Attacking a court decision

The attack against the validity of the decision is entirely bereft of merit and justification.

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For sure, every party-litigant has the right to an impartial and disinterested tribunal. In view of this right, every party may seek the inhibition or disqualification of a judge who does not appear to be wholly free, disinterested, impartial and independent in handling a case. Nonetheless, the invocation of the right is always weighed against the duty of the judge to decide cases without fear of repression.

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The motion by the litigant for the inhibition or disqualification of a judge is regulated by the Rules of Court. Section 1, first paragraph, Rule 137 of the Rules of Court stipulates that a judge or judicial officer shall be mandatorily disqualified to sit in any of the instances enumerated therein, namely: where he, or his wife or child is pecuniarily interested as heir, legatee, creditor or otherwise; or where he is related to either party within the sixth degree of consanguinity or affinity; or where he is related to counsel within the fourth degree; or where he has been executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or counsel; or where he has presided in any inferior court, and his ruling or decision is the subject of review. The second paragraph of the rule concerns voluntary inhibition, and allows the judge, in the exercise of his sound discretion, to disqualify himself from sitting in a case “for just or valid reasons other than those mentioned above.” The exercise of discretion for this purpose is a matter of conscience for him, and is addressed primarily to his sense of fairness and justice.

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The grounds for the mandatory inhibition of the Members of the Court, which are analogous to those mentioned in Rule 137 of the Rules of Court, are embodied in Section 1, Rule 8 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, quoted as follows:
Section 1. Grounds for inhibition. — A Member of the Court shall inhibit himself or herself from participating in the resolution of the case for any of these and similar reasons:

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(a) The Member of the Court was the ponente of the decision or participated in the proceedings in the appellate or trial court;
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(b) The Member of the Court was counsel, partner, or member of a law firm that is or was the counsel in the case subject to Section 3(c) of this rule;
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(c) The Member of the Court or his or her spouse, parent or child is pecuniarily interested in the case;
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(d) The Member of the Court is related to either party in the case within the sixth degree of consanguinity or affinity;
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(e) The Member of the Court was executor, administrator, guardian or trustee in the case; and
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(f) The Member of the Court was an official or is the spouse of an official or former official of a government agency or private entity that is a party to the case, and the Justice or his or her spouse has reviewed or acted on any matter relating to the case.
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A Member of the Court may in the exercise of his or her sound discretion, inhibit himself or herself for a just or valid reason other than any of those mentioned above.
The inhibiting Member must state the precise reason for the inhibition.
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The grounds for seeking the inhibition of the Members of the Court must be stated in the motion. Yet, in now seeking the inhibition of all the Members of the Third Division who have ruled on the appeal, respondents neither advert to any of the grounds for mandatory inhibition nor point to the bias or partiality of said Members. Their motion only suggests that the earlier voluntary inhibition by Justice Velasco would not deter him from wielding undue influence over the remaining Members of the Third Division because he remained their Chairman.
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The suggestion assaults not only Justice Velasco’s character but also the character of the remaining Members of the Third Division. The assault is both unfair, and even worse, presumptuous. Indeed, Justice Velasco, following his self-disqualification, had nothing more to do with the case. At any rate, respondents ignore that the remaining Members of the Third Division would not be influenced by a disqualified Member upon matters involved in the case in which the latter no longer takes part.

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Moreover, respondents’ calling now for the inhibition of the Members of the Third Division only after they had rendered their decision adversely was no longer a viable remedy. Under Section 2, Rule 8 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, the granting of any motion for the inhibition of a Division or a Member of the Court after a decision on the merits of the case had been rendered is forbidden except if there is some valid or just reason (such as a showing of graft and corrupt practice, or such as a valid ground not earlier apparent).
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Respondents’ motion to refer the case to the Court En Banc is equally unworthy of consideration. In this regard, the grounds to justify a referral of any case to the Banc are long recognized. Section 3, Rule 2 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court specifically enumerates the matters and cases that the Court En Banc shall act on, viz.:
SEC. 3. Court en banc matters and cases. — The Court en banc shall act on the following matters and cases:
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(a) cases in which the constitutionality or validity of any treaty, international or executive agreement, law, executive order, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation is in question;

(b) criminal cases in which the appealed decision imposes the death penalty or reclusion perpetua;

(c) cases raising novel questions of law;

(d) cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls;
(e) cases involving decisions, resolutions, and orders of the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Elections, and the Commission on Audit;
(f) cases where the penalty recommended or imposed is the dismissal of a judge, the disbarment of a lawyer, the suspension of any of them for a period of more than one year, or a fine exceeding forty thousand pesos;
(g) cases covered by the preceding paragraph and involving the reinstatement in the judiciary of a dismissed judge, the reinstatement of a lawyer in the roll of attorneys, or the lifting of a judge’s suspension or a lawyer’s suspension from the practice of law;
(h) cases involving the discipline of a Member of the Court, or a Presiding Justice, or any Associate Justice of the collegial appellate courts;
(i) cases where a doctrine or principle laid down by the Court en banc or by a Division may be modified or reversed;
(j) cases involving conflicting decisions of two or more divisions;
(k) cases where three votes in a Division cannot be obtained;
(l) Division cases where the subject matter has a huge financial impact on businesses or affects the welfare of a community;
(m) subject to Section 11 (b) of this rule, other division cases that, in the opinion of at least three Members of the Division who are voting and present, are appropriate for transfer to the Court en banc;
(n) cases that the Court en banc deems of sufficient importance to merit its attention; and
(o) all matters involving policy decisions in the administrative supervision of all courts and their personnel.
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None of the aforecited matters and cases is applicable to this case, for respondents did not show in their motion how, if at all, this case came under any of the matters and cases listed in Section 3, Rule 2 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court.
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Respondents did not also demonstrate how the Third Division could have contravened the procedures for handling the appeal set in the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court. Their insistence that Justice Martires and Justice Gesmundo had not studied the case prior to the deliberations and voting held on August 16, 2017 was speculative, if not outrightly false. The truth is that the four deciding Members of the Third Division deliberated and unanimously voted on the result. The fifth Member, Justice Caguioa, was absent because he was then on leave, but his absence did not render the deliberation and voting irregular. Far to the contrary, the deliberation and voting conformed to Section 4, second paragraph, Rule 8 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, which reads:

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Section 4. x x x
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When a Member of the Division is on leave, he/she shall no longer be replaced as long as there is a quorum of at least three (3) members, and said absent Member who participated in the deliberation of the case shall be allowed to leave his or her vote pursuant to Section 4 of Rule 12.
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Worthy to stress is that the Court is composed of 15 Members who are assigned to the three Divisions. The assignment of the Members to the Divisions pursuant to the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court is based on seniority and on the vacancies to be filled. All the decisions promulgated and actions taken in Division cases rest upon the concurrence of at least three Members of the Division who actually take part in the deliberations and vote. The decisions or resolutions of each Division are not any less the decisions or resolutions of the Court itself. In short, the Court En Banc is not appellate in respect of the Divisions, for each Division is like the Court En Banc itself, not the inferior to the Court En Banc.

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Lastly, respondents point to the initial dismissal of the appeal. However, such initial dismissal no longer matters considering that the Court already reconsidered it and reinstated the appeal as a consequence. As such, the decision on the merits promulgated herein was entirely valid and effective.

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