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A.M. No. MTJ-01-1362 - JUDGE NAPOLEON INOTURAN v. JUDGE MANUEL Q. LIMSIACO, JR.

A.M. No. MTJ-01-1362 - JUDGE NAPOLEON INOTURAN v. JUDGE MANUEL Q. LIMSIACO, JR.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[A.M. NO. MTJ-01-1362 : May 6, 2005]

JUDGE NAPOLEON INOTURAN, Regional Trial Court, Branch 133, Makati City, Complainant, v. JUDGE MANUEL Q. LIMSIACO, JR., Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Valladolid-San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros Occidental, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, J.:

In a letter1 dated September 17, 1988, addressed to former Court Administrator Alfredo L. Benipayo, Judge Napoleon E. Inoturan of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 133, Makati City, requested that Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr. of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Valladolid-San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros Occidental, be investigated and charged accordingly.

In his letter, Judge Inoturan stated that one Mario Balucero was charged before his court with two (2) counts of violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22, docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 93-7712 to 93-7713. When the cases were called for arraignment, Balucero failed to appear despite notice, prompting Judge Inoturan to issue a bench warrant against him.

On January 6, 1997, Judge Inoturan received from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) the return of the bench warrant with the information that Balucero was arrested in Bacolod City on December 6, 1996; and that he had posted a property bail bond before the MCTC of Valladolid-San Enrique-Pulupandan. Attached to the return was the Order of Release dated November 21, 1996 signed by Judge Manuel Limsiaco, Jr.

Subsequently, the arraignment of Balucero was set several times but he failed to appear notwithstanding his receipt of notices. Hence, on June 3, 1997, Judge Inoturan ordered that the property bond (allegedly posted by Balucero at Judge Limsiaco's court) be cancelled and forfeited in favor of the government and that an alias warrant of arrest be issued against him.

Judge Inoturan then ordered Ignacio Denila, Clerk of Court of the MCTC of Valladolid-San Enrique-Pulupandan, to forward to his (Judge Inoturan's) sala the property bond posted for Balucero. But Denila did not comply with the said order. Consequently, Judge Inotutan cited him in contempt of court and ordered him detained until he shall have complied with the said directive.

On August 3, 1988, Denila voluntarily surrendered to the police but was ordered released on the same day by Judge Limsiaco.

On August 7, 1998, Denila sent a letter2 to Judge Inoturan stating that Balucero did not post any property bond in Judge Limsiaco's court; that he (Denila) did not receive a copy of the Release Order; that he referred to Judge Limsiaco the order of Judge Inoturan directing the turn over of the property bond to the latter's court; and that Judge Limsiaco told him that since no documents were submitted by Balucero, there was nothing to forward to the Makati RTC.

On November 12, 1998, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) referred the matter to Executive Judge G. Garvilles, RTC, Branch 47, Bacolod City, for investigation and report.

In his Report3 dated January 4, 1999, Executive Judge Garvilles made the following findings: The supposed property bond by Balucero in Criminal Cases Nos. 93-7712 and 93-7713 allegedly approved by Judge Limsiaco "does not exist." Moreover, Judge Limsiaco acted without authority. Balucero was arrested in Bacolod City; hence, the application for bail should have been filed with any of the 14 Branches of the Bacolod City RTC.

Judge Garvilles also found that Judge Limsiaco ordered the release of the accused in the following cases although they did not post bail:

1) Criminal Cases Nos. RTC-1331, 1362,1366 and 1368, People v. William Uytienco, et al., filed with the RTC, Branch 59, San Carlos City;

2) Criminal Case No. 67322, People v. Fely Markness and Criminal Cases Nos. 69055-58, People v. Mary Jean Badillo, all filed with the MTCC, Branch 3, Bacolod City;

3) Criminal Cases Nos. 67192-93, People vs. Mario Manzan, filed with the MTCC, Branch 4, Bacolod City;

4) Criminal Case No. 72866, People v. Spouses William and Cecilia Uytiepo, filed with the MTCC, Branch 5, Bacolod City;

5) Criminal Case No. 70249, People v. Fely Lazaro Markness; Criminal Cases Nos. 82897 to 828903, People v. Eladio Misterio; Criminal Case No. 83152, People v. Eladio Misterio; and Criminal Cases Nos. 8320-68, People v. Lourdes Lo, all filed with the MTCC, Branch 6, Bacolod City; andcralawlibrary

6) Criminal Case No. 95-17430, People v. Anotnietta Catedral filed with the RTC, Bracnh 50, Bacolod City.

Executive Judge Garvilles made the following recommendation:

"WHEREFORE, it is deferentially recommended that Judge Manuel G. Limsiaco, Jr., of the 4th MCTC of Valladolid-San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros Occidental, be administratively charged of gross ignorance of the law, serious irregularity in the performance of duty and abuse of authority, and that a formal investigation be conducted affording him due process to answer the charges against him."

On June 18, 2001, we issued a Resolution 1) treating the letter of Judge Inoturan as an administrative complaint and that it should be re-docketed as an administrative matter; 2) referring the matter to Executive Judge Leticia P. Morales of the Makati City RTC for investigation, report, and recommendation; and 3) directing Judge Limsiaco, as respondent, to comment on the complaint.

In his comment4 dated September 11, 2001, respondent judge alleged that Clerk of Court Denila was not telling the truth. Denila was on leave, thus, he failed to see Balucero when he posted his bail bond. Respondent characterized Denila as a habitual drunkard who was always absent and late for work. On September 1, 2001, he resigned due to poor health.

Respondent judge explained that Balucero, accompanied by the arresting officers, appeared before him and filed his bail bond. Hence, he issued the Order of Release. He claimed that he gave the land title (and supporting documents) to Balucero so he could ask the Register of Deeds to annotate the bail thereon. However, Balucero failed to return to him the title and other documents.

Respondent judge also explained that he did not violate the order of Judge Inoturan detaining Denila. In the interest of justice, he released Denila into his custody because allowing him to languish in jail will adversely affect the proceedings in the MTCC.

In her Report dated February 27, 2002, Executive Judge Morales submitted the following findings: Respondent judge issued the Order directing the release of Balucero even prior to his arrest. Worse, no bail was posted. As to respondent's contention that he had Denila released from detention so as not to hamper the court proceedings, Judge Morales stated that this contravenes his claim that Denila was "a headache to him and ineffective as Clerk of Court."

Executive Judge Morales recommended as follows:

"Premises considered, it is hereby deferentially recommended that respondent Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr. of the 4th MCTC of Valladolid-San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros Occidental be administratively sanctioned for the irregular release of accused Balucero and be reprimanded for his actuation in releasing his Clerk of Court Atty. Denila who was previously cited in contempt of court by Judge Inoturan of RTC, Branch 133, Makati City.

It is further recommended that formal investigation should be conducted for each of the cases above-mentioned/reported where he had issued release order for accused who have pending warrants of arrest issued by other courts outside of his administrative authority."5

On June 26, 2002, we referred the Report of Executive Judge Morales to the OCA for evaluation, report, and recommendation.

The OCA adopted the findings of Executive Judge Morales and submitted the following recommendation:

". . . Judge Manuel Q. Limsiaco, Jr., MCTC, Valladolid-San Enrique-Pulupandan, Negros Occidental be: (a) FINED in the amount of Fifteen Thousand Pesos (P15,000.00) for his gross ignorance of the law compounded by negligence in the performance of his duties and STERNLY WARNED that a similar act/s in the future will be dealt with more severely; (b) DIRECTED to explain why he should not be administratively sanctioned for his alleged irregular approval of property bond and issuance of orders of release of accused in Criminal Cases Nos. 1331, 1342, 1362, 1366 and 1368 (RTC, Branch 59, San Carlos City); 6732, 69055-69058 (MTCC, Branch 3, Bacolod City); 67192-67193 (MTCC Branch 4, Bacolod City); 72866 (MTCC, Branch 5, Bacolod City); 70249, 82897 to 82903, 831542, 83260 (MTCC, Branch 6, Bacolod City); 70249, 82897 to 82903, 8431542, 83260 to 83268 (MTCC, Branch 6, Bacolod City); and 95-17340 (RTC, Branch 50, Bacolod City) as reported by Investigating Judge Edgardo G. Garvilles."

Bail, as defined in Section 1, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure is "the security given for the release of a person in custody of the law, furnished by him or a bondsman, conditioned upon his appearance before any court as required under the conditions herein after specified." It is thus clear that without bail, an accused under detention cannot be released. As found by the investigating Judges, accused Balucero did not post bail but still respondent Judge Limsiaco ordered his release.

It is a dictum that a person applying for bail should be in the custody of the law or otherwise deprived of liberty.6 Indeed, bail is unavailing with respect to an accused who has not voluntarily surrendered or has yet to be placed in legal custody. In this case, respondent judge issued the Order for the release of accused Balucero on November 21, 1996 or fifteen (15) days before December 6, 1996,the day he was actually arrested.

Respondent judge failed to give a satisfactory explanation why he issued the Release Order although accused Balucero did not post bail and was not under detention. Likewise, as stated by Judge Garvilles, respondent judge acted without authority in approving Balucero's alleged application for bail. Section 17, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that "if the accused is arrested in a province, city of municipality, other than where the case is pending, bail may be filed with any Regional Trial Court of said place, or if no judge thereof is available, with any metropolitan trial judge, municipal trial judge, or municipal circuit trial judge therein." Here, respondent should not have approved Balucero's application for bail. It is only one of the 14 Branches of the RTC in Bacolod City which has the authority to act thereon.

Clearly, respondent judge blatantly disregarded the Rules and settled jurisprudence tantamount to gross ignorance of the law. To constitute gross ignorance of the law, the acts complained of must not only be contrary to existing law and jurisprudence, but were motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty, and corruption.7 The facts obtaining in this case speak of suspicious circumstances affecting respondent judge's integrity and competence too glaring to ignore.

Canon 1 (Rule 1.01) of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge should be the embodiment of competence, integrity and independence. Canon 3 states that "A judge should perform his official duties honestly and with impartiality and diligence." By his actuations, respondent judge has shown his incompetence and lack of integrity which obviously blemish the image of the judiciary.

As to the order releasing Denila from confinement, again respondent Judge overstepped the limits of his authority. Section 10, Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, provides:

"Sec. 10. Court may release respondent. - The court which issued the order imprisoning a person for contempt may discharge him from imprisonment when it appears that public interest will not be prejudiced by his release."

Considering that it was Judge Inoturan of the RTC, Branch 133, Makati City, who ordered the confinement in jail of Denila for contempt of court, it follows that only he could issue the Order of Release.

In sum, we find respondent Judge Limsiaco liable for ignorance of the law and procedure and violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. These are serious charges under Section 8, Rule 140 of the Revised Rules of Court. Section 11 of the same Rule provides that any of the following sanctions may be imposed upon the respondent:

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

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

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

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

x x x."

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

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

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, and Garcia, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo at 1-2.

2 Id. at 11.

3 Id. at 14-25.

4 Id. at 22-24.

5 Report, A.M. No. 01-2-49-RTC at 7.

6 De los Santos-Reyes v. Montesa, Jr., A.M. No. RTJ-83-983, August 7, 1995, 247 SCRA 85, 92-93, citing Herras Teehankee v. Rovira, 75 Phil. 634 (1945), Manigbas v. Luna, 98 Phil. 466 (1956), Feliciano v. Pasicolam, 2 SCRA 888 (1961); Pico v. Combong, 215 SCRA 421 (1992), Medina v. De Guia, 219 SCRA 153 (1993), Dinapol v. Baldado, 225 SCRA 110 (1993).

7 Dadizn v. Asis, A.M. No. RTJ-03-1760 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 2-1537-RTJ), January 15, 2004, 419 SCRA 456, 463-464 citing Vda. de Sayson v. Judge Zerna, 414 Phil. 705, 362 SCRA 409 (2001), Frani v. Judge Pagayatan, 416 Phil. 205, 363 SCRA 707 (2000).

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