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July 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Attorney; attorney‘s fees. The issue of the reasonable legal fees due to respondent still needs to be resolved in a trial on the merits with the following integral sub-issues: (1) the reasonableness of the 10% contingent fee given that the recovery of Tiwi‘s share [in unpaid realty taxes] was not solely attributable to the legal services rendered by respondent, (2) the nature, extent of legal work, and significance of the cases allegedly handled by respondent which reasonably contributed, directly or indirectly, to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share, and (3) the relative benefit derived by Tiwi from the services rendered by respondent. The amount of reasonable attorney‘s fees finally determined by the trial court should be without legal interest in line with well-settled jurisprudence. Municipality of Tiwi, represented by Hon. Mayor Jaime C. Villanueva and Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi Vs. Antonio B. Betito, G.R. No. 171873, July 9, 2010. Attorney; engagement of private counsel by GOCC. In Phividec Industrial Authority v. Capitol Steel Corporation, we listed three (3) indispensable conditions before a GOCC can hire a private lawyer: (1) private counsel can only be hired in exceptional cases; (2) the GOCC must first secure the written conformity and acquiescence of the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel, as the case may be; and (3) the written concurrence of the COA must also be secured. Failure to comply with all three conditions would constitute appearance without authority. A lawyer appearing after his authority as counsel had expired is also appearance without authority. Rey Vargas, et al. vs. Atty. Michael Ignes, et al., A.C. No. 8096, July 5, 2010. Attorney; engagement of private counsel by LGU. Pursuant to this provision [Section 444(b)(1)(vi) of the LGC], the municipal mayor is required to secure the prior authorization of the Sangguniang Bayan before entering into a contract on behalf of the municipality. In the instant case, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi unanimously passed Resolution No. 15-92 authorizing Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer of her choice to represent the interest of Tiwi in the execution of this Court‘s Decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. The above-quoted authority necessarily carried with it the power to negotiate, execute and sign on behalf of Tiwi the Contract of Legal Services. Municipality of Tiwi, represented by Hon. Mayor Jaime C. Villanueva and Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi Vs. Antonio B. Betito, G.R. No. 171873, July 9, 2010. Attorney; gross misconduct. In Lao v. Medel, we held that the deliberate failure to pay just debts and the issuance of worthless checks constitute gross misconduct for which a lawyer may be sanctioned with one-year suspension from the practice of law. However, in this case, we deem it reasonable to affirm the sanction imposed by the IBP-CBD, i.e., Atty. Valerio was ordered suspended from the practice of law for two (2) years, because, aside from issuing worthless checks and failing to pay her debts, she has also shown wanton disregard of the IBP‘s and Court Orders in the course of the proceedings. A-1 Financial Services, Inc. vs. Atty. Laarni N. Valerio, A.C. No. 8390, July 2, 2010. Attorney; violation of attorney-client relationship. We find no merit in petitioners‘ assertion that Atty. Binamira gravely breached and abused the rule on privileged communication under the

Rules of Court and the Code of Professional Responsibility of Lawyers when he represented [respondent] Helen in the present case. Notably, this issue was never raised before the labor tribunals and was raised for the first time only on appeal. Moreover, records show that although petitioners previously employed Atty. Binamira to manage several businesses, there is no showing that they likewise engaged his professional services as a lawyer. Likewise, at the time the instant complaint was filed, Atty. Binamira was no longer under the employ of petitioners. Lambert Pawnbrokers and Jewelry Corporation and Lambert Lim vs. Helen Binamira, G.R. No. 170464. July 12, 2010. Court personnel; immoral conduct. Employees of the judiciary are subject to a higher standard than most other civil servants. Immorality has been defined to include not only sexual matters but also ―conduct inconsistent with rectitude, or indicative of corruption, indecency, depravity, and dissoluteness; or is willful, flagrant or shameless conduct showing moral indifference to opinions of respectable members of the community, and an inconsiderate attitude toward good order and public welfare.‖ There is no doubt that engaging in sexual relations with a married man is not only a violation of the moral standards expected of employees of the judiciary but is also a desecration of the sanctity of the institution of marriage which this Court abhors and is, thus, punishable. Julie Ann C. Dela Cruz vs. Selima B. Omaga, A.M. No. P-08-2590, July 5, 2010. Judge; abuse of authority. In issuing the Direct Contempt Order without legal basis, Judge Francisco is more appropriately guilty of the administrative offense of grave abuse of authority, rather than gross ignorance of the law and incompetence. Olivia Laurel Vs. Judge Pablo B. Francisco/Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Olivia Laurel/Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Olivia Laurel/Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Gerardo P. Hernandez, et al./Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Nicanor B. Alfonso, et al./Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Caridad D. Cuevillas/Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Hermina S. Javier, et al./Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Atty. Rowena A. Malabanan-Galeon, et al./Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Atty. Rowena A. MalabananGaleon//Judge Pablo B. Francisco Vs. Atty. Rowena A. Malabanan-Galeon, et al./Joel O. Arellano and Arnel M. Magat Vs. Judge Pablo B. Francisco, A.M. No. RTJ-06-1992/A.M. No. P10-2745/A.M. No. RTJ-00-1992/A.M. No. P-10-2746/A.M. No. P-102747/A.M. No. P-102748/A.M. No. P-10-2749/A.M. No. P-10-2750/A.M. No. P-10-2751/A.M. No. P-03-1706/A.M. No. RTJ-10-2214, July 6, 2010. Judge; bias and partiality. Established is the norm that judges should not only be impartial but should also appear impartial. Judges must not only render just, correct and impartial decisions, but must do so in a manner free from any suspicion as to their fairness, impartiality and integrity. This reminder applies even more to lower court judges like herein respondent because they are judicial front-liners who have direct contact with litigants. Atty. Jose A. Bernas vs. Judge Julia A. Reyes, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 69, Pasig City, A.M. No. MTJ-09-1728, July 21, 2010. Judge; gross ignorance of the law. To be held liable for gross ignorance of the law, the judge must be shown to have committed an error that was ―gross or patent, deliberate or malicious.‖ Also administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law is a judge who – shown to have been motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption – ignored, contradicted or failed to apply settled law and jurisprudence. As a matter of public policy though, the acts of a judge in his

official capacity are not subject to disciplinary action, even though such acts are erroneous. Good faith and absence of malice, corrupt motives or improper considerations are sufficient defenses in which a judge charged with ignorance of the law can find refuge. Rolando E. Marcos vs. Judge Ofelia T. Pinto, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2180, July 26, 2010. Judge; gross ignorance of the law. A patent disregard of simple, elementary and well-known rules constitutes gross ignorance of the law. We find that the respondent judge‘s error does not rise to the level of gross ignorance of the law that is defined by jurisprudence. We take judicial notice of the fact that at the time he issued the Writ of Amparo on January 23, 2008, the Rule on the Writ of Amparo has been effective for barely three months. At that time, the respondent judge cannot be said to have been fully educated and informed on the novel aspects of the Writ of Amparo. More importantly, for full liability to attach for ignorance of the law, the assailed order, decision or actuation of the judge in the performance of official duties must not only be found to be erroneous; it must be established that he was motivated by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred or some other similar motive. Ruben Salcedo vs. Judge Gil Bollozos, A.M. No. RTJ-102236, July 5, 2010. Judge; simple misconduct. The Judge‘s act of solemnizing the marriage of accused‘s son in the residence of the accused speaks for itself. It is improper and highly unethical for a judge to actively participate in such social affairs, considering that the accused is a party in a case pending before her own sala. In pending or prospective litigations before them, judges should be scrupulously careful to avoid anything that may tend to awaken the suspicion that their personal, social or sundry relations could influence their objectivity. Considering the above findings, it is apparent that respondent judge‘s actuations constitute simple misconduct. Rolando E. Marcos vs. Judge Ofelia T. Pinto, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2180, July 26, 2010.

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

MUNICIPALITY OF TIWI, represented by Hon. Mayor JAIME C. VILLANUEVA and the SANGGUNIANG BAYAN of TIWI, Petitioners,

G.R. No. 171873

Present: CORONA, C. J., Chairperson, BRION, DEL CASTILLO, ABAD,  and PEREZ, JJ. Promulgated: July 9, 2010

- versus -

ANTONIO B. BETITO, Respondent.

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

DECISION

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

A judgment on the pleadings is proper when the answer admits all the material averments of the complaint. But where several issues are properly tendered by the answer, a trial on the merits must be resorted to in order to afford each party his day in court.

This Petition for Review on Certiorari seeks to reverse and set aside the Court of Appeal‘s (CA) October 19, 2005 Decision in CA G.R. CV No. 79057, which affirmed the March 3, 2001 Partial Decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 96 in Civil Case No. Q-99-39370, and the March 10, 2006 Resolution denying petitioner‘s motion for reconsideration.

Factual Antecedents

The instant case is an offshoot of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay and Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. It is, thus, necessary to revisit some pertinent facts from these cases in order to provide an adequate backdrop for the present controversy.

On June 4, 1990, this Court issued a Decision in the case of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay finding, among others, the National Power Corporation (NPC) liable for unpaid real estate taxes from June 11, 1984 to March 10, 1987 on its properties located in the Province of Albay (Albay). These properties consisted of geothermal plants in the Municipality of Tiwi (Tiwi) and substations in the Municipality of Daraga. Previously, the said properties were sold at an auction sale conducted by Albay to satisfy NPC‘s tax liabilities. As the sole bidder at the auction, Albay acquired ownership over said properties.

On July 29, 1992, the NPC, through its then President Pablo Malixi (President Malixi), and Albay, represented by then Governor Romeo R. Salalima (Governor Salalima), entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) where the former agreed to settle its tax liabilities estimated at P214,845,104.76. The MOA provided, among others, that: (1) the actual amount collectible from NPC will have to be recomputed/revalidated; (2) NPC shall make an initial payment of P17,763,000.00 upon signing of the agreement; (3) the balance of the recomputed/ revalidated amount (less the aforesaid initial payment), shall be paid in 24 equal monthly installments to commence in September 1992; and (4) ownership over the auctioned properties shall revert to NPC upon satisfaction of the tax liabilities. On August 3, 1992, then Mayor Naomi C. Corral (Mayor Corral) of Tiwi formally requested Governor Salalima to remit the rightful tax shares of Tiwi and its barangays where the NPC‘s properties were located relative to the payments already made by NPC to Albay. On even date, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 12-92 requesting the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay to hold a joint session for the purpose of discussing the distribution of the NPC payments.

On August 10, 1992, Governor Salalima replied that the request cannot be granted as the initial payment amounting to P17,763,000.00 was only an ―earnest money‖ and that the total amount to be collected from the NPC was still being validated.

Due to the brewing misunderstanding between Tiwi and the concerned barangays on the one hand, and Albay on the other, and so as not to be caught in the middle of the controversy, NPC requested a clarification from the Office of the President as to the

scope and extent of the shares of the local government units in the real estate tax collections.

On August 30, 1992, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 1592 authorizing Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer to represent Tiwi and its barangays in the recovery of their rightful share in the aforesaid realty taxes. Thereafter, Mayor Corral sought the services of respondent Atty. Antonio B. Betito (respondent) and Atty. Alberto Lawenko (Atty. Lawenko). As a result, on January 25, 1993, Mayor Corral, representing Tiwi, and respondent and Atty. Lawenko entered into a Contract of Legal Services (subject contract). The subject contract provided, among others, that respondent and Atty. Lawenko would receive a 10% contingent fee on whatever amount of realty taxes that would be recovered by Tiwi through their efforts.

On December 3, 1992, the Office of the President, through then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio, opined that the MOA entered into by NPC and Albay merely recognized and established NPC‘s realty taxes. He further clarified that the sharing scheme and those entitled to the payments to be made by NPC under the MOA should be that provided under the law, and since Tiwi is entitled to share in said realty taxes, NPC may remit such share directly to Tiwi, viz:

xxxx The Memorandum of Agreement entered into by the Province of Albay and NPC merely enunciates the tax liability of NPC. The Memorandum of Agreement does not provide for the manner of payment of NPC's liability. Thus, the manner of payment

as provided for by law shall govern. In any event, the Memorandum of Agreement cannot amend the law allowing the payment of said taxes to the Municipality of Tiwi. The decision in the case of NPC v. Province of Albay (186 SCRA 198), likewise, only established the liability of NPC for real property taxes but does not specifically provide that said back taxes be paid exclusively to Albay province. Therefore, it is our opinion that the NPC may pay directly to the municipality of Tiwi the real property taxes accruing to the same. Please be guided accordingly. Very truly yours, (Sgd.) ANTONIO T. CARPIO Chief Presidential Legal Counsel

Because of this opinion, NPC President Malixi, through a letter dated December 9, 1992, informed Mayor Corral and Governor Salalima that starting with the January 1993 installment, NPC will directly pay Tiwi its share in the payments under the MOA. As of December 9, 1992, payments made by NPC to Albay reached P40,724,471.74.

On December 19, 1992, in an apparent reaction to NPC‘s Decision to directly remit to Tiwi its share in the payments made and still to be made pursuant to the MOA, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay passed Ordinance No. 09-92, which, among others: (1) authorized the Provincial Treasurer upon the direction of the Provincial Governor to sell the real properties (acquired by Albay at the auction sale) at a public auction, and to cause the immediate transfer thereof to the winning bidder; and (2) declared as forfeited in favor of Albay, all the payments already made by NPC under the MOA.

From Albay‘s refusal to remit Tiwi‘s share in the aforementioned P40,724,471.74 stemmed several administrative complaints and court cases that respondent allegedly handled on behalf of Tiwi to recover the latter‘s rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes, including the case of Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. In this case, the Court held, among others, that the elective officials of Albay are administratively liable for abuse of authority due to their unjustified refusal to remit the rightful share of Tiwi in the subject realty taxes.

The present controversy arose when respondent sought to enforce the Contract of Legal Services after rendering the aforementioned legal services which allegedly benefited Tiwi. In his Complaint for sum of money against Tiwi, represented by then Mayor Patricia Gutierrez, Vice Mayor Vicente Tomas Vera III, Sangguniang Bayan Members Rosana Parcia, Nerissa Cotara, Raul Corral, Orlando Lew Velasco, Liberato Ulysses Pacis, Lorenzo Carlet, Bernardo Costo, Jaime Villanueva, Benneth Templado and Municipal Treasurer Emma Cordovales (collectively petitioners), respondent claims that he handled numerous cases which resulted to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share in the realty taxes. As a result of these efforts, Tiwi was able to collect the amount of P110,985,181.83 and another P35,594,480.00 from the NPC as well as other amounts which will be proven during the trial. Under the Contract of Legal Services, respondent is entitled to 10% of whatever amount that would be collected from the NPC. However, despite repeated demands for the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi to pass an appropriate ordinance for the payment of his attorney‘s fees, the former refused to pass the ordinance and to pay what is justly owed him. Respondent prayed that Tiwi be ordered to pay P11,000,000.00 in attorney‘s fees and 10% of the other amounts to be determined during

trial plus interest and damages; that the Sangguniang Bayan be ordered to pass the necessary appropriation ordinance; that the municipal treasurer surrender all the receipts of payments made by the NPC to Tiwi from January 1993 to December 1996 for the examination of the court; and that Tiwi pay P500,000.00 as attorney‘s fees.

In their Answer, petitioners admitted that the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 15-92 but denied that said resolution authorized then Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract. In particular, Mayor Corral exceeded her authority when she bound Tiwi to a gargantuan amount equivalent to 10% of the amount of realty taxes recovered from NPC. Further, the legal services under the subject contract should have been limited to the execution of the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay as per Resolution No. 15-92. For these reasons, the subject contract is void, unenforceable, unconscionable and unreasonable. Petitioners further claim that they are not aware of the cases which respondent allegedly handled on behalf of Tiwi since these cases involved officials of the previous administration; that some of these cases were actually handled by the Office of the Solicitor General; and that these were personal cases of said officials. In addition, the Contract of Legal Services was not ratified by the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi in order to become effective. Petitioners also raise the defense that the realty taxes were recovered by virtue of the opinion rendered by then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio and not through the efforts of respondent.

As to the amount of P110,985,181.83 in realty taxes, the same was received by Albay and not Tiwi while the amount of P35,594,480.00 is part of the share of Tiwi in

the utilization of the national wealth. Furthermore, in a Commission on Audit (COA) Memorandum dated January 15, 1996, the COA ruled that the authority to pass upon the reasonableness of the attorney‘s fees claimed by respondent lies with the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi. Pursuant to this memorandum, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 27-98 which declared the subject contract invalid. Petitioners also allege that the contract is grossly disadvantageous to Tiwi and that respondent is guilty of laches because he lodged the present complaint long after the death of Mayor Corral; and that the amount collected from NPC has already been spent by Tiwi.

On November 7, 2000, respondent filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and/or partial summary judgment.

Regional Trial Court’s Ruling

On March 3, 2001, the trial court rendered a partial judgment on the pleadings in favor of respondent:

WHEREFORE, partial judgment on the pleadings is rendered ordering the defendant Municipality of Tiwi, Albay to pay the plaintiff the sum of P14,657,966.18 plus interest at the legal rate from the filing of the complaint until payment is fully delivered to the plaintiff; and, for this purpose, the defendant Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi, represented by the co-defendants officials, shall adopt and approve the necessary appropriation ordinance.

Trial to receive evidence on the remaining amounts due and payable to the plaintiff pursuant to the contract of legal services shall hereafter continue, with notice to all the parties. SO ORDERED.

The trial court held that petitioners‘ answer to the complaint failed to tender an issue, thus, partial judgment on the pleadings is proper. It noted that petitioners did not specifically deny under oath the actionable documents in this case, particularly, the Contract of Legal Services and Resolution No. 15-92. Consequently, the genuineness and due execution of these documents are deemed admitted pursuant to Section 8, Rule 8 of the Rules of Court. Thus, the authority of Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract was deemed established.

It added that the authority given to Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer was not only for the purpose of executing the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay but extended to representing the interest of Tiwi in other cases as well. Further, the said resolution did not impose as a condition precedent the ratification of the subject contract by the Sangguniang Bayan in order to render it effective. Lastly, the trial court ruled that the answer admitted, through a negative pregnant, that Tiwi was paid the amounts of P110,985,181.83 and P35,594,480.00, hence, respondent is entitled to 10% thereof as attorney‘s fees under the terms of the subject contract.

Court of Appeal’s Ruling

In its assailed October 19, 2005 Decision, the CA affirmed the Decision of the trial court:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Partial Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 96, dated March 3, 2001, is AFFIRMED. SO ORDERED.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court that the genuineness and due execution of the Contract of Legal Services and Resolution No. 15-92 was impliedly admitted by petitioners because of their failure to make a verified specific denial thereof. Further, the answer filed by the petitioners admitted the material averments of the complaint concerning Tiwi‘s liability under the subject contract and its receipt from the NPC of a total of P146,579,661.84 as realty taxes. Petitioners cannot claim that the subject contract required ratification because this

is not a requisite for the enforceability of a contract against a local government unit under the express terms of the contract and the provisions of the Local Government Code (LGC). Also, petitioners are estopped from questioning the enforceability of the contract after having collected and enjoyed the benefits derived therefrom.

The appellate court found nothing objectionable in the stipulated contingent fee of 10% as this was voluntarily agreed upon by the parties and allowed under existing

jurisprudence. The fee was justified given the numerous administrative and court cases successfully prosecuted and defended by the respondent in the face of the provincial government‘s stubborn refusal to release Tiwi‘s share in the realty taxes paid by NPC. The stipulated fee is not illegal, unreasonable or unconscionable. It is enforceable as the law between the parties.

Issues

Petitioners raise the following issues for our resolution:

1.

The amount of award of attorney‘s fees to respondent is unreasonable, unconscionable and without any proof of the extent, nature and ―result of his legal service‖ as required by the purported ―contract of legal services‖ and pursuant to Section 24, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court.

2.

The application of the rule of judgment on the pleadings and/or summary judgment is baseless, improper and unwarranted in the case at bar.

3.

The purported ―contract of legal services‖ exceeded the authority of the late Mayor Corral and should have been ratified by the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi in order to be enforceable.

Petitioners’ Arguments

Petitioners claim that their answer raised factual issues and defenses which merited a full-blown trial. In their answer, they asserted that the 10% contingent fee is unreasonable, unconscionable and unfounded considering that respondent did not render any legal service which accrued to the benefit of Tiwi. The Contract of Legal Services specifically provided that for the attorney‘s fees to accrue, respondent‘s legal services should result to the recovery of Tiwi‘s claims against Albay and NPC. It is, thus, incumbent upon respondent to prove in a trial on the merits that his legal efforts resulted to the collection of the realty taxes in favor of Tiwi. Petitioners belittle as mere messengerial service the legal services rendered by respondent on the ground that what remained to be done was the execution of the judgment of this Court in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay and the opinion of then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio.

In their answer, petitioners also questioned the authority of Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract providing for a 10% contingent fee because the provisions of Resolution No. 15-92 do not grant her such power. In addition, under the said contract, Tiwi was made liable for legal services outside of those related to the satisfaction of the judgment in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. These stipulations are void and unenforceable. Hence, any claim of respondent must be based on quantum meruit which should be threshed out during a full-blown trial.

Finally, petitioners argue that respondent cannot capitalize on the admission of the genuineness and due execution of the subject contract because this merely means that the signature of the party is authentic and the execution of the contract complied with the formal solemnities. This does not extend to the document‘s substantive validity and efficacy.

Respondent’s Arguments

Respondent counters that the Contract of Legal Services was not limited to the NPC case but to other services done pursuant to said contract. Thus, the attorney‘s fees should cover these services as well. He also stresses that despite this Court‘s ruling in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay and the opinion of then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio, Governor Salalima and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay stubbornly resisted and disobeyed the same. Consequently, respondent prosecuted and defended on behalf of Tiwi several administrative and court cases involving the elective officials of Albay to compel the latter to comply with the aforesaid issuances. He also filed a civil case to prevent the NPC from remitting Tiwi‘s share in the realty taxes directly to Albay.

Respondent adds that he also acted as counsel for Mayor Corral after Governor Salalima and his allies sought to remove Mayor Corral in retaliation to the administrative cases that she (Mayor Corral) previously filed against Governor Salalima for the latter‘s failure to remit Tiwi‘s share in the realty taxes. These administrative cases reached this

Court in Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. where respondent appears as the counsel of record of Mayor Corral and the other local officials of Tiwi. The filing and handling of these cases belies petitioners‘ claim that what respondent did for Tiwi was a mere messengerial service.

Respondent also argues that the Contract of Legal Services is valid and enforceable due to petitioners‘ failure to specifically deny the same under oath in their Answer. Moreover, the law does not require that the subject contract be ratified by the Sangguniang Bayan in order to become enforceable. Instead, the law merely requires that the Sangguniang Bayan authorize the mayor to enter into contracts as was done here through Resolution No. 15-92.

Last, the 10% attorney‘s fees in the subject contract is reasonable, more so because the fee is contingent in nature. In a long line of cases, it has been ruled that a 10% attorney‘s fees of the amount recoverable is reasonable.

Our Ruling

The petition is meritorious.

Judgment on the pleadings is improper when the answer to the complaint tenders several issues.

A motion for judgment on the pleadings admits the truth of all the material and relevant allegations of the opposing party and the judgment must rest on those allegations taken together with such other allegations as are admitted in the pleadings. It is proper when an answer fails to tender an issue, or otherwise admits the material allegations of the adverse party‘s pleading. However, when it appears that not all the material allegations of the complaint were admitted in the answer for some of them were either denied or disputed, and the defendant has set up certain special defenses which, if proven, would have the effect of nullifying plaintiff‘s main cause of action, judgment on the pleadings cannot be rendered.

In the instant case, a review of the records reveal that respondent (as plaintiff) and petitioners (as defendants) set-up multiple levels of claims and defenses, respectively, with some failing to tender an issue while others requiring the presentation of evidence for resolution. The generalized conclusion of both the trial and appellate courts that petitioners‘ answer admits all the material averments of the complaint is, thus, without basis. For this reason, a remand of this case is unavoidable. However, in the interest of justice and in order to expedite the disposition of this case which was filed with the trial court way back in 1999, we shall settle the issues that can be resolved based on the pleadings and remand only those issues that require a trial on merits as hereunder discussed.

Preliminarily, it was erroneous for the trial court to rule that the genuineness and due execution of the Contract of Legal Services was impliedly admitted by petitioners for failure to make a sworn specific denial thereof as required by Section 8, Rule 8 of the Rules of Court. This rule is not applicable when the adverse party does not appear to be a party to the instrument. In the instant case, the subject contract was executed between respondent and Atty. Lawenko, on the one hand, and Tiwi, represented by Mayor Corral, on the other. None of the petitioners, who are the incumbent elective and appointive officials of Tiwi as of the filing of the Complaint, were parties to said contract. Nonetheless, in their subsequent pleadings, petitioners admitted the genuineness and due execution of the subject contract. We shall, thus, proceed from the premise that the genuineness and due execution of the Contract of Legal Services has already been established. Furthermore, both parties concede the contents and efficacy of Resolution 15-92. As a result of these admissions, the issue, at least as to the coverage of the subject contract, may be resolved based on the pleadings as it merely requires the interpretation and application of the provisions of Resolution 15-92 vis-à-vis the stipulations in the subject contract.

Mayor Corral was authorized to enter into the Contract of Legal Services

Petitioners argue that Resolution No. 15-92 did not authorize Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract, hence, the contract must first be ratified to become binding on Tiwi.

The argument is unpersuasive. Section 444(b)(1)(vi) of the LGC provides:

SECTION 444. The Chief Executive: Powers, Duties, Functions and Compensation. — x x x (b) For efficient, effective and economical governance the purpose of which is the general welfare of the municipality and its inhabitants pursuant to Section 16 of this Code, the municipal mayor shall: x x x (1) Exercise general supervision and control over all programs, projects, services, and activities of the municipal government, and in this connection, shall: x x x (vi) Upon authorization by the sangguniang bayan, represent the municipality in all its business transactions and sign on its behalf all bonds, contracts, and obligations, and such other documents made pursuant to law or ordinance; x x x

Pursuant to this provision, the municipal mayor is required to secure the prior authorization of the Sangguniang Bayan before entering into a contract on behalf of the municipality. In the instant case, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi unanimously passed Resolution No. 15-92 authorizing Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer of her choice to represent the interest of Tiwi in the execution of this Court‘s Decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay –

RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE MUNICIPAL MAYOR OF TIWI TO HIRE THE SERVICES OF A LAWYER TO REPRESENT THE MUNICIPALITY OF TIWI AND THE SIX GEOTHERMAL BARANGAYS IN THE EXECUTION OF G.R. NO. 87479 AND DIVESTING THE LAWYER HIRED BY THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNOR AND THE PROVINCE OF ALBAY OF ITS AUTHORITY TO REPRESENT THE MUNICIPALITY OF TIWI AND THE SIX BARANGAYS

WHEREAS, In an en banc decision G.R. No. 87479, the Supreme Court sustained the posture of the Province of Albay and legally declared that the NAPOCOR is under obligation to pay the Province of Albay, the Municipality of Tiwi and Daraga the amount of P 214 Million representing Realty Taxes covering the period from the year 1984 to 1987 which decision had already been final and executory per entry of judgment dated June 4, 1990; WHEREAS, NAPOCOR finally paid the Province of Albay the amount of P 17.7 Million as initial payment [d]ated July 29, 1992 that amount will inevitably increase the financial resources of the Local Government Units concerned; WHEREAS, the Province of Albay headed by Governor Salalima and his men are still reconciling the P 214 Million with NAPOCOR which contravene the final decision of the Supreme Court and considered the P 17.7 Million as an Earnest money to the damage and prejudice of the Municipality of Tiwi and the Six Barangays, since that amount should be pro-rated accordingly as mandated by Law after deducting the legitimate expenses and attorneys fees; WHEREAS, not (sic) of [the] P 17.7 Million already paid by NAPOCOR as per decision of the court nothing has yet been given by Governor Salalima to the Municipality of Tiwi as its share cost (sic) to be 45% of said amount nor the affected barangays of Tiwi has ever been given each corresponding shares despite representation made by the Municipal Mayor Naomi Corral, the Governor is hesitant and showing signs that the share of the Municipality will never be given; WHEREAS, on motion of Kagawad Bennett Templado duly seconded by Joselito Cantes and Kagawad Francisco Alarte, be it RESOLVED, as it is hereby resolved, To authorize the Mayor to hire the Services of a lawyer to represent the interest of the Municipality of Tiwi and its Barangays and for this purpose and authorization be given to the Municipal Mayor to hire a lawyer of her choice; Further divesting the lawyer hired by Governor Salalima and on (sic) the Province of Albay of its authority to represent the Municipality of Tiwi and the six Geothermal Barangays; FINALLY RESOLVED, that copy of this resolution be furnished [the] Office of the Provincial Governor, Vice Governor, Office of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, President Malixi of NAPOCOR for [their] information and guidance. Approved unanimously.

The above-quoted authority necessarily carried with it the power to negotiate, execute and sign on behalf of Tiwi the Contract of Legal Services. That the authorization did not set the terms and conditions of the compensation signifies that the council empowered Mayor Corral to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement with the lawyer of her choice subject, of course, to the general limitation that the contract‘s stipulations should not be contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy, and, considering that this is a contract of legal services, to the added restriction that the agreed attorney‘s fees must not be unreasonable and unconscionable. On its face, and there is no allegation to the contrary, this prior authorization appears to have been given by the council in good faith to the end of expeditiously safeguarding the rights of Tiwi. Under the particular circumstances of this case, there is, thus, nothing objectionable to this manner of prior authorization. In Constantino v. Hon. Ombudsman,Desierto, we reached a similar conclusion:

More persuasive is the Mayor's second contention that no liability, whether criminal or administrative, may be imputed to him since he merely complied with the mandate of Resolution No. 21, series of 1996 and Resolution No. 38, series of 1996, of the Municipal Council; and that the charges leveled against him are politically motivated. A thorough examination of the records convinces this Court that the evidence against him is inadequate to warrant his dismissal from the service on the specified grounds of grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and gross neglect of duty. The explicit terms of Resolution No. 21, Series of 1996 clearly authorized Mayor Constantino to "lease/purchase one (1) fleet of heavy equipment" composed of seven (7) generally described units, through a "negotiated contract." That resolution, as observed at the outset, contained no parameters as to rate of rental, period of lease, purchase price. Pursuant thereto, Mayor Constantino, representing the Municipality of Malungon, and Norberto Lindong, representing the Norlovanian Corporation, executed two written instruments on the same date and occasion, viz.:
One — an agreement (on a standard printed form) dated February 28, 1996 for the lease by the corporation to the municipality of heavy equipment of the number and description required by Resolution No. 21, and

Two — an undertaking for the subsequent conveyance and transfer of ownership of the equipment to the municipality at the end of the term of the lease.

xxxx In light of the foregoing facts, which appear to the Court to be quite apparent on the record, it is difficult to perceive how the Office of the Ombudsman could have arrived at a conclusion of any wrongdoing by the Mayor in relation to the transaction in question. It is difficult to see how the transaction between the Mayor and Norlovanian Corporation — entered into pursuant to Resolution No. 21 — and tacitly accepted and approved by the town Council through its Resolution No. 38 — could be deemed an infringement of the same Resolution No. 21. In truth, an examination of the pertinent writings (the resolutions, the two (2) instruments constituting the negotiated contract, and the certificate of delivery) unavoidably confirms their integrity and congruity. It is, in fine, difficult to see how those pertinent written instruments," could establish a prima facie case to warrant the preventive suspension of Mayor Constantino. A person with the most elementary grasp of the English language would, from merely scanning those material documents, at once realize that the Mayor had done nothing but carry out the expressed wishes of the Sangguniang Bayan. xxxx [T]he Court is thus satisfied that it was in fact the Council's intention, which it expressed in clear language, to confer on the Mayor ample discretion to execute a "negotiated contract" with any interested party, without regard to any official acts of the Council prior to Resolution No. 21.

Prescinding therefrom, petitioners‘ next contention that the subject contract should first be ratified in order to become enforceable as against Tiwi must necessarily fail. As correctly held by the CA, the law speaks of prior authorization and not ratification with respect to the power of the local chief executive to enter into a contract on behalf of the local government unit. This authority, as discussed above, was granted by the Sangguniang Bayan to Mayor Corral as per Resolution No. 15-92.

The scope of the legal services contemplated in Resolution No. 15-92 was limited to the execution of the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay.

For his part, respondent claims that the Contract of Legal Services should be construed to include such services even outside the scope of the execution of the ruling in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. Respondent relies on the broad wording of paragraph 4 of the subject contract to support this contention, viz:

4. That the legal services which the Party of the FIRST PART is obliged to render to the Party of the SECOND PART under this AGREEMENT consists of the following: a) To prepare and file cases in courts, Office of the President, Ombudsman, Sandiganbayan, Department of Interior and Local Government and Department of Finance or to represent the Party of the SECOND PART in cases before said bodies; To coordinate or assist the Commission on Audit, The National Bureau of Investigation or the Fiscals Office in the prosecution of cases for the Party of the SECOND PART; To follow-up all fees, taxes, penalties and other receivables from National Power Corporation (NPC) and Philippine Geothermal Inc. due to the Municipality of Tiwi; To provide/give legal advice to the Party of the SECOND PART in her administration of the Municipal Government of Tiwi where such advice is necessary or proper; and To provide other forms of legal assistance that may be necessary in the premises.

b)

c)

d)

e)

The contention is erroneous. The wording of Resolution No. 15-92 is clear. Its title and whereas clauses, previously quoted above, indicate that the hiring of a lawyer was for the sole purpose of executing the judgment in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay, that is, to allow Tiwi to recover its rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC. In his Complaint, respondent admits that he was furnished and read a copy of the said resolution before he entered into the subject contract. He cannot now feign ignorance of the limitations of the authority of Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract and the purpose for which his services were employed.

We cannot accept respondent‘s strained reading of Resolution No. 15-92 in that the phrase ―to represent the interest of the Municipality of Tiwi and its Barangays‖ is taken to mean such other matters not related to the execution of the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. It could not have been the intention of the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi to authorize the hiring of a lawyer to perform general legal services because this duty devolves upon the municipal legal officer. The council sought the services of a lawyer because the dispute was between the municipality (Tiwi) and province (Albay) so much so that it f ell under the exception provided in Section 481(b)(3)(i) of the LGC

which permits a local government unit to employ the services of a special legal officer. Thus, the provisions of paragraph 4 of the Contract of Legal Services to the contrary notwithstanding, the basis of respondent‘s compensation should be limited to the services he rendered which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share in the subject realty taxes.

In sum, the allegations and admissions in the pleadings are sufficient to rule that Mayor Corral was duly authorized to enter into the Contract of Legal Services. However, the legal services contemplated therein, which are properly compensable, are limited to such services which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwi‘s rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC. Paragraph 4 of the Contract of Legal Services, insofar as it covers legal services outside of this purpose, is therefore unenforceable.

While the foregoing issues may be settled through the admissions in the pleadings, the actual attorney‘s fees due to respondent cannot still be determined.

The issue of the reasonable legal fees due to respondent still needs to be resolved in a trial on the merits.

The subject contract stipulated that respondent‘s 10% fee shall be based on ―whatever amount or payment collected from the National Power Corporation (NPC) as a result of the legal service rendered by [respondent].‖ As will be discussed hereunder, the extent and significance of respondent‘s legal services that reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share as well as the amount of realty taxes recovered by Tiwi arising from these alleged services requires a full-blown trial.

The main source of respondent‘s claim for attorney‘s fees lies with respect

to several administrative and court cases that he allegedly prosecuted and defended on behalf of Tiwi against the elective officials of Albay in order to compel the latter to remit the rightful share of Tiwi in the unpaid realty taxes. In their Answer, petitioners denied knowledge of these cases on the pretext that they were filed during the prior term of Mayor Corral. However, we can take judicial notice of Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. where respondent appears as the counsel of record. In Salalima v. Guingona, Jr., the Court found, among others, that the elective officials of Albay are administratively liable for (1) their unjustified refusal to release the share of Tiwi in the subject realty taxes, and (2) initiating unfounded and harassment disciplinary actions against Mayor Corral as a retaliatory tactic. This case, at the minimum, is evidence of the efforts of respondent in recovering Tiwi‘s share. Nevertheless, the other cases allegedly handled by respondent cannot be deemed admitted for purposes of fixing respondent‘s compensation because petitioners controverted the same on several grounds, to wit: (1) these cases where not handled by respondent, (2) the OSG was the lead counsel in these cases, and (3) these cases were the personal cases of Mayor Corral and other officials of Tiwi which had no bearing in the eventual recovery of Tiwi‘s share in the subject realty taxes. With our previous finding that the subject contract only covers legal services which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share, these defenses properly tender issues which should be determined in a trial on the merits.

More important, in their Answer, petitioners raise the main defense that the subject realty taxes were recovered by virtue of the opinion rendered by then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio and not through the efforts of respondent.

As narrated earlier, the said opinion was issued after then NPC President Malixi asked clarification from the Office of the President regarding the distribution of the unpaid realty taxes to Albay and its municipalities and barangays, including Tiwi. Significantly, respondent himself stated in his Complaint that ―pursuant to the advice of Sec. Carpio, NPC started to remit their shares directly to Tiwi and its barangays in January 1993.‖ Our pronouncements in Salalima v. Guingona, Jr., which respondent himself relies on in his pleadings, tell the same story, viz:

Fortunately, the Municipalities of Tiwi and Daraga and the National Government eventually received their respective shares, which were paid directly to them by the NPC pursuant to the directive of the Office of the President issued after the NPC requested clarification regarding the right of the municipalities concerned to share in the realty tax delinquencies. But this fact does not detract from the administrative liability of the petitioners. Notably, when the NPC advised the Province of Albay on 9 December 1992 that starting with the January 1993 installment it would pay directly to the Municipality of Tiwi by applying the sharing scheme provided by law, the petitioners passed on 19 December 1992 an ordinance declaring as forfeited in favor of the Province all the payments made by the NPC under the MOA and authorizing the sale of the NPC properties at public auction. This actuation of the petitioners reveals all the more their intention to deprive the municipalities concerned of their shares in the NPC payments. (Emphasis supplied)

What appears then from the pleadings is that respondent, by his own admission, concedes the immense importance of the aforesaid opinion to the eventual recovery of the unpaid realty taxes. However, respondent never asserted the degree of his participation in the crafting or issuance of this opinion. It is evident, therefore, that the recovery of the realty taxes is not solely attributable to the efforts of respondent. This aspect of the case is decisive because it goes into the central issue of whether the 10% contingent fee is unreasonable and unconscionable. Consequently, it becomes necessary

to weigh, based on the evidence that will be adduced during trial, the relative importance of the aforesaid opinion vis-à-vis the cases allegedly handled by respondent on behalf of Tiwi insofar as they aided in the eventual recovery of the unpaid realty taxes. And from here, the trial court may reasonably determine what weight or value to assign the legal services which were rendered by respondent.

Apart from this, there is another vital issue tendered by the pleadings regarding the extent of the benefits which Tiwi allegedly derived from the legal services rendered by respondent. In partially ruling that these amounts should be P110,985,181.83 and P35,594,480.00, respectively, the trial court explained in this wise:

The complaint alleged as to this: ―18. Based on the available records obtained by the plaintiff from the NPC, the Municipality of Tiwi received One Hundred Ten Million Nine Hundred Eighty Five Thousand One Hundred Eighty One & 83/100 (P110,985.83) [sic] plus Thirty Five Million Five Hundred Ninety Four Thousand Four Hundred Eighty (P35,594,480.00) Pesos remittances from the said agency. The total receipts of taxes by Tiwi remitted by the NPC could be higher and this will be proven during the trial when all the records of remittances of taxes of the NPC-SLRC in Biñan, Laguna are subpoenaed, marked as ANNEXES-P; Q and R;‖ In relation thereto, the answer stated: ―14. With respect to the allegation in paragraph 18 of the complaint answering defendant admits that the amount of P110,985.83 [sic] was remitted to Albay province so far as the annex is concerned but the same is immaterial, useless as there was no allegation that this was recovered/received by Tiwi. With respect to the amount of P35,594,480.00, the said amount was received as a matter of the clear provision of the law, specifically Sections 286-293 of the present Local Government Code and not through the effort of the plaintiff. Annex ―R‖ is hearsay and self-serving.‖ While the plaintiff directly averred that ―the Municipality of Tiwi received One Hundred Ten Million Nine Hundred Eighty Five Thousand One Hundred Eighty One &

83/100 (P110,985.83) [sic] plus Thirty Five Million Five Hundred Ninety Four Thousand Four Hundred Eighty (P35,594,480.00) Pesos remittances from the said agency,‖ the defendant evasively stated that ―the amount of P110,985.83 [sic] was remitted to Albay province‖ and that ―the same is immaterial, useless as there was no allegation that this was recovered/received by Tiwi.‖ Thereby, the answer was a negative pregnant because its denial was not specific. Hence, the defendants have admitted that Tiwi was paid the stated amounts. The defendants further stated that Tiwi received the amount of P35,594,480.00 ―as a matter of the clear provision of the law, [sic] and not through the effort of the plaintiff.‖ However, considering that the legal services of the plaintiff were rendered under a written contract, the qualification as to the P35,594,480.00 was meaningless. The pleadings render it indubitable, therefore, that the total amount of P146,579,661.84, which was received by Tiwi from NPC, is subject to the 10% attorney‘s fees under the plaintiff‘s contract of legal services.

We disagree. Although concededly petitioners‘ counter-allegations in their Answer were not well-phrased, the overall tenor thereof plainly evinces the defense that the amount of P110,985,181.83 was received by Albay and not by Tiwi. Consequently, the said amount cannot be deemed admitted for the purpose of fixing respondent‘s compensation. There is no occasion to apply the rule on negative pregnant because the denial of the receipt of the said amount by Tiwi is fairly evident. The dictates of simple justice and fairness precludes us from unduly prejudicing the rights of petitioners by the poor phraseology of their counsel. Verily, the Rules of Court were designed to ascertain the truth and not to deprive a party of his legitimate defenses. In fine, we cannot discern based merely on the pleadings that this line of defense employed by petitioners is patently sham especially since the documentary evidence showing the alleged schedule of payments made by NPC to Albay and its municipalities and barangays, including Tiwi, was not even authenticated by NPC.

We also disagree with the trial court‘s above-quoted finding that the qualification as to the amount of P35,594,480.00 which was received ―as a matter of the clear provision of the law, [sic] and not through the effort of the plaintiff‖ is meaningless. The error appears to have been occasioned by the failure to quote the exact allegation in petitioners‘ Answer which reads ―the said amount [P35,594,480.00] was received as a matter of the clear provision of the law, specifically Sections 286-293 of the present Local Government Code and not through the effort of the plaintiff.‖ The omitted portion is significant because Sections 286-293 of the LGC refer to the share of the local government unit in the utilization of the national wealth. Petitioners are, in effect, claiming that the P35,594,480.00 was received by Tiwi as its share in the utilization and development of the national wealth within its area and not as its share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC subject of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. What‘s more, respondent‘s own documentary evidence, appended to his Complaint, confirms this posture because said document indicates that the P35,594,480.00 was derived from the ―Computation of the Share of Local Government from Proceeds Derived in the Utilization of National Wealth SOUTHERN LUZON For CY 1992 and First Quarter 1993.‖ It may be added that the unpaid realty taxes of NPC subject of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay covered the period from June 11, 1984 to March 10, 1987 and not from 1992 to 1993. There is, thus, nothing from the above which would categorically establish that the amount of P35,594,480.00 was part of the realty taxes that NPC paid to Tiwi or that said amount was recovered from the legal services rendered by respondent on behalf of Tiwi.

Based on the preceding discussion, it was, thus, erroneous for the trial and appellate courts to peg the amount of realty taxes recovered for the benefit of Tiwi at P110,985,181.83 and P35,594,480.00 considering that petitioners have alleged defenses

in their Answer and, more importantly, considering that said amounts have not been sufficiently established as reasonably flowing from the legal services rendered by respondent.

Conclusion

The foregoing considerations cannot be brushed aside for it would be iniquitous for Tiwi to compensate respondent for legal services which he did not render; or which has no reasonable connection to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share in the subject realty taxes; or whose weight or value has not been properly appraised in view of respondent‘s admission in his Complaint that the opinion issued by then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio (in which respondent had no clear participation) was instrumental to the recovery of the subject realty taxes. Hence, the necessity of a remand of this case to determine these issues of substance.

To recap, the following are deemed resolved based on the allegations and admissions in the pleadings: (1) then Mayor Corral was authorized to enter into the Contract of Legal Services, (2) the legal services contemplated in Resolution No. 15-92 was limited to such services which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwi‘s rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC, and (3) paragraph 4 of the Contract of Legal Services, insofar as it covers services outside of this purpose, is unenforceable. Upon the other hand, the issue of the reasonable legal fees due to respondent still needs to be resolved in a trial on the merits with the following integral sub-issues: (1) the

reasonableness of the 10% contingent fee given that the recovery of Tiwi‘s share was not solely attributable to the legal services rendered by respondent, (2) the nature, extent of legal work, and significance of the cases allegedly handled by respondent which reasonably contributed, directly or indirectly, to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share, and (3) the relative benefit derived by Tiwi from the services rendered by respondent. In addition, we should note here that the amount of reasonable attorney‘s fees finally determined by the trial court should be without legal interest in line with well-settled jurisprudence.

As earlier noted, this case was filed with the trial court in 1999, however, we are constrained to remand this case for further proceedings because the subject partial judgment on the pleadings was clearly not proper under the premises. At any rate, we have narrowed down the triable issue to the determination of the exact extent of the reasonable attorney‘s fees due to respondent. The trial court is, thus, enjoined to resolve this case with deliberate dispatch in line with the parameters set in this Decision.

To end, justice and fairness require that the issue of the reasonable attorney‘s fees due to respondent be ventilated in a trial on the merits amidst the contentious assertions by both parties because in the end, neither party must be allowed to unjustly enrich himself at the expense of the other. More so here because contracts for attorney‘s services stand upon an entirely different footing from contracts for the payment of compensation for any other services. Verily, a lawyer‘s compensation for professional services rendered are subject to the supervision of the court, not just to guarantee that the fees he charges and receives remain reasonable and commensurate with the services

rendered, but also to maintain the dignity and integrity of the legal profession to which he belongs.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The October 19, 2005 Decision and March 10, 2006 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. CV No. 79057 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. This case is REMANDED to the trial court for further proceedings to determine the reasonable amount of attorney‘s fees which respondent is entitled to in accordance with the guidelines set in this Decision.

SO ORDERED.

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

RENATO C. CORONA Chief Justice
Chairperson

ARTURO D. BRION Associate Justice

ROBERTO A. ABAD Associate Justice

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ Associate Justice

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court‘s Division.

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

Per Special Order No. 856 dated July 1, 2010. Per Special Order No. 869 dated July 5, 2010. Rollo, pp. 44-52; penned by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang and concurred in by Associate Justices Andres B. Reyes, Jr. and Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa. Id. at 152-160; penned by then Judge Lucas P. Bersamin, now a member of this Court. Id. at 53; penned by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang and concurred in by Associate Justices Andres B. Reyes, Jr. and Monia Arevalo-Zanarosa. G.R. No. 87479, June 4, 1990, 186 SCRA 198. 326 Phil. 847 (1996). Now Senior Associate Justice of this Court. Records, p. 26. Id. at 1-10. Id. at 57-62. Id. at 168-172.

Id. at 190. Rollo, p. 52. Id. at 18-19. Rodriguez v. Llorente, 49 Phil. 823, 824 (1926). RULES OF COURT, Rule 34, Section 1. Benavides v. Alabastro, 120 Phil. 1349, 1351-1352 (1964). SECTION 8. How to contest such documents. — When an action or defense is founded upon a written instrument, copied in or attached to the corresponding pleading as provided in the preceding section, the genuineness and due execution of the instrument shall be deemed admitted unless the adverse party, under oath, specifically denies them, and sets forth what he claims to be the facts; but the requirement of an oath does not apply when the adverse party does not appear to be a party to the instrument or when compliance with an order for an inspection of the original instrument is refused.
Id.; Gaw v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 60783, October 31, 1990, 191 SCRA 77, 85.

Rollo, pp. 30-32. Records, pp. 15-16. CIVIL CODE, Article 1306. RULES OF COURT, Rule 138, Section 24. 351 Phil. 896 (1998). Id. at 909-913.
Vergara v. Ombudsman, G.R. No. 174567, March 12, 2009, 580 SCRA 693, 714.

Records, pp. 17-18.
SECTION 481. Qualifications, Terms, Powers and Duties. — x x x (b) The legal officer, the chief legal counsel of the local government unit, shall take charge of the office of legal services and shall: x x x (3) x x x x (i) Represent the local government unit in all civil actions and special proceedings wherein the local government unit or any official thereof, in his official capacity, is a party: Provided, That, in actions or proceedings where a component city or municipality is a party adverse to the provincial

government or to another component city or municipality, a special legal officer may be employed to represent the adverse party; (Emphasis supplied)

Emphasis supplied. Records, p. 5. Salalima v. Guingona, Jr., supra note 5 at 917. Records, pp. 188-189. This is fairly deducible from paragraph 14 of petitioners‘ Answer (id. at 59) to the Complaint, viz: 14. With respect to the allegation in paragraph 18 of the complaint answering defendant admits that the amount of P110,985.83 [sic] was remitted to Albay Province so far as the annex is concerned but the same is immaterial, useless as there was no allegation that this was recovered/received by Tiwi. x x x Annex “R” is hearsay and self-serving. (Emphasis supplied) Id.
Id. at 34.

Cortes v. Court of Appeals, 443 Phil. 42, 54 (2003). Id. at 54-55.

THIRD DIVISION

REY J. VARGAS AND EDUARDO A. PANES, JR., Complainants,

A.C. No. 8096

Present:

CARPIO MORALES, J., Chairperson, - versus BRION, BERSAMIN, ABAD, and VILLARAMA, JR., JJ. ATTY. MICHAEL A. IGNES, ATTY. LEONARD BUENTIPO MANN, ATTY. RODOLFO U. VIAJAR, JR., AND ATTY. JOHN RANGAL D. NADUA, Respondents. July 5, 2010 x- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x

Promulgated:

RESOLUTION
VILLARAMA, JR., J.: Before the Court is a petition for review of Resolution No. XVIII-2008-335 passed on July 17, 2008 by the Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the

Philippines (IBP) in CBD Case No. 07-1953. The IBP Board of Governors dismissed the disbarment case filed by the complainants against the respondents. The facts and proceedings antecedent to this case are as follows: Koronadal Water District (KWD), a government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC), hired respondent Atty. Michael A. Ignes as private legal counsel for one (1) year effective April 17, 2006. The Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) and the Commission on Audit (COA) gave their consent to the employment of Atty. Ignes. However, controversy later erupted when two (2) different groups, herein referred to as the Dela Peña board and Yaphockun board, laid claim as the legitimate Board of Directors of KWD. On December 28, 2006, the members of the Dela Peña board filed Civil Case No. 1793 for Injunction and Damages, seeking to annul the appointment of two (2) directors, Joselito T. Reyes and Carlito Y. Uy, who will allegedly connive with Director Allan D. Yaphockun whose hostility to the ―present‖ Board of Directors, the Dela Peña board, is supposedly of public knowledge. On January 18, 2007, the Dela Peña board also adopted Resolution No. 009 appointing respondents Atty. Rodolfo U. Viajar, Jr. and Atty. Leonard Buentipo Mann as private collaborating counsels for all cases of KWD and its Board of Directors, under the direct supervision and control of Atty. Ignes. Subsequently, on February 9, 2007, Attys. Ignes, Viajar, Jr. and Mann filed SCA Case No. 50-24 for Indirect Contempt of Court entitled Koronadal Water District (KWD), represented herein by its General Manager, Eleanor PimentelGomba v. Efren V. Cabucay, et al. On February 19, 2007, they also filed Civil

Case No. 1799 for Injunction and Damages entitled Koronadal Water District (KWD), represented herein by its General Manager, & Eleanor Pimentel-Gomba v. Rey J. Vargas. On March 9, 2007, KWD and Eleanor Pimentel-Gomba filed a supplemental complaint in Civil Case No. 1799. Meanwhile, in Contract Review No. 079 dated February 16, 2007, the OGCC had approved the retainership contract of Atty. Benjamin B. Cuanan as new legal counsel of KWD and stated that the retainership contract of Atty. Ignes had expired on January 14, 2007. In its letter dated March 2, 2007, the OGCC also addressed Eleanor P. Gomba‘s insistence that the retainership contract of Atty. Ignes will expire on April 17, 2007. The OGCC stated that as stipulated, the KWD or OGCC may terminate the contract anytime without need of judicial action; that OGCC‘s grant of authority to private counsels is a privilege withdrawable under justifiable circumstances; and that the termination of Atty. Ignes‘s contract was justified by the fact that the Local Water Utilities Administration had confirmed the Yaphockun board as the new Board of Directors of KWD and that said board had terminated Atty. Ignes‘s services and requested to hire another counsel. Alleging that respondents acted as counsel for KWD without legal authority, complainants filed a disbarment complaint against the respondents before the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD), docketed as CBD Case No. 07-1953. Complainants alleged that respondents filed SCA Case No. 50-24 and Civil Case No. 1799 as counsels of KWD without legal authority. They likewise stated in their position paper that Atty. Ignes continued representing KWD even after the OGCC had confirmed the expiration of Atty. Ignes‘s contract in its April 4, 2007

manifestation/motion in Civil Case No. 1796-25 entitled Koronadal Water District (KWD), represented herein by its General Manager, Eleanor Pimentel Gomba v. Supreme Investigative and Security Agency, represented by its Manager Efren Y. Cabucay. In his defense, Atty. Mann stated that he and his fellow respondents can validly represent KWD until April 17, 2007 since Atty. Ignes was not notified of his contract‘s pre-termination. Atty. Mann also stated that he stopped representing KWD after April 17, 2007 in deference to the OGCC‘s stand. Attys. Ignes, Viajar, Jr. and Nadua echoed Atty. Mann‘s defense. On March 10, 2008, complainants filed a manifestation before the IBP with the following attachments: (1) the transcript of stenographic notes taken on January 28, 2008 in Civil Case No. 1799, and (2) the notice of appeal dated February 28, 2008 of the January 7, 2008 Order dismissing Civil Case No. 1799. Aforesaid transcript showed that Atty. Ignes appeared as counsel of KWD and Ms. Gomba. He also signed the notice of appeal. In his report and recommendation, the Investigating Commissioner recommended that the charge against Atty. Ignes be dismissed for lack of merit. The Investigating Commissioner held that Atty. Ignes had valid authority as counsel of KWD for one (1) year, from April 2006 to April 2007, and he was unaware of the pre-termination of his contract when he filed pleadings in SCA Case No. 50-24 and Civil Case No. 1799 in February and March 2007. As to Attys. Viajar, Jr., Mann and Nadua, the Investigating Commissioner recommended that they be fined P5,000 each for appearing as attorneys for a party without authority to do so, per Santayana v. Alampay. The Investigating

Commissioner found that they failed to secure the conformity of the OGCC and COA to their engagement as collaborating counsels for KWD. As aforesaid, the IBP Board of Governors reversed the recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner and dismissed the case for lack of merit. Hence, the present petition. Complainants contend that the IBP Board of Governors erred in dismissing the case because respondents had no authority from the OGCC to file the complaints and appear as counsels of KWD in Civil Case No. 1799, SCA Case No. 50-24 and Civil Case No. 1796-25. Complainants point out that the retainership contract of Atty. Ignes had expired on January 14, 2007; that the ―Notice of Appeal filed by Atty. Ignes, et al.‖ in Civil Case No. 1799 was denied per Order dated April 8, 2008 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) ―for being filed by one not duly authorized by law;‖ and that the authority of Attys. Viajar, Jr. and Mann as collaborating counsels is infirm since Resolution No. 009 of the Dela Peña board lacks the conformity of the OGCC. As a consequence, according to complainants, respondents are liable for willfully appearing as attorneys for a party to a case without authority to do so. In his comment, Atty. Ignes admits that their authority to represent KWD had expired on April 17, 2007, but he and his fellow respondents stopped representing KWD after that date. He submits that they are not guilty of appearing as counsels without authority. In their comment, Attys. Viajar, Jr. and Nadua propound similar arguments. They also say that their fees were paid from private funds of the members of the Dela Peña board and KWD personnel who might need legal

representation, not from the public coffers of KWD. In his own comment, Atty. Mann submits similar arguments. After a careful study of the case and the parties‘ submissions, we find respondents administratively liable. At the outset, we note that the parties do not dispute the need for OGCC and COA conformity if a GOCC hires private lawyers. Nonetheless, we shall briefly recall the legal basis of this rule. Under Section 10, Chapter 3, Title III, Book IV of the Administrative Code of 1987, it is the OGCC which shall act as the principal law office of all GOCCs. And Section 3 of Memorandum Circular No. 9, issued by President Estrada on August 27, 1998, enjoins GOCCs to refrain from hiring private lawyers or law firms to handle their cases and legal matters. But the same Section 3 provides that in exceptional cases, the written conformity and acquiescence of the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel, as the case may be, and the written concurrence of the COA shall first be secured before the hiring or employment of a private lawyer or law firm. In Phividec Industrial Authority v. Capitol Steel Corporation, we listed three (3) indispensable conditions before a GOCC can hire a private lawyer: (1) private counsel can only be hired in exceptional cases; (2) the GOCC must first secure the written conformity and acquiescence of the Solicitor General or the Government Corporate Counsel, as the case may be; and (3) the written concurrence of the COA must also be secured. In the case of respondents, do they have valid authority to appear as counsels of KWD? We find that Attys. Nadua, Viajar, Jr. and Mann had no valid authority to appear as collaborating counsels of KWD in SCA Case No. 50-24 and Civil Case

No. 1799. Nothing in the records shows that Atty. Nadua was engaged by KWD as collaborating counsel. While the 4th Whereas Clause of Resolution No. 009 partly states that he and Atty. Ignes ―presently stand as KWD legal counsels,‖ there is no proof that the OGCC and COA approved Atty. Nadua‘s engagement as legal counsel or collaborating counsel. Insofar as Attys. Viajar, Jr. and Mann are concerned, their appointment as collaborating counsels of KWD under Resolution No. 009 has no approval from the OGCC and COA. Attys. Nadua, Viajar, Jr. and Mann are in the same situation as the private counsel of Phividec Industrial Authority in Phividec. In that case, we also ruled that said private counsel of Phividec Industrial Authority, a GOCC, had no authority to file the expropriation case in Phividec‘s behalf considering that the requirements set by Memorandum Circular No. 9 were not complied with. Thus, Resolution No. 009 did not grant authority to Attys. Nadua, Viajar, Jr. and Mann to act as collaborating counsels of KWD. That Atty. Ignes was not notified of the pre-termination of his own retainership contract cannot validate an inexistent authority of Attys. Nadua, Viajar, Jr. and Mann as collaborating counsels. In the case of Atty. Ignes, he also appeared as counsel of KWD without authority, after his authority as its counsel had expired. True, the OGCC and COA approved his retainership contract for one (1) year effective April 17, 2006. But even if we assume as true that he was not notified of the pre-termination of his contract, the records still disprove his claim that he stopped representing KWD after April 17, 2007. Atty. Ignes offered no rebuttal to the verified manifestation of complainants filed with the IBP on March 10, 2008. Attached therein was the transcript of

stenographic notes in Civil Case No. 1799 taken on January 28, 2008 when Atty. Ignes argued the extremely urgent motion for the immediate return of the facilities of the KWD to the KWD Arellano Office. The RTC was compelled to ask him why he seeks the return of KWD properties if he filed the motion as counsel of Ms. Gomba. When the RTC noted that KWD does not appear to be a party to the motion, Atty. Ignes said that KWD is represented by Ms. Gomba per the caption of the case. Atty. Ignes also manifested that they will file a motion for

reconsideration of the orders dismissing Civil Case No. 1799 and Civil Case No. 1793. The RTC ruled that it will not accept any motion for reconsideration in behalf of KWD unless he is authorized by the OGCC, but Atty. Ignes later filed a notice of appeal dated February 28, 2008, in Civil Case No. 1799. As the notice of appeal signed by Atty. Ignes was filed by one (1) not duly authorized by law, the RTC, in its Order dated April 8, 2008, denied due course to said notice of appeal. As we see it, Atty. Ignes portrayed that his appearance on January 28, 2008 was merely as counsel of Ms. Gomba. He indicted himself, however, when he said that Ms. Gomba represents KWD per the case title. In fact, the extremely urgent motion sought the return of the facilities of KWD to its Arellano Office. Clearly, Atty. Ignes filed and argued a motion with the interest of KWD in mind. The notice of appeal in Civil Case No. 1799 further validates that Atty. Ignes still appeared as counsel of KWD after his authority as counsel had expired. This fact was not lost on the RTC in denying due course to the notice of appeal. Now did respondents willfully appear as counsels of KWD without authority? The following circumstances convince us that, indeed, respondents willfully and deliberately appeared as counsels of KWD without authority. One,

respondents have admitted the existence of Memorandum Circular No. 9 and

professed that they are aware of our ruling in Phividec. Thus, we entertain no doubt that they have full grasp of our ruling therein that there are indispensable conditions before a GOCC can hire private counsel and that for non-compliance with the requirements set by Memorandum Circular No. 9, the private counsel would have no authority to file a case in behalf of a GOCC. Still, respondents acted as counsels of KWD without complying with what the rule requires. They signed pleadings as counsels of KWD. They presented themselves voluntarily, on their own volition, as counsels of KWD even if they had no valid authority to do so. Two, despite the question on respondents‘ authority as counsels of KWD which question was actually raised earlier in Civil Case No. 1799 by virtue of an urgent motion to disqualify KWD‘s counsels dated February 21, 2007 and during the hearing on February 23, 2007 respondents still filed the supplemental complaint in the case on March 9, 2007. And despite the pendency of this case before the IBP, Atty. Ignes had to be reminded by the RTC that he needs OGCC authority to file an intended motion for reconsideration in behalf of KWD. With the grain of evidence before us, we do not believe that respondents are innocent of the charge even if they insist that the professional fees of Attys. Nadua, Viajar, Jr. and Mann, as collaborating counsels, were paid not from the public coffers of KWD. To be sure, the facts were clear that they appeared as counsels of KWD without authority, and not merely as counsels of the members of the Dela Peña board and KWD personnel in their private suits. Consequently, for respondents‘ willful appearance as counsels of KWD without authority to do so, there is a valid ground to impose disciplinary action

against them. Under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, a member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so. Disbarment, however, is the most severe form of disciplinary sanction, and, as such, the power to disbar must always be exercised with great caution, and should be imposed only for the most imperative reasons and in clear cases of misconduct affecting the standing and moral character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and member of the bar. Accordingly, disbarment should not be decreed where any punishment less severe such as a reprimand, suspension or fine, would accomplish the end desired. In Santayana, we imposed a fine of P5,000 on the respondent for willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so. The respondent therein also appeared as private counsel of the National Electrification Administration, a GOCC, without any approval from the OGCC and COA. Conformably with Santayana, we impose a fine of P5,000 on each respondent. On another matter, we note that respondents stopped short of fully narrating what had happened after the RTC issued four (4) orders on March 24, 2007 and on April 13, 2007 in Civil Case No. 1799. As willingly revealed by complainants, all

four (4) orders were nullified by the Court of Appeals. We are compelled to issue a reminder that our Code of Professional Responsibility requires lawyers, like respondents, to always show candor and good faith to the courts. WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Resolution No. XVIII-2008-335 passed on July 17, 2008 by the IBP Board of Governors in CBD Case No. 07-1953 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Respondents Attys. Michael A. Ignes, Leonard Buentipo Mann, Rodolfo U. Viajar, Jr., and John Rangal D. Nadua are found GUILTY of willfully appearing as attorneys for a party to a case without authority to do so and FINED P5,000 each, payable to this Court within ten (10) days from notice of this Resolution. They are STERNLY WARNED that a similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely. Let a copy of this Resolution be attached to respondents‘ personal records in the Office of the Bar Confidant. SO ORDERED.

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR. Associate Justice WE CONCUR:

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES Associate Justice Chairperson

ARTURO D. BRION Associate Justice

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN Associate Justice

ROBERTO A. ABAD Associate Justice

Additional member per Special Order No. 843. Rollo, p. 662. Id. at 133. Id. at 129-132. Id. at 404-420. Civil Case No. 1793 was later redocketed as Civil Case No. 1793-25. Id. at 136-137. Id. at 732-742.

Id. at 715-731. Civil Case No. 1799 was later redocketed as Civil Case No. 1799-24, then 1799-(24)25. Id. at 36-62.

Id. at 709-710. Id. at 711-712. Id. at 2-7. Id. at 346-376. Id. at 787-788. Id. at 297. Id. at 329-330. Id. at 468-471. Id. at 664-671. A.C. No. 5878, March 21, 2005, 454 SCRA 1. PROHIBITING GOVERNMENT-OWNED OR CONTROLLED CORPORATIONS (GOCCs) FROM REFERRING THEIR CASES AND LEGAL MATTERS TO THE OFFICE OF THE SOLICITOR GENERAL, PRIVATE LEGAL COUNSEL OR LAW FIRMS AND DIRECTING THE GOCCs TO REFER THEIR CASES AND LEGAL MATTERS TO THE OFFICE OF THE GOVERNMENT CORPORATE COUNSEL, UNLESS OTHERWISE AUTHORIZED UNDER CERTAIN EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES. G.R. No. 155692, October 23, 2003, 414 SCRA 327, 334. Id. at 335-336. Rollo, pp. 506-514. Id. at 482. Id. at 837-838. Id. at 73-74, 77. Id. at 812-825. Id. at 826-836. Kara-an v. Pineda, A.C. No. 4306, March 28, 2007, 519 SCRA 143, 146; Briones v. Jimenez, A.C. No. 6691, April 27, 2007, 522 SCRA 236, 243-244.

Supra note 18 at 8-9. Rollo, pp. 172-173, 176-180. Id. at 1047, 1069. Canon 10, Code of Professional Responsibility.

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

MUNICIPALITY OF TIWI, represented by Hon. Mayor JAIME C. VILLANUEVA and the SANGGUNIANG BAYAN of TIWI, Petitioners,

G.R. No. 171873

Present: CORONA, C. J., Chairperson, BRION, DEL CASTILLO, ABAD,  and PEREZ, JJ. Promulgated: July 9, 2010

- versus -

ANTONIO B. BETITO, Respondent.

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

DECISION

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

A judgment on the pleadings is proper when the answer admits all the material averments of the complaint. But where several issues are properly tendered by the answer, a trial on the merits must be resorted to in order to afford each party his day in court.

This Petition for Review on Certiorari seeks to reverse and set aside the Court of Appeal‘s (CA) October 19, 2005 Decision in CA G.R. CV No. 79057, which affirmed the March 3, 2001 Partial Decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 96 in Civil Case No. Q-99-39370, and the March 10, 2006 Resolution denying petitioner‘s motion for reconsideration.

Factual Antecedents

The instant case is an offshoot of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay and Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. It is, thus, necessary to revisit some pertinent facts from these cases in order to provide an adequate backdrop for the present controversy.

On June 4, 1990, this Court issued a Decision in the case of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay finding, among others, the National Power Corporation (NPC) liable for unpaid real estate taxes from June 11, 1984 to March 10, 1987 on its properties located in the Province of Albay (Albay). These properties consisted of geothermal plants in the Municipality of Tiwi (Tiwi) and substations in the Municipality of Daraga. Previously, the said properties were sold at an auction sale conducted by Albay to satisfy NPC‘s tax liabilities. As the sole bidder at the auction, Albay acquired ownership over said properties.

On July 29, 1992, the NPC, through its then President Pablo Malixi (President Malixi), and Albay, represented by then Governor Romeo R. Salalima (Governor Salalima), entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) where the former agreed to settle its tax liabilities estimated at P214,845,104.76. The MOA provided, among others, that: (1) the actual amount collectible from NPC will have to be recomputed/revalidated; (2) NPC shall make an initial payment of P17,763,000.00 upon signing of the agreement; (3) the balance of the recomputed/ revalidated amount (less the aforesaid initial payment), shall be paid in 24 equal monthly installments to commence in September 1992; and (4) ownership over the auctioned properties shall revert to NPC upon satisfaction of the tax liabilities.

On August 3, 1992, then Mayor Naomi C. Corral (Mayor Corral) of Tiwi formally requested Governor Salalima to remit the rightful tax shares of Tiwi and its barangays where the NPC‘s properties were located relative to the payments already made by NPC to Albay. On even date, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 12-92 requesting the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay to hold a joint session for the purpose of discussing the distribution of the NPC payments.

On August 10, 1992, Governor Salalima replied that the request cannot be granted as the initial payment amounting to P17,763,000.00 was only an ―earnest money‖ and that the total amount to be collected from the NPC was still being validated.

Due to the brewing misunderstanding between Tiwi and the concerned barangays on the one hand, and Albay on the other, and so as not to be caught in the middle of the controversy, NPC requested a clarification from the Office of the President as to the scope and extent of the shares of the local government units in the real estate tax collections.

On August 30, 1992, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 1592 authorizing Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer to represent Tiwi and its barangays in the recovery of their rightful share in the aforesaid realty taxes. Thereafter, Mayor Corral sought the services of respondent Atty. Antonio B. Betito (respondent) and Atty. Alberto Lawenko (Atty. Lawenko). As a result, on January 25, 1993, Mayor Corral, representing Tiwi, and respondent and Atty. Lawenko entered into a Contract of Legal Services

(subject contract). The subject contract provided, among others, that respondent and Atty. Lawenko would receive a 10% contingent fee on whatever amount of realty taxes that would be recovered by Tiwi through their efforts.

On December 3, 1992, the Office of the President, through then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio, opined that the MOA entered into by NPC and Albay merely recognized and established NPC‘s realty taxes. He further clarified that the sharing scheme and those entitled to the payments to be made by NPC under the MOA should be that provided under the law, and since Tiwi is entitled to share in said realty taxes, NPC may remit such share directly to Tiwi, viz:

xxxx The Memorandum of Agreement entered into by the Province of Albay and NPC merely enunciates the tax liability of NPC. The Memorandum of Agreement does not provide for the manner of payment of NPC's liability. Thus, the manner of payment as provided for by law shall govern. In any event, the Memorandum of Agreement cannot amend the law allowing the payment of said taxes to the Municipality of Tiwi. The decision in the case of NPC v. Province of Albay (186 SCRA 198), likewise, only established the liability of NPC for real property taxes but does not specifically provide that said back taxes be paid exclusively to Albay province. Therefore, it is our opinion that the NPC may pay directly to the municipality of Tiwi the real property taxes accruing to the same. Please be guided accordingly. Very truly yours, (Sgd.) ANTONIO T. CARPIO Chief Presidential Legal Counsel

Because of this opinion, NPC President Malixi, through a letter dated December 9, 1992, informed Mayor Corral and Governor Salalima that starting with the January 1993 installment, NPC will directly pay Tiwi its share in the payments under the MOA. As of December 9, 1992, payments made by NPC to Albay reached P40,724,471.74.

On December 19, 1992, in an apparent reaction to NPC‘s Decision to directly remit to Tiwi its share in the payments made and still to be made pursuant to the MOA, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay passed Ordinance No. 09-92, which, among others: (1) authorized the Provincial Treasurer upon the direction of the Provincial Governor to sell the real properties (acquired by Albay at the auction sale) at a public auction, and to cause the immediate transfer thereof to the winning bidder; and (2) declared as forfeited in favor of Albay, all the payments already made by NPC under the MOA.

From Albay‘s refusal to remit Tiwi‘s share in the aforementioned P40,724,471.74 stemmed several administrative complaints and court cases that respondent allegedly handled on behalf of Tiwi to recover the latter‘s rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes, including the case of Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. In this case, the Court held, among others, that the elective officials of Albay are administratively liable for abuse of authority due to their unjustified refusal to remit the rightful share of Tiwi in the subject realty taxes.

The present controversy arose when respondent sought to enforce the Contract of Legal Services after rendering the aforementioned legal services which allegedly benefited Tiwi. In his Complaint for sum of money against Tiwi, represented by then Mayor Patricia Gutierrez, Vice Mayor Vicente Tomas Vera III, Sangguniang Bayan Members Rosana Parcia, Nerissa Cotara, Raul Corral, Orlando Lew Velasco, Liberato Ulysses Pacis, Lorenzo Carlet, Bernardo Costo, Jaime Villanueva, Benneth Templado and Municipal Treasurer Emma Cordovales (collectively petitioners), respondent claims that he handled numerous cases which resulted to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share in the realty taxes. As a result of these efforts, Tiwi was able to collect the amount of P110,985,181.83 and another P35,594,480.00 from the NPC as well as other amounts which will be proven during the trial. Under the Contract of Legal Services, respondent is entitled to 10% of whatever amount that would be collected from the NPC. However, despite repeated demands for the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi to pass an appropriate ordinance for the payment of his attorney‘s fees, the former refused to pass the ordinance and to pay what is justly owed him. Respondent prayed that Tiwi be ordered to pay P11,000,000.00 in attorney‘s fees and 10% of the other amounts to be determined during trial plus interest and damages; that the Sangguniang Bayan be ordered to pass the necessary appropriation ordinance; that the municipal treasurer surrender all the receipts of payments made by the NPC to Tiwi from January 1993 to December 1996 for the examination of the court; and that Tiwi pay P500,000.00 as attorney‘s fees.

In their Answer, petitioners admitted that the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 15-92 but denied that said resolution authorized then Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract. In particular, Mayor Corral exceeded her authority when she bound Tiwi to a gargantuan amount equivalent to 10% of the amount of realty taxes recovered from NPC. Further, the legal services under the subject contract should have

been limited to the execution of the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay as per Resolution No. 15-92. For these reasons, the subject contract is void, unenforceable, unconscionable and unreasonable. Petitioners further claim that they are not aware of the cases which respondent allegedly handled on behalf of Tiwi since these cases involved officials of the previous administration; that some of these cases were actually handled by the Office of the Solicitor General; and that these were personal cases of said officials. In addition, the Contract of Legal Services was not ratified by the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi in order to become effective. Petitioners also raise the defense that the realty taxes were recovered by virtue of the opinion rendered by then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio and not through the efforts of respondent.

As to the amount of P110,985,181.83 in realty taxes, the same was received by Albay and not Tiwi while the amount of P35,594,480.00 is part of the share of Tiwi in the utilization of the national wealth. Furthermore, in a Commission on Audit (COA) Memorandum dated January 15, 1996, the COA ruled that the authority to pass upon the reasonableness of the attorney‘s fees claimed by respondent lies with the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi. Pursuant to this memorandum, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi passed Resolution No. 27-98 which declared the subject contract invalid. Petitioners also allege that the contract is grossly disadvantageous to Tiwi and that respondent is guilty of laches because he lodged the present complaint long after the death of Mayor Corral; and that the amount collected from NPC has already been spent by Tiwi.

On November 7, 2000, respondent filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and/or partial summary judgment.

Regional Trial Court’s Ruling

On March 3, 2001, the trial court rendered a partial judgment on the pleadings in favor of respondent:

WHEREFORE, partial judgment on the pleadings is rendered ordering the defendant Municipality of Tiwi, Albay to pay the plaintiff the sum of P14,657,966.18 plus interest at the legal rate from the filing of the complaint until payment is fully delivered to the plaintiff; and, for this purpose, the defendant Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi, represented by the co-defendants officials, shall adopt and approve the necessary appropriation ordinance. Trial to receive evidence on the remaining amounts due and payable to the plaintiff pursuant to the contract of legal services shall hereafter continue, with notice to all the parties. SO ORDERED.

The trial court held that petitioners‘ answer to the complaint failed to tender an issue, thus, partial judgment on the pleadings is proper. It noted that petitioners did not specifically deny under oath the actionable documents in this case, particularly, the Contract of Legal Services and Resolution No. 15-92. Consequently, the genuineness and due execution of these documents are deemed admitted pursuant to Section 8, Rule 8

of the Rules of Court. Thus, the authority of Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract was deemed established.

It added that the authority given to Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer was not only for the purpose of executing the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay but extended to representing the interest of Tiwi in other cases as well. Further, the said resolution did not impose as a condition precedent the ratification of the subject contract by the Sangguniang Bayan in order to render it effective. Lastly, the trial court ruled that the answer admitted, through a negative pregnant, that Tiwi was paid the amounts of P110,985,181.83 and P35,594,480.00, hence, respondent is entitled to 10% thereof as attorney‘s fees under the terms of the subject contract.

Court of Appeal’s Ruling

In its assailed October 19, 2005 Decision, the CA affirmed the Decision of the trial court:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Partial Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 96, dated March 3, 2001, is AFFIRMED. SO ORDERED.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court that the genuineness and due execution of the Contract of Legal Services and Resolution No. 15-92 was impliedly admitted by petitioners because of their failure to make a verified specific denial thereof. Further, the answer filed by the petitioners admitted the material averments of the complaint concerning Tiwi‘s liability under the subject contract and its receipt from the NPC of a total of P146,579,661.84 as realty taxes. Petitioners cannot claim that the subject contract required ratification because this

is not a requisite for the enforceability of a contract against a local government unit under the express terms of the contract and the provisions of the Local Government Code (LGC). Also, petitioners are estopped from questioning the enforceability of the contract after having collected and enjoyed the benefits derived therefrom.

The appellate court found nothing objectionable in the stipulated contingent fee of 10% as this was voluntarily agreed upon by the parties and allowed under existing jurisprudence. The fee was justified given the numerous administrative and court cases successfully prosecuted and defended by the respondent in the face of the provincial government‘s stubborn refusal to release Tiwi‘s share in the realty taxes paid by NPC. The stipulated fee is not illegal, unreasonable or unconscionable. It is enforceable as the law between the parties.

Issues

Petitioners raise the following issues for our resolution:

1.

The amount of award of attorney‘s fees to respondent is unreasonable, unconscionable and without any proof of the extent, nature and ―result of his legal service‖ as required by the purported ―contract of legal services‖ and pursuant to Section 24, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court.

2.

The application of the rule of judgment on the pleadings and/or summary judgment is baseless, improper and unwarranted in the case at bar.

3.

The purported ―contract of legal services‖ exceeded the authority of the late Mayor Corral and should have been ratified by the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi in order to be enforceable.

Petitioners’ Arguments

Petitioners claim that their answer raised factual issues and defenses which merited a full-blown trial. In their answer, they asserted that the 10% contingent fee is unreasonable, unconscionable and unfounded considering that respondent did not render any legal service which accrued to the benefit of Tiwi. The Contract of Legal Services specifically provided that for the attorney‘s fees to accrue, respondent‘s legal services should result to the recovery of Tiwi‘s claims against Albay and NPC. It is, thus,

incumbent upon respondent to prove in a trial on the merits that his legal efforts resulted to the collection of the realty taxes in favor of Tiwi. Petitioners belittle as mere messengerial service the legal services rendered by respondent on the ground that what remained to be done was the execution of the judgment of this Court in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay and the opinion of then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio.

In their answer, petitioners also questioned the authority of Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract providing for a 10% contingent fee because the provisions of Resolution No. 15-92 do not grant her such power. In addition, under the said contract, Tiwi was made liable for legal services outside of those related to the satisfaction of the judgment in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. These stipulations are void and unenforceable. Hence, any claim of respondent must be based on quantum meruit which should be threshed out during a full-blown trial.

Finally, petitioners argue that respondent cannot capitalize on the admission of the genuineness and due execution of the subject contract because this merely means that the signature of the party is authentic and the execution of the contract complied with the formal solemnities. This does not extend to the document‘s substantive validity and efficacy.

Respondent’s Arguments

Respondent counters that the Contract of Legal Services was not limited to the NPC case but to other services done pursuant to said contract. Thus, the attorney‘s fees should cover these services as well. He also stresses that despite this Court‘s ruling in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay and the opinion of then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio, Governor Salalima and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Albay stubbornly resisted and disobeyed the same. Consequently, respondent prosecuted and defended on behalf of Tiwi several administrative and court cases involving the elective officials of Albay to compel the latter to comply with the aforesaid issuances. He also filed a civil case to prevent the NPC from remitting Tiwi‘s share in the realty taxes directly to Albay.

Respondent adds that he also acted as counsel for Mayor Corral after Governor Salalima and his allies sought to remove Mayor Corral in retaliation to the administrative cases that she (Mayor Corral) previously filed against Governor Salalima for the latter‘s failure to remit Tiwi‘s share in the realty taxes. These administrative cases reached this Court in Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. where respondent appears as the counsel of record of Mayor Corral and the other local officials of Tiwi. The filing and handling of these cases belies petitioners‘ claim that what respondent did for Tiwi was a mere messengerial service.

Respondent also argues that the Contract of Legal Services is valid and enforceable due to petitioners‘ failure to specifically deny the same under oath in their Answer. Moreover, the law does not require that the subject contract be ratified by the Sangguniang Bayan in order to become enforceable. Instead, the law merely requires that

the Sangguniang Bayan authorize the mayor to enter into contracts as was done here through Resolution No. 15-92.

Last, the 10% attorney‘s fees in the subject contract is reasonable, more so because the fee is contingent in nature. In a long line of cases, it has been ruled that a 10% attorney‘s fees of the amount recoverable is reasonable.

Our Ruling

The petition is meritorious.

Judgment on the pleadings is improper when the answer to the complaint tenders several issues.

A motion for judgment on the pleadings admits the truth of all the material and relevant allegations of the opposing party and the judgment must rest on those allegations taken together with such other allegations as are admitted in the pleadings. It is proper when an answer fails to tender an issue, or otherwise admits the material allegations of the adverse party‘s pleading. However, when it appears that not all the material allegations of the complaint were admitted in the answer for some of them were either denied or disputed, and the defendant has set up certain special defenses which, if proven,

would have the effect of nullifying plaintiff‘s main cause of action, judgment on the pleadings cannot be rendered.

In the instant case, a review of the records reveal that respondent (as plaintiff) and petitioners (as defendants) set-up multiple levels of claims and defenses, respectively, with some failing to tender an issue while others requiring the presentation of evidence for resolution. The generalized conclusion of both the trial and appellate courts that petitioners‘ answer admits all the material averments of the complaint is, thus, without basis. For this reason, a remand of this case is unavoidable. However, in the interest of justice and in order to expedite the disposition of this case which was filed with the trial court way back in 1999, we shall settle the issues that can be resolved based on the pleadings and remand only those issues that require a trial on merits as hereunder discussed.

Preliminarily, it was erroneous for the trial court to rule that the genuineness and due execution of the Contract of Legal Services was impliedly admitted by petitioners for failure to make a sworn specific denial thereof as required by Section 8, Rule 8 of the Rules of Court. This rule is not applicable when the adverse party does not appear to be a party to the instrument. In the instant case, the subject contract was executed between respondent and Atty. Lawenko, on the one hand, and Tiwi, represented by Mayor Corral, on the other. None of the petitioners, who are the incumbent elective and appointive officials of Tiwi as of the filing of the Complaint, were parties to said contract. Nonetheless, in their subsequent pleadings, petitioners admitted the genuineness and due execution of the subject contract. We shall, thus, proceed from the premise that the

genuineness and due execution of the Contract of Legal Services has already been established. Furthermore, both parties concede the contents and efficacy of Resolution 15-92. As a result of these admissions, the issue, at least as to the coverage of the subject contract, may be resolved based on the pleadings as it merely requires the interpretation and application of the provisions of Resolution 15-92 vis-à-vis the stipulations in the subject contract.

Mayor Corral was authorized to enter into the Contract of Legal Services

Petitioners argue that Resolution No. 15-92 did not authorize Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract, hence, the contract must first be ratified to become binding on Tiwi.

The argument is unpersuasive. Section 444(b)(1)(vi) of the LGC provides:

SECTION 444. The Chief Executive: Powers, Duties, Functions and Compensation. — x x x (b) For efficient, effective and economical governance the purpose of which is the general welfare of the municipality and its inhabitants pursuant to Section 16 of this Code, the municipal mayor shall: x x x (1) Exercise general supervision and control over all programs, projects, services, and activities of the municipal government, and in this connection, shall: x x x

(vi) Upon authorization by the sangguniang bayan, represent the municipality in all its business transactions and sign on its behalf all bonds, contracts, and obligations, and such other documents made pursuant to law or ordinance; x x x

Pursuant to this provision, the municipal mayor is required to secure the prior authorization of the Sangguniang Bayan before entering into a contract on behalf of the municipality. In the instant case, the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi unanimously passed Resolution No. 15-92 authorizing Mayor Corral to hire a lawyer of her choice to represent the interest of Tiwi in the execution of this Court‘s Decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay –

RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE MUNICIPAL MAYOR OF TIWI TO HIRE THE SERVICES OF A LAWYER TO REPRESENT THE MUNICIPALITY OF TIWI AND THE SIX GEOTHERMAL BARANGAYS IN THE EXECUTION OF G.R. NO. 87479 AND DIVESTING THE LAWYER HIRED BY THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNOR AND THE PROVINCE OF ALBAY OF ITS AUTHORITY TO REPRESENT THE MUNICIPALITY OF TIWI AND THE SIX BARANGAYS WHEREAS, In an en banc decision G.R. No. 87479, the Supreme Court sustained the posture of the Province of Albay and legally declared that the NAPOCOR is under obligation to pay the Province of Albay, the Municipality of Tiwi and Daraga the amount of P 214 Million representing Realty Taxes covering the period from the year 1984 to 1987 which decision had already been final and executory per entry of judgment dated June 4, 1990; WHEREAS, NAPOCOR finally paid the Province of Albay the amount of P 17.7 Million as initial payment [d]ated July 29, 1992 that amount will inevitably increase the financial resources of the Local Government Units concerned; WHEREAS, the Province of Albay headed by Governor Salalima and his men are still reconciling the P 214 Million with NAPOCOR which contravene the final decision of the Supreme Court and considered the P 17.7 Million as an Earnest money to the damage and prejudice of the Municipality of Tiwi and the Six Barangays, since that

amount should be pro-rated accordingly as mandated by Law after deducting the legitimate expenses and attorneys fees; WHEREAS, not (sic) of [the] P 17.7 Million already paid by NAPOCOR as per decision of the court nothing has yet been given by Governor Salalima to the Municipality of Tiwi as its share cost (sic) to be 45% of said amount nor the affected barangays of Tiwi has ever been given each corresponding shares despite representation made by the Municipal Mayor Naomi Corral, the Governor is hesitant and showing signs that the share of the Municipality will never be given; WHEREAS, on motion of Kagawad Bennett Templado duly seconded by Joselito Cantes and Kagawad Francisco Alarte, be it RESOLVED, as it is hereby resolved, To authorize the Mayor to hire the Services of a lawyer to represent the interest of the Municipality of Tiwi and its Barangays and for this purpose and authorization be given to the Municipal Mayor to hire a lawyer of her choice; Further divesting the lawyer hired by Governor Salalima and on (sic) the Province of Albay of its authority to represent the Municipality of Tiwi and the six Geothermal Barangays; FINALLY RESOLVED, that copy of this resolution be furnished [the] Office of the Provincial Governor, Vice Governor, Office of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, President Malixi of NAPOCOR for [their] information and guidance. Approved unanimously.

The above-quoted authority necessarily carried with it the power to negotiate, execute and sign on behalf of Tiwi the Contract of Legal Services. That the authorization did not set the terms and conditions of the compensation signifies that the council empowered Mayor Corral to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement with the lawyer of her choice subject, of course, to the general limitation that the contract‘s stipulations should not be contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy, and, considering that this is a contract of legal services, to the added restriction that the agreed attorney‘s fees must not be unreasonable and unconscionable. On its face, and there is no allegation to the contrary, this prior authorization appears to have been given by the council in good

faith to the end of expeditiously safeguarding the rights of Tiwi. Under the particular circumstances of this case, there is, thus, nothing objectionable to this manner of prior authorization. In Constantino v. Hon. Ombudsman,Desierto, we reached a similar conclusion:

More persuasive is the Mayor's second contention that no liability, whether criminal or administrative, may be imputed to him since he merely complied with the mandate of Resolution No. 21, series of 1996 and Resolution No. 38, series of 1996, of the Municipal Council; and that the charges leveled against him are politically motivated. A thorough examination of the records convinces this Court that the evidence against him is inadequate to warrant his dismissal from the service on the specified grounds of grave misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and gross neglect of duty. The explicit terms of Resolution No. 21, Series of 1996 clearly authorized Mayor Constantino to "lease/purchase one (1) fleet of heavy equipment" composed of seven (7) generally described units, through a "negotiated contract." That resolution, as observed at the outset, contained no parameters as to rate of rental, period of lease, purchase price. Pursuant thereto, Mayor Constantino, representing the Municipality of Malungon, and Norberto Lindong, representing the Norlovanian Corporation, executed two written instruments on the same date and occasion, viz.:
One — an agreement (on a standard printed form) dated February 28, 1996 for the lease by the corporation to the municipality of heavy equipment of the number and description required by Resolution No. 21, and Two — an undertaking for the subsequent conveyance and transfer of ownership of the equipment to the municipality at the end of the term of the lease.

xxxx In light of the foregoing facts, which appear to the Court to be quite apparent on the record, it is difficult to perceive how the Office of the Ombudsman could have arrived at a conclusion of any wrongdoing by the Mayor in relation to the transaction in question. It is difficult to see how the transaction between the Mayor and Norlovanian Corporation — entered into pursuant to Resolution No. 21 — and tacitly accepted and approved by the town Council through its Resolution No. 38 — could be deemed an infringement of the same Resolution No. 21. In truth, an examination of the pertinent writings (the resolutions, the two (2) instruments constituting the negotiated contract, and the certificate of delivery) unavoidably confirms their integrity and congruity. It is, in fine, difficult to see how those pertinent written instruments," could establish a prima facie

case to warrant the preventive suspension of Mayor Constantino. A person with the most elementary grasp of the English language would, from merely scanning those material documents, at once realize that the Mayor had done nothing but carry out the expressed wishes of the Sangguniang Bayan. xxxx [T]he Court is thus satisfied that it was in fact the Council's intention, which it expressed in clear language, to confer on the Mayor ample discretion to execute a "negotiated contract" with any interested party, without regard to any official acts of the Council prior to Resolution No. 21.

Prescinding therefrom, petitioners‘ next contention that the subject contract should first be ratified in order to become enforceable as against Tiwi must necessarily fail. As correctly held by the CA, the law speaks of prior authorization and not ratification with respect to the power of the local chief executive to enter into a contract on behalf of the local government unit. This authority, as discussed above, was granted by the Sangguniang Bayan to Mayor Corral as per Resolution No. 15-92.

The scope of the legal services contemplated in Resolution No. 15-92 was limited to the execution of the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay.

For his part, respondent claims that the Contract of Legal Services should be construed to include such services even outside the scope of the execution of the ruling in

National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. Respondent relies on the broad wording of paragraph 4 of the subject contract to support this contention, viz:

4. That the legal services which the Party of the FIRST PART is obliged to render to the Party of the SECOND PART under this AGREEMENT consists of the following: a) To prepare and file cases in courts, Office of the President, Ombudsman, Sandiganbayan, Department of Interior and Local Government and Department of Finance or to represent the Party of the SECOND PART in cases before said bodies; To coordinate or assist the Commission on Audit, The National Bureau of Investigation or the Fiscals Office in the prosecution of cases for the Party of the SECOND PART; To follow-up all fees, taxes, penalties and other receivables from National Power Corporation (NPC) and Philippine Geothermal Inc. due to the Municipality of Tiwi; To provide/give legal advice to the Party of the SECOND PART in her administration of the Municipal Government of Tiwi where such advice is necessary or proper; and To provide other forms of legal assistance that may be necessary in the premises.

b)

c)

d)

e)

The contention is erroneous. The wording of Resolution No. 15-92 is clear. Its title and whereas clauses, previously quoted above, indicate that the hiring of a lawyer was for the sole purpose of executing the judgment in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay, that is, to allow Tiwi to recover its rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC. In his Complaint, respondent admits that he was furnished and read a copy of the said resolution before he entered into the subject contract. He cannot now feign ignorance of the limitations of the authority of Mayor Corral to enter into the subject contract and the purpose for which his services were employed.

We cannot accept respondent‘s strained reading of Resolution No. 15-92 in that the phrase ―to represent the interest of the Municipality of Tiwi and its Barangays‖ is taken to mean such other matters not related to the execution of the decision in National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. It could not have been the intention of the Sangguniang Bayan of Tiwi to authorize the hiring of a lawyer to perform general legal services because this duty devolves upon the municipal legal officer. The council sought the services of a lawyer because the dispute was between the municipality (Tiwi) and province (Albay) so much so that it f ell under the exception provided in Section 481(b)(3)(i) of the LGC

which permits a local government unit to employ the services of a special legal officer. Thus, the provisions of paragraph 4 of the Contract of Legal Services to the contrary notwithstanding, the basis of respondent‘s compensation should be limited to the services he rendered which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share in the subject realty taxes.

In sum, the allegations and admissions in the pleadings are sufficient to rule that Mayor Corral was duly authorized to enter into the Contract of Legal Services. However, the legal services contemplated therein, which are properly compensable, are limited to such services which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwi‘s rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC. Paragraph 4 of the Contract of Legal Services, insofar as it covers legal services outside of this purpose, is therefore unenforceable.

While the foregoing issues may be settled through the admissions in the pleadings, the actual attorney‘s fees due to respondent cannot still be determined.

The issue of the reasonable legal fees due to respondent still needs to be resolved in a trial on the merits.

The subject contract stipulated that respondent‘s 10% fee shall be based on ―whatever amount or payment collected from the National Power Corporation (NPC) as a result of the legal service rendered by [respondent].‖ As will be discussed hereunder, the extent and significance of respondent‘s legal services that reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share as well as the amount of realty taxes recovered by Tiwi arising from these alleged services requires a full-blown trial.

The main source of respondent‘s claim for attorney‘s fees lies with respect

to several administrative and court cases that he allegedly prosecuted and defended on behalf of Tiwi against the elective officials of Albay in order to compel the latter to remit the rightful share of Tiwi in the unpaid realty taxes. In their Answer, petitioners denied knowledge of these cases on the pretext that they were filed during the prior term of Mayor Corral. However, we can take judicial notice of Salalima v. Guingona, Jr. where respondent appears as the counsel of record. In Salalima v. Guingona, Jr., the Court found, among others, that the elective officials of Albay are administratively liable for (1)

their unjustified refusal to release the share of Tiwi in the subject realty taxes, and (2) initiating unfounded and harassment disciplinary actions against Mayor Corral as a retaliatory tactic. This case, at the minimum, is evidence of the efforts of respondent in recovering Tiwi‘s share. Nevertheless, the other cases allegedly handled by respondent cannot be deemed admitted for purposes of fixing respondent‘s compensation because petitioners controverted the same on several grounds, to wit: (1) these cases where not handled by respondent, (2) the OSG was the lead counsel in these cases, and (3) these cases were the personal cases of Mayor Corral and other officials of Tiwi which had no bearing in the eventual recovery of Tiwi‘s share in the subject realty taxes. With our previous finding that the subject contract only covers legal services which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share, these defenses properly tender issues which should be determined in a trial on the merits.

More important, in their Answer, petitioners raise the main defense that the subject realty taxes were recovered by virtue of the opinion rendered by then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio and not through the efforts of respondent. As narrated earlier, the said opinion was issued after then NPC President Malixi asked clarification from the Office of the President regarding the distribution of the unpaid realty taxes to Albay and its municipalities and barangays, including Tiwi. Significantly, respondent himself stated in his Complaint that ―pursuant to the advice of Sec. Carpio, NPC started to remit their shares directly to Tiwi and its barangays in January 1993.‖ Our pronouncements in Salalima v. Guingona, Jr., which respondent himself relies on in his pleadings, tell the same story, viz:

Fortunately, the Municipalities of Tiwi and Daraga and the National Government eventually received their respective shares, which were paid directly to them by the NPC pursuant to the directive of the Office of the President issued after the NPC requested clarification regarding the right of the municipalities concerned to share in the realty tax delinquencies. But this fact does not detract from the administrative liability of the petitioners. Notably, when the NPC advised the Province of Albay on 9 December 1992 that starting with the January 1993 installment it would pay directly to the Municipality of Tiwi by applying the sharing scheme provided by law, the petitioners passed on 19 December 1992 an ordinance declaring as forfeited in favor of the Province all the payments made by the NPC under the MOA and authorizing the sale of the NPC properties at public auction. This actuation of the petitioners reveals all the more their intention to deprive the municipalities concerned of their shares in the NPC payments. (Emphasis supplied)

What appears then from the pleadings is that respondent, by his own admission, concedes the immense importance of the aforesaid opinion to the eventual recovery of the unpaid realty taxes. However, respondent never asserted the degree of his participation in the crafting or issuance of this opinion. It is evident, therefore, that the recovery of the realty taxes is not solely attributable to the efforts of respondent. This aspect of the case is decisive because it goes into the central issue of whether the 10% contingent fee is unreasonable and unconscionable. Consequently, it becomes necessary to weigh, based on the evidence that will be adduced during trial, the relative importance of the aforesaid opinion vis-à-vis the cases allegedly handled by respondent on behalf of Tiwi insofar as they aided in the eventual recovery of the unpaid realty taxes. And from here, the trial court may reasonably determine what weight or value to assign the legal services which were rendered by respondent.

Apart from this, there is another vital issue tendered by the pleadings regarding the extent of the benefits which Tiwi allegedly derived from the legal services rendered by

respondent. In partially ruling that these amounts should be P110,985,181.83 and P35,594,480.00, respectively, the trial court explained in this wise:

The complaint alleged as to this: ―18. Based on the available records obtained by the plaintiff from the NPC, the Municipality of Tiwi received One Hundred Ten Million Nine Hundred Eighty Five Thousand One Hundred Eighty One & 83/100 (P110,985.83) [sic] plus Thirty Five Million Five Hundred Ninety Four Thousand Four Hundred Eighty (P35,594,480.00) Pesos remittances from the said agency. The total receipts of taxes by Tiwi remitted by the NPC could be higher and this will be proven during the trial when all the records of remittances of taxes of the NPC-SLRC in Biñan, Laguna are subpoenaed, marked as ANNEXES-P; Q and R;‖ In relation thereto, the answer stated: ―14. With respect to the allegation in paragraph 18 of the complaint answering defendant admits that the amount of P110,985.83 [sic] was remitted to Albay province so far as the annex is concerned but the same is immaterial, useless as there was no allegation that this was recovered/received by Tiwi. With respect to the amount of P35,594,480.00, the said amount was received as a matter of the clear provision of the law, specifically Sections 286-293 of the present Local Government Code and not through the effort of the plaintiff. Annex ―R‖ is hearsay and self-serving.‖ While the plaintiff directly averred that ―the Municipality of Tiwi received One Hundred Ten Million Nine Hundred Eighty Five Thousand One Hundred Eighty One & 83/100 (P110,985.83) [sic] plus Thirty Five Million Five Hundred Ninety Four Thousand Four Hundred Eighty (P35,594,480.00) Pesos remittances from the said agency,‖ the defendant evasively stated that ―the amount of P110,985.83 [sic] was remitted to Albay province‖ and that ―the same is immaterial, useless as there was no allegation that this was recovered/received by Tiwi.‖ Thereby, the answer was a negative pregnant because its denial was not specific. Hence, the defendants have admitted that Tiwi was paid the stated amounts. The defendants further stated that Tiwi received the amount of P35,594,480.00 ―as a matter of the clear provision of the law, [sic] and not through the effort of the plaintiff.‖ However, considering that the legal services of the plaintiff were rendered under a written contract, the qualification as to the P35,594,480.00 was meaningless. The pleadings render it indubitable, therefore, that the total amount of P146,579,661.84, which was received by Tiwi from NPC, is subject to the 10% attorney‘s fees under the plaintiff‘s contract of legal services.

We disagree. Although concededly petitioners‘ counter-allegations in their Answer were not well-phrased, the overall tenor thereof plainly evinces the defense that the amount of P110,985,181.83 was received by Albay and not by Tiwi. Consequently, the said amount cannot be deemed admitted for the purpose of fixing respondent‘s compensation. There is no occasion to apply the rule on negative pregnant because the denial of the receipt of the said amount by Tiwi is fairly evident. The dictates of simple justice and fairness precludes us from unduly prejudicing the rights of petitioners by the poor phraseology of their counsel. Verily, the Rules of Court were designed to ascertain the truth and not to deprive a party of his legitimate defenses. In fine, we cannot discern based merely on the pleadings that this line of defense employed by petitioners is patently sham especially since the documentary evidence showing the alleged schedule of payments made by NPC to Albay and its municipalities and barangays, including Tiwi, was not even authenticated by NPC.

We also disagree with the trial court‘s above-quoted finding that the qualification as to the amount of P35,594,480.00 which was received ―as a matter of the clear provision of the law, [sic] and not through the effort of the plaintiff‖ is meaningless. The error appears to have been occasioned by the failure to quote the exact allegation in petitioners‘ Answer which reads ―the said amount [P35,594,480.00] was received as a matter of the clear provision of the law, specifically Sections 286-293 of the present Local Government Code and not through the effort of the plaintiff.‖ The omitted portion is significant because Sections 286-293 of the LGC refer to the share of the local government unit in the utilization of the national wealth. Petitioners are, in effect, claiming that the P35,594,480.00 was received by Tiwi as its share in the utilization and

development of the national wealth within its area and not as its share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC subject of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay. What‘s more, respondent‘s own documentary evidence, appended to his Complaint, confirms this posture because said document indicates that the P35,594,480.00 was derived from the ―Computation of the Share of Local Government from Proceeds Derived in the Utilization of National Wealth SOUTHERN LUZON For CY 1992 and First Quarter 1993.‖ It may be added that the unpaid realty taxes of NPC subject of National Power Corporation v. Province of Albay covered the period from June 11, 1984 to March 10, 1987 and not from 1992 to 1993. There is, thus, nothing from the above which would categorically establish that the amount of P35,594,480.00 was part of the realty taxes that NPC paid to Tiwi or that said amount was recovered from the legal services rendered by respondent on behalf of Tiwi.

Based on the preceding discussion, it was, thus, erroneous for the trial and appellate courts to peg the amount of realty taxes recovered for the benefit of Tiwi at P110,985,181.83 and P35,594,480.00 considering that petitioners have alleged defenses in their Answer and, more importantly, considering that said amounts have not been sufficiently established as reasonably flowing from the legal services rendered by respondent.

Conclusion

The foregoing considerations cannot be brushed aside for it would be iniquitous for Tiwi to compensate respondent for legal services which he did not render; or which has no reasonable connection to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share in the subject realty taxes; or whose weight or value has not been properly appraised in view of respondent‘s admission in his Complaint that the opinion issued by then Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Antonio T. Carpio (in which respondent had no clear participation) was instrumental to the recovery of the subject realty taxes. Hence, the necessity of a remand of this case to determine these issues of substance.

To recap, the following are deemed resolved based on the allegations and admissions in the pleadings: (1) then Mayor Corral was authorized to enter into the Contract of Legal Services, (2) the legal services contemplated in Resolution No. 15-92 was limited to such services which reasonably contributed to the recovery of Tiwi‘s rightful share in the unpaid realty taxes of NPC, and (3) paragraph 4 of the Contract of Legal Services, insofar as it covers services outside of this purpose, is unenforceable. Upon the other hand, the issue of the reasonable legal fees due to respondent still needs to be resolved in a trial on the merits with the following integral sub-issues: (1) the reasonableness of the 10% contingent fee given that the recovery of Tiwi‘s share was not solely attributable to the legal services rendered by respondent, (2) the nature, extent of legal work, and significance of the cases allegedly handled by respondent which reasonably contributed, directly or indirectly, to the recovery of Tiwi‘s share, and (3) the relative benefit derived by Tiwi from the services rendered by respondent. In addition, we should note here that the amount of reasonable attorney‘s fees finally determined by the trial court should be without legal interest in line with well-settled jurisprudence.

As earlier noted, this case was filed with the trial court in 1999, however, we are constrained to remand this case for further proceedings because the subject partial judgment on the pleadings was clearly not proper under the premises. At any rate, we have narrowed down the triable issue to the determination of the exact extent of the reasonable attorney‘s fees due to respondent. The trial court is, thus, enjoined to resolve this case with deliberate dispatch in line with the parameters set in this Decision.

To end, justice and fairness require that the issue of the reasonable attorney‘s fees due to respondent be ventilated in a trial on the merits amidst the contentious assertions by both parties because in the end, neither party must be allowed to unjustly enrich himself at the expense of the other. More so here because contracts for attorney‘s services stand upon an entirely different footing from contracts for the payment of compensation for any other services. Verily, a lawyer‘s compensation for professional services rendered are subject to the supervision of the court, not just to guarantee that the fees he charges and receives remain reasonable and commensurate with the services rendered, but also to maintain the dignity and integrity of the legal profession to which he belongs.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The October 19, 2005 Decision and March 10, 2006 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA G.R. CV No. 79057 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. This case is REMANDED to the trial court for further proceedings to determine the reasonable amount of attorney‘s fees which respondent is entitled to in accordance with the guidelines set in this Decision.

SO ORDERED.

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

RENATO C. CORONA Chief Justice
Chairperson

ARTURO D. BRION Associate Justice

ROBERTO A. ABAD Associate Justice

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ Associate Justice

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court‘s Division.

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

Per Special Order No. 856 dated July 1, 2010. Per Special Order No. 869 dated July 5, 2010. Rollo, pp. 44-52; penned by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang and concurred in by Associate Justices Andres B. Reyes, Jr. and Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa. Id. at 152-160; penned by then Judge Lucas P. Bersamin, now a member of this Court. Id. at 53; penned by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang and concurred in by Associate Justices Andres B. Reyes, Jr. and Monia Arevalo-Zanarosa. G.R. No. 87479, June 4, 1990, 186 SCRA 198. 326 Phil. 847 (1996). Now Senior Associate Justice of this Court. Records, p. 26. Id. at 1-10. Id. at 57-62. Id. at 168-172. Id. at 190. Rollo, p. 52. Id. at 18-19. Rodriguez v. Llorente, 49 Phil. 823, 824 (1926). RULES OF COURT, Rule 34, Section 1. Benavides v. Alabastro, 120 Phil. 1349, 1351-1352 (1964). SECTION 8. How to contest such documents. — When an action or defense is founded upon a written instrument, copied in or attached to the corresponding pleading as provided in the preceding section, the genuineness and due execution of the instrument shall be deemed admitted unless the adverse party, under oath, specifically denies them, and sets forth what he claims to be the facts; but the requirement of an oath does not apply when the adverse

party does not appear to be a party to the instrument or when compliance with an order for an inspection of the original instrument is refused.
Id.; Gaw v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 60783, October 31, 1990, 191 SCRA 77, 85.

Rollo, pp. 30-32. Records, pp. 15-16. CIVIL CODE, Article 1306. RULES OF COURT, Rule 138, Section 24. 351 Phil. 896 (1998). Id. at 909-913.
Vergara v. Ombudsman, G.R. No. 174567, March 12, 2009, 580 SCRA 693, 714.

Records, pp. 17-18.
SECTION 481. Qualifications, Terms, Powers and Duties. — x x x (b) The legal officer, the chief legal counsel of the local government unit, shall take charge of the office of legal services and shall: x x x (3) x x x x (i) Represent the local government unit in all civil actions and special proceedings wherein the local government unit or any official thereof, in his official capacity, is a party: Provided, That, in actions or proceedings where a component city or municipality is a party adverse to the provincial government or to another component city or municipality, a special legal officer may be employed to represent the adverse party; (Emphasis supplied)

Emphasis supplied. Records, p. 5. Salalima v. Guingona, Jr., supra note 5 at 917. Records, pp. 188-189. This is fairly deducible from paragraph 14 of petitioners‘ Answer (id. at 59) to the Complaint, viz: 14. With respect to the allegation in paragraph 18 of the complaint answering defendant admits that the amount of P110,985.83 [sic] was remitted to Albay Province so far as the annex is concerned but the same is immaterial, useless as there was no allegation

that this was recovered/received by Tiwi. x x x Annex “R” is hearsay and self-serving. (Emphasis supplied) Id.
Id. at 34.

Cortes v. Court of Appeals, 443 Phil. 42, 54 (2003). Id. at 54-55.

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila

EN BANC

A-1 FINANCIAL INC., Complainant,

SERVICES,

A.C. No. 8390
[Formerly CBD 06-1641]

Present:

CORONA, C.J., CARPIO, CARPIO-MORALES, VELASCO, JR., NACHURA, LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, - versus BRION,* PERALTA, BERSAMIN, DEL CASTILLO, ABAD, VILLARAMA, JR., PEREZ, and MENDOZA, JJ. ATTY. LAARNI N. VALERIO, Respondent. Promulgated:

July 2, 2010

x --------------------------------------------------x DECISION

PERALTA, J.:

Before us is a Complaint dated January 18, 2006 for disciplinary action against respondent Atty. Laarni N. Valerio filed by A-1 Financial Services, Inc., represented by Diego S. Reunilla, its account officer, with the Integrated Bar of the

Philippines-Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD), docketed as CBD Case No. 06-1642, now A.C. No. 8390, for violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 (B.P. 22) and non-payment of debt.

On November 13, 2001, A-1 Financial Services, Inc., a financing corporation, granted the loan application of Atty. Valerio amounting to P50,000.00. To secure the payment of the loan obligation, Atty. Valerio issued a postdated check, to wit: Check No. 0000012725; dated April 1, 2002, in the amount: P50,000.00. However, upon presentation at the bank for payment on its maturity date, the check was dishonored due to insufficient funds. As of the filing of the instant case, despite repeated demands to pay her obligation, Atty. Valerio failed to pay the whole amount of her obligation.

Thus, on November 10, 2003, complainant filed a B.P. 22 case against Atty. Valerio, docketed as Criminal Case No. 124779. Atty. Valerio‘s arraignment was scheduled for August 31, 2004; however, she failed to appear despite due notice. Subsequently, a Warrant of Arrest was issued but Atty. Valerio posted no bail. On November 22, 2004, complainant sent a letter to Atty. Valerio calling her attention to the issuance of the Warrant of Arrest against her and requested her to submit to the jurisdiction of the court by posting bail. The said letter was received by Atty. Valerio, as evidenced by the postal registry return cards. Despite court orders and notices, Atty. Valerio refused to abide.

On January 18, 2006, complainant filed an administrative complaint against Atty. Valerio before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). On January 26, 2006, the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) required Atty. Valerio to file an answer, but she did not file any responsive pleading at all. However, in a

letter dated March 16, 2006, respondent‘s mother, Gorgonia N. Valerio (Mrs. Valerio), explained that her daughter had been diagnosed with schizophrenia; thus, could not properly respond to the complaint against her. Futhermore, Mrs. Valerio undertook to personally settle her daughter‘s obligation.

On September 13, 2007, the IBP-CBD directed Atty. Valerio to appear before the mandatory conference. Atty. Valerio, again, failed to attend the conference. Subsequently, in an Order dated November 15, 2007, the IBP ordered the parties to submit their position papers. No position paper was submitted by Atty. Valerio.

Thus, in its Report and Recommendation dated September 16, 2008, the IBP-CBD recommended that Atty. Valerio be suspended from the practice of law for a period of two (2) years, having found her guilty of gross misconduct.

The IBP-CBD gave no credence to the medical certificate submitted by Atty. Valerio‘s mother, in view of the latter‘s failure to appear before the IBP-CBD hearings to affirm the truthfulness thereof or present the physician who issued the same. The IBP-CBD, further, pointed out that Atty. Valerio‘s failure to obey court processes, more particularly her failure to appear at her arraignment despite due notice and to surrender to the Court despite the issuance of a warrant of arrest, showed her lack of respect for authority and, thus, rendered her morally unfit to be a member of the bar.

On December 11, 2008, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved with modification the report and recommendation of the IBP-CBD. Atty. Valerio

was instead ordered suspended from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year.

Nevertheless, to provide Atty. Valerio further opportunity to explain her side, the Court, in a Resolution dated December 15, 2010, directed Atty. Valerio and/or her mother, to submit a duly notarized medical certificate issued by a duly licensed physician and/or certified copies of medical records to support the claim of schizophrenia on the part of Atty. Valerio within a non-extendible period of ten (10) days from receipt hereof.

However, despite the lapse of considerable time after the receipt of notice to comply with the said Resolution, no medical certificate or medical records were submitted to this Court by either respondent and/or her mother. Thus, this resolution.

We sustain the findings and recommendations of the IBP-CBD.

In Barrientos v. Libiran-Meteoro, we held that:

x x x [the] deliberate failure to pay just debts and the issuance of worthless checks constitute gross misconduct, for which a lawyer may be sanctioned with suspension from the practice of law. Lawyers are instruments for the administration of justice and vanguards of our legal system. They are expected to maintain not only legal proficiency

but also a high standard of morality, honesty, integrity and fair dealing so that the people‘s faith and confidence in the judicial system is ensured. They must at all times faithfully perform their duties to society, to the bar, the courts and to their clients, which include prompt payment of financial obligations. They must conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the values and norms of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility. Canon 1 and Rule 1.01 explicitly states that:

Canon 1— A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and for legal processes.

Rule 1.01—A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

In the instant case, there is no denial of the existence of the loan obligation despite respondent‘s failure to cooperate before any proceedings in relation to the complaint. Prior to the filing of the complaint against her, Atty. Valerio‘s act of making partial payments of the loan and interest suffices as proof that indeed there is an obligation to pay on her part. Respondent‘s mother, Mrs. Valerio, likewise, acknowledged her daughter‘s obligation.

The Court, likewise, finds unmeritorious Mrs. Valerio‘s justification that her daughter, Atty. Valerio, is suffering from a health condition, i.e. schizophrenia, which has prevented her from properly answering the complaint against her. Indeed, we cannot take the ―medical certificate‖ on its face, considering Mrs. Valerio‘s failure to prove the contents of the certificate or present the physician who issued it.

Atty. Valerio‘s conduct in the course of the IBP and court proceedings is also a matter of serious concern. She failed to answer the complaint against her. Despite due notice, she failed to attend the disciplinary hearings set by the IBP. She also ignored the proceedings before the court as she likewise failed to both answer the complaint against her and appear during her arraignment, despite orders and notices from the court. Clearly, this conduct runs counter to the precepts of the Code of Professional Responsibility and violates the lawyer‘s oath which imposes upon every member of the Bar the duty to delay no man for money or malice. Atty. Valerio has failed to live up to the values and norms of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility.

In Ngayan v. Tugade, we ruled that ―[a lawyer‘s] failure to answer the complaint against him and his failure to appear at the investigation are evidence of his flouting resistance to lawful orders of the court and illustrate his despiciency for his oath of office in violation of Section 3, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court.

We come to the penalty imposable in this case.

In Lao v. Medel, we held that the deliberate failure to pay just debts and the issuance of worthless checks constitute gross misconduct for which a lawyer may be sanctioned with one-year suspension from the practice of law. The same sanction was imposed on the respondent-lawyer in Rangwani v. Dino, having

found guilty of gross misconduct for issuing bad checks in payment of a piece of property, the title to which was only entrusted to him by the complainant.

However, in this case, we deem it reasonable to affirm the sanction imposed by the IBP-CBD, i.e., Atty. Valerio was ordered suspended from the practice of law for two (2) years, because, aside from issuing worthless checks and failing to pay her debts, she has also shown wanton disregard of the IBP‘s and Court Orders in the course of the proceedings.

WHEREFORE, Resolution No. XVIII-2008-647 dated December 11, 2008 of the IBP, which found respondent Atty. Laarni N. Valerio guilty of gross misconduct and violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. She is hereby SUSPENDED for two (2) years from the practice of law, effective upon the receipt of this Decision. She is warned that a repetition of the same or a similar act will be dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this Decision be furnished to the Office of the Bar Confidant, to be appended to the personal record of Atty. Valerio as a member of the Bar; the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; and the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country for their information and guidance.

This Decision shall be immediately executory.

SO ORDERED.

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

RENATO C. CORONA Chief Justice

ANTONIO T. CARPIO Associate Justice

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES Associate Justice

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR. Associate Justice

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA Associate Justice

On Leave TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO Associate Justice ARTURO D. BRION Associate Justice

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN Associate Justice

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO Associate Justice

ROBERTO A. ABAD Associate Justice

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR. Associate Justice

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ Associate Justice

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA Associate Justice

*

On leave. Rollo, pp. 1-2.

Id. at 5. Id. at 6. Id. at 7. Id. at 8. Id. at 9. Id. at 11-12. Id. The Resolution dated December 15, 2009 was received on January 6, 2010. 480 Phil. 661, 671 (2004). A.C. No. 2490, February 7, 1991, 193 SCRA 779, 784. 453 Phil. 115, 121, citing Co v. Bernardino, 285 SCRA 102 (1998). 486 Phil. 8 (2004). Wong v. Atty. Moya, A.C. No. 6972, October 17, 2008, 569 SCRA 256.

Republic of the Philippines
Supreme Court
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

LAMBERT PAWNBROKERS and JEWELRY CORPORATION and LAMBERT LIM, Petitioners,

G.R. No. 170464

Present: CORONA, C. J., Chairperson, BRION, DEL CASTILLO, ABAD,  and PEREZ, JJ. Promulgated: July 12, 2010

- versus -

HELEN BINAMIRA, Respondent.

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

DECISION

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

It is fundamental that an employer is liable for illegal dismissal when it terminates the services of the employee without just or authorized cause and without due process of law.

This Petition for Review on Certiorari assails the Decision dated August 4, 2005 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CEB SP No. 00010, which reversed and set aside the Resolutions dated July 30, 2003 and May 31, 2004 issued by the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in NLRC Case No. V-000454-00 (RAB VII-01-000399-B).

Factual Antecedents

Petitioner Lambert Lim (Lim) is a Malaysian national operating various businesses in Cebu and Bohol one of which is Lambert Pawnbrokers and Jewelry Corporation. Lim is married to Rhodora Binamira, daughter of Atty. Boler Binamira, Sr., (Atty. Binamira), who is also the counsel and father-in-law of respondent Helen Binamira (Helen). Lambert Pawnbrokers and Jewelry Corporation – Tagbilaran Branch hired Helen as an appraiser in July 1995 and designated her as Vault Custodian in 1996.

On September 14, 1998, Helen received a letter from Lim terminating her employment effective that same day. Lim cited business losses necessitating retrenchment as the reason for the termination.

Helen thus filed a case for illegal dismissal against petitioners docketed as NLRC RAB-VII CASE NO. 01-0003-99-B. In her Position Paper Helen alleged that she was dismissed without cause and the benefit of due process. She claimed that she was a mere

casualty of the war of attrition between Lim and the Binamira family. Moreover, she claimed that there was no proof that the company was suffering from business losses.

In their Position Paper, petitioners asserted that they had no choice but to retrench respondent due to economic reverses. The corporation suffered a marked decline in profits as well as substantial and persistent increase in losses. In its Statement of Income and Expenses, its gross income for 1998 dropped from P1million to P665,000.00.

Ruling of the Labor Arbiter

On November 26, 1999, Labor Arbiter Geoffrey P. Villahermosa rendered a Decision which held that Helen was not illegally dismissed but was validly retrenched. The dispositive portion of the Labor Arbiter‘s Decision reads:

WHEREFORE, all the foregoing premises being considered judgment is hereby rendered declaring the respondent not guilty of illegally terminating the complainant but is however directed to pay the complainant her retrenchment benefit in the amount of Seven Thousand Five Hundred Pesos (P7,500.00), considering that she was receiving a monthly salary of P5,000.00 and rendered service for three (3) years. SO ORDERED.

Ruling of the NLRC

On appeal, the NLRC reversed and set aside the Decision of the Labor Arbiter. It observed that for retrenchment to be valid, a written notice shall be given to the employee and to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) at least one month prior to the intended date thereof. Since none was given in this case, then the retrenchment of Helen was not valid. The dispositive portion of the Decision reads:

WHEREFORE, premises duly considered, the decision of the Labor Arbiter dated 26 November 1999 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE and respondents are ordered to reinstate complainant Helen Binamira to her former position without loss of seniority rights and with full backwages from the time of her dismissal up to the promulgation of this decision. Other claims are denied for lack of merit. SO ORDERED.

Petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration. On July 30, 2003, the NLRC set aside its Decision dated September 27, 2002 and entered a new one, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, the Decision of November [sic] 27, 2002 is hereby SET ASIDE and a New One Entered declaring as valid the redundancy of the position of the complainant. Accordingly respondent is hereby ordered to pay the complainant her redundancy pay of one month for every year of service and in lieu of notice, she should also be paid one (1) month salary as indemnity. SO ORDERED.

In arriving at this conclusion, the NLRC opined that what was actually implemented by the petitioners was not retrenchment due to serious business losses but termination due to redundancy. The NLRC observed that the Tagbilaran operations was overstaffed thus necessitating the termination of some employees. Moreover, the redundancy program was not properly implemented because no written notices were furnished the employee and the DOLE one month before the intended date of termination.

The Motion for Reconsideration filed by Helen was denied by the NLRC through its Resolution dated May 31, 2004.

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

On petition for certiorari, the CA found that both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC failed to consider substantial evidence showing that the exercise of management prerogative, in this instance, was done in bad faith and in violation of the employee‘s right to due process. The CA ruled that there was no redundancy because the position of vault custodian is a requisite, necessary and desirable position in the pawnshop business. There was likewise no retrenchment because none of the conditions for retrenchment is present in this case.

On August 4, 2005, the CA issued its Decision which provides:

WHEREFORE, the Resolution dated July 30, 2003 and May 31, 2004 issued by the National Labor Relations Commission in NLRC Case No. V-000454-00 (RAB VII01-0003-99-B), is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. A new Decision is hereby entered declaring the dismissal of petitioner, Helen B. Binamira, as illegal and directing the private respondents, Lambert‘s Pawnbroker and Jewelry Corporation and Lambert Lim, jointly and solidarily, to pay to the petitioner, the following monetary awards: 1. Backwages from the date of her illegal suspension and dismissal until she is reinstated; 2. Considering that reinstatement is not feasible in view of the strained relations between the employer and the employee, separation pay is hereby decreed at the rate of one (1) month‘s pay for every year of service;

3. Moral damages in the amount of Twenty Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000.00);

4. Exemplary damages in the amount of Twenty Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000.00);

5. Attorney‘s fees in the amount equivalent to Ten Percent (10%) of the monetary awards herein above enumerated; and

6.

Costs.

SO ORDERED.

The Motion for Reconsideration filed by petitioners was denied by the CA through its Resolution dated November 7, 2005.

Issues

Hence, this petition raising the following issues:

I. Whether the CA gravely erred in reversing, through the extra-ordinary remedy of certiorari, the findings of facts of both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC that the dismissal of respondent was with valid and legal basis. II. Whether the CA gravely erred in reversing, through the extra-ordinary remedy of certiorari, the unanimous findings of fact of both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC that the dismissal of respondent was not attended by bad faith or fraud. III. Whether the CA erred in reversing, through the extra-ordinary remedy of certiorari, the findings of facts of both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC based merely on the allegations and evidences made and submitted by the former counsel, adviser and business partner of petitioners.

Petitioners’ Arguments

Petitioners assail the propriety of the reversal by the CA of the factual findings of both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC on a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65. Petitioners posit that a writ of certiorari is proper only to correct errors of jurisdiction or when there is grave abuse of discretion tantamount to lack or excess of jurisdiction committed by the labor tribunals. They asserted that where the issue or question involved affects the wisdom or legal soundness of a decision, the same is beyond the province of a special civil action for certiorari.

Petitioners further contend that the CA erred in ruling that the dismissal was not valid and that it was done in bad faith.

Respondent’s Arguments

On the other hand, Helen avers that the contradictory findings of fact of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC justifies the CA to review the findings of fact of the labor tribunals. She further submits that both labor tribunals failed to consider substantial evidence showing that petitioners‘ exercise of management prerogative was done in utter bad faith and in violation of her right to due process. Our Ruling

The petition is without merit.

The CA correctly reviewed the factual findings of the labor tribunals.

As a rule, a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 is valid only when the question involved is an error of jurisdiction, or when there is grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the court or tribunals exercising quasijudicial functions. Hence, courts exercising certiorari jurisdiction should refrain from reviewing factual assessments of the respondent court or agency. Occasionally, however, they are constrained to wade into factual matters when the evidence on record does not support those factual findings; or when too much is concluded, inferred or deduced from the bare or incomplete facts appearing on record, as in the present case.

We find that the CA rightfully reviewed the correctness of the labor tribunals‘ factual findings not only because of the foregoing inadequacies, but also because the NLRC and the Labor Arbiter came up with conflicting findings. The Labor Arbiter found that Helen‘s dismissal was valid on account of retrenchment due to economic reverses. On the other hand, the NLRC originally ruled that Helen‘s dismissal was illegal as none of the requisites of a valid retrenchment was present. However, upon motion for reconsideration, the NLRC changed its posture and ruled that the dismissal was valid on the ground of redundancy due to over-hiring. Considering the diverse findings of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC, it behooved upon the CA in the exercise of its certiorari jurisdiction to determine which findings are more in conformity with the evidentiary facts.

There was no valid dismissal based on

retrenchment.

Retrenchment is the termination of employment initiated by the employer through no fault of and without prejudice to the employees. It is resorted to during periods of business recession, industrial depression, seasonal fluctuations, or during lulls occasioned by lack of orders, shortage of materials, conversion of the plant to a new production program, or automation. It is a management prerogative resorted to avoid or minimize business losses, and is recognized by Article 283 of the Labor Code, which reads:

Art. 283. Closure of establishment and reduction of personnel.- The employer may also terminate the employment of any employee due to x x x retrenchment to prevent losses or the closing or cessation of operations of the establishment x x x by serving a written notice on the worker and the DOLE at least one month before the intended date thereof. x x x In case of retrenchment to prevent losses, the separation pay shall be equivalent to one (1) month pay or at least one-half month for every year of service whichever is higher. x x x (Emphasis ours)

To effect a valid retrenchment, the following elements must be present: (1) the retrenchment is reasonably necessary and likely to prevent business losses which, if already incurred, are not merely de minimis, but substantial, serious and real, or only if expected, are reasonably imminent as perceived objectively and in good faith by the

employer; (2) the employer serves written notice both to the employee/s concerned and the DOLE at least one month before the intended date of retrenchment; (3) the employer pays the retrenched employee separation pay in an amount prescribed by the Code; (4) the employer exercises its prerogative to retrench in good faith; and (5) the employer uses fair and reasonable criteria in ascertaining who would be retrenched or retained.

The losses must be supported by sufficient and convincing evidence. The normal method of discharging this is by the submission of financial statements duly audited by independent external auditors. In this case, however, the Statement of Income and Expenses for the year 1997-1998 submitted by the petitioners was prepared only on January 12, 1999. Thus, it is highly improbable that the management already knew on September 14, 1998, the date of Helen‘s retrenchment, that they would be incurring substantial losses.

At any rate, we perused over the financial statements submitted by petitioners and we find no evidence at all that the company was suffering from business losses. In fact, in their Position Paper, petitioners merely alleged a sharp drop in its income in 1998 from P1million to only P665,000.00. This is not the business losses contemplated by the Labor Code that would justify a valid retrenchment. A mere decline in gross income cannot in any manner be considered as serious business losses. It should be substantial, sustained and real.

To make matters worse, there was also no showing that petitioners adopted other cost-saving measures before resorting to retrenchment. They also did not use any fair and reasonable criteria in ascertaining who would be retrenched. Finally, no written notices were served on the employee and the DOLE prior to the implementation of the retrenchment. Helen received her notice only on September 14, 1998, the day when her termination would supposedly take effect. This is in clear violation of the Labor Code provision which requires notice at least one month prior to the intended date of termination.

There was no valid dismissal based on redundancy.

Redundancy, on the other hand, exists when the service capability of the workforce is in excess of what is reasonably needed to meet the demands of the enterprise. A redundant position is one rendered superfluous by any number of factors, such as over hiring of workers, decreased volume of business, dropping of a particular product line previously manufactured by the company, or phasing out of a service activity previously undertaken by the business. Under these conditions, the employer has no legal obligation to keep in its payroll more employees than are necessary for the operation of its business.

For the implementation of a redundancy program to be valid, the employer must comply with the following requisites: (1) written notice served on both the employees

and the DOLE at least one month prior to the intended date of termination of employment; (2) payment of separation pay equivalent to at least one month pay for every year of service; (3) good faith in abolishing the redundant positions; and (4) fair and reasonable criteria in ascertaining what positions are to be declared redundant and accordingly abolished.

In this case, there is no proof that the essential requisites for a valid redundancy program as a ground for the termination of the employment of respondent are present. There was no showing that the function of respondent is superfluous or that the business was suffering from a serious downturn that would warrant redundancy considering that such serious business downturn was the ground cited by petitioners in the termination letter sent to respondent.

In fine, Helen‘s dismissal is illegal for lack of just or authorized cause and failure to observe due process of law.

Lambert Pawnbrokers and Jewelry Corporation is solely liable for the illegal dismissal of respondent.

As a general rule, only the employer-corporation, partnership or association or any other entity, and not its officers, which may be held liable for illegal dismissal of

employees or for other wrongful acts. This is as it should be because a corporation is a juridical entity with legal personality separate and distinct from those acting for and in its behalf and, in general, from the people comprising it. A corporation, as a juridical entity, may act only through its directors, officers and employees. Obligations incurred as a result of the directors‘ and officers‘ acts as corporate agents, are not their personal liability but the direct responsibility of the corporation they represent. It is settled that in the absence of malice and bad faith, a stockholder or an officer of a corporation cannot be made personally liable for corporate liabilities. They are only solidarily liable with the corporation for the illegal termination of services of employees if they acted with malice or bad faith. In Philippine American Life and General Insurance v. Gramaje, bad faith is defined as a state of mind affirmatively operating with furtive design or with some motive of self-interest or ill will or for ulterior purpose. It implies a conscious and intentional design to do a wrongful act for a dishonest purpose or moral obliquity.

In the present case, malice or bad faith on the part of Lim as a corporate officer was not sufficiently proven to justify a ruling holding him solidarily liable with the corporation. The lack of authorized or just cause to terminate one‘s employment and the failure to observe due process do not ipso facto mean that the corporate officer acted with malice or bad faith. There must be independent proof of malice or bad faith which is lacking in the present case.

There is no violation of attorney-client relationship.

We find no merit in petitioners‘ assertion that Atty. Binamira gravely breached and abused the rule on privileged communication under the Rules of Court and the Code of Professional Responsibility of Lawyers when he represented Helen in the present case. Notably, this issue was never raised before the labor tribunals and was raised for the first time only on appeal. Moreover, records show that although petitioners previously employed Atty. Binamira to manage several businesses, there is no showing that they likewise engaged his professional services as a lawyer. Likewise, at the time the instant complaint was filed, Atty. Binamira was no longer under the employ of petitioners.

Respondent is entitled to the following relief under the law.

An illegally dismissed employee is entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights and other privileges and to this full backwages, inclusive of allowances, and to her other benefits or their monetary equivalent, computed from the time the compensation was withheld up to the time of actual reinstatement. Where reinstatement is no longer feasible, separation pay equivalent to at least one month salary or one month salary for every year of service, whichever is higher, a fraction of at least six months being considered as one whole year, should be awarded to respondent.

In this case, Helen is entitled to her full backwages from the time she was illegally dismissed on September 14, 1998. Considering the strained relations between the parties,

reinstatement is no longer feasible. Consequently, Helen is also entitled to receive separation pay equivalent to one month salary for every year of service.

A dismissal may be contrary to law but by itself alone, it does not establish bad faith to entitle the dismissed employee to moral damages. The award of moral and exemplary damages cannot be justified solely upon the premise that the employer dismissed his employee without authorized cause and due process. Considering that there is no clear and convincing evidence showing that the termination of Helen‘s services had been carried out in an arbitrary, capricious and malicious manner, the award of moral and exemplary damages is not warranted.

Consequently, the moral and exemplary damages awarded by the CA are hereby deleted.

However, the award of attorney‘s fee is warranted pursuant to Article 111 of the Labor Code. Ten (10%) percent of the total award is usually the reasonable amount of attorney‘s fees awarded. It is settled that where an employee was forced to litigate and, thus, incur expenses to protect his rights and interest, the award of attorney‘s fees is legally and morally justifiable.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition for review on certiorari is DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CEB SP No. 00010 dated August 4, 2005 finding the dismissal of respondent Helen B. Binamira as illegal is AFFIRMED WITH MODIFICATIONS that respondent is entitled to receive full backwages from the time she was illegally dismissed on September 14, 1998 as well as to separation pay in lieu of reinstatement equivalent to one month salary for every year of service. The amounts awarded as moral damages and exemplary damages are deleted for lack of basis. Finally, only petitioner Lambert Pawnbrokers and Jewelry Corporation is found liable for the illegal dismissal of respondent.

SO ORDERED.

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

RENATO C. CORONA Chief Justice

Chairperson

ARTURO D. BRION Associate Justice

ROBERTO A. ABAD Associate Justice

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ Associate Justice

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court‘s Division.

RENATO C. CORONA Chief Justice

 

Per Special Order No. 856 dated July 1, 2010. Per Special Order No. 869 dated July 5, 2010. Rollo, pp. 21-42. CA rollo, pp. 323-331; penned by Associate Justice Vicente L. Yap and concurred in by Associate Justices Isaias P. Dicdican and Enrico A. Lanzanas. Id. at 164-168. Id. at 185-187. CA rollo, p. 46. Id. at 21-32. Id. at 21-26. Id. at 33-46. Id. at 98-104. Id. at 103.

Id. at 135-138; penned by Commissioner Edgardo M. Enarlan and concurred in by Presiding Commissioner Irenea E. Ceniza and Commissioner Oscar S. Uy. Id. at 137. Id. at 139-154. Id. at 164-168. Id. at 185-187. Id. at 3-204, inclusive of attachments. Id. at 330-331. Id. at 452-456. Rollo, 27. Pascua v. National Labor Relations Commission, 351 Phil 48, 61 (1998). Anabe v. Asian Construction, G.R. No. 183233, December 23, 2009. Id. CA rollo, p.45. Asian Alcohol Corporation v. National Labor Relations Commission, 364 Phil 912, 930 (1999). Philippine Carpet Employees Association (PHILCEA) v. Sto. Tomas, G.R. No. 168719, February 22, 2006, 483 SCRA 128, 145-146. CA rollo, p. 46. Equitable Banking Corporation v. National Labor Relations Commission, 339 Phil. 541, 566 (1977). Santos v. National Labor Relations Commission, 325 Phil. 145, 156 (1996). Tan v. Timbal, 478 Phil. 497, 505 (2004). 484 Phil 880, 891 (2004). Manila Water Company, Inc. v. Peña, 478 Phil. 68, 84 (2004).

Quijano v. Mercury Drug Corporation and National Labor Relations Commission, 354 Phil. 112, 127 (1998).

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila

SECOND DIVISION

JULIE ANN C. DELA CUEVA, Complainant,

A.M. NO. P-08-2590

Present:

CARPIO, J., Chairperson, NACHURA, - versus PERALTA, ABAD, and MENDOZA, JJ.

SELIMA B. OMAGA, Court Stenographer I, MTC-Calauan, Laguna, Respondent. July 5, 2010 Promulgated:

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

DECISION

MENDOZA, J.:

This administrative case stemmed from a sworn Affidavit-Complaint dated June 15, 2007 filed by Julie Ann dela Cueva charging respondent Selima B. Omaga, Court Stenographer, Municipal Trial Court, Calauan, Laguna, with Immorality.

Complainant Julie Ann C. dela Cueva is the legal wife of P/Supt. Nestor dela Cueva. They were married on July 29, 1984, and the union bore three children.

Due to the philandering ways of her husband, the couple separated on November 30, 1994. Thereafter, the complainant cohabited with two different men in succession – (1) William Castillo with whom she had three children: Jessica, born on February 24, 1998; William Paolo, born on March 6, 2000; and Frenz William, born on August 8, 2002; and (2) Justiniano Montillano with whom she had one child, Justin Jan, born on March 31, 2006.

On May 31, 2007, P/Supt. Nestor dela Cueva filed a Petition for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage alleging as ground his own psychological incapacity. This angered and prompted his wife, the complainant, to file a criminal complaint against him for bigamy and concubinage. Her complaint alleged that he and respondent, Selima B. Omaga, got married and were living together as husband and wife despite the subsistence of his marriage with her (the complainant). The criminal charges were dismissed by the provincial prosecutor in a resolution dated August 24, 2007.

Complainant dela Cueva also filed an administrative complaint against both her husband and the respondent. In her defense, respondent averred that she first met P/Supt. dela Cueva in 1995 when he was assigned by the Philippine National Police as Chief of Police in Calauan, Laguna. Their relationship started on March 8, 1995 and continued until she received notice of the bigamy and concubinage case filed against him. It was only then that she discovered that he was married. She bore P/Supt. dela Cueva three children: John Emmanuel, born on December 27, 1996; Patrick Josef, born on May 1, 1998; and Patricia May, born on May 18,

2000. Respondent further asserted that despite having had three children with P/Supt. dela Cueva, they did not live together in one house but rather, he would just visit her in her house from time to time.

On October 23, 2008, the Office of the Court Administrator recommended that ―the complaint be re-docketed as a regular administrative matter and that respondent be in the meantime suspended for a period six (6) months and one (1) day, without pay with a stern warning that a repetition of the same act would be dealt with more severely.‖

As recommended, the Court re-docketed the complaint as a regular administrative matter in a Resolution dated December 15, 2008. In another Resolution dated June 10, 2009, the Office of the Court Administrator was directed to assign a Regional Trial Court judge in Laguna for investigation, report and recommendation. On September 17, 2009, Judge Agripino G. Morga of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 32, San Pablo City, Laguna, was designated to be the investigating judge.

During the hearing of the case before the investigating judge on October 8, 2009, the complainant manifested that she was withdrawing her complaint after learning that respondent and her husband never lived together as husband and wife. Complainant confessed that she was prompted to file the complaint simply because her husband had filed a petition for declaration of nullity of their marriage.

In his Report and Recommendation dated December 10, 2009, Judge Morga recommended that the respondent be absolved from any administrative liability taking into consideration the following circumstances: (1) respondent and P/Supt. dela Cueva began their relationship after he was already separated in fact from complainant; (2) complainant is no longer interested in pursuing the case as she realized that filing it was a mistake since respondent and her husband never lived together as husband and wife; (3) there is no evidence to contradict respondent‘s claim that during their relationship she did not know dela Cueva was married and that they did not cohabit in one house; (4) respondent‘s performance as court stenographer was not adversely affected by her situation; and (5) respondent has properly reared her children and conducted herself in public appropriately. He further stated that:

All told, the totality of the above circumstances necessitates a review on the findings of the Honorable Court and the Court Administrator to impose a six-month suspension. While it cannot be disputed that respondent entered into an illicit relationship, the same to the mind of this Investigator was not so corrupt and false as to constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree.

The sole issue before this Court is whether or not respondent is guilty of immoral conduct.

At the outset, it should be stressed that complainant‘s change of heart in deciding not to pursue the case against respondent is of no moment as it has no controlling significance in this administrative case. The long standing policy is:

Administrative actions cannot depend on the will or pleasure of the complainant who may, for reasons of his own, condone what may be detestable. Neither can the Court be bound by the unilateral act of the complainant in a matter relating to its disciplinary power x x x Desistance cannot divest the Court of its jurisdiction to investigate and decide the complaint against the respondent. To be sure, public interest is at stake in the conduct and actuations of officials and employees of the judiciary. And the program and efforts of this Court in improving the delivery of justice to the people should not be frustrated and put to naught by private arrangements between the parties.

This is so because the issue in administrative cases is not whether the complainant has a cause of action against the respondent but, rather, whether the employee against whom the complaint is filed has breached the norms and standards of service in the judiciary. As such, this Court, having disciplinary authority over employees of the lower courts, has the power and duty to pursue this administrative matter regardless of complainant‘s desistance.

The Court now determines whether or not respondent is indeed guilty of immoral conduct.

Well-established is the principle that public office is a public trust. No less than the Constitution requires that: ―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.‖ In relation thereto, this Court has held that:

x x x. This constitutional mandate should always be in the minds of all public servants to guide them in their actions during their entire tenure in the government service. The good of the service and the degree of morality which every official and employee in the public service must observe, if respect and confidence are to be maintained by the Government in the enforcement of the law, demand that no untoward conduct on his part, affecting morality, integrity and efficiency while holding office should be left without proper and commensurate sanction, all attendant circumstances taken into account.

Employees of the judiciary, however, are subject to a higher standard than most other civil servants. It has been written that ―a place in the judiciary demands upright men and women who must carry on with dignity and be ever conscious of the impression that they could create by the way they conduct themselves.‖ In the case of Acebedo v. Arquero, this Court ruled that:

Although every office in the government service is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an individual than in the judiciary. That is why this Court has firmly laid down exacting standards of morality and decency expected of those in the service of the judiciary. Their conduct, not to mention their behavior, is circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility, characterized by, among other things, propriety and decorum so as to earn and keep the public’s respect and confidence in the judicial service. It must be free from any whiff of impropriety, not only with respect to their duties in the judicial branch but also to their behavior outside the court as private individuals. There is no dichotomy of morality; court employees are also judged by their private morals.

These exacting standards of morality and decency are required of employees of the judiciary in order to preserve the faith of the people in the courts as dispensers of justice. Our reminder, through the words of Justice Muñoz-Palma, must be taken to heart:

x x x. The image of the court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work thereat, from the judge to the least and lowest of its personnel - hence, it becomes the imperative sacred duty of each and everyone in the court to maintain its good name and standing as a true temple of justice.

This was further emphasized by the Court in Ratti v. Mendoza-de Castro:

It must be stressed that every employee of the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty. Like any public servant, she must exhibit the highest sense of honesty and integrity not only in the performance of her official duties but in her personal and private dealings with other people. In order to preserve the good name and integrity of the courts of justice, court personnel are enjoined to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in their professional and private conduct.

Under the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, disgraceful and immoral conduct is punishable by suspension of six months and one day to one year for the first offense.

Immorality has been defined to include not only sexual matters but also ―conduct inconsistent with rectitude, or indicative of corruption, indecency, depravity, and dissoluteness; or is willful, flagrant or shameless conduct showing moral indifference to opinions of respectable members of the community, and an inconsiderate attitude toward good order and public welfare.‖

There is no doubt that engaging in sexual relations with a married man is not only a violation of the moral standards expected of employees of the judiciary but is also a desecration of the sanctity of the institution of marriage which this Court abhors and is, thus, punishable.

Respondent claims, however, that she had no knowledge that P/Supt. dela Cueva was married and that she ended their relationship as soon as she was made aware of his true civil status. If her contention were true, this would serve to exculpate her from the accusation of immorality.

The Court finds respondent‘s assertion to be plausible. It should be noted that the complainant did not refute her defense that she did not learn of P/Supt. dela Cueva‘s marital status until complainant filed a complaint against them. Indeed, there is no concrete evidence on record to show that respondent knew of his married state at the time their relationship started.

The idea, however, that the respondent never had the slightest notion that P/Supt. dela Cueva was married and that she did not cohabit with him despite having three children may be quite a stretch of the imagination. It is fairly inconceivable for a woman to have had a relationship with a married man for more than a decade without even a tinge of suspicion that he might have been lying about his true civil status. But then again, there is nothing on record which can refute respondent‘s allegation. In view of the lack of proof showing that respondent willingly entered into an immoral sexual liaison with a married man, she cannot be held liable for immoral and disgraceful conduct.

It is a well-settled rule that administrative penalties must be supported by substantial evidence for the imposition thereof. This is in keeping with the constitutional imperative that a person is entitled to due process of law. The Court will exercise its disciplinary authority over respondent only if the case against her is established by clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence. In this case, the Court finds the evidence against respondent insufficient to warrant the imposition of an administrative penalty.

We are, thus, guided by the disquisition of the Court in the case of Concerned Employee v. Mayor. In said case, a court stenographer had sexual relations with a married man. She alleged that she did not know that her lover was married when they commenced their relationship. The Court acknowledged the validity of such a defense:
The legal effect of such ignorance deserves due consideration, if only for intellectual clarity. The act of having sexual relations with a married person, or of married persons having sexual relations outside their marriage is considered “disgraceful and immoral” conduct because such manifests deliberate disregard by the actor of the marital vows protected by the Constitution and our laws. The perversion is especially egregious if committed by judicial personnel, those persons specifically tasked with the administration of justice and the laws of the land. However, the malevolent intent that normally characterizes the act is not present when the employee is unaware that his/her sexual partner is actually married. This lack of awareness may extenuate the cause for the penalty, as it did in the aforementioned Ui case. (emphasis supplied)

In the cited case of Ui v. Bonifacio, the respondent was a female lawyer who had a relationship with, and actually married, a man whose earlier marriage was still subsisting. She asserted, however, that as soon as she learned that he was married, she left him and ended their association. The Court found that she did not deserve administrative punishment:

All these taken together leads to the inescapable conclusion that respondent was imprudent in managing her personal affairs. However, the fact remains that her relationship with Carlos Ui, clothed as it was with what respondent believed was a valid marriage, cannot be considered immoral. For immorality connotes conduct that shows indifference to the moral norms of society and the opinion of good and respectable members of the community. Moreover, for such conduct to warrant disciplinary action, the same must be “grossly immoral,” that is, it must be so corrupt

and false as to constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree. We have held that “a member of the Bar and officer of the court is not only required to refrain from adulterous relationships . . . but must also so behave himself as to avoid scandalizing the public by creating the belief that he is flouting those moral standards.” Respondent's act of immediately distancing herself from Carlos Ui upon discovering his true civil status belies just that alleged moral indifference and proves that she had no intention of flaunting the law and the high moral standard of the legal profession. Complainant's bare assertions to the contrary deserve no credit. After all, the burden of proof rests upon the complainant, and the Court will exercise its disciplinary powers only if she establishes her case by clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence. This, herein complainant miserably failed to do. (emphases supplied)

On a final note, the Court would like to point out that, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence, it would be insensitive to condemn the respondent for simply being an unmarried mother of three. There has been no showing that she has lived her life in a scandalous and disgraceful manner which, by any means, has affected her standing in the community. To speculate that she did so would be tantamount to committing a discrimination against a solo parent, which is prohibited under Section 7 of Republic Act No. 8972, the Solo Parents‘ Welfare Act of 2000, to wit:

Section 7. Work Discrimination – No employer shall discriminate against any solo parent employee with respect to terms and conditions of employment on account of his/her status.

WHEREFORE, the complaint for disgraceful and immoral conduct against respondent Selima B. Omaga is hereby DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice Chairperson

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA Associate Justice

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA Associate Justice

ROBERTO A. ABAD Associate Justice

 Formerly OCA-IPI No. 08-2986-P.

Rollo, p. 5. Id. Id. at 6. Id at 124-127. Id. at 92. Id at 9. Id. at 193. Id. at 9. Id. at 225 and 234. Id. at 234. Id. at 173. Id. at 226. Id. at 4. Id. at 129. Id. at 137. Id. at 151. Id. at 156. Id. at 301, 305 and 308. Id. at 308. Gamboa v. Gamboa, A.M. No. P-04-1836, July 30, 2004, 435 SCRA 436, 440 citing Rizon v. Zerna, 365 SCRA 315, 319 (2001). Id. Const. (1987), Art. XI, Sec. 1. Id.

Lim-Arce v. Arce, A.M. No. 89-312, January 9, 1992, 205 SCRA 21, 31.

Supra note 20. A.M. No. P-94-1054, March 11, 2003, 399 SCRA 10. Acebedo v. Arquero, A.M. No. P-94-1054, March 11, 2003, 399 SCRA 10, 16. Navarro v. Navarro A.M. No. O.C.A.-00-01, September 6, 2000, 339 SCRA 709, 717. Recto v. Racelis, A.M. No. P-182, April 30, 1976, 70 SCRA 438, 443. A.M. No. P-04-1844, July 23, 2004, 435 SCRA 11. CSC Memorandum Circular No. 19-99, Rule IV, Sec. 52(A)(15). Regir v. Regir, A.M. No. P-06-2282, August 4, 2009, 595 SCRA 455, 462. Concerned Employee v. Mayor, A.M. No. P-02-1564, November 23, 2004, 443 SCRA SCRA 448, 456. Ui v. Bonifacio, Adm. Case No. 3319, June 8, 2000, 333 SCRA 38, 52.
Supra note 33. Supra note 33 at 462.

Adm. Case No. 3319, June 8, 2000, 333 SCRA 38. Id. at 51. Separate Opinion of Justice Bellosillo in Estrada v. Escritor, A. M. No. P-02-1651, August 4, 2003, 408 SCRA 1, 200. Included in the definition of a ―solo parent‖ under Section 3(a)(8) of Republic Act No. 8972 is an unmarried mother who has preferred to keep and rear her children instead of having others case for them or give them up to a welfare institution.

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila

FIRST DIVISION

OLIVIA LAUREL, Court Stenographer III, DIANA RAMOS, Utility Worker, both of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 25, Biñan, Laguna and HERMINIA JAVIER, Clerk III, RTC-Office of the Clerk of Court, Biñan, Laguna, and ALBERTO R. NOFUENTE, 3rd Assistant Provincial Prosecutor of Laguna, Complainants, - versus JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Respondent. x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Complainant, - versus OLIVIA LAUREL, Court Stenographer III, DIANA RAMOS, Utility Worker, both of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 25, Biñan, Laguna and HERMINIA JAVIER, Clerk III, RTC-Office of the Clerk of Court, Biñan, Laguna, Respondents. x-----------------------x JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna,

A.M. No. RTJ06-1992 (Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 98-603RTJ)

Complainant, - versus OLIVIA LAUREL, Court Stenographer III, and DIANA RAMOS, Utility Worker, all of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 25, Biñan, Laguna, Respondents. x-----------------------x JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Complainant, - versus GERARDO P. HERNANDEZ, Clerk of Court V, JULIAN R. ORFIANO, JR., Court Legal Researcher III, MARIA FE L. LOPEZ, Court Stenographer III, DIOSALYN N. PEREZ, Court Stenographer III, and JULIETA M. CHAVES, Court Stenographer III, all of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 24, Biñan, Laguna, Respondents. x-----------------------x JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Complainant, - versus NICANOR B. ALFONSO, Process Server, ANGELITO A. BATI, Utility Worker I, ARNEL G. MAGAT, Sheriff IV, HERMINIA S. JAVIER, Clerk III, all of the Regional Trial Court-Office of the Clerk of Court, BENEDICTO B. PASCUAL, Interpreter III, DIANA A. RAMOS, Utility Worker I, OLIVIA M. LAUREL, Court Stenographer III, ANDREW A. SANTOS, Clerk III, RAMON LUIS SEVILLA, Process Server, all of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 25, Biñan, Laguna, JULIAN R. ORFIANO, JR.,

A.M. No. P-102745
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 98-511-P)

Court Legal Researcher II, CARIDAD D. CUEVILLAS, Clerk III, CARMELITA D. MORENO, Clerk III, MA. FE L. LOPEZ, Court Stenographer III, DIOSALYN N. PEREZ, Court Stenographer III, JULIETA M. CHAVES, Court Stenographer III, all of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 24, Biñan, Laguna and ATTY. MELVIN D.C. MANE, Clerk of Court V, Respondents. x-----------------------x JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Complainant, - versus CARIDAD D. CUEVILLAS, Clerk III, Branch 24, Regional Trial Court, Biñan, Laguna, Respondent. x-----------------------x JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Complainant, - versus HERMINIA S. JAVIER, Clerk III, NICANOR B. ALFONSO, Process Server, ANGELITO A. BATI, Utility Worker I, ARNEL G. MAGAT, Sheriff IV, all of the Regional Trial Court-Office of the Clerk of Court, Biñan, Laguna, CARIDAD D. CUEVILLAS, Clerk III, CARMELITA D. MORENO, Clerk III, DIOSALYN N. PEREZ, Court Stenographer III, MARIA FE LOPEZ, Court Stenographer III, JULIAN ORFIANO, JR., Legal Researcher III, all of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 24, Biñan, Laguna, BENEDICTO PASCUAL, Court Interpreter III, RAMON LUIS SEVILLA, Process Server, ANDREW A. SANTOS, Clerk III and OLIVIA M. LAUREL, Court Stenographer III, all of the Regional

A.M. No. RTJ-001992
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 00-974-P)

A.M. No. P10-2746
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 00-963-P)

Trial Court, Branch 25, Biñan, Laguna. Respondents. x-----------------------x JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Complainant, - versus ATTY. ROWENA A. MALABANAN- GALEON, Clerk of Court V and BENEDICTO PASCUAL, Court Interpreter III, both of Branch 25, Regional Trial Court, Biñan, Laguna, Respondents. x-----------------------x JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Complainant, - versus ATTY. ROWENA A. MALABANAN-GALEON, Clerk of Court V, Regional Trial Court, Branch 25, Biñan, Laguna, Respondent. x-----------------------x JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Complainant, - versus ATTY. ROWENA A. MALABANAN-GALEON, Clerk of Court V and OLIVIA M. LAUREL, Court Stenographer III, both of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 25, Biñan, Laguna, Respondents. x-----------------------x A.M. No. P10-2747
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 99-740-P)

JOEL O. ARELLANO and ARNEL M. MAGAT, both Deputy Sheriff, Regional Trial Court-Office of the Clerk of Court, Biñan, Laguna, Complainants. - versus JUDGE PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 26, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Respondent.

A.M. No. P10-2748
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 99-573-P)

A.M. No. P10-2749
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 02-1338-P)

A.M. No. P10-2750
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 02-1410-P)

A.M. No. P10-2751

(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 02-1411-P)

A.M. No. P03-1706
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 02-1409-P)

A.M. No. RTJ-102214
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 021592-RTJ)

Present:

CORONA, C.J., Chairperson, NACHURA,* LEONARDO-

DE CASTRO, PERALTA,* and ABAD,* JJ.

Promulgate d: July 6, 2010 x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

DECISION

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:

For our resolution are 11 consolidated administrative cases.

While Judge Pablo B. Francisco (Judge Francisco) was detailed as acting Presiding Judge of Branch 25, and later on, of Branch 24, of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Biñan, Laguna, he instituted nine administrative complaints (A.M. No. P-10-2745, A.M. No. RTJ-00-1992, A.M. No. P-10-2746, A.M. No. P-102747, A.M. No. P-10-2748, A.M. No. P-10-2749, A.M. No. P-10-2750, A.M. No.

P-10-2751, and A.M. No. P-03-1706) against the following officers and rank and file personnel of the RTC of Biñan, Laguna:

NAMES (in alphabetical order)

POSITIONS

Nicanor B. Alfonso Joel O. Arellano Angelito A. Bati Julieta M. Chaves Caridad D. Cuevillas Atty. Rowena M. Galeon Atty. Gerardo P. Hernandez Herminia Javier Olivia Laurel Maria Fe L. Lopez Arnel G. Magat Atty. Melvin D.C. Mane Carmelita D. Moreno Julian R. Orfiano, Jr. Benedicto B. Pascual Diosalyn N. Perez Diana Ramos Andrew A. Santos Ramon Luis Sevilla

Process Server Sheriff Utility Worker Court Stenographer III Clerk III Branch Clerk of Court Clerk of Court V Clerk III Court Stenographer III Court Stenographer III Sheriff IV Branch Clerk of Court Clerk III Court Legal Researcher II Interpreter III Court Stenographer III Utility Worker Clerk III Process Server

The two other administrative cases at bar were filed against Judge Francisco: (1) A.M. No. RTJ06-1992, by Javier, Laurel, and Ramos, together with Prosecutor Alberto R. Nofuente (Pros. Nofuente); and (2) A.M. No. RTJ-10-2214, by Magat and one Joel O. Arellano (Arellano).

We consolidated all 11 administrative cases for a more expedient and exhaustive determination, since all said cases were related to each other and

essentially involve the same parties, issues, and causes of action. However, also considering the insufficiency of the records initially available to us, and our inability to resolve the issues based only on the pleadings submitted by the parties, we agreed in the recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) to refer the cases to the Court of Appeals for investigation, report, and recommendation. The cases were raffled to Associate Justice Roberto A. Barrios of the Court of Appeals.

I

FACTUAL ANTECEDENTS

Judge Francisco was originally assigned as the Presiding Judge of RTCBranch 26 of Sta. Cruz, Laguna. After encountering a disconcerting problem in an election case, Judge Francisco requested that he be detailed elsewhere. He was thereafter detailed as the acting Presiding Judge of RTC-Branch 25 of Biñan, Laguna from January 1996 to January 1998, and then of RTC-Branch 24, also of Biñan, Laguna, from February 1998 to September 1998.

At first, the relations between Judge Francisco and the personnel of the RTC of Biñan, Laguna, were friendly and harmonious, but animosity crept in after some

time. Even then Executive Judge Helario Corcuera (Executive Judge Corcuera) and Judge Rodrigo Cosico of the RTC of Biñan, Laguna, were brought into the fray, with Judge Francisco filing various administrative complaints against the previous two judges, which were eventually dismissed.

In a letter dated August 3, 1998 to Court Administrator Alfredo L. Benipayo (Benipayo), Alfonso, Arellano, Bati, Cuevillas, Javier, Laurel, Lopez, Magat, Atty. Mane, Moreno, Orfiano, Pascual, Perez, Ramos, Santos, and Sevilla expressed their sentiments against Judge Francisco, and demanded that said judge be relieved of his detail at the RTC of Biñan, Laguna and be ordered to return to his permanent post at the RTC of Sta. Cruz, Laguna. The court personnel wrote:

We, the undersigned court personnels of Regional Trial Court, Branches XXIV and XXV and Office of the Clerk of Court, Biñan, Laguna respectfully communicate and convey unto your Honorable Office our sentiments toward temporary Presiding Judge, HON. PABLO B. FRANCISCO of Branch XXIV, RTC-Biñan, Laguna.

It is the wish of the overwhelming court personnels to have a good and harmonious relationship with their judges so they can have a pleasant working condition to ensure a prompt and efficient performance of their duties and responsibilities. Unfortunately, this wish is now difficult and probably impossible to achieve in the Regional Trial Court, Biñan, Laguna during the incumbency of HON. PABLO B. FRANCISCO in RTC-Branch XXIV.

It all began when Judge Francisco was ordered by your Office to vacate Branch XXV and assume his temporary assignment in Branch XXIV. From them on, we never had an occasion to have an ideal mood and nice atmosphere to perform efficiently our assigned tasks in the judiciary. Four (4) of the staff in Branch XXIV were charged administratively for inexistent and imaginary reasons solely to show his might to those who go against him even on personal matters.

Two (2) employees in Branch XXV and one (1) from the Office of the Clerk of Court and even the Assistant Provincial Public Prosecutor were likewise victims of his suspicious mind when he cited them in direct contempt based on concocted ideas which could have cost their liberties for a period of nine (9) days if not for the timely temporary restraining order issued by the Honorable Court of Appeals.

Two (2) deputy sheriffs [of] the Court were obliged by HON. PABLO B. FRANCISCO to contribute Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000.00) each to defray the ―salary‖ of his personal bodyguard which amount is a big imposition on their meager salary. Out of fear, the two (2) sheriffs were constrained to shoulder that burden even though it is against their will.

Court employees had to bear insults even in open Court for slightest mistakes. He always gives bad interpretation to laughters and smiles. He always interpreted glances to mean making faces to ridicule him. He is also fond of delivering speeches in open Court and even after court sessions practically accusing all court personnel in RTCBiñan, Laguna, are engaged in graft and corruption. Demoralizing remarks to humiliate and downgrade reputation and morals as public servants of employees are more often than not the order of the day. This uncalled behavior already caused the untimely resignation of his Branch Clerk of Court and utility aide and probably we will end up the same if his continued stay in Branch XXIV will be allowed by your Honorable Office.

Lately, he announced that he will prevent any retirement benefits available to those future retirees as he is decided to file administrative cases against each and every one of the Court personnel.

We, the undersigned Court employees of Branches XXIV and XXV of the Regional Trial Court are now totally demoralized, scared and afraid of the vindictive mind and future moves of HON. PABLO B. FRANCISCO. Fears now engulfed our minds as simple glances on him might cost our liberties if not our positions.

Thus, we are respectfully appealing unto your Honorable Office to give due course to this petition of ours to forestall a total demoralization if not complete destruction of this component part of the judiciary.

Furthermore, we understand that Hon. RTC-Judge Pablo B. Francisco has a pending request to extend his stay as Presiding Judge in Branch XXIV up to October 1, 1998. As things stand now in our Court, we respectfully appeal to you that the said

request of Hon. Pablo B. Francisco be turned down and instead he be ordered to return soonest to his original and legitimate sala at Branch XXVI RTC-Sta. Cruz, Laguna.

Furthermore, HON. PABLO B. FRANCISCO boasts that he is [a nephew of HON. CHIEF JUSTICE ANDRES V. NARVAZA], and consequently, he is untouchable. We do hope this to be false.

We earnestly appeal that HON. PABLO B. FRANCISCO be ordered to return to his legitimate station in Branch XXVI of Regional Trial Court, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, where he belongs or somewhere else but not in Biñan, Laguna.

Should you desire, we are willing to have an audience with you to enable us to ventilate our grievances.

Aware of the open animosity exhibited between Judge Francisco and several personnel of the RTC of Biñan, Laguna, and its damaging effect on the administration of justice, some members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), practicing their profession in Biñan, Laguna, sent a letter dated August 19, 1998 to then Court Administrator Benipayo, likewise requesting the return of Judge Francisco to his original court of assignment at RTC-Branch 26 of Sta. Cruz, Laguna.

After consideration of the two letters, we issued Administrative Order No. 113-98 on August 27, 1998 revoking the designation of Judge Francisco as acting Presiding Judge of RTC-Branch 24 of Biñan, Laguna.

Despite Judge Francisco‘s return to the RTC of Sta. Cruz, Laguna, the administrative charges and counter-charges between Judge Francisco and the personnel of RTC of Biñan, Laguna, still subsist and await our resolution.

In a Resolution dated August 19, 2003, the Court En Banc accepted the resignation of Judge Francisco upon the recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator without prejudice to the continuation and outcome of the proceedings of the administrative complaints filed against him.

A.M. No. RTJ-06-1992

As the acting Presiding Judge of RTC-Branch 24 of Biñan, Laguna, Judge Francisco issued an Order dated July 14, 1998 holding Javier, Laurel, Ramos, and Pros. Nofuente guilty of Direct Contempt, for supposedly disrupting the court proceedings in Sp. Proc. No. B-2433 held on July 14, 1998, and sentencing them to nine days‘ imprisonment at the Biñan Municipal Jail.

Javier, Laurel, Ramos and Pros. Nofuente filed before the Court of Appeals a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with a prayer for the issuance of a Writ of Preliminary Injunction, docketed as CA-G.R. SP. No. 48356. In its Resolution dated July 23, 1998, the Court of Appeals issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the implementation of Judge Francisco‘s July 14, 1998 Order. Subsequently, the appellate court promulgated its Decision dated September 9, 1998, setting aside the assailed Direct Contempt Order for having been issued by

Judge Francisco with grave abuse of discretion. Judge Francisco‘s appeal of the Court of Appeals judgment was denied by this Court.

Judge Francisco‘s issuance of the Order dated July 14, 1998 also led to the filing by Javier, Laurel, Ramos, and Pros. Nofuente of a Complaint for Gross Ignorance of the Law and Incompetence against Judge Francisco. According to the Complaint, Judge Francisco‘s Direct Contempt Order was issued in violation of due process and Rule 71, Section 1 of the Rules of Court. Said Complaint was docketed as A.M. No. RTJ-06-1992.

Pros. Nofuente narrated that around 10:00 a.m. on said date, he was with Zenaida Manansala (Manansala), a complainant in one of the cases he was handling at the RTC-Branch 25 of Biñan, Laguna, to request Process Server Sevilla to subpoena the next witness in Manansala‘s case. Pros. Nofuente maintained that his voice was in the ordinary conversational volume which could not have disrupted the court proceedings, if there was any at all. He was just one or two meters away from the courtroom and, at that time, Judge Francisco was not wearing his robe and was seated at the lawyers‘ table. Pros. Nofuente denied he was conversing with Laurel and Ramos for the latter two were inside the staff room, busily doing their assigned tasks. They were all within the sight of Judge Francisco, but they were not aware that Judge Francisco was already throwing dagger looks at them. When Pros. Nofuente left, Judge Francisco shouted ―Mga tarantado kayo.” Three days after the incident, Judge Francisco released the Order declaring, not only Laurel, Ramos, and Pros. Nofuente, but also Javier, guilty of Direct Contempt.

Laurel and Ramos also denied that they disrupted the court proceedings in Sp. Proc. No. B-2433 on July 14, 1998. Both of them could not remember talking to each other or to anybody or making noise at that time. Judge Francisco did not call their attention for the supposed disruption although his sala was just one or two meters away from their office.

Javier, for her part, argued that she was cited of direct contempt in absencia. She was not within the court premises at 10:00 a.m. of July 14, 1998, as she was in Landbank, Calamba, Laguna to encash her check. She presented her Daily Time Record (DTR) for the month of July, showing that on July 14, 1998, she reported for work only for half a day, particularly, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Javier also asserted that she had not even once disrupted court proceedings by boisterous conversation or laughter or by making any noise within the court premises.

In his Answer, Judge Francisco explained that his Direct Contempt Order was not the result of a single disrespectful act, but the culmination of a series of discourteous acts of Javier, Laurel, Ramos, and Pros. Nofuente, which impeded the administration of justice, particularly, causing the disruption of the court proceedings in Sp. Proc. No. B-2433 on July 14, 1998. Judge Francisco recounted that:

For several months now, after the undersigned Presiding Judge vacated Branch 25 of this Court, a group of persons composed of Assistant Public Prosecutor Alberto R.

Nofuente of the Department of Justice, and Olivia Laurel, Diana Ramos and Herminia Javier, court employees, has subjected the undersigned to spite and ridicule. Prosecutor Nofuente, in more than a dozen times, while within the court premises and upon sensing the presence of the Presiding Judge anywhere near him, would evidently blurt unsavory remarks aimed at the Presiding Judge although most of the time he would make them appear to be directed at Mayet, the food caterer of court employees. At one time, Prosecutor Nofuente even spit on the floor to show his ill will for the Presiding Judge who was passing by. The group also would frequently engage themselves even during office hours in raucous laughter within the presence and hearing of the Presiding Judge with nothing funny to laugh about. At one time, the Presiding Judge caught Diana Ramos acting like a cheerleader, egging on Prosecutor Nofuente, Olivia Laurel and Herminia Javier to laugh harder simultaneously, which prompted the Presiding Judge to call the attention of Olivia Laurel about her group‘s uncanny behavior. Even during court sessions of Branch 24, Olivia Laurel and Herminia Javier would throw sharp glances and make faces at the Presiding Judge. Almost every member of this group has an axe to grind against the Presiding Judge for events which transpired during his incumbency in Branch 25. Olivia Laurel was eased out of [her] position as OIC-Branch Clerk of Court after the undersigned recommended a lawyer, a qualified one, in her place. Diana Ramos was caught by the undersigned tearing certain pages of case records and was publicly rebuked for it. The Presiding Judge had refused to drop charges against a relative of Herminia Javier arising out of the implementation of a search warrant. Of course, Herminia‘s unwavering loyalty to her group knows no bounds. Prosecutor Nofuente had on several occasions asked from the undersigned for the dismissal of certain criminal cases but which request were all refused on the ground that the evidence of guilt was strong. The prosecutor was also criticized severely by the Presiding Judge in several court decisions for filing about twenty (20) faulty informations in incestuous rape cases which absolved the accused from the death penalty.

Lately, the group has been disrupting proceedings in Branch 24 by creating noise through boisterous conversations punctuated by laughters inside the court premises. In the hearing of Special Proceedings No. B-2433, on July 14, 1998, at about 10:00 o‘clock a.m., the session was disrupted lengthily because Prosecutor Nofuente engaged in a monologue at the top of his voice so near the place where the proceedings are going on and drowning out in the process the examination being conducted by the Presiding Judge on William Martinez.

When the Presiding Judge was about to confront him, Prosecutor Nofuente hastily entered his nearby office. At lunch time, the group of Prosecutor Nofuente was heard by the Presiding Judge laughing heartily over the incident.

The Court expected Prosecutor Nofuente to explain at least why he committed those acts which disrupted the proceedings in Special Proceedings No. B-2433, but up to

now he has not done so, which arrogance led the Court to conclude that he did disrupt said session deliberately.

Judge Francisco presented as evidence the transcript of stenographic notes (TSN) of the hearing of Sp. Proc. No. B-2433 on July 14, 1998, taken down by Lopez, to prove what actually transpired during the proceedings:

TRANSCRIPT

Of stenographic notes taken down by the undersigned Court Stenographer during the hearing of the above-entitled case on July 14, 1998 at 10:30 o‘clock in the morning. Presided over by the Hon. PABLO B. FRANCISCO, Presiding Judge.

xxxx

COURT

What kind of drug or drugs are you taking in?

W. MARTINEZ

Shabu, Your Honor.

COURT

Since when have you been taking shabu? (At this juncture, the presiding judge appears to be irritated by the loud voice of Fiscal Nofuente).

W. MARTINEZ

For a year, Your Honor.

COURT

Were you examined by Dr. Melinda Fernando?

W. MARTINEZ

Yes, Your Honor.

COURT

And what was the result of the examination. Is this the record? (Examining the record) (At this juncture, the Presiding Judge stood up to confront the person creating noise.)

W. MARTINEZ

Yes, Your Honor.

COURT

Your father wants you to be rehabilitated, are you willing to be sent to a rehabilitation center?

W. MARTINEZ

Yes, Your Honor.

COURT

Are you willing to comply with the rules and regulations set by any of the rehabilitation centers of your choice?

W. MARTINEZ

Yes, Your Honor

(At this juncture, the Presiding Judge was advised by the stenographer to rest because his face was becoming reddish.) COURT

Please place on record that the proceedings was disturbed because of the loud voice coming from Provincial Prosecutor Alberto Nofuente who was laughing and discussing in a very loud voice a certain matter with the employees of Branch 25 and the Presiding Judge has called the attention of those concerned, especially employees of Branch 25 about disturbing the hearing of this case.

Let it be recorded further that this is not the first time that Provincial Prosecutor Alberto Nofuente has caused such disturbance while proceedings at Branch 24 is going on. (Emphasis ours).

Judge Francisco further explained that it took him almost three days to release the Direct Contempt Order because he first had to confer with Executive Judge Corcuera as two of the respondents, Laurel and Ramos, were the Executive Judge‘s subordinates and their work might be disrupted. Judge Francisco also brought up the matter with Emilina Santos, Javier‘s mother, who was also an employee at the RTC-Branch 25 of Biñan, Laguna. He also relayed the controversy to Atty. Julita Escueta-Gonzales, a close friend of Laurel, Ramos and Javier, who promised to work out a peaceful settlement among the parties but Judge Francisco never received any apology or expression of regret from Javier, Laurel, Ramos, or Pros. Nofuente. Judge Francisco also averred that after the Court of Appeals issued a TRO in CA-G.R. SP. No. 48356, enjoining the implementation of the Direct Contempt Order, Pros. Nofuente roamed around the court premises during office hours, and the loud conversations and raucous laughter of the prosecutor and his group could be heard all the way inside the judge‘s chamber. As a result, Judge Francisco sent a letter to Executive Judge Corcuera stating that if such disrespectful attitude would continue then he would issue another contempt citation.

Judge Francisco added that Pros. Nofuente‘s story that he was simply requesting for the issuance of subpoena from Process Server Sevilla was hypocritical since a process server has no authority to issue a subpoena, a request

for subpoena cannot be made orally, and RTC-Branch 25 of Biñan, Laguna was not in session at that time.

A.M. No. P-10-2745

Judge Francisco‘s Answer in A.M. No. RTJ-06-1992 served as his Complaint for Grave Misconduct against Javier, Laurel, and Ramos, and was docketed as A.M. No. P-10-2745.

Investigating Officer Justice Barrios summed up Judge Francisco‘s charges against Javier, Laurel, and Ramos as follows:

In charging Laurel, Judge Francisco stated that her performance as OIC Branch Clerk of Court was initially commendable, but her friendship with Ramos and other court employees spoiled it.

Regarding his complaint against Ramos, Judge Francisco averred that she glorifies herself as a clerk in charge of civil cases when in truth is she is but a utility worker who moonlights as caterer, and which is why she is absent most of the time. In the month of December 1996 alone, Ramos reported to work for only 2 days. She did not file her leave of absence but she was able to draw her full month‘s salary because Laurel approved her falsified daily time record.

As to Judge Francisco‘s complaint against Javier, it was alleged that she is a close relative of a certain Alfredo Artecen. Sometime in August 1997, CIS operatives stationed in Pacita Complex, San Pedro, Laguna, applied for a search warrant. Due to the irregular service of said search warrant, the Court asked the CIS Operatives and the wife

of Alfredo Artecen to explain why they should not be held for contempt. Javier expressed her displeasure to the show cause order, and told Judge Francisco that she would not testify for the arrest of Alfredo Artecen. Apart from this, Laurel, Javier and Ramos converged most of the time during office hours near the table of Laurel which is just about two (2) meters from the sala of Branch 24. This with their boorish behavior, showed a concerted design to malign and harass Judge Francisco.

In their Joint Comment, Javier, Laurel, and Ramos claimed that Judge Francisco‘s accusations against them were malicious and made to satisfy the judge‘s personal grudge against them. Justice Barrios, in his Report, provided the following summary of Javier‘s, Laurel‘s, and Ramos‘s comments:

Laurel denied having signed any falsified daily time record of Ramos when she was the [Officer in Charge (OIC)] Branch Clerk of Court as Ramos honestly indicated her absences for the month of December 1996. She also declared that she never felt bad when she was ousted as the OIC Branch Clerk of Court because she knew for a fact that she is not a lawyer and that the position will be filled up anytime by one who is qualified. Besides the one who was later on appointed as the Branch Clerk of Court was Atty. Melvin Mane, her cousin, hence there was no reason for her to feel bad.

Ramos for her part declared that aside from being a utility worker she also works as a record custodian of civil cases, but strangely this is not known to Judge Francisco. Ramos stated that she acted as the maid of Judge Francisco for a long time. She was tasked with the cleaning of his chamber and the court premises, including serving him free snacks, shining his shoes, preparing his bench, stitching his pants, and other errands she never could say no to, and a dance instructor in his ballroom practices which sometimes starts at 3:00 o‘clock p.m. and lasts until midnight. Ramos denied that she moonlights as caterer, although she admitted having cooked food but then only for a few relatives and mostly during Christmas season and for free. She stated however that she cooked on the request of Judge Francisco every time he arranged ballroom parties.

Javier also denied the allegations against her and averred that there was no instance that she showed her displeasure over the actions taken by Judge Francisco in the case of Alfredo Artecen. She could have easily warned Alfredo Artecen who happened to be his neighbor about the search warrant, but she did not.

In addition, Javier, Laurel, and Ramos accused Judge Francisco of falsifying the TSN of the proceedings in Sp. Proc. No. B-2433 on July 14, 1998. They alleged that Judge Francisco coerced and threatened Stenographic Reporter Lopez to insert and add words, phrases, and situations in the said transcript to make it appear that Pros. Nofuente disrupted court proceedings. Lopez even executed an Affidavit attesting that she was pressured by Judge Francisco into entering the said falsities into the TSN, to wit:

1. I am one of the court stenographer assigned at the Regional Trial Court, Branch 24, Biñan, Laguna.

2. On July 14, 1998, at about 10:30 o‘clock in the morning, a proceedings for confinement, docketed as SP PROC NO. B-2433 entitled ―William I. Martinez vs. Jose Martinez‖ was made by the Regional Trial Court presided by the Honorable Pablo B. Francisco and in such proceedings I was the court stenographer assigned to take the stenographic notes of the proceedings which I did, copy of the original stenographic notes is hereto attached and made integral part hereof, as Annex A;

3. A few days after the Honorable Judge Pablo B. Francisco was served a copy of the petition for certiorari in CA-G.R. SP No. 48356 entitled ―Public Prosecutor Alberto R. Nofuente, Olivia M. Laurel, Diana A. Ramos and Herminia Javier –versus– Hon. Judge Pablo B. Francisco,‖ I was called in the afternoon by the Honorable Judge Pablo B. Francisco to transcribe the stenographic notes taken on July 14, 1998 at SP PROC No. B2433 entitled ―William I. Martinez vs. Jose Martinez‖ which I complied with;

4. After I have transcribed the stenographic notes before a computer, the Honorable Judge Pablo B. Francisco went to my place and instructed me to add and insert into the transcript of the stenographic notes the following words and phrases.

xxxx a. appears to be irritated by the loud voice of Fiscal Nofuente – line 18, 19 and 20, page 2, T.S.N. July 14, 1998.

xxxx

b. stood up to confront the person creating noise – line 9 and 10, page 3, T.S.N. July 14, 1998.

c.

(At this juncture, the Presiding Judge was advised by the stenographer to rest because his face was becoming reddish) line 3, 4 and 5, page 4, T.S.N. July 14, 1998.

xxxx

5. The truth of the matter is that the aforequoted portions which were required by the Honorable Judge Pablo B. Francisco to be added and inserted into the transcript do not appear in the original stenographic notes, Annex A hereto and I complied because of fear that if I would not comply, I might be subjected to some actions against me similar to those members of the staff of the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court, Biñan, Laguna who are being charged administratively, for one reason or the other, by the Honorable Judge Pablo B. Francisco, aside from the fact that he was my superior being the Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 24, Biñan, Laguna.

6. I am executing this affidavit for the purpose of setting the records straight and to attest to the truth of the foregoing.

Javier, Laurel, and Ramos further stated that almost all of the court personnel of the RTC of Biñan, Laguna had fallen victim to Judge Francisco‘s

vindictiveness. Judge Francisco became hostile to everybody. He branded the court personnel as disrespectful, misinterpreting the latter‘s smiles and glances as making faces or laughter as insult. It was for this reason that some personnel filed a petition with the Supreme Court requesting for Judge Francisco‘s return to his original station at the RTC of Sta. Cruz, Laguna.

A.M. No. RTJ-00-1992

A.M. No. RTJ-00-1992 involves Judge Francisco‘s Complaint for Falsification of Public Documents against Laurel and Ramos. He averred that Laurel, as Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Branch Clerk of Court, approved Ramos‘s allegedly falsified DTR. A similar case was also filed by Judge Francisco before the Office of the Ombudsman but it was ordered closed and terminated in a Joint Resolution dated July 28, 2000.

Justice Barrios culled the following antecedent facts in A.M. No. RTJ-001992 from the pleadings submitted by the parties:

Judge Francisco averred that when he was still the detailed presiding judge of Branch 25, he noticed that Ramos did not report to work everyday and that she did not perform her duties of cleaning the courtroom and surrounding areas. He confronted Ramos about this but she reasoned out that she was always tasked by the then Branch

Clerk of Court to bring certain documents to the Supreme Court and that whenever she is absent, she filed her leave of absence. When the Branch Clerk of Court resigned, Laurel was designated as the OIC Branch Clerk of Court and Ramos‘ absences continued. A person named “Kulot” was seen cleaning the court room and adjoining areas and later it came to his knowledge that Ramos was engaged in the food catering business and “Kulot” was one of her waiters. Judge Francisco stated that Ramos never actually performed her tasks as utility worker and on the days that she was present in the office, she positioned herself in one of the office tables and gloried herself as clerk in charge of civil cases. Apart from this Ramos also engaged in the processing of EASCO surety bonds and typing marriage contracts officiated by him or that of Judge Rodrigo Cosico, now Justice of the Court of Appeals. It was because of his heavy work load that Judge Francisco failed to check Ramos‘ application for leave of absence until December 1997 when he found out that her approved leave of absence were far less than her actual absences. Despite her absences Ramos was able to draw her salary because she made it appear in her daily time record that she reported for work every working day from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 o‘clock p.m. and Laurel knowing fully well of her absences approved the daily time record. It was from March 1996 to January 1998 when Ramos did not report to work everyday.

Ramos in addition to her refutations and assertions in [A.M No. P-10-2745], declared that “Kulot” never cleaned the courtroom in her sake but he frequented their office because she recommended him to Judge Francisco upon the judge‘s request to be taught of other variations in ballroom dancing. It was “Kulot” who helped her clear the area of the courtroom before ballroom practices thus they pulled and pushed tables and chairs and sometimes it was he who swept the floor and put back the tables and chairs for the next day‘s hearing. Ramos denied too that she had some participation in the processing of EASCO surety bonds and typing marriage licenses.

Laurel on the other hand admitted that she signed and approved the daily time records of Ramos when she was still the Acting Branch Clerk of Court, but denied that they were falsified.

According to Ramos and Laurel, this case is only one of the several cases filed by Judge Francisco against all the court personnel of Branches 24 and 25 who petitioned for his ouster from the said courts and he filed administrative and criminal cases though unfounded and baseless just to get even with them.

In his Reply-Affidavit, Judge Francisco averred that contrary to the assertions that Ramos was her dance instructor, he stated that he received his dancing lessons from one Vinia Bulfaney of Jun Encarnacion Dance Studio from September to December 1996 and that he took dance lessons at home from one Jennifer Monte. In his attack against Ramos, Judge Francisco stated that speaking of intestinal fortitude, respondent Diana

Ramos indeed possesses an abundance of this debasing quality as she now reports for work heavy with a child, without any qualm as to how the public might react to this “interesting stage” of her life, considering that her marriage to her husband, has been recently annulled and she is not known to have contracted a second marriage or reconciled with her husband; that [Judge Francisco] is quite thankful that he has been away from Biñan for the past one year and a half otherwise, given the moral depravity of [Ramos] in claiming abuse of respondent Diana Ramos by [Judge Francisco], a claim by [Laurel and Ramos] of filial relation between [Judge Francisco] and the baby within respondent Diana Ramos’ womb might not have been a distinct possibility.

A.M. No. P-10-2746

A.M. No. P-10-2746 is another Complaint for Falsification of Public Documents filed by Judge Francisco against Branch Clerk of Court Atty. Hernandez, Legal Researcher Orfiano, and Stenographers Chaves, Lopez, and Perez, all of RTC-Branch 24 of Biñan, Laguna. Judge Francisco instituted a similar case against the same court personnel before the Office of the Ombudsman but it was ordered closed and terminated by the said office. Justice Barrios‘s Report presented a gist of Judge Francisco‘s Complaint:

Judge Francisco averred in his affidavit that when he was detailed as the Presiding Judge of Branch 25 he noticed that some personnel of Branch 24, particularly the stenographers Perez, Lopez, Dilay (deceased) and Chaves were not reporting for work everyday. Since he frequented the library which is near the working tables of the stenographers, he noticed that only the stenographer on duty reported to work. Branch 24 was still then being presided by Justice Rodrigo Cosico. Chaves disappeared sometime in July 1997 and surfaced only in November or December of the same year and that according to her she went on vacation to the United States. When Justice Cosico was promoted to the Court of Appeals, Judge Francisco then presided over the hearing of motions in cases pending in Branch 24. That was when he was able to observe closely the work attitude of the employees therein. On the thought that these stenographers were not filing their leaves of absence Judge Francisco went to the Office of the Court Administrator and he was surprised to learn that the approved leaves of absence were too

minimal to cover their actual absences from work. Also upon his verification from the Finance Division, he learned that these stenographers were receiving their full salary every month despite their unauthorized absences. In order to correct the alleged rampant practice of falsifying the daily time records, Judge Francisco issued Memorandum Circulars x x x but the stenographers paid no attention to these and continued to absent themselves from work and to falsify their daily time records. Judge Francisco sent a letter to the Court Administrator Alfredo Benipayo regarding these alleged absences x x x. Responding to this complaint Justice Benipayo informed him x x x that though authorized to act on this but then court operations would be paralyzed if he were to impose disciplinary action against them. Hence through the intercession of Judge Corcuera, he compromised with these stenographers that they will not be meted out preventive suspension provided they mend their work behavior. Judge Francisco alleged that their promise was however just to trick him for later these stenographers joined in the petition that he be returned to Branch 26 of Sta. Cruz, Laguna. Again on July 1998, he caught Lopez and Perez making false attendance entries in their daily time records and in the logbook. These stenographers falsified their daily time records from April 1996 to July 1998 and the then OIC Branch Clerk of Court Orfiano as well as the Branch Clerk of Court Hernandez approved their daily time records knowing fully well that these were falsified.

The concerned court personnel all denied Justice Francisco‘s allegations that they were involved in the falsification of DTRs, arguing that these were merely uncorroborated and false accusations which should be dismissed.

Chaves contradicted Justice Francisco‘s claim that she disappeared in July 1997 and resurfaced only in November or December of the same year. She averred that for the days she was absent from work, she had filed the corresponding leave of absence. She admitted being on leave from July 21 to September 15, 1997 but it was a vacation leave with pay. She went to the United States of America, and she secured the proper clearance and travel authority from Court Administrator Benipayo before the trip. She reported back to work on September 15, 1997 and was present since then. Chaves asserted that Judge Francisco filed the complaint against her out of personal revenge because Chaves‘s husband was among the IBP

members who signed a petition seeking the judge‘s return to his permanent station at the RTC of Sta. Cruz, Laguna.

Lopez and Perez pointed out that Judge Francisco only made a general allegation that they falsified their DTRs from April 1996 to July 1998, without specifying the particular dates when they were purportedly absent without leave. They countered that it was Judge Francisco who was not filing his leave of absence and falsified his monthly certificates of service because he did not conduct hearings on Wednesdays during the same time period. They also contested Judge Francisco‘s claim that he went to the library to research almost everyday because said judge was only sending somebody else to borrow books or reading materials for him. Perez explained that it was impossible for her to have reported for work only twice a week because she was rendering services as stenographer to Branches 24 and 25 of the RTC of Biñan, Laguna. Lopez asserted that she dutifully reflected in the attendance logbook the exact time of her arrival and departure, and she filed the corresponding leave of absence whenever she was unable to report to work. However, at one instance, Judge Francisco called her, Moreno, and Perez, together with the late Dilay, to the judge‘s chamber where he told them to change some entries in their DTRs. Although the four of them were reluctant, they complied in fear because Judge Francisco was very angry and persistent at that time.

Orfiano could not recall having signed the allegedly falsified DTRs of the stenographers Chaves, Lopez, and Perez for April 1996 to July 1998. Orfiano further explicated that it was not only he who approved the DTRs, but also the two Branch Clerks of Court, who have since resigned, and even Judge Francisco

himself from the months of May to July 1998, when he (Orfiano) was the OIC Branch Clerk of Court.

Atty. Hernandez, in his Comment, stated that he served as the Branch Clerk of Court of RTC-Branch 24 of Biñan, Laguna from July 17, 1997 until his resignation on June 30, 1998. At the time he assumed his position, no bundy clock was available for the employees of RTC-Branch 24. As there was no way to verify the employees‘ actual time of arrival and departure, Atty. Hernandez, in signing the DTRs, just relied on the employees‘ representation that the entries therein were true and correct. Use of an attendance logbook was implemented beginning only on February 20, 1998, pursuant to Judge Francisco‘s Memorandum Circular No. 08-98. Judge Francisco subsequently issued Memorandum No. 01 on May 20, 1998 transferring the authority to sign the employees‘ DTRs from Atty. Hernandez to himself. From February 20 to May 28, 1998, when Atty. Hernandez was still allowed to sign the DTRs, he made sure that his co-employees faithfully reflected therein their absences by comparing the entries in their respective DTRs with those in the attendance logbook.

A.M. No. P-10-2747

Judge Francisco was not yet through with filing administrative charges against the personnel of the RTC of Biñan, Laguna. In his Letter-Complaint dated

August 21, 1998, docketed as A.M. No. P-10-2747, he accused several court personnel with different administrative offenses, viz:

a. NICANOR B. ALFONSO is a process server in the Office of the Clerk of Court. But I came to know that he is a court employee only in December 1997 because, in the almost two (2) years then of my detail in Biñan, I seldom saw him in the court premises. I knew him more as the driver-bodyguard of Mayor Bayani ―Arthur‖ Alonte of Biñan.

When I interviewed Mr. Alfonso, he told me that he was already rendering service exclusively for Mayor Alonte and his family for about five (5) years. He admitted though that all the while he was drawing his salary from the Supreme Court. I then directed him to return to work, but he refused reasoning out that his stint with Mayor Alonte ―had been the arrangement‖ with the other executive judges of the RTC before me.

xxxx

b. BENEDICTO B. PASCUAL is the Court Interpreter in Branch 25. He manages to hold on to his position despite his lack of civil service eligibility. A perennial bar candidate, Mr. Pascual took his last examination in October 1996.

To prepare for the bar exams, Mr. Pascual managed to obtain leave with pay on the following dates:

―81 days sick leave with pay from April 1 to July 31, 1996, and 43 days vacation leave with pay from August 1 to September 30, 1996.‖

x x x. There was almost no leave credits left for Mr. Pascual as he began attending his review classes.

The bar examination was given in October 1996 and, understandably, Mr. Pascual was absent the whole month. He reported for work only in the middle of November 1996 as a matter of fact. So that his absence for one and a half (1 ½) months from October 1, 1996 was no longer covered by the leave granted to him. But he was still able to draw his salaries in full for the months of October and November as he even earned leave credits during his unauthorized absence.

c. ANGELITO BATI is a Utility Worker in the Office of the Clerk of Court. Sometime in May 1998, I came to know that he was the person serving summons upon the defendants in civil cases assigned in Branch 24. When confronted by the undersigned, Mr. Bati admitted doing so supposedly with ―proper authorization‖ from Sheriff IV Arnel Magat. On October July (sic) 28, 1998, I issued a memorandum, x x x, calling for an investigation of the anomaly. So far, at least two (2) defendants in those civil cases have come up and identified Mr. Bati as the person who served the summons upon them.

d. ARNEL G. MAGAT is Sheriff IV under the Office of the Clerk of Court. He was the one who ―deputized‖ Angelito Bati to do the service of summons aforesaid. Yet, he prepared and signed the Sheriff‘s Return certifying that said service of summons were done by him personally on the dates given.

Mr. Magat also has a pending administrative case wherein Elizabeth Tiongco, a plaintiff in an unlawful detainer case, accuses him of diverting to his personal use the amount of about P40,000.00 collected by him from the defendant. When I called the parties to a conference to settle the dispute, Mr. Magat promised to turn over said sum of P40,000.00 to Ms. Tiongco in installments. Ms. Tiongco has been complaining to me that Mr. Magat has not remitted to her any installment payment under his promise.

e. JULIAN ORFIANO, JR. is the Legal Researcher and former OIC Branch Clerk of Court in Branch 24. While conducting an inventory of the cases in Branch 24, soon after my detail therein, I noticed that the number of the expediente of active cases far exceeded by more than a hundred number pending cases reported to the Supreme Court monthly.

Mr. Orfiano was the first court personnel to raise his voice in protest when apprised of my move to request the OCAD for a physical audit of said cases. Later on, I came to know that Mr. Orfiano was the one personally responsible for the preparation of said monthly reports.

In April 1998, certain OCAD personnel, accompanied by Justice Molina, did conduct said physical audit, the result of which despite my follow-up, has not yet been released. x x x.

Mr. Orfiano was also the OIC Branch Clerk of Court who during his tenure of office approved the falsified Daily Time Records (DTR) of Branch 24 court personnel.

f. CARIDAD CUEVILLAS AND LITA MORENO are the clerks in charge of criminal and civil cases, respectively, in Branch 24. Both of them detested being required to report for work everyday and being reprimanded for not doing their work properly. So many hearings of cases have been postponed due to their failure to prepare either the notices to the parties or the subpoena to witness.

Lately, Ms. Moreno concealed from me certain motions which required my immediate attention. x x x.

g. MARIA FE LOPEZ AND [DIOSALYN] PEREZ are Stenographers in Branch 24. During the time that Judge (now Justice) Cosico was presiding in Branch 24, all four (4) stenographers in the branch reported for work, at most, two (2) times a week. Yet, they were drawing their full monthly salary by falsifying their DTRs which were approved by Mr. Julian Orfiano and later by Atty. Gerardo Hernandez, resigned Branch Clerk of Court.

xxxx

h. DIANA RAMOS, OLIVIA LAUREL, ANDREW SANTOS, [RAMON] LUIS SEVILLA AND HERMINIA JAVIER are court employees closely identified with a group headed by Third Public Prosecutor Alberto R. Nofuente, the prosecutor who filed about twenty (20) Informations for simple rapes before Branch 25, notwithstanding the private complainants‘ statements that those who ravished them were either their fathers, step fathers, uncles etc., thus allowing all the accused to escape from the death penalty. For severely criticizing Prosecutor Nofuente for his ignorance of criminal procedure, I was subjected by this group to spite and ridicule for several months until I finally cited them, except Luis Sevilla and Andrew Santos, for direct contempt. x x x.

Some members of this group are also known as brokers for EASCO bail bonds and for fast tracked wedding ceremonies in court. They felt bad when I worked for the banning of EASCO as surety due to unpaid liabilities under its bonds x x x.

Of course, some members of this group do not report for work everyday and yet are able to draw their full months salary, especially DIANA RAMOS who moonlights as a food caterer.

i. ATTY. MELVIN D.C. MANE resigned recently as Deputy Clerk of Court in Branch 25. He dreams of becoming a judge so he acted like one during his tenure. He asked me to assign to him several cases for drafting of the decisions. He failed to accomplish his task before my imposed limit of sixty (60) days, so I was constrained to work on these cases double time to catch the deadline. I chastised him severely for his indolence.

In a letter dated March 9, 1999, addressed to the then Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., Judge Francisco requested immediate action on A.M. No. P-102747.

In their Joint Comment dated January 6, 2000, all the charged court personnel contended that Judge Francisco‘s Letter-Complaint should be considered a mere scrap of paper because it was not verified nor corroborated. Nevertheless, they also voiced their denial of the charges against them. They accused Judge Francisco of falsifying his certificates of service by not reflecting therein that he was not holding session every Wednesday from December 4, 1995 to January 5, 1997. In fact, there was one Wednesday when then Deputy Court Administrator Zenaida N. Elepaño (DCA Elepaño) called by long distance to inquire about a case

handled by Judge Francisco, but the judge was not around. Judge Francisco did not file his leave of absence yet still received in full his monthly salary for the period.

Judge Francisco filed a Reply dated January 25, 2000, in which he insisted on the validity of his unverified Letter-Complaint against the court employees, reasoning that the Rules of Court does not require that such a complaint be under oath since he, the complainant, is a judge. Judge Francisco also denied that he was not conducting trials on Wednesdays and, as proof, he attached photocopies of the calendar of cases falling on Wednesdays.

A.M. No. P-10-2748

In A.M. No. P-10-2748, Judge Francisco filed a Complaint for Grave Misconduct against Cuevillas.

Judge Francisco‘s Complaint stemmed from Civil Case No. B-5217, entitled Edward Potenciano v. Rogelio “Ogie” Almoro, an ejectment case which originated from the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Biñan, Laguna. As soon as the complete records of said case were elevated to the RTC on appeal, Judge Francisco issued an order directing the counsels of both parties to submit their respective memoranda, after which, the case would be deemed submitted for decision. However, Cuevillas

never informed Judge Francisco that the parties have already submitted their memoranda and, as a result, Judge Francisco was not able to render a decision within the prescribed period. Judge Francisco asserted that this was not the first time such an incident happened. On previous occasions, Cuevillas hid pleadings and other important documents from Judge Francisco, thus, the latter was not able to act promptly on said communications.

Cuevillas admitted in her Comment that she received the memoranda of the parties in Civil Case No. B-5217 but she did not hide said pleadings from Judge Francisco. Cuevillas clarified that she was in charge of the records in criminal cases. She only received the memoranda of the parties in Civil Case No. B-5217 because Moreno, the one in charge of the records in civil cases, was not around at that time. Cuevillas averred that she turned over the memoranda to Moreno for processing as soon as the latter arrived.

In his Reply, Judge Francisco reiterated that Cuevillas intentionally concealed the memoranda. Cuevillas‘s story was unlikely as the parties filed their memoranda on separate dates in April 1998 and Moreno was present for the whole month.

Cuevillas, in her Rejoinder, laid the blame for the delay in the resolution of Civil Case No. B-5217 on Judge Francisco. Judge Francisco was aware that the case would be deemed submitted for decision in April 1998 whether or not the

parties filed their memoranda, and the judge should have already demanded the case records from Moreno by that time. Cuevillas further denied that she intentionally failed to bring to Judge Francisco‘s attention several urgent matters. A.M. No. P-10-2749

Judge Francisco filed a Letter-Complaint for Dishonesty and Misconduct against Alfonso, Bati, Cuevillas, Javier, Laurel, Lopez, Magat, Moreno, Orfiano, Pascual, Perez, Santos, and Sevilla, who accused the judge of falsifying his certificates of service because he was not reporting for work on Wednesdays, and yet was receiving his full monthly salary. The Complaint was docketed as A.M. No. P-10-2749.

In his Letter-Complaint, Judge Francisco denied the court personnel‘s accusation against him, averring that he always conducted hearings on Wednesdays during his detail at the RTC of Biñan, Laguna. As evidence, he presented some of the court calendar that fell on Wednesdays between January 17 to December 18, 1996. Aside from conducting hearings in Biñan, Judge Francisco was also tasked to preside over Election Contest Nos. SC-10 and SC-11 in Sta. Cruz, which were heard every Wednesday afternoon from March 1996 until September 1997. On such days, Judge Francisco had to travel from Biñan to Sta. Cruz, with a distance of about 50 kilometers, to fulfill his assignments. Judge Francisco likewise contradicted the allegation that he was absent the day DCA Elepaño called his office, and he was actually able to talk to DCA Elepaño. Lastly, Judge Francisco claimed that Laurel was even one of the stenographers in one of

the Wednesday hearings and Santos sometimes participated in the preparation of the calendar of cases for Wednesday.

In their Comment, the concerned court personnel pointed out that Judge Francisco‘s charges against them were not corroborated by material witnesses and that the purported court calendar of cases presented by the judge were uncertified photocopies, hence, inadmissible as evidence. They insisted that Judge Francisco did not talk to DCA Elepaño when the latter called the judge‘s office. The truth was DCA Elepaño was able to talk to Justice Cosico who politely suggested to her that she talk personally with Judge Francisco. The court personnel reiterated their charge against Judge Francisco for falsification of his certificates of service, based on the certifications issued by Branch Clerk of Court Atty. Galeon. According to Atty. Galeon‘s certifications: (1) except for December 14, 1995, no other session was held every Wednesday between December 4, 1995 and January 5, 1996; and (2) no setting of cases was made between February 7, 1996 and August 27, 1997. During these periods, Judge Francisco was still detailed at the RTC of Biñan. Laguna. When the court personnel verified with the OCA, they found that no application for leave was filed by Judge Francisco for the above stated periods except for October 16, November 20 and 27, 1996. They additionally alleged that Judge Francisco made a trip abroad without approval from the Supreme Court. Finally, they accused Judge Francisco of extortion and corruption in relation to an election case he was handling in Biñan, Laguna.

Judge Francisco maintained in his Reply that he was present and conducting hearings from January to November 1996, except April 8, 1996. Acording to Judge Francisco, he had already discussed his trip abroad with Chancellor Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera of the Philippine Judicial Academy and then Court Administrator Benipayo, who were both satisfied with his explanation. Judge Francisco also asserted that the evidence introduced by the court personnel in their Comment, specifically, Atty. Galeon‘s certifications, were falsified documents. Consequently, Judge Francisco expressed his intention to file another administrative complaint against Atty. Galeon, Laurel, and Pascual.

A.M. No. P-10-2750 A.M. No. P-10-2751 A.M. No. P-03-1706

True enough, Judge Francisco filed three more administrative cases for Falsification of Public Documents docketed as: (1) A.M. No. P-10-2750, against Atty. Galeon and Pascual; (2) A.M. No. P-10-2751, against Atty. Galeon alone; and (3) A.M. No. P-03-1706 against Atty. Galeon and Laurel.

Judge Francisco charged Atty. Galeon and Pascual in A.M. No. P-10-2750 with Falsification of Public Documents in relation to the photocopies of two supposed pages of the court calendar book of RTC-Branch 25 of Biñan, Laguna, which were in the handwriting of Pascual and certified by Atty. Galeon, showing

that no case was set for hearing on June 11 and 18, 1997. Judge Francisco alleged that the certified photocopies in question contained untruthful narration of facts because so many cases were set for hearing and actually tried on June 11 and 18, 1997, and these could be corroborated by the minutes and TSNs of the proceedings.

Judge Francisco again accused Atty. Galeon in A.M. No. P-10-2751 of Falsification of Public Document for issuing a certification stating that per the court calendar book, no court session was held under Presiding Judge Francisco every Wednesday for the period of December 4, 1995 to January 5, 1996, except December 14, 1995.

In A.M. No. P-03-1706, Judge Francisco took Atty. Galeon and Laurel to task for conspiring with each other and making untruthful narration of facts in the certified photocopies of ten alleged pages of the court calendar book which showed that no case was set for hearing on August 1, 4-8, 11-15, 18-22, and 25-28 of the year 1997. The false entries in the court calendar book were written by Laurel and the photocopies of the book pages bearing said false entries were certified by Atty. Galeon. Judge Francisco insisted there were so many cases set for hearing and actually tried on the given dates, and it was only on August 22, 1997 that no hearing was conducted because he was then on leave.

The certified photocopies of the court calendar book were presented as evidence against Judge Francisco in A.M. No. P-10-2749. The said documents caused Judge Francisco damage and prejudice for they made it appear that the judge falsified his certificates of service. Judge Francisco attributed malice on the parts of Laurel and Pascual, for making false entries into the court calendar book; and on the part of Atty. Galeon, for certifying the photocopies of the falsified book pages. Pascual, as Court Interpreter, was present during the hearings held on June 11 and 18, 1997, and even prepared the minutes of the proceedings. Laurel likewise knew of the hearings held in August 1997 as she was the one who took stenographic notes in some of these proceedings. Atty. Galeon, having no personal knowledge of the schedule of hearing of cases, could not have issued certifications thereon. She was not yet even the Branch Clerk of Court in June 1997.

Expectedly, Atty. Galeon, Laurel, and Pascual denied the charges against them.

Atty. Galeon pointed out that it was her ministerial duty to issue the certifications. Moreover, she did not make any false narration of facts in her certifications. She merely certified that the photocopies were the faithful reproduction of the original pages of the court calendar book after careful comparison. Her certifications also did not contain any derogatory or malicious remarks against Judge Francisco. Atty. Galeon maintained that there was no malice or ill will on her part when she issued the certifications and she was not

aware that these would be used by her co-employees in support of their accusations against Judge Francisco.

Laurel asserted that the charge against her is but another retaliatory act of Judge Francisco against those who petitioned his ouster from RTC- Branch 24 of Biñan, Laguna. Laurel admitted that she was the OIC Clerk of Court from June 25, 1996 to August 1997. She detailed that the court calendar book was prepared during the last quarter of 1996 because, as a matter of practice, the schedule of hearing of cases were prepared in advance and Judge Francisco was aware of such practice. Hence, Judge Francisco cannot claim that the court calendar book was manufactured and the entries therein were falsified.

Pascual acknowledged that the entries in the court calendar book were in his handwriting, but this was easily done because it was his duty to maintain and keep custody of the court calendar books.

On March 26, 2003, we issued a Resolution adopting the Report and Recommendation of the OCA and dismissing A.M. No. P-10-2750 for lack of merit. Said Resolution reads:

Considering the Office of the Court Administrator‘s Report dated March 3, 2003, on the sworn complaint charging respondents with falsification of public documents, reporting as follows:

In the instant case, respondents did not make any statement in a narration of facts. What respondent Galeon did was just to certify that Annexes ―A‖ and ―B‖ are certified Xerox copies. Respondent can not also be held liable for falsification of public documents under paragraph 7 of Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code because what she certified were Xerox copies of pages of the calendar book in the Office of the Branch Clerk of Court. Complainant was not able to prove that the originals from where the certified Xerox copies were taken did not exist, or that RTC, Branch 25 of Biñan, Laguna had no calendar book when the certifications were issued.

the Court Resolved to ADOPT the recommendation to DISMISS the case for lack of merit.

Not long thereafter, we issued another Resolution on April 9, 2003 dismissing A.M. No. P-10-2751 for lack of merit, to wit:

Considering the complaint dated May 24, 2002 filed by Judge Pablo B. Francisco charging Atty. Rowena A. Malabanan-Galeon with falsification of public documents for issuing a certification dated July 2, 2001 which has relevance to [A.M. No. P-10-2749], the Court Resolves to:

(a) NOTE the said complaint; and

(b) DISMISS the case for lack of merit.

We subsequently denied Judge Francisco‘s Motions for Reconsideration of the dismissal of A.M. No. P-10-2750 and A.M. No. P-10-2751 on the ground that the motions merely reiterated the same arguments earlier raised and did not present any substantial reason not previously invoked or any matter not considered and passed upon by the Court.

A.M. No. RTJ-10-2214

During the investigation of A.M. No. RTJ-06-1992 and A.M. No. P-10-2745 by Justice Barrios, Arellano and Magat, both Deputy Sheriffs of the of the RTC of Biñan, Laguna, testified that Judge Francisco exerted undue influence upon them to shell out P1,000.00 and P3,000.00, respectively, to defray the salary of the judge‘s bodyguard Joselito Nuestro (Nuestro). Because of the said testimonies, Judge Francisco filed before the OCA an administrative complaint for Gross Misconduct against Arellano and Magat, docketed as OCA I.P.I. No. 02-3331-P. This case, however, was not among those assigned to Justice Barrios for investigation.

Arellano and Magat countered with a Complaint for Grave Misconduct against Judge Francisco, docketed as A.M. No. RTJ-10-2214. Justice Barrios presented the allegations of the opposing parties in his Report, thus:

Arellano and Magat averred that Judge Francisco personally handpicked Joselito Nuestro from Indang, Cavite to act and perform as his own security officer against the threats he was then receiving from friends and supporters of Mayor Dennis Panganiban whose electoral case was pending before him. They alleged that Judge Francisco extorted from them P4,000.00 for Joselito Nuestro‘s monthly compensation. Because he was their superior, they were obliged to accede with Arellano contributing P1,500.00 and Magat P2,000.00. This matter has been brought to the attention of the Biñan police where they both gave their statements on July 17, 1998 x x x but these were not subscribed because at that time the Prosecutors and Clerks of Court refused to take part for fear of the wrath of Judge Francisco. These were only subscribed on December 16, 2002 when Arellano and Magat were called to testify.

In his Comment x x x, Judge Francisco denied that Joselito Nuestro became his bodyguard. Rather he was his personal utility worker from September 1997 to February 8, 1998, and he was constrained to hire him because Ramos was not doing the chores assigned to her. He added that he employed him also because the man needed money for his ailing father. It was PO3 Melchor Dionisio who was assigned by the Philippine National Police as his security from October 1995 to May 1999. Judge Francisco claimed that their statements were not only unsubscribed but were also inconsistent. These two sheriffs allowed themselves to become the tools of Justice Rodrigo Cosico who harbored a grudge against him because he initiated the judicial audit for Branch 24 of which he was the Presiding Judge before his promotion to the Court of Appeals. Arellano was Justice Cosico‘s full time driver while drawing salary from the government. As for Magat, he was the subject of a complaint filed by a certain Elizabeth Tiongco who reported to him that Magat asked for P2,500.00 in exchange for the implementation of the writ of execution in an ejectment case. Nothing happened to the writ but Magat failed to return the check issued to him which prompted Judge Francisco to advise Elizabeth Tiongco to file the necessary administrative complaint.

In their reply, Arellano admitted that he served as driver of Justice Rodrigo Cosico when he was still the utility worker of Branch 24, but he did not let this interfere with his duties. He drove for Justice Cosico only early in the morning in going to the court and then back to his residence in the afternoon. Magat and Arellano argued that if there were inconsistencies in the sworn statements executed in 1998 these were minor only and should not negate the fact that Judge Francisco extorted money from them.

As a result of his investigation of the 11 administrative cases, Justice Barrios made the following recommendations:

WHEREFORE, it is respectfully recommended that (a) the charges/complaints docketed as OCA-I.P.I. No. 98-511-P [A.M. No. P-10-2745], OCA-I.P.I. No. 00-974-P [A.M. No. RTJ-00-1992], OCA-I.P.I. No. 00-963-P [A.M. No. P-10-2746], OCA-I.P.I. No. 99-740-P [A.M. No. P-10-2747], OCA-I.PI. No. 02-1338-P [A.M. No. P-10-2749], OCA-I.P.I. No. 99-573-P [A.M. No. P-10-2748], OCA-I.P.I. No. 02-1410-P [A.M. No. P-10-2750], OCA-I.P.I. No. 02-1411-P [A.M. No. P-10-2751], OCA-I.P.I. No. P-031706 (formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 02-1409-P) [A.M. No. P-03-1706], and OCA-I.P.I. No. 02-1592-RTJ [A.M. No. RTJ-10-2214], be DISMISSED, and that (b) in OCA-I.P.I. No. 98-603-RTJ [A.M. No. RTJ-06-1992] Judge Pablo Francisco be found GUILTY of Gross Ignorance of the Law and FINED the amount of P30,000.00, taking into account that he has since resigned.

II

DISCUSSION AND RESOLUTION

After a careful review of Justice Barrios‘s Recommendation and Report, we now render judgment on the 11 administrative cases.

At the outset, we take note of the previous dismissal for lack of merit of Judge Francisco‘s Complaints for Falsification of Public Document in A.M. No. P10-2750 (against Atty. Galeon and Pascual) and A.M. No. P-10-2751 (against Atty. Galeon), through our Resolutions dated March 26, 2003 and April 9, 2003, respectively. With the denial of Judge Francisco‘s Motion for Reconsideration, the dismissal of A.M. No. P-10-2750 and A.M. No. P-10-2751 had already become final and executory, and already beyond our power to review, modify, or set aside.

Given also that Atty. Hernandez and Atty. Mane had already resigned from their posts as Branch Clerks of Court long before Justice Francisco filed his complaints against them, then we deem the charges against Atty. Hernandez in A.M. No. P-10-2746 and Atty. Mane in A.M. No. P-10-2747 dismissed.

We further dismiss Judge Francisco‘s complaints against Santos in A.M. No. P-10-2747 and A.M. No. P-10-2749, since Judge Francisco himself denied having charged Santos:

Judge Francisco

Your Honor please, I regret to say that he was not charged so, why we need to present him?

xxxx

Justice Barrios

But Judge Francisco is saying now on record that he is not Santos.

charging Mr.

xxxx

Justice Barrios

Whatever it is, he is saying that he is not charging Mr. Santos.

Having settled the foregoing, we now turn our attention to the remaining administrative matters.

Judge Francisco’s Issuance of the Direct Contempt Order (A.M. No. RTJ-06-1992)

At the crux of the case is the issuance by Judge Francisco of the Order dated July 14, 1998 finding Javier, Laurel, Ramos, and Pros. Nofuente guilty of direct contempt of court for allegedly disrupting the proceedings in Sp. Proc. No. B-2433 at the RTC-Branch 24 of Biñan, Laguna, on July 14, 1998, and sentencing them to a penalty of nine days imprisonment.

Contempt of court is defined as ―some act or conduct which tends to interfere with the business of the court, by a refusal to obey some lawful order of the court, or some act of disrespect to the dignity of the court which in some way

tends to interfere with or hamper the orderly proceedings of the court and thus lessens the general efficiency of the same.‖ It has also been described as ―a defiance of the authority, justice or dignity of the court; such conduct as tends to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrespect or to interfere with or prejudice parties litigants or their witnesses during litigation.‖ Simply put, it is despising of the authority, justice, or dignity of the court.

Direct contempt is one done ―in the presence of or so near the court or judge as to obstruct the administration of justice.‖ It is a contumacious act done facie curiae and may be punished summarily without hearing. In other words, one may be summarily adjudged in direct contempt at the very moment or at the very instance of the commission of the act of contumely. It is governed by Rule 71, Section 1 of the Rules of Court, as amended by Administrative Circular No. 22-95, which reads:

Section 1. Direct contempt punished summarily. - A person guilty of misbehavior in the presence of or so near a court or judge as to obstruct or interrupt the proceedings before the same, including disrespect toward the court or judge, offensive personalities toward others, or refusal to be sworn or to answer as witness, or to subscribe an affidavit or deposition when lawfully required to do so, may be summarily adjudged in contempt by such court or judge and punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand pesos or imprisonment not exceeding ten (10) days, or both, if it be a superior court, or a judge thereof, or by a fine not exceeding two hundred pesos or imprisonment not exceeding one (1) day, or both, if it be an inferior court.

As previously mentioned herein, the Court of Appeals, in CA-G.R. SP No. 48356, granted the Petition for Certiorari of Javier, Laurel, Ramos, and Pros.

Nofuente, and set aside Judge Francisco‘s Direct Contempt Order for having been issued in grave abuse of discretion. The Court of Appeals adjudged that:

Considering that the acts alluded to as the basis by which the Respondent [Judge Francisco] declared the petitioners [Javier, Laurel, Ramos, and Pros. Nofuente] in contempt of court, are neither constitutive of direct or indirect contempt, this Court is of the opinion that the Order of Respondent declaring petitioners in contempt and imposing a penalty of nine (9) days imprisonment is a GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION.

WHEREFORE, the assailed order dated July 14, 1998 is SET ASIDE for having been issued in grave abuse of discretion.

The Court of Appeals already settled in the aforementioned certiorari proceedings that Judge Francisco‘s issuance of the Direct Contempt Order was in grave abuse of his discretion. We are now called upon to determine in the present administrative proceedings whether the same act constitutes an administrative offense by Judge Francisco. A review of the records of the case leads us to rule affirmatively.

Judge Francisco‘s issuance of the Direct Contempt Order is completely baseless and unjustified. There is utter lack of evidence that Javier, Laurel, Ramos, and Pros. Nofuente committed any contemptuous act.

Other than his own allegations, Judge Francisco‘s only evidence to prove that Pros. Nofuente disrupted the hearing of Sp. Proc. No. B-2433 on July 14, 1998 was the TSN for said proceedings, taken down by Lopez. However, serious doubts as to the truthfulness of the said TSN arose after Lopez herself assailed the transcript. According to Lopez, she included the lines alluding to the disruption of the proceedings by Pros. Nofuente into the TSN upon Judge Francisco‘s order. Lopez explained that she complied out of fear that she might be subjected to a suit just as the other employees of the RTC of Biñan, Laguna. Lopez stood by her affidavit even when cross-examined by Judge Francisco. She responded to the judge‘s questions, thus:

Q:

Let me go to Exhibit S. On page 4 of Exhibit S the court stated ―please place on record that the proceedings was disturbed because of the loud voice coming from Provincial Prosecutor Alberto Nofuente who was laughing and discussing in a very loud voice certain matters with employees of branch 25 and the presiding judge has called the attention of those concerned especially employees of Branch 25 both disturbing the hearing of this case. Let it be recorded further that this is not the first time that Provincial Prosecutor Alberto Nofuente has caused such disturbance while proceedings in Branch 24 is going on.‖ Is this an insertion? That is not an insertion, sir, you manifested that.

A:

Q:

The court stated that soon after the Presiding Judge stood up and according to you approach the entrance door of the court, wasn‘t it? Yes, sir.

A:

Q:

How long ago did the court made that statement after the Presiding Judge stood up and went to the entrance door, about 2 minutes, 3 minutes? That was after the proceedings when you made that manifestation.

A:

Q: A:

What do you mean by after the proceedings? That was after the proceedings for the drug dependence hearing. That came last.

Q:

You mean to say after the Presiding Judge has finished asking questions to the witness? Yes, sir. That was already after we have gone to our conference room when you said that.

A:

Lopez‘s testimony was corroborated by Sevilla who declared during crossexamination and re-direct examination that Judge Francisco went out of the session hall only after the hearing to find out who was making the noise. At such time, Pros. Nofuente was no longer around. Judge Francisco did not mention then that Pros. Nofuente was the one being noisy.

Q:

Isn‘t it a fact that Judge Francisco came out of the session hall and told the persons there not to make noise in that morning of July 14, 1998? No, sir. What happened was that you came out after the session and asked who were those persons making noise.

A:

Q: A:

At that time Fiscal Nofuente was no longer there? Yes, sir.

xxxx

Q:

Isn‘t it a fact that Judge Francisco even talked to that lady who was the companion of Fiscal Nofuente at that time? Yes, sir.

A:

xxxx

RE-DIRECT BY ATTY. NOE CANGCO ZARATE

Q:

When Judge Francisco came out, did he tell you as to who was the person who was then noisy? No, sir.

A:

Q: A:

He did not mention Fiscal Nofuente? No, sir.

The testimonies of Lopez and Sevilla prove that although distracted by the outside noise, Judge Francisco was still able to proceed with and finish the hearing of Spec. Proc. No. B-2433 on July 14, 1998. Moreover, during and immediately after said hearing, Judge Francisco was unaware of who made the noise, so he could not have summarily cited anyone for direct contempt.

The lack of basis for the issuance by Judge Francisco of the Direct Contempt Order is even more evident when it comes to Javier, Laurel, and Ramos, who were not mentioned at all in the TSN of the hearing of Spec. Proc. No. B-2433 on July 14, 1988. By Judge Francisco‘s own allegations in his Complaint, the purportedly contemptuous acts of the three court personnel were not particularly committed on July 14, 1998 nor the cause of the disruption of the proceedings at RTC-Branch 24 of Biñan, Laguna, on said date. Furthermore, Judge Francisco‘s averments that Pros. Nofuente‘s group, which included Javier, Laurel, and Ramos, engaged in raucous laughter in the judge‘s presence even ―with nothing funny to laugh about,‖ threw sharp glances and made faces at Judge Francisco, and engaged in boisterous conversation punctuated by laughter inside the court premises, are insufficient to constitute contumacious behavior. Contempt of court presupposes a contumacious attitude, a flouting or arrogant belligerence, a defiance of the court, something that is not evident in this case. There is absolute lack of proof that the laughter, conversations, and glances of Pros. Nofuente‘s group were about or directed at Judge Francisco and they disrupted or obstructed proceedings before the judge.

We believe that in issuing this baseless and erroneous contempt order, Judge Francisco was prevailed upon by his personal animosity against Pros. Nofuente and his group. This can be easily fathomed from Judge Francisco‘s inclusion of Javier, who is Pros. Nofuente‘s friend, in the Direct Contempt Order when Javier was not even within court premises at the time of the hearing of Spec. Proc. No. B2433 on July 14, 1998. Clerk of Court Ernesto Luzod, Jr. attested to this fact, thus:

[ATTY. ZARATE]

Q

This Exhibit M pertains (sic) Herminia S. Javier for the month of July 1-31, in the year 1998. Please go over it and confirm this honorable Investigating Court the Daily Time Record of Herminia S. Javier?

[LUZOD, JR.]

A

This is the Daily Time Record for the month of July 1 to 31, 1998. That is our usual form of our Daily Time Record.

Q

Go over with Exhibit M and examine precisely the particular date of July 14, 1998. Will you please tell this Court what did you find out for that date? She‘s under half day that morning and then she attended in the afternoon 1-5:30, sir.

A

Q

When you said half day from what time will it commence an end of the half day absence. Eight to Twelve, sir.

A

ATTY. ZARATE:

Q

Would you be able to know why on July 14, 1998, Herminia S. Javier obtain leave from your former office. If you know? On July 14, 1998, she asked permission from me for her to go to Calamba, Laguna, Land Bank.

A

Q A

Would you be able to tell us why she went to Calamba Laguna? She told me that she‘s going to refund her tax.

Q

Were she (sic) obtain her leave for half day. Would you be able to tell us what time did he asked you for leave? More or less passed (sic) eight.

A

It is well-settled that the power to punish a person in contempt of court is inherent in all courts to preserve order in judicial proceedings and to uphold the orderly administration of justice. However, judges are enjoined to exercise the power judiciously and sparingly, with utmost restraint, and with the end in view of utilizing the same for correction and preservation of the dignity of the court, and not for retaliation or vindictiveness. It bears stressing that the power to declare for contempt must be exercised on the preservative, not vindictive principle, and on the corrective and not retaliatory idea of punishment. This was aptly expressed in the case of Nazareno v. Barnes:

A judge, as a public servant, should not be so thin-skinned or sensitive as to feel hurt or offended if a citizen expresses an honest opinion about him which may not altogether be flattering to him. After all, what matters is that a judge performs his duties in accordance with the dictates of his conscience and the light that God has given him. A judge should never allow himself to be moved by pride, prejudice, passion, or pettiness in the performance of his duties. He should always bear in mind that the power of the court to punish for contempt should be exercised for purposes that are impersonal, because that power is intended as a safeguard not for the judges as persons but for the functions that they exercise.

Nevertheless, we find that in issuing the Direct Contempt Order without legal basis, Judge Francisco is more appropriately guilty of the administrative

offense of grave abuse of authority, rather than gross ignorance of the law and incompetence. In point is the case of Panaligan v. Ibay, where Judge Francisco Ibay improperly cited John Panaligan for contempt. We ruled:

The integrity of the judiciary rests not only upon the fact that it is able to administer justice but also upon the perception and confidence of the community that the people who run the system have done justice. The assumption of office by a judge places upon him duties and restrictions peculiar to his exalted position. He is the visible representation of law and justice. He must be perceived, not as a repository of arbitrary power, but as one who dispenses justice under the sanction of the rule of law. The behavior and conduct of judges must reaffirm the people‘s faith in the integrity of the judiciary. Justice must not merely be done but must also be seen to be done. In the present case, respondent Judge may not have been urged by ulterior motives in citing complainant in contempt and in subsequently sending him to jail for putting off the lights in the 12th floor including his sala; nevertheless, his actuation can easily be perceived as being a repository of arbitrary power. His actuation must never serve to fuel suspicion over a misuse of the prestige of his office to enhance his personal interest.

We cannot simply shrug off respondent Judge‘s failure to exercise that degree of care and temperance required of a judge in the correct and prompt administration of justice; more so in this case where the exercise of the power of contempt resulted in complainant‘s detention and deprivation of liberty. Respondent Judge‘s conduct amounts to grave abuse of authority.

We have repeatedly reminded members of the judiciary to be irreproachable in conduct and to be free from any appearance of impropriety in their personal behavior, not only in the discharge of their official duties, but also in their daily life. For no position exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness of an individual than a seat in the judiciary. The imperative and sacred duty of each and everyone in the judiciary is to maintain its good name and standing as a temple of justice. The Court condemns and would never countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice which would violate the norm of public accountability or tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary, like in the case at bar.

Squarely applicable is the case of Teodora A. Ruiz v. Judge Rolando G. How. In this case, respondent Judge Rolando G. How cited complainant Ruiz who was an employee of the court, in direct contempt of court for alleged willful display of abusive

and disrespectful language hurled by the latter. This Court disagreed with the respondent Judge in finding that the actuations of Ruiz constitute direct contempt inasmuch as when the derogatory words were uttered by complainant no proceedings were being held nor was it shown that respondent Judge was performing judicial function. Thus, respondent Judge was declared guilty of grave abuse of authority for injudiciously ordering the detention of complainant without sufficient legal ground, and was fined in the amount of P5,000.00 with a stern warning that the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.

WHEREFORE, for improperly citing complainant Panaligan for contempt and ordering his detention without sufficient legal basis, a fine of P5,000.00 is hereby IMPOSED upon the respondent Judge, with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely.

In three more succeeding cases, we sanctioned Judge Ibay for repeatedly citing people in contempt of court even without legal basis. In Macrohon v. Ibay, Judge Ibay was again found liable for grave abuse of authority for which he was fined P25,000.00. For committing the same offense once more, he was penalized in Nuñez v. Ibay with a fine of P40,000.00. When we found Judge Ibay guilty of grave abuse of authority for the fourth time in Inonog v. Ibay, we ordered him to pay another fine of P40,000.00.

We note that in the matter before us that Judge Francisco was previously found guilty in Gragera v. Francisco of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct for the unauthorized practice of law, for which he was fined P12,000.00 with a warning that the commission of a similar or other infractions shall be dealt with severely. Despite this warning, we yet again find Judge Francisco committing another administrative offense, i.e., grave abuse of authority.

Disrespecful behavior of Pros. Nofuente’s group (A.M. No. P-10-2745)

Judge Francisco charged Javier, Laurel, and Ramos with grave misconduct. He averred that the three court personnel were close to Pros. Nofuente, and referred to them as Pros. Nofuente‘s group, who exhibited disrespectful behavior towards him.

We note that Judge Francisco‘s charge for grave misconduct against the three court employees is essentially based on the same allegation of facts as his Direct Contempt Order. Consequently, for the same reasons we held that Judge Francisco wrongfully issued his Direct Contempt Order against Pros. Nofuente‘s group, we exculpate Javier, Laurel, and Ramos from the judge‘s charge for Grave Misconduct.

Misconduct is ―a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer.‖ The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules, which must be established by substantial evidence.

Judge Francisco was unable to present any evidence at all to support his accusations against Javier, Laurel, and Ramos. There is no one to corroborate Judge Francisco‘s narration of the instances when the three court personnel purportedly disrespected him or of the supposed motives which prompted said personnel to behave so. It is difficult for us to conclude that Judge Francisco was the subject of the boisterous conversations, raucous laughter, and sharp glances of Javier, Laurel, and Ramos in the absence of substantial evidence. We are hard put to rule that they were guilty of behavior amounting to misconduct, much more, grave misconduct, there being no showing of any established and definite rule of action transgressed or disregarded by the charged court personnel.

Falsification of DTRs by the court personnel (A.M. Nos. P-10-2745, RTJ-001992, P-10-2746, and P-10-2747)

In A.M. Nos. P-10-2745, RTJ-00-1992, P-10-2746, and P-10-2747, Judge Francisco charged several employees of the RTC of Biñan, Laguna, with the falsification of DTRs, among other administrative offenses. We shall jointly discuss these administrative cases in so far as they concern the charges for falsification.

It is well-settled that 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. It must be remembered that while this Court has the duty to ensure that judges and other court personnel perform their duties with

utmost efficiency, propriety and fidelity, it is also our obligation to see to it that they are protected from unfounded suits that serve to disrupt rather than promote the orderly administration of justice. Judge Francisco miserably failed in this regard.

Other than Judge Francisco‘s allegations, the records are bereft of any evidence establishing that the charged court employees did indeed falsify their DTRs. Judge Francisco‘s very own testimony before Justice Barrios during the investigation exhibits the weakness of his case against the court employees for falsification of their DTRs. Pertinent portions of said testimony are reproduced below:

J. BARRIOS:

Now, these employees charged with falsification of the Daily Time Record, they‘re employees of which Branch of the RTC of Laguna? JUDGE FRANCISCO:

Nicanor Alfonso is detailed at the Office of the Clerk of Court, Benedicto Pascual employee of Branch 25, Ma. Fe Lopez Branch 24, [Diosalyn] Perez Branch 25, Julieta Chaves Branch 24, Diana Ramos Branch 25, Olivia Laurel Branch 25, Andrew Santos Branch 25, Luis Sevilla Branch 25 and Herminia Javier Office of the Clerk of Court.

J. BARRIOS:

You were at some points in time the Presiding Judge assigned to Branch 24 and Branch 25?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

Branch 25 then Branch 24, your honor.

J. BARRIOS:

Not at a single given time?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

Not at a single given time although when J. Cosico (sic) promoted to the Court of Appeals I was Pairing Judge.

J. BARRIOS:

But only for a short time?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

Only for a short time, your honor.

J. BARRIOS:

When these cases were filed against these parties for falsification were you then the Presiding Judge of Branch 24 when you filed those cases against the employees assigned to the said Branch?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

I was still the Presiding Judge of Branch 24.

J. BARRIOS:

And when you filed these cases against the employees assigned to Branch 25 you were the Presiding Judge of Branch 25. JUDGE FRANCISCO:

No more, your honor please.

J. BARRIOS:

What was your basis in saying that you filed their DTR specifically those assigned to Branch 25 when you were no longer the Presiding Judge of Branch 25?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

When I became the Executive Judge in Regional Trial Court in Biñan, I was able to obtain photocopies of their leave cards with the Office of the Clerk of Court and I found out firstly, that Benedicto Pascual exhausted all his leave credits when he took the Bar Examinations. I was then surprised why he was receiving

his full salary notwithstanding that he was not reporting for work. So, I conducted the investigation.

J. BARRIOS:

So, it was of your personal knowledge that this Benedicto Pascual was not reporting for work but was placing his DTR that he was reporting for work?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

Yes, your honor.

J. BARRIOS:

What about for the others?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

Well, with respect to the stenographers, sir, there was a serious dispute between us. They were reporting for work only once and according to them they were transcribing their note at home. Well, I told them that practice should not be tolerated and when I assumed the position of Acting Presiding Judge in Branch 24 there were hearings cancelled because no stenographer was around and so, I found out that they were receiving their full salary for the month.

J. BARRIOS:

And they entered into the Daily Time Records entries that they were present on that date?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

That‘s the problem, your honor. That‘s the reason why I had been requesting the Office of the Court Administrator for copies of their Daily Time Records I was not successful but from the Finance Department I was able to determine that they were receiving their full salaries for the month.

J. BARRIOS:

And they assumed that progression that they have falsified the time records?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

Yes, your honor please.

J. BARRIOS:

You don‘t use a bundy clock?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

There was no bundy clock in RTC, Biñan. Now, I consulted with Atty. Mariane Carpina and he told me that the employee should sign in a logbook and so I

issued the memorandum circular for the employees. They would comply but . . . and most of the time they falsified the entries in the logbook by signing their names between or in any available space in the logbook.

J. BARRIOS:

Was that done in your presence and observation?

JUDGE FRANCISCO:

Well, the making of the entries was not done in my presence but then I confronted them about this singit and they readily admitted it and change their DTR to conform with the correct time that became the source of dispute between me and the employees. (Emphases ours.)

The questioning of Judge Francisco continued:

PROS. NOFUENTE:

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court

Manila

FIRST DIVISION

ATTY. JOSE A. BERNAS, Complainant,

A.M. No. MTJ-09-1728
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 04-1623-MTJ)

Present:

- versus -

CORONA, C.J., Chairperson, NACHURA,* LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, DEL CASTILLO, and

JUDGE JULIA A. REYES, METROPOLITAN TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 69, PASIG CITY, Respondent.

PEREZ, JJ.

Promulgated:

July 21, 2010 x-----------------------------------------------------x

DECISION

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:

In a verified complaint dated September 29, 2004 filed with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), complainant Jose A. Bernas charged respondent Judge Julia A. Reyes of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC), Branch 69, Pasig City, with gross ignorance of the law and manifest partiality in connection with an eviction suit before the sala of respondent Judge.

As gathered from the complaint and the subsequent documents filed, the antecedent facts of the case, originally docketed as OCA I.P.I. No. 04-1623-MTJ, are as follows:

Complainant was the counsel for Oakridge Properties, Inc. (Oakridge) in an eviction suit filed by the latter against Atty. Joseph M. Alejandro, a tenant in one of its condominium units, who had refused to pay rentals and common expenses since August 15, 2001. For his part, Atty. Alejandro explained that his failure to

pay rentals was justified since the air-conditioning unit which Oakridge provided in the leased premises was allegedly defective.

On June 1, 2004, and during the pendency of the eviction suit, Oakridge padlocked the leased premises, alleging that it was authorized to do so by the terms and conditions of the Contract of Lease. Atty. Alejandro then filed a Petition for Writ of Preliminary Injunction with prayer for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to have the unit reopened. This was heard on June 11, 2004. At the hearing, respondent Judge granted the TRO and ordered Oakridge to reopen the leased premises and to padlock it only if the proper bond was not posted on or before June 18, 2004. She also set the pre-trial or preliminary conference hearing on June 22, 2004.

On June 18, 2004, respondent Judge issued a TRO, one of the bases for the instant complaint, which reads:

Defendant [Atty. Alejandro] having complied with the Order dated June 11, 2004, by filing in Court the necessary injunctive bond in the amount of Php 2,594,556.00, the same is hereby approved.

Accordingly, let a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) be issued in defendant‘s [Atty. Alejandro‘s] favor, ordering plaintiff [Oakridge] to remove the padlock in the premises located at Unit 2402 Discovery Centre, No. 25 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig City and ordering plaintiff [Oakridge] to discontinue the intended inventory of properties found inside the aforesaid premises pending the resolution of this case.

And again on August 16, 2004, respondent Judge issued another Order, which in part reads:

In this regard, Plaintiff Oakridge Properties, Inc., through its Sales and Marketing Manager, Deborah Singson, who signed the instant complaint and its counsel Atty. Jose A. Bernas are hereby ordered to explain in writing within 48 hours from receipt of this Order why they should not both be cited in contempt for failure to comply with the lawful Order of this Court dated June 11, 2004 directing the plaintiff to remove the padlock of the leased premises not later than 5:00 o‘clock of the same day. The Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued by the court on June 18, 2004 was an ultimatum on plaintiff to remove the padlock within a period of twenty (20) days from date of said Order. Certainly, the lapse of said 20-day period did not, in any way, change the order of this court dated June 11, 2004 for plaintiff not to padlock the subject premises.

Less than 48 hours thereafter, and without waiting for the explanations from Oakridge, respondent Judge rendered a Decision dated August 17, 2004, which effectively disposed of the matter covered by the show cause order, as well as the merits of the case itself, notwithstanding the fact that there was still a prescheduled hearing on September 21, 2004 and several motions pending action from respondent Judge.

Hence, the instant complaint alleging that respondent Judge displayed gross ignorance of the law and manifest partiality. Complainant alleged that respondent Judge committed a flagrant violation of the rules when she unduly extended the 20day lifetime of a TRO. Likewise, complainant maintained that respondent Judge erroneously granted a relief which was not prayed for and even awarded damages

which were way beyond the jurisdiction of a first-level court. Complainant thereafter requested that an investigation be conducted and that appropriate penalties be imposed on respondent Judge.

On November 3, 2004, the OCA, through then Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. (now a member of this Court), referred to respondent Judge the complaint for her comment thereon.

In her Manifestation and Motion dated November 12, 2004, respondent Judge claimed that since the subject case had already been appealed by complainant and Oakridge and that the entire records thereof had already been elevated to the Regional Trial Court (RTC), the complainant should be directed to furnish her a complete set of the records of the case to enable her to comment intelligently on the instant complaint.

At the same time, respondent Judge asserted that it was actually complainant himself who asked for the early resolution of the case and that while he sought relief from the court, he simultaneously effected the relief himself in disregard of the authority of the court.

Complainant then filed an Entry of Appearance and Opposition to Manifestation and Motion dated November 22, 2004, arguing that he cannot be

required to furnish respondent Judge with copies of the entire records of the case since A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC does not require him to do so, and that respondent Judge was already furnished by the OCA with the complaint together with the necessary documents and attachments thereto, through the 1 st Indorsement of the OCA.

On January 24, 2005, the OCA received a telegram dated January 21, 2005 from a certain Atty. Carlos Z. Ambrosio, who requested, as counsel for respondent Judge, for the suspension of the proceedings in all the administrative cases filed against respondent Judge. Atty. Ambrosio further manifested therein that a formal motion on the matter will follow as soon as possible.

On June 14, 2005, we issued a Resolution in A.M. No. 04-12-335-MeTC, which reads:

(a) DENY for lack of merit the motion dated 26 January 2005 filed by Atty. Carlos Z. Ambrosio seeking the suspension of the proceedings in all the administrative cases against respondent Judge Julia A. Reyes; and

(b) ORDER respondent Judge Julia A. Reyes to FILE her answer to, or comment on, all the administrative complaints filed against her, within a NON-EXTENDIBLE period of fifteen (15) days from notice hereof. Failure to submit the required answer or comment shall be deemed as waiver on her part to submit the same; and thereafter, all the administrative cases shall be evaluated and acted upon based on the evidence available on record.

No comment was filed by respondent Judge despite having been repeatedly required to file one. Thus, the OCA deemed her failure to comply with the directive as a waiver of her right to present evidence.

In its report and recommendation dated April 6, 2006, the OCA, through then Senior Deputy Court Administrator and Officer-in-Charge Zenaida N. Elepaño and then Assistant Court Administrator Antonio H. Dujua, found respondent Judge guilty of manifest bias, partiality, and grave abuse of authority and recommended that she be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to reemployment in the Government or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned and -controlled corporations and government financial institutions.

We concur with the OCA‘s findings, but with some modification on the penalty imposed.

At the outset, it bears stressing that respondent Judge was required to comment on the instant complaint through the 1st Indorsement dated October 13, 2004. However, respondent Judge merely filed a Manifestation and Motion dated November 12, 2004, wherein she requested for a copy of the entire records of the case. Respondent Judge neither made any further attempts nor exerted any effort

to present her defense. She did not even identify the pertinent documents which she claimed she needed in order to ―intelligently comment‖ on the charges against her. Clearly, her alleged need for verification of the records was but a flimsy excuse since all the pertinent documents were already attached to the complaint which the OCA furnished her. Moreover, respondent Judge knew fully well how and where to secure copies of the rest of the records she needed relative to the case that she decided as these were available upon request with the RTC, Pasig City.

We quote with approval the following disquisition of the OCA regarding this matter:

The Court‘s Resolution dated June 14, 2005 gave the respondent judge a nonextendible period of fifteen days from notice within which to file her answer/comment, with the warning that failure to comply shall be deemed waiver to submit comment and that the case shall thereafter be evaluated based on the evidence available on record. Her failure to comply with the said Resolution has thus resulted in her waiver to present further evidence but has also exposed her indifference to and lack of respect for the Court.

The respondent judge‘s failure to comply with the Court‘s directive to file her comment to the complaint against her constitutes a blatant display of her disobedience to the lawful directives of the Court. 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 because it is their duty to preserve the integrity of the judiciary.

In the instant case, the respondent judge‘s continued failure to comply with the directive of the Court underscores her lack of respect for and defiance of authority. Respectful obedience to the dictates of the law and justice is expected of every judge.

Willfully omitting to comply with the Court‘s directive already exposes the respondent judge to administrative sanction.

With regard to the charge of gross ignorance of the law, we agree with the findings of the OCA that the bases for this charge involve contentious issues which could properly be resolved through an appropriate appeal or other judicial remedies and not through the instant administrative action.

For one, a careful perusal of the documents submitted reveals that the assailed TRO was issued only on June 18, 2004 and not in open court on June 11, 2004 as complainant contends. Respondent Judge, in open court, stated that the TRO was to be issued ―upon posting of the bond on June 18, with the condition that the plaintiff will padlock the premises on or before June 19 if the proper bond is not posted on or before June 18.‖ Consequently, the same suggests that the TRO was subject to the posting of a bond which was apparently paid by Atty. Alejandro within the deadline given in open court and was likewise approved by respondent Judge only after the payment was made.

For another, the issue on the award of excessive damages is, under the Rules of Court, a ground for a motion for reconsideration and as such complainant and his client‘s remedy is judicial in nature. In any event, the assailed grant of relief purportedly not prayed for by a party may be allowed for, indeed, courts of equity are not precluded from granting reliefs which are just and equitable under the

circumstances, as long as they are based on evidence and within their jurisdiction to grant.

The OCA summarized the charge of manifest partiality as follows:

a) cancellation of the hearings on June 22, 2004 and September 21, 2004;

b)

refusal to calendar for hearing on June 4, 2004 [Oakridge‘s] manifestation and motion;

c) delay in resolving the case since it was submitted for resolution in November 2002;

d) disregard of the evidence favorable to [Oakridge];

e)

rendering the August 17, 2004 Decision which disposed of the merits of the case despite the pendency of unresolved incidents; and

f)

undue haste in the issuance of the successive Orders dated August 16 and 17, 2004.

On this score, we again agree with the OCA when it held that:

a.

The June 22, 2004 scheduled hearing, as the complainant himself asserted, was cancelled because the court was then conducting an inventory, indeed a valid ground for postponement, unless such excuse had been fabricated. Upon the other hand, the cancellation of the September 21, 2004 scheduled hearing was an inevitable consequence of the Decision dated August 17, 2004, which necessarily passed upon the defendant‘s ―Motion to Cancel Hearing on September 21, 2004 and to Deem Case Submitted for Resolution‖ dated July 9, 2004;

b.

The alleged refusal to calendar for hearing the plaintiff‘s [Oakridge‘s] manifestation is not substantiated. The complainant failed to adduce proof to establish the incident of refusal, much less the respondent‘s responsibility therefor;

c.

The delay in resolving the case is partly explained in the August 17, 2004 Decision (p. 5 thereof) which states that supplemental position papers were submitted by both parties and other incidents transpired, giving the impression that the complainant himself was party to the delay. At any rate, why the respondent allowed these incidents indicate leniency but not partiality to the prejudice of one party;

d.

The supposed disregard of evidence is a judicial issue which should be properly threshed out through the appropriate judicial remedy, such as the pending appeal of the instant case;

e.

and f. The same observation in the preceding paragraph applies to the alleged pending incidents rendered moot and academic by the August 17, 2004 Decision. Necessarily, these motions and pleadings were integrally considered in the assailed Decision since the issues therein are intertwined with the premises of the case. However, the haste which accompanied the issuance of the August 17, 2004 Decision is suspect. Even before the complainant could explain the ―show cause order‖ contained in the August 16, 2004 Order, the respondent judge issued the August 17, 2004 Decision which, in one portion, already labeled the complainant‘s questioned act as a ―truly devious‖ violation of the June 11, 2004 Order. This precipitate judgment, taken together with the respondent‘s observed leniency and procedural delays, evinces bias and partiality as well as abuse of authority.

After a close scrutiny of all the foregoing circumstances, the Court cannot conclude that respondent Judge was guilty of such misapplication of elementary court rules and procedure as to constitute gross

ignorance of the law. However, the same circumstances, taken together and measured against the high ethical standards set for members of the Judiciary, are clear indicators of manifest bias and partiality as well as grave abuse of authority on the part of respondent Judge. Indubitably, the unseemly haste with which respondent Judge issued the August 17, 2004 Decision without waiting for complainant‘s explanation to her August 16, 2004 show-cause order plainly prejudiced complainant and favored the other party.

Established is the norm that judges should not only be impartial but should also appear impartial. Judges must not only render just, correct and impartial decisions, but must do so in a manner free from any suspicion as to their fairness, impartiality and integrity.

Thus, in the case of Wingarts v. Mejia, this Court ruled:

A judge should be the embodiment of competence, integrity and independence and should administer justice impartially and without delay. He should be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence, dispose of the court‘s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.

This reminder applies even more to lower court judges like herein respondent because they are judicial front-liners who have direct contact with litigants. A review of past decisions shows a wide range of penalty for cases of similar nature. These include reprimand, fine, suspension, and even dismissal. In

assessing the proper penalty against respondent Judge, her deliberate omission to heed the Court‘s directive to answer or to comment on the complaints against her may likewise be factored in.

As a matter of public policy, not every error or mistake of a judge in the performance of his official duties renders him liable. In the absence of fraud, dishonesty or corruption, the acts of a judge in his official capacity do not always constitute misconduct although said acts may be erroneous. It is true that a judge may not be disciplined for error of judgment absent proof that such error was made with a conscious and deliberate intent to cause an injustice. This does not mean, however, that a judge need not observe propriety, discreetness and due care in the performance of his official functions. Indeed, all members of the Bench are enjoined to behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

We now delve on the matter of penalties. Judge Julia Reyes‘s disregard of the directive of this Court as embodied in its Resolution of June 14, 2005, warrants disciplinary sanction. Her conduct in the premises constitutes less serious charges under Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10SC on September 11, 2001, for which a judge may be suspended from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one (1) nor more than three (3) months, or fined in the amount of more than Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) but not exceeding Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00), depending upon the circumstances in each case. Moreover, the OCA correctly found respondent Judge

guilty of manifest bias, partiality, as well as grave abuse of authority, and recommended that respondent Judge be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave credits.

However, during the pendency of this case, respondent Judge was meted the penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch of the government including government-owned or -controlled corporations, in the Court‘s per curiam Decision dated September 18, 2009 on the consolidated administrative cases, A.M. Nos. MTJ-06-1623, MTJ-06-1624, MTJ06-1625, MTJ-06-1627, MTJ-06-1638, and P-09-2693. Unfortunately for

respondent Judge, this does not render the instant case moot. Respondent Judge must not be allowed to evade administrative liability by her previous dismissal from the service.

Thus, in view of respondent Judge‘s previous separation from the service, this Court finds it proper to impose in the present case a fine of Forty Thousand Pesos (P40,000.00) to be deducted from her accrued leave credits.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Julia A. Reyes of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Pasig City, Branch 69, is found guilty of manifest bias, partiality and grave abuse of authority and ordered to pay a fine in the amount of Forty

Thousand Pesos (P40,000.00) to be deducted from her accrued leave credits, if sufficient; if not, then she should pay the said amount directly to this Court.

SO ORDERED.

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

RENATO C. CORONA
Chief Justice Chairperson

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA Associate Justice

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
Associate Justice

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ Associate Justice

*

Per Raffle dated June 28, 2010 Rollo, pp. 1-34. Oakridge Properties, Inc. v. Joseph Anthony Alejandro, Civil Case No. 9209. Section 4 of the Contract of Lease dated August 29, 2000, cited in the complaint filed by Jose A. Bernas; rollo, p. 2. Rollo, p. 41. Id. at 43.

Id. at 59-69. 1st Indorsement dated October 13, 2004; rollo, p. 97. Id. at 98. Id. at 99-103. Dated September 11, 2001 and effective on October 1, 2001. Rollo, p. 104. Cited in the OCA Report and Recommendation dated April 6, 2006; id. at 108. Id. at 105-113. Id. at 108-109. Id. at 41. TSN, June 11, 2004, p. 44; id. at 37. Section 1, last paragraph, Rule 37, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended. Rollo, pp. 109-110. Rollo, pp. 110-111. Rallos v. Gako, Jr., 385 Phil. 4, 20 (2000); cited in Dacera, Jr. v. Dizon, Jr., 391 Phil. 835, 844 (2000). 312 Phil. 518, 527 (1995). Supra note 17. Meris v. Ofilada, 355 Phil. 353 (1998); Benjamin, Sr. v. Alaba, 330 Phil. 130 (1996); Sandoval v. Manalo, 329 Phil. 416 (1996); Santos v. De Gracia, 531 Phil. 204 (1982). 600 SCRA 345. Office of the Court Administrator v. Cunting, A.M. No. P-04-1917, December 10, 2007, 539 SCRA 494, 512; Sibulo v. San Jose, A.M. No. P-05-2088, November 11, 2005, 474 SCRA 464, 471. Cañada v. Suerte, A.M. No. RTJ-04-1875, November 9, 2005, 474 SCRA 379, 389-390.

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila

SECOND DIVISION

ROLANDO E. MARCOS, Complainant,

A.M. No. RTJ-09-2180
[Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 08-2817-RTJ]

Present:

- versus -

CARPIO, J., Chairperson, PERALTA, BERSAMIN,* ABAD, and MENDOZA, JJ.

JUDGE OFELIA T. PINTO, Regional Trial Court, Branch 60, Angeles City, Respondent.

Promulgated:

July 26, 2010

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

DECISION PERALTA, J.:

Before this Court is a Complaint dated February 1, 2008, filed by Rolando E. Marcos (complainant) against respondent Ofelia T. Pinto (respondent judge), Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 60, Angeles City, for Gross Ignorance of the Law, Knowingly Rendering an Unjust Judgment/Order and Partiality relative to Criminal Case No. 04-775 entitled People of the Philippines v. Espilo Leyco.

The antecedent facts of the case, as culled from the records, are as follows: On September 5, 2001, a criminal case for violation of Republic Act (R.A.) 7610, docketed as Criminal Case No. 04-775, entitled People v. Espilo Leyco was filed before the RTC of Angeles City, Branch 60, presided by respondent Judge Pinto. Accused Leyco was arraigned on August 31, 2005. Pre-trial was terminated and trial ensued with the presentation of witnesses. Meanwhile, while the case was being tried, accused Leyco filed a petition for review with the Secretary of the Department of Justice and sought to set aside the resolution of the Angeles City Prosecution Office, which recommended the filing of the information against the accused.

On October 25, 2006, a year after the case was filed, the Secretary of Justice, Raul Gonzales, reversed the resolution of the Angeles City Prosecution and directed the City Prosecutor to file a Motion to Withdraw the Information filed against accused Leyco. On November 10, 2006, in compliance with the said directive, the Assistant City Prosecutor handling the subject case filed a Motion to Withdraw Information. Thus, on November 16, 2006, private complainant in the said case moved for reconsideration of the DOJ‘s resolution. On December 22, 2006, while the resolution of private complainant‘s motion for reconsideration was still pending, respondent Judge Pinto granted the Motion to Withdraw Information and dismissed the subject case. The pertinent portion of the Order reads:

On November 13, 2006, the Court gave Atty. Renan B. Castillo, private prosecutor, to file his comment and/or objection on the Motion to Withdraw Information dated November 10, 2006 filed by 2nd Assistant City Prosecutor Oliver S. Garcia and duly approved by City Prosecutor Teilo P. Quiambao. Up to this time, the said intended pleading has not been filed. WHEREFORE, the Court grants the Motion to Withdraw Information and considers this case as dismissed. The cash bail posted by the accused is hereby ordered released to him upon presentation of the original receipt. SO ORDERED. Angeles City, Philippines, December 22, 2006. (Signed) Ofelia Tuazon Pinto

On February 2, 2007, private complainant filed a motion seeking the reconsideration of the order of dismissal but was denied.

On April 15, 2008, Secretary Gonzales denied private complainant‘s motion for reconsideration.

Thus, feeling aggrieved, Marcos, one of the witnesses in the subject criminal case, filed the instant administrative complaint against respondent Judge Pinto.

Marcos alleged that respondent judge did not even exert any effort to assess whether there was a valid ground to dismiss the case. He claimed that respondent judge cannot validly dismiss the case based on the failure of the private prosecutor to file any comment or opposition to the motion to withdraw information. More so since as of November 17, 2006, the private prosecutor already withdrew himself from handling the subject case. Complainant also pointed out that respondent judge did not even set a time frame within which to file the comment or opposition.

Moreover, complainant alleged that respondent judge manifested bias and partiality in favor of accused Leyco which he attributed to a special relationship between respondent judge and the Spouses Leyco. Complainant claimed that respondent judge even acted as the solemnizing officer at the marriage of Paul F. Leyco, son of accused Leyco. He, thus, questioned the integrity of respondent judge, considering that the marriage ceremony was held on January 19, 2007 during the period when respondent judge issued the assailed order of dismissal. To support his claim, complainant presented a certified true copy of the marriage certificate issued by the National Statistics Office showing that respondent judge was indeed the one who solemnized the marriage at the Leyco‘s residence.

On March 5, 2008, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) directed Judge Pinto to file her Comment on the instant complaint.

In her Comment dated April 2, 2008, Judge Pinto denied the allegations of the complainant and claimed the same to be misplaced and baseless. She insisted that she exercised judicial discretion when she issued the Order dismissing the criminal case against Leyco. She emphasized that Marcos should have resorted to the appropriate judicial recourse instead of filing the instant administrative complaint. Judge Pinto likewise argued that complainant‘s allegation that she had been biased and partial to the accused was unsupported by evidence. She, however, admitted that she was indeed the solemnizing officer in the marriage of the accused‘ son, Paul Leyco, but stressed that it was her duty after all to solemnize marriages under the Family Code. She likewise pointed out that she did not know that the parties were related to the accused. She claimed that she came to know of such fact only when she was already in the residence of the marrying parties. Judge Pinto insisted that said act cannot be equated as giving favor to a party in a criminal case contrary to what the complainant claims. Finally, Judge Pinto argued that the instant complaint should be dismissed outright, because complainant Marcos was not the true party-in-interest in the criminal case; thus, he has no locus standi to file the complaint. Marcos was a mere witness for the prosecution.

In a Memorandum dated March 9, 2009, the OCA recommended that the complaint be re-docketed as a regular administrative complaint against Judge

Pinto. It, likewise, recommended that the matter be referred to the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation.

The OCA maintained that while Marcos is not the real party-in-interest in the subject case, he can still file the instant administrative case against respondent judge. It explained that in administrative proceedings, the issue is not whether the complainant has a cause of action against the respondent, but whether the employees have breached the norms and standards of the Judiciary.

Thus, the Court, in a Resolution dated April 20, 2009, resolved to re-docket the administrative complaint as a regular administrative matter against Judge Pinto and referred the matter to the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for raffle among the Justices, for investigation, report and recommendation.

In compliance, Justice Arturo G. Tayag, in his Report and Recommendation, found the charges of gross ignorance of the law and knowingly rendering an erroneous or unjust order against Judge Pinto to be true and with basis. He, however, found the charge of violation of Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct to be baseless.

In his Report, Justice Tayag, observed that Judge Pinto did not perform her duty of making an independent evaluation or assessment of the merits of the case when she dismissed Criminal Case No. 04-775. He, however, found no basis for violation of Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, since he noted that in cases where both the parties requested the solemnizing officer, in writing, to have the marriage solemnized at a house or place designated by them, such can be done.

Accordingly, Justice Tayag, after considering that this is the respondent‘s first offense and that respondent has a good record as a Family Court Judge, recommended that Judge Pinto be meted a penalty of two (2) months suspension from service without pay.

RULING

While we agree that respondent judge should be administratively held liable for her acts, we, however, disagree with the findings and recommendation of the Investigating Justice.

To be held liable for gross ignorance of the law, the judge must be shown to have committed an error that was ―gross or patent, deliberate or malicious.‖ Also administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law is a judge who – shown to have been motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption – ignored, contradicted or failed to apply settled law and jurisprudence. Such is not the case presently before this Court.

In the instant case, it was apparent that the assailed Order of dismissal was solely anchored on the private prosecutor‘s failure to file his comment and/or objection to the Motion to Withdraw the Information. Indeed, respondent judge did not perform her duty of making an independent evaluation or assessment of the merits of the case when she dismissed Criminal Case No. 04-775. The disputed Order does not contain the facts of the case and the law upon which the dismissal

was based. However, there was also no evidence showing that in issuing said Order, respondent judge was motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption.

In administrative proceedings like the one at bench, it goes without saying that it is the complainant who has the burden of proving by substantial evidence the allegations in their complaint. We do not find any evidence to support complainant‘s accusations.

As a matter of public policy then, the acts of a judge in his official capacity are not subject to disciplinary action, even though such acts are erroneous. Good faith and absence of malice, corrupt motives or improper considerations are sufficient defenses in which a judge charged with ignorance of the law can find refuge. It does not mean, however, that a judge, given the leeway he is accorded in such cases, should not evince due care in the performance of his adjudicatory prerogatives.

With regard to the accusation of impropriety, we find it to be with basis. Section 1, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary enunciates the rule that “Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities."

Upon assumption of office, a judge becomes the visible representation of the law and of justice. Membership in the Judiciary circumscribes one‘s personal conduct and imposes upon him a number of inhibitions, whose faithful observance is the price one has to pay for holding such an exalted position. Thus, a magistrate of the law must comport himself at all times in such a manner that his conduct, official or otherwise, can withstand the most searching public scrutiny, for the ethical principles and sense of propriety of a judge are essential to the preservation of the people‘s faith in the judicial system. This Court does not require of judges that they measure up to the standards of conduct of the saints and martyrs, but we do expect them to be like Caesar‘s wife in all their activities. Hence, we require them to abide strictly by the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Here, it appears that respondent judge has failed to live up to those rigorous standards. Her act of solemnizing the marriage of accused‘s son in the residence of the accused speaks for itself. It is improper and highly unethical for a judge to actively participate in such social affairs, considering that the accused is a party in a case pending before her own sala. What she should have done was courteously deny the parties‘ request. Her claim that she was unaware that the parties were related to the accused fails to convince.

In pending or prospective litigations before them, judges should be scrupulously careful to avoid anything that may tend to awaken the suspicion that their personal, social or sundry relations could influence their objectivity. Not only must judges possess proficiency in law, they must also act and behave in such

manner that would assure litigants and their counsel of the judges‘ competence, integrity and independence.

Considering the above findings, it is apparent that respondent judge‘s actuations constitute simple misconduct.

Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No.

01-8-10-

SC, simple misconduct is considered a less serious offense, sanctioned with suspension without pay for not less than one month, but not more than three months, or a fine of not less than Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) but not exceeding Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00).

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Judge Ofelia T. Pinto of the Regional Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch 60, GUILTY of SIMPLE MISCONDUCT for which she is FINED in the amount of P10,000.00. She is, likewise, STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

ANTONIO T. CARPIO Associate Justice Chairperson

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN Associate Justice

ROBERTO A. ABAD Associate Justice

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA Associate Justice

* Designated as an additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura, per Raffle dated July 19, 2010. Rollo, pp. 1-20. An Act Providing For Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination, And For Other Purposes. Approved June 17, 1992. Rollo, pp. 229-230. Id. Id. at 21. Id. at 22. Id. at 92. Id. at 96-106. Id. at 210- 214. Id. at 215-216. Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals to whom the instant administrative case was raffled for investigation and recommendation. Cabatingan, Sr. v. Arcueno, A.M. No. MTJ-00-1323, August 22, 2002, 387 SCRA 532, 541.

Araos v. Luna-Pison, A.M. No. RTJ-02-1677, February 28, 2002, 378 SCRA 246, 250251. Diego v. Judge Castillo, 479 Phil. 705, 713 (2004). A.M. No. 03-05-01-SC, effective June 1, 2004. OCA v. Judge Sayo, 431 Phil. 408 (2002). Atty. Molina v. Judge Paz, 462 Phil. 620, 630 (2003).

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila

THIRD DIVISION

RUBEN N. SALCEDO,

A.M. NO. RTJ-10-2236 (Formerly OCA I.P.I. NO. 09-3083-RTJ)

Complainant, Present:

CARPIO MORALES, J., Chairperson, BRION, BERSAMIN, ABAD,* and - versus VILLARAMA, JR., JJ.

Promulgated:

JUDGE GIL G. BOLLOZOS, Respondent.

July 5, 2010

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

RESOLUTION

BRION, J.:

We pass upon the verified Letter-Complaint, dated August 29, 2008, filed by Ruben N. Salcedo (complainant), charging Judge Gil G. Bollozos (respondent judge), Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Cagayan de Oro City, with Grave Misconduct and Ignorance of the Law in the handling of SPEC. PROC. No. 2008-009, entitled ―Jose Tanmalack, Jr., represented by Jocelyn Tanmalack Tan v. Police Officers of Police Precinct No. 3, Agora, Lapasan, Cagayan De Oro City, and Insp. Wylen Rojo.‖

THE FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The complaint arose from a verified handwritten petition for the Writ of Habeas Corpus and the Writ of Amparo (the petition) filed by Jose Tanmalack, Jr. against the Police Officers of Police Precinct No. 3, Agora, Lapasan, Cagayan de Oro City, and Inspector Wylen Rojo. The complainant alleged that he is a coowner of a parcel of land (disputed property) covered by Original Certificate of Title No. O-740 and registered in the name of Patricio Salcedo. The disputed property is about 126,112 square meters wide and is situated in Lapasan, Cagayan de Oro City.

On January 23, 2008 at around 2:30 p.m., while the complainant (together with his niece Rebecca R. Lumbay and his nephew Alan Jose P. Roa) was supervising an on-going construction over the disputed property, Tanmalack and heavily armed men arrived and forced themselves inside the fenced premises of the disputed property. The complainant averred that Tanmalack and his companions

harassed and threatened to kill and to harm him and his workers; that Tanmalack uttered defamatory statements and accused him of land-grabbing; and that Tanmalack and his companions occupied the property and destroyed building materials such as G.I. sheets, lumber and other construction materials.

The complainant forthwith reported the incident to the nearby police station. The police promptly responded and arrested Tanmalack and brought him in for questioning. That same afternoon at around 4:45 p.m., Tanmalack, represented by his sister, Jocelyn Tanmalack Tan, filed the petition on his behalf while Tanmalack was detained by the police for employing ―self-help in preventing squatters from putting up improvements in their titled property.‖

Clerk of Court Atty. Herlie Luis-Requerme narrated the circumstances surrounding the filing of the petition and how it came to be referred to the respondent judge‘s sala, as follows:

1. In the late afternoon of January 23, 2008, a query was received by the Office regarding the procedure in filing a petition for a Writ of Amparo. We gave the information that the established procedure is to assign cases to the different branches by raffling or in urgent cases, by a special raffle upon proper motions. But since the office has not received any case of that nature yet, and as the schedule of raffling will still be in

the afternoon of the next day, it will be referred to the Executive Judge for instruction and or appropriate action; 2. That since the Executive Judge was on leave, I went to consult the 1 st Vice Executive Judge Evelyn Gamotin Nery. Since Judge Nery was busy at that time, I went to see 2nd Vice Executive Judge Ma. Anita Esguerra-Lucagbo; 3. That I clarified from Judge Lucagbo the procedure to be adopted under the Rule on the Writ of Amparo (A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC); 4. That the issue if any judge can immediately act on the petition was not clearly stated in the Rule but if the case will be referred to her as the 2 nd Vice Executive Judge, she will be willing to look at the petition; 5. That when I went back at the Office at a little past 5:00 P.M. already, direct from the chamber of Judge Lucagbo, I found out that a Petition for Writ of Amparo was filed at around 4:45 P.M. as stamped in the petition; 6. That since I was out of the office, the Docket Clerk in charge, Mr. Rudy Exclamador, referred the case to the Administrative Officer Mary Lyn Charisse Lagamon; 7. That thinking I was no longer around as the personnel to whom I left the information that I was going to the sala of 1st Vice Executive Judge Nery was not able to inform the Admin. Officer of my whereabouts, Mr. Exclamador was instructed by her to refer the case to you [referring to the respondent judge]; 8. That upon learning of the fact, I immediately called Mr. Exclamador and Ms. Lagamon to explain why they referred the case to your sala without any instruction from me; 9. That they said that they are of the honest belief that I was no longer around; that the lawyer was insisting to refer the case immediately to a judge since it is already 5:00 P.M. and considering the novelty, urgency and importance of the case, and fearing that no judge will be left to act on the petition if they still discuss what to do, Mr. Exclamador, with the concurrence of Admin. Officer Lagamon, referred the case to you since your sala was the nearest to our office, it being adjacent to your court; 10. That there is nobody from this Office who brought the handwritten petition to Judge Lucagbo nor was there any instruction from her to any of the personnel to have the petition conform to a form acceptable to the court, such fact was confirmed by Judge Lucagbo; 11. That the office only acted what it deemed best under the circumstances and was not motivated by any ill motive or malice.

Based on the petition and answers to the clarificatory questions propounded to Tanmalack‘s representative and counsel, the respondent judge immediately issued a Writ of Amparo dated January 23, 2008, directing ―the police officers of Agora Police Station 3 or Insp. Wylen Rojo x x x to release immediately upon receipt of [the] writ but not later than 6:00 P.M. today, petitioner Jose Tanmalack, Jr., to the custody of Atty. Francis V. Ku.‖ The respondent judge also directed the police officers to file their verified return to the petition within five (5) working days, together with supporting affidavits, in conformity with Section 9 of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo.

Around 5:30 p.m., the Writ of Amparo was served upon SPO3 Aener O. Adajar, PNP Chief Investigator. At six o‘clock in the evening of that same day, the police released Tanmalack to the custody of Atty. Francis Ku.

In his complaint, the complainant questions the issuance of the Writ of Amparo which he claims had been unusually issued with haste. The complainant claims that the handwritten petition did not give any ground to warrant the issuance of the Writ of Amparo; that the respondent judge acted with grave abuse of discretion, bias, and obvious partiality, and in grave disregard of the Rules and the rule of law when he acted upon and granted the letter-petition for the issuance of the Writ of Amparo. The complainant also alleges that the respondent judge ―accommodated‖ the issuance of the Writ of Amparo because he and Atty. Francis Ku (Tanmalack‘s counsel) are members of the Masonic fraternity.

The respondent judge filed his Comment dated March 30, 2009, in compliance with the directive of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA). In his defense, he alleged:

(a) [W]hen he received the petition from the Office of the Clerk of Court, he had no option but to exercise his judicial duty without any bias or partiality, nor did he consider that the petitioner‘s counsel is a fraternal brother (Mason);

(b) [A]lthough the petition is for the issuance of both writ of amparo and writ of habeas corpus, he deemed it more in consonance with the [Rule on the Writ of Amparo];

(c) [I]t was not improper even if the x x x petition was not raffled, and was immediately assigned to his sala by the Office of the Clerk of Court, since Par. 2, Sec. 3 of A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC states that any judge of a Regional Trial Court (RTC) can issue a writ and the said Sec. 3 further states that it can be filed on any day and at any time;

(d) [T]he person who filed the petition is the sister of Mr. Tanmalack who was detained at the Agora Police Station, Cagayan de Oro City; that the issuance of the writ was a matter of great urgency because the alleged illegal deprivation of liberty was made in the late afternoon of January 23, 2008, which was a Friday, and that if the Court would not act on the petition, the detainee would certainly spend the night in jail;

(e) [T]he petition, although in handwritten form, is not improper because Section 5 of the SC Circular (on the Writ of Amparo) only requires that the same be signed and verified; that he found the petition sufficient in form and in substance;

(f)

[A]lthough the Amparo rules mandate that a judge shall immediately order the issuance of the writ if on its face it ought to issue, he propounded clarificatory

questions on the petitioner‘s representative and their counsel, thus, the following information were elicited:

1)

That the property of petitioner‘s family, which is under their possession and Tanmalack registered under TCT No. T-1627491, was intruded by some persons who wanted to fence the area and put up improvements by constructing ―shanties‖ thereon;

2) That when petitioner Mr. Tanmalack prevented the intrusion it resulted to heated arguments and altercations which prompted him to go to the police station to report the incident and be blottered;

3)

That when Mr. Tanmalack arrived at the police station in the late afternoon of January 23, 2008 in order to air his complaint, the intruders came and introduced themselves as the owners of the property;

4)

That when Police Officer Rojo (Rojo) heard the version of these intruders and despite the protestations of petitioner and his relatives, the police did not anymore allow Mr. Tanmalack to leave the police station; and,

5)

That petitioner‘s counsel called up Rojo to secure the immediate release of his client from police custody but to no avail;

(g) [A]fter he assiduously evaluated the aforestated facts, as well as the allegations in the petition, respondent Judge, in the exercise of his judicial function, found that the same warranted the issuance of the writ; the arrest of Mr. Tanmalack was unlawful because Rojo was not present in the area where the alleged incident happened, so that the statements of the complainants (Salcedo, Lumbay and Roa) would be hearsay;

(h) [I]n the Writ of Amparo the respondents were directed to file a verified return pursuant to the rules; during the summary hearing of the petition on 25 January 2008, it was only Rojo who appeared, the alleged complainants (Salcedo, Lumbay and Roa) who caused the detention of the petitioner were absent; P/Insp. Rojo, when asked by the Court, gave the following answers:

1)

That he would no longer file his Answer (which should be a verified return) on the complaint considering that the petitioner was already released;

2)

That he confirmed that it was the petitioner who came first to the police station to complain, followed by the person who wanted to fence the property; the conflict between the petitioner and the other persons is on a property dispute, of which it was petitioner who is in possession; and

3)

That he denied that he had arrested the petitioner and neither did he detain him but only he could not release the petitioner because of the complaint and for further evaluation.

(i) [H]e noted that the police blotter did not state that petitioner brought heavily armed men with him when he allegedly harassed the complainant.

[(j) That in the summary hearing on January 25, 2008, the petitioner as well as the respondent Rojo have arrived into an agreement that the writ be considered permanent.]

THE REPORT OF THE OCA

The OCA informed the Court that the case was already ripe for resolution in a Report dated April 8, 2010, signed by Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez and Deputy Court Administrator Raul Bautista Villanueva. The Report likewise presented a brief factual background of the case.

The OCA recommended that the administrative complaint against the respondent judge be dismissed for lack of merit. The recommendation was based on an evaluation which reads:

EVALUATION: The complaint is bereft of merit.

The petition for a writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, as in the instant case, or of a private individual or entity. Whereas in other jurisdictions the writ covers only actual violations, the Philippine version is more protective of the right to life, liberty and security because it covers both actual and threatened violations of such rights.

Nowhere in the records of the instant complaint that the issuance of the writ of amparo was attended by irregularities. The detainee‘s sister who filed the petition is allowed under Section 2(b) of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo (SC A.M. No. 07-9-12SC). Also, the petition was properly filed with the Regional Trial Court ―where the act or omission was committed or where any of its elements occurred.‖

Respondent Judge, in whose sala the said petition was assigned is deemed to have complied with his oath and judicial duty when he ordered the issuance of the writ of amparo upon determination that the right to liberty of Mr. Tanmalack was being violated or threatened to be violated. These is no showing that respondent Judge, in granting the petition for a writ of amparo was motivated by bad faith, ignominy or ill will, thus, herein complainant‘s allegation that respondent Judge‘s act was tainted with grave abuse of discretion and authority, bias and partiality, and grave disregard of the rules, deserves scant consideration.

This Office agrees with respondent Judge‘s observation that ―Rojo‘s declaration not anymore to contest the petition and that he (Rojo) did not arrest nor detain petitioner, but admitted that he could not release the latter for further evaluation because of the complaint is an admission that he deprived [or threatened to deprive] Jose [Dy Tanmalack] of his liberty.‖

OUR RULING

We

concur

with

the

OCA’s

recommendation

that

the

administrative complaint against the respondent judge be dismissed for lack of merit.

At the outset, we agree with the complainant that the respondent judge erred in issuing the Writ of Amparo in Tanmalack‘s favor. Had he read Section 1 of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo more closely, the respondent judge would have realized that the writ, in its present form, only applies to ―extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.‖ The present case involves concerns that are purely property and commercial in nature – concerns that we have previously ruled are not covered by the Writ of Amparo. In Tapuz v. Del Rosario, we held:
To start off with the basics, the writ of amparo was originally conceived as a response to the extraordinary rise in the number of killings and enforced disappearances, and to the perceived lack of available and effective remedies to address these extraordinary concerns. It is intended to address violations of or threats to the rights to life, liberty or security, as an extraordinary and independent remedy beyond those available under the prevailing Rules, or as a remedy supplemental to these Rules. What it is not, is a writ to protect concerns that are purely property or commercial. Neither is it a writ that we shall issue on amorphous and uncertain grounds. Consequently, the Rule on the Writ of Amparo – in line with the extraordinary character of the writ and the reasonable certainty that its issuance demands – requires that every petition for the issuance of the writ must be supported by justifying allegations of fact, to wit:

―(a) The personal circumstances of the petitioner;

(b) The name and personal circumstances of the respondent responsible for the threat, act or omission, or, if the name is unknown or uncertain, the respondent may be described by an assumed appellation;

(c) The right to life, liberty and security of the aggrieved party violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of the respondent, and how such threat or violation is committed with the attendant circumstances detailed in supporting affidavits;

(d) The investigation conducted, if any, specifying the names, personal circumstances, and addresses of the investigating authority or individuals, as well as the manner and conduct of the investigation, together with any report;

(e) The actions and recourses taken by the petitioner to determine the fate or whereabouts of the aggrieved party and the identity of the person responsible for the threat, act or omission; and

(f) The relief prayed for.

The petition may include a general prayer for other just and equitable reliefs.‖

The writ shall issue if the Court is preliminarily satisfied with the prima facie existence of the ultimate facts determinable from the supporting affidavits that detail the circumstances of how and to what extent a threat to or violation of the rights to life, liberty and security of the aggrieved party was or is being committed.

In the present case, the Writ of Amparo ought not to have been issued by the respondent judge since Tanmalack‘s petition is fatally defective in substance and content, as it does not allege that he is a victim of ―extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or the threats thereof.‖ The petition merely states that he is ―under threat of deprivation of liberty with the police stating that he is not arrested but merely ‗in custody.‘‖

Whether the respondent judge could be held administratively liable for the error he committed in the present case, is, however, a question we must answer in the negative.

Plainly, the errors attributed to respondent judge pertain to the exercise of his adjudicative functions. As a matter of policy, in the absence of fraud, dishonesty, and corruption, the acts of a judge in his official capacity are not subject to disciplinary action. He cannot be subjected to liability – civil, criminal, or administrative – for any of his official acts, no matter how erroneous, as long as he acts in good faith. Only judicial errors tainted with fraud, dishonesty, gross ignorance, bad faith, or deliberate intent to do an injustice will be administratively sanctioned. 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 present case, the propriety of the issuance of the Writ of Amparo cannot be raised as an issue in the present administrative case. The proper recourse for the complainant should have been to file an appeal, from the final judgment or order of the respondent judge, to this Court under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, pursuant to Section 19 of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo. In Bello III 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. We laid down the rationale for the rule in Flores v. Abesamis, viz:

As everyone knows, the law provides ample judicial remedies against errors or irregularities being committed by a Trial Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction. The ordinary remedies against errors or irregularities which may be regarded as normal in nature (i.e., error in appreciation or admission of evidence, or in construction or application of procedural or substantive law or legal principle) include a motion for reconsideration (or after rendition of a judgment or final order, a motion for new trial), and appeal. The extraordinary remedies against error or irregularities which may be deemed extraordinary in character (i.e., whimsical, capricious, despotic exercise of power or neglect of duty, etc.) are, inter alia the special civil actions of certiorari, prohibition or mandamus, or a motion for inhibition, a petition for change of venue, as the case may be.

Now, the established doctrine and policy is that disciplinary proceedings and criminal actions against Judges are not complementary or suppletory of, nor a substitute for, these judicial remedies, whether ordinary or extraordinary. Resort to and exhaustion of these judicial remedies, as well as the entry of judgment in the corresponding action or proceeding, are pre-requisites for the taking of other measures against the persons of the judges concerned, whether of civil, administrative, or criminal nature. It is only after the available judicial remedies have been exhausted and the appellate tribunals have spoken with finality, that the door to an inquiry into his criminal, civil, or administrative liability may be said to have opened, or closed.

Flores resorted to administrative prosecution (or institution of criminal actions) as a substitute for or supplement to the specific modes of appeal or review provided by law from court judgments or orders, on the theory that the Judges‘ orders had caused him ―undue injury.‖ This is impermissible, as this Court has already more than once ruled. Law and logic decree that “administrative or criminal remedies are neither alternative nor cumulative to judicial review where such review is available, and must wait on the result thereof.” Indeed, since judges must be free to judge, without pressure or influence from external forces or factors, they should not be subject to intimidation, the fear of civil, criminal or administrative sanctions for acts they may do and dispositions they may make in the performance of their duties and functions; and it is sound rule, which must be recognized independently of statute, that judges are not generally liable for acts done within the scope of their jurisdiction and in good faith; and that exceptionally, prosecution of the judge can be had only if “there be a final declaration by a competent court in some appropriate proceeding of the manifestly

unjust character of the challenged judgment or order, and ** also evidence of malice or bad faith, ignorance or inexcusable negligence, on the part of the judge in rendering said judgment or order” or under the stringent circumstances set out in Article 32 of the Civil Code.

We note, too, that although the respondent judge erred in issuing the Writ of Amparo, we find, as the OCA did, that there is no evidence on record that supports the complainant‘s allegation that the issuance was tainted with manifest bias and partiality, bad faith, or gross ignorance of the law. The fact that the respondent judge and Atty. Francis Ku are members of the Masonic fraternity does not justify or prove that the former acted with bias and partiality. Bias and partiality can never be presumed and must be proved with clear and convincing evidence. While palpable error may be inferred from respondent judge‘s issuance of the Writ of Amparo, there is no evidence on record that would justify a finding of partiality or bias. The complainant‘s allegation of partiality will not suffice in the absence of a clear and convincing proof that will overcome the presumption that the respondent judge dispensed justice according to law and evidence, without fear or favor.

Likewise, bad faith or malice cannot be inferred simply because the judgment is adverse to a party. To hold a judge administratively accountable simply because he erred in his judgment has never been the intent of the law; reasonable competence and good faith judgments, not complete infallibility, are what the law requires.

The more significant issue in this case is the complainant‘s charge of gross ignorance of the law against the respondent judge.

A patent disregard of simple, elementary and well-known rules constitutes gross ignorance of the law. Judges are expected to exhibit more than just cursory acquaintance with laws and procedural rules. They must know the law and apply it properly in good faith. They are likewise expected to keep abreast of prevailing jurisprudence. For, a judge who is plainly ignorant of the law taints the noble office and great privilege vested in him.

We find that the respondent judge‘s error does not rise to the level of gross ignorance of the law that is defined by jurisprudence. We take judicial notice of the fact that at the time he issued the Writ of Amparo on January 23, 2008, the Rule on the Writ of Amparo has been effective for barely three months (The Rule on the Writ of Amparo became effective on October 24, 2007). At that time, the respondent judge cannot be said to have been fully educated and informed on the novel aspects of the Writ of Amparo. Simply stated, the Rule on the Writ of Amparo at that time cannot be said to be a simple, elementary, and well-known rule that its patent disregard would constitute gross ignorance of the law.

More importantly, for full liability to attach for ignorance of the law, the assailed order, decision or actuation of the judge in the performance of official duties must not only be found to be erroneous; it must be established that he was motivated by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred or some other similar motive. In the present case, the complainant failed to prove by substantial evidence that the respondent judge was motivated by bad faith and bias or partiality in the issuance of the Writ of Amparo.

We take this occasion, however, to remind the respondent judge that under Canon 1.01 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge must be "the embodiment of competence, integrity and independence." A judge 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 and be aware of well-settled authoritative doctrines. He owes to the public and to this Court the duty to be proficient in the law. He is expected to keep abreast of laws and prevailing jurisprudence. Judges must not only render just, correct, and impartial decisions, resolutions, and orders, but must do so in a manner free of any suspicion as to their fairness, impartiality, and integrity, for good judges are men who have mastery of the principles of law and who discharge their duties in accordance with law. We mentioned all these to emphasize to the respondent judge the need to be more judicious and circumspect in the issuance of extraordinary writs such as the Writ of Amparo.

We also reiterate that in an administrative proceeding, the complainant has the burden of proving the allegations in the complaint by substantial evidence. We cannot give credence to charges based on mere suspicion or speculation. Hence, when the complainant relies on mere conjectures and suppositions, and fails to substantiate his claim, as in this case, the administrative complaint must be dismissed for lack of merit.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court RESOLVES to DISMISS the administrative complaint against Judge Gil G. Bollozos, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Cagayan de Oro City, for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.

ARTURO D. BRION Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES Associate Justice Chairperson

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN Associate Justice

ROBERTO A. ABAD Associate Justice

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR. Associate Justice
* Designated additional Member of the Third Division effective May 17, 2010, per Special Order No. 843 dated May 17, 2010.
The petition states in full:

June 23, 2008

Hon. Judge Gil Bollozos or the Hon. Executive Judge Jose Escobido or the Vice Exec. Judge in his absence RTC-Mis. Or.

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Petition for Writ of Amparo

Sir:

Jose Tan Malack Jr., is presently detained at the Agora police precinct No. 3, under the command of Insp. Wylen Rojo.

Jose was ―held in custody‖ because he exercised self-help in preventing squatters from putting up improvements inside their titled property in the name of his sister. Property is titled under TCT No. T162749.

1)

The petitioner is Filipino and a resident of c/o Jocelyn TM Tan at Capitol Subd., Osmeña Ave., Cag. De Oro City. The police officers under officer Rojo are the respondents, as well as the alleged squatters.

2)

The petitioner is under threat of deprivation of liberty with the police stating that he is not arrested but merely ―in custody.‖

Wherefore, the prayer is to ask the Court to issue a writ of Amparo or habeas corpus to direct his immediate release.

JAN. 23, 2008. Cagayan de Oro City.

(Sdg.) Jocelyn Tan Malack Tan Sister

I Jocelyn TM Tan, hereby certify that the above statements are true and correct of my own personal knowledge and based on true records.

I have also not commenced any similar action in any body and I endeavor to inform the Court immediately w/in 5 days if I know of such an action exists. That I have not forum-shopped.

JAN. 23, 2008. Cagayan de Oro City.

(Sdg.) Doc. No. 14 Page No. 3 Book No. 54 Series of 2008 ATTY. FRANCIS U. KU Notary Public Until December 31, 2009 IBP Lifetime No. 00548 PTR No. 1653333; 3 Jan, 2008 Roll No. 36666 Cagayan de Oro City

Comment of Judge Gil G. Bollozos, March 30, 2009, pp. 1-2.
Section 1 of the Rule on the Writ of Amparo provides:

Section 1. Petition. - The petition for a writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.

The writ shall cover extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof. [Emphasis supplied] Tapuz v. Del Rosario, G.R. No. 182484, June 17, 2008, 554 SCRA 768. Id., at 784-785.

Supra note 1. Planas v. Reyes, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1905, February 23, 2005, 452 SCRA 146, 155. A.M. No. MTJ-00-1311, October 3, 2003, 412 SCRA 573, 578. A.M. No. SC-96-1, July 10, 1997, 275 SCRA 302. Id. at 316-317. Supra note 7, p. 159. Benito v. Balindong, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2103 (Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 07-2664-RTJ), February 23, 2009, 580 SCRA 41. Visbal v. Vanilla, A.M. No. MTJ-06-1651 (Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 04-1576-MTJ), April 7, 2009, 584 SCRA 11. Id. Licudine v. Saquilayan, A.M. No. P-02-1618, February 14, 2003, 396 SCRA 650, 656; Montes v. Bugtas, A.M. No. RTJ-01-1627, April 17, 2001, 356 SCRA 539, 545; Barbers v. Laguio, Jr., A.M. No. RTJ-00-1568, February 15, 2001, 351 SCRA 606, 634. Supra note 7, p. 161.

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila

SECOND DIVISION

ROLANDO E. MARCOS,

A.M. No. RTJ-09-2180

Complainant,

[Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 08-2817-RTJ]

Present:

- versus -

CARPIO, J., Chairperson, PERALTA, BERSAMIN,* ABAD, and MENDOZA, JJ.

JUDGE OFELIA T. PINTO, Regional Trial Court, Branch 60, Angeles City, Respondent.

Promulgated:

July 26, 2010 x --------------------------------------------------x

DECISION PERALTA, J.:

Before this Court is a Complaint dated February 1, 2008, filed by Rolando E. Marcos (complainant) against respondent Ofelia T. Pinto (respondent judge), Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 60, Angeles City, for Gross

Ignorance of the Law, Knowingly Rendering an Unjust Judgment/Order and Partiality relative to Criminal Case No. 04-775 entitled People of the Philippines v. Espilo Leyco.

The antecedent facts of the case, as culled from the records, are as follows: On September 5, 2001, a criminal case for violation of Republic Act (R.A.) 7610, docketed as Criminal Case No. 04-775, entitled People v. Espilo Leyco was filed before the RTC of Angeles City, Branch 60, presided by respondent Judge Pinto. Accused Leyco was arraigned on August 31, 2005. Pre-trial was terminated and trial ensued with the presentation of witnesses. Meanwhile, while the case was being tried, accused Leyco filed a petition for review with the Secretary of the Department of Justice and sought to set aside the resolution of the Angeles City Prosecution Office, which recommended the filing of the information against the accused.

On October 25, 2006, a year after the case was filed, the Secretary of Justice, Raul Gonzales, reversed the resolution of the Angeles City Prosecution and directed the City Prosecutor to file a Motion to Withdraw the Information filed against accused Leyco. On November 10, 2006, in compliance with the said directive, the Assistant City Prosecutor handling the subject case filed a Motion to Withdraw Information. Thus, on November 16, 2006, private complainant in the said case moved for reconsideration of the DOJ‘s resolution. On December 22, 2006, while the resolution of private complainant‘s motion for reconsideration was still pending, respondent Judge Pinto granted the Motion to Withdraw Information and dismissed the subject case. The pertinent portion of the Order reads:

On November 13, 2006, the Court gave Atty. Renan B. Castillo, private prosecutor, to file his comment and/or objection on the Motion to Withdraw Information dated November 10, 2006 filed by 2nd Assistant City Prosecutor Oliver S. Garcia and duly approved by City Prosecutor Teilo P. Quiambao. Up to this time, the said intended pleading has not been filed. WHEREFORE, the Court grants the Motion to Withdraw Information and considers this case as dismissed. The cash bail posted by the accused is hereby ordered released to him upon presentation of the original receipt. SO ORDERED. Angeles City, Philippines, December 22, 2006. (Signed) Ofelia Tuazon Pinto

On February 2, 2007, private complainant filed a motion seeking the reconsideration of the order of dismissal but was denied. On April 15, 2008, Secretary Gonzales denied private complainant‘s motion for reconsideration.

Thus, feeling aggrieved, Marcos, one of the witnesses in the subject criminal case, filed the instant administrative complaint against respondent Judge Pinto.

Marcos alleged that respondent judge did not even exert any effort to assess whether there was a valid ground to dismiss the case. He claimed that respondent judge cannot validly dismiss the case based on the failure of the private prosecutor to file any comment or opposition to the motion to withdraw information. More so since as of November 17, 2006, the private prosecutor already withdrew himself

from handling the subject case. Complainant also pointed out that respondent judge did not even set a time frame within which to file the comment or opposition.

Moreover, complainant alleged that respondent judge manifested bias and partiality in favor of accused Leyco which he attributed to a special relationship between respondent judge and the Spouses Leyco. Complainant claimed that respondent judge even acted as the solemnizing officer at the marriage of Paul F. Leyco, son of accused Leyco. He, thus, questioned the integrity of respondent judge, considering that the marriage ceremony was held on January 19, 2007 during the period when respondent judge issued the assailed order of dismissal. To support his claim, complainant presented a certified true copy of the marriage certificate issued by the National Statistics Office showing that respondent judge was indeed the one who solemnized the marriage at the Leyco‘s residence.

On March 5, 2008, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) directed Judge Pinto to file her Comment on the instant complaint.

In her Comment dated April 2, 2008, Judge Pinto denied the allegations of the complainant and claimed the same to be misplaced and baseless. She insisted that she exercised judicial discretion when she issued the Order dismissing the criminal case against Leyco. She emphasized that Marcos should have resorted to the appropriate judicial recourse instead of filing the instant administrative complaint. Judge Pinto likewise argued that complainant‘s allegation that she had been biased and partial to the accused was unsupported by evidence. She, however, admitted that she was indeed the solemnizing officer in the marriage of the

accused‘ son, Paul Leyco, but stressed that it was her duty after all to solemnize marriages under the Family Code. She likewise pointed out that she did not know that the parties were related to the accused. She claimed that she came to know of such fact only when she was already in the residence of the marrying parties. Judge Pinto insisted that said act cannot be equated as giving favor to a party in a criminal case contrary to what the complainant claims. Finally, Judge Pinto argued that the instant complaint should be dismissed outright, because complainant Marcos was not the true party-in-interest in the criminal case; thus, he has no locus standi to file the complaint. Marcos was a mere witness for the prosecution.

In a Memorandum dated March 9, 2009, the OCA recommended that the complaint be re-docketed as a regular administrative complaint against Judge Pinto. It, likewise, recommended that the matter be referred to the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation.

The OCA maintained that while Marcos is not the real party-in-interest in the subject case, he can still file the instant administrative case against respondent judge. It explained that in administrative proceedings, the issue is not whether the complainant has a cause of action against the respondent, but whether the employees have breached the norms and standards of the Judiciary.

Thus, the Court, in a Resolution dated April 20, 2009, resolved to re-docket the administrative complaint as a regular administrative matter against Judge Pinto and referred the matter to the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for raffle among the Justices, for investigation, report and recommendation.

In compliance, Justice Arturo G. Tayag, in his Report and Recommendation, found the charges of gross ignorance of the law and knowingly rendering an erroneous or unjust order against Judge Pinto to be true and with basis. He, however, found the charge of violation of Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct to be baseless.

In his Report, Justice Tayag, observed that Judge Pinto did not perform her duty of making an independent evaluation or assessment of the merits of the case when she dismissed Criminal Case No. 04-775. He, however, found no basis for violation of Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, since he noted that in cases where both the parties requested the solemnizing officer, in writing, to have the marriage solemnized at a house or place designated by them, such can be done. Accordingly, Justice Tayag, after considering that this is the respondent‘s first offense and that respondent has a good record as a Family Court Judge, recommended that Judge Pinto be meted a penalty of two (2) months suspension from service without pay.

RULING

While we agree that respondent judge should be administratively held liable for her acts, we, however, disagree with the findings and recommendation of the Investigating Justice.

To be held liable for gross ignorance of the law, the judge must be shown to have committed an error that was ―gross or patent, deliberate or malicious.‖ Also administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law is a judge who – shown to have been motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption – ignored, contradicted or failed to apply settled law and jurisprudence. Such is not the case presently before this Court.

In the instant case, it was apparent that the assailed Order of dismissal was solely anchored on the private prosecutor‘s failure to file his comment and/or objection to the Motion to Withdraw the Information. Indeed, respondent judge did not perform her duty of making an independent evaluation or assessment of the merits of the case when she dismissed Criminal Case No. 04-775. The disputed Order does not contain the facts of the case and the law upon which the dismissal was based. However, there was also no evidence showing that in issuing said Order, respondent judge was motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption.

In administrative proceedings like the one at bench, it goes without saying that it is the complainant who has the burden of proving by substantial evidence the allegations in their complaint. We do not find any evidence to support complainant‘s accusations.

As a matter of public policy then, the acts of a judge in his official capacity are not subject to disciplinary action, even though such acts are erroneous. Good

faith and absence of malice, corrupt motives or improper considerations are sufficient defenses in which a judge charged with ignorance of the law can find refuge. It does not mean, however, that a judge, given the leeway he is accorded in such cases, should not evince due care in the performance of his adjudicatory prerogatives.

With regard to the accusation of impropriety, we find it to be with basis. Section 1, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary enunciates the rule that “Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities."

Upon assumption of office, a judge becomes the visible representation of the law and of justice. Membership in the Judiciary circumscribes one‘s personal conduct and imposes upon him a number of inhibitions, whose faithful observance is the price one has to pay for holding such an exalted position. Thus, a magistrate of the law must comport himself at all times in such a manner that his conduct, official or otherwise, can withstand the most searching public scrutiny, for the ethical principles and sense of propriety of a judge are essential to the preservation of the people‘s faith in the judicial system. This Court does not require of judges that they measure up to the standards of conduct of the saints and martyrs, but we do expect them to be like Caesar‘s wife in all their activities. Hence, we require them to abide strictly by the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Here, it appears that respondent judge has failed to live up to those rigorous standards. Her act of solemnizing the marriage of accused‘s son in the residence of the accused speaks for itself. It is improper and highly unethical for a judge to actively participate in such social affairs, considering that the accused is a party in a case pending before her own sala. What she should have done was courteously deny the parties‘ request. Her claim that she was unaware that the parties were related to the accused fails to convince.

In pending or prospective litigations before them, judges should be scrupulously careful to avoid anything that may tend to awaken the suspicion that their personal, social or sundry relations could influence their objectivity. Not only must judges possess proficiency in law, they must also act and behave in such manner that would assure litigants and their counsel of the judges‘ competence, integrity and independence.

Considering the above findings, it is apparent that respondent judge‘s actuations constitute simple misconduct.

Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No.

01-8-10-

SC, simple misconduct is considered a less serious offense, sanctioned with suspension without pay for not less than one month, but not more than three months, or a fine of not less than Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) but not exceeding Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00).

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Judge Ofelia T. Pinto of the Regional Trial Court of Angeles City, Branch 60, GUILTY of SIMPLE MISCONDUCT for which she is FINED in the amount of P10,000.00. She is, likewise, STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

ANTONIO T. CARPIO Associate Justice Chairperson

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN Associate Justice

ROBERTO A. ABAD Associate Justice

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA Associate Justice

* Designated as an additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura, per Raffle dated July 19, 2010. Rollo, pp. 1-20. An Act Providing For Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination, And For Other Purposes. Approved June 17, 1992. Rollo, pp. 229-230. Id. Id. at 21. Id. at 22. Id. at 92. Id. at 96-106. Id. at 210- 214. Id. at 215-216. Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals to whom the instant administrative case was raffled for investigation and recommendation. Cabatingan, Sr. v. Arcueno, A.M. No. MTJ-00-1323, August 22, 2002, 387 SCRA 532, 541. Araos v. Luna-Pison, A.M. No. RTJ-02-1677, February 28, 2002, 378 SCRA 246, 250251. Diego v. Judge Castillo, 479 Phil. 705, 713 (2004). A.M. No. 03-05-01-SC, effective June 1, 2004. OCA v. Judge Sayo, 431 Phil. 408 (2002). Atty. Molina v. Judge Paz, 462 Phil. 620, 630 (2003).