A. M. No. P-00-1445 - April 30, 2003
MEDARDO M. PADUA, Complainant, vs. IRENEO S. PAZ, in his capacity as Sheriff IV, Branch 31, Regional Trial Court, San Pedro, Laguna, Respondent.
Complainant Medardo M. Padua charges respondent Ireneo S. Paz, Sheriff IV of Branch 31 of the Regional Trial Court, San Pedro, Laguna, with grave misconduct, falsification of public document, perjury, giving false testimony, and abuse of position in connection with Civil Case No. 3225.1 On 12 June 1997, a Toyota Tamaraw wagon model 1994 bearing plate number TKU 319 belonging to Medardo M. Padua ("complainant") figured in a traffic accident with the vehicle of Ireneo S. Paz ("respondent sheriff"), a 1981 Ford Laser bearing plate number DAL 334. Complainant's 18-year old son Ryan Niño Padua ("Ryan Padua") was driving complainant's vehicle at the time of the accident.
Police Officer Victoriano A. Sabuco prepared a Traffic Accident Investigation Report2 ("police report") shortly after completing the investigation of the accident. The police report stated that at the time of the accident Ryan Padua possessed a valid driver's license with license number NO1-95-179337.3
Complainant claimed that after the traffic accident, he gave respondent sheriff his calling card. This card supposedly contained the addresses and telephone numbers of both the complainant and his insurer, Covenant Assurance Company ("Covenant").4 Since respondent sheriff appeared satisfied with the arrangement, complainant believed the matter was amicably settled. Thus, complainant went his own way and so did respondent sheriff.
However, on 26 November 1998, several armed men, including police officers, claiming to be from the Office of the Provincial Sheriff of Laguna, awakened complainant at 6:00 a.m. in his house. The men announced that they were enforcing a writ of execution issued by the Municipal Trial Court of Biñan, Laguna ("Biñan MTC"). Complainant was able to convince the men from the sheriff's office to give him some time to clarify the matter, and so the men peacefully left the premises.
Complainant soon discovered the reason for the sheriffs' surprise visit. He and his lawyer found out that on 30 June 1997 respondent sheriff filed with the Biñan MTC a civil case for damages5 in connection with the traffic accident. The summons was allegedly sent to complainant's mother in Novaliches, where complainant previously resided. This, complainant claims, explains why he was not aware of the case filed against him until the sheriffs made their surprise visit. Complainant was declared in default for failing to file an answer within the reglementary period. Subsequently, there was an ex-parte presentation of evidence before a commissioner. Soon after this ex-parte hearing, Estanislao S. Belan of the Biñan MTC rendered a decision on 24 November 1997 in respondent sheriff's favor. Complainant vigorously opposed the execution of this decision because of the alleged defective summons.
On 18 December 1998, complainant filed this administrative complaint against respondent sheriff for falsification of public document, perjury, giving false testimony and abuse of position.6 Complainant also asserted that under the current civil service rules, respondent sheriff did not possess the necessary qualifications to hold his present position.7 Complainant, moreover, stated that he resorted to all the means available to prevent the enforcement of an obviously unjust decision considering the numerous false statements and misrepresentations made by respondent sheriff.8 He narrated that he felt so aggrieved by the numerous attempts of the sheriffs of the Biñan MTC to enforce the writ of execution despite the fact that he had already gone to the courts to defend himself.9
On 25 March 1999, respondent sheriff filed an Answer10 denying all of complainant's material allegations. Respondent sheriff contended that he only filed the civil case for damages because complainant failed to honor his repeated promises that his insurer would pay for the damage to respondent sheriff's vehicle.
On 7 May 1999, complainant filed his Reply refuting respondent sheriff's allegations in the Answer and reiterating some of the allegations in his Complaint.
The Court, in the Resolution of 9 May 2001, assigned to Executive Judge Norberto Y. Geraldez11 ("Investigating Judge Geraldez") this administrative complaint for investigation, report and recommendation.
On 6 November 2001, the Court received the report and recommendations of Investigating Judge Geraldez. Some of Judge Geraldez's findings included the following:
Investigating Judge Geraldez stated in his Resolution dated 5 November 2001, that:
Upon receipt of Investigating Judge Geraldez's findings and recommendations, the Court referred this administrative case to the Office of the Court Administrator on 10 December 2001 for evaluation, report and recommendation.
After a careful evaluation of the record of this case, the Office of the Court Administrator ("OCA") agreed with the report of Investigating Judge Geraldez. The OCA affirmed in toto his recommendations and found them to be wholly supported by evidence and jurisprudence.
The OCA recommended that respondent sheriff Ireneo S. Paz be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch, instrumentality or agency of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Moreover, the OCA recommended that the case be referred to the Department of Justice for investigation and filing, if warranted, of the appropriate criminal case against complainant or respondent sheriff, or both.12
The Court agrees with the findings and conclusions of the OCA.
Complainant first imputes to respondent sheriff the act of falsifying the police report respondent sheriff presented to the court. Respondent sheriff presented to the Biñan MTC a photocopy of the police report,13 showing that at the time of the traffic accident Ryan Padua was only thirteen years old, well below the statutory minimum age for driving, which is eighteen years. Respondent sheriff's copy of the police report is marked as Exhibit "B-1" and is a certified true copy of the original. However, it was Dahlia E. Borromeo, the Clerk of Court of the Biñan MTC, who certified it.
To refute this piece of evidence submitted by respondent sheriff, complainant presented a different copy of the same police report, duly marked as Exhibit "B." This copy of the police report was certified by Police Officer Victoriano A. Sabuco of the Metro Traffic Force, Southern District Traffic Command, Pasay City. He was also the police officer who prepared the original document. This copy submitted by complainant states that Ryan Padua's age is eighteen years old.
Respondent sheriff never filed any opposition to Exhibit "B." He never contested its authenticity. His silence may be construed as a tacit admission of the authenticity of Exhibit "B," and necessarily also a tacit admission that the police report he presented in court is a falsified copy.
Respondent sheriff stood to benefit from having the police report reflect that Ryan Padua was an underage driver, showing that Ryan Padua was at the time of the accident not qualified to drive a vehicle. As a father to a minor, complainant would also be liable for the negligent acts of his son that cause damage to others.14 Thus, as found by Investigating Judge Geraldez, there is "evidence to prove that Ireneo Paz may have committed falsification of the Traffic Accident Investigation Report ('Exhibit B-1')," an act constituting grave misconduct.
Another charge imputed against respondent sheriff is the act of having committed perjury. Perjury is the deliberate making of untruthful statements upon any material matter before a competent person authorized to administer an oath in cases in which the law requires such oath.15
There are four elements that comprise the crime of perjury, namely: (a) the accused made a statement under oath on a material matter; (b) the statement was made before a competent officer, authorized to receive and administer oaths; (c) the accused made a willful and deliberate assertion of a falsehood in the statement and, (d) the sworn statement containing the falsity is required by law or made for a legal purpose.
Respondent sheriff in his verified complaint for damages stated that Ryan Padua had no driver's license on 12 June 1997, which was the date of the vehicular accident. Respondent sheriff knew that this statement he made under oath was false. This conclusion is drawn from the tact that in respondent sheriff's own copy of the police report, at the time of the accident, Ryan Padua possessed license number NO1-95-179337. This information contained in respondent sheriff's copy of the police report completely contradicts the statement respondent sheriff made in his very own complaint. Respondent sheriff cannot merely feign ignorance of this detail which is material to his complaint for damages. Based on the evidence, all the requisite elements of the act of perjury exist. Clearly, respondent sheriff committed perjury in filing his verified complaint for damages, an act constituting grave misconduct.
Another accusation complainant makes against respondent sheriff is the act of giving false testimony. Complainant cites respondent sheriff's testimony in court that he never filed a claim with complainant's insurer, Covenant. Complainant, however, points out that respondent sheriff did file a claim with Covenant to collect on complainant's admitted liability for his son's part in the vehicular accident.
On 21 August 1997, in an ex parte hearing conducted before the Clerk of Court of the Biñan MTC, respondent sheriff stated under oath that he approached complainant to plead with him to pay the damages respondent sheriff incurred from the accident. However, complainant allegedly refused to pay the damages and instead claimed that his insurance company would pay the damages. When asked if respondent sheriff contacted this insurance company, respondent sheriff claimed he did not because complainant did not even mention to him the insurance company that insured complainant's car.16
However, ample evidence exists on record to prove that respondent sheriff indeed had filed a claim with Covenant, contrary to the statement he made under oath. Respondent sheriff submitted several documents to the insurance company, namely: (1) a Certificate of Registration;17 (2) an official receipt from the Land Transportation Office evidencing payment of such registration;18 (3) a driver's license;19 (4) a receipt20 from Imperial Insurance, Inc., evidencing payment of premium, which receipt is duly marked as received by Covenant; (5) a Private Car Policy21 issued by Imperial Insurance, Inc. in favor of one Ireneo Paz, also marked as received by Covenant; and (6) a detailed estimate22 issued by Cosmetic Car Care enumerating the various repairs needed on respondent sheriff's vehicle.
All these are some of the requirements necessary prior to the filing of an insurance claim with Covenant. Respondent sheriff did contact Covenant and even filed a claim with Covenant for payment of the damage to his car, despite his sworn testimony to the contrary. Clearly, respondent sheriff gave false testimony in the ex-parte hearing, an act also constituting grave misconduct.
Court personnel charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, bear a heavy responsibility in insuring that their conduct is always beyond reproach.23 The preservation of the integrity of the judicial process is of paramount importance. All those occupying offices in the judiciary should at all times be aware that they are accountable to the people. They must serve with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice and lead modest lives.24
Indeed, all those involved in the administration of justice must at all times conduct themselves with the highest degree of propriety and decorum and take utmost care in avoiding incidents that degrade the judiciary and diminish the respect and regard for the courts.25
In grave misconduct, there must be substantial evidence showing that the acts complained of are corrupt or inspired by an intention to violate the law, or constitute flagrant disregard of well-known legal rules.26 Respondent sheriff's introduction in evidence of the falsified police report, committing perjury and giving false testimony, are plainly corrupt acts and show an intent to disregard flagrantly the law. They constitute grave misconduct that corrodes respect for the courts. Incidentally, respondent sheriff's acts of perjury and of giving false testimony, which show a predisposition to lie, defraud and deceive, also constitute dishonesty.27
The penalty for grave misconduct is dismissal from the service,28 with forfeiture of all benefits and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or agency of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.29 In Remolona v. Civil Service Commission,30 the Court En Banc ruled that, to warrant dismissal, grave misconduct or dishonesty need not be committed in the course of performance of duty by the person charged. The Court explained the rationale for this rule, as follows:
Public confidence in our courts is vital to the effective functioning of the judiciary. Court personnel who commit misconduct or dishonesty diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary's ability to dispense justice.
Respondent sheriff failed to live up to the high ethical standards demanded by the office he occupies. By committing the questioned acts, respondent sheriff undermined the integrity of the service and jeopardized the public's faith in the impartiality of the courts. Respondent sheriff, who is an important court personnel because he enforces judicial orders, debased the judicial process by introducing in evidence a falsified document, committing perjury and giving false testimony in an effort to obtain unfairly a favorable judgment for himself.
WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Sheriff IV Ireneo S. Paz of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 31, San Pedro, Laguna, guilty of GRAVE MISCONDUCT. The Court imposes on him the penalty of DISMISSAL from the service with forfeiture of all benefits, excluding accrued leave credits, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or agency of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.
Let a copy of this decision be attached to the personnel records of Ireneo S. Paz.
Davide, Jr., C .J ., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio Morales, Callejo, Sr. and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
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