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477 Phil. 577


[ A.M. No. 01-11-291-MTC, July 07, 2004 ]




The auditing team that conducted an on the spot audit examination and reconciliation of the book of accounts of the Municipal Trial Court of    Pulilan, Bulacan on August 13-17, 2001 reported that:
  1. Mr. Tomas E. Ocampo, Clerk of Court II,  had  shortages in his collections in  the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) amounting to P2,036.00 and in the Clerk of Court General Fund (CCGF)  amounting to P667.00; and

  2. Mr. Arturo S. Batongbacal, Clerk of Court II (successor of Mr. Tomas E. Ocampo),  had  shortages of P53,596.00 and P26,847.00 representing the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) and Clerk of Court General Fund (CCGF),  respectively.
As to the Clerk of Court Fiduciary Funds, Mr. Arturo S. Batongbacal failed to present the much needed records and documents to finalize the audit on this account from January 1998 to present.
Former Clerk of Court Tomas E. Ocampo, who had earlier resigned from the service by reason of illness, complied with the aforesaid resolution by paying the shortages in the JDF and CCGF amounting to P2,036.00 and P667.00, respectively, on March 13, 2002 as evidenced by Supreme Court O.R. No. 15739545 for CCGF and Supreme Court O.R. No. 15740417 for JDF.  Upon the recommendation of the OCA, this administrative matter insofar as Ocampo is concerned was considered closed and terminated in the Resolution of December 9, 2002.

Based on the aforesaid report of the auditing team and upon the recommendation of the OCA, the Court issued a Resolution dated January 14, 2003 which is reproduced as follows:
Administrative Matter No. 01-11-291-MTC (Re: Initial Report on the Financial Audit conducted in the Municipal Trial Court of Pulilan, Bulacan). –    Acting on the initial report on the financial audit conducted in the Municipal Trial Court of Pulilan, Bulacan, the Court Resolves to:
  1. DIRECT: (1) Mr. Tomas E. Ocampo, former Clerk of Court, MTC, Pulilan, Bulacan, to:  REMIT/DEPOSIT within fifteen (15) days from notice, the shortages in their corresponding accounts on JDF and COC General Fund amounting to Two Thousand Thirty Six Pesos (P2,036.00) and Six Hundred Sixty Seven Pesos (P667.00), respectively, and to furnish the Fiscal Monitoring Division, Court Management Office, Office of the Court Administrator, of such remittance advice/deposit slips;

  2. DIRECT Mr. Arturo S. Batongbacal, the present Clerk of Court, MTC, Pulilan, Bulacan, to:  (1)  RESTITUTE the shortages for the period July 2000 and July 31, 2001 in the amount of Fifty Three thousand Five Hundred Ninety Six Pesos (P53,596.00) for the JDF and Twenty Six Thousand Eight Hundred Forty Seven Pesos (P26,847.00) for COC General Fund;  (2)  SUBMIT within ten (10) days from notice the required documents as directed by the Fiscal Monitoring Division, this Office, in its letter dated August 24, 2001, to finalize the audit of Fiduciary Fund; and (3) EXPLAIN within ten (10) days from notice why no administrative sanction shall be imposed upon him for his failure to:  (aa) remit all collections for the period covering July 2000 to July 31, 2001 on JDF and COC General Fund; (bb) record daily transactions in the official cashbooks; (cc) submit monthly reports of collections and    deposits/withdrawals to the Accounting Division of the Office of the Court Administrator; and (dd) follow the circulars issued by the court in the manner of handling fiduciary funds; and

  3. DIRECT Judge Horacio T. Viola, Jr. to:  (1) EXPLAIN within ten (10) days from notice why he:  (aa) allowed the Process Server, Mr. Rolando Calleon to be his co-signatory in the bank transaction for Fiduciary Fund when it should be Mr. Arturo S. Batongbacal, being the appointed Clerk of Court which is in violation of Circular No. 50-95; and (bb) did not report the non-submisson of Mr. Batongbacal of Monthly Report of Collections and Deposits/Withdrawals to the Accounting Division, Office of the Court Administrator; (2) RELIEVE Mr. Batongbacal as Accountable Officer and designate a competent staff in his stead; and (3) MONITOR the accountable officer to safeguard the judiciary funds; and

  4. DIRECT the Financial Management Office, to WITHHOLD the salaries and other allowance of Mr. Arturo S. Batongbacal to cover possible shortages that may be found in his Fiduciary Fund collections pending the outcome of the audit.
In compliance with said Resolution, Batongbacal, on February 15, 2002, in his letter-explanation, related in detail his predicament as to why he failed to follow the circulars in the manner of handling judiciary funds which he attributed to overwork and lack of manpower.  He likewise averred that there was no formal turnover effected by the former clerk of court and that there was no efficient recording system aggravated by the problem of termites and rodents which destroyed some documents filed in court.

As to the directive for him to restitute the unremitted funds, he states:
I was order (sic) to restitute the supposedly (sic) shortages, but to date and with all honesty I am incapable of producing such amount, besides, as I have stated in the preceding paragraph, granting even that what I have done in the transferring of funds was technically a flaw, said cash that I am ordered to restitute are handed as re-imbursements I made to litigants who have acknowledged receipt of such but was not withdrawn in the deposited Fiduciary funds of this court as they are part of the Fiduciary funds.  In the course of the initial audit, and I have informed the court’s auditor that there are still some documents that I have not retrieved owing to the construction being made then at the court.  To date, some of those documents are retrieved and unearthed from the file in the temporary storage areas where it was (sic) deposited so as to effect the renovation of the court.  With such documents, hopefully the records of the court’s Judiciary Funds would be rectified, eventually freeing me of such shortages.  That I have to resort to such and adapt (sic) such practice so that I won’t be keeping a lot of cash in my table as the court is not equipped with a vault or protective storage for such amount.  Incidentally, in recognition of said problem, construction of a vault is included in the Second-phase of the court’s construction.  Too, (sic) in an effort to minimize going to the Office of the Court Administrator, and spend one whole day out of the office, I have tried to remit through bank transfer the amount of some P69,000.00 but later I could gleaned (sic) that said amount, as it was not a duly supported by required documents, as it was made (sic) ordered deposited by the COA Auditor on the day of the audit, was not credited to my record of remittances.  With such development, I again have to resort to what I think is the best given the premises. (Emphasis supplied)
Judge Viola submitted a letter-explanation dated February 16, 2002 stating that he designated Rolando Caleon, the court’s process server, to be his co-signatory in the bank transaction for fiduciary funds as replacement of former Clerk of Court Ocampo who resigned by reason of disability.  Allegedly,  Caleon is the only staff with a vehicle needed in transporting the    funds safely as the Land Bank of the Philippines is located at Baliuag, Bulacan a neighboring town around ten kilometers north and that Judge Viola was only informed very much later that Batongbacal, the appointed Clerk of Court, should be the undersigned’s co-signatory.  Judge Viola immediately made representations with the Land Bank relieving Caleon and designating Batongbacal as his replacement.

As to the monthly reports regarding the court’s funds – collections, deposits and withdrawals, Judge Viola avers that all the while he knew his reports were up to date, but for reasons only known to Batongbacal, said reports were not submitted and the said non-submission came to his knowledge belatedly.

Judge Viola likewise reported that he had complied with directive (c-2) of the resolution by designating Remedios Roxas as accountable officer in place of Batongbacal.

In a Resolution dated November 17, 2003, this administrative matter was referred to the OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation.

In a Memorandum dated March 30, 2004, the OCA recommended that Batongbacal be:
1. SUSPENDED pending resolution of this administrative matter, for his continuous failure to comply with the resolution dated January 14, 2002 which directed him to:

b)  Submit to the Fiscal Monitoring Division and account the records of his collections to establish his accountabilities for Fiduciary Fund; and
2. DIRECTED to comply with the said resolution dated January 14, 2002 within twenty (20) days from notice.  The Court finds the explanation of Mr. Batongbacal to be without merit.
The OCA did not delve on the explanation submitted by Judge Viola but referred to him as the “late Judge Horacio Viola.”

Suffice it to be stated that as the judge of a single sala court, Judge Viola was expected to be familiar with the different circulars of the Court as his duty was not confined to adjudicatory functions but includes the administrative responsibility of organizing and supervising the court personnel to secure a prompt and efficient dispatch of business.[1] His designation of process server Caleon as his co-signatory in the bank transaction for the fiduciary fund and not Batongbacal as the appointed clerk of court violates Circular 50-95 which explicitly provides that the executive judge and the clerk of court are the authorized signatories in the bank transaction, be  it  deposit  or  withdrawal  of  the  fiduciary funds.  Thus, his claim that he was informed very much later that Batongbacal should be his co-signatory in the bank transaction regarding the fiduciary funds should have been subject to, at the very least, administrative admonition.

However, this is no longer possible as Judge Viola died on January 17, 2004 per verification from the Office of the Administrative Services of the OCA.

Anent the administrative case against Batongbacal.

There is no doubt that Batongbacal had been remiss in the performance of his duties as clerk of court with regard to financial concerns.  He failed to remit his funds on time; he did not regularly submit his reports; and did not record his cash transactions in the cashbook.  He explains that their court is a single sala court; that he is saddled by overwork and lack of manpower worsened by the lack of formal turnover of the records and documents effected by his predecessor and that he works with a workaholic judge so that he is pre-occupied with the daily hearings and other court adjudicatory concerns.

He also avers that he is unable to restitute the unremitted funds because he used these funds in reimbursing litigants of their cashbonds so he will not be keeping a lot of cash in his table considering that the MTC of Pulilan, Bulacan, then, had no vault or protective storage for such amount.  This is bolstered by the initial report of the Auditing Team, viz:
Mr. Batongbacal was not able to present to us the much needed records and documents to finalize our audit on this account from January 1998 to present.  Although we examined the docket books and case folders hoping that we can establish the accountabilities of Mr. Batongbacal, it turned out that the same was insufficient.  It was however noticed that Mr. Batongbacal has a faulty accounting practice by refunding cashbonds to various litigants the accumulated undeposited amount of collections for the Judiciary Development Fund, the Clerk of Court General Fund and the Fiduciary Fund.[2]  (Emphasis supplied)
Further, Batongbacal claims that he had remitted P69,000.00 through “bank transfer” but was not credited in the record of the remittances.

Clerks of courts have always been reminded of their duty to immediately deposit the various funds received by them to the authorized depository banks. The Court has issued several circulars regarding court funds.  Administrative Circular No. 31-90 issued on October 15, 1990, provides that the amounts accruing to the JDF should be deposited daily with the PNB.  If  depositing daily is not possible, deposits for the fund shall be every second and third Fridays at the end of every month, provided, however, that  whenever  collections  for  the  Fund  reach P500.00, the  same shall be deposited immediately even before  the days above indicated.  SC Administrative Circular No. 5-93 was issued on April 30, 1993 designating the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) as the depository  bank, in place of PNB, for all the amounts accruing to the Judiciary Development Fund under JDF-Supreme Court-Manila Savings Account No. 159-01163-1.  These Circulars are mandatory in nature designed to promote full accountability for government funds and no protestation of good faith can override such mandatory nature.[3]

Batongbacal’s responsibility of remitting the various court funds started from August 1, 1999.[4] Therefore, he must be fully aware of these circulars for they are already extant when he assumed office.  Neither can he proffer as an excuse overwork and lack of manpower or any other pretext.  The moment he accepted his appointment as clerk of court, it is presumed and assumed that he likewise accepted the corresponding duties and responsibilities attached to it.  He should have developed an appropriate system so that he can efficiently attend to his given tasks.

It was proper on the part of the auditing team not to have credited his alleged remittance of P69,000.00 through “bank transfer” considering that he has not produced any document like a bank certification confirming said deposit that would prove the same. He did not even mention the name of the bank.  Moreover, all bank remittances should be done with the mandated depository bank, the LBP, as earlier discussed.

The Court in fact has accorded leniency to Batongbacal.  The OCA reports in their Memorandum dated March 30, 2004, that for over two years now, he failed to comply with the Resolution of January 14, 2000 directing him to submit all source documents regarding the Fiduciary Funds in order for the auditing team to find out Batongbacal’s accountability on this matter and to restitute the subject unremitted funds.  And that for the same period of time, Batongbacal has not received his salaries and allowances pursuant to the directive to the Financial Management Office (FMO) to withhold them in  the same Resolution of January 14, 2000.  In fact, another Resolution was issued by the Third Division of this Court in A.M. No. 4-1-09-MTC[5] ordering the FMO to withhold his salaries and other benefits for failure to submit his DTRs starting August of 2003.  The Court is absolutely appalled on why he does not exert an effort to comply with the Court’s directives.

Clerks of courts are the chief administrative officers of their respective courts.  They must show competence, honesty and probity since they are charged with safeguarding the integrity of the court and its proceedings.  They are judicial officers entrusted to perform delicate functions with regard to the collection of fees and are expected to correctly and effectively implement regulations such that even undue delay in the remittances of amounts collected by them at the very least constitutes misfeasance.[6] They are the custodian of the court’s funds and revenues, records, property and premises.  Being the custodian thereof, the clerks of court are liable for any loss, shortage, destruction or impairment of said funds and property.[7]

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Clerk of Court II Arturo S. Batongbacal GUILTY of gross dishonesty, gross misconduct and malversation of public funds while in office.  He is ordered DISMISSED from the service with forfeiture of his withheld salaries, the same to be applied to his accountabilities.  He is further disqualified from re-employment in any branch of the government or in any government-owned or controlled corporations.


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

[1] Judge Alicia Gonzales-Decano vs. Judge Orlando Ana F. Siapno, 353 SCRA 269, 275 (2001).

[2] Memorandum dated October 11, 2001 submitted by the Auditing Team to DCA Perez, re- Initial Report on the Financial Audit Conducted in the MTC of Pulilan, Bulacan.

[3] Office of Court Administrator vs. Fortaleza citing Re- Report on the Financial Audit in the RTC, General Santos City and the RTC & MTC of Polomok, South Cotobato, 385 SCRA 293, 303 (2002).

[4] OCA Memorandum dated March 30, 2004, p. 2.

[5] Rollo, p. 64.

[6] Gutierrez vs. Quitalig, 400 SCRA 391, 399 (2003).

[7] Office of the Court Administrator vs. Fortaleza, supra.

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