[A.M. NO. RTJ-03-1794. October 25, 2005]
[Formerly OCA IPI No. 00-941-RTJ]
P/Supt. MANUEL P. BARCENA, Complainant, v. Judge HENRICK F. GINGOYON, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
On April 27, 2000, complainant P/Supt. Manuel P. Barcena filed with the Office of the Chief Justice, a verified letter-complaint1 charging respondent Judge Henrick F. Gingoyon, presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 117 in Pasay City, with gross ignorance of the law, grave abuse of authority, and bias and partiality.
Complainant alleges that he was formerly the Chief of the Regional Drug Enforcement Office of the PNP-NCRPO. On August 25, 1998, complainant and his men conducted a buy-bust operation in 2817 P. Zamora St., Pasay City. They arrested and charged two persons, Shien Ngo Chiao and Ping Chua Shoing, with violations of Republic Act No. 6425, the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. Their cases were docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 98-1124 and 98-1125. Also seized were a 1998 Mitsubishi Lancer, with Plate No. WEW 323, registered to one John Chua, and a 1995 Nissan Sentra, with Plate No. UDE 228, registered to a certain Willy Quintos. These were allegedly used in the commission of the crime.
Complainant states that Criminal Cases Nos. 98-1124 and 98-1125 were raffled to Branch 116 of the RTC in Pasay City, and jointly tried by respondent in his capacity as pairing judge of the branch. On December 7, 1998, respondent granted accused's demurrer to evidence.2 Later, despite a judgment of acquittal, he issued an order on December 11, 1998, giving due course to the prosecution's notice of appeal.3
Further, complainant adds, respondent gave custody of the cars to Sheriffs Leoncio Gutierrez, Jr., and Reynaldo Mulat, and ordered complainant to turn over the cars to them despite the elevation of the records of the cases to the Court of Appeals.4 Respondent likewise issued an order on January 3, 2000,5 denying a motion for the release of the vehicles that was filed by the counsel for the accused on behalf of the registered owners.
Complainant further alleges that on March 25, 2000, while performing his functions as the new Chief of Police of Bacoor, Cavite, he chanced upon the Lancer parked in a vacant lot in Soldiers Hills IV Subdivision in Molino, Bacoor. He learned from nearby residents that Sheriff Mulat had been using the car for the past eight months. Complainant asked Sheriff Mulat for the registration papers and his authority to use the car. When Sheriff Mulat could not produce any, complainant and his men towed the car to their station for verification and proper disposition.6
Sheriff Mulat submitted a report of the incident to respondent on March 27, 2000, alleging that complainant and his men forcibly took the vehicle. On even date, respondent issued an order7 against complainant and his men requiring them to show cause why they should not be cited for contempt for towing the vehicle, which they knew was in custodia legis. Included in the order was a directive that copies of it be sent to the Ombudsman, the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Chief of the Philippine National Police, and the National Police Commission, for possible administrative or criminal prosecution of complainant.
Complainant avers that respondent is guilty of gross ignorance of the law for allowing the prosecution to appeal a judgment of acquittal.8
Complainant also charges respondent with grave abuse of authority supposedly for allowing Sheriff Mulat to use the car for the latter's personal benefit. Complainant argues that respondent should have known that Sheriff Mulat had been using the car and keeping it in a vacant lot in Soldiers Hills IV Subdivision near the latter's house because respondent lived nearby. Complainant adds that respondent should have ordered the car impounded. According to complainant, respondent's failure to discharge the car despite the lapse of eight months, when considered with the fact that respondent issued the show cause order with celerity the same day Sheriff Mulat's report was filed, shows that respondent approved of the illegal use of the car.9
Complainant further avers that respondent issued an order on January 3, 2000, denying the motions for the release of the vehicles despite the fact that Criminal Cases Nos. 98-1124 and 98-1125 were already elevated to the Court of Appeals. Complainant speculates that the order was intended to make it appear that the case was still pending before the trial court to justify Sheriff Mulat's continued possession and use of the car.10
Lastly, complainant charges respondent with bias and partiality. He argues that respondent acted with undue haste in issuing the show cause order. He likewise contends that respondent had prejudged him and his men liable for contempt. He adds that respondent without first conducting a hearing to verify the veracity of Sheriff Mulat's report furnished copies of the show cause order to the Ombudsman, the DILG Secretary, the PNP Chief and the NAPOLCOM for possible filing of administrative complaints against complainant and his men. Further, according to complainant, respondent had declared in open court that he wanted to resolve the contempt incident on the first day of hearing and was reluctant to grant them extension of time to controvert the additional evidence Sheriff Mulat had submitted during said hearing.11
In his comment dated May 2, 2000,12 respondent explains that he gave due course to the notice of appeal despite the judgment of acquittal not because the notice was meritorious, but because it was filed within the reglementary period.13 Respondent cites the ruling of this Court that a special civil action brought to question the judgment of acquittal does not place the accused in double jeopardy if the judgment of acquittal was in effect a denial of the State's right to due process.14
Moreover, respondent claims he acted in good faith. He avers that he repeatedly advised the handling prosecutor to file a special civil action for certiorari instead of an appeal. He also made it clear that the notice was given due course only because it was filed within the reglementary period. He adds that he qualifiedly and reluctantly gave due course to the appeal to afford the prosecution latitude for legal activism, as judges are called upon to be judicial activists or "to be receptive to innovative views, paradigmatic shifts and blazing new jurisprudential trails."15
Respondent denies the charge of grave abuse of authority and points out that complainant relies wholly on speculations and surmises. Respondent adds that there is nothing irregular about his order placing custody of the car with Sheriffs Leoncio Gutierrez, Jr., and Reynaldo Mulat because courts in Pasay City, like most courts, have no impounding area, and it is a matter of practice to instruct sheriffs to keep the impounded vehicles in their own places of storage.16 He admits that he instructed Sheriff Mulat to drive the car to the court on several occasions in connection with the hearings on motions filed for the release of the vehicles. And this act is not prohibited.
Respondent insists that he could entertain the motions for the release of the impounded vehicles because he never lost jurisdiction over the civil aspect of the case and only the jurisdiction of the court over the criminal aspect of the case was lost upon the perfection of the appeal and the elevation of the records to the Court of Appeals.17
Further, respondent denies he issued the show cause order with undue haste, contending he was simply being efficient. He likewise denies depriving complainant and his men of their right to be heard. He points out that he gave them an extension of five days to file their supplemental affidavit, as well as granted their prayer to be allowed to confront the witnesses for Sheriff Mulat. That he furnished copies of his order to the Ombudsman, the DILG Secretary, the PNP Chief and the NAPOLCOM also cannot be taken as proof of bias and partiality because according to him, keeping the charges to himself may constitute misprision of a potential felony.18
After the Office of the Court Administrator recommended that the matter be investigated, we referred the case to Court of Appeals Associate Justice Rebecca De Guia-Salvador for investigation, report, and recommendation.19
In her report dated July 10, 2002, Justice De Guia-Salvador found no proof that respondent was impelled by bad faith, malice, an impulse to do an injustice, corrupt consideration, or any other similar motive in issuing the erroneous order granting due course to the notice of appeal. Thus, she recommended that the charge of gross ignorance of the law be dismissed for lack of merit.
Justice De Guia-Salvador likewise found no proof that respondent acted with grave abuse of authority or with manifest bias and partiality. She stated that because the appeal was a patent nullity, the trial court never lost jurisdiction over the case and all its incidents, including the resolution of the motions for the release of the vehicles.
Despite Justice De Guia-Salvador's report, the OCA recommended that respondent be reprimanded for gross ignorance of the law. The OCA also recommended that the complaint be treated as an administrative complaint against Sheriff Mulat because of the gravity of the offenses imputed to him.
We agree with OCA's recommendation.
While judges should not be held to answer criminally, civilly or administratively for every erroneous decision rendered by him in good faith,20 it is imperative that they be conversant with basic legal principles.21 Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct requires them to be the embodiment of competence, integrity, and independence.
Here, respondent manifested gross ignorance of the law when he issued an order giving due course to the prosecution's notice of appeal. If a demurrer to evidence is sustained, such dismissal being on the merits, is equivalent to an acquittal. This is basic. Hence, the prosecution cannot appeal as it would place the accused in double jeopardy.22 No person shall be put twice in jeopardy of punishment for the same offense.23
True, as pointed out by respondent, this Court has consistently ruled that double jeopardy does not attach where the State is deprived of a fair opportunity to prosecute and prove its case,24 or where the dismissal of an information or complaint is purely capricious or devoid of reason,25 or when there is lack of proper notice and absolute lack of opportunity to be heard.26 These exceptional circumstances are not herein present and respondent should have known that granting the appeal would constitute double jeopardy. The proper recourse would be a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.
Respondent's claim that he gave due course to the appeal in the exercise of judicial activism is mere afterthought. A second look at his order clearly shows his ignorance of the well-settled rule categorically prohibiting appeals from judgments of acquittals.27 Respondent said that the notice of appeal "is filed within the reglementary period" and that "at least for that reason, the same is given due course." His interpretation of the rule is without any basis in law. When the law is clear and basic, a judge owes it to his office to simply apply it. Anything less than that constitutes gross ignorance of the law.28 Judges sit as the embodiment of the people's sense of justice, their last recourse where all other institutions have failed, so much so that a judge's ignorance cannot be allowed to erode the people's belief in the justice system.
Respondent, additionally, should not have ordered the transfer of possession of the car to Sheriff Mulat for the latter to keep in his own place of storage. Section D(4), Chapter VII of the Manual for Clerks of Court provides, "All exhibits used as evidence and turned over to the court and before the case/s involving such evidence shall have been terminated shall be under the custody and safekeeping of the Clerk of Court." Besides, the proper place of storage is a bonded warehouse. In giving custody of the vehicle to Sheriff Mulat, respondent has stirred suspicions that judicial administrators are appropriating for their personal use valuable court exhibits. Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct enjoins him to avoid not only impropriety in his conduct but even the mere appearance of impropriety.
Nonetheless, because there is no evidence that respondent allowed the illegal use of the car, or that Sheriff Mulat had been using the car, we cannot declare that any impropriety on this matter have been committed. The charges of misconduct against Sheriff Mulat were investigated separately as A.M. OCA IPI No. 00-856-P and dismissed by this Court on September 25, 2002, for lack of evidence. Furthermore, complainant did not present anything irregular in respondent's continued exercise of jurisdiction over the two motor vehicles in custodia legis, considering that the trial court never lost jurisdiction over the case, the appeal being contrary to law. In administrative proceedings, the burden of proof that respondent committed the act complained of rests on the complainant. If the complainant fails in this, the charge must be dismissed.29
Similarly, there is no factual support to complainant's charge of bias and partiality. The fact alone that respondent immediately acted on Sheriff Mulat's report concerning the forcible taking and confiscation of the car by issuing the show cause order against complainant and furnishing copies thereof to the Office of the Ombudsman, DILG Secretary, PNP Chief, and NAPOLCOM in no way indicates bias and partiality against complainant. Mere suspicion that a judge was partial is not enough.30
We come to the matter of penalties. The OCA, taking into consideration that in approving the prohibited notice of appeal respondent did not act with malice, bad faith, or corrupt motives, recommended that respondent be reprimanded. Such penalty, however, is inappropriate in view of the nature of the offense. To our mind, considering the circumstances herein, a fine of
P20,000 is proper, pursuant to Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, in effect at the time the offense was committed.31 On the alleged abuse of authority, it was not shown that respondent was impelled by any improper motive in allowing Sheriff Mulat to keep the car in the latter's own place of storage for an extended period of time. Thus, admonition suffices in this instance.
WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Henrick F. Gingoyon, presiding judge of the Pasay City Regional Trial Court, Branch 117, is found LIABLE for gross ignorance of the law. He is ORDERED to pay a fine of twenty thousand pesos (
P20,000.00), with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar violation will be dealt with more severely. He is also ADMONISHED to exercise due care in the performance of his duties and is reminded to be more careful in issuing orders involving court exhibits.
Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-6.
2 Id. at 7-28.
3 Id. at 30.
4 Id. at 32.
5 Id. at 57-60.
6 Id. at 2.
7 Id. at 37.
8 Id. at 3.
9 Id. at 3-4.
10 Id. at 4.
11 Id. at 5-6.
12 Id. at 61-67.
13 Id. at 63.
14 Id. at 62-63.
15 Id. at 136.
16 Id. at 64.
17 Id. at 65.
18 Id. at 66.
19 Id. at 74.
20 Miaque v. Pamonag, A.M. No. MTJ-02-1412, 28 March 2003, 400 SCRA 9, 14.
21 Mabutas v. Perello, A.M. No. RTJ-03-1817, 8 June 2005, p. 25.
22 People v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. NOS. 137707-11, 17 December 2004, 447 SCRA 291, 308 citing People v. City Court of Silay, No. L-43790, 9 December 1976, 74 SCRA 247, 253.
23 Bill of Rights, Section 21.
24 People v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 152532, 16 August 2005, p. 31; Paulin v. Gimenez, G.R. No. 103323, 21 January 1993, 217 SCRA 386, 393; Gorion v. Regional Trial Court of Cebu, Br. 17, G.R. No. 102131, 31 August 1992, 213 SCRA 138, 145; People v. Bocar, No. L-27935, 16 August 1985, 138 SCRA 166, 172.
25 Aquino v. . Sison, G.R. No. 86025, 28 November 1989, 179 SCRA 648, 651; People v. Gomez, No. L-22345, 29 May 1967, 20 SCRA 293, 297.
26 Portugal v. Reantaso, No. L-46078, 24 November 1988, 167 SCRA 712, 720.
27 People v. Serrano, Sr., G.R. No. 135451, 30 September 1999, 315 SCRA 686, 690.
28 Vicente v. Majaducon, A.M. No. RTJ-02-1698 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 00-1024-RTJ), 23 June 2005, p. 9.
29 Gotgotao v. Millora, A.M. No. P-05-2005 (Formerly OCA-IPI No. 01-1209-P), 8 June 2005, pp. 5-6.
30 Elefant v. Inting, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1938 (OCA IPI No. 04-2034-RTJ), 15 July 2005, pp. 3-4 citing Mamerto Maniquiz Foundation, Inc. v. Pizarro, A.M. No. RTJ-03-1750 (OCA IPI No. 02-1431-RTJ), 14 January 2005, 448 SCRA 140, 155-156.
31 SEC. 10. Sanctions. A. If the respondent is found culpable of a serious charge, any of the following sanctions may be imposed:
1. Dismissal from the service with forfeiture of benefits (except accrued leaves) and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office including a government-owned or controlled corporation;
2. Suspension for three (3) months without salary and benefits; or
3. A fine of not less than
P20,000.00 but not more than P40,000.00. (Emphasis supplied.)