold the respondent liable for
the extension she granted and for the consequent delay.
Page 43 of 100

On the Ground of Conduct


Unbecoming of a Judge

On the allegation of conduct unbecoming of a judge, Section 6, Canon 6 of the New Code of
Judicial Conduct states that:

SECTION 6. Judges shall maintain order and decorum in all proceedings before the court and be
patient, dignified and courteous in relation to litigants, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom
the judge deals in an official capacity. Judges shall require similar conduct of legal
representatives, court staff and others subject to their influence, direction or control.39

A judge should always conduct himself in a manner that would preserve the dignity,
independence and respect for himself/herself, the Court and the Judiciary as a whole. He must
exhibit the hallmark judicial temperament of utmost sobriety and self-restraint.40 He should
choose his words and exercise more caution and control in expressing himself. In other words, a
judge should possess the virtue of gravitas.41

As held in De la Cruz (Concerned Citizen of Legazpi City) v. Judge Carretas,42 a judge should be
considerate, courteous and civil to all persons who come to his court; he should always keep his
passion guarded. He can never allow it to run loose and overcome his reason. Furthermore, a
magistrate should not descend to the level of a sharp-tongued, ill-mannered petty tyrant by
uttering harsh words, snide remarks and sarcastic comments.

Similarly in Attys. Guanzon and Montesino v. Judge Rufon,43 the Court declared that "although
respondent judge may attribute his intemperate language to human frailty, his noble position in
the bench nevertheless demands from him courteous speech in and out of court.

Judges are required to always be temperate, patient and courteous, both in conduct and in
language."

Accordingly, the respondents unnecessary bickering with SCPs legal counsel, her expressions of
exasperation over trivial procedural and negligible lapses, her snide remarks, as well as her
condescending attitude, are conduct that the Court cannot allow. They are displays of arrogance
and air of superiority that the Code abhors.

Records and transcripts of the proceedings bear out that the respondent failed to observe judicial
temperament and to conduct herself irreproachably. She also failed to maintain the decorum
required by the Code and to use temperate language befitting a magistrate. "As a judge, [she]
should ensure that [her] conduct is always above reproach and perceived to be so by a
reasonable observer. [She] must never show conceit or even an appearance thereof, or any kind
of impropriety."44

Section 1, Canon 2 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct states that:

SECTION 1. Judges shall ensure that not only is their conduct above reproach, but that it is
perceived to be so in the view of a reasonable observer.

In these lights, the respondent exhibited conduct unbecoming of a judge and thus violated
Section 6, Canon 6 and Section 1, Canon 2 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.

On the Ground of Impropriety

We are not unaware of the increasing prevalence of social networking sites in the Internet a
new medium through which more and more Filipinos communicate with each other.45 While
judges are not prohibited from becoming members of and from taking part in social networking
Page 44 of 100

activities, we remind them that they do not thereby shed off their status as judges. They carry
with them in cyberspace the same ethical responsibilities and duties that every judge is
expected to follow in his/her everyday activities. It is in this light that we judge the respondent in
the charge of impropriety when she posted her pictures in a manner viewable by the public.

Lest this rule be misunderstood, the New Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit a judge from
joining or maintaining an account in a social networking site such as Friendster. Section 6, Canon
4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct recognizes that judges, like any other citizen, are entitled
to freedom of expression. This right "includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference
and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."46 Joining a social
networking site is an exercise of ones freedom of expression. The respondent judges act of
joining Friendster is, therefore, per se not violative of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.

Section 6, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, however, also imposes a correlative
restriction on judges: in the exercise of their freedom of expression, they should always conduct
themselves in a manner that preserves the dignity of the judicial office and the impartiality and
independence of the Judiciary.

This rule reflects the general principle of propriety expected of judges in all of their activities,
whether it be in the course of their judicial office or in their personal lives. In particular, Sections
1 and 2 of Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct prohibit impropriety and even the
appearance of impropriety in all of their activities:

SECTION 1. Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their
activities.

SECTION 2. As a subject of constant public scrutiny, judges must accept personal restrictions that
might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly. In
particular, judges shall conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the
judicial office.

Based on this provision, we hold that the respondent disregarded the propriety and appearance
of propriety required of her when she posted Friendster photos of herself wearing an "off-
shouldered" suggestive dress and made this available for public viewing.

To restate the rule: in communicating and socializing through social networks, judges must bear
in mind that what they communicate regardless of whether it is a personal matter or part of his
or her judicial duties creates and contributes to the peoples opinion not just of the judge but of
the entire Judiciary of which he or she is a part. This is especially true when the posts the judge
makes are viewable not only by his or her family and close friends, but by acquaintances and the
general public.

Thus, it may be acceptable for the respondent to show a picture of herself in the attire she wore
to her family and close friends, but when she made this picture available for public consumption,
she placed herself in a situation where she, and the status she holds as a judge, may be the
object of the publics criticism and ridicule. The nature of cyber communications, particularly its
speedy and wide-scale character, renders this rule necessary.

We are not also unaware that the respondents act of posting her photos would seem harmless
and inoffensive had this act been done by an ordinary member of the public. As the visible
personification of law and justice, however, judges are held to higher standards of conduct and
thus must accordingly comport themselves.47

This exacting standard applies both to acts involving the judicial office and personal
matters.1wphi1 The very nature of their functions requires behavior under exacting standards
Page 45 of 100

of morality, decency and propriety; both in the performance of their duties and their daily
personal lives, they should be beyond reproach.48 Judges necessarily accept this standard of
conduct when they take their oath of office as magistrates.

Imposable Penalty

Under Section 8, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, gross
ignorance of the law or procedure is classified as a serious charge. Under Section 11(A) of the
same Rule, a serious charge merits any of the following sanctions:

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

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

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

On the other hand, conduct unbecoming of a judge is classified as a light offense under Section
10, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court. It is penalized under Section 11(C) thereof by any of the
following: (1) A fine of not less than P1,000.00 but not exceeding P10,000.00; (2) Censure; (3)
Reprimand; and ( 4) Admonition with warning.

Judge Austria's record shows that she had never been administratively charged or found liable for
any wrongdoing in the past. Since this is her first offense, the Court finds it fair and proper to
temper the penalty for her offenses.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Judge Ma. Cecilia I. Austria guilty of GROSS IGNORANCE OF THE
LAW for which she is FINED Twenty-One Thousand Pesos (P21,000,00). Judge Austria is likewise
hereby ADMONISHED to refrain from further acts of IMPROPRIETY and to refrain from CONDUCT
UNBECOMING OF A JUDGE, with the STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts
shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

A.M. No. RTJ-15-2426 June 16, 2015


[Formerly A.M. No. 05-3-83-MTC]

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATION, Complainant,


vs.
JUDGE ALEXANDER BALUT, Respondent.

RESOLUTION

Per Curiam:

On October 9, 2007, the Court partially resolved this case by disposing it as follows:

WHEREFORE the Court finds and declares:

1. Judge Alexander S. Balut GUILTY of undue delay in deciding 33 cases submitted for decision
and in failing to resolve 101 motions within the 90-day reglementary period. He is FINED twenty
Page 46 of 100

thousand pesos (P20,000.00), with a stern warning that a repetition of the same shall be dealt
with more severely.

2. Judith En. Salimpade GUILTY of gross neglect of duty, dishonesty and grave misconduct. She is
DISMISSED from the service. She is DIRECTED to RESTITUTE the amount of P1,817,378.59
representing the amount of shortages in her collections. Her withheld salaries are to be applied
to her accountabilities. The Office of Administrative Services, OCA is DIRECTED to compute Ms.
Salimpade's leave credits and forward the same to the Finance Division, Fiscal Management
Office-OCA which shall compute the money value of the same, the amount to be deducted from
the shortages to be restituted.

3. Eduardo Esconde GUILTY of gross neglect of duty. He is DISMISSED from the service. He is also
ORDERED to restitute his accountabilities in the amount of P58,100.00

4. Lydia O. Ramos GUILTY of neglect of duty. She is FINED P5,000, which should be deducted from
her retirement benefits.

The Office of the Court Administrator Legal Office is DIRECTED to file appropriate criminal
charges against Judge Alexander Balut, Judith En. Salimpade and Eduardo Esconde.

SO ORDERED.

As stated in the October 9, 2007 Resolution, the facts of the case are as follows:

On May 3, 2003, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) conducted a judicial audit and
physical inventory of cases at the Municipal Trial Courts (MTCs) of Bayombong and Solano, Nueva
Vizcaya. Judge Alexander S. Balut was the acting presiding judge in both courts.

xxx xxx xxx

Aside from the judicial audit, a financial audit was also conducted in the MTCs of Bayombong and
Solano as well as the MCTC of Aritao-Sta. Fe.

In the MTC, Bayombong, where Judith En. Salimpade was Clerk of Court II, the audit team found
an unremitted amount of P18,702.oo representing the court's collection from August 3, 2003 to
August 18, 2003. Said amount was deposited only on August 18, 2003, upon advise by the audit
team, in the Land Bank of the Philippines account. Furthermore, 31 booklets of accountable
forms issued to Ms. Salimpade by the Property Division, SC and OCA were not accounted for.
Also, the court had a total Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) collection of P348,993.60 from
January 1990 to August 2003. However, only P186,330.98 was remitted by Ms. Salimpade
leaving a balance of P162,662.62; the total Clerk of Court General Fund (CCGF) collections from
January 1996 to August 2003 (audit scope) showed an unremitted amount of P30,411. 70; and as
of August 31, 2003 the Fiduciary Fund had a total cash shortage of P1,864,304.27 which covered
the collections from 1995 to August 2003.

In sum, the shortages in the various funds incurred by Salimpade as of August 31, 2003 totalled
P2,057,378.59.

Salimpade, when asked about the shortages, explained that Judge Balut, since 1995 had been
getting money from the JDF collections. She had given in to the requests of Judge Balut out of
fear of him. She also admitted that she lent her co-employees money which she took from her
collections.

Parenthetically, in September 2003, Judge Balut turned over P240,000.00 to Salimpade and the
latter issued a certification stating that the former had completely settled his monetary
Page 47 of 100

accountability to the MTC, Bayombong. Judge Balut delivered to the Fiscal Monitoring Division,
Court Management Office (CMO) OCA the certification and deposit slip evidencing the turnover of
the P240,000.00.

The audit team also found that Salimpade failed to regularly submit her monthly report of
collections, as required in Supreme Court Circular No. 32-93. Consequently, Salimpade's salaries
were withheld effective August 2003 to the present.

In the MTC, Solano, the spot cash count on the court's collection disclosed that Eduardo Esconde,
Clerk of Court, had an unremitted/undeposited cash on hand amounting to P59,545.oo. However,
the Official Receipts issued to cover said amounts were not accounted for. The said cash amount
was deposited on August 21, 2003 to Land Bank JDF Account No. 0591-0116-34.

A review of the receipts on file from May 2001 to July 2003 also showed a total cash shortage of
P106,527.80. However, on August 29, 2003, Esconde deposited in the CCGF and JDF bank
accounts sums corresponding to the said shortage. Esconde explained to the audit team that
Judge Balut borrowed various amounts from the collections. He stated that Judge Balut started
borrowing funds when the former was still the Clerk of Court of MCTC, Aritao-Sta. Fe. He
transferred to MTC, Solano, to get out of the shadow of Judge Balut. But, much to his dismay,
Judge Balut was designated Acting Presiding Judge of MTC, Solano and continued the practice of
borrowing money from the collections of the court.

In the MCTC, Aritao-Sta. Fe, the audit team found that Lydia Ramos, Clerk of Court, succeeded
Eduardo S. Esconde on July 16, 2000, without proper turnover of accountabilities. The team also
found that the amount of P540.00, part of the JDF collections from August 1, 2003 to August 21,
2003, remained undeposited at the time of audit. Said amount was remitted to the Chief
Accountant, Supreme Court on September 10, 2003. Also, Mrs. Ramos opened an account at the
Rural Bank of Aritao, Inc. for the Fiduciary Fund of the court instead of maintaining an account
with Landbank. Said account was closed on September 11, 2003 and an account was opened at
Landbank, Bambang, on the same date. A comparison of the court's CCGF collections and
remittances for the period of November 1995 to July 2003 revealed a shortage of P510.00. Mr.
Esconde incurred during his incumbency a cash shortage of P430.00 while Mrs. Ramos incurred a
shortage of P80.00 as of July 31, 2003. From August 2003 to June 5, 2004, Mrs. Ramos incurred a
shortage of P430.00. She deposited the amount of P400.00 on August 23, 2004 leaving a
shortage of 1!30.00. Withdrawals from the Fiduciary Fund account on various dates, totalling
P243,900.00 for the refund and return of cash bonds to 20 litigants, were not supported by any
official court orders. Of the 20 litigants 15 did not acknowledge receipt of the amount refunded.
The Fiduciary Fund collection of the court from April 1996 to August 31, 2003 amounted to
P2,064,978.00. As of August 31, 2003, however, the amount of P846,710.00 was unaccounted
for by Mr. Esconde and Mrs. Ramos. Both denied that the shortages incurred were of their own
doing and they instead pointed to Judge Balut as the offender.

Ramos related to the audit team the constant requests/orders of Judge Balut to hand over to him
money from the Fiduciary Fund collections.1wphi1 In these instances, she requested Judge Balut
to affix his signature at the back portion of the withdrawal slips as the cash recipient. However,
not all of the transactions were evidenced by an acknowledgement receipt. Ramos further stated
that Judge Balut also collected the money through Salvador Briones, Court Interpreter of MCTC-
Aritao-Sta. Fe, whose signature also appeared at the back portion of withdrawal slips as cash
recipient. The total withdrawals from the Fiduciary Fund Account given to Judge Balut, as
evidenced by withdrawal slips bearing the signatures of Judge Balut and Briones, for the benefit
of the former, as cash recipients, amounted to P193,500.00.

Aside from these, withdrawals from the Fiduciary Fund account totalling P90,500.oo were also
given to Judge Balut. On the face of the slips of this class of withdrawals were notations such as
"Judge," "for Judge," "taken by Judge xxx" and "given to Judge" written by Ramos.
Page 48 of 100

On May 9, 2002, Judge Balut issued a Certification stating that his accountability with the
Fiduciary Fund collection of MCTC Aritao-Sta. Fe as of April 2002 amounted to .P207,774.42.
However, before the final report on the court's shortages was completed, various amounts
totalling P802,299.82 were deposited by Judge Balut, Esconde and Ramos in the court's LBP
Account No. 3251-0544-51, as restitution/payment of part of the shortage of P846, 710.00.

As of August, 2004, Ramos had fully settled the balance of her accountability. On the other hand,
Esconde still had a balance of accountability in MCTC, Aritao-Sta. Fe of P58,100.oo which, as of
the time this case was submitted by the OCA for the Court's consideration, has remained
unsettled. (Emphases supplied)

In its Resolution,1 the Court ordered Respondent Judge Alexander Balut (Judge Balut) to pay a
fine for his failure to decide 33 cases and 101 motions without properly requesting for an
extension. The Court, however, did not rule on the administrative liability of Judge Balut with
respect to the result of the financial audit for the reason that he was not given a chance to
present his side on the matter.

Consequently, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), in its Memorandum,2 sought
reconsideration of the Court's decision stating that although Judge Balut was not formally
required to comment on the findings of the audit team regarding the shortage in the court
collections, he was not denied due process of law. The OCA explained that Judge Balut was able
to present his side in his Letter3 to OCA, dated December 9, 2006. The OCA, thus, asked for the
re-opening of the case or in the alternative, that Judge Balut be required to comment on the
findings of the financial audit.

In its Resolution,4 dated December 16, 2008, the Court directed Judge Balut to comment on the
audit report and, upon the recommendation5 of the OCA, referred the matter to the Court of
Appeals (CA) for investigation, report and recommendation.6

Thereafter, the CA, in its Report and Recommendation, recommended the dismissal of the
charges against Judge Balut for failure of the OCA to clearly substantiate and prove the
participation of Judge Balut in the financial transactions of the courts. On his admission that he
borrowed money from the judiciary fund, the CA opined that Judge Balut could no longer be
penalized as he was previously fined by the Court in its October 9, 2007 Resolution.

The Court finds itself unable to agree with the recommendation of the CA.

In administrative cases, the quantum of proof necessary is substantial evidence or such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind may accept as adequate to support a conclusion.7 The standard
of substantial evidence is justified when there is reasonable ground to believe that respondent is
responsible for the misconduct complained of, even if such evidence is not overwhelming or even
preponderant.8

A review of the records shows that Judge Balut actually messed with the court collections. The
three clerks of court of MTC Bayombong, MTC Solano and MCTC Aritao-Sta Fe categorically stated
that Judge Balut borrowed money from the court funds and executed certifications to that effect.
They separately reported that Judge Balut had been borrowing money from the various funds of
the court collections. In fact, Lydia Ramos (Ramos), the Clerk of Court of MCTC-Aritao-Sta. Fe,
presented several withdrawal slips9 where the back portions were signed either by Judge Balut or
his court interpreter, Salvador Briones, as the recipient of the cash withdrawn from the funds of
the court. These withdrawal slips likewise bore the notations of Ramos such as "Judge," "for
Judge," "taken by Judge," and "given to Judge" to serve as her reminder that the money
withdrawn were given to Judge Balut.
Page 49 of 100

Significantly, Judge Balut himself issued the Certification10 stating that his cash accountability as
of April 2002 with the Fiduciary Fund was P207,774.42 and there were certifications issued by the
clerks of court attesting that he had settled his accountabilities with the court funds.

The CA opinion that Judge Balut could no longer be penalized for his admission that he had
borrowed money from the judiciary fund because the Court already fined him in its October 9,
2007 resolution is erroneous. In the said resolution, the Court categorically stated that Judge
Balut was fined for undue delay in deciding 33 cases submitted for decision and for failing to
resolve 101 motions within the 90-day reglementary period.

Once again, the Court stresses that judges must adhere to the highest tenets of judicial
conduct.11 Because of the sensitivity of his position, a judge is required to exhibit, at all times,
the highest degree of honesty and integrity and to observe exacting standards of morality,
decency and competence.12 He should adhere to the highest standards of public accountability
lest his action erode the public faith in the Judiciary.13

Judge Balut fell short of this standard for borrowing money from the collections of the court. He
knowingly and deliberately made the clerks of court violate the circulars on the proper
administration of court funds.14 He miserably failed to become a role model of his staff and
other court personnel in the observance of the standards of morality and decency, both in his
official and personal conduct.

The act of misappropriating court -funds constitutes dishonesty and grave misconduct,
punishable by dismissal from the service even on the first offense.15 For said reason, the
respondent deserves a penalty no lighter than dismissal. This Court has never tolerated and will
never condone any conduct which violates the norms of public accountability, and diminish, or
even tend to diminish, the faith of the people in the justice system.16

The Court has considered the recommendation of imposing the penalty of suspension. That,
however, would be unfair to Clerk of Court Judith En. Salimpade, Municipal Trial Courts of
Bayombong and Solano; and Clerk of Court Eduardo Esconde of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court,
Arita-Sta. Fe, who were both dismissed from the service for the same offense. Clerk of Court
Lydia Ramos was fined but only because she had already retired from the service. And it would
send a wrong message to the public that the Court has different standards - one for the
magistrates and another for the rank-and-file.

The fact that Judge Balut fully paid his cash liabilities will not shield him from the consequences
of his wrongdoings. His unwarranted interference in the Court collections deserves administrative
sanction and not even the full payment of his accountabilities will exempt him from liability. "It
matters not that these personal borrowings were paid as what counts is the fact that these funds
were used outside of official business."17

Similarly, his nearly 22 years in the service would not serve to mitigate his liability. His offense
was not a single or isolated act but it constituted a series of acts committed in a span of several
years. In other words, he was a repeated offender, perpetrating his misdeeds with impunity not
once, not twice, but several times in three (3) different stations. In the case of In Re: Report on
the Judicial and Financial Audit Conducted in the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Koronadal City,18
it was written:

For misappropriating court funds in concert with Ines, Judge Sardido has been charged with grave
misconduct. Admitting that he indeed "borrowed" money from court funds, the latter recounted
that on four occasions in 1994, he had borrowed P130,ooo to be able to purchase a car and
thereafter borrowed intermittently through the years, for reasons ranging from the schooling
needs of his children to the illness of his parents. That he intended to repay the amounts
Page 50 of 100

"borrowed" is immaterial. These funds should never be used outside of official business. Rule
5.04 of Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states:

"A judge or any immediate member of the family shall not accept a gift, bequest, favor or loan
from anyone except as may be allowed by law."

Time and time again, this Court has emphasized that "the judge is the visible representation of
the law, and more importantly, of justice. It is from him that the people draw their will and
awareness to obey the law. For the judge to return that regard, he must be the first to abide by
the law and weave an example for others to follow."

Sadly, the foregoing facts clearly show that Judge Sardido has not only miserably failed to
present himself as an example to his staff and to others, but has also shown no compunction in
violating the law, as well as the rules and regulations. His dishonesty, gross misconduct, and
gross ignorance of the law tarnish the image of the judiciary and would have warranted the
maximum penalty of dismissal. were it not for the fact that he had already been dismissed from
the service in another administrative case. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied) WHEREFORE,
finding Judge Alexander Balut GUILTY of gross misconduct, the Court hereby imposes upon him
the penalty of DISMISSAL from the service, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and with
prejudice to re-employment in any branch of the government, including government-owned and
controlled corporations, except the money value of accrued earned leave credits.

Judge Balut is hereby ORDERED to cease and desist immediately from rendering any order or
decision, or from continuing any proceedings, in any case whatsoever, effective upon receipt of a
copy of this resolution.

This disposition is IMMEDIATELY EXECUTORY.

The Office of the Court Administrator shall see to it that a copy of this resolution be immediately
served on the respondent.

SO ORDERED.

A.M. No. SB-14-21-J September 23, 2014


[Formerly A.M. No. 13-10-06-SB]

RE: ALLEGATIONS MADE UNDER OATH AT THE SENATE BLUE RIBBON COMMITTEE HEARING HELD
ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2013 AGAINST ASSOCIATE JUSTICE GREGORY S. ONG, SANDIGANBAYAN

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

The character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done.

- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

This administrative complaint was filed by the Court En Banc after investigation into certain
allegations that surfaced during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Hearing indicated prima
facie violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct by an Associate Justice of the Sandiganbayan. The
investigation was conducted motu proprio pursuant to the Court's power of administrative
supervision over members of the Judiciary.1

Factual Antecedents
Page 51 of 100

In the middle of 2013, the local media ran an expose involving billions of government funds
channeled through bogus foundations. Dubbed as the "pork barrel scam," as the money was
sourced from the Priority Development Assistance Fund allotted to members of the House of
Representatives and Senate, the controversy spawned massive protest actions all over the
country. In the course of the investigation conducted by the Senate Committee on Accountability
of Public Officers and Investigations (Blue Ribbon Committee), the names of certain government
officials and other individuals were mentioned by "whistle-blowers" who are former employees of
the alleged mastermind, Janet Lim-Napoles (Mrs. Napoles), wife of an ex-military officer. These
personalities identified by the whistle-blowers allegedly transacted with or attended Mrs.
Napoles' parties and events, among whom is incumbent Sandiganbayan Associate Justice
Gregory S. Ong, herein respondent.

Benhur Luy (Luy), a cousin of Mrs. Napoles who had worked for several years with the Napoleses,
filed illegal detention charges against Mrs. Napoles who accused him of double-dealing. When
Luy went public with his story about Mrs. Napoles' anomalous transactions and before the
warrant of arrest was issued by the court, she reportedly tried to reach out to the other whistle-
blowers for them not to testify against her but instead point to Luy as the one receiving and
distributing the money.

Marina Sula (Sula) executed a Sworn Statement2 before the National Bureau of Investigation
(NBI) on August 29, 2013, part of which reads:

32. In the sixteen (16) years that I worked with Ms. Napoles, I witnessed several personalities
visit our offices and join us as our special guests during our parties and other special occasions.
33. These personalities who would either visit our office or join our events and affairs are:
Senator Franklin Drilon, Senator Jinggoy Estrada and family, Senator Bong Revilla, Lani Mercado-
Revilla, Bryan Revilla, Secretary Rene Villa, Congressman Pichay and Wife, Congressman Plaza,
Congressman Ducut, DAR Director Theresita Panlilio, Catherine Mae Canlas Santos, Pauline
Labayen, Jen Corpuz (Staff of Senator Sotto), Mayor Rene Maglanque, Atty. Dequina, Justice
Gregory Ong, x x x.

34. Before the warrant of arrest was issued against Ms. Napoles, she told us that that case could
take four to five years to clear. She said, "Antayin niyo munang ma-clear pangalan ko para
makakilos ako at matulungan ko kayo". Sinabi niya na meron na siyang kausap sa Ombudsman
at sa Sandiganbayan.

35. On 28 August 2013 while me and my companions were at the NBI, Janet Lim Napoles called
me. She was crying and ask[i]ng me not to turn my back on her, that we should stay together.
She said "kahit maubos lahat ng pera ko, susuportahan ko kayo. Hintay[i]n nyo kasi lalabas na
ang TRO ko."

xxxx

38. Attorney Tan instructed us to implicate Benhur in case we were asked by the NBI. He said
"wala naman ipinakita sa inyong masama si Madam (Janet Lim Napoles). Siguro wala naman
kayong sama ng loob kay madam, kaya nga idiin ninyo si Benhur na siya ang nag-utos at saka sa
kanya ninyo ibinibigay ang pera."3 (Emphasis supplied.)

The following day, the social news network Rappler published an article by Aries Rufo entitled
"Exclusive: Napoles Parties with Anti-Graft Court Justice" showing a photograph of Senator
Jinggoy Estrada (Senator Estrada), one of the main public figures involved in the pork barrel
scam, together with Mrs. Napoles and respondent. The reporter had interviewed respondent who
quickly denied knowing Mrs. Napoles and recalled that the photograph was probably taken in one
of the parties frequently hosted by Senator Estrada who is his longtime friend. Respondent also
supposedly admitted that given the ongoing pork barrel controversy, the picture gains a different
Page 52 of 100

context; nevertheless, he insisted that he has untainted service in the judiciary, and further
denied he was the one advising Mrs. Napoles on legal strategies in connection with the Kevlar
helmet cases where she was acquitted by a Division of the Sandiganbayan of which respondent
is the Chairman and the then Acting Presiding Justice.4

On September 12, 2013, Sula executed a "Karagdagang Sinumpaang Salaysay "5 wherein she
gave details regarding those persons named in her sworn statement, alleged to have visited their
office or attended their events, thus:

63) T: Ayon sa paragraph Nos. 32 at 33 ng iyong sinumpaang salaysay na may petsang 29


Agosto 2013, nabanggit mo ang mga personalidad na nakikita mong bumibisita sa inyong
opisina o di kaya naman sa tuwing may party o special occacions si JANET NAPOLES ay may mga
special guests kayo na kinabibilangan ng mga malalaking pulitiko at ang iba naman ay may mga
katungkulan sa gobyerno. Maari mo bang ilahad ang mga pangyayari sa mga bawat pagkakataon
na nakita mo sila sa iyong pagkaka-alala?

S : Opo, iisa-isahin ko po ang mga pangyayari sa mga pagkakataon na nakita ko po ang mga
taong nabanggit ko:

xxxx

w) Justice GREGORY ONG - Isang beses ko po siyang nakitang nagpunta sa office sa 2501
Discovery Centre, Ortigas at nakita ko po silang magkausap ni Madam JANET NAPOLES sa
conference room.

x x x x6

In her testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on September 26, 2013, Sula was
asked to confirm her statement regarding Justice Ong, thus:

THE CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Senator Grace.

Isang tanong lang kay Ms. Sula.

Sinabi niyo kanina may tinawagan si Ms. Napoles at sinabi niya, "Malapit na lumabas yung TRO
galing sa korte." May kilala pa ba si Janet Lim Napoles sa ltuwes sa korte sa Sandiganbayan? MS.
SULA. Hindi ko po alam.

THE CHAIRMAN. Your attention is called sa page

MS. SULA. Sandiganbayan po, sorry. Mayroon po siyang binanggit na ano po

THE CHAIRMAN. Nandito sa page 20.

MS. SULA. Si Mr. Ong, po, Justice Ong po.

THE CHAIRMAN. Gregory Ong.

MS. SULA Opo.

THE CHAIRMAN. Sa Sandiganbayan?

MS. SULA. Opo.

x x x7 (Emphasis supplied.)
Page 53 of 100

In a letter dated September 26, 2013 addressed to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno,
respondent meticulously explained the controversial photograph which raised questions on his
integrity as a magistrate, particularly in connection with the decision rendered by the
Sandiganbayan' s Fourth Division in the Kevlar helmet cases, which convicted some of the
accused but acquitted Mrs. Napoles.

Respondent surmised that the photograph was taken during the birthday of Senator Estrada in
February, either in the year 2012 or 2013, but definitely not in 2010 or earlier. He explained that
he could vaguely remember the circumstances but it would have been rude for him to prevent
any guest from posing with him and Senator Estrada during the party. On the nature of his
association with Mrs. Napoles, respondent asserted:

(4) I can categorically state, on the other hand, that I have never attended any party or social
event hosted by Mrs. Napoles or her family, either before she had a case with our court, or while
she already had a pending case with our court, or at any time afterwards. I have never, to use
the term of Mr. Rufo in his article, "partied" with the Napoleses. (Emphasis supplied.)

As to the Kevlar helmet cases, respondent said it was impossible for him to have been advising
Mrs. Napoles, as claimed by Mr. Rufo, as even the article itself noted that Mrs. Napoles' own
brother, Reynald L. Lim, ( a.k.a. Reynaldo L. Francisco), a co-accused in the case, was convicted
by the Sandiganbayan. He stressed that these cases were decided on the merits by the
Sandiganbayan, acting as a collegial body and he was not even the ponente of the decision.
Respondent thus submitted himself to the discretion of the Chief Justice such that even without
being required to submit an explanation, he voluntarily did so "to defend [his] reputation as a
judge and protect the Sandiganbayan as an institution from unfair and malicious innuendos."

On October 7, 2013, Chief Justice Sereno wrote the Members of this Court, citing the testimonies
of Luy and Sula before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee "[t]hat the malversation case
involving Mrs. Janet Lim-Napoles, Major Jaime G. Napoles, Jenny Lim Napoles, Reynaldo L.
Francisco and other perpetrators was 'fixed' (inayos) through the intervention of Justice Gregory
S. Ong of the Sandiganbayan", to wit:

SEN. ANGARA. Sa inyo, hindi niyo a/am kung inayos iyong kaso na iyon? Kasi napakaraming
koneksiyon, 'di ba?

xxxx Sige, huwag kang matakot, Benhur.

MR. LUY. Alam ko, inayos ni Ms. Napoles iyon dahil may connect nga siya sa Sandiganbayan

SEN. ANGARA. Okay.

xxxx

THE CHAIRMAN. xxx Sinabi niyo kanina na may tinawagan si Ms. Napoles at sinabi niya "Malapit
na lumabas yung TRO galing sa korte." May kilala pa ba si Janet Lim Napoles sa huwes sa korte
sa Sandiganbayan?

xxxx

MS. SULA. Si Mr. Ong po, Justice Ong po.

THE CHAIRMAN. Gregory Ong.

MS. SULA. Opo.


Page 54 of 100

THE CHAIRMAN. Sa Sandiganbayan?

MS. SULA. Opo.

Xxxx8
Chief Justice Sereno then requested the Court En Banc to conduct an investigation motu proprio
under this Court's power of administrative supervision over members of the judiciary and
members of the legal profession (referring to notaries public who were alleged to have purposely
left their specimen signatures, dry seals and notarial books with Mrs. Napoles to facilitate the
incorporation of non-governmental organizations [NGOs] involved in the scam).9

Under our Resolution dated October 17, 2013, the Court En Banc required respondent to submit
his comment and directed the NBI to furnish the Court with certified copies of the affidavit of Luy.
On November 21, 2013, the Court received respondent's Comment.10 Respondent categorically
denied any irregularity in the Kevlar helmet cases and explained the visit he had made to Mrs.
Napoles as testified by Sula.

On Sula's statement, respondent points out that Sula never really had personal knowledge
whether respondent is indeed the alleged "contact" of Mrs. Napoles at the Sandiganbayan; what
she supposedly "knows" was what Mrs. Napoles merely told her. Hence, Sula's testimony on the
matter is based purely on hearsay. Assuming that Mrs. Napoles actually made the statement,
respondent believes it was given in the context of massive media coverage of the pork barrel
scam exploding at the time. With the consciousness of a looming criminal prosecution before the
Office of the Ombudsman and later before the Sandiganbayan, it was only natural for Mrs.
Napoles to assure Sula and others involved in their business operation that she would not leave
or abandon them and that she would do all that she can to help them just so they would not turn
their backs on her and become whistle-blowers. Thus, even if Mrs. Napoles made
misrepresentations to Sula regarding respondent as her "connection", she only had to do so in
order to convince Sula and her co-employees that the cases to be filed against them would be
"fixed."

As to Sula's statement that she personally witnessed respondent at one time visiting Mrs.
Napoles at her office and having a meeting with her at the conference room, respondent said
that at the birthday party of Senator Estrada where the controversial photograph was taken, Mrs.
Napoles engaged him in a casual conversation during which the miraculous healing power of the
robe or clothing of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo was mentioned. When Mrs. Napoles told
respondent that she is a close friend of the Quiapo Church's parish priest, he requested her help
to gain access to the Black Nazarene icon. Eventually, respondent, who is himself a Black
Nazarene devotee and was undergoing treatment for his prostate cancer, was given special
permission and was able to drape the Black Nazarene's robe or clothing for a brief moment over
his body and also receive a fragrant ball of cotton taken or exposed to the holy image, which
article he keeps to this day and uses to wipe any ailing part of his body in order to receive
healing. Because of such favor, respondent out of courtesy went to see Mrs. Napoles and
personally thank her. Respondent stressed that that was the single occasion Sula was talking
about in her supplemental affidavit when she said she saw respondent talking with Mrs. Napoles
at the conference room of their office in Discovery Suites.

Respondent maintains that there was nothing improper or irregular for him to have personally
seen Mrs. Napoles at the time in order to thank her, considering that she no longer had any
pending case with his court, and to his knowledge, with any other division of the Sandiganbayan
at the time and even until the date of the preparation of his Comment. He thus prays that this
Court duly note his Comment and accept the same as sufficient compliance with the Court's
Resolution dated October 17, 2013.
Page 55 of 100

This Court upon evaluation of the factual circumstances found possible transgressions of the New
Code of Judicial Conduct committed by respondent. Accordingly, a Resolution was issued on
January 21, 2014 stating that:

WHEREFORE, the Court hereby resolves to have the instant administrative matter RE-DOCKETED
as A.M. No. SB-14-21-J (Re: Allegations Made Under Oath at tlze Senate Blue Ribbon Committee
Hearing held on September 26, 2013 against Associate Justice Gregory S. Ong, Sandiganbayan),
and ASSIGNS the same to retired Supreme Court Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez for
investigation, report and recommendation within a period of sixty (60) days from notice hereof.

The Court further resolves to NOTE the letter dated January 7, 2014 of Atty. Joffre Gil C. Zapata,
Executive Clerk of Court III, Sandiganbayan, Fourth Division, in compliance with the resolution of
the Court En Banc dated December 3, 2013, transmitting the original records of Criminal Case
Nos. 26768 and 26769. Atty. Zapata is INFORMED that there is no more need to transmit to this
Court the post-sentence investigation reports and other reports on the supervisory history of the
accused-probationers in Criminal Case Nos. 26768 and 26769.

Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Justice

Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, a retired Member of this Court, submitted her report with
the following findings and conclusions:

FACTUAL ANTECEDENTS

1. THE KEVLAR CASE

Two criminal cases were filed with the Sandiganbayan sometime in 2001 - Criminal Case No.
26768 for Falsification of Public Documents and Criminal Case No. 26769 for Violation of Section
3(e) of the AntiGraft Law. Charged were several members of Philippine Marine Corps and civilian
employees including Ms. Janet L. Napoles (Napoles), her mother Magdalena Francisco (now
deceased), her brother Reynaldo Francisco and wife Anna Marie Dulguime, and her (Napoles')
three employees.

These cases are referred to as the Kevlar case because the issue involved is the same - the
questionable purchase of 500 Kevlar helmets by the Philippine Marine Corps in the amount of
P3,865,310.00 from five suppliers or companies owned by Napoles.

The prosecution alleged inter alia that the accused, acting in conspiracy, released the payment
although there was yet no delivery of the Kevlar helmets; that the suppliers are mere dummies of
Napoles; and that the helmets were made in Taiwan, not in the U.S.A.

Napoles' husband, Major Jaime Napoles, was dropped from the two Informations in an Order
issued by the Ombudsman on March 18, 2002.

Napoles' mother, brother, and sister-in-law were among those convicted for the lesser crime of
Falsification of Public Documents and sentenced to suffer the penalty of 4 years and 2 months of
prision correccional to 8 years and 1 day of prision mayor and each to pay PS,000.00. They all
underwent probation.

Napoles and six members of the Philippine Marine Corps were acquitted in both cases.

The court ruled that Napoles "was not one of the dealer-payees in the transaction in question.
Even if she owns the bank account where the 14 checks were later deposited, this does not in
itself translate to her conspiracy in the crimes charged x x x."
Page 56 of 100

xxxx

THE INVESTIGATION

xxxx

I. During the investigation, Benhur testified that he and Napoles are second cousins. After
passing the Medical Technology Licensure Examination in 2002, he was employed in the JLN
(Janet Lim Napoles) Corporation as Napoles' personal assistant. As such, he was in charge of
disbursements of her personal funds and those of her office. He was also in charge of
government transactions of the corporation and kept records of its daily business activities.

In the course of Benhur's employment at the JLN Corporation, Napoles mentioned to him the
Kevlar case, then pending in the Sandiganbayan, saying she has a "connect" in that court who
would help her.

When asked about his testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee concerning the
Kevlar case, Benhur declared that Napoles' "connect" with the Sandiganbayan is respondent,
thus:

Q The question was, Mr. Witness, this is coming from Senator Angara, and I quote, "Kailan ho
lumabas yung decision ng Court sa Kevlar?" And just to refresh your memory, Mr. Witness, then
Ms. Sula answered, "I think 2010. Yun po yung lumabas po." And then going forward, Senator
Angara referred to both of you this question: "Sa inyo, hindi ninyo alam kung inayos yung kaso
na iyon kasi napakaraming koneksyon, di ba? Baka alam ng ibang whistleblowers kung nagka-
ayusan sa kaso na iyon. Sige, huwag kang matakot, Benhur." Do you remember that question
being asked from you?

xxxx

A Yes po.

Q And now Mr. Witness, about this statement of yours at the Blue Ribbon Committee that Ms.
Napoles has a certain connect sa Sandiganbayan, who was this connect you were talking about,
if you remember?

Witness Luy

A Si Justice Gregory Ong po.

Q How do you know that Justice Gregory Ong was the connect of Ms. Napoles at the
Sandiganbayan?

A Ang sinabi po ... Si Ms. Napoles, pinsan ko po kasi we are second cousins. So kinuwento talaga
sa akin ni Madam kung ano ang mga developments sa mga cases, kung ano ang mga
nangyayari. Tapos po, sinabi niya sa akin mismo na nakakausap niya si Justice Gregory Ong at
ang nagpakilala raw sa kanya po ay si Senator Jinggoy Estrada.

Benhur further testified that even before the decision in the Kevlar case was promulgated,
Napoles and respondent were already communicating with each other (nag-uusap na po si!a).
Therefore, she was sure the decision would be in her favor:

Q Do you remember the date when the decision (in Kevlar case) was promulgated?

A Ano po, the year 2010 po ma' am.


Page 57 of 100

Q And you met him (Justice Ong) in 2012?

A 2012 po, pero prior to that decision, madam, naririnig ko na po kay madam (Ms. Napoles) kasi
kinukwento na po ni madam sa akin na nag-uusap na po sila ni Justice Gregory Ong.

Q That was after the decision was promulgated?

A Bago po nailabas yung decision, ikinwento po m Ms. Napoles sa akin na nag-uusap na po sila ni
Justice Gregory Ong. Kaya kampante po si Ms. Napoles. Noong lumabas po yung decision, alam
niya na po. Yung ang sabi sa akin ni Ms. Napoles.

Going back to the hearing before the Blue Ribbon Committee, Benhur told Senator Angara that
Napoles fixed the Kevlar case because she has a "connect" in the Sandiganbayan:

"Baka alam ng ibang whistle blowers kung nagkaka-ayusan sa kaso na iyon (Kevlar case). Sige
huwag kang matakot Benhur."

Benhur Luy: "Alam ko inayos ni Ms. Napoles iyon dahil may connect nga siya sa Sandiganbayan."

On how Napoles "inayos" or fixed the Kevlar case, Benhur said that he kept a ledger of the
Sandiganbayan case wherein he listed all her expenses in the sum of P 100 million pesos. He was
surprised why she would spend such amount considering that what was involved in the Kevlar
case was only P3.8 million. She explained that she gave various amounts to different people
during the pendency of the case which lasted up to ten years. And before the decision in the
Kevlar case was released, she also gave money to respondent but she did not mention the
amount. Thus, she knew she would be acquitted.

Q You answered Senator Angara this way which we already quoted a while ago, "Alam ko inayos
ni Ms. Napoles iyon dahil may connect nga siya sa Sandiganbayan." You stated that the connect
is Justice Ong. Can you explain before us what you mean, "Alam ko inayos ni Ms. Napoles iyon."
What do you mean by that "inayos"?

A Kasi po ma' am meron kaming ledger ng Sandiganbayan case sa lahat ng nagastos ni Ms. Janet
Napoles, nilista ko po yon lahat. Kasi naririnig ko po kay Janet Napoles, parang pinsan ko po si
Janet Napoles, "Paano nagkaroon ng kaso ang ate ko? So nadiscover ko na Jang po na yun pala
yung Kevlar. So, mahigit one hundred million na nagastos po ni Ms. Napoles kasi di Jang naman
po si sir Justice Gregory Ong ...

xxx

Q Did you come to know to whom she gave all the money?

A Wala po siyang ... basta ang sabi niya inayos na niya si ... binaggit niya po si ... kasi si madam
hindi kasi nagki-keep kasi ako pinsan niya po kasi ako, nabanggit niya po si Justice Gregory Ong.
Sinabi niya nagbigay daw po siya ng pera kay Justice Ong pero she never mentioned kung
magkano yung amount.

xxx

Q Nagbigay ng pera kay Justice Gregory Ong?

A Opo, yung ang sabi niya (referring to Ms. Napoles).

Q To you?
Page 58 of 100

A Yes, madam.

Q Do you remember when she made that kind of statement?

A Bago po ano madam, bago po lumabas yung decision kaya kampante na po si Ms. Napoles
bago lumabas yung decision na acquitted siya. Alam na niya. Sa Kevlar case.

xxx

Justice Gutierrez

Continue counsel.

Witness Luy

Kasi naikwento po madam ni Ms. Napoles na almost PlOO million na ang nagastos niya. Tapos
ang sabi ko nga po sa kanya: "Madam, P 100 million na sa halagang P3.8 lang na PO (purchase
order) sa Kevlar helmet, tapos P 100 million na ang nagastos mo?"

Q Did she tell you or explain to you to whom this P 100 million was paid? How was it spent?

A Basta ang natatandaan ko ... di ko na po matandaan ang mga dates kasi parang staggered.
May P5 million sa ibang tao ang kausap niya. Tapos ito naman tutulong ng ganito. lba-iba kasi
madam, eh.

Q But there was no showing the money was given to Justice Ong?

A Wala po pero nabanggit lang po niya (Ms. Napoles) sa akin na nagbigay po siya kay Justice
Ong, but she never mentioned the amount.

Continuing with his testimony, Benhur declared that in 2012, respondent went twice to Napoles'
office at the Discovery Suites Center, 25 ADB Avenue, Ortigas, Pasig City. On the first visit,
Napoles introduced Justice Ong to Benhur and her other employees.

Benhur narrated what transpired during that visit. According to him, Napoles has so much money
being placed at the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Police Savings and Loan Association, Inc.
(AFPSLAI) which offered 13% interest annually. Napoles called Benhur telling him that respondent
would like to avail of such interest for his BDO check of P25.5 million. To arrange this, Napoles
informed Benhur that she would just deposit respondent's P25.5 million in her personal account
with Metro bank. Then she would issue to respondent in advance eleven (11) checks, each
amounting to P282,000.00 as monthly interest, or a total of P3,102,000.00 equivalent to 13%
interest. Upon Justice Ong's suggestion, the checks should be paid to cash. So, Benhur prepared
the corresponding eleven (11) checks, thus:

Q With respect to the Kevlar case, what participation did you have, if there was any?

Witness Luy

A Noon 2012 po kasi si Justice Gregory Ong po nasa unit 2501, yung office (of Ms. Napoles), so
kami ni Janet Napoles, nandito sa 2502 kasi yun po talaga ang office namin. Si Ms. Napoles po
sinabi niya sa akin, Ben, kasi si Ms. Napoles, may pera siyang madarni na pine-place niya po sa
AFPSLAI at yung AFPSLAI po ay nagbibigay po sa kanya o nagooffer ng 13% interest annually po.
So, ang nangyari po <loon, sabi ni Janet Napoles, si Justice Ong ho raw, gustong magkaroon din
Page 59 of 100

ng interest parang ganoon. So tutulungan niya. So ang ginawa po namin x x x. Q Meaning to say,
Justice Ong would like to deposit money?

A Opo.

Q So he could get 13% interest?

A Opo, kasi tapos madam ang nangyari po pumunta na po si Ms. Napoles sa kanyang opisina.
Tinawag po niya ako kasi pinasulat na niya sa akin ang checke. So, ang ginawa po ni Ms.
Napoles, yung checke ni .. BDO check po kasi yun. Ang sabi sa akin ni Ms. Napoles, checke daw
po yun ni Justice Gregory Ong. Sa, BDO. So, di ko naman din po nakita Madam yung nakalagay sa
...

Q So it is the check of Justice Ong, not the check of Ms. Napoles?

A Opo, ang amount po ng check madam ay P25.5 million ang amount noong BDO check na
inissue ...

Q That belongs to Justice Ong?

A Opo. Tapos madam, so ang ginawa po namin ni Ms. Napoles, dahil po 13% interest ang ino-
offer ng AFPSLAI, sabi ni Madam ganito na lang, Ben, ipasok na lang muna natin yung check niya
sa personal account ko. Ako na lang muna for the meantime, mag-iissue ng check sa kanya para
maavail ni Justice Ong yung interest. So, ang ginawa nan1in madam, P25.5 million times 13%
interest, tapos divided by 12, lumalabas P282,000.00 or P283,000.00 or P281,000.00 po madam
kasi naground off kami sa P282,000.00. So, ang ginawa ni Madam, baga monthly. So eleven (11)
checks ang prinepare namin. Kung hindi po ako nagkakamali po, JLN Corporation check ang ...
Ako pa nga po ang nagsulat at saka bago po namin isinulat yung payee, inalam pa po namin. x x
x So, pumunta na naman si madam sa 2501 kasi nandoon si Justice Gregory Ong. Noong bumalik
siya, pay to cash na lang daw. So, makikita po sa records namin ni Ms. Napoles na pumasok ang
P25.5 million na amount sa kanyang account at the same time nag-issue siya ng checke na
P282,000.00 na eleven checks. Nagstart kami madam 2012, siguro sometime July or August or
mga ganoong buwan po. Basta 11 checks, hindi nalalayo doon. So, siguro tapos na.

Q But what actually turned out was that the money of Justice Ong was deposited at the bank but
the interest was paid in advance by Ms. Napoles, and actually the bank will pay Ms. Napoles the
advanced interest she paid to Justice Ong, is that clear? Is that the arrangement? Do you
understand me?

A Kasi ang nangyari po ma'am ganito e: yung P25.5 million ipinasok sa personal account ni Ms.
Napoles dito sa Metrobank. Metrobank kasi po yun e.

On the second visit of respondent to Napoles' office, they just engaged in conversation. She
ordered Chinese food for him which, according to Benhur, is his (respondent's) favorite.

On cross-examination, Benhur claimed that in his affidavits executed in the NBI, he did not
mention respondent's name. However, in his reply-affidavit filed with the Sandiganbayan, he
alleged that Napoles issued P282,000.00 (the amount stated in each of the 11 checks) but he did
not mention the name of the payee upon instruction of his lawyer, Atty. Baligod. Nonetheless, he
knew that the checks were issued to respondent.

II. Sula, also a whistle blower, testified that she was an employee of JLN Corporation. Her duties
included the formation of corporations by making use of the forms, applying for business
licenses, transfer of properties, purchase of cars, and others.
Page 60 of 100

Sula corroborated Benhur's testimony that respondent visited the office of Napoles twice
sometime in 2012.

Sula was asked to explain her testimony before the Blue Ribbon Committee during the hearing
on September 26, 2013, quoted as follows:

The Chairman (Senator Teofisto Guingona III)

Sinabi ninyo na may tinawagan si Mrs. Napoles at sinabi niya, Malapit nang lumabas yung TRO
galing sa korte. May kilala pa ba si Janet Lim Napoles sa huwes sa korte sa Sandiganbayan?

xxx

Ms. Sula

Si Mr. Ong po. Justice Ong po.

The Chairman

Gregory Ong?

Ms. Sula

Opo.

The Chairman

Sa Sandiganbayan?

Ms. Sula

Opo.

The Chairman

Okay. With that, I will just have a closing statement before we leave the hearing.

Sula explained that the TRO mentioned by Napoles refers to the TRO to be issued by the
Sandiganbayan in the event the case involving the PIO billion PDAF scam against her is filed with
that court; and that Napoles told Sula and the other employees not to worry because she has
contact with the Sandiganbayan - respondent Justice Ong, thus:

Q Not the illegal detention case?

Witness Sula

A Hindi po, pag nakasuhan na po kami sa Sandiganbayan.

Q Okay, again?

A Sa pagkakaintindi po namin, ang sabi po ni Madam na it takes 4 to 5 years, so hihintayin niya


na maacquit, sabi niyang ganoon, ang pangalan niya para maluwag na tulungan kami. Ito po ang
pagkakaintindi namin na sa Sandiganbayan.

Q Yung PDAF?
Page 61 of 100

A Opo, yung PDAF sa Sandiganbayan.

Q Pagdating ng kaso sa Sandiganbayan?

A Opo, kasi po ina-ano po niya, siya po tinitira na ni Benhur - si Madam tungkol sa PlO billion
scam. So, pinag-uusapan namin sa bahay niya sa South Garden Unit na, Madam, paano po yan,
pag lahat ng kaso na iyan dadaan sa lawmakers, dadaan yon sa Ombudsman at saka sa
Sandiganbayan? Sabi niya, "Huwag kayong mag-alala. Meron naman akong mga contact doon."
Sabi niyang ganoon sa Ombudsman at sa Sandiganbayan.

Q Is that in your affidavit?

A Wala po. Pero sinabi ko po doon sa part na yon (her testimony before the Senate Blue Ribbon
Committee) na meron na siyang kilala sa Ombudsman, pero hindi niya nabanggit ang pangalan.
Pero sa Sandiganbayan, ang alam namin kilala niya si Justice Ong.

Q Yun ang sagot niya kay Chairman Guingona. Di ba I read it a while ago?

A Opo, doon sa Sandiganbayan.

Sula also testified that every time Napoles talked to her and the other employees, she would say
that Justice Ong will help her in the Kevlar case. Sula's testimony is as follows:

Q x x x you told me that somebody will help in the Kevlar case?

A Opo. Sinabi po niya sa amin every time po pag nagkukwento siya, sinasabi niya na si Justice
Ong ang tumulong sa kanya para ma-clear po yung Kevlar case niya.

Sula likewise testified that Napoles told her and the other employees that she will fix (aayusin)
the "PDAF case" in the Sandiganbayan. Then they replied in jest that her acquaintance in that
court is respondent. Napoles retorted, "Ay huag na iyon kasi masyadong mataas ang talent fee."

xxxx

III. Aries Rufo, a Reporter of Rappler, testified that he cannot reveal who gave him the
photograph [of respondent beside Napoles and Senator Jinggoy Estrada] because he is shielded
by law and he has to protect his source.

When asked about his comment upon seeing the picture, Rufo said:

Initially, when I saw the picture, since I knew that Justice Ong was one of the members of the
division that handled the Kevlar case, it aroused my curiosity why he was in that picture. Second,
because in journalism, we also get to practice ethical standards, I immediately sensed though
that a Justice or a lawyer, that he should not be seen or be going to a party or be in an event
where respondent (Ms. Napoles) was in a case under his Division. He should not be in a situation
that would compromise the integrity of his office.

Rufo further testified that on August 27, 2013, he faxed a letter to respondent to "get his side
about the photo." The next day, he went to respondent's office and showed it to him. Respondent
was shocked. He explained that it must have been taken during one of the parties hosted by his
friend Senator Jinggoy Estrada; that he did not know that the woman in the picture is Napoles
because she did not appear during the hearing of the Kevlar case; and that such picture must
have been taken in one of those instances when a guest would like to pose with celebrities or
public figures.
Page 62 of 100

xxxx

Respondent, in his defense, vehemently denied the imputations hurled against him.

1. He asserted that he could not be the contact or "connect" of Napoles at the Sandiganbayan for
he never met or came to know her during the pendency of the Kevlar case;

2. Challenging Benhur's testimony that he fixed or "inayos" the Kevlar case, respondent claimed
that it was decided based on the merits by the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division as a collegial
body. The two other members of the court, Justice Jose R. Hernandez (ponente) and Justice Maria
Cristina J. Cornejo, are independent-minded jurists who could not be pressured or influenced by
anybody, not even by their peers;

3. On Benhur's allegation that respondent received an amount of money from Napoles prior to
the promulgation of the decision in the Kevlar case, respondent deplored the fact that Benhur
was attempting to tarnish his reputation without any proof. And that it is unthinkable for him to
have received money from Napoles considering that her mother, brother, and sister-in-law were
convicted;

4. Respondent admitted he went to Napoles' office twice, sometime in March 2012, after the
decision in the Kevlar case was promulgated in 2010 and narrated what prompted him to do so,
thus:

At the birthday party of Senator Jinggoy Estrada on February 17, 2012, Napoles approached him
and introduced herself. She engaged him in a casual conversation and thanked him for her
acquittal in the Kevlar case. Respondent replied she should thank her "evidence" instead, adding
that had the court found enough evidence against her, she would have been convicted. She
talked about her charity works like supporting Chinese priests, building churches and chapels in
China, and sponsoring Chinese Catholic priests. He was not interested though in what she was
saying until she mentioned the name of Msgr. Ramirez, former Parish Priest of Quiapo Church.

Respondent became interested because he has been a devotee of the Holy Black Nazarene since
he was a little boy. Napoles told him that Msgr. Ramirez has with him the robe of the Holy Black
Nazarene which has a healing power if one wears it. Then respondent asked if he can have
access to the robe so he can be cured of his ailment (prostate cancer) which he keeps only to
himself and to the immediate members of his family. Napoles made arrangement with Msgr.
Ramirez until respondent was able to drape the robe over his body for about one or two minutes
in Quiapo Church. He also received a fragrant ball of cotton which he keeps until now to heal any
ailing part of his body. That was a great deal for him. So out of courtesy, he visited Napoles in her
office and thanked her. That was his first visit.

Thereafter, Napoles kept on calling respondent, inviting him to her office, but he kept on
declining. Then finally after two weeks, he acceded for she might think he is "walang kwentang
tao." They just engaged in a small talk for about 30 minutes and had coffee.

5. Concerning Benhur's testimony that Napoles paid respondent an advanced interest consisting
of eleven (11) checks in the amount of P282,000.00 each and that he issued to her his BDO
check of P25.5 million which she deposited in her account, he claimed that "he never issued that
check as he did not intend to invest in AFPSLAI. In fact, he does not have any money deposited
there. Inasmuch as he did not issue any BDO check, it follows that Napoles could not have given
him those eleven (11) checks representing advanced interest. He further explained that he found
from the internet that in AFPSLAI, an investor can only make an initial deposit of P30,000.00
every quarter or Pl20,000.00 per year. The limit or ceiling is P3 million with an interest of 15% or
16% per annum.
Page 63 of 100

6. The whistle blower's testimony are conflicting and therefore lack credibility. While Sula
testified that Napoles told her that she did not want to approach respondent (should a case
involving the pork barrel scam be filed with the Sandiganbayan) because his talent fee is too
high, however, both whistle blowers claimed that he is Napoles' contact in the Sandiganbayan.

With respect to the Rappler Report, according to respondent, Rufo was insinuating four things: 1.
That there was irregularity in the manner the Kevlar case was decided;

2. That respondent was close to Napoles even during the pendency of the Kevlar case;

3. That respondent was attending parties of the Napoleses; and

4. That respondent was advising Napoles about legal strategies relative to the Kevlar case.
Respondent "dismissed all the above insinuations as false and without factual basis." As to the
last insinuation that he advised Napoles about legal strategies to be pursued in the Kevlar case,
respondent stressed that the case was decided by a collegial body and that he never interceded
on her behalf.

EVALUATION

xxxx

It bears stressing that before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, Benhur initially testified that
Napoles fixed or "inayos" the Kevlar case because she has a contact at the Sandiganbayan,
referring to respondent. Sula corroborated Benhur's testimony.

Testifying before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is certainly an ordeal. The witnesses and
everything they say are open to the public. They are subjected to difficult questions propounded
by the Senators, supposedly intelligent and knowledgeable of the subject and issues under
inquiry. And they can easily detect whether a person under investigation is telling the truth or
not. Considering this challenging and difficult setting, it is indubitably improbable that the two
whistle blowers would testify false! y against respondent.

Moreover, during the investigation of this case, Benhur and Sula testified in a candid,
straightforward, and categorical manner. Their testimonies were instantaneous, clear,
unequivocal, and carried with it the ring of truth.

In fact, their answers to the undersigned's probing questions were consistent with their
testimonies before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. During cross-examination, they did not
waver or falter. The undersigned found the two whistle blowers as credible witnesses and their
story untainted with bias and contradiction, reflective of honest and trustworthy witnesses.

The undersigned therefore finds unmeritorious respondent's claim that Benhur and Sula were
lying.

. . . respondent insisted he could not have intervened in the disposition of the Kevlar case
considering that Napoles' mother, brother and sister-in-law were convicted.

Respondent must have forgotten that Napoles' natural instinct was self-preservation. Hence, she
would avail of every possible means to be exonerated. Besides, respondent's belief that the two
members of his Division are independent-minded Jurists remains to be a mere allegation.

xxxx
Page 64 of 100

With the undersigned's finding that there is credence in the testimonies of Benhur and Sula,
there is no need to stretch one's imagination to arrive at the inevitable conclusion that in "fixing"
Kevlar case, money could be the consideration ... Benhur testified he kept a ledger (already
shredded) of expenses amounting to P 100 million incurred by Napoles for the Sandiganbayan
during the pendency of the Kevlar case which extended up to ten years; and that Napoles told
him she gave respondent an undetermined sum of money.

Respondent maintains that the testimonies of Benhur and Sula are pure hearsay, inadmissible in
evidence:

Justice Ong

Your honor, since these are all accusations against me by Luy and Sula, and according to Luy and
Sula, these were only told to them by Napoles, always their statements were ... they do not have
personal knowledge, it was only told to them by Napoles, is it possible that we subpoena Napoles
so that the truth will come out? If. ..

xxxx

Justice Gutierrez

That is your prerogative.

Justice Ong

I am willing to take the risk although I know I am not an acquaintance of Napoles. Just to clear
my name whether I should be hung or I should not be hung.

xxxx

Atty. Geronilla

I don't think it would be necessary, your honor.

Justice Gutierrez (to Atty. Geronilla)

Discuss this matter with your client, file a motion, then we will see.

However, respondent and his counsel did not take any action on the undersigned's suggestion.
They did not present Napoles to rebut the testimonies of Benhur and Sula. Significantly,
respondent failed to consider that his testimony is likewise hearsay. He should have presented
Msgr. Ramirez and Napoles as witnesses to support his claim regarding their role which enabled
him to wear the robe of the Holy Black Nazarene.

x x xx

Respondent's acts of allowing himself to be Napoles' contact in the Sandiganbayan, resulting in


the fixing of the Kevlar case, and of accepting money from her, constitute gross misconduct, a
violation of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary.

xxxx

That Benhur personally prepared the eleven (11) checks which Napoles handed to respondent
led the undersigned to conclude without hesitation that this charge is true. It is highly
inconceivable that Benhur could devise or concoct his story. He gave a detailed and lucid
Page 65 of 100

narration of the events, concluding that actually Napoles gave respondent P3, 102,000.00 as
advanced interest.

According to respondent, the purpose of his first visit was to thank Napoles for making it possible
for him to wear the Holy Black Nazarene's robe. Even assuming it is true, nonetheless it is
equally true that during that visit, respondent could have transacted business with Napoles. Why
should Napoles pay respondent an advanced interest of P3,102,000.0 with her own money if it
were not a consideration for a favor?

Respondent's transgression pertains to his personal life and no direct relation to his judicial
function. It is not misconduct but plain dishonesty. His act is unquestionably disgraceful and
renders him morally unfit as a member of the Judiciary and unworthy of the privileges the law
confers on him. Furthermore, respondent's conduct supports Benhur's assertion that he received
money from Napoles.

Dishonesty likewise violates Canon 2 (1 and 2) on Integrity of the same Code providing in part
that judges must ensure that their conduct is above reproach and must reaffirm the people's
faith in the integrity of the Judiciary.

Indeed, respondent should not stay in his position even for a moment.

xxxx

...From respondent's end, there was nothing wrong when he visited Napoles twice in her office
considering that the visits took place long after the promulgation of the decision in the Kevlar
case.

Contrary to respondent's submission, such acts also constitute gross misconduct in violation of
Canon 4 on Propriety of the same Code. Section 1 provides that judges shall avoid impropriety
and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities .

. . . respondent's reason for his first visit was to thank Napoles for her help in making it possible
for him to wear the robe of the Holy Black Nazarene. Instead of visiting her, respondent could
have extended his gratitude by simply calling her by phone. Worse, he visited her again because
she may think he is an unworthy person. This is an extremely frail reason. He was seen by the
whistle blowers and their co-workers who, without doubt, readily confirmed that he was Napoles'
contact at the Sandiganbayan and that he "fixed" the decision in the Kevlar case.

Respondent cannot be excused for his unconcern for the position he holds. Being aptly perceived
as the visible personification of law and justice, his personal behavior, not only while in the
performance of official duties but also outside the court, must be beyond reproach. A judicial
office circumscribes a personal conduct and imposes a number of inhibitions, whose faithful
observance is the price one has to pay for holding an exalted position.

xxxx

On the photograph showing respondent

with Senator Jinggoy Estrada and Napoles.

xxxx

This incident manifests respondent's disregard of the dictum that propriety and the appearance
of propriety are essential to the performance of all the activities of a judge. This exacting
Page 66 of 100

standard of decorum is demanded from judges to promote public confidence in the integrity of
the Judiciary.

In joining Senator Estrada and Napoles in a picture taking, respondent gave a ground for
reproach by reason of impropriety. It bears reiterating Canon 4 (1) on Propriety of the same Code
which provides that judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of
their activities.

Respondent maintained that he did not know Napoles at that time because she was not present
before the Sandiganbayan during the hearing of the Kevlar case for she must have waived her
appearance. Respondent's explanation lacks merit. That court could not have acquired
jurisdiction over her if she did not appear personally for arraignment.

Of utmost significance is the fact that this is not the first time that respondent has been charged
administratively. In "Assistant Special Prosecutor Ill Rohermina J Jamsani-Rodriguez v. Justices
Gregory S. Ong, Jose R. Hernandez and Rodolfo A. Ponferrada, Sandiganbayan,'' the Supreme
Court found respondent Justice Ong guilty of violation of PD 1606 and The Revised Internal Rules
of the Sandiganbayan for nonobservance of collegiality in hearing criminal cases in the Hall of
Justice, Davao City. Instead of siting as a collegial body, the members of the Sandiganbayan
Fourth Division adopted a different procedure. The Division was divided into two. As then
Chairperson of the Division, respondent was ordered to pay a fine of P15,000.00 with a stern
warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely.

xxxx

...the undersigned cannot hold back her skepticism regarding the acquittal of Napoles. The
Sandiganbayan Fourth Division, of which respondent was the Chairman, held that Napoles did
not conspire with the suppliers in the questionable purchase of the Kevlar helmets as she was
not one of the "dealer-payees" in the transaction in question and that there was no proof of an
overt act on her part. How could the Fourth Division arrive at such conclusion? The Decision itself
indicates clearly that ( 1) Napoles was following up the processing of the documents; (2) that she
was in charge of the delivery of the helmets; and (3) the checks amounting to P3,864,310.00 as
payment for the helmets were deposited and cleared in only one bank account, Security Bank
Account No. 512-000-2200, in the name of Napoles.

Considering this glaring irregularity, it is safe to conclude that indeed respondent has a hand in
the acquittal of Napoles. All along, the whistle blowers were telling the truth.

xxxx

RECOMMENDATION

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, It is respectfully recommended, for consideration of the Honorable


Court, that respondent Justice Gregory S. Ong be found GUILTY of gross misconduct, dishonesty,
and impropriety, all in violations of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary
and be meted the penalty of DISMISSAL from the service WITH FORFEITURE of all retirement
benefits, excluding accrued leave credits, and WITH PREJUDICE to reemployment to any
government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

xxxx

The Court's Ruling

This Court adopts the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the Investigating Justice
which are well-supported by the evidence on record.
Page 67 of 100

Based on the testimonies of Luy, Sula and Rufo, the Investigating Justice formulated the charges
against the respondent, as follows:

1. Respondent acted as contact of Napoles in connection with the Kevlar case while it was
pending in the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division wherein he is the Chairman;

2. Respondent, being Napoles' contact in the Sandiganbayan, fixed the Kevlar case resulting in
her acquittal;

3. Respondent received an undetermined amount of money from Napoles prior to the


promulgation of the decision in the Kevlar case thus, she was sure ("kampante")of her acquittal;
4. Respondent visited Napoles in her office where she handed to him eleven (ll) checks, each
amounting to P282,000.00 or a total of P3,102,000.00, as advanced interest for his P25.5 million
BDO check she deposited in her personal account; and

5. Respondent attended Napoles' parties and was photographed with Senator Estrada and
Napoles.11

Respondent thus stands accused of gross misconduct, partiality and corruption or bribery during
the pendency of the Kevlar case, and impropriety on account of his dealing and socializing with
Napoles after her acquittal in the said case. Additionally, respondent failed to disclose in his
September 26, 2013 letter to Chief Justice Sereno that he had actually visited Napoles at her
office in 2012, as he vehemently denied having partied with or attended any social event hosted
by her.

Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a
dereliction of duty, unlawful behavior, willful in character, improper or wrong behavior; while
"gross" has been defined as "out of all measure beyond allowance; flagrant; shameful; such
conduct as is not to be excused."12 We agree with Justice Sandoval-Gutierrez that respondent's
association with Napoles during the pendency and after the promulgation of the decision in the
Kevlar case resulting in her acquittal, constitutes gross misconduct notwithstanding the absence
of direct evidence of corruption or bribery in the rendition of the said judgment.

We cannot overemphasize that in administrative proceedings, only substantial evidence, i.e., that
amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion, is required. The standard of substantial evidence is satisfied when there is reasonable
ground to believe that respondent is responsible for the misconduct complained of, even if such
evidence might not be overwhelming or even preponderant.13

The testimonies of Luy and Sula established that Napoles had been in contact with respondent
("nag-uusap sila") during the pendency of the Kevlar case. As Napoles' trusted staff, they
(especially Luy who is a cousin) were privy to her daily business and personal activities. Napoles
constantly updated them of developments regarding the case. She revealed to them that she has
a "connect" or "contact" in the Sandiganbayan who will help "fix" the case involving her, her
mother, brother and some employees. Having closely observed and heard Napoles being
confident that she will be acquitted even prior to the promulgation of the decision in the Kevlar
case, they were convinced she was indeed in contact with respondent, whose identity was earlier
divulged by Napoles to Luy. Luy categorically testified that Napoles told him she gave money to
respondent but did not disclose the amount. There was no reason for them to doubt Napoles'
statement as they even keep a ledger detailing her expenses for the "Sandiganbayan," which
reached Pl 00 million. Napoles' information about her association with respondent was confirmed
when she was eventually acquitted in 2010 and when they saw respondent visit her office and
given the eleven checks issued by Napoles in 2012.
Page 68 of 100

Respondent maintains that the testimonies of Luy and Sula were hearsay as they have no
personal knowledge of the matters they were testifying, which were merely told to them by
Napoles. Specifically, he points to portions of Sula's testimony indicating that Napoles had not
just one but "contact persons" in Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan; hence, it could have been
other individuals, not him, who could help Napoles "fix" the Kevlar case, especially since Napoles
never really disclosed to Sula who was her (Napoles) contact at the Sandiganbayan and at one of
their conversations Napoles even supposedly said that respondent's "talent fee" was too high.
Bribery is committed when a public officer agrees to perform an act in connection with the
performance of official duties in consideration of any offer, promise, gift or present received.14
Ajudge who extorts money from a party-litigant who has a case before the court commits a
serious misconduct and this Court has condemned such act in the strongest possible terms.
Particularly because it has been committed by one charged with the responsibility of
administering the law and rendering justice, it quickly and surely corrodes respect for law and
the courts.15

An accusation of bribery is easy to concoct and difficult to disprove. The complainant must
present a panoply of evidence in support of such an accusation. Inasmuch as what is imputed
against the respondent judge connotes a grave misconduct, the quantum of proof required
should be more than substantial.16 Concededly, the evidence in this case is insufficient to
sustain the bribery and corruption charges against the respondent. Both Luy and Sula have not
witnessed respondent actually receiving money from Napoles in exchange for her acquittal in the
Kevlar case. Napoles had confided to Luy her alleged bribe to respondent.

Notwithstanding the absence of direct evidence of any corrupt act by the respondent, we find
credible evidence of his association with Napoles after the promulgation of the decision in the
Kevlar case. The totality of the circumstances of such association strongly indicates respondent's
corrupt inclinations that only heightened the public's perception of anomaly in the decision-
making process. By his act of going to respondent at her office on two occasions, respondent
exposed himself to the suspicion that he was partial to Napoles. That respondent was not the
ponente of the decision which was rendered by a collegial body did not forestall such suspicion of
partiality, as evident from the public disgust generated by the publication of a photograph of
respondent together with Napoles and Senator Jinggoy Estrada. Indeed, the context of the
declarations under oath by Luy and Sula before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, taking place
at the height of the "Pork Barrel" controversy, made all the difference as respondent himself
acknowledged. Thus, even in the present administrative proceeding, their declarations are taken
in the light of the public revelations of what they know of that government corruption
controversy, and how it has tainted the image of the Judiciary.

The hearsay testimonies of Luy and Sula generated intense public interest because of their close
relationship to Napoles and their crucial participation in her transactions with government
officials, dubbed by media as the "Pork Barrel Queen." But as aptly observed by Justice
SandovalGutierrez, the "challenging and difficult setting" of the Senate hearings where they first
testified, made it highly improbable that these whistle blowers would testify against the
respondent. During the investigation of this case, Justice Sandoval-Gutierrez described their
manner of testifying as "candid, straightforward and categorical." She likewise found their
testimonies as "instantaneous, clear, unequivocal, and carried with it the ring of truth," and more
important, these are consistent with their previous testimonies before the Senate; they never
wavered or faltered even during cross-examination.

It is a settled rule that the findings of investigating magistrates are generally given great weight
by the Court by reason of their unmatched opportunity to see the deportment of the witnesses
as they testified.17 The rule which concedes due respect, and even finality, to the assessment of
credibility of witnesses by trial judges in civil and criminal cases applies a fortiori to
administrative cases.18 In particular, we concur with Justice Sandoval-Gutierrez's assessment on
Page 69 of 100

the credibility of Luy and Sula, and disagree with respondent's claim that these witnesses are
simply telling lies about his association with Napoles.

Contrary to respondent's submission, Sula in her testimony said that whenever Napoles talked
about her contacts in the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan, they knew that insofar as the
Sandiganbayan was concerned, it was understood that she was referring to respondent even as
she may have initially contacted some persons to get to respondent, and also because they have
seen him meeting with Napoles at her office. It appears that Napoles made statements regarding
the Kevlar case not just to Luy but also to the other employees of JLN Corporation. The following
are excerpts from Sula's testimony on direct examination, where she even hinted at their
expected outcome of the Kevlar case:

Atty. Benipayo

Q So, Ms. Sula, what were the statements being made by Ms. Janet Lim Napoles regarding her
involvement in the Kevlar case, or how she was trying to address the problem with the Kevlar
case pending before the Sandiganbayan?

Witness Sula

A Ang alam ko po kasi marami po siyang kinaka-usap na mga lawyers na binabayaran niya para
tulungan siya kay Gregory Ong sa Kevlar case. Tapos, sa kalaunan po, nasabi na niya sa amin na
mcron na po siyang nakilala sa Sandiganbayan na nagngangalang Justice Gregory Ong. Tapos,
sabi niya, siya po ang tutulong sa amin para ma-clear kami. Pero hindi niya sinabi na meron din
pong ma ... sasagot sa kaso. Hindi po lahat, kasi po dalawa sa mga empleyado niya, bale apat,
dalawang empleyado niya, isang kapatid niya at sister-in-law ang mag-aano sa kaso pati yung
mother niya na namatay na ay sasagot din sa kaso. Siya Jang at saka yung asawa niya ang bale
makli-clear sa kaso.

Q So, she told you that two (2) employees, one (1) sister-in-law and one brother will answer for
the case and Janet Lim Napoles and her husband will be acquitted, is that right?

A Yun po ang aking pagkaka-alam kasi po, nag-petition po kasi sila eh, yung mga officemates ko.
Nagkaroon ng probation. Noong lumabas ang hatol, meron silang probation period.

xxxx

Q Which you told me that somebody will help in the Kevlar case?

A Opo. Sinabi po niya sa amin everytime po pag nagkukwento siya, sinasabi niya na si Justice
Ong ang tutulong sa kanya para ma-clear po yung Kevlar case niya.

x x x x19 (Emphasis supplied.)

As it turned out, Napoles' husband was dropped from the two informations while her mother,
brother and sister-in-law were convicted in the lesser charge of falsification of public documents.
Apparently, after her acquittal, Napoles helped those convicted secure a probation. But as stated
in our earlier resolution, the Court will no longer delve into the merits of the Kevlar case as the
investigation will focus on respondent's administrative liability.

Respondent's act of voluntarily meeting with Napoles at her office on two occasions was grossly
improper and violated Section 1, Canon 4 (Propriety) of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, which
took effect on June 1, 2004.
Page 70 of 100

SECTION 1. Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their
activities.

A judge must not only be impartial but must also appear to be impartial and that fraternizing
with litigants tarnishes this appearance.20 Public confidence in the Judiciary is eroded by
irresponsible or improper conduct of judges. A judge must avoid all impropriety and the
appearance thereof. Being the subject of constant public scrutiny, a judge should freely and
willingly accept restrictions on conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary
citizen.21

In Caneda v. Alaan,22 we held that:

Judges are required not only to be impartial but also to appear to be so, for appearance is an
essential manifestation of reality. Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct enjoins judges to avoid
not just impropriety in their conduct but even the mere appearance of impropriety.

They must conduct themselves in such a manner that they give no ground for reproach.
[Respondent's] acts have been less than circumspect. He should have kept himself free from any
appearance of impropriety and endeavored to distance himself from any act liable to create an
impression of indecorum.

xxxx

Indeed, respondent must always bear in mind that:

"A judicial office traces a line around his official as well as personal conduct, a price one has to
pay for o ccupying an exalted position in the judiciary, beyond which he may not freely venture.
Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct enjoins a judge to avoid not just impropriety in the
performance of judicial duties but in all his activities whether in his public or private life. He must
conduct himself in a manner that gives no ground for reproach." (Emphasis supplied.)

On this score, our previous pronouncements have enjoined judges to avoid association or
socializing with persons who have pending cases before their court. Respondent cites the case of
Abundo v. Mania, Jr.23 where this Court did not find fault with a judge who was charged with
fraternizing with his lawyer-friend. In that case, we said:

Respondent admits that he and Atty. Pajarillo became close friends in 1989 when they were both
RTC judges stationed in Naga City. Since they both resided in Camarines Norte, Atty. Pajarillo
hitched rides with respondent to Daet, Camarines Norte in the latter's car.

In his Comment, respondent claims that he leaves the door to his chambers open to lawyers or
parties with official court business, whose requests and complaints regarding their cases he
listens to in full view of his staff, who are witnesses to his transparency and honesty in
conducting such dialogues. He also admits that Atty. Pajarillo has been to his house on several
occasions, but only to make emergency long-distance calls to his children in Metro Manila. He,
however, denies that he and Atty. Pajarillo were frequently seen eating and drinking together in
public places.

We agree with Justice Buzon's finding that the evidence against respondent on this point was
insufficient, viz.:

"On the other hand, the admission of respondent that he attended two public functions where
Atty. Pajarillo was also present; that Atty. Pajarillo had been in his house twice or thrice and used
his telephone; and that he receives lawyers, including Atty. Pajarillo, and litigants inside his
chambers, the door to which is always open so that [the] staff could see that no under the table
Page 71 of 100

transactions are taking place, is not proof that he is fraternizing with Atty. Pajarillo. A judge need
not ignore a former colleague and friend whenever they meet each other or when the latter
makes requests which are not in any manner connected with cases pending in his court. Thus,
Canon 30 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics provides:

'30. Social relations

It is not necessary to the proper performance of judicial duty that judges should live in retirement
or seclusion; it is desirable that, so far as the reasonable attention to the completion of their
work will permit, they continue to mingle in social intercourse, and that they should not
discontinue their interests in or appearance at meetings of members at the bar. A judge should,
however, in pending or prospective litigation before him be scrupulously careful to avoid such
action as may reasonably tend to waken the suspicion that his social or business relations or
friendships constitute an element in determining his judicial course.'"

The factual setting in Abundo v. Mania, Jr. is not similar to the present case because Napoles was
not a colleague or lawyer-friend but an accused in a former case before the Sandiganbayan's
Fourth Division chaired by respondent and which acquitted her from malversation charge. What
respondent perhaps want to underscore is the caveat for judges, in pending or prospective
litigation before them, to avoid such action as may raise suspicion on their partiality in resolving
or deciding the case. Thus, he emphasized in his Memorandum that he "never knew Napoles on
a personal level while she was still on trial as an accused in Kevlar helmet case." Respondent
even quoted Sula's testimony expressing her opinion that she finds nothing wrong with
respondent going to Napoles' office because at that time, the Kevlar case had already been
terminated.

We do not share the view that the rule on propriety was intended to cover only pending and
prospective litigations.

Judges must, at all times, be beyond reproach and should avoid even the mere suggestion of
partiality and impropriety.24 Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct states that "[p ]
ropriety and the appearance of propriety are essential to the performance of all the activities of a
judge." Section 2 further provides:

SEC. 2. As a subject of constant public scrutiny, judges must accept personal restrictions that
might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly. In
particular, judges shall conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the
judicial office.

As we held in Sibayan-Joaquin v. Javellana25

... Judges, indeed, should be extra prudent in associating with litigants and counsel appearing
before them so as to avoid even a mere perception of possible bias or partiality. It is not
expected, of course, that judges should live in retirement or seclusion from any social
intercourse. Indeed, it may be desirable, for instance, that they continue, time and work
commitments permitting, to relate to members of the bar in worthwhile endeavors and in such
fields of interest, in general, as are in keeping with the noble aims and objectives of the legal
profession. In pending or prospective litigations before them, however, judges should be
scrupulously careful to avoid anything that may tend to awaken the suspicion that their personal,
social or sundry relations could influence their objectivity, for not only must judges possess
proficiency in law but that also they must act and behave in such manner that would assure, with
great comfort, litigants and their counsel of the judges' competence, integrity and independence.

In this light, it does not matter that the case is no longer pending when improper acts were
committed by the judge. Because magistrates are under constant public scrutiny, the
Page 72 of 100

termination of a case will not deter public criticisms for acts which may cast suspicion on its
disposition or resolution. As what transpired in this case, respondent's association with Napoles
has unfortunately dragged the Judiciary into the "Pork Barrel" controversy which initially involved
only legislative and executive officials. Worse, Napoles' much-flaunted "contact" in the judiciary
is no less than a Justice of the Sandiganbayan, our special court tasked with hearing graft cases.
We cannot, by any stretch of indulgence and compassion, consider respondent's transgression as
a simple misconduct.

During his testimony, respondent acknowledged his violation of judicial ethics and its serious
repercussions, as shown by his answers to the questions from the Investigation Justice, viz:
Justice Gutierrez

What I am thinking Justice, as a Justice holding a very high position, could it not be possible for
you to just go to the Church of Quiapo and ask the priest there to help you or assist you, no
longer through Ms. Napoles?

Justice Ong

You cannot do that, your honor. Ever since when I was a small boy, I never got near the image of
the Mahal na Poon. Nobody can do that, your honor.

Justice Gutierrez

No, no. What I mean is that you can just go to the priest in Quiapo and make the proper request.
Why did you not do that?

Justice Ong

I don't know, your honor.

Justice Gutierrez

Because you have been suffering from that ailment, mass or whatever, and that you are a
devotee of the Black Nazarene. You could have gone to the Office of the priest there and had that
request for you to wear that robe of the Black Nazarene?

Justice Ong

Hindi ko po alam na may ganyan, your honor. I was only told by Napoles during that
conversation. Had I known that, siguro po pwede ko pong gawin. Had I known that there is such a
robe, maybe I will do that.

Justice Gutierrez

Okay. It happened already. But just to thank Ms. Napoles, I think Justice you should have been
very, very careful about your actuations. You should not have been seen in public, you know,
with a woman like her who was an accused before. You could have thanked her simply by calling
her. You could have relayed to her your true feelings that you are so grateful because of her
assistance. Were it not for her, you could not have worn that Holy Robe of the Black Nazarene.
You could have simply called her instead of going to her office; instead of, you know, going to the
Church of Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park. And you should have been more careful not
to be seen by the public with her considering that she was a former accused in that case.

Justice Ong
Page 73 of 100

I will heed to that advice, your honor.

Justice Gutierrez

Q And you admitted a while ago, during the interview conducted by Mr. Aries Rufo that. "That is a
lesson for me; that I should not have associated, you know, with a former respondent or accused
in a case before me." You admitted that? You said you learned you lesson. Was that the first time
you learned that kind of lesson, Mr. Justice? Or even before you took your oath as a member of
the Judiciary, you already knew that lesson, isn't it or was that the first time? That is why you
associated yourself with Senator Jinggoy Estrada who was accused before of plunder?

Justice Ong

Your honor, talking about ....

Justice Gutierrez

Q Do you admit you committed a lapse along that line?

Justice Ong

A Yes, your honor. You have to forgive me for that.26 (Emphasis supplied.)

In her report, Justice Sandoval-Gutierrez noted that respondent's purported reason for visiting
Napoles in her office remains uncorroborated, as Napoles and the Quiapo parish priest were not
presented as witnesses despite her suggestion to respondent and his counsel. On the other
hand, Luy's testimony on what transpired in one of respondent's meeting with Napoles at her
office appears to be the more plausible and truthful version. Expectedly, respondent denied
having issued a BDO check for P25 .5 million as claimed by Luy, and asserted he (respondent)
did not deposit any money to AFPSLAI. Unfortunately, Luy is unable to present documentary
evidence saying that, as previously testified by him before the Senate, most of the documents in
their office were shredded upon orders of Napoles when the "Pork Barrel Scam" controversy
came out.

Justice Sandoval-Gutierrez stated that the eleven checks of P282,000.00 supposed advance
interest for respondent's check deposit to AFPSLAI were given to respondent as consideration for
the favorable ruling in the Kevlar case.1wphi1 Such finding is consistent with Luy's testimony
that Napoles spent a staggering PlOO million just to "fix" the said case. Under the circumstances,
it is difficult to believe that respondent went to Napoles office the second time just to have
coffee. Respondent's act of again visiting Napoles at her office, after he had supposedly merely
thanked her during the first visit, tends to support Luy's claim that respondent had a financial
deal with Napoles regarding advance interest for AFPSLAI deposit. The question inevitably arises
as to why would Napoles extend such an accommodation to respondent if not as consideration
for her acquittal in the Kevlar case? Respondent's controversial photograph alone had raised
adverse public opinion, with the media speculating on pay-offs taking place in the courts.

Regrettably, the conduct of respondent gave cause for the public in general to doubt the honesty
and fairness of his participation in the Kevlar case and the integrity of our courts of justice.
Before this Court, even prior to the commencement of administrative investigation, respondent
was less than candid. In his letter to the Chief Justice where he vehemently denied having
attended parties or social events hosted by Napoles, he failed to mention that he had in fact
visited Napoles at her office. Far from being a plain omission, we find that respondent
deliberately did not disclose his social calls to Napoles. It was only when Luy and Sula testified
before the Senate and named him as the "contact" of Napoles in the Sandiganbayan, that
Page 74 of 100

respondent mentioned of only one instance he visited Napoles ("This is the single occasion that
Sula was talking about in her supplemental affidavit x x x."27).

The Court finds that respondent, in not being truthful on crucial matters even before the
administrative complaint was filed against him motu proprio, is guilty of Dishonesty, a violation
of Canon 3 (Integrity) of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.

Dishonesty is 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."28 Dishonesty, being a grave offense, carries the
extreme penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits except
accrued leave credits, and with perpetual disqualification from reemployment in government
service. Indeed, dishonesty is a malevolent act that has no place in the Judiciary.29

Under Section 11(A), Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, a respondent found guilty of a serious
charge may be penalized as follows:

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

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

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

3. A fine of more than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00. Considering that respondent is
not a first time offender and the charges of gross misconduct and dishonesty are both grave
offenses showing his unfitness to remain as a magistrate of the special graft court, we deem it
proper to impose the supreme penalty of dismissal.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Gregory S. Ong GUILTY
of GROSS MISCONDUCT, DISHONESTY and IMPROPRIETY, all in violations of the New Code of
Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary, for which he is hereby DISMISSED from the service,
with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice
to reemployment in any branch, agency or instrumentality of the government including
government-owned or -controlled corporations.

This Decision is IMMEDIATELY EXECUTORY.

SO ORDERED.

A.M. No. RTJ-14-2388 June 10, 2014


[Formerly OCA IPI No. 10-3554-RTJ]

EMILIE SISON-BARIAS, Complainant,


vs.
JUDGE MARINO E. RUBIA, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT [RTC], BRANCH 24, BIAN, LAGUNA and EILEEN
A. PECAA, DATA ENCODER II, RTC, OFFICE OF THE CLERK OF COURT, BIAN, LAGUNA,
Respondents.

DECISION
Page 75 of 100

PER CURIAM :

Public trust requires that we exact strict integrity from judges and court employees. This case
emphasizes the need for members of the judiciary and those within its employ to exhibit the
impartiality, prudence, and propriety that the New Code of Judicial Conduct and the Code of
Conduct for Court Personnel require when dealing with parties in pending cases.

Complainant Emilie Sison-Barias is involved in three cases pending before the sala of respondent
Judge Marino Rubia.

The first case is an intestate proceeding.1 Complainant filed a petition for letters of
administration over the intestate estate of her late husband, Ramon A. Barias. This was opposed
by her mother-in-law, Romelias Almeda-Barias.2

The second case is a guardianship proceeding over Romelias Almeda-Barias.3 Evelyn Tanael, the
guardian appointed by the court, submitted a property inventory report that included not only
the properties of Romelias Almeda-Barias but also properties forming part of the estate of
complainants late husband.4

The third case is a civil action5 for annulment of contracts and reconveyance of real properties
filed by Romelias Almeda-Barias, represented by Evelyn Tanael, against complainant, among
others.6

In all these cases, a parcel of land covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-510712 and part
of the estate of complainants husband was involved.7

Complainant alleged that there was delay in the publication of the notice in the petition for
issuance of letters of administration filed. She was then informed by her brother, Enrique "Ike"
Sison, that respondent Eileen Pecaa, the daughter of his good friend, was a data encoder in the
Office of the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court of Bian, Laguna.8

Complainant, together with her two brothers, Enrique and Perlito "Jun" Sison, Jr.,9 met with
respondent Pecaa on February 20, 2010.10 During this meeting, complainant informed
respondent Pecaa of the delay in the publication of the notice in the petition for issuance of
letters of administration. She then asked respondent Pecaa to check the status of the
publication of the notice.11 Respondent Pecaa asked for complainants number so that she
could inform her as soon as any development takes place in the case.12 Enrique13 and Perlito14
executed affidavits to corroborate these allegations.

Respondent Pecaa asked complainant to meet her again at her house in Bian, Laguna.15
Complainant went there with Enrique.16 Respondent Pecaa then informed complainant that she
could no longer assist her since respondent Judge Rubia had already given administration of the
properties to Evelyn Tanael.17

Complainant stated that she was not interested in the grant of administration to Tanael because
these concerned the properties of her mother-in-law, Romelias Almeda-Barias.18 She was only
concerned with the administration of the properties of her late husband, to which respondent
Pecaa replied, "Ah ganun ba? Iba pala ung kaso mo."19

Complainant alleged that respondent Pecaa sent her a text message on March 2, 201020 asking
complainant to call her. Complainant called respondent Pecaa who informed her that
respondent Judge Rubia wanted to talk to her.21 Complainant agreed to meet with respondent
Judge Rubia over dinner, on the condition that respondent Pecaa would be present as well.22
Page 76 of 100

On March 3, 201023 at around 7:00 p.m, complainant picked up respondent Pecaa at 6750
Ayala Avenuein Makati City. They proceeded to Caf Juanita in The Fort, Bonifacio Global City.
Respondent Pecaa said that respondent Judge Rubia would arrive late as he would be coming
from a Rotary Club meeting held at the Mandarin Hotel.24

Respondent Judge Rubia arrived at Caf Juanita around 8:30 p.m. During the dinner meeting,
respondents allegedly asked complainant inappropriate questions. Respondent Judge Rubia
allegedly asked whether she was still connected with Philippine Airlines, which she still was at
that time.25 Complainant was then informed that respondent Judge Rubia knew of this fact
through Atty. Noe Zarate, counsel of Romelias Almeda-Barias.26 This disclosure surprised
complainant,as she was under the impression that opposing counsel and respondent JudgeRubia
had no business discussing matters that were not relevant to their pending cases.27

Respondent Judge Rubia also allegedly asked her questions about her supposed involvement with
another man and other accusations made by Romelias Almeda-Barias.28 She was asked about
the hospital where she brought her husband at the time of his cardiac arrest.29

These details, according to complainant, were never discussed in the pleadings or in the course
of the trial.30 Thus, she inferred that respondent Judge Rubia had been talking to the opposing
counsel regarding these matters outside of the court proceedings.31 The impression of
complainant was that respondent Judge Rubia was actively taking a position in favor of Atty.
Zarate.32

To confirm her suspicion, respondents then allegedly "told complainant to just talk to Atty.
Zarate, counsel for the oppositor, claiming that he is a nice person. Complainant was appalled by
such suggestion and replied[,] Why will I talk to him? Judge di ko yata kaya gawin un."33

After dinner, complainant stayed behind to settle the bill. Even before he left, she alleged that
respondent Judge Rubia had made insinuations that she was awaiting the company of another
man.34

From then on, complainant and respondents did not communicate and/or meet outside the
courtroom until August 8, 2010.

In the meantime, complainant alleged that respondent Judge Rubia acted in a manner that
showed manifest partiality in favor of the opposing parties, namely, Romelias Almeda-Barias and
Evelyn Tanael, as represented by their counsel, Atty. Noe Zarate.35

On June 15, 2010, counsel for complainant was personally handed a copy of a motion for
consolidation filed by the oppositor, Romelias Almeda-Barias, despite the date of the hearing on
such motion being set on June 18, 2010.36 Complainant alleged that respondent Judge Rubia did
not even consider the comment/opposition to the motion for consolidation filed by her counsel,
which stated that since two of these cases were special proceedings, they could not be
consolidated with an ordinary civil action. Respondent Judge Rubia insisted on discussing the
totality of the different issues involved in the three distinct cases under one court proceeding.37
As such, complainant alleged that the main issues of the special proceedings were consolidated
with matters that were properly the subject of a separate civil action.38 Complainant alleged
that respondent Judge Rubia refused to issue Orders39 that would have allowed her to comply
with her duties as the special administrator of her late husbands estate.40 This included the
order to conduct an inventory of the properties, rights, and credits of the deceased, subject to
the authority of the administrator.

In addition, complainant alleged that respondent Judge Rubia refused to grant her request for
subpoena duces tecum and ad testificandum that she had prayed for to compel Evelyn Tanael to
produce the documents showing the accrued rentals of the parcel of land belonging toher late
Page 77 of 100

husband.41 As such, complainant raised that respondent Judge Rubias refusal emboldened
Evelyn Tanael and oppositor Romelias Almeda-Barias to interfere in the management of the
estate of complainants late husband.42 Because of this refusal, she asserted that respondent
Judge Rubia failed to adhere to the duty of the court to ensure a proper inventory of the
estate.43

Complainant enumerated occasions that alleged manifest partiality on the part of respondent
Judge Rubia. She alleged that respondent Judge Rubia failed to require a timely filing of the pre-
trial brief on the part of Evelyn Tanael and Romelias Almeda-Barias, and despite their
noncompliance on four (4) separate pre-trials that were postponed, Tanael and Almeda-Barias
were not declared in default.44 She also alleged that respondent Judge Rubia stated that the
burden to prove ownership of the property was on complainant, when in fact it was the oppositor,
or Tanael and Almeda-Barias, who had the burden of proof to show that the land was fraudulently
transferred to her late husband.45

Complainant admitted that she did not inform her counsel of the dinner meeting she had with
respondents.46 It was Enrique who allegedly told complainants lawyers about it when he went
to the lawyers office to pay some bills.47 Complainant said that her lawyer immediately
admonished her for agreeing to meet with respondent Judge Rubia. Complainant then texted
respondent Pecaa on August 8, 2010 on her lawyers reaction concerning the March 3, 2010
meeting. The following exchanges took place via text message:

COMPLAINANT:

Hi Aileen! Sorry jz feeling bad. . my lawyer jz called me at galit n galit. My brother went to hm
today to pay som bills. Sa kakadaldal na mention s lawyr my meeting wid u n judge rubia. My
lawyr ws mad dat m nt suppose to do dat w/out hs knowledge. I cnt understand anymore wat he
ws sayng kanina kse nga galit. He wil file yata somtng abt dat n I dnt knwwat? Pls. Help me.
(August 8, 2010, 2:31 p.m.)

AILEEN PECAA [sic]:

Ha? Anong ififile? Bkt xa galit? Bka lalo tayo mapahamak? (August 8, 2010, 3:48 p.m.)

COMPLAINANT

M nt very sure bt he mentioned abt administrative or administratn something. I hav to talk to hm


n person para mas claro. Hirap kse by fon tlaga. He ws mad bcoz f our meetng nga, dats wat
struck hm. Sorry, daldal kse ni kuya. M going to col kuya tomorrow na. Its 1am na hr, I have to
buy foncard pa. (August 8, 2010, 4:18 p.m.)

AILEEN PECAA [sic]

Admin? Nku d mapapahamak nga kaming 2 ni juj. Pati ikaw mapapahamak pa dn. (August 8,
2010, 4:28 p.m.)

AILEEN PECAA [sic]

Bkt xa galit kng mkpg kta ka sminwidout his knowledge. I cnt fathom y wil it end up filing an
admin case. (August 8, 2010, 4:29 p.m.)

AILEEN PECAA [sic]

Pls Emily do something 2 pacify ur lawyer, juj rubia will definitely get mad wid us. (August 8,
2010, 4:30 p.m.)48 (Emphasis supplied)
Page 78 of 100

On September 15, 2010, complainant moved for respondent Judge Rubias inhibition. This was
denied on October 6, 2010. Complainant then filed a motion for reconsideration denied in an
order49 dated November 15, 2010.50

On November 11, 2010, complainant filed a complaint affidavit51 before the Office of the Court
Administrator charging respondent Pecaa for gross misconduct and respondent Judge Rubia for
conduct unbecoming of a judge, partiality, gross ignorance of the law or procedure,
incompetence, and gross misconduct.52

The Office of the Court Administrator referred the complaint to respondents for comment.53

In her comment,54 respondent Pecaa did not deny meeting complainant on February 20, 2010
through the introduction of Enrique Sison.55 However, she claimed that the alleged meeting
between complainant and respondent Judge Rubia was merely a chance encounter.

Respondent Pecaa alleged that "sometime [in the] second week of March 2010,"56 when she
was on her way to Makati City to meet her sisters for coffee, complainant invited her for dinner.
Respondent Pecaa hesitantly agreed after complainant had insisted.57 Complainant picked her
up at Starbucks 6750 in Makati City, and they proceeded to Caf Juanita in Burgos Circle for
dinner. Upon passing by Burgos Circle, respondent Pecaa saw respondent Judge Rubias car
parked near Caf Juanita.58

At about past 10:00 p.m., respondent Pecaa said that she saw respondent Judge Rubia together
with some companions walking toward his car.59 She stepped out of the restaurant and greeted
him. Complainant allegedly followed respondent Pecaa and so the latter was constrained to
introduce complainant as an employee of Philippine Airlines to respondent Judge Rubia.60 After
the introduction, respondent Judge Rubia went to his car and left. Complainant and respondent
Pecaa returned to the restaurant to finish their food and pay the bill.61

Complainant drove respondent Pecaa back to Makati City. During the drive, complainant
allegedly asked her help regarding the cases filed in court and inquired as to what she could give
to respondent Judge Rubia because her lawyers instructed her to bribe him. Respondent Pecaa
only said that respondent Judge Rubia does not accept money and that he is financially stable.62

After the dinner, complainant allegedly kept on sending text messages to respondent Pecaa
concerning her case filed in court.63 Respondent Pecaa admitted to the exchanges through text
messages she had with complainant on August 8, 2010 regarding the filing of administrative
case against her and respondent Judge Rubia.64

Respondent Pecaa denied being an advocate of Atty. Zarate.65 She maintained the position that
she should not be held administratively liable for what she construed to be primarily judicial
matters, such as the bases for respondent Judge Rubias decisions and orders in court.66

Respondent Judge Rubia filed his comment67 on January 17, 2011.

Respondent Judge Rubia claimed that the alleged meeting between him and his co-respondent
Pecaa together with complainant was a mere chance encounter.68 He denied any pre-arranged
dinner meeting, stating that after the brief encounter with complainant, he had to rush home to
attend to his ailing wife.69 He stated that he was only introduced to complainant because she
was an employee of Philippine Airlines where he was a former executive.70 Respondent Judge
Rubia argued that if the alleged meeting with complainant did take place, it should have been
mentioned in the first motion for inhibition.71 Further, he emphasized that it took complainant
eight (8) months since the alleged dinner meeting to file a motion for inhibition and an
administrative case.72
Page 79 of 100

Respondent Judge Rubia surmised that complainant and her counsel, hoping for a favorable
outcome of the cases filed, initiated contact with respondent Pecaa. The filing of the
administrative case against him was only to compel him to inhibit from the cases to seek a
friendlier forum.73

Moreover, respondent Judge Rubia denied knowledge of any text messages exchanged between
complainant and respondent Pecaa as well as any active advocacy in favor of opposing counsel,
Atty. Zarate.74

As to the allegations of partiality concerning the orders he issued for the cases filed, respondent
Judge Rubia argued that the best forum to ventilate complainants allegations was not through
an administrative proceeding but through judicial recourse.75

Due to the gravity of the charges and the conflicting facts presented by the parties, the Office of
the Court Administrator recommended the referral of the administrative complaint to a Court of
Appeals Justice for investigation, report, and recommendation.76

On September 12, 2011, this court issued a resolution referring the administrative complaint to a
Justice of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report, and recommendation.77 The complaint
was assigned to Court of Appeals Associate Justice Samuel H. Gaerlan.

On December 5, 2011, Atty. Noe Zarate filed a motion for Intervention78 allegedly due to the
implication of his name in the administrative complaint.79

Atty. Zarate argued that the complaint should be dismissed on the ground of forum shopping
because the orders issued by respondent Judge Rubia and mentioned in the complaint were
assailed in a petition for certiorari.80

Further, Atty. Zarate alleged that he did not know respondents personally, and he was not closely
associated with them.81 He asserted that the records were replete with incidents where he and
respondent Judge Rubia engaged in heated discussions on legal matters.82 He maintained that
he did not foster any closeness or personal affinity with respondent Judge Rubia that would
substantiate complainants allegations.83

In addition, Atty. Zarate expressed his agreement with respondents narration of the events on
the alleged dinner meeting.84 He argued that if the dinner meeting did take place, this incident
should have been the ground for the motion for inhibition filed.85

Atty. Zarate stated that, granting arguendo that the dinner meeting happened, there was nothing
"wrong, improper or illegal"86 about it. It could have been reasonably interpreted as an
extrajudicial means initiated by respondent Judge Rubia to assuage the parties in the contentious
litigation.87

The motion for intervention was noted without action by Justice Gaerlan.88

On December 15, 2011, the parties, together with their counsels, appeared before Justice
Gaerlan. It was agreed that respondents would file their respective supplemental comments and
complainant her reply to the comment. Complainant manifested that she would present three (3)
witnesses: herself and her two brothers. Respondent Pecaa would testify for herself and present
Semenidad Pecaa, her aunt, as witness. Respondent Judge Rubia manifested that he would
testify on his behalf and present respondent Pecaa as witness.89
Page 80 of 100

Respondents Judge Rubia and Pecaa filed their respective supplemental comments dated
December 15, 201190 and December 16, 2011,91 respectively. Complainant filed her
consolidated reply on January 17, 2012.92

A second hearing on the administrative complaint ensued on January 10, 2012 where
complainant testified on the dinner meeting on March 3, 2010.

During the hearing, complainant identified a document containing a list of phone calls showing
that she called respondent Pecaa on March 2 and 3, 2010.93 Counsel for respondent Pecaa
stipulated that these calls were made to her.94

The hearing of the administrative complaint continued on January 12, 17, and 24, 2012.

In the January 17, 2012 hearing, respondent Pecaa testified to the allegations in her comment
and judicial affidavit. She alleged for the first time that the dinner meeting with complainant
happened on March 10, not March 3, 2010.

On January 24, 2012, Mr. Rodel Cortez, secretariat of the Rotary Club of Makati Southwest
Chapter, was presented as witness for respondent Judge Rubia. Rodel testified that the Rotary
Club of Makati Southwest Chapter had a meeting on March 10, 2010 at Numa Restaurant in
Bonifacio Global City. Respondent Judge Rubia attended the meeting as shown in the attendance
sheet identified by Rodel.

Rodel testified that after the meeting, he, Billy Francisco, and respondent Judge Rubia walked
together toward the parking area. When they were nearing Burgos Circle where their cars were
parked, Rodel allegedly saw complainant and respondent Pecaa approaching them.95 He then
saw respondent Pecaa introduce complainant to respondent Judge Rubia.96 After the
introduction, he saw respondent Judge Rubia go to his car and drive away.97

Respondent Judge Rubia testified for himself. He identified the comment and judicial affidavit
filed.98 He alleged that the encounter with complainant at Burgos Circle was on March 10, not
March 3, 2010.99

Complying with the order dated January 31, 2012,100 the parties filed their respective
memoranda.

Justice Gaerlan submitted his investigation report dated March 13, 2012.101 In his report, Justice
Gaerlan recommended that no penalty be imposed against respondents.102 He was "convinced
that the meeting at Burgos Circle was just a chance encounter"103 and found that complainant
failed to prove her claim with substantial evidence that would justify the imposition of a penalty
on respondents.104

Justice Gaerlan relied on the testimony of Rodel Cortez as against the uncorroborated testimony
of complainant.105

Justice Gaerlan emphasized the fact that it had taken complainant eight (8) months before she
filed the administrative complaint.106 He stated that the deliberate concealment of the meeting
was inconsistent with her resolve to prove respondent Judge Rubias alleged partiality toward the
counsel of the opposing party.107

As to the other charges against respondent Judge Rubia, Justice Gaerlan stated that the
administrative case was not the proper recourse for complainant.108 The proper action for her
was to pursue remedial action through the courts "to rectify the purported error"109 in the court
proceedings.
Page 81 of 100

The Office of the Court Administrator referred the report to this court.

The issue in this case is whether respondents Judge Rubia and Pecaa should be held
administratively liable.

This court must set aside the findings of fact and reject the report of Justice Samuel Gaerlan.
Respondents Judge Rubia and Pecaa should be held administratively liable for their actions. The
findings of fact of an investigating justice must be accorded great weight and finality similar with
the weight given to a trial court judges since an investigating justice personally assessed the
witnesses credibility.110 However, this rule admits of exceptions.

In J. King & Sons Company, Inc. v. Judge Hontanosas, Jr.,111 this court held:

Such findings may be reviewed if there appears in the record some fact or circumstance of
weight which the lower court may have overlooked, misunderstood or misappreciated, and
which, if properly considered, would alter the result of the case. Among the circumstances which
had been held to be justifiable reasons for the Court to re-examine the trial court or appellate
courts findings of facts are, when the interference made is manifestly mistaken; when the
judgment is based on misapprehension of facts; and when the finding of fact of the trial court or
appellate court is premised on the supposed absence of evidence and is contradicted by
evidence on record.112 (Citations omitted)

These exceptions are applicable in this case. In disregarding the complainants testimony and
relying on the testimony of Cortez, respondent Judge Rubias witness, Justice Gaerlan said:

While respondents were able to present a witness to corroborate their version of the incident on
all material points, complainant miserably failed on this regard. The Investigating Justice who had
the untrammeled opportunity to observe the deportment and demeanor of the respondents
witness, Rodel Cortez (Cortez) during the hearing finds his forthright narration of facts credible
and rang with truth. The clear, candid and unmistakable declaration of Cortez that the incident
that transpired along the sidewalk of Burgos Circle was just a chance encounter, absent any
ulterior motive for him to perjure, swayed this Investigating Justice to believe that the dinner
meeting between Judge Rubia and Barias did not [take] place. A testimony is credible if it bears
the earmarks of truth and sincerity and has been delivered in a spontaneous, natural, and
straightforward manner.

Not only that. Cortez[s] testimony was likewise corroborated by other pieces of evidence, such
as the Program of Meeting and the Attendance Sheet of the Rotary Club of Makati Southwest
which tend to prove that at that particular date and time Judge Rubia was in a rotary meeting
and was not dining with Rubia and Pecaa. These evidence, when taken together, debase the
uncorroborated version of incident as narrated by Barias. Barias[] self-serving declarations have
no evidentiary value when ranged against the testimony of a credible witness on affirmative
matters.113 (Emphasis supplied)

We cannot agree with Justice Gaerlans assessment of the credibility of the witnesses and the
weight given to their testimonies.

Justice Gaerlan placed too much importance on the testimony of Rodel Cortez, the Secretariat of
the Rotary Club of Makati, Southwest Chapter, and qualified him as a "disinterested" witness.

A disinterested witness testimony is afforded evidentiary weight by his or her lack of interest in
the outcome of the case.1wphi1 This lack of stake makes the disinterested witness testimony
more believable. To actively take part in litigation as a party or a witness entails willingness to
commit to the arduous and exacting nature of most judicial proceedings. The disinterested
Page 82 of 100

witness candor and submission to the proceedings before the court add credibility and
believability to the content of his or her testimony.

To qualify a witness as truly disinterested, courts should analyze the circumstances that surround
his or her testimony.

The record shows that the Rotary Club of Makati, Southwest Chapter, employed Rodel in
1989.114 He was appointed Secretariat in 1994 where respondent Judge Rubia was a former
President and remains an active member.115

The finding that respondent Judge Rubia is administratively liable could taint the reputation of
the organization that the witness has been serving for more than 20 years. It would be a definite
blow to the reputation of the Rotary Club of Makati, Southwest Chapter, if its former President
were to be found guilty of the offenses that complainant imputed upon respondent Judge Rubia.
The possibility of Rodel testifying in favor of respondent Judge Rubia as a result of his loyalty to
the latter and the Rotary Club puts into question the characterization that he is disinterested.
The substance of Rodels narration of events should also be scrutinized.

Complainant alleged that the dinner meeting set among her, respondent Pecaa, and respondent
Judge Rubia took place on March 3, 2010, as indicated in the investigation report of Justice
Gaerlan. The record shows that the Investigating Justice accepted the formal offer of Exhibit A,
which was complainants judicial affidavit establishing the date of the dinner as March 3, 2010 in
Caf Juanita.116 Complainant also alleged in her complaint that respondent Judge Rubia came
from Mandarin Hotel in Makati from the Rotary Club of Makati, Southwest Chapter meeting.117

The testimony of Rodel and the evidence submitted by respondents alleged that the chance
meeting of respondent Judge Rubia with complainant and respondent Pecaa took place on
March 10, 2010 on the side street of Burgos Circle in Bonifacio Global City, after the Rotary Club
of Makati, Southwest Chapter meeting and dinner at Numa Restaurant, on their way to the
parking lot. This means that the testimony of and the evidence presented by Rodel do not
disprove the occurrence of the dinner meeting as alleged by complainant, since the meeting of
the Rotary Club and the dinner meeting alleged by complainant took place on different dates.
Assuming that the alleged chance meeting between complainant and respondent Judge Rubia
took place on March 10, 2010 as alleged by respondents, this does not discount the veracity of
complainants allegations. Both the Rotary Club of Makati, Southwest Chapter dinner and the
dinner meeting alleged by complainant took place in the vicinity of Bonifacio Global City. This
could have allowed respondent Judge Rubia ample time to travel to the dinner meeting after the
meeting of the Rotary Club of Makati.

The investigation report stated that the attendance sheet118 and the program of meeting that
Rodel submitted corroborated his testimony. The date indicated on the attendance sheet and on
the program of meeting was March 10, 2010, not March 3, 2010. However, there was nothing to
indicate the time of arrival or departure of the attendees. Neither was there an indication of the
time when the meeting began or ended. The attendance sheet and the program of meeting, by
themselves or taken as corroborative evidence of Rodels testimony, do not discount the distinct
and tangible possibility that the dinner meeting as narrated by complainant took place. On the
other hand, we find the allegation that the dinner meeting took place on March 3, 2010 more
credible.

Complainant presented a document containing a list of calls she made from January to March
2010.119 She identified her cellular phone number120 as well as respondent Pecaas.121
Respondent Pecaa admitted that the number identified by complainant was her number.122 On
March 2 and 3, 2010, calls were made to respondent Pecaas number.123 Respondent Pecaa
admitted that she had received a call from complainant before the latter picked her up at 6750
Makati City.124 However, no calls to respondent Pecaa were recorded on March 10, 2010 in the
Page 83 of 100

document presented.125 On the other hand, the calls made to respondent Pecaa as shown in
the document coincided with complainants allegations.

Finally, during the December 15, 2011 hearing, respondent Judge only manifested that he would
testify for himself and present respondent Pecaa as witness.126 He did not manifest that he
would be presenting Rodel or any participant in the Rotary Club meeting as his witness.

The totality of these circumstances places doubt on the alibi of respondent Judge Rubia and
Rodels narration of events.

The differing accounts on the dates and the venues were not addressed in the investigation
report of Justice Gaerlan. The report failed to mention that complainant alleged that respondent
Judge Rubia arrived late precisely because he came from a meeting of the Rotary Club of Makati.
These glaring inconsistencies did not add evidentiary weight to respondents claims. They only
put into question the veracity of the exculpatory evidence.

This court has held:

In administrative proceedings, the quantum of proof required to establish a respondents


malfeasance is not proof beyond reasonable doubt but substantial evidence, i.e., that amount of
relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, is
required. Faced with conflicting versions of complainant and respondent, the Court gives more
weight to the allegations and testimony of the complainant and her witnesses who testified
clearly and consistently before the Investigating Judge.127 (Emphasis supplied; citations
omitted)

After scrutinizing the testimony of complainant and the evidence she presented to support her
allegations, we find her account of the event to be genuine and believable.

Complainants narration of the dinner meeting held on March 3, 2010 and her account of events
leading up to the dinner meeting were detailed and comprehensive. The conversation alleged by
complainant that took place with respondents during the meeting was replete with details.

The strongest corroborative evidence to support complainants allegations was the exchange of
text messages between complainant and respondent Pecaa regarding the dinner meeting.
These text messages were admitted by respondent Pecaa.128 However, Justice Gaerlan failed
to give any weight to the exchange of text messages. This fact was not included in his
investigation report.129

The content of the text messages of respondent Pecaa belied respondents claim that the
alleged dinner meeting in Burgos Circle was only a chance encounter.

AILEEN PECAA [sic]

Bkt xa galit kngmkpg kta ka smin widout his knowledge. I cnt fathom y wil it end up filing an
admin case. (August 8, 2010, 4:29 p.m.)

AILEEN PECAA [sic]

Pls Emily do something 2 pacify ur lawyer, juj rubia will definitely get mad wid us. (August 8,
2010, 4:30 p.m.)130 (Emphasis supplied)

Respondent Pecaa used the phrase, "mkpg kta," which may be translated to "have a meeting."
"Mkpg kta" can in no way mean a chance encounter.
Page 84 of 100

Further, respondent Pecaas text messages sent to complainant belied her claim of an innocent
chance encounter. She said that respondent Judge Rubia would get angry after complainant had
informed her that her lawyer might file an administrative case against them. Respondent Judge
Rubia would not have had a reason to get upset because of the possibility of administrative
liability if an innocent and coincidental encounter happened and not a dinner meeting. However,
if the meeting took place as alleged by complainant, this would have logically led to a hostile
reaction from respondents, particularly respondent Judge Rubia.

In her testimony before Justice Gaerlan, respondent Pecaa gave the following testimony:

ATTY FERNANDEZ:

In August 2010, you admitted in your comment and your supplemental comment that you
received a text coming from Emilie Barias saying her lawyer is mad with her because of that
meeting, isnt it?

EILEEN PECAA:

Yes, sir.

ATTY FERNANDEZ:

In fact you admitted that there were text messages coming from you and Judge Rubia in March
2010, isnt it?

EILEEN PECAA:

Yes, sir.

ATTY FERNANDEZ:

And in fact, you admitted that there were [sic] indeed a text message coming from you and this
is: ["]ha anong ipafile baka lalo tayong mapapahamk?["] And another message says "bakit
siya...another...did you do something to pacify her lawyer...so you affirm these message [sic]?
EILEEN PECAA:

Yes, sir.

ATTY FERNANDEZ:

Based on those messages of yours, is it correct that you fear....?

EILEEN PECAA:

I am not afraid in a way na pinalalabas nila.

ATTY. FERNANDEZ:

And in fact in your comment and in your supplemental comment you were explaining the context
of these messages?

EILEEN PECAA:

Alin po doon?
Page 85 of 100

ATTY. FERNANDEZ

The first one? "bakit sya galit baka lalo tayong mapahamak"

EILEEN PECAA:

Ang ipinapaliwanag ko chance meeting outside the street.

ATTY. FERNANDEZ

How about the part where "administrative[. . . .]"

EILEEN PECAA:

The reason why I said that is because as employees of the court, whenever an administrative
case is filed against us[,] we will be investigated like this, and our benefits and promotion
chances we will be disqualified.

ATTY. FERNANDEZ

In your text messages you never mentioned to Emilie that it would end up in an administrative
case because you simply thought that it was a chance meeting?

EILEEN PECAA:

Ano po sir?

ATTY. FERNANDEZ:

You cannot fathom why it will end up as an administrative case because it was only a chance
meeting?

EILEEN PECAA:

Immediately on the text messages she knows already what happened why should I have to
explain?

....

ATTY. FERNANDEZ:

Did you tell her while exchanging text messages that it was just a chance meeting?

EILEEN PECAA:

No more, sir.

ATTY. FERNANDEZ:

So you no longer took it upon you to tell Emilie to advise her lawyer not to get mad becauseit
was only a chance meeting? (No answer from the witness.)131

Respondents also alleged that the chance encounter happened because respondent Pecaa,
while having dinner with complainant, stepped out of the restaurant to greet respondent Judge
Page 86 of 100

Rubia on the side street of Burgos Circle. Since complainant allegedly followed respondent
Pecaa out of the restaurant, the latter introduced complainant to respondent Judge Rubia.

This allegation is quite implausible after taking into account the following admissions:

1. Respondent Pecaa described her relationship with Judge Rubia as "[w]ala naman po masyado.
My dealing with the Judge is only in relation with my work because during flag ceremonies he
always reminds us not to act as go between or not to be involved in the cases filed in the
court."132

2. Respondent Judge Rubia is not the immediate superior of respondent Pecaa as the latter is in
the Office of the Clerk of Court.

3. Respondent Pecaa was having dinner with complainant whom she knew had a pending case
before respondent Judge Rubia.

4. Respondent Judge Rubia always reminded court employees not to have dealings with litigants.

There was clearly no reason for respondent Pecaa to go out of her way to greet respondent
Judge Rubia. In fact, after allegedly being repeatedly reminded that court employees should not
have any dealings with litigants, respondent Pecaa should not have gone out to greet
respondent Judge Rubia since she was dining with a litigant.

The odds that complainant and respondent Pecaa would meet respondent Judge Rubia by pure
coincidence are highly improbable. Granted, chance meetings between persons may take place,
but a chance meeting between a litigant in the company of a court employee who acceded to
assisting the litigant in a case and the judge deciding that case is outside the realm of common
experience. The odds of such an occurrence are, indeed, one in a million. The sheer improbability
of such an occurrence already puts into question the truth of respondents allegations.

Based on these considerations, the narrative of complainant is more believable and must be
afforded greater evidentiary weight.

Delay in filing of administrative complaint is not a defense

The investigation report placed particular emphasis on the eight-month period between the
alleged dinner meeting and the filing of the administrative complaint. The eight-month delay in
the filing of the administrative complaint is of no consequence.

Delay in filing an administrative complaint should not be construed as basis to question its
veracity or credibility. There are considerations that a litigant must think about before filing an
administrative case against judges and court personnel. This is more so for lawyers where the
possibility of appearing before the judge where an administrative complaint has been filed is
high.

Here, respondent Judge Rubia presided over three cases that involved complainant and her late
husbands estate. He wielded an unmistakable amount of control over the proceedings.

Filing an administrative case against respondents is a time-consuming ordeal, and it would


require additional time and resources that litigants would rather not expend in the interest of
preserving their rights in the suit. Complainant might have decided to tread with caution so as
not to incur the ire of respondent Judge Rubia for fear of the reprisal that could take place after
the filing of an administrative complaint.
Page 87 of 100

Judges and court personnel wield extraordinary control over court proceedings of cases filed.
Thus, litigants are always cautious in filing administrative cases against judges and court
personnel.

In any case, administrative offenses, including those committed by members of the bench and
bar, are not subject to a fixed period within which they must be reported. In Heck v. Judge
Santos,133 this court held that:

Pursuant to the foregoing, there can be no other conclusion than that an administrative
complaint against an erring lawyer who was thereafter appointed as a judge, albeit filed only
after twenty-four years after the offending act was committed, is not barred by prescription. If
the rule were otherwise, members of the bar would 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. It is the duty of this Court to protect the integrity
of the practice of law as well as the administration of justice. No matter how much time has
elapsed from the time of the commission of the act complained of and the time of the institution
of the complaint, erring members of the bench and bar cannot escape the disciplining arm of the
Court. This categorical pronouncement is aimed at unscrupulous members of the bench and bar,
to deter them from committing acts which violate the Code of Professional Responsibility, the
Code of Judicial Conduct, or the Lawyers Oath.134 (Emphasis supplied)

If this court saw fit to penalize a member of the bench for an offense committed more than
twenty years prior to the filing of the complaint, then the eight-month period cannot prejudice
the complainant.

The interval between the time when the offense was committed and the time when the offense
was officially reported cannot serve as a basis to doubt the veracity of complainants allegations.
This courts mandate to discipline members of the judiciary and its personnel is implemented by
pertinent rules and statutes. Judges are disciplined based on whether their actions violated the
New Code of Judicial Conduct.135 Court personnel are also governed by the Code of Conduct for
Court Personnel136 and are appointed in accordance with the Civil Service Law, as provided for
in Section 5, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution. None of these rules for administrative discipline
mandates a period within which a complaint must be filed after the commission or discovery of
the offense. This court determines with finality the liability of erring members of the judiciary and
its employees. The gravity of an administrative offense cannot be diminished by a delay in the
filing of a complaint.

To dismiss the commission of the offense based on this eight-month period is to ignore the
distinct and tangible possibility that the offense was actually committed. The commission of the
offense is not contingent on the period of revelation or disclosure. To dismiss the complaint on
this ground is tantamount to attaching a period of prescription to the offense, which does not
apply in administrative charges.

Respondent Pecaas actions amount to violations of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel

"Court personnel, regardless of position or rank, are expected to conduct themselves in


accordance with the strict standards of integrity and morality."137

The complaint states that respondents were allegedly acting in favor of Atty. Noe Zarate, counsel
for the opposing parties in the three cases pending in the sala of respondent Judge Rubia.
Because of respondents actions, complainant and all who will be made aware of the events of
this case will harbor distrust toward the judiciary and its processes. For this alone, respondents
should be held administratively liable.
Page 88 of 100

For respondent Pecaa, the fact that she allowed herself to be placed in a position that could
cause suspicion toward her work as a court personnel is disconcerting.

As a court employee, respondent Pecaa should have known better than to interact with litigants
in a way that could compromise the confidence that the general public places in the judiciary.
Respondent Pecaa should have refused to meet with complainant in her home. She should have
refused any other form of extended communication with complainant, save for those in her
official capacity as a Data Encoder of the court. This continued communication between
complainant and respondent Pecaa makes her culpable for failure to adhere to the strict
standard of propriety mandated of court personnel.

Respondent Pecaa admitted to meeting with complainant several times, despite the formers
knowledge of the pendency of cases in the court where she is employed and in addition to the
text messages exchanged between them. She had a duty to sever all forms of communication
with complainant or to inform her superiors or the proper authority of complainants attempts to
communicate with her. Respondent Pecaa failed to do so. Instead, she continued to
communicate with complainant, even to the extent of advising complainant against filing an
administrative case against her and respondent Judge Rubia.

Respondent Pecaa violated Canon 1 of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel:

CANON I
FIDELITY TO DUTY

....

SECTION 3. Court personnel shall not discriminate by dispensing special favors to anyone. They
shall not allow kinship, rank, position or favors from any party to influence their official acts or
duties.

....

SECTION 5. Court personnel shall use the resources, property and funds under their official
custody in a judicious manner and solely in accordance with the prescribed statutory and
regulatory guidelines or procedures.

Respondent Pecaas actions constitute a clear violation of the requirement that all court
personnel uphold integrity and prudence in all their actions. As stated in Villaros v. Orpiano:138

Time and time again, we have stressed that the behavior of all employees and officials involved
in the administration of justice, from judges to the most junior clerks, is circumscribed with a
heavy responsibility. Their conduct must be guided by strict propriety and decorum at all times in
order to merit and maintain the publics respect for and trust in the judiciary. Needless to say, all
court personnel must conduct themselves in a manner exemplifying integrity, honesty and
uprightness.139

Respondent Pecaa should, thus, be held administratively liable for her actions.

Respondent Judge Rubia committed gross violations of the New Code of Judicial Conduct

By meeting a litigant and advising her to talk to opposing counsel, respondent Judge Rubia
violated several canons of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.

Respondent Judge Rubia failed to act in a manner that upholds the dignity mandated by his
office. He was already made aware of the impropriety of respondent Pecaas actions by virtue of
Page 89 of 100

her admissions in her comment. At the time of the referral of the complaint to the Office of the
Court Administrator, respondent Judge Rubia was already the Executive Judge of Branch 24 of the
Regional Trial Court of Bian, Laguna.140 As a judge, he had the authority to ensure that all court
employees, whether or not they were under his direct supervision, act in accordance with the
esteem of their office.

Respondent Pecaa even alleged that respondent Judge Rubia made several warnings to all court
employees not to intercede in any case pending before any court under his jurisdiction as
Executive Judge.141 However, nothing in the record shows that respondent Judge Rubia took
action after being informed of respondent Pecaas interactions with a litigant, such as
ascertaining her actions, conducting an inquiry to admonish or discipline her, or at least
reporting her actions to the Office of the Court Administrator.

For this failure alone, respondent Judge Rubia should be held administratively liable. Furthermore,
the evidence on record supports the allegations that a meeting with complainant, a litigant with
several cases pending before his sala, took place. Respondent Judge Rubias mere presence in
the dinner meeting provides a ground for administrative liability.

In Gandeza Jr. v. Tabin,142 this court reminded judges:

Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct requires a judge to avoid not only impropriety but also
the mere appearance of impropriety in all activities.

To stress how the law frowns upon even any appearance of impropriety in a magistrates
activities, it has often been held that a judge must be like Caesars wife - above suspicion and
beyond reproach. Respondents act discloses a deficiency in prudence and discretion that a
member of the Judiciary must exercise in the performance of his official functions and of his
activities as a private individual. It is never trite to caution respondent to be prudent and
circumspect in both speech and action, keeping in mind that her conduct in and outside the
courtroom is always under constant observation.143 (Emphasis supplied, citations omitted)
Respondent Judge Rubia clearly failed to live up to the standards of his office. By participating in
the dinner meeting and by failing to admonish respondent Pecaa for her admitted impropriety,
respondent Judge Rubia violated Canons 1 and 2 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.

Canon 1 INDEPENDECE

Judicial Independence is a pre-requisite to the rule of law and a fundamental guarantee of a fair
trial. A judge shall therefore uphold and exemplify judicial independence in both its individual
and institutional aspects.

Section 1. Judges shall exercise the judicial function independently on the basis of their
assessment of the facts and in accordance with a conscientious understanding of the law, free of
any extraneous influence, inducement, pressure, threat or interference, direct or indirect, from
any quarter or for any reason.

Section 6. Judges shall be independent in relation to society in general and in relation to the
particular parties to a dispute which he or she has to adjudicate.

Section 8. Judges shall exhibit and promote high standards of judicial conduct in order to
reinforce public confidence in the judiciary, which is fundamental to the maintenance of judicial
independence.

Canon 2 INTEGRITY
Page 90 of 100

Integrity is essential not only to the proper discharge of the judicial office but also to the personal
demeanor of judges.

Section 1. Judges shall ensure that not only is their conduct above reproach, but that it is
perceived to be so in view of a reasonable observer.

Section 2. The behavior and conduct of judges must reaffirm the peoples faith in the integrity of
the judiciary. Justice must not merely be done but must also be seen to be done.

Section 3. Judges should take or initiate appropriate disciplinary measures against lawyers or
court personnel for unprofessional conduct of which the judge may have become aware.

In De la Cruz v. Judge Bersamira,144 this court explained the necessity of a judges integrity:

By the very nature of the bench, judges, more than the average man, are required to observe an
exacting standard of morality and decency. The character of a judge is perceived by the people
not only through his official acts but also through his private morals as reflected in his external
behavior. It is therefore paramount that a judges personal behavior both in the performance of
his duties and his daily life, be free from the appearance of impropriety as to be beyond
reproach. Only recently, in Magarang v. Judge Galdino B. Jardin, Sr., the Court pointedly stated
that:

While every public office in the government is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand
on moral righteousness and uprightness of an individual than a seat in the judiciary. Hence,
judges are strictly mandated to abide by the law, the Code of Judicial Conduct and with existing
administrative policies in order to maintain the faith of the people in the administration of
justice.145

In Castillo v. Judge Calanog, Jr.,146 this court held:

The Code of Judicial Ethics mandates that the conduct of a judge must be free of a whiff of
impropriety not only with respect to his performance of his judicial duties, but also to his
behavior outside his sala as a private individual. There is no dichotomy of morality: a public
official is also judged by his private morals. The Code dictates that a judge, in order to promote
public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, must behave with propriety at
all times. As we have recently explained, a judges official life can not simply be detached or
separated from his personal existence. Thus:

Being the subject of constant public scrutiny, a judge should freely and willingly accept
restrictions on conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen.

A judge should personify judicial integrity and exemplify honest public service. The personal
behavior of a judge, both in the performance of official duties and in private life should be above
suspicion.147 (Citations omitted)

In De la Cruz, this court emphasized the need for impartiality of judges:

. . . [A] judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities. A
judge is not only required to be impartial; he must also appear to be impartial. x x x Public
confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct of judges.

. . . In this connection, the Court pointed out in Joselito Rallos, et al. v. Judge Ireneo Lee Gako Jr.,
RTC Branch 5, Cebu City, that:
Page 91 of 100

Well-known is the judicial norm that "judges should not only be impartial but should also appear
impartial." Jurisprudence repeatedly teaches that litigants are entitled to nothing less than the
cold neutrality of an impartial judge. The other elements of due process, like notice and hearing,
would become meaningless if the ultimate decision is rendered by a partial or biased judge.
Judges must not only render just, correct and impartial decisions, but must do so in a manner
free of any suspicion as to their fairness, impartiality and integrity.

This reminder applies all the more sternly to municipal, metropolitan and regional trial court
judges like herein respondent, because they are judicial front-liners who have direct contact with
the litigating parties.

They are the intermediaries between conflicting interests and the embodiments of the peoples
sense of justice. Thus, their official conduct should be beyond reproach.148 (Citations omitted,
emphasis supplied)

In the motion for intervention filed by Atty. Zarate before Justice Gaerlan, Atty. Zarate stated that
even if respondent Judge Rubia was present at the dinner meeting, it was merely an attempt to
reconcile the parties and reach an extrajudicial solution.149

This is telling of a culture of tolerance that has led to the decay of the exacting nature of judicial
propriety. Instead of being outraged by respondent Judge Rubias meeting an opposing party,
Atty. Zarate defended respondent Judge Rubias actions.

Had it been true that a settlement was being brokered by respondent Judge Rubia, it should have
been done in open court with the record reflecting such an initiative.

As to complainants questioning of respondent Judge Rubias actions in the issuance of the orders
in her pending cases and the exercise of his judgment, this court agrees that complainant should
resort to the appropriate judicial remedies. This, however, does not negate the administrative
liability of respondent Judge Rubia. His actions failed to assure complainant and other litigants
before his court of the required "cold neutrality of an impartial judge."150 Because of this,
respondent Judge Rubia also violated Canon 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct on
Impartiality:

CANON 3. IMPARTIALITY

Impartiality is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office. It applies not only to the
decision itself but also to the process by which the decision is made.

Section 1. Judges shall perform their judicial duties without favor, bias, or prejudice.

Section 2. Judges shall ensure that his or her conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and
enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants in the impartiality of the
judge and of the judiciary.

Section 3. Judges shall, so far as is reasonable, so conduct themselves as to minimize the


occasions on which it will be necessary for them to be disqualified from hearing or deciding
cases.

Section 4. Judges shall not knowingly, while a proceeding is before, or could come before them,
make any comment that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome of such proceeding
or impair the manifest fairness of the process. Nor shall judges make any comment in public or
otherwise that might affect the fair trial of any person or issue.

Complainant correctly cited Pascual v. Judge Bonifacio151 where this court held:
Page 92 of 100

Upon assumption of office, a judge becomes the visible representation of the law and of justice.
Membership in the judiciary circumscribes one's personal conduct and imposes upon him a
number of inhibitions, whose faithful observance is the price one has to pay for holding such an
exalted position. Thus, a magistrate of the law must comport himself at all times in such a
manner that his conduct, official or otherwise, can withstand the most searching public scrutiny,
for the ethical principles and sense of propriety of a judge are essential to the preservation of the
people's faith in the judicial system. This Court does not require of judges that they measure up
to the standards of conduct of the saints and martyrs, but we do expect them to be like Caesar's
wife in all their activities. Hence, we require them to abide strictly by the Code of Judicial
Conduct.

It appears now that respondent has failed to live up to those rigorous standards. Whether or not
he purposely went to the Manila Hotel on November 25, 1998 to meet complainant or only had a
chance meeting with him, his act of trying to convince complainant to agree to his proposal is an
act of impropriety. It is improper and highly unethical for a judge to suggest to a litigant what to
do to resolve his case for such would generate the suspicion that the judge is in collusion with
one party. A litigant in a case is entitled to no less than the cold neutrality of an impartial judge.
Judges are not only required to be impartial, but also to appear to be so, for appearance is an
essential manifestation of reality. Hence, not only must a judge render a just decision, he is also
duty bound to render it in a manner completely free from suspicion as to its fairness and its
integrity. Respondent's conduct in the instant case inevitably invites doubts about respondent's
probity and integrity. It gives ground for a valid reproach. In the judiciary, moral integrity is more
than a cardinal virtue, it is a necessity. Moreover, a judge's lack of impartiality or the mere
appearance of bias would cause resentment if the party who refused the judge's proposal
subsequently lost his case. It would give rise to suspicion that the judgment was "fixed"
beforehand. Such circumstance tarnishes the image of the judiciary and brings to it public
contempt, disrepute, and ridicule. Thus, we are constrained to rule that respondent violated Rule
2.01 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. His misconduct is not excused but rather made more glaring
by the fact that the controversy involving complainant was pending in his own sala.152 (Citations
omitted)

The totality of the actions of respondent Judge Rubia is a clear manifestation of a lack of integrity
and impartiality essential to a judge.

By meeting with complainant, respondent Judge Rubia also violated Canon 4 of the New Code of
Judicial Conduct:

CANON 4. PROPRIETY

Propriety and the appearance of propriety are essential to the performance of all the activities of
a judge.

Section 1. Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their
activities.

Section 2. As a subject of constant public scrutiny, judges must accept personal restrictions that
might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly. In
particular, judges shall conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the
judicial office.

Section 3. Judges shall, in their personal relations with individual members of the legal profession
who practice regularly in their court, avoid situations which might reasonably give rise to the
suspicion or appearance of favoritism or partiality.
Page 93 of 100

On propriety, this court held in Atty. Raul L. Correa v. Judge Medel Arnaldo Belen153 that: Indeed,
the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary exhorts members of the judiciary, in
the discharge of their duties, to be models of propriety at all times.

....

A judge is the visible representation of the law. Thus, he must behave, at all times, in such a
manner that his conduct, official or otherwise, can withstand the most searching public scrutiny.
The ethical principles and sense of propriety of a judge are essential to the preservation of the
people's faith in the judicial system.154

Because of the meeting, and the subsequent orders issued after the meeting, respondent Judge
Rubia violated the notions of propriety required of his office. Respondents have relentlessly stood
by their position that the meeting was a chance encounter, and, thus, no impropriety could be
attributed to the meeting itself.

Respondent Judge Rubias actions belittled the integrity required of judges in all their dealings
inside and outside the courts. For these actions, respondent Judge Rubia now lost the requisite
integrity, impartiality, and propriety fundamental to his office. He cannot be allowed to remain a
member of the judiciary.

Respondents in this case failed to subscribe to the highest moral fiber mandated of the judiciary
and its personnel. Their actions tainted their office and besmirched its integrity. In effect, both
respondents are guilty of gross misconduct. This court defined misconduct as "a transgression of
some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross
negligence by a public officer."155 In Camus v. The Civil Service Board of Appeals,156 this court
held that "[m]isconduct has been defined as wrong or improper conduct and gross has been
held to mean flagrant; shameful. . . . This Court once held that the word misconduct implies a
wrongful intention and not a mere error of judgment."157

Both respondents are indeed guilty of gross misconduct. However, respondent Judge Rubia is
also guilty of conduct unbecoming of a judge for violating Canons 2, 3, and 4 of the New Code of
Judicial Conduct.

This is not to say that complainant comes to these proceedings with clean hands either. As a
litigant, she is enjoined to act in such a way that will not place the integrity of the proceedings in
jeopardy. Her liability, however, is not the subject of these proceedings. To ensure that these
actions will no longer be committed by any party, respondents must be sanctioned accordingly,
in keeping with the courts mandate to uphold a character of trust and integrity in society.
WHEREFORE, the court resolved tore docket the case as a regular administrative matter.
Respondent Judge Marino Rubia is hereby DISMISSED from the service, with corresponding
forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and disqualified from
reinstatement or appointment in any public office, including government owned or -controlled
corporations. Respondent Eileen Pecaa is SUSPENDED for one (1) year for gross misconduct.
This decision is immediately executory. Respondent Judge Rubia is further ordered to cease and
desist from discharging the functions of his office upon receipt of this decision. Let a copy hereof
be entered in the personal records of respondents.

G.R. No. 179914 June 16, 2014

SPOUSES REYNALDO AND HILLY G. SOMBILON, Petitioners,


vs.
ATTY. REY FERDINAND GARAY AND PHILIPPINE NATIONAL BANK, Respondents.

x-----------------------x
Page 94 of 100

A.M. No. RTJ-06-2000

ATTY. REY FERDINAND T. GARAY, Petitioner,


vs.
JUDGE ROLANDO S. VENADAS, SR., Respondent.

DECISION

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

A judge owes the public and the court the duty to know the law by heart and to have the basic
rules of procedure at the palm of his hands.1

Before us are two consolidated cases: (1) a Petition for Review on Certiorari2 under Rule 45 of
the Rules of Court assailing the June 13, 2007 Decision3 and the August 8, 2007 Resolution4 of
the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 00477-MIN; and (2) an Administrative Complaint5
against Judge Rolando S. Venadas, Sr. (Judge Venadas, Sr.) of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of
Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Branch 8, for Grave Abuse of Authority and Grave Misconduct.

Factual Antecedents

Spouses Reynaldo and Hilly G. Sombilon (spouses Sombilon) were the previous owners of a 601-
square meter property, with two buildings constructed on it, in South Poblacion, Maramag,
Bukidnon.6 The said property, which they mortgaged to the Philippine National Bank (PNB) as
security for their loan, was foreclosed and sold at public auction on July 15, 1998, where PNB
emerged as the winning bidder in the amount of P2,355,000.00.7 Consequently, on August 20,
1998, a Certificate of Sale was issued in PNBs name, which was duly registered with the Registry
of Deeds for Bukidnon on August 25, 1999.8 The one-year redemption period lapsed but spouses
Sombilon failed to redeem the property.9

In 2005, spouses Sombilon sought the help of Atty. Rey Ferdinand T. Garay (Atty. Garay), a Public
Attorneys Office (PAO) lawyer, who was once appointed by the court as counsel de officio for
Hilly Sombilon in a criminal case and who happens to be the owner of a lot adjacent to the
property.10 Spouses Sombilon told Atty. Garay that they wanted to reacquire11 the property from
PNB, but had no money to repurchase it.12 Thus, they were hoping that he would agree to
advance the money and, in exchange, they promised to sell him the 331-square meter portion of
the property, where one of the buildings is located, for P5 million.13

On February 9, 2005, Atty. Garay together with spouses Sombilon went to PNB to inquire about
the status of the property.14 They were informed by the bank that the property could be
purchased at the fair market value of P2,938,000.00.15 The following day, Atty. Garay went to
the bank alone and offered to buy the property by making a down payment of P587,600.0016 or
20% of the purchase price.17

On February 14, 2005, upon learning that Atty. Garay intended to purchase the entire property
for himself, spouses Sombilon offered to buy back the property from PNB.18 The bank advised
them to make a 10% down payment of the banks total claim19 to formalize their offer.20

On February 15, 2005, a Final Deed of Conveyance was issued in favor of PNB.21

On April 14, 2005, Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 94384 was issued in the name of PNB.22

On the same date, PNB decided to approve the purchase offer of Atty. Garay23 since spouses
Sombilon failed to make the required down payment.24
Page 95 of 100

G.R. No. 179914

On May 9, 2005, PNB filed an Ex-Parte Petition for Issuance of a Writ of Possession25 before the
RTC of Malaybalay City, Bukidnon. The case was docketed as Special Civil Case No. 375-05 and
raffled to Branch 8, presided over by Judge Venadas, Sr.

On June 10, 2005, Judge Venadas, Sr. issued an Order26 granting the Petition and, on June27,
2005, he issued a Writ of Possession27 in favor of PNB.28

On June 22, 2005, PNB informed spouses Sombilon that Atty. Garays offer to purchase the
property had been approved due to their failure to pay the full down payment.29

On July 10, 2005, spouses Sombilon moved for a reconsideration30 of the issuance of the Writ of
Possession arguing that Atty. Garay,31 who was the former counsel of Hilly, was barred from
purchasing the property pursuant to paragraph 5,32 Article 1491 of the Civil Code.

Ruling of the Regional Trial Court

On July 14, 2005, Judge Venadas, Sr. issued an Order33 holding in abeyance the implementation
of the Writ of Possession, a portion of which reads:

Although, ordinarily a writ of possession is issued by the court because it is a mandatory and
ministerial duty under Act 3135, x x x there is x x x an exception to this rule that if the
implementation and enforcement of the writ of possession would work [great] injustice to the
registered owner because the petitioner PNB or in this case Atty. Garay counsel for the
Sombilon[s] is not entitled thereto. There is much to be said about the conduct of Atty. Garay in
manipulating that the property in question was finally bought by him from the PNB not to
mention the possible violation of the [canon] of legal and judicial ethics. However, the court
cannot ignore the version of Mrs. Sombilon. The court will give Atty. Garay [the opportunity] to
rebut the evidence presented by spouses Sombilon and he is directed to appear on August 2,
2005, at 8:30 in the morning. And if this case cannot be accommodated in the morning[,] it will
proceed in the afternoon.

Send proper notice to Atty. Rey Ferdinand Garay for him to appear on said date.

In the meantime, the full implementation x x x of the Writ of Possession is hereby held in
abeyance. Sheriff Claudio C. Bugahod is hereby directed to return all items to the house of
Spouses Sombilon and to restore them in full possession of the property, if already implemented
and enforced.

SO ORDERED.34

Aggrieved, Atty. Garay and PNB elevated the case to the CA via a Petition for Certiorari with
prayer for issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and/or Injunction35 under Rule 65 of
the Rules of Court.

Initially, on August 2, 2005, the CA dismissed36 the Petition for Certiorari for several procedural
defects.37 However, on reconsideration,38 the CA reinstated the Petition.39

On July 25, 2006, the CA issued a Resolution40 granting the PNB and Atty. Garays application for
a TRO. Thus:
Page 96 of 100

Accordingly, let a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) be issued upon the posting of a Five
Thousand Peso (P5,000.00) bond within five (5) days from receipt hereof ordering, [petitioners]
to:

1. Cease and desist from doing any act which is destructive of, or involves danger to, or alters
the nature and condition of the property;

2. Cease and desist from collecting rent or income [for the use of] the said property;

3. To deposit any rent or income arising from the said property which they may have already
received to the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court of the Tenth Judicial Region, Malaybalay
City; and

Furthermore, all tenants are hereby ordered to deposit any rentals arising from the disputed
property to the said Clerk of Court.

SO ORDERED.41

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

On June 13, 2007, the CA rendered a Decision42 granting the Petition for Certiorari. The CA found
grave abuse of discretion on the part of Judge Venadas, Sr. in holding in abeyance the
implementation of the Writ of Possession.43 The dispositive portion of the Decision reads:

ACCORDINGLY, the petition for certiorari is hereby GRANTED and the assailed July 14, 2005 Order
of the court a quo is hereby SET ASIDE.

SO ORDERED.44

Spouses Sombilon moved for reconsideration45 but the CA denied the same in its August 8, 2007
Resolution.46

Hence, spouses Sombilon filed the instant Petition for Review on Certiorari contending that:

THE [CA] COMMITTED A REVERSIBLE ERROR AND GRAVELY ERRED IN GRANTING THE
PETITIONFOR CERTIORARI OF [ATTY. GARAY AND PNB] AND IN DECLARING THAT THERE WAS
GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNT[ING] TO LACK OR EXCESS OF JURISDICTION COMMITTED
BYTHE [RTC], BRANCH [8], MALAYBALAY CITY, WHICH IS CONTRARY [TO] LAW AND APPLICABLE
DECISIONS OF THE HONORABLE SUPREME COURT.47

Spouses Sombilons Arguments

Spouses Sombilon insist that the CA should have dismissed the Petition for Certioraridue to the
failure of PNB and Atty. Garay to file a Motion for Reconsideration of the assailed Order.48

They also allege that PNB and Atty. Garay engaged in forum-shopping when they filed a Motion
to Recall Order with the RTC, in addition to the Petition for Certiorari they earlier filed with the
CA.49

As to the assailed Order, they contend that Judge Venadas, Sr. did not commit grave abuse of
discretion in holding in abeyance the implementation of the Writ of Possession because PNB no
longer has the legal personality to apply for a Writ of Possession considering that the subject
property had already been sold to Atty. Garay,50 who they claim is also not entitled to the Writ of
Possession as he is disqualified from purchasing the subject property pursuant to paragraph 5,
Page 97 of 100

Article 1491 of the Civil Code.51

Atty. Garays and PNBs Arguments

Atty. Garay, on the other hand, argues that the CA did not err in granting the Petition for
Certiorari as Judge Venadas, Sr. acted with grave abuse of discretion when he recalled the Writ of
Possession without notice to him and PNB.52 He also emphasizes that it is a ministerial duty of
the court to issue a writ of possession after the redemption period has lapsed.53

PNB, for its part, asserts that as the registered owner of the subject property, it is entitled to the
Writ of Possession.54 Thus, it was grave abuse of discretion on the part of Judge Venadas, Sr. in
holding in abeyance the implementation of the Writ of Possession, which he had earlier issued.55

PNB further avers that it is not privy to the arrangement or relationship between Atty. Garay and
spouses Sombilon.56 In any case, the prohibition in paragraph 5, Article 1491 of the Civil Code
does not apply to the instant case as Atty. Garay purchased the subject property from PNB and
not from spouses Sombilon.57

Anent its failure to file a Motion for Reconsideration prior to filing a Petition for Certiorari, PNB
explains that in this case the filing of a Motion for Reconsideration may be dispensed with as the
issue involved is purely one of law, which is an exception under prevailing jurisprudence.58

Besides, there was no plain, speedy, and adequate remedy available at the time considering that
Judge Venadas, Sr. issued the assailed Order, holding in abeyance the implementation of the Writ
of Possession, without affording PNB the opportunity to be heard.59

Lastly, PNB denies that it committed forum-shopping claiming that it did not institute another
action simultaneously with the Petition for Certiorari it filed with the CA.60

A.M. No. RTJ-06-2000

Meanwhile, on November15, 2005, Atty. Garay filed a Verified Complaint61 against Judge
Venadas, Sr., charging him with Grave Abuse of Authority and Grave Misconduct when he
proceeded with the hearing of spouses Sombilons motion for reconsideration of the Order
granting the issuance of the Writ of Possession despite lack of notice to PNB and for holding in
abeyance the Writ of Possession he issued in Special Civil Case No. 375-05.

Atty. Garays Arguments

Atty. Garay claims that Judge Venadas, Sr. should be administratively sanctioned for holding in
abeyance the Writ of Possession he earlier issued62 and for ignoring Sections 4,63 5,64 and 665
of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court as he proceeded to hear the motion despite lack of notice to
PNB.66

Judge Venadas, Sr.s Arguments

In his defense, Judge Venadas, Sr. denies the charges against him arguing that he did not annul
the Writ of Possession but merely stayed its execution and implementation to prevent any
injustice.67 He insists there was no violation of due process because he immediately scheduled a
hearing for PNB to present its evidence.68

Report and Recommendation of the

Office of the Court Administrator (OCA)


Page 98 of 100

The OCA, in its Report,69 found Judge Venadas, Sr. administratively liable for grave abuse of
authority bordering on gross ignorance of procedure.70 Although the OCA did not touch on the
issue of whether Judge Venadas, Sr. should be administratively sanctioned for holding in
abeyance the implementation of the Writ of Possession as it was still pending with the CA at that
time, it nevertheless found Judge Venadas, Sr. guilty of blatantly disregarding Sections 4, 5, and
6 of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court when he acted on the defective motion filed by spouses
Sombilon.71 It also pointed out that PNB and Atty. Garay were deprived of their rights to due
process as no proper notice was sent to them.72 Thus, the OCA recommended that:

a) the instant administrative complaint be DOCKETED as a regular administrative complaint;

b) respondent Judge Rolando S. Venadas,Sr. be found guilty of gross ignorance of procedure; and

c) respondent Judge Rolando S. Venadas, Sr. be ordered to pay a FINE of TWENTY THOUSAND
PESOS (P20,000.00) with a WARNING that a similar transgression x x x will be dealt with more
severely.73

On November 26, 2007, the Court resolved to consolidate A.M. No. RTJ-06-2000 with G.R. No.
179914.74

Issues

Stripped of the non-essentials, the issues boil down to: (1) whether Judge Venadas, Sr. committed
grave abuse of discretion in holding in abeyance the implementation of the Writ of Possession;
and (2) whether he should be administratively sanctioned for holding in abeyance the
implementation of the Writ of Possession and for disregarding Sections 4, 5, and 6, Rule 15 of the
Rules of Court.

Our Ruling

G.R. No. 179914

The issuance of a writ of possession is

ministerial upon the court.

A debtor has one year from the date the Certificate of Sale is registered with the Register of
Deeds within which to redeem his property.75 During the one-year redemption period, the
purchaser may possess the property by filing a petition for the issuance of a writ of possession
before the court, upon the posting of a bond.76 But after the one-year period, the purchaser has
a right to consolidate the title and to possess the property, without need of a bond.77 And once
title is consolidated under the name of the purchaser, the issuance of the writ of possession
becomes ministerial on the part of the court; thus, no discretion is left to the court.78 Questions
regarding the regularity and validity of the mortgage or the foreclosure sale may not be raised as
a ground to oppose or hold in abeyance the issuance of the writ of possession as these must be
raised in a separate action for the annulment of the mortgage or the foreclosure sale.79 The
pendency of such action is also not a ground to stay the issuance of a writ of possession.80

In this case, the redemption period had long lapsed when PNB applied for the issuance of the
Writ of Possession.1wphi1 In fact, the title over the subject property had already been
consolidated in PNBs name. Thus, it was ministerial upon Judge Venadas, Sr. to issue the Writ of
Possession in favor of PNB, the registered owner of the subject property.

Though there are instances when the issuance of the Writ of Possession may be deferred,81 we
find none of these recognized exceptions present in the instant case. Spouses Sombilon claim
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that the sale between PNB and Atty. Garay was invalid as it was done in violation of paragraph 5,
Article 1491 of the Civil Code. However, the alleged invalidity of the sale is not a ground to
oppose or defer the issuance of the Writ of Possession as this does not affect PNBs right to
possess the subject property. Thus, there was no reason for Judge Venadas, Sr. to hold in
abeyance the implementation of the Writ of Possession. Clearly, he committed grave abuse of
discretion in issuing the assailed Order holding in abeyance the implementation of the Writ of
Possession because PNB, as the registered owner, is entitled to the possession of the subject
property as a matter of right.

Regarding the failure of PNB and Atty. Garay to move for a reconsideration of the assailed Order
prior to the availment of a special civil action for certiorari, we agree with PNB that the filing of a
motion for reconsideration may be dispensed with where the decision is a patent nullity or where
there is violation of due process,82 such as in the instant case.

All told, we find no error on the part of the CA in granting the Petition for Certiorari.

A.M. No. RTJ-06-2000

As to the Administrative Complaint filed against Judge Venadas, Sr., we agree with the findings
and recommendations of the OCA.

Records show that spouses Sombilon failed to comply with the three-day notice rule and the
required proof of service embodied in Sections 4, 5, and 6 of Rule 15 of the Rules of Court,
thereby rendering the motion fatally defective. Despite this, Judge Venadas, Sr. still took
cognizance of the motion filed by spouses Sombilon, depriving PNB and Atty. Garay of their right
to due process.

To exculpate himself from the charges against him, Judge Venadas, Sr. claims that the motion
was personally served on PNB and its counsel on July 12, 2005 but they refused to receive the
same. However, as aptly pointed out by the OCA, no affidavit was submitted to substantiate such
allegation. Thus, we agree with the Court Administrator that Judge Venadas, Sr. is guilty of grave
abuse of authority bordering on gross ignorance of procedure for blatantly disregarding Sections
4, 5, and 6, Rule 15 of the Rules of Court.

Blatant disregard of basic, elementary, and well-known rules of procedure and law is gross
ignorance of the law,83 which is classified as a serious charge under Rule 140, Section 8 of the
Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, punishable by either dismissal from service,
suspension for more than three months but not exceeding six months, or a fine of more than
P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00.84

Thus, in view of his blatant disregard of the rules and his grave abuse of discretion in issuing the
assailed Order, and considering that this is his first offense, we find Judge Venadas, Sr. guilty of
grave abuse of authority bordering on gross ignorance of the law and is hereby fined the amount
of P20,000.00. Incidentally, in the April 18, 2007 Resolution in A.M. No. 12600-Ret.,85 the Court
approved the application of Judge Venadas, Sr. for disability retirement but withheld the amount
of P100,000.00 pending the final resolution of this case. In view thereof, the fine of P20,000.00
herein imposed on Judge Venadas, Sr. is to be deducted from the withheld amount of
P100,000.00.

WHEREFORE, in G.R. No. 179914, the Petition is hereby DENIED. The June 13, 2007 Decision and
the August 8, 2007 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 00477-MIN are hereby
AFFIRMED.

In Administrative Matter No. RTJ-06-2000, Judge Rolando S. Venadas, Sr. of the Regional Trial
Court of Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, Branch 8, is hereby found guilty of grave abuse of authority
Page 100 of 100

bordering on gross ignorance of the law and is ordered to pay a FINE of TWENTY THOUSAND
PESOS (P20,000.00) to be deducted from the withheld amount of P100,000.00 from his
retirement benefits pursuant to the April 18, 2007 Resolution in A.M. No. 12600-Ret.

SO ORDERED.