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434 Phil. 753

EN BANC

[ A.M. No. CA-02-33, July 31, 2002 ]

TAN TIAC CHIONG, COMPLAINANT, VS. HON. RODRIGO V. COSICO, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE, COURT OF APPEALS, RESPONDENT.

R E S O L U T I O N

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

On December 8, 2000, the Office of the Court Administrator received a sworn Letter-Complaint dated December 4, 2000,[1] signed by complainant Tan Tiac Chiong a.k.a. Ernie Tan, charging respondent Court of Appeals Associate Justice Rodrigo V. Cosico with Grave Abuse of Discretion and Conduct Prejudicial to the Service, relative to CA-G.R. CR No. 13844 entitled, “People of the Philippines v. Jesusa T. Dela Cruz.”

Complainant alleged that in a criminal case he filed for violation of B.P. Blg. 22, accused Dela Cruz was convicted by the Regional Trial Court of Manila and he was awarded the amount of more or less P1,602,505.00. An appeal was filed by the accused which was docketed as CA-G.R. CR No. 13844. On October 13, 1998, the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Manila was affirmed in toto by the Court of Appeals with the respondent as ponente. An Entry of Judgment was issued making the decision final and executory as of December 2, 1998. On January 11, 1999, the records of the case were remanded to the Regional Trial Court for execution as well as the payment of back taxes. Pursuant to the writ of execution issued on January 12, 1999, the Office of the Ex-Oficio Sheriff of Manila posted a Notice of Sale on Execution of Real Property, setting the auction sale for March 8, 1999.[2 ]

In February 2000, complainant learned that a Motion for Reconsideration was filed by the accused with the Court of Appeals. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) did not file any responsive pleading to the motion for reconsideration. On January 24, 2000, respondent issued a Resolution[3] reversing his earlier ponencia of October 13, 1998.

Complainant further charged that there was an alleged connivance between respondent, the counsel of accused Dela Cruz and the OSG because while counsel for the accused maintained that he received a copy of the October 13, 1998 Decision only on April 30, 1999, he filed his twenty-seven page Motion for Reconsideration on the same day.[4] This, according to complainant, was a superhuman thing to do considering that a pleading consisting of twenty-seven (27) pages would normally take several days to prepare.

In his Comment with Motion to Dismiss,[5] respondent denied the allegations of the complaint. He argued that, assuming without admitting that an error of judgment was committed, the well-established rule is that an administrative case is not the proper remedy for alleged errors of judgment. Respondent alleged that on March 16, 1999, accused-appellant filed a “Motion to Recall Entry of Judgment and to Restrain Execution of Judgment” on the ground that the decision dated October 13, 1998 has not yet become final because neither she nor her counsel had received a copy of the decision. Upon verification, it was discovered that a copy of the decision sent to the former address of accused-appellant’s counsel was returned to the Court of Appeals. On April 19, 1999, the Motion to Recall Entry of Judgment and to Restrain Execution of Judgment was granted and a copy of the Decision dated October 13, 1998 was again sent to the new address of accused-appellant’s counsel, who filed a Motion for Reconsideration, attaching thereto a Statement of Deliveries and Payments of Teacher’s Uniforms showing an overpayment of P2,993,595.36 by accused-appellant. The Office of the Solicitor General was directed to file a comment within 10 days from notice. However, despite several extensions granted, the OSG failed to file any comment. Hence, the Motion for Reconsideration was submitted for resolution without the appellee’s comment.

On January 24, 2000, the Motion for Reconsideration was granted, in effect acquitting the accused-appellant. Complainant filed an Urgent Motion for Reconsideration praying that the civil aspect of the case be reinstated and the Court’s Resolution dated January 24, 2000 be recalled. The motion for reconsideration was denied. A petition for certiorari was filed before this Court which was, however, denied on July 10, 2000.

In his Reply,[6] complainant insists that respondent acted with “partiality” and “bias” in favor of accused-appellant because the recall of an entry of judgment, as a rule, is prohibited and allowed only in extremely justifiable causes. To allow the same on the ground that there was no proper service of the decision would be a dangerous precedent. He avers that accused-appellant had knowledge of the decision when she filed a motion for reconsideration on May 4, 1999, which was way beyond the reglementary period of fifteen (15) days.

Respondent filed a Rejoinder with Motion for Early Decision,[7] wherein he argues that the complaint is dismissible because the same is based purely on conjecture and speculation.

In his Comment to Rejoinder,[8] complainant insists that the recall of entry of judgment was unwarranted because accused-appellant and counsel were apprised of the judgment when they received a copy of the writ of execution to which was appended a copy of the decision. Hence, the decision had become final and executory fifteen days after receipt of the writ because knowledge is equivalent to notice. Furthermore, the claim that the decision was sent to the wrong address is not true because counsel used two addresses alternately in the filing of pleadings, one in Las Piñas City and the other in Pasay City, thereby causing confusion in the sending of notices. Counsel for the accused failed to notify the court of any change of address, hence, he should not be allowed to profit from his negligence.

Based on the respective motions for early decision filed by complainant[9] and respondent Justice,[10] the Court deemed the case submitted for resolution.

Misconduct is defined as any unlawful conduct on the part of a person concerned in the administration of justice prejudicial to the rights of parties or to the right determination of the cause.[11] It generally means wrongful, improper or unlawful conduct motivated by a premeditated, obstinate or intentional purpose.[12] To justify the taking of drastic disciplinary action, the law requires that the error or mistake must be gross or patent, malicious, deliberate or in bad faith.[13]

For liability to attach, the assailed order, decision or actuation of the judge in the performance of official duty must not only be found to be erroneous but, most importantly, it must be established that he was moved by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred or some other like motive.[14] Similarly, a judge will be held administratively liable for rendering an unjust judgment – one which is contrary to law or jurisprudence or is not supported by evidence – when he acts in bad faith, malice, revenge or some other similar motive.[15]

In other words, in order to hold a judge liable for knowingly rendering an unjust judgment, it must be shown beyond reasonable doubt that the judgment was made with a conscious and deliberate intent to do an injustice.[16] In fine, bad faith is the ground for liability in either or both offenses.[17] This criteria can not be applied to respondent Justice since there is no showing of any wrongful, improper or unlawful conduct on his part.

The records reveal that a copy of the decision of the Court of Appeals dated October 13, 1998 was sent to the former address of accused-appellant’s counsel at Room 502, Doña Generosa Building, EDSA Extension, Pasay City; however, the same was returned to the Court of Appeals with the notation “Moved Out.”[18] Thus, the appellate court recalled the Entry of Judgment dated December 2, 1998 and sent a copy of the decision to counsel’s new address at Lot 1, Block 1 St. Vincent Street, St. Joseph Subdivision, Pulang Lupa, Las Piñas City.[19] Accused-appellant thereafter filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which was granted.

The right to appeal is not a natural but a statutory right. Generally, the party who seeks to avail of the same must comply with the requirements of the rules; failing to do so, the right to appeal is lost.[20] However, under exceptional circumstances, delay in the filing of an appeal may be excused on grounds of substantial justice.[21] Where a rigid application of the rule will result in a manifest failure or miscarriage of justice, technicalities may be disregarded in order to resolve the case. Litigations should, as much as possible, be decided on the merits and not on technicalities.[22] Since rules of procedure are mere tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice, their strict and rigid application which would result in technicalities that tend to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice must always be avoided.[23] Technicality should not be allowed to stand in the way of equitably and completely resolving the rights and obligations of the parties.[24] In Aguam v. CA, et al.,[25]  the following ruling was made with regard to dismissal of appeals filed with the appellate court, viz:

x x x. The court has the discretion to dismiss or not to dismiss an appellant’s appeal. It is a power conferred on the court, not a duty. The “discretion must be a sound one, to be exercised in accordance with the tenets of justice and fair play, having in mind the circumstances obtaining in each case.” Technicalities must, however, be avoided. The law abhors technicalities that impede the cause of justice. The court’s primary duty is to render or dispense justice “A litigation is not a game of technicalities.” “Lawsuits unlike duels are not to be won by a rapier’s thrust. Technicality, when it deserts its proper office as an aid to justice and becomes its great hindrance and chief enemy, deserves scant consideration from courts.” Litigations must be decided on their merits and not on technicality. Every party litigant must be afforded the amplest opportunity for the proper and just determination of his cause, free from the unacceptable plea of technicalities. Thus, dismissal of appeals purely on technical grounds is frowned upon where the policy of the court is to encourage hearings of appeals on their merits and the rules of procedure ought not to be applied in a very rigid, technical sense; rules of procedure are used only to help secure, not override substantial justice. It is a far better and more prudent course of action for the court to excuse a technical lapse and afford the parties a review of the case on appeal to attain the ends of justice rather than dispose of the case on technicality and cause a grave injustice to the parties, giving a false impression of speedy disposal of cases while actually resulting in more delay, if not miscarriage of justice. (Emphasis ours)

The foregoing ruling should be applied with more reason in criminal cases, considering that an accused stands to lose life, liberty or property if found culpable. Given the prevailing facts of this case, respondent can hardly be faulted for he actually hewed to the dictates of the foregoing judicial pronouncement.

The recall of entries of judgments, albeit rare, is not a novelty. In Muñoz v. CA,[26] where the case was elevated to this Court and a first and second motion for reconsideration had been denied with finality, the Court, in the interest of substantial justice, recalled the Entry of Judgment as well as the letter of transmittal of the records to the Court of Appeals.

Even assuming for the nonce that respondent Justice may have erred at all, the lapse would be an error of judgment. A judge may not be administratively charged for mere errors of judgment, in the absence of showing of any bad faith malice or corrupt purpose.[27] Indeed, it is settled that judges, or Justices of superior courts for that matter, can not be held to account criminally, civilly or administratively for an erroneous decision rendered in good faith.[28]

The Court understands the frustration that litigants and lawyers alike would at times encounter in procedural bureaucracy, but imperative justice requires proper observance of indisputable technicalities precisely designed to ensure its proper dispensation.[29] As we held in Dionisio v. Escano:[30] “[I]f a party is prejudiced by the orders of a judge, his remedy lies with the proper court for the proper judicial action and not with the Office of the Court Administrator by means of an administrative complaint.”[31]

In administrative proceedings, the complainants have the burden of proving by substantial evidence the allegations in their complaints.[32] In the absence of contrary evidence as in the case at bar, what will prevail is the presumption that the respondent has regularly performed his duties.[33] Certainly –

…The Rules, even in an administrative case, demand 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, it should only be after due investigation and after the presentation of competent evidence, especially since the charge is penal in character.[34]

The ground for the removal of a judicial officer should be established beyond reasonable doubt. Such is the rule where the charges on which the removal is sought is misconduct in office, willful neglect, corruption, or incompetency. The general rule with regard to admissibility of evidence in criminal trials apply.[35]

The absence of any evidence showing that respondent Justice acted with bad faith, ill-will or malice reduces the charges against him into a mere indictment. This Court can not give credence to charges based on mere suspicion and speculation.[36]

…[w]hile this Court may slightly bend backwards if only to avoid the suspicion of partiality and cliquism to a brother in the profession, it must also step forward and take the lead to defend him against unsubstantiated tirades which put to shame and disgrace not only the magistrate on trial but the entire judicial system as well. As champion – at other times tormentor – of trial and appellate judges, this Court must be unrelenting in weeding the judiciary of unscrupulous judges, but it must also be quick in dismissing administrative complaints which serve no other purpose than to harass them. In dismissing judges from the service, the Court must be circumspect and deliberate, lest it penalizes them for exercising their independent judgments handed down in good faith.[37]

When an administrative charge against a Judge or court personnel has no basis whatsoever in fact or in law, this Court will not hesitate to protect them against any groundless accusation that trifles with judicial processes.[38] In short, this Court will not shirk from its responsibility of imposing discipline upon all employees of the judiciary, but neither will it hesitate to shield them from unfounded suits that only serve to disrupt rather than promote the orderly administration of justice.[39]

WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, the complaint is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, and Corona, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, p. 1.
[2] Ibid., p. 5-13.
[3] Id., pp. 40-44.
[4] Id., pp. 14-15; Annexes E and E-1.
[5] Id., pp. 25-31.
[6] Id., pp. 51-55.
[7] Id., pp. 56-57.
[8] Id., pp. 58-64.
[9] Noted in the Resolution dated July 23, 2002.
[10] Noted in the Resolutions dated November 13, 2001 and December 4, 2001.
[11] Canson v. Garchitorena, 311 SCRA 268 [1999], citing Black’s Law Dictionary, Fourth ed., p. 1150.
[12] Ibid., p. 285, citing Words and Phrases, Vol. 27, p. 466, citing Sewell v. Sharp, La App., 102 So 2d 259, 261.
[13]  Fernandez v. Español, 289 SCRA 1, 7 [1998], citing Roa, Sr. v. Imbing, 231 SCRA 57, 61 [1994]; Guillermo v. Reyes, Jr., 240 SCRA 154, 161 [1995];
Alvarez v. Laquindamum, 245 SCRA 501, 504 [1995]; Bengzon v. Adaoag, 250 SCRA 344, 348 [1995].
[14] De la Cruz v. Concepcion, 235 SCRA 597 [1994].
[15] Guerrero v. Villamor, 296 SCRA 88, 98 [1998].
[16] Naval v. Panday, 275 SCRA 654, 694 [1997], citing Wingarts v. Mejia, 242 SCRA 436 [1995]; Basbacio v. Office of the Secretary, Department of Justice, 238 SCRA 5 [1994]; Louis Vuitton, S.A. v. Villanueva, 216 SCRA 121 [1992].
[17] Heirs of the late Nasser D. Yasin v. Felix, 250 SCRA 545 [1995].
[18] Id., p. 73.
[19] Id., p. 39.
[20] Villanueva v. CA, 205 SCRA 537 [1992].
[21] Dela Rosa v. CA, 280 SCRA 444 [1997]; emphasis and italics supplied.
[22] Dayag v. Canizares, 287 SCRA 181 [1998].
[23] RCPI v. NLRC, 210 SCRA 222 [1992].
[24] Casa Filipina Realty Corporation v. Office of the President, 241 SCRA 165 [1995], citing Rapid Manpower Consultants, Inc. v. NLRC, 190 SCRA 747 [1990].
[25] G.R. No. 137672, 31 May 2000.
[26] G.R. No. 125451, 20 January 2000.
[27] Re: Judge Silverio S. Tayao, RTC Branch 143, Makati, 229 SCRA 723 [1993].
[28] In Re: Petition for Dismissal from Service and/or Disbarment of Judge Baltazar R. Dizon, 173 SCRA 719 [1989].
[29] OCA v. Alvarez, 287 SCRA 325 [1998], citing Young v. Office of the Ombudsman, 228 SCRA 718 [1993].
[30] 302 SCRA 411, 422 [1999].
[31] Go v. CA, 221 SCRA 397 [1993]; Paredes v. Sandiganbayan, 252 SCRA 541 [1996].
[32] Barbers v. Laguio, Jr., 351 SCRA 606, 634 [2001], citing Cortes v. Agcaoili, 294 SCRA 423 [1998]; Lorena v. Encomienda, 302 SCRA 632 [1999].
[33] Oniquit v. Binamira-Parcia, 297 SCRA 354 [1998].
[34] OCA v. Judge Filomeno Pascual, 259 SCRA 604 [1996].
[35] Raquiza v. Castañeda, 81 SCRA 235 [1978].
[36] Lambino v. De Vera, 275 SCRA 60 [1997]; emphasis ours.
[37] State Prosecutors v. Muro, 236 SCRA 505, 544 [1994], dissenting opinion, Bellosillo, J.
[38] Sarmiento v. Salamat, A.M. No. P-01-1501, 4 September 2001.
[39] Francisco v. Leyva, 304 SCRA 365 [1999].

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