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423 Phil. 916


[ A.M. No. 00-7-09-CA, December 19, 2001 ]





This Resolves the Motion for Reconsideration dated 11 April 2001 filed by counsel for respondent Demetrio G. Demetria, the Manifestation and Motion for Oral Argument dated 13 September 2001 filed by respondent himself, as well as his Letter dated 8 October 2001 praying for reconsideration of the Decision of this Court promulgated 27 March 2001.

The records show that on 27 March 2001 respondent was found guilty of interceding in behalf of suspected drug queen Yu Yuk Lai, who was charged under Sec. 15, Art. III, of RA 6425, as amended, thereby violating Rule 2.04 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.  Consequently, respondent, then an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals, was dismissed from the service with prejudice to his appointment or reappointment to any government office, agency, or instrumentality, including government owned or controlled corporation or institution. All his benefits were ordered forfeited.

In his Motion for Reconsideration dated 11 April 2001 respondent asserts that he did not intercede in behalf of suspected drug queen Yu Yuk Lai, nor is there any showing beyond reasonable doubt that he did. Respondent also maintains that "[i]f at all any penalty should be visited upon (him) for what he did x x x a reprimand may perhaps be considered `appropriate.'" In his Manifestation and Motion for Oral Argument dated 13 September 2001, respondent maintains that "if he were only allowed by this Court to orally argue his case and expound his arguments personally, he believes that he can convince this Court of the justness of his cause." Finally, in his Letter of 8 October 2001, respondent says that if indeed he committed the acts of interference of which he was found guilty, he respectfully and humbly submits that the penalty imposed on him is too harsh.

As found by the Court-appointed investigator, the Honorable Mme. Justice Carolina C. Griño-Aquino, on 18 July 2000, at around 9:00 o'clock in the morning, the Motion for Inhibition of Judge Manuel T. Muro of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 54, the pairing Judge for Branch 53 (then left vacant by the demise of its incumbent Judge) was heard and thereafter submitted for resolution. Later, just before lunch time, upon his arrival in his office, SP Pablo C. Formaran III, the public prosecutor handling the case, was informed by his secretary that a call from the Office of Justice Demetria was received and that respondent Justice wanted to speak with him. Since SP Formaran III was still out, a return call was requested. When the return call was made, the voice of the same woman who earlier called answered that respondent Justice was already out for lunch. She then said that she would just call again.

At around 1:30 to 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, respondent Justice, in the company of Go Teng Kok and Atty. Reinerio Paas went to the office of SP Formaran III asking the latter to withdraw the Motion for Inhibition he had earlier filed against Judge Muro. Go Teng Kok pleaded with SP Formaran III to withdraw his motion while respondent Justice counseled SP Formaran III that the basis for the motion for inhibition, i.e., the unsigned letter of "concerned court employees," was "not strong." Respondent Justice also advised Go Teng Kok to calm down or "keep his cool" as the latter was already becoming too emotional. Respondent also asked SP Formaran III if he could do something to help Go Teng Kok. Just to put an end to the conversation, SP Formaran III, after politely declining the request, answered that he would bring the matter to CSP Jovencito R. Zuño. "Iyon pala," respondent Justice replied, then stood up, bade SP Formaran III good bye, and left with Atty. Paas and Go Teng Kok.

Upon returning to his office in the Court of Appeals, respondent Justice called up CSP Zuño and requested him to instruct SP Formaran III to withdraw his Motion for Inhibition so that Judge Muro could issue an order in the case of Yu Yuk Lai. "Pakisabi mo nga kay State Prosecutor Formaran na iwidraw na iyong kanyang Motion to Inhibit para naman makagawa na ng Order si Judge Muro," to which CSP Zuño replied, "Tingnan ko po kung ano ang magagawa ko."

From the above narration, we reiterate our ruling that "the evidence is clear, if not overwhelming and damning" that respondent did intercede for suspected Chinese drug queen Yu Yuk Lai. While it may be so, as respondent argues, that "what Investigating Justice Carolina C. Griño-Aquino believes (to be) is not evidence" the same is not merely an expression of her opinion. Her pronouncements were conclusions based on her assessment and appreciation of the evidence presented before her. Like our view on factual findings of the trial court, we accord great weight and the highest respect to the evaluation of Mme. Justice Griño-Aquino, a retired but well respected member of this Court, as her assessment and appreciation of the evidence are quite competent and convincing. Absent any showing of bias, partiality, flaw or grave abuse of discretion, we shall not disturb her findings.

Respondent Justice cites the Resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman dated 10 October 2000 dismissing the charges against him and Go Teng Kok for violation of Sec. 3, par. (a), of RA 3019, as amended, in relation to Sec. 1, par. (e), of PD 1829, for insufficiency of evidence. He echoes the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman therein that the request to withdraw the motion to inhibit would not result in the delay of the prosecution. On the contrary, it is the filing of the motion to inhibit which would disrupt the proceedings as the case would be re-assigned to a new judge who would have to familiarize himself again with the case and thus delay the prosecution. Respondent Justice even turns the table on SP Formaran III and accuses him of violating the Canons of Professional Responsibility by filing a motion to inhibit based on an unsigned letter thereby delaying the prosecution of the action and depriving Yu Yuk Lai of her right to speedy trial which is guaranteed by the Constitution.

The argument does not persuade. In the first place, it was the accused who first filed a motion to inhibit the first judge, Judge Perfecto A.S. Laguio Jr., over the objection of SP Formaran III, which motion Judge Laguio found "utterly without merit," but nonetheless granted "for the peace of mind of the accused." And, the subsequent motion to inhibit filed by SP Formaran III was not merely based on the unsigned letter, as respondent claims, but more so, from the inclination of Judge Muro to grant whatever suspected drug queen Yu Yuk Lai asked for from his court. Thus, as found by Mme. Justice Griño-Aquino, when Yu Yuk Lai asked to be confined in a hospital, instead of staying in jail, Judge Muro granted her request. When she chose the Manila Doctors Hospital, instead of the Philippine General Hospital, Judge Muro granted the request. When Yu Yuk Lai requested that her one (1) week confinement be extended to one (1) month or until she was fit to be discharged, Judge Muro approved it. All these despite the vigorous opposition of the prosecution. True, every accused has the right to a speedy trial, but not at the expense of a miscarriage of justice. For, slow deliberate justice is always preferred and pursued over accelerated injustice.

Indeed, the conspiracy to clear suspected drug queen Yu Yuk Lai has become clearer with the recent dismissal of Judge Manuel T. Muro on 17 October 2001 for misconduct, being utterly inefficient and manifesting partiality in favor of Yu Yuk Lai. And respondent Justice has wittingly, perhaps unwittingly, become one of the co-conspirators.

With regard to the findings and recommendations of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, suffice it to say that it was not the only basis of this Court in finding respondent Justice guilty of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct. In recommending the prosecution of respondent Justice Demetria, Go Teng Kok and Yu Yuk Lai, Senate Committee Report No. 396 dated 29 August 2000 was at best persuasive. Incidentally, during the Senate hearings, Go Teng Kok also categorically stated that respondent Justice was his friend even before they went to see SP Formaran III on 18 July 2000, a fact vehemently denied by respondent himself.

In fine, respondent Justice has no reason to extend counseling to SP Formaran III. As a member then of the Judiciary, respondent should not act as lawyer for an accused. Neither should he teach the prosecutor what to do. He should refrain from getting himself involved in the prosecution of any case which may later be appealed to his court.

Respondent denies ever making a call to CSP Zuño. This is very difficult to accept since there is sufficient reason to believe that he indeed made the call, which he could have very well done so. If respondent could personally go to the Department of Justice and argue for an accused before a prosecutor whom he claims he did not even know, what more a simple telephone call to a former subordinate. This is truly a common experience of man which can be very probable under the circumstances and may be received as credible evidence. But this Court is not pinning respondent down for the phone call alone. The series of events that transpired and the circumstances simply lead to one fair and reasonable conclusion that points to his guilt.

The denial of respondent, which is unsubstantiated by clear and convincing evidence, is plainly a negative self-serving assertion which deserves no weight in law, and cannot prevail over the positive and forthright declarations of the prosecutors who from all indications were never actuated by improper motives. As found by Mme. Justice Griño-Aquino, "[n]either Zuño nor Formaran III had any motive to concoct falsehood against Justice Demetria."

Respondent argues that his culpability must be established beyond reasonable doubt. We agree. But, we have often said, proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean such absolute certainty as to exclude the possibility of error. Only moral certainty is required, or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind. In the instant case, we believe that that requisite degree of proof has been met.

Finally, we quote again from the discourse of Mme. Justice Griño-Aquino that the independence and integrity of the Judiciary,  including those who participate in its work, such as the prosecution arm of the Government, should be preserved at all times. "Public confidence in the judicial system is diminished when a judge,  instead of preserving the integrity and independence of the Judiciary, uses his influence as a tool to derail or interfere with the  regular course of a judicial proceeding for the benefit of one of the parties therein."

A Member of the Court however believes that the disqualification of respondent from being appointed or reappointed to any government office, agency or instrumentality, or any government owned or controlled corporation or institution, except to the judiciary, should be lifted.

WHEREFORE, the Motion for Reconsideration is DENIED, except insofar as the accrued leave credits of respondent Demetrio G. Demetria were all ordered forfeited, in which case, his accrued leave credits shall be released to him in accordance with Sec. 11, Rule 140, Rules of Court, as amended. The Manifestation and Motion for Oral Argument is likewise DENIED for lack of merit, while respondent's Letter dated 8 October 2001 for reconsideration of the Decision of 27 March 2001 is merely NOTED.


Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Quisumbing, Pardo, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Carpio, JJ., concur.
Puno, J., no part.  Did not participate in original decision.
Panganiban, J., I vote to partially grant the M/R and  reduce the penalty which I believe disproportionate to the acts committed.
Buena, J., on official business.

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