May 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Legal and Judicial Ethics

Here are selected May 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on legal and judicial ethics:

Court personnel; gross dishonesty and gross misconduct. It is the clerks of court’s duty to faithfully perform their duties and responsibilities as such “to the end that there was full compliance with function, that of being custodians of the court’s funds and revenues, records, properties and premises.”  They are the chief administrative officers of their respective courts. It is also their duty to ensure that the proper procedures are followed in the collection of cash bonds. Clerks of court are officers of the law who perform vital functions in the prompt and sound administration of justice. Their office is the hub of adjudicative and administrative orders, processes and concerns. Thus, the unwarranted failure to fulfill these responsibilities deserves administrative sanction and not even the full payment of the collection shortages will exempt the accountable officer from liability. By failing to properly remit the cash collections constituting public funds, Recio violated the trust reposed in her as disbursement officer of the Judiciary.  Her failure to explain satisfactorily the fund shortage, and to restitute the shortage and fully comply with the Court’s directives leave us no choice but to hold her liable for gross neglect of duty and gross dishonesty. Office of the Court Administrator v. Recio, A.M. No. P-11-2932. May 30, 2011

Court personnel; duty of sheriff. A court sheriff’s act of distorting the facts in his Officer’s Return during the implementation of a writ issued by a trial court is a matter that remains within the supervisory control of the court. The alleged errors committed by the court’s ministerial officers, like the respondent sheriff, should be correctible by the court. The alleged irregularities should have been brought first to the RTC for its resolution. The same is true with the writ of possession itself. It was the judge’s responsibility as the writ was issued by the court. The respondent sheriff’s duty, it must be stressed, is only to implement the writ and this duty is ministerial. Maylas v. Esmeria, A.M. No. P-11-2932. May 30, 2011

Court personnel; misconduct.  A complaint for Grave Misconduct was filed by Judge Tan against Quitorio, then an RTC Legal Researcher, for allegedly drafting a resolution of a motion to dismiss in a case which was not assigned to him and for thereafter informing one of the parties in that case that he had already submitted the draft to Judge Tan and that the said party should follow it up with the judge. Misconduct has been defined as “a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer.” 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, all of which must be established by substantial evidence, and must necessarily be manifest in a charge of grave misconduct. Corruption, as an element of grave misconduct, consists in the act of an official or fiduciary person who unlawfully and wrongfully uses his station or character to procure some benefit for himself or for another person, contrary to duty and the rights of others. The Court finds itself hardly convinced that Quitorio prepared the draft resolution of the motion knowing that the case was not assigned to him in the absence of clear evidence of that fact.  However, Quitorio’s admission that he informed a party about the submission of his draft resolution to Judge Tan, and advised said party to follow it up with Judge Tan in her sala, is violative of the confidentiality required of court personnel and constitutes simple misconduct.  A court personnel is prohibited from disclosing confidential information to any unauthorized person. Tan v. Quitorio, A.M. No. P-11-2919. May 30, 2011.

Court personnel; grave misconduct. A security guard employed by the Supreme Court was charged administratively for the theft of used galvinized iron sheets in the SC Compound in Baguio City. There is reasonable ground to believe that Tugas is indeed responsible for the taking of the GI sheets. It is hard to believe that Tugas, being the back post guard at the time, did not hear the rattling and clanging sound of GI sheets being moved and dropped below the perimeter fence. Tugas’ attire at the night of the incident matched that of the culprit as described by the boarder. Misconduct has been defined as “a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer.” 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, all of which must be established by substantial evidence, and must necessarily be manifest in a charge of grave misconduct.  Corruption, as an element of grave misconduct, consists in the act of an official or fiduciary person who unlawfully and wrongfully uses his station or character to procure some benefit for himself or for another person, contrary to duty and the rights of others. Furthermore, misconduct warranting removal from office of an officer must have direct relation to and be connected with the performance of official duties amounting either to misadministration or willful, intentional neglect and failure to discharge the duties of the office. Security guards, by the very nature of their work, are mandated to secure the court premises and protect its property from pilferage.  Tugas is bound to safeguard the court premises and its properties. Tugas very clearly violated his duty by taking the GI sheets with the intention to use it for personal house repairs. He unlawfully used his position to procure benefit for himself, blatantly contrary to his duty. With the element of corruption accompanying his unlawful behaviour, Tugas is guilty of grave misconduct. Re: Theft of the Used Galvinized Iron Sheets in the SC Compound, Baguio, A.M. No. 2008-15-SC. May 31, 2011.

(Mon thanks Glaisa Po for assisting in the preparation of this post.)

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