In a complaint 1 filed on May 28, 2002, complainant Elena F. Pace charged respondent Reno M. Leonardo, Clerk of Court II, Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC), Odiongan, Romblon, Branch 5, with usurpation of judicial functions and gross ignorance of law.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Complainant was the offended party in Criminal Case No. OD-6516, entitled, "People v. Raf Yap," for grave slander before said trial court. According to her complaint, the accused, Raf Yap, after posting a cash bond of five thousand pesos (P5,000.00), managed to go abroad. Upon his return nine years later, Yap pleaded guilty to the offense of grave slander as charged. Consequently, on September 13, 2001, the trial court rendered judgment 2 finding Yap guilty of grave slander and sentenced him to suffer the penalty of imprisonment for four months. This decision was later modified on September 27, 2001, 3 to include an award of P23,000.00 as damages in favor of complainant.
Thereafter, Yap approached respondent and verbally requested for the release of his cash bond. Respondent, acting on the verbal request but without an order from the court, released the cash bond to Yap. 4 Thus, the presiding judge, Judge Jessie F. Foja, issued an Order 5 on October 18, 2001 for the immediate arrest of Yap unless he posted bail of five thousand pesos (P5,000.00) again.
On same day that the order for his immediate arrest was issued, Yap presented to the respondent a deposit slip in the amount of P5,000.00 allegedly deposited in the court’s bank account, Account No. 1161-0000-58, with the Land Bank of the Philippines. 6 Respondent accepted this deposit slip as Yap’s cash bond, hence the court lifted the order for Yap’s rearrest. 7
In his Comment 8 submitted to this Court on July 24, 2002, respondent claimed that he did not release the cash bond on his own and asserted that he was merely following the verbal directive of the presiding judge, Judge Jessie F. Foja. 9 Respondent averred that on September 17, 2001, Raf Yap requested the release of the amount of the cash bond he had earlier filed. Because there was no Motion for the Withdrawal of the Cash Bond, respondent refused to process the release of said cash bond. But Yap then went to Judge Jessie F. Foja and begged for the release of the cash bond, pointing out that he had already applied for probation and that the decision of September 13, 2001 did not provide for any civil liability. Respondent claimed that Judge Foja favorably acted upon Yap’s request and verbally ordered him to release Yap’s bail bond. 10
Respondent denied any irregularity surrounding the release of Yap’s cash bond. He claimed that the withdrawal slip 11 dated September 17, 2001, executed for the release of the cash bond was duly signed by Judge Foja and counter-signed by him as mandated by Supreme Court Circular No. 50-95, which provides for the guidelines and procedures in the manner of collections and deposits of fiduciary funds. 12
The respondent asserted that his acceptance of Yap’s cash bond, posted pursuant to the Order of October 18, 2001, was also in accordance with said circular because the cash was deposited in the court’s account with the Land Bank of the Philippines, Odiongan Branch, under Savings Account No. 1161-0000-58. 13
In its memorandum 14 dated November 7, 2002, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) found the respondent liable for usurpation of judicial function and gross ignorance of the law. The OCA recommended that the respondent be ordered to pay a fine of two thousand pesos (P2,000.00), with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely.
By Resolution 15 of this Court dated January 13, 2003, this case was re-docketed as a regular administrative matter. The issue now before us is whether the OCA’s recommendation should be sustained.
After a careful review of the records of this case, we are unable to agree with the OCA. There is usurpation of judicial function when a person who is not a judge attempts to perform an act the authority for which the law has vested only upon a judge. Since the release of fiduciary funds is not a purely judicial act, there is no ground to hold the respondent liable for usurpation of judicial function.
As to the charge of ignorance of law, in connection with the allegation that the respondent accepted a deposit slip as cash bond, the OCA’s findings are without basis. In this case, the official receipt, O.R. No. 7032068, 16 issued on October 18, 2001 to Raf Yap clearly shows that what respondent received was P5,000 cash and not a deposit slip evidencing a previous deposit with the court’s account with the Land Bank of the Philippines. The deposit slip, in turn, shows that on the same day that the cash bond of five thousand pesos was received from Raf Yap, respondent deposited the amount to the court’s account with the Land Bank of the Philippines. Respondent’s conduct, including his signature on the deposit slip, is in accord with the authority stated in the 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court allowing the court officer to accept cash bond in criminal cases. 17 That the deposit slip bore the same date as O.R. No. 7032068 supports respondent’s claim that he deposited the P5,000 cash in the court’s account with the Land Bank of the Philippines.
Circular No. 50-95 requires the Clerk of Court to deposit with the Land Bank of the Philippines within twenty-four (24) hours from receipt all collections from bailbonds, rental deposits, and other fiduciary collections. An official receipt or certificate of deposit signed by the Clerk of Court with photographs of the accused should be presented to the court for its approval of the bailbond. 18 Clearly, the respondent herein performed his duty in due course.
However, respondent is administratively liable for violation of Supreme Court Circular No. 50-95 governing the release of fiduciary funds. The cash bond forms part of the fiduciary fund and as such, it is covered by said circular requiring a court order to accompany every withdrawal slip. The circular further requires that the presiding judge and the clerk of court must sign the withdrawal slip. These requirements are mandatory because they serve to ensure full accountability for the funds. As repeatedly emphasized by this Court, the fiduciary fund is in the nature of a trust fund. Consequently, amounts pertaining thereto could not be withdrawn without authority of the proper court. 19
As a Clerk of Court, respondent performs a very delicate function. He is the custodian of the court’s funds and revenues, property and premises. 20 As such, he is liable for any loss, shortage, destruction, or impairment of said funds and property. He is also entrusted with the primary responsibility of correctly and effectively implementing regulations regarding fiduciary funds. Safekeeping of funds and collections is essential to an orderly administration of justice, and no protestation of good faith can override the mandatory nature of the Circular designed to promote full accountability for government funds. 21 The respondent’s act of releasing the bail bond upon a mere verbal order allegedly of the presiding judge is a violation of Circular No. 50-95 governing the deposits and withdrawals of fiduciary funds. Even if such verbal order were true, respondent should have reduced it into writing, so that the judge concerned could have formally affixed his signature thereto.
It bears emphasizing that the behavior of everyone connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowest rank, is circumscribed with the heavy burden of high degree of responsibility. 22 Their conduct at all times must not only be characterized by propriety and decorum, but above all else, it must be in accordance with the law and the rules. The respondent needs no reminder that as an important officer in the dispensation of justice, one of his primary duties is to uphold the law and implement the pertinent rules. He must be assiduous in the performance of his duties because he performs delicate administrative functions essential to the prompt and proper administration of justice. 23 He serves as an exemplar for other court employees, whose duties and responsibilities must be strictly performed. Branch Clerks of Court play a key role in the complement of the court and cannot be permitted to slacken on their jobs under one pretext or another. The Court will not countenance any act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice which would violate the norms of public accountability.
Considering that the respondent relied on the verbal directive of Judge Foja, and that the withdrawal slip bears the signature of the presiding judge, pursuant to the mandate of Circular No. 50-95, this Court finds the penalty recommended by the OCA needs modification. The fine to be imposed on respondent should only be in the amount of one thousand pesos. 24
WHEREFORE, respondent Reno M. Leonardo, Clerk of Court II, MCTC, Odiongan, Romblon, Branch 5, is found liable for violation of Supreme Court Circular No. 50-95 and is ORDERED to pay a FINE in the amount of ONE THOUSAND PESOS (P1,000.00), with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future will be dealt with more severely.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Bellosillo, Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr. and Tinga, JJ.
1. Rollo, pp. 1-3.
2. Id. at 5.
3. Id. at 6.
4. Id. at 2.
5. Id. at 7.
6. Id. at 15.
7. Id. at 8.
8. Id. at 10-11.
9. Id. at 12.
10. Id. at 10, 12.
11. Supra, note 6.
12. Supra, note 8.
13. Id. at 11, 15.
14. Id. at 20–23.
15. Id. at 26.
16. Id. at 15.
17. The 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court, Vol. I, p. 285.
18. Id. at 291.
19. Report on the Financial Audit Conducted on the Books of Accounts of OIC Melinda Deseo, MTC, General Trias, Cavite, A.M. No. 99-11-157-MTC, 7 August 2000, 337 SCRA 347, 351.
20. Office of the Court Administrator v. Fortaleza, A.M. No. P-01-1524, 29 July 2002, p. 11.
21. Id. at 12.
22. Firmalo v. Quierrez, A.M. No. P-00-1401, 29 January 2002, 375 SCRA 11, 13.
23. Juntilla v. Branch Clerk of Court Calleja, 330 Phil. 850, 855 (1996).
24. See Madrid v. Ramirez, A.M. No. P-94-1039, 6 March 1996, 254 SCRA 376, 383.