The Supreme Court, voting unanimously in a decision promulgated on September 1, 2020, dismissed a judge from the Ilocos Region in connection with his irregular disposal of cases on nullity of marriage.
In a per curiam decision, the Court found Judge Raphiel F. Alzate, Acting Presiding Judge of both Cabugao, Ilocos Sur Regional Trial Court, Branch 24, and Bucay, Abra RTC, Branch 58, guilty of gross ignorance of the law and gross misconduct and forfeited all his benefits except accrued leave benefits. Judge Alzate was also perpetually disqualified from public office. His dismissal is immediately executory.
The Court also ordered the Office of the Bar Confidant to investigate Atty. Ma. Saniata Liwliwa G. Alzate, wife of Judge Alzate who is a law practitioner in Abra, on her alleged participation in the questioned decisions on the annulment of marriage cases issued by Judge Alzate.
Integrity is one of the four core areas in the 10-Point Program of Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, who vowed to continue purging the Judiciary and weed out misfits.
Judge Alzate’s dismissal stemmed from reports reaching the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) which conducted a judicial audit on Cabugao, Ilocos Sur RTC. The OCA audit team confirmed reports that Judge Alzate was issuing decisions on nullity of marriage for financial considerations, in wanton disregard of the rules of procedures in the declaration of nullity of marriage cases.
OCA identified and confirmed cases where parties were not actual residents of the municipalities under the territorial jurisdiction of Judge Alzate’s sala. OCA also found that a marked increase of nullity of marriage cases filed and decided when Judge Alzate was Acting Presiding Judge of the Cabugao, Ilocos Sur RTC in 2016 as compared to previous years. Further investigation by OCA showed that Judge Alzate did similar infractions in cases pending before the Bucay, Abra RTC.
The High Court gave weight on the OCA’s findings. It held that Judge Alzate could have required parties to submit their respective proof of residency, such as utility bills or government-issued IDs, which are now required to be attached to the petitions pursuant to OCA Circular 63-2019 on the Guidelines to Validate Compliance with the Jurisdictional requirement in A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC, Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages.
The Court also found that Judge Alzate proceeded with court hearings and eventually rendered judgment without any record that the cases underwent pre-trial in violation of Section 11 of A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC where it is stated that pre-trial is mandatory.
The Court held that Judge Alzate’s blatant disregard of the provisions shows not only a lack of familiarity with the law but a gross ignorance thereof. His unusual interest in the cases before him likewise not only displayed his utter lack of competence and probity but also made him liable for gross misconduct.
It added that it was undisputed that Judge Alzate violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, which enjoins judges to uphold the integrity of the Judiciary, avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety in all activities and to perform their duties honestly and diligently.
The copy of the decision will be uploaded to the SC website once available. ###