Supreme Court E-Library
Information At Your Fingertips


  View printer friendly version

337 Phil. 108

EN BANC

[ A.M. No. RTJ-89-318, March 25, 1997 ]

LUCIANA VDA. DE ARAGO, COMPLAINANT, VS. JUDGE PATERNO T. ALVAREZ, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

This is an administrative complaint filed on 17 April 1989 by Mrs. Luciana Vda. de Arago against Judge Paterno T. Alvarez, Presiding Judge of Branch II, Regional Trial Court, Borongan, Eastern Samar, for grave misconduct in office and corrupt practices. The sworn complaint[1] alleges that respondent judge on several occasions demanded and actually received from complainant and her in-laws the sum of seventeen thousand pesos (P17,000.00) in consideration of promised positive results in Criminal Case No. (88-56) 046, entitled People of the Philippines v. Ricardo Ador, et al. for Robbery with Homicide, and in Civil Case. No: 88-162, entitled RGA Construction v. Froilan Yaona, et al. for Breach of Contract, both cases then pending before respondent's sala. The amount of P17,000.00 demanded and received by respondent judge is itemized and indicated as follows:

"1.     The amount of TWO THOUSAND PESOS (P2,000.00) was given to Judge Paterno T. Alvarez last August 23, 1988 by Mrs. Prescila Arago Racal and Mrs. Luciana Vda. de Arago at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Maximo Galupo at Songco, Borongan, Eastern Samar, where Judge Alvarez is temporarily residing;

2.       The amount of ONE THOUSAND PESOS (P1,000.00) was given to Judge Alvarez by Mrs. Prescila Arago Racal and Mrs. Luciana Vda. de Arago last September 16, 1988 at the Regional Trial Court Office at Oras, Eastern Samar;

3.       The amount of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00) was given by Mr. Perfecto A. Arago last November 15, 1988 at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Maximo Calupa at Songco, Borongan, Eastern Samar;

4.       The amount of ONE THOUSAND PESOS (P1,000.00) was given by Mrs. Prescila Arago Racal and Mrs. Luciana Vda. de Arago to Judge Alvarez last December 1, 1988 at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Maximo Galupo at Songco, Borongan, Eastern Samar, and another ONE THOUSAND PESOS (P1,000.00) was given to same person at the same place, last December 2, 1988;

5.       The amount of SIX THOUSAND PESOS (P6,000.00) which the driver of Hon. Paterno T. Alvarez asked from Mr. and Mrs. Restituto Arago at their residence at Songco, Borongan, Eastern Samar last January 3, 1989 as fare of the children of the Hon. Paterno T. Alvarez in going to Manila;

6.       And, the amount of ONE THOUSAND PESOS (P1,000.00) was given to Judge Alvarez by Mr. and Mrs. Restituto A. Arago last January 11, 1989 for his additional fare to Manila, all in all amounting to SEVENTEEN THOUSAND PESOS (P17,000.00);

7.       In addition to the amount stated above, Judge Paterno T. Alvarez asked for two (2) second hand tires for the use of his jeep."[2]
In support of the complaint, complainant attached a Joint Affidavit of Prescila Arago Racal, Restituto Arago, Luciana Vda. de Arago and Perfecto Arago.

On 13 June 1989, the Court en banc required respondent Judge Paterno T. Alvarez to answer the complaint. As required, respondent filed his Answer dated 11 July 1989 which states that —
"At the outset, respondent Judge respectfully submits and admits that it is part of the hazards of his position that baseless and unfounded charges may be filed against him by disgruntled litigants who are not satisfied with the manner that he has resolved their cases.

The present complaint filed against me for alleged gross misconduct and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act is one such unfounded and baseless complaint which I vehemently deny.

The truth is that, accused in Criminal Case No. (88-56) 046, for Robbery with Homicide are known to be identified with Mayor Anacta who is a political enemy of the Aragos. It happened that Mayor Anacta is my compadre being a sponsor in the wedding of my son Nicasio Alvarez II. Because of this relationship the Aragos are of the belief that I will be influenced by the Mayor. . . .

The complainant is the sister-in-law of Mr. Arago who ran against Mayor Anacta in the January 1988 elections and lost to Mayor Anacta. There is, therefore, some political color to this case.

3rd Assistant Fiscal Celso F. Lorenzo, Sr. was formerly a Municipal Judge who resigned after President Aquino came into power and who was not reappointed to said position by the President. He got his appointment as 3rd Assistant Provincial Fiscal because of the intervention of Congressman Ramirez with whom the complainant is politically identified.

Fiscal Lorenzo filed a motion before me on October 28, 1988, requesting for the re-issuance of the warrant of arrest against accused Marcos Ador and his wife Maria Caspe, who were released on bail by the Municipal Trial Court x x x

Though how lowly the accused maybe compared with the complainant who is wealthy and influential and who owns the Arago Construction Company, respondent Judge will not and will never ignore the rights of the accused to due process of law even if he faces threats on his life and Position x x x.

I held resolution of said motion in abeyance pending determination of the question as to whether or not evidence of guilt against the accused is strong. For this purpose, I required the prosecution to present its evidence. . .

Shortly before Fiscal Lorenzo filed a motion to transfer the said Criminal Case to Branch I, he approached me and told me that if I would not grant his motion for the re-issuance of the warrant of arrest as well as his motion to transfer the case to Branch I, he would filed charges against me. . .

Because of the vigorous opposition of the defense that there was no legal ground to transfer the case to Branch I simply because Fiscal Lorenzo was also handling cases in said Branch, I had to deny the same x x x.

Fiscal Lorenzo then filed a motion for my inhibition x x x .

The Civil Case is still undergoing pre-trial, but because of the filing of this administrative case against me, I am going to inhibit myself from hearing said case.

Now, if the purpose of the complainant in giving me money in the total amount of P17,000.00 was to secure favorable decisions from me on the two cases, why did the complainant file this administrative complaint against me before her alleged bribe could bear fruit? This Honorable Court will please take note that this complaint was filed against me shortly after I denied the motion to transfer the criminal case to Branch I. If the complainant had already bribed me, why did she want to transfer the case to another branch? Why did the Fiscal move for my inhibition, if I had already been bought to render favorable decision in favor of the complainant in the criminal case?

The truth is that I had never asked or demanded and received any money from the complainant or her mother-in-law. The truth is that the Fiscal and the complainant were not happy that I did not grant the motion for the re-arrest of the accused Marcos Ador and his wife, Maria Caspe and that I denied the motion to transfer the criminal case to Branch I. That is why I am falsely charged of gross misconduct and violation of the Anti-Graft law in the instant complaint.

Without receiving evidence as to whether or not the evidence of guilt is strong, I could not order the re-arrest of the accused. For denying the said motion as well as the transfer of the case to Branch I and in following the law and my conscience, I am now the respondent in this false complaint. They wanted to remove me from said cases because they could not be sure that I would decide the cases in the complainant's favor, and in this objective, they have succeeded by filing of the motion for inhibition and this complaint.

x x x [3]
Pursuant to the Court's Resolution dated 17 August 1989, complainant submitted her Reply on 20 October 1989 refuting respondent's answer. She maintains that the filing of the charges against respondent is not politically motivated because the latter is a close friend of the Arago family, frequently visiting the latter's home in Borongan, Eastern Samar, and usually dining with the family even before respondent was appointed Regional Trial Judge of Borongan, Eastern Samar, and long before the local elections of 18 January 1988 where Melchor Arago, brother-in-law of complainant, ran against Mayor Fidel Anacta; that the complaint for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Law against respondent judge was filed not because complainant was disappointed when her request for reissuance of the warrant of arrest against the accused Marcos Ador and his wife Maria Caspe in the criminal case was denied by respondent but because as early as 23 August 1988, respondent began asking and demanding money from complainant and her father-in-law assuring them that he would exert influence upon Municipal Trial Judge Celerino Bagro, Sr. to immediately elevate the criminal case to Branch II of the Regional Trial Court of Borongan, Easter Samar, and even after the case was already elevated to his sala, respondent continued to demand money from the Arago family.

It is not also true, according to complainant, that Fiscal Celso Lorenzo, Jr. threatened to file charges against respondent if the latter would not grant the motion for the re-issuance of the aforestated warrant of arrest and the motion to transfer the case to Branch I, for the reason that the decision to file the administrative case against respondent Judge Alvarez was reached after the Arago family became utterly disappointed and disgusted with the respondent's unabated demands for money from the family.

Finally, complainant avers that respondent judge offered to return the P17,000.00 to the Aragos in return for the withdrawal of the complaint against him. A Joint Affidavit of Prescila Arago Racal and Restituto Arago was attached to the Reply.[4]

On 30 January 1990, the Court en banc issued a resolution referring the case to the Honorable Regina Ordonez-Benitez, Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals, for investigation, report and recommendation. However, Justice Benitez was not able to finish the investigation due to her retirement so that the case was reassigned to Associate Justice Corona Ibay-Somera on 31 October 1993.

As culled from the report of the investigating justice, during the investigation, complainant Luciana Vda. de Arago, Restituto Arago, Prescila Arago Racal and Perfecto Arago testified substantially on the following:
Eladio Arago, husband of complainant Luciana Vda. de Arago and son of Restituto Arago, was robbed and killed on 21 July 1988 by the accused in Criminal Case No. 88-10016. Restituto Arago is also an aggrieved party in the case and party litigant in Civil Case No. 88-162 against Froilan Yaona, et al., for Breach of Contract, both cases then pending before the sala of respondent Judge Alvarez. Respondent is known to the Arago family, being a frequent visitor in their house which is located in Barrio Songco, Borongan, Eastern Samar where respondent's boarding house is also located. It was respondent who initially offered to assist complainant and Prescila Arago Racal with regard to said criminal case then undergoing preliminary investigation at the municipal trial court and the civil case pending in respondent's sala in return for pecuniary considerations when the driver, Rudy Salunoy, fetched them in the morning of the second week of August 1988.

The first amount of P1,000.00 was handed over to respondent himself by Prescila Arago Racal in the presence of complainant on 23 August 1988 in his boarding house. Since then, respondent demanded and received from complainant and her in-laws on the dates stated in the complaint, amounts of money, sometimes through his driver Rudy Salunoy, promising to help them in their two (2) cases. At one time, Perfecto Arago personally gave respondent P5,000.00 at the latter's boarding house. On 3 January 1989 another P6,000.00 was demanded by respondent judge and this time it was the respondent's driver Rudy Salunoy who was sent by respondent to receive the amount. The amount was needed by the respondent to pay for his children's transportation expenses in going to Manila. The last amount of P1,000.00 was personally received by respondent from Restituto Arago on 6 January 1989 when respondent himself went to the house of Restituto to thank the latter for the P6,000.00 he received earlier and to ask for additional money for his fare in going to Manila. After this last incident, the Arago family had a meeting and decided to put an end to all these demands for money by respondent judge because none of his promises to help them in the two (2) cases had materialized. They consulted their lawyers and ultimately filed the present complaint.
Respondent judge filed a Motion to Dismiss by Way of Demurrer to Evidence which in effect questions the credibility of complainant and her witnesses who according to respondent are all members of the same family, and that their claims run counter to the grains of human nature and are, therefore, completely incredible.

Complainant was required to comment on respondent's Motion to Dismiss by Way of Demurrer to Evidence. Complainant filed her opposition to the Motion, alleging that said Motion is without factual and legal basis, the same being based on presumptions of counsel and that the evidence presented by complainant — testimonial and documentary — if uncontroverted, will establish the guilt of respondent.

On 30 September 1991, the investigating justice resolved to deny the motion for lack of merit, stating that there is prima facie evidence against the respondent, unless the latter presents evidence to prove otherwise.

For his defense, respondent judge presented Judge Celerino Bagro, Sr., Rodrigo Salunoy and Bernardo Picardo as witnesses.

Respondent Judge Paterno T. Alvarez was the first witness. His direct testimony consisted of his affidavit (Exhibit "I") in which he alleged that the complaint was politically motivated. He asserted that Congressman Jose Ramirez is the cousin of complainant Luciana Vda. de Arago and that the Congressman was very interested in his dismissal from the service or transfer elsewhere. He cited two (2) instances when Congressman Ramirez met with him about the cases of the Aragos and about an election case in his sala (Arago v. Bayhon). According to respondent, the Congressman requested him to issue a warrant of arrest against two (2) other accused in the criminal case pending in respondent's sala. Respondent suggested that a motion or pleading for the re-arrest should be filed and he would set it for hearing. Later, a motion to transfer the criminal case to Branch I was filed but which he denied because there was no valid ground for the transfer. When the motion to transfer was denied, a motion to inhibit him was filed. He inhibited himself and the case was transferred to RTC Branch I of Borongan. Respondent averred that due to his aforesaid refusal to give in to Congressman Ramirez' request to issue a warrant of arrest and the latter's suspicion that he supported Mayor Anacta (respondent's compadre) against the candidacy of Melchor Arago, the brother-in-law of complainant, this administrative complaint was filed. He also alleged that he only came to know the Arago family in 1988 when the criminal case fell in his sala. He also averred that all his children, except the youngest who is in third year college, have finished their schooling and are financially well-off.

Another witness was Judge Celerino Bagro, whose affidavit (Exhibit "5") was part of his direct testimony. He testified on cross-examination that respondent was a friend and had known him since 1972. He came to know the Arago family when he was transferred to Borongan.

Witness Rodrigo Salunoy confirmed the contents of his affidavit (Exhibit "2") which was adopted as his direct testimony. He testified that he was an RTC Aide of Branch 2, Borongan, Eastern Samar since 1982; that he denied knowing the complainant; that as a court aide, he drove for respondent whenever the latter had important appointments and also ran errands for him. He declared that respondent had no vehicle of his own and borrowed the motor vehicle of Engineer Estoy or Dr. Domingo.

Another witness for respondent, Bernardo Picardo, testified on cross-examination that he happened to meet respondent in 1991 and was informed by the latter that his name was mentioned in the complaint and he said he did not know about it, so that the respondent suggested to him to execute an affidavit. He went to Atty. Buco, a notary public, who prepared his affidavit after he related the facts. He also testified that he showed the affidavit to respondent who said it was good. Witness did not know where the original of his affidavit was. He also knew very well the Arago family because he worked in the Arago construction firm for seven (7) years. He was aware that he was one of the principal witnesses of respondent who is his cousin and has known him since childhood.

By way of rebuttal evidence for complainant was the affidavit of Congressman Jose T. Ramirez, in which he denied partisan interest in the case.

For sur-rebuttal evidence, respondent submitted that Congressman Jose T. Ramirez was behind the filing of the administrative case as the latter can not have his own way in some cases pending before the sala of respondent, hence the Congressman wants him transferred or removed from Eastern Samar; that contrary to his allegation, Congressman Ramirez is not a bosom friend of respondent; that respondent's son, Nicasio Alvarez II, and Congressman Ramirez belong to two (2) opposing political factions and because of this, the Congressman has an ax to grind against respondent's family; that Congressman Ramirez tried to use this case as a lever to get the political support of respondent's son who flatly rejected support for the Congressman.

After evaluating the evidence of the parties, testimonial and documentary, the Investigating Justice found that the complainant has creditably proved her charges. As noted by the Investigating Justice, witness Restituto Arago, father-in-law of complainant, despite his age (82 years old) testified in a precise manner, vividly recalling the two (2) dates when respondent demanded money from him. The first demand of P6,000.00 was handed to the driver of respondent and the P1,000.00 was handed personally to respondent by Mr. Arago in the latter's house. The alleged inconsistencies in his testimony pointed to by the respondent were considered by the Investigating Justice as minor ones and could be the effect of his old age and do not affect either the substance of his declarations or the weight of his testimony.

As to the contention of respondent that the complaint was politically motivated as the complainant is the first cousin of Congressman Jose Tan Ramirez, who has an ax to grind against respondent's family whom the Congressman allegedly suspected of supporting his political opponents, the Investigating Justice found such contention irrelevant to the charges filed against respondent. Justice Ibay declared that "(A)s against the straightforward and categorical testimony of complainant Luciana Vda. de Arago up to the minute details, political motivation is totally out of the picture". Hence, Justice Ibay-Somera ruled out the possibility that the complaint was fabricated and concocted. "A witness who testifies in a categorical, straightforward, spontaneous and frank manner and remains consistent is a credible witness.[5] The testimony of a witness, mentioning minutiae of an incident and which could not easily be concocted, deserves credence for it indicates sincerity and truthfulness in the narration of events."[6]

On the other hand, respondent judge contends that the charges filed against him are unfounded and baseless and vehemently denies them. He insists that the complaint is politically motivated. Aside from the fact that the complainant is a cousin of Congressman Jose T. Ramirez, the accused in Criminal Case (88-56) 046 for Robbery with Homicide are known to be supporters of Mayor Fidel Anacta who is a political rival of Melchor Arago and a compadre of the respondent, and that the Aragos suspect that the respondent would be influenced by Mayor Anacta with regard to the criminal case.

Justice Ibay-Somera also noted the statement in the affidavit-answer dated 30 April 1993 of respondent incriminating to him, as follows:
". . . and the further fact that all of my children are professionals now with respective income of their own hence there is really no reason for me to commit any such indiscretion amounting to bribery. Although I am not rich, I am no longer financially hard up because my children do not need my support any more while my wife is also training as a teacher." (Justice Ibay supplying the underlining).
Justice Ibay-Somera noted that the alleged demands for money from the Arago family happened in 1988 up to January 1989 on different dates, or five (5) years before 30 April 1993, the date of the affidavit-answer, and presumed that in those earlier dates all the children of respondent were still in college and in Manila.

After a careful review of the record, including the transcript of the testimonies of the witnesses and the documentary evidence submitted by the parties, the Court agrees with the conclusions of fact and the recommendation of the Investigating Justice.

The Court is more than inclined to give more weight to the allegations of the complainant. The alleged demand for money was not an isolated incident but a series of demands — "unabated" as complainant described it. We cannot conceive of any reason why complainant would enumerate different amounts and dates when respondent demanded and received money from her and her in-laws which would require more evidence than one incident only if the said charges were not true. To our mind complainant was not relating a fairy tale.

Respondent's defense that the filing of the complaint is politically motivated is weak and shallow. Complainant categorically testified that the Arago family, after a family meeting, decided to put a stop to the "unabated" demands for money of respondent, starting in August 1988 up to January 1989.

In stark contrast, respondent and his witnesses could only offer denials that the allegations in the complaint did not occur. It is well-settled that affirmative testimonies prevail over negative testimonies (II Regalado, F.D., Remedial Law Compendium, p. 464, Vda. de Ramos vs. Court of Appeals, 81 SCRA 393.)

Likewise, respondent's argument that it is against human nature for someone to demand money from someone he barely knows is not quite persuasive. In the first place, in a small community such as Barangay Songco, it is not improbable for a family as prominent as the Aragos and a member of the judiciary or a judge to move in the same circle. Consider the testimony of Restituto Arago, and we quote:

"ATTY. ALEGRE:

Would you recall the occasion how you came to know of the respondent Judge?

WITNESS:

I have a case before his sala and that is one of the occasion I came to know him and before that we used to see each other.

ATTY. ALEGRE:

Were you introduced to him formally the first time that you came to know him?

WITNESS:

I was not introduced to him, but when I was still quite young that time, we used to see and join each other. In fact, we just live in one barrio. Both of us Barrio Songco, Borongan, Eastern Samar.

xxx                                                                       xxx                                                                               xxx

ATTY. ALEGRE:

So, when you said that you came to know him, it is only a matter to know him in his official capacity as Judge of Branch 2 in Borongan, Eastern Samar?

WITNESS:

Personally, I know him and sometimes even he would pass in our house.

ATTY. ALEGRE:

Alright, when you said personal precisely I am asking you how come that you know him personally despite the fact that nobody introduced you to him and him to you? Kindly tell us the circumstances, how you come to know each other.

ATTY. TUAZON:

The witness has already answered even prior to the respondent's appointment as Judge."

xxx                                                                       xxx                                                                               xxx

ATTY. ALEGRE:

Do you consider him as your friend?

WITNESS:

I consider him as my friend but I don't know him if he consider me as his friend."[7]


In line with his own professed belief that "it is part of the hazards of his position that baseless and unfounded charges may be filed against him by disgruntled litigants" respondent should have scrupulously avoided any suspicion of impropriety in all his acts.

ACCORDINGLY, in view of the aforesaid finding that respondent Judge Paterno T. Alvarez is guilty of grave misconduct and corrupt practices, he is hereby DISMISSED from the service with FORFEITURE of all benefits to which he may be otherwise entitled, and WITH PREJUDICE to re-employment in any branch, instrumentality or agency of the government, including government-owned and controlled corporations.

Respondent is ORDERED to immediately cease and desist from performing his duties as Presiding Judge of Branch II, Regional Trial Court, Borongan, Eastern Samar upon his receipt of a copy of this Decision.
SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Francisco, Hermosisima, Jr., Panganiban, and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.
Bellosillo, J., took no part.


[1] Rollo, pp. 1-2

[2] As quoted from the letter-complaint dated 11 April 1989 of complainant Luciana Vda. De Arago.

[3] Rollo, pp. 9-13.

[4] Ibid., pp. 27-30.

[5] People vs. Nuestra, 240 SCRA 221.

[6] People vs. Gamiao, 240 SCRA 254.

[7] TSN, July 27, 1990, p.37 and pp.39-40.

© Supreme Court E-Library 2012
This website was designed and developed, and is maintained, by the E-Library Technical Staff.