Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

 

A.M. No. MTJ-94-986 January 28, 1998

MIGUEL ABARQUEZ, complainant,
vs.
JUDGE BIENVENIDO M. REBOSURA, respondent.

A.M. No. MTJ-95-1052 January 28, 1998

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, complainant,
vs.
JUDGE BIENVENIDO M. REBOSURA, respondent.

A.M. No. MTJ-95-1069 January 28, 1998

ANICETA TARLES, complainant,
vs.
JUDGE BIENVENIDO M. REBOSURA, respondent.


PER CURIAM:

In these three administrative matters, respondent Judge Bienvenido M. Rebosura of the Municipal Trial Court, Calape, Bohol is charged with gross misconduct for excessive delay in the disposition of cases and repeated falsification of his certificates of service and quarterly reports to conceal such fact.

On April 4, 1994, this Court received a letter-complaint from one Miguel Abarquez requesting that an investigation be conducted on the alleged non-compliance by respondent Judge Bienvenido M. Rebosura of the Municipal Trial Court of Calape, Bohol, with the 90-day mandatory period to resolve cases submitted for decision. This was docketed as Administrative Matter No. MTJ-94-986.1

On March 3, 1995, the Court received another letter-complaint, dated February 21, 1995, from an allegedly old and impoverished woman named Aniceta Tarle claiming that she was ill-treated by respondent judge when she went to his sala to verify the status of Criminal Case No. 871 which had been pending for 10 years. Complainant decries the alleged arrogance of the judge and the unreasonable delay in the disposition of the case. This was docketed as Administrative Matter No. MTJ-95-1069.2

Eventually, on June 6, 1995, a formal complaint was filed against respondent judge by the Office of the Court Administrator, docketed as Administrative Matter No. MTJ-95-1052, charging him with (1) gross inefficiency for his failure to decide after more than 90 days over 67 cases in his sala since 1981; and (2) falsification of his Quarterly Report of Cases for the quarter ending June 30, 1994 by making it appear that he had no cases submitted for and pending decision.3

The above-mentioned administrative matters were ordered consolidated in our resolution dated November 15, 1995.4 Thereafter, two separate audits with physical inventory of all pending cases filed before respondent's sala were conducted. One was handled by Executive Judge Antonio Bautista of the Regional Trial Court of Bohol, per our resolution dated October 24, 1994, 5 and the other by the Judicial Audit Team from the Office of the Court Administrator, headed by Atty. Nicandro Cruz.

Executive Judge Bautista reported that as of November 19, 1994, respondent judge had 48 pending cases (45 criminal cases and 3 civil cases) and 24 cases (23 criminal cases and 1 civil case) submitted for decision but which had not been resolved within the prescribed 90-day period. The delay or inaction in these cases on the part of respondent judge ranged from more than 1 year to almost 11 years from the date when they were submitted for decision.6

The foregoing data and report were substantially confirmed by the Judicial Audit Team in its report which states inter alia that:

4. MTC-Calape. Presided by Judge Bienvenido M. Rebosura, this Court has a total caseload of 60 cases as of February 28, 1995 (38 criminal cases and 22 civil cases), of which 23 criminal cases and 1 civil case were submitted for decision.

CRIMINAL CASES

All of the 23 criminal cases submitted for decision by Judge Rebosura remained undecided well beyond the 90-day reglementary period, the earliest being submitted on August 31, 1983, and the latest on September 30, 1993 (please refer to Annex "D"). These cases were totally tried by him except Criminal Case No. 2701 (People vs. Asilum) which he partly tried and submitted for decision on October 13, 1985 (Record #1, ibid.).

x x x           x x x          x x x

CIVIL CASES

With regard to the 22 civil cases pending, only case No. 169 (Cubero vs. Barada, for Sum of Money), was submitted for decision by Judge Rebosura on December 6, 1984.7

In his comment dated August 25, 1995, respondent contended that at the time the audit team conducted its audit of cases in his office, he had only 24 cases submitted for decision, not 67 as alleged in the complaint of Mr. Abarquez. He tried to explain the delay in the resolution of some of those cases as follows:

1. a. People vs. Asilum = This case was still pending when he assumed his office in the Municipal Trial Court of Calape by virtue of the Reorganization of all lower courts. The private complainant was at that time the Municipal Mayor of Calape, Atty. Isidro R. Redulla. After the trial of this case, complainant verbally told the undersigned that he was no longer interested in his case and requested in the meantime to hold it in abeyance for he was intending to file the necessary pleading for the matter. Since then and up to the present he has not filed any pleading;

b. People vs. Jao = It is hereby admitted that the undersigned has unknowingly and unintentionally failed to resolve/decide the case for the reason that no pleading has ever been filed by the parties praying the early disposal of said case (sic). It can be recalled that just after the trial of the case, the undersigned was designated as Acting Municipal Trial Judge of Loon, Bohol up to 1986 for the reason that the Presiding Judge of said Court retired; thereafter in the year 1989 he was again designated as Acting Municipal Trial Judge of the same Court owing to the death of the Presiding Judge, the late Samuel Indino. During those years/period, the undersigned had to divide his office hours of the week considering that the Municipal Court of Loon is adjacent to the Municipal Court of Calape;

c. People vs. Canizares = This case is only a Malicious Mischief the subject matter of which (sic) a bamboo fence constructed beyond the boundary of the land of the parties who are all co-heirs. While this case was on trial, the Court conducted an ocular inspection and in the presence of the parties and counsels (sic), convinced them to have the land surveyed in order to get the actual boundaries. Thereafter, the parties were advised to inform the Court on the result of the survey. Up to this date, no information has been given to the Court.

d. People vs. Maglahus = Like the other cases, the undersigned admits that he failed to resolve it as herein charged. In this connection his prayer for due consideration on his answer already submitted is hereby heartily reiterated. Undersigned humbly and heartily prays for HUMAN (sic) CONSIDERATION.8

With respect to the other remaining cases, he asserts that "it has been his weakness that when the case is only a simple case like these cases now in question, he seems to forget them for most of the time he seriously entertains problems brought to him for settlement." 9 This is an evasive explanation bordering on the contrived or the fanciful.

Regarding the charge of falsification of the quarterly report for the quarter ending June 30, 1994 wherein it was indicated that he had no pending cases submitted for decision, respondent explained that the mistake was unintentionally committed by his clerk of court. He claimed that he normally entrusted the preparation of the monthly reports to the clerk of court because he has full trust and confidence in her. He flamboyantly maintains that in his private life, as well as in his 35 years of service in the Government, he "has always strongly and openly advocated to the public to be HONEST and to be TRUTHFUL to all regardless of their status."10

He then continues with his submission that he mistake committed by his clerk of court was never intended to mislead anyone or anybody and he has no knowledge whatsoever about the mistake. He attached the result of the physical inventory on all cases filed before his court and decided from July 1, 1978, when he assumed office in the Municipal Trial Court of Calape, up to August 30, 1995, with his corresponding remarks thereon. He explains that he is submitting the same rectify whatever honest mistakes were committed in his previous monthly reports.

MTC Clerk of Court II Rosita D. Amizola, referred to by respondent judge, submitted her explanation to the effect that she mistakenly interpreted the phrase "cases submitted for decision but not decided at the end of the quarter" as meaning those "case submitted for decision covering the said quarter" of April to June, 1994. On that strained interpretation, and her assumed knowledge that no cases were submitted during the quarter ending June 1994, she reported "NONE." She, therefore, apologizes for her error and is submitting a correct report for that quarter. 11

With respect to the complaint of Ms. Aniceta Tarle, respondent's comment, dated April 19, 1995, denied her accusations therein, contending that he had been "very tolerant to her" despite the "insulting and hurting words" hurled by complainant, although he had informed her of the reason for the delay in the resolution of the case. He, however, admitted that Criminal Case No. 871 is one of those cases he failed to decide within the required period and for which an audit team was precisely sent by this Court for an inventory of cases. 12

In our resolution dated August 28, 1996, we referred the aforesaid consolidated cases to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) for evaluation, report and recommendation. 13

In a Memorandum Report dated October 17, 1996, the OCA found that for so many years, respondent made it appear in his monthly certificates of service that all cases and motion submitted to him had been decided or resolved by him within the period of 90 days from their submission and, consequently, he had been correspondingly receiving his salaries. 14 Thus, on November 27, 1996, we issued a resolution requiring respondent to comment on the circumstances under which he prepared and submitted his certificates of service, together with the justification or explanation for the propriety and correctness thereof, within 10 days from notice. 15

In compliance with the said resolution, respondent judge gave the following explanation, albeit with his typical peroration, to wit?

2. The preparation of all his Certificates of Service, since then has been entrusted to his Clerk of Court considering that the Official Forms (New Judicial Form No. 86) are already prepared or printed for the undersigned to sign and without reading the printed requirements, such that in his Certificate of Service submitted to the Supreme Court in the year 1995, and the years before, if said requirements were not complied with, said non-compliance were committed in good faith without any malice and bad faith for he strongly believes that any wrong doing (sic) /violation of whatever nature cannot be hidden for truth will always find its way; any error, mistake and wrong doing (sic) cannot be cured or corrected by another error, mistake and wrong doing (sic). 16

In its supplemental memorandum dated September 2, 1997, the OCA found herein respondent guilty of gross inefficiency in not deciding 24 cases submitted for decision within the 90-day period. It was nonetheless recommended that in the interest of equity and compassion, respondent be "directed to file his resignation (forced)" from the service, without forfeiting his leave credits and retirement benefits, but a corresponding fine equivalent to 3 moths salary be imposed for his unwarranted delay and negligence in deciding the cases in question. 17

The records of these three administrative cases, coupled with the express admissions and specious explanations of respondent judge, establish the fact that he has indeed not only been remiss in the performance of his duties, but that the has resorted to the use of falsified certificates for several years in order to continuously receive his salary by concealing the fact that he did not perform the services required therefore. We, therefore, do not agree with the comment of the OCA that such continued administrative and criminal violations were merely demonstrations of respondent judge's carelessness in signing Certifications without even browsing (sic) or studying the contents thereof," or that these acts should only be considered as absorbed in the inefficiency charge against him. Incidentally, falsification can be committed through negligence.

Respondent judge has 24 cases submitted for decision way beyond the 90-day mandatory period. In fact, some of them have been submitted and pending for decision for more than 10 years. 18 Although these facts were readily admitted by respondent judge, he failed to give valid and justifiable reasons for the delay.

Furthermore, exacerbating his insouciant and irresponsible attitude, respondent judge failed to comply up to now with our resolution dated November 15, 1995, requiring him to decide Criminal Cases Nos. 871, 1028 and 1024 within 30 days from notice and to submit to the Court proof of compliance. 19 This was reiterated in our resolution dated March 4, 1996 20 but, the foregoing notwithstanding, there is nothing in the records showing his compliance therewith.

The conduct of respondent judge in inexplicably delaying the disposition of so many cases for incredibly long periods of time, of his lackadaisical behavior in the performance of his judicial duties as shown by his cavalier justifications, cannot be countenanced. 21 As verified from the Statistics Division of this Court, he has a manageable caseload.

Indeed, the memorandum submitted by the OCA on September 2, 1997 pointed out that:

. . . we could readily see that the caseload of MTC, Calape, Bohol is very manageable, and there is no obvious reason why respondent Judge cannot cope with its workload. That he allegedly also attends to other matters, such as to other people who seek his advice, should not hamper his judicial function which should be given priority since it deals with the dispensation of justice. This is in accord with the Code of Judicial Conduct, . . .

x x x           x x x          x x x

From the foregoing discussion, it is quite obvious that lately, respondent Judge demonstrated a seeming inability to cope with his judicial functions, notwithstanding the minimal and/or manageable caseload in his court. This results in unwarranted delay in the administration of justice. Moreover, considering that 23 of the cases in question are criminal cases, there is a stark violation of the constitutional right to speedy trial of the accused as embodied in Article III, Sec. 16 of the Constitution. . . . 22 (Emphasis supplied).

We have consistently ruled that failure to decide a case within the required period is not excusable and constitutes gross inefficiency. 23 The Code of Judicial Conduct admonishes all judges to dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the period fixed by law. 24 They are called to be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence. 25

A judge is mandated to render a decision not more than 90 days from the time a case is submitted for decision. Judges are to dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the period specified in the Constitution, that is, 3 months from the filing of the last pleading, brief or memorandum. Failure to observe said rule constitutes a ground for administrative sanction against the defaulting judge, 26 absent sufficient justification for his non-compliance therewith.

This Court has consistently impressed upon judges the need to decide cases promptly and expeditiously on the principle that justice delayed is justice denied. 27 Delay in the disposition of cases erodes the faith and confidence of our people in the judiciary, lowers its standards and brings it into disrepute.28

Respondent judge is also guilty of submitting false certificates of service and in submitting or causing the submission of a false monthly report to the Statistics Division. He cannot take refuge behind the supposed mistakes or inefficiency of his clerk of court. 29 Proper and efficient court management is the responsibility of the judge. He is the one directly responsible for the proper discharge of his official functions.30

A judge who falsifies his monthly certificates of service violates Rule 3.09 of the Code of Judicial Conduct which requires a judge to observe at all times the observances of high standards of public service and fidelity. 31 A judge who fails to decide cases within the required period and continues to collect his salaries upon his certification that he has no pending matters to resolve, transgresses the constitutional right of litigants to a speedy disposition of their cases. 32 The Certificate of Service is not merely a means to one's pay check but an instrument by which the courts can fulfill the constitutional mandate of the people's right to a speedy disposition of cases.33

As to respondent judge's alleged ill-treatment of complainant Aniceta Tarle, the report of the OCA concluded that "the same is merely the result of a misunderstanding. Since complainant is already old and quite insistent, she must have caught the ire of the judge when she prodded him to act on the matter. This is quite understandable on the part of complainant Tarle, since the criminal case being followed up by the latter had been pending for quite a long time." 34

Respondent judge and, for that matter, all judges are hereby reminded that they should always observe courtesy and civility. 35 Judges should be temperate, patient and courteous. 36 In addressing counsel, litigants, or witnesses, the judges should avoid a controversial tone 37 or a tone that creates animosity. He should be considerate of witnesses and others in attendance in his court.38

Considering the extremely serious nonfeasance and malfeasance obtaining in this case, especially in light of the number and nature of the cases abandoned by judicial neglect to the prejudice of the parties who have thus been kept in limbo and uncertainty for years, we are not inclined to give respondent judge any degree of mitigation. The fact that respondent judge has been in the judiciary for 25 years does not extenuate but even aggravates his liability for, with such length of actual experience in the administrative workings of courts, he cannot pretend that he was unaware of the illegality of his acts. Simply stated, it is incredible that he did not know that he had not decided so many cases and that he should have timely done so in order to draw his salary.

That he has not been penalized for any other injudicious deeds and has no other pending administrative complaints against him cannot be a counterbalance for his gross misconduct over all these years. He was, after all, expected to comport himself as befits a man of law and a dispenser of justice, and he cannot point to his supposedly previous faultless record to offset the gravity of even a single but enormous failing. The truth is that he cannot really claim an unblemished past record since, as already explained, he has been covertly committing for years the series of acts recently exposed and subject of the present charges against him.

It is perceptively said that for the common tao, the municipal trial court may well be the tribunal of first and last resort. This court presents him his only view of the legal system, with ifs presiding judge as the sole personification of a dispenser of justice, and with his case as the example of how rights are protected or disregarded. This scenario is replicated on a national scope, and we cannot allow a wrong impression of the judiciary to be created by the shortcomings of those manning its frontiers.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Bienvenido M. Rebosura is with hereby DISMISSED from the service, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits including accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch of the Government including government owned or controlled corporations. Respondent judge shall forthwith CEASE and DESIST from performing any official act or function appurtenant to his office upon service on him of this decision.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Francisco, Panganiban, Martinez, JJ., concur.

Footnotes

1 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-94-986, 40.

2 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1069, 9.

3 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1052, 1-2.

4 Ibid., id., 4.

5 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-94-986, 44-46.

6 Ibid., id., 66-73.

7 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1069, 21-22.

8 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1052, 6-7.

9 Ibid., id., 7.

10 Loc. cit.

11 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-94-986, 58.

12 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1069, 2-3.

13 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1052, 133.

14 Ibid., id., 133A.

15 Ibid., id., 134.

16 Ibid., id., 136-137.

17 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1069, 46-51.

18 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1052, 8-9.

19 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-94-986, 29.

20 Ibid., id., 132.

21 Ubarra vs. Tecson, A.M. No. R-4-RTJ, January 17, 1985, 134 SCRA 4; Cruz vs. Basa, A.M. No. MTJ-91-598, February 9, 1993, 218 SCRA 551.

22 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ 95-1069, 49.

23 In re Judge Jose F. Madara, etc., A.M. No. 2351-CFI, April 27, 1981, 104 SCRA 245; Longboan vs. Judge Polig, A.M. No. R-704-RTJ, June 14, 1990, 186 SCRA 557; Sabado vs. Cajigal, A.M. No. RTJ-91-666, March 12, 1993, 219 SCRA 800.

24 Canon 3, Rule 3.05.

25 Id., Rule 3.01.

26 Alfonso-Cortes vs. Maglalang, A.M. No. RTJ-88-170, November 8, 1993, 227 SCRA 482; Mappala vs. Nuñez., etc., A.M. No. RTJ-94-1208, January 26, 1995, 240 SCRA 600.

27 See Bendesula vs. Laya, etc., A.M. No. 144-CFI, July 18, 1974, 58 SCRA 16; Castro vs. Malazo, A.M. No. 1237-CAR, August 21, 1980, 99 SCRA 164.

28 Report on the Audit and Inventory of Cases in the RTC, Branch 11, Balayan, Batangas, A.M. No. 93-11-1311-RTC, July 26, 1994, 234 SCRA 502; Re: Judge Luis B. Bello, Jr., A.M. No. 95-3-89-RTC, August 23, 1995, 247 SCRA 519.

29 See Nidua vs. Lazaro, etc., A.M Nos. R-465-MTJ and companion case, June 29, 1989, 174 SCRA 581; see also Yu vs. Consolacion-Serrano, A.M. No. 1059-MJ, April 12, 1982, 113 SCRA 450.

30 Agcaoili vs. Ramos, etc., A.M. No. MTJ-92-6-251, February 7, 1994, 229 SCRA 705.

31 Re: Letter Explanation of Judge Cabredo IV, MTCC, Br. 2, Naga City, March 18, 1993, En Banc, Minute Resolution.

32 Magdamo vs. Pahimulin, A.M. No. 662-MJ, September 30, 1976, 73 SCRA 110; Lambino vs. Judge de Vera, A.M. No. MTJ-94-1017, July 7, 1997.

33 Sabitsana, Jr. vs. Villamor, etc., RTJ No. 90-474, October 4, 1991, 202 SCRA 435.

34 Rollo, A.M. No. MTJ-95-1069, 48.

35 Retuya vs. Equipilag, A.M. No. 1431-MJ, July 16, 1979, 91 SCRA 416.

36 Delgra, Jr. vs. Gonzales, etc., L-24981, January 30, 1970, 31 SCRA 237.

37 Canon 14, Canons of Judicial Ethics.

38 Canon 9, id.


The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation