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324 Phil. 651

SECOND DIVISION

[ A.M. No. P-94-1039, March 06, 1996 ]

JUDGE FE ALBANO MADRID, COMPLAINANT, VS. ATTY. RAYMUNDO RAMIREZ, CLERK OF COURT V, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF ILAGAN, ISABELA, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

PUNO, J.:

The present controversy arose from a complaint filed by Judge Fe Albano-Madrid of the Regional Trial Court (Branch XXI), Santiago, Isabela, against Branch Clerk of Court Raymundo Ramirez of Branch XVIII of the Regional Trial Court of Ilagan, Isabela, for his alleged violation of Supreme Court Circular No. 13-92, dated March 1, 1992.

The undisputed facts show that, on October 7, 1993, respondent received a cash bailbond, in the amount of seventeen thousand pesos (P 17,000.00), from a certain Jovita Bernardo, the accused in a criminal case[1] which was pending before the sala of the complainant.

In an Order, dated December 7, 1993, respondent was directed by complainant to submit the corresponding official receipt evidencing the posting of said cash bond.  Respondent did not submit any.  Hence, in an Order, dated January 6, 1994, respondent was made to explain why he should not be cited for contempt or administratively charged for not complying with the order of the court.[2] Again, respondent did not submit the required official receipt.  Instead, he sent by registered mail a copy of a current account deposit slip, showing that he deposited the money to the Land Bank of the Philippines (Ilagan-Isabela Branch).[3]

On January 18, 1994, complainant issued another order, specifying that respondent should submit the official receipt issued by the court for fiduciary funds received by the Clerk of Court. In a letter[4] addressed to complainant, dated January 20, 1994, respondent explained that the procedure observed in his court when receiving cash bond deposited by an accused is "to immediately deposit the same to the Land Bank of the Philippines" and give a copy of the current account deposit slip to the accused together with a copy of the bailbond duly approved by the Presiding Judge.

Complainant found respondent’s explanation unacceptable. Hence, the present complaint. She alleges that respondent’s practice is not in accord with Supreme Court Circular 13-92 and, if tolerated, the same would be conducive to misappropriation because of the non-issuance of the official receipt.

In his comment, respondent explains, albeit belatedly, that he opened Current Account No. 1072-1017-54 with Land Bank, in the name of the Regional Trial Court, as evidenced by a certification[5] issued by the bank, dated March 16, 1994.  He clarifies that he is a branch clerk of court and should not be faulted for the non-issuance of the official receipt since it is the Executive Clerk of Court who is the custodian of the official receipts.  He reiterates that it is their practice to deposit cash bonds to the nearest Land Bank branch, in compliance with Administrative Circular No. 5-93,[6] dated April 30, 1993, amending Circular No. 5, dated February 23, 1985. The Deed of Undertaking would then be approved by Hon. Juan Bigornia, Jr., the Executive Judge, and, thereafter, a copy of the approved cash bond and the Deed of Undertaking is given to the accused.

Considering the allegations of both parties, we referred the case to then Vice Executive Judge Senen C. Casibang of the Regional Trial Court of Ilagan, Isabela, Branch 17, for investigation, report and recommendation.[7]

During the initial investigation, respondent alleged, for the first time, that he received the subject cash bailbond for and in the absence of the Executive Clerk of Court and, pursuant to Supreme Court Circular No. 5-93, dated April 30, 1993, deposited said amount to the nearest Land Bank branch.  Consequently, Judge C asibang recommended that respondent be exonerated from the charge against him.[8]

We remanded the case to Judge Casibang for re-investigation in view of his failure to conduct a formal hearing of the case.[9] The Office of the Court Administrator noted that complainant was not duly subpoenaed and his 2-page report was based only on the evidence adduced by respondent.[10] In compliance with our resolution, the formal hearing against respondent was conducted on August 18, 1995.[11] In his Report,[12] dated September 26, 1995, Judge Casibang made the following findings and recommendation:
"FINDINGS:

Weighing the evidence presented and the testimonies! arguments advanced by the complainant and the respondent, it is crystal clear that Account No. 1072-1017-54, where the cash bond put up by the accused Jovita Bernardo and received by the respondent for her provisional liberty, is the account of the RTC, Branch XVIII, and not the personal account of the respondent x x x. The undersigned also noticed that Supreme Court Circular No. 13-92 is addressed to Executive Judges and Clerks of Court directing them to issue receipts for money received by them in trust.  The respondent is a Branch Clerk of Court assigned to the RTC, Branch XVIII and not the Clerk of Court who is the custodian of official receipts.  Thus, the failure of the respondent to issue official receipt when he received the cash bond put up by the accused could not be taken against him as violative to the Circular of the Honorable Supreme Court.  In passing, undersigned also noted that the respondent, ATTY. RAYMUNDO A. RAMIREZ, is a Branch Clerk of Court and not an accountable officer as defined and recited under the provisions of the 1987 Constitution. (Italics ours)

RECOMMENDATIONS:

In view of the foregoing, the undersigned hereby recommends that respondent, Atty. RAYMUNDO A. RAMIREZ, be EXONERATED from the charge filed against him."
The Court Administrator disagreed with the foregoing recommendation on the ground that respondent arrogated upon himself the functions of the Clerk of Court when he accepted the cash bailbond.  According to the Court Administrator, respondent should have desisted from accepting the cash deposit and, instead, referred the accused to the office of the Clerk of Court.  Hence, he recommended that respondent be ordered to pay a fine of P 1,000.00, with stern warning that a repetition of the same act shall be dealt with more severely.

We agree with the Court Administrator.

Supreme Court Circular No. 13-92, dated March 1, 1992, enumerates the guidelines to be followed in making deposits or withdrawals of all collections from bailbonds, rental deposits and other fiduciary collections, viz:
"CIRCULAR NO. 13-92

"To :  All Executive Judges and Clerks of Court of the Regional Trial Courts and Shari’a District Courts.

"Subject: Court Fiduciary Funds

xxx           xxx           xxx

"x x x The following procedure is, therefore, prescribed in the administration of Court Fiduciary Funds:

"Guidelines in Making Deposits:

"1)    Deposits shall be made under a savings account. Current account can also be maintained provided that it is on automatic transfer of account from savings.

"2)    Deposits shall be made in the name of the Court.

"3)    The Clerk of Court shall be the custodian of the Passbook to be issued by the depository bank and shall advise the Executive Judge of the bank’s name, branch and savings/current account number.

"Guidelines in Making Withdrawals

"1)   Withdrawal slips shall be signed by the Executive Judge and countersigned by the Clerk of Court.

"2)   In maintaining a current account, withdrawals shall be made by checks. Signatories on the checks shall likewise be the Executive Judge and the Clerk of Court.

"All collections from bailbonds, rental deposits and other fiduciary collections shall be deposited immediately by the Clerk of Court concerned, upon receipt thereof, with an authorized government depository bank.

"xxx         xxx          xxx"
Clearly, the foregoing circular was not complied with.  As correctly observed by Judge Casibang and respondent Atty. Ramirez, the circular was addressed to executive judges and clerks of court.  It goes without saying, that fiduciary collections ought to be the responsibility of the clerk of court, not the branch clerk of court.  This is to ensure that all moneys received in trust are duly accounted for. Judge Madrid is correct.  Respondent’s practice is not sanctioned by Supreme Court Circular No. 13-92. We cannot allow it.

The records show that respondent accepted the cash deposit and he was aware that the money should be immediately deposited to authorized depository bank.  He did not.  His own evidence shows that he deposited the money more than ten (10) days later, or on October 19, 1993.  By his own admission, too, he knew that an official receipt should be issued by the Clerk of Court. He testified as follows:[13]
"COURT:

You said you deposited the amount of P 17,000.00 which you received as cash bond from accused Jovita Bernardo, when did you receive this amount?

"ATTY. RAMIREZ:

I can no longer remember, Your Honor.

"COURT:

You cannot remember. How many days from receipt of this amount did you deposit to the Bank?

"ATTY. RAMIREZ:

More or less, ten (10) days, Your Honor.

"COURT:

Why did it take you that long to deposit it to the Land Bank considering that the Land Bank is only about three (3) kilometers away from this building?

"ATTY. RAMIREZ:

I was waiting for the issuance of the official receipt.  So, when I can no longer wait for the official receipt, even without the official receipt, I deposited it already to the Land Bank."
Yet, earlier on, when he was required to submit the official receipt but could not present any, respondent gave a different reason to the complainant.  He was categorical that it is their practice to immediately deposit the money to the Land Bank and then present the deposit slip to the executive judge for the approval of the undertaking.  Respondent made no reference whatsoever on the necessity of issuing the receipt.  Neither has he shown any proof that on that particular date, October 7, 1993, and the days and months that followed, the Clerk of Court did not report for work.

To be sure, respondent conveniently puts the blame on the Clerk of Court’s alleged frequent absences to avoid responsibility for his unauthorized practice of accepting the cash bailbond.  We can deduce this from the fact that he received the money on October 7, 1993.  The order for the submission of the official receipt was made two (2) months later, particularly on December 7, 1993.  In the interregnum, he could have secured the official receipt but he still failed to do so.

The mere fact that Supreme Court Circular No. 13-92 is addressed to Executive Judges and Clerks of Court, will not exculpate respondent from administrative sanction for its violation.  With more reason, he should have turned over the money to the Clerk of Court and made sure that the official receipt therefor has been issued since the latter is the custodian of official receipts and fiduciary collections of the court.

One final word.  We commend Judge Fe Albano-Madrid for showing her concern on the proper compliance with the circulars issued by this Court by bringing this matter to our attention.  If not for her, the unauthorized practice of respondent would have remained unchecked.

IN VIEW WHEREOF, we AFFIRM the recommendation of the Court Administrator.  ATTY. RAYMUNDO A. RAMIREZ is ordered to pay a FINE in the amount of one thousand pesos (P1,000.00), with stern WARNING, that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this decision be furnished to the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Ilagan, Isabela, who is hereby ordered to ensure that all fiduciary collections of the court are duly receipted and deposited by the Clerk of Court pursuant to Supreme Court Circular No. 13-92.

SO ORDERED.

Regalado (Chairman), Romero and Mendoza, JJ., concur.


[1]
Docketed as Criminal Case Nos. 1330 to 1346, an action for violation of BP BIg. 22 entitled, "People v. Jovita Bernardo."

[2] Marked as Exhibits "A" and "B"; Rollo, pp. 3 5-36.

[3] Rollo, p.37.

[4] Rollo, p.41.

[5] Rollo, p. 7.

[6] This circular refers to the rules governing the administration of the Judiciary Development Fund and specifies the Land Bank of the Philippines as the depository bank for the fund.

[7] Resolution, dated June 22, 1994; Rollo, p. 17.

[8] Report, dated December 5, 1994; Rollo, pp. 21-22.

[9] Resolution, dated June 28, 1995; Rollo, pp. 3 3-34.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Rollo, p. 44.

[12] Rollo, pp. 67-69.

[13] TSN, August18, 1995, pp. 19-20.

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