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With Due Respect

Hackles on judicial delays

My two columns on judicial delays (“Confronting SC’s mounting backlog,” 4/7/19 and “Will judges-at-large solve huge RTC backlog?” 4/14/19) raised hackles, especially in the legal community.

Leading the pack is “abogado de campanilla” Estelito P. Mendoza, who complained that he has several cases in the Supreme Court that have “not been decided or resolved notwithstanding the lapse of 24 months from [their] date of submission.”

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He was particularly aggrieved at the delay in resolving “Republic vs Lucio C. Tan, et al., G.R. 203592” that he said has been submitted for decision for well over the period allowed by the Constitution.

The Constitution (Art. VIII, Sec. 15) mandates that “[a]ll cases… must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from the date of submission for the Supreme Court, and unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all lower courts, and three months for all other courts.”

In his email, he asked, “What I would now like to raise is what consequence, if any, will there be for a clear violation of Section 15, Article VIII of the Constitution; applied to regional trial courts, judges who preside over such cases are penalized at times by separation from service.”

My answer: the Supreme Court has not penalized itself, or any of its members, for its/their inability to comply with the 24-month deadline.

To begin with, the Constitution is not really clear, because the 24 months starts “from the date of submission,” which is understood to mean “upon receipt by the Court of the memoranda of the parties.” This is easy to determine when there are only two parties, one petitioner and one respondent.

Though the case Mendoza is so pissed about has only one petitioner, it has at least 27 respondents. And while the main respondents (Tan, his wife Carmen and several companies he controls) represented by Mendoza and a few others filed their memoranda more than four years ago, the other respondents have not.

In a resolution dated Feb. 20, 2018, the Court noted that its orders in 2017 could not be served on some respondents because their lawyers “moved” their offices and one respondent “was not residing at given address.” Thus, the case could not be deemed “submitted for decision.”

I think the solution, without commenting on the merits of the case, is to consider it submitted for decision on the date the Court ordered the parties to submit their memoranda, which was over four years ago. Those who failed to submit their memos on time should be deemed to have waived their right to submit them, and to penalize the lawyers for their failure to do so.

Another difficulty: New appointees to the Court “inherit” the cases left by their retired predecessors. If their inherited cases are less than the average number held by the incumbents, then he/she is “unloaded” more cases, most of them old ones, by the incumbents to equal the average. If the new justice inherits more than the average, he/she retains them all.

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The problem here is whether the 24 months begin on the date the cases were assigned to the new justice, or on the original dates the memos were received. While the Court (and the retired justice) may have violated the 24-month limit, the new justice has not.

Anyway, this discussion refers only to a specific (and similar) case. It does not cover the many other delayed cases. In response, I will take up the Court’s “Internal Policy to Achieve and Maintain a Zero Backlog” in another column.

On delays in the RTCs, lawyer Luis M. Ermitano wrote that while augmenting the number of judges is good, “we should not overlook the need of appointing judges who are versed in the law and equally important, if not more so, industrious.”

He added that “most judges do not start on time…,” do not take up all the calendared cases, do not exert enough effort to decide them based on a stipulation of facts, to mediate cases and to take advantage of pretrial proceedings.

Indeed, I agree and have always advocated that, in addition to the constitutional requirements of “proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence,” justices and judges must also be industrious and diligent.

Sorry, I have no more space for other equally important reactions.

Comments to [email protected]

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TAGS: artemio v. panganiban, judicial delays, Supreme Court backlog, With Due Respect
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