Court dismisses judge for ‘lapses’ in handling cases related to drugs

THE Supreme Court has ordered the dismissal from the service of a trial court judge after he was found guilty of 17 counts of gross ignorance of the law for issuing rulings that paved the way for the release of the accused in 17 drug-related cases.

Aside from the dismissal from the service, the Court also directed the forfeiture of retirement benefits except leave credits, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government of Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Occidental Mindoro, Branch 45 Presiding Judge Jose Jacinto.

The Court also held Jacinto is liable for gross misconduct for the unauthorized transfer from a national penitentiary to another jail of a prisoner for a period of more than eight months.

“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,” the Court said.

The administrative case against Jacinto stemmed from an anonymous complaint accusing him of committing irregularities in the disposition of illegal drug cases, prompting the Office of the Court Administrator to launch an investigation.

In the said 17 criminal cases involving violations of Republic Act 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, respondent Judge issued orders transferring the custody of the accused either to rehabilitation centers or to the Provincial Parole and Probation Office (PPPO).

The judge insisted  that such orders were valid under Sections 54 and 57 of RA 9165 and were consistent with the State policy to provide an effective mechanism for drug dependents’ reintegration to the society.

He explained that he merely acted on the motions of the accused, and that the prosecution was given opportunity to comment thereon.

Jacinto contended that some of the accused in those cases were rightfully transferred to the PPPO despite its different mandate, claiming that it is more experienced in after-care programs for drug dependents.

He also denied acquitting several accused in illegal drug cases, maintaining that his decisions speak for themselves.

In its report and recommendation submitted to the Court, the OCA held that the judge’s orders transferring the custody of several accused to either rehabilitation centers or to the parole and probation office were actually contrary to Sections 54 and 57 of RA 9165.

The OCA noted Jacinto 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; thus, his dismissal from the service is warranted.

In upholding the OCA’s findings, the Court noted that based on Section 54 and 57 of RA 9165, the process for voluntary submission to treatment or rehabilitation should commence through an application to the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), 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 months to one year.

The DDB shall then assess whether further confinement is necessary.

After the drug dependent is discharged from the voluntary submission program, he may then apply for an 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.

The Court noted that the orders issued by Jacinto committing some of the accused to rehabilitation lacked the required endorsement of the DDB and examination conducted by a Department of Health-accredited physician.

Furthermore, the SC noted that those transferred to the custody of the PPPO did not appear to have undergone voluntary rehabilitation.

The Court also pointed out that there is nothing in the law, which sanctions transfer of custody or detention of those accused of illegal drug offenses to the PPPO.

“RA 9165 is neither novel nor highly technical for respondent Judge to be oblivious of its provisions. In fact, he invoked Sections 54 and 57 thereof to justify his orders,” the SC said.

“Nonetheless, despite the clear directive of the law, respondent Judge ignored the proper procedure stated therein. Respondent Judge’s persistent disregard of the applicable statutory provisions despite his knowledge thereof, clearly reflect his bad faith and his predisposition to take the law into his own hands,” it added.

The SC said Jacinto’s actions have unduly diminished the public’s confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

“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,” the SC explained.

“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,” it added.

Image credits: Roy Domingo



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