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 ]




Judge Liberty O. Castaneda (respondent) is no stranger to misconduct. In 2012, she was dismissed from service for dishonesty, gross ignorance of the law and procedure, gross misconduct, and incompetency.1 This extreme penalty was meted following the discovery of multiple infractions ranging from court mismanagement to irregularities and procedural lapses which attended her disposition of an inordinate number of cases for Nullity, Annulment of Marriage, and Legal Separation. Thus, in addition to her dismissal, she suffered the accessory penalties of forfeiture of retirement benefits and perpetual disqualification from reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

It appears however that respondent's past infractions continue to haunt her. Now before the Court is another administrative case, in relation to her purported "annulment-fixing." Briefly, Sharon Flores- Concepcion (complainant) avers that respondent nullified her marriage, a proceeding which she neither participated in nor at the very least, had any notice of. However, before this complaint could be resolved, death intervened. Thus, the issue posed before the Court is whether respondent's death warrants the dismissal of the administrative complaint lodged against her.

I concur with the ponencia.

Jurisdiction, once obtained, continues until the final disposal of a case.2 To clarify, the dismissal of the administrative complaint in this case does not stem from the Court being ousted from jurisdiction following respondent's death. Rather, it is in the very exercise of its jurisdiction that the Court finds it proper to dismiss the administrative complaint in light of the demands of procedural due process and the impracticability of punishment.   However, since the matter of procedural due process has been extensively discussed by the ponencia, I will no longer belabor such issue. What further compel me to rule in favor of the dismissal of the administrative complaint are the impracticability of the punishment and considerations of justice and fairness.

The paramount interest to be protected in an administrative case is the preservation of the Constitutional mandate that a public office is a public trust.3 Public officers must, at all times, be accountable to the people. As implementers of the law, members of the Judiciary are held to an even higher standard; which no less than the High Court is tasked to uphold. Hence, the conduct of members of the Judiciary are highly scrutinized whether they pertain to their professional or private capacities; the only requirement being, that the administrative complaint be filed against them during their incumbency.4 After all, the Court cannot countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those in the administration of justice, which will violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary.5 It is precisely because of this accountability that in imposing disciplinary sanctions, punishment is merely a secondary objective; the primary being, the preservation of the public's faith and confidence in our judicial system.

It therefore begs the question, will public confidence in the Judiciary be restored or further safeguarded by imposing sanctions on the heirs of an erring judge?

To recall, respondent has already been dishonorably discharged from her judicial functions in 2012 and consequently, stripped of her retirement benefits, with the exception of accrued leave credits. This is not to state that accrued leave credits are beyond the reach of the Court. In the following cases, the Court imposed a fine for judicial misconduct which would have otherwise warranted dismissal from service, had they not been previously dismissed from service for a prior administrative infraction, thus:

In Leonidas v. Supnet,6 the Court found Judge Supnet guilty of gross ignorance of law for holding complainant in indirect contempt for disobeying order which to begin with, was not directed at him. In view however of his prior dismissal from service for serious misconduct, he was instead fined P3,000.00 to be deducted from his accrued leave credits.

In Cañada v. Suerte, Judge Suerte was ordered to pay a fine of P40,000.00 to be deducted from his accrued leave credits for dishonesty committed in his private capacity. Notably, this was the second administrative case for which he was fined, following his dismissal from service in 2004.

In Untalan v. Sison,8 Judge Sison was found guilty of gross ignorance of law for irregularities which attended the grant of bail in favor of an accused. Since he had already been dismissed from service, he was fined P20,000.00 to be taken from his remaining accrued leave credits.

In Bernas v. Reyes,9 Judge Reyes was found guilty of manifest bias, partiality and grave abuse of authority. However, during the pendency of this case, she was dismissed from service for another administrative infraction. Thus, she was fined P40,000.00 to be deducted from her accrued leave credits if sufficient, otherwise, to be paid directly to the Court.

In Valdez v. Torres,10 Judge Torres was found liable for undue delay in resolving a civil case but considering that she had been previously dismissed from service, she was fined P20,000.00 to be deducted from her accrued leave benefits.

In Baculi v. Belen,11 Judge Belen was found guilty of dishonesty for receiving allowances from the local government despite being under suspension. In the meantime, he was dismissed from service for grave abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law. Thus, he was ordered to pay a fine of P40,000.00 to be deducted from his accrued leave credits.

In the aforementioned cases, judges were penalized with a fine which was deducted from their accrued leave credits since their retirement benefits had been previously forfeited. It is worth noting, however, that these judges were alive at the time their respective administrative liabilities were determined by the Court with finality. Thus, it is my view that the imposition of fine for their infractions was only proper and more significantly, contributes towards public confidence in the Judiciary as the erring judges themselves are made to suffer the penalty of a fine. Any administrative penalty should attach to the erring public officer or employee alone. This is in stark contrast to herein respondent's case, where it is her heirs who would be shouldering the burden. This stems from the fact that respondent has forfeited her retirement benefits with the exception of her accrued leave credits. Following respondent's death in 2018 and while this case was being deliberated by the Court, respondent's remaining properties, which would include accrued leave credits, have already been transmitted to her heirs under the Civil Code.12 Thus, as it stands, any fine to be imposed by the Court shall be borne by respondent's heirs who have nothing to do with her transgressions. It would be highly unjust to allow her family, who arguably already bear the brunt of her tarnished reputation, to be further burdened by a pecuniary sanction for misconduct which they neither participated nor benefitted in. Needless to state, respondent's faults should not be transmitted to her heirs. The Court cannot close its eyes to the effect of its judgments; particularly in disciplinary proceedings, where the imposition of penalties is largely within its discretion.13  While the Court is guided by the gravity of the offense and prior penalties it has imposed for similar cases, it remains mindful of the peculiar circumstances in each case. It can hardly be said that penalizing respondent's family will serve to uphold the integrity and dignity of the Judiciary, which, after all, is the primary purpose of imposing disciplinary sanctions among its ranks.

This is not the first time that a respondent in an administrative case dies during its pendency.Ꮮαwρhi৷ In some cases, the death occurred either before the respondent could submit a comment on the complaint,14 before an investigation could be conducted,15 or before the investigating judge or the Office of the Court Administrator could make a finding on the culpability of the respondent.16 Likewise, there have been instances where the respondent dies while the case is being deliberated by this Court17 yet the administrative cases were nevertheless dismissed. As explained in Loyao, Jr. v. Caube:

To be sure, respondent Caube's death has permanently foreclosed the prosecution of any other actions, be it criminal or civil, against him for his malfeasance in office. We are, however, not precluded from imposing the appropriate administrative sanctions against him. Respondent's misconduct is so grave as to merit his dismissal from the service, were it not for his untimely demise during the pendency of these proceedings. However, since the penalty can no longer be carried out, this case is now declared closed and terminated. (Underscoring supplied)

Hence, it is apparent that regardless of the stage of the proceedings, death can be considered as a circumstance which would warrant the dismissal of the administrative case due to the impracticability of the punishment. Notably, the same ruling was made by the Court in Dabu v. Kapunan,19 whose facts are similar to respondent's case insofar as it relates to irregularities in the conduct of annulment cases. Here, Prosecutor Dabu filed a complaint against Judge Kapunan after noting irregularities committed by the latter in connivance with his court staff. Prosecutor Dabu was assigned to the branches of Judge Kapunan yet she was never asked to intervene or investigate cases involving annulment of marriage. Upon verification of the records of these cases, she discovered that court records were being falsified to make it appear that a prosecutor intervened when in truth, the prosecutor named was either on leave or re-assigned. Falsification of an official document such as court records is a grave offense which likewise constitutes dishonesty, another grave offense. Taken singularly, the commission of such grave offense warrants the penalty of dismissal from service even upon the first offense. However, citing the case of Loyao, Jr., the Court ordered the dismissal of the complaint against Judge Kapunan in view of his death during the pendency of the proceedings. This, notwithstanding the fact that Judge Kapunan was given the opportunity to be heard and the surrounding circumstances of the case which undeniably established his culpability.

In criminal cases, the death of the accused before the rendition of a final judgment extinguishes criminal liability,20 precisely because the juridical condition of a penalty is that it is personal.21 I find no cogent reason not to apply the same treatment to disciplinary cases. After all, any administrative complaint against a judge must always be examined with a discriminating eye, for its consequential effects are, by their nature, highly penal, such that the respondent judge stands to face the sanction of dismissal or disbarment.22 Similarly, administrative proceedings are akin to criminal prosecutions in the sense that no compromise may be entered into between the parties as regards the penal sanction.23 Generally speaking, in both criminal and administrative cases, complainants are mere witnesses such that regardless of their subsequent desistance, the Court will not desist from imposing the appropriate penalties. Finally, it must be underscored that in either case, absent a final determination by the Court itself, there is no final determination of liability to speak of for which the appropriate penalty can be determined and thereafter, implemented.

There is no doubt that respondent's act of nullifying complainant's marriage without the conduct of proper judicial proceedings is reprehensible. Such malfeasance not only makes a mockery of marriage and its life-changing consequences but likewise grossly violates the basic norms of truth, justice, and due process.24 Likewise, the damage suffered by complainant is unquantifiable. Be that as it may, death during the pendency of the case should nonetheless serve as a bar from any further finding of administrative liability. This is not to diminish the gravity of any misconduct or impropriety, but rather from the recognition that ultimately, disciplinary proceedings involve no private interest and afford no redress for private grievance.25 They are undertaken and prosecuted solely for the public welfare and to save courts of justice from persons unfit to practice law or as in this case, those tasked to implement it. Necessarily, the administrative penalty attaches to the erring public officer or employee alone. Thus, the erring public officer or employee must personally suffer the sanction imposed by the Court to achieve the objective of disciplinary cases — to cleanse its ranks and preserve the public's faith and confidence in the judicial system. Indubitably, this purpose cannot be achieved when the death of the respondent intervenes and it is the respondent's heirs who will be made to suffer, albeit in a financial capacity.

Ruling in favor of the dismissal of an administrative case by reason of death is by no means an absolution from the infractions committed by a public officer or employee. Rather, I am prevailed upon by overriding considerations of the primary purpose of disciplinary proceedings and the impracticability of imposing punishment which results therefrom. For this reasons, I concur with the ponencia that the case against respondent should be dismissed in view of her death during the pendency of the case.

Associate Justice


1 Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Liberty O. Castaneda, 696 Phil. 202 (2012).

2 See Gonzales v. Escalona, 587 Phil. 448 (2008).

3 In re: Rogelio M. Salazar Jr., A.M. Nos. 15-05-136-RTC & P-16-3450, 04 December 2018. 

4 See Office of the Court Administrator v. Grageda, 706 Phil. 15 (2013).

5 Office of the Court Administrator v. Reyes, 635 Phil. 490, 499 (2010).

6 446 Phil. 53 (2003).

7 570 Phil. 25 (2008).

8 567 Phil. 420 (2008).

9 639 Phil. 202(2010).

10 687 Phil. 80(2012).

11 A.M. No. RTJ-11-2286, 12 February 2020.

12 CIVIL CODE, Art. 777.

13 1987 CONSTITUTION, Article VIII, Section

14 Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in Regional Trial Court, Branch I, Bangued, Abra, 388 Phil. 60 (2000).

15 Camsav. Rendon, 427 Phil. 518 (2002).

16 Botev. Eduardo, 491 Phil. 198(2005).

17 Dabu v. Kapunan, 656 Phil. 230 (2011); Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in the Municipal Trial Court of'Tambulig and the ll'1' Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Mahayag-Dumingag-Josefma, Both in Zamboanga del Sur, 509 Phil. 401 (2005); Loyao, Jr. v. Caube, 450 Phil. 38 (2003); Apiag v. Cantero, 335 Phil. 511 (1997).

18 Supra.

19 Supra.

20 REVISED PENAL CODE, Art. 89 (1).

21 Reyes, L.B. (2008) The Revised Penal Code (17th Ed., p. 838).

22 Re: Judge Adoracion Angeles, 567 Phil. 189 (2008).

23 Aulencio v. Manura, 489 Phil. 752 (2005).

24 Office of the Court Administrator v. lndar, 685 Phil. 272, 287 (2012).

25 Office of the Court Administrator v. Ruiz, 780 Phil. 133, 163 (2016).

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