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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[Adm. Matter No. RTJ-94-1266. August 21, 1996.]

ARMANDO CONTRERAS, Complainant, v. JUDGE CESAR M. SOLIS, Respondent.


SYLLABUS


1. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW; JUDGES; HIS OFFICIAL CONDUCT AND BEHAVIOR SHOULD BE FREE FROM APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY AND MUST BE BEYOND REPROACH. — Verily, the duty of a judge is not only to administer justice but also to conduct himself in a manner that would avoid any suspicion of irregularity. He has the avowed duty of promoting confidence in the judicial system. A judge’s official conduct and his behavior in the performance of his duties should be free from appearance of impropriety and must be beyond reproach (Alazar v. Reyes, 131 SCRA 445, 453). Any act which would give the appearance of impropriety is in itself reprehensible, calling for disciplinary action. This is the price which must be paid by one who joins the Judiciary.

2. ID.; ID.; MAY NOT BE SUBJECTED TO DISCIPLINARY ACTION ON HIS OFFICIAL ACTS SO LONG AS HE ACTED IN GOOD FAITH. — In order to discipline a judge, it must clearly be shown that the judgment or order is unjust as being contrary to law and that the judge rendered it with conscious and deliberate intent to do injustice. (Re Climaco, 55 SCRA 107). Judges cannot be subjected to liability — civil, criminal or administrative — for any of their official acts, no matter how erroneous, so long as they act in good faith. It is only when they act fraudulently or corruptly, or with gross ignorance may they he held criminally or administratively responsible (Valdez v. Valera, 81 SCRA 246).

3. REMEDIAL LAW; CRIMINAL PROCEDURE; AN ACCUSED MAY NO LONGER BE DETAINED WHERE THE INFORMATION AGAINST HIM HAS BEEN DISMISSED FOR LACK OF JURISDICTION; HIS REMEDY FOR THE VIOLATION THEREOF. — An accused against whom the information has been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction may no longer be detained; the information under which the accused is being held for trial loses its force and effect. There is simply nothing to hold the accused answerable for. When the court where the criminal case was filed is without jurisdiction, the authority of the court to hold the accused in confinement pending trial is a valid subject of a petition for habeas corpus. Where the petitioner is held upon a judicial order, the writ will lie where the order is void because the court issuing it had no jurisdiction over the crime charged or over the person accused where the latter had challenged on time, the jurisdiction of the court over his person.


D E C I S I O N


MELO, J.:


The instant administrative case against respondent Judge Cesar M. Solis stemmed from his orders releasing the accused on bail in a habeas corpus proceeding and his subsequent order directing the re-arrest of the said accused.

The antecedent facts of the case are as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

On November 8, 1992, prior to the filing of a petition for habeas corpus before the sala of herein respondent Judge Solis, and information was filed against Rufino Mamangon, a PNP member, for the murder of Gener Contreras. The case was raffled to Branch 18 of the Regional Trial Court of the Third Judicial Region stationed in Malolos, Bulacan, presided over by Judge Demetrio Macapagal Sr. On May 31, 1994, Judge Macapagal dismissed the criminal case for lack of jurisdiction and accordingly directed the branch clerk of court to forward the complete record of the case to the Sandiganbayan. Mamangon was not, however, released from detention despite the dismissal of the criminal case, prompting him on July 20, 1994, to file a petition for habeas corpus. The petition was raffled to the branch (No. 21) presided over by of herein respondent Judge Cesar M. Solis. Respondent, in an order dated July 27, 1994, dismissed the petition for lack of merit. On August 4, 1994, acting on a motion for reconsideration filed by Mamangon, respondent issued an order authorizing the release of Mamangon from the provincial jail upon the posting of a cash bond in the amount of P25,000.00. A motion for reconsideration was filed by the provincial prosecutor which prompted respondent judge to cancel the cash bond posted by Mamangon and to order his re-arrest. Thereupon, Armando Contreras, brother of the victim Gener Contreras, filed the instant complaint.

Complainant alleged that on the morning of August 1, 1994, when he went to the office of respondent he was told by the latter that Mamangon is willing to give P25,000.00 for his release. It appears, according to complainant, that if he would give the same amount of money, respondent would no longer release Mamangon.

According to complainant, respondent also gravely abused his discretion and authority when he ordered the release of the accused upon the posting of the cash bond; that it is not within the authority of respondent to release the accused considering that his authority in a habeas corpus proceeding is to determine whether or not the detention of the accused is legal or illegal. Moreover, it was contended, respondent has no authority to order the re-arrest of the accused in the same proceeding.

On July 3, 1996, Deputy Court Administrator Zenaida N. Elepano submitted her report with the following evaluation:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

A. On the Charge of Dishonesty/Extortion

Respondent insists he never asked money from complainant. He merely instructed one of his staff to advise Armando Contreras about the habeas corpus proceeding so that he can participate in it. It as quite late in the afternoon of that day and the "clerks were no longer available to type the notice or order." He also explains that complainant misconstrued his mentioning an amount, i.e., P20,000.00 to be extortion when all he meant was that this would be how much he will spend to hire a lawyer to represent his cause in the proceedings.

The protestations of respondent Judge are not exactly persuasive. At once certain questions beg to be asked. For instance, if his sole interest in asking Contreras to see him in his office was to afford the former the opportunity to "participate" in the habeas corpus case, why express such interest at a very late stage, i.e., after he had issued a decision thereon and after petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the decision? Noteworthy is that the petition was filed on 20 July 1994, set for hearing six (6) days later or on 26 July, and the decision rendered the following day. Judge Solis could have very well notified complainant about the proceeding as soon as the petition was filed by simply furnishing him copy of his Order setting the case hearing on 26th July. But he did not. Strangely enough, he waited until after the last working hour of Friday, 29th July, to "notify" Contreras of his desire to meet him at the very early hour of 7 o’clock in the morning of 1 August. Why then did the judge schedule the meeting at an early hour that morning even before court employees arrived for work? Was it only for the purpose of telling complainant that he can participate in the proceeding, or more specifically, in the hearing of the Motion for Reconsideration, and that he should engage the services of a good lawyer for P20,000.00? If it was, then in my view, the meeting was absolutely unnecessary. The judge denies that he propositioned complainant, and complainant informs the Court that he did not pay the amount "proposed." At any rate on 8 August 1994 Judge Solis motu proprio issued two Orders for the posting of a cash bond for P25,000.00 by accused Mamangon and his release from jail, and transmittal of the records of the case to Sandiganbayan.

While no proof has been submitted to the Court by complainant as to attempted extortion by respondent judge other than his verified letter-complaint, still, the actuations of respondent leave much to be desired since these easily lend[s] to suspicions of dishonesty. On this score alone, respondent should be properly advised to avoid occasions where his acts may arouse suspicions of irregularity.

B. On the Grant and Subsequent Cancellation of Bail Constituting Grave Abuse of Authority, Grave Misconduct and Incompetence

Section 3, Rule 114 of the Rules of Court provides that all persons in custody shall, before final conviction, be entitled to bail as a matter of right, except when charged with a capital offense or an offense which, under the law at the time of its commission and at the time of the application for bail, is punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong.

Criminal Case No. 2406-M-92 for MURDER was filed on 5 November 1992 when the penalty imposable at the time for the crime of murder was reclusion temporal in its maximum period to reclusion perpetua. Significantly, the records do not show that an application for bail was filed with the court trying the criminal case. Neither do they show that such an application was filed with respondents Judge in the habeas corpus proceedings. Complainant has pointed this out in his complaint because it appears that the grant of bail to the accused by respondent Judge Cesar M. Solis and the corresponding approval of his cash bond in the amount of P25,000.00 as shown in the Orders dated 4 August 1994 (p. 27) and 8 August 1994 (p. 28), respectively, was in the thinking of the judge, a matter of right for the accused.

An analysis of the submissions of respondent Judge on this point shows that in issuing the aforesaid Orders, he relied on the provisions of Sec. 14 of Rule 102 which state:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph

"Sec. 14. When person lawfully imprisoned, recommitted, and when let to bail. — If it appears that the prisoner was lawfully committed, and is plainly an specifically charged in the warrant of commitment with an offense punishable by death, he shall not be released, discharged, or bailed. If he is lawfully imprisoned or restrained on a charge of having committed an offense not so punishable, he may be recommitted to imprisonment or admitted to bail in the discretion of the court or judge. If he be admitted to bail, he shall forthwith file a bond in such sum as the court or judge deems reasonable, considering the circumstances of the prisoner and the nature of the offense charged, conditioned for his appearance before the court where the offense is properly cognizable to abide its order or judgment; and the court or judge shall certify the proceedings, together with the bond, forthwith to the proper court. If such bond is not so filed, the prisoner shall be recommitted to confinement."cralaw virtua1aw library

In the Order dated 24 August 1994 (p. 16, Rollo) respondent Judge justified his reliance on the aforequoted provision pointing to Section 2, Rule 72 of the Rules of Court which provides that in the absence of special provisions, the rules provided for in ordinary actions shall, as far as practicable, be applicable in special proceedings. A habeas corpus belongs to the category of special proceedings.

In the same Order, Judge Solis further argued that because of Sec. 14 of Rule 102, he took into consideration the fact that since the penalty for the crime at the time was only reclusion perpetua and not death, he did not find it necessary to apply the provisions of criminal procedure on bail.

I am not convinced of the reasons proffered by respondent Judge.

The accused never applied for bail. Consequently, it was improper for and erroneous of respondent judge to advocate for the accused and motu proprio grant him bail sans application. Compounding this was that despite the fact that the penalty for the crime for which the accused was detained was reclusion perpetua, no hearing was ordered by the judge to give prosecution a chance to show that the evidence against the accused was strong as to preclude bail. It is my position that the grant of bail under Sec. 14 of Rule 102 of the Rules does not do away with the basic requirements set forth in Rule 114 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure on Bail since the former merely prescribes supplemental rules on bail for habeas corpus proceedings. The argument of respondent that he merely interpreted Sec. 14 of Rule 102 "to the best interest of justice and fair play" considering that the murder case had been dismissed by Branch 18, the accused had been detained for a long period and that he had a family to support are specious, being irrelevant, in the face of the express requirements of the Rules. More importantly, the application of Sec. 14 or Rule 102 of the Rules is erroneous because while Sec. 14 speaks of a prisoner lawfully restrained, Mamangon in this case was being unlawfully restrained despite the dismissal of the case against him on the ground of lack jurisdiction (sic). Respondent therefore should have forthwith ordered Mamangon’s release from jail. Instead, he granted bail which was not even necessary. This however cannot be construed as malicious, it appearing merely to be an error of judgment.

Respondent’s misapplication of the law was further aggravated when upon motion by prosecution and complainant herein, he cancelled the cash bond posted by Mamangon and ordered his re-arrest for the reason that such is allowed by the self-same provision upon which he based his Order granting bail to Mamangon, and considering further the [the] Mamangon’s release would endanger the life of complainant and that of his family and relatives.

A close reading of the rule alluded to shows that while discretion is afforded the judge to grant bail, no discretion is authorized in the cancellation thereof, for the rules limit the instances under which bail may be cancelled. Thus, Sec. 22 of Rule 114 applies, quoted thereunder:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

Cancellation of bail bond. — Upon application filed with the court and after due notice to the prosecutor, the bail bond may be cancelled upon surrender of the accused or proof of his death.

The bail bond shall deemed automatically cancelled upon acquittal of the accused or dismissal of the case or execution of the final judgment of conviction.

In all instances, the cancellation shall be without prejudice to any liability of the bond.

The grounds cited by respondent in cancelling Mamangon’s bail find no support in the abovequoted provision. Thus grave misconduct was committed by respondent when he arbitrarily cancelled Mamangon’s bail and ordered the latter’s re-arrest. For this reason, respondent must be sanctioned.

On the basis of the above, the imposition of an unspecified fine was recommended.

We partly agree with the findings and recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator.

On the Charge of Extortion and Dishonesty

Our minds can not sit easy with regard to the charge of extortion. Respondent admitted having met complainant in the early morning of August 1, 1994, for the purpose of informing complainant that he could participate in the habeas corpus proceeding. During said meeting, respondent also admitted having told complainant of the "potency" of Mamangon’s motion for reconsideration and the amount of money which complainant would spend to hire a good lawyer to represent him in the proceeding. Respondent’s seemingly being conduct of advising complainant on matters pending before respondent puzzle our minds since we are not told of any special circumstance which would justify respondent’s special interest complainant’s concern. Respondent, however, gives no other reasons for meeting and advising complainant that could dispel ill thoughts in reference to respondent’s motives. Any person with a reasonable mind would deduce that respondent’s actuation meant something much more than what he explicitly suggested, for what could be respondent’s reason, in mentioning the "potency" of Mamangon’s motion for reconsideration and the amount of money which complainant might spend in resisting the same, than to insinuate that complainant could save on expenses and be certain of the result by spending the same amount for the judge. Certainly, it is simply naive to say that a proposal to that effect could be done only through the use of direct words expressing respondent’s intention to be willing and able to decide the case in complainant’s favor for a consideration. Respondent’s pretended innocence over the perceived meaning of his insinuation is unpersuasive considering his long years in the practice of law. Thus, the intention of respondent in meeting with complainant and in giving him advise is, to say the least, far from the behavior of a member of judiciary, who should, at all times, avoid the slightest of hint of anomaly and corruption.

Verily, the duty of a judge is not only to administer justice but also to conduct himself in a manner that would avoid any suspicion of irregularity. He has the avowed duty of promoting confidence in the judicial system. Thus, the Code of Judicial Conduct provide:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

Canon I

Rule 1.01 : A judge should be the embodiment of competence, integrity and independence.

Canon II

Rule 2.00 : A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.

Rule 2.01 : A judge should so behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the of the judiciary.

A judge’s official conduct and his behavior in the performance of his duties should be free from appearance of impropriety and must be beyond reproach (Alazar v. Reyes, 131 SCRA 445, 453). Any act which would give the appearance of impropriety is in itself reprehensible, calling for disciplinary action. This is the price which must be paid by one who joins the Judiciary. Whatever may have been respondent judge’s motive in meeting complainant, such action certainly could but be said as giving rise to questions on his honesty. Respondent judge is thus guilty of committing acts of impropriety prejudicial to the integrity of the judiciary.

On Grave Abuse of Authority and Grave Misconduct and Incompetence

At the outset, let it be said that respondent judge correctly ruled that the granting of the petition for habeas corpus would unduly intervene with the functions of a co-equal branch of the court, considering that the period within which to file a notice of appeal or a motion for reconsideration against the order of Judge Macapagal declaring his court to be without jurisdiction had then not yet lapsed. However, respondent, upon Mamangon filing a motion for reconsideration, released Mamangon on bail. Maliciously made it is suggested, for it was made several days after an alleged extortion attempt by respondent judge upon herein complainant Armando Contreras. The order, nonetheless, according to respondent is not devoid of any legal basis. Respondent judge cites, in this regard, Section 14 of Rule 102 of the Revised Rules of Court as his legal ground for such an order to wit:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

When person lawfully imprisoned recommitted, and when let to bail. — If it appears that the prisoner was lawfully committed, and is plainly and specifically charged in the warrant of commitment with an offense punishable by death, he shall not be released, discharged, or bailed. If he is lawfully imprisoned or restrained on a charge of having committed an offense not so punishable, he may be recommitted to imprisonment or admitted to bail in the discretion of the court or judge. If he be admitted to bail, he shall forthwith file a bond in such sum as the court or judge deems reasonable, considering the circumstances of the prisoner and the nature of the offense charged, conditioned for his appearance before the court where the offense is properly cognizable to abide its order or judgment; and the court or judge shall certify the proceedings, together with the bond, forthwith to the proper court. If such bond is not so filed, the prisoner shall be recommitted to confinement.

Clear as the basis may be, its application is, however, erroneous. Even assuming that Mamangon was lawfully imprisoned at the outset, at the time he filed his motion for reconsideration, the decision of Judge Macapagal declaring his court to be without jurisdiction has already become final and considering that no information had been re-filed, the detention of Mamangon was untenable and illegal. An accused against whom the information has been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction may no longer be detained; the information under which the accused is being held for trial loses its force and effect. There is simply nothing to hold the accused answerable for. Section 14 of Rule 102 of the Revised Rules of Court speaks of a person lawfully imprisoned. The accused Mamangon was no longer lawfully imprisoned at the time the motion for reconsideration was filled. Thus, respondent should not have applied Section 12 of Rule 114 but instead reversed his former decision by granting the petition and ordering the release of the accused without requiring him to post bail. When the court where the criminal case was filed is without jurisdiction, the authority of the court to hold the accused in confinement pending trial is a valid subject of a petition for habeas corpus. Where the petitioner is held upon a judicial order, the writ will lie where the order is void because the court issuing it had not jurisdiction over the crime charged or over the person accused where the latter had challenged on time, the jurisdiction of the court over his person (Francisco, p. 665, Rules of Court in the Philippines Vol. V-B; citing the case of Banayo v. President of San Pablo, 2 Phil. 413; Collins v. Wolfe, 4 Phil. 534; Malinao Et. Al. v. Peterson, No. L-16464 July 26, 1960). But this remedy should not be secured before a court of equal rank in order to avoid undue interference upon the functions of another branch unless the former court has declared itself to be without jurisdiction, as in the instant case.

Considering that the petition for habeas corpus should have been granted, and the accused released from jail without bail, respondent judge acted erroneously when he ordered the re-arrest of the accused. Apparently, the order of respondent to re-arrest the accused was prompted by the filing of the motion for reconsideration by the prosecution alleging that respondent committed error when he ordered the release of the accused charged with a capital offense. Believing that an error has been committed, respondent ordered the cancellation of the cash bond and the re-arrest of the accused by invoking the inherent power of the court to protect and preserve the rights of the parties and for the safety of the victim’s family. Unfortunately, in trying to correct his error, respondent fell into another error by ordering the re-arrest of the accused.

The erroneous application of the rule by respondent nevertheless cannot be the sole basis for disciplining him. As we have ruled in the past, in order to discipline a judge, it must clearly be shown that the judgment or order is unjust as being contrary to law and that the judge rendered it with conscious and deliberate intent to do injustice (Re Climaco, 55 SCRA 107). Judges cannot be subjected to liability — civil, criminal or administrative — for any of their official acts, no matter how erroneous, so long as they act in good faith. It is only when they act fraudulently or corruptly, or with gross ignorance may they be held criminally or administratively responsible. (Valdez v. Valera, 81 SCRA 246). Considering the circumstances of the case at bar, we cannot hold respondent liable for his erroneous action. An erroneous decision or order is presumed to have been issued in good faith in the absence of proof to the contrary. Complainant herein alleged that the order of respondent judge releasing the accused on bail was maliciously motivated for having been issued several days after the attempted extortion. We find the decision of respondent erroneous but its malicious intent, however, may not be presumed in the absence of any evidence to prove the same. It might be suggested that, respondent’s ill motives may be presumed considering his actuation prior to the issuance of the questioned erroneous order. We are, however, unable to find a clear and definite connection between an attempt at extortion and the subsequent erroneous orders. It would be unjust to presume wrong intentions considering that respondent’s questioned orders are not totally unjustifiable.

Withal, respondent judge cannot be held liable for releasing Mamangon on bail and for ordering the cancellation of his cash bond and his re-arrest.

WHEREFORE, we find respondent judge guilty of committing acts of impropriety prejudicial to the integrity of the Judiciary, for which infraction he is hereby ordered to pay a fine of Two Thousand (P2,000.00), with the warning that a repetition of a similar conduct shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Davide, Jr., Francisco and Panganiban, JJ., concur.

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