[A.M. NO. RTJ-02-1731 : February 16, 2005]
SHIRLEY C. RUIZ, Complainant, v. JUDGE ROLINDO D. BELDIA, JR., Regional Trial Court, Branch 57, San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, [Assisting Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 272, Marikina City,] Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
In an Affidavit-Complaint1 filed with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), complainant Shirley C. Ruiz charged respondent Judge Rolindo D. Beldia, Jr. of Branch 57, Regional Trial Court, San Carlos City, Negros Occidental, with gross ignorance of the law and grave abuse of authority in connection with the grant of bail and issuance of a release order in favor of one Lourdes Estrella Santos.
Ruiz is the private complainant in I.S. No. 2000-1031 for violation of the Anti-Fencing Law2 pending before the Department of Justice (DOJ). Santos, who was arrested during entrapment operations relative to the carnapping of Ruiz's vehicle, was one of the respondents therein.
After her arrest on May 24, 2000, Santos was detained in Camp Crame, Quezon City, pending the filing of formal charges in court. Upon inquest, she executed a waiver of the provisions of Article 1253 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Rule 112, Section 74 of the then applicable 1985 Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Inquest Prosecutor thus set the hearing of the preliminary investigation on May 31, 2000 at 2:00 PM.5
However, on May 30, 2000, Santos obtained an Order of Release6 signed by respondent Judge Beldia who was then detailed as assisting judge of Branch 272, Regional Trial Court of Marikina City (RTC-Marikina City).Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Respondent Judge Beldia apparently granted bail to Santos and approved the corresponding bail bond without serving notice to the prosecutor.
Consequently, Ruiz filed the instant administrative complaint contending that respondent Judge Beldia had no authority to grant bail to Santos since the Investigating Prosecutor has yet to conclude the preliminary investigation. She claimed that for as long as the information has not yet been filed in court, a court has no power to grant bail to a detained person since it has not yet acquired jurisdiction over the person of the accused.
In his Comment7 dated August 14, 2000, respondent Judge Beldia maintained that Section 1 (c), Rule 114 of the Rules of Court allows any person in custody, even if not formally charged in court, to apply for bail.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Meanwhile, the OCA directed the Clerk of Court, Branch 272, RTC-Marikina City, Atty. Elvira Badillo-Adarlo, to confirm whether a formal petition for admission to bail was filed by Santos or her counsel and, whether Executive Judge Reuben P. de la Cruz and Presiding Judge Olga P. Enriquez were absent or unavailable on May 30, 2000 when the release order was issued.8
On June 18, 2002, Atty. Badillo-Adarlo informed the OCA that the records of release orders and bailbonds in her custody did not include the subject release order issued by respondent Judge Beldia. As such, she could not tell whether a formal petition for admission to bail was filed by Santos. She likewise confirmed that Executive Judge De la Cruz and Presiding Judge Enriquez were present and available on the day that Judge Beldia issued the release order.9
On November 20, 2002, the complaint was re-docketed as a regular administrative matter. At the same time, the parties were required to manifest whether they are willing to submit the case for resolution based on the pleadings filed.10 The parties failed to file their manifestations, hence the filing thereof was deemed waived.
In its report11 dated July 31, 2002, the OCA recommended that respondent Judge Beldia be held liable for gross ignorance of the law and fined in the amount of P5,000.00. It opined that although a person in custody and who is not formally charged in court could apply for bail pursuant to Section 17 (c), Rule 114, the grant thereof by Judge Beldia was nonetheless irregular. It noted that no formal petition or application for bail was filed by Santos, and even if one was filed, the Marikina courts could not have properly taken cognizance of the same since Santos was detained at Camp Crame in Quezon City. There was also no showing that the regular judge of Branch 272, RTC-Marikina City, was unavailable to act on the application for bail.
We agree with the recommendation of the OCA.
Record shows that Executive Judge De la Cruz and Presiding Judge Enriquez were present on May 30, 2000 to act on the bail application of Santos. When respondent Judge Beldia acted on the bail application of Santos on May 30, 2000, his designation was merely an "assisting judge" in the RTC-Marikina City, his permanent station being in Branch 57, RTC-San Carlos City, Negros Occidental. As such, his authority in the Marikina court is limited and he could only act on an application for bail filed therewith in the absence or unavailability of the regular judge.
Concededly, a person lawfully arrested and detained but who has not yet been formally charged in court, can seek his provisional release through the filing of an application for bail. He need not wait for a formal complaint or information to be filed since bail is available to "all persons" where the offense is bailable.12 Section 7, Rule 112 of the 1985 Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that a judge could grant bail to a person lawfully arrested but without a warrant, upon waiver of his right under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, as Santos had done upon her inquest.
Undeniably too, Santos was entitled to bail as a matter of right since the offense with which she was charged does not carry the penalty of life imprisonment, reclusion perpetua or death.13 Notwithstanding, it was incumbent upon respondent Judge Beldia to grant bail to Santos in accordance with established rules and procedure. Respondent Judge Beldia failed in this respect and must thus be held administratively liable.
Section 17, par. (c) of Rule 114 distinctly states:
SEC. 17. Bail, where filed. ''
(c) Any person in custody who is not yet charged in court may apply for bail with any court in the province, city, or municipality where he is held. (Emphasis supplied)Ï‚rÎ±lÎ±Ï‰lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
The Certificate of Detention14 issued by the PNP-TMG-SOD shows that Santos was detained at Camp Crame in Quezon City. Thus, as correctly pointed out by the OCA, the application for bail should have been filed before the proper Quezon City court and not in Marikina City.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
In addition, it appears that no formal application or petition for the grant of bail was filed before the RTC-Marikina City. There were no records of the application or the release order issued by respondent Judge Beldia. Neither was there a hearing conducted thereon nor the prosecutor notified of the bail application.
Under the present rules, a hearing on an application for bail is mandatory.15 In Cortes v. Judge Catral,16 we ruled that in all cases, whether bail is a matter of right or of discretion, reasonable notice of hearing must be given to the prosecutor, or at least his recommendation on the matter must be sought. The rationale for this was explained in this wise:
Bail should be fixed according to the circumstances of each case. The amount fixed should be sufficient to ensure the presence of the accused at the trial yet reasonable enough to comply with the constitutional provision that bail should not be excessive. Therefore, whether bail is a matter of right or of discretion, reasonable notice of hearing is required to be given to the prosecutor or fiscal or at least he must be asked for his recommendation because in fixing the amount of bail, the judge is required to take into account a number of factors such as the applicant's character and reputation, forfeiture of other bonds or whether he is a fugitive from justice.17
Judge Beldia disregarded basic procedural rules when he granted bail to Santos sans hearing and notice and without the latter having filed a formal petition for bail. Accordingly, the prosecution was deprived of procedural due process for which respondent Judge Beldia must be held accountable.18
There is no dearth of jurisprudence on the rules to be applied in the grant of bail.19 These same rules have been incorporated in the Rules of Court, of which a judge must have more than just a superficial understanding, if he were to discharge his functions properly and competently. Indeed, everyone, especially a judge, is presumed to know the law. When, as in this case, the law is so elementary, not to be aware of it constitutes gross ignorance of the law.20
The Code of Judicial Conduct enjoins judges to be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence. A judge is called upon to exhibit more than just a cursory acquaintance with statutes and procedural rules; it is imperative that he be conversant with basic legal principles and be aware of well-settled authoritative doctrines. He should strive for excellence exceeded only by his passion for truth, to the end that he be the personification of justice and the rule of law.21
Under Section 8 of A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC amending Rule 140 of the Rules of Court on the Discipline of Justices and Judges, which took effect on October 1, 2001, gross ignorance of the law is classified as a serious charge punishable by either dismissal from service, suspension or a fine of more than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00. In this case, considering that the incident took place on May 30, 2000 which is before the effectivity of A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, and malice or bad faith on the part of respondent Judge Beldia not having been established, and further, this being his first administrative offense, we deem it just and reasonable to impose upon him a fine of P5,000.00.22
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, respondent Judge Rolindo D. Beldia, Jr. of Branch 57, Regional Trial Court, San Carlos City, Negros Occidental is found GUILTY of gross ignorance of the law, and is FINED in the amount of P5,000.00. He is further WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Quisumbing, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, pp. 3-4.
2 Presidential Decree No. 1612, March 2, 1979.
3 Art. 125. Delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities. - The penalties provided in the next preceding article shall be imposed upon the public officer or employee who shall detain any person for some legal ground and shall fail to deliver such person to the proper judicial authorities within the period of: twelve (12) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by light penalties, or their equivalent; eighteen (18) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by correctional penalties, or their equivalent; and thirty-six (36) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by afflictive or capital penalties, or their equivalent.
In every case, the person detained shall be informed of the cause of his detention and shall be allowed, upon his request, to communicate and confer at any time with his attorney or counsel.
4 SEC. 7. When accused lawfully arrested without warrant. - When a person is lawfully arrested without a warrant for an offense cognizable by the Regional Trial Court the complaint or information may be filed by the offended party, peace officer or fiscal without a preliminary investigation having been first conducted, on the basis of the affidavit of the offended party or arresting officer or person.
However, before the filing of such complaint or information, the person arrested may ask for a preliminary investigation by a proper officer in accordance with this Rule, but he must sign a waiver of the provisions of Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, with the assistance of a lawyer, and in case of non-availability of a lawyer, a responsible person of his choice. Notwithstanding such waiver, he may apply for bail as provided in the corresponding rule and the investigation must be terminated within fifteen (15) days from its inception.
If the case has been filed in court without a preliminary investigation having been first conducted, the accused may within five (5) days from the time he learns of the filing of the information, ask for a preliminary investigation with the same right to adduce evidence in his favor in the manner prescribed in this Rule.
5 Supra, note 1 at 5-6.
6 Id. at 7.
7 Id. at 18-19.
8 Id. at 36.
9 Id. at 34.
10 Id. at 44.
11 Id. at 40-43.
12 Paderanga v. Court of Appeals, 317 Phil. 862, 871 (1995), citing De la Camara v. Enage, etc., 148-B Phil. 502 (1971).
13 The highest total penalty that may be imposed under Section 3 (a) of the Anti-Fencing Law is twenty (20) years or reclusion temporal.
14 Supra, note 1 at 21.
16 344 Phil. 415, 430 (1997), citing Basco v. Rapatalo, 336 Phil. 214 (1997).
17 Id. at 423, citing Article III, Section 13, 1987 Constitution; Section 9, Rule 114, Rules of Court; and Chin v. Judge Gustilo, et al., 317 Phil. 207 (1995).
19 Cortes v. Judge Catral, supra.
20 Gacayan, et al. v. Pamintuan, 373 Phil. 460, 481 (1999), citing Agcaoili v. Ramos, A.M. No. MTJ-92-6-251, 7 February 1994, 229 SCRA 705.
22 Domingo v. Pagayatan, A.M. No. RTJ-03-1751, 10 June 2003, 403 SCRA 381, 388-389, citing Berin v. Barte, 434 Phil. 772 (2002); Esguerra v. Loja, 392 Phil. 532 (2000); Conducto v. Monzon, 353 Phil. 796 (1998). See also Judge Mupas v. Judge EspaÃ±ol, A.M. No. RTJ-04-1850, 14 July 2004, p. 15.