A.M. No. P-06-2261 [OCA IPI No. 04-1905-P], December 11, 2013
ELPIDIO SY, PRESIDENT, SYSTEMS REALTY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, Complainant, v. EDGAR ESPONILLA, LEGAL RESEARCHER AND OFFICER-IN-CHARGE, AND JENNIFER DELA CRUZ-BUENDIA, CLERK OF COURT AND EX-OFFICIO SHERIFF, OFFICE OF THE CLERK OF COURT, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 54, MANILA, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
VILLARAMA, JR., J.:
Finding the Ex-Parte Motion to Withdraw Rental Deposits filed by plaintiffs, thru counsel, to be well-taken, the same is hereby GRANTED, and the Clerk of Court, or her duly authorized representative, is hereby ordered to release to plaintiffs, or their duly authorized representative, the deposits made by such parties in the concept of rentals from May, 1989 to August, 1994 in the estimated aggregate sum of P260,000.00.Judge Liwag was then the Pairing Judge of Branch 54 where Civil Case No. 90-55003 was docketed and the questioned Order was issued. He was likewise then the Presiding Judge of Branch 55 where, as the investigation would later show, Atty. Bayhon filed the Ex-Parte Motion. The assailed Order was also typed by an employee of Branch 55. Based on this Order, Ang Tiao was able to withdraw P256,000.00 from the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court of Manila as evidenced by a disbursement voucher5 dated November 14, 1994 certified by respondent Atty. Dela Cruz-Buendia and approved by then Acting Court Cashier Corazon L. Guanlao.
It is well to emphasize here that such deposits were made in the concept of monthly rentals for the plaintiffs’ occupancy of the premises in controversy, here and in the ejectment suit now on appeal with Branch 32 of this same Court. It would appear, however, from the attachments to the Motion to Withdraw Rental Deposits that sufficient supersedeas bond was already posted in that appealed ejectment bond case by the plaintiffs hereto, defendants therein, in the total sum of P260,000.00. Surely, the rental deposits made in this case become superfluous and serve no legal purpose. It is actually duplicitous and its non-release would actually prejudice the plaintiffs.4
Respondent Edgar Esponilla cannot be faulted for any of the acts complained of as he was appointed officer-in-charge of Branch 54 only in March 1995 and the questioned order was issued by Pairing Judge Hermogenes Liwag on November 11, 1994. Nor did he have a hand in the preparation and release of the check to the plaintiffs on November 14, 1994 or sometime thereafter.In a Memorandum18 dated June 5, 2006, the OCA submitted its evaluation and recommendation adopting the findings and recommendation of Executive Judge Eugenio, as follows:
x x x
As to respondent Clerk of Court, we likewise find her explanations meritorious. In the instant case, the duty of the Clerk of Court and/or respondent Buendia x x x is ministerial.
Upon receipt of an order from a court, the Clerk of Court’s duty is to make sure that the order is complied with. x x x For a Clerk of Court to question a ruling or order of a judge is an invitation for contempt.
x x x
The pivotal issue that should be addressed is why Atty. Walfredo Bayhon filed the motion in the first place and why then Pairing Judge Hermogenes Liwag favorably acted on it without looking into the truth of the allegation of “duplicity and superfluity.”
x x x
Accordingly, it is respectfully submitted that the administrative complaint filed against respondents Edgar Esponilla and Jennifer de la Cruz[-]Buendia be dismissed for lack of merit.
It is further recommended that Atty. Walfredo Bayhon be asked to explain the circumstances behind his filing of the Ex-Parte Motion and to provide the Supreme Court with a true copy of the motion.17
RECOMMENDATION: In view of the foregoing discussions, it is respectfully submitted that the administrative complaint filed against respondents Edgar Esponilla and Atty. Jennifer dela Cruz-Buendia be DISMISSED for lack of merit.In a Decision20 dated October 30, 2006, this Court dismissed the administrative case against respondent Esponilla for lack of merit. The Court ruled that Esponilla – not being the Officer-In-Charge when the subject documents were allegedly processed with Branch 54 – cannot be faulted for the missing documents in the folio of Civil Case No. 90-55003.21 The Court also did not find proof that Esponilla participated in the preparation and release of the check to the plaintiffs.22 For lack of evidence, the Court was not convinced that Esponilla connived with either the plaintiffs in the civil case or with the other respondents to perpetuate fraud against the complainant.23
Consequently, it is further recommended that Atty. Walfredo Bayhon be asked to EXPLAIN the circumstances behind his filing of the Ex-Parte Motion and to provide the Court with a true copy of the motion.19
It would appear that the incident in Civil Case No. 90-55003 was an isolated anomaly. The case involved rental deposits amounting to almost P260,000.00 that were released by virtue of a November 11, 1994 order issued by Judge Liwag, which order granted the Ex-Parte Motion to Withdraw Rental Deposits filed by Atty. Bayhon. According to the October 30, 2006 decision of the Court, the order granting the motion was drafted by Ms. Baby Manalastas, a court stenographer in RTC Branch 55 who has since migrated to the United States.In light of these findings, the Court, in another Resolution43 dated February 11, 2008, adopted the following recommendations of the OCA:
Based on the information gathered by the audit team, the Clerk of Court of RTC Branch 54 for the period November 1994 was Atty. Emerenciana O. Manook. Atty. Manook, who now serves as Clerk of Court VI of RTC, Branch 23, Allen, Northern Samar, was the Clerk of Court of RTC, Branch 54, Manila from July 1, 1989 to March 29, 1995.
On the other hand, the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of RTC Branch 55 for the period November 1994 was Ms. Isabelita D. Artuz. Ms. Artuz served as OIC of the branch from September 1994 until November 1996 x x x.42
On June 17, 2008, Ms. Artuz submitted her explanation.45 While she was a Legal Researcher at Branch 55 when the subject irregularity was allegedly committed, she admitted that she was not familiar with Civil Case No. 90-55003. She also did not know of any irregularity surrounding the issuance of the questioned Order as it dealt with a case docketed with Branch 54, and not with Branch 55. Sifting through her averments, the Court found a relevant information that in the past, Branch 54 used the sala of Branch 55 where Judge Liwag was then Presiding Judge.46
- That Atty. Emerenciana O. Manook, Clerk of Court, RTC, Branch 23, Allen, Northern Samar, and Ms. Isabelita D. Artuz, Office of Court of Appeals Associate Justice Fernanda L. Peralta, be DIRECTED TO COMMENT on the November 11, 1994 order issued by former RTC Branch 55 Manila Presiding Judge Hermogenes Liwag granting the Motion to Withdraw Rental Deposits filed by Atty. Walfredo Bayhon x x x;
- That action on the September 28, 2007 comment/explanation submitted by Atty. Walfredo C. Bayhon relative to the incident be DEFERRED pending the submission of Atty. Manook and Ms. Artuz of their comments.44
On March 25, 2009, the Court issued a Resolution50 requiring Atty. Bayhon to show cause why he should not be disciplinarily dealt with for filing the Ex-Parte Motion with Branch 55, and not with Branch 54. He was also required to comment on the allegation that complainant was not furnished a copy of the Ex-Parte Motion and to exert his best efforts to submit the subject Ex-Parte Motion to the Court. The Clerk of Court of the Court of Appeals was also directed to furnish the Court a copy of the Ex-Parte Motion which was appealed thereto from Branch 54 on July 11, 1996.51
- [t]he Motion and the subject Order could not be found in the records of Branch 54;
- [t]hey could not be produced either by Atty. Bayhon;
- [t]he Motion was filed with Branch 55, never with Branch 54, while the Order was typed or drafted by a stenographer of Branch 55, not by a personnel of Branch 54; and
- [c]omplainant in the civil case was not even furnished a copy of the Motion which was not even set for hearing.49
We had also directed the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court of Manila to verify from the record of the disbursement voucher relative to the release of the rental deposit if a copy of the said ex-parte motion is attached. As certified by x x x Atty. Clemente M. Clemente, the Assistant Clerk of Court, the voucher discloses that no such document is attached x x x.57The finding of the OCA – that the Ex-Parte Motion was also not attached to the disbursement voucher – is significant. It could be argued that such document may not be a necessary attachment in the issuance of a check by the Office of the Clerk of Court. However, the fact that all the employees involved – from the filing of the Ex-Parte Motion to the eventual issuance and withdrawal of the check – certify that the Ex-Parte Motion does not exist in the records within their respective custody casts serious doubt as to the regularity surrounding the filing of the Ex-Parte Motion.
Atty. Bayhon’s explanations are unsatisfactory. His words are evasive and carefully selected as to free him from any liability. They do not directly confront the nagging questions, merely offering as excuses his resignation as counsel of record and turn-over of documents to his clients, and blaming his adversary’s negligence. However, he himself is to be greatly blamed for not promptly and fully complying with the directives of the Court, particularly the 25 March 2009 Resolution and the subsequent resolutions which dragged this case for so long a time. He refused to answer why he filed the subject motion at Branch 55, not at Branch 54. He did not comment on the allegation that the complainant in the civil case was not furnished a copy of the said motion which was not even set for hearing. He did not exert his best efforts in locating or producing the motion for submission to the Court. And he complied with the resolutions rather belatedly, or after he was threatened by the Court with arrest. It appears that he took the Court’s directives lightly.We agree with the accurate and incisive discussion of the OCA on all points, except for the penalty imposed. The OCA imposed upon Atty. Bayhon an additional fine of P2,000.00 to the original fine of P500.00 for non-compliance with the directives of the Court. This additional fine was also imposed for Atty. Bayhon’s continuously ignoring the several Court resolutions reiterating the payment of the original fine.64
Worse, Atty. Bayhon completely ignored the sanction of the Court in its 01 December 2010 Resolution imposing upon him a fine of P500.00. After almost two (2) years and several resolutions reiterating the said resolution, he has not paid the fine or even mentioned the penalty in his 01 October 2012 compliance.
A resolution of the Supreme Court should not be construed as a mere request, and should be complied with promptly and completely. Such failure to comply accordingly betrays not only a recalcitrant streak in character, but also disrespect for the Court’s lawful order and directive.61 This contumacious conduct of refusing to abide by the lawful directives issued by the Court has likewise been considered as an utter lack of interest to remain with, if not contempt of, the system.62 As a lawyer and an officer of the court, Atty. Bayhon should have been more than conscious and aware of his duty to strictly follow the Court’s orders and processes without unreasonable delay.63
x x xAtty. Bayhon’s unsubstantiated claim that the deposits withdrawn were replaced by a supersedeas bond is a legal incredulity. It is a preposterous excuse that does not only attempt to mislead the Court – it was proffered in an attempt to evade the directive of the Court to produce a copy of the Ex-Parte Motion which may open another can of worms. The Order clearly states that the attachments to the Ex-Parte Motion showed that there was already a “supersedeas bond” posted with Branch 32 in the amount of P260,000.00, that is why Judge Liwag ordered and authorized the withdrawal of the same amount of P260,000.00 from Branch 54. It is precisely the claim of herein complainant that it was fraudulent misrepresentation on the part of Atty. Bayhon to make it appear that the Branch 54 deposits were superfluous because the deposits made with Branches 32 and 54 were separate, distinct and covered different periods – a false claim that Atty. Bayhon has continuously denied making in the Ex-Parte Motion. But instead of producing and submitting to this Court a copy of the Ex-Parte Motion to conclusively prove that he did not make such a false averment, Atty. Bayhon hides behind the rules of evidence claiming that without the subject Ex-Parte Motion, this allegation against him is but hearsay.
It is well to emphasize here that such deposits were made in the concept of monthly rentals for the plaintiffs’ occupancy of the premises in controversy, here and in the ejectment suit now on appeal with Branch 32 of this same Court. It would appear, however, from the attachments to the Motion to Withdraw Rental Deposits that sufficient supersedeas bond was already posted in that appealed ejectment bond case by the plaintiffs hereto, defendants therein, in the total sum of P260,000.00. Surely, the rental deposits made in this case become superfluous and serve no legal purpose. It is actually duplicitous and its non-release would actually prejudice the plaintiffs.69
x x x His explanation about the circumstances surrounding its filing is unsatisfactory as he did not exert his utmost efforts to locate the Motion from his clients or from the courts. He did not even mention in his “Explanation/Compliance” that he tried to contact his clients to verify if they still have in their possession a copy of the Motion.72For failing to explain, in good faith, the circumstances surrounding the filing of the Ex-Parte Motion which he himself filed, for proffering misleading claims in the course of the subject administrative investigation, and for not having shown and proved that he exerted his best efforts to secure and submit a copy of the subject Ex-Parte Motion – all in violation of the resolutions issued by this Court – Atty. Bayhon violated the Lawyer’s Oath and Canon 10, Rule 10.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, a member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any violation of the Lawyer’s Oath, viz.:
SEC. 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court, grounds therefor. – A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any unlawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so. x x xWe believe that the proven acts and omissions of Atty. Bayhon in the case at bar warrant the imposition of the penalty of suspension from the practice of law for six (6) months. He has attempted to mislead the Court, and his non-compliance with the resolutions of the Court dated March 25, 2009, December 1, 2010 and August 24, 2011 shows nothing but an indifference to our directives which cannot be taken lightly, especially that it has affected and protracted the investigation and resolution of an administrative matter where his explanation and assistance is a crucial factor.
1Rollo, pp. 283-291.
2 Id. at 1-4.
3 Id. at 285, 346-347.
4 Id. at 24.
5 Id. at 102.
6 Id. at 1-2, 284-285.
7 Id. at 2, 285.
9 Id. at 285.
10 Id. at 354.
11 Id. at 2-4, 285.
13 Id. at 9-11, 285.
14 Id. at 118-119, 285.
15 Id. at 171-173.
16 Id. at 253-262.
17 Id. at 260-262.
18 Id. at 276-281.
19 Id. at 280-281.
20 Supra note 1.
21 Id. at 288.
22 Id. at 289.
24 Id. at 290.
26 Id. at 289-290.
27 Id. at 287-288.
The duties of Clerks of Court under the 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court are 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; and
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.
28Rollo, p. 288. Citation omitted.
29 Id. Citation omitted.
30 Id. at 289.
32 Id. at 292-296.
33 Id. at 293.
34 Id. at 297.
35 Id. at 298-301.
36 Id. at 311.
37 Id. at 319-326.
38 Id. at 338-344.
39 Id. at 327-337.
40 Id. at 353-355.
41 Id. at 314-315.
42 Id. at 354-355. Emphasis omitted.
43 Id. at 360-361.
44 Id. at 355. Emphasis omitted.
45 Id. at 363-364.
46 Id. at 375.
47 Id. at 369-370.
48 Id. at 373-377.
49 Id. at 375.
50 Id. at 378-380.
51 Id. at 379.
52 Supra note 50.
53 Id. at 394-395.
54 Id. at 396-397.
55 Id. at 405.
56 Id. at 406.
57 Id. at 405.
58 Id. at 410-411.
59 Id. at 416-417.
60 Id. at 419-424.
61 Citing Tugot v. Judge Coliflores, 467 Phil. 391, 402-403 (2004).
62 Citing Parane v. Reloza, A.M. No. MTJ-92-718, November 7, 1994, 238 SCRA 1, 4.
63Rollo, pp. 432-432-A.
64 Id. at 432-A.
65 I, _____________, do solemnly swear that I will maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines; I will support the Constitution and obey the laws as well as the legal orders of the duly constituted authorities therein; I will do no falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in court; I will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, nor give aid nor consent to the same; I will delay no man for money or malice, and will conduct myself as a lawyer according to the best of my knowledge and discretion, with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to my clients; and I impose upon myself this voluntary obligation without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. So help me God.
66Rollo, p. 374.
67 Id. at 420-421.
68 Id. at 421.
69 Id. at 24. Emphases supplied.
70 Id. at 431.
71 Id. at 420-421.
72 Id. at 375.