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A.M. No. MTJ–12–1806 (Formerly A.M. No. 11–4–36–MTCC), April 07, 2014 - OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. JUDGE BORROMEO R. BUSTAMANTE, MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT IN CITIES, ALAMINOS CITY, PANGASINAN, Respondent.

A.M. No. MTJ–12–1806 (Formerly A.M. No. 11–4–36–MTCC), April 07, 2014 - OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. JUDGE BORROMEO R. BUSTAMANTE, MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT IN CITIES, ALAMINOS CITY, PANGASINAN, Respondent.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

A.M. No. MTJ–12–1806 (Formerly A.M. No. 11–4–36–MTCC), April 07, 2014

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. JUDGE BORROMEO R. BUSTAMANTE, MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT IN CITIES, ALAMINOS CITY, PANGASINAN, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

LEONARDO–DE CASTRO, J.:

The present administrative matter arose from the judicial audit of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) of Alaminos City, Pangasinan, then presided by Judge Borromeo R. Bustamante (Bustamante).  Judge Bustamante retired on November 6, 2010.

Considering the impending retirement of Judge Bustamante, a judicial audit of the MTCC was conducted on September 21, 2010 by a team from the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA).  In a Memorandum1 dated October 6, 2010, Deputy Court Administrator (DCA) Raul Bautista Villanueva (Villanueva) informed Judge Bustamante of the initial audit findings that, as of audit date, there were 35 cases for decision (21 of which were already beyond the reglementary period) and 23 cases with pending incidents for resolution (19 of which were already beyond the reglementary period) in Judge Bustamante’s court.  At the end of his Memorandum, DCA Villanueva gave Judge Bustamante the following directives:

  1. Explain in writing within fifteen (15) days from receipt hereof your failure to: [a] decide within the reglementary period Civil Case Nos. 1847, 1870, 1937, 1978, 2056 and 2205, LRC Nos. 28, 65 and 70, and Criminal Case Nos. 5428, 6468, 6469, 6558, 7222, 7721, 8163, 8390, 8395, 8654, 9022 and 9288; and, [b] resolve the incidents in Civil Case Nos. 1668 and 2132, Criminal Case Nos. 8004, 8005, 8006, 8580, 9015, 9016, 9190, 9191, 9196, 9232 and 9235;

  2. DECIDE with dispatch the cases enumerated in item (I) above, and to SUBMIT copies of the decisions to this Office within three (3) days after your compulsory retirement; and

  3. RESOLVE with dispatch the incidents for resolution in the cases enumerated in item (II) above, and to SUBMIT copies of the resolution to this Office within the same period indicated in the immediately preceding paragraph.2

Judge Bustamante submitted a letter3 dated November 8, 2010,4 addressed to DCA Villanueva, in which he explained:

I have the honor to inform you that I have decided all the cases, Civil, LRC and Criminal Cases submitted before my last day in office on November 5, 2010 except Civil Cases Nos. 1937 (Bustillo vs. Sps. Rabago) and 2056 (Cale vs. Pader, et al.) because of lack of TSN taken when I was not yet the Presiding Judge.  I found out that there is [a] need to retake the testimonies of the witness concerned so as to attain substantial justice.

As to why I failed to decide the said cases within the reglementary period, it was because of the volume of work in this court.  As it was noticed by the Auditors when they came over to audit, I have already started deciding with drafts attached to the records but I was overtaken by more pressing matters that I have to take immediate attention, like urgent motions, motions to dismiss, motions to quash, approval of bails.  All of these are in addition to my trial duties.

I have to work as early as 7:30 o’clock in the morning, and sometimes at 7:00 o’clock, with the desire to finish everything on time.  I burned my candle at night just [to] comply with my duties within the time frame but because of human frailties, I failed to do so on time because as I said[,] of the volume of work in this court.  But nonetheless I have decided all the cases submitted for decision before I retired except, as above stated, Civil Cases Nos. 1737 and 2056 because of the reasons already stated.

Judge Bustamante further accounted for the cases with incidents for resolution, as follows:

In Civil Cases, I have resolved the demurrer to evidence in Civil Cases Nos. 1668 and 2132.  However, the motion to dismiss by defendant Celeste in Civil Case No. 2222, considering the opposition of the plaintiff because of their counterclaim, I believed the motion needs further hearing, hence, the motion was not resolved.  Similarly, the motion to dismiss in Civil Case No. 2254 needs further hearing, and if no order setting the motion for hearing, it may be an oversight because of the submission of several cases for decision almost at the same time.

In Criminal Cases, I have resolved the demurrer to evidence in Crim. Cases Nos. 9015 & 9016 (People vs. Paltep vda. De Perio) and Crim. Cases Nos. 9148 & 9149 (People vs. Anselmo, Jr.) while Crim. Case No. 9196 was set for further hearing.

On the motion to suspend proceedings in Crim. Cases Nos. 9190 & 9191, it may have been an oversight because these cases are the off–shoots of Civil Case No. 2222 and pre–trial conference for the marking of documentary evidence has been subsequently set but the counsel for the accused failed to appear.

The motion to dismiss in Crim. Cases Nos. 8615, 8616 & 8617, was not resolved because of the prayer of the parties in open court for them to await the resolution of the civil cases they filed before the Regional Trial Court, as they are working for the settlement of these civil cases, which may have [an] effect in these cases.

The other incidents were set for hearing so that the court could judiciously resolve the matter.5

In support of his compliance, Judge Bustamante submitted to the OCA copies of the decisions and resolutions he referred to in his letter.

The OCA submitted to the Court its Memorandum6 dated March 24, 2011, reporting viz:

(1) Judge Bustamante had decided 33 out of the 35 cases for decision in his court.  Of the 33 cases decided by Judge Bustamante, 13 were still within the reglementary period while 20 were already beyond the reglementary period.  Of the 20 cases Judge Bustamante had decided beyond the reglementary period, 10 were decided more than a year after their respective due dates (ranging from 1 year and 8 days to 4 years and 7 months beyond the due dates) and 10 were decided within a year after their respective due dates (ranging from 5 days to 6 months beyond the due dates).

(2) Judge Bustamante had also resolved 6 out of the 23 cases with pending incidents in his court, all of which were resolved beyond their respective reglementary periods (ranging from 5 days to 3 years, 8 months, and 16 days after the due dates).  As for the 17 other cases with pending incidents in his court, Judge Bustamante reasoned that (a) the motions require further hearing; (b) there is a need to await the resolution of other cases pending before other courts; and (c) oversight. The OCA noted, though, that Judge Bustamante failed to submit any order setting the pending incidents for hearing or holding in abeyance the resolution of the same until the related cases before other courts have already been decided.

Unconvinced by Judge Bustamante’s explanations/reasons for his delay in deciding cases and resolving pending incidents, the OCA recommended that:

PREMISES CONSIDERED, we respectfully recommend that retired Judge Borromeo R. Bustamante, formerly of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Alaminos City, Pangasinan, be FINED in the amount of P20,000.00 for gross inefficiency.

In a Resolution7 dated February 8, 2012, the case was re–docketed as a regular administrative matter.

Judge Bustamante wrote the Court a letter dated July 3, 2013, stating that although he already retired from the service on November 6, 2010, he has yet to receive his retirement benefits (except for his accumulated leave credits), because of the pendency of the instant administrative matter against him.  Consequently, Judge Bustamante prayed that the administrative matter be resolved soonest so he could already receive his retirement benefits or that his retirement benefits be released but a certain amount commensurate to the fine that the Court might impose be withheld.

The Court agrees with the findings and recommendation of the OCA.

Decision–making, among other duties, is the primordial and most important duty of a member of the bench.  The speedy disposition of cases in the courts is a primary aim of the judiciary so the ends of justice may not be compromised and the judiciary will be true to its commitment to provide litigants their constitutional right to a speedy trial and a speedy disposition of their cases.8

The Constitution, Code of Judicial Conduct, and jurisprudence consistently mandate that a judge must decide cases within 90 days from submission.  As the Court summed up in Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in the RTC, Br. 4, Dolores, Eastern Samar9:

Section 15, Article VIII of the Constitution states that judges must decide all cases within three months from the date of submission. In Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted at the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (Branch 1), Surigao City, the Court held that:
A judge is mandated to render a decision not more than 90 days from the time a case is submitted for decision. Judges are to dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the period specified in the Constitution, that is, 3 months from the filing of the last pleading, brief or memorandum. Failure to observe said rule constitutes a ground for administrative sanction against the defaulting judge, absent sufficient justification for his non–compliance therewith.
Rule 1.02, Canon 1 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that judges should administer justice without delay. Rule 3.05 of Canon 3 states that judges shall dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods. In Office of the Court Administrator v. Javellana, the Court held that:
A judge cannot choose his deadline for deciding cases pending before him. Without an extension granted by this Court, the failure to decide even a single case within the required period constitutes gross inefficiency that merits administrative sanction.

The Code of Judicial Conduct, specifically Canon 3, Rule 3.05 mandates judges to attend promptly to the business of the court and decide cases within the periods prescribed by law and the Rules. Under the 1987 Constitution, lower court judges are also mandated to decide cases within 90 days from submission.

Judges must closely adhere to the Code of Judicial Conduct in order to preserve the integrity, competence and independence of the judiciary and make the administration of justice more efficient. Time and again, we have stressed the need to strictly observe this duty so as not to negate our efforts to minimize, if not totally eradicate, the twin problems of congestion and delay that have long plagued our courts.
In Office of the Court Administrator v. Garcia–Blanco, the Court held that the 90–day reglementary period is mandatory.  Failure to decide cases within the reglementary period constitutes a ground for administrative liability except when there are valid reasons for the delay.  (Citation omitted.)

This Court has always emphasized the need for judges to decide cases within the constitutionally prescribed 90–day period.  Any delay in the administration of justice, no matter how brief, deprives the litigant of his right to a speedy disposition of his case. Not only does it magnify the cost of seeking justice, it undermines the people’s faith and confidence in the judiciary, lowers its standards, and brings it to disrepute.10

A member of the bench cannot pay mere lip service to the 90–day requirement; he/she should instead persevere in its implementation.11  Heavy caseload and demanding workload are not valid reasons to fall behind the mandatory period for disposition of cases.12  The Court usually allows reasonable extensions of time to decide cases in view of the heavy caseload of the trial courts. If a judge is unable to comply with the 90–day reglementary period for deciding cases or matters, he/she can, for good reasons, ask for an extension and such request is generally granted.13  But Judge Bustamante did not ask for an extension in any of these cases.  Having failed to decide a case within the required period, without any order of extension granted by the Court, Judge Bustamante is liable for undue delay that merits administrative sanction.

Equally unacceptable for the Court is Judge Bustamante’s explanation that he failed to decide Civil Case Nos. 1937 and 2056 because of the lack of Transcript of Stenographic Notes (TSN).  These two cases were allegedly heard when he was not yet the presiding judge of the MTCC.  Relevant herein is the ruling of the Court in Re: Problem of Delays in Cases Before the Sandiganbayan14:

The Constitution provides that a case shall be deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief, or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court itself.  In Administrative Circular No. 28, dated July 3, 1989, the Supreme Court provided that “A case is considered submitted for decision upon the admission of the evidence of the parties at the termination of the trial. The ninety (90) days period for deciding the case shall commence to run from submission of the case for decision without memoranda; in case the court requires or allows its filing, the case shall be considered submitted for decision upon the filing of the last memorandum or the expiration of the period to do so, whichever is earlier. Lack of transcript of stenographic notes shall not be a valid reason to interrupt or suspend the period for deciding the case unless the case was previously heard by another judge not the deciding judge in which case the latter shall have the full period of ninety (90) days from the completion of the transcripts within which to decide the same.” x x x (Emphasis supplied, citations omitted.)

The OCA reported that contrary to his claim, Judge Bustamante substantially heard Civil Case Nos. 1937 and 2056, until the two cases were submitted for decision on November 20, 2009 and February 27, 2010, respectively.  Even if it were true that the two cases were heard by the previous presiding judge of the MTCC, there is no showing that from the time the cases had been submitted for decision until Judge Bustamante’s retirement on November 6, 2010, Judge Bustamante made an effort to have the TSN completed.  Although technically, the 90–day period would have started to run only upon the completion of the TSN, the Court finds Judge Bustamante’s lack of effort to have the TSN completed as the root cause for the delay in deciding the two cases.

The Court is likewise unconvinced that the pending incidents in several cases were left unresolved because of the need for further hearings in the same.  The incidents were already submitted for resolution and, as the OCA observed, Judge Bustamante only saw the need for further hearings in said cases after the conduct of the judicial audit.  In addition, Judge Bustamante did not submit any order setting the cases for hearing.

Least acceptable of Judge Bustamante’s explanations for his delay in deciding cases and/or resolving pending incidents was oversight.  A judge is responsible, not only for the dispensation of justice but also for managing his court efficiently to ensure the prompt delivery of court services.  Since he is the one directly responsible for the proper discharge of his official functions, he should know the cases submitted to him for decision or resolution, especially those pending for more than 90 days.15

There is no dispute that Judge Bustamante failed to decide cases and resolve pending incidents within the reglementary period, and without authorized extension from the Court and valid reason for such failure, Judge Bustamante is administratively liable for undue delay in rendering a decision or order.

Under the amendments to Rule 14016 of the Rules of Court, undue delay in rendering a decision or order is a less serious charge, for which the respondent judge shall be penalized with either (a) suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one nor more than three months; or (b) a fine of more than P10,000.00, but not more than P20,000.00.

Considering the significant number of cases and pending incidents left undecided/unresolved or decided/resolved beyond the reglementary period by Judge Bustamante; as well as the fact that Judge Bustamante had already retired and can no longer be dismissed or suspended, it is appropriate to impose upon him a penalty of a fine amounting to P20,000.00, to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds retired Judge Borromeo R. Bustamante, former Presiding Judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Alaminos City, Pangasinan, GUILTY of undue delay in rendering decisions and orders, and imposes upon him a FINE of P20,000.00, to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

SO ORDERED.

Sereno, C.J., (Chairperson), Bersamin, Villarama, Jr., and Reyes, JJ., concur.


Endnotes:


1Rollo, pp. 1–5.

2 Id. at 5.

3 Id. at 6–7.

4 The letter was dated November 8, 2010 at the beginning, but dated November 11, 2010 at the end.

5Rollo, p. 7.

6 Id. at 337–348.

7 Id. at 351.

8Re: Report on the Judicial Audit and Physical Inventory of Cases in the RTC, Br. 54, Bacolod City, 537 Phil. 1, 13 (2006).

9 562 Phil. 301, 313–314 (2007).

10 Office of the Court Administrator v. Garcia–Blanco, 522 Phil. 87, 99 (2006).

11Office of the Court Administrator v. Bagundang, 566 Phil. 149, 157–158 (2008).

12Office of the Court Administrator v. Santos, A.M. No. MTJ–11–1787 (Formerly A.M. No. 08–5–146–MeTC), October 11, 2012, 684 SCRA 1, 10.

13Tan v. Judge Estoconing, 500 Phil. 392, 400–401 (2005).

14 422 Phil. 246, 286–287 (2001).

15 Office of the Court Administrator v. Doyon, 592 Phil. 235, 247 (2008).

16 Section 9(1) in relation to Section 11(B) of En Banc Resolution in A.M. No. 01–8–10–SC dated September 11, 2001 (Re: Proposed Amendment to Rule 140 of the Rules of Court Regarding the Discipline of Justices and Judges)
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