389 Phil. 518

THIRD DIVISION

[ A.M. No. RTJ-00-1555, June 22, 2000 ]

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR,COMPLAINANT, VS. JUDGE LYLIHA A. AQUINO, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 4, TUGUEGARAO, CAGAYAN, RESPONDENT.

R E S O L U T I O N

GONZAGA-REYES, J.:

An anonymous Letter-Complaint dated March 9, 2000 charges respondent Judge Lyliha A. Aquino, of the Regional Trial Court of Tuguegarao, Cagayan, Branch 4 for delay in resolving the following cases:
1.Crim. Case No. 0536- People vs. Merling
2.Crim. Case No. 0655- People vs. Pader
3.Crim. Case No. 1835- Taquino vs. Gannaban
4.Civil Case No. 2048- Prudencio vs. Roman Catholic Bishop of Tuguegarao
5.Civil Case No. 2271 - Sorita vs. Cabotaje
6.Civil Case No. 2648- Quebalayan vs. Quebalayan
7.Civil Case No. 3650- Rural Bank of Southern Cagayan vs. Razon

In the said letter-complaint, it is alleged that the complainant is a party in a case pending before the sala of the respondent Judge and that he followed up his case in the respondent's branch but up to the present, his case has not yet been decided. He claims that an employee of the RTC-Branch 4 informed him that the cases submitted during the time of Judge Villacete were transferred to the other branches of the Regional Trial Court for decision and his case was purportedly transferred to RTC-Branch 3. He learned that his case was returned to RTC-Branch 4 by virtue of SC Resolution dated October 21, 1997 which reads as follows:
"xxx       xxx       xxx

"Acting further on the Letter of Judge Loreto Cloribel Purugganan, Regional Trial Court, Branch 3, Tuguegarao, Cagayan, dated June 3, 1997, informing this Court that cases submitted for decision before then Judge Plaridel L. Villacete were re-raffled among the other branches of that court by Acting Executive Judge Orlando D. Beltran pursuant to the resolution of the Court dated February 4, 1997, the Court Resolved to: a) RETURN to Branch 4 the nine (9) criminal and civil cases submitted for decision before then Judge Villacete and raffled off to Judge Loreto C. Purugganan; (b) DIRECT: (1) Judge Lyliha Aquino, the newly appointed judge of Branch 4, to decide the aforesaid cases within three (3) months from notice; and (2) the Clerk of Court- of Regional Trial Court, Branch 4 to submit a report to the Court, through the Office of the Court Administrator, upon compliance by Judge Aquino with this directive."
The period for respondent Judge to decide the cases aforementioned was extended up to May 18, 1998 per SC Resolution dated April 28, 1998, which reads as follows:
"x x x. Acting on the separate Letters of: (1) Judge Loreto C. Purugganan, Regional Trial Court, Branch 3, Tuguegarao, Cagayan, in compliance with the letter dated February 2, 1998 of the Office of the Court Administrator and (2) Judge Lyliha L. Abella-Aquino, Regional Trial Court, Branch 4, Tuguegarao, Cagayan, requesting for an extension of up to the end of May 1998, within which to decide the seven (7) criminal and civil cases submitted for decision before then Judge Plaridel Villacete raffled off to Judge Loreto C. Purugganan, subsequently returned to her court by order of the Court in a Resolution dated October 21, 1997 with case Docket Nos. as follows:
1.CrC No. 0536, "Pp. vs. Merling;"
2.CrC No. 0655, "Pp. vs. Pader;"
3.CvC No. 1835, "Taquino v s. Gannaban;"
4.CvC No. 2048, "Prudencio vs. Roman Catholic Bishop of Tuguegarao;"
5.CvC No. 2271, "Sorita v.s Cabotaje;"
6.CvC No. 2648, "Quebalayan vs. Quebalayan;" and
7.CvC No. 3650 - "Rural Bank of Southern Cagayan vs. Razon."

for the reasons stated therein, the Court Resolved to: (a) NOTE the January 20, 1998 letter filed by Judge Lyliha L. Abella-Aquino, Regional Trial Court, Branch 4, Tuguegarao, Cagayan, requesting an extension up to the end of May, 1998 within which to decide CrC No. 0536, CrC No. 0655, CrC No. 1835, CvC No. 2048, CvC No. 2271, CrC No. 2648 and CvC No. 3650; and (b) GRANT Judge Aquino a new ninety (90) day period without any further extension, counted from February 18, 1997 (sic), or until May 18, 1998, within to decide said cases."
Complainant alleges that the aforementioned cases have not yet been decided up to the present and prays that the same be decided soon.

In her Comment, respondent Judge avers that the aforementioned cases were already submitted for decision during the incumbency of Judge Plaridel L. Villacete; that she decided Civil Case No. 3650 on October 26, 1998; and that for the remaining six (6) cases, aside from being voluminous, the TSN are not yet complete for the simple reason that the stenographers concerned are no longer with the court, as one already died and the others have retired from the service and are presently out of the country. Respondent Judge allegedly instructed her Clerk of Court, Atty. Blaise Sambolledo, as early as last year to hand her the complete records of the said cases together with the TSN but she found out that the TSN were not in the records. Thus, on March 1, 2000 she issued orders directing the parties through their respective counsels to furnish the court with copies of the TSN otherwise, the court will order the retaking of the testimonies of witnesses concerned.

The Court Administrator made the following recommendations: (1) that respondent Judge be fined in the amount of Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00) with a warning of a more severe penalty in case of repetition of similar act or omission; (2) that respondent Judge be directed to decide the aforementioned cases within ninety (90) days from completion of the TSN; (3) that the Clerk of Court of RTC-branch 4, Tuguegarao, Cagayan, be directed to effect, within thirty (30) days from notice, the completion of the TSN in the aforementioned cases and thereafter transmit the records together with the complete TSN to respondent Judge for preparation of the decisions; and (4) that respondent Judge be required to submit to this Court, through the Court Administrator, copies of her decisions immediately upon rendition, as proof of her compliance.

We find the recommendation of the Court Administrator to be well-taken.

The Court notes that although respondent Judge issued orders directing the parties concerned through their counsels to submit copies of the required TSN, said Orders all dated March 1, 20000 were issued only after the instant administrative case was filed and long after this Court issued the Resolution dated April 28, 1998 granting respondent , Judge's request for extension of ninety (90) days or until May 18, 1998 to decide the aforementioned cases. When the extended period expired, respondent Judge did not do anything to effect the speedy disposition of these cases. It took her almost two (2) years to finally issue the Orders of March 1, 20000 directed to the counsels of the parties concerned. Her claim that the TSN of the cases were not complete is not a valid reason for not deciding the cases within the extended period granted by this Court.[1] If respondent Judge felt that she could not decide the case within the reglementary period, all she had to do was ask from this Court a reasonable extension of time to dispose of the cases. The Court, cognizant of the caseload of judges and mindful of the difficulty encountered by them in the seasonable disposition of cases, would almost always grant the request.[2]

The Court has consistently impressed upon members of the judiciary the need to decide cases promptly and expeditiously under the time-honored precept that justice delayed is justice denied. It is the duty of every judge to resolve cases filed before him with good dispatch. Failure to decide the case within the reglementary period is not excusable and constitutes inefficiency warranting the imposition of administrative sanctions on the defaulting judge.[3]

Furthermore, Rule 3.01 of the Code of Judicial Conduct calls for a judge to be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence. Rule 3.05 admonishes all judges to dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the period fixed by law.[4]

Time and again we have stated that the members of the judiciary have the sworn duty to administer justice without undue delay. For failing to do so, respondent Judge has to suffer the consequences of her omission. Any delay in the disposition of cases undermines the people's faith in the judiciary.

WHEREFORE, as recommended by the Court Administrator, respondent Judge Lyliha A. Aquino of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 4, Tuguegarao, Cagayan is hereby FINED in the amount of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00) with a WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar act or omission will be dealt with more severely by this Court. She is further directed to DECIDE the aforementioned cases within ninety (90) days from completion of the transcript of stenographic notes and to SUBMIT to this Court, through the Court Administrator, copies of her decisions immediately upon rendition, as proof of her compliance. The Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 4, Tuguegarao, Cagayan is likewise directed to effect within thirty (30) days from notice, the completion of the transcript of stenographic notes in the aforementioned cases and thereafter transmit the records together with the complete transcript of stenographic notes to respondent Judge Lyliha A. Aquino for the preparation of the decisions.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, (Chairman), Panganiban, and Purisima, JJ., concur.

Vitug, J., abroad, on official business.



[1] Guitante vs. Bantuas, 95 SCRA 433.

[2] In Re: Administrative Matter No. MTJ-99-1181: Renato Casia vs. Judge Gerardo E. Gestopa, Jr., August 11, 1999.

[3] Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in Municipal Trial Court, Sibulan, Negros Oriental, 282 SCRA 463; Request of Judge Irma Zita V. Masamayor, RTC-BR. 52, Talibon, Bohol for extension of time to decide Civil Case No. 0020 and Criminal Case NO. 98-384, A.M. No. 98-12-381-RTC, October 5, 1999.

[4] Re: Judge Liberato C. Cortes, 242 SCRA 167.



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