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681 Phil. 261


[ A.M. No. RTJ-11-2291, February 08, 2012 ]




The Case

A.M. No. RTJ-11-2291 originates from a judicial audit of the case records of Branch 17, Regional Trial Court, Palompon, Leyte (Branch 17) conducted from 25 to 27 November 2008 by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA). At the time of audit, the presiding judge of Branch 17, Hon. Celso L. Mantua (Judge Mantua), was on official leave in Manila. Judge Mantua retired on 9 January 2009.

The Facts

Travel Order No. 103-2008 dated 11 November 2008 ordered the conduct of a judicial audit in Branch 17 from 24 to 25 November 2008. The judicial audit team[1] submitted a memorandum[2] dated 14 January 2009, five days after Judge Mantua's retirement, to Deputy Court Administrator Nimfa C. Vilches (DCA Vilches). The judicial audit team quantified Branch 17's caseload as follows:

As of audit date, the Court has a total caseload of 356 cases consisting of 230 criminal cases and 126 civil cases based on the records actually presented to and examined by the team which are classified hereunder according to the status/stages of proceeding as shown by the table below:

Preliminary Conference / Pre-Trial / Mediation
For Compliance
No Action Taken
No Further Action / Setting
Submitted for Resolution
Submitted for Decision
Suspended Proceedings
Dismissed / Withdrawn
Newly Filed

The judicial audit team further highlighted items in Branch 17's caseload using tables[4] which detailed the case number, parties, nature of the case, and last court action before the conduct of the audit. There were 20 criminal cases wherein the court failed to take any action from the time of filing, 41 criminal cases without further action or setting for a considerable length of time, 12 criminal cases with pending incidents or motions submitted for resolution, and two criminal cases submitted for decision. There were 7 civil cases that remained unacted upon from the time of filing, 27 civil cases without further setting or setting for a considerable length of time, 11 civil cases with pending incidents or motions submitted for resolution, and 8 cases submitted for decision.

The judicial audit team also found that Branch 17's case records were not in order.

The team noted that the case records are stitched together with pagination. However, the criminal records are not chronologically arranged. Also, the records attached to criminal cases jointly tried are incomplete (Crim. Cases 1129, 1131, 1189, 1190, 1185, 1186, 1033, 1205, among a few). The court's docket books are not updated. There are no log book[s] on arrest and search warrants, exhibits, disposed/decided/archived cases and incoming documents. There is no order on payment of postponement fee in proper cases.

It was also noticed that alias warrants of arrest were issued without archiving cases.[5]

The judicial audit team recommended that Atty. Elmer P. Mape (Atty. Mape), as Officer-in-Charge (Legal Researcher II) of Branch 17, be directed to: (1) inform the OCA within 15 days of the status of Branch 17's caseload and submit a copy of the pertinent order, resolution and notice of hearing issued; (2) apprise the Acting Presiding Judge from time to time of cases submitted for resolution or decision and those cases that require immediate action; (3) implement the provisions of Memorandum Circular No. 01-2008 dated 17 January 2008 on the wearing of office uniform; (4) observe the flag raising and flag lowering ceremonies as mandated by Circular No. 62-2001 dated 27 September 2001; (5) order the stitching of all orders issued, minutes taken, notices of hearing issued, certificates of arraignment in all criminal case folders especially those cases jointly tried including their chronological arrangement and pagination and the updating of both the criminal and civil docket books; and (6) maintain separate log books for the recording of arrest and search warrants, exhibits, disposed/decided/archived cases and all incoming documents. The judicial audit team also recommended that Judge Crescente F. Maraya (Judge Maraya), who replaced retired Judge Mantua, be directed to take appropriate action on the cases where the court failed to take appropriate action, to resolve pending motions and to decide cases submitted for decision.

In a letter[6] dated 27 April 2009 addressed to DCA Vilches, Atty. Mape informed the OCA of the status of the cases enumerated in the report of the judicial audit team and submitted the Orders, Resolutions and Notices of Hearing issued by Branch 17. Atty. Mape also stated that Branch 17 already complied with all other items mentioned by the judicial audit team in their recommendation. However, the wearing of uniform was considered optional starting 1 April 2009 in view of a memorandum issued by the OCA. Atty. Mape begged for the OCA's indulgence and explained that the delay in the submission of his reply was brought about by two substitutions of the judge assigned to Branch 17. At the time of audit, Judge Mantua presided over the court. Pursuant to Judge Mantua's retirement on 9 January 2009, Administrative Order No. 180-2008 designated Judge Maraya, Presiding Judge of Branch 11, Regional Trial Court, Calubian, Leyte, as Acting Presiding Judge of Branch 17 to replace Judge Mantua. Administrative Order No. 23-2009 dated 3 March 2009 revoked Judge Maraya's designation and Judge Rogelio R. Joboco (Judge Joboco), Presiding Judge of Branch 27, Catbalogan, Samar, took over as acting presiding judge of Branch 17.

The OCA's Recommendation

On 12 May 2009, the OCA issued a Memorandum[7] addressed to then Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno (CJ Puno). The memorandum based its findings and recommendations on the 14 January 2009 report of the judicial audit team and Atty. Mape's submissions dated 19 January 2009 and 27 April 2009.

In its Memorandum to CJ Puno, the OCA added an "Action Taken" column to the tables initially submitted by the judicial audit team. The "Action Taken" column specified the action and the date of action, but made no mention who among Judge Mantua, Judge Maraya or Judge Joboco acted upon the enumerated items. Instead, the OCA merely stated that there are only two cases, one civil and one criminal, that still needed Judge Joboco's action. There are also two motions that remained unresolved. We reproduce the OCA's findings and recommendations below:

From the above submissions, there are only a few cases that [are] needed to be acted upon by Acting Presiding Judge Joboco. One case is Crim. Case No. 1432, People vs. Juanito Dalut for Rape which was filed on 6-30-08 wherein the court failed to take action thereon from the time of its filing. Another case is Civil Case PN 0354, Mingasca vs. [Omega-]Reyes, et al. for Accion Reinvindicatoria wherein the court failed to take further action from the filing of the Reply on March 27, 2008.

However, there are two (2) motions that remain unresolved. These are the Motion to Reduce Bail Bond filed on July 24, 2008 in Crim. Case No. P-0768, People vs. Capic[i]ño, et al. for Qualified Theft and the implied motion contained in the Social Worker Report received on 10-16-06 recommending the dismissal of [the] case against minor accused and the Manifestation of Atty. Opeña that accused Lubiano, a minor, should be dismissed. These were considered submitted for resolution in an Order dated September 11, 2008. There is no record that Judge Mantua requested for any extension of time to resolve these motions.

Resolution of these motions should have been made on or before October 22, 2008 and December 230 [sic], 2008, respectively. The inaction of Judge Mantua created delay in the administration of justice and constitutes a serious violation of the constitutional right of the parties to a speedy disposition of their cases and manifested his gross inefficiency in the performance of his official duties (A.M. No. RTJ-05-1917 (Dee C. Chuan & Sons, Inc. vs. Judge William Simon P. Peralta, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Manila, Branch 50, promulgated April 16, 2009).

Lower courts are mandated to decide or resolve all cases or matters within three months from date of their submission (Article VIII, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution). A matter is deemed submitted for resolution upon the filing of the last pleading (Constitution, Art. VIII, Sec. 15[2]).

Rule 3.05 of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct directs all judges to dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the period fixed by law and Section 5, Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary provides that judges shall perform all judicial duties efficiently and with reasonable promptness.

The Court, however, is not unmindful of the caseloads of judges and ordinarily grants reasonable request[s] for extension. This is not true as to Judge Mantua.

Undue delay in rendering a decision or order is, under Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, a less serious charge and punishable by either suspension from office without salary and other benefits but not less than one month nor more than three months or a fine of more than P10,000.00 but nor [sic] exceeding P20,000.00.

In view of the foregoing, the Report is respectfully submitted for the consideration of the Honorable Court with the following recommendations:

  1. This judicial audit report including the submissions of RTC 17, Palompon, Leyte in compliance with Memorandum dated January 14, 2009 be docketed as an administrative complaint against Retired Judge Celso L. Mantua for gross incompetency and inefficiency and that he be FINED the amount of TEN THOUSAND (P10,000.00) to be deducted from the retirement benefits due him; and

  2. Acting Presiding Judge Rogelio R. [Joboco], Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, Palompon, Leyte, be DIRECTED to immediately take appropriate action on Crim. Case No. 1432, entitled People vs. Juanito Dal[u]t for Rape and Civil Case No. PN 0354 entitled Mingasca vs. [Omega-]Reyes, et al., for Accion Reinvindicatoria and to resolve with dispatch the pending motions in Crim. Case No. P-0768 entitled People vs. Capic[i]ño for Qualified Theft and Crim. Case No. 1205 entitled People vs. Jonel Lubiano for Less Serious Physical Injuries and furnish the Court, through the Office of the Court Administrator within ten (10) days a copy of each action taken thereon.[8]

In a letter dated 21 July 2009, Judge Joboco reported that he took action on the cases enumerated in the OCA's 12 May 2009 Memorandum. Judge Joboco dismissed Civil Case No. PN 0354, Mingasca, et al. v. Omega-Reyes, et al. Criminal Case No. P-0768, People v. Capiciño, et al., and Criminal Case No. 1205, People v. Lubiano, were set for hearing, while Criminal Case No. 1432, People v. Dalut, cannot proceed because the accused has remained at large and the court has not acquired jurisdiction over the person of the accused. Judge Joboco appended the Orders in the cases to his letter.

The Court's Ruling

We cannot agree with the OCA's finding and recommendations.

The report of the judicial audit team, and consequently that of the OCA, suffers from inaccuracies and a slant towards mere fault-finding. Civil Case No. PN-0354, Mingasca v. Omega-Reyes, was entered twice, but in consecutive numbers, in the table for civil cases without further setting. Because of this double entry, the judicial audit team and OCA probably overlooked Judge Mantua's action dated 27 November 2008. Furthermore, despite Atty. Mape's submissions dated 19 January 2009 and 27 April 2009 of copies of the Orders, Resolutions and Notices of Hearing issued by Branch 17, the OCA failed to state in their Memorandum that out of the 126 cases listed, Judge Mantua took action on 114 cases, or 90.48%, before he retired on 9 January 2009.

It should be noted that the judicial audit team submitted their report to DCA Vilches five days after Judge Mantua's retirement. The OCA, in turn, submitted their Memorandum to CJ Puno on 12 May 2009, or a little over four months after Judge Mantua's retirement. During his incumbency, Judge Mantua was never given a chance to explain the results of the judicial audit report. With the knowledge that the judicial audit report will be submitted only after Judge Mantua's retirement, the judicial audit team's recommendations were directed only to Atty. Mape, the Acting Clerk of Court and Legal Researcher II of Branch 17, and Judge Maraya, Acting Presiding Judge of Branch 17 at the time of the report's submission. In its Memorandum, the OCA recommended that Judge Mantua be fined for gross incompentency and inefficiency.

The report of the judicial audit team showed that no appropriate action was done in 68 cases, 23 cases remained unresolved after a sufficient amount of time, and 10 cases were not decided within the reglementary period. In contrast, there is no showing that Judge Mantua ever requested this Court for a reasonable period of extension to dispose of these cases.

We issued a Resolution dated 15 August 2011 which redocketed the case as a regular administrative matter and required Judge Mantua to comment on the OCA's 12 May 2009 Memorandum. The pertinent portions of Judge Mantua's comment read:

When I assumed office as Judge of RTC, Branch 17, Palompon, Leyte in August 2005, my court then had no Clerk of Court. This situation was true even up to the time when I retired in January 2009. A few months after my assumption as judge, the Legal Researcher of the court transferred to one of the branches of the Lapu-Lapu City Regional Trial Court. My sala then had only four (4) court stenographers, a sheriff, a process server, a clerk and a utility worker. Then, an interpreter was appointed before a legal researcher was also appointed. When the appointed legal researcher assumed office, I designated him as Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the Clerk of Court. I instructed the legal researcher to assist me in my administrative functions, as the office files then as well as the case folders were in a disarray and topsy turvey [sic]. The legal researcher assisted me in adopting a systematic filing system, segregating the kinds of cases obtaining in the court as well as aging the same because I inherited no filing system in the office. Be it noted also that when I assumed office there was no court inventory from my predecessors. It was only when I assumed office that we conducted an inventory of the court especially court cases. Considering the load of cases of my court and the lack of filing system, I have exercised extra efforts and divided my time to have a semblance of orderliness in the office including the supervision of the operation of the Office of the Clerk of Court and lower courts.

This comment is not an excuse for the findings of the Judicial Audit team of my performance, but is made only to show the state of affairs of the court during my stewardship of the same for a period of a little over three (3) years. However, despite my earnest efforts, there were things which have been overlooked due to inadvertence and these were just product [sic] of human weakness and imperfection.[9]

This Court has always impressed upon judges the necessity of deciding cases with dispatch. Section 5 of Canon 6 of the New Code of Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary states that "[j]udges shall perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly, and with reasonable promptness." Rule 3.05 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that "[a] judge shall dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required periods." Canon 6 of the Canons of Judicial Ethics provides that "[a judge] should be prompt in disposing of all matters submitted to him, remembering that justice delayed is often justice denied." Section 15(2), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution requires that judges of lower courts decide cases within three months from the date of submission.[10]

This Court has repeatedly reminded judges that they must resolve matters pending before them promptly and expeditiously within the constitutionally mandated three-month period. If they cannot comply with the same, they should ask for an extension from the Supreme Court upon meritorious grounds. The rule is that the reglementary period for deciding cases should be observed by all judges, unless they have been granted additional time.

Judges must dispose of the court's business promptly. Delay in the disposition of cases erodes the faith and confidence of our people in the judiciary, lowers its standards, and brings it to disrepute. Hence, judges are enjoined to decide cases with dispatch. Their failure to do so constitutes gross inefficiency and warrants the imposition of administrative sanctions on them.[11]

Undue delay in rendering a decision or order is a less serious charge,[12] penalized either by suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one nor more than three months; or by a fine of more than P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.[13] We consider, however, that Judge Mantua's earnest efforts in attending to the pending cases in his docket during his incumbency serve to negate his liability.

This Court concedes that there are no promulgated rules on the conduct of judicial audit. However, the absence of such rules should not serve as license to recommend the imposition of penalties to retired judges who, during their incumbency, were never given a chance to explain the circumstances behind the results of the judicial audit. Judicial audit reports and the memoranda which follow them should state not only recommended penalties and plans of action for the violations of audited courts, but also give commendations when they are due. To avoid similar scenarios, manual judicial audits may be conducted at least six months before a judge's compulsory retirement. We recognize that effective monitoring of a judge's observance of the time limits required in the disposition of cases is hampered by limited resources. These limitations, however, should not be used to violate Judge Mantua's right to due process.

WHEREFORE, the complaint against Judge Celso L. Mantua is DISMISSED. The Financial Management Office of the Office of the Court Administrator is DIRECTED to release the retirement pay and other benefits due Judge Mantua unless he is charged in some other administrative complaint or the same is otherwise withheld for some other lawful cause.


Carpio, (Chairperson), Abad,* Sereno, and Reyes, JJ., concur.    

* Designated additional member per Special Order No. 1182 dated 8 February 2012.

[1] Composed of Atty. Elizabeth S. Tanchoco as Team Leader and Mr. German C. Averia, Mr. Roly C. De Castro and Ms. Edna Barlaan as Members.

[2] Rollo, pp. 1-16.

[3] Id. at 1.

[4] Id. at 2-8.

[5] Id. at 8.

[6] Id. at 25-30.

[7] Signed by Court Administrator (now Supreme Court Justice) Jose P. Perez, Deputy Court Administrator Nimfa C. Vilches, and Judicial Supervisor Elizabeth S. Tanchoco. Id. at 273-286.

[8] Id. at 285-286.

[9] Id. at 323.

[10] Section 15. (1) All cases or matters filed after the effectivity of this Constitution must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from date of submission for the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months for all other lower courts.

(2) A case or matter shall be deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief, or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court itself.

(3) Upon the expiration of the corresponding period, a certification to this effect signed by the Chief Justice or the presiding judge shall forthwith be issued and a copy thereof attached to the record of the case or matter, and served upon the parties. The certification shall state why a decision or resolution has not been rendered or issued within said period.

(4) Despite the expiration of the applicable mandatory period, the court, without prejudice to such responsibility as may have been incurred in consequence thereof, shall decide or resolve the case or matter submitted thereto for determination, without further delay.

[11] Atty. Montes v. Judge Bugtas, 408 Phil. 662, 667-668 (2001). Citations omitted.

[12] Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court reads:

Less serious charges. - Less serious charges include:

  1. Undue delay in rendering a decision or order, or in transmitting the records of a case;
  2. Frequent and unjustified absences without leave or habitual tardiness;
  3. Unauthorized practice of law;
  4. Violation of Supreme Court rules, directives, and circulars;
  5. Receiving additional or double compensation unless specifically authorized by law;
  6. Untruthful statements in the certificate of service; and
  7. Simple Misconduct.

[13] Section 11(B), Rule 140 of the Rules of Court.

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