THE Supreme Court (SC) castigated four judges in Cavite and several employees, including two clerks of court, after finding them guilty of administrative charges and failure to take action on some cases for a considerable length of time.
In a full court verdict, the SC found Judge Fernando Felicen, presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court of Imus, Cavite, Branch 20, of gross ignorance of the law and gross misconduct constituting violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and fined him P80,000 which shall be deducted from his retirement benefits.
Judge Norberto Quisumbing Jr., presiding judge of Imus RTC Branch 21, was found guilty of gross ignorance of the law and simple misconduct and was fined P21,000.
Also found guilty of gross ignorance of the law and gross misconduct were Judges Cesar Mangrobang of RTC Branch 22 and Perla Cabrera-Faller of Dasmarinas RTC Branch 90. A fine of P80,000 shall be deducted from their retirement benefits.
The court suspended Allan Sly Marasigan, clerk of court V, Regional Trial Court of Imus, Cavite, Branch 20, for a period of one month and one day. It also fined Seter Dela Cruz-Cordez, clerk of court V, RTC of Imus, Cavite, Branch 22, an amount equivalent to salary for one month.
Also suspended for one month and one day were process server Hipolito Ferrer of Imus RTC Branch 20 and Officer-in-Charge and Legal Researcher Ophelia Suluen of Dasmarinas RTC Branch 90.
Anselmo Pagunsan Jr., sheriff IV, RTC of Imus, Branch 20, was suspended for a year while Wilmar de Villa, sheriff IV, RTC of Imus, Branch 21, was suspended for six months.
Elmer Azcueta, process server, RTC of Imus, Branch 22, was also suspended for a year while another Process Server Rizalino Rinaldi Pontejos of Dasmarinas RTC Branch 90 was also suspended for six months.
Also ordered suspended for six months and one day was Alma Serilo, social worker officer II, office of the clerk of court, RTC of Imus.
Meantime, Marasigan, Dela Cruz-Cordez, Suluen, Pagunsan, Ferrer, De Villa, Azcueta, Pontejos and Serilo were sternly warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall warrant a more severe penalty.
Prior to this, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) conducted an audit and found that the court had a total load of 827 cases, 417 of which were criminal and 410 are civil.
Of the criminal cases at RTC Dasmariñas 90, the judicial audit team found that the court failed to take action on several cases for a long time.
Out of 88 cases examined, 28 have clear indications of improper venue. Some of the addresses in Cavite are incomplete or vague while the notices sent to several parties were “returned to sender” because the addresses were insufficient, incomplete or unknown.
The civil cases proved more problematic, according to OCA. Not acted upon from the time of their filing were 106 cases, some of which went as far back as 2008. The court had not acted on 51 cases for a considerable length of time.
In fact, the last court action on 35 of these cases was from 2003 to 2009 while 28 civil cases are pending.
The team observed that the case records in the court were not stitched, but held together by fasteners only and not chronologically arranged or paginated. Nevertheless, the stitching of the records was immediately done upon advice of the audit team. It also appeared that the court personnel were not wearing the prescribed uniform for the trial courts.
At Imus RTC Branch 20, the OCA said that out of 65 cases, 49 are indicative of improper venue while the petitions for declaration of nullity and annulment of marriage show that one or both of the parties reside under the territorial jurisdiction of RTC and most of the given addresses were vague or incomplete.
Out of the 62 cases examined at Imus RTC Branch 21, 19 have indications of improper venue while in eight cases a party had the same address as a party in another case.
At RTC Imus Branch 22, out of 118 cases examined, 36 have clear indications of improper venue while some of the addresses in the petitions appear to be highly suspicious, if not fictitious. In a civil case, the petitioner alleged that he resided in Imus, Cavite, but likewise indicated an alternative address in Quezon City where summons and other court processes may be served on him.
In its ruling penned by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the high court held that in the its administrative disciplinary proceedings against judges and court personnel, “respondents spring the defense that no objection from the parties, the public prosecutor, the solicitor general, or the state was ever raised against these alleged irregularities.”
“To our mind, the fact that respondent judges and court personnel are using judicial arguments does not speak well of the strength of their position in these administrative complaints. The waiver of venue of civil actions or the waiver of the defense of lack of jurisdiction over persons—or, for that matter, any failure to raise an objection—is relevant only to the judicial proceedings where that waiver was made.”
According to the SC, “court personnel are, first and foremost, public officials.”
“They are held to a high standard of ethics in public service and exhorted to discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, as well as to uphold public interest over personal interest.”
As professionals, the SC said, “they are expected to perform their duties with the highest degree of excellence, intelligence and skill. The presence or absence of objections cannot be the measure by which our public officials should perform their sacred duties. First and foremost, they should be guided by their conscience; and, in the case of those employed in the judiciary, by a sense of responsibility for ensuring not only that the job is done, but that it is done with a view to the proper and efficient administration of justice.”
Meanwhile, the complaints against Regalado Eusebio, Clerk of Court VI, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court of Imus; Imelda Juntilla, court interpreter; and Teresita Reyes, court stenographer, both of the Regional Trial Court of ImusBranch 20, were dismissed for lack of merit.
“The court hereby orders the Office of the Bar Confidant to submit, within 30 days from notice, its compliance with the Resolution dated 12 August 2014, which required its appropriate action relative to the findings on the possible involvement of private practitioners in the anomalies in the declaration of nullity and annulment of marriage cases.”
“Let a copy of this Decision be furnished to the Secretary of Justice, the Solicitor General, and the Prosecutor-General for their information and possible remedial action to prevent further irregularities, including possibly by persons under their supervision. The Clerk of Court of the Court En Banc shall prepare the appropriate cover letter therefore.”