Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT

THIRD DIVISION

A.M. No. MTJ-05-1603 October 25, 2005

[Formerly OCA IPI No. 04-1582-MTJ]

JAIME R. SEVILLA, Complainant,
vs.
JUDGE EDISON F. QUINTIN, MeTC, Branch 56, Malabon City, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO MORALES, J.:

For granting alleged innumerable postponements resulting to unconscionable delay in the disposition of Criminal Case Nos. 5300-96 to 5503-96, all entitled "People v. Genaro R. Sevilla," for violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22, the therein private complainant Jaime R. Sevilla ─ brother of the accused Genero R. Sevilla, administratively charges Malabon Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) Judge Edison F. Quintin (respondent).

By his complaint1 filed on June 2, 2004 with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), complainant faults respondent with gross ignorance of the law, obvious bias, grave abuse of discretion, and indubitable willingness to be a conspirator in the accusedís dilatory scheme to the prejudice of his cause by granting fifteen (15) indiscriminate and arbitrary postponements.2

Complainant alleges that the same questioned act constitutes a violation of Canon 1, Rule 1.0[2] of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Section 1, Rule 135 of the Revised Rules of Court and the spirit of 1991 Revised Rules on Summary Procedure, as amended by A.M. No. 00-11-01-SC which all call for a speedy and inexpensive resolution of B.P. 22 cases, and illustrates a corrupt practice prohibited under Section 3 (e) of R.A. 3019 for causing undue injury to a party, or preference in the discharge of judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.3

Complainant likewise faults respondent for his grant on December 16, 2003 of the defense counselís belated verbal "manifestation" to file demurrer to evidence ─ even if no such demurrer was subsequently filed ─ as contrary to Section 23, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court.4

By 1st Indorsement of June 29, 2004, the OCA required respondent to file his Comment on the complaint.5

In his Comment6 filed on August 3, 2004, respondent denied the charges against him. He explains as follows:

The four (4) counts for violation of B.P. 22 were filed as early as November 19, 1996, and the initial proceedings thereon were handled by the former presiding judge of Branch 56, MeTC of Malabon City.7 When he was appointed as the new Presiding Judge of said branch, he set the cases for continuation of trial on March 1, 1999, and on September 30, 1999, the prosecution filed its formal offer of evidence.8

On July 22, 2000, a fire gutted the entire courthouse of Branch 56 and only case records bearing dates up to November 1999 were salvaged or retrieved.9

On December 12, 2000, complainant through the private prosecutor filed a petition for reconstitution of the subject cases. On the hearing of the petition for reconstitution on January 9, 2001, no party showed up, however.

In the meantime, the proceedings on the cases were motu proprio suspended pending the reconstitution of their original records.10

The cases were soon set for hearing on August 3, 2001.

The August 3, 2001 setting was reset seven times up to August 15, 200211 inclusive, on agreement of the parties, in view of the absence of their respective counsels.12

As to the other resettings of the hearing of the cases, respondent gives the following explanation:

In the fifteen (15) resettings of hearing under question, there were only two (2) instances when the private prosecutor objected to the resetting Ė on September 19, 2002 and on August 7, 2003. In the first case, the court allowed the resetting of the hearing despite objection from the private prosecutor giving the accused (who was present) the last opportunity to present evidence in the next hearing, on condition that his failure to do so would be deemed a waiver of his right to present evidence and consider the case submitted for judgment on the basis only of the prosecutionís evidenceÖ.In the second case, the accused appeared without counsel since Atty. Barayang allegedly went to the hospital for a medical check-up; the private prosecutor moved that the case be submitted for judgment, but the court allowed the resetting to give the accused a last chance to present evidence and required Atty. Barayang to submit a duly verified medical certificate.

x x x

Two (2) settings [November 21, 2002 and February 11, 2003], despite the readiness of the private complainant and accused, were rescheduled for reason that the public prosecutor was absent due to sickness. Without the public prosecutor, no criminal proceedings can be conducted even if the private prosecutor is present unless the latter has secured an authority to prosecute the case even in the absence of the former. One (1) resetting [May 29, 2003] was due to the flood that rendered the court premises inaccessible. One (1) tentative resetting [December 16, 2003] was due to the fact that a motion for leave to file demurrer to evidence, without objection from the private prosecutor, was granted by the court. One (1) resetting [April 20, 2004] was during the continuation of the direct testimony of accused due to the absence of the defense counsel, but this was with the conformity of the private complainant.13 (Underscoring supplied)

Conceding that a judge must have control of court proceedings, respondent nevertheless proffers that it is also subject to the vagaries of circumstances.14 E.g., he draws attention to the fact that Branch 56 hears criminal cases twice a week and only in the mornings - the only schedule available to the public prosecutor.

On the charge that he is guilty of gross ignorance of the law for granting the belated verbal motion of the defense to file demurrer to evidence, respondent, drawing attention to the fact that the motion merited no objection from the prosecution, claims that he was merely moved by his desire to end, if warranted, the already protracted proceedings between brothers.15

In a Reply dated August 24, 2004, complainant counters that even if the private prosecutor was absent in all eight (8) hearings as long as the public prosecutor who has supervision and control of the prosecution of criminal cases was present,16 it could not be said that he (complainant) was not ready for trial; that respondentís exhaustion of all means to forge an amicable settlement of a dispute between family members applies only in civil cases; and that respondent "went overboard in his discretion when he surmised that his (complainantís) only concern was to collect the debt . . ." for he (complainant) wanted to put his brother-accused behind bars.17

As to the non-objection by the prosecution to the motion of the defense to file demurrer to evidence, complainant stresses that respondent retains the power to dictate the course of court proceedings, hence, he can overrule or deny motu proprio motions which are obviously contrary to the Rules.18

By Report19 dated June 14, 2005, the OCA observes that respondent had been very liberal in granting postponements, citing three different occasions when trial of the cases was postponed for failure of the defense counsel to appear without respondent ordering the defense counsel to explain his absence and why he should not be cited for contempt.

And for failing to rule on the formal offer of evidence by the prosecution, despite the lapse of more than eight (8) months from the filing by the defense of its comment and/or opposition thereto until the courtroom was gutted by fire on July 22, 2000, the OCA finds respondentís inaction condemnable as it does respondentís grant of the belated verbal "manifestation" of the counsel to file a demurrer to evidence on December 16, 2003, or more than four (4) years after the prosecution had rested its case on September 30, 1999.

The OCA accordingly recommends that for gross ignorance of the law and violation of Rule 3.05 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, respondent be fined in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00).

As a rule, the grant or denial of a motion for postponement is addressed to the sound discretion of the court which should always be predicated on the consideration that more than the mere convenience of the courts or of the parties, the ends of justice and fairness should be served thereby.20 However, this discretion must be exercised wisely.21

To be sure, the discretion of the trial court, "is not absolute nor beyond control." It must be sound, and exercised within reasonable bounds. Judicial discretion, by its very nature, involves the exercise of the judgeís individual opinion and the law has wisely provided that its exercise be guided by well-known rules which, while allowing the judge rational latitude for the operation of his own individual views, prevent them from getting out of control. An uncontrolled or uncontrollable discretion on the part of a judge is a misnomer. It is a fallacy. 22

In considering motions for postponements, two things must be borne in mind: (1) the reason for the postponement, and (2) the merits of the movant.23

A perusal of the records of the cases reveals that the hearings thereon were reset innumerably from August 3, 2001 until April 20, 2004 due to the absence of either the private or public prosecutor and/or the defense counsel.

The defense counsel did not thus have a monopoly of contracting absences. The private prosecutor whom complainant hired had had his share of absences. As admitted by complainant, the private prosecutorís last appearance was on September 19, 1999.24 Instead, however, of dispensing with the services of the private prosecutor early on or as soon as the latter showed lack of dedication to the cases,25 complainant tolerated his continued absences. And complainant interposed no objection to the consecutive resettings of the hearing of the cases and even expressed his conformity thereto by affixing his signature on the minutes thereof.

That complainant did not object to the continued postponement of the hearing of the cases for close to three (3) years does not, however, extenuate respondent.

For a judge should at all times remain in full control of the proceedings in his branch and should adopt a firm policy against improvident postponements.26 Lengthy postponements of court hearings create delay in the administration of justice, thus undermining the peopleís faith in the judiciary from whom the prompt hearing of their supplications is anticipated and expected, and reinforcing in the mind of the litigants the impression that the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly.27

And they should always observe utmost diligence and dedication in the performance of their judicial functions and duties, dispose of the courtís business promptly28 and decide cases impartially with reasonable dispatch. So dictates the Code of Judicial Conduct, the pertinent rules of which read:

Rule 1.02 Ė A judge should administer justice impartially and without delay.

Rule 3.05 Ė A judge shall dispose of the courtís business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.

On the charge that respondent violated "the spirit" of the 1991 Rules on Summary Procedure calling for a speedy and inexpensive resolution of B.P. 22 cases, the amendment to the Rule on Summary Procedure of Criminal Cases to include within its coverage violations of B.P. 22 under A.M. No. 00-11-01-SC took effect on April 15, 2003. Respondent thus contends that the cases subject hereof having been instituted in 1996, the governing procedure of trial thereof remains under the ordinary criminal procedures.

Respondent is reminded, however, that whether the trial of the cases falls under the 1991 Rules of Summary Procedure, he should remain imbued with a high sense of duty and responsibility in the discharge of his obligation to promptly administer justice.29

As for the charge of manifest partiality and evident bad faith, in violation of Sec. 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019,30 this Court finds no sufficient evidence to hold respondent liable on this ground.

On the grant by respondent of the belated verbal "manifestation" by the defense counsel to file a demurrer to evidence, respondent must indeed be faulted therefor.

The prevailing rule at the time respondent granted the motion for leave to file demurrer was that laid down under Rule 119, Section 23 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure which took effect on December 1, 2000, to wit:

SEC. 23. Demurrer to evidence. Ė After the prosecution rests its case, the court may dismiss the action on the ground of insufficiency of evidence (1) on its own initiative after giving the prosecution the opportunity to be heard or (2) upon demurrer to evidence filed by the accused with or without leave of court.

If the court denies the demurrer to evidence filed with leave of court. The accused may adduce evidence in his defense. When the demurrer to evidence is filed without leave of court, the accused waives the right to present evidence and submits the case for judgment on the basis f the evidence of the prosecution.

The motion for leave of court to file demurrer to evidence shall specifically state its grounds and shall be filed within a non-extendible period of five (5) days after the prosecutions rests its case. The prosecution may oppose the motion within a non-extendible period of five (5) days from its receipt.

If leave of court is granted, the accused shall file the demurrer to evidence within a non-extendible period of ten (10) days from notice. The prosecution may oppose the demurrer to evidence within a similar within a similar period from its receipt

The order denying the motion for leave of court to file demurrer to evidence or the demurrer itself shall not be reviewable by appeal or certiorari before judgment.

While complainant claims that the prosecution rested its case as early as October 12, 1999,31 respondent counterclaims that due to the fire that gutted the court, the prosecution should be deemed to have rested its case on February 21, 2002 when the complainant complied with the condition prescribed in the courtís order of December 4, 2001 by submitting the original of the exhibits for the prosecution.

At all events, even if the prosecution may be deemed to have rested its case on February 21, 2002, the rule provides that the motion for leave of court to file demurrer to evidence should be filed within a non-extendible period of five (5) days after the prosecution has rested its case, specifically stating the grounds relied upon by the defense. That the prosecution did not object to the verbal motion does not justify non-observance of the rules of procedure.

In order, however, to be found guilty of gross ignorance of the law, this Court has laid down a caveat that for liability to attach, the assailed order, decision or actuation of the judge in the performance of official duties must not only be found to be erroneous but, most importantly, that he was actuated by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred or some other like motive.32 Complainant failed, however, to present positive evidence to this effect and no inference thereof from the records of the case can be drawn.

For failure then to observe Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure and for tolerating the continued absences of the counsels during the hearings of Criminal Case Nos. 5300-96 to 5503-96 resulting to undue delay in the administration of justice in violation of Rule 1.02 and Rule 3.05 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, respondent must be held liable.

Appreciated as a mitigating circumstance in respondentís favor, however, is the fact that Branch 56 hears criminal cases twice a week and only in the mornings, the only schedule available to the public prosecutor.

In the premises, the Court finds that a FINE of Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos is warranted.

WHEREFORE, this Court finds Judge Edison F. Quintin GUILTY of violation of the Rules of Court and the Code of Judicial Conduct and he is FINED in the amount of Ten Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos with a WARNING that a similar offense shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN

Associate Justice

Chairman

ANGELINA SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ

Associate Justice

RENATO C. CORONA

Associate Justice

CANCIO C. GARCIA

Associate Justice


Footnotes

1 Rollo at 1-5.

2 Id. at 1-2.

3 Id. at 2-3.

4 Id. at 3.

5 Id. at 11.

6 Id. at 15-23.

7 Id. at 15.

8 Id. at 15-16.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Id. at 19.

12 Id. at 21.

13 Id. at 19-21.

14 Id. at 23.

15 Id. at 20.

16 Id. at 42.

17 Id. at 44.

18 Id. at 41.

19 Id. at 46-49.

20 People v. Leviste, 255 SCRA 238, 247 (1996).

21 De Guzman v. Elbinias, 172 SCRA 240, 246 (1989).

22 De Zuzuarregui, Jr. v. Rosete citing Basco v. Rapatalo, 269 SCRA 220, 226 (1997).

23 Supra, note 22.

24 Rollo at 42.

25 Barza v. Dinglasan, Jr., 441 SCRA 277, 288 (2004).

26 Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in the RTC of Kidapawan, Brs. 17 & 23, North Cotobato, 403 SCRA 130, 133 (2003)

27 Id. at 132.

28 Ang v. Asis, 373 SCRA 91, 102 (2002).

29 Acuzar v. Judge Ocampo, 425 SCRA 464, 469 (2004).

30 Sec. 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019 provides to wit:

Sec. 3. Corrupt practices of public officers - In addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful:

x x x

(e) Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official, administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. This provision shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.

31 Rollo at 3.

32 Pesayco v. Layague, 447 SCRA 450 , 460 (2004).


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