564 Phil. 295
The relevant facts, as testified to by complainant judge and summarized in the IRR, are as follows:
- That respondent Rewell Cerenio was duly appointed as Sheriff III of MTCC, Branch 2, of Olongapo City having been appointed in March 1990;
- That Judge Jacinto Gonzales is the incumbent Judge of Branch 2[,] having been appointed on December 5, 2005;
- That witness Annabelle Garcia is the incumbent Branch Clerk of Court of Branch 2, MTCC, having been appointed on September 16, 2002;
- That prior to the appointment of Judge Jacinto Gonzales, Judge Merinissa Ligaya acted as Presiding Judge of Branch 2, Judge Jaime Dojillo and Judge Tita Alisuag were appointed as Pairing Judge(s) of MTCC, Branch 2.
Judge Jacinto C. Gonzales, complainant, testified that he assumed office as Presiding Judge of MTCC, Branch 2, Olongapo City on December 5, 2005. During briefing conducted by his branch clerk of court, Annabelle F. Garcia, Judge Gonzales was informed, among other things, of the absences without leave by branch sheriff Rewel Cerenio who was recommended to be dropped from the rolls by Pairing Judge Merinissa O. Ligaya. On March 24, 2006, Judge Gonzales had a meeting with the respondent and the Branch Clerk whereby the respondent allegedly admitted his failure to perform his duties as branch sheriff, specifically, the latter’s failure to make a return on the writs, despite the directive of the [B]ranch [C]lerk of Court. Allegedly, respondent was able to submit only the returns of fourteen (14) out of fifty-four (54) writs of execution issued by the Court. Judge Gonzales further claimed that upon the request of the respondent, he gave the latter a period of one (1) week to submit the returns of the unaccounted writs of execution which he accordingly received. Allegedly, respondent failed to comply with his commitment to submit the remaining unaccounted returns for which reasons, he (Judge Gonzales) was constrained to relieve respondent from his duties as branch sheriff effective April 17, 2006, and directed him to turn over to the [B]ranch [C]lerk of Court all writs, summons and notices in his possession. Judge Gonzales further claimed that despite such directive, respondent not only failed to comply with the Order, but thereafter, never reported for work which thus, further constrained him to file the instant administrative case against the respondent on May 2, 2006 at the Office of the Court Administrator.The specific factual issues are the following:
The investigating judge then recommended a penalty of six (6) months suspension without pay.
- On the issue of unreturned writs of execution, respondent submitted the return on the writs only after his meeting with Judge Gonzales on March 24, 2006. (page 32[,] tsn, July 11, 2007). Thus, out of the 54 unreturned writs, he initially was able to account for 14 writs. Mrs. Liwanag, the [c]lerk-in-charge of civil docket admitted on cross-examination that as of the time she testified in his investigation, respondent has returned 22 writs of execution leaving 32 unaccounted writs of execution (Page 35[,] tsn July 11, 2007). Respondent’s claim that he has returned all the writs received by him for execution from Mrs. Liwanag has not been substantiated.
Section 14[,] Rule 39 of the Rules on Civil Procedure specifically requires that:“The writ of execution shall be returnable to the Court issuing it immediately after the judgment has been satisfied in part or in full. If the judgment cannot be satisfied in full within thirty (30) days after his receipt of the writ, the officer shall report to the Court and state the reason thereof. x x x”Considering that the writs of execution issued in the cases listed in Exhibit “A-9” which appears to have been received by respondent for service dates back to the year 1990, delay in the service of twenty-two (22) and non-service of the rest of the writs constitutes (sic) clear violation of the mandatory provision of the aforequoted rules.
- On the issue of non-service of notices of hearing in Civil Case No. 6072 entitled Ana Famisan [v.] Sylvia Lescano, and Civil Case No. 4128 entitled Lee [v.] Rivero, record shows that [the] corresponding notices were referred to the respondent for service as early as April 1, 2005 for the scheduled hearing on April 26, 2005 and he went on emergency leave five (5) days before the scheduled hearing. Clearly, respondent had sufficient time to serve the notices before the scheduled date of hearing and before he went on emergency leave, but he failed to do so. Likewise in Civil Case No. 6336[,] entitled Metro Bank [v.] Sps. Josaue and Maningning Lutana which was also set for hearing on April 26, 2005, respondent received the notice on April 18, 2005, yet respondent again failed to serve the aforesaid notice and Order which resulted to the unnecessary postponement of the scheduled hearing. Hence[,] the excuse of respondent that he failed to serve the notices to the parties due to an emergency situation brought about by the sickness of his mother is untenable.
- In the case of Lonzame [v.] Pantig, Civil Case No. 4991 where the judgment amount is P21,000.00 more or less, record shows that respondent received on various dates the total amount of P16,000.00 from defendant Pantig. He[,] however, applied the amount of P6,000.00 as sheriff’s expenses, the amount of P5,000.00 she (sic) gave to Mrs. Lonzame, the plaintiff, and the amount of P5,000.00 she (sic) gave to Mrs. Garcia. Such act of respondent is anomalous to say the least. Section 9[,] Rule 141 of the Rules on Civil Procedure details the legal fees and sheriff’s expenses that can be assessed on account of the service of the writ of execution and the amount charged as sheriff’s expenses by the respondent in this case in relation to the judgment amount appears to be exorbitant. There is also indication here that respondent did not observe the procedure required under the Rules regarding execution of judgments for money. (Sec. 9, Rule 39[,] Rules of Civil Procedure).
- With respect to Civil Case No. 5059 entitled[,] Rural Bank of Zambales [v.] Sotelo, respondent’s claim that he returned the amount of P25,000.00 the day after he received the same from Mr. Sotelo is not supported by the evidence on record. Respondent was not able to produce a receipt that he returned the amount of P25,000.00 to the defendant Sotelo. His allegation that the parties have already settled lacks proof as he failed to show evidence of settlement between the parties. (Pages 41-42[,] tsn[,] July 19, 2007 ). Respondent’s allegation that he returned the amount of P25,000.00 to Sotelo, a day after he received the amount from said Mr. Sotelo is demolished by the fact that Sotelo’s lawyer, Atty. Gonzales[,] wrote a letter dated April 1, 2004[,] claiming that Sotelo gave the amount of P25,000.00 as partial payment of judgment amount on April 4, 2003, or a year before the letter. The letter, (Exhibit “A-14”), which was addressed to the Branch Clerk of Court of Branch II, MTCC, also requested that respondent be directed to deliver the amount of P25,000.00 to the lawyer’s law office within (3) three days from receipt thereof. If it is true, as claimed by respondent, that he had returned the amount of P25,000.00 to defendant Sotelo the day after the latter gave the amount to him, why would Sotelo’s lawyer, Atty. Gonzales, still ask the respondent to return the money the latter received from his client. Respondent’s failure to support his claim that he returned the money to defendant Sotelo or that there was subsequent settlement between Rural Bank of Zambales and Sotelo certainly renders his defense untenable.
- On the issue of respondent’s alleged frequent unauthorized absence which apparently relates to the question as to whether or not respondent reported to the office after punching of DTRs, this investigator defers to the recommendation of the Court Administrator dated 6 November 2006 pertinent portion of which is hereby quoted. Thus-“Despite the palpably strong indication of respondent’s guilt relative to habitual absenteeism, we refrain from imposing upon him administrative sanctions this early.”
- On the other issue of misconduct arising from an alleged trespassing incident involving one Emma Caroc as well as the issue of insubordination, the investigator notes the failure of the complainant to substantiate the allegations of misconduct and insubordination against the herein respondent. There was no showing that the act of trespassing was intentionally done by respondent to violate the law; neither was it established that respondent deliberately ignored orders from his supervisor to receive memorandum.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, this investigator submits the following findings:
- On the issue of failure to make returns of writs of execution in certain cases, respondent is found liable for violation of [S]ection 14[,] Rule 39 of the Rules on Civil Procedure;
- On the issue of non-service of notices of hearing in certain cases resulting to the unnecessary postponement of scheduled hearings, respondent is likewise found liable;
- On the issue of respondent’s failure to account for the proceeds of writs of execution in certain cases, the respondent is likewise found liable for [v]iolation of Section 9, Rule 39 of the Rules on Civil Procedure.
x x x They (sheriffs) are tasked to execute final judgments of courts. If not enforced, such decisions are empty victories of the prevailing parties. They must therefore comply with their mandated ministerial duty to implement writs promptly and expeditiously. As agents of the law, sheriffs are called upon to discharge their duties with due care and utmost diligence because in serving the court’s writs and processes and implementing its order, they cannot afford to err without affecting the integrity of their office and the efficient administration of justice.In the instant case, respondent failed to make a return of not one (1) but fifty-four (54) writs of execution. Pending investigation, he was able to return twenty-two of these writs. However, he could not account for the remaining thirty-two (32) writs. Many of the 54 writs of execution were issued as early as 1990 but respondent made an effort to account for them only in 2006 during the investigation. Thus, it is not entirely baseless to conclude that had no investigation been conducted, respondent have simply left the writs of execution in a state of limbo, to the obvious detriment of the litigants who, in turn, may be constrained to condemn the whole judicial system.
SEC. 14. Return of writ of execution. — x x x If the judgment cannot be satisfied in full within thirty (30) days after his receipt of the writ, the officer shall report to the court and state the reason therefore x x x The officer shall make a report to the court every thirty (30) days on the proceedings taken thereon until the judgment is satisfied in full, or its effectivity expires. The returns or periodic reports shall set forth the whole of the proceedings taken, and shall be filed with the court and copies thereof promptly furnished the parties.It is mandatory, therefore, for the sheriff to execute the judgment and make a return on the writ of execution within the period provided by the Rules of Court. With respect to partially satisfied or unsatisfied writs, the sheriff must make periodic reports in accordance with Rule 39 Sec. 14. Such periodic reporting on the status of the writs must be done by the sheriff regularly and consistently every thirty days until they are returned fully satisfied. In the instant case, there is no showing that respondent had taken the trouble to comply with this duty.