A.M. No. MTJ-93-795 May 14, 1998
ELMA T. FERRER, Complainant, vs. JUDGE GENOVEVA C. MARAMBA, MILAGROS SONGCUAN, Branch Clerk of Court, JUANITA ABROGAR, Process Server, Respondents.
This is an administrative complaint against Judge Genoveva C. Maramba, Branch Clerk of Court Milagros Songcuan, and Process Server Juanita Abrogar, all of the Municipal Trial Court of Mangaldan, Pangasinan. The complaint charges respondents with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and conduct unbecoming officers of the court.
It appears that complainant Elma T. Ferrer filed a complaint for grave oral defamation against PO3 Domingo Eden of the PNP of Mangaldan, Pangasinan for having allegedly uttered the following words against her in public:
The case was assigned to the court of respondent judge.
In her letter-complaint dated October 29, 1992, 2 complainant Ferrer alleged that, on August 27, 1992, respondent Judge Maramba forced her to sign an affidavit of desistance, as basis for the dismissal of the criminal complaint against PO3 Eden, and instructed respondent Branch Clerk of Court to deduct the amount of P5,000.00, as cost of the suit and donation to the court, from the amount to be paid by PO3 Eden to the complainant for the settlement of the case; that on September 17, 1992, respondent judge dragged her from the Regional Office of the Department of Agriculture to the judge's chambers in an effort to make her meet PO3 Eden and finally settle their differences. Complainant claimed that as a result of the force used by the judge, complainant's right sleeve was torn and her gold necklace was damaged.
In another affidavit-complaint dated February 24, 1993, 3 complainant averred that respondent Process Server Abrogar threatened to report her to the municipal mayor with a view to have her dismissed from the service if she did not settle her case with PO3 Eden. She claimed that respondent process server tried to pressure her family by misrepresenting to them that a warrant for her arrest had been issued when in fact it was only a subpoena that Judge Lilia Español had issued because of a case for slight physical injuries filed by the respondent Branch Clerk of Court against her.
In her comment on the complaint, 4 respondent judge denied the charges against her. She claimed that on August 27, 1992, complainant came to her court to file an affidavit of desistance but as it did not have the conformity of the public prosecutor, she advised complainant to come back on August 31, 1992 when the prosecutor was scheduled to appear in her court; that complainant came back on August 31, 1992, and Assistant Public Prosecutor Restituto Dumlao gave his conformity to her affidavit; and that on the basis of the affidavit, she (respondent judge) dismissed the case for grave oral defamation against PO3 Eden.
With respect to the incident of September 17, 1992, respondent judge alleged that when she arrived at her office in the afternoon of that day, complainant was already there. She, therefore, denied that she dragged the complainant from the latter's office to her sala. She admitted slapping the complainant, but she claimed she acted in self-defense in order to prevent complainant from physically harming her and her staff. Anent the charge of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, respondent judge denied having instructed respondent Branch Clerk of Court Songcuan to deduct P5,000.00 from the amount which PO3 Eden paid to the complainant in settlement of the criminal case. Respondent judge claimed that this administrative case against her was filed to dissuade her from pursuing the criminal complaint for direct assault upon a person in authority which she had filed against the complainant arising from the same incident of September 17, 1992.
Respondent Branch Clerk of Court Songcuan filed a separate comment on the complaint. She denied complainant's allegation that upon the instruction of the respondent judge she deducted P5,000.00 from the amount of P20,000.00 deposited with her by PO3 Eden. She claimed that she filed charges of physical injuries against complainant as a result of an incident on September 17, 1992, during which she was hit by a mirror which complainant had hurled at PO3 Eden.
For her part, respondent Process Server Abrogar, in her comment dated July 9, 1992, 5 denied complainant's allegation that she invited complainant and PO3 Eden to discuss the settlement of the criminal case for grave oral defamation and that she threatened to report the complainant to the municipal mayor of Mangaldan, Pangasinan if she refused to settle the criminal case. Abrogar denied that she harassed the relatives of the complainant and that she tried to scare them by telling them that Judge Lilia Español had ordered the arrest of complainant in connection with the slight physical injuries case filed by respondent Branch Clerk of Court Songcuan.
The Court referred the case to Judge Antonio M. Belen of Branch 38 of the Regional Trial Court of Pangasinan for investigation, report, and recommendation. In his report submitted on May 19, 1994, Judge Belen finds respondent judge guilty of acts unbecoming a judge and recommends that she be fined P5,000.00 and admonished. The Investigating Judge recommends that respondent judge, along with respondent Branch Clerk of Court Milagros Songcuan, be exonerated of the charge of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and that respondent Process Server Juanita Abrogar be exonerated of the charge that she committed acts unbecoming an officer of the court.
As found by Judge Belen, the facts are as follows:
On August 27, 1992, complainant presented an affidavit of desistance to the respondent judge. However, she was told by respondent judge to come back on August 31, 1992, when the public prosecutor was scheduled to appear before her, so that the prosecutor could give his conformity to the affidavit. 6 The affidavit was intended for use as basis for the dismissal of the complaint which complainant had filed against PO3 Domingo Eden. In consideration of the dismissal of the case, PO3 Eden paid P20,000.00 which he deposited with respondent Branch Clerk of Court Songcuan.
On August 31, 1992, complainant came back as instructed. She signed again the affidavit of desistance in the presence of Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Restituto Dumlao, who interposed no objection to the dismissal of the case. Accordingly, respondent judge issued an order dismissing the complaint for grave oral defamation against PO3 Domingo Eden. 7
On September 17, 1992, complainant confronted PO3 Eden about the rumor that upon the advice of the respondent judge, PO3 Eden had decided not to pay her additional money as settlement of the cases she had filed against him. Later that day, complainant was told by respondent Abrogar that respondent judge wanted to talk to her in the judge's chambers. But complainant refused to see respondent judge considering that she had already spoken with PO3 Eden, so the respondent judge went to complainant's office in the same building, grabbed the right sleeve of complainant's uniform, and forced the complainant to go with her to her (respondent judge's) chambers. As a result, the right sleeve of complainant's uniform was torn and her gold necklace was damaged. The spectacle drew the attention of several persons. Two (2) of those who witnessed the incident gave their testimonies at the investigation. They were Federico de Guzman 8 and Pastor Cayabyab. 9
Apparently frustrated at the failure of the parties to settle their case, respondent judge shouted at the complainant, PO3 Eden, and respondent Branch Clerk of Court Songcuan: "Dahil sa kaputahan ninyong tatlo, dinadamay ninyo ang opisina." ("Because of the perfidy of the three of you, you have caused embarrassment to the court.") Then, she slapped the complainant on the left cheek and struck her right ear with a logbook. Respondent judge ordered complainant to slap PO3 Eden and, as she refused to do so, respondent judge threatened to undress her in the presence of the court employees. Complainant therefore hurled a mirror at PO3 Eden but the latter was able to avoid the flying object which instead hit respondent Branch Clerk of Court Songcuan, 10 causing abrasions and contusions on her arm. 11
Respondent judge filed a criminal complaint for direct assault upon a person in authority against the complainant, while respondent Branch Clerk of Court Songcuan charged her with slight physical injuries. 12 Complainant, on the other hand, filed this administrative case against the respondent judge and respondent Branch Clerk of Court.
In December 1992, when complainant was in Quezon City, respondent Process Server Abrogar, accompanied by two policemen, went to complainant's residence in Barangay Linoc in Binmaley, to serve a subpoena issued by Judge Lilia Español. The subpoena was issued in connection with the complaint for slight physical injuries filed by respondent Songcuan. 13 Complainant immediately returned home to Pangasinan after she was informed by her relatives that respondent Process Server Abrogar was allegedly harassing them. She subsequently filed this administrative case for conduct unbecoming an employee of the court against respondent Abrogar. 14
Judge Belen found no basis for the allegation that respondent judge forced complainant to sign the affidavit of desistance. In his report, Judge Belen
However, the Investigating Judge found the charge that respondent judge had used physical force against complainant and laid hands on her to be true. In his report, Judge Belen states: 16
With respect to the charges of corrupt acts and acts unbecoming employees of the court filed against respondents Songcuan and Abrogar, the Investigating Judge found no evidence to sustain the charges and accordingly, recommends that respondents be exonerated of the charges. He states in his report: 17
The above findings of the Investigating Judge are in accordance with the evidence. Indeed, the evidence does not show that, upon instructions of respondent judge, the amount of P5,000.00 was deducted by Songcuan from the amount of P20,000.00 which PO3 Eden paid to settle the criminal cases against him. For one, the acknowledgment receipt (Exhibit K) clearly states that the complainant received the sum of P20,000.00 from PO3 Eden. Only her testimony and the handwritten notation (Exhibit K-2) on the said acknowledgment receipt indicate otherwise. Complainant should not have signed the acknowledgment receipt if she received P15,000.00 only.
Moreover, the handwritten notation (Exhibit K-2) that complainant received the amount of P15,000.00 only appears solely in the complaint's copy of the acknowledgment receipt. No similar notation appears in the copies of the acknowledgment receipt in the possession of the respondents. The notation may have been added by the complainant to provide a basis for holding respondents liable for graft and corrupt practices. Indeed, the handwritten notation is self-serving. It is more likely that complainant received P20,000.00 but complainant wanted more so she pestered PO3 Eden for additional sum. PO3 Eden may have informed the respondent judge about the demand of the complainant and this angered the respondent judge who thought that she had already settled the case for grave oral defamation involving the parties. Furthermore, as the investigating judge observed, it is unbelievable that respondents would be so reckless to make the alleged deduction in the presence of many witnesses.
We think, however, that respondent judge took undue interest in the settlement of the criminal case for grave oral defamation and in so doing, severely compromised the integrity and impartiality of her office. It may be that the initiative for the settlement of the case came from the complainant, but once taken, it would appear that respondent judge went out of her way to see to it that the initiative bore fruit. At one point, when efforts at settlement were in danger of collapsing, respondent judge went to the extent of literally dragging complainant to her chambers to make her meet PO3 Eden who was waiting there for them. Respondent judge failed to observe prudence so necessary if judges are to be perceived to be impartial. Indeed, as exemplars of law and justice, judges must avoid not only impropriety but even the appearance of impropriety in all their actions. 18
Worse, she showed a predisposition to use physical violence and intemperate language in public which reveals a marked lack of judicial temperament and self-restraint, traits which, besides the basic equipment of learning in the law, are indispensable qualities of every judge.
Respondent judge claims that she acted in self-defense because complainant allegedly threw a mirror at her which she was able to evade and was about to pick up something else to throw at her. But slapping someone on the face is hardly a defensive action. Had respondent judge acted in self-defense, she should have wrestled with the complainant. For her to slap her alleged antagonist on the face suggests rather that it was more to show contempt for the person she slapped and possibly to embarrass her than to protect herself from any act of aggression that complainant was about to commit.
Indeed, it was unlikely that complainant would commit aggression, surrounded as she was by court employees. It is more likely that respondent judge acted out of frustration at the failure of the parties to settle their case that she slapped complainant and then struck her in the ear after scolding her, PO3 Eden and Branch Clerk of Court Songcuan. Then in a show of petulance, she ordered complainant to hit PO3 Eden and, as she initially refused to do so, threatened to undress her in public.
For having acted in an oppressive, improper, and violent manner, respondent judge should be suspended for six (6) months and one (1) day in accordance with Rule XIV, 23(n) of the Civil Service Rules.
WHEREFORE, Judge Genoveva C. Maramba is hereby SUSPENDED for six (6) months and one (1) day without pay, with WARNING that repetition of the same misconduct will be dealt with more severely. The charges against respondents Branch Clerk of Court Milagros Songcuan and Process Server Juanita Abrogar are hereby DISMISSED for insufficiency of evidence.
Regalado, Melo, Puno and Martinez, JJ., concur.
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