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613 Phil. 602


[ A.M. No. RTJ-08-2124 [Formerly A.M. OCA IPI No. 07-2631-RTJ], August 27, 2009 ]


[A.M. NO. RTJ-08-2125 [FORMERLY A.M. OCA IPI NO. 07-2632-RTJ]]




By Complaint-Affidavit of April 25, 2007[1] filed with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), Judge Rizalina Capco-Umali (Judge Capco-Umali) charged Judge Paulita Acosta-Villarante[2] (Judge Acosta-Villarante) with violation of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary[3] (New Code of Judicial Conduct), Canon 2, Section 2[4] and Canon 4, Sections 1 and 2.[5]

The facts which spawned the filing of Judge Capco-Umali's complaint are not disputed.

Judge Acosta-Villarante wrote a Memorandum of March 27, 2007[6] addressed to Executive Judge Maria Cancino-Erum of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Mandaluyong City. The Memorandum, copies of which were furnished the Offices of the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, the Judicial and Bar Council, Representative Benhur Abalos, Mayor Neptali Gonzales II, the City Prosecutor of Mandaluyong, the Clerk of Court of Mandaluyong RTCs, and the other judges of Mandaluyong City, reads:

This refers to that unfortunate incident which occurred during the first meeting of RTC Judges ever [sic] held on March 23, 2007 (Friday) under your executive judgeship where the newly appointed vice executive Judge Rizalina Capco-Umali marred the event by conduct very unbecoming of a judge by uttering unsavory remarks and epithets or words of the same import designed to humiliate the undersigned in the presence of fellow judges and assistant clerk of court Atty. Leynard Dumlao, coupled with her attempt to inflict physical harm to the undersigned which you, as the newly appointed executive Judge, miserably failed to control and dominate and opted to take a passive stance.

The conduct of the newly appointed vice executive judge does not speak well of her being a judge who is expected to conduct herself in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the judicial office.

While the meeting of the judges is an ideal forum for the exchange of ideals and information, and to promote camaraderie among judges in the interest of public service, there is no assurance that the uncalled for incident on March 23, 2007 will not be repeated.

It is therefore moved that the holding of monthly meeting of judges be suspended. (Underscoring supplied)

On account of the underlined statements of Judge Acosta-Villarante in her above-quoted Memorandum, Judge Capco-Umali filed a complaint for libel docketed as I.S. No. 07-7732-D,[7] before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Mandaluyong City.

Judge Acosta-Villarante countered by also filing an Administrative Complaint of April 26, 2007 charging Judge Capco-Umali with violation of Canon 4, Sections 1 and 2[8] of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, and a complaint for Grave Oral Defamation and Grave Threats, docketed as I.S. No. 07-71846-E,[9] before the Office of the City Prosecutor, Mandaluyong City.

By 1st Indorsement of August 1, 2007,[10] the administrative complaints were referred to the OCA.

The details of Judge Capco-Umali's complaint are contained in her Complaint-Affidavit for Libel as follows:

After having been designated by the Supreme Court a[s] the new Executive Judge and Vice-Executive Judge, Regional Trial Court, Mandaluyong City, Judge Maria A. Cancino-Erum and the Vice Executive Judge (complainant) together with Executive Judge Ofelia Colo of the Metropolitant [sic] Trial Court Br. 59 agreed to pay a courtesy call/visit to May[o]r Neptali "Boyet" Gonzales II, City Mayor of Mandaluyong City. The visit took place at noontime of March 15, 2007 (Thursday). After briefing the Mayor [about] the purpose of our visit, he warmly and graciously entertained us. Until the conversation was shifted to the topic of local allowance. Such being the topic, Judge Maria A. Cancino-Erum showed to the Mayor the payroll for the month of April 2007 for early approval considering that most judges would take their vacation. Perusing intently the payroll Mayor Gonzales noticed the disparity in figures (amount) as to the allowance received by each Judges. He noticed that respondent Villarante was receiving additional three thousand pesos (P3,000) on top of her regular allowance as Executive Judge; and additional five thousand pesos (Php5,000) on top of her allowance as Acting Judge of Br. 209. He also noticed that I [Judge Capco-Umali] and Executive Judge Maria A. Cancino-Erum received additional two thousand pesos (P2,000) each on top of our regular allowances. Asking us as to why and as to where those additional allowances come from, complainant told the mayor that TERRE, the one preparing the payroll told us (I and Executive Judge Erum)[ about the P2,000 allowance.]

x x x x

Executive Judge Maria A. Cancino-Erum for her part informed the Mayor, thus: "Sabi po ni Judge Villarante nirequest daw niya po iyon sa inyo approved n'yo, at pinirmahan niya ang payroll. Tinanggap naman po naming [sic] nitong February."

But as regards the additional P3,000 (as Executive Judge) and P5,000 (as Acting Judge) of Judge Villarante, we told the Mayor that we have no knowledge as to how they come about...

"Wala akong alam na request, wala akong inaprove, at lalong wala akong pangdagdag. Walang pondo. Iyon ngang mga tao ko, hindi ko maincreasan. E, kayo mga judges kayo, syempre pirma na lang ako pag prisinta sa akin an[g] payroll."

The Mayor summoned LOIDA, her staff and directed the latter to retrieve the previous payrolls including the 2006 payrolls. He also said that "ang laki naman ng increase ng Executive Judge, lalo na ang sa Acting, hindi naman ganyan yan ah. Pero in case na naaprove ko yan, ibibigay na natin yan sa bagong Executive Judge at iyong dating Executive Judge, balik sa dati niyang tinatanggap."

x x x x

Come, March 23, 2007 (Friday) Monthly Judges Meeting hosted by the newly designated Executive Judge Maria A. Cancino-Erum. The meeting was going smoothly until the topic of local allowance had been touched. Reporting to the body what transpired during the courtesy call at the Mayor's Office on March 15, 2007, when the matter of giving to the new executive judge the increased allowances of Executive Judge Paulita B. Acosta-Villarante and that the latter would revert back [sic] to the authorized amount for Executive Judges was discussed, respondent Villarante was angered and blurted out addressing the new Executive Judge, thus:

"Kayo, simula ng maupo sa pwesto, wala ng ginawa kundi kutkutin at maghanap ng evidencia para ako masira, nagsusumbong, nagmamanman. Wala naman pakialaman sa allowance kanya kanya yan dapat.["]

Having personal knowledge of the conversation that transpired at the Mayor's Office on March 15, 2007, and much aware that respondent's accusations were baseless, complainant felt obliged to come to the rescue of the embattled Judge Maria A. Cancino-Erum and to refute respondent's misplaced tirade by stating matter of fact the truth and what I saw and heard.

For his part, Judge Carlos A. Valenzuela who admitted his presence during the courtesy call confirmed the truthfulness of complainant's report and also confirmed the transfer of Executive Judge's allowance to the new Executive Judge thus: "Totoo ang sinabi ni Judge Umali nandoon ako, ililipat nga allowance sa bagong Executive Judge at ang dating Executive Judge will receive former amount."

While complainant is still enlightening her fellow Judges of the real facts that transpired at the Mayor's Office, the respondent kept talking too and even shouting at the top [of] her voice towards complainant visibly irked by complainant's revelation on the matter. Respondent even called complainant a liar (sinungaling) repeatedly[;] when complainant demanded from respondent her basis for saying that complainant is a liar, respondent was not able to answer it but continued calling her "sinungaling". Even telling her to stop talking because her (complainant) voice is so sharp to her ear ("nakakahiwa boses mo"). Respondent continued verbally attacking complainant with words connoting malicious imputations of being an incorrigible liar and of being in cahoots with Judge Maria A. Cancino-Erum in peddling lies [that] the complainant got upset by the verbal aggression made by Judge Villarante that she told the latter, thus: "Matanda ka na, halos malapit ka na sa kamatayan gumagawa ka pa ng ganyan, madadamay pa kami." Judge Villarante fought back: "Bog, sana mangyari sa iyo, bog!".

Complainant welcomed the challenge, thus: "handa akong mamatay kahit anong oras dahil wala akong ginagawang masama".

At said instance complainant once more prompted Judge Villarante as to her authority or basis in the increase in the payroll, and Judge Villarante answered: "May nag-oofer nga!".

More heated exchanges ensued because Judge Villarante kept o[n] saying sinungaling to the complainant.

Thereafter, cooler heads intervened. Judge Edwin Sorongon... brought respondent out of the room while Atty. Leynard Dumlao [was] pacifying the complainant.[11] (Emphasis partly in the original and partly supplied; underscoring supplied; italics in the original)

By Comment of May 28, 2007,[12] Judge Acosta-Villarante denied that she wrote the Memorandum to maliciously impute a crime, vice or defect on Judge Capco-Umali as she merely requested for the suspension of the holding of the monthly meeting of judges to avoid a repetition of the incident and to afford the parties an opportunity to "cool off."

In causing the circulation of the Memorandum, Judge Acosta-Villarante explained that she had an "obligation to bring to the attention of concerned officials the personal demeanor of another member that would put the Judiciary in constant public scrutiny and disrespect." Her version of the incident goes:

After taking up the first agenda of the meeting x x x, the agenda on allowances of Judges was called to be taken up.

Whereupon, Complainant requested to take the floor and manifested as follows:

Judge P.A. Villarante:

"mga kapwa kong Hukom, bago natin talakayin ang agenda ng allowances, maari bang ipaabot ko sa kaalaman ng lahat na may tumawag ng aking kaalaman at pansin na mayroon di-umanong Hukom ng RTC na nagpahiwatig sa Tanggapan ng City Mayor na di-umano hindi ko hini-hearing o dinidinig ang mga asunto ng RTC, Br. 209, na sakup ng aking designasyon bilang Acting Presiding Judge, na may kaugnayan sa ating pag-uusapan na allowances. Pinatunayan ko na hindi tutoo at pawang kasinungalingan ang bintang sa pamamagitan ng "Minutes of Court Hearings" at "Certification" ng Branch Clerk of Court ng RTC, Br. 209. Mga kasama sa Judiciary, nakikiusap ako na iwasan natin ang nakakasirang bagay na hindi totoo x x x"[.]

"x x x Ugnay sa representation sa pagtaas ng allowance ng Judges sa local Government ay napagbigyan naman. Pakiusap ko, huwag naman siraan ang kapwa x x x," at iba pa.

On the matter, a Judge in the group made a comment - to wit:

"x x x upang maiwasan ang hindi pagkakaunawaan ng isa't isa sa atin, hinihiling ko sa bawa't isa sa atin na kung ano ang tinatanggap ng sino man sa atin, huwag ng questionin x x x" at iba pa.

at that juncture Judge Capco-Umali stood up and in a mode of anger pointing a finger against herein Complainant, she repeatedly said in a loud voice:

"Matanda ka na...! Mamamatay ka na!..." at iba pa na may kahalintulad.

On the impropriety of the unruly and disrespect behavior and conduct of Judge Capco-Umali in the presence of fellow-judges and others, a Judge tried to say something in an effort to appease her unruliness, but she kept on unkindly berating herein Complainant who was then speechless out of her shock on her unexpected behavior.

Regaining a bit of composure and wit, Complainant appealed to the respondent in this manner:

"x x x Judge Umali magpakatao at makinig ka naman para makapagunawaan tayo, nakakahiya na ito x x x"

to which she became more angry and shouted -

"x x x Judge ako! Judge ako x x x!".

as she was pounding her breast continuously with her fist; because of the shock and fright generated by the unruly behavior of respondent, complainant did not clearly comprehend the rest of her berating statements made against her in the process.

When respondent Judge Umali already appeared to be more uncontrollable in her decorum, complainant then in fear took steps to get out of the place with Judge Sorongon then tending her on her shoulder assisted her in haste towards the exit door; and when about to step out of the exit door, complainant turning her face on the then commotion at her back she saw Respondent Judge Umali still berating her and in the act of catching her at the back but on the then timely intervention of Atty. Leynard Dumlao who then was close at complainant's back, prevented respondent to reach her who then hastily moved to the safety of her courtroom still with the assistance of Judge Sorongon, thus complainant got out of the wrath of respondent Judge Umali.[13] (Italics and underscoring in the original)

In her May 22, 2007 Comment,[14] Judge Capco-Umali, admitting having uttered the remarks "matanda ka na, halos malapit ka na sa kamatayan gumagawa ka pa ng ganyan, madadamay pa kami" to Judge Acosta-Villarante, explained that it was "due to exasperation" as Judge Acosta-Villarante called her "an incorrigible liar" or "sinungaling." Also admitting having uttered "Judge ako! Judge ako!," she explained that it was to remind Judge Acosta-Villarante that she deserved respect and courtesy, for while she was speaking on the topic of allowances, Judge Acosta-Villarante kept interrupting her by "making interjections and unnecessary comments."

In her June 8, 2007 Reply,[15] Judge Acosta- Villarante, admitting calling Judge Capco-Umali "sinungaling," explained that she was only "constrained" by the situation, adding that Judge Capco-Umali is a "pathological liar."

In its March 5, 2008 Report and Recommendation,[16] the OCA made the following evaluation:

x x x x

The admissions made by the concerned Judges anent the allegations they hurled against each other provide for the strongest evidence to establish their individual liability.

Time and again, the Court has constantly reminded Judges that as magistrates of the law, they must comport themselves at all times in such a manner that their conduct, official or otherwise, can bear the most searching scrutiny of the public that looks up to them as epitome of integrity and justice. They must be the first to abide by the law and weave an example for others to follow. They must studiously avoid even the slightest infraction of the law (Alumbres vs. Caoibes, A.M. No. RTJ-99-1431, January 23, 2002). The actions of the respondent Judges fell short of this exacting ethical standard demanded from the members of the Judiciary.

Section 1, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary (A.M. [No.] 03-05-01-SC, [effective] 01 June 2004) enunciates the rule that "[J]udges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities."

Judge Capco-Umali failed to live up to the standard of propriety entrenched in the aforequoted code of conduct. While, she might have been provoked by Judge Acosta-Villarante's referral to her as a liar, she should have maintained her composure instead of shouting back at a fellow judge. She should have exercised self-restraint instead of reacting in such a very inappropriate manner considering that she is in the presence of fellow Judges and other employees of RTC, Mandaluyong City. She should have put more consideration and effort on preserving the solemnity of the said meeting, and on giving those who are present the courtesy and respect they deserved. It was held in Quiroz vs. Orfila (272 SCRA 324 [1997]) that "[f]ighting between court employees during office hours is disgraceful behavior reflecting adversely on the good image of the judiciary. It displays a cavalier attitude towards the seriousness and dignity with which court business should be treated. Shouting at one another in the workplace and during office hours is arrant discourtesy and disrespect not only towards co-workers, but to the court as well. The behavior of the parties was totally unbecoming members of the judicial service."

Judge Capco-Umali, however, does not bear this responsibility alone. Judge Acosta-Villarante should also be required to answer for her failure to observe the basic norm of propriety demanded from a judge in relation with the aforementioned 23 March 2007 incident. At the outset, it was Judge Acosta-Villarante's unseemly behavior, calling Judge Capco-Umali "sinungaling" in front of their fellow Judges that initiated the altercation between the two Judges. Judge Acosta-Villarante should have been more cautious in choosing the words to address the already volatile situation with Judge Capco-Umali.

Judge Acosta-Villarante also repeated the uncalled for conduct when she wrote the memorandum dated 27 March 2007 and caused its circulation. If indeed the memorandum was produced strictly to allow the parties to cool off and avoid a repetition of the incident, on this ground alone, there was no need to mention the alleged misbehavior of Judge Capco-Umali during the meeting. The memorandum was thus written as a medium for retaliation against Judge Capco-Umali.

Judge Acosta-Villarante cannot also use as justification in writing and circulating of the memorandum the claim that "she has an obligation to bring to the attention of concerned officials the personal demeanor of another member that would put the Judiciary in constant public scrutiny and disrespect" pursuant to her oath of office. As a Judge, respondent Acosta-Villarante is aware that there are proper avenues for ventilation of grievance against anyone in government service.... Moreover, the termination of the conflict between her and Judge Capco-Umali (through the suggestion of giving the parties opportunity for "cooling off") is clearly not what she is up to for what she did only worsened the situation (with the filing of several complaints and counter-complaints).

An act complained of anchored on a violation of Code of Judicial Conduct, may only constitute a serious charge under Section 8 of Rule 140 of the Rules of Court if the same amounts to gross misconduct. The respective acts for which the herein respondents have been charged do not amount to gross misconduct. Thus, the charges against them cannot be considered serious. Nevertheless, respondents should be held administratively liable for violation of Section 1, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary. Under Section 11(B) in relation to Section 9 (A) of Rule 140, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, violation of Supreme Court rules constitutes a less serious charge. Respondents, therefore, may be sanctioned with: [1] suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than (1) nor more than three (3) months; or [2] a fine of more than P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.

In the case of Judge Capco-Umali, however, the imposable penalty should be tempered because it is clear from the record that she was dragged into the tiff by an act of provocation.[17] (Italics in the original; emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Thus, for violating Section 1, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct which is a less serious charge under Section 11(B) in relation to Section 9 (A) of Rule 140, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, the OCA recommended that Judges Capco-Umali and Acosta-Villarante be fined in the amount of P11,000 and P16,000, respectively.

The Court finds the evaluation of the complaints by the OCA well-taken.

Courts are looked upon by the people with high respect. Misbehavior by judges and employees necessarily diminishes their dignity. Any fighting or misunderstanding is a disgraceful occurrence reflecting adversely on the good image of the Judiciary.[18] By fighting within the court premises, respondent judges failed to observe the proper decorum expected of members of the Judiciary. More detestable is the fact that their squabble arose out of a mere allowance coming from the local government.

Under Rule 140, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC[19] (September 11, 2001), a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct is classified as a serious charge only if it amounts to gross misconduct. Since, as correctly found by the OCA, the same does not constitute gross misconduct, it should be considered only as a violation of Supreme Court rules, directives and circulars, which is classified as a less serious charge, in which case, any of the following sanctions may be imposed: (1) suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one nor more than three months; or (2) a fine of more than P10,000 but not exceeding P20,000.

The Court finds, however, that Judges Capco-Umali and Acosta-Villarante should each be fined P11,000.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Judges Rizalina T. Capco-Umali and Paulita B. Acosta-Villarante GUILTY of violation of Section 1, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary, for which they are each FINED in the amount of Eleven Thousand (P11,000) Pesos.

In view of the retirement of Judge Paulita B. Acosta-Villarante, the Fiscal Management and Budget Office, Office of the Court Administrator is ordered to DEDUCT the amount of Eleven Thousand Pesos (P11,000) from her retirement benefits.

Judge Rizalina T. Capco-Umali, who is still in the service, is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of similar acts will be dealt with more severely. The same stern warning applies to retired Judge Paulita B. Acosta-Villarante in her capacity as a member of the Bar.


Quisumbing, (Chairperson), Brion, Del Castillo, and Abad, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2124, pp. 1-5.

[2] Compulsorily retired from the service on October 2, 2007.

[3] A.M. No. 03-05-01-SC (April 27, 2004) which took effect on June 1, 2004.

[4] SEC. 2. The behavior and conduct of judges must reaffirm the people's faith in the integrity of the judiciary. Justice must not merely be done but must also be seen to be done.

[5] SECTION 1. Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities.

SEC. 2 As a subject of constant public scrutiny, judges must accept personal restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly. In particular, judges shall conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the judicial office.

[6] Rollo, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2124, p. 6.

[7] Id. at 9-26.

[8] Supra note 5.

[9] Rollo, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2124, pp. 170-174.

[10] Id. at 200.

[11] Id. at 17-20.

[12] Id. at 28-34.

[13] Rollo, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2125, pp. 6-9.

[14] Id. at 24-38.

[15] Id. at 57-67.

[16] Rollo, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2124, pp. 384-393.

[17] Id. at 390-393.

[18] Re: Fighting Incident Between Two (2) SC Drivers, Namely, Messrs. Edilberto L. Idulsa and Ross C. Romero, A.M No. 2008-24-SC, July 14, 2009; Nacionales v. Madlangbayan, A.M. No. P-06-2171, June 15, 2006, 490 SCRA 538, 545.

[19] Took effect on October 1, 2001.

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