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A.M. No. P-04-1828 - TEOFILO C. VILLARICO v. ROLANDO G. JAVIER, ET AL.

A.M. No. P-04-1828 - TEOFILO C. VILLARICO v. ROLANDO G. JAVIER, ET AL.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[A.M. NO. P-04-1828 : February 14, 2005]

TEOFILO C. VILLARICO, Complainant, v. ROLANDO G. JAVIER, Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 111, Pasay City, and VIRGILIO F. VILLAR, Sheriff IV, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Pasay City, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

CALLEJO, SR., J.:

In a Complaint-Affidavit dated July 30, 2003, Teofilo C. Villarico charged Rolando G. Javier, Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 111, Pasay City, and Virgilio F. Villar, Sheriff IV, RTC-Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC), Pasay City, with gross dereliction of duty relative to the implementation of the writ of execution issued by the RTC Pasay City, Branch 111 in Civil Case No. 01-0054 entitled "Teofilo C. Villarico v. Dionisia Mendoza, et al."

The complainant, the plaintiff in the said case, narrated that on November 18, 2002, he gave respondent Javier P200.00 to implement the said writ of execution dated November 12, 2002. Two (2) months thereafter, the complainant called respondent Javier to inquire on the progress of the enforcement of the writ, but their conversation was interrupted and was abruptly cut. When the complainant tried to call back, he could no longer contact the number as the telephone had apparently been hung.

After several days, respondent Javier called up the complainant and informed the latter that the writ could no longer be enforced. He advised the complainant to look for another sheriff. Several more days thereafter, respondent Javier again contacted the complainant and told him that he had been in touch with someone who could implement the writ, respondent Villar of the RTC-OCC, Pasay City. Respondent Javier assured the complainant that he would monitor the progress of the implementation of the writ of execution. Upon respondent Javier's advice, the complainant gave respondent Villar an allowance of P500.00. After this incident, the complainant no longer heard from respondent Villar.

In his Comment dated September 4, 2003, respondent Javier alleged that the court rendered a decision based on ex-parte proceedings against defendant Dionisia Mendoza on March 8, 2002. The court then issued a writ of execution on November 12, 2002. Pursuant thereto, he went to defendant Mendoza's given address on November 20, 2002 to serve the writ, only to be informed that she no longer resided thereat. After receiving information that defendant Mendoza was working at an insurance agency near the Las Piñas City Hall and was frequently seen at Toyota Alabang and City Motors Alabang, he followed up the lead. He was informed that the said defendant was a sales agent but reported only to transact sales on commission. He then suggested to the complainant that it would be more practical to indorse the writ to the Sheriff of Parañaque or Muntinlupa since he could not stay beyond 5:00 p.m. or arrive as early as 6:00 a.m. to wait for the defendant in the said offices. The complainant eventually agreed to the suggestion, but insisted that another Sheriff of Pasay City should implement the writ. He accompanied the complainant to respondent Villar, who happened to reside near the vicinity of Alabang.

Respondent Javier admitted that he had telephone conversations with the complainant, and during one of them assured the latter that he would monitor the progress of the enforcement of the writ. He later learned that respondent Villar had yet to receive information on the whereabouts of the defendant.

For his part, respondent Villar denied the allegations against him. He explained that the Writ of Execution dated November 12, 2002 addressed to respondent Javier was endorsed to him with the conformity of the complainant on March 8, 2003. Aside from the enforcement of the said writ, he was also assigned to implement and serve other writs and court processes. He further alleged that he went to the defendant's residence on April 8, 2003, but no one was in the house. He returned on April 16, 2003, and was informed that the defendant no longer resided therein. Nonetheless, he passed by the place once in a while to investigate, but found no new information. According to respondent Villar, the complainant himself did not provide any information on the defendant's whereabouts. Thus, in his Sheriff's Return dated June 10, 2003, he informed the court that the writ could not be implemented because the defendant could not be located.

In a Resolution1 dated September 6, 2004, the Court referred the case to Executive Judge Caridad H. Grecia Cuerdo, RTC, Pasay City, for investigation, report and recommendation.

In her Report dated December 6, 2004, the Executive Judge made the finding that respondent Javier belatedly submitted his sheriff's return on the Writ of Execution dated November 12, 2002. The Executive Judge noted the absence of the proof of receipt showing that the sheriff's return was submitted and received by the RTC, Branch 111, as claimed by respondent Javier. As regards respondent Villar, the Investigating Judge opined that he exerted all his efforts to serve the writ after it was endorsed to him for implementation on March 8, 2003. Unfortunately, all his efforts were unsuccessful and he was constrained to report the same in his Sheriff's Return dated June 10, 2003.

Thus, the Executive Judge ruled that the respondent sheriffs performed their duties and functions in accordance with Section 14, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, and made the following recommendation:

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, and considering that the complainant failed to substantiate his allegations by convincing and pertinent evidence, his complaint against respondents ROLANDO JAVIER and VIRGILIO VILLAR for gross dereliction of duty MUST NECESSARILY FAIL.

WHEREFORE, the undersigned most respectfully recommends the DISMISSAL of the above-entitled administrative case for lack of merit.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

However, due to the belated submission of the necessary Sheriff's Return and that respondent Rolando Javier furnished a copy to the Complainant only during the hearing, it is hereby recommended that he be ADMONISHED with a STERN WARNING that the commission of a similar act in the future will be dealt with more severely.

The Court finds that the respondents should not be merely admonished for their actuations, but should be penalized for falling short of the high standards required of public officers as enshrined in the Constitution.

The records show that respondent Javier failed to timely make a sheriff's return as required under Section 14, Rule 39 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

In fact, respondent Javier submitted an undated sheriff's return and furnished a copy thereof to the complainant only during the investigation of the instant case.2 The duties of the sheriff relative to the making of a return of the writ of execution were spelled out by the Court in Arevalo v. Loria:3

It is mandatory for a sheriff to make a return of the writ of execution to the clerk or judge issuing it. If the judgment cannot be satisfied in full within thirty (30) days after his receipt of the writ, the officer shall report to the court and state the reason or reasons therefor. The officer is, likewise, tasked to make a report to the court every thirty (30) days on the proceedings taken thereon until the judgment is satisfied in full or its effectivity expires.4

The fact that the respondents herein were charged of dereliction of duty for their alleged failure to implement the questioned writ of execution should have made them realize that the best evidence to prove that they were not remiss in their duties as alleged by the complainant were the returns they themselves should have supposedly made and filed with the RTC. Thus, respondent Javier is liable for simple neglect of duty in failing to file the sheriff's return.

During the investigation conducted by the Executive Judge, respondent Villar admitted that he and the complainant had an agreement; that is, in case the writ would be successfully served on the defendant, he (respondent Villar) would receive P500.00 from the complainant. In the respondent's own words: "Your Honor, mayroon po kaming usapan tungkol doon. Pag nag positive, pero negative po. I [exerted] all my [efforts] to locate the defendant, but negative. Kaya hindi ko na-receive ang P500.00."5

Rule 141, Section 9(1) of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, authorizes the sheriff and other persons serving processes to collect certain amounts from parties while in the performance of their functions.6 However, the Rules also require the Sheriff to estimate his expenses in the execution of the decision. The prevailing party will then deposit the said amount to the Clerk of Court who will disburse the amount to the Sheriff, subject to liquidation. Any unspent amount will have to be returned to the prevailing party.7 Thus, any amount received by the Sheriff in excess of the lawful fees allowed by the Rules of Court is an unlawful exaction and renders him liable for grave misconduct and gross dishonesty.8

Moreover, under Section 2, Canon I9 of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel, soliciting or acceptance of "any gift, favor or benefit based on any or explicit or understanding that such gift, favor or benefit shall influence official actions" is prohibited.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

Court personnel must not discriminate by dispensing favors to anyone, and cannot allow kinship, rank, position, or favors from any party to influence their official actions.10 They are further prohibited from accepting any fee or remuneration beyond what they receive or are entitled to in their official capacity.11

The Court thus finds that in demanding money from the complainant, or at least agreeing to receive the same in consideration of the performance of his duty, and considering further his admission in open court during the investigation of this case, respondent Villar is guilty of conduct unbecoming a court employee.

Sheriffs play an important role in the administration of justice and as agents of the law high standards are expected of them.12 Being ranking officers of the court and agents of the law, they must discharge their duties with great care and diligence.13 It cannot be overstressed that the image of a court of justice is mirrored in the conduct, official and otherwise, of the personnel who work there, from the judge to the lowest employee.14 As such, the Court will not tolerate or condone any conduct of judicial agents or employees which would tend to or actually diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary.15

WHEREFORE, respondent Rolando G. Javier is found GUILTY of neglect of duty, and is FINED in the amount of One Thousand Pesos (P1,000.00). Respondent Virgilio F. Villar is adjudged GUILTY of conduct unbecoming a court employee, and is FINED in the amount of Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000.00). Both respondents are STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, p. 41.

2 Rollo, p. 51.

3 402 SCRA 40 (2003).

4 Id. at 48.

5 TSN, 27 October 2004, p. 16.

6 Sec. 9. Sheriffs and other persons serving processes. '

(l) For money collected by him by order, execution, attachment, or any other process, judicial and extrajudicial, the following sums, to wit:

1. On the first four thousand (P4,000.00) pesos, five (5%) per centum;

2. On all sums in excess of four thousand (P4,000.00) pesos, two and one-half (2.5%) per centum.

7 Alvarez, Jr. v. Martin, 411 SCRA 248 (2003).

8 Abalde v. Roque, Jr., 400 SCRA 210 (2003).

9 Fidelity to Duty.

10 Section 3, Canon 2.

11 Section 4, Canon 2.

12 Llamado v. Ravelo, 280 SCRA 597 (1997).

13 Magat v. Pimentel, Jr., 346 SCRA 153 (2000).

14 Layosa v. Salamanca, 407 SCRA 329 (2003).

15 Philippine Bank of Communications v. Torio, 284 SCRA 67 (1998).

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