A.M. No. 17-03-03-CA, July 11, 2017
RE: LETTER OF RAFAEL DIMAANO REQUESTING INVESTIGATION OF THE ALLEGED ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES PURPORTEDLY PERPETRATED BY ASSOCIATE JUSTICE JANE AURORA C. LANTION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS, CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, AND A CERTAIN ATTY. DOROTHY S. CAJAYON OF ZAMBOANGA CITY
OCA IPI No. 17-258-CA-J, July 11, 2017
RE: UNSWORN COMPLAINT OF ROSA ABDULHARAN AGAINST ASSOCIATE JUSTICE JANE AURORA C. LANTION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS, CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, AND A CERTAIN ATTY. DOROTHY S. CAJAYON OF ZAMBOANGA CITY
Before the Court are two (2) Letter-Complaints filed by Rosa Abdulharan (Abdulharan) and Rafael Dimaano (Dimaano) charging Justice Jane Aurora C. Lantion (Justice Lantion), Court of Appeals, Cagayan de Oro City (CA-CDO) and Atty. Dorothy Cajayon (Atty. Cajayon) with selling a favorable decision.
In a Letter,1 dated September 12, 2016, filed before the Office of the President (OP), Abdulharan alleged that Atty. Cajayon was making business out of the sufferings of poor litigants by telling the parties with a pending case before the CA-CDO to prepare money because Justice Lantion was giving a "favorable decision if the price is right."
Another Letter,2 dated November 14, 2016, was filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) by Dimaano, requesting an investigation on the "consistent and incessant allegation of an existing syndicate of selling a favorable decision" from the CA-CDO purportedly committed by Atty. Cajayon and Justice Lantion.
The OP and the DOJ referred the letters to the Court, thru the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), on December 13, 20163 and on January 6, 2017,4 respectively. They were subsequently docketed as IPI No. 17-258-CA-J and A.M. No. 17-03-03-CA.
In a Resolution,5 dated April 4, 2017, the Court resolved to consolidate the two (2) cases and require Justice Lantion and Atty. Cajayon to comment thereon.
Comment of Atty. Cajayon
In her Answer/Comment,6 Atty. Cajayon specifically averred that:
Comment of Justice Lantion
On her part, Justice Lantion vehemently denied the charges and averred that the allegations were false, malicious and bereft of substance and factual basis. She stressed that the unsworn letters were too sweeping and replete with generalizations and not supported by proof or leads. Justice Lantion averred that she was born in Manila where she grew up. She was assigned only in the CA-CDO for two and a half years from February 2007 to August 2009 and within that short period of time, it was highly improbable for her to gain connections to engage in the nefarious scheme that Abdulharan and Dimaano maliciously implied. In addition, Justice Lantion asserted that the complaints were questionable as they were filed after the lapse of almost eight (8) years from the time she was transferred to CA-Manila. Finally, she denied knowing Atty. Cajayon, explaining that though she encountered a person by the name of Dorothy Sandalo in law school, she had no personal knowledge if Dorothy Sandalo and Atty. Cajayon are one and the same person. Further, she did not have any personal or professional interaction with Dorothy Sandalo or Atty. Cajayon after law school and up to the present.8
The Court finds the letter-complaints bereft of merit.
The Court's Ruling
Section 1, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court provides:
SECTION 1. How instituted. Proceedings for the discipline of Judges of regular and special courts and Justices of the Court of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan may be instituted motu proprio by the Supreme Court or upon a verified complaint, supported by affidavits of persons who have personal knowledge of the facts alleged therein or by documents which may substantiate said allegations, or upon an anonymous complaint, supported by public records of indubitable integrity. The complaint shall be in writing and shall state clearly and concisely the acts and omissions constituting violations of standards of conduct prescribed for Judges by law, the Rules of Court, or the Code of Judicial Conduct.
From the foregoing, there are three ways by which administrative proceedings against judges and justices of the CA and Sandiganbayan may be instituted: (1) motu proprio by the Supreme Court; (2) upon verified complaint with affidavits of persons having personal knowledge of the facts alleged therein or by documents which may substantiate said allegations; or (3) upon an anonymous complaint supported by public records of indubitable integrity.9
In the same vein, Section 1, Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court provides the manner for which a complaint against a lawyer may be instituted, thus:
Section 1. How instituted. Proceedings for the disbarment, suspension, or discipline of attorneys may be taken by the Supreme Court motu proprio, or by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) upon the verified complaint of any person. The complaint shall state clearly and concisely the facts complained of and shall be supported by affidavits of persons having personal knowledge of the facts therein alleged and/or by such documents as may substantiate said facts. [Underscoring supplied]
The verification of a pleading is made through an affidavit or sworn statement confirming that the affiant has read the pleading whose allegations are true and correct of the affiant's personal knowledge or based on authentic records.10 The rationale behind the rule is to secure an assurance that what are alleged in the pleading are true and correct and not the product of the imagination or a matter of speculation, and that the pleading is filed in good faith.11
Generally, a pleading need not be verified, unless there is a law or rule specifically requiring the same. A pleading required to be verified but lacks proper verification, is to be treated as an unsigned pleading which produces no legal effect.12
In administrative proceedings, the quantum of proof necessary for a finding of guilt is substantial evidence or that amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.13 It must be stressed that the burden of substantiating the charges in an administrative proceeding falls on the complainant, who must be able to prove the allegations in the complaint with substantial evidence.14 Reliance on mere allegations, conjectures and suppositions will leave an administrative complaint with no leg to stand on.15
In this case, not only are the two handwritten letter-complaints unverified, they are also unsupported by any affidavits or documents which would validate the charges against the respondents. Even if the Court sets aside technicality, the handwritten letters of the complainants are couched in general terms that contain no material, relevant and substantial allegation to support the accusation of continuous and widespread selling of a favorable decision in CA-CDO. The complainants failed to aver specific acts or to present proof to show that Justice Lantion and Atty. Cajayon were in cahoots and involved in the continuous and widespread selling of a favorable decision in CA-CDO. Moreover, the Court notes that these allegations/reports were filed after the lapse of seven (7) years from the time Justice Lantion was transferred to CA-Manila. Indeed, if Justice Lantion and Atty. Cajayon should be disciplined for a grave offense, the evidence against them should be competent and should be derived from direct knowledge.16
Hence, in the case of Diomampo v. Judge Alpajora,17 the Court held that:
It must be stressed that any administrative complaint leveled against a judge must always be examined with a discriminating eye, for its consequential effects are by their nature highly penal, such that the respondent stands to face the sanction of dismissal and/or disbarment. Thus, the Court cannot give credence to charges based on mere suspicion and speculation. As champion - at other times tormentor - of trial and appellate judges, this Court must be unrelenting in weeding the judiciary of unscrupulous judges, but it must also be quick in dismissing administrative complaints which serve no other purpose than to harass them. While it is our duty to investigate and determine the truth behind every matter in complaints against judges and other court personnel, it is also our duty to see to it that they are protected and exonerated from baseless administrative charges. The Court will not shirk from its responsibility of imposing discipline upon its magistrates, but neither will it hesitate to shield them from unfounded suits that serve to disrupt rather than promote the orderly administration of justice. When the complainant, as in the case at bar, relies on mere conjectures and suppositions and fails to substantiate her claim, the administrative complaint must be dismissed for lack of merit.18
WHEREFORE, the complaints against respondents Justice Jane Aurora C. Lantion, Court of Appeals, Cagayan de Oro City and Atty. Dorothy S. Cajayon are hereby DISMISSED.
Sereno, C.J., Carpio, Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, Caguioa, Martires, and Tijam, JJ., concur.
Del Castillo and Jardeleza, JJ., on official leave.
1Rollo (IPI No. 17-258-CA-J), p. 4.
2Rollo (A.M. No. 17-03-03-CA), pp. 4-5.
3 Letter, dated November 3, 2016, rollo (IPI No. 17-258-CA-J), p. 3.
4 Indorsement, dated January 3, 2017, rollo (A.M. No. 17-03-03-CA), p. 3.
5Rollo (IPI No. 17-258-CA-J), pp. 5-6; rollo (A.M. No. 17-03-03-CA), pp. 7-8.
6Rollo (IPI No. 17-258-CA-J), pp. 7-13.
7 Id. at 9-11.
8 Comment, dated June 9, 2017, rollo (IPI No. 17-258-CA-J), pp. 16-22.
9Sinsuat v. Judge Hidalgo, 583 Phil. 38, 47 (2008).
10Valmonte v. Alcala, 581 Phil. 505, 512 (2008).
11 Pajuyo v. Court of Appeals, 474 Phil. 557, 577 (2004).
12 1997 Rules of Court, Rule 7, Section 4, as amended by A.M. No. 00-2-10-SC, effective May 1, 2000.
13Complaint of Imelda D. Ramil against Stenographer Evelyn Antonio, 552 Phil. 92, 100 (2007).
14 Dayag v. Judge Gonzales, 526 Phil. 48, 57 (2006).
15 Alfonso v. Ignacio, 487 Phil. 1, 7 (2004).
17 483 Phil. 560 (2004).
18 Id. at 565-566.