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354 Phil. 1


[ A.M. No. 96-8-301-RTC, July 08, 1998 ]




On July 16-19, 1996, a judicial audit and physical inventory of pending cases in Branch 82, Regional Trial Court, Odiongan, Romblon, presided over by Judge Cezar C. Maravilla,[1] was conducted by the Judicial Audit Team of the Office of the Court Administrator.[2] The report[3] of the Audit Team revealed that as of July 19, 1996, Branch 82, has 276 cases (203 criminal and 73 ordinary civil cases, special civil actions, special proceedings, land registration and agrarian cases). The team found that: (a) nine (9) cases (5 criminal and 4 civil) had been submitted for decision; (b) three (3) criminal cases with matter for resolution were pending; (c) Special Proceeding No. OD 263 has not been acted upon since its filing on April 18, 1994; (d) the transcript of stenographic notes in Civil Case No. OD 316 submitted for decision on June 4, 1996 has not been transcribed; and (e) forty-seven (47) criminal cases have not been set in the court calendar and have remained unacted upon after the lapse of six months.

Acting on the report and recommendation of the Judicial Audit Team, the Court En Banc, on September 17, 1996, resolved[4] to:
(a)      DESIGNATE the Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 81, Romblon, Romblon, as Acting Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 82, with station at Odiongan, Romblon, effective immediately, in addition to his regular duties in his own court, to try, hear and decide cases thereat during the second half of every month and to continue until the appointment of a new Presiding Judge or until further orders from this Court, without additional compensation, except for the reimbursement of transportation and travel expenses;

(b)      require the Clerk-in-Charge of Civil case to EXPLAIN why no action has been taken in Special Proceedings No. OD 263 from the time it was filed on April 18, 1994;

(c)      DIRECT Ms. Jeanne M. Ferranco, the Stenographer, who took down the transcript of the proceedings in Civil Case No. OD 316, to transcribe the stenographic notes, within thirty (30) days from notice hereof and to submit the transcripts to the Officer-in-Charge who shall immediately report to this Court compliance with this directive;

(d)      require Ms. Melinda C. Quierrez, Clerk-in-Charge of criminal cases to EXPLAIN, within ten (10) days from notice hereof, why no administrative sanctions should be imposed upon her for her failure to schedule in the court calendar the forty-seven (47) criminal cases which have remained unacted upon; and

(e)      APPRISE Judge Placido O. Marquez, in the event he is designated as Acting Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 82, of the forty-seven (47) criminal cases which have remained unacted upon after the lapse of a considerable length of time and DIRECT him to expedite the early disposition thereof.
Pursuant to the Resolution, the following documents were submitted to the Office of the Court Administrator:
1.        LETTER dated 23 October 1996 of Baltazar Ll. Firmalo, Officer-in-Charge, RTC, Branch 82, Odiongan, Romblon.

2.        Undated COMMENT/EXPLANATION of Melinda C. Quierrez, Clerk III, RTC, Branch 82, Odiongan, Romblon.

3.        Another undated “ADDENDUM EXPLANATION” from Melinda C. Quierrez.

4.        LETTER dated 5 November 1996 from Mr. Baltazar Ll. Firmalo; and

5.        Copies of the transcript of stenographic notes taken on the proceedings held in Civil Case No. OD-316 signed and certified by Ms. Madelyn Montojo, Stenographer III, RTC, Branch 82, Odiongan, Romblon.
In compliance with paragraph (b) of the Resolution, Mr. Baltazar Ll. Firmalo, Officer-in-Charge, RTC, Branch 82 explained that:
“(n)o action had been taken in Special Proceeding No. OD-263 since its filing on April 18, 1994 because the petitioner conferred with Atty. Gadon, (former Branch Clerk of Court, RTC, Branch 82, Odiongan, Romblon) regarding petitioner’s desire not to pursue the case for lack of interest. Atty. Gadon had advised the petitioner to file a formal motion alleging disinterest but the latter was not able to do so since he left for Oriental Mindoro and has not returned since then. Firmalo added that they could have withdrawn the said case from the docket had it not been for the retirement of Judge Maravilla.”[5]
With regard to paragraph (c) of the resolution, Mr. Firmalo, in his letter dated November 5, 1996 explained that:
“x x x (Ms. Madelyn) Montojo was the one who signed and certified the copies of the transcript instead of (Ms.) Ferrano (in compliance with the Resolution) because Ms. Montojo was assigned to take down the testimony of the witness on the scheduled hearing on 4 June 1994 when the case was submitted for decision. Firmalo claims that: “When the audit team came to this office sometime in July 1996 the transcript of records was already transcribed by the stenographer assigned but not only sewn in the records.”[6]
On the other hand, in compliance with paragraph (d) of our Resolution, Ms. Melinda Quierrez, Clerk III, RTC, Branch 82, Odiongan, Romblon admitted that she failed to schedule the forty-seven (47) criminal cases in the court calendar. She pointed to the lack of coordination between her and Atty. Gadon, the former Clerk of Court of Branch 82 in setting the case which resulted in the preparation of two (2) calendars for criminal cases: one prepared by her and the other by Atty. Gadon. She cited other factors, viz: (a) numerous petitions filed in 1996; (b) cases scheduled under the continuous trial systems; and (c) the existence of priority cases. In her “Addendum Explanation,” she alleged that “inefficient mails and notices, indisposed lawyers and prosecutors, postponements, weather condition, absence of the court (sic), unavailability of witnesses, continuous trial of other cases, accused at large, time constraint, agreement of the parties and inefficient and dictatorial court superiors and court personnel” also contributed to her failure to properly schedule the pending criminal cases.

Ms. Quierrez further alleged that even if she was able to schedule the case, Atty. Gadon would insist that other cases not previously scheduled be calendared. She contended that Atty. Gadon’s interference affected the orderly scheduling of cases and resulted in the disappearance of some folder’s as a consequence of which Atty. Gadon was dismissed from the service by the Supreme Court. She added that while the scheduling of the criminal cases was her responsibility, she was still under the control and supervision of her superior, Atty. Gadon.[7]

We note that in her “Addendum Explanation,” Ms. Quierrez mentioned that on 5 April 1996, she was administratively charged by OIC Clerk of Court Firmalo for gross inefficiency in the performance of duty for failing to calendar all criminal cases under her custody. She failed to comment thereon citing pressure of work and time constraints as reason for failing to do so. On May 20, 1996, former Judge Maravilla found her guilty of disobedience to her superior and gross inefficiency in the performance of her duties for which she was reprimanded, censured and sternly warned. Clerk of Court Firmalo was likewise instructed to “reassign Mrs. Melinda C. Quierrez to another work or job which suits her ability and responsibility.”[8]

We find the explanation of Mr. Baltazar Ll. Firmalo, satisfactory. On the other hand, we find no merit in the explanation of Ms. Melinda C. Quierrez. As found by the Office of the Court Administrator and we sustain:
“Ms. Quierrez is liable for gross negligence and inefficiency for her failure to schedule in court calendar forty-seven (47) criminal cases under her custody and clerk-in-charge of criminal cases despite directive received from her superior. She also deliberately failed to and/or refused to comply with her duties as provided for in the Manual for Clerks of Court described as:
“Staff Assistant II (Clerk III) – The Staff Assistant (whenever provided for), under general supervision, assists the Clerk of Court maintain the integrity of the docket books of the Court; receives and enters in the docket books all cases filed including all subsequent pleading, documents and other pertinent communications, maintains and updates docket books on pending cases, books on disposed case, books on appealed cases as well as books on warrant of arrest issued, books on accused persons who are at large, records book on judgments against bail bonds, checks and verifies in the docket book applications for clearances; prepares weekly reports to the Court on the status of individual cases; checks and review exhibits and other documents to be attached to records on appeal; does related functions and performs such other duties as may be assigned by the Presiding Judge/Clerk of Court.”

We have consistently held that the nature of work of those connected with an office charges with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowest clerk, requires them to serve with the highest degree of efficiency and responsibility, in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.[9]

It is indubitable that Mrs. Quierrez is remiss in her duties as custodian of criminal records when she failed to calendar forty-seven (47) criminal cases. Her act constitutes gross inefficiency which warrants administrative sanction. However, inasmuch as Ms. Quirrez was already censured, reprimanded and sternly warned by former Presiding Judge Maravilla for gross inefficiency for her failure to promptly and diligently schedule for hearing criminal cases filed with RTC, Branch 82, Odiongan, Romblon, it does appear appropriate that she be penalized anew for the same act.

IN VIEW WHEREOF, no further administrative sanction should be imposed against Melinda Quierrez, Clerk III (Clerk-in-Charge of criminal cases). Thus, this matter is CLOSED AND TERMINATED.

Narvasa, C.J., Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Martinez, Quisumbing, and Purisima, JJ., concur.

[1] Until his compulsory retirement on July 1, 1996.

[2] Composed of Atty. Mark N. Marcos, Mr. German C. Averia and Mr. Antonino C. Espiritu.

[3] Dated August 16, 1996.

[4] Resolution dated September 17, 1996.

[5] Memorandum from the Office of the Court Administrator, dated October 2, 1997, p.3.

[6] Ibid., p.2.

[7] Memorandum from the Office of the Court Administrator, dated May 13, 1998, p.3.

[8] Decision dated May 20, 1996, p.7.

[9] Cristeta Orfila v. Rona S. Quiroz, Stenographer III, RTC, Branch 18, Manila, A.M. No. P-97-1234, August 18, 1997.

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