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A.M. No. RTJ-04-1891 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 04-2093-RTJ)


[ A.M. No. RTJ-04-1891 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 04-2093-RTJ), July 28, 2005 ]




On November 21, 2003, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) received a Letter[1] dated November 3, 2003 from "Concerned citizens of the lower court" reporting the alleged "practices" of Judge Edmundo T. Acuña, Regional Trial Court, Caloocan City, Branch 123.  According to the letter, the respondent Judge conducted trials, signed orders and even sentenced accused while on official leave from August 15, 2001 to September 15, 2001.  Among the decided cases were as follows:
  1. Crim. Case No. C-63250 People v. Alex Sabayan;
  2. Crim. Case No. C-63261-62 People v. Renato Simo;
  3. Crim. Case No. C-61323 People v. Elizabeth Canaberal;
  4. Crim. Case No. C-63238 People v. Narciso Asistio, et al.; and
  5. Crim. Case No. C-63238 People v. Marlon Duritan.
The letter went on to question whether the respondent had authority to impose such sentences, issue orders and conduct hearings.  Aside from listing the respondent's "dialogues," his "favorite expressions" were likewise listed, as follows:
  1. Putris
  2. Anak ng pating
  3. Putang Ina
  4. Pogi, beauty
  5. Tulungan nyo naman ako, hirap na hirap na ko.
  6. Mali ka na naman.
According to the unknown complainants, the respondent Judge also "spends much of his energy talking" and loves to berate and embarrass people, not caring whether he speaks in open court, as long as he has an audience.  The complainants further stated that the respondent's decisions usually take about seven to ten drafts, as he "changes his mind so many times." It was further alleged that the respondent loves to "glorify himself," and that his behavior was weird.

In his comment, the respondent averred that the writers of the letter were actuated by improper motive, and sent the letter with no other purpose than to harass him.  Furthermore, the allegations in the letter were fabricated, exaggerated, or misquoted.

Anent the allegation that he conducted trials, signed orders and issued sentences while he was on official leave, the respondent alleged that he was issued an Authority to Travel[2] dated August 14, 2001 duly approved and signed by then Acting Court Administrator Zenaida Elepaño allowing him to travel to Toronto, Canada to visit his brother, who unfortunately passed away before he could leave.  As evidenced by the entries in the daily time records/logbook,[3] he was not yet on leave from August 15, 2001 to August 21, 2001.  As such, he had the "right and duty to come to court and conduct trials, sign orders and issue sentences."  His application[4] for a thirty-day leave was from August 21, 2001 to September 21, 2001, duly approved by Deputy Court Administrator Jose P. Perez.

On the allegation that he exhibited weird behavior, he explained that he was still mourning the loss of his eldest son who died of a fatal aneurism last December 21, 2002.  His son, who was at the prime of his life, had just taken the 2002 bar examinations and was employed at a law firm.  The respondent Judge surmised that the unknown complainants may have seen and observed him at the "second phase of his recovery," a time when he was depressed and angry.

As to the alleged humiliating statements that he made, the respondent Judge admitted having made some of them while he was discussing the performance ratings of his staff.  He insisted, however, that he had been misquoted, and dismissed as mere fabrication some of the statements attributed to him.  He admitted, however, that "putris, putang-ina, beauty and pogi" were among his favorite expressions, but clarified that he did not use them often, certainly not in open court.

In its Report dated September 17, 2004, the OCA recommended that the instant administrative case be re-docketed as a regular administrative matter, and that the respondent be reprimanded for ignorance of a policy on leave of absence expressed through the ruling of the Court in Paz v. Tiong,[5] where it was held that a judge on leave of absence "would have absolutely no authority to discharge his duties or exercise the powers of a judge."  The OCA made the following evaluation:
Official records culled from the OCA Office of Administrative Services indicate that Judge Acuña had an approved application for leave covering the period from 21 August 2001 to 21 September 2001. This application for leave of absence was approved on 3 August 2001. In view of this approved application for leave, it was a natural expectation that Judge Acuña would cease from exercising his functions during the said period.

However, per verification with the clerk-in-charge at RTC Branch 123, Caloocan City, respondent Judge Acuña presided over the following cases on 21 August 2001:
  1. Criminal Case No. C-63250 entitled "People v. Alex Sibayan";
  2. Criminal Case No. 63261-62 entitled "People v. Renato Simo"; and
  3. Criminal Case No. 61323 entitled "People v. Canaberal".
In his Comment dated 19 January 2004, the respondent judge admitted reporting for work on 21 August 2001 and presiding over two (2) criminal cases. He even took pride in the fact that he did not go on leave that day, pointing to the court's logbook as proof of his attendance.

The admission by Judge Acuña confirms the allegation in the anonymous letter that he performed his functions on a day when he was already on leave of absence.  The reference made by the respondent judge to the logbook only serves to establish that he indeed performed his duties on 21 August 2001 - the first day of his official leave.  We state that not even his overzealousness to work can shield him from administrative liability for ignorance of the consequences of his approved application for leave of absence.[6]
In a Resolution[7] dated December 8, 2004, the Court resolved to refer the matter to Court of Appeals Associate Justice Monina Arevalo-Zeñarosa for investigation, report and recommendation.  The respondent manifested that he was going to file an extended comment, which the Investigating Justice allowed.

In his supplemental comment, the respondent alleged that he decided to defer his leave for another week as his siblings who would be going with him to Canada had not yet secured their visas.  The respondent alleged that he was even uncertain if this could be done by amending his travel authority. Jenny Rivera-Baliton, the clerk in charge of criminal cases in the respondent's sala, informed him that this would take another week or so. Ms. Rivera-Baliton executed an affidavit attesting to the veracity of the respondent's claim.  Thus, the respondent decided not to defer his leave anymore, and no longer reported for work beginning August 22, 2001.  On the issue of hearing cases on August 21, 2001 despite his approved travel authority and approved leave, the respondent claimed, thus:
. . . I was not actuated by any evil or improper motive. Neither was I motivated by any monetary consideration or otherwise except by my desire to discharge my sworn duty to administer justice expeditiously. I acted in good faith and in the honest belief that I had the right to defer the effectivity of my leave chargeable against the 30-day forfeitable leave benefit. I wish to reiterate at this juncture what I stated in my original comment that the leave I applied for in 2001 was my first full availment of the 30-day forfeitable leave. Previously, and even after 2001, I went on forfeitable leave only for several days and never consumed the complete 30 days leave accorded to judges. In hearing cases on August 21, 2001, I did not receive any extra remuneration for it.  The public service was not prejudiced thereby. I had in mind only the interest of the accused who were in detention. I had no intention of violating any rule, nor was it ever my intention to prejudice anybody. On that day, as in the past, I had a heavy case load, involving detention prisoners as I [my court is] a Drugs Court. (My court is also a commercial [law] and [Intellectual Property Law] Court, the only branch in Caloocan City which is that). Had I not heard the cases of the accused who pleaded guilty on that day, they would have waited for my return after 30 days.

If I committed any infraction of the rules on leave, in all sincerity, to reiterate, there was no intention at all on my part to so disregard the rules. If I committed any infraction, I plead for the leniency of this Court with a promise that I will not commit a repetition thereof anymore.[8]
The Investigating Justice thereafter submitted her Report, recommending that the complaint be dismissed for lack of merit.  She ratiocinated that while the respondent Judge admitted having performed his functions on August 21, 2001, the date of the commencement of his approved leave, there was nothing repulsive in deferring the date of his leave.  Moreover, there was no showing that the respondent was actuated by any ulterior motive other than to lessen his workload.  According to the Investigating Justice, the respondent's decision to report for work that day appears to have been motivated by his honest belief that he could defer his leave and make the necessary adjustments later; he had no clear intent to deliberately ignore the rules regarding vacation leaves.  The Investigating Justice further pointed out that nobody was prejudiced by the respondent's appearance during that day, and went on to state:
However, respondent should bear in mind that approved leaves are filed through official documents and in the future, such act may obliterate the validity of the issuances he made while on official leave when his orders, decisions and other promulgations reflect a date when he is already supposed to be on leave. Thus, he should exercise utmost caution regarding these matters.

Therefore, in our consideration, the act of respondent does not constitute such a gross ignorance of the rules that will warrant an administrative liability. In view of the lack of malice and improper motive in reporting for work and discharging his functions and taking into account his desire to dispense justice promptly, respondent cannot be said to have been grossly ignorant of the rules as to be deemed administratively liable.[9]
As to the use of humiliating and insensitive expressions, the Investigating Justice agreed with the OCA that the use of "putris" and "putang ina" were unfit expressions for men of the robe.  It did not matter that they were not directed to any person in particular, as they give the impression of a person's ill manners.  Considering that the respondent is not an ordinary citizen, such intemperate language detracts from how a judge should conduct himself.  The Investigating Justice made the following conclusion:
In sum, we find that the allegations in the anonymous complaint, some of which were admitted with qualifications by the respondent, are not sufficient to warrant a penalty other than to remind him of the rules regarding official leaves and of proper conduct of judges.

As a final note, respondent is reminded that as a judge, it is paramount that a judge's official conduct should be free from the appearance of impropriety, and his personal behavior, not only in the bench and in the performance of his official duties, but also in his everyday life should be beyond reproach. This includes following simple rules as well as conducting himself in the most respectable and honorable manner possible. Only through such kind of demeanor of the members of the judiciary that the institution earns the respect and faith of our people in the administration of justice.[10]
The Court agrees with the Investigating Justice's observation that the respondent's use of such expletives is improper for the extolled office of a magistrate of the law.  By virtue of the very office he holds, the public expects more of the respondent as he undeniably occupies an exalted yet delicate niche in the administration of justice.  Those who don the judicial robe and wield the judicial gavel ought to impress in their consciousness that appearance is an essential manifestation of reality.[11] Thus, the respondent's claim that his "favorite expressions" were not directed at anyone in particular is unacceptable.

Judges are demanded to be always temperate, patient and courteous both in conduct and in language.[12] Indeed, a judge should so behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.[13] Propriety and the appearance of propriety are essential to the performance of all the activities of a judge.[14] We recognize, of course, that judges are also human beings, with their own burdens and private affairs.  However, having accepted the esteemed position of judge, the respondent ought to have known that more is expected of him than an ordinary citizen.  As subjects of constant public scrutiny, personal restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen should be freely and willingly accepted by a judge.  In particular, he or she must exhibit conduct consistent with the dignity of the judicial office.[15] Indeed, a judge's personal behavior, not only while in the performance of official duties, must be beyond reproach, being the visible personification of law and of justice.[16]

Thus, while we commiserate with the respondent Judge for the loss of his brother and son, we cannot spare him from the consequences of his unacceptable behavior.

In Ignacio v. Valenzuela,[17] a judge who heard a motion while he was on vacation was held guilty of impropriety and was meted a fine of one month's salary.  To reiterate, a judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.[18] Thus, in conducting hearings and promulgation of decisions on the day when his official leave of absence was to commence, the respondent Judge was guilty of impropriety.  Considering, however, that no bad faith or ill motive can be attributed to the respondent, the Court deems it proper to reprimand him for his actuations.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Edmundo T. Acuña is found GUILTY of impropriety and is REPRIMANDED therefor.  He is STERNLY WARNED that the repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.


Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, pp. 8-10.

[2] Annex "B," Rollo, p. 30.

[3] Annexes "A" to "A4," Id. at 26-28.

[4] Annex "C," Id. at 31.

[5] A.M. No. MTJ-94-998, 9 February 1996, 253 SCRA 364.

[6] Rollo, p. 4.

[7] Id. at 72.

[8] Rollo, pp. 80-81.

[9] Report, p. 7.

[10] Id. at 9.

[11] Lumibao v. Judge Panal, 377 Phil. 157 (1999).

[12] Fidel v. Caraos, A.M. No. MTJ-99-1224, 12 December 2002, 394 SCRA 47.

[13] Rule 2.01, Code of Judicial Conduct.

[14] Canon 4, New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary, which took effect on June 1, 2004.

[15] Section 2, Canon 4, Id.

[16] Alday v. Cruz, Jr., A.M. No. RTJ-00-1530, 14 March 2001, 354 SCRA 322.

[17] A.C. No. 2252-CFI, 18 January 1982, 111 SCRA 12.

[18] Canon 2, Code of Judicial Conduct.

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