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330 Phil. 834


[ A.M. No. MTJ-94-999, September 23, 1996 ]




In this Decision, the Court finds occasion to remind trial magistrates, particularly municipal court judges, that they must strictly abide by the Code of Judicial Conduct, for as the frontline officials of the judiciary, their actions are scrutinized by our people who expect them to be models of utmost integrity, professional competence and unassailable independence.

The Charge

In her sworn letter-complaint dated January 26, 1994,[1] complainant Teresita Dysico charged respondent Judge Eugenio Dacumos of the Municipal Trial Court of San Fernando, La Union, Branch 1 with (1) delay in hearing and resolving Criminal Case No. 20012 for grave coercion, where said complainant was the offended party; (2) grave misconduct; (3) partiality; and (4) inefficiency in managing his court personnel.

Complainant alleged in her said letter-complaint that sometime in January 1989, she filed Criminal Case No. 20012 for grave coercion against her former employer, Benito Gapuz Te and the latter's counsel, Atty. Roman Villalon, Jr. for forcing her to sign a resignation letter and an affidavit containing an admission that she was a dishonest employee of the Te-owned Asian Lumber and Construction.  She said that the trial took more than four (4) years and yet after the case was submitted for decision, the judge kept on delaying -- for no sufficient reason and in spite of his alleged promises to the contrary -- the promulgation of his decision.  She suspected that the judge was delaying the case because he had been bribed by the accused.  In urging the judge to speed up the resolution of the case, she allegedly furnished him a copy of a decision rendered by the National Labor Relations Commission in her case for illegal dismissal, ordering her reinstatement.

Complainant also asked that respondent judge, who she claimed already owned a big, concrete residential house, be made to explain the source of his funds for the construction of a new 3-storey concrete building worth about P5 million.

The Other Pleadings

In his Comment,[2] respondent Judge admitted that Criminal Case No. 20012 lasted for more than four (4) years but that the delay could not be attributed to him because (1) he had 481 pending cases; (2) complainant contributed to the delay; and (3) the evidence presented was voluminous, consisting of cartons of receipts.  In any event, the decision, all of 73 pages was promulgated on January 27, 1994, a day after the herein complaint was filed.

The judge also presented documentary evidence to show that the funds for his residential house and his two- (not three-) storey building (which according to him was worth only P650,000 to P700,000) were sourced from loans from the Rural Bank of Bauang (La Union), Home Development and Mutual Fund, Pag-ibig, Philippine National Bank (La Union) and other creditors.

Complainant in her reply[3] insisted on her previous allegations and added that respondent judge received money from wedding sponsors thru his employees who passed around a brown envelope among said sponsors and asked them to contribute "for the judge", in spite of the legal fees having already been fully paid.  She also contested the valuation of the building as being worth at least P3 million which could not have been totally funded by the alleged borrowings.  She further accused respondent of partiality in the conduct of the trial, and inefficiency and laxity in the management of his court personnel.

Filing his rejoinder,[4] respondent judge averred that the irregularities attributed to him in regard to Criminal Case No. 20012 had already been passed upon by the Regional Trial Court and the Supreme Court, both of which upheld  his decision.  He denied forcing money from wedding sponsors -- claiming that such payment, if any, was purely voluntary on the part of the parties and their sponsors.

In her answer[5] to the rejoinder, complainant averred that respondent judge during the preliminary investigation of Criminal Case No. 20012 partook of a merienda hosted by the accused.

Investigation, Report and Recommendation

By Resolution of the First Division of this Court on November 9, 1994, this case was referred to Executive Judge Braulio Yaranon for investigation, report and recommendation.  In his extensive Report[6] dated June 7, 1995, Executive Judge Yaranon submitted the following findings.[7]
"I - Findings Re: Alleged Delay, Partiality, and Gross Misconduct In Hearing and Resolving Criminal Case No. 20012.

A)      - Alleged bias or partiality in resolving the case.  The Decision (Exhibit N) on its face, shows that the respondent set forth the evidence adduced for the prosecution (Decision, pp. 3-16), as well as that for the defense (Decision, pp. 20-58).  He then analyzed and evaluated the evidence (Decision, pp. 58-73), and concluded, citing reasons, that the weight of evidence, leans in favor of the defense version of the incident and consequently held the two co-accused not guilty of offense charged.  The undersigned respectfully makes the finding that the said decision on its face, indicates that the respondent exercised reasonably fair and sound judgment, without bias or partiality, in rendering his decision in Criminal Case No. 20012, hence he should be absolved of this particular charge.

B)      - Alleged Delay in the Proceedings Due to Partiality and Ignorance of the Law.  It is charged that the respondent was partial and ignorant of the law because he allowed the accused to file several motions prohibited under the Rule on Summary Procedure, and that he further granted the accused extension to file counter-affidavits.  It is respectfully pointed out that the two (2) Grave Coercion Cases (Nos. 20012 and 20013) which are both triable under the Rule on Summary Procedure, were taken up jointly with Criminal Case No. 20014, For Serious Illegal Detention, until the later case was remanded to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, hence a strict application of the Rule on Summary Procedure, may not be appropriate.  Most of the motions complained of, appear to have been filed while all the three (3) criminal cases aforementioned, were jointly considered by the respondent.  Considering that the respondent in fact denied the motion to allow cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, and to present rebuttal evidence during the preliminary examination xxx a finding is made that this particular charge is not sufficiently established.

The record shows that delay in the hearing of the case is mainly attributable to legal maneuvers employed by the defense xxx as well as by the prosecution.

C)      - Alleged Delay in Resolving the Case.  The record shows that the last hearing in Criminal Case No. 20012, was held on February 11, 1993, for the reception of rebuttal evidence for the prosecution.  There is no order of record indicating when the case was deemed submitted for resolution.  Considering March 23, 1993, when the prosecution submitted a position paper, as the date when the case was deemed submitted for resolution, and considering further that the Decision dated December 29, 1993, was promulgated on January 27, 1994, there is no question that the respondent exceeded the ninety (90) day reglementary period by at least six (6) months.  That the draft of the decision was misplaced sometime in October, 1993, cannot excuse the delay because even at that time, the reglementary period had already been exceeded by at least four (4) months.  A finding is therefore made that the respondent rendered his decision at least six (6) months beyond the reglementary period.

Evident on the face of the Decision (Decision, pp. 16-20) rendered in Criminal Case No. 20012, is the resolution of a motion for contempt submitted for resolution on April 22, 1993 (per Order dated April 22, 1993, Record of Criminal Case No. 20012, p. 675).  The motion for contempt was therefore resolved at least five (5) months beyond the reglementary period.

D)      - Alleged Bribery.  The suspicion of the complainant that the respondent must have been bribed by the co-accused Benito Gapuz Te, owner of Asian Lumber and Construction, because he has been able to build a residential house valued at not less than Three Million (P3,000,000.00) Pesos, and that the materials must have come from the said accused, is not supported by evidence.  The respondent presented building plans indicating a cost estimate of P650,000.00.  He also presented documents evidencing loans obtained by the respondent from various financing institutions and from private individuals, the totality of which sufficiently covers the cost estimate of the construction.  A finding is therefore made that this particular charge is not proven.

F) - Re Alleged 'Merienda' offered by the co-accused Benito Gapuz Te.  Respondent admits that the said co-accused, on one occasion after a court hearing, offered 'merienda' consisting of softdrinks and biscuit to the court personnel, and that respondent was offered and took a bottle of softdrink and biscuit from the said co-accused.  A finding is therefore made that this charge is established by admission of the respondent.

II) - Re Laxity in the Supervision of Personnel.

This charge is established by the patent dis-array in the records of Criminal Case No. 20012.  Records are not arranged chronologically xxx and some pages of documents attached to the records, are missing.

III) - Re Alleged Collections from Wedding Sponsors.

It is charge that an employee of the respondent passed an envelope among sponsors whispering that the amount was for the judge.  It is further charged that the respondent and his personnel attended wedding feasts after the solemnization of marriage ceremonies.  Attendance at wedding feasts is not denied, hence is deemed admitted.  Respondent denies making collections from sponsors, but adds that 'Fee if any, is purely voluntary' thereby implying that cash offers voluntarily tendered, are accepted on said occasions.  A finding is therefore made that the respondent admits this specification."
The Office of the Court Administrator to which this case was also referred for evaluation concurred with the above findings and recommended that "the charges of bias and partiality, ignorance of the law, and bribery be dismissed for not being substantiated."

Moreover, the OCA concurred with the executive judge's recommendation that administrative sanctions be imposed "on the respondent judge for: (1) the delay in resolving the motion for contempt and for the delay in deciding Crim. Case No. 20012; (2) accepting fees for solemnizing marriages; and (3) for partaking of the snacks offered by the co-accused in the investigation done in Crim. Case No. 20012."

The Court's Ruling

We agree with these recommendations.  The defense interposed by the judge as to the delay in the criminal case are not meritorious.  An independent and fair judge should not allow the parties to practically control the proceedings in his court through obvious dilatory tactics.  The amended complaint was filed on June 26, 1990 but the decision was promulgated only on January 27, 1994.  The promulgation itself was delayed by seven months (after subtracting the 90-day period allowed by law) as the case was deemed submitted when the prosecution filed its position paper on March 23, 1994.  Respondent likewise delayed the resolution of the second motion for comtempt by at least five (5) months counted from the expiration of the 90-day reglementary period within which to resolve motions.

The acceptance of fees for solemnizing marriages, even if given voluntarily, is reprehensible.  By such act respondent judge cheapened his noble office, as well as the entire judiciary, in the eyes of the public.

Delay in resolving motions is inexcusable and should not be condoned.[8] A judge is administratively liable for unreasonable delay in the disposition of the cases.[9]

Judges must not only be fully cognizant of the state of their dockets, likewise, they must keep a watchful eye on the level of performance and conduct of the court personnel under their immediate supervision who are primarily employed to aid in the administration of justice xxx.  The leniency of a judge in the administrative supervision of his employees is an undesirable trait.[10] It is therefore necessary that judges should exercise close supervision over court personnel.[11]

The respondent admitted partaking of the "merienda" proferred by the accused in Criminal Case No. 20012, as well as accepting "fees" for solemnizing marriages and attending weddings feasts of marriages solemnized by him.  While these incidents may appear petty or trivial, respondent should nevertheless bear in mind that one who occupies a position of such grave responsibility in the administration of justice must conduct himself in a manner befitting the dignity of such exalted office.  A judge's private as well as official conduct must at all times be free from all appearances of impropriety, and be beyond reproach.[12]

We have repeatedly held that a municipal trial judge occupies the forefront of the judicial arm that is closest to the public we serve.  Thus, he must act at all times with great constancy and utmost probity.[13] In this respect, respondent gravely failed.

All in all, Judge Dacumos is found wanting in his observance of the following provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct:
Rule 1.01.  A judge should be the embodiment of competence, integrity and independence.

Rule 1.02  A judge sould administer justice impartially and without delay.

Rule 2.01.  A judge should so behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

x x x                        x x x                       x x x

Rule 3.01.  A judge shall be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence.

x x x                        x x x                       x x x

Rule 3.05.  A judge shall dispose of court's business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.

x x x                        x x x                       x x x

Rule 3.08.  A judge should diligently discharge administrative responsibilities, maintain professional competence in court management, and facilitate the performance of the administrative functions of other judges and court personnel.

Rule 3.09.  A judge should organize and supervise the court personnel to ensure the prompt efficient dispatch of business, and require at all times the observance of high standards of public service and fidelity.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, respondent Judge is found GUILTY as recommended by the Office of the Court Administrator and is hereby IMPOSED the penalty of SUSPENSION from office, without pay, for one (1) month.


Narvasa, C.J., (Chairman), Davide, Jr., Melo, and Francisco, JJ., concur.

[1]  Rollo, p. 1.

[2]  Rollo, pp. 9 et seq.

[3]  Rollo, pp. 102 et seq.

[4]  Rollo, pp. 152 et seq.

[5]  Rollo, pp. 201-202.

[6]  Rollo, pp. 206 et seq.

[7]  Rollo, pp. 219-222.

[8]  Ubarra vs. Tecson, 134 SCRA 4, January 17, 1985.

[9]  Beduya vs. Alpuerto, 96 SCRA 673, March 31, 1980.

[10]  Shan, Jr., vs. Aguinaldo, 117 SCRA 32, 38, September 30, 1982.

[11]  Bendesula vs. Laya, 58 SCRA 16, July 18, 1974.

[12]  Jugueta vs. Boncaros, 60 SCRA 27, September 30, 1974; Luzuriaga vs. Judge Bromo, 115 SCRA 830, August 19, 1982.

[13]  Mardoquio vs. Ilanga, 235 SCRA 198, August 10, 1994.