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[SYLVIA G. CORPUZ v. CEFERINA B. RIVERA](https://lawyerly.ph/juris/view/cf3e9?user=fbGU2WFpmaitMVEVGZ2lBVW5xZ2RVdz09)
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DIVISION

[ AM No. P-16-3541, Aug 30, 2016 ]

SYLVIA G. CORPUZ v. CEFERINA B. RIVERA +

RESOLUTION



FIRST DIVISION

[ A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P], August 30, 2016 ]

SYLVIA G. CORPUZ, COMPLAINANT, VS. CEFERINA B. RIVERA, COURT STENOGRAPHER III, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF DAVAO CITY, DAVAO DEL SUR, BRANCH 12, RESPONDENT.

[A.M. No. P-16-3542 [FORMERLY OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P]]

PRESIDING JUDGE RUFINO S. FERRARIS, JR., MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT IN CITIES OF DAVAO CITY, BRANCH 7, COMPLAINANT, VS. CEFERINA B. RIVERA, COURT STENOGRAPHER III, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF DAVAO CITY, DAVAO DEL SUR, BRANCH 12, RESPONDENT.

[A.M. No. P-16-3543 [FORMERLY OCA IPI No. 13-4074-P]]

IRINEO F. MARTINEZ, JR., COMPLAINANT, VS. CEFERINA B. RIVERA, COURT STENOGRAPHER III, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF DAVAO CITY, DAVAO DEL SUR, BRANCH 12, RESPONDENT.

[OCA IPI No. 14-2731-MTJ]

CEFERINA B. RIVERA, COURT STENOGRAPHER III, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF DAVAO CITY, DAVAO DEL SUR, BRANCH 12, COMPLAINANT, VS. PRESIDING JUDGE RUFINO S. FERRARIS, JR., MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT IN CITIES OF DAVAO CITY, BRANCH 7, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

For the Court's resolution are four (4) consolidated administrative cases, namely: (1) A.M. No. P-16-3541 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P); (2) A.M. No. P-16-3542 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P); (3) A.M. No. P-16-3543 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4074-P), respectively initiated by Sylvia G. Corpuz (Corpuz), Presiding Judge Rufino S. Ferraris, Jr. (Judge Ferraris, Jr.) of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities of Davao City, Branch 7, and Irineo F. Martinez, Jr. (Martinez, Jr.), against Ceferina B. Rivera (Rivera), Court Stenographer III of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City (RTC), Branch 12 concerning the latter's money-lending business; and (4) OCA IPI No. 14-2731-MTJ initiated by Rivera against Judge Ferraris, Jr. regarding his complicity to the said money-lending business.

The Facts

In the Complaint in A.M. No. P-16-3541 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915- P),[1] it was alleged that in February 2011, Rivera convinced Corpuz to invest the aggregate amount of P252,500.00 in the former's money-lending business with the promise that Corpuz will earn a monthly interest of two and a half percent (2.5%), which interest will be deposited to her account at the end of each month. Rivera never fulfilled her promise, which prompted Corpuz to verify Rivera's aforesaid business. After discovering that no such money-lending business existed, Corpuz immediately demanded the return of her money, and in response, Rivera gave her two (2) checks amounting to P130,000.00 each. However, the checks were dishonored for being drawn against insufficient funds. After her demands for payment went unheeded, Corpuz filed two (2) counts of Estafa and violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22[2] against Rivera,[3] as well as the instant administrative complaint.

Similarly, the affidavit-complaints in A.M. No. P-16-3542 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P)[4] and A.M. No. P-16-3543 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4074-P)[5] alleged that Rivera convinced Judge Ferraris, Jr. and Martinez, Jr. to invest in her money-lending business the respective amounts of P100,000.00 and P50,000.00 with the promise that their money would earn monthly interest of five percent (5%). As guarantee, Rivera issued checks to Judge Ferraris, Jr. and Martinez, Jr. corresponding to their investments in her business. After paying Judge Ferraris, Jr. and Martinez, Jr. the agreed interest for four (4) and three (3) months, respectively, Rivera failed to pay the succeeding interests and even the principal amounts. Judge Ferraris, Jr. and Martinez, Jr. then tried to encash their respective checks, but both were dishonored for being drawn against a closed account. Ultimately, Rivera failed to pay her liabilities despite demands, thus, constraining Judge Ferraris, Jr. and Martinez, Jr. to file separate criminal cases against her.[6]

For her part,[7] Rivera openly admitted having engaged in money-lending activities, albeit offering the excuse that her business was done in good faith and with no intention of blemishing the good name of her office, as the same was done mainly to augment her meager salary and accommodate the monetary needs of other court personnel. She likewise explained that her business took a downward spiral when majority of her borrowers failed to pay their monthly obligations. Worse, she herself suffered financial troubles when her family and relatives were hit by the Typhoon Pablo in 2012, which took much of her time and financial resources in order to support them.[8] As a result, she defaulted in her obligations to Judge Ferraris, Jr., Martinez, Jr., and Corpuz. Rivera also averred that Judge Ferraris, Jr. went to her office several times while she was on leave and threatened to have her killed if she did not pay up.[9] Lastly, she clarified that she had already amicably settled her obligations with Judge Ferraris, Jr., Martinez, Jr., and Corpuz resulting in the provisional dismissal of the criminal case Corpuz filed against her;[10] and the affidavits of desistance executed by Judge Ferraris, Jr.[11] and Martinez, Jr.[12] withdrawing their criminal complaints against her.[13]

In view of Rivera's claim that she received threats from Judge Ferraris, Jr., the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) recommended that: (a) Rivera's counter-affidavits in A.M. No. P-16-3542 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P) and A.M. No. P-16-3543 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4074-P) be treated as a separate administrative complaint against Judge Ferraris, Jr. to determine his involvement in Rivera's money-lending business; and (b) Judge Ferraris, Jr. be ordered to comment on the administrative case against him.[14] Said recommendations were approved and adopted by the Court in its Resolution dated October 8, 2014[15] and the counter-affidavits were, thereafter, docketed as OCA IPI No. 14-2731-J.

Pursuant to the Court's directive, Judge Ferraris, Jr. submitted a Counter­-Affidavit[16] dated September 17, 2015, vehemently denying Rivera's accusation that he threatened Rivera's life. He then clarified that after finding out that Rivera has other creditors who were after her, he merely commented that "good that she is not in the danger of being killed by reason of her non-payment of her account to other creditors."[17]

In view of the similarities in the factual milieu of the complaints, the OCA further recommended that the four (4) administrative cases be consolidated.[18] Thus, the Court, in its Resolutions dated October 1, 2014,[19] October 8, 2014,[20] and March 18, 2015,[21] ordered, inter alia, the consolidation of the said cases and the referral of the same to the First Vice Executive Judge of the RTC for a joint investigation, report and recommendation.[22]

In a Report and Recommendation[23] dated October 4, 2015, First Vice Executive Judge Retrina E. Fuentes (Judge Fuentes) found both Rivera and Judge Ferraris, Jr. administratively liable, and accordingly, recommended that they be meted the penalties of suspension of six (6) months and reprimand, respectively.

Judge Fuentes found that Rivera was indeed engaged in money-lending activities as she herself had admitted, and as attested to by various court employees. According to Judge Fuentes, Rivera's actions constitute conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service as her money-lending business put the image of the judiciary in a bad light, especially in view of the fact that she performs her transactions during office hours and within the court's premises.[24]

Anent Judge Ferraris, Jr., Judge Fuentes did not find any evidence that would show his active participation in Rivera's money-lending activities or that he exploited his position in order to gain monetary benefit therefrom. These notwithstanding, Judge Fuentes opined that Judge Ferraris, Jr. should have known that engaging in money-lending activities is directly prohibited under prevailing Civil Service Rules and, thus, should have taken steps to prevent Rivera from doing such activities. On the contrary, he even invested capital therein. Consequently, he should be reprimanded for his lack of concern in the money-­lending activity of Rivera and his act of investing therein.[25]

The OCA's Report and Recommendation

In a Memorandum[26] dated March 30, 2016, the OCA recommended, inter alia, that: (a) Rivera be held administratively liable for her money-lending activities, and accordingly, be meted the penalty of one (1)-month suspension without pay with a stem warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely; and (b) the complaint against Judge Ferraris, Jr. be dismissed, but he be admonished for tolerating and not taking steps to prevent Rivera from engaging in such business.[27]

The OCA ratiocinated that as a court employee, Rivera is required to serve with maximum efficiency and with the highest degree of devotion to duty in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary. Thus, Rivera's act of engaging in her money-lending business cannot be countenanced as it tends to distract her from devoting her entire time to official work so as to ensure the efficient and speedy administration of justice. However, considering that this was Rivera's first offense in her more than thirty-six (36) years of government service, the OCA deemed it appropriate to impose upon her the penalty of one (1)-month suspension without pay.[28]

As regards Judge Ferraris, Jr., the OCA agreed with the conclusion of Judge Fuentes that there is not enough evidence to show that he took advantage of his position as a judge in order to receive any monetary gain from Rivera's money­ lending business. This notwithstanding, the OCA recommended that Judge Ferraris, Jr. be admonished for his lack of concern in taking steps to prevent Rivera from conducting her trade and even expressly supporting it by investing money therein.

The Issue Before the Court

The issue raised for the Court's resolution is whether or not Rivera and Judge Ferraris, Jr. may be held administratively liable for Rivera's money-lending activities.

The Court's Ruling

The Court agrees with the findings and conclusions of the OCA, except as to the penalty to be imposed on Rivera.

Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by the public officer. To warrant dismissal from service, the misconduct must be grave, serious, important, weighty, momentous, and not trifling. The misconduct must imply wrongful intention and not a mere error of judgment and must also have a direct relation to and be connected with the performance of the public officer's official duties amounting either to maladministration or willful, intentional neglect, or failure to discharge the duties of the office. In order to differentiate gross misconduct from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule, must be manifest in the former.[29] Stated differently, if the misconduct does not involve any of the aforesaid qualifying elements, the person charged is only liable for the lesser offense of simple misconduct.[30]

In this case, Rivera ought to have known that as a public servant, she is expected at all times to exhibit the highest sense of honesty and integrity, as expressly commanded by no less than Section 1, Article XI[31] of the 1987

Constitution.[32] Moreover, as an employee of the Judiciary, she should be well aware that the nature of her work demands her highest degree of efficiency and responsibility, and that she would only be able to meet this demand by devoting her undivided time to government service. Essentially, this is the reason why court employees have been enjoined to strictly observe official time and to devote every second or moment of such time to serving the public so as to ensure that undue delays in the administration of justice and in the disposition of court cases be avoided.[33]

In admittedly engaging in her unauthorized business, Rivera fell short of the standard required of Judiciary employees, let alone public servants in general. Her money-lending activities which were done even during office hours and within the court premises surely put the integrity of her office under suspicion, as it gave the impression that she took advantage of her position and abused the confidence reposed in her in doing her business.[34] However, absent any showing that her inappropriate acts were tainted with corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule, Rivera should only be held administratively liable for Simple Misconduct.

Under Section 46 (D), Rule 10 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service,[35] simple misconduct is a less grave offense which merits the penalty of suspension for a period ranging from one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months for the first offense and dismissal from service for the second offense. Considering that this is Rivera's first offense in her more than thirty-six (36) years of government service,[36] the Court deems it appropriate to impose upon her the penalty of suspension without pay for a period of one (1) month and one (1) day, with a stem warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

As regards Judge Ferraris, Jr., suffice it to say that the OCA correctly recommended the dismissal of the case against him as there is not enough evidence to show that he exploited his position to receive monetary benefit from Rivera's money-lending activities. However, he must nevertheless be admonished for his lack of concern in taking steps to prevent Rivera from conducting her trade and, in fact, condoned it by investing money into the same.

It is well to reiterate that "those in the Judiciary serve as sentinels of justice, and any act of impropriety on their part immeasurably affects the honor and dignity of the Judiciary and the people's confidence in it. The Institution demands the best possible individuals in the service and it had never and will never tolerate nor condone any conduct which would violate the norms of public accountability, and diminish, or even tend to diminish, the faith of the people in the justice system. As such, the Court will not hesitate to rid its ranks of undesirables who undermine its efforts towards an effective and efficient administration of justice, thus tainting its image in the eyes of the public."[37]

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Ceferina B. Rivera, Court Stenographer III of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Davao del Sur, Branch 12 GUILTY of Simple Misconduct. Accordingly, she is hereby SUSPENDED without pay for a period of one (1) month and one (1) day, and is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

Further, the Court DISMISSES the administrative case against Presiding Judge Rufino S. Ferraris, Jr. of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities of Davao City, Branch 7, docketed as OCA IPI No. 14-2371-MTJ, for lack of sufficient evidence. This notwithstanding, he is hereby ADMONISHED to be more vigilant in taking steps to prevent officials and employees of the Judiciary from engaging in prohibited activities.

SO ORDERED.

Sereno, C. J., Leonardo-De Castro, Bersamin, and Caguioa, JJ., concur.


[1] See Complaint dated July 3, 2012; rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P]), pp. 1-2. See also Affidavit-Complaint dated November 14, 2011; id. at 3-4.

[2] Entitled "AN ACT PENALIZING THE MAKING OR DRAWING AND ISSUANCE OF A CHECK WITHOUT SUFFICIENT FUNDS OR CREDIT AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES," approved on April 3, 1979.

[3] See rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Fomerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P]), pp. 37 and 51.

[4] The Affidavit-Complaint dated April2, 2012 (see rollo [A.M. No. P-16-3542 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P)], pp. 6-7) was forwarded by the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao to the Office of the Court Administrator through 1st Endorsement dated January 17, 2013 (see id. at 1).

[5] The Affidavit of Complaint dated April 2, 2012 (see rollo [A.M. No. P-16-3543 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4074-P)], pp. 6-7) was forwarded by the Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao to the Office of the Court Administrator through 11st Endorsement dated January 17, 2013 (see id. at 1).

[6] See rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P]), pp. 37-38 and 51-52.

[7] See Comment dated August 13, 2014, rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P]), pp. 22-23; and rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3542 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P]), pp. 29-30. See also Counter Affidavit dated May 29, 2012, rollo (OCA IPI No. 14-2731-MTJ), pp. 1-3; and Counter Affidavit dated May 30, 2012, rollo (OCA IPI No. 14-2731-MTJ), pp. 8-10.

[8] See rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P]), pp. 22-23; and rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3542 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P]), pp. 29-30.

[9] See rollo (OCA IPI No. 14-2731-MTJ), p. 2.

[10] See Order dated June 3, 2013 issued by Pairing Judge Conrado T. Tabaco; rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P]), pp. 26-27.

[11] Dated October 12, 2012. Rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3542 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P]) p. 36.

[12] Dated December 17, 2012. Rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3543 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4074-P]), p. 19.

[13] See rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P]), pp. 22-23; and rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3542 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P]), pp. 29-30.

[14] See OCA Memorandum dated July 23, 2014, rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3542 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P]), pp. 38-43.

[15] See Id. at 44-46.

[16] Id. at 50 (erroneously spelled respondent-judge's last name as "Ferrairs").

[17] Id.

[18] See OCA Memorandum dated July 23,2014 (rollo [A.M. No. P-16-3542 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P)], pp. 38-43); and OCA Memorandum dated January 8, 2015 (rollo [A.M. No. P-16-3541 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P)], pp. 31-33).

[19] Rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3543 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4074-P]), pp. 25-26.

[20] Rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3542 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P]), pp. 44-46.

[21] Id. at 65, including the dorsal portion.

[22] See id. at 45.

[23] See rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P]), pp. 36-46; rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3542 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P]), pp. 101-111; rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3543 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4074-P]), pp. 30-40; and rollo (OCA IPI No. 14-2731-MTJ), pp. 18-28.

[24] See rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P]), pp. 43-46.

[25] See id. at 39-42.

[26] Id. at 50-57. See also rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3542 [Fonnerly OCA IPI No. 13-4049-P]), pp. 115-122, rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3543 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 13-4074-P]), pp. 44-51; and rollo (OCA IPI No. 14-2731-MTJ), pp. 32-39. Signed by Deputy Court Administrator Thelma C. Bahia and Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez.

[27] See rollo (A.M. No. P-16-3541 [Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3915-P]), pp. 56-57.

[28] See id. at 53-55.

[29] OCA v. Viesca, A.M. No. P-12-3092, April 14, 2015, 755 SCRA 385, 396, citing OCA v. Amor, A.M. No. RTJ-08-2140, October 7, 2014, 737 SCRA 509, 516-517.

[30] Santos v. Rasalan, 544 Phil. 35, 43 (2007), citing Civil Service Commission v. Ledesma, 508 Phil. 569, 579-580 (2005).

[31] Section 1, Article XI of the Constitution reads:
Section 1. Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.
[32] See Re: Anonymous Letter-Complaint on the Alleged Involvement and for Engaging in the Business of Lending Money at Usurious Rates of Interest of Ms. Dolores T. Lopez, SC Chief Judicial Staff Officer, and Mr. Fernando M. Montalvo, SC Supervising Judicial Staff Officer, Checks Disbursement Division, Fiscal Management and Budget Office, A.M. No. 2010-21-SC, September 30, 2014, 737 SCRA 195, 211-212.

[33] See id. at 210, citations omitted.

[34] See id. at 211.

[35] Section 46 (D), Rule 10 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service reads:
Section 46. 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.

x x x x

D. The following less grave offenses are punishable by suspension of one (1) month and one (1) day suspension to six (6) months for the first offense; and dismissal from the service for the second offense:

x x x x

2. Simple Misconduct;

x x x x
[36] Pertinent portions of Sections 48 and 49, Rule 10 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service read:

Section 48. Mitigating and Aggravating Circumstances. - In the determination of the penalties to be imposed, mitigating and/or aggravating circumstances attendant to the commission of the offense shall be considered.

The following circumstances shall be appreciated:
x x x x

n. Length of service; x x x

x x x x
In the appreciation thereof, the same must be invoked or pleaded by the proper party; otherwise, said circumstances will not be considered in the imposition of the proper penalty. The disciplining authority, however, in the interest of substantial justice may take and consider these circumstances motu proprio.

Section 49. Manner of imposition. - When applicable, the imposition of the penalty may be made in accordance with the manner provided herein below:

a. The minimum of the penalty shall be imposed where only mitigating and no aggravating circumstances are present.

x x x x

[37] OCA v. Amor, supra note 29, at 519-520, citing Lagado v. Leonida, A.M. No. P-14-3222, August 12, 2014, 732 SCRA 579, 586.


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