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324 Phil. 543


[ A.M. No. MTJ-94-1009, March 05, 1996 ]




The sworn letter-complaint dated May 11, 1994 of Alberto Naldoza filed through the Iloilo Regional Office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) charges respondent Juan R. Lavilles, Jr., presiding judge of the Municipal Trial Court of Miagao, Iloilo, with irregularity in conducting preliminary investigation, improper issuance of the warrant of arrest, and ignorance of law relative to Criminal Cases Nos. 1726 and 1727, entitled "People of the Philippines vs. Alberto Naldoza" for vote-buying in violation of Article XII, Section 21 of the Omnibus Election Code (BP 881).

Complainant Alberto Naldoza, accused in the aforestated cases was the barangay chairman of Barangay Kirayan, Tacas, Miagao, Iloilo. He ran for re-election in the May 8, 1994 elections.  The spouses Generoso Flame and Lucia Flame and the spouses Marion Piedad and Rosemarie Piedad thereafter accused complainant of vote-buying in winning the election. Accordingly, the Chief of Police of Miagao with whom the charge was lodged, filed on May 8, 1994, two separate complaints against Naldoza for vote-buying in violation of Section 21, Article XII of the Omnibus Election Code (BP 881). Both cases were assigned to respondent judge’s court and docketed thereat as Criminal Cases Nos. 1726 and 1727.

Respondent examined the private complainants, adopting for the purpose the transcript of the question-and-answer type of examination conducted by the Chief of Police and sworn to before him by the parties.

On May 10, 1994, respondent issued an order finding probable cause to believe complainant Naldoza committed the crime charged, and respondent thereupon issued the warrants for complainant’s arrest in the 2 criminal cases, fixing the bail at P 10,000.00 in each case, for his provisional liberty.  Complainant was arrested and detained.

On May 11, 1995, respondent issued an order, directing complainant to appear before the court and to submit his counter-affidavit and those of his witnesses within 10 days from receipt of a copy of the complaints and affidavits of prosecution witnesses pursuant to Section 3(b), Rule 112 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, as amended.

Complainant filed a motion to quash the complaints against him and to lift the warrants of arrest on the ground that the preliminary investigation was irregularly conducted and the warrants of arrest improperly issued, thereby denying him due process.  The motion was denied by respondent in his order of May 31, 1994, for the reason therein stated and referred the cases to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) for further proceedings.

On June 6, 1994, respondent issued another order, reconsidering his order of May 31, 1994 insofar as it referred the cases to the COMELEC.  The cases were instead remanded to the Chief of Police of Miagao, Iloilo with instructions to file the same directly with the provincial prosecutor.  The warrants of arrest were lifted and complainant’s release was ordered.

In the meantime, complainant filed an administrative complaints against respondent with the Commission on Human Rights, protesting the irregularity in the conduct of preliminary investigation, the improper issuance of the warrants of arrest, and for ignorance of law.

On the basis of the investigation and final report of Spl. Investigator IV Leonardo Nuñeza, the CHR in its resolution of August 6, 1994, recommended that an administrative complaint be filed against respondent for the issuance of an unjust interlocutory order and ignorance of law which resulted in the arrest and incarceration of complainant Alberto Naldoza.  The resolution was forwarded to the Office of the Administrator of this Court, for proper disposition.  Further, the CHR recommended that financial assistance be afforded complainant Alberto Naldoza.

In his comment filed on February 14, 1995, by way of compliance with the Court’s resolution of November 21, 1994, respondent denied all the charges.

Refuting the charge that serious irregularities were committed in the conduct of the preliminary investigation for non-compliance with Section 3, Rule 112 of the Rules of Court, respondent explained that the offense of vote-buying is punishable by a penalty of imprisonment of not less than 1 year but not more than 6 years (Sec. 264, Omnibus Election Code), but pursuant to Republic Act No. 7691 the jurisdiction of municipal trial courts was expanded, such that the said offense is now within the exclusive jurisdiction of said courts. Consequently, respondent argued, Section 3, Rule 112 is no longer applicable.

Respondent further argued that the certification of affidavits of complaining witnesses was not necessary since the complainants were brought directly before the police where their statements were taken in question-and-answer type, reduced in writing and signed under oath, and that even granting that such certification is required, non-compliance with such certification does not necessarily mean that respondent committed serious irregularities in conducting preliminary investigation.

With regard to the complaint for improper issuance of the warrants of arrest, respondent contended that he examined the witnesses and conducted searching questions before issuing the warrants.  The necessity of placing complainant under arrest is a matter addressed to judicial discretion, he contended.

As to the charge of ignorance of the law for failure to comply with Section 4 of COMELEC Resolution No. 2695 (authorizing chiefs of police to conduct the preliminary investigation of charges for violation of the Omnibus Election Code) respondent averred that the complaint which commenced Criminal Cases Nos. 1726 and 1727 was filed on May 10, 1994, barely 45 days after the passage of the aforementioned COMELEC Resolution.  It would hardly be fair, respondent continued, to expect him to be immediately aware of the existence of COMELEC Resolution No. 2695.

On June 26, 1995, The Office of the Court Administrator submitted its memorandum pertinently stating:

An examination of COMELEC Resolution No. 2695 as hereunder quoted from and cited in the COMELEC Resolution (Region VI, Iloilo City) dated August 6, 1994 in CHR Case No. 94-ILO-33 (entitled Naldoza vs. Lavilles, Jr.) shows that it applies only to preliminary examination by the Chief of Police or his duly authorized PNP representative, of violations of the Omnibus Election Code and other election laws; it presupposes warrantless arrest of respondent by the arresting officer or policeman.

Sec. 1. Preliminary examination by Chief of Police.  All persons apprehended for violations of the ban on bearing, carrying and transporting of firearms and employment of security personnel and other violations of the Omnibus Election Code and other election laws shall be subject to preliminary examination by the Chief of Police or his duly authorized PNP representative.

Sec. 2. Statements and Evidences - In the preliminary examination, the Chief of Police or his duly authorized investigator shall take the statement of the respondent, require the affidavit of the arresting officer or policeman indicating therein the fact of arrest and the circumstances surrounding the arrest; confiscate the firearm, and other deadly weapons and issue the proper receipt therefor in appropriate cases and finally cause the respondent to sign an affidavit binding himself to be present at the preliminary investigation at a latter date before the prosecutor, and that failure to do so shall constitute an express waiver of his right to present evidence for his defense.

Sec. 3. Proceedings in the preliminary examination. Any person arrested for any violation and undergoing examination must be treated humanely and with outmost respect for his constitutional rights, specially according him, although not limited to the following rights.

(a)  the right to be informed of his rights to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice, and if he cannot afford the services of his counsel, he will be provided with one;

(b)  the right to remain silent, which cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel;

(c)  the right to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice, and if he cannot afford the services of counsel, he will be provided with one, which right cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel; and

(d)  the right to be released from detention if no charges have been filed against him within twelve (12) hours from the arrest, unless they are charged under P.D. 1866.

Sec. 4. Filing of Complaint - The Chief of Police shall file the complaint with the nearest provincial/city prosecutor for purpose of preliminary investigation at the earliest possible time for violation of the gun ban and security personnel and for other election offenses under the Omnibus Election Code and other laws, supported by the affidavits of arresting police officers and other documents and evidence.

Considering that in this case, complainant was not under detention when the complaint against him was filed before the Chief of Police, we submit that the regular court procedure as ordained in the Rules of Court should apply and not COMELEC Resolution No. 2695.  Thus, despite respondent’s admission that he was not aware of said COMELEC Resolution, his lack of knowledge and non-compliance therewith should not be taken against him as a manifestation of culpability for gross ignorance of the law.

With respect to the other charges, a review of the pertinent provisions of law would show that pursuant to Sections 265 and 267 of the Omnibus Election Code the COMELEC has the exclusive power to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses punishable under the Code; and the regional trial court shall have the exclusive original jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceedings for violation of the same.  The metropolitan or municipal trial court, by way of exception exercises jurisdiction only on offenses relating to failure to register or to vote.  Noting that these provisions stands together with the provision that any election offense under the Code shall be punishable with imprisonment for one (1) year to six (6) years and shall not be subject to probation (Section 264, Omnibus Election Code), we submit that it is the special intention of the Code to vest upon the regional trial court jurisdiction over election cases as matter of exception to the general provisions on jurisdiction over criminal cases found under BP Big. 129, as amended. Consequently, the amendment of BP Blg. 129 by Republic Act No. 7691 does not vest upon the MTC jurisdiction over criminal election offenses despite its expanded jurisdiction.

The record on hand discloses that a criminal complaint for vote-buying was filed against complainant before the Chief of Police on the basis of which formal complaint was filed before respondent.  Respondent examined the private complainant adopting for the purpose the transcript of the question and answer type of examination earlier conducted by the Chief of Police and sworn to by the private complainants before the former.  A warrant of arrest was issued by respondent and enforced by the police officers, which led to the arrest and detention of complainant.  The following day, May 11, 1995, respondent issued an order requiring respondent to file his counter-affidavit pursuant to Section 3(b) Rule 112 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, as amended.  Twenty (20) days later, respondent issued an order agreeing that the cases falls under the jurisdiction of the regional trial court and thus, directed that the case be referred to the COMELEC for further proceedings.  Days later, he again issued an order withdrawing his previous order and directing the referral of the case to the Chief of Police in compliance with COMELEC Resolution No. 2695.  Meanwhile, complainant remained in jail.

The Office of the Court Administrator then concluded that:

It appears from the foregoing account that respondent’s actuations are tainted with irregularities beginning from the moment that he took cognizance of the case and issued warrant of arrest.  Sections 265 and 268 of the Omnibus Election Code directs the COMELEC to conduct the preliminary investigation and the Regional Trial Court to hear the cases.  Respondent contradicted his assertion that the cases fall under his jurisdiction when he subsequently ordered complainant to file his counter-affidavit for preliminary investigation pursuant to Section 3(b), Rule 112 of Rules of Court.  On the other hand, we believe that he was appraised of the fact that he has no authority to conduct the preliminary investigation of the cases when he ordered their referral to the COMELEC.  We submit that, at this juncture, respondent should have ordered the release of complainant in deference to the findings of the COMELEC, and, in view of the fact, that the warrant of arrest was erroneously issued by a court acting without its jurisdiction.

The findings of the Office of the Court Administrator are not without reason.

A judge owes it to the public and to the legal profession to know the factual basis of the complaint and the very law he is supposed to apply to a given controversy.  He is called upon to exhibit more than cursory acquaintance with the statutes and procedural rules.  Party litigants will have greater faith in the administration of justice if judges are not cursorily excused of apparent deficiency in the analysis of the facts of the case and in the grasp of the legal principles.  For service in the judiciary means a continuous study and research on the law from beginning to end (Roa vs. Imbing, 231 SCRA 58 [1994]; Wingarts vs. Mejia, 242 SCRA 436 [1995]). A member of the bench must continuously keep himself abreast of legal and jurisprudential developments because the learning process in law never ceases (Wingarts vs. Mejia, supra).

The Office of the Court Administrator recommends that a fine equivalent to one month’s salary be imposed on respondent.  Considering, however, that there was no malice or evil intent in respondent’s actuations in conducting the preliminary investigation and in ordering the issuance of the warrants of arrest against complainant, a fine of P5,000.00 is deemed proper under the circumstances.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Juan Lavilles, Jr. is ordered to pay a fine of Five Thousand (P5,000.00) Pesos with a stern warning that the commission of the same or similar act in the future will subject him to a more severe penalty.


Narvasa, C.J. (Chairman), Davide, Jr., Francisco, and Panganiban, JJ., concur.

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