SC punishes sheriff for assisting police re HLURB order


On October 8, 2010 complainant Espie Catolico filed a letter-complaint against respondent Juanito B. Francisco, Jr., Sheriff IV, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Antipolo City, for negligence, abuse of authority, violation of the right to due process of law, grave coercion, and malicious mischief. She alleged that on July 2, 2010 upon returning from work she saw her house in Peñafrancia, Cupang, Antipolo City, already demolished with her belongings scattered around the place. She learned from neighbors that a certain Felicidad Barcena of the Mayon Estate Corporation (Mayon Estate), assisted by Sheriff Francisco, caused the demolition of her house and about 20 others.

Sheriff Francisco denied the charges against him, claiming that the complaint stemmed from the demolition of the houses pursuant to the March 15, 2010 Order of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB). The demolition was carried out at the instance of Mayon Estate and NBC Agro-Industrial Development Corporation. The HLURB Order directed the Office of the Ex-Officio Sheriff of Antipolo City to remove and demolish, with the assistance of the police, all the illegal structures of squatters and illegal settlers inside Peñafrancia Hills Subdivision. Sheriff Francisco said that he went to the scene of the demolition merely to escort the assigned police personnel. He left before the demolition began.

Considering the factual issues involved, the Court resolved, upon the recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), to re-docket the case as a regular administrative matter and referred it to the Executive Judge of the RTC in Antipolo City for investigation, report, and recommendation.[1]On January 31, 2012 Executive Judge Ronaldo B. Martin wrote Deputy Court Administrator Raul B. Villanueva a letter, informing him that he had created a committee composed of himself, Vice- Executive Judge Ruth Santos, and RTC Judge Purita Deynata to conduct the required investigation in order to dispel any notion of partiality on his part since Sheriff Francisco's wife worked as court stenographer in his sala.

On May 14, 2012 the committee recommended the imposition of the penalty of reprimand on Sheriff Francisco for "knowingly assisting in the implementation of an order he had absolutely no business being involved in and for pursuing such course of action despite being precluded by his superior from doing so." On August 6, 2012 the Court referred the administrative matter to the OCA for evaluation, report, and recommendation.[2]

On December 14, 2012 the OCA submitted a Memorandum to the Court, finding Sheriff Francisco guilty of simple misconduct and recommending his suspension from the service for one month without pay, with a stern warning against a repetition of the same or similar act. Further, the OCA recommended the issuance of a warning against Judge Martin for creating a committee to assist him in conducting an investigation without prior authority from the Court.

In administrative proceedings such as the present, the complainant bears the burden of proving his allegations by substantial evidence.[3] Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.[4] Here, Catolico failed to substantiate her allegations that Sheriff Francisco actually took part in demolishing her house and those of others. She and Elena Elevado merely testified about what they heard from others. Indeed, they did not see Sheriff Francisco in the course of the demolition of the houses. The Court cannot give probative value to Gloria Roxas' statements in her affidavit since admittedly it was Catolico who prepared the same.

In any event, Judge Martin and his assisting committee found evidence that Atty. Joselita M. Santos, Clerk of Court and his immediate superior, did not authorize Sheriff Francisco to accompany the police officers to the office of Barcena of Mayon Estate on July 2, 2010 notwithstanding a supposed HLURB Order. In fact, Atty. Santos[5] advised Sheriff Francisco as early as March 17, 2010, when her office received the HLURB Order, to refrain from taking part in the subject demolition. It was for the police to extend to Mayon Estate any assistance it required in carrying out the HLURB Order.

The records show that the Officer-in-Charge of the Antipolo Police Station granted the letter-request of Sheriff Francisco and Barcena of the Mayon Estate for police assistance in the demolition of target houses at the Peñafrancia Hills Subdivision. Clearly, Sheriff Francisco had involved himself in the preparatory works. Indeed, he appears to have been taking orders from Barcena. He admitted accompanying the police to the Mayon Estate's office, about 100 meters from the demolition site.

But sheriffs are ministerial officers of the courts. They are agents of the law, not agents of the parties. No sheriff can act as special deputy sheriff of any party litigant.[6] Sheriff Francisco had no business going as far as he did in assisting Mayon Estate without authority from or against the advice of his superior.

Sheriff Francisco's action in this case constitutes simple misconduct which, under Section 22, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order 292 (otherwise known as the Administrative Code of 1987) and Section 52 (B) (2), Rule IV of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, is punishable by suspension for one month and one day to six months for the first offense, and dismissal for the second offense. Considering, however, that this is Sheriff Francisco's first administrative offense and so as not to hamper the performance of the duties of his office, the Court, instead of suspending him, is imposing upon him a fine of P5,000.00.

WHEREFORE, the Court FINDS respondent Juanito B. Francisco, Jr., Sheriff IV, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Antipolo City, GUILTY of simple misconduct and FINES him P5,000.00 with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.

The Court expresses annoyance in Executive Judge Ronaldo B. Martin's act of creating a committee to assist him in investigating the case without prior authority from it.


[1] Resolution dated October 3, 2011.[2] Resolution dated August 6, 2012.

[3] Sps. Pan v. Salamat, 525 Phil. 540, 545 (2006).

[4] Id.

[5] Affidavit dated April 3, 2012.

[6] Donton v. Loria, 519 Phil. 212, 218 (2006).