In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court relieved yesterday Presiding Justice Francis Garchitorena of his powers, duties, and functions as head magistrate of the Sandiganbayan for at least six months effective Dec. 1 for inefficiency and gross neglect of duty.
The High Court, in a unanimous resolution written by Associate Justice Bernardo P. Pardo, found Garchitorena and the Sandiganbayan's first division of which he is the chairman to have failed to resolve close to 200 cases submitted for resolution as far back more than 10 years ago.
Under the law that created the Sandiganbayan and based on its own rules, the anti-graft court has three months to decide a case from the time it is submitted for decision.
Senior Associate Justice Minita C. Chico Nazario was designated to take over the post of presiding justice "until further orders" from the Supreme Court.
Aside from his relief as presiding justice, Garchitorena was fined P20,000 and was barred from presiding over the trial of cases as a justice and chairman of the first division "so that he may devote himself exclusively to decision writing."
Garchitorena was given six months to finish the decision of cases designated to him and other cases not assigned to any justice "which he shall be deemed the ponente (writer) in the first division." He was ordered not to unload the unresolved cases to any other division or to any other justice.
If Garchitorena fails to resolve all his and his division's pending cases within six months from Dec. 1, his relief as presiding justice continues.
The High Court also ordered Garchitorena and the other associate justices of the Sandiganbayan to "decide or resolve the undecided cases submitted for decision as of this date (Nov. 28), within three months from their submission, and to resolve motions for new trial or reconsiderations and petitions for review within 30 days from their submission."
With respect to the backlog of cases, all the Sandiganbayan justices were ordered "to decide or resolve all pending cases, including incidents therein, within six months from notice of this resolution."
They were also asked to submit, twice a year, inventories of cases assigned to them, enumerating pertinent data like date of filing, hearing, and date the cases are submitted for resolution.
At the same time, the Sandiganbayan, as a full court, was ordered to adopt not later than Dec. 31, 2001, "internal rules to govern the allotment of cases among the divisions, the rotation of justices among them, and other matters leading to the internal operation of the court, and thereafter to submit the said internal rules to the Supreme Court for its approval."
Legal quarters said the relief of Garchitorena as presiding justice of the Sandiganbayan "shows the seriousness of the Supreme Court in instituting reforms in the judiciary."
The Sandiganbayan is a special court with original and appellate jurisdiction. It ranks with the Court …