- Spouses Jacinto v. Vallarta
- A.M. No. MTJ-04-1541
- PANGANIBAN, J :
- Decision Date
A.M. No. MTJ-04-1541. March 10, 2005.
Spouses JESUS V. JACINTO and NENITA C. JACINTO, complainants, vs. Judge PLACIDO V. VALLARTA, Municipal Trial Court of Gapan, Nueva Ecija, respondent.
D E C I S I O N
PANGANIBAN, J p:
Quiet dignity, self-restraint, civility and temperate language are expected of every judge. All members of the judiciary must strictly follow the ethical standards laid down by the
The Case and the Facts
This case originated from a Complaint filed by Spouses Jesus V. Jacinto and Nenita C. Jacinto on March 22, 2002. Judge Placido B. Vallarta was charged therein with gross negligence, gross ignorance of the law, issuance of an unjust interlocutory order, and vulgar and unbecoming conduct. The Complaint alleges as follows:
"1. That on September 4, 2001, Judge Placido B. Vallarta issued an Order against us for a Writ of Replevin for our vehicle Isuzu Cargo Truck. The Order was in favor of a certain rich and influential spouses from Nueva Ecija, Mr. & Mrs. Gaudencio and Carina Magundayao, who sold the truck to us on September 13, 1999; cdtai2005
"2. That according to our knowledge and belief a Writ of Replevin should not have been ordered against us considering our agreements with spouses Magundayao stated in the 'Deed of Conditional Sale' legalizing the sale of the Isuzu Cargo Truck; DAaIHT
"3. That we did not violate any of the agreements in the Deed of Conditional Sale. Nevertheless, it was us who were cheated and the right to own the truck was taken from us by spouses Magundayao, hence, we sent them a demand letter; cdtai2005
"4. That after the Sheriff recovered the truck from our possession on September 7, 2001, we immediately went to the Office of Judge Vallarta to settle the problem amicably. We stooped down and pleaded for help. However, we were dismayed by the attitude shown by Judge Vallarta and the words from him were so surprising that we did not expect to hear from a public servant and from a Judge for that matter. Instead of giving sound advice to our case, Judge Vallarta acted otherwise and was totally rude towards us. For whatever reason he dealt with us in an ill-mannered way that even resulted for my fainting in the Office of the MTC-Gapan, because he at that time was asking him, if possible I will deposit the money to the Court, representing our payments to spouses Magundayao however, Judge Vallarta sarcastically uttered the following words: 'Wala akong pakialam diyan sa pera ninyo kung gusto ninyo hanapin ninyo ang inyong kalaban', I answered him 'Wala po kasi ang aming kalaban (Magundayao) nagpunta daw po sa abroad' and he replied 'Eh, wala pala edi hanapin ninyo, sino ang gusto ninyong maghanap ako at saka hindi pumapasok sa isip ko yang mga sinasabi mo (pointing his forehead) humanap ka ng abogado mo na makatutulong sa iyo, dagdag ka pa sa problema ko'.
"5. That because of the injustice shown to us by Judge Vallarta we cannot help but to think that due to the money and influence by spouses Magundayao the Order of Writ of Replevin was issued wrongly. He issued the Writ of Replevin without clearance from the Supreme Court. We say this so because upon our thorough examination of the complaint and the attachment thereof we found out that the certification from the Supreme Court issued in favor of the Utility Assurance Corporation, prove a defective replevin bond;
"6. That because of the inconsiderate attitude of Judge Vallarta, given our limited resources, we were left with no other choice but to hire the service of a legal counsel. And on September 12, 2001, our Counsel filed an 'Urgent Motion to Quash Writ of Replevin' and a hearing was set on September 18, 2001. Unfortunately, both the Plaintiff Magundayao and their Counsel failed to appear on the said hearing.
"7. That on September 19, we went to Supreme Court and found out that Utility Assurance Corporation, bonding company that issued Replevin Bond was not authorized to do business at the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Gapan. A certification dated September 19, 2001 from the Supreme Court was issued to us; aHDTAI
"8. That on September 23, 2001 hearing for Motion to Quash was set for the second time. But then again Counsel for the Plaintiff (Magundayao) did not appear in Court and so they ask for postponement;
"9. That on October 9, 2001 third setting for the Motion To Quash, we (Defendant) submitted additional defense exhibits. For the third time counsel for the Plaintiff did not appear in court. Judge Vallarta asked the Plaintiff why their counsel was not present for the third time. Without too much effort from their side Plaintiff bluntly responded, 'Ewan ko po';
"10. That on October 23, 2001, the fourth setting of hearing for Motion to Quash, Judge Vallarta gave another chance to the Plaintiff (Magundayao) to answer all our defense exhibits. And the Plaintiff asked for repeated postponement and the hearing was reset to November 6, 2001;
"11. That on November 6, 2001, surprisingly we were called inside the Chamber of Judge Vallarta by a certain retired Judge Jose E. Belen (MTC-GAPAN) and was asked by him to settle the case between the Plaintiff and Defendant outside the court and tried to convince us not to question the clearance of Utility Assurance Corp. But the settlement did not materialize because of the demands of the Plaintiff which we believe too much for them to ask;
"12. That on November 6, 2001, after failed attempt for settlement Judge Vallarta advised the Plaintiff to withdraw the Writ of Replevin because the defect of the Replevin Bond was not cured. And our counsel withdraw the Motion to Quash as was advised by Judge Vallarta;
"13. That on November 7, 2001, our counsel filed an Ex-Parte Motion to Release Motor Vehicle. On the same date, much as he would not want it to do, Judge Vallarta ordered the release of the motor vehicle. But before he signed the Order for the release, he confronted us and uttered the following in verbatim, 'O ngayong alam ninyo na mali ang aking ginawa hindi ninyo ako idemanda. Idemanda ninyo ako ng makita ninyo ang inyong hinahanap.' We cannot believe that those words came from a Judge;
"14. That on November 8, 2001, the Plaintiff filed for another Replevin Bond dated November 5, 2001 for the second time, through the Pacific Insurance Company. But still this bonding insurance company was not authorized by the Supreme Court to do business with the Municipal Trial Court of Gapan; TAaEIc
"15. That on November 9, 2001, the Plaintiff filed Motion for Reconsideration dated November 8, 2001 without proof of service considering that it was only a mere scrap of paper;
"16. That on November 20, 2001, at the hearing for the Motion for Reconsideration, counsel for the Defendant raised a question regarding the proof of service for that motion. On the instant, Carina Magundayao presented a fake proof of service. But Judge Vallarta accepted or tolerated the proof of service as presented by Carina Magundayao and disregard counsel for the defendants questioning. He even instructed our counsel to just receive the motion on the date of the hearing and required him to answer it within 5 days. Then a hearing was set on November 27, 2001. Counsel for the Plaintiff did not appear in court;
"17. That on November 26, 2001, we went to Supreme Court and found out for the second time the defect of the second Replevin Bond. Another certification was issued upon our request. On the same date we were able to file our Opposition/Comment for the Motion for Reconsideration;
"18. That on November 27, 2001 hearing for Motion for Reconsideration and we (defendant) through our counsel presented another certification from the Supreme Court, Judge Vallarta made an Order, that both the Motion for Reconsideration and our Opposition/Comment be submitted for Resolution. Counsel for the Plaintiff again was not in Court;
"19. Surprisingly on December 21, 2001, Sheriff Ernesto Mendoza went to our house purposely to replevin the subject motor vehicle. Because we are law abiding citizen, after our consultation with our lawyer on the following day, we voluntarily surrendered the vehicle to Sheriff Mendoza and to the Clerk of Court Atty. Herminigildo M. Linsangan;
"20. As much as we would like to go to the Municipal Trial Court of Gapan (MTC-Gapan) immediately after the truck was recovered from us to verify how the Writ of Replevin was again issued despite the pending incident, we could not do so because on the days following December 21, 2001 until January 1, 2002 the Court was on vacation. To our great dismay and mortification, Judge Vallarta did not resolve said Motion for Reconsideration and our Opposition/Comment to Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration, an unsigned Order dated November 27, 2001 can attest to that. We were able to secure a certified true copy of the said unsigned Order from the Clerk of Court, MTC-Gapan on January 2, 2002. Despite all these he still issued an Order dated December 21, 2001 approving the new clearance. ISTCHE
"21. That in view of said anomalies we discovered, our counsel filed an Urgent Motion For Reconsideration With Motion to Quash Writ of Replevin dated January 3, 2001;
"22. That on January 15, 2002, the date of hearing for Urgent Motion for Reconsideration With Motion To Quash Writ of Replevin, Judge Vallarta failed to appear in his sala;
"23. That on February 12, 2002, Judge Vallarta advised us to enter into an amicable settlement, hence we asked for the postponement of the case to file the appropriate compromise agreement. Judge Vallarta instructed our counsel to withdraw our Urgent Motion For Reconsideration With Motion to Quash Writ of Replevin;
"24. However, we failed to settle the case amicably because the Plaintiff reneged the previous commitment they made while we were inside the chamber of Judge Vallarta;
"25. That because of said development and in fact our Isuzu Cargo Truck has been deteriorating and its some accessories were missing one by one, we were constrained to file our Counter Replevin Bond to release the said truck on February 27, 2002;
"26. That on March 1, 2002, we filed our Motion To Release Motor Vehicle in lieu of the said Counter Replevin Bond and it was brought out to the attention of Judge Vallarta;
"27. That on March 5, 2002, we went to Cabiao, Nueva Ecija and showed him our Counter Replevin Bond as well as the Motion of our counsel. However, he responded to us indifferently and uttered the following statement, 'O ano ang kailangan ninyo?'. We amiably responded, 'Pakikiusap po sana namin na mai-release na ang aming sasakyan para makapaghanap-buhay na po kami, ito lamang po ang aming ikinabubuhay'. To our astonishment he showed impatience and said 'Ayaw pirmahan ni Judge Bernardo ang pinapipirmahan ko, sabihin ninyo (while pointing his finger to us) na pirmahan ito at ubos na ang panggastos na ibinigay ko sa tauhan ko na P500.00 ayaw pa niyang pirmahan ito'. We were totally perplexed at that statement. Why would be brought out something for which we have no business at all? We are trying to plead for our case and has nothing to do with whatever dealings he has with Judge Bernardo. Still holding on our temper we told him, 'Wala po kaming kinalaman sa sinasabi ninyo at wala po kaming karapatan na sabihan si Judge Bernardo na pirmahan kung ano man ang pinapipirmahan ninyo'. Upon hearing those words from us he again respond with anger and finality, 'kung ayaw ninyong sabihin magtalikuran tayo. Hindi ko alam kung kailan ko maaksiyunan yang problema ninyo. Tingnan ko sa Martes (March 12, 2002) kung naroon ako (MTC-Gapan) kung hindi ako makarating pasensiya kayo at hintayin ninyo kung kailan ko aaksiyunan yang problema ninyo'. That manner he conversed to us as well as the statement he uttered were least expected to come from a moral and Honorable Judge. Even then, we were able to identify ourselves as only . . . ordinary citizens, as against Judge Vallarta who is the Acting Presiding Judge in our case, we contained our emotions and left the court;
"28. That on March 12, 2002, our case was called almost 11:30 in the morning because he arrived at around 10:30 in the morning and our counsel asked and presented that our Motion be granted. However, Judge Vallarta requested our counsel to give him time to study the matters regarding the posting of Counter Replevin Bond and just asked to follow him in the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of San Antonio, Nueva Ecija on the following day, Wednesday, March 13, 2002;
"29. That on March 13, 2002, as agreed upon by Judge Vallarta and our counsel, we followed him in San Antonio, Nueva Ecija. Giving us enough hope that he will release the Isuzu Cargo Truck, we even requested one of his Clerk in MTC-Gapan to accompany us brought with her pertinent documents/records pertaining to our case. However, upon seeing us again Judge Vallarta gave various reasons for him not to release the truck. And base from our little knowledge of the law most of his excuses just trying to play trick on us. One flimsy reason he mentioned was that Plaintiff should be given the opportunity to examine our Counter Replevin Bond, an opportunity not once bestowed on us. Making us realized (sic) more how powerful money and influence work against us who have nothing. Our meeting with him ended up with another instruction that our counsel file an 'Amended Motion to Approve the Release of Motor Vehicle' for which Plaintiff must be furnished. Hearing for the said Motion was set on March 19, 2002; EScIAa
"30. That on March 19, 2002, we waited Judge Vallarta until 12:00 o'clock in the morning in the Municipal Trial Court of Gapan but he did not show up for unknown reason." (Emphasis in the original)
On April 15, 2002, Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. referred the Complaint to respondent judge and asked him to file, within ten days from receiving it, a comment thereon. However, the latter failed to do so despite his receipt of the Complaint on April 30, 2002.
During the 2002 barangay elections, respondent filed his Certificate of Candidacy and was considered automatically resigned effective June 10, 2002.
Subsequently, the court administrator sent respondent the "1st Tracer" dated September 20, 2002, reiterating the directive for the latter to comment on the Complaint within five days from receipt of the Tracer; otherwise, the matter would be submitted to the Court for resolution without the comment.
The 1st Tracer was received by respondent on October 16, 2002, but he again failed to file his comment. Hence, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) made its report and recommendation on the matter even without his comment.
Findings and Recommendation of the OCA
The OCA considered respondent judge to have waived his right to present evidence to controvert the Complaint against him.
It opined that although he had erred in issuing the Writ of Replevin, complainants failed to prove that the error was deliberate and malicious or done with evident bad faith. It pointed out that an administrative complaint was not the appropriate remedy for every erroneous order issued by a judge.
However, it found that respondent had failed to comply with his duty "to conduct himself with courtesy and, to avoid using language which is abusive, offensive or otherwise improper." Hence, the OCA recommended that he be penalized with a fine of P5,000.
The Court's Ruling
We agree with the OCA.
Complainants fault respondent mainly (1) for issuing a Writ of Replevin, even if the bonding company that issued the replevin bond was allegedly not authorized to do business with the MTC of Gapan; and (2) for failing to act, favorably and with dispatch, on their various Motions and counter-replevin bond for the release of the truck to them. CIDaTc
The facts laid down by complainants are insufficient to support a finding of gross ignorance of the law. To be held liable therefor, "the judge must be shown to have committed an error that was 'gross or patent, deliberate and malicious.'" Respondent may have erred in issuing the Writ of Replevin, but such error has not been shown to be gross or patent. Because complainants did not furnish this Court a copy of the Complaint in Civil Case No. 4896, there is no basis for showing how they presented the case and the need for a writ of replevin to respondent. While manifesting palpable impatience bordering on rudeness, as well as personal disinterest in their cause and problems, his utterances and behavior fail to support a finding that he acted deliberately and maliciously.
Neither is there any clear and sufficient basis for finding respondent liable for gross negligence and issuance of an unjust interlocutory order. He cannot, however, be completely absolved of administrative liability.
Judges are viewed as the visible representations of law and justice, from whom the people draw the will and inclination to obey the law. Thus, the official conduct of judges should be free from impropriety and even the appearance of impropriety. Their personal behavior, not only on the bench and in the performance of judicial duties but also in their everyday lives, should be beyond reproach. Rule 2.01 of the
In this case, respondent displayed conduct that fell short of the standards expected of a magistrate of the law. His unguarded utterances, impatience, and undisguised lack of concern bordering on contempt for the plight of complainants, who had humbly looked up to him and sought his help, constituted vulgar and unbecoming conduct that eroded public confidence in the judiciary. cdtai2005
From the standpoint of conduct and demeanor expected of members of the bench, a resort to intemperate language only detracts from the respect due them and becomes self-destructive. The judicial office circumscribes the personal conduct of a magistrate and imposes a number of restrictions. This is a price that judges have to pay for accepting and occupying their exalted positions in the administration of justice. Irresponsible or improper conduct on their part erodes public confidence in the judiciary. Thus, it is their duty to avoid any impression of impropriety in order to protect the image and integrity of the judiciary. "Maintaining the dignity of courts and enforcing the duty of the citizens to respect them are necessary adjuncts to the administration of justice."
Respondent must be reminded that government service is people-oriented. "Patience is an essential part of dispensing justice and courtesy is a mark of culture and good breeding." Impatience and rudeness have no place in government service, in which personnel are enjoined to act with self-restraint and civility at all times.
Section 10 of Rule 140 of the of not less than P1,000 but not exceeding P10,000 may be imposed.
WHEREFORE, Respondent Judge Placido B. Vallarta is found guilty of vulgar and unbecoming conduct and hereby FINED five thousand pesos. HCITDc
Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona and Garcia, JJ., concur.
Carpio Morales, J., is on leave.
1. Rollo, pp. 1-8.
2. Complaint, pp. 1-7; rollo, pp. 1-7. (Mention of Annexes omitted.)
3. 1st Indorsement dated April 15, 2002.
4. Registry return receipt of registered letter No. 2207.
5. Certification issued by Atty. Caridad A. Pabello, OIC, Office of Administrative Services.
6. , 414 SCRA 345, 352, October 22, 2003, per Panganiban, J. (citing , 329 SCRA 558, 565, April 3, 2000, per Panganiban, J.)
7. , 316 Phil. 103, July 14, 1995.
8. Canon 3,
10. , 307 SCRA 582, 587, May 26, 1999.
11. , 333 Phil. 637, December 23, 1996.
12. , 268 SCRA 47, February 12, 1997.
13. ., 312 Phil. 13, March 1, 1995.
14. , 268 SCRA 657, February 26, 1997.
15. , 388 SCRA 241, 247-248, September 3, 2002, per Ynares-Santiago, J. (citing , 385 SCRA 285, July 29, 2002).
16. , p. 247.
17. , 344 SCRA 519, 536, November 6, 2000.
18. Par. c(1) of Section 11 of Rule 140 of the