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670 Phil. 460


[ A.M. No. P-11-2896 [Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 08-2977-P], August 02, 2011 ]




Before us is an administrative complaint dated September 4, 2008, filed by Proserpina V. Anico against Sheriff Emerson B. Pilipiña, Sheriff IV, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Manila, for extortion and neglect of duty.

The facts, as culled from the records, are as follows:

Complainant is one of the plaintiffs in a civil case, docketed as Civil Case No. 02-27454 entitled Ariel Anico and Spouses Arthur and Proserpina Anico v. Robin J. Taguinod and Jerome T. Cayabyab, for collection of sum of money, specific performance and damages.

On September 16, 2004, a Decision was issued favoring plaintiffs, including herein complainant.  On August 10, 2007, a Writ of Execution was issued for the implementation of said decision.  On August 13, 2007, the writ was forwarded to the Office of the Clerk of Court, RTC, Manila and was assigned to respondent sheriff for execution.

Complainant recalled that sometime in September 2007, she called respondent and inquired the status of the execution. In response, complainant alleged that respondent sheriff demanded the amount of P5,000.00 to defray his expenses in the implementation of the writ.  She claimed that she had no money at hand, thus, she informed respondent that she could only give P3,000.00.  Respondent sheriff consented. Complainant's sister-in-law, Filipinas N. Villasis, then personally gave the amount of P3,000.00  to respondent at his office.

In April 2008, complainant made another follow-up on the status of the writ since the same remained unimplemented. She claimed respondent again demanded the amount of P2,000.00, allegedly to defray his gasoline expenses. Complainant immediately sent the money via “Kuarta Padala” of the  M. Lhuillier Pawnshop at SM City, Iloilo City.

On August 27, 2008, complainant inquired again, this time from Branch 32, the status of the writ.  She then learned that respondent made no return of the writ even after a lapse of one year.  Dissatisfied, complainant filed the instant administrative complaint against respondent sheriff.

On October 10, 2008, in his Comment submitted before the Clerk of Court of the RTC-Manila, Sheriff Pilipiña denied the accusations against him.  He claimed that he immediately served the writ and notice to pay judgment to defendant Robin Taguinod but, being a seafarer, he was out of the country. He instead opted to leave the copies of the writ and notice to defendant's relative.

Respondent also claimed that in several occasions, he also attempted to serve the same writ and notice to pay judgment to the other defendant, Jerome T. Cayabyab, at the Coastguard Headquarters, but to no avail, as defendant was allegedly on board a ship.  He added that he came back, but still defendant Cayabyab was not around; thus, he again left copies of the writ and notice to a certain ASN/PCG Efren Tolentino.

Respondent likewise claimed that he even served a notice of garnishment to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), but was informed later on that defendants did not have any existing garnishable/leviable account with the LBP.

Respondent further added that when he got information that defendant Taguinod had returned from abroad, he immediately went back to Cavite on May 14, 2008 to serve the writ.  He was, however, informed that defendant was already in Manila.  On May 21, 2008, he averred that he was able to finally serve the writ to defendant Cayabyab who, in turn, promised to pay his judgment debt on June 2008. However, when he returned to collect, defendant Cayabyab was already in Romblon.  Respondent claimed that he has not heard from defendant Cayabyab since then.

Respondent insisted that he was never negligent in the performance of his duties, considering that even after the filing of the instant case, he still continued to serve the said writ to the defendants. However, respondent argued that he could not make the return because his job was still incomplete. He claimed to be at loss as to where to locate the defendants, because both have no permanent address. He explained that defendant Taguinod, being a seaman, was always out of the country, while defendant Cayabyab was always on board a ship and assigned in different places. Respondent further argued that while he failed to make timely returns, he nevertheless submitted, on September 9, 2008, the Sheriff's Report where he enumerated what transpired during the implementation of the writ.

As to the allegation of extortion, respondent denied that he demanded P5,000.00 and received P3,000.00 from complainant. He, however, admitted that he received P1,500.00 from complainant thru “Kuarta Padala” of the M. Lhuiller Pawnshop to defray the cost of his transportation and other reasonable expenses relative to the implementation of the writ.  He justified his receipt of money by claiming that it is judicial knowledge that winning litigants shoulder all legal and incidental expenses to be incurred in the lawful implementation of a writ. He likewise stressed that he never demanded money from any party for his own personal benefit. In fact, respondent contend that it was complainant and her representatives who were constantly inquiring about his expenses, to which he always respond, “bahala na po kayo.”

Finally, respondent asserted that he did not violate any rule in the implementation of the writ and was never remiss in the performance of his duties and responsibilities as an officer of the court.

On November 13, 2008, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) directed respondent to file his Comment to the instant complaint against him.

In compliance with the OCA's directive, respondent manifested that he is adopting his Comment dated October 10, 2008.

On December 19, 2008, in her Reply, complainant refuted respondent's allegations as mere afterthought and cover-ups.  She pointed out that respondent made his report only on September 3, 2008, or almost a year after he received the writ on October 10, 2007; and after she had filed the instant administrative complaint against him.

In his Comment to complainant's Reply,[1] respondent sheriff clarified that the Sheriff's report was duly received; thus, it was not a mere cover-up. He explained that he was not able to make a return within the 30-day period from the receipt of the court order because he was always on the run to locate defendant's properties.

Respondent reiterated anew that “it is a judicial knowledge that the winning parties and litigants should shoulder all the legal, incidental and necessary expenses to be incurred in the lawful implementation/enforcement of a WRIT” and that he never demanded any amount for his own personal benefit. He claimed to have never violated any rule pertaining to the implementation of the subject writ.

In a Memorandum dated October 22, 2010, the OCA found respondent sheriff guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and recommended the penalty of suspension of one (1) year.

The OCA noted that this is respondent's first offense in his more than 11 years of service in the judiciary.  It, however, did not apply this as a mitigating circumstance, considering that respondent was not apologetic for his transgression.

We agree with findings of the OCA, except its recommendation as to the imposable penalty.

Under Section 9, Rule 141 of the Rules of Court, the sheriff is required to secure the court’s prior approval of the estimated expenses and fees needed to implement the court process.  Specifically, the Rules provide:

SEC. 9. Sheriffs and other persons serving processes. - x x x

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

1.  On the first four thousand (P4,000.00) pesos, four (4%) per centum.

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

In addition to the fees hereinabove fixed, the party requesting the process of any court, preliminary, incidental, or final, shall pay the sheriff's expenses in serving or executing the process, or safeguarding the property levied upon, attached or seized, including kilometrage for each kilometer of travel, guard's fees, warehousing and similar charges, in an amount estimated by the sheriff, subject to the approval of the court. Upon approval of said estimated expenses, the interested party shall deposit such amount with the clerk of court and ex-officio sheriff, who shall disburse the same to the deputy sheriff assigned to effect the process, subject to liquidation within the same period for rendering a return on the process. Any unspent amount shall be refunded to the party making the deposit. A full report shall be submitted by the deputy sheriff assigned with his return, and the sheriff's expenses shall be taxed as costs against the judgment debtor.[2]

Thus, following the above-mentioned rules, a sheriff is guilty of violating the Rules if he fails to observe the following: (1) prepare an estimate of expenses to be incurred in executing the writ, for which he must seek the court's approval; (2) render an accounting; and (3) issue an official receipt for the total amount he received from the judgment debtor. The rule requires the sheriff executing writs or processes to estimate the expenses to be incurred. Upon the approval of the estimated expenses, the interested party has to deposit the amount with the Clerk of Court and ex-officio Sheriff.  The expenses shall then be disbursed to the executing Sheriff subject to his liquidation within the same period for rendering a return on the process or writ. Any unspent amount shall be refunded to the party who made the deposit.[3]  In the instant case, none of these procedures were complied with by respondent sheriff.

It must be stressed that sheriffs are not allowed to receive any voluntary payments from parties in the course of the performance of their duties.  Corollary, a sheriff cannot just unilaterally demand sums of money from a party-litigant without observing the proper procedural steps; otherwise, it would amount to dishonesty or extortion.[4]  Even assuming such payments were indeed given and received in good faith, this fact alone would not dispel the suspicion that such payments were made for less than noble purposes.  Neither will complainant's acquiescence or consent to such expenses absolve the sheriff for his failure to secure the prior approval of the court concerning such expense.[5]

Likewise, Section 14, Rule 39 of the Rules of Court explicitly provides that:

Sec. 14. Return of writ of execution. - The writ of execution shall be returnable to the court issuing it immediately after the judgment has been satisfied in part or in full. 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 therefor. Such writ shall continue in effect during the period within which the judgment may be enforced by motion. The officer shall 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. The returns or periodic reports shall set forth the whole of the proceedings taken, and shall be filed with the court and copies thereof furnished the parties.

The Rules clearly provide that it is mandatory for sheriffs to execute and make a return on the writ of execution within 30 days from receipt of the writ and every 30 days thereafter until it is satisfied in full or its effectivity expires.  Even if the writs are unsatisfied or only partially satisfied, sheriffs must still file the reports so that the court, as well as the litigants, may be informed of the proceedings undertaken to implement the writ. Periodic reporting also provides the court insights on the efficiency of court processes after promulgation of judgment.  Over-all, the purpose of periodic reporting is to ensure the speedy execution of decisions.[6]

Indeed, respondent's submission of sheriff's report was long overdue, considering that it was filed only on September 9, 2008, or about 11 months delayed as the writ was assigned to him on October 4, 2007.  His allegation that he had gone to various places did not excuse him from promptly submitting a return.

Sheriffs play an important role in the administration of justice.  They are tasked to execute final judgments of the courts.  If not enforced, such decisions become empty victories of the prevailing parties.  As agents of the law, sheriffs are called upon to discharge their duties with due care and utmost diligence because in serving the court's writs and processes and implementing its order, they cannot afford to err without affecting the integrity of their office and the efficient administration of justice.[7]

We will reiterate that a sheriff's duty in the execution of a writ is purely ministerial; he is to execute the order of the court strictly to the letter. He has no discretion whether to execute the judgment or not.  He is mandated to uphold the majesty of the law as embodied in the decision. When a writ is placed in the hands of a sheriff, it is his duty, in the absence of any instructions to the contrary, to proceed with reasonable celerity and promptness to execute it according to its mandate.  Accordingly, a sheriff must comply with his mandated ministerial duty as speedily as possible. There is even no need for the litigants to "follow up" a writ's implementation.[8]

Respondent's failure to carry out what is a purely ministerial duty and to follow well-established rules in the implementation of court orders and writs is truly deplorable. The long delay in the execution of the judgments and the failure to accomplish the required periodic reports demonstrate respondent sheriff's gross neglect and gross inefficiency in the performance of his official duties.  Likewise, respondent sheriff's receipt of the money in his official capacity and his failure to turn over the amount to the clerk of court is an act of misappropriation of funds amounting to dishonesty.[9]  These, we will not tolerate.

Time and again, this Court has pointed out the heavy burden and responsibility which court personnel are saddled with in view of their exalted positions as keepers of the public faith. They should, therefore, be constantly reminded that any impression of impropriety, misdeed or negligence in the performance of official functions must be avoided.  Those who work in the judiciary must adhere to high ethical standards to preserve the courts’ good name and standing.  They should be examples of responsibility, competence and efficiency, and they must discharge their duties with due care and utmost diligence, since they are officers of the court and agents of the law.  Indeed, any conduct, act or omission on the part of those who would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary shall not be countenanced.[10]

Under the Civil Service Rules, if the respondent is found guilty of two or more charges, the penalty to be imposed should be that corresponding to the most serious charge and the rest will be considered aggravating circumstances.[11]  Dishonesty, a grave offense punishable by dismissal on the first offense, is the most serious charge of which respondent sheriff is found guilty.[12] Gross Neglect of Duty will be considered as an aggravating circumstance.  Thus, dismissal from service is the appropriate penalty to be imposed on respondent sheriff.

WHEREFORE, respondent EMERSON B. PILIPIÑA, Sheriff IV, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court of Manila, is found GUILTY of DISHONESTY and GROSS NEGLECT OF DUTY and is ordered DISMISSED from service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and privileges, except accrued leave credits, if any, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.


Corona, C.J., Carpio, Leonardo-De Castro, Brion, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Abad, Villarama, Jr., Perez,  and Sereno, JJ., concur.
Velasco, Jr., J., No part.
Mendoza, J., on official leave.

[1] Dated January 15, 2009.

[2] Italics ours.

[3] Bercasio v. Benito, 341 Phil. 404, 410 (1997), citing Rules of Court, Rule 141, Sec. 9.

[4] Tan v. Paredes, A.M. No. P-04-1789, July 22, 2005, 464 SCRA 47, 55.

[5] Balanag, Jr. v. Osita, 437 Phil. 453, 458 (2002).

[6] Benitez v. Acosta, 407 Phil. 687, 694 (2001).

[7] Teresa T. Gonzales La'o & Co., Inc. v. Sheriff Hatab, 386 Phil. 88, 92-93.

[8] Judge Calo v. Dizon, A.M. No. P-07-2359, August 11, 2008, 561 SCRA 517, 532.

[9] Judge Badoles-Algodon v. Zaldivar, A.M. No. P-04-1818, August 3, 2006, 497 SCRA 446, 458.

[10] OCA v. Ramano, A.M. No. P-90-488, January 25, 2011.

[11] Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, Rule IV, Sec. 55.

[12] Id., Sec. 52 (A) (1).

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