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FIRST DIVISION

A. M. No. MTJ-00-1245 - January 19, 2000
(FORMERLY A.M. OCA-IPI No. 97-239-MTJ)

ANTONIO YU-ASENSI, Complainant, v. JUDGE FRANCISCO D. VILLANUEVA, MTC, Branch 36, Quezon City, Respondent.

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

On December 10, 1996, Mr. Antonio Yu-Asensi filed a letter-complaint1 with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) charging Judge Francisco D. Villanueva, Presiding Judge of the MeTC, Branch 36, Quezon City with serious misconduct and/or inefficiency particularly violating the Canons of Judicial Ethics on promptness and punctuality.

The complaint was filed in connection with Criminal Case No. 5400 entitled "People of the Philippines v. Edwin Santos y Vito", for Reckless Imprudence resulting in Serious Physical Injuries pending before Branch 36 of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City presided by respondent Judge. Complainant is the father of a seven-year old boy who was hit by a car driven by the accused Edwin Santos y Vito. Attached to the letter-complainant is an Affidavit dated November 20, 19962 which alleges:

1. That I am the private complainant in the case of People of the Philippines versus Edwin Santos y Vito docketed as Criminal Case No. 5400 pending trial before the Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 36, Quezon City presided by the Honorable Judge Francisco Villanueva;

2. Though a layman, I am of the strong belief that members of the office of the judge exist[s] not only to promote justice but likewise to recognize and respect [an] individual's right[s] [e]specially when one comes to court for redress. This is not so in the case of Judge Francisco Villanueva!

3. That after my 7 year old child Philip Yu-Asensi was run-over by a car driven by the above-named accused causing him to limp for life, our case was raffled to the sala of Judge Francisco Villanueva;

4. At that time we are on high-spirits that speedy justice will be given me and my family. I am dead wrong!

5. That during the proceedings, from arraignment up to the present stage of trial, Judge Villanueva consistently arrives one to one and a half (1 1/2 hour[s] late from the scheduled 2:00 p.m. hearing;

6. Worst is that, Judge Villanueva even have (sic) the temerity to be late knowing very well that there are sometimes more than twenty (20) cases calendared for the day;

7. There was even a time when Judge Villanueva compelled my lawyer to extend trial after 5:00 o'clock p.m. simply because he (Judge Villanueva) arrive[d] one and a half (1 1/2) hour[s] late and trial started at already 3:30 p.m.

8. I have already attended my trial several times and I notice[d] that litigants, lawyers and witnesses in the said while waiting for Judge Villanueva, have mixed negative reactions even murmuring invectives against Judge Villanueva and our Judicial System obviously because they have been waiting for more than [an] hour and the Judge who is suppose[d] to be a model of punctuality is not yet around;

9. Moreover, I was informed by some court personnel that a case was already filed against Judge Villanueva for the same misconduct;

10. Further information revealed that he was already admonish[ed] by the Supreme Court before. However, I am not quite sure if this is true;

11. That Judge Villanueva with his unpunctuality sets a bad example to the bar and tends to create dissatisfaction and delay with the administration of justice; . . . .

In a Resolution dated February 5, 1997,3 respondent Judge was required to submit his comment thereon within ten (10) days from notice.

In compliance thereto, respondent Judge filed a comment on March 13, 1997.4 In the comment, respondent Judge made a chronological summary of the proceedings in Criminal Case No. 5400 claiming that as can be gleaned therefrom, complainant Antonio Yu-Asensi and his lawyer were "harassing the respondent Judge, for adverse rulings and resolutions rendered, due to the negligence and omissions" of complainant's counsel.

Denying that he arrived at 3:30 p.m. for the session, respondent Judge further alleged that he has a calendar of thirty (30) to forty (40) criminal cases for each session and conducts hearings up to 5:30 in the afternoon. Finally, respondent Judge avers that he has one of the highest disposition of cases in the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City and had received an award for judicial excellence from the Rotary club as Outstanding MTC Judge of Quezon City for 1995 and that in 1996, he also had the highest disposition of cases.

Finding the comment of respondent Judge unsatisfactory, the Court thereafter issued a Resolution dated August 6, 19975 referring the complaint to the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City for investigation, report and recommendation within ninety (90) days from notice.

On December 5, 1997, the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City submitted a Partial Report dated December 3, 1997.6 In the report, the Executive Judge chronicled the proceedings concluding that the presentation of the respective evidence of the parties had already been terminated. Owing, however, to the request of both parties to submit their respective summations within thirty (30) days, the Executive Judge stated that she would be submitting the final report within a period of fifteen (15) days from the submission of the parties' respective summations.

On January 19, 1998, respondent Judge filed a Summation7 praying that the complaint against him be dismissed. Complainant filed his Memorandum a day later or on January 20, 19988 praying that the corresponding sanctions be meted against respondent Judge for repeated violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics on promptness and punctuality.

A FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION9 dated May 5, 1998 subsequently submitted by the Executive Judge finding respondent guilty of habitual tardiness which "amounts to serious misconduct and inefficiency in violation of the Canons of Judicial Ethics" and recommended that he be meted the corresponding penalty.

After a careful evaluation and review of the evidence on record, We find the report and recommendation of Executive Judge Estrella T. Estrada to be well taken.

Complainant Antonio Yu-Asensi declared that he attended the hearings in Criminal Case No. 5400 for about eight (8) times and signed the minutes of those hearings10 were scheduled at two o'clock in the afternoon11 but the Presiding Judge usually arrived one (1) to one and a half (1 1/2) hours later, hence, trial starts one (1) to one and a half (1 1/2) hours late.12

Atty. Reynario Campanilla, counsel for complainant, likewise declared that he attended the scheduled hearings of the criminal case as a private prosecutor for approximately eleven (11) to fifteen (15) times and as scheduled, afternoon hearings are supposed to start at exactly two o'clock in the afternoon. When he was queried as to whether the respondent Judge had been punctual in attending the proceedings, his answer was "[d]efinitely not, the respondent was usually late, always for 45 minutes to one and a half (1 1/2) hours."13

Dr. Recueto Patricio of the Veteran's Memorial Hospital, who was summoned to appear as a witness in the criminal case declared that he arrived in court at about five (5) minutes before two o'clock in the afternoon for February 19, 1996 and when he was asked approximately when respondent Judge started calling the cases calendared for the day or what time the Judge started trial, the doctor answered "[a]bout one or one and a half hours after 2:00 in the afternoon because we were waiting outside."14

The Court is convinced that respondent Judge is guilty of habitual tardiness which amounts to serious misconduct and inefficiency. Circular No. 13, issued July 1, 1987 which lays down the Guidelines on the Administration of Justice particularly Section 1 of the guidelines set for trial courts states in no uncertain terms that:

1. Punctuality and strict observance of office hours. Punctuality in the holding of scheduled hearings is an imperative. Trial judges should strictly observe the requirements of at lease (sic) eight hours of service a day, five hours of which should be devoted to trial, specifically from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon and from 2:00 to 4:30 as required by par. 5 of the Interim Rules issued by the Supreme Court on January 11, 1983, pursuant to Sec. 16 of B.P. 129.

Similarly, Section 5 of Supervisory Circular No. 14, issued October 22, 1985 provides:

5. Session Hours. Regional Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts shall hold daily sessions from Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 12:00 noon and from 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. assisted by a skeletal force, also on rotation, primarily to act on petitions for bail and other urgent matters.

Along the same vein, Administrative Circular No. 3-99 dated January 15, 1999 which is entitled and mandates the "Strict Observance Of Session Hours Of Trial Courts And Effective Management Of Cases To Ensure Speedy Disposition" clearly states that

To insure the speedy disposition of cases, the following guidelines must be faithfully observed:

I. The session hours of all Regional Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts in Cities and Municipal Trial Courts shall be from 8:30 A.M. to noon and from 2:00 P.M. to 4:30 P.M. from Monday to Friday. The hours in the morning shall be devoted to (1) the conduct of pre-trial conferences; (2) writing of decisions, resolutions or orders, or (3) the continuation of trial on the merits whenever rendered necessary as may be required by the Rules of Court, statutes, or circulars in specified cases.

x x x - x x x - x x x

II. Judges must be punctual at all times.

x x x - x x x - x x x

III. There should be strict adherence to the policy on avoiding postponements and needless delay.

x x x - x x x - x x x

VI. All trial judges must strictly comply with Circular No. 39-98 entitled "Implementing the Provisions of Republic Act No. 8493" ("An Act to Ensure a Speedy Trial of all Cases Before the Sandiganbayan, Regional Trial Court, Metropolitan Trial Court, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Municipal Trial Court and Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Appropriating Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes), issued by the Honorable Chief Justice Andres R. Narvasa on 11 August 1998 and which took effect 15 September 1998."

The aforesaid circulars are restatements of the Canons of Judicial Ethics which enjoin judges to be punctual in the performance of their judicial duties, recognizing that the time of litigants, witnesses, and attorneys are of value, and that if the judge is not punctual in his habits, he sets a bad example to the bar and tends to create dissatisfaction in the administration of justice.

The Code of Judicial Conduct decrees that a judge should administer justice impartially and without delay.15 A judge should likewise be imbued with a high sense of duty and responsibility in the discharge of his obligation to promptly administer justice.16 The trial court judges being the paradigms of justice in the first instance have, time and again, been exhorted to dispose of the court's business promptly and to decide cases within the required period because delay results in undermining the people's faith in the judiciary from whom the prompt hearing of their supplications is anticipated and expected, and reinforces in the minds of the litigants the impression that the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly.17

It is towards the sacrosanct goal of ensuring the people's faith in the judiciary that the Code of Judicial Conduct mandates the following:

CANON 1. A JUDGE SHOULD UPHOLD THE INTEGRITY AND INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY.

x x x - x x x - x x x

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

CANON 3. A JUDGE SHOULD PERFORM OFFICIAL DUTIES HONESTLY, AND WITH IMPARTIALITY DILIGENCE.

Rule 3.01 A judge shall be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence.

x x x - x x x - x x x

Rule 3.05. A judge shall dispose of the court's business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.

x x x - x x x - x x x

Rule 3.09. A judge should organize and supervise the court personnel to ensure the prompt and efficient dispatch of business, and require at all times the observance of high standards of public service and fidelity.

Thus, for the foregoing considerations

. . . [T]his Court has consistently impressed upon judges the need to decide cases promptly and expeditiously, pursuant to Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Section 15 (1) and (2), Article VIII of the Constitution. This requirement is designed to prevent delay in the administration of justice for, obviously, justice delayed is justice denied; and 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.18 Judges are repeatedly reminded that the failure to decide cases within the required period is not excusable and constitutes gross inefficiency19 and which is a ground for administrative sanction against the defaulting judge.20

It need not be overemphasized that any delay in the determination or resolution of a case no matter how insignificant is, at the bottom line, delay in the administration of justice in general. The suffering endured by just one person whether plaintiff, defendant or accused while awaiting a judgment that may affect his life, honor, liberty or property taints the entire judiciary's performance in its solemn task of administering justice. Inefficient, indolent or neglectful judges are as equally impermissible in the judiciary as the incompetent and dishonest ones. Any of them tarnishes the image of the judiciary or brings it to public contempt, dishonor or disrespect and must then be administratively dealt with or criminally prosecuted, if warranted, and punished accordingly.21

In In re Anonymous Complaint v. Judge Echiverri,22 this Court pursuant to Section 58 of the Judiciary Act of 1948 which expressly provides for the observance of daily sessions of Courts of First Instance, called on Judges to calendar as many cases as possible and to dispose of them with dispatch considering the increasing number of litigations pending with courts, adding that all other matters needing the attention of the Judges have to be attended to even outside the schedule of trial. Indeed, as pointed out by Mr. Justice George A. Malcolm in the old but nevertheless still very much relevant case of In re Impeachment of Hon. Tomas Flordeliza.23

A judge should display that interest in the office which stops not at the minimum of the day's labor fixed by law, and which ceases not at the expiration of official sessions, but which proceeds diligently on holidays and by artificial light and even into vacation periods.

At the risk of sounding trite, it bears stressing that no position is more demanding as regards moral righteousness and uprightness of any individual that a set on the Bench. "[W]ithin the hierarchy of courts, trial courts stand as an important and visible symbol of government especially considering that as opposed to appellate courts, trial judges are those directly in contact with the parties, their counsel and the communities which the Judiciary is bound to serve. Occupying as he does an exalted position in the administration of justice, a judge must pay a high price for the honor bestowed upon him. Thus, a judge must comport himself at all times in such manner that his conduct, official or otherwise, can bear the most searching scrutiny of the public that looks up to him as the epitome of integrity and justice.24 In insulting the Bench from unwarranted criticism, thus preserving our democratic way of life, it is essential that judges, like Caesar's wife, should be above suspicion."25

Verily, "[T]he office of a judge exists for one solemn end to promote the ends of justice by administering it speedily and impartially. The judge as the person presiding over that court, is the visible representation of the law and justice. These are self-evident dogmas which do not even have to be emphasized, but to which we are wont to advert to when some members of the judiciary commit legal missteps or stray from the axioms of judicial ethics."26 To reiterate what has been stated earlier, this Court has

. . . [c]onstantly impressed upon judges may it not be said without success the need to decide cases promptly and expeditiously, for it cannot be gainsaid that justice delayed is justice denied. Delay in the disposition of cases undermines the people's faith and confidence in the judiciary, Hence, judges are enjoined to decide cases with dispatch. Their failure to do so constitutes gross inefficiency and warrants the imposition of administrative sanction[s] against them.27

All told, the Court views the conduct of respondent Judge as untenable and unjustified. Respondent is presumed to be aware of his duties and responsibilities under the Code of Judicial Conduct. As a member of the Bench, he should be the embodiment of competence, integrity and independence.28 Rule 3.01 of Canon 3 calls for a judge to be faithful to the law and to maintain professional competence. Rule 3.05 admonishes all judges to dispose of the court's business promptly and to decide cases within the periods fixed by law. Rule 3.09 requires a judge to organize and supervise the court personnel to insure the prompt and efficient dispatch of business and requires at all times the observance of high standards of public service and fidelity. Respondent judge unfortunately failed to live up to these standards.

The penalty for gross or serious inefficiency ranges from reprimand and admonition29 to removal from office.30 The records bear out that the habit of dispatch and punctuality seem to be dormant traits of respondent Judge which needs to be roused from their lethargy by appropriate administrative penalties. With regard to that degree of stringency which must be adopted in the determination and imposition of the proper sanctions, Section II of Administrative Circular No. 2-99 entitled "Strict Observance of Working Hours And Disciplinary Action For Absenteeism And Tardiness" provides that:

II. Absenteeism and tardiness, even if such do not quality as "habitual" or "frequent" under Civil Service Commission Memorandum Circular No. 04, Series of 1991, shall be dealt with severely, and any falsification of daily time records to cover up for such absenteeism and/or tardiness shall constitute gross dishonesty or serious misconduct.

If even non-habitual absenteeism and tardiness merit severe penal sanctions, much more so should such severity in the imposition of the proper penalties be brought to bear on respondent Judge because the present case is not his first offense.

In Louis Vuitton S.A. v. Judge Francisco Diaz Villanueva,31 respondent Judge was chastised by the Court saying that

. . . . [h]is delay in the promulgation of this case deserves a reprimand from his Court as it is contrary to the mandate of our Constitution which enshrines the right of the litigants to a speedy disposition of their cases.

In Spouses Lorenzo and Ana Labayen v. Judge Francisco D. Villanueva32 the Court's Third Division again reprimanded respondent Judge for failing to secure a written permission from this Court to engage in business.

Still more recently, in Report On The Spot Judicial Audit Conducted In The Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 36, Quezon City,33 the Court En Banc imposed a fine of Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00) on respondent Judge for failing to act seasonably on the cases pending before him, pointing out that

. . . [J]udge Villanueva has disregarded Administrative Circular No. 3-9034 requiring all trial courts to adopt the mandatory continuous trial system in accordance with (1) Administrative Circular No. 435 to the effect that trial courts should, after arraignment, fix the specific dates needed to complete the presentation of evidence by the parties and conduct the trial without unnecessary postponements, and (2) Circular No. 1-89,36 which has established the guidelines to be observed by the trial courts in the conduct of such trials.

It appears, however, that being castigated thrice has not reformed the respondent Judge because the records of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) reveal that aside from the present case, respondent Judge has six (6) other administrative complaints37 still pending against him. Needless to state, such an unflattering record only further erodes the people's faith and confidence in the judiciary for it is the duty of all members of the bench to avoid any impression of impropriety to protect the image and integrity of the judiciary which in recent times has been the object of criticism and controversy.38

Verily, the image of a court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official of otherwise, of the men and women, from the judge to the least and lowest of its personnel, hence, it becomes the imperative sacred duty of each and everyone in the court to maintain its good name and standing as a true temple of justice.39 For his part, a judge, as the visible representation of the law and the embodiment of the people's sense of justice40 must always strive to live up to his responsibility of assisting parties-litigants in obtaining a just, speedy and inexpensive determination of their cases and proceedings.41

Judicial indolence is considered gross inefficiency punishable by fine of suspension from service without pay with the gravity of the penalty dependent on the attendant aggravating or mitigating circumstances.42 While this Court is not convinced that the magnitude of respondent Judge's culpability warrants the supreme penalty of removal from office, the Court nonetheless deems it appropriate that stiffer sanctions should be meted out to respondent.

The prevailing facts of the present case vis-à-vis respondent Judge's record for habitual malfeasance in office warrants the imposition of a fine of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) and One (1) Year suspension without pay with a stern warning that a repetition of similar acts will be dealt with more severely.

WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Francisco D. Villanueva, the Presiding Judge of Branch 36 of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City is found GUILTY of Serious Misconduct and/or Inefficiency in violation of the Canons of Judicial Ethics. Accordingly, he is hereby: a.] FINED an amount of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00); and b.] SUSPENDED for One (1) YEAR WITHOUT PAY, with the stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar infractions will be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Kapunan and Pardo, JJ., concur.



Endnotes:

1 Rollo, pp. 2-4.

2 Rollo, pp. 5-6.

3 Ibid., p. 8.

4 Id., pp. 9-11.

5 Id., p. 18.

6 Id., pp. 130-134.

7 Id., pp. 135-138.

8 Id., pp. 140-148.

9 Id., pp. 366-370.

10 Exhibits A-1, B-1, C-1, D-1 and E-1.

11 Exhibits A, B, C, D, E and F.

12 TSN, 23 September 1997, pp. 3-9.

13 TSN, 30 September 1997, pp. 4-5.

14 TSN, 23 September 1997, p. 63.

15 Amion v. Chiongson, AM No. RTJ-97-1371, 22 January 1999, 301 SCRA 614, citing Bentulan v. Dumatol, 233 SCRA 166 [1994].

16 Ibid., citing Cantela v. Almoradie, 229 SCRA 712 [1994].

17 Sy Bang v. Mendez, 287 SCRA 84 [1998].

18 Report on the Audit and Inventory of Cases in the RTC, Branch 11, Balayan, Batangas, 234 SCRA 502 [1994].

19 Re: Partial Report on the Audit and Inventory of Cases in the RTC, Branches 7 & 8, Tanuan, Batangas, 242 SCRA 167 [1995].

20 Report on the Judicial Audit in RTC, Branch 27, Lapu-Lapu City, 289 SCRA 398 [1998], citing Alfonso-Cortes v. Maglalang, 227 SCRA 482 [1993]; see also Re: Judge Danilo Tenerife, 255 SCRA 184 [1996].

21 Re: Report on the Judicial Audit, RTC Branches 4 and 23, Manila, 291 SCRA 10 [1998].

22 67 SCRA 467 [1967].

23 44 Phil. 608 [1923].

24 Jugueta v. Boncaros, 60 SCRA 27 [1974]; Dia-Anonuvo v. Bercacio, 66 SCRA 81 [1975]; Association of Court Employees of Panabo, Davao v. Tupas, 175 SCRA 292 [1989]; Imbing v. Tiongson, 229 SCRA 690 [1994]; NISA v. Tablang, 199 SCRA 766 [1991].

25 Vedana v. Judge Eudarlo Valencia, 295 SCRA 1 [1998].

26 Atty. Lauro D. Gacayan, et al. v. Hon. Fernando Vil Pamintuan, AM No. RTJ-99-1483 (OCA-IPI No. 98-578-RTJ), 17 September 1999, pp. 18-19, citing Ruperto v. Banquerigo, 293 SCRA 704 [1998].

27 Re: Report on the Judicial Audit of Cases in the RTC, Br. 35, Iriga City, AM No. 97-8-262-RTC, 27 November 1998, 299 SCRA 382, citing OCA v. Judge Walerico Butalid, 293 SCRA 589 [1998]; Sanchez v. Vestil, AM No. RTJ-98-1419, 13 October 1998, 298 SCRA 342 [1998]; Grefaldeo v. Judge Rica Lacson, 293 SCRA 524 [1998].

28 Canon 1, Rule 1.01, Code of Judicial Conduct.

29 Cui v. Madayag, 245 SCRA 1 [1995].

30 Report on Audit and Physical Inventory of the Records and Cases in RTC, Branch 120, Kalookan City, 238 SCRA 248 [1994]; Ng v. Ulibari, supra.; See also Stern, Is Judicial Discipline In New York a Threat To Judicial Independence?, 7 Pace L. Rev. 291, 303-45 [1987].

31 216 SCRA 121 [1992].

32 MTJ-96-1107 (Formerly OCA IPI-96-84-MTJ), 13 July 1998.

33 AM No. 98-3-34-MeTC, 25 August 1999.

34 Dated 31 January 1990.

35 Dated 22 September 1998.

36 Dated 19 January 1989.

37 1.] MTJ-99-1207 (Formerly AM No. 99-5-54-MeTC) for Illegal Recruitment;

2.] MTJ-99-1227 (Formerly OCA IPI-97-339-MTJ) for Grave Misconduct; Oppression; Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service; and Violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Canons of Judicial Ethics;

3.] MTJ-99-1232 (Formerly OCA IPI-97-454-MTJ) for Gross Ignorance of the

Law; Knowing Rendering an Unjust Judgment; Grave Abuse of Discretion; and Conduct Unbecoming of a Trial Judge;

4.] MTJ-99-1233 (Formerly OCA IPI-97-454-MTJ) for Immorality;

5.] OCA IPI-97-422-MTJ for Ignorance of the Law; Incompetence; Dishonesty; and Inefficiency;

6.] OCA IPPI-99-674-MTJ for Rendering an Unjust Decision; Gross Ignorance of the Law; and Abuse of Authority;

38 Nazareno v. Almario, 268 SCRA 657 [1997].

39 Re: Report on Audit and Physical Inventory of the Records of Cases in MTC of Penaranda, Nueva Ecija, 276 SCRA 257 [1997], citing Miro v. Tan, 235 SCRA 400 [1994], citing Recto v. Raulis, 70 SCRA 438 [1976].

40 Lao v. Abellita, III, 295 SCRA 267 [1998].

41 Perez v. Andaya, 286 SCRA 40 [1998].

42 Sanchez v. Vestil, supra, citing Report on Judicial Audit Conducted in RTC Branches 29 and 59, Toledo City, 292 SCRA 8 [1998].





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