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July 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics August 23, 2010 Ramon G.

Songco Here are selected July 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics: . Attorney; violation of attorney-client relationship. We find no merit in petitioners assertion that Atty. Binamira gravely breached and abused the rule on privileged communication under the Rules of Court and the Code of Professional Responsibility of Lawyers when he represented [respondent] Helen in the present case. Notably, this issue was never raised before the labor tribunals and was raised for the first time only on appeal. Moreover, records show that although petitioners previously employed Atty. Binamira to manage several businesses, there is no showing that they likewise engaged his professional services as a lawyer. Likewise, at the time the instant complaint was filed, Atty. Binamira was no longer under the employ of petitioners. Lambert Pawnbrokers and Jewelry Corporation and Lambert Lim vs. Helen Binamira, G.R. No. 170464. July 12, 2010. Court personnel; immoral conduct. Employees of the judiciary are subject to a higher standard than most other civil servants. Immorality has been defined to include not only sexual matters but also conduct inconsistent with rectitude, or indicative of corruption, indecency, depravity, and dissoluteness; or is willful, flagrant or shameless conduct showing moral indifference to opinions of respectable members of the community, and an inconsiderate attitude toward good order and public welfare. There is no doubt that engaging in sexual relations with a married man is not only a violation of the moral standards expected of employees of the judiciary but is also a desecration of the sanctity of the institution of marriage which this Court abhors and is, thus, punishable. Julie Ann C. Dela Cruz vs. Selima B. Omaga, A.M. No. P-08-2590, July 5, 2010.

Vs. Olivia Laurel/Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Gerardo P. Hernandez, et al./Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Nicanor B. Alfonso, et al./Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Caridad D. Cuevillas/Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Hermina S. Javier, et al./Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Atty. Rowena A. Malabanan-Galeon, et al./Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Atty. Rowena A. Malabanan-Galeon//Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Atty. Rowena A. Malabanan-Galeon, et al./Joel O. Arellano and Arnel M. Magat Vs. Judge Pablo B. Francisco, A.M. No. RTJ-061992/A.M. No. P-10-2745/A.M. No. RTJ-00-1992/A.M. No. P-10-2746/A.M. No. P102747/A.M. No. P-10-2748/A.M. No. P-10-2749/A.M. No. P-10-2750/A.M. No. P-102751/A.M. No. P-03-1706/A.M. No. RTJ-10-2214, July 6, 2010. Judge; bias and partiality. Established is the norm that judges should not only be impartial but should also appear impartial. Judges must not only render just, correct and impartial decisions, but must do so in a manner free from any suspicion as to their fairness, impartiality and integrity. This reminder applies even more to lower court judges like herein respondent because they are judicial front-liners who have direct contact with litigants. Atty. Jose A. Bernas vs. Judge Julia A. Reyes, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 69, Pasig City, A.M. No. MTJ-09-1728, July 21, 2010. Judge; gross ignorance of the law. To be held liable for gross ignorance of the law, the judge must be shown to have committed an error that was gross or patent, deliberate or malicious. Also administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law is a judge who shown to have been motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption ignored, contradicted or failed to apply settled law and jurisprudence. As a matter of public policy though, the acts of a judge in his official capacity are not subject to disciplinary action, even though such acts are erroneous. Good faith and absence of malice, corrupt motives or improper considerations are sufficient defenses in which a judge charged with ignorance of the law can find refuge. Rolando E. Marcos vs. Judge Ofelia T. Pinto, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2180, July 26, 2010. Attorney; engagement of private counsel by GOCC. In Phividec Industrial Authority v. Capitol Steel Corporation, we listed three (3) indispensable conditions before a GOCC can hire a private lawyer: (1) private counsel can only be hired in exceptional cases; (2) the GOCC must first secure the written conformity and acquiescence of the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel, as the case may be; and (3) the written concurrence of the COA must also be secured. Failure to comply with all three conditions would constitute appearance without authority. A lawyer appearing after his authority as counsel had expired is also appearance without authority. Rey Vargas, et al. vs. Atty. Michael Ignes, et al., A.C. No. 8096, July 5, 2010.

Judge; abuse of authority. In issuing the Direct Contempt Order without legal basis, Judge Francisco is more appropriately guilty of the administrative offense of grave abuse of authority, rather than gross ignorance of the law and incompetence. Olivia Laurel Vs. Judge Pablo B. Francisco/Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Olivia Laurel/Judge Pablo B. Francisco

THIRD DIVISION REY J. VARGAS AND EDUARDO A. PANES, JR., Complainants,

A.C. No. 8096 Present: CARPIO MORALES, J., Chairperson, BRION, BERSAMIN, ABAD, and VILLARAMA, JR., JJ.

different groups, herein referred to as the Dela Pea board and Yaphockun board, laid claim as the legitimate Board of Directors of KWD. On December 28, 2006, the members of the Dela Pea board filed Civil Case No. 1793 for Injunction and Damages, seeking to annul the appointment of two (2) directors, Joselito T. Reyes and Carlito Y. Uy, who will allegedly connive with Director Allan D. Yaphockun whose hostility to the present Board of Directors, the Dela Pea board, is supposedly of public knowledge.

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ATTY. MICHAEL A. IGNES, ATTY. LEONARD BUENTIPO MANN, ATTY. RODOLFO U. VIAJAR, JR., AND ATTY. JOHN RANGAL D. NADUA, Respondents.

On January 18, 2007, the Dela Pea board also adopted Resolution No. 009 appointing respondents Atty. Rodolfo U. Viajar, Jr. and Atty. Leonard Buentipo Mann as private collaborating counsels for all cases of KWD and its Board of Directors, under the direct supervision and control of Atty. Ignes.

Promulgated: July 5, 2010

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Subsequently, on February 9, 2007, Attys. Ignes, Viajar, Jr. and Mann filed SCA Case No. 50-24 for Indirect Contempt of Court entitled Koronadal Water

RESOLUTION VILLARAMA, JR., J.: Before the Court is a petition for review of Resolution No. XVIII-2008-335 passed on July 17, 2008 by the Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) in CBD Case No. 07-1953. The IBP Board of Governors dismissed the disbarment case filed by the complainants against the respondents. The facts and proceedings antecedent to this case are as follows: Koronadal Water District (KWD), a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC), hired respondent Atty. Michael A. Ignes as private legal counsel for one (1) year effective April 17, 2006. The Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) and the Commission on Audit (COA) gave their consent to the employment of Atty. Ignes. However, controversy later erupted when two (2)

District (KWD), represented herein by its General Manager, Eleanor PimentelGomba v. Efren V. Cabucay, et al. On February 19, 2007, they also filed Civil Case No. 1799 for Injunction and Damages entitled Koronadal Water District (KWD), represented herein by its General Manager, & Eleanor Pimentel-Gomba v. Rey J. Vargas. On March 9, 2007, KWD and Eleanor Pimentel-Gomba filed a

supplemental complaint in Civil Case No. 1799. Meanwhile, in Contract Review No. 079 dated February 16, 2007, the OGCC had approved the retainership contract of Atty. Benjamin B. Cuanan as new legal counsel of KWD and stated that the retainership contract of Atty. Ignes had expired on January 14, 2007. In its letter dated March 2, 2007, the OGCC also addressed Eleanor P. Gombas insistence that the retainership contract of Atty. Ignes will expire on April 17, 2007. The OGCC stated that as stipulated, the KWD or OGCC may terminate the contract anytime without need of judicial action; that OGCCs grant of authority to 2

private counsels is a privilege withdrawable under justifiable circumstances; and that the termination of Atty. Igness contract was justified by the fact that the Local Water Utilities Administration had confirmed the Yaphockun board as the new Board of Directors of KWD and that said board had terminated Atty. Igness services and requested to hire another counsel. Alleging that respondents acted as counsel for KWD without legal authority, complainants filed a disbarment complaint against the respondents before the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD), docketed as CBD Case No. 07-1953. Complainants alleged that respondents filed SCA Case No. 50-24 and Civil Case No. 1799 as counsels of KWD without legal authority. They likewise stated in their position paper that Atty. Ignes continued representing KWD even after the OGCC had confirmed the expiration of Atty. Igness contract in its April 4, 2007 manifestation/motion in Civil Case No. 1796-25 entitled Koronadal Water District (KWD), represented herein by its General Manager, Eleanor Pimentel Gomba v. Supreme Investigative and Security Agency, represented by its Manager Efren Y. Cabucay. In his defense, Atty. Mann stated that he and his fellow respondents can validly represent KWD until April 17, 2007 since Atty. Ignes was not notified of his contracts pre-termination. Atty. Mann also stated that he stopped representing KWD after April 17, 2007 in deference to the OGCCs stand. Attys. Ignes, Viajar, Jr. and Nadua echoed Atty. Manns defense. On March 10, 2008, complainants filed a manifestation before the IBP with the following attachments: (1) the transcript of stenographic notes taken on January 28, 2008 in Civil Case No. 1799, and (2) the notice of appeal dated February 28, 2008 of the January 7, 2008 Order dismissing Civil Case No. 1799. Aforesaid transcript showed that Atty. Ignes appeared as counsel of KWD and Ms. Gomba. He also signed the notice of appeal.

In his report and recommendation, the Investigating Commissioner recommended that the charge against Atty. Ignes be dismissed for lack of merit. The Investigating Commissioner held that Atty. Ignes had valid authority as counsel of KWD for one (1) year, from April 2006 to April 2007, and he was unaware of the pre-termination of his contract when he filed pleadings in SCA Case No. 50-24 and Civil Case No. 1799 in February and March 2007. As to Attys. Viajar, Jr., Mann and Nadua, the Investigating Commissioner recommended that they be fined P5,000 each for appearing as attorneys for a party without authority to do so, per Santayana v. Alampay. The Investigating

Commissioner found that they failed to secure the conformity of the OGCC and COA to their engagement as collaborating counsels for KWD. As aforesaid, the IBP Board of Governors reversed the recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner and dismissed the case for lack of merit. Hence, the present petition. Complainants contend that the IBP Board of Governors erred in dismissing the case because respondents had no authority from the OGCC to file the complaints and appear as counsels of KWD in Civil Case No. 1799, SCA Case No. 50-24 and Civil Case No. 1796-25. Complainants point out that the retainership contract of Atty. Ignes had expired on January 14, 2007; that the Notice of Appeal filed by Atty. Ignes, et al. in Civil Case No. 1799 was denied per Order dated April 8, 2008 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) for being filed by one not duly authorized by law; and that the authority of Attys. Viajar, Jr. and Mann as collaborating counsels is infirm since Resolution No. 009 of the Dela Pea board lacks the conformity of the OGCC. As a consequence, according to complainants, respondents are liable for willfully appearing as attorneys for a party to a case without authority to do so. In his comment, Atty. Ignes admits that their authority to represent KWD had expired on April 17, 2007, but he and his fellow respondents stopped representing 3

KWD after that date. He submits that they are not guilty of appearing as counsels without authority. In their comment, Attys. Viajar, Jr. and Nadua propound similar arguments. They also say that their fees were paid from private funds of the members of the Dela Pea board and KWD personnel who might need legal representation, not from the public coffers of KWD. In his own comment, Atty. Mann submits similar arguments. After a careful study of the case and the parties submissions, we find respondents administratively liable. At the outset, we note that the parties do not dispute the need for OGCC and COA conformity if a GOCC hires private lawyers. Nonetheless, we shall briefly recall the legal basis of this rule. Under Section 10, Chapter 3, Title III, Book IV of the Administrative Code of 1987, it is the OGCC which shall act as the principal law office of all GOCCs. And Section 3 of Memorandum Circular No. 9, issued by President Estrada on August 27, 1998, enjoins GOCCs to refrain from hiring private lawyers or law firms to handle their cases and legal matters. But the same Section 3 provides that in exceptional cases, the written conformity and acquiescence of the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel, as the case may be, and the written concurrence of the COA shall first be secured before the hiring or employment of a private lawyer or law firm. In Phividec Industrial Authority v. Capitol Steel Corporation, we listed three (3) indispensable conditions before a GOCC can hire a private lawyer: (1) private counsel can only be hired in exceptional cases; (2) the GOCC must first secure the written conformity and acquiescence of the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel, as the case may be; and (3) the written concurrence of the COA must also be secured. In the case of respondents, do they have valid authority to appear as counsels of KWD?

We find that Attys. Nadua, Viajar, Jr. and Mann had no valid authority to appear as collaborating counsels of KWD in SCA Case No. 50-24 and Civil Case No. 1799. Nothing in the records shows that Atty. Nadua was engaged by KWD as collaborating counsel. While the 4th Whereas Clause of Resolution No. 009 partly states that he and Atty. Ignes presently stand as KWD legal counsels, there is no proof that the OGCC and COA approved Atty. Naduas engagement as legal counsel or collaborating counsel. Insofar as Attys. Viajar, Jr. and Mann are concerned, their appointment as collaborating counsels of KWD under Resolution No. 009 has no approval from the OGCC and COA.

Attys. Nadua, Viajar, Jr. and Mann are in the same situation as the private counsel of Phividec Industrial Authority in Phividec. In that case, we also ruled that said private counsel of Phividec Industrial Authority, a GOCC, had no authority to file the expropriation case in Phividecs behalf considering that the requirements set by Memorandum Circular No. 9 were not complied with. Thus, Resolution No. 009 did not grant authority to Attys. Nadua, Viajar, Jr. and Mann to act as collaborating counsels of KWD. That Atty. Ignes was not notified of the pre-termination of his own retainership contract cannot validate an inexistent authority of Attys. Nadua, Viajar, Jr. and Mann as collaborating counsels.

In the case of Atty. Ignes, he also appeared as counsel of KWD without authority, after his authority as its counsel had expired. True, the OGCC and COA approved his retainership contract for one (1) year effective April 17, 2006. But even if we assume as true that he was not notified of the pre-termination of his contract, the records still disprove his claim that he stopped representing KWD after April 17, 2007.

Atty. Ignes offered no rebuttal to the verified manifestation of complainants filed with the IBP on March 10, 2008. Attached therein was the transcript of stenographic notes in Civil Case No. 1799 taken on January 28, 2008 when Atty. 4

Ignes argued the extremely urgent motion for the immediate return of the facilities of the KWD to the KWD Arellano Office. The RTC was compelled to ask him why he seeks the return of KWD properties if he filed the motion as counsel of Ms. Gomba. When the RTC noted that KWD does not appear to be a party to the motion, Atty. Ignes said that KWD is represented by Ms. Gomba per the caption of the case. Atty. Ignes also manifested that they will file a motion for reconsideration of the orders dismissing Civil Case No. 1799 and Civil Case No. 1793. The RTC ruled that it will not accept any motion for reconsideration in behalf of KWD unless he is authorized by the OGCC, but Atty. Ignes later filed a notice of appeal dated February 28, 2008, in Civil Case No. 1799. As the notice of appeal signed by Atty. Ignes was filed by one (1) not duly authorized by law, the RTC, in its Order dated April 8, 2008, denied due course to said notice of appeal. As we see it, Atty. Ignes portrayed that his appearance on January 28, 2008 was merely as counsel of Ms. Gomba. He indicted himself, however, when he said that Ms. Gomba represents KWD per the case title. In fact, the extremely urgent motion sought the return of the facilities of KWD to its Arellano Office. Clearly, Atty. Ignes filed and argued a motion with the interest of KWD in mind. The notice of appeal in Civil Case No. 1799 further validates that Atty. Ignes still appeared as counsel of KWD after his authority as counsel had expired. This fact was not lost on the RTC in denying due course to the notice of appeal. Now did respondents willfully appear as counsels of KWD without authority? The following circumstances convince us that, indeed, respondents willfully and deliberately appeared as counsels of KWD without authority. One, respondents have admitted the existence of Memorandum Circular No. 9 and professed that they are aware of our ruling in Phividec. Thus, we entertain no doubt that they have full grasp of our ruling

therein that there are indispensable conditions before a GOCC can hire private counsel and that for non-compliance with the requirements set by Memorandum Circular No. 9, the private counsel would have no authority to file a case in behalf of a GOCC. Still, respondents acted as counsels of KWD without complying with what the rule requires. They signed pleadings as counsels of KWD. They presented themselves voluntarily, on their own volition, as counsels of KWD even if they had no valid authority to do so.

Two, despite the question on respondents authority as counsels of KWD which question was actually raised earlier in Civil Case No. 1799 by virtue of an urgent motion to disqualify KWDs counsels dated February 21, 2007 and during the hearing on February 23, 2007 respondents still filed the supplemental complaint in the case on March 9, 2007. And despite the pendency of this case before the IBP, Atty. Ignes had to be reminded by the RTC that he needs OGCC authority to file an intended motion for reconsideration in behalf of KWD.

With the grain of evidence before us, we do not believe that respondents are innocent of the charge even if they insist that the professional fees of Attys. Nadua, Viajar, Jr. and Mann, as collaborating counsels, were paid not from the public coffers of KWD. To be sure, the facts were clear that they appeared as counsels of KWD without authority, and not merely as counsels of the members of the Dela Pea board and KWD personnel in their private suits.

Consequently, for respondents willful appearance as counsels of KWD without authority to do so, there is a valid ground to impose disciplinary action against them. Under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, 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 5

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 to do so.

Respondents Attys. Michael A. Ignes, Leonard Buentipo Mann, Rodolfo U. Viajar, Jr., and John Rangal D. Nadua are found GUILTY of willfully appearing as attorneys for a party to a case without authority to do so and FINED P5,000 each, payable to this Court within ten (10) days from notice of this Resolution. They are STERNLY WARNED that a similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely. Let a copy of this Resolution be attached to respondents personal records in the Office of the Bar Confidant. SO ORDERED.

Disbarment, however, is the most severe form of disciplinary sanction, and, as such, the power to disbar must always be exercised with great caution, and should be imposed only for the most imperative reasons and in clear cases of misconduct affecting the standing and moral character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and member of the bar. Accordingly, disbarment should not be decreed where any punishment less severe such as a reprimand, suspension or fine, would accomplish the end desired. In Santayana, we imposed a fine of P5,000 on the respondent for willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so. The respondent therein also appeared as private counsel of the National Electrification Administration, a GOCC, without any approval from the OGCC and COA. Conformably with Santayana, we impose a fine of P5,000 on each respondent. On another matter, we note that respondents stopped short of fully narrating what

had happened after the RTC issued four (4) orders on March 24, 2007 and on April 13, 2007 in Civil Case No. 1799. As willingly revealed by complainants, all four (4) orders were nullified by the Court of Appeals. We are compelled to issue a reminder that our Code of Professional Responsibility requires lawyers, like respondents, to always show candor and good faith to the courts. WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Resolution No. XVIII2008-335 passed on July 17, 2008 by the IBP Board of Governors in CBD Case No. 07-1953 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Attorney; engagement of private counsel by LGU. Pursuant to this provision [Section 444(b)(1)(vi) of the LGC], the municipal mayor is required to secure the prior authorization of the Sangguniang Bayan before entering into a contract on behalf of the municipality. In the instant case, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi unanimously passed Resolution No. 15-92 authorizing Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer of her choice to represent the interest of Tiwi in the execution of this Courts Decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. The above-quoted authority necessarily carried with it the power to negotiate, execute and sign on behalf of Tiwi the Contract of Legal Services. Municipality of Tiwi, represented by Hon. Mayor Jaime C. Villanueva and Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi Vs. Antonio B. Betito, G.R. No. 171873, July 9, 2010.
Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court Manila FIRST DIVISION MUNICIPALITY OF TIWI, represented by Hon. Mayor JAIME C. VILLANUEVA and the SANGGUNIANG BAYAN of TIWI, Petitioners, G.R. No. 171873

On June 4, 1990, this Court issued a Decision in the case of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay finding, among others, the National Power Corporation (NPC) liable for unpaid real estate taxes from June 11, 1984 to March 10, 1987 on its properties located in the Province of Albay (Albay). These properties consisted of geothermal
Present: CORONA, C. J., Chairperson, BRION, DEL CASTILLO, ABAD, and PEREZ, JJ.

plants in the Municipality of Tiwi (Tiwi) and substations in the Municipality of Daraga. Previously, the said properties were sold at an auction sale conducted by Albay to satisfy NPCs tax liabilities. As the sole bidder at the auction, Albay acquired ownership over said properties. On July 29, 1992, the NPC, through its then President Pablo Malixi (President Malixi), and Albay, represented by then Governor Romeo R. Salalima (Governor Salalima), entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) where the former agreed to settle its tax

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ANTONIO B. BETITO, Promulgated: Respondent. July 9, 2010 x-----------------------------------------------------------x

DECISION DEL CASTILLO, J.:

liabilities estimated at P214,845,104.76. The MOA provided, among others, that: (1) the actual amount collectible from NPC will have to be recomputed/revalidated; (2) NPC shall make an initial payment of P17,763,000.00 upon signing of the agreement; (3) the balance of the recomputed/ revalidated amount (less the aforesaid initial payment), shall be paid in 24

A judgment on the pleadings is proper when the answer admits all the material averments of the complaint. But where several issues are properly tendered by the answer, a trial on the merits must be resorted to in order to afford each party his day in court.

This Petition for Review on Certiorari seeks to reverse and set aside the Court of Appeals (CA) October 19, 2005 Decision in CA G.R. CV No. 79057, which affirmed the March 3, 2001 Partial Decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 96 in Civil Case No. Q-99-39370, and the March 10, 2006 Resolution denying petitioners motion for reconsideration. Factual Antecedents The instant case is an offshoot of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay and Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. It is, thus, necessary to revisit some pertinent facts from these cases in order to provide an adequate backdrop for the present controversy.

equal monthly installments to commence in September 1992; and (4) ownership over the auctioned properties shall revert to NPC upon satisfaction of the tax liabilities. On August 3, 1992, then Mayor Naomi C. Corral (Mayor Corral) of Tiwi formally requested Governor Salalima to remit the rightful tax shares of Tiwi and its barangays where the NPCs properties were located relative to the payments already made by NPC to Albay. On even date, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 12-92 requesting the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay to hold a joint session for the purpose of discussing the distribution of the NPC payments. On August 10, 1992, Governor Salalima replied that the request cannot be granted as the initial payment amounting to P17,763,000.00 was only an earnest money and that the total amount to be collected from the NPC was still being validated.

Due to the brewing misunderstanding between Tiwi and the concerned barangays on the one hand, and Albay on the other, and so as not to be caught in the middle of the controversy, NPC requested a clarification from the Office of the President as to the scope and extent of the shares of the local government units in the real estate tax collections. Please be guided accordingly. Very truly yours, (Sgd.) ANTONIO T. CARPIO Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Because of this opinion, NPC President Malixi, through a letter dated December 9, 1992, informed Mayor Corral and Governor Salalima that starting with the January 1993 installment, NPC will directly pay Tiwi its share in the payments under the MOA. As of December 9, 1992, payments made by NPC to Albay reached P40,724,471.74. On December 19, 1992, in an apparent reaction to NPCs Decision to directly remit to Tiwi its share in the payments made and still to be made pursuant to the MOA, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay passed Ordinance No. 09-92, which, among others: (1) authorized the Provincial Treasurer upon the direction of the Provincial Governor to sell the real properties (acquired by Albay at the auction sale) at a public auction, and to cause the immediate transfer thereof to the winning bidder; and (2) declared as forfeited in favor of Albay, all the payments already made by NPC under the MOA. From Albays refusal to remit Tiwis share in the aforementioned P40,724,471.74 stemmed several administrative complaints and court cases that respondent allegedly handled on behalf of Tiwi to recover the latters rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes, including the case of Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. In this case, the Court held, among others, that the elective officials of Albay are administratively liable for abuse of authority due to their unjustified refusal to remit the rightful share of Tiwi in the subject realty taxes. Therefore, it is our opinion that the NPC may pay directly to the municipality of Tiwi the real property taxes accruing to the same.

On August 30, 1992, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 15-92 authorizing Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer to represent Tiwi and its barangays in the recovery of their rightful share in the aforesaid realty taxes. Thereafter, Mayor Corral sought the services of respondent Atty. Antonio B. Betito (respondent) and Atty. Alberto Lawenko (Atty. Lawenko). As a result, on January 25, 1993, Mayor Corral, representing Tiwi, and respondent and Atty. Lawenko entered into a Contract of Legal Services (subject contract). The subject contract provided, among others, that respondent and Atty. Lawenko would receive a 10% contingent fee on whatever amount of realty taxes that would be recovered by Tiwi through their efforts.

On December 3, 1992, the Office of the President, through then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio, opined that the MOA entered into by NPC and Albay merely recognized and established NPCs realty taxes. He further clarified that the sharing scheme and those entitled to the payments to be made by NPC under the MOA should be that provided under the law, and since Tiwi is entitled to share in said realty taxes, NPC may remit such share directly to Tiwi, viz: xxxx The Memorandum of Agreement entered into by the Province of Albay and NPC merely enunciates the tax liability of NPC. The Memorandum of Agreement does not provide for the manner of payment of NPC's liability. Thus, the manner of payment as provided for by law shall govern. In any event, the Memorandum of Agreement cannot amend the law allowing the payment of said taxes to the Municipality of Tiwi. The decision in the case of NPC v. Province of Albay (186 SCRA 198), likewise, only established the liability of NPC for real property taxes but does not specifically provide that said back taxes be paid exclusively to Albay province.

The present controversy arose when respondent sought to enforce the Contract of Legal Services after rendering the aforementioned legal services which allegedly benefited Tiwi. In 8

his Complaint for sum of money against Tiwi, represented by then Mayor Patricia Gutierrez, Vice Mayor Vicente Tomas Vera III, Sangguniang Bayan Members Rosana Parcia, Nerissa Cotara, Raul Corral, Orlando Lew Velasco, Liberato Ulysses Pacis, Lorenzo Carlet, Bernardo Costo, Jaime Villanueva, Benneth Templado and Municipal Treasurer Emma Cordovales (collectively petitioners), respondent claims that he handled numerous cases which resulted to the recovery of Tiwis share in the realty taxes. As a result of these efforts, Tiwi was able to collect the amount of P110,985,181.83 and another P35,594,480.00 from the NPC as well as other amounts which will be proven during the trial. Under the Contract of Legal Services, respondent is entitled to 10% of whatever amount that would be collected from the NPC. However, despite repeated demands for the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi to pass an appropriate ordinance for the payment of his attorneys fees, the former refused to pass the ordinance and to pay what is justly owed him. Respondent prayed that Tiwi be ordered to pay P11,000,000.00 in attorneys fees and 10% of the other amounts to be determined during trial plus interest and damages; that the Sangguniang Bayan be ordered to pass the necessary appropriation ordinance; that the municipal treasurer surrender all the receipts of payments made by the NPC to Tiwi from January 1993 to December 1996 for the examination of the court; and that Tiwi pay P500,000.00 as attorneys fees.

officials of the previous administration; that some of these cases were actually handled by the Office of the Solicitor General; and that these were personal cases of said officials. In addition, the Contract of Legal Services was not ratified by the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi in order to become effective. Petitioners also raise the defense that the realty taxes were recovered by virtue of the opinion rendered by then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio and not through the efforts of respondent.

As to the amount of P110,985,181.83 in realty taxes, the same was received by Albay and not Tiwi while the amount of P35,594,480.00 is part of the share of Tiwi in the utilization of the national wealth. Furthermore, in a Commission on Audit (COA) Memorandum dated January 15, 1996, the COA ruled that the authority to pass upon the reasonableness of the attorneys fees claimed by respondent lies with the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi. Pursuant to this memorandum, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 27-98 which declared the subject contract invalid. Petitioners also allege that the contract is grossly disadvantageous to Tiwi and that respondent is guilty of laches because he lodged the present complaint long after the death of Mayor Corral; and that the amount collected from NPC has already been spent by Tiwi.

In their Answer, petitioners admitted that the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 15-92 but denied that said resolution authorized then Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract. In particular, Mayor Corral exceeded her authority when she bound Tiwi to a gargantuan amount equivalent to 10% of the amount of realty taxes recovered from NPC. Further, the legal services under the subject contract should have been limited to the execution of the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay as per Resolution No. 15-92. For these reasons, the subject contract is void, unenforceable, unconscionable and unreasonable. Petitioners further claim that they are not aware of the cases which respondent allegedly handled on behalf of Tiwi since these cases involved

On November 7, 2000, respondent filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and/or partial summary judgment. Regional Trial Courts Ruling On March 3, 2001, the trial court rendered a partial judgment on the pleadings in favor of respondent: WHEREFORE, partial judgment on the pleadings is rendered ordering the defendant Municipality of Tiwi, Albay to pay the plaintiff the sum of P14,657,966.18 plus interest at the legal rate from the filing of the complaint until payment is fully delivered to the plaintiff; and, for this purpose, the defendant Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi, represented by the co-defendants officials, shall adopt and approve the necessary appropriation ordinance. 9

The appellate court agreed with the trial court that the genuineness and due execution of the Trial to receive evidence on the remaining amounts due and payable to the plaintiff pursuant to the contract of legal services shall hereafter continue, with notice to all the parties. SO ORDERED. The trial court held that petitioners answer to the complaint failed to tender an issue, thus, partial judgment on the pleadings is proper. It noted that petitioners did not specifically deny under oath the actionable documents in this case, particularly, the Contract of Legal Services and Resolution No. 15-92. Consequently, the genuineness and due execution of these documents are deemed admitted pursuant to Section 8, Rule 8 of the Rules of Court. Thus, the authority of Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract was deemed established. The appellate court found nothing objectionable in the stipulated contingent fee of 10% as this It added that the authority given to Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer was not only for the purpose of executing the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay but extended to representing the interest of Tiwi in other cases as well. Further, the said resolution did not impose as a condition precedent the ratification of the subject contract by the Sangguniang Bayan in order to render it effective. Lastly, the trial court ruled that the answer admitted, through a negative pregnant, that Tiwi was paid the amounts of P110,985,181.83 and P35,594,480.00, hence, respondent is entitled to 10% thereof as attorneys fees under the terms of the subject contract. Court of Appeals Ruling In its assailed October 19, 2005 Decision, the CA affirmed the Decision of the trial court: was voluntarily agreed upon by the parties and allowed under existing jurisprudence. The fee was justified given the numerous administrative and court cases successfully prosecuted and defended by the respondent in the face of the provincial governments stubborn refusal to release Tiwis share in the realty taxes paid by NPC. The stipulated fee is not illegal, unreasonable or unconscionable. It is enforceable as the law between the parties. Issues Petitioners raise the following issues for our resolution: 1. The amount of award of attorneys fees to respondent is unreasonable, unconscionable and without any proof of the extent, nature and result of his legal service as required by the purported contract of legal services and pursuant to Section 24, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Partial Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 96, dated March 3, 2001, is AFFIRMED. SO ORDERED. 10 2. The application of the rule of judgment on the pleadings and/or summary judgment Contract of Legal Services and Resolution No. 15-92 was impliedly admitted by petitioners because of their failure to make a verified specific denial thereof. Further, the answer filed by the petitioners admitted the material averments of the complaint concerning Tiwis liability under the subject contract and its receipt from the NPC of a total of P146,579,661.84 as realty taxes. Petitioners cannot claim that the subject contract required ratification because this is not a requisite for the enforceability of a contract against a local government unit under the express terms of the contract and the provisions of the Local Government Code (LGC). Also, petitioners are estopped from questioning the enforceability of the contract after having collected and enjoyed the benefits derived therefrom.

is baseless, improper and unwarranted in the case at bar.

3.

The purported contract of legal services exceeded the authority of the late Mayor

Respondent counters that the Contract of Legal Services was not limited to the NPC case but to other services done pursuant to said contract. Thus, the attorneys fees should cover these services as well. He also stresses that despite this Courts ruling in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay and the opinion of then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio, Governor Salalima and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay stubbornly resisted and disobeyed the same. Consequently, respondent prosecuted and defended on behalf of Tiwi several administrative and court cases involving the elective officials of Albay to compel the latter to comply with the aforesaid issuances. He also filed a civil case to prevent the NPC from remitting Tiwis share in the realty taxes directly to Albay. Respondent adds that he also acted as counsel for Mayor Corral after Governor Salalima and his allies sought to remove Mayor Corral in retaliation to the administrative cases that she (Mayor Corral) previously filed against Governor Salalima for the latters failure to remit Tiwis share in the realty taxes. These administrative cases reached this Court in Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. where respondent appears as the counsel of record of Mayor Corral and the other local officials of Tiwi. The filing and handling of these cases belies petitioners claim that what respondent did for Tiwi was a mere messengerial service. Respondent also argues that the Contract of Legal Services is valid and enforceable due to petitioners failure to specifically deny the same under oath in their Answer. Moreover, the law does not require that the subject contract be ratified by the Sangguniang Bayan in order to become enforceable. Instead, the law merely requires that the Sangguniang Bayan authorize the mayor to enter into contracts as was done here through Resolution No. 15-92. Last, the 10% attorneys fees in the subject contract is reasonable, more so because the fee is contingent in nature. In a long line of cases, it has been ruled that a 10% attorneys fees of the amount recoverable is reasonable. Our Ruling The petition is meritorious. 11

Corral and should have been ratified by the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi in order to be enforceable. Petitioners Arguments Petitioners claim that their answer raised factual issues and defenses which merited a full-blown trial. In their answer, they asserted that the 10% contingent fee is unreasonable, unconscionable and unfounded considering that respondent did not render any legal service which accrued to the benefit of Tiwi. The Contract of Legal Services specifically provided that for the attorneys fees to accrue, respondents legal services should result to the recovery of Tiwis claims against Albay and NPC. It is, thus, incumbent upon respondent to prove in a trial on the merits that his legal efforts resulted to the collection of the realty taxes in favor of Tiwi. Petitioners belittle as mere messengerial service the legal services rendered by respondent on the ground that what remained to be done was the execution of the judgment of this Court in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay and the opinion of then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio. In their answer, petitioners also questioned the authority of Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract providing for a 10% contingent fee because the provisions of Resolution No. 15-92 do not grant her such power. In addition, under the said contract, Tiwi was made liable for legal services outside of those related to the satisfaction of the judgment in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. These stipulations are void and unenforceable. Hence, any claim of respondent must be based on quantum meruit which should be threshed out during a full-blown trial. Finally, petitioners argue that respondent cannot capitalize on the admission of the genuineness and due execution of the subject contract because this merely means that the signature of the party is authentic and the execution of the contract complied with the formal solemnities. This does not extend to the documents substantive validity and efficacy. Respondents Arguments

Judgment on the pleadings is improper when the answer to the complaint tenders several issues. A motion for judgment on the pleadings admits the truth of all the material and relevant allegations of the opposing party and the judgment must rest on those allegations taken together with such other allegations as are admitted in the pleadings. It is proper when an answer fails to tender an issue, or otherwise admits the material allegations of the adverse partys pleading. However, when it appears that not all the material allegations of the complaint were admitted in the answer for some of them were either denied or disputed, and the defendant has set up certain special defenses which, if proven, would have the effect of nullifying plaintiffs main cause of action, judgment on the pleadings cannot be rendered.

of the petitioners, who are the incumbent elective and appointive officials of Tiwi as of the filing of the Complaint, were parties to said contract. Nonetheless, in their subsequent pleadings, petitioners admitted the genuineness and due execution of the subject contract. We shall, thus, proceed from the premise that the genuineness and due execution of the Contract of Legal Services has already been established. Furthermore, both parties concede the contents and efficacy of Resolution 15-92. As a result of these admissions, the issue, at least as to the coverage of the subject contract, may be resolved based on the pleadings as it merely requires the interpretation and application of the provisions of Resolution 15-92 vis--vis the stipulations in the subject contract.

In the instant case, a review of the records reveal that respondent (as plaintiff) and petitioners (as defendants) set-up multiple levels of claims and defenses, respectively, with some failing to tender an issue while others requiring the presentation of evidence for resolution. The generalized conclusion of both the trial and appellate courts that petitioners answer admits all the material averments of the complaint is, thus, without basis. For this reason, a remand of this case is unavoidable. However, in the interest of justice and in order to expedite the disposition of this case which was filed with the trial court way back in 1999, we shall settle the issues that can be resolved based on the pleadings and remand only those issues that require a trial on merits as hereunder discussed.

Mayor Corral was authorized to enter into the Contract of Legal Services Petitioners argue that Resolution No. 15-92 did not authorize Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract, hence, the contract must first be ratified to become binding on Tiwi. The argument is unpersuasive. Section 444(b)(1)(vi) of the LGC provides:

SECTION 444. The Chief Executive: Powers, Duties, Functions and Compensation. xxx (b) For efficient, effective and economical governance the purpose of which is the general welfare of the municipality and its inhabitants pursuant to Section 16 of this Code, the municipal mayor shall: x x x (1) Exercise general supervision and control over all programs, projects, services, and activities of the municipal government, and in this connection, shall: x xx (vi) Upon authorization by the sangguniang bayan, represent the municipality in all its business transactions and sign on its behalf all bonds, contracts, and obligations, and such other documents made pursuant to law or ordinance; x x x

Preliminarily, it was erroneous for the trial court to rule that the genuineness and due execution of the Contract of Legal Services was impliedly admitted by petitioners for failure to make a sworn specific denial thereof as required by Section 8, Rule 8 of the Rules of Court. This rule is not applicable when the adverse party does not appear to be a party to the instrument. In the instant case, the subject contract was executed between respondent and Atty. Lawenko, on the one hand, and Tiwi, represented by Mayor Corral, on the other. None

12

Pursuant to this provision, the municipal mayor is required to secure the prior authorization of the Sangguniang Bayan before entering into a contract on behalf of the municipality. In the instant case, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi unanimously passed Resolution No. 15-92 authorizing Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer of her choice to represent the interest of Tiwi in the execution of this Courts Decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE MUNICIPAL MAYOR OF TIWI TO HIRE THE SERVICES OF A LAWYER TO REPRESENT THE MUNICIPALITY OF TIWI AND THE SIX GEOTHERMAL BARANGAYS IN THE EXECUTION OF G.R. NO. 87479 AND DIVESTING THE LAWYER HIRED BY THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNOR AND THE PROVINCE OF ALBAY OF ITS AUTHORITY TO REPRESENT THE MUNICIPALITY OF TIWI AND THE SIX BARANGAYS WHEREAS, In an en banc decision G.R. No. 87479, the Supreme Court sustained the posture of the Province of Albay and legally declared that the NAPOCOR is under obligation to pay the Province of Albay, the Municipality of Tiwi and Daraga the amount of P 214 Million representing Realty Taxes covering the period from the year 1984 to 1987 which decision had already been final and executory per entry of judgment dated June 4, 1990; WHEREAS, NAPOCOR finally paid the Province of Albay the amount of P 17.7 Million as initial payment [d]ated July 29, 1992 that amount will inevitably increase the financial resources of the Local Government Units concerned; WHEREAS, the Province of Albay headed by Governor Salalima and his men are still reconciling the P 214 Million with NAPOCOR which contravene the final decision of the Supreme Court and considered the P 17.7 Million as an Earnest money to the damage and prejudice of the Municipality of Tiwi and the Six Barangays, since that amount should be pro-rated accordingly as mandated by Law after deducting the legitimate expenses and attorneys fees; WHEREAS, not (sic) of [the] P 17.7 Million already paid by NAPOCOR as per decision of the court nothing has yet been given by Governor Salalima to the Municipality of Tiwi as its share cost (sic) to be 45% of said amount nor the affected barangays of Tiwi has ever been given each corresponding shares despite

representation made by the Municipal Mayor Naomi Corral, the Governor is hesitant and showing signs that the share of the Municipality will never be given; WHEREAS, on motion of Kagawad Bennett Templado duly seconded by Joselito Cantes and Kagawad Francisco Alarte, be it RESOLVED, as it is hereby resolved, To authorize the Mayor to hire the Services of a lawyer to represent the interest of the Municipality of Tiwi and its Barangays and for this purpose and authorization be given to the Municipal Mayor to hire a lawyer of her choice; Further divesting the lawyer hired by Governor Salalima and on (sic) the Province of Albay of its authority to represent the Municipality of Tiwi and the six Geothermal Barangays; FINALLY RESOLVED, that copy of this resolution be furnished [the] Office of the Provincial Governor, Vice Governor, Office of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, President Malixi of NAPOCOR for [their] information and guidance. Approved unanimously.

The above-quoted authority necessarily carried with it the power to negotiate, execute and sign on behalf of Tiwi the Contract of Legal Services. That the authorization did not set the terms and conditions of the compensation signifies that the council empowered Mayor Corral to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement with the lawyer of her choice subject, of course, to the general limitation that the contracts stipulations should not be contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy, and, considering that this is a contract of legal services, to the added restriction that the agreed attorneys fees must not be unreasonable and unconscionable. On its face, and there is no allegation to the contrary, this prior authorization appears to have been given by the council in good faith to the end of expeditiously safeguarding the rights of Tiwi. Under the particular circumstances of this case, there is, thus, nothing objectionable to this manner of prior authorization. In Constantino v. Hon. Ombudsman,Desierto, we reached a similar conclusion:

13

More persuasive is the Mayor's second contention that no liability, whether criminal or administrative, may be imputed to him since he merely complied with the mandate of Resolution No. 21, series of 1996 and Resolution No. 38, series of 1996, of the Municipal Council; and that the charges leveled against him are politically motivated. A thorough examination of the records convinces this Court that the evidence against him is inadequate to warrant his dismissal from the service on the specified grounds of grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and gross neglect of duty. The explicit terms of Resolution No. 21, Series of 1996 clearly authorized Mayor Constantino to "lease/purchase one (1) fleet of heavy equipment" composed of seven (7) generally described units, through a "negotiated contract." That resolution, as observed at the outset, contained no parameters as to rate of rental, period of lease, purchase price. Pursuant thereto, Mayor Constantino, representing the Municipality of Malungon, and Norberto Lindong, representing the Norlovanian Corporation, executed two written instruments on the same date and occasion, viz.: One an agreement (on a standard printed form) dated February 28, 1996 for the lease by the corporation to the municipality of heavy equipment of the number and description required by Resolution No. 21, and Two an undertaking for the subsequent conveyance and transfer of ownership of the equipment to the municipality at the end of the term of the lease. xxxx In light of the foregoing facts, which appear to the Court to be quite apparent on the record, it is difficult to perceive how the Office of the Ombudsman could have arrived at a conclusion of any wrongdoing by the Mayor in relation to the transaction in question. It is difficult to see how the transaction between the Mayor and Norlovanian Corporation entered into pursuant to Resolution No. 21 and tacitly accepted and approved by the town Council through its Resolution No. 38 could be deemed an infringement of the same Resolution No. 21. In truth, an examination of the pertinent writings (the resolutions, the two (2) instruments constituting the negotiated contract, and the certificate of delivery) unavoidably confirms their integrity and congruity. It is, in fine, difficult to see how those pertinent written instruments," could establish a prima facie case to warrant the preventive suspension of Mayor Constantino. A person with the most elementary grasp of the English language would, from merely scanning those material documents, at once realize that the Mayor had done nothing but carry out the expressed wishes of the Sangguniang Bayan. xxxx

[T]he Court is thus satisfied that it was in fact the Council's intention, which it expressed in clear language, to confer on the Mayor ample discretion to execute a "negotiated contract" with any interested party, without regard to any official acts of the Council prior to Resolution No. 21. Prescinding therefrom, petitioners next contention that the subject contract should first be ratified in order to become enforceable as against Tiwi must necessarily fail. As correctly held by the CA, the law speaks of prior authorization and not ratification with respect to the power of the local chief executive to enter into a contract on behalf of the local government unit. This authority, as discussed above, was granted by the Sangguniang Bayan to Mayor Corral as per Resolution No. 15-92. The scope of the legal services contemplated in Resolution No. 15-92 was limited to the execution of the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. For his part, respondent claims that the Contract of Legal Services should be construed to include such services even outside the scope of the execution of the ruling in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. Respondent relies on the broad wording of paragraph 4 of the subject contract to support this contention, viz: 4. That the legal services which the Party of the FIRST PART is obliged to render to the Party of the SECOND PART under this AGREEMENT consists of the following: a) To prepare and file cases in courts, Office of the President, Ombudsman, Sandiganbayan, Department of Interior and Local Government and Department of Finance or to represent the Party of the SECOND PART in cases before said bodies; b) To coordinate or assist the Commission on Audit, The National Bureau of Investigation or the Fiscals Office in the prosecution of cases for the Party of the SECOND PART; c) To follow-up all fees, taxes, penalties and other receivables from National Power Corporation (NPC) and Philippine Geothermal Inc. due to the Municipality of Tiwi; 14

d) To provide/give legal advice to the Party of the SECOND PART in her administration of the Municipal Government of Tiwi where such advice is necessary or proper; and e) To provide other forms of legal assistance that may be necessary in the premises. The contention is erroneous. The wording of Resolution No. 15-92 is clear. Its title and whereas clauses, previously quoted above, indicate that the hiring of a lawyer was for the sole purpose of executing the judgment in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay, that is, to allow Tiwi to recover its rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC. In his Complaint, respondent admits that he was furnished and read a copy of the said resolution before he entered into the subject contract. He cannot now feign ignorance of the limitations of the authority of Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract and the purpose for which his services were employed. We cannot accept respondents strained reading of Resolution No. 15-92 in that the phrase to represent the interest of the Municipality of Tiwi and its Barangays is taken to mean such other matters not related to the execution of the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. It could not have been the intention of the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi to authorize the hiring of a lawyer to perform general legal services because this duty devolves upon the municipal legal officer. The council sought the services of a lawyer because the dispute was between the municipality (Tiwi) and province (Albay) so much so that it f ell under the exception provided in Section 481(b)(3)(i) of the LGC which permits a local government unit to employ the services of a special legal officer. Thus, the provisions of paragraph 4 of the Contract of Legal Services to the contrary notwithstanding, the basis of respondents compensation should be limited to the services he rendered which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwis share in the subject realty taxes. In sum, the allegations and admissions in the pleadings are sufficient to rule that Mayor Corral was duly authorized to enter into the Contract of Legal Services. However, the legal services contemplated therein, which are properly compensable, are limited to such services which

reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwis rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC. Paragraph 4 of the Contract of Legal Services, insofar as it covers legal services outside of this purpose, is therefore unenforceable. While the foregoing issues may be settled through the admissions in the pleadings, the actual attorneys fees due to respondent cannot still be determined. The issue of the reasonable legal fees due to respondent still needs to be resolved in a trial on the merits. The subject contract stipulated that respondents 10% fee shall be based on whatever amount or payment collected from the National Power Corporation (NPC) as a result of the legal service rendered by [respondent]. As will be discussed hereunder, the extent and significance of respondents legal services that reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwis share as well as the amount of realty taxes recovered by Tiwi arising from these alleged services requires a full-blown trial. The main source of respondents claim for attorneys fees lies with respect to several administrative and court cases that he allegedly prosecuted and defended on behalf of Tiwi against the elective officials of Albay in order to compel the latter to remit the rightful share of Tiwi in the unpaid realty taxes. In their Answer, petitioners denied knowledge of these cases on the pretext that they were filed during the prior term of Mayor Corral. However, we can take judicial notice of Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. where respondent appears as the counsel of record. In Salalima v. Guingona, Jr., the Court found, among others, that the elective officials of Albay are administratively liable for (1) their unjustified refusal to release the share of Tiwi in the subject realty taxes, and (2) initiating unfounded and harassment disciplinary actions against Mayor Corral as a retaliatory tactic. This case, at the minimum, is evidence of the efforts of respondent in recovering Tiwis share. Nevertheless, the other cases allegedly handled by respondent cannot be deemed admitted for purposes of fixing respondents compensation because petitioners controverted the same on several grounds, to wit: (1) these cases where not handled by respondent, (2) the OSG was the lead counsel in these cases, and (3) these cases were the personal cases of Mayor Corral and other officials of Tiwi which had no bearing in the eventual recovery of Tiwis share in the subject realty taxes. With our previous finding that the subject contract only covers legal services which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwis share, these defenses properly tender issues which should be determined in a trial on the merits. 15

More important, in their Answer, petitioners raise the main defense that the subject realty taxes were recovered by virtue of the opinion rendered by then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio and not through the efforts of respondent. As narrated earlier, the said opinion was issued after then NPC President Malixi asked clarification from the Office of the President regarding the distribution of the unpaid realty taxes to Albay and its municipalities and barangays, including Tiwi. Significantly, respondent himself stated in his Complaint that pursuant to the advice of Sec. Carpio, NPC started to remit their shares directly to Tiwi and its barangays in January 1993. Our pronouncements in Salalima v. Guingona, Jr., which respondent himself relies on in his pleadings, tell the same story, viz: Fortunately, the Municipalities of Tiwi and Daraga and the National Government eventually received their respective shares, which were paid directly to them by the NPC pursuant to the directive of the Office of the President issued after the NPC requested clarification regarding the right of the municipalities concerned to share in the realty tax delinquencies. But this fact does not detract from the administrative liability of the petitioners. Notably, when the NPC advised the Province of Albay on 9 December 1992 that starting with the January 1993 installment it would pay directly to the Municipality of Tiwi by applying the sharing scheme provided by law, the petitioners passed on 19 December 1992 an ordinance declaring as forfeited in favor of the Province all the payments made by the NPC under the MOA and authorizing the sale of the NPC properties at public auction. This actuation of the petitioners reveals all the more their intention to deprive the municipalities concerned of their shares in the NPC payments. (Emphasis supplied) What appears then from the pleadings is that respondent, by his own admission, concedes the immense importance of the aforesaid opinion to the eventual recovery of the unpaid realty taxes. However, respondent never asserted the degree of his participation in the crafting or issuance of this opinion. It is evident, therefore, that the recovery of the realty taxes is not solely attributable to the efforts of respondent. This aspect of the case is decisive because it goes into the central issue of whether the 10% contingent fee is unreasonable and unconscionable. Consequently, it becomes necessary to weigh, based on the evidence that will be adduced during trial, the relative importance of the aforesaid opinion vis--vis the cases allegedly handled by respondent on behalf of Tiwi insofar as they aided in the eventual

recovery of the unpaid realty taxes. And from here, the trial court may reasonably determine what weight or value to assign the legal services which were rendered by respondent. Apart from this, there is another vital issue tendered by the pleadings regarding the extent of the benefits which Tiwi allegedly derived from the legal services rendered by respondent. In partially ruling that these amounts should be P110,985,181.83 and P35,594,480.00, respectively, the trial court explained in this wise: The complaint alleged as to this: 18. Based on the available records obtained by the plaintiff from the NPC, the Municipality of Tiwi received One Hundred Ten Million Nine Hundred Eighty Five Thousand One Hundred Eighty One & 83/100 (P110,985.83) [sic] plus Thirty Five Million Five Hundred Ninety Four Thousand Four Hundred Eighty (P35,594,480.00) Pesos remittances from the said agency. The total receipts of taxes by Tiwi remitted by the NPC could be higher and this will be proven during the trial when all the records of remittances of taxes of the NPC-SLRC in Bian, Laguna are subpoenaed, marked as ANNEXES-P; Q and R; In relation thereto, the answer stated: 14. With respect to the allegation in paragraph 18 of the complaint answering defendant admits that the amount of P110,985.83 [sic] was remitted to Albay province so far as the annex is concerned but the same is immaterial, useless as there was no allegation that this was recovered/received by Tiwi. With respect to the amount of P35,594,480.00, the said amount was received as a matter of the clear provision of the law, specifically Sections 286-293 of the present Local Government Code and not through the effort of the plaintiff. Annex R is hearsay and selfserving. While the plaintiff directly averred that the Municipality of Tiwi received One Hundred Ten Million Nine Hundred Eighty Five Thousand One Hundred Eighty One & 83/100 (P110,985.83) [sic] plus Thirty Five Million Five Hundred Ninety Four Thousand Four Hundred Eighty (P35,594,480.00) Pesos remittances from the said agency, the defendant evasively stated that the amount of P110,985.83 [sic] was remitted to Albay province and that the same is immaterial, useless as there was no allegation that this was recovered/received by Tiwi. Thereby, the answer was a negative pregnant because its denial was not specific. Hence, the defendants have admitted that Tiwi was paid the stated amounts. The defendants further stated that Tiwi received the amount of P35,594,480.00 as a matter of the clear provision of the law, [sic] and not through 16

the effort of the plaintiff. However, considering that the legal services of the plaintiff were rendered under a written contract, the qualification as to the P35,594,480.00 was meaningless. The pleadings render it indubitable, therefore, that the total amount of P146,579,661.84, which was received by Tiwi from NPC, is subject to the 10% attorneys fees under the plaintiffs contract of legal services. We disagree. Although concededly petitioners counter-allegations in their Answer were not well-phrased, the overall tenor thereof plainly evinces the defense that the amount of P110,985,181.83 was received by Albay and not by Tiwi. Consequently, the said amount cannot be deemed admitted for the purpose of fixing respondents compensation. There is no occasion to apply the rule on negative pregnant because the denial of the receipt of the said amount by Tiwi is fairly evident. The dictates of simple justice and fairness precludes us from unduly prejudicing the rights of petitioners by the poor phraseology of their counsel. Verily, the Rules of Court were designed to ascertain the truth and not to deprive a party of his legitimate defenses. In fine, we cannot discern based merely on the pleadings that this line of defense employed by petitioners is patently sham especially since the documentary evidence showing the alleged schedule of payments made by NPC to Albay and its municipalities and barangays, including Tiwi, was not even authenticated by NPC. We also disagree with the trial courts above-quoted finding that the qualification as to the amount of P35,594,480.00 which was received as a matter of the clear provision of the law, [sic] and not through the effort of the plaintiff is meaningless. The error appears to have been occasioned by the failure to quote the exact allegation in petitioners Answer which reads the said amount [P35,594,480.00] was received as a matter of the clear provision of the law, specifically Sections 286-293 of the present Local Government Code and not through the effort of the plaintiff. The omitted portion is significant because Sections 286-293 of the LGC refer to the share of the local government unit in the utilization of the national wealth. Petitioners are, in effect, claiming that the P35,594,480.00 was received by Tiwi as its share in the utilization and development of the national wealth within its area and not as its share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC subject of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. Whats more, respondents own documentary evidence, appended to his Complaint, confirms

this posture because said document indicates that the P35,594,480.00 was derived from the Computation of the Share of Local Government from Proceeds Derived in the Utilization of National Wealth SOUTHERN LUZON For CY 1992 and First Quarter 1993. It may be added that the unpaid realty taxes of NPC subject of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay covered the period from June 11, 1984 to March 10, 1987 and not from 1992 to 1993. There is, thus, nothing from the above which would categorically establish that the amount of P35,594,480.00 was part of the realty taxes that NPC paid to Tiwi or that said amount was recovered from the legal services rendered by respondent on behalf of Tiwi.

Based on the preceding discussion, it was, thus, erroneous for the trial and appellate courts to peg the amount of realty taxes recovered for the benefit of Tiwi at P110,985,181.83 and P35,594,480.00 considering that petitioners have alleged defenses in their Answer and, more importantly, considering that said amounts have not been sufficiently established as reasonably flowing from the legal services rendered by respondent. Conclusion The foregoing considerations cannot be brushed aside for it would be iniquitous for Tiwi to compensate respondent for legal services which he did not render; or which has no reasonable connection to the recovery of Tiwis share in the subject realty taxes; or whose weight or value has not been properly appraised in view of respondents admission in his Complaint that the opinion issued by then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio (in which respondent had no clear participation) was instrumental to the recovery of the subject realty taxes. Hence, the necessity of a remand of this case to determine these issues of substance. To recap, the following are deemed resolved based on the allegations and admissions in the pleadings: (1) then Mayor Corral was authorized to enter into the Contract of Legal Services, (2) the legal services contemplated in Resolution No. 15-92 was limited to such services which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwis rightful share in the unpaid 17

realty taxes of NPC, and (3) paragraph 4 of the Contract of Legal Services, insofar as it covers services outside of this purpose, is unenforceable. Upon the other hand, the issue of the reasonable legal fees due to respondent still needs to be resolved in a trial on the merits with the following integral sub-issues: (1) the reasonableness of the 10% contingent fee given that the recovery of Tiwis share was not solely attributable to the legal services rendered by respondent, (2) the nature, extent of legal work, and significance of the cases allegedly handled by respondent which reasonably contributed, directly or indirectly, to the recovery of Tiwis share, and (3) the relative benefit derived by Tiwi from the services rendered by respondent. In addition, we should note here that the amount of reasonable attorneys fees finally determined by the trial court should be without legal interest in line with well-settled jurisprudence. As earlier noted, this case was filed with the trial court in 1999, however, we are constrained to remand this case for further proceedings because the subject partial judgment on the pleadings was clearly not proper under the premises. At any rate, we have narrowed down the triable issue to the determination of the exact extent of the reasonable attorneys fees due to respondent. The trial court is, thus, enjoined to resolve this case with deliberate dispatch in line with the parameters set in this Decision. To end, justice and fairness require that the issue of the reasonable attorneys fees due to respondent be ventilated in a trial on the merits amidst the contentious assertions by both parties because in the end, neither party must be allowed to unjustly enrich himself at the expense of the other. More so here because contracts for attorneys services stand upon an entirely different footing from contracts for the payment of compensation for any other services. Verily, a lawyers compensation for professional services rendered are subject to the supervision of the court, not just to guarantee that the fees he charges and receives remain

reasonable and commensurate with the services rendered, but also to maintain the dignity and integrity of the legal profession to which he belongs. WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The October 19, 2005 Decision and March 10, 2006 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. CV No. 79057 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. This case is REMANDED to the trial court for further proceedings to determine the reasonable amount of attorneys fees which respondent is entitled to in accordance with the guidelines set in this Decision. SO ORDERED.

18

EN BANC-1 FINANCIAL SERVICES, INC., Complainant,

A.C. No. 8390 [Formerly CBD 06-1641] Present: CORONA, C.J., CARPIO, CARPIO-MORALES, VELASCO, JR., NACHURA, LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, BRION,* PERALTA, BERSAMIN, DEL CASTILLO, ABAD, VILLARAMA, JR., PEREZ, and MENDOZA, JJ. Promulgated: July 2, 2010

- versus -

ATTY. LAARNI N. VALERIO, Respondent.

Attorney; gross misconduct. In Lao v. Medel, we held that the deliberate failure to pay just debts and the issuance of worthless checks constitute gross misconduct for which a lawyer may be sanctioned with one-year suspension from the practice of law. However, in this case, we deem it reasonable to affirm the sanction imposed by the IBP-CBD, i.e., Atty. Valerio was ordered suspended from the practice of law for two (2) years, because, aside from issuing worthless checks and failing to pay her debts, she has also shown wanton disregard of the IBPs and Court Orders in the course of the proceedings. A-1 Financial Services, Inc. vs. Atty. Laarni N. Valerio, A.C. No. 8390, July 2, 2010
Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manil x --------------------------------------------------x DECISION PERALTA, J.:

Before us is a Complaint dated January 18, 2006 for disciplinary action against respondent Atty. Laarni N. Valerio filed by A-1 Financial Services, Inc., represented by Diego S. Reunilla, its account officer, with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD), docketed as CBD Case No. 06-1642, now A.C. No. 8390, for violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 (B.P. 22) and non-payment of debt. 19

On November 13, 2001, A-1 Financial Services, Inc., a financing corporation, granted the loan application of Atty. Valerio amounting to P50,000.00. To secure the payment of the loan obligation, Atty. Valerio issued a postdated check, to wit: Check No. 0000012725; dated April 1, 2002, in the amount: P50,000.00. However, upon presentation at the bank for payment on its maturity date, the check was dishonored due to insufficient funds. As of the filing of the instant case, despite repeated demands to pay her obligation, Atty. Valerio failed to pay the whole amount of her obligation. Thus, on November 10, 2003, complainant filed a B.P. 22 case against Atty. Valerio, docketed as Criminal Case No. 124779. Atty. Valerios arraignment was scheduled for August 31, 2004; however, she failed to appear despite due notice. Subsequently, a Warrant of Arrest was issued but Atty. Valerio posted no bail. On November 22, 2004, complainant sent a letter to Atty. Valerio calling her attention to the issuance of the Warrant of Arrest against her and requested her to submit to the jurisdiction of the court by posting bail. The said letter was received by Atty. Valerio, as evidenced by the postal registry return cards. Despite court orders and notices, Atty. Valerio refused to abide. On January 18, 2006, complainant filed an administrative complaint against Atty. Valerio before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). On January 26, 2006, the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) required Atty. Valerio to file an answer, but she did not file any responsive pleading at all. However, in a letter dated March 16, 2006, respondents mother, Gorgonia N. Valerio (Mrs. Valerio), explained that her daughter had been diagnosed with schizophrenia; thus, could not properly respond to the complaint against her. Futhermore, Mrs. Valerio undertook to personally settle her daughters obligation. On September 13, 2007, the IBP-CBD directed Atty. Valerio to appear before the mandatory conference. Atty. Valerio, again, failed to attend the conference. Subsequently, in an Order dated November 15, 2007, the IBP ordered the parties to submit their position papers. No position paper was submitted by Atty. Valerio.

Thus, in its Report and Recommendation dated September 16, 2008, the IBP-CBD recommended that Atty. Valerio be suspended from the practice of law for a period of two (2) years, having found her guilty of gross misconduct. The IBP-CBD gave no credence to the medical certificate submitted by Atty. Valerios mother, in view of the latters failure to appear before the IBP -CBD hearings to affirm the truthfulness thereof or present the physician who issued the same. The IBP-CBD, further, pointed out that Atty. Valerios failure to obey court processes, more particularly her failure to appear at her arraignment despite due notice and to surrender to the Court despite the issuance of a warrant of arrest, showed her lack of respect for authority and, thus, rendered her morally unfit to be a member of the bar. On December 11, 2008, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved with modification the report and recommendation of the IBP-CBD. Atty. Valerio was instead ordered suspended from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year. Nevertheless, to provide Atty. Valerio further opportunity to explain her side, the Court, in a Resolution dated December 15, 2010, directed Atty. Valerio and/or her mother, to submit a duly notarized medical certificate issued by a duly licensed physician and/or certified copies of medical records to support the claim of schizophrenia on the part of Atty. Valerio within a non-extendible period of ten (10) days from receipt hereof. However, despite the lapse of considerable time after the receipt of notice to comply with the said Resolution, no medical certificate or medical records were submitted to this Court by either respondent and/or her mother. Thus, this resolution. We sustain the findings and recommendations of the IBP-CBD. In Barrientos v. Libiran-Meteoro, we held that:

20

x x x [the] deliberate failure to pay just debts and the issuance of worthless checks constitute gross misconduct, for which a lawyer may be sanctioned with suspension from the practice of law. Lawyers are instruments for the administration of justice and vanguards of our legal system. They are expected to maintain not only legal proficiency but also a high standard of morality, honesty, integrity and fair dealing so that the peoples faith and confidence in the judicial system is ensured. They must at all times faithfully perform their duties to society, to the bar, the courts and to their clients, which include prompt payment of financial obligations. They must conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the values and norms of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility. Canon 1 and Rule 1.01 explicitly states that: Canon 1 A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and for legal processes. Rule 1.01A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. In the instant case, there is no denial of the existence of the loan obligation despite respondents failure to cooperate before any proceedings in relation to the complaint. Prior to the filing of the complaint against her, Atty. Valerios act of making partial payments of the loan and interest suffices as proof that indeed there is an obligation to pay on her part. Respondents mother, Mrs. Valerio, likewise, acknowledged her daughters obligation.

her from properly answering the complaint against her. Indeed, we cannot take the medical certificate on its face, considering Mrs. Valerios failure to prove the contents of the certificate or present the physician who issued it. Atty. Valerios conduct in the course of the IBP and court proceedings is also a matter of serious concern. She failed to answer the complaint against her. Despite due notice, she failed to attend the disciplinary hearings set by the IBP. She also ignored the proceedings before the court as she likewise failed to both answer the complaint against her and appear during her arraignment, despite orders and notices from the court. Clearly, this conduct runs counter to the precepts of the Code of Professional Responsibility and violates the lawyers oath which imposes upon every member of the Bar the duty to delay no man for money or malice. Atty. Valerio has failed to live up to the values and norms of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility. In Ngayan v. Tugade, we ruled that *a lawyers+ failure to answer the complaint against him and his failure to appear at the investigation are evidence of his flouting resistance to lawful orders of the court and illustrate his despiciency for his oath of office in violation of Section 3, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. We come to the penalty imposable in this case. In Lao v. Medel, we held that the deliberate failure to pay just debts and the issuance of worthless checks constitute gross misconduct for which a lawyer may be sanctioned with one-year suspension from the practice of law. The same sanction was

The Court, likewise, finds unmeritorious Mrs. Valerios justification that her daughter, Atty. Valerio, is suffering from a health condition, i.e. schizophrenia, which has prevented

imposed on the respondent-lawyer in Rangwani v. Dino, having found guilty of gross misconduct for issuing bad checks in payment of a piece of property, the title to which was only entrusted to him by the complainant. 21

However, in this case, we deem it reasonable to affirm the sanction imposed by the IBP-CBD, i.e., Atty. Valerio was ordered suspended from the practice of law for two (2) years, because, aside from issuing worthless checks and failing to pay her debts, she has also shown wanton disregard of the IBPs and Court Orders in the course of the proceedings. WHEREFORE, Resolution No. XVIII-2008-647 dated December 11, 2008 of the IBP, which found respondent Atty. Laarni N. Valerio guilty of gross misconduct and violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. She is hereby
July 26, 2010 JUDGE OFELIA T. PINTO, Regional Trial Court, Branch 60, Angeles City, Respondent. - versus CARPIO, J., Chairperson, PERALTA, BERSAMIN,* ABAD, and MENDOZA, JJ. Promulgated: ROLANDO E. MARCOS, Complainant, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2180 [Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 08-2817-RTJ] Present:

SUSPENDED for two (2) years from the practice of law, effective upon the receipt of this Decision. She is warned that a repetition of the same or a similar act will be dealt with more severely. Let a copy of this Decision be furnished to the Office of the Bar Confidant, to be appended to the personal record of Atty. Valerio as a member of the Bar; the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; and the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country for their information and guidance. This Decision shall be immediately executory. SO ORDERED

x --------------------------------------------------x

DECISION PERALTA, J.:

Before this Court is a Complaint dated February 1, 2008, filed by Rolando E. Marcos (complainant) against respondent Ofelia T. Pinto (respondent judge), Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 60, Angeles City, for Gross Ignorance of the Law, Knowingly Rendering an Unjust Judgment/Order and Partiality relative to Criminal Case No. 04-775 entitled People of the Philippines v. Espilo Leyco. The antecedent facts of the case, as culled from the records, are as follows: On September 5, 2001, a criminal case for violation of Republic Act (R.A.) 7610, docketed as Criminal Case No. 04-775, entitled People v. Espilo Leyco was filed before the RTC of Angeles City, Branch 60, presided by respondent Judge Pinto. Accused Leyco was arraigned on August 31, 2005. Pre-trial was terminated and trial ensued with the presentation of witnesses. Meanwhile, while the case was being tried, accused Leyco filed a petition for review with the Secretary of the Department of Justice and sought to set aside the resolution of the Angeles City Prosecution Office, which recommended the filing of the information

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila SECOND DIVISION

against the accused. On October 25, 2006, a year after the case was filed, the Secretary of Justice, Raul Gonzales, reversed the resolution of the Angeles City Prosecution and directed the City 22

Prosecutor to file a Motion to Withdraw the Information filed against accused Leyco. On November 10, 2006, in compliance with the said directive, the Assistant City Prosecutor handling the subject case filed a Motion to Withdraw Information. Thus, on November 16, 2006, private complainant in the said case moved for reconsideration of the DOJs resolution. On December 22, 2006, while the resolution of private complainants motion for reconsideration was still pending, respondent Judge Pinto granted the Motion to Withdraw Information and dismissed the subject case. The pertinent portion of the Order reads: On November 13, 2006, the Court gave Atty. Renan B. Castillo, private prosecutor, to file his comment and/or objection on the Motion to Withdraw Information dated November 10, 2006 filed by 2 nd Assistant City Prosecutor Oliver S. Garcia and duly approved by City Prosecutor Teilo P. Quiambao. Up to this time, the said intended pleading has not been filed. WHEREFORE, the Court grants the Motion to Withdraw Information and considers this case as dismissed. The cash bail posted by the accused is hereby ordered released to him upon presentation of the original receipt. SO ORDERED. Angeles City, Philippines, December 22, 2006. (Signed) Ofelia Tuazon Pinto On February 2, 2007, private complainant filed a motion seeking the reconsideration of the order of dismissal but was denied. On April 15, 2008, Secretary Gonzales denied private complainants motion for reconsideration. Thus, feeling aggrieved, Marcos, one of the witnesses in the subject criminal case, filed the instant administrative complaint against respondent Judge Pinto.

Marcos alleged that respondent judge did not even exert any effort to assess whether there was a valid ground to dismiss the case. He claimed that respondent judge cannot validly dismiss the case based on the failure of the private prosecutor to file any comment or opposition to the motion to withdraw information. More so since as of November 17, 2006, the private prosecutor already withdrew himself from handling the subject case. Complainant also pointed out that respondent judge did not even set a time frame within which to file the comment or opposition. Moreover, complainant alleged that respondent judge manifested bias and partiality in favor of accused Leyco which he attributed to a special relationship between respondent judge and the Spouses Leyco. Complainant claimed that respondent judge even acted as the solemnizing officer at the marriage of Paul F. Leyco, son of accused Leyco. He, thus, questioned the integrity of respondent judge, considering that the marriage ceremony was held on January 19, 2007 during the period when respondent judge issued the assailed order of dismissal. To support his claim, complainant presented a certified true copy of the marriage certificate issued by the National Statistics Office showing that respondent judge was indeed the one who solemnized the marriage at the Leycos residence. On March 5, 2008, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) directed Judge Pinto to file her Comment on the instant complaint. In her Comment dated April 2, 2008, Judge Pinto denied the allegations of the complainant and claimed the same to be misplaced and baseless. She insisted that she exercised judicial discretion when she issued the Order dismissing the criminal case against Leyco. She emphasized that Marcos should have resorted to the appropriate judicial recourse instead of filing the instant administrative complaint. Judge Pinto likewise argued that complainants allegation that she had been biased and partial to the accused was unsupported by evidence. She, however, admitted that she was indeed the solemnizing officer in the marriage of the accused son, Paul Leyco, but stressed that it was her duty after all to solemnize marriages under the Family Code. She likewise 23

pointed out that she did not know that the parties were related to the accused. She claimed that she came to know of such fact only when she was already in the residence of the marrying parties. Judge Pinto insisted that said act cannot be equated as giving favor to a party in a criminal case contrary to what the complainant claims. Finally, Judge Pinto argued that the instant complaint should be dismissed outright, because complainant Marcos was not the true party-in-interest in the criminal case; thus, he has no locus standi to file the complaint. Marcos was a mere witness for the prosecution. In a Memorandum dated March 9, 2009, the OCA recommended that the complaint be re-docketed as a regular administrative complaint against Judge Pinto. It, likewise, recommended that the matter be referred to the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation. The OCA maintained that while Marcos is not the real party-in-interest in the subject case, he can still file the instant administrative case against respondent judge. It explained that in administrative proceedings, the issue is not whether the complainant has a cause of action against the respondent, but whether the employees have breached the norms and standards of the Judiciary. Thus, the Court, in a Resolution dated April 20, 2009, resolved to re-docket the administrative complaint as a regular administrative matter against Judge Pinto and referred the matter to the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for raffle among the Justices, for investigation, report and recommendation. In compliance, Justice Arturo G. Tayag, in his Report and Recommendation, found the charges of gross ignorance of the law and knowingly rendering an erroneous or unjust order against Judge Pinto to be true and with basis. He, however, found the charge of violation of Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct to be baseless. In his Report, Justice Tayag, observed that Judge Pinto did not perform her duty of making an independent evaluation or assessment of the merits of the case when she dismissed Criminal Case No. 04-775. He, however, found no basis for violation of Canon 2 of the Code

of Judicial Conduct, since he noted that in cases where both the parties requested the solemnizing officer, in writing, to have the marriage solemnized at a house or place designated by them, such can be done. Accordingly, Justice Tayag, after considering that this is the respondents first offense and that respondent has a good record as a Family Court Judge, recommended that Judge Pinto be meted a penalty of two (2) months suspension from service without pay. RULING While we agree that respondent judge should be administratively held liable for her acts, we, however, disagree with the findings and recommendation of the Investigating Justice. To be held liable for gross ignorance of the law, the judge must be shown to have committed an error that was gross or patent, deliberate or malicious. Also administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law is a judge who shown to have been motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption ignored, contradicted or failed to apply settled law and jurisprudence. Such is not the case presently before this Court. In the instant case, it was apparent that the assailed Order of dismissal was solely anchored on the private prosecutors failure to file his comment and/or objection to the Motion to Withdraw the Information. Indeed, respondent judge did not perform her duty of making an independent evaluation or assessment of the merits of the case when she dismissed Criminal Case No. 04-775. The disputed Order does not contain the facts of the case and the law upon which the dismissal was based. However, there was also no evidence showing that in issuing said Order, respondent judge was motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption. In administrative proceedings like the one at bench, it goes without saying that it is the complainant who has the burden of proving by substantial evidence the allegations in their complaint. We do not find any evidence to support complainants accusations.

24

As a matter of public policy then, the acts of a judge in his official capacity are not subject to disciplinary action, even though such acts are erroneous. Good faith and absence of malice, corrupt motives or improper considerations are sufficient defenses in which a judge charged with ignorance of the law can find refuge. It does not mean, however, that a judge, given the leeway he is accorded in such cases, should not evince due care in the performance of his adjudicatory prerogatives. With regard to the accusation of impropriety, we find it to be with basis. Section 1, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary enunciates the rule that Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities."

participate in such social affairs, considering that the accused is a party in a case pending before her own sala. What she should have done was courteously deny the parties request. Her claim that she was unaware that the parties were related to the accused fails to convince. In pending or prospective litigations before them, 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. Not only must judges possess proficiency in law, they must also act and behave in such manner that would assure litigants and their counsel of the judges competence, integrity and independence. Considering the above findings, it is apparent that respondent judges actuations

Upon assumption of office, a judge becomes the visible representation of the law and of justice. Membership in the Judiciary circumscribes ones 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 peoples 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 Caesars wife in all their activities. Hence, we require them to abide strictly by the Code of Judicial Conduct. Here, it appears that respondent judge has failed to live up to those rigorous standards. Her act of solemnizing the marriage of accuseds son in the residence of the accused speaks for itself. It is improper and highly unethical for a judge to actively

constitute simple misconduct. Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, simple

misconduct is considered a less serious offense, sanctioned with suspension without pay for not less than one month, but not more than three months, or a fine of not less than Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) but not exceeding Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00). WHEREFORE, the Court finds Judge Ofelia T. Pinto of the Regional Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch 60, GUILTY of SIMPLE MISCONDUCT for which she is FINED in the amount of P10,000.00. She is, likewise, STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely. SO ORDERED.

25

versus -

BERSAMIN, ABAD,* and VILLARAMA, JR., JJ.

Promulgated: JUDGE GIL G. BOLLOZOS, Respondent. July 5, 2010

x------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ x RESOLUTION

BRION, J.: Judge; gross ignorance of the law. A patent disregard of simple, elementary and wellknown rules constitutes gross ignorance of the law. We find that the respondent judges error does not rise to the level of gross ignorance of the law that is defined by jurisprudence. We take judicial notice of the fact that at the time he issued the Writ of Amparo on January 23, 2008, the Rule on the Writ of Amparo has been effective for barely three months. At that time, the respondent judge cannot be said to have been fully educated and informed on the novel aspects of the Writ of Amparo. More importantly, for full liability to attach for ignorance of the law, the assailed order, decision or actuation of the judge in the performance of official duties must not only be found to be erroneous; it must be established that he was motivated by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred or some other similar motive. Ruben Salcedo vs. Judge Gil Bollozos, A.M. No. RTJ-10-2236, July 5, 2010. The complaint arose from a verified handwritten petition for the Writ of Habeas Corpus and the Writ of Amparo (the petition) filed by Jose Tanmalack, Jr. against the Police Officers of Police Precinct No. 3, Agora, Lapasan, Cagayan de Oro City, and Inspector Wylen Rojo. The complainant alleged that he is a co-owner of a parcel of land (disputed property)
Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila

We pass upon the verified Letter-Complaint, dated August 29, 2008, filed by Ruben N. Salcedo (complainant), charging Judge Gil G. Bollozos (respondent judge), Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Cagayan de Oro City, with Grave Misconduct and Ignorance of the Law in the handling of SPEC. PROC. No. 2008-009, entitled Jose Tanmalack, Jr., represented by Jocelyn Tanmalack Tan v. Police Officers of Police Precinct No. 3, Agora, Lapasan, Cagayan De Oro City, and Insp. Wylen Rojo. THE FACTUAL BACKGROUND

covered by Original Certificate of Title No. O-740 and registered in the name of Patricio Salcedo. The disputed property is about 126,112 square meters wide and is situated in Lapasan, Cagayan de Oro City.

THIRD DIVISION

RUBEN N. SALCEDO, Complainant,

A.M. NO. RTJ-10-2236 (Formerly OCA I.P.I. NO. 09-3083-RTJ) Present: CARPIO MORALES, J., Chairperson, BRION,

On January 23, 2008 at around 2:30 p.m., while the complainant (together with his niece Rebecca R. Lumbay and his nephew Alan Jose P. Roa) was supervising an on-going construction over the disputed property, Tanmalack and heavily armed men arrived and 26

forced themselves inside the fenced premises of the disputed property. The complainant averred that Tanmalack and his companions harassed and threatened to kill and to harm him and his workers; that Tanmalack uttered defamatory statements and accused him of land-grabbing; and that Tanmalack and his companions occupied the property and destroyed building materials such as G.I. sheets, lumber and other construction materials. The complainant forthwith reported the incident to the nearby police station. The police promptly responded and arrested Tanmalack and brought him in for questioning. That same afternoon at around 4:45 p.m., Tanmalack, represented by his sister, Jocelyn Tanmalack Tan, filed the petition on his behalf while Tanmalack was detained by the police for employing self-help in preventing squatters from putting up improvements in their titled property. Clerk of Court Atty. Herlie Luis-Requerme narrated the circumstances surrounding the filing of the petition and how it came to be referred to the respondent judges sala, as follows: 1. In the late afternoon of January 23, 2008, a query was received by the Office regarding the procedure in filing a petition for a Writ of Amparo. We gave the information that the established procedure is to assign cases to the different branches by raffling or in urgent cases, by a special raffle upon proper motions. But since the office has not received any case of that nature yet, and as the schedule of raffling will still be in the afternoon of the next day, it will be referred to the Executive Judge for instruction and or appropriate action; 2. That since the Executive Judge was on leave, I went to consult the 1st Vice Executive Judge Evelyn Gamotin Nery. Since Judge Nery was

busy at that time, I went to see 2nd Vice Executive Judge Ma. Anita EsguerraLucagbo; 3. That I clarified from Judge Lucagbo the procedure to be adopted under the Rule on the Writ of Amparo (A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC); 4. That the issue if any judge can immediately act on the petition was not clearly stated in the Rule but if the case will be referred to her as the 2nd Vice Executive Judge, she will be willing to look at the petition; 5. That when I went back at the Office at a little past 5:00 P.M. already, direct from the chamber of Judge Lucagbo, I found out that a Petition for Writ of Amparo was filed at around 4:45 P.M. as stamped in the petition; 6. That since I was out of the office, the Docket Clerk in charge, Mr. Rudy Exclamador, referred the case to the Administrative Officer Mary Lyn Charisse Lagamon; 7. That thinking I was no longer around as the personnel to whom I left the information that I was going to the sala of 1st Vice Executive Judge Nery was not able to inform the Admin. Officer of my whereabouts, Mr. Exclamador was instructed by her to refer the case to you [referring to the respondent judge]; 8. That upon learning of the fact, I immediately called Mr. Exclamador and Ms. Lagamon to explain why they referred the case to your sala without any instruction from me; 9. That they said that they are of the honest belief that I was no longer around; that the lawyer was insisting to refer the case immediately to a judge since it is already 5:00 P.M. and considering the novelty, urgency and importance of the case, and fearing that no judge will be left to act on the petition if they still discuss what to do, Mr. Exclamador, with the

27

concurrence of Admin. Officer Lagamon, referred the case to you since your sala was the nearest to our office, it being adjacent to your court; 10. That there is nobody from this Office who brought the handwritten petition to Judge Lucagbo nor was there any instruction from her to any of the personnel to have the petition conform to a form acceptable to the court, such fact was confirmed by Judge Lucagbo; 11. That the office only acted what it deemed best under the circumstances and was not motivated by any ill motive or malice. Based on the petition and answers to the clarificatory questions propounded to Tanmalacks representative and counsel, the respondent judge immediately issued a Writ of Amparo dated January 23, 2008, directing the police officers of Agora Police Station 3 or Insp. Wylen Rojo x x x to release immediately upon receipt of [the] writ but not later than 6:00 P.M. today, petitioner Jose Tanmalack, Jr., to the custody of Atty. Francis V. Ku. The respondent judge also directed the police officers to file their verified return to the petition within five (5) working days, together with supporting affidavits, in conformity with Section 9 of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo. Around 5:30 p.m., the Writ of Amparo was served upon SPO3 Aener O. Adajar, PNP Chief Investigator. At six oclock in the evening of that same day, the police released Tanmalack to the custody of Atty. Francis Ku. In his complaint, the complainant questions the issuance of the Writ of Amparo which he claims had been unusually issued with haste. The complainant claims that the handwritten petition did not give any ground to warrant the issuance of the Writ of Amparo; that the respondent judge acted with grave abuse of discretion, bias, and obvious partiality, and in grave disregard of the Rules and the rule of law when he acted upon and granted the

letter-petition for the issuance of the Writ of Amparo. The complainant also alleges that the respondent judge accommodated the issuance of the Writ of Amparo because he and Atty. Francis Ku (Tanmalacks counsel) are members of the Masonic fraternity. The respondent judge filed his Comment dated March 30, 2009, in compliance with the directive of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA). In his defense, he alleged: (a) [W]hen he received the petition from the Office of the Clerk of Court, he had no option but to exercise his judicial duty without any bias or partiality, nor did he consider that the petitioners counsel is a fraternal brother (Mason); (b) [A]lthough the petition is for the issuance of both writ of amparo and writ of habeas corpus, he deemed it more in consonance with the [Rule on the Writ of Amparo]; (c) [I]t was not improper even if the x x x petition was not raffled, and was immediately assigned to his sala by the Office of the Clerk of Court, since Par. 2, Sec. 3 of A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC states that any judge of a Regional Trial Court (RTC) can issue a writ and the said Sec. 3 further states that it can be filed on any day and at any time; (d) [T]he person who filed the petition is the sister of Mr. Tanmalack who was detained at the Agora Police Station, Cagayan de Oro City; that the issuance of the writ was a matter of great urgency because the alleged illegal deprivation of liberty was made in the late afternoon of January 23, 2008, which was a Friday, and that if the Court would not act on the petition, the detainee would certainly spend the night in jail; (e) [T]he petition, although in handwritten form, is not improper because Section 5 of the SC Circular (on the Writ of Amparo) only requires that the same be signed and verified; that he found the petition sufficient in form and in substance; 28

(f)

[A]lthough the Amparo rules mandate that a judge shall immediately order the issuance of the writ if on its face it ought to issue, he propounded clarificatory questions on the petitioners representative and their counsel, thus, the following information were elicited: 1) That the property of petitioners family, which is under their possession and Tanmalack registered under TCT No. T-1627491, was intruded by some persons who wanted to fence the area and put up improvements by constructing shanties thereon; That when petitioner Mr. Tanmalack prevented the intrusion it resulted to heated arguments and altercations which prompted him to go to the police station to report the incident and be blottered; That when Mr. Tanmalack arrived at the police station in the late afternoon of January 23, 2008 in order to air his complaint, the intruders came and introduced themselves as the owners of the property; That when Police Officer Rojo (Rojo) heard the version of these intruders and despite the protestations of petitioner and his relatives, the police did not anymore allow Mr. Tanmalack to leave the police station; and That petitioners counsel called up Rojo to secure the immediate release of his client from police custody but to no avail;

(h) [I]n the Writ of Amparo the respondents were directed to file a verified return pursuant to the rules; during the summary hearing of the petition on 25 January 2008, it was only Rojo who appeared, the alleged complainants (Salcedo, Lumbay and Roa) who caused the detention of the petitioner were absent; P/Insp. Rojo, when asked by the Court, gave the following answers: 1) That he would no longer file his Answer (which should be a verified return) on the complaint considering that the petitioner was already released; That he confirmed that it was the petitioner who came first to the police station to complain, followed by the person who wanted to fence the property; the conflict between the petitioner and the other persons is on a property dispute, of which it was petitioner who is in possession; and That he denied that he had arrested the petitioner and neither did he detain him but only he could not release the petitioner because of the complaint and for further evaluation.

2)

2)

3)

3)

4)

(i)

[H]e noted that the police blotter did not state that petitioner brought heavily armed men with him when he allegedly harassed the complainant.

5)

(g) [A]fter he assiduously evaluated the aforestated facts, as well as the allegations in the petition, respondent Judge, in the exercise of his judicial function, found that the same warranted the issuance of the writ; the arrest of Mr. Tanmalack was unlawful because Rojo was not present in the area where the alleged incident happened, so that the statements of the complainants (Salcedo, Lumbay and Roa) would be hearsay;

[(j) That in the summary hearing on January 25, 2008, the petitioner as well as the respondent Rojo have arrived into an agreement that the writ be considered permanent.] THE REPORT OF THE OCA The OCA informed the Court that the case was already ripe for resolution in a Report dated April 8, 2010, signed by Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez and Deputy Court Administrator Raul Bautista Villanueva. The Report likewise presented a brief factual background of the case. 29

The OCA recommended that the administrative complaint against the respondent judge be dismissed for lack of merit. The recommendation was based on an evaluation which reads: EVALUATION: The complaint is bereft of merit. The petition for a writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, as in the instant case, or of a private individual or entity. Whereas in other jurisdictions the writ covers only actual violations, the Philippine version is more protective of the right to life, liberty and security because it covers both actual and threatened violations of such rights. Nowhere in the records of the instant complaint that the issuance of the writ of amparo was attended by irregularities. The detainees sister who filed the petition is allowed under Section 2(b) of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo (SC A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC). Also, the petition was properly filed with the Regional Trial Court where the act or omission was committed or where any of its elements occurred. Respondent Judge, in whose sala the said petition was assigned is deemed to have complied with his oath and judicial duty when he ordered the issuance of the writ of amparo upon determination that the right to liberty of Mr. Tanmalack was being violated or threatened to be violated. These is no showing that respondent Judge, in granting the petition for a writ of amparo was motivated by bad faith, ignominy or ill will, thus, herein complainants allegation that respondent Judges act was tainted with grave abuse of discretion and authority, bias and partiality, and grave disregard of the rules, deserves scant consideration. This Office agrees with respondent Judges observation that Rojos declaration not anymore to contest the petition and that he (Rojo) did not

arrest nor detain petitioner, but admitted that he could not release the latter for further evaluation because of the complaint is an admission that he deprived *or threatened to deprive+ Jose *Dy Tanmalack+ of his liberty. OUR RULING We concur with the OCAs recommendation that the administrative complaint against the respondent judge be dismissed for lack of merit. At the outset, we agree with the complainant that the respondent judge erred in issuing the Writ of Amparo in Tanmalacks favor. Had he read Section 1 of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo more closely, the respondent judge would have realized that the writ, in its present form, only applies to extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof. The present case involves concerns that are purely property and commercial in nature concerns that we have previously ruled are not covered by the Writ of Amparo. In Tapuz v. Del Rosario, we held: To start off with the basics, the writ of amparo was originally conceived as a response to the extraordinary rise in the number of killings and enforced disappearances, and to the perceived lack of available and effective remedies to address these extraordinary concerns. It is intended to address violations of or threats to the rights to life, liberty or security, as an extraordinary and independent remedy beyond those available under the prevailing Rules, or as a remedy supplemental to these Rules. What it is not, is a writ to protect concerns that are purely property or commercial. Neither is it a writ that we shall issue on amorphous and uncertain grounds. Consequently, the Rule on the Writ of Amparo in line with the extraordinary character of the writ and the reasonable certainty that its issuance demands requires that every petition for the issuance of the writ must be supported by justifying allegations of fact, to wit: 30

(a) The personal circumstances of the petitioner; (b) The name and personal circumstances of the respondent responsible for the threat, act or omission, or, if the name is unknown or uncertain, the respondent may be described by an assumed appellation; (c) The right to life, liberty and security of the aggrieved party violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of the respondent, and how such threat or violation is committed with the attendant circumstances detailed in supporting affidavits; (d) The investigation conducted, if any, specifying the names, personal circumstances, and addresses of the investigating authority or individuals, as well as the manner and conduct of the investigation, together with any report; (e) The actions and recourses taken by the petitioner to determine the fate or whereabouts of the aggrieved party and the identity of the person responsible for the threat, act or omission; and (f) The relief prayed for. The petition may include a general prayer for other just and equitable reliefs. The writ shall issue if the Court is preliminarily satisfied with the prima facie existence of the ultimate facts determinable from the supporting affidavits that detail the circumstances of how and to what extent a threat to or violation of the rights to life, liberty and security of the aggrieved party was or is being committed. In the present case, the Writ of Amparo ought not to have been issued by the respondent judge since Tanmalacks petition is fatally defective in substance and content, as it does not allege that he is a victim of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or

the threats thereof. The petition merely states that he is under threat of deprivation of liberty with the police stating that he is not arrested but merely in custody. Whether the respondent judge could be held administratively liable for the error he committed in the present case, is, however, a question we must answer in the negative. Plainly, the errors attributed to respondent judge pertain to the exercise of his adjudicative functions. As a matter of policy, in the absence of fraud, dishonesty, and corruption, the acts of a judge in his official capacity are not subject to disciplinary action. He cannot be subjected to liability civil, criminal, or administrative for any of his official acts, no matter how erroneous, as long as he acts in good faith. Only judicial errors tainted with fraud, dishonesty, gross ignorance, bad faith, or deliberate intent to do an injustice will be administratively sanctioned. Settled is the rule that errors committed by a judge in the exercise of his adjudicative functions cannot be corrected through administrative proceedings, but should instead be assailed through judicial remedies. In the present case, the propriety of the issuance of the Writ of Amparo cannot be raised as an issue in the present administrative case. The proper recourse for the complainant should have been to file an appeal, from the final judgment or order of the respondent judge, to this Court under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, pursuant to Section 19 of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo. In Bello III v. Diaz, we reiterated that disciplinary proceedings against judges do not complement, supplement, or substitute judicial remedies, whether ordinary or extraordinary; an inquiry into their administrative liability arising from judicial acts may be made only after other available remedies have been settled. We laid down the rationale for the rule in Flores v. Abesamis, viz: 31

As everyone knows, the law provides ample judicial remedies against errors or irregularities being committed by a Trial Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction. The ordinary remedies against errors or irregularities which may be regarded as normal in nature (i.e., error in appreciation or admission of evidence, or in construction or application of procedural or substantive law or legal principle) include a motion for reconsideration (or after rendition of a judgment or final order, a motion for new trial), and appeal. The extraordinary remedies against error or irregularities which may be deemed extraordinary in character (i.e., whimsical, capricious, despotic exercise of power or neglect of duty, etc.) are, inter alia the special civil actions of certiorari, prohibition or mandamus, or a motion for inhibition, a petition for change of venue, as the case may be. Now, the established doctrine and policy is that disciplinary proceedings and criminal actions against Judges are not complementary or suppletory of, nor a substitute for, these judicial remedies, whether ordinary or extraordinary. Resort to and exhaustion of these judicial remedies, as well as the entry of judgment in the corresponding action or proceeding, are pre-requisites for the taking of other measures against the persons of the judges concerned, whether of civil, administrative, or criminal nature. It is only after the available judicial remedies have been exhausted and the appellate tribunals have spoken with finality, that the door to an inquiry into his criminal, civil, or administrative liability may be said to have opened, or closed. Flores resorted to administrative prosecution (or institution of criminal actions) as a substitute for or supplement to the specific modes of appeal or review provided by law from court judgments or orders, on the theory that the Judges orders had caused him undue injury. This is impermissible, as this Court has already more than once ruled. Law and logic decree that administrative or criminal remedies are neither alternative nor cumulative to judicial review where such review is available, and must wait on the result thereof. Indeed, since judges must

be free to judge, without pressure or influence from external forces or factors, they should not be subject to intimidation, the fear of civil, criminal or administrative sanctions for acts they may do and dispositions they may make in the performance of their duties and functions; and it is sound rule, which must be recognized independently of statute, that judges are not generally liable for acts done within the scope of their jurisdiction and in good faith; and that exceptionally, prosecution of the judge can be had only if there be a final declaration by a competent court in some appropriate proceeding of the manifestly unjust character of the challenged judgment or order, and ** also evidence of malice or bad faith, ignorance or inexcusable negligence, on the part of the judge in rendering said judgment or order or under the stringent circumstances set out in Article 32 of the Civil Code. We note, too, that although the respondent judge erred in issuing the Writ of Amparo, we find, as the OCA did, that there is no evidence on record that supports the complainants allegation that the issuance was tainted with manifest bias and partiality, bad faith, or gross ignorance of the law. The fact that the respondent judge and Atty. Francis Ku are members of the Masonic fraternity does not justify or prove that the former acted with bias and partiality. Bias and partiality can never be presumed and must be proved with clear and convincing evidence. While palpable error may be inferred from respondent judges issuance of the Writ of Amparo, there is no evidence on record that would justify a finding of partiality or bias. The complainants allegation of partiality will not suffice in the absence of a clear and convincing proof that will overcome the presumption that the respondent judge dispensed justice according to law and evidence, without fear or favor. Likewise, bad faith or malice cannot be inferred simply because the judgment is adverse to a party. To hold a judge administratively accountable simply because he erred in

32

his judgment has never been the intent of the law; reasonable competence and good faith judgments, not complete infallibility, are what the law requires. The more significant issue in this case is the complainants charge of gross ignorance of the law against the respondent judge. A patent disregard of simple, elementary and well-known rules constitutes gross ignorance of the law. Judges are expected to exhibit more than just cursory acquaintance with laws and procedural rules. They must know the law and apply it properly in good faith. They are likewise expected to keep abreast of prevailing jurisprudence. For, a judge who is plainly ignorant of the law taints the noble office and great privilege vested in him. We find that the respondent judges error does not rise to the level of gross ignorance of the law that is defined by jurisprudence. We take judicial notice of the fact that at the time he issued the Writ of Amparo on January 23, 2008, the Rule on the Writ of Amparo has been effective for barely three months (The Rule on the Writ of Amparo became effective on October 24, 2007). At that time, the respondent judge cannot be said to have been fully educated and informed on the novel aspects of the Writ of Amparo. Simply stated, the Rule on the Writ of Amparo at that time cannot be said to be a simple, elementary, and well-known rule that its patent disregard would constitute gross ignorance of the law. More importantly, for full liability to attach for ignorance of the law, the assailed order, decision or actuation of the judge in the performance of official duties must not only be found to be erroneous; it must be established that he was motivated by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred or some other similar motive. In the present case, the complainant

failed to prove by substantial evidence that the respondent judge was motivated by bad faith and bias or partiality in the issuance of the Writ of Amparo. We take this occasion, however, to remind the respondent judge that under Canon 1.01 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge must be "the embodiment of competence, integrity and independence." A judge is called upon to exhibit more than just a cursory acquaintance with statutes and procedural rules; it is imperative that he be conversant with basic legal principles and be aware of well-settled authoritative doctrines. He owes to the public and to this Court the duty to be proficient in the law. He is expected to keep abreast of laws and prevailing jurisprudence. Judges must not only render just, correct, and impartial decisions, resolutions, and orders, but must do so in a manner free of any suspicion as to their fairness, impartiality, and integrity, for good judges are men who have mastery of the principles of law and who discharge their duties in accordance with law. We mentioned all these to emphasize to the respondent judge the need to be more judicious and circumspect in the issuance of extraordinary writs such as the Writ of Amparo. We also reiterate that in an administrative proceeding, the complainant has the burden of proving the allegations in the complaint by substantial evidence. We cannot give credence to charges based on mere suspicion or speculation. Hence, when the complainant relies on mere conjectures and suppositions, and fails to substantiate his claim, as in this case, the administrative complaint must be dismissed for lack of merit. WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court RESOLVES to DISMISS the administrative complaint against Judge Gil G. Bollozos, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Cagayan de Oro City, for lack of merit. SO ORDERED.

33

. The Judges act of solemnizing the marriage of accuseds son in the residence of the accused speaks for itself. It is improper and highly unethical for a judge to actively participate in such social affairs, considering that the accused is a party in a case pending before her own sala. In pending or prospective litigations before them, 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. Considering the above findings, it is apparent that respondent judges actuations constitute simple misconduct. Rolando E. Marcos vs. Judge Ofelia T. Pinto, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2180, July 26, 2010
Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila SECOND DIVISION

The antecedent facts of the case, as culled from the records, are as follows: On September 5, 2001, a criminal case for violation of Republic Act (R.A.) 7610, docketed as Criminal Case No. 04-775, entitled People v. Espilo Leyco was filed before the RTC of Angeles City, Branch 60, presided by respondent Judge Pinto. Accused Leyco was arraigned on August 31, 2005. Pre-trial was terminated and trial ensued with the presentation of witnesses. Meanwhile, while the case was being tried, accused Leyco filed a petition for review with the Secretary of the Department of Justice and sought to set aside the resolution of the Angeles City Prosecution Office, which recommended the filing of the information against the accused. On October 25, 2006, a year after the case was filed, the Secretary of Justice, Raul

ROLANDO E. MARCOS,

Complainant,

A.M. No. RTJ-09-2180 [Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 08-2817-RTJ] Present: CARPIO, J., Chairperson, PERALTA, BERSAMIN,* ABAD, and MENDOZA, JJ. Promulgated: July 26, 2010

Gonzales, reversed the resolution of the Angeles City Prosecution and directed the City Prosecutor to file a Motion to Withdraw the Information filed against accused Leyco. On November 10, 2006, in compliance with the said directive, the Assistant City Prosecutor handling the subject case filed a Motion to Withdraw Information. Thus, on November 16, 2006, private complainant in the said case moved for reconsideration of the DOJs resolution. On December 22, 2006, while the resolution of private complainants motion for reconsideration was still pending, respondent Judge Pinto granted the Motion to Withdraw Information and dismissed the subject case. The pertinent portion of the Order reads:

- versus -

JUDGE OFELIA T. PINTO, Regional Trial Court, Branch 60, Angeles City, Respondent.

x ------------------------------------ -------------x DECISION PERALTA, J.: Before this Court is a Complaint dated February 1, 2008, filed by Rolando E. Marcos (complainant) against respondent Ofelia T. Pinto (respondent judge), Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 60, Angeles City, for Gross Ignorance of the Law, Knowingly Rendering an Unjust Judgment/Order and Partiality relative to Criminal Case No. 04-775 entitled People of the Philippines v. Espilo Leyco.

On November 13, 2006, the Court gave Atty. Renan B. Castillo, private prosecutor, to file his comment and/or objection on the Motion to Withdraw Information dated November 10, 2006 filed by 2 nd Assistant City Prosecutor Oliver S. Garcia and duly approved by City Prosecutor Teilo P. Quiambao. Up to this time, the said intended pleading has not been filed. WHEREFORE, the Court grants the Motion to Withdraw Information and considers this case as dismissed. The cash bail posted by the accused is hereby ordered released to him upon presentation of the original receipt. 34

marriage certificate issued by the National Statistics Office showing that respondent judge SO ORDERED. Angeles City, Philippines, December 22, 2006. (Signed) Ofelia Tuazon Pinto On February 2, 2007, private complainant filed a motion seeking the reconsideration of the order of dismissal but was denied. On April 15, 2008, Secretary Gonzales denied private complainants motion for reconsideration. Thus, feeling aggrieved, Marcos, one of the witnesses in the subject criminal case, filed the instant administrative complaint against respondent Judge Pinto. Marcos alleged that respondent judge did not even exert any effort to assess whether there was a valid ground to dismiss the case. He claimed that respondent judge cannot validly dismiss the case based on the failure of the private prosecutor to file any comment or opposition to the motion to withdraw information. More so since as of November 17, 2006, the private prosecutor already withdrew himself from handling the subject case. Complainant also pointed out that respondent judge did not even set a time frame within which to file the comment or opposition. Moreover, complainant alleged that respondent judge manifested bias and partiality in favor of accused Leyco which he attributed to a special relationship between respondent judge and the Spouses Leyco. Complainant claimed that respondent judge even acted as the solemnizing officer at the marriage of Paul F. Leyco, son of accused Leyco. He, thus, questioned the integrity of respondent judge, considering that the marriage ceremony was held on January 19, 2007 during the period when respondent judge issued the assailed order of dismissal. To support his claim, complainant presented a certified true copy of the In a Memorandum dated March 9, 2009, the OCA recommended that the complaint be re-docketed as a regular administrative complaint against Judge Pinto. It, likewise, recommended that the matter be referred to the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation. The OCA maintained that while Marcos is not the real party-in-interest in the subject case, he can still file the instant administrative case against respondent judge. It explained 35 was indeed the one who solemnized the marriage at the Leycos residence. On March 5, 2008, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) directed Judge Pinto to file her Comment on the instant complaint. In her Comment dated April 2, 2008, Judge Pinto denied the allegations of the complainant and claimed the same to be misplaced and baseless. She insisted that she exercised judicial discretion when she issued the Order dismissing the criminal case against Leyco. She emphasized that Marcos should have resorted to the appropriate judicial recourse instead of filing the instant administrative complaint. Judge Pinto likewise argued that complainants allegation that she had been biased and partial to the accused was unsupported by evidence. She, however, admitted that she was indeed the solemnizing officer in the marriage of the accused son, Paul Leyco, but stressed that it was her duty after all to solemnize marriages under the Family Code. She likewise pointed out that she did not know that the parties were related to the accused. She claimed that she came to know of such fact only when she was already in the residence of the marrying parties. Judge Pinto insisted that said act cannot be equated as giving favor to a party in a criminal case contrary to what the complainant claims. Finally, Judge Pinto argued that the instant complaint should be dismissed outright, because complainant Marcos was not the true party-in-interest in the criminal case; thus, he has no locus standi to file the complaint. Marcos was a mere witness for the prosecution.

that in administrative proceedings, the issue is not whether the complainant has a cause of action against the respondent, but whether the employees have breached the norms and standards of the Judiciary. Thus, the Court, in a Resolution dated April 20, 2009, resolved to re-docket the administrative complaint as a regular administrative matter against Judge Pinto and referred the matter to the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for raffle among the Justices, for investigation, report and recommendation. In compliance, Justice Arturo G. Tayag, in his Report and Recommendation, found the charges of gross ignorance of the law and knowingly rendering an erroneous or unjust order against Judge Pinto to be true and with basis. He, however, found the charge of violation of Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct to be baseless. In his Report, Justice Tayag, observed that Judge Pinto did not perform her duty of making an independent evaluation or assessment of the merits of the case when she dismissed Criminal Case No. 04-775. He, however, found no basis for violation of Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, since he noted that in cases where both the parties requested the solemnizing officer, in writing, to have the marriage solemnized at a house or place designated by them, such can be done. Accordingly, Justice Tayag, after considering that this is the respondents first offense and that respondent has a good record as a Family Court Judge, recommended that Judge Pinto be meted a penalty of two (2) months suspension from service without pay. RULING

administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law is a judge who shown to have been motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption ignored, contradicted or failed to apply settled law and jurisprudence. Such is not the case presently before this Court.
In the instant case, it was apparent that the assailed Order of dismissal was solely anchored on the private prosecutors failure to file his comment and/or objection to the Motion to Withdraw the Information. Indeed, respondent judge did not perform her duty of making an independent evaluation or assessment of the merits of the case when she dismissed Criminal Case No. 04-775. The disputed Order does not contain the facts of the case and the law upon which the dismissal was based. However, there was also no evidence showing that in issuing said Order, respondent judge was motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption.

In administrative proceedings like the one at bench, it goes without saying that it is the complainant who has the burden of proving by substantial evidence the allegations in their complaint. We do not find any evidence to support complainants accusations. As a matter of public policy then, the acts of a judge in his official capacity are
not subject to disciplinary action, even though such acts are erroneous. Good faith and absence of malice, corrupt motives or improper considerations are sufficient defenses in which a judge charged with ignorance of the law can find refuge. It does not mean, however, that a judge, given the leeway he is accorded in such cases, should not evince due care in the performance of his adjudicatory prerogatives.

While we agree that respondent judge should be administratively held liable for her acts, we, however, disagree with the findings and recommendation of the Investigating Justice. To be held liable for gross ignorance of the law, the judge must be shown to have committed an error that was gross or patent, deliberate or malicious. Also

With regard to the accusation of impropriety, we find it to be with basis. Section 1, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary enunciates the rule that Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities."
36

Upon assumption of office, a judge becomes the visible representation of the law and of justice. Membership in the Judiciary circumscribes ones 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 peoples 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 Caesars wife in all their activities. Hence, we require them to abide strictly by the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Here, it appears that respondent judge has failed to live up to those rigorous standards. Her act of solemnizing the marriage of accuseds son in the residence of the accused speaks for itself. It is improper and highly unethical for a judge to actively participate in such social affairs, considering that the accused is a party in a case pending before her own sala. What she should have done was courteously deny the parties request. Her claim that she was unaware that the parties were related to the accused fails to convince. In pending or prospective litigations before them, 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. Not only must judges possess proficiency in law, they must also act and behave in such manner that would assure litigants and their counsel of the judges competence, integrity and independence.

Considering the above findings, it is apparent that respondent judges actuations constitute simple misconduct. Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, simple

misconduct is considered a less serious offense, sanctioned with suspension without pay for not less than one month, but not more than three months, or a fine of not less than Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) but not exceeding Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00). WHEREFORE, the Court finds Judge Ofelia T. Pinto of the Regional Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch 60, GUILTY of SIMPLE MISCONDUCT for which she is FINED in the amount of P10,000.00. She is, likewise, STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely. SO ORDERED.

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