Complainant Teodora A. Ruiz, Court Stenographer III, RTC-Br. 257, Parañaque City, in a verified letter-complaint dated 14 January 2002 addressed to Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., and referred by this Court to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) for appropriate action, charged her Presiding Judge, respondent Judge Rolando G. How with oppression, grave abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law.
Teodora A. Ruiz narrated that on 6 July 2001 respondent Judge confronted her about an anonymous complaint filed before the Supreme Court and accused her of being its author. From then on her relationship with respondent turned sour as she became the object of his wrath. According to her, respondent’s devious designs against her first became manifest when he issued Memo No. 01-S-03 designating her as officer-in-charge of criminal cases. But she declined the additional assignment because the position being offered was the subject of an investigation by the OCA. However respondent was so persistent and even cajoled her with flattering words like my." . . untarnished and unblemished moral qualities make me (complainant) the most qualified among (his) staff to handle the position of criminal case-in-charge." 1 She could not agree to respondent’s importunings for fear that her work while in charge of the criminal cases would be "sabotaged and prejudiced." Since then respondent’s acts of harassment and oppression became more virulent when he filed a complaint for falsification against her.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Complainant further alleged in her affidavit-complaint that on 10 August 2001 Shara/Ciara, respondent’s daughter, together with her classmates went to their office to use their computer. Because it was already 5:30 in the afternoon and the other employees had gone home, she was requested by her officemate Aida Sarza, who was then about to leave, to assist Shara/Ciara and her classmates with their work. When Shara/Ciara finished at around 6:00 o’clock in the evening, she checked all the electrical outlets and locked the door. According to complainant, respondent Judge confronted her the following day, and in a loud voice asked her why she was left alone in his chambers. She vehemently objected to the insinuations made by respondent, telling him that his daughter was a liar. On top of his voice, respondent Judge allegedly blurted out the following defamatory remarks:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
‘Alam mo naman kung bakit ayaw kitang maiwan dito? Pero bakit ka nagpaiwan hanggang 5:30 p.m.. Si Nora magpapaiwan hanggang 5:30 p.m., ano ang plano mo? Alam mo naman na may reason ako at very meaty ang reason ko dahil nga sa mga intriga sa akin at sinulat sa akin? Oo, sabi ni Shara/Ciara, daddy, ang bait bait ni Ate Nora tinulungan niya kami. Bakit kilala mo ba kung sino si Nora. Sinisi ko talaga si Shara/Ciara dahil bakit ka niya iniwan sa chamber. Ikaw tutulong ka, bakit ka tutulong. Anong dahilan mo, bakit ka nagvolunteer na tulungan ang anak ko you are maybe good to Shara/Ciara but you are not good to me.’
Then again on 22 August 2001 when complainant filed an application for leave for one (1) week to attend to her diabetic father who was critically ill, respondent not only disapproved her application for leave but also refused to allow her to leave the office on that day. Left with no other recourse, complainant went to the executive judge to ask permission to leave early but before the latter could act on her request, she learned that her father had already passed away.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
On 8 January 2002 respondent again displayed his oppressive conduct against complainant when he gave her "18" points which were equivalent to "unsatisfactory" in the periodical performance rating. Respondent’s prejudice against her became even more apparent in light of the fact that in the two (2) preceding evaluation periods she obtained satisfactory marks of "27" and "28." According to her, what was unacceptable about her latest performance rating was the notation that she was." . . inclined to be quarrelsome, surly, and touchy. Does not get along well with others. Upsets morale. Inclined to be dishonest."cralaw virtua1aw library
In an effort to defend herself, complainant photocopied her performance rating with the intention of attaching it as evidence in support of her pending complaint against Respondent
. In response, however, respondent Judge then hastily issued Memo No. 02-003 the full text of which reads:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Re: Your refusal to return the Performance Rating
This Court was informed by the Branch Clerk of Court regarding your refusal to return your performance rating wherein you got a rating of 18 which is equivalent to "Unsatisfactory."cralaw virtua1aw library
After you received the said performance rating for your signature, you misbehaved by banging your things on your table and insulted this Judge by calling him "mandaraya." You also stated many uncalled for remarks in a loud voice which was overheard by Atty. Evillo Pormento, a lawyer from the Public Attorney’s Office.
You are given one (1) hour from receipt of this letter to immediately return the performance rating, otherwise, this Court will declare you in direct contempt.
Below the memorandum, complainant made a handwritten inscription which reads:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Received under protest.
"What is wrong of (sic) saying "sino ang gumagawa ng kagaguhan at ako ang pinag-iinitan ninyo." All your allegations in your memo are pure lies. Be fair to your subordinate, please do not use your position, I did not call you mandaraya. God knows (attached is my letter). I did not bang my things.
I’m begging now on the Honorable Chief Justice to save me for the harassments and maltreatments that I’m presently experiencing from your hands.
God, please help me!!!
In addition, complainant wrote in a separate piece of paper a message in bold letters —
Bilang Iglesia ni Cristo hindi itinuro sa amin ang mandaya, hindi kami namumuhay ng pangsalibutan kaya wala kang karapatan akusahan ako ng "DISHONEST." Kung gusto ninyo pumunta kayo sa lahat ng local na pinanggagalingan ko at ipagtanong ninyo kung sino si "Ka Nora Ruiz."cralaw virtua1aw library
"MAAWA KA AT MAGING FAIR"
Ganito rin ang ginawa ninyo kay Atty. Obediencia at PJ.
According to complainant, despite her compliance with the order, respondent Judge still cited her for direct contempt. Her motion for reconsideration having been denied, respondent ordered her detention in the Parañaque City Jail which lasted for twenty-four (24) hours.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
In his Comment, respondent Judge disclosed that apart from the instant administrative case, complainant previously filed three (3) other administrative cases against him, namely: (a) an administrative complaint filed in September 2001 for harassment; (b) a complaint filed in October 2001 for violation of Sec. 2, PD 1079, and S.C. Circular 5-98 on re-raffle of judicial notices in Special Proceedings and LRC cases, which was already dismissed by the Court on 13 February 2002; and, (c) a case for harassment filed in January 2002 for issuing two (2) Memoranda dated 5 December 2001 and 7 December 2001. 2
Anent the allegation that he disapproved complainant’s application for leave, respondent narrated that the application for leave was brought to his attention at around 11:30 in the morning of 22 August 2001 by the Clerk of Court from whom he learned for the first time about complainant’s ailing father. He emphasized that he instructed the Clerk of Court to advise the complainant to take the leave of absence on that very same day and not wait for the following morning. He explained that he was not able to sign the application form because it was already lunch break. It was at about 1:30 to 2:00 in the afternoon that the Clerk of Court again informed him that complainant’s father had passed away but by then complainant had already left the office. So, he told his Clerk of Court to require complainant to file a new leave form because the reason for the application had already changed.
On the alleged unsatisfactory performance rating, respondent Judge belied the accusation that he alone prepared the complainant’s evaluation form. The truth of the matter, according to him, is that there were three (3) of them who evaluated the complainant — the Clerk of Court, the legal researcher, and himself. Further, he stressed that he did not write the words "upsets morale and inclined to be dishonest" appearing in the evaluation form because these were written in printed form.
On the charge of grave abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law for declaring complainant in direct contempt, he contended that he was compelled to do so because of complainant’s misbehavior in the courtroom during office hours. Complainant, respondent asserted, was compelled to return the evaluation form only after he threatened her with direct contempt. Worse than her refusal to return the evaluation form, complainant insolently wrote letters which contained insulting words like "kagaguhan" which he found to be very humiliating and embarrassing. These letters, respondent insisted, were written in bold letters which were intended to insult his person and cause disrespect to his office.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Complainant, according to respondent Judge, was prone to hysterics and hyper-emotional outbursts even inside the office. She would often ignore her co-employees who incurred her ire and even the presiding Judge was not spared from her so-called "cold war" treatment.
On 7 October 2002 the OCA through Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., recommended that the instant administrative case be referred to an associate justice of the Court of Appeals for investigation, report and recommendation. 3 On the basis of the recommendation, this Court issued on 4 December 2002 a Resolution referring the administrative matter to the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for raffle among its members for investigation, report and recommendation by the Justice to whom the case would be assigned. 4
After the investigation, Associate Justice Oswaldo D. Agcaoili of the Court of Appeals recommended the dismissal of the charges against respondent Judge. The Investigating Justice observed —
The circumstances mentioned by complainant to support respondent’s supposed oppressive conduct and grave abuse of authority are actually unfounded. Firstly, the supposed designation by respondent as officer-in-charge of criminal cases badly supports complainant’s complaint for oppression. It was not explained why complainant would consider her designation as a form of sabotage. Secondly, the reaction of respondent when complainant was left alone in the former’s chamber after office hours was justifiable. Expectedly and quite understandably, considering the demands of his work, respondent is entitled, to a certain extent, some privacy. He may have raised his voice at the time he confronted complainant about this but this alone is not indicative of oppression and grave abuse of authority. Thirdly, the testimony of respondent judge on the alleged disapproval of the complainant’s application for leave is more logical considering the subject leave form itself. (TSN, June 27, 2003, 16-18) The leave form (Annex "C") presented in evidence does not contain any notation or indication that respondent judge had disapproved it. It does not bear his signature because it was not as amended submitted to him for approval. Fourthly, complainant’s poor rating in the performance rating as reflected in the performance rating sheet cannot be construed as a form of oppression and grave abuse of authority.
Justice Agcaoili further opined that respondent could not be held guilty of gross ignorance of the law on the basis of his direct contempt order. He reasoned that the evident basis of the 8 January 2002 order was the alleged misbehavior and act of disrespect committed by complainant for her insulting letters made during office hours. He added that even if the order was wrong, it could not be a basis to charge respondent with gross ignorance of the law in the absence of bad faith. Neither could respondent be held liable for issuing Memorandum dated 7 December 2001. According to him, respondent was not unaware of the Supreme Court Circular providing for a three (3)-day notice requirement in case an employee is asked to report on Sunday. Respondent merely construed said circular as directory in the sense that the three (3)-day notice requirement may be dispensed with in case the employee does not object, as in this case.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
After a thorough review of the evidence on record, we are of the view that even if the charges against respondent judge may be without basis, he cannot escape liability for injudiciously and carelessly wielding the court’s power of contempt which resulted in the summary incarceration of complainant without giving her the opportunity to be heard and present evidence in her defense.
In Patricio v. Suplico, 5 this Court made a clear-cut distinction between direct and indirect contempt —
All courts have the inherent power to punish for contempt, this being essential to their right to self-preservation. Under the Rules of Court, contempt is classified into direct and indirect or constructive. Direct contempt is "misbehavior in the presence of or so near a court or judge as to obstruct or interrupt the proceedings before the same, including disrespect towards the court or judge, offensive personalities towards others, or refusal to be sworn or to answer as a witness, or to subscribe an affidavit or deposition when lawfully required to do so. Where the act of contumacy is not committed in facie curiae, or "in the presence of or so near a court or judge as to obstruct or interrupt the proceedings before the same," i.e., perpetrated outside the sitting of the court, it is considered indirect, or constructive, contempt, and may include" (m)isbehavior of an officer of a court in the performance of his official duties or in his official transactions," "disobedience of or resistance to a lawful writ, process, order judgment, or command of a court, or injunction granted by a court or judge," "(a)ny abuse of or any unlawful interference with the process or proceedings of a court not constituting direct contempt," or "any proper conduct tending, directly, or indirectly to impede, obstruct or degrade the administration of justice" (Emphasis supplied
Wicker v. Arcangel 6 made it clearer that in case of indirect or constructive contempt, the contemnor may be punished only "after charge in writing has been filed, and an opportunity given to the accused to be heard by himself and counsel," whereas in a direct contempt, the respondent may summarily be adjudged in contempt.
Consideration of these legal propositions patently discloses the impropriety of finding complainant guilty of direct contempt. The willful display of abusive and disrespectful language hurled by complainant towards the court did not constitute direct contempt but may, if at all, amount to indirect contempt, subject to the defenses which may be raised in the proper proceedings. Under Sec. 1 of Rule 71 of the Revised Rules of Court, to constitute direct contempt, the alleged misbehavior must have been committed in the presence of or so near a court as to obstruct or interrupt proceedings before the court. Stress must be given to the fact that at the time the derogatory words were uttered by complainant, no proceedings were being held nor was it shown that respondent was performing judicial functions. In fact, a cursory reading of the contempt citation issued by respondent would show that the alleged abusive conduct and intemperate language uttered by complainant was supposedly overheard merely by a certain Atty. Pormento and relayed to Respondent
. Apparently, the alleged insolent and contumacious outbursts not only did not occur "in the presence of or so near a court as to obstruct or interrupt proceedings before the court" but that respondent had no personal knowledge of them.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
It is well settled that the power to punish a person in contempt of court is inherent in all courts to preserve order in judicial proceedings and to uphold the due administration of justice. Judges however are enjoined to exercise such power judiciously and sparingly, with utmost restraint, and with the end in view of utilizing the same for correction and preservation of the dignity of the court, and not for retaliation or vindictiveness.
While we cannot countenance complainant’s disrespect and defiant attitude as well as her belligerence towards the judge, we cannot also simply shrug off respondent’s failure to exercise that degree of care and temperance required of a judge in the correct and prompt administration of justice; more so in this case where the exercise of the power of contempt resulted in complainant’s detention and deprivation of liberty.
In De Guia v. Guerrero, 7 the Court imposed upon respondent a fine for citing complainant in contempt without legal basis. In an earlier case, respondent municipal judge was adjudged guilty of gross ignorance of the law and grave abuse of authority for citing complainant counsel in direct contempt and ordering his incarceration in violation of his constitutional right to due process. 8
On the issue of the alleged disapproval of complainant’s emergency leave application, respondent Judge explained that he was not able to act immediately on the application for leave because he was pressed for time acting on pending motions and that it was already lunch break. When he learned later that complainant’s father had died, he instructed the Clerk of Court to amend the application since the reason for leave had changed.
Respondent’s explanation does not inspire belief. Complainant’s application for leave was brought to his attention at 11:30 and as early as then he already knew that complainant had a very serious reason for leaving the office. Yet he chose to put off any action on the leave application on the flimsy ground that it was lunch break and that he was preoccupied with certain pending motions before him. Surely, respondent takes his lunch break thirty (30) minutes too early since government employees are supposed to be at their station until 12:00 o’clock noon before they could take time off for lunch. It is indeed hard to imagine how niggardly respondent was of his time as to find it agonizingly hard to spare a moment to sign a single application for leave, in printed form, knowing very well that it was a matter of "life and death" to his employee. Worse, his act of refusing to take action on the said application unless complainant first amended it was a palpable display of insensitivity and inhumane behavior designed merely to harass and pester complainant whom he perceived to be a recalcitrant employee. A judge, as the personification of justice, must always compose himself in a manner worthy of his exalted position, wielding his authority not out of spite or resentment but with justice and compassion.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
As to the remaining charges, we find no adequate basis to hold respondent administratively liable.
Firstly, there is no sufficient showing that respondent was actuated by questionable motives when he assigned complainant to fill up the vacant position of officer-in-charge for criminal cases, in addition to her regular duties. Complainant’s apprehensions of being "sabotaged" by respondent are speculative and conjectural. Admittedly, the unpleasant events that transpired in the office may have spawned suspicion, or even hypersensitivity on the part of complainant, but this would not suffice to conclude that respondent was luring her into a trap or trying to oppress her by designating her as officer-in-charge of criminal cases.
Secondly, we subscribe to the view that respondent reacted justifiably when he rebuked the complainant for staying in his chambers after office hours. As testified to by respondent, his chambers contained sensitive documents or pieces of evidence material to the cases pending before his sala. Understandably, he should at all times be on guard to protect the integrity of these materials by preventing unauthorized personnel from having access thereto without his prior approval. Moreover, complainant was not entirely blameless for the incident for failing to recognize that respondent, by the nature of his work, had legitimate concerns in preventing unrestricted access to his chambers. Further, complainant, as a subordinate, did not accord due respect towards respondent when she countered with unsavory remarks like "your daughter is a liar."cralaw virtua1aw library
Finally, the unsatisfactory rating obtained by complainant in her performance evaluation is far from being an oppressive conduct on the part of Respondent
. By its very nature, a performance evaluation report is a periodic assessment of an employee’s overall efficiency as measured by the evaluating officer on the basis of a pre-determined set of standards. The fact that complainant garnered satisfactory ratings in her two (2) previous evaluation reports does not preclude the evaluating officer from giving her a lower rating if in his honest judgment she failed to measure up to the pre-determined standards of efficiency. Perhaps what bothered complainant was the possibility of being deprived of her productivity bonus because of poor performance based on her rating sheet.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
WHEREFORE respondent Judge Rolando G. How, RTC-Br. 257, Parañaque City, is declared guilty of grave abuse of authority for injudiciously ordering the detention of complainant without sufficient legal ground. Accordingly, respondent Judge is ordered to pay a FINE of P5,000.00. He is likewise ADMONISHED for his inaction on complainant’s application for emergency leave. He is STERNLY WARNED that repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
All other charges are dismissed for lack of merit.
Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr. and Tinga, JJ.
1. Rollo, p. 2.
2. Id., p. 45.
3. Rollo, p. 71.
4. Id., p. 87.
5. G.R. No. 76562, 22 April 1991, 196 SCRA 146.
6. G.R. No. 112869, 29 January 1996, 252 SCRA 444.
7. A.M. RTJ-93-1099, 1 August 1994, 234 SCRA 625.
8. Fabian Gardones v. Andres Ma. Delgado, A.M. No. 120-MJ, 23 July 1974, 58 SCRA 58.