Re: Letter-Complaint by way of Certiorari (A.M. No. 16-07-01-SC)

CASE DIGEST: Re: Letter-Complaint [by way of a Petition for Certiorari] of Edgar M, Rico against Atty, Wilfredo V. Lapitan, Division Clerk of Court, Third Division, relative to G,R, No, 220659); A.M. No, 16-07-02-SC (Re: Letter-Complaint of Edgar M, Rico against Atty, Wilfredo V. Lapitan, Division Clerk of Court, Third Division, relative to A.C. No. 9291. A.M. No. 16-07-01-SC. AUGUST 2, 2016.

These consolidated administrative cases stemmed from the two Letter Complaints dated May 16, 2016[1] and May 30, 2016[2] filed by complainant Edgar M. Rico (Rico), charging respondent Atty, Wilfredo V. Lapitan (Atty. Lapitan), Division Clerk of Court, Third Division, Supreme Court, with gross violations of Section 4 (1) and (3)[3] and Section 14[4] of Article VIII of the Constitution,

Antecedent Facts

In his first letter-complaint[5] dated May 16, 2016, Rico alleged that Atty, Lapitan committed several irregularities in issuing minute resolutions relative to the administrative case for disbarment he filed against Attys, Vivian A, Agdeppa-Jumilla, Maria Corazon A. Arancon, Rodolfo M. Elman, and Humprey T. Monteroso, docketed as A.C No. 9291.

In sum, Rico complained about the following alleged irregularities: (i) that Atty, Lapitan issued minute resolutions without the signatures of the five Justices composing the Division concerned; (ii) the dismissal of his complaint without requiring the respondents therein to submit documentary evidence to support their defenses; (iii) the denial of his Motion for Reconsideration without requiring the respondents therein to file their comments; (iv) the continued participation of Atty. Lapitan as Clerk of Court despite a motion for his inhibition.[6]

On June 23,2016, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) issued its 1st Indorsement[7] referring the letter-complaint dated May 16, 2016 of Rico to Atty. Felipe B. Anama, Clerk of Court, for appropriate action,

In another letter-complaint[8] dated May 30, 2016, Rico likewise averred that several irregularities were again committed by Atty. Lapitan in connection with the petition for review[9] he filed before the Court, docketed as G.R. No, 220659, wherein he assailed the findings of the lower courts granting the unlawful detainer filed against him by a certain Milagros Villa Abrille.

Similarly, Rico asseverated the following alleged irregularities: (i) that Atty. Lapitan issued minute resolutions without the signatures of the five Justices composing the Division; and (ii) the denial of his Motion for Reconsideration without requiring the respondents therein to file their comments. [10]

On June 2, 2016, the OCA issued its 1st Indorsement[11] referring to Atty. Eden T. Candelaria (Atty, Candelaria), Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Administrative Officer, Office of Administrative Services, the letter- complaint dated May 30, 2016 for appropriate action.

In a Memorandum[12] dated June 8, 2016, Atty. Candelaria recommended that the letter-complaint dated May 30, 2016 be referred to the Court considering that the matters alleged in the letter-complaint relate to its internal rules and procedure. Moreover, the recommendation is based on this Court's exclusive supervision and authority over its present key officials and personnel in the discharge of their administrative functions.

On July 26, 2016, the Court issued a Resolution consolidating the two administrative cases,

Ruling of the Court

After a careful perusal, the Court finds that the complaints filed against Atty. Lapitan must be DISMISSED for lack of merit.

The Division Clerk of Court has the authority to sign the notice of a minute resolution.

To begin with, Rule 11, Section 6 of A.M. No. 10-4-20-SC otherwise known as The Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, directs the Office of the Division Clerk of Court with the preparation of the notice of the minute resolutions approved in the deliberation of the Division concerned. The rule provides:
SEC, 6. Preparation of minute resolutions and unsigned extended resolutions. - Upon receipt of the approved minutes of the court session, the pertinent notice of the minute resolutions quoting an excerpt of the minutes of court sessions pertinent to a case shall be prepared by the court attorneys in the Office of the Clerk of Court or the Division Clerk of Court and personally reviewed, approved, and initialed by the Clerk of Court or the Division Clerk of Court, xxxx
In support thereof, the succeeding section likewise authorizes the Division Clerk of Court to affix his signature on the notice in the form prescribed by the Rules. It states:
SEC. 7. Form of notice of a minute resolution, - A notice of a minute resolution shall be embodied in a letter of the Clerk of Court or the Division Clerk of Court notifying the parties of the action or actions taken in their case. In the absence of or whenever so deputized by the Clerk of Court or the Division Clerk of Court, the Assistant Clerk of Court or Assistant Division Clerk of Court may likewise sign the letter which shall be in the following form: x x x.
In the present case, the documents submitted by Rico in his two letter- complaints reveal that they pertain to the notice of resolutions issued by Atty, Lapitan pursuant to the authority vested in him by the above-quoted provisions, As such, there is no basis to hold him administratively liable for affixing his signature therein.

The Court may dismiss the case if the Complaint is clearly wanting in merit.
As to Rico's contention that the dismissal of his Complaint in A.C. No. 9291 is null and void for failure to require the respondents therein to submit documentary evidence to support their defenses, the Court finds the same to be without merit.

In fact, the Court may, if after finding the complaint to be insufficient in form and substance, dismiss the same outright for utter lack of merit. In A.C. No, 9291, however, the Court did not dismiss outright Rico's disbarment complaint. Instead, it required the respondents therein to file their respective comments to which Rico filed his reply.

Subsequently, after a judicious perusal of the records of the case, the Court resolved the same based on the allegations, issues, and arguments adduced in the complaint, as well as the comments of the respondents therein and the reply of Rico to said comments.Moreover, [i]n administrative cases against lawyers, the quantum of proof required is preponderance of evidence which the complainant has the burden to discharge. [13]Undoubtedly, the rules impose on the complainant the duty to support the charges filed and should not rely on the weakness of the respondents' defense, In Spouses Boyboy v. Atty, Yabut, Jr,[14] the Court held that;
[A] mere charge or allegation of wrongdoing does not suffice, Accusation is not synonymous with guilt. There must always be sufficient evidence to support the charge, This brings to the fore the application of the age-old but familiar rule that he who alleges must prove his allegations, xxx [I]t is enough for respondent to deny complicity in the alleged blackmail or extortion, without more, for he is not under obligation to prove his negative averment, much less to disprove what has not been proved by complainants. Thus, we have consistently held that if the complainant/plaintiff, upon whom rests the burden of proving his cause of action, fails to show in a satisfactory manner the facts upon which he bases his claim, the respondent/defendant is under no obligation to prove his exception or defense,[15] (Emphasis ours)
The Court may resolve the Motion for Reconsideration even without requiring the opposing party to file comment.
Rico's argument that there was also an irregularity when his motions for reconsideration in A.C. No. 9291 and G.R. No. 220659 were denied without requiring the respective opposing parties to file their comments therein likewise deserve scant consideration.

As a rule, when Rico filed his motions for reconsideration in the two cases, the Court had the discretion either to proceed with the case by first requiring the opposing party to file their comment or to resolve the same based on existing records.

If the Court can already judiciously resolve the case based on all the existing pleadings submitted by the parties, it has the discretion to no longer require the opposing party to file a comment. Accordingly, in the said cases, after review, the Court dismissed both motions for reconsideration filed by Rico on the ground that no substantial arguments were raised to warrant consideration.

There is no compelling reason to require Atty. Lapitan to inhibit as Clerk of Court of the Division to which the cases of Rico was assigned.

In Gochan v, Gochan,[16] the Court held that for a motion for inhibition to prosper, the same must show manifestation of reality in order to provide valid reasons for the inhibition. The Court held;
The inhibition must be for just and valid causes, The mere imputation of bias or partiality is not enough ground for them to inhibit, especially when the charge is without basis, This Court has to be shown acts or conduct clearly indicative of arbitrariness or prejudice before it can brand them with the stigma of bias or partiality,[17]
Here, Rico's imputation of bias and prejudice against Atty, Lapitan is baseless and clearly unfounded. As a matter of fact, Atty, Lapitan, as Clerk of Court of the Third Division of the Supreme Court, is not exercising any adjudicatory power in the cases raffled to the said Division. As provided under Section 6, Rule 11 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, the actions taken by the Court are merely reported to Atty. Lapitan for the issuance of the Notice of the Resolution.

[1] Rollo (A.M. No. 16-07-02-SC), pp. 1A-6.
[2] Rollo (A.M. No. 16-07-01-SC), pp. 3-10,
[3] SECTION 4. (1) The Supreme Court shall be composed of a Chief Justice and fourteen Associate Justices. It may sit en banc or in its discretion, in divisions of three, five, or seven Members. Any vacancy shall be filled within ninety days from the occurrence thereof. x x x x

(3) Cases or matters heard by a division shall be decided or resolved with the concurrence of a majority of the Members who actually took part in the deliberations on the issues in the case and voted thereon, and in no case, without the concurrence of at least three of such Members, When the required number is not obtained, the case shall be decided en banc. Provided, that no doctrine or principle of law laid down by the court in a decision rendered en banc or in division may be modified or reversed except by the court sitting en banc.

[4] SECTION 14. No decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based,

No petition for review or motion for reconsideration of a decision of the court shall be refused due course or denied without stating the legal basis therefor.

[5] Rollo (A.M. No. 16-07-02-SC), pp. 1A-6.
[6] Id. at 2-4.
[7] Id. at 1,
[8] Rollo (A-M. No. 16-07-01-SC), pp. 3-10.
[9] Entitled "Edgar M. Rico v. The Regional Trial Court, Branch 13, 11th Judicial Region, Davao City and Milagros Villa-Abrille"; id. at 13-23.
[10] Id. at 4-5.
[11] Id. at 2.
[12] Id. at 1.
[13] Atty. Asa v. Atty. Castillo, 532 Phil. 9,21 (2006).
[14] 449 Phil. 664 (2003).
 [15] Id. at 668.
 [16] 446 Phil. 433 (2003).
[17] Id. at 447.