Home of ChanRobles Virtual Law Library

 

Home of Chan Robles Virtual Law Library

www.chanrobles.com

A.M. No. RTJ-06-1991 - Office of the Court Administrator v. Hon. Tibing A. Asaali

A.M. No. RTJ-06-1991 - Office of the Court Administrator v. Hon. Tibing A. Asaali

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[A.M. NO. RTJ-06-1991 : June 5, 2009]

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. HON. TIBING A. ASAALI, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, Zamboanga City, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

This administrative case arose from a Memorandum dated 28 May 2004 submitted by an audit team of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), reporting on the judicial audit conducted on the Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, Zamboanga City (trial court).

The Facts

From 18 to 28 August 2002, a judicial audit was conducted by the OCA audit team on the trial court presided by Judge Tibing A. Asaali (Judge Asaali). In a Memorandum dated 28 May 2004, then Deputy Court Administrator Christopher O. Lock1 (Lock) directed Judge Asaali to:

I. EXPLAIN within ten (10) days from notice why you shall not be ADMINISTRATIVELY held liable for your failure to (a) decide the following cases, despite the period granted to you by the Court, to wit: Criminal Cases Nos. 9478, 9479, 9480, 13739, 13850, 13851, 13923, 14087, 14357, 14360, 14682, 14700, 14768, 14896, 14736, 15032 and 18637; Civil Cases Nos. 2032, 2276, 2498, 2775, 3026, 3403, 3494, 3602, 3671, 3776 (3376), 4049, 4165, 4399, 4512, 4548, 4568, 4660, 4684, 4728, 4748, 4789, 4794, 4858, 4876, 4897, 4938, 4984, 5014, 5119, 5156, 5157, 5159, 5162, 5181, 5756, Cad. Case No. 01-49, Lot 1003-9 TCT 24,656, Cad. Case No. 99-92, SCA No. 99, SCA No. 140-4, SCA No. 187, SCA No. 209, SCA No. 245, SCA No. 336, SCA No. 346, SCA No. 365, SCA No. 428, SCA No. 432, SCA No. 435, SCA No. 442, SCA No. 452, SCA No. 465, SCA No. 469, SCA No. 470, SCA No. 471, SCA No. 472, SCA No. 473, SCA No. 474, SCA No. 477, SCA No. 407, SCA No. 478, SCA No. 479, SCA No. 495, SCA No. 496, SCA No. 497, SCA No. 498, SCA No. 527, SCA No. 534, SCA No. 535, SCA No. 536, SCA No. 537, SCA No. 538, SCA No. 556, as well as resolve the pending incidents/motions in the following cases within the reglementary period, to wit: Criminal Cases Nos. 13182, 14913, 16132, 16870 and Civil Cases Nos. 13182, 13183, 14913, 16132, 16870 and Civil Cases Nos. 428, 4049, 4360, 4807, 4823, 4858, 5007, 5159, 5181, 5191, 5203, 5257, SCA No. 443 and SCA No. 5240 (524); (b) to TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION within thirty (30) days from notice on the following cases which have not been further acted upon (NFA) for a long time already, to wit: Criminal Cases Nos. 3133 (15641), 9478, 9479, 9480, 14111, 14621, 14622, 15079, 15223, 15565, 15566, 15842, 15930, 16215, 16216, 16476, 16522, 16675, 17726, 17852, 17857, 17964, 17995, 17999, 18030, 18089, 18091, 18096, 18153, 18154, 18175, 18327, 18347, 18489, 18509; and Civil Cases Nos. 99-72, 4554, 4630, 4645, 4652, 4684, 4689, 4732, 4737, 4791, 4794, 4808, 4809, 4816, 4824, 4832, 4887, 4911, 4925, 4927, 4934, 4947, 4950, 4951, 4959, 5135, 5142, 5144, 5169, 5173, 5175, 5200, 5213, 5218, 5236, 5249, 5256, Cad. 01-29, Cad. 01-118, Cad. Case No. 02-03, SCA 438, SCA 549, and SP 4636; and the following cases which have not been further set (NFS) for a long time, to wit: Criminal Cases Nos. 8332, 14666, 15032, 15211, 15649, 15685, 15713, 15714, 15930, 16278, 16396, 16461, 16667, 16852, 16880, 17050, 17066, 17252, 17289, 17534; and Civil Cases Nos. 3671, 4383, 4602, 4752, 4758, 4783, 4850, 4930, 5020, Cad. Case No. 97-40, Cad. Case No. 97-88, LRC Cad. Rec. 8267, Cad. No. 97-212, Lot Not. 1974-B, Cad. Case No. 98-07, Cad. Case No. 00-27, Cad. Case No. 01-62, Cad. Case No. 02-48, SCA No. 301, SP No. 4168, SP No. 4360, SP No. 4712, SP No. 4734, SP No. 4740, SP No. 4767, SP No. 4892, SP. No. 4928; including the following criminal cases which have not been acted upon yet (NATY) since the filing thereof, to wit: Criminal Cases Nos. 15250, 15251; Civil Cases Nos. 442, (SCA) 452, (SCA) 465, 469, 470, 471, 472, 474, 475, 3-74 (74-3), 96-153, 1158 (4479), 5235, ad. Case No. 01-18, Cad. Case No. 01-51, Cad. Case No. 02-31, Cad. Case No. 02-49 and Cad. Case No. 02-83; and the following cases with motions pending action (MPA) by the court, to wit: Criminal Case No. 15249; and Civil Cases Nos. 4579, 4938, Cad. Case No. 97-120; as well as the following cases, to wit: Criminal Case No. 18159, in accordance with Administrative Circular No. 7-A-92, dated 21 June 1993.

II. DECIDE/RESOLVE the cases mentioned in par 1 (a) within six (6) months from notice.

III. SUBMIT compliance hereof as well as copies of the decisions/resolutions/orders, etc. in the aforecited cases to this Court, through the Court Management Office, Office of the Court Administrator, within ten (10) days from rendition/promulgation/issuance or action taken thereon.2

Judge Asaali did not comply with the directives in the Memorandum even after the lapse of the six month period granted by the OCA. Thus, in another Memorandum dated February 2005, the OCA directed Judge Asaali to comply with the Memorandum dated 28 May 2004 with a warning that should he still fail to fully comply with the same, the matter would be brought to the attention of the Court for appropriate action.

Again, the directives remained unheeded. Judge Asaali failed to submit any letter to inform the Court of the status of his pending cases or even offer an explanation or defense for his non-compliance with the memoranda. Thus, the OCA took action by tracing the cases which Judge Asaali had decided, through an examination of the Court's Monthly Reports and Semestral Docket Inventory, as well as the Compliances made by Judge Asaali in a previous case.3

The OCA submitted this report pertaining to the actions taken by Judge Asaali on the cases pending before his court:

1. Per the June 2005 Monthly Report of the court, these cases appear to have already been disposed as they no longer appear in the list of cases submitted for decision, to wit: Criminal Cases Nos. 9478, 9479, 9480, 14896, 14736, 15032, 18637; Civil Cases Nos. 2032, 2276, 3671, 4399, 4548, 4789 (4689), 4858, 4897, 4938, 4984, 5014, 5119, 5157, 5159, 5162, 5181, 5756, Cad. Case No. 01-49, Cad. Case No. 99-92, SCA No. 99, SCA No. 140-4, SCA No. 187, SCA No. 209, SCA No. 245, SCA No. 336, SCA No. 346, SCA No. 365, SCA No. 432, SCA No. 435 and SCA No. 407.

2. Per the March 2005 Monthly Report, case appears already decided on 29 March 2005 and Promulgated on the same date. Accused was "acquitted," to wit: Criminal Case No. 14768.

3. Cases appear decided already per the July 2004 Monthly Report and attachments thereto, to wit: SCA No. 477, SCA No. 478, SCA No. 479, SCA No. 495, SCA No. 496, SCA No. 497 and SCA No. 498.

4. Cases appear already decided per the September 2004 Monthly Report, to wit: Civil Case Nos. 3776 (3376) and 4876.

5. Case appears already decided per Letter, dated 28 July 2003 submitted by Judge Asaali, in partial compliance with the Resolution, dated 16 June 2003 of the Court in A.M. No. 01-11-606-RTC (Cases Submitted for Decision Before Judge Tibing A. Asaali, RTC, Br. 17, Zamboanga City), to wit: Criminal Case No. 14087.

6. Cases appear already decided per Letter, dated 19 July 2004 of Judge Asaali, which he submitted in partial compliance with the Resolution, dated 16 June 2003 of the court in A.M. No. 01-11-606-RTC (Cases Submitted for Decision Before Judge Tibing A. Asaali, RTC, Br. 17, Zamboanga City), to wit Criminal Cases Nos. 13739, 13923, 14357, 14360, 14357, 14360, 14682, 14700; and Civil Case Nos. 3494, 5156, SCA No. 469, SCA No. 470, SCA No. 471, SCA, No. 472, SCA No. 473, SCA No. 527, SCA No. 534, SCA No. 535, SCA No. 536, SCA No. 537 and SCA No. 538.

7. Cases appear already decided per Letter, dated 14 September 2004 of Judge Asaali, which he submitted in compliance with the Resolution, dated 21 January 2002 of the Supreme Court in A.M. No. 01-11-606-RTC (Cases Submitted for Decision Before Judge Tibing A. Asaali, RTC, Br. 17, Zamboanga City); not by reason of the directives issued in connection with the judicial audit of 18 to 28 August 2002 conducted of the court (RTC, Br. 17, Zamboanga City). Apparently, confirmed so, per Monthly Report of August 2004 and its attachments, where it appears cases were decided on 23 August 2004, to wit: Criminal Cases Nos. 13850 and 13851.

8. Cases appear already decided per Letter, dated 14 September 2004 of Judge Asaali, which he submitted in compliance with the Resolution, dated 21 January 2002 of the Supreme Court in A.M. No. 01-11-606-RTC (Cases Submitted for Decision Before Judge Tibing A. Asaali, RTC, Br. 17, Zamboanga City.), not by reason of the directives issued in connection with the judicial audit of 18 to 28 August 2002 conducted of the court (RTC, Br. 17, Zamboanga City), to wit SCA No. 428, SCA No. 452, SCA No. 465 and SCA No. 556.

9. SCA No. 474 appears to have been disposed of already, like Civil Cases Nos. 469 to 473, which were already decided, it appearing that Civil Cases Nos. 474 and 469 to 473 all entitled Antonio Punzalan, rep. by Linda Lim v. Esterlita Aquino, for unlawful detainer refers to one and same case jointly tried, filed (8 February 2000) and submitted for decision on the same date, to wit: 4 April 2000.

10. Case already decided per Compliance, dated 2 July 2004 of Atty. Nancy B. Cuaresma, Clerk of Court, RTC, Br. 17, Zamboanga City, which she submitted in compliance with the Memorandum, dated 28 May 2004 of DCA Lock, in connection with the Judicial audit of 18 to 28 August 2002 conducted of the court (RTC, Br. 17. Zamboanga City), to wit: Civil Case No. SCA No. 442.4

Based on the report submitted by the OCA, then DCA Lock recommended in a Memorandum dated 1 March 2006 that:

(1) In consonance with the Memorandum, dated February 2005, "the matter x x x be brought to the attention of the Court for appropriate action," considering that Judge Asaali still failed to comply anew with the Memorandum, dated 28 May 2004, despite the warning therein;

(2) Case be redocketed as a regular administrative matter; inclusive of the following recommendation that was made in the first Imbang case (Imbang v. Judge del Rosario, MCTC, Br. 3, Patnongon, Antique, A.M. No. MTJ-03-1515, 3 February 2004, 421 SCRA 523, En Banc, per Callejo, J.), which is adopted here, to wit:

(a) For failing to file his compliances with the various directives of the Office of the OCA, respondent Judge Asaali be meted a FINE in the amount of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00);

(b) The respondent Judge be further DIRECTED to SHOW CAUSE within ten (10) days from receipt hereof why he should not be dismissed from the service for his obstinate refusal to file his compliances with the directives of the OCA.5

On 8 March 2007, a judicial audit was again conducted by the OCA on the same trial court. The OCA reported that out of the 89 cases included in the Memorandum dated 28 May 2004, 12 cases remained undecided, namely: Civil Case Nos. 2032, 2276, SCA Nos. 187, 209, 336, 2775, 3026, 3602, 4049, 4165, 4512 and 4660. Six of these cases, which as of 8 March 2007 had not yet been disposed of, were part of the 21 January 2002 Resolution of the Court in Administrative Matter No. 01-11-606-RTC (Re: Cases Submitted before Judge Tibing A. Asaali, Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, Zamboanga City).6

In a Resolution dated 14 November 2007, the Second Division of the Court resolved to require Judge Asaali to show cause, within a non-extendible period of ten (10) days from notice, why he should not be dismissed from the service for his obstinate refusal to comply with the Memorandum dated 28 May 2004 and other directives of the OCA.

Eventually, Judge Asaali sent a letter dated 12 January 2008 to this Court. Judge Asaali reasoned that he was not able to comply with the Court's directives because he suffered a stroke, covering the period from 1 August 1999 to 31 December 2000, from which he had not completely recovered.

On 18 February 2008, the Second Division of the Court resolved to refer the letter dated 12 January 2008 of Judge Asaali to the OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation within 30 days from receipt of the records.

Prior to this administrative case, in a Decision dated 29 January 1997 entitled Pepino v. Judge Asaali,7 the Court found Judge Asaali guilty for failing to decide a case within the reglementary period and severely reprimanded him with a stern warning that the commission of a like, or of any other, offense in the future would be dealt with more severely.

The OCA's Report and Recommendation

In its Report dated 21 April 2008, the OCA submitted the following recommendations:

(1) for gross inefficiency and gross and serious misconduct, respondent judge, the HON. TIBING A. ASAALI, Presiding Judge, RTC, Br. 17, Zamboanga City, be meted the penalty of six (6) months SUSPENSION without pay, effective IMMEDIATELY, upon notice hereof, with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts, the maximum penalty of dismissal will be imposed; andcralawlibrary

(2) with respect to the following twelve (12) cases, apparently still undecided by Judge Asaali until now, to wit: Civil Case Nos. 2032, 2276, SCA No. 187, SCA No. 209 and SCA No. 336 and Civil Case Nos. 2775, 3026, 3602, 4049, 4165, 4512 and 4660, the HON. JESUS C. CARBON, JR., Presiding Judge, RTC, Br. 16, Zamboanga City, being the Pairing Judge of RTC, Br. 17, Zamboanga City, be DIRECTED to decide them within ninety (90) days from receipt of notice hereof.8

The Court's Ruling

The Court finds the report of the OCA well-taken except as to the penalty.

Judges have the sworn duty to administer justice and decide cases promptly and expeditiously because justice delayed is justice denied. No less than our Constitution requires that a trial court judge shall resolve or decide cases within three (3) months after they have been submitted for decision.9 In addition, the Code of Judicial Conduct mandates that judges shall dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required period.10

Here, Judge Asaali failed to decide 12 civil cases within the 90-day reglementary period. Six of these cases pertained to the unresolved cases included in the Memorandum dated 28 May 2004 and the remaining cases formed part of an earlier Resolution dated 21 January 2002 issued by this Court to Judge Asaali pertaining to another administrative case.

Judges are constantly reminded to decide cases with dispatch. Whenever a judge cannot decide a case promptly, all he has to do is to ask this Court for a reasonable extension of time to resolve the case.11 Here, there is no showing that Judge Asaali asked for any extension within which to decide the cases. In fact, Judge Asaali did not even offer an explanation for his non-compliance with the directives of the Court.

It cannot be said that Judge Asaali was not given ample time to comply with the directives of the OCA. As borne by the records, from the judicial audit made in August 2002, the OCA sent several directives to Judge Asaali, namely, the 1st Memorandum dated 28 May 2004 and the 2nd Memorandum dated February 2005, directing him to resolve the cases pending before his court within a reasonable time. However, Judge Asaali, in his failure to comply with the mandates of this Court, neither offered any reason nor raised any defense for his non-compliance with the directives of the OCA. Not until this Court issued a show cause order why he should not be dismissed from the service, through a Resolution dated 14 November 2007, did Judge Asaali comply explaining that he suffered a stroke which prevented him from resolving the cases pending before his court.

Further, Judge Asaali claimed he suffered a stroke during the period from 1 August 1999 to 31 December 2000. However, the Memorandum containing the directives of the OCA was issued on 28 May 2004 or four years after his stroke. Judge Asaali failed to show that his stroke totally incapacitated him from complying with the lawful orders of the OCA.

This Court commiserates with Judge Asaali for the stroke that he suffered. However, this illness does not exonerate Judge Asaali from the consequences of his omissions that took place four years after his stroke and after he had resumed reporting to work. In the absence of any showing that his illness prevented him from working even after December 2000 and until after the issuance of the OCA directives, Judge Asaali has no valid excuse for not giving due attention to the directives of the OCA and the Court. Indeed, Judge Asaali had been reporting for work long before the issuance of the 28 May 2004 Memorandum. At the very least, the stroke that he sustained would only mitigate his liability.

Judge Asaali should know that judges must respect the orders and decisions of higher tribunals, especially the Supreme Court from which all other courts take their bearings.12 A resolution of this Court is not to be construed as a mere request, and should be complied with promptly and completely.13 Such failure to comply with the repeated directives of this Court constitutes gross disrespect to its lawful orders and directives. We agree with the OCA that Judge Asaali is guilty of gross inefficiency and gross misconduct.

Section 8, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court provides that gross misconduct constitutes a serious charge in the discipline of judges of regular courts:

Sec. 8. Serious charges.'

x x x

3. Gross misconduct constituting violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct;

x x x

Accordingly, Section 11, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court provides the sanctions to be imposed if one is found to be guilty of a serious charge:

Sec. 11. Sanctions. - A. If the respondent is guilty of a serious charge, any of the following sanctions may be imposed:

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 P40,000.00.

Since Judge Asaali has already been reprimanded in a prior administrative case, we hold that the penalty of fine in the amount of P40,000 is commensurate to Judge Asaali's infractions. We sternly warn Judge Asaali that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

WHEREFORE, we find Judge Tibing A. Asaali of the Regional Trial Court of Zamboanga City, Branch 17, GUILTY of gross inefficiency and gross misconduct. Accordingly, we FINE him P40,000, with a stern warning that commission of similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.


Endnotes:


1 Later appointed as Court Administrator.

2 Rollo, pp. 44-45.

3 Administrative Matter No. 01-11-606-RTC (Re: Cases Submitted before Judge Tibing A. Asaali, Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, Zamboanga City), by reason of the Court's Resolution dated 21 January 2002.

4 Rollo, pp. 95-97.

5 Id. at 12.

6 The records show that this case is still pending.

7 A.M. No. RTJ-96-1339, 29 January 1997, 267 SCRA 140.

8 Rollo, pp. 103-104.

9 Section 15(1), Article VIII, 1987 Constitution.

10 Canon 3, Rule 3.05.

11 Report on the On the Spot Judicial Audit Conducted in the MCTC, Teresa-Baras, Rizal, 437 Phil. 546 (2002).

12 Soria v. Villegas, 461 Phil. 665 (2003).

13 Re: Audit Report on Attendance of Court Personnel of Regional Trial Court, Branch 32, Manila, A.M. No. P-04-1838, 31 August 2006,500 SCRA 351.

Top of Page