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A.M. No. 04-11-671-RTC - Re: Findings of Irregularity on the Bundy Cards of Personnel of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 26 and Municipal Trial Court Medina, Misamis Oriental.

A.M. No. 04-11-671-RTC - Re: Findings of Irregularity on the Bundy Cards of Personnel of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 26 and Municipal Trial Court Medina, Misamis Oriental.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[A.M. NO. 04-11-671-RTC. October 14, 2005]

RE: FINDINGS OF IRREGULARITY ON THE BUNDY CARDS OF PERSONNEL OF THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 26 AND MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT MEDINA, MISAMIS ORIENTAL.

D E C I S I O N

CALLEJO, SR., J.:

On November 11, 2004, a judicial audit team of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), headed by Atty. Elizabeth S. Tanchoco, conducted a judicial audit and physical inventory of cases in the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Medina, Misamis Oriental. The team inspected the courts at about 8:11 a.m. and observed that only a few court employees in the MTC and the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 26, were present in their respective places of work. While their time cards had all been punched in (indicating that the employees reported for work before 8:00 a.m.), they were not in their respective posts.

The findings of the audit team on this matter are contained in its Report dated November 23, 2004, to wit:

There are three (3) bundy clocks in the Hall of Justice of Medina, Misamis Oriental. One for each Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branches 26 and 42 and one for the Municipal Trial Court. Only RTC 42 has a rack for their bundy cards. On the day of the audit, November 11, 2004, the team discovered that as of 8:11 a.m. most of the bundy cards of employees in the MTC and RTC, Branch 26 have already been punched in although the employees concerned were not yet in the office in violation of the rules on the strict observance of prescribed working hours and rules on punctuality and attendance (Administrative Circular Bo. 2-99, dated January 15, 1999, Circular Nos. 63-2001, dated October 3, 2001 and 87-2001 dated November 29, 2001). In connection therewith the bundy cards of the staff of the two courts (xerox copies of which are hereby attached as Annexes "A" to "A-5") were taken by the team for indorsement to the Legal Office, Office of the Court Administrator and the Office of Administrative Services for the appropriate action.

The personnel of the MTC, Medina are the following:

Name

Time in on Nov. 11, 2004

Remarks

Pamfilo Sanches

6:13

Already in court when the team arrived

Cecilia P. Bagsican

7:20

Already in court when the team arrived

Anita Pupos

7:21

Already in court when the team arrived

Necias C. Abuzo

7:22

 

Ireneo M. Baja

7:23

 

Roderick S. Orimaco

7:23

Already in court when the team arrived

Jaime D. Aguilar

-

On leave

Victoria C. Alaba

-

On leave

When informed of the team's findings, the presiding judge was surprised as she had advised them when she assumed her post of the Court's strict policy on punctuality of court personnel.

The following are the personnel of the RTC, Branch 26, Medina:

Name

Time in on Nov. 11, 2004

Remarks

Rodriguez J. Orimaco

-

On leave

Ellogene C. Atienza

7:45

Not in court

Elsie B. Sabuga

7:46

In court

Dina D. Adran

7:47

Not in court

Atty. Michael Duce Juson

7:48

Erased but indentation remains

Syvil J. Pajaron

7:49

In court

Mary Ann M. Redondo

7:50

Erased but indentation remains

Lizandro P. Simon, Jr.

7:50

Not in court

Manolita D. Torayno

7:50

In court

Servando C. Simon, Jr.

8:12

In court

The audit team was not able to take the bundy cards of Mr. Arthur G. Mondigo and Salde G. Elago.

Looking over these cards, one has to notice the one-minute interval of the entries. It is not unlikely to presume that only one person is "assigned" to punch the cards.

It is also worthy to note that the security guard Candido Dumalo-an of the Fidelity Security and Manpower Services, Corp. was on duty at that time. When confronted about the anomaly, he reasoned out that it was not his duty to monitor the attendance of the employees and the regularity in the punching of their cards.1

The audit team then forwarded the time cards of the employees involved and referred the matter to the OCA Legal Office and the Office of Administrative Services for appropriate action. Pursuant thereto, the said employees were required to comment on the findings of the judicial audit team.

Cecilia P. Bagsican, Clerk of Court II, alleged that she personally punched her time card in the morning of November 11, 2004 at the Hall of Justice lobby where the bundy clock was installed. While she admitted that she was not in her official workstation when the audit team arrived, she averred that she was at the San Isidro Labrador Parish across the road fronting the Municipal Hall building to attend the 8:00 a.m. funeral mass for Lutherdy N. Cabus, a meat inspector who had worked for the municipal government for 17 years. She alleged that she was merely showing her respect for the dead and presented a certification from the parish priest stating that such a mass was celebrated that morning. She reiterated that she was physically present in her workstation as she was even included in the group picture-taking personally done by Atty. Tanchoco in the presence of Atty. Galo Macasinag.

Anita C. Pupos, Clerk II, also had the same explanation. She averred that she personally punched her time card in the morning of November 11, 2004 at the Hall of Justice where the bundy clock was installed and that it registered 7:50. She was not at her work station when the audit team arrived because she went back home, about a block away, to pick up her umbrella, and from there proceeded to the church to attend the funeral mass. She was, however, unable to attend the mass because Roderick Orimaco had called, as instructed, and informed her that the audit team had arrived. She then rushed to her workstation.

Necias A. Abuzo, Stenographer I, also claimed to have punched in her time card personally. She was not in her official workstation when the audit team arrived because she had rushed back home to give her husband his
morning medicine. She explained that her husband was suffering from Parkinson's disease. In her worry that the audit team might come very early, she completely forgot to give her husband his medicine. She also explained that her house was only three blocks away from the office and that it did not take her long to get back to her station. The audit team was already there when she arrived.

Roderick S. Orimaco, Court Stenographer I, also claimed to have been physically present in his workstation when the audit team arrived. He stated that he was even included in the group picture taken personally by the members of the audit team.

Ireneo M. Baja, Junior Process Server, declared that he personally punched his time card at 7:23 a.m. He explained that he was not in his work - station because after punching in his card, he served the notices to the parties in a criminal case. This did not take long, and he immediately went back to the office where he learned of the arrival of the audit team.

Pamfilo O. Sanchez, Jr., Utility Worker I, denied the allegations against him. He claimed that he personally punched his bundy card at 6:09 a.m. on November 11, 2004. He explained that, as part of his duties, he reports to his workstation ahead of the others. In the morning of November 11, 2004, he came early, at 6:09 a.m., to clean the chamber, the courtroom, staffroom, and other premises within his assignment. He then went home for breakfast and took a bath. He returned to his workstation at around 8:15 a.m. with the permission of the Judge. However, he was not among the MTC personnel included in the group picture-taking together with Judge Marites Filomena Rana-Bernales.

Lizandro P. Simon, Process Server, likewise claimed that he personally punched his bundy card at 7:50 a.m. on November 11, 2004. He was aware that the audit team was coming that day, so he hurriedly served a court Order dated November 9, 2004 to a complaining witness in a criminal case who resided in Mimbolo, Tambagan, Medina, which is about a few kilometers from his station. When he arrived at the office at 8:30 a.m., the audit team was already there.

Syvil J. Pajaron, Clerk III, claimed that she personally punched her bundy card at 7:48 a.m. on November 11, 2004. She was physically present when the audit team entered their office. She was also included in the group picture-taking personally done by team leader Atty. Tanchoco.

Ellogene C. Atienza, Clerk III, Mary Ann M. Redondo, Court Stenographer III, and Dina D. Adran, Court Interpreter III, admitted that they were not in their official workstation when the audit team arrived, but claimed that they personally punched their bundy cards that morning. They explained that they attended the 8:00 a.m. funeral mass for Lutherdy N. Cabus, as a sign of respect for a co-government employee and a deceased member of the municipality.

Rodriguez J. Orimaco, Sheriff IV, alleged that his bundy card had not been punched at all when the team conducted the judicial audit. He declared that, at the time the audit team came to Medina, he was already on sick leave for 11 working days, specifically November 4-5, 8-12, and 16-19, 2004. He had also been on sick leave for 13 working days even before the audit team came (from October 5-6; 18-22; and 26-29, 2004).

Manolita D. Torayno, Court Stenographer III, and Elsie B. Sabuga, Court Stenographer III, claimed that they personally punched in their time cards and were there when the audit team entered the RTC, Branch 26 Office. They were also among those who were included in the group picture - taking personally done by team leader Atty. Tanchoco.

Atty. Michael D. Juson, Branch Clerk of Court V, claimed that, when the audit team arrived at his station on November 11, 2004, he was at the nearby Office of the Clerk of Court to return reference materials he had borrowed from the RTC law library. He claimed that, after disembarking from a public utility vehicle within the vicinity of their court station with the books and reference materials in his hands, he called out to one of his staff through the side windows of the RTC Branch 26 and requested her to punch in his bundy card as he still had to go to the Office of the Clerk of Court/RTC Branch 42 building. As he returned the materials, he and Atty. Candida N. Casiño had a short discussion on the synchronization of their individual court schedules of hearing and judicial auditing, including the proposed year-end party of the personnel of RTC Branches 26 and 42, MTC Medina, and the Medina-based personnel of the Office of the Provincial Prosecutors and Public Attorney. He contends that their discussion was cut short because he was notified that the audit team was already at their office in the RTC Branch 26. The respondent attached the affidavits of Atty. Ana Candida N. Casiño, Jocelyn C. Sala, and Ligaya D. Barloso to vouch for his presence at the Office of the Clerk of Court before 8:00 a.m. on November 11, 2004. He also clarified the whereabouts of the following personnel that day:

1. RODRIGUEZ J. ORIMACO, Court Sheriff, was on sick leave even weeks before 11 November 2004. He suffered a mild stroke due to hypertension per doctors' findings. He even reported to work in the early days of November, but he later went on leave because he was still weak. His leave of absence is reflected in the Monthly Report of Absences, Tardiness for the month of November, hereto attached as Annex "E."

2. Court Legal Researcher Servando C. Simon, Jr., Court Interpreter Dina D. Adran, Clerks Syvil C. Pajaron and Ellogene C. Atienza, Stenographers Manolito D. Torayno, Mary Ann R. Redondo, and Elsie B. Sabuga were present that morning of 11 November 2004, although Interpreter Adran, Clerk Atienza and Stenographer Redondo were not inside the office when the Audit Team arrived because after punching their card at the lobby of the Hall of Justice, they went to the St. [Isidro] Parish Church, which is located just across the municipal compound where courts [are] situated too. They went there, together with the other LGU employees, purposely to attend a funeral mass.

Their action in attending the funeral mass for only a short time is not only a Christian act affording last respect to a fellow worker in the government and a friend but also of showing camaraderie to the entire Medina-based government employees' family.

It is worthy to note that we have cultivated a closer relationship with the LGU without compromising the courts' independence. We, court employees, join the Local Government of Medina in Flag Raising Ceremonies (see attached LGU Memorandum Order No. 01-2004 as Annex F).

4. Lizandro P. Simon, the Court's Process Server, was serving a court order to one Bernardo C. Labarete, a complaining witness in Pp. v. Gabales, (CC No. 1451-M [2004]) a criminal case pending before our court.

5. Arthur G. Mondigo, a Court Stenographer, ever aware of the judicial audit, informed me earlier that morning via text message that he ll be coming late to office because he ll have a very important errand to do. He arrived at the office at 9:20 in the morning. Such circumstance was duly reflected in the monthly report of absences, tardiness for the month of November, hereto attached as Annex E.

6. Salde G. Elago, the Court Utility Aide, came to the office at 6:19, did his errand, went out to take his breakfast, and returned while the audit team was still inside the office. His attendance was noted by the audit team.

In its Report dated July 29, 2005, the Office of the Court Administrator made the following recommendation:

EVALUATION: An examination of the record shows that Pamfilo Sanchez, Jr., Cecilia P. Bagsican, Anita Pupos and Roderick S. Orimaco, personnel of the MTC were already in court when the audit team arrived at 8:11 in the morning of 11 November 2004. The team likewise found that Elsie B. Sabuga, Syvil C. Pajaron, Manolita D. Torayno and Servando C. Simon, Jr., personnel of the Regional Trial Court, were also in court at the same time and date. For this reason, they should be removed as respondents in this case.

As regards Necias C. Abuzo and Ireneo M. Baja of the Municipal Trial Court, the audit team was already in court when these people arrived. The same is true as regards Ellogene C. Etienza, Dina D. Adran, Mary Ann M. Redondo and Lizandro P. Simon of the Regional Trial Court.

Several respondents submitted individual Comments. We shall discuss each of the comments filed by those who were not in court when the audit team arrived but whose bundy cards show they had timed in before the audit arrived.

Necias C. Abuzo denies that another person had punched her bundy card. She avers that because of her preoccupation regarding the arrival of the audit team, she had gone to the courthouse early but [forgot] to administer her husband's morning medication. Her husband was suffering from Parkinson's disease and could not take his medicine by himself. For this reason, she had to rush home, which was only three blocks away from the court, to administer her husband's medicine. When she returned to the courthouse, the audit team had already arrived.

We find the excuse given by respondent Abuzo to be sufficiently convincing. We believe that she could have really forgotten to administer her husband's medicine because of her preoccupation regarding the audit team's coming. It is not infrequent that court personnel in the rural areas feel apprehension when they learn that an audit team is coming, regardless of whether there is anything the matter with their records. It is, therefore, not impossible that Abuzo forgot her husband's medication.

In the case of Ireneo M. Baja, a junior process server in the Municipal Court, he avers that he had gone to the courthouse early enough and had personally punched his bundy card. However, he immediately left to serve the notices to the parties in "People v. Jesse de Leon". He attached copies of the subpoena and his return to the Comment. These documents reveal that indeed service was made on November 11, 2004, the date the audit team was in their court.

Ellogene C. Atienza, in his Comment, avers that he was in the courthouse early in the morning of November 11, 2004 and had personally timed in his bundy card at 7:45 A.M. (as appears in said bundy card attached to the Rollo). However, he had left the office and had gone to attend the funeral mass for Lutherdy N. Cabus, a municipal employee who died after serving the municipality for a number of years. He attached a certificate signed by Rev. Fr. Nestor D. Caduyag, SSJV, stating that a mass for the deceased Cabus was offered at 8:00 in the morning of November 11, 2004.

Dina D. Adran, a court interpreter in the Regional Trial Court, sent her Comment denying that her bundy card was punched before she arrived at her station contrary to existing rules. She avers that she had gone to the courthouse early and had personally punched her card. However, she admits that she was not at the station when the audit team arrived because she had proceeded to the church which is located right in front of their office, to attend the funeral mass offered for the deceased Lutherby N. Cabus, a municipal employee who had served the government for 17 years.

Mary Ann M. Redondo, a court stenographer, avers the same explanation given by Ellogene C. Atienza and Dina D. Adran.

In this predominantly Catholic country, the custom of condoling with the bereaved and attending rights and ceremonies for the deceased is an enduring custom. Hence, we do not blame Ellogene C. Atienza and Dina D. Adran for leaving their places of work and going across to the church where the requiem mass was being offered. However, we find that the action of punching their cards before going to the church a bit dishonest. Both respondents were well aware that the mass which was supposed to begin at 8:00 a.m. would last for at least an hour and that they would certainly be late to report to their work stations. Because of this and to prevent their being regarded as tardy, they had punched in their cards before going to attend the mass. If they were honest, they should have punched their cards when they arrived after the mass.

It is perhaps true that the daily time record, be it handwritten or by bundy clock, is the most violated civil service form. But the fact that it is commonly violated does not make the violation any less criminal. For this reason, these two respondents should be made examples so that the others may be warned that the Court is serious in enforcing the prescribed office hours.

The allegation that the bundy cards of several employees may have been punched in by only one man considering the time intervals shown in the audit team's report has not been established and at most it is purely speculative because in small towns, it is not uncommon for the employees of one office to arrive at practically the same time.

RECOMMENDATION; We respectfully recommend that this case as against Panfilo Sanchez Jr., Cecilia P. Bagsican, Anita Pupos, Roderick S. Orimaco, Elsie B. Sabuga, Syvil J. Pajaron, Manolita D. Torayno and Servando C. simon Jr. be DISMISSED, it appearing in the report of the audit team that they were already in the court when the team arrived at 8:11 o'clock A.M.

We further recommend that the explanations of Necias C. Abuzo and Ireneo M. Baja, be considered satisfactory and this case be DISMISSED as against them.

As against Ellogene C. Atienza, Dina D. Adran and Mary Ann M. Redondo, although the penalty for dishonesty is dismissal even if the commission is a first offense, however, their dishonesty was only to save a miniscule part of their wages and because of their desire to pay proper respect to the deceased employee, we respectfully recommend that they be SUSPENDED for one (1) month without pay and WARNED that the commission of a similar infraction will be dealt with more severely.

The Court rules that the appropriate charge against respondents Atienza, Adran and Redondo should have been "loafing," which is defined under Civil Service Rules as frequent unauthorized absences from duty during regular hours.2 The word "frequent," however, connotes that the employees absent themselves from duty more than once.3 This is the first time that a random check was conducted by an audit team, and is likewise the first time that the said respondents were caught outside their respective posts during office hours. Moreover, they had only been gone for a short while to attend a funeral mass and immediately went back to their posts. It would thus be erroneous to penalize them for loafing on the basis of one circumstance only, as it would be barren of factual basis.

It must be stressed that all Judicial employees must devote their official time to government service.4 They must exercise at all times a high degree of professionalism and responsibility, as service in the Judiciary is not only a duty; it is a mission. Moreover, 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 last and lowest of its employees.5

WHEREFORE, the instant administrative matter is DISMISSED. Ellogene C. Atienza, Dina D. Adran and Mary Ann M. Redondo are REMINDED to be more circumspect in the performance of their duties, and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar act in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

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

Endnotes:


1 Report dated 23 November 2004, pp. 2-3.

2 Section 22, Rule XIV, Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292.

3 Office of the Court Administrator v. Mallare, A.M. No. P-01-1521, 11 November 2003, 415 SCRA 368.

4 Diamante v. Alambra, A.M. No. P-99-1289, 21 September 2001, 365 SCRA 531.

5 Office of the Court Administrator v. Mallare, supra.

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