Bernardita Macariola vs Judge Elias Asuncion
A.M. No. 133-J – 114 SCRA 77 – Political Law – Abrogation of Political Laws – Change of Sovereign
Legal Ethics – Judicial Ethics – Property Dealings of Judges Involving a Litigant’s Property
Civil Law – Law on Sales – Contract of Sale – Subject Matter Under Litigation
In 1963, Bernardita Macariola and her step sister and other kins (Priscilla Reyes et al) had a dispute over their inheritance involving parcels of land located in Leyte. A trial ensued and Judge Elias Macariola, after determining the legibility of the parties to inherit rendered a decision in the civil case. Thereafter, the counsels of the parties submitted a project partition reflecting the preference of the parties. The project partition was, however, unsigned by Macariola. But her lawyer assured Asuncion that he is duly authorized by Macariola as counsel. The judge then approved the project partition. The decision became final in 1963 as well.
Reyes et al sold some of their shares to Arcadio Galapon, who later sold the property to Judge Asuncion in 1965.
In August 1968, Macariola filed a complaint against Judge Asuncion with “acts unbecoming a judge” on the ground that he bought a property (formerly owned by Macariola) which was involved in a civil case decided by him; this act by Asuncion is averred by Macariola to be against Art. 1491, par. 5 of the Civil Code which provides:
“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”.
Also, Macariola said that Asuncion’s act tainted his earlier judgment. Macariola said that the project partition was unsigned by her and that what was given to her in the partition were insignificant portions of the parcels of land.
Further, Macariola alleged that the act of Asuncion engaging in commerce is said to be a violation of pars. 1 and 5, Art. 14 of the Code of Commerce which prohibits judges in active service (among others) to do so within the limits of the place where they discharge their duties.
1. Whether or not Judge Asuncion violated the said Civil Code provision.
2. Whether or not Judge Asuncion violated the said Code of Commerce provision.
1. No. The prohibition only applies if the litigation is under pendency. The judge bought the property in 1965 – 2 years after his decision became final. Further, Asuncion did not buy the property directly from any of the parties since the property was directly bought by Galapon, who then sold the property to Asuncion. There was no showing that Galapon acted as a “dummy” of Asuncion.
Also, Macariola did not show proof that there was a gross inequality in the partition; or that what she got were insignificant portions of the land.
The Supreme Court however admonished Judge Asuncion to be more discreet in his personal transactions.
2. No. Article 14 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, effective August 1888) of the Code of Commerce, prohibiting judges from engaging in commerce was political in nature and so was automatically abrogated with the end of Spanish rule in the country (Change of Sovereignty to the US by virtue of cession, 1898 – Treaty of Paris).
Read full text