Accordingly, the OCA gave the following recommendation:
(1) the matter be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative complaint against Archibald C. Verga, Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 33, Butuan City; and
(2) that respondent Sheriff Verga be found GUILTY of Grave Misconduct, Dishonesty and Neglect of Duty and, accordingly, SUSPENDED from office without pay for a period of six (6) months, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely. (Emphasis in the original)
The Court finds the evaluation and recommendation of the OCA well-taken.
The sheriff’s responsibility in the execution of a writ is mandatory and purely ministerial. Once the writ is placed in his hand, it becomes his duty, to proceed with reasonable speed to enforce the writ to the letter, ensuring at all times that the implementation of the judgment is not unjustifiably deferred, unless the execution of which is restrained by the court.. In Sanga v. Alcantara, the Court had another occasion to remind sheriffs on the performance of this duty:
Under Section 9, Rule 141 of the Rules of Court, the sheriff is required to secure the court’s prior approval of the estimated expenses and fees needed to implement the court process. Specifically, the Rules provide:
SEC. 9. Sheriffs and other persons serving processes. ─ x x x
(l) For money collected by him by order, execution, attachment, or any other process, judicial or extrajudicial, the following sums, to wit;
1. On the first four thousand (P4,000.00) pesos, four (4%) per centum.
2. On all sums in excess of four thousand (P4,000.00) pesos, two (2%) per centum.
In addition to the fees hereinabove fixed, the party requesting the process of any court, preliminary, incidental, or final, shall pay the sheriff’s expenses in serving or executing the process, or safeguarding the property levied upon, attached or seized, including kilometrage for each kilometer of travel, guard’s fees, warehousing and similar charges, in an amount estimated by the sheriff, subject to the approval of the court. Upon approval of said estimated expenses, the interested party shall deposit such amount with the clerk of court and ex officio sheriff, who shall disburse the same to the deputy sheriff assigned to effect the process, subject to liquidation within the same period for rendering a return on the process. Any unspent amount shall be refunded to the party making the deposit. A full report shall be submitted by the deputy sheriff assigned with his return, and the sheriff’s expenses shall be taxed as costs against the judgment debtor.
Thus, following the above-mentioned rules, a sheriff is guilty of violating the Rules if he fails to observe the following: (1) prepare an estimate of expenses to be incurred in executing the writ, for which he must seek the court’s approval; (2) render an accounting; and (3) issue an official receipt for the total amount he received from the judgment debtor. The rule requires that the sheriff execute writs or processes to estimate the expenses to be incurred. Upon the approval of the estimated expenses, the interested party has to deposit the amount with the Clerk of Court and Ex-Officio Sheriff. The expenses shall then be disbursed to the executing Sheriff, subject to his liquidation, within the same period for rendering a return on the process or writ. Any unspent amount shall be refunded to the party who made the deposit.
Sheriffs are not allowed to receive any voluntary payments from parties in the course of the performance of their duties. To do so would be inimical to the best interests of the service, because even assuming arguendo that the payments were indeed given and received in good faith, this fact alone would not dispel the suspicion that such payments were made for less than noble purposes. Corollary to this point, a sheriff cannot just unilaterally demand sums of money from a party-litigant without observing the proper procedural steps; otherwise, such act would amount to dishonesty or extortion.
In this case, it is undisputed that both Alcantara and Bisnar miserably failed to comply with the above requirements of Section 9. Both Alcantara and Bisnar demanded and collected money from the plaintiff allegedly to defray the expenses for the implementation of the writ. The acquiescence or consent of the plaintiffs to such expenses does not absolve the sheriff of his failure to secure the prior approval of the court concerning such expenses. There was no evidence showing that respondents submitted to the court, for its approval, the estimated expenses for the execution of the writ before they demanded monies from complainant. They did not deposit the sums received from complainant with the Clerk of Court who, under Section 9, was then authorized to disburse the same to respondent sheriff to effect the implementation of the writ. Neither was it shown that they rendered an accounting and liquidated the said amount to the court. We also note that both Alcantara and Bisnar made no mention in the sheriff’s return, which they submitted to court, of the amounts of money they had received from complainant. Any act deviating from these procedures laid down by the Rules is misconduct that warrants disciplinary action.
Furthermore, we also agree with the findings of the OCA that respondents’ issuance of Temporary Receipts, which were handwritten on scraps of papers, also constitutes a violation of Section 113 of Article III, Chapter V of the National Accounting and Auditing Manual, which provides that “no payment of any nature shall be received by a collecting officer without immediately issuing an official receipt in acknowledgment thereof.
A sheriff is an officer of the court. As such, he forms an integral part of the administration of justice, since he is called upon to serve the orders and writs and execute all processes of the court. As such, he is required to live up to the strict standards of honesty and integrity in public service. His conduct must at all times be characterized by honesty and openness and must constantly be above suspicion. Respondent Sheriff’s unilateral and repeated demands for sums of money from a party-litigant, purportedly to defray the expenses of execution, without obtaining the approval of the trial court for such purported expense and without rendering to that court an accounting thereof, in effect, constituted dishonesty and extortion. That conduct, therefore, fell far too short of the required standards of public service. Such conduct is threatening to the very existence of the system of the administration of justice.