Republic of the Philippines
A.M. No. RTJ-17-2506 | November 10, 2020
Office of the Court Administrator, Complainant,
Judge Antonio C. Reyes, Regional Trial Court, Branch 61, Baguio City, Benguet, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This resolves the administrative charge for gross ignorance of the law, gross misconduct and flagrant violation of the Canons of the New Code of Judicial Conduct against Judge Antonio C. Reyes (respondent judge), Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Baguio City, Branch 61.
On August 7, 2016, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (President Duterte) publicly named seven (7) judges who were allegedly involved in illegal drugs. Only four (4) of the named judges were sitting judges at the time of the announcement, Judge Exequil L. Dagala, Judge Adriano S. Savillo, Judge Domingo L. Casiple, Jr., and herein respondent Judge.
Due to the public announcement of President Duterte, this Court designated Retired Justice Roberto A. Abad (Justice Abad) as the sole investigator of the fact-finding investigation against the four (4) judges. On November 7, 2016, Justice Abad rendered a report regarding Judges Dagala, Casiple and Savillo finding no evidence linking them to illegal drugs. Thus, this Court on December 6, 2016, issued a Resolution terminating the fact-finding investigation against the three (3) judges because there is no evidence linking them to the use, proliferation, trade or involvement in illegal drugs.
As regards the respondent judge, Justice Abad submitted his report on February 16, 2017, recommending the institution of an administrative case against the respondent judge. On February 21, 2017, this Court issued a Resolution accepting the report of Justice Abad and directing the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) to proceed with the inventory of cases decided by the respondent judge, to investigate the driver of the respondent judge and to request the National Bureau of Investigation to locate the witnesses identified in the report of Justice Abad.
In a Memorandum dated August 14, 2017, the OCA submitted its report and praying that the same be considered as its formal charge for gross ignorance of the law, gross misconduct and flagrant violation of the Canons of the New Code of Judicial Conduct against the respondent judge.
Upon investigation, at the instance of the OCA, the office secured the affidavit of the following persons, namely, Paul Black, Melchora Nagen (Melchora), Charito Zsa Zsa Valbuena Oliva (Oliva), Edmar Buscagan (Buscagan), and Atty. Lourdes Maita Cascolan Andres (Atty. Andres). Further, there are anonymous letter and interviews from a BJMP personnel, court employees as well as practicing lawyers based in Baguio City who requested anonymity.
It was found that a certain Paul Black submitted an Affidavit dated October 26, 2007 stating that he gave Norma Domingo (Norma) P50,000.00 for the respondent judge in exchange for the acquittal of the charge against his wife, Marina Black. Also, Melchora executed an Affidavit dated December 10, 2007 stating that Norma visited her offering to work for her release for P100,000.00 to be paid to the respondent judge. Melchora’s family bargained for P50,000.00 and gave the said amount to Norma. Thereafter, Melchora was acquitted from her criminal charge. Norma requested Melchora to accompany her in delivering to the respondent judge the amount of P300,000.00 paid by Richard Lagunilla in consideration of the acquittal of the criminal charge of the wife. An anonymous letter was also sent to Justice Abad stating that four (4) lawyers who are close with the respondent judge obtained acquittals for their client. These allegations were confirmed by the judicial audit since cases of Marina Black, Norma Domingo, Melchora Nagen and Wilhelmina Lagunilla were all acquitted of their criminal charges.
Another former staff, Charito Oliva also executed an Affidavit that sometime 2008, the respondent judge pointed to her a woman, later known to be Norma, who was standing across the street in front of the Justice Hall Building. Respondent judge ordered her to get something from Norma. On the way back, Oliva glanced inside the paper bag given by Norma and saw an Iphone cellular phone. Thereafter, Oliva handed the same to respondent judge.
Edmar Buscagan y Camarillo (Buscagan), the accused in Criminal Case Nos. 33559-R and 33560-R charged for violation of Sections 11 and 12 of Republic Act No. (R.A.) 9165, also executed an Affidavit. He stated that he was convicted by respondent judge. Sometime in 2014, after the hearing on the presentation of the prosecution evidence, a certain “Jun Alejandro” a staff of the RTC of Baguio City, Branch 61 approached him and asked Buscagan if he wanted to fix his case. The latter replied in the affirmative. Thereafter, Jun Alejandro then asked P150,000.00. When Buscagan said that the amount was too high, Jun Alejandro replied “Sandali, kausapin ko si judge.” When Jun Alejandro returned, the amount was lowered to P100,000.00. Buscagan still considered the same as too high. Jun Alejandro went inside the judge’s chambers. The amount was then further lowered to P70,000.00. Since Buscagan refused to pay the fee, he was convicted by the respondent judge. Thereafter, a certain Pastora “Paz” Putungan, a bondswoman and known fixer in RTC of Baguio City, Branch 61 demanded P300,000.00 in exchange for reversal of his conviction. Buscagan failed to pay the amount. Then, when he saw Putungan last February 2017, the latter chided “Kung binigay mo nalang sana kay judge yung bail mo e di sana naayos na yan. Wala namang ibang makakapag reverse niyan kung Hindi si Judge Reyes..”
Atty. Lourdes Maita Cascolan-Andres (Atty. Andres) executed her Affidavit attesting to that fact that she was approached by Edward Fangonil asking her if she was willing to have the decision reversed. When she asked if it was possible, Edward Fangonil replied yes so long as P300,000.00 was given to the respondent judge. As her clients were not able to raise the said money, their convictions were not reversed.
Apparently, it is well-known in the legal circle in Baguio City the corrupt dealings of the respondent judge. The price of acquittals and dismissal of drug cases ranges from P200,000.00 to P300,000.00. The alleged modus operandi of respondent judge was that he will prepare two (2) decisions – one for acquittal and one for conviction. Norma would then approach the family of the accused to ask for money in exchange for an acquittal. If payment was given on time, the decision for acquittal will be the one rendered. If the accused was not able to give the money before the decision was promulgated, the accused will be convicted. However, if the accused will file a motion for reconsideration together with the money, the conviction will be reversed and the accused will be acquitted.
The judicial audit conducted by the OCA found questionable acquittals and dismissals of the cases against the accused. One such questionable acquittal was the case of accused Jericho Cedo in Criminal Case No. 32499-R where the accused was acquitted on his second motion for reconsideration.
There were also numerous motu proprio dismissals even before the prosecution rested its case. In Criminal Case No. 37928-R, in spite of an order resetting the direct testimony of Agent Karizze Joy Carino on April 20, 2016 because the public prosecutor was not feeling well, respondent judge hastily dismissed the case on April 18, 2016 for the reason that “even if they have yet to testify, this court thinks that the evidence for [these] cases’ dismissal cannot be reversed after the testimony of Agent Bansag x x x.” Also, in Criminal Case No. 36973-R, despite the issuance of an Order dated October 26, 2015 ordering the prosecution to file its Formal Offer of Evidence, respondent judge on the same date issued an Order dismissing the case by virtue of Section 23, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court on the ground of insufficiency of evidence. Further, in Criminal Case No. 33790-R, where respondent judge issued an Order dated January 12, 2015 setting the continuation of the presentation of the prosecution’s evidence on March 2, 2015, but suddenly the next day, respondent judge issued an Order dismissing the case. The same happened in Criminal Case Nos. 33246-R and 33209-R.
Further, years before this Court in Estipona v. Lobrigo declared Section 23 of R.A. 9165 unconstitutional, respondent judge had the propensity in accommodating plea bargaining in drug cases in numerous cases to the effect that the accused was only rehabilitated in a government facility.
Investigation with the BJMP and PDEA who agreed to be interviewed but requested not to be named, claimed that Norma served as the “bag woman” of respondent judge and frequently visits detainees who had pending cases in the RTC of Baguio City, Branch 61 and asked money in exchange for acquittal. It was also learned that respondent judge used numerous “bag men” and one of them was his driver.
In his Comment, respondent judge denied all the charges against him, that there is no factual or legal basis for any administrative charge against him. On the charge of gross ignorance of the law, he claimed that the prohibition on plea bargaining has already been declared unconstitutional by this Court in Estipona Jr. v. Hon. Lobrigo. He alleged that he only entertained plea bargaining and allowed the amendment of the criminal charge from Illegal possession of dangerous drugs to use of dangerous drugs considering that first, the confiscated drugs were miniscule. As such, it may be inferred that the same was only for personal consumption. Second, the accused tested positive after drug testing. Third, the motion to amend information is a matter of right before arraignment. Fourth, it was the prosecution who filed the motion to amend information after finding good grounds to rehabilitate the accused. Lastly, respondent judge conducted his own independent evaluation and assessment of the records.
As to the alleged violation of Section 23, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court, respondent judge claimed that he did not violate such rule. The motu proprio dismissals were made after the prosecution had rested its case and after the prosecution was given the opportunity to be heard. Even if the prosecution had not formally offered its documentary and object evidence, the testimonial evidence of the prosecution were completed and all fell short of the required quantum of evidence for conviction.
As to his violation on granting a second motion for reconsideration, he claimed that the greater interest of justice was the driving force and the compelling reason why he granted the second motion for reconsideration. He alleged that he took a second hard look on the case and discovered that the arrest of the accused in Criminal Case No. 32499-R was a mere afterthought when the police officers failed to arrest the main target of the operation.
On the charge of gross misconduct, respondent judge stated that the same were merely sweeping statements which are mere conjectures and surmises. He claimed that he is steadfastly against any form of corruption and even filed an administrative case against a former staff when he learned that the latter was using respondent judge’s name to extort money. Respondent judge claimed that there is no evidence whatsoever that showed that he received monetary considerations in exchange of his alleged repeated disregard of the rules and the law.
As to the affidavits executed by numerous persons as to the alleged demand of money in exchange for acquittals, respondent judge denied in the strongest terms the allegations stated in their affidavits.
In a Memorandum dated June 14, 2019, the OCA found that all the allegations levelled against respondent judge constitutes gross ignorance of the law, gross misconduct and violation of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct. Since respondent judge compulsorily retired on November 27, 2017, the OCA recommended forfeiture of all his benefits, except accrued leave credits, with perpetual disqualification from employment to any public office, including government-owned and controlled corporations.
Whether respondent judge is administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law, gross misconduct and violation of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.
Ruling of the Court
In administrative proceedings for disciplinary sanctions against judges, the quantum of proof necessary is substantial evidence or such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. A review of the records of this case leads Us to rule that there is substantial evidence in holding respondent judge administratively liable. As such, this Court see no compelling reason to deviate from the findings of the OCA.
Gross ignorance of the law is the disregard of basic rules and settled jurisprudence. To be administratively liable, it must be shown that the judge had been motivated by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption in ignoring, contradicting or failing to apply settled law and jurisprudence. Where the law is straightforward and the facts so evident, failure to know it or to act as if one does not know it constitutes gross ignorance of the law.
Respondent judge has been designated as the presiding judge of RTC of Baguio City, Branch 61, which handles drug cases. It is presumed, even expected that he is well-versed and well-informed of the rules of procedure and the provisions of the law, especially R.A. 9165. Thus, his penchant for disregarding rules show that he was motivated by bad faith and corruption.
Section 23 of R.A. 9165 prohibits plea bargaining regardless of the imposable penalty. The provision is so straightforward such that violation of the same is inexcusable. Respondent judge reasoned that this Court already declared such provision as unconstitutional. Notwithstanding the ruling of this Court in Estipona, Jr., v. Hon. Lobrigo, does not shield respondent judge for his numerous violation of the law. Be it noted that the ruling of Estipona was promulgated only on August 15, 2017. While the Orders executed by respondent judge allowing and entertaining plea bargaining were issued years before Estipona. It is well-settled that laws are presumed constitutional until declared by the court as unconstitutional. Abidance with the law is mandatory and a judge is expected to abide by the same regardless of their personal conviction or opinion.
Section 23, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court allows the judge, after the prosecution rested its case, to motu proprio dismiss the case on the ground of insufficiency of evidence, provided that the prosecution was given the opportunity to be heard.
In Criminal Case No. 37928-R, despite issuing an order resetting the direct testimony of Agent Karizze Joy Carino on April 20, 2016 because the public prosecutor was not feeling well, the respondent judge hastily dismissed the case on April 18, 2016 for the reason that “even if they have yet to testify, this court thinks that the evidence for [these] cases’ dismissal cannot be reversed after the testimony of Agent Bansag x x x.” Clearly, the prosecution has not rested its case since the direct testimony of the prosecution witness was still ongoing. Also, in Criminal Case No. 36973-R, despite the issuance of an Order dated October 26, 2015 ordering the prosecution to file its Formal Offer of Evidence, the respondent judge on the same date issued an Order dismissing the case. Further, in Criminal Case No. 33790-R, where the respondent judge issued an Order dated January 12, 2015 setting the continuation of the presentation of the prosecution’s evidence on March 2, 2015, but suddenly the next day, respondent judge issued an Order dismissing the case. The same happened in Criminal Case Nos. 33246-R and 33209-R.
In this case, respondent judge motu proprio dismissed numerous cases even before the prosecution rested its case and even pending the continuation of the direct testimony of the prosecution witness. Respondent judge alleged that his motu proprio dismissal does not violate Section 23, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court since the prosecution has already rested its case because the prosecution has already presented its testimonial evidence. He claimed that after considering the testimonial evidence, the same were incredible and unbelievable such that it fell short of the required quantum of proof for conviction.
The explanation of respondent judge is incredulous and goes against the basic and well-settled principle that only after the prosecution has filed its formal offer of evidence and the court has ruled on the same can the prosecution be considered to have rested its case. Also, considering that the prosecution was not given the opportunity to file its formal offer of evidence, the respondent judge could not have validly considered any evidence because as provided in Section 34, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court, the court shall consider no evidence which has not been formally offered. These are basic principles that its repeated violation clearly constitutes gross ignorance of the law.
Section 2, Rule 52 of the Rules of Court mandates that no second motion for reconsideration of a judgment or final resolution by the same party shall be entertained. Despite this provision, respondent judge still entertained the second motion for reconsideration in Criminal Case No. 32499-R, and even acquitted the accused. He claimed that respondent judge took a second hard look on the case and saw that the arrest was a mere afterthought. The greater interest of justice was the driving force of the respondent judge. This circumstance was suspect because if indeed respondent judge adhered to a swift application of justice as can be seen in his hasty dismissal of criminal cases, if indeed he saw that there is no cause for the accused’ confinement, he should have at the first instance acquitted the accused, or even reversed his conviction on the first motion for reconsideration. Presumption therefore is created that accused was not able to timely provide the payment for his acquittal.
Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behaviour or gross negligence by the public officer. To be considered gross, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule must be present. To constitute an administrative charge, the misconduct should relate to or be connected with the performance of the official functions and duties of a public officer.
A judge is a visible representation of the law and justice. He should be beyond reproach and must conduct himself with the highest integrity. Even a suspicion of illegal dealings concerning the judge loses the public’s faith and confidence to the judiciary. The inclusion of respondent judge to the President’s narco-list is a cause of concern for the judiciary. More so when such allegations are supported by the affidavits of numerous persons and confirmed by the judicial audit and investigation conducted by the OCA.
Respondent judge denied the affidavits executed by numerous persons as being highly dubious and questionable. The information from the anonymous BJMP personnel saying that respondent judge used Norma as “bag woman” is unverified and merely hearsay. However, such affidavits and reports cannot simply be brushed aside and for this Court to turn a blind eye. While it may be considered as hearsay, such information and statements can be considered as substantial evidence. In the case of Re: Verified Complaint dated July 13, 2015 of Umali, Jr. v. Hernandez, this Court held that:
The relaxation of the hearsay rule in disciplinary administrative proceedings against judges and justices where bribery proceedings are involved is not a novel thought in this ‘Court; it has been advocated in the Separate Concurring Opinion of Justice Arturo D. Brion in the administrative case of Justice Ong before this Court. The Opinion essentially maintained that the Court could make a conclusion that bribery had taken place when the circumstances – including those derived from hearsay evidence sufficiently prove its occurrence. It was emphasized that to satisfy the substantial evidence requirement for administrative cases, hearsay evidence should necessarily be supplemented and corroborated by other evidence that are not hearsay.
The allegation that respondent judge demands money in exchange for acquittal is supplemented and corroborated by the judicial audit and investigation conducted by the OCA and with the affidavits of numerous persons as to circumstances when respondent judge demanded money through his “bag woman” and other staff. Clearly, respondent judge should be held administratively liable for gross misconduct since there is evident presence of corruption.
The New Code of Judicial Conduct provides:
Canon 1 x x x
Section 1 – Judges shall exercise the judicial function independently on the basis of their assessment of the facts and in accordance with a conscientious understanding of the law, free of any extraneous influence, inducement, pressure, threat or interference, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.
Canon 2 x x x
Section 1 – Judges shall ensure that not only is their conduct above reproach, but that it is perceived to be so in the view of a reasonable observer.
Section 2 – The behavior and conduct of judges must reaffirm the people’s faith in the integrity of the judiciary. Justice musty not merely be done but must also be seen to be done.
Canon 3 x x x
Section 1 -Judges shall perform their judicial duties without favor, bias’or prejudice.
All the allegations against respondent judge and the results of the judicial audit clearly show that he violated the above-cited Canons of Judicial Conduct. Respondent judge was remiss in the discharge of his judicial functions and with the allegation of corruption, damaged the integrity of the Judiciary which he represents. Judges are strictly mandated to abide by the law, the Code of Judicial Conduct and existing administrative policies in order to maintain the faith of our people in the administration of justice. Any act which falls short of the exacting standard for public office, especially on the part of those expected to preserve the image of the judiciary, shall not be countenanced.
Thus, in view of all the foregoing, this Court finds respondent Judge administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law, gross misconduct and violations of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, as such, respondent Judge should be meted the ultimate penalty of dismissal from service. However, during the pendency of the administrative complaint, respondent Judge compulsorily retired on November 20, 2017, thus dismissal from service can no longer be effected. Nevertheless, such compulsory retirement cannot render this case moot, since it is still proper to order the forfeiture of all his benefits, except accrued leave credits, with perpetual disqualification from employment to any public office, including government-owned and controlled corporations.
In Re: Judicial audit conducted on Branch 64, Regional Trial Court, Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental, Presided by Hon. Mario O. Trinidad,1’9 the Court stated that “[f]inally, let this be a reminder to all the incumbent judges that the Court has adopted rules, circulars, and guidelines for judges to follow in order to expedite the resolution of cases. These are intended to render fair, just, and swift justice to give meaning to the very purpose of the existence of the Court as dispenser of justice. In this regard, even with Judge Trinidad’s retirement, it did not stop the Court from imposing the proper penalty to those found to be in discord with the Court’s policies.”
WHEREFORE, this Court finds respondent Judge Antonio C. Reyes GUILTY of Gross Ignorance of the Law, Gross Misconduct, and violation of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the New Code of Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary. Considering that respondent Judge Antonio C. Reyes already reached the compulsory retirement age during the pendency of this administrative case, his retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits are hereby FORFEITED. Respondent Judge Antonio C. Reyes is also DISQUALIFIED from re-employment or appointment to any public office, including government-owned and controlled corporations.
Peralta, C.J., Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, Caguioa, Gesmundo, Hernando, Carandang, Lazaro-Javier,* Inting,* Zalameda,* Lopez, Delos Santos, Gaerlan, and Rosario, JJ. concur.
February 5, 2021
I am sending herewith copy of the Per Curiam Decision which was promulgated on November 10, 2020 , with the information that the word Resolution on page 1 is corrected to Decision.
Very truly yours,
(Sgd.) EDGAR O. ARICHETA
Clerk of Court
* On official leave.
 See Notice of Resolution dated December 6, 2016; rolla, Vol. I, p. 1.
 Id. at 2.
 Id. at 21.
 See Report of Justice Roberto A. Abad; id. at 1-3.
 See Notice of Resolution dated February 21, 2017; id. at 1-3.
 See Memorandum dated August 14, 2017; id. at 1-14.
 Id. at 14.
 Id. at 9-10.
 Id. at 8-11.
 Id. at 9-10.
 See Letter dated March 16, 2016; id. at 4.
 Id. at 6.
 Id. at 9.
 See Memorandum dated June 6. 2017; id at 8.
 id. at 18.
 Id. at 19.
 816 Phil. 789(2017).
 Id. at 796.
 Memorandum dated August, 2017; rollo, pp. 8-9.
 On September 26, 2017, this Court issued a Resolution directing the respondent judge to file his Comment on the charges against him and directing the preventive suspension of respondent judge.
 See Comment dated November 24, 2017; rollo, Vol. II, pp. 2-3.
 Section 23. Demurrer to evidence. – After the prosecution rests its case, the court may dismiss the action on the ground of insufficiency of evidence (1) on its own initiative after giving the prosecution the opportunity to be heard or (2) upon demurrer to evidence filed by the accused with or without leave of court.
If the court denies the demurrer to evidence filed with leave of court, the accused may adduce evidence in his defense. When the demurrer to evidence is filed without leave of court, the accused waives the right to present evidence and submits the case for judgment on the basis of the evidence for the prosecution.
The motion for leave of court to file demurrer to evidence shall specifically state its grounds and shall be filed within a non-extendible period of five (5) days after the prosecution rests its case. The prosecution may oppose the motion within a non-extendible period of five (5) days from its receipt.
If leave of court is granted, the accused shall file the demurrer to evidence within a non-extendible period often (10) days from notice. The prosecution may oppose the demurrer to evidence within a similar period from its receipt.
The order denying the motion for leave of court to file demurrer to evidence or the demurrer itself shall not be reviewable by appeal or by certiorari before judgment.
 Rollo, Vol. II, pp. 7-1
 Id. at 12-13.
 Id. at 13.
 Id. at 28-31.
 Biado v. Hon. Brawner-Ciialing, 805 Phil. 694 (2017).
 Department of Justice v. Judge Mislang, A.M. No. RTJ-14-2369, July 26, 2016.
 Section 23. Plea-Bargaining Provision. – Any person charged under any provision of this Act regardless of the imposable penalty shall not be allowed to avail of the provision on plea-bargaining.
 Cahador v. People, 617 Phil. 974 (2009).
 Tolenlino-Genilo v. Pineda, 819 Phil. 588 (2017).
 Reyes v. Duque, 645 Phil. 253 (2010).
 781 Phil. 375(2016).
 Lastimosa-Dalawampu v. Yrastorza, Sr., 466 Phil. 600 (2004).