Ignorance of the law on the part of a judge is not only most ignominious, it is also prejudicial to litigants and the administration of justice as a whole. Magistrates are well-advised to keep abreast of the latest in legislation and jurisprudence, and avoid dealing out injustice and reaping embarrassment for themselves.
These are two (2) administrative cases 1 filed by complainants Quirino Sabio and Modesto Ualat against respondent Judge Jose O. Ramos of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Echague, Isabela, for "knowingly rendering (an) unjust judgment, ignorance of the law and serious misconduct" relative to his taking cognizance of an action docketed as Civil Case No. 827 and entitled "Leonardo Coma v. Quirino Sabio and Modesto Ualat", which according to complainants is an agrarian dispute and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of the MTC.
Complainant Sabio claims that he is an agricultural lessee of an agricultural land consisting of 4.7 hectares owned by Leonardo Coma. Complainant Ualat, on the other hand, alleges that he is Sabio’s caretaker. It appears from the two complaints that on August 6, 1990, complainant Sabio filed with the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) a complaint for Recovery of Possession 2 against the landowner and Raymundo Sabio, brother of complainant Sabio. On August 30, 1990, the landowner filed against herein complainants a case for Illegal Detainer with respondent’s sala. On July 23, 1990, 3 the DARAB ruled in favor of complainant Sabio declaring that the right of the complainant as the tenant-tiller to peaceful possession and cultivation should not be disturbed. On November 5, 1990, however, respondent Judge rendered a decision 4 in favor of the landowner ordering the complainants, among others, to vacate the property.
Complainants now contend that, notwithstanding knowledge of the Department Agrarian Reform (DAR) resolution, and the fact that Civil Case No. 827 falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DAR, respondent Judge, using his "power and authority," took cognizance of the case because of personal interest and motive. They claim that during the pendency of the case, respondent Judge, thru his son and brother, cultivated a portion of the land subject matter of the case.
Complainant Ualat, on the other hand, alleges that as the result of the unjust decision, his residential house which is not the subject of the lease was levied upon by the sheriff, and argued that as mere caretaker, he could not be held "jointly and severally" liable to pay the obligations of Quirino Sabio as agricultural tenant.
Respondent Judge submitted his Comments dated May 2, 1992 5 and March 7, 1992 6 to the aforesaid complaints. In denying the charges, respondent Judge alleged that he was without knowledge or information about the complaint with the DAR, nor was he made aware of the DAR resolution because nothing of this sort was stated by the parties in their pleadings, nor were these brought out during the proceedings. Thus, on the basis of the evidence presented, he ruled that the relationship between the landowner and herein complainants is that of "civil lease."cralaw virtua1aw library
Respondent judge denied that he had any personal interest in the agricultural land subject matter of the case, arguing that he did not have a hand in the "civil lease" contract entered into by his son and the landowner and that if he had prior knowledge of it, he could have dissuaded his son from entering into the lease contract to avoid any suspicions. His brother and his son allegedly entered the land in dispute with the consent of the owner.
Respondent Judge explained that complainant Ualat was held jointly and severally liable to pay the rentals in arrears because he was a codefendant in the "civil lease", and that execution of the decision had long been implemented but this complaint is being filed only to harass him because of the contempt proceedings instituted by the landowner against herein complainants. Complainant Ualat, if he was not satisfied with the ruling of the respondent, could have timely filed an appeal, but he decided to appeal only when the judgment had already been executed.
Investigation By Executive Judge
The Court en banc in its resolution 7 dated August 13, 1992 resolved to refer the case to the Executive Judge, Regional Trial Court, Echague, Isabela, for investigation, report and recommendation. In his Joint Report and Recommendation 8 dated April 19, 1996, Judge Henedino P. Eduarte made the following findings, the pertinent portions of which are hereby quoted as follows, to wit: 9
"1. The complainants claim that the respondent Judge rendered his decision in the illegal (should be ‘unlawful’) detainer case inspite of his awareness of the complaint of Quirino Sabio against Leonardo Coma and Modesto Ualat filed with the DAR and the latter’s resolution dated July 23, 1990.
The undersigned read carefully the record of the case particularly the answer of Quirino Sabio and Modesto Ualat, the position paper of Quirino Sabio, the affidavit of Modesto Ualat and the affidavit of their witnesses. The undersigned found no allegation in said pleadings and affidavits about the DAR case. Hence, respondent was not then aware of the DAR case when he rendered the decision.
2. The complainants claim that respondent Judge decided the case inspite of the fact that the Court has no jurisdiction to try the same, as the issues are agrarian in nature.
Jurisdiction is determined by law and in determining whether a court has jurisdiction over a case, the allegation of the complaint, not the answer, must be examined.
In this case, there is no allegation of the complaint that the case is one of agrarian dispute. There is no allegation that Leonardo Coma instituted defendants Quirino Sabio and Modesto Ualat as his tenants on the land. What the complainant alleges is that on December 1, 1988, Leonardo Coma entered into a civil lease contract with defendant Quirino Sabio whereby for a consideration of P11,178.00, Leonardo Coma leased his 4.7 hectares of land to Quirino Sabio for one (1) cropping only which will terminate on April 1, 1989; that this lease contract was renewed by the parties on May 3, 1989 where the land was again leased for one (1) cropping season only to terminate on or before September 30, 1989 for a consideration of 81 cavans of palay; that Leonardo Coma and Quirino Sabio renewed their lease contract on January 24, 1990 for a period of one (1) cropping only to terminate on or before March 1990 for a consideration of 71 cavans of palay; that defendant Quirino Sabio violated the lease contract by subleasing a portion of the land to defendant Modesto Ualat and by his failure to pay the full rental of the land, that the duration of the lease contract had already expired.
There is nothing in the lease contract agreement dated December 1, 1988, May 3, 1989 and January 24, 1990 that it is the intention of the parties to enter into a contract of tenancy. On the other hand, it is apparent from the provisions of the lease contracts stipulating that it is for one (1) cropping only that the parties never agreed to enter into a tenancy contract
It is in the answer of the defendants Quirino Sabio and Modesto Ualat that they alleged that Leonardo Coma instituted defendant Quirino Sabio as his tenant over the land in 1984; that Quirino Sabio took possession and cultivation of the land up to 1987 when Leonardo Coma gave the possession and cultivation of the land to his nephew for one year and thereafter, defendant Quirino Sabio re-entered and cultivated the land again; that on the other hand, defendant Modesto Ualat entered and cultivated a portion of 4,000 square meters and cultivated it believing that it is not a part of the land in question.
Thus, from all the foregoing facts, respondent Judge may not be faulted when he said that he had jurisdiction over the case and then proceeded to decide it on its merits. However, respondent Judge should have exercised prudence and caution considering the allegation of tenancy by the defendant Quirino Ualat and his insistence that the Court has no jurisdiction over the case, by setting the case for hearing and asking clarificatory questions. This would have elicited the DAR case and the resolution dated July 23, 1990. Respondent Judge did not do this. He proceeded to decide the case ordering the ejectment of defendants Quirino Sabio and Modesto Ualat.
3. Complainant Modesto Ualat faults the respondent Judge for ordering him and Quirino Sabio to pay jointly and severally to the plaintiff Leonardo Coma ‘the current rentals at the rate of P18,000.00 per cropping season until plaintiff is restored in the possession of the land leased premises; and to pay attorney’s fees in the amount of P3,000.00’.
The decision of respondent Judge does not state the reason for ordering Modesto Ualat to pay jointly and severally with defendant Quirino Sabio P18,000.00 to the plaintiff Leonardo Coma as rentals of the land until possession is restored to the plaintiff.
From the record of the case, the available evidence on this point is the affidavit of Leonardo Coma that Quirino Sabio sublet a portion of 1.4 hectares of the land to Modesto Ualat.
On the other hand, Quirino Sabio and Modesto Ualat alleged in their answer that Modesto Ualat entered and cultivated a portion of 4,000 square meters thinking that it is not part of the land in question. This is reiterated in the affidavit of Modesto Ualat.
In his testimony, respondent Judge declared that he ordered Modesto Ualat to pay jointly and severally with Quirino Sabio the P18,000.00 to the plaintiff Leonardo Coma because they conspired to deprive the plaintiff of the rentals of his land. This is not supported by the evidence available from the record of the case and this is not stated in the decision of respondent Judge.
Obviously, respondent Judge gave credence to the evidence of plaintiff that Quirino Sabio subleased a portion of 1.4 hectares of the land to Modesto Ualat. However, it is not correct to hold Modesto Ualat jointly and severally liable to the lessor Leonardo Coma for the current rentals of the land because a sublessee is only subsidiarily liable for rentals to the lessor.
"Article 1652. The sublessee is subsidiarily liable to the lessor for any rent due from the lessee. However, the sub-lessee shall not be responsible beyond the amount of rent due from him in accordance with the terms of the sublease, at the time of the extra-judicial demand by the lessor." (Civil Code)
4. The claim of complainant Quirino Sabio that he appealed the decision of respondent Judge to the RTC is not correct. The record of the case does not show that he appealed said decision. He admitted later in his testimony that it is only defendant Modesto Ualat who appealed the decision of respondent Judge.
5. Complainant Modesto Ualat faults respondent Judge for denying his appeal. The denial however, is correct. Atty. Marcelo C. Cabalbag, counsel of defendants, received copy of the decision on November 23, 1990 per Registry Return Card found on page 47 of the record of the case. He filed his notice of appeal dated January 17, 1991 for defendant Modesto Ualat which was received by the Court on January 21, 1991. Even if it is conceded that the notice of appeal was filed on January 17, 1991, it was clearly filed out of time.
After the denial of his notice of appeal and the disqualification of his counsel, Modesto Ualat filed his own notice of appeal on April 27, 1991 which the Court received on January 17, 1991 (sic), it is obvious that the notice of appeal was filed late. Thus, the respondent Judge is also correct in denying this appeal of defendant Modesto Ualat.
6. The complainants alleged that respondent Judge has personal interest and motive on the land in dispute because thereafter, they discovered that the brother and son of respondent Judge intruded and cultivated portion of the land.
Respondent Judge, admitted that his brother Rey Ramos took possession of and cultivated the land because he entered into a contract of lease with the landowner Leonardo Coma after the case was decided. After the termination of the lease with Rey Ramos, Leonardo Coma also entered into a lease contract with respondent’s son, Joscar Ramos, an accountant and a part-time farmer who does not live with the respondent Judge. According to respondent Judge, he had no hand in the contract between his son and Leonardo Coma as he has his own life to live.
Considering the fact that there is no evidence that respondent Judge bent the facts and the law in order to decide the case in favor of the plaintiff, that his brother and son entered into a contract of lease after the case was already decided and the decision became final, and that as admitted by the complainants the respondent Judge has big hectares of land, the conclusion that respondent Judge has interest and personal motive on the land in dispute is not warranted.
All told, of the several charges leveled against the respondent Judge, only one which charges him of committing an error in ordering Modesto Ualat jointly and severally liable with Quirino Sabio for the payment of the current rentals of the land is substantiated and found correct. This is, however, a mistake of judgment or law which every judge commits every now and then inspite of his earnest study of the law and honest application thereof to the facts of the case. Most probably, since the lease contract had already expired, the respondent Judge considered the act of Quirino Sabio in subleasing the portion of the land to Modesto Ualat and the latter’s cultivation thereof, as quasi-delict intended, as respondent Judge declared in his testimony, to deprive the landowner of the rental of his land. This is, however, inconsistent with his holding that Modesto Ualat is a sublessee."cralaw virtua1aw library
In the same report, the Investigating Judge, among other things, recommended the dismissal of the complaint against respondent judge with a stern warning, however, that he should be more careful especially in those cases where a defendant claims to be the tenant of the land in question, and that he should conduct a preliminary hearing to determine whether or not the Court has jurisdiction over the case.
Report of Court Administrator
In a Resolution dated June 25, 1996, this Court referred the aforesaid joint report and recommendation to the Office of the Court Administrator for evaluation, report and recommendation.
In a Memorandum 10 addressed to the Chief Justice dated July 19, 1996, the Court Administrator disagreed with Judge Eduarte’s recommendation to dismiss the case, reasoning that" (t)he mere fact that respondent lacks prior knowledge or notice of the previous case before the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board and its resolution of July 23, 1990 does not entirely absolved (sic) him of any administrative liability. It should be noted that in the civil case for Illegal Detainer with Damages pending before him, the separate affidavits of herein complainants contained allegation of landlord-tenant relationship and this information could have cautioned respondent in taking cognizance of the case at once. Prudence dictate (sic) that the proper thing to do under the circumstances is to refer first the case to the DAR for certification to determine the existence of the agricultural tenancy relationship in accordance with existing agrarian laws. His act of precipitately acting on the case without coursing the latter to the DAR has put into question his real motive especially so that his personal interest on the lot is what is concerned in this case."cralaw virtua1aw library
Additionally, the Court Administrator cited P.D. 316 11 and P.D. 1038 12 which enjoin a fiscal or judge of any tribunal from taking cognizance of an ejectment case or any other case designed to harass or remove a tenant of an agricultural land primarily devoted to rice and/or corn unless the Secretary of Agrarian Reform certifies that the case is one proper for such tribunal to hear and decide.
To support his recommendations, the Court Administrator cited the case of Puertollano v. Intermediate Appellate Court, 13 where this Court ruled that" (i)t is mandatory for the trial court to refer the case to the Secretary of Agrarian Reform or his authorized representative for a preliminary determination of the relationship between the contending parties if it is a case of ejectment or attempt to harass or remove a tenant in agricultural land primarily devoted to rice and corn. Even without a motion, the trial court may motu propio order such referral." (Italics supplied
The Court Administrator recommended that a fine of twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) be imposed upon respondent Judge with a warning of graver penalty for similar acts in the future.
The Court’s Ruling
We agree with the Court Administrator.
The Investigating Judge may have been technically correct in averring that jurisdiction is determined by the allegations in the complaint. 14 However, this is an administrative case where the issue is not whether a motion to dismiss the complaint could prosper. The issue is whether respondent judge properly comported himself in the face of the obvious matters brought before him. As can be readily seen from the answer filed by complainants Sabio and Ualat in the civil case, they alleged the existence of an agrarian tenancy relationship between themselves and the landowner. Additionally, in the proceedings before respondent judge, complainants were even represented by a lawyer from the DAR. These matters should have been sufficient to put respondent Judge on notice that complainants were claiming protection under our agrarian laws. At that point, he ought to have realized that there existed a genuine issue involving agricultural tenancy among the parties with respect to the subject property. Knowledge of existing agrarian legislation and prevailing jurisprudence on the subject, together with an ordinary degree of prudence, would have prompted respondent Judge to refer the case to the DAR for preliminary determination of the real nature of the parties relationship, as required by law. At the very least, as suggested by the Investigating Judge, respondent could have himself conducted a clarificatory hearing to determine such relationship. The last thing he should have done was to proceed to take cognizance of the case in the absence of such referral. In the face of these established facts, he could not hide behind the ostrich-inspired defense of his jurisdiction being determined by the allegations in the complaint. Indeed, the complaint was prepared by Leonardo Coma, who found it to his interest to hide the possible existence of the tenancy relationship, even while he knew of the earlier complaint filed against him before the DARAB.
In the case of Ocier v. Court of Appeals, 15 we reiterated the ruling we made in Puertollano in this wise:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Private respondent, in her original complaint before the lower court, alleged that petitioner violated the Land Reform Code and could be ejected under P.D. 816. Petitioner answered that he was a tenant of private Respondent
. There was, at that point in time, no need for referral to the Department of Agrarian Reform as the landowner-tenant relationship was admitted.
However, when private respondent’s amended complaint — where she alleged violation of a civil law lease agreement — was admitted, the issue of actual tenancy — raised by petitioner in both his Answer and Amended Answer — had to referred to the Department of Agrarian Reform for determination as this was now a genuine issue."cralaw virtua1aw library
His failure to refer the case to the DAR upon receipt of the answer of complainants, despite the clear mandate of the two agrarian laws aforementioned and our ruling in Puertollano, can in no wise be justified by respondent judge. What is even more embarrassing is his seeming lack of awareness of the Civil Code provision making a sub-lessee merely subsidiary liable for unpaid rentals, to the extent of the rentals due from him under the sub-lease, at the time of the lessor’s extra-judicial demand.
It is a pressing responsibility of judges to keep abreast with the law and changes therein, as well as with the latest decisions of this Court. One cannot seek refuge in having a mere cursory acquaintance with statutes and procedural rules. Ignorance of the law, which everyone is bound to know, excuses no one — certainly not judges. IGNORANTIA JURIS QUOD QUISQUE SCIRE TENETUR NON EXCUSAT. 16 When the law is elementary, so elementary, not to know it constitutes gross ignorance of the law. 17
Finally, we note that respondent judge had previously been held liable 18 for gross ignorance of the law and dereliction of duty, and imposed a "reasonable" fine of P10,000.00, it being his first infraction in his 35 years in the government service, 27 of which were in the judiciary. This case being thus his second infraction, he is meted the maximum penalty of P20,000.00 fine, with a warning that a repetition will be dealt with more severely.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, respondent judge is hereby FOUND LIABLE for gross ignorance of the law and is hereby imposed a fine in the sum of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00).
Respondent is further ADMONISHED that commission of the same or similar act in in the future will be dealt with more severely.
, Padilla, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Francisco, Hermosisima, Jr., and Torres, Jr., JJ.
1. Rollo of MTJ-91-567, pp. 1-6; rollo of MTJ-91-588, pp. 1-6.
2. DARAB Case No. 11-ISA ‘90.
3. The dates indicated above have been verified against the entries in the complaint filed by Sabio, and the DARAB decision itself. There is an obvious error involving dates, but it is not possible, based on available records, to determine which is the erroneous one.
4. Rollo of MTJ-91-567, pp. 42-46.
5. Rollo of MTJ-91-567, pp. 32-37.
6. Rollo of MTJ-91-588, pp. 29-33.
7. Rollo of MTJ-91-567, p. 50.
8. Rollo of MTJ-91-588.
9. Pages 8-11 of Joint Report and Recommendation.
10. In the rollos of both cases.
11. Section 2 of Presidential Decree No. 316, entitled "Prohibiting the ejectment of tenant-tillers from their farmholdings pending the promulgation of the rules and regulations implementing Presidential Decree No. 27", reads as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Sec. 2. — Unless certified by the Secretary of Agrarian Reform as a proper case for trial or hearing by a court or judge or other officer of competent jurisdiction, no judge of the Court of Agrarian Relations, Court of First Instance, municipal or city court, or any other tribunal or fiscal shall take cognizance of any ejectment case or any other case designed to harass or remove a tenant of an agricultural land primarily devoted to rice and corn, and if any such cases are filed, these cases shall first be referred to the Secretary of Agrarian Reform or his authorized representative in the locality for a preliminary determination of the relationship between the contending parties. If the Secretary of Agrarian Reform finds that the case is a proper case for the court or judge or other hearing officer to hear, he shall so certify and such court, judge or other hearing officer may assume jurisdiction over the dispute or controversy."cralaw virtua1aw library
12. Section 2 of Presidential Decree No. 1038, entitled "Strengthening the security of tenure of tenant-tillers in non-rice/corn producing private agricultural lands", which took effect October 21, 1976, reads as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"SECTION 2. — No judge of the courts of agrarian relations, courts of first instance, city or municipal courts, or any other tribunal or fiscal shall take cognizance of any ejectment case or any other case designed to harass or remove a tenant of an agricultural land primarily devoted to rice and/or corn, unless certified by the Secretary of Agrarian Reform as a proper case for trial or hearing by a court or judge or other officer of competent jurisdiction and, if any such case is filed, the case shall first be referred to the Secretary of Agrarian Reform or his authorized representative in the locality for a preliminary determination of the relationship between the contending parties. If the Secretary of Agrarian Reform as his authorized representative in the locality finds that the case is a proper case for the court or judge or other hearing officer to hear, he shall so certify and such court, judge or other hearing officer may assume jurisdiction over the dispute or controversy.
The preliminary determination of the relationship between the contending parties by the Secretary of Agrarian Reform, or his authorized representative, is not binding upon the court, judge or hearing officer to whom the case is certified as a proper case for trial. Said court, judge or hearing judge may, after due hearing, confirm, reverse or modify said preliminary determination as the evidence and substantial merits of the case may warrant."cralaw virtua1aw library
13. 156 SCRA 188, 193-194, December 3, 1987.
14. Santos v. Court of Appeals, 214 SCRA 162, September 23, 1992; Abrin v. Campos, 203 SCRA 420, November 12, 1991; Multinational Village Homeowners’ Association, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 203 SCRA 104, October 17, 1991; Mercado v. Ubay, 187 SCRA 719, July 24, 1990; Malayan Integrated Industries Corp. v. Mendoza, 154 SCRA 548, September 30, 1987; Tolentino v. Social Security Commission, 138 SCRA 428, September 6, 1985; Salao v. Crisostomo, 138 SCRA 17, August 5, 1985; Ferrer y Rodriguez v. Pecson, etc., 92 Phil. 172, October 27, 1952; Lim Bing It v. Ibañez, etc., Et Al., 92 Phil. 799, March 16, 1953.
15. 216 SCRA 510, 519, December 11, 1992.
16. Aurillo, Jr. v. Francisco, 235 SCRA 283, 289, August 12, 1994.
17. Agcaoili v. Ramos, 229 SCRA 705,710, February 7, 1994 citing Santos v. Judge Isidro, Adm. Mat. MTJ-89-300,200 SCRA 597, August 16, 1991.
18. Agcaoili v. Ramos, 241 SCRA 232, February 13, 1995. This case was not mentioned in the report and recommendation of the Court Administrator.