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A.M. No. RTJ-05-1932 - HUMBERTO C. LIM, JR. ETC. v. JUDGE DEMOSTHENES L. MAGALLANES ET AL.

A.M. No. RTJ-05-1932 - HUMBERTO C. LIM, JR. ETC. v. JUDGE DEMOSTHENES L. MAGALLANES ET AL.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

[A.M. NO. RTJ-05-1932 : April 2, 2007]
(Formerly OCA IPI No. 03-1837-RTJ)

HUMBERTO C. LIM, JR., for and in behalf of LUMOT ANLAP JALANDONI, Complainant, v. JUDGE DEMOSTHENES L. MAGALLANES and Clerk of Court GIA INDEPENDENCIA L. ARINDAY, Regional Trial Court, Branch 54, Bacolod City, Respondents.

R E S O L U T I O N

CORONA, J.:

Before us is an administrative complaint1 against Judge Demosthenes L. Magallanes, presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Bacolod City, Branch 54, and Atty. Gia L. Arinday, clerk of court of the said branch. The complaint, dated August 8, 2003, was filed by Humberto Lim, Jr., for and in behalf of Lumot Anlap Jalandoni.

Complainant Jalandoni was one of the defendants in Civil Case No. 97-96802 assigned to Branch 54 of RTC Bacolod City. Despite a period of over five years from the time it was submitted for decision, the case remained unresolved as of the filing of the complaint3 .

In a letter dated July 7, 20034 addressed to respondent clerk of court, defendants requested for copies of all court pleadings and incidents on record pertaining to the civil case. Despite repeated follow-up,5 respondent clerk of court failed to act on the request.

On the other hand, Criminal Case Nos. 02-24328 & 02-243296, and 02-24330 & 02-243317 (in which complainant's family corporation was a party) were also assigned to Branch 54 of RTC Bacolod City. In one of the hearings, complainant noticed that respondent judge seated himself with the counsels of the opposing party and engaged them in conversation. When complainant's counsel arrived, respondent judge suddenly stood up and took the bench.8

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) required respondent judge and clerk of court to file their respective comments.9 Both failed to comply. On December 8, 2003, tracers10 were sent to them reiterating OCA's directive to file their comments.

On January 6, 2004, respondent judge submitted his comment11 explaining that it was with deep regret that he was unable to resolve and timely dispose of the case. He claimed he was suffering from "heart ailment and hyperacidity" which made him easily exhausted, causing the delay in resolving the cases pending in his court. His decision-making was further hampered when his stenographer suffered a stroke and became bedridden. He also averred that he had explained his condition to the parties to the case and the latter understood his predicament.

On the other hand, respondent clerk of court failed to submit her comment in continued defiance of the OCA's directives.

The OCA found the respondent judge's explanation unmeritorious. While his condition was understandable, it was only mitigating and could not exculpate him from liability. He should have asked the Court for an extension of time within which to decide the case. The OCA recommended a fine of P11,000 with a stern warning that a similar infraction in the future would be dealt with more severely.12

As to respondent clerk of court, the OCA recommended that she be required to show cause why she should not be administratively dealt with for her failure to submit her comment.

On March 18, 2005, however, complainant manifested her lack of interest in pursuing the administrative case. After receiving the decision on the civil case, she became convinced that respondent judge was, after all, "impartial." Moreover, respondent judge inhibited himself from hearing the criminal cases, disproving any personal interest in the cases. She likewise conducted her own investigation and was satisfied that respondent clerk of court had no part in the refusal to furnish the requested documents since she was not present when the requests were made. For these reasons, she moved to withdraw the complaint.13

On June 29, 2005, this Court denied the motion to withdraw the case and submitted the matter for resolution. As for respondent clerk of court, she had been given two opportunities to comment on the complaint. Her refusal was deemed a waiver of her right to do so.

A motion to withdraw an administrative complaint against a member of the judiciary cannot deprive this Court of its authority to ascertain the culpability of a respondent and impose the corresponding penalty.14 This Court has a great interest in the conduct and behavior of all officials and employees of the judiciary in ensuring the prompt and efficient delivery of justice at all times. Its efforts to comply with its constitutional mandate cannot be frustrated by any private arrangement of the parties15 because the issue in an administrative case is not whether the complainant has a cause of action against the respondents but whether the latter breached the norms and standards of the courts.16

Respondent judge admitted that he failed to resolve Civil Case No. 97-9680 for more than five years. This was a violation of the Constitution which mandates that lower courts must dispose of their cases promptly and decide them within three months from the filing of the last pleading, brief or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court itself.17 It was also a violation of the Canon of Judicial Ethics18 and Code of Judicial Conduct19 which required judges to dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.20

A judge should be efficient in performing his judicial duties. He should decide his cases within the prescribed period; failure to do so constitutes gross inefficiency. The raison d' etre of courts lies not only in properly dispensing justice but also in being able to do so seasonably.21

Respondent judge could not use his health condition and the absence of his stenographer to justify his failure to promptly resolve the civil case. Moreover, the fact that the parties to the case supposedly understood his condition did not excuse him from complying with the period which he was mandated to observe in deference to the Court's policy of speedy disposition of cases. At the very least, he should have asked for an extension. While this Court understands that judges cannot always abide by the prescribed periods, it is not for us to take the initiative in offering an extension. In numerous cases, we have allowed extensions but always upon the proper application by the judge concerned and on meritorious grounds. His failure to ask for an extension was therefore inexcusable.

The eventual rendition of the decision notwithstanding, respondent judge should nevertheless be penalized for having incurred undue delay. Under Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, this is a less serious charge punishable by either suspension from office for not less than one nor more than three months, or a fine of more than P10,000 but not exceeding P20,000. Considering the unreasonable delay of more than five years, the maximum fine of P20,000 should be imposed on him.

Regarding the charge of bias and partiality against respondent judge, there was no evidence to support the allegation. The standard of substantial evidence required in administrative proceedings means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. The records are bereft of substantial evidence to hold him administratively liable for this. At best, the allegations were mere presumptions which did not meet the mandated standard. Respondent judge should not be held responsible for allegations which were not proven.

The Court has never hesitated to discipline lower court judges and court personnel found guilty of violations of the law or the Canon of Judicial Ethics and Code of Judicial Conduct. But it has likewise never wavered in exonerating them when the charges are baseless. Let the guilty be severely brought to book but let those who are innocent enjoy merited exoneration to which they are entitled as a matter of justice.22

Lastly, respondent clerk of court was directed to comment on the complaint twice. Her refusal to controvert the charges against her was in effect an admission of the same. In any case, the records are clear that complainant sent her two written requests for the issuance of copies of the documents. Both demands were never heeded. In an attempt, however, to exonerate respondent clerk of court, complainant later manifested that after conducting a personal investigation, she allegedly "discovered" that respondent should not be made accountable since she was "not present" when the requests were made.

We disagree. Respondent clerk of court was remiss in her duties.

Section 5 (a) and (d) of RA 671323 reads:

Section 5. Duties of Public Officials and Employees. - In the performance of their duties, all public officials and employees are under obligation to:

(a) Act promptly on letters and requests - All public officials and employees shall, within fifteen (15) working days from receipt thereof, respond to letters, telegrams or other means of communications sent by the public. The reply must contain the action taken on the request.

x x x

(d) Act immediately on the public's personal transactions. - All public officials and employees must attend to anyone who wants to avail himself of the services of their offices and must, at all times, act promptly and expeditiously.

She violated the foregoing provisions. This constituted neglect of duty which cannot be countenanced. She should be reminded of her sacred duty as an officer of the court to attend to the public's queries.24 Her alleged absence when the requests were made cannot exculpate her.

Under Section 52 (C) (13) and (15), Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, respondent clerk of court's infraction is classified as a light offense.

Section 52. Classification of Offenses.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

C. The following are light offenses with corresponding penalties:

x x x

13. Failure to act promptly on letters and request within fifteen days from receipt xxx

1st Offense - Reprimand

2nd Offense - Suspension 1-30 days

3rd Offense - Dismissal

xxx xxx xxx

15. Failure to attend to anyone who wants to avail himself of the services of the office, or act promptly and expeditiously on public transactions.

1st Offense - Reprimand

2nd Offense - Suspension 1-30 days

3rd Offense - Dismissal

This being her first offense, respondent clerk of court is subject to reprimand with a stern warning that the commission of the same or similar act in the future will be dealt with more severely. She is also admonished to be more diligent in complying with the orders of the OCA. Her defiance to lawful orders does not speak well of a court employee and a member of the bar.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Demosthenes Magallanes is hereby found GUILTY of undue delay in rendering a decision and is FINED Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000). Respondent clerk of court Atty. Gia Independencia Arinday is hereby REPRIMANDED with a STERN WARNING that the commission of the same or similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely.

Let this order be entered in the records of Judge Magallanes and Atty. Arinday.

SO ORDERED.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 1-7.

2 Leonardo Tayapad v. Totti Anlap, et al., id., pp. 9-11.

3 August 12, 2003.

4 Rollo, p. 32.

5 Written demands dated July 7, 2003 and July 17, 2003, id., pp. 32-33.

6 People of the Philippines v. Dennis Jalbuena and Vicente Delfin.

7 People of the Philippines v. Carmen Jalbuena y Jalandoni.

8 Rollo, pp. 5-6.

9 Id., pp. 35-36.

10 Id., pp. 73-74.

11 Id., pp. 75-76.

12 Id., pp. 80-84. The OCA noted that as of January 5, 2005, the decision on the civil case was already due for release.

13 Manifestation / Motion to Withdraw, rollo, pp. 85-88.

14 Castelo v. Florendo, A.M. No. P-96-1179, 10 October 2003, 413 SCRA 219.

15 Camsa v. Rendon, 448 Phil. 1 (2003).

16 Mamaclay v. Francisco, 447 Phil. 356 (2003).

17 Section 15 (1) and (2), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution.

18 The New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary took effect on June 1, 2004. The act complained of was committed in 1998. In any event, Sec. 6 of Canons of Judicial Ethics provided:

6. Promptness

[A judge] should be prompt in disposing of all matters submitted to him, remembering that justice delayed is often justice denied.

19 Canon 3, Rule 3.05 provided:

Rule 3.05 - A judge shall dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.

20 The New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary which took effect on June 1, 2004 superseded the Canons of Judicial Ethics and the Code of Judicial Conduct to the extent that the provisions or concepts therein are embodied in the New Code. provided, however, that in case of deficiency or absence of specific provisions in the New Code, the Canons of Judicial Ethics and the Code of Judicial Conduct shall be applicable in a suppletory character.

21 Vicente Pichon v. Judge Lucilo Rallos, 444 Phil. 131 (2003).

22 Santos v. Lorenzo, 436 Phil. 209 (2002).

23 Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

24 Muyco v. Saratan, A.M. No. P-03-1761, 2 April 2004, 427 SCRA 1.

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