Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

THIRD DIVISION

 

A.M. No. RTJ-94-1257 March 6, 1998

JOSE SY BANG and ILUMINADA TAN, complainants,
vs.
JUDGE ANTONIO MENDEZ and ATTY. VICENTE JOYAS, respondents.


KAPUNAN, J.:

The instant administrative case is the sequel to A.M. No. RTJ-91-672 filed by herein complainants Spouses Jose Sy Bang and Iluminada Tan against the same respondent Judge Antonio Mendez. The antecedents facts are narrated in the decision in A.M. No. RTJ-91-672 dated September 28, 1993, as follows:

Two (2) lots, with an ice plant and improvements thereon situated at Calauag, Quezon, were originally owned by DBP and were leased to Suarez Agro-Industrial Corporation (corporation, for brevity) for a period of one year starting on July 1, 1983. After the one year period, DBP allowed the corporation to continue leasing said properties on a monthly basis. The corporation, however, became delinquent in its rental payments. From the period July 1987 until September 1990, its unpaid rentals amounted to P650,000.00. Thus, on August 16, 1990, DBP demanded that the corporation vacate the properties. It refused. On December 15, 1990, DBP sold the properties to complainant-spouses. They were duly registered in their names.

On December 21, 1990, complainants again demanded that the corporation vacate the properties. Once more, the demand was refused. The complainants then filed with the Municipal Trial Court of Calauag, Quezon an ejectment suit (docketed as Civil Case No. 814) against the corporation. The Court issued a restraining order enjoining the corporation from further operating the ice plant. Not to be outdone, the corporation filed an action for specific performance and annulment of sale with preliminary injunction against DBP and the spouses before the Makati, RTC, Branch 134 (docketed as Civil Case No. 90-3511).

The spouses fled a motion to dismiss Civil Case No. 90-3511 for improper venue considering that the subject lots were situated in Calauag, Quezon. The motion was, however, denied and a writ of preliminary injunction was issued enjoining the spouses from taking possession of the subject properties. The spouses elevated the case to the Court of Appeals on certiorari. In a decision dated April 15, 1991, the Court of Appeals declared the Makati RTC to be devoid of authority to hear the case and ordered its dismissal. A motion for reconsideration filed on May 10, 1991 was denied in a Resolution dated May 22, 1991 on the ground that it was filed out of time.

While the above case was pending before the Makati RTC (the corporation's period to file a motion for reconsideration not having as yet lapsed), the corporation filed on April 24, 1991 the same action (for specific performance and annulment of sale, with preliminary and prohibitory injunction) against the same parties (DBP and the spouses), this time before the RTC of Gumaca, Quezon, Branch 62, presided by respondent judge (docketed as Civil Case No. 2137-G). At this point, it is noteworthy to mention that there were only two (2) RTC branches in Gumaca, Quezon (Branches 61 and 62) and both were then presided by the respondent judge, he being the pairing judge in Branch 61.

On even date, respondent judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against DBP and the spouses. Hearing on the prayer for injunction was set on May 9, 1991. However, the TRO was not implemented for the spouses had already entered and were in possession of the premises even before the petition was filed. Since the court failed to order the spouses to restore possession of the property to the corporation, an ex-parte motion to amend said TRO was made by the corporation. The motion was granted in an Order dated April 30, 1991 and the date of hearing was reset to May 7, 1991.

The spouses still refused to leave the premises claiming that the plaintiff corporation had not posted a bond and the writ did not state to whom possession of the premises should be surrendered.

At the hearing held on May 8, 1991, both parties presented evidence on the issue of whether or not the preliminary mandatory injunction should be granted. In an Order of even date, respondent judge considered the case submitted for decision within twenty (20) days from April 30, 1991. Thereafter, on May 14, 1991, respondent judge granted the writ of injunction upon the filing of a one million peso bond by the corporation.

On May 17, 1991, the corporation filed an ex-parte motion to approve the bond issued by Plaridel Surety and Insurance Co.

On May 18, 1991, the spouses filed a Manifestation and Motion before respondent judge informing the latter of the pendency before the Makati RTC of the same action between the same parties and thus prayed for the dismissal of the Gumaca case. The motion was denied by respondent judge in an Order dated May 21, 1991, for being moot and academic.1

Here, complainants charge respondent judge with gross impropriety in failing to lift the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction in Civil Case No. 2137-G despite the Decision dated February 2, 1993 of the Court of Appeals setting aside respondent judge's May 14, 1991 order granting the writ.2 Complainants filed on June 25, 1991, a petition for certiorari and prohibition with the Court of Appeals contending that the trial court's writ of preliminary injunction was a patent nullity.

Respondent judge is further charged with failing to resolve complainants' motion to lift or dissolve the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction for several months despite the lack of a valid bond covering the writ.3 It appears that respondent judge was informed on February 10, 1992 through telegram from a certain Atty. Galalones of the Office of the Clerk of Court that Plaridel Surety and Insurance Co.'s authority to operate as a bonding entity has been suspended, as of January 28, 1992.4 Complainants allege that as a consequence of the suspension of Plaridel's authority, they filed a manifestation and motion to dissolve the writ of injunction issued by respondent judge. Respondent judge failed to act on complainant's motion and Atty. Joyas did not file a substitute bond, prompting complainants to reiterate on October 25, 1993 their motion to dissolve the writ.

Respondent judge and Atty. Joyas are also charged with falsification of a public document committed by inserting a falsified bond in the civil case "in order to justify the effectivity of the writ wrongfully issued and illegally maintained through the conspiracy of respondents."5 Complainants allege that upon their examination of the record of Civil Case No. 2137-G, they saw that a bond from Country Bankers' Insurance Corporation was "surreptitiously inserted," without any accompanying pleading, at pages 641 to 647. Upon their verification, complainants found the bond to be fake.6

This administrative matter was referred to Justice Omar U. Amin of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation.7

Anent the first charge, respondent judge could not as yet execute the appellate court's decision setting aside his Order dated May 14, 1991 granting the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction, ruling that "the [corporation's] alleged right for retain possession of the controverted property is unclear and doubtful."8 The adverse party, Suarez Agro-Industrial Corporation, timely filed on February 24, 1993 a petition for review with this Court.9 This Court resolved the petition for review on December 5, 1994, affirming the appellate court's ruling and denying the petition, long after the case was transferred to another branch of the regional trial court as a result of respondent judge having inhibited himself from hearing Civil Case No. 2137-G.

As to the second charge, we find that respondent judge was unable to explain satisfactorily his failure to act on complainant's motion to dissolve the writ with dispatch, although he had been informed of the invalidity of the Plaridel bond.

It appears that on June 25, 1993, complainants filed a manifestation and motion praying for an order requiring Suarez Agro-Industrial Corporation to file another bond in lieu of the Plaridel bond. The corporation, through Atty. Joyas, filed on July 9, 1993 a motion praying that it be given a period of fifteen days within which to file a substitute bond. On September 17, 1993, the corporation, after failing to file a bond within the fifteen days, filed a motion praying that it be given a further ten days to file a bond. In an Order dated September 21, 1993, the court gave the corporation a period of ten days from even date. The ten days passed without a bond being filed, prompting complainants to file again on November 3, 1993 still another motion to dissolve the writ on the ground that it is not covered by a valid bond.10 In an Order dated November 3, 1993 the court submitted the matter for resolution.

Delay in resolving motions is inexcusable and cannot be condoned.11 The trial court judge, being the paradigm of justice in the first instance, is exhorted to dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.12 Delay results in undermining the people's faith in the judiciary from whom the prompt hearing of their supplications is anticipated and expected, and reinforces in the mind of litigants the impression that the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly.

We note furthermore the urgency involved in the resolution of the motions. Respondent judge was informed as early as February 10, 1992 of the fact that Plaridel Surety and Insurance Co. had become bankrupt and its authority as a bonding entity suspended,13 and through the repeated filing of motions by complainants calling attention to such fact. The Rules of Court explicitly requires a bond for the purpose of such bond answering for damages which the party enjoined may sustain by reason of the injunction if the court should finally decide that the plaintiff was not entitled thereto.14 It was prejudicial to the interest of complainants here that respondent judge, by his inaction, allowed a lacuna in time where no bond at all covered the writ, particularly, as it would later be resolved, that the corporation had no clear and existing right over the subject properties as would entitle it to the writ demanded.15

On the matter of the fake second bond, the investigating justice made the following findings:

That while the case folio was still in his Sala, a fake bond was filed on November 17, 1993 at 1:10 in the afternoon (Exhibits "7" and "7-A" Mendez) and he was not informed by then Clerk of Court Atty. Benno L. Bonifacio, because there was already an order for the respondent Judge to transfer the case to Branch 61 and in fact the case was transferred on November 19, 1993, hence respondent Judge explained that he had no knowledge of the existence of Exhibit "7", the fake bond. The Presiding Judge of the Sala controls the case and makes decision on the matter sought to be resolved, but he is not the Record Custodian of more than 400 cases that he is hearing. That the said bond was found out to be fake only on March 7, 1994 (Exhibits "8" and "8-A" Mendez) when the case was already being tried by Branch 61.16

We agree with the investigating justice that respondent judge cannot be held liable with knowledge of the insertion of the fake bond in the record, absent substantial evidence.17

Nor can we ascribe to the court personnel knowledge that the bond was fake. The fake bond was received by one of the employees of the trial court at 1:10 in the afternoon of November 17, 1993, as shown by the stamped box on the left hand corner of the document, but was not accompanied by any letter or motion. The bond and the attached documents were then tacked to the records of Civil Case No. 2137-G at pages 641 to 647.18 While the inclusion of the bond in the record may have been irregular or may be the result of oversight or carelessness on the part of the court personnel, as it was not introduced therein via any pleading, we cannot readily conclude that such inclusion was "surreptitiously" made with full knowledge that the bond was bogus, as charged by complainants. After all, the documents were received in the course of the court's business and stamped accordingly, and made part of the records with appropriate pagination.

We also adopt the findings of the investigating justice relative to Atty. Vicente Joyas involvement in the procuring and filing of the fake bond, to wit:

In the present case, I find no conspiracy in the filing of the fake bond. The respondent Judge did not know of its existence, whereas, Atty. Vicente Joyas, although he admitted he was asked to replace the bond posted by the bankrupt Plaridel Surety and Insurance Company, he was not the one who processed it and he did not file the said bond himself and was not cognizant of the defect of the bond.

Beyond the circumstance that Atty. Joyas was the counsel for the corporation, complainants failed to substantiate their charges against him. Atty. Joyas explained in his Comment that the corporation and not he himself procured the bond. His participation was to simply examine the bond, particularly whether it was accompanied by the required certifications from the Supreme Court and the Insurance Commissioner, and finding the same to be on its face in order, and furthermore, notarized, caused the same to be brought to the trial court for
filing.19 Atty. Joyas further pointed out that the corporation "if only to show to the Court that it will not willingly allow itself nor that of its counsel to be a party in posting a fake bond"20 posted a cash bond in the amount of P1,000,000.00.

It is imperative however to pinpoint with certitude the person or persons responsible for the fake bond. The certification dated March 21, 1994 of Country Bankers Insurance Corporation from whom the bond was allegedly procured states that the signature of the surety's agent appearing on the document was not genuine, that this agent was not authorized to issue bonds, and that the entity which issued the receipt for the premium was not an agent. The certifying officer, the Senior Manager of the Bonding Department of Country Bankers Insurance Corporation, intimated that "a syndicate is definitely behind the proliferation of fake bonds."21 We thus must order an investigation into this matter.

Respondent judge compulsory retired on January 5, 1998. His retirement does not however render this administrative case moot and academic. As we have stated:

. . . [T]he jurisdiction that was Ours at the time of the filing of the administrative complaint was not lost by the mere fact that the respondent public official had ceased to be in office during the pendency of his case. The Court retains its jurisdiction either to pronounce the respondent official innocent of the charges or declare him guilty thereof. A contrary rule would be fraught with injustices and pregnant with dreadful and dangerous implication. . . . If innocent, respondent official merits vindication of his name and integrity as he leaves the government which he has served well and faithfully; if guilty, he deserves to receive the corresponding censure and a penalty proper and imposable under the situation.22

WHEREFORE, the foregoing warrants that the Court reprimand respondent Judge Antonio Mendez, and considering his retirement from the service, let a copy of this decision be spread on his record for the guidance of the members of the bench.

The Office of the Court Administrator is directed to initiate with the National Bureau of Investigation a thorough inquiry into the circumstances around the fake Country Bankers Insurance Corporation Bond JCL (8) No. 01294 in Civil Case No. 2137-G, and to submit a report on the investigation within ninety (90) days from receipt of this decision. The Clerk of Court is directed to docket the matter as a formal "administrative matter" and to assign it an appropriate number.

Furthermore, the complaint as to Atty. Vicente Joyas is dismissed motu proprio, there being no prima facie evidence of any liability arising from the fake bond as to require referral of the complaint to the Office of the Bar Confidant for docketing and evaluation.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Romero and Purisima, JJ., concur.

Footnotes

1 226 SCRA 770, 775 to 777.

2 Memorandum for Complainants, p. 1.

3 Complaint, p. 4.

4 See note 1, p. 784.

5 Rollo, p. 1.

6 Id., at 5.

7 In a Resolution dated February 24, 1997 of the First Division.

8 CA Decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 25225 dated February 2, 1993, p. 4.

9 Docketed as G.R. No. 108858.

10 See Rollo, pp. 35-36.

11 Dysico v. Dacumos, 262 SCRA 275 (1996); Ubarra v. Tecson, 134 SCRA 4 (1985).

12 Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

13 See note 1, p. 784.

14 Section 4, Rule 58.

15 See Resolution dated December 5, 1994 of the Third Division in G.R. No. 108858.

16 Id., at 9-10.

17 Lachica v. Flordeliza, 254 SCRA 278 (1995).

18 Certification dated August 1, 1994 of Elizabeth M. San Juan-Mata, Clerk of Court V of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 61-Gumaca.

19 Rollo, pp. 55- 58.

20 Id., at 59.

21 Id., at 12.

22 Gallo v. Cordero, 245 SCRA 219 (1995); Zarate v. Romanillos, 242 SCRA 593 (1995), citing cases; See also Raval v. Romero, 72 SCRA 172, 174 (1976) relative to the directive of the Court that considering that therein respondent judge was no longer in government service, "it would suffice to spread in respondent's record the said procedural error [subject of the administrative complaint against him], so that the same may not be repeated by other members of the bench."


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