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A.M. No. 04-6-313-RTC

THIRD DIVISION

[ A.M. NO. 04-6-313-RTC, February 16, 2006 ]

LETTER OF ATTY. SOCORRO M. VILLAMER-BASILLA, CLERK OF COURT V, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 4, LEGASPI CITY ON THE ALLEGED IMPROPER CONDUCT OF MANUEL L. ARIMADO, SHERIFF IV

CARPIO MORALES, J.:

The administrative complaint at bar against Sheriff IV Manuel L. Arimado (respondent) of the Legaspi City Regional Trial Court (RTC) arose from his enforcement of a writ of preliminary attachment issued in a civil case.

It appears that on December 10, 2003, the Branch Clerk of Court of Branch 4 of the Legaspi City RTC issued a writ of attachment after the ex parte motion of the plaintiffs in Civil Case No. 10203, “Spouses Ephraim and Ma. Corazon Despabiladeras v. Spouses Carleen and Dione Magno,” for the issuance of  a writ of preliminary attachment on a property covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (T.C.T.) No. 43947 registered in the name of the therein defendants, was granted.

The writ of attachment commanded respondent to attach the property covered by T.C.T. No. 43947, but he attached a different property, one located in the mountain and of lower market value.

Counsel for the plaintiffs thus filed a Motion to Require Sheriff Manuel Arimado to Explain[1] his noncompliance with the court order and the writ of attachment.[2]

After respondent submitted his Comment which merited a Rejoinder from the therein plaintiffs-movants, the trial court issued an Order dated February 23, 2004 resolving as follows:
x x x x
  1. To ORDER Manuel L. Arimado, Sheriff IV to attach the property covered by TCT No. 43947 in the name of the defendants; and

  2. To REQUIRE Manuel L. Arimado, Sheriff IV to explain in writing within five (5) days from today why he should not be dealt with administratively for receiving the amount of 1,000.00 Php from the plaintiffs, thru counsel, Atty. Fernando E. Balmaceda, Jr. without furnishing the plaintiffs the estimate or detail of expenses and without securing the approval of the Court (which omission is simple misconduct) in violation of Sec. 9, Rule 141, Revised Rules of Court (See Danao vs. Franco, Jr. A.M. No. P-02-1569, November 13, 2002).
Consequently, the resolution on Sheriff Arimado’s Motion is held in abeyance until after compliance with this Order is made.

Transmit a copy of this Order together with plaintiffs’    Motion and Rejoinder and the Explanation of Sheriff Arimado    to the Hon. Court Administrator for his information and appropriate action.[3] (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
In compliance with the above-quoted February 23, 2004 order of the trial court, respondent explained as follows, quoted verbatim:
  1. That only the amount of P630.00 was received by him;
  2. That he did not demand any amount. It was advanced to him by counsel for the plaintiff in payment for the necessary expenses in connection with the implementation of the writ of attachment;
  3. That with due respectf (sic) to this Honorable Court, since the amount will be utilized in the payment of the Writ, levy of attachment and documentation (to include xeroxing of bond), undersigned did not ask for the approval of estimated expenses since the sheriff will not be spending an amount in said    implementation;
  4. That if those expenses were unwarranted, then the amount will be returned to plaintiff after deducting the lawful fees in the total amount of P317.00, broken down as follows:
WRIT OF ATTACHMENT        P60.00
LEVY ON ATTACHMENT        137.00
XEROX (Bond [paper] 40 x P1x 3 sets)        120.00[4]

The Branch Clerk of Court, complying with the order of the trial court, forwarded to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), by letter[5] of March 3, 2004, the following documents bearing on Civil Case No. 10203:  (1) Duplicate original copy of the trial court’s Order dated February 23, 2004, (2) Certified copy of the Plaintiff’s Motion to Require Sheriff, (3) Certified copy of the Plaintiff’s Rejoinder to respondent’s Comment, and (4) Duplicate original copy of the Compliance submitted by respondent.[6]

Upon evaluation of the records, the OCA found that on the basis of the documents forwarded to it by the Branch Clerk of Court including the comment of respondent, it deemed it no longer necessary to again require respondent to file his comment.  It then recommended that respondent be held guilty of misconduct in office and that he be suspended for a period of One (1) Month.[7]

The Court finds the OCA’s recommendation in order.

The conduct and behavior of everyone connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice is circumscribed with a heavy burden of responsibility, necessarily so if the faith and confidence of the people in the judiciary[8] are to be maintained.

This Court has repeatedly warned that by the very nature of their functions, sheriffs are under obligation to perform the duties of their office honestly, faithfully and to the best of their ability,[9] and must conduct themselves with propriety and decorum, and above all else, be above suspicion.[10]

In the discharge of the sheriff’s duty of enforcing writs issued pursuant to court orders for which expenses are to be incurred, Section 10 of Rule 141[11] of the Revised Rules of Court expressly provides:
x x x x

With regard to sheriff’s expenses in executing writs issued pursuant to court orders or decisions or safeguarding the property levied upon, attached or seized, including kilometrage for each kilometer of travel, guards' fees, warehousing and similar charges, the interested party shall pay said expenses 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.  THE LIQUIDATION SHALL BE APPROVED BY THE COURT.  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. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Despite the plain meaning of above-quoted procedure, respondent failed to comply therewith.  His act of receiving an amount for expenses to be incurred in the execution of the writ of preliminary attachment, without him having made an estimate thereof and securing prior approval of the court issuing the writ is clearly proscribed by the rule. Whether the amount was advanced to him by the counsel for the plaintiffs or he offered to return the excess to the plaintiff is beside the point, his mere acceptance of the amount without the prior approval of the court and without him issuing a receipt therefor is clearly a misconduct in office.[12]

WHEREFORE, respondent, Sheriff IV Manuel L. Arimado of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 4, Legaspi City, is found guilty of simple misconduct in office and is SUSPENDED for a period of One (1) Month, with warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

Quisumbing, (Chairman), Carpio, and Tinga, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, p. 9.

[2] See Rollo, p. 7;  Rejoinder on the Comment of Sheriff Arimado.

[3] Id. at 5-6.

[4] Id. at 13.

[5] Id. at 4.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Id. at 3.

[8] Manapat v. Tolentino, 432 Phil. 943, 952 (2002).

[9] Torres v. Sicat, Jr. 438 Phil. 109, 116 (2002); Vda. de Velayo v. Ramos, 424 Phil. 734, 741 (2002); Wenceslao v. Madrazo, 317 Phil. 812, 820 (1995).

[10] Imperial v. Santiago, Jr. 446 Phil. 104, 119 (2003).

[11] As amended by A.M. No. 04-2-04-SC which took effect on August 16, 2004.

[12] Vide: Danao v. Franco, Jr. 440 Phil. 181, 185-186 (2002); Comendador v. Canabe, 438 Phil. 99, 107 (2002).

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