[A.M. NO. MTJ-08-1700 : July 23, 2008]
[Formerly OCA-I.P.I. No. 07-1916-MTJ]
ROLANDO V. BLANCO, Petitioner, v. JUDGE TERESITO A. ANDOY, Municipal Trial Court, Cainta, Rizal, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
This is an administrative complaint filed by Rolando V. Blanco against Judge Teresito A. Andoy of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Cainta, Rizal, charging the latter with gross incompetence, gross misconduct and violation of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary.
In his verified Letter-complaint1 dated 23 July 2007, petitioner Ramon V. Blanco (Blanco) narrated that on 14 January 2008 an affidavit-complaint for five counts each of estafa and violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 (B.P. 22) was filed against him by Hemisphere Drug Corporation (Hemisphere), represented by Domingo Vicente (Vicente). The complaint was subscribed and sworn before respondent judge, leading Blanco to conclude that the latter had "already persuaded, induced or influenced the issuance of a criminal offense" against him and that he had thereby been deprived of due process.
Since the cases filed against him have then been pending for more than four (4) years, Blanco filed on 13 October 2006 an "Ex Parte Very Urgent Motion to Resolve and to Grant Motion for Admission to be Considered Terminated the Cases Against Him and be Granted an Amicable Settlement and a Motion to Dismiss." Hemisphere filed its comment/opposition to which Blanco filed a reply on 16 January 2007. However, it was only on 1 October 2007 that respondent judge issued an order denying the motion.
Blanco further alleged that no preliminary investigation was conducted in the cases filed against him because Hemisphere connived with respondent judge for its representative, Vicente, to file on its own and behalf and the Information verified by respondent judge.
In his Comment2 dated 18 October 2007, respondent judge insisted that Blanco's allegations are baseless and absurd. He claimed that Blanco was not deprived of due process because the procedure for the filing of complaints for estafa and violation of B.P. Blg. 22 was followed. Furthermore, he averred that there is no way he could have connived with Hemisphere to Blanco's prejudice as he hardly knew Hemisphere's representative. He, however, admitted that it was only in his Order dated 1 October 2007 that he was finally able to resolve Blanco's motion.
Blanco reiterated his charges against respondent judge in his Comment/Opposition3 dated 8 November 2007.
In its Report and Recommendation4 dated 14 January 2008, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) recommended that respondent judge be held guilty of undue delay in rendering an order or decision and be accordingly fined in the amount of
P1,000.00 in view of the fact that he had only less than a year remaining in his service. The OCA also recommended the dismissal of the charges of gross incompetence, grave misconduct, violation of the New Code of Judicial Conduct and palpable violation of the Constitution.
Unquestionably, delay in the disposition and resolution of cases constitutes a serious violation of the parties' right to a speedy disposition of their grievances in court.5 No less than the Constitution, in Section 15(1), Article VIII, mandates that lower courts must dispose of their cases promptly and decide them within three (3) months from the date they are submitted for decision or resolution or from the filing of the last pleading, brief or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court concerned. A judge's delay in resolving pending motions and incidents within the prescribed period constitutes a violation of Rule 3.05 of the Code of Judicial Conduct requiring judges to dispose of court business promptly.6
In this case, Blanco's "Ex Parte Very Urgent Motion to Resolve and to Grant Motion for Admission to be Considered Terminated the Cases Against Him and be Granted an Amicable Settlement and a Motion to Dismiss" was deemed submitted for resolution on 16 January 2007, since the last pleading submitted relative to the motion was filed on this date. However, as admitted by respondent judge, the motion was acted upon only on 1 October 2007, more than five (5) months after the period for resolving pending incidents mandated by the Constitution had elapsed.
Under Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, undue delay in rendering a decision or order is considered a less serious offense, punishable under Section 11(b) of the same Rule, either by (1) suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one (1) nor more than three (3) months, or (2) a fine of more than
P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.
More than the delay in the resolution of Blanco's pending motion, however, what caught the Court's attention is respondent judge's admission that due to inadvertence, the court "proceeded with the Estafa cases in the same way it handled the Violation of B.P. Blg. 22 cases up to the arraignment and preliminary conference stage."7 In other words, no preliminary investigation was conducted despite the fact that in three of the charges for estafa,8 the penalties corresponding to the amounts involved exceed four (4) years, two (2) months and one (1) day, in which case, the conduct of a preliminary investigation is required under Section 1, Rule 112 of the Rules of Court. Respondent judge sought to remedy this "inadvertence" in his Order9 dated 11 October 2007, in which he endorsed Criminal Case Nos. 21804, 21807 and 21808 to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Rizal for the requisite preliminary investigation.
However, we find respondent judge's handling of the cases against Blanco appallingly injudicious.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
In disregarding the rules, respondent judge showed gross ignorance, albeit without any malice or corrupt motive. The lack of malicious intent, however, cannot completely free respondent judge from liability.10 A judge owes it to himself and his office to know by heart basic legal principles and to harness his legal know-how correctly and justly. When a judge displays an utter unfamiliarity with the law and the rules, he erodes the confidence of the public in the courts. Ignorance of the law by a judge can easily be the mainspring of injustice. As an advocate of justice and a visible representation of the law, a judge is expected to be proficient in the interpretation of our laws. When the law is elementary, not to know it constitutes gross ignorance of the law.11
Respondent judge displayed gross ignorance of the Rules of Court in failing to refer the pertinent estafa charges against Blanco for preliminary investigation. Gross ignorance of the law or procedure is classified as a serious charge under Section 8, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court and may be sanctioned by: (1) dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all or part of the benefits as the Court may determine, and disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Provided, however, That the forfeiture of benefits shall in no case include accrued leave credits; (2) suspension from office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3) but not exceeding six (6) months; or (3) a fine of more than
P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.0012
Considering that respondent judge is retiring in less than one year and the fact that this is his first administrative offense of this nature, we find the aggregate fine of
P25,000.00 for undue delay in the resolution of a motion and gross ignorance of the law appropriate.
WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Teresito A. Andoy of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Cainta, Rizal is found GUILTY of gross ignorance of procedure and undue delay in the resolution of a motion in Criminal Case Nos. 21797-21801. He is FINED in the amount of
P25,000.00 with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely.
1 Rollo, pp. 2-11.
2 Id. at 109-116.
3 Id. at 142-157.
4 Id. at 328-331.
5 Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Avelino, A.M. No. MTJ-05-1606, December 9, 2005, 477 SCRA 915.
6 Arles v. Beldia, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1964, November 29, 2005, 476 SCRA 298, 302-303.
7 Rollo, p. 115; Comment of respondent judge.
8 Criminal Case Nos. 21804, 21807 and 21808 respectively involve the amounts of
P15,765.75, P14,011.23 and P20,551.10.
9 Rollo, pp. 129-136.
10 Lu v. Judge Siapno, 390 Phil. 489, 496-497 (2000).
11 Re: Report on the Complaint of Judge Dolores L. EspaÃ±ol, A.M. No. MTJ-01-1358, November 11, 2004, 442 SCRA 13, 44.
12 Rules of Court, Rule 140, Sec. 11(A).