SC fines MTC judge 2K for violating family business rule


The instant case was indorsed to this Court by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) on October 14, 2015, for appropriate action based on a letter[1] dated September 29, 2015, of Hon. Narciso P. Mingua (Judge Mingua), Presiding Judge, Municipal Trial Court (MTC), Santol, La Union, appending his Complaint-Affidavit[2] to support the filing of an administrative complaint against Hon. Ruben A. Corpuz (Judge Corpuz), Presiding Judge, MTC, Bangar, La Union.

Judge Mingua contends that Judge Corpuz should be held administratively liable for issuing the MTC Order dated September 15, 2015,[3] which dismissed Criminal Cases Nos. 5361 and 5362 despite having no manifest errors or grave abuse on the findings of probable cause by the public prosecutor, giving credence only to the accused's claims and defenses which consisted of mere denials.

Furthermore, Judge Mingua claims that Judge Corpuz is indebted to him in the amount of Two Hundred Thousand Pesos (P200,000.00) including interest, by virtue of the partial payment that he had made on a Deed of Conditional Sale[4] dated December 10, 2005, executed by the spouses Judge Narciso and Monica M. Mingua and Nelia, Eulogio, and Noel, all surnamed Alberto, represented by Rising Sun Group Land Buyers Association, Inc. (Rising Sun Group). It would seem that Judge Corpuz initiated the sale of the subject properties to spouses Mingua on behalf of the Rising Sun Group.

On October 25, 2015, Judge Mingua executed a Complaint-Affidavit[5] which was received by the OCA on February 22, 2016, reiterating the same allegations in the earlier complaint-affidavit he submitted with the OCA, which is also the same complaint he filed with the Prosecutor's Office of Baguio City, Benguet, on October 30, 2015, charging Judge Corpuz with the crime of Estafa and violation of Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 957.

In another letter[6] dated November 5, 2016, he alleged that in dismissing Criminal Cases Nos. 5361 and 5362, Judge Corpuz violated Section 3(e) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019; Section 6(b), in relation to Section 6(a) of Rule 112 of the Revised Rules of Court; and Articles 204 and 205 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). As to the charge of estafa and violation of P.D. No. 957, Judge Mingua claims that Judge Corpuz committed dishonesty and gross misconduct and he wilfully failed to pay his debt to the former. Fie points out that Judge Corpuz was one of the incorporators and was the treasurer of the Rising, Sun Group, as appearing in the Amended Articles of Incorporation[7] dated November 21, 2005.

On March 9, 2017, the OCA recommended[8] that the instant administrative complaint be re-docketed as a regular administrative matter and that Judge Corpuz be fined in the amount of Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00) for impropriety, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same offense shall be dealt with, more severely.

After a perusal of the records of the case, this Court resolves to partially adopt the findings of the OCA but with modification as regards the recommended penalty.

It is elementary that not every error or mistake that a judge commits in the performance of his/her duties renders him/her liable, unless he/she is shown to have acted in bad faith or with deliberate intent to do an injustice.[9] To hold otherwise, would be to render the judicial office untenable, for no one called upon to try the facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice can be infallible in his judgment.[10]

As held by this Court, if any error is committed by a judge, it is an error of judgment[11] and an administrative complaint is not the appropriate remedy where judicial recourse is still available such as a motion for reconsideration, or appeal or a petition for certiorari, unless the assailed order or decision is tainted with fraud, malice or dishonesty.[12] Verily, Judge Mingua had already filed a petition for certiorari with the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 34, Balaoan, La Union, which was denied for lack of merit in a Resolution[13] dated March 1, 2016. Aside from general assertions, Judge Mingua failed to present any evidence to prove that Judge Corpuz rendered the assailed MTC Decision with malice, bad faith or with deliberate intent to do an injustice to the former.

With regard to the issue involving the alleged sale of the subject properties between the parties and the indebtedness incurred by Judge Corpuz to Judge Mingua as a result thereof, this Court finds that the mere fact that Judge Corpuz owed Judge Mingua a certain sum of money, does not show impropriety and/or the appearance of impropriety both in his professional and private conduct, as decreed by Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Neither does his failure to pay a loan, be tantamount to the same.While every judge is demanded to act in the most exacting standards of decorum to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,[14] this Court does not expect them to be completely flawless and infallible. In this case, a mere general statement that Judge Corpuz incurred indebtedness and failed to pay the same upon demand does not convince this Court that he should be held administratively liable. Even Judge Mingua admitted that Judge Corpuz had made partial payments in the amount of Eighty Thousand Pesos (P80,000.00) before the instant case was indorsed to this Court by the OCA.

However, this Court finds that Judge Corpuz had violated Rule 5.03 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which states that a judge should not serve as an officer, director, manager, advisor or employee of any business except as director of a family business of the said judge. As can be gleaned in the Amended Articles of Incorporation, Judge Corpuz is shown to be one of its incorporators and at the same time, the elected Treasurer of the said corporation.

This Court had previously admonished a judge who had been found to have engaged in business "to be more discreet in his private and business activities, because his conduct as a member of the Judiciary must not only be characterized with propriety but must always be above suspicion."[15]

Furthermore, since this seems to be his first offense and having reached the retiring age of 70 on December 27, 2017, a reprimand with warning would not serve its purpose. Thus, a fine of Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000.00), is considered to be a sufficient penalty for his acts, given the fact that the offended party is also another judge, whom he exercised no moral ascendancy and supervision thereof, which would have improperly influenced any decision made by Judge Mingu during their business transaction with each other.

WHEREFORE, premises considered Judge Ruben A. Corpuz is found GUILTY of violation of Canon 5.03 of the Code of Judicial Conduct and, considering this to be his first offense, he is hereby FINED in the amount of Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000.00).

[1] Rollo, p. 2.
[2] Id. at 3-28.
[3] Id. at 35-38.
[4] Id. at 206-208.
[5] Id. at 81-98.
[6] Id. at 325-331.
[7] Id. at 125-129.
[8] Id. at 344-345.
[9] Dipatuan v. Judge Mangotara, 633 Phil. 67, 76 (2010).
[10] Lumbos v. Judge Baliguat, 528 Phil. 953, 968 (2006).
[11] De la Cruz v. Judge Conception, 305 Phil. 649, 661 (1994).
[12] Cortes v. Saudiganbayan, 467 Phil. 155, 162-163 (2004).
[13] Rollo, pp. 306-313.
[14] Vedana v. Judge Valencia, 356 Phil. 317, 329 (1998).
[15] Macariola v. Judge Asuncion, 199 Phil. 295, 323 (1982).

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