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459 Phil. 780


[ A.M. No. RTJ-03-1808, October 15, 2003 ]




A verified complaint[1] dated May 22, 2001 was filed by Radelia C. Sy with the Office of the Court Administrator, charging the Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Caloocan City (Branch 131), Judge Antonio J. Fineza, of bribery, grave misconduct, conduct unbecoming of a judge and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. Complainant Sy is the accused in Criminal Case No. C-53098 for estafa pending before Judge Fineza. According to complainant Sy, Judge Fineza exerted undue and improper pressure on her by offering to dismiss the estafa case in exchange for P300,000. Otherwise, he threatened to convict complainant Sy of estafa regardless of her innocence.

Complainant Sy declared that she delivered money to Judge Fineza six times on separate occasions. The first payment occurred on March 22, 2000, inside Steak Town Restaurant in West Avenue, Quezon City, wherein she handed over cash worth P30,000 to Judge Fineza in the presence of her lawyer, Atty. Petronilo dela Cruz and a legal researcher named Robert Cheng. The second payment took place during the first week of May 2000, this time inside Judge Fineza's chambers, where she gave P20,000. The third time was later that same week, while inside Steak Town Restaurant, where she gave P30,000 to Judge Fineza in the presence of Atty. dela Cruz, Mr. Cheng and a certain Cristy Yambao. Again in the same restaurant, for the fourth time, on or about May 19, 2000, she delivered P25,000 to Judge Fineza, as witnessed by Atty. dela Cruz, Mr. Cheng and a certain Erwin Cato. The fifth delivery occurred in the month of June 2000, through Atty. dela Cruz, who advanced the amount of P50,000, which she later reimbursed. The sixth handover took place on July 20, 2000 inside Barrio Fiesta Restaurant in Edsa, where she delivered P100,000 to Judge Fineza in the presence of Mr. Cheng.

Complainant Sy claimed that when she was unable to complete the remaining balance, Judge Fineza began harassing her. One instance of harassment she described was when Judge Fineza cited her for direct contempt on December 8, 2000. Complainant Sy recounted that after the hearing of December 8, 2000, Judge Fineza inquired if she had renewed her bail bond, in response to which complainant Sy showed a receipt issued by one Evelyn delos Santos of Pacific Union Insurance Company. Judge Fineza then directed his branch clerk of court to verify the authenticity of the receipt. In the meantime, complainant Sy was told not to leave the court room. However, complainant Sy decided to fetch Evelyn delos Santos, who was just minutes away, to attest personally to the authenticity of the bond receipt. Upon returning with Ms. delos Santos, complainant Sy learned that Judge Fineza had cited her in contempt and had ordered her arrest for having left the court room against his instructions. Complainant Sy moved to reconsider the arrest order contending that she merely left to fetch the agent of the bonding company to manifest in person the authenticity of the bail bond. Despite the explanation, the motion was denied.

As the first order failed to mention the exact penalty imposed upon complainant Sy for contempt, Judge Fineza issued an amended arrest order directing that she be imprisoned for five days and fined in the amount of P5,000. Then on March 29, 2001, just when complainant Sy was about to finish serving her sentence for contempt, Judge Fineza increased the bail of complainant Sy from P200,000 to P1,000,000.

A second verified complaint[2] dated July 3, 2001 was jointly filed by complainant Sy and Erwin Cato charging Judge Fineza with abuse of authority, grave misconduct and oppression. The second complaint alleged that during the hearing of complainant Sy's estafa case on May 21, 2001, Judge Fineza shouted the following remarks in open court:
Yan si Atty. dela Cruz, ilong lang ang walang sakit.

xxx xxx xxx

Sobra na! Abusado ang mga lawyers mo!

xxx xxx xxx

Sinungaling ka binastos mo ang Court, hindi
ako ang binastos mo! Sinungaling ka!

xxx xxx xxx

O! Bumaba na ang decision sa Court of Appeals, Dismissed na! Ano pa?
Ano pa? Ang (sic) susunod na ipapa-file mo? O! Sige nakahanda ako.
The second complaint further alleged that on May 23, 2001 complainant Sy's counsel in other cases, Atty. Jubay, had relayed to her that Judge Fineza warned him that morning during a hearing that she had not been paying her other lawyers. Judge Fineza added that complainant Sy had been threatening to file a case against the former, and warned that if she does so, "she could no longer appear or set foot in Caloocan City." This eventually led to the withdrawal of Atty. Jubay as complainant Sy's counsel.

The second complaint also alleged that complainant Cato was likewise harassed by Judge Fineza. As stated therein, in the morning of June 26, 2001, while waiting at the hallway, Judge Fineza came out from his office, pointed a finger at him and shouted: "Ikaw, sinungaling ka! Gumawa ka pa ng affidavit!" then gave him a dagger look.

Judge Fineza denies the allegations contained in the two complaints. He argues that the circumstances under which the bribes were allegedly given to him are too incredible and preposterous to be believed. He admits having increased the bail bond from P200,000 to P1,000,000 but claims that this was done well within the performance of his official duty. As for the second complaint, Judge Fineza denies having uttered such remarks in open court and presented the affidavits of two of his court employees in support of his denial. He admits having chanced upon complainant Cato in the hallway on June 26, 2001 and having called him "sinungaling" for executing a false affidavit, but he denies shouting at him, or pointing a finger or throwing dagger looks at him.

On March 13, 2002, Deputy Court Administrator Christopher O. Lock filed his report[3] and recommended that the case be referred to an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation. The Court in a resolution[4] dated June 5, 2002 referred the case to Associate Justice Eugenio S. Labitoria.

During the hearing of the case before the investigating Justice, both parties agreed to forego with the reception of evidence.[5] They submitted instead position papers, attaching documentary evidence and the affidavits of witnesses. In accordance with the agreement, complainants Sy and Cato filed their memorandum[6] on November 26, 2002. Judge Fineza filed his Reply[7] thereto on January 14, 2003. A Rejoinder[8] was filed by complainants Sy and Cato on February 12, 2003 which was answered by Judge Fineza with his own Rejoinder on February 27, 2003.

After assessing the pleadings and memoranda filed, along with the documents and affidavits attached, the investigating Justice saw no merit in the charge of bribery but found Judge Fineza guilty of simple misconduct. He, therefore, recommended that Judge Fineza be reprimanded and fined one month's salary. The pertinent portions of Associate Justice Labitoria's Report state, as follows:
  1. The complaint for bribery must fail.
The undersigned gives scant consideration on the complaint for bribery. As found by the Supreme Court, bribery is easy to concoct and difficult to disprove, thus complainant must present a panoply of evidence in support of such an accusation. Complainant herein has only her friends to support her claims who would naturally testify in her favor. Again, following the ruling in Calimag case (id), the Supreme Court said -
"x x x In order that the allegation of a charge of this nature may not be considered a fairy tale, evidence other than the doubtful and questionable verbal testimony of a lone witness should be adduced. Entrapment should have been pursued. Evidence of a reasonable report to police authorities should been presented. Record of where the bribe money came from, its specific denominations and the manner respondent accepted and disposed of it should have been clearly shown."
Complainant has not shown any of the above, except the affidavits of her friends, who are expected to side with her.

However, respondent Judge's acts of harassing the complainant by citing her in contempt of court for a very trivial reason; putting her in prison and ordering her to pay fine of P5,000; raising the bail from P200,000.00 to P1,000,000.00; are clearly acts which show abuse of authority.

A reading of respondent Judge's Order of December 8, 2000 shows that the reason for the issuance of the Order of Arrest was complainant's leaving the court room while her official receipt for the renewal of her bailbond was being verified. Respondent Judge did not even care to listen to the explanation of one Evelyn delos Santos, the agent of the insurance company, who personally went to him to explain and confirm the authenticity of the official receipt, which if he only did he would be more humane, benevolent, just and fair. Even the urgent motion for reconsideration of said Order of December 8, 2000 filed by complainant, attaching therewith the renewed bailbond and affidavit of said Evelyn delos Santos was never taken into consideration.

In respondent's haste in issuing the Order of Arrest, he failed to state the penalty for allegedly defying the order of the former, and the manner by which complainant would serve the penalty. It was only corrected when respondent issued an Order on January 24, 2001 denying the motion to suspend the execution of the Order of Arrest earlier issued and issuing an Amended Order of Arrest.

On the issue of raising the bailbond from P200,000.00 to an unconscionable and excessive P1,000,000.00 without hearing therefore, at the time when complainant was about to be released from detention due to her 5-day imprisonment on the contempt order, the same is motivated by malice and bad faith and constitutes misconduct. It is emphasized that "excessive bail shall not be required."

Respondent [relies] on -
  1. the amount involved in the Estafa case is as big as P4,600,000.00;

  2. Radelia Sy had tried to mislead the Court that she had renewed her bailbond by presenting a fake receipt;

  3. Radelia Sy had jumped bail and remained in hiding from December 8, 2000 until her arrest on March 27, 2001 and thus the presence of the risk of her jumping bail again,
for increasing complainant's bailbond. The first reason is not among the guidelines set forth by the Revised Penal Code on Criminal Procedure. No. 2 reason has been sufficiently explained and respondent's opinion of "fake receipt" had been aptly refuted and contested by the agent of the insurance company. There was no showing that complainant jumped bail. The date December 8, 2000 was the date of the issuance of the contempt order and order of arrest. From said date up to March 27, 2001, was the period when complainant was trying to move for the reconsideration of the aforesaid arrest order and the putting up of the increased bailbond. Undersigned could not find any reason why respondent would resort to increasing the bailbond except for some ill-motives and malice.

xxx           xxx           xxx
  1. As to the second complaint wherein respondent was accused of uttering defamatory words, complainant has no cause of action. The utterances, granting that they were defamatory were addressed to her lawyers and who would be affected thereby. Complainant should not take the cudgels for her lawyers.12345
IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the undersigned finds the accusation for bribery to be without merit. However, respondent is guilty of simple misconduct, for which a penalty of reprimand and a fine of one (1) month salary [are] recommended.
Associate Justice Labitoria correctly found that the charge of bribery was not proven. The accusation of bribery is a very serious charge that would entail not only the dismissal of a judge but also criminal prosecution. The affidavits and other documents submitted by the complainants set forth allegations that are simply not credible.

Nonetheless, this Court takes exception to the view of the investigating Justice that Judge Fineza should be exonerated of the charge of uttering defamatory words against complainant Sy's lawyers for the reason that they were not uttered against her, hence leaving her with no cause of action against Judge Fineza. The issue in administrative cases is not whether the complainant has a cause of action against the respondent, but whether the respondent has breached the norms and standards of the judiciary.[9] This Court has a duty to investigate and root out misconduct and inefficiency of its judges regardless of the complainant's immediate interest. Unfortunately, the investigating Justice refrained from further determining whether or not Judge Fineza indeed made such utterances. Thus, this Court is constrained to look at the evidence.

To support the claim that Judge Fineza uttered derogatory remarks at complainant's lawyers in open court, the alleged witnesses to the incident, Mr. Cheng and complainant Cato, submitted their respective affidavits. Judge Fineza denied having uttered such remarks and presented affidavits of his stenographer and court aide who declared therein that they did not see Mr. Cheng and complainant Cato in court on that day. Given that the quantum of proof needed to sustain an administrative case against a judge is substantial evidence,[10] this Court finds the affidavits presented by complainants insufficient to substantiate their charge, especially considering that contradicting evidence of equal weight has been presented by Judge Fineza.

On the charge that Judge Fineza abused his authority, this Court agrees with the findings of the investigating Justice. The circumstances surrounding the arrest of complainant Sy for direct contempt and the raising of her bail bond from P200,000 to P1,000,000 unmistakably show abuse of authority. However, this Court finds that such acts do not merit a mere reprimand and fine, as they are not acts of simple misconduct but rather of serious misconduct. In Suroza v. Honorado,[11] this Court defined what constitutes serious misconduct:
Misconduct implies malice or a wrongful intent, not a mere error of judgment. "For serious misconduct to exist, there must be reliable evidence showing that the judicial acts complained of were corrupt or inspired by an intention to violate the law, or were in persistent disregard of well-known legal rules."
There was a definite finding by the investigating Justice that the order of arrest of complainant Sy for contempt and the increase of her bond from P200,000 to P1,000,000 were motivated by malice and bad faith. In addition to this, the records of the case categorically reveal other acts of misconduct committed by Judge Fineza which the aforecited report did not discuss: First, while Judge Fineza denied having shouted, pointed a finger or glared at complainant Cato in the morning of June 26, 2001, he admitted having seen complainant Cato on that day along the hallway and having called him "sinungaling;" Second, in Judge Fineza's Comment to the Complaint of Erwin Cato and Radelia Sy dated August 1, 2001,[12] he had the temerity to write about one of the complainants' witnesses in the following manner:
Now as far as Robert Cheng is concerned, this person should not be given any credence for not only that he is a "BAKLA," in its fullest sense, but also because even in a very minor aspect of his identification, he could not be consistent nor relied [upon].
These two incidents clearly show Judge Fineza's utter disrespect for the office he holds as a member of the judiciary. In the first instance, even assuming the absence of shouting, finger pointing and menacing stares, the admitted act of Judge Fineza in calling complainant Cato "sinungaling" in the hallway, already detracts from the equanimity and judiciousness that are required of a judge. As for describing one of the complainants' witnesses as "BAKLA" in a pleading filed before this Court, resort to argumentum ad hominem is certainly most unbecoming of a judge, to say the least.

Lastly, the allegations contained in Atty. Jubay's Manifestation and Motion dated June 25, 2001, wherein he withdrew as counsel for complainant Sy after having talked to Judge Fineza,[13] is another disconcerting proof of Judge Fineza's abuse of authority:
  1. That during the hearing of this case on May 23, 2001, the undersigned counsel was called by the Honorable Presiding Judge of this Court [who] inquired if undersigned is also the counsel of Radelia C. Sy who is an accused in another case pending before this Honorable Court;

  2. That undersigned counsel replied that he is the original counsel of Ms. Sy in her other cases and earlier that (sic) the other counsel of Ms. Sy in her other cases;

  3. That the Hon. Presiding Judge of this Court had told the undersigned counsel that the other counsel of Ms. Sy had not been appearing in Court as they had not been paid their legal fees or professional fees to which the undersigned counsel had replied that he did not know if the other counsel had been paid to which the Honorable Presiding Judge had volunteered the information that Ms. Sy had been threatening to file a complaint against him, and said that if Ms. Sy will do it, she could no longer appear or set foot in Caloocan City.
While Judge Fineza denies that the conversation ever happened, the manifestation of Atty. Jubay cannot easily be dismissed as a fabrication. It was made by an officer of the court who could be held liable for contempt if the same is proven to be false. At this point, it bears noting that the manifestation was filed with the court of Judge Fineza and that he made no mention of ever having imposed sanctions on Atty. Jubay for making such allegations.

Now, for the appropriate penalty.

The integrity of the judiciary rests not only upon the fact that it is able to administer justice but also upon the perception and confidence of the community that the people who run the system have done justice.[14] The assumption of office by a judge places upon him duties and restrictions peculiar to his exalted position. He must be perceived, not as a repository of arbitrary power, but as one who dispenses justice under the sanction of the rule of law.[15] This Court has repeatedly reminded members of the judiciary to be irreproachable in conduct and to be free from any appearance of impropriety in their personal behavior, not only in the discharge of their official duties, but also in their daily life. For no position exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness of an individual than a seat in the judiciary.[16]

In Castanos v. Escano, Jr.,[17] this Court held that when the judge's inefficiency springs from a failure to consider so basic and elemental a rule, a law, or a principle in the discharge of his duties, a judge is either too incompetent and undeserving of the position and title he holds, or is too vicious that the oversight or omission was deliberately done in bad faith and in grave abuse of judicial authority. In either instance, the judge's dismissal is in order. In this case, Judge Fineza is found to have acted with malice and bad faith in ordering the arrest of complainant Sy and in increasing her bail bond from P200,000 to P1,000,000. Moreover, his use of arrogant and intemperate language in his pleading and in his verbal remarks to complainant Cato and Atty. Jubay is not the proper decorum expected of judges who preside over courts of law. Finally, this Court also takes note of the fact that Judge Fineza was recently found guilty of serious misconduct for refusing to order the execution of a final and executory judgment.[18] He was reprimanded and fined P30,000 with the warning that a repetition of the same will be dealt with more severely.

Nevertheless, Judge Fineza's offenses are not beyond rectification. Respondent Judge Fineza is, therefore, given one last chance to correct his ways and is sternly warned that one more transgression will merit his dismissal from the service.

ALL THE FOREGOING CONSIDERED, respondent Judge Fineza is SUSPENDED from office without salary and other benefits for six (6) months, with the STERN WARNING that one more transgression will merit dismissal from the service.


Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Vitug, and Carpio, JJ., concur.
Ynares-Santiago, J., on leave.

[1] Rollo, pp. 55-68.

[2] Id., pp. 12-22.

[3] Id., pp. 1-11.

[4] Id., p. 340.

[5] Id., p. 349.

[6] Id., pp. 354-376.

[7] Id., pp. 570-599.

[8] Id., pp. 769-779.

[9] Dionisio v. Gilera, 312 SCRA 287 (1999).

[10] Alfonso v. Juanson, 228 SCRA 239 (1993).

[11] 110 SCRA 388 (1981).

[12] Rollo, pp. 117-130.

[13] Id., pp. 26-27.

[14] Jocelyn Talens-Dabon v. Judge Hermin E. Arceo, 259 SCRA 354 (1996).

[15] Tapiru v. Biden, 330 SCRA 40 (2000).

[16] Dionisio v. Escano, 302 SCRA 411 (1999).

[17] 251 SCRA 174 (1995).

[18] John Siy Lim v. Judge Fineza, A.M. No. RTJ-02-1705, May 5, 2003.

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