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A.M. No. RTJ-07-2089 Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 07-2659-RTJ and A.M. NO. RTJ-0921-99 Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 07-2698-RTJ- Land Bank of the Philippines v. Judge Ernesto P. Pagayatan

A.M. No. RTJ-07-2089 Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 07-2659-RTJ and A.M. NO. RTJ-0921-99 Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 07-2698-RTJ- Land Bank of the Philippines v. Judge Ernesto P. Pagayatan

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

[A.M. NO. RTJ-07-2089 : September 8, 2009]
[Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 07-2659-RTJ]

LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES, Complainant, v. JUDGE ERNESTO P. PAGAYATAN, Respondent.

[A.M. NO. RTJ-0921-99]
[Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 07-2698-RTJ]

LETICIA LOURDES CAMARA, Complainant, v. JUDGE ERNESTO P. PAGAYATAN, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO MORALES, J.:

By Decision of March 31, 2003, the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator (PARAD) of Occidental Mindoro ordered complainant Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) to pay Josefina S. Lubrica (Josefina) P71,634,027.30 as just compensation for the 431.1407-hectare portion of a rice and corn land in Sta. Lucia, Occidental Mindoro.

On the allegation that the PARAD disregarded the formula in Presidential Decree No. 27 and Executive Order No. 228, series of 1997, LBP filed on March 5, 2004 a petition for fixing of just compensation1 before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.

Judge Ernesto P. Pagayatan (respondent), Presiding Judge of Branch 46 of the RTC, by Order of March 4, 2005, directed LBP to deposit the preliminary compensation in the amount of P71,634,027.30.2 LBP questioned this Order via petition for certiorari 3 before the Court of Appeals, docketed as CA G.R. No. 93206, which it dismissed by Resolution of August 17, 2006 for lack of merit.

On September 26, 2006, Josefina filed before the RTC a petition4 to cite for contempt Teresita V. Tengco (Teresita), Acting Chief of the Land Compensation Department of LBP, and Leticia Lourdes A. Camara (Leticia), Chief of the Land Compensation Department of LBP, alleging that they disobeyed respondent's Order of March 4, 2005.

Teresita and Leticia opposed Josefina's petition for contempt, citing the pendency of a motion for reconsideration of the appellate court's dismissal of LBP's petition for certiorari in CA G.R. No. 93206.

Finding merit in the petition for contempt, respondent, by Order of February 9, 2007, issued a warrant for the arrest of Leticia and Teresita.5 Leticia was arrested on February 12, 2007 and was detained at the provincial jail in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. Teresita had evaded arrest.

In an attempt to secure Leticia's liberty, LBP deposited P71,634,027.30 in cash and in bond at its head office in Manila in the name of "The Clerk of Court, RTC Branch 46, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, in the Matter of Agrarian Case No. 1390."

Leticia and Teresita, through LBP's counsel, thereupon filed with the trial court an Urgent Manifestation of Compliance and Motion6 dated February 14, 2007, attaching thereto the Certificate of Deposit, and moving that the warrant of arrest against them be quashed and recalled. They also manifested that Leticia's health did not permit a prolonged confinement in the provincial jail.

Respondent refused to consider the deposit as substantial compliance with his March 4, 2005 Order.7 Thus, Leticia and Teresita filed an Ex-Parte Motion for Issuance of Clarificatory Order, asking in whose name should the check and bond be issued.8 They also filed an Ex-Parte Very Urgent Motion for the Immediate Release of [therein] Respondent Leticia Camara,9 alleging that her continued detention was no longer necessary; and that in light of her medical history of colon cancer, she should stay in a comfortable place.

During the hearing of Leticia and Teresita's Urgent Manifestation of Compliance and Motion, respondent directed "LBP [to] change the account and payee's name of the cash and bond deposit to Office of Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, for the account of Josefina S. Lubrica, as assignee of Federico Suntay, in the matter of Agrarian Case No. 1390."10 Leticia and Teresita heeded and complied with the directive and thereafter filed an Urgent Manifestation reiterating their request that Leticia be immediately released.11

By Order of February 9, 2007, respondent held in abeyance the resolution of Leticia and Teresita's Urgent Manifestation of Compliance and Motion as well as the other pending incidents, explaining thus:

x x x

The record shows that the Land Bank of the Philippines filed with the Court of Appeals a "Very Urgent Omnibus Motion (A) for the Quashal of the Warrant of Arrest dated 09 February 2007; (B) Issuance of an Order status quo ante; and Posting/fixing of cash bond" dated February 12, 2007.

In the said Omnibus Motion, the Land Bank of the Philippines prayed the Court of Appeals:

"To QUASH the warrant of Arrest dated 9 February 2007 issued against LBP Officials Leticia Camara and Teresita Tengco for alleged indirect contempt. TO ISSUE an Order Status Quo Ante or an Order prior to the issuance of the said Warrant of Arrest, or FIX THE AMOUNT OF CASH BOND and allow the POSTING THEREOF for the provisional release of Mrs. Camara who is in custody of the arresting officer."

In deference to the Court of Appeals and out of Judicial courtesy, this Court deems it best to await the resolution by the Court of Appeals of the Land Bank of the Philippines' Omnibus Motion dated February 12, 2007 before acting on the pending incidents.

SO ORDERED.12 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary

By Very Urgent Manifestation dated February 20, 2007,13 Leticia and Teresita informed the trial court that the Court of Appeals had denied LBP's Omnibus Motion, and thus reiterated the request for Leticia's immediate release.

By Order14 of February 21, 2007, respondent found Leticia and Teresita's compliance with its directive relative to the change of "the account and payee's name of the cash bond and deposit" unsatisfactory, the change not having been made, so respondent stated, in such form that Josefina could immediately withdraw the deposit without difficulty. Thus respondent, this time, ordered:

x x x that the cash and bond payments be placed in the name of Josefina S. Lubrica as payee, in a form that is readily withdrawable. Upon compliance, Respondent [Leticia] Camara shall forthwith be ordered released from custody, and the warrant of arrest of Respondent Tengco shall be ordered recalled.15 (Emphasis, italics and underscoring supplied)

On February 22, 2007, Teresita and Leticia filed before the trial court an Urgent Ex-Parte Omnibus Motion for (A) Immediate Resolution of the February 14, 2007 Urgent Manifestation of Compliance, (B) Immediate Release of AVP [Leticia] Camara and/or Quashal of Warrant of Arrest dated February 9, 2007, and (C) Fixing/Posting of Cash Bond.16 Respondent did not act on this Omnibus Motion, drawing LBP, Teresita, and Leticia to file on February 23, 2007 a Petition for Certiorari and Mandamus17 before the Court of Appeals, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 98032, for the annulment of respondent's February 9, 2007 and February 21, 2007 Orders; and for an order commanding respondent to consider the deposit of P71,634,027.30 as faithful compliance with his March 4, 2005 order and to issue an order directing the release of Leticia from detention. They also prayed for a preliminary mandatory injunction to secure Leticia's release pending resolution of the petition.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

In a related move, Leticia's son filed, on her behalf, on February 27, 2007 a petition for habeas corpus before this Court for her release,18 docketed as G.R. No. 176563, "In the Matter of the application for issuance of Writ of Habeas Corpus in behalf of Leticia Lourdes A. Camara, Asst. Vice President of Land Bank of the Philippines, represented by her son, Mark Darwin Camara, petitioner v. Hon. Ernesto P. Pagayatan, in his capacity as Presiding Judge, RTC San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, Branch 46, and all other persons acting on his behalf, respondents."

On April 2, 2007, this Court, acting on Leticia's son's petition for habeas corpus, found Leticia's continued detention unlawful, and ordered respondent to desist from detaining Leticia.19 It turned out that on March 1, 2007, the Court of Appeals, in CA-G.R. SP. No. 98032 (for Certiorari and Mandamus, for the annulment of respondent's February 9, 2007 and February 21, 2007 Orders) had granted a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction ordering the immediate release of Leticia, following which or on the following day, March 2, 2007, respondent ordered Leticia's release.20

On August 24, 2007, LBP filed before this Court the first above-captioned administrative complaint against respondent,21 charging him with

A. Violation of Article III, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution which provides that "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws;"

b. Violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (R.A. No. 3019), Section 3(e), in relation to Rule 140, Section 8(2) of the Revised Rules of Court;

c. Gross Ignorance of the Law or Procedure under Rule 140, Section 8(9) of the Revised Rules of Court;

d. Knowingly Rendering an Unjust Judgment (Article 204, Revised Penal Code), in relation to Rule 140, Section 8(4) of the Revised Rules of Court;

e. Knowingly Rendering an Unjust Interlocutory Order (Article 206, Revised Penal Code), in relation to Rule 140, Section 8(4) of the Revised Rules of Court;

f. Malicious Delay in the Administration of Justice (Article 207, the Revised Penal Code), in relation to Rule 140, Section 9(1) of the Revised Rules of Court (Undue Delay in Rendering a Decision or Order);

g. Arbitrary detention (Article 267, Revised Penal Code);

h. Code of Judicial Conduct (Canon 1, Rules 1.01 to 1.03, and Canon 2, Rule 2.01) in relation to Rule 140, Section 8(3) of the Revised Rules of Court, to wit:

"Canon 1

A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary

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

Rule 1.02. - - A judge should administer justice impartially and without delay.

Rule 1.03. - A judge should be vigilant against any attempt to subvert the independence of the judiciary and resist any pressure from whatever source.

Canon 2

A judge should avoid 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 judiciary."

i. Code of Judicial Ethics (Par. 3), which states that:

"3. Avoidance of appearance of impropriety

A judge's official conduct should be free from the appearance of impropriety, and his personal behavior, not only upon the bench and in the performance of judicial duties, but also in his every day life, should be beyond reproach."22

for having

I. X X X ISSUED THE ORDER DATED 4 MARCH 2005 DIRECTING LBP TO DEPOSIT P71,634,027.30 WITH THE LAND BANK OF THE PHILIPPINES AS PRELIMINARY COMPENSATION FOR JOSEFINA S. LUBRICA WHEN THERE IS NO LEGAL BASIS THEREFOR.

II. X X X [TAKEN] COGNIZANCE OF THE PETITION FOR INDIRECT CONTEMPT FILED BY LUBRICA AGAINST MS. LETICIA LOURDES A. CAMARA, ASSISTANT VICE-PRESIDENT, LBP LAND COMPENSATION DEPARTMENT, AND MS. TERESITA V. TENGCO, MANAGER, LBP BOND SERVICING DEPARTMENT, DESPITE THE NON-PAYMENT OF THE REQUIRED DOCKET FEES.

III. X X X ISSUED THE ORDER DATED 9 FEBRUARY 2007 FINDING MS. CAMARA AND MS. TENGCO GUILTY OF INDIRECT CONTEMPT AND DIRECTING THEIR ARREST, WITHOUT ANY HEARING.

IV. X X X ISSUED THE CONTEMPT AND ARREST ORDER OF 9 FEBRUARY 2007 IN SPITE OF THE PENDING MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION FILED BY LBP IN CA G.R. NO. 93206 (PETITION FOR CERTIORARI), IN VIOLATION OF JUDICIAL COURTESY.

V. X X X ISSUED THE ORDER DATED 21 FEBRUARY 2007 FINDING LBP'S EARLIER DEPOSIT AND COMPLIANCE WITH HIS 4 MARCH 2005 ORDER AS INSUFFICIENT, AND ARBITARILY COMMANDING LBP TO DEPOSIT THE CARP PROCEEDS "IN THE NAME OF JOSEFINA S. LUBRICA AS PAYEE, IN A FORM THAT IS READILY WITHDRAWABLE", DESPITE THE LACK OF LEGAL BASIS THEREFOR.

VI. X X X DELIBERATELY AND MALICIOUSLY REFUSED AND DELAYED TO RESOLVE LBP'S NUMEROUS MOTIONS AND PLEADINGS OF EXTREMELY URGENT CHARACTER, RESULTING IN THE ILLEGAL, UNJUSTIFIED AND CONTINUED DETENTION OF MS. CAMARA FOR NINETEEN (19) DAYS.23 (Emphasis in the original; underscoring supplied)

On October 30, 2007, Leticia herself filed an administrative complaint against respondent, the second above-captioned administrative complaint, for gross ignorance of the law, grave abuse of authority, misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the proper administration of justice.24

In his Comment on LBP's complaint,25 respondent contended as follows: There was ample legal basis for his March 4, 2005 Order requiring LBP to deposit the P71,634,027.30. Respecting the non-payment of docket fee for the indirect contempt petition against Leticia and Teresita, the Office of the Clerk of Court did not require the payment thereof in the honest belief that it was not necessary since the petition was filed in connection with a principal action already being heard in his sala. He in fact only learned of the non-payment of the docket fee during the habeas corpus proceedings before this Court and, in any event, complainants are estopped from questioning the court's jurisdiction over the indirect contempt petition.

Regarding the charge that he violated judicial courtesy, respondent cited the amendment introduced by A.M. No. 07-7-12-SC to Section 7 of Rule 65 of the Rules of Court requiring a public respondent to proceed with the principal case within ten days from the filing of a petition for certiorari with a higher court or tribunal in the absence of a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction, or upon its expiration.

Finally, respondent maintained that the detention of Leticia was not unlawful.

In his Comment26 on Leticia's complaint, respondent, raising substantially the same arguments as those he raised in his Comment on LBP's complaint, added that the raffle of the petition for indirect contempt was not necessary considering that there are only three salas in the Occidental Mindoro RTC of which only Branch 46 over which he presides was designated as a Special Agrarian Court.

Respondent posited that Leticia is engaged in forum shopping given the pendency before this Court of G.R. No. 180488, "Land Bank of the Philippines, Leticia Camara and Teresita Tengco v. Josefina Lubrica," which sought the resolution of the issue of whether respondent's Order citing Leticia for contempt is valid.27

Finally, respondent contended that with these twin administrative complaints, he is being placed in jeopardy of being punished twice for the same offense.

On the recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), Leticia's complaint was consolidated with that of the LBP.28

In a Memorandum dated October 4, 2008,29 the OCA found that respondent validly issued the March 4, 2005 Order as it was based on this Court's ruling in Lubrica v. Land Bank of the Philippines30 involving another property of Josefina, which reinstated an order directing LBP to deposit the just compensation provisionally determined by PARAD.31

With respect to the other charges, the OCA found respondent liable for Gross Ignorance of the Law and Gross Misconduct,32 albeit it, in its recommendation, faulted him only for Gross Ignorance of the Law and Procedure.33

Noting that respondent had, in the meantime, retired on December 31, 2007, the OCA recommended that he be fined P40,000, to be charged to his retirement benefits.34

It bears emphasis that a respondent's retirement during the pendency of the proceedings against him/her does not preclude the finding of any administrative liability and the imposition of a penalty therefor to which he/she may be answerable.35

The Court finds that, indeed, respondent's March 4, 2005 Order had ample legal basis. In Lubrica v. Land Bank of the Philippines,36 this Court reinstated an order directing LBP to deposit the just compensation determined by the PARAD, pending computation of the final valuation of the subject properties based on the formula declared by this Court.37 ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

With respect to the other charges, however, the Court finds that, as did the OCA, respondent is guilty of Gross Ignorance of the Law or Procedure for taking cognizance of the petition for indirect contempt, despite the non-payment of docket fees. Rule 71, Section 4 of the Rules of Court provides that an indirect contempt proceeding, which is not initiated motu proprio by the court, shall be commenced by a verified petition that fully complies with the requirements for filing initiatory pleadings for civil actions, including the payment of docket fees.38 That Rule being so elementary, not to be aware of it constitutes Gross Ignorance of the Law or Procedure.39

The payment or non-payment of docket fees is reflected in the records of a case. Respondent's claim that he only learned of the non-payment of the docket fees during the proceedings for habeas corpus before this Court does not thus impress. Neither does respondent's assertion that the Clerk of Court did not require the payment of the docket fees under an honest belief that it was not necessary. A judge cannot take refuge behind the inefficiency of court personnel since they are not responsible for his judicial functions.40

As for respondent's obstinate refusal to release Leticia despite compliance by LBP with the March 4, 2005 Order, the Court finds that the same constitutes Gross Misconduct vis a vis Rule 1.02, Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct which states that "A judge should administer justice impartially and without delay." The following pertinent portion of this Court's Resolution in the habeas corpus case relative to respondent's contempt powers bears reiterating:

This is grave abuse of respondent judge's contempt powers, amounting to lack or excess of his jurisdiction.

Nothing in the 4 March 2005 Order requires that the deposit be "placed in the name of Josefina S. Lubrica as payee, in a form that is readily withdrawable." What respondent judge ordered LBP to do, which LBP did, was to "deposit the preliminary compensation as determined by the PARAD in cash and bonds[,] in the total amount of Php71,634,027.30 with the Land Bank of the Philippines, Manila." That the cash deposit was made under its account in trust for, and the bond made payable to, respondent judge's clerk of court is not a contumacious disregard of the 4 March 2005 Order not only because that Order is silent in whose name the deposit should be made but also because the branch clerk of court is under respondent judge's control. If LBP's supposed transgression is in not placing the cash deposit under the account of, and the bond made payable to, Lubrica, respondent judge could have readily remedied the problem by directing LBP to turn over the manager's check and LBP bond to the branch clerk of court for disposal of the check's proceeds and the bond to Lubrica, subject to Lubrica's compliance with the regulations of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) on the release of payment to claimants under Republic Act No. 6657.

Indeed, LBP went out of its way to further accommodate respondent judge when, following the latter's suggestion during the hearing of 19 February 2007, LBP changed the account name for the cash deposit and the payee's name for the bond deposit to "Office of Clerk of Court, RTC San Jose Occidental Mindoro, for the account of Josefina S. Lubrica, as assignee of Federico Suntay, in the matter of Agrarian Case No. 1390." Significantly, during the oral arguments, Lubrica's counsel admitted that even if the deposit was made under the name of Lubrica, the latter is still bound by, and willing to comply with, the DAR regulations on the release of payment.

The facts of this case highlight respondent judge's failure to appreciate, in full measure, the nature of his power to cite litigants in contempt of court. It is a drastic and extraordinary attribute of courts, to be exercised in the interest of justice and only when there is clear and contumacious refusal to obey orders. If a bona fide misunderstanding of the terms of an order does not justify the immediate institution of contempt proceedings, with more reason that it should not serve as basis to prolong a litigant's detention under a prior contempt citation when, as here, there has been an attempt to comply with the order.41 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary

The partiality of respondent was highlighted when, out of his selective invocation of judicial courtesy, he refused to resolve Leticia and Teresita's February 14, 2007 Urgent Manifestation of Compliance and Motion and other pending incidents in view of the pendency before the appellate court of the LBP's Omnibus Motion praying for, among other things, the quashal of the warrant of arrest, whereas he had earlier found Leticia and Teresita guilty of contempt despite the pendency before the appellate court of LBP's motion for reconsideration of the dismissal of the petition in CA-G.R. SP No. 93206.

In fine, respondent is not only guilty of Gross Ignorance of the Law or Procedure. He is also guilty of Gross Misconduct. Both are serious charges under Rule 140, Section 8 paragraphs (3) and (9) of the Rules of Court,42 each of which carries, under Section 11 of the same Rule, the following penalties:

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

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

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

Respondent having already retired from the service, he may be fined more than P20,000 but not exceeding P40,000. As he had already been previously penalized for Gross Ignorance of the Law, with a stern warning that the commission of similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely,43 this Court imposes the maximum fine of P40,000 for each offense.

WHEREFORE, respondent, Judge Ernesto Pagayatan, who has in the meantime retired, is found GUILTY of GROSS IGNORANCE OF THE LAW OR PROCEDURE and of GROSS MISCONDUCT for which he is each FINED Forty Thousand (P40,000) Pesos, chargeable to his retirement benefits.

SO ORDERED.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo (RTJ-07-2089), pp. 29-36.

2 Id. at 37-38.

3 Id. at 63-93.

4 Id. at 94-101.

5 Id. at 110-112.

6 Id. at 261.

7 Vide id. at 274.

8 Id. at 275.

9 Id. at 277-279.

10 Id. at 13, italics in the original, emphasis and underscoring supplied.

11 Id. at 280-281.

12 Id. at 284.

13 Id. at 285-287.

14 Id. at 288-290.

15 Id. at 290.

16 Id. at 291-295.

17 Id. at 296-334.

18 Id. at 366-376.

19 Camara v. Pagayatan, G.R. No. 176563, April 2, 2007, 520 SCRA 182, 191.

20 Rollo (RTJ-07-2089), pp. 377-378.

21 Id. at 1-28.

22 Id. at 2-5.

23 Id. at 5-6.

24 Rollo (RTJ-0921-99), pp. 1-19.

25 Rollo (RTJ-07-2089), pp. 423-445.

26 Rollo (RTJ-0921-99), pp. 381-391.

27 Id. at 387.

28 Id. at 547.

29 Rollo (RTJ-07-2089), pp. 626-646.

30 G.R. No. 170220, November 20, 2006, 507 SCRA 415.

31 Id. at 425.

32 Rollo (RTJ-07-2089), p. 642.

33 Id. at 645.

34 Ibid.

35 Lilia v. Fanuñal, A.M. No. RTJ-99-1503, December 13, 2001, 372 SCRA 213, 219.

36 Supra note 30.

37 Id. at 425.

38 Vide Arriola v. Arriola, G.R. No. 177703, January 28, 2008, 542 SCRA 666, 673.

39 Vide Cabico v. Dimaculangan-Querijero, A.M. No. RTJ-02-1735, April 27, 2007, 522 SCRA 300, 314.

40 Vide Office of the Court Administrator v. Javellana, A.M. No. RTJ-02-1737, September 9, 2004, 438 SCRA 1, 15.

41 Camara v. Pagayatan, supra note 19 at 182, 189-190.

42 Sec. 8. Serious charges. - Serious charges include:

x x x

3. Gross misconduct constituting violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct;

x x x

9. Gross ignorance of the law or procedure.

43 Domingo v. Pagayatan, A.M. No. RTJ-03-1751, June 10, 2003, 403 SCRA 381, 389.

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