SC suspends four Cebu judges

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — THE Supreme Court has suspended four judges in Cebu City who were implicated in the irregular solemnization of marriages in their jurisdictions, the high court announced over the weekend.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno also approved the immediate filing of administrative charges for corruption, dishonesty, gross ignorance of the law and deliberate violation of the law on marriage against Municipal Trial Court Judges Anatalio Necesario of Branch 2; Gil Acosta, Branch 3; Rosabella Tormis, Branch 4; and Edgemelo Rosales, Branch 8.

The suspension order came after reports reached the high court that courts in Cebu City conduct marriages with undue haste and for an amount higher than the prescribed P300.

The chief justice was informed of the alleged irregular activity by members of the religious community, business community, diplomatic corps, and cause-oriented groups when he attended a lecture in Cebu last June 29.

Puno met with the judges over the accusations and sent a judicial audit team, led by Office of the Court Administrator Judicial Supervisor for Region 7 lawyer Rullyn Garcia, to conduct an investigation.

The team, in particular, investigated Cebu City Municipal Trial Court Branches 2, 3, 4, 8, and the Regional Trial Court, Branch 24, as well as their clerks of court.

Investigation showed that of the 643 marriage certifications actually examined, Necesario solemnized 92 marriages under Article 34 of the Family Code from 2005 to 2007; Acosta solemnized 67 marriages from 2003 to 2007; Tormis, 73 marriages from 2005 to 2007; and Rosales, 48 marriages from 2006 to 2007, or a total of 280 marriages under Article 34 of the Family Code.

The figures did not accurately reflect the actual number of marriages solemnized by the four judges during the period, as the number of marriages listed in the logbooks for marriages was higher than the number of marriage certificates actually examined.

The investigation team also found out that there were marriage licenses obtained from the local civil registrar in a location where the contracting parties are not residents.

In addition, there were also discrepancies in the signatures of the local civil registrars of Barili and Liloan, Cebu appearing in the different marriage licenses purportedly obtained from their respective offices, suggesting that the signatures of local civil registrars were forged.

The Office of the Court Administrator added that there were also marriages that were solemnized without supporting documents, like marriage licenses, certificates of legal capacity with respect to foreigners or joint affidavits of cohabitation. In addition, there were some marriages that were solemnized without proof of payment of the required solemnization fee.

Copies of the marriage certificates and other supporting documents for marriages solemnized by the judges concerned were found in the custody of other courts. Documents, including logbooks for marriages, invariably show the names of court employees, who were identified as ‘‘fixers.”