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RAMON D. MONTENEGRO, petitioner, vs. MA. TERESA L.

MONTENEGRO, for herself and as the mother and natural guardian of the minors, ANTONIO AMELO and ANA MARIA PIA ISABEL, both surnamed MONTENEGRO, respondents. Facts : Ma. Teresa V. Lizares-Montenegro(petitioner), for herself and as mother and guardian of her two minor children Antonio Amelo and Ana Maria Pia Isabel, filed with the trial court below a complaint for support against her husband, petitioner Ramon D. Montenegro. Four years after the filing of the complaint, petitioner and respondent Teresa executed a compromise agreement which was approved by the court but petitioner failed to comply with his obligations under the compromise agreement, despite the lapse of the periods provided therein, respondent Teresa filed a motion for the execution of the judgment. The trial court granted the motion and issued a writ of execution. The respondent repeatedly failed to appear in court for his examination as a judgment obligor prompted the trial court to declare petitioner in contempt of court. In its Order of 8 November 2002, the trial court declared petitioner in contempt of court under Section 38 of Rule 39 of the Rules of Court nd imposed on him the penalty of imprisonment for three months and ordered him to pay a fine of P20,000. His motion for reconsideration of the Order having been denied by the trial court in its Order of 3 January 2003, petitioner filed the petition in the case at bar. Issue: Whether or not the trial court erred in holding the petitioner guilty of indirect contempt Held: The court ruled in the negative. The totality of petitioners acts clearly indicated a deliberate and unjustified refusal to be examined as a judgment obligor at the time the examination was scheduled for hearing by the trial court. His acts tended to degrade the authority and respect for court processes and impaired the judiciarys duty to deliver and administer justice. Petitioner tried to impose his will on the trial court. Contempt of court involves the doing of an act, or the failure to do an act, in such a manner as to create an affront to the court and the sovereign dignity with which it is clothed. . It is defined as disobedience to the court by acting in opposition to its authority, justice and dignity. The power to punish contempt is inherent in all courts, because it is essential to the preservation of order in judicial proceedings, and to the enforcement of judgments, orders and mandates of the courts; and, consequently, to the due administration of justice. Contempt, whether direct or indirect, may be civil or criminal depending on the nature and effect of the contemptuous act. Criminal contempt is conduct directed against the authority and dignity of the court or a judge acting judicially; it is an act obstructing the administration of justice which tends to bring the court into disrepute or disrespect. On the other hand, civil contempt is the failure to do something ordered to be done by a court or a judge for the benefit of the opposing party therein and is therefore, an offense against the party in whose behalf the violated order was made. If the purpose is to punish, then it is criminal in nature; but if to compensate, then it is civil. In the present case, the contemptuous act was the petitioners refusal to attend a hearing for his examination as judgment obligor, upon motion by the respondent Teresa. It must be pointed out that the purpose of Section 36 of Rule 39 is to provide the judgment obligee a remedy in case where the judgment obligor continues to fail to comply with its obligation under the judgment. Petitioners refusal to be examined, without justifiable reason, constituted indirect contempt which is civil in nature. Petitioners deliberate willfulness and even malice in disobeying the orders of the trial court are clearly shown in the pleadings he himself had filed before the trial court. As to the penalties imposed by the lower court, under Section 7 of Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, a person found guilty of contempt of court against a Regional Trial Court may be punished with a fine not exceeding thirty

thousand pesos or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months, or both. The penalties of imprisonment for three months and a fine of twenty thousand pesos are within the allowable penalties the trial court may impose. However, the penalties of imprisonment and fine may be imposed one at a time, or together. In the present case, the nature of the contemptuous acts committed are civil in nature. Section 7 of Rule 71 of the Rules of Court provides for indefinite incarceration in civil contempt proceedings to compel a party to comply with the order of the court. This may be resorted to where the attendant circumstances are such that the noncompliance with the court order is an utter disregard of the authority of the court which has then no other recourse but to use its coercive power. t has been held that when a person or party is legally and validly required by a court to appear before it for a certain purpose, when that requirement is disobeyed, the only remedy left for the court is to use force to bring such person or party before it. The reason for indefinite incarceration in civil contempt proceedings, in proper cases, is that it is remedial, preservative, or coercive in nature. The punishment is imposed for the benefit of a complainant or a party to a suit who has been injured. Its object is to compel performance of the orders or decrees of the court, which the contemnor refuses to obey although able to do so. In effect, it is within the power of the person adjudged guilty of contempt to set himself free. In the present case, however, the act which the trial court ordered the petitioner to do has already been performed, albeit belatedly and not without delay for an unreasonable length of time. As such, the penalty of imprisonment may no longer be imposed despite the fact that its non-implementation was due to petitioners absence in the Philippines.