Philippine Supreme Court Jurisprudence


Philippine Supreme Court Jurisprudence > Year 2005 > January 2005 Decisions > A.M. No. RTJ-02-1692 - FRANCISCO C. TAGUINOD, ET AL., v. JUDGE FE ALBANO MADRID OF RTC BRANCH 21, SANTIAGO CITY:




A.M. No. RTJ-02-1692 - FRANCISCO C. TAGUINOD, ET AL., v. JUDGE FE ALBANO MADRID OF RTC BRANCH 21, SANTIAGO CITY

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

[A.M. NO. RTJ-02-1692 - January 17, 2005]

FRANCISCO C. TAGUINOD and ANDRES R. CABANLONG, Complainants, v. JUDGE FE ALBANO MADRID of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Santiago City, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

This is an administrative complaint by Francisco C. Taguinod and Andres R. Cabanlong ("complainants") against respondent Judge Fe Albano Madrid ("respondent Judge"), Executive Judge,1 Regional Trial Court, Santiago City, Isabela ("RTC Santiago City") for irregularities in the distribution of judicial notices for publication.

The Facts

Complainant Francisco C. Taguinod ("complainant Taguinod") is the publisher and editor of City Star, a local newspaper based in Santiago City, Isabela. Complainant Andres R. Cabanlong ("complainant Cabanlong"), is the liaison officer and attorney-in-fact of Valley Times, also a local newspaper based in Ilagan, Isabela. In a Complaint dated 29 January 1998 ("Complaint") addressed to the Office of the Court Administrator ("OCA"), complainant Taguinod and Ferdinand Bascos ("Bascos"), then Valley Times' publisher, alleged that:

(1) Respondent Judge never notified them of any raffle of judicial notices for publication;

(2) "[P]ublishable legal and judicial notices are syphoned (sic) to the Philippine Recorder, Tambuli and other out of town newspapers" with no actual circulation in the Isabela and Quirino provinces;

(3) The Philippine Recorder, Tambuli and other out of town newspapers publish judicial notices in supplemental pages (e.g. 2-A, 3-A etc.) indicating that these were belatedly printed and were not circulated; andcralawlibrary

(4) Some court personnel in the RTC Santiago City demand "grease money" from publishers for the publication of judicial notices.2

In her Indorsement dated 5 June 1998 ("Indorsement"), respondent Judge alleged that:

(1) Valley Times, City Star, and Philippine Recorder are the only local newspapers accredited to publish judicial notices from the RTC Santiago City;

(2) Since the Valley Times did not send representatives to her office, she instructed Rolando Tomas ("Deputy Sheriff Tomas"), Deputy Sheriff of RTC Santiago City to "apportion legal publications equally" between City Star and Philippine Recorder;

(3) Although Philippine Recorder's main office is in Manila, it is still qualified to publish legal notices from her court as it also maintains an office in Santiago City;

(4) She was not aware of Philippine Recorder's practice of publishing legal notices in supplemental pages but promised that she "will call the newspaper's attention to it";

(5) The "sheriffs and other personnel" of her court deny ever having demanded "grease money" from any newspaper for the publication of legal notices; andcralawlibrary

(6) She had invited complainant Taguinod and Bascos to see her regarding their claims but they failed to do so.3

In their letter dated 15 June 1998 ("15 June 1998 Letter"), complainants maintained that "there were demands for grease money" and that "there were publications in newspapers which were not authorized to publish." As for their failure to honor respondent Judge's invitation to see her, complainants claimed that respondent Judge's invitation was "not the proper procedure" as they had filed their complaint with the OCA not to mention that they were at odds with respondent Judge's staff.4

The Court required respondent Judge to Comment on the 15 June 1998 Letter. In her letter dated 7 May 2001, respondent Judge acknowledged that the procedure she followed in the publication of judicial notices "[wa]s not strictly in accordance with P[residential] D[ecree No.] 1079." However, respondent Judge justified her action by the fact that there were only two qualified local newspapers and this was the procedure followed since her appointment as RTC Judge of Santiago City. Respondent Judge further disclosed that she commenced distributing judicial notices personally by raffle after the filing of the Complaint. Respondent Judge added that "she would be happy to know" the names of the unaccredited newspapers that published legal notices. Respondent Judge also wanted to know the names of the RTC Santiago City personnel who demanded "grease money" so they could be "made accountable for their actions."5

The Court referred this case to the OCA for investigation, report, and recommendation by any of its consultants.6

During the investigation conducted by OCA consultant Romulo S. Quimbo, complainant Taguinod disclosed that before filing the Complaint, he had written respondent Judge on 12 September 1996 and 6 September 1997 regarding the matters raised in the Complaint.7 He also stated in those letters that Deputy Sheriff Tomas was distributing legal notices for publication to local newspapers which charged higher fees. Respondent Judge did not reply to his letters.8

On cross-examination, complainant Taguinod admitted that before 1998, Deputy Sheriff Tomas distributed legal notices to City Star for publication. Complainant Taguinod added, however, that in exchange for some of the legal notices, Deputy Sheriff Tomas demanded and received 10% "discounts."9 Complainant Taguinod presented copies of checks he issued from March to November 1996 payable to "Cash" or "R.Tomas/Rolly Tomas."10 Deputy Sheriff Tomas encashed all the checks except one.11 On Philippine Recorder's lack of qualification to publish, complainant Taguinod presented a copy of its editorial box indicating that its main office is at No. 1124 P. Zapanta St., Singalong, Manila.12

For her part, respondent Judge testified that while she did not reply to the 12 September 1996 and 6 September 1997 letters of complainant Taguinod, she did investigate his claim regarding the overcharging of publication fees but found this baseless. Respondent Judge also claimed that when she found out that City Star was unaccredited, she issued an Order on 16 September 1996 ("16 September 1996 Order") requiring City Star (and all other newspapers in the Quirino province and in Santiago City) to submit documents for accreditation. After City Star complied, she accredited it on 12 November 1997.13

Respondent Judge testified that she delegated the task of distributing judicial notices to Deputy Sheriff Tomas because it was a mere administrative duty and she did not think that any of the local newspapers would complain. Respondent Judge disclosed that she started distributing judicial notices personally by raffle only in June 1998 because it was at that time that she received a copy of Circular No. 5-98 ("Circular 5-98") requiring Executive Judges to comply strictly with Presidential Decree No. 1079 ("PD 1079").ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ

However, when confronted with a copy of her 16 September 1996 Order where she cited PD 1079, respondent Judge backtracked and claimed, this time, that while she was aware of PD 1079 before 1998, she did not "memorize each and every word of the law."14

Respondent Judge testified that she confronted Deputy Sheriff Tomas on complainant Taguinod's claim that he (Deputy Sheriff Tomas) demanded "discounts." Deputy Sheriff Tomas denied complainant Taguinod's claim. Respondent Judge declared that she was inclined to believe Deputy Sheriff Tomas considering that complainant Taguinod did not furnish her copies of the checks he presented during the investigation. Respondent Judge denied having received any monetary consideration from any publisher for the publication of legal notices.15

Respondent Judge also testified that she found no reason to confirm Philippine Recorder's alleged lack of qualification to publish legal notices from her court because even before she assumed office it was already publishing articles and, at any rate, "City Star has no right to complain against a newspaper who (sic) is accredited." However, respondent Judge claimed that she did investigate Philippine Recorder's alleged practice of printing judicial notices in supplemental pages and, having found merit in such claim, promptly disqualified it.16

The Clerk of Court of RTC Santiago City also testified and attested to the correctness of that court's records for the distribution of judicial notices among Valley Times, City Star, Philippine Recorder, and Isabela Profile from 1998 to 2001.17

After the investigation, Valley Times withdrew its complaint against respondent Judge because she had, in the meantime, allowed it to participate in the raffle of legal notices and disqualified Philippine Recorder.

The OCA's Recommendation

In its Report dated 25 March 2002 ("Report"), the OCA finds respondent Judge liable for non-compliance with PD 1079 and Circular 5-98. The OCA recommends that a fine equivalent to her one-month salary be imposed on respondent Judge. The OCA also recommends that Deputy Sheriff Tomas be investigated for "his receipt of the amounts stated in the checks which complainant Taguinod presented [during the investigation]." The Report reads:

Carefully going over the evidence of the parties, it appears that respondent was remiss in the performance of her duties. She admitted that she knew of P.D. 1079 which provided for the procedure to be followed in the distribution of judicial notices to be published to [sic] the different publications but she insisted in delegating the authority to distribute to her sheriff. Her belief, that because there were only two newspapers which were publishing such notices when she assumed office as Regional Trial [Court] Judge, it would be enough if the items to be published were justly apportioned between them, was clearly unjustified. Unwittingly perhaps she failed to realize that unscrupulous subordinates could take advantage of such authority by having favorites and discriminating against others.

Thus it appears that in the years 1996 to 1997 when the distribution was not controlled by her, complaints were heard from those who felt discriminated against. This could have been avoided had respondent strictly followed the procedure laid down in the presidential issuance.

Complainant[s] had reason to complain to respondent about the inequality of the distribution and the demands for "discounts" allegedly being committed by her subalterns. That respondent failed to give heed to the repeated letters of complainant [Taguinod] seeking a more equitable treatment form (sic) the sheriff was clearly a gross failure to fulfill her duties as executive judge. By taking the statements of her subordinates at face value which she admits she did, was not in keeping with the conduct demanded by her high office (sic).ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ

It is clear that because respondent's subordinates were demanding exorbitant "discounts" respondent (sic) was forced to bring the matter to the attention of the Court Administrator and even the Chief Justice.

Respondent took no action against the Philippine Recorder simply because she relied on what was stated in the paper itself that it had provincial offices, one of which was Isabela (sic). But had she read carefully the provisions of P.D. 1079, which states that "the province or city where the publication's principal office is located shall be considered the place where it is edited and published", she would listened (sic) to complaints (sic) of the present complainant[s] and would have disqualified the said newspaper immediately because from its editorial box it appears that it is a "national weekly newspaper with editorial and business office (Main) at No. 1124 P. Zapanta St., Singalong, Manila".

The fact that Sheriff Tomas was partial to the Philippine Recorder is apparent from the number of notices that it published compared with what others were given. A study of said distribution shows that the complainant received only a total of thirteen (13) notices in 1996 (Exhibit EE) and twelve (12) in 1997. This all changed in 1998, after respondent received Circular No. 5-98 of the Court Administrator which categorically required executive judges to "personally" conduct the periodic raffle. Thus complainant [Taguinod's City Star] was allotted thirty-five (35) while Recorder had forty-three (43) for 1998. In 1999, City Star had forty-seven (47) while Recorder had forty-one (41) and Isabela Profile's share was seventy-seven (77). For the year 2000, City Star was given twenty-seven (27) and (sic) while Recorder and Isabela Profile were not allotted any. Instead, Valley Times, which was excluded up to 1999, was given thirty (30) and in 2001, City Star had ten (10) and Valley Times eleven (11).

It appears from the evidence that the main thrust of the complaint was the sheriff's arbitrary distribution of notices where favoritism and discrimination were the order of the day. It was only after the raffle was introduced and conducted by respondent that the distribution became more or less equitable.

The evidence is substantial that Sheriff Tomas had taken advantage of the authority given him when he demanded the discounts from the publishers. The latter could not very well object lest they be totally deprived of the substantial income from the publication.

We have not found any evidence that the present respondent had profited from the actuations of Sheriff Tomas. However, she can not escape liability for her failure to strictly adhere to the procedure provided in both P.D. 1079 and Circular No. 5-98 considering that she admitted knowing of such presidential decree.18

The Ruling of the Court

The Report is well taken.

On Respondent Judge's Liability for
Non-compliance with Presidential Decree No. 1079

PD 1079,19 effective 24 May 1977, governs the publication of judicial notices. It provides:

SECTION. 1. All notices of auction sales in extrajudicial foreclosure of real estate mortgage under Act No. 3135 as amended, judicial notices such as notices of sale on execution of real properties, notices in special proceedings, court orders and summonses and all similar announcements arising from court litigation required by law to be published in a newspaper or periodical of general circulation in particular provinces and/or cities shall be published in newspapers or publication published, edited and circulated in the same city and/or province where the requirement of general circulation applies: Provided, That the province or city where the publication's principal office is located shall be considered the place where it is edited and published: Provided, further, That in the event there is no newspaper or periodical published in the locality, the same may be published in the newspaper or periodical published, edited and circulated in the nearest city or province: Provided, finally, That no newspaper or periodical which has not been authorized by law to publish and which has not been regularly published for at least one year before the date of publication of the notices or announcements which may be assigned to it shall be qualified to publish the said notices.ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ

SEC. 2. The executive judge of the court of first instance shall designate a regular working day and a definite time each week during which the said judicial notices or advertisements shall be distributed personally by him for publication to qualified newspapers or periodicals as defined in the preceding section, which distribution shall be done by raffle: Provided, That should the circumstances require that another day be set for the purpose, he shall notify in writing the editors and publishers concerned at least three (3) days in advance of the designated date: Provided, further, That the distribution of the said notices by raffle shall be dispensed with in case only one newspaper or periodical is in operation in a particular province or city. (Emphasis supplied)ςrαlαωlιbrαrÿ

Circular 5-98, which this Court issued on 12 January 1998, reiterates these provisions of PD 1079 (in addition to Section 5 and Section 6) and directs all Executive Judges to comply strictly with the Circular and PD 1079.

Here, notwithstanding the provisions of Section 1 and Section 2 of PD 1079, respondent Judge instructed Deputy Sheriff Tomas to "apportion legal publications equally" between two local newspapers. By doing so, respondent Judge violated Section 2 of PD 1079 directing the distribution of judicial notices by raffle.

The Court finds untenable respondent Judge's explanation that her system of distribution of judicial notices was justified because (1) there were only two newspapers qualified to publish legal notices from her court; (2) this was the procedure followed when she took over as Executive Judge of RTC Santiago City; and (3) the distribution of judicial notices for publication was merely an administrative task.

Under Section 2 of PD 1079, the only instance when distribution of judicial notices by raffle is dispensed with is when there is only one newspaper operating in a particular province or city. This exception does not obtain here. In Office of the Court Administrator v. Bartolome20 where, as here, the judge followed a different system for the distribution of judicial notices for publication ("rotation system") and assigned a member of his staff (court interpreter) to implement it, the Court held:

[T]he raffle system is indispensable not only because it is the decree of the law but in order to avoid favoritism - a rung away from the ladder of graft and corruption - by judges.

The respondent Judge's "rotation system" is plainly, in violation of [PD 1079].

The court can not accept the respondent's attempt to justify the "rotation system" because of his alleged concern for equitable division of work, as it were, among Bataan's various periodicals. First, save in those cases where only one periodical is circulated in the province or city, the law provides for no exemption. Second, there can be no more equitable method than the raffle system. Third[,] it is too easy to justify an unlawful act with "good intentions."

The respondent judge was wrong in entrusting publications to xxx, the court interpreter, when under Presidential Decree No. 1[0]79, it was his duty to notify in writing the editors and publishers.

It is not surprising that respondent Judge's non-compliance with Section 2 of PD 1079 resulted in several irregularities. A newspaper not qualified to publish legal notices from the RTC Santiago City was apparently awarded the bulk of the publication job from 1996 to 1998. Deputy Sheriff Tomas to whom respondent Judge delegated the task of distributing judicial notices apparently took advantage of his delegated authority by demanding "discounts" from publishers to whom he distributed judicial notices. Respondent Judge failed to realize that the raffle system is the most objective and equitable way of distributing judicial notices. Respondent Judge similarly failed to foresee that, as the OCA noted, Deputy Sheriff Tomas might take advantage of her system by using it to extort money from publishers.

Neither can respondent Judge escape liability by claiming that she became fully aware of the provisions of PD 1079 only after this Court issued Circular 5-98 on 12 January 1998. As already noted, Circular 5-98 merely reiterates the salient provisions of PD 1079 which took effect in 1977, ten years before respondent Judge was appointed to the Bench in 1987. As Executive Judge of a second level court, respondent Judge should have thoroughly acquainted herself with laws governing matters involving her office. Just as lawyers and litigants cannot plead ignorance of the law to evade liability, so are Executive Judges barred from raising such defense in administrative proceedings against them.

On the OCA's Recommendation for the

Investigation of Deputy Sheriff Tomas

The Court finds merit in the OCA's recommendation to investigate Deputy Sheriff Tomas. The evidence presented by complainant Taguinod warrants such investigation for possible violation of Section 521 of PD 1079 which prohibits any court employee from "directly or indirectly demand[ing] of or receiv[ing] from" publishers, editor, media personnel or any other person "money, commission or gifts of any kind in consideration of any publication xxx." On the other hand, the OCA correctly noted that the evidence on record does not show that respondent Judge approved of or benefited from Deputy Sheriff Tomas' alleged extortion activities.

WHEREFORE, we find Fe Albano Madrid, Executive Judge, Regional Trial Court, Santiago City, liable for non-compliance with Section 2 of Presidential Decree No. 1079 and impose on her a fine equivalent to her one-month salary with WARNING that repetition of similar acts will be dealt with more severely.

The Office of the Court Administrator is DIRECTED to investigate immediately Rolando Tomas, Deputy Sheriff, Regional Trial Court, Santiago City for possible violation of Section 5 of Presidential Decree No. 1079.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Respondent Judge is also the Presiding Judge of Branch 21, RTC Santiago City.

2 Exhibit "C."

3 Exhibit "F."

4 Exhibit "J."

5 Exhibit "Q."

6 Rollo, p. 9.

7 Complainant Taguinod reiterated his allegations in the letter dated 7 May 1999 addressed to Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. (Exhibit "O").

8 TSN (Francisco Taguinod), 30 January 002, pp. 14-17.

9 Complainant Taguinod disclosed that "discounts" refer to kickbacks (TSN, 31 January 2002, pp. 43-44).

10 Exhibits "DD" to "DD-2."

11 Check No. 894902, payable to "cash," was encashed by one Estelito Alfonso, Process Server, Branch 21, RTC Santiago City.

12 Exhibit "CC."

13 TSN (Fe Albano Madrid), 20 February 2002, pp. 8-11.

14 Ibid., pp. 14, 28-30.

15 Ibid., pp. 15-16, 31-34.

16 Ibid., pp. 17, 36-37.

17 TSN (Angelina Rillorta), 19 February 2002, pp. 33-34.

18 Report, pp. 15-17.

19 "REVISING AND CONSOLIDATING ALL LAWS AND DECREES REGULATING THE PUBLICATION OF JUDICIAL NOTICES, ADVERTISEMENTS FOR PUBLIC BIDDINGS, NOTICES OF AUCTION SALES AND OTHER SIMILAR NOTICES."

20 Adm. Matter No. RTJ-90-446, 7 November 1991, 203 SCRA 328 cited in Medina v. De Guia, Adm. Matter No. RTJ-88-216, 1 March 1993, 219 SCRA 153.

21 The provision states: "No publishers, editor, media personnel or any other person shall directly or indirectly offer or give money, commission or gift of any kind to executive judges of the court of first instance or any court employee in consideration of the award of legal and judicial notices and similar announcements defined in section 1 hereof. Neither shall the latter directly or indirectly demand of or receive from the former money, commission or gifts of any kind in consideration of any publication herein referred to."




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