Clerk of court guilty of mishandling MTC funds
posted 28-Oct-2019  ·  
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A former officer of the Municipal Trial Court of Virac has been sentenced to a seven-year stay in jail following her conviction for misappropriating P412,861.85 in court funds from 1985 to 2008.

The Regional Trial Court found Aurora Tioxon Zuñiga guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of malversation of public funds and sentenced her to suffer imprisonment ranging from four years, nine months and 11 days as minimum to seven years, four months and one day as maximum.

In her 11-page decision rendered last Sept. 27, 2019, RTC Branch 42 Presiding Judge Genie G. Gapas-Agbada also ordered Zuñiga to pay a fine of P412,861.85 and to suffer the penalty of perpetual special disqualification from holding any public office.

The complaint against the accused was filed on the basis of a 2009 financial audit conducted by the Supreme Court’s Fiscal Monitoring Division on the books and accounts of MTC Virac covering the period from March 3, 1985 to March 31, 2008.

The audit, which revealed shortages in her account totaling P278,811.85, was prompted by a finding of similar shortages found by the Commission on Audit (COA) on a shorter period from 2003 to 2007.

In June 2010, the Supreme Court placed Zuñiga under preventive suspension for her failure to deposit the funds in due time as well as her failure to restitute the incurred shortages.

In a Dec. 13, 2013 memorandum, the audit team noted that the accused incurred a separate shortage of P232,660.00 representing the undocumented withdrawals of cash bonds which she failed to support with valid documents. A review and assessment of the documents she submitted reduced this amount to P134,050.00, with the total shortage coming up to P412,861.85.

In November 2014, the same Court found Zuñiga guilty of dishonesty and imposed on her the penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of all her retirement benefits, except accrued leave benefits.

In her defense, Zuñiga claimed she was not an accountable officer from 1988 to 2008 as she was never designated as the collector and was not the sole accountable officer during the period covered by the audit.

She alleged two other persons in the MTC collected the legal fees and that she was forced sign as collecting officer upon instruction of then Judge Lorna Ubalde, with the collections remaining in possession of the judge through her collectors.

Zuñiga also disputed as erroneous the audit of the SC team, claiming that her outstanding balance is only P46,000.00 as she could not locate the documents needed to settle it.

In ruling that the accused, as accountable officer, misappropriated public funds, the Court noted Zuñiga’s admission in her 2009 letter-answer to the Supreme Court that there were times that she would give the bail amount to the designated collecting officer or divide it because they both need money to buy food or to pay bills.

“This negated her assertion that she did not have custody or control of the collections of Court funds,” Judge Gapas-Agbada stressed. “And such failure to settle the shortages of funds clearly establish that she took or misappropriated for herself the government funds under her accountability, and/or allowed another person to take them.”

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