September 2005 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.M. No. P-05-1976 - Erlinda Bergonia v. Romeo S. Gatcheco, Jr.
[A.M. NO. P-05-1976. September 9, 2005]
(Formerly OCA IPI No. 04-1835-P)
ERLINDA BERGONIA, Complainant, v. ROMEO S. GATCHECO, JR., Sheriff III, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Santiago City, Branch 1, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
The instant administrative matter refers to the charges of dishonesty against Romeo Gatcheco, Jr., Sheriff III, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Santiago City, Branch I, relative to Civil Case No. 1-659, entitled "Erlinda Bergonia v. Elsa Gamboa" for collection of sum of money and damages.
In her Complaint1 dated November 24, 2003, Erlinda Bergonia alleged that she was the prevailing party in the said case, and that the court issued a Writ of Execution on January 6, 2003. Pursuant to the writ, the respondent conducted the auction sale on August 29, 2003 on a levied refrigerator in the amount of
P1,600.00. The respondent, however, had not yet turned over the proceeds of the sale to the complainant.
The Office of the Court Administrator twice required the respondent to submit his comment on the complaint - in a 1st Indorsement2 dated January 13, 2004, and in a Tracer Letter3 dated March 26, 2004. While the registry return receipts indicate that the respondent received the said directives, he failed to submit his comment.
In a Resolution dated March 14, 2005, the instant case was referred to Executive Judge Efren M. Cacatian, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Santiago City, for investigation, report and recommendation.
In his Report dated June 27, 2005, the Executive Judge made the following findings:
4) On December 12, 2003, complainant filed a motion informing the court that respondent sheriff was able to seize and levy a television set and a refrigerator, and that the television was sold at public auction for the sum of Php2,000.00 which proceeds was turned over to her. However, the proceeds of the auction sale held later over the refrigerator for the sum of Php1,600.00 was not remitted to her by the respondent, and since then respondent never appeared, only to learn that the respondent [has] gone AWOL. For this reason, she requested Judge Plata to assign a new or another sheriff to fully [execute] the writ issued in her favor.
5) Thus, in his Order of [December 15, 2003], Judge Plata promptly assigned Sheriff Fernando Balauag in lieu of the respondent.
6) On May 18, 2005, the Civil Docket Clerk, Ms. Tessie L. Duque, of MTCC, Branch 1, Santiago City, certified that respondent sheriff has not submitted any report as to the status of the writ of execution, which fact she confirmed during the investigation.
In the case record of this administrative case there, is a "Notice of Sale of Property on Execution" dated August 13, 2003, signed by respondent sheriff, which reflects that, on January 16, 2003, he levied from Elsa Gamboa, the judgment debtor in Civil Case No. 1-659 above-mentioned, one (1) 5-cubic feet National refrigerator, and said item would be the subject of a public auction to be held on August 29, 2003, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. However, this Notice of Sale does not appear in the case records of Civil Case No. 1-659. More importantly, no report thereafter was ever made by respondent sheriff as to the execution and auction sale conducted by him.
The complainant as well as the respondent were duly notified of the hearings set on May 12, 13, 18 and 20, 2005 at 8:00 a.m., but only the complainant appeared, despite due notice to the respondent.
In light of the foregoing facts, the undersigned finds the respondent guilty of the following violations:
1) He violated the provision of Section 14 of Rule 39 of the Rules of Court which provides that:
Sec. 14. Return of Writ of Execution. 'The writ shall be returnable to the court issuing it immediately after the judgment has been satisfied in part or in full. If the judgment cannot be satisfied in full within thirty (30) days after his receipt of the writ, the officer shall report to the court and state the reason therefore (sic). Such writ shall continue in effect during the period within which the judgment may be enforced by motion. The officer shall make a report to the court every thirty (30) days on the proceedings taken thereon until the judgment is satisfied in full, or its effectivity expires. The returns or periodic reports shall set forth the whole of the proceedings taken, and shall be filed with the court and copies thereof promptly furnished the parties.
and No. 17.3 of the Guidelines and Procedures in the service and execution of court writs and processes, 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court, which also provides that:
17.3. All sheriffs and deputy sheriffs shall submit a report to the judge concerned of the action taken on all writs and processes assigned to them within ten (10) days from receipt of the said process or writ. Said report shall form part of the records on the case.
2) More seriously, respondent is guilty of gross misconduct because he misappropriated the proceeds of the auction sale by failing to deliver and remit the same to the complainant as judgment creditor.
3) Respondent is negligent and incompetent in the performance of his duties. As borne out in the case records of Civil Case No. 1-659, the respondent has not submitted any return or any report relative to the implementation of the writ of execution, though it appears that he has levied personal properties from the judgment debtor, as in fact, he has sold the items in a public sale.
The undersigned notes that respondent has gone AWOL. Nonetheless, he should be penalized accordingly.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is hereby recommended that the respondent sheriff, Romeo Gatcheco, Jr. of the MTCC, Branch 1, Santiago City be dismissed from the service.
The Court agrees with the foregoing recommendation.
Indeed, the primary duty of sheriffs is to execute judgments and orders of the court to which they belong. It must be stressed that a judgment, if not executed, would just be an empty victory on the part of the prevailing party.4 It is said that execution is the fruit and the end of the suit and is very aptly called the life of the law.5 It is also indisputable that the most difficult phase of any proceeding is the execution of judgment.
Hence, the officers charged with this delicate task must, in the absence of a restraining order, act with considerable dispatch so as not to unduly delay the administration of justice; otherwise, the decisions, orders, or other processes of the courts of justice would be futile.6
Indeed, court personnel, from the lowliest employee to the clerk of court or any position lower than that of a judge or justice, are involved in the dispensation of justice, and parties seeking redress from courts for
grievances look upon them as part of the Judiciary. Thus, in performing their duties and responsibilities, court personnel serve as sentinels of justice and any act of impropriety on their part immeasurably affects the honor and dignity of the Judiciary and the people's confidence in it.7 Thus, court employees should, at all times, show a high degree of professionalism in the performance of duties. By his actuations, the respondent showed very little regard in upholding the law. As front-line representatives of our justice system, sheriffs in particular, should be more vigilant in the execution of the law, for once the people's trust is lost, the people's faith in the Judiciary is diminished. The imperative and sacred duty of each and everyone in the court is to maintain its good name and standing as a temple of justice.8
The Court is thus constrained to rule that the respondent is guilty of dishonesty and grave misconduct. In fact, his failure to file his comment and his continued refusal to meet the charges against him head-on are indicative of his guilt. 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 Section 52 and Section 58, Rule IV, of Civil Service Commission Memorandum Circular No. 19, Series of 1999 (Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service).9
WHEREFORE, Respondent Romeo S. Gatcheco, Jr. 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, 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. 1.
2 Id. at 7.
3 Id. at 8.
4 Benitez v. Acosta, A.M. No. P-01-1473, 27 March 2001, 355 SCRA 380.
5 Eduarte v. Ramos, A.M. No. P-94-1069, 9 November 1994, 238 SCRA 36, citing Tan v. Herras, 195 SCRA 1 (1991).
6 Re: Danilo Cunanan, A.M. No. 91-8-374-OMB, 28 November 1994, 238 SCRA 421, citing Pascual v. Duncan, 216 SCRA 786 (1992).
7 A.M. No. 03-06-13-SC, Code of Conduct for Court Personnel, which took effect on June 1, 2004.
8 Punzalan-Santos v. Arquiza, A.M. No. P-93-976, 31 May 1995, 244 SCRA 527.
9 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).