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504 Phil. 290

SECOND DIVISION

[ A.M. NO. 00-2-65-RTC, August 16, 2005 ]

RE: REPORT ON THE ON-THE-SPOT JUDICIAL AUDIT CONDUCTED IN THE RTC-BRANCHES 45 & 53, BACOLOD CITY.

R E S O L U T I O N

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

Judge Edgardo de los Santos and Judge Pepito B. Gellada move for a reconsideration of the Resolution dated February 15, 2005, the decretal portion of which reads:
Wherefore, Judge Edgardo L. Delos Santos is found guilty of gross inefficiency. With the mitigating circumstance of poor health and heavy caseload due to several salas he handles, he is FINED the amount of P20,000.00. He is DIRECTED TO DECIDE Civil Case No. 7556 and to FURNISH the Court through the Office of the Court Administrator a copy of the said decision within thirty (30) days from notice hereof.

Judge Pepito B. Gellada is found guilty of gross inefficiency and is Fined the amount of P11,000.00. He is DIRECTED to:
  1. DECIDE WITH DISPATCH Criminal Cases Nos. 170 & 1128 and Civil Cases Nos. 4498 & 4628 and to FURNISH THE Court through the Office of the Court Administrator copies of said decision, thirty (30) days from rendition thereof;

  2. take appropriate actions on Criminal Cases Nos. 10220, 96-16950 & 95-17418 and to SUBMIT a report of compliance thereto to the Court through the Office of the Court Administrator, within thirty (30)days from notice hereof; and

  3. to CAUSE the completion of the transcripts of stenographic notes in Criminal Case No. 1128 and the transcript of stenographic notes in the consolidated Civil Cases Nos. 4498 and 4628 taken on February 4, 1991, or the re-taking of the testimonies, if warranted; and report to the Court the action taken thereon, within thirty (30) days from receipt hereof.
Judge de los Santos alleges in the main that his failure to decide the subject cases beyond the reglementary period was caused not by inefficiency on his part but brought about by human frailty and the fact that he was simply overburdened. He cites that prior to the on-the-spot audit conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator on September 8, 1999, and post audit, up to May 2003, he held and performed concurrently his duties as Presiding Judge of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Bacolod, Branch 45 with other assignments given him by the Court - in such capacities as Acting Presiding Judge in two other courts/branches (RTC of Bacolod, Branch 46 and RTC of Kabankalan, Branch 61), and as Judge-Designate in two cases where the regular presiding Judges thereat recused themselves. These assignments affected greatly his health as he shuttled to and from the different courts considering the long travels he had to make, over and above the fact, that his sala and the other courts he handled are heavily laden with cases.

Judge de los Santos likewise alleges that with his very busy schedule, he failed to file motions for extensions of time to decide the subject cases. However, he points out that he wrote Justice ElepaƱo once, the then Chief Justice Narvasa twice, and Chief Justice Davide, Jr., once, about his predicament praying for the revocation of his additional assignments. Chief Justice Davide, Jr. granted his plea on August 13, 1999 when he issued a Memorandum directing Justice Benipayo to prepare an Administrative Order revoking his designation as acting presiding judge of RTC of Kabankalan, Branch 61. On September 7, 1999, Administrative Order No. 91-99 was issued, signed by the then Acting Chief Justice Josue Bellosillo, thus relieving him of said designation. But by then, his docket had already piled up and a day after, the audit was conducted.

Finally, Judge de los Santos avers that he has complied with the directive of the Court to decide Civil Case No. 7556 and has submitted a copy of the said decision. However, he takes exception to our finding that he failed to include in his letter-compliance of the Resolution dated February 23, 2000 that the said case was still undecided despite the report of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) that the respective memoranda of the parties have been submitted. He explains that he cannot be faulted for not including Civil Case No. 7556 because at that time, said case was not yet ripe for decision. Then, the respective memoranda of the adversaries were not yet submitted contrary to the report of the OCA. In fact, until the writing of the decision, no memorandum was filed. Thus, the 90-day given period to decide has not yet commenced. But he decided the said case sans memoranda for failure to file the same after a considerable lapse of time.

Judge Gellada admits having omitted to perform a duty assigned to him within the time frame required but asserts that the omission is not deliberate, or attributable to sloth, or procrastination. He alleges that he was saddled with a heavy caseload coupled with the designation of his sala as a heinous crime court in 1997 and that he wasted no time in deciding the cases after his attention was called. He narrated a backgrounder for each of the case the audit found to be beyond the 90-day period to decide and some cases which were found to be unacted upon for a long while. He likewise submits his compliance of the directives in our resolution sought to be reconsidered.

Both movants-judges cite the case of A.M. No. 03-11-628 entitled "Re- Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in the Regional Trial Court, Branch 144, Makati City" arguing that the Court took cognizance of the heavy burden of judges, the time constraints and pressures they are working under, when Judge Candido Villanueva, who was also charged for gross inefficiency, was exonerated for failing to decide cases within the reglementary period.

There is parallelism in the predicament of Judge de los Santos and that of Judge Villanueva's.

In the aforecited case, Judge Villanueva's caseload is unusually high brought about by the sending to his branch of cases formerly cognizable by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts. His sala was also designated as one of the pioneer Family Courts. He further stated that his pairing judges' successive resignation and lack of personnel contributed to his failure to decide the cases within the 90-day period. He failed to file motions for extension within which to decide the said cases but has written the Court Administrator asking permission not to conduct hearings to be able to devote more time to cases that had been submitted for decision.

The Court found merit in the explanation of Judge Villanueva ratiocinating that there was sufficient justification for his non-compliance of his duty to decide cases within the 90-day period as mandated by the Constitution. His letter to the Court Administrator requesting permission not to conduct hearings to be able to devote more time to cases that had been submitted for decision to address his heavy caseload was considered a request no different from asking for an additional period or extension of time within which to decide cases beyond the 90-day period.

As aforestated, Judge de los Santos had a high caseload, assigned to handle other salas with also heavy caseloads not to mention the fact that he has to traverse long distance by public utility buses and has to attend to some other additional assignments. Like Judge Villanueva, he has written not only the OCA but also the Court requesting revocation of his other assignments so he could devote his time to the docket of his own sala.

The Court also take notes that Judge de los Santos has been in the service for 27 years: 5 years as researcher in the Court of First Instance (CFI), Court of Appeals and the Court; 10 years as presiding judge in the Municipal Trial Court; and 12 years (to date) as RTC judge.

Anent Judge Gellada.

In the backgrounder[1] of the subject cases, Judge Gellada narrated that Criminal Cases Nos. 1120 dates back from 1979; passed through four judges but none succeeded in securing the transcript of stenographic notes (TSN); passed on to three courts, starting with the Criminal Circuit Court to Branch 50 of RTC, Bacolod City and eventually to Branch 53. The Criminal Circuit Court was abolished which he surmises may account for the loss of the TSNs. The concerned stenographers are no longer connected in the government and their whereabouts are unknown. There is thus a need for a re-taking of the testimonies.

Consolidated Civil Cases Nos. 4498 and 4628 date back from 1987. These are also inherited cases and the TSN is still incomplete and the testimonies of the witnesses have to be re-taken.

Criminal Case No. 10220 is another inherited case filed in 1980 which passed on to three courts. The TSNs are incomplete. The case was dismissed on April 18, 2000 with the passing of Republic Act No. 7636 repealing the Anti-Subversion law which provides that membership in the Communist party is no longer a crime.

Criminal Case No. 170 was originally filed in 1979 in the Court of First Instance, Branch 4. The docket number was changed to Criminal Case No. 3320 when the CFI became RTC and was raffled to Branch 53. Three judges have handled it until Judge Gellada decided it on November 27, 2000.

Criminal Cases Nos. 96-16950, 95-17147 and 95-174148 are cases against one accused. The last two cases were dismissed. Only Criminal Case No. 96-16950 remains pending and was set for hearing on May 16 and 23, 2005 for reception of evidence.

It is noted that the aforestated cases, where the TSNs are not available, are inherited cases. Judge Gellada cannot be faulted for his failure to decide them within the required period of 90 days. A retaking of the testimonies is necessary so he can prepare a judicious resolution. But it is equally noted that given the backgrounder, Judge Gellada should have given preference to these cases. As it is, Judge Gellada did not order the re-taking of the testimonies of the vital witnesses and/or failed to render decisions/resolutions in the said cases until the audit conducted by the OCA. Thus, there is no sufficient justification to warrant his exoneration. The twelve years unblemished service of Judge Gellada operates only to mitigate his liability.

We reiterate that it is the duty of the judge to dispose of court's business promptly. Proper and efficient court management is the responsibility of the judge - he is the one directly responsible for the proper discharge of official functions.[2]

WHEREFORE, the Motion for Reconsideration of Judge Edgardo de los Santos is GRANTED. Judge Edgardo de los Santos is EXONERATED from the charge of gross inefficiency. The FINE imposed on Judge Pepito B. Gellada is REDUCED to P5,000.00.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Callejo, Sr., Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.



[1] The Court picked up only those cases inherited by Judge Gellada.

[2] Abarquez vs. Rebosura, A.M. No. MTJ- 94-986, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1052, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1069, January 28, 1998, 285 SCRA 109, 120.

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