THIRD DIVISION

PROSECUTOR HILARIO
RONSON H. TILAN,

Complainant,

-  versus  -

JUDGE ESTER PISCOSO-FLOR,
RTC, BRANCH 34, BANAUE,
IFUGAO,

Respondent.

A.M. No. RTJ-09-2188

(Formerly  A.M. OCA-IPI No. 08-2995-RTJ)

Present:

CARPIO MORALES, J., Chairperson,

BRION,

BERSAMIN,

VILLARAMA, JR., and

SERENO, JJ.

Promulgated:

January 10, 2011

x----------------------------------------------x

D E C I S I O N

BRION, J.:

We resolve in this Decision the Administrative Matter against Judge Ester Piscoso-Flor of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 34, Banaue, Ifugao.

The Antecedents

The case arose from the verified complaint, dated September 1, 2008,[1] filed by Public Prosecutor Hilario Ronson H. Tilan, charging Judge Piscoso-Flor with gross inefficiency, gross negligence and dishonesty.

The records show that the prosecutor was then handling Criminal Case No. 127, People of the Philippines v. Juanito Baguilat, for Falsification of Public Document, and Criminal Case No. 140, People of the Philippines v. Wihlis Talanay, for Violation of RA 7610, pending promulgation before Judge Piscoso-Flor.  He was also handling Criminal Case No. 221, People of the Philippines v. Macario Tenefrancia, for Libel, pending arraignment in the same court.

In People v. Baguilat, Judge Piscoso-Flor issued an order dated October 20, 2007[2] directing the parties to submit their respective memoranda within thirty (30) days from receipt of the order. The complainant alleged that the judge failed to render a decision within the ninety (90)-day reglementary period; instead, she issued an order, dated April 8, 2008,[3] reiterating her earlier directive for the parties to submit their respective memoranda.

In People v. Talanay, Judge Piscoso-Flor issued an order dated September 25, 2007[4] giving the accused fifteen (15) days to file his formal offer of evidence, and five (5) days for the prosecution to file its comment/objections.  Allegedly, Judge Piscoso-Flor again failed to resolve the case within the 90-day reglementary period; instead, she issued another order dated May 21, 2008[5] giving the parties fifteen (15) days within which to file their memoranda.

Prosecutor Tilan claimed that in both cases, Judge Piscoso-Flor resorted to the issuance of an order requiring the submission of the parties’ memoranda to circumvent the statutory period for the resolution of cases.  Prosecutor Tilan pointed out that  the father of  the victim  (a minor)  in People v. Talanay sought the assistance of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) “regarding the slow process of resolving the case,”[6] and the CHR even called his attention on the matter.[7]

In People v. Tenefrancia, Prosecutor Tilan alleged that the accused filed a Petition for Suspension of Trial, prompting Judge Piscoso-Flor to call a hearing on the petition.  Despite the parties’ submission of the matter for resolution, Judge Piscoso-Flor failed to resolve the petition within the required period.

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA)[8] required Judge Piscoso-Flor to submit her comment, and she complied on November 7, 2008.[9] She  offered   the following explanation: in the court’s monthly report  for  January 2008,[10] Criminal Case No. 127, People v. Baguilat, was submitted for decision on January 31, 2008, and was due for decision on May 1, 2008;  the  reason  for this was the parties’ failure to submit their memoranda as required in her order dated October 20, 2007; on April 8, 2008, she issued another order reiterating her directive for the parties to file their memoranda because the case had been heard previously by her two predecessors.

Judge Piscoso-Flor further explained that on April 28, 2008, accused Baguilat moved for extension of time to submit his memorandum.[11] She herself requested for an extension of time to decide the case up to July 2, 2008.[12] She promulgated the decision on September 29, 2008,[13] after several postponements due to the absence of Prosecutor Tilan, the counsel for the accused, and of the accused himself.

In conclusion, she stated that Prosecutor Tilan filed the present complaint after she personally went to Justice Secretary Raul M. Gonzales to complain about the former’s actuations towards her,[14]and after she cited him for direct contempt.[15]

On November 19, 2008, Prosecutor Tilan filed a reply,[16]reiterating the allegations in his complaint, and adding that he filed a Motion for Inhibition of Judge Piscoso-Flor in Criminal Case No. 228, People of the Philippines v. Eddie Immongor and Senando Bannog,” which was deemed submitted for resolution on July 18, 2008.

In a rejoinder dated November 25, 2008,[17] Judge Piscoso-Flor explained  that in Criminal Case No. 142, People of the Philippines v. Myleen Dimpatan, for Estafa, which Prosecutor Tilan mentioned in his reply, she received the accused’s memorandum on April 20, 2007, and that of the prosecution on April 17, 2007.  She added that on July 24, 2007, the court   received  a joint manifestation by Prosecutor Tilan, Private Prosecutor Rufino  Lamase,  and  the accused’s counsel (Atty. Gerald Tabayan) asking that the promulgation of the decision be deferred pending a possible settlement of the case. It was only on October 8, 2008 that Prosecutor Lamase  moved  to  have  the case resolved for failure of the accused  to  settle  the civil  aspect  of the case. She immediately finalized the decision and  scheduled  its promulgation on November 14, 2008, but this was reset to November 24, 2008 upon motion of the counsel for the accused.

Judge Piscoso-Flor further explained that the motion for inhibition in Criminal Case No. 228 had been the subject of a contempt case which reached the Court of Appeals and gave rise to numerous complaints filed by Prosecutor Tilan against her. One of the cases had been considered closed and terminated by Deputy Court Administrator Reuben P. de la Cruz in a letter dated November 4, 2008.[18]

Upon recommendation of the OCA, the Court issued a Resolution on July 6, 2009:[19] (1) re-docketing the case as a regular administrative matter; (2) directing Judge Piscoso-Flor to conduct an inventory of cases pending in her court and find out whether there were cases submitted for decision that had not been decided within the required period, and to decide these cases within thirty (30) days; and (3) requiring the parties to manifest whether they were willing to submit the case for resolution on the basis of the pleadings and the records.

Judge Piscoso-Flor and Prosecutor Tilan submitted the case for resolution on August 27, 2009 and October 8, 2009, respectively.

The Court’s Ruling

In his Memorandum dated March 19, 2009,[20] Court Administrator Jose P. Perez (now a member of the Court) found Judge Piscoso-Flor to have been  remiss  in  her  duty  to  decide cases within the period required by law.  He recommended that the judge be merely admonished considering that  this  is her first infraction and that she inherited most of the cases that gave  rise  to  the  complaint.  At the same time, he recommended that a stern warning be given against the commission of a similar offense in the future.

The OCA evaluation tells us that Judge Piscoso-Flor is guilty of failing to decide cases within the required periods, citing Criminal Case No. 127  (People v. Juanito Baguilat)  as  the principal basis of its conclusion.  In  this case, the OCA faulted Judge Piscoso-Flor for using as justification for  her inaction the parties’ failure to submit their respective memoranda.  The  OCA  opined  that  this  is not a valid reason for not deciding the case; if  she  believed  she  would  not be able to decide the case on time, she could have asked the Court for an extension of the required period. The OCA acknowledged though that Judge Piscoso-Flor requested for an extension to decide the case in her monthly report of cases and certificate of service.[21]

We find the OCA evaluation in order.  Although Judge Piscoso-Flor claimed that she had requested for an extension of time to decide Criminal Case No. 127, there was no showing that the request was ever granted. Over and above this consideration, she allowed the parties to control the period of disposition of the case through their lukewarm response to her call for the submission of memoranda, which she had to do twice.  She could have acted more firmly, considering, as she said, that she only inherited the case, which implies that it had been on the docket for quite some time.  In any event, Judge Piscoso-Flor should have known that “[t]he Court may grant extension of time to file memoranda, but the ninety (90) day period for deciding the case shall not be interrupted thereby.”[22]

The same is true with Criminal Case No. 140 (People v. Talanay).  As early as March 6, 2006,[23] the CHR Office in the Cordillera Administrative Region relayed to Judge Piscoso-Flor the concern of the parent of the victim of the child abuse regarding the delay in the resolution of the case.  It was only on May 21, 2008 when Judge Piscoso-Flor called for the submission of memoranda.

Judge Piscoso-Flor  had no comment on Criminal Case No. 221 (People v. Tenefrancia).  On the other hand, the Motion for Inhibition in Criminal Case No. 228, filed by Prosecutor Tilan, was deemed submitted for resolution on July 18, 2008,[24] but Judge Piscoso-Flor herself admitted that she resolved the motion on November 10, 2008 or beyond the required 90-day period.

Judge Piscoso-Flor, however, cannot be held liable for delay in the disposition of Criminal Case No. 142 (People v. Dimpatan), which Prosecutor Tilan cited in his reply.[25] While he claimed that the case  was  deemed submitted for decision on March 12, 2007, it appears from the records  that he, Private Prosecutor Rufino Lamase, and the accused’s counsel  (Atty. Gerald Tabayan)  executed  a joint manifestation[26] praying that the promulgation of the decision be deferred pending negotiations among  them  on  the  civil aspect of the case.  When the negotiations bogged down and upon motion of Prosecutor Lamase (dated October 8, 2008),[27] Judge Piscoso-Flor promulgated the decision on November 24, 2008.

On the whole, we find Judge Piscoso-Flor guilty of undue delay in the disposition of cases. Except for People v. Dimpatan, Judge Piscoso-Flor failed to resolve the other cases within the required period, in violation of the law and the rules.  No less than the Constitution sets the limits on this all-important aspect in the administration of justice.  It mandates that lower courts have three (3) months or ninety (90) days within which to decide cases or matters submitted to them for resolution.[28] Also, the Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to dispose of the Court’s business promptly and decide cases within the prescribed period.[29]

It cannot be over emphasized that judges need to decide cases promptly and expeditiously.  Delay in the disposition of cases, it must again be stated, is a major cause in the erosion of public faith and confidence in the justice system.[30] For this fundamental and compelling reason, judges are required to decide cases and resolve motions with dispatch within the reglementary period.  Failure to comply constitutes gross inefficiency, a lapse that warrants the imposition of administrative sanctions against the erring magistrate.[31]

Section 9, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court defines undue delay in rendering a decision or order as a less serious charge, punishable under Section 11(b) of the same Rule and imposes a penalty of suspension from office, without salary and other benefits, for not less than one (1) nor more than three (3) months, or a fine of more than P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.  In light, however, of the fact that this is Judge Piscoso-Flor’s first infraction and considering that most of the cases involved were inherited cases, we deem a fine in its minimum range an appropriate penalty for Judge Piscoso-Flor.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, Judge Ester Piscoso-Flor is declared liable for delay in the disposition of cases.  Accordingly, she is FINED P10,000.00, with a stern warning against the commission of a similar offense in the future.

SO ORDERED.

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO

Associate Justice



[1] Rollo, pp. 2-3.

[2] Id. at 5; Complaint, Annex “A.”

[3] Id. at 6; Complaint, Annex “B.”

[4] Id. at 7; Complaint, Annex “C.”

[5] Id. at 8; Complaint, Annex “D.”

[6] Id. at 11.

[7] Id. at 10.

[8] Id. at 16; 1st Indorsement, September 29, 2008.

[9] Id. at 17-18.

[10] Id. at 19-20; Comment, Annex “A.”

[11] Id. at 21-22; Comment, Annex “B.”

[12] Id. at 23-24; Comment, Annex “C” & “D.”

[13] Id. at 25-33; Comment, Annex “E.”

[14] Id. at 38; Comment, Annex “I.”

[15] Id. at 40; Comment, Annex “K.”

[16] Id. at 42.

[17] Id. at 63.

[18] Id. at 66; Rejoinder, Annex “C.”

[19] Id. at 7.

[20] Id. at 67-71.

[21] Supra note 12.

[22] Administrative Circular No. 28, July 3, 1989.

[23] Supra note 6.

[24] Supra note 16.

[25] Rollo, p. 42.

[26] Id. at 64; Rejoinder, Annex “A.”

[27] Id. at 65; Rejoinder, Annex “B.”

[28] CONSTITUTION, Article VIII, Section 15(1).

[29] Rule 3.05.

[30] Michael G. Plata v. Judge Lizabeth G. Torres, A.M. No. MTJ-08-172, October 24, 2008, 570 SCRA 14.

[31] Sanchez v. Vestil, A.M. No. RTJ-98-1419, October 13, 1998, 298 SCRA 1.