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    A.M. No. 02-1-66-RTC - RE: REPORT ON THE FINANCIAL AUDIT CONDUCTED IN THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT BRANCH 34, BALAOAN, LA UNION

      A.M. No. 02-1-66-RTC - RE: REPORT ON THE FINANCIAL AUDIT CONDUCTED IN THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT BRANCH 34, BALAOAN, LA UNION

    PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

    EN BANC

    [A.M. NO. 02-1-66-RTC : August 19, 2004]

    RE: REPORT ON THE FINANCIAL AUDIT CONDUCTED IN THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 34, BALAOAN, LA UNION. (Clerk of Court, ATTY. JOVITO M. MARRON)


    R E S O L U T I O N

    PER CURIAM:

    This administrative matter stemmed from a financial audit report dated November 14, 2001 of the Court Management Office, Office of the Court Administrator (CMO-OCA), in response to the letter of Executive Judge Senecio O. Tan, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 34, Balaoan, La Union. Judge Tan requested an audit of the collection deposits of his former clerk of court, Atty. Jovito M. Marron.

    The report disclosed that:

    1. Atty. Marron assumed his duties as clerk of court on March 1, 1991. As clerk of court, he was also the concurrent cashier and disbursement officer whose duty was to collect and receive, by himself or through a duly appointed cashier, payments of all legal fees. He also received deposits, fines and dues.1 Among the legal fees collected were for the: (a) Clerk of Court General Fund (CCGF); (b) Clerk of Court Fiduciary Fund (CCFF); (c) Sheriff General Fund (SGF); (d) Judiciary Development Fund (JDF); (e) Victims Compensation Fund (VCF); (f) Legal Research Fund (LRF) and (g) Land Registration Commission Fund (LRCF).

    2. For the whole month of August, 1999, Atty. Marron went on official leave but since he did not report back to work as scheduled, an administrative complaint was filed against him. On the basis of the complaint,2 the Court, on June 28, 2000, resolved to dismiss Atty. Marron from the service due to his continued absence without leave. But, upon OCA's intercession, the Court's resolution was held in abeyance.

    3. Because of the absence of Atty. Marron, Judge Tan designated in succession as collection officers of RTC, Branch 34, Messrs. Virgilio S. Sarmiento and Jesus O. Javier.

    4. Upon the request of Judge Tan, CMO-OCA conducted a financial audit on the collections, deposits and withdrawals of funds covering the period May 26, 1990 to August 31, 2001.

    5. Atty. Marron's remittances of the SGF and JDF to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) Branch in San Fernando, La Union for the period May 26, 1990 to July 31, 1999 fell short of his actual collections:

    Sheriff General Fund (SGF)

    Total Collections :

    P2,402.00

    Total Remittances :

    2,210.00

    Shortage :

    P 192.00

    Judiciary Development Fund (JDF)

    Total Collections:

    P190,656.60

    Total Remittances:

    185,269.05

    Shortage:

    P 5,387.55

    Likewise, Atty. Marron who was absent from work starting August 1999 onward was able to withdraw fiduciary fund collections amounting to P626,747 from the LBP, as follows:

    Schedule of Deposits and Withdrawals
    Savings Account No. 0201-1253-24
    November 13, 1998 to June 29, 2001

    Date Deposits

    Withdrawals

    Withdrawn By

    11/13/1998

    P 39,000.00

    12/09/1998

    200,000.00

    06/14/1999

    190,000.00

    06/16/1999

    30,000.00

    07/02/1999

    85,000.00

    07/16/1999

    30,000.00

    07/21/1999

    46,000.00

    08/06/1999

    P 12,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    08/11/1999

    20,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    08/19/1999

    30,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    09/29/1999

    30,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    10/01/1999

    80,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    10/25/1999

    5,908.00

    Atty. Marron

    10/29/1999

    20,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    11/05/1999

    8,839.00

    Atty. Marron

    11/10/1999

    50,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    11/15/1999

    30,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    12/01/1999

    80,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    12/16/1999

    12,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    12/20/1999

    20,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    12/30/1999

    15,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    01/05/2000

    12,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    01/12/2000

    10,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    01/14/2000

    10,000.00

    Rosana Mamaril

    01/24/2000

    20,000.00

    Judith Marron

    02/07/2000

    30,000.00

    Judith Marron

    04/14/2000

    30,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    05/30/2000

    40,000.00

    Atty. Marron

    07/14/2000

    8,000.00

    Godofredo Ducusin

    09/05/2000

    15,000.00

    Rodolfo Almadrigo

    09/29/2000

    28,000.00

    Rodolfo Almadrigo

    10/05/2000

    10,000.00

    Rodolfo Almadrigo

    P 620,000.00

    P 626,747.00

    6. Because certain documents supposedly in the custody of Atty. Marron were missing, the CMO-OCA had to rely on: (a) the cash books (which are still used by the RTC, Branch 34); (b) the subsidiary ledgers submitted to the OCA Revenue Section and (c) the records of the Commission on Audit, in computing the shortage.

    7. All collections of Messrs. Virgilio S. Sarmiento and Jesus Q. Javier were accounted for and deposited in the Land Bank of the Philippines.

    On January 29, 2002 this Court en banc resolved to -

    A. NOTE the Memorandum dated 14 November 2001 of Deputy Court Administrator Jose P. Perez;

    b. DIRECT Atty. Jovito M. Marron, Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Branch 34, Balagan, La Union, to:

    (b-1) RESTITUTE the established shortages for Sheriff General Fund in the amount of P192.00 and Judiciary Development Fund in the amount of P5,387.55 and SUBMIT duly validated slips as proof of remittances; andcralawlibrary

    (B-2) SUBMIT the necessary documents to account for his unauthorized withdrawals from the Fiduciary Fund amounting to P626,747.00;

    c. ADMONISH Presiding Judge Senecio O. Tan, RTC, Branch 34, Balaoan, La Union, for his failure to exercise effective supervision over the personnel of his court, especially those in charge with the collection of funds intended for the judiciary;

    d. ADVISE Mr. Jesus O. Javier, Officer-in-Charge, same court, to follow strictly the Supreme Court Circulars on the proper handling of Judiciary Funds; andcralawlibrary

    e. ISSUE a Hold Departure Order to prevent Atty. Marron from leaving the country.

    The Court further Resolved to REFER the instant financial Audit Report to the LEGAL OFFICE, OCA, for filing of the appropriate administrative and criminal charges against Atty. Marron.

    In compliance with our resolution, the OCA filed, on September 3, 2002, an administrative complaint against Atty. Marron. In a resolution dated September 24, 2002, we required him to file his comment within 10 days from notice.

    On November 7, 2002, the OCA initiated a criminal complaint against Atty. Marron in the Office of the Ombudsman. Copies of the complaint were served on him in two different addresses provided by Executive Judge Tan: (a) Martinez St., Barangay Lingsat, San Fernando City, La Union and (b) Farmacia Concepcion, Public Market, Nalasin, Balaoan, La Union. Atty. Marron filed a motion for extension of time to file his counter-affidavit, indicating that his address was 434 Carlatan, City of San Fernando, La Union.

    With the new address personally provided by Atty. Marron himself, a copy of our resolution dated April 8, 2003 was served on him:

    A.M. No. 02-1-66-RTC. - Re: Report on the Financial Audit Conducted in the RTC, Branch 34, Balaoan, La Union. - The Court Resolve to: (a) Note the Memorandum dated 14 March 2003 of the Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr.; (b) DIRECT Atty. Jovito M. Marron to:

    (1) restitute the shortage of P192.00 in the Sheriff General Fund; P5,387.55 representing the shortage in the Judiciary Development Fund; and the amount of P626,474.00 representing the unauthorized withdrawal and shortage in the Fiduciary Fund within ten (10) days from notice; andcralawlibrary

    (2) file his comment to the administrative complaint dated August 27, 2002 also within ten (10) days from notice.

    He received the above-mentioned resolution through a certain Liza Valdez. Again, he failed to file his comment and restitute the shortage.

    After evaluating the financial audit report, the OCA, through Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., made the following report and recommendations:

    In a resolution dated 8 April 2003, [the Supreme] Court issued a resolution directing Atty. Marron to restitute the shortage and to file his Comment to the administrative complaint within ten (10) days from notice. Atty. Marron received the resolution through a certain Liza Valdez although the registry return card does not show when. To date, Atty. Marron has not yet filed his comment nor restituted the shortages. Notwithstanding the absence of the date when he received a copy of [the Supreme] Court's resolution dated 8 April 2003, it is evident that Atty. Marron has been given ample time to refute the charges against him. In Perez v. Suller (A.M. No. MTJ-94-936, November 6, 1995) it was held that silence is admission if there was a chance to deny, especially if it constitutes one of the principal charges against him.

    The offenses committed by Atty. Marron constitute dishonesty which merit the supreme penalty of dismissal from the service. (Office of the Court Administrator v. Ediltrudes Besa, A.M. No. P-02-1551, 11 September 2002). In fact, pursuant to the directive of [the Supreme] Court, this Office initiated the criminal prosecution of Atty. Marron. During the preliminary investigation, he likewise did not file a Counter-Affidavit, although he asked for [an] additional period to do so. At present, Atty. Marron has twenty-seven (27) criminal cases pending against him before the Municipal Trial Court (2 cases) and the Regional Trial Court (25 cases) of Balaoan, La Union.

    In view of the foregoing, it is respectfully recommended that Atty. Jovito M. Marron, Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Branch 34, Balaoan, La Union be DISMISSED FROM THE SERVICE for dishonesty with forfeiture of retirement benefits and that he be barred from employment in any government agency, including government-owned and controlled corporation.

    We affirm the findings and recommendations of the OCA.

    The Court gave Atty. Marron every opportunity to explain his side but he chose to ignore the administrative complaint against him. He was furnished a copy of the resolution through a certain Liza Valdez as shown in the registry return card. In fact, he even filed a motion for extension of time to file his counter-affidavit after a copy of the criminal complaint was served on him. He never filed it. Under the circumstances, we have to decide this case on the basis of whatever is found in the records.

    In the Report on the Financial Audit Conducted at the Municipal Trial Courts of Bani, Alaminos, and Lingayen, in Pangasinan ,3 we ruled that respondent's refusal to face head-on the charges against him was contrary to the principle in criminal law that "the first impulse of an innocent man when accused of wrongdoing is to express his innocence at the first opportune time."

    Atty. Marron, as an accountable officer, was entrusted with the responsibility of collecting money belonging to the court. He exercised a very delicate function, that of being the custodian of the court's funds and revenues, records, properties and premises. Clerks of court are presumed to be aware of their duty to immediately deposit the various funds received by them in the authorized government depositories for they are not supposed to keep funds in their personal possession.4 In the Report on the Financial Audit in RTC, General Santos City and the RTC & MTC of Polomolok, South Cotabato ,5 this Court emphasized the role of the clerk of court with regard to the collection of legal fees:

    Clerks of court are the chief administrative officers of their respective courts; with regard to the collection of legal fees, they perform a delicate function as judicial officers entrusted with the correct and effective implementation of regulations thereon. Even the undue delay, in the remittances of amounts collected by them at the very least constitutes misfeasance. x x x

    Clearly, Atty. Marron was liable for any loss, shortage, destruction or impairment of court funds and properties.

    As reported by the audit team, the withdrawal slips were not signed by Executive Judge Tan. Neither was there any order from the court allowing any such withdrawal. It was a gross violation of Circular No. 50-95.6

    The clerk of court is an important officer in our judicial system. His office is the nucleus of all court activities, adjudicative and administrative. His administrative functions are as vital to the prompt and proper administration of justice as his judicial duties.7 By abandoning his office, failing to properly remit the cash collections constituting public funds and by withdrawing fiduciary fund collections without an order from the court, Atty. Marron violated the trust reposed in him as disbursement officer of the judiciary. His refusal to explain his fund shortage and unauthorized withdrawals, and to restitute his shortage and comply with the Court's directives leave us no choice but to hold him liable for gross dishonesty and grave misconduct in office, and to order his dismissal from office. The Court condemns any conduct, act or omission which violates the norm of public accountability or diminishes the faith of the people in the judiciary.

    WHEREFORE, for gross dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the public, Atty. Jovito M. Marron is herby DISMISSED from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and with prejudice to re-employment in the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. He is further ORDERED to restitute the amount of P632,326.55 representing his shortage and unauthorized withdrawals from the fiduciary funds as follows: P626,747 from the Fiduciary Fund; P5,387.55 from the Judiciary Development Fund and P192 from the Sheriff General Fund. He is likewise ordered to SHOW CAUSE within ten (10) days from notice of this resolution why he should not be disbarred.

    The Employees Leave Division, Office of Administrative Services, OCA, is likewise DIRECTED to compute the balance of Atty. Marron's earned leave credits and forward the same to the Finance Division, Fiscal Management Office, OCA, which shall compute its monetary value. The amount, as well as other benefits he may be entitled to shall be applied as restitution of the shortage.8

    The OCA is also ordered to coordinate with the prosecution arm of the government to ensure the expeditious prosecution of the criminal liability of Atty. Jovito M. Marron.

    SO ORDERED.

    Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
    Sandoval-Gutierrez J., on leave.

    Endnotes:


    1 Manual for Clerks of Court, Chapter VII, Secs. A(1) & B.

    2 A.M. No. 00-5-219-RTC

    3 A.M. No. 01-2-18, December 5, 2003.

    4 Office of the Court Administrator v. Fortaleza, 385 SCRA 293, 303 [2002] citing Office of the Court Administrator v. Bawalan, 231 SCRA 408 [1994] and Office of the Court Administrator v. Galo, 314 SCRA 705 [1999].

    5 271 SCRA 302 [1997].

    6 SUBJECT: COURT FIDUCIARY FUND

    The following guidelines and procedures for purposes of uniformity in the manner of collections and deposits are hereby established:

    Guidelines in Making Deposits:

    x x x

    (2) Deposits shall be made in the name of the Court, with its Clerk of Court and the Executive Judge as authorized signatories.

    Guidelines in Making Withdrawals:

    (1) Withdrawal slips shall be signed by the Executive/Presiding Judge and countersigned by the Clerk of Court.

    (2) No withdrawals except as specifically provided in the immediately preceding paragraph, shall be allowed unless there is a lawful order from the Court that has jurisdiction over the subject matter involved.

    7 Dizon v. Bawalan, 405 SCRA 236, 242 [2003].

    8 Report on the Financial Audit Conducted at the Municipal Trial Courts of Bani, Alaminos, and Lingayen, Pangasinan. A. M. No. 01-2-18 , December 5, 2003.


    A.M. No. 02-1-66-RTC - RE: REPORT ON THE FINANCIAL AUDIT CONDUCTED IN THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT BRANCH 34, BALAOAN, LA UNION


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