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457 Phil. 368


[ A.M. No. RTJ-99-1501 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 98-567-RTJ), September 03, 2003 ]




Before us is the administrative complaint filed by Romeo E. Ejercito against Judge Ildefonso B. Suerte of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Barili, Cebu (Branch 60) for abuse of authority, oppression and harassment.

In his Petition dated June 2, 1998, complainant alleges that respondent Judge is guilty of violating the law and the Constitution by committing the following acts: rendering of an unjust and illegal or unlawful order to arrest him on December 12, 1997; usurpation of a case already decided by another court; ignorance of the law and/or willful defiance of the law (Art. 92 of the Revised Penal Code); culpable violation of the constitutional mandate of due process; falsification of public document by purporting that the warrant of arrest dated May 31, 1991 is still valid although he knows that it has been invalidated in an Order of the Court dated March 9, 1992; culpable violation of the Bill of Rights that no person shall be put twice in jeopardy for the same offense; grave abuse of authority and conduct unbecoming a public official.  Complainant prays that respondent Judge be dismissed from the Judiciary, perpetually disqualified to hold public office in the Philippines and disbarred from the Roll of Attorneys to practice law in the Philippines and the forfeiture of all emoluments due him from the government service.[1]

In his Answer dated August 10, 1998, respondent Judge emphatically denies the allegations of the complainant claiming that his charges are not only baseless, whimsical and preposterous but absurd.  He further claims that complainant is a "litigation addict" having developed the propensity of filing various cases against several people; that the instant administrative case was filed to harass and molest respondent judge and is intended to destroy his image and reputation as an officer of the court.[2]

In a Memorandum addressed to Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) recommended that the instant complaint be docketed as a regular administrative matter and that it be referred to an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation.[3]

In a Resolution issued by this Court dated October 20, 1999, the instant case was docketed as a regular administrative matter and was referred to then Court of Appeals Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales (now a member of this Court) for investigation, report and recommendation.[4]

Justice Morales conducted hearings for the parties to present their respective evidence.  However, pending resolution of the instant administrative matter, Justice Morales was appointed as an Associate Justice of this Court.  Hence, in a Resolution dated December 9, 2002, the case was reassigned to Associate Justice Rebecca de Guia-Salvador of the Court of Appeals directing her to continue the proceedings until terminated and to submit to this Court her report and recommendation.[5]

In her Report and Recommendation dated June 30, 2003, the Investigating Justice summarized the established facts of the case, as follows:
Charged with and convicted of the crime of falsification of public documents in Criminal Case No. CU-13 before Branch 17 of the Regional Trial Court of Cebu City, complainant was sentenced to suffer the penalty of imprisonment for one year and one day to three years, six months and twenty-one days as well as to pay the fine of P500.00. The affirmance of the said judgment of conviction on August 12, 1980 by the Court of Appeals caused the issuance of a warrant of arrest which complainant was, however, able to evade. An alias warrant of arrest was consequently issued on March 31, 1991 by Judge Jose P. Burgos, then the presiding judge of the trial court.

The record further shows that upon complainant's February 17, 1992 motion, Judge Burgos subsequently set aside the execution of the aforesaid judgment and ordered the quashal of the self-same alias warrant of arrest . . . in an order dated March 19, 1992.  . . .

On October 16, 1997, complainant's picture was published in a local newspaper together with a news item regarding his conviction and the warrants earlier issued for his arrest. On December 12, 1997, he was further arrested by SPO3 Andres Alpas and SPO1 Renato Vergara, both operatives of the Barili Police Station, on the strength of the March 31, 1991 alias warrant of arrest issued by Judge Burgos. Turned over to Branch 17 of Cebu City Regional Trial Court upon respondent's verbal instruction, complainant was, however, ordered released on the same day by Judge Jesus de la Pena, the said court's presiding judge, on the ground that the warrant thus implemented had already been invalidated.

On the belief that the newspaper publication as aforesaid and his erroneous arrest were engineered by respondent, complainant filed the instant complaint alongside several others singly and/or collectively against respondent, SPO3 Andres Alpas and SPO1 Renato Vergara. Docketed as OMB-VIS-CRIM-98-0206 before the Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas), the complaint against respondent for violations of Articles 171, 177, 204, 205, 267 and 269 of the Revised Penal Code and for grave abuse of authority was dismissed in the said office's resolution dated May 18, 1998. Another complaint against respondent and said policemen - this time for arbitrary detention - was dismissed by the Office of the Cebu Provincial Prosecutor in the resolution dated August 18, 1998 issued in I.S. No. 98-13840.

On the other hand, although the administrative aspect of the case had already been declared closed and terminated in the April 28, 1999 resolution issued by the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military in OMB-Vis-98-1020, SPO3 Andres Alpas and SPO1 Renato Vergara were criminally charged for perjury and were subsequently ordered arrested in the warrant of arrest dated July 12, 1999 issued by Judge Leopoldo Canete, presiding judge of Branch 4 of the Municipal Trial Court of Cebu City, in Criminal Case No. 99039-R. Also confronted with a complaint for perjury docketed as I.S. No. 98-16398, respondent was further charged by complainant with estafa thru falsification of public documents and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for acts he allegedly committed while he was the COMELEC Registrar of Badian, Cebu from 1964-1971. Both the criminal and administrative aspects of the case were respectively dismissed in the October 16, 1997 resolution issued by the Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas) in OMB-VIS-CRIM-97-0835 and the March 22, 1999 resolution issued by the Third Division of the Supreme Court in Administrative Matter OCA IPI No. 98-514-RTJ.

In his June 17, 1999 amended complaint-petition, complainant gave a detailed account of the long-standing conflict between his family and that of the respondent which purportedly motivated the latter to perpetrate the acts complained of. Having earlier denied the imputations against him and called the Court's attention to the various cases commenced by complainant, respondent for his part, filed a motion to dismiss on the ground of forum shopping.  Despite due notice, he likewise repeatedly failed to appear at the hearings conducted in the case, hence, this evaluation solely on the basis of the oral and documentary evidence adduced by complainant.[6]
After evaluation of the evidence presented, the Investigating Justice concluded that complainant's charges are not supported by sufficient and competent evidence.  The Investigating Justice ruled:
Aside from the apparent insufficiency of the evidence adduced by complainant, the record is replete with ample showing that the complaint is just another episode in what appears to be the acrimonious history between the parties' families. More than the multiple complaints he commenced against respondent, complainant himself lent credence to this observation by dredging up the political differences between him and respondent's father as well as the political rivalry between their siblings. Going well beyond the allegations in his complaint and virtually throwing the proverbial kitchen sink against respondent, complainant even facetiously tried to attribute his arrest to the former's proprietary interest over his family's property which was extrajudicially foreclosed by the Rural Bank of Barili (Cebu), Inc.

That complainant's cause is more apparent than real is, however, readily evident from the record.

It bears emphasizing that, in addition to the publication of complainant's picture and arrest in the local newspaper, one Ernesto Sandalo has already claimed responsibility for causing the arrest of complainant.  Attached as Annex "J" to complainant's amended complaint-petition, the November 19, 1998 affidavit the said Ernesto Sandalo executed contained the following categorical admissions:

. . .                      . . .                   . . .
That I was able to obtain a copy of the alias warrant of arrest for convict Romeo Ejercito for execution of judgment from Branch 17 sometime in 1992;

That as soon as I noticed that the convict was already roaming around, I went to Barili, Cebu to refer the said warrant;

That I approached Judge Suerte and showed to him the copy of the alias warrant and he instructed one of this subordinates or members of his staff to accompany me to the PNP, Barili, Cebu and so I went to the PNP Office and gave the said warrant to the one (he was alone) sitting beside a table and after that I went home.
. . .                      . . .                   . . .

The foregoing circumstances are obviously the reasons why the respondent's name is mentioned in the December 23, 1997 Extract Copy from the Barili Police Station submitted in evidence as Exhibit "B".

By and of themselves, the following entries from the self-same extract from the Barili Police Blotter do not prove respondent's supposed responsibility for complainant's arrest, viz:
At abt 121010H December 1997, one Romeo Ejercito, accused in Criminal Case No. CBU-CU 13 for Falsification of Public Documents was arrested by PO3 Andres Alpas and PO1 Renato Vergara by virtue (sic) of an order of arrest issued by Judge Jose P. Burgos, Presiding Judge, RTC Branch 17 for Execution of Judgment dated May 31, 1992.  Subject person was turnover to Judge Jose Burgos, RTC, Branch 17 per verbal order of Judge Suerte of RTC Branch 60 of Barili, Cebu.
Rather than the concrete evidence of respondent's abuse of authority which complainant represents them to be, the foregoing entries indicate that complainant's arrest was effected not so much because respondent ordered the same but because the policemen were ill-informed about the subsequent developments in Criminal Case No. CU-13.  While it may be conceded that the verbal directive from respondent smacked of irregularity - more so, in view of the apparent bad blood which exists between the parties - the same, having been given after complainant had been arrested, cannot serve as sufficient basis for holding him liable for oppression and harassment.

. . .                 . . .                   . . .

Even without the benefit of a cross-examination from respondent, the falsity of complainant's testimony is, however, evident from the fact that the March 31, 1991 alias warrant issued for his arrest was only quashed on March 19, 1992 or roughly five months after his supposed arrest by operatives of the Cebu City Police on October 16, 1991. This material discrepancy as to dates belies complainant's claim that as early as his first arrest, Judge Jesus dela Pena ordered his release on the ground that the alias warrant being enforced had already been quashed.[7]

. . .                 . . .                   . . .

. . . Viewed alongside the categorical denial by SPO3 Andres Alpas and SPO1 Renato Vergara of respondent's complicity in the arrest, the inconsistencies in and the inconclusiveness of complainant's evidence, in fine, bolster confidence in Ernesto Sandalo's acknowledgement of his direct involvement in respondent's arrest.

The veracity of respondent's complicity in the arrest thus discounted, it matters little that Angel Cang testified regarding the prior threats the former supposedly made to have complainant arrested.  Even if accorded precipitate credibility on its face, said testimony is insufficient to hold respondent liable for the charges imputed against him in the complaint. Together with a reminder that forum shopping exists only when the elements of litis pendentia are present or where a final judgment in one case will amount to res judicata in another, respondent may, at most, be sternly warned to be more circumspect in his official and personal deportment.  A judge is the visible representation of the law and the embodiment of the people's sense of justice.  Accordingly, he should constantly keep himself away from any act of impropriety, not only in the performance of his official duties but also in his everyday actuations.

Not having been supported by substantial evidence which is the quantum of proof required in administrative cases such as this, the complaint against respondent judge must correspondingly fail.[8]  (Emphasis supplied)
Accordingly, the Investigating Justice recommends that the complaint against respondent judge be dismissed.

We agree with the findings and recommendation of the Investigating Justice.

In administrative proceeedings, the burden of proof that respondent committed the acts complained of rests on the complainant.[9] In the present case, complainant contends that respondent judge caused his arrest on December 12, 1997 on the basis of the already invalidated warrant of arrest dated May 31, 1991 as the case against him had already been dismissed.  However, we find a dearth of evidence to support this allegation. None of the documentary evidence presented by complainant directly links respondent to his arrest.  Neither did the testimonies of complainants' witnesses, Philip Medel, Jr.[10] and Angel Cang[11] prove that respondent is the one responsible for said arrest.  Complainant simply relies on the alleged statements made by the arresting officers that they were acting on the strength of the verbal order made by respondent judge directing them to arrest complainant.  However, in their sworn Joint Counter-Affidavits, arresting officers SPO3 Andres Alpas and SPO1 Renato Vergara categorically denied that it was respondent Judge who instructed them to arrest complainant.[12]

Ernesto Sandalo, in a sworn affidavit, admitted responsibility in causing the complainant's arrest.[13] Sandalo asserts however that after obtaining a copy of the alias warrant of arrest, he approached respondent judge and showed him a copy of the said warrant.  Upon instructions of respondent Judge, he was accompanied by a member of respondent Judge's staff when he referred the warrant to the PNP, Barili, Cebu.

Complainant's evidence further shows that after his arrest, he was initially brought before the sala of respondent Judge and it was the latter who verbally ordered that complainant be turned over to Judge Jose Burgos, the judge who issued the warrant of arrest.

In Ermelyn A. Limbona vs. Judge Casan Ali Limbona, we held that even in an administrative case, the Rules of Court require that if the respondent judge should be disciplined for grave misconduct or any graver offense, the evidence against him should be competent and should be derived from direct knowledge. The judiciary to which the respondent belongs demands no less. Before any of its members could be faulted, competent evidence should be presented, especially since the charge is penal in character. [14]

Moreover we have held in De Guzman vs. Dy[15] that:
The ground for the removal of a judicial officer should be established beyond reasonable doubt. Such is the rule where the charges upon which the removal is sought is misconduct in office, willful neglect, corruption or incompetence. The general rules in regards to admissibility of evidence in criminal trials apply.
In the present case, we find that complainant failed to discharge the burden of proving the allegations in his complaint by the required quantum of evidence.

Nevertheless, the Court agrees with the observation of the Investigating Justice that respondent, under the facts and circumstances of the case, should be admonished to be more circumspect in his official and personal deportment.  Upon being shown a copy of the alias warrant of arrest, he should have advised Sandalo to go to the sala of Judge Burgos who had issued the same so as to avoid any misapprehension against him (respondent) as what happened in this case.

WHEREFORE, the present administrative complaint against respondent Judge Ildefonso B. Suerte is DISMISSED for insufficiency of evidence.  However, respondent is admonished to be more circumspect in his official and personal deportment.


Bellosillo, J., (Chairman), Quisumbing, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, pp. 6-8.

[2] Id., p. 17.

[3] Id., pp. 61-63.

[4] Id., p. 64.

[5] Id., p. 210.

[6] Report and Recommendation, pp. 1-4.

[7] Id., pp. 4-7.

[8] Id., p. 10.

[9] Cea vs. Paguio, A.M. No. MTJ-03-1479, February 17, 2003.

[10] TSN, April 25, 2000.

[11] TSN, June 9, 2003.

[12] Annex "A", Rollo, p. 19.

[13] Annex "J", Rollo, p. 55.

[14] A.M. No. SCC-03-08, June 16, 2003.

[15] A.M. No. RTJ-03-1755, July 3, 2003.

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