Republic of the Philippines
A.M. No. P-08-2469 April 24, 2009
(Formerly OCA IPI No. 07-2509-P)
ERLINA P. JOLITO, Complainant,
MARLENE E. TANUDRA, Court Stenographer II, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Victoria City, Negros Occidental, Respondent.
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A.M. OCA IPI No. 08-2857-P, April 24, 2009
ERLINA P. JOLITO Complainant,
GEORGE E. GAREZA, Sheriff II, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Victoria City, Negros Occidental, Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
This case arose from a Complaint1 filed by Erlina P. Jolito (Jolito) on June 2, 2006, against Marlene E. Tanudra (Tanudra), a Court Stenographer II of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Victorias City, Negros Occidental, for grave misconduct.
The facts of the case:
Jolito alleged that sometime in April 1995, she purchased, from the Heirs of Emilia Vda. de Zaldarriaga, two parcels of land situated at Juan Luna Street, Cadiz City, Negros Occidental.
Sometime in February 2005, Jolito called her nephew Voltaire Jolito and his friend George E. Gareza (Gareza), a Sheriff of the MTCC, Victorias City, to assist her in the transfer of title to her name.
On March 3, 2005, Gareza introduced Jolito to Tanudra, who posed as an expert in legal matters such as the process pertaining to the transfer of ownership and titling of lots with the Office of the Register of Deeds of Cadiz City.
Sometime in May 2005, Jolito went to the office of Tanudra and gave the latter PhP20,000.00, which Tanudra required for the processing of the titles including the payment for the transfer of ownership of the lots.
After more than one year, Jolito did not receive any news from Tanudra. Jolito then confronted Tanudra who said that she was still processing the transfer of titles.
Later on, Jolito became frustrated and thus demanded from Tanudra the return of the money and the documents the former gave the latter. Jolito sent three demand letters to Tanudra dated February 6, 2006, February 28, 2006 and April 7, 2006. Jolito however did not receive any reply from Tanudra.
On May 15, 2006, Gareza executed an affidavit stating that he introduced Jolito to Tanudra and that he was present when Jolito handed to Tanudra PhP20,000.00 for expenses for transaction. In addition, Gareza claimed that when Tanudra was confronted with the status of the transaction, the latter replied that she was still getting in touch with her "contacts" in the Registry of Deeds. Moreover, Gareza claimed that he went to the Registry of Deeds to follow up the status of the transaction and learned that no application for transfer of ownership was filed in the said office by Tanudra.2
Thus, the instant complaint supported by the affidavit of Gareza.
Upon recommendation of the Court Administrator, Tanudra was required to file a comment in response to the complaint lodged against her.
Tanudraís comment states:
x x x x
My comment to this complaint of Ms. Jolito against me is that it is fabricated, unfounded, malicious as well as libelous as it bears no truth in it, thus, giving me a besmirched reputation. I cannot gamble my 27 years of employment with the judiciary for that amount of money.
I donít have any intention not to return her documents and money but my delay in doing so was coupled by the fact that up to the present, part and parcel of the same amount is in the possession of GEORGE GAREZA, he having borrowed it.
Even before I received her requests to return back the documents and money, which was wrongfully alleged by her to be in the amount of P20,0000.00, I was already preparing to return them back to her as I was informed that the TRANSFER OF TITLE IN HER NAME could not be done because the same property sought to be transferred upon her request had long been FORECLOSED BY THE CENTRAL BANK which is also of her knowledge, thus, she likewise misled me.
I am therefore wrongfully charged by MISS JOLITO for Grave Misconduct and Dishonesty because in the first place she is dishonest in herself by insisting to help her in the transfer of said title.
I was just made by them an instrument to that sale she had executed of said property to another person and thus a poor victim of injustice.
With his comment I am therefore requesting that the ADMINISTRATIVE CASE filed against me by Ms. Jolito be DISMISSED, and hereby respectfully seeks for any other legal relief and remedies in the premises.3
On April 20, 2007, the Senior Deputy Court Administrator recommended that the complaint be referred to Executive Judge Felipe G. Banzon (Judge Banzon), Regional Trial Court, Silay City, Negros Occidental for further investigation.4
In compliance with this Courtís Third Division Resolution5 , Judge Banzon submitted his Investigation Report6 on October 23, 2007. The report contained the following findings/observations as summarized by the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA):
1. For quite a period of time from the date of purchase (1995), the transfer of titles of the two parcels of land to complainantís name was not effected, and the complainant gave no reason why this is so. Respondent asserts it is because the parcels of land had long been foreclosed by the Central Bank.
2. Respondent Tanudra admits the allegations made by complainant, though she claims she received only Php19,000.00. She states she wanted to return the money but a significant portion thereof (Php9,000.00) was taken by Gareza, who now denies having taken the said sum.
3. Atty. Meddie Arbolado, the Register of Deeds of the City of Cadiz, where the two parcels of land were registered, told the court that said parcels of land were and still are registered with the Registry of Deeds of Cadiz City in the name of the Intestate Estate of the late Antonio Monfort. The named vendors in the Deed of Absolute Sale of complainant are not the registered owners of said land.
4. Atty. Arbolado categorically states that respondents has not made any application on the matter of the transfer of titles of said parcels of land, nor was there an attempt by the respondent to do the same.
5. Judge Banzon believes that respondent Tanudra and Gareza eventually discovered that the vendors named in the Deed of the Absolute Sale were not the registered owners of the land, yet they demanded and received from complainant the sum of Php20,000.00 for "expenses of transfer".7
Judge Banzon found that Tandura made no denial of her participation in the series of incidents that eventually resulted in the prejudice of Jolito and thus recommended that administrative proceedings be filed against Tanudra for "Grave Misconduct" and "Gross Dishonesty." Moreover, Judge Banzon also found that Gareza was an active participant in and direct beneficiary of the proceeds of the incident and thus recommended that administrative proceedings also be filed against him for "Grave Misconduct" and "Gross Dishonesty."8
The OCA in a Memorandum9 dated May 2, 2008 concurred in the finding of Judge Banzon that Tanudra be administratively charged, but not for grave misconduct and gross dishonesty as recommended by Judge Banzon.
For its part, the OCA made the following recommendations, to wit:
1. That the instant administrative matter be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative complaint against respondent Marlene E. Tandura, Court Stenographer II, MTCC, Victorias City, Negros Occidental;
2. That respondent Tanudra be found GUILTY of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and be meted with a penalty of SUSPENSION for six (6) months and one (1) day without pay effective immediately with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely;
3. That the complaint of Erlina P. Jolito dated 02 June 2006 be TREATED as an administrative complaint against George E. Gareza, Sheriff II, MTCC, Victorias City, Negros Occidental, and that the latter be directed to submit his COMMENT thereto within thirty (30) days from notice hereof.10
In compliance with this Courtís Order dated June 4, 2008, Gareza submitted his Comment11 where he contended that during the time Jolito was demanding from Tanudra the return of the money and documents, Tanudra never mentioned anything about Gareza having borrowed the money. Gareza claimed that Tanudra only involved him in the mess because of his decision to be a witness in favor of Jolito. Thus, Gareza denied having received half of the money in dispute as claimed by Tanudra.12
On November 19, 2008, this Courtís Third Division issued a Resolution noting the comment filed by Gareza and referring the same to the OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation.
On January 27, 2009, the OCA submitted its Memorandum13 where, upon a second look at the evidence on record, it recommended that Tanudra be instead dismissed from service and that the administrative complaint against Gareza be dismissed for lack of evidence.
The OCA in its Memorandum considered the fact that Jolito sent demand letters to Tanudra, but the latter offered no reply. The OCA ruled that Tanudra should have at least informed Jolito that she could not return the money because half of it was with Gazera. It was only after Gareza made an affidavit in support of the complaint that Tanudra alleged that the portion of what she received from Jolito was borrowed by Gareza. Thus, the OCA concluded that Tanudraís claim was self-serving and a mere afterthought, as she tried to shift the blame to Gareza only after a formal complaint was filed against her.
In summary, the OCA found the following circumstances tantamount to dishonesty and gross misconduct to justify the dismissal of Tanudra from service: Tanudraís acts of (a) accepting money as facilitation fee; (b) refusing to return the same, although she had failed to perform her obligation; (c) blaming someone else for such failure.
The findings of the OCA are well-taken.
This Court notes the finding of Judge Banzon that Tanudra admitted the allegations made by Jolito, to wit:
x x x She did admit that sometime in March 2005, she was engaged by the complainant to undertake the processing of the transfer of titles to her name of the two parcels of land which the latter purchased. The respondent made no denial of her receipt from the complainant of the amount supposedly needed for said purpose, though she claimed that she was given and did receive only Php 19,000.00 vis-à-vis complainantís assertion that she gave the respondent the sum of Php 20,000.00. The respondent further admits that she assured the complainant that the intended transfer of titles to her name of the referred two parcels of land would be accomplished in three months time, which undertaking she was not able to comply. The respondent also admits that demands were made on her by the complainant to return and/or refund the money given her for said purpose. The respondent admits that even as of date, she had not returned to the complainant the sum demanded of her.14
Given the admissions made by Tanudra during the investigation conducted by Judge Banzon, her administrative liability is indisputable.
It bears to emphasize that the charge against Tanudra is not related to the performance of her official functions. Facilitating the transfer of properties is not a function of a court stenographer. As observed by the OCA, Tanudra is engaged in a "moonlighting activity," since facilitating the transfer of properties can only be done by her during office hours, as it required transacting with a government office such as the Registry of Deeds.
Time and again this Court has impressed on employees of the Court to serve with the highest degree of responsibility and integrity and has enjoined them to conduct themselves with propriety even in private life. Any reproach to them is bound to reflect adversely on their office. Officials and employees of the judiciary are prohibited from engaging directly in any private business, vocation, or profession even outside office hours to ensure that full-time officers of the court render full-time service so that there may be no undue delay in the administration of justice and in the disposition of cases as required by the Rules of Court.15
As held in Biyaheros Mart Livelihood Association, Inc. v. Cabusao, Jr.:16
Government service demands great sacrifice. One who cannot live with the modest salary of a public office has no business staying in the service. He is free to seek greener pastures elsewhere. The public trust character of the office proscribes him from employing its facilities or using official time for private business or purposes.
Originally, the OCA in its May 2, 2008 Memorandum recommended that Tanudra be found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and be meted with the penalty of suspension for six months and one day. However, after a second look at the evidence of record, the OCA in its January 27, 2009 Memorandum instead recommended that Tanudra be found guilty of dishonesty and gross misconduct and forthwith be dismissed from service.
This Court is more inclined to adopt the January 27, 2009 recommendation of the OCA. In the case at bar, the moonlighting activities of Tanudra, along with her attempt to blame Gareza (a fellow court officer) for her shortcomings, which the OCA described as self-serving and a mere afterthought, cannot be tolerated by this Court.
This Court agrees with the OCAís recommendation that Tanudra be dismissed from service because of the following acts: her act of accepting money as facilitation fee which was clearly not part of her official duties as a Court Stenographer; refusing to return the same despite repeated demands for its return; and then later on blaming a fellow court officer for such failure. Clearly, such actuations of Tanudra are tantamount to dishonesty and gross misconduct.1awphi1.zw+
Gross misconduct has been defined as the transgression of some established or definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence. Dishonesty on the other hand is the "disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle."17
Under Section 52 (A) (1) and (3), Civil Service Resolution No. 991936,18 dishonesty and gross misconduct are punishable by dismissal even for the first offense.19
Moreover, as correctly observed by the OCA, it is of no moment that the act of dishonesty of Tanudra does not relate to the performance of her official duties. The government cannot tolerate in its service a dishonest official, even if she performs her duties correctly and well, because by reason of her government position, she is given more ample opportunities to commit acts of dishonesty against her fellowmen, even against offices and entities of the government other than the office where she is employed; and by reason of her office, she enjoys and possesses a certain influence and power which render the victim of her great misconduct, oppression and dishonesty less disposed and prepared to resist and counteract her evil acts and actuations.20
The image of a court of justice is mirrored in the conduct, official and otherwise, of the personnel who work therein. Thus, the conduct of a person serving the judiciary must, at all times, be characterized by propriety and decorum and, above all else, be above suspicion so as to earn and keep the respect of the public for the judiciary. The Court would never countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of any of those in the administration of justice, who will violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary.21
Lastly, with respect to the administrative complaint against Gareza, this Court adopts the recommendation of the OCA dismissing the same, as evidence on record fails to establish his culpability.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, Marlene E. Tanudra, Court Stenographer II, MTCC, Victorias City, Negros Occidental, is found guilty of dishonesty and gross misconduct and is hereby DISMISSED from the service with prejudice to reinstatement or re-employment in any agency of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. All retirement benefits and other privileges to which she may be entitled are forfeited except for leave credits to which she may be entitled.
The administrative complaint against George F. Gareza, Sheriff II, MTCC, Victorias City, Negros Occidental, is hereby DISMISSED, for lack of evidence.
REYNATO S. PUNO
|(On official leave)
LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING*
|ANTONIO T. CARPIO
|MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ
|RENATO C. CORONA
|CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
|DANTE O. TINGA
|MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO
|PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
|ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
|TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
|ARTURO D. BRION
|DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
|LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
* On official leave.
1 Rollo, pp. 5-7.
2 Rollo, p. 194.
3 Rollo, p. 30.
4 Id. at 1-3.
5 Id. at 31.
6 Id. at 65-72.
7 Rollo, pp. 194-195.
8 Id. at 72.
9 Id. at 193-197.
10 Rollo, p. 197.
11 Id. at 8-13.
12 Id. at 13.
13 Id. at 6.
14 Rollo, p. 69.
15 Benavidez v. Vega, A.M. No. P-01-1530, December 13, 2001, 372 SCRA 208.
16 A.M. No. P-93-811, June 2, 1994, 232 SCRA 707, 713.
17 Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation v. Rilloraza, G.R. No. 141141, June 25, 2001, 359 SCRA 525, citing Blackís Law Dictionary Sixth Edition, p. 468, 1990.
18 Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, August 31, 1999.
19 Malabanan v. Metrillo, A.M. No. P-04-1875, February 6, 2008, 544 SCRA 1.
20 Remolona v. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 137473, August 2, 2001, 362 SCRA 304.
21 Prak v. Anacan, A.M. No. P-03-1738, July 12, 2004, 434 SCRA 11.
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