Republic of the Philippines
A.M. No. RTJ-10-2216 June 26, 2012
(Formerly A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 08-2788-RTJ)
STATE PROSECUTORS II JOSEF ALBERT T. COMILANG and MA. VICTORIA SUÑEGA-LAGMAN, Complainants,
JUDGE MEDEL ARNALDO B. BELEN, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 36, CALAMBA CITY, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before the Court is an administrative complaint filed by State Prosecutors Josef Albert T. Comilang (State Prosecutor Comilang) and Ma. Victoria Suñega-Lagman (State Prosecutor Lagman) against respondent Judge Arnaldo Medel B. Belen (Judge Belen) of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Calamba City, Branch 36, for manifest partiality and bias, evident bad faith, inexcusable abuse of authority, and gross ignorance of the law.
State Prosecutor Comilang, by virtue of Office of the Regional State Prosecutor (ORSP) Order No. 05-07 dated February 7, 2005, was designated to assist the Office of the City Prosecutor of Calamba City in the prosecution of cases. On February 16, 2005, he appeared before Judge Belen of the RTC of Calamba City, Branch 36, manifesting his inability to appear on Thursdays because of his inquest duties in the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office of Laguna. Thus, on February 21, 2005, he moved that all cases scheduled for hearing on February 24, 2005 before Judge Belen be deferred because he was set to appear for preliminary investigation in the Provincial Prosecutor's Office on the same day.
Instead of granting the motion, Judge Belen issued his February 24, 2005 Order in Criminal Case No. 12654-2003-C entitled People of the Philippines v. Jenelyn Estacio ("Estacio Case") requiring him to (1) explain why he did not inform the court of his previously-scheduled preliminary investigation and (2) pay a fine of ₱500.00 for the cancellation of all the scheduled hearings.
In response, State Prosecutor Comilang filed his Explanation with Motion for Reconsideration, followed by a Reiterative Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration with Early Resolution. On May 30, 2005, Judge Belen directed him to explain why he should not be cited for contempt for the unsubstantiated, callous and reckless charges extant in his Reiterative Supplemental Motion, and to pay the postponement fee in the amount of ₱1,200.00 for the 12 postponed cases during the February 17, 2005 hearing.
In his comment/explanation, State Prosecutor Comilang explained that the contents of his Reiterative Supplemental Motion were based on "his personal belief made in good faith and with grain of truth." Nonetheless, Judge Belen rendered a Decision dated December 12, 2005 finding State Prosecutor Comilang liable for contempt of court and for payment of ₱20,000.00 as penalty. His motion for reconsideration having been denied on February 16, 2006, he filed a motion to post a supersedeas bond to stay the execution of the said Decision, which Judge Belen granted and fixed in the amount of ₱20,000.00.
On April 12, 2006, State Prosecutor Comilang filed with the Court of Appeals (CA) a petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 94069 assailing Judge Belen’s May 30, 2005 Order and December 12, 2005 Decision in the Estacio Case. On April 24, 2006, the CA issued a temporary restraining order (TRO)1 enjoining Judge Belen from executing and enforcing his assailed Order and Decision for a period of 60 days, which was subsequently extended with the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction.2
Notwithstanding the TRO, Judge Belen issued an Order3 on September 6, 2007 requiring State Prosecutor Comilang to explain his refusal to file the supersedeas bond and to appear on September 26, 2007 to explain why he should not be cited indirect contempt of court. In his Compliance,4 State Prosecutor Comilang cited the CA’s injunctive writ putting on hold all actions of the RTC relative to its May 30, 2005 Order and December 12, 2005 Decision during the pendency of CA-G.R. SP No. 94069. He also manifested5 that he was waiving his appearance on the scheduled hearing for the indirect contempt charge against him.
Nevertheless, Judge Belen issued an Order6 dated September 26, 2007 directing State Prosecutor Comilang to explain his defiance of the subpoena and why he should not be cited for indirect contempt. Judge Belen likewise ordered the Branch Clerk of Court to issue a subpoena for him to appear in the October 1, 2007 hearing regarding his failure to comply with previously-issued subpoenas on September 18, 2007, and on October 8, 2007 for the hearing on the non-filing of his supersedeas bond. State Prosecutor Comilang moved7 to quash the subpoenas for having been issued without jurisdiction and in defiance to the lawful order of the CA, and for the inhibition of Judge Belen.
In an Order8 dated October 1, 2007, Judge Belen denied the motion to quash subpoenas, held State Prosecutor Comilang guilty of indirect contempt of court for his failure to obey a duly served subpoena, and sentenced him to pay a fine of ₱30,000.00 and to suffer two days' imprisonment. He was also required to post a supersedeas bond amounting to ₱30,000.00 to stay the execution of the December 12, 2005 Decision.9
Aggrieved, State Prosecutor Comilang filed a complaint-affidavit10 on October 18, 2007 before the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) charging Judge Belen with manifest partiality and malice, evident bad faith, inexcusable abuse of authority, and gross ignorance of the law in issuing the show cause orders, subpoenas and contempt citations, in grave defiance to the injunctive writ issued by the CA. State Prosecutor Comilang alleged that Judge Belen's acts were intended to harass, oppress, persecute, intimidate, annoy, vex and coerce him, and to place him in a disadvantageous and compromising position, as he was prosecuting the libel case instituted by herein complainant State Prosecutor Lagman against Judge Belen when he was still a practicing lawyer, docketed as Criminal Case No. 15332-SP and pending before Branch 32 of the RTC of San Pablo City. This libel case eventually became the basis for Administrative Case No. 6687 for disbarment against Judge Belen.
To further show Judge Belen’s flagrant violation of his oath of office, State Prosecutors Comilang and Lagman jointly filed a letter-complaint11 dated September 28, 2007 addressed to the Office of the Chief Justice, which the OCA treated as a supplemental complaint. They averred that State Prosecutor Jorge Baculi, who found probable cause to indict Judge Belen with libel in Criminal Case No. 15332-SP, was also harassed and oppressed by Judge Belen with his baseless and malicious citation for contempt and with the use of foul, unethical and insulting statements.
The Action and Recommendation of the OCA
The OCA directed Judge Belen to comment on State Prosecutors Comilang and Lagman's charges against him.
In his Joint Comment12 dated March 7, 2008, Judge Belen claimed that the allegations against him are factually misplaced and jurisprudentially unmeritorious, as his assailed orders were issued in accordance with the Rules of Court and settled jurisprudence. He explained that the writ of preliminary injunction issued by the CA only enjoined him from enforcing, executing and implementing the May 30, 2005 Order and December 12, 2005 Decision, but it never prohibited him from asking State Prosecutor Comilang to explain his failure to comply with the order requiring the posting of supersedeas bond to defer the implementation of the mentioned judgment, in accordance with Section 11, Rule 71 of the Rules of Court. He thus prayed for the dismissal of the instant administrative complaint, claiming to have discharged his judicial functions not in a gross, deliberate and malicious manner.
In its Report13 dated November 27, 2009, the OCA found Judge Belen to have violated Section 4, Rule 71 of the Rules of Court by failing to separately docket or consolidate with the principal case (the Estacio Case) the indirect contempt charge against State Prosecutor Comilang. It also found Judge Belen to have blatantly violated the injunctive writ of the CA when he issued the orders requiring State Prosecutor Comilang to explain why he failed to post a supersedeas bond which, given the antecedents of his administrative cases, showed manifest bias and partiality tantamount to bad faith and grave abuse of authority.
Judge Belen was likewise found to have violated the following provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct:
Canon 2 – A JUDGE SHOULD AVOID IMPROPRIETY AND THE APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY IN ALL ACTIVITIES
Rule 2.01 – A judge should so behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
Canon 3 – A JUDGE SHOULD PERFORM OFFICIAL DUTIES HONESTLY, AND WITH IMPARTIALITY AND DILIGENCE ADJUDICATIVE RESPONSIBILITIES
Rule 3.01 – A judge shall be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence.
Thus, the OCA recommended, inter alia, that Judge Belen be adjudged guilty of manifest bias and partiality, grave abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law and accordingly, be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to reemployment in the government or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions.
The sole issue to be resolved by the Court is whether Judge Belen's actuations showed manifest partiality and bias, evident bad faith, grave abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law warranting his dismissal from service as RTC Judge of Branch 36, Calamba City.
The Ruling of the Court
After a careful evaluation of the records of the instant case, the Court concurs with the findings and recommendations of the OCA, but only in part.
Section 4, Rule 71 of the Rules of Court provides:
Section 4. How proceedings commenced. – Proceedings for indirect contempt may be initiated motu proprio by the court against which the contempt was committed by an order or any other formal charge requiring the respondent to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt.
In all other cases, charges for indirect contempt shall be commenced by a verified petition with supporting particulars and certified true copies of documents or papers involved therein, and upon full compliance with the requirements for filing initiatory pleadings for civil actions in the court concerned. If the contempt charges arose out of or are related to a principal action pending in the court, the petition for contempt shall allege that fact but said petition shall be docketed, heard and decided separately, unless the court in its discretion orders the consolidation of the contempt charge and the principal action for joint hearing and decision. (Emphasis supplied)
Indirect contempt proceedings, therefore, may be initiated only in two ways: (1) motu proprio by the court through an order or any other formal charge requiring the respondent to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt; or (2) by a verified petition and upon compliance with the requirements for initiatory pleadings.14 In the second instance, the verified petition for contempt shall be docketed, heard and decided separately unless the court in its discretion orders the contempt charge, which arose out of or related to the principal action, to be consolidated with the main action for joint hearing and decision.
In this case, the contempt charge was commenced not through a verified petition, but by Judge Belen motu proprio through the issuance of an order requiring State Prosecutor Comilang to show cause why he should not be cited for indirect contempt. As such, the requirements of the rules that the verified petition for contempt be docketed, heard and decided separately or consolidated with the principal action find no application. Consequently, Judge Belen was justified in not directing the contempt charge against State Prosecutor Comilang to be docketed separately or consolidated with the principal action, i.e., the Estacio Case.
However, Judge Belen blatantly violated the injunctive writ issued by the CA enjoining the implementation of his May 30, 2005 Order and December 12, 2005 Decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 94069.
A preliminary injunction is a provisional remedy, an adjunct to the main case subject to the latter’s outcome. Its sole objective is to preserve the status quo until the court hears fully the merits of the case. Its primary purpose is not to correct a wrong already consummated, or to redress an injury already sustained, or to punish wrongful acts already committed, but to preserve and protect the rights of the litigants during the pendency of the case.15 The status quo should be that existing ante litem motam or at the time of the filing of the case.16
The CA's Resolution17 dated July 12, 2006 states in part:
In order not to render the issues in this case moot and academic, We had in our Resolution of April 24, 2006 granted a Temporary Restraining Order for 60 days from notice directing the respondent Judge to refrain from executing his order of May 30, 2005 and decision of December 12, 2005 declaring petitioner in contempt of court and ordering him to pay a postponement fee of P1,200 and penalty of P20,000. Considering that the TRO is about to expire, for the same reasons provided under Section 3(b) and (c) Rule 58 of the Rules of Court, let a writ of preliminary injunction issue, to be effective during the pendency of this case, ordering the respondent Judge to refrain from enforcing his disputed issuances of May 30, 2005 and December 12, 2005. The petitioner is exempted from posting the bond, since no private interests are affected in this case.
As aptly pointed out by the OCA, the CA's disquisition is clear and categorical. In complete disobedience to the said Resolution, however, Judge Belen proceeded to issue (1) the September 6, 2007 Order18 requiring State Prosecutor Comilang to explain his refusal to file the supersedeas bond and to require his presence in court on September 26, 2007, as well as to explain why he should not be cited for indirect contempt; (2) the September 26, 2007 Order19 seeking State Prosecutor Comilang's explanation for his defiance of the subpoena requiring his presence at the hearing of even date, and directing, once again, his attendance at the next hearing on October 1, 2007 and to explain once more why he should not be cited for indirect contempt; and (3) the October 1, 2007 Order20 finding State Prosecutor Comilang guilty of indirect contempt and sentencing him to pay a fine of ₱30,000.00 and to suffer two days' imprisonment.
Hence, in requiring State Prosecutor Comilang to explain his non-filing of a supersedeas bond, in issuing subpoenas to compel his attendance before court hearings relative to the contempt proceedings, and finally, in finding him guilty of indirect contempt for his non-compliance with the issued subpoenas, Judge Belen effectively defeated the status quo which the writ of preliminary injunction aimed to preserve.
In the case of Pesayco v. Layague,21 the Court succinctly explained:
No less than the Code of Judicial conduct mandates that a judge shall be faithful to the laws and maintain professional competence. Indeed, competence is a mark of a good judge. A judge must be acquainted with legal norms and precepts as well as with procedural rules. When a judge displays an utter lack of familiarity with the rules, he erodes the public’s confidence in the competence of our courts. Such is gross ignorance of the law. One who accepts the exalted position of a judge owes the public and the court the duty to be proficient in the law. Unfamiliarity with the Rules of Court is a sign of incompetence. Basic rules of procedure must be at the palm of a judge’s hands.
Thus, this Court has consistently held that a judge is presumed to know the law and when the law is so elementary, not to be aware of it constitutes gross ignorance of the law. Verily, failure to follow basic legal commands embodied in the law and the Rules constitutes gross ignorance of the law, from which no one is excused, and surely not a judge.22
This is because judges are expected to exhibit more than just a cursory acquaintance with statutes and procedural laws.1âwphi1 They must know the laws and apply them properly in good faith as judicial competence requires no less.23 Moreover, refusal to honor an injunctive order of a higher court constitutes contempt,24 as in this case, where Judge Belen, in contumaciously defying the injunctive order issued by the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 94069, was found guilty of indirect contempt in CA-G.R. SP No. 101081.25
Judge Belen's actuations, therefore, cannot be considered as mere errors of judgment that can be easily brushed aside. Obstinate disregard of basic and established rule of law or procedure amounts to inexcusable abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law. Likewise, citing State Prosecutor Comilang for indirect contempt notwithstanding the effectivity of the CA-issued writ of injunction demonstrated his vexatious attitude and bad faith towards the former, for which he must be held accountable and subjected to disciplinary action.
Accordingly, in imposing the proper penalty, the Court takes note of Judge Belen’s previous administrative cases where he was penalized in the following manner:
|A.M. No. RTJ-08-2119
||Mane v. Judge Belen26
||Conduct Unbecoming of a Judge
Reprimand, with warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall merit a more serious penalty
|A.M. No. RTJ-09-2176
||Baculi v. Judge Belen27
||Gross Ignorance of the Law
Suspended for 6 months without salary and other benefits, with stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall merit a more serious penalty
|A.M. No. RTJ-10-2242
||Correa v. Judge Belen28
||Conduct Unbecoming of a Judge
Fined for PhP10,000.00 with stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall merit a more serious penalty
|A.M. No. RTJ-08-2139
||Belen v. Judge Belen29
||Violation of Section 4 of Canon 1 and Section 1 of Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct
Fined for PhP11,000 with stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall merit a more serious penalty
Our conception of good judges has been, and is, of men who have a mastery of the principles of law, who discharge their duties in accordance with law.30 Hence, with the foregoing disquisitions and Judge Belen’s previous infractions, which are all of serious nature and for which he had been severely warned, the Court therefore adopts the recommendation of the OCA to mete the ultimate penalty of dismissal against Judge Belen for grave abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law. The Court can no longer afford to be lenient in this case, lest it give the public the impression that incompetence and repeated offenders are tolerated in the judiciary.31
WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Medel Arnaldo B. Belen, having been found guilty of grave abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law, is DISMISSED from the service, with forfeiture of all benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to reemployment in the government or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions. He shall forthwith CEASE and DESIST from performing any official act or function appurtenant to his office upon service on him of this Decision.
Let a copy of this Decision be attached to the records of Judge Medel Arnaldo B. Belen with the Court.1âwphi1
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Senior Associate Justice
|PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
|TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
|ARTURO D. BRION
|DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
|LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
|MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
|ROBERTO A. ABAD
|MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
|JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ
|(On wellness leave)
JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA*
|MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO
|BIENVENIDO L. REYES
ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
* On wellness leave.
1 Rollo, pp. 8–9.
2 Id. at 12.
3 Id. at 13.
4 Id. at 15–19.
5 Id. at 22.
6 Id. at 23–24.
7 Id. at 27–30.
8 Id. at 97-100.
9 Order dated October 1, 2007, id. at 31–34.
10 Id. at 1–6.
11 Id. at 42–51.
12 Id. at 108–118.
13 Id. at 152–163.
14 Regalado v. Go, G.R. No. 167988, February 6, 2007, 514 SCRA 616, 629.
15 Bustamante v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 126371, April 17, 2002, 381 SCRA 171.
16 Maunlad Homes, Inc. vs. Union Bank of the Philippines, G.R. No. 179898, December 23, 2008, 575 SCRA 336, 343.
17 Rollo, p.73.
18 Supra note 3.
19 Supra note 6.
20 Supra note 8.
21 A.M. No. RTJ-04-1889, December 22, 2004, 447 SCRA 450, 459.
22 Citations omitted.
23 Atty. Bautista v. Judge Causapin, A.M. No. RTJ-07-2044, June 22, 2011.
24 Ysasi v. Fernandez, G.R. No. L-28593, December 16, 1968, 26 SCRA 393.
25 Rollo, pp. 143–150.
26 Atty. Melvin Mane v. Judge Medel Arnaldo Belen, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2119, June 30, 2008, 556 SCRA 555.
27 Prosecutor Baculi v. Judge Medel Arnaldo Belen, A.M. No. RTJ-09-2176, April 20, 2009, 586 SCRA 69.
28 Atty. Raul L. Correa vs. Judge Medel Arnaldo Belen, A.M. No. RTJ-10-2242, August 6, 2010, 627 SCRA 13.
29 Michael Belen vs. Judge Medel Arnaldo Belen, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2139, August 9, 2010, 627 SCRA 1.
30 Imelda R. Marcos v. Judge Fernando Vil Pamintuan, A.M. No. RTJ-07-2062, January 18, 2011, citing Borromeo v. Mariano, 41 Phil. 322, 333 (1921).
31 Marcos v. Judge Pamintuan, supra.
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