CASE BrieF NO. 2001-0595


“The fact that misconduct was committed during a preliminary investigation, which is nonjudicial in character, will not exempt the Judge from the disciplinary power of the Supreme Court


CASE: Cong. Manuel N. Mamba, et. al.  vs. Judge Dominador L. Garcia, MTC, Tuao, Cagayan [A.M. No. MTJ-96-1110 June 25, 2001]

PONENTE: Per Curiam

SUBJECT:

  1. R.A. No. 4200 otherwise known as the Anti-Wire Tapping Law
  2. LEGAL ETHICS:
    i. Code of Judicial Conduct – Canon 2

FACTS:        A manifesto or a petition of concerned citizens of Tuao, Cagayan, denouncing certain acts of Judge Dominador L. Garcia, MTC, Tuao, Cagayan, in connection with his handling of Criminal Case No. 399, entitled “People vs. Renato Bulatao.” was sent to the Supreme Court. The same was treated as an administrative complaint and respondent Judge Dominador L. Garcia (Judge Garcia) was required to answer. The gist of the petition are, as follows:

On August 23, 1996, a complaint for violation of Presidential Decree No. 1866 (Illegal possession of firearms) was filed against a certain Renato Bulatao before the sala of Judge Garcia for preliminary investigation. Judge Garcia set the preliminary investigation on September 4, 1996, but the same was postponed and reset to October 23, 1996. On October 23, 1996, the investigation was again reset to October 30, 1996. On October 29, 1996, the accused, Renato Bulatao, complained to the NBI that at the scheduled preliminary investigation on September 4, 1996, P/Sr. Inspector Salvador demanded P30,000.00 from him in consideration of the withdrawal of the criminal case against him. According to Bulatao, the demand was reiterated by Salvador and Judge Garcia on October 23, 1996. As Bulatao told them that he could not afford it, the amount was reduced to P6,000.00.

The NBI then set out to entrap Salvador and Judge Garcia. The NBI gave Bulatao the marked bills amounting to P6,000.00, which the latter would give to Salvador and Judge Garcia. 

Bulatao was given a tape recorder to record his conversation with whoever will receive the money. Bulatao went to the MTC and waited for his case to be called. At 10:30 a.m., Judge Garcia went out of his chambers and talked to SPO2 Jonathan Santos and SPO4 Carlos Poli, representatives of P/Sr. Inspector Salvador in the preliminary investigation. Judge Garcia then called Bulatao and led him and the two police officers to the office of the MTC court personnel. Inside, Judge Garcia asked Bulatao if he had the money with him. When he answered in the affirmative, he took them to his chambers and left them there as he proceeded to his sala. After handing the money to the police officers, Bulatao went out of Judge Garcia’s chambers. Upon his signal, the NBI operatives waiting outside then rushed to the judge’s chambers and arrested the two police officers after recovering the marked bills in their possession. 

The matter was referred to Executive Judge Orlando D. Beltran, Jr. of the Regional Trial Court of Tuao, Cagayan, for investigation, report, and recommendation. Judge Beltran scheduled several hearings for the reception of evidence for Judge Garcia but he did not appear despite due notice. Accordingly, he was deemed to have waived the right to present evidence and the case was submitted for decision. Hence only his counter-affidavit was considered, in which Judge Garcia claimed that it was Bulatao who asked permission to talk to the two police officers. He denied that he took the three to his chambers. 

In finding Judge Garcia guilty of improper conduct, Judge Beltran stated in his report and recommendation that: 

“In this connection, the undersigned Investigating Judge cannot help but refer to the taped conversation between the two (2) policemen and Renato Bulatao inside the chamber of the respondent Judge. A portion of the translated dialogue between Poli and Bulatao, which was in Ilocano, tends to show that the P6,000.00 pay-off handed by Bulatao to the policemen was not intended for the respondent Judge but solely for the policemen and their superior, P/Sr. Inspector Salvador. However, it is not easy to disregard the implication obvious from the said conversation that the respondent Judge was privy to the entire transaction. SPO IV Poli pointedly told Bulatao “to take care of the Judge” which implies that the Judge knew of the pay-off being made and was willing to abide by the “deal” provided he would be “taken care of” by Bulatao.”

ISSUES:

A.       Whether the reliance on the tape-recorded conversation between Bulatao and the two police officers by the Investigating Judge is proper.

B.       Whether Judge Garcia is administratively liable.

C.       Whether Judge Garcia is exempt from administrative disciplinary power of the Supreme Court as the alleged misconduct was committed during preliminary investigation, which is non-judicial in character.

RULING:

A.       The Investigating Judge’s reliance on the tape-recorded conversation between Bulatao and the two police officers is erroneous. The recording of private conversations without the consent of the parties contravenes the provisions of Rep. Act. No. 4200, otherwise known as the Anti-Wire Tapping Law, and renders the same inadmissible in evidence in any proceeding. The law covers even those recorded by persons privy to the private communications, as in this case.  Thus, the contents of the tape recorder cannot be relied upon to determine the culpability of Judge Garcia.

B.       Judge Garcia is guilty not just of improper conduct but of serious misconduct. Serious misconduct is such conduct which affects a public officer’s performance of his duties as such officer and not only that which affects his character as a private individual. For serious misconduct to warrant a dismissal from the service, there must be reliable evidence showing that the judicial acts complained of were corrupt or inspired by an intention to violate the law. It must (1) be serious, important, weighty, momentary, and not trifling; (2) imply wrongful intention and not mere error of judgment; and (3) have a direct relation to and be connected with the performance of his official duties. 

In the case at bar, it is clear that the crime of bribery was committed. Although the evidence may not be sufficient to support a conviction in a criminal case, it is adequate for the purpose of these proceedings. The standards of integrity required of members of the Bench are not satisfied by conduct which merely allows one to escape the penalties of the criminal law. In an administrative proceeding, such as this case, only substantial evidence, or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, is required.

The following circumstances show that Judge Garcia knowingly and voluntarily cooperated with police officers in consummating the crime:

  • On the day of the entrapment, Judge Garcia asked Bulatao if he had the money, and when he received an affirmative answer, he took Bulatao and the two police officers to his chambers told the police officers to receive whatever Bulatao would give them,  and then left; and
  • When Bulatao left Judge Garcia’s chambers and gave the signal to the NBI operatives waiting outside, the marked bills were found by the agents in the possession of SPO2 Jonathan Santos, as the latter was leaving the chambers of Judge Garcia with SPO4 Carlos Poli. As the Investigating Judge observed, Judge Garcia willingly allowed his chambers to be used for the consummation of the illegal transaction. The actions of Judge Garcia implies a wrongful intention to commit an unlawful act while in the performance of his official duties.

Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct enjoins judges to avoid not only impropriety but even the appearance of impropriety in all their conduct. This includes not taking an undue interest in the settlement of criminal cases pending before them as this may compromise the integrity and impartiality of their office. By acting as an accomplice to P/Sr. Inspector Salvador, Judge Garcia violated not only the law but also the Code of Judicial Conduct.

C.       The fact that Judge Garcia committed misconduct during a preliminary investigation, which is nonjudicial in character, will not exempt him from the disciplinary power of this Court as the conduct of a preliminary investigation is only an addition to his judicial functions. 

The Fallo

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Judge Dominador L. Garcia guilty of serious misconduct and accordingly orders his DISMISSAL from the service and the forfeiture of his leave credits and retirement benefits, with prejudice to reemployment in any branch of the government or any of its agencies or instrumentalities, including government-owned and controlled corporations.

SO ORDERED.

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THINGS DECIDED:

  1. The recording of private conversations without the consent of the parties contravenes the provisions of Rep. Act. No. 4200, otherwise known as the Anti-Wire Tapping Law, and renders the same inadmissible in evidence in any proceeding. The law covers even those recorded by persons privy to the private communications.
  2. Serious misconduct is such conduct which affects a public officer’s performance of his duties as such officer and not only that which affects his character as a private individual. For serious misconduct to warrant a dismissal from the service, there must be reliable evidence showing that the judicial acts complained of were corrupt or inspired by an intention to violate the law. It must (1) be serious, important, weighty, momentary, and not trifling; (2) imply wrongful intention and not mere error of judgment; and (3) have a direct relation to and be connected with the performance of his official duties.
  3. Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct enjoins judges to avoid not only impropriety but even the appearance of impropriety in all their conduct.
  4. The fact that Judge Garcia committed misconduct during a preliminary investigation, which is nonjudicial in character, will not exempt him from the disciplinary power of this Court as the conduct of a preliminary investigation is only an addition to his judicial functions.

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