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A.M. No.

2016-03-SC, February 21, 2017

RE: ILLEGAL AND UNAUTHORIZED DIGGING AND EXCAVATION ACTIVITIES


INSIDE THE SUPREME COURT COMPOUND, BAGUIO CITY.

A.M. No. 16-06-07-SC, February 21, 2017

RE: INVESTIGATION REPORT ON THE ALLEGED UNAUTHORIZED DIGGING


AND EXCAVATION ACTIVITIES WITHIN THE SUPREME COURT COMPOUND IN
BAGUIO CITY.

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

This administrative matter refers to the illegal and unauthorized digging and excavation activities
inside the Supreme Court Compound in Baguio City (SC Compound-BC).

The present case is rooted on a complaint1 dated January 6, 2016 filed by Elvie A. Carbonel
(Carbonel), casual Utility Worker II, Maintenance Unit, SC Compound-BC, before the Office of
Administrative Services (OAS) against Engr. Teofilo G. Sanchez (Engr. Sanchez), SC
Supervising Judicial Staff Officer and Officer-in-Charge of the Maintenance Unit, and Edgardo
Z. Hallera (Hallera), casual Utility Worker II of the same unit, for grave misconduct relating to
the illegal and unauthorized digging and excavation activity allegedly conducted outside the
cottages of Associate Justices Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., (Cottage J) and Martin S. Villarama, Jr.,
(Cottage F).2

The complaint alleged that: first, Engr. Sanchez ordered Hallera to conduct excavation activities
near the Cottages F and J3 to search for hidden Japanese treasures;4 and second, due to the said
excavation activities in the area, the structural soundness of the foundation of the cottages was
compromised.5

On January 8, 2016, the OAS sent a three-man team composed of its personnel to the SC
Compound-BC to determine the veracity of the complaint. The team found no apparent signs of
disturbance on the ground or traces of recent excavation and excavated soil on the site during its
initial investigation; nevertheless, it recommended that a formal investigation be conducted after
several employees admitted that there was a hole which was deliberately concealed by Hallera.6

On January 11, 2016, the OAS furnished Engr. Sanchez and Hallera with a copy of the complaint
and directed them to submit their respective comments within five days from notice.

In his Memorandum7 dated January 14, 2016, Engr. Sanchez categorically denied that he
surreptitiously ordered Hallera to dig and excavate within the compound to search for hidden
Japanese treasures. He insisted that Carbonel made exaggerations as to the depth of the hole,
considering that only the tip of the ten foot high ladder is shown in the photograph. He also
doubted Carbonel's allegation that the structural soundness of the cottages was affected by the
excavation activities, since the latter is no expert on building structures and foundations.

Hallera likewise denied the accusations hurled against him in his Sinumpaang Salaysay8 dated
January 14, 2016. He explained that he dug a hole near Cottage J with a depth of four feet in
order to get fertile soil for use in the garden, but he claimed that the excavation could not have
compromised the structural soundness and stability of the cottage.

Aside from the internal investigation conducted by the OAS, the matter also became the subject
of a separate investigation of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), through its regional
office in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Baguio City, in response to the Letter9
dated March 1, 2016 of Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen, requesting assistance
for the conduct of an independent investigation regarding the alleged unauthorized digging and
excavation activities within the SC Compound-BC.

The Report and Recommendation of the NBI

In a Final Report10 dated June 7, 2016, the NBI concluded that there were two unauthorized
excavation sites within the SC Compound-BC: the first was located below the stairs going to the
2nd level of Cottage F, and the second was at the front yard of Cottage J.

The NBI found that the excavation in Cottage F, which occurred sometime in 2013-2014,
involved Hallera and Carbonel, with the latter employed as the caretaker of the cottage at that
time. On this point, the NBI relied on the testimony of Danilo V. Julio (Julio), a maintenance
personnel assigned to Cottages E and D, who stated that when he was called by Hallera to
Cottage F to check on the hole, it was Carbonel who pointed to the stockroom under the stairs
and insisted that the metal detector had a strong signal in that area.11

Hallera, too, affirmed Julio's statements and admitted that the purpose of the excavation was to
look for hidden Japanese treasures. He however claimed that he only followed Carbonel's
instructions to prove that there was no treasure therein.12

The NBI further reported that the excavation near Cottage J happened sometime in 2014 until
April 2015, and it involved Engr. Sanchez and Hallera. The entrance of the hole which was
supported by a wooden frame, was about two by three feet in circumference. The circumference
got narrower as the hole went deeper, but the actual depth of the excavation and whether there
were branching tunnels could not be determined.13

As for the participation of Engr. Sanchez, the NBI cited the testimony of Elvis L. De Guzman
(De Guzman), a casual utility worker, who recounted that when he reported Hallera's digging
activities near Cottage J to Engr. Sanchez in 2014, the latter told him "[m]alalim na pala ano.
Hayaan mo lang siya, alam naman niya ginagawa niya, huwag niyo na lang pakialaman. "14 De
Guzman also testified that during the Supreme Court Summer Session in 2015, he saw Engr.
Sanchez assisting Hallera at the digging site by holding a flashlight while the latter prepared to
go down the hole.15
Upon the NBI's inquiry, the National Museum of the Philippines confirmed that no person was
issued with the requisite permit to conduct treasure hunting activities within the vicinity of the
SC Compound-BC.16 Consequently, the NBI recommended that Engr. Sanchez, Hallera and
Carbonel be charged with violation of Section 48 of Republic Act No. 10066, or the National
Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, on top of their administrative liabilities for grave misconduct and
conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. 17

On July 5, 2016, the Court en banc issued a resolution referring the NBI's Final Report to Atty.
Eden T. Candelaria, Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Administrative Officer, for consolidation
with the findings and result of the internal investigation conducted by the Complaints and
Investigation Division of the OAS.18

The Report and Recommendation of the OAS

The OAS adopted, albeit with modification, the NBI's findings and conclusions.

In its Consolidated Report19 dated September 19, 2016, the OAS found sufficient basis to hold
Hallera and Carbonel administratively liable for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the
best interest of the service for their participation in the treasure-hunting activities in the SC
Compound-BC.20 However, it found the allegation against Engr. Sanchez of his involvement in
the treasure-hunting activities unsubstantiated. Thus, it recommended the dismissal of the
administrative case against Engr. Sanchez for lack of evidence.21

The OAS explained that De Guzman's testimony as to the participation of Engr. Sanchez in the
excavation near Cottage J was neither corroborated nor confirmed by the evidence. It also
pointed out that De Guzman could have been impelled by improper motives or vengeance when
he testified against Engr. Sanchez, given the unfavorable treatment he received from the latter in
the past.22

Accordingly, the OAS recommended that Hallera and Carbonel be found guilty of grave
misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service for having been directly
involved in the illegal and unauthorized digging and excavation in Cottages F and J, and be
imposed the penalty of dismissal from the service, with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued
leave benefits, and with prejudice to reinstatement or reappointment to any public office,
including government-owned or controlled corporations.23

Insofar as Engr. Sanchez is concerned, the OAS found him liable for simple neglect of duty for
his failure to act prudently or to take the appropriate course of action upon receiving information
regarding the excavation near Cottage J. The OAS thus recommended that he be suspended for
one year without pay.24

The OAS likewise recommended that Engr. Sanchez be required to show cause why he should
not be administratively dealt with for an alleged incident regarding the missing pine lumber
which is considered to be Supreme Court property.25

The Court's Ruling


After a careful review of the records of the case, we find reasonable grounds to hold Hallera and
Carbonel administratively liable for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest
of the service, and Engr. Sanchez for simple neglect of duty.

"Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly,
unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer."26 To constitute as grave misconduct,
"the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of established
rules, must be manifest and established by substantial evidence."27

Corruption, as an element of grave misconduct, is present when an official or fiduciary person


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.28

For misconduct to warrant removal from office of an officer, the act should directly relate to or
be connected with the performance of the official functions and duties of a public officer
amounting either to maladministration or to willful, intentional neglect and failure to discharge
the duties of the office.29

In the present case, it is clear that Hallera and Carbonel took advantage of their positions as
casual utility workers assigned as the caretakers of Cottages J and F, respectively, in order to
engage in treasure-hunting activities in search for hidden Japanese treasures on the SC
Compound-BC grounds. These actions could only have been perpetrated for their own personal
enrichment, considering that such activities were covertly carried out without the knowledge and
permission of the Court.

Note, too, that when Hallera and Carbonel engaged in these treasure hunting activities, they
violated Section 1 of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel which mandates court personnel
to perform their official duties properly and with diligence at all times and to commit themselves
exclusively to the business and responsibilities of their office during working hours.

Consequently, we hold Hallera and Carbonel administratively liable for grave misconduct for
participating in illegal and unauthorized digging and excavation activities within the SC
Compound-BC, and for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, as their actions
unquestionably tarnish the image and integrity of his/her public office.30

Section 46, Rule 10 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service
(RRACCS) classifies grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service
as grave offenses, with the corresponding penalties of dismissal from the service and suspension
of six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year for the first offense, respectively.

Given the gravity and seriousness of the offense they committed, we deem it proper to impose
the penalty for the more serious offense in accordance with Section 50, Rule 10 of the RRACCS
which provides:
Section 50. Penalty for the Most Serious Offense - If the respondent is found guilty of two (2) or
more charges or counts, the penalty to be imposed should be that corresponding to the most
serious charge and the rest shall be considered as aggravating circumstances.

Considering however the nature of employment of Hallera and Carbonel, who are both casual
employees, the appropriate penalty is the immediate termination of their casual employment, in
lieu of dismissal from service.

As for the administrative liability of Engr. Sanchez, we find him guilty of simple neglect of duty
for his failure to act appropriately upon having been informed about the unauthorized excavation
activities near Cottage J. It is simply inexcusable that upon learning of the existence of the
digging site near the cottage, he directed the site's immediate closure without initiating an
investigation on the matter to determine whether those involved in the excavation activities
should be administratively sanctioned, or at the very least, without reporting the incident to
higher management for proper action.31

"Simple neglect of duty x x x signifies a disregard of a duty resulting from carelessness or


indifference."32 It is classified as a less grave offense punishable by suspension of one (1) month
and one (1) day to six (6) months for the first offense, and dismissal from the service for the
second offense.33 Given his record of having been previously fined in the amount of P5,000.00
for simple neglect of duty in an earlier case,34 and severely warned for failure to observe the
established procedure in the purchase of equipment for the use of the Court,35 the imposable
penalty for this second offense against Engr. Sanchez is dismissal from the service.

However, while the Court is duty-bound to sternly wield a corrective hand to discipline its errant
employees and to weed out those who are undesirable, it also has the discretion to temper the
harshness of its judgment with mercy.36 In fact, in several jurisprudential precedents, the Court
has refrained from imposing the actual administrative penalties prescribed by law or regulation
in the presence of mitigating factors.37

In this case, the Court takes into consideration Engr. Sanchez' long years of service in the
Judiciary of about ten (10) years38 as a mitigating factor that serves to temper the penalty to be
imposed on him.39 Thus, instead of imposing the penalty of dismissal, we hold that the penalty of
suspension for two (2) years without pay is proper and commensurate.

WHEREFORE, the Court:

1. FINDS Edgardo Z. Hallera, casual Utility Worker II, Maintenance Unit, SC Compound,
Baguio City, guilty of grave misconduct, and hereby TERMINATES his casual
employment effective immediately, with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave
benefits, and with prejudice to reinstatement or reappointment to any public office,
including government-owned or controlled corporations.

2. FINDS Elvie A. Carbonel, casual Utility Worker II, Maintenance Unit, SC Compound,
Baguio City, guilty of grave misconduct, and hereby TERMINATES her casual
employment effective immediately, with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave
benefits, and with prejudice to reinstatement or reappointment to any public office,
including government-owned or controlled corporations; chanrobleslaw

3. FINDS Engr. Teofilo G. Sanchez, SC Supervising Judicial Staff Officer and Officer-in-
Charge of the Maintenance Unit, SC Compound, Baguio City, guilty of simple neglect of
duty, and hereby SUSPENDS him from office for a period of two (2) years without pay,
with a FINAL WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with
more seriously; and,

4. RESOLVES to docket the alleged incident regarding the missing pine lumber as a
separate administrative matter to be raffled among the Members of the Court.

SO ORDERED.

JARDELEZA, J.:

This administrative case stemmed from a letter-complaint[1] filed by complainants, Spouses


Rodel and Eleanor Caos (Sps. Caos), against respondent Louise Marie Therese B. Escobido
(Escobido), Clerk of Court, Branch 19, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Digos City, before the
Office of Court Administrator (OCA) for grave misconduct, gross violation of oath as a public
official, and violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The Facts

According to Sps. Caos, they have known Escobido since the latter part of 2009 when she
assisted them on the cases they filed before RTC Branch 19. When Escobido learned that Sps.
Caos are engaged in selling jewelry and imported goods, she offered to get some items to resell
as she used to be in the same business. Since Sps. Caos trusted Escobido as clerk of court and
as a lawyer, they agreed to her proposal.[2]

Sometime between January and November 2010, Escobido purchased from Sps. Caos, on
credit, various jewelry and imported goods amounting to P4,777,945.00. The purchases were
covered by Trust Receipt Agreements.[3]

As payment for the goods, Escobido issued postdated checks, some of which were made good
during the first ten months. However, the rest of the checks amounting to P3,827,299.30 were
returned or refused payment by the drawee banks for the reason "ACCOUNT CLOSED."[4]

Aside from Escobido's purchases on credit, she also borrowed money from Sps. Caos. As
payment, she issued postdated checks in the total amount of P164,866.10. The checks were
likewise dishonored by the drawee banks for the reason "ACCOUNT CLOSED." Escobido never
informed Sps. Caos on the status of her bank account until they received the returned checks
and asked her on the reason for the dishonor.[5]

On February 15, 2012, Escobido executed an Undertaking[6] and acknowledged only


P2,545,339.25 as the amount she owed to Sps. Caos.

Sps. Caos made verbal and written demands on Escobido for her to pay her debts.[7] Despite
demand,[8] she refused to pay her obligations amounting to P3,604,065.40.

Sps. Caos claimed that because of Escobido's large amount of debts, they were forced to pay
some of Escobido's account with their suppliers.[9]

Finally, Sps. Caos alleged that Escobido, as clerk of court and as a lawyer, also used her
position and profession to intimidate and coerce them from filing cases against her. She allegedly
told them that should they decide to file a case against her, she could always find ways to delay
the filing of the same as she has friends and batchmates in the City Prosecution Office of Davao
City.[10]

In her defense, Escobido claimed that what transpired was a business opportunity she and Sps.
Caos took advantage of, but which, unfortunately turned unsuccessful.[11]

She also belied Sps. Caos' allegation that they have known her only in 2009. She claimed she
had known Rodel since 1993 when she was still studying law. Rodel became her boyfriend when
she was in law school, but their relationship did not last long. In 2009, Escobido met Rodel again
as he frequented her office to follow up cases which he filed and were pending before RTC
Branches 18 and 19. Rodel even introduced Escobido to his wife. This new friendship paved the
way for business transactions and opportunities.[12]

Escobido denied that she offered to get jewelry and other imported items from Sps. Caos.
Instead, it was Rodel who persuaded her to help them sell their goods.[13] Under their agreement,
Escobido signed trust receipts for imported goods obtained from Sps. Caos. She was allowed a
certain period to sell the goods, after which the unsold items were returned to Sps. Caos. She
would pay for the total amount of the items sold by issuing checks covering three equal monthly
installments.[14]

The business was doing well for months until Sps. Caos introduced the jewelry business to
Escobido. Rodel persuaded her that the business is lucrative and that she can get more profits.
Sps. Caos proposed that they will give Escobido a "dealer's price," provided that anything she
gets from them will be considered sold unless defective. In effect, what Sps. Caos and Escobido
entered into was a contract of sale.[15]

In January 2010, Sps. Caos started giving jewelry to be sold, which Escobido received by
signing trust receipts. She usually issued checks for the amounts due, payable in eight to ten
monthly installments per transaction. At first, she was able to pay her debts until most of her
customers started to miss their payments. Escobido allegedly told Rodel about her problem and
he merely advised her to be careful next time and gave her an extended period within which to
pay. Thus, despite her outstanding balance, Sps. Caos continued to sell her jewelry.[16]

Escobido went on to get more items from Sps. Caos until she decided to stop due to her
increasing bad debts. She told them that she would just return whatever jewelry she could get
back from her customers who had been remiss in their payments.[17] Sps. Caos refused because
the jewelry was already considered sold and they feared that their quality might have already
deteriorated.[18] She tried to pay her debts, even borrowing from loan sharks until she could no
longer pay.[19]

In November 2010, Escobido recounted that aside from the checks to cover business
transactions, she also had to cover the checks she issued for accommodation on behalf of her
relatives and friends. Since she could no longer cover all these checks, Escobido allegedly
requested Sps. Caos not to deposit her checks and to give her more time to pay them with cash.
Thus, contrary to their claims, she did inform them of the status of her bank account.[20] In fact,
Sps. Caos made her believe that they understood her situation and assured her of their help in
solving her problem.[21]

Escobido likewise denied refusing to pay Sps. Caos. She was paying them even with meager
amounts from December 2010 to February 2013. She claimed that she paid Rodel in March 2013
which he did not acknowledge since he gave back her checks.[22]

When Sps. Caos realized that Escobido would never be able to pay them, they agreed to accept
the return of some of the jewelry.[23] These were supposed to be deducted from her outstanding
accounts. When she asked for the checks covering the returned jewelry, Sps. Caos told her that
the checks were still with their suppliers and that they would just sign the acknowledgment
receipts in the meantime. However, they failed to give her the said checks.[24]

Escobido further claimed that she executed the Undertaking upon Rodel's initiative and after
consultation with her sister, Atty. Genevieve Marie Dolores B. Paulino (Paulino).[25] The amount
of P2,545,339.25 was arrived at after deducting the value of the jewelry that she returned to Sps.
Caos.[26]

On March 14, 2012, however, Rodel gave to Escobido the final letter-demand in the amount of
P3,604,065.40.[27] She was hesitant to accept and sign the letter-demand because the previous
Undertaking indicated a lower amount. She was forced to receive and sign the letter-demand in
the midst of family and financial problems.[28]

Escobido also denied the allegation that Sps. Caos did not file a case against her due to lack of
funds. They, in fact, filed a complaint against her for estafa and violation of Batas Pambansa
Blg. (BP) 22.[29] She did not use her position as clerk of court or profession as a lawyer to
dissuade them from filing a case against her. She did not boast about her connections in the
Office of the City Prosecutor of Davao City.[30]

Furthermore, Escobido claimed that Rodel promised to be lenient with her if she would help him
with his cases. Escobido's sister, Paulino, agreed to render legal services to Rodel, provided that
compensation for such services would be deducted from the amount owed by Escobido. Thus,
Escobido asserted that the amount of debt demanded by Sps. Caos is bloated.[31] The amount
she owed would be greatly reduced if her payments, the value of the returned jewelry, and the
legal services of her sister would be deducted from her total debt.[32]
Finally, Escobido argued that she should not be held liable for any administrative violations
attributed to her by Sps. Caos because she never denied her debt. She never refused to pay, but
was only unable to do so. She was also not motivated by ill-will against Sps. Caos since her
only desire to venture into business with them was to augment her family income.[33]

The Report and Recommendation of the OCA

In a Memorandum[34] dated December 10, 2014, the OCA found that Escobido is guilty of
deliberate failure to pay just debts. The OCA noted the more than 100 postdated checks she
issued amounting to more than P4,000,000.00, which all bounced. The willfulness in not paying
her obligation was shown by the several years her debt remained unpaid from November 2010 to
May 2013. The measly payments Escobido made served as mere tokens to appease Sps. Caos
and did not show a serious intention to clear her debt.[35]

The OCA also noted that two administrative complaints have been previously filed against
Escobido for non-payment of debt.[36] The first complaint, docketed as A.M. OCA IPI No. 03-
1705-P (Pham Duc Nhuan v. Louise Marie Therese B. Escobido, Clerk of Court V, RTC, Branch
19, Digos City), charged Escobido with Conduct Unbecoming a Public Officer and Failure to
Pay Just Debts. She allegedly failed to return P1,390,000.00, which was given by the
complainant as part of a business transaction between them despite repeated demands. As
guarantee, Escobido issued a check which was dishonored by the bank. The Court dismissed the
complaint for being premature as the complainant has filed a criminal complaint involving the
same issue, which was then pending review before the Department of Justice. In March 2014, a
criminal case for violation of BP 22, docketed as Criminal Case No. 109,581-B-F-C-2003, with
Pham Due Nhuan as private complainant, was filed against Escobido before Branch 3, Municipal
Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Davao City.[37]

The second complaint, docketed as A.M. No. P-06-2259 [formerly A.M. OCA IPI No. 06-2386-
P] (Fe Lutero Cajegas, et al. v. Louise Marie Therese B. Escobido, Clerk of Court, RTC, Branch
19, Digos City, Davao Oriental), charged Escobido with non-payment of debts to six persons
despite repeated demands. She borrowed money from complainants, who were her former
officemates at the Commission on Human Rights, Region XI, Ecoland, Davao City, and issued
checks as payment for the loans. When presented to the bank, the checks were dishonored
because the accounts against which they were drawn had been closed. In a Resolution dated
October 16, 2006, Escobido was reprimanded for willful failure to pay just debts.[38]

Upon review of the three administrative cases, the OCA found that the cases show a disquieting
parallelism among them. In these cases, Escobido paid her debts with checks which upon
presentment to the drawee banks, were dishonored because the accounts from which payments
were drawn had to be closed. It was also found that she indiscriminately opened checking
accounts in different banks, with numerous checkbooks per account to cover the amounts she
owed her creditors.[39]

The OCA discovered that three criminal complaints for estafa and violation of BP 22 are pending
before Branch 3, MTCC, Davao City. Two of these, Criminal Cases No. 150,071-D-B-C-14 and
150,072-D-B-C-14, were filed by Sps. Caos as private complainants, while Criminal Case No.
I09,581-B-F-C-2003 was filed by Pham Due Nhuan as private complainant.[40]
The OCA also found that Escobido should be held liable for conduct prejudicial to the best
interest of the service. Her insidious and repeated acts of issuing worthless checks with
considerable amounts involved, her cavalier treatment of the affidavit of undertaking to pay the
debt which she claimed she was forced to sign, and her second time to commit the offense of
willful failure to pay just debts evince bad faith and a disposition to defraud.[41]

The OCA further noted that the recommendation is without prejudice to the outcome of the
pending criminal cases filed against Escobido.[42]

The OCA recommended the following:


the instant administrative complaint be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative matter
(1) against Atty. Louise Marie Therese B. Escobido, Clerk of Court V, Branch 19, Regional
Trial Court (RTC), Digos City;
respondent Atty. Lou[i]se Marie Therese B. Escobido be found GUILTY of conduct
prejudicial to the best interest of the service and willful failure to pay just debts and that she
(2)
be SUSPENDED for a period of one (1) year, with a STERN WARNING that the
commission of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely; and
the Presiding Judge and/or the Branch Clerk of Court of Branch 3, Municipal Trial Court in
Cities, Davao City be DIRECTED to apprise the Court on a quarterly basis, relative to the
(3)
progress of Criminal Case Nos. 150,071-D B-C-14; 150,072-D-B-C-14 and 109,581-B-F-C-
2003 and to furnish the Court with copies of the decision in said criminal cases.[43]
In a Manifestation[44] dated July 17, 2015, Sps. Caos informed the Court that aside from the
three criminal cases filed against Escobido, they have filed another complaint for estafa against
her. The case is docketed as Criminal Case No. 27(15) and is pending before Branch 18, RTC,
Digos City.

On November 25, 2015, the Clerk of Court of Branch 3, MTCC, Davao City, submitted[45] the
Orders of Dismissal[46] of Criminal Cases No. 150,071-D-B-C-14, 150,072-D-B-C-14, and
109,581-B-F-C-2003 filed against Escobido.

The Court's Ruling

The Court agrees with the OCA that Escobido should be held administratively liable for willful
failure to pay just debts and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

Executive Order No. (EO) 292, otherwise known as the Administrative Code of 1987, provides
that a public employee's failure to pay just debts is a ground for disciplinary action.[47] Section
22, Rule XIV of the Rules Implementing Book V of EO 292, as modified by Section 46, Rule 10
of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (RRACCS), defines "just
debts" as those: (a) claims adjudicated by a court of law; or (b) claims the existence and justness
of which are admitted by the debtor.

Classified as a light offense, willful failure to pay just debts is punishable by reprimand for the
first offense, suspension of one to thirty days for the second offense, and dismissal from the
service for the third offense.[48]
Record shows that Escobido admitted the existence of her debt to Sps. Caos. First, she admitted
in her Comment that she owed sums of money to Sps. Caos, but she is only contesting the
amount of the debt. She also executed an Undertaking acknowledging the debt. The record
likewise shows that Escobido did not exert any sincere effort to settle her obligation to Sps.
Caos. As the OCA correctly observed, Escobido allowed her obligation to remain unpaid from
November 2010 to May 2013. The total amount of P93,000.00 she paid from December 2010 to
February 2013 was indeed paltry as to provide a significant dent on her million-peso
obligation.[49] As the OCA also aptly observed, this is not the first instance that she faces a
complaint for not paying her debts.

The Court has ruled that the penalty for willful failure to pay just debts is imposed at a civil
servant's actuation unbecoming a public official, thus tarnishing the image of the public office:
In this relation, note that the penalty imposed by law is not directed at respondent's private life,
but rather at her actuation unbecoming of a public official. As explained in In re: Complaint for
Failure to Pay Just Debts Against Esther T. Andres, willful refusal to pay just debts, much like
misconduct, equally contemplates the punishment of the errant official in view of the damage
done to the image of the Judiciary:
The Court cannot overstress the need for circumspect and proper behavior on the part of court
employees. "While it may be just for an individual to incur indebtedness unrestrained by the fact
that he is a public officer or employee, caution should be taken to prevent the occurrence of
dubious circumstances that might inevitably impair the image of the public office." Employees
of the court should always keep in mind that the court is regarded by the public with respect.
Consequently, the conduct of each court personnel should be circumscribed with the heavy
burden of onus and must at all times be characterized by, among other things, uprightness,
propriety and decorum. x x x.
Also, as instructively held in Tan v. Sermonia:
Indeed, when [respondent] backtracked on her promise to pay her debt, such act already
constituted a ground for administrative sanction, for any act that would be a bane to the public
trust and confidence reposed in the judiciary shall not be countenanced. [Respondent's] unethical
conduct has diminished the honor and integrity of her office, stained the image of the judiciary
and caused unnecessary interference, directly or indirectly, in the efficient and effective
performance of her functions. Certainly, to preserve decency within the judiciary, court
personnel must comply with just contractual obligations, act fairly and adhere to high ethical
standards. Like all other court personnel, [respondent] is expected to be a paragon of uprightness,
fairness and honesty not only in all her official conduct but also in her personal actuations,
including business and commercial transactions, so as to avoid becoming her court's albatross of
infamy.[50]
Public employees may likewise be penalized for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the
service.[51] Acts may constitute conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service as long as
they tarnish the image and integrity of his/her public office.[52] Such violation is classified as a
grave offense, punishable by suspension of six months and one day to one year for the first
offense and dismissal from the service for the second offense.[53]

We agree with the OCA that Escobido's repeated acts of contracting loans and paying them with
worthless checks reflect bad faith on her part. We must note that Escobido, as clerk of court, is
not a mere public employee. She is both an employee of the Court and a member of the Bar.
Thus, she is expected to meet a high standard of uprightness and propriety. By deliberately
failing to meet her contractual obligations, she fell short of such standard.

We likewise agree that Escobido holds a position of trust and confidence with concomitant duties
and responsibilities that require from its holder competence, honesty, and integrity so essential
for the proper and effective administration of justice. Her actuation, although arising from a
private transaction, tarnished the image of the Judiciary.

Finally, we find the penalty of one year suspension appropriate. In the imposition of penalties,
Section 50, Rule 10 of the RRACCS provides that if the respondent is found guilty of two or
more charges or counts, the penalty to be imposed should be that corresponding to the most
serious charge and the rest shall be considered as aggravating circumstances. Thus, the penalty to
be imposed should be that of the graver offense of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the
service. The charge of willful failure to pay just debts, being a light offense, shall be considered
as an aggravating circumstance.

WHEREFORE, respondent Louise Marie Therese B. Escobido, Clerk of Court V, Branch 19,
Regional Trial Court, Digos City is adjudged GUILTY of willful failure to pay just debts and
conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, for which she is hereby SUSPENDED for
a period of ONE (1) YEAR. Further, she is STERNLY WARNED that commission of the same
or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

Velasco, Jr., (Chairperson), Bersamin, Reyes, and Caguioa,* JJ., concur.