In the wake of media reports that ex-Congressman Nicanor de Guzman, Jr. of Nueva Ecija, presently detained in the National Bilibid Prison on a life sentence, celebrated his birthday in his hometown in Nueva Ecija on January 16, 17 and 18, 1997, it was ascertained that in an Order dated November 27, 1996, Acting Presiding Judge Geminiano A. Eduardo of the Municipal Trial Court of San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija directed the issuance of a subpoena in LRC File No. 9-96 entitled “Petition for the Issuance of Second Owner’s Duplicate Copy of TCT No. NT-185476 of the Register of Deeds of Nueva Ecija, Nicanor de Guzman, Jr., petitioner,” requiring the latter to appear at the said Court for hearing on January 16, 1997 at 8:30 in the morning.
As soon as the MTC Judge signed the order, Clerk of Court II Juana F. Edades issued a subpoena to petitioner with a First Indorsement, dated December 5, 1996, forwarding it to the National Bilibid Prisons, Muntinlupa City.
In a letter dated January 6, 1997 addressed to the Clerk of Court, MTC of San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija, which was received on January 10, 1997, Penal Superintendent Juanito S. Leopando of the Bureau of Prisons gave the information that “prisoner Nicanor de Guzman is a life termer, hence permission from the Supreme Court must be secured first to enable this office to bring prisoner de Guzman before the Honorable Court in compliance with Administrative Circular No. 6 dated December 5, 1977 of the Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”
Administrative Circular No. 6 dated December 6, 1977 provides that:
x x x pursuant to Administrative Circular No. 2 dated December 2, 1976, no prisoner sentenced to death or life imprisonment or detained upon legal process for the commission of any offense punishable by death or life imprisonment conferred in NBP is allowed to be brought outside of the said penal institution for appearance or attendance in any court except when the Supreme Court authorizes the Judge, upon proper application, to effect the transfer of the said prisoner. In addition, the said Circular directs every judge in Metro Manila and the Provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Cavite and Laguna who requires the appearance or attendance of any of the aforestated prisoners confined in the New Bilibid Prisons in any judicial proceedings to conduct such proceeding within the premises of the said penal institution.
The Court finds the above explanations unacceptable. It cannot allow such misconduct to pass without sanction. Respondents pretended ignorance of the existence of such circular because no copy was on file or that the Judge was appointed much later than the date of issuance of said circular cannot be a valid excuse.
Circular No. 13 dated July 7, 1987, particularly enjoins “all members of the judiciary to keep abreast of the rulings and doctrines laid down by the Supreme Court and apply them to appropriate cases x x x.”
In Ramirez v. Corpuz-Macandog, 144 SCRA 462 , the Court has stressed that:
Judges are required to observe due care in the performance of their official duties. They are likewise charged with the knowledge of internal rules and procedures, especially those which relate to the scope of their authority. They are duty bound to observe and abide by these rules and procedures, designed as they are, primarily to ensure the orderly administration of justice.
With the foregoing exhortation from the Court, respondent Judge’s unawareness of the circular is unexcusable. He has been in the Judiciary since 1983. With the length of service and experience in the bench, he cannot justifiably feign ignorance of the existence of Circular No. 6.
In Ting v. Atal, 231 SCRA 80 , we explained that:
x x x. While it is true that respondent Judge failed in his duty to be updated in his knowledge of law, good faith and the lack of intent to cause prejudice or damage should be considered in his favor. In Consolidated Bank and Trust Corporation v. Hon. Dionisio M. Capistrano, this Court stated:
To be sure, good faith and absence of malice and corrupt motives or improper consideration are sufficient defenses protecting a judicial officer charged with ignorance of the law and promulgation of an unjust decision from being held accountable for errors of judgment, on the premise that no one called upon to try the facts or interpret the law in the administration of justice can be infallible.
Good faith and lack of malicious intent however cannot completely free respondent Judge Elpidio B. Atal from liability.
The role of justices and judges in the administration of justice requires a continuous study of the law and jurisprudence. Respondent judge in this case failed to meet this requirement and standard.
Moreover, Circular No. 6 also provides that it was a judge’s duty to “examine and study carefully any application for the issuance of subpoena or summons involving detention prisoners filed with their court xxx.” If, indeed, the Judge was not remiss in his duty in carefully examining the subpoena, then he would have clearly noticed that Nicanor de Guzman, Jr., a resident of San Vicente Homes, Gapan, Nueva Ecija, is the same Nicanor de Guzman, Jr., a life termer presently detained at the NBP.
While Clerk of Court Edades admitted that she simply addressed the subpoena to Nicanor de Guzman, Jr. thru the Director of the NBP, Muntinlupa when she was informed that a similar subpoena in a certain criminal case was also issued by the prosecutor’s office at Gapan, Nueva Ecija, she was at the very least negligent in the performance of her official function as Clerk of Court. Her position as clerk of court is just as essential in any judicial system. She must realize that her administrative functions are vital and must, therefore keep abreast of circulars and rules that are important and necessary for a prompt and proper administration of justice.
Likewise, we fault her for her deliberate inaction on her violation after her attention was called by the NBP Superintendent.
This Court has not been wanting in its warnings that judges and all court employees should endeavor to maintain at all times the confidence and high respect accorded to those who wield the gavel of justice. Respondents’ actions indeed show their lack of familiarity with the laws, rules and regulations as to undermine the public confidence in the integrity of our courts (Cuaresma v. Aguilar, 226 SCRA 73 )
IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the Court finds respondents guilty of gross negligence in the performance of their duty and hereby IMPOSES a fine of Ten Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos upon Judge Geminiano A. Eduardo and Five Thousand (P5,000.00) Pesos upon Clerk of Court Juana F. Edades with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar act in the future shall be dealt with more severely.