Republic of the Philippines
A.M. No. P-11-2952 July 30, 2012
(Formerly A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 10-3502-P)
ANECITA PANALIGAN, Complainant,
ETHELDA B. VALENTE, Clerk of Court II, 3rd Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Patnoñgon, Antique, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO-DE CSATRO, J.:
This is an administrative complaint filed by Anecita Panaligan (Panaligan) against Ethelda R. Valente (Valente), Clerk of Court II of the 3rd Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC), of Patnofigon, Antique, for dereliction of duty, abuse of authority, and dishonesty, relative to Civil Case No. 2-P, entitled Anecita Panaligan v. Spouses Reynold and Ailene Tumolin.
Civil Case No. 2-P is a small claims action for collection of sum of money instituted by Panaligan before the MCTC on July 13, 2010, alleging that Reynold Tumolin obtained a loan in the amount of P10,000.00 from Panaligan on July 25, 2009, evidenced by a promissory note, payable on November 30, 2009, and with a monthly interest of 10%; and that Reynold Tumolin left unheeded Panaligan’s written request for payment of the loan dated December 1, 2009.1
On August 12, 2010, Judge Felixberto P. Barte (Judge Barte), Acting Presiding Judge of 3rd MCTC of Patnoñgon, Antique, issued an Order dismissing Civil Case No. 2-P for the following reasons:
The case was called for hearing and the Court Interpreter even called the parties for three (3) times but none of them appeared.
For failure of the plaintiff to appear despite due notice, as she was furnished personally by the Clerk of this Court with the copy of the said Notice of Hearing, which was confirmed by the Clerk of Court, is a clear indication that she lacks interest to prosecute her case.
WHEREFORE, due to lack of interest to prosecute for the plaintiff failed to appear despite due notice and pursuant to Section 18 of the Rule of Procedure for Small Claims Cases, this case is DISMISSED.2
Panaligan filed the instant complaint3 against Valente on August 26, 2010, charging the latter with dereliction of duty, abuse of authority, and dishonesty. Panaligan averred that after her receipt on August 18, 2010 of a copy of the MCTC Order dated August 12, 2010 dismissing Civil Case No. 2-P, she went to the MCTC to verify the reason for the issuance of said order; that Valente, the MCTC Clerk of Court, claimed that she personally furnished Panaligan with a copy of the notice of hearing for August 12, 2010 of Civil Case No. 2-P; that in truth and in fact, Panaligan did not receive a copy of said notice of hearing from Valente; that Valente subsequently retracted her previous claim and then blamed Process Server Nelson Magbanua (Magbanua) for the failure to serve the notice of hearing upon Panaligan; and that due to Valente’s erroneous statement and dishonesty, Civil Case No. 2-P was dismissed and Panaligan could no longer collect the amount she loaned to Reynold Tumolin.
In her Answer,4 Valente denied the charges made against her by Panaligan. According to Valente, she issued on July 14, 2010 a notice setting Civil Case No. 2-P for hearing at the MCTC on August 12, 2010 at nine in the morning. Valente insisted that she personally gave a copy of the notice of hearing to Panaligan when Panaligan went to the MCTC office on an unspecified date; that she explained to Panaligan the importance of the latter’s presence at the scheduled hearing; and that Panaligan gave the assurance that she would attend the hearing. However, Valente inadvertently failed to have Panaligan acknowledge her receipt of a copy of the notice of hearing. Although Panaligan already personally received a copy of the notice of hearing for August 12, 2010, Valente avowed that she still instructed Magbanua, the Process Server, to serve copies of the same notice to Panaligan and all other parties involved in Civil Case No. 2-P.
Valente even recalled attaching a note on the original copy of the notice of hearing reminding Magbanua to have Panaligan sign said original copy and submit his indorsement after service of the notice. Valente though admitted that Magbanua refused to execute an affidavit supporting Valente’s foregoing allegations, but Valente pointed out that this was understandable since it was Magbanua who failed to serve the notice of hearing upon Panaligan despite Valente’s repeated reminders to do so. Valente further theorized that Panaligan might have forgotten personally receiving a copy of the notice of hearing because the latter was already 76 years old and did not know how to read and write.
Valente additionally recounted that during the hearing on August 12, 2010, none of the parties in Civil Case No. 2-P appeared before the MCTC. Judge Barte asked Valente whether notice of hearing was served upon Panaligan, and Valente answered in the affirmative. Judge Barte considered the non-appearance of Panaligan as lack of interest, a ground for dismissal of action under the Rule of Procedure on Small Claims Cases, and thus dismissed Civil Case No. 2-P.
Lastly, Valente called attention to her 30 years of unsullied reputation and dedicated, faithful, loyal, and unwavering service in the judiciary as MCTC Clerk of Court, and claimed that the accusations against her were meant to cast aspersion on her reputation and integrity as a loyal public servant. Hence, Valente prayed for the dismissal of Panaligan’s complaint against her.
Panaligan filed a Reply5 refuting the allegations in Valente’s Answer. Panaligan maintains that it would have been impossible for Valente to have personally given Panaligan a copy of the notice of hearing for August 12, 2010 as Panaligan had never been to the MCTC office from July 14, 2010 to August 17, 2010. Panaligan only went to the MCTC office on August 18, 2010, a day after receiving the MCTC Order dated August 12, 2010 already dismissing Civil Case No. 2-P.
Panaligan also attached to her Reply the affidavits of several court personnel, namely, Magbanua,6 the Process Server; Raymunda Imbang,7 Court Interpreter; Rosemarie Sidayan,8 Court Stenographer; and Joselinda Febrero,9 the Clerk of Court of the 1st MCTC, Hamtic, Antique, as well as pages of the MCTC logbook showing entries from July 8, 2010 to September 23, 2010. The aforementioned court personnel affirmed that Valente only endorsed to Magbanua summons for service upon the parties without any notice of hearing; that Panaligan had never visited the MCTC office from July 14, 2010 to August 17, 2010; and that Valente indeed told Judge Barte she was able to personally furnish a copy of the notice of hearing to Panaligan. The pages from the MCTC logbook established that Panaligan visited the MCTC office only on August 18, 2010.
In her Rejoinder,10 Valente once again denied all of Panaligan’s allegations against her. Valente does not have any personal grudge or bad relation with Panaligan, so Valente believed that the filing of the instant complaint against her by Panaligan was instigated by other persons.
Valente contested Magbanua’s claim that he received the summons, without any notice of hearing, from Valente on July 13, 2010 and served said summons upon the spouses Tumolin on the same day, for such would have been impossible considering that: (1) Panaligan filed her Statement of Claim before the MCTC on July 13, 2010 at 2:30 p.m. and Judge Barte signed the MCTC Order for the issuance of summons and notice of hearing in Civil Case No. 2-P even later that afternoon at Sibalon, Antique; and (2) Magbanua was absent the afternoon of July 13, 2010 as his name could not be found in the employees’ logbook for said date.
Valente alleged that the charges of dishonesty imputed against her were fabricated by court personnel in order to cover the anomalies or unwarranted and unlawful transactions in the MCTC, and said court personnel are conspiring to oust her from office in order to prevent her from revealing their misconducts.
Valente finally challenged Panaligan’s reliance on the MCTC logbook as proof that the latter had never been to the MCTC office from July 14, 2010 to August 17, 2010. Valente argues that the said logbook is unreliable because not all visitors who enter the MCTC office actually log in and record their names therein.
On April 26, 2011, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) submitted its Report11 with the following recommendations:
RECOMMENDATION: It is therefore respectfully recommended for the consideration of the Honorable Court that:
1. The instant case against respondent Ethelda B. Valente, Clerk of Court II, of the 3rd Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Patnongon, Antique be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative matter; and
2. Respondent Valente be found GUILTY of Simple Neglect of Duty, and meted the penalty of one (1) month and one (1) day suspension without pay.12
In a Resolution13 dated July 4, 2011, the Court re-docketed the administrative complaint against Valente as a regular administrative matter and required the parties to manifest within 10 days from notice if they were willing to submit the matter for resolution based on the pleadings filed.
Valente14 and Panaligan15 submitted their Manifestations dated September 15, 2011 and January 19, 2012, respectively, stating that they were submitting the case for resolution based on the pleadings filed.
Resultantly, the Court deemed the case already submitted for resolution.
In the meantime, Judge Barte, as the Acting Presiding Judge of the 3rd MCTC of Patnoñgon, Antique, and Presiding Judge of the 1st MCTC of Hamtic, Antique, wrote the OCA a letter16 dated January 16, 2012 as his Comment to the "innuendos and malicious allegations" in Valente’s Rejoinder in the instant administrative matter and "also ADOPTING this as an Administrative Complaint against Ms. Ethelda B. Valente, Clerk of Court of the said Court for DERELICTION OF DUTY, DISHONESTY, DISRESPECT AND MULTIPLE GROSS VIOLATION OF SUB-PARAGRAPH 4 IN RELATION TO SUB-PARAGRAPH 8, PARAGRAPH B OF SC CIRCULAR NO. 50-95 AND PARAGRAPH 1, SEC. 68 OF P.D. 1445 x x x."17 Judge Barte not only defended the court personnel who Valente accused of conspiring against her, but also alleged wrongdoings and/or misdeeds committed by Valente apart from those already charged herein by Panaligan.
The Court focuses herein on Panaligan’s complaint against Valente. Judge Barte’s letter-complaint against Valente shall be the subject of a separate administrative investigation, wherein Valente shall again be accorded the opportunity to be heard on the new charges against her.
The Court is presently called upon to determine whether or not Valente can be held liable for (1) neglect of duty, for her failure to furnish a copy of the notice of hearing to Panaligan, and (2) dishonesty, for relaying to Judge Barte that she personally gave a copy of the notice of hearing to Panaligan.
The Court takes note of Panaligan’s consistent statement that she did not receive any notice setting Civil Case No. 2-P for hearing on August 12, 2010. Court personnel confirmed that no notice of hearing was served upon the parties in Civil Case No. 2-P. Court records are also totally bereft of any proof of service upon and receipt by Panaligan of such a notice.
In contrast, the Court is faced with Valente’s bare allegation that she was able to personally give a copy of the notice of hearing to Panaligan when the latter visited the MCTC office. Mere allegation is not evidence, and is not equivalent to proof.18 The Court cannot give much weight to Valente’s allegation when she cannot even state the exact date of Panaligan’s visit nor show acknowledgement receipt by Panaligan. Worse, no other MCTC court personnel substantiated Valente’s claim.
While it may be true, as Valente argued, that not everyone who visited the MCTC actually logged in the MCTC logbook, thus making the logbook an unreliable proof that Panaligan had not been to the MCTC office from July 14, 2010 to August 17, 2010, it is still insufficient to absolve Valente of all administrative liability. If indeed Panaligan was at the MCTC office during the said period and was personally furnished a copy of the notice of hearing by Valente herself, then Valente should have required Panaligan to sign the original copy of said notice as proof of receipt. Valente’s failure to secure Panaligan’s signature as proof of receipt of a copy of the notice of hearing further exhibited lack of due diligence required by her position as Clerk of Court.
The rule is that those involved in the administration of justice from the highest official to the lowest clerk must live up to the strictest standards of honesty and integrity in the public service. As an officer of the court, Valente was duty-bound to use reasonable skill and diligence in the performance of her officially-designated duties as clerk of court.19 Valente fell short of this standard.
Valente ought to be reminded that a clerk of court is a role model for other court employees to emulate in the performance of duties as well as in the conduct and behavior of a public servant. A clerk of court cannot err without affecting the integrity of the court or the efficient administration of justice. Clerks of court play a key role in the complement of the court and cannot be permitted to slacken on their jobs under one pretext or another. The conduct of all those involved in the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, must at all times be beyond reproach. The Court condemns and cannot countenance any act or omission on the part of court personnel that would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary.20
Valente attempts to shift blame to Magbanua, the Process Server, for the failure to serve a copy of the notice of hearing upon Panaligan. Yet again, there is no evidence when Valente actually endorsed the notice of hearing to Magbanua for service upon the parties. And even granting that Magbanua had been remiss in his duties as process server, for which he should be administratively sanctioned after proper investigation and hearing, Valente is still not off the hook. As Clerk of Court, Valente exercises administrative supervision over Magbanua and it falls upon Valente to ascertain that Magbanua properly performed his duties. This Valente failed to do. There is no showing at all that Valente followed-up with Magbanua and put Magbanua to task when the latter did not submit any report and/or proof of service of the notice of hearing upon the parties.
Clerks of court perform vital functions in the prompt and sound administration of justice.1âwphi1 Their office is the hub of adjudicative and administrative orders, processes, and concerns. Clerks of court are charged not only with the efficient recording, filing, and management of court records but also with administrative supervision over court personnel. A clerk of court is the personnel officer of the court who exercises general supervision over all court personnel, enforces regulations, initiates investigations of erring employees, and recommends appropriate action to the judge.21 Clerks of Court are chiefly responsible for the shortcomings of subordinates to whom administrative functions normally pertaining to them are delegated.22
Valente is guilty of simple neglect of duty, which has been defined as the failure of an employee to give attention to a task expected of him, and signifies a disregard of a duty resulting from carelessness or indifference.23
Pursuant to Section 52(B) of the same Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations, the penalty of simple neglect of duty, a less grave offense, is suspension for a period of one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months for the first violation. Section 53 of the same Rules enumerates the circumstances which mitigate the penalty, such as length of service in the government, physical illness, good faith, education, or other analogous circumstances. The Court weighs on one hand the serious consequence of Valente’s negligence (Panaligan was deprived of the opportunity to collect the purported unpaid loan from the spouses Tumolin) and on the other the mitigating circumstance in Valente’s favor (this is Valente’s first offense in her 30 years of service to the judiciary), suspension for two months is appropriate.24
The Court does not hold Valente administratively liable for dishonesty. Dishonesty implies a "disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; unworthiness; lack of integrity."25 Valente, in telling Judge Barte that Panaligan was served with a notice of hearing, may have sincerely but mistakenly remembered and/or believed herself personally handing over such a notice to Panaligan; as well as casually assumed that Magbanua had served the notice of hearing upon Panaligan in the regular performance of Magbanua’s duties as Process Server. In the absence of substantial evidence, the Court cannot lightly attribute to Valente an intent to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud anyone.
WHEREFORE, Ethelda Valente, Clerk of Court II, MCTC, Patnoñgon, Antique, is found guilty of simple neglect of duty and incompetence in the performance of her official duties. She is hereby SUSPENDED for two (2) months without pay and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of similar infractions will be dealt with more severely.
The Office of the Court Administrator is ORDERED to docket as a separate administrative matter the letter-complaint dated January 16, 2012 of Judge Felixberto P. Barte, Acting Presiding Judge of 3rd MCTC of Patnoñgon, Antique, and Presiding Judge of the 1st MCTC of Hamtic, Antique, charging Ethelda Valente, Clerk of Court II, MCTC, Patnoñgon, Antique, with dereliction of duty, dishonesty, disrespect, and multiple gross violation of sub-paragraph 4, in relation to sub-paragraph 8, paragraph B of SC Circular No. 50-95 and paragraph 2, Section 68 of Presidential Decree No. 1445.
TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO*
Acting Chairperson, First Division
LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
|MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
|MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE**
* Per Special Order No. 1226 dated May 30, 2012.
** Per Special Order No. 1227 dated May 30, 20 12.
1 Rollo, pp. 4-10.
2 Id. at 17.
3 Id. at 1-3.
4 Id. at 60-63.
5 Id. at 26-28.
6 Id. at 29-30.
7 Id. at 34-37.
8 Id. at 42-44.
9 Id. at 49-53.
10 Id. at 78-92.
11 Id. at 138-144.
12 Id. at 144.
13 Id. at 145.
14 Id. at 157-158.
15 Id. at 163-167.
16 Id. at 168-188.
17 Id. at 168-169.
18 Nedia v. Judge Laviña, 508 Phil. 9, 20 (2005).
19 Flores v. Conanan, 415 Phil. 123, 128 (2001).
20 Becina v. Vivero, A.M. No. P-04-1797, March 25, 2004, 426 SCRA 261, 265.
21 Office of the Court Administrator v. Trocino, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1936, May 29, 2007, 523 SCRA 262, 274.
22 Yaranon v. Rulloda, 312 Phil. 614, 623 (1995).
23 Dignum v. Diamla, 522 Phil. 369, 378 (2006).
24 In Santiago v. Jovellanos (391 Phil. 682 2000), Clerk of Court Celestina Corpuz (Corpuz) failed to secure a registry return card or, in the absence thereof, a certification from the post office to show that the records of the accused’s bail bond were mailed to the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of San Ildelfonso, Bulacan. The MTC of San Ildefonso, Bulacan, had yet to receive said records. Because of the absence of a registry return card or post office certification, the Court doubted whether Corpuz actually transmitted the records to the MTC of San Ildefonso, Bulacan, and more importantly, whether the accused indeed posted a bail bond for the latter’s temporary liberty in several criminal cases. For being remiss in the performance of her duties and in the absence of any mitigating circumstance, the Court imposed upon Corpuz the penalty of suspension without pay for four (4) months.
25 Concerned Citizen v. Gabral, Jr., 514 Phil. 209, 219 (2005).
The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation