THE Supreme Court (SC) has suspended a judge in Malabon City who is handling the controversial Ruby Rose Barrameda slay case for his irregular and over-issuance of search warrants in different cases.
In a full-court ruling penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo and promulgated by clerk of court Felipa Anama, the SC found Presiding Judge Zaldy Docena, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 170, Malabon City, “guilty of gross neglect of duty, and hereby suspends him from office for a period of two (2) years without pay, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.”
Ruby Rose Barrameda was the murder victim whose body was encased inside a drum and then thrown into the Manila Bay near a Navotas City port.
It was learned that while the majority of the magistrates voted for Docena’s suspension, four of the justices voted for his dismissal from the service.
The SC also found Presiding Judge Celso R. L. Magsino Jr., RTC Branch 74, Malabon City, and then Executive Judge, guilty of simple misconduct and ordered him to pay a fine of P20,000 with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.
It also found lawyer Esmeralda Dizon, Clerk of Court, Office of the Clerk of Court, guilty of simple misconduct and ordered her to pay a fine of P20,000.00 with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.
The High Court suspended lawyer Jesus Hernandez, Branch Clerk of Court, for one month without pay after the SC found him guilty of simple neglect of duty, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.
Several other court employees–Zenaida Salonga, Clerk-in-Charge, and stenographers Olivia Labagnao, Debhem Fardo, Rosario San Pedro and Gigi Mendoza of RTC Branch 170 were found guilty of simple neglect of duty and admonished to be more diligent and circumspect in the performance of their duties.
The ruling was promulgated on September 5, 2017 but was released only recently.
It stemmed from a report on preliminary results of a spot audit conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) in RTC Branch 170.
On April 26, 2016, the OCA sent a team to conduct the spot audit of search-warrant applications raffled off to Branch 170 over persistent reports on allegedly irregular issuance of search warrants by Docena.
A total of 938 applications for search warrants were filed before the RTC from January 2015 to April 13, 2016. These applications were distributed among Docena, with 761 applications; then Executive Judge Celso Raymundo Magsino Jr., Branch 74, with 175 applications; and Judge Jimmy Edmund Batara, Branch 172, with two applications.
The RTC exceeded the number of search warrants issued by the RTC of Manila (with 56 branches) and the RTC of Quezon City (with 48 branches), notwithstanding the fact that the latter courts are allowed to issue search warrants that are enforceable nationwide.
The OCA found this to be in violation of Section 2(a) of Rule 126 of the Rules of Court, which provides that an application for a search warrant shall be filed with any court within whose territorial jurisdiction the crime was committed.
Docena issued 418 search warrants that are also enforceable outside the territorial jurisdiction of the RTC of Malabon City but this time the applicants specifically invoked Section 2(b) of Rule 126, which allows, for compelling reasons, the filing of the application with any court within the judicial region where the crime was committed or where the warrant shall be enforced.
The audit team noted that Docena granted all 790 search warrant applications raffled off to Branch 170 from January 2015 up to May 10, 2016, and more of which are John/Jane Doe search warrants.
Out of the 790 search warrants issued, 442 or 55.95 percent have yielded negative results, remained unserved or were otherwise never returned to the court.
Also, the team also found that Docena granted 758 search-warrant applications even though the places of commission of the crimes were outside the territorial jurisdiction of the RTC of Malabon City.
Out of 758 applications, 130 had completely failed to cite compelling reasons to warrant their filing before the RTC.
Docena submitted that he granted the search-warrant applications before him “in the good faith belief that there was probable cause for their issuance and in compliance with law and procedure.”
The SC, however, was not convinced by Docena’s defense.