A.M. No. RTJ-15-2438, September 2, 2020,
♦ Decision, Leonen, [J]
♦ Dissenting Opinion, Perlas Bernabe, [J]
♦ Dissenting Opinion, Caguioa, [J]
♦ Dissenting Opinion, J. Reyes, Jr., [J]
♦ Concurring Opinion, Delos Santos, [J]

[ A.M. No. RTJ-15-2438 [Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3681-RTJ], September 02, 2020 ]




I dissent from the majority's dismissal of the instant case on the ground of mootness in view of respondent's death during the proceedings. Based on the particular circumstances of this case, it is my view that respondent can still be declared administratively liable. However, considering that respondent had already been dismissed from service with forfeiture of retirement benefits in a previous administrative case, a penalty can no longer be imposed against her.

I reiterate my position in Re: Investigation Report on the Alleged Extortion Activities of Presiding Judge Godofredo B. Abul, Jr., Branch 4, Regional Trial Court, Butuan City, Agusan Del Norte1(Abul) that there is no pressing reason for the Court to abandon the prevailing rule that the death of the respondent does not ipso facto lead to the dismissal of the administrative case.

As with Abul, the majority also anchors its present ruling on the respondent's right to due process and the nature of the penalty to be imposed. The majority view is that the opportunity to be heard, which is the essence of due process in administrative cases, is not lost even after judgment.2 Death allegedly forecloses any opportunity to be heard, and to continue with the proceedings is a violation of the right to due process.3

Furthermore, the majority holds that the purpose of administrative penalties is to preserve and restore the public trust in our institutions. As such, it is in the public interest to remove from service all those who diminish said trust. The majority stresses that this is the extent of the punishment in administrative cases and it is only inflicted upon the erring public officer or employee. When that public officer or employee dies, therefore, there is no one else left to dismiss from service.4

Again, I beg to differ.

Firstly, due process considerations are among the already recognized exceptions to the rule that death does not lead to the dismissal of the administrative case. As the Court explained in Limliman v. Ulat- Marrero5 (Limliman) the death of the respondent would necessitate the dismissal of the administrative case upon a consideration of any of the following factors: (1) the observance of respondent's right to due process; (2) the presence of exceptional circumstances in the case on the grounds of equitable and humanitarian reasons; and (3) depending on the kind of penalty imposed.

Moreover, the concept of due process in administrative proceedings has always been recognized as different from the concept of due process in criminal proceedings. Administrative due process cannot be fully equated with due process in its strict judicial sense, for in the former a formal or trial-type hearing is not always necessary and technical rules of procedure are not strictly applied.6

The essence of procedural due process is embodied in the basic requirement of notice and a real opportunity to be heard. In administrative proceedings, procedural due process simply means the opportunity to explain one's side or the opportunity to seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. "To be heard" does not mean only verbal arguments in court; one may also be heard thru pleadings. Where opportunity to be heard, either through oral arguments or pleadings, is accorded, there is no denial of procedural due process.7

Thus, notice to respondent is an absolute requirement. At the same time, if a respondent is given the opportunity to explain his or her side, then his or her right to due process is deemed satisfied. If, on the other hand, a respondent was not originally heard but was eventually heard in a motion for reconsideration, his or her right to due process is deemed satisfied.

Here, it is undisputed that respondent was given the twin requirements of notice and a real opportunity to be heard. The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) ordered her to comment on the complaint-affidavit, but she ignored the order. The OCA sent another directive to respondent, but this too was ignored. From 2010 until the OCA investigation was concluded in 2014, nothing was heard of from respondent. Her conduct, in fact, constituted defiance of the lawful orders of the Court. It would be hard to argue, therefore, that she was ever denied due process.

Secondly, the supervening death of a respondent during the course of the proceedings does not, by itself, render the imposition of a penalty impossible or impracticable. True, there are cases which the Court dismissed on account of the death of the respondents therein. It is significant to note, however, that the Court still made a finding of administrative liability in those cases but merely exercised its discretion in not imposing the penalty, mainly on humanitarian and equitable grounds. This determination by the Court is precisely provided in the exceptions laid down in Limliman. As I have previously advanced in Abul, these exceptions are already sufficient to safeguard against any unfairness that may shroud the Court's judgment in ruling against a deceased respondent. The Court is also certainly not precluded from weighing in other factors or exceptions in the future.

In the same vein, the imposition of a penalty is not altogether impossible. In Report on the Financial Audit Conducted in the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Tagum City, Davao del Norte,8 the Court had the occasion to rule that if the imposable penalty is to be considered to determine if the instant cases against the deceased respondents therein should still continue, a fine or even a forfeiture of their retirement benefits, if deemed proper, may still be imposed.9 In Gonzales v. Escalona,10 the Court likewise found it proper to impose a fine against the deceased respondent therein after determining that the Court has "observed in several cases that the penalty of fine could still be imposed notwithstanding the death of the respondent, enforceable against his or her estate."11

In this regard, I agree with the following pronouncement in the Dissenting Opinion of Justice Jose C. Reyes, Jr.:

On this note, it must be emphasized that entitlement to benefits arising from employment in the government service presupposes the proper discharge of the public officers' duties, for the grant of such benefits [is] afforded only to employees who rightfully fulfilled their duties and obligations. In cases where the public officers were found liable therefor, the grant of benefits is unwarranted.

As it was found in this case that respondent is liable of violating her duty, her entitlement to benefits is not established. Likewise, the entitlement of her heirs thereto is not justified. Corollary, the imposition of fine despite death of the respondent should not be considered as depriving the heirs of their right to the proceeds of respondent's benefits.12 (Emphasis omitted)

Thus, contrary to the sentiments in the ponencia, the fine to be imposed on a deceased respondent should not be viewed as a punishment to be borne by the heirs.13 In any case, as discussed above, the Court is not precluded from considering humanitarian and equitable grounds should the same be found present. As I have opined in Abul, the circumstances therein warranted the dismissal of the charges against respondent on the basis of humanitarian considerations:

Despite his death, the Court found Judge Abul administratively liable in the September 3, 2019 Decision. He was meted the penalty of forfeiture of all retirement and allied benefits, except accrued leaves. Therein, I joined the Dissenting Opinion of my esteemed colleague, Associate Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando. Specifically, I agreed with Justice Hernando's appreciation of the humanitarian considerations that should have impelled the Court to mitigate the penalty imposed against Judge Abul. As Justice Hernando noted, Judge Abul was murdered a couple of days after he turned 68. Moreover, Judge Abul's wife, who also sustained gunshot wounds, had written a letter to the Court explaining that she is a housewife who has no work and no source of income and that ever since Judge Abul's preventive suspension from office, their family had faced financial crisis. She therefore entreated the Court to release the accrued leave benefits of Judge Abul as well as such other benefits or assistance which the Court could extend to them in order to help their family sustain their daily needs and to fund her son's education in medical school. I was of the view then that these considerations should have prompted the Court to dismiss the case, x x x14

Here, no such humanitarian or equitable grounds have been put forth for the Court's consideration.

At this juncture, it should be recalled that in 2012, respondent had already been dismissed from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave benefits. In view of this, I submit that while the Court should not be deterred from making an administrative finding against the liability of respondent, it can, however, no longer impose any fine that can be taken from her accrued leave credits. Section 11 A(l) of Rule 140, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC15 is clear in this regard, to wit:

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 credits;

x x x x (Emphasis supplied)

Consequently, while forfeiture of other benefits may be allowed, in whole or in part, the forfeiture of accrued leave credits is not. The language of the prohibition in Section 11(A)(1), in using the phrase "in no case" signifies an absolute and unqualified proscription.

Be that as it may, the Court should still make a finding of administrative liability even if only to impress upon the members of the bench the importance of their duties and to restore the confidence of the public in the judiciary. In an administrative case against a lawyer where the Court sustained the imposition of the penalty of suspension despite the previous disbarment of said lawyer, the pronouncement of the Court is instructive:

xxx The Court is mindful, however, that suspension can no longer be imposed on respondent considering that just recently, respondent had already been disbarred from the practice of law and his name had been stricken off the Roll of Attorneys in Paras v. Paras. In Sanchez v. Torres, the Court ruled that the penalty of suspension or disbarment can no longer be imposed on a lawyer who had been previously disbarred. Nevertheless, it resolved the issue on the lawyer's administrative liability for recording purposes in the lawyer's personal file in the OBC. Hence, the Court held that respondent therein should be suspended from the practice of law, although the said penalty can no longer be imposed in view of his previous disbarment. In the same manner, the Court imposes upon respondent herein the penalty of suspension from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months, although the said penalty can no longer be effectuated in view of his previous disbarment, but nonetheless should be adjudged for recording purposes, x x x

x x x x

WHEREFORE, respondent Justo de Jesus Paras is hereby found GUILTY of violating Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. Accordingly, he is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months. However, considering that respondent has already been previously disbarred, this penalty can no longer be imposed.

x x x x

Let a copy of this Resolution be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant to be appended to respondent's personal record as a member of the Bar. Likewise, let copies of the same be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Office of the Court Administrator, which is directed to circulate them to all courts in the country for their information and guidance.


The incontrovertible facts in this case show that:  (1) respondent allowed  an  improper  service  of summons  against  complainant  in  the declaration of nullity case that her husband had initiated by immediately resorting to service by publication; and (2) complainant had demonstrated with clear and convincing evidence that neither she nor her husband resided or had been residing in Paniqui, Tarlac at that time.17 Hence, respondent's decision to grant the petition despite these irregularities smacked of gross ignorance of the law. Notably, as previously mentioned, respondent was dismissed from service in 2012 for dishonesty, gross ignorance of the law and procedure, gross misconduct and incompetency. With respect to the finding of gross ignorance of the law, in particular, it was in relation to serious infractions "involving petitions for nullity and annulment of marriage and legal separation, the most disturbing and scandalous of which was the haste with which she disposed of such cases."

All told, it is my view that the Court should not lose sight of its long-held ratio that an automatic dismissal of an administrative case on account of the respondent's death would be fraught with injustices and pregnant with dreadful and dangerous implications.18 Again, in any case, the prevailing rule on the non-dismissal of the administrative case despite the death of respondent is still subject to the following considerations: (1) the observance of respondent's right to due process; (2) the presence of exceptional circumstances in the case on the grounds of equitable and humanitarian reasons; and (3) depending on the kind of penalty imposed.

The offense in an administrative case is principally an offense to the public office being a sacred public trust. This is the reason why the Court has consistently held that in administrative cases, no investigation shall be interrupted or terminated by reason of desistance, settlement, compromise, restitution, withdrawal of the charges, or failure of the complainant to prosecute the same.19 The need to maintain the faith and confidence of our people in the government and its agencies and instrumentalities demands that proceedings in administrative cases against public officers and employees should not be made to depend on the whims and caprices of complainants who are, in a real sense, only witnesses.20 This same imperative rings true as well when the Court is confronted with a case in which the respondent has since died. Indeed, if only for reasons of public policy, the Court must assert and maintain its jurisdiction over members of the judiciary and other officials under its supervision and control for acts performed in office which are inimical to the service and prejudicial to the interests of litigants and the general public.21

For all the foregoing reasons, I vote that respondent be declared administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law. Nevertheless, considering that respondent had already been dismissed from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave benefits, a penalty can no longer be imposed.

Associate Justice


1 A.M. No. RTJ-17-2486, September 8, 2020.

2 Ponencia, p. 9.

3 Id. at 10.

4 Id. at 16.

5 A.M. No. RTJ-02-I739 (Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 02-1423-RTJ), January 22, 2003, 395 SCRA 607.

6 Vivo v. Philippine Amusement and Gaming, Corporation (PAGCOR), G.R. No. 187854, November 12, 2013, 709 SCRA 276, 281.

7 Disciplinary Board, Land Transportation Office v. Gutierrez, G.R. No. 224395, July 3, 2017, 828 SCRA 663, 669. (Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3681-RTJ)

8 A.M. OCA IP] No. 09-3138-P and A.M. No. MTJ-05-1618, October 22, 2013, 708 SCRA 24.

9 Id. at 56.

10 A.M. No. P-03-I7I5 (Formerly I.P.I No. 00-908-P), September 19, 2008, 566 SCRA 1.

11 Id. at 16.

12 Dissenting Opinion of Justice Jose C. Reyes, Jr., p. 12.

13 See ponencia, p. 21.

14 Concurring and Dissenting Opinion of Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa in Re: Investigation Report on the Alleged Extortion Activities of Presiding Judge (Jodofredo B. Abul, Jr., Branch 4, Regional Trial Conn, Butuan City, Agusan Del Norte, A.M. No. RTJ-17-2486, September 8, 2020, pp. 1-2.

15 September 11. 2001.

16 Yap-Paras v. Paras, A.C. No. 5333, March 13, 2017, 820 SCRA 116, 126-128.

17 Rollo, p. 161.

18 Arabani, Jr. v. Arabani, A.M. Nos. SCC-10-14-P (Formerly OCA 1P1 No. 09-3 1-SCC-P), SCC-10-15- P (Formerly A.M. No. 06-3-03-SCC) and SCC-11-17 (Formerly A.M. No. 10-34-SCC), November 12, 2019, p. 2.

19 Reyes-Domingo v. Morales, A.M. No. P-99-1285, October 4, 2000, 342 SCRA 6, 11, citing RULES OF COURT, Rule 139-B, Sec. 5 and Tejadav. Hemando, A.C. No. 2427, May 8   1992  208 SCRA 517 521-522.

20 Id. at 12 and 13, citing Sy v. Academia, A.M. Nos. P-87-72 and P-90-481, July 3, 1991, 198 SCR 705, 715; Estreller v. Manatad, Jr., A.M. No. P-94-1034, February 21, 1997, 268 SCRA 608, 616 an Gacho v. Fuentes, Jr., A.M. No. P-98-1265, June 29, 1998, 291 SCRA 474, 476.

21 How v. Ruiz, A.M. No. P-05-1932 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 01-1230-P), February 15, 2005, 451 SCRA 320,325.

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