After considering the OCA memorandum and the entire records, we find the OCA memorandum to be substantially supported by the evidence on record, and by applicable law and jurisprudence. We, therefore, adopt the findings and recommendations of the OCA memorandum, subject to the modifications indicated below.
Court personnel, from the lowliest employee, are involved in the dispensation of justice; parties seeking redress from the courts for grievances look upon court personnel, irrespective of rank or position, as part of the Judiciary. In performing their duties and responsibilities, these court personnel serve as sentinels of justice and any act of impropriety on their part immeasurably affects the honor and dignity of the Judiciary and the people’s trust and confidence in this institution. Therefore, they are expected to act and behave in a manner that should uphold the honor and dignity of the Judiciary, if only to maintain the people’s confidence in the Judiciary.
This expectation is enforced, among others, by Section 2, Canon I of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel which mandates that “[c]ourt personnel shall not solicit or accept any gift, favor or benefit based on any or explicit understanding that such gift, favor or benefit shall influence their official actions.” Section 2(e), Canon III, on the other hand, mandates that “[c]ourt personnel shall not x x x [s]olicit or accept any gift, loan, gratuity, discount, favor, hospitality or service under circumstances from which it could reasonably be inferred that a major purpose of the donor is to influence the court personnel in performing official duties.” The acts addressed are strictly prohibited to avoid the perception that court personnel can be influenced to act for or against a party or person in exchange for favors.
In the present case, respondent Taguba clearly violated the above norms of conduct as the complainants’ allegations against him stood completely uncontroverted. Respondent Taguba’s proffered explanation that the P25,000.00 was a personal loan from complainant Villaceran strains belief; it is a lame attempt to exculpate himself from administrative liability. It is extremely difficult to believe that for a personal loan, respondent Taguba would arrange to meet complainant Villaceran at her lawyer’s office. What rather appears, given the prevailing facts of this case, is that respondent Taguba extracted money from complainant Villaceran for his personal gain, in exchange for the favorable treatment that he was perceived to be capable of delivering because he was a court employee.
Respondent Taguba’s act of collecting or receiving money from a litigant constitutes grave misconduct in office. Grave misconduct is a grave offense that carries the extreme penalty of dismissal from the service even on a first offense, pursuant to Section 52, Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service. Dismissal carries with it the forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification from re-employment in the government service.
We note that this is not the first administrative infraction of respondent Taguba. In 2003, he was suspended for one (1) month for simple misconduct. In 2005, he was suspended for six (6) months for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. In 2008, he was fined P2,000.00 for simple misconduct.
At any rate, the penalty of dismissal can no longer be imposed because on August 6, 2007, the Court approved respondent Taguba’s application for disability retirement under Republic Act No. 8291, effective September 1, 2006. In lieu of dismissal, we believe it appropriate – given the gravity of respondent Taguba’s offense – that the disability retirement benefits still due him be declared forfeited. By Resolution of this Court, the release of these benefits was withheld pending the final resolution of this case and the other cases pending against respondent Taguba.
As a final note, the affidavit itself of complainant Villaceran points to the complicity (or at least, the willing participation) of her lawyer Atty. Edmar Cabucana in the corruption that attended her criminal case. This matter, to the Court’s mind, deserves attention as his participation in the corruption that attended this case is no less real than the participation of respondent Taguba. For this reason, we believe it proper to refer this case to the Office of the Bar Confidant for its appropriate action.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court finds respondent Eugenio Taguba GUILTY of Grave Misconduct. His disability retirement benefits are hereby declared forfeited as penalty for his offense, in lieu of dismissal the Court can no longer impose. He is likewise barred from re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.