403 Phil. 146

FIRST DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 139519, January 24, 2001 ]

CONCHITO J. OCLARIT, PETITIONER, VS. HONORABLE MAXIMO G.W. PADERANGA, JUDGE, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, MISAMIS ORIENTAL, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

PARDO, J.:

The Case

The case before the Court is a special civil action of certiorari assailing the order[1] of respondent judge declaring petitioner guilty of direct contempt of court, sentencing him to pay a fine of P1,000.00 and also to serve one (1) day in jail.

The Facts

Petitioner is a lawyer engaged in the private practice of law principally in the City of Cagayan de Oro and the province of Misamis Oriental.[2]

At times material hereto, petitioner was counsel for the plaintiffs in the case entitled, spouses Gregorio and Pelegrina Babatido v. Elnora and Teodoro Abella, et al., Civil Case No. 99-194, Regional Trial Court, Misamis Oriental, Branch 38, Cagayan de Oro City. Judge Maximo G.W. Paderanga was the presiding judge, Regional Trial Court, Misamis Oriental, Branch 38.[3]

On June 1, 1999, the aforecited case was scheduled for continuation of pre-trial before the lower court. The case was first heard on pre-trial on April 30, 1999. In that hearing, petitioner filed a motion to approve compromise agreement entered into by the parties pointing out that the compromise agreement was reached before a barangay captain.[4] Counsel for the defendants opposed the motion[5] because the defendants were placed in a disadvantageous condition, arguing that the case was before the court, not before the barangay. The court ruled that the compromise agreement was not before the barangay captain but before the court. The parties settled before the barangay captain. At this point, petitioner informed the court that the compromise agreement was signed and was explaining further when the court told him repeatedly to "shut up." Then petitioner requested the court to stop shouting at him. The court rhetorically asked: "why should the court precisely not cite you for contempt for doing that," that is, for settling the case before the barangay captain.[6]

Consequently, the presiding judge cited petitioner in contempt of court and imposed on him a fine of P1,000.00. Petitioner remarked that the presiding judge was becoming very arrogant. In reply to that, respondent judge declared: "I will put you in jail. Get a policeman." At that moment, the court issued a verbal order holding petitioner for direct contempt of court and sentencing petitioner to serve one (1) day in jail and to pay a fine of P1,000.00. Petitioner indicated that he would challenge the ruling.[7] Then, respondent judge issued a "detention commitment" to the Jail Warden, City Jail, Cagayan de Oro City, committing the person of petitioner Conchito J. Oclarit for direct contempt.[8]

The next day, with petitioner in jail, he received a copy of the written order declaring him in direct contempt of court and sentencing him to pay a fine of P1,000.00 and also to serve One (1) day in jail.[9] He was released after serving one (1) day in jail.[10] Apparently, he also paid the fine of P1,000.00.[11]

On July 30, 1999, petitioner filed the instant petition.[12]

The Issues

The questions presented are (1) whether petitioner was guilty of direct contempt of court; (2) if guilty, may the respondent judge declare him guilty by an order without stating the facts on which it is based and imposing upon him the corresponding penalty; and finally (3) if the court could do so, is the order finding petitioner guilty of direct contempt of court immediately executory?

The Court's Ruling

In the first place, there was nothing contumacious in the submission to the court of a motion for approval of compromise agreement reached before a barangay captain in a case pending before the court. It is not required that a compromise agreement be executed before the court. It may be executed before anyone or even among the parties themselves and then submitted to the court for approval.

In the second place, the presiding judge must state expressly in the order the facts constituting the contemptuous behavior of petitioner and declaring him in direct contempt of court.

In this case, the court did not state the specific cause for declaring petitioner guilty of direct contempt of court. Indeed, it would seem that the court cited petitioner for direct contempt of court for submitting such compromise agreement for approval though the compromise was reached before a barangay captain.[13] As we said, there is nothing contumacious in such act. However, the impression of lawyers in the courtroom at that time was that the presiding judge was irked because petitioner shouted back and banged the table as petitioner charged the presiding judge with arrogance.[14] This incident is not recorded in the transcript, leaving us in doubt if it occurred. It is apparent, however, that the presiding judge continuously ordered petitioner to "shut up."

Even then, an order of direct contempt is not immediately executory or enforceable. The contemner must be afforded a reasonable remedy to extricate or purge himself of the contempt. Thus, in the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, the Court introduced a new provision granting a remedy to a person adjudged in direct contempt by any court. Such person may not appeal therefrom, but may avail himself of certiorari or prohibition. In such case, the execution of the judgment shall be suspended pending resolution of such petition provided the contemner files a bond fixed by the court which rendered the judgment and conditioned that he will abide by and perform the judgment should the petition be decided against him.[15]

In fact, petitioner asked the court presided over by respondent judge to fix a bail for his temporary liberty pending the filing of a petition for certiorari.[16] This written motion was filed on the first hour the very next day. It was timely filed because the written order of contempt was issued only the next day and given to petitioner when he was in jail.[17] The respondent judge did not act on the motion.[18] By such inaction, respondent judge deprived petitioner of an effective relief from an order of direct contempt of court. This is a violation of the Rules on contempt of court.[19] Under Rule 65, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, petitioner has sixty (60) days within which to file his petition.[20]

We find that respondent judge gravely abused his discretion in declaring petitioner guilty of direct contempt of court, sentencing him to pay a fine of P1,000.00 and to serve one day in jail. It was the respondent judge who first shouted successively at petitioner to "shut up." When petitioner persisted in making his explanation, the court declared him in direct contempt, to the extent of stating that the judge had "absolute power."[21] The lawyer's remarks explaining his position in the case under consideration do not necessarily assume the level of contumely that justifies the court to exercise the power of contempt.[22] Courts must be slow to punish for direct contempt. This drastic power must be used sparingly in cases of clearly contumacious behavior in facie curiae.[23] The salutary rule is that the power to punish for contempt must be exercised on the preservative, not vindicative principle,[24] and on the corrective and not retaliatory idea of punishment.[25] The courts must exercise the power to punish for contempt for purposes that are impersonal, because that power is intended as a safeguard not for the judges as persons but for the functions that they exercise.[26]

The Fallo

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the Court GRANTS the petition and renders judgment declaring VOID the order finding petitioner guilty of direct contempt of court in Civil Case No. 99-194, and sentencing him to pay a fine of P1,000.00 and to serve one (1) day in jail. The court orders respondent judge to reimburse petitioner the sum of P1,000.00, not out of the amount paid by petitioner to the court but from his own funds. The Court regrets that petitioner had to serve time in jail by a despotic act of respondent judge.

The Court orders the Court Administrator, Supreme Court, to file an administrative charge against respondent Judge Maximo G.W. Paderanga, Regional Trial Judge, Regional Trial Court, Misamis Oriental, Branch 38, Cagayan de Oro City, for gross misconduct and grave abuse of authority, within fifteen (15) days from notice.

This decision is immediately executory.

Costs against respondent Judge.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J. Puno, Kapunan, and Ynares-Santiago, JJ., concur.



[1] In Civil Case No. 99-194, Order dated June 1, 1999, Petition, Annex "A", Rollo, p. 26.

[2] Petition, Prefatory Statement, Rollo, p. 4.

[3] Petition, p. 2, Rollo, p. 5.

[4] The correct term is punong barangay.

[5] Petition, Statement of Facts, Rollo, p. 7.

[6] Ibid., pp. 7-9. Petition, Annex "B", Rollo, pp. 27-72, at p. 40.

[7] Petition, Annex "B", Rollo, 27-72, at pp. 63-66.

[8] Petition, Annex "C", Rollo, p. 73.

[9] Petition, Annex "A", Rollo, p. 26.

[10] Petition, Annex "E", Rollo, p. 78.

[11] Comment, Solicitor General, Rollo, pp. 122-129, at p. 126.

[12] Filed by registered mail posted on July 30, 1999. Rollo, pp. 4-25. On October 02, 2000, we gave due course to the petition (Rollo, pp. 130-131).

[13] Petition, Annex "B", Rollo, pp. 27-72, at pp. 38-64.

[14] Compliance/Comment, Annexes "2" and "3", Rollo, pp. 97-100.

[15] Rule 71, Sec. 2, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended.

[16] Petition, Annex "D", Rollo, pp. 74-77.

[17] Petition, Rollo, pp. 4-25, at p. 17.

[18] Compliance/Comment, Rollo, pp. 92-94, at p. 93.

[19] Rule 71, Sec. 2, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended.

[20] Rule 65, Sec. 4, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended.

[21] Petition, Annex "B", Rollo, pp. 27-72, at p. 63.

[22] Cf. People v. Godoy, 312 Phil. 977, 994 [1995].

[23] Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, Vol. 1, Sixth Revised Edition, 1997, p. 803; de Guia v. Guerrero, 186 SCRA 339 [1994]

[24] Commissioner of Immigration v. Cloribel, 127 Phil. 716 [1967].

[25] Nazareno v. Barnes, 220 Phil. 451, 463 [1985]; Pacuribut v. Lim, Jr., 341 Phil. 544, 548 [1997].

[26] Austria v. Masaquel, 127 Phil. 677, 690-691 [1967]; Nazareno v. Barnes, supra, Note 25; Angeles v. Gernale, Jr., 274 SCRA 10 [1997].



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