Supreme Court E-Library
Information At Your Fingertips

  View printer friendly version

502 Phil. 502


[ A.M. No. RTJ-05-1942 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 04-1936-RTJ), July 28, 2005 ]




Judge Rodolfo B. Dimaano, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Boac, Marinduque, Branch 94, stands charged with gross inefficiency, serious misconduct and grave abuse of discretion. The complainant, Atty. Restituto L. Opis, filed the charges relative to Civil Case No. 00-5 entitled "Romulo del Mundo v. Municipality of Torrijos, Marinduque and Gregorio Red" for annulment of ordinance and/or declaration of its invalidity and revocation/cancellation of license with prayer for issuance of restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction.

In a verified Letter-Complaint[1] dated January 19, 2004, the complainant alleged that he was the counsel of Gregorio Red, the private respondent in the said case. His client had been granted a franchise for the establishment, maintenance and operation of a cockpit in the Municipality of Torrijos via Municipal Ordinance No. 87-2000 enacted on March 26, 2000. On June 20, 2000, Romulo del Mundo, one of the applicants and bidders for the said franchise, filed Civil Case No. 00-5, claiming that the franchise should be awarded to him. On July 19, 2000, the respondent Judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) enjoining the Municipality of Torrijos from implementing the award of the said franchise to his client. According to the complainant, the issuance of the TRO was intentionally timed to coincide with the cockpit derby (sponsored by his client) scheduled on July 20, 2000 in connection with the celebration of the town fiesta of Torrijos. His client then filed a motion for the voluntary inhibition of the respondent in Civil Case No. 00-5. The respondent judge, thereafter, issued an order inhibiting himself from hearing and deciding the said case, which was later recalled by the Supreme Court in a Resolution dated December 6, 2000.

It appears that the respondent Judge indeed issued an Order dated August 15, 2000 voluntarily inhibiting himself from hearing and deciding Civil Case No. 00-5, together with all the other cases handled by the complainant and pending before his (judge's) sala. According to the complainant, this was the respondent's way of retaliating against him, but since none of the parties in the said cases had moved for his inhibition, the issuance of such orders was improper. The complainant further alleged that were it not for the appointment of Judge Alejandro Arenas as presiding judge of Branch 38 in January 4, 2001, the said cases would not have been included in the court calendar. He pointed out that these cases were not set for hearing since August 15, 2000 to January 3, 2001.

The complainant also alleged that Judge Arenas died last January 5, 2002, and that the respondent judge failed to duly inform the court thereof. The complainant also pointed out that it was only last March 26, 2003 that the Court designated Judge Rafael Lagos of the RTC of  Lucena City, Branch 57, to hear and decide the cases in which the respondent inhibited himself.

The complainant further manifested that the respondent Judge failed to issue an inhibition order and did not set for hearing a personal case of his, Civil Case No. 92-9, entitled "Restituto Opis v. Antonio Manlisis." He claimed that the respondent Judge was "selective" in issuing inhibition orders.

Finally, the complainant further alleged that the respondent Judge is a habitual absentee and comes to Marinduque on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, and goes to Batangas or Manila every Thursday.

The order of inhibition issued by the respondent Judge was set aside by the Court on December 6, 2000 in A.M. No. 00-11-531-RTC. The respondent filed a motion for reconsideration thereof, and on August 22, 2001, the Court granted the motion, considering that Judge Alejandro Arenas had already been appointed presiding judge of the RTC of Boac, Marinduque, Branch 38.

In his Comment[2] dated March 15, 2004, the respondent Judge claimed that he faithfully followed the rules laid down in Section 4, Rule 58 of the Rules of Court, in granting the assailed temporary restraining order, and that the issuance thereof was not done in haste or with sinister motives. Contrary to the complainant's allegations, it was not issued intentionally to coincide with the scheduled cockpit derby. The respondent Judge admitted, however, that the requisite raffle of Civil Case No. 00-5 was dispensed with, since he was handling both Branches 38 and 94. He further clarified that the alleged scheduled cockpit derby was never raised, much less mentioned, during the summary hearing conducted prior to the issuance of the temporary restraining order. The complainant, being a lawyer, should have anticipated all possible eventualities which the said case might bring upon the derby, since the complaint was served to him and his client barely a month before the scheduled event, or on June 21, 2000.

The respondent Judge further asserted that the petitioner in Civil Case No. 00-5 was able to establish the veracity and truthfulness of the allegations in his verified petition praying for the issuance of injunctive relief. Contrary to the complainant's accusation, there was nothing whimsical or arbitrary in the issuance of the subject TRO. On the issue of his inhibition orders, the respondent Judge pointed out that the merits thereof had already been considered and passed upon in the various resolutions issued by the Court. Moreover, contrary to the complainant's claim, he did notify the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) of Judge Arenas' demise in a Letter dated January 15, 2002.

With regard to Civil Case No. 92-9 which the complainant alleged to have been pending since 1992, the respondent Judge explained that he assumed his post in Branch 94 (not Branch 38) only in 1996, and that the case was filed before Branch 38. He admitted, however, that he inadvertently failed to issue an order of inhibition thereto, but averred that he had already made the appropriate rectification and accordingly issued such an Order dated February 3, 2004.

The respondent claimed that the complainant's charge of habitual absenteeism is a bare allegation, designed to malign his name and reputation and derail his judicial career, being aware that he had a pending application for promotion. He added that the complainant even went to the extent of cajoling court personnel to issue a certification that he does not hold hearings on Mondays and Fridays to create a picture of blatant abuse of office.

In his Rejoinder dated May 4, 2004, the complainant claimed that since Marinduque has two branches, namely Branch 38 and Branch 94, the respondent Judge, the presiding judge of the latter court, violated the rule on raffling of cases when he unilaterally assumed control over Civil Case No. 00-5. The complainant also claimed that the respondent Judge misrepresented that the petitioner in the said civil case was the party entitled to the said franchise, asserting that the regional trial courts have no jurisdiction to declare a law unconstitutional.

In its Report dated February 3, 2005, the OCA recommended that the instant administrative complaint be dismissed for lack of merit.

In a Resolution[3] dated March 16, 2005, the Court resolved to refer the instant administrative matter to Court of Appeals Associate Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando for investigation, report and recommendation.

During the hearing of April 25, 2005, the complainant failed to appear; his counsel, Atty. Antonio R. Malasig, manifested that his client was still recuperating from an operation, and that he recently suffered a mild stroke. The complainant was, thus, submitting the case for resolution based on the pleadings submitted. The parties, thereafter, agreed to submit their respective memoranda, attaching thereto their documentary evidence, after which the case would be submitted for resolution.

In her Final Report and Recommendation dated June 6, 2005, the Investigating Justice made the following findings:
Respondent's culpability hinges on the propriety of his actuations in granting the prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order in Civil Case No. 00-5 and in issuing inhibition orders in thirty-one (31) other cases being handled by the complainant before Branches 38 and 94 of the RTC, Marinduque. Likewise, respondent is charged [with] habitual absenteeism for being regularly absent from his sala during Mondays and Fridays.


The undersigned finds no evidence of fraud, dishonesty, corruption or bad faith on the part of the respondent in issuing the assailed TRO in Civil Case No. 00-5, nor is there anything which indicates that the issuance thereof was attended with arbitrariness or deliberate intent to do an injustice. The procedure prescribed by law and the Rules was accordingly observed and followed by the respondent. The requisite notice and summary hearing on the TRO, which, as can be culled from the records, which were more than summary, were accorded the parties, sufficiently giving them opportunity to present their respective evidence. Whether or not respondent was correct in his appreciation of the evidence and in resolving to grant the prayer for TRO is of no moment in this administrative complaint so long as his acts were done in good faith. The undersigned finds that the respondent issued the assailed TRO upon his own honest assessment of the evidence and the circumstances of the case.

Complainant's accusation that the issuance of the TRO was "intentionally timed" to forestall the scheduled derby event for the Torrijos' town fiesta was sufficiently rebutted by the respondent, who pointed out that the same was never raised in the summary hearing on the TRO. The said accusation appears to be more of an afterthought by the complainant, after the respondent had issued the TRO. This is to suggest malice or ill-will on the part of the latter in ruling adversely against complainant's client.

The additional charge that the respondent violated the rule on raffle of cases in not raffling Civil Case No. 00-5 deserves short shrift considering that at the time the said case was filed, Branches 38 and 94, which are the only two (2) salas in RTC, Marinduque, were both presided by the respondent, in view of the vacancy in Branch 38 occasioned by the retirement of its presiding judge.

Anent respondent's inhibition on all the cases handled by the complainant before his sala, the undersigned finds the same to be justified and warranted, considering the strained relationship between them and the serious allegations of bias on the part of the respondent from the complainant's end.


The reasons advanced by the respondent for his inhibition are just and valid. He is after all human, subject to the frailties of other men. His objectivity to decide the case impartially could be affected and his cold neutrality as a judge could be impaired by a personal grudge which he may harbor against the complainant. The controversy brought about by Civil Case No. 00-5 is no less than hostile. The Sheriff's Return quoted the wife of the complainant's client shouting invectives at the respondent thus - "Tarantadong judge yan, bakit hindi pa sinabi kahapon, hindi pwede yan, dapat noon pa pina-inhibit yan, patitigilin ba niya ang sabong?" Respondent's inhibition was only consistent with the norm established by jurisprudence that should there be any probability that a litigant may nurture at the back of his mind the thought that the judge had unfairly ruled against him, the judge should in good grace inhibit from the case. Considering the antagonism between the complaint and the respondent, it is possible that any decision which the latter may render in the cases handled by the former before his sala will be colored by a perceived bias or ill-will on the part of the respondent. On the other hand, respondent's integrity, sense of fairness and liberty to freely decide the cases according to law and justice, might be compromised considering the environment of suspicion and mistrust engendered by the respondent's disagreement with the complainant.

On the charge of habitual absenteeism, there are no clear and convincing evidence to prove the same. It is settled that in administrative proceedings, the burden of proof that the respondent committed the acts complained of rests on the complainant. Thus, if the complainant, upon whom rests the burden of proving his cause of action, fails to show in a satisfactory manner the facts upon which he bases his claim, the respondent is under no obligation to prove his exception or defense. While there is a certification from the Branch Clerk of Court of Branch 38, Boac, Marinduque, to the effect that "no hearings are being conducted during Mondays and Fridays" in the said sala, such does not certainly establish complainant's accusation that respondent is habitually absent from his sala on Mondays and Fridays. That no hearings are conducted on Mondays and Fridays in respondent's sala does not mean that he is not present on those days. Other than the complainant's bare allegation, no evidence was presented to show that the respondent is a habitual absentee.


WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is respectfully submitted that respondent, Judge Rodolfo B. Dimaano, is NOT GUILTY of serious misconduct, inefficiency and grave abuse of discretion, and it is respectfully recommended that the administrative charges against him be DISMISSED.
The findings of the Investigating Justice are well taken.

It must be stressed that an administrative complaint is not the appropriate remedy for every irregular or erroneous order or decision issued by a judge where a judicial remedy is available, such as a motion for reconsideration, or an appeal.[4] Before a respondent judge can be declared as biased and partial in favor of a party, the Court has to be shown acts and conduct of the judge clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice. Mere suspicion that the judge is partial to a party is not enough; there should be adequate evidence to prove the charge.[5] Even an order of inhibition is not administrative, but judicial in nature,[6] and when reversed by the Court, as in this case, could at most be considered as an error in judgment. Only judicial errors tainted with fraud, dishonesty, gross ignorance, bad faith, or deliberate intent to do an injustice will be administratively sanctioned.[7] To hold otherwise would be to render judicial office untenable, for no one called upon to try the facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice can be infallible in his judgment.[8]

The charge of habitual absenteeism must likewise be dismissed, considering that the complainant failed to substantiate such allegation.

Anent the respondent Judge's admission that Civil Case No. 00-5 was not raffled as required by the rules, the Court quotes with approval the following discussion of the  OCA in its report on the matter:
Supreme Court Circular No. 7 dated 23 September 1974 (re: Raffling of Cases) mandates, inter alia, that "All cases filed with the Court in stations or groupings where there are two or more branches shall be assigned or distributed to the different branches for raffle. No case may be assigned to any branch without being raffled." Additionally, it also provides that, "The raffle must be conducted in such manner that all the branches of the Court in that station or grouping including vacant salas, shall receive more or less the same number of civil, criminal and other kinds of cases." (Emphasis and Underscoring Supplied.)

The importance of assigning cases by raffle is obvious. It is vital to the administration of justice because it is intended to ensure impartial adjudication of cases and obviates public suspicion regarding assignment of cases to predetermined judges.

Respondent, however, explains that the requisite raffle of Civil Case No. 00-5 has been dispensed with since, according to him, he handles both Branches 38 and 94. A check with the records of the Court Management Office, OCA, SC disclosed that RTC, Branch 38, Boac, Marinduque, had no presiding judge from 14 January 2000 until 23 May 2001, during which period Civil Case No. 00-5 was filed. In view of the vacancy, and given that RTC, Boac, Marinduque has only two salas, respondent Judge Dimaano, being the presiding judge of the other sala, necessarily acts as the pairing judge of RTC, Branch 38 during that interim.

It is submitted that this final charge may be dispensed with. While disregard of this Court's Circulars cannot be taken lightly, the purpose of raffling (i.e., to obviate impression of impartiality in the assignment of cases to predetermined judges) has not been defeated under the circumstances, as indeed respondent would undoubtedly be the very same magistrate to handle Civil Case 00-5 regardless of raffle. Moreover, there was no showing that respondent willfully or knowingly violate[d] the aforementioned circular. Complainant [failed] to establish bad faith or malice on the part of respondent, nor that the latter was moved by impartiality or other ill motive in failing to observe the strict rules on raffles. It is settled rule that in administrative proceedings, the complainant has the burden of proving the allegations in his complaint with substantial evidence.[9]
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the charges against respondent Judge Rodolfo B. Dimaano are DIMISSSED for lack of merit.


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

[1] Rollo, pp. 1-10.

[2] Rollo, pp. 70-88.

[3] Rollo, p. 225.

[4] Mendova v. Afable, A.M. No. MTJ-02-1402, 4 December 2002, 393 SCRA 390.

[5] Martinez, Sr. v. Paguio, A.M. No. MTJ-02-1419, 27 December 2002, 394 SCRA 287, citing Abdula v. Guiani, 326 SCRA 1 (2000).

[6] Carriaga v. Baldado, A.M. No. RTJ-03-1810, 21 October 2004, 441 SCRA 88.

[7] Cruz v. Iturralde, A.M. No. RTJ-03-1775, 30 April 2003, 402 SCRA 65.

[8] Sacmar v. Reyes-Carpio, A.M. No. RTJ-03-1766, 28 March 2003, 400 SCRA 32.

[9] Rollo, p. 223.

© 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.