In an Indorsement 1 dated June 13, 2000, Executive Judge Fe Albano Madrid of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Santiago City addressed to then Court Administrator Alfredo L. Benipayo, recommended the dismissal of Antonio Quebral, Cash Clerk II, Office of the Clerk of Court for habitual tardiness and absences without leave.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The Executive Judge averred that she already called the attention of the respondent in a Memorandum dated January 13, 2000, and directed him to explain in writing why no disciplinary action should be taken against him for the following:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1. Habitual tardiness and absences without leave;
2. Failure to submit daily time record for June 1999;
3. Considerable delay in submitting your daily time records from September to November 1999;
4. Falsifying your daily time records by indicating that you were present on September 10, 13, 14, 20 to 24, and 29 to 30 without any permission or leave of absence. Likewise making it appear that you were present in the month of October and November 1999 when you were absent the whole month of October while you were only present for three days in November specifically on the 17, 18 and 22;
5. Being absent for the whole month of December without any leave of absence. 2
The respondent had earlier given a handwritten Letter 3 dated January 11, 2000 to the Executive Judge where he apologized profusely for his late submission of his daily time records (DTR). He promised to refrain from absenting himself and declared that he would accept any sanction or punishment that would be meted against him in case this promise was broken.
In answer to the aforementioned Memorandum, the respondent once again pleaded for a last chance to reform his "negative attitude." Anent the charge of falsifying his DTR, the respondent asserted that he was present during the months of October and November 1999 but was unable to fill up the logbook. 4
In a Letter addressed to the OCA dated June 14, 2000, 5 respondent Quebral denied the allegations regarding his absences and his failure to submit his DTR. He averred that whenever he got sick, he would dutifully file his application for sick leave and supported the same with medical certificates. These absences were caused by severe abdominal pains related to his ulcer, which was exacerbated by the death of his wife.
In the same letter, respondent Quebral accused Officer-in-Charge and Clerk of Court Angelina C. Rillorta of failing to file their respective applications for leave when they absented themselves. He also lamented that although he was a cash clerk, Mrs. Rillorta assigned him to a table with the court process server, and required him to verify records from the stockroom. The respondent surmised that Mrs. Rillorta may be bringing him "down to the level of a janitor" because he knew about the irregularities in the office. He alleged that Mrs. Rillorta collected P20.00 for releasing RTC clearances without issuing any receipts therefor. The collections were apparently spent to buy snacks and daily meals.
The respondent also accused Mrs. Rillorta of signing a falsified civil service certificate in the name of Minerva B. Alvarez, also of the same office. The original certificate, which was actually owned by a certain Jovita A. Blanza, was reproduced and the name thereafter changed. The forged certificate was then filed with the Records Division of the Court to facilitate the promotion of Minerva B. Alvarez to the position of Clerk IV. 6
In a Report dated November 13, 2001, the OCA submitted the following recommendations:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1. The instant complaint for Habitual Tardiness and Absenteeism against respondent Antonio T. Quebral be REFERRED to Judge Bonifacio T. Ong of the Regional Trial Court of Echague, Isabela, for investigation, report and recommendation;
2. The charges made by Quebral be given an IPI No. and that copies of the sworn letter-complaints and attachments be furnished Mrs. Angelina C. Rillorta and Mrs. Minerva Alvarez requiring them to comment within ten days from receipt;
3. Once the comments have been received the same be consolidated with the original case and investigated jointly. 7
The Court adopted the said recommendations in a Resolution dated January 16, 2002. 8
The respondent, in a Letter dated January 12, 2001 to the OCA, requested for the release of his year-end bonus, cash gift, additional JDF and salary for November 16-30, 2000 and December 1-30, 2000, which he alleged was without reason withheld by Executive Judge Madrid. The respondent thereafter wrote another letter, 9 amplifying his charges against Mrs. Rillorta and asserting that he had been reporting for work until he was ordered by Executive Judge Madrid to cease from doing so. The respondent likewise submitted a certification from the Civil Service Commission, Tuguegarao City, which indicated that the name of Minerva B. Alvarez did not appear in the list of participants who attended a Personal Management Course. 10 In yet another Letter dated March 27, 2001, the respondent attached certificates signed by Yulyman S. Sabado and Cherrilyn F. Co, showing that they paid P30.00 each to Mrs. Rillorta and that no official receipt was issued to them.
In her Comment dated March 6, 2002, 11 respondent Rillorta denied the allegations against her. She averred that it was respondent Quebral who was always absent. Anent the charges of falsifying the Civil Service certification, she averred that she signed the same upon the request of respondents Alvarez and Quebral and that she had no knowledge about any tampering. She also averred that —
A. On his allegation that I issued Court clearances and receiving money without issuing official receipts, this is not true. There are isolated cases in which we issue clearance and do not require them to pay like when it is requested by some friends of the Court employees. In the case of Cherrilyn Co whose Certification was submitted by Mr. Quebral, she disowned the certification allegedly signed by her. I am submitting hereto her written statement saying to the effect that it was Mr. Quebral to whom she paid the money and that he went to her to have her sign the certification which she did not understand. 12
Respondent Alvarez, on the other hand, in her Comment dated March 6, 2000, 13 expressed surprise at respondent Quebral’s move of filing a case against her. She admitted that the certificate in question was actually owned by Mrs. Jovita A. Blanza, but countered that it was respondent Quebral who personally borrowed the said certificate from her. She included the following averments in her Comment:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
That it was Mr. Antonio T. Quebral who initiated the move as in fact he was the one who submitted the same to the Supreme Court and personally followed it up;
That I am not aware that he was doing something illegal;
That it was Mr. Antonio T. Quebral who is interested that that I (Minerva B. Alvarez) get the position of Clerk IV as in fact he cannot occupy the position of Cash Clerk II if I will not be promoted to Clerk IV because I am the present Cash Clerk II; . . . 14
Despite the fact that respondent Quebral was notified of the date and place of the hearings, he failed to appear before Judge Bonifacio T. Ong. The said respondent was thus considered to have waived his right to controvert the charges against him.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The Investigating Judge submitted his report on June 6, 2002. In A.M. No. P-03-1744, his findings and recommendations were as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Be that as it may, even if we take into consideration the two (2) letters of the respondent (Exhibits "B" and "C", dated January 11, 2000, and January 17, 2000, respectively) attached to the Rollo, wherein he seeks apology for the late submission of his Daily Time Records or having overlooked and neglected, because of his habit of postponing to do certain things, such explanation could not however justify his absences and/or absolve him from submitting his daily time records. Furthermore, respondent admitted that he falsified his daily time record (Letter dated January 17, 2000, Exhibit "C") by making it appear that he was present during the months of October and November 1999. Such would only bolster the claim of Judge Madrid that indeed the respondent was a habitual absentee and therefore, there is no way such letters of the respondent would suffice to exculpate him from any misconduct or misdemeanor.
Consequently, based on the evidence presented by Judge Madrid, there is no doubt that the respondent was absent from office on so many occasions starting in the month of February 2000 until September 2000 without leave of absence.
Worse, respondent stopped going to office and altogether abandoned his work, since the time his salary was returned to the Supreme Court, giving the impression that he gave up his position as Cash Clerk of the Office of the Clerk of Court, Santiago City.
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Under Memorandum Circular No. 4, Series of 1991 of the Civil Service Commission, an officer or employee in the civil service shall be considered habitually absent if he incurs unauthorized absences exceeding the allowable 2.5 days monthly leave credits under the leave law for at least three (3) months in a semester or at least three (3) consecutive months during the year.
In the case at bar, respondent Antonio T. Quebral incurred unauthorized absences of 57 days from June 2002 up to September 2002 alone, more than that allowed by law in a given period. How about the succeeding months starting October 2000 when he no longer reported for work? Certainly, respondent’s absences for a prolonged period of time constitute conduct prejudicial to the best interest of public service and warrants the penalty of dismissal from the service.
WHEREFORE, it is respectfully recommended that respondent Antonio T. Quebral, Cash Clerk of the Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Santiago City be dismissed from the service. 15
In A.M. No. P-03-1745, respondent Quebral once again failed to appear, prompting respondents Rillorta and Alvarez to move for the dismissal of the case for failure to prosecute or to substantiate the charges against them. According to the Investigating Judge —
Foregoing considered, it is recommended that the charges against Angelina Rillorta for absence without application for leave and issuing clearance without receipts be dismissed for lack of evidence to substantiate the same. Besides, her comment deserves credence and suffice[s] to answer the above charges.
The accusation made by Antonio T. Quebral that Minerva B. Alvarez used the Certificate of Personnel Management course owned by Jovita A. Blanza should not be ignored, in view of the admission made by Minerva B. Alvarez in her Comment dated March 6, 2002.
In effect, the appointment of Minerva B. Alvarez as Clerk IV is not regular because what was submitted in her behalf was the Certificate of Personnel Management course of one Jovita A. Blanza and she therefore failed to comply with the requirement of undergoing 40 hours training on personnel management course.
It is, therefore, recommended that Ms. Minerva B. Alvarez be ordered to undergo 40 hours training on personnel management course and submit the necessary certificate of completion on or before the position of Clerk II, her former position, is filled up. 16
THE COURT’S RULING
Respondent Antonio T. Quebral is guilty of habitual absenteeism, falsification of daily time records and dishonesty — conduct prejudicial to the service that warrant his dismissal.
The Court has emphasized the need for strict observance of official time. 17 Pursuant to Sec. 63, Rule XVI of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations, respondent Quebral’s absence without official leave for more than thirty days caused his automatic dropping from the roll of employees, to wit:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Section 63. Effect of absences without approved leave. — An official or an employee who is continuously absent without approved leave for at least thirty (30) working days shall be considered an absence without official leave (AWOL) and shall be separated from the service or dropped from the rolls without prior notice. He shall, however, be informed, at his last address appearing in his 201 files, or at his last known written address, of his separation from the service, not later than five (5) days from its effectivity.
Moreover, the respondent’s tampering of his DTR is, verily, an act of falsification of official documents and constitutes gross dishonesty. Each false entry thereon constitutes one count of falsification of official documents. Dishonesty and falsification are grave offenses punishable by dismissal from the service, even for the first offense. 18 An employee’s frequent unauthorized absences not only undermine his efficiency as a court personnel, but can also have an adverse effect in the prompt delivery of justice. 19
A court employee, being a public servant, must exhibit the highest sense of honesty and integrity. For everyone connected professionally with our institution, the duty is imperative and sacred to build up its eminence as a true and revered temple of justice. 20
Respondent Minerva B. Alvarez is guilty of dishonesty and falsification, offenses which warrant her dismissal from the service.
We do not agree with the findings and the recommendations of the Investigating Judge in the case of respondent Alvarez. The facts and the evidence, coupled with the respondent’s own admission, sufficiently established her culpability. The use of a false certificate in order to facilitate promotion constitutes an act of dishonesty under Civil Service Rules. To reiterate, dishonesty and falsification are considered grave offenses warranting the penalty of dismissal from service upon the commission of the first offense. 21 On numerous occasions, the Court did not hesitate to impose such extreme punishment on employees found guilty of these offenses. 22
Dishonesty, being in the nature of a grave offense, carries the extreme penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification for re-employment in the government service. 23 Dishonesty has no place in the judiciary. 24
Respondent Angelina C. Rillorta violated Administrative Circular No. 3-2000 which requires fees to be duly collected and receipted therefor in case clearances are issued by the court.
Contrary to the Investigating Judge’s recommendation, the Court believes that respondent Rillorta likewise deserves to be sanctioned. The act of issuing court clearances free of charge to people who are "friends of court employees" is highly irregular. The respondent had no power, authority or discretion to dispense with the payment of the said fees. The amount to be collected for the court’s certification or clearance pertains to the Judiciary Development Fund, as mandated by P.D. No. 1949. Furthermore, Administrative Circular No. 3-2000 25 enjoins the collection of a P15.00 fee for each certification issued by the court; in case certified copies of any paper, record, decree, judgment or entry thereof, are issued, a fee of P4.00 for each page should be collected. 26 The pertinent duties of the clerk of court as an accountable officer are as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1. Duty of Clerks of Court, Officer-In-Charge or Accountable Officers. — The Clerks of Courts, Officers-in-Charge of the Office of the Clerk of Court, or their accountable duly authorized representatives designated by them in writing, who must be accountable officers, shall receive the Judiciary Development Fund collections, issue the proper receipt therefore, maintain a separate cash book marked CASH BOOK FOR JUDICIARY DEVELOPMENT FUND, deposit such collections in the manner herein prescribed, and render the proper Monthly Report of Collection and Deposits for said Fund.
x x x
Strict observance of these rules and regulations is hereby enjoined. The Clerks of Court, Officer-in-Charge shall exercise close supervision over their respective duly authorized representatives to ensure strict compliance herewith and shall be held administratively accountable for failure to do so. Failure to comply with any of these rules and regulations shall mean the withholding of salaries and allowances of those concerned until compliance thereof is duly effected, pursuant to Section 122 of P.D. No. 1445 dated June 11, 1978, without prejudice to such further disciplinary action the Court may take against them. 27
Clerks of Court are the chief administrative officers of their respective courts. They must show competence, honesty and probity since they are charged with safeguarding the integrity of the court and its proceedings. They are judicial officers entrusted to perform delicate functions with regard to the collection of legal fees and are expected to correctly and effectively implement regulations. 28
Simple neglect of duty has been defined as a disregard of duty resulting from carelessness or indifference. 29 The failure of the respondent to collect fees for court clearances, no fraud nor bad faith having been attributed to her, constitutes simple neglect of duty. Pursuant to Civil Service Rules, simple neglect of duty is classified as a less grave offense, punishable by suspension of one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months. 30
The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (Rep. Act No. 6713) enunciates the state’s policy of promoting a high standard of ethics and utmost responsibility in the public service. And no other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an employee than in the judiciary. 31 We have repeatedly emphasized that the conduct of court personnel, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, must always be beyond reproach and must be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility as to let them be free from any suspicion that may taint the judiciary. The Court condemns and would never countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice, which would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary. 32
WHEREFORE, respondent Antonio T. Quebral, Cash Clerk II, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Santiago City, Isabela, is found GUILTY of dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, habitual absenteeism, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and is DISMISSED from the service effective immediately, with FORFEITURE of all benefits, except accrued leave credits if any, with prejudice to his re-employment in any branch or service of the government including government-owned and controlled corporations.
Respondent Angelina C. Rillorta, Officer-In-Charge, RTC, Br. 21, Santiago City, Isabela, is GUILTY of simple neglect of duty and is SUSPENDED for three (3) months without pay, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same offense will warrant a more severe penalty.
Respondent Minerva B. Alvarez, Clerk IV, RTC, Branch 21, Santiago City, Isabela, is found GUILTY of dishonesty and use of falsified document, and is DISMISSED from the service with forfeiture of all benefits and privileges except accrued leave credits, if any, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations and financial institutions.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Davide, Jr., C.J.
, Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna and Tinga, JJ.
, is on leave.
1. Rollo, p. 1 (Adm. Matter No. P-03-1744).
2. Exhibit "A", Rollo, p. 3.
3. Id. at 7.
4. Letter-Explanation dated January 17, 2000, Rollo, p. 13.
5. Rollo, pp. 1–2 (A.M. No. P-03-1745).
6. Rollo, pp. 26–27 (A.M. No. P-03-1744).
7. Id. at 56.
8. Id. at 59.
9. Id. at 51–52.
10. Id. at 80.
11. Id. at 60–61.
12. Id. at 60.
13. Id at 74–75.
14. Id. at 74.
15. Id. at 100–101.
16. Id. at 19 (A.M. No. P-03-1745).
17. Supreme Court Circular No. 1-99 (Enhancing the Dignity of Courts as Temples of Justice and Promoting Respect for their Officials and Employees) enjoins all officials and employees of the judiciary to:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
3. Strictly observe official time. As punctuality is a virtue, absenteeism and tardiness are impermissible.
18. Rule IV, Section 52-A (1) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, effective August 31, 1999.
Supreme Court Circular No. 2-99 (Strict Observance of Working Hours and Disciplinary Action on Absenteeism and Tardiness) also provides —
. . . .[A]bsenteeism and tardiness, even if such do not qualify as ‘habitual’ or ‘frequent’ under Civil Service Commission Memorandum No. 4, Series of 1991, shall be dealt with severely, and any falsification of daily time records to cover up for such absenteeism or tardiness shall constitute gross dishonesty or serious misconduct.
19. Dondiego v. Cuevas, A.M. No. P-03-1681, February 28, 2003.
20. Villanueva v. Milan, A.M. No. P-02-1642, September 27, 2002.
21. See note 18.
22. Civil Service Commission v. Sta. Ana, A.M. No. OCA 01-5, August 1, 2002.
23. Office of the Court Administrator v. Magno, 367 SCRA 312 (2001).
24. Cabanatan v. Molina, 370 SCRA 16 (2001).
25. Re: Guidelines in the Allocation of the Legal Fees Collected under Rule 141 of the Rules of Court, as amended, Between the General Fund and the Judiciary Development Fund.
26. Id., Section 7(j).
28. Gutierrez v. Quitalig, A.M. No. P-02-1545, April 2, 2003; Aquino v. Olivares, A.M. P-02-1534, March 26, 2003.
29. Philippine Retirement Authority v. Rupa, 363 SCRA 480 (2001).
30. Rule IV, Section 52-B(1).
31. Civil Service Commission v. Sta. Ana, supra.