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A.M. No. P-12-3032 - Ray Antonio C. Sasing v. Celestial Venus G. Gelbolingo, Sheriff IV, RTC, Branch 20, Cagayan de Oro City

A.M. No. P-12-3032 - Ray Antonio C. Sasing v. Celestial Venus G. Gelbolingo, Sheriff IV, RTC, Branch 20, Cagayan de Oro City

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

A.M. No. P-12-3032 : February 20, 2013
[Formerly A.M. OCA IPI No. 11-3652-P]

RAY ANTONIO C. SASING, Complainant, v. CELESTIAL VENUS G. GELBOLINGO, Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 20, Cagayan de Oro City, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

MENDOZA, J.:

This refers to a complaint1 for "Gross Neglect of Duty, Inefficiency, Incompetence in the Performance of Official Duties and Refusal to Perform an Official Duty" filed against respondent Celestial Venus G. Gelbolingo (Sheriff Gelbolingo), Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 20, Cagayan de Oro City, concerning the implementation of the Writ of Execution Pending Appeal2 in Civil Case No. 2010-331, entitled Annabelle N. A mores and Nelson Calandria v. Spouses Ray Antonio and Bema Sasing.

The Facts

Complainant Ray Antonio Sasing (Sasing) and his wife were the defendants in Civil Action No. 2010-331, an action for ejectment instituted by Annabelle N. Amores (Amores) and Nelson Calandria (Calandria) before the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 5, Cagayan de Oro City (MTCC). In its October 15, 2010 Decision,3 the MTCC rendered a verdict, unfavorable to Sasing, which he immediately appealed before the Regional Trial Court of Cagayan de Oro City (RTC). Eventually, their appeal was raffled to Branch 20, where Sheriff Gelbolingo was holding office. In the Order, dated December 10, 2010, the RTC granted the Motion for Issuance of a Writ of Execution Pending Appeal filed by Amores and Calandria, which it amended on January 31, 2011.4 Thereafter, Sheriff Gelbolingo was tasked to implement the Writ of Execution Pending Appeal5 issued on March 10, 2011.

On the day of the execution of the writ, Sasing alleged that Sheriff Gelbolingo took personal belongings supposedly exempt from execution. Thus, in a letter,6 dated March 25, 2011, Sasing wrote Sheriff Gelbolingo asking her to return the said items on March 28, 2011. As he received no response from her, Sasing wrote a letter,7 dated April 5, 2011, addressed to the Court Administrator, expressing his intention to lodge a complaint against her for her failure to turn over their belongings despite previous requests. The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) replied in a letter,8 dated April 25, 2011, advising Sasing to fill up the required form in filing an administrative case should he decide to pursue his complaint against Sheriff Gelbolingo.

Determined, Sasing formally charged Sheriff Gelbolingo with "Gross Neglect of Duty, Inefficiency, Incompetence in the Performance of Official Duties and Refusal to Perform an Official Duty" in an Affidavit-Complaint,9 dated May 20, 2011.

In her Comment,10 Sheriff Gelbolingo denied all the charges against her. She clarified that prior to the implementation of the writ, she, along with the winning party, requested for two barangay officials to be present during the implementation of the writ and to check the inventory of the personal effects found in the premises.11 Sasing and his wife were also present at the time of the execution of the writ and their belongings were properly packed, inventoried and witnessed by the barangay officials. The couple apparently preoccupied with other matters, left the place without retrieving their belongings.12 She asked the barangay officials if they could spare a space in their office, but they declined because the area would be used during the upcoming barangays Kauswagan fiesta. Eventually, she left Sasings personal effects beside their house for safekeeping until she could properly turn them over to them.13ςrνl1

Sheriff Gelbolingo confirmed receipt of the March 25 and March 31, 2011 letters, but she explained that they were not able to meet. On March 25, she arrived late at the designated meeting place because of other courtrelated tasks, while on their supposed second appointment date, Sasing failed to appear.14ςrνl1

The OCA, in its Report, dated November 18, 2011,15 recommended a formal investigation for the examination of the records and the verification of the allegations of Sasing to determine whether Sheriff Gelbolingo performed her duties within the bounds of her authority. The recommendation of the OCA reads:cralawlibrary

RECOMMENDATION: It is respectfully recommended for the consideration of the Honorable Court that the instant administrative complaint against Celestial Venus G. Gelbolingo, Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 20, Cagayan de Oro City, be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative matter and that the same be REFERRED to the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Cagayan de Oro City, for investigation, report and recommendation within sixty (60) days from receipt of the records hereof.16ςrνl1ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ

On January 25, 2012, the Court resolved to re-docket the administrative complaint as a regular administrative matter and referred the same to the Executive Judge of the RTC, Cagayan de Oro City, for investigation, report and recommendation.17ςrνl1

Executive Judge Evelyn Gamotin Nery (Judge Nery), in a resolution,18 dated July 30, 2012, found the charges of gross neglect of duty, inefficiency and incompetence unsubstantiated. Judge Nery pointed out that the wife of Sasing was present when the eviction was carried out, but she "did not even bother to retrieve and/or get by herself things they own, from the premises."19 In fact, "respondent had the personal things of the Sasings inventoried and placed inside boxes and sacks in the presence of two Barangay Kagawads of their place."20ςrνl1

Judge Nery, however, found that Sheriff Gelbolingo was remiss in her duty to reply to Sasings two prior letters. Judge Nery stated that if Sheriff Gelbolingo only had the courtesy to reply and request for a contact number, then it could have saved the day for her.21ςrνl1

After a careful examination of the records of this case, the Court agrees with the findings of Judge Nery.

Gross neglect of duty refers to negligence that is characterized by glaring want of care; by acting or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but willfully and intentionally; or by acting with a conscious indifference to consequences with respect to other persons who may be affected.22 "It is the omission of that care that even inattentive and thoughtless men never fail to take on their own property. In cases involving public officials, there is gross negligence when a breach of duty is flagrant and palpable."23 Gross inefficiency is intimately akin to gross neglect as both involve specific acts of omission on the part of the employee resulting in damage to the employer or to the latters business.24ςrνl1

In this regard, the Court finds the charge baseless. Sheriff Gelbolingo did not disregard the standard procedure for implementing a writ of execution. Contrary to Sasings allegation that she levied their personal effects, it was found that she never took away their belongings. Perhaps due to confusion or other pressing matters, it appears that Sasings wife left without pulling out their personal belongings from the premises. Forced by this circumstance, Sheriff Gelbolingo took it upon herself to look for a temporary storage for the personal effects.

Basic is the rule that mere allegation is not evidence and is not equivalent to proof.25 Charges based on mere suspicion and speculation likewise cannot be given credence. In administrative proceedings, the complainant bears the onus of establishing, by substantial evidence, the averments of his complaint.26 A complainant cannot rely on mere conjectures and suppositions. If a complainant fails to substantiate his allegations, the administrative complaint must be dismissed for lack of merit.27ςrνl1

The Court, however, agrees that Sheriff Gelbolingos failure to properly respond to the communication of Sasing is tantamount to discourtesy. A simple note as to where their personal effects were temporarily stored could have assured him that their belongings were not confiscated but merely stored for safekeeping until the same could be properly turned over to them. The Court is fully aware that a sheriffs schedule can be hectic, but she could have easily relayed the information to the other court staff to address Sasings concerns. This simple gesture could have avoided this controversy.

Section 1 of Article XI of the Constitution states that a public office is a public trust. "It enjoins public officers and employees to serve with the highest degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency and to, at all times, remain accountable to the people."28 As front liners of the justice system, sheriffs and deputy sheriffs must always strive to maintain public trust in the performance of their duties.29 As agents of the law, they are "called upon to discharge their duties with due care and utmost diligence because in serving the courts writs and processes and implementing the orders of the court, they cannot afford to err without affecting the integrity of their office and the efficient administration of justice."30ςrνl1

The administrative offense committed by Sheriff Gelbolingo is discourtesy in the course of official duties which, under the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, Rule IV, Section 52 (C) (1), is a light offense. The penalty imposable for such an offense is either a reprimand for the first offense, a suspension from 1 day to 30 days for the second offense, and dismissal from public service for the third offense. In the case of Perez v. Cunting,31 it was written:cralawlibrary

Under Rule XIV, Sec. 23 of the Civil Service Law and Rules, a first offense of discourtesy, which is a light penalty, in the course of ones official duties shall be meted the penalty of reprimand. In Peñalosa v. Viscaya, Jr.,32 respondent deputy sheriff was reprimanded for gross discourtesy in connection with his actuations towards the complainant (therein private complainant in a criminal case) when the latter requested for an explanation for his failure to serve a warrant of arrest upon the accused. In Paras v. Lofranco,33 the respondent, Clerk III of a lower court, was charged with discourtesy and conduct unbecoming a court employee for her acts and utterances directed against the complainant, the counsel for the accused in a pending case before the said court. This Court found the arrogant gesture and discourteous utterances of the respondent in treating the complainant to be improper. Accordingly, it imposed on respondent the penalty of reprimand. In Reyes v. Patiag34, respondent clerk of court was censured for discourtesy for two acts, when, in a very rude manner, she denied complainant's request to see the records of a civil case and treated her as if she was not an interested party by telling complainant that she seemed to be more knowledgeable than the court because complainant asked why a "preliminary investigation," actually a preliminary examination, was necessary. Considering that this is the first offense of the respondent, we find the penalty of reprimand to be appropriate in this case.

In this case, considering that there was an effort on her part to meet with Sasing twice, but the latter did not appear on the second scheduled meeting, Sheriff Gelbolingo is hereby given the benefit of the doubt due to such mitigating circumstance and need not be penalized.

Nevertheless, the Court reminds Sheriff Gelbolingo to be more mindful of how she deals with party litigants or with anyone who comes before the court for relief The Court expects that every person with an office charged with the dispensation ofjustice to perform his duty to the best of his ability, free from any suspicion and to be, all times, at their best behavior.

WHEREFORE, respondent Celestial Venus G. Gelbolingo, Sheritl TV of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 20, Cagayan de Oro City, is hereby ADMONISHED for her discourteous acts and she is also warned that a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.


Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 1-3.

2 Id. at 29.

3 Id. at 10-27.

4 Id. at 28.

5 Id. at 29.

6 Id. at 32.

7 Id. at 37.

8 Id. at 38.

9 Id. at 1-3.

10 Id. at 42-49.

11 Id. at 43-44.

12 Id. at 44.

13 Id. at 45.

14 Id. at 45-46.

15 Id. at 92-97.

16 Id. at 97.

17 Id. at 98-99.

18 Id. at 108-113.

19 Id. at 112.

20 Id.

21 Id. at 113.

22 Brucal v. Desierto, 501 Phil. 453, 465-466 (2005).

23 Id. at 466.

24 St. Lukes Medical Center, Incorporated v. Fadrigo, G.R. No. 185933, November 25, 2009, 605 SCRA 728, 736.

25 Nedia v. Laviña, 508 Phil. 10, 20 (2005).

26 Hon. Barbers v. Judge Laguio, Jr., 404 Phil. 443, 475 (2001).

27 Manalabe v. Cabie, A.M. No. P-05-1984, July 6, 2007, 526 SCRA 582, 589; See also Adajar v. Develos, 512 Phil. 9, 24-25 (2005); Ong v. Rosete, 484 Phil. 102, 114 (2004); Datuin, Jr. v. Soriano, 439 Phil. 592, 596 (2002).

28 Geolingo v. Albayda, 516 Phil. 389, 395 (2006).

29 Fajardo v. Sheriff Quitalig, 448 Phil. 29, 31 (2003).

30 Mamanteo v. Deputy Sheriff Magumun, 370 Phil. 278, 286-287(1999).

31 436 Phil. 618, 626-627 (2002)..

32 173 Phil. 487 (1978) [as cited].

33 407 Phil. 329 (2001) [as cited].

34A.M. No. P-0 l-1528, December 7, 2001 [as cited].

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