OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. JUDGE AUGUSTO SUMILANG, INTERPRETER FELICIDAD MALLA, STENO-REPORTER EDELITA LAGMAY and STENO-REPORTER NIEVA MERCADO, Respondents..
D E C I S I O N
With reluctance, the Court once again has to wield its power of imposing disciplinary measures on members of the Bench and employees of the judiciary for failure to live up to the obligations incident to their status as officers of the Court.
Respondents Judge Augusto Sumilang, Felicidad Malla, Edelita
Lagmay and Nieva Mercado, court employees of the Metropolitan Trial Court of
Pila, Laguna (hereinafter referred to as the lower court), were charged in a
memorandum report by the Office of Court Administrator dated August 16, 1994,1 for
misappropriating funds deposited by the plaintiff in Civil Case No. 858,
entitled Spouses Entero Villarica
and Felicidad Domingo v. Teodorico Dizon. On October 5, 1994, this
Court issued a resolution treating the aforesaid memorandum report as an
administrative complaint which was docketed as Administrative Matter No.
In addition, a second complaint was lodged against Malla for removing judicial records outside the court premises.3 This Court decided to include this matter in the original complaint earlier docketed as A.M. No. MTJ-94-989 in a resolution dated March 6, 1995.4 The antecedent facts follow:
This case arose as an aftermath of an on-the-spot audit examination of the official cashbook and other documents of the lower court. It appears from the evidence that court interpreter Malla who was the officer-in-charge from July 1, 1992 to November 15, 1992, took a maternity leave for one (1) month (November 16, 1992 to December 15, 1992) and reassumed her position on December 16, 1992, until her resignation on August 31, 1993.
On September 1, 1993, Rebecca Avanzado assumed the position of
officer in charge.
It was during her
tenure on August 8, 1994, that an on-the-spot audit examination was conducted
by the Fiscal Audit Division of the Office of Court Administrator.
In the course of the examination, several
anomalous transactions were discovered.
One involved a managers check deposited in the name of Teodorico Dizon
in connection with Civil Case No. 858, wherein Entero Villarica, on August 7,
1992 during the tenure of Malla entrusted the amount of
When asked to explain where the
Later on, she executed an affidavit stating that only Lagmay and
Upon learning that they were being implicated in the anomalous
transaction, Lagmay executed an affidavit stating that the amount of
The evidence against Judge Sumilang adequately proves his gross
negligence in this matter.
proffered explanation, he averred that his wife did not borrow any money from
Malla and that he had no knowledge of the irregularities involving members of
his own staff.11
It bears emphasizing that this is not the first time that respondent judge has
been charged with an administrative case.
In Arviso v. Sumilang,12
this Court found him guilty of gross negligence and ordered him to pay a fine
A judge must always remember that as the administrator of his
he is responsible for the
conduct and management thereof.
the duty to supervise his court personnel to ensure prompt and efficient
dispatch of business in his court.13
The ignorance of respondent Judge as to the irregularities occurring in his own
backyard constitutes serious breach of judicial ethics.14chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
Judge Sumilangs excuse, that upon learning of the irregularities being committed by his court personnel, he immediately acted with haste and instructed Malla to turn over the money,15 is specious and unconvincing. His admission that he had no knowledge regarding the anomalies going on in his court underscores his inefficiency and incompetence. It clearly demonstrates a lack of control expected of a judge exercising proper office management.
The evidence against Malla is equally incriminating.
It has been clearly established, and this is
not denied by Malla,16
that she misappropriated for her own use the amount of
In her defense, Malla testified that her uncle Entero Villarica
allowed her to use the money on the condition that she should be ready to
produce it when necessary.18
Malla, however, never presented Villarica as her witness to bolster her claim
which,therefore, has no evidentiary value for being self-serving.
Besides, there is a disputable presumption
that evidence wilfully suppressed would be adverse if produced during trial.19chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
Malla further claims that her constitutional rights under Section 12, Article III of the Constitution20 were violated when she was pressured to sign an affidavit dated September 14, 1994 before the Office of the Court Administrator, where she admitted her misdeed.21 Thus, she concludes that the affidavit is inadmissible in evidence.
In People v. Loveria,22
however, we ruled that the aforementioned constitutional provision may be
invoked only during custodial investigation or as in custody
which has been defined
as questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been
taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any
The investigation is defined as an investigation conducted by police
authorities which will include investigation conducted by the Municipal Police,
P.C. (now PNP) and the NBI and such other police agencies in our government.24
Thus, the Office of the Court Administrator can hardly be deemed to be the law
enforcement authority contemplated in the constitutional provision.
At any rate, Malla admitted during her
testimony that she received the said check from Villarica covering the amount
During the investigation, Malla repeated what she basically
stated in her affidavit i.e., that she used a substantial amount of the
During the investigation, Malla was charged with a second offense for keeping in her custody missing court records containing the technical description of a cadastral survey.
Malla never denied this charge,27
but claimed that they were returned five hours after they were removed.
We are not impressed with the remonstration
It should be stressed that
court employees are not allowed to take any court records, papers or documents
outside the court premises.28chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
All these acts call for Mallas dismissal, but this penalty cannot be enforced because she is no longer connected with the MTC of Pila, Laguna. Hence, the appropriate penalty that may be meted against her is the forfeiture of her accrued leave credits, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. This disciplinary action should serve as a reminder to all court personnel who yield to the temptation of using for their own personal interest funds entrusted to the court, that there is no place in the judiciary for those who cannot meet the exacting standards of judicial conduct and integrity. The fact that Malla returned the whole amount is of no moment because such act will not mitigate her liability.
Respondents Lagmay and Mercado, on the other hand, vehemently deny knowing that the money they borrowed was money held in trust by Malla.29 This assertion contradicts the latters testimony as to the source of the money lent to the former.
Worth stressing is the well-entrenched principle that in
administrative proceedings, such as the instant case, the quantum of proof
necessary for a finding of guilt is only substantial evidence.30
Substantial evidence has been defined as such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.31chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
The only evidence presented before this Court are the affidavits
of Malla, Lagmay and Mercado.
established is the rule that testimonial evidence carries more weight than
On this point, the investigating Justice,33 reported:
In the instant case, both Mercado and Lagmay are residents of
Pila, Laguna, like Malla.
All of them
were employed with the Municipal Trial Court of Pila, Laguna, Mercado and
Lagmay as stenographic reporters and Malla as court interpreter and, for a
time, as officer-in-charge of the Office of the Clerk of Court.
Moreover, being stenographic reporters in
the same court where Malla was the court interpreter, the
deposit by Villarica of the amount of
Indeed, Lagmay even admitted, when she testified during the
investigation, that she was aware of the deposit of the said amount with the
Court as ordered by it.
when she testified that Malla was receiving only a monthly salary of
In situations such as the one at hand, the matter of assigning values to the testimony of witnesses is best performed by the investigating body because, unlike appellate courts, they can weigh such testimony in light of the demeanor, conduct and attitude of the witnesses at the trial.34 This rule, however, must be relaxed when certain facts of substance and value have been overlooked which, if considered, might affect the result of the matter.35 Unfortunately for respondents, no such omission is present here.
We need not belabor jurisprudence that those involved in the
administration of justice must live up to the strictest standard of honesty and
integrity in the public service.
conduct must at all times, not only be characterized with propriety and decorum
but above all must be above suspicion.36
For the image of a court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct,
official or otherwise, of the men and women thereat, from the judge to the
least and lowest of its personnel.37chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
By the very nature of the amount involved and considering that
Malla was only receiving a salary of
In resolving this case, this Court emphasizes the Constitutional
tenet that (p)ublic office is a public trust.
Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the
people, serve them with outmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and
efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.38chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
WHEREFORE, respondent Judge Augusto Sumilang is hereby
found guilty of gross negligence in the management of his court and ordered to
pay a FINE of
Respondent Felicidad Malla is found guilty of misappropriating funds deposited to the court by the plaintiff in Civil Case No. 858 and infidelity in the custody of court records. The Court, therefore, imposes the penalty of FORFEITURE of all retirement benefits and accrued leave credits and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch, agency or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations, considering that dismissal is no longer feasible in view of her separation from the service.
Respondents Edelita Lagmay and Nieva Mercado are likewise found
guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and are
hereby ordered to pay a FINE of
Regalado (Chairman), Puno, Mendoza, and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.
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