This administrative case stemmed from a Letter dated 5 February 1997 1 and a Sworn Statement 2 executed by Atty. Manuel T. Molina ("Atty. Molina") charging respondents Judge Benedicto A. Paz ("Judge Paz") of the Regional Trial Court of Aparri, Cagayan, Branch 6 ("RTC-Branch 6") and Judge Segundo B. Catral ("Judge Catral") of the Regional Trial Court of Aparri, Cagayan, Branch 8 ("RTC-Branch 8"), with misconduct and grave abuse of authority. Atty. Molina filed a Supplemental Complaint dated 21 April 1997 3 charging respondents with grave misconduct and dishonesty.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The Court will delve into the merits of the administrative complaint only as against respondent Judge Paz because in the Resolution dated 6 May 2002, we dismissed the administrative complaint against Judge Catral for lack of merit.
Mayor Licerio Antiporda, Jr. ("Mayor Antiporda") and Atty. Franklin Tamargo ("Atty. Tamargo") were candidates for the mayoralty post in Buguey, Cagayan in the 8 May 1995 elections. On the night of election day, seven persons belonging to the political group headed by Mayor Antiporda were killed in Barangay Pattao. On the same date, three political followers of Atty. Tamargo were killed and one person was injured in Barangay San Isidro. Cases for multiple murder and attempted murder were filed against Licerio, the son of Mayor Antiporda, and other John Does. These cases were raffled to RTC-Branch 8, presided by respondent Judge Catral, and docketed as Criminal Cases Nos. 08-879 to 08-882. This Court subsequently ordered the transfer of the murder cases to the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 22. However, the seven cases for multiple murder filed against Attys. Molina and Tamargo, Godofredo Flores, Roy Flores, Quirino Cabeza and ten other John Does were raffled to respondent Judge Paz. 4
In the instant administrative complaint, Atty. Molina alleges that sometime in November 1996, respondent Judge Paz and Mayor Antiporda sought his help in settling the cases filed against Licerio, the son of Mayor Antiporda. Attys. Molina and Tamargo were the private prosecutors in the criminal cases against the mayor’s son. Atty. Molina claims that at a meeting held at the Rembrandt Hotel in Quezon City respondent Judge Paz assured Atty. Molina that the criminal cases for murder against Attys. Molina and Tamargo would be dismissed should there be a settlement of the cases of the mayor’s son.
Atty. Molina further claims that at another meeting held in December 1996, respondent Judge Paz and Mayor Antiporda asked him to go to Buguey, Cagayan to convince the Tamargo group to settle the cases against the mayor’s son. Judge Paz allegedly reminded Atty. Molina that it would be best to settle the cases of the mayor’s son so that the cases against Atty. Molina and his co-accused could also be settled. Judge Paz purportedly told Atty. Molina that Judge Catral had been urging the transfer of the cases to the latter’s court, which had been designated a special court for heinous crimes. Judge Catral, according to Judge Paz, would certainly issue a warrant of arrest since he knew Atty. Molina as the counsel of Flaviano Cortes who had filed numerous administrative cases against Judge Catral.
Atty. Molina claims that at a meeting held on 11 January 1997, he informed respondent Judge Paz and Mayor Antiporda that the complainants in the murder cases did not want to settle the cases against the mayor’s son. Respondent Judge Paz allegedly expressed his disappointment and remarked that he did not issue a warrant of arrest against Attys. Molina and Tamargo hoping that the cases would be settled. Atty. Molina claims that respondent Judge Paz then asked him to postpone the hearing of the cases pending in Manila for a "cooling-off period," to which Atty. Molina agreed.
On 20 January 1997 during the next hearing of the Manila cases, Atty. Molina as requested by respondent Judge Paz asked for postponement of the hearing. However, when Attys. Molina and Tamargo left the judge’s chamber, policemen from Buguey, Cagayan, armed with a warrant issued by Judge Catral, arrested them and brought them to the Manila City Hall Police Detachment. There they were presented, in handcuffs, before media reporters and then brought directly to Buguey jail.
Atty. Molina claims that Judge Catral hastily issued the warrant of arrest because the logbook of respondent Judge Paz does not show that the records of the murder cases had been transferred to Judge Catral.
In his Supplemental Complaint, Atty. Molina accuses respondent Judge Paz of unlawfully using the power of his office when Judge Catral issued another warrant of arrest after the Court of Appeals had granted the petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by him and Atty. Tamargo.
For his part, respondent Judge Paz admits having facilitated the meeting of Atty. Molina and Mayor Antiporda but claims it was out of sheer compassion, devoid of bias and prejudice. Respondent Judge Paz claims he accepted the invitation of Mayor Antiporda to act as mediator between the warring political opponents solely to restore peace in the Municipality of Buguey, Cagayan.
This Court referred the administrative case to Justice Ruben T. Reyes ("Investigating Justice") of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation.chanrob1es virtua1 law library
Report of the Investigating Justice
The Investigating Justice found nothing in the records to establish respondent Judge Catral’s direct involvement in the alleged "barter" of the cases. Respondent Judge Catral issued the warrant of arrest after the transfer of the records of the case to his sala on 10 January 1997. Judge Catral took four days to determine the existence of probable cause. Respondent Judge Catral issued the warrant of arrest on 13 January 1997. The Investigating Justice found as devoid of merit Atty. Molina’s claim that Judge Catral hastily issued the warrant of arrest. The Investigating Justice opined that the determination of the existence of probable cause rests on the sound judgment of respondent Judge Catral. An administrative case is not the proper remedy for an error allegedly committed by a judge in deciding a case or issuing an order. Likewise, there was no proof of the alleged falsification of judicial records. Hence, the Investigating Justice recommended the exculpation of respondent Judge Catral from the charges.
The Investigating Justice likewise found no sufficient evidence to establish the charges of grave misconduct, abuse of authority and dishonesty against respondent Judge Paz. However, the Investigating Justice recommended that respondent Judge Paz be fined P1,000 for improper conduct. Good faith and an earnest desire to forge a reconciliation between the parties may have motivated respondent Judge Paz to intervene as mediator. However, the Investigating Justice believed that respondent Judge should have remembered the cardinal rule that judges should avoid not just impropriety in their conduct but also even the mere appearance of impropriety.
The case was referred to the Office of the Court Administrator ("OCA") for evaluation, report and recommendation. The OCA agreed with the findings and conclusions of the Investigating Justice and adopted in toto the latter’s recommendation.
On 6 May 2002, this Court issued a Resolution adopting the recommendation of the Investigating Justice to dismiss the administrative complaint for lack of merit only as against respondent Judge Catral.
Thus, in the instant case, the Court will resolve only the administrative case against respondent Judge Paz.
The Court’s Ruling
Respondent Judge Paz compulsorily retired from the service on 21 September 1998 and has not received his retirement benefits because of this pending administrative case. In the Resolutions 5 dated 7 June 2000 and 7 August 2000, this Court denied his request 6 for partial release of his retirement benefits considering the gravity of the charges against him and the ongoing investigation. On 20 December 2000, respondent Judge Catral filed a Motion to Resolve and/or to Dismiss the case because of the Manifestation dated 24 July 2000 of Atty. Molina to "discontinue to prosecute his complaint." 7
The retirement of a judge or any judicial officer from the service does not preclude the finding of any administrative liability to which he should still be answerable. 8 The withdrawal or recantation of the complainant by the administrative charges does not necessarily result in the dismissal of the administrative case. We have repeatedly ruled that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
. . ., withdrawal of a complaint or subsequent desistance by the complainant in an administrative case does not necessarily warrant its dismissal. Administrative actions cannot depend on the will or pleasure of the complainant who may, for reasons of his own, condone what may be detestable. Neither can the Court be bound by the unilateral act of the complainant in a matter relating to its disciplinary power. The Court does not dismiss administrative cases against members of the Bench merely on the basis of withdrawal of the charges. Desistance cannot divest the Court of its jurisdiction to investigate and decide the complaint against the Respondent
. To be sure, public interest is at stake in the conduct and actuations of officials and employees of the judiciary. And the program and efforts of this Court in improving the delivery of justice to the people should not be frustrated and put to naught by private arrangements between the parties. 9
Respondent Judge Paz, in his Comment, 10 admitted having facilitated the meeting of Atty. Molina and Mayor Antiporda out of court, with the aim of settling the disputes between the two political factions. He claims, however, that it was out of sheer compassion, devoid of bias and prejudice. He avers he accepted the invitation of Mayor Antiporda to sit between the warring political opponents as a mediator hoping to restore mutual understanding and peace in the Municipality of Buguey, Cagayan.
Respondent Judge Paz may have good and noble intentions. However, the Code of Judicial Conduct 11 mandates that a judge should be the embodiment of competence, integrity, and independence. He should so behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities. His personal behavior, not only while in the performance of official duties but also outside the court, must be beyond reproach, for he is the visible personification of law and of justice. 12
Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.
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
RULE 2.04. — A judge shall refrain from influencing in any manner the outcome of litigation or dispute pending before another court or administrative agency.
Even the personal behavior of judges in their everyday lives should be beyond reproach. Judges should avoid even the slightest infraction of the law. 13 Those who occupy exalted positions in the administration of justice must pay a high price for the honor bestowed on them. Their private as well as their official conduct must be always free from the appearance of impropriety. 14
Judges should be extra prudent in associating with litigants and counsel appearing before them to avoid even a mere perception of possible bias or partiality. Judges need not live in seclusion, nor avoid all social interrelations. When time and work commitments permit, judges may continue to relate to members of the bar in worthwhile endeavors in such fields of interest as are in keeping with the noble objectives of the legal profession.
However, in pending or prospective litigations before them, judges should be scrupulously careful to avoid anything that may tend to awaken the suspicion that their personal, social or sundry relations could influence their objectivity. Not only must judges possess proficiency in law, they must also act and behave in such manner that would assure litigants and their counsel of the judges’ competence, integrity and independence. 15
In the present administrative case, respondent Judge Paz admitted to facilitating a meeting between Atty. Molina and Mayor Antiporda with the aim of forging a settlement between the warring political factions. Respondent Judge Paz saw himself as a mediator between the contending political factions in the Municipality of Buguey. However, Atty. Molina was at that time facing a multiple murder case in the sala of respondent Judge Paz and the victims of the multiple murder case were the political followers of Mayor Antiporda. In short, respondent Judge Paz held a private meeting with Atty. Molina, who was then accused of multiple murder before respondent Judge. Respondent Judge Paz knew that Atty. Molina was a private prosecutor in the criminal cases against the mayor’s son pending with another court. The disputes between the political factions involved grave felonies, which respondent Judge Paz should have known could not be the subject of compromise.
Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities. A judge must not only be impartial, he must also appear to be impartial. Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct of judges. Fraternizing with litigants tarnishes this appearance. 16
Respondent Judge Paz’s actuation constitutes simple misconduct, which for a first offense is punishable with suspension of one month and one day to six months. 17 However, respondent Judge Paz had retired compulsorily on 21 September 1998. In lieu of suspension, respondent Judge Paz should be fined, not P1,000 as recommended by the Investigating Justice, but P20,000 considering that simple misconduct is a less serious charge. 18
WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Benedicto A. Paz is adjudged guilty of SIMPLE MISCONDUCT and FINED Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000) to be deducted from his retirement benefits. Let the retirement benefits of respondent Judge Benedicto A. Paz be released immediately, subject to the deduction of the P20,000 fine and the usual clearances.
SO ORDERED.chanrob1es virtua1 law library
Davide, Jr., C.J.
, Panganiban, Ynares-Santiago and Azcuna, JJ.
1. Rollo, p. 1.
2. Ibid., pp. 2–4.
3. Ibid., pp. 23–24.
4. Rollo, pp. 79–80.
5. Rollo, pp. 612 & 614.
6. Ibid., pp. 598–600.
7. Ibid., pp. 616–619.
8. Lilia v. Fanuñal, A.M. No. RTJ-99-1503, 13 December 2001, 372 SCRA 213.
9. Rizon v. Judge Zerna, 417 Phil. 634 (2001).
10. Rollo, pp. 76–141.
11. Effective 20 October 1989.
12. Agpalasin v. Judge Agcaoili, 386 Phil. 452 (2000).
13. Atty. Cabrera v. Judge Pajares, 226 Phil. 53 (1986).
14. Jugueta v. Boncaros, A.M. No. 440-CFI, 30 September 1974, 60 SCRA 27.
15. Sibayan-Joaquin v. Judge Javellana, 420 Phil. 584 (2001).
16. Dela Cruz v. Judge Bersamira, A.M. No. RTJ-00-1567, 24 July 2000, 336 SCRA 353.
17. Supreme Court Circular Memorandum No. 30 dated 20 July 1989. The simple misconduct was committed prior to the amendment of Rule 140, which amendment took effect on 1 October 2001.
18. Section 11(B)(2) of Rule 140.