[ A.M. No. RTJ-18-2525 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 15-4435-RTJ). June 25, 2018 ]
SAMUEL N. RODRIGUEZ, COMPLAINANT, VS. HON. OSCAR P. NOEL, JR., EXECUTIVE JUDGE/PRESIDING JUDGE, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF GENERAL SANTOS CITY, BRANCH 35, RESPONDENT.
R E S O L U T I O N
For the Court's resolution is the complaint-affidavit1 filed by complainant Samuel N. Rodriguez (Rodriguez) against respondent Judge Oscar P. Noel, Jr. (respondent) of the Regional Trial Court of General Santos City, Branch 35 (RTC), for violation of the Rules of Court and the Code of Judicial Conduct, Gross Ignorance of the Law, Grave Abuse of Discretion, and Bias and Partiality, relative to Misc. Case No. 3957, entitled "In the Matter of Determination of Bail, Charles Emmanuel A. Gabato II, Cyrex Basalo, Arjay Balansag, and Exequiel A. Labrador, Jr., Petitioner," and Civil Case No. 8588, entitled "Golden Dragon International Terminals, Inc. (GDITI), represented by its president, Virgilio S. Ramos, v. Samuel N. Rodriguez."
In the complaint-affidavit, Rodriguez stated that he took over the operations of Golden Dragon International Terminals, Inc. (GDITI) at MAKAR Wharf, General Santos City, after the Writ of Preliminary Mandatory Injunction (As Amended)2 dated January 8, 2014 issued in relation to Civil Case No. 10433 was implemented. GDITI is in the business of receiving and disposing the liquid and solid wastes generated by docking vessels.4 The previous management, headed by a certain Cirilo Basalo5 (Basalo), was supposed to cease from handling the operations of GDITI, but when the latter defied the injunctive writ, Rodriguez filed a motion for its reimplementation, which was granted.6 Consequently, on June 26, 2015, Rodriguez and the court sheriff went to the port to inspect the operations and saw a truck reportedly owned by Basalo transporting solid wastes from the docking vessel. While he was taking pictures of the truck, another vehicle driven by Basalo suddenly came from behind with the intent to sideswipe him. He initially dodged the vehicle but was nonetheless hit when he tried to chase it. While he was on the ground, another vehicle stopped in front of him and a number of armed men stepped out and pointed their guns at him. Fortunately, he was able to run away and hide.7
As a result of the incident, Rodriguez filed a complaint8 for Frustrated Murder on June 29, 2015 against Basalo and his companions.9 However, on June 28, 2015, a Sunday, respondent issued a Temporary Release Order10 in favor of Basalo and one of his companions, Arjay J. Balansag (Balansag). Rodriguez argued that while executive judges can act on petitions for bail on Sundays and holidays, a petition for bail must be filed before the court can act on it; here, it was only on June 29,2015, or the following Monday, that Basalo and his companions actually filed the Petition (Determination of Bail), docketed as Misc. Case No. 3957.11
Another, Rodriguez claimed that in Civil Case No. 8588, respondent issued, on July 10, 2015,12 a 72-hour temporary restraining order (TRO) enjoining him from causing any act that might cause violence and to maintain the status quo in GDITI. A Notice13 of special raffle was also issued by respondent and was received by Rodriguez's aunt on the same date.14 To his surprise, however, on July 14, 2015,15 the 72-hour TRO was extended for another twenty (20) days, or way beyond the 72-hour period. Rodriguez claimed that he was also not furnished a copy of the notice of hearing relative to the extension of the TRO.16
Pursuant to the 1st Indorsement17 dated August 26, 2015 of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), respondent filed his comment18 on December 21, 2015. On the issue of the propriety of the issuance of the June 28, 2015 Temporary Release Order, respondent averred that the accused were, in fact, arrested and detained by the police on June 26, 2015. On the evening of June 28, 2015, which fell on a Sunday, a representative of the accused, together with their lawyer,19 went to his house bringing with them a petition for bail. After a review of the pleading, he issued an Order20 dated June 28, 2015 directing the City Prosecutor to file a comment21 which the latter did22 on the same day with the recommended amount of bail. The accused accordingly posted bail. Thus, he issued the June 28, 2015 Order at 10:00 p.m., directing the temporary release of the accused, and stating that the required bond had been deposited with him and will be turned over for proper issuance of receipt to the Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC) at the soonest practicable time.23 This explains why the stamp of the OCC in all the documents was dated June 29, 2015, the following working day.24
On the issue of the propriety of the issuance of the 72-hour TRO, respondent claimed that he issued the same on July 10, 2015, a Friday, in his capacity as an Executive Judge. As no raffle could be conducted within that 72-hour period as required by the Rules of Court because it was a weekend, the special raffling was set the following Monday, or on July 13, 2015 with the case eventually being raffled to him. Unfortunately, he could not immediately act on it because he and his staff had to take a 70-minute drive from General Santos City using the Enhanced Justice on Wheels (EJOW) bus to conduct hearings in Malungon, Sarangani Province.25 Neither could he determine and provide the exact time of their return to the city given the number of hearings scheduled in the EJOW program.(awÞhi( Thus, the hearing for the extension of the TRO - for the parties to maintain the status quo and refrain from causing any act that might trigger violence - was set the day after, or on July 14, 2015; Rodriguez, however, was not directed to cease and desist from his business operations.26
The OCA's Report and Recommendation
In a Memorandum27 dated January 15, 2018, the OCA recommended that respondent be reprimanded for gross ignorance of the law or procedure and be reminded to be more circumspect in the performance of his duties.
The OCA found respondent guilty of gross ignorance of the law when he issued the assailed orders relative to the TRO. According to the OCA, the TRO was issued on July 10, 2015, Friday, at 8:00 a.m., and expired after 72 hours on July 13, 2015, Monday, at 8:01 a.m.28 Based on this timeline, the OCA held that respondent, on July 14, 2015, extended the TRO for another twenty (20) days, beyond the period allowed by the Rules. In this regard, the OCA pointed out that under Item No. 9, Section 8, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC,29 gross ignorance of the law or procedure is classified as a serious charge, which, under Section 11 (A) of the same Rules, merits the penalty of either dismissal from service, suspension from office, or a fine. However, considering that this is respondent's first infraction of this nature after his sixteen (16) years of service in the Judiciary and his justifiable explanation for failing to schedule the required summary hearing due to the hectic schedule of the EJOW, the OCA, instead, recommended the penalty of reprimand.30
The OCA, however, was silent on the matter of the issuance of the Temporary Release Order in Misc. Case No. 3957.
The Issue Before the Court
The essential issue for the Court's resolution is whether or not respondent should be held administratively liable for violation of the Rules of Court and the Code of Judicial Conduct, Gross Ignorance of the Law, Grave Abuse of Discretion, and Bias and Partiality.
The Court's Ruling
Preliminarily, the Court notes that the OCA did not make any explicit finding/recommendation on the administrative charge against respondent in connection with the issuance of the Temporary Release Order in Misc. Case No. 3957. This notwithstanding, the Court is not without power and authority to directly act on the matter. Section 6, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution vests in the Court administrative supervision over all courts and the personnel thereof. Consistent with this authority, the Court has the discretion to directly rule on the administrative charge against respondent relative to Misc. Case No. 3957, even in the absence of prior action from the OCA.
To recount, Rodriguez charges respondent with administrative liability because he issued the June 28, 2015 Temporary Release Order before the petition for bail was filed with the OCC on June 29, 2015.
The argument is untenable. Records show that the accused in Misc. Case No. 3957 were arrested and detained at the Criminal Investigation and Detention Unit of General Santos City - within respondent's territorial jurisdiction-on June 26, 2015, a Friday. Among those detained were Basalo and Balansag who were accused of Frustrated Murder. Frustrated Murder is punishable by reclusion temporal, the penalty lower by one degree than that provided for consummated murder.31 Considering that they are not charged with an offense punishable by death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment, Basalo and Balansag were entitled to bail as a matter of right as guaranteed by the Constitution32 and pursuant to Section 4,33 Rule 114 of the Rules of Court. Cognizant of the same, and intending to secure their immediate release from detention before they are charged in court,34 Basalo and Balansag's representative, Atty. V. Emmanuel C. Fontanilla, went to respondent's house on June 28, 2015, a Sunday, with the petition for bail.35 After reviewing the same, respondent then ordered the City Prosecutor to comment thereon, with which the latter immediately complied and stated the recommended amount of bail. Since Basalo and Balansag immediately posted the required bail, respondent issued the Order on the same date, directing the temporary release of the accused. Considering that all these incidents occurred on a Sunday (June 28, 2015), when government offices, including the OCC, were expectedly closed and where no pleadings could be filed, the amount paid by the accused as bail, as well as their petition for bail, the City Prosecutor's Comment, and respondent's Temporary Release Order were all turned over for proper filing to and stamp-dated by the OCC on June 29, 2015 - the next working day.
In short, while the petition for bail was filed with the OCC only on June 29, 2015, the application for bail and comment thereon by the City Prosecutor had been submitted to and considered by respondent on June 28, 2015 before he issued the order for the temporary release of the accused. There is nothing in the law or the rules that prevented respondent from acting on the bail application submitted to him on a weekend. Accordingly, respondent acted in accordance with the rules in granting the application for bail.
As regards the 72-hour TRO, the Court agrees with the findings and recommendations of the OCA.
Section 5, Rule 58 of the Rules of Court pertinently states:
Section 5. Preliminary injunction not granted without notice; exception. - x x x.
However, subject to the provisions of the preceding sections, if the matter is of extreme urgency and the applicant will suffer grave injustice and irreparable injury, the executive judge of a multiple-sala court or the presiding judge of a single-sala court may issue ex parte a temporary restraining order effective for only seventy-two (72) hours from issuance, but shall immediately comply with the provisions of the next preceding section as to service of summons and the documents to be served therewith. Thereafter, within the aforesaid seventy-two (72) hours, the judge before whom the case is pending shall conduct a summary hearing to determine whether the temporary restraining order shall be extended until the application for preliminary injunction can be heard. In no case shall the total period of effectivity of the temporary restraining order exceed twenty (20) days, including the original seventy-two hours provided herein.
x x x x (Emphases supplied)
Based on t.he above provision, the following are the parameters for the issuance of an ex-parte TRO: (1) it is issued only in matters of extreme urgency and the applicant will suffer grave injustice and irreparable injury; (2) it shall be effective for only 72 hours counted from its issuance; (3) within this original 72-hour period, the issuing judge must conduct a summary hearing to determine the propriety of extending the TRO; and (4) in no case shall the total period of the TRO which shall include the original 72 hours exceed twenty (20) days.
In this case, the Court agrees that respondent extended the TRO beyond the period allowed by Section 5, Rule 58 of the Rules of Court, considering that at the time he issued the order extending the TRO on July 14, 2015, the original 72-hour TRO issued on July 10, 2015 had already expired at 8:01 a.m. of July 13, 2015. Thus, in conducting the summary hearing and issuing the July 14, 2015 Order, respondent in effect revived what would have already been an expired 72-hour TRO and extended the same to a full twenty (20) day period beyond the Rules' contemplation. The Rules' requirements are very clear, basic, and leave no room for interpretation. Clearly, therefore, respondent erred in failing to comply with these elementary provisions.
As a matter of public policy, the acts of a judge in his official capacity are not subject to disciplinary action, even though such acts are erroneous.36 It does not mean, however, that a judge, given the leeway he is accorded in such cases, should not evince due care in the performance of his adjudicatory prerogatives.37 As the Court held in OCA v. Vestil,38 citing De Leon v. Corpuz:39
The observance of the law, which respondent judge ought to know, is required of every judge. When the law is sufficiently basic, a judge owes it to his office to simply apply it; x x x failure to consider a basic and elementary rule, a law or principle in the discharge of his duties, a judge is either too incompetent and undeserving of the position and the title he holds or is too vicious that the oversight or omission was deliberately done in bad faith and in grave abuse of judicial authority.
Canon 1 (Rule 1.01) of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a judge should be the embodiment of competence, integrity and independence. Canon 3 states that "A judge should perform his official duties honestly and with impartiality and diligence." By his actuations, respondent judge has shown his lack of integrity and diligence, thereby blemishing the image of the judiciary.40
As already noted, respondent had been remiss in the issuance of the July 14, 2015 Order extending the TRO and the scrupulous observance of the requisites therefor. Under Section 8, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, gross ignorance of the law or procedure is classified as a serious charge, which, under Section 11 (A) of the same Rule, warrants any of the following sanctions:
Section 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 credits;
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 ₱20,000.00 but not exceeding ₱40,000.00.
The Court, however, observes that this is respondent's first infraction of this nature in his sixteen (16) years of service in the Judiciary. Moreover, the Court is satisfied with his explanation that he had to attend to his duties at the EJOW, thus constraining him to delay by one (1) day the conduct of the summary hearing for the extension of the TRO. Together, these circumstances mitigate respondent's liability. Well-taken, therefore, is the OCA's recommendation that respondent merits only the penalty of reprimand, similar to the Court's action in Guillermo v. Reyes, Jr.,41 Mondejar v. Buban,42 and OCA v. Mendoza.43
WHEREFORE, Judge Oscar P. Noel, Jr. of the Regional Trial Court of General Santos City, Branch 35 is hereby REPRIMANDED with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall definitely be dealt with more severely by this Court. He is further reminded to be more circumspect in the performance of his duties.
Let this Resolution be noted in the personal record of respondent judge.1a⍵⍴h!1
Carpio, Senior Associate Justice, (Per Section 12, Republic Act No. 296, The Judiciary Act of 1948, As Amended), (Chairperson), Peralta, Caguioa, and Reyes, Jr., JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-9.
2 Id. at 12-14. Issued by Judge Dorothy P. Montejo-Gonzaga.
3 Entitled "Cezar O. Mancao et al. v. Fidel Cu, et al., and Samuel Rodriguez v. Cirilo C. Basalo, Jr., et al.," filed before the Regional Trial Court of Nabunturan, Compostela Valley, Branch 3; see id. at 12.
4 See id. at 1 and 38.
5 "Cyrex Basalo" in some parts of the rollo.
6 See id. at 1-2 and 38.
7 See id. at 2 and 38-39.
8 Not attached to the rollo.
9 See rollo, p. 3.
10 Inadvertently captioned as "Temporary Releasee Order;" rollo, p. 20.
11 Entitled "In the Matter of Determination of Bail Charles Emmanuel A. Gabato II, Cyrex L. Basala, Arjay J. Balansag, and Exequiel A. Labrador, Jr.," filed before the RTC; see id. at 21-22. See also id. at 3-4 and 39.
12 See Order dated July 10, 2015; id. at 24, including dorsal portion.
13 Id. at 25.
14 See Sheriffs Return dated July 13, 2015; id. at 26-27. See also id. at 4.
15 See Order; id. at 28.
16 See id. at 4-8 and 39.
17 Id. at 29.
18 Dated December 14, 2015; id. at 30-32.
19 A certain "Atty. V. Emmanuel C. Fontanilla," see Comment, id. at 31.
20 Not attached to the rollo.
21 Rollo, p. 31.
22 Sec Comment of City Prosecutor Jose C. Blanza, Jr. dated June 28, 2015 at 9:50 p.m.; id. at 33.
23 Id. at 34. See also id. at 31.
24 Id. at 31.
25 See copy of Calendar of Cases, July 13, 2015, for Justice on Wheels, Malungon, Sarangani Province, id. at 35-37. See also id. at 31-32.
26 Id. at 32.
27 Id. at 38-42. Signed by then Assistant Court Administrator (now Deputy Court Administrator) Lilian C. Barribal-Co and Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez.
28 Id. at 40.
29 Entitled "RE: PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO RULE 140 OF THE RULES OF COURT RE: DISCIPLINE OF JUSTICES AND JUDGES" (October 1, 2001).
30 See rollo, pp. 40-42.
31 See Article 250 in relation to Articles 248 and 50 of the Revised Penal Code.
32 Article III, Section 13 of the Constitution provides:
SECTION 13. All persons, except those charged with offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua when evidence of guilt is strong, shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, or be released on recognizance as may be provided by law. The right to bail shall not be impaired even when the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended. Excessive bail shall not be required. (Emphases and underscoring supplied)
33 Section 4. Bail, a matter of right; exception. - All persons in custody shall be admitted to bail as a matter of right, with sufficient sureties, or released on recognize as prescribed by law or this Rule (a) before or after conviction by the Metropolitan Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, or Municipal Circuit Trial Court, and (b) before conviction by the Regional Trial Court of an offense not punishable by death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment.
34 Under Section 17 (c), Rule 114 of the Rules of Court, "[a]ny person in custody who is not yet charged in court may apply for bail with any court in the province, city, or municipality where he is held."
35 Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 2-99, entitled "STRICT OBSERVANCE OF WORKING HOURS AND DISCIPLINARY ACTION FOR ABSENTEEISM AND TARDINESS" (February 1, 1999) states that "[o]n Saturday afternoons, Sundays and non-working holidays, any Judge may act on bailable offenses conformably with Section 17, Rule 114 of the Rules of Court, as amended.
36 Guillermo v. Reyes, Jr., 310 Phil. 176, 185 (1995)
38 561 Phil. 142 (2007).
39 506 Phil. 604, 612 (2005), further citing Spouses Adriano v. Caoibes, Jr., 429 Phil. 59, 66 (2002).
40 Supra note 38, at 159.
41 Supra note 36.
42 See 413 Phil. 428 (2001).
43 See 394 Phil. 603 (2000).
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