Cavite judges found guilty of fixing annulment cases
MANILA, Philippines – At least 4 lower court judges committed misconduct to make Cavite a "haven" for fixed annulment cases, the Supreme Court (SC) said in a recent ruling.
Former Cavite trial court judges Fernando Felicen (Imus), Cesar Mangrobang (Imus), and Perla Cabrera Faller (Dasmariñas) were found guilty of gross ignorance of the law and gross misconduct, and were fined P80,000 each. Judge Norberto Quisumbing of Imus was found guilty of gross ignorance of the law and simple misconduct, and fined P21,000.
The verdicts usually carry with them a penalty of dismissal from service or suspension, but Felicen and Quisumbing had already retired, while Mangrobang had died.
The investigations into the judges started in 2010, and the decision was promulgated on January 16.
Fixed annulment haven
The SC en banc upheld most of the findings of Court of Appeals (CA) Associate Justice Victoria Isabel Paredes, who was tasked to investigate a complaint letter against the judges, and the result of a judicial audit that showed multiple irregularities.
Paredes recommended to clear Quisumbing saying that as Executive Judge, he cannot be held accountable for the mistakes of the other 3 judges. Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo de Castro and Francis Jardeleza voted to clear Quisumbing, but the majority prevailed.
In a 68-page decision, the SC said that a "conspiracy existed and thereby turned the courts in Cavite into havens for paid-for annulments."
The judges were found to have allowed petitioners outside Cavite's jurisdiction to file their annulment cases before them, considered a "friendly" court.
Under annulment rules, petitions shall be filed in a family court within the province or city where the petitioner or the respondent has been living for the last 6 months prior to filing.
Petitioners' addresses in Cavite were found to be fictitious, with judges failing to detect them. Rules also require that summons to parties be served personally, but the courts' personnel failed to do so, because the addresses are non-existent.
Once the scheme hurdles this jurisdiction rule, the SC found that further rigging was made, such as fixing raffles and non-filing of a collusion report and a notice of appearance by the Office of the Solicitor General.
"There is a clear conspiracy, at least between the counsels of these parties and the 4 courts, in order to reflect paper compliance with the rule on venue," the SC said.
Also found guilty and suspended were:
- Allan Sly Marasigan, clerk of court of Imus Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 20
- Seter Dela Cruz-Corde, clerk of court of Imus RTC Branch 22
- Ophelia Suluen, officer-in-charge of Dasmariñas RTC Branch 90
- Anselmo Pagunsan, sheriff of Imus RTC Branch 20
- Hipolito Ferrer, process server of Imus RTC Branch 20
- Wilmar De Villa, sheriff of Imus RTC Branch 21
- Elmer Azcueta, process server of Imus RTC Branch 22
- Rizalino Rinaldi Pontejos, process server of Dasmariñas RTC Branch 90
The SC cleared Imus RTC's Regalado Eusebio (clerk of court), Imelda Juntilla (court interpreter) and Teresita Reyes (court stenographer).
The Office of the Bar Confidant was also asked to look into the liabilities of lawyers who took petitioners' cases to the Cavite courts.
The SC found a pattern of the same lawyers representing different petitioners, and at times, different petitioners having the same addresses.
"Cases where parties have the same address as those in another case cannot be explained away…and the fact that these parties were represented by the same counsels shines an even more disturbing light upon the observed irregularity," the SC said.
The lawyers involved in the cases were Allan Rheynier Bugayong, Leonardo Santos, Ruel Nairo, Norman Gabriel, Aimee Jean Leaban, Clarissa Castro, Bernard Paredes, Herminio Valerio, Cesar DC Geronimo, Omar Francisco.
"It would appear that counsels maintain residences within the jurisdiction of friendly courts for their declaration of nullity and annulment of marriage cases," the SC said.
Rappler investigated and published its own report on the Cavite judges in 2015. One of the stories exposed was that of a court stenographer named Rosalie Maranan, who was caught in an entrapment operation for accepting bribe money for an annulment case.
A certain Ella Bartrolome filed a complaint against Maranan for asking a P160,000 fixer fee in her annulment case. It was Maranan's boss, Judge Felicen, who interceded and asked jail officers to free Maranan.
Sources told Rappler at the time that annulment cases had become an "industry" in Cavite.
Judge Quisumbing was the one investigating these complaints at the time, but the SC found him liable too.
"Instead of exercising his prerogatives in order that those under his management be kept in line, he joined in the commission of some of the reprehensible practices described in these administrative cases," the SC said. – Rappler.com