Supreme Court E-Library
Information At Your Fingertips

  View printer friendly version

473 Phil. 193


[ A.M. No. MTJ-02-1417, May 27, 2004 ]




The instant administrative complaint stemmed from a Letter-Complaint dated January 22, 2001 filed by Peter Bejarasco, Jr. and Isabelita Bejarasco charging Judge Alfredo Buenconsejo, Clerk of Court Secundino Piedad, and Court Stenographer Leonisa Gonzales of the Municipal Trial Court of Dalaguete, Cebu, with dereliction of duty, ignorance of the law, grave misconduct and serious irregularity relative to Criminal Cases Nos. R-04171 and R-4172.[1]

The complainants alleged that they were charged by a certain Dr. Edwin Fonghe with grave threats and grave oral defamation before the Municipal Trial Court of Dalaguete, Cebu. According to the complainants, the respondent judge inhibited himself from the said cases on the ground of delicadeza and that Executive Judge Epifanio Llanos of the Regional Trial Court of Argao, Cebu, Branch 26, designated Judge Palmacio Calderon of the MTC of Argao, Cebu, to hear and try the said cases.[2] Judge Calderon conducted continuous and simultaneous trials, and the cases were submitted for decision on June 29, 1999. Unfortunately, Judge Calderon died on December 31, 1999 without having rendered judgment on the said cases.

The complainants alleged that they were surprised to receive a notice from the MTC of Argao, Cebu, that Criminal Cases Nos. R-4171 and R-4172 had been set for promulgation on May 15, 2000 by the respondent judge, who was then designated as presiding judge of the said court.

The complainants alleged, thus:
9. That after I (affiant husband) received the notice, I immediately proceeded to the house of Judge Buenconsejo at Poblacion, Dalaguete, Cebu, and told him about my late receipt of notice, but Judge Buenconsejo told me that the promulgation was reset by the lawyer;

10. That I (affiant husband) then inquired from Judge Buenconsejo why would he promulgate the decision he had already inhibited himself from (trying) my cases, and why would the promulgation be only on two (2) criminal cases instead of five (5) cases which were all submitted for decision;

11. That Judge Buenconsejo answered me (affiant husband) in the following manner: “Tikboy, miadto mi kuyog sa akong mga clerks sa ilang Judge Calderon. Wala koy mahimo, order ni sa akong superior Judge Llanos. Huwata lang ang sunod nga notice.” which in English means: “Tikboy, my clerks and I went to the house of Judge Calderon. There is nothing I can do, this is the order of my superior Judge Llanos. Just wait for the next notice.”;

12. That on May 16, 2000, at about 10:00 A.M., I (affiant husband) went to the MTC of Argao, Cebu, passed by the office of my PAO lawyer Atty. Quindala, and we both went to Secundino Piedad of the MTC, and upon inquiry by Atty. Quindala, Mr. Piedad informed us that I was convicted in the decision to be promulgated;…[3]
The complainants, thereafter, received another notice of promulgation at 10:00 a.m. of May 29, 2000. On the said date, the complainants’ counsel argued that the respondent judge could not promulgate the decision since he had earlier inhibited himself from trying the said cases, and that the judge who actually heard the case had already died. The respondent judge, however, ignored these arguments and proceeded with the promulgation of the Decision[4] dated November 19, 1999, convicting both complainants.

Thereafter, the complainants’ counsel filed a motion to nullify the decision. The respondent judge denied the motion, and ordered the arrest of the complainants. The latter’s counsel filed a petition for certiorari with the Regional Trial Court of Argao, Cebu, Branch 26, questioning the validity of the decision in Criminal Cases Nos. R-4171 and R-4172 and its promulgation.

During the pendency of their petition for certiorari, the complainants requested for an expert examination of the signatures of the late Judge Calderon in his decisions with the PNP Crime Laboratory.[5] The complainants submitted a copy of Questioned Document Report No. 098-2000[6] where the document examiner of the PNP Crime Laboratory made the following findings:
FINDINGS: Comparative examination ans (sic) analysis of the questioned signatures marked “Q-1” to “Q-3” inclusive and the standard signatures marked “S-1” and “S-14” inclusive reveal significant differences in formation, construction and other individual handwriting characteristics.

**** **** ****

CONCLUSION: The questioned signatures of Judge Palmacio L. Calderon appearing in the three copies of page 6 of the Decision in Criminal Cases Nos. 4171 and 4172 all dated 19 November 1999 marked “Q-1” to “Q-3” inclusive are forged.[7]
On January 3, 2001, Judge Raphael B. Yrastorza, Sr. rendered his Resolution on the petition for certiorari, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, all the foregoing premises considering, this Court resolves to GRANT the Petition MODIFIED as follows:
  1. Issuing a preliminary mandatory injunction in favor of the petitioners herein ordering public respondent Hon. ALFREDO D. BUENCONSEJO from having the warrant of arrest he earlier issued enforced; the said warrant of arrest is, thus, ordered QUASHED, UNTIL and UNLESS a new decision/judgment is rendered and promulgated;

  2. Ordering the Hon. EMILIO T. REYES, Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court of Sibonga, Cebu, to take over these cases from Hon. ALFREDO D. BUENCONSEJO and render a decision/judgment on these cases and have the same promulgated without further delay.

  3. Ordering public respondent Hon. ALFREDO D. BUENCONSEJO to make available and turn over the records of these cases, including the stenographic notes duly transcribed unto the Clerk of Court of Hon. EMILIO T. REYES.

  4. Ordering the Clerk of Court of this Court to return the records of these cases to the court of origin.
The complainants contended that the respondent judge is guilty of ignorance of the law, grave misconduct and serious irregularity, and is presumed to be the author of the forged signature of Judge Palmacio Calderon. The favorable resolution of their petition for certiorari in the RTC further showed the respondent judge’s ignorance of the law and misconduct. They, thus, prayed that the respondent judge be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits.

In his comment, the respondent judge denied the charges and accusations against him. He averred, thus:
a) The Decision dated November 19, 1999 in Criminal Cases Nos. R-4171 and R-4172 was personally and directly prepared and signed by the late Judge Palmacio Calderon during his lifetime;

b) The said decision was left and deposited by Judge Calderon with his Clerk of Court of MTC Argao, Cebu;

c) Unfortunately, however, Judge Calderon fell ill and was hospitalized for sometime until his demise on December 31, 1999, and for which reason the subject questioned decision was not promulgated during his lifetime;

d) When I assumed office as Acting Judge Designate of the MTC of Argao, Cebu, the Clerk of Court informed me about the decision which was left and entrusted to him by Judge Calderon, and consequently, I directed the Clerk of Court to set the same for promulgation which was actually made in open court in the presence of the complainants as the accused therein and their counsel in the morning of May 29, 2001;

e) Under the above circumstances, I honestly believe in good faith that there was no irregularity in the promulgation of the questioned subject decision as my only participation on this matter was merely an exercise of a ministerial duty to enforce the said decision which was already long rendered by the judge who actually and completely heard the above-mentioned criminal cases on the merits, basing my actuation on the express pertinent provision of Section 6, Rule 120 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure which states as follows: “The Judgment is promulgated by reading it in the presence of the accused and the judge of the court in which it was rendered (Underlining ours);

f) At any rate, if there was ever an error on my part, it was never done with malice in order to prejudice the substantial rights of the complainant.[9]
The respondent alleged that he denied the complainants’ motion to nullify the decision in Criminal Cases Nos. R-4171 and R-4172 as the same was not the proper remedy available under the particular circumstances of the case, but rather an appeal, or a motion for new trial as the case may be. Consequently, the said decision became final and executory after the lapse of the reglementary period within which the complainants might have availed of any of the said legal remedies. Thus, according to the respondent, he issued an order of arrest against the complainants so that they could serve their sentence.

The respondent also pointed out that the complainants had already filed a complaint[10] before the Office of the Ombudsman, docketed as OMB-VIS-CRIM-98-0166, and that such complaint was dismissed.[11] The respondent averred that the instant complaint was in the nature of a harassment suit in order to exact leverage on him and antagonize him, which has been frowned upon by the Court.

For her part, Court Stenographer Leonisa Gonzales alleged that the late Judge Calderon directed her to submit all the transcripts of stenographic notes within a period of fifteen days from the time the case was submitted for decision. She denied having conversed with the parties in Criminal Cases Nos. R-4171 and R-4172. She could not, however, attest to the correctness or erroneousness of the charges against the respondent judge. She also averred that she did not witness the signing of the questioned decision, whether by the late Judge Calderon or the respondent judge.[12]

Clerk of Court Secundino Piedad attested[13] that sometime in April 2000, he visited the residence of the late Judge Calderon in La Paloma, Labangon, Cebu City, to verify the serial number of a typewriter assigned to the late Judge Calderon for clearance purposes. The wife of the late Judge Calderon, Alicia T. Calderon, thereafter, handed to him the records of Criminal Cases Nos. R-4171 and R-4172, including a decision thereon duly signed by the late judge. Consequently, he informed the respondent, then acting presiding judge, about the decision and the latter set the same for promulgation. He was then ordered to issue a subpoena to the complainants (accused therein) for the promulgation of judgment, but for the latter’s failure to receive the said subpoena on time, another was issued setting the promulgation of the said judgment on May 29, 2000. Piedad averred he merely executed and implemented the legal orders of the court.

Additionally, Alicia T. Calderon executed an affidavit[14] to attest to the fact that the late judge indeed signed the questioned decisions.

In its Report dated February 8, 2002, the Court Administrator made the following recommendations:
  1. The present case be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative matter;

  2. The respondent judge be FINED in the amount of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) to be deducted from the Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00) previously set aside by the Court and to direct the Financial Management Office, OCA, to release the balance of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00); and

  3. The charges against Clerk of Court Secundino Piedad and Court Stenographer Leonisa Gonzales be DISMISSED for lack of substantial evidence to hold them administratively liable.[15]
Respondent Gonzales, thereafter, filed an Urgent Request for Clearance and Motion to Resolve or Dismiss[16] the instant complaint as against her, praying that she be cleared for retirement purposes to enable her to receive her retirement benefits. Upon the recommendation of the Court Administrator, we granted her request and directed the Financial Management Office to immediately release her compulsory retirement benefits subject to the retention of the amount of P5,000 from the money value of her terminal leave credits pending the resolution of this matter.[17] The case was, thereafter, referred to Executive Judge Maximo A. Perez of the Regional Trial Court of Argao, Cebu, for investigation, report and recommendation.

In his Report and Recommendation, the Executive Judge found that the respondent’s actuation of promulgating the decision of the late Judge Calderon in Criminal Cases Nos. R-4171 and R-4172, considering that he (the respondent) also inhibited himself from presiding on the said cases, constitutes misconduct. It was recommended that the respondent judge be fined in the amount of P10,000 and that respondents Piedad and Gonzales be exonerated from all the charges against them for lack of substantial evidence.

We agree that the respondent judge is administratively liable.

Section 1, Rule 120 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure defines and sets forth the requirements for a valid judgment:
SECTION 1. Judgment; definition and form. – Judgment is the adjudication by the court that the accused is guilty or not guilty of the offense charged and the imposition on him of the proper penalty and civil liability, if any. It must be written in the official language, personally and directly prepared by the judge and signed by him and shall contain clearly and distinctly a statement of the facts and law upon which it is based.
Thus, a judgment, to be valid, must have been personally and directly prepared by the judge, and duly signed by him. Corollarily, a decision or resolution of the court becomes such, for all legal intents and purposes, only from the moment of its promulgation. Promulgation of judgment, in turn, signifies that on the date it was made, the judge or judges who signed the decision continued to support it. If at the time of the promulgation, a judge or member of a collegiate court has already vacated his office, his vote is automatically withdrawn.[18] In criminal cases, promulgation of judgment is made by reading it in the presence of the accused and any judge of the court in which it was rendered. Judgment may be promulgated by the clerk of court only when the judge is absent or outside the province or city.[19]

It is clear then, that a judge who takes over the sala of another judge who died during office cannot validly promulgate a decision penned by the latter. In fact, decisions promulgated after the judge who penned the same had been appointed to and qualified in another office are null and void. To be binding, a judgment must be duly signed and promulgated during the incumbency of the judge whose signature appears thereon. In single courts like the regional trial courts and the municipal trial courts, a decision may no longer be promulgated after the ponente has vacated his office.[20]

The respondent judge cannot, likewise, claim that his only participation in the promulgation of the questioned decision was “merely an exercise of a ministerial duty to enforce the said decision which was already long rendered by the judge who actually and completely heard the above-mentioned criminal cases on the merits.” It must be stressed that the respondent judge had earlier inhibited himself from the cases in question, and that Judge Calderon was designated to hear and try the cases in his stead. The mere fact that the respondent judge was designated as Presiding Judge of Branch 26 following the death of Judge Calderon does not necessarily mean that his previous inhibition in relation to the criminal cases in question has been lifted. That would be an absurdity, as a valid designation presupposes that the judge so designated has not inhibited himself from the cases assigned/raffled to the said branch.[21]

We agree with the following ratiocinations of the Court Administrator:
The clause “absent or outside the province or city” refers only to temporary physical absence of the judge and his inability to be represented during the promulgation. The clause does not refer to cessation of or removal from office. In other words, the decision of the judge may be promulgated even without his presence so long as he is still a judge of that court. Therefore, where the judge who signed the decision was no longer a judge of the court at the time of the promulgation because he had already died or had retired, or had been promoted to another position, and another judge promulgated it, the judgment is invalid. (Jimenez v. Republic, 22 SCRA 622).

Granting arguendo that the decision in Criminal Cases Nos. R-4171 and R-4172 was indeed signed by the late Judge Calderon, respondent Judge Buenconsejo had no authority to promulgate the decision. Judge Calderon ceased to be the judge of that court, thus, the judgment which he signed cannot be promulgated by another judge. Any judgment or decision is valid and binding only if both [were] penned and promulgated by the judge during his incumbency. (People v. Garcia, 313 SCRA 279).

Considering that the full records of the case were available for perusal, another judge could pen the decision even if he did not hear the case in its entirety. However, since Judge Buenconsejo previously inhibited himself from hearing the criminal cases, he should have referred the matter to his Executive Judge and assigned another judge to render judgment thereon.[22]
Indeed, it is the duty of a judge to so behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.[23] He should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.[24] Having previously inhibited from the criminal cases, the respondent should have refrained from acting thereon, to avoid tainting the Court’s good name and standing as a temple of justice.

The respondent judge cannot, likewise, rely on the dismissal of the criminal charges filed against him in the Office of the Ombudsman, as it is a settled rule that administrative cases may proceed independently of criminal proceedings, and may continue despite the dismissal of the latter charges. As the disciplining arm of the judiciary, it is the Court’s duty to investigate and determine the truth behind every matter in complaints against judges and to mete the necessary penalties therefor.

In fine, the respondent’s actuations constitute gross misconduct and ignorance of the law under Section 8 of Rule 141 of the Revised Rules of Court. Considering that the respondent judge has compulsorily retired from the service, he shall be meted a fine of P20,000.

We, likewise, agree with Executive Judge Perez that the charges against respondents Piedad and Gonzales should be dismissed.

WHEREFORE, for gross misconduct and gross ignorance of the law, respondent Judge Alfredo D. Buenconsejo is ORDERED to pay a fine in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000). The charges against Clerk of Court Secundino Piedad and Court Stenographer Leonisa Gonzales of the Municipal Trial Court of Dalaguete, Cebu, are DISMISSED for lack of merit. The Financial Management Office is ORDERED to release the amount of Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000) withheld from the retirement benefits of respondent Gonzales.


Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Tinga, JJ., concur.
Puno, (Chairman),
on official leave.

[1] Entitled People of the Philippines v. Peter Bejarasco, Jr. alias Tikboy, et al.

[2] Annex “A,” Rollo, p. 6.

[3] Rollo, p. 2.

[4] Annex “B,” Rollo, pp. 7-12.

[5] Annex “G,” Id. at 26.

[6] Annex “H,” Id. at 33.

[7] Id.

[8] Rollo, pp. 39-40.

[9] Id. at 52.

[10] Id. at 71-75.

[11] Annex “A,” Rollo, pp. 57-63.

[12] Comment, Rollo, pp. 125-128.

[13] Rollo, pp. 153-154.

[14] Id. at 133.

[15] Id. at 159.

[16] Id. at 161-163.

[17] Resolution dated February 26, 2003, Rollo, p. 179-180.

[18] Jamil v. Commission on Elections, 283 SCRA 349 (1997), citing Consolidated Bank and Trust Corporation v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 189 SCRA 433 (1990).

[19] Paragraph 1, Section 6 of Rule 120.

[20] People v. Bellaflor, 233 SCRA 196 (1994).

[21] See Sevilleja v. Laggui, 362 SCRA 715 (2001).

[22] Rollo, p. 158.

[23] Canon 2.01, Code of Judicial Conduct.

[24] Canon 2.

© Supreme Court E-Library 2019
This website was designed and developed, and is maintained, by the E-Library Technical Staff in collaboration with the Management Information Systems Office.