April 2008 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
Adm. Matter No. P-06-2214 - GEMMA LETICIA F. TABLATE v. JORGE C. RA ESES
[Adm. Matter No. P-06-2214 : April 16, 2008]
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 05-2338-P)
GEMMA LETICIA F. TABLATE, Complainant, v. JORGE C. RAÑESES, Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 79, Quezon City, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is an administrative case filed by complainant Gemma Leticia F. Tablate against respondent Jorge C. Rañeses in his capacity as Sheriff IV of Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 79, Quezon City, for gross neglect of duty and incompetence relative to his alleged failure to serve the writ of execution for more than two years resulting in the accused's evasion of civil indemnity (in favor of complainant) amounting to
P300,000 in Criminal Case No. Q-98-78569.
In her verified Complaint dated November 22, 2005 before the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA),1 complainant Tablate averred that: on September 7, 1998, an Information for estafa was filed against accused Libertad De Guzman, which was docketed as Criminal Case No. Q-98-78569 and raffled to Quezon City RTC Branch 79; after trial, the case was decided acquitting the accused of the crime charged but ordering her to pay complainant the amount of
P300,000 plus legal interest; when the decision became final and executory, complainant moved for the execution of the judgment, which was granted by the court on February 24, 2003; pursuant to the Order, a writ of execution was issued by the branch clerk on March 6, 2003; since the issuance of the writ and up to the filing of this complaint, the writ had not been implemented by respondent; and that complainant had been continuously kept in the dark by respondent by not updating her on how he would proceed with the execution despite the fact that the latter had demanded and was given a sum of money to defray the expenses for the implementation of the writ and in spite of the follow-ups made by complainant by phone and in person or through representative, the latest being on November 9, 2005.
Respondent Rañeses denied the allegations of complainant. He countered in his Comment2 that:
3. After the issuance of the writ of execution on March 6, 2003, the complainant, through Atty. Kintanar, the private prosecutor in the subject case, first coordinated with the respondent regarding the writ's execution sometime in [October 2003]. Immediately thereafter, the respondent proceeded to the Office of the City Assessor of Quezon City to verify under whose name the subject property, on which the accused purportedly resides, per court records, was registered. Upon learning from the said office that the said real property was NOT REGISTERED in the name of the accused but instead the same was registered in the name of a certain Perfecto T. Ebangin x x x, the respondent proceeded to the Office of the [Register] of Deeds of Quezon City. In the [Register] of Deeds' office[,] the respondent learned that the title to the house and lot in which the accused supposedly resides (TCT No. PR-35698) at that time was registered under the name of a certain Reynaldo P. Villacorta, and that the same title [had] already been CANCELLED. The same verification also revealed that the subject real property [had] already been sold to a certain Arsenio Cuasa x x x;
4. All the foregoing developments/information [were] promptly relayed to the private prosecutor by the respondent. Upon being apprised of the result of the respondent's research[,] the private prosecutor told the sheriff that he [would] inform the private complainant, herein complainant, of the situation and the respondent was instructed to await further instructions from the complainant herself;
5. After thus reporting to the private prosecutor, neither he nor the complainant made further follow-ups until [August 2004] when complainant Atty. Tablate called the office of the respondent. However, at the time of said call, the respondent was not available to take the same, so the complainant left a message [to] the respondent for the latter to return her call. Immediately after learning of the phone call[,] the respondent called up the [complainant] in her office and made arrangements to meet with her at the soonest possible time to discuss the implementation of the writ. However, before such meeting could take place, a certain Alejandro Cruz, also a deputy sheriff [of] Quezon City, approached the respondent and made representations that he was following up the writ's implementation in behalf of the complainant. Sheriff Cruz volunteered to assist the respondent in the implementation of the writ of execution in case such implementation would proceed. So, on August 12, 2004, the respondent, together with Alejandro Cruz and a police officer, proceeded to the address on record of accused De Guzman, for verification purposes, and if feasible[,] to effect the implementation of the writ. Upon arriving at the site, the respondent saw the house thereat but the doors and windows thereof were all shut. They were further informed by neighbors that the accused was no longer residing in the said house. Consequently, the respondent and his companions left the site. (Sheriff's Report, September 17, 2004, x x x). Thereafter, the respondent promptly informed the complainant of the proceedings taken on the writ of execution personally at the latter's office. At said meeting[,] the complainant sought and the respondent gave some advice as to how to proceed with the implementation of the writ. The respondent told the complainant that he could conduct periodic "stake outs" of the premises, coordinate with the local [barangay] officials concerned with respect to the possibility of securing a certification as to whether or not the accused resides in the area, among other things. Thereafter, the complainant directed the respondent to do what he can to effect the implementation of the writ. In compliance with such instructions, the respondent made several follow-up visits to the premises for the purpose of locating the whereabouts of the accused as well as identifying personal property which could be the subject of levy on execution. However, despite earnest efforts on the part of the respondent, he could not locate any motor vehicle owned by the accused;
6. Another visit to the premises on record at Blk. 2, Lot 26, St. Andrews St., Phase 3, Sacred Heart Village, Quezon City, by the respondent pursuant to the writ was on March 18, 2005. On that occasion[,] he was again accompanied by Sheriff Alejandro Cruz. In the course of their investigation, they learned from a tricycle driver that accused De Guzman was renting a small space near the gate of the subdivision for use in her "carinderia" business. Acting on such information[,] the respondent proceeded to the said establishment but the accused was not around. While there, the respondent noted that there was no leviable personal property of value thereat since all he saw were plastic chairs and tables, a dilapidated refrigerator, and an old gas stove. The respondent and his companion left the premises. Such proceedings taken by the respondent were reduced into writing. (Sheriff's Report, April 28, 2005, x x x). [In May 2005,] the respondent went to the complainant's office and apprised her of his latest efforts to effect the implementation of the writ. During such meeting, the respondent advised the complainant that they may as well go to the [barangay] unit concerned to secure the appropriate certification as [to] whether the accused was indeed a resident in the area. For her part[,] the complainant again instructed the respondent to do all that he could so as to effect the execution of the money judgment. The complainant further told the respondent that in the event that no property of the accused could be attached or levied[,] as the case may be, she would just make public her complaints against the accused through print media with the help of Mr. Tulfo;
7. After the meeting, the respondent proceeded to the Barangay Hall in Quezon City which is supposed to have territorial jurisdiction over the premises per the records, for purposes of securing the certificate of residency of the accused. However, he was informed by a certain [barangay] BSDO (sic) that their area of responsibility extends only up to Phase 2 of Sacred Heart Village. The same [barangay] official informed the respondent that Phase 3 of Sacred Heart Village, in which the address on the accused on records is situated, [falls] within the territorial jurisdiction of Barangay Pasong Putik in Caloocan City. However, when the respondent went to Barangay Pasong Putik, the local authorities there told him that the premises was also beyond their jurisdiction and that it was in fact still within Quezon City. Given such situation, the respondent was unable to secure the subject certification;
8. On November 9, 2005, the complainant went to the respondent's office. The complainant at the time [was] accompanied by a certain Atty. Gerardo Calvo. During said visit[,] Atty. Tablate complained to the respondent as to why he was unable to implement the writ of execution. Furthermore, the complainant questioned the necessity of securing a [barangay] certification for purposes of determining the whereabouts of the accused. In response, the respondent informed the complainant that he [would] return to the premises with Sheriff Arnulfo Lim of Branch 227 to again attempt to locate property that may be attached or levied;
9. On November 11, 2005[,] the respondent, with Sheriff Arnulfo Lim[,] proceeded to the premises in issue where they found out from a nearby resident that the accused was still residing at the same address on record. They were further informed that it was difficult to chance upon Libertad de Guzman since she leaves very early in the morning and returns very late in the evening. Thereafter, the respondent knocked on the gate of the subject house. [Thereupon,] a man appeared before them and identified himself as one Bernardino de Guzman, who claimed to be the husband of Libertad. This Bernardo de Guzman went outside to meet the respondent and Sheriff Lim, locked the gate, and accompanied the sheriffs to the alleged "carinderia" of the accused. Upon arriving there[,] they were made to wait for a while as Mr. De Guzman went away to fetch his wife. When he returned, he was accompanied by accused Libertad. Upon meeting with the accused, the respondent served upon her the subject writ of execution and demanded of the latter that she immediately pay the money judgment. Upon receiving the writ and after having been asked to make payment, the accused told the respondent sheriff that she [would] refer the matter first to her counsel and further manifested that she would soon coordinate with the respondent and the court after meeting with her lawyer. The proceedings undertaken as above-mentioned have been reduced [into] writing as the "Sheriff's Partial Report" dated November 23, 2005 x x x;
10. On November 22, 2005, the respondent, this time with Deputy Sheriff Pedro Borja of the Clerk of Court's Office, Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, together with a police officer, again proceeded to the premises for the purpose of implementing the subject writ of execution. However, upon arriving at the site, it was discovered that the gate of the premises was closed, the doors were locked, and all the windows were likewise shut. Consequently, the respondent and his companions left the premises. x x x. The respondent personally furnished the complainant a copy of the said Sheriff's Partial Report on November 23, 2005 and it was during said encounter that the respondent learned from the complainant that she already filed an administrative complaint against the former;
11. The respondent specifically denies having demanded and received from the complainant any such sum of money purportedly to defray the expenses of the writ's implementation. Sad to state, in truth and in fact, on numerous occasions, respondent in trying to enforce the money judgment, even used his own limited financial resources just so that he could perform his duties as required by law but his efforts proved futile; andcralawlibrary
12. It can be well stated by herein respondent that attempts to implement the writ of execution were hampered by lack of sufficient information and knowledge as to what and where the leviable property belonging to the judgment obligor (the accused) could be located.3
In response, complainant filed her Reply.4
On April 24, 2006, the OCA recommended that respondent be fined in the amount of
P5,000, with a stern warning that commission of the same or similar acts would be dealt with more severely. In its Report,5 the OCA found that the writ of execution issued on March 6, 2003 remained unsatisfied until the complaint was filed and that respondent had not shown any diligence in its enforcement. Further, respondent failed to make the required periodic report: From March 2003 until November 2005, he only submitted three Sheriff's Return, and only one of these was furnished complainant. Also, the first return was dated September 17, 2004, or almost one year and a half after the issuance of the writ. The OCA, however, found that complainant failed to present convincing proof that respondent demanded and received cash from her for the implementation of the writ.
On the other hand, respondent filed his Supplemental Comment,8 stressing that complainant had always been apprised of the status of the execution and that attempts to enforce the writ proved futile due to the absence of leviable property of the accused. Respondent noted that he was surprised when complainant filed this case since the latter, who herself works for the judiciary, never threatened to sue him, expressed dissatisfaction or resentment on account of the delay in the satisfaction of the judgment, or pushed for the expeditious implementation of the writ.
The Court agrees with the OCA report but not with the recommended penalty.
Time and again, this Court stressed upon those tasked to implement court orders and processes to see to it that the final stage of the litigation process - the execution of judgment - be carried out promptly. Sheriffs, in particular, should exert every effort and consider it their bounden duty because a decision left unexecuted or delayed indefinitely is nothing but an empty victory on the part of the prevailing party.9
In this case, it is clear from respondent Rañeses' own narration that: despite the issuance of the writ of execution on March 6, 2003, he only acted in October 2003 after complainant's counsel "first coordinated" with him; upon verification from the City Assessor and Register of Deeds of Quezon City that accused has no real property registered in her name and reporting the same to the complainant's counsel, he again waited almost a year - until August 2004, when the complainant made her "follow-up" - before he went to the residence of the accused but only to be told allegedly by the neighbors that the accused was no longer residing thereat; in March 2005, following another visit to the same address, he received an information that the accused has a carinderia (eatery) business near the subdivision gate of her residence; and it was only after eight months, in November 2005, that respondent was finally able to serve a copy of the writ on the accused.
The lapse of time alone evidently shows that respondent Rañeses has been wanting in diligence and initiative in the enforcement of the writ. His reason - that the delay was because he awaited further instructions from complainant and her private prosecutor and that neither of them made "follow-ups" in due time - is not an excuse. The duty of the sheriff in the execution of a writ is mandatory and purely ministerial, not directory. Once the writ is placed in his hands, it is his duty, unless restrained by the court, to proceed with reasonable alacrity to enforce it to the letter, ensuring at all times that the implementation of a judgment is not unduly delayed.10 Thus, the tolerance or forgiving attitude, or even a seeming indifference, of the prevailing party is wholly immaterial. In the enforcement of a writ, a sheriff owes fervor and obedience to the law, not to the whims and caprices of a party. This Court emphasized on numerous occasions that there is no need for the litigants to "follow-up" the matter before the sheriff should act.11
Moreover, extant from the records is respondent Rañeses' failure to comply with the requisite submission of progress reports as regards the action he had taken on the assigned writ. Instead of submitting a monthly update to the court from the time the writ of execution was issued on March 6, 2003 up to the filing of this administrative case on November 22, 2005, he only did it thrice, to wit: September 17, 2004, April 28, 2005, and November 23, 2005.
The mandatory character of Section 14 of Rule 39 of the Revised Rules of Court is unmistakable, as it reads:
SEC. 14. Return of writ of execution. - The writ of execution 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 therefor. 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.12
A similar rule is found in Administrative Circular No. 12 dated October 1, 1985, which vests upon the sheriffs the primary responsibility to speedily and efficiently serve all court processes and writs. The Circular directs them to submit a report to the judge concerned on the action taken on all assigned writs and processes within 10 days from receipt thereof.13 Moreover, it provides that a monthly report shall be submitted to the OCA indicating the number of writs and processes issued and served (or unserved) during the month, with the unserved writs and processes further explained in the report.14
The submission of the return and periodic reports by the sheriffs is not a duty that must be taken lightly. It serves to update the court as to the status of the execution and to give it an idea as to why the judgment was not satisfied. It also provides insights for the court as to how efficient court processes are after judgment has been promulgated. The overall purpose of the requirement is to ensure speedy execution of decisions.15
Undoubtedly, the foregoing circumstances only evince that respondent Rañeses is remiss in performing the duty of his office to conscientiously and expeditiously implement the writ as well as to comply with the submission of monthly progress reports. Under the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service,16 he is, therefore, guilty of simple neglect of duty, which is defined as the failure of an employee to give attention to a task expected of him and signifies a disregard of a duty resulting from carelessness or indifference. It is classified as a less grave offense which carries the penalty of suspension for one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months for the first offense and dismissal for the second offense.17 As it appears that there has been no previous administrative case against him and in order not to hamper the duties of his office,18 instead of suspending him, he is fined in an amount equivalent to his one (1) month salary.
As a final note, this Court reiterates the ruling in Legaspi v. Tobillo:19
Time and again we have ruled that high standards are expected of sheriffs who play an important role in the administration of justice. This was further expounded in the case of Vda. De Abellera v. Dalisay:
"At the grassroots of our judicial machinery, sheriffs and deputy sheriffs are indispensably in close contact with the litigants, hence, their conduct should be geared towards maintaining the prestige and integrity of the court, for the image of a court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work thereat, from the judge to the least and lowest of its personnel; hence, it becomes the imperative sacred duty of each and everyone in the court to maintain its good name and standing as a temple of justice.
In serving court writs and processes and in implementing court orders, they cannot afford to procrastinate without affecting the efficiency of court processes and the administration of justice. Given their important functions as frontline representatives of the justice system, they should be imbued with a sense of professionalism in the performance of their duties. When they lose the people's trust, they diminish the people's faith in the judiciary.
It is undisputable that the most difficult phase of any proceeding is the execution of judgment. The officer charged with this delicate task is the sheriff. Despite being exposed to hazards that come with the implementation of the judgment, the sheriff must perform his duties by the book. x x x." (citations omitted)20
Certainly, all employees in the judiciary should be examples of responsibility, competence, and efficiency. As officers of the court and agents of the law, they must discharge their duties with due care and utmost diligence. Any conduct they exhibit tending to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary will not be condoned.
WHEREFORE, Respondent Jorge C. Rañeses is found GUILTY of simple neglect of duty and is FINED inan amount equivalent to his salary for one month, with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar act in the future shall be dealt with more severely.
Let a copy of this Decision be attached to the personnel records of respondent Rañeses in the Office of the Administrative Services, Office of the Court Administrator.
* On Leave.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-4.
2 Id. at 14-17.
4 Id. at 25-27.
5 Id. at 32-36.
6 Id. at 37.
7 Id. at 46-47.
8 Id. at 39-40.
9 Sps. Morta v. Judge Bagagñan, 461 Phil. 312, 322-323 (2003).
10 Vargas v. Primo, A.M. No. P-07-2336, January 24, 2008, pp. 4-5; Cebu International Finance Corporation v. Cabigon, A.M. No. P-06-2107, February 14, 2007, 515 SCRA 616, 622; and Patawaran v. Nepomuceno, A.M. No. P-02-1655, February 6, 2007, 514 SCRA 265, 277.
11 See Santuyo v. Benito, A.M. No. P-05-1997, August 3, 2006, 497 SCRA 461, 467; Legaspi v. Tobillo, A.M. No. P-05-1978, March 31, 2005, 454 SCRA 228, 237; and Mendoza v. Sheriff IV Tuquero, 412 Phil. 435, 441 (2001).
13 A.C. No. 12, Paragraph 4.
14 Id. at Par. 8.
15 Patawaran v. Nepomuceno, supra note 10; and Flores v. Marquez, A.M. No. P-06-2277, December 6, 2006, 510 SCRA 35, 44.
16 Promulgated by the Civil Service Commission through Resolution No. 99-1936 dated August 1999 and implemented by CSC Memorandum Circular No. 19, Series of 1999 (See Aranda, Jr. v. Alvarez, A.M. No. P-04-1889, November 23, 2007).
17 See Vargas v. Primo, A.M. No. P-07-2336, January 24, 2008, p. 6; Sy v. Binasing, A.M. No. P-06-2213, November 23, 2007, p. 4; De Leon-Dela Cruz v. Recacho, A.M. No. P-06-2122, July 17, 2007, 527 SCRA 622, 631; Jacinto v. Castro, A.M. No. P-04-1907, July 3, 2007, 526 SCRA 272, 278; Tiu v. Dela Cruz, A.M. No. P-06-2288, June 15, 2007, 524 SCRA 630, 640; Malsi v. Malana, Jr., A.M. No. P-07-2290, May 25, 2007, 523 SCRA 167, 174; and Patawaran v. Nepomuceno, supra note 10.
18 See Sy v. Binasing, id.; Jacinto v. Castro, id.; and Tiu v. Dela Cruz, id.
19 A.M. No. P-05-1978, March 31, 2005, 454 SCRA 228.
20 Id. at 239-240.