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445 Phil. 524

SECOND DIVISION

[ A.M. No. MTJ-00-1287 (Formerly AM-OCA IPI No. 99-793-MTJ), February 17, 2003 ]

ROGELIO G. CAPULONG, PETITIONER, VS. JUDGE VINCI G. GOZUM, MTC, FLORIDABLANCA, PAMPANGA, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

In two verified complaint-affidavits dated August 25, 1999 and September 7, 1999 filed with Executive Judge Rogelio C. Gonzales of the Regional Trial Court of Guagua, Pampanga, complainant Rogelio G. Capulong charged Judge Vinci G. Gozum of the Municipal Trial Court of Floridablanca, Pampanga, with “Grave Misconduct and Gross Ignorance of the Law” relative to two criminal cases which complainant Capulong had filed, to wit: (a) Criminal Case No. 5288, entitled “People of the Philippines vs. Proceso T. Sabado, Rudy P. Serrano, Mardito Ta-a and Auxencio S. Ipac,” for Qualified Theft; and (b) Criminal Case No. 5316, entitled “People of the Philippines vs. Proceso T. Sabado,“ for Frustrated Murder.[1] Both criminal cases were provisionally dismissed by respondent Judge “for failure on the part of the prosecution to conduct the preliminary investigation.”[2]

The complaints before Judge Gonzales were docketed as Administrative Cases Nos. G-99-01 and G-99-02.[3] On September 8, 1999, Judge Gonzales referred the two complaints to respondent Judge, requiring him to answer within ten days from receipt.[4] In his Answer dated September 13, 1999, respondent Judge denied the charges against him.[5]

In the meantime, Capulong sent the same complaints-affidavits to Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr.[6] On October 29, 1999, then Court Administrator Alfredo L. Benipayo referred the complaints to respondent Judge for his comment.[7]

In his Comments dated November 15, 1999 and November 19, 1999, respondent Judge vigorously denied the charges. He claimed that the provisional dismissals in both cases were in accordance with law and procedure and issued so as to give complainant the opportunity to pursue his case by securing the services of another counsel because of the repeated failure of complainant’s counsel to appear and participate in the conduct of the preliminary investigation.[8]

Meanwhile, after hearing both parties in Administrative Cases Nos. G-99-01 and G-99-02, Judge Gonzales submitted his Report dated December 27, 1999 to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA). He pointed out that: (a) under Rule 112 of the Rules of Court, the investigating officer, whether a fiscal or municipal judge, has complete control in the conduct of a preliminary investigation; and (b) the presence of a private counsel for the complainant is not required for he is not allowed to participate in the conduct of the preliminary investigation.

Judge Gonzales found that respondent Judge committed an error of judgment in provisionally dismissing the two criminal cases; that however, such error does not render him liable since no proof was adduced to show that the error was made with deliberate intent to do an injustice; that inasmuch as the dismissal was without prejudice, complainant could have refiled the cases but he failed to do so because of his insistence that respondent Judge refused to accept the receipt which has nothing to do with refiling of the cases.

Judge Gonzales recommended that respondent Judge be simply admonished to be more circumspect in the performance of his duties.[9]

In its Report dated June 5, 2000, the OCA adopted the findings of Judge Gonzales but recommended to this Court that respondent Judge be fined in the amount of P10,000.00, instead of simple admonition. It observed that the rules governing the procedure for conducting preliminary investigations are not new and are quite simple that these are not difficult to follow and, therefore, to not know a law which is elementary constitutes gross ignorance of the law.[10]

In a Resolution dated July 5, 2000, the Court re-docketed the case as Administrative Matter No. MTJ-00-1287 and referred the same to the Executive Judge, Regional Trial Court, Third Judicial Region, Guagua, Pampanga for investigation, report and recommendation.[11]

In his letter dated August 28, 2000, Judge Gonzales clarified that the case referred to him by the Court for investigation is the very same case filed in his court by herein complainant. Thus, to avoid duplication of work, he is adopting his investigation report dated December 27, 1999 as his report in compliance with the resolution of the Court dated July 5, 2000.[12]

Meanwhile, in a letter dated January 31, 2001, complainant informed the Court that his motion to revive/reopen Criminal Cases Nos. 5316 and 5288 have remained unacted upon by the respondent Judge.[13]

In his Comment dated March 26, 2001, respondent Judge denied complainant’s allegation. He stated that complainant’s motion to revive was acted upon by Judge Jesusa Mylene C. Suba-Isip who took over his court while he was on official leave of absence for the whole month of October 2000. The motions were denied by Judge Suba-Isip based on the two resolutions of Prosecution Attorney II Katrina N.S. Buena-Factora and Provincial Prosecutor Jesus Y. Manarang.[14]

In its Memorandum dated August 28, 2000, the OCA reiterated the conclusions in its report dated June 5, 2000 finding respondent Judge liable for gross ignorance of the law and recommending that he be fined in the amount of P10,000.00.

The Court finds the recommendation of the OCA to be well taken.

On the matter of the alleged inaction of respondent Judge on complainant’s motion to revive Criminal Cases Nos. 5316 and 5288, the Court finds that such allegation is negated by the Joint Order issued by Judge Jesusa Mylene C. Suba-Isip denying the same for insufficiency of evidence.[15] Furthermore, it appears that respondent Judge was indeed on vacation leave from October 2 to October 31 2000, per verification with the Leave Division, Supreme Court.

The root cause of the complaints is the unfamiliarity of respondent Judge with the rules on preliminary investigation.

Sections 1, 2 and 3 of Rule 112 of the Rules of Court provides:
“SECTION 1. Definition. – Preliminary investigation is an inquiry or proceeding for the purpose of determining whether there is sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that a crime cognizable by the Regional Trial Court has been committed and that the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial.”

“SEC. 2. Officers authorized to conduct a preliminary investigation:

“(a) Provincial or City Fiscals and their assistants;

“(b) Judges of the Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts;

“(c) National and Regional State Prosecutors; and

“(d) Such other officers as may be authorized by law.

“Their authority to conduct preliminary investigation shall include all crimes cognizable by the proper court in their respective territorial jurisdictions.”

“SEC. 3. Procedure. – Except as provided for in Section 7 hereof, no complaint or information for an offense cognizable by the Regional Trial Court shall be filed without a preliminary investigation having been first conducted in the following manner:

“(a) The complaint shall state the known address of the respondent and be accompanied by affidavits of the complainant and his witnesses as well as other supporting documents, in such number of copies as there are respondents, plus two (2) copies for the official file. The said affidavits shall be sworn to before any fiscal, state prosecutor or government official authorized to administer oath, or, in their absence or unavailability, a notary public, who must certify that he personally examined the affiants and that he is satisfied that they voluntarily executed and understood their affidavits.

“(b) Within ten (10) days after the filing of the complaint, the investigating officer shall either dismiss the same if he finds no ground to continue with the inquiry or issue a subpoena to the respondent, attaching thereto a copy of the complaint, affidavits and other supporting documents. Within ten (10) days from receipt thereof, the respondent shall submit counter-affidavits and other supporting documents. He shall have the right to examine all other evidence submitted by the complainant.

“(c) Such counter-affidavits and other supporting evidence submitted by the respondent shall also be sworn to and certified as prescribed in paragraph (a) hereof and copies thereof shall be furnished by him to the complainant.

“(d) If the respondent cannot be subpoenaed, or if subpoenaed, does not submit counter-affidavits within the ten (10) day period, the investigating officer shall base his resolution on the evidence presented by the complainant.

“(e) If the investigating officer believes that there are matters to be clarified, he may set a hearing to propound clarificatory questions to the parties or their witnesses, during which the parties shall be afforded an opportunity to be present but without the right to examine or cross-examine. If the parties so desire, they may submit questions to the investigating officer which the latter may propound to the parties or witnesses concerned.

“(f) Thereafter, the investigation shall be deemed concluded, and the investigating officer shall resolve the case within ten (10) days therefrom. Upon the evidence thus adduced, the investigating officer shall determine whether or not there is sufficient ground to hold the respondent for trial.”[16]
Clearly therefore, respondent Judge erred in dismissing the two criminal complaints on the ground that the prosecution failed to conduct the preliminary investigation due to the absence of complainant’s counsel. Nowhere in the rules is it stated that the counsel of the complainant is authorized to conduct the preliminary investigation; nor is his presence mandatory. His error visibly indicates his lack of sufficient grasp of the law. The procedure he followed is clearly erroneous, thus precluding inference that they were due only to some mistake or mere inadvertence.[17]

Municipal Judges are the front-line officers in the administration of justice.[18] They have direct contact with the grass roots. As such, they are the most visible representation of the Judiciary. Having accepted the exalted position of a judge, he owes the public and the court the duty to be proficient in the law.[19] The Court has repeatedly impressed on judges the need to be diligent in keeping abreast with developments in law and jurisprudence, for the study of law is a never-ending and ceaseless process.[20]

No less than the Code of Judicial Conduct mandates that a judge shall be faithful to the laws and maintain professional competence.[21] Indeed, competence is a mark of a good judge. Basic rules must be at the palm of his hands. There will be great faith in the administration of justice if the party litigants believe that the occupants of the bench cannot justly be accused of apparent deficiency in their grasp of legal principles.[22]

One cannot seek refuge in a mere cursory acquaintance with the law and procedural rules. Ignorance of the law, which everyone is bound to know, excuses no one,[23] especially respondent Judge who has been a judge since January 24, 1983 or for sixteen years.[24] Ignorantia juris quod quisque scire tenetur non excusat.[25] When the law is so elementary, as in this case, not to be aware of it constitutes gross ignorance of the law.[26]

Under Section 8 of A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC amending Rule 140 of the Rules of Court on the Discipline of Justices and Judges, which took effect on October 1, 2001, gross ignorance of the law is classified as a serious charge which carries with it a penalty of either dismissal from service, suspension or a fine of more than Twenty Thousand (P20,000.00) Pesos but not exceeding Forty Thousand (P40,000.00) Pesos. However, considering that the incident took place on April 21, 1999 which is before A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC took effect, we are constrained to agree with the recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Vinci G. Gozum is found guilty of Gross Ignorance of the Law and is hereby FINED the amount of Ten Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos, with stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense will be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

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



[1] Rollo, pp. 47-48.

[2] Rollo, pp. 3, 26.

[3] Rollo, pp. 55-56.

[4] Rollo, p. 52.

[5] Rollo, p. 53.

[6] Rollo, pp. 1-2, 21-24.

[7] Rollo, p. 12.

[8] Rollo, pp. 14, 40-41.

[9] Rollo, pp. 80-83.

[10] Rollo, pp. 103-105.

[11] Rollo, pp. 106-107.

[12] Rollo, pp. 109-110.

[13] Rollo, pp. 115-116.

[14] Rollo, p. 126.

[15] Rollo, p. 127.

[16] Prior to amendments under the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, effective December 1, 2000.

[17] Hermo vs. Dela Rosa, 299 SCRA 68, 73 (1998).

[18] Agunday vs. Tresvalles, 319 SCRA 134, 145 (1999).

[19] Oporto, Jr. vs. Monserate, 356 SCRA 443, 450 (2001).

[20] Aguilar vs. Dalanao, 333 SCRA 62, 69 (2000).

[21] Canon 3, Rule 3.01, Code of Judicial Conduct.

[22] Padua vs. Molina, 346 SCRA 592, 599 (2000); Supena vs. De la Rosa, 267 SCRA 1, 15 (1997).

[23] Judge Cabatingan, Sr. vs. Judge Arcueno, A.M. No. MTJ-00-1323, August 22, 2002, p. 9; De Austria vs. Beltran, 313 SCRA 443, 452 (1999).

[24] Rollo, p. 105.

[25] Carpio vs. De Guzman, 262 SCRA 615, 622 (1996); Aurillo, Jr. vs. Francisco, 235 SCRA 283, 289 (1994).

[26] Pascual vs. Judge Jovellanos, A.M. No. MTJ-02-1429, October 4, 2002, p. 9; Dayawon vs. Judge Garfin, A.M. No. MTJ-01-1367, September 5, 2002, p.8.

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