On June 20, 2002, the Supreme Court found Judge Percival Mandap Lopez guilty of gross ignorance of the law because of undue delay in the resolution of the writ of preliminary mandatory injunction in Civil Case No. Q-97-30549.
Complainants were students and members of the editorial board of the official school publication called “Dataline“. On December 7, 1996, complainants published a spoof edition of the Dataline, which they called “Amable Tonite“. After conducting an investigation, the student Disciplinary Tribunal of the college recommended the expulsion of complainants from the school.
On March 14, 1997, complainants and other members of the Dataline editorial board filed a complaint for damages with prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction against then AMA Computer College of Quezon City and Dr. Mauricia Herrera, Dean of Student Affairs. The case was filed in the Regional Trial Court, where it was docketed as Civil Case No. Q-97-30549 and assigned to respondent judge of Branch 78. The students alleged that they had been expelled from the defendant school in a despotic and oppressive manner in violation of their constitutional rights to due process and to free speech as well as the provisions of Republic Act No. 7079, otherwise known as the Campus Journalism Act of 1991. They sought an award of damages in their favor and the issuance of a temporary preliminary mandatory injunction to enjoin the defendant school in the meantime to allow them to attend their classes and take their examinations.
On March 25, 1997, AMA Computer College and Dr. Mauricia Herrera contend the petition and state that the articles in the spoof edition which complainants had published were slanderous and derogatory; that Republic Act No. 7079 itself enjoins student publications to observe the pertinent laws and school policies in the selection of articles for publication; that complainants had been given the opportunity to controvert the charges against them before they were expelled; and that the charged students were guilty of using indecent language, committing vulgar and obscene acts, libel, and unauthorized disbursement of Dataline funds in the amount of PhP 25,000.00.
On April 3, 1997, the students filed a reply, contending that the issue in the case was not the alleged defamatory nature of the questioned publication but the legality of their expulsion because they were expelled solely on the basis of their activities as members of the editorial board of Dataline and claiming that they were deprived of their right to due process.
On June 2, 1997, defendants AMA Computer College and Dr. Mauricia Herrera filed a rejoinder, opposing students’ prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction. They contended that, under Republic Act No. 7079, editorial policies of the student publication should take into account the pertinent laws as well as the school policies in the selection of articles for publication; that the Amable Tonite was not a legitimate issue of the Dataline; and that complainants students could have submitted their grievances to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) but the fact was that their complaint was dismissed because of their failure to attend a hearing previously set.
On June 7, 1997, the students pressed their request for the immediate resolution of their application for preliminary mandatory injunction before the end of the enrollment period. They alleged that the delay in the resolution of the writ was due to the defendant school’s failure to submit their rejoinder within the period given to them as the rejoinder was actually filed more than a month after the prescribed period had lapsed.
On June 14, 1997, on the basis of the pleadings of the parties, Judge Lopez issued a resolution dismissing the case itself after finding that the expulsion of the complainants from the school was for cause and was effected only after an investigation during which they were duly heard.
The students moved for a reconsideration on the ground that the dismissal of the complaint could not be made solely on the basis of the parties’ pleadings and affidavits and that trial must first be conducted to receive the evidence of the parties before the case was decided. They reiterated their allegation that a writ of preliminary injunction was necessary because they were expelled from the school solely on the basis of the articles published in their lampoon edition.
The students then sought the disqualification of respondent judge on the following grounds: (a) that he had deliberately delayed the resolution of the injunctive writ which tended to arouse suspicion as to his ability to decide the case with fairness and integrity; (b) that he dismissed their complaint without legal or procedural basis and thus deprived them of their day in court; and (c) that they filed an administrative case against him with this Court.
The students filed a “Supplement to the Complaint for Dismissal/Separation from Service,” dated November 19, 1998, insisting that no hearing had actually been held on March 31, 1997 as both respondent judge and the AMA’s counsel failed to appear during the said date and that respondent judge did not show up despite being contacted by his clerk of court by telephone. Moreover, complainants claim that, although the resolution dismissing their case was dated September 26, 1997, it was actually received by them only on February 19, 1998, almost five months after its supposed issuance, raising the suspicion that the resolution had been antedated by respondent judge to make it appear that it was issued prior to the filing of the present administrative complaint.
The Office of the Court Administrator incorporated(OCAI), to which this case was referred, found respondent judge guilty of undue delay and gross ignorance of the law in his handling of Civil Case No. Q-97-30549 and recommended that he be ordered to pay a fine of PhP 2,000.00 with warning that repetition of the same or similar offenses shall be dealt with more severely. The Supreme Court however ruled that without evidence as to their truthfulness or veracity, the allegations filed by the students remained mere allegations and did not rise to the dignity of proof.
Filed under: Controversies Surrounding the AMA Education System Tagged: | dataline, student dismissal