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443 Phil. 711

EN BANC

[ A.M. No. P-02-1646 (Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 99-676-P), January 22, 2003 ]

JUDGE UBALDINO A. LACUROM, COMPLAINANT, VS. MANUEL J. MAGBANUA, RESPONDENT.

RESOLUTION

PER CURIAM:

The instant case stemmed from a complaint filed by complainant Judge Ubaldino Lacurom, Presiding Judge of Branch 29 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Cabanatuan City, against respondent Manuel J. Magbanua, Court Aide of the said branch.

In his Complaint[1] dated 25 May 1999, as amended[2] on 18 August 1999, complainant Judge Lacurom charged respondent with dishonesty on the grounds that (1) on 6, 7 and 8 and January 1999, respondent was absent; yet he later registered his name in the attendance book as present on those dates; and (2) although respondent would leave the office at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays, he would write in the logbook and daily time record (DTR) 5:00 p.m. as the time of his departure, particularly on 20 November 1998. Judge Lacurom further alleged that respondent had been lazy for a very long time and had reformed only recently. Finally, Judge Lacurom asserted that he had totally lost confidence in the respondent.

In his Kasagutan sa Reklamo,[3] respondent denied the charges. He alleged that as early as April 1998, Judge Lacurom talked to him about looking for another job because he wanted to hire a utility worker who could simultaneously act as a personal driver and bodyguard. In this connection Judge Lacurom called him to his office on 6 January 1999 and instructed him to see Atty. Lamberto Aguilar of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in Quezon City. Arrangements between Judge Lacurom and Atty. Aguilar had previously been made concerning respondent’s transfer to the office of the DPWH. Thinking that his trip to Quezon City was on official business, he signed his name in the attendance logbook as present on said dates upon his return to the office on 11 January 1999. However, he later erased these entries when the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Office of the Clerk of Court, Mrs. Emelita Bunag, told him that she would be sending a memorandum to ask him to explain his absence on the dates in question.

Respondent also denied complainant’s allegation that he failed to perform his duties as utility worker. He alleged that in addition to his regular duties, he would drive for Judge Lacurom and his children and run other errands for him. He would not leave the office earlier than 5:00 p.m., unless it was upon the instruction or with the consent of Judge Lacurom himself.

In compliance with our Resolution[4] of 30 August 2000, Executive Judge Johnson L. Ballutay of the Regional Trial Court in Cabanatuan City conducted an investigation and thereafter submitted his report. His findings and conclusion are herein reproduced verbatim:
From the documentary and testimonial evidence presented by both the complainant Judge Ubaldino A. Lacurom and the respondent Manuel J. Magbanua, it was established that the respondent is remiss [in] his duty under the Civil Service Rule[s] to sign and enter his time of arrival in the logbook upon his correct time of arrival in the office as the logbook shows that there are instances that he signed after the logbook was already closed and to strictly observe the prescribed office hours of 8:00 o’clock to 12:00 o’clock in the morning and 1:00 o’clock to 5:00 o’clock in the afternoon as it was found out that he really usually goes home to Bulacan at about 2:00 o’clock or 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon during Fridays.

As regards the charge of laziness, there was no clear and convincing evidence presented by the complainant to support the same except the testimony of the complainant and one of his witnesses, but the same was refused by the respondent and it was established that although the complainant Judge Ubaldino Lacurom employed a boy to do the cleaning for about two (2) weeks, yet the respondent had already finished cleaning before the complainant Judge Ubaldino Lacurom and the boy arrived in office and that Judge Ubaldino Lacurom made the respondent Manuel J. Magbanua drive for him on some office hours time.

In connection with the charge of falsification of the logbook particularly on November 20, 1998, it was established that although the respondent made it appear in the logbook and in his Daily Time Record that he was in the office until 5:00 o’clock in the afternoon, when in truth and in fact, he was already gone at about 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon especially during Fridays, yet, the Branch Clerk of Court has verified and signed the same to be true and correct.

Likewise, as to the charge of falsification against the respondent allegedly committed on January 6, 7 and 8, 1999, it was established that it is a mutual agreement between the complainant and the respondent for the respondent to go to Region IV to find another job and the respondent asked verbally for leave of absence on those dates which the herein complainant granted, but when the respondent returned for work, he entered in the logbook that he was present on those dates which is a clear showing of falsification, but it was contended by the respondent that what he knows was that he was then on official business considering that it was Judge Ubaldino Lacurom who instructed him to go to Region IV, nevertheless, when the respondent was made to explain why he entered in the logbook that he was present on said dates when in truth and in fact he was not, he erased the entry in the logbook and entered the true and correct fact that he was absent on said dates and that what he placed in his daily time record was that he was absent on those dates which is clear showing of a lack of intent to commit an act of falsification on the part of the respondent coupled by the fact that the respondent was not able to reach higher education. Considering, however, the close relationship between the complainant and the respondent and the respect due to the complainant Judge Ubaldino A. Lacurom that the respondent should have observed being a Court Aide as well as the fact that respondent should not have abused his close relationship with Judge Ubaldino Lacurom and the trust and confidence that Judge Ubaldino Lacurom has bestowed upon the respondent, such actuation of the respondent cannot be tolerated and it requires a corresponding disciplinary action.
Judge Ballutay found respondent guilty of gross violation of Section 5,[5] Rule XVII of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations and recommended that respondent be suspended for a period of six (6) months without pay.

In its Memorandum dated 13 September 2001, the Office of the Court Administrator concurred with the findings, conclusion and recommendation of Judge Ballutay. However, it found that respondent’s transgressions had been going on for a long time, with neither Judge Lacurom nor the Acting Branch Clerk of Court taking any action thereon, much less imposing disciplinary measures against the respondent. It thus recommended that Judge Ubaldino A. Lacurom and Acting Branch Clerk of Court Mrs. Bunag be required to explain why no administrative charges should be filed against them for being remiss in the performance of their administrative functions.

We concur with the finding of the investigating judge that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the charge of laziness or neglect in the performance of respondent’s duties. We, however, find respondent guilty of gross dishonesty and falsification of public documents; and hence, we modify the penalty recommended by the investigating judge.

The testimonies of Pedro Annang and Judge Lacurom, as corroborated by the Acting Branch Clerk of Court, show that it was common knowledge that respondent was in the habit of leaving before 5:00 p.m. on Fridays. We find these testimonies credible especially in light of the fact that these witnesses testified in effect against their own interest as hereafter elaborated.

It is clear to us that respondent made it appear in his DTRs that on Fridays he was present at his workstation up to 5:00 p.m., when the truth was otherwise. It is also established in this case that, in complainant’s court, it has been the practice of the employees to record their attendance in a logbook wherein they indicate the time of their arrival and departure. At 8:30 a.m. and at 2:00 p.m., the branch clerk of court draws a line under the last entry and writes the word “Closed.” In many instances,[6] respondent would write his name after the word “Closed” but would, nevertheless, state his time of arrival in the morning as 8:00 a.m. or in the afternoon, 1:00 p.m. Obviously, no further evidence or argument is needed to show that respondent arrived after 8:30 a.m. or after 2:00 p.m. Had he arrived earlier than 8:30 a.m. or 2:00 p.m., his logbook entries would not have appeared after the entry “Closed.” Worse, in those instances, he wrote in his DTRs 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. as his time of arrival in the morning and in the afternoon, respectively.[7]

The unreported undertime and tardiness of respondent are tantamount to falsification of DTRs. Each false entry in respondent’s DTR’s constitutes falsification of official documents[8] and gross dishonesty.[9]

In Amane v. Mendoza-Arce[10] and Marbas-Vizcarra v. Bernardo[11] wherein the court employees involved were found guilty of tampering of their DTRs, we applied Section 23, paragraph (f), Rule XIV of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations, providing that falsification of official documents is punishable with dismissal from the service even for the first offense. The same is true in cases of gross dishonesty.[12]

Dishonesty is a malevolent act that has no place in the judiciary.[13] We have repeatedly emphasized that every employee of the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty.[14] The conduct and behavior of every person connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowest clerk, is circumscribed with a heavy burden of responsibility. It must, at all times, be characterized not only by propriety and decorum but also, and above all else, be above suspicion[15] because the image of a court of justice is mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work thereat.[16]

On the matter of respondent’s alleged unauthorized absences on 6, 7 and 8 January 1999, we agree with the finding of the investigating judge that respondent acted in good faith when he entered his name in the logbook as present on those dates, in the belief that he was away from his workstation on official business. Suffice it to say that the complainant had a penchant for requiring the respondent to leave the office to attend to complainant Judge’s request on unofficial matters, such as driving complainant home, picking up his glasses, driving him to fiestas, or running similar errands to which respondent entered as time spent on “official business.” This is admitted by the complainant and claimed by him as a prerogative of his position. Since respondent was given the task of looking for another job at the instance and upon arrangement by the complainant, it would then be understandable that, even if he was aware that these errands, as with others, were outside his own official duties, respondent would treat all similar instructions or assignments as within the scope of “official business.”

That respondent corrected his entries on these dates[17] only after a previous warning by the Clerk of Court that a memorandum was to be issued is of no moment. The correction was made and properly reflected in respondent’s DTR. And in reply to the memorandum later issued asking him as regards the correction,[18] respondent explained his prior confusion.[19]

We agree with the Office of the Court Administrator that abhorrent in the administration of justice is the failure of complainant Judge and the Clerk of Court to take proper action against the misdeeds of notorious employees. More telling than the infractions of the respondent in this case was the fostering of a “father and son” relationship[20] with the respondent which, while not wrong per se, appeared to have caused the complainant indifference to the grievances of the other employees against respondent, the tolerance of acts of other employees, and his own liberal interpretation of a judge’s power of supervision over the employees of his court.

In Layao v. Armecin,[21] we declared that while pakikisama is a value deeply embedded in our tradition and mores that often fosters harmony and good working relationships in the workplace, carrying out its observance and practice to the degree where it frustrates or prejudices the administration of justice should not be tolerated.

We have frowned upon too much leniency on the part of judges. In Buenaventura v. Benedicto,[22] we said:
We find the inclination of the respondent judge to leniency in the administrative supervision of his employees an undesirable trait. Oftentimes, such leniency provides the court employees the opportunity to commit minor transgressions of the laws and slight breaches of official duty ultimately leading to vicious delinquencies. The respondent judge should constantly keep a watchful eye on the conduct of his employees. He should realize that big start small. His constant scrutiny of the behavior of his employees would deter any abuse on the part of the latter in the exercise of their duties. Then, his subordinates would know that any misdemeanor will not remain unchecked. The slightest semblance of impropriety on the part of the employees of the court in the performance of their official duties stirs ripples of public suspicion and public distrust of the judicial administrators. The slightest breach of duty by and the slightest irregularity in the conduct of court officers and employees detract from the dignity of the courts and erode the faith of the people in the judiciary.
Complainant Judge, upon notice and knowledge of the transgressions of respondent, should have called the attention of the respondent and taken appropriate disciplinary action. Instead of doing so, he, as well as the Clerk of Court, tolerated respondent’s dishonesty and improper conduct despite their knowledge thereof.

Complainant Judge has an explicit duty, provided in Canon 3, Rule 3.10 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which states as follows:
A judge should take or initiate appropriate disciplinary measures against lawyers or court personnel for unprofessional conduct of which the judge may have become aware.
The accomplishment of this clear duty should not be frustrated by the judge’s personal feelings of loyalty, especially of false loyalty to one who is in obvious disrespect of the nature of a public office. By allowing such interference, he must be prepared to face the consequences of his actions, and be scrutinized by the rule of law and justice.

However, administrative complaints should not be used as a platform for personal vendettas or some other machination. In fact, all the complainant Judge’s claims of humanitarian consideration for respondent were quickly transformed when respondent filed an administrative complaint against the complainant Judge on the ground of oppression. The facts that the complainant Judge emphasized respondent’s complaint as an act of “ingratitude,” regardless of merit; that complainant Judge “was not serious in filing this complaint”; and that his motive for filing this complaint was to ensure that respondent would be eased out of his court to make way for the employment of a court aide who could act as a better driver and personal bodyguard,[23] paint a picture of the unprofessional manner in which complainant runs his court.

As regards the recording by the employees in the logbook of the time of their arrival at the court, we are of the opinion that this matter deserves closer scrutiny. There were some entries after the word “closed” by other employees who also entered their time of arrival as prior to 8:30 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. If the complainant Judge was seriously concerned about this practice by the respondent, so should he be with respect to the other employees whose names appeared therein. The Clerk of Court, who has more direct supervision over these matters, should have been more watchful over the conduct of court employees. The practice by court personnel of leaving before 5:00 p.m. may likewise be the subject of investigation.

Further, we deem this as an opportune time to remind judges that, contrary to complainant Judge’s stand that court employees “can be made to do some other things aside from the description of the job, provided it has something to do with the safety of the judge, also for the proper performance of his duties,”[24] their administrative supervision over court employees does not make them masters over the latter, permitting them to treat government employees as they would their own domestic servants, or otherwise expect them to attend to the judge’s personal needs.

WHEREFORE, effective immediately, respondent MANUEL J. MAGBANUE, Court Aide, Regional Trial Court in Cabanatuan City, is hereby DISMISSED from the service for gross dishonesty and falsification of official documents, with forfeiture of all benefits except accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to re-employment in the Government service, including government-owned and controlled corporations.

Complainant Judge Ubaldino J. Lacurom and Acting Branch Clerk of Court Emelita B. Bunag are hereby ordered to (a) conduct an investigation regarding the making of entries in the attendance logbook after time is supposed to have been closed, and to submit the corresponding report thereon; and (b) explain in writing why no administrative charges should be filed against them for their failure to initiate disciplinary measures against erring court employees, within sixty (60) days from notice of this Resolution.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Vitug, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio- Morales, Callejo, Sr., and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
Bellosillo, J., on leave.



[1] Rollo, 1.

[2] Id., 7.

[3] Id., 10.

[4] Rollo, 40.

[5] It provides:
Officers and employees of all departments and agencies except those covered by special laws shall render not less than eight hours of work a day for five days a week or a total of forty hours a week, exclusive of time for lunch. As a general rule, such hours shall be from eight o’clock in the morning to twelve o’clock noon and from one o’clock to five o’clock in the afternoon on all days except Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays.
[6] Exhibits “E” to “R,” Rollo, 80-93.

[7] Exhibits “MM” and “RR,” Rollo, 113, 115.

[8] Galan v. Napase, 208 SCRA 1 [1992]. See also Memorandum Circular No. 30, series of 1989, as revised by Civil Service Commission Memorandum Circular No. 19-99.

[9] Section II of Administrative Circular No. 2-99. See also Ortiguerra v. Genota, Jr., A.M. No. P-02-1613, 31 July 2002.

[10] 318 SCRA 465 [1999].

[11] 351 SCRA 219 [1999].

[12] Supra note 7.

[13] Pizarro v. Villegas, 345 SCRA 42, 47 [2000].

[14] Sy v. Academia, 198 SCRA 705, 718 [1991]; Marquez v. Clores-Ramos, 336 SCRA 122, 131 [2000].

[15] Loyao v. Armecin, 337 SCRA 47, 51-52 [2000], citing Araza v. Garcia, 325 SCRA 1 [2000].

[16] Marquez v. Clores-Ramos, supra note 10.

[17] Rollo, 134-136.

[18] Id., 14.

[19] Id., 208.

[20] TSN, December 2000, 32.

[21] Supra note 11.

[22] 38 SCRA 71, 77-78 [1971].

[23] TSN, 29 March 2001, 9.

[24] Id., 11.

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