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[A.M. No. 01-3-195-RTC. October 22, 2001]

QUERY OF JUDGE ROSE MARIE ALONZO-LEGASTO et al.

SECOND DIVISION

Gentlemen:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated OCT 22 2001.

A.M. No. 01-3-195-RTC(Query of Judge Rose Marie Alonzo-Legasto, RTC-Branch 99, Quezon City as to who will decide Civil Case No. 91-103349.)

This administrative matter stems from a letter, dated 05 December 2000, of Presiding Judge Rose Marie Alonzo-Legasto of the Regional Trial Court (RTC)- Quezon City, Branch 99, addressed to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) seeking advice as to who has the authority to decide Civil Case No. 91-10349, for Rescission and Damages, entitled "Julieta Agda versus Rogelio Advento," which civil case was raffled to RTC-Quezon City, Branch 99.

Prior to the appointment of Judge Alonzo-Legasto as regular Presiding Judge of RTC-Quezon City, Branch 99, Judge Ma. Theresa Dela Torre-Yadao of the RTC-Maddela, Quirino, Branch 38, was designated - pursuant to Supreme Court Administrative Order No. 135-98, dated 15 October 1998 - as Acting Presiding Judge of RTC-Quezon City, Branch 99 "in addition to her regular duties in her own court, effective immediately and to continue until the appointment and assumption to duty of the regular judge thereat or until further orders from this Court."

While the Acting Presiding Judge at RTC-Quezon City, Branch 99, Judge Dela Torre-Yadao conducted hearings on Civil Case No. 91-10349 as part of her judicial assignments. On 07 April 1999, said civil case was deemed submitted for decision to Judge Dela Torre-Yadao. Records show that the decision in Civil Case No. 91-10349 was penned and signed accordingly by Judge Dela Torre-Yadao on 08 September 1999, and was received and "handed over to the Office of the Branch Clerk of Court" on 05 November 1999.

Meanwhile, on 01 September 1999, Judge Rose Marie Alonzo-Legasto was appointed as Regular Presiding Judge of RTC-Quezon City, Branch 99, and assumed office on 13 September 1999. Upon assumption to office, Judge Alonzo-Legasto conducted a physical inventory of cases raffled and assigned to RTC-Quezon City, Branch 99.

Upon resignation from judicial service of RTC-Quezon City, Branch 99 Clerk of Court Josefina Castro, Lawyer Noel Claudio succeeded her and assumed office on 28 September 2000. In the conduct of inventory of cases in Branch 99, Clerk of Court Claudia discovered that Civil Case No. 91-10349 "was not properly disposed" and "the envelope containing the decision remained intact and kept in the office even until the resignation of the former Branch Clerk of Court", Josefina Castro.

In a letter dated 01 December 2000, plaintiff Julieta Agda requested Clerk of Court Claudio to issue a "Certification" to the effect "that no decision has yet been rendered" in Civil Case No. 91-10349 prompting Judge Alonzo-Legasto to write the letter dated 05 December 2000 addressed to the OCA.

On 27 June 2001, this Court upon recommendation of the OCA, resolved among others, to recall and set aside the decision dated 08 September 1999 in Civil Case No. 91-10349, penned by Judge Dela Torre-Yadao, and directed (1) Presiding Judge Alonzo-Legasto to decide the aforementioned case; and (2) Judge Ma. Theresa Dela Torre-Yadao to explain within ten (10) days from receipt thereof why she took cognizance of Civil Case No. 91-10349 when she was no longer the Acting Presiding Judge of Branch 99, RTC of Quezon City.

In compliance with the aforesaid Resolution, Judge Dela Torre-Yadao submitted her explanation dated 24 August 2001 stating, among others, that:

"1. Undersigned was designated as Acting Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 99, Quezon City via Administrative Order No. 135-98 dated October 15, 1998. It is stated in the said order that her designation is 'effective immediately and to continue until the appointment and assumption to duty of the regular judge thereat or until further orders from this Court.' Photocopy of Administrative Order No. 135-98 is hereto attached as Annex 'A';

"2. It is not true that undersigned was no longer the Acting Presiding Judge of Branch 99, Regional Trial Court, Quezon City when she took cognizance of Civil Case No. 91-10349, entitled 'Julieta Agda vs. Rogelio Adviento';

"3. The aforesaid case was substantially heard by the undersigned and was submitted for decision on April 7, 1999 and decided on September 8, 1999 when undersigned was not yet stripped of judicial authority and competence as Acting Presiding Judge of Branch 99 as Judge Legasto has not yet assumed her duty as a regular judge of Branch 99;

"4. When Judge Legasto was issued promotional appointment on September 1, 1999, she could not yet enter the performance of her judicial functions and the discharge of her duties and responsibilities on the said date as it is judicial notice that she still had to comply with the guidelines set out in Resolution No. 99-7-07 SC, (photocopy of which is hereto attached as Annex "B") for qualifying for judicial office for those with promotional appointments i.e., oath of office and immersion program;

"5. Considering that on September 8, 1999, Judge Legasto has not yet assumed office, undersigned still had the legal authority to act as presiding judge of Branch 99 and such authority included decision of cases, issuance of orders, conduct of hearings and resolution of matters submitted before her.

"xxx

"7. In deciding Civil Case No. 91-10349 on September 8, 1999, undersigned merely complied with Administrative Circular No. 5-98 which provides that:

'xxx

'1. Unless otherwise ordered by the Court, an Acting/Assisting Judge shall cease to continue hearing cases in the court where he is detailed and shall return to his official station upon the assumption of the appointed Presiding Judge or the newly designated Acting Presiding Judge thereat. Cases left by the former shall be tried and decided by the appointed Presiding Judge or the designated Presiding Judge.

'2. However, cases submitted for decision and those past the trial stage, i.e. where all the parties have finished presenting their evidence before such Acting/Assisting Judge at the time of the assumption of the Presiding Judge or the designated Acting Presiding Judge shall be decided by the former. This authority shall include resolutions of motions for reconsideration and motions for new trial thereafter filed. But if a new trial is granted, the Presiding Judge thereafter appointed or designated shall preside over the new trial until it is terminated and shall decide the same.

'xxx,

"Photocopy of said administrative circular is hereto attached as Annex 'D'.

"8. It is also safe to assume that when Judge Legasto assumed her office she was made aware of the existence of the decision of the undersigned in Civil Case No. 91-10349 as it was precisely the subject of her query to this Honorable Court. The failure to promulgate the decision is clearly against the guidelines purposely set out for such situations not to say a disrespect to the position undersigned held as Acting Judge of Branch 99; X X X"

Under these circumstances, it is noteworthy to call the attention of Judge Dela Torre- Yadao that while she adhered to the provisions of Administrative Circular No. 5-98 dated February 18, 1998, she is similarly duty bound as a magistrate to keep abreast and be informed of the latest pronouncement of the Court on the matter, specifically the ruling in the latter case of A.M. No. 98-3-114 RTC (Cases Left Undecided by Judge Sergio D. Mabunay, RTC, Branch 24, Manila) promulgated on July 22, 1998, where we enunciated, to wit:

"We take this opportunity to remind trial judges that once they act as presiding judges or otherwise designated as acting/assisting judges in branches other than their own, cases substantially heard by them and submitted to them for decision, unless they are promoted to higher positions in the judicial ladder, may be decided by them wherever they may be if so requested by any of the parties and endorsed by the incumbent Presiding Judges through the Office of the Court Administrator. The following procedure, may be followed: First, the Judge who takes over the branch must immediately make an inventory of the cases submitted for decision left behind by the previous judge (unless the latter has in the meantime been promoted to a higher court). Second, the succeeding judge must then inform the parties that the previous judge who heard the case, at least substantially, and before whom it was submitted for decision, may be required to decide the case. In this event, and upon request of any of the parties, the succeeding judge may request the Court Administrator to formally endorse the case for decision to the judge before whom it was previously submitted for decision. Third, after the judge who previously heard the case is through with his decision, he should send back the records together with his decision to the branch to which the case properly belongs, by registered mail or by personal delivery, whichever is more feasible, for recording and promulgation, with notice of such fact to the Court Administrator.

"Since the primary responsibility over a case belongs to the presiding judge of the branch to which it has been raffled or assigned, he may also decide the case to the exclusion of any other judge provided that all the parties agree in writing that the incumbent presiding judge should decide the same, or unless the judge who substantially heard the case and before whom it was submitted for decision has in the meantime died, retired or for any reason has left the service, or has become disabled, disqualified, or otherwise incapacitated to decide the case."

Accordingly, Judge Dela Torre-Yadao is directed to refer to the foregoing ruling of the Court with respect to the resolution and/or disposition of cases under similar circumstances.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, this Court hereby accepts as satisfactory the aforecited explanation of Judge Ma. Theresa Dela Torre-Yadao. She is however ADVISED to keep abreast with the latest jurisprudence, circulars and other relative issuances of this Court for her guidance.

SO ORDERED.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) TOMASITA M. DRIS

Clerk of Court


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