[A.M. NO. P-08-2552 : October 8, 2008]
[Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. -06-2370-P]
ROBERTO C. PASCUAL, Complainant, v. MARILYN M. MARTIN, Clerk of Court III, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 1, Tarlac City, Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
Clerk of Court Marilyn M. Martin (respondent) of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) of Tarlac City, Branch I, is being charged by Roberto C. Pascual in a sworn complaint1 filed before the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) for gross abuse of authority and conduct prejudicial to the service.
Complainant Pascual represented one of the plaintiffs in the unlawful detainer case entitled RCP Realty and Development Corporation/Ramon Yu Pong Ting represented by Roberto Pascual v. Jocelyn Maun, Civil Case No. 8777 of the MTCC of Tarlac City, Br. 1. The case was decided in favor of plaintiffs on 30 November 2005:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, defendant Jocelyn Maun or her agents, successors-in-interest, or any persons acting in her behalf, is hereby ordered to vacate the premises in question and to pay plaintiff the amount of
P5,000.00 as monthly payment for use of the premises until she finally vacated [sic]. Defendant is further directed to pay litigation expenses in favor of plaintiff in the amount P20,000.00 plus attorney's fees of P10,000.00.
On 27 December 2005, defendant filed a notice of appeal of the decision. Later, on 4 January 2006, plaintiffs filed a motion for immediate execution of the decision. On 10 January 2006, the MTCC ruled on both the notice of appeal and motion for execution in the following manner:
Considering the "Notice of Appeal," let the records of this case be forwarded to the Regional Trial Court of Tarlac City for further proceedings.
It appearing that defendant has not deposited the rental as enunciated in the Decision in this case, as prayed for, let a Writ of Execution be immediately issued in this case.
Respondent Martin allegedly refused without justification to issue the writ of execution. Complainant asked respondent through a letter4 dated 11 January 2006 for her reasons in not issuing the writ. In her response,5 respondent reasoned that complainant had no legal personality to represent the plaintiff considering that there was no board resolution appointing him as plaintiff corporation's legal representative. The writ of execution could also not be issued because the court was then undergoing its annual physical inventory of cases and defendant's counsel had not yet been furnished with a copy of the order granting the issuance of the writ. In addition, defendant had filed a notice of appeal which was given due course in the same order dated 10 January 2006. Respondent added that defendant was not required to file a supersedeas bond to stay the execution pending appeal since the decision sought to be executed did not adjudge payment of back rentals. Thus, respondent concluded that there were valid reasons on her part in not issuing the writ of execution.
Before this Court, complainant alleges that the reasons respondent offered for refusing to issue the writ of execution delved into the merits of the case, a matter which is beyond her functions, and that it is not for her to determine the correctness of the order granting the motion for execution, as her duty is purely ministerial.
In her comment,6 respondent denies the accusations and reiterates the reasons she raised in her response to complainant's letter. This is how she recalls the antecedents, thus:
In the order dated 10 January 2006,7 plaintiff's motion for execution was granted and at the same time, defendant's notice of appeal was given due course. On the same day, complainant, allegedly in representation of the plaintiff, asked respondent for a copy of the writ. However, the request could not be accommodated because the physical inventory of the court's records was then going on and also because defendant had not yet been served a copy of the 10 January 2006 order. On the following day, complainant filed a formal letter demanding an explanation for respondent's refusal to issue the writ. Respondent discussed the matter with the presiding judge, Judge Marvin B. Mangino. She pointed out that: (a) the complaint in the ejectment case neither averred nor prayed for payment by defendant of reasonable rentals but the decision nevertheless ordered defendant to pay rentals of
P5,000.00 per month until she vacates the premises; (b) defendant had perfected her appeal, which was why the court in the 10 January 2006 Order directed the forwarding of the case records to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) for further proceedings; (c) in the same order, the court granted complainant's motion for execution since defendant had not deposited the rentals as directed in the decision; and (d) complainant lacked authority to demand a copy of the writ of execution since there is no proof on record that plaintiff had authorized complainant to act in its behalf. As certified by Judge Mangino, he directed respondent to forward the entire records of the case to the RTC for further proceedings "despite the non-issuance of a Writ of Execution by said Clerk of Court."8
Respondent, in her comment, expressed her belief that a patent error was committed in the Order of 10 January 2006 when it granted complainant's motion for issuance of writ of execution and at the same time gave due course to defendant's notice of appeal by directing the transmission of the case records to the RTC. Thus, she concludes that the order is "clearly on the border of illegality" and "void insofar as the directive for the issuance of the writ of execution is concerned."9 It was in accordance with her belief that she did not issue the writ, respondent stresses. Thus she seeks the dismissal of the complaint against her for lack of merit.10
After evaluation, the OCA recommended in its report11 dated 19 May 2006 that respondent be fined
P5,000.00 and warned not to intrude into the domain reserved for the presiding judge. The OCA found that respondent refused to issue the writ primarily because she believed the 10 January 2006 Order was illegal and void. Sharing the complainant's position, the OCA observed that in refusing to issue the writ of execution respondent acted beyond her authority as the matter calls for the exercise of judicial discretion. As noted by the OCA, a Clerk of Court is the administrative assistant of the Presiding Judge and as such his duty is to assist the judge in all matters not involving the exercise of discretion or judgment of the judge. The function of ordering the execution of a judgment, being judicial, devolves upon the judge, whereas the act of issuing the writ of execution, being ministerial, can be performed by a functionary, viz, the clerk of court.12 In the case at bar, Judge Mangino had issued an order granting plaintiff's motion for execution and directing the issuance of a writ. Hence, according to the OCA, respondent had no choice but to issue the writ as directed.
On 7 August 2006, the Court required the parties to manifest whether they are wiling to submit the case for resolution based on the pleadings filed.13
Respondent filed a Manifestation14 expressing her willingness to submit the case for resolution. She also submitted a copy of the RTC decision15 dated 22 May 2006 on the unlawful detainer case appeal, where the RTC reversed and set aside the decision of the MTCC for lack of jurisdiction and personality to sue. Capitalizing on the RTC decision, respondent further argues in her manifestation that the issuance of the writ of execution would have been unjust and bereft of any legal and factual support since complainant, as the person requesting the execution, was not a party to the unlawful detainer case nor a duly authorized agent of any of the parties therein. It follows too that complainant does not have any personality or justification to institute the instant administrative complaint either. Issuing the writ in the face of evidence of its unjust and unfair repercussions would have caused more damage to the parties as well as the court where the error would have lain, respondent adds.
For his part, complainant filed a similar manifestation indicating his willingness to submit the case for resolution, but at the same time his lack of interest in pursuing the case because the parties had supposedly entered into a voluntary out-of-court settlement and also because he could no longer give full attention to the case as his profession as a private contractor required him to stay in Baguio City.16 Respondent however denies that the parties entered into any out-of-court settlement.17
Is respondent administratively liable in failing to issue the writ of execution as ordered by the judge? The Court finds that she is.
A Clerk of Court is an essential and a ranking officer of our judicial system who performs delicate administrative functions vital to the prompt and sound administration of justice. His office is the nucleus of activities, both adjudicative and administrative.18 The Manual for Clerks of Court describes the position of the clerk of court as that of an officer of the Court, a public officer and an "officer of the law," but not that of a judicial officer nor is it synonymous with the court. The office is essentially a ministerial one.19 The duties of Clerks of Court are defined in the Manual as follows:
Adjudicative Support Functions
A. Prepares and signs summonses, subpoenas and notices, writs of execution, remittances, and releases of prisoners;
b. Certifies true copies of decisions, orders, and other processes, letters of administration and guardianship; transmittals of appealed cases, indorsements and communications; andcralawlibrary
c. Prepares and signs monthly reports of cases.
A. Plans, directs, supervises and coordinates the activities of all divisions/sections/units in the Office of the Clerk of Court;
b. Controls and manages all court records, exhibits, documents, properties and supplies;
c. Acts on applications for leave of absence and signs daily time records;
d. Determines the docket fees to be paid by the parties-litigants as provided in the Rules of Court;
e. Issues clearances in appropriate cases;
f. Provides information services to the public and private agencies including bar associations;
g. Prepares cases for raffle;
h. Safekeeps and maintains a judgment book and execution book;
i. Studies and recommends to the Executive Judge ways and means to improve both adjudicative and support functions;
j. Performs special functions as ex-officio municipal sheriff;
k. Implements all orders and policies of the court in connection with the speedy administration of justice;
l. Performs other duties that may be assigned to him.
As gleaned from the above enumeration, the functions of the Clerk of Court are generally administrative and ministerial in nature.
The function of ordering the execution of a judgment devolves upon the judge but another suitable employee, such as the clerk of court, can perform the act of issuing the writ of execution. As the rule now stands, the clerk of court may, under the direction of the court or judge, make out and sign all writs and processes issuing from the court.20 Respondent was duty bound to issue the writ as directed despite her belief that the writ should not be issued.
A judgment rendered against the defendant in an ejectment case is immediately executory upon motion by the plaintiff. To stay the immediate execution of the judgment, Section 19, Rule 70 of the Rules of Court requires that defendant-appellant must perfect his appeal, file a supersedeas bond, and periodically deposit the rentals falling due during the pendency of the appeal. The failure of the defendant to comply with any of these conditions is a ground for the outright execution of the judgment, the duty of the court in this respect being "ministerial and imperative."21
A close look at the excuse proffered by respondent for refusing to issue the writ shows that she made her own evaluation of the matter as well as of the validity of the order of execution itself. In doing so, respondent took upon herself the performance of a judicial function, certainly outside her duties as the judge's administrative and adjudicative assistant in all matters not involving the discretion or judgment of the judge. Clerks of Court cannot be allowed to overstep their powers and responsibilities by exercising judicial functions. Such exercise of judicial functions presupposes the use of mental processes in the determination of law or fact and at times involves discretion as to how the power should be used.22 The functions of the Clerk of Court do not call for such processes or exercise of discretion. Respondent cannot make capital of the RTC's reversal of the MTCC decision to justify her refusal to issue the writ of execution. Her ministerial duty to issue the writ of execution as ordered by the MTCC judge remains whether the immediate execution is upheld or reversed by the appellate court.
In refusing to issue the writ of execution, it does not appear that respondent was motivated by malice or intent to cause damage. Respondent even manifested that she believed she was protecting the court and the parties from the consequences of executing a "flawed" order. However, no matter how noble her intentions, still she acted beyond the scope of her administrative authority.
The performance of respondent's duties as clerk of court immensely affects the smooth administration of justice and the prompt delivery of public service. It is therefore imperative for her to carry out her tasks efficiently and responsibly. Accordingly, we find respondent guilty of simple misconduct in failing to issue the writ of execution as directed in the Order of 10 January 2006. Misconduct in office refers to "any unlawful behavior by a public officer in relation to the duties of his office, willful in character. The term embraces acts which the office holder had no right to perform, acts performed improperly, and failure to act in the face of an affirmative duty to act."23 There being no evidence that respondent was moved by evident bad faith, dishonesty or hatred, she is held liable only for simple misconduct. Simple misconduct is a less grave offense punishable by suspension for one month and one day to six months for the first offense and dismissal for the second offense.24
However, in several cases,25 the Court took into consideration as a mitigating circumstance the fact that the offense of simple misconduct was the first offense of respondent and therefore, the penalty of a fine of
P5,000.00 instead of the recommended penalty was imposed. We take note that respondent has not been previously charged with an administrative offense. Thus, we deem it proper to consider this a mitigating circumstance in her favor and accordingly reduce the imposable penalty and adopt the OCA's recommendation of imposition of a fine of P5,000.00.
WHEREFORE, respondent Marilyn M. Martin is found guilty of Simple Misconduct and hereby FINED in the amount of
P5,000.00, with a WARNING that a repetition of a similar offense shall warrant a more severe penalty.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-2.
2 Id. at 20.
3 Id. at 7.
4 Id. at 3.
5 Id. at 4-6.
6 Id. at 11-17.
7 Supra note 7.
8 Id. at 18.
9 Id. at 16.
10 Id. at 17.
11 Id. at 19-23.
12 Id. at 22. Citing Mejia v. Justice Pamaran, et al., 160 SCRA 457 (1988) and Pablo Casaje v. Roman Gatbalite and Archimedes D. Almeda, A.M. No. P-99-1353, 9 May 2000.
13 Rollo, p. 24.
14 Id. at 27-30.
15 Id. at 31-36. Penned by Judge Bitty G. Viliran of the RTC of Tarlac City, Br. 65.
16 Id. at 44.
17 Id. at 61.
18 MiÃ±oso v. Pamulag, A.M. No. P-05-2067, 31 August 2005, 468 SCRA 407, 413.
19 The 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court, Chapter I, p. 4.
20 Mariano v. Garfin, A.M. No. RTJ-06-2024, 17 October 2006, 504 SCRA 605, 615.
21 Sps. Chua v. Court of Appeals, 350 Phil. 74, 83 (1998), citing Acibo v. Macadaeg, 11 SCRA 446.
22 MiÃ±oso v. Pamulag, A.M. No. O-05-2067, 31 August 2005, 468 SCRA 407, 414.
23 Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed.), p. 999.
24 Civil Service Commission, Resolution No. 99-1936, Rule IV, Sec. 52-B-1.
25 Balajadia v. Gatchalian, A.M. No. P-02-1658, 21 October 2004, 441 SCRA 82; Re: Alleged Tampering of the Daily Time Records of Sherry B. Cervantes, Court Stenographer III, Branch 18, Regional Trial Court, Manila, A.M. No. 03-8-463-RTC, 20 May 2004, 428 SCRA 572; Atty. Reyes-Domingo v. Morales, 396 Phil. 150 (2000).