SC dismisses RTC judge for ‘blunders’ in disposition of 17 illegal drugs cases

Supreme Court (SC)

A regional trial court (RTC) judge who violated the provisions of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act in the handling and disposition of 17 illegal drugs cases has been dismissed from the service for 17 counts of ignorance of the law.

Dismissed by the Supreme Court (SC) with forfeiture of retirement benefits and ban in employment in the government was Judge Jose S. Jacinto Jr. of RTC Branch 45 in Occidental Mindoro. For gross misconduct, he was ordered to pay a fine of P30,000.

Jacinto was found to have ordered the transfer of the custody of the accused in the 17 cases either to the rehabilitation centers or to the Provincial Parole and Probation Office in violations of Republic Act No. 9165, the dangerous drugs law.

The SC, through the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) which supervises all trial courts in the country, acted on an anonymous complaint filed against Jacinto.

The complaint was first investigated by the RTC’s executive judge in Occidental Mindoro. Jacinto denied all the allegations in the complaint.

Jacinto said he merely acted on the motions of the accused, and that the prosecution was given opportunity to comment on the motions.

He pointed out that some of the accused in the illegal drugs cases were ordered transferred to the Provincial Parole and Probation Office despite its different mandate since the parole and probation offices have more experience in after-care programs for drug dependents.

In its recommendation to the SC, OCA said that Jacinto should be held liable for grave misconduct and be fine P40,000. OCA also recommended Jacinto’s dismissal from the service for gross ignorance of the law.

The OCA told the SC that Jacinto’s orders transferring the custody of several accused to either rehabilitation centers or to the parole and probation office were contrary to Sections 54 and 57 of RA 9165.

In recommending Jacinto’s dismissal from the service, the OCA noted that judge had already been subject of previous administrative cases where he was held liable for gross ignorance of the law and conduct unbecoming of a public official.

Citing the provisions of RA 9165, the SC said:

“The process for voluntary submission to treatment or rehabilitation should commence through an application to the Dangerous Drugs Board, who shall then endorse the application to the trial court.

“Afterwards, the court shall order the examination of the applicant for drug dependency. Should the examination confirm that the applicant is drug dependent, the court shall order treatment and rehabilitation for a period from six (6) months to one (1) year.

“The Dangerous Drugs Board shall then assess whether further confinement is necessary. After the drug dependent is discharged from the voluntary submission program, 'he may then apply for exemption from criminal liability under Section 55, in relation to Section 15 of RA 9165.

“Otherwise, he may then be charged and shall be placed under probation in lieu of imprisonment and or fine, without prejudice to the decision in any pending case filed in court.

“Based from the foregoing, it is at once apparent that respondent Judge's actions were unwarranted and violative of Sections 54 and 57 of RA 9165.

“As correctly noted by the OCA, the orders of respondent Judge committing some of the accused to rehabilitation lacked the required endorsement of the Dangerous Drugs Board and examination conducted by a Department of Health-accredited physician.

“Moreover, those transferred to the custody of the Provincial Parole and Probation Office did not appear to have undergone voluntary rehabilitation.

“Finally, there is nothing in the law which sanctions transfer of custody or detention of those accused of illegal drug offenses to the Parole and Probation office. Under Presidential Decree No. 968, or the Probation Law of 1976, the Provincial/City Parole and Probation Offices under the Parole and Probation Administration (Administration) ... are not authorized to hold persons who have pending criminal cases.

“The Court cannot countenance respondent Judge's blunders which diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary. Indeed, in the discharge of judicial functions, appearance is the same as reality.

“For issuing orders in contravention with RA 9165 in 17 cases, the Court holds respondent judge liable for multiple counts of gross ignorance of law. Indeed, these various instances where respondent judge distorted the provisions of RA 9165 in handling the custody of detainees may well have been the subject of different administrative complaints, meriting separate penalties.

“A final note. Adherence to the rules of procedure is a basic and fundamental aspect of adjudication. Its purpose is not merely to facilitate an orderly administration of justice, but to ensure that the process is fair and credible.

“As in this case, bending and distorting the rules not only manifests the judge's incompetence but puts into doubt the independence and impartiality of the judicial institution.

“WHEREFORE, Hon. Jose S. Jacinto Jr., Presiding Judge, Branch 45, Regional Trial Court of Occidental Mindoro is hereby found GUILTY of seventeen (17) counts of gross ignorance of the law or procedure. He is DISMISSED from the service with FORFEITURE of retirement benefits, except leave credits, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned and controlled corporations.

“He is likewise held liable for gross misconduct, and is ORDERED to pay FINE in the amount of P30,000. Let a copy of this Decision be furnished to the Office of the Court Administrator for its information and guidance. SO ORDERED.”