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433 Phil. 25

FIRST DIVISION

[ ADM. MATTER No. RTJ-00-1581 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 98-635-RTJ), July 02, 2002 ]

GOVERNOR MAHID M. MUTILAN, PETITIONER, VS. JUDGE SANTOS B. ADIONG, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 8, MARAWI CITY, RESPONDENT.

DECISION

VITUG, J.:

An administrative complaint charging Judge Santos Adiong of the Regional Trial Court of Marawi City, Branch 8, with gross ignorance of the law, incompetence, and violation of the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act, has been filed by Governor Mahid Mutilan of the Province of Lanao del Sur before the Office of the Court Administrator.  The complaint finds its roots in SPC Civil Case No. 507-98 for mandamus and damages, entitled “Hadji Mangata Mangondato, Sambitory Macadadaya, Mangoramas M.H. Casan, Ms. Umbos Datudacula, Mohmina Pandapatan, Engr. Omar P. Disomangcop, Hadji Hassan D. Montay, Mrs. Sakina A. Cosain and Alonto B. Casir, petitioners vs. Province of Lanao del Sur, Governor Dr. Mahid Mutilan and Anisah D. Usodan, Macapagal Macalaba / Swaib Mohamad in their official capacity / OIC-Provincial Treasurer or any person acting as provincial treasurer of Lanao del Sur, respondents,” involving unpaid salaries of the petitioners from the provincial government.  Complainant, a respondent in SPC Civil Case No. 507-98, claims that Judge Adiong has assumed jurisdiction over the petition immediately upon its filing without conducting any raffle, and that the judge has issued an order requiring the provincial government to answer within ten (10) days from receipt of the petition without it having first been served on complainant.

It would appear that in an order, dated 24 September 1998, Judge Adiong granted the motion of the petitioners to declare the respondents in default.  Upon learning of the order of default, the provincial government, through its counsel Attorney Johnny Marohombsar, filed a motion to set aside the order of default and scheduled its hearing on 14 October 1998.  Judge Adiong, nevertheless, rendered on 5 October 1998, promulgated the following day, a judgment ordering the provincial government of Lanao del Sur “to process, sign and approve the claim vouchers of the petitioners and to pay their just and valid claims in the total amount of P562,966.93; to pay jointly and severally in their official capacities as such respondents to the petitioners the sum of P500,000.00 for moral damages; to pay or indemnify jointly and severally the petitioners the sum of P30,000.00 plus 10% of petitioners’ total claims as attorney’s fees and to pay the costs.”  A copy of the decision was served on and received by the Provincial Government of Lanao del Sur on 6 October 1998.  On the same day, the petitioners filed a joint motion for garnishment on any account or accounts of the Province of Lanao del Sur, Governor Mahid Mutilan, and the Provincial Treasurer with the Philippine National Bank (PNB), Marawi City, for payment of the adjudged claims which was forthwith granted by Judge Adiong.  On 8 October 1998, the petitioners filed a motion for contempt and asking that the PNB immediately release the funds to satisfy the judgment.  In an order, dated 09 October 1998, Judge Adiong, acting on the motion, ordered the PNB to immediately release the funds and the bank manager to explain within 72 hours why she should not be cited for contempt.  In a memorandum, dated 9 October 1998, Sandra M. Ambor, Senior Assistant Manager of the PNB, ordered the release of the amount of P1,154,263.62 to the court in SPC Civil Case No. 507-98.  Subsequently, Judge Adiong issued an order, dated 9 October 1998, directing Sheriff Rimbang Paniambaan to encash the check and disposed of it in accordance with the decision of 5 October 1998.

Required to comment, respondent judge maintained that the complaint was a form of harassment against him due to the adverse rulings suffered by complainant.  He denied the charge that no raffle was conducted.  He submitted the affidavit of Cairoding P. Maruhom, Clerk of Court IV, attesting to the fact that Civil Case No. 507-98 was among the fifteen (15) cases raffled on 01 October 1998 in which the case was assigned to respondent judge.  He averred that he had issued an order requiring complainant to answer the petition for mandamus which order was duly served.  For failing to file an answer within the reglementary period, the respondents were, upon motion filed by the petitioners, declared in default.  Subsequently, a judgment by default was served on the provincial government.  Respondent judge maintained that Attorney Johnny Marohombsar, counsel for the provincial government, only filed his entry of appearance when he submitted the motion to lift the order of default on 05 October 1998.  Respondent judge denied having been benefited from the amount garnished and later awarded to the petitioners.  There was, he said, no undue injury to the provincial government since the claims of the petitioners represented their unpaid salaries, ACA/PERA, mid-year bonus and RATA for the past 5 or 6 months.

The Office of the Court Administrator (“OCA”), in its memorandum of 27 June 2000, found respondent judge to have ignored established rules and legal principles, and it recommended that respondent judge be ordered to pay a fine of one thousand pesos (P1,000.00), with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar act would be dealt with severely.  The Court, in its resolution of 02 August 2000, required the parties to manifest within twenty (20) days from notice, whether they were submitting the case on the basis of the pleadings/records theretofore on file.  On 22 November 2000, the Court, noting the compliance/manifestation of complainant who opted for a hearing of the case in order to cross-examine respondent judge and to verify the authenticity of the documents he had submitted, referred the case to the Court of Appeals, thereupon assigned to Associate Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando, for investigation, report and recommendation.

On 02 July 2001, Investigating Justice Salazar-Fernando submitted her report and findings:
“One of the substantial changes in the rule on the declaration of default introduced in the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure is that the defendant must be notified of the motion and of the order of default, to wit:
“`Sec. 3.  Default; declaration of. – If the defending party fails to answer within the time allowed therefor, the court shall, upon motion of the claiming party with notice to the defending party, and proof of such failure, declare the defending party in default.  Thereupon, the court shall proceed to render judgment granting the claimant such relief as his pleading may warrant, unless the court in its discretion requires the claimant to submit evidence.  Such reception of evidence may be delegated to the clerk of court.’  (Emphasis supplied)
“Under the former rule, the law was silent on whether or not there was need for notice of a motion to declare defendant in default.  The Supreme Court then ruled in the case of Phil. British Co. Inc v. Angeles [63 SCRA 50] and Dulo v. Court of Appeals [188 SCRA 413] that there was no need.  The present rule requires that the motion by the claiming party should be with notice to the defending party.

“A perusal of the Motion to Declare Defendants In Default reveals non-compliance by therein petitioners to the afore-stated rule as there was no proof of service showing that therein respondents were notified or served with a copy of the motion.

“Sec. 6, Rule 15 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure provides:
“`SEC. 6.  Proof of service necessary. – No written motion set for hearing shall be acted upon by the court without proof of service thereof.’
“Likewise, the said Motion suffers from another defect since the Notice of Hearing was addressed to the Clerk of Court and not to the parties, as required in Sec. 5, Rule 15 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, to wit:
“`SEC. 5.  Notice of hearing. – The notice of hearing shall be addressed to all parties concerned, and shall specify the time and date of the hearing which must not be later than ten (10) days after the filing of the motion.’
“Without the proof of service, the rule mandates that the same shall not be acted upon by the court.  This rule was clarified by the Supreme Court, to wit:
“`In Manakil v. Revilla we held that the court will not act on the motion if there is no proper notice and/or proof of service of notice on the adverse party.  It is nothing but a useless piece of paper filed with the court.  It is not a motion.  It presents no question which the court could decide.  The court has no reason to consider it and the clerk has no right to receive it without compliance with the rules.  Harsh as they may seem, these rules were introduced to avoid a capricious change of mind in order to provide due process to both parties and ensure impartiality in the trial.’
“Despite the strict requirement, respondent judge acted upon, and even granted the motion.

“Anent the allegation that a copy of the decision was not served to complainant’s counsel but to the provincial government, it is a fact that the Decision although dated October 5, 1998 was promulgated October 6, 1998.  In this case, the respondent judge is presumed to have notice that herein complainant is represented by a counsel since the motion to set aside the order of default was signed by a counsel.  Records sufficiently established that the decision dated October 5, 1998 was indeed promulgated October 6, 1998.  Therefore, respondent judge had no excuse or reason not to have notice or knowledge of the fact that herein complainant is represented by a counsel.  He should not have acted on the motion and rendered the judgment by default without notifying the parties through their counsel.

“On October 6, 1998, the petitioners in the Civil Case filed a Joint Motion for Garnishment, which was approved by respondent judge on the same day.  The writ of garnishment was in fact a discretionary execution of the decision which should comply with Section 2(a), Rule 39 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, to wit:
“`SEC. 2.  Discretionary execution.

`(a) Execution of a judgment or final order pending appeal. – On motion of the prevailing party with notice to the adverse party filed in the trial court while it has jurisdiction over the case and is in possession of either the original record or the record on appeal, as the case may be, at the time of the filing of such motion, said court may, in its discretion, order execution of a judgment or final order even before the expiration of the period to appeal.

`x x x.’  (Emphasis supplied)
“It is evident that the Joint Motion for Garnishment is patently defective since there is no evidence that the adverse party was notified.  Besides, the notice of hearing was likewise addressed to the Clerk of Court and not to the defending party.

“x x x             x x x                 x x x

“All told, it is evident that the utter disregard of the established rules and principles is convincing proof of respondent judge’s gross ignorance of the law. However, absent an iota of evidence that respondent judge benefited from the said transaction, the charge of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act must fail.”
Thus, the Investigating Justice, finding respondent judge guilty of gross ignorance of the law, recommended that he be ordered to pay a fine in the amount of five thousand pesos (P5,000.00) with the warning that a repetition of the same or similar act would be dealt with severely.

The Court agrees with the Investigating Justice.  A perusal of the motion to declare the respondent in SPC Civil Case No. 507-98 in default, as well as the joint motion for garnishment filed by the petitioners, shows non-compliance with the proof of service and notice of hearing requirements.  Rule 15, Sections 4 and 6, of the Revised Rules of Court explicitly provides that every motion required to be heard shall include a notice of hearing, which should be sent to the other party at least three days before the date of hearing, unless the court sets the hearing on shorter notice.  Proof of service is mandatory.  The Court has invariably held that a motion without a notice of hearing is a mere scrap of paper.[1] Respondent judge has acted too swiftly; he has granted petitioners’ motion to declare the respondents in default, as well as the joint motion for garnishment, without giving the provincial government the opportunity to be heard.  Clearly, respondent judge has ignored a fundamental rule.

A judge should be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence.[2] When a judge displays an utter lack of familiarity with the rules, he erodes the confidence of the public in the courts.  A judge owes the public and the court the duty to be proficient in the law and is expected to keep abreast of laws and prevailing jurisprudence.[3] Ignorance of the law by a judge can easily be the mainspring of injustice.[4]

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Judge Santos B. Adiong of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 8, Marawi City, guilty of gross ignorance of the law, and hereby imposes on him a fine of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS with a stern warning that repetition of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with most severely.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Kapunan, Ynares-Santiago, and Austria-Martinez, JJ., concur.



[1] Sembrano vs. Ramirez, 166 SCRA 30.

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

[3] A.M. No. MTJ-96-1109, 16 April 2001, Jovenal Oporto Jr., vs. Judge Eddie Monserate.

[4] A.M. No. MTJ-00-1255, 26 February 2001, Melvin Espino, et al. vs. Hon. Ismael Salubre.

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