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513 Phil. 68


[ A.M. NO. 05-2-113-RTC, December 07, 2005 ]




The Constitution mandates trial judges to dispose of the court's business promptly and to decide cases and matters within three (3) months from the filing of the last pleading, brief or memorandum. In the disposition of cases, members of the bench have always been exhorted to observe strict adherence to the foregoing rule to prevent delay, which is a major culprit in the erosion of public faith and confidence in the justice system.

The Case and the Facts

This case stems from a judicial audit conducted in July 2002 by the Court Management Office (CMO) in the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 73, Antipolo City, then presided by Judge Mauricio M. Rivera.[1] According to a Memorandum[2] dated February 11, 2005, issued by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), the results of the audit and the ensuing facts are as follows:
"At the time the judicial audit was conducted in July 2002, the Regional Trial Court, Branch 73, Antipolo City (Branch 73, for brevity), presided over then by Judge Mauricio M. Rivera, had a total load of nine hundred nine (909) pending cases, two hundred thirty-five (235) of which were already submitted for decision, and two hundred (200) of these cases have been established to be beyond the reglementary period for decision.

"In addition, the judicial audit team established pending incidents in thirty-two (32) cases which remained unresolved, some of them already beyond the reglementary period. Likewise, there were fifty-eight (58) cases which were already dormant as Branch 73 failed to further act thereon despite the lapse of a considerable length of time.

"Having been apprised of the cases submitted for decision at the end of the judicial audit, Judge Rivera promised to decide said cases at the soonest time possible. He likewise promised to submit a periodic report thereon to the x x x (OCA). Thus, from September 2002 to May 2003, Judge Rivera submitted duplicate or certified true copies of the decisions and orders in two hundred seventy-eight (278) cases to OCA, through the x x x (CMO). Two hundred six (206) of these cases were among those established in the course of the judicial audit to have been already submitted for decision. Hence, as of the last submission of the periodic report of Judge Rivera in May 2003, a total of twenty-nine (29) cases remained undecided.

"In [the OCA] memorandum dated 1 March 2004, [it] directed Judge Rivera to:

"1. EXPLAIN within fifteen (15) days from notice to the Court, through the x x x [OCA his] failure to (i) decide a total of two hundred (200) cases submitted for decision within the reglementary period, (ii) resolve the pending incidents in thirty two (32) cases within the reglementary period, and (iii) take appropriate action on fifty eight (58) cases despite the lapse of a considerable length of time; and

"2. INFORM the Court, through the x x x [OCA], within fifteen (15) days from notice of the status of the following cases, furnishing said Office, duplicate or certified true copies of the decisions, resolutions or orders thereon, if there are any, thus:

x x x                                         x x x                                         x x x

"In compliance with the directive, Judge Rivera in his Memorandum x x x dated 22 April 2004 explained that he has already decided the aforementioned cases. Copies of the decisions/orders of dismissal or archiving the cases were furnished to the OCA, as stated in his monthly report of cases. x x x.

"Judge Rivera further explained that his court has a total load of one thousand two hundred ninety-three (1,293) cases as of February 2004 (RTC, Branch 74 has 2,732 pending cases as of December 2003 while RTC, Branch 71 and RTC, Branch 72 ha[ve] 2,293 and 1,592 pending cases, respectively, as of February 2004). Because of the large volume of cases being handled by the four (4) branches of RTC, Antipolo City, Judge Rivera contends that it could not be avoided that there would be delay in the rendition of decision in some cases.

"Moreover, Judge Rivera informs the Court that there are only four stenographers serving RTC, Antipolo City and one even went on maternity leave twice. In view of this, he stated that the stenographers could not immediately submit to the court their transcript of stenographic notes (TSNs), thus, accumulating the backlog of cases for transcriptions.

"Judge Rivera further informs the Court that daily hearings are conducted in the morning and at times also in the afternoon, rendering it impossible for him to decide cases within the 90-day period required by law. Despite the aforesaid situation in his court, Judge Rivera averred that he did his best by resolving the 206 cases reported by the audit team as requiring immediate action plus more other cases. He therefore prays that the Honorable Court will find his explanations and compliance satisfactory.

"With respect to the status of the cases which were tabulated in the memorandum, Judge Rivera reported that these had already been acted upon. He further reported that 17 of the cases included in the memorandum were not assigned to his court but to Branch 72. One was re-raffled to Branch 71 and another one to Branch 74. He alleged that the mix-up in the report of cases was probably due to the fact that a partial audit was likewise conducted at Branch 72. He attached to his compliance a report on the status of the cases reported, thus:

x x x                                         x x x                                         x x x

"On 4 September 2002, Judge Rivera submitted to this Office, through Judicial Supervisor Rullyn S. Garcia, a partial report on the cases decided since the audit conducted in July 2002. He reported that as of 30 August 2002, there were 48 cases decided x x x. He attached to his letter the list of cases decided.

"Judge Rivera reported that he was able to decide cases because he suspended the hearing sessions from 17 July 2002 to 30 August 2002, to give the stenographers time to transcribe their backlog of stenographic notes; giving them a quota of at least thirty-five (35) cases a day. He requested for an additional period of up to the end of December 2002 to update all pending cases.

"On 4 October 2002, Judge Rivera again submitted a partial report on the cases he has decided. He reported that as of 30 September 2002, there were 29 additional cases decided. x x x.

"On 3 April 2003, Judge Rivera submitted copies of decisions he rendered from the period of 1 February to 28 March 2003. Per tabulation submitted, there were fifteen criminal, twenty-four civil and fifteen land registration cases decided.

"On 16 May 2003, Judge Rivera submitted another list of cases decided. Of the twenty-two cases reported, three were criminal, fifteen civil and four land registration cases. He averred that he has already complied with his commitment to finish all pending cases by the end of April 2003, including the three criminal cases and six civil cases which were still pending as of April 2003."[3]
Findings and Recommendation of the OCA

The evaluation of the OCA showed that Judge Rivera had incurred unreasonable delay in disposing of judicial matters pending in his court. He should have asked for an extension of time to decide the pending cases before the expiration of the 90-day reglementary period, but he failed to do so. In any event, his liability was mitigated by his heavy case load, described as "extremely high" compared with the case loads of other regional trial courts in the country; the lack of stenographers; and his substantial compliance with the directives of the OCA. It was therefore recommended that he be fined in the amount of P10,000.

The Court's Ruling

We agree with the findings and recommendation of the OCA.

Administrative Liability

This Court has consistently impressed upon judges the need to decide cases and dispose of the court's business promptly and expeditiously, on the principle that justice delayed is justice denied.[4] Regarded as embodiments of competence, integrity and independence, judges should administer justice impartially and without delay.[5] They should remain faithful to the law and maintain professional competence.[6] Consistent with Section 15[7] of Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, Rule 3.05 of the Code of Judicial Conduct admonishes all judges to dispose of the court's business promptly and to decide cases within the constitutionally prescribed 90-day period.[8]

The judicial audit conducted on Branch 73 established the following facts: (1) 200 cases were not decided within the reglementary period; (2) pending incidents in 32 other cases remained unresolved after a considerable period; and (3) no appropriate action was made on 58 others, despite the lapse of considerable time.

Undeniably, Judge Rivera was remiss in his duty to promptly resolve and decide incidents and cases brought before his sala. He attributed the delay to several factors, such as the heavy load of 1,293 cases assigned to his branch, the lack of stenographers, and the daily hearings held in the mornings and sometimes also in the afternoons. He points out that he nevertheless did his best to comply with the directives of the OCA to dispose of his backlog. In fact, as of his retirement on July 28, 2004, only 5 cases remained undecided, 3 of which were still within the 90-day reglementary period.[9]

In Sy Bang v. Mendez,[10] this Court held thus:
"Delay in resolving motions is inexcusable and cannot be condoned. The trial court judge, being the paradigm of justice in the first instance, is exhorted to dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required periods. Delay results in undermining the people's faith in the judiciary from whom the prompt hearing of their supplications is anticipated and expected, and reinforces in the mind of litigants the impression that the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly."[11]
An inexcusable failure to decide a case within the prescribed period constitutes inefficiency, warranting the imposition of administrative sanctions on the defaulting judge.[12] The reglementary period for deciding cases should be observed by all judges, unless they have been granted additional time.[13]

While it may be true that the delay incurred by respondent can be attributed in part to the factors he cited, they are not sufficient to exculpate him completely from any administrative liability.[14] They may serve only to mitigate his liability. In Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Aquino,[15] this Court ruled that the incompleteness of the TSNs was "not a valid reason for not deciding the cases within the extended period granted by this Court."[16]

If the case load of respondent prevented him from disposing of cases within the reglementary period, he should have asked the Supreme Court for a reasonable period of extension to dispose of them,[17] but he failed to do so. Almost always, that kind of request is granted by the Court, which is cognizant of the heavy case loads of judges and mindful of the difficulties they encounter in disposing of cases within the prescribed period.[18]

Section 9 of Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended, classifies undue delay in rendering a decision as a less serious charge, for which a fine of not less than P10,000 but not exceeding P20,000 may be imposed.[19]

In Bernardo v. Judge Fabros,[20] the Court ruled as follows:
"x x x. The fines imposed vary in each case, depending chiefly on the number of cases not decided within the reglementary period and other factors, to wit: the presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances -- the damage suffered by the parties as a result of the delay, the health and age of the judge, etc."[21]
In the present case, although we find respondent judge administratively liable, there is no evidence of damage caused by the delay in the disposition of cases. Neither is there proof of malice or improper motive behind it. Further mitigating his liability, aside from his heavy case load and the inadequate number of court stenographers, were his earnest efforts to resolve all pending cases before his retirement and his satisfactory compliance with the requirements behooved by the judicial audit.

WHEREFORE, Respondent Judge Mauricio M. Rivera of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 73, Antipolo City, is found GUILTY of undue delay in rendering decisions or orders; and he is hereby FINED in the amount of ten thousand pesos (P10,000), to be deducted from his retirement benefits.


Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, and Garcia, JJ., concur.

See Memorandum Report dated March 1, 2004; rollo, pp. 70-99.

[2] Rollo, pp. 1-20; Signed by Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco Jr. and Deputy Court Administrator Jose P. Perez.

[3] OCA Memorandum, pp. 1-18; rollo, pp. 1-18.

[4] Office of the Court Administrator v. Butalid, 293 SCRA 587, August 5, 1998.

[5] Rules 1.01 and 1.02, Code of Judicial Conduct; Cantela v. Almoradie, 229 SCRA 712, February 7, 1994.

[6] Rule 3.01 of the Code of Judicial Conduct; Wingarts v. Judge Mejia, 312 Phil. 518, March 20, 1995.

[7] "Sec. 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 to 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."

[8] Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Quiñanola, 375 Phil. 448, October 20, 1999.

[9] See OCA Memorandum, pp. 8-9 & 17-18; rollo, pp. 8-9 & 17-18.

[10] 350 Phil. 524, March 6, 1998.

[11] Id., pp. 530-531, per Kapunan, J.

[12] Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in Municipal Trial Court, Sibulan, Negros Oriental, 347 Phil. 139, December 5, 1997; Request of Judge Masamayor for extension of time, 374 Phil. 556, October 5, 1999; Montes v. Bugtas, 356 SCRA 539, April 17, 2001; Española v. Judge Panay, 319 Phil. 27, October 4, 1995.

[13] Montes v. Bugtas, supra; Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Español, 440 SCRA 332, October 18, 2004.

[14] Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Quiñanola, supra.

[15] 389 Phil. 518, June 22, 2000.

[16] Id., p. 523, per Gonzaga-Reyes, J. (citing Guitante v. Bantuas, 95 SCRA 433, January 22, 1980).

[17] Re: Report of Justice Felipe B. Kalalo, 346 Phil. 742, November 18, 1997; Española v. Judge Panay, supra; Atty. Sanchez v. Judge Vestil, 358 Phil. 477, October 13, 1998.

[18] Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in Municipal Trial Court, Sibulan, Negros Oriental, supra; In Re: Casia v. Judge Gestopa Jr., 371 Phil. 131, August 11, 1999.

[19] Par. c (1), Section 11 of Rule 140 of the Rules of Court.

[20] 366 Phil. 485, May 12, 1999.

[21] Id., p. 493, per Panganiban, J. (quoting Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in RTC, Branches 29 and 59, Toledo City, 292 SCRA 8, 23, July 8, 1993, per Puno, J.)

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