August 2004 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.M. No. P-04-1878 - DALTON SANDOVAL v. ALFONSO H. IGNACIO, JR.
[A.M. NO. P-04-1878 : August 31, 2004]
DALTON SANDOVAL, Complainant, v. ALFONSO H. IGNACIO, JR., Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
This is an administrative complaint against Alfonso H. Ignacio, Jr. (Ignacio), Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 44, Dumaguete City.
In a Verified Complaint 1 dated July 29, 2002, Dalton Sandoval (Sandoval) charges Ignacio with Dereliction of Duty and Grave Misconduct. Sandoval alleges that he was one of the substitute plaintiffs in Civil Case No. 245 filed before the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Tayasan-Jimalalud, Negros Oriental. Five (5) years after the case was filed, judgment was rendered in favor of the plaintiffs. On appeal, the RTC affirmed the MCTC's decision and the same became final and executory. An Order 2 for the issuance of a Writ of Execution was thereafter issued on July 7, 1995.
Sandoval attached to his Verified Complaint a letter3 from Ignacio addressed to his counsel requesting money to be used for the service of the writ. Although the complaint fails to indicate whether Sandoval gave money to Ignacio as requested, Sandoval asserts in his Memorandum
dated March 25, 2003 that he gave Ignacio
P1,200.00 and that the latter issued him an undated Temporary Receipt
Apparently, the writ was served on February 9, 1996 but Ignacio was not able to enforce the writ and judgment was not fully executed. Not having heard from Ignacio since, Sandoval's counsel inquired on the status of the case on June 12, 2002 and learned that Ignacio did not file a return of service. It was only on June 25, 2002, as certified by the Acting Clerk of Court,6 that Ignacio filed a Sheriff Return of Service 7 dated June 21, 2002, explaining that the writ was not fully satisfied because of a possible agreement between the parties. Ignacio attached to his return a Manifestation and Motion 8 also dated June 21, 2002 filed by counsel for the defendants, praying that no further action be taken on Civil Case No. 245 until after a decision in a similar case9 involving the same property has been rendered, which Sandoval points to as evidence of an "unholy alliance" between Ignacio and the defendants' counsel for the purpose of delaying the enforcement of the writ.
Ignacio filed a Comment 10 dated October 8, 2002 denying that he failed to serve the Writ of Execution 11 and to submit a return therefor. According to him, he filed a return on February 9, 1996 handwritten at the bottom the writ itself. Considering that the lifetime of writs of execution under the old Rules of Court was sixty (60) days, the writ expired on February 25, 1996, as it was received by the Office of the Provincial Sheriff on December 27, 1995. The plaintiffs did nothing to enforce the judgment since then. In fact, it was only on March 4, 1999 that Sandoval's counsel filed a Motion for Issuance of an Alias Writ of Execution, which the court did not act upon.
Ignacio admitted writing a letter to Sandoval's counsel asking for money to defray the expenses of execution. However, he did not say if he received the requested amount of money. However, he denied colluding with counsel for the defendants to delay the enforcement of the writ.
In the Agenda Report 12 dated December 4, 2002, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) concluded that the respondent sheriff complied with the provisions of the old Rules of Court concerning the service of writs of execution and filing of return therefor. The OCA, however, found him guilty of misfeasance in office for failure to comply with Section 9, Rule 141 of the old Rules of Court on the procedure for the implementation of writs and other court processes, and accordingly recommended that he be suspended for a period of one (1) week without pay.
In a Resolution 13 dated 15 January 2003, the Court resolved to refer the matter to the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Dumaguete City for investigation, report and recommendation within thirty (30) days from receipt of the records.
Pursuant to this directive, Executive Judge Eleuterio E. Chiu (Executive Judge Chiu) submitted a Report and Recommendation 14 dated April 11, 2003 finding that Ignacio acted negligently and irregularly when:
a) He did not submit his sheriff's return of service within sixty (60) days from December 27, 1995 or at most, within a reasonable time after he served it on Feb. 9, 1996, but only on June 25, 2002, after he was prodded to submit his return;
b) He asked for and received
P1,200.00 from complainant without issuing official receipt therefor, without depositing it with the Clerk of Court, and without making a liquidation and accounting thereof even up to the present.
He thus violated Sec. 11, Rule 39 and Sec. 7, Rule 141, Old Rules of Court and of Sec. 113, Art. 3, Chapter 5, National Accounting and Auditing Manual for failure to issue official receipt for money collected'15
Accordingly, Executive Judge Chiu recommended that Ignacio be 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 more severely.
The Court, in its Resolution 16 dated September 22, 2003, referred Executive Judge Chiu's report to the OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation. Pursuant thereto, the OCA submitted a Memorandum 17 dated January 8, 2004 adopting the recommendation of Executive Judge Chiu.
Significantly, Executive Judge Chiu's report varies with the OCA's Memorandum on the aspect of whether Ignacio made a return of service of the writ and filed the same with the court as required under Section 11, Rule 39 of the old Rules of Court. Executive Judge Chiu completely disregarded Ignacio's return handwritten on the writ itself. Instead, he found that Ignacio made a return dated June 21, 2002 and filed the same with the MCTC only on June 25, 2002. On the other hand, the OCA acknowledges that Ignacio made a handwritten return but that he failed to file the same within the time fixed by the old Rules of Court. Incidentally, this OCA conclusion diametrically contradicts the preliminary finding in its Agenda Report that Ignacio served the writ on February 9, 1996, wrote the return on the writ itself and filed the same with the court.18
Section 11, Rule 39 of the old Rules of Court, provides:
Sec. 11. Return of writ of execution.' The writ of execution may be made returnable, to the clerk or judge of the court issuing it, at any time not less than ten (10) nor more than sixty (60) days after its receipt by the officer who must set forth in writing on its back the whole of his proceedings by virtue thereof, and file it with the clerk or judge to be preserved with the other papers in the case. A certified copy of the record, in the execution book kept by the clerk, of an execution by virtue of which real property has been sold, or of the officer's return thereon, shall be evidence of the contents of the originals whenever they, or any part thereof, have been lost or destroyed.
This provision requires the officer making the return to do two things: 1) to make a return setting forth the whole of the proceedings taken by virtue of the writ of execution; and 2) to file the same with the clerk of court or the judge who issued the writ.
The note19 handwritten with the date "2-9-96," on the bottom of page 2 of the Writ of Execution dated July 11, 1995 can be considered a return of the writ in compliance with the Rules of Court. The fact that Acting Clerk of Court Emelyn D. Gonzaga (Gonzaga) later issued a Certification 20 dated July 1, 2002 to the effect that Ignacio filed on June 25, 2002 a Sheriff Return of Service dated June 21, 2002 does not necessarily indicate that no return was made and filed on February 9, 1996 as claimed by Ignacio and shown on the writ itself. Notably, the handwritten return is even authenticated by Gonzaga's signature superimposed thereon.21
Nonetheless, we find that the Writ of Execution was returned unsatisfied due to Ignacio's fault. Ignacio testified during his direct examination, thus:
Q: Now you said you executed or served the writ, what was the result of the writ?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A: The partial execution was served and in fact, I ordered the defendants to vacate the premises giving them a grace period and I was with one police officer of Tayasan. After that, I made a return at the lower portion of the writ.
Q: And after the execution on February 9, 1996, what happened?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A: The full implementation of the Writ of Execution was not served because the Motion to Quash Writ of Execution and several other Motions were unresolved by the Court up to the present time.22
Firstly, Ignacio has no discretion, much less authority, to grant as he did in the handwritten note,23 the defendants a grace period within which to comply with the Writ of Execution. He is to execute the order of the court strictly to the letter.24 In this case, the judgment ordered the defendants to vacate the litigated area; to pay reasonable monthly rentals from the time judgment was rendered until the plaintiffs shall have been restored to their actual and physical possession of the land in question; and to pay the plaintiffs the sum of
P3,000.00 as attorney's fees, without mention of any grace period to be accorded the defendants.
Secondly, assuming that there were unresolved motions relative to Civil Case No. 245, Ignacio was still duty bound to execute the writ according to its mandate, in the absence of a restraining order or any instructions to the contrary.25
Of paramount significance is the fact that Ignacio received the amount of
P1,200.00 from Sandoval without issuing an official receipt therefor, depositing the amount with the clerk of court and making a liquidation or accounting thereof up to the present.
The rule requires the sheriff executing writs or processes to estimate the expenses to be incurred. Upon the approval of the estimated expenses, the interested party has to deposit the amount with the Clerk of Court and Ex-officio Sheriff. The 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.26
In this case, there is nothing on record to indicate that Ignacio made an estimate of the expenses to be incurred for execution and had the estimate approved by the court. What does appear on record is the fact that he asked for and received the amount of
P1,200.00 from Sandoval for which he issued a mere handwritten Temporary Receipt.27
Neither does it appear that he deposited the amount with the Clerk of Court and Ex-officio Sheriff and rendered an accounting thereof.
The sheriff's conduct of unilaterally 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 an accounting therefor constitutes dishonesty and extortion and falls short of the required standards of public service. Such conduct threatens the very existence of the system of administration of justice. 28" href="#fnt28">28
Ignacio's issuance of a handwritten Temporary Receipt also constitutes a violation of Section 113, 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."
In view of the foregoing, the recommended penalty of suspension for three (3) months without pay is evidently too light. In Patangan v. Concha and Padilla v. Arabia, supra, involving similar infractions by a sheriff, we imposed the penalty of dismissal from service on the respondent.
WHEREFORE, respondent Sheriff IV Alfonso H. Ignacio, Jr. is hereby DISMISSED from the service for grave misconduct and dereliction of duty, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch of government including government-owned or controlled corporations.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, TINGA, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
Puno, Panganiban, Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Carpio, JJ., on official leave.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-9, with Annexes.
2 Id. at 5; Annex "A" of the Verified Complaint.
3 Id. at 6; dated October 4, 1995; Annex "B" of the Verified Complaint.
4 Id. at 70-73.
5 A piece of paper entitled Temporary Receipt signed by Ignacio is attached as p. 50 of the Rollo. Its full text reads:
RECEIVED THE AMOUNT OF ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED AS PARTIAL PAYMENT (
P1,200.00) FOR THE EXECUTION OF CIVIL CASE ENTITLED SANDOVAL VERSUS ALBERTO, FOR EJECTMENT.
(SGD.) ALFONSO H. IGNACIO, JR.
RTC, Br. 44
6 See Certification dated July 1, 2002; Annex "E" of the Verified Complaint; Rollo, p. 9.
7 Supra, note 1 at 7; Annex "C" of the Verified Complaint.
8 Id. at 8; Annex "D" of the Verified Complaint.
9 Civil Case No. 99-031-T.
10 Supra, note 1 at 13-18.
11 Id. at 20; Annex "2" of the Comment.
12 Id. at 27-29.
13 Id. at 30.
14 Id. at 139-143.
15 Id. at 143.
16 Id. at 166.
17 Id. at 167-170.
18 Supra, note 12 at 28; Agenda Report dated December 4, 2002.
19 The text of the note reads:
RECEIVED COPY OF THE WRIT OF EXECUTION, BUT REFUSED TO SIGN, THEY ARE GOING TO THEIR LAWYER GIVING THEM (DEFENDANTS) NAMELY: ESMERALDA ALBERTO YURONG AND CONSUELO ALBERTO BOTH LIVING IN THE LAND IN QUESTION TO VACATE THE PREMISES WITHIN TEN (10) DAYS FROM RECEIPT OF THE WRIT OF EXECUTION. WITNESSED BY SPO1 DOLGER BERMUDO OF TAYASAN POLICE STATION. 2-9-96.
Rollo, p. 21; Annex 2 of the Comment.
20 Supra, note 1 at 9; Annex "E" of the Verified Complaint.
21 Id. at 21.
22 TSN dated March 19, 2003, pp. 41-42; Rollo, pp. 120-121.
23 Supra note 19.
27 Supra, note 5.
28 a href="../../juri1994/jul1994/am_p_93_935_1994.php">Ong v. Meregildo, 233 SCRA 632, cited in Bercasio v. Benito, supra.