A judge is liable for gross ignorance of the law for failure, after conducting a preliminary investigation, to transmit the resolution of the case together with the entire records to the Provincial Prosecutor

In the case extant, Respondent was only acting as Assisting Judge and then as Acting Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental when he issued the questioned Orders.  This court is of the view that Respondent innocently thought that he could legally issue said Orders despite acting only as the Investigating Judge.  Besides, nobody had called his attention about the errors he committed, not even the office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Negros Oriental, the Executive judge nor the regular Presiding Judge himself, the Hon. Judge Ricardo M. Garcia.  Further, after he ceased to be the Acting Presiding Judge in July 2004, he lost the opportunity to rectify his errors.  Hence this Court also believes that the ruling in the case of Northcastle Properties and Estate Corporation vs. Acting Presiding Judge Estrellita M. Paas, MeTC, Branch 45, Pasay City, A.M. No. MTJ-99-1206 October 22, 1999, where the respondent judge was found guilty of gross ignorance of the law when she erred by applying the provisions of Sec. 19, Rule 70, Rules of Court instead of Sec. 21 of the same rule regarding the execution of the decision of the Regional Trial Court rendered in the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction in an ejectment case.  The Supreme Court said that her utter lack of familiarity with the Rules undermined the public confidence in the competence of our courts and she was penalized to pay the fine of P5,000.00 with the warning 6hat6 a repetition of the same or similar act would be dealt with more severely. (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

As to the claim of the Respondent that he had no more personality to comment the allegations in the complaint, particularly the archiving of cases because he is no longer the Acting Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court since July 2004, this court also believes that such does not hold water. This is so because being an officer of the court he can always be held responsible for his previous official acts.  In fact, even those who have already retired from the judiciary could still be held responsible for acts done during their incumbency.

x x x x

And, the fact that the Orders, as argued by the Respondent, were not questioned by the government prosecutors, the parties and their counsels, and the complainant was not a party to the cases, is of no moment because the Supreme Court, with or without complaint can look into his acts in view of its power of administrative supervision over all courts and the personnel thereof and to discipline judges of lower courts, or order their dismissal.

Finally, the claim of the Respondent that the questioned Orders were already final and executory and could only be correctible by appeal is also a misplaced argument because such were merely in the nature of the interlocutory order as the cases involved were not finally disposed of by reason thereof, and thus, not subject to appeal.  Respondent invoking the ruling of the case of Salcedo vs. Coquia, et al., A.M.MTJ-1328, February 11, 2004, to the mind of the court is also not meritorious.  This is so because in that case, the Supreme Court, citing the case of Bello III vs. Diaz, AM-MTJ-00-1311, October 3, 2003, ruled that:

“It is plain from the complaint that the error attributable to respondent Judge pertains to the exercise of his adjudicative functions.  Settled is the rule that errors committed by a judge in the exercise of his adjudicative functions cannot be corrected through administrative proceedings, but should instead be assailed through judicial remedies.  In the recent case of Bello v. Diaz, we reiterated that disciplinary proceedings against judges do not complement, supplement or substitute judicial remedies whether ordinary or extraordinary;  an inquiry into their administrative liability arising from judicial acts may be made only after other available remedies have been settled”.

It is to be noted that herein Respondent is sued in the exercise of his executive functions.  In the case of Balagapo, Jr. v. Dequilla, 238 SCRA 645, citing the case of Crespo vs. Mogul  151 SCRA 462, it was ruled that:

“When a municipal judge conducts preliminary investigation he performs a non-judicial function, as an exception to his usual duties.  The assignment of such excecutive function to the Municipal Judge under Rule 112 of the Rules of Court is dictated by the necessity and practical consideration.  Consequently, the findings of an investigating judge are subject to review by the Provincial Prosecutor whose findings in turn may also be reviewed by the Secretary of Justice in appropriate cases.”

Further, citing the case of People v. Gorospe, 53 Phils. 960 (1928) the Supreme Court ruled that it is ministerial duty for an investigating judge, after conducting a preliminary investigation, to transmit the resolution of the case together with the entire records to the Provincial Prosecutor, regardless of his belief or opinion that the crime committed falls under the jurisdiction of his court.

The only remedy that was available in order that Respondent could be forced to perform his ministerial duty of transmitting the records of the cases to the office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Negros Oriental was an action for Mandamus under Sec. 3, Rule 65, Rules of Court, but such is not obtainable anymore because he has already ceased performing the function the office of an Acting Presiding judge in the Municipal Trial Court of Guihulngan, Negros Oriental long before the instant complaint was filed.

x x x x[6]   (citations omitted; italics, emphasis and underscoring in the original)

As for the rest of the charges against respondent, Judge Bahonsua found no merit thereon.

Judge Bahonsua thereupon concluded that respondent is guilty of Gross Ignorance of the Law in archiving the criminal cases and recommended that respondent be fined in the amount of P30,000.[7]

In their Memorandum[8] dated June 21, 2010, Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez and Deputy Court Administrator Jesus Edwin A. Villasor found the recommendation of the investigating judge well-taken.  They noted, however, as follows:

Respondent Judge Barillo will compulsorily retire from the service on July 30, 2010 at the age of 70.  We find that, although he committed an error in issuing the questioned orders, there was, however, no malice on his part and no one has ever called his attention on such error.  We believe that he deserves some compassion especially considering his long years in the service.  In the words of the investigating Judge, “[I]t would be equivalent to putting an abrupt end to his life if he is kicked out from the service and stripped of all the monetary benefits due him and/or he is disbarred from the law profession.   Despite of [sic] what he has done, he still deserves to enjoy at best, the few remaining years of his life.[9]

The Court finds that, indeed, respondent is liable for gross ignorance of the law.

A judge owes it to himself and his office to know basic legal principles by heart and to harness that knowledge correctly and justly, failing which public’s confidence in the courts is eroded.[10]

In issuing the orders archiving the five above-cited criminal cases, respondent failed to consider that he was acting not as a trial judge but an investigating judge of an MTC whose actions were thus governed by Section 5, Rule 112 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure on preliminary investigations. He ought to have known that after conducting preliminary investigation on the criminal cases, it was his duty to transmit his resolution thereon to the provincial or city prosecutor for appropriate action. His failure to do so betrays an utter lack of familiarity with the Rules.

The complaint against respondent is for gross ignorance of the law in which the acts complained of must not only be contrary to existing law and jurisprudence; it must have been motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption[11] the presence of which in the present case is not clear.

Be that as it may, such leeway afforded a judge does not mean that he should not evince due care in the performance of his adjudicatory functions. Sanctions are still in order as such lapses in judgment cannot be countenanced. As the Court has repeatedly stressed, a judge, having applied for the position and appointed as such, is presumed to know the law. Thus, when the law is so elementary, not to be aware of it constitutes gross ignorance of the law.[12]

Gross ignorance of the law is penalized by Section 11 (A), Rule 140, viz:

SEC. 11.  Sanctions.  – A.  If the respondent is guilty of a serious charge, any of the following sanctions may be imposed.

  1. Dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all or part of the benefits as the Court may determine, and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-owned or controlled corporations:  Provided, however, That the forfeiture of benefits shall in no case include accrued leave credits;

  1. Suspension from the office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3) but not exceeding six (6) months; or

  1. A fine of more than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00.

In meting a penalty on respondent, the Court considers the fact that he, during the pendency of the case or on July 30, 2010, compulsory retired.

WHEREFORE, for Gross Ignorance of the Law, Judge Hector B. Barillo is meted a FINE of Thirty Thousand (P30,000.00) Pesos, to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2011/february2011/MTJ-08-1710.htm

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About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
This entry was posted in Judicial and Legal Ethics, Preliminary Investigation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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