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619 Phil. 686


[ A.M. No. P-08-2569 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 08-2789-P], October 30, 2009 ]




In a Letter-Complaint dated February 11, 2008, complainant Judge Rene B. Baculi, presiding judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 1, Tuguegarao City, charged respondent Clemente U. Ugale, Interpreter II, of the same court, with Incompetence, Habitual Drunkenness and Loafing.

Prior to the instant complaint, Judge Baculi had already issued several memoranda to respondent concerning the same charges, to wit:

First, on October 9, 2007, reminding respondent of his propensity to be always out of office resulting in his failure to perform his duty as court interpreter;

Second, on February 4, 2008, informing respondent of the manifestation made by a certain Atty. Antonio Laggui that respondent is incapable of performing his function as court interpreter, specifically in his interpretation of the vernacular dialect into English during court trials; and

Third, on February 4, 2008, reminding respondent of his habitual drunkenness even during office hours.

In all memoranda, complainant Judge ordered respondent to explain all the charges against him and explain altogether why no sanctions should be imposed on him. However, in all three (3) instances, respondent ignored the same. Thus, prompting Judge Baculi to file the instant administrative complaint against Ugale.

In his Comment dated May 12, 2008, respondent explained:

Your Honor, may I inform your good Office that I met a vehicular accident sometime in February 2003 and sustained broken legs and due to the cold weather in the past months (January and February 2008), the pains of my injuries recurred and because I could no longer bear the severe pains, I resorted to occasional drinking liquor just to ease myself from such extreme pains, your Honor. That the Honorable Judge was unaware of my present ailment and he might have misunderstood my acts as a sign of disrespect to him and to the Court and negligence on my job. My apologies, therefore, to the Honorable Judge and to your Honor.

That due to the consistent recurrence of the pains on the injuries I sustained and with the medicines I took, it affected my sense of hearing so much so that I could not give the correct interpretation, especially during court hearings, the reason for which I went on leave starting February 2008. In fact, I voluntarily applied for an early retirement for I could no longer efficiently perform my duties in Court due to unbearable pains. Sad to note that I was not able to inform personally the Honorable Judge that I already filed my application for retirement. Again, my greatest apology to the Honorable Judge and to your Honor for my shortcomings.[1]

Unconvinced, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) recommended that respondent Ugale be held liable for Incompetence, Habitual Drunkenness and Loafing, and be suspended for eight (8) months.

We adopt the recommendation of the OCA.

Time and again, this Court has pointed out the heavy burden and responsibility which court personnel are saddled with, in view of their exalted positions as keepers of the public faith. They should, therefore, be constantly reminded that any impression of impropriety, misdeed or negligence in the performance of official functions must be avoided. Those who work in the judiciary must adhere to high ethical standards to preserve the court's good name and standing. They should be examples of responsibility, competence and efficiency, and they must discharge their duties with due care and utmost diligence, since they are officers of the court and agents of the law. Indeed, any conduct, act or omission on the part of those who would violate the norms of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary shall not be countenanced.[2]

In the instant case, respondent cannot take refuge behind his alleged ailment to justify his infractions. In fact, respondent made no categorical denial of the accusations against him. He merely sidestepped the same by explaining that he had been drinking in order to ease the pains brought about by his leg injury. He shifted the blame on the medications he took for his failure to perform his duties as court interpreter. He had been constantly reminded of his unfavorable behavior but he remained unrepentant. The only time he took an effort to make excuses for himself was when an administrative complaint was already filed against him. However, the fact remains that, even by his own admission, respondent had been remiss in the performance of his duties.

Moreover, it is also our view that if respondent was really concerned in dissipating his leg pains, he should have consulted a doctor instead of resorting to drinking alcohol. His theory that the alcohol had a therapeutic effect on his ailment fails to convince. Even assuming that it was true, respondent should be aware that drinking liquors during office hours is strictly prohibited. Furthermore, as court interpreter, he ought to know as well that he performs an important role in running the machinery of our trial court system necessary for the proper and speedy disposition of cases. Thus, if indeed his ailment made it difficult for him to comply with his duties, he should have at least informed complainant Judge and/or his branch clerk of court of his health condition. Significantly, we also take note that no medical certificate was submitted in support of respondent's alleged health condition.

Clearly, respondent has shown his utter lack of dedication to the function of his office. Undeniably, respondent's failure to perform his duties, his unauthorized disappearances and habitual drunkenness during office hours, hamper his efficiency as a court interpreter. Consequently, respondent's reprehensible conduct should not go unheeded for his actuations are clearly inimical to the service and prejudicial to the interest of litigants and the general public. He, therefore, deserves to be sanctioned.

We come to the matter of penalties. Section 53 of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service,[3] provides that in the determination of the penalties to be imposed, the exonerating, mitigating, aggravating or alternative circumstances may be considered. Moreover, pursuant to Section 55,[4] if the respondent is found guilty of two (2) or more charges, the penalty to be imposed should be that corresponding to the most serious charge and the rest shall be considered as aggravating circumstances. In this case, we consider incompetence as the most serious charge.

Under Rule IV of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service,[5] habitual drunkenness[6] is classified as a less grave offense and is punishable by suspension for one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months for the first offense; loafing[7] is classified as a grave offense punishable by suspension for six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year for the first offense; and incompetence[8] is classified as a grave offense and is punishable by suspension for six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year for the first offense.

However, while this Court is duty-bound to sternly wield a corrective hand to discipline its errant employees and to weed out those who are undesirable, this Court also has the discretion to temper the harshness of its judgment with mercy.[9] Thus, as recommended by the OCA and pursuant to Section 54[10] of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases, considering that Ugale is a first-time offender and having committed the aggravating circumstances of habitual drunkenness and loafing, the penalty of suspension for eight (8) months and one (1) day without pay should be imposed against him.

However, upon verification with the OCA-Retirement Division, respondent had indeed filed an application for early retirement and is now pending before the OCA-Legal Office for study and recommendation. Consequently, instead of imposing the penalty of suspension, the more appropriate sanction is to impose on him a fine in the amount equivalent to his eight (8) months salary, deductible from his retirement benefits.[11] The Court emphasizes that respondent's application for retirement does not render the present administrative case moot and academic; neither does it free him from liability. Since complainant filed the case when respondent was still in service, the Court retains the authority to investigate and resolve the administrative case against him.[12]

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Clemente U. Ugale, Interpreter II of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 1, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, GUILTY of INCOMPETENCE, HABITUAL DRUNKENNESS and LOAFING, and is ORDERED to pay a FINE equivalent to his eight (8) months salary to be deducted from his retirement benefits.


Quisumbing,* Carpio, (Chairperson), Chico-Nazario, and Abad,** JJ., concur.

* Designated to sit as an additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura per Special Order No. 755 dated October 12, 2009.

** Designated to sit as an additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. per Special Order No. 753 dated October 12, 2009.

[1] Emphasis supplied.

[2] Gutierrez v. Quitalig, 448 Phil. 469, 478-479 (2003).

[3] Executive Order No. 292.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Saula De Leon-Dela Cruz v. Fernando P. Recacho, A.M. No. P-06-2122, July 17, 2007, 527 SCRA 622.

[10] Supra note 3.

Section 54. Manner of Imposition. - When applicable, the imposition of the penalty may be made in accordance with the manner provided hereinbelow:

  1. The minimum of the penalty shall be imposed where only mitigating and no aggravating circumstances are present.

  2. The medium of the penalty shall be imposed where no mitigating and aggravating circumstances are present.

  3. The maximum of the penalty shall be imposed where only aggravating and no mitigating circumstances are present.

  4. Where aggravating and mitigating circumstances are present, paragraph [a] shall be applied where there are more mitigating circumstances present; paragraph [b] shall be applied when the circumstances equally offset each other; and paragraph [c] shall be applied when there are more aggravating circumstances.

[11] See Re: Complaint Filed by Atty. Francis Allan A. Rubio on the Alleged Falsification of Public Documents and Malversation of Public Funds, 482 Phil. 318, 330 (2004).

[12] See City of Cebu v. Judge Ireneo Lee Gako, Jr., A.M. No. RTJ-08-2111, May 7, 2008, 554 SCRA 15, 27.

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