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Nelson Lai y Bilbao vs.

People of the Philippines


GR. No. 175999 July 1, 2015

FACTS:
March 23, 1998 –Judge Fernando Elumba had been assigned as the public prosecutor in Branch 42 of
the RTC in Negros Occidental to replace the previous public prosecutor.
April 27, 2000- He became the Presiding Judge of Branch 42, the trial court hearing and ultimately
deciding Criminal Case No. 17446 against the petitioner.
The RTC rendered judgment through Judge Elumba finding Accused NELSON LAI y BILBAO guilty
beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Homicide.
On appeal, Petitioner focused CA’s attention to the denial of due process to him by the non-
disqualification of Judge Elumba. He claims that he was denied due process because the judge who
rendered the assailed decision was also, at one time, the public prosecutor of the instant case.
ISSUE:
• WON Judge Elumba should have disqualified himself as the trial judge
of the case .
HELD:
• YES.
• Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court embodies the rule on self-disqualification by a sitting judge, viz.:
• Section 1. Disqualification of judges. – No judge or judicial officer shall sit in any case in which he, or his wife or
child, is pecuniarily interested as heir, legatee, creditor or otherwise, or in which he is related to either party
within the sixth degree of consanguinity or affinity, or to counsel within the fourth degree, computed according
to the rules of the civil law, or in which he has been executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or counsel, or in
which he has presided in any inferior court when his ruling or decision is the subject of review, without the
written consent of all parties in interest, signed by them and entered upon the record.
A judge may, in the exercise of his sound discretion, disqualify himself from sitting in a case, for just or valid
reasons other than those mentioned above.
• Section 1 of Rule 137, supra, contemplates two kinds of self- disqualification. The first paragraph enumerates the
instances when the judge is prohibited and disqualified from sitting on and deciding a case. The prohibition is
compulsory simply because the judge is conclusively presumed to be incapable of impartiality. The second
paragraph speaks of voluntary inhibition; whether or not the judge can sit in and try the case is left to his
discretion, depending on the existence of just and valid reasons not included in the first paragraph, but in
exercising the discretion, he must rely only on his conscience.
• Reprising Section 1 of Rule 137 is Section 5, Canon 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine
Judiciary, which pertinently demands the disqualification of a judge who has previously served as a lawyer
of any of the parties, to wit:
• Section 5. Judges shall disqualify themselves from participating in any proceedings in which they are
unable to decide the matter impartially or in which it may appear to a reasonable observer that they are
unable to decide the matter impartially. Such proceedings include, but are not limited to instances where:
• xxx x
• (d) The judge served as executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or lawyer in the case or matter in
controversy, or a former associate of the judge served as counsel during their association, or the judge or
lawyer was a material witness therein; x x x.
• The words counsel in the first paragraph of Section 1 of Rule 137, supra, and lawyer in Section 5 of Canon 3,
supra, are understood in their general acceptation because their usage by the rules has not been made
subject of any qualifications or distinctions. As such, the mere appearance of his name as the public
prosecutor in the records of Criminal Case No. 17446 sufficed to disqualify Judge Elumba from sitting on
and deciding the case. Having represented the State in the prosecution of the petitioner, he could not
sincerely claim neutrality or impartiality as the trial judge who would continue to hear the case. Hence, he
should have removed himself from being the trial judge in Criminal Case No. 17446.
• To be clear, that Judge Elumba’s prior participation as the public prosecutor was passive, or that he entered
his appearance as the public prosecutor long after the Prosecution had rested its case against the petitioner
did not really matter. The evil sought to be prevented by the rules on disqualification had no relation
whatsoever with the judge’s degree of participation in the case before becoming the judge. He must be
reminded that the same compulsory disqualification that applied to him could similarly be demanded of
the private prosecutor or the defense lawyer, if either of them should be appointed as the trial judge
hearing the case. The purpose of this stricture is to ensure that the proceedings in court that would affect
the life, liberty and property of the petitioner as the accused should be conducted and determined by a
judge who was wholly free, disinterested, impartial and independent.
• A judge has both the duty of rendering a just decision and the duty of doing it in a manner completely
free from suspicion as to its fairness and as to his integrity.The law conclusively presumes that a judge
cannot objectively or impartially sit in such a case and, for that reason, prohibits him and strikes at his
authority to hear and decide it, in the absence of written consent of all parties concerned. The purpose is
to preserve the people’s faith and confidence in the courts of justice.
Celerna Calayag vs. Sulpicio Lines
GR No. 221864, Sep 14, 2016
• FACTS:
• The subject petition stems from the 71 consolidated cases for civil damages filed by Celerna Calayag, et al.
(petitioners), the survivors of the victims of the ill-fated M/V Princess of the Stars, which sank on June 20, 2008,
against Sulpicio Lines, Inc. (Sulpicio) and the owners, officers, ship captain, and ship master thereof.
• Controversy arose when Sulpicio and its co-defendants suspected that Judge Villanueva was exhibiting bias in favor
of petitioners on the basis of the following:
1. Judge Villanueva allowed witness Lisbo to testify on actual damages even if there was no claim for
such.
2. Judge Villanueva allowed presentation of mere photocopy of the circular of PISA minutes meeting
despite timely objection of Sulpicio. Worse, he declared that the Best Evidence Rule has no
application in his Court.
3. He admitted an opinion testimony from an ordinary witness.
4. Judge Villanueva showed hostility towards counsel of Sulpicio when he referred Atty Vargs as a
mere Saling-pusa.
• Judge Villanueva denied the said motions for inhibition for the reasons 1) that the perceived errors committed by
him and his use of the words "saling pusa" and/or "kibitzer" against the counsel of Sulpicio's co-defendants were
totally taken out of context; and 2) that his rulings were simply meant to prevent delay. Judge Villanueva opined
that the many instances when counsel for the movants questioned his actuations were simply a deliberate attempt
to "obfuscate the issues" and that their numerous objections during the trial amounted to "clear nitpicking.“
• While the petition before the CA was pending, Judge Villanueva handed down his Decision, ordering
Sulpicio and its co-defendants, jointly and severally, to pay damages to petitioners.

• Three days following the promulgation of the RTC decision, the, CA promulgated its assailed decision
granting the petition for certiorari and directing Judge Villanueva to recuse himself from hearing the civil
cases for damages. In its decision, the CA faulted the presiding judge for allowing an ordinary witness to
provide testimony of his own opinion in violation of the Judicial Affidavit Rule. The CA opined that this,
coupled with his remarks in open court, cast doubt on his impartiality.
ISSUE:
• Whether there were sufficient grounds for the CA to order the inhibition of Judge Villanueva
from the civil cases filed against Sulpicio.
HELD:
• Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court encapsulates the rules on the disqualification and the inhibition
of judicial officials. Thus:
Section 1. Disqualification of judges. No judge or judicial officer shall sit in any case in which he, or
his wife or child, is pecuniarily interested as heir, legatee, creditor or otherwise, or in which he is
related to either party within the sixth degree of consanguinity or affinity, or to counsel
within the fourth degree, computed according to the rules of the civil law, or in which he
has been executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or counsel, or in which he has presided in any
inferior court when his ruling or decision is the subject of review, without the written consent of all
parties in interest, signed by them and entered upon the record.
A judge may, in the exercise of his sound discretion, disqualify himself from sitting in a case, for just
or valid reasons other than those mentioned above.
• From the above, the rule on disqualification and inhibition essentially involves two aspects, one being
compulsory disqualification and the other being voluntary inhibition.
• Compulsory disqualification assumes that a judge cannot actively or impartially sit on a case for
the reasons stated in the first paragraph of Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules. It has been said that
the rationale for the rule on the compulsory disqualification of a judge or judicial officer is predicated on the
long-standing precept that no judge should preside in a case in which he or she is not wholly independent,
disinterested or impartial. Judges should not handle cases in which they might be perceived, rightly or
wrongly, to be susceptible to bias and partiality. The rule is aimed at preserving at all times the people's faith
and confidence in our courts, which are essential to the effective administration of justice.

• On the other hand, the aspect of voluntary inhibition, as stated in the second paragraph,
involves the use of discretion. Undoubtedly, it partakes of voluntariness and is a matter of conscience
that is addressed primarily to the judge's sense of fairness and justice.
• Generally, the mere imputation of bias, partiality and prejudgment will not suffice in the absence of clear
and convincing evidence to overcome the presumption that the judge will undertake his noble role to
dispense justice according to law and evidence and without fear or favor. The disqualification of a judge
cannot be based on mere speculations and surmises or be predicated on the adverse nature of the judges
rulings towards the movant for inhibition. In fact, this Court has, on several instances, ruled that to warrant
the judge's inhibition from the case, bias or prejudice must be shown to have stemmed from an extra-
judicial or extrinsic source. In other words, a judge must inhibit only if it is shown that a judge's evident
leaning towards a party would result in a disposition on the merits on some basis other than what the
judge learned from participating in the case.
• As with many rules, however, there are exceptions; such as -whenever it is shown that the consistency and
regularity with which a judge issued the assailed directives give rise, not to a fanciful suggestion or to a
superficial impression of partiality, but to a clear and convincing proof of bias and prejudice, a judge may
be directed to'inhibit himself from presiding over the case.
• In the case at bench, the Court finds that the exception applies.
• First. It appears that despite the timely objections of Sulpicio, Judge Villanueva allowed petitioners to introduce
in evidence a document containing a summary of a witness' testimony, despite being a mere photocopy. In
declaring that a photocopy of a document was an "authentic document," he disregarded one of the very
elementary rules of evidence.
Second. Despite the objections of Sulpicio's counsel, Judge Villanueva allowed petitioners' witness to give her
opinion on how long her husband could have lived.
Uncontroverted also is the fact that Judge Villanueva denigrated and belittled the counsel for the co-defendants
by calling him a mere "kibitzer" or "saling-pusa." The Court finds that the remark was uncalled for as it publicly
humiliated him before everyone present in the courtroom. This open degrading description of the said counsel
bares a state of mind of a partial trial judge. By his expression of his regard for a counsel of a litigant, he
displayed his predisposition and propensity to partiality.
• Ordinarily, the foregoing, even taken together, would not constitute a solid ground for the inhibition of a trial
judge. His remarks could have been uttered in the excitement of the moment. Such lapses, however, when
coupled with his acting on the case after he was ordered by the CA to recuse himself, brought to fore his
tendentious mind.
• The most telling manifestation of his partiality was his Order, dated May 11, 2016, granting petitioners'
motion for execution pending appeal. Despite receiving categorical orders from the CA to recuse himself
from participating in the subject civil cases, Judge Villanueva acted on petitioners' motion for execution
pending appeal and granted it.
• On this score, it bears mentioning that although judicial courtesy is indeed not mandatory, under such
circumstances, Judge Villanueva should have been more circumspect in the exercise of his discretion and
recused himself from further presiding over the said civil cases to remove any doubt on his neutrality.
• Judges should avoid not just impropriety in their conduct but even the mere appearance of impropriety for
appearance is an essential manifestation of reality. In insulating the Bench from unwarranted criticism, thus
preserving a democratic way of life, it is essential that judges be above suspicion. It bears stressing that the
duty of judges is not only to administer justice but also to conduct themselves in a manner that would
avoid any suspicion of irregularity.. This arises from the avowed duty of members of the Bench to promote
confidence in judicial system. Occupying an exalted position in the administration of justice, judges must
pay a high price for the honor bestowed upon them. Hence, any act which would give the appearance of
impropriety becomes, of itself, reprehensible.
Bgen (Ret.) Jose Ramisca, Jr. Vs. Hon. Jose Hernandez
G.R. Nos. 173057-74 September 20,2010

• FACTS:
• Petitioner, Retired BGen. Jose S. Ramiscal, Jr., then President of the Armed Forces of the Philippines-
Retirement and Separation Benefits System (AFP-RSBS), signed several deeds of sale for the acquisition of
parcels of land for the development of housing projects and for other concerns. However, it appears that the
landowners from whom the AFP-RSBS acquired the lots executed unilateral deeds of sale providing for a
lesser consideration apparently to evade the payment of correct taxes.
• Informations were filed with the Sandiganbayan against petitioner for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic
Act (R.A.) No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and for the crime
of estafa through falsification of public documents as defined under paragraph 4 of Article 171 of
the Revised Penal Code, as amended.
• On July 27, 2003, Junior officers and Enlisted men from Elite Units of the AFP took over the Oakwood
Premier Apartments at Ayala Center in Makati City to air their grievances about graft and corruption in the
military. In response to the incident, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo created a Fact-Finding
Commission (Feliciano Commission) wherein respondents wife, Professor Carolina G. Hernandez, was
appointed as one of the Commissioners.
• On October 17, 2003, the Feliciano Commission submitted its Report recommending, among others, the
prosecution of petitioner. President Arroyo then issued Executive Order No. 255 on December 5, 2003,
creating the Office of a Presidential Adviser under the Office of the President to implement the
recommendations of the Feliciano Commission. Professor Carolina G. Hernandez was appointed as
Presidential Adviser in the newly created office. Shortly thereafter, respondent Justice Hernandez was
appointed as Associate Justice of the Sandiganbayan and assigned to its Fourth Division.
• Eight additional informations were filed with the Sandiganbayan against petitioner. Two were assigned to
the Fourth Division of the court, one for violation of R.A. No. 3019, docketed as Criminal Case No. 28022,
and the other for estafa through falsification of public documents, docketed as Criminal Case No. 28023.
• On April 6, 2006, petitioner filed two motions to inhibit Justice Hernandez from taking part in Criminal Case
Nos. 25122-45 and Criminal Case Nos. 28022-23 pending before the Fourth Division.
• Petitioner cited that Justice Hernandezs wife, Professor Hernandez, was a member of the Feliciano
Commission and was tasked to implement fully the recommendations of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee,
including his criminal prosecution. Further, the spousal relationship between Justice Hernandez and
Professor Hernandez created in his mind impression of partiality and bias, which circumstance constitutes
a just and valid ground for his inhibition under the second paragraph of Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of
Court.
ISSUE:
• Did Justice Hernandez commit grave abuse of discretion amounting
to lack or excess of jurisdiction in not inhibiting himself from the
cases against petitioner pending before the Sandiganbayan?
HELD:
No.
• The rule on inhibition and disqualification of judges is laid down in Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court:
Section 1. Disqualification of judges.No judge or judicial officer shall sit in any case in
which he, or his wife or child, is pecuniarily interested as heir, legatee, creditor or
otherwise, or in which he is related to either party within the sixth degree of
consanguinity or affinity, or to counsel within the fourth degree, computed
according to the rules of the civil law, or in which he has been executor, administrator,
guardian, trustee or counsel, or in which he has presided in any inferior court when his
ruling or decision is the subject of review, without the written consent of all parties in
interest, signed by them and entered upon the record.
A judge may, in the exercise of his sound discretion, disqualify himself from sitting in a case, for just
or valid reasons other than those mentioned above.
• The Rules contemplate two kinds of inhibition: compulsory and voluntary. Under the first paragraph
of the cited Rule, it is conclusively presumed that judges cannot actively and impartially sit in the
instances mentioned. The second paragraph, which embodies voluntary inhibition, leaves to the
sound discretion of the judges concerned whether to sit in a case for other just and valid reasons,
with only their conscience as guide.
• The mere imputation of bias or partiality is not enough ground for inhibition, especially when the charge is
without basis. Extrinsic evidence must further be presented to establish bias, bad faith, malice, or corrupt
purpose, in addition to palpable error which may be inferred from the decision or order itself. This Court
has to be shown acts or conduct of the judge clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice before the
latter can be branded the stigma of being biased or partial.
• An allegation of prejudgment, without more, constitutes mere conjecture and is not one of the just or
valid reasons contemplated in the second paragraph of Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court for which
a judge may inhibit himself from hearing the case. The bare allegations of the judges
partiality, as in this case, will not suffice in the absence of clear and convincing
evidence to overcome the presumption that the judge will undertake his noble
role of dispensing justice in accordance with law and evidence, and without fear
or favor. Verily, for bias and prejudice to be considered valid reasons for the
involuntary inhibition of judges, mere suspicion is not enough.
• Under the first paragraph of the rule on inhibition, No judge or judicial officer shall sit in any case in which
he, or his wife or child, is pecuniarily interested as heir, legatee, creditor or otherwise.... The
relationship mentioned therein becomes relevant only when such spouse or
child of the judge is pecuniarily interested as heir, legatee, creditor or
otherwise. Petitioner, however, miserably failed to show that Professor Carolina G. Hernandez is
financially or pecuniarily interested in these cases before the Sandiganbayan to justify the inhibition of
Justice Hernandez under the first paragraph of Section 1 of Rule 137.