[A.M. No. MTJ-96-1091. March 21, 1997]
WILFREDO NAVARRO, complainant, vs. JUDGE DEOGRACIAS K. DEL ROSARIO respondent.
D E C I S I O N
DAVIDE, JR. J.:
In his sworn letter to the Chief Justice dated 5 June 1995, complainant Wilfredo Navarro stated that as a consequence of the physical injuries his 10-year old son Joemarie Navarro sustained in July of 1991 when the latter was “side swept by a fast moving passenger jeepney with plate no. FVE-858 driven by Cornelio Quingco,” he filed a complaint for slight physical injuries through reckless imprudence against the driver with the Third Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Patnoñgon-Bugasong-Valderrama in Antique, which was then presided by Judge Antonio Bantolo. The case was docketed as Crim. Case No. 2501-V. The trial therein lasted for less than a year and the case was submitted for decision. In 1992, Judge Bantolo was transferred to the MCTC of Sibalom, Antique and he was not able to decide the case. Respondent Judge del Rosario, Judge Bantolo’s successor, confided to complainant that he could not decide the case as it was filed prior to his assumption of office, while Judge Bantolo insisted that he had lost jurisdiction over the case because of his transfer. The case thus remained undecided for three years to the detriment of his interest and in violation of the constitutional mandate concerning speedy dispensation of justice.
The Office of the Court Administrator required respondent to comment on the petition.
In his Comment of 3 August 1995, respondent alleged that he assumed office as judge of the Third MCTC in Antique sometime in the early part of November 1991; he learned for the first time about the case in December of that year when the private prosecutor filed a manifestation informing the court that he could no longer present a rebuttal witness and asked that the case be deemed submitted for resolution; the case was heard in its entirety by Judge Bantolo and in the highest interest of equity and justice, Judge Bantolo “should be the one to pen the decision;” he had made “some preliminary talks with “Judge Bantolo respecting the case ... [and] even intimated to [the complainant] ... that his counsel make the necessary procedural move, [however] for unknown reasons ... [complainant] came out with a statement with this complaint.” He concluded that he did not pen the decision because he honestly believed that under the given circumstances, “nobody but Judge ... Bantolo must render the decision;” nevertheless, he is “ready and willing, without any hesitation, to render such decision if ordered to do so.”
In his letter of 7 September 1995 to the respondent Judge, Deputy Court Administrator Bernardo P. Abesamis considered it “appropriate and just that a decision be immediately rendered thereon” since the case “has been pending for quite a time now.”
On 5 August 1996 we directed the Office of the Court Administrator to docket the letter-complaint as an administrative matter and required the parties to manifest if they were willing to submit this case for decision on the basis of the pleadings already filed. Complainant and respondent manifested in the affirmative on 28 August 1996 and 6 January 1997, respectively. In his Manifestation, respondent Judge informed the Court that “on October 16, 1995 he issued a Decision (Annex “C”) acquitting the accused of the crime charged.”
In its earlier Evaluation, Report and Recommendation, the Office of the Court Administrator (per Deputy Court Administrator Zenaida N. Elepaño) made the following evaluation:
The contention of Judge del Rosario that Judge Antonio Bantolo should be the one to pen the decision since the latter tried the case in its entirety is without basis. The case submitted for decision when Judge del Rosario was already the Presiding Judge of the 3rd MCTC, Patnoñgon-Bugasong-Valderrama, Antique. Paragraph 2 of Administrative Circular No. 3-94 dated 26 January 1994 declares that: “Cases submitted for decision at the time of the appointment of a new judge shall be decided by the judge to whom they were submitted for decision, xxx.”
Section 15, Article VIII of the Constitution provides that all cases filed before the lower courts must be decided or resolved within three (3) months from the date of submission. Non-observance of this requirement constitutes a ground for administrative sanction against the defaulting judge (Marcelino vs. Cruz, Jr., No. L-42428, March 18, 1983, 121 SCRA 51, 58).
There is therefore no question that the failure of Judge del Rosario to decide Criminal Case no. 2501-V for an inordinate length of time, i.e., more than four (4) years constitutes neglect of duty.
The requirement of the law that cases be decided within a specified period from their submission (Article VIII, Sec. 15, Constitution) is designed to prevent delay in the administration of justice (Bendesula vs. Laza, 58 SCRA 16 (1974). For justice delayed is often justice denied, and delay in the disposition of cases erodes the faith and confidence of the people in the judiciary, lowers its standard and brings it into disrepute(In re Flordeliza, 44 Phil. 608 (1923); Macabasa v. Banaag, 57 SCRA 465 (1974); Secretary of Justice v. Bullecer, 56 SCRA 24 (1974); Escobillos v. Martinez (1974).
The courts exist to promote justice and thus to aid in securing the contentment and happiness of the people. Their administration should be speedy and careful (Canon 2, id.; Lianga Lumber Co. v. Lianga Timber Co., Inc. 76 SCRA 197 (1979); Jakosalem v. Cordovez, 58 SCRA 11 (1974).
Judge del Rosario must be reminded that the unjustified delay in the dispensation of justice cuts both ways. On the part of the accused, since his liberty was at stake, his suffering was unduly prolonged on account of respondent judge’s failure to promptly render the judgment of acquittal. On the part of the relatives of the victim, the offended party, the excruciating pain of waiting for the sentencing of the accused gave them the impression of impropriety that could diminish their trust in the judicial system (Lopez v. Alon A.M. No. 95-95 RTJ).
x x x
This is not the first complaint filed against Judge del Rosario since he joined the Judiciary on 8 July 1984 as Acting Clerk of Court of RTC, San Jose, Antique. In a Resolution dated 13 December 1994 on the Third Division in A.M. No. MTJ-94-949 entitled “Office of the Court Administrator vs. Judge Deogracias K. Del Rosario (former Clerk of Court, RTC, San Jose Antique)” the latter was charged with misconduct and negligence for the loss of one (1) piece of Official Receipt, General Form 13-A with SN 9797282, which was under his custody as accountable officer; failure to produce the said accountable form and to report to the Court in order that a “Notice of Loss” or “Circular” could be issued to prevent the fraudulent use thereof despite the directives of both the Office of the Court Administrator and the Commission on Audit; and for not submitting regularly the required monthly report of collections and deposits for Fiduciary Fund, General Fund for Clerk of Court, Sheriff Trust Fund and the Judiciary Development Fund, and was found guilty thereof for which he was ordered to pay a fine of Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00).
The Office of the Court Administrator then recommended that respondent Judge be fined in the amount of P5,000.00, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.
We agree with, and adopt as our own, the foregoing evaluation of the Office of the Court Administrator. However, its recommended administrative penalty is too light. Respondent Judge did not merely fail to perform a duty, he deliberately refused to do so. His “neglect” of duty then was deliberate and, therefore, gross, which also constituted a conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. He knew of the existence of the criminal case in December of 1991, through the private prosecutor’s manifestation. He should have known it earlier because as a new judge of the court he was expected, at the very least, to require the clerk of court to make an inventory of the cases or submit a report of the status of pending cases. Thus, if he personally believed that he could not decide the case because it was heard by Judge Bantolo -- which, of course, is not an acceptable excuse -- he should have formally communicated with us through the Office of the Court Administrator to inform us of his predicament and of his position on the matter and to seek appropriate relief. He did not. Worse, he even had the nerve to insist in his comment that he “honestly” believed that Judge Bantolo must be the one to decide the case and to arrogantly tell this Court that he would so decide only if told to do so. And he did, only after he received the letter of 7 September 1995 of Deputy Court Administrator Abesamis.
The penalty then must be higher than as recommended. A fine of P8,000.00 is reasonable under the circumstances.
WHEREFORE, we hold responsible Judge Deogracias K. Del Rosario guilty of gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and he is hereby sentenced to pay a FINE of Eight Thousand Pesos (P8,000.00), payable within five (5) days from receipt of a copy of this decision, and WARNED that his commission of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely.
Let a copy of this decision be attached to the record of respondent Judge in this Court.
Narvasa, C.J., (Chairman), Melo, Francisco, and Panganiban, JJ., concur.