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A.M. No. RTJ-07-2075

THIRD DIVISION

[ A.M. No. RTJ-07-2075, April 18, 2008 ]

ATTY. UBALDINO A. LACUROM, Complainant, vs. JUDGE JUANITA C. TIENZO, Regional Trial Court, Branch 27, Cabanatuan City, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

NACHURA, J.:

For resolution is an administrative complaint charging Judge Juanita C. Tienzo of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 27, Cabanatuan City, with Gross Ignorance of the Law or Procedure in connection with two (2) separate cases: one is for Replevin or Sum of Money, while the other is an appealed case of Unlawful Detainer from the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Branch 3, Cabanatuan City.

On the first charge, complainant, Atty. Ubaldino A. Lacurom, assails the issuance by respondent judge of a writ of replevin in Civil Case No. 4971 entitled “Roy G. Claudio and Michael Allan Parungao v. Carlos Dy and John Doe,” for violation of Sections 2(a),[1] 6,[2] and 7,[3] Rule 60 of the Rules of Court.

According to complainant, respondent judge should have desisted from issuing the writ as plaintiff Claudio in Civil Case No. 4971 failed to prove that he is the owner of the subject vehicle, and consequently entitled to its possession. Complainant points out that Claudio admits the sale of the subject vehicle to defendant, and the same had been the object of several conveyances to third persons.

In addition, complainant avers that respondent judge delayed the release of the property despite a third-party claim thereon. Apparently, respondent judge granted plaintiffs an extension of time within which to post the required indemnity bond. As such, the subject vehicle remained with the sheriff in excess of the five-day period provided in Section 6, Rule 60 of the Rules of Court.

Thereafter, respondent judge, instead of ordering the return of the vehicle to the third-party claimant, issued an order not only granting plaintiffs’ motion for delivery of the vehicle, but also setting aside an earlier order which required plaintiffs to post an indemnity bond.

On the second charge relating to Civil Case No. 4884, complainant alleges that respondent judge rendered a Decision[4] in violation of the constitutional mandate to state clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based, and Section 1, Rule 36 of the Rules of Court echoing the same requisite.[5]

Complainant further charges that respondent judge issued an order written in the English language, and in a fashion that does not befit an RTC Judge which thereby demonstrates her incompetence and lack of diligence. However, complainant discloses that the inclusion of the foregoing matter in his administrative complaint was merely at the behest of his former colleague, Feliciano Buenaventura, a retired presiding judge of RTC, Branch 27, Cabanatuan City.

In response, respondent judge vehemently opposed, and prayed for the outright dismissal of, the complaint because:
  1. (That) the complainant has no legal personality to commence the instant administrative complaint;

  2. (That) the complainant has no cause of action against the respondent considering that the complaint is legally and factually baseless, perjurious in nature, malicious and only intends to harass the [respondent];

  3. The complainant has no locus standi to raise the second issue considering he is not a person directly affected by the Decision of the Court;

  4. (That) the Decision of the Court dated July 21, 2005 is made in accordance with Section 24 of the Interim Rules and Guidelines of BP Blg. 129 and the ruling of the Honorable Supreme Court in the case of Francisco v. Permskul, G.R. No. 81006 dated May 12, 1989, thus it is lawful.[6]
Corollary to the proffered grounds for dismissal of the complaint, respondent judge argues that complainant is not the real party in interest in Civil Case No. 4971. She posits that the proper parties are the defendants-litigants whose interests were ostensibly aggrieved and prejudiced by the Order of Release of the vehicle in favor of the plaintiffs-applicants, and not the complainant who has no apparent authority[7] to institute the administrative complaint against her.

Respondent judge next contends that the issuance of the writ of replevin was done in the discharge of her judicial functions which are presumed to have been regularly performed. Accordingly, she claims that the assailed order cannot be used as ground for an administrative case against her in the absence of malice, dishonesty and corrupt motive on her part. Under the circumstances, even if the Order was erroneously issued, complainant’s proper remedy is to file a petition for certiorari or an appeal, as may be applicable, and not the instant administrative case.

Respondent judge likewise points out that the complaint contained false statements considering complainant’s categorical admission that he had strongly opposed the release of the property to plaintiff Claudio.

As regards the diminutive decision in Civil Case No. 4884, respondent judge again questions complainant’s locus standi to institute the complaint. She emphasizes that Atty. Buenaventura did not, in fact, appeal the decision to the appellate court. At any rate, respondent judge submits that her decision is in accord with the ruling in Francisco v. Permskul[8] wherein this Court sustained the validity of memorandum decisions.

In his reply, complainant refuted respondent judge’s arguments, contending that the rule on real party-in-interest is not applicable to administrative cases. Section 1, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court[9] permits a party who has personal knowledge of the facts alleged in the complaint to lodge administrative charges against an erring judge. In all, complainant reiterated the allegations in his complaint.

Evaluating the parties’ respective claims, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) considered the complaint partly meritorious. Anent the first charge, the OCA found that the error imputed to the respondent judge in her challenged order is of a judicial character. Essentially, complainant assails respondent judge’s interpretation of the law and rules of procedure on Replevin. The OCA asserted that complainant’s remedy lies with the courts for the appropriate corrective judicial action, and not in this administrative complaint.

On the second issue pertaining to the minute decision in Civil Case No. 4884, the OCA noted that if the decision had already attained finality, then the absence of an appeal evinces the parties’ satisfaction with the judgment. Otherwise, a challenge thereto would have been brought before the higher courts. Accordingly, the OCA believed that complainant lacks standing to question the said decision.

Nevertheless, the OCA found respondent judge guilty of gross ignorance of the law or procedure in her blatant disregard of the constitutional mandate that no decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.

We agree with the OCA.

After a careful scrutiny of the records, we sustain the OCA’s finding that the charge respecting the erroneous issuance of the writ of replevin in Civil Case No. 4971 is clearly judicial in nature. The instant administrative complaint is not the proper remedy to assail the legality of respondent judge’s order. In this regard, we have previously held that where sufficient judicial remedies exist, the filing of an administrative complaint is not the proper recourse to correct a judge’s allegedly erroneous act.[10]

Indeed, as a matter of public policy, not every error or mistake committed by judges in the performance of their official duties renders them administratively liable.[11] In the absence of fraud, dishonesty or deliberate intent to do an injustice, acts done in their official capacity, even though erroneous, do not always constitute misconduct.[12]

Only errors that are tainted with fraud, corruption or malice may be the subject of disciplinary actions. For administrative liability to attach, respondent must be shown to have been moved by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred or some other similar motive. Verily, judges may not be held administratively liable for any of their official acts, no matter how erroneous, as long as they acted in good faith.[13]

However, with respect to the decision in Civil Case No. 4884, we find respondent judge administratively liable therefor.

In that case, respondent judge ruled in this wise, to wit:
D E C I S I O N

After a cursory study of this appealed case of Unlawful Detainer, this Court finds that the procedural due process [has] been complied with under the Summary Procedure. The Decision of the Lower Court cannot be disturbed by this Court.

WHEREFORE, the Decision of the said Lower Court, MTCC, Branch III, Cabanatuan City, is hereby AFFIRMED en toto.

SO ORDERED.

Cabanatuan City, July 21, 2005.
The quoted decision does not measure up to the clear constitutional command:[14]
SEC. 14. No decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.
Section 1, Rule 36 of the Rules of Court likewise reflects the foregoing mandate, thus:
SECTION 1. Rendition of judgments and final orders. – A judgment or final order determining the merits of the case shall be in writing personally and directly prepared by the judge, stating clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based, signed by him, and filed with the clerk of court.
Notwithstanding this unequivocal rule, respondent judge insists that her decision is in accord with our holding in Francisco v. Permskul.[15]

We reject respondent judge’s insistence.  Although we have sustained the validity of memorandum decisions on several occasions,[16] we laid down specific requirements for the proper utility thereof:
The memorandum decision, to be valid, cannot incorporate the findings of fact and the conclusions of law of the lower court only by remote reference, which is to say that the challenged decision is not easily and immediately available to the person reading the memorandum decision. For the incorporation by reference to be allowed, it must provide for direct access to the facts and the law being adopted, which must be contained in a statement attached to the said decision. In other words, the memorandum decision authorized under Section 40 of B.P. Blg. 129 should actually embody the findings of fact and conclusions of law of the lower court in an annex attached to and made an indispensable part of the decision.

It is expected that this requirement will allay suspicion that no study was made of the decision of the lower court and that its decision was merely affirmed without a proper examination of the facts and law on which it is based. The proximity at least of the annexed statement should suggest that such an examination has been undertaken. It is, of course, also understood that the decision being adopted should, to begin with, comply with Article VIII, Section 14 as no amount of incorporation or adoption will rectify its violation.

The Court finds it necessary to emphasize that the memorandum decision should be sparingly used lest it become an addictive excuse for judicial sloth. It is an additional condition for its validity that this kind of decision may be resorted only in cases where the facts are in the main accepted by both parties or easily determinable by the judge and there are no doctrinal complications involved that will require an extended discussion of the laws involved. The memorandum decision may be employed in simple litigations only, such as ordinary collection cases, where the appeal is obviously groundless and deserves no more than the time needed to dismiss it.[17]
It is obvious that the decision rendered by respondent judge failed to conform to this requirement. The cryptic decision simply referenced the appealed decision of the MTCC and forthwith found the same as compliant with procedural due process under the Rules of Summary Procedure. Nowhere in the decision does respondent judge make a statement of the facts which led to the filing of the appeal. More importantly, the decision does not contain respondent judge’s factual findings, albeit affirming those of the MTCC, from which she based her conclusions of law. Ineluctably, respondent judge transgressed the constitutional directive.

The transgression is compounded by respondent judge’s insistence that her decision conformed to our ruling on memorandum decisions. It is not amiss to remind respondent judge of our final words in the case which she invokes:
Henceforth, all memorandum decisions shall comply with the requirements herein set forth as to the form prescribed and the occasions when they may be rendered. Any deviation will summon the strict enforcement of Article VIII, Section 14 of the Constitution and strike down the flawed judgment as a lawless disobedience.[18]
Although not every judicial error signifies ignorance of the law which warrants administrative sanction, this holds true only in instances of tolerable misjudgment. Where, however, an elementary constitutional mandate is violated, the blunder constitutes ignorance of the law.

From the foregoing disquisition, we find that an imposition of a fine of P20,000.00 upon respondent judge is in order.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Juanita C. Tienzo is hereby found GUILTY of gross ignorance of the law, and is ordered to pay a FINE of TWENTY THOUSAND PESOS (P20,000.00) upon notice. She is sternly WARNED that a repetition of the same offense will be dealt with more severely. The other charge is DISMISSED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO
Associate Justice
Chairperson

MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ
Associate Justice

MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO
Associate Justice

RUBEN T. REYES
Associate Justice



[1] SEC. 2. Affidavit and bond.— The applicant must show by his own affidavit or that some other person who personally knows the facts:
(a)           That the applicant is the owner of the property claimed, particularly describing it, or is entitled to the possession thereof;
[2] SEC. 6. Disposition of property by sheriff.— If within five (5) days after the taking of the property by the sheriff, the adverse party does not object to the sufficiency of the bond, or of the surety or sureties thereon; or if the adverse party so objects and the court affirms its approval of the applicant’s bond or approves a new bond, or if the adverse party requires the return of the property but his bond is objected to and found insufficient and he does not forthwith file an approved bond, the property shall be delivered to the applicant. If for any reason the property is not delivered to the applicant, the sheriff must return it to the adverse party.

[3] SEC. 7. Proceedings where property claimed by third person.— If the property taken is claimed by any person other than the party against whom the writ of replevin had been issued or his agent, and such person makes an affidavit of his title thereto, or right to the possession thereof, stating the grounds therefore, and serves such affidavit upon the sheriff while the latter has possession of the property and a copy thereof upon the applicant, the sheriff shall not be bound to keep the property under replevin or deliver it to the applicant unless the applicant or his agent, on demand of said sheriff, shall file a bond approved by the court to indemnify the third-party claimant in a sum not less than the value of the property under replevin as provided under Section 2 hereof. In case of disagreement as to such value, the court shall determine the same. No claim for damages for the taking or the keeping of the property may be enforced against the bond unless the action therefore is filed within one hundred twenty (120) days from the date of the filing of the bond.

The sheriff shall not be liable for damages, for the taking or keeping of such property, to any such third-party claimant if such bond shall be filed. Nothing herein contained shall prevent such claimant or any third person from vindicating his claim to the property, or prevent the applicant from claiming damages against a third-party claimant who filed a frivolous or plainly spurious claim, in the same or separate action.

When the writ of replevin is issued in favor of the Republic of the Philippines, or any officer duly representing it, the filing of such bond shall not be required, and in case the sheriff is sued for damages as a result of the replevin, he shall be represented by the Solicitor General, and if held liable therefor, the actual damages adjudged by the court shall be paid by the National Treasurer out of the funds to be appropriated for the purpose.

[4] Promulgated on July 21, 2005, rollo, p. 92.

[5] CONSTITUTION, Art. VIII, Sec. 14.
No decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.

No petition for review or motion for reconsideration of a decision of the court shall be refused due course or denied without stating the legal basis therefor.
[6] Rollo, p. 100.

[7] The complainant did not attach a Special Power of Attorney (SPA) in his complaint which likewise did not allege that complainant is acting for and in behalf of the defendant-litigants.

[8] G.R. No. 81006, May 12, 1989, 173 SCRA 324.

[9] As amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC effective October 1, 2001.

[10] Cruz v. Iturralde, 450 Phil. 77, 85 (2003).

[11] Planas v. Reyes, A.M. RTJ-05-1905, February 23, 2005, 452 SCRA 146, 155.

[12] Enojas, Jr. v. Gacott, Jr., 379 Phil. 277, 288-289 (2000); Rallos v. Gako, Jr., 385 Phil. 4, 18 (2000). 

[13] Tan v. Estoconing, A.M. No. MTJ-04-1554 and A.M. No. MTJ-04-1562, June 29, 2005, 462 SCRA 10, 23.

[14] CONSTITUTION , Art. VIII, Sec. 14.

[15] Supra note 8.

[16] Yao v. Court of Appeals, 398 Phil. 86, 103-104 (2000).

[17] Francisco v. Permskul, supra note 8, at 335-336.

[18] Id. at 337.

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