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478 Phil. 390


[ A.M. No. RTJ-04-1836, July 14, 2004 ]




On September 19, 2002, Dr. Jaime O. Sevilla filed a verified complaint against Presiding Judge Abraham B. Borreta, Regional Trial Court of Pasig City, Branch 154, accusing him of Ignorance of the Law in violation of Canon 3, Rule 3.01 and Delay of Justice under Canon 1, Rule 1.02, both of the Code of Judicial Conduct, in connection with Civil Case No. 37822 entitled Carmelita C. Sevilla v. Dr. Jaime O. Sevilla, for Support.[1]

The pertinent facts in this administrative matter are undisputed.

On September 25, 2001, Mrs. Carmelita C. Sevilla filed a Motion for Execution of the Order dated July 4, 2001 issued by Presiding Judge Ramon R. Buenaventura of the RTC of Pasig, Branch 154.  The motion for execution pertained to a complaint for support against her estranged husband, Dr. Sevilla, who was ordered to pay P40,000 to Mrs. Sevilla and P32,000 to their son, Carlos Rafael Sevilla.

On October 1, 2001, respondent assumed office as Presiding Judge of Branch 154, RTC of Pasig City.

On November 16, 2001, Mrs. Sevilla filed a Motion for Execution and Issuance of a Hold-Departure Order (HDO), alleging that Dr. Sevilla failed to remit P72,000, the total amount of accumulated unpaid support, as ordered by the court, nor has he shown any intention to obey the said order.

On April 3, 2002, respondent granted Mrs. Sevilla’s motion.[2] On May 8, 2002, the Court directed the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation (BID) to include the name of Dr. Sevilla in its hold-departure order list.[3]

Complainant Dr. Sevilla thru counsel immediately filed a Motion for Reconsideration dated May 30, 2002 of the HDO, alleging that it had no factual nor legal basis and was a clear infringement of his client’s constitutional right to travel.[4]

On June 6, 2002, complainant paid P72,000, evidenced by the Sheriff’s Return dated June 28, 2002.[5]

On June 17, 2002, complainant filed a Supplement to the Motion for Reconsideration alleging that the Writ of Execution had already been satisfied and prayed for the cancellation of the HDO.  During the hearing of the said motion on June 28, 2002, complainant alleged that the respondent openly refused to look at the receipt of the payment and was visibly irked when complainant’s counsel pointed out that the issuance of the HDO violated Circular No. 39-97,[6] providing that an HDO can only be issued in criminal cases.  Respondent then required a comment from the opposition within 5 days because the Sheriff’s Return had not been filed at the time of the hearing.

On July 22, 2002, complainant filed another Urgent Ex Parte Motion to Lift Hold-Departure Order on the ground that the basis for the issuance of the HDO – the non-compliance with the July 4, 2001 Order – was already moot and academic.  Noteworthy, on August 9, 2002, respondent lifted the HDO upon the filing of a new Motion to Lift Hold-Departure Order dated August 5, 2002.

On September 19, 2002, the herein complaint was filed. Complainant contends that the issuance of the HDO is a clear manifestation of respondent’s incompetence and ignorance of the law.  According to complainant, the respondent judge should know that an HDO can be issued only in criminal cases as provided by Circular No. 39-97, the basis of the Court’s issuance of the HDO.[7] Furthermore, complainant avers, respondent unduly delayed rendering an order to lift the HDO.

In his Comment, respondent judge avers that his issuance of the HDO had legal basis and the decision to issue the HDO was left to his sound judgment and discretion. Respondent, explaining the alleged lack of legal basis of the HDO, contends that complainant’s refusal and/or erratic failure to give support, may give rise to an action for contempt of court which is in the nature of a criminal action[8] and was punishable by imprisonment – his basis for his issuance of the HDO.

On the accusation that he failed to act promptly in lifting the HDO, respondent claims that he acted on the motion with dispatch, in good faith, without malice, and in accordance with law. He points out that what complainant wanted was to dictate on the calendar of the court.  Respondent adds that his intention in requiring Mrs. Sevilla to comment on the motion to lift the HDO was to give her due process, and ascertain the compliance of the judgment for support thru the Sheriff’s Return, to the extent that he even directed the sheriff to explain why the latter lifted the garnishment without an order from the court.

On the instructions of this Court to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) to investigate, and report its findings on the complaint, the OCA found that on the matter of delay, more than one month had lapsed from June 28, 2002, the date of the hearing of the motion for execution and the HDO. Also, the motion to lift the HDO was filed on August 5, 2002 and the Order lifting the HDO was given four days later on August 9, 2002.  According to the OCA, considering that complainant was a retained physician of Cathay Pacific Airlines, charged with accompanying ailing passengers on flight, respondent should have acted on the motion to reconsider more promptly since an HDO on complainant meant he would not be able to perform his professional obligations. Besides, respondent should have taken into account that P72,000 was too modest an amount for complainant to think of absconding.

On the charge of ignorance of the law, the OCA opined that indeed contempt of court is in the nature of a criminal proceeding, but contempt under Rule 71 of the Rules of Court is a special civil action that cannot be converted to a criminal case. The OCA observed that the contempt in this case was merely an incident of the main civil case. Further, respondent judge clearly violated Circular No. 39-97.

Based on the Court’s recent promulgations involving the erroneous issuances of HDO,[9] the OCA recommended that respondent judge be reprimanded with stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely.

We agree with the evaluation and recommendation of the Court Administrator that respondent judge erred in issuing the hold-departure order and failed to appreciate the circumstances necessitating the lifting of the hold- departure order more promptly.

Indeed, contempt is in the nature of a criminal action, but only with regard to its procedural aspect. A contempt proceeding is sui generis. While it has elements of both a civil and a criminal proceeding, it is not a criminal proceeding even though the contemptuous act involved could be a crime. It is remedial and civil in nature. It is for the enforcement of a duty.  It is auxiliary to the main case as it proceeds out of the original case. It is essentially a new and independent proceeding in that it involves new issues and must be initiated by the issuance and service of a new process.[10] Contempt under Rule 71 of the Rules of Court is a special civil action that cannot be converted into a criminal action.

Circular 39-97 provides that an HDO may be issued only in criminal cases by the RTC.  Respondent cannot feign lack of knowledge of the circular because he cited it in his Order dated April 3, 2002.[11] Following the recent cases,[12] we likewise concur with the OCA’s recommendation concerning the penalty to be imposed for the infractions of respondent.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Judge Abraham B. Borreta of the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City, Branch 154, GUILTY of ignorance of the law as well as undue delay in rendering an order. He is hereby REPRIMANDED with STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar offenses will be dealt with more severely.


Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, p. 58.

[2] Id. at 22, 24.

[3] Id. at 9.

[4] Id. at 58.

[5] Id. at 10.

In order to avoid the indiscriminate issuance of Hold-Departure Orders resulting in inconvenience to the parties affected, the same being tantamount to an infringement on the right and liberty of an individual to travel and to ensure that the Hold-Departure Orders which are issued contain complete and accurate information, the following guidelines are hereby promulgated:
  1. Hold-Departure Orders shall be issued only in criminal cases within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Courts;
. . .
[7] Rollo, p. 59.

[8] Id. at 61.

[9] Citing A.M. No. 99-9-141-MTCC, 25 November 1999; A.M. No. 00-8-163-MTC, 30 August 2000; A.M. No. 00-8-383-RTC, 13 September 2000.

[10] People v. Godoy, G.R. Nos. 115908-09, 29 March 1995, 243 SCRA 64, 78-80.

[11] Rollo, p. 62.

[12] Supra, note 9.

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