A. M. No. MTJ-01-1344 - September 5, 2001
SPS. LYDIO and LOURDES ARCILLA, complainants, vs. JUDGE LUCIO PALAYPAYON And Branch Clerk of Court REMEDIOS BAJO, MTC, Tinambac, Camarines Sur, Respondents.
The present administrative case stemmed from the complaint of spouses Lydio and Lourdes Arcilla, filed with this Court on December 4, 1997, charging Judge Lucio Palaypayon (Ret.)of the Municipal Trial Court, Tinambac, Camarines Sur with gross ignorance of the law; and Remedios B. Bajo, clerk of court of the same court, with irregularity in the performance of duty relative to Criminal Case No. T-97-6287 for estafa.
In their complaint, spouses Lydio and Lourdes Arcilla averred inter alia that on September 16, 1997, SPO1 Teresito Porteza filed with the MTC presided by respondent judge a complaint for estafa against Lydio Arcilla. Porteza alleged that the accused failed to pay P22,000.00 as rentals corresponding to the period of five (5) months for the lease of the operational power chainsaw owned by the former. That same day, without conducting the required preliminary investigation, respondent judge issued a warrant of arrest against the accused. He was then arrested and detained at the Tinambac Police Station for his inability to post bail. According to complainant Lourdes Arcilla, respondent judge told her that if she would pay one-half of Porteza's claim, her husband would be temporarily released.
While her husband was incarcerated, Lourdes went to the MTC to procure certified true copies of the complaint and the warrant of arrest. However, respondent clerk of court denied her request, giving her instead mere photocopies of the desired documents.
Complainants also claimed that respondent judge was previously found guilty of various administrative charges in three (3) other administrative cases, thus:
In their joint comment, respondent judge vehemently denied all the allegations against him for being false and misleading. Contrary to complainants' claim, he conducted a preliminary investigation before issuing the warrant of arrest against accused Lydio Arcilla. Within ten (10) days thereafter, he forwarded the papers to the Provincial Prosecutor's Office.
For her part, respondent clerk of court averred that she gave complainant Lourdes Arcilla copies of the documents requested by her.
Then Court Administrator Alfredo Benipayo made the following findings, quoted in part:
The Court Administrator recommended that (1) respondent judge "be ordered fined in the amount of P10,000.00, chargeable against the amount that has been withheld from his retirement benefits" "considering the four other administrative cases against respondent Judge Lucio P. Palaypayon, MTC, Tinambac, Camarines Sur (retired) in the past," and (2) Respondent Bajo "be reprimanded for her failure to observe the rudiments of good conduct in her dealings with the public, with the warning that repetition of the same or similar conduct would be dealt with more severely."
We find the Court Administrator's conclusions and recommendation well-taken.
The procedure for conducting preliminary investigations in criminal cases requires that the investigating officer, if he finds a ground to continue with the inquiry, issue a subpoena to the respondent and require him to submit counter-affidavits and evidence in his behalf.1 This is in deference to the time-honored principle of due process and function of a preliminary investigation in protecting respondents from malicious prosecution and the ignominy and expense of a public trial.
While respondent judge conducted a preliminary investigation on the same day the complaint for estafa was filed, however, he did not notify the accused to give him an opportunity to submit counter-affidavits and evidence in his defense. Worst, on the same day, respondent judge issued the warrant of arrest. Clearly, his actuations manifest his ignorance of procedural rules and a reckless disregard of the accused's basic right to due process. It should be observed that the complaint was filed obviously to compel complainants to pay accrued rentals.2 We thus hold that respondent judge is guilty not only of gross ignorance of law, but also of grave abuse of authority.
The ruling of this Court in Daiz vs. Asadon3 is pertinent, thus:
Respondent judge contends that it is his practice to conduct the preliminary investigation on the same day the information or complaint was filed to avoid delay, curtail the expenses of the litigants or prevent the escape of the accused. Suffice it to state that while a judge is constantly admonished to act promptly and expeditiously on matters pending before him, he should not sacrifice the accused's right to be heard for the sake of expediency. Otherwise, he tramples upon the very rights he is duty-bound to defend.
On the propriety of issuing a warrant of arrest in preliminary investigations, Sec. 6 (b), Rule 112 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure authorizes a municipal trial judge to issue a warrant when two requisites concur: (1) there is a finding of probable cause; and (2) when there is a "necessity of placing the respondent under immediate custody in order not to frustrate the ends of justice."
Thus, when a municipal trial judge issues a warrant of arrest solely based on his finding of probable cause, and without the consequent determination of the need to place a respondent under the custody of the law, he is guilty of gross ignorance repugnant to the orderly administration of justice. As held by this court in Flores vs. Sumaljag:4
Here, in issuing the warrant of arrest, there is no showing that accused Lydio Arcilla would attempt to flee once apprised of the complaint against him.
The Code of Judicial Conduct enjoins judges to be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence. Time and again, this Court has impressed on them the need to be diligent in keeping abreast with developments in law and jurisprudence, for the study of law is a never-ending and ceaseless process.5 Members of the judiciary are supposed to exhibit more than just a cursory acquaintance with the statutes and procedural rules, more so with legal principles and rules so elementary and basic that not to know them, or to act as if one does not know them, constitutes gross ignorance of the law.6
As regards respondent clerk of court Remedios Bajo, we find her remiss in her duties as clerk of court. Sec. 11, Rule 136 of the Revised Rules of Court dictates that the "clerk shall prepare, for any person demanding the same, a copy certified under the seal of the court of any paper, record, order, judgment, or entry in his office, proper to be certified, for the fees prescribed by these rules."
Her explanation that she complied with her duty is belied by the fact that the documents she gave complainant Lourdes Arcilla are mere photocopies without the required certification. Being an officer of the court, she should have adhered to the highest standards of public accountability. This Court reminds respondent, and all court personnel for that matter, that they are mandated to perform their duties with utmost competence and integrity, lest their actions erode the public faith in the judiciary.
WHEREFORE, and as recommended by the Court Administrator, respondent Judge Lucio Palaypayon is hereby found GUILTY OF GROSS IGNORANCE OF THE LAW. Accordingly, he is ordered to pay a FINE of P10,000.00, chargeable against the amount which has been withheld from his retirement benefits.
Respondent Remedios B. Bajo is found GUILTY OF IRREGULARITY IN THE PERFORMANCE OF DUTY and is REPRIMANDED and WARNED that a repetition of a similar conduct will be dealt with more severely.
Melo, Vitug, Panganiban and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ ., concur.
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