MANILA – The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the immediate dismissal of an Ilocos Sur judge from service due to irregularities in handing down decisions on marriage annulment cases before his court.

In a statement, the SC said it unanimously voted in finding Judge Raphiel F. Alzate, Acting Presiding Judge of both Cabugao, Ilocos Sur Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 24, and Bucay, Abra RTC Branch 58, guilty of gross ignorance of the law and gross misconduct.

The high court also forfeited all Alzate’s benefits except accrued leave benefits and was perpetually disqualified from public office.

The wife of the magistrate, lawyer Saniata Liwliwa G. Alzate will also be investigated on her alleged participation in the questioned decisions on the annulment of marriage cases issued by her husband.

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, a 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 Alzate’s sala.

The audit team also found that a marked increase of nullity of marriage cases filed and decided when Alzate was acting presiding judge of the Cabugao, Ilocos Sur RTC in 2016 as compared to previous years. Alzate did similar infractions in cases pending before the Bucay, Abra RTC.

The SC said Alzate could have required parties to submit their respective proof of residency, such as utility bills or government-issued identifications (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 high court also found that Alzate proceeded with court hearings and eventually rendered judgment without any record that the cases underwent pre-trial as required by court guidelines.

The SC said 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 said.

It added that it was undisputed that the Ilocos Sur judge 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. (PNA)