In a resolution of the Court En Banc, dated December 3, 1996, 1 Branch Clerk of Court Amelia B. Vargas of Branch 27, Regional Trial Court of Naga City, Albay was directed to show cause why she should not be administratively dealt with for submitting a false monthly report of cases to this Court.
Said resolution of the Court was issued as a consequence of the audit and physical inventory 2 conducted by a Judicial Audit Team from the Office of the Court Administrator of the dockets of certain lower courts in the provinces of Camarines Sur and Albay from September 24 to October 4, 1996.chanrobles.com:cralaw:red
A scrutiny of the records of cases of Branch 27 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Naga City, Albay revealed that said court had a caseload of 92 criminal cases and 89 civil cases. 3 Five of the criminal cases were found to have been submitted for decision, but four of them had not been decided in spite of the lapse of the mandatory period therefor. These cases 4 and the reported findings thereon are detailed hereunder.
(1) Criminal Cases Nos. 93-4662, (2) 93-4663 and (3) 93-4664, People v. Tan (violation of B.P. Blg. 22):chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Under the team’s List of Criminal Cases Submitted for Decision Before RTC, Branch 27, Naga City as of September 24, 1996 (Tabulation A), 5 the consolidated cases above were considered submitted for decision on the basis of the order dated February 7, 1995, wherein the parties were given 30 days to file their respective memoranda after which the same would be considered submitted for decision. The memorandum of the prosecution is dated March 10, 1995 while that of the defense is dated March 24, 1995. The prosecution submitted a supplemental memorandum on April 3, 1995.
(4) Criminal Case No. 94-5666, People v. Valenzuela, Et. Al. (unjust vexation):chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
This appealed case from the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Minalabac, Camarines Sur was considered submitted for decision after the lapse of 15 days given to the parties to submit their memoranda under a notice therefor dated March 31, 1995.
(5) Criminal Case No. 96-6099, v. People v. Jaucian (serious physical injuries and damage to property thru reckless imprudence):chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
This is an appealed case from the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Naga City and was raffled to Branch 27 on April 25, 1996.
With regard to the pending civil actions, two cases were submitted for decision and two motions in two civil cases were considered submitted for resolution of the court. These two cases and one motion hereunder enumerated, had not been acted upon by the court despite the lapse of 90 days from the time of their submission for decision or resolution. 6
(1) Civil Case No. 94-3013, Geronimo v. Geronimo (collection of sum of money):chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
As explained in the team’s List of Cases Submitted For Decision Before RTC, Branch 27, Naga City as of September 24, 1996 (Tabulation B), 7 this appealed case from the MTCC, Naga City was considered submitted for decision as of March 15, 1995 for failure of the defendant to submit his memorandum within 15 days from February 28, 1995 as directed by the court.
(2) Civil Case No. 94-3306, Maggay Corporation v. Naga Telephone Co. (ejectment):chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
This is on appeal from MTCC, Naga City and was considered submitted for decision on December 12, 1994.
(3) Civil Case No. 95-3317, Pineda v. Peoro (collection of sum of money):chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
In the order dated March 10, 1995, counsel for the parties were required to file their respective memoranda within 15 days, after which the court would rule on the motion for issuance of a writ of preliminary attachment.
(4) Civil Case No. 96-3535, Valencia v. Valencia (legal separation):chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
The resolution of the motion to appoint petitioner as administratrix in this case was held in abeyance pursuant to the order dated July 30, 1996.
Prior to the visit by the team, Branch Clerk of Court Amelia B. Vargas submitted on September 6, 1996 a Monthly Report of Cases 8 for August, 1996 to the Statistics Division, Office of the Court Administrator. Under Item No. V of the report calling for a list of cases submitted for decision but not yet decided at the end of the month, Vargas placed an entry of" -none-." 9
With this disparity, as against the result of their inventory, the team recommended that Atty. Amelia B. Vargas be directed to show cause why she should not be disciplined for submitting a false monthly report indicating that there were no cases submitted for decision as of August, 1996 when actually there were nine cases (five criminal and four civil) submitted for decision before Branch 27, some of which had not been acted on beyond the period allowed to decide cases. 10 However, to be accurate and in fairness to Vargas, only two civil cases were actually submitted for decision as the other two civil cases only concerned the resolution of motions filed therein.
Vargas explained in her Compliance 11 to our order that she made the questioned entry in the report because of the absence of orders from the lower court declaring the subject cases submitted for decision. She reasoned out that such orders are necessary if she is to accomplish in full the requirement in the report as to the date when the cases were submitted for decision and the name of the judge before whom a case was so submitted.
It is important to note that according to the memorandum of Deputy Court Administrator Bernardo P. Abesamis, the Presiding Judge of Branch 27, Jose L. Panday, was indefinitely suspended by the Court in a resolution dated February 28, 1995 in A.M. No. RTJ-95-1283 pending the investigation of the complaint against him for rape and child abuse. 12
Since the suspension of Judge Panday from office, Pairing Judge Antonio N. Gerona of Branch 28 and Executive Judge David C. Naval acted on all incidental or interlocutory matters pertaining to Branch 27, pursuant to Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 7 dated September 23, 1974. However, they did not and could not render judgment on the cases pending before Branch 27 in the absence of authority from all or both of the parties in each case or from this Court. 13
Thus, also in our December 3, 1996 resolution, 14 we designated Judge Edgar S. Surtida as Acting Judge of Branch 27 in addition to his duties as Presiding Judge of Branch 26 and directed him to decide the five criminal cases, namely, Criminal Cases Nos. 93-4662, 93-4663, 93-4664, 94-5666, and 96-6099, and the two civil cases, Civil Cases Nos. 94-3013 and 94-3305, and to resolve the motions in Civil Cases Nos. 95-3317 and 96-3535 within 90 days from notice of that resolution.
Vargas would want us to believe, as she claims she honestly believed then, that her duty to register the seven cases as submitted for determination in the monthly report depends on the existence of orders declaring the submission of those cases for decision. Withal, the fact that no orders were issued declaring the cases ready for judgment will not necessarily exonerate Vargas from administrative liability.
Vital to our determination of whether or not Vargas was remiss in her duty, however, is the parallel issue on the definition of the phrase "submitted for decision." We find the meaning thereof in Administrative Circular No. 28 which provides that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
(3) A case is considered submitted for decision upon the admission of the evidence of the parties at the termination of the trial. The ninety (90) day period for deciding the case shall commence to run from submission of the case for decision without memoranda; in case the Court requires or allows its filing, the case shall be considered submitted for decision upon the filing of the last memorandum or the expiration of the period to do so, whichever is earlier. Lack of transcript of stenographic notes shall not be a valid reason to interrupt or suspend the period for deciding the case unless the case was previously heard by another judge not the deciding judge in which case the latter shall have the full period of ninety (90) days for the completion of the transcripts within which to decide the same. (Emphasis ours.)chanrobles virtual lawlibrary
Thus, in cases where the courts allow the filing of memoranda, no further orders pronouncing the submission of cases for decision are necessary before a case can be regarded as submitted for decision. Where the parties fail to submit their memoranda within the period given to them by the court, a case is deemed submitted for decision upon the expiration of that period whether or not there is an order from the court to that effect. It is not the order that makes a case ready for disposition of the court. The mere filing of the memoranda or the termination of the period to file one, whichever is earlier, ipso facto submits the case for adjudication.
One of the basic responsibilities of a Branch Clerk of Court is the preparation of the official Monthly Report of Cases to be submitted to the Supreme Court. 15 Erroneous statistical accomplishment of the monthly report thus required is equivalent to the submission of inaccurate reports 16 and the failure of the clerk of court to make proper entries is a ground for disciplinary action against such clerk. 17
Even if there are no orders declaring the submission of cases for judgment of the court, a clerk of court is neither precluded nor excused from accurately accomplishing SC Form No. 01. We have laid down in Circular No. 25-92 that all cases submitted for decision but which remain undecided at the end of the month must be duly reported. It is only where there are no cases submitted for decision that clerks are allowed to enter "none."cralaw virtua1aw library
The fact remains that Vargas indicated that there were no cases submitted for decision when in truth there were seven of such cases as discovered by the audit team. She cannot even plead ignorance of Administrative Circular No. 28 because, as a member of the bar and an employee of the court, she is expected to know the rules and regulations promulgated by this Court. If she was in doubt as to how to fill up the report, she could have easily consulted the Office of the Court Administrator for assistance or simply stated the facts in full in her report.
An erroneous report falsely indicating that there are no cases submitted for decision is prejudicial to the prompt administration of justice and to the interests of the parties. An accurate monthly report is essential in order to inform this Court of the status of pending cases in a particular lower court. As it is, the report which Vargas prepared and submitted led the Court to believe that no remedial measures were necessary in Branch 27, until the irregularity was discovered by the judicial audit team. Had Vargas only indicated in her report that there were cases submitted for decision but that there was no judge to decide them, this Court could have immediately acted upon the matter and assigned a substitute judge sooner.
The importance of correct reports is underscored by the shift in our policy on the reporting of cases. In lieu of the monthly report of cases required in the Manual for Clerks of Court, we directed in Administrative Circular No. 8-93, dated June 21, 1993, the preparation and submission of Quarterly Report of Cases 18 instead. However, after the Court realized the value of timely and accurate reports in the effective administration of lower courts, the monthly reporting of cases was forthwith restored effective January, 1995 through Administrative Circular No. 4-95, dated January 16, 1995.
Branch clerks of court must realize that their administrative functions are vital to the prompt and proper administration of justice. They are charged with the efficient recording, filing and management of court records, besides having administrative supervision over court personnel. They play a key role in the complement of the court and cannot be permitted to slacken on their jobs under one pretext or another. 19 They must be assiduous in performing their official duties and in supervising and managing court dockets and records. 20
In the preparation of the official Monthly Report of Cases, clerks of court are hereby directed to accomplish Item No. V thereof pursuant to the following guidelines:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1) Upon the expiration of the period allowed for the parties to submit their memoranda, the clerk shall consider such date of termination as the date when the case was submitted for decision and shall make the corresponding entry in the report. In this regard, clerks of court are advised to take note of the expiry date in the orders/notices giving the parties the privilege of filing memoranda.
2) In the absence of unavailability of a judge authorized to decide a case submitted for decision, the clerk shall so state in the report and give the reason for such absence or unavailability.
In his memorandum to the Chief Justice, Deputy Court Administrator Reynaldo L. Suarez recommended a reprimand for Vargas for serious breach of duty arising from her failure to prepare a correct monthly report of cases. While we agree that Vargas indeed violated her duty, the peculiar antecedents of the instant case and the novelty of the situation as it then appeared to her incline us to mitigate her liability. The ambient facts do not indicate that she willfully and grossly diverged from her duty to maintain the veracity of the court records involved.
WHEREFORE, Branch Clerk of Court Amelia B. Vargas is hereby ADMONISHED to be more prudent and circumspect in the discharge of her duties, with a warning that a more severe sanction shall be imposed for any repetition of the same or similar offense in the future.chanrobles virtual lawlibrary
, Padilla, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Francisco, Hermosisima, Jr., and Panganiban, JJ.
Torres, Jr., J.
, is on leave.
1. Rollo, 31-32.
2. Ibid., 13-26.
3. Ibid., 2.
4. Ibid., 4-3.
5. Ibid., 24.
6. Ibid., 5-6.
7. Ibid., 25.
8. SC Form No. 01, Revised January 1995; Ibid., 26-29.
9. Ibid., 27.
10. Ibid., 11.
11. Ibid., 34-36.
12. Ibid., 2.
13. Ibid., 8-9.
14. Ibid., 31-32
15. RTC Makati Movement Against Graft and Corruption v. Dumlao, A.M. No. P-93-800, and Quinto v. Dumlao, A.M. P0-93-800-A, jointly decided on August 9, 1995, 247 SCRA 108.
16. Chapter VII, Manual for Clerks of Court, 132.
17. Section H, Chapter I, Manual for Clerks of Court, 12.
18. SC Form No. 1-A, as amended.
19. Nidua v. Lazaro, A.M. No. R-465 MTJ, June 29, 1989, 174 SCRA 581.
20. Angeles v. Bantug and Guerrero, A.M. No. P-89-295, May 29, 1992, 209 SCRA 413.