By J. Edgardo P. Cruz
every member of the bench has, at one point or another, been faced
with a motion to inhibit himself from hearing or deciding a case.
Meritorious or not, a prayer for recusal has a way of ruffling a
judge’s equanimity as it is, after all, an ostensible attack on
his ability to exercise his judgment fairly and independently.
than just a remedial matter, the inhibition of judges is grounded on
the party-litigant’s constitutional right to due process. The
Bill of Rights provides that no man shall be deprived of life,
liberty or property without due process of law. And inherent in this
principle is the right to be heard by a disinterested and impartial
first paragraph of Section 1, Rule 137 of the Revised Rules of Court
lays down specific parameters for the disqualification of a judge
from trying a case. Thus, if the judge, his wife or child, has
pecuniary interest in the case, or if he is related to either party
within the sixth degree of consanguinity or affinity, or if he is
related to counsel within the fourth degree or if he has been an
executor, administrator, guardian, trustee or counsel for a party in
the case, or if he has presided over the case in an inferior court
and his ruling or decision is the subject of review, the judge must
recuse himself from the proceedings.
most instances, however, the circumstances are not as clear-cut as in
the foregoing cases and the issue of whether a judge should inhibit
himself from a case becomes a vast gray area. When the grounds upon
which the motion for inhibition is based do not fall squarely within
any of the situations outlined in the first paragraph of Section 1,
Rule 137, the provision on voluntary recusal in the second paragraph
of the same rule sets in.
first blush, it would seem that the easiest way out is to simply
grant the motion and move on. After all, one less disagreeable or
disenchanted party-litigant before the court is a welcome treat. For
those so inclined, it is useless to defend themselves against
preconceived and oftentimes unshakable notions of distrust and
partiality, no matter how unwarranted and baseless they may be.
Moreover, to the sensitive ego, it is not farfetched that the mere
filing of a motion for inhibition may itself breed contempt and bias
against the movant, where there was none beforehand.
there are cases where the motion to inhibit is clearly borne of
personal prejudice, hostility or groundless suspicions. Worse,
parties and counsel have not found it beneath themselves to resort to
this tactic to delay or railroad the proceedings or to find a more
sympathetic judge. It is these cunning attempts to manipulate the
administration of justice that behooves the members of the bench to
be ever vigilant and guard against undue pressure intended to
undermine the integrity of the judicial process.
there are no hard and fast rules as to when a judge must exercise his
prerogative to voluntarily recuse himself, the Supreme Court has had
occasion to emphasize that the decision should be based on his
rational and logical assessment of the circumstances prevailing in
the case before him (People of the Philippines vs. Ong, G.R. Nos.
162130-39, May 05, 2006). As the issue is primarily a matter of
conscience and sound discretion, judges should be circumspect in
resolving questions about their own competence and impartiality. A
fine balance must be struck between maintaining faith and confidence
in the integrity of the judicial system on one hand, and protecting
the system against manipulative maneuvers on the other.
it is quite a tall order to summon objectivity in the face of an
attack on one's competence, but this is a reality every judge must
deal with. Having answered the call to administer justice and uphold
the law at all times, a judge must, when faced with possible
disqualification, learn to stand back, sift through the issues and
distinguish between mere diatribe and real concerns about his ability
to decide a case fairly. It takes strength of character, humility
and wisdom to acknowledge that sometimes, no matter how good and pure
his intentions are, a judge's relationships, past declarations or
actions and personal beliefs may get in the way of his ability to
no judge can be so self-righteous as to claim absolute immunity from
bias or prejudice. Apart from their role as dispensers of justice,
judges are members of society. They have families, relatives,
friends, affiliations, involvements and beliefs that unavoidably
impact on their ability to fulfill their sworn duties as members of
the bench. While a judge need not go to such extremes as presenting
his family tree or personal history to litigants, it is good practice
to closely examine each case that comes to him and scrutinize the
personalities involved to ensure that he is not disqualified from
hearing the dispute. And even if there appears to be no grounds for
mandatory disqualification, a judge must always be open to the
possibility of voluntary inhibition.
the final analysis, the fundamental guidepost is the principle that a
judge should at all times be like Ceasar's wife – above
suspicion. Any appearance of impropriety should, therefore, be
avoided because appearance, as they say, is a manifestation of
reality. Further and equally important is that judges are a
reflection of the institution they represent. Negative impressions
of judges ultimately taint the integrity and independence of the
judiciary and the legal system as a whole.