This pertains to the administrative complaint filed on March 12, 1997 by Atty. Roel O. Paras against respondent Myrna F. Lofranco, Clerk III of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 20, Davao del Sur, for discourtesy and conduct unbecoming a court employee. Upon recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator, 1 this matter was referred for investigation to the Executive Judge of the RTC, Digos, Davao del Sur who, in a report, dated September 25, 2000, recommended the suspension of respondent for fifteen (15) days with the warning that a stiffer penalty will be imposed in case of repetition of similar acts. 2
During the investigation, complainant adopted the allegations in his complaint-affidavit, dated February 28, 1997, as his direct testimony, to wit:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1. That complainant is a law practitioner with office at Magsaysay St., Digos, Davao del Sur and presently elected as Vice-President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Davao del Sur Chapter;chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
2. That respondent MYRNA LOFRANCO is a public employee occupying the position of clerk of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 20, Digos, Davao del Sur;
3. That sometime in February 28, 1997, complainant approached the respondent in a nice way for the withdrawal of a cash bail bond on behalf of his client. Respondent, after reading the Court Order for the release of the said bail bond, told [complainant] that one of the signatories was absent and so [complainant] asked her if it can be withdrawn by the present signatory and further asked her whether the bank account is joint or not. Respondent in a gesture of disrespect and in a sarcastic manner answered "Ambot lang kay dili ra man ikaw ang tig-withdraw diri, sa Lunes na lang ni" which means "I do not know because you are not the only one withdrawing here, it can be on Monday." Respondent then advised the complainant to reproduce the receipts of the bail bond;
4. Not wanting any trouble, complainant complied. [A]fter he came back and handed over the receipts including the necessary documents to the respondent, respondent told complainant in the presence of several court employees and a certain Judge, that "Unsaon man pag-received ana nga usa ra ma na ka kopya (referring to the above-mentioned COURT ORDER), dapat abogado ka kahibalo ka sa requirements" which means "How could we receive that when that is only a single copy, you are a lawyer and you are supposed to know the requirements" ;
5. [Feeling] insulted, complainant told respondent "You are not supposed to talk like that to a lawyer," but she continued raising [her] voice and even made several accusations against complainant and so in [the] heat [of] anger, complainant called her crazy but [respondent] responded in a loud voice, calling complainant crazy also;
6. That complainant learned later that respondent is not the person in charge of the withdrawal of bank deposits of RTC, Branch 20 but one of her officemates who was present that time;
7. That respondent has been reportedly [exhibiting] the same unethical and arrogant attitude in her dealing with several persons having transactions in the above mentioned court, in fact, she was once [featured] in a local newspaper for [her] conduct; . . . 3
On cross-examination, complainant testified that he was the counsel for accused in the case entitled "People of the Philippines v. Rogelio T. Vale and Durico Dablo," 4 pending before the RTC, Branch 18, Davao del Sur. He testified that on February 28, 1997, he went to the RTC, Branch 20, Davao del Sur, presided by Executive Judge Magno Cruz, to ask for the withdrawal of the cash bond. Thinking that respondent Myrna Lofranco of RTC, Branch 20, was the one in charge of releasing cash bonds, complainant handed over to her the order of the RTC, Branch 18, the original receipt of the cash bond, and the special power of attorney (hereafter referred to as SPA) to her. He, however, denied the allegations of respondent that he detached the copy of the receipt from the records of the case without the permission of the RTC, Branch 18. 5
On the other hand, respondent’s counter-affidavit, dated March 7, 1997, which she presented as her direct testimony, stated:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
a) While sitting in my table entertaining one Liza Baldoza who has an official business in connection with the petitions/cases of Mr. Romualdo Crispino and Lourdes B. Crispino, Atty. Roel Paras approached me. From his appearance, he was already drunk. This was last February 28, 1997 at about 11:00 o’clock in the morning;
b) Atty. Paras, being a practicing lawyer in Digos, Davao del Sur, is known to me so that there is no reason for me to argue with him although he treated me like his own househelp;
c) Atty. Paras handed to me a duplicate original of an Order of Judge Rodolfo A. Escovilla dated February 27, 1997, a copy of which is hereto attached as Annex "B" ;
d) After reading the Order; I courteously informed Atty. Paras that his client could not possibly withdraw the amount that day because the persons [required] to sign the withdrawal slip are not available and, while saying this, I asked for a copy of the receipt. Atty. Paras informed me that the receipt is in the records at Regional Trial Court, Branch 18, and at the same time was asking me if the account is a JOINT ACCOUNT. Since I am not also aware, I answered that it may be AND/OR. Upon hearing this, he angrily told me that if it is an AND/OR ACCOUNT, our Branch Clerk of Court Michael Francisco could sign alone. He proceeded to lecture me on the various intricacies of bank accounts. Stunned by the manner he raised his voice. I told him in these words: "Ambot lang kay dili man ko taga-Bangko. Basta silang duha si MICHAEL and JUDGE CRUZ and mo-pirma" or "I do not know as I am not from a bank [but] the fact remains that the two of them, MICHAEL and JUDGE CRUZ will sign" ;
e) After hearing this, Atty. Paras left and I thought that was the end of it;chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
f) A minute later, Atty. Paras came back and brought with him the records of Criminal Case No. 114(93) and arrogantly showed to me the receipt and at the same time detached the receipt from the records (Carpeta) without any authority from the Branch Clerk of Court of Branch 18. When Atty. Paras tried to give me the receipt, I declined by saying: "Dili ko mo-receive ana Atty. Kay naa pa ra ba kay permahan ani nga imong na-receive and receipt gikan sa Branch 18" or "I will not receive it Attorney because before that receipt could be given to you there is a need for you to sign a receipt from Branch 18" ;
g) After hearing this, Atty. Paras left with the records;
h) Minutes later, a co-employee or Branch 20 named Luzminda Baba who is in charge of the withdrawal of the bond arrived. I informed Minda about it;
i) Then Atty. Paras arrived in our place again and handed the duplicate copy of the Order with the receipt to Minda Baba and said: "O, reciba ni" or "Here, you receive this." I made a remark that how can our Court receive it when there was only one copy. Minda Baba told Atty. Paras in this wise: "May akong resibon nga usa ra man ni, wala nay akoa" or "What will I receive when there is only one copy, I will have no copy." Atty. Paras angrily told Minda: "Taga-i lang ko ug papel diha, pirmahi lang" or "Just give me a piece of paper with your signature." Minda told him "Magpa-xerox lang ako ani" or "I will have it xeroxed." Atty. Paras told Minda "I have a xerox copy" and after saying this, he left;
j) At this time, Minda Baba gave the Court Order to me and asked me what was the import of the Order since she could not understand it;
k) Then Atty. Paras arrived and I asked him where was Mr. Vale (the accused and the one who is the very person to receive the bond) and the very person whose name appeared in the receipt;
1) Atty. Paras suddenly shouted at me "WALA" or "He is not here" ;
m) I still kept my patience since I am not a lawyer like him. I still asked him who was authorized by Mr. Vale to withdraw;
n) Atty. Paras, still raising his voice, said: "KINSA PA MAN DIAY" or "who else" proclaiming that he was the one; I asked him to hand to me a Special Power of Attorney or any Authorization:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
o) At this point in time, Atty. Paras again shouted at me saying: "USAY PAGTOO NIMO, MO-FOLLOW UP KO KUNG WALAY AUTHORIZATION" or "What do you think of me, I will make follow-up without any authorizations?"
p) At this juncture, I already felt very small in the presence not only of the employees but other persons as well (including Judge Albarracin), so that I told him back in this wise: "Abogado man kaha ka, nganong mag-follow up man ka nga dili kompleto ang papeles nga imong dad-on" or "You said you are a lawyer, why will you make any follow-up without complete papers" ;
q) Shocked that a lowly clerk could say that to him, Atty. Paras shouted: "KAHILAS NINO. MORA RA UG SI KINSA. BUANG KA" or "You are repulsive, as if you are somebody. You are crazy" ;
r) Hearing this slanderous remark, I held back my tears and before I went inside the Chamber of the Judge, I told Atty. Paras: "Ayaw ko ug hinganli ug Buang, Atty" ; . . . 6
On cross-examination, respondent reiterated the facts which she stated in her counter-affidavit. Additionally, she testified that she was in charge of the civil and criminal cases in the RTC, Branch 20, including; the withdrawal of cash bonds, while her officemate Luzminda Baba was only in charge of typing the bank withdrawal slip for the bonds’ release. According to her, complainant approached her in the office (RTC, Branch 20) drunk, and she noticed that his face was flushed.
Respondent stated that complainant pointed his finger at her and called her "buang" or crazy but denied retaliating and calling him crazy. She likewise stressed that, contrary to the allegations of complainant, the latter did not present all the requirements needed for the withdrawal of the cash bond, particularly the SPA. 7
Lastly, Luzminda Baba testified that there was no SPA attached to the record of the case pending before the RTC, Branch 18, but only an acknowledgment receipt issued by complainant that he received the amount of P9,400.00 from the RTC, Branch 20. 8 Complainant objected to the presentation of Mrs. Baba on the ground that she was not the proper person to testify on the contents of the records of the case pending before the RTC, Branch 18. Counsel for the respondent, therefore, brought the records of the case and manifested that no SPA was attached to it. Complainant admitted that he did not submit any copy of the SPA to the RTC, Branch 18. However, he insisted that he gave a copy of the same to the RTC, Branch 20. 9
Based on the foregoing evidence, Executive Judge Hilario T; Mapayo recommended in its report dated September 25, 2000 that "respondent MYRNA S. LOFRANCO be SUSPENDED for FIFTEEN (15) days with a warning of a stiffer penalty in case of repetition of similar acts." 10
The issue in this case is whether or not the acts and/or utterances of respondent constitute discourtesy and/or conduct unbecoming a court employee. After due consideration of the parties’ evidence, we find Executive Judge Hilario T. Mapayo’s findings to be well taken.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The parties did not present other witnesses to corroborate their respective testimonies. Consequently, the decision in this case hinges on credibility of one or the other party.
First. Respondent claims that it was complainant who lost his temper. She claims that complainant asked her if the bank account was a joint account so the signatory who was present can sign alone. According to respondent, when she responded that she was not certain and that perhaps it was an "and/or" account, complainant got angry. Complainant then arrogantly gave her a lecture on the difference between an "and/or" and a joint account. 11 The tenor of her allegations sought to establish that complainant was angered when she responded the way she did to his inquiry. This Court, however, cannot believe that complainant would get angry just because she did not know if the bank account was a joint one or not. Human nature dictates that a person would not be easily infuriated unless provoked. It was unlikely that complainant would lecture her on the intricacies of bank accounts if respondent had politely answered his questions. Complainant may have been angered not so much by the words respondent uttered but by the manner in which she did so. Consequently, this Court gives credence to the allegations of complainant that when he asked respondent if the bank account can be withdrawn by the signatory who was present and whether it was a joint account, respondent with disrespect and in a sarcastic manner answered, "Ambot lang kay dili ra man ikaw ang tig-withdraw diri, sa Lunes na lang ni" which means "I do not know and besides you are not the only one withdrawing here, just come back on Monday." The investigating judge observed:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
It would be very unlikely for a neophyte in the practice of law, like herein complainant, to act discourteously and arrogantly in his dealings with court personnel, if not at the least provoked by the latter. 12
Even assuming that complainant got irritated despite the fact that respondent’s answer was made in a friendly manner, still it was no excuse for her to treat him arrogantly after complainant gave her the alleged lecture. Such arrogant gesture on her part was admitted by respondent when she stated:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Q: Is that what you are trying to tell the court, that the complainant arrogantly explained to you the intricacies of a bank account?
A: Yes, sir.
ATTY. PARAS:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Q: And that is the reason you addressed him the following words —
"Ambot lang dili man ko taga-Bangko. Basta silang duha si Michael and Judge Cruz and mo-pirma." I do not know as I am not from a bank, the fact remains that the two of them, Michael and Judge Cruz will sign."cralaw virtua1aw library
Do you confirm that you have uttered that, Mrs. Lofranco?
WITNESS:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
A Some of them are put in my affidavit.
Q I am asking you if you confirm the statement as you read to you?
Q You said that you know already Atty. Paras when he approached you?
A Yes, sir.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Q And you know him to be an officer of the court?
A I know you before [when] you [were] still a student.
Q The question is, if you know him to be an officer of the court?
A Yes sir.
Q And you know that as an employee or clerk of Branch 20, you are duty bound to give him utmost respect as an officer of the court?
A The way the complainant approached me that is why I answered him back arrogantly. 13
In one case, 14 this Court admonished a court employee when he answered back an old lawyer who is also an officer of the court. He was held to have shown discourtesy in the performance of his official duties for which he should be disciplined under the Civil Service Law.
Second. Complainant alleged that when he presented only one copy of the court order, respondent sarcastically remarked, "Unsaon man pag-received ana nga usa ra ma na ka kopya (referring to the court order), dapat abogado ka kahibalo ka sa requirements" which means "How could we receive that when that is the only copy. You are a lawyer, you are supposed to know the requirements." 15
Respondent has her own version of what happened. She explained that when she asked where the accused was and required complainant to present an authorization from the accused; complainant shouted that his client was not around and that he would not follow up matters in the court if he was not duly authorized. Feeling embarrassed, because the utterances were made in the presence of several people, she said, "Abogado man kaha ka, nganong mag-follow up man ka nga dili kompleto ang papeles nga imong dad-oni" which means "You said you are a lawyer, why will you make any follow-up without complete papers." 16
On the other hand, we think complainant likewise acted improperly in a manner unbecoming to an officer of the court. Complainant uttered provocative words because it appeared that he did not have complete documents at the time he approached Respondent
. Nonetheless, we think this does not justify respondent’s discourteous behavior towards complainant. Despite the fact that complainant and respondent gave different accounts of what happened, as well as of the words uttered by respondent, the latter admitted having said words which to the mind of this Court were uncalled for, as those words were by themselves inappropriate. This is to say that it was unnecessary, if not improper, for respondent to emphasize that complainant, being a lawyer, was supposed to know and to bring all the requirements before the withdrawal of the cash bond can be done.
For her defense, respondent claimed that she uttered those words because she was embarrassed by the alleged display of arrogance by the complainant in the presence of several people. This is not a valid reason. If at all, she was annoyed and angered by what transpired rather than embarrassed. Hence, it cannot be denied that such utterances of respondent were made to get back at complainant. Being a public officer who renders public service, respondent could have prevented the unfortunate incident from happening by graciously ending their discussion. Complainant, who was the vice-president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Davao Chapter at the time, was probably the one who felt more embarrassed by the incident.
The investigating judge opined:chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
In fact, it was respondent’s approach in asking and answering questions of complainant verifying therein the required documents in his hands for the release of [the] cash bond of his client which later gave rise to an exchange of heated argument in the presence of other court employees. Complainant felt offended, humiliated, and embarrassed leading to the filing of this complaint.
Respondent, on cross, candidly admitted that she answered back arrogantly and indeed uttered this line: "Abogado ka man kaha, nganong mag-follow-up man ka nga dili kompleto ang papeles nga imong dad-on" ("You said you are a lawyer, why will you make any follow-up without complete papers"), in retaliation [to] complainant’s utterance.
However, to our mind, this could not justify the demeanor of respondent who is a civil servant as mandated by law. She should at all times be of service to litigants as well as counsels and should treat them "RIGHT" at all cost. 17
It is time to reiterate what was said in another case in stressing on the need for promptness, courtesy, and diligence in public service: 18
It is the policy of the state to promote a high standard of ethics in the public service. Public officials and employees are under obligation to perform the duties of their offices honestly, faithfully, and to the best of their ability. They, as recipients of the public trust, should demonstrate courtesy, civility, and self-restraint in their official actuations to the public at all times even when confronted with rudeness and insulting behavior. Losing one’s temper by loudly uttering unsavory remarks and pointing a finger at a litigant or any other person for that matter exhibits a failure on the part of respondent to act with self-restraint and civility. High-strung and belligerent behavior has no place in the government service; especially when done at the workplace and during working hours, such conduct shows discourtesy and disrespect not only towards the public but to the court as well.
The court is looked upon by people with high respect and is regarded a sacred place where litigants are heard, rights and conflicts settled, and justice solemnly dispensed. Misbehavior within or around the vicinity diminishes its sanctity and dignity. The conduct and behavior required of every court personnel, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, must always be beyond reproach and circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility. Their conduct must at all times be characterized by, among other things, propriety and decorum so as to earn and keep the public’s respect and confidence in the judicial service.
For the foregoing reasons, we find respondent guilty of discourtesy and conduct unbecoming to a court employee for which she should be reprimanded. 19
Complainant’s allegation that respondent was once reported in a local newspaper as guilty of misbehavior in the performance of her duties, however, cannot be taken against her because it was not substantiated in the complaint nor proved during the investigation. Incidentally, there is a pending case filed by respondent against complainant before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for alleged serious misconduct.
WHEREFORE, respondent Myrna F. Lofranco, Clerk III, Regional trial Court, Branch 20, Digos, Davao del Sur, is hereby REPRIMANDED for discourtesy in the performance of official duty with a WARNING that any similar act of discourtesy in the future will be dealt with more severely. Let this decision be noted in the personal record of herein Respondent
SO ORDERED.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Bellosillo, Buena and De Leon, Jr., JJ.
, on leave.
1. OCA Report, pp. 3-4; Rollo, pp. 17-18.
2. Per Executive Judge Hilario I. Mapayo.
3. Complainant’s Affidavit, pp. 1-2; Rollo, pp. 1-2.
4. Criminal Case No. 114-(93).
5. TSN (Roel Paras), pp. 6, 10-12, 14, July 26, 2000; Rollo, pp. 67-76.
6. Rollo, pp. 8-11.
7. TSN (Myrna Lofranco), pp. 7, 10-11, 15-16, 27-28, 30-31, 35-37, Aug. 29, 2000.
8. TSN (Luzminda Baba), pp. 29-30, July 26, 2000.
9. Id., p. 33.
10. Investigation Report and Recommendation, p. 14.
11. Respondent’s Counter-Affidavit, p. 3; Rollo, p. 9.
12. Investigation Report and recommendation, p. 12.
13. TSN (Myrna Lofranco), pp. 13-14, Aug. 29, 2000.
14. Apaga v. Ponce, 245 SCRA 233 (1995). See also Punzalan-Santos v. Arquiza, 244 SCRA 527 (1995); Abenojar v. Lopez, 203 Phil. 385 (1982); Peñalosa v. Viscaya, Jr., 84 SCRA 298 (1978).
15. Complainant’s Affidavit, p. 1; Rollo, p. 1.
16. Respondent’s Counter-Affidavit, p. 3; id., p. 9.
17. Investigation Report and Recommendation, pp. 12-13.
18. Policarpio v. Fortus, 248 SCRA 272, 275-276 (1995).
19. See In re: Cecilia Mendietta, 89 SCRA 98 (1979); Abenojar v. Lopez, supra; Peñalosa v. Viscaya, Jr., supra.