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6. Competence and diligence

Canon 6: Competence and Diligence

Competence and diligence are prerequisites to the due performance of judicial office.

1) Constitutional requirement

A Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence. (Section 7 [3], Article VIII, 1987 Constitution)

If no longer competent due to medical condition

Judge Floro’s current administrative and medical problems are not totally of his making. He was duly appointed to judgeship and his mental problems, for now, appear to render him unfit with the delicate task of dispensing justice not because of any acts of corruption and debasement on his part but clearly due to a medically disabling condition. (Office of the Court Administrator v. Floro, A.M. No. RTJ-99-1460, 31 March 2006)

As narrated by the audit team, Judge Floro was circulating calling cards bearing his name as the Presiding Judge of RTC, Branch 73, Malabon City, and indicating therein that he is a “bar exams topnotcher (87.55%)” and with “full second honors” from the Ateneo de Manila University, A.B. and LL.B. The audit team likewise reported that: “(b)efore the start of court session, Judge Floro is introduced as a private law practitioner, a graduate of Ateneo de Manila University with second honors, and a bar topnotcher during the 1983 Bar Examinations with an average score of 87.55%. Afterwards, a reading of the Holy Bible, particularly the Book of Revelation according to Saint John, was made. The people in the courtroom were given the opportunity to ask Judge Floro questions on the matter read. No questions were asked; hence the session commenced.” This act in circulating calling cards containing self-laudatory statements constitutive of simple misconduct as it appears that Judge Floro was not motivated by any corrupt motive but, from what we can see from the evidence, a persistent and unquenchable thirst for recognition. Concededly, the need for recognition is an all too human flaw and judges do not cease to be human upon donning the judicial robe. Considering, however, the proscription against judges seeking publicity for personal vainglory, they are held to a higher standard as they must act within the confines of the code they swore to observe. (Ibid.)

Section 1: The judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all other activities.

1) Watching TV, Korean telenovelas

Respondent-judge’s habit of watching telenovelas during office hours was personally witnessed by EJ De Leon-Diaz. Aside from this, the staff of Branch 59 in their respective sworn statements uniformly attested that Judge Bandong would watch Korean telenovelas during office hours thereby causing delay in the conduct of hearings. Lawyers and litigants were made to wait until she had finished watching. Indeed, the report of EJ De Leon-Diaz regarding this matter and the consistent statements of the staff of Branch 59 already constituted substantial evidence. In the case of trial courts, the conduct of hearings is unquestionably an important component of their decision-making process and, conversely, all other official tasks must give way thereto. Hence, for a judge to allow an activity, and an unofficial one at that, to take precedence over the conduct of hearings is totally unacceptable. It is a patent derogation of Sections 1 and 2 of Canon 6 and a blatant disregard of the professional yardstick that “all judicial [officials and] employees must devote their official time to government service.” (Re: Anonymous Complaint against Hon. Dinah Evangeline B. Bandong, former Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 59, Lucena City, Quezon Province, A.M. No. RTJ-17-2507, 09 October 2017)

Section 2: Judges shall devote their professional activity to judicial duties, which include not only the performance of judicial functions and responsibilities in court and the making of decisions, but also other tasks relevant to the judicial office or the court’s operations.

1) The 2 duties of judges

Judges have 2 duties:

1) Judicial duties; and

2) Administrative duties.

Judicial duties refer to those related to court hearings, deciding cases, and similar thereto.

Administrative duties refer to those related to the administration of the courts and court personnel, record-keeping and filing of case records, and similar thereto.

Diligence in judicial duties

Respondent, as the incumbent judge, ought to know the cases submitted to him for decision, particularly those pending for more than ninety days. As a matter of fact, he is supposed to keep his own record of cases submitted for decision so that he could act on them promptly and without delay, mindful of the mandate under the law. It is expected that he should be more diligent and more vigilant in attending to cases submitted for decision as well as in the preparation of his monthly certificates of service by verifying every now and then whether there are cases pending decision for more than ninety days; because he could be held accountable for any error or falsification in his certificates. Thus, respondent cannot now escape liability for falsification of his certificates of service with the lame excuse that he has no knowledge of those cases pending decision for more than ninety days at the time he submitted his certificates of service. Nor could he give the excuse that his attention was not called to the cases pending decision ninety days because he need not be reminded of his deadlines by a subordinate court employee like the clerk of court. Court employees are not the guardians of a judge’s responsibilities. (Sabitsana v. Villamor, A.M. No. 90-474, 04 October 1991)

2) Devise efficient recording and filing system

It is incumbent upon him to devise an efficient recording and filing system in his Court so that no disorderliness can affect the flow of cases and their speedy disposition, particularly those submitted for decision. A judge cannot take refuge behind the inefficiency or mismanagement by Court personnel. Proper and efficient court management is as much his responsibility. He is the one directly responsible for the proper discharge of his official functions. (Ibid.)

3) Responsibility for missing records

A judge is expected to ensure that the records of the cases assigned to his sala are intact. There is no justification for missing records save fortuitous events. The loss of not one but eight records is indicative of gross misconduct and inexcusable negligence unbecoming of a judge. For true professionalism in the bench to exist, judges whose acts demoralize the ethical standards of a judicial office and whose acts demonstrate unfitness and unworthiness of the prestige and prerequisite attached to said office must be weeded out. (Ibid.)

Section 3: Judges shall take reasonable steps to maintain and enhance their knowledge, skills and personal qualities necessary for the proper performance of judicial duties, taking advantage for this purpose of the training and other facilities which should be made available, under judicial control, to judges.

1) Continuous study of the law

A member of the bench must continuously keep himself abreast of legal and jurisprudential developments and show acquaintance with statutes, procedural rules and authoritative doctrines. Not for a moment, indeed, does the learning process in law cease. (Macalintal v. Teh, En Banc, A.M. No. RTJ-97-1375, 16 October 1997)

While the Supreme Court does not expect judges to have an encyclopedic recollection of applicable laws and jurisprudence in the discharge of their responsibilities, they nevertheless have the bounden duty to keep abreast with the law and the changes therein as well as the decisions of this Court. (Te v. Perez, A.M. No. MTJ-00-1286, 21 January 2002)

For service in the judiciary means a continuous study and research on the law from beginning to end. A member of the bench must continuously keep himself abreast of legal and jurisprudential developments because the learning process in law never ceases. (Ibid.)

2) Gross ignorance of the law

Gross ignorance of the law is the disregard of basic rules and settled jurisprudence. (DOJ v. Mislang, En Banc, A.M. No. RTJ-14-2369, 26 July 2016)

Where the law is straightforward and the facts so evident, failure to know it or to act as if one does not know it constitutes gross ignorance of the law. A judge is presumed to have acted with regularity and good faith in the performance of judicial functions. But a blatant disregard of the clear and unmistakable provisions of a statute, as well as Supreme Court circulars enjoining their strict compliance, upends this presumption and subjects the magistrate to corresponding administrative sanctions. (Ibid.)

The application for TRO for the 2nd DOJ case was incorporated in the petition for injunction. However, the DOJ was not given any notice of Lee’s Urgent Motion for ex-parte resolution of his TRO application. And despite the parties’ agreement in court to submit for resolution said petition for injunction only upon submission of their respective memoranda, Judge Mislang granted Lee’s application for TRO without waiting for the DOJ’s memorandum. He never conducted a hearing on either the application for TRO or on the motion for resolution of the TRO. Clearly, this is in violation of the DOJ’s constitutional right to be heard and to due process. Judge Mislang’s wanton disregard of the DOJ’s right to due process was repeated when he granted the TRO for the 1st DOJ case. Although the application for TRO was contained in a verified petition, the DOJ was not properly served with a copy of the petition or the urgent motion for hearing. It was not likewise served with any notice of hearing. And notwithstanding the lack of proof of service, Judge Mislang still proceeded to hear the application for TRO against the 1st DOJ case during the hearing on the petition for issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction against the 2nd DOJ case. Verily, Judge Mislang manifested serious lack of knowledge and understanding of the basic legal principles on prejudicial question and on jurisdiction in petitions for suspension of criminal action based on prejudicial questions. (Ibid.)

a) Bad faith required

For liability to attach for ignorance of the law, the assailed order, decision or actuation of the judge in the performance of official duties must not only be found erroneous but, most importantly, it must also be established that he was moved by bad faith, dishonesty, hatred, or some other like motive. (Ibid.)

Respondent-judge issued two (2) TROs, a writ of preliminary injunction and a status quo order, both of which did not satisfy the legal requisites for their issuance, in gross violation of clearly established laws and procedures which every judge has the duty and obligation to be familiar with. The antecedent incidents of the case brought before Judge Mislang were clear and simple, as well as the applicable rules. Unfortunately, he miserably failed to properly apply the principles and rules on three (3) points, i.e., the prematurity of the petition, the inapplicability of the prejudicial question, and the lack of jurisdiction of the court. His persistent disregard of well-known elementary rules in favor of Lee clearly reflects his bad faith and partiality. (Ibid.)

Section 4: Judges shall keep themselves informed about relevant developments of international law, including international conventions and other instruments establishing human rights norms.

1) Keep abreast of the laws and rules

It is the duty of judges to keep themselves abreast of the law and the rules of court and the latest jurisprudence, for ignorance of the law on their part is the mainspring of injustice. Respondent Judge failed to fulfill this duty. An oversight of a new provision of the law or the rules is not a valid excuse from performing this bounden duty. (Si v. Calis, A.M. No. MTJ-03-1483, 28 December 2007)

Section 5: Judges shall perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly and with reasonable promptness.

1) Efficient, fair, reasonable promptness

Corollarily, Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct admonishes all judges to dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the period specified in Section 15 (1) and (2), Article VIII of the Constitution. This is supplemented by Section 5, Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary requiring judges to perform all judicial duties efficiently, fairly and with reasonable promptness. (Mariano v. Nacional, En Banc, A.M. No. MTJ-07-1688, 10 February 2009)

a) Reglementary periods

All cases or matters filed 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. (Section 15 (1), Article VIII, 1987 Constitution)

A case or matter shall be deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief, or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court itself. (Ibid.)

Failure to decide cases within the reglementary period, without strong and justifiable reason, constitutes gross inefficiency warranting the imposition of administrative sanction on the defaulting judge. (Re: Judicial Audit Conducted in the Regional Trial Court, Branch 20, Cagayan De Oro City, Misamis Oriental, A.M. No. 14-11-350-RTC, 05 December 2017)

b) False certificate

A judge who fails to decide cases within the prescribed period but collects his salary upon a false certificate is guilty of dishonesty and deserves the condemnation of all right thinking men. (Office of the Court Administrator v. Butalid, A.M. No. RTJ-96-1337, 05 August 1998)

Section 6: Judges shall maintain order and decorum in all proceedings before the court and be patient, dignified and courteous in relation to litigants, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity. Judges shall require similar conduct of legal representatives, court staff and others subject to their influence, direction or control.

1) Maintain order and decorum

Judges shall maintain order and decorum in all proceedings before the court and be patient, dignified and courteous in relation to litigants, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity. Judges shall require similar conduct of legal representatives, court staff and others subject to their influence, direction or control. (Cañeda v. Menchavez, A.M. No. RTJ-06-2026, 04 March 2009)

When the respondent-judge checked on the progress of the case, the complainant remarked that it was being delayed because no proper summons (by publication) had been served on the defendants who were residing outside the country. The respondent reacted by angrily banging his gavel and shouting, “I said no publication period.” He banged the gavel so hard that it broke, its head flying into the air and almost hitting complainant. The respondent then slammed the table with his hand and then went inside his chambers. After a while, he came back with a holstered handgun and smashed it on the table, as he angrily shouted at complainant, “Unsay gusto nimo? Yawa! Gahig ulo!” (What do you want? Devil! Hardheaded!) In the courtroom, a lawyer makes submissions before a judge whose role is to hear and consider the submissions, and subsequently rule on the matter. It is not a situation where two equals, such as the opposing counsels, argue against each other. The respondent apparently had a misplaced concept of what a courtroom situation should ideally be, so that he was effectively arguing with counsel as shown by his clearly contentious stance when he made his ruling. This was the respondent’s first error; he should have coolly ruled and allowed counsel to respond to his ruling, instead of proceeding in a manner that invited further arguments. (Ibid.)

2) No to humiliating lawyers, litigants, witnesses

It is reprehensible for a judge to humiliate a lawyer, litigant or witness. The act betrays lack of patience, prudence and restraint. Thus, a judge must at all times be temperate in his language. He must choose his words, written or spoken, with utmost care and sufficient control. The wise and just man is esteemed for his discernment. Pleasing speech increases his persuasiveness.. (Ascaño v. Jacinto, A.M. No. RTJ-15-2405, 12 January 2015)

Section 7: Judges shall not engage in conduct incompatible with the diligent discharge of judicial duties.

1) Conduct incompatible with judicial duties

Additionally, respondent-judge’s habit of watching television during office hours violates Section 7 of Canon 6 which requires Judges “not to engage in conduct incompatible with the diligent discharge of judicial duties.” Watching telenovelas surely dissipates away Judge Bandong’s precious time in the office, which, needless to say, has an adverse effect on the prompt administration of justice. Such activity is by all means counter-productive to the due performance of judicial duties. (Re: Anonymous Complaint against Hon. Dinah Evangeline B. Bandong, former Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 59, Lucena City, Quezon Province, A.M. No. RTJ-17-2507, 09 October 2017)

2) To apply the law

Verily, one of the fundamental obligations of a judge is to understand the law fully and uphold it conscientiously. When the law is sufficiently basic, a judge owes it to his office to know and simply apply it for anything less is constitutive of gross ignorance of the law. (Office of the Court Administrator v. Floro, A.M. No. RTJ-99-1460, 31 March 2006)

3) Gross ignorance of the law

True, not every judicial error bespeaks ignorance of the law and that, if committed in good faith, does not warrant administrative sanctions. To hold otherwise “would be nothing short of harassing judges to take the fantastic and impossible oath of rendering infallible judgments.” (Ibid.)

a) Good faith not always a defense

This rule, however, admits of an exception as “good faith in situations of fallible discretion inheres only within the parameters of tolerable judgment and does not apply where the issues are so simple and the applicable legal principle evident and as to be beyond permissible margins of error.” Thus, even if a judge acted in good faith but his ignorance is so gross, he should be held administratively liable. (Ibid.)

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