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434 Phil. 731

EN BANC

[ A.M. No. 00-4-08-SC, July 31, 2002 ]

RE: REPORT OF DEPUTY COURT ADMINISTRATOR BERNARDO PONFERRADA RE JUDICIAL AUDIT CONDUCTED IN BRANCH 21,REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, CEBU CITY -- JUDGE GENIS B. BALBUENA, PRESIDING.

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

In a memorandum dated March 31, 2000, former Deputy Court Administrator Bernardo Ponferrada reported on the judicial audit conducted in Branch 21 of the Regional Trial Court, Cebu City, presided over by Judge Genis B. Balbuena.

According to DCA Ponferrada, the audit team found:

...that there were 743 cases (295 criminal and 448 civil and other cases) pending in the subject branch as of the end of February 2000. Of that number 32 criminal cases and 78 civil cases were found submitted for decision or a total of 110 undecided cases. Not all of these cases, however, were submitted before Judge [Genis B.] Balbuena [presiding judge of Branch 21]. As contained in the report, 25 are inherited cases submitted for decision before Judge Jose P. Soberano, Jr. who was the acting presiding judge of Branch 21 and who retired last March 11, 2000. Some of the cases, however, submitted before Judge Balbuena have remained undecided for about 2 years.

Also reported were 105 cases where there were incidents submitted for resolution; 57 cases where no further action had been taken for 3 months or more; and 23 cases where no action at all were taken since they were filed.

Summonses were found prepared in several civil cases but have not yet been released for service despite payment of docket fees thereon. Upon inquiry, [the audit team was] informed that the staff were still waiting for the plaintiffs therein to provide the sheriff/process server money for transportation expenses. This matter has already been straighten[ed] out.

The staff of Branch 21 had expressed concern over the practice of Judge Balbuena of bringing home records of cases. The inherent danger of this exercise is exacerbate[d] by the fact that Judge Balbuena does not inform his staff which records he was bringing home. His Branch Clerk of Court and Legal Researcher complains that they find it hard to track records. This matter has also been addressed.[1]

Following the recommendation of DCA Ponferrada, we resolved on April 11, 2000, to: (1) direct Judge Balbuena to explain why no administrative sanction should be imposed on him for his failure to decide the following cases on time: Civil Cases Nos. CBU-23815, 25729, 26664, 29572, 31391, 31392, 31490, 31905, 33873, 33874, 34077, 34078, 34079, 35577, 36854, 37468, 37880, 37899, 38382, 38785, 40989, 41133, 42303, 44707, 47561, and Civil Cases Nos. CEB-04389, 09886, 10497, 11588, 12739, 12784, 13905, 14009, 14061, 15355, 15445, 15880, 16767, 16856, 17026, 17367, 17411, 17815, 17827, 17842, 17905, 17947, 17950, 18230, 18405, 19101, 19234, 19248, 19394, 19456, 19561, 19577, 19838, 19969, 20056, 20079, 20201, 20208, 20390, 20505, 21306, 21485, 21524, 21801, 23583, 24553, SP-5856-CEB, SP-6074, SP-6292-CEB, SP-6618-CEB, SP-6688-CEB, SP-6732-CEB, SP-6795-CEB, SP-6847-CEB, SP-6891-CEB, SP-7105-CEB, SP-7133-CEB, SP-7180-CEB, SP-7316-CEB, SP-7345-CEB, SP-7352-CEB, SP-7432-CEB, SP-7439-CEB, SP-7509-CEB, SP-7522-CEB, SP-7530-CEB, SP-7631-CEB, and SP-7670-CEB; (2) direct Judge Balbuena to explain why no administrative sanction should be imposed on him for his failure to resolve pending incidents within the reglementary period in the following cases: Criminal Cases Nos. CBU-08232 to CBU-08236, CBU-22374, CBU-26714, CBU-27455 to CBU-27458, CBU-27671 to CBU-27676, CBU-28026, CBU-30123, CBU-30360, CBU- 31202 to CBU-31205, CBU-32732, CBU-33621, CBU-34570, CBU-34571, CBU-35335, CBU-35402, CBU-37216, CBU-37556 to CBU-37558, CBU-40383, CBU-40661, CBU-40674, CBU-41568, CBU-42045, CBU-44565, CBU-45393, CBU-46050, CBU-48366, CBU-49233, CBU-50178, CBU-52505, and CBU-52903; and Civil Cases Nos. CEB-04053, CEB-05153, CEB-10331, CEB-14785, CEB-14889, CEB-16600, CEB-17007, CEB-17122, CEB-17264, CEB-17300, CEB-17575, CEB-17602, CEB-18688, CEB-18928, CEB-19098, CEB-19129, CEB-19383, CEB-19766, CEB-19788, CEB-20025, CEB-20115, CEB-20205, CEB-20333, CEB-20456, CEB-20815, CEB-20911, CEB-21002, CEB-21122, CEB-21288, CEB-21300, CEB-21326, CEB-21341, CEB-21377, CEB-21540, CEB-21570, CEB-21776, CEB-21852, CEB-22016, CEB-22262, CEB-22594, CEB-23001, CEB-23144, CEB-23264, CEB-23323, CEB-23337, CEB-23461, CEB-23531, CEB-23670, CEB-23675, CEB-23930, CEB-24339, CEB-24489, CEB-24692, CEB-24769, CEB-27317, SP-6431-CEB, SP-7918-CEB, SP-7354-CEB, SP-7758-CEB, LRC-1291-N, and LRC-1381; (3) direct the same Judge to decide or resolve the foregoing cases within 180 days from notice and to furnish this Court, through the Office of the Court Administrator, copies of his actions thereon; (4) direct the same Judge to desist from trying and hearing cases and instead to concentrate on deciding and resolving the foregoing cases; (5) designate Judge Galicano C. Arriesgado, Executive Judge, Regional Trial Court, Cebu City, and presiding judge of Branch 18, to hear cases pending in Branch 21 in addition to his duties in his own sala, effective immediately and until further orders from this Court; (6) direct Judge Arriesgado to act on the following cases, which had not been acted upon for an unreasonable length of time: Criminal Cases Nos. CBU-33454, CBU-33455, CBU-40748, CBU-45605, CBU-50348, and Civil Cases Nos. CEB-01151, CEB-06791, CEB-14101, CEB-16607, CEB-18465, CEB-18571, CEB-19303, CEB-19617, CEB-19677, CEB-20167, CEB-20429, CEB-20496, CEB-20886, CEB-21085, CEB-21201, CEB-21211, CEB-21416, CEB-21457, CEB-21487, CEB-21781, CEB-21828, CEB-21911, CEB-22035, CEB-22207, CEB-22286, CEB-22310, CEB-22341, CEB-22360, CEB-22778, CEB-22808, CEB-22822, CEB-23198, CEB-23222, CEB-23315, CEB-23380, CEB-23432, CEB-23738, CEB-23756, CEB-23790, CEB-23881, CEB-23932, CEB-24039, CEB-24139, CEB-24252, CEB-24312, CEB-24321, CEB-24357, CEB-24358, SP-5809-CEB, SP-6785-CEB, SP-7900-CEB, SP-8173-CEB, and on the following cases where no action at all had been taken since they were filed: CEB-08788, CEB-08797, CEB-10863, CEB-17816, CEB-18111, CEB-18161, CEB-18239, CEB-18696, CEB-18901, CEB-19086, CEB-19296, CEB-20575, CEB-23020, CEB-23284, CEB-24750, CEB-24840, SP-5785-CEB, SP-6666-CEB, SP-7137-CEB, SP-7157-CEB, SP-8896-CEB, and CAD-61 (NO. 4); and (7) order Judge Balbuena to explain why no administrative sanction should be imposed on him for his failure to act on the cases mentioned in number (6) above.[2]

In compliance with our resolution, Judge Balbuena wrote this Court a letter asserting that he works even during weekends but still has very little time left for deciding or resolving cases. He stated that most of his time is spent studying and trying cases, and issuing orders in connection therewith. He said he is finding ways to increase his output and to improve his system of work.

According to Judge Balbuena, the cases that had not been acted upon further or not acted upon at all “for an unreasonable length of time”[3] had been inadvertently overlooked either by himself or his staff. This is unavoidable, he said, given his case load. At the time he received this Court’s resolution dated April 11, 2000, there were 788 cases pending in his sala.[4]

As regards some of those civil cases that have not been set for pre-trial,[5] Judge Balbuena explained that the plaintiffs in those cases have not moved for a pre-trial conference.[6] Thus, no pre-trial has been set.

From May 3, 2000 up to the time the OCA received his letter on December 13, 2000, Judge Balbuena decided 25 out of 93 cases submitted for decision, and resolved 40 out of 106 cases with pending incidents. He asked to be given another period of six months to concentrate on the cases listed in our resolution.

After a favorable recommendation from the OCA, we granted this request, without further extension, in a resolution dated May 4, 2001.[7]

However, Judge Balbuena was still unable to fully comply with our resolution of April 11, 2000. Thus, in a memorandum to this Court dated July 11, 2001, the OCA recommended that Judge Balbuena be dismissed from the service. In making this recommendation, the OCA cited Judge Balbuena’s “indifference. . .to his responsibilities as a judge.”[8]

Meanwhile, in a letter dated July 12, 2001, Judge Balbuena asked for a further extension of time to comply with our resolution of April 11, 2000. He also submitted copies of the additional decisions and orders he issued in compliance with the aforecited resolution.

On September 18, 2001, we referred this matter to the OCA for further evaluation, report and recommendation.

The OCA observed:

The Court has already extended to Judge Balbuena a total of one (1) year grace period to decide the ninety-three (93) cases submitted to him for decision which he failed to decide within the 90-day reglementary (period). Out of these ninety-three (93) cases, he was able to decide only twenty-nine (29) cases during the extended period granted to him…

Judge Balbuena was also given one (1) year within which to resolve pending incidents in one hundred six (106) cases which he also failed to resolve within the reglementary period. Out of these one hundred six (106) cases, he was able to resolve only forty-seven (47) cases during the one year grace period...

For reasons only known to him, Judge Balbuena insisted on deciding/resolving cases which were not listed in the 11 April 2000 Resolution instead of concentrating on cases which the Court mandated him to dispose.

Notably, from November 2000 to May 2001, Judge Balbuena has decided only five (5) cases and resolved only two (2) cases contained in the Resolution of 11 April 2000. This indicates that instead of increasing his output, Judge Balbuena’s performance has deteriorated. This is despite the fact that Judge Arriesgado was designated by the Court to hear cases in Branch 21 so that Judge Balbuena can concentrate in making decisions and resolving matters. Other than his allegation that he was doing his best, Judge Balbuena did not offer any explanation for his failure to decide/resolve the cases. This is a clear manifestation that he was not sincere and serious in his undertaking to resolve the remaining cases.

Obviously, Judge Balbuena was remiss in the performance of his duties when he failed to decide ninety-three (93) cases and to resolve one hundred six (106) cases with matters pending resolution within the reglementary period of ninety (90) days. This is aside from the fact that numerous cases were unacted upon for a considerable length of time.[9]

These observations of the OCA are well taken. The records reveal Judge Balbuena’s failure to comply substantially, much less fully, with our resolution dated April 11, 2000. This Court has given him a year to decide 93 cases and resolve pending matters in 106 cases. Of these numbers, he was able to decide only 29 cases and resolve pending incidents in 47 other cases.

Worthy of note, during the latter six months of the one-year extension given him, he decided only five cases and resolved pending incidents in two. Rather than increasing his output to finish his task in due time, Judge Balbuena’s output even decreased, as observed by OCA earlier. This is dismal indeed, considering that we have even directed Judge Arriesgado to take over hearing the cases in Branch 21 so that Judge Balbuena can focus on writing his decisions. If before, as he claimed, his entire time was spent conducting hearings and issuing orders relative thereto, this situation no longer obtained during the extended period granted him. Thus, there appears no explanation for his failure to comply with our resolution dated April 11, 2000, and neither did Judge Balbuena offer any.

Judge Balbuena’ s failure to decide cases on time is a violation of Rule 3.05 of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides:

Rule 3.05. - A Judge shall dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.

Trite but true, justice delayed is often justice denied. Delay in the disposition of cases not only deprives litigants of their right to speedy disposition of their cases, but it also tarnishes the image of the judiciary.[10] Failure to decide cases on time could constitute inefficiency that merits administrative sanction.

The orderly administration of justice requires that members of the judiciary be able to cope with the responsibilities of their office, which naturally include issuing decisions and resolutions within the period required by law. During the period covered by the audit, Judge Balbuena failed to decide on time 93 cases, a number that starkly points to obvious inefficiency. This number is apart from the 106 cases with pending incidents that he also failed to resolve within the proper period.

In his letter to this Court dated November 20, 2000, Judge Balbuena stated that he could not find the records of one of the cases listed in our April 11, 2000 resolution, and thus could not act thereon. This evidences a failure to devise a proper system for keeping records of cases, which is quite dismaying from the viewpoint of basic court management.

In the same letter, Judge Balbuena averred that those cases that have not been acted upon “for an unreasonable period of time... (have been) inadvertently overlooked”,[11] and that this “cannot always be avoided…”[12] This explanation is less than enlightening. It betrays palpable ignorance of applicable law and rules. One or two delayed cases may be due to inadvertence but certainly not in this instance where in one sala the cases demanding action, particularly decision or resolution, total 199. To our mind, this situation is not excused merely by pointing to court personnel inadvertently overlooking cases. This is symptomatic of gross inefficiency that this Court should not tolerate.

Judge Balbuena requests a further extension to fully comply with this Court’s resolution of April 11, 2000. However, we note that despite two extensions of six months each, the last one having been granted on May 4, 2001, Judge Balbuena was unable to complete his task to this Court’s satisfaction.

The OCA opines now that a fine in the amount of P40,000 be imposed on Judge Balbuena, and that his salaries and other benefits be withheld pending full compliance with our resolution of April 11, 2000. Considering the circumstances herein elucidated, however, we are of the view that a fine will not suffice. The administration of justice demands that those who don judicial robes be able to comply fully and faithfully with the task set before them. In this regard, Judge Balbuena miserably failed. We note that the OCA initially recommended Judge Balbuena’s dismissal, stressing that the wheels of justice would hardly move if Judge Balbuena were to continue working in the judiciary. [13] We agree with this recommendation. Thus, for gross neglect of judicial duty, stark inefficiency in the performance of his official functions, palpable ignorance of applicable law and rules, and manifest indifference to our urgent exhortations for speedy dispensation of justice through timely disposition of cases, we are constrained to impose upon Judge Balbuena, as earlier recommended, the penalty of dismissal from the service.

WHEREFORE, JUDGE GENIS B. BALBUENA, presiding judge, Regional Trial Court of Cebu City, Branch 21, is found liable for gross neglect of judicial duty, inefficiency in the performance of official functions, ignorance of law and rules, and indifference to his responsibilities concerning speedy disposition of cases. He is ordered DISMISSED from the service, with forfeiture of all benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to re-employment in any government branch or instrumentality, including government-owned or controlled corporations. The Branch Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court of Cebu City, Branch 21, is directed to retrieve from Judge Balbuena all records of cases in his possession, to conduct an inventory thereof, and to submit to this Court a report thereon within 10 days from completion.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, and Corona, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 1-2.
[2] Id. at 13-15.
[3] Id., at 19.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Civil Cases Nos. CEB-21457, CEB-24139, CEB-21201, CEB-23432, CEB-19303, and CEB-24039
[6] Per the RULES OF COURT, Rule 18, Section 1.
[7] Rollo, p. 307.
[8] OCA Memorandum dated July 11, 2001, p. 4.
[9] OCA Memorandum dated October 12, 2001, pp. 2-3.
[10]Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in the RTC-Branch 24, Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur; Branch 2, Isabela, Basilan; and MCTC, Labason, Zamboanga del Norte, A.M. No. 98-1-12- RTC, 303 SCRA 208, 215 (1999).
[11] Rollo, p. 19.
[12] Ibid.
[13] OCA Memorandum dated July 11, 2001, p. 4.

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