Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fuentes vs. Albarracin (2005)

Facts: Pilar Fuentes et. al. were the defendants of several cases of forcible entry before the sala of Judge Romeo Albarracin in Davao City. The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in those cases. While Fuentes et. al., filed a petition for annulment of judgments under Rule 47, the plaintiffs in the forcible entry cases filed an Urgent Ex-Parte Motion seeking the issuance of an order specifically directing the sheriff to enforce the writ of execution and special writ of demolition, including the demolition of defendants’ buildings and other improvements filed by plaintiffs. According to Fuentes et. al., Judge Albarracin acted on the said motion without hearing. It was also not served on them. They also requested the judge to await the result of the annulment case but still issued the questioned writ of demolition.

Due to the aforementioned circumstances, Fuentes filed an administrative charge against Judge Albarracin citing that the grant of the said motion constituted gross ignorance of the law and procedure. In his Answer, the judge alleged that the granting of the motion was incidental to the motion for execution which has long been granted. In addition, the Court of Appeals in its decisions affirmed the decisions of the lower court. The OCA thought that this is a mere delaying tactic on the part of the complainants and noted that the wheels of justice would run smoothly if the members of the judiciary who perform their functions conscientiously are not hampered by groundless and vexatious charges.

Issue: Whether or not remedial action through contempt of court proceedings may be enforced against complainants if their acts are considered as mere “delaying tactics”

Held: NO. Contempt of court is a defiance of the authority, justice or dignity of the court, such conduct as tends to bring the authority and administration of the law into disrespect or to interfere with or prejudice parties, litigant or their witnesses during litigation.

There are two kinds of contempt punishable by law: direct contempt and indirect contempt. Direct contempt is committed when a person is guilty of misbehavior in the presence of or so near a court as to obstruct or interrupt the proceedings before the same, including disrespect toward the court, offensive personalities toward others, or refusal to be sworn or to answer as a witness, or to subscribe an affidavit or deposition when lawfully required to do so. Indirect contempt or constructive contempt is that which is committed out of the presence of the court. Any improper conduct tending, directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct, or degrade the administration of justice would constitute indirect contempt. The employment of delaying tactics to obstruct the administration of justice falls under this latter category.

Section 3, Rule 71 of the Revised Rules of Court provides for the following requisites prior to conviction of indirect contempt: (a) a charge in writing to be filed; (b) an opportunity given to the respondent to comment thereon within such period as may be fixed by the court; and (c) to be heard by himself or counsel.

With respect to constructive contempts or those which are committed without the actual presence of the court, it is essential that a hearing be allowed and the contemner permitted, if he so desires, to interpose a defense to the charges before punishment is imposed. The proceedings for punishment of indirect contempt are criminal in nature. The modes of procedure and rules of evidence adopted in contempt proceedings are similar in nature to those used in criminal prosecutions.

Section 4 of Rule 71, however, provides that proceedings for indirect contempt may be initiated motu proprio by the court against which the contempt was committed by an order or any other formal charge requiring the respondent to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt. There is no way for this Court to initiate indirect contempt proceedings against complainants for the injury was not committed against this tribunal, but against respondent judge.

There is no basis for this Court to initiate contempt proceedings or condemn the complainants to suffer the penalty for contempt, considering that the “contemptuous” act was not directed against the Court itself. The penalty as recommended by the OCA cannot be sustained and the question of whether the complainants should be penalized for filing the instant complaint is best litigated in a separate proceeding, if warranted, within the confines of Rule 71 of the Revised Rules of Court.

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