Sunday, April 1, 2018

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, V. EMILIANO DE CHAVEZ, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

FIRST DIVISION
G.R. No. 218427
January 31, 2018

R E S O L U T I O N

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

This is an appeal filed by Emiliano De Chavez (appellant) from the June 20, 2014 Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals. (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 06133, affirming with modification the February 27, 2013 Consolidated Decision[2] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Calamba City, Branch 92, in Criminal Case Nos. 13940-06-C, 13941-06-C, 13942-06-C, and 13943-06-C finding the appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of two counts of rape by sexual assault and two counts of qualified rape.

The Factual Antecedents

Appellant was charged under the following Informations:

Criminal Case No. 13940-06-C

That on or about June 2, 2005; x x x Province of Laguna, and within he jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-name accused, with lewd design through force, threat and intimidation, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously commit an act of sexual assault upon his daughter, ''XXX,'"[3] a thirteen (13) year-old minor, by inserting his finger inside her genitalia against her will and consent to her damage and prejudice.

Contrary to law.[4]

Criminal Case No. 13941-06-C

That on or about June 3, 2005, x x x Province of Laguna, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above named accused, with lewd design through force, threat and intimidation, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of his daughter, "XXX" a thirteen (13) year-old minor, against her will and consent to her damage and prejudice.

Contrary to law.[5]

Criminal Case No. 13942-06-C

That on or about September 30, 2005, x x x Province of Laguna, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above named accused, with lewd design through force, threat and intimidation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of his daughter, "XXX," a thirteen (13) year-old minor, against her will and consent to her damage and prejudice.

Contrary to law.[6]

Criminal Case No. 13943-06-C

That on or about June 4, 2005, x x x Province of Laguna, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with lewd design through force, threat and intimidation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously commit an act of sexual assault upon his daughter, "XXX" a thirteen (13) year-old minor, by inserting his finger inside her genitalia against her will and consent to her damage and prejudice.

Contrary to law.[7]

Appellant pleaded not guilty to the crimes charged.[8]

Version of the Prosecution

During the trial, the prosecution presented the testimonies of private complainant "XXX," her sister "YYY," and Dr. Roy Camarillo, the Medico-Legal Officer of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory, Camp Vicente Lim.

The evidence of the prosecution as summarized by the CA is as follows:

Private complainant "XXX" is the daughter of appellant and "ZZZ". Appellant and "XXX" live in x x x Laguna together with "XXX's" two younger siblings, "YYY''and her brother, "AAA".

On June 2, 2005, "XXX," who was then thirteen (13) years old, was sleeping on the floor of their room while her siblings were sleeping with their father on the bed. "XXX" was suddenly awakened when her father lay [beside her]. She asked him what he was doing. Appellant did not answer, then slowly he raised her shirt. He whispered "Sundin mo na lang ako at pag hindi mo ako sinunod ay papatayin ko ang mga kapatid mo at guguluhin ko ang nanay mo x x x," then he told "XXX" ''ibaba mo ang jogging pants at panty mo." Because of fear, ''XXX'' followed her father's order. Appellant then started kissing her and inserted his finger into her vagina. She told her father to stop but he continued what he was doing. "XXX'' cried as she felt pain in her vagina. She did not ask for help because she was afraid of her father's threat. After a few minutes, appellant removed his finger and returned to bed.

The following day, June 3, 2005; ''XXX" was awakened when her father lay on top of her. He started kissing her lips, neck and breast then he removed her jogging pants and panty. Appellant inserted his penis into "XXX's" vagina. She begged him to stop, saying ''Papa masakit" but he just ignored her and did a pumping motion for few minutes, then went back to bed.

Meanwhile, "YYY," "XXX's" younger sister, who was sleeping on the bedside beside the mat where "XXX'' was sleeping was awakened when she saw appellant on top of the latter. Moments later, appellant removed his penis and returned to his bed. The following morning, "YYY'' told "XXX" that she saw what the appellant did to her. That same day, June 4, 2005, appellant inserted again his finger into ''XXX's" vagina.

On September 30, 2005, "XXX" was awakened when her father removed her clothes and inserted his penis into her vagina. The following morning, ''XXX" noticed a white discharge on her panty.

"XXX" was prompted to proceed to the house of her mother x x x to report what appellant did to her when the latter hurt her brother. Immediately, they went to the police station and filed a complaint.

Dr. Roy Camarillo, Medico-Legal Officer, PNP Crime Laboratory, Camp Vicente Lim, conducted a laboratory examination on "XXX.'' The Medical Legal Report contained the following findings and conclusions:

Fairly-nourished, normally-developed, conscious. coherent, ambulatory female subject. Breasts are conical in shape with light brown areola and nipples from which no secretions could be pressed out. Abdomen is soft and flat.

There's scanty growth of pubic hairs. Labia majora are full, convex and coaptated with light brown and non-hypertophied labia minora presenting in between. On separating the same is disclosed annular type of hymen, thin with PRESENCE OF DEEP HEALED LACERATIONS at 3 o'clock and 9 o'clock positions. The peri-hymenal, urethra, periurethral area and fossa navicularis have no evident injury noted at the time of examination. There is no discharge noted.

Vaginal & Periurethral Swabbing: NON-REACTIVE to Seminal Stain Reagent.

CONCLUSION:

MEDICAL EXAMINATION SHOWS DEFINITE EVIDENCE OF ABUSE OF SEXUAL CONTACT.

THERE ARE NO EXTRA-GENITAL INJURIES NOTED AT THE TIME OF EXAMINATION.[9]

Version of the Appellant

Appellant, on the other hand, testified that the accusations of his daughter against him were done in retaliation because he scolded his children and severely punished his youngest child.[10]

Ruling of the Regional Trial Court

On February 27, 2013, the RTC rendered a Consolidated Decision finding the appellant guilty of the charges against him, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered in the above-captioned cases, as follows:

I. In Criminal Case No. 13940-06-C, the Court finds the accused Emiliano De Chavez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of [the] crime of sexual assault defined under paragraph 2 of Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code and hereby sentences him to imprisonment of ten years of prision mayor as minimum to twenty years of reclusion temporal as maximum. The accused is further ORDERED to indemnify the private complainant "XXX" the amounts of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, P75,000.00 as moral damages and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages.

2. In Criminal Case No. 13941-06-C, the Court finds the accused Emiliano De Chavez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of [the] crime of rape and hereby sentences him to the penalty of reclusion perpetua. In addition, the accused is ORDERED to indemnify the private complainant "XXX'' the amounts of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, P75,000.00 as moral damages and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages.

3. In Criminal Case No. 13942-06-C, the Court finds the accused Emiliano De Chavez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of [the] crime of rape and hereby sentences him to the penalty of reclusion perpetua. The accused is also ORDERED to indemnify the private complainant "XXX" the amounts of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, P75,000.00 as moral damages and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages.

4. In Criminal Case No. 13943-06-C, the Court finds the accused Emiliano De Chavez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of [the] crime of sexual assault defined under paragraph 2 of Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code and hereby sentences him to imprisonment of ten years of prision mayor as minimum to twenty years of reclusion temporal as maximum. The accused is further ORDERED to indemnify the private complainant "XXX" the amounts of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, P75,000.00 as moral damages and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages.

With costs against the accused.

SO ORDERED.[11]

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

Appellant elevated the case to the CA.

On June 20, 2014, the CA rendered the assailed Decision, affirming the Consolidated Decision with modification, to wit:

WHEREFORE, the appeal is DENIED. The Consolidated Decision dated February 27, 2011 is AFFIRMED WITH MODIFICATION that exemplary damages in the amount of P30,000.00 is awarded for each offense.

SO ORDERED.[12]

Hence, appellant filed the instant appeal.

On July 22, 2015, the Court required both parties to file their respective supplementary briefs; however, they opted not to file the same.[13]

The Court's Ruling

In assailing his conviction, appellant put in issue the inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution's witnesses, which he believes is an indication that they were coached.[14] Thus, he claims that the prosecution was not able to prove the accusations against him beyond reasonable doubt.[15]

The Court is not persuaded.

Inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the testimony of a rape victim is not unusual considering that the painful experience is oftentimes not remembered in detail as "[i]t causes deep psychological wounds that scar the victim for life and which her conscious and subconscious mind would opt to forget."[16] Besides, the determination of the credibility of a witness is best left to the trial court, which had the opportunity to observe the deportment and demeanor of the witness while testifying.[17]

Moreover, the Court has consistently ruled that there is sufficient basis to conclude the existence of carnal knowledge when the testimony of a rape victim is corroborated by the medical findings of the examining physician as ''[l]acerations, whether healed or fresh, are the best physical evidence of forcible defloration."[18]

In this case, the victim's testimony is corroborated not only by her sister but also by the medical findings of the examining physician, who testified that the presence of deep healed lacerations on the victim's genitalia is consistent with the dates the alleged sexual acts were committed. Accordingly, the Court finds no reason to disturb the findings of the RTC, which was affirmed by the CA. It bears stressing that factual findings of the trial court, when affirmed by the CA, are generally binding and conclusive upon the Court.[19]

In fine, we affirm the ruling of the courts below finding appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of two counts of qualified rape and two counts of rape by sexual assault.

As regards the penalty imposed in Criminal Case Nos. 13941-06-C and 13942-06-C for qualified rape, both the trial court and the CA properly imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua in view of the proscription on the imposition of the death penalty. We agree with the courts below that the prosecution had satisfactorily established the minority of "XXX" and the qualifying circumstance of relationship, i.e., that appellant is the father of "XXX."

However, in order to conform to prevailing jurisprudence,[20] the Court finds it necessary to increase the amounts of damages awarded in these cases. Thus, the amounts of exemplary damages, civil indemnity and moral damages are increased to P100,000.00 each for each count.

As regards Criminal Case Nos. 13940-06-C and 13943-06-C for rape by sexual assault, we modify the penalty to eight (8) years and one (1) day of prision mayor, as minimum, to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months of reclusion temporal, as maximum.[21] In addition, the awards of civil indemnity and moral damages are modified to P30,000.00 each tor each count of sexual assault.[22] The award of exemplary damages at P30,000.00 for each count is sustained.

In addition, all damages awarded shall earn legal interest at the rate of 6% per annum from the date of finality of judgment until fully paid.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appeal is DISMISSED.

The June 20, 2014 Decision of the Court of Appeals finding appellant Emiliano De Chavez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the charges against him is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS that in Criminal Case Nos. 13941-06-C and 13942-06-C, the awards of civil indemnity, moral damages, and exemplary damages are each increased to P100,000.00 for each count. In Criminal Case Nos. 13940-06-C and 13943-06-C, appellant is sentenced to suffer the penalty of eight (8) years and one (1) day of prision mayor, as minimum, to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months of reclusion temporal, as maximum, for each count. In addition, the awards of civil indemnity and moral damages are modified to P30,000.00 each for each count .

Finally, all the damages awarded shall earn interest at the rate of 6% per annum from the date of finality of judgment until fully paid.

SO ORDERED.

Sereno, C.J., (Chairperson), Leonardo-De Castro, and Tijam, JJ., concur.
Martires, [*] J., on official leave.

[*] Designated as additional member per November 29, 2017 raffle vice J. Jardeleza who recused due to prior action as Solicitor General.
[1] Rollo, pp. 2-19; penned by Associate Justice Magdangal M. De Leon and concurred in by Associate Justices Stephen C. Cruz and Ramon A. Cruz.
[2] CA rollo, pp. 24-45; penned by Judge Alberto F. Serrano.
[3] ''The identity of the victim or any information which could establish or compromise her identity, as well as those of her immediate family or household members, shall he withheld pursuant to Republic Act No. 7610, An Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence And Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation And Discrimination, And for Other Purposes; Republic Act No. 9262, An Act Defining Violence Against Women And Their Children, Providing For Protection Measures For Victims, Prescribing Penalties Therefor, And for Other Purposes; and Section 40 of A.M. No. 04-10-11-SC, known as the Rule on Violence against Women and Their Children, effective November 15, 2004." People v. Dumadag, 667 Phil. 664, 669 (2011).
[4] CA rollo, p. 25.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id. at 26.
[8] Id.
[9] Rollo, pp. 5-7.
[10] Id. at 8-10.
[11] CA rollo, p. 45.
[12] Rollo, p. 18.
[13] Id. at 25-26 and 36.
[14] CA rollo, pp. 70-76.
[15] Id.
[16] People v. Sonido, G.R. No. 208646, June 15, 2016, 793 SCRA 568, 578.
[17] Id. at 577.
[18] People v. Saludo, 662 Phil. 738, 755 (2011).
[19] People v. Sonido, supra at 577-578.
[20] People v. Jugueta, G.R. No. 202124, April 5, 2016, 788 SCRA 331, 383.
[21] See People v. Marmol, G.R. No. 217379, November 23, 2016, 810 SCRA 379, 392-393.
[22] Id.

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, COMPLAINANT, V. ROLANDO C. TOMAS AND ANGELINA C. RILLORTA, FORMER OFFICERS-IN-CHARGE, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, SANTIAGO CITY, ISABELA, RESPONDENTS. / ANGELINA C. RILLORTA, COMPLAINANT, V. JUDGE FE A. MADRID, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 21, SANTIAGO CITY, ISABELA, RESPONDENT.

EN BANC
A.M. No. P-09-2633/A.M. No. RTJ-12-2338
January 30, 2018

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

A.M. No. P-09-2633 stems from the result of the financial audit conducted in the Regional Trial Court, Santiago City, Isabela while A.M. No. RTJ-12-2338[1] is an offshoot of A.M. No. P-09-2633. The Financial Audit Team found, among others, shortages in the judiciary funds, tampering of official receipts, and overwithdrawal of cash bonds allegedly committed by Angelina C. Rillorta (Rillorta), Officer-in-Charge (OIC), Regional Trial Court, Santiago City, Isabela (now retired). The administrative complaint in A.M. No. RTJ-12-2338 was filed by Rillorta against Judge Fe Albano Madrid (Judge Madrid), formerly Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Santiago City, Isabela (now retired), for dishonesty, involving the same audit findings in A.M. No. P-09-2633.

The facts, as narrated by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), are as follows:

A.M. No. P-09-2633

In OCA Memorandum dated March 12, 2009, the Financial Audit Team reported shortages in the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), General Fund (GF) and Sheriff's General Fund (SGF) of the former Officers in-Charge as follows:

a) Rolando C. Tomas – P18,639.50 (JDF) and P14,538.45 (GF)

b) Angelina Rillorta - P23,839.67 (JDF); P7,884.65 (GF) and P12.00 (SGF)

A review of the court orders and acknowledgment receipts of the withdrawn cashbonds to determine the Fiduciary Funds also revealed a shortage amounting to Six Million Five Hundred Fifty-Seven Thousand Nine Hundred Fifty-Nine Pesos and 70/100 (P6,557,959.70).

Balance per LBP SA# 1361-0025-27 as of 4/30/04 P5,969,511.40
Add: Deposit on 5/26/04 based on the initial
findings of the Audit Team 936,000.00
Total P6,905,511.40
Less: Net Interest (withdrawn on 4/26/05 P3,516.18
  Unwithdrawn interest 50.00
Adjusted Bank Balance as of 4/30/04
Beginning Balance P32,539.30
Collections for the period 10/18/91 to 4/30/04 16,419,498.96
Balance P16,452,038.26
Less: Valid Withdrawals (same period) 2,993,533.34
  Unwithdrawn Fiduciary Fund as of 4/30/04 P13,458,504.92
Unwithdrawn Fiduciary Fund P13,458,504.92
Less: Adjusted Bank Balance as of 4/30/04 6,901,945.22
Balance of Accountabilities/Shortage P6,556,559.70

The shortage referred to above represents the cash bonds which were withdrawn but with incomplete documents such as court orders and acknowledgment receipts. However, according to the Financial Audit Team, if the supporting documents of the withdrawn cash bonds would be submitted, the shortages would be reduced to One Hundred Thirty-Six Thousand Eight Hundred Eighty-Six Pesos and 16/100 (P136,886.16).

On April 22, 2009, the Court, through the First Division, issued a Resolution, the decretal portion of which reads:

x x x x

(2) to DIRECT Mr. Rolando C. Tomas, former Officer-in-Charge, Regional Trial Court, Santiago City, Isabela to RESTITUTE within fifteen (15) days from receipt of notice, the shortages incurred in the JDF and General Fund Amounting to Eighteen Thousand Six Hundred Thirty-Nine Pesos and 50/100 (P18,639.50) and Fourteen Thousand Five Hundred Thirty-Eight Pesos and 45/100 (P14,538.45) respectively, in order to finalize the audit on said accounts x x x

x x x x

(4) to DIRECT Mrs. Angelina C. Rillorta, Officer-in-Charge, Regional Trial Court, Santiago, Isabela to RESTITUTE within fifteen (15) days from receipt of notice, the shortages incurred in the JDF, General Fund and Sheriff's General Fund amounting to Twenty-Three Thousand Eight Hundred Thirty-Nine Pesos and 67/100 (P23,839.67), Seven Thousand Eight Hundred Eighty-Four Pesos and 65/100 (P7,884.65) and Twelve Pesos (P12.00), respectively, in order to finalize the audit on the said accounts, x x x

(5) to require Mrs. Rillorta to SUBMIT to the Fiscal Monitoring Division, CMO, OCA the machine-validated deposit slip(s) as proof of compliance;

(6) to require Mrs. Rillorta to SUBMIT to the Fiscal Monitoring Division, Court Management Office, Office of the Court Administrator, the Court orders and acknowledgment receipts of the withdrawn cashbonds (Annexes A, B & C) to finalize the audit on the Fiduciary Fund account within thirty (30) days from receipt of notice with information that non-submission of the supporting documents will incur a shortage amounting to Six Million Five Hundred Fifty-Seven Thousand Nine Hundred Fifty-Nine Pesos and 70/100 (P6,557,959.70) for the Fiduciary Fund, x x x

However, in case the following supporting documents of the cash bonds will be submitted, the shortage shall be reduced to One Hundred Thirteen Thousand Two Hundred Eighty-Six Pesos and 16/100 (P113,286.16) xxx

x x x x

Complying with the above directives, Mrs. Angelina Rillorta, in her undated letter, informed the Court that she has already deposited the shortages incurred in the JDF, GF and the SGF. She argued that she did not misappropriate any money and explained that she committed a mistake in depositing her collections in the proper account for which the Commission o[n] Audit (COA) had called her attention. With regards to the submission of the orders and acknowledgment receipts in support of the withdrawn cash bonds, she claimed that she only secured copies of some orders and acknowledgment receipts because some case records were not made available to her. She also explained that she has submitted her monthly financial report from December 1994 to April 2005 together with copies of the orders and acknowledgment receipts to the Accounting Division, Financial Management Office (FMO), OCA and if there was anything wrong or irregular in her reports, the Accounting Division should have called her attention or asked her to explain. Further, she argued that if the amount of the cash bonds was not given to the persons who requested the withdrawal thereof, a lot of complaints could have been filed against her in Court. She added that in order to comply with the directive of the Court, the Accounting Division, FMO, OCA, be directed to produce the financial reports and that she be given time to follow-up the said records with the said office.

In her Supplemental Explanation dated September 3, 2009, Mrs. Rillorta narrated that when she assumed as Officer-In-Charge, OCC, on March 10, 1995, the court's financial records were not formally turned over to her. She had to figure out by herself what to do. She explained that the monthly financial reports were submitted to Executive Judge Fe Albano Madrid for approval and signature and every time the latter went over the reports, she would change or correct the entries to conform with the entries in the passbook for the fiduciary account. After the corrections were incorporated in the report, Judge Madrid would sign it.

Mrs. Rillorta further narrated that sometime in January 2003, she reviewed the financial records and discovered that the monthly report did not jibe with the bank book entries. Hence, she requested the COA, Tuguegarao City, to audit her books of account and after a preliminary audit, she was instructed to inform Judge Madrid of the discrepancies. She immediately informed Judge Madrid and the latter made some adjustments to the report. She alleged that on May 24, 2004, a team from the OCA came to conduct a financial audit. When the audit was about to be completed, an exit conference was held. She was expecting to be called to attend the conference, hence, she asked the team leaders if her presence was needed and was told "Di ka naman pinatawag ni Judge. " She was never required to respond to any findings and was therefore under the impression that Judge Madrid had sufficiently explained the discrepancies. It was only when she was going over the records of the court that she discovered that an Observation Memorandum dated May 17, 2004 prepared by the audit team was given to Judge Madrid. Thus, she requested the Court for a reinvestigation and hearing on the complaint which was referred to the OCA on December 16, 2009.

Complying with the directive of the Court, the OCA, in its Memorandum dated May 20, 2010, recommended that the motion to conduct another investigation be denied because it was no longer necessary considering that Angelina Rillorta has already remitted her shortages and that she was directed to explain in writing why she should not be dismissed from the service for violation of OCA Circular No. 22-94 dated April 8, 1994 (Re: Guidelines in the Proper Handling and Use of Official Receipts), it appearing that official receipts were tampered:

x x x x

The OCA added that only the supporting documents such as court orders and acknowledgment receipts of the withdrawn cash bonds with incomplete documents should be submitted in order to finalize the accountabilities of Mrs. Rillorta in the Fiduciary fund.

On June 1, 2011, the Court adopted the OCA's recommendation and noted the Ex Parte Manifestation dated February 22, 2010 of Executive Judge Anastacio D. Anghad and Clerk of Court, Norbert Bong S. Obedoza, both of the RTC Santiago City, praying that respondent Rolando C. Tomas' death on February 10, 2010 be considered with humanitarian consideration in the resolution of this case.

In another Memorandum dated June 13, 2011, the OCA requested that (a) the recommendation in its Memorandum of May 20, 2010 denying the motion of Mrs. Rillorta for the conduct of another investigation be set aside; (b) the Land Bank of the Philippines, Santiago City, Isabela Branch, be directed to submit a certification as to the authorized signatory from August 1991 to April 30, 2004, for Savings Account No. 1361-0025-27 of the Fiduciary Fund of the RTC, Santiago City; (c) Judge Madrid be required to submit her comments on the unsigned letter and additional Supplement to the Motion for the Conduct of Another and/or Additional Investigation both dated September 28, 2010 filed by Mrs. Rillorta; and (d) the motion to conduct another investigation as well as the manifestation of the heirs of respondent Rolando Tomas be held in abeyance pending the submission of Judge Madrid's comment. OCA's recommendations were adopted by the Court in its Resolution of August 03, 2011.

In compliance with the June 1, 2011 Resolution, Mrs. Rillorta filed her Explanation with Motion for Reconsideration dated July 24, 2011 alleging that she was denied her right to due process when she was not allowed to participate in the exit conference with the Financial Audit Team. She also informed the Court that she filed a Complaint-Affidavit against Judge Madrid before the OCA x x x.

For her part, Judge Madrid, in her undated Compliance which was received by the OCA on October 20, 2011, stated that she was not aware of the unsigned letter dated September 27, 2010 and additional supplement to the motion for the conduct of another and/or additional investigation filed by Mrs. Rillorta. She claimed that the latter executed an Affidavit dated March 3, 2011 and two Supplemental Affidavits which were the basis of OCA IPI No. 11-3614-RTJ pending in the OCA, and requested a copy thereof if the said letter referred to a different matter for her to comment thereon. On the other hand, the Land Bank of the Philippines, Santiago Branch, Isabela, issued a Certification dated October 24, 2011 stating that Account No. 1361-0025-27 RTC, Branch 21 (Fiduciary Fund) was opened on March 29, 1993 by Judge Madrid who was the authorized signatory.

On December 3, 2012, the Court granted the request of Mrs. Rillorta for the conduct of another and/or additional investigation and referred the matter to the Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals who was designated to investigate A.M. OCA IPI No. 11-3614-RT[J] (Re: Angelina C. Rillorta vs. Honorable Fe A. Madrid, Presiding Judge, Branch 21, RTC, Santiago City) [now A.M. No. RTJ-12-2338] for a joint investigation. The Court also directed the Financial Management Office, OCA, to deduct the amount of P33,177.95 from the equivalent money value of the total earned leave credits of the late Rolando Tomas who was dismissed from the service pursuant to the Resolution of the Court in A.M. No. P-09-2660 (Francisco C. Taguinod vs. Deputy Sheriff Rolando Tomas, Branch 21, RTC, Santiago City).

OCA IPI No. 11-3614-RTJ

This is an offshoot of A.M. No. P-09-2633. On March 3, 2011, Mrs. Rillorta filed the instant administrative complaint against Judge Madrid praying that an investigation be conducted and that Judge Madrid be directed to answer or explain the charges against her. In her Affidavit-Complaint, Mrs. Rillorta reiterated the allegations in her Supplemental Explanation in A.M. No. P-09-2633. She averred that the monthly reports did not dovetail with the bank book entries, that is, the amount collected appearing in the monthly report was only P700,000.00 while the amount appearing in the bank account was more or less P6,000,000.00. This discrepancy alarmed her, so she voluntarily submitted herself to an audit by the COA in Tuguegarao City. She informed Judge Madrid about the COA findings and in order to balance the discrepancies found, Judge Madrid instructed her and Susan[a] Liggayu to make some adjustments in the official receipts issued by the court. For instance, in the bail bond posted by then retired Judge Alivia of the RTC, Cauayan City for his client, Judge Madrid asked for the General Fund receipts and instructed her to write in the original receipt the true amount of the bailbond but to reflect the amount of P20.00 or P30.00 (clearance fee) in the duplicate and triplicate copies. She then asked Judge Madrid "Ma'am, why not issue na lang Court Order para minsanan na ma-withdraw yung bina-balance mo '' to which she replied "No, this is better. " She claimed that every time Judge Madrid instructed her to do it, she asked Susan[a] Liggayu to make a list so that they would have a record of the amounts collected for the Fiduciary Fund. She also narrated that Judge Madrid instructed her to alter the amounts of the cash bond withdrawn. For instance, if the amount of the bail bond deposited was P10,000.00, the amount to be withdrawn would be P110,000.00. This happened on several occasions. Likewise, in Criminal Case Nos. 4161 and 4162 (People vs. Pua) and Criminal Case No. 21-4225 (People vs. Alejandro Ramos), the release orders did not indicate the Official Receipt (O.R.) number which is the usual practice of the court.

Again, in her Second Supplemental Affidavit dated April 6, 2011, Mrs. Rillorta described how Judge Madrid effected the adjustments in the official receipts issued by the court. In Criminal Case No. 3423, Judge Madrid added zero "0" in O.R. No. 10706949 in between the digits three "3" and zero to make it appear that the amount received was Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000.00) and superimposed the letter "y" at the end of the word three (in the box amount in words to jibe with Thirty Thousand Pesos). She also alleged that every time there was an excess in the amount withdrawn, she or Susan[a] Liggayu delivered the same to Judge Madrid by leaving the money on her table. The amounts were always put inside an envelope which was labelled by Susan[a] Liggayu by writing the corresponding case number. There were times when the withdrawals were done in the afternoon and in those instances, the excess amounts were delivered to Judge Madrid's house. She further alleged that Judge Madrid drafted her answer in A.M. No. P-09-2633 but did not submit the same because said comment made her admit the charges. Judge Madrid even insisted that she submit the same to avoid dismissal from the service since the argument raised was that she acted in good faith. She thus suspected that she was made a sacrificial lamb. She admitted that she was not knowledgeable in accounting procedures which was why she never questioned the acts of Judge Madrid and followed her orders and instructions.

For her part, Judge Madrid, in her Comment dated April 6, 2011, alleged that Mrs. Rillorta is a stenographer but could not take stenographic notes in open court. Her work then was to assist Clerk of Court Teofilo Juguilon and to type decisions. After the retirement of Atty. Juguilon, she thought it wise to designate her as OIC-Clerk of Court because she was already familiar with the workings of the office. In the beginning, she strictly monitored the collections and disbursements until Mrs. Rillorta gained her complete trust and confidence. So she just let Mrs. Rillorta do her work with little supervision. At that time, the court was a single sala court and had many cases to attend to which left her little time for financial management. She added that she could not remember if there was a formal turnover of the court's financial reports to Mrs. Rillorta, but an inventory of the records was received by the latter. Mrs. Rillorta prepared the monthly reports which she would note and sign after a review of the attached official receipts, order and acknowledgment receipts, as well as deposit slips and withdrawal slips. Corrections were made to conform to the supporting documents or to correct wrong computations. She does not have her own separate records as alleged by Mrs. Rillorta. A separate record would be an extra work which she would not like to do. She admitted that the monthly reports did not jibe with the bank book in that, the money in the bank is more than what is stated in the monthly reports. However, this did not alarm her because there was more money which meant there was no shortage.

Judge Madrid further claimed that she did not know that Mrs. Rillorta had voluntarily submitted herself for audit to the COA but knew that the COA has always been auditing the financial records of the court because Mrs. Rillorta has been regularly submitting the monthly reports to the COA Office in Ilagan, Isabela. She was then informed by Mrs. Rillorta about the discrepancy between the monthly reports and the money in the bank but denied instructing Mrs. Rillorta and Susan[a] Liggayu to make some adjustments on the official receipts. She could not remember asking Mrs. Rillorta to give her the GF receipts in connection with the bail bond posted by retired Judge Alivia. She could have asked for the GF receipts to check on something but not to show how to tamper the bail bond receipts. Also, after the financial audit, the audit team informed her of the P900,000.00 shortage in the court's collection. She told the audit team to call Mrs. Rillorta so that she could be given a chance to produce the money and conduct a cash count. However, the audit team said that no cash count could be done because some receipts were tampered. She immediately talked to Mrs. Rillorta about the audit team's observations and told her to deposit the shortage right away. In addition, she could not remember if she was given an Observation Memorandum by the audit team except for a piece of paper that was shown to her by the audit team. She also confirmed that she is the signatory of the LBP account and that the withdrawals she signed were supported by official receipts and court orders. She also confirmed that she helped Mrs. Rillorta prepare her answer to the administrative charge against her but did so only upon her request and that she only included those statements which Mrs. Rillorta told her and of her fear of dismissal because of the charge of dishonesty and told her that she could plead good faith because there was no intention on her part to be dishonest.

Judge Madrid also argued that all instructions given to Mrs. Rillorta and the other court employees were lawful and proper and expected that the instructions be carried out. The corrections she made in the monthly reports were all proper and did not make any alterations or adjustments on any official receipts, deposit slips, withdrawal slips or acknowledgment receipts.

In her Comment on the Supplemental Complaint dated April 28, 2011, Judge Madrid maintained that the same is a repetition of her original affidavit to which a comment had already been made. She claimed that she only signs the orders of release and it was Mrs. Rillorta who processed the documents which presented to her for signature. The order of release is a standard form and it was the duty of the OIC to check that the documents are complete before they are brought to her for signature. With regards to the undertaking attached to the complaint, she claimed that she did not know who prepared it but the blanks were filled up with the use of Mrs. Rillorta's typewriter. She does not usually scrutinize the word and every document presented in connection with the bail bond and if she noticed the typewritten insertions, she could have asked what they meant considering that the typewritten insertions are alien to the documents.

Refuting the allegations in the Supplemental Affidavit-Complaint, Judge Madrid, in her Comment dated June 6, 2011, denied that she inserted the letter "O" and superimposed the letter "Y" in Official Receipt No. 10706946. She claimed that she had no access to the documents which were in the custody of the monitoring team as they did not show her any documents when they talked to her after the audit. She also vehemently denied that the alleged excess in the withdrawn amount was delivered to her by Mrs. Rillorta or Susan[a] Liggayu either in the office or in her house. The only money she received were those withdrawn from the bank when she requested Mrs. Rillorta to encash her salary checks. When she confronted Susan[a] Liggayu about the tampering and withdrawals, the latter denied any knowledge about them and even executed an affidavit to that effect. In addition, she admitted to be the lone signatory of withdrawals but this was not by any sinister design as alluded to by Mrs. Rillorta. When the Clerk of Court retired from the service, the money was transferred to the RTC which is represented by her being then the Executive Judge. However, she did not personally make withdrawals and has always authorized Mrs. Rillorta to do the withdrawals instead.

In her Reply Affidavit dated June 13, 2011, Mrs. Rillorta narrated that Judge Madrid called her in her chambers on May 26, 2004, at around 1:30 [p.m.] to 2:00 p.m. Judge Madrid told her to go to the bank and deposit the money wrapped in a newspaper and placed inside a plastic bag. She also handed her a piece of paper indicating the amount of P947,000.00 - P11,200.00 = P936,000.00 in her own handwriting. When she went out of Judge Madrid's room, Susan[a] Liggayu was waiting and handed her the piece of paper which Judge Madrid gave and they both counted the money. Susan[a] Liggayu then prepared the deposit slip based on the amount they counted and what was written on the piece of paper, after which she gave the prepared deposit slip to Judge Madrid who affixed her signature. This incident proved that monies were delivered to Judge Madrid and when the amount was needed to be deposited, it was readily and immediately produced by Judge Madrid for deposit and return.[2]

In his Report, Investigating Justice Elihu YbaƱez detailed how Judge Madrid manipulated the Fiduciary Fund, to wit:

First. In Criminal Case No. 21-4225, entitled People vs. Alejandro Ramos, for Violation of COMELEC Resolution No. 6076, the Undertaking executed by the accused and his Bondsman, appears that the cash bail posted is only P20,000.00 without the Official Receipt issued was stated in the Undertaking but a marginal note 'NO RECEIPT ISSUED' admitted by respondent Judge as her own handwriting. Despite the fact that the bailbond posted was only P20,000.00 and respondent Judge [wrote a] marginal note that no proper receipt was issued for the cash bond of P20,000.00, respondent Judge still authorized the withdrawal and release of P120,000.00 which is over and above the actual amount of the cash bail posted of P20,000.00. How could respondent Judge in good faith sign the withdrawal slip after checking on the Undertaking which stated that cash bail posted was only P20,000.00 and by her own handwriting even noted in the same Undertaking that there was no Official Receipt issued for the cash bond posted. Per admission of respondent-complainant, she tampered with Official Receipt No. 1721363 dated 2 June 2003 to make the P120,000.00 upon the instruction of respondent Judge. Repondent-complainant testified further that from the withdrawn amount of P120,000.00, P100,000.00 went to respondent Judge and P20,000.00 was released to the Bondsman.

Second. Respondent Judge signed the withdrawal slip despite the fact that the original Official Receipt which is being presented by the Bondsman/Party and attached to the documents for the release of the cash bonds provides for a much smaller amount or different in amount than the amount for withdrawal for the refund/release of the cash bond posted.

Third. Respondent Judge transferred the RTC Santiago City Bank Accounts by her as the lone signatory. This, without following the guidelines set by the Supreme [C]ourt requiring a co-signatory to the account who are the Executive Judge and the Clerk of Court/OIC. Being the lone signatory to the RTC Santiago City General Fund, Fiduciary Fund and JDF Bank Accounts, respondent Judge had full control of the amount[s] deposited to and withdrawn from the RTC Bank Accounts. It would be far[-]fetched that funds of the court would be dissipated without respondent Judge knowing what is happening because she is the sole signatory to the bank deposits of the Fiduciary Funds of the RTC, Santiago City. In fact, respondent Judge on cross examination acknowledged full responsibility of the deposits to and withdrawals from the accounts.

Fourth. Respondent Judge had the final say on what should be stated in the Monthly Report of Collections/Deposits/Withdrawals and Disbursements such that she had full knowledge early on if and when any amounts have been receipted, deposited, and/or withdrawn. Respondent-complainant Angelina Rillorta, witnesses Jaime Gumpal, Virginia Manuel and Susan[a] Liggayu all confirmed that respondent Judge would change the data contained in the Monthly Report before she signed it.

Fifth. The evidence points to the fact that after the OCA Audit Team completed the court financial audit, respondent Judge returned the amount of P936,000.00 which respondent-complainant Rillorta and witness Susan[a] Liggayu deposited to the Landbank. Respondent-complainant testified on cross-examination that respondent Judge called her in the Judge's Chamber and gave her the blue SM plastic bag containing the P900,000.00 plus money. Respondent Judge also wrote in a piece of paper P947,200.00 minus P11,200[.00] = P936,000.00, which is the amount to be deposited representing the missing funds. The testimony of respondent-complainant is corroborated by witness Susan[a] Liggayu who testified on cross examination that she saw Judge Albano Madrid hand to Angelina Rillorta a blue plastic bag containing money which she and Angelina Rillorta counted. She further testified that she prepared the corresponding deposit slip and handed it to Angelina Rillorta which the latter in turn gave to Judge Madrid for the Judge's signature. Afterwards, she and Angelina Rillorta deposited the money to Landbank. While respondent Judge claims that it was respondent-complainant who returned the P936,000.00 money, however, respondent-complainant could not have returned the amount as she was not the one informed by the OCA Audit Team but respondent Judge who in return did not tell respondent-complainant of the amount. x x x.

Sixth. Respondent Judge took undue interest in preparing the pleadings for respondent-complainant or even went the extra mile to control what will be written in the pleadings. The first draft answer made by respondent Judge for respondent-complainant was that the latter kept the money which was not agreed to by respondent-complainant. Respondent Judge forced respondent-complainant to submit to the Supreme Court the answer (Exhibit 14) she made for her but respondent-complainant refused, and submitted a different answer without saying that she kept the money.

While respondent Judge claims that she only took pity on respondent-complainant, so she prepared the pleadings for her, the draft pleadings tell that respondent Judge wanted to make it appear that it was respondent-complainant who took the missing funds. She was also discouraged by [respondent Judge] in approaching DCA Villanueva when the latter was in Tuguegarao City; also prevented respondent-complainant from telling anyone about the shortages. Withal, respondent Judge also encouraged if not stopped respondent-complainant from consulting a lawyer after she received the notice from the OCA re the missing Judiciary Funds.

Seventh. The assurances of respondent Judge on respondent­ complainant that the latter won't be accused of malversation because respondent Judge already returned the money, referring to the P936,000.00 deposited after the audit conducted by the SC, is also indicative of her hand in the loss and return/deposit of the fiduciary funds.

Eighth. The testimony of respondent Judge's witness Arcelio F. [De] Castillo, former Legal Researcher of RTC Branch 21, Santiago City, who testified on the strict and meticulous character of respondent Judge only bolstered the fact that the incidents of tampering, non-deposit and overwithdrawal could not have passed respondent Judge without her knowledge and understanding.

x x x x[3]

The same Report highlighted Judge Madrid's telling admissions:

x x x [R]espondent Judge admitted that: (1) General Fund, Fiduciary Fund and JDF Accounts are by the Judge only; (2) she was the lone signatory to the Fiduciary Funds and the General Fund Accounts explaining that the decision was made at the time when the Clerk of Court retired and the latter had to transfer to her the account; (3) she was also the lone signatory not only to the bank accounts and likewise to the reports; (4) she did not bother to change the signatory to the accounts after COC Atty. Suguilon retired because the RTC only had an OIC not a Clerk of Court; (5) respondent Judge knew and was aware of the SC Circular re the required signatories to the court funds; (6) notwithstanding the guidelines set by the Supreme Court requiring a co-signatory for the account saying that the said circular was only issued after [the] RTC Santiago City became a multiple sala court emphasizing that the OIC was not a Clerk of Court; (7) respondent Judge being the only signatory, acknowledged full responsibility of the deposits and withdrawals thereon[.][4]

The Investigating Justice recommended the following:

(1) Judge Fe Albano Madrid be held liable for SERIOUS DISHONESTY and GROSS MISCONDUCT. All her retirement benefits, except her accrued leave benefits be ordered forfeited in favor of the government, if any, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Any computed shortages of the Fiduciary Fund yet to be restituted be charged against said accrued leave benefits.

Judge Albano Madrid be likewise DISBARRED for violation of Canon[s] 1 and 7 and Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and her name ORDERED STRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys; and

(2) Angelina C. Rillorta be liable for SIMPLE NEGLECT OF DUTY and be meted a fine of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) with a stern warning that repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.[5]

The OCA recommended the following:

I. Judge Fe Albano Madrid (formerly Presiding Judge, Branch 21, Regional Trial Court, Santiago City, Isabela, now retired) be found GUILTY of serious dishonesty and gross misconduct and that all her retirement benefits, except her accrued leave benefits, be ordered FORFEITED, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations;

2. Judge Fe Albano Madrid be DIRECTED to SHOW CAUSE why she should not be DISBARRED for violation of Canons 1 and 7 and Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility;

3. Angelina C. Rillorta, Officer-in-Charge, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Santiago City, Isabela, now retired, be found GUILTY of gross misconduct and that all her retirement benefits and accrued leave benefits be FORFEITED, with prejudice to re­employment in any branch of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations;

4. The Employees Leave Division, Office of Administrative Services, Office of the Court Administrator be DIRECTED to compute the balance of the earned leave credits of Angelina Rillorta and forward the same to the Finance Division, Financial Management Office, Office of the Court Administrator, for the computation of the monetary value of her earned leave credits. The amount as well as other benefits Angelina Rillorta may be entitled to shall be applied as partial restitution of the computed shortages in the amount of P6,555,559.70;

5. Angelina C. Rillorta be DIRECTED to RESTITUTE her shortages in the Fiduciary Fund after deducting the money value of her accrued leave credits and other benefits; and

6. [T]he Legal Office, Office of the Court Administrator be DIRECTED to initiate appropriate criminal proceedings against Judge Fe Albano Madrid and Angelina C. Rillorta in light of the above findings.[6]

The issues in this case are whether Judge Madrid is guilty of grave misconduct and serious dishonesty and whether Rillorta is guilty of grave misconduct.

The Court adopts the findings of the OCA and agrees m its recommendations, except as to the computation of the amount to be restituted by Rillorta.

Judge Madrid is Guilty of
Grave Misconduct and Serious Dishonesty

Public office is a public trust. This constitutional principle requires a judge, like any other public servant and more so because of his exalted position in the Judiciary, to exhibit at all times the highest degree of honesty and integrity. As the visible representation of the law tasked with dispensing justice, a judge should conduct himself at all times in a manner that would merit the respect and confidence of the people.[7]

Judge Madrid failed to live up to these exacting standards. In this case, the Court agrees with the findings of the OCA, which affirmed the evaluations of the Investigating Justice, "that official receipts were tampered and that there were overwithdrawals from the Fiduciary Fund account amounting to Nine Hundred Thirty Six [Thousand] (P936,000.00) Pesos. The Audit Team's findings were not refuted by Judge Madrid and Mrs. Rillorta during the investigation."[8] These acts of tampering of official receipts and overwithdrawals from court funds clearly constitute grave misconduct and serious dishonesty.

Misconduct is defined as a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, a forbidden act, a dereliction of duty, unlawful behavior, willful in character, improper or wrong behavior.[9] The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law, or to disregard established rules, which must be established by substantial evidence. As distinguished from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule must be manifest in a charge of grave misconduct.[10]

Dishonesty, on the other hand, is defined as a disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray.[11]

The Court agrees with the OCA in rejecting Judge Madrid's contention that she did not include Rillorta as co-signatory because the latter is only an OIC. Being designated as acting Clerk of Court or OIC, Rillorta had the same duties and responsibilities of a regular clerk of court.[12] Indeed, if Judge Madrid were uncomfortable that only an OIC was assigned to the Office of the Clerk of Court, she, as then Executive Judge, should have declared the position open so that a regular clerk of court could be appointed. However, Judge Madrid did not do so.

The Court likewise sustains the OCA's finding that Judge Madrid's only witness, Arcelio F. De Castillo (De Castillo), then Court Legal Researcher, did not help her case as the latter had no knowledge of the tampering of official receipts. In his Judicial Affidavit,[13] De Castillo stated that payments of bailbonds were made in the office of the OIC-Clerk of Court; that he had not seen payments of bailbonds made inside the office or chambers of Judge Madrid; that he had not participated in any transactions involving the payment of bailbond; and that it was the criminal docket clerk Jaime U. Gumpal (Gumpal) who attended to the posting of bonds and his only participation was the review of documents after the requirements were completed.

On the other hand, the Judicial Affidavits[14] of Gumpal, Court Interpreter, and Susana B. Liggayu (Liggayu), Clerk III, both of Branch 21, Regional Trial Court, Santiago City, bolstered the fact that Judge Madrid manipulated the Fiduciary Fund collections and reports submitted to the OCA. Liggayu testified, among others, that Judge Madrid ordered the tampering of official receipts; and that she and Rillorta made a list to monitor Judge Madrid's overwithdrawals and undeposited amounts because Rillorta was already worried how much Judge Madrid would still order withdrawn.

As recommended by the OCA, this administrative case against Judge Madrid for grave misconduct and serious dishonesty shall also be considered as a disciplinary proceeding against her as a member of the Bar,[15] in accordance with A.M. No. 02-9-02-SC, which provides:

Some administrative cases against Justices of the Court of Appeals and the Sandiganbayan; judges of regular and special courts; and court officials who are lawyers are based on grounds which are likewise grounds for the disciplinary action of members of the Bar for violation of the Lawyer's Oath, the Code of Professional Responsibility, and the Canons of Professional Ethics, or for such other forms of breaches of conduct that have been traditionally recognized as grounds for the discipline of lawyers.

In any of the foregoing instances, the administrative case shall also be considered a disciplinary action against the respondent Justice, judge or court official concerned as a member of the Bar. The respondent may forthwith be required to comment on the complaint and show cause why he should not also be suspended, disbarred or otherwise disciplinarily sanctioned as a member of the Bar. Judgment in both respects may be incorporated in one decision or resolution.

Accordingly, Judge Madrid is directed to show cause why she should not be disbarred for violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, particularly Canons 1[16] and 7[17] and Rule 1.01[18] thereof.

Rillorta is Guilty of Grave Misconduct

Rillorta is liable for grave misconduct for her participation in the tampering of receipts, non-deposit to and overwithdrawals from the Fiduciary Fund.

Rillorta admitted having tampered some official receipts. However, she claims that the tamperings were upon the instructions of Judge Madrid. This does not excuse her from any liability because obviously tampering of such official documents is unlawful which should never be countenanced. The Court sustains the OCA's statement that "as a public officer, her duty was not only to perform her assigned tasks, but to prevent the commission of acts inimical to the judiciary and to the public, in general."[19] It is grave misconduct when Rillorta participated or consented to the commission of the unlawful acts of tampering receipts and overwithdrawals from court funds simply because of following the orders or instructions of her superior, Judge Madrid.

As correctly found by the OCA, "[w]hen Judge Madrid ordered [Rillorta] to alter an official receipt at the first instance, Mrs. Rillorta should have reported the matter to the OCA who has supervision over all judges and court personnel of the lower court[s]. Rather, she kept silent and allowed herself to be used by Judge Madrid and even facilitated the tampering of official receipts and overwithdrawals on several occasions. She knew the repercussions of her acts because she kept a record of the transactions on the tampering of bail bond receipts which, according to her, was a precautionary move and to keep track of the balances in the Fiduciary Fund account. She also failed to prove during the investigation that she was threatened, coerced or terrorized by Judge Madrid into doing such unlawful acts."[20]

The Court likewise rejects Rillorta's claim that when she assumed the position of OIC, the court's financial records were not formally turned over to her and she was not knowledgeable in accounting procedures. Unfamiliarity with procedures will not exempt Rillorta from liability. As a Clerk of Court, she is expected to keep abreast of all applicable laws, jurisprudence and administrative circulars pertinent to her office.[21] Further, Rillorta had been the OIC for nine years when the financial audit was conducted, and therefore, she was presumed to know her functions and responsibilities.[22]

Penalties on Judge Madrid and Rillorta

As this Court has repeatedly stated, the conduct and behavior of everyone connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowest clerk, should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility.[23] The Court has not hesitated to impose the ultimate penalty on those who have fallen short of their accountabilities. Any conduct that violates the norms of public accountability and diminishes, or even tends to diminish, the faith of the people in the justice system has never been and will never be tolerated or condoned by this Court.[24]

Since Judge Madrid is found guilty of the grave offenses of grave misconduct and serious dishonesty, the penalty of dismissal from the service is proper even for the first offense in accordance with Section 46A(1), Rule 10 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service. However, since Judge Madrid has already retired from the service, the penalty of dismissal can no longer be imposed. Instead, all of her retirement benefits, except accrued leave benefits, are forfeited, with prejudice to re­ employment in any branch of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

With regard to Rillorta's offense and penalty, the OCA's recommendation differed from that of the Investigating Justice's.

The Investigating Justice found Rillorta guilty of simple neglect of duty[25] while the OCA found Rillorta guilty of gross misconduct. The Investigating Justice noted that there were mitigating circumstances favoring Rillorta. These were "(1) making a list noting the non-deposit of cash bonds, underdeposit to and overwithdrawals from the Fiduciary Fund made at the instance of Judge Albano Madrid, (2) in going regularly to the COA Regional Office for Audit, (3) immediate restitution of the missing funds as ordered by the Supreme Court, (4) her previous administrative sanctions notwithstanding because as admitted by Judge Albano Madrid, she actually directed [Rillorta] to continue to function as Officer-in-Charge x x x despite the resolution of the Supreme Court suspending [Rillorta] x x x, (5) the moral ascendancy and control exercised over her by Judge Albano Madrid x x x, and (6) her staunch and determined efforts in pursuing the administrative complaint against Judge Albano Madrid x x x."[26]

On the other hand, the OCA found that this is not the first time Rillorta has been administratively sanctioned by this Court. In Antonio T. Quebral v. Angelina C. Rillorta, Officer-in-Charge/Clerk of Court, and Minerva B. Alvarez, Clerk IV, both of RTC, Branch 21, Santiago City, Isabela,[27] she was found guilty of neglect of duty for violation of Administrative Circular No. 3-2000 which requires fees to be duly collected and receipted in case clearances are issued by the trial court and was suspended for three months without pay, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same would warrant a more severe penalty. In that case, Rillorta issued court clearances free of charge to people who are "friends of court employees" which the Court found to be highly irregular as she had no power, authority, or discretion to dispense with the payment of the said fees. Also, in Re: Anonymous Complaint against Angelina Casareno-Rillorta, Officer-in-Charge, Office of the Clerk of Court,[28] Rillorta was found guilty of gross misconduct for performing her duties/reporting for work while under preventive suspension by the Court.

Since Rillorta's grave misconduct, aside from her previous infractions, undermined the people's faith in the courts and, ultimately, in the administration of justice, the OCA's recommended penalty of dismissal is proper.

In Office of the Court Administrator v. Pacheco,[29] the Court found Pacheco guilty of dishonesty, grave misconduct, and gross neglect of duty and consequently dismissed her from the service when she tampered with receipts and incurred cash shortages.

Similarly, in Office of the Court Administrator v. Recio,[30] Recio was found guilty of gross misconduct, dishonesty, and gross neglect of duty for failing to remit cash collections and misappropriating the same. She was also found to have tampered with receipts and the cash book and failed to submit the required monthly reports which the Court considered as acts which "evince a malicious and immoral propensity."[31]

The circumstances which the Investigating Justice considered mitigating do not overcome the fact that Rillorta repeatedly committed offenses which aggravated the grave offense she committed in this case. However, since Rillorta has already retired from the service, the penalty of dismissal can no longer be imposed. Instead, all of her retirement benefits, except accrued leave benefits, are forfeited, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

The Court notes that there is a finding in the report of the Financial Audit Team that "in case the following supporting documents of the cashbonds will be submitted, the shortages would be reduced to One Hundred Thirteen Thousand Two Hundred Eighty-Six Pesos and 16/100 (P113,286.16)."[32] Rillorta insists that with regard to the submission of the orders and acknowledgment receipts in support of the withdrawn cash bonds, she only secured copies of some orders and acknowledgment receipts because some case records were not made available to her. She also explained that she had submitted her monthly financial report from December 1994 to April 2005 together with copies of the orders and acknowledgment receipts to the Accounting Division, Financial Management Office, OCA.[33]

If the copies of the orders and acknowledgment receipts are indeed in the custody of the Accounting Division, Financial Management Office of the OCA, then the amount of the shortages Rillorta incurred will certainly be reduced. There is no doubt that Rillorta has been remiss in her duty to retain copies of the supporting documents of the withdrawn cash bonds; however, this does not automatically carry with it the restitution of P6,557,959.70[34] if this is not the exact amount of the shortages. It appears that there are means to reconcile the records available to Rillorta with the records available to the Financial Audit Team and the Accounting Division, Financial Management Office of the OCA and to compute the exact amount of the shortages. The finding that the shortages would be reduced to P113,286.16 if the supporting documents of the withdrawn cash bonds would be submitted clearly means that the Financial Audit Team was able to compute a much reduced amount of shortages based on available records. To order Rillorta to restitute the amount of P6,557,959.70 as shortages when in fact this amount is incorrect is without basis. Therefore, in the interest of justice, Rillorta should be given the opportunity to reconcile the records available to her, including the supporting documents already submitted to this Court, and the monthly reports allegedly containing the orders and acknowledgment receipts supposedly in the custody of the Accounting Division, Financial Management Office of the OCA for the computation of the exact amount of the shortages that should be restituted.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Judge Fe Albano Madrid, formerly Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Santiago City, Isabela, now retired, GUILTY of grave misconduct and serious dishonesty and all her retirement benefits, except her accrued leave benefits, are FORFEITED, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Judge Fe Albano Madrid is further DIRECTED to SHOW CAUSE why she should not be DISBARRED for violation of Canons 1 and 7 and Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The Court finds Angelina C. Rillorta, Officer-in-Charge, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Santiago City, Isabela, now retired, GUILTY of grave misconduct and all her retirement benefits, except her accrued leave benefits, are FORFEITED, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Angelina C. Rillorta is DIRECTED to RESTITUTE her shortages in the Fiduciary Fund after the computation of the exact amount of the shortages.

The Accounting Division, Financial Management Office of the Office of the Court Administrator is DIRECTED to produce the orders and acknowledgment receipts in its custody, if there are any, related to these consolidated cases and forward the same to the Office of the Court Administrator for reconciliation and computation of the exact amount of the shortages within ten (10) days from receipt of this Decision.

The Office of the Court Administrator is DIRECTED to recompute the amount of the shortages incurred by Angelina C. Rillorta after the submission of the orders, acknowledgment receipts and other supporting documents for reconciliation and to submit its findings within ten (10) days from receipt of the documents, if any, from the Financial Management Office, Office of the Court Administrator.

The Legal Office, Office of the Court Administrator is DIRECTED to initiate the appropriate criminal proceedings against Judge Fe Albano Madrid and Angelina C. Rillorta in view of the foregoing findings.

SO ORDERED.

Sereno, C.J., Carpio, Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Leonen, Jardeleza, Caguioa, Tijam, Reyes, Jr., and Gesmundo, JJ., concur.
Perlas-Bernabe, J., on leave.
Martires, J., on official leave.

NOTICE OF JUDGMENT

Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that on January 30, 2018 a Decision/Resolution, copy attached herewith, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled administrative matters, the original of which was received by this Office on February 20, 2018 at 1:23 p.m.

Very truly yours,

(SGD.) FELIPA G. BORLONGAN-ANAMA
Clerk of Court

[1] Formerly OCA IPI No. 11-3614-RTJ.
[2] Rollo (Folder No. 3), unpaged. OCA Memorandum, pp. 1-10.
[3] Id. (Folder No. 1 ), unpaged. Report, pp. 58-61.
[4] Id. Report, pp. 51-52.
[5] Id. Report, pp. 66-67.
[6] Id. (Folder No. 3), unpaged. OCA Memorandum, pp. 26-27.
[7] Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Indar, 685 Phil. 272, 286 (2012).
[8] Rollo (Folder No. 3), unpaged. OCA Memorandum, pp. 10-11.
[9] Re: Administrative Charge of Misconduct Relative to the Alleged Use of Prohibited Drug of Castor, 719 Phil. 96, 100 (2013), citing Dalmacio-Joaquin v. Dela Cruz, 604 Phil. 256, 261 (2009).
[10] Id. at 100-101, citing Office of the Court Administrator v. Lopez, 654 Phil. 602, 608 (2011).
[11] Office of the Court Administrator v. Viesca, 758 Phil. 16, 27 (2015), citing Rojas, Jr. v. Mina, 688 Phil. 241, 249 (2012), citing further Japson v. Civil Service Commission, 663 Phil. 665 (2011).
[12] Re: Report on the Financial Audit Conducted at the Municipal Trial Court, Baliuag, Bulacan, 753 Phil. 31, 37 (2015).
[13] Rollo (Folder No. 4), pp. 409-411.
[14] Id. at 228-231, 235-238.
[15] See Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Indar, supra note 7.
[16] This Canon reads:
Canon 1 - A lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes.
[17] This Canon reads:
Canon 7- A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession and support the activities of the integrated bar.
[18] This rule provides:
Rule 1.01 – A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.
[19] Rollo (Folder No.3), unpaged. OCA Memorandum, p. 22.
[20] Id. OCA Memorandum, p. 23.
[21] See OCA v. Bernardino, 490 Phil. 500, 526 (2005).
[22] Rollo (Folder No. 3), unpaged. OCA Memorandum, p. 23.
[23] OCA v. Bernardino, supra at 531.
[24] Office of the Court Administrator v. Nacuray, 521 Phil. 32, 39 (2006), citing Re: Report of the Financial Audit Conducted on the Accounts of Clerk of Court Zenaida Garcia, MTC, Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo, 362 Phil. 480 (1999).
[25] Rollo (Folder No. 1 ), unpaged. Report, p. 67.
[26] Id. Report, p. 66.
[27] 459 Phil. 306 (2003). Reported as Judge Madrid v. Quebral.
[28] 536 Phil. 373 (2006).
[29] 641 Phil. 1, 9, 14 (2010), cited in Office of the Court Administrator v. Baltazar, 771 Phil. 516, 534 (2015).
[30] 665 Phil. 13, 33, 35 (2011), cited in Office of the Court Administrator v. Baltazar, 771 Phil. 516, 534 (2015).
[31] Id. at 34.
[32] Rollo (Folder No. 1), p. 3. In some parts of the records, this amount appears as P136,886.16.
[33] Id. at 19-20.
[34] Id. at 3. In some parts of the records, this amount appears as P6,555,559.70 or P6,556,559.70.

LARA'S GIFT AND DECORS, INC., PETITIONER, V. PNB GENERAL INSURERS CO., INC. AND UCPB GENERAL INSURANCE CO., INC., RESPONDENTS.

THIRD DIVISION
G.R. Nos. 230429-30
January 24, 2018

D E C I S I O N

VELASCO JR., J.:

Nature of the Case

Before this Court is a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, seeking to reverse and set aside the March 6, 2017 Amended Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA), Special Former Fifth Division, in CA-G.R. SP Nos. 138321 and 138774. The Amended Decision granted respondents' motions for the reconsideration of the December 21, 2015 Decision[2] of the CA's Former Fifth Division annulling and setting aside the Omnibus Orders dated October 1, 2014 and November 26, 2014 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati City, Branch 147, in Civil Case No. 11-238.

Factual Antecedents

Petitioner Lara's Gifts and Decors, Inc. (LGDI) is engaged in the business of manufacturing, selling, and exporting various handicraft items and decorative products. It leased buildings/warehouses, particularly Buildings R1, R2, R3, R4, Y2, Y3, Y4, and Y4 Annex, from J.Y. & Sons Realty Co., Inc., located at JY & Sons Compound, Philippine Veterans Center, Taguig City, for its business operations. The warehouses leased also served as production and storage areas of its goods and stocks.

The handicraft products, raw materials, and machineries and equipment of petitioner were insured against fire and other allied risks with respondent PNB General Insurers Co., Inc. (PNB Gen) in the total amount of P582,000,000 covering the period of February 19, 2007 (4:00 p.m.) to February 18, 2008 (4:00p.m.). The insurance policy, which is in the nature of an "open policy," was covered by Fire Insurance Policy No. FI-NIL-HO- 0018666, wherein PNB Gen assumed 55% of the total amount insured. Meanwhile, respondent UCPB General Insurance Co., Inc. (UCPB), as co­ insurer, assumed the remaining 45% through Fire Insurance Policy No. HOF07D-FLS072788. The policy was subsequently increased to P717,000,000, pursuant to Policy Endorsement No. FI-NIL­ HO20070005944A.

On February 19, 2008, approximately four hours before the policy was about to expire, a fire broke out and razed Buildings Y2, Y3, and Y4 of the JY & Sons Compound. Petitioner immediately claimed from the respondents for the loss and damage of its insured properties.

To evaluate and ascertain the amount of loss, respondents engaged the services of Cunningham Lindsey Philippines, Inc. (CLPI), an independent adjuster. CLPI required petitioner to submit supporting documents material for the proper determination of the actual amount of loss; the latter, however, failed to comply with the request. Thereafter, respondents appointed a new adjuster, Esteban Adjusters and Valuer's Inc. (ESTEBAN) to undertake the valuation of the loss. ESTEBAN similarly found petitioner's documents insufficient to properly evaluate and assess the amount of the loss claimed.

Taking into consideration the findings of the independent adjusters and the report of its forensic specialists, respondents denied petitioner's claim for coverage of liability under the insurance policy due, inter alia, to the following reasons: 1) violation of Policy Conditions Nos. 13 and 19; 2) misdeclaration/subsequent exclusion of laser machines from claim for machineries and equipment; and 3) absence of independent and competent evidence to substantiate loss (additional alternative ground for claim on stocks and machineries/equipment).[3]

Resultantly, petitioner filed a Complaint for Specific Performance and Damages against respondents before the Makati City RTC, docketed as Civil Case No. 11-238. The case was raffled to Branch 62 of the trial court.

In its Notice of Pre-Trial Conference,[4] the RTC directed the parties to submit their respective pre-trial briefs, accompanied by the documents or exhibits intended to be presented, at least three days before the scheduled Pre-Trial Conference. It also contained a stern warning that "no evidence shall be allowed to be presented and offered during the trial in support of a party's evidence-in-chief other than those that had been earlier identified and pre-marked during the pre-trial, except if allowed by the Court for good cause shown."

During the Pre-Trial Conference, both parties made admissions and proposed stipulations of facts and issues to simplify the course of the trial. On account of the voluminous documentary exhibits to be presented, identified, and marked, the parties allotted six meetings/conferences just for the pre-marking of exhibits.

After the termination of the Pre-Trial Conference, the RTC issued a Pre-Trial Order dated September 12, 2013, in which the parties were given the opportunity to amend or correct any errors found therein within five days from receipt thereof. In the same Order, all the parties made a reservation for the presentation of additional documentary exhibits in the course of the trial.

The parties filed their respective Motions to Amend/Correct Pre-Trial Order.[5] None of the parties, however, sought to amend the Pre-Trial Order for the purpose of submitting additional judicial affidavits of witnesses or the admission of additional documentary exhibits not presented and pre­ marked during the Pre-Trial Conference.

Trial on the merits ensued on November 7, 2013. Among the witnesses presented by petitioner are Gina Servita (Servita) and Luis Raymond Villafuerte (Mr. Villafuerte). Servita testified on cross­ examination that she was able to reconstitute, collect, and/or collate and keep in her possession copies of several commercial documents consisting of purported Purchase Orders (POs), Sales Invoices (Sis), and Delivery Receipts (DRs) (collectively, the Questioned Documents), months after the fire broke out.[6] Mr. Villafuerte, meanwhile, testified on his involvement and participation in the management and operations of petitioner corporation. He further admitted, however, that he had divested his full interest in the management and operations of the company to devote his time as Governor of Camarines Sur from 2004 to 2013. As such, his participation in the business was reduced to a mere advisor of his wife, Mrs. Lara Maria Villafuerte (Mrs. Villafuerte), petitioner corporation's president, who is likewise slated to testify.[7]

During the continuation of Mr. Villafuerte's cross-examination on July 10, 2014, petitioner furnished respondents with a copy of the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit[8] of Mrs. Villafuerte dated July 9, 2014 (the 1st Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of Mrs. Villafuerte was filed during the Pre-Trial for the re-marking of exhibits). PNB Gen, through a Motion to Expunge,[9] sought to strike from the records the said 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of Mrs. Villauferte and all documents attached thereto for alleged violation of Administrative Matter No. 12-8-8-SC, otherwise known as the "Judicial Affidavit Rule" (JA Rule) and A.M. No. 03-1-09-SC,[10] or the Guidelines to be Observed by Trial Court Judges and Clerks of Court in the Conduct of Pre-Trial and Use of Deposition-Discovery Measures (Guidelines on Pre-Trial). UCPB filed its Manifestation and Motion,[11] adopting in toto PNB Gen's Motion. The twin Motions were set to be heard on September 19, 2014.

On September 18, 2014, or a day prior to the hearing of the Motion to Expunge, the re-direct examination of Mr. Villafuerte continued. During the trial, petitioner's counsel produced the Questioned Documents in open court and asked Mr. Villafuerte to identify those documents, seeking to introduce and mark them as exhibits. Respondents immediately objected in open court to the introduction and presentation of the Questioned Documents on the grounds that they were neither touched upon nor covered by the witness' cross-examination, and that the same were being introduced for the first time at this late stage of proceeding, without giving the parties opportunity to verify their relevance and authenticity. They argued that since these documents were not presented, identified, marked, and even compared with the originals during the Pre-Trial Conference, they should be excluded pursuant to the Guidelines on Pre-Trial and JA Rule. The documents are further alleged to be the same documents subject of the respondents' twin Motions to Expunge, i.e., the same Questioned Documents which were never presented, marked, or compared during the various Pre-Trial Conferences of the case, or were never presented to the insurers and adjusters early on.

Ruling of the RTC

On September 18, 2014, the RTC issued an Order[12] overruling the objections of respondents and allowing petitioner to propound questions relating to the Questioned Documents, without prejudice to the hearing on the motions to expunge the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of Mrs. Villafuerte, to wit:

ACCORDINGLY, the objection interposed by the defendants is overruled, the court allows the plaintiff to ask questions on the documentary evidence being shown to the witness and the witness is allowed to answer questions related or in connection with the said documents. This is without prejudice to the hearing that will be conducted on the manifestation and motion set for tomorrow with respect to the Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of another witness in the person of Lara Villafuerte.

SO ORDERED.

Aggrieved, respondents moved for the reconsideration of the above-mentioned Order in open court.

On October 1, 2014, the RTC issued an Omnibus Order[13] resolving respondents' motions in this wise:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the motion for reconsideration of the Order dated September 18, 2014, Motion to Expunge filed on September 11, 2014 and the Manifestation and Motion filed on September 15, 2014 by the defendants are hereby denied for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.

The RTC allowed Mr. Villafuerte to testify on the contested documentary exhibits, on the ground that both the trial court and the parties are bound by the reservations made for the presentation of additional evidence, and in keeping with the interest of justice that evidence should be liberally allowed to be heard than to be suppressed, subject to the final appreciation of its weight and credence. The Omnibus Order likewise denied UCPB's Motion seeking to expunge from the records the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of Mrs. Villafuerte and its accompanying exhibits.

Respondents separately moved for the reconsideration of the denial of their motions to expunge, but the trial court denied the same in an Omnibus Order[14] dated November 26, 2014.

Aggrieved, respondents filed a petition for certiorari[15] under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court before the CA, imputing grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the trial court in issuing the foregoing October 1, 2014 and November 26, 2014 Omnibus Orders.

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

On December 21, 2015, the CA, through its Former Fifth Division, rendered a Decision, the dispositive portion of which states:

WHEREFORE, both Petitions are DISMISSED. Public Respondent Judge Ronald B. Moreno's (a) September 18, 2014 Order; (b) October 1, 2014 Omnibus Order; and (c) November 26, 2014 Omnibus Order; issued in Civil Case No. 11-238, are hereby AFFIRMED in toto.

SO ORDERED.

In dismissing the petitions, the CA held that the RTC has the discretion, pursuant to Section 7,[16] Rule 132 of the Rules of Court, to allow the Questioned Documents to be presented and admitted in support of Mr. Villafuerte's answers during his cross-examination. Anent the admission of the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of Mrs. Villafuerte, the CA noted that the records show that "all the parties made reservations" to present "additional documentary exhibits" in the course of the trial, as embodied in the Pre-Trial Order.

Dissatisfied, respondents moved for reconsideration of the CA Decision.

On March 6, 2017, the CA Special Former Fifth Division issued an Amended Decision reversing its initial pronouncement, thus:

WHEREFORE, the motions for reconsideration are granted and the petitions in these cases are granted. The Omnibus Orders of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 147 dated October 1, 2014 and November 26, 2014 are Annulled and Set Aside.

SO ORDERED.

Finding merit in the respondents' contentions, the CA ruled that the RTC erred in allowing the introduction of the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit in evidence, including the attached Questioned Documents, since petitioner failed to comply with Sections 2 and 10 of the JA Rule which prohibit the presentation, marking and identification of additional exhibits during trial that were not promptly submitted during pre-trial. In addition, the CA declared Mr. Villafuerte as incompetent to testify on the Questioned Documents since he was neither involved in the preparation nor execution thereof thus, his testimony respecting the documents is hearsay. Accordingly, the CA annulled and set aside the October 1, 2014 and November 26, 2014 RTC Orders.

Hence, the instant petition.

Petitioner, in the main, argues that the introduction of additional documentary evidence during re-direct examination of a witness is not absolutely proscribed by A.M. No. 03-1-09-SC,[17] or the Guidelines to be Observed by Trial Court Judges and Clerks of Court in the Conduct of Pre­ Trial and Use of Deposition-Discovery Measures (Guidelines in the Conduct of Pre-Trial), and the JA Rule. Petitioner likewise contends that the trial court was well within its discretion to allow the introduction of additional evidence during re-direct examination to explain or supplement the answers of a witness during his or her cross-examination. Anent the submission of the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of Mrs. Villafuerte, petitioner asserts that the JA Rule allows for the belated submission of judicial affidavits, subject only to applicable penalties.

Respondents, for their part, insist that the allowance of the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit and its attachments to be introduced into evidence violates the express provisions of the JA Rule, Rule 10, Section 6 of the Rules of Court and other procedural rules. They further maintain that the provisions of the Guidelines on Pre-Trial and JA Rule—prohibiting the submission, presentation, and identification of evidence which were not identified, compared, and marked during pre-trial—are mandatory, and thus, should not have been disregarded by the trial court. They further contend that Mr. Villafuerte should not have been allowed to testify on the Questioned Documents since he does not have personal knowledge of the matters contained therein.

Issue

The sole issue for the resolution of the Court is whether or not the CA erred in disallowing the introduction of additional documentary exhibits during trial and the filing of the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of Mrs. Villafuerte.

Our Ruling

We find merit in the petition.

In an action for certiorari, the primordial task of the court is to ascertain whether the court a quo acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction in the exercise of its judgment, such that the act was done in a capricious, whimsical, arbitrary or despotic manner. Grave abuse of discretion means such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.[18] The abuse of discretion must be patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility.[19]

The jurisdiction of the court in such cases is narrow in scope since it is limited to resolving only errors of jurisdiction, or one where the acts complained of were issued without or in excess of jurisdiction.[20] There is excess of jurisdiction where the court or quasi-judicial body, being clothed with the power to determine the case, oversteps its authority as declared by law. Hence, as long as the court acts within its jurisdiction, any alleged errors committed in the exercise of its discretion will amount to nothing more than mere errors of judgment, correctible by an appeal or a petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.

This was the issue the CA was confronted with. Specifically, the CA was called to determine whether the trial court correctly allowed the petitioner to submit the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit, together with the documentary evidence attached thereto, even though trial had already commenced when it submitted the same, and hence, had not been submitted and pre-marked during the pre-trial.

We agree with the CA Former Fifth Division's December 21, 2015 Decision that the trial court did not gravely abuse its discretion in issuing the assailed Omnibus Orders.

The JA Rule, which took effect on January 1, 2013, was promulgated to address congestion and delays in courts. Designed to expedite court proceedings, it primarily affects the manner by which evidence is presented in court,[21] particularly with regard to the taking of the witnesses' testimonies. Consequently, in lieu of direct testimony in court, the parties are required to submit the judicial affidavits of their witnesses within a given period. Nevertheless, the JA Rule was not devised to supplant or amend existing procedural rules; rather, it is designed to supplement and augment them. In this regard, reference must be made to the Guidelines on Pre-Trial in relation to the Rules on Pre-Trial, which, interestingly, both parties invoke in support of their respective arguments.

Invoking the avowed objectives of the Guidelines on Pre-Trial and the JA Rule to abbreviate court proceedings, ensure prompt disposition of cases, and decongest court dockets,[22] respondents contend that the submission of the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of Mrs. Villafuerte and the corresponding documentary evidence will unduly prolong the case and defeat the purposes of these rules.

We are not persuaded.

The JA Rule and the Guidelines on Pre-Trial do not totally proscribe the submission of additional evidence even after trial had already commenced

Certainly, the parties are mandated under Sec. 2 of the JA Rule to file and serve the judicial affidavits of their witnesses, together with their documentary or object evidence, not later than five days before pre-trial or preliminary conference, to wit:

Section 2. Submission of Judicial Affidavits and Exhibits in lieu of direct testimonies. - (a) The parties shall file with the court and serve on the adverse party, personally or by licensed courier service, not later than five days before pre-trial or preliminary conference or the scheduled hearing with respect to motions and incidents, the following:

(1) The judicial affidavits of their witnesses, which shall take the place of such witnesses' direct testimonies; and

(2) The parties' documentary or object evidence, if any, which shall be attached to the judicial affidavits and marked as Exhibits A, B, C, and so on in the case of the complainant or the plaintiff, and as Exhibits 1, 2, 3, and so on in the case of the respondent or the defendant. x x x

The documentary and testimonial evidence submitted will then be specified by the trial judge in the Pre-Trial Order. Concomitant thereto, Sec. 10 of the same Rule contains a caveat that the failure to timely submit the affidavits and documentary evidence shall be deemed to be a waiver of their submission, thus:

Section 10. Effect of non-compliance with the Judicial Affidavit Rule. - (a) A party who fails to submit the required judicial affidavits and exhibits on time shall be deemed to have waived their submission. The court may, however, allow only once the late submission of the same provided, the delay is for a valid reason, would not unduly prejudice the opposing party, and the defaulting party pays a fine of not less than P 1,000.00 nor more than P 5,000.00 at the discretion of the court. (Emphasis supplied)

It bears to note that Sec. 10 does not contain a blanket prohibition on the submission of additional evidence. However, the submission of evidence beyond the mandated period in the JA Rule is strictly subject to the conditions that: a) the court may allow the late submission of evidence only once; b) the party presenting the evidence proffers a valid reason for the delay; and c) the opposing party will not be prejudiced thereby.

Corollary thereto, the Guidelines on Pre-Trial instructs the parties to submit their respective pre-trial briefs at least three (3) days before the pre-trial, containing, inter alia, the documents or exhibits to be presented and to state the purposes thereof, viz:

I. Pre-Trial

A. Civil Cases

2. The parties shall submit, at least three (3) days before the pre-trial, pre-trial briefs containing the following:

x x x x

d. The documents or exhibits to be presented, stating the purpose thereof (No evidence shall be allowed to be presented and offered during the trial in support of a party's evidence-in-chief other than those that had been earlier identified and pre-marked during the pre-trial, except if allowed by the court for good cause shown) x x x. (Emphasis supplied)

Notwithstanding the foregoing procedural prescription, the same rule confers upon the trial court the discretion to allow the introduction of additional evidence during trial other than those that had been previously marked and identified during the pre-trial, provided there are valid grounds.

The trial court precisely exercised this discretion. It allowed the introduction of the Questioned Documents during the re-direct examination of Mr. Villafuerte upon petitioner's manifestation that the same are being presented in response to the questions propounded by PNB Gen's counsel, Atty. Mejia, during the cross-examination:[23]

Atty. Mejia:
Did you for instance submit proofs of purchases of raw materials for the production of the goods worth P330 Million?
 
Witness:
We have delivery receipts from subcontractors to prove the validity and existence of these because we feel. ..
 
Atty. Mejia:
Do these delivery receipts amount to P330 Million?

Witness:
I do not know the total but as I mentioned earlier, sir, we have already proven proof of loss.
 
Atty. Mejia:
Did you for instance submit job orders issued by LGD to its subcontractors for the production of the goods worth P330 Million?
 
Witness:
We have purchase orders that we issued to our subcontractors.
 
Atty. Mejia:
Did you issue purchase orders to your subcontractors?

Witness:
Yes, sir.
 
Atty. Mejia:
Did you submit copies of these purchase orders to your subcontractors?

Witness:
I think so.[24] (Emphasis supplied)

To echo the CA's observation, Atty. Mejia first raised the matter of petitioner's issuance and submission of purchase orders to its subcontractors during Mr. Villafuerte's cross-examination.[25] Granting that the line of questioning refers to the fact of petitioner's submission of proofs of purchase of raw materials used for the production of its goods, the existence of such proofs of purchase was injected into the testimony due to Mr. Villafuerte's answers. The Court wishes to point out that Atty. Mejia failed to have Mr. Villafuerte's answers stricken out the records although the same were unresponsive to the questions propounded. Pursuant, therefore, to Sec. 7, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court, Mr. Villafuerte may be examined again by petitioner's counsel to supplement and expound on his answers during the cross-examination:

SEC. 7. Re-direct examination; its purpose and extent. - After the cross-examination of the witness has been concluded, he may be re-examined by the party calling him, to explain or supplement his answer given during the cross-examination. On re-direct examination, questions on matters not dealt with during the cross-examination, may be allowed by the court in its discretion.

Respondents understandably take issue on Mr. Villafuerte's competence to testify on the Questioned Documents given his admission that he no longer has any direct participation in the operations and management of petitioner corporation upon divesting his interests thereat in 2004, and that his current participation in the company is only limited to an advisory capacity.[26] Nevertheless, the issues of Mr. Villafuerte's incompetence as a witness to testify on the object and documentary evidence presented and the propriety of presentation of the Questioned Documents, while intimately related, are separate and distinct from each other.

Moreover, to disallow the presentation of the Questioned Documents on the ground of Mr. Villafuerte's incompetence to identify and authenticate the same for lack of personal knowledge is premature at this juncture. Sec. 34, Rule 132 of the Revised Rules on Evidence clearly instructs that:

Section 34. Offer of evidence. — The court shall consider no evidence which has not been formally offered. The purpose for which the evidence is offered must be specified. (Emphasis supplied)

Sec. 20[27] of the same Rule, in turn, provides that before any private document is received in evidence, its due execution and authenticity must be proved either by anyone who saw the document executed or written, or by evidence of the genuineness of the signature or handwriting of the maker. Following Sec. 19[28] of Rule 132, the documents sought to be presented undoubtedly are private in character, and hence, must be identified and authenticated in the manner provided in the Rules. The failure to properly authenticate the documents would result in their inadmissibility.[29] The court, however, can only rule on such issue upon the proponent's formal offer of evidence, which, pursuant to Sec. 35,[30] Rule 132, is made after the presentation of the party's testimonial evidence. The present case clearly has not reached that stage yet when the documents were introduced in court.

The 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of Mrs. Villafuerte was properly admitted by the trial court.

With regard to the admission of the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit, We reiterate the requirements laid down in Sec. 2 of the JA Rule that the parties must file with the court and serve on the adverse party the Judicial Affidavits of their witnesses not later than five days before pre-trial or preliminary conference. While the belated submission of evidence is not totally disallowed, it is still, to reiterate, subject to several conditions, which petitioner failed to comply with. Specifically, the records are bereft of any justification, or "good cause," for the filing of the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit during trial instead of during the pre-trial. Petitioner merely filed and served the affidavit during the hearing on July 10, 2014, without any accompanying motion setting forth any explanation and valid reason for the delay. Further, whether denominated as merely "supplemental," the fact that the affidavit introduces evidence not previously marked and identified during pre-trial qualifies it as new evidence.

Nevertheless, the Court is constrained to rule that the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit was properly admitted in evidence by the trial court. As can be gleaned from Page 64 of the Pre-Trial Order, both parties reserved the right to present additional evidence, thus:

All the parties made a reservation for the presentation of additional documentary exhibits in the course of the trial.[31]

Clearly, the foregoing reservation is tantamount to a waiver of the application of Secs. 2 and 10 of the JA Rule. That respondents waived their right to object to petitioner's introduction of additional evidence is further reinforced by their counsel's manifestation during the hearing on November 21, 2013:

Atty. Zarate:
May I ask her your honor. Who else is knowledgeable about the documents, Madam Witness?
 
Witness:
The DRs and the Purchase Orders, your honor, were prepared by Lara's Gifts and Decors. They were sent to the subcontractors, your Honor. And then, however, their copies were burned so we now asked the subcontractors to give us copies of the purchase orders that we sent to them so these are the purchase orders, your honor.

x x x x

Atty. Zarate:
These are the copies of the DRs of the subcontractors, your honor, because our copies were burned by the fire.

Witness:
Your honor Please, we will not be objecting to the introduction in evidence of boxes of documents which were prepared by persons who are not before the court who apparently will not be brought to court for cross-examination by us, provided that there [is] a showing today that these alleged products or supplies delivered have something to do with specific purchase orders that established the contractual obligation to manufacture the 1,081,000 pieces of candle holders.

x x x x

Atty. Zarate:
x x x Now, if they say, later on, they will be able to connect the relevance or materiality, it will be after the presentation of Mrs. Lara Villafuerte whom the witness claims is knowledgeable about these documents, your honor.

Court:
. . . that is why, he is saying, that it will be the President who can testify.
 
Atty. Zarate:
We would rather wait for the President to identify these documents, your Honor.
 
Court:
... that is I believe the manifestation of the counsel.
 
Atty. Zarate:
Yes, I am agreeable to that, your Honor.[32] (Emphasis supplied)

Notably, respondents argued that the parties' respective reservations to allow them to introduce additional evidence do not constitute a waiver of the parties' rights and obligations under the Pre-Trial Order and the Rules. They further maintained that the introduction of additional evidence must be predicated on necessity, and within the bounds of the issues that have been defined, limited, and identified in the Pre-Trial Order.[33] This argument deserves scant consideration.

For one, following the Guidelines on Pre-Trial,[34] the parties are bound by the contents of the Pre-Trial Order. Records do not disclose that the respondents endeavored to amend the Pre-Trial Order to withdraw their assent to their reservation. Consequently, they cannot now dispute the contents of the Pre-Trial Order. The evidence sought to be presented are likewise undeniably relevant to the issues raised during the pre-trial, which mainly question petitioner's entitlement to claim the amount of its insurance policy from the respondents and if it has proved the amount of its loss by substantial evidence.

Finally, no less than UCPB, in its Motion to Correct/Amend Pre-Trial Order, moved that the Pre-Trial Order be amended to explicitly include the trial court's ruling that it will allow additional direct testimony of the parties' witnesses to be given in open court so long as they have already submitted their Judicial Affidavits within the reglementary period required by the JA Rule. It appears that the motion was made in connection with UCPB's motion to allow its own witness to give additional direct testimony in open court. Herein, respondents do not dispute that petitioner was able to submit the Judicial Affidavit and 1st Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of Mrs. Villafuerte within the period prescribed by the JA Rule. Respondents, therefore, cannot be made to selectively apply the provisions of the rules to the petitioner and then request to be exempted therefrom.

In view of the peculiar factual milieu surrounding the instant case, We rule, pro hac vice, that the trial court did not gravely abuse its discretion in allowing the Questioned Documents to be presented in court and in admitting the 2nd Supplemental Judicial Affidavit of petitioner's witness. This notwithstanding, litigants are strictly enjoined to adhere to the provisions of the JA Rule, and to be circumspect in the contents of court documents and pleadings.

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Amended Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP Nos. 138321 and 138774 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The Court of Appeals' December 21, 2015 Decision is REINSTATED.

SO ORDERED.

Bersamin, Leonen, and Gesmundo, JJ., concur.
Martires, J., on leave.

February 15, 2018

NOTICE OF JUDGMENT

Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that on January 24, 2018 a Decision, copy attached hereto, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on February 15, 2018 at 10:10 a.m.
 
Very truly yours,

(SGD.) WILFREDO V. LAPITAN
Division Clerk of Court

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Myra V. Garcia-Fernandez, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Japar B. Dimaampao and Mario V. Lopez; rollo, pp. 54-77.
[2] Penned by Associate Justice Noel G. Tijam (now a member of this Court), with the concurrence of Associate Justices Mario V. Lopez and Myra V. Garcia-Fernandez; id. at 78-98.
[3] Id. at 57.
[4] Id. at 115.
[5] Id. at 2590-2609.
[6] Id. at 59, 3227.
[7] Id. During cross-examination.
[8] Id. at 187-205.
[9] Id. at 267-273.
[10] Promulgated on August 16, 2004.
[11] Rollo, pp. 274-277.
[12] Id. at 64-65.
[13] Id. at 66-67.
[14] Id. at 101.
[15] Id. at 426 481.
[16] Section 7. Re-direct examination; its purpose and extent. — After the cross-examination of the witness has been concluded, he may be re-examined by the party calling him, to explain or supplement his answers given during the cross-examination. On re-direct-examination, questions on matters not dealt with during the cross-examination, may be allowed by the court in its discretion.
[17] Promulgated on August 16, 2004.
[18] Chan v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 159922, April 28, 2005.
[19] Arnold James Ysidoro v. Hon. Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Hon. Diosdado M. Peralta and Hon. Efren N. De La Cruz, in their official capacities as Presiding Justice and Associate Justices, respectively of the First Division of the Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 171513, February 6, 2012, and People of the Philippines v. First Division of the Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 190963, February 6, 2012.
[20] Julie's Franchise Corporation v. Hon. Ruiz, G.R. No. 180988, August 28, 2009, citing People v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 144332, June 10, 2004, 431 SCRA 610.
[21] Ng Meng Tam v. China Banking Corporation, G.R. No. 214054, August 5, 2015.
[22] Bank of the Philippine Islands v. Spouses Genuino, G.R. No. 208792, July 22, 2015.
[23] Rollo, p. 293.
[24] Cross-examination of Luis Villafuerte; TSN, July 10, 2014, as reproduced in the CA Decision dated December 21, 2015; id. at 90.
[25] Id. at 90-91.
[26] TSN, May 8, 2014; id. at 3514-3572.
[27] Section 20. Proof of private document. – Before any private document offered as authentic is received in evidence, its due execution and authenticity must be proved either:
(a) By anyone who saw the document executed or written; or
(b) By evidence of the genuineness of the signature or handwriting of the maker.
Any other private document need only be identified as that which it is claimed to be. (21a)
[28] Section 19. Classes of Documents. - For the purpose of their presentation evidence, documents are either public or private.
Public documents are:
(a) The written official acts, or records of the official acts of the sovereign authority, official bodies and tribunals, and public officers, whether of the Philippines, or of a foreign country;
(b) Documents acknowledge before a notary public except last wills and testaments; and
(c) Public records, kept in the Philippines, of private documents required by law to the entered therein.
All other writings are private.
[29] Salas v. Sta. Mesa Market Corporation, G.R. No. 157766, July 12, 2007.
[30] Section 35. When to make offer. - As regards the testimony of a witness, the offer must be made at the time the witness is called to testify.
Documentary and object evidence shall be offered after the presentation of a party's testimonial evidence. Such offer shall be done orally unless allowed by the court to be done in writing.
[31] Rollo, p. 170.
[32] TSN, November 21, 2013, as reproduced in the CA Decision dated December 21, 2015; id. at 93.
[33] Id. at 956.
[34] I. Pre-Trial
A. Civil Cases
x x x x
8. The judge shall issue the required Pre-Trial Order within ten (10) days after the termination of the pre-trial. Said Order shall bind the parties, limit the trial to matters not disposed of and control the course of the action during the trial. x x x