SECOND DIVISION

EXECUTIVE JUDGE LEONILO A.M. No. P-06-2206

B. APITA, Regional Trial Court,

Branch 7, Tacloban City, Present:

Complainant,

CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,*

PERALTA,

- versus - ABAD, and

MENDOZA, JJ.

MARISSA M. ESTANISLAO,

Court Legal Researcher II,

Regional Trial Court, Branch 34, Promulgated:

Tacloban City,

Respondent. March 16, 2011

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R E S O L U T I O N

 

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

This is an administrative complaint for insubordination filed by Executive Judge Leonilo B. Apita of the Regional Trial Court (Branch 7) of Tacloban City against respondent Marissa M. Estanislao, Court Legal Researcher II in Branch 34 of the same court.

The Facts

In 2004, Atty. Pamela A. Navarrete, Court Interpreter in Branch 7 of the RTC of Tacloban City, was appointed as Clerk IV under Justice Pampio Abarintos of the Court of Appeals, leaving the position of Court Interpreter in Branch 7 vacant. Judge Apita designated respondent to act as Court Interpreter in the said Branch until the vacancy was filled up.1

However, respondent refused to act as Court Interpreter claiming that her designation was a demotion tantamount to removal from the service without cause; that interpreting during trials was not included in the duties and responsibilities of her present position; and that she was not defying Judge Apita’s directive, but merely asserting her right as a civil service employee holding a permanent appointment.2

In his Complaint3 for insubordination filed in the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), Judge Apita requested the OCA to rule whether his directive designating respondent as Court Interpreter in Branch 7 was valid and if so, whether respondent may be subjected to administrative sanctions for insubordination.

The Complaint was docketed as OCA-IPI No. 04-2051-P. The OCA forthwith required respondent to submit her Comment.4

In her Comment,5 respondent maintained that acting as Court Interpreter was outside the scope of her job description as Legal Researcher and constituted a demotion tantamount to removal from the service without cause.

The OCA’s Report and Recommendation

The OCA, in its Report and Recommendation,6 found respondent liable for insubordination. According to the OCA, Judge Apita acted well within his authority in designating respondent as Court Interpreter in view of the vacancy in the position. The OCA explained that respondent had no right to defy Judge Apita’s directive in the absence of any showing of abuse of discretion or any proof that the designation was due to some improper motive. The OCA recommended that respondent be suspended from the service for one (1) month and one (1) day with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar act in the future shall be dealt with more severely, thus:

Respectfully submitted for the consideration of the Honorable Court are our recommendations that:

1. This matter be FORMALLY DOCKETED as an administrative complaint against Marissa M. Estanislao, Legal Researcher, RTC, Branch 34, Tacloban City; and

2. Marissa M. Estanislao be SUSPENDED for one (1) month and one (1) day for insubordination with a WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar act in the future shall be dealt with more severely.7

The Court’s Ruling

This is an administrative complaint of first impression involving the designation of court personnel by an executive judge. Judge Apita admitted he was unsure whether he could designate a Legal Researcher from one branch to act as a Court Interpreter in another branch of the same court. Hence, he brought the matter to the OCA for a ruling.

In Castro v. Bague,8 the Sheriff IV of the RTC (Branch 1) of Tagbilaran City was designated to act as Deputy Sheriff in the Office of the Clerk of Court to fill a temporary vacancy. The Court did not question the designation since the duties of a Sheriff IV are identical with the duties of a Deputy Sheriff as described in the 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court9 (Manual), which defines the general functions of all court personnel in the judiciary.

Under 2.2.4 of Chapter VI, Volume I of the Manual, the Sheriff IV is tasked with serving writs and processes of the court; keeping custody of attached properties; and maintaining the record book on writs of execution, writs of attachment, writs of replevin, writs of injunction, and all other processes. Under 2.1.5 of the same Chapter, the Deputy Sheriff serves writs and processes of the court; keeps custody of attached properties; and maintains the record book on writs of execution, writs of attachment, writs of replevin, writs of injunction, and all other processes. Unarguably, the Sheriff IV and the Deputy Sheriff perform exactly the same functions.

The duties of a Legal Researcher in the RTC are described under 2.2.1 of Chapter VI, Volume I of the Manual, to wit:

1. verifies authorities on questions of law raised by parties- litigants in cases brought before the Court as may be assigned by the Presiding Judge;

2. prepares memoranda on evidence adduced by the parties after the hearing;

3. prepares outlines of the facts and issues involved in cases set for pre-trial for the guidance of the Presiding Judge;

4. prepares indexes to be attached to the records showing the important pleadings filed, the pages where they may be found, and in general, the status of the case;

5. prepares and submits to the Branch Clerk of Court a monthly list of cases or motions submitted for decision or resolution, indicating therein the deadlines for acting on the same; and

6. performs such other duties as may be assigned by the Presiding Judge or the Branch Clerk of Court.

On the other hand, 2.2.3 of Chapter VI, Volume I of the Manual describes the functions of a Court Interpreter in the RTC thus:

1. acts as translator of the court;

2. attends court hearings;

3. administers oath to witnesses;

4. marks exhibits introduced in evidence and prepares the corresponding list of exhibits;

5. prepares and signs minutes of the court session;

6. maintains and keeps custody of record book of cases calendared for hearing;

7. prepares court calendars and the records of cases set for hearing; and

8. performs such other functions as may, from time to time, be assigned by the Presiding Judge and/or Branch Clerk of Court.

Notably, the duties of a Legal Researcher are vastly different from those of a Court Interpreter. A Legal Researcher focuses mainly on verifying legal authorities, drafting memoranda on evidence, outlining facts and issues in cases set for pre-trial, and keeping track of the status of cases. On the other hand, a Court Interpreter is limited to acting as translator of the court, administering oaths to witnesses, marking exhibits, preparing minutes of court session, and preparing the court calendar.

While the Manual provides that court personnel may perform other duties the presiding judge may assign from time to time, said additional duties must be directly related to, and must not significantly vary from, the court personnel’s job description. However, in case of a sudden vacancy in a court position, the judge may temporarily designate a court personnel with the competence and skills for the position even if the duties for such position are different from the prescribed duties of the court personnel. The temporary designation shall last only for such period as is necessary to designate temporarily a court personnel with the appropriate prescribed duties. Such temporary designation cannot go on for an indefinite period, or until the vacancy is filled up like in the designation by Judge Apita to respondent in this case.

Section 7, Canon IV of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel10 expressly states that court personnel shall not be required to perform any work outside the scope of their job description, thus:

Sec. 7. Court personnel shall not be required to perform any work or duty outside the scope of their assigned job description. (Emphasis supplied)

In Re: Report of Senior Chief Staff Officer Antonina A. Soria on the Financial Audit Conducted on the Accounts of Clerk of Court Elena E. Jabao, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Jordan-Buenavista-Nueva Ecija, Guimaras,11 the Clerk of Court of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Jordan-Buenavista-Nueva Valencia in Guimaras was designated to act as Court Stenographer in addition to her duties as Clerk of Court to fill in for the newly appointed Court Stenographer who was not yet well-versed in stenography. The designation passed the Court’s scrutiny as the duties of a Court Stenographer are subsumed under the general responsibilities of a Clerk of Court since Clerks of Court exercise control and supervision over Court Stenographers.

In the instant case, both Legal Researcher and Court Interpreter are subject to the control and supervision of the Clerk of Court.12 Since Legal Researchers do not exercise control and supervision over Court Interpreters,13the duties of a Court Interpreter cannot be deemed subsumed under the general functions of a Legal Researcher.

While the executive judge may not require court personnel to perform work outside the scope of their job description, except duties that are identical with or are subsumed under their present functions, the executive judge may reassign court personnel of multiple-branch courts to another branch within the same area of administrative supervision when there is a vacancy or when the interest of the service requires, after consultation with the presiding judges of the branches concerned. Section 6, Chapter VII of A.M. No. 03-8-02-SC Re: Guidelines on the Selection and Designation of Executive Judges and Defining their Powers, Prerogatives and Duties14 so provides:

Sec. 6. Reassignment of lower court personnel. – (a) Executive Judges of the RTCs shall continue to have authority to effect the following temporary assignments within his/her area of administrative supervision:

1. Personnel of one branch to another branch of a multiple-branch court;

x x x x

Reassignments shall be made only in case of vacancy in a position in a branch, or when the interest of the service so requires. In either case, the assignment shall be made only after consultation with the Presiding Judges of the branches concerned. In case of any disagreement, the matter shall be referred to the OCA for resolution. (Emphasis supplied)

However, consistent with Section 7, Canon IV of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel, the reassignment of court personnel in multiple-branch courts to another branch within the same area of the executive judge’s administrative supervision must involve (1) work within the scope of the court personnel’s job description or (2) duties that are identical with or are subsumed under the court personnel’s present functions.

In this case, since respondent’s job description is that of Legal Researcher, Judge Apita may not designate her to act as Court Interpreter indefinitely or until the vacancy is filled up. The said designation will require respondent to perform work, which is outside the scope of her job description and which involves duties not identical with or subsumed under respondent’s current functions. To do so would violate the express language of Section 7, Canon IV of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel.

This rule is rooted in the time-honored constitutional principle that public office is a public trust. Hence, all public officers and employees, including court personnel in the judiciary, must serve the public with utmost responsibility and efficiency.15 Exhorting court personnel to exhibit the highest sense of dedication to their assigned duty necessarily precludes requiring them to perform any work outside the scope of their assigned job description, save for duties that are identical with or are subsumed under their present functions.

Indeed, requiring a Legal Researcher to perform the work of a Court Interpreter is counter-productive and does not serve the ends of justice. Not only will respondent jeopardize her present position as Legal Researcher by constantly shifting from one job to another, her qualification as Court Interpreter will also be put in question. This arrangement does nothing but compromise court personnel’s professional responsibility and optimum efficiency in the performance of their respective roles in the dispensation of justice.

Judge Apita may not designate respondent to act as Court Interpreter for an indefinite period or until a new Court Interpreter is appointed. To meet a sudden vacancy or emergency, Judge Apita may only designate respondent in an acting capacity pending designation of a Court Interpreter from another branch of the RTC of Tacloban City to temporarily fill the vacancy in Branch 7 of the same court. This would have been in accord with pertinent rules governing the reassignment of, and the code of conduct for, court personnel.

WHEREFORE, we DISMISS for lack of merit the instant administrative complaint for insubordination filed by Executive Judge Leonilo B. Apita of the Regional Trial Court (Branch 7) of Tacloban City against respondent Marissa M. Estanislao, Legal Researcher II in Branch 34 of the same court.

SO ORDERED.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO

Associate Justice

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice Associate Justice

JOSE C. MENDOZA

Associate Justice

*Designated additional member per Special Order No. 933-A dated 24 January 2011.

1Rollo, p. 24.

2Id. at 25-26, 28-30.

3Id. at 2-6.

4Id. at 14.

5Id. at 16-23.

6Id. at 35-36.

7Id. at 36.

8411 Phil. 532 (2001).

9Dated 8 March 2002.

10Otherwise known as A.M. No. 03-06-13-SC. Effective 1 June 2004.

11359 Phil. 385 (1998).

12Chapter VI, Volume I of the 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court.

13Id.

14Approved 27 January 2004.

15Court Personnel of the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court-San Carlos City v. Llamas, 488 Phil. 62 (2004).