[G.R. NO. 179583 : September 3, 2009]
JIMMY BARNES a.k.a. JAMES L. BARNES, Petitioner, v. TERESITA C. REYES, ELIZABETH PASION, MA. ELSA C. GARCIA, IMELDA C. TRILLO, MA. ELENA C. DINGLASAN, and RICARDO P. CRISOSTOMO, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Assailed in this Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court are the June 28, 2007 Decision1 and the September 18, 2007 Resolution2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 94016. The relevant antecedent facts and proceedings follow.
In 1999, petitioner filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 215 a complaint for specific performance with damages docketed as Civil Case No. Q-99-37219. On motion of respondents, the complaint was dismissed. The appellate court later affirmed the dismissal in CA-G.R. SP No. 69573. This Court, however, in its decision in G.R. No. 160753 on September 30, 2004, reversed and set aside the order of dismissal and remanded the case to the trial court with the instruction that the same be heard and tried with deliberate dispatch.3 On June 28, 2005, the Court denied with finality the motion for the reconsideration of the said decision.4
RTC, Branch 215, of Quezon City, thus, proceeded to hear Civil Case No. Q-99-37219. On February 23, 2006, however, petitioner filed his motion for the inhibition5 of the presiding judge, Ma. Luisa C. Quijano-Padilla, allegedly to preclude doubts or apprehensions of partiality and to give the parties breathing space and peace of mind in the course of the adjudication of the proceedings.
After respondents filed their opposition, the RTC judge issued the March 7, 2006 Order6 declaring that she was voluntarily inhibiting herself from hearing the case and that she was granting the motion in order to dispel any doubt and perception of bias, and so that the faith and confidence in the justice system would not be eroded.
Disagreeing with the trial judge, respondents, on April 10, 2006, filed before the CA their Petition for Mandamus with Prayer for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and a Writ of Preliminary Injunction.7 Respondents contended in the main that there was no sufficient ground for the trial judge to inhibit herself from hearing the case.
On June 28, 2007, the CA rendered the assailed Decision8 granting the petition for mandamus, reversing and setting aside the inhibitory order issued by the trial court, and directing the said court to hear and decide the civil case with deliberate dispatch. It ruled, among others, that the allegations of preconceived bias and partiality thrown against the trial judge were more imaginary than real; that the records bore no suspicious circumstances that would create doubt on the impartiality, fairness and objectivity of the trial judge; that no extrinsic evidence appeared on the records to establish that the trial judge acted with bad faith, malice or corrupt purpose all throughout the proceedings; and that there was no just and valid cause for the disqualification of the trial judge from presiding over the case.
The appellate court, in the further assailed September 18, 2007 Resolution,9 denied petitioner's motion for reconsideration. Aggrieved, petitioner brought the matter to this Court via the instant Rule 45 petition.
The Court denies the petition.
Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court provides that -
Section 1. Disqualification of judges. No judge or judicial officers shall sit in any case in which he, or his wife or child, is pecuniarily interested as heir, legatee, creditor or otherwise, or in which he is related to either party within the sixth degree of consanguinity or affinity, or to counsel within the fourth degree, computed according to the rules of the civil law, or in which he has been executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or counsel, or in which he has presided in any inferior court when his ruling or decision is the subject of review, without the written consent of all parties in interest, signed by them and entered upon the record.
A judge may, in the exercise of his sound discretion, disqualify himself from sitting in a case, for just or valid reasons other than those mentioned above.
The first paragraph of the section relates to the mandatory inhibition of judges; the second, to their voluntary inhibition.
The discretion referred to in the second paragraph is a matter of conscience and is addressed primarily to the judges' sense of fairness and justice.10 Indeed, as this Court has held in Pimentel v. Salanga,11 judges may not be legally prohibited from sitting in a litigation. However, when suggestion is made of record that they might be induced to act with bias or prejudice against a litigant arising out of circumstances reasonably capable of inciting such a state of mind, they should conduct a careful self-examination. Magistrates should exercise their discretion in a way that the people's faith in the courts of justice is not impaired. They should, therefore, exercise great care and caution before making up their minds to act or withdraw from a suit. If, after reflection, they resolve to voluntarily desist from sitting in a case in which their motives or fairness might be seriously impugned, their action is to be interpreted as giving meaning and substance to the second paragraph of Section 1, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court.12
Nonetheless, while the rule allows judges, in the exercise of sound discretion, to voluntarily inhibit themselves from hearing a case, it provides that the inhibition must be based on just or valid reasons. In prior cases interpreting this rule, the most recent of which is Philippine Commercial International Bank v. Spouses Wilson Dy Hong Pi, etc., et al.,13 the Court noted that the mere imputation of bias or partiality is not enough ground for inhibition, especially when the charge is without basis. Acts or conduct clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice has to be shown. Extrinsic evidence must further be presented to establish bias, bad faith, malice, or corrupt purpose, in addition to palpable error which may be inferred from the decision or order itself.14 Stated differently, the bare allegations of the judge's partiality will not suffice in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to overcome the presumption that the judge will undertake his noble role of dispensing justice in accordance with law and evidence, and without fear or favor. Verily, for bias and prejudice to be considered valid reasons for the involuntary inhibition of judges, mere suspicion is not enough.15 Let it be further noted that the option given to a judge to choose whether or not to handle a particular case should be counterbalanced by the judge's sworn duty to administer justice without fear of repression.16
In the case at bar, petitioner, aside from his bare allegations, has not shown that Judge Quijano-Padilla had been biased and partial against a particular party in the proceedings in Civil Case No. Q-99-37219. The judge even acknowledged in the inhibitory order that the motion for her disqualification contained no statement of specific act or acts that would show her partiality or bias in the treatment of the case. Her voluntary inhibition was only on account of dispelling any doubt and perception of bias on the part of petitioner. Clearly, therefore, no just and valid reason supports the inhibition of Judge Quijano-Padilla.
The fact that Judge Quijano-Padilla ruled adversely against petitioner in the resolution of the motion to dismiss, which this Court later reversed in G.R. No. 160753, is not enough reason, absent any extrinsic evidence of malice or bad faith, to conclude that the judge was biased and partial against petitioner. As this Court has emphasized in Webb v. People,17 the remedy of erroneous interlocutory rulings in the course of a trial is not the outright disqualification of a judge, for there is yet to come a judge with the omniscience to issue rulings that are always infallible. The courts will close shop if we disqualify judges who err, for we all err.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Finally, the Court notes that if it were to affirm the inhibitory order in this case, then it would be opening the floodgates to a form of forum-shopping, in which litigants would be allowed to shop for a judge more sympathetic to their causes.18
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED. The June 28, 2007 Decision and the September 18, 2007 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 94016 are AFFIRMED.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Japar B. Dimaampao, with Associate Justices Mario L. GuariÃ±a III and Sixto C. Marella, Jr., concurring; rollo, pp. 150-158.
2 Id. at 172-173.
3 Rollo, pp. 28-42.
4 Id. at 99-111.
5 Id. at 44-46.
6 Id. at 47-48.
7 Id. at 50-62.
8 Supra note 1.
9 Supra note 2.
10 Gochan v. Gochan, 446 Phil. 433, 447 (2003).
11 No. L-27934, September 18, 1967, 21 SCRA 160.
12 Id. at 167-168.
13 G.R. No. 171137, June 5, 2009.
14 Id. see, however, Gutang v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 124760, July 8, 1998, 292 SCRA 76, in which the Court considered as a just and valid reason for voluntary inhibition the distrust and skepticism that may possibly cloud the decision, order or resolution the judge will render.
15 Pagoda Philippines, Inc. v. Universal Canning, Inc., G.R. No. 160966, October 11, 2005, 472 SCRA 355, 362.
16 Dumo v. Espinas, G.R. No. 141962, January 25, 2006, 480 SCRA 53, 68.
17 G.R. No. 127262, July 24, 1997, 276 SCRA 243, 255-256.
18 Pagoda Philippines, Inc. v. Universal Canning, Inc., supra note 15, at 362-363.