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342 Phil. 689


[ No. RTJ-95-1303, August 11, 1997 ]




In his letter dated 20 June 1994 and addressed to the Court Administrator, complainant Atty. Gladdy S. Bernabe of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) asked this Court to determine the appropriateness of the act of respondent Judge Salvador A. Memoracion in modifying the sentence of the accused in Criminal Case No. 1771-227.

From the documents submitted by the complainant to support his allegations, it appears that an information for Homicide with Double Frustrated Homicide was filed with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Basilan against three Marine soldiers namely, Pfc. Vicente Machon, Pfc. Jerramy Degollado, and Pfc. Renato Castulo. That case was docketed as Criminal Case No. 1771-227 and raffled to Branch 2 of the said court, which is presided by the respondent Judge. After trial on the merits, the respondent Judge rendered a judgment, the decretal portion of which reads in part as follows:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, this Court finds the accused, PFC. VICENTE MACHON, PFC. JERRAMY DEGOLLADO and PFC. RENATO CASTULO, GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt, all as principal, for the crime of Homicide and Double Frustrated Homicide as charged in the information and which crime is penalized and defined under Art. 249 of the Revised Penal Code.

And taking into consideration all the aggravating circumstances, like evident premeditation, used [sic] of high-powered firearms, revenge, nocturnity and grave abuse of power, which were presence [sic] in the commission of the crime, as well as the provisions of the Indeterminate Sentence Law, hereby sentences each and every accused to suffer an imprisonment of TWELVE (12) YEARS, FIVE (5) MONTHS AND ELEVEN (11) DAYS, AS MINIMUM to FOURTEEN (14) YEARS, TEN (10) MONTHS and TWENTY (20) DAYS as maximum period to Reclusion Temporal in its medium period.

And ordering each of the three (3) accused to jointly and severally pay the heirs of the late PO1 Efren Cruz in the amount of P50, 000.00 as moral damages. And further to pay jointly and severally another amount of P 500.00 as cost of the proceeding, but in both cases, no subsidiary imprisonment shall be meted on anyone of them in case of their insolvency.
Upon the accused’s second motion for reconsideration, however, the respondent Judge modified the judgment by reducing the imprisonment penalty to six (6) years. He denied the prosecution’s motion for reconsider the modification and granted the application of the accused for probation.

The respondent Judge admitted that he modified the decision but he did so before it became final, which is allowed under Section 7, Rule 120 of the 1985 Rules of Criminal Procedure. He claimed that the reasons adduced by the accused in their motion for the modification of the judgment “are legal, reasonable and justifiable and are within the context of the evidences [sic] presented by the parties”; besides, the prosecution did not file an opposition to that motion nor did it present any objection during the hearing thereof, but instead, it manifested that it was submitting the motion for resolution without any arguments. He further alleged that he denied the prosecution’s motion for the reconsideration of the modified judgement because its opposition, which was presented after he had already granted the accused’s motion, did not present any legal issues that would justify the setting aside of the said order. He then concluded that “there was no error of judgment or grave abuse of discretion ever committed in modifying [the] decision of October 4, 1994.”

In his Memorandum to the Court, then Deputy Court Administrator Juanito A. Bernad, with the approval of Court Administrator Ernani Cruz Paño, recommended that the respondent Judge be (a) REPRIMANDED for his failure to exercise due care in applying the penalties provided for in the Revise Penal Code or the other laws, with a stern warning that a repetition of similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely; and (b) REQUIRED to explain the discrepancies in his date of birth appearing in his service record, GSIS membership form, and the Office of the Bar Confidant, as well as the reason why he filed a letter dated 27 August 1991 requesting that his date of birth be changed from 14 August 1927 to 20 March 1924.

On 15 March 1995, this court directed the respondent Judge to SHOW CAUSE why no disciplinary sanction should be imposed upon him for gross ignorance of law or incompetence and for grave abuse of authority (1) for imposing upon each of the three accused in Criminal Case No. 1771-227 a single indeterminate penalty of 12 years, 5 months, and 11 days as minimum, to 14 years, 10 months, and 20 days, as maximum; and (2) for later reducing the penalty to six (6) years for each of the accused. It further resolved to REQUIRE the respondent Judge to explain the discrepancies in his alleged date of birth as appearing in his service record, GSIS membership form, and his record in the Office of the Bar Confidant.

In his Reply and Manifestation dated 30 March 1995, the respondent Judge contended that since the judgment was not yet final, he could modify it pursuant to Section 7, Rule 120 of the 1985 Rules of Criminal Procedure; that he found the modification to be in order after a review of all the facts and circumstances of the cases and an evaluation of the two motions of the accused; and that if any error was committed, it was one of judgment which cannot be subject of any administrative charge. He stressed that the prosecution could have appealed but did not do so, thereby showing that it was satisfied with the modified sentence. He further contended that he committed an honest mistake in appreciating in the original decision the aggravating circumstances of evident premeditation, presence of superior force, nocturnity, revenge, and grave abuse of power because these are not even alleged in the information. Besides, he took into account the fact that the accused, who are members of the Marine Corps of the Philippine Navy, were first offenders and had no intention to commit so grave a wrong as that committed. Had he not shown them any compassion and understanding by granting them probation, he would have suffered “outrage, anger and madness from the whole battalion of Marine Officers and Men in Basilan,” and if that outrage and anger were spewed upon him no government officials, not even members of the judiciary would come forward to give aid and comfort, except his family and immediate relatives. He also impressed upon this Court that the situation in Basilan is far different from that in other provinces in the country, for in Basilan “[k]idnappings with ransoms are weekly occurrences, big time illegal loggers, high incidents [sic] of drug trafficking are common crimes which in spite of the presence of large number of armed forces remained unabated.” He further narrated the sad plight of the Judges assigned in Basilan.

As to the discrepancy in his date of birth, the respondent Judge now believes, after considering the circumstances, that the date appearing in the baptismal certificate which he submitted is not correct; hence, he will just continue to perform his duties as a Judge on the basis of the date of birth – 14 August 1927 – appearing in his service record.

On 26 July 1995, the Court referred this case to the Office of the Court Administrator for evaluation, report, and recommendation.

The Office of the Court Administrator, through Deputy Court Administrator Zenaida N. Elepaño, then submitted a Memorandum wherein it made the following findings:
A careful perusal of the records and of the circumstances attending the case, convinces us that respondent Judge indeed committed errors and acted without careful and prudent examination and study of the facts and the applicable law when he reduced the sentence he originally imposed to (6) years. This manifestation of ignorance of the law by respondent Judge cannot be tolerated with a misplaced compassion, even considering the hazardous environment of this court in what is often times a war zone in Basilan. As a magistrate of law, he is called upon to exhibit more than just a cursory acquaintance with statutes and procedural rules. While judges should not be disciplined for inefficiency on account merely of occasional mistakes or errors of judgment, it is imperative that they be conversant with basic legal principles. x x x (Ubongon vs. Mayo, 99 SCRA 30). When a judge acts fraudulently or with gross ignorance, administrative sanctions are called for as an imperative duty of the court (Guillermo vs. Judge Reyes, A.M. No. RTJ-93-1088, January 18, 1995).
She then recommended that the respondent Judge be REPRIMANDED and be meted the penalty of fine in the amount of five thousand pesos (P5,000.00) with stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar act or offense in the future will be dealt with more severely.

We agree with the Office of the Court Administrator that the respondent Judge showed gross ignorance of the law when he reduced the penalty to only six years. We find, however, more of such ignorance. Accordingly, a more severe penalty is in order.

Although captioned as one for “Homicide with Double Frustrated Homicide,” the information in Criminal Case No. 1771-227 is actually for three separate crimes of (a) homicide for the death of SPO1 Efren Cruz, (b) frustrated homicide for the infliction of gunshot wounds on SPO3 Antonio Martin, and (c) frustrated homicide for the infliction of gunshot wounds on PO3 Amergani Mariano. The information reads as follows:

That on or about the 16th day of August 1991, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, viz., at Townsite, Municipality of Maluso, Province of Basilan, Philippines, the above named accused, armed with M-16 Rifles, conspiring and confederating together, aiding and assisting one with the other, and with intent to kill, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously assault, attack and shoot at the persons of SPO3 Antonio Martin, PO3 Amergani Mariano, PO3 Arip Mohammad and SPO1 Efren Cruz with their firearms, thereby inflicting gunshot wound upon the body of SPO1 Efren Cruz which caused his death, while SPO3 Antonio Martin, PO3 Amergani Mariano and PO3 Arip Mohammad sustained gunshot wounds on their bodies, thus the accused have performed all the acts of execution which would have produced the crime of multiple homicide as a consequence thereof, but which nevertheless did not produce it by reasons or causes that is (sic) due to the medical assistance rendered to the latter, which prevented their death.

Contrary to law.
Nowhere is it suggested that what was committed was a complex crime under Article 48 of the Revise Penal Code. Neither is it shown that the accused has moved to quash the information on the ground of duplicity under paragraph (e), Section 3, Rule 117 of the Rules of Court. The accused could therefore be convicted of three separate crimes and sentenced to suffer the penalty for each of them, as they were deemed to have waived the objection to multiplicity of charges.[1] Accordingly, the single indeterminate penalty of imprisonment imposed by the respondent Judge after applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law is patently wrong.

Even if it be conceded ex gratia that a complex crime was charged and proved, the application of the indeterminate penalty is also erroneous. Under such assumption, the penalty imposable is maximum period of the penalty for the more serious offense, viz., homicide under Article 249 of the Revise Penal Code, which carries a penalty of reclusion temporal. Such maximum period is from 17 years, 4 months, and 1 day to 20 years. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the indeterminate penalty would be that whose minimum would be within the range of the penalty next lower in degree (prision mayor) to the prescribed penalty (reclusion temporal) and whose maximum should be that which, in view of the modifying circumstances, could be properly imposed under the Revise Penal Code.[2] Therefore, the minimum of the indeterminate penalty shall not exceed prision mayor , whose range is from six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years.[3] What the respondent Judge imposed as the minimum, viz., 12 years, 5 months , and 11 days, which he describes to be the “medium period of prision mayor” is entirely wrong not only because it already exceeded prision mayor, but also because it is not the “medium period of prision mayor.” The medium period of prision mayor is from eight (8) years and one (1) day to (10) ten years.

Even assuming further that the respondent Judge did not consider Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code on complex crimes and simply believed, as he did, that only Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code was violated, still the sentence imposed by him is wrong. Having found proven the aggravating circumstances, “like evident premeditation, used [sic] of high-powered firearms, revenge, nocturnity and grave abuse of power,” and not having found any mitigating circumstance, the proper imposable penalty pursuant to paragraphs 3 and 6, Article 64 of the Revised Penal Code would be reclusion temporal in its maximum period. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the accused could be sentenced to an indeterminate penalty whose minimum would be within the range of prision mayor and whose maximum would be reclusion temporal in its maximum period.

The reduction of the penalty to only six years demonstrated beyond cavil gross ignorance of the law. That penalty falls within the range of prision correccional, which has a duration of from six (6) months and one (1) day to six (6) years. The reduced penalty is therefore two degrees lower than that prescribed by law for homicide. Since no mitigating circumstance was in fact found in the original decision, nothing could justify the reduction of the penalty to six (6) years of prision correccional. Not even the claim of the accused in their motion for reconsideration that “they did not intend to commit the act of killing and harming the policemen [the victims] in the police station,” which the respondent Judge accepted as a mitigating circumstance, could justify such reduction. Even if the mitigating circumstance of praeter intentionem[4] were appreciated, and still under the assumption that one single penalty under Article 249 is permissible, the said mitigating circumstance would be offset by any of the aforementioned aggravating circumstance pursuant to paragraph 4, Article 64 of the Revised Penal Code.

All told, the respondent Judge’s gross ignorance of the law is inexcusable. That, indeed, would be very distressing considering that his service record shows that he has been in the Judiciary for twenty-nine years already. Time and again, this Court has stressed that a judge is called upon to exhibit more than just a cursory acquaintance with statutes and procedural rules.[5] It is imperative that he be studious of and conversant with basic legal principles.[6] He owes to the dignity of the court he sits in, to the legal profession he belongs, and to the public who depends on him, to know the law which he is called upon to interpret and apply.[7] Verily, it would not serve the interests of the judicial system for judges to be woefully lacking in the type of legal knowledge generally presumed by practitioners of the law to be fundamental.[8]

The penalty then recommended by the Office of the Court Administrator is too light. A fine of Forty Thousand Pesos (P 40,000.00) is reasonable.

As to the respondent’s Judges date of birth, there was an obvious attempt on his part to insist on a date (20 March 1924) earlier than that which appears in all his records, so that he could have compulsorily retired on 20 March 1994. He is now withdrawing his request for a change of his date of birth, and he expresses preference to let stay what appears in his records. A doubt has been cast on the date of the respondent Judge’s birth. He should submit indubitable proof of the correct date.

WHEREFORE, for gross ignorance of law, respondent Judge SALVADOR A. MEMORACION is hereby fined in the amount of FORTY THOUSAND PESOS (P40,000.00) and warned that the commission of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Regalado, Romero, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Mendoza, Panganiban, JJ., concur.Bellosillo, J., Please see Separate Opinion
Kapunan, J., joined Justice Hermosisima’s dissent as to the penalty imposed.
Francisco, J., joined Justice Hermosisima’s, observation particularly in the penalty.Hermosisima, Jr., J., dissented as to penalty command imposition.
Torres, J., on official leave.

[1] Section 3, Rule 120, Rules of Court; People vs. Catan, 205 SCRA 235 [1992]; People vs. Basay, 219 SCRA 404 [1993].

[2] Section 1, Indeterminate Sentence Law.

[3] Article 27, Revised Penal Code.

[4] Article 13(3), Revised Penal Code.

[5] Aducayen vs. Flores, 51 SCRA 78 [1973] ; Libarios vs. Dabalos, 199 SCRA 48 [1991].

[6] Canon 4, Canons of Judicial Ethics; Ajeño vs. Inserto, 71 SCRA 166 [1976]; Ubongen vs. Mayo, 99 SCRA 30 [1980]; Lim vs. Domagas, 227 SCRA 258 [1993].

[7] RUPERTO G. MARTIN, Legal and Judicial Ethics, 322 [1984]; Estoya vs. Singson, 237 SCRA 1 [1994].

[8] Re: COMELEC Resolution No. 2521, A. M. No. 92-12-916-RTC, 234 SCRA 1 [1994].



I concur with Mr. Justice Davide, Jr., except as may be stated hereunder. For, no amount rationalization by respondent judge can justify his reduction of the penalty he originally imposed for Homicide and Double Frustrated Homicide from an indeterminate sentence of 12 years, 5 months and 11 days as minimum, 14 years, 10 months and 20 days as maximum, to a straight 6-year imprisonment only for each of the three (3) accused. Downgrading the penalty to a range lower than the minimum prescribed by law certainly enabled the accused to elude incarceration and apply for probation as in fact they did. This end result was made possible by respondent who acknowledged in his Reply and Manifestation[1] that-
These circumstances are to the mind of respondent sufficient consideration to convict the three young marine soldiers to suffer an imprisonment of six (6) years and being first offenders they could avail themselves of the benefit under the Probation Law.
In deciding the way he did, respondent judge trifled with express provisions of our penal laws even as he claimed that his act was legal and justifiable under the Rules of Court having allegedly arrived at the modified penalty after a thorough review and reevaluation of the facts before the decision became final. His protestation is that the error committed, if there was any, can only be an honest error of judgment precluding administrative sanction.

I find this argument errant and insipid. Not only the judge display gross ignorance of the law, he also capriciously tinkered with established legal precepts. Respondent judge should know that his authority to fix and impose penalties in accordance with his actual findings is circumscribed by law and that any exercise of judicial discretion beyond legal demarcations is totally verboten which, in this case calls for a heavier sanction than that imposed in the ponencia. For one, a visible thread of partiality for the accused by the respondent runs through the entire proceedings particularly during its last stages.

The Information for Homicide and Double Frustrated Homicide was filed on 15 January 1992. As a result, Executive Judge Cesar S. Principe issued a warrant of arrest against the three (3) accused fixing bail for each at P30,000.00. The case was thereafter raffled to the sala of respondent judge. On 12 February 1992 the defense counsel filed an urgent motion praying that since the accused were already under custody at the headquarters of the Marine Brigade in Isabela, Basilan, they be allowed to remain under such custody pending trial.

This motion, arraignment and pre-trial were all set for 2 March 1992 at eight-thirty in the morning, then reset to 10 March 1992 also at eight-thirty in the morning.

The prosecution vehemently opposed the motion for military custody on the ground that the accused committed the crime as private individuals and not in the performance of their official functions; therefore they should be treated as ordinary criminals who must post bail or otherwise be detained in jail. Respondent judge however granted the motion for custody that very same day, 10 March, subject to the condition among others that the accused may not leave or be transferred outside Basilan without first securing permission from the court.

On 4 October 1993 the trial court found all three (3) accused guilty as charged and sentenced each of them -
“to suffer imprisonment of TWELVE (12) YEARS, FIVE (5) MONTHS and ELEVEN (11) DAYS as minimum, to FOURTEEN (14) YEARS, TEN (10) MONTHS and TWENTY (20) DAYS as maximum, which is the medium period of prison mayor in its maximum period to reclusion temporal in its medium period x x x x ordering each of the three (3) accused to jointly and severally pay the heirs of the late PO1 Efren Cruz the amount of P50,000.00 as cost of the proceeding, but in both cases, no subsidiary imprisonment shall be meted on anyone of them in case of their insolvency.”
In arriving at this penalty respondent judge considered the presence of the aggravating circumstances of evident premeditation, use of high powered firearms, revenge, nocturnity and grave abuse of power.

On 14 December 1993 the accused filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the decision. This was submitted for the consideration of the court on 22 December 1993. The record does not show that the motion was heard on that date. Neither does it show that it was resolved by the court.

Nonetheless, on 6 January 1994 the accused filed a Second Motion for Reconsideration with the prayer for the reduction of penalty. Although the motion did not contain a notice of hearing and therefore should have been deemed a mere scrap of paper, respondent judge on his own set the same for hearing on 14 January 1994 at eight-thirty in the morning. At about two-thirty in the afternoon that same day respondent judge granted the second motion and reduced the sentence to a mere straight imprisonment of six (6) years. Three (3) days later or on 17 January 1994 the three (3) accused applied for probation.

On 18 January 1994 the prosecution filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the Order lowering the penalty to six (6) years which on 26 January 1994 respondent judge denied for lack of merit.

On 21 March 1994 the application for probation was granted by respondent who fixed the probation period at six (6) years .

A comparison of the decision rendered by respondent judge and his order reconsidering the decision reveals a glaring disparity between the two (2) in terms of form and substance, and the time and effort that went into the undertakings. The decision was exhaustively argued with each piece of evidence carefully weighed, analyzed and accorded its corresponding value. The judge obviously took time to study the case and write his decision – a period of four (4) months from the date it was submitted for decision sometime in June 1993. This punctiliousness and industry were not exhibited in the formulation of the questioned order. The Second Motion for Reconsideration was set for hearing on 14 January 1994 at eight-thirty in the morning, but by two-thirty in the afternoon respondent judge had already resolved the motion and released his resolution to the parties, all within a span of only (6) hours. The haste which attended the preparation of his resolution is intemperate. Quite obviously, the respective causes of the parties were not assiduously reviewed and analyzed by respondent judge, contrary to his claim, for he simply copied verbatim and completely relied on the arguments put forward by the accused in their plea for reduction of sentence. His order therefore lacked the exhaustiveness and depth of his earlier work. He took the passive course by merely observing that “the arguments (of the accused) therein were well-taken and the prayer thereof is hereby granted.” He never bothered to rationalize his findings ex mero motu.

The prosecution promptly brought to the attention of respondent judge through a motion for reconsideration the fact that the 6-year penalty was not in accordance with our penal laws, but this was summarily dismissed purportedly for lack of merit, pointing out that an application for probation had already been filed by the accused and that the court had already issued an order directing the Parole and Probation Officer of Basilan Province to conduct a post-sentence investigation on the application for probation and to render a report thereon. It may be well to emphasize that the judge readily entertained the motion for reconsideration of the accused (even if it was a mere scrap of paper for lack of notice of hearing), he was hostile to the plea of the prosecution to reexamine his order. He could have very well ordered the Probation Office to suspend the post-sentence investigation in the meantime; he did not. All these circumstances do not speak well of an impartial, scrupulous and conscientious judicial mind that he is supposed to possess.

I am also greatly perturbed by the admission of respondent judge in his Reply and Manifestation that he modified his earlier decision in order”to evade the outrage, anger and madness of the whole battalion of Marines in Basilan.” This is inexcusable, nay, a reprehensible attitude, coming as it does from a public officer sworn to administer justice “nang walang pagkiling sa sino mang tao at ipatatamasa ang pantay na karapatan sa mahirap at mayaman.”[2] For respondent to submit to pressure, real or imagined, is to turn his back on his sacred obligation “to be vigilant against any attempt to subvert the independence of the judiciary and resist any pressure from whatever source.”[3]

Respondent alleged that the volatile peace and order situation in Basilan Province was a major factor in the reconsideration of his decision. I have serious reservations about the veracity of this statement. In People v. Reynaldo San Juan, Crim. Case No. 2081 pending before the sala of respondent judge, the prosecution earnestly sought the transfer of the venue of the case from Basilan because of the alleged explosive peace and order situation in the province. The accused vehemently opposed the motion alleging that the province of Basilan was very peaceful. This was confirmed by respondent judge when he indorsed the comment of the accused on 4 December 1995 which, in effect, ran counter to his earlier manifestation regarding the “uncontrolled peace and order situation in Basilan.” On this aspect alone, respondent judge betrayed his duty to be candid and truthful in his submissions before the Court.

Finally, a search of the records of Crim. Case Nos. 1771-227 also yielded certain disappointing aspects of respondent’s records management. The expediente does not contain a Table of Contents. Its pagination is in disarray, to say the least, in that in several instances the numbering is not sequential. To cite a few instances, page 17 comes ahead of page 16-A. Two consecutive pages are both numbered 78; likewise two (2) pages carry the same numbers 94 and 274. Several pages have no pagination while a series of erasures of paginations have been noted starting from page 253 through page 340, thus depreciating the faith and trust being accorded judicial records. Then, too, the minutes of the proceedings are incomplete. Some pleadings and other documents are nowhere to be found, e.g., the orders granting probation to accused Jerramy Degollado and Renato Castulo, thereby depriving the Court of the opportunity to pass upon the findings and conclusions reached by respondent judge which are relevant in this administrative proceeding. Worse, the records of the case are only bound by a single paper fastener instead of the usual stitching to protect the integrity of the records.

I can understand the many travails of a judge in the discharge of his duties – the terrible pressure of work, the intense loneliness and agony of decision-making, the sharp pain of criticism and the deafening silence and lack of appreciation for work well done, not to mention the insecurities that hound him every now and then about the appropriateness of his acts or the correctness of his decision. However, I also maintain that when a judicial act warrants a sanction, then so must it be sanctioned. Respondent judge deliberately exceeded his judicial limits when he reduced the penalty of conviction to one not permitted by law, believing perhaps that he could defy and disregard express statutory provisions in the name of leniency or compassion. He displayed a serious flaw in his judicial temperament when he allowed himself admittedly to succumb to outside pressure. This is more condemnable than gross ignorance, for in owning up to military duress and influence, he openly defied the law.

[1] Rollo, pp. 106-112.

[2] “Panunumpa sa Katungkulan” for RTC Judges.

[3] Canon 1, Rule 1.03, Code of Judicial Conduct.

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