G.R. No. 160445 - JOSE TEOFILO T. MERCADO, ET AL. v. SECURITY BANK CORPORATION
[G.R. NO. 160445 : February 16, 2006]
JOSE TEOFILO T. MERCADO and MA. AGNES R. MERCADO, Petitioners, v. SECURITY BANK CORPORATION, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
SANDOVAL GUTIERREZ, J.:
The dignity of the Court can never be protected where infraction of ethics meets with complacency rather than punishment. The people should not be given cause to break faith that a magistrate is the epitome of honor amongst men. To preserve its dignity, a court of justice should not yield to the assaults of disrespect.1
Incidental to the present Petition for Review on Certiorari is the contempt proceedings against petitioner Jose Teofilo T. Mercado arising from his letter dated October 18, 2004, insinuating that: (1) the ponente succumbed to the "tremendous pressure" of Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. in denying his petition; (2) the Security Bank Corporation, respondent, financed the ponente's travel to the United States; and (3) the ponente gave respondent a "go signal" to sell his property.
The facts are as follows:
On December 12, 2003, Jose Teofilo T. Mercado and Ma. Agnes R. Mercado, petitioners, filed with this Court a Petition for Review on Certiorari assailing the Court of Appeals (a) Decision2 dated May 27, 2003 in CA-G.R. SP No. 71570 dismissing their petition for annulment of judgment; and (b) its Resolution3 dated October 23, 2003 denying their motion for reconsideration.
On January 12, 2004, we denied the petition because of petitioners' failure to show that a reversible error had been committed by the Appellate Court.4
Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration alleging that the Court of Appeals, in dismissing their petition for annulment of judgment, merely relied on technical rules of procedure, thereby sacrificing the greater interest of justice and equity; and that their former counsel's gross negligence constitutes extrinsic fraud, a ground for annulling the trial court's judgment.
On March 24, 2004, we issued a Resolution granting petitioners' motion for reconsideration and reinstating their petition. We likewise required Security Bank Corporation, respondent, to comment on the petition.
In its comment, respondent averred that the issues raised in the present petition are mere rehash of the issues petitioners raised before the Appellate Court. As to the alleged negligence of their counsel, respondent pointed out that the same cannot be considered an extrinsic fraud since through the same counsel, they actively pursued and recovered moral damages and attorney's fees. Furthermore, assuming that petitioners' counsel refused to file a motion for reconsideration with the trial court, still, they had the option to terminate his services and hire another; and that they should not have waited for four (4) years before filing the petition for annulment of judgment.
On June 7, 2004, we issued a Resolution denying the petition on the ground that petitioners indeed failed to show that a reversible error had been committed by the Appellate Court.
Petitioners filed a motion for reconsideration, but we dismissed the same in our Resolution dated September 15, 2004, thus:
We find no compelling reason to grant petitioner's motion for reconsideration.
The Court of Appeals was correct in holding that before a petition for annulment of judgment can prosper, petitioners must first file an appeal, a motion for new trial or a petition for relief as required by the Revised Rules of Court. Having failed to do so, they cannot avail of an action for annulment of judgment, otherwise, they would benefit from their inaction or negligence.
It bears emphasis at this point that an action for annulment of judgment cannot and is not a substitute for the lost remedy of appeal.
Petitioners' contention that their failure to appeal from the trial court's Decision was due to the negligence of their former counsel lacks merit. Records show that they participated actively, through their counsel, in the proceedings before the trial court. As party litigants, they were expected to be vigilant of their interests and, therefore, should monitor the progress of the case. Thus, they should have constantly communicated with their counsel to be advised of the status of their case. This way, they would not have lost their opportunity to appeal.
Granting that petitioners' petition for annulment of judgment is in order, still the same is dismissible. For the remedy of annulment of judgment to prosper, either one of the following grounds must be present: (1) extrinsic fraud or (2) lack of jurisdiction or denial of due process. Petitioner argues that their counsel's negligence constitutes extrinsic fraud. We are not convinced. Extrinsic fraud can be committed by a counsel against his client when the latter is prevented from presenting his case to the court. This situation is not present in this case.
We reiterate that in G.R. No. 151816, we ruled that the Court of Appeals did not commit reversible error in dismissing petitioners' petition for certiorari and prohibition assailing the trial court's order of execution of its Decision in favor of respondent bank.
In fine, this Resolution should now write finis to the instant case.5
Petitioners filed a second motion for reconsideration but was denied for being prohibited.
On October 18, 2004, petitioner Mercado wrote Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. stating that:
On March 24, 2004, the Third Division, in its Resolution, granted our Motion for Reconsideration and even gave due course and reinstated our petition.
But when I received the Resolution dated June 7, 2004 denying my Petition for Review on July 12, 2004, I immediately called my counsel, Atty. Jose P. Villanueva, on the phone. I asked him why on earth the ponente denied again my petition on the same ground 'for failure of petitioners to show that a reversible error had been committed by the appellate court? My counsel said, the ponente informed him that she has to deny our petition on the same ground because of the tremendous pressure from the Chief Justice to favor Security Bank Corporation (SBC). By the way, my counsel and the ponente are very close and long time friends to each other. When I heard the bad news, I was so shocked in disbelief. It is true, what you did is unthinkable, ungodly, and malicious. It is also very suspicious that after a few days after my conversation with Atty. Villanueva, he and his family left for London, leaving my case to the care of one of his Associates. Later on, the ponente herself left for the U.S.A. to visit her children. Is this a coincidence? As the saying goes, 'when there is smoke, there is fire.' Another coincidence, before the receipt of the Resolution dated June 7, 2004, denying our petition on the basis of SBC's unsubstantiated 'Comment,' SBC sold our property to M. Miranda Development Corporation and succeeded in getting a permit to demolish the four (4) building erected in our property from the Forbes Park Association, even if the case is still pending and we have not even filed our Motion for Reconsideration with the Supreme Court, not to mention the Lis Pendens annotated on the title of the property in the name of SBC. The person who bought our property from SBC for
P120,000,000.00 is known to my nephew and us. While the buyer is drinking with my nephew and others, not knowing that one of them is my nephew, he bragged to them that he just bought the property of the Mercados in Forbes Park. The buyer said 'I paid already the property because SBC told me that they already have the go-signal from the ponente to sell the property.' Few days thereafter, all the improvements in our property were totally demolished by a construction company owned by my provincemate in Pampanga by the name of Mr. Bana, whom I personally met at the site while the demolition was being carried out.
Have you no conscience at all? Are you not bothered of the final judgment after life? Is this the legacy you want to impart to your children and all the Filipino people? What you did to my family and I is unforgivable not only to God and to humanity. You have deprived us of our precious possession without due process. This is also the abode of my wife, my children, their respective spouses, and my 10 grandchildren, not to mention the several household members and their families.
I would like to believe that the Supreme Court is the last bulwark of true justice. If you, the Chief Justice, himself, are the first person to make a mockery of our laws, no wonder why foreign investors do not want to invest in our country because they said, there is no justice in our courts, the Supreme Court in particular. This is in the highest degree of injustice. You have deprived us of our basic fundamental rights in the protection of our property without due process. There is no justice in our courts, the Supreme Court in particular. Do you think I will bring my case to the Supreme Court by mere question of facts? From our petition for Annulment of Judgment filed before the Court of Appeals and now the Petition for Review on Certiorari with the Supreme Court, my wife and I as petitioners-movants have clearly invoked 'LACK OF JURISDICTION' on the part of the trial court to adjudicate respondent SBC's 'counterclaim' for the payment of the loan. As I understand, when the ground invoked as basis for Annulment of Judgment is 'LACK OF JURISDICTION', the Petition may be filed at any time before it is barred by estoppel or laches, neither of which is obtaining in our case. Even in layman's legal point of view, this Petition of ours clearly and undoubtedly raises a question of law.
Please I beg of you, have a last hard look on our Petition and the two (2) Motions for Reconsideration and let us focus and not evade on the real issue on 'LACK OF JURISDICTION' on the part of the trial court and not concentrate on negligence of counsel and other trivial reasons, etc. Or better yet, please refrain from influencing the members of the Third Division. Let them deliberate regularly on our case or inhibit themselves on the case. Please let the Institution serve justice, and not individual pecuniary interests. SBC's counsels are experts in fabrication of facts and in misleading the courts. I have a feeling that they might as well have led you to believe something, which is not true. Please don't be an instrument of their wicked schemes, lest the Supreme Court itself becomes their means to perpetrate injustice. This is the only Bank which is not interested in amicable settlement in spite of my several sincere offers of amicable settlement since the case was filed in 1995 up to 2003, and these are all in writing and duly received by SBC. Unfortunately, all my offers were rejected by them.
I wrote you this letter as a last resort because my family and I looked up at you before as the most honest and upright Chief Justice. As we would like to know if you really had intervened and put pressure, as the Ponente said to Atty. Villanueva, (my counsel) to favor SBC because if you did, then we rest our case. Please enlighten us before we seek another forum to seek redress the injustices, sleepless nights, humiliation and embarrassment we suffered. If we are wrong about you, and I hope we really are wrong, please accept our appeal for forgiveness and apologies. GOD is my witness, that what I have told you is the truth.
Mr. Chief Justice, the Filipino people know how religious you are. Please do what a religious man ought to do in serving justice. Please live up to our, as well as HIS expectations. (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
On November 2, 2004, Chief Justice Davide required Mercado's lawyer, Atty. Jose P. Villanueva, to comment on the letter and show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court.6
On November 17, 2004, the Court's Third Division ordered Mercado to personally appear on November 22, 2004 and show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court.7
On the scheduled date, Mercado, together with Atty. Pablo G. Macapagal, his new counsel, appeared before the Third Division and swore to the truth of the letter he wrote.8 He manifested that he only stated therein what Atty. Villanueva told him - that his petition was denied for the second time "because of the tremendous pressure from the Chief Justice." He further manifested that during the wake of Atty. Villanueva's mother, he (Atty. Villanueva) pointed to Justice Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, bragging that she is "a very very good, close and long time friend of his."9 However, while stating this, Mercado referred to Justice Conchita Carpio Morales as Justice Gutierrez.10
Forthwith, the Third Division issued in open court a Resolution11 directing Atty. Macapagal to submit a written explanation why Mercado should not be held in contempt of Court.
For his part, Atty. Villanueva submitted a comment,12 strongly denying Mercado's allegations in his letter. He denied having told petitioners that their petition had to be denied again "because there was a tremendous pressure from the Chief Justice in favor of Security Bank Corporation." He also stressed that there was no correlation between the ponente's trip to the United States and his trip to London. He explained that he and his family went to London to attend the graduation of his daughter, Cherriemaya Veloso Villanueva. To substantiate this, he submitted a photocopy of "London School of Economics (LSE) and Political Science Presentation Ceremonies" where the name of his daughter, Cherriemaya Veloso Villanueva, is listed as one of the successful graduates. He likewise submitted a photocopy of his passport indicating his departure for London on July 14, 2004 and his arrival in the Philippines on July 27, 2004. In addition, he said he never met anyone from respondent bank, including its lawyers, and that there is no truth to Mercado's statement regarding his nephew's alleged encounter with the new owners of the subject property.
On December 13, 2004, Mercado submitted his explanation13 why he should not be punished for contempt of court. He claimed that the contemptuous statements in his letter merely reiterate the tenor of Atty. Villanueva's statements. He offered an apology, explaining that he wrote the letter while he was "under the impulse of personal stress" as he was losing his residential house.
On January 26, 2005, the Third Division ordered both Mercado and Atty. Villanueva to appear on February 21, 2005 to elucidate their respective positions.
Mercado testified that it was Atty. Villanueva who informed him that the ponente is Justice Gutierrez. Atty. Villanueva even bragged that she is his "very, very close friend."
For his part, Atty. Villanueva testified that it was Mercado who informed him that Justice Gutierrez is the ponente. He also confirmed that she attended the wake of his mother. But he denied Mercado's claim that he pointed to Justice Gutierrez and said that she is his close friend.14
Thereafter, the Third Division designated Court of Appeals Justice Renato C. Dacudao as Commissioner to receive evidence on the factual issues involved in the contempt incident.15
On May 18, 2005, Justice Dacudao submitted his Investigation, Report and Recommendation. He found Mercado "guilty of improper conduct tending to bring the authority and the administration of justice by the Court into disrespect when he openly belittled, degraded, and embarrassed the Highest Court of the land, particularly the Chief Justice x x x." However, he held that "there was no showing that he acted with malice and/or in bad faith or that he was properly motivated." Thus, he recommended that Mercado be fined in the sum of five thousand pesos (
We cannot sustain Justice Dacudao's finding that Mercado did not act with malice or bad faith in imputing those derogatory and disrespectful remarks against Chief Justice Davide and the ponente.
Bad faith imputes a dishonest purpose or some moral obliquity and conscious doing of a wrong.16 It contemplates a state of mind affirmatively operating with furtive design or some motive of self-interest or ill-will for ulterior purposes.17 Malice is of the same genre. It connotes a sinister motive.
Mercado's addressing such letter to Chief Justice Davide is a perfect illustration of bad faith and malice tending directly to degrade the administration of justice. It transgresses the permissible bounds of fair comment and criticisms bringing into disrepute, not only the authority and integrity of Chief Justice Davide and the ponente, but also of the entire Judiciary. While feigning to be searching for truth on whether Chief Justice Davide indeed exerted "tremendous pressure" to the ponente, he repeatedly humiliated him and the Judiciary in the most loutish and insolent manner. He accused him of doing an "unthinkable, ungodly, and malicious" act and of depriving his (Mercado's) family of their "basic fundamental rights in the protection of (their) property without due process." He concluded that what Chief Justice Davide did to his family "is unforgivable not only to God and to humanity." In an insulting and insolent tenor, he stated that "if the Chief Justice, himself, is the first person to make a mockery of our laws," then there is "no wonder why foreign investors do not want to invest in our country."
Furthermore, he alleged that an irregularity or bribery attended the denial of his Petition for Review . He insinuated that the travels of Atty. Villanueva and the ponente abroad were financed by respondent bank, stating that "when there is smoke, there is fire." He also recklessly accused the ponente of giving respondent bank a "go-signal" to sell his property. In this backdrop, he asked Chief Justice Davide to "refrain from influencing the members of the Third Division;" "let them deliberate regularly on the case or inhibit themselves on the case;" and "let the Institution serve justice, and not individual pecuniary interests."
Finally, he condemned the entire Judiciary by saying "there is no justice in our courts, the Supreme Court in particular." And with impudence, he threatened Chief Justice Davide to enlighten him before he "seeks another forum to seek redress for the injustices, sleepless nights, humiliation and embarrassment" his family suffered.
Without doubt, Mercado's letter is marked with malice, bad faith, and gross disrespect. He committed a remarkable feat of character assassination and honor vilification. Contrary to his claim that he is just verifying the truth of Atty. Villanueva's statements, the words in his letter are more accusatory than inquisitorial. What is disconcerting is that his accusations have no basis in fact and in law. Obviously, they caused intense pain and humiliation on the part of Chief Justice Davide and the ponente.
The Resolution of the Third Division of this Court dated September 15, 2004 denying Mercado's motion for reconsideration is well explained. A principle almost repeated to satiety is that "an action for annulment of judgment cannot and is not a substitute for the lost remedy of appeal." A party must have first availed of appeal, a motion for new trial or a petition for relief before an action for annulment can prosper. Its obvious rationale is to prevent the party from benefiting from his inaction or negligence. Also, the action for annulment of judgment must be based either on (a) extrinsic fraud or (b) lack of jurisdiction or denial of due process.18 Having failed to avail of the remedies and there being a clear showing that neither of the grounds was present, the petition must be dismissed. Only a disgruntled litigant would find such legal disposition unacceptable.
Mercado bewails the denial by the Third Division of his petition through a mere Minute Resolution and after reinstating the petition. Apparently, he finds the Court's manner of denial and change of heart unusual and casts sinister undertone to them.
In In Re Laureta,19 we ruled that the Court is not "duty-bound" to render signed decisions all the time. It has ample discretion to formulate decisions and/or minute resolutions, provided a legal basis is given depending on its evaluation of a case. In the same case, we held that "the recall of a due course Order after a review of the records of the case is a common occurrence in the Court." Like the respondents in the said case, Mercado should not think that it is only his petition which has been subjected to such recall.
The Third Division initially denied Mercado's petition because it is apparent on its face that the Court of Appeals committed no reversible error in dismissing his petition for annulment of judgment. Considering his motion for reconsideration alleging that the Appellate Court merely relied on technical rules of procedure and that his former counsel committed gross negligence, the Third Division took the most prudent course by reinstating the petition. Now, after considering the petition and the comment thereon, the Third Division was convinced that, indeed, the Appellate Court did not commit any reversible error. Is this irregular? The answer is a resounding "no." The reinstatement of a petition does not guarantee that it will be subsequently granted. Otherwise, the filing of comment and subsequent pleadings would be an exercise in futility.
Now, in a bid to escape liability for contempt, Mercado invokes freedom of speech and privacy of communication.
We are not persuaded.
A person charged with contempt of court for his utterances which clearly constitute contempt may not ordinarily escape liability by merely invoking the constitutional guaranty of freedom of speech. Liberty of speech must not be confused with abuse of such liberty. When he attributed those contemptuous remarks to Chief Justice Davide and the ponente, Mercado abused such liberty. His statements cast aspersions to their reputation and integrity and create a distrust to the Judiciary.
The fact that Mercado's letter was addressed only to the Chief Justice does not rinse it of its contemptuous character. In In Re Laureta,20 we ruled that letters addressed to individual Justices, in connection with the performance of their judicial functions become part of the judicial record and are a matter of concern for the entire court.
Accordingly, we hold Mercado guilty of indirect contempt of court.
Section 3, Rule 71 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended, provides:
Section 3. Indirect contempt to be punished after charge and hearing. - After a charge in writing has been filed, and an opportunity given to the respondent to comment thereon within such period as may be fixed by the court and to be heard by himself or counsel, a person guilty of any of the following acts may be punished for indirect contempt:
x x x x x x
d. Any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice;
x x x x x x
As for Atty. Villanueva, while Justice Dacudao did not categorically state that he (Atty. Villanueva) told Mercado that Chief Justice Davide exerted "tremendous pressure" on the ponente, the reason why the petition was dismissed for the second time, however, we are inclined to believe that Atty. Villanueva gave such information to Mercado. Not only that, Atty. Villanueva also revealed the name of the ponente; that he and the ponente have known each other since 1964; and that the ponente would be at
the wake of his mother, thus:
After a careful and conscientious examination of the evidence adduced in the instant case, the undersigned investigator is fully convinced that it was only through Atty. Villanueva that petitioner could have learned or known the name of the ponente in the case.
As between petitioner and Atty. Villanueva, the undersigned investigator in inclined to give more credence to the testimony of petitioner. Not only was petitioner consistent, firm, and candid and detailed in his testimony, but he was also able to corroborate his claims, by submitting his diary which contained vital entries and by presenting the testimony of his nephew. x x x
Moreover, it was admitted by Atty. Villanueva that he and Justice Gutierrez have known each other since 1964 and that Justice Gutierrez was in the wake of his mother. These admissions tend to strengthen the allegations of petitioner that Atty. Villanueva was the one who told him the name of the ponente; that Atty. Villanueva told him that he and the ponente are very close; and that when petitioner attended the wake of Atty. Villanueva's mother, he was told by Atty. Villanueva that Justice Gutierrez, the ponente, was coming.
Rule 15.06 of Canon 15 of the Code of Professional Responsibility states that "a lawyer shall not state or imply that he is able to influence any public official, tribunal or legislative body." Further, Rule 15.07 provides that "a lawyer must impress upon his client compliance with the laws and the principles of fairness." Atty. Villanueva took the forbidden course. In informing Mercado that he was "a very very good, close and long time friend" of the ponente, Atty. Villanueva impressed upon the former that he can obtain a favorable disposition of his case. However, when his petition was dismissed twice, Mercado's expectation crumbled. This prompted him to hurl unfounded, malicious, and disrespectful accusations against Chief Justice Davide and the ponente.
We have repeatedly admonished lawyers from making bold assurances to their clients. A lawyer who guarantees the successful outcome of a litigation will exert heavy pressure and employ any means to win the case at all costs. But when the case is lost, he will blame the courts, placing them under a cloud of suspicion. As what happened in this case, Atty. Villanueva's statements led Mercado, not only to suspect but also to believe, that the entire Court, together with Chief Justice Davide and the ponente, could be pressured or influenced,
Responsibility enjoins lawyers to observe and maintain the respect due to courts and the judicial officers.21 Atty. Villanueva's conduct, no doubt, degraded the integrity and dignity of Chief Justice Davide and the ponente and this Court as well.
Thus, we find Atty. Villanueva also guilty of indirect contempt of court.
On the appropriate penalty, the general rule is that courts have inherent power to impose a penalty for contempt reasonably commensurate with the gravity of the offense. And that the degree of punishment for contempt is said to lie within the sound discretion of the court.22 Considering the circumstances obtaining herein, we believe that Mercado and Atty. Villanueva should be fined
P50,000.00 each and warned that a repetition of similar acts will warrant a more severe penalty.
One last word. The reason for the inherent power of courts to punish for contempt is that respect for the courts guarantees the stability of the judicial institution. Without such guarantee, the institution would be resting on a very shaky foundation.23 Thus, we must act to preserve its honor and integrity from assaults of disrespect. One reason why respect of the public for the Judiciary has diminished is because of unscrupulous lawyers who imply that judges and justices can be influenced or bribed. Such conduct has no place in the legal profession.
WHEREFORE, Jose Teofilo T. Mercado and Atty. Jose P. Villanueva are declared GUILTY of indirect contempt of court. They are FINED
P50,000.00 each and WARNED that a repetition of similar acts will warrant a more severe penalty.
Let a copy of this Resolution be attached to Atty. Villanueva's personal record in the Office of the Bar Confidant and copies thereof be furnished the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
* On leave.
1 See Salcedo v. Hernandez, 61 Phil. 724 (1935).
2 Rollo, pp. 48-60. Penned by Justice Sergio L. Pestaño (deceased) and concurred in by Justice Bernardo P. Abesamis (retired) and Justice Noel G. Tijam.
3 Id., pp. 80-83.
4 See Resolution, id. p. 151.
5 Rollo, pp. 320-327.
6 Letter dated November 2, 2004, id., p. 393.
7 Resolution dated January 26, 2005, id., pp. 413-415.
8 TSN, November 22, 2004, p. 27.
9 TSN, November 22, 2005, p. 36.
10 Id. pp. 37-41.
11 Rollo, p. 65.
12 Letter dated November 22, 2004, id., pp. 366-369.
13 Compliance and Explanation dated November 30, 2004, id. pp. 403-409.
14 TSN, February 21, 2005, p. 12.
15 See Resolution, rollo, p. 679.
16 Spiegel v. Beacon Participation, 8 NE 2nd Series, 895, 1007.
17 Air France v. Carrascoso, L-21438, September 28, 1966, 18 SCRA 155, 166-167.
18 Salonga v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 111478, March 13, 1997, 269 SCRA 534.
19 G.R. No. 68635, March 12, 1987, 148 SCRA 382, 417.
21 Fernandez v. Verzola, A. M. No. CA-04-40, August 13, 2004, 436 SCRA 369.
22 17 Am Jur 2d - 105, citing United Marine Div. of I.L.A. v. Commonwealth, 193 Va 773, 71 SE2d 159, cert den 344 US 893, 97 L Ed 690, 73 S Ct 212.
23 See Salcedo v. Hernandez, supra.
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