EN BANC

 

JUDGE NAPOLEON E. INOTURAN, A.M. No. MTJ-01-1362

Regional Trial Court, Branch 133, (formerly A.M. No. 01-2-49-RTC)

Makati City,

Present:

 

CORONA, C.J.,

CARPIO,

*CARPIO MORALES,

VELASCO, JR.,

NACHURA,

- versus - **LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,

BRION,

PERALTA,

BERSAMIN,

DEL CASTILLO,

ABAD,

VILLARAMA, JR.,

PEREZ,

MENDOZA, and

SERENO, JJ.

JUDGE MANUEL Q. LIMSIACO, JR.,

Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Valladolid, Promulgated:

San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros Occidental,

Respondent. February 22, 2011

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

 

SANCHO E. GUINANAO, A.M. No. MTJ-11-1785

Complainant, (formerly A.M. OCA IPI No. 07-1945-MTJ)

 

 

- versus -

 

 

JUDGE MANUEL Q. LIMSIACO, JR.,

Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Valladolid,

San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros

Occidental,

Respondent.

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

 

D E C I S I O N

 

PER CURIAM:

 

Before us are two (2) consolidated cases filed against Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr. as the Presiding Judge of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Valladolid, San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros Occidental. The first case involves the failure of Judge Limsiaco to comply with the directives of the Court. The second case involves the failure of Judge Limsiaco to decide a case within the 90-day reglementary period.

 

A.M. No. MTJ-01-1362

 

On September 25, 1998, a complaint was filed against Judge Limsiaco for his issuance of a Release Order in favor of an accused in a criminal case before him.[1] After considering the evidence, we then found Judge Limsiaco guilty of ignorance of the law and procedure and of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct. In the decretal portion of our May 6, 2005 Decision, we ruled:

 

WHEREFORE, Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr. is found GUILTY of ignorance of the law and procedure and violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. He is hereby ordered to pay a FINE in the amount of Forty Thousand pesos (P40,000.00) upon notice, and is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar infractions will be dealt with more severely.

 

Respondent Judge is DIRECTED to explain, within ten (10) days from notice, why he should not be administratively charged for approving the applications for bail of the accused and ordering their release in the following Criminal Cases filed with other courts: Criminal Cases Nos. 1331,1342,1362,1366 and 1368 filed with the RTC, Branch 59, San Carlos City; 67322, 69055-69058 filed with the MTCC, Branch 3, Bacolod City; 67192-67193 filed with the MTCC, Branch 4, Bacolod City; 72866 filed with the MTCC, Branch 5, Bacolod City; 70249, 82897 to 82903, 831542, 83260 to 83268 filed with the MTCC, Branch 6, Bacolod City; and 95-17340 filed with the RTC, Branch 50, Bacolod City, as reported by Executive Judge Edgardo G. Garvilles.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

Judge Limsiaco twice moved for an extension of time to file a motion for reconsideration of the above decision and to comply with the Courts directive requiring him to submit an explanation. Despite the extension of time given however, Judge Limsiaco failed to file his motion for reconsideration and the required explanation.

 

In the Resolution dated January 24, 2006, we issued a show cause resolution for contempt and required Judge Limsiaco to explain his failure to comply with the Decision dated May 6, 2005. In the Resolution dated December 12, 2006, after noting the failure of Judge Limsiaco to comply with the Resolution dated January 24, 2006, we resolved to impose a fine in the amount of P1,000.00 against Judge Limsiaco and to reiterate our earlier directive for him to file an explanation to the show cause resolution.

 

On February 1, 2007, Judge Limsiaco filed a Manifestation and Urgent Motion for Extension of Time to File Explanation wherein he apologized to the Court and paid the P1,000.00 fine. He cited poor health as the reason for his failure to comply with the Resolution dated January 24, 2006. On February 6, 2007, we resolved to grant the motion for extension filed by Judge Limsiaco and gave him ten (10) days from January 15, 2007 within which to file his explanation.

 

Despite the grant of the extension of time, no explanation for the show cause resolution was ever filed. Per Resolution dated December 15, 2009, we again required Judge Limsiaco to comply with the show cause resolution within ten (10) days from receipt under pain of imposing a stiffer penalty. Verification made from the postmaster showed that a copy of the December 15, 2009 Resolution was received by Judge Limsiaco on February 1, 2010.

 

In addition, a Report (as of August 31, 2010) from the Documentation Division, Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) showed that the directives in our Decision dated May 6, 2005 have not been complied with by Judge Limsiaco.

 

A.M. No. MTJ-11-1785

 

On September 24, 2007, Judge Limsiaco was charged with Delay in the Disposition of a Case by complainant Sancho E. Guinanao, a plaintiff in an ejectment case pending before Judge Limsiaco. Guinanao claimed that Judge Limsiaco failed to seasonably decide the subject ejectment case which had been submitted for resolution as early as April 25, 2005. The OCA referred the matter to us when Judge Limsiaco failed to file his comment to the administrative complaint. Under the pain of a show cause order for contempt for failure to heed the OCA directives to file a comment, Judge Limsiaco informed us that he had already decided the case on February 4, 2008. Subsequently, we resolved[2] to declare Judge Limsiaco in contempt and to impose a fine of P1,000.00 for his continued failure to file the required comment to the administrative complaint. The records show that Judge Limsiaco paid the P1,000.00 fine but did not submit the required comment.

 

Per Resolution dated November 23, 2010, we ordered the consolidation of the above cases, together with A.M. No. MTJ-09-1734, entitled Florenda V. Tobias v. Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr., which case was separately decided on January 19, 2011.

 

The Courts Ruling

 

We shall consider in this ruling not merely Judge Limsiacos conduct in connection with the discharge of judicial functions within his territorial jurisdiction, but also the performance of his legal duties before this Court as a member of the bench. We shall then take both matters into account in scrutinizing his conduct as a judge and in determining whether proper disciplinary measures should be imposed against him under the circumstances.

 

A judges duties to the Court

 

Case law teaches us that a judge is the visible representation of the law, and more importantly of justice; he or she must, therefore, be the first to follow the law and weave an example for the others to follow.[3] Interestingly, in Julianito M. Salvador v. Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr., etc.,[4] a case where Judge Limsiaco was also the respondent, we already had the occasion to impress upon him the clear import of the directives of the Court, thus:

For a judge to exhibit indifference to a resolution requiring him to comment on the accusations in the complaint thoroughly and substantially is gross misconduct, and may even be considered as outright disrespect for the Court. The office of the judge requires him to obey all the lawful orders of his superiors.  After all, a resolution of the Supreme Court is not a mere request and should be complied with promptly and completely. Such failure to comply accordingly betrays not only a recalcitrant streak in character, but has likewise been considered as an utter lack of interest to remain with, if not contempt of the judicial system.

 

 

We also cited in that case our ruling in Josephine C. Martinez v. Judge Cesar N. Zoleta[5] and emphasized that obedience to our lawful orders and directives should not be merely selective obedience, but must be full:

 

[A] resolution of the Supreme Court requiring comment on an administrative complaint against officials and employees of the judiciary should not be construed as a mere request from the Court. Nor should it be complied with partially, inadequately or selectively.
Respondents in administrative complaints should comment on all accusations or allegations against them in the administrative complaints because it is their duty to preserve the integrity of the judiciary. Moreover, the Court should not and will not tolerate future indifference of respondents to administrative complaints and to resolutions requiring comment on such administrative complaints.

 

As demonstrated by his present acts, we find it clear that Judge Limsiaco failed to heed the above pronouncements. We observe that in A.M. No. MTJ-01-1362, Judge Limsiaco did not fully obey our directives. Judge Limsiaco failed to file the required comment to our show cause resolution despite several opportunities given to him by the Court. His disobedience was aggravated by his insincere representations in his motions for extension of time that he would file the required comments.

 

The records also show Judge Limsiacos failure to comply with our decision and orders. In A.M. No. MTJ-01-1362, Judge Limsiaco failed to file his comment/answer to the charge of irregularity pertaining to his approval of applications for bail in several criminal cases before him. He also failed to pay the P40,000.00 fine which we imposed by way of administrative penalty for his gross ignorance of the law and procedure and violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Incidentally, in A.M. No. MTJ-11-1785, Judge Limsiaco failed to file his comment on the verified complaint despite several orders issued by the Court.

 

We cannot overemphasize that compliance with the rules, directives and circulars issued by the Court is one of the foremost duties that a judge accepts upon assumption to office. This duty is verbalized in Canon 1 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct:

 

SECTION 7. Judges shall encourage and uphold safeguards for the discharge of judicial duties in order to maintain and enhance the institutional and operational independence of the Judiciary.

 

SECTION 8. Judges shall exhibit and promote high standards of judicial conduct in order to reinforce public confidence in the Judiciary, which is fundamental to the maintenance of judicial independence.

 

 

The obligation to uphold the dignity of his office and the institution which he belongs to is also found in Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct under Rule 2.01 which mandates a judge to behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

 

Under the circumstances, the conduct exhibited by Judge Limsiaco constitutes no less than clear acts of defiance against the Courts authority. His conduct also reveals his deliberate disrespect and indifference to the authority of the Court, shown by his failure to heed our warnings and directives. Judge Limsiacos actions further disclose his inability to accept our instructions. Moreover, his conduct failed to provide a good example for other court personnel, and the public as well, in placing significance to the Courts directives and the importance of complying with them.

 

We cannot allow this type of behavior especially on a judge. Public confidence in the judiciary can only be achieved when the court personnel conduct themselves in a dignified manner befitting the public office they are holding. They should avoid conduct or any demeanor that may tarnish or diminish the authority of the Supreme Court.

 

Under existing jurisprudence, we have held judges administratively liable for failing to comply with our directives and circulars.

 

In Sinaon, Sr.,[6] we penalized a judge for his deliberate failure to comply with our directive requiring him to file a comment. We disciplined another judge in Noe Cangco Zarate v. Judge Isauro M. Balderian[7] for his refusal to comply with the Courts resolution requiring him to file a comment on the administrative charge against him. In Request of Judge Eduardo F. Cartagena, etc.,[8] we dismissed the judge for his repeated violation of a circular of the Supreme Court. In fact, we have already reprimanded and warned Judge Limsiaco for his failure to timely heed the Courts directives in Salvador.[9]


 

A judges duty to his public office

 

Given the factual circumstances in A.M. No. MTJ-11-1785, the considerable delay Judge Limsiaco incurred in deciding the subject ejectment case has been clearly established by the records and by his own admission. Judge Limsiaco admitted that he decided the ejectment case only on February 4, 2008. In turn, the records show that Judge Limsiaco did not deny Guinanaos claim that the ejectment case was submitted for resolution as early as April 25, 2005. Thus, it took Judge Limsiaco more than two (2) years to decide the subject ejectment case after it was declared submitted for resolution.

 

The delay in deciding a case within the reglementary period constitutes a violation of Section 5, Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct[10] which mandates judges to perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly and with promptness. In line with jurisprudence, Judge Limsiaco is also liable for gross inefficiency for his failure to decide a case within the reglementary period.[11]

 

The Penalty

 

Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC dated September 11, 2001, violation of Supreme Court rules, directives and circulars, and gross inefficiency are categorized as less serious charges with the following sanctions: (a) suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one or more than three months; or (b) a fine of more than P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.[12]

 

In determining the proper imposable penalty, we also consider Judge Limsiacos work history which reflects how he performed his judicial functions as a judge. We observed that there are several administrative cases already decided against Judge Limsiaco that show his inability to properly discharge his judicial duties.

In Salvador,[13] we penalized Judge Limsiaco for having been found guilty of undue delay in rendering a decision, imposing on him a P20,000.00 fine, with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar infraction in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

 

In Helen Gamboa-Mijares v. Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr.,[14] we found Judge Limsiaco guilty of gross misconduct and imposed on him a P20,000.00 fine, with a warning that a more severe penalty would be imposed in case of the same of similar act in the future.

 

In Atty. Adoniram P. Pamplona v. Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr.,[15] we resolved to impose a P20,000.00 fine on Judge Limsiaco for gross ignorance of the law and procedure, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense would be dealt with more severely. The Court also resolved in the said case to re-docket, as a regular administrative case, the charge for oppression and grave abuse of authority relative to Judge Limsiacos handling of two criminal cases.

 

In Re: Withholding of Salary of Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr., etc.,[16] we imposed a P5,000.00 fine, with warning, against Judge Limsiaco for his delay in the submission of the monthly report of cases and for twice ignoring the OCAs directive to explain the delay.

Moreover, in the recent case of Florenda Tobias v. Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr.,[17] where Judge Limsiaco was charged with corruption, the Court found him liable for gross misconduct and imposed a fine in the amount of P25,000.00.

 

Lastly, we also note the existence of two other administrative cases filed against Judge Limsiaco that are presently pending with the Court. The first case is Mario B. Tapinco v. Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr.,[18] where Judge Limsiaco is charged with grave misconduct, obstruction of justice, and abuse of authority in connection with his invalid issuance of an order for the provisional release of an accused. The second case entitled Unauthorized Hearings Conducted by Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr., MCTC, et al.,[19] is a complaint charging Judge Limsiaco of violating the Courts Administrative Circular No. 3, dated July 14, 1978 which prohibits the conduct of hearings in another station without any authority from the Court.

 

We find that his conduct as a repeat offender exhibits his unworthiness to don the judicial robes and merits a sanction heavier than what is provided by our rules and jurisprudence. Under the circumstances, Judge Limsiaco should be dismissed from the service. We, however, note that on May 17, 2009, Judge Limsiaco has retired from judicial service. We also note that Judge Limsiaco has not yet applied for his retirement benefits. Thus, in lieu of the penalty of dismissal for his unethical conduct and gross inefficiency in performing his duties as a member of the bench, we declare all his retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, forfeited. Furthermore, he is barred from re-employment in any branch or service of the government, including government-owned and controlled corporations.

 

WHEREFORE, premises considered, we find Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr. administratively liable for unethical conduct and gross inefficiency under the provisions of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, specifically, Sections 7 and 8 of Canon 1, and Section 5 of Canon 6. For these infractions, we DECLARE all his retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits if any, FORFEITED. He is likewise barred from re-employment in any branch or service of the government, including government-owned and controlled corporations.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

 

(ON Wellness Leave)

ANTONIO P. CARPIO CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

(No part due to prior action in OCA)

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR. ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

(On Official Leave)

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

No part. I acted as Court Administrator on the matter

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR. JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 



* On Wellness Leave.

** On official leave.

[1] Rollo, pp. 1-2.

[2] Resolution dated November 17, 2010.

[3] Yu-Asensi v. Villanueva, A.M. No. MTJ-00-1245, January 19, 2000, 322 SCRA 255.

[4] A.M. No. MTJ-06-1626, March 17, 2006, 485 SCRA 1, 6-7; also see Sinaon, Sr. v. Dumlao, A.M. No. MTJ-04-1519, March 4, 2008, 547 SCRA 531.

[5] A.M. No. MTJ-94-904, September 29, 1999, 315 SCRA 438, 448-449..

[6] Supra note 4.

[7] A.M. No. MTJ-00-1261, April 3, 2000, 329 SCRA 558.

[8] A.M. No. 95-9-98-MCTC, December 4, 1997, 282 SCRA 370.

[9] Supra note 4.

[10] Which took effect on June 1, 2004.

[11] Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in the Regional Trial Court, Branch 8, Cebu City, A.M. No. 05-2-101-RTC, April 26, 2005, 457 SCRA 1.

[12] Sinaon, Sr. v. Dumlao, supra note 4.

[13] Supra note 4.

[14] A.M. No. MTJ-03-1509, September 23, 2003, 411 SCRA 412.

[15] Resolution in A.M. No. MTJ-08-1726, December 8, 2008.

[16] Resolution, dated July 22, 2009, in A.M. No. MTJ-06-1654 entitled Re: Withholding of Salary of Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr. and Clerk of Court John O. Negroprado, both of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Valladolid-San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros Occidental.

[17] MTJ-08-1726 (07-1917-MTJ), January 19, 2011.

[18] A.M. No. MTJ-10-1757 (05-1718-MTJ).

[19] A.M. No. 08-9-291-MCTC.