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EN BANC

A. M. No. MTJ-02-1431 - May 9, 2003

SPO2 JOSE B. YAP, Complainant, vs. JUDGE AQUILINO A. INOPIQUEZ, JR., Respondent.

SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, J.:

Before us is the administrative complaint filed by SPO2 Jose B. Yap of Matag-ob, Leyte Police Station against Judge Aquilino A. Inopiquez, Jr. of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Kananga-Matag-ob, same province, for grave abuse of authority and acts unbecoming a judge.

In his sworn affidavit-complaint dated July 12, 1999, complainant alleged that on March 6, 1999 (Saturday), pursuant to an alias arrest warrant, he arrested Antonio Laurente, Jr., the accused in Criminal Case No. 8458 for violation of B.P. Blg. 22, pending in the Metropolitan Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) at Ormoc City.

On the same day, March 6, respondent judge issued an Order of Release1 on the basis of a cash bond posted on March 8, 1999, as shown by the corresponding Official Receipt No. 9215725.2

Also on March 6, respondent judge issued another Order of Release,3 this time based on a property bond. This bond was subscribed and sworn to before him on March 10, 1999 (Wednesday) by bondsman Antonio Laurente, Sr. However, this date was changed to March 6.

Complainant claimed that respondent judge issued the two (2) Orders of Release on March 6, 1999 although there was yet no cash bond or property bond, for actually the cash bond was posted on March 8, while the property bond was filed on March 10. Clearly, respondent judge ordered the release of the accused prematurely. Complainant finally alleged that the accused is the relative of respondents wife.

On October 27, 1999, respondent judge filed his comment. He denied the charges, asserting that the relationship of his wife to the accused has no bearing to his judicial duties of approving the bail and issuing the Order of Release. On March 6, 1999, when accused Laurente, Jr. was arrested, his brother Silverio Laurente and one Salvador Almoroto went to respondents residence and presented O.R. No. 9215725 showing that on that date, a cash bond was posted with the office of respondents Clerk of Court Servando O. Veloso, Jr. The money in the amount of P18,000.00 belonged to Almoroto. Silverio Laurente also handed to respondent judge, for his signature, the Order of Release dated March 7, 1999 prepared by Clerk of Court Veloso. The latter placed the date March 7 instead of March 6 because he thought respondent judge would only be available on that date.

Also on the same day, March 6, minutes after Silverio Laurente and Almoroto left, Antonio Laurente, Sr., accuseds father, and Court Interpreter Pedro M. Beltran arrived. Laurente, Sr. presented to respondent judge a property bond and an Order of Release, also dated March 6, 1999, both prepared by Beltran. Respondent judge told them that he had already approved the cash bond and signed the corresponding Order of Release. However, Laurente, Sr. pleaded to him to approve the property bond in order that the money utilized as cash bond could be returned to Almoroto to avoid paying interest thereon. After examining the property bond, respondent judge approved the same and signed another Order of Release.

Respondent judge claimed that O.R. No. 9215725 was actually issued to Almoroto on March 6 after he had posted the cash bond that same day. Respondent judge insisted though that it was Clerk of Court Veloso who altered the date appearing thereon, from March 6 to March 8, 1999, since complainant angrily protested that Veloso should not issue an official receipt dated March 6, 1999 as it was a Saturday, a non-working day.

In our Resolution dated March 21, 2001, we referred the instant case to Executive Judge Fortunito L. Madrona, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Ormoc City, for investigation, report and recommendation.

In his Report and Recommendation dated September 3, 2001, Executive Judge Madrona found that "there is no substantial basis in the claim of complainant about the alleged anomaly in the issuance of two Orders of Release by the respondent judge." Thus, Executive Judge Madrona recommended the dismissal of the charges for lack of merit. Executive Judge Madrona further recommended that respondent judge be reprimanded for his failure to avoid the appearance of impropriety by exercising proper safeguards in the performance of his official duties, considering that accused Laurente, Jr. is his relative by affinity. On this point, Executive Judge Madrona was referring to respondent judges failure to observe Section 11, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, as amended, quoted as follows:

"Sec. 11. Property bond, how posted. A property bond is an undertaking constituted as lien on the real property given as security for the amount of the bail. Within ten (10) days after the approval of the bond, the accused shall cause the annotation of the lien on the certificate of title on file with the Registry of Deeds if the land is registered, or if unregistered, in the Registration Book on the space provided therefore, in the Registry of Deeds for the province or city where the land lies, and on the corresponding tax declaration in the office of the provincial, city and municipal assessor concerned.

"Within the same period, the accused shall submit to the court his compliance and his failure to do so shall be sufficient cause for the cancellation of the property bind and his re-arrest and detention."

It appears that respondent judge did not require the accused to cause the annotation of the lien (property bond) in the Registration Book of the Registry of Deeds and on the corresponding tax declaration in the office of the provincial, city or municipal assessor concerned.

Executive Judge Madronas recommendation to dismiss the charges is based on his findings quoted as follows:

"(12) On this particular factual issue of the real date of the official receipt for the cash bond, which the undersigned finds crucial in the overall appreciation of the herein complaint, it is the opinion of the undersigned that the version of testimony of Mr. Veloso is credible. That is, the date of issuance of the official receipt was actually March 6, 1999 but that he caused it to change to March 8, 1999 affixing thereon his counter initial for the reason, according to him, that when complainant went to see him on March 8, he was protesting to him about the date, and to avoid further argument he did the alteration. For this indiscretion on Velosos part, he should be made to answer administratively.

x x x

"(14) In short, the whole complaint boils down to an appreciation of the factual issues which have been substantially presented in the foregoing. As to whether there was really cash bond being posted on March 6, 1999 as could be attested to in the official receipt issued therefor and which could validate the first Order of Release issued by the respondent judge the undersigned finds in the affirmative. It is the words of Mr. Veloso, the Clerk of Court who issued the official receipt for the cash, bond as against the words of the complainant. In the absence of strong and convincing evidence to the contrary, the explanation of Mr. Veloso as regards his official acts had to be given credence as one coming from one whose official duty is presumed to have been regularly performed. (Sec. 3 (m), Rule 131, Rules of Court)

"(15) The factual issue surrounding the date of issuance of the official receipt for the cash bond having been resolved, there is no substantial basis in the claim of complainant about alleged anomaly in the issuance of the two Orders of Release by the respondent judge. Complainants basis is reduced only to mere suspicion."

On October 10, 2001, this Court referred Executive Judge Madronas Report and Recommendation to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA).

In her Report dated March 5, 2002, Deputy Court Administrator Zenaida N. Elepaño, adopted the findings of Executive Judge Madrona but recommended that:

1. The complaint against respondent judge be re-docketed as an administrative case and that he be ordered to pay a fine of Three Thousand Pesos (P3,000.00) for giving unwarranted favor to the accused who is a second cousin of his wife, by approving the two (2) bail bonds and issuing the two (2) release orders;

2. Clerk of Court Servando O. Veloso, Jr. be directed to explain within thirty days from notice why no disciplinary sanction should be imposed on him for: a) altering the date of the official receipt of the cash bond; and (b) failure to cancel the cash bond and the first Order of Release after the approval of the property bond;

3. Interpreter Pedro M. Beltran be ordered to: (a) explain within thirty days from notice why he should not be administratively sanctioned for preparing and processing bail bonds without the authority of his presiding judge; and (b) immediately cease and desist from preparing and processing bail bonds unless duly authorized.

In the same Report, Deputy Court Administrator Elepaño stated that respondent judge was previously adjudged guilty of abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law and fined in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00) and suspended without pay for three months.4

On May 28, 2002, we issued a Resolution approving respondent judges application for optional retirement in A.M. No. 10822-RET but directing that his retirement benefits be withheld pending the resolution of the instant case.

On April 24, 2002, we resolved to (a) re-docket the case as a regular administrative matter; (b) direct Clerk of Court Veloso and Interpreter Beltran to submit their explanations as recommended by the OCA; and (c) require the parties to manifest, within twenty (20) days from notice, whether they are submitting the case for decision on the basis of the pleadings.

On July 22, 2002, respondent judge filed his Manifestation that he is willing to have the case so decided. To date, or after almost one year, complainant has not yet submitted the required manifestation. Therefore, he is deemed to have agreed that the case be decided on the basis of the pleadings.

Clerk of Court Veloso and Interpreter Beltran submitted the required explanations.

Clerk of Court Veloso explains that he altered the date of O.R. No. 9215725 from March 6 to March 8, 1999 after complainant went to his office and inquired why it was dated March 6 (Saturday), a non-working day. Veloso stated that there was nothing wrong in rendering service on a Saturday. However, complainant refused to listen and continued to berate him. To avoid further arguments, he superimposed "8" over "6". He altered the date, believing there was nothing irregular in doing so because the cash bond had already been released to the bondsman and substituted with a property bond.

Beltran states that he has been assisting litigants in the preparation of bail bonds with the knowledge of respondent judge and Clerk of Court Veloso. He does not charge fees for this service because he believes that as a court employee, it is his duty to assist anyone who seeks his help. Upon receipt of our April 24, 2002 Resolution, he immediately ceased assisting any litigant in the preparation of bail bonds. He now earnestly seeks the compassion and understanding of this Court.

On January 10, 2003, Deputy Court Administrator Elepaño, submitted a Report reiterating her recommendation that respondent judge be fined in the amount of Three Thousand Pesos (P3,000.00) and recommending further that Clerk of Court Veloso and Interpreter Beltran be fined in the amount of One Thousand Pesos (P1,000.00), each, with a warning that a repetition of the same acts shall be dealt with more severely.

The sole issue for our resolution is whether respondent judge ordered the release of accused Antonio Laurente, Jr. although the cash or property bond for his temporary liberty had not yet been posted and approved.

Section 14, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, as amended, provides that if the accused is arrested in a province, city or municipality other than where the case is pending, bail may be filed with any RTC of said place, or, if no judge thereof is available, with any metropolitan trial judge, municipal trial judge or municipal circuit trial judge therein.

Criminal Case No. 9458 against Antonio Laurente, Jr. was filed with the MTCC of Ormoc City but he was arrested in Matag-ob, Leyte. Since there was no RTC in Matag-ob, respondent judge, as Presiding Judge of MCTC, Kananga-Matag-ob, was then authorized under Rule 114 to approve the bail of Antonio Laurente, Jr. and order his release.

Complainant contends that the cash bond of P18,000.00 was posted by Almoroto not on March 6, 1999, when the accused was released, but on March 8, 1999 as shown by the corresponding O.R. No. 9215725.5

To justify the issuance of the Order of Release on March 6, respondent judge would want us to believe that O.R. No. 9215725 was issued on March 6, not March 8, 1999, the date appearing thereon. In fact, he insisted that it was Clerk of Court Veloso who altered the date of the O.R. from March 6 to March 8. It can be readily discerned that respondent judge, in order to cover up his misdeed, even laid the blame on his Clerk of Court who, out of apparent loyalty to him, admitted having changed the date in order to make it appear that the cash bond was posted on March 6. Clerk of Court Velosos pretext that he gave in to complainants demand "to avoid further arguments" is too flimsy and unworthy of belief.

Relative to the property bond, respondent judge maintains that it was filed also on the same day, March 6, minutes after Almoroto posted the cash bond. Consequently, he issued the corresponding Order of Release also on March 6.

We observe that the property bond was subscribed and sworn to by bondsman Antonio Laurente, Sr. before respondent judge on March 10, 1999 (Wednesday). However, very clear to the naked eye is that "6" was superimposed on "10th" (day of March) to make it appear that the bail was accomplished and filed on March 6. The jurat positively shows that the property bond, in lieu of the cash bond, was filed, not on March 6, but on March 10, 1999, or four (4) days after respondent judge issued his second Order of Release on March 6, 1999.

It is a basic rule of evidence that between documentary and oral evidence, the former carries more weight.6 The cash bond was posted on March 8 (Monday), not on March 6, 1999, as shown by O.R. No. 9215725. The property bond, in substitution of the cash bond, was filed, not on March 6, but on March 10 (Wednesday), as shown by the jurat. Both Orders of Release were issued on March 6 (Saturday). Therefore, there is no doubt that respondent judge ordered the release of the accused despite the fact that there was yet no bail filed and approved for his provisional liberty.

That respondent judge issued the release orders prematurely is not difficult to understand. He admitted that accused Antonio Laurente, Jr. is his wifes relative. And in his desire to help the accused and please his wife, he would even involve his Clerk of Court and Interpreter. Considering the facts of this case, it is safe to conclude that they were constrained to comply with his instructions. Hence, they should have been spared from any administrative sanction.

Section 3, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, as amended, provides that an accused may only be released on bail after the corresponding cash or property bond has been properly posted. Respondent judge violated this Rule when he issued the two Orders of Release on March 6, 1999 in favor of accused Antonio Laurente, Jr. despite the fact that the corresponding cash or property bond was posted only thereafter, or on March 8 and March 10, 1999, respectively.

Moreover, records show that upon approval of the property bond filed after the release of the accused, respondent judge failed to order the cancellation of the cash bond. Neither did he require the accused, within ten (10) days from the approval of the bond, to cause the annotation of the bail as lien in the Registration Book of the Registry of Deeds and on the corresponding tax declaration in the office of the provincial, city or municipal assessor concerned, pursuant to Section 11, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, as amended, quoted earlier.

We have held that the exacting standards of conduct demanded from judges are designed to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.7 When the judge himself becomes a transgressor of any law which he is sworn to apply, he places his office in disrepute, encourages disrespect for the law and impairs public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary itself.8 This Court cannot countenance such act as it erodes the publics trust in the judiciary.

In the instant case, respondent not only failed to perform his judicial duties in accordance with the rules, he acted in bad faith. Despite the fact that he ordered the release of a person lawfully arrested even before he had posted bail, he tried to hide his culpability by altering the dates of the cash bond and property bond. His actuations constitute gross misconduct which merits sanctions even if he already retired9 on January 1, 2002.10

In Canson vs. Garchitorena,11 this Court explained the concept of gross misconduct, thus:

"Misconduct is defined as any unlawful conduct on the part of a person concerned in the administration of justice prejudicial to the rights of parties or to the right determination of the cause (Blacks Law Dictionary, Fourth Ed., p. 1150). It generally means wrongful, improper, unlawful conduct motivated by a premeditated, obstinate or intentional purpose (Words and Phrases, Vol. 27, p. 466, citing Sewell vs. Sharp, La App. 102 So 2d 259, 261). The term, however, does not necessarily imply corruption or criminal intent (Ibid., citing State Ex Rel Asbaugh v. Bahr, 40 N.E. 2d 677, 680, 68 Ohio App. 308). On the other hand, the term gross connotes something "out of all measure; beyond allowance; not to be excused; flagrant; shameful" (Blacks Law Dictionary, Fourth Ed., p. 832).

"For administrative liability to attach it must be established that the respondent was moved by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred or some other like motive (Atty. Antonio T. Guerrero v. Hon. Adriano Villamor, AM No. RTJ-90-483; George Carlos v. Hon. Adriano Villamor, AM No. RTJ-90-617, 25 September 1998). As defined

Bad faith does not simply connote bad judgment or negligence; it imputes a dishonest purpose or some moral obliquity and conscious doing of a wrong; a breach of a sworn duty through some motive or intent or ill-will; it partakes of the nature of fraud (Spiegel v. Beacon Participation, 8 NE 2nd Series, 895, 1007). It contemplates a state of mind affirmatively operating with furtive design or some motive of self-interest or ill will for ulterior purposes (Air France v. Carrascoso, 18 SCRA 155, 166-167). Evident bad faith connotes a manifest deliberate intent on the part of the accused to do wrong or cause damage (Llorente, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan, 287 SCRA 382 [1998], citing Marcelo v. Sandiganbayan, 185 SCRA 346 [1990])."

Gross misconduct under Section 8(3), Rule 140 of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, is classified as a serious charge punishable by any of the sanctions provided under Section 11 of the same Rule, thus:

"Sec. 11. Sanctions. A. If the respondent is guilty of a serious charge, any of the following sanctions may be imposed:

"1. Dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all or part of the benefits as the Court may determine, and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-owned or controlled corporations; Provided, however, that the forfeiture of benefits shall in no case include accrued leave benefits;

"2. Suspension from office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3) but not exceeding six (6) months; or

"3. A fine of more than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00."

WHEREFORE, Judge AQUILINO A. INOPIQUEZ, JR. is declared GUILTY of GROSS MISCONDUCT and is FINED in the amount of THIRTY THOUSAND PESOS (P30,000.00) to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., and Azcuna, JJ., concur.



Endnotes:

1 Rollo at 95.

2 Annex "D" of the petition, id. at 6.

3 Annex "E" of Sworn Affidavit-Complaint dated July 12, 1999 of SPO2 Jose B. Yap, id. at 6-A.

4 Siawan vs. Judge Inopiquez, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1056, May 21, 2001, 358 SCRA 10.

5 Annex "D" of the petition, supra.

6 Romago Electric Co., Inc. vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 125947, June 8, 2000, 333 SCRA 291, 302 citing Ereñeta vs. Bezore, 54 SCRA 13 (1973) and Soriano vs. Compañia General de Tabacos de Filipinas, 18 SCRA 999 (1966); Government Service Insurance System vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 52080, May 28, 1993, 222 SCRA 685, 696 citing Marvel Building Corporation vs. David, 94 Phil. 376 (1954).

7 Vedaña vs. Judge Valencia, 356 Phil. 317, 329 (1998).

8 Id. at 331.

9 Liwanag vs. Judge Lustre, 365 Phil. 496, 510 (1999).

10 S.C. Resolution dated May 28, 2002, A.M. No. 10822-RET.

11 SB-99-9-J, July 28, 1999, 311 SCRA 268 cited in Tan Tiac Chiong vs. Hon. Rodrigo V. Cosico, A.M. No. CA-02-33, July 31, 2002, Jerusalino V. Araos vs. Judge Rosalina L. Luna-Pison, A.M. No. RTJ-02-1677, February 28, 2002 and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation vs. Rilloraza, G.R. No. 141141, June 25, 2001, 359 SCRA 525.




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