SC fires RTC judge for ‘mistakes’ in settling 17 illegal drug cases – Reuters

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Supreme Court (SC)

A Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge who violated provisions of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act in handling and settling 17 illegal drug cases has been removed from office on 17 counts of ignorance of the law.

Judge Jose S. Jacinto Jr. of RTC Branch 45 at Occidental Mindoro was dismissed by the Supreme Court (SC) with pension benefits confiscated and barred from government employment. For serious misconduct, he was ordered to pay a fine of 30,000 pesos.

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

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

The complaint was first investigated by the RTC Executive Judge at Occidental Mindoro. Jacinto has denied all allegations in the complaint.

Jacinto said he simply acted on the defendant’s motions and the prosecution was given an opportunity to comment on the motions.

He pointed out that some of the defendants in the illegal drug cases were transferred to the Provincial Parole and Probation Office despite its different mandate since the parole and probation offices have more experience in follow-up programs for drug addicts.

In its recommendation to the SC, the OCA said Jacinto should be held liable for gross misconduct and fined 40,000 pesos. The OCA also recommended Jacinto’s dismissal from the service for flagrant ignorance of the law.

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

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

Citing the provisions of RA 9165, the SC said:

“The process of voluntary submission to treatment or rehabilitation must begin with an application to the Dangerous Drugs Board, which must then approve the application to the trial court.

“Subsequently, the court orders the examination of the plaintiff for drug addiction. If the examination confirms that the applicant is a drug addict, the court orders treatment and rehabilitation for a period of six (6) months to one (1) year.

“The Dangerous Drugs Board will then assess whether further containment is necessary. Once the addict is out of the Voluntary Submission Scheme, “they can then apply for exemption from criminal liability under Section 55, in relation to Section 15 of RA 9165.

“Failing this, he may then be charged and will be released on probation in lieu of imprisonment and/or a fine, without prejudice to the decision in any pending case brought before the courts.

“Based on the foregoing, it is immediately apparent that the Respondent Judge’s actions were unwarranted and violated Sections 54 and 57 of RA 9165.

“As correctly noted by the OCA, the Respondent Judge’s orders committing some of the defendants to rehabilitation lacked the required approval from the Dangerous Drugs Board and examination by a physician approved by the Department of Health. .

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

“Finally, nothing in the law authorizes the transfer of custody or detention of persons charged with illegal drug offenses to the parole and probation office. Under Presidential Executive Order No. 968 or the On Probation 1976 Provincial/City Parole and Probation Offices under the Parole and Probation Administration (Administration)… are not permitted to detain persons with pending criminal cases.

“The Court cannot approve of the blunders of the defendant judge which diminish the confidence of the people in the judicial power. Indeed, in the exercise of judicial functions, appearance merges with reality.

“For making orders in violation of RA 9165 in 17 cases, the Court holds the Respondent Judge liable on several counts of gross ignorance of the law. Indeed, these different cases where the defendant judge misrepresented the provisions of RA 9165 in dealing with the custody of detainees may well have been the subject of different administrative complaints, meriting separate sentences.

“A final note. Observance of procedural rules is a fundamental aspect of arbitration. Its purpose is not simply to facilitate the orderly administration of justice, but to ensure that the process is fair and credible.

“As in this case, circumventing and distorting the rules not only demonstrates the judge’s incompetence but casts doubt on the independence and impartiality of the judicial institution.

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

“He is also held liable for gross misconduct and is ordered to pay a FINE in the amount of P30,000. That a copy of this decision be provided to the Office of the Court Administrator for their information and advice. THEREFORE ORDERED.

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