Simple misconduct of a sheriff

In EDGARDO A. QUILO, Complainant, vs. ROGELIO G. JUNDARINO, SHERIFF III, METROPOLITAN TRIAL COURT, BRANCH 19, MANILA, Respondent (A.M. No. P-09-2644, July 30, 2009), after a thorough review of the records of the case, the Supreme Court agreed with the findings of the OCA that Sheriff Jundarino is guilty of simple misconduct.

Sheriff Jundarino’s main defense against Quilo’s Complaint herein is denial. Sheriff Jundarino denies that he went to Quilo’s residence on 12 February 2008. Although Sheriff Jundarino admits being at Quilo’s residence on 27 March 2008, the former again denies that he and his company forcibly entered the premises without Quilo’s permission. Sheriff Jundarino also denies that he coerced Quilo’s wife and neighbors to signing a document to the effect that they would voluntarily vacate the premises by 10 April 2008. Sheriff Jundarino further denies that he uttered to Quilo on 12 February 2008, "ikaw ang una kong tatrabahuin at ipapademolis sa sandaling magmatigas pa kayo sa pagbalik ko"; or that he said to Quilo’s wife on 27 March 2008 that he was only given 72 hours within which to implement the order of the court.

It is settled that denial is inherently a weak defense. To be believed, it must be buttressed by strong evidence of non-culpability; otherwise, such denial is purely self-serving and is with nil evidentiary value. Like the defense of alibi, denial crumbles in the light of positive declarations.

Sheriff Jundarino undeniably failed to substantiate the allegations in his Comment. He could have easily submitted evidence in support of his defense – such as affidavits of people who could attest as to where he was on 12 February 2008, or of people who were with him during his 27 March 2008 visit to Quilo’s residence – but he utterly failed to do so. The basic rule is that mere allegation is not evidence and is not equivalent to proof.

Sheriff Jundarino’s duty is to implement the Writ of Execution dated 28 November 2007 at No. 2519 Granate St., Sta.Ana, Manila. Given Quilo’s assertions that his residence was actually at No. 2518 Granate St., San Andres Bukid, Manila, and that he was not even a party to Civil Case No. 158273-CV, the more prudent course of action for Sheriff Jundarino was to defer implementation of the said Writ until a determination by the MeTC of Quilo’s Motion to Quash the same. It bears to stress that said Motion was already scheduled for hearing on 28 March 2008, just a day after Sheriff Jundarino’s second visit to Quilo’s residence on 27 March 2008.

Without even considering whether Quilo’s residence is the same as the property involved in Civil Case No. 158273-CV, the Court finds that Sheriff Jundarino’s acts herein – i.e., his rude and inappropriate remarks and aggressive behavior during his visits to Quilo’s residence on 12 February 2008 and 27 March 2008 to implement the Writ of Execution issued in the aforementioned case; as well as his unreasonable insistence on implementing the said Writ on 27 March 2008 despite the fact that Quilo’s Motion to Quash the same was already set to be heard the very next day, 28 March 2008 – constitute simple misconduct.

Time and time again, the Supreme Court has emphasized that the conduct or behavior of all officials and employees of an agency involved in the administration of justice, from the presiding judge to the most junior clerk, should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility. Their conduct must at all times be characterized by, among others, strict propriety and decorum in order to earn and maintain the respect of the public for the judiciary.
Part of this stringent requirement is that agents of the law should refrain from the use of language that is abusive, offensive, scandalous, menacing or otherwise improper. Judicial employees are expected to accord every due respect, not only to their superiors, but also to others and their rights at all times. Their every act and word should be characterized by prudence, restraint, courtesy and dignity. Sheriff Jundarino’s utterance of "ikaw ang una kong tatrabahuin at ipapademolis sa sandaling magmatigas pa kayo sa pagbalik ko" to Quilo, while effecting the Writ of Execution, was an evident violation of the foregoing rules of conduct for judicial employees.

All employees in the judiciary should be examples of responsibility, competence, and efficiency. As officers of the court and agents of the law, they must discharge their duties with due care and utmost diligence. Any conduct they exhibit tending to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary will not be condoned.

The Court has even higher expectations from its sheriffs. Sheriffs play an important role in the administration of justice, and they should always invigorate and hold in violate the tenet that a public office is a public trust. Being at the grassroots of our judicial machinery, sheriffs and deputy sheriffs are in close contact with the litigants; hence, their conduct should all the more maintain the prestige and the integrity of the court. By the very nature of their functions, sheriffs must conduct themselves with propriety and decorum, so as to be above suspicion. Sheriffs cannot afford to err in serving court writs and processes and in implementing court orders, lest they undermine the integrity of their office and the efficient administration of justice.

The Court reiterates that a sheriff, who is an officer of the court upon whom the execution of a final judgment depends, must be circumspect in his behavior. As an officer of the court and therefore agent of the law, Sheriff Jundarino is mandated to discharge his duties with due care and utmost diligence because, in serving the court’s writs and processes and in implementing its lawful orders, he cannot afford to err without affecting the administration of justice. Any method of execution falling short of the requirement of the law deserves reproach and should not be countenanced.

In Office of the Court Administrator v. Judge Octavio A. Fernandez, the Court defined misconduct as any unlawful conduct, on the part of a person concerned in the administration of justice, prejudicial to the rights of parties or to the right determination of the cause. It generally means wrongful, improper, unlawful conduct motivated by a premeditated, obstinate or intentional purpose.

Under Section 52, B(2), Rule IV of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, simple misconduct is punishable by suspension for one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months for the first offense, and dismissal for the second offense. Since this is Sheriff Jundarino’s first infraction in his 16 years of service in the Judiciary, and he has not been previously administratively faulted; and so as not to hamper the performance of the duties of his office, the Court, instead of suspending Sheriff Jundarino, is imposing upon him a fine in an amount equivalent to his three (3) months’ salary.

As a result of the case, respondent Rogelio G. Jundarino, Sheriff III, Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila, Branch 19, was found LIABLE for simple misconduct and was ordered to pay a FINE in an amount equivalent to his three (3) months’ salary with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar infraction shall be dealt with more severely.