On October 11, 1993, complainant Eufemia Bercasio through her attorney-in-fact, Pastor Bravo, filed a complaint before the Office of Executive Judge David C. Naval of Regional Trial Court (RTC), Naga City against Herberto Benito, Sheriff IV, RTC, Branch 27, Naga City, for irregularities in connection with his failure to implement the Second Alias Writ of Demolition issued in Civil Case No. 34, Branch 22 of the RTC, Naga City.
Judge Naval conducted an investigation on the matter. The relevant facts as culled from his report and which are substantially undisputed are as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"On October 6, 1992 there was issued in Civil Case No. 34 a 2nd alias writ of demolition. Complainant Bravo, as Attorney-in-fact of the prevailing party Eufemia Bercasio, paid Respondent Benito a total amount of P8,000.00 on the dates hereunder indicated:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
October 4, 1992 P2,000.00
December 4, 1992 1,000.00
December 29, 1992 1,000.00
January 25, 1993 4,000.00
for the expenses of the latter in the enforcement of the said writ of demolition. The writ of demolition was, however, quashed by the Order dated July 2, 1993 (Exh. 3-F, pages 201-206), without Respondent Benito having implemented the writ of demolition. Subsequently, Complainant Bravo demanded that Respondent Benito account for the P8,000.00 he received and return the unspent amount, but the latter failed to comply with the demand. Thereafter, Complainant Bravo reported the matter to Atty. Rosario B. Torrecampo, RTC Clerk of Court IV and Ex-Officio Provincial Sheriff who, by a letter dated June 17, 1993, directed Respondent Benito to account for the P8,000.00 and deposit the balance thereof, if any. Complying with the directive, Respondent Benito submitted a written accounting (Exh. 3-E, page 199-200) showing that he spent P7,880.00, and deposited the amount of P120.00 with the Office of the Clerk of Court under O.R. No. 2504858 (page 197). Not satisfied with the accounting made by Respondent Benito, Atty. Rosario B. Torrecampo filed in Civil Case No. 34 a "Report With Prayer to Direct Deputy Sheriff Herbert Benito To Justify Expenses" (pages 33-34), copy of which was furnished the undersigned, as Executive Judge (page 37). In a letter dated July 17, 1993 (page 40), Counsel for Complainant Bravo requested the undersigned to order Respondent Sheriff Benito to justify his expenses. On July 20, 1993, undersigned issued a Memorandum Order . . .
x x x
"Respondent Benito complied with the . . . Memorandum Order, by way of a letter dated July 26, 1993 (page 30) where he alleged that he could no longer carry out the writ of demolition because it was already quashed on July 2, 1993, and that he had already submitted his report of his expenditure to the Provincial Sheriff.
"Not satisfied with the explanation of Respondent Benito, Complainant Bravo filed the present Letter-Complaint (page 191-193). Respondent Benito filed his Answer to the Letter-Complaint by way of a verified letter dated November 18, 1993 (pages 212-213) where he reiterated his claim that he spent P7,880.00, and he named the witnesses who would corroborate his claim.
"Parties were allowed to adduce their respective evidence. Complainant Bravo adduced in evidence his verified complaint and its annexes. Respondent Benito admitted having received the P8,000.00 and having failed to implement the writ of demolition, and adduced oral and documentary evidence to support his expenses of P7,880.00, as itemized in his report to the Provincial Sheriff (Exh. 3-E, page 199-200), to wit:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
November 8, 1992 —
Hiring of Jeepney P1,000.00
per diems of securities 300.00
November 14, 1992 —
Hiring of jeepney P1,000.00
per diems of securities 300.00
December 4, 1992 —
Hiring of Motorcycle P200.00
February 1, 1993 —
Hiring of Jeepney P1,000.00
Wages of laborers 1,050.00
February 9, 1993 —
Hiring of Jeepney P1,000.00
March 3, 1993 —
Hiring of Jeepney P1,000.00
Grant Total P7,880.00
"Above itemized expenses were substantiated by the affidavits of Respondent Benito himself (Exh. 3, pages 235-236); of Rodolfo Valenciano (Exh. 1, page 223); of Gonzalo Brioso (Exh. 2, page 228); of Rodolfo Segovia (Exh. 4, page 234); and of Jaime Imperial (Exh. 5, p. 227). Said affidavits of the witnesses were adopted as their respective direct testimonies, and were made the bases of their cross-examination. Above-named witnesses identified the "Reimbursement Expense Receipts" (Exhs. 1-B to 1-D, pages 220-222, Exhs. 3-M to 3-Q, pages 229-233; and Exh. 3-R, page 226). These "Reimbursement Expense Receipts" were adduced in evidence to prove that Respondent Benito hired the Jeepney driven by Rodolfo Segovia for five (5) round trips from Naga City to Tinambac, Camarines Sur and back for P1,000.00 per trip; and the motorcycle of Jaime Imperial for one round trip from Naga City to Tinambac, Camarines Sur, and back for P200.00; and that he (Respondent Benito) paid Rodolfo Valenciano for the services of "securities" and laborers in the total amount of P1,030.00 is not supported by receipts." 1
Based on the facts presented, Judge Naval found no evidence to prove that the money given was spent on matters other than the execution of the writ. However, he recommended respondent sheriff to be held administratively liable. The dispositive portion reads as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"WHEREFORE, it is hereby respectfully recommended that Respondent Sheriff IV Herberto Benito be held administratively liable for violation of Rule 141, Sec. 7 of the Rules of Court by imposing upon him the penalty of SUSPENSION without pay for a period of fifteen (15) days, with a warning that similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely." 2
The "Report-Recommendation" of Judge Naval was referred to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) for evaluation. In its Evaluation and Recommendation dated August 7, 1995, the OCA agreed with the observation of the investigating judge that although the amount spent by respondent sheriff was unreasonably extravagant, such amount was duly accounted for and was even uncontroverted. Thus, it opined that respondent sheriff cannot be compelled to return the amount of P8,000.00. However, the OCA recommended that respondent sheriff be held administratively liable for irregularities in the performance of his duties which consist of violation of Section 9 (instead of Section 7 as referred to in the Report-Recommendation of the Investigating Judge) Rule 141 (as amended) of the Rules of Court pertaining to sheriffs and other persons serving processes, and violation of Section 113 of Article III, Chapter V of the National Accounting and Auditing Manual for failure to issue official receipts for money collected. For these infractions, the OCA recommended suspension for one (1) month without pay. 3
We agree with both the findings of Judge Naval and the OCA, but We find their respective recommended suspensions of 15 days and 30 days respectively without pay too light a penalty for the violations he has committed.
The revised second paragraph of Section 9 of Rule 141 of the Rules of Court 4 provides:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"In addition to the fees hereinabove fixed, the party requesting the process of any court, preliminary, incidental, or final, shall pay the sheriff’s expenses in serving or executing the process, or safeguarding the property levied upon, attached or seized, including kilometrage for each kilometer of travel, guards’ fees, warehousing and similar charges, in an amount estimated by the sheriff, subject to the approval of the court. Upon approval of said estimated expenses the interested party shall deposit such amount with the clerk of court and ex-officio sheriff, who shall disburse the same to the deputy sheriff assigned to effect the process, subject to liquidation within the same period for rendering a return on the process. Any unspent amount shall be refunded to the party making the deposit. A full report shall be submitted by the deputy sheriff assigned with his return, and the sheriff’s expenses shall be taxed as costs against the judgment debtor." (7a)
The rule requires the sheriff executing the writs or processes to estimate the expenses to be incurred and upon the approval of the estimated expenses the interested party has to deposit the amount with the Clerk of Court and Ex-officio Sheriff. These expenses shall then be disbursed to the executing Sheriff subject to his liquidation within the same period for rendering a return on the process or writ. Any unspent amount shall be refunded to the party who made the deposit. In this case, respondent sheriff failed to deposit with the court the amount received from complainant.chanroblesvirtual|awlibrary
It appears to this Court that respondent sheriff acted irregularly when he submitted his undated Sheriff’s Partial Report 5 and Sheriff’s Return 6 without liquidating the amounts previously received. In fact, he only submitted an accounting of his expenses when it was already formally requested. Persons involved in the administration of justice, like the herein respondent sheriff, ought to live up to the strictest standard of honesty and integrity in the public service and must at all times be circumspect to preserve the integrity and dignity of our courts of justice.
In Ong v. Meregildo 7 it is worthy to note:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Respondent Sheriff’s unilaterally and repeatedly demanding sums of money from a party-litigant purportedly to defray expenses of execution, without obtaining the approval of the trial court for such purported expense and without rendering that court an accounting thereof, in effect constituted dishonesty and extortion. That conduct therefore, fell too far short of the required standards of public service. Such conduct is threatening to the very existence of the system of administration of justice."cralaw virtua1aw library
With respect to respondent’s violation of Section 113 of Article III Chapter V of the National Accounting and Auditing Manual We find the same to be well founded. Evidence on record shows that respondent received the total of P8,000.00 from the complainant but he merely issued receipts which were handwritten on scraps of paper, 8 in clear violation of Section 113 of Article III, Chapter V of the National Accounting and Auditing Manual which provides "that no payment of any nature shall be received by a collecting officer without immediately issuing an official receipt in acknowledgment thereof" .
However, anent the failure of respondent sheriff to implement the second alias writ of demolition, We find no liability. His failure to implement the writ was brought about by circumstances beyond his control. Evidence shows that upon agreement of the parties, the enforcement of the writ was held in abeyance since there was an attempt to settle the case. When respondent sheriff together with the hired laborers went to Tinambac Camarines Sur to enforce the alias writ, the municipal mayor stopped them due to an encounter between the NPA’s and the military which then resulted in "mopping operations" by the military in Barangay San Jose.
WHEREFORE, respondent Deputy Sheriff IV Herberto Benito is hereby SUSPENDED for a period of three (3) months without pay with a stern warning that any further infraction of the Rules of Court shall be dealt with severely.
, Davide, Jr., Melo and Panganiban, JJ.
1. Report-Recommendation, pp. 1-3; Rollo, pp. 4-6.
2. Ibid., p. 5; Rollo, p. 8.
3. OCA Report, pp. 1-5.
4. Effective November 2, 1990.
5. Rollo, p. 316.
6. Rollo, p. 317.
7. 233 SCRA 632, 644.
8. Annex "A", Records, p. 228.