September 2005 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.M. No. P-05-1933 - Jaclyn Chua v. Rey F. Paas.
[A.M. NO. P-05-1933. September 9, 2005]
JACLYN CHUA, Complainant, v. REY F. PAAS, CLERK III, Metropolitan Trial Court, Office of the Clerk of Court, Pasay City, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is an administrative complaint against Rey F. Paas, Clerk III, Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC), Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC), Pasay City. The charges are contained in Jaclyn Chua's Complaint-Affidavit dated October 16, 2002.
The complainant alleged that on October 16, 2002, she, together with Anne Bergonio, went to the OCC, Pasay City, to pay the corresponding filing fees for I.S. Nos. 01F-3365-73 to 01-3050-53 for 13 counts of violation of Batas Pambansa (B.P.) Blg. 22, now consolidated into Criminal Case Nos. 02-2750-62 entitled "People v. Judy Te Co."
As the complainant approached the respondent, the latter convinced her to entrust
P30,000.00 to him for the payment of the filing fees (amounting to P29,565.00), claiming that it will take some time to process such payment. The respondent assured her that he would facilitate the transaction and the issuance of a warrant of arrest. Believing the respondent, the complainant entrusted the P30,000.00 to him. The respondent told her to return on October 22, 2002 to get the official receipt and warrant of arrest.
The complainant then informed her counsel, Atty. Antonio H. Tan, of her transaction with the respondent. Atty. Tan told the complainant that the said transaction was anomalous and irregular, and instructed her to go back to the court to retrieve the amount. The complainant did as she was told, and demanded the return of the money from the respondent. Instead of returning the money, the respondent signed a note acknowledging his receipt of the
P30,000.00 for the payment of the filing fees. The complainant and her representative went back to the OCC, MeTC to get the official receipt, or the P30,000.00, but their efforts proved futile.
For his part, the respondent denied the allegations. He claimed to have met the complainant sometime in May 2002, when the complainant introduced herself as a financier/lender to government employees. Sometime thereafter, he was able to secure a
P5,000.00 loan from the complainant, which, after successive loans, went up to P30,000.00. He further claimed that in October 2002, the complainant went to the OCC, MeTC of Pasay City, and asked him if she could apply his P30,000.00 loan to the payment of the docket fees of a B.P. Blg. 22 case, where the latter was an interested party. The respondent informed the complainant that he could not do so. According to the respondent, the complainant threatened to file charges against him, which constrained him to sign a note evidencing receipt of P30,000.00.
The respondent added that sometime in November 2002, a certain Perlito Ortiz, who introduced himself as an agent of the complainant, went to the OCC, MeTC to collect from him the amount of
P60,000.00; the P30,000.00 loan had ballooned to P60,000.00 because of the P30,000.00 receipt which he signed in October 2002.
In a Resolution1 dated February 9, 2005, the Court resolved to refer the matter to Executive Judge Caridad Grecia Cuerdo of the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City, Branch 113, for investigation, report and recommendation.
The case was set for hearing on May 13 and June 10, 2005, respectively, and on both occasions, the respondent failed to appear to present his defense. As per the letter of Atty. Teresita Pablo, Clerk of Court IV, MeTC, OCC, Pasay City, the respondent had been absent without official leave as of November 19, 2004.
The findings and recommendation of the Executive Judge in her Report dated June 30, 2005 are as follows:
The respondent's claim that his transaction with the complainant was purely in the form of a loan is self-serving, bereft of merit and a mere afterthought considering that it took him one year and nine months to come up with such a defense. This was neither substantiated by an evidence nor corroborated by any witness. Mention must also be made that on several occasions, the respondent was given the opportunity to present his defense in the interest of justice and fair play. Unfortunately, the respondent opted not to appear in hearings and investigations conducted by the Office of the Executive Judge, Regional Trial Court of Pasay City. Although respondent filed his COUNTER-AFFIDAVIT on September 21, 2004, the same is construed as a disrespect and mockery of the proceedings considering that it was undertaken with an unreasonable and unexplained delay of one (1) year and nine (9) months.
The acts of respondent in not reporting [for] work without official leave since November 19, 2004 and deserting his apartment in Quezon City as shown by the PROCESS SERVER'S RETURN without leaving any forwarding address, during the pendency of the controversy, are indicative of his guilt.
Thus, the Executive Judge found that the respondent should be held accountable for misappropriating the amount of
P30,000.00, intended for the payment of the filing fees:
The respondent, in receiving the amount of
P30,000.00, completely violated [Canon III, Section 2(a) of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel]. A scrutiny of the records shows that the required filing fee is only P29,565.00. However, respondent received P30,000.00 on the representation that he will facilitate the payment of the filing fees and the issuance of a warrant of arrest. [Worse], the respondent was not able to rebut the allegation of the complainant that the former failed to return the amount of P30,000.00 or issue the official receipt pertinent thereto.
The respondent also transgressed Canon IV, Sec. 7 of the same Code by performing work or duty outside the scope of his assigned job description. Respondent as Clerk III in the OCC-MeTC of Pasay City is not allowed to receive and facilitate payments of filing fees of party litigants. Neither is he allowed to be a depository of money intended for the payment of filing fees.
The records also reveal that it took the respondent 1 year and 9 months to submit his counter-affidavit. This unreasonable and unexplained delay, coupled with the respondent's failure to appear in the hearings and investigations conducted by the Office of the Executive Judge, RTC, Pasay City, because he could not be located, as in fact he deserted his apartment during the pendency of the controversy, lead to no other conclusion that indeed the respondent is guilty of the charge against him. His defense is a mere afterthought, for fear that his dilatory tactic [has] nowhere to go. Silence is an admission if there was a chance to deny, especially if it constitutes one of the principal charges against him (Perez v. Suller, A.M. No. MTJ-94936, Nov. 6, 1995). The respondent, in the interest of justice and fair play, was given numerous opportunities to refute the charges against him. Unfortunately, however, he disregarded the same by even hiding. Verily, his said act of misappropriating the sum of
P30,000.00, money of the Complainant intended for the payment of filing fees, is tantamount to gross misconduct.
Lastly, respondent's failure to report for work since November 19, 2004 constitutes a clear violation of the Civil Service Law on absence without official leave.
WHEREFORE, considering that the respondent, as a court personnel, who is expected to uphold the integrity and dignity of the Judiciary failed to do so by reason of his acts which led to this complaint, respondent has tarnished the image of the Judiciary. Ergo, his DISMISSAL from the service is hereby respectfully recommended.
The findings of the Executive Judge are well taken.
No position demands greater moral righteousness and uprightness from the occupant than does the judicial office. Those connected with the dispensation of justice bear a heavy burden of responsibility. This Court has consistently held that persons involved in the administration of justice ought to live up to the strictest standards of honesty and integrity in the public service.2 The conduct required of court personnel, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, must always be beyond reproach and circumscribed with a heavy burden of responsibility.3
The Court is left with no choice but to declare the respondent guilty of dishonesty and gross misconduct. Dishonesty alone, 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 reemployment in the government service. This penalty is in accordance with Sections 52 and 58, Rule IV of Civil Service Commission Memorandum Circular No. 19, Series of 1999 (Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service).4
The Court reiterates the well-settled rule that a public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees are duty bound to serve with the highest degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency and shall remain accountable to the people. Persons involved in the administration of justice ought to live up to the strictest standard of honesty and integrity in the public service. The conduct of every personnel connected with the courts should, at all times, be circumspect to preserve the integrity and dignity of our courts of justice.5 As forerunners in the administration of justice, they ought to live up to the strictest standards of honesty and integrity, considering that their positions primarily involve service to the public.
The respondent's refusal to face head-on the charges against him is contrary to the principle that "the first impulse of an innocent man when accused of wrongdoing is to express his innocence at the first opportune time."6 Indeed, in this case, the respondent's flight and failure to appear before the Executive Judge to clear his name is truly indicative of his guilt.
Thus, the Court is left with no choice but to declare the respondent guilty of dishonesty and gross misconduct, which are grave offenses punishable by dismissal.7
WHEREFORE, Respondent Rey F. Paas is found GUILTY of dishonesty and gross misconduct. He is DISMISSED from the service effective immediately, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality in the government, including government-owned and controlled corporations.
This decision is immediately executory.
Panganiban, (Acting Chief Justice), Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Callejo, Sr., Tinga, Chico-Nazario, and Garcia, JJ., concur.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio-Morales, and Azcuna, JJ., on official leave.
* On official leave.
**Acting Chief Justice.
1 Rollo, p. 66.
2 Caña v. Santos, A.M. No. 93-10-1269-RTC, 8 July 1994, 234 SCRA 17.
3 Caguioa v. Flora, A.M. P-01-1480, 28 June 2001, 360 SCRA 12.
4 Dondiego v. Cuevas, Jr., A.M. No. P-03-1681, 28 February 2003, 398 SCRA 386, citing Office of the Court Administrator v. Magno, 367 SCRA 312 (2001).
5 De Guzman v. Gatlabayan, A.M. No. P-99-1323, 20 February 2001, 352 SCRA 264.
6 People v. Castillo, G.R. NOS. 111734-35, 16 June 2000, 333 SCRA 506.
7 Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (Resolution No. 99-1936, which took effect on September 27, 1999) provides:
Section 52. Classification of Offenses. 'Administrative offenses with corresponding penalties are classified into grave, less grave or light, depending on their gravity or depravity and effects on the government service.
A. The following are grave offenses with their corresponding penalties:
1. Dishonesty - 1st Offense - Dismissal
2. Gross Neglect of Duty - 1st Offense - Dismissal
3. Grave Misconduct - 1st Offense - Dismissal