Should writer of court decision be the same judge who received evidence?

In People v. Udang (G.R. No. 210161. January 10, 2018), the Informations charged Udang with sexual abuse, under Section 5(b) of Republic Act No. 7610, and not with rape, under Article 266-A(1) of the Revised Penal Code.

Udang attempts to raise doubt in his conviction because the judge who penned the trial court decision, Judge Mordeno, was not the judge who heard the parties and their witnesses during trial. For Udang, Judge Mordeno was in no position to rule on the credibility of the witnesses, specifically, of AAA, not having observed the manner by which the witnesses testified.

Ideally, the same trial judge should preside over all the stages of the proceedings, especially in cases where the conviction or acquittal of the accused mainly relies on the credibility of the witnesses. The trial judge enjoys the opportunity to observe, first hand, "the aids for an accurate determination" of the credibility of a witness "such as the witness' deportment and manner of testifying, the witness' furtive glance, blush of conscious shame, hesitation, flippant or sneering tone, calmness, sigh, or the scant or full realization of an oath."

However, inevitable circumstances—the judge's death, retirement, resignation, transfer, or removal from office—may intervene during the pendency of the case.

An example is the case of People v. Udang, where the trial judge who heard the witnesses, Judge Francisco D. Calingin (Judge Calingin), compulsorily retired pending trial. Judge Calingin was then replaced by Judge Mordeno, who proceeded with hearing the other witnesses and writing the decision. Udang's argument cannot be accepted as this would mean that every case where the judge had to be replaced pending decision would have to be refiled and retried so that the judge who hears the witnesses testify and the judge who writes the decision would be the same. What Udang proposes is impracticable.As early as 1915, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Abreu that in the absence of a law expressly prohibiting a judge from deciding a case where evidence was already taken, no such prohibition may be implied. In Abreu, Judge Jose C. Abreu (Judge Abreu) refused to resolve a case where the witnesses were already heard by the former presiding judge who had resigned, arguing that the witnesses were heard by a judge whose authority had been superseded by the then newly enacted Act No. 2347.

In rejecting Judge Abreu's argument, the Court held that the Legislature could not have intended to render void all the acts undertaken by judges prior to the enactment of Act No. 2347. According to the Supreme Court, Act No. 2347's purpose was "simply to change the personnel of the judges" and that it specifically provided that all cases and judicial proceedings pending decision or sentence under the jurisdiction of the old courts shall be continued until their final decision.

Further, the Court explained that with the existence of the transcript of records, which are presumed to be a "complete, authentic record of everything that transpires during the trial," there is "little reason for asserting that one qualified person may not be able to reach a just and fair conclusion from [the] record as well as another." Thus, it compelled Judge Abreu to proceed with deciding the cases where evidence was already taken by the former presiding judge.

In People v. Court of First Instance of Quezon, Br. X, a decision acquitting the accused was penned by a trial judge temporarily detailed to Branch 10 of the Court of First Instance of Quezon. However, the decision was later on promulgated by a different judge who was subsequently appointed permanently. The People of the Philippines then opposed the judgment of acquittal, arguing that it was void for being promulgated without authority as the temporary detail of the judge who penned the decision had already expired.

The Court rejected the reasoning that "[j]urisdiction is vested in the court, not in the judges, so that when a complaint or information is filed before one branch or judge, jurisdiction does not attach to said branch of the judge alone, to the exclusion of the others." Jurisdiction having attached with the court, the judgment of acquittal was deemed valid, regardless of the fact that one judge wrote it and another promulgated it.

Applying the foregoing, the trial court decision convicting Udang is valid, regardless of the fact that the judge who heard the witnesses and the judge who wrote the decision are different. With no showing of any irregularity in the transcript of records, it is presumed to be a "complete, authentic record of everything that transpire[d] during the trial," sufficient for judge to have evaluated the credibility of the witnesses.

[1] People v. Court of First Instance of Quezon, Br. X, G.R. No. L-48817, October 29, 1993, 227 SCRA 457, 461 [Per J. Bellosillo, First Division].
[2] People v. Diaz, 331 Phil. 240, 252 (1996) [Per J. Davide, Jr., Third Division].
[3] See In Re: Transfer of Hearing of A.M No. 07-11-592-RTC, 572 Phil. 1, 5 (2008) [Per J. Reyes, R.T., Third Division].
[4] United States v. Abreu, 30 Phil. 402, 410 (1915) [Per Curiam, En Banc].

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