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[VIRGILIO A. MUSNGI v. ARIEL D. PASCASIO](http://lawyerly.ph/juris/view/cb02b?user=fbGU2WFpmaitMVEVGZ2lBVW5xZ2RVdz09)
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EN BANC

[ AM No. P-08-2454, May 07, 2008 ]

VIRGILIO A. MUSNGI v. ARIEL D. PASCASIO +

DECISION

576 Phil. 715

EN BANC

[ A.M. No. P-08-2454 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 07-2561-P), May 07, 2008 ]

VIRGILIO A. MUSNGI, Complainant, vs. ARIEL D. PASCASIO, Sheriff III, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Branch 5, Olongapo City , Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

Sheriffs are ranking officers of the court. They play an important part in the administration of justice -- execution being the fruit and end of the suit, and the life of the law. In view of their exalted position as keepers of the public faith, their conduct should be geared towards maintaining the prestige and integrity of the court.[1] The respondent failed to live up to this creed in the case at bar.

Facts of the Case

This administrative case stemmed from a Complaint[2] dated October 31, 2006 of Mr. Virgilio A. Musngi (Mr. Musngi) charging Mr. Ariel D. Pascasio (Mr. Pascasio), Sheriff III of MTCC, Branch 5, Olongapo City with Grave Misconduct. Complainant alleges that he is the owner of V.A. Musngi Forwarders, an SBMA-accredited service contractor. On August 8, 2006, his two (2) closed vans were hired by respondent to transport used clothing from California Waste and Rags Corp. to the Supreme Court for Seven Thousand Pesos (P7,000.00) per delivery trip.

Complainant further alleges that respondent assured him that the taxes imposed on the goods to be transported were already paid. However, after the Custom's Police had inspected the goods, they found out that said goods were smuggled and his two vans were impounded. Complainant begged for respondent's assistance but the latter ignored his plea. Complainant laments that he was in desperate condition to get support for his family since those vans were his only source of income.

In his Comment dated May 29, 2007, respondent denies all the allegations in the complaint contending that he never entered into any contractual relation with complainant, or hired his vehicle. He points out that the complaint is unsubstantiated, as complainant has no contract to prove his claim.

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), in its Memorandum dated August 22, 2007, recommended that the instant administrative complaint be referred to Hon. Norman V. Pamintuan, Executive Judge of MTCC, Olongapo City for further investigation, report and recommendation. The Court, in its Resolution of September 19, 2007, adopted the recommendation of the OCA.

On January 17, 2008, the OCA received the investigation report and recommendation of Judge Pamintuan.

Investigation Report and Recommendation

During the investigation, the following persons were summoned to testify before Hon. Pamintuan: Virgilio A. Musngi, complainant; Aloither Vergel Musngi, son of the complainant; Alexander Rimando, the Clerk of Court of MTCC, Olongapo City; Diane Fernandez, Branch Clerk of Court of MTCC Branch 5, Olongapo City; and Ariel Pascasio, the respondent.

The findings of the Investigating Judge based on the facts alleged in the complaint and proved in the investigation are as follows:

First, it is undisputed that respondent Ariel Pascasio hired on August 8, 2006 the two (2) closed vans of the complainant for P7,000.00 per delivery trip of each truck purportedly to transport used clothings from the warehouse of California Waste and Rags Inc. in Subic Bay Freeport Zone to a warehouse somewhere in Manila by virtue of a Writ of Execution dated October 18, 2005, as per decision issued by Hon. Reynaldo M. Laigo on August 1, 2005, with the corresponding Notice of Levy/Attachment upon Realty/Personalty which was prepared and signed by respondent Pascasio, dated November 3, 2005.[3]

The complainant testified that on August 8, 2007 it was his son Aloither Vergel Musngi who personally attended the transaction between V.A. Musngi Forwarders and Sheriff Pascasio. This was corroborated by Aloither Musngi, who met with the respondent at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and discussed the rate of the service and the destination of the goods to be transported. The respondent gave Aloither a copy of Request for Inspection of Cargoes No. 1071[4] approved by the Seaport Department of SBMA and two (2) gatepasses stating that the subject goods were examined by a customs examiner. Notably, the company and consignee stated in both documents is the Supreme Court of the Philippines, with Sheriff Pascasio as its authorized representative.

Aloither immediately noticed that the goods to be transported out of the Freeport area were illegal but he was persuaded to continue with the transaction because he was shown a copy of the writ of execution[5] and the decision[6] of the MCTC Branch 5, Olongapo City in Civil Case No. 6610. Respondent, likewise, assured that the goods would be donated to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

However, the goods were apprehended at the Tipo Gate of SBMA, it being a prohibited importation under Republic Act (R.A.) No. 4653.[7] The
goods, with an estimated value of Four Million Pesos (P4,000,000.00), were seized, including the carriers, the two (2) closed vans of V.A. Musngi Forwarders and three (3) closed vans owned by a certain Marlon M. Aguirre. The vans were impounded by the Bureau of Customs. During the hearing of the seizure case, Aloither sought the assistance of Sheriff Pascasio for the release of the vans but the latter never answered his call and did not show up.

The complainant then appeared alone in the seizure case for the recovery of his vans until the termination of the proceedings on December 28, 2006 when an Order[8] for the release of the vans was granted by the Bureau of Customs.

The complainant alleged that he suffered damages in the amount of P14,000.00 for the unpaid charter of the vans, and approximately P900,000.00 as lost income since complainant was not able to use the vans for approximately seven (7) months during the pendency of the seizure proceedings.

Second, the respondent's defense that he only mediated in the transaction between the complainant herein and the judgment creditor in the civil case, Anglo-Asia Corp., was not proven.

The respondent denied that there was a contract between him and the complainant for the hiring of the latter's vans. He alleged that he was merely complying with a writ of execution issued by the court, and that his only participation was to assist in the loading of the used clothings on the vans of the complainant. However, it is obvious from the documentary exhibits presented by the complainant that Sheriff Pascasio actively took part in the hiring of the vans until the goods were apprehended at the Tipo Gate. In fact, in the Request for Inspection and gatepasses, he positively acknowledged that his signature appeared thereon.[9]

Third, respondent Sheriff Pascasio blatantly disregarded the procedure for execution of judgments.

Section 10, Rule 141 of the Rules of Court explicitly provides that:
With regard to the Sheriff's expenses in executing writs issued pursuant to court orders or decisions or safeguarding the property levied upon, attached or seized, including kilometrage for each kilometer of travel, guards' fees, warehousing and similar charges, the interested party shall pay said expenses in an amount estimated by the Sheriff, subject to the approval of the court.

Upon approval of said estimated expenses, the interested party shall deposit such amount with the Clerk of Court and ex-officio Sheriff, who shall distribute the same to the Deputy Sheriff assigned to effect the process, subject to liquidation within the same period for rendering a return on the process. THE LIQUIDATION SHALL BE APPROVED BY THE COURT. Any unspent amount shall be refunded to the party making the deposit. A full report shall be submitted by the Deputy Sheriff assigned with his return, and the Sheriff's expenses shall be taxed as costs against the judgment debtor.
The above procedure is mandatory. The failure of Sheriff Pascasio to pay complainant Musngi the rental for the hauling service is a clear disregard of the Rules. There is no showing that he complied with the rules on estimation of expenses and liquidation of the same.

The Sheriff of Branch 5, Mr. Rimando, a superior of the respondent, testified in court that he was not furnished a copy of the writ of execution, which is usually done as a matter of procedure.[10] He came to know about the incident only in the newspapers the day after the goods and the vans were confiscated by the Bureau of Customs. The Branch Clerk of Court of Branch 5, Ms. Dianne Fernandez, also testified and her testimony corroborated the allegation that the vans were hired at the instance of Sheriff Pascasio.[11] It must be noted though that said witness failed to submit an affidavit to this effect when asked by the court to submit one.[12] Moreover, the records of the case disclosed that after the goods and the vans were seized, the respondent filed the Sheriff's Report only after the lapse of fourteen (14) days.

The Investigating Judge recommended that the respondent be punished with dismissal from service with forfeiture of all benefits and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or agency of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

This Court's Ruling

The issue in this case is whether or not Sheriff Pascasio is guilty of grave misconduct for acts prejudicial to the best interest of service.

The authority of a sheriff is broad, but it is not boundless. In the enforcement of judgments and judicial orders, a sheriff as an officer of the court upon whom the execution of a final judgment depends, must necessarily be circumspect and proper in his behavior. He must know what is inherently right and wrong and must discharge his duties with prudence and caution. Moreover, he must, at all times, show a high degree of professionalism in the performance of his duties.[13]

The respondent in this case faces the charge of Grave Misconduct, an offense that carries a severe penalty, which is dismissal from service,[14] with forfeiture of all benefits and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or agency of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.[15] It is, therefore, imperative that the guilt of the respondent be proven by substantial evidence.

It is settled in jurisprudence that "misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer."[16] In grave misconduct, there must be substantial evidence showing that the acts complained of are corrupt or inspired by an intention to violate the law, or constitute flagrant disregard of well-known legal rules.[17]

In the case at bar, the investigation conducted by Hon. Pamintuan, Executive Judge of MTCC in Olongapo City, fairly afforded the respondent
due process, the right to be heard and to defend himself against the accusation. It was also adequately shown that respondent not only used his position to benefit himself by entering in a contract with complainant Musngi but he did so in blatant violation of the law, the Rules of Court and the Code of Conduct of Judicial Employees. Respondent Sheriff Pascasio argues that he is unaware that the law prohibits the importation of used clothings. But he also knows that his ignorance cannot excuse him from compliance. As a Sheriff, respondent ought to know that he cannot attach goods which are banned and illegal. He should have been more prudent in the execution of the said writ especially because the value of the goods is estimated at around Four Million Pesos (P4,000,000.00).

Further, his disregard of the procedure prescribed by the Rules of Court in Section 10 of Rule 141 is unpardonable. As an officer of the court, respondent should set the example by faithfully observing the Rules of Court, and not brazenly disregard the Rules.[18]

In this case, the actions of the respondent in contracting with the complainant for the hauling service in the execution of the writ without complying with the standard procedure of estimation of expenses; his non-payment of the contract price after the vans were impounded; and his being adamant to help the complainant recover his vans being held by the Bureau of Customs are acts prejudicial to the best interest of service. These are acts which could erode the faith of the people in the administration of justice. We have held that the administration of justice is a sacred task, and by the very nature of their duties and responsibilities, all those involved therein must faithfully adhere to, hold inviolate, and invigorate the principle solemnly enshrined in the 1987 Constitution that public office is a public trust.[19] Any act or omission on their part which violates the norms of public accountability or even merely tends to diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary must be condemned and never countenanced.[20]

The functions of sheriffs are enumerated under the 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court, as follows:
2.2.4.1 serves and/or executes writs and processes addressed and/or assigned to him by the Court and prepares and submits returns of his proceedings;

2.2.4.2 keeps custody of attached properties or goods;

2.2.4.3 maintains his own record books on writs of execution, writs of attachment, writs of replevin, writs of injunction, and all other processes executed by him; and

2.2.4.4 performs such other duties as may be assigned by the Executive Judge, Presiding Judge and/or Branch Clerk of Court.
The records of the case disclose that the respondent's shameless disregard of the procedure mandated by Section 10 of Rule 141 of the Rules of Court equally made him guilty of violating the duties reposed upon him as a Sheriff of the Court. The testimony of Ms. Fernandez and Mr. Rimando, both superiors of the respondent, that there was an irregularity in the execution of the writ as it did not go through the standard procedure observed in Branch 5 of MTCC, Olongapo City, satisfactorily proved that the respondent proceeded with this execution under his own rules and on his own discretion.

In addition, the respondent misrepresented himself as an authorized representative of this Honorable Court as the consignee of the prohibited goods. He used the same misrepresentation from the beginning of the transaction until the prohibited goods were seized at the Tipo Gate, SBMA. Sheriff Pascasio, purporting to be the authorized representative, even used the name of the Supreme Court to perpetrate this nefarious deed, hoping to effect the release of the prohibited goods. We will not tolerate such deceit.

Sheriffs and their deputies are the front-line representatives of the justice system, and if, through their lack of care and diligence in the implementation of judicial writs, they lose the trust reposed on them, they inevitably diminish likewise the faith of the people in the judiciary.[21]

Sheriff Pascasio failed to comply with the rigorous standards required of all public officers and employees, for which he will have to pay dearly. The Court, in many instances, has ruled that erring court employees do not deserve to stay a minute in the service for it will erode the dignity of the prime institution which dispenses justice.

In Remolona v. Civil Service Commission,[22] the Court En Banc ruled that, to warrant dismissal, grave misconduct or dishonesty need not be committed in the course of performance of duty by the person charged. The Court explained the rationale for this rule, as follows:
The rationale for the rule is that if a government officer or employee is dishonest or is guilty of oppression or grave misconduct, even if said defects of character are not connected with his office, they affect his right to continue in office. The Government cannot tolerate in its service a dishonest official, even if he performs his duties correctly and well, because by reason of his government position, he is given more and ample opportunity to commit acts of dishonesty against his fellow men, even against offices and entities of the government other than the office where he is employed; and by reason of his office, he enjoys and possesses a certain influence and power which renders the victims of his grave misconduct, oppression and dishonesty less disposed and prepared to resist and to counteract his evil acts and actuations. The private life of an employee cannot be segregated from his public life. Dishonesty inevitably reflects on the fitness of the officer or employee to continue in office and the discipline and morale of the service.
Public confidence in our courts is vital to the effective functioning of the judiciary. We reiterate that court personnel who commit misconduct or dishonesty diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary's ability to dispense justice.[23]

The heavily laden responsibility of court employees in maintaining the integrity of the judiciary extends not only to the performance of their duties but to the conduct of their personal affairs as well. The records of the case show that the contract between V.A. Musngi Forwarders and the respondent for a hauling service was ostensibly entered into in connection with his performance of functions as an officer of the court. But even if he acted in his private capacity, he will not be absolved from liability. His offer to settle the unpaid amount of Fourteen Thousand Pesos (P14,000.00) if his means would permit, after his suspension is lifted, will not even justify the application of compassionate justice in his favor.

Sheriffs, by the very nature of their functions, are under obligation to perform their duties honestly, faithfully and to the best of their ability; they must conduct themselves with propriety and decorum, and above all else, be above suspicion.[24]

The Court, likewise, observes that this is not the first time that a complaint for misconduct has been filed against herein respondent. In A.M. No. P-07-2327 (formerly OCA IPI No. 04-7934-P) entitled Nena Gimena Solway, complainant v. Ariel P. Pascasio, Sheriff III, MTCC Branch 5, Olongapo City, et al.,[25] respondent was found guilty of misconduct and was suspended for a period of three (3) months without pay with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely. Conspicuously, the previous administrative case of the respondent likewise involves a misfeasance in the performance of his function as Sheriff and based on his ignorance of the Rules of Court. It was also a case of misrepresentation in the execution process intended to instill fear in the litigants and make them yield to an execution contrary to the standards set forth by law.

Obviously, the respondent has shown a propensity to commit the same acts if given the opportunity. Respondent has not learned his lesson; neither has he demonstrated repentance for the damage he has wrought upon the complainant herein. He no longer deserves to stay in the service a minute more and even his long years of stay in the government service will not tilt the balance in his favor.

WHEREFORE, respondent Ariel P. Pascasio, Sheriff III, MTCC Branch 5, Olongapo City, is found GUILTY of Grave Misconduct for which he is DISMISSED FROM SERVICE with forfeiture of all retirement benefits with prejudice to re-employment in any branch of the government including government owned or controlled corporation. He is further directed to pay complainant actual damages in the amount of Fourteen Thousand Pesos (P14,000.00).

SO ORDERED.

Puno, C.J., Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez*, Corona*, Carpio-Morales, Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, Velasco, Nachura, Reyes, Leonardo-De Castro, and Brion, JJ.,
concur.



*On leave.

[1] Sabino L. Aranda, Jr. v. Teodoro S. Alvarez, A.M. No. P-04-1889, November 23, 2007.

[2] Complaint of Mr. Virgilio A. Musngi; rollo, pp. 3-4.

[3] Investigation Report of Hon. Pamintuan, p. 16.

[4] Rollo, p.14.

[5] Id. at 30-31.

[6] Id. at 33-35.

[7] Republic Act No. 4653 "An Act to Safeguard the Health of the People and Maintain the Dignity of the Nation By Declaring it a National Policy to Prohibit the Commercial Importation of Textile Articles Commonly Known as Used Clothings and Rags."

[8] Annex 8 of the Investigation Report of Hon. Pamintuan.

[9] TSN, December 18, 2007, p. 3.

[10] Id. at 2.

[11] TSN, December 20, 2007, p. 7.

[12] Investigation Report of Hon. Pamintuan, p. 18.

[13] Philippine Bank of Communication v. Sheriff Efren V. Cachero, A.M. No. P-00-1399, February 19, 2001.

[14] Section 52, Rule V, on Penalties of Civil Service Commission Memorandum Circular No. 19-99 dated 14 September 1999 provides as follows: "Classification of Offenses. - Administrative offenses with corresponding penalties are classified into grave, less grave or light, depending on their gravity or depravity and effects on the government service.

A. The following are grave offenses with their corresponding penalties:

1. Dishonesty

1st offense - Dismissal

2. Gross Neglect of Duty

1st offense - Dismissal

3. Grave Misconduct

1st offense - Dismissal

4. Being Notoriously Undesirable."

See also Supreme Court Memorandum Circular No. 30 dated 30 July 1989; Civil Service Commission Resolution No. 89-506 dated 20 July 1989.

[15] Ibay v. Virginia G. Lim, A.M. No. 99-1309, September 11, 2000, 340 SCRA 107.

[16] CSC v. Juliana Ledesma, G.R. No. 154521, September 30, 2005, 471 SCRA 589.

[17] Amosco v. Magro, A.M. No. 439-MJ, September 30, 1976, 73 SCRA 107.

[18] Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 49188, January 30, 1990, 181 SCRA 557.

[19] Eddie Babor v. Vito P. Garchitorena, A.M. No. P-94-1070, April 8, 1997, 271 SCRA 23, 24.

[20] Sy v. Academia, A.M. No. P-87-72, July 3, 1991, 198 SCRA 705, 717.

[21] Gonzales v. Cabigao, A.M. No. P-06-2194, August 31, 2006, 500 SCRA 366, 370.

[22] G.R. No. 137473, August 2, 2001, 362 SCRA 304; Nera v. Garcia, 106 Phil. 1031 (1960).

[23] Padua v. Paz, A.M. No. P-00-1445, April 30, 2003, 402 SCRA 21, 31.

[24] Letter of Atty. Socorro M. Villamer-Basilla, Clerk of Court V, RTC, Branch 4, Legaspi City, 482 SCRA 163.

[25] A.M. No. P-07-2327, July 12, 2007.
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