Judge fined 40K for forced oral sex with party’s wife

365 Phil. 496. EN BANC [ A.M. No. MTJ 98-1168, April 21, 1999 ] LUALHATI M. LIWANAG, COMPLAINANT, VS. JUDGE PATERNO H. LUSTRE, PRESIDING JUDGE, MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT, CALAMBA, LAGUNA, RESPONDENT. QUISUMBING, J.:

On September 19, 1995, complainant Lualhati M. Liwanag sent a letter to the Court[1] prayingthat respondent Judge Paterno H. Lustre be dismissed from the service due to "gross immorality and grave misconduct unbecoming of his profession."[2]Attached to her letter was a sworn statement, reproduced verbatim hereunder, which details how respondent allegedly molested her sexually.

SWORN STATEMENT
I, LUWALHATI LIWANAG, of legal age, Filipino and a resident of Karunungan Road, Pamana Homes, Calamba, Laguna, after being duly sworn, according to law, hereby depose and state:
  1. Prior to July, 1994, my husband, Jose B. Zafra filed twelve (12) counts of violation of B.P. 22 against Oscar Chua, Dante Chua and Rowena Chua for issuing checks amounting to approximately 3.5 million pesos, that were dishonored when presented for payment.
  2. On July 22, 1994, the Assistant Provincial Prosecutor of Laguna filed twelve (12) informations for violation of BP 22 against Oscar Chua, Dante Chua and Rowena Chua, charging each of them with three (3) counts of Violation of BP 22. Copies of the informations are hereto attached for reference.
  3. The said cases were assigned at the Municipal Trial Court of Calamba, Laguna presided by Judge Paterno Lustre.
  4. After the informations were filed, the accused posted bail. However, their arraignment were (sic) postponed several times at the instance of the accused.
  5. The case was set for hearing for November 16, 1994. However, when the date came, Judge Lustre was not present. Hence, the hearing was reset to December 15, 1994.
  6. On November 17, 1994 at about 8:30 A.M., I went to see Judge Lustre at his chamber to inquire about the case filed by my husband, why the accused have not yet been arraigned. At that point, I asked Judge Lustre if it is possible to schedule hearings in January and February, 1995 and every month thereafter and to order the arraignment of the accused. He responded in the affirmative and told me to come back after the hearing on December 15, 1994, at about 7:00 A.M. in his chamber.
  7. The date of the hearing arrived, Dec. 15, 1994 at 1:30 P.M. The representative of Atty. Buted, counsel for the accused, arrived with a Motion to Transfer the scheduled hearing. Judge Lustre then reset the hearing on Jan. 17, Feb. 1, 9 and 23, 1995.
  8. As requested, on December 16, 1994, one day after the hearing, at about 7:00 A.M., I went to see Judge Lustre at his chamber. There, he told me that he prepared an order for the accused. I thanked him and I told him that if the accused will pay us, my husband and I will give him five (5%) percent of it as token of gratitude. At that point, he stood up and told me he does not need money. While he was giving me a copy of the order, he touched my shoulder, down to my breast. I froze and could not do anything. He was telling me that he acceded to my request. Later, he told me that he is available during Mondays and Fridays as there are no scheduled hearings and for me to come back to him before the hearing on January 17, 1995.
  9. I did not go back to see Judge Lustre as per his request before the hearing on Jan. 17, 1995 because of what he did to me, he took advantage of the situation to molest me.
  10. Came the date of the hearing on Jan. 17, 1995. Despite the previous order setting the case for hearing for Feb. 1, 9 and 23, 1995, he cancelled hearings on all dates as per request of the counsel for the accused. Instead, he reset the same on Feb. 22, 28 and March 7, 1995.
  11. When the hearing on Feb. 22, 1995 came, Judge Lustre cancelled the one set on Feb. 28, 1995.
  12. By the way things were going, I could sense that Judge Lustre is delaying the case, granting postponement after postponement, despite objections from our lawyer. The case was already dragging and nothing was happening. We were running out of money and we needed to have the case terminated right away in order to get paid for the money the accused have swindled us. Because of this dilemma, I decided to see Judge Lustre.
  13. On March 6, 1995, Monday, at about 10:00 A.M., I went to see Judge Lustre. I asked him why he cancelled the hearings. He responded that I fooled him since I did not come to him as per his request, whereas he acceded to my earlier request. He then told me that I must obey his wishes if I want our case to go smoothly since he is the only one who will decide our cases. After that, he told me that he was already free and for me to wait for him outside the courtroom. We boarded his white Toyota car, with Plate No. PLN-513 and he brought me to Canlubang Tollway. While in the car, he kissed me on the lips and caressed my breast. I was repulsed and disgusted but I could not do anything since our cases are with him and he was deliberately delaying the hearings. At that instant, I told him to set hearings for April and May, 1995 since according to his staff, there would be no hearings in May and in April. He told me, he will take care of it and ordered me to come to his office on March 13, 1995 at 7:00 A.M. and we will talk about the settings.
  14. On March 13, 1995, Monday, as ordered, I went to see Judge Lustre at his office at around 7:10 A.M. There was no one there except him. I saw him waiting just outside his chamber. He ushered me inside, but I had barely entered the room, when he kissed me on the lips and caressed my body, particularly my breast. He exposed his penis and ordered me to masturbate him. I could not do anything but obey. There was a fluid that oozed from his penis, which was somewhat bloody. I felt dirty. While doing that, he told me to tell my lawyer to file a motion to set hearing for April and May, 1995. He then asked me to go with him to Laguna de Bay Inn. I refused, he got angry. He retorted that the fate of our case is on his hands and told me to see him on March 23, 1995 at 7:00 A.M. at Laguna de Bay Inn in Sucat since his house is near the area.
  15. After that, my lawyer filed a Motion to Set Case for Hearing. But I did not go and see Judge Lustre at Laguna de Bay Inn. Thus, on March 28, 1995 hearing, no schedule was set for April and May. Instead, he made the setting in June, 1995.
  16. On April 10, 1995 I received a new subpoena for pre-trial and arraignment of the new cases we filed, scheduling the same for May 3, 1995. The following day, April 11, Tuesday, I went to see Judge Lustre to inquire why our case was not scheduled on May 3, at any rate, there is arraignment of our new case filed on the same date. He responded that he was early at Laguna de Bay Inn on March 23, and he waited for me at 7:00 A.M. but I did not come. He told me not to fool him, "masama daw siyang magalit."
  17. The June 6 hearing proceeded, that of June 13 was cancelled at the instance of the accused's lawyer.
  18. On June 15, 1995, Thursday, at around 7:00 A.M., I went to Judge Lustre in his office because I was told that our next hearing would be in September despite previous settings. I requested Judge Lustre to give us monthly hearings, in July and August. He told me that he would oblige if I would follow his wishes. As he was saying that, he was already touching my breast. He exposed his penis at told me to perform "fellatio." I refused. I was then told to return the following day, the same time and he will wait for me.
  19. I came back on June 16, around 7:00 A.M. As ordered, I proceeded to the Calamba Church to wait for Judge Lustre. He fetch (sic) me from there on board his white Toyota car and he brought me to Riverview Resort and Sports Complex in Crossing, Calamba, Laguna. I could not refuse because of the threat about our case. Inside the room at Riverview, he told me there will be a setting for July and August. Then he undressed himself and ordered me to do the same. I knew I was selling myself to the devil but our blood money is at stake. It is for the future of my son and I was willing to do anything for my family. Perhaps I was too stupid to do it, but at that time, I felt helpless. He ordered me to perform "fellatio" on him and I obeyed. There was blood that oozed from his penis. I also saw black rashes on his body, especially on his legs. Before we left, he told me to see him again on July 10 in his office.
  20. On June 23, 1995, the same thing happened. I went to his office at 7:00 A.M. Judge Lustre brought me to Riverview Resort and Sports Complex and I was again ordered to perform "fellatio" on him.
  21. The June 28 hearing proceeded. But I did not go and see Judge Lustre on July 10 as requested. I just called him and presented an alibi. He told me to just come the following day, July 11 at 7:00 A.M. at Jollibee, Calamba and he will wait for me. As parting words, he told me not to fool him.
  22. I did not see him on July 11 because I already felt so dirty and used. I never realized before I was capable of doing such a thing for my family, until the time came. But I could not take it anymore.
  23. On July 27, the hearing proceeded. But the previous schedules were cancelled and instead hearing was set in November, 1995.
  24. On August 15, 1995 at 7:00 A.M., I went to his office to get an order for the referral of the specimen signatures of Rowena Chua to the NBI. Again, he kissed me and touched me. I could not refuse for fear of retaliation.
  25. I could see that Judge Paterno H. Lustre is deliberately delaying the prosecution of our cases to prolong his abusive acts towards me. As can be seen from the transcript of the hearings, he is not leaning in our favor. What we are asking only is for the continuous setting of the trial because we cannot afford a long drawn out proceedings. But instead, he is delaying the trial. He has even shown hostility towards my husband when he was testifying and towards my lawyer, allegedly because he was jealous.
  26. This kind of judge gives the judiciary a bad name. There must be a stop to this evil doings. I am not the only victim of Judge Lustre. I know at least two (2) other women who are similarly situated are being used and abused by him. But they do not want to complain because of fear and the possible consequence to their cases. As for me, I am emboldened by disgust and frustration. I now seek the intervention of the Honorable Supreme Court to give justice to the victims and rid the judiciary of the likes of Judge Paterno H. Lustre.
  27. I know the shame I have to bear but I have to expose the wrong doings of a judge who is supposed to uphold the law and morality. But instead, he preys on hapless and those who are not learned in law as his victims.
  28. What I have narrated here are true, which I would never have revealed were it not for my better sense of judgment. I know I made a mistake by becoming a willing victim. But I did it for my family as I thought that is the only way I can help my husband get back his money for our future.[3]
Apart from the letter and the sworn statement, complainant also sent the Court 11 photographs showing her and respondent together in various places. Five of these were allegedly taken at the Riverview Resort in Calamba, Laguna. She also submitted a receipt issued by said resort dated June 23, 1995 and two transcripts of phone conversations she had with respondent.[4]

Respondent's defense is anchored on denial. In a "2nd Indorsement"[5]he sent to the Court, by way of answer to the complaint, he "strongly denie(d)"[6]the charges leveled against him and dismissed them as "the vile products of (complainant's) malicious and prejudiced mind."[7]According to him, complainant and her common-law husband thought of filing charges against him when he "refused to bend to, and accommodate, (their) haughty and arrogant demands ... to hastily schedule, try continuously, finish and decide arbitrarily within a very short period of time"[8]the B.P. 22 (Bouncing Checks Law) cases filed by complainant's husband. The complaint was, according to respondent, likewise prompted by respondent's refusal to accept complainant's offer to "reward" him with five percent of the P3.5 million her husband seeks to recover.

Respondent claimed that he could not have been in his chambers as early as 7:00 in the morning as alleged by complainant since he usually arrives for work some five to ten minutes before 8:00 in the morning. Moreover, he said the door to his room is never locked -- thus, the impossibility of him engaging in illicit sexual conduct within its confines -- since the only comfort room in the courtroom is inside his room and anyone who wants to use it may enter his room freely.

Respondent further pointed out that at age 67, with a heart ailment and diabetes, "(s)ex is beyond (his) physical capacity."[9]He said he is "no longer capable of what ordinary men indulge in, lest (he) die in the attempt."[10]He sought the dismissal of the complaint filed against him.

In support of his claims, respondent submitted the following documentary evidence: (1) affidavit executed by Rodelio A. Alcaraz, a utility worker, stating that respondent usually arrives at the office at 7:45 in the morning; (2)affidavit executed by Atty. Benjamin A. Alonzo, Sr., a private practitioner based in Calamba, attesting to respondent's fine work ethics and moral uprightness; and (3) certification from Dr. Elmer S. Sayoc stating that respondent is being treated for coronary artery diseases, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes mellitus.[11]

In response to respondent's averments, complainant alleged that respondent had set their meetings at 7:00 in the morning since he knew that nobody from his staff reported for work that early. She said respondent was very particular about the time she left his office, which must be before 7:30 in the morning. As for respondent's health condition, complainant pointed out that, indeed, he did not engage in sexual intercourse with her but only engaged in foreplay and asked her to perform oral sex on him; and while diabetes might have diminished respondent's sexual urge, it did not totally erase the same.[12]

In a resolution dated January 17, 1996, this Court resolved to refer the matter to Judge Norberto Geraldez, Executive Judge, Regional Trial Court, Calamba, Laguna, for investigation, report and recommendation. In the same resolution, respondent was directed to inhibit himself from hearing the B.P. 22 cases filed by complainant's husband.

On January 8, 1997, Judge Geraldez requested that he be allowed to inhibit himself from hearing the case because complainant raised the matter of his friendship with respondent.[13] The Court, however, in a Resolution dated June 9, 1997, denied his request and directed him to resolve the case with dispatch.[14]

In his report dated October 6, 1997, Judge Geraldez recommended dismissal of the complaint against respondent since complainant failed to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Judge Geraldez observed that:
"In the B.P. 22 cases pending before Judge Lustre, Jose Zafra was never assured that he could recover the amount of P3.5 million even if the sexual demands were satisfied. Jose Zafra and Ms. Liwanag were aware of this. Consequently, it is surprising why the complainant, no matter how desperate she may have been, would submit to oral sex. And, why Jose Zafra allowed it.

The B.P. 22 cases are simply not classic cases where the court's decision would be so vital, that the judge can demand his "price".

There is a rather large disparity in the value of the "B.P. 22" cases vis-a-vis the seriousness and mess of the sexual demand. Ms. Liwanag's allegations are beyond comprehension. It borders on the very credibility of the sexual allegations. This is specially true with respect to the allegations of oral sex with its blood secretions. And, according to her she did it more than once. If indeed there were "blood secretions" the first time, the claim of a second time is beyond relief (sic).

Ms. Liwanag claimed that Judge Lustre, on August 15, 1995, simply kissed and touched her. But human nature would demand another oral sex as they had done before. Moreover, in her complaint dated September 19, 1995, Ms. Liwanag failed to advance any reason why they stopped at oral sex.[15]
Judge Geraldez concluded that the evidence presented by complainant is not credible in itself.

Moreover, Judge Geraldez pointed out that complainant merely relied on the photographs showing her and respondent together, which, however, do not establish the acts complained of. Despite having the opportunity to do so, according to the report, complainant failed to testify to substantiate her claims, thereby depriving respondent of his right to cross-examine her.

Judge Geraldez recommended that the complaint be dismissed for lack of evidence.

The Court thereafter referred the case to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) for evaluation, report, and recommendation.

The OCA, in its Memorandum dated September 1, 1998, took a position directly opposite that of Judge Geraldez.

The OCA noted that:
"xxx we cannot help discerning here an effort to gloss over a charge against respondent which the investigating judge himself admitted to be serious. His investigative work and his subsequent report reveal a perfunctory treatment and analysis of the submissions of the parties, particularly the complainant herein, and an egregious misapplication of the law and jurisprudence.
x x x

We find credible the allegations of complainant Lualhati M. Liwanag. Her narration bears the earmarks of truth, for the incidents giving rise to the acts complained of are so finely etched by her as to preclude any suspicion of wild imagining or other similar fictive handiwork. It is an essential baring of rage, revulsion and disgust: xxx"
The OCA recommended that the case be formally docketed as an administrative complaint and that respondent be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch of the government, including government-owned and -controlled corporations.Clearly, we have to review the records of this case for a comprehensive view of the entire controversy. Moreover, it is essential to lay stress on basic canons of conduct applicable to judges, in whatever level of the judicial hierarchy they may be.

As a rule, proof beyond reasonable doubt is not necessary in deciding administrative cases. Only substantial evidence is required,[16]as clearly provided for under Rule 133 of the Revised Rules of Evidence:[17]
"Sec 5. Substantial evidence. -- In cases filed before administrative or quasi-judicial bodies, a fact may be deemed established if it is supported by substantial evidence, or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion."
Given this requirement, we find that there is enough evidence on record to sufficiently establish complainant's case against respondent.

The photographs submitted by complainant to this Court show her and respondent in various places. The first two show them talking beside an outlet of Andok's Litson Manok, another shows respondent's car parked by a sidewalk, its front passenger door open. The car is seen leaving in the next photograph. In the next two photographs, the car is seen in the driveway of what appears to be one of a row of rooms. On top of this room's doorway is the letter "D". Next are five photographs which show complainant and respondent coming out of the room together and heading towards respondent's parked car.[18]

Complainant claims that the photographs were taken when respondent took her to the Riverview Resort in Calamba, Laguna.

In a Manifestation dated September 2, 1996, respondent pointed out that nothing indecent is portrayed in the photographs. They did not show any act constituting immorality or grave misconduct. He denied that the pictures showing him and complainant leaving a room together were taken at the Riverview Resort. He added that the receipt issued by the resort did not indicate that he was with complainant at said resort.

Respondent took his own set of photographs at the Riverview Resort.[19]On the basis of his own pictures, he concluded that complainant's photographs could not have been taken at that resort. When he testified on his behalf, he said:
"... when I went to the place those letters were not there, I have photographs there because I personally went there to have these photographs but this (sic) sign boards were not there, sir."[20]
A sign prohibiting vandalism, noticeable in complainant's pictures, was missing in respondent's pictures.

Respondent avers that the real intention of complainant in filing the complaint -- which she has denied -- is to extort money from him as she allegedly made an "outrageous demand"[21]for P3.5 million to settle the case.

We are not convinced, however, that respondent's conduct in this case is entirely blameless, nor that complainant's alleged intent would excuse respondent's wrongdoing.

It is true that the pictures do not show respondent and complainant actually engaging in any form of sexual congress. However, this is understandable since by their very nature, such acts are not proper subjects of photographs. Often, as in this case, what is available to us is only the narration of the parties involved.

Respondent denies that the photographs were taken at Riverview. He took pictures of the resort himself to prove his contention. He said his pictures are different from those of complainant's.

We note, however, that respondent does not deny that he is the one appearing with complainant in the photographs. He conveniently testified that somebody else had posed for the photograph,[22]but this is obviously an afterthought. Respondent made this assertion almost a year after complainant filed her complaint. He could have done it as early as October 1995 in his comment to complainant's charges.

If the pictures were not taken at Riverview, where were they taken and why was respondent with complainant at that time? If, indeed, there was a legitimate reason for complainant and respondent to be seen together at the time and place depicted in the photographs, respondent would have wasted no time explaining where they were taken and under what circumstances, in order to extricate himself from his present predicament. This, he failed to do. The reason for this, we believe, is that he could not simply offer any plausible explanation why he was seen with complainant coming out of what is apparently a private room.

Respondent claims that the charges hurled against him are products of complainant's vindictiveness. Again, this claim raises more questions than it answers. It opens the door to undue speculation. Thus, why should she resent his actions? Was it only because of repeated postponements of the hearing of her cases?

Complainant may have harbored ill feelings towards respondent due to the unjustifiable delays in the hearing of their B.P. 22 cases. But would she falsely accuse respondent with sexual molestation only to get back at him? This goes against the grain of human nature and therefore unlikely. She should know that by revealing her sexual misadventures with respondent, graphically describing each and every detail, she would only be exposing herself and her family to shame and ridicule. She would stand to gain nothing from the exercise, save the hope that her dignity may somehow be vindicated in the process.

As for complainant's failure to testify on her own behalf, this is of no moment. Complainant's affidavit stands in lieu of her testimony; the investigating judge even had her re-subscribe and re-affirm her sworn statement and let the same be adopted as part of complainant's evidence.[23]

Complainant could have been cross-examined based on her affidavit. That she was not cross-examined by respondent is not her fault but respondent's.

As the records now stand, we are constrained to agree with the Court Administrator's assessment that respondent has failed to live up to the high standard of conduct required of members of the bench. He grossly violated his duty to uphold the integrity of the judiciary and to avoid impropriety not only in his public but in his private life as well.[24] All to the grave prejudice of the administration of justice, indeed.

The Court cannot countenance any act or omission, on the part of the officials at every level in the administration of justice, which erodes rather than enhances the public's faith and trust in the judiciary. Respondent's disgraceful conduct surely merits sanctions even if he has already retired as of November 1, 1998.[25] For the serious misconduct of respondent, the penalty provided for in Rule 140, Section 10, of the Rules of Court, by way of fine in the maximum amount should be imposed.[26]

We are not in accord with the OCA's recommendation, however, as regards forfeiture of all retirement benefits due respondent. We note that implementation of this penalty, while directed at respondent, might adversely affect innocent members of his family, who are dependent on him and his retirement gratuity. It is our considered view that, given the circumstances of this case, the maximum fine of P40,000.00 would be sufficient penalty.

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, we hereby find respondent GUILTY of gross misconduct. As he has already retired from the service and thus could no longer be dismissed nor suspended, we hereby order that a FINE of P40,000.00 be imposed upon him, to be deducted from his retirement benefits. Further, he is hereby barred from any employment in all branches of the government including government-owned and -controlled corporations.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Purisima, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, and Yñares-Santiago, JJ., concur.

[1] She also lodged a complaint against Judge Lustre with the Office of the Ombudsman and a criminal complaint with the Laguna Provincial Prosecutor's Office. Both offices recommended that the case be referred to this Court for proper action, in view of the Court's administrative supervision over courts and their personnel.

[2] Rollo, p. 1.

[3] Id., pp. 2-6.

[4] Id., pp. 41-45, 50-53.

[5] Id., pp. 46-47.

[6] Id., p. 46.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Rollo, p. 47.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rollo, pp. 111, 134-135.

[12] Id., pp. 36-37.

[13]Id., p. 183.

[14] Id., p. 190.

[15] Id., p. 213.

[16] E.g., Lachica v. Flordeliza, 254 SCRA 278 (1996); Betguen v. Masangcay, 238 SCRA 475 (1994).

[17] Effective July 1, 1989.

[18] Rollo, pp. 98-99.

[19] Id., p. 136. Only photocopies of the photographs submitted by respondent appear on record.

[20] TSN, Sept. 2, 1996, p. 11.

[21] Rollo, p. 106.

[22] TSN, September 2, 1996, p. 11.

[23] Rollo, p. 194.

[24] CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT, Canons 1 and 2.

[25] Rollo, p. 234.

[26] Rule 140, states:

"SEC. 10. Sanctions.--A. If the respondent is found culpable of serious charge, any of the following sanctions may be imposed:

1. Dismissal from the service with forfeiture of benefits (except accrued leaves) and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office including a government-owned or controlled corporation;

2. Suspension for three (3) months without salary and benefits; or

3. A fine of not less than P20,000.00 but not more than P40,000.00.

x x x x x x x x x"

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