Punchline

Wanted: Fastest Judge Alive

By Ermin Garcia Jr.

 

WITHOUT speculating on how the ongoing preliminary impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives (HOR) on the case of Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno will end, the discussions in the last two hearings pointed to the unchecked abuses of discretion by Supreme Court justices and court employees.

The congressmen were aghast at the temerity of the special committee and technical working group in justifying their unwarranted delays in processing the applications for survivorship benefits due spouses of deceased justices and judges.

The Supreme Court was specific on the purpose for the creation of the committee and TWG – to expedite the processing and validation of applications of spouses.

But to the dismay of the congressmen, they found out that not a few spouses have already died themselves while waiting in vain for their benefits to be released by the Supreme Court. What was supposed to take only 3 weeks or (months) at most to process was taking the committee more than six months to one year to complete the validation process of applications.

But looking beyond what was before the congressmen, I thought that the more telling and damning implication of the discovered laxity in the Supreme Court to act on cases with dispatch is the widespread laxity and omission of incompetent judges in lower courts in deciding cases before them.

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IGNORED JUDICIARY RULES. So more than the evidence being sought for the impeachment of CJ Sereno, to my mind the proceedings became a wake up call for the judiciary. 

CJ Sereno insisted that her court is reform-oriented and stressed that among the reforms she continues to pursue is the implementation of the 90-day rule and the judicial affidavit rule.

She is either delusionary or completely clueless of what’s happening in the judiciary, from municipal courts to regional trial courts to appellate court to Sandiganbayan and, of course, the SC itself.

A random check among trial lawyers in Pangasinan alone will tell you of their cases that remain pending for over 3 years, if not 10 years!

I am personally aware of one judge that took her more than 6 years to render a ruling on an application for preliminary injunction petition. The issue before her was about a former farm caretaker claiming to be a tenant without showing any document from the government that affirmed his claim. Yes, six years!

Believe you me, the case remains pending to this day after almost a year with another judge who took on the case after the original judge finally inhibited herself.

So if justices are found wanting in serving the human rights of citizens to speedy justice, how far can the judges in the lower courts be? 

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HONEST TO GOODNESS SEARCH. The impeachment complaint filed by Atty. Lorenzo Gadon against CJ Sereno has become significant to the extent that the public has been made aware that justices and judges can now be called out by anyone for their incompetence and laxity in accomplishing their mandated tasks – to dispense cases speedily.

If the chief justice can be made administratively liable for failing to perform her duties as mandated by law, surely corrupt judges can and should be called out not only by litigants and their lawyers but by their own peers like we are witnessing today.

As the justices themselves have determined, the worsening congestion in all jail facilities in the country can be traced to lower court judges’ failure to adhere to the 90-day rule and judicial affidavit rule.

I am certain that a speedier decongestion of jails in the province can be achieved if the Integrated Bar of the Philippines chapter in Pangasinan launches an annual search for the most competent, professional judge in the province through a rating of judges’ performance in applying the 90-day and judicial affidavit rules as main and only criteria.

Why not have an honest to goodness annual search for the “Fastest Judge Alive”?

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WARPED SSS LOGIC. The news that Social Security System (SSS) will soon implement real-time posting of contribution payments is long overdue.

The failure of SSS to computerize its database and services earlier and to closely monitor contribution payments have created irreparable damage to many members. Thousands of unsuspecting members have been deprived of full benefits due them because they were not advised that their employers did not remit their contributions regularly, if at all.

But the failure of SSS to regularly update status of employers also created needless and unwarranted problems as well. Take our case. 

The PUNCH has been religiously paying monthly contributions over the decades, a performance that enabled our employees to apply for loans that qualified them in the past.

On September 16, 2017, I received a letter from the SSS office in Dagupan informing me that The PUNCH failed to remit P2,024 in contribution for one month, in June 1998, 19 years ago to be exact! For this omission, The PUNCH was being billed P14,026. 32 as penalty. (Penalty was computed from 1998 to 2017 the date they discovered the omission).

Since there was no way we could reconcile our records to 19 years back, I decided to show our support for the government and in good faith promptly remitted the P2,024 but I asked that the penalty be waived since it wasn’t our fault that the notice and reminder came only 19 years later.

Well, I almost fell off my chair when SSS wrote back and demanded that I should pay the penalty in full because I admitted to the omission by paying the missed contribution.

If I follow SSS logic, then I should be in the right also to demand the investigation and termination of the officers of the Dagupan SSS office for their incompetence and ineptitude for failing to call us out for the last 19 years! (I would have gladly paid the penalty after being found out 2-3 years later with my office records validating the same, but paying a penalty for 19 years owing to their incompetence is totally unacceptable).

Paging SSS Commissioner Gonz Duque! I am seeing a different kind of change under PDU30’s watch – the application of plain stupid and warped logic! Surely, this was not what Mr. Duterte had in mind as change for the better. Agree? 

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VILLAFLORS’ PAIN. I had an opportunity to meet Dr. Viven Villaflor, his dutiful wife Dr. Nene and her children Dr. Jovy and Peachy over the dilemma that their revered hospital, Dagupan Doctors Villaflor Memorial Hospital suddenly found itself in.

They were obviously deeply pained by the charges hurled against the hospital that was built based on quality care for patients over the decades, since the 1950s. They showed me the pictures of the condition of the patient when he reached the hospital and the amount of work that had to be done. Indeed, the patient could have lost his hand entirely if the doctors had not acted quickly to save it. So there was no question about the quality care given the patient.

As to the assessment of the charges billed by the individual doctors, I surmise that only the doctors themselves, not the hospital can defend them, since the fees go directly to the doctors, not the hospital.

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