SECOND DIVISION

 

 

JONOLITO S. ORASA, ADM. MATTER NO. P-03-1669

Complainant, (Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 02-1403-P)

 

- versus - Present:

 

PUNO, Chairman,

MANUEL S. SEVA, AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ,

Clerk of Court II, CALLEJO, SR.,

MCTC Polangui, Albay, TINGA, and

Respondent. CHICO-NAZARIO, JJ.

 

Promulgated:

 

October 5, 2005

x- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

 

 

R E S O L U T I O N

 

 

AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, J.:

 

 

Jonolito S. Orasa comes before this Court accusing respondent Manuel S. Seva, Clerk of Court II of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Polangui-Libon, Albay, of nonpayment of just debt and gross misconduct in the performance of official duties.

 

In a complaint dated April 15, 2002, Orasa claims that: sometime in April of 2000, respondent and his wife Nimfa obtained a loan from him in the amount of P25,000.00 payable in five (5) installments from May 29, 2000 to September 29, 2000; when the loan matured, verbal and written demands were made but respondent refused to pay the loan; as a consequence, Orasa filed a complaint in court, where respondent happens to hold the position of Clerk of Court; on October 25, 2001, complainant and respondent entered into a compromise agreement which was submitted to and approved by the trial court on the same day; the agreement provided that complainant shall be entitled to a writ of execution upon failure of respondent to pay two or more installments; in spite of said agreement respondent still refused to pay his obligation to complainant; on January 26, 2002, complainants lawyer filed a motion for the issuance of writ of execution but when complainant and his counsel arrived at the court on February 8, 2002, they found out that their motion was not calendared for hearing that day; when asked about the matter, respondent said that complainants motion did not contain a date for setting; this was belied by complainants lawyer by pointing to the second page of said motion; respondent either did not read the pleadings on his desk or deliberately did not calendar the motion to avoid the writ; to save respondent from further embarrassment the lady clerk reading the days calendar inserted the motion at the bottom of the calendar and the same was approved by the judge; respondent, however, as clerk of court, has, up to the date of filing of the instant complaint, still failed to prepare a writ of execution; this offense dwells on taking advantage of respondents position to make the wheels of justice turn in his favor, thus eroding the confidence of the people in the justice system.[1]

Complainant prayed that respondent be found guilty of both charges, be dismissed with forfeiture of all benefits, and be preventively suspended pending the investigation of this case so that he will not be able to tamper with the evidence and influence fellow employees who may testify against him.[2]

 

Attached to the complaint are the following: promissory note showing the signatures of respondent and his wife stating that they shall pay the amount of P25,000.00 plus interest in five installments;[3] a copy of a demand letter dated June 25, 2001;[4] a copy of the complaint dated August 13, 2001 claiming that respondent has not paid the loan or any part thereof despite complainants repeated verbal and written demands;[5] a copy of the Compromise Agreement dated October 25, 2001;[6] a copy of the decision approving the said agreement;[7] and a copy of the motion for the issuance of a writ of execution dated January 26, 2002.[8]

 

In his Comment dated July 1, 2002, respondent explained that: he has fully settled his indebtedness to complainant; he was financially hard-pressed due to the expenses of his childrens education; he never refused to pay his debt to complainant and in fact immediately signed the compromise agreement and tendered advance payment in the amount of P3,000.00; he requested, however, for sufficient time to settle his account with complainant; the motion for the issuance of writ of execution sent by complainant through mail was received by his office on February 5, 2002; such motion was not signed by the complainants counsel thus it was not calendared for hearing; when complainants counsel arrived in court on February 8, 2002, however, his attention was called by the Court Interpreter and he was asked to sign the said motion while the court was already in session, thereafter the motion was granted; he did not fail in submitting complainants case for resolution even though their court has almost 400 pending cases; he never thought of taking advantage of his position as Clerk of Court against any person especially against court litigants; complainant collected 3.5% per month interest which he paid without any complaint thus there is no reason why complainant should bring a case like this before this Court; and he never had any intention to defraud complainant.[9]

 

In support thereof, respondent attached photocopies of three receipts as follows: Annex 1 evidencing that respondent has given complainant the amount of P7,000.00 on May 10, 2002 as partial payment of the amount subject of Civil Case No. 1343-L entitled Jonolito S. Orasa vs. Sps. Manuel and Nimfa Seva;[10] Annex 1-A showing that respondent has given complainant the amount of P5,000.00 on May 19, 2002 again as partial payment of the amount in the said case;[11] Annex 1-B stating that respondent has given complainant the amount of P43,812.00 on June 8, 2002 as full/complete payment for the amount subject of the abovementioned case;[12] and a copy of the motion for the issuance of writ of execution filed by complainant with the handwritten note dated February 2, 2002, that the same was received with no signature of lawyer.[13]

On October 14, 2002, Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. submitted his Report with the following evaluation and recommendation, thus:

EVALUATION: It may be true that respondents failure to pay his indebtedness on time was not intentional but rather the consequence of his being financially hard-up. On the other hand, there appears no valid reason why respondent was unable to issue the writ of execution in the subject case. As the branch clerk of court, it is his ministerial duty to issue the writ. For his failure to calendar complainants motion, respondents excuse was not supported by any convincing proof. Obviously, there had been lapses on the part of the respondent.

 

RECOMMENDATION: Respectfully submitted for the consideration of the Honorable Court with the recommendations that the respondent be ADVISED to be more prudent in handling his financial obligations and to be more circumspect in the performance of his functions. He should also be WARNED that a repetition of the same act and lapses will be dealt with more severely.[14]

On December 16, 2002, the Court issued a Resolution requiring the parties to manifest whether they are wiling to submit the case for resolution based on the pleadings filed.[15]

 

In a Manifestation dated March 27, 2003, respondent expressed that he is not willing to submit the case for resolution based on the pleadings and that he would like to submit additional evidence.[16] Complainant, meanwhile, expressed that he is willing to have the case submitted for resolution based on the pleadings.[17]

In a Compliance dated September 8, 2003, respondent manifested that: he never intended to disregard the lawful orders of the court much less taint the dignity of the courts and adversely compromise his duties and obligations as a career public employee of the court when he failed to act with dispatch in the implementation of the writ of execution; whatever lapses he may have committed was only due to human frailty; the accusations being hurled against him by complainant are causing him agony, anxiety and social embarrassment; and he is a 60-year old family man with ten children, with more than 37 years of service with the judiciary.[18]

 

In a Manifestation dated January 22, 2004, respondent further averred that: his indebtedness in favor of complainant has already been paid in full as of June 8, 2002; while it may be true that it took some time to fully pay the loan in question, the partial payments of the respondent, indicated in the Statement of Account signed by complainant, shows his willingness to settle his obligation; he even paid in kind, i.e., two piglets valued at P2,400.00 as second payment in the month of November 2000; what made the loan burdensome was the high interest rate charged which is 3.5% a month or 42% a year; if ever respondent failed to pay his obligation as each installment fell due, it was because, as a father of ten, the pressure on his finances was difficult to bear; respondents inability to pay on time is also brought about by bad weather conditions which affected their familys harvest; respondents explanation in his answer that the reason why the motion for the issuance of a writ of execution filed by complainant was not calendared on February 8, 2002 was because of the failure of the complainants counsel to sign the same was not denied by complainant, therefore it is impliedly admitted; in support of this allegation, he attached an affidavit executed by Court Interpreter Pacita C. Salvante stating that complainants allegation on this point has no factual basis; considering that respondent has already paid his debt and that there is no basis for the charge of gross misconduct in the performance of official duties, the present complaint must therefore be dismissed; respondent has served the judiciary for 38 years and this is the only administrative charge that has been filed against him; and respondent is about to file his optional retirement in 2004 and it is his hope that he will be able to collect his benefits in full considering that his numerous tasks in the office have affected his health.[19]

 

Attached is a Statement of Account which reads:

SPOUSES MANUEL S. SEVA &

NIMFA S. SEVA - Borrower

 

AMOUNT OF PRINCIPAL - P25, 000.00 at 3.5% per month.

 

TOTAL AMOUNT OF COMPROMISE AGREEMENT IN

CIVIL CASE NO. 1353-l Jonolito Orasa vs.

Spouses Manuel S. Seva & Nimfa S. Seva

Inclusive of Principal; interest, attorneys

Fees and other litigation expensesP59,812.48

(dated October 25, 2001)

 

PAYMENTS: -

Date Amount

February, 2000 P 1,600.00

March, 2000 1,500.00

May, 2000 1,000.00

August, 2000 2,000.00

November, 2000 3,000.00

November, 2000 (2 piglets) 2,400.00

Oct. 25, 2001 (Signing & sub-

mission of

Compromise

Agreement thru

Atty. Prudencio

V. Raola, Jr. 3,000.00

May 10, 2002 7,000.00

May 19, 2002 5,000.00

June 9, 2002 43,812.00 P70,312.00

 

TOTAL PAYMENTSP70,312.00

 

WE HEREBY CERTIFY that Spouses Manuel S. Seva and Nimfa S. Seva of Del Rosario St., Libon, Albay, have completely and/or fully paid the undersigned the total sum of P70,312.00 even prior to the implementation of the Writ of Execution in Civil Case No. 1353-L, as above-stated.

 

Bololo-Libon, Albay November 17, 2003.

 

(sgd) (sgd)

JONOLITO S. ORASA NELLIE R. ORASA[20]

 

 

On February 9, 2004, the Court required the complainant to file his comment on respondents manifestation dated January 22, 2004 as well as the compliance dated September 8, 2003.[21]

 

No comment, however, was filed by complainant within the periods given, thus the Court on August 10, 2005 issued a resolution finding such failure as a waiver of his right to file comment on the manifestation and compliance filed by respondent.[22]

 

A review of the records would reveal that respondent was indeed guilty of willful failure to pay just debt.

 

Just debts, refer to (1) claims adjudicated by a court of law; or (2) claims the existence and justness of which are admitted by the debtor.[23] Willful failure to pay just debts, meanwhile, is a light offense which is punishable by reprimand for the first transgression.[24]

In this case, respondent failed to pay his obligation to complainant on several occasions prompting complainant to file the civil case for sum of money before the lower court. But even after the case was filed, a compromise agreement forged, and an order granting the motion for the issuance of a writ of execution, respondent still failed to fully settle his debt. Indeed, it was only after a complaint was filed before this Court that respondent made great efforts to fully pay his debt to complainant.

 

Having incurred a just debt, respondent had the moral duty and legal responsibility to settle it when it became due. Respondent should have also complied with the just contractual obligations, acted fairly and adhered to high ethical standards to preserve the courts integrity since he is an employee thereof.[25] Indeed, when respondent backtracked on his promise to pay his debt, such act already constituted a ground for administrative sanction.[26]

 

It is settled that court employees are expected to be models of fairness and honesty not only in their official conduct but also in their personal actuations, including business and commercial transactions. Thus, any act that would be a bane to the public trust and confidence reposed on the judiciary shall not be countenanced.[27]

 

In the words of this Court in In Re: Complaint for Failure to Pay Just Debts Against Esther T. Andres:[28]

 

The Court cannot overstress the need for circumspect and proper behavior on the part of court employees.  While it may be just for an individual to incur indebtedness unrestrained by the fact that he is a public officer or employee, caution should be taken to prevent the occurrence of dubious circumstances that might inevitably impair the image of the public office. Employees of the court should always keep in mind that the court is regarded by the public with respect.  Consequently, the conduct of each court personnel should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of onus and must at all times be characterized by, among other things, uprightness, propriety and decorum.[29] 

 

While respondent has already paid in full his obligation towards complainant, this does not exculpate him from liability. As pronounced by this Court in Villaseor vs. De Leon,[30]

 

. . . the discharge of a court employees debt does not render the administrative case moot. For, the proceedings are not directed at respondents private life but at her actuations unbecoming a public employee. Disciplinary actions of this nature do not involve purely private or personal matters. They cannot be made to depend upon the will of the parties nor are we bound by their unilateral act in a matter that involves the Courts constitutional power to discipline its personnel. Otherwise, this power may be put to naught or otherwise undermine the trust character of a public office and the dignity of this Court as a disciplining authority.[31]

 

It also cannot escape our attention that respondent occupies a sensitive position in court, and with him as a respondent in a civil case for sum of money a quo, he should have acted with more circumspection so as not to raise any suspicion with regard to his professionalism and impartiality.

 

As claimed by complainant, respondent used his position, first to delay the hearing of the motion for the issuance of the writ of execution in the case against him, and later, to delay the issuance thereof. While the quantum of evidence herein presented may not be sufficient to hold respondent administratively liable for gross misconduct, since it is necessary for a court employee to be disciplined that the evidence against him should be substantial, competent and not just based on mere suspicion and speculation,[32] still, respondent has to be reprimanded and admonished to be more circumspect in the performance of his duties.

 

In a similar case, we said:

We mustpoint out that respondent occupies a sensitive position in the Office of the Clerk of Court. If moved by sinister or ulterior motives arising from the loan morass she found herself in, she could undermine the administration of justice by simply failing to act or by tampering with the record books for a consideration with which to pay her debts. Verily, under this all too possible scenario, respondent can unilaterally imperil the orderly dispensation of justice as a result of her contractual obligations.

Clearly, respondents willful failure to pay her just debt is unbecoming of a public employee and a ground for disciplinary action against her. Her unethical conduct has diminished the honor and integrity of her office, stained the image of the judiciary and caused unnecessary interference directly or indirectly in the efficient and effective performance of her functions. Certainly, to preserve decency within the judiciary, court personnel must comply with just contractual obligations, act fairly and adhere to high ethical standards. Like all court personnel, respondent is expected to be a paragon of uprightness, fairness and honesty not only in all her official conduct but also in her personal actuations, including business and commercial transactions, so as to avoid becoming her courts albatross of infamy.

At all times, respondent should avoid situations which tend to arouse suspicion that she is utilizing her official position for personal gain or advantage to the prejudice of the public. We need not exaggerate the importance of being absolutely free from any doubt that relations with others constitute an element in the determination of a pending case. Such distrust gratuitously erodes the faith and confidence of the people in the dispensation of justice. As the Constitution categorically declares, [p]ublic office is a public trust. Public officers and employees shall serve with the highest degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, and shall remain accountable to the people.[33](Emphasis supplied)

 

We take note that this is respondents first administrative case and that he has rendered 38 years of service in the judiciary, which we have considered in many instances as extenuating circumstances that justify the reduction in the penalty to be imposed.[34] We therefore find that reprimand is sufficient in this case.

 

WHEREFORE, respondent Manuel S. Seva, Clerk of Court II of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Polangui-Libon, Albay, is hereby found guilty of willful failure to pay just debt and is hereby REPRIMANDED with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ

Associate Justice

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR. DANTE O. TINGA

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 



[1] Rollo, pp. 1-3.

[2] Id., p. 3.

[3] Id., p. 5, Annex A.

The amounts are: P5,700.00, P5,525.00, P5,350.00, P5,175.00 and P5,000.00 payable on May 29, 2000, June 29, 2000, July 29, 2000, August 29, 2000 and September 29, 2000, respectively.

[4] Rollo, p. 6, Annex B.

[5] Id., pp. 7-8, Annex C.

[6] Id., pp. 11-12, Annex D.

[7] Id., pp. 13-14, Annex E.

[8] Id., pp. 15-16, Annex EE.

[9] Rollo, pp. 18-19.

[10] Id., p. 22.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Id., p. 23.

[13] Id., pp. 23b-24.

[14] Id., p. 49.

[15] Id., p. 52.

[16] Id., p. 54.

[17] Id., p. 67.

[18] Id., pp. 59-60.

[19] Rollo, pp. 74-75.

[20] Rollo, p. 76.

[21] Id., p. 79.

[22] Id., p. 82.

[23] See Section 23, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of E.O. No. 292.

[24] Villaseor vs. De Leon, A.M. No. P-03-1685, March 20, 2003, 399 SCRA 342, 346.

[25] Marata vs. Fernandez, A.M. No. P-04-1871, August 9, 2005.

[26] Villaseor vs. De Leon, supra, p. 347.

[27] In Re : Complaint for Failure to Pay Just Debts Against Esther T. Andres (Maria Teresa C. Aliento) complainant, A.M. No. 2004-40-SC, March 1, 2005.

[28] A.M. No. 2004-40-SC, March 1, 2005.

[29] Ibid.

[30] A.M. No. P-03-1685, March 20, 2003, 399 SCRA 342.

[31] Id., p. 347.

[32] Gotgotao vs. Millora, A.M. No. P-05-2005, June 8, 2005.

[33] Villaseor vs. De Leon, supra, pp. 348-349.

[34] Concepcion vs. Hubilla, A.M. No. P-02-1594, February 19, 2003, 397 SCRA 640, 643; Castillo vs. Buencillo, A.M. No. P-97-1241, March 20, 2001, 354 SCRA 641, 649.