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June 25, 2014

Macariola vs. Asuncion

Facts:

  • In 1968, Bernardita R. Macariola charged respondent Judge Elias B. Asuncion of the Court of First Instance of Leyte, now Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals, with "acts unbecoming a judge." 
  • Civil Case No. 3010 of the Court of First Instance of Leyte was a complaint for partition filed by Sinforosa R. Bales, Luz R. Bakunawa, Anacorita Reyes, Ruperto Reyes, Adela Reyes, and Priscilla Reyes, plaintiffs, against Bernardita R. Macariola, defendant, concerning the properties left by the deceased Francisco Reyes, the common father of the plaintiff and defendant. 
  • Judge Asuncion was the hearing judge of the civil case which became final for lack of appeal. 
  • A particular Lot 1184-E was sold on July 31, 1964 to Dr. Arcadio Galapon who was issued transfer certificate of title No. 2338 of the Register of Deeds of the city of Tacloban. The same lot was part of the properties which was decided by Asunsion in civil case no. 3010.
  • On March 6, 1965, Dr. Arcadio Galapon and his wife Sold a portion of Lot 1184-E with an area of around 1,306 sq. meters to Judge Asuncion and his wife, Victoria S. Asuncion, which particular portion was declared by the latter for taxation purposes.
  • On August 31, 1966, spouses Asuncion and spouses Galapon conveyed their respective shares and interest in Lot 1184-E to "The Traders Manufacturing and Fishing Industries Inc.". 
  • At the time of said sale the stockholders of the corporation were Dominador Arigpa Tan, Humilia Jalandoni Tan, Jaime Arigpa Tan, Judge Asuncion, and the latter's wife, Victoria S. Asuncion, with Judge Asuncion as the President and Mrs. Asuncion as the secretary . The Articles of Incorporation of "The Traders Manufacturing and Fishing Industries, Inc." which we shall henceforth refer to as "TRADERS" were registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission only on January 9, 1967. 
  • Complainant Bernardita R. Macariola filed on August 9, 1968 the instant complaint dated August 6, 1968 alleging four causes, to wit: 
[1] that respondent Judge Asuncion violated Article 1491, paragraph 5, of the New Civil Code in acquiring by purchase a portion of Lot No. 1184-E which was one of those properties involved in Civil Case No. 3010 decided by him;
[2] that he likewise violated Article 14, paragraphs I and 5 of the Code of Commerce, Section 3, paragraph H, of R.A. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, Section 12, Rule XVIII of the Civil Service Rules, and Canon 25 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, by associating himself with the Traders Manufacturing and Fishing Industries, Inc., as a stockholder and a ranking officer while he was a judge of the Court of First Instance of Leyte;
[3] that respondent was guilty of coddling an impostor and acted in disregard of judicial decorum by closely fraternizing with a certain Dominador Arigpa Tan who openly and publicly advertised himself as a practising attorney when in truth and in fact his name does not appear in the Rolls of Attorneys and is not a member of the Philippine Bar; and
[4] that there was a culpable defiance of the law and utter disregard for ethics by respondent Judge. 

Issue: Whether or not Judge Asuncion may acquire property under whom said property has been decided in a civil case. 

Held: Yes. He may acquire the property in question. 

Article 1491. The following persons cannot acquire by purchase, even at a public or judicial action, either in person or through the mediation of another: 
xxx xxx xxx (5) Justices, judges, prosecuting attorneys, clerks of superior and inferior courts, and other officers and employees connected with the administration of justice, the property and rights in litigation or levied upon an execution before the court within whose jurisdiction or territory they exercise their respective functions; this prohibition includes the act of acquiring by assignment and shall apply to lawyers, with respect to the property and rights which may be the object of any litigation in which they may take part by virtue of their profession.

In the case at bar, when the respondent Judge purchased on March 6, 1965 a portion of Lot 1184-E, the decision in Civil Case No. 3010 which he rendered on June 8, 1963 was already final because none of the parties therein filed an appeal within the reglementary period; hence, the lot in question was no longer subject of the litigation. 

Moreover, at the time of the sale on March 6, 1965, respondent's order dated October 23, 1963 and the amended order dated November 11, 1963 approving the October 16, 1963 project of partition made pursuant to the June 8, 1963 decision, had long become final for there was no appeal from said orders. 

Furthermore, respondent Judge did not buy the lot in question on March 6, 1965 directly from the plaintiffs in Civil Case No. 3010 but from Dr. Arcadio Galapon who earlier purchased on July 31, 1964 Lot 1184-E from three of the plaintiffs after the finality of the decision in Civil Case No. 3010. The subsequent sale on August 31, 1966 by spouses Asuncion and spouses Galapon of their respective shares and interest in said Lot 1184-E to the Traders Manufacturing and Fishing Industries, Inc., in which respondent was the president and his wife was the secretary, took place long after the finality of the decision in Civil Case No. 3010 and of the subsequent two aforesaid orders therein approving the project of partition. 

However, it was improper for him to have acquired the same. He should be reminded of Canon 3 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics which requires that: "A judge's official conduct should be free from the appearance of impropriety, and his personal behavior, not only upon the bench and in the performance of judicial duties, but also in his everyday life, should be beyond reproach." 

And as aptly observed by the Investigating Justice: "... it was unwise and indiscreet on the part of respondent to have purchased or acquired a portion of a piece of property that was or had been in litigation in his court and caused it to be transferred to a corporation of which he and his wife were ranking officers at the time of such transfer. One who occupies an exalted position in the judiciary has the duty and responsibility of maintaining the faith and trust of the citizenry in the courts of justice, so that not only must he be truly honest and just, but his actuations must be such as not give cause for doubt and mistrust in the uprightness of his administration of justice.

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