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FIRST DIVISION

[A.M. No. P-05-1942.  January 17, 2005]

ALIBSAR ADOMA, complainant, vs. ROMEO GATCHECO, Sheriff III, and Eugenio Taguba, Process Server, of Branches 1 and 2, respectively, of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities of Santiago City, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

The instant administrative complaint filed against respondents for violation of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and conduct unbecoming a court employee, arose from the execution of a writ of replevin in Adoma v. Spouses Edmundo Andres and Luzviminda Andres, docketed as Civil Case No. 1404-1-669, for recovery of possession of motor vehicle with prayer for the issuance of a writ of replevin before Branch 1 of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) of Santiago City, presided by Judge Ruben Plata.

Complainant Alibsar Adoma claimed that on August 16, 2003 a writ of replevin[1] for the recovery of an L-300 van was issued in his favor.  On the same day, respondent sheriff Romeo Gatcheco implemented the writ.  He was accompanied by respondent Eugenio Taguba, a process server of Branch 2 of MTCC, Santiago City, who volunteered to assist respondent sheriff.  After the two respondents seized the vehicle, they demanded payment of P8,000.00, allegedly promised by complainant but the latter was able to give only P1,000.00 and another P1,000.00 the following day.[2]

The writ of replevin stated that the vehicle will be delivered to complainant after 5 days from the implementation thereof.  With the vehicle still undelivered on the 7th day, complainant threatened to file an administrative case against respondent sheriff.  Finally, on August 29, 2003, the latter was forced to release the vehicle to complainant.  Respondents, however, continued to demand P6,000.00, hence complainant filed the instant administrative case.[3]

Respondents, on the other hand, denied soliciting and receiving any amount from the complainant.  Respondent sheriff admitted, however, that complainant promised to give him P10,000.00 if the vehicle will be sold.[4]

On September 10, 2003, the Court referred the instant administrative complaint to Judge Fe Albano Madrid, Executive Judge, Regional Trial Court, Santiago City, Isabela, for investigation, report and recommendation.[5]

In her investigation report, Judge Madrid found the testimony of complainant which was corroborated by two witnesses, to be more credible. She refused to believe the claim of respondent sheriff that he did not release the vehicle to complainant after 5 days from the implementation of the writ on August 16, 2003, because he was awaiting instructions from Judge Plata.  However, she found that respondent sheriff did not actually demand money for the implementation of the writ because it was complainant who promised to give money in exchange for the implementation of the writ of replevin.  Nevertheless, she concluded that respondent sheriff is guilty of misconduct considering that he accepted partial payment and insisted on its full payment.

As to respondent Taguba, Judge Madrid recommended that he be reprimanded for trying to abet the misconduct of respondent sheriff.

Upon receipt of the report of Judge Madrid, the Court referred the case to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) for evaluation, report and recommendation.[6]

In its Memorandum dated June 4, 2004, the OCA affirmed the investigating Judge’s report.  It recommended that respondent sheriff be fined in the amount of P5,000.00 for conduct unbecoming a court employee and that respondent Taguba be reprimanded for trying to abet the misconduct of a fellow employee of another court.

On July 5, 2004, the Court required the parties to manifest whether they are willing to submit the case for resolution based on the pleadings filed.  However, to date, the parties have yet to file their manifestation.  Hence, we are constrained to dispense the filing of such manifestation.

The Court agrees with the findings of the investigating Judge and the OCA that respondents received the amount of P2,000.00 and that they demanded the payment of an additional P6,000.00 from complainant.  The testimony of complainant before the investigating Judge is worthy of belief because the same was not only candid and direct but also corroborated by two witnesses who attested to the veracity of complainant’s accusations.  The writ of replevin has been implemented and the vehicle is now in complainant’s possession.

Under Section 9, Rule 141 of the Rules of Court, the procedure for the execution of writs and other processes are:  first, the sheriff must make an estimate of the expenses to be incurred by him; second, he must obtain court approval for such estimated expenses; third, the approved estimated expenses shall be deposited by the interested party with the Clerk of Court and ex-oficio sheriff; fourth, the Clerk of Court shall disburse the amount to the executing sheriff; and fifth, the executing sheriff shall liquidate his expenses within the same period for rendering a return on the writ.  Any amount received by the sheriff in excess of the lawful fees allowed by the Rules of Court is an unlawful exaction which renders him liable for grave misconduct and gross dishonesty.[7]

In the instant case, respondent sheriff totally disregarded the aforecited procedure.  He failed to make and submit estimate of the sheriff’s expenses.  The amounts received and demanded by him are therefore unauthorized fees.  His acts of accepting and soliciting said monetary considerations make him liable not only for conduct unbecoming a court employee but also for grave misconduct and dishonesty.

As correctly found by the OCA, respondent sheriff deliberately failed to place complainant in possession of the vehicle after five days from the implementation of the writ because the latter failed to give the whole amount he promised.  Since the adverse party did not object to the complainant’s bond nor posted a redelivery bond to recover possession of the vehicle taken under the writ of replevin, respondent sheriff is under obligation to deliver the van to complainant.  However, it took respondent sheriff 13 days before he released the vehicle to complainant, a clear violation of Section 6, Rule 60 of the 1997 Revised Rules of Civil Procedure which provides –

SEC. 6. Disposition of property by sheriff.—If within five (5) days after the taking of the property by the sheriff, the adverse party does not object to the sufficiency of the bond, or of the surety or sureties thereon; or if the adverse party so objects and the court affirms its approval of the applicant’s bond or approves a new bond, or if the adverse party requires the return of the property but his bond is objected to and found insufficient and he does not forthwith file an approved bond, the property shall be delivered to the applicant. If for any reason the property is not delivered to the applicant, the sheriff must return it to the adverse party. (6a)

In Apuyan, Jr. v. Sta Isabel,[8] citing Alvarez, Jr. v. Martin,[9] a sheriff was similarly found guilty of grave misconduct, dishonesty and conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service for receiving and soliciting money from the complainant and for deliberately ignoring the rules for the implementation of a writ of attachment, thus –

Furthermore, respondent’s act of demanding money and receiving P1,500.00 from the complainant for the lunch and merienda of the policemen who will accompany him in executing the decision of the Court is a clear violation of section 9, Rule 141. The Rules require the sheriff to estimate his expenses in the execution of the decision. The prevailing party will then deposit the said amount to the Clerk of Court who will disburse the amount to the sheriff, subject to liquidation. Any unspent amount will have to be returned to the prevailing party.  In this case, no estimate of sheriff’s expenses was submitted to the court by respondent.  In fact, the money which respondent deputy sheriff had demanded and received from complainant was not among those prescribed and authorized by the Rules of Court. This Court has ruled that any amount received by the sheriff in excess of the lawful fees allowed by the Rules of Court is an unlawful exaction and renders him liable for grave misconduct and gross dishonesty.

Finally, the procedure for execution of a final judgment is the same as that in carrying out a writ of preliminary attachment, as set forth in Rule 141 of the Rules of Court…

Clearly, in this case, respondent not only utterly failed to live up to the high ethical standards required of a sheriff, but also, he totally ignored Section 9, Rule 141 of the Rules of Court. Respondent failed to demonstrate that he followed the procedure laid down by Rule 141.

The OCA’s recommendation that respondent be found guilty of grave misconduct, dishonesty and conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service is firmly supported by the records of this case.

Section 52, Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (Resolution No. 991936, effective September 27, 1999), provides –

Section 52. 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

3.            Grave Misconduct

1st Offense – Dismissal

20.          Conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service

1st offense – Suspension (6 mos. 1 day to 1 year)

2nd offense – Dismissal

The imposable penalty for commission of the first offense of grave misconduct and dishonesty is dismissal.  In the cases of Apuyan, Jr. v. Sta Isabel,[10] and Albello v. Galvez,[11] however, the fact that the respondent sheriffs were first time offenders was considered a mitigating circumstance, hence they were meted the penalty of 1 year suspension instead of dismissal.  Accordingly, since this is respondent sheriff’s first offense, the penalty of 1 year suspension will suffice.

With respect to respondent Taguba, we find the sanction of reprimand too light a penalty for his transgression.  Although it was not him who deliberately delayed the delivery of the vehicle to force complainant to yield to the sheriff’s demand, and that complainant did not point to him as the one who received the amount of P2,000.00, respondent Taguba assisted respondent sheriff in soliciting money from complainant.  Note that respondent Taguba is a process server of another branch of the MTCC of Santiago City but he volunteered to aid respondent sheriff in the implementation of the writ.  He not only demanded P8,000.00 from complainant after the implementation of the writ but also tagged along with respondent sheriff when the latter tried to exact P6,000.00 from complainant before the vehicle was released to the latter.  Furthermore, respondent Taguba had been previously suspended for 1 month in Albano-Madrid v. Apolonio,[12] for simple misconduct in playing cards with other court personnel inside the Judge’s chambers during office hours.  Indeed, reprimand is not commensurate to his incorrigible conduct.  Under the circumstances, the penalty of 6 months suspension is appropriate.

At the grassroots of our judicial machinery, sheriffs are indispensably in close contact with the litigants, hence, their conduct should be geared towards maintaining the prestige and integrity of the court, for the image of a court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work thereat, from the judge to the least and lowest of its personnel; hence, it becomes the imperative sacred duty of each and everyone in the court to maintain its good name and standing as a temple of justice.[13]

WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, respondent Romeo Gatcheco, Sheriff III, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 1, Santiago City is found GUILTY of Grave Misconduct, Dishonesty and Conduct Grossly Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service and is SUSPENDED for one (1) year, without pay.  Respondent Eugenio Taguba, Process Server, Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch 2, Santiago City is found GUILTY of Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service and is SUSPENDED for six (6) months without pay.

Respondents are warned that a repetition of the same or any other act of infraction in the future shall be dealt with most severely.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J. (Chairman), Quisumbing, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, p. 016.

[2] TSN, Testimony of Alibsar Adoma, 7 November 2003, pp. 11-13.

[3] Id., pp. 14-23.

[4] TSN, Testimony of Romeo Gatcheco, 21 November 2003, p. 12.

[5] Rollo, p. 025.

[6] Resolution dated February 4, 2004.

[7] Abalde v. Roque, Jr., A.M. No. P-02-1643, 1 April 2003, 400 SCRA 210, 214.

[8] A.M. No. P-01-1497, 28 May 2004.

[9] A.M. No. P-03-1724, 18 September 2003, 411 SCRA 248.

[10] Supra, note 8.

[11] A.M. No. P-01-1476, 16 January 2003, 395 SCRA 251, 255.

[12] A.M. No. P-01-1517, 7 February 2003, 397 SCRA 120.

[13] Imperial v. Santiago, Jr., A.M. No. P-01-1449, 24 February 2003, 398 SCRA 75, 86.