Administrative fine for dishonesty on part of judge - A.M. No. RTJ-11-2261

A.M. No. RTJ-11-2261

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On Respondent’s Dishonesty

The making of untruthful statements in the PDS amounts to dishonesty and falsification of an official document.[25]

In Plopinio v. Zabala-Cariño,[26] this Court had the occasion to identify the reckoning point when a specific charge should be reflected in the PDS. Thus, a person is considered formally charged:

(1) In administrative proceedings – xxx.

(2) In criminal proceedings – (a) upon the finding of the existence of probable cause by the investigating prosecutor and the consequent filing of an information in court with the required prior written authority or approval of the provincial or city prosecutor or chief state prosecutor or the Ombdusman or his deputy; (b) upon the finding of the existence of probable cause by the public prosecutor or by the judge in cases not requirng a preliminary investigation nor covered by the Rule on Summarry Procedure; or (c) upon the finding of cause or ground to hold the accused for trial pursuant to Section 13 of the Revised Rule on Summary Procedure.[27] (Emphasis supplied.)

The Book of Entry of Judgment[28] of the City Court of Legazpi shows that: (1) respondent was accused of indirect bribery on 11 December 1974 by Assistant City Fiscal Amisola in Criminal Case No. 7911; (2) he posted a bail bond in the amount of P400.00; and (3) he was acquitted of the crime on 24 October 1977.

It is, therefore, beyond question that respondent had been formally charged. Clearly, he failed to disclose the information when he answered “No” to Question No. 24 of the PDS, which he filed with the JBC in 2005.

That respondent is guilty of dishonesty in accomplishing his PDS is impossible to refute. It was not mere inadvertence on his part when he answered “No” to that very simple question posed in the PDS. He knew exactly what the question called for and what it meant, and that he was committing an act of dishonesty but proceeded to do it anyway.[29]

Respondent, a judge, knows (or should have known) fully well the consequences of making a false statement in his PDS. Being a former public prosecutor and a judge now, it is his duty to ensure that all the laws and rules of the land are followed to the letter. His being a judge makes the act all the more unacceptable. Clearly, there was an obvious lack of integrity, the most fundamental qualification of a member of the judiciary.[30]

As visible representation of the law, respondent judge should have conducted himself in a manner which would merit the respect of the people to him in particular and to the Judiciary in general. He should have acted with honesty in accomplishing his PDS, instead of deliberately misleading the JBC in his bid to be considered and eventually appointed to his present position. Such lack of candor has blemished the image of the judiciary. His contention that the indirect bribery case had been dismissed is immaterial, he was duty bound to disclose such information when he was applying for judicial position. Had it not been for this administrative complaint, such matter would have escaped the attention of this Court.

Dishonesty, being in the nature of a grave offense, carries the extreme penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification from reemployment in the government service.[31]

Thus, in Office of the Court Administrator v. Estacion, Jr.,[32] respondent judge was dismissed from the service for withholding the information in his application for appointment the fact that he was facing criminal charges for homicide and attempted homicide. This Court ratiocinated:

His record did not contain the important information in question because he deliberately withheld and thus effectively hid it. His lack of candor is as obvious as his reason for the suppression of such a vital fact, which he knew would have been taken into account against him if it had been disclosed.

xxx [I]t behooves every prospective appointee to the [j]udiciary to apprise the appointing authority of every matter bearing on his fitness for judicial office, including such circumstances as may reflect on his integrity and probity. He did not discharge that duty.[33]

Respondent judge in Gutierrez v. Belan,[34] was likewise dismissed from the service for indicating in his PDS submitted to the JBC that there was no pending criminal or administrative case against him notwithstanding that he had been indicted in a criminal case which then remained pending.[35]

The penalty of dismissal, however, is not exclusive. Section 11, Rule 140[36] of the Rules of Court, provides the following alternative sanctions against a judge found guilty of dishonesty or any other offense falling under the classification of a serious charge provided in Sec. 8 of the same Rule:

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 not less than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00. (Emphasis supplied.)

The recent case of OCA v. Judge Aguilar[37] is very much instructive on this matter:

xxx, Rule IV, Section 53 of the Civil Service Rules also provides that in the determination of the penalties to be imposed, extenuating, mitigating, aggravating or alternative circumstances attendant to the commission of the offense shall be considered. Among the circumstances that may be allowed to modify the penalty are (1) length of service in the government, (2) good faith, and (3) other analogous circumstances.

In several jurisprudential precedents, the Court has refrained from imposing the actual administrative penalties prescribed by law or regulation in the presence of mitigating factors. Factors such as the respondent's length of service, the respondent's acknowledgement of his or her infractions and feeling of remorse, family circumstances, humanitarian and equitable considerations, respondent's advanced age, among other things, have had varying significance in the determination by the Court of the imposable penalty. For equitable and humanitarian reasons, the Court reduced the administrative penalties imposed in [several] cases[.]

This Court proceeded to discuss a number of cases[38] on dishonesty to show the variation in penalties actually imposed. In sum, most respondents received either a penalty of six (6) months suspension or one (1) year suspension without pay on account of the presence of mitigating circumstances. On the other hand, there were two (2) isolated cases mentioned where respondents (a branch clerk of court of the Metropolitan Trial Court and an Executive Assistant of the Court of Appeals) were only fined in the amount of P5,000.00 and P10,000.00, respectively.

For failure to disclose in her PDS the following: (a) that she has been formally charged for falsification, perjury and estafa; (b) that there was a pending administrative case against her before the Office of the Ombudsman; and (c) that she was later adjudged guilty of misconduct in the same administrative case, respondent judge in Aguilar was correspondingly suspended from the service for six (6) months without pay. In the imposition of the penalty of suspension, this Court considered, among others, the following: (a) that the criminal complaint and the administrative cases involve the notarization of private documents, which had no relation to the performance of her official functions; (b) her length of government service; and (c) that the charge was the first and only administrative complaint brought before the Judiciary for which she was found guilty.

This Court distinguished Aguilar from Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Estacion, Jr., Gutierrez v. Belan and Re: Non-Disclosure before the Judicial and Bar Council of the Administrative Case Filed Against Judge Jaime Quitain, where the respondents were meted the extreme penalty of dismissal from the service, in the following manner:

In Estacion, the respondent judge failed to disclose his pending criminal cases for homicide and attempted homicide when he applied to the Judiciary; while in Belan, the respondent judge failed to previously disclose a pending criminal case for reckless imprudence resulting in serious physical injuries. In Quitain, the previous administrative case which the respondent judge failed to disclose upon his application for judgeship was one for grave misconduct for which he was dismissed from the service with forfeiture of benefits prior to his application to the Judiciary. The seriousness of the case or cases which respondent judges failed to disclose in their PDS or applications for judgeship, and the absence of mitigating circumstances, sufficiently differentiate Estacion, Belan, and Quitain, from the one at bar.

In the present case, respondent judge similarly failed to disclose in his application the serious charge of indirect bribery against him. We rule as we did in Yalung v. Judge Enrique M. Pascua,[39] where this Court fined and suspended respondent judge for six (6) months for gross inefficiency and dishonesty.[40]

As in the present case, the dishonesty of respondent judge in Yalung also involved misrepresentation in accomplishing his PDS submitted to the JBC. In particular, respondent in that case, in answering Question No. 24[41] in the negative, “made it appear that he had never been charged with any violation of the law, decree, ordinance, or regulation”[42] when he had been previously charged for bribery/extortion. Also, both respondents in Yalung and the present case have been in the government service for a considerable length of time. Respondent has served the judiciary for five (5) years after his retirement from the Office of the City of Prosecutor, Ligao City. In addition, both have no prior administrative record. A six-month suspension from office is, ordinarily, in order.

We must, however, of necessity consider the compulsory retirement of respondent on 12 October 2010. The penalty of suspension can thus no longer be implemented. In lieu thereof, the penalty of fine may still be imposed,[43] the determination of the amount of which is subject to the sound discretion of the court.

In Pleyto v. Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group,[44] for negligence in accomplishing his Statement of Assets and Liabilities for the year 2002, this Court held:

xxx And since petitioner is already compulsorily retired, he can no longer serve his suspension; yet, this Court can still order, in lieu of such penalty, the forfeiture of the amount equivalent to petitioner’s salary for six months from his retirement benefits.[45] (Emphasis supplied.)

However, in Judge Basilla v. Ricafort,[46] for dishonesty, this Court opted to impose upon respondent Legal Researcher a fine of Twenty Thousand (P20,000.00) Pesos to be deducted from her retirement benefits. It ratiocinated:

Section 52, Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases provides that dishonesty is a grave offense and punishable by dismissal even on the first time of commission.

Taking into account respondent’s forty (40) years of service in the government, the OCA submits that the penalty imposable upon her is suspension. Considering, however, that suspension can no longer be imposed due to respondent’s retirement on February 14, 2007, We opt to impose upon her a fine of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00).[47] (Emphasis supplied.)

In the case at bar, while we note that respondent is covered by the exacting standards of judicial conduct even while he was still applying for a judicial position, we cannot ignore respondent’s heretofore unblemished judicial service and the fact that this is his first offense.

All considered, we deem it sufficient to impose the penalty of fine in the amount of Fifty Thousand (P50,000.00) Pesos in lieu of the penalty of six (6) months suspension from office. The total amount of fines in this case is Sixty Thousand (P60,000.00) Pesos, which includes the fine of Ten Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos for gross inefficiency.

WHEREFORE, for gross inefficiency and dishonesty, respondent Judge Angeles S. Vasquez, RTC, Branch 13, Ligao City, is hereby ordered to pay a FINE of SIXTY THOUSAND (P60,000.00) PESOS to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

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