Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court

Manila

THIRD DIVISION

 

BENIGNO B. REAS,

Complainant,

 

 

 

 

 

-versus -

 

 

 

 

CARLOS M. RELACION,

Respondent.

A.M. No. P-05-2095

[Formerly A.M. OCA IPI No. 05-2085-P]

Present:

 

CARPIO MORALES, Chairperson,

BRION,

PERALTA,*

BERSAMIN, and

VILLARAMA, JR., JJ.

 

Promulgated:

February 9, 2011

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

 

D E C I S I O N

 

BERSAMIN, J.:

 

Every official or employee of the Judiciary is ever accountable in the performance of official duties as well as in dealing with others.

 

On October 14, 2004, Benigno B. Reas, Sheriff IV of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 23, in Cebu City charged in the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) Carlos M. Relacion, Clerk III of the RTC, Branch 15, in Cebu City with gross dishonesty and grave misconduct.[1]

 

Antecedents

 

Reas alleged in his complaint that by prior arrangement, the Clerk of Court of the RTC (COC) delivered to the Cebu CFI Community Cooperative (Cooperative) the salary checks of court personnel with outstanding obligations with the Cooperative to pay for their loans; that his salary check for the period of September 1 to 15, 2004 in the amount of P4,280.00 was delivered by the COC to the Cooperative for that purpose; that when he asked for the receipt corresponding to his payment, the Cooperative informed him that his salary check had been inadvertently surrendered to Relacion after the latter had harassed the Cooperative to a point of violence to release his (Relacion) own check for that period; that Relacion did not return the salary check to the Cooperative despite repeated demands; that when he confronted Relacion, the latter admitted taking his salary check; that Relacion mauled him when he refused Relacions offer to pay his salary check with Relacions Judicial Development Fund (JDF) check; and that it was only after the Cooperative confronted Relacion that the latter paid his salary check.[2]

 

In his answer dated February 5, 2005,[3] Relacion denied harassing or threatening the employees of the Cooperative, explaining that on September 8, 2004, he went to the COC to get his own salary check for the first half of September 2004; that while a COC staffmember was distributing the salary checks to the court personnel in the presence of a Cooperative representative, he expressed his intention to get his own salary check because he needed the money; that the Cooperatives representative agreed to his request; and that after signing the payroll, the Cooperatives representative handed to him a salary check.

 

What happened next are best narrated by Relacion, to wit:

 

5. x x x Upon receipt of the check and thinking that it was his check, respondent who was in a hurry, immediately folded the check without verifying the check, the payee and the amount thereof. Respondent put the said check in his pocket. He proceeded to the money changer for encashment of said postdated check. There he signed the dorsal side of the check. x x x He received the cash as proceeds thereof and immediately placed the cash already stapled and without counting the money to his pocket. When he arrived at his house, he got the money still stapled from his pocket and gave the money to his wife. She was surprised because the net take home pay of herein respondent as first half salary was only P1,575.00. Respondent counted the money and it was P4,240.00. Believing that there was overpayment, herein respondent immediately returned to the money changer to verify why there was overpayment but the money changer was no longer there since accordingly she was somewhere in the capitol. Herein respondent during that point in time still was not aware that the check that he endorsed and encashed to the money changer belonged to the complainant. x x x

 

6. On the following day he went to the Cooperative and was informed that the check that was given to him belonged to the complainant. That was the first time that this respondent knew about it. Thereafter, herein respondent prepared a letter addressed to the Cooperative requesting the manager to give the respondent his check. x x x The intention of the respondent was to immediately settle the problem, that is, by taking back the check of the complainant from the money changer and to give it to the complainant or by paying the complainant the equivalent value of his check which was P4,280.00. Herein respondent waited for the action and approval of the Cooperative but despite said letter-request x x x the check of herein respondent was not given to him by the Cooperative. He tried his best to immediately settle the problem. Respondent did not even work on that very day that he came to know of the problem just to immediately address said problem and just to follow it up with the Cooperative and with the money changer.[4]

 

Relacion further narrated that he informed Reas that he would pay him when they met at the bundy clock section; that Reas then punched him but missed; that he thus dared Reas to a fistfight outside the building, but the latter refused his dare; that both of them then entered the office of the COC; that while they both sat inside said office, Reas stood up and punched him on the left side of his neck; and that he retaliated by punching Reas.

 

In his reply dated February 17, 2005,[5] Reas denied punching Relacion, clarifying that he requested Relacion to apply the latters JDF check to his obligations with the Cooperative, and to add some cash to complete the amount of P4,280.00; that his request caused Relacion to flare up and to shout invectives at him; that to avoid scandal, he asked Relacion to go with him to the office of the COC; that when they were in the office of the COC, Relacion punched him; and that the COC, Atty. Jeoffrey S. Aquino, restrained Relacion from inflicting more harm on him.

 

Relacions rejoinder of February 28, 2005 reiterated his answer.[6]

 

On October 7, 2005, the OCA submitted its report,[7] recommending to the Court that the matter be re-docketed as a regular administrative matter to be referred to the Executive Judge of the RTC in Cebu City for appropriate action.

 

The Court approved and adopted OCAs recommendation on December 5, 2005.[8]

 

On February 28, 2007, RTC Executive Judge Simeon P. Dumdum, Jr. (Judge Dumdum, Jr.) informed the Court that the parties had entered into a compromise agreement calling for the dismissal of the administrative matter; and that the compromise agreement had been reached after Relacion had apologized to Reas, and paid the latter the amount of P100.00. Judge Dumdum, Jr. recommended to the Court the approval of the compromise agreement and the dismissal of the administrative matter.[9]

 

On June 13, 2007, the Court noted the recommendation of RTC Executive Judge Dumdum, Jr., and referred the administrative matter to the OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation.[10]

 

On November 16, 2007, the OCA issued a memorandum,[11] recommending to the Court that Relacion be fined in the amount of P2,000.00 for simple misconduct.

The Court noted the OCAs report and recommendation on January 21, 2008.[12]

 

On October 16, 2009, Relacion, through a letter-request,[13] implored the Court to approve the compromise agreement and to dismiss the administrative matter.

 

On October 28, 2009, the Court noted the letter-request and required the parties to manifest if they were submitting the case for decision on the basis of the records and pleadings filed.[14]

 

The parties later manifested their submission of the administrative matter for decision,[15] which manifestation the Court noted on January 20, 2010 and February 22, 2010.

 

On June 21, 2010, the administrative matter was transferred to the Courts Third Division for appropriate disposition.[16] Thereafter, on September 15, 2010, Relacion wrote the Court requesting for the resolution of the administrative matter before he would retire in November 2010.[17] Nonetheless, we note that the retirement of Relacion was not confirmed by the OCA as of todate.

 

Ruling

 

After reviewing the records, we hold that Relacion was guilty of simple misconduct, but we increase the recommended fine of P2,000.00 to P5,000.00.

 

I

Compromise agreements between parties

do not terminate administrative matters

 

 

At the outset, the Court clarifies that the compromise agreement between Reas and Relacion, or the fact that Reas already forgave Relacion, does not necessarily warrant the dismissal of this administrative matter.[18] Three reasons justify the continuation of the administrative matter despite the compromise agreement or the forgiveness. One, the Courts disciplinary authority is not dependent on or cannot be frustrated by the private arrangements entered into by the parties; otherwise, the prompt and fair administration of justice, as well as the discipline of court personnel, will be undermined.[19] Two, public interest is at stake in the conduct and actuations of the officials and employees of the Judiciary. Accordingly, the efforts of the Court in improving the delivery of justice to the people should not be frustrated and put to naught by any private arrangements between the parties.[20] And, three, the Courts interest in the affairs of the Judiciary is a paramount concern that bows to no limits.[21]

 

II

Respondent Relacion was guilty of

Simple Misconduct

 

The Code of Conduct for Court Personnel requires that the officials and employees of the Judiciary serve as sentinels of justice, and declares that any act of impropriety on their part affects the dignity of the Judiciary and the peoples faith in the Judiciary.[22] Thus, the court personnel must exhibit the highest sense of honesty and integrity not only in the performance of their official duties, but also in their private dealings with their co-employees and with the public.[23] Their professional and personal conduct must be free from any whiff of impropriety.[24]

 

Here, there is no sufficient proof showing that Relacion intentionally took Reas salary check from the Cooperative. Lucino Q. Garcia, an employee of the Cooperative, admitted in his certification dated October 9, 2004 that he had inadvertently surrendered Reas salary check to Relacion when the latter had demanded his own salary check to a point of violence. Even so, Relacion could not be exculpated because he did not immediately return the salary check either to Reas or to the Cooperative upon realizing that the salary check handed to him was not his.

 

Moreover, Relacions excuse for not returning Reas check was lame and implausible. In this regard, we adopt the OCAs findings and observations, viz:

 

His claim that he received and encashed complainants salary check without bothering to look at the face of the check and without counting the money given him by the money changer in exchange for the check does not inspire belief. One does not simply fold and pocket a check after receiving it from someone; it is usually examined to confirm the payee and its amount. At its encashment, the payee ensures that the right amount is given him/her by counting the money before leaving the money changer.

 

The incredulity of respondents narration was all the more underscored by his claim that immediately after he was told by his wife that the money was more than the amount of his expected salary, he allegedly went back to the money changer to verify if there was an overpayment, but the money changer was no longer around. It was only when he went to the Cooperative the following day that he learned that the salary check he received and encashed belonged to complainant. Thereafter, he allegedly tried his best to settle the problem with complainant.

 

If, indeed, he were sincere and determined to settle the problem with complainant, he could have simply turned over to the Cooperative the proceeds of the complainants salary check as he knew that it was intended for the payment of the loan of complainant with the Cooperative. Based on respondents narration of events, the money given in exchange for the check was still intact at the time of the discovery of the erroneous giving of complainants salary check to him. From the time respondent received the money from the money changer, it remained stapled up to the time he handed it to his wife. Being made aware that the money could not be his, the prudent and most logical thing that he should have done was to turn over the money either to the Cooperative or to the complainant, and to request the Cooperative to release his own salary check.

 

That respondent tried his best to settle the problem with complainant is further belied by his admission that he had a chance to meet with complainant at the Bundy Clock section. Obviously, that meeting was not sought for by respondent, but was merely accidental. It is of no moment who between complainant and respondent started the fight, or who was telling the truth. The bottom line was the intentional failure of respondent to immediately return the money belonging to complainant precipitated that fight.

 

While there is no direct evidence showing that respondent used the money intended for complainant for his own use, the above circumstances point towards his administrative culpability.

 

Relacions failure to immediately return Reas salary check was improper and constituted misconduct. According to Civil Service Commission v. Ledesma, [25] misconduct is a transgression of some established rule of action, an unlawful behavior, or gross negligence by a public officer. The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law, or disregard of long-standing rules, which must be established by substantial evidence. Otherwise, the misconduct is only simple.[26] That Relacion did not maliciously or deliberately take Reas salary check rendered him liable only for simple misconduct.

 

Under Section 52 (B) (2), Rule IV, of the Revised Uniform Rules On Administrative Cases In the Civil Service, simple misconduct is a less grave offense with a penalty ranging from suspension for one month and one day to six months for the first offense, and dismissal for the second offense, thus:

 

RULE IV PENALTIES

Section 52. Classification of Offenses. Administrative offenses with corresponding penalties are classified into grave, less grave or light, depending on their gravity or depravity and effects on the government service.

x x x

B.  The following are less grave offenses with the corresponding penalties:

x x x

2.  Simple Misconduct

 

1st Offense Suspension 1 mo. 1 day to 6 mos.

2nd Offense Dismissal

x x x

 

Considering that the misconduct was Relacions first offense, the penalty imposable on him is suspension for one month and one day to six months. However, we should note that, firstly, Reas already forgave him and Relacion indemnified Reas in the amount of P100.00, as evidenced by their compromise agreement; secondly, the amount of the salary check was only P4,280.00 and was already reimbursed to Reas; and, lastly, Relacion was contemplating on retiring due to a lingering illness. The penalty of suspension would be too severe under the circumstances. Instead, the imposition of a fine of P5,000.00 suffices, and accords with the rulings involving simple misconduct committed by court employees, like those in Guillen v. Constantino,[27] and in Office of the Court Administrator v. Veneracion.[28]

 

WHEREFORE, we pronounce Carlos M. Relacion, Clerk III, of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 15, in Cebu City guilty of simple misconduct,

and order him to pay a fine of P5,000.00, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

 

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

 

ARTURO D. BRION DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 



* In lieu of Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno who is on leave per Office Order No. 944 dated February 9, 2011.

[1] Rollo, pp. 1-4.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Id., pp. 13-19.

[4] Id., pp. 15-16.

[5] Id., pp. 26-32.

[6] Id., pp. 33-40.

[7] Id., pp. 42-44.

[8] Id., pp. 45-47.

[9] Id., pp. 49-52.

[10] Id., pp. 61-63.

[11] Id., pp. 64-70.

[12] Id., p. 72.

[13] Id., pp. 74-75.

[14] Id., pp. 80-81.

[15] Id., pp. 82-85 and 90-99.

[16] Id., p. 104.

[17] Id., pp. 105-106.

[18] Bulado v. Tiu, Jr., A.M. No. P-96-1211, March 31, 2000, 329 SCRA 308, 313.

[19] Teodosio v. Carpio, A.M. No. MTJ-02-1416, February 27, 2004, 424 SCRA 56, 60.

[20] Enojas, Jr. v. Gacott, Jr., A.M. No. RTJ-99-1513, January 19, 2000, 322 SCRA 272, 279.

[21] De Joya v. Diaz, A.M. No. MTJ-02-1450, September 23, 2003, 411 SCRA 408, 410.

[22] Civil Service Commission v. Dasco, A.M. No. P-07-2335, September 22, 2008, 566 SCRA 114, 122.

[23] Id.; also, Re: Disciplinary Action Against Antonio Lamano, Jr. of the Judgment Division, Supreme Court, A.M. No. 99-10-10-SC, November 29, 1999, 319 SCRA 350, 352.

[24] Albano-Madrid v. Apolonio, A.M. No. P-01-1517, February 7, 2003, 397 SCRA 120, 125.

[25] G.R. No. 154521, September 30, 2005, 471 SCRA 589, 603.

[26] Ibid.

[27] A.M. No. SB-95-6-P, December 10, 1997, 282 SCRA 583.

[28] A.M. No. RTJ-99-1432, June 21, 2000, 334 SCRA 145 (involving a Branch Clerk of Court found guilty of simple misconduct in office).