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THIRD DIVISION

[A.M. No. P-02-1649.  November 29, 2002]

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, complainant, vs. ELIZABETH T. IBAY, Staff Assistant, Municipal Trial Court, Cauayan, Isabela, respondent.

D E C I S I O N

SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, J.:

Records show that on March 23, 2000, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) received an anonymous letter dated March 1, 2000 denouncing respondent Elizabeth Ibay, Staff Assistant at the Municipal Trial Court of Cauayan, Isabela, for encashing the monetization check worth P6,000.00 of Aida Magpantay, Court Interpreter of the same court, by forging the latter’s signature.

In a Memorandum dated May 25, 2000, the same Court Administrator directed Executive Judge Henedino P. Eduarte, Regional Trial Court, Branch 20, Cauayan, Isabela, to conduct a discreet investigation of the incident. His Report of July 19, 2000 is quoted as follows:

“Sometime in October 1999, Mrs. Aida P. Magpantay, together with other court personnel of the MTC, Cauayan, Isabela, applied for the monetization of their accrued leave credits. The checks arrived sometime in November 1999. Elizabeth T. Ibay, Staff Assistant of the MTC, Cauayan, was the one who received the envelope containing the checks from the post office of Cauayan. There was no check for Aida Magapantay, but the other court personnel received theirs. Ibay told Magpantay that probably there was no fund.

In February 2000, Magpantay, together with her friend Ibay, went to the Supreme Court to see her accrued leaves as she intended to go abroad. When she and Ibay were in the Leave Section, she was told that she had still accrued leave credits which she could monetize. Magpantay said that she applied but there was no fund. The Leave Section told Magpantay that there was fund and that her application for monetization was approved. She was told to go to the Finance Department to see her check. Ibay was present when Magpantay was informed of this.

It was when they were on their way to the Finance Department that Ibay finally broke down and confessed to Magpantay that she got her check and encashed it because she was in need of money for the medicine of her husband. She admitted that she falsified her (Magpantay’s) signature and had it encashed in San Pablo, Isabela. She promised Magpantay that she will return her money in the amount of P5,674.09.

Ibay went to her friend Mrs. Jesusa Dumaua of the RTC, Cabagan, Isabela. She told her that Magpantay endorsed the check in the amount of P5,674.09. She requested Dumaua to do her a favor by endorsing the check so that it could be used to buy medicines at the Liberty Drug Store in Tumauini, Isabela, where Dumaua is known because she is a resident of Tumauini, Isabela. Dumaua signed the check.

In April 2000, Ibay paid Magpantay P5,674.09.

The foregoing facts were gathered from my discreet investigation of Mrs. Aida P. Magpantay, Mrs. Jesusa Dumaua, Elizabeth T. Ibay and Anselma Meris, MTC personnel.”

In separate 1st Indorsements both August 17, 2000, then Court Administrator Alfredo L. Benipayo directed respondent and Aida Magpantay to comment on the anonymous letter.

On September 17, 2000, respondent submitted to the OCA her comment admitting that she encashed Aida’s check because she needed money for the hospitalization of her husband. In her comment, she further stated:

“x x x

3.       That I used the money to save the life of my husband and that I know Mrs. Magpantay could always understand and forgive me;

4.       That I paid the amount of the check of Mrs. Magpantay and that she has no complaint against me as to the encashment of her check;

5.       That I seek the assistance of Mrs. Jesusa F. Dumaua, a Court Stenographer of RTC, Branch 22, Cabagan, Isabela, my townmate, to help endorse the check;

6.       That I do not have any bad intention except that I really wanted to save the life of my husband at that time.”

Aida Magpantay submitted to the OCA, her affidavit confirming respondent’s statement that she encashed her (Aida’s) check “to save the life of her husband;” that she has forgiven respondent; and that the latter paid the amount of the check.

In his Report and Recommendation, Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. stated that although respondent had already paid Aida Magpantay the amount of the check and that the latter extended her forgiveness, such circumstances would not exculpate the said respondent from administrative liability. Court Administrator Velasco found her guilty of dishonesty and recommended that she be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits and with prejudice to re-employment in the government, including government owned or controlled corporations.

We agree with the Court Administrator that respondent’s acts of forging Aida’s signature and encashing her check constitute dishonesty. That respondent paid the amount of the check and that she was forgiven by Aida are inconsequential.

In PAGCOR vs. Rilloraza,[1] dishonesty is defined as the “(d)isposition 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.”

Respondent’s conduct clearly shows a lack of fairness and straightforwardness in dealing with her friend and co-employee. Indeed, her disposition to defraud or betray was obvious. She claimed she desperately needed the money for her sick husband. On this point, we recall Aida’s statement in her affidavit that respondent has the habit of borrowing money from her in “emergency cases” and she (Aida) would lend her the amounts she needed. Had respondent been honest, she should have borrowed money from Aida, instead of resorting to fraudulent acts.

Time and again, this Court has held that the conduct and behavior of everyone connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the sheriff and to the lowliest clerk should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility. For every employee of the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty.[2]

In Re Report of the Financial Audit Conducted on the accounts of Zenaida Garcia, MTC, Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo,[3] this Court ruled that “(b)y the very nature of their duties and responsibilities, all those involved in the administration of justice, from the highest official to the lowliest clerk, must faithfully adhere to, hold inviolate, and invigorate the principle solemnly enshrined in Section 1 of Article XI of the Constitution that a public office is a public trust. All 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. The Court condemns and will never countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice which will violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or tend to diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary.”

Section 52(A) (1) of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service provides that dishonesty is a grave offense punishable by dismissal from the service when committed for the first time. However, considering that respondent admitted her offense, as confirmed by Aida herself, and that she has never been charged administratively in the past, these circumstances mitigate her culpability, pursuant to Section 53 on “Extenuating, Mitigating, Aggravating, or Alternative Circumstances” of the same Rules. The penalty next lower to dismissal from the service is suspension for 6 months and 1 day to 1 year without benefits including leave credits.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Elizabeth Ibay guilty of dishonesty and is SUSPENDED FROM THE SERVICE FOR SEVEN (7) MONTHS WITHOUT BENEFITS INCLUDING LEAVE CREDITS, with a stern warning that commission of the same or similar acts shall warrant a more severe penalty.

Let a copy of this Decision be spread in her Personnel File with the Court.

SO ORDERED.

Panganiban, (Acting Chairman), Corona, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.

Puno, (Chairman), J., abroad, on official leave.



[1] 359 SCRA 525, 540 (2001) citing BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY, Sixth Ed., p. 468, 1990.

[2] Merilo-Bedural vs. Edroso, 342 SCRA 593, 598-599 (2000).

[3] 303 SCRA 142, 146-147 (1999).