Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

A.M. No. P-12-3036               June 20, 2012
(Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 10-3384-P)

CLERK OF COURT ARLYN A. HERMANO, Complainant,
vs.
EDWIN D. CARDEÑO, Utility Worker I, Municipal Trial Court, Cabuyao, Laguna, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

VILLARAMA, JR., J.:

Before us is an administrative complaint1 filed by Arlyn A. Hermano, Clerk of Court of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Cabuyao, Province of Laguna, charging respondent Edwin D. Cardeño with three counts of grave misconduct.

Complainant summarized the charges and concomitant antecedent facts as follows:

A. First Count

On December 7, 2009, complainant reported for work and discovered that her Daily Time Record (DTR), the office attendance logbook, and the DTR of another office mate, Elvira B. Manlegro, were missing. Later that day, she was also told that the records of criminal cases scheduled for hearing on February 1, 2010 and the stenographic notes for a criminal case for slander were also missing. The incident was reported to the then Presiding Judge, Judge Conrado L. Zumaraga, and the Cabuyao Laguna Police Station. Then, complainant issued an Office Memorandum2 on December 8, 2009, requiring all court personnel to locate the missing records. The memorandum was received by all court personnel on the same day except by respondent who refused to receive it because according to him, he was on leave. Later in the afternoon, however, respondent returned all 20 missing court records.

On December 10, 2009, complainant issued a Memorandum3 to respondent requiring him to explain the reason for his possession of such court records, but respondent refused to receive the memorandum.

B. Second Count

On December 15, 2009, complainant discovered that the DTRs of seven court personnel were missing. She reported the incident to the presiding judge and the police and also ordered that the lock of the courtroomís main door be changed. An inventory of all case records was then conducted and it was found that the records of 36 criminal and civil cases, including some affidavits and documentary evidence, were missing. Six personnel documented the loss of their individual DTRs in a Joint Affidavit dated December 16, 2009 while Presiding Judge Zumaraga reported the loss of the court records on December 17, 2009 to the Court Administrator and their return by respondent on December 8, 2009.

Complainant further averred that on January 4, 2010, respondent returned all but one of the missing case records, as well as all the DTRs of the entire court staff for the period December 1-14, 2009. Only the case records of Criminal Case No. 9833, entitled People v. Roberto Mendoza, et al. for serious physical injuries, was not returned by respondent. She issued a memorandum4 to respondent on January 5, 2010 requiring respondent to explain why he was in possession of the missing court records without proper authorization from the complainant or the presiding judge. She likewise ordered respondent in Memorandum5 dated January 6, 2010, to explain why he failed to file the appropriate applications for leave for December 7, 8, 18, 21 to 23 and 28 to 29, 2009, when the DTRs for the said dates, which he earlier took and later returned, showed that he was absent on said dates and the attendance logbook showed that he reported for work in the morning of December 14 and 16, 2009 but did not punch out in the afternoon. She also pointed out to respondent that the office attendance logbook showed that he failed to log in and log out on December 1-4, 2009, but he did not file any leave application. Additionally, he tore his DTR for December 4, 2009.

Then, on January 11, 2010, she issued a third memorandum6 directing respondent to explain why he erased his attendance in the morning of December 14 and 16, 2009 from his DTR and his attendance on December 14, 2009 in the office logbook.

On January 14, 2010, respondent complied with complainantís directives and sent a letter7 explaining that he did not get the case records but only fixed them. He added that any conflict his actions may have caused has already been clarified with Judge Zumaraga and everything has been patched up. He likewise claimed that the records he returned on January 4, 2010 were just part of the records he returned on December 8, 2009 and that as far as he is concerned, all the records he returned on January 4, 2010 never left the courtís premises. In fact, he claims that the court personnel even saw them before December 15, 2009 while they were doing the inventory that complainant had ordered.

C. Third Count

For the period July to December 2009, complainant gave respondent a rating of "Unsatisfactory" in view of the incidents mentioned above and his failure to perform his tasks and duties as Utility Worker II. Upon learning about such rating, respondent no longer cooperated in the office and began to misbehave. On March 19, 2010, complainant again discovered that the DTRs of all the court personnel and the records of 68 cases were missing. Complainant reported the incident to Acting Presiding Judge Josefina Siscar and requested for an investigation. Complainant also sought the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation.

In addition to the above charges, complainant also mentioned in her Complaint-Affidavit that respondent sent to her the following two text messages:

"Ano oras ako pu2nta liv nko ng mtgal pasencya n d k nman gnusto to mgulo lng isip ko pasencya n uli."

Cel No. 09299593089

Date: 4/6/2010

Time: 10:21 pm

"Gud am. Ano b mngya2ri kng ibalik ko record"

Cel No. 09299593089

Date: 4/7/2010

Time: 5:22 am8

Complainant added that respondent also approached her in the afternoon of April 7, 2010 and requested that his performance rating be changed. She then required respondent to return all the missing records but respondent paid no heed to her order and left the office.

On April 29, 2010, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) ordered respondent to file his comment. Respondent ignored the directive and resigned on August 9, 2010. Subsequently, however, he filed a comment dated November 15, 2010 upon receipt of a directive from the OCA reiterating its order for him to file his comment.

In his comment, respondent expressed surprise over having received the directive considering his resignation. Nonetheless, in response to the allegations in the complaint, he explained that his application for leave for the month of December 2009 was misplaced so it was filed out of time while his failure to file applications for leave for his absences from March to June 2010 was due to complainantís refusal to sign the same.

On December 2, 2011, the OCA found respondent liable for grave misconduct but recommended, among others, that respondent be penalized with a fine instead of dismissal in view of his resignation. The OCA recommended that

x x x x

2. a FINE of ₱10,000.00 be imposed against Mr. Edwin Cardeño, with forfeiture of his benefits except accrued leave, if any, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations;

3. Mr. Cardeño be DIRECTED to return the remaining court records still in his possession at the soonest time possible;

4. Ms. Arlyn A. Hermano, Clerk of Court of the same court, be ordered to SHOW CAUSE, within ten (10) days from notice of the Court Resolution, why no disciplinary action should be taken against her for failure to exercise due diligence as custodian of court records and to duly supervise the employees in her branch; and,

5. a judicial audit of cases be CONDUCTED to determine that all cases are properly accounted for.9

We find the recommendations of the OCA to be well-taken.

In Arcenio v. Pagorogon,10 the Court defined misconduct as "a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by the public officer. As differentiated from simple misconduct, in grave misconduct "the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of established rule, must be manifest."11 The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law, or to disregard established rules, which must be established by substantial evidence.12 In this case, respondent was a mere Utility Worker who had no authority to take custody of the office attendance logbook, the DTRs of his office mates, let alone case records. Yet, respondent, taking advantage of his position as a Utility Worker and the access to the court records and documents which such position afforded him, repeatedly wrought havoc on the proper administration of justice by taking case records outside of the courtís premises and preoccupying his office mates with the time-consuming task of locating documents. Without doubt his actions constitute grave misconduct which merits the penalty of dismissal. However, in view of his resignation, the Court finds as proper the recommendation of the OCA to instead impose on respondent the penalty of fine in the amount of ₱10,000 with forfeiture of benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. This of course is without prejudice to any criminal liability he may have already incurred.

As regards the 68 missing court records to date have not yet been found, the Court deems it proper to order complainant to explain why she should not be disciplinarily dealt with in view of the apparent failure on her part to exercise due care in the custody of the said case records. Our courts of justice, regarded by the public as their haven for truth and justice, cannot afford and does not have the luxury of offering excuses to litigants for negligence in its role of safekeeping and preserving the records of cases pending before it. The consequences of such failure or negligence, if there be any, are simply too damaging not just for the parties involved but worse, for our court system as a whole.1‚wphi1

WHEREFORE, respondent Edwin D. Cardeño is found LIABLE for grave misconduct and ordered to pay a fine of ten thousand pesos (₱10,000) with forfeiture of all benefits except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. He is likewise ORDERED to return to the Municipal Trial Court of Cabuyao, Province of Laguna, immediately upon receipt of this decision, any case records still remaining with him. Judge Josefina E. Siscar and Clerk of Court Arlyn A. Hermano are DIRECTED to report to this Court respondentís compliance with the said directive within ten (10) days from receipt thereof. Clerk of Court Hermano is likewise ordered to SHOW CAUSE, within ten (10) days from notice of this decision, why no disciplinary action should be taken against her for failure to exercise due diligence as custodian of court records.

Further, the Office of the Court Administrator is ORDERED (1) to file against respondent the appropriate criminal charges for taking out case records from the courtís premises and keeping the same in his possession without proper authority; and (2) to conduct a judicial audit of cases in the said court to ensure that all cases are properly accounted for.

SO ORDERED.

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO*
Associate Justice
Acting Chairperson

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Associate Justice
MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
Associate Justice

ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE**
Associate Justice


Footnotes

* Designated Acting Chairperson of the First Division per Special Order No. 1226 dated May 30, 2012.

** Designated Acting Member of the First Division per Special Order No. 1227 dated May 30, 2012.

1 Rollo, pp. 1-4.

2 Id. at 9.

3 Id. at 12.

4 Id. at 18.

5 Id. at 19.

6 Id. at 20.

7 Id. at 21.

8 Id. at 3.

9 Id. at 96-97.

10 A.M. No. MTJ-89-270, July 5, 1993, 224 SCRA 246, 254.

11 Bureau of Internal Revenue v. Organo, G.R. No. 149549, February 26, 2004, 424 SCRA 9, 16, citing Landrito v. Civil Service Commission, G.R. Nos. 104304-05, June 22, 1993, 223 SCRA 564, 567.

12 Office of the Court Administrator v. Lopez, A.M. No. P-10-2788, January 18, 2011, 639 SCRA 633, 638, citing Roque v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 179245, July 23, 2008, 559 SCRA 660, 674 and Civil Service Commission v. Ledesma, G.R. No. 154521, September 30, 2005, 471 SCRA 589, 603; Supreme Court v. Delgado, A.M. No. 2011-07-SC, October 4, 2011, p. 14.


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