Republic of the Philippines
A.M. No. P-06-2241 July 10, 2012
(Formerly OCA IPI No. 06-2422-P)
JUDGE PELAGIA DALMACIO-JOAQUIN, Complainant,
NICOMEDES DELA CRUZ, Process Server, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
DEL CASTILLO, J.:
This is an administrative complaint filed by Judge Pelagia Dalmacio-Joaquin (Judge Dalmacio-Joaquin) against Process Server Nicomedes Dela Cruz (Dela Cruz), both of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, City of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, for Conduct Unbecoming of Court Personnel and Dishonesty.
In her Complaint1 dated March 29, 2006, Judge Dalmacio-Joaquin alleged that Dela Cruz submitted belated and false returns of service of notice. In particular, she claimed that Dela Cruz received the Order dated November 25, 2005 relative to Criminal Case No. 5744-96 on December 9, 2005 but served the same to the parties only on March 23, 2006. She also alleged that Dela Cruz submitted false returns relative to Criminal Case Nos. 04-0488 and 04-0489, No. 04-0483 and No. 05-0213. According to Judge Dalmacio-Joaquin, Dela Cruz stated in his return of service in Criminal Case Nos. 04-0488 and 04-0489 that the accused therein was no longer residing at her given address. However, during pre-trial, this was denied by the accused herself who declared in open court that she has not transferred residence. Anent Criminal Case No. 04-0483, Dela Cruz likewise indicated in his return of service that therein accused is no longer residing at his given address and that the houses thereat have already been demolished. However, during the scheduled pre-trial, the complainant manifested that the accused who is her neighbor still resides at his given address and that his house is still standing thereon. Finally, as regards Criminal Case No. 05-0213, two of the accused therein manifested during their scheduled arraignment that they are still residing at their given address contrary to the report of Dela Cruz. Hence, the trial court motu propio lifted their warrants of arrest.
Judge Dalmacio-Joaquin also alleged that notwithstanding receipt of three Orders dated March 10, 2006 relative to Criminal Case Nos. 04-0488 and 04-0489, No. 04-0483 and No. 05-0213, directing him to explain why no administrative action should be taken against him for submitting false returns, Dela Cruz still failed to submit any explanation or compliance thereon. According to Judge Dalmacio-Joaquin, the aforesaid acts of Dela Cruz were unbecoming, undesirable, dishonest and even more reprehensible, undermined the integrity of the court processes and tarnished the trustworthiness of the court employees and of the judiciary.
In his Comment2 filed on May 30, 2006, Dela Cruz denied the allegation that he deliberately delayed the service of the November 25, 2005 Order relative to Criminal Case No. 5744-96. He claimed that the same was served to the parties concerned three days before the scheduled hearing. Anent the returns relative to Criminal Case Nos. 04-0488 and 04-0489, No. 04-0483 and No. 05-0213, Dela Cruz vehemently denied submitting false returns. He averred that as regards Criminal Case Nos. 04-0488 and 04-0489, he served the subpoena to Randy R. Masa, a purok leader in the area who told him that accused Cecilia Pareño was no longer residing at said address and has in fact transferred to another barangay. As regards Criminal Case No. 04-0483, Dela Cruz claimed that he personally went to the given address of the therein accused and was told by a certain Hilda Malabao that there were no longer residents thereat as the houses have already been demolished. As regards Criminal Case No. 05-0213, Dela Cruz narrated that the accused were not at their given address when he attempted to serve the court process. He averred that it was not his intention to submit incorrect or misleading returns. He also claimed that Judge Dalmacio-Joaquin only wanted to harass him as this is not the first administrative complaint she filed against him.
In view of the factual issues presented, we resolved to refer the matter to the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Malolos, Bulacan for investigation, report and recommendation.3
Report of the Investigating Judge
On April 23, 2009, Executive Judge Herminia V. Pasamba (Investigating Judge) submitted her Report.4 The Investigating Judge found that service of the November 25, 2005 Order in Criminal Case No. 5744-96 was delayed for at least three months. As regards the returns relative to Criminal Case Nos. 04-0488 and 04-0489, No. 04-0483 and No. 05-0213, the Investigating Judge noted that although the same contained false entries, the same, however, were not deliberately or intentionally done as Dela Cruz merely relied on his sources. As regards the show cause order issued by Judge Dalmacio-Joaquin, the Investigating Judge noted that Dela Cruz did not file any explanation relative to said returns as directed. For reference, the Report of the Investigating Judge contained the following findings:
The submitted returns on the three (3) orders all dated March 10, 2005 run counter [to] the explanations given during the respective dates of hearing by the private complainant/accused/defense counsel in the said cases. Respondent, on being confronted, with the false returns offered as explanation his overwhelming job as the only process server in the Municipal Trial Court in Cities of San Jose del Monte City servicing fifty-nine (59) barangays and even produced his still unserved processes of about ninety-eight (98) orders as of the date of his examination. As regards the November 25, 2005 order in Criminal Case No. 5744-96, it was confirmed that the same was received on December 9, 2005 but served only some three months later, at least three (3) days before the scheduled hearing. No compliance however was filed on the orders issued by the complainant Hon. Judge to the show cause [relative to] the false returns.5
For the above infractions, the Investigating Judge recommended that Dela Cruz be suspended from employment for a period of one year.6
In a Resolution7 dated November 16, 2009, we referred the Report of the Investigating Judge to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) for evaluation, report and recommendation.
Report of the Office of the Court Administrator
In its Report,8 the OCA agreed with the Investigating Judge that Dela Cruz indeed submitted false returns which amounts to dishonesty, a grave offense punishable with the extreme penalty of dismissal from service with forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government. Considering however that on June 10, 2008, Dela Cruz had already resigned from the service "which the Court accepted without prejudice to the continuation of his administrative cases,"9 the OCA recommended that Dela Cruz’s benefits, except accrued leave credits, be forfeited, with prejudice to re-employment in any government instrumentality.
As regards the November 25, 2005 Order in Criminal Case No. 5744-96, it is undisputed that it was belatedly served by Dela Cruz only on March 23, 2006, or three months and 14 days after he received the same on December 9, 2005. However, Dela Cruz maintains that he was not remiss in his tasks despite such delay considering his heavy workload and the fact that the parties received copies of the Order three days before the scheduled hearing.
"The duty of a process server is vital to the administration of justice. A process server’s primary duty is to serve court notices which precisely requires utmost care on his part by ensuring that all notices assigned to him are duly served on the parties."10 "Unjustified delay in performing this task constitutes neglect of duty and warrants the imposition of administrative sanctions."11
Dela Cruz adverted to "heavy workload" as the cause of the delay in the service of the Order. During the hearing before the Investigating Judge, he contended that he has "too many subpoenas and processes"12 to serve. He also alleged that he is the only Process Server assigned in the sala of Judge Dalmacio-Joaquin13 and that he is serving 59 barangays of San Jose Del Monte City.14
We find such an excuse unsatisfactory. "All employees in the judiciary should be examples of responsibility, competence and efficiency."15 As Process Server, Dela Cruz ought to be aware of the importance to serve the court processes with dispatch. "It is through the process server that defendants learn of the action brought against them by the complainant. More important, it is also through the service of summons by the process server that the trial court acquires jurisdiction over the defendant. It is therefore important that summonses, other writs and court processes be served expeditiously."16 Besides, "heavy workload x x x is not an adequate excuse to be remiss in the diligent performance of one’s public duties as a public servant. Otherwise, every government employee charged with negligence and dereliction of duty will always use this as a convenient excuse to escape punishment to the great prejudice of public service."17 In this instance, we find Dela Cruz guilty of simple neglect of duty for the delay in the service of the subject Order.
As regards the returns filed relative to Criminal Case Nos. 04-0488 and 04-0489, No. 04-0483 and No. 05-0213, we agree with both the Investigating Judge and the OCA that the same contained erroneous entries. In Criminal Case Nos. 04-0488 and 04-0489, Dela Cruz stated in his return that the accused was no longer residing at her stated address. However, this was denied by the accused herself who appeared in court during trial and declared that she has not transferred residence. In Criminal Case No. 04-0483, Dela Cruz likewise stated in his return that the accused could no longer be found at his given address and that his house was already demolished. During the pre-trial, however, the complainant appeared and manifested that accused is his neighbor; that he has not transferred residence; and that his house is still standing on the subject property. In Criminal Case No. 05-0213, two of the accused therein belied Dela Cruz’s claim that they were no longer residing at their given address.
However, we do not agree with the OCA that the above infractions amount to dishonesty. "This Court has defined dishonesty as the 'disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray.'"18 "[D]ishonesty x x x is not simply bad judgment or negligence. Dishonesty is a question of intention. In ascertaining the intention of a person accused of dishonesty, consideration must be taken not only of the facts and circumstances which gave rise to the act committed by the respondent, but also of his state of mind at the time the offense was committed, the time he might have had at his disposal for the purpose of meditating on the consequences of his act, and the degree of reasoning he could have had at that moment."19
We agree with the observation of the Investigating Judge that Dela Cruz did not deliberately or intentionally make such erroneous entries. As Dela Cruz explained, he merely relied on the persons whom he interviewed when he went to the given addresses. We are inclined to give credence to said explanation considering that no ill-motive, malice or corruption was imputed upon Dela Cruz. It was never alleged, much less established, that Dela Cruz was impelled by some evil design or corrupt motives to commit said errors or to favor any party or litigant. Hence, we find him guilty only of negligence in the the performance of his tasks, and not of dishonesty. Much as we empathize with Dela Cruz considering his heavy workload, the same however is an unacceptable excuse20 for him not to exercise prudence and care in verifying the information relayed to him.
Finally, anent the failure of Dela Cruz to submit his explanation pursuant to the show cause orders of Judge Dalmacio-Joaquin, we find the same understandable under the circumstances. The records show that Dela Cruz received the show cause orders on March 22, 2006.21 In Criminal Case Nos. 04-0488 and 04-0489, he was given three days from receipt, or until March 25, 2006 within which to submit his explanation. In Criminal Case No. 04-0483 and Criminal Case No. 05-0213, he was given five days from receipt, or until March 27, 2006 within which to submit his compliance. In the interim, Dela Cruz received from this Court a copy of the Resolution in A.M. OCA IPI No. 05-2299 admonishing him for failing to attach copies of the return of service to the records of the case. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Judge Dalmacio-Joaquin did not afford him much leeway as the former immediately filed before this Court on March 29, 2006 the instant complaint. Thus, we can only surmise that Dela Cruz's failure to submit his explanation was not intentional or willful but that he was merely overtaken by the turn of the events.
Notably, this is not the first time that Dela Cruz has been administratively charged.1âwphi1 In A.M. OCA IPI No. 05-2299-P, per Resolution22 dated February 20, 2006, the Court admonished and warned Dela Cruz it appearing that "he committed occasional errors and failed to attach copies of the return of service to the records of the cases." Note, however, that admonition and warning are not considered as penalties.23 On the other hand, in A.M. No. P-07-2321, the Court found him guilty of insubordination because he walked out during a meeting with his chief of office and co-employees and ignored his superior’s directive to return so they could finish their discussion.24 In addition, he was found guilty of misconduct for verbally abusing his co-employees and reporting for work drunk.25 For said infractions, he was meted the penalty of suspension of one year without pay, with stern warning that a repetition of similar or analogous infractions shall be dealt with more severely. However, during the pendency of this case, Dela Cruz resigned from service.
In sum, we find Dela Cruz guilty not of dishonesty but only of simple neglect of duty which is defined as "the failure of an employee to give proper attention to a required task or to discharge a duty due to carelessness or indifference."26 Considering his 24 years of service in the judiciary and his health condition,27 as well as the fact that no prejudice was caused to the party-litigants in the above-mentioned cases as they were all able to attend the scheduled hearings, we deem it proper to impose upon Dela Cruz the penalty of suspension of three months.28 However, in view of Dela Cruz's resignation on June 10, 2008, forfeiture of his salaries for three months should instead be imposed in lieu of suspension, to be deducted from whatever benefits he may be entitled to under existing laws.
wherefore, premises considered, NICOMEDES DELA CRUZ, former Process Server, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, is hereby found GUILTY of Simple Neglect of Duty. His salaries for three months are ordered FORFEITED to be deducted from whatever benefits he may be entitled to under existing laws.
MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Senior Associate Justice
|PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
|TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
|ARTURO D. BRION
|DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
|LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
|ROBERTO A. ABAD
|MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
|JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ
|JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA
|MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO
|BIENVENIDO L. REYES
|ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
C E R T I F I C A T I ON
I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Senior Associate Justice
(Per Section 12, R.A. 296, The Judiciary Act of 1948, as amended)
1 Rollo, pp. 1-2.
2 Id. at 17-18.
3 Id. at 52.
4 Id. at 171-176.
5 Id. at 175.
7 Id. at 469.
8 Id. at 470-474.
9 Id. at 472.
10 Rodrigo-Ebron v. Adolfo, A.M. No. P-06-2231, April 27, 2007, 522 SCRA 286, 291.
11 Musni v. Morales, 373 Phil. 703, 705 (1999).
12 TSN, February 20, 2008, pp. 4-18; rollo, pp. 388-403.
13 TSN, January 16, 2008, p. 23; id. at 355.
14 Id. at 22-23; id. at 354-355.
15 Aquino v. Lavadia, 417 Phil. 770, 776 (2001).
16 Musni v. Morales, supra note 11 at 709.
17 Ongkiko, Kalaw, Dizon, Panga and Velasco Law Offices v. Sangil-Makasiar, 326 Phil. 31, 37 (1996).
18 Re: Administrative Case for Dishonesty Against Elizabeth Ting, 502 Phil. 264, 276-277 (2005).
19 Re: Anonymous Complaint Against Ms. Hermogena F. Bayani for Dishonesty, A.M. No. 2007-22-SC, February 1, 2011, 641 SCRA 220, 223-224.
20 Aquino v. Lavadia, supra note 15.
21 Rollo, pp. 13-14, 16.
22 Id. at 29.
23 Re: Anonymous Complaint Against Ms. Hermogena F. Bayani for Dishonesty, supra note 19 at 225.
24 Dalmacio-Joaquin v. Dela Cruz, A.M. No. P-07-2321, April 24, 2009, 586 SCRA 344, 349.
25 Id. at 349-350.
26 Office of the Court Administrator v. Gaspar, A.M. No. P-07-2325, February 28, 2011, 644 SCRA 378, 382. See also Office of the Court Administrator v. Garcia-Rañoco, A.M. No. P-03-1717, March 6, 2008, 547 SCRA 670, 673-674.
27 See Letter of Resignation, rollo, p. 152.
28 See Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, Rule IV, Section 52(B)(1).
The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation