Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ecija judge facing dismissal, disbarment anew for invoking ‘obsolete law’ in poll protest

CABANATUAN CITY – A Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge, who was dismissed and disbarred by the Supreme Court in 2010 for dishonesty and falsification of public documents but later escaped with a mere one-year suspension, is facing disbarment anew for grave misconduct and gross ignorance of the law for issuing a ruling based on an obsolete provision of law.

Cabanatuan RTC Branch 30 Presiding Judge Virgilio Caballero has been slapped an administrative complaint before the SC in a 28-page administrative complaint for grave misconduct, manifest partiality, gross ignorance of the law and willful violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Code of Professional Responsibility in the discharge of his official duty as member of the judiciary.  

Caballero is the same judge who was charged with an administrative complaint in 2009 and found guilty of dishonesty and falsification of an official document by the Supreme Court which in 2010 dismissed him as a judge and disbarred him.

He filed a motion for reconsideration with the High Court which reduced his penalty to one-year suspension from service and practice of law. 

The latest complaint was filed by Aliaga, Nueva Ecija Mayor Elizabeth Vargas who sought to turn the said complaint as a disciplinary action against Caballero. Vargas is locked in a legal battle with her rival, businessman Reynaldo Ordanes for the mayorship of Aliaga.

Vargas, a four-term mayor and wife of former three-term mayor Marcial, was proclaimed winner by the municipal board of canvassers last year, garnering 11,477 votes to Ordanes’ 11,413 or a difference of 64 votes. 

But Ordanes, brother of Quezon City assessor Rodolfo, filed an election protest before the court, claiming massive fraud. He questioned the results in 13 of 58 clustered precincts.

Vargas sought the dismissal of the protest on the ground of insufficiency of form and substance, saying the protest does not contain a detailed specifications of fraud nor any competent evidence that would justify the revision of ballots.

Last May 28, Caballero promulgated a decision proclaiming Ordanes the winner by 11 votes after deducting 72 votes from Vargas’ total. On June 19, he issued an order granting Ordanes’ petition for the issuance of a writ of execution pending appeal until further notice.

The Commission on Elections, sitting En Banc, has issued a Temporary Restraining Order enjoining Caballero from implementing his June 19 order.

In her complaint, Vargas noted that Caballero, in his decision deducted 72 votes from her on the ground that the shades of ballots failed to comply with the threshold limit  and by this, should have been considered stray and not counted in her favor.

Vargas claimed that Caballero based his ruling on an old law which has already been amended. She added that Caballero also did not credit in her favor an additional 21 votes which represent the increase in her votes in the contested precincts based on physical count over the election returns.

Vargas cited that the Commission on Elections’s Second Division, in a July 15,2014 resolution said that after examining the records of the case, it found that Caballero “appears to erroneously rely upon the 2010 Rules of Procedure in election protests.”

In the same resolution, the poll body said assuming the disputed ruling is still applicable, Caballero also committed an error when he himself examined and appreciated the ballots  when the same ruling provides that “any issue as to whether or not a certain mark or shade is within the threshold shall be determined by using the PCOS machine and not by human determination.”

Vargas said Caballero is liable for gross ignorance of the law when he displayed “utter lack of familiarity with the rules, thereby eroding the public’s confidence in the competence of the courts.”

“Because of respondent Judge Caballero’s gross ignorance of the law, he applied an outdated, obsolete and already amended rule which in effect caused the disenfranchisement of 72 voters from Aliaga, Nueva Ecija,” the complaint stated. “Had respondent Judge Caballero not been so grossly ignorant of the law, he should have applied Comelec Resolution 9765 in its May 28,2014 decision,” the complaint said.

It added that Caballero also violated Canons 5,6 and 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provide that a lawyer shall keep himself abreast of legal developments and participate in continuing legal education programs.

The complaint also cited the previous administrative complaint against Caballero which, it further noted, was not reversed but was actually affirmed wherein the High Court even warned that “subsequent misconducts on his part will be dealt with more severely.”

           It described Caballero as a “recidivist” whose infractions show that “he had not learned his lessons and heeded the warnings|” of the Supreme Court. (Manny Galvez) 

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