[A.M. No. 2002-12-SC. January 22, 2003]
RE: ADMINISTRATIVE COMPLAINT FOR NON-PAYMENT OF DEBT AGAINST NAHREN HERNAEZ
D E C I S I O N
Every employee of the judiciary must be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty. The willful failure to pay just debts is conduct unbecoming a public official and is a ground for disciplinary action.
In a letter-complaint dated June 14, 2002 addressed to Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., complainant Roberta Entena (“Entena” for brevity) wrote that Nahren Hernaez (“Hernaez” for brevity), a Utility Worker II of the Leave Division of this Court, is a lessee in one of her apartments. Entena claims that Hernaez has been occupying said apartment but failed to pay the monthly rentals from July 2001 until the present. Entena filed an action for ejectment against Hernaez and the latter promised to pay the rents but until now, no payment has been made. Pertinent portions of Entena’s letter-complaint read:
“x x x
“Siya po ay aking inihabla ng Ejectment, marami na po siyang beses na nangako sa akin na magbabayad siya, ngunit dumaan na po ang mga araw at buwan na kanyang ipinangako subalit magpasahanggang ngayon ay hindi pa din po niya ako binabayaran.
“Ang sabi po niya ay ituloy ko ang aking habla laban sa kanya, dahil sa siya ay isang kawani ng Kataas-taasang Hukuman na pinangungunahan ninyo ay kayang kaya daw po niyang patagalin ang kaso, at mahihirapan daw po akong mapaalis siya sa kanyang inuupahang apartment. Totoo po ba ito?
“Ang kabuuhan po ng kanyang pagkakautang sa upa ay
ito po ay mula po noong Hulyo 2001, hanggang May 2002.
“Bakit po ang isang tulad niya na ang tungkuling pangalagaan ang kapakanan ng mamamayan bilang kawani ng Kataas-taasang Hukuman ay siya pa po ang nagsasamantala sa isang katulad ko na ang tanging pinagkukunan ng aking inaasahan at ikinabubuhay ay ang paupahang apartment, ay siya pa ang nagbibigay ng sakit ng aking loob lalo pa’t ako na isang matanda na.
“Muli po akong lumalapit sa inyo at lubos na umaasa na tutugunan po ninyo ang aking hinaing tungkol kay Nahren Hernaez, na inyong kawani.
“x x x.”
In a Memorandum dated July 10, 2002, Atty. Eden T. Candelaria, Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Administrative Officer of this Court, directed Hernaez to comment on Entena’s letter-complaint within five days from receipt thereof. Hernaez failed to comply with the said directive. Thus, another notice dated July 29, 2002 was sent to Hernaez to submit the required comment within a non-extendible period of three working days from receipt thereof.
In her Comment dated August 5, 2002, Hernaez claims that her parents were the real lessees of Entena. Hernaez avers that her parents requested her to live with them temporarily to look after their welfare since they are already old and sickly. She was merely delivering the rental payments of her parents to Entena. She alleges that she had been demanding official receipts from Entena but to no avail. She further alleges that, as suggested by her lawyer, she would vacate the premises on or before August 17, 2002.
Atty. Candelaria’s Findings and Recommendation
The parties were required to appear on August 29, 2002 before the Office of Administrative Services for investigation. As requested by Entena’s lawyer, the investigation was postponed and the initial investigation was conducted on September 3, 2002. Atty. Candelaria made the following findings:
“During the investigation conducted by this Office on 3 September
2002, it was initially gathered that the true lessees of the complainant were
Mr. and Mrs. Vicente De La Cuesta, the parents of herein respondent, in the
P6,000.00 a month. Respondent used to live with them in the
said premises. However, in January of 2001, Mr. and Mrs. De La Cuesta left for
the province to stay there for good leaving respondent and her family in the
apartment. Complainant and respondent never had any written contract of lease
on the premises vacated by her parents. However, respondent continued to occupy
the premises and even paid rentals for the first three (3) months of her
family’s stay in the premises from January 2001. Thereafter, no other payments
were made by respondent. For respondent’s failure to pay her monthly rentals, a
complaint was filed before the Tanggapan ng Barangay, Sikatuna Village 3,
Quezon City. On 7 July 2001, complainant and respondent appeared before the
Barangay Lupon where the latter acknowledged that as of 31 July 2001 her
outstanding rental arrears amounts to P27,000.00 and she (respondent)
promised to pay the same by the end of the month (July 2001). However,
respondent never made good her promise to pay as agreed and persistently failed
to pay the succeeding monthly rentals. Again, a conference was scheduled before
the Barangay Lupon on 3 September 2001 for the same case but respondent never
appeared thereat. As a consequence, her non-appearance was made the basis for
the issuance of a certification to file action in court by the Lupon.
In a handwritten note dated 16 February 2002, Ms. Hernaez promised
to vacate the premises by the end of the month of February 2002. However, she
failed to fulfill the same. On March 1, 2002, Ms. Hernaez executed a promissory
note and acknowledged her indebtedness to complainant in the amount of
and promised to pay the same even after she vacated the property. Based from
the records, it appears that as of August 2002, the total rental arrears of Ms.
Hernaez amounted to Eighty Five Thousand Pesos ( P85,000.00). As alleged
by complainant, she surreptitiously vacated the premises on August 31, 2002. At
the time this administrative case was filed in this Office, a case for
ejectment and collection of unpaid rentals against Ms. Hernaez is now pending
trial before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court.
During the scheduled conference of this case, complainant expressed willingness to enter into a compromise agreement with respondent which the latter readily agreed. After two successive conferences scheduled on different dates with the parties, no amicable settlement was arrived at due to the stubborn attitude of respondent. Complainant even proposed that payment be made on a staggered basis and promised to withdraw her complaint if respondent would only fulfill her obligations. Despite said offer, respondent never bothered to settle her account not even for a cent. In view of respondent’s failure to settle her obligations with complainant, the latter decided to push through with this administrative complaint, hence, this recommendation.”
Atty. Candelaria recommended that Hernaez be suspended for ten (10) working days for willful failure to pay her just debts, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely. Atty. Candelaria is of the view that although this is Hernaez’s first offense, reprimand is too light a penalty for the offense committed. Atty. Candelaria opines that Hernaez’s continuing failure to pay her rentals in arrears is indicative of her lack of intention to pay her just and valid debts. Moreover, Hernaez clandestinely left the premises and never bothered to inform Entena of her whereabouts. Hernaez, being an employee of the highest court of the land, should have been an epitome of integrity and honesty.
The Court’s Ruling
We agree with Atty. Candelaria’s finding that Hernaez should be held administratively liable for willful failure to pay her just debts.
Section 46, Chapter 6 of Book V, Title I, Subtitle A (Civil Service Commission) of the Revised Administrative Code of 1987 (E.O. No. 292) provides:
“SEC. 46. Discipline: General Provisions. – (A) No officer or employee in the Civil Service shall be suspended or dismissed except for cause as provided by law and after due process.
(b) The following shall be grounds for disciplinary action:
x x x x x x x x x
(22) Willful failure to pay just debts or willful failure to pay taxes due to the government;”
“Just debts” as defined in Section 23, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of E.O. 292 refers to:
1. claims adjudicated by a court of law, or
2. claims the existence and justness of which are admitted by the debtor.
In the instant case, Hernaez admitted the existence of her
indebtedness and the justness thereof. In the conference before the Barangay
Lupon held on July 7, 2001, Hernaez promised to pay her rentals in arrears from
March 15, 2001 to July 31, 2001 in the amount of
P27,000.00. Hernaez also promised to pay said amount by
the end of July 2001. However, Hernaez never made good her promise prompting
the Barangay Lupon to issue a Certification to File Action in Court on
September 13, 2001. Thus, Entena filed an ejectment case against Hernaez before
the Metropolitan Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch XXXV, docketed as Civil
Case No. 35-28346.
Hernaez, in a handwritten note dated February 16, 2002, promised
to vacate the premises by the end of February 2002 but failed to do so. She is
indebted to Entena in the accumulated amount of
P85,000.00, which amount
Hernaez does not dispute. Out of this
amount, Hernaez executed on March 1, 2002 a promissory note to Entena for P51,000.00.
The balance represents the rentals accumulated from March 2002 to August 31,
2002 when Hernaez left the premises.
Verily, by her unjust refusal to pay her admitted debts, Hernaez’s
administrative liability under the Revised Administrative Code is beyond
Section 23 of the same Omnibus Rules classifies the willful failure to pay just debts as a light offense and prescribes the penalty of reprimand for the first offense, suspension for one to thirty days for the second offense, and dismissal for the third offense. The penalty imposed by law is not directed at Hernaez’s private life but at her actuations which are unbecoming a public official. However, this case is Hernaez’s first offense which should merit only the penalty of reprimand and not suspension of ten days as recommended by Atty. Candelaria. Consistent with Section 23 of the Omnibus Rules and the ruling in Christine G. Uy v. Bonifacio Magallanes, Jr., Process Server, RTC, Branch 30, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya, the appropriate penalty on Hernaez is a severe reprimand.
Being an employee of the highest court of the land, Hernaez has failed to live up to the strictest standards of honesty, uprightness and integrity in the public service. The image of a court of justice is mirrored in the conduct, official and otherwise, of the personnel who work thereat, from the highest Justice to the lowest personnel. Court employees have been enjoined to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in their professional and private conduct in order to preserve the good name and integrity of the courts of justice. However, we cannot order Hernaez to pay civil indemnity to Entena because this is an administrative case and the Court is not a collection agency.
WHEREFORE, respondent Nahren D. Hernaez, Utility Worker II of the Leave Division of this Court, is SEVERELY REPRIMANDED for her willful failure to pay her just debts, tantamount to conduct unbecoming a court employee. She is further WARNED that the commission of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely by this Court.
Davide, Jr., (C.J.), Puno, Vitug, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Yñares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
Bellosillo, J., on leave.