CASE BrieF NO. 2019-0036


“Justice does not equate with hastily giving one’s due if it is found to be prejudicial.


CASE: RE: Complaint-Affidavit of Elvira N. Enables et. al., against former Chief Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro [Ret.], relative to G.R. Nos. 203063 and 204743 [A.M. No. 18-11-09-SC, January 22, 2019]

PONENTE: Associate Justice Mario Victor F. Leonen

SUBJECT:

  1. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW:
    i. Gross Ignorance of the Law – defined
  2. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW:
    i. Article VIII, Section 15 – Period to decide/resolve a case/matter
    ii.        Mandatory vs. directory provisions of the Constitution

FACTS:        This administrative matter originated from a Complaint-Affidavit filed by complainants Elvira N. Enalbes et. al. against former Chief Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro (Justice De Castro), charging her with gross ignorance of the law. They alleged that in 2012, Spouses Eligio P. Mallari and Marcelina I. Mallari (the Mallari Spouses) filed before the Supreme Court a Petition for Mandamus and Prohibition with Prayer for TRO. In 2013, the Mallari Spouses also filed a Petition for Review on Certiorari before the Supreme Court against the Philippine National Bank and the Court of Appeals Special Former Fourth Division.

Both Petitions were assigned to the Supreme Court’s First Division and were raffled to then Chief Justice De Castro.

Despite the lapse of more than five (5) years,Justice De-Castro failed to decide on both Petitions of Spouses Mallari.  Thus, complainants maintain that Justice De Castro’s failure to promptly act on the Petitions resulted in a violation of the spouses’ constitutional right to speedy disposition of their cases.

ISSUE:
A.       Whether Justice De Castro should be held administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law.

  1. What is gross ignorance of the law?
  2. What is the period for the Supreme Court to decide a case/matter?
  3. Is Section 15 (1) Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution mandatory?


RULING:    

A.       Gross ignorance of the law is the failure of a magistrate to apply “basic rules and settled jurisprudence.” [Department of Justice v. Judge Mislang, 791 Phil. 219,227 (2016)]. It connotes a blatant disregard of clear and unambiguous provisions of law “because of bad faith, fraud, dishonesty, or corruption.”

To hold a magistrate administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law, it is not enough that his or her action was erroneous; it must also be proven that it was driven by bad faith, dishonesty, or ill motive. 

Complainants’ Complaint-Affidavit is predicated on Justice De-Castro’s failure to resolve the Mallari Spouses’ Petitions for more than five (5) years relying on the constitutional provision requiring this Court to decide on cases within 24 months from their submission.

Article VIII, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution states:

SECTION 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.

(2) 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 (Emphasis supplied)

A provision of similar import was written under Article X, Section11 (1) of the 1973 Constitution:

SECTION 11. (1) Upon the effectivity of this Constitution, the maximum period within which a case or matter shall be decided or resolved from the date of its submission, shall be eighteen months for the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all inferior collegiate courts, and three months for all other inferior courts.

In Marcelino v. Hon. Cruz, Jr., etc. et al., [206 Phil. 47 (1983)], this Court ruled that the constitutional provision was merely directory in nature:

The established rule is that “constitutional provisions are to be construed as mandatory, unless by express provision or by necessary implication, a different intention is manifest.” The difference between a mandatory and a directory provision is often determined on grounds of expediency, the reason being that less injury results to the general public by disregarding than by enforcing the letter of the law.”

The doctrine laid down in Marcelino was echoed in De Roma v. Court of Appeals [236 Phil. 220 (1987)]. This Court reiterated that this constitutional provision was merely directory in nature:

There is no need to dwell long on the other error assigned by the petitioner regarding the decision of the appealed case by the respondent court beyond the 12-month period prescribed by Article X, Section 11(1) of the 1973 Constitution. As we held in Marcelino v. Cruz, the said provision was merely directory and failure to decide on time would not deprive the corresponding courts of jurisdiction or render their decisions invalid.

Being the court of last resort, this Court should be given an ample amount of time to deliberate on cases pending before it. It would be at the height of injustice if cases were hastily decided on at the risk of erroneously dispensing justice.

While the 24-month period provided under the 1987 Constitution is persuasive, it does not summarily bind this Court to the disposition of cases brought before it. It is a mere directive to ensure this Court’s prompt resolution of cases, and should not be interpreted as an inflexible rule.

In Coscolluela v. Sandiganbayan, et al. [714 Phil. 55, 61 (2013)], this Court noted that “the right to speedy disposition of cases should be understood to be a relative or flexible concept such that a mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved would not be sufficient.”

Courts are not unmindful of the right to speedy disposition of cases enshrined in the Constitution. Magistrates are obliged to render justice in the swiftest way possible to ensure that rights of litigants are protected. Nevertheless, they should not hesitate to step back, reflect, and reevaluate their position even if doing so means deferring the final disposition of the case. Indeed, justice does not equate with hastily giving one’s due if it is found to be prejudicial. At the end of the day, the duty of the courts is to dispense justice in accordance with law.

Accordingly, Justice De-Castro’s failure to promptly resolve the Mallari Spouses’ Petitions does not constitute gross ignorance of the law warranting administrative liability.

Besides, on October 10, 2018, Justice De-Castro has already vacated her office due to her mandatory retirement, rendering complainants’ Administrative Complaint moot.

————————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

  1. Gross ignorance of the law is the failure of a magistrate to apply “basic rules and settled jurisprudence.” [Department of Justice v. Judge Mislang, 791 Phil. 219,227 (2016)]. It connotes a blatant disregard of clear and unambiguous provisions of law “because of bad faith, fraud, dishonesty, or corruption.”
  2. The difference between a mandatory and a directory provision is often determined on grounds of expediency, the reason being that less injury results to the general public by disregarding than by enforcing the letter of the law.
  3. 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 (Article VIII, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution).
  4. While the 24-month period provided under the 1987 Constitution is persuasive, it does not summarily bind this Court to the disposition of cases brought before it. It is a mere directive to ensure this Court’s prompt resolution of cases, and should not be interpreted as an inflexible rule.
  5. Justice does not equate with hastily giving one’s due if it is found to be prejudicial.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


For more Case BrieFs visit us at Stare Decisis or like us on Facebook – @staredecisispage – and stay updated on latest Case BrieFs.

Keep in touch with us by following us on our official Twitter account – @SDecisis101.

======================