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619 Phil. 392

[ A.M. No. P-07-2385 [Formerly OCA I.P.I No. 07-2556-P], October 26, 2009 ]




Branch Sheriff Rewel Cerenio (Cerenio) was relieved of his duties as Branch Sheriff of Branch 2 of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) in Olongapo City. Instead of turning over all unserved writs, orders and processes to the Branch Clerk of Court, Annabelle F. Garcia,[1] he turned them over to the MTCC Clerk of Court-City Sheriff Alexander Rimando (Rimando) including the writ of execution issued in Civil Case No. 4876 (the civil case), "Shirley Gonzaga v. Felicitas de la Cruz," for sum of money.

Rimando implemented the writ of execution issued in the civil case on July 11, 2006 by seizing a Starex van belonging to one Ramon Reyes (Reyes), who was not a party thereto. On July 16, 2006, a Sunday, Rimando attempted to release the van but was prevented by a Hall of Justice security guard on the order of MTCC Branch 2 Presiding Judge Jacinto C. Gonzales (Judge Gonzales).

The van owner, Reyes, thus complained of the seizure of his van to Judge Gonzales who, after investigation during which Rimando did not comply with his (the judge's) order for him to comment, filed a letter-complaint before this Court against herein respondents Rimando, Annaliza, Sheriff III Perlita Dumlao (Perlita) and Utility Worker I Ramon Ramones (Ramones), along with Enrique Deliguin and SPO1 Teofilo Fami, for grave misconduct, usurpation of authority or official functions, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the court or justice, the subject of this Court's present Decision.

Judge Gonzales detailed the complained acts of respondents as follows:

1. They willfully performed the function pertaining to the branch sheriff of this court without the consent of herein complainant].

2. They illegally took and carried away the personal property of a person not a party to the case putting the image of the court in bad light.

3. Irregularly performing a judicial function by seeking the release of the vehicle on a non-working day (Sunday).

4. Deliberate refusal to respond to the lawful order of the undersigned with respect to matters involving the performance of official functions.[2] (Underscoring supplied)

In his Comment[3] filed in compliance with the directive of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), Ramones denied having participated in the confiscation of the van and in the attempt to remove it from the Hall of Justice. He claimed that he was only following the order of Rimando, coursed thru Perlita, to ask for police assistance in the implementation of the writ.

In her Comment,[4] Perlita claimed that she and another sheriff were merely implementing a directive from Rimando to verify, among other things, whether Percival Sañarez, son-in-law of the judgment debtor Felicitas dela Cruz (Felicitas) and who was allegedly her co-maker of the promissory note presented in evidence at the civil case, "is the registered owner of a Starex [van] which he use[d] to drive";[5] that as the writ of execution appeared to be regular, she asked the judgment creditor Shirley Gonzaga (Shirley) for assistance in looking for property of the judgment debtor Felicitas; that Shirley informed Rimando that Felicitas owned a Starex van with plate number bearing the number of that seized, which van she (Perlita) herself saw parked at Felicitas' address; and that while Felicitas' son-in-law claimed that she (Felicitas) did not own the vehicle, Rimando advised him to avail himself of court proceedings where he could raise that claim.

Perlita denied having participated in the attempt to release the vehicle.

Rimando did not submit his comment to the present complaint as directed by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) by 1st Indorsement of August 23, 2006, despite the grant to him, on his motion, of extension of time for the purpose[6] and the issuance by the OCA of its 1st Tracer dated March 5, 2007.[7]

Annaliza, in the meantime, died on June 1, 2007.

On the recommendation of the OCA, the Court resolved, on October 3, 2007, to:

  1. NOTE the sworn letter-complaint filed by Presiding Judge Jacinto C. Gonzales, and the comments of respondents Ramones and [Perlita] dated 27 March 2007 and 16 October 2006, respectively;

  2. RE-DOCKET this matter as a regular administrative matter;

  3. REQUIRE respondent Clerk of Court and City Sheriff Alexander C. Rimando to SHOW CAUSE why he should not be charged for contempt for his failure to submit his comment as directed by the Office of the Court Administrator and to submit his comment within five (5) days from receipt hereof;

  4. DISMISS the complaint against respondent Clerk III Annaliza O. Flores in view of her death; and

  5. REFER this matter to the Executive Judge of the RTC of Olongapo City for investigation, report and recommendation within sixty (60) days from receipt of records thereof.[8] (Emphasis in the original; underscoring supplied)

During the investigation conducted by Executive Judge Josefina D. Farrales (Judge Farrales), it surfaced that Reyes could not register the van at the Cavite Land Transportation Office (LTO) because Rimando filed a "Notice of L[i]s Pendens"[9] before the Olongapo City LTO requesting it to hold in abeyance any transaction regarding the transfer or disposition of the van, as "[it] is now the subject of litigation, wherein [Felicitas is] the defendant in Civil Case No. 4876 for Collection of Sum of Money . . ."[10]

Also during the investigation conducted by Judge Farrales or on December 17, 2007, Rimando, explaining his failure to comply with the OCA directive to submit his comment on the complaint, claimed that he was occupied assisting Annaliza's family during her illness. He also claimed that as Branch Sheriff Cerenio was merely his deputy, he (Rimando), being the MTCC Clerk of Court-City Sheriff, had the authority to implement the writ; and that while he tried to release the van on a non-working day,[11] it was out of his desire to "have an immediate solution on the matter after ascertaining that indeed the van does not belong to the defendant."[12]

On his refusal to heed Judge Gonzales' order for him to comment on the complaint of Reyes, Rimando explained that he had then "a strong feeling, basing on the prejudgment" of the Judge, that the latter would elevate the matter to this Court, hence, he "decided to just reserve [his] filing of a comment."[13]

In her Report submitted to the OCA on March 26, 2008, Judge Farrales detailed her findings, quoted verbatim below:

x x x x

The charges against respondents [Perlita] and Ramones should be dismissed.

With respect to respondent Rimando, the charges against him relate to his acts of taking personal property (Hyundai Starex van with Plate No. WHZ 140) belonging to another in the guise of implementing a writ of execution issued in Civil Case No. 4876 and attempting to remove the said vehicle from the premises of the Hall of Justice Olongapo City without prior court order.

x x x [T]he acts of respondent Sheriff Rimando constitute usurpation of authority. The mere fact that he relied only on the information that [the judgment debtor] Dela Cruz owned a Hyundai Starex van with plate no. WHZ 140 without first verifying the true owner thereon and thereafter levied the van violated the procedure in the execution of judgments outlined in Section 9, Rule 39 of the Revised Rules of Court which reads:

"Sec. 9. Execution of judgments for money, how enforced - (a) Immediate payment on demand. - The officer shall enforce an execution of a judgment for money by demanding from the judgment obligor the immediate payment of the full amount stated in the writ of execution and all lawful fees. The judgment obligor shall pay in cash, certified bank check payable to the judgment oblige, or any other form of payment acceptable to the latter, the amount of the judgment debt under proper receipt direct to the judgment oblige or his authorized representatives if present at the time of payment. The lawful fees shall be handed under proper receipt to the executing sheriff who shall turn over the said amount within the same day to the clerk of the court that issued the writ.
x x x x

The records [are] bereft of any showing that Sheriff Rimando first demanded for the judgment obligor Dela Cruz the full payment of the amount stated in the writ. Worse, Sheriff Rimando levied on the Hyundai Starex van even after he was informed that it was not owned by Dela Cruz.

Sheriff Rimando likewise abused his authority when he made it appear that the Hyundai Starex van [with] plate no. WHX 140 was a subject of litigation in Civil Case No. 4876 in issuing a Notice of Lis Pendens dated 21 June 2006 addressed to district Head Engr. Reynaldo J. Cortez. The issuance of Notice of Lis Pendens is highly irregular. First, the Starex van with plate no. WHZ 140 was not the subject matter of Civil Case No. 4876. Second, the Notice of Lis Pendens is proper only in cases enumerated under Section 14, Rule 13 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure and Section 76 of P.D. 1529 and lastly, the subject van [was] improperly levied on 11 July 2006. Sheriff Rimando attempted to show that he levied the subject Hyundai van after verification from the LTO by issuing the Notice of Lis Pendens on 21 June 2006 but adduced no evidence to prove it.

By making it appear in the Notice of Lis Pendens dated 21 June 2006 that the Starex van with Plate No. WHZ 140 was the subject of litigation in Civil Case No. 4876, respondent Rimando knowingly made false entries thereon. Undoubtedly, this act of respondent Rimando x x x violates the norms of public accountability and tends to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary, thereby prejudicing the best interest of the administration of justice.

Further, in an attempt to cover up the irregularities in the "implementation of the writ of execution", Sheriff Rimando tried to release the Hyundai Starex van with Plate No. WHZ 140 to Sañarez and dela Cruz on 15 July 2006 [sic] and remove the same from the premises of the Hall of Justice without prior court order. Significantly, x x x 15 July 2006 [sic] was a Sunday.

For failure of complainant to substantiate his charges against [Perlita] and Ramones, the [charges] against them must be dismissed. x x x [R]espondents [Perlita] and Ramones merely complied with the directive of their superior, City Sheriff Rimando, to seek assistance from the police concerning the "implementation of the writ of execution" issued in Civil Case No. 4876.[14]

x x x x (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Judge Farrales thus recommended:

x x x x

that the complaint against Ramon Ramones, Utility Worker I, and Perlita D. Dumlao, Sheriff III, both of MTCC, OCC, Olongapo City be DISMISSED; and,

that respondent Alexander C. Rimando, Clerk of Court and City Sheriff of MTCC, OCC, Olongapo City be administratively charged for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and the penalty left to the sound discretion of the Honorable Court Administrator.[15] (Underscoring supplied)

The OCA, noting that the findings and recommendations of Judge Farrales were supported by substantial evidence,[16] concluded that Rimando exceeded the limits of his ministerial functions as City Sheriff and accordingly recommended that Rimando be suspended for six months and one day to one year for Acts Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service.[17]

As for respondents Ramones and Perlita, the OCA concurred in the recommendation to exonerate them as they merely heeded Rimando's instructions and in the absence of evidence of bad faith or other malevolent acts on their part.

The Court finds well taken the recommendation of the OCA to hold Rimando guilty of Acts Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service. Francisco v. Gonzales[18] enlightens:

While the trial court has the competence to identify and to secure properties and interest therein held by the judgment debtor for the satisfaction of a money judgment rendered against him, such exercise of its authority is premised on one important fact: that the properties levied upon, or sought to be levied upon, are properties unquestionably owned by the judgment debtor and are not exempt by law from execution. Also, a sheriff is not authorized to attach or levy on property not belonging to the judgment debtor, and even incurs liability if he wrongfully levies upon the property of a third person. A sheriff has no authority to attach the property of any person under execution except that of the judgment debtor.[19] (Emphasis in the original; italics and underscoring supplied)

It bears noting that the dispositive portion of the judgment which was incorporated in the writ of execution reads:

WHEREFORE, this court finds and so holds that the plaintiff had amply substantiated her cause of action against the defendant and therefore renders judgment in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant ordering the defendant:

  1. To pay the plaintiff the amount of Forty Five Thousand (P45,000.00) Pesos plus 10% interest from demand until the whole amount of indebtedness has been fully paid;

  2. To reimburse the amount of Five Thousand (P5,000.00) Pesos as Attorney's Fees, the amount of Four Thousand (P4,000.00) Pesos as appearance fees and the amount of Two Thousand (P2,000.00) Pesos as litigation expenses; and,

  3. To pay the cost of suits.[20] (Underscoring supplied)

As Judge Farrales noted in her Report, Rimando should have first demanded full payment of the amounts stated in the dispositive portion of the trial court's decision, which dispositive portion was, it bears reiteration, incorporated in the writ. But he did not. Without determining with certainty that the van belonged to the judgment debtor, and despite the information given to him at the time of seizure that it did not belong to the judgment debtor, he went ahead and seized the van.

On top of this, Rimando falsely made it appear in the "Notice of L[i]s Pendens" addressed to the district head of the Olongapo City LTO[21] that the van was the "subject matter" in the civil case. Not only did Rimando thus make a false statement. His statement betrayed his ignorance. For under Section 14, Rule 13 of the Rules of Court and Section 76 of Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1529, a notice of lis pendens applies only in actions affecting the title or the right of possession of real property. Besides, the van was not the subject matter of the civil case.[22]

As if Rimando's faux pas were not enough, he even attempted to release the van on a non-working day and would have succeeded were it not for Judge Gonzales' order against it. His claim that his attempt was made after ascertaining that the van did not belong to the judgment debtor is an admission of his slip reflected above.

Rimando is, for refusal to comply with Judge Gonzales' order for him to explain his actions, also liable for Gross Insubordination, what Necesario v. Dinglasa[23] describes as the indifference of a respondent to an administrative complaint and to resolutions requiring comment thereon.[24] His claim that he was

just exercising his right not to give an explanation to him about the incident because [Rimando had] a strong feeling, based on the prejudgment he already exhibited against [him], that he will be elevating just the same the matter to [the OCA] for which [Rimando] decided to just reserve [his] filing of a comment."[25]

does not impress.

Every employee in the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness, and honesty. Not only is he expected to be well-mannered, civil and considerate in his actuations, official or otherwise, but more than anybody else, he is also bound to manifest to his superiors, more particularly to the presiding Judge, utmost respect and obedience to the latter's orders and instructions issued pursuant to the duties of the office the Judge holds.[26] (Underscoring supplied)

Rimando also committed another count of Gross Insubordination for his refusal to file his comment on the present complaint despite the directive of the OCA in its 1st Indorsement of August 23, 2006 and in its 1st Tracer, dated March 5, 2007. It was only after the Court issued a SHOW CAUSE Order on October 3, 2007 that he was constrained to file a Comment on December 17, 2007[27] in the course of the investigation conducted by Judge Farrales or more than one year from his receipt of the 1st Indorsement.

x x x [Respondent's] prolonged and repeated refusal to comply constitutes a clear and willful disrespect for lawful orders of the OCA . . . through [which] the Supreme Court exercises supervision over all lower courts and personnel thereof. x x x[28] (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

A first offense of Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service is punishable under Rule IV, Section 52 (A) (20) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service with suspension from six months and one day to one year.

A first offense of Gross Insubordination is penalized with suspension from six months and one day to one year, while a second offense of Gross Insubordination is penalized with dismissal.[29]

Section 55 of the same above-said Rule IV states that "If the respondent is found guilty of two or more charges or counts, the penalty to be imposed should be that corresponding to the most serious charge or count and the rest shall be considered as aggravating circumstances."

Rimando must thus be meted the penalty of dismissal, the penalty for the most serious charge - second count of Gross Insubordination.

As for the charges against Ramones, the recommendation to dismiss the same is in order as he was merely complying with Rimando's orders when he accompanied policeman Fami to the site where the van was confiscated. His participation in the confiscation of the van and the subsequent attempt to remove it from the Hall of Justice has not been substantiated.

Respecting Perlita, the recommendation to dismiss the charges against her is also in order as she merely heeded Rimando's instructions for her to seek assistance from the judgment creditor in identifying any property of the judgment debtor and in accompanying Rimando to the site of the "execution."

As reflected in its earlier-quoted Resolution of October 3, 2007, the Court DISMISSED the complaint against Annaliza in view of her death in the interim.

WHEREFORE, respondent Clerk of Court-City Sheriff Alexander C. Rimando of the Olongapo Municipal Trial Court in Cities is found GUILTY of Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service and of two counts of Gross Insubordination. He is DISMISSED from the service effective immediately, with FORFEITURE of all retirement benefits and accrued leave credits and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of government, including government-owned and controlled corporations.

The charges against respondents Sheriff III Perlita D. Dumlao and Utility Worker I Ramon R. Ramones are DISMISSED.

Let copies of this Decision be appended to respondents' respective 201 files.


Puno, C.J., Quisumbing, Carpio, Carpio Morales, Chico-Nazario, Peralta, Bersamin, and Abad, JJ., concur.
Corona, Velasco, Jr., Nachura, and Leonardo-De Castro, JJ., on official leave.
Brion, and Del Castillo, JJ., on leave.

[1] Rollo, Vol. 1, p. 341.

[2] Id. at 9.

[3] Id. at 117-122.

[4] Id. at 123-127.

[5] Id. at 128.

[6] Id. at 113.

[7] Id. at 139.

[8] Id. at 152-153.

[9] Id. at 386. Judge Farrales' finding is on the rollo, Vol. 1, p. 163.

[10] Id. at 386.

[11] Rimando claims the day was July 16, 2006 and not July 15, 2006 but Rimando nevertheless admits that it was a non-working day. Rollo, Vol. 2, p. 9.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Id. at 10.

[14] Rollo, Vol. 1, pp. 167-169.

[15] Id. at 169.

[16] Id. at 411.

[17] Id. at 412.

[18] G.R. No. 177667, September 17, 2008, 565 SCRA 638.

[19] Id. at 646-647.

[20] Rollo, Vol. 1, p. 48.

[21] Id. at 386.

[22] Vide id. at 15.

[23] A.M. No. P-07-2294, August 7, 2007, 529 SCRA 194.

[24] Vide id. at 199.

[25] Rollo, Vol. 2, p. 10.

[26] Mallare v. Ferry, A.M. No. P-00-1381 and A.M. No. P-00-1382, July 31, 2001, 362 SCRA 19, 26.

[27] Rollo, Vol. 2, p. 1.

[28] Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in the RTC-Br. 47, Urdaneta City, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1968, January 31, 2006, 481 SCRA 76, 90.

[29] Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, Rule IV, Section 52 (A)(19).

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