Monday, March 12, 2012

Garcia vs. Pagayatan [A.M. No. RTJ-08-2127 September 25, 2008]

Facts: Complainant, Cita Borromeo-Garcia, avers that the respondent, Judge Ernesto P. Pagayatan, committed falsification when, serving as Register of Deeds of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, he cooperated with Soledad Ulayao and Soledad Ortega Olano in transferring 165 titles from the name of her father's mistress Blandina Garcia to her father Salvador S. Borromeo, Sr. even though respondent was fully aware that the signature appearing thereon was falsified. As payment for their services, Borromeo, Sr. gave Ulayao, Olano and respondent, 20 of the 165 titles which Ulayao kept until a judge from another branch, pursuant to another case, ordered to have said titles kept in custodia legis. 

Complainant further claims that respondent was guilty of falsification and perjury when he granted the petition of her half-brother, Salvador G. Borromeo, Jr. for the issuance of owner's duplicate copies of 62 TCTs knowing that Borromeo, Jr., illegitimate son of Borromeo, Sr. with Blandina, was not the owner of the same; respondent hastily ruled for a commissioner's hearing, decided for the issuance of new owner's certificates of titles, without requiring the production of certified true copies of all the titles being petitioned or requiring the Officer in Charge Registrar to produce the book of titles; respondent also keeps a mistress, Elsa Aguirre, Borromeo, Jr.'s former wife, which could explain the swift decision in favor of Borromeo, Jr.; Elsa wielded power in the RTC, as acting clerk of court and sheriff, even though she is not a lawyer; Elsa together with Asst. Prosecutor Luduvico Salcedo, also acted as respondent's bagman. 

(1) Whether or not Pagayatan is liable for being impartial. 

(2) Whether or not Pagayatan is liable for failing to prevent any appearance of impartiality. 

(1) NO. The bare assertion made by Borromeo-Garcia were unsubstantiated. She had no direct knowledge of the facts constituting her allegations; she derived her knowledge from other persons. 

(2) YES. The Court has held that a judge must at all times not only be impartial, but maintain the appearance of impartiality. Thus, it is provided in Canons 3 and 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Judiciary. Elsa, who is the ex-wife of the petitioner therein, Borromeo, Jr., was designated to receive evidence ex-parte in SP No. R-936, when she was not the acting Branch Clerk of Court, but the acting Clerk of Court of the Office of the Clerk of Court, respondent judge only answered that it had been their practice to refer ex-parte proceedings to the acting clerk of court of the OCC and not to the acting branch clerk of court, because such proceedings were simple; and the branch clerk of court had too much work, while those in the OCC had lesser load. Respondent also said that he didn't see any conflict with the fact that Elsa was the ex-wife of petitioner in S.P. No. R-936, Borromeo, Jr. 

Lower court judges, such as respondent, play a pivotal role in the promotion of the people's faith in the judiciary. They are front-liners who give human face to the judicial branch at the grassroots level in their interaction with litigants and those who do business with the courts. Thus, the admonition that judges must avoid not only impropriety but also the appearance of impropriety is more sternly applied to them.

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