G.R. No. 154581. Jan. 15, 2014

[ G.R. No. 154581, January 15, 2014 ]

The petitioner, a Judge of the Regional Trial Court who had meanwhile retired from active service, brought this special civil action for certiorari and prohibition in order to prevent the respondents from investigating him administratively for acts or omissions committed while he was a judge.

The antecedents are not disputed. On November 6, 2001, agents of the law raided the premises at No. 44 San Agustin St. Capitol 8 Subdivision, Barangay Capitolyo, Pasig City. The raid yielded substantial amounts of illegal substances. On November 14, 2001, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed several criminal cases[1] for violations of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6425 (The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972) in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Pasig City. The criminal case against five Chinese nationals (namely: Chua Chi y Li; Huang Hongwei; Joey Lu Y Cruz; Xingfu Wang; and Tomas Lu) was docketed as Criminal Case No. 10537-D, charging them with a violation of Section 16, of R.A. No. 6425. Two other informations were filed against Luven San Juan, Genevieve Ordono and Analyn Plaza (Criminal Case No. 10535- D); and against Ronald Cruz, Chua Lin Yen, Wen Jin Cai (Criminal Case No. 10536-D). The criminal cases were all assigned to Branch 266, then presided by the petitioner.

The accused applied for bail.[2] On April 15, 2002, the petitioner granted the application,[3] allowing bail in Criminal Case No. 10537-D in the amount of P500,000.00 for each of the accused.[4] He also issued another order on January 14, 2002 in Criminal Case No. 10535-D, fixing bail for each of the accused thereat in the amount of P60,000.00.[5] He further issued hold departure orders (HDOs) on April 12, 2002 in Criminal Case No. 10537-D; and on April 16, 2002 in Criminal Case No. 10536-D.[6]

The petitioner's grant of bail drew the attention of the mass media. In the April 18, 2002 issue of The Philippine Star, a news item entitled Sino 'shabu makers' freed on bail written by Non Alquitran[7] reported that Director Efren Fernandez, Chief of the Philippine National Police Narcotics Group, had requested DOJ Secretary Hernando Perez to investigate reports that P12 Million had changed hands for the speedy release of the five accused Chinese nationals. The issue also became the editorial topic of the April 21, 2002 issue of The Philippine Star.[8]In view of the adverse media publicity, the petitioner voluntarily inhibited himself from the criminal cases on April 19, 2002, but mentioned in his order that he had motu proprio issued the HDOs against the accused prior to the granting of bail.[9]

On April 24, 2002, the Court, through Deputy Court Administrator Christopher Lock, required the petitioner to comment on the Philippine Star's news report and editorial (docketed as A.M. No. RTJ-05-1911).[10]

Submitting his comment,[11] the petitioner explained that the April 18, 2002 news report was "malicious and irresponsible"[12] considering that The Philippine Star had reported in its April 21, 2002 issue that the bribery report "remains a speculation."[13]

Getting wind of the DOJ's plan to file charges against him, the petitioner requested the DOJ to hold in abeyance any further action on the issue of his possible liability. On August 19, 2002, however, Chief State Prosecutor (CSP) Jovencito Zuño denied the request.[14]

On August 13, 2002, CSP Zuño filed in the Office of the Court of Administrator (OCA) an administrative complaint charging the petitioner with grave misconduct, knowingly rendering an unjust judgment or order, gross ignorance of the law of procedure, and bias and partiality (docketed as A.M.No.RTJ-05-1913).[15]

The OCA required the petitioner to comment,[16] which he did on October 1, 2002.[17]

On August 14, 2002, CSP Zuño likewise filed a criminal complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman accusing the petitioner with a violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 (The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act). Among others, the complaint averred that on April 15, 2002, the petitioner, with evident partiality, bad faith and malice, had deliberately and hastily issued his order resolving and granting the petition for bail of the accused "despite vigorous objection from the prosecution who in the meantime was still presenting evidence for the purpose of this petition for bail and despite the fact that, insofar as these particular accused were concerned, the evidence of guilt was strong as testified to (but not yet formally offered) by the police officers who arrested them."[18]

In the meanwhile, or on June 8, 2002, the petitioner retired from the service by reason of physical disability.[19]

The petitioner has brought his petition for certiorari for the purpose of "upholding x x x the primary and exclusive jurisdiction of [the Court] on a matter over which it has already assumed jurisdiction."[20] He hereby claims that the filing of charges against him in the Office of the Ombudsman violates Article VIII, Section 6 of the Constitution ("Section 6. The Supreme Court shall have administrative supervision over all courts and the personnel thereof") and the principle of separation of powers.

The petitioner has submitted in the petition the following grounds, namely: (a) the filing of graft charges against him in the Office of the Ombudsman violated Section 1 and Section 6, Article VIII of the Constitution, and trampled upon the separation of powers; (b) the Secretary of Justice denied him his rights under Section 1, Article III of the Constitution; (c), the charges of grave misconduct, grave ignorance of the law, and bias and partiality were within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court; (d) the news report written by Alquitran in the April 18, 2002 issue of The Philippine Star was false and speculative; (e) the charge of "knowingly rendering unjust judgment" was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court considering that it was the first to assume jurisdiction; and (f) accusing him was not the proper remedy.

Respondents' Comment

In their comment,[21] the respondents seek the dismissal of the petition for certiorari, insisting that the petition was prematurely filed because the petitioner was yet to receive an order from the Office of the Ombudsman at the time the petition was filed, and said office was yet to act on the criminal complaint; that the Court would have no basis to determine whether the Office of the Ombudsman acted with grave abuse of discretion; and that the petitioner would have plain, speedy and adequate remedies should the Office of the Ombudsman take cognizance of the complaint.[22]

Supervening Event

In the meantime, on December 23, 2008, the Court, through Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., promulgated its decision in the administrative cases brought against the petitioner,[23] finding that there was no "concrete evidence to show that [the petitioner had] received a P12 million bribe for the speedy release of the accused x x x, as insinuated in the news articles." Nonetheless, the Court ruled that his order to release on bail the accused Chinese nationals violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, ruminating as follows:
While there is no evidence tending to show that he perverted his office for a consideration less than honest, respondent judge, to be sure, did not conduct himself with professional competence required by the Code. Proper and efficient court management is a judge's responsibility. He is directly responsible for the proper discharge of his official functions. And respondent judge's disinclination to give the prosecution an opportunity to oppose the petition for bail in Criminal Case No. 10537-D certainly invites suspicion on his partiality.

x x x x

For respondent judge's professional lapses, the Investigating Justice recommended that he be adjudged guilty of violation of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. x x x [24]

x x x x

WHEREFORE, this Court adjudges former Judge Rodrigo B. Lorenzo of the RTC Branch 266 in Pasig City GUILTY of violation of Canon 3, Rules 3.01, 3.02, 3.08, and 3.09 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. He is hereby meted the penalty of FINE in the amount of forty thousand pesos (PhP 40,000) to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

The Office of the Court Administrator is hereby ordered to facilitate the processing of the retirement papers of Judge Lorenzo for the speedy release of his retirement benefits.[25]
Ruling of the Court

The six grounds raised in support of the petition boil down to whether the Court's act of motu proprio exercising its administrative supervisory jurisdiction over him precluded the DOJ from filing the criminal complaint against him in the Office of the Ombudsman. It is noteworthy that the petitioner had come to the Court via the petition in view of the President's directive and the DOJ Secretary's resolve to file criminal charges against him despite the Court's assumption of administrative jurisdiction. Thus, he has brought this recourse mainly "to uphold the exclusive and primary jurisdiction [of the Court]."[26]

However, we are constrained to dismiss the petition for certiorari and prohibition for having meanwhile become moot and academic.

One of the requisites for the exercise by the Court of its power of judicial review is the existence of a justiciable controversy.[27] This requires that there must be an actual case or controversy calling for the exercise of judicial power. A justiciable controversy involves a definite and concrete dispute touching on the legal relations of parties having adverse legal interests,[28] as opposed to one that is already moot and academic.

In Caoibes, Jr. v. Ombudsman,[29] the Court held that "[t]he Ombudsman is duty bound to have all cases against judges and court personnel filed before it, referred to the Supreme Court for determination as to whether an administrative aspect is involved therein x x x regardless of whether an administrative case based on the act subject of the complaint before the Ombudsman is already pending with the Court."

The Court's decision on the petitioner's administrative liability promulgated on December 23, 2008 constitutes a supervening event that has mooted the question raised in the petition. A moot and academic case is one that ceases to present a justiciable controversy by virtue of supervening events, so that a declaration thereon would be of no practical value.[30] A case becomes moot and academic when there is no more actual controversy between the parties or no useful purpose can be served in passing upon the merits of the case.[31]

With the justiciable controversy having been terminated by virtue of an intervening cause, therefore, resolving the petition on the merits would serve no practical use or value.

ACCORDINGLY, the Court DISMISSES the petition for certiorari and prohibition for being MOOT and ACADEMIC.

No pronouncement on costs of suit.


[1] Rollo, pp. 25-27.[2] Id. at 170-194.
[3] Id. at 61-72.
[4] Id. at 72.
[5] Id. at 118-119.
[6] Id. at 58-60, 267-268.
[7] Id. at 83.
[8] Id. at 84.
[9] Id. at 272-277.
[10] Id. at 85.
[11] Id. at 73-82.
[12] Id. at 75.
[13] Id.
[14] Id. at 99.
[15] Id. at 328-338.
[16] Id. at 340.
[17] Id. at 341-357.
[18] Id. at 335-339.
[19] Id. at 341.
[20] Id. at 5.
[21] Id. at 103-109; 313-326.
[22] Id. at 320-326.
[23] Office of the Court of Administrator v. Lorenzo, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1911, and A.M. No. RTJ-05-1913, December 23, 2008, 575 SCRA 9.
[24] Id. at 20-21.
[25] Id. at 21-22.
[26] Rollo, pp. 3, 5.
[27] Garcia v. Executive Secretary, G.R. No. 157584, April 2, 2009, 583 SCRA 119, 128-129.
[28] Bayan Telecommunications Inc. v. Republic of the Philippines, G.R. No. 161140, January 31, 2007, 513 SCRA 562, 568.
[29] G.R. No. 132177, July 19, 2001, 361 SCRA 395, 401. See also Maceda v. Vasquez, G.R. No. 102781, April 22, 1993, 221 SCRA 464, 468, where the Court said:
In fine, where a criminal complaint against a Judge or other court employee arises from their administrative duties, the Ombudsman must defer action on said complaint and refer the same to this Court for determination whether said Judge or court employee had acted within the scope of their administrative duties.
[30] David v. Arroyo, G.R. No. 171396, May 3, 2006, 489 SCRA 160, 213-214.
[31] Tantoy Sr. v. Abrogar, G.R. No. 156128, May 9, 2005, 458 SCRA 301, 305; Philippine National Bank v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 121251, June 26, 1998, 291 SCRA 271, 278.

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