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[EDGAR R. ERICE v. PRESIDING JUDGE DIONISIO C. SISON](https://lawyerly.ph/juris/view/cf8fe?user=fbGU2WFpmaitMVEVGZ2lBVW5xZ2RVdz09)
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DIVISION

[ AM No. RTJ-15-2407, Nov 22, 2017 ]

EDGAR R. ERICE v. PRESIDING JUDGE DIONISIO C. SISON +

DECISION



SECOND DIVISION

[ A.M. No. RTJ-15-2407 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3834-RTJ), November 22, 2017 ]

EDGAR R. ERICE, COMPLAINANT, V. PRESIDING JUDGE DIONISIO C. SISON, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 125, CALOOCAN CITY, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

CAGUIOA, J:

This is an administrative matter[1] filed by Edgar R. Erice (Erice) against the now-retired Judge Dionisio C. Sison (Judge Sison) of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 125, Caloocan City, for violation of Section 8, paragraphs 3, 4 and 9 of A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC,[2] in particular: (i) gross misconduct constituting violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, (ii) knowingly rendering an unjust judgment or order as determined by a competent court in an appropriate proceeding, and (iii) gross ignorance of the law or procedure.[3]

BACKGROUND

The facts leading to the filing of the complaint are as follows:

Complainant Erice, then Vice Mayor of Caloocan City, filed a complaint against then Mayor Enrico R. Echiverri, City Treasurer Evelina Garma, Budget Officer Jesusa Garcia and City Accountant Edna Centeno (Echiverri, et al.) before the Office of the Ombudsman, for alleged violation of the Government Service Insurance System Act.[4] Acting on the complaint, the Ombudsman issued an Order[5] of Preventive Suspension (Order of Suspension) on July 18, 2011 against Echiverri, et al., to last until the administrative adjudication is completed but not to exceed six (6) months.[6]

Aggrieved by the Order of Suspension, Echiverri, et al. elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals (CA). While Echiverri, et al. were able to obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) and a writ of preliminary injunction from the CA Special 14th Division, nevertheless, in its Decision[7] dated January 2, 2012, the CA affirmed the Order of Suspension of the Ombudsman and lifted and set aside the TRO. The decretal portion of the CA Decision of January 2, 2012 provides:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Writ of Preliminary Injunction issued by this Court is hereby LIFTED and SET ASIDE. Accordingly, the assailed Order dated July 18, 2011 issued by the Office of the Ombudsman in OMB-C-A-11-0401-G is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.[8]

A week later, or on January 9, 2012, Echiverri, et al. filed a Petition for Declaratory Relief with Prayer for TRO and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction[9] with the RTC of Caloocan City, which was docketed as Special Civil Action No. C-1060 (2012)[10]. Named as Respondents in the Petition for Declaratory Relief were Erice (Complainant in the present administrative matter) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). Echiverri, et al. prayed that the RTC "make a definite judicial declaration on the rights and obligations of the parties asserting adverse legal interests with respect to the implementation of [their] suspension."[11]

On even date, RTC Executive Judge Eleanor R. Kwong issued a 72-hour ex-parte Order to enjoin the DILG and Erice from implementing the Order of Suspension. Subsequently, the case was raffled and assigned to Judge Lorenza R. Bordios.[12]

In the summary hearing held on January 10, 2012, Erice and the DILG questioned the jurisdiction of the RTC to hear the matter, considering that the object of the Petition for Declaratory Relief were the CA Decision and the Order of Suspension of the Ombudsman. They also raised the matter of forum shopping, with Erice and the DILG pointing out that Echiverri, et al. had a pending Motion for Reconsideration[13] filed with the CA and a Motion to Hold in Abeyance the Implementation of the Order of Preventive Suspension[14] with the Office of the Ombudsman.[15]

However, Judge Bordios inhibited herself from proceeding with the case on January 11, 2012. The case was subsequently re-raffled to herein Respondent Judge Sison.[16]

On the same day, January 11, 2012, with the case now pending before Judge Sison, Erice and the DILG reiterated their Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Dissolve. That afternoon, Judge Sison noted that the 72-hour TRO of the Order of Suspension would be expiring the next day, on January 12, 2012, and that the parties ought to finish with the presentation of evidence before noon of January 12, 2012. Counsel for the DILG informed Judge Sison that the OSG was not informed that the summary hearing would proceed at 2:00 p.m. of January 11, 2012 before Branch 125. Nevertheless, Judge Sison proceeded with the hearing and allowed Echiverri, et al. to present their evidence until 5:00 p.m. that day.[17]

The next day, at 8:00 a.m., the summary hearing continued. The OSG invoked its right to cross-examine the witnesses earlier presented by Echiverri, et al. but Judge Sison denied the same, allegedly without consulting the records from Branch 126 that would indicate that the OSG had made reservations to this effect on January 10, 2012. At 9:15 a.m., Judge Sison issued an Order[18] extending the TRO to 20 days, inclusive of the 72-hour TRO earlier granted by Judge Kwong.[19]

On the day scheduled for the hearing on the Motion to Dismiss, January 17, 2012, Judge Sison stated that he would hear evidence in support of the application for a writ of preliminary injunction. This compelled Erice to file an Urgent Motion to Inhibit.[20] Without ruling on the Motion to Inhibit, Judge Sison issued the Order[21] granting the writ of preliminary injunction.[22]

For his part, in refuting the charges against him, Judge Sison denied any allegations of the violation of the right to due process of Erice and the DILG in allowing the summary hearing to proceed and Echiverri, et al. to present evidence even though the OSG was not informed of said hearing.[23] Judge Sison submitted that:

  1. There is no basis for the claim of bias and partiality because the reason for the extension of the 72-hour TRO to a 20-day TRO was to accord Echiverri, et al. due process in allowing them to file their written comment and to argue against the Motion to Dissolve.[24]

  2. There was no "deplorable haste" in issuing the TRO and writ of preliminary injunction because "of the limited time provided by the Rules of Court," in particular, Rule 58, Section 5; and that Erice's counsel, "knowing this time constraint x x x should have made himself always ready to go to trial and to present his testimonial and documentary evidences (sic)."[25]

  3. While admitting that the DILG's counsel appeared before him and that he denied the OSG's claim of the right to cross-examine, Judge Sison claims that Erice failed to produce evidence that he made such rulings and therefore "should not be believed."[26]
The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) Report dated November 4, 2014

In its Report[27] dated November 4, 2014, the OCA recommended that:

xxx [Respondent Judge be found GUILTY of Gross Ignorance of the Law and FINED in the amount equivalent to his one (1) month salary with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.[28]

The basis for the OCA's recommendation are as follows:

First, insofar as the alleged haste is concerned, indeed, this Court had ruled in Leviste v. Alameda[29] that "the pace in resolving incidents of the case is not per se an indication of bias."[30] Nevertheless, Judge Sison's act of issuing a TRO and writ of preliminary injunction against Erice and the DILG to enjoin the latter from enforcing the Ombudsman's Order of Suspension constitutes a violation of Section 14 of Republic Act No. (RA) 6770,[31] which provides:

SEC. 14. Restrictions. — No writ of injunction shall be issued by any court to delay an investigation being conducted by the Ombudsman under this Act, unless there is a prima facie evidence that the subject matter of the investigation is outside the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman.

No court shall hear any appeal or application for remedy against the decision or findings of the Ombudsman, except the Supreme Court, on pure question of law.

Second, in a similar case, Ogka Benito v. Balindong,[32] therein Respondent Judge Balindong issued a 72-hour TRO and extended the same for 20 days, against the enforcement of a DILG Department Order implementing a decision to suspend an official for nine months. This Court found that Judge Balindong's act constituted gross ignorance of the law for violating Section 14 of RA 6770. Judge Balindong was fined P30,000.00.[33]

Third, the OCA observed that although denominated as a Petition for Declaratory Relief, it was clear that Echiverri, et al. merely sought the injunction to prevent the implementation of the Ombudsman's Order of Suspension. In this regard, it is the CA that has appellate jurisdiction over the administrative cases resolved by the Ombudsman. Thus, Judge Sison cannot relax the rules, take cognizance of the case, and issue a TRO and writ of injunction which are beyond his authority.[34]

The OCA noted that this is Judge Sison's second offense. In A.M. No. RTJ-07-2050, he was found guilty of Gross Ignorance of the Law and was fined P10,000.00. Considering that this is Judge Sison's second offense, the penalty of suspension should have been imposed on him; however, since he was due for compulsory retirement on December 9, 2014, the OCA recommended that in lieu of suspension, Judge Sison should be meted a penalty of fine equivalent to one (1) month's salary.[35]

This Court's Resolutions

In a Resolution dated February 23, 2015, this Court noted the OCA Report dated November 4, 2014 recommending that Judge Sison be found guilty of gross ignorance of the law and be fined an amount equivalent to one (1) month's salary, with a warning that repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely.[36]

Subsequently, in a Resolution dated August 5, 2015, this Court, acting on Judge Sison's request for the payment of his terminal leave, resolved the same in his favor, and released the terminal leave benefits after retaining the amount equivalent to his two (2) months' salary, to answer for whatever penalty the Court may impose against him in his pending administrative cases.[37]

DISCUSSION

The Court agrees with the findings of the OCA, with a modification on the penalty imposed on Judge Sison.

Gross ignorance of the law is a serious charge under Section 8, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC. It requires the judge to perform his/her duty to be acquainted with the basic legal command of law and rules.[38] Consequently, a judge becomes liable for gross ignorance of the law when there is a patent disregard for well-known rules so as to produce an inference of bad faith, dishonesty and corruption.[39]

Against these parameters, Judge Sison failed to perform his basic duty to be acquainted with the fundamentals of the very law he was tasked to uphold, and this conclusion remains unchanged notwithstanding the Court's supervening Decision in Carpio Morales v. Court of Appeals.[40] In Carpio Morales, the Court: (1) declared as unconstitutional Section 14(2)[41] of RA 6770, and (2) declared as ineffective the policy in Section 14(1)[42] of RA 6770 against the issuance of a provisional injunctive writ by courts other than the Supreme Court to enjoin an investigation conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman until the Court adopts the same as part of the rules of procedure through an administrative circular duly issued therefor.[43]

Be that as it may, the subsequent declaration of the policy in Section 14(1) of RA 6770 as ineffective and of Section 14(2) as invalid, does not serve to exonerate Judge Sison from administrative liability because he failed to consider and act in accordance with the basic principle of judicial stability or non-interference.[44] Pursuant to this principle, where decisions of certain administrative bodies are appealable to the CA, these adjudicative bodies are co-equal with the RTCs and their actions are logically beyond the control of the RTC.[45]

Notably, the Ombudsman's decisions in disciplinary cases are appealable to the CA under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court. Consequently, the RTC had no jurisdiction to interfere with or restrain the execution of the Ombudsman's decisions in disciplinary cases,[46] more so, because at the time Judge Sison issued the TRO on January 10, 2012 and proceeded with the writ of preliminary injunction on January 17, 2012 against the enforcement of the Ombudsman Order of Suspension, the CA had already affirmed that very same Order of Suspension in its Decision dated January 2, 2012.

In any event, Judge Sison should have, at the very least, been aware that court orders or decisions cannot be the subject matter of a petition for declaratory relief.[47] They are not included within the purview of the words "other written instrument"[48] in Rule 63[49] of the Rules of Court governing petitions for declaratory relief. The same principle applies to orders, resolutions, or decisions of quasi-judicial bodies,[50] and this is anchored on the principle of res judicata.[51] Consequently, a judgment rendered by a court or a quasi-judicial body is conclusive on the parties, subject only to appellate authority.[52] The losing party cannot modify or escape the effects of judgment under the guise of an action for declaratory relief.[53]

Here, Echiverri, et al.'s Petition for Declaratory Relief specifically prayed that the RTC "make a definite judicial declaration on the rights and obligations of the parties asserting adverse legal interests with respect to the implementation of the [order of] preventive suspension,"[54] effectively putting into question the CA-affirmed Ombudsman Order of Suspension — a matter clearly beyond the ambit of the RTCs jurisdiction. This, coupled with the deference to the basic precepts of jurisdiction required of judges, leads to no other conclusion than that Judge Sison acted in gross ignorance of the law in proceeding with the issuance of the writ of preliminary injunction.

As a serious charge under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, the penalty for gross ignorance of the law or procedure ranges from a fine of more than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00 to dismissal.[55] Inasmuch as Judge Sison had already retired on December 9, 2014, the imposition of the penalty of suspension is no longer feasible. In lieu of suspension, a fine may still be imposed.[56] Considering that this is not Judge Sison's first offense, the Court finds that the fine of Forty Thousand Pesos (P40,000.00) is justified under the circumstances.[57] In light of this Court's Resolution dated August 5, 2015, the fine shall be charged against the retained amounts from Judge Sison.

WHEREFORE, the Court hereby finds retired Judge Dionisio C. Sison GUILTY of gross ignorance of the law under Section 8, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, and is hereby ordered to PAY A FINE of Forty Thousand Pesos (P40,000.00), to be deducted from his terminal leave benefits earlier retained pursuant to this Court's Resolution dated August 5, 2015, with the remaining amount to be released to Judge Sison immediately.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio (Chairperson), Peralta, and Perlas-Bernabe, JJ., concur.
Reyes, Jr., J., on leave.


[1] See Complaint, rollo, pp. 1-20.

[2] Re: Proposed Amendment to Rule 140 of the Rules of Court Re Discipline of Justices and Judges, September 11, 2001.

[3] Rollo, p. 292.

[4] See id. at 4, 33-34, 292.

[5] Id. at 21-28.

[6] Id. at 5, 26.

[7] Id. at 30-69. Penned by Associate Justice Agnes Reyes-Carpio, with Associate Justices Rebecca De Guia-Salvador and Stephen C. Cruz concurring.

[8] Id. at 68.

[9] Id. at 70-80.

[10] Also referred to as Special Civil Action No. C-1060 and Special Civil Action No. 1060 in other parts of the rollo.

[11] Rollo, pp. 79, 292.

[12] Id. at 6, 292.

[13] Id. at 148-171.

[14] Id. at 172-175.

[15] Id. at 6.

[16] Id. at 7, 293.

[17] Id.

[18] Id. at 176-178.

[19] Id. at 7-8, 293.

[20] Id. at 179-190.

[21] Id. at 198-199.

[22] Id. at 9, 12, 293-294.

[23] See id. at 205.

[24] Id. at 204.

[25] Id. at 205.

[26] Id.

[27] Id. at 292-299.

[28] Id. at 299.

[29] 640 Phil. 620, 645 (2010).

[30] Rollo, p. 296.

[31] AN ACT PROVIDING FOR THE FUNCTIONAL AND STRUCTURAL ORGANIZATION OF THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES, otherwise known as "The Ombudsman Act of 1989."

[32] 599 Phil. 196 (2009).

[33] Rollo, p. 297.

[34] Id. at 297-298, citing Fabian v. Desierto, 356 Phil. 787 (1998).

[35] Id. at 295, 299.

[36] See id. at 307.

[37] Id. at 314.

[38] Perfecto v. Desales-Esidera, A.M. No. RTJ-11-2258, September 10, 2012 (Unsigned Resolution).

[39] Id.; see Gacad v. Clapis, Jr., 691 Phil. 126, 140 (2012).

[40] 772 Phil. 672 (2015).

[41] SEC. 14. Restrictions. - x x x

No court shall hear any appeal or application for remedy against the decision or findings of the Ombudsman, except the Supreme Court, on pure question of law.

[42] SEC. 14. Restrictions. — No writ of injunction shall be issued by any court to delay an investigation being conducted by the Ombudsman under this Act, unless there is a prima facie evidence that the subject matter of the investigation is outside the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman.

[43] Supra note 40, at 781.

[44] See Tan v. Cinco, G.R. No. 213054, June 15, 2016, 793 SCRA 610, 618-619.

[45] Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) v. Gatuz, 771 Phil. 153, 159 (2015), citing Springfield Dev't. Corp. Inc. v. Hon. Presiding Judge of RTC, Misamis Oriental, Br. 40, Cagayan De Oro City, 543 Phil. 298, 311 (2007); Board of Commissioners v. Dela Rosa, 274 Phil. 1156, 1191 (1991); The Presidential Anti-Dollar Salting Task Force v. Court of Appeals, 253 Phil. 344, 355 (1989).

[46] Id. at 160.

[47] Id. at 158, citing Reyes v. Ortiz, 642 Phil. 158, 171 (2010); Natalia Realty, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 440 Phil. 1, 19 (2002); Tanda v. Aldaya, 98 Phil. 244, 247 (1956).

[48] Id., citing Tanda v. Aldaya, id. at 247.

[49] RULES OF COURT, Rule 63, Section 1. Who may file petition. — Any person interested under a deed, will, contract or other written instrument, whose rights are affected by a statute, executive order or regulation, ordinance, or any other governmental regulation may, before breach or violation thereof, bring an action in the appropriate Regional Trial Court to determine any question of construction or validity arising, and for a declaration of his rights or duties, thereunder.

[50] Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) v. Gatuz, supra note 45, at 158-159.

[51] Id. at 159.

[52] Id.

[53] Id.

[54] Rollo, p. 79.

[55] RULES OF COURT, Rule 140, Section 11, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC provides:

SEC. 11. Sanctions. - A. If the respondent is guilty of a serious charge, any of the following sanctions may be imposed:

1. Dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all or part of the benefits as the Court may determine, and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Provided, however, that the forfeiture of benefits shall in no case include accrued leave credits;

2. Suspension from office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3) but not exceeding six (6) months; or

3. A fine of more than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00.

[56] OCA v. Judge Leonida, 654 Phil. 668, 679 (2011); Bautista v. Causapin, Jr., 667 Phil. 574, 593 (2011); Fernandez v. Vasquez, 669 Phil. 619, 637 (2011); Pleyto v. Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation & Detection Group, 563 Phil. 842, 918 (2007).

[57] See Alconera v. Majaducon, 496 Phil. 833, 842 (2005) and Manalastas v. Flores, 466 Phil. 925, 938 (2004) cited in Enriquez v. Caminade, 519 Phil. 781, 789-790 (2006).


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