[A.M. No. P-05-2014 : June 29, 2010]
JUDGE ORLANDO D. BELTRAN, COMPLAINANT, VS. VILMA C. PAGULAYAN, INTERPRETER III, RTC, BRANCH 2, TUGUEGARAO CITY, CAGAYAN, RESPONDENT.
D E C I S I O N
We resolve as an administrative matter1 the complaint/affidavit dated July 18, 20012 of Acting Presiding Judge Orlando Beltran (Judge Beltran), Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 2, Tuguegarao City, charging Vilma C. Pagulayan (Pagulayan), Interpreter III of the same court, with gross misconduct. The complaint alleged that Pagulayan demanded and received P20,000.00 from the plaintiffs in Civil Case No. 5383 (entitled Heirs of Benito Acain, et al. v. Sps. Anselmo and Anicia Acain for Quieting of Title and Damages) which Judge Beltran decided in the plaintiffs' favor. The demanded sum was allegedly for Judge Beltran. After receiving the demanded sum, Pagulayan personally handed the plaintiffs an unsigned copy of Judge Bletran's decision.
Judge Beltran and the Branch Clerk of Court, Atty. Maita Grace Deray-Israel (Deray-Israel), requested the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) District Office in Tuguegarao City, to investigate the matter. On August 6, 2001, the NBI submitted to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) a Final Report3 with the recommendation that Pagulayan be charged administratively for misconduct. The NBI recommendation was based largely on the affidavits of Judge Beltran,4 Deray-Israel5 and plaintiffs Facundo Baccay (Baccay) and Saturnino Acain (Acain).6
The OCA required Pagulayan to comment on the complaint.7 In her Comment dated September 20, 2001,8 Pagulayan denied what she regarded as Judge Beltran's unsubstantiated accusation against her; she claimed that she did not demand nor receive any amount of money for herself or for anyone from the plaintiffs who did not even come out with a complaint/affidavit of their own. She maintained that her only involvement took place when she referred one Apolinario Allam - a friend of her husband's and a relative of Baccay and who was following up the case - to Primativa Martirez, the clerk in charge of civil cases. She was therefore surprised when, after one year, she was charged for having demanded and received money for Judge Beltran. She lamented that Judge Beltran did not even confront her about the matter, or ask her to face the alleged complainants.
At the OCA's recommendation, the Court referred the matter to the Executive Judge, RTC, Tuguegarao City, for investigation, report and recommendation within sixty (60) days from receipt.9 Executive Judge Jimmy Henry F. Luczon, Jr.,10 and Executive Judge Vilma T. Pauig,11 in succession, asked that the assignment be given to another judge since they cannot conduct an impartial investigation on the case; Judge Luczon, Jr. stated that he previously filed a falsification charge against Pagulayan, while Judge Pauig declined because Pagulayan was the interpreter in her court.
On March 29, 2004, the Court re-assigned the case to the executive judge of the RTC in Aparri, Cagayan12 - Judge Virgilio M. Alameda (Judge Alameda). On October 14, 2004, Judge Alameda submitted a Final Report through the OCA.13 Judge Alameda found Pagulayan to be guilty of gross misconduct. The judge based his conclusion mainly on the testimony of Baccay that Pagulayan demanded and received money from him, allegedly to be given to Judge Beltran for the favorable decision the judge rendered. Judge Alameda recommended that Pagulayan be suspended for six (6) months without pay and without benefits, in consideration of her 29 years of service in the Judiciary and because this was her first offense.
In a Resolution dated December 8, 2004,14 the Court referred Judge Alameda's report to the OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation. In a memorandum dated April 22, 2005,15 the OCA found Judge Alameda's conclusions to be "in accord with the evidence presented during the investigation x x x and applicable jurisprudence." Although it took into consideration the extenuating circumstances Judge Alameda cited in Pagulayan's favor, the OCA nonetheless recommended that she be found guilty of gross misconduct and be suspended for one (1) year without pay and without benefits.
On June 15, 2005, the Court resolved to re-docket the case as a regular administrative matter and required the parties to manifest whether they are willing to submit the case for decision based on the pleadings and the records on file.16
On August 9, 2005, Pagulayan filed a Compliance17 manifesting that she wanted to present her evidence. She had failed to do so, however, because she travelled to the United States of America (USA) for medical check-up from July 28, 2004 to December 15, 2004, while her counsel of record withdrew from the case at the time she was to present evidence. Again, the Court referred the matter to the OCA for appropriate action.18 The OCA, while acknowledging that a full blown investigation had already been conducted vis-a