A. M. No. MTJ-97-1120 - February 21, 2000
NATIONAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, Complainant, v. JUDGE RAMON B. REYES, Respondent.
Before us is an administrative complaint for malfeasance brought by the National Bureau of Investigation against respondent Ramon B. Reyes, Presiding Judge of Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC), Mabini-Tingloy, Batangas.
The facts are:
On the evening of November 12, 1996; barangay officials of Barangay Majuben, Mabini, Batangas, arrested Reynaldo Magday, Melvin Dalangin, Rex Cordero and Primo Evangelista, who were caught using methamphetamine chloride, popularly known as shabu, during a drug session. The four (4) were detained at the local police station and were charged of violating Section 16, in relation to Section 27, of Article III of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6425, otherwise known as the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. The corresponding information, docketed as Criminal Case No. 1817, was filed before the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Mabini-Tingloy, Batangas, presided over by respondent Judge Ramon B. Reyes.
On November 20, 1996, Nenita Dalangin, Marina Cordero and Nelia Evangelista, the mothers of the last three (3) accused, approached respondent to plead for the release of their sons. For the sum of P240,000.00, respondent allegedly promised to dismiss the case against all the accused. Since the mothers did not have sufficient means, the amount was eventually lowered to P15,000.00, and the pay-off was scheduled on November 28, 1996. However, respondent failed to report for work on the aforesaid date, so the exchange was reset a week later to December 5, 1996.
Three (3) days before the pay-off, on December 2, 1996, Dalangin, Cordero and Evangelista reported the alleged extortion to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) at its Regional Office in Batangas City. After the mothers executed separate sworn statements,1 the NBI planned an entrapment. To accomplish this, it prepared the amount of P3,000.00 consisting of two five-hundred peso bills and twenty one-hundred peso bills. These bills were individually marked "P-96-187, ATP/NMC, 12/3/96, FCD, NBI" using invisible ink and dusted with yellow fluorescent powder.2 The NBI also enlisted the services of Intelligence Agent Josephine Cabardo to accompany the mothers to respondent's office, and who posed as the lender of the money.
On the appointed date, Dalangin, Cordero and Evangelista, together with Cabardo appeared at respondent's chambers. He gave Evangelista a piece of yellow pad paper on which to write a motion for reconsideration to be filed with the Regional Trial Court.3 Dalangin, on the other hand, on instruction of respondent, entered the adjoining latrine and placed the envelope containing the marked money on top of a rag mop placed above the latrine.4 On re-entering the room, respondent told the women to leave the room on the pretext that he was feeling a little warm. The women exited, and a few moments later, after a pre-arranged signal was given, the NBI operatives respondent's chambers.
A slight complication developed, however. The agents were unable to locate the envelope. Ultraviolet testing on respondent's hands conducted by a forensic chemist yielded a negative result, although the rag mop handle showed traces of the yellow fluorescent powder. Since the agents were not armed with a search warrant, they instead asked respondent to accompany them to the regional office. During the questioning, respondent confessed that he had taken the envelope containing the marked money using a handkerchief and placed it inside his desk. Respondent returned to his office with the agents and opened the uppermost left-hand drawer of his table where the envelope was found. When tested with ultraviolet light, the money inside the envelope was found to be that previously marked and dusted by the NBI.
On December 9, 1996 an Information5 was filed before the Sandiganbayan charging respondent for violating Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
On January 20, 1997, the NBI referred the matter to us for appropriate action, via a letter6 coursed through the Office of the Court Administrator. Prior thereto, on January 9, 1997, respondent filed a letter7 resigning from his position, citing health reasons. He filed another letter dated January 15, 19978 requesting that he be allowed to work at the Judiciary Planning Development and Implementation Office (JPDIO) pending action on his resignation and until his health improves. In due time, the Office of the Court Administrator sent a letter dated February 7, 19979 to respondent directing him to submit his comment on the report filed by complainant. Respondent complied, filing a letter dated February 17, 199710 whereby he alleged that he was not accorded his rights during custodial investigation under Section 2(b) of R.A. No. 7438.11
Thereafter, we issued a Resolution dated April 28, 199712 referring the administrative complaint to Executive Judge Mario Lopez of the Regional Trial Court of Batangas City for investigation, report and recommendation, and further directing him to designate an Acting Presiding Judge in the MCTC of Mabini-Tingloy. In the meantime, we suspended respondent from his office and withheld action on his resignation and request to be detailed at the JPDIO. He subsequently withdrew his resignation,13 which was duly noted per our Resolution of July 7, 1997. However, after Judge Lopez inhibited himself from the proceedings, citing close personal ties to respondent,14 we referred the matter to former Associate Justice Pedro A. Ramirez of the Court of Appeals for investigation and report.15
After reception of the parties respective evidence, the Investigating Justice rendered his Report dated August 12, 1998. The Investigating Justice disbelieved respondent's defense and ruled accordingly:
Consistent with his findings, he recommended that respondent be dismissed from service with forfeiture of benefits and disqualification from re-employment in the government including government-owned or controlled corporations. He also recommended respondent's disbarment.
In view of the aforesaid recommendation, we issued a Resolution on April 20, 1999 requiring respondent to show cause why he should not be disbarred. He failed to comply within the period allowed him. Thus, in our Resolution of September 14, 1999, we imposed upon him a fine of P2,000.00 payable within five (5) days from notice, or imprisonment for five (5) days should he fail to pay the fine on time.
On October 1, 1999, respondent filed his "Compliance/Motion for Reconsideration," wherein he reiterated the alleged infringement of his rights during custodial investigation, as guaranteed by the Constitution and R.A. No. 7438. In addition, he averred that the private complainants were guilty of instigation. The compliance/motion was duly noted but the motion for reconsideration was denied.17
Respondent's account of the entrapment differs. In his counter-affidavit filed before the Office of the Special Prosecutor, and which the parties agreed would constitute respondent's direct examination,18 he claimed:
We have reviewed the record and thereby conclude that the charge of bribery against respondent is well-substantiated. Respondent's disavowal of the events that transpired in his chambers cannot be given credence. His assertion that his initial meeting with the private complainants was an accommodation borne out of a casual acquaintance with Nelia Evangelista fails to persuade us. The fact alone that he conferred privately with them in his chambers merits reproof. Judges have been admonished to refrain from conducting in-chambers sessions in the absence of the opposing party and his counsel.20 We note that these "private" sessions occurred twice, on November 20 and 27, 1996.
The testimony of Intelligence Agent Josephine Cabardo, in particular, shreds whatever credibility respondent's proffered defense has. Cabardo, a disinterested observer in addition to being a law enforcement officer, corroborated the testimonies of the private complainants. She was a direct witness to the entrapment operation, and equally important, respondent failed to present any reason why her testimony should be disbelieved.
Nonetheless, respondent raises by way of defense the alleged deprivation of his right to counsel during the investigation in the NBI Regional Office. Suffice it to state, however, that the alleged infringement of the constitutional rights of the accused while under custodial investigation is relevant and material only where an extrajudicial confession or admission from the accused becomes the basis of his conviction.21 In the case at bench, there is sufficient evidence on record, consisting principally of the testimonies of the witnesses presented by complainant, to warrant the imposition of the proper penalty on respondent.
The Code of Judicial Conduct provides:
It is thus evident from the aforesaid provisions that both the reality and the appearance must concur. As we explained in Capuno v. Jaramillo, Jr.:22
Bribery is classified as a serious charge punishable by, inter alia, dismissal from service with forfeiture of benefits and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office including government-owned or controlled corporations.23 In the case at bench, we find sufficient bases in the charge of malfeasance in office against respondent. On past occasions where we had the disagreeable task of disciplining mulcting magistrates,24 we did not hesitate to impose the penalty of dismissal. Conformably, as he has demonstrated his unsuitability to remain a member of the bench, respondent is deservingly dismissed from service with all its attendant consequences. For as we held in Haw Tay v. Singayao:25
The Investigating Justice likewise recommends that respondent be disbarred. Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court provides that a member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney on the following grounds: (1) deceit; (2) malpractice or other gross misconduct in office; (3) grossly immoral conduct; (4) conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude; (5) violation of the lawyer's oath; (6) wilful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court; and (7) wilfully appearing as an attorney for a party without authority. In The Court Administrator v. Hermoso26 and Bautista v. Guevarra,27 we decreed the disbarment of judges, apart from their dismissal from service, who were charged with bribery. The case at bar should be no different. All lawyers who desire to practice their profession in this jurisdiction are required to take an oath of office whereby they undertake, among other obligations, to "do no falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in court . . . without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.28 The practice of law is a privilege, and only those adjudged qualified are permitted to do so. Respondent's conduct falls short of the exacting standards demanded by the legal profession, such that his malfeasance in office merits the ultimate penalty, that of expulsion from our esteemed brotherhood.
WHEREFORE, respondent Ramon B. Reyes is hereby DISMISSED from the service, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and leave credits and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Further, he is hereby DISBARRED from the practice of law for conduct unbecoming of a member of the bar.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Purisima, Pardo, Gonzaga-Reyes, Ynares-Santiago and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.
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