1. JUDICIAL ETHICS; JUDGES; SHOULD NOT ONLY BE IMPARTIAL BUT SHOULD ALSO BE BELIEVED AND PERCEIVED TO BE IMPARTIAL. —The time honored rule is that the government service, a public official whose duty is to apply the law and dispense justice, be he a Judge of a lower court or tribunal or a justice of the appellate courts, should not only be impartial, independent and honest but should be believed and perceived to be impartial, independent and honest. It has to be stressed once more to all who are sworn to render decisions in actual controversies that a decision which correctly applies the law and jurisprudence will nevertheless be subject to questions of impropriety when rendered by a magistrate or tribunal believed to be less than impartial and honest. It is thus the duty of members of the bench to avoid any impression of impropriety to protect the image and integrity of the judiciary which in recent times has been the object of criticism and controversy.
2. ID.; ID.; ASKING AND ACCEPTING FOOD CONTRIBUTIONS, MONEY WORTH P20,000.00 AND RECEIVING CASH IN EXCHANGE FOR HIS SALARY CHECK WHICH HE FAILED TO GIVE COMPLAINANT CONSTITUTES GROSS DISHONESTY AND MISCONDUCT. — In the present case, respondent’s denial of the charges leveled by complainants that he had asked for and accepted food contributions on at least two (2) occasions from litigants (herein complainants) is contradicted by his own witnesses, Roldan Alcantara and Jose R. Salvadora, Jr., who are both employees of the court. Nothing in the testimonies of these two (2) court employees shows any motivation other than to tell the truth. On the charge of having accepted P20,000.00 from the Nazareno spouses and receiving cash in exchange for his salary check which he never gave to Mrs. Nazareno, the Court agrees with the conclusions of Justice Morales that complainant Elisa Nazareno had convincingly proven having given: a) P10,000.00 to respondent judge on two (2) occasions and b) cash for respondent’s salary check. As correctly observed by Justice Morales, the testimony of Mrs. Nazareno was undented even when subjected to an extended cross examination by respondent judge. In sum, the Court finds the charges of gross misconduct and conduct unbecoming a judge as having been sufficiently substantiated. Judge Enrique M. Almario deserves no less than the penalty of dismissal from the service. However, based on the records of this case, respondent judge had already compulsorily retired in July 1995. The proper penalty, therefore, in lieu of his removal from office, is forfeiture of all his retirement benefits with prejudice to reemployment in the government service, including government owned or controlled agencies or corporations.
In a sworn complaint dated 28 February 1994 for gross misconduct or acts unbecoming a judge filed against Judge Enrique M. Almario, then presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 15, Naic, Cavite, the spouses Romeo P. Nazareno and Elisa A. Nazareno averred:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"We would like to narrate some instances where Judge Enrique M. Almario took advantage of our situation in order to force us to accede to his demands. They are as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1. Sometime in the middle of 1990, when Judge Almario was still holding his office in Trece Martires City, he saw me (Elisa) in the office of his Court and he invited me to his chamber. After a short conversation, Judge Almario said to me that he was near to retire (sic) and so he needed plenty of money (Inday malapit na ako magretire, kailangan ko ng maraming pera). Mrs. Nazareno was surprised and shocked to hear what the judge said, but could not say anything but just smiled. However, before I (Mrs. Nazareno) left his chamber, Judge Almario said to her to help him with this, and I (Mrs. Nazareno) assured him that she will raise some money for him.
2. Then another incident happened when the Judge saw us (Romeo & Elisa Nazareno) in the office of his Court, again Judge Almario invited us to his chamber. His office was still in Trece Martires City Hall. There, he told my husband (Romeo Nazareno, the estate administrator) that he will change him as administrator of the estate because of his conviction in a criminal case filed against him by his sister Natividad. But Romeo told Judge Almario that it had nothing to do with the case as it was the same issue the other party raised even before the former Judge Gustilo of the same sala. Then he said that we have to be prepared for it. Then we left.
3. In 1992 when the office of Judge Almario was transferred to Naic, Cavite, I was told that the Judge was at Roschelle Restaurant. Thinking of the incident, I suspected that he (Judge) was waiting for the money he was asking for. I got P10,000.00 from my husband Romeo, wrapped it in a newspaper and I personally delivered the money to Judge Almario at Roschelle Restaurant. He (Judge) asked, me (Mrs. Nazareno) how much was the money, I replied, ‘P10,000.00 Judge’. Seeing the Judge’s facial expression (not contented), I (Mrs. Nazareno) promised again to raise some money next time and he (judge) replied, ‘O, sige’.
4. Sometime in the month of November, 1992, in Naic, Cavite, Judge Almario sent for us (sic) his employee Joe to our place, Naic Cinema, and told us that the Judge was asking for food to be taken to the Seaside Beach belonging to Mr. Dualan, because the one who promised him to bring food did not arrive. At about 6:30 P.M. of that day, my husband (Romeo) and I went to the Seaside Beach with the food the Judge had asked. We ordered the food at Roschelle Restaurant and it cost us no less than P2,500.00. There in the beach, he introduced us to Mr. Dualan and to some of his visitors there. And after a while, silently handed the Judge the P10,000.00 as I promised him the last time.
The following morning, a woman from Seaside Beach came to our place, Naic Cinema, and said, ‘Ate Naty, Ate Naty, [n]adala ni Judge Almario ‘yong susi ng cottage, pakikuha n’yo nalang sa kanya’. Surprised, I (Mrs. Nazareno) replied, ‘Hindi ako si Ate Naty mo, siya ‘yong kalaban namin sa kaso, nandoon siya sa Dalisay Theatre’. Immediately the woman left.’Ate Naty’ refers to Natividad P. Nazareno, the defendant in the case heard by Judge Almario which was filed by the Estate, through Romeo P. Nazareno, as administrator.
5. During the month of December, 1992, also in Naic, Cavite, another employee of Judge Almario, by the name of Roldan, came to our place, Naic Cinema, telling me that the Judge wanted to see me. So, I went with Roldan. And when we reached the office of the Judge, he told Roldan to step out and closed the door. Judge Almario again asked [for] some food, at least three (3) kinds, for the gathering of his staff at Aroma Beach. He mentioned the time when he needed the food (lunch time). I told him (Judge) to pick-up the food.
But before I left, the Judge asked to change his salary check because he needed cash on that day. He asked for the amount of P7,500.00. So I went back to my place and get [sic] the amount from my husband (Romeo) and returned to the office of Judge Almario. I gave the P7,500.00 for his check, but Judge Almario did not hand over to me his check. I waited for the said check, but the Judge seemed to know nothing about the check and did not bother to say something about the P7,500.00 but just received it. I was then shy to ask from him the check in exchange of the cash I gave him, so I asked permission to leave which he okayed.
6. One time, Judge Almario asked us to change our lawyer because according to him, our lawyer has no ‘pakikisama’ to him. We did not follow his advice because we believe in our lawyer. For this reason, Judge Almario always deny our motions and pleadings and he even dismissed Mr. Romeo Nazareno’s appeal in a criminal case on the ground that the notice of appeal was filed out of time, but which the court of origin or municipal trial court has approved and granted by transmitting all the records of the criminal case to his sala. The criminal case now is pending before the Hon. Supreme Court.
In spite of our compliance of [sic] his personal demands, Judge Almario has repeatedly shown his bias acts and partiality against us." 1
In his comment, respondent judge denied all the charges against him. 2
The spouses affirmed the truth of the averments in their complaint in a reply dated 24 May 1994. 3
On 14 June 1994, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) based on findings that the matters/issues raised in the complaint are factual in nature recommended that the charges against Judge Almario be assigned to an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals for a full blown investigation.
On 27 July 1994, the Court approved the OCA recommendation and designated Court of Appeals Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales to conduct an investigation and submit a report and recommendation.
The following persons appeared before Justice Carpio Morales:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1. Elisa Nazareno — she testified and affirmed the truth of the allegations in the complaint.
She first narrated how respondent Judge Almario, on one occasion, asked her to enter his chamber after which he told Elisa, in the Visayan dialect, how he needed money since he was nearing his retirement age and that she should help him ("tulungan mo ako"). She told the judge that she would see what she could do. Elisa then recounted that she later gave Judge Almario ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00) on two (2) separate occasions. 4
She testified having given food for respondent judge on two (2) occasions; first, for a gathering of respondent judge’s family and friends at the Seaside Beach resort and another, for the Christmas party of the judge’s court staff at the Aroma Beach resort. 5
Elisa also recounted how Judge Almario asked her to encash his salary check for P7,500.00 which she did but respondent judge did not give her the salary check and she was hesitant to ask him to give it to her. 6
Finally, Elisa testified about the incident when respondent judge talked to them about replacing her husband (herein co-complainant Romeo Nazareno) as administrator of the property subject of a pending case before respondent Judge. 7
2. Romeo Nazareno — he testified that they had at least four (4) pending cases before respondent Judge Almario.
Romeo corroborated the testimony of Elisa that Judge Almario met with them to discuss his decision to replace him as administrator. Romeo added that respondent judge made them believe that he wanted the spouses to offer something to him. 8
Romeo also affirmed Elisa’s testimony that they were forced to give a total of P20,000.00 to respondent Judge. 9
Romeo likewise testified about the incident when they brought food to the Seaside Beach Resort upon the request of respondent judge as well as her wife having given P7,500.00 in cash to Judge Almario for the latter’s salary check which he never delivered. 10
3. Remedios Antipuesto — she testified that she worked as a helper for complainant Mrs. Elisa Nazareno.
She recalled a time when Mrs. Nazareno asked her to help cook some food which respondent judge was asking for. She could not remember the exact date but she recalled that an employee of the court where the judge was assigned, a certain "Joe", picked up the food. 11
4. Roldan Alcantara — he testified that as a utility worker assigned to the sala of respondent judge, he sometimes encashed the salary checks of Judge Almario.chanrobles.com : virtual lawlibrary
Alcantara also testified having seen the Nazareno spouses at the Seaside Beach Resort on at least one occasion when respondent judge and his sister-in-law were there. Alcantara stated that the Nazareno spouses brought food which they handed over to the sister-in-law ("hipag") of respondent Judge Almario. 12
5. Jose R. Salvadora, Jr. — he stated that he worked as a legal researcher in the sala of Judge Almario.
He recalled an occasion when respondent judge asked him to go with him to the Seaside Beach Resort. At the resort he saw the judge’s sister-in-law talking with complainant Elisa Nazareno. He stated that Mrs. Nazareno left but returned after about half an hour with a "casserola" (cooking pot) apparently containing what he supposed was" pansit." Mrs. Nazareno took the "casserola" to the cottage occupied by the family of respondent judge.
Finally, Salvadora admitted having picked up some food from the food stall of Mrs. Nazareno for the Christmas party of respondent judge’s court staff at the Aroma Beach Resort. 13
6. Respondent Judge Enrique M. Almario — he denied ever receiving any money from the Nazareno spouses. He maintained that the allegations in the complaint against him are all fabricated and were filed because the Nazarenos had been receiving adverse rulings and orders from him in several cases.
Judge Almario stated that he never talked to litigants without the counsel of all other parties being present. He added that he felt that Atty. Dominguez, counsel of the Nazarenos, was trying to blackmail him into inhibiting himself from hearing their cases. 14
Finally, Judge Almario denied ever receiving any food from the Nazarenos. He stated that the food for the Christmas party of his staff at the Aroma Beach Resort was contributed by friends and relatives of staff members.
7. Jacinto P. Dominguez — he testified that as counsel for the Nazarenos in cases pending before Judge Almario, there was an occasion when he asked for a meeting with the latter inside his chambers in the presence of opposing counsel Atty. Roman C. Cabading. The purpose of said meeting was to inform the judge that his clients (the Nazarenos) had talked to then Justice Secretary Franklin Drilon about the possibility of filing administrative charges against Judge Almario. Atty. Dominguez specifically referred to charges that Judge Almario had: a) asked Mrs. Nazareno to encash a check which he did not give to the latter; b) accepted a total of P20,000.00 from the Nazarenos; and c) requested for food for a Christmas party. 15
8. Roman C. Cabading — he testified that as counsel for the opposing party in the cases involving the Nazareno spouses, there was an occasion when opposing counsel Atty. Jacinto P. Dominguez asked to see Judge Almario in his presence. Atty. Cabading testified that Atty. Dominguez showed Judge Almario and himself a letter written by the spouses addressed to then Justice Secretary Drilon about an alleged demand made by respondent judge for some amount of money. 16
After a close and careful study of the records of the proceedings before investigating Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, the Court finds sufficient evidence to find respondent Judge Enrique M. Almario liable for gross dishonesty and misconduct. His conduct undoubtedly is unbecoming a member of the bench.
The time honored rule is that a public official whose duty is to apply the law and dispense justice, be he a judge of a lower court or tribunal or a justice of the appellate courts, should not only be impartial, independent and honest but should be believed and perceived to be impartial, independent and honest.
It has to be stressed once more to all who are sworn to render decisions in actual controversies that a decision which correctly applies the law and jurisprudence will nevertheless be subject to questions of impropriety when rendered by a magistrate or tribunal believed to be less than impartial and honest. It is thus the duty of members of the bench to avoid any impression of impropriety to protect the image and integrity of the judiciary which in recent times has been the object of criticism and controversy.
In the present case, respondent’s denial of the charges leveled by complainants that he had asked for and accepted food contributions on at least two (2) occasions from litigants (herein complainants) is contradicted by his own witnesses, Roldan Alcantara and Jose R.. Salvadora, Jr., who are both employees of the court. Nothing in the testimonies of these two (2) court employees shows any motivation other than to tell the truth.
On the charge of having accepted P20,000.00 from the Nazareno spouses and receiving cash in exchange for his salary check which he never gave to Mrs. Nazareno, the Court agrees with the conclusions of Justice Morales that complainant Elisa Nazareno had convincingly proven having given: a) P10,000.00 to respondent judge on two (2) occasions and b) cash for respondent’s salary check. As correctly observed by Justice Morales, the testimony of Mrs. Nazareno was undented even when subjected to an extended cross examination by respondent judge. 17
In sum, the Court finds the charges of gross misconduct and conduct unbecoming a judge as having been sufficiently substantiated. Judge Enrique M. Almario deserves no less than the penalty of dismissal from the service.
However, based on the records of this case, respondent judge had already compulsorily retired in July 1995. The proper penalty, therefore, in lieu of his removal from office, is forfeiture of all his retirement benefits.
WHEREFORE, respondent former Judge Enrique M. Almario is hereby found GUILTY of gross misconduct and dishonesty, while in office. The Court hereby ORDERS the FORFEITURE of all leave and retirement benefits to which he may be entitled WITH PREJUDICE to reemployment in the government service, including government owned or controlled agencies or corporations.
, Padilla, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Francisco, Hermosisima, Jr., Panganiban and Torres, Jr., JJ.
1. Rollo, pp. 10-12.
2. Ibid., pp. 7-8.
3. Ibid., pp. 28-31.
4. TSN, 6 September 1994, pp. 13-16.
5. Ibid., pp. 18 and 22-23.
6. Ibid., pp. 30-31.
7. TSN, 13 September 1994, p. 8.
8. Ibid., pp. 10-11.
9. Ibid., pp. 37-42.
10. Ibid., pp. 18-19.
11. Ibid., pp. 48-54.
12. Ibid., pp. 69-76.
13. TSN, 15 September 1994, pp. 7-21.
14. TSN, 22 September 1994, pp. 7-10.
15. TSN, 29 September 1994, pp. 6-7.
16. Ibid., pp. 32-33.
17. Report submitted by Justice Conchita Carpio Morales dated 13 August 1996, p. 14.