Republic of the Philippines
A.M. No. P-92-747 October 16, 1997
ATTY. JESUS R. LLAMADO, complainant,
ARMANDO RAVELO, Deputy Sheriff, RTC, Branch 75, Olongapo City, respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
HERMOSISIMA, JR., J.:
This administrative matter 1 was initiated by a Report dated August 4, 1992 of Atty. Jesus Llamado, 2 then Clerk of Court III and Ex-Oficio Sheriff of the Regional Trial Court of Olongapo City. The said report addressed to the Office of the Court Administrator 3 referred to certain irregularities committed by the respondent sheriff relative to the extra-judicial foreclosure of a real estate mortgage on the property of one Nancy N. Lazo.
According to the complainant, the respondent sheriff, sometime in July 1991, submitted a Certificate of Sale issued by him for approval by the Executive Judge which was coursed through the complainant as the Clerk of Court and Ex-Oficio Sheriff of RTC, Olongapo City.
Upon examination of the documents attached to the said Certificate of Sale, the complainant noticed that the petition for extrajudicial foreclosure 4 did not bear the date and time it was received by the Office of the Clerk of Court where payment of the corresponding docket/filing fees and assignment of a particular docket number should have transpired. Consequently, the alleged petition was not raffled to any of the deputy sheriffs or to any of the participating publishers duly recognized and authorized by the court.
Further inquiries by the complainant disclosed that Atty. Estanislao L. Cesa who caused the application for the extra-judicial foreclosure in question, on behalf of his client, the mortgagee, Helen D. Gamboa, claimed that he (Atty. Cesa) gave respondent sheriff the amount of P4,900.00 to defray expenses for filing and publication. 5
In his Comment, 6 dated August 31, 1992, the respondent sheriff averred that the extrajudicial foreclosure of the property of the mortgagor, Nancy N. Lazo, referred to him by Atty. Cesa, counsel for the mortgagee, Helen D. Gamboa, did not materialize on account of some arrangements between the mortgagee and the husband of the mortgagor. The respondent sheriff further denied having received the amount of P4,900.00 as alleged by the complainant and supported his disclaimer by a certification of Atty. Cesa stating that no docket/filing fee was given in connection with his application for extra-judicial foreclosure of Nancy N. Lazo's property. 7
In our Resolution, 8 dated November 9, 1992, we referred this case to Executive Judge Alicia L. Santos 9 for investigation, report and recommendation.
After a series of postponements during the proceedings of this case before the Investigating Judge who was granted an extension 10 of the sixty-day period normally given by this Court within which to conclude the investigation, report and recommendation required, the Investigating Judge submitted her Report, 11 dated April 1, 1996, recommending dismissal of the instant case against respondent sheriff for want of sufficient proof "to strongly establish the irregularities said to have been committed by respondent Sheriff Ravelo." However, respondent sheriff, in the opinion of the Investigating Judge, should be given a stern warning for having been negligent in losing some of the documents involved in this case.
We cannot adopt the position taken by the Investigating Judge.
As gathered by the Investigating Judge, the antecedent facts of this case are as follows:
The counsel of the mortgagee, Atty. Estanislao L. Cesa, Jr., involving a real estate mortgage executed by Nancy Lazo in favor of Helen D. Gamboa (pp. 19-20), wrote a letter dated March 19, 1992 (p. 18) addressed to the RTC Sheriff, Olongapo City, requesting for the extrajudicial foreclosure of the above-mentioned real estate mortgage. The said letter which partook the form and nature of a petition for extra-judicial foreclosure of a real estate mortgage was not received by the Office of the Clerk of Court for the payment of the proper docket fee, for an assignment of a docket number, and its raffling among the sheriffs.
The non-compliance of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in the extra-judicial foreclosure of real estate mortgage was discovered by Atty. Jesus Llamado, Clerk of Court and Ex-Officio Sheriff, herein complainant, when Sheriff Armando Ravelo, Deputy Sheriff, RTC, Branch 75, Olongapo City, herein respondent, submitted to the former a folder which contained the following: (1) application for extra-judicial foreclosure of mortgage; (2) copy of a Tax Declaration bearing TD#004-4076 in the name of Nancy Lazo; (3) deed of mortgage executed by Nancy Lazo in favor of Helen D. Gamboa; (4) notice of sheriff sale; (5) affidavit of publication; (6) three copies of the Zambales Herald where notice of the sheriff sale was published; (7) bid submitted by the mortgagee; and (8) certificate of sale. Sheriff Ravelo submitted those documents to Atty. Llamado for the latter to make his necessary recommendation for the approval of the Certificate of Sale by the Executive Judge.
When Atty. Llamado noticed the "irregularity" due to the non-observance of the SOP in the extra-judicial foreclosure of real estate mortgage, he returned the folder with all the documents contained therein to Sheriff Ravelo for correction of certain requirements (i.e. payment of the docket fee, assignment of a docket number, and its raffling among the sheriff). He also informed Atty. Cesa, Jr. that the same cannot be recommended for approval by the Executive Judge because of the "irregularity", then he advised Atty. Cesa to refile it so that the corresponding docket fee can be paid.
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. . . at that time I have no intention of filing any administrative case against the Respondent, your Honor. (TSN, Sept. 8, 1993, pp. 31).
However, the application was not refiled immediately as advised.
Thereafter, Atty. Llamado directed Sheriff Ravelo to submit him the folder which he returned to the latter, together with all the documents contained therein. But out of the eight (8) documents that were previously submitted to Atty. Llamado only three (3) were retained, namely: (1) application for extrajudicial foreclosure; (2) copy of the Tax Declaration No. 004-4076 in the name of Nancy Lazo; and (3) real estate mortgage executed by Nancy Lazo in favor of Helen D. Gamboa. For Sheriff Ravelo's failure to return the other documents, he claimed, in his letter dated August 10, 1992 (Exhibit "B-3", p. 6) addressed to Atty. Llamado, that they were already lost or misplaced.
This prompted Atty. Llamado to report the "irregularity" to the Honorable Reynaldo Suarez, Deputy Court Administrator Supreme Court, first, verbally, thereafter, through a letter dated August 4, 1992 (Exhibit "A", p. 25).
Acting upon the letter dated August 4, 1992 of Atty. Llamado, the Honorable Reynaldo Suarez directed Sheriff Ravelo to make his comment thereon. And in his comment dated August 31, 1992 (Exhibit 1, p. 13) Sheriff Ravelo alleged that the foreclosure on the property of the mortgagor Nancy Lazo did not proceed because of some arrangement made between the mortgagee and the husband of the mortgagor, hence, no docket or filing fee has been paid. Attached in his comment was the letter dated July 29, 1992 (Exhibit "1-A", p. 14) of Atty. Cesa in support of the allegation of Sheriff Ravelo.
By virtue of Sheriff Ravelo's comment, Atty. Llamado wrote a subsequent letter dated September 29, 1992 (Exhibit "B", "B-l", "B-2") addressed to the Hon. Reynaldo Suarez reporting therein that Sheriff Ravelo did submit a Certificate of Sale for approval by the Executive Judge; and attached to said certificate were the eight (8) documents as already earlier alleged and enumerated by Atty. Llamado, reiterating that although there was a Certificate of Sale complete in form and substance, he did not act on it because the filing fee was not paid and there was no docket number. Thus, he returned all the said documents to Sheriff Ravelo for correction. When Atty. Llamado asked Ravelo to submit the documents back to him, only the following were submitted which were the Application for Extrajudicial Foreclosure; TD No. 004-4076; and the Deed of Mortgage. When Ravelo was asked to explain why only three were returned, he claimed that the others were lost or misplaced (Aug. 10, 1990 letter of Ravelo to Atty. Llamado; exhibit "B-3", p. 6). 12
From the factual findings of the Investigating Judge, it is evident that the respondent sheriff committed acts prejudicial to the best interests of the service.
As a deputy sheriff, respondent ought to know the procedures attendant to applications for extrajudicial foreclosure of mortgage under Act 3135, as amended, owing to the fact that, more often than not, foreclosure sales under the said Act are conducted by a deputy sheriff as the duly authorized representative of the Ex-Oficio Sheriff in the person of the RTC Clerk of Court.
Under our Administrative Order No. 3 dated October 19, 1984, the procedure to be followed in extra-judicial foreclosure of mortgage is set forth as follows:
1. All application for extra-judicial foreclosure of mortgage under Act 3135, as amended by Act 4118, and Act 1508, as amended, shall be filed with the Executive Judge, through the Clerk of Court who is also the Ex-Oficio Sheriff;
2. Upon receipt of an application for extra-judicial foreclosure of mortgage, it shall be the duty of the Office of the Sheriff to:
a) receive and docket said application and to stamp the same with the corresponding file number and date of filing;
b) collect the filing fees therefor and issue the corresponding official receipt;
c) examine, in case of real estate mortgage foreclosure, whether the applicant has complied with all the requirements before the public auction is conducted under its direction or under the direction of a notary public, pursuant to Sec. 4, of Act 3135, as amended;
d) sign and issue certificate of sale, subject to the approval of the executive Judge, or in his absence, the Vice-Executive Judge; and
e) turn over, after the certificate of sale has been issued to the highest bidder, the complete folder to the Records Section, Office of the Clerk of Court, while awaiting any redemption within a period of one (1) year from date of registration of the certificate of sale with the Register of Deeds concerned, after which the records shall be archived.
3. The notices of auction sale in extra-judicial foreclosure for publication shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation pursuant to Section 1, Presidential Decree No. 1709, dated January 26, 1977, and non-compliance therewith shall constitute a violation of Section 6 thereof;
4. The Executive Judge shall assign with the assistance of the Clerk of Court and Ex-Officio, Sheriff, the cases by raffle among the deputy sheriffs, under whose direction the auction sale shall be made. Raffling shall be strictly enforced in order to avoid unequal distribution of cases and fraternization between the sheriff and the applicant-mortgagee, such as banking institutions, financing companies, and others. (Emphasis Ours)
From his testimony before the Investigating Judge, there is no doubt that respondent sheriff is fully aware of the aforequoted procedure. On cross-examination, he testified thus:
ATTY. ELA 13
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Q Will you kindly tell his Honorable Court what the standard operating procedures are in extra-judicial foreclosure proceedings?
A. First, the application will be raffled among the sheriffs, then have it to be(sic) posted in the public places, have it published in a newspaper of Zambales, then, we will conduct an auction sale.
Q. Is that all?
A. Then, we will issue the Certificate of Sale who(sic) will be the highest bidder.
Q. Before the application for extra-judicial foreclosure is raffled among the deputy sheriffs, naturally, it will be first docketed in the Office of the Clerk of Court?
A. Yes, sir. 14
Respondent sheriff, by all indications, caused the publication of the subject application for extrajudicial foreclosure, conducted the bidding thereon and effected the issuance of the Certificate of Sale which he submitted to the complainant for approval by the Executive Judge as referred despite the fact that the said application was not properly docketed in the Office of the Clerk of Court.
We do not find the explanation 15 given by the respondent sheriff plausible regarding the non-payment of the proper docket/filing fees in the Office of the Clerk of Court.
We are inclined to believe that the amount of P4,900,00 was received by the respondent sheriff from Atty. Cesa as related by the complainant in his Report addressed to the Office of the Court Administrator. It defies logic and human nature to accept at face value the series of actuations by respondent sheriff relative to the application for extrajudicial foreclosure allegedly referred to him by Atty. Cesa. Why will a sheriff take it upon himself to effect foreclosure proceedings regarding an application therefor which was merely referred to him unless certain instructions were made to effect the same? Why will a lawyer seek the services of a sheriff regarding an extrajudicial foreclosure without leaving the amount to cover filing fees and publication expenses so that foreclosure proceedings will prosper? Both sheriff and lawyer definitely know the rules of the game, so to speak. Hence, the only plausible explanation, in the instant case, as to why the proper docket/filing fees were not paid through the Office of the Clerk of Court was that the amount given by Atty. Cesa to cover the said fees was kept by respondent sheriff and this act prompted the commission of the chain of irregularities noticed by the complainant from the non-filing of the extrajudicial foreclosure petition with the Office of the Clerk of Court to the unauthorized issuance of the Certificate of Sale caused by respondent sheriff.
Moreover, the respondent sheriff's claim that the extrajudicial foreclosure sale was not made by reason of an alleged arrangement between the mortgagee and the husband of the mortgagor 16 runs counter to his act of submitting the consequent Certificate of Sale for approval by the Executive Judge through the complainant. It cannot be denied from the records of this case that when the respondent sheriff handed over to the complainant the folder that contained the said Certificate of Sale, its contents included eight (8) documents including the Certificate of Sale. After the complainant made the advice to follow the proper procedure by first filing the application with the Office of the Clerk of Court, he returned the folder to respondent sheriff who failed to submit the same folder complete with all its eight documents when later required by the complainant. Again, when asked to explain, respondent conveniently stated that he had either lost or misplaced the five other documents. 17
Considering the foregoing, this Court cannot subscribe to the Investigating Judge's finding of simple negligence on the part of respondent sheriff for having lost or misplaced the documents. Focus should have been directed by the Investigating Judge, not on respondent's act of losing or misplacing the aforesaid documents but on respondent's willful attempt to violate the standard operational procedures in extrajudicial foreclosure sales which he admittedly knows by heart as part of his official duties and responsibilities.
Sheriffs play an important role in the administration of justice. As agents of the law, high standards are expected of them. 18 More importantly, 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 must, and above all else, be above suspicion. 19
WHEREFORE, we find Deputy Sheriff Armando S. Ravelo liable for grave misconduct and we hereby RESOLVE that he be SUSPENDED for a period of one (1) month with the STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.
Davide, Jr., Bellosillo, Vitug and Kapunan, JJ., concur.
1 Formerly assigned to Third Division but transferred to the First Division on July 24, 1996, Rollo, p. 321.
2 Complainant is now Assistant City Prosecutor of Olongapo City; Rollo, p. 78.
3 Through Deputy Court Administrator Hon. Reynaldo L. Suarez; Rollo, p. 16.
4 Letter of Atty. Estanislao L. Cesa, Jr., counsel for the Mortgagee Helen D. Gamboa addressed to the RTC, Sheriff Olongapo City; Rollo, p. 26.
5 Rollo, p. 16.
6 Rollo, p. 13.
7 Rollo, p. 14.
8 Resolution of the Third Division; Rollo, p. 30.
9 Presiding Judge, RTC, Branch 73, Olongapo City.
10 Resolution of the Third Division dated November 17, 1993; Rollo, p. 127.
11 Rollo, pp. 316-320.
12 Report and Recommendation, pp. 1-3; Rollo, pp. 316-318.
13 Counsel for the complainant, Atty. Jesus R. Llamado.
14 TSN, May 18, 1994, p. 11; Rollo, p. 280.
15 Id., pp. 6-10; p. 12; Id. pp. 275-279; p. 281.
16 Id., pp. 15-16; Id., pp. 284-285.
17 Rollo, p. 6.
18 NBI & Santiago N. Salvador v. Rodolfo Tuliao, Sheriff IV of the RTC of Cauayan, Isabela, Branch 20, AM No. P-96-1184, prom. March 24, 1997.
19 Atty. Wilfredo C. Banogon v. Felipe T. Arias, Sheriff III, office of the Clerk of Court, MTCC, Davao City, AM No. P-97-1240 prom. June 19, 1997.
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