A.M. No. MTJ-96-1080 August 22, 1996
ANTONIO SANDOVAL, Complainant, v. JUDGE JACINTO MANALO, Respondents.
DAVIDE, JR., J.:
For the death of Alexander Sandoval, son of complainant Antonio Sandoval, a criminal complaint for murder was filed on 23 May 1995 with the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Coron-Busuanga, Palawan, against Jermaine Echague. The complaint, docketed as Criminal Case No. 2834, alleges:
On 20 July 1995, the Office of the Court Administrator received an Affidavit-Complaint, which the complainant had subscribed and sworn to on 6 July 1995 before Notary Public Roberto P. Reyes. The complaint charges the respondent Judge, the Presiding Judge of the MCTC of Coron-Busuanga, Palawan, with ignorance of the law, dereliction of duty, and grave abuse of authority in connection with Criminal Case No. 2834 based on the following facts:
The complainant alleges that the respondent Judge issued the order lifting the warrant of arrest in Criminal Case No. 2834 with haste, without giving the prosecution reasonable time to file any pleading regarding the motion. The complainant also questions the release of the accused "to the custody of private persons."
In a 1st Indorsement dated 10 October 1995, which he submitted in compliance with the resolution of 18 September 1995 requiring him to comment on the affidavit-complaint, respondent Judge Manalo asserts that the motion to lift the warrant of arrest was filed while his court "was in the process of preparing the records [of the case] to be forwarded" to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor and that he granted the motion on the basis of the reasons adduced therein and for humanitarian considerations. He also contends that being the investigating Judge he had the power to exercise his discretion in issuing warrants in cases during preliminary investigation as provided for under Section 6(b) Rule 112 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure. As to Criminal Case No. 2840, the respondent Judge alleges that the accused voluntarily surrendered to the court on 13 September 1995 as shown by the Commitment Order 10 he issued on that date, and that the accused was released on 20 September 1995 upon the filing of a property bond.
The respondent Judge attached to his 1st Indorsement what he describes as an "Affidavit of Explanation" executed by the complainant. That document is actually a Sinumpaang Salaysay at Pag-uurong Ng Sakdal, 11 which the complainant subscribed and swore to on 13 October 1995 before Notary Public Ismael Abrera. The complainant stated therein that the affidavit-complaint filed in this case was prepared by Atty. Roberto Reyes at the instance of his brother Benjamin. Both explained to him that the affidavit was to be filed in court in order that the accused would be put back to prison. He signed it without knowing its contents which were written in English. Although he was given a copy thereof, he did not bother himself about it until the arrival of his brother Jose from Iloilo, who asked him about the progress of the "usapin." At the time, he was reminded of the affidavit, which he forthwith gave to Jose for the latter to read. While reading it, Jose commended that the affidavit is a complaint against the respondent Judge. The complainant was taken aback because he had no intention of filing a case against the respondent Judge. Jose continued reading the affidavit and translated it to their dialect, and it was only then that the complainant understood its contents. Hence, he is now withdrawing the Affidavit-Complaint and declares it to be of no force and effect.
From the report of the Chief of the Legal Evaluation Division of the National Bureau of Investigation, which was submitted to the Office of the Court Administrator, it is established that the warrant for the arrest of the accused in Criminal Case No. 2840 was unserved because the accused had gone into hiding and his whereabouts remained unknown. And upon review of the complaint for murder, Reynaldo R. Guayco, Prosecutor II and Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Palawan, affirmed in his resolution of 3 July 1995 the findings of respondent Judge Manalo and forthwith filed against accused Jermaine Echague an information for murder, which was docketed as Criminal Case No. 12471 in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Palawan. No bail was recommended for the temporary liberty of the accused.
On 20 May 1996, we required the parties to inform the Court whether they will submit this case for resolution on the basis of the pleadings already filed.
In a joint Manifestation dated 7 June 1996, the parties prayed that this case be deemed submitted based on the pleadings already filed. The complainant further stated therein that when he executed the affidavit of desistance he was more than satisfied of the outcome of the criminal case now pending with the RTC of Palawan. On the other hand, the respondent Judge maintained that in releasing the accused he had nothing but the interest and welfare of a minor-offender.
The Office of the Court Administrator recommends a reprimand for the respondent Judge for his undue haste in lifting the order of arrest five days after he issued the order to forward the record of the case to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor and to commit the accused to the provincial warden. He should have afforded the family of the victim the opportunity to oppose the motion instead of simply issuing the order motu proprio.
Before we dwell into the merits of this case, a few words must be made on the attempt to "settle" this case. The complainant's affidavit of desistance is the proof. It seems that the complainant, who was assisted by Atty. Roberto Reyes in the filing of the complaint, has been prevailed upon to execute the affidavit of desistance and to impliedly declare therein that he could have been misled by Atty. Reyes as to its purpose since, as he contended therein, he had no intention of filing a complaint against the respondent Judge. This explanation is hard to believe. It is very flimsy. Atty. Reyes has in his favor the presumption of good faith. Absent any ulterior motive against the incumbent judge of his place before whom he would likely appear in many cases for sometime, we do not think that he would do otherwise than what the complainant wanted to express in the preparation of the affidavit-complaint. Besides, the facts stated in the complainant's affidavit-complaint are not disputed by the respondent Judge. Hence, the affidavit of desistance does not affect the truth or integrity of the affidavit-complaint.
Moreover, disciplinary actions against public officers and employees, including those in the Judiciary, do not involve purely private or personal matters. They are impressed with public interest by virtue of the public trust character of a public office which Section 1, Article XI of the Constitution mandates, to wit:
Administrative actions are not therefore made to depend upon the will of every complainant who may, for one reason or another, condone a detestable act. 13 We cannot be bound by the unilateral act of a complainant in a matter which may involve our disciplinary power. 14 Otherwise, that power may be put to naught, thereby undermining the trust character of a public office and impairing the integrity and dignity of this Court as a disciplining authority. We do not, as a matter of course, dismiss administrative cases against members of the Bench on account of withdrawal of charges. 15
We thus disregard the complainant's affidavit of desistance, especially because the uncontradicted facts of this case are more than sufficient to justify the penalty hereafter imposed upon the respondent Judge.
Let us now address the issue of the culpability of the respondent Judge.
The facts disclosed by the pleadings of the parties merit more than a reprimand for the respondent Judge. He has not committed a mere error of judgment. He has disregarded the laws and rules governing preliminary investigation of criminal cases cognizable by the Regional Trial Court in order to give undue benefit to the accused in Criminal Case No. 2834; hence, he is liable for misconduct, grave abuse of authority, or dereliction of duty.
The respondent Judge was fully aware that Criminal Case No. 2834 is for murder, a case falling within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court. His court has only a preliminary jurisdiction over it, and his action thereon is specifically governed by Sections 3, 5, and 6, Rule 1 12 of the Rules of Court.
The conduct of preliminary investigations by judges of municipal trial courts and municipal circuit trial courts is a non-judicial function which is an exception to their usual duties, and their findings are subject to review by the Provincial Prosecutor concerned. 16 The performance of this non-judicial or executive function 17 does not place the judges beyond the disciplinary power of this Court for any act or omission in relation to or as an incident to such function, which is only in addition to their judicial functions. Thus, this Court has imposed disciplinary sanctions on judges for their ignorance or deliberate disregard of the laws on preliminary investigation. 18
In the instant case, the respondent Judge had initially strictly adhered to Sections 3, 5, and 6 of Rule 112. He issued a warrant of arrest, which he could do only in accordance with Section 6(b) of Rule 112, i.e., after finding, following an examination in writing and under oath of the complainant and his witnesses in the form of searching questions and answers, probable cause that there is a necessity of placing the accused under immediate custody in order not to frustrate the ends of justice. He was so convinced of the existence of that cause so much so that, taking into account the nature of the offense charged, he did not recommend bail for the accused's temporary liberty. The accused was charged with murder allegedly committed on 19 May 1995, and the criminal complaint alleged three circumstances, which it characterized as qualifying, viz.:
Of course, only the first circumstance is a qualifying circumstance under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code. The last two are generic aggravating circumstances. 19 The penalty prescribed for murder is reclusion perpetua to death. 20 In view of the two generic aggravating circumstances alleged, the penalty imposable would be death pursuant to Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code. The respondent Judge then, aware of Section 13, Article III of the Constitution which provides that "[a]ll persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, bebailable by sufficient sureties or released on recognizance as may be provided by law," recommended no bail.
The respondent Judge also strictly complied with Sections 4 and 5 of Rule 112 when he ordered the accused to file his counter-affidavits and supporting documents. When the latter failed to do so, he resolved the case on the basis of the evidence presented by the complainant. And, finding a "prima facie case" against the accused, he ordered the forwarding of the record of the case to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor and directed the Chief of Police of Coron, Palawan, or his duly authorized representative to escort and deliver the person of the accused to the provincial warden.
Having thus determined the existence of a prima facie case for murder in Criminal Case No. 2834, the respondent Judge had no legal excuse or justification to release the accused on a mere plea by the latter that, quoting Section 6 of Rule 112, "there is no necessity of placing the respondent under the immediate custody in order not to frustrate the ends of justice." The respondent Judge was fully aware of the fact that this section no longer applies after the conclusion of his preliminary investigation, especially in this case where he found a "prima facie case" against the accused.
It must be further stressed that the accused did not actually ask for a reconsideration of the order of 8 June 1995 declaring him to have waived his right to the preliminary investigation, finding a prima facie case against him, and directing that the record of the case be forwarded to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor. The accused merely asked for the lifting of the warrant of arrest because the ends of justice would not be frustrated even if he is not in the custody of the law. By acting on the motion without due notice to the prosecution and in lifting the warrant of arrest and releasing the accused from custody at that stage of Criminal Case No. 2834, the respondent Judge deliberately threw overboard the aforementioned laws and rules on preliminary investigation to accommodate the accused, thereby making himself liable for misconduct or grave abuse of authority or dereliction of duty. The bad faith in his actuations is too apparent to escape notice. Any claim that he merely committed an error of judgment will not absolve him.
WHEREFORE, finding him guilty of misconduct or grave abuse of authority or dereliction of duty, respondent Judge JACINTO MANALO is hereby FINED in the sum of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00) and WARNED that the commission in the future of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.
Narvasa, C.J., Melo, Francisco and Panganiban, JJ., concur.
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