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A.M. No. P-06-2103 - Formerly A.M. No. 05-7-430-RTC - OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR v. ATTY. ROMULO V. PAREDES

A.M. No. P-06-2103 - Formerly A.M. No. 05-7-430-RTC - OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR v. ATTY. ROMULO V. PAREDES

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

[A.M. NO. P-06-2103 : April 17, 2007]
(Formerly A.M. No. 05-7-430-RTC)

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. ATTY. ROMULO V. PAREDES, former Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Bangued, Abra, Branch 2, Respondent.

R E S O L U T I O N

CORONA, J.:

This administrative case is a result of the audit conducted by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) of the books of account of Atty. Romulo V. Paredes, former clerk of court of the Regional Trial Court, Bangued, Abra, Branch 2, who compulsorily retired on July 18, 2003. Because of the discrepancies discovered, a financial audit1 was also made on the books of account of Dennis S. Benedito and Samson T. Sanchez, the former and incumbent officers-in-charge/clerks of court, respectively, of the same court.2

The OCA, in its memorandum dated July 7, 2005, had the following findings: (1) there was a shortage of P34,000 in the fiduciary fund; (2) withdrawal slips bore only the signature of the clerk of court (without the corresponding signature of the Executive Judge Charito B. Gonzales or Presiding Judge Corpus B. Alzate)3 and (3) University of the Philippines Law Center official receipts were issued for the different funds instead of Supreme Court receipts.

The OCA made the following recommendations:

A. The FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT OFFICE, OCA be DIRECTED to:

1. DEDUCT the amount of P34,000.00 from the retirement benefits of Atty. ROMULO V. PAREDES to settle his accountability caused by two (2) double withdrawals in [Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP)] Savings Account No. 1031-0015-32, Bangued, Abra Branch; andcralawlibrary

2. TRANSFER/REMIT the restituted/deducted amount to RTC-Bangued, Abra under the aforementioned LBP Savings Account;

B. This Report be DOCKETED as a regular administrative matter against Atty. ROMULO V. PAREDES and a fine of P5,000.00 be imposed upon him for simple neglect of duty for failure to supervise and manage the financial transactions in his Court;

C. Mr. SAMSON T. SANCHEZ be DIRECTED to:

1. EXPLAIN why he is the lone signatory of Fiduciary Fund Savings Account No. 1031-0015-32 with the LBP-Bangued, Abra Branch;

2. EXPLAIN why U.P. Law Center official receipts were utilized for the [Judiciary Development Fund], Fiduciary Fund, General Fund, Sheriff General Fund and the Special Allowance for the Judiciary Fund;

3. ENSURE that the overage of P2,744.05 in the LBP Fidicuary Fund Account is applied on the withdrawn tax of P7,713.764 (on interest earned) before the net amount of P4,969.71 is deducted from future interest income to replace the shortage in the Fiduciary Account and SUBMIT a Report on the matter to the Fiscal Monitoring Division, Court Management Office, OCA; andcralawlibrary

4. RELIGIOUSLY COMPLY with the Circulars of the Court;

D. Presiding Judge CORPUS B. ALZATE be DIRECTED to EXPLAIN why he allowed Mr. Sanchez to be the lone signatory of Fiduciary Fund Savings Account No. 1031-0015-32 with the LBP-Bangued, Abra Branch when he was the Executive Judge; andcralawlibrary

E. Executive Judge CHARITO B. GONZALES be DIRECTED to:

1. CLOSELY MONITOR the financial transactions of the Court; andcralawlibrary

2. STUDY and IMPLEMENT procedures that shall strengthen the internal control over financial transactions.5

The balance of P34,000 for the fiduciary fund was a result of two instances of double withdrawals of cash bonds in two criminal cases, to wit:

A. Collection of P10,0000.00 on 12 January 1996 (per O.R. No. 8962146) for Criminal Case No. 1689 [(People) v. Oandasan] was deposited on January 19, 1996. It was first withdrawn on 6 August 1997 and again on 11 January 2002.

x x x

b. Collection of P24,000.00 on 16 December 1998 (per O.R. No. 8051911) for Criminal Case No. 274 [(People) v. Carlito Purisima] was deposited on the same day. It was withdrawn for the first time on 26 March 2001 and again on 20 December 2002.6

Regarding the amount of P10,000, Paredes explained that the first withdrawal was made without a court order during the incumbency of former clerk of court Manuel T. Belarmino (who compulsorily retired on January 1, 2002) whom he replaced on August 27, 1997. The second withdrawal, on the other hand, was supported by a court order dated January 3, 2002 and acknowledgement receipt dated January 11, 2002.

With respect to the amount of P24,000, Paredes stated that he authorized the first withdrawal and it was valid. However, the second withdrawal was caused by his cash clerk at that time, Edgardo Balido (who retired on August 31, 2003), whom he entrusted with money collections, withdrawals and deposits.

The OCA found Paredes liable for simple neglect of duty. It declared that Paredes could have easily discovered the erroneous first withdrawal of P10,000 had he thoroughly checked the supporting documents of the August 1997 fiduciary fund report which he signed. According to the OCA, Paredes could not exculpate himself by pointing to his cash clerk and the trust and confidence he reposed on the latter. As the accountable officer and custodian of his court's funds, it was his duty to ensure the legitimacy of every financial transaction within his responsibility.

Thus, the OCA recommended that a fine in the amount of P5,000 be imposed on Paredes for simple neglect of duty and that he be ordered to restitute the total amount of P34,000 to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

We agree with the OCA's recommendations.

Public office is a public trust.7 Those charged with the dispensation of justice, from the justices and judges to the lowliest clerks, should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility.8 Not only must their conduct at all times be characterized by propriety and decorum but, above all else, it must be beyond suspicion.9

Clerks of court perform a delicate function as designated custodians of the court's funds, revenues, records, properties and premises.10 As such, they are generally regarded as treasurer, accountant, guard and physical plant manager thereof.11 Thus, they are liable for any loss, shortage, destruction or impairment of such funds and property.12

Paredes was remiss in the performance of his duties as clerk of court with regard to financial concerns. He should have corrected the mistake of his predecessor but he did not. Likewise, the trust he reposed on his subordinate was not a valid defense. It was his duty to see to it that his subordinates performed their functions properly. These incidents clearly proved his neglect of duty.

His failure to properly supervise and manage the financial transactions in his court constituted simple neglect of duty. Simple neglect of duty has been 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.13 Under Rule IV, Section 52(B) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, it is a less grave offense which carries a penalty of one month and one day to six months suspension for the first offense.14

Considering that Paredes compulsorily retired from the service on July 18, 2003, his penalty shall be, in lieu of suspension, a fine in the amount of P5,000.15 Given that it was his first offense and following the Court's ruling in In Re: Report on the Judicial and Financial Audit Conducted in the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Koronadal City,16 we deem this amount reasonable.

The Court cannot countenance neglect of duty for even simple neglect of duty lessens the people's confidence in the judiciary and ultimately in the administration of justice.17

The other recommendations of the OCA with respect to acting clerk of court Sanchez, Presiding Judge Alzate and Executive Judge Gonzales are also well-taken.

WHEREFORE, Atty. Romulo V. Paredes, former clerk of court of the Regional Trial Court of Bangued, Abra, Branch 2, is hereby found GUILTY of simple neglect of duty. He is ordered to pay a FINE of P5,000, to be deducted from his retirement benefits. The amount of P34,000 shall also be deducted from his retirement benefits and remitted to Land Bank of the Philippines savings account no. 1031-0015-32 of the Regional Trial Court, Bangued, Abra, Branch 2.

Samson T. Sanchez is DIRECTED to:

(1) EXPLAIN why he is the lone signatory of fiduciary fund savings account no. 1031-0015-32;

(2) EXPLAIN why University of the Philippines Law Center official receipts were utilized for the judiciary development fund, fiduciary fund, general fund, sheriff general fund and the special allowance for the judiciary fund;

(3) ENSURE that the overage of P2,744.05 in the Land Bank of the Philippines fiduciary fund account is applied to the withdrawn tax of P7,713.76 on interest earned before the net amount of P4,969.71 is deducted from future interest income to replace the shortage in the fiduciary account and SUBMIT a report on the matter to the Fiscal Monitoring Division, Court Management Office, Office of the Court Administrator and

(4) RELIGIOUSLY COMPLY with the circulars of this Court.

Presiding Judge Corpus B. Alzate is DIRECTED to EXPLAIN why he allowed Mr. Samson T. Sanchez to be the lone signatory of fiduciary fund savings account no. 1031-0015-32 when he was the Executive Judge.

Executive Judge Charito B. Gonzales is DIRECTED to:

(1) CLOSELY MONITOR the financial transactions of her court and

(2) STUDY and IMPLEMENT procedures that shall strengthen internal control over financial transactions.

SO ORDERED.

Endnotes:


1 Conducted on September 21 and 23, 2004.

2 Mr. Benedito was the Officer-in-Charge from September 1 to 30, 2004, in the absence of Mr. Sanchez who took the bar examinations that year.

3 OCA Circular No. 50-95.

4 The amount of P7,713.76 which was the 20% tax on interest earned on deposits was erroneously withdrawn from the fiduciary fund account and remitted to the judiciary development fund account. The amount of P2,744.05 will be deducted from this amount.

5 Memorandum Re: Report on the Financial Audit conducted at the OCC, Regional Trial Court, Bangued, Abra.

6 Id.

7 Constitution, Art. XI, Sec. 1.

8 Re: Final Report on the Financial Audit Conducted at the Municipal Trial Court of Midsayap, North Cotabato, A.M. No. 05-8-233-MTC, 31 January 2006, 481 SCRA 12, 16.

9 Id.

10 In Re: Report on the Judicial and Financial Audit Conducted in the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Koronadal City, A.M. No. 02-9-233-MTCC, 27 April 2005, 457 SCRA 356, 374.

11 Id.

12 Id., citations omitted.

13 OCA v. Montalla, A.M. No. P-06-2269, 20 December 2006.

14 Rosales v. Buenaventura, A.M. No. 2004-15-SC, 16 November 2006.

15 Report on the Financial Audit on the Books of Accounts of Mr. Delfin T. Polido, A.M. No. P-06-2127, 17 February 2006.

16 Supra note 10.

17 Reyes v. Pablico, A.M. No. P-06-2109, 27 November 2006.

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