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SECOND DIVISION

A. M. No. MTJ-04-1543 - May 31, 2004

ATTY. AUDIE C. ARNADO, Complainant, vs. JUDGE MARINO S. BUBAN, MTCC, Branch 1, Tacloban City, Respondent.


D E C I S I O N


TINGA, J.:

Ignorantia judicis est calamitas innocentis.1

As judges are front-liners in the dispensation of justice, it is imperative they keep abreast with the changes and developments in law and jurisprudence. As judges are apostles of the law, their ignorance of the law is impermissible and inexcusable.

On June 5, 2002, the Office of the Court Administrator received the verified Complaint of Attorney Audie Arnado, accusing respondent Judge Marino S. Buban of gross ignorance of the law amounting to judicial incompetence, as well as manifest partiality and bias, prejudgment and grossly oppressive and abusive conduct in handling Criminal Cases Nos. 2000-02-13 and 2000-02-12, entitled "People of the Philippines versus Atty. Audie Arnado."

The antecedents are as follows:

On February 3, 2000 and May 16, 2000, informations for two (2) counts of estafa involving the amounts of Eight Hundred Eighteen Thousand Five Hundred Ten and 20/00 (P818,510.20) Pesos and Fifty- Nine Thousand Nine Hundred Sixty-Eight (P59,968.00) Pesos, respectively, were filed against the complainant with the Municipal Trial Court, Branch I, of Tacloban City, presided by respondent judge.

On May 26, 2000, complainant, thru his original counsel, filed a motion to suspend proceedings in the criminal cases on the ground that a civil case pending before the Regional Trial Court in Region 7, seeking as it does the declaration of nullity of a contract, constitutes a prejudicial question. On August 4, 2000, respondent judge issued an order denying the motion. In the same order, he directed the bonding company, in view of the complainant's failure to appear in court for three (3) times, to show cause why the bail bond should not be cancelled and a warrant for his arrest should not be issued. He also scheduled the arraignment of the complainant in the same order.

On March 11, 2002, complainant, thru his new counsel, filed a motion seeking to quash the informations and recall the warrant of arrest on the ground of lack of jurisdiction. He averred that while the MTC has original jurisdiction over offenses punishable with imprisonment not exceeding six (6) years, in the criminal cases before the respondent judge the imposable penalties both exceed six (6) years in view of the amounts involved.

On March 18, 2002, complainant reiterated his move by filing a motion to recall the warrant of arrest. On April 5, 2002, respondent judge denied the motion to quash and recall arrest warrant on the ground that the complainant had lost standing for having jumped bail.

After receiving the order of the respondent judge canceling his bond and ordering the issuance of a warrant for his arrest, complainant filed the present Complaint.

On June 26, 2002, the Office of the Court Administrator, required respondent to comment on the Complaint.

In his Comment, dated September 5, 2002, respondent seeks to absolve himself based on the following averments, viz.: (a) as the informations were filed by the City Prosecutor's Office of Tacloban City and they were raffled and assigned only to his sala, he has no (personal) interest "in insisting or assuming jurisdiction" over the cases; (b) the issue of jurisdiction was never raised by complainant until he filed the motion dated March 11, 2002; (c) the grounds invoked by the complainant are matters of defense and are not therefore proper grounds for a motion to quash; and, (d) complainant submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the court by posting bail. Respondent judge further alleges that the motions which complainant filed are sham as he had no standing in court.

On November 28, 2002, complainant filed his rejoinder.

Finding that respondent judge erred in assuming jurisdiction over the criminal cases and in thereafter issuing a warrant for the arrest of the complainant lawyer, Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. recommended that he be fined Five Thousand (P5,000.00) Pesos for gross ignorance of the law in his report to the Court.2

We agree with the evaluation of the Court Administrator.

The power and authority of a court to hear, try and decide a case is defined as jurisdiction.3 Elementary is the distinction between jurisdiction over the subject-matter and jurisdiction over the person. Clearly, respondent judge is not cognizant of the difference as he blatantly confused one with the other.

Jurisdiction over the subject-matter is conferred by the Constitution or by law.4 It is so essential that erroneous assumption of such jurisdiction carries with it the nullity of the entire proceedings in the case. At the first instance or even on appeal, and although the parties do not raise the issue of jurisdiction, courts are not precluded from ruling that they have no jurisdiction over the subject-matter if such indeed is the situation.5

In contrast, jurisdiction over the person is acquired by the court by virtue of the party's or accused's voluntary submission to the authority of the court or through the exercise of its coercive processes.6 To prevent the loss or waiver of this defense, the accused must raise the lack of jurisdiction seasonably by motion for the purpose of objecting to the jurisdiction of the court; otherwise, he shall be deemed to have submitted himself or his person to that jurisdiction.7 In other words, jurisdiction over the person is waivable unlike jurisdiction over the subject-matter which is neither subject to agreement nor conferred by consent of the parties.

Also basic is that jurisdiction over the subject matter is ascertained by considering the allegations of the complaint or information. The informations involved are clear as water. Criminal Case No. 2000-02-12 involves P59,986.00, while Criminal Case No. 2000-02-13 covers P818,510.20.

Under Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code, "the penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period shall be imposed if the amount of the fraud is over P12,000.00 but does not exceed P22,000.00; and if such amount exceeds the latter sum, the penalty provided xxx shall be imposed in its maximum period, adding one (1) year for its additional P10,000.00 xxx." Prision mayor in its minimum period, ranges from six (6) years and one (1) day to eight (8) years. Under the law,8 the jurisdiction of municipal trial courts is confined to offenses punishable by imprisonment not exceeding six (6) years, irrespective of the amount of the fine.

Hence, jurisdiction over the criminal cases against the complainant lawyer pertains to the Regional Trial Court. Respondent judge, therefore, gravely erred in taking cognizance of the two criminal cases and, worse still, in issuing warrants for the complainant's arrest.

As a last-ditch effort to make the respondent see the light, complainant submitted on March 11, 2002 a motion to quash alleging lack of jurisdiction. The exercise proved to be futile. Respondent judge denied the motion on April 5, 2002 nonetheless, thereby manifesting his gross ignorance of the law. When the law is so elementary, not to know it constitutes gross ignorance.9

Consequently, respondent's argument that complainant had submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the court by posting a bond is evidently erroneous.

Another point. Respondent's position that complainant had lost his standing in court in view of his alleged repeated failure to appear in court and for that reason his motions should be considered as sham is patently baseless and smacks of jumbled reasoning. Obviously, he failed to consider that the cases before him are criminal cases and if indeed the accused failed to appear in court the appropriate sanction is not to consider him a legal non-entity but merely to order his arrest. The judge may order a trial in absentia only when the accused fails to appear at the trial without justification and despite due notice.10

With respect to the charges of manifest partiality and bias, prejudgment, and, grossly oppresive and abusive conduct in handling the two criminal cases, suffice to say that the records do not bear out the accusations. At any rate, all the actions taken by the respondent in the cases are null and void for lack of jurisdiction.

While this Court agrees with the Court Administrator's finding that the rulings of the respondent judge evince gross ignorance of the law, it finds the amount of Five Thousand (P5,000.00) Pesos which he recommended as fine to be disproportionate to the wrong done by the respondent. The appropriate penalty is a fine of Ten Thousand (P10,000) Pesos. In the case of Simplicio Alib v. Labayen,11 where the respondent committed a very similar infraction and was found guilty of gross ignorance of the law, the Court imposed a fine of Ten Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos.

WHEREFORE, respondent JUDGE MARINO S. BUBAN of the Municipal Trial Court of Tacloban City is found LIABLE for gross ignorance of the law. He is ORDERED to pay a FINE of Ten Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos, with a WARNING that a repetition of the same or a similar act shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.



Endnotes:

1 The ignorance of a judge is the misfortune of the innocent.

2 Rule 140 Sections 2 and 10, provides a minimum of P20,000.

3 Paulino Zamora, et al. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 78206, March 19, 1990, 183 SCRA 279, citing Herrera v. Barretto, 25 Phil. 245 (1913), Conchada v. Director of Prisons, 31 Phil 94 (1915), U.S. v. Limsiangco, 41 Phil. 94 (1920).

4 Id. at 283 citing Banco Español Filipino v. Palanca, 37 Phil. 921.

5 Andaya v. Abadia, et al., G.R. No. 104033, December 27, 1993, 228 SCRA 705.

6 Supra note 4 at 284.

7 La Naval Drug Corporation v. The Honorable Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 103200, August 31, 1994, 236 SCRA 78.

8 Republic Act No. 7691, An Act Expanding the Jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts, Amending for the Purpose Batas Pambansa, Blg. 129, otherwise known as the "Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980."

9 Domondon v. Lopez, A.M. No. RTJ-02-1696, June 20, 2002, 383 SCRA 376.

10 Sec. 2 (b), Rule 114, Rules of Criminal Procedure.

11 A.M. No. RTJ-00-1576, 412 Phil. 443 [2001].




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rtj_00_1576_2001.php">A.M. No. RTJ-00-1576, 412 Phil. 443 [2001].




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