A.M. No. RTJ-02-1691 – (The Officers and Members of the IBP Baguio-Benguet Chapter, Cesar G. Oracion, President, v. Fernando Vil Pamintuan, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch III, Baguio City)

 

 

                                                                   Promulgated:

 

                                                                   November 19, 2004

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DISSENTING OPINION

 

 

CALLEJO, SR., J.:

 

 

            Before the Court is a Motion for Reconsideration of our Decision[1] in A.M. No. RTJ-02-1691 suspending Judge Fernando Vil Pamintuan, Regional Trial Court, Branch III, Baguio City for one (1) year for gross ignorance of the law; delay in resolving motions submitted for resolution; arrogant, oppressive and improper conduct; and violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

 

The complainants enumerate the following to support their prayer for the respondent’s dismissal from the service:

 

I

THE PENALTY IMPOSED BY THE HONORABLE COURT IS DISPROPORTIONATE TO THE NUMEROUS AND SERIOUS VIOLATIONS COMMITTED BY THE RESPONDENT.

 

II

JURISPRUDENCE SHOWS THAT OTHER JUDGES WHO COMMITTED LESSER OFFENSES THAN THE RESPONDENT WERE METED OUT THE EXTREME PENALTY OF DISMISSAL.[2]

The complainants beg this Court to re-examine the “numerous violations committed by the respondent and to make a final assessment if indeed, he is still worthy to wear the judicial robe or, his continued presence on the bench would unduly tarnish the image of the judiciary.”[3]  The complainants cite a catena of decided cases[4] to illustrate their point that to maintain the penalty of one (1) year suspension for the numerous serious omissions and/or violations committed by the respondent would be equivalent to giving premium to an erring judge.  They point out that other judges were immediately dismissed from the service for having committed a single act or violation.  The complainants pray that the Court reconsider the penalty imposed on the respondent and sustain the penalty recommended by the Investigating Justice, it being more in accord with the gravity of the respondent’s offenses.  The complainants compare the instant case with the Court’s ruling in Estoya v. Abraham-Singson[5] where the respondent judge therein was likewise found to have misapplied the rules on the Indeterminate Sentence Law and was dismissed from the service due to gross ignorance of the law, incompetence, along with a host of other infractions.[6]

 

For his part, the respondent feels that the administrative sanction meted against him is too severe, considering that he has served the Judiciary for more than five (5) years, has been in government service for more than nine (9) years, three (3) years of which were spent in the Court of Appeals as a legal researcher.  He cites Section 11 (2), Rule 140 of the Revised Rules of Court on the discipline of justices and judges, and prays that the one-year penalty imposed against him be reduced to six (6) months following the above provision.[7]

 

In his Comment dated May 26, 2004, the respondent points out certain “inadequacies” in the complainants’ motion for reconsideration.  One such flaw, according to the respondent, is the complainants’ reliance on the ruling of the Court in the case of State Prosecutors v. Judge Manuel Muro,[8] where the respondent judge therein was dismissed for committing a single act of gross ignorance of the law when he dismissed eleven (11) criminal cases for violation of Central Bank Laws as a result of newspaper reports on the lifting of all foreign exchange restrictions.  According to the respondent, such citation would have been “biblical in effect,” except that the complainants deliberately omitted the subsequent ruling[9] of the Court in the same case reinstating Judge Muro to his office and considering him suspended for a period of more than one (1) year.[10]

 

The respondent also invokes “the immunity granted to the members of the bench.”  He avers that as a general rule, the acts committed by a judge, even though erroneous, are not subject to disciplinary action.  He adds that such acts shall be subject to disciplinary power only when they are attended by fraud, dishonesty, corruption or bad faith, which are not present in the case at bar.  Citing American jurisprudence, the respondent notes:

 

It must be conceded that respondent, in acting the way he did, committed a legal error which usually is remediable by appeal or by any other modes sanctioned by the Rules of Court and “does not raise a question of improper judicial conduct subject to discipline.” But egregarious legal error, legal error NOT motivated by bad faith, xxx does not amount to misconduct subject to discipline ranging from admonishment to removal from office.

 

Nowhere from the original complaints, the affidavits or the testimonies of the witnesses for the complainants was there clear, convincing proof that respondent acted in a way in bad faith and no insidious intentions on his part is manifest.

 

Applying the indeterminate sentence law in the cited cases, erroneous though it may be, is not inescapably indicative of bad faith.[11]

 

            The respondent, likewise, refutes the claim of the complainants that dismissal from the service is the majority rule for judges who commit lesser or numerous offenses in our jurisprudence by citing authorities[12] thereon.  He stresses that there is a litany of other cases where the Court did not impose the maximum penalty for an infraction committed by a judge.  The respondent avers that while the cases cited by the complainants may fall under the same class, the same could not apply squarely to his circumstance.

 

          Anent the complainants’ claim that all of them have inhibited themselves from attending to hearings before the respondent’s sala, the latter had this to say:


 

            …. This tale is farthest from the truth because the respondent had only inhibited in the cases of five (5) law offices, and one lawyer only, the Branch Clerk of Court’s certificate is hereto attached as Annex “A.”  Thus, the rest of the complainants lawyer (sic) have continued to appear before the respondent’s court, contrary to the allegation of the complainants.

 

            Again, complainants are not factual in the cases of Atty. Jose M. Molintas and Atty. Alberto Bayan because the respondent has continued to hear their cases, as Atty. Molintas even obtained three (3) acquittals….[13]  

 

 

I agree with the complainants that erring judges have been dismissed from the service for seemingly lesser infractions. In the recent case of Salvador Sison v. Judge Jose F. Caoibes, Jr., Presiding Judge and Teodoro S. Alvarez, Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Las Piñas City, Branch 253,[14] the respondent judge therein was dismissed from the service for serious impropriety unbecoming a judge, for violating Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.  The respondent judge therein was penalized for citing for contempt a traffic enforcer who apprehended his son, which, in fine, amounted to grave abuse of authority.  The penalty of dismissal has, likewise, been imposed on judges for grave misconduct[15] or gross ignorance of the law[16] alone.  However, as pointed out by the respondent, there are also instances where the Court, considering the gravity of the erring judge’s offense, meted out lesser penalties.

 

It must be stressed that each administrative case against each judge is unique in itself, replete with circumstances which, more often than not, are
peculiar to that case only.  In deciding the penalty to be imposed on errant magistrates, the Court considers the factual milieu in each case, the offending acts or omissions of the judge, as well as previous transgressions, if any.

 

          I have once again gone over the records of the instant case, and upon careful perusal of the applicable jurisprudence, I am of the opinion that the one-year suspension imposed against the respondent judge is inappropriate and not commensurate to his offenses.

 

On Gross Ignorance of the Law

 

 

It is settled that one who accepts the exalted position of a judge owes the public and the court the ability to be proficient in the law and the duty to maintain professional competence at all times.  Basic rules must be at the palm of his hand. He must be acquainted not only with legal norms and precepts, but with procedural rules as well.[17]  Gross ignorance of the law and incompetence are characteristics and quirks impermissible in a judge.  He is called upon to exhibit more than just a cursory acquaintance with statutes and procedural rules; it is imperative that he be conversant with basic legal principles.  Canon 4 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics requires that the judge should be “studious of the principles of law;” and Canon 18 mandates that he “should administer his office with due regard to the integrity of the system of the law itself, remembering that he is not a depository of arbitrary power, but a judge under the sanction of law.”[18]  Service in the judiciary means a continuous study and research on the law from beginning to end.  A member of the bench must continuously keep himself abreast of legal and jurisprudential developments because the learning process in law never ceases.[19]

 

When the inefficiency springs from a failure to consider so basic and elementary a rule, a law or a principle in the discharge of his duties, a judge is either too incompetent and undeserving of the position and the title he holds or is too vicious that the oversight or omission was deliberately done in bad faith and in grave abuse of judicial authority.[20]  When the law is sufficiently basic, a judge owes it to his office to simple apply it; anything less than that would be constitutive of gross ignorance of the law.[21]  Ignorantia juris quod quisque scire tenetur non excusat.[22]  As we ruled in Mijares v. Poso:[23]

 

We need not belabor jurisprudence to accommodate respondent Judge’s argument which in effect posits that not every judicial error bespeaks ignorance of the law and that, if committed in good faith, does not warrant administrative sanctions. So we have ruled and acted consistently, for to decide otherwise would be nothing short of harassing judges to take the fantastic and impossible oath or rendering infallible judgments.

 

However, in the present case, the rule shielding honest errors of opinion from punishment does not apply. Admittedly judges cannot be held to account for erroneous judgments rendered in good faith but this defense has been all too frequently cited to the point of staleness. In truth, good faith in situations of infallible discretion adheres only within the parameters of tolerable judgment and does not apply where the basic issues are so simple and the applicable legal principle evident and basic as to be beyond permissible margins of error.[24]

 

 

In the case at bar, the respondent repeatedly misapplied the Indeterminate Sentence Law, not once or twice, but a total of eighteen (18) times.  As found by the Investigating Justice, the respondent sentenced an accused found guilty of theft to suffer imprisonment “from seven (7) years, four (4) months and one (1) day minimum to eight (8) years and eight (8) months as maximum of prision mayor  for each case.”  Since the penalty for theft is prision mayor, the minimum of the penalty imposable on the accused should have been within the range of prision correccional, the penalty next lower to prision mayor.  The respondent misapplied the Indeterminate Sentence Law in seventeen (17) other cases, as follows:

 

1. People vs. Rose Dalmacio, et. al.

    Crim. Case No. 11363-R, for

   Theft (Exhibit “D”)

 

The amount stolen was P10,000.00. Under Art. 309, Par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty imposable is prision correccional in its medium and maximum period.  However, the sentence imposed by Respondent Judge was from four (4) years, nine (9) months and eleven (11) days as minimum, to six (6) years, as maximum.  Worse, he imposed subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency when no fine was imposed as penalty.

 

2. People vs. Joel Ramos, et al.

    Crim. Case No. 15108-R,

    for Robbery With Violence

   (Exhibit “E”)

 

As found by respondent, the provision applicable is Article 294, Par. 5 of the Revised Penal Code which provides a penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its medium period. However, he imposed upon the accused imprisonment from six (6) years and one (1) day, as minimum, to eight (8) years, as maximum.   Again, he disregarded Article 39 of the Revised Penal Code and imposed subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.

 


3. People vs. Manuel Carino

    Crim. Case No. 15544-R, for

    Frustrated Homicide (Exhibit “F”)

 

The accused pleaded guilty to Attempted Homicide and thus, the imposable penalty is prision correccional (Art. 51 in rel. to Art. 249, RPC). Respondent, however, imposed the penalty of four (4) years, two (2) months and one (1) day, as minimum, to six (6) years, as maximum. Notably, it was imposed in its maximum period without any finding of aggravating circumstance.

 

4.      People vs. German Abarquez,

 et al. Crim. Case No. 3200,

for Robbery (Exhibit “G”)

 

As found by respondent, the penalty imposable is prision mayor. However, what he imposed was imprisonment from ten (10) years and one (1) day, as minimum, to twelve (12) years, as maximum. Again, the penalty imposed is in its maximum period without any express finding of aggravating circumstance. 

 

5.  People vs. Rolando Tawanna, et. al.

     Crim. Case No. 7703-R, for Frustrated

     Homicide (Exhibit “H”)

 

The penalty imposed is prision correccional (Art. 50 in rel. to Art. 249, RPC) but respondent sentenced all accused to ten (10) years and one (1) day, as minimum, to twelve (12) years, as maximum, without any express finding of aggravating circumstance.

 

6. People vs. Jose Tamo, et. al.

    Crim. Case No. 13646-R, for

   Frustrated Murder (Exhibit “I”)

 

The imposable penalty is prision mayor in its maximum period to reclusion temporal in its medium period (Art. 50 in rel. to Art. 248, RPC) but the penalty imposed by respondent was fourteen (14) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day, as minimum, to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months, as maximum.

 

7.      People vs. Bernardo Polic-ew

      Crim. Case No. 14054-R, for

      Frustrated  Murder  (Exhibit “J”)

 

The penalty imposable is prision mayor (Art. 50 in rel. to Art. 249, RPC) but respondent fixed the sentence at eleven (11) years, four (4) months and one (1) day, as minimum, to twelve (12) years, as maximum. Note that the penalty is in the maximum period without any express finding of aggravating circumstance.

 

8.      People vs. Johnson Simsim

      Crim. Case No. 14524-R, for

      Attempted Rape  (Exhibit “K”)

 

It being in its attempted stage, the penalty imposable is prision mayor. However, the penalty imposed by respondent was ten (10) years and one (1) (sic), as minimum, to twelve (12) years, as maximum.

 

9.      People vs. Moses Polic-ew

      Crim. Case No. 15600-R, for

      Malversation of Public

     Property (Exhibit “L”)

 

As found by respondent, accused violated Par. 2 of Art. 217, RPC, which provides a penalty of prision mayor in its minimum and medium periods. However, what he imposed was seven (7) years, four (4) months and one (1) day, as minimum, to eight (8) years, as maximum. 

 

10.   People vs. Renato Bernal

       Crim. Case No. 14776-R, for

      Homicide (Exhibit “M”)

 

The imposable penalty for Homicide is reclusion temporal. Again, in complete disregard of the Indeterminate Sentence Law, respondent imposed fourteen (14) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day, as minimum, to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months, as maximum.

 

11.   People vs. John Baliling

       Crim. Case No. 15932-R,

       for Frustrated  Homicide 

      (Exhibit “N”)

 

The offense charged is punishable by prision mayor. However, respondent imposed eight (8) years and one (1) day, as minimum, to ten (10) years, as maximum.

 

12.   People vs. Melchor Bawalan, et al.

       Crim. Case No. 15653-R, for

       Robbery with Violence (Exhibit “O”)

 

The offense charged is punishable under Par. 5, Art. 294, RPC, which provides a penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its medium period. However, respondent imposed eight (8) years and one (1) (sic) as minimum, to ten years, as maximum.

 

13.   People vs. Paul Afiagan

      Crim. Case No. 13379-R, for

      Frustrated Homicide  (Exhibit “P”)

 

Accused pleaded guilty to Attempted Homicide punishable with imprisonment of prision correccional, but respondent fixed the penalty at  four (4) years, two (2) months, and one (1) day, as minimum, to six (6) years, as maximum.

 

14.   People vs. Edwin Longaquit, et. al.

       Crim. Case No. 13367-R, for

       Frustrated Homicide  (Exhibit “Q”)

 

The offense charged is punishable by imprisonment of prision mayor. Respondent imposed eight (8) years and one (1) day, as minimum, to ten (10) years, maximum.


 

15.   People vs. Joseph Samir Kairuz, et al.

       Crim. Case No. 14929-R, for Estafa

       (Exhibit “R”)

 

The amount involved was P90,000.00. Under the first paragraph of Art. 315 of the Revised Penal Code, the imposable penalty is prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period, plus one year for every P10,000.00 since the amount involved exceeds P22,000.00. The sentence imposed by respondent, however, is twelve (12) years, eight (8) months, and twenty (21) days, as minimum, to fourteen (14) years, as maximum. Note that aside from not applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum of the penalty he imposed is beyond the penalty imposable under the law.

 

16.   People vs. Liwayway Cruz

       Crim. Case No. 7304-R,

       for Estafa (Exhibit “S”)

 

The amount involved is P29,470.00. Hence, pursuant to Art. 315, Par. 1, Revised Penal Code, the imposable penalty is prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period. The penalty imposed by respondent was six (6) years, eight (8) months and twenty (21) days, as minimum, to eight (8) years, as maximum.

 

17.   People vs. Benjie Gose, et al.;

       Crim. Case No. 149935-R, for

       Robbery (Exhibit T”)

 

The penalty imposable is prision mayor there being no evidence that accused carried arms during the robbery (Art. 299, RPC). Respondent, however, imposed a sentence of six (6) years and one (1) day, as minimum, to eight (8) years, as maximum. Note, too, that he imposed the same penalty upon accused Mark Joseph Ocharan despite his findings that he was a minor during the commission of the crime. Minority is a privilege mitigating circumstance and thus, accused Ocharan’s penalty should have been lowered by one degree.[25]

 

Admittedly, judges cannot be held to account for erroneous judgments rendered in good faith, but this defense has been all too frequently cited to the point of staleness, even if not applicable,[26] as in the case at bar.  Under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, the Court may impose its authority upon erring judges whose actuations, on their face, would show gross incompetence, ignorance of the law or misconduct.[27]  Herein reiterated is the pronouncement of the Court in its Decision of January 16, 2004 –

 

The application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law in the imposition of penalties in crimes punishable by the Revised Penal Code is a basic precept.  The respondent judge’s repeated misapplication thereof in quite a number of criminal cases he had rendered constitutes gross ignorance of the law.  Indeed, judges are duty bound to have more than a cursory acquaintance with laws and jurisprudence.  Failure to follow basic legal commands constitutes gross ignorance of the law from which no one may be excused, not even a judge.

 

            The Code of Judicial Conduct mandates that “a judge shall be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence.”  It bears stressing that –

 

            … Competence is a mark of a good judge.  When a judge displays an utter lack of familiarity with the rules, he erodes the public’s confidence in the competence of our courts.  Such is gross ignorance of the law.  Having accepted the exalted position of a judge, he owes the public and the court the duty to be proficient in the law.

 

            The respondent judge has utterly failed to live up to the standard of competence required of him. His erroneous application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law committed not just once or twice but in at least seventeen (17) instances is a compelling evidence of his gross ignorance of the law.[28]

 

Every judge should know by heart the mandate of the Constitution that “no decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and law on which it is based.”[29]  Section 1, Rule 36 of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, further provides –

 

SECTION 1. Rendition of judgments and final orders. – A judgment or final order determining the merits of the case shall be in writing, personally and directly prepared by the judge, stating clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based, signed by him, and filed with the Clerk of Court.[30]


 

The filing with the Clerk of Court is the rendition of judgment, as distinguished from the promulgation thereof,[31]  which, as pointed out by Investigating Justice Mercedes Gozo-Dadole, is enunciated in Section 6 of Rule 120 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure:

 

SEC. 6. Promulgation of judgment. – The judgment is promulgated by reading it in the presence of the accused and any judge of the court in which it was rendered.  However, if the conviction is for a light offense, the judgment may be pronounced in the presence of his counsel or representative.  When the judge is absent or outside the province or city, the judgment may be promulgated by the clerk of court.

 

 

            In case the accused failed to appear at the scheduled date of promulgation of judgment despite notice, the promulgation shall be made by recording the judgment in the criminal docket and serving him a copy thereof at his last known address or through his counsel.

 

There are two instances when judgment may be promulgated even without the personal presence of the accused: (1) when the judgment is for a light offense, in which case, the counsel for the accused or a representative may stand for him; and (2) in cases where despite due notice to the accused or his bondsman or warden and counsel, the accused failed to appear at the promulgation of the decision.  The evident purpose of this latter exception is to afford the offended party the opportunity to enforce the award of civil indemnity which could not, otherwise, be effected if the decision cannot be pronounced on account of the absence of the accused.[32]  A judgment or sentence does not become a judgment or sentence in law until the same has been read or announced to the defendant or has become part of the record of the court.[33]  Parenthetically, when there is no valid promulgation of judgment, no right to appeal accrues.[34]

 

In the case at bar, the respondent required the counsel of the accused to stand in place of the latter while the judgment in a criminal case was being read in open court.  As found by the Investigating Justice:

 

… Atty. Reynaldo U. Agranzamendez, while appearing as counsel de oficio for Liwayway Cruz in Criminal Case No. 7304-R for estafa last 29 July 1999, was extremely embarrassed when he was ordered by the respondent judge to stand in behalf of the accused, who was then absent despite due notice, and face the Clerk of Court during the reading of the full text of the decision when the case was called for promulgation.  Accordingly, Atty. Agranzamendez asked respondent judge to allow him to take his seat as there were several people inside the courtroom who, being unmindful of the rules might think that he was the accused.  But his pleas, however, got respondent mad, for instead of allowing him to sit down, respondent instead banged his gavel and told Atty. Agranzamendez not to argue with the court and to stand straight as he leaned over to avoid the glances of the Clerk of Court.[35]

 

 

Compounding the irregularity was the antedating of the decisions subsequently rendered by the respondent.  We reiterate the findings of the Investigating Justice, to wit:

 

… Evidence on hand also reveals respondent’s casual disregard of procedural rules, that is, when he promulgated a decision that has yet to be released as shown in the case of People v. Malapit, et al., docketed as Criminal Case Nos. 15320-R, 15323-R and 1532327-R, and in People v. Cas, docketed as Criminal Case No. 15306-R.

 

While the Supreme Court has ruled in favor and in fact, encourages the practice of typing the dispositive portion of a decision at a date near or on the date of promulgation to preserve the sanctity of decisions, respondent’s act of promulgating a decision that has yet to be released or for that matter is not READY for releasing on the date of promulgation is simply beyond comprehension.

 

Thus, as an offshoot of respondent’s irregular procedure, Atty. Lagdao of the Office of the Public Assistance Office, who represented the accused in both criminal cases filed the following Notices of Appeal, to wit:

 

In the Malapit case:

 

“x x x hereby gives notice that she is appealing to the Supreme Court decision of the honorable Court promulgated on 18 June 1999, copies of which the honorable Court has yet to release despite the fact that the reglementary period for filing a motion for reconsideration of a notice of appeal is about to expire x x x.”

                        In the Cas case:

 

“x x x hereby gives notice that she is appealing to the court of appeals the decision of the honorable Court promulgated on 22 June 1999, a copy of which the Honorable Court has yet to release x x x.”

 

Finding the statement, “a copy of which the Honorable Court has yet to release” as so revolting, the respondent then returned said notices to Atty. Lagdao through Regional Director Rogelio Dael (re: P. vs. Malapit Case) and Edgardo Ancheta (re: P. vs. Cas case) for the latter to change by deleting the objectionable portions, with the advisory that if such portions be not deleted, respondent would not act on the Notices of Appeal.  Thus, afraid of the respondent’s advice, Atty. Lagdao did so as told, with the end in mind of not prejudicing his clients[’] cause.[36]

         

On Arrogant, Oppressive and

Improper Conduct

 

Under Canon 1.01 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge is expected to be “the embodiment of competence, integrity, and independence” to maintain public confidence in the legal system.[37]  Faith in the administration of justice exists only if every party-litigant is assured that the occupants of the bench are rich in moral fiber and strong in their grasp of legal principles.[38]  Indeed, a judge’s conduct must be beyond reproach.[39]

 

The respondent’s opinion on the charges against him in the instant case was aptly summarized by him in his comment, as follows:


 

And while the complaint refers to conduct unbecoming specifically castigating respondent for his perceived arrogance, and/or ignorance of the law, what is the significance of it?  I believe it did not compromise the impartiality of the process of dispensing justice before the judicial courts that has brought the parties this far.[40]

 

 

The respondent must have forgotten the very mandate of the Code of Judicial Conduct that “a judge should so behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”[41]  It would do him well to remember that judges are held to higher standards of integrity and ethical conduct than attorneys or other persons not invested with the public trust.  A judge’s official conduct and his behavior in the performance of judicial duties should be free from the appearance of impropriety and must be beyond reproach.[42]  By the very nature of the bench, judges, more than the average man, are required to observe an exacting standard of morality and decency.  It is, therefore, paramount that a judge’s personal behavior, both in the performance of his duties and his daily life, be free from the appearance of impropriety as to be beyond reproach.[43]

 

The respondent’s treatment of lawyers appearing before his sala leaves much to be desired, thus:

 

The behavior of the respondent judge towards Atty. Mandapat, i.e. berating the latter in his cross-examination for repeating the questions already asked during the direct examination, betrayed his impatience in the conduct of the hearing.  A display of petulance and impatience in the conduct of trial is a norm of behavior incompatible with the needful attitude and sobriety of a good judge.

 

The respondent’s statement to the client that Atty. Dacawi did not deserve to be paid as he did not do anything during the trial was uncalled for.    Further, his act of requiring Atty. Agranzamendez to take the place of the accused during the reading of the decision at the promulgation thereof was improper.   These actuations of the respondent judge cannot be countenanced as they clearly violated Rule 3.04 of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct:

 

Rule 3.04. – A judge should be patient, attentive, and courteous to lawyers, especially the inexperienced, to litigants, witnesses, and others appearing before the court.  A judge should avoid unconsciously falling into the attitude of mind that the litigants are made for the courts, instead of the courts for the litigants.

 

Apropos, this Court has held:

... A judge should be courteous both in his conduct and in his language especially to those appearing before him.  He can hold counsels to a proper appreciation of their duties to the court, their clients, and the public without being petty, arbitrary, overbearing, or tyrannical.  He should refrain from conduct that demeans his office and remember always that courtesy begets courtesy.  Above all, he must conduct himself in such a manner that he gives no reason for reproach.

 

            Clearly, the respondent judge has failed to observe courtesy and civility to the lawyers as well as to the litigants who appeared before him.[44]

 

Judges should be courteous to counsel, especially to those who are young and inexperienced, and also to all others concerned in the administration of justice in their courts.  They should also require and, as far as their power extends, enforce on the part of clerks, court officers and counsel civility and courtesy to witnesses, litigants and others having business with the court.[45]  Besides possessing the requisite learning in the law, a magistrate must exhibit that hallmark judicial temperament of utmost sobriety.[46]  If the judge himself does not observe temperance and courtesy to
his colleagues in the bench and the bar, how then can he expect to gain the respect of the community, as well as his contemporaries?  In view of the primordial role of judges in the administration of justice, only those with irreproachable integrity must be entrusted with judicial powers.[47] A judge who tarnishes the image of the judiciary or brings it to public contempt, dishonor or disrespect must be administratively dealt with and punished accordingly.[48]  Indeed, there is no place in the judiciary for those who cannot meet the exacting standards of judicial conduct and integrity.[49]

 

While the Investigating Justice did not find sufficient evidence to sustain the charges of graft and corruption against the respondent judge, she made the following findings:

 

The Code of Judicial Ethics mandates that the conduct of a judge must be free from any whiff to impropriety not only with respect to his judicial duties, but also to his behavior outside his sala.  In the instant case, respondent’s recommendation of Mr. Gula to be his driver despite the latter’s lack of driver’s license and inability to drive not only casts doubt in his integrity but also his honesty as a judge.  More so, that Mr. Gula and herein respondent lived together in the same house.

 

Certainly, before one recommends another, it is the duty of the recommending authority to find out if the person recommended possess at least the minimum requirement/qualification needed for the job. The attendant circumstances in the present case reveals that respondent judge’s act of recommending Mr. Gula (as driver), in his exalted position,
deliberately or unconsciously made it possible to misguide the City Mayor or Baguio and the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Baguio to believe that Mr. Gula possessed the prescribed qualifications.  Hence, respondent is liable for acts unbecoming a magistrate.[50]

 

Indeed, the respondent’s actuations in this regard give rise to doubts as to his integrity and honesty, both as a person and a member of the bench, qualities which every magistrate should possess.  Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct further provides that “a judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.”  As we had the occasion to state in OCA v. Judge Sanchez:[51]

 

It is clear from the aforesaid provisions that both the reality and the appearance must concur.  Case law repeatedly teaches that judicial office circumscribes the personal conduct of a judge and imposes a number of restrictions thereon, which he has to pay for accepting and occupying an exalted position in the administration of justice.  The improper conduct of a judge erodes public confidence in the judiciary.  It is, thus, the duty of the members of the bench to avoid any impression of impropriety to protect the image and integrity of the judiciary.

 

This reminder applies all the more sternly to municipal, metropolitan and regional trial court judges like herein respondent, because they are judicial front-liners who have direct contact with the litigating parties.  They are the intermediaries between conflicting interests and the embodiments of the people’s sense of justice.  Thus, their official conduct should remain “free from any appearance of impropriety” and should be beyond reproach.”[52]

 

 

The Respondent Should Be

Dismissed from the Service

 

          Considering all the foregoing, I vote that the respondent be dismissed from the service.

 

          Contrary to the claims of the respondent, the case of State Prosecutors v. Judge Manuel Muro[53] cannot support his prayer for a mere six-month suspension as penalty.  The respondent judge in that case then had and attested to an “unsullied name and service record,” and made a commitment to the Court to abide by the Canons of Judicial Ethics as well as Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.[54]  The Court therein stated that these were “favorable considerations warranting the commutation of respondent’s penalty of dismissal, if only to give him the chance to redeem himself from an error of this magnitude which he committed only for the first time.”[55]

         

In this case, however, the respondent made no such commitment. In fact, he insists that the one-year suspension meted against him is “so severe,” and, considering his long years of service in the government, he should be meted a lower penalty.  Rather than consider this in his favor, this should be used against him.  Having been in the government service for so long, he, more than anyone else, should know that public service is a public trust; that public service requires utmost integrity and strictest discipline, and, as such, a public servant must exhibit at all times the highest sense of honesty and integrity.  This yardstick is imprinted in the 1987 Constitution no less, under Section 1 of Article XI:

 

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.

 

To my mind, the respondent has not shown an iota of remorse or repentance for his violations.  The Court is wont to stress that the respondent has been previously held administratively liable.  The dispositive portion of our ruling in Gacayan v. Pamintuan[56] reads as follows:

 

WHEREFORE, for violations of Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Ethics which amounts to grave misconduct, conduct unbecoming of an officer of the Judiciary and conduct prejudicial to the best interests of the service, respondent Judge FERNANDO VIL PAMINTUAN, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 3, Baguio City, is hereby FINED the amount of P10,000.00.  He is likewise REPRIMANDED and sternly WARNED that a repetition of the foregoing or similar transgressions shall be dealt with more severely.
Finally, he is ORDERED to inhibit himself from further hearing Criminal

Case No. 14549-R.  The Executive Judge is ordered to re-raffle the case with dispatch to another sala.

 

SO ORDERED.[57]

 

 

          The Court therein made the pronouncement that the respondent judge was “wanting in the desired level of mastery of a fundamental rule on criminal procedure.”[58]  In that case, the accused filed a demurer to evidence and the respondent, without resolving the same and in blatant disregard of the rules of criminal procedure, still called witnesses who were not listed in the information as well as those who had already testified and appeared before him.  This resulted in the re-opening of the case with respect to the presentation of evidence for the prosecution.  When the accused filed a motion for inhibition and a motion to suspend further proceedings, the respondent judge denied the same.  The respondent was also seen conferring with the witnesses for the prosecution, and later set the case for hearing without notice to the counsel of the accused.  Thus, the respondent’s actuations in the instant case constitute “similar transgressions” of which he was sternly warned, and which the Court avowed would be “dealt with more severely.”

 

All told, the respondent judge failed to live up to the exacting standards of his office. The magnitude of his transgressions, taken collectively, renders him unfit to don the judicial robe and to perform the functions of a magistrate.  Therefore, the imposition of the supreme penalty of dismissal is warranted.[59]

 

WHEREFORE, I vote that the Motion for Reconsideration of the Officers and Members of the IBP Baguio-Benguet Chapter be GRANTED.  For gross ignorance of the law, delay in resolving motions submitted for resolution, arrogant, oppressive and improper conduct, and violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, respondent Judge Fernando Vil Pamintuan, Regional Trial Court, Branch III, Baguio City, should be DISMISSED from the service with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to any re-employment in any branch, agency or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

 

 

                                                                   ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR.

                                                                            Associate Justice

 



[1]  Promulgated January 16, 2004.

[2]  Motion for Reconsideration dated February 9, 2004, p. 1.

[3]  Id. at 3.

[4] Re: Release by Judge Manuel T. Muro, RTC, Br. 54, Manila, of an Accused in a Non-Bailable Offense, 367 SCRA 285 (2001); Dizon v. Calimag, 365 SCRA 448 (2001); Guray v. Bautista, 360 SCRA 488 (2001); Office of the Court Administrator v. Sanchez, 359 SCRA 577 (2001); Mamba v. Garcia, 359 SCRA 426 (2001); Re: An Undated Letter with the Heading “Expose” of a Concerned Mediaman on the Alleged Illegal Acts of Judge Julian C. Ocampo III, 359 SCRA 1 (2001); Agpalasin v. Agcaoili, 330 SCRA 250 (2000); Magarang v. Jardin, Sr., 330 SCRA 79 (2000); Castaños v. Escaño, Jr., 251 SCRA 174 (1995); State Prosecutors v. Muro, 236 SCRA 505 (1994); Chin v. Gustilo, 247 SCRA 175 (1995); Francisco v. Springael, 139 SCRA 107 (1985); Lantaco, Sr. v. Judge Llamas, 108 SCRA 502; Carreon v. Flores, 64 SCRA 238 (1975).   

[5]  237 SCRA 1 (1994).

[6]  Motion for Reconsideration dated February 9, 2004, pp. 5-7.

[7]  Motion for Reconsideration dated February 3, 2004.

[8]  236 SCRA 505 (1994).

[9]  251 SCRA 111 (1995).

[10] The respondent judge in the said case was considered to have served his suspension, that is, from the time the first decision was promulgated (September 14, 1994) up to the promulgation of the resolution reinstating him (December 11, 1995).

[11] Comment dated May 24, 2004, p. 5 (citations omitted).

[12] People v. Serrano, Sr., 315 SCRA 686 (1999); Bacar v. De Guzman, Jr., 271 SCRA 328 (1997); Carpio v. De Guzman, 262 SCRA 615 (1996); Ualat v. Ramos, 265 SCRA 345 (1996); Navarro v. Domagtoy, 259 SCRA 129 (1996); Mamolo, Sr. v. Narisma, 252 SCRA 613 (1996); Office of the Court Administrator v. Matas, 247 SCRA 9 (1995); Ortiz v. Palaypayon, 234 SCRA 391 (1994); Pagasian v. Azura, 184 SCRA 391 (1990); Inting v. Bernaldez, 64 SCRA 383 (1975).

[13] Comment dated May 25, 2004.

[14] A.M. No. RTJ-03-1771, May 27, 2004.

[15] Guray v. Judge Bautista, supra; Arban v. Judge Borja, 227 Phil. 597 (1986), cited in Jordan P. Oktubre v. Judge Ramon P. Velasco, Municipal Trial Court, Maasin, Southern Leyte, A.M. No. MTJ 02-1444, July 22, 2004; see also Alday v. Cruz, Jr., 376 SCRA 12 (2002) and Torcende v. Sardido, 396 SCRA 11 (2003), where the respondent judge therein was dismissed for gross ignorance of the law and grave misconduct.

[16] Randall-Lyon Garcia Bueno v. Judge Saidali M. Dimangadap, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Malabang, Lanao del Sur, A.M. No. MTJ-02-1642, August 10, 2004.

[17] Gozun v. Liangco, 339 SCRA 253 (2000).

[18] Estoya  v. Abraham-Singson, 237 SCRA 1 (1994).

[19] Tabao v. Espina, 309 SCRA 273 (1999).

[20] De Guzman, Jr. v. Sison, 355 SCRA 69 (2001), citing Rodriguez v. Bonifacio, 344 SCRA 519 (2000).

[21] Ibid.

[22] Capulong v. Gozum, 397 SCRA 486 (2003), citing Carpio v. De Guzman, 262 SCRA 615 (1996) and Aurillo, Jr. v. Francisco, 235 SCRA 283 (1994).

[23] Supra.

[24] Id. at 506-507.  (Emphasis ours.)

[25] Rollo, pp. 142-147.

[26] Tabao v. Espina, 309 SCRA 273 (1999).

[27] Cruz v. Yaneza, 304 SCRA 284 (1999), citing Macalintal v. Teh, 280 SCRA 623 (1997).

[28] Decision in A.M. No. RTJ-02-1691 dated January 16, 2004, pp. 36-37.

[29] Section 14, Article VIII.

[30] Emphasis ours.

[31] Estoya v. Abraham-Singson, supra.

[32] Pamaran, The 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, 2001 ed., p. 451.

[33] U.S. v. CFI of Manila, 24 Phil. 321.

[34] People v. Jaranilla, 55 SCRA 565 (1974).

[35] Report and Recommendation, p. 56.

[36] Report and Recommendation, pp. 57-58.

[37] Randall-Lyon Garcia Bueno v. Judge Saidali M. Dimangadap, supra.

[38] Poso v. Mijares, 387 SCRA 485 (2002).

[39] Canon 31, Canons of Judicial Ethics.

[40] Comment dated May 26, 2004, p. 4.

[41] Rule 2.01.

[42] Re: Procedure Adopted By Judge Daniel Liangco, Executive Judge, MTC, San Fernando, Pampanga, Re Raffle of Cases Under P.D. 1602, 337 SCRA 8 (2000).

[43] Dawa v. De Asa, 292 SCRA 703 (1998).

[44] Decision, pp. 41-42.

[45] Paragraph 10, Canons of Judicial Ethics.

[46] Torcende v. Sardido, supra.

[47] Jose E. Fernandez v. Judge Jaime T. Hamoy, Regional Trial Court, Branch 130, Caloocan City, A.M. No. RTJ-04-1821, August 12, 2004.

[48] Gozun v. Liangco, 339 SCRA 253 (2000).

[49] Office of the Court Administrator  v. Barron, 297 SCRA 376 (1998).

[50] Report and Recommendation, pp. 59-60.

[51] 412 Phil. 174 (2001).

[52] Id. at 189-190.

[53] 236 SCRA 505 (1994).

[54] In his Motion for Reconsideration, Judge Muro made the following commitment to support his prayer for reinstatement in office:

    a) he will avoid creating a situation that spawns suspicion of arbitrary and improper conduct (Canon of Judicial Ethics, par. 17);

    b) he would ‘adopt usual and expected method of doing justice and not seek to be extreme or peculiar in his judgment or spectacular or sensational in the conduct of the court.’ (Ibid, par. 19);

    c) he would avoid all appearances of impropriety, especially those that create suspicion of partiality, bias or improper motive. (Ibid, par. 3; Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 2), Id. at 116-117.

[55] Id. at 117.

[56] 314 SCRA 682 (1999).

[57] Id. at 704.

[58] Id. at 703.

[59] Jose E. Fernandez v. Judge Jaime T. Hamoy, supra; see also Jordan P. Oktubre v. Judge Ramon P. Velasco, A.M. No. MTJ 02-1444, July 22, 2004.