[A.M. NO. P-04-1911. October 25, 2005]
[Formerly A.M. No. 04-9-535-RTC]
OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. ASTER A. MADELA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
CARPIO MORALES, J.:
On September 6, 2002, the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Manila, Branch 22, promulgated a decision in consolidated Case Nos. 170353-CV and 170416-CV, both entitled "Angelica Magdato, plaintiff v. Peter N. Abrera, defendant," in favor of the plaintiff.
The defendant Peter Abrera thereupon filed a Notice of Appeal which was given due course and eventually raffled to Branch 17 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila.
Soon after the record of the appealed case was elevated to the RTC, herein respondent Aster A. Madela, Legal Researcher and then Officer-in-Charge of Branch 17, issued a "Notice of Docketing of Case under Appeal" dated November 27, 2002 addressed to the counsel for the plaintiff-appellee and counsel for the defendant-appellant reading:
The above-entitled case under appeal from the Metropolitan Trial Court, this City is entered in the Docket Book of this Court on November 26, 2002, by this Court on even date.
WITNESS the HON. EDUARDO B. PERALTA, JR., Presiding Judge of this Court, this 27th day of November 2002 at Manila, Philippines.
(Sgd.) ASTER A. MADELA
Allegedly realizing that the above-quoted notice "was incorrect," respondent immediately retrieved the record of the case and corrected the original copy on file and on duplicate copies thereof by deleting the phrase in the first paragraph "by this Court on even date" and placing, in its stead, the phrase "and the original records and exhibits were received by this Court on even date." (Underscoring supplied)Ï‚rÎ±lÎ±Ï‰lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
It turned out that a copy of the original notice had already been sent to the counsel for defendant-appellant and no copy of the corrected notice was sent.
In view of the tenor of the original notice, defendant-appellant took no action on his appeal until he received an Order dated February 24, 2003 issued by Branch 17 of the RTC dismissing his appeal on the ground that he failed to file an appeal memorandum within the prescribed period pursuant to Section 7 of Rule 40 of the Revised Rules of Civil Procedure, the pertinent section of which reads:
SEC. 7. Procedure in the Regional Trial Court. -
(a) Upon receipt of the complete record or the record on appeal, the clerk of court of the Regional Trial Court shall notify the parties of such fact.
(b) Within fifteen (15) days from such notice, it shall be the duty of the appellant to submit a memorandum which shall briefly discuss the errors imputed to the lower court, a copy of which shall be furnished by him to the adverse party. Within fifteen (15) days from receipt of the appellant's memorandum, the appellee may file his memorandum. Failure of the appellant to file a memorandum shall be a ground for dismissal of the appeal.
(c) Upon the filing of the memorandum of the appellee, or the expiration of the period to do so, the case shall be considered submitted for decision. The Regional Trial Court shall decide the case on the basis of the entire record of the proceedings had in the court of origin and such memoranda as re filed. (Underscoring supplied)Ï‚rÎ±lÎ±Ï‰lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Defendant-appellant lost no time in filing a Motion for Reconsideration of the February 24, 2003 of the RTC anchored on excusable neglect, contending that the notice sent to him was a mere notice of docketing of case and not a notice that the complete records of the case had already been received by the court.
The plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration was, by Order of April 25, 2003, denied by the RTC.
Defendant-appellant subsequently filed a Motion to Set Aside (Ad Cautelam) the Orders dated 24 February 2003 and 25 April 2003 and to investigate the alleged irregularity arising from the discrepancy of the notice he received and the notice on file with the record of the case. By Order of May 16, 2003, the RTC denied defendant-appellant's motion, drawing him to file a Petition for Certiorari and Mandamus with the Court of Appeals.
By decision of March 10, 2004, the appellate court held that the Notice of Docketing of Case under Appeal sent to defendant-appellant-therein petitioner is not the kind of notice required by the Rules.
Under the aforecited Rule, the notice to be sent to the appellant must contain a statement that the records of the case are already with the court. This notice will set in motion the appellate procedure before the Regional Trial Court and, more importantly, the running of the 15-day period within which the appellant must file his appeal memorandum. Corollarily, if there is no such notice sent to petitioner or if the notice does not contain a statement that the court a quo has already received the records of the case, the appellate procedure, as well as the reglementary period, does not commence to run. This mandatory requirement as to the form of the notice is underscored itself by the law when it states tat "upon receipt of the complete record of the record on appeal, the clerk of court of the Regional Trial Court shall notify the parties of such fact." The use of the word "shall" alone, applying to the rule on statutory construction, already underscores the mandatory nature of the rule and, therefore, strict adherence to the required form. As held in Pimentel, Jr. v. Aguirre, 336 SCRA 201 , the term "shall" is a word of command that must be given a compulsory meaning. Moreover, the importance of such a notice cannot be downplayed as a mere formality for the same notice sets the running of the prescriptive period within which the appellant must file his appeal memorandum. With a defective notice, which the originating court may deem a substantial compliance of the requirement of the Rules, the appellant stands to lose his right to seek a judicial review of his case.2 (Emphasis, underscoring and italics in the original)
The appellate court went on to express its alarm over the discrepancy of the notice sent to petitioner vis a vis the notice on file with the record of the case, it expressing its belief that the notice "appears to have been tampered to comply with the requirement of the rules," adding that "[t]his is the kind of incident that erodes the people's confidence [in] our judicial system and makes a mockery of the impartial nature of our function."
The appellate court furthermore stated that the RTC judge should have ordered an investigation of the incident "to clear the air of any notion of prejudice" which the defendant-appellant-therein petitioner may have entertained on account of the discovery of the discrepancy.
The appellate court accordingly annulled and set aside the RTC's assailed Orders and directed it to take cognizance of the appeal and to investigate "the incident of tampering of records."
A copy of the appellate court's decision was furnished the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) which, by 1st Indorsement of May 12, 2004, referred it to Judge Eduardo Peralta, Jr., Presiding Judge of the RTC Branch 17, Manila for appropriate action.
Judge Peralta immediately directed respondent, by Order of April 12, 2004, . . . to furnish the parties' counsel by registered mail, and submit to this Court, her Comment within five (5) days from receipt hereof, in regard to counsel for defendant-appellant's aspersions as to the discrepancy between said notice (paragraph 6, Motion to Set Aside Orders dated 24 February 2003 and 25 April 2003 [Ad Cautelam] and Motion to Investigate dated May 6, 2003; Annex 'A' thereof)."3 (Emphasis in the original)
And the judge set for investigation the alleged tampering case on April 27, 2004.
Respondent complied with the judge's directive by filing on April 20, 2004 her Comment stating the following:
x x x
3. That as soon as the undersigned realized that the above notice she initially made was incorrect, to her recollection, she immediately retrieved the records of the case, more specifically the next day, and made corrections on the original copy as well as on the several duplicate copies of the original of the same notice, such as, first; by deleting the phrase "by this Court on even date" and second; by adding/inserting the words "and the original records and exhibits were received by this Court on even date" after the typewritten date "November 26, 2002", with a clear knowledge that the Civil Clerk-in-Charge has NOT YET SENT out any of the uncorrected duplicate copies of the original of the said notice to both counsel for the parties, either through registered mail or was it received by them personally, in view of the absence of any written notation infront and at the back portion of the original copy of the said notice nor proof of receipt by both counsel for the parties, at the time she made the said corrections. (Attached is a Xerox copy of the Notice of Docketing of Case under Appeal dated November 27, 2002 as Annex "A");
4. That in fact, even at the time when the Honorable Presiding Judge conducted the docket inventory of Civil Cases on January 7, 2003, he was also in inquiry as to when the duplicate copies of the original notice of the above-captioned case was sent to the counsel for the parties, as the Honorable Presiding Judge himself perceived at the time, that the record itself was bereft of the evidence of the fact of dispatch. Had the records of the above-captioned case borne the date of dispatch of the duplicate copies of the original notice, the Honorable Presiding Judge would not have bothered anymore to make such written inquiry. (Xerox copy of the inventory notation at the back of Notice is hereto attached as Annex "B"). In other words, even as of January 7, 2003, the undersigned is under the impression that the corrected copies of the Notice of docketing were not yet sent to the parties and/or their respective counsel.
x x x
6. But since the defendant-appellant alleged that what was received by them was the Notice of Docketing of Case Under Appeal, dated November 27, 2002 different from the notice attached to the record, presumably, what was received by them were the duplicate copies of the original notice which were sent out ahead without the undersigned's corrections yet on the said original copy and on duplicate copies of the original notice;
7. That when the defendant-appellant, through counsel filed a Motion for Reconsideration unto this Honorable Court, on April 8, 2003, that was the only time that the undersigned came to know that what was actually sent out by the Civil Clerk-in-Charge were the uncorrected duplicate copies of the original "Notice of Docketing of Case Under Appeal" dated November 27, 2002. All along, since the time she made corrections on the said notice, she faithfully believed that the said uncorrected duplicate copies of the original notice were not yet sent by registered mail to counsel for the defendant-appellant considering the absence of any written proof of dispatch;
8. That the undersigned has no intention whatsoever to cause any prejudice to both parties and counsel when, it appears that, she was not able to make the necessary corrections on all the copies of the subject Notice of Docketing. She made the said corrections with the sole interest to rectify the notice required by law and has no motive whatsoever to mislead the parties and the Honorable Court.
9. That the undersigned would not gain anything but instead will lose her "bread and butter." The defendant-appellant allegation of "tampering" of records is so strong a word. At the most the discrepancies were, with due respect, a result of purely human error and honest mistake;
10. That the undersigned would rather humbly admit that at the time she made corrections of the notices, she no longer verified from the Civil Clerk-in-Charge if the latter had not yet sent out any of the uncorrected notices. She relied solely on the records since still she recovered several copies of duplicate of the original notice which were enough o furnish both counsels and the original copy of the notice did not bear any written notation of dispatch, she honestly believed that no copies yet of the notice were mailed;
11. Granting arguendo, that there was negligence on the part of the undersigned, however, with due respect to the counsel for the defendant-appellant, upon receipt of the alleged uncorrected notice on January 3, 2003, the counsel for defendant-appellant did not check or verify the status of his case, if indeed he was still interested in his appeal, considering further what was received by them was a grammatically-incorrect notice of docketing of case under appeal. Defendant-appellant's interest became apparent only after the Honorable Court dismissed his appeal. (Emphasis, underscoring and italics in the original; Capitalization supplied)4
By Order of May 25, 2004,5 the judge, in accordance with Section 1, Chapter 12 of En Banc Resolution in A.M. No. 03-8-02-SC dated January 27, 2004 the 3rd paragraph of which reads:
In the case of a complaint (a) filed against court employees who are lawyers, or (b) filed by the private complainants against court employees, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, the same shall be forwarded by the Executive Judge to the Office of the Court Administrator for appropriate action and disposition,6
directed that legible photocopies of the record of the alleged case of tampering be furnished the Office of the Executive Judge "for indorsement to the Office of the Court Administrator for proper action and disposition."
Acting on the referral by Judge Peralta of the alleged tampering case, Executive Judge Antonio M. Eugenio, Jr. of the Manila RTC filed his Report and Recommendation dated April 7, 20057 expressing belief that respondent had no intention to mislead the parties when she made the correction on the Notice dated November 27, 2002, there being no evidence that her action was tainted with malice. However, the Executive Judge went on, respondent cannot totally hide her negligence under the cloak of good faith or good intention, especially considering that she was an Officer-in-Charge holding a sensitive position which called for the exercise of utmost care in sending notices or communications to parties.
Having realized her mistake in merely sending a Notice of Docketing of Case Under Appeal the following day, respondent could have corrected her mistake by sending another notice with the appropriate wordings or she could have made sure that all the copies of the incorrect notice are retrieved from the records. A simple verification from the clerk in charge of civil cases would have obviated the problem and saved the parties and the court all this unnecessary trouble. (Underscoring supplied)Ï‚rÎ±lÎ±Ï‰lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Accordingly, the Executive Judge recommended that the charge of tampering of court records against respondent be dismissed but that she be reprimanded for simple negligence in the performance of her duty and strongly warned that a repetition of the same shall be dealt with more severely.
This Court finds the observations of the Executive Judge well-taken. The recommended penalty of reprimand does not sit well with this Court, however.
Respondent committed simple neglect of duty, which is a disregard of a duty resulting from carelessness or indifference,8 and which is punishable by One (1) Month and One (1) Day to Six (6) Months without pay.9 Her guilt becomes more pronounced when note is taken of her information in her Comment that it was only when the defendant-appellant filed a Motion for Reconsideration on April 8, 2003 that she came to know that what were "actually sent out" were the uncorrected copies of the notice. Given that, it would appear that she did not inform the court about it or how else can the denial of the Motion for Reconsideration be explained?cralawlibrary
WHEREFORE, for simple neglect of duty, respondent is hereby suspended for One (1) Month and One (1) Day without pay, with STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.
Panganiban, J., (Chairman), Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, and Garcia, JJ., concur.