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EN BANC

[B. M. No. 1036. June 10, 2003]

DONNA MARIE S. AGUIRRE, complainant, vs. EDWIN L. RANA, respondent.

DECISION

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

Before one is admitted to the Philippine Bar, he must possess the requisite moral integrity
for membership in the legal profession. Possession of moral integrity is of greater
importance than possession of legal learning. The practice of law is a privilege bestowed
only on the morally fit. A bar candidate who is morally unfit cannot practice law even if
he passes the bar examinations.

The Facts

Respondent Edwin L. Rana (“respondent”) was among those who passed the 2000 Bar
Examinations.

On 21 May 2001, one day before the scheduled mass oath-taking of successful bar
examinees as members of the Philippine Bar, complainant Donna Marie Aguirre
(“complainant”) filed against respondent a Petition for Denial of Admission to the Bar.
Complainant charged respondent with unauthorized practice of law, grave misconduct,
violation of law, and grave misrepresentation.

The Court allowed respondent to take his oath as a member of the Bar during the
scheduled oath-taking on 22 May 2001 at the Philippine International Convention
Center. However, the Court ruled that respondent could not sign the Roll of Attorneys
pending the resolution of the charge against him. Thus, respondent took the lawyer’s
oath on the scheduled date but has not signed the Roll of Attorneys up to now.

Complainant charges respondent for unauthorized practice of law and grave misconduct.
Complainant alleges that respondent, while not yet a lawyer, appeared as counsel for a
candidate in the May 2001 elections before the Municipal Board of Election Canvassers
(“MBEC”) of Mandaon, Masbate. Complainant further alleges that respondent filed with
the MBEC a pleading dated 19 May 2001 entitled Formal Objection to the Inclusion in
the Canvassing of Votes in Some Precincts for the Office of Vice-Mayor. In this pleading,
respondent represented himself as “counsel for and in behalf of Vice Mayoralty
Candidate, George Bunan,” and signed the pleading as counsel for George Bunan
(“Bunan”).
On the charge of violation of law, complainant claims that respondent is a municipal
government employee, being a secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan of Mandaon,
Masbate. As such, respondent is not allowed by law to act as counsel for a client in any
court or administrative body.

On the charge of grave misconduct and misrepresentation, complainant accuses


respondent of acting as counsel for vice mayoralty candidate George Bunan (“Bunan”)
without the latter engaging respondent’s services. Complainant claims that respondent
filed the pleading as a ploy to prevent the proclamation of the winning vice mayoralty
candidate.

On 22 May 2001, the Court issued a resolution allowing respondent to take the lawyer’s
oath but disallowed him from signing the Roll of Attorneys until he is cleared of the
charges against him. In the same resolution, the Court required respondent to comment on
the complaint against him.

In his Comment, respondent admits that Bunan sought his “specific assistance” to
represent him before the MBEC. Respondent claims that “he decided to assist and advice
Bunan, not as a lawyer but as a person who knows the law.” Respondent admits signing
the 19 May 2001 pleading that objected to the inclusion of certain votes in the
canvassing. He explains, however, that he did not sign the pleading as a lawyer or
represented himself as an “attorney” in the pleading.

On his employment as secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan, respondent claims that he


submitted his resignation on 11 May 2001 which was allegedly accepted on the same
date. He submitted a copy of the Certification of Receipt of Revocable Resignation dated
28 May 2001 signed by Vice-Mayor Napoleon Relox. Respondent further claims that the
complaint is politically motivated considering that complainant is the daughter of
Silvestre Aguirre, the losing candidate for mayor of Mandaon, Masbate. Respondent
prays that the complaint be dismissed for lack of merit and that he be allowed to sign the
Roll of Attorneys.

On 22 June 2001, complainant filed her Reply to respondent’s Comment and refuted the
claim of respondent that his appearance before the MBEC was only to extend specific
assistance to Bunan. Complainant alleges that on 19 May 2001 Emily Estipona-Hao
(“Estipona-Hao”) filed a petition for proclamation as the winning candidate for mayor.
Respondent signed as counsel for Estipona-Hao in this petition. When respondent
appeared as counsel before the MBEC, complainant questioned his appearance on two
grounds: (1) respondent had not taken his oath as a lawyer; and (2) he was an employee
of the government.

Respondent filed a Reply (Re: Reply to Respondent’s Comment) reiterating his claim that
the instant administrative case is “motivated mainly by political vendetta.”

On 17 July 2001, the Court referred the case to the Office of the Bar Confidant (“OBC”)
for evaluation, report and recommendation.
OBC’s Report and Recommendation

The OBC found that respondent indeed appeared before the MBEC as counsel for Bunan
in the May 2001 elections. The minutes of the MBEC proceedings show that respondent
actively participated in the proceedings. The OBC likewise found that respondent
appeared in the MBEC proceedings even before he took the lawyer’s oath on 22 May
2001. The OBC believes that respondent’s misconduct casts a serious doubt on his moral
fitness to be a member of the Bar. The OBC also believes that respondent’s unauthorized
practice of law is a ground to deny his admission to the practice of law. The OBC
therefore recommends that respondent be denied admission to the Philippine Bar.

On the other charges, OBC stated that complainant failed to cite a law which respondent
allegedly violated when he appeared as counsel for Bunan while he was a government
employee. Respondent resigned as secretary and his resignation was accepted. Likewise,
respondent was authorized by Bunan to represent him before the MBEC.

The Court’s Ruling

We agree with the findings and conclusions of the OBC that respondent engaged in the
unauthorized practice of law and thus does not deserve admission to the Philippine Bar.

Respondent took his oath as lawyer on 22 May 2001. However, the records show that
respondent appeared as counsel for Bunan prior to 22 May 2001, before respondent took
the lawyer’s oath. In the pleading entitled Formal Objection to the Inclusion in the
Canvassing of Votes in Some Precincts for the Office of Vice-Mayor dated 19 May 2001,
respondent signed as “counsel for George Bunan.” In the first paragraph of the same
pleading respondent stated that he was the “(U)ndersigned Counsel for, and in behalf of
Vice Mayoralty Candidate, GEORGE T. BUNAN.” Bunan himself wrote the MBEC on
14 May 2001 that he had “authorized Atty. Edwin L. Rana as his counsel to represent
him” before the MBEC and similar bodies.

On 14 May 2001, mayoralty candidate Emily Estipona-Hao also “retained” respondent as


her counsel. On the same date, 14 May 2001, Erly D. Hao informed the MBEC that
“Atty. Edwin L. Rana has been authorized by REFORMA LM-PPC as the legal counsel
of the party and the candidate of the said party.” Respondent himself wrote the MBEC
on 14 May 2001 that he was entering his “appearance as counsel for Mayoralty
Candidate Emily Estipona-Hao and for the REFORMA LM-PPC.” On 19 May 2001,
respondent signed as counsel for Estipona-Hao in the petition filed before the MBEC
praying for the proclamation of Estipona-Hao as the winning candidate for mayor of
Mandaon, Masbate.

All these happened even before respondent took the lawyer’s oath. Clearly, respondent
engaged in the practice of law without being a member of the Philippine Bar.

In Philippine Lawyers Association v. Agrava, the Court elucidated that:


The practice of law is not limited to the conduct of cases or litigation in court; it
embraces the preparation of pleadings and other papers incident to actions and special
proceedings, the management of such actions and proceedings on behalf of clients before
judges and courts, and in addition, conveyancing. In general, all advice to clients, and all
action taken for them in matters connected with the law, incorporation services,
assessment and condemnation services contemplating an appearance before a judicial
body, the foreclosure of a mortgage, enforcement of a creditor's claim in bankruptcy and
insolvency proceedings, and conducting proceedings in attachment, and in matters of
estate and guardianship have been held to constitute law practice, as do the preparation
and drafting of legal instruments, where the work done involves the determination by the
trained legal mind of the legal effect of facts and conditions. (5 Am. Jur. p. 262, 263).
(Italics supplied) x x x

In Cayetano v. Monsod, the Court held that “practice of law” means any activity, in or
out of court, which requires the application of law, legal procedure, knowledge, training
and experience. To engage in the practice of law is to perform acts which are usually
performed by members of the legal profession. Generally, to practice law is to render any
kind of service which requires the use of legal knowledge or skill.

Verily, respondent was engaged in the practice of law when he appeared in the
proceedings before the MBEC and filed various pleadings, without license to do so.
Evidence clearly supports the charge of unauthorized practice of law. Respondent called
himself “counsel” knowing fully well that he was not a member of the Bar. Having held
himself out as “counsel” knowing that he had no authority to practice law, respondent has
shown moral unfitness to be a member of the Philippine Bar.

The right to practice law is not a natural or constitutional right but is a privilege. It is
limited to persons of good moral character with special qualifications duly ascertained
and certified. The exercise of this privilege presupposes possession of integrity, legal
knowledge, educational attainment, and even public trust since a lawyer is an officer of
the court. A bar candidate does not acquire the right to practice law simply by passing
the bar examinations. The practice of law is a privilege that can be withheld even from
one who has passed the bar examinations, if the person seeking admission had practiced
law without a license.

The regulation of the practice of law is unquestionably strict. In Beltran, Jr. v. Abad, a
candidate passed the bar examinations but had not taken his oath and signed the Roll of
Attorneys. He was held in contempt of court for practicing law even before his
admission to the Bar. Under Section 3 (e) of Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, a person who
engages in the unauthorized practice of law is liable for indirect contempt of court.

True, respondent here passed the 2000 Bar Examinations and took the lawyer’s oath.
However, it is the signing in the Roll of Attorneys that finally makes one a full-fledged
lawyer. The fact that respondent passed the bar examinations is immaterial. Passing the
bar is not the only qualification to become an attorney-at-law. Respondent should know
that two essential requisites for becoming a lawyer still had to be performed, namely: his
lawyer’s oath to be administered by this Court and his signature in the Roll of Attorneys.

On the charge of violation of law, complainant contends that the law does not allow
respondent to act as counsel for a private client in any court or administrative body since
respondent is the secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan.

Respondent tendered his resignation as secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan prior to the
acts complained of as constituting unauthorized practice of law. In his letter dated 11
May 2001 addressed to Napoleon Relox, vice- mayor and presiding officer of the
Sangguniang Bayan, respondent stated that he was resigning “effective upon your
acceptance.” Vice-Mayor Relox accepted respondent’s resignation effective 11 May
2001. Thus, the evidence does not support the charge that respondent acted as counsel for
a client while serving as secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan.

On the charge of grave misconduct and misrepresentation, evidence shows that Bunan
indeed authorized respondent to represent him as his counsel before the MBEC and
similar bodies. While there was no misrepresentation, respondent nonetheless had no
authority to practice law.

WHEREFORE, respondent Edwin L. Rana is DENIED admission to the Philippine Bar.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago,


Sandoval-Gutierrez, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., and Azcuna,
JJ., concur.

105 Phil. 173 (1959).

G.R. No. 100113, 3 September 1991, 201 SCRA 210.

Yap Tan v. Sabandal, 211 Phil. 252 (1983).

In the Matter of the Petition for Authority to Continue Use of the Firm Name Ozaeta,
Romulo, etc., 30 July 1979, 92 SCRA 1.

Ui v. Bonifacio, Administrative Case No. 3319, 8 June 2000, 333 SCRA 38.

Bar Matter No. 139, 28 March 1983, 121 SCRA 217.

People v. Santocildes, Jr., G.R. No. 109149, 21 December 1999, 321 SCRA 310.

Diao v. Martinez, Administrative Case No. 244, 29 March 1963, 7 SCRA 475.

Beltran, Jr. v. Abad, B.M. No. 139, 28 March 1983, 121 SCRA 217.
Respondent’s Comment, Annex “A”.

Ibid., Annex “B”.

Diao v Martinez 7 SCRA 745 3.29.63

FACTS: 2 years after passing the Bar exam, a complaint was filed against Diao on false
representation of his application to the Bar examination that he has the requisite academic
qualification. The Solicitor General made an investigation and recommended to strike the
name of Diao off the rolls of attorney because contrary to the allegations in his petition
for examination in this Court, he had not completed, before taking up law subjects, the
required pre-legal education prescribed by the Department of Private Education.

I: WON Diao may continue to practice the law profession.

RULING: The court held that his admission to the bar was under the pretense that he had
acquired a pre-legal education, an academic requirement before one could take the bar
exam. Such admission having been obtained under false pretenses is thereby revoked.
The fact that he hurdled the Bar examinations is immaterial. Passing such examinations is
not the only qualification to become an attorney-at-law, taking the prescribed courses of
legal study in the regular manner is equally essential. His name thus was stricken out
from the Rolls of Attorneys.

Vda. De Mijares v Justice Villaluz A.C. No. 4431 6.19.97

FACTS: Complainant files a disbarment case against the respondent on grounds of


bigamy after contracting a marriage with another woman several months after their
marriage. Respondent contends theirs was a sham marriage in an effort to protect the
complainant from the administrative case on immorality to be charged against her by her
legal researcher and that during their marriage his marriage with his first wife was
subsisting since the declaration of its annulment was not yet final and executory pending
publication of the decision. The administrative case was referred to Associate Justice
Purisima of CA for investigation who recommended suspension of the respondent for 2
years with a warning that similar future misconduct shall be dealt with more severely.

ISSUE: WON respondent be disbarred.

RULING: Yes. The mere admission of the respondent of contracting the marriage with
the complainant while knowingly his first marriage subsists and then married another
woman after said marriage with complainant is a gross misconduct. His claim that he
married complainant to protect her from the administrative charge against her is
unfounded since one cannot correct a wrong by doing another wrongful act. Finding the
respondent morally unfit in the practice of the law profession, the court upheld the
recommendation of Justice Purisima.
Pepsi Cola vs Court of Appeals, 299 SCRA 518 (1998)

Facts: The case is a petition for review and certiorari by the petitioner upon the denial by
the lower and appellate court on their motion for reconsideration for the postponement of
the hearing due to unavailability of their witnesses and for declaring that the petitioner
waived its right to present evidence in support to its defense. The case began from the
civil action filed by private respondents who won from the Pepsi Number Fever
Promotion" sponsored by petitioner Pepsi Cola Products Philippines, Inc., wherein
numerous holders of the supposedly winning "349" crowns were not honored and paid by
petitioner due to an alleged mistake in the security codes in the crowns. While the private
respondents are finished presenting their evidence, the petitioner continues to file a
motion for postponement due to unavailability of witnesses. The schedule for
presentation of evidence began on May 28, 1993 and with frequent postponement, the
court issued a warning to the petitioner’s counsel that the scheduled hearing on January
20, 1995 shall be intransferrable in character. Notwithstanding said warning, petitioner
moved for postponement again which motion was denied by the court for unreasonable
delay on the case. The court of appeals affirmed the said decision hence this petition for
certiorari

ISSUE: WON the court erred in denying the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration.

RULING: The court held that the petitioner was given ample time to prepare for their
witnesses causing the trial to take up to 2 years due to their motion for postponement and
reminded the counsel of the petitioner that they have the duty to give proper
administration of justice without any delay and dismissed the petition for lack of merit.

Yumol vs Atty. Ferrer, Sr. A.C. No. 6585 April 21, 2005

Facts: The petitioner, OIC of the Commission on Human Rights, files a disbarment case
against respondent, Attorney IV said commission on ground for grave misconduct. The
respondent was found to have issued 2 orders awarding custody of a child to a
complainant in the Commission, ordered a bank to reinstate the bank account of the said
complainant, engaging in private practice, notarizing public documents, and attending
court hearings while filling up his DTR at the Commission as present at the same time.
The case was referred to the IBP and the investigating commissioner recommended
suspension for 2 years which was modified by the IBP Board to 6 months.

ISSUE: WON respondent has committed gross misconduct arising from the following
alleged acts:
1. Engaging in the private practice of his profession while being a government employee;
2. Falsifying his Daily Time Records;
3. Issuing unauthorized orders; and
4. Continuously engaging in private practice even after the filing of case against him for
engaging in private practice.

RULING: The court held on the following:


1. CHR Resolution No. (III) A2002-133 authorizes CHR lawyers to engage in private
practice (adopting the Civil Service Commission Resolution) subject to some conditions
with indispensable requirement to secure approval from the CHR. In the absence of such
approval, the respondent is not allowed in private practice and proved to have falsified
his attendance in the DTR while appearing in court at the same time without approved
leave of absence.
2. The respondent has been notarizing even before the CHR authorized his practice as a
notary public.
3. The authority granted with the CHR in their function is merely to investigate all forms
of human rights violation. They cannot try and decide cases.
With the above constituting grounds for suspension of lawyers stated in Section 27, Rule
138 of the Rules of Court, the court ruled to modify the suspension of 1 year as sufficient
sanction.

Cruz v Atty. Cabrera AC No. 5737 October 25, 2004

Facts: The complainant files an administrative charge against the respondent for
misconduct in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility. The complainant, a
fourth year law student, appears in court in his own behalf as he instituted a case against
his neighbor who is represented by the respondent as counsel. During a hearing, the
respondent uttered remarks that the complainant finds arrogant and misconduct in the
performance of his duties as a lawyer. The complaint was referred to the IBP
commissioner who recommended suspension of respondent in the practice of law for 3
months which was annulled by a resolution of the IBP Board recommending dismissal of
the case for lack of merit.

ISSUE: WON the manner of respondent may constitute misconduct.

RULING: The court ruled that although the outburst of the respondent is uncalled for, it
is not to such a magnitude as to warrant his suspension in the practice of his profession.
The court thereby dismissed the case due to lack of merit.

Aguirre v Rana B.M. No. 1036 June 10, 2000

FACTS: Respondent is a successful bar passer who was allowed only to take oath but not
to sign the roll of attorneys pending the resolution of the complaint of the petitioner who
charges respondent with unauthorized practice of law, grave misconduct, violation of law,
and grave misrepresentation. Apparently, the respondent appeared as counsel to an
election candidate before the Municipal Board of Election Canvassers (“MBEC”) of
Masbate before he took his oath and signed the rolls of attorneys. In his comment,
respondent alleges he only provide specific assistance and advice not as a lawyer but as a
person who knows the law. He contends that he did not sign the pleadings as a lawyer.
The Office of the Bar Confidant was tasked to investigate and its findings disclosed that
according to the minutes of the meeting of the MBEC, the respondent actively
participated in the proceeding and signed in the pleading as counsel for the candidate.

I: WON the respondent is fit for admission to the bar.

R: The court held that respondent did engaged in unauthorized practice of law. It held that
all the activities he participated during that time involves the practice of law despite the
fact that he is not yet a member of the Bar. The right to practice law is not a right but a
privilege extended to those morally upright and with the proper knowledge and skills. It
involves strict regulation, one of which is on the moral character of its members. Passing
the bar is not the only qualification to become an attorney-at-law. Respondent should
know that two essential requisites for becoming a lawyer still had to be performed,
namely: his lawyer’s oath to be administered by this Court and his signature in the Roll of
Attorneys. Because the court finds respondent not morally fit to be admitted in the Bar,
notwithstanding the fact that he already took his oath, he was denied admission to the bar.

In Re: Lanuevo 66 SCRA 254 August 29, 1975

FACTS: This is an administrative proceeding against Victorio Lanueva who was the Bar
Confidant during the 1971 Bar Examination emanating from the revelation of one Oscar
Landicho, a bar examinee of the same bar exam, in his confidential letter that the result of
the bar exam of one of the bar examinee later identified as Ramon Galang was raised
before the result was released to make him pass the bar. Acting upon said letter, the court
called the 5 bar examiners and the Bar Confident Lanuevo to submit their sworn
statements on the matter. It appears that each of the 5 bar examiners were approached by
Lanuevo with the examination booklet asking them to re-evaluate the grades of the bar
examiner explaining that it is a practice policy in bar exams that he will review the grades
obtained in all subjects by an examinee and when he finds a candidate to have
extraordinary high grades in other subjects and low grade in one subject he can bring it to
the examiner for reconsideration to help the candidate pass. In good faith of trust and
confidence to the authority of Lanuevo, the examiners re-evaluated the exam of the
candidate and reconsider the grade they give for each subject matter. Further
investigation also revealed that Ramon Galang was charged with crime of slight physical
injuries in the Mla. MTC but did not revealed the information in his application to take
the bar examination.

ISSUE: WON Lanuevo has the authority to ask bar examiners to re-evaluate and re-
correct the examination result of a bar candidate.
RULING: The court ruled that it is evident that Lanuevo has deceptively staged a plot to
convince each examiner individually to re-evaluate the grades of Galang in order to help
him pass the bar without prior authorization of the Court. His duty as a Bar Confident is
limited only as a custodian of the examination notebooks after they are corrected by the
examiners where he is tasked to tally the general average of the bar candidate. All
requests for re-evaluation of grades from the bar exam shall be made by the candidate
themselves. With the facts fully established that Lanuevo initiated the re-evaluation of the
exam answers of Galang without the authority of the Court, he has breached the trust and
confidence given to him by the court and was disbarred with his name stricken out from
the rolls of attorneys. Galang was likewise disbarred for fraudulently concealing the
criminal charges against him in his application for the bar exam while under oath
constituting perjury. The court believed that the 5 bar examiners acted in good faith and
thereby absolved from the case but reminded to perform their duties with due care.

Tapucar vs Tapucar A.C. No. 4148

FACTS: Disbarment was filed against Atty. Lauro Tapucar by his wife on grounds for
gross immoral conduct for cohabiting with a certain Elena (Helen) Peña under scandalous
circumstances. Prior to the disbarment case, an administrative case was filed against Atty.
Tapucar in connection with his co-habitation in which he was penalized with 6 months
suspension without pay. He continued the illicit affair that gave rise to another charge
against him on grounds for conduct unbecoming for a court officer and gross immoral
conduct which caused his dismissal and separation from the service as a judge. He
continued his cohabitation that born 2 children and he eventually marry the paramour in
the subsistence of his previous marriage and completely abandoned his real family. The
wife migrated in the States but was receiving complaints from their children left in the
Philippines who are humiliated with said act of Atty, Tapucar. This caused the wife to
institute a disbarment case to shield their daughter with her daughter-lawyer representing
her case. The IBP commissioner recommended the disbarment of Atty. Tapucar.

RULING: The court held that it is a settled rule that good moral character is a precedent
condition for admission in the legal profession and must be remain intact to maintain
one’s good standing as member in the Bar. The facts showed that despite previous
sanction to Atty. Tapucar, he continued his illicit affair and he even showed arrogance in
the face of charges against him in the presence of the IBP commission. Thus, he was
disbarred and his name was stricken out from the rolls of attorneys.

In Re: Argosino B.M. No. 712 July 13, 1995

FACTS: This is a matter for admission to the bar and oath taking of a successful bar
applicant. Argosino was previously involved with hazing that caused the death of Raul
Camaligan but was sentenced with homicide through reckless imprudence after he
pleaded guilty. He was sentenced with 2 years imprisonment where he applied for a
probation thereafter which was granted by the court with a 2 yr probation. He took the
bar exam and passed but was not allowed to take oath. He filed a petition to allow him to
take the attorney’s oath of office averring that his probation was already terminated. The
court note that he spent only 10 months of the probation period before it was terminated.

ISSUE: WON Argosino may take oath of office.

RULING: The court upheld the principle of maintaining the good morals of all Bar
members, keeping in mind that such is of greater importance so far as the general public
and the proper administration of justice are concerned, than the possession of legal
learning. Hence he was asked by the court to produce evidence that would certify that he
has reformed and have become a responsible member of the community through sworn
statements of individuals who have a good reputation for truth and who have actually
known Mr. Argosino for a significant period of time to certify he is morally fit to the
admission of the law profession. The court also ordered that said a copy of the proceeding
be furnished to the family/relatives of Raul Camaligan.

Re: Application for Admission to the Philippine Bar, Vicente Ching B.M No. 914,
October 1, 1999.

Facts: Vicente Ching is born from a Filipino mother and a father of Chinese national on
April 11, 1964. He took the bar exam subject upon submission of proof of his Phil.
Citizenship. He passed the bar at the age of 35 years old. There was a question regarding
his citizenship therefore he was not allowed to take oath. The Solicitor General was asked
to give comment on the case at bar.

ISSUE: WON Ching can be admitted to take oath in consideration of the status of his
citizenship.

RULING: The court ruled that Ching, being the "legitimate child of a Chinese father and
a Filipino mother born under the 1935 Constitution was a Chinese citizen and continued
to be so, unless upon reaching the age of majority he elected Philippine citizenship" 1 in
strict compliance with the provisions of Commonwealth Act No. 625 entitled "An Act
Providing for the Manner in which the Option to Elect Philippine Citizenship shall be
Declared by a Person Whose Mother is a Filipino Citizen." He should elect his Phil.
Citizenship within a reasonable period of time upon reaching the age of majority which is
21 years old at that time. With almost 14 years that elapsed upon reaching his age of
majority, Ching failed to exercise such right of citizenship election beyond a reasonable
period of time therefore he cannot be admitted in the Phil. Rolls of atty. for being a
Chinese citizen.

Tan vs Sabandal B.M. No. 44 February 24, 1992

Facts: Petitioner files a motion for reconsideration after the court allows respondent to
finally take oath and practice the law profession after considering his plea for forgiveness
and showing willingness to reform along with testimonials attesting to his good moral
character among which is a testimonial by the IBP Zamboanga. Petitioners contend that
such testimonial was only signed by its President, a counsel for the in-laws of Sabandal,
without the authorization of the IBP Board members. The court allowed the IBP to
manifest testimony to certify as to the good moral character of the respondent and asked
for a comment from the RTC Judge in Zamboanga. Members of the IBP manifested that
they see no impediments as to the moral character of Sabandal while the RTC Judge
informed the court of the civil case against the respondent concerning the mortgaged land
which he secured for a free patent which turned out to be a swampland and not
susceptible for acquisition for a free patent. The civil case however was settled amicably
and the respondent was not charged of any crime. Subsequently, Tan already forgave the
respondent and withdrew her opposition for the taking of oath of office of the respondent
while the other 2 petitioners leave upon the court to decide.

ISSUE: WON Sabandal should be allowed to take oath of office

RULING: The court ruled that in the development of the case, they find Sabandal to have
concealed the civil case brought against him in the course of his series of petitions to be
allowed to take oath together with the testimonies attesting to his good moral character
without any mention of the pending case against him. The court finds this as manipulative
and gross dishonesty on the part of the respondent. Although there were testimonials on
his good moral characters those were made without any knowledge of the case against
him. The commission of his offense itself is devoid of honesty. With the practice of law a
matter of privilege and not as a right, they find respondent unfit to be a member of the
law profession therefore it recalled the court resolution of allowing the respondent to take
oath.

In Re: Atty. Marcial Edillion A.M. 192 August 3, 1978

FACTS: The IBP adopted a resolution on Admin case against Atty. Edillion on matter
involving his membership due delinquency, recommending striking his name from the
rolls of attorneys for stubborn refusal to pay his membership dues. Atty. Edillion
contends that the Rules of Court 139-A and the IBP by-laws are unconstitutional and
thereby questioning the power of the court to compel him to become an IBP member as
well as the provision of the Rules of Court requiring payment for membership fee of the
IBP.

ISSUE: WON the court may compel Atty. Edillion to pay his membership fee to the IBP.

RULING: Yes. The Integrated Bar is a State-organized Bar which every lawyer must be a
member of as distinguished from bar associations in which membership is merely
optional and voluntary. All lawyers are subject to comply with the rules prescribed for the
governance of the Bar including payment a reasonable annual fees as one of the
requirements. The Rules of Court only compels him to pay his annual dues and it is not in
violation of his constitutional freedom to associate. Furthermore, the Court has
jurisdiction over matters of admission, suspension, disbarment, and reinstatement of
lawyers and their regulation as part of its inherent judicial functions and responsibilities
thus the court may compel all members of the Integrated Bar to pay their annual dues.

Re: Application of A.M. Hernandez July 27, 1993

FACTS: Hernandez is a Filipino citizen who have a degree of Juris Doctor from
Columbia Law School in New York and passed the bar examinations in the same City in
1990. He is currently taking bar subjects in Ateneo Law School and taking a 5 month bar
review course there. He now asks the court to allow him to take the bar exam in the Phils.

ISSUE: WON the S.C. may allow him to take the bar exam in the Phils.

RULING: Yes, he may be allowed to take the bar because there were some instances in
the past where a Filipino studied law in a foreign law school and were allowed to take the
bar in the Philippines. However, the court held this time that in the following year,
applicants for the Bar must study in a local law school in the Phils. And must present
certifications required by Section 5 and 6 of Rule 138 to be able to take the bar. Such
certification however is not issued to foreign law school graduates therefore anyone who
wants to take the bar in the country should study in any of the law schools in the Phils. to
be able to take the bar exam.

In re: Amparo 65 SCRA 120 (1974)

FACTS: Amparo is a bar examinee who was caught by the head watcher reading a piece
of paper during the bar examination in Criminal Law. He refuses to surrender the paper
until the head watcher threatened to report him to the authorities. The paper contains the
list of duration of penalties and formula computing them, which Amparo justifies as just a
piece of paper that fell out of his pocket as he tried to get his handkerchief. A report was
filed and an investigation ensued.

ISSUE: WON Amparo is guilty for his actions.

RULING: Yes. He violated Rule 133, section 10 prohibiting examinees from bringing
papers, books, or notes into the examination room. Amparo committed an overt act
indicative of an attempt to cheat by reading notes. The report of the bar showed that he
did not passed the bar thus the court ordered he will not be allowed to re-take the bar the
following year.

Letter of Atty. Cecilio Y. Arevalo, Jr. B.M. No. 1370 May 9, 2005

FACTS: Petitioners files a motion for exemption for paying his IBP dues from 1977-2005
in the amount of P12,035.00. He contends that after admission to the Bar he worked at
the Phil. Civil Service then migrated to the US until his retirement. His contention to be
exempt is that his employment with the CSC prohibits him to practice his law profession
and he did not practice the same while in the US. The compulsion that he pays his IBP
annual membership is oppressive since he has an inactive status as a lawyer. His removal
from the profession because of non-payment of the same constitutes to the deprivation of
his property rights bereft of due process of the law.

ISSUE: WON inactive practice of the law profession is an exemption to payment for IBP
annual membership.

RULING: The court held that the imposition of the membership fee is a matter of
regulatory measure by the State, which is a necessary consequence for being a member of
the Philippine Bar. The compulsory requirement to pay the fees subsists for as long as
one remains to be a member regardless whether one is a practicing lawyer or not. Thus,
his petition for exemption from paying his IBP membership fee dues is denied.

Santos Jr. v Llamas A.C. No. 4749 1.20.00

FACTS: This is a complaint against respondent for misrepresentation and non-payment of


IBP membership dues. For years, the respondent does not indicate proper PTR no. in his
practice of the law profession. Now of old age, he contends that he is engaged in the
limited practice of his profession and as a senior citizen, he is exempt from paying taxes
and membership dues with the IBP.

ISSUE: WON the respondent is exempt from paying his membership dues owing to
limited practice of law and for being a senior citizen.

RULING: No. He is not exempt since Rule 139-A requires all IBP members to pay the
annual fee and failure thereof for 6 months merits suspension of the membership and for
1 year becomes a ground for removal of the member’s name from the Rolls of Attorney
regardless one is a practicing lawyer or not. His non-renewal of his PTR is a
misrepresentation to the public and the courts that he has paid his dues violating the Code
of Professional Responsibility.

Republic of the Philippines


SUPREME COURT
Manila

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 127262 July 24, 1997


HUBERT WEBB, ANTONIO LEJANO, HOSPICIO FERNANDEZ, MIGUEL
RODRIGUEZ, PETER ESTRADA and MICHAEL GATCHALIAN, petitioners,
vs.
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, THE HONORABLE AMELITA G. TOLENTINO,
Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court of Parañaque, Branch 274, and
LAURO VIZCONDE, respondents.

PUNO, J.:

Petitioners Hubert Webb, Antonio Lejano, Hospicio Fernandez, Miguel


Rodriguez, Peter Estrada and Michael Gatchalian 1 assail the decision of the
Court of Appeals dated June 21, 1996 in C.A. G.R. SP No. 39839 2 and C.A. G.R.
SP No. 39840, 3 as well as its resolution dated November 15, 1996 insofar as it
denied the petition for the inhibition of respondent Judge Amelita G. Tolentino in
Criminal Case No. 95-404 4 pending before Branch 274 of the Regional Trial
Court of Paranaque. 5

The antecedent facts show that on August 8, 1995, petitioners were charged with
the crime of rape with homicide for allegedly raping Carmela Vizconde and on
the occasion thereof, killing Carmela herself and her mother, Estrellita, and her
sister, Jennifer. The crime was committed in the evening of June 29 up to the
early morning of June 30, 1991 at the Vizconde residence in BF Homes,
Paranaque. 6

The case, docketed as Criminal Case No. 95-404, was raffled to Branch 274 of
the Regional Trial Court of Paranaque presided by respondent judge.

Prior to their arraignment, petitioner Webb and his co-accused, Gerardo Biong,
had sought the disqualification of respondent judge in Criminal Case No. 95-404.
In his motion of August 21, 1995, petitioner Webb relied on the ground that
respondent judge allegedly told the media that "failure of the accused to
surrender following the issuance of the warrant of arrest is an indication of guilt."
Respondent judge denied the motion. Two days later, on August 23, 1995,
petitioner Webb filed a second motion to disqualify respondent judge as the latter
allegedly told the media that the accused "should not expect the comforts of
home," pending the resolution of his motion to be committed to the custody of the
Philippine National Police at Camp Ricardo Papa, Bicutan, Paranaque.
Respondent judge again denied the motion to inhibit. On September 4, 1995,
Gerardo Biong filed another motion to disqualify respondent judge on the ground
of bias and partiality. This was likewise denied by respondent judge.

The petitioners were arraigned on September 4, 1995. They then filed separate
petitions for bail.
On September 21, 1995, petitioner Webb filed an Urgent Motion for
Hospitalization. He alleged that he was sick of dermatitis or asthma of the skin
which aggravated due to his continuous commitment at the Paranaque Municipal
Jail. The motion was denied by respondent judge on October 16, 1995.

On October 9, 1995, the hearing on petitioners' petitions for bail commenced.


The prosecution presented its "star witness," Jessica Alfaro, who identified
petitioners as the perpetrators of the crime. During the cross-examination, the
defense counsel tried to impeach Alfaro's credibility by asking her questions
regarding the contents of an affidavit she executed at the National Bureau of
Investigation (NBI) on April 28, 1995. The defense tried to show that some of her
statements in said affidavit are inconsistent with her statements in a subsequent
affidavit executed on May 21, 1995 and with her testimony in court. The
prosecution objected and moved that all questions relating to the contents of
Alfaro's April 28 affidavit be expunged from the records for being inadmissible in
evidence under Article III Section 12(1) and (3) of the 1987 Constitution. 7
Respondent judge sustained the objection and on October 30, 1995, she issued
an order holding that Alfaro cannot be cross examined on the contents of her
April 28 affidavit because said affidavit was inadmissible in evidence as it was not
executed in the presence of a counsel. 8

The defense also tried to prove Alfaro's motive in testifying against petitioners.
She was questioned about her brother, Patrick Alfaro, and her uncle, Roberto
Alfaro. Jessica Alfaro allegedly admitted that her brother, Patrick, was a drug
addict and was arrested once by the NBI for illegal possession of drugs and that
he is presently in the United States. When defense counsel inquired about the
circumstances of Patrick's departure for the United States, the prosecution
objected to the questions on the ground of irrelevancy. Respondent judge
sustained the objection.

The defense also cross-examined Alfaro on her educational attainment to show


that she lied in her direct testimony. The defense presented her transcript of
records to prove that she only enrolled for a year and earned nine (9) academic
units, contrary to her claim that she finished second year college. The
prosecution again objected on the ground that Alfaro's educational attainment
was irrelevant. Respondent judge sustained the objection.

On November 9, 1995, petitioners filed a motion to disqualify or inhibit


respondent judge due to bias and prejudice. Respondent judge denied the
motion for lack of merit on November 28, 1995. 9

On November 15, 1995, petitioners filed two separate petitions with this Court.
Petitioners Webb, Lejano, Fernandez, together with their co-accused, Gerardo
Biong, filed a petition for certiorari seeking to set aside (1) the order of
respondent judge dated October 16, 1995 denying petitioner Webb's motion for
hospitalization and (2) the order of respondent judge dated October 30, 1995
disallowing the defense to cross-examine Alfaro on the contents of her April 28
affidavit. 10 Petitioners Gatchalian and Estrada filed a petition for certiorari,
prohibition and mandamus assailing respondent judge's order prohibiting the
cross-examination of Alfaro on the contents of her April 28 affidavit. 11

On December 8, 1995, petitioners filed with this Court a supplemental petition to


set aside the November 28, 1995 order of respondent judge denying their motion
for inhibition.

In a resolution dated January 22, 1996, we referred both petitions and the
supplemental petition to the Court of Appeals for proper disposition.

In the meantime, the hearing on petitioners' petitions for bail continued. The
prosecution presented Mila Gaviola, a former maid at the Webb residence, who
testified that she saw petitioner Webb in their house in the early morning of June
30, 1991. On December 5, 1995, respondent judge, over the objection of the
petitioners, ordered an ocular inspection of the former Webb residence in BF
Homes, Paranaque to verify Gaviola's testimony about a secret door through
which she peeped to see petitioner Webb.

On January 12, 1996, petitioner Webb filed a motion for deposition of witnesses
residing in the United States who shall testify on his presence in the United
States on the date of the commission of the crime. 12 On February 6, 1996,
respondent judge denied the motion for the reason that petitioner Webb failed to
allege that the witnesses do not have the means to go to the place of the trial. 13
Hence, on January 12, 1996, petitioner Webb filed another supplemental petition
to the Court of Appeals challenging the said order.

Petitioners made their Formal Offer of Evidence upon conclusion of the hearings
on the petitions for bail. On September 25, 1995, the prosecution filed its
Comment/Objection to the Formal Offer of Evidence. On October 1, 1996,
respondent judge ruled on petitioner's formal offer of evidence. She admitted only
ten (10) out of the one hundred forty two (142) exhibits offered by petitioner. 14

On October 11, 1996, respondent judge denied petitioners' petitions for bail. 15

On June 21, 1996, the Court of Appeals rendered its Decision on the various
petitions and supplemental petitions. It reversed respondent judge's ruling
refusing to admit Alfaro's April 28 affidavit but denied all the other reliefs prayed
for by petitioners. 16 It also denied petitioners' motion for reconsideration in a
resolution dated November 15, 1996. 17

On December 12, 1996, petitioners filed the present petition contending:

I
The Court of Appeals erred in declaring that no sufficient ground
exists for the disqualification of the respondent judge.

A. Respondent judge has consistently and


repeatedly shown bias and hostility against
petitioners.

B. The rejection of the 132 of 142 exhibits not


only paved the way for the denial of bail but also
sets irreversibly the eventual conviction of all the
accused.

C. The reported trip to the Vizconde residence


by the respondent judge exposes her propensity
to consort with the complainant on the pending
issues.

II

The Court of Appeals erred in not honoring that the right to a fair
trial requires that the case be tried by an impartial judge.

On February 5, 1997, petitioners filed a supplemental petition. It alleged, among


others, that during the trial on the merits, respondent judge allowed prosecution
witness Atty. Pedro Rivera to testify on the character of the accused although the
defense had not put his character in issue; that respondent judge disallowed the
defense to impeach the credibility of Atty. Rivera by the presentation of an earlier
statement executed by him because such statement was immaterial; and that
respondent judge struck off from the record the proffer of oral evidence made by
defense counsel Atty. Vitaliano Aguirre after ruling that the proffer was improper
on cross-examination. 18

The core issue is whether respondent judge should inhibit herself from hearing
Criminal Case No. 95-404 on the ground of bias and prejudice.

We rule in the negative.

The Bill of Rights guarantees that "(n)o person shall be held to answer for a
criminal offense without due process of law." 19 A critical component of due
process is a hearing before an impartial and disinterested tribunal. We have
ingrained the jurisprudence that every litigant is entitled to nothing less than the
cold neutrality of an impartial judge for all the other elements of due process, like
notice and hearing, would be meaningless if the ultimate decision would come
from a partial and biased judge. 20 Hence, the Rules of Court allows a judge to
voluntarily inhibit himself from hearing a case for "just or valid reasons" other
than those referring to his pecuniary interest, relation, previous connection, or
previous rulings or decisions. Section 1 Rule 137 of the Revised Rules of Court
states:
Sec. 1. Disqualification of judges. — No judge or judicial officer shall sit in any
case in which he, or his wife or child, is pecuniarily interested as heir, legatee,
creditor or otherwise, or in which he is related to either party within the sixth
degree of consanguinity or affinity, or to counsel within the fourth degree,
computed according to the rules of the civil law, or in which he has been
executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or counsel, or in which he has presided
in any inferior court when his ruling or decision is the subject of review, without
the written consent of all parties in interest, signed by them and entered upon the
record.

A judge may, in the exercise of his sound discretion, disqualify himself from
sitting in a case, for just or valid reasons other than those mentioned above.

Under the second paragraph, a party has the right to seek the inhibition or
disqualification of a judge who does not appear to be wholly free,
disinterested, impartial and independent in handling the case. This right
must be weighed with the duty of a judge to decide cases without fear of
repression. Hence, to disqualify a judge on the ground of bias and
prejudice the movant must prove the same by clear and convincing
evidence. This is a heavy burden and petitioners failed to discharge their
burden of proof.

To prove bias and prejudice on the part of respondent judge, petitioners harp on
the alleged adverse and erroneous rulings of respondent judge on their various
motions. By themselves, however, they do not sufficiently prove bias and
prejudice to disqualify respondent judge. To be disqualifying, the bias and
prejudice must be shown to have stemmed from an extrajudicial source and
result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge
learned from his participation in the case. Opinions formed in the course of
judicial proceedings, although erroneous, as long as they are based on the
evidence presented and conduct observed by the judge, do not prove personal
bias or prejudice on the part of the judge. 21 As a general rule, repeated rulings
against a litigant, no matter how erroneous and vigorously and consistently
expressed, are not a basis for disqualification of a judge on grounds of bias and
prejudice. 22 Extrinsic evidence is required to establish bias, bad faith, malice or
corrupt purpose, in addition to the palpable error which may be inferred from the
decision or order itself. Although the decision may seem so erroneous as to raise
doubts concerning a judge's integrity, absent extrinsic evidence, the decision
itself would be insufficient to establish a case against the judge. 23 The only
exception to the rule is when the error is so gross and patent as to produce an
ineluctable inference of bad faith or malice.

A perusal of the records will reveal that petitioners failed to adduce any extrinsic
evidence to prove that respondent judge was motivated by malice or bad faith in
issuing the assailed rulings. Petitioners simply lean on the alleged series of
adverse rulings of the respondent judge which they characterized as palpable
errors. This is not enough. We note that respondent judge's rulings resolving the
various motions filed by petitioners were all made after considering the
arguments raised by all the parties. It is true that the respondent judge erred in
some of her rulings such as her rejection of petitioners' one hundred thirty two
(132) pieces of evidence. It appears, however, that respondent judge reversed
this erroneous ruling and already admitted these 132 pieces of evidence after
finding that "the defects in (their) admissibility have been cured through the
introduction of additional evidence during the trial on the merits." 24 This
correction diminishes the strength of petitioners' charge that respondent judge is
hopelessly biased against them. To be sure, the respondent judge did not score a
complete cipher in her rulings against the petitioners. Just last June 11, 1997, the
Third Division of this Court dismissed an administrative complaint against the
respondent judge on the ground that ". . . it is within the respondent judge's right
to conduct an ocular inspection since it is an exercise of her judicial
prerogative . . ." 25 There is still another reason why we should observe caution in
disqualifying respondent judge. The trial of the petitioners is about to end and to
assign a new judge to determine the guilt or innocence of petitioners will not be
for the best interest of justice. The records of the case at bar run into volumes.
These voluminous records cannot capture in print the complete credibility of
witnesses when they testified in court. As the respondent judge observed the
demeanor of witnesses while in the witness chair, she is in the best position to
calibrate their credibility. The task of evaluating the credibility of witnesses
includes interpreting their body language and their meaningful nuances are not
expressed in the transcripts of their testimonies.

We hasten to stress that a party aggrieved by erroneous interlocutory rulings in


the course of a trial is not without remedy. The range of remedy is provided in our
Rules of Court and we need not make an elongated discourse on the subject. But
certainly, the remedy for erroneous rulings, absent any extrinsic evidence of
malice or bad faith, is not the outright disqualification of the judge. For there is yet
to come a judge with the omniscience to issue rulings that are always infallible.
The courts will close shop if we disqualify judges who err for we all err.

We again remind respondent judge of our counsel in the first Webb


case 26 ". . . that our ability to dispense impartial justice is an issue in every trial,
and in every criminal prosecution, the judiciary always stands as a silent
accused. More than convicting the guilty and acquitting the innocent, the
business of the judiciary is to assure fulfillment of the promise that justice shall be
done and is done — and that is the only way for the judiciary to get an acquittal
from the bar of public opinion."

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the petition is dismissed for lack of merit. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Regalado, Romero and Mendoza, JJ., concur.

Torres, Jr., J., is on leave.


Footnotes

1 The Original Petition filed with this Court included Gerardo Biong as one of the
petitioners, but on December 19, 1996, petitioners filed a Manifestation of Partial
Withdrawal dropping Gerardo Biong from the petition as the latter is
independently pursuing a separate remedy for the same cause of action (Rollo,
pp. 259-260).

2 Entitled Hubert J.P. Webb, et al. v. The Honorable Amelita G. Tolentino,


Presiding Judge, RTC-Paranaque Branch 274 and the People of the Philippines.

3 Entitled Michael A. Gatchalian and Peter Estrada v. The Honorable Amelita G.


Tolentino, Presiding Judge, RTC-Paranaque and the People of the Philippines.

4 Entitled People of the Philippines v. Hubert Webb, et al.

5 The Decision and the Resolution were penned by Justice Ricardo P. Galvez
with the concurrence of Justice Antonio M. Martinez and Justice Hilarion L.
Aquino.

6 Information, Annex "D" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 138-140.

7 Sec. 12. (1) Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense
shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have
competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. If the person
cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights
cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.

xxx xxx xxx

(3) Any confession or admission obtained in violation of this or


the preceding section shall be inadmissible in evidence against
him.

8 Annex "E" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 142-150.

9 Annex "F" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 151-161.

10 Docketed as G.R. No. 122488.

11 Docketed as G.R. No. 122504.

12 Annex "G" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 162-171.

13 Annex "H" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 172-176.

14 Annex "J" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 190-196.

15 Annex "K" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 197-199.

16 Annex "A" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 51-68.


17 Annex "C" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 82-89.

18 Rollo, pp. 263-271.

19 Section 14(1) Article III of the 1987 Constitution.

20 Tan, Jr. v. Gallardo, 73 SCRA 306 (1976); Castillo v. Juan, 62 SCRA 124
(1975); Mateo v. Villaluz, 50 SCRA 18 (1973); Garcia v. Executive Secretary, 6
SCRA 1 (1962).

21 People v. Massarella, 400 N.E. 2d 436; United States v. International


Business Machine, 475 F. Supp. 1372 (1979); Smith v. Danyo, 441 F. Supp. 171
(1977); King v. United States, 434 F. Supp. 1141 (1977).

22 United States v. International Business Machines, 475 F. Supp. 1372 (1979);


People v. Massarella, 400 N.E. 2d 436; United States v. Gallagher, 576 F. 2d
1028 (1978); Miller v. Richardson, 623 P. 2d 1317 (1981).

23 Annotation: Scope of the Constitutional Independence of Judges, 240 SCRA


163 (1995).

24 See Order dated June 18, 1997 in Crim. Case No. 95-404, People vs. Webb,
et al, RTC, NCR, Paranaque, Metro Manila Br. 274.

25 Resolution dated June 11, 1997 of the Third Division in Adm. Matter OCA I.P.I.
No. 97-293-RTC, Singson, et al. vs. Judge Tolentino, etc.

26 247 SCRA 692-693.

Republic of the Philippines


SUPREME COURT
Manila

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 127262 July 24, 1997

HUBERT WEBB, ANTONIO LEJANO, HOSPICIO FERNANDEZ, MIGUEL


RODRIGUEZ, PETER ESTRADA and MICHAEL GATCHALIAN, petitioners,
vs.
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, THE HONORABLE AMELITA G. TOLENTINO,
Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court of Parañaque, Branch 274, and
LAURO VIZCONDE, respondents.
PUNO, J.:

Petitioners Hubert Webb, Antonio Lejano, Hospicio Fernandez, Miguel


Rodriguez, Peter Estrada and Michael Gatchalian 1 assail the decision of the
Court of Appeals dated June 21, 1996 in C.A. G.R. SP No. 39839 2 and C.A. G.R.
SP No. 39840, 3 as well as its resolution dated November 15, 1996 insofar as it
denied the petition for the inhibition of respondent Judge Amelita G. Tolentino in
Criminal Case No. 95-404 4 pending before Branch 274 of the Regional Trial
Court of Paranaque. 5

The antecedent facts show that on August 8, 1995, petitioners were charged with
the crime of rape with homicide for allegedly raping Carmela Vizconde and on
the occasion thereof, killing Carmela herself and her mother, Estrellita, and her
sister, Jennifer. The crime was committed in the evening of June 29 up to the
early morning of June 30, 1991 at the Vizconde residence in BF Homes,
Paranaque. 6

The case, docketed as Criminal Case No. 95-404, was raffled to Branch 274 of
the Regional Trial Court of Paranaque presided by respondent judge.

Prior to their arraignment, petitioner Webb and his co-accused, Gerardo Biong,
had sought the disqualification of respondent judge in Criminal Case No. 95-404.
In his motion of August 21, 1995, petitioner Webb relied on the ground that
respondent judge allegedly told the media that "failure of the accused to
surrender following the issuance of the warrant of arrest is an indication of guilt."
Respondent judge denied the motion. Two days later, on August 23, 1995,
petitioner Webb filed a second motion to disqualify respondent judge as the latter
allegedly told the media that the accused "should not expect the comforts of
home," pending the resolution of his motion to be committed to the custody of the
Philippine National Police at Camp Ricardo Papa, Bicutan, Paranaque.
Respondent judge again denied the motion to inhibit. On September 4, 1995,
Gerardo Biong filed another motion to disqualify respondent judge on the ground
of bias and partiality. This was likewise denied by respondent judge.

The petitioners were arraigned on September 4, 1995. They then filed separate
petitions for bail.

On September 21, 1995, petitioner Webb filed an Urgent Motion for


Hospitalization. He alleged that he was sick of dermatitis or asthma of the skin
which aggravated due to his continuous commitment at the Paranaque Municipal
Jail. The motion was denied by respondent judge on October 16, 1995.

On October 9, 1995, the hearing on petitioners' petitions for bail commenced.


The prosecution presented its "star witness," Jessica Alfaro, who identified
petitioners as the perpetrators of the crime. During the cross-examination, the
defense counsel tried to impeach Alfaro's credibility by asking her questions
regarding the contents of an affidavit she executed at the National Bureau of
Investigation (NBI) on April 28, 1995. The defense tried to show that some of her
statements in said affidavit are inconsistent with her statements in a subsequent
affidavit executed on May 21, 1995 and with her testimony in court. The
prosecution objected and moved that all questions relating to the contents of
Alfaro's April 28 affidavit be expunged from the records for being inadmissible in
evidence under Article III Section 12(1) and (3) of the 1987 Constitution. 7
Respondent judge sustained the objection and on October 30, 1995, she issued
an order holding that Alfaro cannot be cross examined on the contents of her
April 28 affidavit because said affidavit was inadmissible in evidence as it was not
executed in the presence of a counsel. 8

The defense also tried to prove Alfaro's motive in testifying against petitioners.
She was questioned about her brother, Patrick Alfaro, and her uncle, Roberto
Alfaro. Jessica Alfaro allegedly admitted that her brother, Patrick, was a drug
addict and was arrested once by the NBI for illegal possession of drugs and that
he is presently in the United States. When defense counsel inquired about the
circumstances of Patrick's departure for the United States, the prosecution
objected to the questions on the ground of irrelevancy. Respondent judge
sustained the objection.

The defense also cross-examined Alfaro on her educational attainment to show


that she lied in her direct testimony. The defense presented her transcript of
records to prove that she only enrolled for a year and earned nine (9) academic
units, contrary to her claim that she finished second year college. The
prosecution again objected on the ground that Alfaro's educational attainment
was irrelevant. Respondent judge sustained the objection.

On November 9, 1995, petitioners filed a motion to disqualify or inhibit


respondent judge due to bias and prejudice. Respondent judge denied the
motion for lack of merit on November 28, 1995. 9

On November 15, 1995, petitioners filed two separate petitions with this Court.
Petitioners Webb, Lejano, Fernandez, together with their co-accused, Gerardo
Biong, filed a petition for certiorari seeking to set aside (1) the order of
respondent judge dated October 16, 1995 denying petitioner Webb's motion for
hospitalization and (2) the order of respondent judge dated October 30, 1995
disallowing the defense to cross-examine Alfaro on the contents of her April 28
affidavit. 10 Petitioners Gatchalian and Estrada filed a petition for certiorari,
prohibition and mandamus assailing respondent judge's order prohibiting the
cross-examination of Alfaro on the contents of her April 28 affidavit. 11

On December 8, 1995, petitioners filed with this Court a supplemental petition to


set aside the November 28, 1995 order of respondent judge denying their motion
for inhibition.
In a resolution dated January 22, 1996, we referred both petitions and the
supplemental petition to the Court of Appeals for proper disposition.

In the meantime, the hearing on petitioners' petitions for bail continued. The
prosecution presented Mila Gaviola, a former maid at the Webb residence, who
testified that she saw petitioner Webb in their house in the early morning of June
30, 1991. On December 5, 1995, respondent judge, over the objection of the
petitioners, ordered an ocular inspection of the former Webb residence in BF
Homes, Paranaque to verify Gaviola's testimony about a secret door through
which she peeped to see petitioner Webb.

On January 12, 1996, petitioner Webb filed a motion for deposition of witnesses
residing in the United States who shall testify on his presence in the United
States on the date of the commission of the crime. 12 On February 6, 1996,
respondent judge denied the motion for the reason that petitioner Webb failed to
allege that the witnesses do not have the means to go to the place of the trial. 13
Hence, on January 12, 1996, petitioner Webb filed another supplemental petition
to the Court of Appeals challenging the said order.

Petitioners made their Formal Offer of Evidence upon conclusion of the hearings
on the petitions for bail. On September 25, 1995, the prosecution filed its
Comment/Objection to the Formal Offer of Evidence. On October 1, 1996,
respondent judge ruled on petitioner's formal offer of evidence. She admitted only
ten (10) out of the one hundred forty two (142) exhibits offered by petitioner. 14

On October 11, 1996, respondent judge denied petitioners' petitions for bail. 15

On June 21, 1996, the Court of Appeals rendered its Decision on the various
petitions and supplemental petitions. It reversed respondent judge's ruling
refusing to admit Alfaro's April 28 affidavit but denied all the other reliefs prayed
for by petitioners. 16 It also denied petitioners' motion for reconsideration in a
resolution dated November 15, 1996. 17

On December 12, 1996, petitioners filed the present petition contending:

The Court of Appeals erred in declaring that no sufficient ground


exists for the disqualification of the respondent judge.

A. Respondent judge has consistently and


repeatedly shown bias and hostility against
petitioners.

B. The rejection of the 132 of 142 exhibits not


only paved the way for the denial of bail but also
sets irreversibly the eventual conviction of all the
accused.
C. The reported trip to the Vizconde residence
by the respondent judge exposes her propensity
to consort with the complainant on the pending
issues.

II

The Court of Appeals erred in not honoring that the right to a fair
trial requires that the case be tried by an impartial judge.

On February 5, 1997, petitioners filed a supplemental petition. It alleged, among


others, that during the trial on the merits, respondent judge allowed prosecution
witness Atty. Pedro Rivera to testify on the character of the accused although the
defense had not put his character in issue; that respondent judge disallowed the
defense to impeach the credibility of Atty. Rivera by the presentation of an earlier
statement executed by him because such statement was immaterial; and that
respondent judge struck off from the record the proffer of oral evidence made by
defense counsel Atty. Vitaliano Aguirre after ruling that the proffer was improper
on cross-examination. 18

The core issue is whether respondent judge should inhibit herself from hearing
Criminal Case No. 95-404 on the ground of bias and prejudice.

We rule in the negative.

The Bill of Rights guarantees that "(n)o person shall be held to answer for a
criminal offense without due process of law." 19 A critical component of due
process is a hearing before an impartial and disinterested tribunal. We have
ingrained the jurisprudence that every litigant is entitled to nothing less than the
cold neutrality of an impartial judge for all the other elements of due process, like
notice and hearing, would be meaningless if the ultimate decision would come
from a partial and biased judge. 20 Hence, the Rules of Court allows a judge to
voluntarily inhibit himself from hearing a case for "just or valid reasons" other
than those referring to his pecuniary interest, relation, previous connection, or
previous rulings or decisions. Section 1 Rule 137 of the Revised Rules of Court
states:

Sec. 1. Disqualification of judges. — No judge or judicial officer shall sit in any


case in which he, or his wife or child, is pecuniarily interested as heir, legatee,
creditor or otherwise, or in which he is related to either party within the sixth
degree of consanguinity or affinity, or to counsel within the fourth degree,
computed according to the rules of the civil law, or in which he has been
executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or counsel, or in which he has presided
in any inferior court when his ruling or decision is the subject of review, without
the written consent of all parties in interest, signed by them and entered upon the
record.

A judge may, in the exercise of his sound discretion, disqualify himself from
sitting in a case, for just or valid reasons other than those mentioned above.
Under the second paragraph, a party has the right to seek the inhibition or
disqualification of a judge who does not appear to be wholly free,
disinterested, impartial and independent in handling the case. This right
must be weighed with the duty of a judge to decide cases without fear of
repression. Hence, to disqualify a judge on the ground of bias and
prejudice the movant must prove the same by clear and convincing
evidence. This is a heavy burden and petitioners failed to discharge their
burden of proof.

To prove bias and prejudice on the part of respondent judge, petitioners harp on
the alleged adverse and erroneous rulings of respondent judge on their various
motions. By themselves, however, they do not sufficiently prove bias and
prejudice to disqualify respondent judge. To be disqualifying, the bias and
prejudice must be shown to have stemmed from an extrajudicial source and
result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge
learned from his participation in the case. Opinions formed in the course of
judicial proceedings, although erroneous, as long as they are based on the
evidence presented and conduct observed by the judge, do not prove personal
bias or prejudice on the part of the judge. 21 As a general rule, repeated rulings
against a litigant, no matter how erroneous and vigorously and consistently
expressed, are not a basis for disqualification of a judge on grounds of bias and
prejudice. 22 Extrinsic evidence is required to establish bias, bad faith, malice or
corrupt purpose, in addition to the palpable error which may be inferred from the
decision or order itself. Although the decision may seem so erroneous as to raise
doubts concerning a judge's integrity, absent extrinsic evidence, the decision
itself would be insufficient to establish a case against the judge. 23 The only
exception to the rule is when the error is so gross and patent as to produce an
ineluctable inference of bad faith or malice.

A perusal of the records will reveal that petitioners failed to adduce any extrinsic
evidence to prove that respondent judge was motivated by malice or bad faith in
issuing the assailed rulings. Petitioners simply lean on the alleged series of
adverse rulings of the respondent judge which they characterized as palpable
errors. This is not enough. We note that respondent judge's rulings resolving the
various motions filed by petitioners were all made after considering the
arguments raised by all the parties. It is true that the respondent judge erred in
some of her rulings such as her rejection of petitioners' one hundred thirty two
(132) pieces of evidence. It appears, however, that respondent judge reversed
this erroneous ruling and already admitted these 132 pieces of evidence after
finding that "the defects in (their) admissibility have been cured through the
introduction of additional evidence during the trial on the merits." 24 This
correction diminishes the strength of petitioners' charge that respondent judge is
hopelessly biased against them. To be sure, the respondent judge did not score a
complete cipher in her rulings against the petitioners. Just last June 11, 1997, the
Third Division of this Court dismissed an administrative complaint against the
respondent judge on the ground that ". . . it is within the respondent judge's right
to conduct an ocular inspection since it is an exercise of her judicial
prerogative . . ." 25 There is still another reason why we should observe caution in
disqualifying respondent judge. The trial of the petitioners is about to end and to
assign a new judge to determine the guilt or innocence of petitioners will not be
for the best interest of justice. The records of the case at bar run into volumes.
These voluminous records cannot capture in print the complete credibility of
witnesses when they testified in court. As the respondent judge observed the
demeanor of witnesses while in the witness chair, she is in the best position to
calibrate their credibility. The task of evaluating the credibility of witnesses
includes interpreting their body language and their meaningful nuances are not
expressed in the transcripts of their testimonies.

We hasten to stress that a party aggrieved by erroneous interlocutory rulings in


the course of a trial is not without remedy. The range of remedy is provided in our
Rules of Court and we need not make an elongated discourse on the subject. But
certainly, the remedy for erroneous rulings, absent any extrinsic evidence of
malice or bad faith, is not the outright disqualification of the judge. For there is yet
to come a judge with the omniscience to issue rulings that are always infallible.
The courts will close shop if we disqualify judges who err for we all err.

We again remind respondent judge of our counsel in the first Webb


case 26 ". . . that our ability to dispense impartial justice is an issue in every trial,
and in every criminal prosecution, the judiciary always stands as a silent
accused. More than convicting the guilty and acquitting the innocent, the
business of the judiciary is to assure fulfillment of the promise that justice shall be
done and is done — and that is the only way for the judiciary to get an acquittal
from the bar of public opinion."

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the petition is dismissed for lack of merit. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Regalado, Romero and Mendoza, JJ., concur.

Torres, Jr., J., is on leave.

Footnotes

1 The Original Petition filed with this Court included Gerardo Biong as one of the
petitioners, but on December 19, 1996, petitioners filed a Manifestation of Partial
Withdrawal dropping Gerardo Biong from the petition as the latter is
independently pursuing a separate remedy for the same cause of action (Rollo,
pp. 259-260).

2 Entitled Hubert J.P. Webb, et al. v. The Honorable Amelita G. Tolentino,


Presiding Judge, RTC-Paranaque Branch 274 and the People of the Philippines.
3 Entitled Michael A. Gatchalian and Peter Estrada v. The Honorable Amelita G.
Tolentino, Presiding Judge, RTC-Paranaque and the People of the Philippines.

4 Entitled People of the Philippines v. Hubert Webb, et al.

5 The Decision and the Resolution were penned by Justice Ricardo P. Galvez
with the concurrence of Justice Antonio M. Martinez and Justice Hilarion L.
Aquino.

6 Information, Annex "D" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 138-140.

7 Sec. 12. (1) Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense
shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have
competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. If the person
cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights
cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.

xxx xxx xxx

(3) Any confession or admission obtained in violation of this or


the preceding section shall be inadmissible in evidence against
him.

8 Annex "E" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 142-150.

9 Annex "F" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 151-161.

10 Docketed as G.R. No. 122488.

11 Docketed as G.R. No. 122504.

12 Annex "G" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 162-171.

13 Annex "H" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 172-176.

14 Annex "J" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 190-196.

15 Annex "K" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 197-199.

16 Annex "A" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 51-68.

17 Annex "C" to the Petition, Rollo, pp. 82-89.

18 Rollo, pp. 263-271.

19 Section 14(1) Article III of the 1987 Constitution.

20 Tan, Jr. v. Gallardo, 73 SCRA 306 (1976); Castillo v. Juan, 62 SCRA 124
(1975); Mateo v. Villaluz, 50 SCRA 18 (1973); Garcia v. Executive Secretary, 6
SCRA 1 (1962).
21 People v. Massarella, 400 N.E. 2d 436; United States v. International
Business Machine, 475 F. Supp. 1372 (1979); Smith v. Danyo, 441 F. Supp. 171
(1977); King v. United States, 434 F. Supp. 1141 (1977).

22 United States v. International Business Machines, 475 F. Supp. 1372 (1979);


People v. Massarella, 400 N.E. 2d 436; United States v. Gallagher, 576 F. 2d
1028 (1978); Miller v. Richardson, 623 P. 2d 1317 (1981).

23 Annotation: Scope of the Constitutional Independence of Judges, 240 SCRA


163 (1995).

24 See Order dated June 18, 1997 in Crim. Case No. 95-404, People vs. Webb,
et al, RTC, NCR, Paranaque, Metro Manila Br. 274.

25 Resolution dated June 11, 1997 of the Third Division in Adm. Matter OCA I.P.I.
No. 97-293-RTC, Singson, et al. vs. Judge Tolentino, etc.

26 247 SCRA 692-693.