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443 Phil. 33

SECOND DIVISION

[ A.M. No. MTJ-03-1469, January 13, 2003 ]

ROLANDO GUYUD, COMPLAINANT, VS. JUDGE RENATO P. PINE, MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT, ECHAGUE, ISABELA, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

MENDOZA, J.:

This is a complaint against Judge Renato P. Pine of the Municipal Trial Court of Echague, Isabela for misconduct due to gross ignorance of the law.

Complainant Rolando Guyud, together with eight other accused, all residents of Barangay Gumbaoan, Echague, Isabela, were charged with libel[1] by a certain Jeffrey Iloreta, also a resident of Barangay Gumbaoan, Echague, Isabela. The criminal complaint[2] against complainant and the other accused alleged:
That on or about July 2, 2001 at Barangay Gumbaoan, Echague, Isabela and within the preliminary jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused conspired and confederated [and] made certification as barangay officials of this barangay, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously wrote “THAT UNDERSIGNED IS NOT A LAW ABIDING MEMBER OF THIS BARANGAY AND [HAS] MANY BAD RECORDS AND [IS] FACING PENDING CASES IN COURT” and which words tend to cause dishonor, discredit or contempt over the person of the undersigned and his family to the damage and prejudice of the same.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

Echague, Isabela, July 12, 2001.


(original signed)

JEFFREY ILORETA

Complainant
On August 14, 2001, Atty. Marcelino J. Alzate, Branch Clerk of Court of MTC of Echague, issued a subpoena[3] requiring complainant and his co-accused to appear before the court on September 5, 2001, at 8:30 in the morning, for preliminary investigation. On August 28, 2001, the accused moved for the dismissal of the case on the ground that in cases of libel, except for the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, only a municipal trial court judge in the capital town of the province can conduct a preliminary investigation. Since Echague is not the capital town of Isabela, respondent had no authority to conduct a preliminary investigation in this case.[4]

Respondent denied the accused’s motion and, on September 5, 2001, proceeded with the preliminary investigation. On the same day, he issued a warrant for their arrest, fixing the bail bond of each at P8,000.00.[5] The accused, including herein complainant, were arrested while they were attending the hearing of a case in court. The following day, September 6, 2001, they filed a motion for the reduction of their bail to P4,000.00, which respondent granted on the same day. After posting their bail bond in the reduced amount, the accused were ordered released. In his affidavit dated September 12, 2001, complainant alleged that he suffered anxiety and was deeply prejudiced because of his arrest.

On September 19, 2001, respondent issued an order recalling the warrant of arrest he had issued and remanded the records of the case to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor for the holding of a preliminary investigation. In his order, respondent stated:[6]
The accused stand charged of the crime of Libel by means of writings defined and penalized under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code which carries a penalty of prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods, hence within the jurisdiction of first level courts pursuant to [B.P. Blg.] 129, as amended.

Moreover, pursuant to Article 360 of the Revised Penal Code on General Provisions relative to the crime of Libel, jurisdiction to try Libel cases rests with the Regional Trial Court and the preliminary investigation to be conducted by the Provincial or City Fiscal of the province or city, or by the Municipal Court of the City or Capital of the Province where such action may be instituted.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, let the Records of the case be forwarded to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor for the conduct of the Preliminary Investigation.

The Warrant Of Arrest earlier issued by this Court and the bailbonds posted by all of the accused are hereby set aside and/or cancelled having been issued/ordered beyond the Court’s jurisdiction.

SO ORDERED.

Echague, Isabela, September 19, 2001.


(original signed)

RENATO P. PINE

Acting Judge
In his comment[7] on the complaint, respondent admitted the foregoing facts. He explains that he is saddled with work and, therefore, is liable to make mistakes. He claims that as soon as he realized his error, he lost no time to correct it by remanding the case to the Prosecutor’s Office, which has jurisdiction to conduct preliminary investigations in libel cases, and ordering the release of the accused. His comment reads:
I humbly admit having conducted a preliminary examination in Criminal Case No. 5807 entitled “People of the Philippines vs. Rolando Guyud, et al.” for “Libel By Means of Writings Or Similar Means” for the purpose of determining a probable cause for the issuance of a Warrant of Arrest considering that the penalty for the crime is only prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods hence, within the jurisdiction of first level courts pursuant to [B.P. Blg.] 129, as amended. The corresponding Warrant of Arrest was subsequently issued on September 5, 2001. The following day, September 6, 2001, five (5) of the [nine (9)] accused, namely: Rolando Guyud, Leon Saet [Jr.], Gil Rivera, Bonifacio Anchola, Sr. and Efren Morada came to Court and filed a Motion To Reduce bail bond by virtue of which the Court lowered the bail bond from P8,000.00 to P4,000.00 On that same day, the aforenamed accused filed their bail bond[s] and were ordered released. On September 19, 2001, after the Court realized having acted beyond its jurisdiction, an Order was issued setting aside the Warrant of Arrest and canceling the bail bonds posted by the accused, copy of the said Order is hereto attached as Annex “A.” The Court then forwarded the Records of the Case to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor for the conduct of the Preliminary Investigation pursuant to Art. 360 of the RPC, as amended. Meanwhile, the bailbonds of the accused were correspondingly returned to each of them by the Clerk of Court.

Your Honor, I only have Wednesdays and Thursdays of every week to attend to cases before the MTC of Echague, Isabela. I conduct preliminary examinations/investigations in the morning of every Wednesdays and make Resolutions and/or Decisions in the afternoon. I hear Civil Cases in the morning of every Thursdays and hear Criminal Cases in the afternoon. Considering the number of cases (which were already considerably reduced) pending with this Court which I have to attend to, plus the cases pending before the MCTC of Jones-San Agustin and the MCTC of Ramon-San Isidro which I also handle, not to mention four (4) special cases assigned to me before the MTC of Cordon, Isabela. I am vulnerable to committing lapses and/or mistakes. At any rate, the mistake has already been corrected with the issuance of the Order dated September 19, 2001, Annex “A” hereof. Practically, the complaint has become moot and academic and the complainant was not damaged because he was ordered released on the same day he submitted himself to the Court and posted his reduced bail which was later returned to him.

Your Honor, I humbly beg for leniency and understanding even as I promise to be more vigilant next time.


Very respectfully yours,



(original signed)

RENATO P. PINE

Acting Judge
In its report, dated August 9, 2002, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) recommends that the case be re-docketed as a regular administrative matter and that respondent judge be fined in the amount of five thousand (P5,000.00) pesos for gross ignorance of the law for conducting a preliminary investigation on the case. Citing the legal maxim “ignorance of the law excuses no one,” the OCA rejects respondent’s explanation and notes that the fact that the accused moved to dismiss the case should have put him on guard that the said case was erroneously filed in his sala.

The recommendation is well taken.

Art. 360 of the Revised Penal Code indeed provides that preliminary investigations of libel cases shall be conducted by the provincial or city prosecutor of the province or city or by the municipal court of the city or capital of the province in which the criminal action may be filed. In this case, the MTC of Echague, over which respondent presides, is not a municipal trial court of the city or of the capital of the province and, therefore, has no jurisdiction to conduct the preliminary investigation of Criminal Case No. 5807. This is a matter which respondent, as presiding judge, ought to know. In Dumo v. Perez, [8] this Court said that although judges cannot be held to account or answer criminally, civilly or administratively for every erroneous judgment or decision rendered by him in good faith, it is imperative that they should have basic knowledge of the law. The jurisdiction of the court over which one presides is such basic matter. To be able to render justice and to maintain public confidence in the legal system, judges must keep abreast of the laws and jurisprudence. Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that judges must be the embodiment of competence, integrity and independence. Obviously, they cannot live up to this expectation if they act in a case without jurisdiction through ignorance.

In Cacayoren v. Suller,[9] the respondent judge was fined P3,000.00 in each case filed against him for misapplying the rulings of the Court by taking cognizance of an action for damages based on malicious prosecution even if there was as yet no acquittal nor final dismissal rendered by the court in the criminal cases. In Ubando-Paras v. Fernandez,[10] the respondent judge was fined P5,000.00 for ordering the release of an accused in a criminal case even though he had paid the bail bond merely by means of a check and did not post a cash bond. In Bajet v. Areola,[11] the respondent judge issued an order authorizing demolition of the improvements on the subject property without first conducting a hearing. He was found guilty of gross ignorance of the law and ordered to pay a fine of P3,000.00.

In other cases, the Court considered the absence of bad faith, or the willful intention to prejudice a party litigant, or any showing that an erring judge was impelled by some ulterior ends or ill motives and, accordingly, mitigated the imposable penalty. In Re: Cases Left Undecided by Judge Narciso M. Bumanglag, Jr.,[12] serious illness justified the inability of the respondent judge to decide before his retirement from the service seven (7) criminal cases and three (3) civil cases within the 90-day reglementary period. The OCA recommended a fine of P5,000.00 to be imposed on the respondent but the Court lowered it to P2,000.00. In Office of the Court Administrator v. Quizon,[13] the Court considered the attenuating circumstances of the respondent judge’s serious illness and his heavy caseload and lowered OCA’s recommended fine of P20,000.00 to P5,000.00. In Chavez v. Escañan,[14] respondent judge was fined P5,000.00 for gross ignorance of the law for issuing orders impleading the owners of the motor vehicle as the accused in a criminal case for reckless imprudence instituted as a result of a vehicular accident involving the said vehicle.

In the case at bar, respondent’s liability is somewhat mitigated by his candor in admitting his mistake and promptly correcting it. Apparently, he did not appreciate the point of law raised when his authority to conduct the preliminary investigation in the libel case was first questioned. But, as soon as he realized his mistake, he lost no time in declaring himself without jurisdiction to continue acting in the case and immediately ordered the release of complainant and his co-accused. A fine of P5,000.00, as recommended by the Office of the Court Administrator, would thus appear to be an appropriate sanction to impose on respondent.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Renato P. Pine of the Municipal Trial Court of Echague, Isabela, is found GUILTY of gross ignorance of the law and is hereby ordered to pay a FINE in the amount of five thousand pesos (P5,000.00) with ADMONITION to be more assiduous in the study of cases and the applicable statute and jurisprudence.

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, (Chairman), Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.



[1] Criminal Case No. 5807, entitled People of the Philippines v. Rolando Guyud, Leon Saet, Jr., Bonifacio Anchola, Sr., Tiburcio Anchola, Herminio Baracao, Gil Rivera, Noli Furuc, Florencio Iloreta and Efren Morada.

[2] Annex A of complainant’s Affidavit; Rollo, p. 3.

[3] Rollo, p. 7.

[4] Annex B of complainant’s Affidavit; Rollo, pp. 4-5.

[5] Rollo, p. 6.

[6] Annex A of respondent’s Comment; Rollo, p. 11.

[7] Rollo, pp. 9-10.

[8] 322 SCRA 545 (2000).

[9] 344 SCRA 159 (2000).

[10] 353 SCRA 11 (2001).

[11] 355 SCRA 69 (2001).

[12] 306 SCRA 50 (1999).

[13] A.M. No. RTJ-01-1636, February 13, 2002.

[14] 343 SCRA 170 (2000).

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