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[A.M. No. MTJ-99-1212.October 22, 2001]

TEJANO vs. JUDGE TUPAS

SECOND DIVISION

Gentlemen:

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

A.M. No. MTJ-99-1212(Santiago D. Tejano vs. Judge Nicomedes T. Tupas.)

Now before us is a letter-complaint dated April 4, 1997 by Santiago D. Tejano charging Judge Nicomedes T. Tupas of the 13th Municipal Circuit Trial Court, MacArthur-Mayorga at MacArthur, Leyte with serious misconduct for his delay in resolving Civil Case No. 354 entitled, "Santiago Tejano and Juliana Vda. de Tejano vs. Cesario Peliņo" for Forcible Entry with Preliminary Injunction and Damages.

The antecedent facts of the case follow:

On November 27, 1979, the complaint docketed as Civil Case No. 354 was filed in the Municipal Trial Court of La Paz, Leyte in the sala of Judge Serafin P. Ramento. It was later on tried by herein respondent Judge Nicomedes T. Tupas.

On May 21, 1982, memorandum for the defendant was received by the Office of the Municipal Trial Judge of La Paz, Leyte. Two days thereafter or on May 23, 1982, memorandum for the plaintiff was received. The case was thereafter submitted for decision.

In the letter-complaint of Mr. Tejano, it was alleged that despite the memoranda having been submitted, Judge Tupas did not render judgment despite his request; that when Judge Tupas was reassigned to the Municipal Trial Court of MacArthur Leyte, he brought with him the records of Civil Case No. 354; that despite numerous requests and pleas for the rendition of the judgment in the said case, Judge Tupas refused to do so.

On August 27, 1997, respondent judge filed his comment. He admitted the truth of the allegations in the said complaint. He averred that the proceedings in Civil Case No. 354 terminated when he was concurrently the presiding judge in five (5) salas: as regular Judge in MCTC MacArthur-Mayorga, his home court and as the Acting Judge in MCTC Abuyog-Javier, MTC La Paz, MTC Dulag, and MTC Babatngon; that the aforementioned case remained, pending decision, until it was overtaken by the 1983 re-organization of the courts; that being the presiding judge of the case, he took the records home for the purpose of writing its decision; that the records of the case got lost and could not be found despite diligent and sustained efforts to locate the same.

Respondent judge speculated that the records got lost: (a) when he and, presumably his family, transferred residence, the records may have been misplaced by the people who helped move their personal belongings, furniture, personal records, and other household items and effects; (b) during typhoons, they could have been misplaced by their household helpers when they had to stow things away to save them from getting soaked and damaged; or (c) when his daughter might have mistakenly brought them to Manila in 1983.

He declared that in his intention to reconstitute the court records, he contacted counsel for the defendant, the late Atty. Alfredo Murillo, and counsel for the plaintiffs, Atty. Paul Cabello. Both counsel told him that their records were incomplete.

In his closing paragraph, respondent judge expressed the hope that the said records will be recovered and a decision thereof will be rendered, and added that otherwise someone has to stand and take responsibility for it. He prayed that, in this eventuality, his long years of government service, especially in the judiciary, and the fact that he had not involved himself in graft and corruption and other anomalies, would be taken into consideration in the final reckoning of his case.

Respondent judge joined the judiciary on March 25, 1968 and, having reached the age of 70 years on September 15, 2001, compulsorily retired on said date and is now out of the government service.

We find respondent judge guilty of the charge against him.

Section 15, paragraph 1 of Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution provides:

"Sec. 15. (1) All cases or matters filed after the effectivity of this Constitution must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from date of submission for the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months for all other lower courts." (Emphasis ours)

Civil Case No. 354 remains undecided until now - nineteen (19) long years since it was submitted for decision - not only because respondent judge did not decide the case within the three-month period but also because he had lost the records.

This Court has consistently impressed upon judges the need to decide cases promptly and expeditiously. Any delay in the administration of justice not only results in depriving the litigant of his right to a speedy disposition of his case but it also negatively affects the image of the judiciary.1 Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in RTC - Br. 24, Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur; Br. 2, Isabela, Basilan; and MCTC, Labason, Zamboanga del Norte, 303 SCRA 208 [1999].

Thus, failure to decide cases within the periods fixed by law constitutes a neglect of duty, which warrants the imposition of administrative sanctions.2 Re: Cases Left Undecided by Judge Narciso M. Burnanglag, Jr., 306 SCRA 50 [1999].

It was bad enough that Judge Tupas did not decide the aforementioned case within the prescribed period but to lose the records of the case is unjustifiable.

There are cases on record where court personnel like clerks of court have been called to task and penalized for their failure to safely keep court records.

Judges should be no exception.

There is no dispute that the records of the case were in the custody of the respondent judge when they were lost. Respondent judge candidly admitted this. He also claimed that he attempted to reconstitute the records of the case by getting in touch with the counsel of the party-litigants but they told him that their records were incomplete.

However, we find his attempt a half-hearted one. He was so easily satisfied with the retort that the records in the possession of the counsel were incomplete that he contented himself with the thought that nothing more could be done to reconstitute the records of Civil Case No. 354. And if respondent judge was really of a mind to do so, he could have compelled the party-litigants to aid him in the reconstitution of the records of the said case.

WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING,

1. For Gross Inefficiency and Misconduct, respondent Judge Nicomedes T. Tupas of the 13th Municipal Circuit Trial Court, MacArthur-Mayorga at MacArthur, Leyte, is hereby ORDERED to pay a FINE of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00).

2. The Presiding Judge of MTC, La Paz, Leyte is DIRECTED (a) to INITIATE the reconstitution of the records of Civil Case No. 354; and (b) to DECIDE the case with dispatch and to REPORT to this Court, through the Office of the Court Administrator, the outcome of such proceedings.

SO ORDERED.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) TOMASITA M. DRIS

Clerk of Court


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