A.M. No. 16-05-142-RTC, September 5, 2017,
♦ Decision, Del Castillo, [J]
♦ Dissenting Opinion, Peralta, [J]


EN BANC

September 5, 2017

A.M. No. 16-05-142-RTC

Re: Report on the Preliminary Results of the Spot Audit in the Regional Trial Court, Branch 170, Malabon City.,

D E C I S I O N

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

This administrative matter refers to the report on the preliminary results of the spot audit conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) in the Regional Trial Court, Branch 170, Malabon City.

The Factual Antecedents

On April 26, 2016, the OCA sent a team to conduct a spot audit of search warrant applications raffled to Branch 170, due to persistent reports pertaining to the alleged irregular issuance of search warants by Presiding Judge Zaldy B. Docena (Judge Docena).

The Report on the Preliminary Results of the Spot Audit

On May 26, 2016, the OCA submitted to the Court its Report1 dated May 23, 2016 on the preliminary results of the spot audit. In the Report, the OCA made the following observations:

First, a total of 938 applications for search warrants were filed before the RTC of Malabon City from January 2015 up to April 13, 2016. These applications were distributed among the following judges: Judge Docena, Branch 170, with 761 applications; then Executive Judge Celso Raymundo L. Magsino, Jr. (Judge Magsino), Branch 74, with 175 applications; and Judge Jimmy Edmund G. Batara (Judge Batara), Branch 172, with two applications.2

Second. the RTC of ivfalabon City exceeded the number of search warrants issued by the RTC of Manila (with 56 branches) and the RTC of Quezon City (with 48 branches), notwithstanding the fact that the latter courts are allowed to issue search warrants which are enforceable nationwide.3

The data provided by the Statistical Reports Division of the Court Management Office show the number of search warrants issued by selected RTCs in the National Capital Judicial Region from January 2015 up to March 2016:4

ISSUING COURT NUMBER OF SEARCH
WARRANTS ISSUED
RTC of Malabon City 763
RTC of Manila 675
RTC of Makati City 75
RTC of Quezon City 68
RTC of Pasig City 9

Third, out of the 761 applications assigend to Branch 170, Judge Docena issued 113 search warrants which are enforceable outside the territorial jurisdiction of the RTC of Malabon City, viz:5

PLACE WHERE SEARCH WARRANTS WERE ENFORCED JUDICIAL REGION SEARCH WARRANTS ISSUED
Manila National Capital Judicial Region

46

Makati City National Capital Judicial Region 16
Pasig City National Capital Judicial Region 14
Quezon City National Capital Judicial Region 8
Taguig City National Capital Judicial Region 7
Mandaluyong City National Capital Judicial Region 6
Pasay City National Capital Judicial Region 4
Caloocan City National Capital Judicial Region 3
Valenzuela City National Capital Judicial Region 2
Parañaque City National Capital Judicial Region 2
Muntinlupa City National Capital Judicial Region 1
Laguna 4th Judicial Region 1
TOTAL   113

The OCA found this to be in violation of Section 2(a) of Rule 126 of the Rules of Court which provides that an application for a search warrant shall be filed with "[a]ny court within whose territorial jurisdiction a crime was committed."6

Fourth, Judge Docena issued 418 search warrants which are also enforceable outside the territorial jurisdiction of the RTC of Malabon City, but this time the applicants specifically invoked Section 2(b) of Rule 126 which allows, for compelling reasons, the filing of the application with any court within the judicial region where the crime was committed or where the warrant shall be enforced.7

The OCA, however, pointed out that said search warrant applications merely cited the bare allegations of possible leakage of information and/or that the person subject of the application is influential in the area, or has friends working in the local government offices and the courts.8

Fifth, Branch 170 has admitted returns on search warrants where the seizing officer did not proceed with the operation because of new developments and/or information that the subject has already moved out, when the proper procedure is for the applicant to file a motion to set aside the search warrant.9

There are also several cases where the returns have yet to be submitted to the court despite the lapse of the 10-day period within which to do so. The OCA considered this to be a failure on the part of Branch 170 "to ascertain if the return has been made, and if none, [to] summon the person to whom the warrant was issued and require him to explain why no return was made."10

And sixth, the OCA noted that Branch 170:

a) x x x issues search warrants even [though] the application is not accompanied with pertinent papers to establish that the applicant [had] conducted a surveillance prior to the filing of said application x x x;

b) x x x issues search warrants even when the authority of the head of the agency to file the application is a mere photocopy;

c) [admits] mere photocopies of the inventory of the seized items and inventories that are not under oath; and,

d) x x x always grants custody of the seized items to the applicant and/or his agency for forensic examination or due to lack of space in the court premises.11

Upon the OCA's recommendation, the Court issued a Resolution12 dated May 31, 2016 placing Judge Docena under immediate preventive suspension for a period of six months. Thus:

x x x The Court resolved, upon the recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), to:

(a) PREVENTIVELY SUSPEND, effective immediately, effective immediately, Judge Zaldy B. Docena, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 170, Malabon City, for six (6) months pending the completion of a more comprehensive and detailed investigation on the issuance of search warrants;

(b) RELIEVE Judge Celso Raymundo L. Magsino, Jr., Branch 74, same court, from his duties as Executive Judge of RTC, Malabon City, and INCLUDE him IN THE INVESTIGATION in view of the apparent irregularity in the raffle of applications for search warrants;

(c) DESIGNATE Judge Jimmy Edmund G. Batara, Branch 72, same court, and Judge Emmanuel D. Laurea, Branch 169, same court, as Executive Judge and Vice-Executive Judge, respectively, of RTC, Malabon City; and

(d) DIRECT the OCA to IMMEDIATELY SEAL/SECURE all records/folders pertaining to applications for search warrant received by Judge Docena.

Let this resolutiion be personally and immediately served on the parties concerned. x x x13

In compliance with the May 31, 2016 Resolution of the Court, the OCA's Audit Team conducted an investigation on the raffle of applications for and issuance of search warrants in the R TC of Malabon City. The investigation was thereafter concluded on June 17, 2016.

The Result of the Investigation

In a Memorandum14 dated August 4, 2016, the Audit Team submitted the result of the investigation to Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez.

On the Distribution/Raffle of Search Warrant Applications

The Audit Team noted that only two out of the five branches15 in the RTC of Malabon City, specifically, Branches 74 and 170, took cognizance of search warrant applications, as Branches 72 (Drugs Court), 73 (Family Court), and 169 (Family Court and Agrarian Court) which exclusively handle drugs and family court cases, respectively, are not included in the raffle of said applications.16

The distribution of applications for search warrants in the RTC of Malabon City from January 2015 up to May 10, 2016 is as follows:17

BRANCH/JUDGE APPLICATIONS RECEIVED
Branch 170 (Judge Docena) 795
Branch 74 (Judge Magsino)
- Involving ordinary criminal cases (received by raffle)
- Involving special criminal cases (received in his s,apacity as Executive Judge)

185
(152)

(33)

Branch 72 (Judge Batara) 4
- Involving special criminal cases (received in his capacity as the Vice Executive Judge)
4
TOTAL 984

According to Atty. Esmeralda G. Dizon (Atty. Dizon), Clerk of Court VI, Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC), this distribution system is in accordance with their internal policies on the raffle of cases.18 The pertinent portions of said internal policies are quoted as follows:

INTERNAL OFFICE MEMO

TO: CLERK IN CHARGE OF RAFFLE (Millet/Pam, Mark, Paul)
RE: SW/TRO/TPO
DATE: MAY 2014


Per executive session with the Executive Judge, the following are the innovations with respect to raflling:

x x x

3. Raffle of TRO/TPO/SW shall be special and shall reqmre notices/Returns/complete documentation and presence of witness/applicant in case of SW;

4. Due to its confidentiality, only the Clerk of Court and the Clerk In Charge sha11 receive any application for SW. Raffle of this nature shall be held at the chambers/office of the EJNice EJ and only the ordinary courts (170 and 74) are eligible for raffle unless the nature subject of application falls exclusively under the powers of EJ or in his absence, the Vice EJ;

5. Ratio of cases between the EJ and Branch 170 shall be in accordance with the Guidelines on the Selection and Designation of EJs (A.M. 03-8- 02-SC) which is 2 :3;

6. SW shall be raffled on 1:2 daily basis and counted per applicant. Since Br. 74 is also the EJ, then, SW shall be raffled exclusively to the remaining ordinary court when the EJ is on official leave, official business, official meeting.

xxx

(Sgd.)
ATTY. ESMERALDA G. DIZON
Clerk of Court VI
19

After a thorough examination of the records of the OCC, the Audit Team concluded that the RTC ofMalabon City failed to observe the existing rules in the distribution of search warrant applications involving ordinary criminal cases as provided in Chapter V of the Guidelines on the Selection and Designation of Executive Judges.20

The Audit Team cited three instances where the raffle of search warrant applications was clearly inequitable:

a) in January 2016, Branch 170 received all 16 search warrant applications filed in the RTC ofMalabon City;21

b) in February 2016, 44 search warrant applications were assigned to Branch 170, while only five ordinary criminal cases were given to Branch 74∑22 and ' '

c) in March 2016, 87 search warrant applications went to Branch 170, while only three ordinary criminal cases were raffled to Branch 74.23

In addition, the Audit Team also made the following observations:

First, the application docketed as SW16-183 was raffled to Branch 170, when it should have been directly assigned to the Executive Judge as it involved violations of Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, and Presidential Decree No. 1866, as amended, or the law on the illegal possession of firearms.24

Second, it could not be ascertained whether a special raffle for applications for search warrant was actually conducted in the RTC of Malabon City because the OCC did not prepare the minutes of the raffle.25

Third, there are discrepancies between the date of receipt of some search. warrant applications appearing in the OCC's logbook and the date stamped on the face of said applications as received by Branch 170.26

For instance, SW15-120-MN appears to have been received by the OCC on May 6, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. and thereafter raffled to Branch 170 on the same ,day, based on the date stamped on the face of the application.27 However,1 the case was recorded in the OCC's logbook only on May 7, 2015.28 The corresponding search warrant was also issued on May 7, 2015.29

The same observation is true for the following applications: SW15- 427 to SW15-432 - logged as filed with the OCC on September 9, 2015,30 but the applications were all stamped received on September 8, 2015 at 10:30 a.m.;31and SW15-592 to SW15-596 - logged as filed with the OCC on November 27, 2015,32 but the applications were stamped received on November 26, 2015, at 1 :00 p.m.33

And fourth, there are cases where the caption of search warrant applications already indicates that it is being filed with Branch 170, and typewritten at the bottom of the applications is the name of Judge Docena to whom the application would be subscribed and sworn to.34

On the Issuance of Search Warrants by Branch 170

The Audit Team noted that Judge Docena granted all 790 search warrant applications raffled to Branch 170 from January 2015 up to May 10, 2016, and 19235 of which are John/Jane Doe search warrants. Out of the 790 search warrants issued, 442 or 55.95% thereof have yielded negative results, remained unserved, or were otherwise never returned to the court.36

The Audit Team also found that Judge Docena granted 758 search warrant applications even though the places of commission of the crimes involved therein were outside the territorial jurisdiction of the RTC of Malabon City. Out of 758 applications,37 130 had completely failed to cite compelling reasons to warrant their filing in the RTC of Malabon City.38 Thus:

PLACES WHERE SEARCH WARRANTS ENFORCEBLE NO COMPELLING REASON WITH COMPELLING REASON TOTAL
Laguna 1 - 1
Caloocan City 7 8 15
Las Piñas City - 6 6
Makati City 18 170 188
Mandaluyong City 6 13 19
Manila 54 116 170
Muntinlupa City 1 15 16
Parañaque City 2 65 67
Pasay City 6 75 81
Pasig City 15 68 83
Quezon City 11 50 61
Taguig City 7 33 40
Valenzuela City 2 9 11
TOTAL 130 62839 758

The Audit Team likewise observed that there are instances where the compelling reasons cited by the applicant appear to be without merit, and Judge Docena failed to ask the required probing and exhaustive inquiry on the veracity of the compelling reason invoked.40

In addition to its preliminary findings, the Audit Team pointed out the following irregularities pertaining to Judge Docena's issuance of search warrants:

a) There are search warrants that were issued ahead of the date of filing of the application.41

b) Judge Docena is the signatory of the jurat of all the applications for search warrants before Branch 170. In some cases, the signature appearing thereon is not his customary signature.42

c) There are some applications that are not under oath although the affidavits were signed by Judge Docena.43

d) Page 3 of the application in SWl 5-588 is missing, but Judge Docena signed on another page containing the sketch of the place to be searched.44

e) Judge Docena signed the jurat of some affidavits of witnesses, despite the lack of signature of the affiant.45

f) Some affidavits of witnesses are replicated, where only the dates and the addresses relating to the supposed surveillance are changed.46

g) Judge Docena has admitted as proof of surveillance the attachment of a map and pictures of the door of the unit to be searched, as well as the screen of a computer.47

The Audit Team also noted several lapses in the management of case records in Branch 170:

a) Case records have no minutes of the proceedings.48

b) There were two sets of stenographic notes found in 16 search warrant applications.49

c) In most applications, there are no searching questions and answers in writing and under oath, in violation of Section 5, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court.50

d) The search warrant case folders of Branch 170 are not paginated.51

e) In cases where an applicant filed several search warrant applications, some of the documents attached are not original copies.52

f) Case folders are not properly stitched, and some folders loose pages. Other folders, too, are merely attached using fasteners.53

g) Stenographic notes are not attached to the records.54

h) Transcripts of stenographic notes are similarly not attached to the records.55

i) Branch 170 does not maintain a logbook where entries shall be made within 24 hours after the issuance of the search warrant.56

Issuance of Search Warrants by Branch 74

The Audit Team noted that Judge Magsino also granted a considerable number of search warrant applications from January 2015 up to May 10, 2016, where the offenses involved were committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of the RTC ofMalabon City.57 Thus:58

PLACES WHERE SEARCH WARRANTS ENFORCEBLE NO COMPELLING REASON WITH COMPELLING REASON TOTAL
Rizal 1 - 1
Caloocan City 1 1 2
Makati City - 35 35
Mandaluyong City 13 2 15
Manila 1 18 19
Marikina City - 2 2
Muntinlupa City - 2 2
Parañaque City 7 10 17
Pasay City - 16 16
Pasig City 4 10 14
Quezon City 3 3 6
Taguig City 3 7 10
TOTAL 33 106 139

Nevertheless, the Audit Team found no patent irregularities in Judge Magsino's issuance of search warrants assigned to Branch 74,59 considering that:

1. There is no instance where the date of receipt by the OCC and the date ofraftle of the search warrant application to Branch 74, as stamp the face of the application, are ahead of the date recorded in the logbook of the OCC.60

2. There is also no instance where the date of the search warrant issued is ahead of the date of filing of the application in court.61

3. The minutes of the proceedings are attached to the case records, but the contents are not complete.62

4. Aside from the issuance of search warrants, Judge Magsino also issues an order stating, among others, that the court conducted a hearing and examined the applicant and his witness/informant.63

5. The stenographic notes are all attached to the records, although some have yet to be transcribed.64

6. Branch 74 observes the guidelines on the custody of computer data under Sections 15 and 16, Chapter IV of Republic Act No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act. 65

For these reasons, the Audit Team no longer discussed the details of the rest of the acts and omissions of Branch 74.

In its 1st Indorsement66 dated September 27, 2016, the OCA directed Judge Docena and Judge Magsino, as well as the concerned court personnel, to submit their comments on the final report of the Audit Team.

Judge Docena's Comment

In his Comment67 dated October 28, 2016, Judge Docena submits that he granted the search warrant applications before him "in the good faith belief that there was probable cause for their issuance and in compliance with law and procedure."68

Judge Docena clarifies that he had no control over which search warrant applications will be filed in the RTC of Malabon City, much less those that will be raffled to Branch 170.69 Neither does he or the court personnel under him have any hand in the implementation of the search warrants issued by him or the outcome or results thereof. 70

Judge Docena likewise contends that there is nothing irregular in his issuance of 192 John/Jane Doe search warrants, considering that the crimes involved therein are mostly violations of the Cybercrime Prevention Act and the £-Commerce Act, where there is indeed difficulty in obtaining the identities of the alleged perpetrators. 71

As for his issuance of search warrants involving crimes committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of the RTC of Malabon City, Judge Docena denies having violated Section 2(a) of Rule 126 of the Rules of Court and Section 12, Chapter V of A.M. No. 03-8-02, given that the issuance of search warrants is inherent in all courts and venue in search warrant applications is merely procedural and not jurisdictional. 72

Judge Docena further argues that he "cannot consider the issues of absence of compelling reasons in the [search warrant] application[s], and improper venue mo tu proprio to deny [said] applications outright," as "these have to be raised by the respondent/accused in a motion to quash."73 And as for those respondents in the search warrants who did not question the venue of the pertinent search warrant applications, they should be deemed to have waived said defense and considered to have acquiesced to the venue of said applications.74

In addition, Judge Docena maintains that "he granted the search warrant applications in the good faith belief that there is merit to the compelling reasons provided by the applicants." He insists that "this determination should be respected unless it is shown that [he] is guilty of grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction."75

Judge Docena also explains that "the rule requiring judges to conduct a probing and exhaustive inquiry is applicable only to the determination of probable cause" and not to the compelling reasons cited by an applicant in a search warrant application, 76 as the existence of compelling reasons does not relate to the existence of probable cause which is the basis for the issuance of the search warrant. 77

While Judge Docena admits that there are search warrants that appear to have been issued ahead of the date of filing of their respective applications, he argues that the incorrect dates on said warrants are typographical errors which are attributable to honest mistake and inadvertence.78 He claims that Branch 170 uses previous documents as templates in order to save time and effort,79 and he surmises that the dates in the orders pertaining to some search warrant applications were unfortunately not properly edited to reflect the correct date. 80

Finally, Judge Docena begs the Court for understanding and leniency for his failure to properly monitor the submission of returns of the search warrants he issued and to summon those applicants who have yet to file their respective returns, given the extraordinarily high number of search warrants raffled to Branch 170. 81

Recommendations of the OCA

In a Memorandum82 dated February 20, 2017, the OCA made the following recommendations:

IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, it is respectfully recommended for the consideration of the Honorable Court that:

1. Hon. CELSO R. L. MAGSINO, JR., Presiding Judge, RTC, Branch 74, Malabon City, and then Executive Judge, RTC, Malabon City, be found GUILTY of (a) violation of Supreme Court rules and circulars concerning the raffle of search warrant applications, and Section 2, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court and Section 12, Chapter V of the Guidelines in the Selection and Designation of 1'.,xecutive Judges and Defining their Powers, Prerogatives and Duties on the issuance of search warrants, and Section 12(b ), Rule 126, Rules of Court on, among others, the filing of the returns; and (b) inefficiency in the performance of his duties as Presiding Judge of Branch 74, same court, and FINED in the amount of ₱20,000.00;

2. Atty. ESMERALDA G. DIZON, Clerk of Court, Office of the Clerk of Court, RTC, Malabon City, be found GUILTY of simple neglect of duty and SUSPENDED from the service for six (6) months, effective immediately;

3. Hon. ZALDY B. DOCENA, Presiding Judge, RTC, Branch 170, Malabon City, be found GUILTY of gross ignorance of the law, gross negligence, and gross misconduct and DISMISSED FROM THE SERVICE with forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and disqualification from re-employment in any government institution;

4. Atty. JESUS S. HERNANDEZ, Branch Clerk of Court, RTC, Branch 170, Malabon City, be found GUILTY of simple neglect of duty and SUSPENDED from the service for six (6) months, effective immediately;

5. MS. OLIVIA M. LABAGNAO, MS. DEBHEM E. FARDO, MS. ROSARIO [M. SAN PEDRO], and MS. GIGI M. MENDOZA, Court Stenographers, and MS. ZENAIDA Z. SALONGA, Clerk-in-Charge, all of RTC, Branch 170, Malabon City, be found GUILTY of simple neglect of duty and ADMONISHED to be more diligent and circumspect in the performance of their duties; and

6. Atty. EVELYN M. LOZANO-AGUILAR, Branch Clerk of Court, MA. ALICIA C. MALUBAY, Court Interpreter, and DALISAY C. CASUGA, MYRA D. SANTOS, SHERREE ANN R. RUZGAL, MA. THERESA P. REYES, Court Stenographers, all of RTC, Branch 74, Malabon City, be REMINDED to henceforth strictly comply with existing court issuances on search warrants without necessarily giving up their endeavor to preserve the confidentiality of the information in the records.

Considering the herein recommendation of the OCA that Judge Docena be dismissed from the service, and considering further that the preventive suspension of Judge Docena will in the meantime expire on 1 March 2017, it is likewise hereby recommended that the PREVENTIVE SUSPENSION of Judge Docena expiring on 1 March 2017 BE INDEFINITELY EXTENDED until such time the Court has resolved this administrative matter.

In a Resolution83 dated February 28, 2017, the Court extended the preventive suspension of Judge Docena for another three (3) months reckoned from March 1, 2017. Finally, on June 20, 2017, the Court resolved to extend Judge Docena's suspension until such time that this administrative matter would have been resolved.84

The Court's Ruling

Section 2, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court provides for the proper venue where applications for search warrant should be filed:

SEC. 2. Court where applications for search warrant shall be filed. - An application for search warrant shall be filed with the following:

(a) Any court within whose jurisdiction a crime was committed.

(b) For compelling reasons stated in the application, any court within the judicial region where the crime was committed if the place of the commission of the crime is known, or any court within the judicial region where the warrant shall be enforced.

However, if the criminal action has already been filed, the application shall only be made in the court where the criminal action is pending.85

It is settled that the inclusion of a statement of compelling reasons in a search warrant application that is filed in a court which does not have territorial jurisdiction over the place of commission of the alleged crime is a mandatory requirement, and the absence of such statement renders the application defective.86

The absence of a statement of compelling reasons, however, is not a ground for the outright denial of a search warrant application, since it is not one of the requisites for the issuance of a search warrant. Section 4 of Rule 126 is clear on this point:

SEC. 4. Requisites for issuing search warrant. - A search warrant shall not issue except upon probable cause in connection with one specific offense to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the things to be seized which may be anywhere in the Philippines.87

In other words, the statement of compelling reasons is only a mandatory requirement in so far as the proper venue for the filing of search warrant application is concerned. It cannot be viewed as an additional requisite for the issuance of a search warrant.

It is also important to stress that an application for a search warrant merely constitutes a criminal process and is not in itself a criminal action.88 The rule, therefore, that venue is jurisdictional in criminal cases does not apply thereto.89 Simply stated, venue is only procedural, and not jurisdictional, in applications for the issuance of a search warrant.

In Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation v. Romars International Gases Corporation,90 the Court ruled that the issue on the absence of a statement of compelling reasons in an application for a search warrant does not involve a question of jurisdiction over the subject matter, as the power to issue search warrants is inherent in all courts.91 Thus, the trial court may only take cognizance of such issue if it is raised in a timely motion to quash the search warrant. Otherwise, the objection shall be deemed waived, pursuant to the Omnibus Motion Rule.92

Consequently, the Court in Pilipinas Shell upheld the validity of the questioned search warrants despite the lack of a statement of compelling reasons in their respective applications,93 as the objection was not properly raised in a motion to quash.94

Note, too, that the determination of the existence of compelling reasons under Section 2(b) of Rule 126 is a matter squarely addressed to the sound discretion of the court where such application is filed, subject to review by an appellate court in case of grave abuse of discretion amounting to excess or lack of jurisdiction.95

Clearly, this administrative proceeding is not the proper forum to review the search warrants issued by Judge Docena and Judge Magsino in order to determine whether the compelling reasons cited in their respective applications are indeed meritorious.

Given these circumstances, we cannot agree with the OCA's findings that Judge Docena and Judge Magsino violated Section 2 of Rule 126 by simply issuing search warrants involving crimes committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of the RTC of Malabon City where: a) there is no compelling reason to take cognizance of the applications; and b) the compelling reasons alleged in the applications appear to be unmeritorious.96

It is obvious that Judge Docena and Judge Magsino simply exercised the trial court's ancillary jurisdiction over a special criminal process97 when they took cognizance of the applications and issued said search warrants. And as previously discussed, the propriety of the issuance of these warrants is a matter that should have been raised in a motion to quash or in a certiorari petition, if there are allegations of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the issuing judge.

The Administrative Liabilities

To hold a judge administratively liable for gross misconduct, ignorance of the law or incompetence of official acts in the exercise of judicial functions and duties, it must be shown that his acts were committed with fraud, dishonesty, corruption, malice or ill-will, bad faith, or deliberate intent to do an injustice.98 Absent such proof, the judge is fresumed to have acted in good faith in exercising his judicial functions.99

In this case, the OCA found Judge Docena's issuance of the subject search warrants to have been motivated by bad faith, 100 as evidenced by the following attendant circumstances:

First, the high incidence of search warrant operations that yielded negative results, remained unserved, or otherwise were never returned to the court;101

Second, Judge Docena appears to have thrown leading questions during the examination of the applicant and the witness in SW16-257 and SW14-134;102

Third, four search warrants issued by Judge Docena, i.e. Search Warrant Nos. 13-160-MN, 13-161-MN, MN-13-162, and MN-13-163, have been nullified by the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 132860 for insufficiency of the compelling reasons alleged in the search warrant applications;103

And fourth, there were search warrants that appear to have been issued ahead of the dates of filing of their respective applications; search warrants that were released to the witness instead of the applicant; and search warrants which were issued on the date of filing of the application, but appear to have been received by the applicant a day in advance.104

We are not convinced. These circumstances alone are clearly insufficient to overturn the presumption that Judge Docena acted in good faith in issuing the subject search warrants.

For one thing, it is unfair to hold the low rate of success of search warrant operations against Judge Docena, given that the courts have absolutely no participation in the implementation of the search warrants that they issue.1‚wphi1

For another, it is a grave error to consider the CA's nullification of four search warrants issued by Judge Docena as an indication that all warrants issued by him suffer from the same infirmity. After all, not every mistake or error of judgment of a judge in the performance of his official duties makes him liable therefor. 105

Nevertheless, we find sufficient evidence to hold Judge Docena administratively liable for gross neglect of duty for the serious mismanagement of search warrant applications in Branch 170.

Section 12, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court provides:

SEC. 12. Delivery of property and inventory thereof to court; return and proceedings thereon. -

a) The officer must forthwith deliver the property seized to the judge who issued the warrant, together with a true inventory thereof duly verified under oath.

b) Ten (10) days after issuance of the search warrant, the issuing judge shall ascertain if the return has been made, and if none, shall summon the person to whom the warrant was issued and require him to explain why no return was made. If the return has been made, the judge shall ascertain whether Section 11 of this Rule has been complied with and shall require that the property seized be delivered to him. The judge shall see to it that subsection (a) hereof has been complied with.

c) The return on the search warrant shall be filed and kept by the custodian of the log book on search warrants who shall enter therein the date of the return, the result, and other actions of the judge.106

The records show that Judge Docena has failed to properly monitor the submission of returns as required under Section l 2(b) and (c) of Rule 126, considering that:

1. the returns on 172 search warrants107 have yet to be submitted, and Judge Docena failed to summon each of the 39 applicants thereof to court to explain why no return was made.108

2. 350 returns109 were filed by applicants well beyond the 10-day period to do so, with the delay ranging from 11 days up to six months and five days (in SW 15-477).110

3. 43 returns111 were not immediately acted upon, with the delay ranging from one month and 22 days up to five months and 12 days (in SW 15-435).112

4. 29 returns 113 have yet to be acted upon.

Judge Docena likewise committed several lapses in ascertammg whether Section 12(a) of Rule 126 was complied with by the applicants in: a) SW 15-503-MN, where mere photocopies of the inventory of the seized items were submitted;114 b) in SW 16-286-MN, where the inventories are not under oath and the signatures of the witnesses are unidentifiable because their printed names are not indicated in the inventory; 115 and c) in SW 16- 273-MN, where only one witness signed the inventory sheet.116

We also find that Judge Docena failed to comply with his administrative responsibilities under Rules 3.08 and 3.09 of the Code of Judicial Conduct which provide:

RULE 3.08 - A judge should diligently discharge administrative responsibilities, maintain professional competence in court management, and facilitate the performance of the administrative functions of other judges and court personnel.

RULE 3.09 - A judge should organize and supervise the court personnel to ensure the prompt and efficient dispatch of business, and require at all times the observance of high standards of public service and fidelity.117

as it appears that the concerned court personnel in Branch 170, namely Atty. Jesus S. Hernandez (Atty. Hernandez), the Branch Clerk of Court, Ms. Zenaida Z. Salonga, the Clerk-in-Charge, together with Ms. Olivia M. Labagnao, Ms. Rosario M. San Pedro, Ms. Debhem N. Fajardo, and Ms. Gigi M. Mendoza, all court stenographers, too, are all guilty of simple neglect of duty for failure to diligently perform their respective administrative duties.

Atty. Hernandez, as the administrative officer in Branch 170, fell short of the diligence and care required of him in the following instances:

a. Case records have no minutes of the proceedings.118

b. Some search warrants are incorrectly dated, thus making it appear that they were issued ahead of the date of filing of their respective applications.119

c. Some search warrants were handed over to the witnesses instead of the applicants.120

d. There is no date and time of receipt of the case folder by Branch 170 on the face of the search warrant applications.121 e. The search warrant case folders in Branch 170 are not paginated.122

f. In several applications, some documents attached thereto are not original copies.123

g. Case folders are not property stitched, and some folders have loose pages. Other folders, too, are merely attached using fasteners.124

The court stenographers were likewise remiss in the performance of their duties under Section 17, Rule 136 of the Rules of Court, given that they failed to produce a total of 34 stenographic notes or seven sets of consolidated notes, and to properly label their stenographic notes.125 It also appears that they only prepared transcripts of stenographic notes upon request of the applicants.126

As for the Clerk-in-Charge, she clearly violated Section 12(c) of Rule 126,127 when she unjustifiably failed to maintain the required log book for search warrant applications in Branch 170.

It is settled that "[a] judge presiding over a branch of a court is, in legal contemplation, the head thereof having effective control and authority to discipline all employees within the branch."128 Consequently, Judge Docena shares accountability for the administrative lapses of his staff that contributed to the clearly disorganized and inefficient dispatch of business in Branch 170.

Finally, we hold Judge Magsino and Atty. Dizon administratively liable for simple misconduct, in their capacities as the Executive Judge and the Clerk of Court of the RTC of Malabon, respectively, for imposing their own internal policies and practices129 in lieu of the existing rules in the raffle of applications involving ordinary cases covered by Chapter V of the Guidelines on the Selection and Designation of Executive Judges and Defining their Powers, Prerogatives and Duties (Guidelines).

To be specific, Judge Magsino and Atty. Dizon failed to observe the pertinent portion of Section 6 of the Guidelines which requires the search warrant applications assigned to a branch during the special raffle to be deducted from the number of cases allotted to on the next scheduled regular raffle. This, however, was not implemented in the RTC of Malabon City.130

Judge Magsino and Atty. Dizon also failed to observe the proper ratio of the raffling of cases prescribed under par. 1, Chapter V of Administrative Order No. 6 dated June 30, 1975,131 which states:

V. CASELOAD AND HONORARIUM

1. The caseload of the Executive Judge shall be as follows:

x x x x

c. In case of multiple branches (salas) of more than five (5), the distribution of cases shall be in the proportion of one (1) case for the Executive Judge and two (2) for each of the other judges.132

Their use of an improvised system of counting the applicants (instead of the applications)133 in the special raffle is simply unacceptable, as the Executive Judge, much less the Clerk of Court, has absolutely no discretion to deviate from the prescribed ratio for the raffling of cases without prior approval from this Court.

This resulted in an inequitable distribution of search warrant applications between Branches 170 and 74 at a ratio of almost 6:1, or a six out of seven chance that an application will be raffled to Branch 170, thereby removing the unpredictability of the raffling process, so much so that some applicants already indicate that their applications are being filed with Branch 170.134

The Penalties

On the one hand, gross neglect of duty or gross negligence "refers to negligence characterized by the want of even slight care, or by acting or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but willfully and intentionally, with a conscious indifference to the consequences, in so far as other persons may be affected. x x x In case involving public officials, [there is gross negligence] when a breach of duty is flagrant and palpable."135

It is important to stress, however, that the term "gross neglect of duty" does not necessarily include willful neglect or intentional wrongdoing. It can also arise from situations where "such neglect which, from the gravity of the case or the frequency of instances, becomes so serious in its character" that it ends up endangering or threatening the public welfare.136

In contrast, simple neglect of duty means the failure of an employee to give proper attention to a required task or to discharge a duty due to carelessness or indifference.137

Under Section 46(A), Rule 10 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (RRACCS), gross neglect of duty is classified as a grave offense punishable by dismissal from the service (even for the first offense), while simple neglect of duty is a less grave offense, punishable by suspension without pay for one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months for the first offense.

In this case, we find the gravity of Judge Docena's neglect in the performance of his duties to be so serious in character that the Court may unquestionably impose against him the penalty of dismissal from the service.

Nevertheless, we take into consideration his length of service of thirty (30) years in various sectors of the government, with eight (8) years spent rendering service in the Judiciary as a Technical Assistant in the Supreme Court from 1985 to 1987 and as an RTC Judge from 2010 up to present,138 his candid admission of his lapses and his commitment to undertake stringent steps to address the matters brought to his attention by the OCA139 as mitigating factors that serve to temper the penalty to be imposed upon him.140 We also note that this is Judge Docena's first time to be administratively sanctioned by this Court. Thus, instead of imposing the penalty of dismissal, we deem it proper to impose against Judge Docena the penalty of suspension for two (2) years without pay.

As for Atty. Hernandez, we agree with the OCA's conclusion that he undoubtedly failed to meet the standards required of him as an effective and competent clerk of court.141 The OCA recommended that Atty. Hernandez be suspended without pay for six (6) months. 142 We, however, modify this recommendation and reduce the penalty to suspension without pay for one (1) month and (1) day, considering the fact that this is his first offense,143 and the errors he committed are purely administrative in nature and are not gross or patent.

We likewise agree with the OCA's finding that Ms. Salonga (the Clerk-in-Charge) and Ms. Labagnao, Ms. Fardo, Ms. San Pedro, and Ms. Mendoza (the court stenographers) also failed to diligently perform their respective duties.144 Since this, too, is their first offense, we adopt the OCA's recommendation145 and impose the penalty of admonition that they be more circumspect in the performance of their respective duties.

On the other hand, "[m]isconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer. The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules, which must be proved by substantial evidence. Otherwise, the misconduct is only simple."146

In this case, there is no substantial evidence to show that Judge Magsino and Atty. Dizon's actions involved the elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules to qualify their misconduct as grave. Absent such malicious intent or bad faith on their part, they may only be held administratively liable for simple misconduct.

Although the penalty for simple misconduct is suspension without pay of one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months,147 the RRACCS allows the payment of a fine in place of suspension if the offense is committed without abusing the powers of one's position or office.148 Considering that this is also the first offense for both Judge Magsino and Atty. Dizon, we find the imposition of a fine of ₱20,000.00 to be proper and commensurate for their transgressions.

Four of the Justices voted for the dismissal of Judge Docena from the service.

WHEREFORE, the Court:

1. FINDS Hon. Celso R. L. Magsino, Jr., Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 74, Malabon City, and then Executive Judge, Regional Trial Court, Malabon City, GUILTY of simple misconduct, and hereby orders him to pay a FINE in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (₱20,000.00), with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely;

2. FINDS Atty. Esmeralda G. Dizon, Clerk of Court, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court,. Malabon City, GUILTY of simple misconduct, and hereby orders her to pay a FINE in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (₱20,000.00), with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely;

3. FINDS Hon. Zaldy B. Docena, Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 170, Malabon City, GUILTY of gross neglect of duty, and hereby SUSPENDS him from office for a period of two (2) years without pay, with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely;

4. FINDS Atty. Jesus S. Hernandez, Branch Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Branch 170, Malabon City, GUILTY of simple neglect of duty, and hereby SUSPENDS him from office for a period of one (1) month without pay, with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely;

5. FINDS Ms. Zenaida Z. Salonga, Clerk-in-Charge, and Ms. Olivia M. Labagnao, Ms. Debhem E. Fardo, Ms. Rosario M. San Pedro, and Ms. Gigi M. Mendoza, Court Stenographers, Regional Trial Court, Branch 170, Malabon City, GUILTY of simple neglect of duty, and are ADMONISHED to be more diligent and circumspect in the performance of their duties.

SO ORDERED.

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

(On official Leave)
MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO
Chief Justice

I join the dissent of J. Peralta
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Associate Justice
Acting Chief Justice
PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
Associate Justice
TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
Associate Justice
Pls. See dissenting opinion
DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
Associate Justice
I join the dissent of J. Peralta
LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Associate Justice
ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
Associate Justice
I join the dissent of Justice Peralta
MARVIC M.V.F. LEONEN
Associate Justice
FRANCIS H. JARDELEZA
Associate Justice
ALFREDO BENJAMIN S. CAGUIOA
Associate Justice
SAMUEL R. MARTIRES
Associate Justice
NOEL GIMENEZ TIJAM
Associate Justice
ANDRES B. REYES, JR.
Associate Justice

No participation Related to one of the parties
ALEXANDER G. GESMUNDO
Associate Justice


Footnotes

* On official leave.

** Acting Chief Justice per Special Order No. 2479 dated August 31, 2017.

*** No part

1 Rollo, Vol. I pp. 1-7.

2 Id at 1-2

3 Id. at 5.

4 Id.

5 Id. at 2-3.

6 Id. at2.

7 Id. at 3.

8 Id.

9 Id. at 4.

10 Id.

11 Id.

12 Id. at 10.

13 Id.

14 Folder of Annexes "1", pp. 1-26.

15 Three newly-appointed judges for Branches 289 to 291 have yet to assume office. Id. at 2.

16 Id. at 2.

17 Id.

18 Id. at 2.

19 Id. at 2-3. Emphasis supplied.

20 Id. at 4.

21 Id. at 5; see also Table l. Distribution of Applications for Search Warrant (RTC, Malabon C.) - January 2016, id. at 30.

22 Id.; see also Table 2.Distribution of Applications for Search Warrant (RTC, Malabon C.)- February 2016, id. at 31.

23 Id.; see also Table 3.Distribution of Applications for Search Warrant (RTC, Malabon C.)- March.2016, id. at 32.

24 Id.

25 Id. at 6.

26 Id.

27 Id.; see also Annex "I," id. at 41.

28 Id.; see also Annex "J," id. at 44.

29 Id.; see also Annex "L-1," id. at 46.

30 Id.; see also Annexes "M" to "M-6," id. at 47.

31 Id.; see also Annexes "N" to "S-1," id. at 54-59.

32 Id.; see also Annexes "T" to "T-5," id. at 60.

33 Id.; see also Annexes "U" to "Y-1," id. at 61-71.

34 Id. at 7; see also Annexes "AA" to "AA-2" and "AB" to "AB-2," id. at 74-75.

35 See Table 5. Search warrants against John/Jane Does issued by Branch 170, id.at 193-206.

36 Id. at 10.

37 See Table 3. Search warrants involving offenses committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of RTC, Branch 170, Malabon City, id. at 83-93.

38 Id. at 9-10.

39 See Table 4. Search wanants involving offenses committed outside the territorial jurisdiction of RTC, Branch 170, Malabon City- COMPELLING REASON WAS STATED IN THE APPLICATION, id. at 94-192.

40 Id. at 12.

41 Id. at 18; see also Annexes "DU" to "DW-2," "DX" to "DZ-1," "EA" to "EC-2," "ED" to "EF-2," "EG" to "EI-2," "EJ" to "EL-2," and "EM" to "E0-1," id. at 534-563.

42 Id. at 16; see also Annexes "BO" to "BP-1," id. at 446-44 7.

43 Id.; see also Annexes "BQ" to "BR-I" and "BS" to "BT-1," id. at 449-453.

43 Id.; see also Annexes "BQ" to "BR-1" and "BS" to "BT-1," id. at 449-453.

44 Id.; see also Annexes "BU" to "BU-1," id. at 455-456.

45 Id.; see also Annexes "BV" to "BW-1" and "BX" to "BY-1," id. at 458-463.

46 Id.

47 Id. at 17.

48 Id.

49 Id.; see also Table 10. Cases with two (2) sets of stenographic notes, id. at 232-236.

50 Id.

51 Id. at 20.

52 Id. at 21.

53

54 Id.

55 Id

56 Id.

57 Id. at 22.

58 Id. at 9.

59 Id. at 22.

60 Id.

61 Id.

62 Id.

63 Id.

64 Id.

65 Id.

66 Rollo, Vol. I, pp. 96-122.

67 Id. at 38-72.

68 Id.at42.

69 Id. at 42.

70 Id.

71 Id. at 56.

72 Id. at43.

73 Id. at 47.

74 Id. at49.

75 Id. at 50.

76 Id. at 51.

77 Id. at 53.

78 Id. at 63.

79 Id. at 57.

80 Id. at 63.

81 Id. at 64-69. See also Judge Docena's Supplemental Comment dated November 10, 2016, id. at 904-907.

82 Id. at 526-603.

83 Id. at 604-605.

84 Id., unpaginated.

85 Emphasis supplied.

86 Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation v. Romars International Gases Corporation, 753 Phil. 707, 715 (2015).

87 Emphasis supplied.

88 Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation v. Romars International Gases Corporation, supra note 84 at 717 citing Malaloan v. Court of Appeals, 302 Phil. 273, 285 (1994).

89 Id. at 718.

90 Id.

91 Id.at718.

92 Id.at715-716.

93 Id. at 718.

94 Id.at716.

95 People v. Chiu, 468 Phil. 183, 198 (2004).

96 Rollo, Vol. L pp. 570 and 599.

97 Malaloan v. Court of Appeals, 302 Phil. 273, 285-286 (1994).

98 Andrada v. Hon. Judge Banzon, 592 Phil. 229, 233-234 (2008).

99 Lacadin v. Judge Mangino, 453 Phil. 414, 422 (2003).

100 Rollo, Vol. I, p. 571.

101 Id. 102 Id. at 573.

103 Id. at 573-574.

104 Id. at 574.

105 Lacadin v. Judge Mangino, supra note 99, citing Atty. Relova v. Judge Rosales, 441 Phil. 104, 115 (2002).

106 Emphasis supplied.

107 See Table 11. Search warrants which returns have yet to be submitted, Folder of Annexes"!," pp. 247-250.

108 Rollo, Vol. I, p. 512.

109 See Table 12. Cases which returns were filed beyond the 10-day period, Folder of Annexes"!," pp. 251-298.

110 Id. at 251.

111 See Table 13. Sample list of cases which returns were not immediately acted upon, id. at 297-301. 112 Id. at 297.

113 See Table 14. Returns to be acted upon, id. at 302-305.

114 See Annex "EW," id. at 576.

115 See Annexes "EX" to "EX-2," id. at 577.

116 See Annexes "EZ" to "EZ-1," id. at 579.

117 Emphasis supplied.

118 Rollo, Vol. I, p. 532.

119 Id.

120 Id. at 533.

121 Id.

122 Id.

123 Id.

124 Id.

125 Id. at 595.

126 Id. at 545.

127 Id. at 595.

128 A mane v. Atty. Mendoza-Arce, 376 Phil. 575, 600 (1999).

129 See Annexes "A" and "B," Folder of Annexes"I,"pp. 28-29.

130 Rollo, Vol.I, pp. 551-552.

131 Id. at 552-553.

132 Emphasis supplied.

133 See Annex "A," Folder of Annexes "l," p. 28.

134 Rollo, Vol. I, p. 556.

135 Office of the Ombudsman v. De Leon, 705 Phil. 26, 37-38 (2013).

136 Clemente v. Bautista, 710 Phil. 10, 16-17 (2013). See also Clerk of Court Rodrigo-Ebron v. Adolfo, 550 Phil. 449, 455 (2007).

137 Office of the Ombudsman v. De Leon, supra note 135 at 38.

138 Per Judge Docena's Service Record from the Records Division of the OAS.

139 Rollo, Vol. I, p. 966.

140 See Office of the Court Administrator v. Atty. Gaspar, 659 Phil. 437, 443 (2011), where the Court considered Atty. Gaspar's candid admission of her lapses and her apologies as mitigating factors that served to temper the penalty imposed against her.

141 Rollo, Vol. I, p. 595.

142 Id. at 596.

143 See Tudtud v. Atty. Caayon, 494 Phil. 9, 15 (2005).

144 Rollo, Vol. I, p. 595.

145 Id.

146 See Santos v. Rasalan, 544 Phil. 35, 43 (2007).\

147 REVISED RULES ON ADMINISTRATIVE CASESIN THE CIVIL SERVICI:, Rule 10, Section 46(D).

148 Id. at Section 47(1)(c).


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