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459 Phil. 214

SECOND DIVISION

[ AM-MTJ-00-1311 [Formerly AM-OCA-IPI-97-400-MTJ], October 03, 2003 ]

SILVESTRE H. BELLO III, PETITIONER, VS. JUDGE AUGUSTUS C. DIAZ AND DEPUTY SHERIFF EFREN P. LUNA, METC, BRANCH 37, QUEZON CITY, RESPONDENTS.

R E S O L U T I O N

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

Disciplinary proceedings against judges do not complement, supplement or substitute judicial remedies, whether ordinary or extraordinary. An inquiry into their administrative liability arising from judicial acts may be made only after other available remedies have been settled.[1]

We are called upon to reiterate this dictum in the administrative matter before us.

In a letter-complaint dated November 21, 1997 filed before the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), then Solicitor General Silvestre H. Bello III charged Judge Augustus C. Diaz of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City (Branch 37) with Rendering an Unjust Decision in Civil Case No. 37-17388, entitled "Spouses Jose B. Luriz and Amelia M. Luriz vs. Victor S. Clavel". He likewise charged Deputy Sheriff Efren P. Luna of the same court with Grave Abuse of Authority for implementing the writ of execution issued in said decision.

In Civil Case No. 37-17388, respondent Judge rendered a Decision dated September 15, 1997 ordering Clavel and "all persons claiming rights under him, or whoever is found in possession of subject properties" to immediately vacate Lots 8 and 10 of Block 260 located at No. 68-A Maria Clara Street, Quezon City and restore peaceful possession thereof to plaintiffs spouses Luriz.

Upon motion of plaintiffs for immediate execution, respondent Judge issued an Order dated October 20, 1997 granting the issuance of a writ of execution. Subsequently, respondent Deputy Sheriff implemented the writ of execution against "those found in possession of subject properties" - the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) and its personnel.

Complainant claims:
Respondent Judge rendered an unjust decision because the ejectment case is a personal action against Clavel, the Administrator of POC, and POC was not impleaded as a party defendant. The POC is the owner of the disputed property and has been in continuous and peaceful possession of the same since 1953 by virtue of Proclamation Nos. 438 (Series of 1953) and 732 (Series of 1961). As such, the ejectment decision could only be enforced against Clavel and not against "whosoever is found in possession of subject properties." Respondent Judge ensured the unjust ejectment of the POC and its personnel by issuing: (a) the Order dated October 20, 1997 which granted plaintiff's motion for immediate execution without the required 3-day notice of hearing; (b) the Order dated October 27, 1997 which denied defendant Clavel's motion for reconsideration and motion to suspend implementation of the writ of execution that was issued without the benefit of a hearing; and, (c) the Order dated October 28, 1997 which denied defendant Clavel's appeal on the false premise and flimsy ground that the appellate court docket fee was not paid on time. The writ of execution issued on a wrongful decision was wrongfully implemented by respondent Deputy Sheriff resulting in prejudice and irreparable damage to the Government, POC and its other concerned personnel who were all ejected from the properties in question.
In his Answer, dated February 25, 1998, respondent Judge counters:
The decision was rendered based on the evidence presented and the applicable law. The term or phrase used in the decision is in accordance with Section 1 of Rule 70 of the Rules of Court, which provides, "may . . . bring an action in the proper Municipal Court against the person or persons unlawfully withholding or depriving of possession, or any person or persons claiming under them, for the restitution of such possession". Considering that POC is claiming a right to use the property because of Presidential Proclamation No. 732 dated February 28, 1961 giving it the right to use the property subject to private rights, if there be any, and considering further that the named defendant, Clavel, as Administrator of POC, is using the premises along with the personnel and employees of the POC because of his sanction, it is but proper to consider the employees and personnel, and other people using the premises, as claiming rights under Clavel. The Solicitor General has no basis for questioning the jurisdiction of respondent Judge. The lawyers of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) handled the case for the defendant in the trial court until it was decided. The OSG manifested that it considers the case as a government case and not a personal case against Clavel alone as a private person. Thus, they are estopped from claiming that this case is solely against Clavel. Besides, when a government corporation or agency is sued, it is the officers or administrators who are named as the defendants or respondents. Clavel being the Administrator of POC should be the one and is in fact the one named as the defendant. There is no truth that respondent Judge issued the two assailed orders without the required 3-day notice of hearing since the record belies the same. The letter-complaint should have been the proper subject of an appeal instead of using the OCA as an alternative recourse for complainant's failure to perfect the appeal in accordance with Section 19 of Rule 70 of the Rules of Court. Besides, the administrative complaint is premature because the assailed decision of respondent Judge was elevated to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City (Branch 80) via a petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus, docketed as Civil Case No. Q-97-32730, entitled "Victor S. Clavel vs. Honorable Judge Augustus C. Diaz, et al."
In a Letter dated August 17, 1998, Assistant Solicitor General Cecilio O. Estoesta submitted to the OCA, copies of additional evidence, which were also filed before the RTC of Quezon City (Branch 80) allegedly showing that the subject lots are properties of the Government.

For his part, respondent Deputy Sheriff, in his Answer dated February 2, 2000, explains that his enforcement of the writ of execution issued by respondent Judge was simply in accordance with the functions of his office and he exercises no discretion on whether or not to enforce the same.

In its Evaluation Report dated July 18, 2000, the OCA recommends to the Court that the administrative complaint be dismissed for lack of merit since any action that it may take is premature as the questioned decision was elevated to the RTC of Quezon City (Branch 80) via a petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus, docketed as Civil Case No. Q-97-32730; that administrative liability for rendering an unjust decision does not immediately arise from the sole fact of a judge issuing a decision, resolution or order later adjudged to be erroneous; and that it must be shown beyond doubt that the judgment is contrary to law or is not supported by the evidence, and was made with conscious and deliberate intent to do an injustice.

With respect to respondent Deputy Sheriff, the OCA opines that the sheriff cannot be blamed for implementing the writ of execution because when a writ is placed in the hands of a sheriff, it is his ministerial duty to proceed with reasonable celerity and promptness to execute it in accordance with its mandate.

In a Resolution dated August 30, 2000, we resolved to: (a) docket the case as a regular administrative matter; (b) require respondent Judge to comment on the status of Civil Case No. Q-97-32730 pending before the RTC of Quezon City (Branch 80); and, (c) hold action on the administrative case until said RTC case is resolved.

In a letter dated September 29, 2000, respondent Judge informed the Court that the parties in Civil Case No. Q-97-32730 were directed to file their respective memoranda within 30 days from September 30, 2000, after which, the RTC case will be deemed submitted for decision.

Thereafter, in a letter dated September 26, 2002, respondent Judge informed the Court that the RTC of Quezon City rendered a Decision dated December 7, 2000 in Civil Case No. Q-97-32730 dismissing the petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus and upholding his decision. He thus prays that the administrative matter be submitted for resolution and accordingly dismissed.

In view of the foregoing, we referred this administrative matter back to the OCA for re-evaluation, report and recommendation.

In a Memorandum dated March 7, 2003, the OCA reiterated its recommendation for the dismissal of herein administrative complaint considering that the RTC of Quezon City upheld the decision of respondent Judge in Civil Case No. 37-17388.

In a Resolution dated April 21, 2003, we directed the OCA to verify and report to the Court if the decision in Civil Case No. Q-97-32730 had already become final and executory.

In a Memorandum dated May 14, 2003, the OCA informed the Court that verification with the RTC of Quezon City (Branch 80) disclosed that the decision in Civil Case No. Q-97-32730 was appealed to the Court of Appeals; the record of the case was forwarded to the appellate court on June 6, 2001 and the case is still pending resolution thereat.

A thorough evaluation of the letter-complaint reveals that the alleged errors committed by respondent Judge pertain to the exercise of his adjudicative functions. Such errors cannot be corrected through administrative proceedings, but should instead be assailed through judicial remedies. This has been well-emphasized in the case of Flores vs. Abesamis,[2] wherein we held:
As everyone knows, the law provides ample judicial remedies against errors or irregularities being committed by a Trial Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction. The ordinary remedies against errors or irregularities which may be regarded as normal in nature (i.e., error in appreciation or admission of evidence, or in construction or application of procedural or substantive law or legal principle) include a motion for reconsideration (or after rendition of judgment or final order, a motion for new trial), and appeal. The extraordinary remedies against error or irregularities which may be deemed extraordinary in character (i.e., whimsical, capricious, despotic exercise of power or neglect of duty, etc.) are, inter alia, the special civil action of certiorari, prohibition or mandamus, or a motion for inhibition, a petition for change of venue, as the case may be.

Now, the established doctrine and policy is that disciplinary proceedings and criminal actions against Judges are not complementary or suppletory of, nor a substitute for, these judicial remedies, whether ordinary or extraordinary. Resort to and exhaustion of these judicial remedies, as well as the entry of judgment in the corresponding action or proceeding, are pre-requisites for the taking of other measures against the persons of the judges concerned, whether of civil, administrative, or criminal nature. It is only after the available judicial remedies have been exhausted and the appellate tribunals have spoken with finality, that the door to an inquiry into his criminal, civil, or administrative liability may be said to have opened, or closed.

Flores resorted to administrative prosecution (or institution of criminal actions) as a substitute for or supplement to the specific modes of appeals or review provided by law from court judgments or orders, on the theory that the Judges' orders had caused him `undue injury.' This is impermissible, as this Court has already more than once ruled. Law and logic decree that `administrative or criminal remedies are neither alternative nor cumulative to judicial review where such review is available, and must wait on the result thereof'. Indeed, since judges must be free to judge, without pressure or influence from external forces or factors, they should not be subject to intimidation, the fear of civil, criminal or administrative sanctions for acts they may do and dispositions they may make in the performance of their duties and functions; and it is sound rule, which must be recognized independently of statute, that judges are not generally liable for acts done within the scope of their jurisdiction and in good faith; and that exceptionally, prosecution of the judge can be had only if "there be a final declaration by a competent court in some appropriate proceeding of the manifestly unjust character of the challenged judgment or order, and ** also evidence of malice or bad faith, ignorance of inexcusable negligence, on the part of the judge in rendering said judgment or order" or under the stringent circumstances set out in Article 32 of the Civil Code.[3] (Emphasis supplied)
The records lay bare that complainant has utilized the available judicial remedy of certiorari, prohibition and mandamus before the RTC of Quezon City for the review of the questioned decision of respondent Judge and has further elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals. Therefore, a decision on the propriety of the decision of respondent Judge in this administrative proceeding would be premature. Complainant, in effect, abuses court processes by prematurely resorting to administrative disciplinary action even before the judicial remedies are settled.[4]

Concerning the charge against respondent Deputy Sheriff of Grave Abuse of Authority for implementing the writ of execution issued by respondent Judge, it is needless to stress that a sheriff's duty in the execution of a writ is purely ministerial[5] and he has no discretion whether to execute the judgment or not.[6] He is mandated to uphold the majesty of the law as embodied in the decision,[7] and unless restrained by a court order to the contrary, sheriffs should see to it that the execution of judgments is not unduly delayed.[8] Respondent Deputy Sheriff merely acted within the mandates of his authority by implementing the writ of execution and thus should not be held accountable therefor.

WHEREFORE, the complaint filed by then Solicitor General Silvestre H. Bello III against Judge Augustus C. Diaz of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City (Branch 37) is DISMISSED for being premature; and, the complaint against Deputy Sheriff Efren P. Luna is DISMISSED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, (Chairman), Quisumbing, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.



[1] Caguioa vs. Laviña, 345 SCRA 49, 57 (2000).

[2] 275 SCRA 302 (1997).

[3] Id. at pp. 316-317 (1997).

[4] Caguioa vs. Laviña, supra.

[5] Wenceslao vs. Mandrazo, 247 SCRA 696, 704 (1995); Eduarte vs. Ramos, 238 SCRA 36, 40 (1994).

[6] Aristorenas vs. Molina, 246 SCRA 134, 137 (1995); Evangelista vs. Penserga, 242 SCRA 702, 709 (1995); Florentino vs. Enrile, 239 SCRA 22, 37 (1994); Añonuevo vs. Pempeña, 234 SCRA 168, 173 (1994).

[7] Lapeña vs. Pamarang, 325 SCRA 440, 445 (2000).

[8] Marigsa-Magbanua vs. Villamor V, 305 SCRA 132, 137 (1999).

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