“SAYANG (What a waste).”
This was how two retired judges and court employees in Cebu described the closure of the Regional Court Administration Office in Central Visayas (RCAO-7), a pilot project of the Supreme Court (SC) to decentralize its administrative functions and improve its operations.
Retired judge Simeon Dumdum Jr. said the RCAO-7 could have greatly helped the courts.
“The idea was for RCAO to get a budget for the region to supply the needs of the lower courts. The program was good. It was meant to decentralize the services of the Supreme Court. Remember that in the judiciary, everything goes to the Supreme Court through the court administrator,” he told Cebu Daily News.
“There were fears that the power of the court administrator was reduced because of RCAO. That was why there were objections. There was no support from the higher ups because it means they would lose some of their power. And so it failed,” he added.
Dumdum, said he supported the move of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno to revive the RCAO-7 in Nov. 2012.
“The problem was there were other justices who insisted that there must be a Supreme Court en banc resolution,” he explained.
The RCAO-7 was a brainchild of former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr., a native of Argao town, Cebu.
The program was launched in 2008 by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno to enhance the autonomy, accountability and efficiency of the judiciary and the administration of justice.
It held office at the Hall of Justice in Lapu-Lapu City.
Judge Crescencio Tan was named its first director, serving for about two years before deciding to return as presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court Branch 30 in Dumaguete City.
He was subsequently replaced by Francisco Pando, and then by Rose Pabatao.
RCAO’s services were believed to be good at the start. But as years went by, the office encountered problems which led to delays in the release of court employees’ allowances and the shortage of court supplies.
“The money is there. The only problem is the lack of authority to operate,” Tan said referring to the Regional Bids and Awards Committee that had yet to be authorized by the High Court to engage with office suppliers.
RCAO-7 ceased its administrative and financial operations in August 2012.
But barely three months after, Chief Justice Sereno issued Administrative Order No. 175-2012 creating the Judiciary Decentralized Office (JDO) which effectively reopened the RCAO-7. She also appointed former Cebu judge and now Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg as head of the JDO.
While a ceremonial reopening was held last Oct. 29, 2012 in Cebu City, the actual reopening of RCAO-7 did not push through after questions were raised against Sereno’s order which came without the approval of the other justices.
From 30 RCAO employees, only three were left to take care of the office. In 2015, all three decided to return to their respective court assignments upon the order of the SC.
Sereno impeachment case
Sereno’s 2012 order was partly the basis of lawyer Lorenzo Gadon’s impeachment complaint against her for culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and other crimes.
Dumdum, who retired in 2014, expressed hopes that the SC will reopen the RCAO-7 for the good of the present judges and court employees.
“Take my experience for example. When I was executive judge of the Cebu City RTC, the security agency of the guards at our Palace of Justice is based in Cagayan Valley. It was Manila which hired the agency. It should have been done in Cebu,” he said.
“If every process goes through the Supreme Court, it will really take time. This kind of problem was addressed when RCAO came,” he added.
Retired Judge Meinrado Paredes shared the same sentiment saying that he favored RCAO because it hastened the procurement of equipment and supplies.
“What I did not like was the rivalry of two judges who wanted to be named RCAO director. That really destroyed the RCAO,” Paredes said without mentioning names.
“The rivalry between these two judges was so stiff that led one judge to protest by wearing a black arm band,” added the former RTC Cebu City executive judge who retired in 2014.
Two court employees in Cebu City, who requested anonymity, described RCAO-7 as a good program which should be continued.
“Our concerns were addressed by RCAO. It’s sad that it ceased its operations,” one employee said while the other lamented how they now have to wait for a longer time before the High Court approves their requests.