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354 Phil. 24


[ A.M. No. RTJ-95-1326, July 08, 1998 ]




Complainant Annabelle R. Gutierrez was convicted by respondent Judge Rodolfo G. Pallatao of Branch 33, Regional Trial Court of Manila, for Violation of the Bouncing Checks Law (Batas Pambansa Blg. 22) and for Estafa under Article 315 (2)(d) of the Revised Penal Code. Aggrieved by what she perceived as a wrongful conviction, she filed this administrative case against respondent for Serious Misconduct, Graft and Corruption, Knowingly Rendering an Unjust Decision, Falsification of Public Document, and Gross Ignorance of the Law. She averred that, since the checks that were the bases of the informations against her were not presented in evidence by the prosecution, her conviction was erroneous and the respondent should be held administratively liable therefor.

The material facts, based on the pleadings, are as follows:

Complainant borrowed the sum of Three Hundred Seventy Thousand Pesos (P370,000) from one Ligaya V. Santos, for which she issued five (5) checks as guarantee for the loan, to wit:
Drawee Bank    

Check No.                    
April 7, 1993   
April 15, 1993 
P 60,000.00
June 6, 1993
P 60,000.00
June 14, 1993
P 60,000.00
June 21, 1993
P 70,000.00

Santos deposited these checks in her account with the Philippine National Bank (PNB). Upon presentment by PNB of said checks to the drawee United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), they were dishonored, for the reason: “closed account”

Thereafter, Santos made several verbal and written demands for Gutierrez to pay the amounts covered by the checks, but the latter allegedly refused to make good her obligation to pay. Hence, Santos filed five (5) criminal complaints for the Violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22, and one complaint for Estafa against Gutierrez. After preliminary investigation, the corresponding informations were filed in court and the cases were raffled to respondent Judge’s sala.

On November 15, 1993, while the said informations were pending in court, Santos executed the following letter in her own handwriting:

“Nov. 15, 1993


This is to certify that I am dropping my charges against Annabelle Rama and that she already change (sic) the bouncing checks with a (sic) – new ones.

I hope for your kind understanding on this case.

(Sgd.) Ligaya V. Santos
Lions Road Arroceros”

On the same day, Gutierrez also executed the following document in her own handwriting:

“I Annabelle Rama Gutierrez certify that I received all my old checks from Mrs. Ligaya Santos in exchange to (sic) the new ones I gave her.

In agreement, Mrs. Santos agreed to dropped (sic) her case against me

(Sgd.) Annabelle Gutirrez
41 Derby, White Plains, Q.C.”

The foregoing documents were executed by Santos and Gutierrez after the latter replaced the five (5) checks subject of the informations. The replacement checks were subsequently honored except Check No. SRD-043939 dated May 10, 1994, in the amount of P50,000.00, drawn against the UCPB. This check was allegedly dishonored by the UCPB upon presentment by PNB, Santos’ depository bank, for the reason: “stop payment”

The evidence for the prosecution was summarized by respondent Judge in his Decision as follows:

"To prove these cases against the accused, the Fiscal called to the witness stand Ligaya V. Santos, the herein complainant who identified herself as a widow, businesswoman and who resides at Lion’s Rd., Arroceros St., Ermita, Manila. In the course of her testimony, the following exhibits were marked in evidence: Exhibit A- letter dated November 15, 1993, Exhibit A-1 – Signature of Ligaya V. Santos, Exhibits B – Check No. SRD-043979 for P50,000.00 Exhibit B-1 – Notice of dishonor, Exhibit C – letter of demand and Exhibit C-1 – signature of complainant. xxx.”[1]

On the basis of the above evidence proffered by the prosecution, respondent Judge convicted the accused in the aforestated five criminal cases for Violation of B.P. Blg. 22 and in one for Estafa. She was sentenced as follows:

"WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered convicting the accused for violation of B.P. Blg. 22. In Criminal Case No. 93-128841, accused Annabelle R. Gutierrez is hereby sentenced to suffer imprisonment of one (1) year and to pay a fine of P120,000.00 without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency. In Criminal Case No. 93-128842, accused is hereby sentenced to suffer imprisonment of one (1) year and to pay a fine of P60,000.00 without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency. For Criminal Case No. 93-128843, accused is hereby sentenced to suffer imprisonment of one (1) year and to pay a fine of P60,000.00 without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency. For Criminal Case No. 128844, accused is hereby sentenced to suffer imprisonment of one (1) year and to pay a fine of P60,000.00 without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency. And for Criminal case No. 93-128845, she is hereby sentenced to suffer imprisonment of one (1) year and to pay a fine of P70,000.00 without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency. No pronouncement as to civil liability as the same was already paid. Since the last check covered by Check No. SRD043939 in the amount of P50,000.00 was dishonored by the drawee bank, accused is hereby ordered to indemnify the offended party the said amount of P50,000.00.

For violation of Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code, accused is found guilty for the crime of Estafa defined and punished under Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code and in the absence of mitigating and aggravating circumstances and applying the indeterminate sentence law, she is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of twelve (12) years of prision mayor as minimum to twenty (20) years of reclusion temporal as maximum. No pronouncement as to civil liability as the same was already paid. The bailbond posted by herein accused for her provisional liberty ordered cancelled.”

Dissatisfied and aggrieved, she filed before us, this Administrative Complaint anchored on the following grounds:
1. That respondent judge has no jurisdiction over the criminal cases for Violation of B.P. Blg. 22 because the imposable penalty therefor, which is imprisonment of not more than one (1) year or a fine not exceeding P200,000.00 or both, is within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) as provided for by Section 2 of Republic Act No. 7691, otherwise known as the Law on the Expanded Jurisdiction of the MTC.

2. That the venue and time of the commission of the offenses charged were not established in violation of the petitioner’s right due process.

3. That the original checks in question were never offered in evidence, hence, the decision is not supported by evidence of corpus delicti.

4. That the penalty of twelve (12) years of prision mayor to twenty (20) years of reclusion temporal was arbitrarily and unjustly imposed.

5. That the decision was antedated and promulgated in a rush in violation of procedural rules.

6. That the cancellation of petitioner’s bail is whimsical and arbitrary, constitutive of grave abuse of discretion.
To refute these grounds for the complaint, respondent Judge submitted specific arguments in his Supplemental Comment dated July 7, 1995, which could be summarized as follows:[2]

(1) The alleged lack of jurisdiction is based on Section 2 of RA 7961 which was approved on March 25, 1994. This law, however, is inapplicable to complaint’s case because it did not provide for any retroactive effect as to cover pending criminal cases. The retroactivity therein applies only to civil cases which did not reach the pre-trial stage (Section 7, R.A. No. 7691).

The cases against complainant were filed on November 5, 1993, five (5) months before the approval of the law on March 25, 1994. The law became effective 15 days after its complete publication in the Official Gazette or in two (2) newspapers of general circulation (Section 8, R.A. No. (7691).

(2) Concerning the alleged defect of the Informations in not specifying the exact place and time of the commission of the crime, a perusal of the Informations filed by the City Prosecutor shows that the situs (Manila) and date (first week of March, 1993) of the commission of the offenses charged were sufficiently alleged. The specific place in Manila and the precise time need not be stated, because they are not essential elements of the offense charged. If the stand of the complaint is that the charges in the Informations did not constitute offenses, her remedy would have been the timely filing of a motion to quash before the trial and not to raise the issue collaterally after the decision had been rendered. After the decision, the complaint’s remedy is to appeal, which she availed of by filing a notice of appeal.

(3) Regarding the prosecution’s failure to offer in evidence the original checks issued by Gutierrez, respondent Judge commented that the same is of no moment because while the original checks were not presented anymore, there is an admission that accused Gutierrez got back the bouncing checks from Ligaya Santos. This document was presented as an exhibit by the prosecution and was not denied by the accused.

(4) Anent the charge that the penalty of twelve (12) years of Reclusion Temporal was arbitrarily and unjustly imposed, the respondent argued that the penalty is based on the amount subject of the fraud which is P370,000.00. Under Art 315 (1st par.), the penalty for estafa is prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period if the amount is over P12,000.00 but does not exceed P22,000.00. If there is an excess, for every P10,000.00 excess, there is an additional penalty of one year. If computed totally, the excess would amount to 34.8 years. But under the same Article, the maximum shall only be 20 years. In imposing the penalty of twelve (12) years of prision mayor as minimum to twenty (20) years of reclusion temporal as maximum, respondent Judge merely exercised his discretion as the penalty was within the range fixed by law.

(5) On the charge that respondent’s decision was antedated and promulgated in a rush, respondent that this charge is unfair, unjust and baseless because it was made to appear wrongly that the respondent Judge falsified his own decision and promulgated it without notice at all.
Accordingly to respondent, the records will show that as early as October 25, 1994, he already set the promulgation of the decision at 8:30 A.M. on November 24, 1994. During the interim, the complainant filed a Petition for Certiorari with the Court of Appeals (CA- G.R. SP No. 35373) questioning the Order denying her “Demurrer to Evidence”, resulting in the cancellation of the promulgation set on November 24, 1994 which was reset to December 6, 1994. On said date, the decision was not promulgated because of a Restraining Order issued by the Court of Appeals. Consequently, the promulgation was reset to February 21, 1995, which was “intransferable” in character. But since, the respondent was still waiting for developments in the Court of Appeals, the promulgation was reset for the fourth time to March 23, 1995, and then for the 5th time to April 18, 1995. Prior to April 18, 1995, the Court of Appeals rendered its decision on the certiorari case, dismissing the same but allowing Gutierrez to present her evidence.

Pursuant to the decision of the Court of Appeals, the cases were set for reception of accused’s evidence on three (3) dates: May 16, 23 and 25, 1995. On May 16, 1995, complainant asked for postponement. On May 23, 1995, she asked for another postponement. On May 25, 1995, when the accused still failed to present evidence, so as not to frustrate the wheels of justice and make a mockery of the solemn judicial system, the respondent was left without any recourse but to exercise the coercive power of the court by promulgating the decision which was supposed to have been promulgated way back December 6, 1994. To conform with the actual date of promulgation, the respondent Judge, who found no justifiable basis to change his disposition of the case, simply crossed out the previous date, December 2, 1994, on the last page and superimposed the current date – May 25, 1995.

Contrary therefore to the complainant’s charge, the promulgation of the Decision, in respondent’s view was not precipitate. As a matter of fact, in obedience to the Court of Appeals, the promulgation was deferred several times.

According to respondent there was no basis to change his mind, as the accused did not present witnesses in her defense despite ample opportunities granted her. After her counsel’s manifestation in court that if Fiscal Velasco were around, he would be presented to testify to the effect that it was before him that the Affidavit of Desistance of Ligaya Santos was sworn to, and to which the public prosecutor offered no objection and even admitted the tenor of the offer, there was nothing more to be done. This was the only “evidence” offered by the accused. The public prosecutor moved for the submission of the case, which was granted. Hence, according to the respondent, there was no reason to re-write the whole decision where there was no reason for the respondent Judge to change his disposition. He added, this was not antedating. There would be antedating, if the decision were made on May 25, 1995 but backdated December 2, 1994. Neither was it pre-judgment, he said. Rather, it was a judgment promulgated belatedly because of the Court of Appeals’ restraining order, which order eventually “self-destructed” after the lapse of twenty (20) days. The accused was fully aware of the developments in the cases, particularly the deferred promulgation of the decision for several months, said the respondent.

(6) Lastly, respondent averred that the cancellation of complainant’s bail bond was not whimsical nor arbitrary. After the promulgation of the Decision convicting the accused for a penalty higher than six (6) years, under Circular No. 12-94, the accused must be ordered committed in jail. The respondent could not question the wisdom of the Circular, he was under obligation to implement it.

Considering carefully the complainant’s charges and the respondent Judge’s Comments thereon, We find that except for one issue, the aforementioned charges have been sufficiently and satisfactorily refuted by respondent. However, with respect to the prosecution’s failure to present in evidence the original checks subject of the informations filed against the accused Gutierrez, We are not in accord with respondent Judge’s conclusion that same is inconsequential for her conviction.

For, it is not disputed that the five (5) checks subject of the five (5) information for Violation of B.P. Blg. 22 and the information for Estafa, are UCPB checks with Nos. SRD022496, SRD022513, PTU031796, PTU031797, and PTU031798. It is also not disputed that all these five (5) checks were not presented and formally offered in evidence. Rather, the evidence of the prosecution consisted of the replacement check drawn against UCPB, namely Check No. SRD043939, the return deposit slip issued by the PNB indicating that this replacement check was dishonored by the UCPB for the reason, “stop payment”, and the testimony of the PNB representative, one Hernando Balmores, Jr. to the effect that this replacement check was indeed returned by the UCPB for the reason aforestated. This was very explicit from the Order of respondent Judge[3] denying petitioner’s motion for reconsideration from the denial of her Demurrer to Evidence to wit:
“x x x. On the matter of the failure of the prosecution to mark in evidence the checks as alleged in the information, the prosecuting fiscal that what was marked is a document executed by the accused to the effect that said checks were in her possession and that the same were replaced with other checks. Now, as to the matter of the representative of the bank not coming from the drawee bank, the Court considers this testimony of the witness as only part of the evidence for the prosecution.”
Undoubtedly, respondent Judge based the judgment of conviction, not on the checks themselves, as these were not proffered in evidence, but on petitioner’s written statement, dated November 15, 1995, which respondent judge considered as admission on the part of the petitioner that, she had indeed, issued the bouncing checks subject of the informations but that she had replaced them with new checks.

Evidently, respondent Judge misconstrued and misapplied the rule with regard to admission in criminal cases.

The issue of whether or not an admission in criminal cases is adequate to prove beyond reasonable doubt the commission of the crime charged has been settled in the case of People vs. Solayao[4] where this Court made the following pronouncements:
“xxx xxx. By its very nature, an “admission is the mere acknowledgement of a fact or of circumstances from which guilt may inferred, tending to incriminate the speaker, but not sufficient of itself to establish his guilt.” In other words, it is a “statement by defendant of fact or facts pertinent to issues pending, in connection with proof of other facts or circumstances, to prove guilt, but which is of itself, insufficient to authorize conviction.” From the above principles, this Court can infer that an admission in criminal cases is insufficient to prove beyond reasonable doubt the commission of the crime charged."[5]
By itself, herein complainant’s letter dated November 15, 1995, which respondent Judge construed as an admission that she indeed issued the checks subject of the Informations filed against her and that she was replacing them with new ones, does not prove beyond reasonable doubt her culpability under B.P. 22 and Article 315 (2)(d) of the Revised Penal Code. To establish her guilt, it is indispensable that the checks she issued for which she was subsequently charged, be offered in evidence because the gravamen of the offense charged is the act of knowingly issuing a check with insufficient funds.[6] Clearly, it was error to convict complainant on the basis of her letter alone.

Nevertheless, despite this incorrect interpretation of a rule on evidence, we do not find the same as sufficiently constitutive of the charges of gross ignorance of the law and of knowingly rendering an unjust decision. Rather, it is at most an error in judgement, for which, as a general rule, he cannot be held administratively liable. In this regard, we reiterate the prevailing rule in our jurisdiction as established by current jurisprudence:
“We have heretofore ruled that a judge may not be held administratively accountable for every erroneous order or decision he renders. To unjustifiably hold otherwise, assuming that he has erred, would be nothing short of harassment and would make his position doubly unbearable, for no one called upon to try the facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice can be infallible in his judgment. The error must be gross or patent, malicious, deliberate or in evident bad faith. It is only in this latter instance, when the judge acts fraudulently or with gross ignorance, that administrative sanctions are called for as an imperative duty of this Court.

“As a matter of public policy then, the acts of a judge in his official capacity are not subject to disciplinary action, even though such acts are erroneous. Good faith and absence of malice, corrupt motives or improper consideration are sufficient defenses in which a judge charged with ignorance of the law can find refuge. xxx xxx.”[7]
Moreover, it must be stressed that in the case of De la Cruz vs. Concepcion[8] this Court declared that:
“Mere errors in the appreciation of evidence, unless so gross and patent as to produce an inference of ignorance or bad faith, or of knowing rendition of an unjust decision, are irrelevant and immaterial in an administrative proceeding against him. No one, called upon to try facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice, can be infallible in his judgment. All that is expected of him is that he follow the rules prescribed to ensure a fair and impartial hearing, assess the different factors that emerge therefrom and bear on the issues presented, and on the basis of the conclusions he finds established, with only his conscience and knowledge of the law to guide him, adjudicate the case accordingly.”[9]
In this case, the record is bereft of any evidence to conclusively show that the respondent Judge’s actuations were tainted with malice and bad faith, hence the administrative charges against him must fail.

WHEREFORE, the instant complaint for Serious Misconduct, Graft and Corruption, Knowingly Rendering an Unjust Decision, Falsification of Public Document, and Gross Ignorance of the Law against respondent Judge Rodolfo G. Palattao is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit.

Narvasa, C.J., Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Martinez, and Purisima, JJ., concur.
Bellosillo, J., No part due to relation to party.

[1] Decision penned by respondent Judge dated May 25, 1995, p. 4.

[2] Supplemental Comment, July 7, 1995, pp. 2-10.

[3] Order dated August 30, 1994.

[4] G.R. No. 119220, September 20, 1996, 262 SCRA 255.

[5] Ibid., p. 264.

[6] Lim vs. Court of Appeals, 251 SCRA 408 (1995).

[7] Guillermo vs. Reyes, Jr., A.M. No. RTJ-93-1088, January 18, 1995, 240 SCRA 154, 161 citing Rodrigo vs. Quijano, 79 SCRA 10 (1977); Lopez vs. Corpus, 78 SCRA 374 (1977); Pilipinas Bank vs. Tirona-Liwag, 190 SCRA 834 (1990); Quizon vs. Baltazar, Jr., 65 SCRA 293 (1975); Galan Realty Co. Inc., etc. vs. Arranz, etc., A.M. No. MTJ-93-978, October 27, 1994; Libarios vs. Dabalos, 199 SCRA 48 (1991); Lardizabal, etc., vs. Reyes, A.M. No. MTJ-94-897, December 5, 1994.

[8] A.M. No. RTJ-93-1062, August 25, 1994, 235 SCRA 597.

[9] Ibid. p. 606 citing Balayon, Jr. vs. Ocampo, A.M. No. MTJ-91-619, 29 January 1993, 218 SCRA 13, 24-25 (1993); Vda. de Zabala vs. Pamaran, Adm. Case No. 200-J, 39 SCRA 430 (1971); Ramirez vs. Corpuz-Macandog, A.M. No. R-351-RTJ, 144 SCRA 462 (1986); Ubungen vs. Mayo, A.M. No. 1255-CTJ, 6 August 1980, 99 SCRA 30, 34 (1980); Louis Vuitton, S.A. vs. Villanueva, A.M. No. MTJ-92-643, 27 November 1992, 216 SCRA 121, 131 (1992); Miranda vs. Manaslastas, A.M. No. MTJ-88-159, 21 December 1989; Negado vs. Autajay, A.M. No. R-70-RTJ, 21 May 1993, 222 SCRA 295, 298 (1993).

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