CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0058


“Length of service does not ipso facto warrant the imposition of a lesser penalty.


CASE: Rural Bank of Talisay (CEBU), Inc., represented by its president, Adele V. Villo vs. Manuel H. Gimeno, Sheriff IV, Branch 19, RTC, Cebu City [A.M. No. P-19-3911  January 15, 2019]

PONENTE: Per Curiam

SUBJECT:
          A.       ADMINISTRATIVE LAW:
                   i.        Grave Misconduct
                   ii.       Administrative penalty – mitigating circumstances

FACTS:        On November 23, 2007, Arnie A. Cabanero (Cabanero) obtained a credit accommodation for a principal amount of P150,000.00 from Rural Bank of Talisay. The obligation was secured by a real estate mortgage over a registered parcel of land. Rural Bank of Talisay sent a demand letter to Cabanero requiring him to settle his overdue obligation. After he failed to timely settle his account, the bank filed a Petition for Extrajudicial Foreclosure of Real Estate Mortgage. The said complaint for extrajudicial foreclosure was raffled to Manuel Gimeno, as sheriff designate of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 19, Cebu City (RTC).

On December 8, 2011, Gimeno brought a copy of the Notice of Extrajudicial Foreclosure Sale, together with an undated bill for his services in the foreclosure proceedings including the cost of publication of the notice in a newspaper of general circulation to Rural Bank of Talisay. The bank’s representative paid him the amount of P10,000.00 as cost for publication. The December 2011 Notice indicated that the public auction was to be held on January 25, 2012.

In January 2012, Cebu Daily News (CBN), a newspaper of general circulation, called Rural Bank of Talisay asking for the payment for the publication so that it can publish the Notice of Extrajudicial Foreclosure Sale. The bank claimed that it had given the payment for publication to Gimeno but CBN denied receiving the same.

Then, Rural Bank of Talisay’s officers visited Gimeno in his office seeking an explanation regarding the unpaid publication cost. He, however, merely prepared a Second Amended Notice of Extrajudicial Foreclosure Sale setting the Public Auction on February 16, 2012. Gimeno assured Rural Bank of Talisay that he would take care of the payment with CBN.

During the February 16, 2012 public auction, Rural Bank of Talisay placed a bid price of P350,000.00. After the public sale, it asked for the sheriff’s certificate of sale for annotation on the title from Gimeno but the latter failed to do so. Rural Bank of Talisay eventually learned that there was no publication of the Notice in CBN. This prompted Rural Bank of Talisay to report the matter to the Executive Judge of the RTC, who directed the clerk of court to conduct an investigation.

The Office of the Clerk of Court of the RTC (OCC), after its investigation, recommended the imposition of the appropriate administrative sanction against Gimeno. It pointed out that Gimeno did not deny receiving the P10,000.00 as publication cost from Rural Bank of Talisay, but was not able to use it as he paid it for the hospital expenses of his mother.


ISSUES:
A.       Whether Gimeno is guilty of Grave Misconduct.
          a.       Grave misconduct, defined
B.       If found guilty, can length of service mitigate Gimeno’s administrative penalty?


RULING:
In Executive Judge Rojas, Jr. v. Mina [688 Phil. 241, 247 (2012)], the Court reminds court personnel of the extreme burden and duty attached to their roles as officers of the Court, to wit:

The Code of Conduct for Court Personnel stresses that employees of the judiciary serve as sentinels of justice, and any act of impropriety on their part immeasurably affects the honor and dignity of the Judiciary and the people’s confidence in it. No other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an employee than in the Judiciary. Thus, the failure of judicial employees to live up to their avowed duty constitutes a transgression of the trust reposed in them as court officers and inevitably leads to the exercise of disciplinary authority.

Much is demanded from court personnel in that they are expected to not only deviate from engaging in any misconduct, but also to preserve their image of integrity. Any impression of impropriety, misdeed or negligence in the performance of their official functions must be avoided [Noces-De Leon v. Florendo, 781 Phil. 334, 339 (2016).] In Tolentino-Genilo v. Pineda [A.M. No. P-17-3756, October 10, 2017], the Court emphasized that those tasked with the dispensation of justice should be beyond reproach, to wit:

There is no place in the judiciary for those who cannot meet the exacting standards of judicial conduct and integrity. This is because the image of a court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work thereat, from the judge to the least and lowest of its personnel. Thus, it becomes the imperative sacred duty of each and every one in the court to maintain its good name and standing as a true temple of justice.

Too, a public servant is expected to exhibit, at all times, the highest degree of honesty and integrity and should be made accountable to all those whom he serves.

The conduct and behavior of every person connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowest clerk, is circumscribed with a heavy burden of responsibility. His conduct, at all times, must not only be characterized by propriety and decorum but also, and above all else, be above suspicion. 

Measured by the exacting standards imposed on court personnel, it is unquestionable that Gimeno severely failed to uphold what was expected of him. He readily admits that he appropriated for himself the money given to him by Rural Bank of Talisayas payment for publication costs.

Grave misconduct is the intentional wrongdoing or deliberate violation of a rule of law or standard of behavior attended with corruption or a clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule [Geronca v. Magalona, 568 Phil. 564 (2008)]. Corruption as an element of grave misconduct contemplates a scenario where public officials unlawfully and wrongfully use their position to procure some benefit for themselves, contrary to the rights of others [Salazar v. Barriga, 550 Phil. 44, 49 (2007)].

In the case at bench, Gimeno’s actions were clearly tainted with corruption as he received money from Rural Bank of Talisayin his capacity as sheriff for the RTC. He, however, appropriated the funds for himself instead of using it to pay for the publication cost for Notice of Extrajudicial Foreclosure Sale. Even if it were true that Gimeno only used it to pay for the hospital funds of his mother, it cannot be gainsaid that he used his position as sheriff to obtain funds from private persons for his own benefit and to the detriment of the latter.

B.       Gimeno, however, pleads that his length of service be considered in the imposition of the penalty considering that this is his first offense.

It is true that in several instances, [e.g. Committee on Security and Safety, Court of Appeals v. Dianco, 777 Phil. 16 (2016); Apuyan, Jr. v. Sta. Isabel, 474 Phil. 1 (2004); In Re: Delayed Remittance of Collections of Odtuhan, 445 Phil. 220 (2003); Executive Judge Contreras-Soriano v. Salamanca, 726 Phil. 355 (2014)], the Court had reduced the penalty of dismissal on account of length of service and other present mitigating circumstances. Nevertheless, length of service does not ipso facto warrant the imposition of a lesser penalty as it is an alternative circumstance which may serve as an aggravating or mitigating circumstance depending on the factual milieu of each case [Civil Service Commission v. Cortez, 474 Phil. 670 (2004)].

In the present case, Gimeno’s length of service does not justify the imposition of a penalty lesser than dismissal from service. The length of service had been taken against the erring public official, even if it is for the first offense, in cases involving serious offense such as grave misconduct [Gannapao v. Civil Service Commission, 665 Phil. 60 (2011)].

The fallo:

WHEREFORE, Manuel H. Gimeno, Sheriff IV, Branch 19, Regional Trial Court, Cebu City, is GUILTY of Grave Misconduct and would have been DISMISSED from the service, had he not been earlier dropped from the rolls. Accordingly, his retirement and other benefits, except accrued leave credits, are hereby FORFEITED and he is PERPETUALLY DISQUALIFIED from re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporation.

Related Case Briefs:
a)       Executive Judge Rojas, Jr. v. Mina 688 Phil. 241 (2012)
b)       Noces-De Leon v. Florendo, 781 Phil. 334 (2016)
c)       Tolentino-Genilo v. Pineda [A.M. No. P-17-3756, October 10, 2017]
d)       Geronca v. Magalona, 568 Phil. 564 (2008)
e)       Salazar v. Barriga, 550 Phil. 44 (2007)
f)       Committee on Security and Safety, CA v. Dianco, 777 Phil. 16 (2016)
g)       Apuyan, Jr. v. Sta. Isabel, 474 Phil. 1 (2004)
h)       In Re: Delayed Remittance of Collections of Odtuhan, 445 Phil. 220 (2003)
i)        Executive Judge Contreras-Soriano v. Salamanca, 726 Phil. 355 (2014)
j)       Civil Service Commission v. Cortez, 474 Phil. 670 (2004)
k)       Gannapao v. Civil Service Commission, 665 Phil. 60 (2011)
————————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

A.       Grave misconduct is the intentional wrongdoing or deliberate violation of a rule of law or standard of behavior attended with corruption or a clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule [Geronca v. Magalona, 568 Phil. 564 (2008)]. Corruption as an element of grave misconduct contemplates a scenario where public officials unlawfully and wrongfully use their position to procure some benefit for themselves, contrary to the rights of others [Salazar v. Barriga, 550 Phil. 44, 49 (2007)].

B.       Length of service does not ipso facto warrant the imposition of a lesser penalty as it is an alternative circumstance which may serve as an aggravating or mitigating circumstance depending on the factual milieu of each case [Civil Service Commission v. Cortez, 474 Phil. 670 (2004)].

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