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SEPTEMBER 2014

Table of Contents

JUDGE MADRID v. ATTY. DEALCA


A.C. No. 7474, September 09, 2014

ELSIE S. CAUSING v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND BIRON, SR.


G.R. No. 199139, September 09, 2014

Re: ANONYMOUS LETTER-COMPLAINT ON THE ALLEGED


INVOLVEMENT AND FOR ENGAGING IN THE BUSINESS OF LENDING
MONEY AT USURIOUS RATES OF INTEREST OF MS. DOLORES T.
LOPEZ, SC CHIEF JUDICIAL STAFF OFFICER, AND MR. FERNANDO
M. MONTALVO, SC SUPERVISING JUDICIAL STAFF OFFICER, CHECKS
DISBURSEMENT DIVISION, FISCAL MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
OFFICE.
A.M. No. 2010-21-SC, September 30, 2014

ALLEGED LOSS OF VARIOUS BOXES OF COPY PAPER DURING THEIR


TRANSFER FROM THE PROPERTY DIVISION, OFFICE OF
ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES (OAS), TO THE VARIOUS ROOMS OF
THE PHILIPPINE JUDICIAL ACADEMY.
A.M. No. 2008-23-SC, September 30, 2014; and
RELEASE OF COMPULSORY RETIREMENT BENEFITS UNDER R.A.
NO. 8291 OF MR. ISIDRO P. AUSTRIA, FORMER SUPPLY OFFICER II,
PHILIPPINE JUDICIAL ACADEMY, SUPREME COURT.
A.M. No. 2014-025-Ret.

GARGOLES v. DEL ROSARIO, DOING BUSINESS UNDER THE NAME


AND STYLE JAY ANNE'S ONE HOUR PHOTO SHOP
G.R. No. 158583, September 10, 2014

AGRIEX CO., LTD., v. COMMISSIONER OF BUREAU OF CUSTOMS


AND COLLECTOR OF CUSTOMS, PORT OF SUBIC
G.R. No. 158150, September 10, 2014

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, v. BOBBY BELGAR


G.R. No. 182794, September 08, 2014

NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC. v. DEL ROSARIO


G.R. No. 157633, September 10, 2014

EMERITU C. BARUT v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES


G.R. No. 167454, September 24, 2014

GEORGE T. CHUA v. JUDGE FORTUNITO L. MADRONA


SEPTEMBER 2014

A.M. No. RTJ-14-2394 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3847-RTJ), September 01,
2014

EN BANC

A.C. No. 7474, September 09, 2014

PRESIDING JUDGE JOSE L. MADRID, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH


51, SORSOGON CITY, Complainant, v. ATTY. JUAN S.
DEALCA, Respondent.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

Complainant Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court has had enough of
the respondent, a law practitioner, who had engaged in the unethical
practice of filing frivolous administrative cases against judges and personnel
of the courts because the latter filed a motion to inhibit the complainant from
hearing a pending case. Hence, the complainant has initiated this complaint
for the disbarment of respondent on the ground of gross misconduct and
gross violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

Antecedents

On February 7, 2007, Atty. Juan S. Dealca entered his appearance in Criminal


Case No. 2006-6795, entitled People of the Philippines v. Philip William
Arsenault then pending in Branch 51 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in
Sorsogon City, presided by complainant Judge Jose L. Madrid. 1 Atty. Dealca
sought to replace Atty. Vicente Judar who had filed a motion to withdraw as
counsel for the accused. But aside from entering his appearance as counsel
for the accused, Atty. Dealca also moved that Criminal Case No. 2006-6795
be re-raffled to another Branch of the RTC [c]onsidering the adverse
incidents between the incumbent Presiding Judge and the undersigned,
where he does not appear before the incumbent Presiding Judge, and the
latter does not also hear cases handled by the undersigned.2cralawred

Judge Madrid denied Atty. Dealcas motion to re-raffle through an order


issued on February 14, 2007,3viz:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

xxxx

This Court will not allow that a case be removed from it just because of the
personal sentiments of counsel who was not even the original counsel of the
litigant.
SEPTEMBER 2014

Moreover, the motion of Atty. Dealca is an affront to the integrity of this


Court and the other Courts in this province as he would like it to appear that
jurisdiction over a Family Court case is based on his whimsical dictates.

This was so because Atty. Dealca had filed Administrative as well as criminal
cases against this Presiding Judge which were all dismissed by the Hon.
Supreme Court for utter lack of merit. This is why he should not have
accepted this particular case so as not to derail the smooth proceedings in
this Court with his baseless motions for inhibition. It is the lawyers duty to
appear on behalf of a client in a case but not to appear for a client to remove
a case from the Court. This is unethical practice in the first order.

WHEREFORE, foregoing considered, the Motion of Atty. Juan S. Dealca is


hereby DENIED.

Relative to the Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for the Accused filed by Atty.
Vicente C. Judar dated January 29, 2007, the same is hereby DENIED for
being violative of the provisions of Section 26 of Rule 138 of the Rules of
Court.

So also, the Appearance of Atty. Juan S. Dealca as new counsel for accused
Philip William Arsenault is likewise DENIED.

SO ORDERED.

Consequently, Judge Madrid filed a letter complaint 4 in the Office of the Bar
Confidant citing Atty. Dealcas unethical practice of entering his appearance
and then moving for the inhibition of the presiding judge on the pretext of
previous adverse incidents between them.

On April 10, 2007, we treated the complaint as a regular administrative


complaint, and required Atty. Dealca to submit his comment.5cralawred

In his comment-complaint,6 Atty. Dealca asserted that Judge Madrids


issuance of the February 14, 2007 order unconstitutionally and unlawfully
deprived the accused of the right to counsel, to due process, and to a fair
and impartial trial; that Judge Madrid exhibited bias in failing to act on the
motion to lift and set aside the warrant of arrest issued against the accused;
and that it should be Judge Madrid himself who should be disbarred and
accordingly dismissed from the Judiciary for gross ignorance of the law.

On July 17, 2007, the Court referred the matter to the IBP for appropriate
investigation, report and recommendation.7 Several months thereafter, the
Court also indorsed pertinent documents in connection with A.M. OCA IPI No.
05-2385-RTJ, entitled Joseph Yap III v. Judge Jose L. Madrid and Court
SEPTEMBER 2014

Stenographer Merlyn D. Dominguez, both of the Regional Trial Court (RTC)


Branch 51, Sorsogon City (Yap v. Judge Madrid). 8cralawred

On June 6, 2007, the Court in Yap v. Judge Madrid dismissed for its lack of
merit the administrative complaint against Judge Madrid for allegedly
falsifying the transcript of stenographic notes of the hearing on March 4,
2005 in Civil Case No. 2001-6842 entitled Joseph D. Yap V, et al. v. Joseph H.
Yap III, but referred to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for
investigation, report and recommendation the propensity of Atty. Dealca to
file administrative or criminal complaints against judges and court personnel
whenever decisions, orders or processes were issued adversely to him and
his clients.9cralawre

In compliance with the referral, the IBP-Sorsogon Chapter submitted its


report with the following findings and recommendation:10cralawred

xxx

The documentary evidence offered by complainants show that respondent


Atty. Juan S. Dealca filed by himself (1) Bar Matter No. 1197 and acting as
counsel for the complainants (2) Adm. Matter OCA IPI No. 04-2113-RTJ; (3)
OMB-L-C-05-0478-E; (4) Adm. Matter OCA IPI No. 05-2385-RTJ and (5) Adm.
Matter OCA IPI No. 05-2191-RTJ. These five (5) cases are factual evidence of
the cases that respondent had filed by himself and as counsel for the
complainants against court officers, judges and personnel as a consequence
of the IBP Election and incidents in cases that respondent had handled as
counsel for the parties in the said cases.

It will be noted that in Bar Matter No. 1197, the respondents were judges
(Judge Jose L. Madrid & Judge Honesto A. Villamor) and lawyers in IBP
Sorsogon Chapters, who are no doubt officers of the court, and the case
aroused (sic) out of the unfavorable consensus of the IBP chapter members
that was adverse to the position of the respondent. The other four (4) cases
aroused [sic] out of the cases handled by respondent for the complainants
who failed to secure a favorable action from the court.

Specifically, Adm. Matter OCA IPI No. 04-2113-RTJ was a result of the case
before the sala of Judge Jose L. Madrid (RTC 51) entitled Alita P. Gomez vs.
Rodrigo Jarabo, et al., for: Accion Publiciana and Damages,that was handled
by respondent for the complainant Alita Gomez.

OMB-L-C-0478-E was an offshoot of Civil Case No. 2001-6842 entitled


Marilyn D. Yap, Joseph D. Yap V, et al., vs. Joseph H. Yap III for: Support
pending before the sala of complainant Judge Jose L. Madrid (RTC 51).
Respondent, after an unfavorable decision against defendant Joseph H. Yap
SEPTEMBER 2014

III, entered his appearance and pleaded for the latter. As a result of an
adverse order, this ombudsman case arose.

Administrative Matter OCA IPI No. 05-2191-RTJ was also a result of the Civil
Case No. 5403 entitled Salve Dealca Latosa vs. Atty. Henry Amado Roxas,
with Our Ladys Village Foundation and Most Reverend Arnulfo Arcilla, DD as
third party defendant that was heard, tried, decided and pending execution
before the sala of Judge Honesto A. Villamor (RTC 52).

Administrative Matter OCA IPI No. 05-2385-RTJ was also a consequence of


Civil Case No. 2001-6842 entitled Marilyn D. Yap, Joseph D. Yap V, et al., vs.
Joseph H. Yap III for Support pending before the sala of complainant Judge
Jose L. Madrid (RTC 51).

All these four (4) cases are precipitated by the adverse ruling rendered by
the court against the clients of the respondent that instead of resorting to
the remedies available under the Rules of Procedure, respondent assisted his
clients in filing administrative and criminal case against the judges and
personnel of the court.

The other documentary evidence of the complainants such as the (a)


VERIFIED COMPLAINT dated March 7, 2003 in Civil Service Case entitled
EDNA GOROSPE-DEALCA vs. JULIANA ENCINAS-CARINO, et al.; (b) NOTICE
OF RESOLUTION on October 22, 2005 in Adm. Case No. 6334 entitled SOFIA
JAO vs. ATTY. EPIFANIA RUBY VELACRUZ-OIDA passed by the Board of
Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines which Resolution No. XVII-
2005-92 provides: RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE the Report and
Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner dismissing the case for
lacks (sic) merit; (c) RESOLUTION of the Third Division of the Supreme Court
dated February 1, 2006 in Administrative Case No. 6334 (Sofia Jao vs.
Epifania Ruby Velacruz-Oida) The notice of resolution dated October 22,
2005 of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) dismissing the case for
lack of merit; (d) VERIFIED COMPLAINT in Adm. Case No. 6334 dated
February 17, 2004 entitled Sofia Jao vs. Atty. Epifania Ruby Velacruz-Oida
for: Malpractice (Forum Shopping), and (e) ORDER dated January 18, 2007 by
Acting Presiding Judge RAUL E. DE LEON in Criminal Cases Nos. 2451 to 2454
entitled People of the Philippines vs. Cynthia Marcial, et al. For: Falsification
of Medical Records which provides for the dismissal of the cases against all
the accused, do not show participation on the part of the respondent that he
signed the pleadings, although the verified complaint is one executed by the
wife of the respondent. Moreover, these cases are pertaining to persons
other than judges and personnel of the court that are not squarely covered
by the present investigation against respondent, although, it is an
undeniable fact that respondent had appeared for and in behalf of his wife,
the rest of the complainants in the Civil Service Case and Sofia Jao against
Land Bank of the Philippines, the latter case resulted in the administrative
SEPTEMBER 2014

case of Atty. Epifania Ruby Velacruz-Oida, respondents sister member of the


Bar. All these documentary evidence from (a) to (e) are helpful in
determining the PROPENSITY of the respondent as a member of the bar in
resorting to harassment cases instead of going through the procedures
provided for by the Rules of Court in the event of adverse ruling, order or
decision of the court.

xxxx

WHEREFORE, it is most respectfully recommended that in view of the


above-foregoings [sic], a penalty of SUSPENSION in the practice of law for a
period of six (6) months from finality of the decision be ordered against
respondent Atty. Juan S. Dealca.

Findings and Recommendation of the IBP

IBP Commissioner Salvador B. Hababag ultimately submitted his Report and


Recommendation11finding Atty. Dealca guilty of violating the Lawyers Oath
and the Code of Professional Responsibility by filing frivolous administrative
and criminal complaints; and recommending that Atty. Dealca be suspended
from the practice of law for one year because his motion to inhibit Judge
Madrid was devoid of factual or legal basis, and was grounded on purely
personal whims.

In Resolution No. XVIII-2008-41,12 the IBP Board of Governors modified the


recommendation and dismissed the administrative complaint for its lack of
merit, thus:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

RESOLVED to AMEND, as it is hereby AMENDED, the Recommendation of the


Investigating Commissioner, and APPROVE the DISMISSAL of the above-
entitled case for lack of merit.

Judge Madrid filed a petition,13 which the IBP Board of Governors treated as a
motion for reconsideration, and soon denied through its Resolution No. XX-
2012-545.14cralawred

Issues

(1) Did Atty. Dealca file frivolous administrative and criminal complaints
against judges and court personnel in violation of the Lawyers Oath and the
Code of Professional Responsibility?

(2) Was Atty. Dealca guilty of unethical practice in seeking the inhibition of
Judge Madrid in Criminal Case No. 2006-6795?
SEPTEMBER 2014

Ruling of the Court

We REVERSE Resolution No. XX-2012-545.

I
Atty. Dealca must guard against his own impulse of initiating
unfounded suits

Atty. Dealca insists on the propriety of the administrative and criminal cases
he filed against judges and court personnel, including Judge Madrid. He
argues that as a vigilant lawyer, he was duty bound to bring and prosecute
cases against unscrupulous and corrupt judges and court
15
personnel. cralawred

We see no merit in Atty. Dealcas arguments.

Although the Court always admires members of the Bar who are imbued with
a high sense of vigilance to weed out from the Judiciary the undesirable
judges and inefficient or undeserving court personnel, any acts taken in that
direction should be unsullied by any taint of insincerity or self-interest. The
noble cause of cleansing the ranks of the Judiciary is not advanced
otherwise. It is for that reason that Atty. Dealcas complaint against Judge
Madrid has failed our judicious scrutiny, for the Court cannot find any trace of
idealism or altruism in the motivations for initiating it. Instead, Atty. Dealca
exhibited his proclivity for vindictiveness and penchant for harassment,
considering that, as IBP Commissioner Hababag pointed out, 16 his bringing of
charges against judges, court personnel and even his colleagues in the Law
Profession had all stemmed from decisions or rulings being adverse to his
clients or his side. He well knew, therefore, that he was thereby crossing the
line of propriety, because neither vindictiveness nor harassment could be a
substitute for resorting to the appropriate legal remedies. He should now be
reminded that the aim of every lawsuit should be to render justice to the
parties according to law, not to harass them.17cralawred

The Lawyers Oath is a source of obligations and duties for every lawyer, and
any violation thereof by an attorney constitutes a ground for disbarment,
suspension, or other disciplinary action. 18 The oath exhorts upon the
members of the Bar not to wittingly or willingly promote or sue any
groundless, false or unlawful suit. These are not mere facile words, drift and
hollow, but a sacred trust that must be upheld and keep
inviolable.19cralawred

As a lawyer, therefore, Atty. Dealca was aware of his duty under his Lawyers
Oath not to initiate groundless, false or unlawful suits. The duty has also
been expressly embodied in Rule 1.03, Canon 1 of the Code of Professional
SEPTEMBER 2014

Responsibility thuswise:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Rule 1.03 A lawyer shall not, for any corrupt motive or interest, encourage
any suit or proceeding or delay any mans cause.

His being an officer of the court should have impelled him to see to it that
the orderly administration of justice must not be unduly impeded. Indeed, as
he must resist the whims and caprices of his clients and temper his clients
propensities to litigate,20 so must he equally guard himself against his own
impulses of initiating unfounded suits. While it is the Courts duty to
investigate and uncover the truth behind charges against judges and
lawyers, it is equally its duty to shield them from unfounded suits that are
intended to vex and harass them, among other things. 21cralawred

Moreover, Atty. Dealca must be mindful of his mission to assist the courts in
the proper administration of justice. He disregarded his mission because his
filing of the unfounded complaints, including this one against Judge Madrid,
increased the workload of the Judiciary. Although no person should be
penalized for the exercise of the right to litigate, the right must nonetheless
be exercised in good faith.22 Atty. Dealcas bringing of the numerous
administrative and criminal complaints against judges, court personnel and
his fellow lawyers did not evince any good faith on his part, considering that
he made allegations against them therein that he could not substantially
prove, and are rightfully deemed frivolous and unworthy of the Courts
precious time and serious consideration.

Repeatedly denying any wrongdoing in filing the various complaints, Atty.


Dealca had the temerity to confront even the Court with the following
arrogant tirade, to wit:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

With due respect, what could be WRONG was the summary dismissal of
cases filed against erring judges and court personnel for lack of merit, i.e.
without even discussing the facts and the law of the case.23

Atty. Dealca was apparently referring to the minute resolutions the Court
could have promulgated in frequently dismissing his unmeritorious petitions.
His arrogant posturing would not advance his cause now. He thereby
demonstrated his plain ignorance of the rules of procedure applicable to the
Court. The minute resolutions have been issued for the prompt dispatch of
the actions by the Court.24Whenever the Court then dismisses a petition for
review for its lack of merit through a minute resolution, it is understood that
the challenged decision or order, together with all its findings of fact and law,
is deemed sustained or upheld,25 and the minute resolution then constitutes
the actual adjudication on the merits of the case. The dismissal of the
petition, or its denial of due course indicates the Courts agreement with and
its adoption of the findings and conclusions of the court a quo.26cralawred
SEPTEMBER 2014

The requirement for stating the facts and the law does not apply to the
minute resolutions that the Court issues in disposing of a case. The Court
explained why in Borromeo v. Court of Appeals: 27cralawred

The [Supreme] Court x x x disposes of the bulk of its cases by minute


resolutions and decrees them as final and executory, as where a case is
patently without merit, where the issues raised are factual in nature, where
the decision appealed from is supported by substantial evidence and is in
accord with the facts of the case and the applicable laws, where it is clear
from the records that the petition is filed merely to forestall the early
execution of judgment and for non-compliance with the rules. The resolution
denying due course or dismissing the petition always gives the legal basis.

xxxx

The Court is not duty bound to render signed Decisions all the time. It has
ample discretion to formulate Decisions and/or Minute Resolutions, provided
a legal basis is given, depending on its evaluation of a case.

The constitutionality of the minute resolutions was the issue raised


in Komatsu Industries (Phils.), Inc. v. Court of Appeals.28 The petitioner
contended that the minute resolutions violated Section 14,29Article VIII of the
Constitution. The Court, through Justice Regalado, declared that resolutions
were not decisions within the constitutional contemplation, for the former
merely hold that the petition for review should not be entertained and even
ordinary lawyers have all this time so understood it; and the petition to
review the decision of the Court of Appeals is not a matter of right but of
sound judicial discretion, hence there is no need to fully explain the Courts
denial since, for one thing, the facts and the law are already mentioned in
the Court of Appeals decision. It pointed out that the constitutional
mandate was applicable only in cases submitted for decision, i.e., given due
course to and after the filing of briefs or memoranda and/or other pleadings,
but not where the petition was being refused due course, with the resolutions
for that purpose stating the legal basis of the refusal. Thus, when the Court,
after deliberating on the petition and the subsequent pleadings, decided to
deny due course to the petition and stated that the questions raised were
factual, or there was no reversible error in the lower courts decision, there
was a sufficient compliance with the constitutional requirement.30cralawred

II
Atty. Dealca violated Canon 11 and Rule 11.04of the Code of
Professional Responsibility

Atty. Dealca maintains that Judge Madrid should have in good grace
inhibited himself upon his motion to inhibit in order to preserve confidence
SEPTEMBER 2014

in the impartiality of the judiciary.31 However, IBP Commissioner Hababag


has recommended that Atty. Dealca be sanctioned for filing the motion to
inhibit considering that the motion, being purely based on his personal
whims, was bereft of factual and legal bases. 32cralawred

The recommendation of IBP Commissioner Hababag is warranted.

Lawyers are licensed officers of the courts empowered to appear, prosecute


and defend the legal causes for their clients. As a consequence, peculiar
duties, responsibilities and liabilities are devolved upon them by law. Verily,
their membership in the Bar imposes certain obligations upon them.33c

In this regard, Canon 11 and Rule 11.04 of the Code of Professional


Responsibility pertinently state:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Canon 11 A lawyer shall observe and maintain the respect due to the
courts and to the judicial officers and should insist on similar conduct by
others.

xxxx

Rule 11.04 A lawyer shall not attribute to a Judge motives not supported
by the record or have no materiality to the case.

In light of the foregoing canons, all lawyers are bound to uphold the dignity
and authority of the courts, and to promote confidence in the fair
administration of justice. It is the respect for the courts that guarantees the
stability of the judicial institution; elsewise, the institution would be resting
on a very shaky foundation. 34cralawred

The motion to inhibit filed by Atty. Dealca contained the following averment,
to wit:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Considering the adverse incidents between the incumbent Presiding


Judge and the undersigned, he does not appear before the incumbent
Presiding Judge, and the latter does not also hear cases handled by
the undersigned x x x.35 (Bold emphasis supplied)

Atty. Dealcas averment that Judge Madrid did not hear cases being handled
by him directly insinuated that judges could choose the cases they heard,
and could refuse to hear the cases in which hostility existed between the
judges and the litigants or their counsel. Such averment, if true at all, should
have been assiduously substantiated by him because it put in bad light not
only Judge Madrid but all judges in general. Yet, he did not even include any
particulars that could have validated the averment. Nor did he attach any
document to support it.
SEPTEMBER 2014

Worth stressing, too, is that the right of a party to seek the inhibition or
disqualification of a judge who does not appear to be wholly free,
disinterested, impartial and independent in handling the case must be
balanced with the latters sacred duty to decide cases without fear of
repression. Thus, it was incumbent upon Atty. Dealca to establish by clear
and convincing evidence the ground of bias and prejudice in order to
disqualify Judge Madrid from participating in a particular trial in which Atty.
Dealca was participating as a counsel. 36 The latters bare allegations of Judge
Madrids partiality or hostility did not suffice, 37 because the presumption that
Judge Madrid would undertake his noble role to dispense justice according to
law and the evidence and without fear or favor should only be overcome by
clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. 38 As such, Atty. Dealca clearly
contravened his duties as a lawyer as expressly stated in Canon 11 and Rule
11.04, supra.

On a final note, it cannot escape our attention that this is not the first
administrative complaint to be ever brought against Atty. Dealca. In Montano
v. Integrated Bar of the Philippines,39 we reprimanded him for violating Canon
22 and Rule 20.4, Canon 20 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, and
warned him that a repetition of the same offense would be dealt with more
severely. Accordingly, based on the penalties the Court imposed on erring
lawyers found violating Canon 1, Rule 1.03, 40 and Canon 11, Rule 11.0441 of
the Code, we deem appropriate to suspend Atty. Dealca from the practice of
law for a period one year.

ACCORDINGLY, the Court FINDS and DECLARES respondent ATTY. JUAN


S. DEALCA GUILTY of violating Canon 1, Rule 1.03 and Canon 11, Rule
11.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility; and SUSPENDS him from
the practice of law for one year effective from notice of this decision, with
a STERN WARNING that any similar infraction in the future will be dealt
with more severely.

Let copies of this decision be furnished to the Office of the Bar Confidant to
be appended to Atty. Dealcas personal record as an attorney; to the
Integrated Bar of the Philippines; and to all courts in the country for their
information and guidance.

SO ORDERED.
SEPTEMBER 2014
SEPTEMBER 2014

EN BANC

G.R. No. 199139, September 09, 2014

ELSIE S. CAUSING, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS AND


HERNAN D. BIRON, SR., Respondents.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

The issue is whether the relocation of the petitioner by respondent Municipal


Mayor during the election period from her office as the Local Civil Registrar
to the Office of the Mayor just a few steps away constituted a prohibited act
under the Omnibus Election Code and the relevant Resolution of the
Commission on Elections.

The Case

Petitioner Elsie Causing (Causing) assails the Resolution of the Commission


on Elections En Banc (COMELEC En Banc) promulgated on September 9,
2011 dismissing her complaint-affidavit dated June 8, 2010 docketed as E.O.
Case No. 10-131 entitled Elsie S. Causing v. Hernan D. Biron, Sr. charging
Municipal Mayor Hernan D. Biron, Sr. (Mayor Biron) of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo
with violating COMELEC Resolution No. 8737 in relation to Section 261 (g),
(h), and (x) of the Omnibus Election Code.1cralawred

Antecedents

On January 1, 1993, Causing assumed office as the Municipal Civil Registrar


of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo. On May 28, 2010, Mayor Biron issued Memorandum
No. 12, Series of 2010,2 which reads:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Office Order No. 12


Series of 2010

MRS. ELSIE S. CAUSING


Municipal Civil Registrar
LGU Barotac Nuevo

Exigencies of service so requiring, you are hereby detailed at the Office of


the Municipal Mayor effective upon receipt of this Order and shall likewise
receive direct orders from the undersigned as to particular functions our
office may require from time to time.
SEPTEMBER 2014

For your information and strict compliance.

xxxx

On the same date, Mayor Biron also issued Office Order No. 13 detailing
Catalina V. Belonio (Belonio), another municipal employee, to the office of
the Local Civil Registrar of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo to assume the functions and
duties as Local Civil Registrar-designate effective upon receipt of the order.
Office Order No. 13 reads:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Office Order No. 13


Series of 2010

MS. CATALINA V. BELONIO


Administrative Officer III
Office of the Municipal Mayor

Exigencies of service so requiring, you are hereby detailed at the Office of


the Local Civil Registrar and assume the functions and duties as LCR-
Designate effective upon receipt of this Order.

As such, you are hereby authorized to sign and issue documents relative
thereto including the claim for travel allowance and seminar expenses.

For you information and compliance.

x x x x3

On June 1, 2010, Mayor Biron issued to Causing Memorandum No. 17, Series
of 2010, and Memorandum No. 17-A, Series of 2010, respectively reading as
follows:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Memorandum No. 17

You are hereby directed to report to the Office of the Mayor effective
immediately upon receipt of this Order and signing of MCR documents shall
likewise be done at my office where you will be provided with a table for this
particular function.

For clarity purposes preparation of such documents relative to civil


registration provided for under R.A. No. 9048 and R.A. 9255 shall be done at
the office of MCR, after which, the said documents shall be forwarded to you
for your signature.

Additional duties and functions shall likewise be under my direct supervision.


SEPTEMBER 2014

Office Order No. 12 issued on May 28, 2010 is hereby repealed accordingly.

For your strict compliance.4cralawred

Memorandum No. 17-A

You are hereby directed to report to the Office of the Mayor effective
immediately upon receipt of this Order. You have to take action on R.A. 9048
and sign MCR documents at my office where you will be provided with a
table for this particular function.

For clarity purposes, preparation of documents relative to civil registration


shall be done at the office of MCR, after which, the said completed
documents shall be forwarded to you for your signature.

Additional duties and functions shall likewise be under my direct supervision.

Office Order No. 12 issued on May 28, 2010 is hereby repealed accordingly.

For your strict compliance.5cralawred

In view of the foregoing issuances by Mayor Biron, Causing filed the


complaint-affidavit dated June 8, 2010 in the Office of the Regional Election
Director, Region VI, in Iloilo City, claiming that Office Order No. 12 dated May
28, 2010 issued by Mayor Biron ordering her detail to the Office of the
Municipal Mayor, being made within the election period and without prior
authority from the COMELEC, was illegal and violative of Section 1,
Paragraph A, No. 1, in connection with Section 6 (B) of COMELEC Resolution
No. 8737, Series of 2009, to wit:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

xxxx

5. The issuance of Office Order No. 12 dated May 28, 2010 by the municipal
mayor ordering my detail at the Office of the Municipal Mayor, made within
the election period and without prior written authority from the COMELEC is
illegal and violative of Section 1, Paragraph A, No 1 in connection with
Section 6 (B) of COMELEC Resolution No. 8737 (Series of 2009) otherwise
known as In the Matter of Enforcing the Prohibition against appointment or
hiring of new employees, creating or filing of new positions, giving any salary
increase or transferring or detailing any officer or employee in the civil
service and suspension of local elective officials in connection with the May
10, 2010 national and local elections;

xxxx
SEPTEMBER 2014

8. Further, said transfer of detail does not fall under any of the exceptions to
the requirement of prior authority from the COMELEC, as provided under
Section 7 of COMELEC Resolution No. 8737.

x x x x6

In his counter-affidavit,7 Mayor Biron countered that the purpose of


transferring the office of Causing was to closely supervise the performance of
her functions after complaints regarding her negative behavior in dealing
with her co-employees and with the public transacting business in her office
had been received;8 that as the local chief executive, he was empowered to
take personnel actions and other management prerogatives for the good of
public service; that Causing was not being stripped of her functions as the
Municipal Civil Registrar; that she was not transferred or detailed to another
office in order to perform a different function; and that she was not demoted
to a lower position that diminished her salary and other benefits. 9cralawred

On March 1, 2011, Atty. Elizabeth Doronilla, the Provincial Election Supervisor


(PES), recommended the dismissal of the complaint-affidavit for lack of
probable cause to charge Mayor Biron with the violation of Section (h) of
the Omnibus Election Code, as implemented by Resolution No. 8737.

On September 9, 2011, the COMELEC En Banc affirmed the findings and


recommendation of PES Doronilla,10 observing that Mayor Biron did not
transfer or detail Causing but only required her to physically report to the
Mayors office and to perform her functions thereat; and that he did not strip
her of her functions as the Municipal Civil Registrar, and did not deprive her
of her supervisory functions over her staff. 11cralawred

Hence, this petition for certiorari.

Issues

Causing submits that Office Order 12 and Office Order 13 were gross
violations of COMELEC Resolution No. 8737, Series of 2009, that
implemented Section 261 (g), (h), and (x) of the Omnibus Election Code; that
the prohibition contained in said provisions covered any movement during
the election period, whether it was by reassignment, appointment,
promotion, or demotion, regardless of rank, level or salary of the affected
personnel; that her detail to the Office of the Mayor was a clear case of
personnel movement prohibited by law;12 and that Mayor Biron violated the
provisions because he did not secure from the COMELEC the prior authority
to transfer or detail her during the election period. 13cralawred

In addition, Causing claims that the COMELEC En Banc committed grave


SEPTEMBER 2014

abuse of discretion in affirming the findings of PES Doronilla to the effect that
there was no probable cause to hold Mayor Biron liable for violating
the Omnibus Election Code; and that the COMELEC En Banc totally
disregarded a crucial piece of evidence the existence of Office Order No.
13 that had ordered the detail of Belonio as the Local Civil Registrar-
designate.14cralawred

In his comment,15 Mayor Biron insists that the petition for certiorari should be
dismissed because of the petitioners failure to file a motion for
reconsideration in the COMELEC, and because of her failure to attach copies
of equally important documents pertinent to the case. 16 He emphasizes that
Office Order No. 12 was issued by his office for the purpose of closely
supervising her in performing her functions after complaints about her
behavior in dealing with her co-workers and with the public transacting
business in her office had been received by his office. 17 He accuses her of
willfully suppressing evidence, specifically the two office orders that clarified
that she would still be performing the functions of her office, albeit in the
Office of the Mayor.18cralawred

Mayor Biron reiterates his counter-affidavit, namely: (a) that there was no
transfer or detail involved, and any movement of Causing, if at all, was a
purely physical transfer, that is, only a few steps from her office to the Office
of the Mayor, without any change in the present work, agency, position, rank
and compensation;19 and (b) that granting without admitting that the
movement constituted reassignment, the same was not covered by the
provisions of COMELEC Resolution No. 8737, which expressly limited the
prohibition to either transfer or detail only.20cralawred

Mayor Biron posits that Office Order No. 13 purportedly ordering the detail of
Belonio as Local Civil Registrar-designate was a mere piece of paper, which
Belonio never received.21 He points out that his actions were upheld by the
decision dated August 13, 2010 of the Regional Office of the Civil Service
Commission dismissing the appeal by Causing of the assailed office
orders.22cralawred

Finally, Mayor Biron asserts that Causing did not demonstrate that the
COMELEC En Banc committed grave abuse of discretion in affirming the
findings that there was no probable cause to hold him liable for violation of
the Omnibus Election Code.23cralawred

On its part, the COMELEC, through the Office of the Solicitor General
(OSG),24 defends its questioned resolution, stating that the
words transfer and detail, having already acquired legislative and
jurisprudential meanings, should not be understood in their literal sense; that
Causing was neither transferred nor detailed; that she was not moved to a
SEPTEMBER 2014

different office with the same rank, level and salary, or to another
agency;25 and that Mayor Birons act of transferring the office space of
Causing was intra vires, and found legal support in the power of supervision
and control accorded to local chief executives under the Local Government
Code.26cralawred

Ruling

The petition has no merit.

1. Procedural Issue:
Causing did not file a motion for reconsideration
before filing the petition for certiorari

Section 7, Article IX-A of the Constitution states that unless otherwise


provided by the Constitution or by law, any decision, order, or ruling of each
Commission may be brought to the Court on certiorari by the aggrieved
party within 30 days from receipt of a copy thereof. For this reason, the Rules
of Court (1997) contains a separate rule (Rule 64) on the review of the
decisions of the COMELEC and the Commission on Audit. 27 Rule 64 is
generally identical with certiorari under Rule 65,28 except as to the period of
the filing of the petition for certiorari, that is, in the former, the period is 30
days from notice of the judgment or final order or resolution sought to be
reviewed but, in the latter, not later than 60 days from notice of the
judgment, order or resolution assailed. 29cralawred

Mayor Biron indicates that Causing did not file a motion for reconsideration
before coming to the Court. Causing submits, however, that she was not
required to file the motion for reconsideration because the only recourse of
an aggrieved party from the decision of the COMELEC was the filing of the
petition for certiorari under either Rule 64 or Rule 65.30cralawred

The well-established rule is that the motion for reconsideration is an


indispensable condition before an aggrieved party can resort to the special
civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. The filing of the
motion for reconsideration before the resort to certiorari will lie is intended to
afford to the public respondent the opportunity to correct any actual or
fancied error attributed to it by way of re-examination of the legal and
factual aspects of the case.31cralawred

The rule is not absolute, however, considering that jurisprudence has laid
down exceptions to the requirement for the filing of a petition
for certiorari without first filing a motion for reconsideration, namely: (a)
where the order is a patent nullity, as where the court a quo has no
jurisdiction; (b) where the questions raised in the certiorari proceedings have
been duly raised and passed upon by the lower court, or are the same as
SEPTEMBER 2014

those raised and passed upon in the lower court; (c) where there is an urgent
necessity for the resolution of the question, and any further delay would
prejudice the interests of the Government, or of the petitioner, or the subject
matter of the petition is perishable; (d) where, under the circumstances, a
motion for reconsideration would be useless; (e) where the petitioner was
deprived of due process, and there is extreme urgency for relief; (f) where, in
a criminal case, relief from an order of arrest is urgent, and the granting of
such relief by the trial court is improbable; (g) where the proceedings in the
lower court are a nullity for lack of due process; (h) where the proceeding
was ex parte or in which the petitioner had no opportunity to object; and (i)
where the issue raised is one purely of law or public interest is involved.

A perusal of the circumstances of the case shows that none of the foregoing
exceptions was applicable herein. Hence, Causing should have filed the
motion for reconsideration, especially because there was nothing in the
COMELEC Rules of Procedure that precluded the filing of the motion for
reconsideration in election offense cases. 32cralawred

Accordingly, the petition must be dismissed.

2. Substantive Issues:
Mayor Birons acts did not violate the Omnibus Election Code
and the COMELEC Resolution

On the merits, the petition should also fail.

E.O. Case No. 10-131 was founded on Mayor Birons alleged violation of
COMELEC Resolution No. 8737, Series of 2009, in relation to Section 261(g),
(h) and (x) of the Omnibus Election Code, which respectively
provide:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Resolution No. 8737

Section 1. Prohibited Acts

A. During the election period from January 10, 2010 to June 09, 2010, no
public official shall, except upon prior authority of the Commission:

1. Make or cause any transfer or detail whatsoever of any officer or


employee in the civil service, including public school teachers.
Transfer as used in this provision shall be construed as any
personnel movement from one government agency to another or from
one department, division, geographical unit or subdivision of a
SEPTEMBER 2014

government agency to another with or without the issuance of an


appointment.

xxxx

Section 261(g), (h) and (x) of the Omnibus Election Code

Sec. 261. Prohibited Acts. - The following shall be guilty of an election


offense:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

xxxx

(g) Appointment of new employees, creation of new position, promotion, or


giving salary increases. - During the period of forty-five days before a regular
election and thirty days before a special election, (1) any head, official or
appointing officer of a government office, agency or instrumentality, whether
national or local, including government-owned or controlled corporations,
who appoints or hires any new employee, whether provisional, temporary or
casual, or creates and fills any new position, except upon prior authority of
the Commission. The Commission shall not grant the authority sought unless,
it is satisfied that the position to be filled is essential to the proper
functioning of the office or agency concerned, and that the position shall not
be filled in a manner that may influence the election.

As an exception to the foregoing provisions, a new employee may be


appointed in case of urgent need: Provided, however, That notice of the
appointment shall be given to the Commission within three days from the
date of the appointment. Any appointment or hiring in violation of this
provision shall be null and void.

(2) Any government official who promotes, or gives any increase of salary or
remuneration or privilege to any government official or employee, including
those in government-owned or controlled corporations.

(h) Transfer of officers and employees in the civil service. - Any public official
who makes or causes any transfer or detail whatever of any officer or
employee in the civil service including public school teachers, within the
election period except upon prior approval of the Commission.

xxxx

(x) Suspension of elective provincial, city, municipal or barangay officer. -


The provisions of law to the contrary notwithstanding during the election
period, any public official who suspends, without prior approval of the
Commission, any elective provincial, city, municipal or barangay officer,
unless said suspension will be for purposes of applying the Anti-Graft and
SEPTEMBER 2014

Corrupt Practices Act in relation to the suspension and removal of elective


officials; in which case the provisions of this section shall be inapplicable.

The only personnel movements prohibited by COMELEC Resolution No. 8737


were transfer and detail. Transfer is defined in the Resolution as any
personnel movement from one government agency to another or from one
department, division, geographical unit or subdivision of a government
agency to another with or without the issuance of an appointment; while
detail as defined in the Administrative Code of 1987 is the movement of an
employee from one agency to another without the issuance of an
appointment.33 Having acquired technical and legal meanings, transfer and
detail must be construed as such. Obviously, the movement involving
Causing did not equate to either a transfer or a detail within the
contemplation of the law if Mayor Biron only thereby physically transferred
her office area from its old location to the Office of the Mayor some little
steps away.34 We cannot accept the petitioners argument, therefore, that
the phrase any transfer or detail whatsoever encompassed any and all
kinds and manner of personnel movement, 35 including the mere change in
office location.

Moreover, Causings too-literal understanding of transfer should not hold


sway because the provisions involved here were criminal in nature. Mayor
Biron was sought to be charged with an election offense punishable under
Section 264 of the Omnibus Election Code.36 It is a basic rule of statutory
construction that penal statutes are to be liberally construed in favor of the
accused. Every reasonable doubt must then be resolved in favor of the
accused.37 This means that the courts must not bring cases within the
provision of a law that are not clearly embraced by it. In short, no act can be
pronounced criminal unless it is clearly made so by statute prior to its
commission (nullum crimen, nulla poena, sine lege). So, too, no person who
is not clearly within the terms of a statute can be brought within them.

Equally material is that Mayor Birons act of transferring the office space of
Causing was rooted in his power of supervision and control over the officials
and employees serving in his local government unit, in order to ensure the
faithful discharge of their duties and functions. 38 His explanation that he
transferred Causings work station from her original office to his office in
order to closely supervise her after his office received complaints against her
could not be justly ignored. Verily, she thereafter continued to perform her
tasks, and uninterruptedly received her salaries as the Municipal Civil
Registrar even after the transfer to the Office of the Mayor.

The issuance of Office Order No. 13 by Mayor Biron detailing Belonio to the
Office of the Local Civil Registrar was not proof of Mayor Birons crystal clear
intention to replace and transfer her during the election period. 39 As the
COMELEC En Banc found, Belonio did not receive the order, and Causing
SEPTEMBER 2014

remained as the Municipal Civil Registrar, leaving the detailing of Belonio


uncompleted. Without the actual appointment of Belonio as the Municipal
Civil Registrar, it would be unwarranted to criminally charge Mayor Biron of
violating Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code.

It is interesting to note that aside from the present election offense case,
Causing initiated an administrative case in the Civil Service Commission to
challenge her reassignment pursuant to the same office orders. In that
administrative case, she referred to the personnel movement not as
a transfer or detail, but as a reassignment that constituted her constructive
dismissal.40 On August 13, 2010, the CSC Regional Office No. 6 in Mandurriao,
Iloilo City ruled that although Mayor Biron used the word detail in referring to
the personnel movement effected, the personnel action that actually took
place, albeit a reassignment, was a valid
reassignment, viz:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

In the instant case, Causing is not stripped of her functions as Municipal Civil
Registrar (MCR). She was merely required to physically report to the Mayors
Office and perform her functions as Municipal Civil Registrar therein.
Definitely, she is still the MCR, albeit doing her work physically outside of her
usual work station. She is also not deprived of her supervisory function over
the staff as she continues to review their work and signs documents they
prepared. While she may encounter difficulty in performing her duties as a
supervisor as she is not physically near her staff, that by itself, however,
does not mean that she has lost supervision over them. That difficulty,
nonetheless, is not tantamount to constructive dismissal. That Mayor Biron
prefers to ensure that Causing faithfully discharging her duties as MCR is
principally an exercise of his sound judgment and discretion. He alone has
the discretion to decide when to resort to the necessity of implementing
changes in the workplace as he occupies the ideal vantage point and is in
the best position to determine the needs of his agency and how to satisfy
those needs. Besides, contrary to the allegations of Causing, none of the
elements of constructive dismissal is present.

WHEREFORE, the instant appeal of Elsie B. Causing is DISMISSED. Office


Order No. 12. Dated May 28, 2010 and Office Orders No. 17 and 17-A dated
June 01, 2010 of Mayor Hernan D. Biron, Sr. of Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo are
AFFIRMED.41

Considering that reassignment was not prohibited by the Omnibus Election


Code, there was no probable cause to criminally charge Mayor Biron with the
violation of the Omnibus Election Code.

WHEREFORE, the Court DISMISSES the petition for certiorari ; AFFIRMS the
Resolution of the Commission on Elections promulgated on September 9,
SEPTEMBER 2014

2011 dismissing E.O. Case No. 10-131 entitled Elsie S. Causing v. Hernan D.
Biron, Sr.; and ORDERS the petitioner to pay the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.cralawlaw library
SEPTEMBER 2014

EN BANC

A.M. No. 2010-21-SC, September 30, 2014

Re: ANONYMOUS LETTER-COMPLAINT ON THE ALLEGED


INVOLVEMENT AND FOR ENGAGING IN THE BUSINESS OF LENDING
MONEY AT USURIOUS RATES OF INTEREST OF MS. DOLORES T.
LOPEZ, SC CHIEF JUDICIAL STAFF OFFICER, AND MR. FERNANDO M.
MONTALVO, SC SUPERVISING JUDICIAL STAFF OFFICER, CHECKS
DISBURSEMENT DIVISION, FISCAL MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
OFFICE.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

We hereby resolve the anonymous complaint denouncing the moonlighting


activities of the respondents by engaging in onerous money lending activities
targeting the low-income workers of the Court.

Antecedents

An undated letter-complaint1 addressed to the Complaints and Investigation


Division (CID) of the Office of Administrative Services (OAS) of the Supreme
Court triggered this administrative matter. The letter-complaint, purportedly
sent by a concerned employee who chose to remain anonymous, assailed
the profitable money-lending with usurious interest scheme engaged in by
respondents Dolores T. Lopez, an SC Chief Judicial Staff Officer, and Fernando
M. Montalvo, an SC Supervising Judicial Staff Officer, both of the Checks
Disbursement Division of the Courts Fiscal Management and Budget Office
(FMBO). It stated that the respondents had been involved in the money-
lending activities targeting the low-salaried employees of the Court like the
drivers and employees of the janitorial services; that such money-lending
had been going on with the help of the personnel of the Checks
Disbursement Division of FMBO by enticing employees of the Court to pledge
forthcoming benefits at a discounted rate; and that around 300 Automated
Teller Machine (ATM) cards were surrendered by the borrowers to the
respondents as collateral for the individual borrowings. 2cralawred

On September 29, 2010, the OAS directed the respondents to comment on


the letter-complaint,3 to which they respectively complied.

In her memorandum dated September 30, 2010, 4 Lopez neither denied nor
admitted the allegations against her. She dared the OAS instead to allow her
to confront the complainant head on and to openly address each issue, and,
SEPTEMBER 2014

in turn, she would waive the filing of the comment because the comment
would be unnecessary due to anonymous complaints being a dime a
dozen.5 She insinuated that despite anonymous complaints of more serious
nature against employees, officials, and even the Justices of the Court having
abounded, the OAS did not pay attention to, and did not dignify such
complaints by requiring the individuals complained against to
comment.6cralawred

In his memorandum dated September 30. 2010, 7 Montalvo dismissed the


letter-complaint as maliciously sent for the purpose of tarnishing his
reputation and the reputation of his office. He denied being engaged in the
lending business in the Court. Like Lopez, he insinuated that the OAS had
not required any comments from other employees and officials of the Court
against whom more serious accusations had been raised. 8c

Lopez and Montalvo appeared before the CID on December 1, 2010 and
December 8, 2010 for the clarificatory hearing.9cralawred

During the hearing, Lopez requested the CID to identify the anonymous
complainant and to allow her to confront the latter.10 However, the CID
denied her request, explaining that there was no need to identify the
complainant because she herself could either confirm or repudiate the
allegations of the letter-complaint against her. 11 Being thereafter reminded of
her oath to tell the truth, she relented and revised her earlier statements by
clarifying that she was not denying all the allegations against her.

Specifically, Lopez denied the allegation that she had lent money to around
300 court employees, and that she had held their ATM cards in her custody
as collateral;12 but admitted having lent money to only about 20 personnel of
the janitorial agency and to some low-ranking employees of the Court, like
the utility workers and messengers for a period of two years, 13 with the
amounts lent ranging from P500.00 to P2,000.0014 depending upon the
amounts needed and the availability of money. She said that she would
receive only P10.00 for every P100.00 borrowed that she did not consider as
interest.15 She insisted that she did not require her borrowers to pay her the
P10.00 for every P100.00 borrowed because they voluntarily gave her the
amount; and that she did not engage in money lending because she did not
offer to lend money to anyone.

Lopez acknowledged that she was the only person in the Checks
Disbursement Division of FMBO who had lent money, absolving Montalvo and
the other members of the staff of that office by saying that they had nothing
to do with her transactions.16 She stressed that her transactions did not
result in any conflict of interest, and did not compromise the integrity of her
office because her transactions had been done during break times or outside
of office hours.17cralawred
SEPTEMBER 2014

On his part, Montalvo denied the charges against him, maintaining that the
anonymous letter-complaint was a malicious attempt to damage his
reputation and the reputation of his office. 18 He declared that he lent money
only to closest acquaintances as was customary among friends.19cralawred

After completing its investigation, the CID received a second undated but still
anonymous letter-complaint,20 which alleged that Lopez had continued her
lending activities at usurious rates of interest despite the pendency of the
first complaint.

In her memorandum dated June 6, 2011, 21 Atty. Eden Candelaria, the Chief
Administrative Officer of the OAS, directed Lopez to comment on the second
complaint within five days from receipt.22cralawred

In response, Lopez requested for the transcripts of her testimony, and to be


allowed to submit an omnibus manifestation to address the second
anonymous letter-complaint.23 On his part, Montalvo filed a motion for the
immediate resolution of the letter-complaint concerning him. 24 In the
resolution promulgated on October 4, 2011,25 the Court granted Lopezs
request but merely noted Montalvos motion. It is pointed out, however, that
Lopez ultimately did not file the omnibus manifestation.

Report & Recommendation of the OAS

On March 24, 2011, the OAS submitted its report and


recommendations,26 whereby it recommended the dismissal of the letter-
complaint against Montalvo for lack of merit; 27 but endorsed Lopezs
suspension for thirty (30) days for lending money with interest to a number
of economically challenged employees and janitors; and directed her to
immediately cease and desist from engaging in any form of personal
business and other financial transactions, with a warning that a repetition of
the same or similar act in the future will be dealt with more
severely.28cralawred

Ruling of the Court

An anonymous complaint is always received with great caution, originating


as it does from a source unwilling to identify himself or herself. It is suspect
for that reason. But the mere anonymity of the source should not call for the
outright dismissal of the complaint on the ground of its being baseless or
unfounded provided its allegations can be reliably verified and
properly substantiated by competent evidence, 29 like public records of
indubitable integrity, thus needing no corroboration by evidence to be
offered by the complainant, whose identity and integrity could hardly be
material where the matter involved is of public interest, 30 or the
declarations by the respondents themselves in reaction to the allegations,
SEPTEMBER 2014

where such declarations are, properly speaking, admissions worthy of


consideration for not being self-serving.

Here, therefore, the anonymous complaint has to be dealt with, and its
veracity tested with utmost care, for it points the finger of accusation at two
employees of the Court for engaging in money-lending activities at
unconscionable rates of interest, with low-ranking employees of the Court as
their targets. That such a complaint, albeit anonymous, has been made
impacts on their reputations as individuals as well as on their integrity as
personnel of the Court itself. We cannot ignore the complaint, hoping that it
will be forgotten, but must inquire into it and decide it despite the anonymity
of the complainant. Any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those
involved in the administration of justice that violates the norms of public
accountability and diminishes or even just tends to diminish the faith of the
people in the Judiciary cannot be countenanced. 31 It is for this reason that all
anonymous but apparently valid complaints are not quickly dismissed but are
justly heard and fairly investigated and determined by this Court.

The respondents are both responsible fiduciary officers in the FMBO, the
office that is in charge of all the financial transactions of the Court, including
the preparation and processing of vouchers to cover the payment of salaries,
allowances, office supplies, equipment and other sundry expenses, utilities,
janitorial, and security services, and maintenance and other operating
expenses, and the issuance of corresponding checks therefor. Indeed, the
respondents discharge the delicate task of handling the payment of
employees salaries and allowances.

1. Re: Montalvo

The Court concurs with the findings of the OAS that the complaint against
Montalvo had no factual basis. His involvement in money lending was not
shown to be habitual, going on only as far as accommodating his friends
during their personal emergencies without imposing any interests. The
statement in the letter-complaint to the effect that both respondents have
been in the forefront of syndicated lending activities was not supported by
any proof. It is notable that Montalvo firmly denied the allegations against
him, and that Lopez corroborated his denial. 32 Accordingly, the complaint
against Montalvo should be dismissed.

2. Re: Lopez

As to Lopez, no witnesses appeared during the investigation to prove the


allegations of the complaint. But the complaint should still be assessed on
the basis of her several admissions in the course of the December 8, 2010
investigation to the effect that: (a) she had repeatedly33 lent money to about
10 to 20 court employees;34 (b) the borrowers had voluntarily paid about
SEPTEMBER 2014

10% interest on the money borrowed (i.e., P10 for every P100
borrowed);35 (c) the money lent had ranged from P500.00 to P5,000.00; 36 (d)
her regular borrowers had included the utility workers,37 and the low-salaried
court employees,38 like court messengers;39 (e) she had engaged in such
activity for more than two years already; 40 (f) she had attended to the
transactions around 3:30 oclock in the afternoon and at times during break
time;41 (g) she had taken hold of at least 10 but not more than 20 ATM cards
of her borrowers as collateral;42 (h) the money she had lent to the borrowers
had been proceeds from her Coop or SCSLA personal loans; 43 and (i) she had
also accommodated her office staff whenever they did not have money in
going to and from the office.44cralawred

In its evaluation of the anonymous complaint as to Lopez, the OAS observed


and found thusly:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

From the foregoing, this Office has established that Ms. Lopez is guilty of
lending money with interest which at most would reach up to 10% of the
total amount borrowed. While she denied that the loan is somewhat like the
famously known 5-6 loan, as she denied charging the employees with
usurious interest because she is just accommodating them to lessen their
financial burdens and it is the employees themselves who would insist on
paying interest voluntarily, this Office nonetheless finds the act improper.
Even if she was motivated solely by her earnest desire to help employees in
dire need of money, the fact remains that she lends money for a
consideration. It would have been different perhaps if she lends money
without any voluntary interest as she claimed.

In fact, she is not even obliged to lend money to them. It is beyond her duty
to answer every financial difficulties of the employees. While there is no law
or rules and regulations which prohibits charity or generosity among court
employees, what is unacceptable is her act of lending money for a
consideration and within the premises of the Court on official time.

Worse, she is the Chief of the Checks Disbursement Division that handles the
preparation and issuance of checks to court employees. It is beyond
question that her official functions consist of, among others, the supervision
of office staff. This gives us the impression that she took advantage of her
position and abused the confidence reposed in her office, thus, placing at risk
the integrity of the division and the whole Fiscal Management and Budget
Office (FMBO). As an officer of the FMBO she can be privy of the benefits
which may be given. From there, employees can borrow and/or advance
money from her and where she may easily accede knowing that after all
there will be benefits forthcoming.

Thus, this Office concludes that her actuation although not related to her
official functions as division chief, has undeniably fell short of the high
SEPTEMBER 2014

standards of propriety expected of employees of the Judiciary. It is


considered as conduct unbecoming of an official of the Judiciary. It may be
true that she may have temporarily helped specific individuals and have a
noble intention to help employees by lending them with money, but in one
way or the other, she may also have taken advantage of the employees
financial conditions because of the anticipated profit to be generated from
the loans. As a result, Court employees incurred uncontrolled debts all year
round where she benefits primarily because of the so called voluntary
interest given.

Moreover, she has demeaned the image of the office which she represents,
by the fact that she utilized her office in the conduct of her lending business.
Courts are considered temples of justice and should never be utilized for any
other purpose. Her claim that she conducts her business during lunch breaks
and/or after office hours is of no moment. The fact remains that it is done
within the premises of the Court and presumably inside their office where
official resources are utilized. This alone is highly reprehensible. By allowing
anybody to enter their office solely for the purpose of borrowing money, she
has compromised the safety of the Checks Disbursement Division. The Code
of Conduct for Court Employees specifically Canon I, Section 5 provides that
Court personnel shall use the resources, property and funds under their
official custody in judicious manner and solely in accordance with the
prescribed statutory and regulatory guidelines or procedures.

Considering that Ms. Lopez is engaged in lending business, her integrity as a


public servant and the reputation of her office and of this Court have been
seriously tarnished. While it is not wrong for her to lend, she should have
taken caution to avoid any impression that she enriched herself at the
expense of lowly paid court employees. As she has claimed nagpapahiram
lang po ako sa mga maliliit na empleyado. Suffice it is to say that she has
taken advantage of the plight of the economically challenged employees. In
view thereof, this Office recommends that the penalty of suspension of thirty
(30) days is appropriate in this case, with a warning that a repetition of the
same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely. While indeed, there
may be mitigating circumstances in her favor, the aggravating
circumstances farther out-weight them.

Worthy to note is the observance made and reports received by this Office,
that a good number of Court employees are heavily indebted to various
entities because of lack proper financial planning. This leads them to obtain
excessive debt and be financially dependent on others. It is for this reason
that the Honorable Chief Justice directed the conduct of the seminar on
financial and debt management for Court employees entitled. Towards
Financial Independent. This is aimed, among others, to help employees
manage their finances. With the presence, however of employees such as
SEPTEMBER 2014

the respondent in this case, Financial Independence will remain to be a


remote possibility.45

The Court agrees with the observations and findings of the OAS about Lopez
having engaged in money-lending activities. Her various admissions entirely
belied her insistence that her activities did not constitute money lending. Her
claim that the amounts voluntarily given to her by the recipients had not
been interests on the loans extended to them was plainly insincere. The fact
of her parting with her money in favor of another upon the condition that the
same amount would be paid back was exactly what constituted a loan under
the law. In a contract of loan, according to Article 1933 of the Civil Code,
one of the parties delivers to another, either something not consumable so
that the latter may use the same for a certain time and return it, in which
case the contract is called a commodatum; or money or other consumable
thing, upon the condition that the same amount of the same kind and quality
shall be paid, in which case the contract is simply called a loan or mutuum.

Did Lopezs money-lending activities render her administratively liable?

Administrative Circular No. 5 (Re: Prohibition for All Officials and Employees
of the Judiciary to Work as Insurance Agents), dated October 4, 1988, has
prohibited all officials and employees of the Judiciary from engaging directly
in any private business, vocation or profession, even outside their office
hours. The prohibition has been at ensuring that full-time officers and
employees of the courts render full-time service, for only thereby could any
undue delays in the administration of justice and in the disposition of court
cases be avoided.46 The nature of the work of court employees and officials
demanded their highest degree of efficiency and responsibility, but they
would not ably meet the demand except by devoting their undivided time to
the government service.47 This explains why court employees have been
enjoined to strictly observe official time and to devote every second or
moment of such time to serving the public. 48cralawred

Although many moonlighting activities were themselves legal acts that


would be permitted or tolerated had the actors not been employed in the
public sector,49 moonlighting, albeit not usually treated as a serious
misconduct, can amount to a malfeasance in office by the very nature of the
position held. In the case of Lopez, her being the Chief of the Checks
Disbursement Division of the FMBO, a major office of the Court itself, surely
put the integrity of the Checks Disbursement Division and the entire FMBO
under so much undeserved suspicion. She ought to have refrained from
engaging in money lending, particularly to the employees of the Court. We
do not need to stress that she was expected to be circumspect about her
acts and actuations, knowing that the impression of her having taken
advantage of her position and her having abused the confidence reposed in
her office and functions as such would thereby become unavoidable. There is
SEPTEMBER 2014

no doubt about her onerous lending activities greatly diminishing the


reputation of her office and of the Court itself in the esteem of the public.

Considering that the official and personal conduct and deportment of all the
people who work for the Judiciary mirrored the image of the Court
itself,50 they should strive to comport themselves with propriety and decorum
at all times, and to be above suspicion of any misdeed and
misconduct.51 Only thereby would they earn and keep the publics respect for
and confidence in the Judiciary. As a public servant, therefore, Lopez knew
only too well that she was expected at all times to exhibit the highest sense
of honesty and integrity. No less that the Constitution itself impresses this
expectation in Section 1 of its Article XI, to wit:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all
times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility,
integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead
modest lives.

Lopez was quite aware that the foregoing declarative language of the
Constitution on the nature of her public office and her responsibilities as a
public officer was not mere rhetoric expressing idealistic sentiments, but a
definite working standard and a statement of attainable goals that the actual
deeds of the public officers and employees should match. She plainly
disregarded the Constitution.

Misconduct in office refers to any unlawful behavior by a public officer in


relation to the duties of his office that is willful in character. The term
embraces acts that the office holder had no right to perform, acts performed
improperly, and failure to act in the face of an affirmative duty to act. 52 The
Court has invariably imposed commensurate sanctions upon court
employees found and declared to be violating Administrative Circular No. 5.
The sanctions have depended on the gravity of the violations committed and
on the careful consideration of the personal records of the employees
concerned, like their prior administrative cases. For instance, a reprimand
sufficed for a court stenographer who appeared as the representative of one
of the complainants in a labor case pending in the National Labor Relations
Commission;53 a fine of P1,000.00 was imposed on a court aide who operated
a sari-sari store in the court premises;54 a P5,000.00 fine was prescribed on a
process server in the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court
for facilitating the bail bond of an accused in a pending case in one of the
courts in the judicial station;55 suspension for one month without pay became
the penalty for a sheriff who had moonlighted as the administrator/trustee
of a market outside of office hours in order to augment his meager
salary;56 suspension for six months without pay was the sanction on a court
stenographer who had engaged in a pyramiding scheme, and who had
solicited investments during office hours;57 suspension for one month without
SEPTEMBER 2014

pay was meted on a Clerk of Court of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities for
engaging in the lending business;58 and dismissal from the service with
forfeiture of all the benefits due became the condign punishment for a clerk
who had worked as part-time sales agent of an appliance center, and who
had committed other offenses, specifically, the falsification of her daily time
records and the infliction of physical injuries on the complainant in a public
place under scandalous circumstances.59cralawred

Based on the foregoing, Lopez committed simple misconduct, a less grave


offense that is punishable under Rule IV, Section 52 of the Revised Uniform
Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service by suspension from one
month and one day to six months for the first offense, and dismissal for the
second offense. Yet, although a first-time offender, she could not be punished
with the minimum of the imposable penalty because she clearly abused her
being a high-ranking officer in the FMBO in conducting her private
transactions within court premises during office hours, thereby putting the
image of the Judiciary in a bad light. Hence, her appropriate penalty is
suspension from office for three months without pay.

3. In ordering their investigation upon the anonymous complaint,


the Court did not discriminate and unfairly act against the
respondents

Before closing, we note that the respondents made the following statements
in their respective memorandums,60 to wit:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Montalvo

The undersigned just want (sic) to express my thoughts to release my anger


to free from harm. In fact, there are many other anonymous
complaints against employees, officials and justices even stating far
more serious accusations but which did not merit any require
comment action from your office.61 (Emphasis supplied)

Lopez

Otherwise, any comment on the complaint shall be meaningless especially


since anonymous complaints are a dime a dozen. In fact, there are many
other anonymous complaints against employees officials and
justices even stating far more serious accusations but which did
not merit any require comment action from your office.62
(Emphasis supplied)

The respondents thereby flagrantly accused the Court, acting through the
OAS, of being unfairly selective in causing their investigation upon the
anonymous complaint but ignoring the far more serious accusations
SEPTEMBER 2014

against employees, officials and justices even. Their accusation has tended
to diminish the publics faith and confidence in the Court itself.

In ordering the administrative investigation of the respondents, the Court


was moved only by the most laudable of purposes. To start with, the
investigation would never be unfair because they would thereby be accorded
the full opportunity to be heard in order to clear themselves. And, secondly,
they were not being singled out because the Court has always acted upon
every appropriate complaint or grievance anonymous or not brought
against officials and employees of the Judiciary without regard to their ranks
or responsibilities, including any of its sitting Members, the incumbent
Justices of the third-level courts, and other active judges of the first and
second levels of the courts. Only last week did the Court remove a very
senior Justice of the Sandiganbayan for cause, and in his case there was not
even any formal complaint brought against him. 63 Verily, everyone who
works in the Judiciary answers to the exacting standards of conduct in order
to maintain the integrity of the Judiciary and to preserve the esteem of the
public for the courts, for the very image of the Judiciary is inescapably
epitomized in the official conduct and the non-official demeanor of judicial
officers and court personnel. To accuse the Court of unfairness and
discrimination was, therefore, censurable.

Nonetheless, the Court accords to Montalvo and Lopez the reasonable


opportunity to show cause why they should not be disciplined or otherwise
sanctioned for their censurable statements.

WHEREFORE, the Court:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary


1. FINDS and PRONOUNCES respondent DOLORES TAN LOPEZ, SC
Chief Judicial Staff Officer of the Checks Disbursement Division, Fiscal
Management and Budget Office, GUILTY of violating Administrative
Circular No. 5 dated October 4, 1988, and hereby SUSPENDS her from
office for a period of three (3) months without pay, with a STERN
WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt
with more severely;
2. DISMISSES the anonymous complaint against FERNANDO M.
MONTALVO, SC Supervising Judicial Staff Officer, Checks
Disbursement Division, Fiscal Management and Budget Office, for lack
of evidence; and,
3. ORDERS respondents FERNANDO M. MONTALVO and DOLORES
TAN LOPEZ to show cause in writing and under oath within ten (10)
days from notice why they should not be disciplined or otherwise
sanctioned for their censurable statements against the Court and its
Members in directing their investigation upon an anonymous complaint
but ignoring the far more serious accusations against other
employees, officials and justices even.
SEPTEMBER 2014

Let this decision be noted in the personal records of the respondents.

SO ORDERED.cralawlaw library
SEPTEMBER 2014

EN BANC

A.M. No. 2008-23-SC, September 30, 2014

ALLEGED LOSS OF VARIOUS BOXES OF COPY PAPER DURING THEIR


TRANSFER FROM THE PROPERTY DIVISION, OFFICE OF
ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES (OAS), TO THE VARIOUS ROOMS OF THE
PHILIPPINE JUDICIAL ACADEMY.

[A.M. No. 2014-025-Ret.]

RELEASE OF COMPULSORY RETIREMENT BENEFITS UNDER R.A. NO.


8291 OF MR. ISIDRO P. AUSTRIA, FORMER SUPPLY OFFICER II,
PHILIPPINE JUDICIAL ACADEMY, SUPREME COURT.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

Before us is the administrative matter inquiring into the loss of 140 reams of
long copy paper, and 40 reams of short copy paper, valued at P27,000.00,
delivered to the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA). The loss was criminal
theft by all means.

Also for our consideration now is the application for the release of his
retirement benefits due to his intervening compulsory retirement from the
service on his 65th birthday on August 17, 2012 of one of the employees
under investigation.

Antecedents

On October 23, 2008, Bocs Trading Co., Inc. delivered 1,300 reams of short
copy paper and 1,100 reams of long copy paper to the Supreme Court
intended for the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA). As instructed by
Administrative Officer Ma. Christina M. Recio, the delivery was initially
accepted by Ryan Orcullo, the Property Custodian of the PHILJA, because
Supply Officer II Isidro Austria and Store Keeper IV Lenin Mario Ordoez, both
of the Property and Supply Section, PHILJA Administrative Office, were then
not around. The first batch of copy paper, consisting of 300 reams long copy
paper and 800 reams of short copy paper, were unloaded under the
supervision of Orcullo and brought directly to the stock rooms and available
spaces at the premises of the PHILJA. When Orcullo left for his lunch break,
Ordoez took over. The rest of the delivery were unloaded from the delivery
truck at the Centennial Building of the Court upon the instruction of Ordoez.
SEPTEMBER 2014

With the help of Judicial Staff Employee II Elizalde S. Carmona, Ordoez then
initiated the transfer of the copy paper to the stockroom and the
Reproduction Room (Repro Room) of the Office of the Court Administrator
(OCA) in the Supreme Court Multipurpose Building located in the SC New
Building. In the afternoon of October 23, 2008, Orcullo informed
Administrative Officer Recio that 400 reams of short copy paper and 40
reams of long copy paper were missing.

In his letter dated October 27, 2008, Atty. Rodel O. Hernandez formally
reported the missing boxes of copy paper belonging to the PHILJA to PHILJA
Vice Chancellor Justice Justo P. Torres, Jr., disclosing that the preliminary
investigation conducted by Administrative Officer Recio and HR Officer III Ma.
Lourdes Pelaus revealed that: (a) Austria had admitted having used the SCs
Lite Ace van with Plate No. SEF 868 to unload 50 reams of short bond paper
contained in five boxes in Intramuros to pay his outstanding personal debt of
P5,000.00; but had denied any involvement in the loss of the other boxes of
copy paper; (b) Ordoez had claimed that he supervised and made the
transfer of 300 reams in 30 boxes of long bond paper to the OCA stock room,
but the verification had shown only 270 reams in 27 boxes; he had admitted
riding the PHILJA van with Plate No. SFV 785 to deliver the reams of copy
paper to the Repro Room without the proper trip ticket, leaving the boxes of
copy paper there without padlocking the stockrooms; (c) driver Eusebio M.
Glor of the Administrative Division had admitted driving the Lite Ace van with
Plate No. SEF 868 to Intramuros with Austria on board, and had
acknowledged facilitating the unlawful transfer of 50 reams of copy paper in
50 boxes; but had denied knowledge of the remaining missing boxes of copy
paper; and (d) Carmona had driven the PHILJA van with Plate No. SFV 785
upon the request of Ordoez without the corresponding trip ticket, and had
assisted Ordoez only in the transfer of the boxes from the OCA stockroom to
the Repro Room.1cralawred

The Office of Administrative Services (OAS) directed Austria, Ordoez, Glor


and Carmona to submit their respective comments, and to show cause why
they should not be held administratively liable for grave misconduct, and/or
conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. They were further
summoned to appear before the OAS for investigation.

In his comment,2 Ordoez reiterated his denial of any knowledge of the loss
of the 30 boxes of long copy paper from the OCA stockroom, but admitted
that he had initiated the transfer upon the instructions of Administrative
Officer Recio. He claimed that he had merely endorsed the copy paper to
Orcullo as the PHILJA Property Custodian tasked with overseeing the supplies
in the stockroom; that it was already the practice in the PHILJA to bring to or
take supplies from the Repro Room with the help of any available PHILJA
drivers even without any corresponding trip tickets although the drivers
SEPTEMBER 2014

might have other driving assignments; and that even the guards were aware
of the practice.

On his part, Austria conceded that he had used the 50 reams of papers to
pay for the copy paper he had borrowed from one Mr. Roy of the Jimmy Roy
Trading, a supplier of toners, inks, and sometimes copy paper. He denied that
the copy paper was payment for his personal loan, maintaining that he had
only borrowed the copy paper in order to avoid delays for an upcoming
PHILJA training. Recalled by the OAS, however, Austria retracted, and pointed
to Glor as having taken the copy paper. According to him, Glor even planned
their purported escape.

Glor declared that Austria had instructed him to load five boxes of short copy
paper in the van, and directed him to proceed to a place in Intramuros,
where someone else unloaded the copy paper. Recalled by the OAS, Glor
likewise recanted, averring instead that the paper had been unloaded by
Austria on Orosa St. near the Philam Insurance Company; and that he had
been coached by Austria on what their version would be. 3cralawred

After conducting the investigation, the OAS concluded that Ordoez had
failed to exercise the required diligence in the performance of his task in
overseeing the delivery of the copy paper by not seeing to the safe storage
of the copy paper, and by not properly endorsing the copy paper to his office
or to the security guard assigned in the area where he had left the reams of
copy paper. The OAS pointed out that the loss of the copy paper from the
OCA stockroom had been Ordoezs fault, because he was the person in
charge of the stockroom; that Ordoezs negligence had facilitated the theft
of the 50 reams by Austria and Glor; and that the theft had resulted in the
loss of approximately P27,000.00 by the Court.4cralawred

The OAS found that Austria and Glor had committed perjury by giving false
statements, as borne out by the incongruence of their initial narration of
facts and their subsequent statements blaming each other as the perpetrator
of the theft of the copy paper; that it was clear that their act of taking the
copy paper without authority constituted theft; that they were liable for
serious dishonesty considering that their acts were attended by certain
circumstances that rendered their offense serious, namely: (a) damage and
prejudice to the Government; (b) moral depravity; and (c) employment of
fraud or falsification of official documents in committing the dishonest
acts.5cralawred

As to Carmona, the OAS observed that he was still responsible for securing
the trip ticket as a driver even if he had been requested to help
Ordoez,.6cralawred
SEPTEMBER 2014

The OAS ultimately recommended as follows:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

A. x x x

I. For having been found guilty of Gross Dishonesty, Grave


Misconduct and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the
Service, Mesrs. Isidro T. Austria and Eusebio M. Glor, be
meted with the penalty of DISMISSAL from the service with
forfeiture of benefits except accrued leave credits;

II. For having been found guilty of Gross Neglect of Duty, Mr. Lenin
Mario M. Ordoez, be meted the penalty of DISMISSAL from
the service with forfeiture of benefits except accrued leave
credits;

III. Mesrs. Austria, Glor and Ordoez, be directed to restitute to


the Court the copy papers stolen; and

IV. For driving without a trip ticket to the PHILJA Reproduction


Room, Mr. Elizalde S. Carmona, be WARNED that a repetition
of similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

B. The Security Division be reminded to strictly implement the Resolution


of the Court dated July 11, 1989, Re: Security Guidelines for the
Supreme Court; and directed to enforce the use of trip tickets with
corresponding Gate Pass, Requisition and Issue Slip (RIS), or transfer
slip, whichever is appropriate for the property/ies or supplies to be
brought outside the Courts premises.

C. This Office submits for the Courts information, the Memorandum with
supporting documents dated February 20, 2009 of Justice Justo P.
Torres, Jr., Vice Chancellor, PHILJA, providing (a) their stock position as
of December 2008; (b) documents showing distribution of supplies and
materials to the various PHILJA offices/divisions; (c) information that
the PHILJA has implemented stricter rules in order to resolve any form
or (sic) waste or pilferage at PHILJA.

For the Courts consideration.7cralawred

Meanwhile, on May 4, 2009, Ordoez resigned from the PHILJA, citing the
approval of his familys visa application for immigrant status in Canada as
the reason for his resignation.8 On June 23, 2009, the Court En
SEPTEMBER 2014

Banc approved his resignation, subject to the usual clearance requirements


and without prejudice to the outcome of this administrative case.9cralawred

Subsequently, the parties manifested that they were submitting the case for
resolution upon the pleadings filed.10cralawred

On August 20, 2014, the Third Division directed the consolidation of A.M. No.
2014-025-Ret. with A.M. No. 2008-23-SC.11 The Banc accepted the
consolidation on September 9, 2014.

Ruling

After reviewing the records, we are satisfied with and adopt the findings of
the OAS.

There is grave misconduct when the elements of corruption, clear intent to


violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule are
present.12 Dishonesty is defined as a disposition to lie, cheat, deceive or
defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or
integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness.13 Both gross
misconduct and dishonesty are grave offenses that are punishable by
dismissal even for the first offense.14cralawred

Conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service is also classified as a


grave offense under Section 22(t) of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book
V of Executive Order No. 292 and other pertinent Civil Service laws, with the
penalty for the first offense being suspension for six (6) months and one (1)
day to one (1) year, and for the second offense being dismissal. 15 The Civil
Service laws and rules contain no description of what specific acts constitute
the grave offense of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
However, jurisprudence has been instructive, with the Court having
considered the following acts or omissions as constitutive of conduct
prejudicial to the best interest of the service, namely: (a) misappropriation of
public funds; (b) abandonment of office; (c) failure to report back to work
without prior notice; (d) failure to keep public records and property safe; (e)
making false entries in public documents; and (f) falsification of court
orders.16cralawred

In Court Administrator v. Sevillo,17 the act of stealing mail matter by the


respondent, a process server in the Municipal Circuit Court of Jordan-
Buenavista-Nueva Valencia, Guimaras, was held to constitute grave
dishonesty and grave misconduct or conduct prejudicial to the best interest
of the service, with the Court opining:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

It can never be said often enough that the conduct of judges and court
personnel must not only be characterized by propriety and decorum at all
times but must also be above suspicion. In this regard, respondent Sevillo
SEPTEMBER 2014

has been grossly deficient. By stealing mail matters he has blatantly


degraded the judiciary and diminished the respect and regard of the people
for the court and its personnel. Every employee of the judiciary should be an
example of integrity, uprightness and honesty. Lamentably, respondent has
become no better than a common thief; consequently, he does not deserve
to stay a minute longer in the judicial service.

In Re: Pilferage of Supplies in the Stockroom of the Property Division, OCA


Committed by Teodoro L. Saquin, Clerk II, 18 the respondent admitted stealing
office supplies from the OCA, and selling the supplies to sidewalk vendors in
front of the Isetann Department Store along Recto Avenue corner Quezon
Boulevard, Manila. The Court meted the penalty of dismissal from the
service, with forfeiture of all leave credits and retirement benefits, and with
prejudice to re-entry to any Government entity or any Government-owned or
Government-controlled corporation; and further directed the referral of the
records of the case to the Department of Justice for investigation with a view
to the filing, if warranted, of the appropriate criminal proceedings.

For making false statements, committing perjury and stealing the copy
paper, Austria and Glor are guilty of grave misconduct, 19 gross dishonesty,
and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. Their dismissal
from the service is the proper penalty, with forfeiture of retirement benefits,
except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification from re-
employment in the Government. In addition, the records of the case should
be referred to the Department of Justice for investigation with a view to the
filing, if warranted, of the appropriate criminal proceedings.

On August 17, 2012 and during the pendency of A.M. No. 2008-23-SC,
Austria turned 65 years old and was deemed compulsorily retired from the
service. He applied for retirement benefits under Republic Act No. 8291 (The
Government Service Insurance Act of 1997), and his application was
docketed as A.M. No. 2014-025-Ret. The OAS recommended on July 30, 2104
that the benefits of Austria under Republic Act No. 8291 could be paid to him
by the Government Service Insurance System subject to the usual clearance
requirements. As stated, the Third Division of the Court directed the
consolidation of A.M. No. 2014-025-Ret. with A.M. No. 2008-23-SC, and the
Banc accepted the consolidation on September 9, 2014.

The fact that Austria meanwhile reached the compulsory retirement age did
not render A.M. No. 2008-23-SC moot, let alone release him from whatever
liability he had incurred while in the active service. The jurisdiction acquired
by the Court continues despite his compulsory retirement. Indeed, the Court
retains its jurisdiction to declare a respondent either innocent or guilty of the
charge even in the extreme case of the respondents supervening death. If
innocent, the respondent receives the vindication of his name and integrity
by declaring his service in the Government to be well and faithful; if guilty in
SEPTEMBER 2014

anyway, he deserves the sanction just and appropriate for his administrative
sin.20cralawred

Where a respondent is found guilty of a grave offense but the penalty of


dismissal is no longer possible because of his compulsory retirement, the
Court has nevertheless imposed the just and appropriate disciplinary
measures and sanctions by decreeing the forfeiture of all benefits to which
he may be entitled, except accrued leave credits, with prejudice to re-
employment in any branch or instrumentality of the Government, including
Government-owned and Government-controlled corporations, 21 and by
imposing a fine to be deducted from the retirement benefits. In Orfila v.
Arellano, respondent Human Rights Resource Management Officer II, being
guilty of misconduct, was meted a fine equivalent to her salary for six (6)
months to be deducted from whatever leave and retirement benefits or
privileges she was entitled to.22cralawred

Austria is now being held guilty of the grave offenses of gross dishonesty and
grave misconduct, (either of which is punishable by dismissal for the first
offense), as well as of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service,
but since the penalty of dismissal could no longer be imposed on him, the
Court forfeits all benefits to which he could be entitled, except accrued leave
credits, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of
the Government, including Government-owned and Government-controlled
corporations, and fines him in the amount equivalent to his salary for his last
six (6) months in the service to be deducted from whatever accrued leave
benefits remained for him. Hence, his request in A.M. No. 2014-025-Ret. for
the release of his compulsory retirement benefits under R.A. No. 8291 is
denied.

Ordoez is guilty of gross neglect of duty. Even if he did not have a direct
hand in the theft of the copy paper, his negligence facilitated the theft. As
correctly found by the OAS, he failed to safely store and to endorse the copy
paper to the assigned security personnel; and that he did not also conduct
an actual count and make a record of all the reams of copy paper delivered
to his safekeeping. Had he been diligent in performing his tasks and
responsibilities as a Storekeeper IV, 23 Austria and Glor would not have
managed to take out the reams of copy paper out of the stockroom, of which
he was then in charge. Indeed, he so admitted this during the
investigation.24cralawred

Neglect of duty is the failure to give ones attention to a task expected of


him. Gross neglect is such neglect that, from the gravity of the case or the
frequency of instances, becomes so serious in its character as to endanger or
threaten the public welfare. The term does not necessarily include willful
neglect or intentional official wrongdoing. 25 Those responsible for such act or
SEPTEMBER 2014

omission cannot escape the disciplinary power of this Court. 26 The imposable
penalty for gross neglect of duty is dismissal from the service.

Ordoez resigned effective May 4, 2009, purportedly to migrate to


Canada.27 His resignation would not extricate him from the consequences of
his gross neglect of duty, because the Court has not allowed resignation to
be an escape or an easy way out to evade administrative liability or
administrative sanction.28 Ordoez remains administratively liable, but his
resignation prevents his dismissal from the service. A fine can be imposed,
instead, and its amount is subject to the sound discretion of the Court.
Section 56 (e) of Rule IV of the Revised Uniform Rules provides that fine as a
penalty shall be in an amount not exceeding the salary for six months had
the respondent not resigned, the rate for which is that obtaining at the time
of his resignation.29 The fine shall be deducted from any accrued leave
credits, with the respondent being personally liable for any deficiency that
should be directly payable to this Court. He is further declared disqualified
from any future government service.

The recommended sanction for Cardona is warning. Such sanction is


sufficient considering that Ordoez merely solicited the help of Cardona in
transferring the reams of copy paper from the OCA stockroom to the Repro
Room in the SC New Building. Although Carmona admittedly used a trip
ticket not authorized for the transfer, we cannot appreciate that fact against
him because the rule on securing trip tickets was not yet strictly
implemented at that time. At any rate, it nowhere appeared that Carmona
directly participated in the theft.

We emphasize that all court employees, being public servants in the


Judiciary, must always act with a high degree of professionalism and
responsibility. Their conduct must not only be characterized by propriety and
decorum, but must also be in accordance with the law and court regulations.
To maintain the peoples respect and faith in the Judiciary, they should be
upright, fair and honest. They should avoid any act or conduct that tends to
diminish public trust and confidence in the courts. 30cralawred

WHEREFORE, the Court FINDS and DECLARES:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary


1. EUSEBIO M. GLOR and ISIDRO T. AUSTRIA guilty of gross dishonesty,
grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service,
and, accordingly;

(a) EUSEBIO M. GLOR is DISMISSED FROM THE SERVICE WITH


FORFEITURE OF ALL BENEFITS EXCEPT ACCRUED LEAVE CREDITS; and

(b) ISIDRO T. AUSTRIA FORFEITS all his retirement benefits, except


accrued leave credits, WITH PREJUDICE TO RE-EMPLOYMENT IN ANY
BRANCH OR INSTRUMENTALITY OF THE GOVERNMENT, INCLUDING
SEPTEMBER 2014

GOVERNMENT-OWNED AND GOVERNMENT-CONTROLLED


CORPORATIONS, and is ORDERED TO PAY A FINE equivalent to his salary
for six months computed at the salary rate of his former position at the time
of his resignation, to be deducted from whatever accrued leave benefits
remained for him;

2. LENIN MARIO M. ORDOEZ guilty of gross neglect of duty, and,


accordingly, he is ORDERED TO PAY A FINE equivalent to his salary for six
months computed at the salary rate of his former position at the time of his
resignation; and he is declared DISQUALIFIED FROM RE-EMPLOYMENT IN
ANY BRANCH OR INSTRUMENTALITY OF THE GOVERNMENT,
INCLUDING GOVERNMENT-OWNED OR CONTROLLED CORPORATIONS.

The Court DENIES the application of ISIDRO T. AUSTRIA in A.M. No. 2014-
025-Ret. for the release of his compulsory retirement benefits under Republic
Act No. 8291.

The Court ORDERS EUSEBIO M. GLOR, ISIDRO T. AUSTRIA and LENIN


MARIO M. ORDOEZ to restitute to the Court the amount of P27,000.00 as
cost of the copy paper stolen.

ELIZALDE S. CARMONA is WARNED that a repetition of a similar act in the


future shall be dealt with more severely.

The Office of the Court Administrator is instructed to refer the records of this
administrative case to the Department of Justice for investigation and filing,
if warranted, of the appropriate criminal proceedings against ISIDRO T.
AUSTRIA, EUSEBIO M. GLOR and LENIN MARIO M. ORDOEZ.

SO ORDERED.cralawlaw library
SEPTEMBER 2014
SEPTEMBER 2014

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 158583, September 10, 2014

ROSALIE L. GARGOLES, Petitioner, v. REYLITA S. DEL ROSARIO, DOING


BUSINESS UNDER THE NAME AND STYLE JAY ANNE'S ONE HOUR
PHOTO SHOP, Respondent.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

An act of dishonesty by an employee who has been put in charge of the


employers money and property amounts to breach of the trust reposed by
the employer, and normally leads to loss of confidence in her. Such
dishonesty comes within the just and valid causes for the termination of her
employment under Article 282 of the Labor Code.

Antecedents

On February 20, 1992, the petitioner started working as an all-around


employee acting as cashier, sales clerk, xerox operator, janitress, photo
printer, and messenger/delivery person at Jay-Annes One Hour Photo Shop,
the proprietress of which was respondent Reylita S. Del Rosario. 1 On March
28, 1998, the petitioner received a letter terminating her employment for
dishonesty. As a result, she lodged a complaint for illegal dismissal, seeking
her reinstatement and backwages.

To answer the complaint for illegal dismissal, Del Rosario laid out the reason
for the termination of the petitioner in her position paper, as follows:

Through incisive sleuthing, records inspection and investigation in the


second week of March, 1998, it was discovered that complainant, tampered
with the daily printer's production reports/sales which[,] as consequence
thereof, the total number of prints made for the day was podded [sic] and
erroneously reported thru double entries of the same job envelope and one
(1) twin check number for every fresh role [sic] of film for photo-developing
and printing or even recopying; it was on the same entry with two (2) twin
check numbers instead of just one (1) number of the same job envelope that
complainant pocketed and appropriated for her own benefit and gain the
cash value or cash equivalent of the excessive or padded daily total of
number of prints made and erroneously reported to the respondent store
damage and prejudice amounting to P11,305.00 computed at 2,207 prints x
P5.00 per print during the period December 1, 1997 to March 25, 1998 x x
x.2chanrobleslaw
SEPTEMBER 2014

In his decision dated August 23, 1999, Labor Arbiter Cresencio G. Ramos, Jr.
dismissed the petitioners complaint for lack of merit.3cralawlawlibrar

On August 31, 2000, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC)


promulgated its resolution affirming the decision of the Labor
Arbiter.4cralawlawlibrary

The petitioner sought reconsideration, but the NLRC denied her motion to
that effect.5cralawlawlibrary

On July 23, 2001, the petitioner commenced her special civil action
for certiorari in the Court of Appeals (CA), alleging in her petition that the
NLRC had committed grave abuse of discretion in finding that there had been
just cause for her dismissal, and that Del Rosario had complied with the
requirements of procedural due process.

On September 27, 2002, the CA promulgated its decision,6 disposing:

IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the judgment appealed from is


hereby AFFIRMED, insofar as its declaration that petitioner was dismissed
from employment with a just cause. However, private respondent, having
violated petitioners right to due process, it is ordered to pay the petitioner
the sum of P5,000.00, as indemnity. No cost.

SO ORDERED.

On May 13, 2003, the CA denied the petitioners motion for


reconsideration.7cralawlawlibrary

Issues

Hence, the petitioner appeals, asserting that the CA erred in finding her
dismissal from employment to have been upon just cause; that there was no
substantial evidence showing the existence of just cause for her dismissal;
and that because the CA held that she had been deprived of her right to due
process, its finding of the existence of just cause for her dismissal was not
based on facts but on speculation and assumption.8cralawlawlibrary

Ruling

The petition lacks merit.

The just and valid causes for the dismissal of an employee, as enumerated in
Article 282 of the Labor Code, include: (a) serious misconduct or willful
disobedience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or
SEPTEMBER 2014

representative in connection with her work; (b) gross and habitual neglect by
the employee of her duties; (c) fraud or willful breach by the employee
of the trust reposed in her by her employer or duly authorized
representative; (d) commission of a crime or offense by the employee
against the person of her employer or any immediate member of her family
or her duly authorized representative; and (e) other causes analogous to the
foregoing.

In his decision, which the NLRC affirmed for being correct, the Labor Arbiter
relevantly concluded as follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

After going over the evidence adduced by the respondent in support of its
averments and principal defense, this Office finds the same to be reasonably
sufficient to arrive at the conclusion that complainant was indeed guilty of
the act(s) of dishonesty imputed upon her. Certainly, the aforesaid
dishonest act(s) committed by the complainant logically triggered
an erosion of the trust reposed upon him [sic] by his [sic] employer
and jurisprudence is explicit on the point that when an employee has been
guilty of breach of trust or his employer has ample reason to distrust him, a
labor tribunal cannot deny the employer the authority to dismiss
him.9 (Emphasis supplied)

The dishonesty imputed to the petitioner included the making of double


entries in the production reports and thereby enriching herself by pocketing
the extra cash generated from the double entries. Contrary to her assertion
that there was no substantial evidence to justify her dismissal, the
production reports containing the double entries were presented as
evidence; and her double entries were confirmed in the affidavit executed by
Redelito Caranay, Jr., her co-employee. As such, the finding of the just cause
for her dismissal did not emanate from mere speculation, suspicion or
assumption.

The petitioner casts doubt on the affidavit of Caranay, Jr. by stating that he
was only forced to execute the affidavit in view of his being under the control
and moral domination of the respondent. 10The Court cannot sustain her,
however, considering that she did not present evidence either to discredit his
execution of the affidavit or to show his ill will or malice towards her.

The petitioner argues that she did not need to dispute the charge of
dishonesty or theft of her employers funds because she had the
presumption of innocence in her favor.11cralawlawlibrary

The argument is untenable. It is true that every person is entitled to be


presumed innocent of wrongdoing. The objective of the presumption has
been to lay the burden of proof on the shoulders of the alleger of
wrongdoing. The presumption extends to the petitioner and to every other
SEPTEMBER 2014

employee charged with any wrongdoing that may cause them to be


sanctioned, including being dismissed from employment. But the
presumption, which is disputable, by no means excuses the employee
charged with wrongdoing from answering and defending herself once the
presumption has been overcome by a showing to the contrary. The failure of
the employee to rebut or disprove the proof of wrongdoing then establishes
the charge against her. 12 This is especially true in a case for dismissal
grounded on loss of confidence or breach of trust, in which the employer
may proceed to dismiss the erring employee once the employer becomes
morally convinced that she was guilty of a breach of trust and
confidence.13 Based on the record, the petitioner did not sufficiently
contradict or rebut the charge of dishonesty.

On whether or not the respondent complied with the requirements of


procedural due process for dismissal, the CA
observed:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

What We cannot agree on in the challenged Decision is the observance of


due process in the procedure taken for the dismissal of the petitioner from
employment.

Records reveal that private respondent gave the petitioner 72 hours from
receipt of the letter dated March 25, 1998 within which to give her
explanation why she should not be dismissed from service because of the
earlier discussed acts alluded against her. Yet, private respondent did not
present in evidence such letter which petitioner allegedly refused to
acknowledge receipt. It is well to note that even before the Labor Arbiter,
petitioner had already been complaining of the denial of this required first
notice to explain her side of the charge against her. Under our Labor laws,
two (2) written notices are required before termination of employment can
be legally effected which are: (1) notice which apprises the employee of the
particular acts or omissions for which his dismissal is sought; and, (2) the
subsequent notice to which informs the employee of the employer's decision
to dismiss him; not to mention the opportunity to answer and rebut the
charges against him, in between such notices (Legahi vs. National Labor
Relations Commission, 318 SCRA 446 [1999]; Masagana Concrete Products
vs. NLRC, 313 SCRA 576 [1999]).

xxxx

Prescindingly, We see nothing on record that will substantially


prove that petitioner was duly informed of the accusation against
her to allow her a chance to explain her side thereof. Without this
notice, procedural due process was not at all observed and private
respondent employer failed in its assigned task to prove that the
dismissal of its employee was with cause.14 (Bold emphasis added)
SEPTEMBER 2014

In our view, the CA thereby erred. It overlooked the fact that the respondent
had presented to the Labor Arbiter as Annex 2 of her position paper the
respondents letter dated March 25, 1998 requiring the petitioner to submit
her explanation.15 The letter, which was self-explanatory, was actually quoted
verbatim in the August 31, 2000 resolution of the NLRC, 16 as
follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Dear Mrs. Gargoles,


After thorough records inspection and investigation, it was discovered that
you tampered with the printers daily production reports thru double entries,
recording and accounting of photo films for developing and printing or recopy
thereof to manipulate, obtain and appropriate cash on the second entry of
the same job number with two (2) different twin checks in violation of the
store standard operating procedure of one (1) job envelope and one (1) twin
check number only per fresh roll of film entered for photo-developing and
printing.

It appears that the total and accumulated losses amounted to P11,305.00


computed at 2,207 prints at P5.00 each during the period December 1, 1997
to March 25, 1998.

Please submit your explanation within seventy-two (72) hours from


receipt of this memo/letter. Otherwise, failure or refusal on your
part to answer thereto will be a waiver of your right to contest the
above infraction of dishonesty which is a violation of store police
no. 6 which has a penalty of termination in the first offense.

Very truly yours,


Signed
REYLITA S. DEL ROSARIO

The bottom of the letter contained the handwritten annotation refused to


sign, an indication of the refusal to receive and sign for the letter on the part
of the petitioner. Such refusal to receive the letter containing the notice for
her to explain, coupled with her failure to submit her explanation within the
time given in the letter, implied that she waived her right to contest the
contents of the letter, thereby forfeiting her right to respond to the charge
against her and to rebut the evidence thereon. It further appears that on
March 28, 1998 the respondent sent another letter to the petitioner
informing her of the termination of her services, 17 but the latter again
refused to sign in acknowledgment of the letter. Under the circumstances,
the two-notice rule was evidently complied with by the respondent, thereby
negating any denial of due process to the petitioner.18cralawlawlibrary
SEPTEMBER 2014

Lastly, the petitioner posits that the CA should have applied the
pronouncement in Serrano v. National Labor Relations Commission 19 instead
of that in Wenphil Corporation v. National Labor Relations Commission. 20 To
recall, the Court held in Wenphil Corporation that the employer should still
be sanctioned with an order to indemnify the dismissed employee despite
the termination being for cause provided the employer did not observe due
process. This holding was modified in Serrano, with the Court ruling that
where due process (i.e., the two-notice rule) was not observed, the employer
should award the dismissed employee full backwages as the penalty for the
violation of due process. Essentially, Serrano tightened the penalty
in Wenphil Corporation from mere indemnity to full backwages.
The position of the petitioner is untenable for two reasons. Firstly, Serrano
has been abandoned in Agabon v. National Labor Relations Commission ,21 in
which the Court ruled that if the termination was valid but due process was
not followed, the employee remains dismissed but the employer must pay an
indemnity heavier than that imposed in Wenphil Corporation but lighter than
full backwages. In effect, Agabon partly restored the doctrine in Wenphil
Corporation. And, secondly, both Wenphil Corporation and Serrano should
apply only when there is a finding that the termination was valid but the
requirement of due process was not followed. Obviously, neither would be
applicable to the petitioner whose dismissal was valid and legal, and the
respondent as her employer complied with the demands of due process.

In view of the foregoing, the NLRC did not commit any abuse of discretion,
least of all a grave one, in upholding the decision of the Labor Arbiter
dismissing the petitioners complaint for illegal dismissal. Grave abuse of
discretion, according to De los Santos v. Metropolitan Bank and Trust
Corporation,22must be grave, which means either that the judicial or quasi-
judicial power was exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of
passion or personal hostility, or that the respondent judge, tribunal or board
evaded a positive duty, or virtually refused to perform the duty enjoined or
to act in contemplation of law, such as when such judge, tribunal or board
exercising judicial or quasi-judicial powers acted in a capricious or whimsical
manner as to be equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.

WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Court of Appeals


promulgated on September 27, 2002 subject to the MODIFICATION that the
indemnity of P5,000.00 thereby granted to the petitioner is DELETED;
and ORDERS the petitioner to pay the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.cralawred
SEPTEMBER 2014
SEPTEMBER 2014

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 158150, September 10, 2014

AGRIEX CO., LTD., Petitioner, v. HON. TITUS B. VILLANUEVA,


COMMISSIONER, BUREAU OF CUSTOMS (NOW REPLACED BY HON.
ANTONIO M. BERNARDO), AND HON. BILLY C. BIBIT, COLLECTOR OF
CUSTOMS, PORT OF SUBIC (NOW REPLACED BY HON. EMELITO
VILLARUZ), Respondents.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

The Court affirms the exclusive jurisdiction of the Bureau of Customs over
seizure cases within the Subic Freeport Zone.

The Case

This appeal by petition for review on certiorari is brought by Agriex Co., Ltd.
to reverse the decision promulgated on November 18, 2002 in CA-G.R. CV
No. 67593,1 whereby the Court of Appeals (CA) dismissed its petition
for certiorari and prohibition to nullify and set aside the Notice of Sale dated
October 18, 2001 issued by respondent Billy C. Bibit as the Collector of
Customs in the Port of Subic.

Antecedents

On July 19, 2001, the petitioner, a foreign corporation whose principal office
was in Bangkok, Thailand, entered into a contract of sale with PT. Gloria Mitra
Niagatama International of Surabaya, Indonesia (PT. Gloria Mitra) for 180,000
bags (or 9,000 metric tons) of Thai white rice. 2 Later on, it entered into
another contract of sale with R&C Agro Trade of Cebu City (R&C Agro Trade)
for 20,000 bags of Thai white rice. On July 27, 2001, it chartered the vessel
MV Hung Yen to transport the 200,000 bags of Thai white rice to the Subic
Free Port for transshipment to their designated consignees in the Fiji Islands
and Indonesia (for the 180,000 bags), and in Cebu City (for the 20,000
bags).3 The MV Hung Yen left Bangkok, Thailand on August 15, 2001 and
arrived at the Subic Free Port on August 20, 2001 with the inward foreign
manifest indicating the final destinations of the shipment. However, the Sea
Port Department of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) allowed the
vessel to berth only 22 days later, or on September 11, 2001. SBMA advised
the vessel agent to secure from the National Food Authority (NFA) an
amendment of the import permit issued in favor of R&C Agro Trade to change
the discharging port from the Port of Cebu to the Port of Subic.
SEPTEMBER 2014

Due to the delay in the berthing and unloading of the cargo from the vessel,
the petitioner, through its agent in Subic, applied for a vessel exit clearance
to allow the MV Hung Yen to sail for the Labuan Free Port in Malaysia. On
August 24, 2001, the Bureau of Customs issued a Clearance of Vessel to a
Foreign Port, granting the petitioners request to allow the MV Hung Yen and
cargo to exit for Malaysia.4 Despite the issuance of the clearance, the MV
Hung Yen did not set sail for the Labuan Free Port on August 26, 2001.

On September 10, 2001, the petitioner requested permission from the


Bureau of Customs to unload the entire shipment of 200,000 bags of Thai
white rice because the MV Hung Yen must return to Vietnam. 5 Upon the
recommendation of Atty. James F. Enriquez and Atty. Clemente P. Heraldo, as
indicated in their After Mission Report dated September 4, 2001, 6 respondent
Commissioner Titus B. Villanueva issued his 1st Indorsement on September
11, 2001 directing respondent Collector of Customs Billy C. Bibit to issue a
Warrant of Seizure and Detention (WSD) against the 20,000 bags of Thai
white rice consigned to R&C Agro Trade.7cralawlawlibrary

Accordingly, Collector Bibit issued WSD No. 2001-13 dated September 12,
2001 against the 20,000 bags of Thai white rice consigned to R&C Agro Trade
notwithstanding that no bag of rice had yet been unloaded from the
vessel.8cralawlawlibrary

After the unloading, transfer and storage of the rice shipment at SBMAs
warehouse, Collector Bibit issued amended WSDs on September 27, 2001 to
cover the MV Hung Yen and the remaining 180,000 bags of Thai white rice
intended for transshipment.9cralawlawlibrary

On October 4, 2001, the petitioner filed with the Bureau of Customs in the
Port of Subic an Urgent Motion to Quash Warrant of Seizure, inclusive of WSD
No. 2001-13 (20,000 bags consigned to R&C Agro Trade), WSD No. 2001-13A
(MV Hung Yen) and WSD No. 2001-13B (180,000 bags for
transshipment).10cralawlawlibrary

On October 26, 2001, Collector Bibit quashed WSD No. 2001-13A over the
MV Hung Yen on the ground that the vessel was not chartered or
leased.11cralawlawlibrary

Pending hearing of the seizure proceedings vis--vis the rice shipments,


Collector Bibit issued a Notice of Sale on October 18, 2001, setting therein
the auction sale of the 200,000 bags of Thai white rice on November 22,
2001 and November 23, 2001.12cralawlawlibrary

The petitioner filed a Manifestation and Urgent Motion for Reconsideration on


October 19, 2001, but Collector Bibit did not act on the
SEPTEMBER 2014

motion.13cralawlawlibrary

Consequently, the petitioner instituted the petition for certiorari and


prohibition in the CA on November 12, 2001 (with prayer for the issuance of
a temporary restraining order and/or writ of injunction), alleging grave abuse
of discretion on the part of the respondents for issuing the October 18, 2001
Notice of Sale notwithstanding that they had no jurisdiction over the 180,000
bags of Thai white rice intended for transshipment to other
countries.14cralawlawlibrary

Accordingly, Commissioner Villanueva issued his memorandum dated


November 19, 2001 directing Collector Bibit not to proceed with the
scheduled auction of the 180,000 bags of Thai white rice until further orders
from his office.15cralawlawlibrary

On November 22, 2001, the CA issued a temporary restraining order


enjoining the respondents to desist from holding the scheduled public
auction.16cralawlawlibrary

The respondents did not file their Comment vis--vis the petition
for certiorari and prohibition. Instead, they filed a Manifestation and Motion
dated December 3, 2001, whereby they prayed for the dismissal of the
petition on the ground of mootness due to Commissioner Villanuevas
November 19, 2001 memorandum.17cralawlawlibrary

In the resolution promulgated on April 2, 2002, 18 the CA denied the


respondents Manifestation and Motion dated December 3, 2001.

Meanwhile, on November 14, 2001, Collector Bibit denied the motion for the
quashal of the warrant of seizure issued against the rice shipments, and
ordered their forfeiture in favor of the Government.19cralawlawlibrary

The petitioner appealed the November 14, 2001 ruling by Collector Bibit to
Commissioner Villanueva,20 who resolved the appeal through the
Consolidated Order of February 4, 2002, disposing
thusly:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

WHEREFORE, the ORDER Appealed from is hereby MODIFIED, granting the


Motion for Settlement under S.I. No. 2001-13 and accordingly ORDER the
release of the 20,000 bags of Thai rice to claimants, R&C AGRO TRADE or to
its duly authorized representative, upon payment of the settlement value of
EIGHT MILLION FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS (Php8,400,000.00) and
AFFIRMING the FORFEITURE under S.I. No. 2001-13-B of the 180,000 bags of
Thai rice consigned to different non-existing consignees in Indonesia and the
denial of ownership by B.I. Naidu and Sons Ltd. of Fiji Island.
SEPTEMBER 2014

Let copies of this Order be furnished to all parties and offices concerned for
information and guidance.

SO ORDERED.21

On February 20, 2002, the petitioner filed in the CA its Comment on the
respondents Manifestation and Motion dated December 3, 2001, arguing
that the issue concerning the October 18, 2001 Notice of Sale had not been
rendered moot and academic but merely suspended; that it would move for
the reconsideration of the February 4, 2002 Consolidated Order of
Commissioner Villanueva; and that should its motion for reconsideration be
denied, it would elevate the issues relative to the injunctive relief to the
Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) by petition for certiorari.22cralawlawlibrary

On April 2, 2002, the CA denied the respondents Manifestation and Motion


dated December 3, 2001.23cralawlawlibrary

On July 22, 2002, Commissioner Antonio M. Bernardo, who had meanwhile


succeeded Commissioner Villanueva, released the 2nd Indorsement directing
the sale of the 180,000 bags of Thai white rice at public auction. 24
Accordingly, District Collector Felipe Bartolome issued a Notice of Sale
scheduling the public auction on July 29, 2002 and July 30, 2002. 25 The
public auction was reset to August 5, 2002 and August 6, 2002, however,
following the CAs promulgation of its resolution on July 29, 2002 granting
the petitioners motion for the issuance of a writ of preliminary
injunction.26cralawlawlibrary

Eventually, the auction sale went on as scheduled on August 5, 2002 and


August 6, 2002, and the proceeds amounting to P116,640,000.00 were
deposited in the Land Bank of the Philippines, Subic Branch, under Bureau of
Customs Trust Fund II Account No. 1572100800.

Judgment of the CA

On November 18, 2002, the CA rendered its assailed judgment on the


petition for certiorari and prohibition, viz:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Although it is true that the Port of Subic is a free zone, being a portion of the
Subic Special Economic Zone, and as such, it shall be operated and managed
as a separate customs territory ensuring free flow or movement of goods and
capital within, into and exported out of the Subic Special Economic Zone
under Republic Act No. 2779 (sic), particularly Section 12 thereof, yet, when
probable cause is shown that the foreign goods are considered as
contraband or smuggled goods, the Commissioner of Customs has the
primary jurisdiction to have the goods seized through the issuance of a
SEPTEMBER 2014

warrant of seizure and detention order, which is the situation obtaining in


this instant case because when public respondent Collector Billy C. Bibit as
District Collector of Customs, Port of Subic, issued an amended warrant of
seizure and detention order S.I. No. 2001-13-B, dated September 27, 2001 to
include in the seizure proceeding the subject 180,000 bags of rice, it was
done due to the information supplied by the Directorate General of Customs
and Excise Directorate of Prevention and Investigation of the Ministry of
Finance of the Republic of Indonesia and the information obtained from the
Director for Enforcement of the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authorities of Fiji
Island Customs Service, that the alleged consignees in Indonesia are not
actually existing and that B.I. Naidu and Sons, Ltd. of Fiji Island is not
engaged in the importation of rice.

In accordance with Section 2535 of the Tariff and Customs Code, as


amended, since the government has already complied with the two (2)
conditions set forth therein, the burden of proof now lies upon the
complainant, who in this case is the petitioner, to prove otherwise.

Moreover, contrary to the contention of the petitioner that it was denied due
process of law when the amended Warrant of Seizure and Detention Order
S.I. No. 2002-13B dated September 27, 2001 was issued, because it was
done without giving them an opportunity to be heard and explain their side,
suffice it to say that the essence of due process is simply to be heard or as
applied to administrative proceedings, to explain ones side or an
opportunity to seek reconsideration of an action or ruling complained of
(National Police Commission v. Bernabe, 332 SCRA 74) and due process
does not necessarily require conducting an actual hearing but simply giving
the party concerned due notice and affording an opportunity or right to be
heard (Ramoran v. Jardine CMG Life Insurance Company, Inc.) which
opportunity was given to the petitioner since it was able to file an Urgent
Motion to Quash Warrant of Seizure dated October 1, 2001 and Manifestation
and Urgent Motion for Reconsideration dated October 19, 2001 which were
all denied in a decision dated November 14, 2001 by the Collector of
Customs and instead ordered the forfeiture of the subject bags of rice in
favor of the government.

Furthermore, on appeal to the Commissioner of Customs of the Order


forfeiting the 180,000 bags of Thai rice seized under S.I. No. 2001-13B, the
same was affirmed, per Consolidated Order dated February 4, 2002.

Consequently, it is not correct as claimed by the petitioner that the notice


(auction) sale dated October 18, 2001, as well as, the subsequent notices of
auction sale are invalid because they were issued pursuant to a valid Warrant
of Seizure and Detention Order S.I. No. 2001-13B, dated September 27,
2001.
SEPTEMBER 2014

Finally, since the jurisdiction to determine the validity or regularity of the


seizure and forfeiture proceedings is lodged or vested on the Collector of
Customs and then, to the Commissioner of Customs, which has already been
done in this case before the actual conduct of the auction sale of the subject
180,000 bags of rice, the next move that petitioner should have done is to
appeal the Consolidated Order dated February 4, 2002 to the Court of Tax
Appeals and afterward, if unsatisfied, to this Court, by filing a petition for
review under Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended.

WHEREFORE, foregoing premises considered, this petition, being filed


prematurely, is DENIED.

SO ORDERED.27chanrobleslaw

The petitioner moved for reconsideration, but the CA denied the motion on
May 8, 2003.28cralawlawlibrary

Issues

In its petition for review, the petitioner contends


that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

1. THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NOT DECLARING THE SEIZURE


PROCEEDINGS NULL AND VOID FOR LACK OF JURISDICTION OVER
PETITIONERS RICE SHIPMENT.

2. THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NOT DECLARING THE


RESPONDENTS TO HAVE GRAVELY ABUSED THEIR DISCRETION IN THE
SALE OF PETITIONERS RICE SHIPMENT.

3. THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN FINDING THAT PETITIONERS


REMEDY IS AN APPEAL TO THE COURT OF TAX APPEALS.29

We note that a few days after the petitioner instituted


the certiorari proceedings in the CA on November 12, 2001, Commissioner
Villanueva countermanded Collector Bibits October 18, 2001 Notice of Sale
through his November 19, 2001 memorandum. Thereupon, the October 18,
2001 Notice of Sale could no longer be enforced, thereby rendering the
resolution of the validity of the October 18, 2001 Notice of Sale moot and
academic. A moot and academic case is one that ceases to present a
justiciable controversy by virtue of supervening events, so that a declaration
thereon would be of no practical use or value.30cralawlawlibrary
SEPTEMBER 2014

As matters stand, WSD No. 2001-13A issued against the MV Hung Yen was
quashed by the October 26, 2001 order of Collector Bibit; while WSD No.
2001-13 issued against the 20,000 bags of rice consigned to R&C Agro Trade
had been effectively lifted by Commissioner Villanuevas Consolidated Order
dated February 4, 2002 following R&C Agro Trades payment of the
settlement value of P8,400,000.00.

The pending seizure proceedings under WSD No. 2001-13B of the 180,000
bags of rice remained, and became the basis for the issuance of the
subsequent notice of sale by Collector Bartolome. Consequently, the
controversy on the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Customs over the seizure and
forfeiture of goods and articles entering the free port area lingers and
requires the Courts intervention.

Ruling

The appeal lacks merit.

The Subic Special Economic Zone, or the Subic Bay Freeport, was established
pursuant to Section 12 of Republic Act No. 7227 (The Bases Conversion and
Development Act of 1992), to be operated and managed as a special
customs territory. On the other hand, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority
(SBMA) was created under Section 13 of RA No. 7227 to serve as an
operating and implementing arm of the Conversion Authority within the SBF.

The concept of a Freeport as a separate customs territory was described


during Senator Enriles interpellations during the sponsorship of the bill that
later on became RA No. 7227, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Senator Enrile: Mr. President, I think we are talking here of sovereign


concepts, not territorial concepts. The concept that we are supposed to craft
here is to carve out a portion of our terrestrial domain as well as our adjacent
waters and say to the world: Well, you can set up your factories in this area
that we are circumscribing, and bringing your equipment and bringing your
goods, you are not subject to any taxes and duties because you are not
within the customs jurisdiction of the Republic of the Philippines, whether
you store the goods or only for purposes of transshipment or whether you
make them into finished products again to be reexported to other lands.

xxxx

My understanding of a free port is, we are in effect carving out a


part of our territory and make it as if it were foreign territory for
purposes of our customs laws, and that people can come, bring their
goods, store them there and bring them out again, as long as they
do not come into the domestic commerce of the Republic.
SEPTEMBER 2014

We do not really care whether these goods are stored here. The only thing
that we care is for our people to have an employment because of the entry
of these goods that are being discharged, warehoused and reloaded into the
ships so that they can be exported. That will generate employment for us.
For as long as that is done, we are saying, in effect, that we have the least
contact with our tariff and customs laws and our tax laws. Therefore, we
consider these goods as outside of the customs jurisdiction of the Republic of
the Philippines as yet, until we draw them from this territory and bring them
inside our domestic commerce. In which case, they have to pass through our
customs gate. I thought we are carving out this entire area and convert it
into this kind of concept.31chanrobleslaw

On the basis of the concept, the petitioner claims that the Collector of
Customs had no jurisdiction to issue WSD No. 2001-13B and the October 18,
2001 Notice of Sale concerning the 180,000 bags of Thai white rice, which
had entered the SBF only for transshipment to other countries. 32 It insists
that the auction sale of the 180,000 bags was null and void for failing to
comply with Executive Order No. 272, which required presidential approval
when the amount to be generated from the sale was at least P50
Million;33 that the sale disregarded the memorandum of agreement between
the Bureau of Customs and the NFA; 34 that the rice was sold at P785.00 per
50-kilo bag instead of P1,100.00, the price established by the Bureau of
Agricultural Statistics;35 and that no notice of auction sale was sent to the
NFA or its accredited dealers. 36cralawlawlibrary

In contrast, the respondents sought the dismissal of the petition on the


ground of lack of jurisdiction, maintaining that an appeal to the Court of Tax
Appeals (CTA) was the proper remedy to assail the decision of the
Commissioner of Customs, which the petitioner itself expressly recognized in
its February 20, 2002 Comment vis--vis their Manifestation and Motion
dated December 3, 2001; and that because the petitioner did not appeal to
the CTA within the prescribed period, the February 4, 2002 Consolidated
Order of Commissioner Villanueva became final and executory, and could no
longer be the subject of review in the present proceedings. 37cralawlawlibrary

The Court declares that the Collector of Customs was authorized to institute
seizure proceedings and to issue WSDs in the Subic Bay Freeport, subject to
the review by the Commissioner of Customs. Accordingly, the proper remedy
to question the order or resolution of the Commissioner of Customs was an
appeal to the CTA, not to the CA.

Although RA No. 7227 is silent as to the person or entity vested with the
authority to seize and forfeit or detain goods and articles entering the Subic
Bay Freeport, the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA No. 7227
contained the following provisions, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
SEPTEMBER 2014

Sec. 11. Responsibilities of the SBMA. Other than the powers and
functions prescribed in Section 10 of these Rules, the SBMA shall have the
following responsibilities:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

xxxx

f. Consistent with the Constitution, the SBMA shall have the following powers
to enforce the law and these Rules in the SBF:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

xxxx

(4) to seize articles, substances, merchandise and records


considered to be in violation of the law and these Rules, and to
provide for their return to the enterprise or person from whom they
were seized, or their forfeiture to the SBMA; x x x

B. Transactions with the Customs Territory

xxxx

Sec. 52. Seizure of Foreign Articles. Foreign articles withdrawn transported


or taken in commercial quantities from the SBF to the Customs Territory
without payment of duties and taxes, shall be subject to seizure and
forfeiture proceedings pursuant to the pertinent provisions of the Tariff and
Customs Code and the National Internal Revenue Code of the Philippines,
without prejudice to any criminal and/or administrative actions that may be
instituted against the person/persons liable/responsible therefor.

C. Taxes and Fiscal Obligations

xxxx

Sec. 60. Search, Arrest, and Seizure by Customs Officials. Persons,


baggage, vehicles and cargo entering or leaving the SBF are subject to
search by Customs officials as a condition to enter or leave the SBF. Customs
officials are authorized to examine any merchandise held by the SBF
Enterprises during regular business hours.

Customs officers may seize any article found during a Customs


search upon entering or leaving the SBF to be in violation of any
provision of the customs laws for which a seizure is authorized, and
such seizure shall be disposed of according to the customs
laws. Articles which are prohibited or excluded from the SBF under the rules
and regulations of the SBMA which are found by the Customs officials during
an audit, examination or check within the SBF may be seized by them and
turned over to the SBMA for disposition.
SEPTEMBER 2014

The SBMA may secure the assistance of and/or coordinate with Customs
officers to arrest persons in the SBF for violations of the customs laws for
which arrest is authorized concerning articles in the Customs Territory
destined to the SBF or articles which have been removed from the SBF to the
Customs Territory. (Bold underscoring supplied for emphasis)

Customs Administrative Order No. 4-93 (CAO 4-93), also known as the Rules
and Regulations for Customs Operations in the Subic Special Economic and
Freeport Zone, similarly provides the following:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

CHAPTER II. GENERAL PROVISIONS

xxxx

B. AUDIT, SEARCH, SEIZURE AND ARREST IN ZONE

xxxx

3. SEIZURE

Any prohibited or excluded articles found upon search, or


through any examination, audit or check of articles in the Zone
by Customs may be seized by Customs for violations of Tariff
and Customs Code of the Philippines as amended and disposed
of in accordance with law.38

Under these statutory provisions, both the SBMA and the Bureau of Customs
have the power to seize and forfeit goods or articles entering the Subic Bay
Freeport, except that SBMAs authority to seize and forfeit goods or articles
entering the Subic Bay Freeport has been limited only to cases involving
violations of RA No. 7227 or its IRR. There is no question therefore, that the
authority of the Bureau of Customs is larger in scope because it covers cases
concerning violations of the customs laws.

The authority of the Bureau of Customs to seize and forfeit goods and
articles entering the Subic Bay Freeport does not contravene the nature of
the Subic Bay Freeport as a separate customs authority. Indeed, the
investors can generally and freely engage in any kind of business as well as
import into and export out goods with minimum interference from the
Government.39 The Court has thus observed in Executive Secretary v.
Southwing Heavy Industries, Inc.40 :chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

The Freeport was designed to ensure free flow or movement of goods and
capital within a portion of the Philippine territory in order to attract investors
SEPTEMBER 2014

to invest their capital in a business climate with the least governmental


intervention. The concept of this zone was explained by Senator Guingona in
this wise:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
Senator Guingona. Mr. President, the special economic zone is successful in
many places, particularly Hong Kong, which is a free port. The difference
between a special economic zone and an industrial estate is simply
expansive in the sense that the commercial activities, including the
establishment of banks, services, financial institutions, agro-industrial
activities, maybe agriculture to a certain extent.

This delineates the activities that would have the least of


government intervention, and the running of the affairs of the
special economic zone would be run principally by the investors
themselves, similar to a housing subdivision, where the subdivision
owners elect their representatives to run the affairs of the
subdivision, to set the policies, to set the guidelines.

We would like to see Subic area converted into a little Hong Kong,
Mr. President, where there is a hub of free port and free entry, free
duties and activities to a maximum spur generation of investment
and jobs.

While the investor is reluctant to come in the Philippines, as a rule, because


of red tape and perceived delays, we envision this special economic zone to
be an area where there will be minimum government interference.

The initial outlay may not only come from the Government or the Authority
as envisioned here, but from them themselves, because they would be
encouraged to invest not only for the land but also for the buildings and
factories. As long as they are convinced that in such an area they can do
business and reap reasonable profits, then many from other parts, both local
and foreign, would invest, Mr. President.

Yet, the treatment of the Subic Bay Freeport as a separate customs territory
cannot completely divest the Government of its right to intervene in the
operations and management of the Subic Bay Freeport, especially when
patent violations of the customs and tax laws are discovered. After all,
Section 602 of the Tariff and Customs Code vests exclusive original
jurisdiction in the Bureau of Customs over seizure and forfeiture cases in the
enforcement of the tariff and customs laws.

In this case, an examination of the shipment by the customs officials


pursuant to Mission Order No. 06-2001 initially revealed no cause to hold

the release of the 180,000 bags of rice. In their September 4, 2001 After
SEPTEMBER 2014

Mission Report, Atty. Enriquez and Atty. Heraldo pertinently


stated:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

FINDINGS:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Prescinding from the foregoing factual environment, we find no reason to


hold the departure of the 180,000 bags of rice and the vessel unless we
could establish the falsity of the transhipment manifest of this shipment, e.g.
the alleged ultimate consignees are non-existing entities or if they are
existing, that they did not order for the shipment thereof. x x x

xxxx

RECOMMENDATION:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

xxxx

With respect to the 180,000 bags of rice allegedly for transshipment, we


should expedite the verification of the ultimate consignees. Should they
really exist and in fact ordered this shipment, we should allow the
transshipment thereof of let it remain on board the subject vessel which will
transport the same, per advise of the shipping agent, to the Free Port of
Labuan Malaysia, its next foreign fort pursuant to the clearance to be issued
therefor in order to allow the lawful departure of the vessel. Conversely, if
after verification, the contrary is found, we should amend the Warrant to
include the latter portion of the shipment in question for having been
imported contrary to law or at least an attempt at importation in violation of
law. x x x41chanrobleslaw

However, further investigation led to the discovery that the consignees of


the 180,000 bags of rice in Indonesia were non-existent, and the consignee
in the Fiji Islands denied being involved in the importation of rice. These
findings were summarized in Commissioner Villanuevas Consolidated Order,
to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

x x x The information supplied by the Directorate General of Customs and


Excise Directorate of Prevention and Investigation of the Ministry of Finance
of the Republic of Indonesia, and the information supplied by the Director for
Enforcement of the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authorities of Fiji Island
Customs Service, that the alleged consignees in Indonesia are not actually
existing and that B.I. Naidu and Sons Ltd. Of Fiji Island is not engaged in the
importation of rice to be a solid ground to hold the remaining shipment of
180,000 bags of rice forfeited as charged. Moreover it should be stressed
that during the hearing on the Motion to Quash the WSD issued against the
carrying vessel, the witness who is the General Manager of Overseas
Vietnam Shipping testified that that prefix BKK/PLP on the Bills of Lading
SEPTEMBER 2014

stands for Bangkok/Philippines. Stated differently, if indeed the 180,000


bags of rice were for transhipment to Indonesia and Fiji Island, then why they
were prefixed like the 20,000 bags of rice covered by B/L No. BKK/PLP-01?
The said Bills of Lading should have been prefixed as BKK/IND for those
shipments bound for Indonesia and BKK/FJI for those bound for Fiji Island or in
any similar manner. Likewise, the TSN would bear us out that the witness for
the vessel also confirmed during his testimony that there were alterations
made on the Mates Receipt of the cargo which were used as the basis in the
preparation of the questionable Bills of Lading.42chanrobleslaw

The findings constituted sufficient probable cause, as required by Section


2535 of the Tariff and Customs Code,43 that violations of the customs laws,
particularly Section 102(k) and Section 2530, (a), (f) and (l), par. 3, 4, and 5
of the Tariff and Customs Code,44 had been committed. For that reason, the
institution of the seizure proceedings and the issuance of WSD No. 2001-13B
by the Collector of Customs were well within the jurisdiction of the Bureau of
Customs.

In Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority v. Rodriguez, 45 the Court has already


recognized the exclusive jurisdiction of the Bureau of Customs and its
officials over seizure cases although the articles were within the Freeport
zone, holding:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Petitioner alleges that the RTC of Olongapo City has no jurisdiction over the
action for injunction and damages filed by respondents on 11 June 2002 as
said action is within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the BOC pursuant to
Section 602 of Republic Act No. 1937, otherwise known as the Tariff and
Customs Code of the Philippines, as amended. Section 602 provides,
thus:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
Sec. 602. Functions of the Bureau.- The general duties, powers and
jurisdiction of the bureau shall include:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

xxxx

g. Exercise exclusive original jurisdiction over seizure and forfeiture cases


under the tariff and customs laws.
Petitioner contends that the imported 2,000 bags of rice were in the actual
physical control and possession of the BOC as early as 25 October 2001, by
virtue of the BOC Subic Port Hold Order of even date, and of the BOC Warrant
of Seizure and Detention dated 22 May 2002. As such, the BOC had acquired
exclusive original jurisdiction over the subject shipment, to the exclusion of
the RTC.

We agree with petitioner.

It is well settled that the Collector of Customs has exclusive jurisdiction over
SEPTEMBER 2014

seizure and forfeiture proceedings, and regular courts cannot interfere with
his exercise thereof or stifle or put it at naught. The Collector of Customs
sitting in seizure and forfeiture proceedings has exclusive jurisdiction to hear
and determine all questions touching on the seizure and forfeiture of dutiable
goods. Regional trial courts are devoid of any competence to pass upon the
validity or regularity of seizure and forfeiture proceedings conducted by the
BOC and to enjoin or otherwise interfere with these proceedings. Regional
trial courts are precluded from assuming cognizance over such matters even
through petitions for certiorari , prohibition or mandamus.

Verily, the rule is that from the moment imported goods are actually in the
possession or control of the Customs authorities, even if no warrant for
seizure or detention had previously been issued by the Collector of Customs
in connection with the seizure and forfeiture proceedings, the BOC acquires
exclusive jurisdiction over such imported goods for the purpose of enforcing
the customs laws, subject to appeal to the Court of Tax Appeals whose
decisions are appealable to this Court. As we have clarified in Commissioner
of Customs v. Makasiar, the rule that RTCs have no review powers over such
proceedings is anchored upon the policy of placing no unnecessary
hindrance on the government's drive, not only to prevent smuggling and
other frauds upon Customs, but more importantly, to render effective and
efficient the collection of import and export duties due the State, which
enables the government to carry out the functions it has been instituted to
perform.46chanrobleslaw

The issuance of the October 18, 2001 Notice of Sale was merely an incident
of the seizure proceedings commenced by the Collector of Customs.
Consequently, the correctness of its issuance was necessarily subsumed to
the determination of the propriety of the seizure proceedings, a matter that
was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Bureau of Customs. In that
context, the proper recourse of the petitioner from the February 4, 2002
Consolidated Order of Commissioner Villanueva, which reviewed the
November 14, 2001 action of Collector Bibit, 47 was an appeal in due course
to the CTA, in accordance with Section 7(4) of RA No. 1125, as amended, 48 in
relation to Section 2402 of the Tariff and Customs Code, 49 within 30 days
after the receipt of the order. 50 Without the appeal having been timely filed
in the CTA, the February 4, 2002 Consolidated Order became final and
executory.

WHEREFORE, the Court DENIES the petition for review


on certiorari; AFFIRMS the decision promulgated on November 18, 2002 in
CA-G.R. CV No. 67593; and ORDERS the petitioner to pay the costs of suit.
SO ORDERED.cralawred
SEPTEMBER 2014
SEPTEMBER 2014

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 182794, September 08, 2014

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. BOBBY


BELGAR, Accused-Appellant.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

Circumstantial evidence, if sufficient and competent, may warrant the


conviction of the accused of rape.

The Case

Accused Bobby Belgar appeals the decision promulgated on August 31, 2007
by the Court of Appeals (CA)1 affirming his conviction for rape by the
Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 30, in San Jose, Camarines Sur, and
imposing on him the penalty of reclusion perpetua.

Antecedents

On March 6, 2000, the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Camarines Sur


filed an information charging Belgar with rape,
thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

That on or about the midnight of January 20, 2000 at x x x, Municipality of


Tigaon, Province of Camarines Sur, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of
this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with lewd designs, with
force and intimidation and after entering and pulling the victim from her
house, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously lie and have
carnal knowledge with AAA,2 a 15 year old lass, against her will and without
her consent, to her damage and prejudice in such amount as shall be proven
in court.3chanrobleslaw

Belgar pleaded not guilty to the charge.4 Testifying for the Prosecution were
AAA, BBB (AAAs mother), and Dr. Penafrancia N. Villanueva, while Belgar
was the lone witness for the Defense.

Version of the Prosecution

On January 20, 2000, at about 8:00 p.m., AAA and her two sisters were
sleeping in their house in Tigaon, Camarines Sur, when she was awakened
because someone was touching her feet. She saw that it was Belgar, who
SEPTEMBER 2014

was poking her neck with a knife. She resisted but he warned her not to
shout or he would stab her and her sisters. He dragged her outside the house
and brought her to a nearby tree, where he injected an unknown substance
into her stomach. She fell unconscious afterwards. Upon regaining
consciousness, she found herself naked, and her vagina was aching and
soaked with white and red substance. She put on her clothes and returned to
the house. She attended school the next morning. During her class, she
broke a mirror and slashed her left wrist. Her teacher came to her aid and
had her treated. While being treated she confided the rape to her
teacher.5 She was thus brought to the Municipal Health Office of Tigaon,
Camarines Sur, and was examined there by Dr. Villanueva, who issued her
medico-legal report containing the following
findings:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Extragenital Findings:

- Brownish discoloration of the skin at the anterior area of the distal portion
of the left lower arm.

Genital Examination:

- Multiple hymenal lacerations old, healed complete at 9 oclock and 6


oclock positions and old healed partial lacerations at 3 oclock and 12 oclock
positions.

- Admits small finger with ease.6

Version of the Defense

Belgar denied raping AAA and interposed alibi, insisting that he was sleeping
in his house in San Miguel, Tigaon, Camarines Sur at midnight of January 20,
2000, having gone to bed there at 8:00 p.m. on the same date and waking
up at 5:00 a.m. of the next day; that he did not leave the house in that
period of time; and that it was his first time to see AAA when she identified
him inside the Municipal Jail of Tigaon as the one who had raped her at
midnight of January 20, 2000.7cralawlawlibrary

Judgment of the RTC

In its decision promulgated on June 17, 2003, the RTC found that all the
elements of rape under Article 266-A (1) (a) of Republic Act No. 8353 had
been duly established; that the State had shown that Belgar had committed
carnal knowledge of AAA by force, threat, and intimidation; that AAA was
candid and truthful as a witness; and that Belgars alibi could not prevail
because it was uncorroborated, and he did not show the physical
SEPTEMBER 2014

impossibility for him to be at the crime scene at the time of the commission
of the crime.8 It decreed thusly:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

WHEREFORE, the accused BOBBY BELGAR is hereby sentenced to suffer the


penalty of imprisonment of reclusion perpetua, with the inherent accessories
provided by law, to indemnify the offended party AAA the sum of Fifty
Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) as actual or compensatory damages and
another Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) as moral damages, both of
Philippine Currency, and for him to pay the costs.

The accused Bobby Belgar shall be entitled to full credit of his preventive
imprisonment if he agreed to abide with the rules imposed upon convicted
person (sic) otherwise he shall be entitled to four-fifth (4/5) credit
thereof.9chanrobleslaw

Decision of the CA

On appeal, Belgar contended that the rape had not been proven because no
direct evidence of the sexual intercourse was presented due to AAA having
been unconscious during the rape; and that the non-submission for
laboratory examination of the red and white substance in AAAs vagina casts
doubt on the charge of rape.10cralawlawlibrary

On August 31, 2007, the CA affirmed the conviction, 11 holding that the
conviction for rape could be based on the circumstantial evidence adduced
through the testimony of AAA; that the absence of spermatozoa from the
vagina of the victim did not disprove rape because ejaculation was not an
element of the crime; and that the RTC properly rejected Belgars alibi upon
finding AAAs testimony credible.12cralawlawlibrary

Issues

Belgars sole contention for reversal is that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

THE COURT A QUO ERRED IN FINDING THE ACCUSED GUILTY OF THE CRIME
OF RAPE WHEN SAID VICTIM WAS UNCONSCIOUS WHEN THE INCIDENT
HAPPENED.13

Belgar argues that the perpetrator was already gone when AAA regained
consciousness; that she did not experience or feel the actual sexual
intercourse; that she only jumped to the conclusion that she had been raped,
and that it was the accused who had raped her; that there was no evidence
showing that he had been the perpetrator; 14 that the non-examination of the
white and red substance found in AAAs vagina removed the proof of the
possibility of the substance having come from a male organ; and that AAA
did not properly identify the culprit.15cralawlawlibrary
SEPTEMBER 2014

Ruling of the Court

The appeal lacks merit.

The information charged Belgar with rape committed through force, threat or
intimidation as defined under Article 266-A (1) (a), Revised Penal Code, as
amended by Republic Act No. 8353, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Article 266-A. Rape; Rape; When and How Committed. Rape is committed.

1) By a man who have carnal knowledge of a woman under any of the


following circumstances:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

a) Through force, threat or intimidation;

xxxx

The elements of the crime charged are that the offender had carnal
knowledge of a female, and that the same was committed by using force,
threat or intimidation.16 The elements were proved beyond reasonable doubt.
According to AAA, Belgar poked a knife at her neck, forced her to get up from
her sleep, and dragged her outside of the house. She resisted and would
have shouted but he warned her against shouting, and threatened to stab
her and her sleeping sisters. Once they were outside, he injected a
substance into her belly, thereby causing her to lose consciousness. Upon
regaining her consciousness, she was already naked and had blood in her
vagina.

Belgar employed force, threat and intimidation in order to commit carnal


knowledge of AAA. Her relevant testimony ran as
follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Q. Why? On January 20, 2000 what time did you sleep?


A. 8:00 oclock, sir.
Q. And what time were you awaken?
A. I do not know what the time [was] because we have no watch inside
our house, sir.
Q. Now, while you were sleeping and you were awake tell us the cause
why you were awaken?
A. We were all asleep inside the house and I was suddenly awaken
because there was somebody holding my feet, sir.
xxxx
Q. When you were awaken when (sic) somebody holding your feet, tell
us what happened next?
A. When I was awaken I suddenly rose up and I saw a man, he, he
SEPTEMBER 2014

suddenly poked me with [a] balisong/knife.


Q. When you said he, whom are you referring?
A. Bobby Belgar, sir.
xxxx
Q. Tell us the illumination of your room at that time when you
recognized the accused Bobby Belgar who was inside your room on
January 20, 2000?
A. It was not dark because we have kerosene lamp which served as a
light, sir.
xxxx
Q. When you identifie(d) Bobby Belgar who was already inside your
room on January 20, 2000 at barangay Casuna tell us what happened
next if any?
A. When he poked the knife on me he forced me to stand and forced me
to let me go out of the house, sir.
xxxx
Q. While you were being poked upon by (sic) that batangas knife, what
did you do?
A. I was resisting and I was able to shout but he told me that if I shout
he will stab me and also my two (2) sisters, sir.
xxxx
Q. After you answered to the query of the accused, what happened
next?
A. When we reached the tree he suddenly injected something to my
stomach. I just dont know what is it, sir.
Q. The one being used by the doctor?
A. I just dont know because I have not seen it, sir.
Q. Describe how did you feel when that gadget was injected as you
said?
A. I just felt weak and I dont know what happened because my eyes
got blurred.
Q. What part of your stomach was injected?
A. (Witness pointing to the left side of her stomach parallel to her
navel).
Q. When that gadget injected to the left side of your stomach and you
felt dizzy, what happened next?
A. When I was awaken he was no longer there and I was naked, sir.
xxxx
Q. When you were brought by the accused outside of your house, the
accused was pointing a knife at your neck, how did the accused bring
you to that tree that you are referring to?
A. He was pushing me towards the outside, sir.
Q. At that time what happened to your hands?
A. I was pushing him because I was resisting on his bringing me.
xxxx
Q. And what happened to your vagina if any you woke up and
SEPTEMBER 2014

completely naked?
A. I saw as (sic) if liquid, sir.
Q. Describe to us that liquid you observe[d]?
A. Reddish and whitish, sir.
Q. What did feel in your vagina when you woke up if any beside[s] that
red and white substance that you saw?
A. It was painful, sir.
Q. Because it was painful, what happened? What did you do if any?
A. I was still lying I felt pain and when I sitted as if I could not get up, sir.
Q. Because of that what happened next?
A. I stood up and proceeded inside our house, sir.
xxxx
Q. You did not report this matter to your parents and to your sisters?
A. No, sir.
Q. Tell us why?
A. Because of his threat to my family, sir.
Q. What is the threat all about?
A. That if I report he will kill all of us, sir.17
xxxx
Q. How were you able to know that the accused is responsible to the
crime being charged?
xxxx
A. I am sure that he was the one who rape[d] me because while I am
(sic) still sleeping he was the one who went inside and pulled my legs
toward the creek and there he injected.
FISCAL SOLANO: In other words, you are 100% sure because the accused is
the only one who get (sic) near you and nobody else?
A. Yes, sir.
COURT: Was the pulling of legs prior or after you become (sic) unconscious.
A. While I was still conscious.
Q. When you become (sic) conscious after you were unconscious who
were the very persons around by the way?
A. No more, sir.18

Like the RTC and the CA, we find AAAs narration of her ordeal as credible
and truthful. The assessment by the RTC on the credibility of AAA should be
respected because the trial court had personally observed her demeanor
while testifying. This appreciation held true because the CA affirmed the
factual findings of the RTC.19cralawlawlibrary

We likewise note that AAA did not hesitate or waver in her narration even
during her rigorous cross examination. As such, her sole but credible
testimony as the rape victim sufficed to convict the accused of his crime. 20 It
is remarkable, indeed, that there was neither allegation nor proof of any ill
motive on her part or on the part of her family in accusing him of raping her.
SEPTEMBER 2014

Belgars alibi was rightly rejected. Alibi, to prosper, must be substantiated


with clear and convincing evidence.21 He must demonstrate not only that he
was somewhere else when the crime occurred, but also that it was physically
impossible for him to be at the crime scene when the crime was
committed.22 But he failed to adequately support his alibi. Although he
attested that on January 20, 2000, he slept in his house situated in Barangay
San Miguel, Tigaon, Camarines Sur continuously from 8:00 p.m. until getting
up at 5:00 a.m. of the next day, 23 he did not dispute that his house was but
two kilometers away from where the rape was committed. 24 Both barangays
were actually within the Municipality of Tigaon, rendering it not physically
impossible for him to leave his house during the period that he allegedly was
home in order to reach AAAs house by midnight to commit the crime.

The commission of the rape was competently established although AAA had
been unconscious during the commission of the act. Proof of the commission
of the crime need not always be by direct evidence, for circumstantial
evidence could also sufficiently and competently establish the crime beyond
reasonable doubt. Indeed, the Court affirmed convictions for rape based on
circumstantial evidence.25 In this connection, circumstantial evidence is
sufficient for conviction if the conditions set forth in Section 4, Rule 133 of
the Rules of Court are shown to exist, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Section 4. Circumstantial evidence, when sufficient. Circumstantial


evidence is sufficient for conviction if:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

(a) There is more than one circumstance;

(b) The facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and

(c) The combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a


conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

In People v. Perez,26 we affirmed the conviction of the accused for rape based
on circumstantial evidence, there being no direct proof of the sexual
intercourse. The accused was charged with having carnal knowledge of the
16-year old victim through force, intimidation and against her will. The
Prosecution established that he had entered the victims room and had
covered her nose and mouth with a chemically-laced cloth, causing her to
lose consciousness. Upon waking up, she felt pain in her vagina, and she
then saw blood and a white substance in her vagina. Her clothes were in
disarray and her underwear was in the corner of the room. He was no longer
around. Nonetheless, the Court held:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Conviction for rape may be based on circumstantial evidence when the


victim cannot testify on the actual commission of the rape as she was
rendered unconscious when the act was committed, provided that more than
SEPTEMBER 2014

one circumstance is duly proved and that the totality or the unbroken chain
of the circumstances proven lead to no other logical conclusion than the
appellants guilt of the crime charged. Cristinas positive identification of the
appellant as the person who came to the room where she slept one early
morning towards the end of May 1994, and that he covered her nose and
mouth with a foul smelling handkerchief until she lost consciousness, the
blood and white substance she found on her vagina which ached the
following morning, her torn shorts and her panty removed, all lead to one
inescapable conclusion that the appellant raped her while she was
unconscious.27cralawlawlibrary

This case has factual kinship with People v. Perez. The Prosecution proved
through AAAs testimony that: (1) Belgar had poked the knife at her neck; (2)
he had dragged her outside the house and had brought her to a nearby tree;
(3) he had injected an unknown substance into her belly that had then
rendered her unconscious; (4) upon waking up, she had found herself lying
naked on the ground; (5) she had felt pain in her vagina, which held a red
and white substance in it; and (6) he had been the only person last seen by
her before she had passed out. The lack of direct evidence against him
notwithstanding, these circumstances sufficed to prove his guilt beyond
reasonable doubt because they formed an unbroken chain that unerringly
showed Belgar, and no other, had committed the rape against her.

Both lower courts correctly concluded that the non-examination of the red
and white substance found in AAAs vagina did not negate the commission of
the rape. A finding of the presence of spermatozoa on the victim did not
define the commission of rape. Indeed, neither the medical examination of
the rape victim nor the laboratory test of anything related to the crime was
an element of the crime of rape. 28 As the Court aptly observed in People v.
Parcia:29cralawlawlibrary

This contention has no merit. The absence of spermatozoa in the genitalia of


the victim does not disprove rape since ejaculation is not an element thereof.
What consummates the crime is the contact of the penis of the perpetrator,
however slight, to the vagina of the victim without her consent. The Court
has held in numerous cases that a medical examination is not a requisite for
a rape charge to prosper as long as the victim positively and consistently
declares that she has been sexually abused. In the instant case, aside from
the victim's unwavering testimony, the medical examination showed fresh
lacerations, indicating that she had recent sexual
intercourse.30cralawlawlibrary

The RTC and the CA were also correct in their uniform findings that AAAs
identification of Belgar as the rapist was reliable. AAAs view of the face of
the rapist was unquestionable because of the illumination from a lighted
kerosene lamp inside the room.31 She could not be mistaken about him
SEPTEMBER 2014

because she was familiar with his face from always seeing him whenever she
went to her school in Barangay San Miguel, Tigaon, Camarines Sur. 32 He was
also the man who had raped her before in November 1999 in San Jose,
Camarines Sur.33 It is noteworthy that she immediately identified him as the
rapist while he was under detention in the Municipal Jail of Tigaon, 34 and
repeated her identification of him in the course of her court testimony in this
case.35cralawlawlibrary

In rape committed through force and intimidation, the award of civil


indemnity and moral damages, each for P50,000.00, is
mandatory.36cralawlawlibrary

In addition, pursuant to Article 2229 and Article 2230 of the Civil Code,
exemplary damages are to be granted to the victim of a crime when at least
one aggravating circumstance was attendant. AAA was entitled to exemplary
damages of P30,000.0037 due to the attendance of the aggravating
circumstances of nighttime and the use of the deadly weapon in the
commission of the rape. It was of no consequence that the information did
not allege the circumstances, for, as the Court observed in People v.
Catubig:38cralawlawlibrary

The term aggravating circumstances used by the Civil Code, the law not
having specified otherwise, is to be understood in its broad or generic sense.
The commission of an offense has a two-pronged effect, one on the public as
it breaches the social order and the other upon the private victim as it
causes personal sufferings, each of which is addressed by, respectively, the
prescription of heavier punishment for the accused and by an award of
additional damages to the victim. The increase of the penalty or a shift to a
graver felony underscores the exacerbation of the offense by the attendance
of aggravating circumstances, whether ordinary or qualifying, in its
commission. Unlike the criminal liability which is basically a State concern,
the award of damages, however, is likewise, if not primarily, intended for the
offended party who suffers thereby. It would make little sense for an award of
exemplary damages to be due the private offended party when the
aggravating circumstance is ordinary but to be withheld when it is qualifying.
Withal, the ordinary or qualifying nature of an aggravating circumstance is a
distinction that should only be of consequence to the criminal, rather than to
the civil, liability of the offender. In fine, relative to the civil aspect of the
case, an aggravating circumstance, whether ordinary or qualifying, should
entitle the offended party to an award of exemplary damages within the
unbridled meaning of Article 2230 of the Civil Code.

The Court imposes legal interest of 6% per annum on each of the civil
liabilities, reckoned from the finality of this judgment until full
payment.39cralawlawlibrary
SEPTEMBER 2014

WHEREFORE, we AFFIRM the decision of the Court of Appeals promulgated


on August 31, 2007 in all respects subject to the MODIFICATION that
accused BOBBY BELGAR is also liable to pay P30,000.00 as exemplary
damages to AAA, plus interest at the rate of 6% per annum on the civil
indemnity, moral damages and exemplary damages from the finality of this
decision until full payment; and ORDER him to pay the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.cralawred

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 157633, September 10, 2014

NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC., Petitioner, v. MA. CONCEPCION M. DEL


ROSARIO, Respondent.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

Under review is the decision promulgated on June 21, 2002, 1 whereby the
Court of Appeals (CA) dismissed the petition for certiorari filed by Northwest
Airlines, Inc. to assail on the ground of grave abuse of discretion amounting
to lack or excess of jurisdiction the adverse decision of the National Labor
Relations Commission (NLRC).

Antecedents

Petitioner Northwest Airlines, Inc. employed respondent Ma. Concepcion M.


Del Rosario on December 10, 1994 as one of its Manila-based flight
attendants. On May 18, 1998, Del Rosario was assigned at the Business Class
Section of Northwest Flight NW 26 bound for Japan. During the boarding
SEPTEMBER 2014

preparations, Kathleen Gamboa, another flight attendant assigned at the


First Class Section of Flight NW 26, needed to borrow a wine bottle opener
from her fellow attendants because her wine bottle opener was dull. Vivien
Francisco, Gamboas runner, went to the Business Class Section to borrow a
wine bottle opener from Del Rosario, but the latter remarked that any flight
attendant who could not bring a wine bottle opener had no business working
in the First Class Section. Upon hearing this, Aliza Ann Escao, another flight
attendant, offered her wine bottle opener to Francisco. Apparently, Gamboa
overheard Del Rosarios remarks, and later on verbally confronted her. Their
confrontation escalated into a heated argument. Escao intervened but the
two ignored her, prompting her to rush outside the aircraft to get Maria
Rosario D. Morales, the Assistant Base Manager, to pacify them.

The parties differed on what happened thereafter. Del Rosario claimed that
only an animated discussion had transpired between her and Gamboa, but
Morales insisted that it was more than an animated discussion, recalling that
Del Rosario had even challenged Gamboa to a brawl (sabunutan). Morales
asserted that she had tried to pacify Del Rosario and Gamboa, but the two
did not stop; that because the two were still arguing although the Business
Class passengers were already boarding, she ordered them out of the plane
and transfer to another nearby Northwest aircraft; that she inquired from
them about what had happened, and even asked if they were willing to fly on
the condition that they would have to stay away from each other during the
entire flight; that because Del Rosario was not willing to commit herself to do
so, she decided not to allow both of them on Flight NW 26, and furnished
them a Notice of Removal from Service (effectively informing Del Rosario of
her dismissal from the service pending an investigation of the fighting
incident between her and Gamboa).

On May 19, 1998, Morales sent a letter to Del Rosario telling her that
Northwest would conduct an investigation of the incident involving her and
Gamboa. The investigation was held on May 28, 1998 before Atty. Ceazar
Veneracion III, Northwests Legal Counsel and Head of its Human Resources
Department. All the parties attended the investigation

On June 19, 1998, Del Rosario was informed of her termination from the
service. Northwest stated that based on the results of the investigation, Del
Rosario and Gamboa had engaged in a fight on board the aircraft, even if
there had been no actual physical contact between them; and that because
fighting was strictly prohibited by Northwest to the point that fighting could
entail dismissal from the service even if committed for the first time,
Northwest considered her dismissal from the service justified and in
accordance with the Rules of Conduct for Employees, as
follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Section 1, General
SEPTEMBER 2014

x x x. Rule infractions will be dealt with according to the seriousness of the


offense and violators will be subjected to appropriate disciplinary action up
to and including discharge. Some acts of misconduct, even if committed for
the first time, are so serious that, standing alone, they justify immediate
discharge. Some examples of these offenses are violations of rules regarding
theft, alcohol and drugs, insubordination, dishonesty, fighting, falsification of
records, sleeping on the job, failure to cooperate or lying in a Company
investigation, intentional destruction or abuse of property, threatening,
intimidating or interfering with other employees, abuse of nonrevenue and
reduced rate travel privileges and unauthorized use of Company
communications systems.

xxxx

Section 24 (c), Disturbing Others, which states that:

Harassing, threatening, intimidating, assaulting, fighting or provoking a fight


or similar interference with other employees at any time, on or off duty is
prohibited. (Italics supplied)

Del Rosario subsequently filed her complaint for illegal dismissal against
Northwest.2cralawlawlibrary

Decision of the Labor Arbiter

In her decision dated January 18, 1999, 3 Labor Arbiter Teresita D. Castillon-
Lora ruled in favor of Northwest, holding that the dismissal of Del Rosario had
been justified and valid upon taking into account that Northwest had been
engaged in the airline business in which a good public image had been
demanded, and in which flight attendants had been expected to maintain an
image of sweetness and amiability; that fighting among its employees even
in the form of heated arguments or discussions were very contradictory to
that expected image;4 and that it could validly dismiss its employees like the
respondent because it had been entitled to protect its business interests by
putting up an impeccable image to the public.

Ruling of the NLRC

Upon appeal, the NLRC reversed the decision of the Labor Arbiter, and ruled
in favor of Del Rosario, declaring that the incident between her and Gamboa
could not be considered as synonymous with fighting as the activity
prohibited by Northwests Rules of Conduct; that based on Blacks Law
Dictionary, fight referred to a hostile encounter, affray, or altercation; a
physical or verbal struggle for victory, pugilistic combat; that according to
Bouviers Law Dictionary, fighting did not necessarily imply that both parties
SEPTEMBER 2014

should exchange blows, for it was sufficient that they voluntarily put their
bodies in position with that intent;5 and that the incident between Del
Rosario and Gamboa could not be held similar to the fight that Northwest
penalized under its Rules of Conduct.

The NLRC further ratiocinated as follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Evident in the definition of fighting is the existence of an underlying hostility


between the parties which is so intense that there is an imminent danger of
a physical conflict (if there is none yet). In other words, when we say two
people are fighting, at the very least, they should project a general
appearance of wanting to physically strike each other. Was this the image
that appellant and FA Gamboa projected when they were facing each other
during the incident of May 18, 1998[?] We do not think so.

x x x Almost unanimously, the witnesses of NWA refer to the incident as


arguing or a serious or animated discussion. An argument is an effort to
establish belief by a course of reasoning (Bouvier's Law Dictionary). In
ordinary parlance, arguing is merely talking or debating about a certain
issue. There are no underpinnings of animosity in the discussion nor (sic)
between the parties. These witnesses never saw any hostility between the
appellant and FA Gamboa. Neither did they see these two ladies wanting to
strike each other. What they saw were two FAs engaged in an animated
verbal exchange, arguing but not fighting.6chanrobleslaw

The NLRC ordered the reinstatement of Del Rosario to her former position
without loss of seniority rights and with payment of backwages, per diems,
other lost income and benefits from June 19, 1998; as well as the payment of
attorneys fees equivalent to 10% of the monetary award.

Decision of the CA

Aggrieved, Northwest elevated the adverse decision of the NLRC to the CA


on certiorari, averring that the NLRC thereby committed grave abuse of
discretion in reversing the decision of the Labor Arbiter, and submitting that
Del Rosarios dismissal from the service had been for a just cause, with the
evidence presented against her being more than sufficient to substantiate its
position that there had really been a fight between her and Gamboa; and
that the NLRC likewise gravely abused its discretion in ordering the
reinstatement of Del Rosario and the payment of her backwages and
attorneys fees.

As stated, the CA sustained the NLRC through its decision promulgated on


June 21, 2002, observing that Northwest did not discharge its burden to
prove not merely reversible error but grave abuse of discretion amounting to
lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the NLRC; and that, indeed, the
SEPTEMBER 2014

NLRC had correctly held that Del Rosarios conduct did not constitute serious
misconduct, because the NLRC, in determining the usual, ordinary and
commonly understood meaning of the word fighting, had resorted to
authoritative lexicons that supported its conclusion that the exchange of
words between Del Rosario and Gamboa did not come within the definition of
the word fighting. 7cralawlawlibrary

The CA disposed thusly:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

WHEREFORE, for lack of merit, the instant petition


is DISMISSED. Accordingly, the decision of the NLRC dated January 11,
2000, is hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that in lieu of
reinstatement, petitioner is ordered to pay private respondent separation
pay equivalent to one month's salary for every year of service plus full
backwages without deduction or qualification, counted from the date of
dismissal until finality of this decision including other benefits to which she is
entitled under the law. Petitioner is likewise ordered to pay respondent Del
Rosario attorneys fees consisting of five (5%) per cent of the adjudged relief.
8
SO ORDERED.

Issues

The issues are the following, namely: (1) Was Del Rosarios dismissal from
the service valid?; and (2) Were the monetary awards appropriate?

Ruling

The Court AFFIRMS the decision of the CA.

As provided in Article 282 of the Labor Code, an employer may terminate an


employee for a just cause, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Art. 282. TERMINATION BY EMPLOYER

An employer may terminate an employee for any of the following


causes:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

(a) Serious misconduct or willful disobedience by the employee of the lawful


orders of his employer or representative in connection with his work;

(b) Gross and habitual neglect by the employee of his duties;

(c) Fraud or willful breach by the employee of the trust reposed in him by his
employer or duly authorized representative;

(d) Commission of a crime or offense by the employee against the person of


SEPTEMBER 2014

his employer or any immediate member of his family or his duly authorized
representative; and

(e) Other causes analogous to the foregoing.

Northwest argues that Del Rosario was dismissed on the grounds of serious
misconduct and willful disobedience. Misconduct refers to the improper or
wrong conduct that transgresses some established and definite rule of
action, a forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, willful in character, and implies
wrongful intent and not mere error in judgment. But misconduct or improper
behavior, to be a just cause for termination of employment, must: (a) be
serious; (b) relate to the performance of the employees duties; and (c) show
that the employee has become unfit to continue working for the
employer.9cralawlawlibrary

There is no doubt that the last two elements of misconduct were present in
the case of Del Rosario. The cause of her dismissal related to the
performance of her duties as a flight attendant, and she became unfit to
continue working for Northwest. Remaining to be determined is, therefore,
whether the misconduct was serious as to merit Del Rosarios dismissal. In
that respect, the fight between her and Gamboa should be so serious that it
entailed the termination of her employment even if it was her first offense.
Northwest insists that what transpired on May 18, 1998 between her and
Gamboa was obviously a form of fight that it strictly prohibited, but Del
Rosario disputes this by contending that it was only an animated discussion
between her and Gamboa. She argues that as settled in American
jurisprudence fight pertained to combat or battle, like the hostile encounter
or engagement between opposing forces, suggesting primarily the notion of
a brawl or unpremeditated encounter, or of a pugilistic combat; 10 while
argument was a connected discourse based upon reason, or a course of
reasoning tending and intended to establish a position and to induce
belief.11cralawlawlibrary

In several rulings where the meaning of fight was decisive, the Court has
observed that the term fight was considered to be different from the term
argument. In People v. Asto,12 for instance, the Court characterized fight as
not just a merely verbal tussle but a physical combat between two opposing
parties, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Well into their second bottle of gin, at about eleven o'clock that morning,
Fernando Aquino and Peregrino had a verbal tussle. Fernando Aquino
declared that he was going to run for councilor of Alcala, Pangasinan.
Peregrino countered by saying: If you will run for that post, cousin, I
will fight you. After a brief exchange of words, Fernando Aquino, laughing,
went to sit beside Abagat. As Aquino continued with his mirth, Abagat stared
at Peregrino with contempt.
SEPTEMBER 2014

xxx. A few minutes later, he heard a commotion in the plantation some two
hundred meters away. He claims to have seen several people fighting each
other with pieces of wood but did not go to the field to check what was
happening.13 (Italics supplied.)

Similarly, in Pilares, Sr. v. People,14fight was held to be more than just an


exchange of words that usually succeeded the provocation by either party,
thus:

When the petitioner was about to hand over the bottles of beer to the private
complainant, the latter called him coward and dared him to get out for
a fight. Insulted, the petitioner went out of his store and chased the private
complainant. (Italics supplied.)

Based on the foregoing, the incident involving Del Rosario and Gamboa could
not be justly considered as akin to the fight contemplated by Northwest. In
the eyes of the NLRC, Del Rosario and Gamboa were arguing but not fighting.
The understanding of fight as one that required physical combat was absent
during the incident of May 18, 1998. Moreover, the claim of Morales that Del
Rosario challenged Gamboa to a brawl (sabunutan) could not be given
credence by virtue of its being self-serving in favor of Northwest, and of its
being an apparent afterthought on the part of Morales during the
investigation of the incident, without Del Rosario having the opportunity to
contest Morales statement. In that context, the investigation then served
only as Northwests means to establish that the grounds of a valid dismissal
based on serious misconduct really existed.

Moreover, even assuming arguendo that the incident was the kind
of fight prohibited by Northwests Rules of Conduct, the same could not be
considered as of such seriousness as to warrant Del Rosarios dismissal from
the service. The gravity of the fight, which was not more than a verbal
argument between them, was not enough to tarnish or diminish Northwests
public image.

Under the circumstances, therefore, the CA properly ruled that the NLRC did
not gravely abuse its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction by
declaring Del Rosarios dismissal unjustified. Northwest as the petitioner
for certiorari must demonstrate grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack
or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the NLRC. Grave abuse of
discretion, according to De los Santos v. Metropolitan Bank and Trust
Company,15 must be grave, which means either that the judicial or quasi-
judicial power was exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of
passion or personal hostility, or that the respondent judge, tribunal or board
evaded a positive duty, or virtually refused to perform the duty enjoined or
SEPTEMBER 2014

to act in contemplation of law, such as when such judge, tribunal or board


exercising judicial or quasi-judicial powers acted in a capricious or whimsical
manner as to be equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. Alas, Northwest did not
show how the NLRC could have abused its discretion, let alone gravely, in
ruling adversely against it.

WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Court of Appeals


promulgated on June 21, 2002; and ORDERS the petitioner to pay the costs
of suit.

SO ORDERED.cralawred

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 167454, September 24, 2014

EMERITU C. BARUT, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE


PHILIPPINES, Respondent.

DECISION
SEPTEMBER 2014

BERSAMIN, J.:

Petitioner Emeritu C. Barut, a guard of the Philippine National Construction


Corporation (PNCC), was tried for and found guilty of homicide by the
Regional Trial Court, Branch 276, in Muntinlupa City under the judgment
rendered on December 11, 2000, whereby he was sentenced to suffer the
indeterminate penalty of imprisonment for 10 years and one day of prision
mayor, as the minimum, to 17 years and eight months of reclusion temporal,
as the maximum, and to indemnify the heirs of Vincent Ucag in the total
amount of P250,000.00, inclusive of the actual and moral damages. 1 On
appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the conviction of Barut through its
decision promulgated on March 17, 2005. 2cralawlawlibrary

Hence, Barut now seeks the review of his conviction by petition for review
on certiorari.

Antecedents

It appears that at around 6:00 oclock in the afternoon of September 24,


1995 SPO4 Vicente Ucag was coming from a picnic in Laguna and returning
home to Taguig, Metro Manila on board a passenger jeepney driven by his
brother Rolando on the South Luzon Expressway. Ucags wife and 16 year-old
son Vincent were then riding an owner-type jeep driven by Rico Villas on the
same route. When the latter vehicle exited at the Sucat Interchange ahead of
Ucags passenger jeepney, PNCC guards Conrado Ancheta and Barut stopped
Villas and directed him to park his vehicle at the road side. After informing
Villas that his vehicle had no headlights, Ancheta asked for his driving
license, but it took a while before Villas produced the same apparently
waiting for his companions in the passenger jeepney to arrive. Nonetheless,
Villas ultimately surrendered his driving license, and Ancheta issued to him a
traffic violation report (TVR) ticket. Right about then, the passenger jeepney
carrying Ucag stopped where Villas jeep had parked. Ucag and Danilo
Fabiano, a co-passenger, alighted and approached Ancheta and Barut to
inquire what the matter was. Apprised of the reason for the stoppage of
Villas jeep, Ucag requested the return of Villas driving license. But Ancheta
refused because he had already issued the TVR ticket. Ucag argued with
Ancheta and Barut. Later on, however, Ucag turned around in order to avoid
further argument, and simply told Villas to return for his driving license the
next day. This apparently irked Ancheta, who dared Ucag to finish the issue
right there and then. Ancheta suddenly pulled out his .38 caliber revolver
and fired it several times, hitting Ucag on both thighs. Ucag fired back and
hit Ancheta. Fabiano and Villas witnessed the exchange of gunshots between
Ucag and Ancheta.3cralawlawlibrary

Upon seeing the exchange of gunshots, Vincent Ucag rushed towards his
father to go to his succor. Before Vincent could reach his father, however,
SEPTEMBER 2014

Barut fired at Vincent in the chest. Vincent, badly bleeding, tried to go back
to the owner-type jeep where his mother was, but fell to the ground before
reaching the jeep. Vincent was rushed to the Paraaque Medical Center,
where he expired while undergoing emergency surgery. His father was
brought to the Camp Panopio Hospital in Quezon City for treatment and
medical attendance.4cralawlawlibrary

Issues

In his petition for review on certiorari , Barut submits


that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

(a) The CA misapprehended, overlooked or neglected facts that were


favorable to him; and

(b) The finding on the supposed consistency of the testimonies of the States
witnesses constituted a sweeping conclusion.

Ruling

We find no reversible error committed by the CA.

To start with, the CA held that it could not find from its review of the records
any compelling reason to set aside the factual findings of the trial court. It
ruled that Villas and Fabiano had clearly and consistently testified that Barut
had been the person who had shot Vincent; and that Baruts bare denial of
firing at Vincent did not prevail over their positive and categorical
identification of him as the perpetrator.

Although the record of the trial is laid bare and open during every appeal in a
criminal case, the credibility of witnesses is a factual issue that the Court
cannot disturb in this appeal.5 We reiterate that the findings of fact by the
trial court are accorded great respect especially when affirmed on appeal by
the CA.6 This great respect for such findings rests mainly on the trial judges
access to the witnesses while they testify in her presence, giving the trial
judge the personal and direct observation of their manner and decorum
during intensive grilling by the counsel for the accused, thereby enabling her
to see if the witnesses were fidgeting and prevaricating, or were sincere and
trustworthy.

Secondly, Barut adverts to the extra-judicial sworn statement that Villas gave
at about 1:00 oclock in the afternoon of September 25, 1995 barely a day
following the fatal shooting of Vincent in which he declared not having seen
Barut fire a gun. Barut contends that this declaration definitely contradicted
Villas court testimony on June 10, 1996, and manifested that he was not
clear and convincing because he never pointed out who [had] really shot
SEPTEMBER 2014

Vincent Ucag.7 Citing Villas answer of Maybe he was hit to the question
on direct examination: What was the reason if you know why he [referring
to Vincent Ucag] was weak?8 Barut insists that Villas was thereby
ambiguous and gave rise to the doubt as to who [had] really shot and killed
the victim, whether it was Ancheta (who had traded shots with the victims
father), or himself.9cralawlawlibrary

Noting that neither Ucag nor Ancheta had shot Vincent, the RTC explained
that the former could not anymore fire his gun at Vincent not only because
Vincent was his own son but also because he himself had already been lying
on the ground after being hit in his lower extremities; and that Ancheta
could not have fired at Vincent at all because he, too, had been already
wounded and lying on the ground and profusedly bleeding from his own
gunshot wounds. The RTC further noted that the slug extracted from the
body of Vincent had come from a .38 caliber revolver, not from Ucags .45
caliber firearm.

Baruts contention did not itself go unnoticed by the CA, which observed that
the RTC could not take the declaration of Villas into consideration because
Villas extra-judicial sworn statement containing the declaration had not been
offered and admitted as evidence by either side. The CA stressed that only
evidence that was formally offered and made part of the records could be
considered; and that in any event, the supposed contradiction between the
extra-judicial sworn statement and the court testimony should be resolved in
favor of the latter.

The CAs negative treatment of the declaration contained in Villas extra-


judicial sworn statement was in accord with prevailing rules and
jurisprudence. Pursuant to Section 34, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court, the RTC
as the trial court could consider only the evidence that had been formally
offered; towards that end, the offering party must specify the purpose for
which the evidence was being offered. The rule would ensure the right of the
adverse party to due process of law, for, otherwise, the adverse party would
not be put in the position to timely object to the evidence, as well as to
properly counter the impact of evidence not formally offered. 10 As stated
in Candido v. Court of Appeals:11cralawlawlibrary

It is settled that courts will only consider as evidence that which has been
formally offered. x x x

A document, or any article for that matter, is not evidence when it is simply
marked for identification; it must be formally offered, and the opposing
counsel given an opportunity to object to it or cross-examine the witness
called upon to prove or identify it. A formal offer is necessary since judges
are required to base their findings of fact and judgment onlyand strictly
upon the evidence offered by the parties at the trial. To allow a party to
SEPTEMBER 2014

attach any document to his pleading and then expect the court to consider it
as evidence may draw unwarranted consequences. The opposing party will
be deprived of his chance to examine the document and object to its
admissibility. The appellate court will have difficulty reviewing documents
not previously scrutinized by the court below. The pertinent provisions of the
Revised Rules of Court on the inclusion on appeal of documentary evidence
or exhibits in the records cannot be stretched as to include such pleadings or
documents not offered at the hearing of the case.

The rule that only evidence formally offered before the trial court can be
considered is relaxed where two requisites concur, namely: one, the evidence
was duly identified by testimony duly recorded; and, two, the evidence was
incorporated in the records of the case. 12 Furthermore, the rule has no
application where the court takes judicial notice of adjudicative facts
pursuant to Section 2,13 Rule 129 of the Rules of Court; or where the court
relies on judicial admissions or draws inferences from such judicial
admissions within the context of Section 4,14 Rule 129 of the Rules of Court;
or where the trial court, in judging the demeanor of witnesses, determines
their credibility even without the offer of the demeanor as
evidence.15cralawlawlibrary

The Court also sees fit to correct the indeterminate sentence of 10 years and
one day of prision mayor, as the minimum, to 17 years and eight months
of reclusion temporal, as the maximum, fixed by the RTC and affirmed by the
CA. The maximum of 17 years and eight months comes from the maximum
period of reclusion temporal, but the maximum of the indeterminate
sentence should instead come from the medium period of reclusion
temporal, whose duration is from 14 years, eight months and one day to 17
years and four months, because neither the RTC nor the CA had found the
attendance of any aggravating circumstance. The minimum of the
indeterminate sentence is fixed at 10 years of prision mayor, and the
maximum of 17 years and eight months of reclusion temporal is modified to
17 years and four months of the medium period of reclusion temporal.

Anent the civil liability, the RTC granted P250,000.00 without specifying the
amounts corresponding to actual and moral damages, as well as to the civil
indemnity for the death of Vincent. The CA affirmed the grant. Both lower
courts thereby erred on a matter of law. Actual and moral damages are
different in nature and purpose. To start with, different laws govern their
grant, with the amounts allowed as actual damages being dependent on
proof of the loss to a degree of certainty, while the amounts allowed as moral
damages being discretionary on the part of the court. Secondly, actual
damages address the actual losses caused by the crime to the heirs of the
victim; moral damages assuage the spiritual and emotional sufferings of the
heirs of the victim of the crime. On the civil indemnity for death, law and
jurisprudence have fixed the value to compensate for the loss of human life.
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Thirdly, actual damages may not be granted without evidence of actual loss;
moral damages and death indemnity are always granted in homicide, it
being assumed by the law that the loss of human life absolutely brings moral
and spiritual losses as well as a definite loss. Moral damages and death
indemnity require neither pleading nor evidence simply because death
through crime always occasions moral sufferings on the part of the victims
heirs.16 As the Court aptly said in one case,17cralawlawlibrary

x x x a violent death invariably and necessarily brings about emotional pain


and anguish on the part of the victims family. It is inherently human to
suffer sorrow, torment, pain and anger when a loved one becomes the victim
of a violent or brutal killing. Such violent death or brutal killing not only
steals from the family of the deceased his precious life, deprives them
forever of his love, affection and support, but often leaves them with the
gnawing feeling that an injustice has been done to them.

The death indemnity and moral damages are fixed at P75,000.00 each in
view of homicide being a gross offense. Considering that the decisions of the
lower courts contained no treatment of the actual damages, the Court is now
not in any position to dwell on this. Nonetheless, the Court holds that despite
the lack of such treatment, temperate damages of P25,000.00 should be
allowed. Article 2224 of the Civil Code declares that temperate damages may
be recovered when some pecuniary loss has been suffered but its amount
cannot be proved with certainty. There is no longer any doubt that when
actual damages for burial and related expenses are not substantiated with
receipts, temperate damages of at least P25,000.00 are warranted, for it is
certainly unfair to deny to the surviving heirs of the victim the compensation
for such expenses as actual damages.18 This is based on the sound reasoning
that it would be anomalous that the heirs of the victim who tried and
succeeded in proving actual damages of less than P25,000.00 would only be
put in a worse situation than others who might have presented no receipts at
all but would still be entitled to P25,000.00 as temperate
damages.19cralawlawlibrary

Also, in line with recent jurisprudence, 20 the interest fixed by the RTC is
reduced to six percent (6%) per annum on all the items of civil liability
computed from the date of the finality of this judgment until fully paid.

WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS the conviction for homicide of


petitioner EMERITU BARUT, subject to the MODIFICATIONS that: (a) his
indeterminate sentence is from 10 years of prision mayor, as the minimum,
to 17 years and four months of reclusion temporal, as the maximum; (b) he
shall pay to the heirs of the late Vincent Ucag civil indemnity of P75,000.00
for his death; moral damages of P75,000.00; and temperate damages of
P25,000.00, plus interest of six percent (6%) per annum on each of the items
SEPTEMBER 2014

of damages hereby awarded from the date of finality of this judgment until
fully paid; and (c) he shall pay the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.cralawred

FIRST DIVISION

A.M. No. RTJ-14-2394 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3847-RTJ),


September 01, 2014

GEORGE T. CHUA, Complainant, v. JUDGE FORTUNITO L.


MADRONA, Respondent.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

A trial judge is not accountable for performing his judicial functions and office
because such performance is a matter of public duty and responsibility.
Indeed, the judges office and duty to render and administer justice, being
functions of sovereignty, should not be simply taken for granted. No
administrative charge for manifest partiality, gross misconduct, and gross
ignorance of the law should be brought against him for the orders issued in
the due course of judicial proceedings.chanrobleslaw

Antecedents

On January 26, 1994, Manila Bay Development Corporation (MBDC) leased


for a period of 20 years about 10 hectares of reclaimed land along Roxas
Boulevard in Paraaque City to Jimmy Gow. A year later, Gow, who was the
president of Uniwide Holdings, Inc. (Uniwide), assigned the lease to Uniwide.
MBDC and Uniwide then entered into a supplemental agreement over the
lease in 1996.1chanrobleslaw

On February 17, 2011, Uniwide filed an action for reformation of contract


against MBDC in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Paraaque City. 2 The
complaint, docketed as Civil Case No. 11-0060, and was raffled to Branch
274 under respondent Presiding Judge Fortunito L. Madrona, essentially
alleged that MBDC had reneged on its promise to develop the area into a
commercial and business center; that the construction of what later came to
be known as Macapagal Avenue had cut through the leased area, greatly
affecting Uniwides construction plans; and that subsequent changes in
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circumstances had gone beyond the contemplation of the parties at the time
they entered into the lease contract. 3chanrobleslaw

Summons and a copy of the complaint were served upon MBDC on March 23,
2011. On the last day for the filing of its responsive pleading, MBDC moved
for the dismissal of the complaint instead of filing its answer, claiming
prescription and failure to state a cause of action. 4 MBDC also stated in its
motion that the action for reformation was merely a ploy by Uniwide to
forestall the ejectment case against it.

The RTC denied the motion to dismiss through its order dated August 1,
2011.5 MBDC received a copy of the order on September 26, 2011, and filed
its motion for reconsideration 11 days thereafter. Judge Madrona then
directed Uniwide and MBDC to file their comment and reply, respectively,
after which the motion for reconsideration would be deemed submitted for
resolution.

Before MBDC could file its reply, Uniwide filed a motion to declare MBDC in
default.

On December 23, 2011, Judge Madrona issued another order resolving the
two pending motions,6declaring MBDC in default, and declaring its motion for
reconsideration moot.

Aggrieved, complainant George T. Chua, as the president of MBDC, filed a


complaint-affidavit dated February 13, 2012 to charge Judge Madrona with
manifest partiality, gross misconduct, and gross ignorance of the
law.7chanrobleslaw

The Court referred the administrative case to the Court of Appeals (CA) for
investigation and recommendation.8 The CA raffled the administrative case
to Associate Justice Noel G. Tijam.9chanrobleslaw

In due course, Justice Tijam submitted his Report and Recommendation to


the Court.10chanrobleslaw

Allegations in Support of the Complaint

The complainant asserted that the December 23, 2011 order declaring MBDC
in default, and rendering the motion for reconsideration moot showed Judge
Madronas manifest partiality in favor of Uniwide; that the motion for
reconsideration should have first been resolved; that the motion to declare
MBDC in default had not yet been deemed submitted for resolution, for, in
fact, Uniwide submitted its reply to MBDCs comment/opposition to the
motion only after the issuance of the December 23, 2011 order; that by
failing to resolve the substantial issues raised in the motion for
SEPTEMBER 2014

reconsideration, MBDC had been deprived of its right to participate in the


proceedings; and that MBDC had actively participated in the proceedings in
the RTC, and did not deserve to be declared in default.11chanrobleslaw

On the allegation of gross misconduct, the complainant averred that Judge


Madronas refusal to dismiss the complaint, which on its face had no basis
and had already prescribed, made him unfit for his position as judge; that the
action was filed only in 2011, although the contract sought to be reformed
had been executed in 1994, while the supplemental agreement had been
entered into in 1996; and that in declaring that Uniwides cause of action had
arisen only in 2005 and thus denying the motion to dismiss, Judge Madrona
acted arbitrarily and without basis.12chanrobleslaw

With regard to the allegation of gross ignorance of the law, the complainant
alleged that as a judge, Judge Madrona was expected to know the pertinent
law and procedural rules, and to apply them properly and in good faith; that
his stubborn refusal to reconsider the default declaration despite having
been fronted with jurisprudence, citing Diaz v. Diaz,13 that the reglementary
period within which to file an answer to a complaint should be counted from
a partys receipt of the order denying a motion for reconsideration; and that
MBDC should not have been declared in default without an earlier resolution
of the motion for reconsideration.14chanrobleslaw

Finally, complainant accused Judge Madrona of tampering with the minutes


of the November 18, 2011 hearing, alleging that during the hearing, MBDC
was given 15 days to comment on Uniwides motion to declare defendant in
default, which was reflected in the minutes of the RTC and confirmed by
Sofronio Rojo, the court interpreter, but that the minutes were later made out
to give only 10 days to MBDC.15chanrobleslaw

Judge Madronas Defenses

Judge Madrona justified his order declaring MBDC in default by reasoning


that when MBDCs motion to dismiss was denied by the August 1, 2011
order, it only had the balance of the period to file an answer, but not less
than five days, as allowed by Section 4, Rule 16 of the Rules of Court, 16
which specifically provided the period to file the answer should the motion to
dismiss be denied; that he interpreted the rule as referring to any order
denying a motion to dismiss, even if said order had not yet become final or
executory; that because the motion to dismiss was filed on the last day to
file the answer, MBDC only had five days from the receipt of the August 1,
2011 order within which to file its answer, that is, until October 1, 2011; and
that MBDC filed its motion for reconsideration beyond the period allowed to
file an answer.17chanrobleslaw
SEPTEMBER 2014

On resolving the motion to declare defendant in default without first ruling


on MBDCs motion for reconsideration, Judge Madrona insisted that MBDC
had filed its comment/opposition, and the period for Uniwide to file its reply
had lapsed without having filed a request for additional time; that the motion
could then be considered submitted for resolution; and that on the propriety
of the actual order of default, he indicated that MBDC had filed a motion to
set aside said order and to admit attached answer, which was still pending
judicial action.18chanrobleslaw

As to the allegation that he had tampered with the minutes of the November
18, 2011 hearing, Judge Madrona pointed out that he had thereby merely
corrected the minutes; that he explained that the practice in his courtroom
had been to allow the court interpreter to prepare the minutes before
hearings started; that the interpreter then asked the parties if they had
reached any consensual agreements and noted the agreements down; that
the minutes were usually signed before the hearing, and the interpreter
relayed its contents to him (Judge Madrona) who then confirmed the contents
in his corresponding orders; that on November 18, 2011, the date of the
hearing of Uniwides motion to declare MBDC in default, the parties agreed
to file their comment and reply within 15 days respectively; that with regard
to the comment and reply, he usually granted the parties only 10 days to file
them; that unfortunately, the counsels for the parties had already left the
courtroom before being heard; that when he dictated his order for the
hearing, he changed the period to file the comment and reply from 15 days
to 10 days for both parties; and that he did so in the exercise of the courts
inherent power to amend and control its process and orders in order to make
them conformable to law and justice, pursuant to Section 5 (g), Rule 135 of
the Rules of Court.19chanrobleslaw

Report and Recommendation of Justice Tijam

In his Report and Recommendation,20 Justice Tijam rendered the following


findings and conclusions, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

In administrative proceedings, the complainant has the burden of proving the


allegations in the complaint with substantial evidence, i.e., that amount of
relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
justify a conclusion. We are reminded that administrative charges against
judges have been viewed with utmost care, as the respondent stands to face
the penalty of dismissal or disbarment. The proceedings of this character
are highly penal in nature and are to be governed by the rules or law
applicable to criminal cases. The charges in such case must, therefore, be
proven beyond reasonable doubt.

As to the first issue, the Investigator finds Judge Madrona not


SEPTEMBER 2014

administratively liable as the allegations of the complaint are matters


pertaining to the exercise of his adjudicative function.

It is undisputed that MBDC received the summons on March 23, 2011, and
the latter was required to file an Answer until April 7, 2011. However,
instead of filing an Answer to the complaint, it filed a motion to dismiss on
April 7, 2011. In the RTCs Order, dated August 1, 2011, it denied MBDCs
motion to dismiss, which order was received by the latter on September 26,
2011. Instead of filing an answer, MBDC filed a motion for reconsideration of
the Order denying its motion to dismiss on October 7, 2011. Consequently,
Judge Madrona directed Uniwide to file a Comment thereto and thereafter,
MBDC filed its reply.

Pending compliance by the parties with Judge Madronas directive, Uniwide


filed a Motion to Declare Defendant in Default and
an Opposition/Comment thereto was filed by MBDC. On December 23, 2011,
without resolving MBDCs motion for reconsideration, Judge Madrona issued
this assailed Order, which reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

In view of the foregoing, it is the considered opinion of the Court that the
defendant failed to file the requisite responsive pleading, Answer,
within the reglementary period prescribed under Section 4, Rule 16
of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended. Having thus
failed, the motion of plaintiff thus is with merit, the defendant is
therefore hereby declared in default.

Let then the Clerk of Court receive the evidence ex-parte for the plaintiff and
let the proper report/recommendation be submitted within 30 days after
completion of the reception of evidence aforesaid on the basis of which the
Court shall proceed to render judgment accordingly. The defendant in
default, though, shall still be entitled to notice of subsequent proceedings
but not to take part in the trial.

With the motion of plaintiff being granted and the defendant declared in
default, action on the motion for reconsideration of defendant is thus
rendered mooted.

SO ORDERED.

After a careful review of the foregoing factual circumstances and the


documentary evidence presented, the Investigator finds that Judge Madrona
erred in declaring MBDCs motion for reconsideration of the order denying
motion to dismiss as mooted and in declaring MBDC in default in his assailed
Order dated December 23, 2011.
SEPTEMBER 2014

At the outset, MBDC cannot be legally declared in default as it still has a


pending motion for reconsideration of the order denying its motion to
dismiss. Judge Madrona erred in resolving simultaneously the MBDCs
motion for reconsideration and Uniwides motion to declare defendant in
default. With the filing of MBDCs motion for reconsideration, the running of
the prescriptive period to file an Answer was interrupted, thus, the counting
of the period shall only begin to run upon MBDCs receipt of the Order
denying the motion for reconsideration of the RTCs Order dated August 1,
2011.

The case of Narciso vs. Garcia, is instructive thus:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

As a consequence of the motion to dismiss that defendant Narciso filed, the


running of the period during which the rules required her to file her answer
was deemed suspended. When the trial court denied her motion to dismiss,
therefore, she had the balance of her period for filing an answer under
Section 4, Rule 16 within which to file the same but in no case less than five
days, computed from her receipt of the notice of denial of her motion to
dismiss. Thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

SEC. 4. Time to plead. If the motion is denied, the movant shall file his
answer within the balance of the period prescribed by Rule 11 to which he
was entitled at the time of serving his motion, but not less than five (5) days
in any event, computed from his receipt of the notice of the denial. If the
pleading is ordered to be amended, he shall file his answer within the period
prescribed by Rule 11 counted from service of the amended pleading, unless
the court provides a longer period.
But apart from opposing defendants motion to dismiss, plaintiff Garcia asked
the trial court to declare Narciso in default for not filing an answer,
altogether disregarding the suspension of the running of the period for filing
such an answer during the pendency of the motion to dismiss that she filed
in the case. Consequently, when the trial court granted Garcias prayer and
simultaneously denied Narcisos motion to dismiss and declared her in
default, it committed serious error. Narciso was not yet in default when
the trial court denied her motion to dismiss. She still had at least
five days within which to file her answer to the complaint.

What is more, Narcisco had the right to file a motion for


reconsideration of the trial courts order denying her motion to
dismiss. No rule prohibits the filing of such a motion for
reconsideration. Only after the trial court shall have denied it does
Narciso become bound to file her answer to Garcias complaint. And
only if she did not do so was Garcia entitled to have her declared in
default. Unfortunately, the CA failed to see this point. xxx (emphasis
supplied)
SEPTEMBER 2014

Judge Madrona cannot validly argue that the period of time for MBDC to file a
motion for reconsideration of the order denying a motion to dismiss must be
within the same period of time provided under Section 4 Rule 16 of the Rules
of Court. A careful review of the said provision reveals that the period
provided therein only applies to instances where a motion to dismiss is
denied, thus, the movant can still file his answer within the balance of the
period prescribed by law but no less than five days computed from the
receipt of the notice of denial. The said provision explicitly provides that the
same period of time shall apply to cases where a party intends to file a
motion for reconsideration of the denial of a motion to dismiss. We stress
that when the language of the law is clear, explicit and unequivocal, it
admits no room for interpretation but merely application.

It bears stressing that under Section 1, Rule 37 of the Rules of Court, a


motion for reconsideration shall be filed within the period for filing an appeal
or to be precise, within 15 days from the receipt of the assailed judgment or
resolution. Evidence shows that MBDC received the August 1, 2011 Order on
September 26, 2011, hence, MBDCs motion for reconsideration thereto was
timely filed on October 7, 2011. Judge Madrona incorrectly ruled that MBDC
failed to file its responsive pleading within the reglementary period, and
granted Uniwides motion to declare MBDC in default. The undersigned
Investigator finds that there was no basis to declare MBDC in default as
Judge Madrona needs to resolve first its motion for reconsideration before the
latter is legally required by law to file its Answer within the period of time
allowed by law.

Be that as it may, it is worth emphasizing that jurisprudence is replete with


cases holding that errors, if any, committed by a judge in the exercise
of his adjudicative functions cannot be corrected through
administrative proceedings, but should instead be assailed through
available judicial remedies. Disciplinary proceedings against judges do
not complement, supplement or substitute judicial remedies and, thus,
cannot be pursued simultaneously with the judicial remedies accorded to
parties aggrieved by their erroneous orders or judgments.

In the case of AMA vs. Hon. Bueser, et. al. citing the case of Equitable PCI
Bank, Inc. v. Lavia, the Supreme Court ruled that resort to and exhaustion of
judicial remedies and a final ruling on the matter, are prerequisites for the
taking of appropriate measures against the judges concerned, whether of
criminal, civil or administrative nature. If the assailed act is subsequently
found and declared to be correct, there would be no occasion to proceed
against him at all.

Records show that during the preliminary conference of the case on February
12, 2014, MBDC thru counsel, admitted that there are two separate petitions
SEPTEMBER 2014

for certiorari filed with the Court of Appeals involving the interlocutory orders
issued by Judge Madrona which are allegedly questionable. CA-G.R. SP No.
126858 assails Judge Madronas Orders, dated April 23, 2012 and July 18,
2012, which denied MBDCs Motion for Inhibition and to Suspend
Proceedings and granted Uniwides Motion to Set Case for Ex-parte Hearing
for Further Reception of Plaintiffs Evidence; and denied its motion for
reconsideration thereto, respectively. In CA-G.R. SP No. 126938, MBDC
assails Judge Madronas Order, dated August 13, 2012 denying its Motion to
Set Aside the Order of Default and to Admit Attached Answer. Since these
two petitions for certiorari are still pending and as there is no evidence on
record that the same have already been resolved by the Court of Appeals or
by the Supreme Court with finality, the instant administrative complaint is
deemed pre-mature.

Assuming that Judge Madrona erroneously interpreted the provision of


Section 4, Rule 16 of the Rules of Court in relation to this case, he cannot be
administratively liable for such judicial error. It is settled that a judges
failure to interpret the law or to properly appreciate the evidence presented
does not necessarily render him administratively liable. Only judicial errors
tainted with fraud, dishonesty, gross ignorance, bad faith, or deliberate
intent to do an injustice will be administratively sanctioned. To hold
otherwise would be to render judicial office untenable, for no one called upon
to try the facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice can
be infallible in his judgment.

In this case, other than the judicial error committed by Judge Madrona, MBDC
failed to adduce convincing evidence showing that Judge Madronas error
was so gross or patent, deliberate and malicious or incurred with evident bad
faith. Neither was bias nor partiality established. Acts or conduct of the
judge clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice must be clearly shown
before he can be branded the stigma of being biased and partial. In the
same vein, bad faith or malice cannot be inferred simply because the
judgment or order is adverse to a party.

A scrutiny of MBDCs complaint against Judge Madronas alleged commission


of acts amounting to gross ignorance of the law, manifest partiality and gross
misconduct, reveals that the complaint actually pertains to Judge Madronas
exercise of adjudicative functions. Assuming arguendo that Judge Madronas
order is erroneous, such error cannot be corrected in an administrative
proceeding but should instead be assailed through judicial remedies, such as
a motion for reconsideration, an appeal, or a petition for certiorari.
Administrative complaints against judges cannot be pursued simultaneously
with the judicial remedies accorded to parties aggrieved by the erroneous
orders or judgments of the former. Administrative remedies are neither
alternative to judicial review nor do they cumulate thereto, where such
review is still available to the aggrieved parties and the case has not yet
SEPTEMBER 2014

been resolved with finality.

As to the second issue, the Investigator agrees with Judge Madrona that
the changing of the period of time in the Minutes of November 18, 2011
hearing was authorized and made pursuant to the inherent powers of the
court to correct error in his Order.

This Investigator is convinced that Judge Madrona acted in good faith when
he corrected the Minutes of the November 18, 2011 hearing. We agree with
Judge Madrona that the changes made from 15 days to 10 days for the
parties to file their respective Comment and Reply were done to correct the
error and in order to conform with the usual court practice of allowing only
10 days to file a comment. It was inaccurate for MBDC to claim that the
correction was purposely intended to make it appear that MBDC untimely
filed its comment to the subject motion as Uniwide was also given the same
period of time to file its reply. More so, despite MBDCs late filing of its
comment beyond the 10 day period, the same was still considered in the
resolution of Uniwides motion, thus, showing that the correction was not
intended to solely prejudice MBDC but merely to conform with the courts
prevailing practice. Here, MBDCs accusation against Judge Madrona for
grave misconduct and manifest partiality is without basis.

It is significant to emphasize the inherent power of the courts as provided


under Section 5 (g) of Rule 135, that every court shall have the inherent
power to amend and control its processes and orders, so as to make them
conformable to law and justice. This power includes the right to reverse
itself, especially when in its honest opinion it has committed an error or
mistake in judgment, and that to adhere to its decision will cause injustice to
a party-litigant.

Under the circumstances obtaining in this case, the undersigned Investigator


considers Judge Madronas act of changing the period of time to file the
comment and reply to have been done in good faith and in accordance with
the courts inherent power to amend and control his orders in the interest of
justice and speedy disposition of the case. Judge Madronas contention was
supported by the Affidavit executed by Mr. Rojo, comprehensively explaining
the reason why the period of filing the pleadings in the Minutes of November
18, 2011 hearing was changed. Mr. Rojos affidavit remained uncontested
and this Investigator believes that it should be given weight as he was the
one who had conferred with the parties prior to the said hearing and had it
signed by their counsels.

On a final note, if a party is prejudiced by the orders of a judge, his remedy


lies with the proper court for proper judicial action and not with the office of
the Court Administrator by means of an administrative complaint, as in this
case. Since, as admitted by the parties, the assailed interlocutory orders of
SEPTEMBER 2014

Judge Madrona were appealed through petitions for certiorari and are still
pending with the Court of Appeals, hence, this Administrative case filed
against Judge Madrona constitutes an abuse of court processes that serves
to disrupt rather than promote the orderly administration of justice and
further clog the courts dockets.

Judge Madrona, however, must be reminded to cease his practice of having


his court interpreter, Mr. Rojo, prepare in advance the minutes of the hearing
and requiring the parties to sign the same prior to hearing. The minutes
must only be accomplished after the case is adjourned in order to avoid
conflict and to reflect an accurate account of the proceedings.

RECOMMENDATION

The undersigned Investigator respectfully recommends that the


administrative complaint against Judge Madrona be DISMISSED for patent
lack of merit and the Complainant be Admonished to refrain from filing
groundless administrative complaints against Judges without substantial or
credible evidence.21

Ruling

This Court adopts the foregoing findings and recommendations of Justice


Tijam.

The complainants allegations against Judge Madrona arose from the


following orders he had issued as the judge trying the civil case involving
MBDC, namely: (1) denying MBDCs motion to dismiss; (2) denying MBDCs
motion for reconsideration; and (3) granting Uniwides motion to declare
defendant in default. Yet, it is clear that such orders were Judge Madronas
resolutions of the motion to dismiss, motion for reconsideration, and motion
to declare MBDC in default, and thus involved the exercise of his judicial
functions. Assuming that Judge Madrona thereby erred, his errors were
correctible only through available judicial remedies, not by administrative or
disciplinary actions.22chanrobleslaw

The records show that MBDC already availed of its rightful judicial remedies.
On January 24, 2012, MBDC moved to have the order of default set aside and
to have its answer admitted. On February 10, 2012, it filed a motion for the
inhibition of Judge Madrona and for the suspension of the proceedings. After
Judge Madrona adversely resolved each of the motions, it assailed the
adverse resolutions in the Court of Appeals through certiorari (i.e., CA-G.R.
SP No. 126858 and CA-G.R. SP No. 126938), the proceedings thereon being
still pending.
SEPTEMBER 2014

This administrative complaint against Judge Madrona is disallowed and


should be summarily dismissed. To start with, no administrative recourse
could supplant or pre-empt the proper exercise by the CA of its certiorari
jurisdiction. Furthermore, not every error or mistake by a judge in the
performance of his official duties as a judge renders him administratively
liable. Indeed, no judge can be held administratively liable for gross
misconduct, ignorance of the law, or incompetence in the adjudication of
cases unless his acts constituted fraud, dishonesty or corruption; or were
imbued with malice or ill-will, bad faith, or deliberate intent to do an
injustice.23 These exceptions did not obtain here, for, as Justice Tijam rightly
observed, MBDC did not adduce convincing evidence showing that Judge
Madronas acts were so gross or patent, deliberate and malicious; or imbued
with evident bad faith; or tainted with bias or partiality.

In Re: Verified Complaint for Disbarment of AMA Land, Inc. (represented by


Joseph B. Usita) against Court of Appeals Associate Justices Hon. Danton Q.
Bueser, Hon. Sesinando E. Villon And Hon. Ricardo G. Rosario, 24 the Court
expressed its disdain for administrative charges brought against incumbent
Justices and Judges for performing their judicial functions,
stating:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Indeed, no judicial officer should have to fear or apprehend being held to


account or to answer for performing his judicial functions and office because
such performance is a matter of public duty and responsibility. The office and
duty to render and administer justice are function of sovereignty, and should
not be simply taken for granted. As a recognized commentator on public
offices and public officers has written:25chanrobleslaw

It is a general principle, abundantly sustained by authority and reason, that


no civil action can be sustained against a judicial officer for the recovery of
damages by one claiming to have been injured by the officers judicial action
within his jurisdiction. From the very nature of the case, the officer is
called upon by law to exercise his judgment in the matter, and the
law holds his duty to the individual to be performed when he has
exercised it, however erroneous or disastrous in its consequences it
may appear either to the party or to others.

A number of reasons, any one of them sufficient, have been


advanced in support of this rule. Thus it is said of the judge: His
doing justice as between particular individuals, when they have a
controversy before him, is not the end and object which were in
view when his court was created, and he was selected to preside
over or sit in it. Courts are created on public grounds; they are to do
justice as between suitors, to the end that peace and order may
prevail in the political society, and that rights may be protected and
preserved. The duty is public, and the end to be accomplished is
SEPTEMBER 2014

public; the individual advantage or loss results from the proper and
thorough or improper and imperfect performance of a duty for
which his controversy is only the occasion. The judge performs his
duty to the public by doing justice between individuals, or, if he fails
to do justice as between individuals, he may be called to account by
the State in such form and before such tribunal as the law may have
provided. But as the duty neglected is not a duty to the individual,
civil redress, as for an individual injury, is not admissible.

Justice Tijam found the allegation on the tampering of the minutes of the
November 18, 2011 hearing unlikely.

We concur with Justice Tijam. The correction of the minutes was done by
Judge Madrona under the inherent powers of his court to control its own
orders and processes before they became immutable. In changing in the
minutes the period stated for filing the comment and the reply from 15 days
to 10 days, Judge Madrona was merely correcting the period conformably
with the existing practice in his branch of granting only the shorter period of
10 days to make such filings. In that context, no bad faith should be inferred,
considering that both parties were subject to the same 10-day period.
Moreover, MBDC did not suffer actual prejudice from the change inasmuch as
Judge Madrona had actually noted MBDCs comment, and had considered
such comment in issuing his December 23, 2011 ruling.

Further, Justice Tijams recommendation to caution Judge Madrona against


allowing his court interpreter to prepare the minutes of the proceedings in
advance and requiring the litigants to sign the minutes even prior to the
holding of the hearing itself is well taken. Given their obvious purpose, the
minutes of judicial proceedings must be accomplished after the close of such
proceedings, or after the hearings have been adjourned in order to avoid
conflicting entries, or even confusion. It is always essential for the minutes to
give an accurate account of the proceedings in accordance with their true
nature as records of the official and public acts of the courts. Entries in the
minutes should not anticipate the proceedings they are intended to faithfully
record, for the reliability and trustworthiness of the entries could be easily
compromised otherwise.

WHEREFORE, the Court DISMISSES the administrative complaint against


respondent Judge Fortunito A. Madrona for its lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.cralawlawlibrary