EN BANC

 

RENE C. RICABLANCA,

Complainant,

 

 

 

 

- versus -

 

 

 

JUDGE HECTOR B. BARILLO,

Respondent.

A.M. No. MTJ-08-1710

[Formerly A.M. OCA IPI No. 08-2029-MTJ]

 

Present:

 

CORONA, C.J.,

CARPIO,

CARPIO MORALES,

VELASCO, JR.,

NACHURA,

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,

BRION,

PERALTA,

BERSAMIN,

DEL CASTILLO,

ABAD,

VILLARAMA, JR.,

PEREZ,

MENDOZA, and

SERENO, JJ.

 

Promulgated:

February 15, 2011

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

 

 

D E C I S I O N

 

CARPIO MORALES, J.:

In a verified complaint[1] dated July 3, 2006, Rene C. Ricablanca (complainant), Court Stenographer I of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, charged Judge Hector Barillo, Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Canlaon City, with Grave Judicial Misconduct and Gross Ignorance of the Law. Before the filing of the complaint, respondent had administratively charged complainant for going on Absence Without Official Leave (AWOL).

 

It appears that while respondent was still Acting Presiding Judge of the MTC Guihulngan, he issued orders archiving the following criminal cases cognizable by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Guihulngan, instead of forwarding them to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor for review and appropriate action.

 

a.             Criminal Case No. 5216, entitled PP vs. Erlindo Bacatin a.k.a. Do Dela Cruz for Murder, archived per Order dated 22 November 1991 (Annex C of the Complaint);

 

b.            Criminal Case No. 5220, entitled PP vs. Ka Rustan, Ka Arming, Ka Erboy, Ka Rechie, Ka Ford, Ka Radan, Ka Dindo, Ka Wen, and three (3) John Does for Robbery in Band per duplicate original copy of the Order dated 22 November 1991 (Annex D of the Complaint);

 

c.             Criminal Case No. 6-00-054, entitled PP vs. Junie Pacion for Attempted Homicide, per duplicate copy of the Order dated 24 July 2001 (Annex E of the Complaint);

 

d.            Criminal Case No. 9-00-113, entitled PP vs. Eduardo Flores, a.k.a. Eddie and Allan Flores for Violation of PD 1866 as amended by R.A. 8294 (archived on 26 August 2002) per duplicate original copy of the Order (Annex F of the Complaint); and

 

e.             Criminal Case No. 5212, entitled PP vs. Edwin Barangyao for Murder (archived on 22 November 1991 (Annex F-1 of the Complaint).[2]

 

By complainants claim, respondent inhibited himself from hearing Criminal Case No. 2-01-173, People v. Benny Barillo, but, to take his place, he (respondent) successfully recommended another judge whom he could influence as in fact the latter archived the case.

 

Still by complainants claim, respondent refused to inhibit himself, in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, in Civil Case No. 04-1-178, Rural Bank of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, Inc., represented by Renato Miguel Dionaldo Garcia v. Evangeline Ricablanca, et al., despite the fact that the plaintiff Rural Banks representative is a sister of respondents wife and respondents wife is in fact an employee of the bank; and that respondent rendered judgment based on a compromise agreement, without the defendant being assisted by counsel, which compromise agreement is contrary to law, morals, public order and public policy.

 

Complainant went on to relate that respondents nephew, Renato Garcia, filed several cases in whose favor he (respondent) consistently rendered judgments in which exorbitant, iniquitous and excessive awards were made.

 

Furthermore, complainant stated that respondent allowed an MTCC aide, who is respondents relative by consanguinity, to be detailed at the MTC Guihulngan to handle court collections; and in 2004, a Judicial Audit Team discovered a shortage of P90,000 in the collections and the aide was, along with the Clerk of Court, directed to replenish the same.

 

Finally, complainant stated that respondent held office at his residence in Guihulngan and drank beer while conducting court hearings; that on account of his strained relations with respondent, he was detailed at the MTCC, Dumaguete City; and that after his detail, however, he was forced to go on leave but all his applications for the purpose were disapproved by respondent, hence, spawned the earlier-mentioned filing by respondent of an administrative case against complainant for going on AWOL.

 

In his Comment[3] to the Complaint, respondent alleged that as he is no longer the Presiding Judge of MTC Guihulngan, not to mention that complainant was not a party to any of the above-mentioned criminal and civil cases, he (respondent) has no jurisdiction to comment on the allegations of the complaint. Nevertheless, respondent gave a general denial of the charges and dwelt more on why he declared complainant on AWOL.

 

By Investigation Report[4] dated October 8, 2009, Judge Alejandro A. Bahonsua, Jr., Acting Presiding Judge of Branch 64/Executive Judge of the RTC of Negros Oriental who was, by this Courts Resolution of July 23, 2008,[5] directed to investigate the Complaint, found that the archiving of the criminal cases was not in compliance with the Rules.

 

x x x x

In the Orders, Respondent said he archived the cases without prejudice to subsequent prosecution if the accused would subsequently be arrested, anchored on the provisions of Administrative Circular No. 7-92 of the Supreme Court, the pertinent portion of which provides:

 

1.a. A criminal case may be archived only if after the issuance of the warrant of arrest, the accused remains at large for six (6) months from the delivery of the warrant to the proper peace office. An order archiving the case shall require the peace officer to explain why the accused was not apprehended. The Court shall issue an alias warrant if the original warrant is returned by the peace officer together with the report. A copy of the order archiving the case shall be furnished to the complainant.

 

x x x x

 

This defenses interposed by the Respondent are weak excuses that could not justify his failure to follow the Rules of Court. He was not correct in applying the provisions of Administrative Circular No. 7-92 because he was not acting as the trial judge but as the investigating judge, and thus his actions were governed by the rules on preliminary investigation under the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure, the pertinent provision of which is the first sentence of Sec. 5, Rule 112, which provides:

 

Resolution of the investigating judge and its review. Within ten (10) days after preliminary investigation, the investigating judge shall transmit the resolution of the case to the provincial or city prosecutor, or the Ombudsman or his deputy in cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan in the exercise of its original jurisdiction, for appropriate action, together with the record of the case which shall include: (a) the warrant if the arrest is by virtue of a warrant; (b) the affidavits, counter-affidavits and other supporting evidence of the parties; (c) the undertaking or bail of the accused and the order of his release; (d) the transcripts of the proceedings during the preliminary investigation; and (e) the order of cancellation of his bail, if the resolution is for the dismissal of the complaint.

 

Undisputedly, Respondent failed to follow the mandate of his office as investigating judge, and thus fittingly applied herein is the ruling in the case of Mayor Sotero C. Cantela vs. Judge Rafael S. Almoradie, A.M. No. MTJ-93-749, February 7, 1994, having substantially the same set of facts, where the Supreme Court found Judge Alradie of the Third Municipal Circular Trial Court of San Fenrando-Batuan, 5th Judicial Region, San Fernando, Masbate grossly ignorant of the correct criminal procedure and dismissed him from the service with prejudice to appointment to any government position or public office, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and with forfeiture of all his retirement benefits. x x x

 

x x x x

 

It is to be noted in the case extant that three of the five cases archived by the Respondent involved serious offenses: Criminal Case No. 5216 for Murder; Criminal Case No. 5220 for Robbery in Band; and; Criminal Case 5212 for Murder, hence, to borrow the language of the Supreme Court, Respondent should have been prompted by the gravity of the offenses to forward the records of the cases within the required 10-day period to the Provincial Prosecutor for appropriate action.

 

As to the degree of perversity of the manner at the very least, the violations were committed, lies however a big difference between the two cases. In the case of Almoradie, respondent judge made the practice, and continued the practice of archiving cases after preliminary investigation even after his attention was called by an Assistant Provincial Prosecutor and his acts were denounced by the Executive Judge. Thus the Supreme Court said:

 

In several resolutions of Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Danilo V. Ontog, the attention of respondent Judge had been called to the irregular practice of the latter of archiving criminal cases. Even RTC Executive Judge Ricardo Butalid in an article in the local newspaper Panahon (issue of 19 August 1990) denounced the irregular practice of respondent Judge of archiving criminal cases after preliminary investigation. Despite these efforts of judge Butalid and the Assistant Provincial Prosecutor to point out the wrong procedure being followed by respondent Judge, the latter remained unperturbed and continued with his irregular practice, This, in effect, facilitated the escape of several accused in the complainants, who have been seen moving freely. Respondent Judge has not therefore been of help in ridding the community of undesirable elements. He has contributed, through this ignorance of the law, to their mockery of the law.

 

In the case extant, Respondent was only acting as Assisting Judge and then as Acting Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental when he issued the questioned Orders. This court is of the view that Respondent innocently thought that he could legally issue said Orders despite acting only as the Investigating Judge. Besides, nobody had called his attention about the errors he committed, not even the office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Negros Oriental, the Executive judge nor the regular Presiding Judge himself, the Hon. Judge Ricardo M. Garcia. Further, after he ceased to be the Acting Presiding Judge in July 2004, he lost the opportunity to rectify his errors. Hence this Court also believes that the ruling in the case of Northcastle Properties and Estate Corporation vs. Acting Presiding Judge Estrellita M. Paas, MeTC, Branch 45, Pasay City, A.M. No. MTJ-99-1206 October 22, 1999, where the respondent judge was found guilty of gross ignorance of the law when she erred by applying the provisions of Sec. 19, Rule 70, Rules of Court instead of Sec. 21 of the same rule regarding the execution of the decision of the Regional Trial Court rendered in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction in an ejectment case. The Supreme Court said that her utter lack of familiarity with the Rules undermined the public confidence in the competence of our courts and she was penalized to pay the fine of P5,000.00 with the warning 6hat6 a repetition of the same or similar act would be dealt with more severely. (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

 

As to the claim of the Respondent that he had no more personality to comment the allegations in the complaint, particularly the archiving of cases because he is no longer the Acting Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court since July 2004, this court also believes that such does not hold water. This is so because being an officer of the court he can always be held responsible for his previous official acts. In fact, even those who have already retired from the judiciary could still be held responsible for acts done during their incumbency.

 

x x x x

 

And, the fact that the Orders, as argued by the Respondent, were not questioned by the government prosecutors, the parties and their counsels, and the complainant was not a party to the cases, is of no moment because the Supreme Court, with or without complaint can look into his acts in view of its power of administrative supervision over all courts and the personnel thereof and to discipline judges of lower courts, or order their dismissal.

 

Finally, the claim of the Respondent that the questioned Orders were already final and executory and could only be correctible by appeal is also a misplaced argument because such were merely in the nature of the interlocutory order as the cases involved were not finally disposed of by reason thereof, and thus, not subject to appeal. Respondent invoking the ruling of the case of Salcedo vs. Coquia, et al., A.M.MTJ-1328, February 11, 2004, to the mind of the court is also not meritorious. This is so because in that case, the Supreme Court, citing the case of Bello III vs. Diaz, AM-MTJ-00-1311, October 3, 2003, ruled that:

 

It is plain from the complaint that the error attributable to respondent Judge pertains to the exercise of his adjudicative functions. Settled is the rule that errors committed by a judge in the exercise of his adjudicative functions cannot be corrected through administrative proceedings, but should instead be assailed through judicial remedies. In the recent case of Bello v. Diaz, we reiterated that disciplinary proceedings against judges do not complement, supplement or substitute judicial remedies whether ordinary or extraordinary; an inquiry into their administrative liability arising from judicial acts may be made only after other available remedies have been settled.

 

It is to be noted that herein Respondent is sued in the exercise of his executive functions. In the case of Balagapo, Jr. v. Dequilla, 238 SCRA 645, citing the case of Crespo vs. Mogul 151 SCRA 462, it was ruled that:

 

When a municipal judge conducts preliminary investigation he performs a non-judicial function, as an exception to his usual duties. The assignment of such excecutive function to the Municipal Judge under Rule 112 of the Rules of Court is dictated by the necessity and practical consideration. Consequently, the findings of an investigating judge are subject to review by the Provincial Prosecutor whose findings in turn may also be reviewed by the Secretary of Justice in appropriate cases.

 

Further, citing the case of People v. Gorospe, 53 Phils. 960 (1928) the Supreme Court ruled that it is ministerial duty for an investigating judge, after conducting a preliminary investigation, to transmit the resolution of the case together with the entire records to the Provincial Prosecutor, regardless of his belief or opinion that the crime committed falls under the jurisdiction of his court.

 

The only remedy that was available in order that Respondent could be forced to perform his ministerial duty of transmitting the records of the cases to the office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Negros Oriental was an action for Mandamus under Sec. 3, Rule 65, Rules of Court, but such is not obtainable anymore because he has already ceased performing the function the office of an Acting Presiding judge in the Municipal Trial Court of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental long before the instant complaint was filed.

 

x x x x[6] (citations omitted; italics, emphasis and underscoring in the original)

 

 

As for the rest of the charges against respondent, Judge Bahonsua found no merit thereon.

 

Judge Bahonsua thereupon concluded that respondent is guilty of Gross Ignorance of the Law in archiving the criminal cases and recommended that respondent be fined in the amount of P30,000.[7]

 

In their Memorandum[8] dated June 21, 2010, Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez and Deputy Court Administrator Jesus Edwin A. Villasor found the recommendation of the investigating judge well-taken. They noted, however, as follows:

 

Respondent Judge Barillo will compulsorily retire from the service on July 30, 2010 at the age of 70. We find that, although he committed an error in issuing the questioned orders, there was, however, no malice on his part and no one has ever called his attention on such error. We believe that he deserves some compassion especially considering his long years in the service. In the words of the investigating Judge, [I]t would be equivalent to putting an abrupt end to his life if he is kicked out from the service and stripped of all the monetary benefits due him and/or he is disbarred from the law profession. Despite of [sic] what he has done, he still deserves to enjoy at best, the few remaining years of his life.[9]

 

 

The Court finds that, indeed, respondent is liable for gross ignorance of the law.

 

A judge owes it to himself and his office to know basic legal principles by heart and to harness that knowledge correctly and justly, failing which publics confidence in the courts is eroded.[10]

 

In issuing the orders archiving the five above-cited criminal cases, respondent failed to consider that he was acting not as a trial judge but an investigating judge of an MTC whose actions were thus governed by Section 5, Rule 112 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure on preliminary investigations. He ought to have known that after conducting preliminary investigation on the criminal cases, it was his duty to transmit his resolution thereon to the provincial or city prosecutor for appropriate action. His failure to do so betrays an utter lack of familiarity with the Rules.

 

The complaint against respondent is for gross ignorance of the law in which the acts complained of must not only be contrary to existing law and jurisprudence; it must have been motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption[11] the presence of which in the present case is not clear.

 

Be that as it may, such leeway afforded a judge does not mean that he should not evince due care in the performance of his adjudicatory functions. Sanctions are still in order as such lapses in judgment cannot be countenanced. As the Court has repeatedly stressed, a judge, having applied for the position and appointed as such, is presumed to know the law. Thus, when the law is so elementary, not to be aware of it constitutes gross ignorance of the law.[12]

 

Gross ignorance of the law is penalized by Section 11 (A), Rule 140, viz:

 

SEC. 11. Sanctions. A. If the respondent is guilty of a serious charge, any of the following sanctions may be imposed.

 

1.      Dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all or part of the benefits as the Court may determine, and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-owned or controlled corporations: Provided, however, That the forfeiture of benefits shall in no case include accrued leave credits;

 

2.     Suspension from the office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3) but not exceeding six (6) months; or

 

3.     A fine of more than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00.

 

In meting a penalty on respondent, the Court considers the fact that he, during the pendency of the case or on July 30, 2010, compulsory retired.

 

WHEREFORE, for Gross Ignorance of the Law, Judge Hector B. Barillo is meted a FINE of Thirty Thousand (P30,000.00) Pesos, to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

 

Let a copy of this Decision be furnished the Fiscal Management and Budget Office, Office of the Court Administrator, for appropriate action.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

 

 

 

ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ

Associate Justice

 

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Rollo, pp. 4-11.

[2] Id. at 6.

[3] Id. at 99-106.

[4] Id. at 420-434.

[5] Id. at 257.

[6] Id. at 424-430.

[7] Id. at 434.

[8] Id. at 472-478.

[9] Id. at 478.

[10] Lucero v. Bangalan, A. M. No. MTJ-04-1534, September 7, 2004, 437 SCRA 542.

[11] Espino v. Salubre, A. M. MTJ-00-1255, February 26, 2001, 352 SCRA 668, 674 citing Alvarado v. Laquindanum, 245 SCRA 501 (1995).

[12] Espino v. Salubre, supra at 675 citing Cortes v. Bangalan, A. M. No. MTJ-97-1129, January 19, 2000, 322 SCRA 249, etc.