[A.M. NO. RTJ-07-2074 : October 24, 2008]
[Formerly A.M. No. 07-5-18-SC]
OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. RET. JUDGE IRENEO LEE GAKO, JR., Branch Clerk of Court MANUEL G. NOLLORA, Legal Researcher NILDA D. SUYKO, Clerk of Court VII CHICO-NAZARIO, ATTY. JEOFFREY S. JOAQUINO and Administrative Officer II, MONICA V. DIONALDO, Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
This is an Administrative Complaint against Retired Judge Ireneo Lee Gako, Jr., former Presiding Judge, Atty. Manuel G. Nollora, Branch Clerk of Court V, Nilda D. Suyko, Legal Researcher, Atty. Jeoffrey S. Joaquino, Clerk of Court VII and Monica V. Dionaldo, Administrative Officer III, Office of the Clerk of Court, all of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Cebu City, Branch 5 for alleged irregularities committed by them.
The antecedents, as culled from the report of the Executive Justice, follow.
In a letter dated 4 January 2007, 1 Judge Simeon P. Dumdum, Jr., then the Executive Judge of the RTC of Cebu City, reported to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) that during the incumbency of Judge Gako, Jr. as Presiding Judge of Branch 5, he acted upon and granted petitions for voluntary confinement and rehabilitation of drug dependents, although the cases were not raffled to his branch. Judge Dumdum, Jr. requested that an inquiry be conducted on the matter. Notably, Judge Gako, Jr. compulsorily retired from the service on 20 September 2006.2
Accordingly, from 12 to 15 March 2006, Atty. Rullyn S. Garcia, Judicial Supervisor of OCA, investigated the matter. She submitted her report on 26 April 2007 to then Senior Deputy Court Administrator (DCA) Zenaida N. ElepaÃ±o, after interviewing Judge Dumdum, Jr., Judge Ramon B. Daomilas, Atty. Jeoffrey S. Joaquino, Atty. Manuel G. Nollora, Monica V. Dionaldo and Nida D. Suyko.3
On 2 May 2007, DCA ElepaÃ±o favorably endorsed the report to Court Administrator Christopher O. Lock, who thereafter, submitted a memorandum with recommendations to the Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno.4
In a Resolution 5 dated 12 June 2007, the Court treated the matter as an administrative complaint against Judge Gako, Jr., Atty. Joaquino, Atty. Nollora, Ms. Dionaldo and Ms. Suyko. The Court held in abeyance the release of the retirement benefits of Judge Gako, Jr. and required all respondents to show cause why no disciplinary action should be taken against them. The Court also directed Judge Daomilas to make a physical inventory of pending petitions for voluntary confinement and rehabilitation of drug dependents in Branch 5 and to transmit them to the Executive Judge for raffle among the drugs courts in Cebu City. On 11 September 1997, the instant administrative case was referred to the Court of Appeals Executive Justice stationed in Cebu for investigation, report and recommendation.6
In his Explanation/Comment dated 8 August 2007, 7 Judge Gako, Jr. submitted that he had no knowledge that the petitions involved were not raffled off to Branch 5. He claimed that the Executive Judge or his substitute was duty-bound to conduct the raffle and that none of his staff members had ever confided to him that the petitions were "smuggled" to Branch 5.
Judge Gako, Jr. contended that he honestly believed that his court had jurisdiction over the petitions because he did not receive any written order or instruction from the Supreme Court, or OCA, or the Executive Judge that petitions for Voluntary Confinement and Rehabilitation of Drug Dependents were to be handled by drugs courts exclusively. He even suggested to Judge Dumdum, Jr. that the petitions be referred to the drugs courts but the latter merely assured him that he would first secure a clearance from the Supreme Court. Thus, he did not doubt the jurisdiction of his court to handle the petitions involved.8
For his part, Atty. Joaquino explained that it was Ms. Dionaldo's assignment to enter in the docket books and to raffle special proceedings cases such as petitions for voluntary confinement and rehabilitation of drug dependents. When he assumed office sometime in January 1995, he did not alter Ms. Dionaldo's work assignment as she was already quite adept at her duties.9
Atty. Joaquino also clarified that before the designation of the drugs courts, all petitions for voluntary confinement and rehabilitation of drug dependents were raffled to all branches. The system changed sometime in the middle part of 2004 when a directive was issued stating that all petitions for voluntary confinement and rehabilitation of drug dependents must be raffled to designated drugs courts.
Atty. Joaquino said that he did not suspect that Ms. Dionaldo would forward directly to Branch 5 the petitions without their having been raffled. Moreover, there was no complaint from Branch 5, relative to their receipt of said petitions directly from Ms. Dionaldo even without the accompanying minutes of the raffle.
After he discovered the anomaly, Ms. Dionaldo was relieved of her job assignment sometime in July 2006.10
Atty. Manuel G. Nollora, Branch Clerk of Court V of the RTC of Cebu City, Branch 5, denied the accusation that he failed to exercise control and supervision over Ms. Suyko, the legal researcher of Branch 5, who received the petitions from Ms. Dionaldo. He claimed that Ms. Suyko was fully aware of the regulation that all cases must be raffled. After receiving the petitions from Ms. Dionaldo, it was Ms. Suyko's duty to log them in the record book, to prepare the order for signing by Judge Gako, Jr. and thereafter, to release the order. He believed that all the petitions which were delivered by Ms. Dionaldo to Branch 5 have been regularly raffled to their branch since he witnessed around eighty-eight (88) such petitions that were actually raffled.
Atty. Nollora stressed that even if it was his obligation to exercise control and supervision over the staff of Branch 5, each employee is still mandated to perform his or her assigned tasks with diligence and utmost care.11
Ms. Dionaldo explained that she had been designated as officer in-charge of raffling of Special Proceedings cases, including petitions for voluntary rehabilitation, even before Atty. Joaquino assumed office as Clerk of Court in 1995. She used to raffle such petitions to all regular courts. She admitted that after listening to the sad experiences related to her by petitioners, she was impelled to act on their cases without delay. Thus, she requested Judge Gako, Jr. of the RTC, Branch 5, to act on the petitions for rehabilitation. Ms. Dionaldo claimed that she did not forward the cases without the conformity of Judge Gako, Jr., while maintaining that the nature of such petitions needs swift response so as not to render nugatory its primary objective. Further, she explained that since the petitions were not adversarial, no one was prejudiced by their not having been raffled.12
Ms. Suyko, on the other hand, explained that it was her duty to receive the petitions after being forwarded to their branch by Ms. Dionaldo. She did not anymore inquire if the cases had indeed been raffled off to Branch 5 presuming that the cases brought to their office rightly belonged to their branch.
Judge Ramon B. Daomilas, Jr. reported that he had inventoried a total of 1,144 cases of Petitions for Rehabilitation received and acted upon by Branch 5 within the period 1986 to 2000. In 866 out of the 1,144 cases, the petitioner drug dependents were ordered released from confinement from drug rehabilitation centers, but were nonetheless required to undergo the aftercare and follow-up program. However, not a single report had been filed by the rehabilitation provider regarding the result of the aftercare program. Thus, he considered these cases still pending. Moreover, in 278 cases, the drug dependents have not been ordered released despite the lapse of the period of their confinement.13
After investigation, Executive Justice Antonio L. Villamor found respondents guilty of violating various Supreme Court circulars and administrative orders in relation to the raffle of cases. There is no extant proof, however, that respondents financially profited therefrom, the Executive Justice reported. Nevertheless, the Executive Justice recommended that respondents be sanctioned as follows:
1. Retired JUDGE IRENEO LEE GAKO[,] JR.,Presiding Judge, RTC, Branch 5, Cebu City, be FINED TWENTY THOUSAND PESOS (
P20,000.00) to be deducted from his retirement benefits, for acting without authority on cases or petitions for voluntary confinement of drug dependents within the period 1998-2006, in violation of Supreme Court rules, directives, and circulars regarded as a less serious charge;
2. MS. MONICA V. DIONALDO, Retired Administrative Officer, RTC, Branch 5, Cebu City, be FINED for misconduct and neglect of duty, equivalent to her salary for two months to be deducted from her retirement benefits;
3. MS. NIDA D. SUYKO, Legal Researcher, RTC, Branch 5, Cebu City, be FINED for misconduct and neglect of duty, equivalent to her salary for one month and one day, and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely;
4. ATTY. JEOFFREY S. JOAQUINO, Clerk of Court, RTC, Cebu City, be REPRIMANDED for neglect of duty, and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely;
5. ATTY. MANUEL G. NOLLORA, Clerk of Court, RTC, Branch 5, Cebu City, be REPRIMANDED for neglect of duty, and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely.14
The recommendations except as to the amount of fine on Judge Gako, Jr. are well-taken.
The Court agrees with the Executive Justice that administrative sanctions should be imposed on the respondents. As correctly found by the Executive Justice, respondents ignored the procedure for the raffling of cases mandated by Supreme Court Circular No. 7, dated 23 September 1974, as amended by Supreme Court Circular No. 20, dated 4 October 1979, to wit:
I. Raffling of Cases
All cases filed with the Court in stations or grouping where there are two or more branches shall be assigned or distributed to the different branches by raffle. No case may be assigned to any branch without being raffled. The raffle of cases should be regularly conducted at the hour and on the day or days to be fixed by the Executive Judge. Only the maximum number of cases, according to their dates of filing, as can be equally distributed to all the branches in the particular station or grouping shall be included in the raffle. Cases in excess of the number sufficient for equal distribution shall be included in the next scheduled raffle, subject to the exceptions provided in paragraphs II and IV hereof.
Notice of the day and hour of the raffle shall be posted prominently in the bulletin boards of the Courts and at a conspicuous placed at the main door of the session hall of the Executive Judge. Other notices to the parties may be sent as the interest of justice may require on request of any party and with the prior approval of the Executive Judge. There shall be no special raffle of any case except on meritorious application in writing by any party to the case and with the approval of the Executive Judge.
III. Manner of Raffling
The raffle must be conducted at the lawyer's table in open court by the Executive Judge personally with the attendance of two other judges or, in case of the latter's inability, of their duly authorized representatives. In stations where there are only two salas[,] the Judges of both and either the Clerk of Court or the Branch Clerk of Court should be present. In the absence of the Executive Judge, the Judge at the station who is the most senior in point of appointment to the Judiciary shall personally conduct the raffle. Under no circumstance may any raffle be made in chambers. The raffle proceedings should be stenographically recorded, and minutes thereof shall be prepared and signed by the Judges (or their representatives) and the Clerk of Court in attendance. Immediately after the raffle on any particular day, the Executive Judge shall indicate the particular branch to which the case is assigned, the same to be written in words and in figures on the cover of the Rollo and on the first page of the original complaint or information and initialed by the Executive Judge and the other two officers who attended said raffle.
The raffle must be conducted in such manner that all the branches of the Court in that station or grouping[,] including vacant salas, shall receive more or less the same number of civil, criminal, and other kinds of cases.
For purposes of facilitating implementation of the foregoing rules, a Raffle Committee composed of the Executive Judge and two other judges shall, as much as practicable, be constituted.
Further, Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 1, dated 28 January 1988 provides:
8. Raffle of Cases:
8.1 Raffle of cases should be done in open session in the presence of lawyers and spectators, immediately after the court opens its sessions:
8.2 The Minutes of the Raffle should be distributed within 24 hours after completion thereof to the judges of the other salas, and a copy sent to the Office of the Court Administrator.
8.3 Special raffles should not be permitted except on verified application of the interested party who seeks issuance of a provisional remedy and only upon a finding by the Executive Judge that unless the special raffle is conducted, irreparable damage shall be suffered by the applicant. The special raffle shall be conducted by at least two judges in a multiple-sala station.
8.4 There must be strict compliance with Administrative Order No. 6, dated June 30, 1975, and Circular No. 7, dated 23 September 1974[,] requiring that no case may be assigned in multi-sala courts without raffle; a raffle committee composed of the Executive Judge and two other judges shall be constituted where practicable, raffle proceedings should be stenographically recorded, and the results signed by the Judges or their representatives and the Clerk of Court, and the branch assignment shall be recorded in words and figures on the Rollo.
Significantly, Section 2, Rule 20 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure provides that the "(t)he assignment of cases to the different branches of a court shall be done exclusively by raffle. The assignment shall be done in open session of which adequate notice shall be given so as to afford interested parties the opportunity to be present." 15
It must be emphasized that rules of procedure have been formulated and promulgated by this Court to ensure the speedy and efficient administration of justice. Failure to abide by these rules undermines the wisdom behind them and diminishes respect for the rule of law.16 It must likewise be stressed that the raffle of cases is vital to the administration of justice because it is intended to insure impartial adjudication of cases and obviates public suspicion regarding the assignment of cases to predetermined judges.17 The need for strict compliance with the rules on raffle cannot be overemphasized and any deviation or disregard of the rules should not be countenanced.18
Evidently, Judge Gako, Jr. acted on 518 petitions for voluntary confinement and rehabilitation filed from 1998 to 2006 although they were not raffled but merely brought directly to his sala, in clear violation of the above-quoted circulars of the Court. As a judge who is presumed to know the law and given the large number of petitions he had acted on without authority over an unwarranted length of time, Judge Gako, Jr.'s submission that he has knowledge of the non-raffle of the petition fails to sway the Court. To the contrary, the totality of the circumstances surrounding the case serves to cast doubt upon his motives such that good faith on his part cannot be presumed.
Again it should be stressed that as a judge, Judge Gako, Jr. is expected to keep abreast of and be conversant with Supreme Court rules and circulars that affect the conduct of cases before him. More importantly, he should observe strict compliance with such rules at all times in his respective jurisdiction. Judges should administer their office with due regard to the integrity of the system itself, remembering that they are not depositories of arbitrary power, but judges under the sanction of law.19 Despicably failing in this regard, Judge Gako, Jr. should be duly sanctioned. And considering the fact of his retirement, the recommended penalty of a fine is in order.
The Court likewise agrees with the Executive Justice's opinion that the irregularity and violations of the pertinent circulars could not have been committed brazenly and repeatedly for a long period of time if not for the cooperation of some of his employees specifically respondent Judge's co-respondents in this case. Hence, the findings of the Executive Justice on the degree of participation of respondents Dionaldo, Suyko, Atty. Joaquino and Atty. Nollora have to be sustained.20 We quote said findings in part, to wit:
As Administrative Officer, Ms. Dionaldo was expected to implement administrative policies and procedures. It was her duty to transmit to the Committee on Raffle all special proceedings cases and, thereafter, to send the records thereof to the proper drugs court. This she failed to do. She admitted that in fact a lot of unraffled cases were for several years immediately forwarded to Branch 5, which is not a drugs court sala.
x x x
Ms. Dionaldo's excuse is untenable. No matter how urgent or meritorious a case may seem, this does not justify any, much less, repeated violations of Circular No. 7, which admits of no exceptions to the rule requiring the raffling of all cases.
Legal Researcher, Ms. Suyko, claimed that her duty was merely to receive cases, to list them in the record book, and to prepare a pro-forma order to be signed by retired Judge Gako, Jr. x x x Ms. Suyko's explanation is unmeritorious. In receiving cases, it was part of her duty, before signing the log book, to check if indeed the case was properly assigned to Branch 5 by simply perusing the frontispiece of the records of the case. Surely, she should not have received a case that had not been properly assigned to Branch 5. For this, she is guilty of dereliction of duty.
It is Atty. Joaquino's duty, as Clerk of Court and administrative officer of RTC, Cebu City, to supervise his subordinate, Ms. Dionaldo. It was incumbent upon him to check that Supreme Court circulars, especially those relating to the raffling of cases, were strictly observed. The nature of his duty requires him to exercise supervision and control of the office operations in RTC, Cebu City. This he failed to do. Had he faithfully done his duties as clerk of court, he would have discovered the anomaly early enough. He was too complacent and negligent in assuming that Ms. Dionaldo was performing her job efficiently simply because there were no complaints coming from Branch 5.
Further, it is Atty. Nollora's responsibility as Clerk of Court of RTC, Branch 5, Cebu City, to supervise his subordinate, Ms. Suyko. He takes charge of the administrative aspects of his business and chronicles its directions. As such, it was his duty to insure that the cases forwarded to their Branch underwent mandatory raffle. Had he done his duty, he could have immediately detected the irregularity that Ms. Suyco [sic] had been receiving non-raffled cases directly forwarded to Branch 5 either through the inspection of the daily transactions of his office, or in the inventory of cases, and in the pro-forma orders that Ms. Suyko usually prepares x x x 21
Clearly, all the respondents clearly violated the pertinent circulars and orders in relation to the raffle of cases. Despite the absence of proof that they derived any financial profit from the irregularities, respondents should be subjected to disciplinary action for failing to faithfully adhere to the public trust character of public office demanded from those involved in the sacred task of the administration of justice.22
A final note. Records show that there were other administrative charges of which Judge Gako, Jr. was found guilty and penalized, as follows:
1) In Joselito Rallos, et al. v. Judge Ireneo Gako, Jr., he was held guilty of grave abuse of authority and partiality, aggravated by dishonesty, and imposed a fine of Ten Thousand Pesos (
2) In Ronaldo B. Zamora v. Judge Ireneo Gako, Jr., he was found guilty of Gross Ignorance of the law and suspended for three (3) months.
In the above cases, he was sternly warned that the commission of similar acts in the future would be dealt with more severely.
3) In Doroteo Lagcao, et al. v. Judge Ireneo Gako, Jr., he was found guilty of utter disrespect towards a higher court and imposed a fine of Twenty Thousand Pesos (
P20,000.00) to be deducted from his retirement benefits.
4) In City of Cebu v. Judge Ireneo Gako, Jr., he was found guilty of undue delay in rendering a decision which cost the City of Cebu substantial damages in uncollected real property taxes. He was imposed a fine of Forty Thousand Pesos (
P40,000.00) to be deducted from his retirement benefits.
In view of the foregoing, in this case Judge Gako, Jr. should be fined of Forty Thousand Pesos (
WHEREFORE, the recommendations of Executive Justice Antonio L. Villamor are hereby ADOPTED except as to the fine of Judge Gako, Jr.
Retired Judge Ireneo Lee Gako, Jr., Presiding Judge, RTC of Cebu City, Branch 5, is FINED Forty Thousand Pesos (
P40,000.00) to be deducted from his retirement benefits, for acting without authority in violation of Supreme Court rules and circulars;
Monica V. Dionaldo, Retired Administrative Officer, RTC of Cebu City, Branch 5, is FINED for misconduct and neglect of duty in an amount equivalent to her salary for two months to be deducted from her retirement benefits;
Nida D. Suyko, Legal Researcher, RTC, Branch 5, Cebu City, is FINED for misconduct and neglect of duty in an amount equivalent to her salary for one month and one day, and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely.
Atty. Jeoffrey S. Joaquino, Clerk of Court, RTC of Cebu City, is REPRIMANDED for neglect of duty, and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely;
Atty. Manuel G. Nollora, Clerk of Court, RTC of Cebu City,, Branch 5, is REPRIMANDED for neglect of duty, and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely.
* On Official Leave.
** Acting Chief Justice
1 Rollo (Vol II), p. 128.
3 Id. at 5-12.
4 Id. at 1-4.
5 Id. a t 138-139.
6 Id. at 168-169.
7 Rollo (Vol. I), pp. 1-2.
8 Id. at 1.
9 Rollo (Vol 2), p. 1.
10 Id. at 150-152.
12 Id. at 157-158; Manifestation dated 21 August 2007.
13 Id. at 94.
14 Id. at 359.
15 Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 20, Sec. 2.
16 Atty. Hilario v. Hon. Ocampo III, 422 Phil. 593, 604 (2001).
17 Opis v. Dimaano, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1942, 28 July 2005, 464 SCRA 260, 268.
18 Medina v. De Guia, Adm. Matter No. RTJ-88-216, 1 March 1993, 219 SCRA 153, 162, 175.
19 Atty. Hilario v. Hon. Ocampo, III, supra note 271.
20 Office of the Court Administrator v. Gines, A.M. No. RTJ-92-802, 5 July 1993, 224 SCRA 261, 273-274.
21 Rollo (Vol. I), pp. 356-357; pp. 12 - 15 of the Report of the Executive Justice.
22 Office of the Court Administrator v. Villaflor, A.M. No. P-05-1991, 28 July 2005, 464 SCRA 240, 249.