< All Topics

4. Propriety

Canon 4: Propriety

Propriety and the appearance of propriety are essential to the performance of all the activities of a judge.

1) Mere appearance of impropriety, to be avoided

Respondent-judge did not admit having a business relationship with Manunag. What Judge Javellana stated in his Comment was that his relationship with Manunag was “purely on official business,” since Manunag was a duly authorized agent of a credited bonding company. Nonetheless, Judge Javellana, by referring the accused who appeared before his court directly to Manunag for processing of the bail bond of said accused, gave the impression that he favored Manunag and Manunag’s bonding company, as well as the reasonable suspicion that he benefitted financially from such referrals. Judge Javellana should remember that he must not only avoid impropriety, but the “appearance of impropriety” as well. (Uy v. Javellana, A.M. No. MTJ-07-1666, 05 September 2012)

2) Impropriety requires proof, not so for appearance of propriety

The failure of the petitioners to present evidence that the respondent acted with partiality and malice can only negate the allegation of impropriety, but not the appearance of impropriety. The Supreme Court underscored the need to show not only the fact of propriety but the appearance of propriety itself. It held that the standard of morality and decency required is exacting so much so that a judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities. (Angping v. Ros, A.M. No. 12-8-160-RTC, 10 December 2012)

A judge is not only required to be impartial; he must also appear to be impartial. (Ibid.)

Section 1: Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities.

1) No impropriety at all times

Any propensity on the part of a magistrate to ignore the ethical injunction to conduct himself in a manner that would give no ground for reproach is always worthy of condemnation. We should abhor any impropriety on the part of judges, whether committed in or out of their courthouses, for they are not judges only occasionally. (Decena v. Malanyaon, A.M. No. RTJ-10-2217, 08 April 2013)

A judge must be free of a whiff of impropriety not only with respect to his performance of his judicial duties, but also to his behavior outside his sala and as a private individual. There is no dichotomy of morality; a public official is also judged by his private morals. The Code dictates that a judge, in order to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, must behave with propriety at all times. (Ibid.)

Section 2: As a subject of constant public scrutiny, judges must accept personal restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly. In particular, judges shall conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the judicial office.

1) Accept restrictions on conduct

Public confidence in the Judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct of judges. A judge must avoid all impropriety and the appearance thereof. Being the subject of constant public scrutiny, a judge should freely and willingly accept restrictions on conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen. (Padilla v. Zantua, A.M. No. MTJ-93-888, 24 October 1994)

Section 3: Judges shall, in their personal relations with individual members of the legal profession who practice regularly in their court, avoid situations which might reasonably give rise to the suspicion or appearance of favoritism or partiality.

1) No to constant company with a lawyer, even if the only one in town

Constant company with a lawyer tends to breed intimacy and camaraderie to the point that favors in the future may be asked from respondent judge which he may find hard to resist. The actuation of respondent Judge of eating and drinking in public places with a lawyer who has pending cases in his sala may well arouse suspicion in the public mind, thus tending to erode the trust of the litigants in the impartiality of the judge. This eventuality may undermine the people’s faith in the administration of justice. It is of no moment that Atty. Augusto Schneider is the only lawyer in the locality. (Ibid.)

Section 4: Judges shall not participate in the determination of a case in which any member of their family represents a litigant or is associated in any manner with the case.

Section 5: Judges shall not allow the use of their residence by a member of the legal profession to receive clients of the latter or of other members of the legal profession.

1) No using of judge’s residence

At the hearing of Reyes’ petition, Atty. Herminio Ubana, Sr., (Atty. Ubana) the lawyer of Reyes, introduced her to Judge Duque who allegedly gave Reyes 30 days to settle matters with the bank. Reyes was unable to re-negotiate with the bank. On the first week of December 2007, Reyes allegedly received a phone call from Judge Duque and the latter instructed Reyes to go “to his house and bring some money in order that he can deny the pending motion to break open.” As she did not have the money yet, Reyes allegedly told Judge Duque that she would see him the following day as her allotment might arrive by that time. The following day, when her allotment arrived, Reyes went to the PNB Cubao Branch in Quezon City to withdraw ₱20,000. She, her secretary, and driver went to the house of Judge Duque at No. 9 CRM Corazon, BF Almanza, Las Piñas. The son of Judge Duque opened the gate. At his house, Judge Duque demanded ₱100,000. Reyes gave him ₱20,000 and she asked for time to give him the balance. After a week, Atty. Ubana called Reyes telling her that Judge Duque was asking for her and waiting for the balance he demanded. On 21 December 2007, Reyes went to the house of Judge Duque with ₱18,000 on hand. Judge Duque allegedly scolded her for not bringing the whole amount of ₱80,000. Reyes explained that she had difficulty raising the amount. Judge Duque locked the main door of his house and asked Reyes to step into his office. Judge Duque pointed to a calendar posted on the wall and pointed to December 26 as the date when she should complete the amount. All of a sudden, Judge Duque held the waist of Reyes, embraced and kissed her. Reyes tried to struggle and free herself. Judge Duque raised her skirt, opened her blouse and sucked her breasts. He touched her private parts and attempted to have sexual intercourse with Reyes. Reyes shouted for help but the TV was too loud. As a desperate move, Reyes appealed to Judge Duque saying: “kung gusto mo, huwag dito. Sa hotel, sasama ako sayo.” Judge Duque suddenly stopped his sexual advances and ordered Reyes to fix her hair. (Reyes v. Duque, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2136, 21 Septemebr 2010)

Section 6: Judges, like any other citizen, are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly, but in exercising such rights, they shall always conduct themselves in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of the judicial office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.

1) Freedom of expression, limited

Judge Floro, by broadcasting to his staff and the PAO lawyer that he is pro-accused, opened himself up to suspicion regarding his impartiality. Prudence and judicial restraint dictate that a judge should reserve personal views and predilections to himself so as not to stir up suspicions of bias and unfairness.. (OCA v. Floro, A.M. No. RTJ-99-1460, 31 March 2006)

2) Bible-reading, an expression of religious freedom

In this canon, judges are given the freedom to express their beliefs as long as it does not interfere with their judicial functions. Respondent judge’s practice of reading verses from the Bible during hearings was an exercise of his religious freedom. We would have preferred that he refrained from such practice. Nevertheless, we hesitate to castigate him lest we trample on this right. (Concerned Trial Lawyers of Manila v. Veneracion, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1920, 26 April 2006)

Section 7: Judges shall inform themselves about their personal fiduciary and financial interests and shall make reasonable efforts to be informed about the financial interests of members of their family.

Section 8: Judges shall not use or lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance their private interests, or those of a member of their family or of anyone else, nor shall they convey or permit others to convey the impression that anyone is in a special position improperly to influence them in the performance of judicial duties.

1) No use of prestige of judicial office

The prestige of judicial office shall not be used or lent to advance the private interests of others, nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. (Marces v. Arcangel, A.M. No. RTJ-91-712, 09 July 1996)

2) No attending hearings in other venues than sala

Respondent judge allowed himself to be dragged into what was a purely private matter between feuding families. In attending, at the request of Mrs. Cañas, the barangay conciliation proceedings and introducing himself there as the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court in an obvious demonstration of support for Mrs. Cañas, respondent lent the prestige of his office to a party in a case. (Ibid.)

3) No to assisting litigants in other offices

Respondent judge also acted improperly in accompanying Wilfredo Cañas to Col. Nelson Estares who ordered the arrest of complainant and members of the latter’s family. It would have been impossible for the Cañas family to procure the arrest of complainant and of members of his family by the Davao Metrodiscom were it not for the intervention of respondent judge. (Ibid.)

Section 9: Confidential information acquired by judges in their judicial capacity shall not be used or disclosed for any other purpose related to their judicial duties.

Section 10: Subject to the proper performance of judicial duties, judges may (a) Write, lecture, teach and participate in activities concerning the law, the legal system, the administration of justice or related matters; (b) Appear at a public hearing before an official body concerned with matters relating to the law, the legal system, the administration of justice or related matters; (c) Engage in other activities if such activities do not detract from the dignity of the judicial office or otherwise interfere with the performance of judicial duties.

Section 11: Judges shall not practice law whilst the holder of judicial office.

1) Purpose of prohibition

The prohibition is based on sound reasons of public policy, considering that the rights, duties, privileges and functions of the office of an attorney are inherently incompatible with the high official functions, duties, powers, discretion and privileges of a sitting judge. It also aims to ensure that judges give their full time and attention to their judicial duties, prevent them from extending favors to their own private interests, and assure the public of their impartiality in the performance of their functions. These objectives are dictated by a sense of moral decency and desire to promote the public interest. (Decena v. Malanyaon, A.M. No. RTJ-10-2217, 08 April 2013)

2) Ex officio notaries public

The Supreme Court, taking judicial notice of the fact that there are still municipalities which have neither lawyers nor notaries public, rules that MTC and MCTC judges assigned to municipalities or circuits with no lawyers or notaries public may, in the capacity as notaries public ex officio, perform any act within the competency of a regular notary public, provided that: (1) all notarial fees charged be for the account of the Government and turned over to the municipal treasurer; and, (2) certification be made in the notarized documents attesting to the lack of any lawyer or notary public in such municipality or circuit. (Tupal v. Rojo, A.M. No. MTJ-14-1842, 24 February 2014)

The empowerment of ex officio notaries public to perform acts within the competency of regular notaries public – such as acknowledgments, oaths and affirmations, jurats, signature witnessing, copy certifications, and other acts authorized under the 2004 Rules on Notarial Practice – is now more of an exception rather than a general rule. (Nate v. Contreras, A.M. No. RTJ-15-2406 18 February 2015)

Same; Should be connected to official functions and duties

The Supreme Court has, in the past, sanctioned judges and clerks of court for notarizing – as ex officio notaries public – documents that were later found to be unconnected with the exercise of their official functions and duties. (Ibid.)

MTC and MCTC judges may act as notaries public ex officio in the notarization of documents connected only with the exercise of their official functions and duties. They may not, as notaries public ex officio, undertake the preparation and acknowledgment of private documents, contracts and other acts of conveyances which bear no direct relation to the performance of their functions as judges. (Tupal v. Rojo, supra.)

Respondent-judge notarized affidavits of cohabitation, which were documents not connected with the exercise of his official functions and duties as solemnizing officer. He also notarized affidavits of cohabitation without certifying that lawyers or notaries public were lacking in his court’s territorial jurisdiction..(Ibid.)

Section 12: Judges may form or join associations of judges or participate in other organizations representing the interests of judges.

Section 13: Judges and members of their families shall neither ask for, nor accept, any gift, bequest, loan or favor in relation to anything done or to be done or omitted to be done by him or her in connection with the performance of judicial duties

1) No receiving gifts

Respondent-judge clearly fell short of the exacting standards set by the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary. His acts of receiving lawbooks worth fifty thousand pesos, cellular phones and monthly cellular phone prepaid cards from the property guardians of the late Rev. Fr. Aspiras, who was then the ward of the court, constitute impropriety which the Court cannot allow. Respondent Judge Ganay’s act of issuing Orders directing the manager of the PNB, La Union Branch to draw checks amounting to thousands of pesos from the account of the late Rev. Fr. Aspiras creates the impression of impropriety and subjects the court to suspicion of irregularities in the conduct of the proceedings. (Aspiras v. Ganay, A.M. No. RTJ-07-2055, 17 December 2009)

2) No asking loans from party-litigants

A judge may obtain a loan if no law prohibits such loan. (Ongcuangco Trading Corporation v. Pinlac, A.M. No. RTJ-14-2402, 15 April 2015)

There must be evidence first that would establish that private interests were advanced using the prestige of judicial office or that the acceptance, inter alia, of loans or favors was made in exchange for anything to be done or omitted to be done by the Judge in connection with the performance of official duties. (Ibid.)

The proscription against borrowing money or property from lawyers and litigants in a case pending before the court is imposed on Judges to avoid the impression that the Judge would rule in favor of a litigant because the former is indebted to the latter. In order for the said proscription to operate, it should first be established that the Judge knows that the person or entity from whom he or she is borrowing money or property is actually a lawyer or litigant in a case pending before his or her sala. (Ibid.)

It is true that Ongcuangco, in her personal capacity, instituted several criminal cases for violation of B.P. Blg. 22 against Lazaro in 2001 and that the same was raffled to Branch 1 of the MTCC of Cabanatuan City wherein Judge Pinlac was the Presiding Judge. However, in 2007, Judge Pinlac transacted with JMOTC – a corporation that has a personality separate and distinct from its officers and stockholders – for the purchase on credit of animal feeds. (Ibid.)

2) Non-payment of loan

The mere failure of a Judge to pay a loan he obtained on the due date despite written demands cannot be instantly characterized as willful. The term “willful” means voluntary and intentional. (Ibid.)

Before a Judge may beheld administratively liable for willful failure to pay his debts, the complainant must present substantial evidence that would show that the respondent no longer intends to fulfil his obligation. There must be circumstances that would support the conclusion that the respondent no longer has any intention to pay his debt. (Ibid.)

Administrative sanctions have been imposed against a Judge for his willful failure to pay his debt. (Ibid.)

Section 14: Judges shall not knowingly permit court staff or others subject to their influence, direction or authority, to ask for, or accept, any gift, bequest, loan or favor in relation to anything done or to be done or omitted to be done in connection with their duties or functions.

1) Constitutional prohibition

No loan, guaranty, or other form of financial accommodation for any business purpose may be granted, directly or indirectly, by any government-owned or controlled bank or financial institution to the… the Supreme Court… or to any firm or entity in which they have controlling interest, during their tenure. (Section 16, Article XI, 1987 Constitution)

2) No borrowing from party-litigant

The law prohibits a judge from engaging in financial transactions with a party-litigant. (Burias v. Valencia, A.M. No. MTJ-07-1689, 13 March 2009)

Respondent-judge admitted borrowing money from complainant during the pendency of the case. This act alone is patently inappropriate. The impression that respondent would rule in favor of complainant because the former is indebted to the latter is what the Court seeks to avoid. A judge’s conduct should always be beyond reproach. (Ibid.)

Section 15: Subject to law and to any legal requirements of public disclosure, judges may receive a token gift, award or benefit as appropriate to the occasion on which it is made, provided that such gift, award or benefit might not reasonably be perceived as intended to influence the judge in the performance of judicial duties or otherwise give rise to an appearance of partiality.

3) No accepting of gifts

GENERAL RULE: Judges and justices cannot accept gifts, favors, and accommodations.

(Re: Allegations Made Under Oath at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Hearing held on September 26, 2013 Against Associate Justice Gregory S. Ong, Sandiganbayan, Separate Concurring Opinion by Justice Brion, A.M. No. SB-14-21-J, 23 September 2014)

EXCEPTION: requirements for exception:

1) It is of nominal value or “a token gift, award or benefit”;

2) The gift and its value are “appropriate for the occasion on which it is made”;· and

3) The act of giving and accepting the gift, the gift itself, or the value of such gift “might not reasonably be perceived as intended to influence the judge in the performance of judicial duties or otherwise give rise to an appearance of partiality.” (Ibid.)

Previous 3. Impartiality
Next 5. Equality
Table of Contents