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442 Phil. 516

SECOND DIVISION

[ A.M. No. MTJ-02-1419, December 27, 2002 ]

EDUARDO M. MARTINEZ, SR. AND RUPERTO G. MARCELO, COMPLAINANTS, VS. JUDGE ORLANDO C. PAGUIO, MTC, BRANCH 1, MEYCAUAYAN, BULACAN, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

CALLEJO, SR., J.:

The Meralco Village Homeowners Association, Inc. (MVHAI) is composed of employees of the Meralco Electric Company residing in Meralco Village Phase I, a residential subdivision located in Lias, Marilao, Bulacan. The MVHAI was the donee of a vacant lot located in the periphery of Meycauayan, Bulacan and adjacent to Marilao, Bulacan, identified as Lot 22, Block 16. The said lot has an area of 7,504 square meters and is covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 225920. The MVHAI used the said lot for basketball games of the homeowners and their dependents and for other sports activities. The MVHAI since then paid the realty taxes thereon. Among the members of the MVHAI were Ruperto Marcelo and his wife Lucita Marcelo, an Assistant Provincial Prosecutor, and Engineer Eduardo Martinez, Sr.

On April 10, 1998, at about 2:00 p.m., Bernabe Antonio, his sister Lita Antonio and others caused the construction of a barbed wire and coco lumber perimeter fence on a portion of the lot. Martinez had the incident recorded in the Meycauayan Police Station blotter. Antonio and his sister continued the construction in the morning of the next day. Martinez again reported the incident to the police authorities. The MVHAI secured a certification from the municipal engineer that there was no building permit for the construction of the fence. On April 14, 1999, Martinez, in behalf of MVHAI, filed a criminal complaint, docketed as I.S. No. 99-1454, against Bernabe Antonio, Lita Antonio, Ric Faustino and Danilo Corteza for violation of Republic Act No. 7279 with the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Bulacan.

On April 22, 1999, the homeowners circulated open letters calling the attention of the police authorities and other municipal officials to and complaining against the incursion of Bernabe Antonio, his sister and others into the lot. Obtaining no immediate relief from the police authorities and municipal officials, the homeowners gathered together on May 6, 1999, at around 4:00 p.m., and confronted Antonio. They demanded that he demolish his perimeter fence. Antonio refused, claiming that he inherited the property where he constructed the fence from his deceased grandfather, Ceferino Antonio. Forthwith, the homeowners themselves demolished the fence. Antonio reported the incident to the police authorities and on May 10, 1999, he executed a sworn statement complaining against Martinez, Marcelo and the other homeowners for the demolition of his perimeter fence. On the same day, a criminal complaint for malicious mischief was filed by Antonio with the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Meycauayan, Bulacan presided by Judge Orlando C. Paguio. The case was entitled People vs. Eduardo Martinez, Sr., et al. and docketed as Criminal Case No. 99-28365. The complaint therein reads: 

“That on the 6th day of May 1999, at around 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon more or less in Brgy. Pandayan, Municipality of Meycauayan, Province of Bulacan, Republic of the Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused by conspiring, confederating and mutually helping one another, motivated by anger, with deliberate intent to cause damage, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously strike and destroy the house and barb wire owned by one CEFERINO ANTONIO represented by BERNABE ANTONIO Y JURADO, which cause damages to said house and barb wire in the amount of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS (P100,000.00) Philippine Currency, to the damage and prejudice of the undersigned complainant on the aforesaid amount.”[1]   

The preliminary examination was set on June 2, 1999 but was reset to June 25, 1999 at 9:00 a.m. However, before the examination commenced, Marcelo filed a motion for inhibition alleging inter alia that, on several occasions, Judge Paguio commented that the accused before the MTC took the law unto their hands when the perimeter fence of Antonio was demolished causing damage to the latter. Martinez joined the motion of Marcelo for the inhibition of Judge Paguio.

On June 3, 1999, the provincial prosecutor of Bulacan issued a Resolution in I.S. No. 99-1454 finding probable cause against Bernardo Antonio, et al. for violation of Republic Act 7279 and filed an Information against respondents therein with the MTC of Meycauayan, Bulacan presided by Judge Paguio for said crime. The case was docketed as Criminal Case No. 99-52953.

On September 15, 1999, Judge Paguio issued an Order denying the motion for inhibition filed by Marcelo and Martinez in Criminal Case No. 99-28365. He denied having declared during the proceedings on June 2, 1999 that Martinez, Marcelo and the other homeowners took the law unto their own hands. Judge Paguio set the arraignment and pre-trial on September 23, 1999 at 8:00 a.m. On September 21, 1999, subpoenae were issued by the clerk of court for the arraignment of Marcelo and Martinez and for pre-trial. Marcelo and Martinez received their copies of the subpoenae only in the afternoon of September 22, 1999.

The case was called on September 23, 1999 for the arraignment of Martinez and Marcelo. Martinez appeared without counsel and explained to the court that because he received the subpoena only in the afternoon of the previous day, he was unable to contact his counsel. Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Lucita Marcelo made a special appearance for her husband Marcelo, praying that the arraignment of the accused be cancelled. She insisted that in her copy of the court calendar of cases for the day, Criminal Case No. 99-28365 was not included. The judge denied the motion for a resetting but allowed Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Marcelo to assist her husband during his arraignment and appointed a counsel de oficio for Martinez. The two (2) were arraigned and entered a plea of not guilty. The court then called the case for pre-trial but Martinez and Marcelo prayed for a continuance to enable them to contact their respective counsels.

In the meantime, Martinez and Marcelo filed a petition for injunction with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Bulacan, entitled Eduardo Martinez, Sr., et al. vs. Hon. Orlando C. Paguio, et al. and docketed as Civil Case No. 08-M-2000. They sought to enjoin Judge Paguio from further taking cognizance of Criminal Case No. 99-28365. However, on January 31, 2000, Martinez and Marcelo filed a notice of withdrawal of petition. The RTC issued an order on the same date, dismissing the petition conformably with Section 3, Rule 17 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure.

In February 2000, the MVHAI filed a complaint against Antonio and the Estate of Ceferino Antonio, docketed as Civil Case No. 89-M-2000, for quieting of title with the RTC of Bulacan, praying that after due proceedings judgment be rendered in their favor as follows: 

WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is respectfully prayed that the Honorable Court renders judgment: 

1. Quieting the title or removing the cloud over the title or interest of the plaintiff over property covered by TCT No. T-225920 and the Deed of Donation dated April 29, 1997. 

2. Ordering the defendants to pay to the plaintiff the sum of:

2.1 P320,000.00 by way of actual compensatory damages; 

2.2 P100,000.00 by way of exemplary damages; 

2.3 P100,000.00 by way of attorney’s fees and P1,000.00 per appearance as appearance fee.

3. Granting such other relief as may be just and equitable.”[2]

Martinez and Marcelo forthwith filed a motion to suspend proceedings in Criminal Case No. 99-28365 on the ground of a prejudicial question in Civil Case No. 89-M-2000.

During the proceedings in Criminal Case No. 99-28365 before Judge Paguio on March 2, 2000, the private prosecutor manifested to the court that accused Martinez and Marcelo had not yet posted any bail bond and prayed that the court fix the bail bond for each of the said accused. On the same date, the court issued an order fixing the bail bond at P10,000.00 each for Martinez and Marcelo and gave them until 12:00 noon on said date to post their respective bonds. The judge also issued an addendum order denying the motion to suspend proceedings filed by Martinez and Marcelo and setting the trial of the case on its merits on March 23 and 30, 2000. When Martinez and Marcelo failed to post their bail bonds, the court issued a warrant for their arrest. On March 3, 2000, Martinez and Marcelo filed a motion for the reconsideration of the March 2, 2000 Order of the MTC and for the quashal of the warrant of arrest issued by said court. They contended that the imposable penalty for the crime is arresto mayor  in its medium and maximum period and hence there was no need for them to post bail bonds. Moreover, under the Rules on Summary Procedure and Republic Act 6036, they were not required to post bail.

On April 15, 2000, Martinez and Marcelo filed an administrative complaint against Judge Paguio with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), docketed as A.M. MTJ-02-1419, charging him with gross ignorance of the law, grave abuse of authority and gross partiality, alleging inter alia  that: 

(a) Instead of requiring Antonio to establish a prima facie case against Martinez and Marcelo for malicious mischief as required by the Rules on Summary Procedure, the Judge required them to refute Antonio’s baseless claim of ownership over the property; 

(b) Judge Paguio had prejudged the case against them in favor of Antonio by declaring during the proceedings that they took the law unto their own hands, causing damage to Antonio; 

(c) Judge Paguio insisted on the arraignment of Martinez and Marcelo on September 25, 1999 although the case was not scheduled on said date; and they received the subpoenae only a day before the said arraignment; 

(d) Martinez and Marcelo were ordered by Judge Paguio to post bail even though they were not required to do the same under the Rules on Summary Procedure.

In his unsigned comment, Judge Paguio averred that he could not be held liable for gross ignorance of the law in the absence of findings of bad faith, dishonesty or corruption. He asserts that his actions in Criminal Case No. 99-28365 were above board and in accordance with the rules. According to him, for gross abuse of authority to exist, the power must be exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner. He vehemently denied that he was biased in favor of Mr. Antonio. He insists that all his actuations were designed to render speedy and inexpensive disposition of cases filed before his court.

The Court directed the OCA to conduct an investigation of the complaint. The Court Administrator submitted his report which states thus: 

“EVALUATION:

x x x 

A careful perusal of the records reveals that respondent Judge manifested a lack of mastery of the provision of the 1991 Rules on Summary Procedure. In an Order dated 2 March 2000, he directed:

‘It appearing from the record of this case that all the accused have not yet posted their bail. In view thereof, and upon manifestation by the private prosecutor Atty. Ernesto Fernandez, let the amount of TEN THOUSAND PESOS (P10,000.00) each be posted by the accused EDUARDO MARTINEZ, ET AL. for their provisional liberty, immediately until 12:00 noon.’

In a similar case, Agunda vs. Judge Tresvalles, AM No. MTJ-99-1236, 25 November 1999, 319 SCRA 134, this Court noted that the requirement for the accused to post bail is part of the regular procedure, not the revised rules on Summary Procedure. The Court declared:

We agree with the findings of the Office of the Court Administrator. The records clearly show inefficiency, gross ignorance of the law and impropriety on the part of respondent judge. 

First. He failed to determine that the criminal case before him was governed by the Revised Rules on Summary Procedure, as a result of which he applied the regular procedure and required the accused to post bail. It took respondent judge four months from the date of the filing of the information on September 25, 1997 to January 26, 1998 to determine that, after all, the case was subject to the Revised Rules on Summary Procedure and order a copy of the complaint and the affidavits to be served on the accused so that they could file their counter affidavit. Meanwhile, he required them to post bail when, under the Rules on Summary Procedure, this is no longer necessary considering that the charge against them was simply malicious mischief. 

Sec. 2 of the Revised Rules on Summary Procedure provides: 

Sec. 2. Determination of applicability. Upon the filing of a civil or criminal action, the court shall issue an order declaring whether or not the case shall be governed by this Rule. 

A patently erroneous determination to avoid the application of the Rules on Summary Procedure is a ground for disciplinary action. 

Although the said provision states that ‘patently erroneous determination to avoid the application of the [Rule on Summary Procedure] is a ground for disciplinary action,’ the provision cannot be read as applicable only where the failure to apply the rule is deliberate or malicious. Otherwise, the policy of the law to provide for the expeditious and summary disposition of cases covered by it could easily be frustrated. Hence, requiring judges to make the determination of the applicability of the rules on summary procedure upon the filing of the case is the only guarantee that the policy of the law will be fully realized. ”[3]

The Court Administrator further stated that complainants failed to adduce sufficient evidence to substantiate their other charges against Judge Paguio. He noted that Judge Paguio could properly exercise his discretion in deciding complainants’ motion for inhibition in Criminal Case No. 99-28365, since the grounds raised by them did not automatically disqualify the judge from sitting on the case, under the Revised Rules of Court. The Court Administrator pointed out that with regard to the motions/petitions submitted by complainants but subsequently denied by Judge Paguio, complainants may still avail themselves of judicial remedies other than the filing of an administrative complaint for grave abuse of authority against the judge.[4] 

We agree with the findings of the Court Administrator. Irrefragably, the proceedings in Criminal Case No. 99-28365 were covered by the Rules on Summary Procedure. Section 16, Rule 19 of said rule provides: 

“SEC. 16. Arrest of accused. – The court shall not order the arrest of the accused except for failure to appear whenever required. Release of the person arrested shall either be on bail or recognizance by responsible citizen acceptable to the court.”[5]

In this case, there was never an instance when Martinez and Marcelo failed to appear before the MTC when so required by Judge Paguio. There was thus no legal basis for Judge Paguio to require Martinez and Marcelo to post bail and order their arrest when they failed to post bail.

Moreover, Republic Act No. 6036 provides that bail is not generally required for violation of municipal or city ordinances or for criminal offenses when the prescribed penalty is not higher than arresto mayor and/or a fine of P2,000.00 or both. In the recent case of Agunday vs. Tresvalles,[6] the Court held that in a charge of simple malicious mischief which is covered by the Rules on Summary Procedure, bail is no longer necessary.

While ordinarily, judges may not be administratively sanctioned for mere errors of judgment absent any bad faith or malice, they nonetheless have obligation to keep abreast of all basic laws and principles.[7]  The claim of good faith and absence of malice in glaring instances of incompetence and ineptitude does not abate a judge’s consequent liability. When the law is sufficiently basic, a judge owes it to his office to know and to simply apply it; anything less than that would be constitutive of gross ignorance of the law.[8]

As to the two other charges of grave abuse of authority and gross partiality, this Court agrees with the findings and adopts the recommendation of the OCA, thus: 

“Anent, the other charges, complainants failed to provide sufficient evidence to hold respondent Judge liable. The matter of inhibition of judges rests on his own discretion and cannot be touched by the Court unless he is disqualified in accordance with the Rules of Court. As regards respondent Judge’s denial of the other motions/petitions submitted by complainants, there are judicial remedies available for them and not the instant administrative complaint. 

There was not enough evidence to prove that respondent Judge is biased in favor of the private complainant and his counsel. As a general rule, repeated rulings against a litigant, no matter how erroneous and vigorously and consistently expressed, are not basis for disqualification of a judge on grounds of bias and prejudice (citation omitted)."[9]

In Abdula vs. Guiani,[10]  we ruled that the Court has to be shown acts and conduct of the judge clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice before it can declare respondent judge to be biased and partial in favor of a party. Mere suspicion that the judge is partial to a party is not enough; there should be adequate evidence to prove the charge.[11]

Parenthetically, Judge Paguio had been found administratively guilty in A.M. No. MTJ-00-1335, entitled Yolanda Floro, complainant, vs. Judge Orlando C. Paguio, Municipal Trial Court, Branch 1, Meycauayan, Bulacan, respondent,[12] and fined in the amount of P5,000.00 for his delay in deciding a case. Records also reveal that respondent judge had compulsory retired last February 26, 2002.[13]

IN THE LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the Court finds Judge Orlando C. Paguio of Branch 1, Municipal Trial Court of Meycauayan, Bulacan GUILTY of gross ignorance of the law and is hereby ordered to pay a fine in the amount of TWELVE THOUSAND PESOS (P12,000.00) to be deducted from his withheld retirement benefits. The charges of grave abuse of authority and gross partiality are DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, J., (Chairman), Mendoza, Quisumbing, and Austria-Martinez, JJ., concur.
 
 


[1] Rollo, Annex “A.”

[2] Rollo, Annex “P.” 

[3] Supra. 

[4] Report of the OCA, dated March 18, 2002, pp. 7-8. 

[5] Supra

[6] 319 SCRA 134, 144 (1999). 

[7] Belga vs. Buban, 331 SCRA 531 (2000). 

[8] Creer vs. Fabillar, 337 SCRA 632 (2000); Pacris vs. Pagalilauan, 337 SCRA 638 (2000). 

[9] Supra. 

[10] 326 SCRA 1 (2000). 

[11] Lu vs. Siapno, 335 SCRA 181 (2000). 

[12] 346 SCRA 7 (2000). 

[13] Supra.

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