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A.M. No.

RTJ-12-2326, January 30, 2013


(Formerly A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3692-RTJ
!"C#"TT vs. J$%&" 'ARMI"NTO, JR.
FACT'(
This case arose from a complaint filed by Geoffrey Beckett charging Judge Olegario R.
Sarmiento, Jr. of RT of ebu ity, Branch !", #ith gross ignorance of the la#, manifest
partiality and dereliction and neglect of duty allegedly committed in relation to Sp. $roc. %o.
&'&'!()B, entitled Geoffrey Beckett v. )ltesa *ensing Beckett, #hile pending before that
court. Beckett, an +ustralian national, #as previously married to )ltesa, a ,ilipina. Out of the
marriage #as born on June !-, !..&, Geoffrey Beckett, Jr. /Geoffrey, Jr.0. Beckett alleged that
their union #as, from the start, far from ideal. 1n fact, according to him, they eventually
separated and, #orse still, they sued each other. 1n !..2, )ltesa filed a case against Beckett
for violation of R+ 32&., follo#ed by a suit for the declaration of nullity of their marriage. Both
cases ended in the sala of respondent Judge. ,or his part, Beckett commenced criminal
charges against )ltesa, one of #hich #as for adultery. Respondent 4udge rendered
4udgment based on a compromise agreement in #hich )ltesa and Beckett agreed and
undertook, among others, to cause the dismissal of all pending civil and criminal cases each
may have filed against the other. They categorically agreed too that Beckett shall have full and
permanent custody over Geoffrey, Jr., then five /50 years old, sub4ect to the visitorial rights of
)ltesa.
Thereafter, Beckett left for +ustralia, taking Geoffrey, Jr. #ith him. +s #ith his three other
children from previous relationships, so Beckett alleged, he cared and provided #ell for
Geoffrey, Jr. 6oreover, as agreed upon, they #ould come and see )ltesa in ebu every
hristmas. 1n !..3, Beckett obtained a divorce from )ltesa in +ustralia. This not#ithstanding,
the yearly hristmas visits continued. 1n the !.&. visit, Beckett consented to have Geoffrey, Jr.
stay #ith )ltesa even after the holidays, provided she return the child on January -, !.&&.
January - came and #ent but Geoffrey, Jr. remained #ith )ltesa, prompting Beckett to file a
petition against )ltesa for violation of R+ 32&.. The petition #as again raffled to the sala of
Judge Sarmiento. +nd because Geoffrey remained in the meantime in the custody of )ltesa,
Beckett later applied in Sp. $roc. %o. &'&'!()B for the issuance of a #rit of habeas corpus.
Beckett further relates that, during the 6arch &, !.&& conference on the application for habeas
corpus, Geoffrey, Jr., then nine /-0 years old, displayed inside the courtroom hysterical conduct,
shouting and crying, not #anting to let go of )ltesa and acting as though, he, the father, #as a
total stranger. *espite Geoffrey Jr.7s outburst, Judge Sarmiento issued an Order, dated 6arch
&, !.&&, directing inter alia the follo#ing8 /&0 )ltesa to return Geoffrey, Jr. to Beckett9 and /!0
Beckett to bring the child in the pre(trial conference. Beckett sought the immediate
implementation of the said 6arch &, !.&& Order. But instead of enforcing said order and:or
#aiting for Beckett7s comment, Judge Sarmiento, in open court, issued another order giving
)ltesa provisional custody over Geoffrey, Jr. and at the same time directing the *epartment of
Social ;elfare and *evelopment /*S;*0 to conduct a social case study on the child. Several
hearings on the case #ere postponed because of the belated submission by the *S;* of the
case study report re<uested by respondent 4udge.
1t is upon the foregoing factual backdrop that Beckett has instituted the instant complaint,
arguing that respondent 4udge is liable for /&0 gross ignorance of the la# for granting )ltesa
provisional custody over Geoffrey Jr.9 and /!0 partiality by committing acts of serious misconduct
and irregularities in the performance of official duties, such as but not limited to allo#ing one
=elen Sy, a close friend of )ltesa, to enter his chambers before the 6arch &5, !.&& hearing, his
habit of conversing #ith )ltesa in the local dialect and for ad4ourning a hearing #hile he #as
conferring #ith his counsel in private. Beckett predicates his charge of dereliction and neglect of
duty on respondent7s alleged failure to resolve his motion for reconsideration of the 6arch &5,
!.&& order giving provisional custody of his child to his mother.
The O+ regards the complaint meritorious insofar as the charges for gross ignorance of the
la# is concerned given that respondent 4udge issued his 6arch &5, !.&& Order granting
provisional custody in favor of )ltesa despite the e>istence of the 4udicial compromise. The
O+, thus, recommended that respondent 4udge be ad4udged liable for gross ignorance of the
la# and fined #ith stern #arning.
1SS?)8 ;:% not respondent Judge Sarmiento is guilty of gross ignorance of the la#.
=)@*8 %o, respondent 4udge cannot be held guilty of the charges hurled by the complainant
against him for the reason that absent a finding of strong reasons to rule other#ise, the
preference of a child over 3 years of age as to #hom he desired to live #ith shall be respected.
Respondent 4udge, in granting provisional custody over Geoffrey, Jr. in favor of his mother,
)ltesa, did not disregard the res 4udicata rule. The more appropriate description of the legal
situation engendered by the 6arch &5, !.&& Order issued am)*+, ,-e .er+)+,en, .lea o/ ,-e
0-)l* no, ,o 1e re,urne* ,o -)+ /a,-er, )+ ,-a, re+.on*en, 2u*3e e4-)1),e* /)*el),y ,o
2ur)+.ru*en,)al 0omman* ,o a00or* .r)ma0y ,o ,-e 5el/are an* )n,ere+, o/ a m)nor 0-)l*.
+s it #ere, the matter of custody, to borro# from )spiritu v. ourt of +ppeals, Ais not permanent
and unalterable and can al#ays be re(e>amined and ad4usted.A +nd as aptly observed in a
separate opinion in *acasin v. *acasin, a custody agreement can never be regarded as
Apermanent and unbending,A the simple reason being that the situation of the parents and even
of the child can change, such that sticking to the agreed arrangement #ould no longer be to the
latter7s best interest. In a 6ery real +en+e, ,-en, a 2u*3men, )n6ol6)n3 ,-e 0u+,o*y o/ a
m)nor 0-)l* 0anno, 1e a00or*e* ,-e /or0e an* e//e0, o/ re+ 2u*)0a,a.
%o# to another point. 1n disputes concerning post(separation custody over a minor, ,-e 5ell-
+e,,le* rule )+ ,-a, no 0-)l* un*er +e6en (7 year+ o/ a3e +-all 1e +e.ara,e* /rom ,-e
mo,-er, unless the court finds compelling reasons to order other#ise. +nd if already over 3
years of age, the child7s choice as to #hich of his parents he prefers to be under custody shall
be respected, unless the parent chosen proves to be unfit. ,inally, in $ereB v. ourt of +ppeals,
;e held that in custody cases, the foremost consideration is al#ays the #elfare and best
interest of the child, as reflected in no less than the ?.%. onvention on the Rights of the hild
#hich provides that Ain all actions concerning children, #hether undertaken by public or private
social #elfare institutions, courts of la#, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best
interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.A
6oreover, custody, even if previously granted by a competent court in favor of a parent, is not,
to reiterate, permanent. 1n )spiritu, ;e ruled that8
> > > T-e ma,,er o/ 0u+,o*y )+ no, .ermanen, an* unal,era1le. 1f the parent #ho #as given
custody suffers a future character change and becomes unfit, the matter of custody can al#ays
be re(e>amined and ad4usted > > >. To be sure, the #elfare, the best interests, the benefit, and
the good of the child must be determined as of the time that either parent is chosen to be the
custodian. > > >