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445 Phil. 66

EN BANC

[ Adm. Matter No. P-01-1488. (Formerly A.M. No. 01-5-141-MTCC), February 07, 2003 ]

JUDGE ILUMINADA CABATO-CORTES, EXECUTIVE JUDGE, MTCC, BAGUIO CITY, PETITIONER, VS. ATTY. VICTORIA M. AGTARAP, CLERK OF COURT AND ROBERT ANDREW FLORENDO, CASHIER, MTCC, BAGUIO CITY, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

For resolution is the administrative complaint filed by Executive Judge Iluminada Cabato-Cortes of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Baguio City against former Cashier Robert Andrew Florendo,[1] and Clerk of Court Victoria M. Agtarap of the MTCC, Bagulo City.

On March 27, 2001, Judge Cabato-Cortes reported to Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. through the then Acting Court Administrator Zenaida N. Elepaño, the non-remittances by respondent Florendo of some of the collected fees under his custody when he was still Cashier I of the Office of the Clerk of Court.

As narrated by Judge Cabato-Cortes, in her report, the following are the antecedent facts:
“x x x Mr. Robert Andrew Florendo was Cashier I of the Office of the Clerk of Court, MTCC, Baguio City. He applied for and was appointed as Legal Researcher I with MTCC, Branch IV. Before the date of his appointment he was advised by Atty. Victoria M. Agtarap, MTCC Clerk of Court, to prepare and finish his financial reports. His appointment to the position of Legal Researcher I was dated August 1, 2000. Upon actual assumption of his new position and upon request of Atty. Agtarap, Mr. Florendo continued to finish his financial reports.

“On August 18, 2000, a letter from the City Treasurer, Baguio City was received by the Clerk of Court with the information that the MTCC collections have not been remitted to their office for several months and she has requested to direct the personnel-in-charge of the collections to remit the same ten (10) days from receipt of the letter (Annex ‘A’ and ‘A-1 ‘). Undersigned gathered that upon receipt of said letter, Atty. Agtarap confronted Mr. Florendo about the non-remittance of MTCC collections and two (2) days after the latter paid the same in the amount of P63,694.00.

“In the process of accomplishing the financial reports, it was discovered by the Court Monitoring Office (CMO) that the deposit slip and list of deposit collections for General Fund - Clerk of Court dated January 10, 2000 are not machine validated and does not bear the receiving stamp of the bank. This collection on January 10, 2000 in the amount of P30,557.00 was not entered and remitted but Mr. Florendo let it appeared(sic) in his report as remitted by attaching the invalidated deposit slip to the report to the CMO. This matter was subject of a memorandum of Atty. Agtarap to Mr. Florendo, directing him to immediately replace the “said amount and to explain why this amount was not deposited at the time she, the Clerk of Court, signed the deposit slip on January 10, 2000 (Annex ‘B’).

“Mr. Florendo delivered to Atty. Agtarap the said amount (P30,557.00) and the latter deposited it with the Bureau of Treasury through the Land Bank of the Philippines (Annex ‘B-1’ and ‘B-2’).

“These were the collections tampered with by Mr. Florendo as reflected in the Memorandum of Atty. Agtarap -

“FIDUCIARY FUNDS
Amount
Date Remitted
October 4, 1999 P 30,730.00 Aug. 21, 2000
May 8, 2000
   31,135.83 Aug. 21,2000
     
     
“VICTIMS COMPEN-
SATION FUND
Amount
Date Remitted
April 1999 to June 30, 2000(sic) 17,600.00 May 31, 2000(sic)
     
     
“CITY FUNDS
Amount
Date Remitted
March 2000 P29,465.00 Aug. 18, 2000
April 2000   20,278.00 Aug. 18, 2000
May 2000     7,473.00 Aug. 18, 2000
June2000    4,575.00 Aug. 18, 2000
July2000    1,903.00 Aug. 18, 2000

“Acting on the memorandum of the Clerk of Court, MTCC, Baguio City (Annex ‘C’ and ‘C-1‘), the Executive Judge issued a memorandum to Mr. Florendo (Annex ‘D’) requiring him to submit his answer. He submitted his answer on February 27, 2001 (Annex ‘E’) admitting that he failed to remit the foregoing fees on time and likewise he admitted that with respect to the General Fund of P30,557.00, he made it appear that the same was entered by attaching the invalidated deposit slip in the report of collections for the month of January.

“The foregoing collections and/or fees were fully paid by Mr. Florendo only after the Clerk of Court confronted him about the matter.”[2]
On July 16, 2001, the Court, upon recommendation of the then Acting Court Administrator, issued a Resolution, to wit:
“(a) TREAT the letter-report of Executive Judge Iluminada Cabato-Cortez as an administrative complaint against Clerk of Court Victoria M. Agtarap and former Cashier Robert Andrew Florendo, MTCC, Baguio City;

“(b) DIRECT said respondents to submit their respective COMMENTS on their reported misdeeds within ten (10) days from notice hereof; and

“(c) CONSOLIDATE the financial audit report to be submitted by the Court Management Office with the report of Executive Judge Cortez as part of the administrative complaint.”[3]
In his Comment, respondent Florendo reiterates and adopts his explanation dated February 27, 2001 addressed to Judge Cabato-Cortes hereunder quoted verbatim:
Your Honor,

“In compliance with your Memorandum dated February 19, 2001, I am submitting herewith my Answer thereto and respectfully state:

That with regard the City Funds, I admit that I have not deposited the collections for the periods March to July 2000 on time. That on August 17, 2000, when I went to the Office of Mrs. Rosita de Vera, Cashier III of the Office of the City Treasurer, I admitted to her that I have not remitted the said collections so she advised me that I have to remit the same before the matter reaches the City Treasurer. That on August 18, 2000, I remitted the questioned amount of collections together with the respective reports to Mrs. Rosita de Vera. The City Treasurer, on August 18, 2000 sent a letter addressed to Atty. Victoria M. Agtarap directing the person-in-charge of collections to remit the collections 10 days from receipt of the said letter. That even before the receipt of the letter by the Clerk of Court on August 22, 2000, I have immediately remitted the said collections on August 18, 2000.

“With respect to collections on October 4, 1999 in the amount of P30,730.00 and May 8, 2000 in the amount of P31,135.00, I admit that I have tampered the same and made it appear in the cashbook that the same were entered or deposited. It was only when that in the preparation of the reports for auditing that it was discovered by Atty. Agtarap that they were not remitted or deposited so she directed me to immediately replace the same to which I complied and the said amounts were deposited on August 21, 2000. Copies of the deposit slips are now submitted to the Fiscal Monitoring Office of the Supreme Court.

“With respect to the collections for the Clerk of Court General Fund on January 10, 2000 in the amount of P30,557.00 I also admit that I have not remitted the same to the account of the Bureau of Treasury, Manila and made it appear that the same was entered when I attached an unvalidated deposit slip in the Report of Collections for the General Fund for the month of January, 2000.

“As to the collections of the Victims Compensation Fund, the collections for the periods April 1999 to June 30, 2000 in the amount of P17,600.00 was deposited on May 31, 2000 before the Regional Commission on Audit was scheduled to audit on August, 2000.

“It is not my intention to misappropriate or convert the said amounts to my personal use or benefit. It was only due to some financial constraints that I was tempted.

“I beg of you, Your Honor that the same would not be repeated again and I promise that I would live a simple and modest life.

“Thank you.”[4] (Emphasis ours)
Respondent Agtarap denied any involvement therein, claiming that she observed the “necessary measure to safeguard the funds”, i.e., (1) at the close of business hours, all collections for the day is turned over to the Clerk of Court who keeps it in a vault for safekeeping; (2) the following day, the collection is turned over to the cashier who sorts it according to the type of collection, and thereafter prepares the deposit slips; and (3) the deposit slips are given to the Clerk of Court for verification and recomputation and entered into the logbook, after which the cashier and “occasionally”, the Clerk of Court, deposits it in the bank.[5]

Per our Resolution dated May 29, 2002,[6] the case was referred to the Office of the Court Administrator for evaluation, report and recommendation.

On August 18, 2002, respondent Agtarap died.[7]

In its September 5, 2002 Memorandum, the OCA recommended that: (1) respondent Florendo be fined in the amount of P5,000.00 for Serious Misconduct Prejudicial to the Service with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future shall be dealt with more severely; and (2) the complaint against respondent Agtarap be dismissed.[8]

While we agree with the findings and recommendation of the OCA to dismiss the complaint against respondent Agtarap, we find the recommended P5,000.00 fine to be imposed on respondent Florendo to be far too lenient.

Respondent Florendo expressly admits the charges against him on two (2) occasions. The first was expressed in his letter-explanation dated February 27, 2001 hereinbefore quoted; and the second time was when he filed his Comment in compliance with our Resolution dated July 16, 2001.

In view of the expressed admissions made by respondent Florendo and the demise of respondent Agtarap, we find it no longer necessary to require respondent Florendo to manifest whether or not he is willing to submit the case for resolution on the basis of the pleadings filed.

On the basis of the admission of respondent Florendo, it is clear that he failed to immediately remit to the City Treasurer the collections for the Fiduciary Fund on October 4, 1999 and May 8, 2000, respectively, the amounts of P30,730.00 and P31,135.83. He admits that he remitted said amounts only on August 21, 2000 after Atty. Agtarap discovered that he made it appear in the cashbook that he had deposited the same and only after he was required to immediately replace said amounts.

With respect to the City Funds, respondent Florendo admits that he did not deposit the collections for the period from March 2000 to July 2000 in the total amount of P63,694.00 until August 18, 2000 when he was advised by Rosita de Vera, Cashier III of the Office of the City Treasurer to remit the same which he promptly did before the Clerk of Court received on August 22, 2000, the letter of the City Treasurer demanding for the remittance of said amounts.

Respondent Florendo likewise admits not having deposited the amount of 17,600.00 representing the collections of the Victims Compensation Fund for the period from “April 1999 to June 30, 2000” which he deposited only on “May 31, 2000” explaining that he deposited said amount before the schedule of audit in August, 2000 of the Regional Commission on Audit. There is no explanation why the collection made on June 30, 2000 was deposited on “May 31, 2000”. Nevertheless, the fact remains that respondent Florendo remitted the collections for April 1999 to April 2000 only on May 31, 2000.

Moreover, respondent Florendo admitted that he made it appear in the cashbook that he had deposited the collections for October 4, 1999 and August 8, 2000, pertaining to the Fiduciary Funds. With respect to the General Fund of P30,557.00, he admitted that he attached an unvalidated deposit slip to make it appear that he had already deposited the same. But there is no showing that the said amount had already been deposited.

Clearly therefrom, respondent Florendo had blatantly and repeatedly transgressed the trust reposed in him as Cashier which constitutes gross dishonesty and gross misconduct. The fact that he remitted the subject amounts when he was advised to do so by Atty. Agtarap or by Cashier Rosita de Vera does not excuse him from liability; neither could the replacement of the same mitigate his offenses.

As Cashier and duly accountable officer, he had the duty to remit the Fiduciary, Victims Compensation and City Funds within the period prescribed by the rules.[9] Fiduciary collections must be deposited within twenty-four (24) hours with the Land Bank of the Philippines or where there are no branches thereof, with the Provincial, City or Municipal Treasurer.[10]

The safekeeping of funds and collections is essential to the goal of an orderly administration of justice and no protestation of good faith can override the mandatory nature of the Circulars designed to promote full accountability for government funds.[11] The failure of respondent Florendo to remit the funds in due time constitutes gross dishonesty and gross misconduct and even malversation of funds which cannot be countenanced by the Court for they diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary.[12]

Under Section 23, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Rules implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292, gross dishonesty and gross misconduct are classified as grave offense for which the penalty of dismissal is imposed. Considering that the misconduct occurred not only once but repeatedly, that is, from April, 1999 until August, 2000, respondent Florendo deserves a penalty no less than dismissal from the service. He only remitted the amounts when the non-remittances were discovered and he was asked to replace the amounts involved. Respondent Florendo exhibited his propensity for dishonesty and therefore, he does not deserve to stay any minute longer in the service of the Judiciary which demands the highest degree of integrity and honesty not only from the judges but also the rank-and-file.

In view of the death of respondent Agtarap, the administrative complaint against her must be dismissed.

WHEREFORE, respondent Robert Andrew Florendo is found GUILTY of GROSS DISHONESTY and GROSS MISCONDUCT. He is DISMISSED from the service with prejudice to re-employment in any government agency, including government-owned or controlled corporations. His retirement benefits are deemed forfeited except his earned leave credits.

In addition, respondent Florendo is FINED in the amount of P20,000.00 to be deducted from his earned leave credits.

The administrative complaint against respondent Clerk of Court Victoria M. Agtarap is hereby DISMISSED.

SO ORDERED.

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



[1] Appointed as Legal Researcher I of the same MTCC on August 1, 2000.

[2] Rollo, pp. 5-7.

[3] Id., p. 34.

[4] Id., pp. 16-17.

[5] Id., pp. 39-40.

[6] Id., p. 62.

[7] Id., p. 65.

[8] Id., p. 66.

[9] Report on Audit and Physical Inventory of the Records of Cases in Municipal Trial Court of Peñaranda, Nueva Ecija, A.M. No. 95-6-55-Municipal Trial Court; and Teresita Astillazo v. Rolando Jamlid, Clerk of Court, RTC-Peñaranda, Nueva Ecija, A.M. No. P-96-1173, 276 SCRA 257, 272-273 [1997].

[10] Circular No. 50-95, effective November 1, 1995.

[11] Report on the Financial Audit in RTC, General Santos City and the RTC & MTC of Polomolok, South Cotabato, 327 SCRA 414, 425 [2000].

[12] Report On The Financial Audit Conducted On The Books Of Accounts Of OIC Melinda Deseo. MTC, General Trias, Cavite, 337 SCRA 347, 353 , citing Report on the Financial Audit in RTC, General Santos City and the RTC & MTC of Polomolok, South Cotabato, 327 SCRA 414 [2000].

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