A trial court judge who made inappropriate remarks involving the sexual orientation of litigants in his court has been suspended by the Supreme Court for work-related sexual harassment.
In an 18-page Decision penned by Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, the High Court adopted the findings and recommendation of the Judicial Integrity Board and likewise found respondent Presiding Judge of the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 26, administratively liable for conduct unbecoming of a judge for his homophobic remarks, and for simple misconduct, after he imposed his religious beliefs in the conduct of his judicial functions.
In 2019, a complaint was filed by litigants Marcelino Espejon and Erickson Cabonita against respondent judge alleging that at a preliminary conference, the latter showed bias and partiality against the litigants and their sexual orientation by persistently asking them if they are homosexuals and telling them that homosexuality is a “sin”:
“xxx pagka-bad[i]ng, tomboy, lesbian, ayaw ng Diyos yun xxx”
“So pag meron kang lesbian relationship, paparusahan yung anak mo. Dengvaxia, di ba? [Kayo din] kasi may kasalanan kayo sa Diyos eh.”
The Court ruled that such remarks constitute homophobic slurs, “which have no place in our courts of law.” Thus, for issuing the inappropriate statements, respondent judge violated the New Code of Judicial Conduct, which imposes on judges the duty to ensure equal treatment of all before the courts and to understand diversity arising from race, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, and social and economic status, among others.
In addition, respondent’s inappropriate remarks were found to be in violation of Civil Service Commission (CSC) Resolution No. 01-0940, or the Administrative Disciplinary Rules on Sexual Harassment Cases, which applies to all officials and employees in government. Under CSC Resolution No. 01- 0940, work-related sexual harassment may be committed where the acts might reasonably be expected to cause discrimination, insecurity, discomfort, offense or humiliation. Further, the same Rules classify degrading remarks or innuendoes towards one’s sexual orientation as a less grave offense.
The Court also found that respondent judge, who admitted to having settled 101 cases using the Bible, allowed his religious beliefs to interfere with his judicial functions with the Judge’s attempts to make a connection between the litigants’ supposed sexual orientation and the ejectment case they were involved in and his inclination to use Biblical passages and teachings to the case. As this gave the litigants the impression that the respondent was acting with partiality, the Court held that respondent judge failed to fulfill his duty to not only act with impartiality but to appear impartial at all times.
As “front-liners who serve as the visible representations of the judicial branch at the grassroots level,” judges must avoid not only impropriety but the appearance of impropriety, stressed the Court. It also reminded judges that their actions should always be seen by the public as guided by the law and not by their personal or religious beliefs to avoid perception of “displays of religiosity as encroachment or interference with our system of justice.”
Respondent, who had previously been fined and warned for improper remarks made at a preliminary conference, was suspended for 30 days for committing the less grave offense of sexual harassment. He was also fined in the amount of P50,000.00 for simple misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a judge.
FULL TEXT of A.M. No. MTJ-22-007 dated March 9, 2022 at: