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387 Phil. 516


[ A.M. No. MTJ-99-1227, May 09, 2000 ]




On 18 January 1994, Fernando V. Torres filed an action for "Annulment and/or Declaration of Nullity of a Deed of Absolute Sale and a Deed of Real Estate Mortgage," which deeds he had apparently entered into with one Amparo Medina, and for the cancellation of eleven (11) checks issued to the latter pursuant to their agreement. The case was docketed Civil Case No. Q-94-18962 before Branch 216, presided by Judge Mariano I. Bacalla, of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City.

Shortly after the civil action was initiated, Amparo Medina, therein defendant, filed with the Office of the Quezon City Prosecutor criminal cases against Fernando V. Torres for violation, on several counts, of Batas Pambansa ("BP") 22 covering the eleven (11) checks involved in Civil Case No. Q-94-18962. These criminal cases, docketed Criminal Cases Numbered 26789 to 26799, inclusive, were lodged with the Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 36, presided by respondent Judge Francisco D. Villanueva, of Quezon City. The accused, Fernando V. Torres, through counsel, filed a motion for the suspension of the proceedings and the deferment of his arraignment upon the thesis that the pendency of Civil Case No. Q-94-18962, along with the resultant prayer for the cancellation of the eleven (11) checks, raised a prejudicial question that had to be first resolved before any action could be taken on the criminal cases.

The denial of the motion for deferment by respondent Judge prompted Torres to file a "Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition" before Judge Marina Buzon of Branch 91 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, seeking to enjoin respondent Judge Villanueva from setting the criminal cases for arraignment.

On 15 December 1994, Judge Buzon granted the Torres petition and ordered respondent Judge to suspend the scheduled arraignment; viz

"WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petition for certiorari and prohibition is GRANTED. The Orders dated August 17, 1994 and September 7, 1994 are set aside and respondent Judge is directed to suspend the arraignment and trial of petitioner in Criminal Cases Nos. 26789-99 until after the prejudicial question raised in civil case no. Q-94-18962 before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 216, Quezon City, shall have been resolved. 

"The petition for mandamus is DENIED for lack of merit."[1]

Pursuant to the aforementioned order, Judge Villanueva suspended the proceedings in the criminal cases.

On 07 March 1997, Judge Bacalla issued a decision in Civil Case No. Q-94-18962, dismissing the complaint for annulment of contract and cancellation of the questioned checks for lack of cause of action. On 13 April 1997, Torres filed a notice of appeal. On 07 May 1997, following the dismissal of Civil Case No. Q-94-18962, Amparo Medina filed a "Motion to Revive Proceedings in Criminal Cases Nos. 26789-99" with a request that the same be heard on 09 May 1997 at 8:30 in the morning. The counsel for defendant Torres received a copy of the motion on the same day of 07 May 1997. Without waiting for the hearing scheduled on 09 May 1997, and without affording the accused, Fernando Torres, the opportunity to express his stand on the motion, respondent Judge Villanueva forthwith issued an order, dated 07 May 1997, granting the prayer for the revival of the criminal proceedings and setting the arraignment and trial of the cases on 04 June 1997. Torres objected to the action taken by the judge as being a denial of his "day in court." An immediate offshoot was the filing of the instant administrative complaint against respondent Judge Francisco D. Villanueva.

Respondent Judge, in his comment, asserted that he had already resolved the issue on which the instant administrative complaint was predicated in an order, dated 14 July 1997, which denied an "Omnibus Motion for Reconsideration and Inhibition"[2] filed by complainant. He elaborated: 

"The Court, in its desire to facilitate the disposition of cases in view of the numerous cases pending now in Court, resolved the Motion to Revive Proceedings and granted the same. It is the prerogative of the Court, even without waiting for the date set, if it believes that it would help in the disposition of cases with pending incidents similar to this one. 

"The records will show that these informations were filed way back in July 1994 and because of the Petition for Certiorari, Prohibition with Preliminary Mandatory Injunction and/or Temporary Restraining Order filed by the accused, with the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, the proceedings in these cases were suspended as the Regional Trial Court, Branch 91 of Quezon City enjoined this Court from proceedings with the arraignment of the accused. Said Petition for Certiorari was decided by the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 91 dated December 16, 1994 granting said Petition and this Court was directed to suspend the arraignment and trial of these cases until after the prejudicial question raised in Civil Case No. Q-94-18962 shall have been resolved which was then pending before Branch 216 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City. Then, on May 7, 1997, complainant through counsel filed this Motion to Revive Proceedings attaching thereto a xerox copy of the Decision rendered by the Hon. Mariano Bacalla dated March 7, 1997 dismissing Civil Case No. Q-94-18962 hence, the order of this Court dated May 7, 1997. The Motion for Reconsideration therefore, considering the antecedent facts stated above, is hereby DENIED 

"Likewise, the Motion for Inhibition, for lack of merit is hereby DENIED."[3]

In the same comment, respondent Judge, justifying his summary disposition of the Medina motion, underscored his heavy caseload with as many as 3,208 cases still then pending before his sala.

The Office of the Court Administrator ("OCA"), to which office this Court had referred the matter for evaluation, report and recommendation, found respondent Judge guilty of abuse of authority and impropriety;[4] it concluded:

"It is wrong for respondent to say that he came to know of this administrative case only when he received the resolution of this Honorable Court dated September 27, 1999 requiring the parties to manifest whether they are submitting the case on basis of the pleadings/records already filed and submitted. In the first Indorsement dated July 10, 1997, this Office required respondent to comment on the complaint. In compliance therewith, respondent filed his Comment on September 10, 1997. Verily, respondent, for reasons known only to him, has forgotten that he already filed his comment as early as September 10, 1997. 

"As to the merits of the case, we find respondent guilty of abuse of authority. The Motion to Revive Proceedings in Criminal Cases Nos. 26789-26799 was requested by the Plaintiff to be scheduled for hearing on July 9, 1997 and yet two (2) days before that, respondent granted the motion. Respondent deprived herein complainant of his day in court. The reason offered by respondent that he acted on the motion without waiting for the scheduled hearing because of his heavy caseload is not acceptable. Waiting for the scheduled hearing before ruling on the motion would not have caused too much delay because the difference involved here was a mere two (2) days. 

"Additionally, by his hasty action, respondent created the impression in the minds of herein complainant that he is partial in favor of the plaintiff. It has been repeatedly held that a judge's official conduct and his behavior in the performance of his official duties should be free from the appearance of impropriety and must be beyond reproach. (Alazar vs. Reyes, 131 SCRA 445). He should avoid even the slightest infraction of the law. (Cabrera vs. Pajares, 142 SCRA 127). 

"IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the undersigned respectfully recommends that a) the instant case be RE-DOCKETED as an administrative matter; and b) respondent be FINED in the amount of P5,000.00 with a WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely."

The Court concurs with the OCA in its above report and recommendation; nevertheless, the Court deems it fit to reduce the recommended fine of P5,000.00. Sdaad

While the effort of respondent Judge to hasten the speedy resolution of the cases before him is commendable, that task, however, should not be done in utter disregard of the rudiments of notice and hearing, an indispensable element of procedural due process to which the parties before him are entitled. The duty to dispose of the court business promptly and to decide cases[5] within the prescribed periods should be consistent with a faithful compliance with the set of procedures laid down therefor.[6] The avowed purpose of acting on cases as early as possible does not justify even the slightest abuse of judicial authority and discretion[7] or excuse due observance of the basic elements of the rule of law.[8] Every litigant is entitled to nothing less than a righteous judgment rendered by the court in such a manner that begets no suspicion over the assiduity, the fairness and integrity of the judge.[9] The latter must constantly be careful to avoid even the slightest infraction of the law and established rules lest it be a demoralizing example to others.[10]

Even if a judge were of the opinion that the right asserted by any of the parties is not anchored on any legal foundation and that going through the rigors of a proceeding would be a waste of time, he nonetheless should, to prevent the imputation of bias on his part, have the patience and circumspection to give that party a chance to be heard. A display of petulance and impatience in the conduct of trial is a norm of behavior incompatible with the needful attitude and sobriety of a good judge.[11]

The Office of the Court Administrator has taken note of the fact that Judge Francisco D. Villanueva is also the respondent in other administrative cases, two of which have already been resolved, one being dismissed and the other meriting a reprimand.[12] The outcome of the number of cases filed against respondent notwithstanding, the conduct he has displayed in the instant case does leave much more than can aptly be desired. Looking at his explanation, however, the Court considers it proper to reduce in this instance the recommended fine to P2,000.00.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge is held GUILTY of ABUSE OF AUTHORITY and is fined in the amount of Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000.00) with a WARNING that repetition of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with severely.


Melo, (Chairman), Panganiban, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.

Purisima, J., no part — abroad.

[1] Rollo, p. 11.

[2] Order dated 14 July 1997, Records, pp. 14-15.

[3] Rollo, pp. 13-14.

[4] Alfredo L. Benipayo, Administrative Supervision of Courts; Re: Administrative Matter MTJ-99-1227 dated 21 January 2000.

[5] Aquino vs. Luntok, 184 SCRA 177.

[6] Collado vs. Hernando, 161 SCRA 639.

[7] Olaivar vs. Singco, 56 SCRA 232.

[8] Alejandro vs. Pepito, 96 SCRA 322.

[9] Lugue vs. Kayanan, 29 SCRA 165.

[10] De la Paz vs. Inutan, 64 SCRA 540.

[11] Santiago vs. Santos, 63 SCRA 392.

[12] See Administrative Matter for Agenda, Office of the SC Court Administrator, dated 06 September 1999, Records, pp. 21-24.

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