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GenSan court judge suspended for sitting on rape case

Daphne Galvez - The Philippine Star
GenSan court judge suspended for sitting on rape case
In full session, SC magistrates imposed a two-year suspension on General Santos City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 35 Judge Oscar Noel Jr. for gross neglect of duty, in his capacity as assisting judge for the town of Alabel in Sarangani province.
Philstar.com / EC Toledo

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the suspension of a trial court judge in General Santos City for sitting on a rape complaint for over 10 years before resolving the case.

In full session, SC magistrates imposed a two-year suspension on General Santos City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 35 Judge Oscar Noel Jr. for gross neglect of duty, in his capacity as assisting judge for the town of Alabel in Sarangani province.

The Office of the Court Administrator had asked Noel to comment on an administrative complaint filed against him over a rape case that has been pending in his sala since 2010.

According to Noel, it was another judge who was presiding over the rape case that was filed on Oct. 30, 2007 against Jimmy dela Torre.

Noel said he took over the case only on Feb. 11, 2010. He also reasoned that at the time he was presiding over three different courts – General Santos City RTC Branch 35; Justice on Wheels Polomolok in South Cotabato and JOW Sarangani.

Dela Torre’s case was being heard in Maasim town in Sarangani, where the JOW bus traveled to and from General Santos City only once a month.

Noel also said that given the volume of cases and time constraints, the complaint could not be heard frequently and the resetting of hearings also takes two to three months.

Noel has been found guilty of gross neglect of duty and fined P250,000, based on the recommendation of the Judicial Integrity Board.

The high tribunal adopted the recommendations of the JIB, but modified the penalty imposed on Noel to a two-year suspension.

Citing Article VIII, Section 15 (1) of the Constitution, the SC said lower courts must resolve cases within three months.

Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct likewise mandates judges to dispose of the court’s business promptly and decide cases within the required periods.

This is also reiterated in the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine judiciary, which requires judges to perform all duties, including the “delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly and with reasonable promptness,” the SC said.

“No judge can choose to prolong, on his own, the period for deciding cases beyond the period authorized by law,” the high court said.

The SC said Noel was proven guilty of gross neglect of duty for failing to resolve the rape case within the reglementary period.

The SC noted that the testimony of the witnesses for the defense started on Dec. 1, 2014. Six years after, when the authority of Noel to hear the mobile court was revoked on Aug. 12, 2020, the prosecutor’s cross examination of the defense witnesses had not been finished.

The SC also noted that Noel’s justification of heavy workload was not an excuse since a request for more time to resolve the case could have been made.

The high court said Noel failed to request for an extension of time to rule on the rape case.

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