407 Phil. 131

THIRD DIVISION

[ A.M. No. MTJ-00-1306, March 20, 2001 ]

PROSECUTOR ROBERT M. VISBAL, COMPLAINANT, VS. JUDGE RODOLFO C. RAMOS, MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT OF JARO, LEYTE, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

PANGANIBAN, J.:

Judges must resolve matters pending before them promptly and expeditiously within the prescribed period. If they fail to do so, they should ask the Supreme Court for an extension, citing meritorious grounds therefor. Otherwise, they may be charged with gross inefficiency and sanctioned administratively.

The Case and the Facts

In a verified Letter-Complaint[1] received by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) on February 27, 1998, Prosecutor Robert M. Visbal charged Judge Rodolfo C. Ramos of the Municipal Trial Court of Jaro, Leyte, with gross ignorance of the law, grave abuse of judicial authority and negligence. The material averments of the Letter-Complaint were summarized by the OCA in this wise:
"Complainant alleges that the aforecited case [Crim. Case No. 9484, entitled People v. Antonio Grana, for reckless imprudence] was filed before the sala of respondent judge who issued an Order dated February 18, 1998 directing him (herein complainant) to appear for the prosecution even when he has already delegated his prosecutory authority to the Station Commander or duly authorized representative. He claims that only the executive department, through the Department of Justice, can give such order. In addition, he cites the provision of the Rules of Court which succinctly provides that although criminal cases must be prosecuted by the public prosecutor, his authority may be delegated to a private prosecutor under his control or supervision or to the Chief of Police in the Municipal Trial Court, when a regular prosecutor is not available. In the instant case, no regular prosecutor is available in respondent Judge's sala since he (complainant) is officially and regularly assigned to RTC, Branch VIII of Tacloban City, thus forcing him to delegate the prosecution of the case to the `police investigator'.

"According to complainant, respondent Judge [was] motivated by malice and bad faith when he issued the assailed order because of the latter's lingering grudge against him arising out of an action which he filed in 1994 against respondent Judge before the RTC of Tacloban City.

"Finally, complainant accuses respondent Judge of deliberately failing to rule on the prosecution's offer of evidence which was submitted as early as March 10, 1997 despite his repeated manifestation for the resolution of the aforesaid motion."[2]
In his Comment,[3] respondent judge denies any liability and prays for the dismissal of the Complaint. He maintains that the police chief's authority to prosecute ceases upon actual intervention of the prosecutor. Although the judge admits that it was only on November 24, 1997 that he ruled on the Offer of Evidence submitted by the prosecution on March 10, 1997, he claims that "it was not deliberately done considering that respondent was motivated by no other consideration than to give a chance to the accused to make his comment to said offer."[4] He further denies complainant's allegation that the February 18, 1998 Order was impelled by malice and bad faith.

In a Resolution dated August 2, 2000,[5] this Court directed the parties to manifest within twenty days from notice whether they were submitting the case on the basis of the pleadings filed. Complainant submitted his Manifestation[6] in a letter dated September 10, 2000.

In a Resolution issued on November 29, 2000,[7] the Court considered respondent to have waived the filing of the required manifestation, because he had not done so within the prescribed period.

The OCA Report and Recommendation

In its Report,[8] the OCA recommended that respondent be sanctioned for his unjustified delay in the resolution of the prosecution's offer of evidence in Criminal Case No. 9484, and that the other charges filed against him be dismissed. It explained:
"x x x [I]n those municipalities and cities which do not have their own fiscals, the criminal cases therein may be prosecuted by any peace or law enforcement officers, or by private prosecutors. Their authority ceases, however, upon actual intervention of the provincial or city fiscal or their assistants, or upon elevation of the case to the Regional Trial Court (People vs. Beriales, April 7, 1976, 70 SCRA 361). In the instant case, it appears that a public prosecutor, Pros. Ricardo Candido, actively handled the prosecution of the case but [it] was only transferred to herein complainant when the former was hospitalized.

"It is clear from the provision of Sec. 5, Rule 110 that the authority to prosecute criminal cases may only be delegated when there is no fiscal available. Hence, respondent Judge did not abuse his authority when he issued the assailed order.

"Anent the second issue, the record shows that there was indeed delay in the resolution of the prosecution's offer of evidence. Even if we consider respondent Judge's explanation that complainant was not immediately furnished with a copy of the Order dated November 24, 1997, the resolution of the motion was still very much delayed.

"On the loss of the necropsy report in Criminal Case No. 7613, complainant failed to submit evidence that would make respondent Judge liable therefor particularly since the control and supervision over all court records, exhibits, documents, etc. within the branch pertains to the branch clerk of court (OCA vs. Judge Amelita D.R. Benedicto, et al. A.M. No. 96-5-176-RTJ, October 12, 1998). Respondent Judge's Clerk of Court, moreover, specifically declared that "the Medico-Legal Necropsy Report was not included because the Complainant-Police Officer failed to [attach to] the complaint said document when it was filed x x x on December 18, 1989.' (Ltr. Dated May 22, 1998 of Clerk of Court Simeon M. Polo to Pros. Robert M. Visbal)."[9]
This Court's Ruling

This Court agrees with the OCA's finding that respondent is guilty of delay in resolving the prosecution's offer of exhibits in Criminal Case No. 9484. It believes, however, that the recommended penalty of reprimand is too light, considering that this is respondent's second offense.

Respondent's Administrative Liability

The records show that the prosecution submitted an Offer of Evidence in Criminal Case No. 9484 on March 10, 1997. But it was only on April 7, 1998, or more than one year later, that it received respondent's Order admitting the Offer.

Respondent asserts that the Order was in fact dated November 24, 1997. He explains that it was sent to the prosecution only in April 1998, because of the inadvertence of the clerk of court.

Respondent's contention is not meritorious. First, the alleged inadvertence of the clerk of court in sending the prosecution's copy of the November 24, 1997 Order only in April 1998 does not speak well of respondent's managerial competence. While the clerk of court, as administrative officer,[10] is primarily tasked to send notices to parties and their counsel, the judge is ultimately responsible for ensuring that court personnel perform their tasks, and that parties are promptly notified of his orders and decisions. Verily, "[p]roper and efficient court management is as much his responsibility. He is the one directly responsible for the proper discharge of his official functions."[11]

Second, respondent's assertion that the Order admitting the Offer of Evidence was issued on November 24, 1997 is an admission of liability. Section 15 (1), Art. VII of the Constitution, provides:
"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." (emphasis supplied)
In this case, it took respondent more than eight months to resolve the prosecution's Offer of Evidence. In fact, the prosecution had filed two Motions - the first on September 1, 1997 and the second on November 20, 1997 -- urging respondent to resolve the question. That he did not delay deliberately is not an excuse.

Once again, we remind judges that they must resolve matters pending before them promptly and expeditiously within the constitutionally mandated 90-day period. Failing to do so, they should ask for an extension from the same court, citing meritorious grounds therefor. Otherwise, they may be charged with gross inefficiency and sanctioned administratively.[12]

While the OCA recommends that respondent be reprimanded for the foregoing, we believe that the penalty is too light. In Francisco Tan Sr v. Judge Rodolfo Ramos,[13] the judge was already reprimanded for failure to decide two cases within the reglementary period, "with the warning that a repetition of the same or similar violation will be dealt with more severely." Accordingly, the proper penalty in the present case should be a fine of three thousand pesos (P3,000).

Other Charges

We agree with the OCA that complainant failed to substantiate his allegation that respondent had lost the Necropsy Report, which was supposedly part of the records submitted to the judge for preliminary investigation in Criminal Case No. 7613.

In his Rejoinder, respondent alleged that "there was no necropsy medical report x x x attached to the complaint x x x, although it was merely listed therein as one of the exhibits supporting the complaint."[14] His allegation was based on the letter[15] dated May 22, 1998, written by the MTC clerk of court who, as such, had control and supervision over all court records, exhibits and documents within that particular branch.[16] Significantly, complainant has not controverted respondent's claim.

Complainant also charges respondent with gross ignorance of the law, in connection with the latter's February 18, 1998 Order directing the former to continue his appearance for the prosecution in Criminal Case No. 9484. Complainant contends that his authority to prosecute the case may be delegated to a private prosecutor or even to the town police chief. He chides respondent for "intruding into the exclusive authority of the Executive Branch, an unpardonable error to commit, being a basic principle of separation of powers [of] the three Departments of Government; x x x."[17]

There is nothing in the said February 18, 1998 Order that constitutes gross ignorance of the law. In fact, it is in accord with Section 5, Rule 110 of the 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, which reads as follows:
"Sec. 5. Who must prosecute criminal actions. -- All criminal actions commenced by a complaint or information shall be prosecuted under the direction and control of the prosecutor. However, in Municipal Trial Courts or Municipal Circuit Trial Courts when the prosecutor assigned thereto or to the case is not available, the offended party, any peace officer, or public officer charged with the enforcement of the law violated may prosecute the case. This authority shall cease upon actual intervention of the prosecutor or upon elevation of the case to the Regional Trial Court."[18]
As a general rule, all criminal actions shall be prosecuted under the control and direction of the prosecutor. As an exception, when the assigned prosecutor is not available, cases before the MTC and the MCTC (Municipal Circuit Trial Court) may be prosecuted by the offended party, any peace officer or any proper public officer. The Rules further provides that such authority, which properly belongs to the government's prosecutory arm, ceases upon actual intervention of the prosecutor or upon the elevation of the case to the RTC.

In People v. Ramos,[19] the Court held that the aforesaid exception must be applied strictly. In its words:
"The exception provided in Section 5 must be strictly applied as the prosecution of crime is the responsibility of officers appointed and trained for that purpose. The violation of the criminal laws is an affront to the People of the Philippines as a whole and not merely the person directly prejudiced, who is merely the complaining witness. This being so, it is necessary that the prosecution be handled by persons skilled in this function instead of being entrusted to private persons or public officers with little or no preparation for this responsibility. The exception should be allowed only when the conditions therefor as set forth in Section 5, Rule 110 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure have been clearly established."
In this case, a prosecutor had already intervened in the case. Prosecutor Ricardo P. Candido had actively handled the prosecution which was, however, transferred to complainant when the former was hospitalized. Hence, a prosecutor was available; there was no reason for the delegation of the prosecutory authority to the police chief of the municipality.

Also apropos to this case is the observation of the Court in People v. Beriales:[20]
"Moreover, as aptly observed by the Solicitor General, `to permit such prosecution of a criminal case by the private prosecutor with the fiscal in absentia can set an obnoxious precedent that can be taken advantage of by some indolent members of the prosecuting arm of the government as well as those who are oblivious of their bounden duty to see to it not only that the guilty should be convicted, but that the innocent should be acquitted - a duty that can only be effectively and sincerely performed if they actively participate in the conduct of the case, especially in the examination of the witnesses and the presentation of documentary evidence for both parties.'"
We must stress that gross ignorance of the law is a serious accusation. It therefore behooves complainant to be more circumspect in hurling this charge. Indeed, a person who accuses a judge of this very serious offense must be sure of the grounds for the accusation, or else be found ignorant of the law, as in this case. Judges, while expected to be a cut above the rest in the legal profession, are not inured to the strain concomitant with baseless and unfair aspersions on their competence. They certainly deserve a better treatment, especially from a prosecutor who should know, at the very least, the basic provisions of the Rules of Criminal Procedure.

WHEREFORE, Judge Rodolfo C. Ramos is found GUILTY of gross inefficiency and is hereby ordered to PAY a fine of three thousand pesos (P3,000). He is WARNED that a repetition of the same or a similar act shall be dealt with much more severely. Let a copy of this Decision be attached to his personal records.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, (Chairman), Vitug, Gonzaga-Reyes, and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 1-2.

[2] OCA Report, p. 1; rollo, p. 86.

[3] Rollo, pp. 40-43.

[4] Comment, p. 2; rollo, p. 41.

[5] Rollo, p. 90.

[6] Rollo, p. 91.

[7] Rollo, p. 97.

[8] Rollo, pp. 86-89.

[9] OCA Report, pp. 3-4; rollo, pp. 88-89.

[10] Beegan v. Borja, 261 SCRA 474, September 6, 1996.

[11] Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Villanueva, 279 SCRA 267, 273, September 18, 1997, per Melo, J.; citing Agcaoili v. Ramos, 229 SCRA 705, 710, February 7, 1994. See also Office of the Court Administrator v. RTC Judge Amelita D.R. Benedicto, AM No. 96-176-RTC, September 25,1998 and Mamamayan ng Zapote 1, Bacoor, Cavite v. Balderian, 265 SCRA 360, December 6, 1996; Celino v. Abrogar, 245 SCRA 304, June 27, 1995.

[12] See Lambino v. De Vera, 275 SCRA 60, July 7, 1997; Report of Audit and Physical Inventory of the Records of Cases in MTC of PeƱaranda, Nueva Ecija, 276 SCRA 257, July 28, 1997; Abarquez v. Judge Rebosura, 285 SCRA 109, January 28, 1998; Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Butalid, 293 SCRA 589, August 5, 1998; Bernardo v. Judge Fabros, AM No. MTJ-99-1189, May 12, 1999.

[13] AM No. MTJ-88-224, November 7, 1989. This is an unsigned en banc Resolution.

[14] Rejoinder, p. 1; rollo, p. 81.

[15] Rollo, p. 84.

[16] OdoƱo v. Macaraeg, AM No. RTJ-00-1542, March 16, 2000; Bandong v. Ching, 261 SCRA 10, August 23, 1996.

[17] Complaint, p. 1.

[18] This is substantially identical to Section 5, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court before the 2000 revision.

[19] 207 SCRA 144, 152, March 11, 1992, per Cruz, J.

[20] 70 SCRA 361 and 367, April 7, 1976, per Concepcion, J.



Source: Supreme Court E-Library
This page was dynamically generated by the E-Library Content Management System (E-LibCMS)