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A.M. No. P-14-3246 [Formerly A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3580-P], October 15, 2014 - ATTY. RICO PAOLO R. QUICHO, REPRESENTING BANK OF COMMERCE, Complainant, v. BIENVENIDO S. REYES, JR. , SHERIFF IV, BRANCH 98, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, QUEZON CITY, Respondent.

A.M. No. P-14-3246 [Formerly A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3580-P], October 15, 2014 - ATTY. RICO PAOLO R. QUICHO, REPRESENTING BANK OF COMMERCE, Complainant, v. BIENVENIDO S. REYES, JR. , SHERIFF IV, BRANCH 98, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, QUEZON CITY, Respondent.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

A.M. No. P-14-3246 [Formerly A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3580-P], October 15, 2014

ATTY. RICO PAOLO R. QUICHO, REPRESENTING BANK OF COMMERCE, Complainant, v. BIENVENIDO S. REYES, JR. , SHERIFF IV, BRANCH 98, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, QUEZON CITY, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

MENDOZA, J.:

For consideration is the Report,1 dated August 29, 2013, of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) on the complaint of Atty. Rico Paolo R. Quicho (Atty. Quicho), representing the Bank of Commerce (BOC), charging respondent Bienvenido S. Reyes, Jr. (Reyes), Sheriff IV, Branch 98, Regional Trial Court, Quezon City, with abuse of authority and gross ignorance of the law relative to Civil Case No. Q-89-3580, entitled “Radio Philippines Network, Inc. v. Traders Royal Bank.”

The Facts

The present case stemmed from the Alias Writ of Execution issued on March 9, 2010 by Branch 98 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City (RTC) in Civil Case No. Q-89-3580, the validity of which was then pending determination in the Court of Appeals (CA), docketed as CA-G.R. No. 91285.  Pending its resolution, Atty. Quicho sought the relief of Reyes as Sheriff of RTC, whom he claimed exceeded his authority in the enforcement of the Alias Writ of Execution on December 9, 2010 at the main office of BOC and on December 17, 2010 in another BOC branch in Lipa City, Batangas.

In his sworn Letter-Complaint, dated December 27, 2010,2 Atty. Quicho alleged that the procedure observed by Reyes in implementing the alias writ violated the 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court (Manual).  He cited the Manual which provides that “[i]f the judgment obligor cannot pay all or part of the obligation in cash, certified bank check or other mode of payment acceptable to the judgment obligee, the officer shall levy upon the properties of the judgment obligor of every kind and nature whatsoever which may be disposed of for value and not otherwise exempt from execution giving the latter the option to immediately choose which property or part thereof may be levied upon, sufficient to satisfy the judgment.”

He asserted that as the holder of the assets and properties of Traders Royal Bank (TRB), which was the judgment obligor in Civil Case No. Q-89-3580 and whose assets were the subject of the alias writ, BOC was given the option to choose which property to be surrendered to satisfy the judgment.  It was only when BOC was unable to exercise the option that Reyes was allowed to levy on other properties.  He added that BOC was forced to surrender under protest a real estate property situated in Barangay Manggahan, Paranaque City, to satisfy the judgment and preserve its other properties from being wrongfully levied by Reyes.  He argued that Reyes did not give BOC a chance to exercise that option.  Instead of accepting the said property, Reyes blow-torched the locked grill door of BOC’s cash vault in Lipa City and forcibly took the money deposits of its clients as well as its computers.  Atty. Quicho further claimed that Reyes sowed terror by bringing with him agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), who were in full-battle gear and carrying high-powered firearms, with members of the Philippine National Police (PNP); and that Reyes ignored the pleas of the BOC officers who asked him to spare the computers as taking them would cripple the bank’s operations.  Atty. Quicho concluded that these illegal acts of Reyes warranted his relief as sheriff of the RTC.

In his Comment,3 dated February 4, 2011, Reyes denied the charges against him.  According to him, he did not violate any law when he refused to accept BOC’s offer of a property located in Paranaque City to satisfy the judgment debt. He contended that under the law, the judgment obligor was mandated to pay all or part of the obligation in cash, certified bank check or other mode of payment acceptable to the judgment obligee and the law was silent on a real estate property being offered as a form of payment.  He also argued that BOC had refused to pay the judgment award despite the fact that the CA, in its Decision, dated December 8, 2009, had already affirmed the validity of the writ of execution issued by Judge Evelyn Corpus-Cabochan (Judge Cabochan) in Civil Case No. Q-89-3580.  Further, the said civil case was filed in 1989 and was decided in favor of the plaintiffs in 1995, which decision was affirmed by the Court in 2002 and became final in 2003.

Reyes claimed that before he enforced the alias writ, he sent notices of garnishment to seventeen (17) banks, but only three (3) positively responded.  These three banks, however, defied the court order to release the cash money and shares of stock they held in custodia legis. As garnishment was futile, levy on the BOC assets was resorted to.

Reyes insisted that he did not abuse his authority when he implemented the writ.  He was constrained to seek the aid of the NBI as the PNP refused to provide police assistance.  He claimed that the NBI agents were not in full battle gear, and that the PNP members, who earlier declined to give assistance, were only posted outside the bank to maintain peace and order.  He used acetylene torch to gain access to the bank’s main vault as he was left with no other option but to use reasonable force to get the cash inside, otherwise, he would be accused of being remiss in the performance of his duties.  He only levied the computers and monitors, and left the two (2) servers in order not to affect the banking operations.

Reyes argued that there was no basis to order his relief or suspension as Sheriff as he merely performed his ministerial duty to implement the alias writ of execution.

In his Reply,4 dated February 24, 2011, Atty. Quicho reiterated that Reyes was guilty of ignorance of the law when he refused the real estate property offered by BOC to satisfy the judgment debt.

Atty. Quicho refuted Reyes’ argument that BOC was not entitled to exercise the option to choose the properties to be levied.  On the contrary, he explained that under Section 9, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, it was clear that if the judgment obligor could not pay the judgment debt in cash, certified bank check or other mode of payment acceptable to the judgment oblige, he still had the option to choose which of his properties he could offer to satisfy the obligation.  Citing Equitable PCI Bank, Inc. v. Bellones,5 Atty. Quicho stated that it was the judgment obligor, not Reyes, who could exercise the option.  Reyes could only garnish or levy if BOC did not exercise the option.

Atty. Quicho believed that Reyes abused his authority when he arbitrarily levied on the bank’s computers which were essential to the banking operations of BOC, and exceeded his authority when, without just or legal ground, he levied on the cash and certain personal properties of BOC.  He asserted that Reyes’consortium with the NBI Regional Director, whose agents carried high-powered firearms to intimidate and sow fear upon BOC employees and clients, and the use of acetylene torch on vault railings despite BOC’s exercise of its option offering its real property for the satisfaction of the money judgment, were uncalled for.  Such acts of Reyes, according to Atty. Quicho, disregarded the rules on execution of judgment justifying his relief and dismissal as Branch Sheriff.

In his Rejoinder,6 dated March 10, 2011, Reyes countered that BOC had already waived its option to choose properties to be levied upon because its offer to pay its liabilities by cashier’s check and real property came only on December 11 and December 17, 2010, respectively, or eight (8) months after he had served the demand to pay the judgment award on April 7, 2010.  He denied having disrupted the operations of the BOC when he levied the computers as he did not take the computer servers with him.

Reyes argued that the Equitable PCI Bank (EPCIB) case relied upon by BOC was not applicable because, unlike the present case, the decision in the former case was executed with “deliberate swiftness,” and that EPCIB, after being served with the demand to pay, immediately exercised its option to choose which of its properties would be levied for the satisfaction of the money judgment.

On August 29, 2013, the OCA submitted its report for the Court’s consideration.

OCA Report and Recommendation

The OCA found sufficient grounds to hold Reyes administratively liable for his overzealousness in implementing the alias writ of execution.

The OCA opined that when BOC offered its real estate properties in Paranaque to answer for the judgment debt, a legal issue arose as to whether the offer was acceptable under the law.  Thus, according to OCA, Reyes should have brought the matter to the attention of the Court, instead of resolving it himself.  It quoted the ruling in the case of Stilgrove v. Clerk of Court Eriberto Sabas and Sheriff Ernesto Simpliciano, Municipal Trial Court, 4th Judicial Region, Puerto Princesa City,7 which held, in part, that “the sheriff’s duty to execute a judgment is ministerial.  He need not look outside the plain meaning of the writ of execution.  And when a sheriff is faced with an ambiguous execution order, prudence and reasonableness dictate that he seek clarification from a judge.”

Anent the incident where Reyes blow-torched the cash vault and took away the bank’s computers, claiming that he was left with no other choice but to use “reasonable force” because BOC had repeatedly refused to settle its debts, the OCA explained that if Reyes really had difficulty dealing with the BOC, he should have informed the court through the periodic reports contemplated under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court.  It noted from the records, however, that Reyes acted on his own when he decided to resort to such drastic measures although he reported to the court the items he took from the bank and no evidence was shown that he acted in cahoots with the plaintiff’s counsel.

The OCA concluded that Reyes clearly exceeded his authority when he resolved on his own the legal issue that arose in the course of his implementation of the writ and pursued his own course of action without referring the matter to the issuing court.  It, thus, found Reyes liable for abuse of authority and recommended the imposition of the penalty of fine in the amount of P5,000.00.  It cited, as basis for his liability the recent case of Pineda v. Torres, Sheriff III, Branch 2, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Angeles City8 where the Court imposed a fine of P5,000.00 after finding respondent sheriff guilty of grave abuse of authority for implementing a writ outside his area of jurisdiction.

On the basis of these findings, the OCA came up with the following recommendation.  Thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

It is respectfully recommended for the consideration of the Honorable Court that:chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
  1. the instant complaint be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative matter against Bienvenido S. Reyes, Jr., Sheriff IV, Branch 98, Regional Trial Court, Quezon City;

  2. respondent Sheriff Reyes be found GUILTY of Grave Abuse of Authority relative to his implementation of the Alias Writ of Execution issued in Civil Case No. Q-89-3580 and, accordingly, be FINED in the amount of Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00), payable within thirty (30) days from receipt of the Court’s resolution; andChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

  3. respondent Sheriff Reyes be STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely by the Court.9

The Court’s Ruling

The Court adopts the findings and recommendation of the OCA.

Time and again, the Court has declared that the highest standard of professionalism in the performance of judicial tasks is demanded from every court personnel.  The Court expects every court personnel to perform his/her duties promptly, with great care and diligence, having in mind the important role he/she plays in the administration of justice.10cralawlawlibrary

Reyes, in his Comment, had admitted that he refused to accept the real estate property offered by the BOC to settle the judgment award because he believed that it was not allowed under the law and also because it was offered late.

Section 9, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court provides for the procedure as to how execution of judgments for money is enforced.  It reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

SEC. 9.  Execution of judgments for money, how enforced.

(a) Immediate payment on demand.- The officer shall enforce an execution of a judgment for money by demanding from the judgment obligor the immediate payment of the full amount stated in the writ of execution and all lawful fees.  The judgment obligor shall pay in cash, certified bank check payable to the judgment obligee, or any other form of payment acceptable to the latter, the amount of the judgment debt under proper receipt directly to the judgment obligee or his authorized representative if present at the time of payment.

xxx

(b) Satisfaction by levy. – If the judgment obligor cannot pay all or part of the obligation in cash, certified bank check or other mode of payment acceptable to the judgment obligee, the officer shall levy upon the properties of the judgment obligor of every kind and nature whatsoever which may be disposed of for value and not otherwise exempt from execution giving the latter the option to immediately choose which property or part thereof may be levied upon, sufficient to satisfy the judgment.  If the judgment obligor does not exercise the option, the officer shall first levy on the personal properties, if any, and then on the real properties if the personal properties are insufficient to answer for the judgment.

xxx

(c) Garnishment of debts and credits. – The officer may levy on debts due the judgment obligor and other credits, including bank deposits, financial interests, royalties, commissions and other personal property not capable of manual delivery in the possession or control of third parties.  Levy shall be made by serving notice upon the person owing such debts or having in his possession or control such credits to which the judgment obligor is entitled.  The garnishment shall cover only such amount as will satisfy the judgment and all lawful fees.  (Emphasis supplied)

Under this rule, the duties of a sheriff are: (1) to first make a demand from the obligor for the immediate payment of the full amount stated in the writ of execution and of all lawful fees; (2) to receive payment in the form of cash, certified bank check payable to the obligee, or any other form of payment acceptable to the latter; (3) to levy upon the properties of the obligor, not exempt from execution, if the latter cannot pay all or part of the obligation; (4) give the obligor the opportunity to exercise the option to choose which property may be levied upon; (5) in case the option is not exercised, to first levy on the personal properties of the obligor, including the garnishment of debts due the obligor and other credits, i.e., bank deposits, financial interests, royalties, commissions and other personal properties not capable of manual delivery or in the possession or control of third parties; and (6) to levy on real properties if the personal properties are insufficient to answer for the judgment.11cralawlawlibrary

From the aforecited provisions, it is clear that the sheriff shall demand from the judgment obligor the immediate payment in cash, certified bank check or any other mode of payment acceptable to the judgment obligee.  If the judgment obligor cannot pay by these methods immediately or at once, he can exercise his option to choose which of his property can be levied upon.  If he does not exercise this option immediately or when he is absent or cannot be located, he waives such right, and the sheriff can now first levy his personal properties, if any, and then the real properties if the personal properties are insufficient to answer for the judgment.12   In this case, BOC exercised its option, although belatedly, by offering a parcel of land located in Paranaque City.  The Court notes that a second petition for certiorari questioning the subject writ of execution was filed by BOC with the CA on November 8, 2010.13   The said petition was dismissed in the CA Resolution promulgated on November 26, 2010.  On December 9, 2010, BOC filed its motion for reconsideration.  Pending resolution of the motion for reconsideration or on December 17, 2010, the notice of levy was served with BOC at its Lipa City Branch.  BOC offered under protest its real property in Paranaque City to settle the judgment sum.  The motion for reconsideration was, however, denied by the CA on February 9, 2011.14cralawlawlibrary

Yet, Reyes ignored BOC’s option to surrender the said property.  He insisted and pursued to levy on cash and other personal properties of the BOC despite the said offer.  Such act indeed constituted a clear violation of the Rules.

Even on the assumption that BOC waived its right to exercise the option by belatedly offering its real estate property as satisfaction for its obligation, still, it would not exonerate Reyes from liability.

Considering that BOC’s offer was not exercised immediately as strictly required by the prescribed procedure under the Rules, Reyes was confronted with a crucial issue that should have been threshed out.  The nature of his function as sheriff being ministerial, he had no discretion or authority to decide the legal question involved.  As aptly ruled by the OCA, Reyes was duty-bound to seek clarification from the judge who issued the writ to determine whether the offer was acceptable under the circumstances.  Instead of consulting Judge Cabochan who was in the best position to resolve the matter, Reyes acted on his own and rejected the offer outright.  As an officer of the court, he should have known the proper action to take when questions relating to the writ require clarification.15   Regrettably, he failed in this regard.

Reyes’ claim that he did not act arbitrarily in serving the writ believing that his act was correct and in accordance with law cannot be a valid defense.  It is of no moment whether he executed the writ in good faith because he is chargeable with the knowledge on what is the proper action to observe in case there are questions in the writ which need to be clarified and to which he is bound to comply.16cralawlawlibrary

Reyes also admitted having blow-torched the cash vault and taken the cash as well as the computers of BOC’s Lipa City branch, but the Court rejects his explanation that he was constrained to use such force to get the cash inside the vault, for him not to be accused of being remiss in his duty.

Clearly, there was no legitimate reason for him to resort to a drastic act of using acetylene torch on the iron grills in order to have access to the bank’s main vault.  He was even escorted by the Regional Director of the NBI with his agents carrying high-powered firearms which served no apparent purpose but to cause fear and terror among the bank employees and the clients.  Indubitably, such use of force and influence in the enforcement of the writ was totally unnecessary.

Moreover, Reyes’ act of taking the bank’s computers cannot be justified.  As held in Equitable PCI Bank v. Bellones,17 the sheriff can not arbitrarily levy on property essential to the work or business of the judgment obligor.  He should have heeded the repeated pleas of BOC’s officers to spare the computers so as not to hamper its banking operations.

It is observed, however, that Reyes’ act of rejecting BOC’s offer cannot be considered as one brought about by his ignorance of the law, but is apparently due to his overzealousness in implementing the alias writ of execution.  The Court, thus, agrees with the OCA that Reyes’ actuation only amounted to grave abuse of authority.

Grave abuse of authority is defined as a misdemeanor committed by a public officer, who under color of his office, wrongfully inflicts upon any person any bodily harm, imprisonment or other injury; it is an act of cruelty, severity, or excessive use of authority.18cralawlawlibrary

Evidently, the liability of Reyes was proven by substantial evidence, which is that amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, such being the quantum of proof required in administrative cases.19cralawlawlibrary

Reyes should be reminded that by the very nature of his duties, a sheriff performs a very sensitive function in the dispensation of justice.  He is duty-bound to know the basic rules relative to the implementation of writs of execution, and should, at all times show a high degree of professionalism in the performance of his duties. As an agent of the law, he is therefore called upon to discharge his duties with due care and utmost diligence.  He cannot afford to err in serving court writs and processes and in implementing court orders lest he undermines the integrity of his office and the efficient administration of justice.20cralawlawlibrary

Sheriffs play an important part in the administration of justice.  Being in the grassroots of our judicial machinery they are indispensably in close contact with litigants, hence, their conduct should be geared towards maintaining the prestige and integrity of the court, for the image of a court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work thereat, from the judge to the least and lowest of its personnel.21cralawlawlibrary

For the above reasons, the Court affirms the OCA’s finding of grave abuse of authority on the part of Reyes.  Under the prevailing circumstances, the Court also finds OCA’s recommendation for the imposition of fine in the amount of P5,000.00 in order.

WHEREFORE, finding Bienvenido S. Reyes, Jr., Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 98, Quezon City, GUILTY OF GRAVE ABUSE OF AUTHORITY, the Court hereby ORDERS him to pay a FINE in the amount of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00), with a stern warning that a repetition of similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.cralawred

Carpio, (Chairperson), Del Castillo, Reyes,* and Leonen, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


* Designated Acting Member in lieu of Associate Justice Arturo D. Brion, per Special Order No. 1844, dated October 14, 2014.

1Rollo, pp. 269-273.

2 Id. at 2-7.

3 Id. at 20-29.

4 Id. at 209-218.

5 A.M. No. P-05-1973, 493 Phil. 722, 735, (2005).

6Rollo, pp. 248-260.

7 573 Phil. 185, 196 (2008).

8 A.M. No. P-12-3027, January 30, 2012, 664 SCRA 374.

9Rollo, p. 273.

10Vicsal Development Corporation v. Dela Cruz-Buendia, A.M. No. P-12-3097, November 26, 2012, 686 SCRA 299, 305, citing Garcera II v. Parrone, 502 Phil. 8, 13 (2005).

11 Id. at 306-307.

12Equitable PCI Bank, Inc. v. Bellones, A.M. No. A.M. No. P-05-1973, 493 Phil. 722, 735, (2005).

13Rollo, p. 157-185.

14 Id. at 264.

15Vicsal Development Corporation v. Dela Cruz-Buendia, supra note 10, at 310, citing Office of the Court Administrator v. Tolosa, A.M. No. P-09-2715, June 13, 2011, 651 SCRA 696, 704.

16Sps. Stilgrove v. Sabas, et al., A.M. No. P-06-2257, 573 Phil. 185, 197, (2008), citing Stilgrove v. Sabas, A.M. No. P-06-2257, 538 Phil. 232, 249, (2006).

17 Supra note 12, at 731.

18 Romero v. Villarosa, Jr., A.M. No. P-11-2913, April 12, 2011, 648 SCRA 32, 41-42, citing Rafael v. Sualog, 577 Phil. 159, 169 (2008).

19 Id. at 44, citing Office of the Court Administrator v. Lopez, A.M. No. P-10-2788, January 18, 2011, 639 SCRA 633, 637.

20Pineda v. Torres, supra note 8, at 379, 381.

21Sarmiento v. Mendiola, Sheriff III, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 20, Manila; A.M. No. P-07-2383, December 15, 2010, citing Escobar Vda. de Lopez v. Atty. Luna, 517 Phil. 467, 477 (2006).
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