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A.M. No. MTJ-05-1579 - Eduardo C. Dayuno v. Judge Hector B. Barillo, et al.

A.M. No. MTJ-05-1579 - Eduardo C. Dayuno v. Judge Hector B. Barillo, et al.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[A.M. NO. MTJ-05-1579. October 11, 2005]

(Formerly OCA IPI No. 02-1277-MTJ)

EDUARDO C. DAYUNO, Complainant, v. JUDGE HECTOR B. BARILLO, and LUCIA L. TANGERES, CLERK OF COURT II, Respondents.

R E S O L U T I O N

PER CURIAM:

This administrative matter stemmed from the affidavit-complaint dated June 10, 20021 filed by complainant Eduardo C. Dayuno with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) charging respondents Judge Hector B. Barillo and Ms. Lucia L. Tangeres, Acting Judge and Clerk of Court, respectively, of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental with grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, among other offenses.

As gathered from the basic complaint, the separate comments thereon of respondents, with their respective annexes, other pleadings and documents on file, the antecedent facts of the case, originally docketed as OCA IPI No. 02-1277 - MTJ, are as follows:

Complainant's father, Juanito Dayuno, was a holder of emancipation patents over two (2) parcels of agricultural land situated in Brgy. Bulado, Guihulngan, Negros Oriental and covered by OCT Nos. 2071 and 2073. Both parcels used to form part of the estate of the late Federico Sumogod over which respondent Lucia L. Tangeres serves as administratrix.

Owing to advancing age, Juanito assigned his rights over the said parcels of land in favor of complainant, who then assumed and continued with the corresponding monthly amortizations therefor. Complainant eventually completed payment and the Land Bank accordingly issued him separate "Certificate[s] of Full Payment of Land Amortization".2

On March 2, 2000, a certain Evelyn Anotado, one of respondent Tangeres' overseers of the Sumogod estate, filed a criminal complaint for qualified theft against herein complainant, who was allegedly caught unlawfully gathering coconuts worth P800.00 within the Sumogod estate. The case was docketed as Criminal Case No. 2-00-019 of the MTC of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, presided by respondent Judge Hector B. Barillo. Parenthetically, another overseer of respondent Tangeres earlier filed a similar complaint3 against the son of another agrarian reform awardee.

Finding, in a preliminary investigation conducted on June 27, 2000, a prima facie against complainant for the crime charged, respondent judge immediately issued a warrant of arrest. On July 31, 2000, complainant was arrested and detained until August 21, 2000 when he was able to post bail for his provisional liberty.

Upon review of the resolution on preliminary investigation, the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Negros Oriental, on the finding that complainant has adequately shown proof of ownership over the land on which the coconuts were harvested, dismissed the criminal complaint for want of probable cause. The dismissal, embodied in resolution dated September 15, 2000,4 would be reiterated in an order of October 20, 2000.5

The dismissal action, instead of easing ill-feelings one main protagonist may have harbored against the other, appeared to have heightened the animosity between them. Complainant apparently could not shake off the belief that, as stated in his complaint, the Anotado-initiated criminal case, was an instance of malicious prosecution instigated by respondent Tangeres who used her position as clerk of court and the court as instruments in perpetrating her evil designs and fabricating offenses.

Complainant alleges that when he harvested and sold the G-melina trees he planted on his awarded area, respondent Tangeres demanded half of the proceeds, adding that he was forced to accede when the demand was accompanied by a threat of imprisonment. Upon further reflection, however, on the propriety of the demand, he wrote respondent Tangeres asking for the return of P1, 500.00 she had received, only to be told that she would only act in accordance with the order of Judge Barillo.

Complainant further avers that respondent Tangeres, in violation of his right to have access to records of public concern, rejected his letter-request6 for copies of the complaint in, and the supporting affidavits of, Criminal Case No. 3-00-019.

Turning his sight against the other respondent, complainant alleges that, on May 29, 2002, respondent Judge Barillo issued, purportedly in relation with the case between complainant and respondent clerk of court, a notice for conference, requiring him to appear before his sala on June 5, 2002 when no case has been filed against him.7 To complainant, respondent judge's actuation was "designed to protect and defend the interest of respondent Clerk of Court", a clear manifestation of partiality and bad faith, with the end in view of harassing him.

In his comment dated August 22, 2002,8 respondent judge tags the instant administrative complaint as an off-shot of the actions he took in connection with Criminal Case No. 3-00-019, which, he was quick to explain, were in accordance with the pertinent provisions of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure. Continuing, respondent judge also avers that, on August 1, 2000, Clerk of Court Tangeres issued to complainant a subpoena notifying him of the filing of Criminal Case No. 2-00-019 and directing him to file his counter-affidavit and that of his witnesses. He pointed out, however, that complainant did not comply with the directive, a failure which, according to respondent judge, prompted him, owing to the limited jurisdiction of MTCs, to forward the entire records of the case to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor.

Lastly, respondent judge declared his clerk of court to be without involvement, directly or indirectly, with said case.

Respondent Tangeres, in his August 27, 2002 comment, stated that she is adopting Judge Barillo's comment and then proceeded to allege additional facts which, to her, argue against complainant's claim of ownership over the parcels of land whence he feloniously harvested coconuts. Her other pertinent allegations:

One day in February 2000, Eduardo Dayuno . . . appeared and harvested coconuts growing in the cultivation of the late Ceriaca Malahay . . . (sic) As this parcel of land is part of the more-than-50-hectare coconut plantation, and not that parcel of land covered by PD 27, the overseers filed a case against Eduardo Dayuno (CrC No. 3-00-019 not 2-00-019) for Qualified Thief, which on October 20, 2000 was easily dismissed by the public prosecutor considering that accused Eduardo Dayuno was able to present xerox copies of land titles. xxx

xxx xxx xxx

4) On the issue of G-melina trees: - Some, if not all the tenants in the lot covered by PD 27 planted their areas with these trees. The first one to have the trees growing in the lot waived by Juanito Dayuno cut was Eduardo Dayuno. Naturally, the overseers demanded for the 50% of the proceeds of the sale because the overseers and the undersigned respondent were of the belief that the parcel of land apportioned to Juanito Dayuno had already been paid and returned to the Sumogods. Undersigned denies the allegation that she threatened him to be imprisoned if he did not give in to her demand. xxx. What she told him was the fact that he could be imprisoned for cutting the trees without permit from the DENR. xxxx. crvll

If it is true that respondent has a primary objective of harassing and prosecuting the lowly, weak and ignorant tenants . . . to be able to get more shares from them why did she not force other tenants to give shares of their proceeds also to the estate . . .? xxxx

xxx xxx xxx

5) It is true that he wrote a letter demanding to return the money and another letter requesting to furnish him copies of the complaint and supporting affidavits in Criminal Case No. 3-00-019 but he went personally to the office also and they had a short talk. Respondent told him these: "Good that you are here because I am planning to return the money to you not because of your demand letter but because I happened to think that it is not good or bad luck to receive money which is illegally earned.xxx. Judge Barillo advised also to return it to you. But this money will be returned to you after our conference as Judge would investigate the matter first." She further explained to him that Judge had to investigate it because the tone of his letter was threatening that should she fail to return the money this will reach in court or in any administrative bodies. Judge further commented that this is detrimental to the integrity of the court and that he has the obligation to investigate, the respondent being his subordinate. Complainant Eduardo went to the office on May 31, 2002 and she reminded him that the date for the conference was June 5, 2002. The return of the notice of conference shows that he signed said notice on June 2, 2002. June 5 had passed but he never appeared until now. It was not a subpoena being issued but notice of conference xxx. crvll

6) On copies of complaint and affidavits not given to Eduardo Dayuno: Record shows that he was furnished completely copies of complaint and other supporting documents. xxx. crvll

xxx xxx xxx

Section 5, Rule 110 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedures provides among other things that the authority shall cease upon actual intervention of the prosecutor or upon elevation of the case to the Regional Trial Court. So, if a case is already forwarded and received by the Provincial Prosecution Office the first level court losses its jurisdiction over said case. It is in the light of the foregoing rule that our office (MTC) adopted an SOP that once the case has already been forwarded to the Provincial Prosecution Office or is already lodged in the RTC, we do not cater to court users asking for another copies of documents which they had been furnished before. xxx.

xxx xxx xxx.9

In a letter of May 13, 2003,10 the OCA required respondent judge to comment on the allegation that "[he is] using his public office to protect and defend the interests of [his] Clerk of Court [Tangeres] as evidenced by a Notice for Conference".

In his letter-comment,11 the respondent judge dismissed, as baseless, the particular allegation adverted to. He, however, made the following clarificatory statements:

2. In commenting/clarifying the Notice for Conference between MTC Clerk of Court Lucia L. Tangeres and Eduardo C. Dayuno, the undersigned states that:

A. Said Eduardo C. Dayuno has inquired/requested the copies of the case records in [Criminal Case No. 3-00-019] . . . .;

b. The records on file of the case could not be located . . .;

c. Said Clerk of Court was directed to produce the records . . . on June 5, 2002, the date of the Conference;

d. The Clerk of Court could not produce the above copies of the records and Eduardo C. Dayuno did not appear on June 5, 2002;

e. Since undersigned is not the [record] custodian . . . [he] insisted or requested that a certain court personnel be directed to obtain copies of the above records in the Provincial Prosecutor's Office . . .;

f. Undersigned upon knowing the obtained records, contended the impossibility for conducting the alleged investigation about the G-Melina [tree] transaction between the Clerk of Court and Eduardo C. Dayuno as there was no civil or criminal case filed in court involving that kind of transaction. xxx (Words in bracket added)

Upon the OCA's recommendation, the basic affidavit-complaint was re-docketed as a regular administrative matter.

In June 2004, complainant submitted, as directed by the Court, his consolidated reply to respondents' separate comments.

The OCA finds both respondents culpable for grave misconduct in office arising from the highly irregular call for a judicial conference and the issuance of the corresponding "Notice For Conference"12 addressed to complainant. Accordingly, the OCA recommends that both respondents be meted the penalty of dismissal from the service.

Save for the recommended penalty, the OCA's findings and the premises holding them together are well taken.

The time-honored rule is that a judge, as dispenser of justice in the light of applicable statutes and jurisprudence, should not only act fairly, independently and honestly, but should also be perceived to be fair, independent and honest.13 To borrow from an old adage, a judge, like Caesar's wife, must not only be above suspicion, but he must also appear to be above suspicion. It thus behooves every member of the bench, be he a judge of a lower court or a justice of a collegiate or appellate court, to avoid at all times any impression of impropriety.14

In the case at bench, respondent judge, in a gesture irresistibly suggesting manifest bias for respondent clerk of court, but bias against complainant, officially issued a notice of conference, complete with a case title, i.e., "Ms. Lucia L. Tangeres, Plaintiff, v. Eduardo Dayuno, Defendant", requiring, to stress, complainant to appear before his sala for a conference concerning what turned out to be a non-existing case. Understandably, the notice led complainant to believe that the notice partakes of a subpoena and that the intended meeting with respondent judge's clerk of court was court-related. By affixing his signature on the notice, respondent judge opened himself - and justifiably so - to suspicion of misusing the prestige of his office to enhance the personal interest of his clerk of court and harass the complainant. As aptly observed by the OCA in its report:

In this case, the complainant was called to a conference (Annex "G", Complaint) concerning the sale of the G-Melina trees even if there was no pending case on the said transaction. As the court had no jurisdiction over the subject matter, the conference was clearly intended for no other purpose than to harass or intimidate the complainant. It was designed to discourage the complainant from demanding the return of the P1,500.00 from the clerk of court representing 50% of the proceeds from the sale of G-Melina trees. This inference is supported by the fact that respondent Clerk of Court engaged the services of a policeman in serving the notice on the complainant (Annex "4", Comment of Tangeres). The use of a policeman in serving the simulated court notice was a ploy calculated to dishearten the complainant from pursuing his claim for a refund from the Clerk of Court.

xxx xxx xxx

Anent Judge Barillo's liability on the matter, we are of the opinion that his malfeasance cannot be glossed-over by his claim that "he even explained the impossibility of conducting an investigation on the matter as there was no case filed in court." His self-serving statement should not exculpate him from administrative liability. The judicial act of affixing his signature in the simulated notice speaks more eloquent that there was an intention to violate the law, or was in persistent disregard of well-known legal rules.15

At bottom then, respondent judge lent the authority of his office just to accommodate his clerk of court in a manner less than judicious. As the OCA would put it, "Judge Barillo's act of affixing his signature in the notice of conference . . . gave it a semblance of legality, which, in effect provided [a] shield or protective mantle to his Clerk of Court." Respondent judge thus created the impression that his clerk of court held undue sway in the affairs of his court. To be sure, the Code of Judicial Conduct frowns upon this demeaning practice, tending as it does to compromise the integrity and moral authority of the presiding judge. In the language of Rule 2.03 of Canon 2 of the Code:

A judge shall not allow family, social, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. The prestige of judicial office shall not be used or lent to advance the private interests of others, nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.

But for an earlier incident, the Court can perhaps accord some measure of plausibility to respondent judge's suggestion that the notice-for-conference episode is an isolated incident not reflective of bias insofar as the dispute between complainant and respondent clerk of court is concerned. We refer to the qualified theft proceedings culminating in the arrest and detention of complainant.

As may be recalled, the respondent judge conducted the preliminary investigation for qualified theft - a felony cognizable by the Regional Trial Court - where complainant stood as accused. In the course of the proceedings, however, the respondent judge, instead of following the procedures defined in Rule 112, Section 3 of the Rules of Court, cut legal corners, thereby veritably depriving herein complainant of his right to due process. Said Section 3 provides:

Sec. 3. Procedure. 'Except as provided for in Section 7 hereon, no complaint or information for an offense cognizable by the Regional Trial Court shall be filed without a preliminary investigation having been first conducted in the following manner:

(a) The complaint shall state the known address of the respondent and be accompanied by affidavits of the complainant and his witnesses as well as other supporting documents . . ..

(b) Within ten (10) days after the filing of the complaint, the investigating officer shall either dismiss the same if he finds no ground to continue with the inquiry, or issue a subpoena to the respondent, attaching thereto a copy of the complaint, affidavits and other supporting documents. Within ten (10) days from receipt thereof, the respondent shall submit counter-affidavits and other supporting documents. He shall have the right to examine all other evidence submitted by the complainant.

xxx xxx xxx. crvll

(c) If the respondent cannot be subpoenaed, or if subpoenaed does not submit counter-affidavits within the ten (10) day period, the investigating officer shall base his resolution on the evidence presented by the complainant.

(d) If the investigating officer believes that there are matters to be clarified, he may set a hearing to propound clarificatory questions . . . .

(e) Thereafter, the investigation shall be deemed concluded, and the investigating officer shall resolve the case within ten (10) days therefrom. Upon the evidence thus adduced, the investigating officer shall determine whether or not there is sufficient ground to hold the respondent for trial. (Underscoring added.)

From the foregoing provision, it is contextually clear that a resolution on a criminal complaint shall issue only after the investigating officer shall have issued a subpoena, attaching thereto a copy of the complaint and the supporting documents and requiring respondent to submit, within 10 days from receipt thereof, his counter-affidavits and other supporting documents. If respondent cannot be subpoenaed, or, if subpoenaed, does not submit his counter-affidavit within the 10-day period, the preliminary investigation shall proceed ex parte after which the investigating officer shall resolve the case based on the evidence presented by the complainant.

In the present case, respondent judge passed upon the complaint for qualified theft and, solely on the basis of complainant's and her witnesses' sworn statement, declared the existence of a prima facie case against herein complainant. And respondent judge, without missing a beat, issued on June 27, 2000, the very same day he conducted ex-parte and concluded the preliminary investigation, a warrant for herein complainant's arrest. In all, herein complainant appeared to have been proceeded against, arrested and then detained without being given the chance to be heard thru his counter-affidavit and other supporting documents. In fact, the arrest came before he was officially notified of the charges against him. No less than the respondent judge declared that the requisite subpoena was issued only on August 1, 2000 or a little over a month after he concluded his ex parte preliminary investigation.

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, dated September 11, 2001, gross misconduct constituting violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct are classified as serious charges punishable by dismissal from service, suspension from office for more than three (3) but not exceeding six (6) months, or a fine of more than P20, 000 but not exceeding P40, 000.

While the penalty of dismissal may very well be imposed on respondent judge, the Court finds that a fine in the amount of P40,000.00 is an appropriate penalty. For, apart from the fact that this is respondent judge's first administrative case in his twenty (20) years of service in the Judiciary, there is no indication that, in the commission of the specific acts complained of, he perverted his office for monetary or otherwise valuable consideration.

The same leniency, however, cannot be accorded the respondent clerk of court. For, to us, respondent judge did no more than to accommodate his clerk of court, albeit in the process the former committed an administrative infraction for which he is presently made answerable.

With the view we take of this case, respondent Tangeres used to the hilt her office and, doubtless, what may be regarded as a subordinate's closeness to a superior to advance her private interest and selfish ends at the expense of complainant. Consider:

Firstly, a warrant for the arrest of herein complainant for allegedly stealing coconuts from an estate under respondent Tangeres' administration was issued on the very same day the ex-parte preliminary investigation on the corresponding criminal complaint was concluded. As self-styled administrix of the Sumogod estate, it would be naïve to even think that respondent clerk of court had nothing to do with the filing of the complaint and the undue haste upon which the same was resolved by the very court to which she is assigned.

Secondly, the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Negros Oriental had dismissed the complaint for qualified theft against herein complainant on the premise that he has successfully proved his ownership over the two parcels of land planted to coconuts and other trees. Yet, respondent Tangeres, in her capacity as the administratrix of the Sumogod estate, still asked for and got half of the proceeds of the lumber that complainant derived from said parcels. And when complainant demanded for the return of what he gave her, she refused and even dragged the name of respondent judge into the fray, declaring that she would only return the said amount after their conference with respondent judge. As events would later unfold, a sham conference was set in motion, starting with the sending out of a notice which respondent clerk in all likelihood prepared.

There can be no quibbling that respondent Tangeres' loathsome actuations placed the court where she works and its presiding judge in a bad light. Her act of threatening and extorting money from complainant is an example of the kind of gross misconduct that undermines the integrity of the judicial service.

We have said time and again that the conduct and behavior of everyone connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility. For this reason, their conduct must, at all times, be characterized by propriety and decorum. But beyond proper decorum, such conduct must be above and beyond suspicion, for every employee in the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty.16

Pursuant to Section 23, Rule XIV of the CSC Omnibus Rules implementing Book V of Executive Order 29217, grave misconduct is classified as grave offense for which the penalty of dismissal may be imposed, even for the first offense.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Hector B. Barillo of the MTC of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental is adjudged GUILTY of violation of Rule 2.03, Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. He is hereby ordered to pay a fine of P40,000.00 and is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely. On the other hand, his Clerk of Court, Lucia L. Tangeres is found GUILTY of gross misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and is hereby DISMISSED from the service, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits except accrued leave credits and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno,Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, and Garcia, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 1-13.

2 Id., at pp. 5-6.

3 Rollo, p. 51.

4 Annex "B" of complainant's Consolidated Reply.

5 Rollo, p. 8 et seq.

6 Id., p. 12

7 Annex "G" of complainant's Affidavit-Complaint; Rollo, p. 13.

8 Rollo, pp. 33-47.

9 Id., at pp. 16-21.

10 Id., p.127

11 Id., p. 124 et seq.

12 See Note # 7, supra.

13 Espiritu v. Jovellanos, 280 SCRA 579 [1997]; Tapiru v. Biden, 330 SCRA 40 [2000].

14 Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority v. Hontanosas, Jr., 441 SCRA 229 [2004], citing other cases.

15 Rollo, pp. 169-170

16 Judge Lacurom v. Magbanua, A.M. No. P-02-1646, 22 January 2003, 395 SCRA 589.

17 Instituting the Administrative Code of 1987.

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