SC fires Zamboanga clerk of court for missing booklets of official receipts, shortage in JDF

The administration of justice is circumscribed with a heavy burden of responsibility. It requires everyone involved in its dispensation -- from the justices and judges to the lowliest clerks -- to live up to the strictest standards of competence, integrity and diligence in the public service. As frontliners in the administration of justice, they should live up to the strictest standards of honesty and integrity. They must bear in mind that the image of a court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work there.

Clerks of court, in particular, must be individuals of competence, honesty and probity, charged as they are with safeguarding the integrity of the court and its proceedings. They perform a delicate function as designated custodians of the court's funds, revenues, records, properties and premises. As such, they are responsible for ensuring that the courts funds are promptly deposited with an authorized government depositary bank. Thus, they are liable for any loss, shortage, destruction or impairment of such funds and property. This Court will not countenance dishonesty and malversation, for these offenses diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary.

The respondent failed to live up to these exacting standards. She had been grossly negligent in her duties as shown by the following incidents: (1) she left open the courts vault while attending a seminar in Dipolog City; (2) she left P10,670.30 inside the vault; (3) forty-six (46) booklets of official receipts were missing; and (4) she used receipts not requisitioned from the Property Division of the OCA.
Her most serious infractions were the shortages in the Clerk of Court General Fund, Judiciary Development Fund, and the Fiduciary Fund, which amounted to P12,029,741.31. Several irregularities contributed to the accumulation of these shortages: (1) respondent did not deposit some amount of the courts collections as shown by deposit slips which were not machine validated by the bank; (2) monthly reports were not regularly submitted to the Court; (3) reports submitted to the Court contained numerous discrepancies between the amounts reported and the amounts appearing in the official receipts, deposit slips or cash books; (4) she did not maintain a cash book for the Judiciary Development Fund; (5) respondent withdrew cash bail from the Fiduciary Fund without court orders or without any acknowledgment receipts; (6) fines imposed on the cash bail were not remitted; (7) confiscated cash bails were not remitted to the Judiciary Development Fund; and (8) respondent did not remit the 1% commission she collected on money received by the court.

The fact that respondent failed to exert any effort to defend herself from the charges against her exacerbates her predicament. The natural instinct of a man is to resist an unfounded claim or imputation and defend himself, for it is totally against human nature to remain silent and say nothing in the face of false accusations. Silence, in such cases, is almost always construed as an implied admission of the truth thereof. Thus, in the absence of any compelling reason to hold otherwise, we take respondents silence as a waiver to file her comment and an acknowledgment of the truthfulness of the charges against her.
Worse, she had effectively admitted her accountability for the shortages in the courts funds when she wrote the letter to Judge Mariano requesting that her accrued leave credits be used to answer for any amount which the audit team would find unaccounted for. Dishonesty, particularly that which amounts to malversation of public funds, will not be tolerated. Otherwise, courts of justice may come to be regarded as mere havens of thievery and corruption.

The seriousness of respondent's infractions amounts to gross neglect of duty, dishonesty and grave misconduct, and merits dismissal from the service. However, on July 26, 2007, the Court already dismissed respondent from the service also for gross dishonesty and grave misconduct with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to reemployment in the government service. Nonetheless, this does not render the case moot. Respondent cannot avoid administrative liability by her previous dismissal from the service. For this case involving additional serious offenses, in lieu of dismissal from the service, the Court finds it proper to impose on her a fine of P40,000.00 to be deducted from her accrued leave credits.

The recommendation to hold the respondent in contempt of court is likewise warranted. Indifference to the Courts Resolutions requiring the production of certain documents makes respondent guilty of contempt of court. Such cavalier attitude disregards the duty of every employee in the Judiciary to obey the orders and processes of this Court without delay. When the contempt consists in the refusal to do an act which is still within the power of respondent to perform, she may be imprisoned by order of the court until she performs it. (A.M. No. P-04-1917; December 10, 2007)

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