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G.R. No. 149072 - Esther S. Pagano v. Juan Nazarro Jr., et al.

G.R. No. 149072 - Esther S. Pagano v. Juan Nazarro Jr., et al.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 149072 : September 21, 2007]

ESTHER S. PAGANO, Petitioner, v. JUAN NAZARRO, Jr., ROSALINE Q. ELAYDA, RODRIGO P. KITO and ERNESTO M. CELINO, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, assailing the Decision1 dated 7 March 2001, rendered by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 53323. In reversing the Decision,2 dated 4 January 1999, rendered by Branch 10 of the Regional Trial Court of La Trinidad, Benguet, the Court of Appeals declared that the petitioner, Esther S. Pagano, may still be held administratively liable for dishonesty, grave misconduct and malversation of public funds through falsification of official documents.

While the petitioner was employed as Cashier IV of the Office of the Provincial Treasurer of Benguet, it was discovered that in her accountabilities she had incurred a shortage of P1,424,289.99. On 12 January 1998, the Provincial Treasurer wrote a letter directing petitioner to explain why no administrative charge should be filed against her in connection with the cash shortage.3 Petitioner submitted her explanation on 15 January 1998.4

On 16 January 1998, petitioner filed her Certificate of Candidacy for the position of Councilor in Baguio City.5

On 22 January 1998, the Office of the Provincial Governor of Benguet found the existence of a prima facie case for dishonesty, grave misconduct and malversation of public funds through falsification of official documents and directed the petitioner to file an answer.6 The Provincial Governor also issued Executive Order No. 98-02, creating an ad hoc committee composed of herein respondents to investigate and submit findings relative to the administrative charges against petitioner.7

On 10 February 1998, petitioner filed her Answer before the Office of the Provincial Governor. Petitioner alleged that she had merely acted under the express direction of her supervisor, Mr. Mauricio B. Ambanloc. She further claimed that the funds and checks were deposited in the depository banks of the Province of Benguet, but the records are devoid of any documents to support her claim.8

On 19 February 1998, petitioner filed a motion to dismiss the administrative case on the ground that the committee created to investigate her case had no jurisdiction over the subject of the action and over her person.9 The respondents denied the said motion on 21 May 1998.10 Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration, which was again denied on 1 July 1998.11

On 14 August 1998, petitioner filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with prayer for issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and Writ of Preliminary Injunction before Branch 10 of the Regional Trial Court of La Trinidad, Benguet. The trial court issued a Writ of Preliminary Injunction on 7 September 1998.12

In the course of the audit and examination of the petitioner's collection accounts, the Commission on Audit (COA) discovered that the petitioner was unable to account for P4,080,799.77, and not just the initial cash shortage of P1,424,289.99. Thus, the COA Provincial Auditor, Getulio B. Santos, reported these findings to the Office of the Ombudsman in a letter dated 11 September 1998 with the recommendation that civil, criminal and administrative cases be filed against petitioner.13

In its Decision, dated 4 January 1999, the trial court ruled in favor of the petitioner. It noted that the most severe penalty which may be imposed on the petitioner is removal from service, and that under Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code, petitioner was already deemed resigned when she filed her Certificate of Candidacy on 16 January 1998. Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code provides that:

Any person holding a public appointive office or position, including active members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and officers and employees in government-owned or controlled corporations, shall be considered ipso facto resigned from his office upon the filing of his certificate of candidacy.

Thus, it declared that even if the committee created by the Provincial Governor had the jurisdiction to hear the administrative case against the petitioner, such case was now moot and academic.14 The dispositive part of the said Decision reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered in favor of petitioner Esther Sison Pagano and against herein respondents:

1. Finding that the Committee of which the respondents are members has no longer jurisdiction to conduct any investigation or proceedings under civil service rules and regulations relative to the administrative case filed against the petitioner;

2. Finding that the Committee has acted with grave abuse of discretion and without jurisdiction in denying the Motion to Dismiss filed by the petitioner in Administrative Case No. 98-01;

3. Declaring as null and void all acts, orders, resolutions and proceedings of the Committee in Administrative Case No. 98-01;

4. Ordering the respondents, their agents, representatives and all persons acting on their behalf, to desist from proceeding with Administrative Case No. 98-01; andcralawlibrary

5. Declaring the writ of preliminary injunction dated September 07, 1998 as permanent.

No pronouncement as to costs.15

Respondents filed an appeal before the Court of Appeals. In reversing the Decision of the trial court, the appellate court pronounced that even though petitioner's separation from service already bars the imposition upon her of the severest administrative sanction of separation from service, other imposable accessory penalties such as disqualification to hold government office and forfeiture of benefits may still be imposed.16

Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the Decision of the Court of Appeals, which was denied in a Resolution dated 10 July 2001.17

Hence, in the present Petition, the sole issue is being raised:

WHETHER OR NOT A GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE WHO HAS BEEN SEPARATED FROM THE CIVIL SERVICE BY OPERATION OF LAW PURSUANT TO SECTION 66 OF BATAS PAMBANSA BILANG 881 (THE OMNIBUS ELECTION CODE) MAY STILL BE ADMINISTRATIVELY CHARGED UNDER CIVIL SERVICE LAWS, RULES AND REGULATIONS18

Petitioner argues that a government employee who has been separated from service, whether by voluntary resignation or by operation of law, can no longer be administratively charged. Such argument is devoid of merit.19

In Office of the Court Administrator v. Juan,20 this Court categorically ruled that the precipitate resignation of a government employee charged with an offense punishable by dismissal from the service does not render moot the administrative case against him. Resignation is not a way out to evade administrative liability when facing administrative sanction. The resignation of a public servant does not preclude the finding of any administrative liability to which he or she shall still be answerable.21

A case becomes moot and academic only when there is no more actual controversy between the parties or no useful purpose can be served in passing upon the merits of the case.22 The instant case is not moot and academic, despite the petitioner's separation from government service. Even if the most severe of administrative sanctions - that of separation from service - may no longer be imposed on the petitioner, there are other penalties which may be imposed on her if she is later found guilty of administrative offenses charged against her, namely, the disqualification to hold any government office and the forfeiture of benefits.

Moreover, this Court views with suspicion the precipitate act of a government employee in effecting his or her separation from service, soon after an administrative case has been initiated against him or her. An employee's act of tendering his or her resignation immediately after the discovery of the anomalous transaction is indicative of his or her guilt as flight in criminal cases.23

In the present case, the Provincial Treasurer asked petitioner to explain the cash shortage of P1,424,289.99, which was supposedly in her custody on 12 January 1998. In her explanation, dated 15 January 1998, petitioner failed to render a proper accounting of the amount that was placed in her custody; instead, she tried to shift the blame on her superior. Thus, the hasty filing of petitioner's certificate of candidacy on 16 January 1998, a mere four days after the Provincial Treasurer asked her to explain irregularities in the exercise of her functions appears to be a mere ploy to escape administrative liability.

Public service requires utmost integrity and discipline. A public servant must exhibit at all times the highest sense of honesty and integrity for no less than the Constitution mandates the principle that "a public office is a public trust and all public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency."24 The Courts cannot overemphasize the need for honesty and accountability in the acts of government officials. In Baquerfo v. Sanchez,25 this Court reproached a government employee for the theft of two unserviceable desk fans and one unserviceable stove. Moreover, the Court refused to take into account the subsequent resignation of the said government employee. In the aforecited case, this Court emphatically declared that:

Cessation from office of respondent by resignation or retirement neither warrants the dismissal of the administrative complaint filed against him while he was still in the service nor does it render said administrative case moot and academic. The jurisdiction that was this Court's at the time of the filing of the administrative complaint was not lost by the mere fact that the respondent public official had ceased in office during the pendency of his case. Respondent's resignation does not preclude the finding of any administrative liability to which he shall still be answerable.26

Unlike the previously discussed case (Baquerfo), the present one does not involve unserviceable scraps of appliances. The petitioner was unable to account for an amount initially computed at P1,424,289.99, and later recomputed by the COA at P4,080,799.77. With all the more reason, this Court cannot declare petitioner immune from administrative charges, by reason of her running for public office.

In the very recent case, In re: Non-disclosure before the Judicial and Bar Council of the Administrative Case Filed Against Judge Jaime V. Quitain, in His Capacity as the then Assistant Regional Director of the National Police Commission, Regional Office XI, Davao City,27 this Court pronounced the respondent judge guilty of grave misconduct, despite his resignation:

Verily, the resignation of Judge Quitain which was accepted by the Court without prejudice does not render moot and academic the instant administrative case. The jurisdiction that the Court had at the time of the filing of the administrative complaint is not lost by the mere fact that the respondent judge by his resignation and its consequent acceptance - without prejudice - by this Court, has ceased to be in office during the pendency of this case. x x x. A contrary rule would be fraught with injustice and pregnant with dreadful and dangerous implications. Indeed, if innocent, the respondent official merits vindication of his name and integrity as he leaves the government which he has served well and faithfully; if guilty, he deserves to receive the corresponding censure and a penalty proper and imposable under the situation.

This Court cannot countenance the petitioner's puerile pretext that since no administrative case had been filed against her during her employment, she can no longer be administratively charged. Section 48, Chapter 6, Subtitle A, Title I, Book V of Executive Order No. 292, also known as the Administrative Code of 1987, provides for the initiation of administrative proceedings by the proper personalities as part of the procedural process in administrative cases:

Section 48. Procedures in Administrative Cases Against Non-Presidential Appointees. (1) Administrative proceedings may be commenced against a subordinate officer or employee by the Secretary or head of office of equivalent rank, or head of local government, or chiefs of agencies, or regional directors, or upon sworn, written complaint of any other person.

At the time petitioner filed her certificate of candidacy, petitioner was already notified by the Provincial Treasurer that she needed to explain why no administrative charge should be filed against her, after it discovered the cash shortage of P1,424,289.99 in her accountabilities. Moreover, she had already filed her answer. To all intents and purposes, the administrative proceedings had already been commenced at the time she was considered separated from service through her precipitate filing of her certificate of candidacy. Petitioner's bad faith was manifest when she filed it, fully knowing that administrative proceedings were being instituted against her as part of the procedural due process in laying the foundation for an administrative case.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

To support her argument that government employees who have been separated can no longer be administratively charged, petitioner cites the following cases: Diamalon v. Quintillian,28 Vda. de Recario v. Aquino,29 Zamudio v. Penas, Jr.,30 Pardo v. Cunanan,31 and Mendoza v. Tiongson.32 A piecemeal reference to these cases is too insubstantial to support the petitioner's allegation that her separation from government service serves as a bar against the filing of an administrative case for acts she committed as an appointive government official. In order to understand the Court's pronouncement in these cases, they must be examined in their proper contexts.

In Diamalon v. Quintillian,33 a complaint for serious misconduct was filed against the respondent judge questioning his issuance of a warrant of arrest without the presence of the accused. A cursory review of the facts in this case shows that the administrative complaint lacks basis, as there is nothing irregular in the act of the respondent judge in issuing a warrant of arrest without the presence of the accused during the hearing for such issuance. After the case was filed, the respondent judge became seriously ill and his application for retirement gratuity could not be acted upon because of the pending administrative case against him. Thus, the Court, out of Christian justice, dismissed the administrative case against the respondent who was to retire and desperately needed his retirement benefits.

In Vda. de Recario v. Aquino,34 an administrative case was filed against the respondent judge for failure to immediately act on a case for prohibition. In dismissing the complaint against the judge, the Court ruled that "there are no indications of bad faith on the part of the respondent judge when he set for hearing in due course Civil Case No. 13335. If the complainants were prejudiced at all x x x, it was because of complainant's own error in not asking for a writ of preliminary injunction or restraining order and not due to respondent's error or delay in taking action or any other fault." It was only an aside that the Court even mentioned that the respondent judge had already resigned. Thus, this case cannot be the basis for enjoining the administrative case against herein petitioner.

In Zamudio v. Penas, Jr.,35 an administrative complaint for dishonorable conduct was filed against the respondent judge. The Court did not exculpate him from administrative liability, despite his retirement. The Court unequivocally declared: "The jurisdiction of the Court over this case was, therefore, not lost when the respondent retired from the judiciary and, in the exercise of its power over the respondent as a member of the bar, the Court may compel him to support his illegitimate daughters."36 The Court merely mitigated the penalty when it took into account the fact that respondent's dishonorable conduct occurred before his appointment as a judge, along with the fact that he had reached compulsory retirement age during the pendency of the administrative case.37

In Pardo v. Cunanan,38 the Court did not dismiss the administrative case against the respondent government employee, but merely imposed a lesser penalty of one-month suspension for her failure to disclose the fact that she had a pending administrative case when she applied for another government post. In mitigating the penalty, the Court considered her good faith, as well as her resignation from her previous post. The Court took into account the notice of acceptance of her resignation, stating that her "services while employed in this office have been satisfactory and your future application for reinstatement may be favorably considered."39

In Mendoza v. Tiongson,40 this Court refused to accept the resignations filed by the respondents, which were intended solely to allow them to evade the penalties this Court would impose against them. This ruling cannot be construed as a bar against filing administrative cases against government employees who have been separated from their employment, for what would stop the latter from merely abandoning their posts to evade administrative charges against them? To the contrary, this ruling can only strengthen this Court's resolve to diligently continue hearing administrative cases against erring government employees, even after they are separated from employment.

To summarize, none of the rulings in the aforecited cases can justify the dismissal of the administrative case filed against herein petitioner simply because she had filed her certificate of candidacy. The circumstances of the instant case are vastly different from those in Diamalon v. Quintillian41 and Vda. de Recario v. Aquino,42 in which the respondent judges were able to present valid and meritorious defenses in the administrative complaints filed against them. Petitioner in this case did not even attempt to properly account for the cash shortage of P4,080,799.77 from the checks and funds that were in her custody. On the other hand, the respondent government employees in Zamudio v. Penas, Jr.43 and Pardo v. Cunanan,44 were not absolved of their administrative liability; rather, the Court merely mitigated the penalty it imposed upon them. In Mendoza v. Tiongson,45 the Court emphatically denounced the contemptible attempt of government employees to elude the consequences of their wrongdoings by quitting their jobs. It is clear that this Court had dismissed administrative cases, taking into consideration the resignation or retirement of the civil servants who presented meritorious defenses and, in certain cases, even mitigated the penalties of those who were later found guilty of the administrative charge. But this Court has never abetted government employees who deliberately set out to effect their separation from service as a means of escaping administrative proceedings that would be instituted against them.

Petitioner relies on Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code to exculpate her from an administrative charge. The aforementioned provision reads:

Any person holding a public appointive officer or position, including active members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and officers and employees in government-owned or controlled corporations, shall be considered ipso facto resigned from his office upon the filing of his certificate of candidacy.

Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code should be read in connection with Sections 46(b)(26) and 55, Chapters 6 and 7, Subtitle A, Title I, Book V of the Administrative Code of 1987:

Section 44. Discipline: General Provisions:

x x x

(b) The following shall be grounds for disciplinary action:

x x x

(26) Engaging directly or indirectly in partisan political activities by one holding a non-political office.

x x x

Section 55. Political Activity. - No officer or employee in the Civil Service including members of the Armed Forces, shall engage directly or indirectly in any partisan political activity or take part in any election except to vote nor shall he use his official authority or influence to coerce the political activity of any other person or body.

Clearly, the act of filing a Certificate of Candidacy while one is employed in the civil service constitutes a just cause for termination of employment for appointive officials. Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code, in considering an appointive official ipso facto resigned, merely provides for the immediate implementation of the penalty for the prohibited act of engaging in partisan political activity. This provision was not intended, and should not be used, as a defense against an administrative case for acts committed during government service.

Section 4746 of the Administrative Code of 1987 provides for the authority of heads of provinces to investigate and decide matters involving disciplinary actions against employees under their jurisdiction. Thus, the Provincial Governor acted in accordance with law when it ordered the creation of an independent body to investigate the administrative complaint filed against petitioner for dishonesty, grave misconduct and malversation of public funds through falsification of official documents in connection with acts committed while petitioner was employed as Cashier IV in the Office of the Provincial Treasurer of Benguet.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the instant Petition is DENIED and the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 53323, promulgated on 7 March 2001, is AFFIRMED. The Office of the Provincial Governor of Benguet is hereby DIRECTED to proceed with Administrative Case No. 98-01 against the petitioner, Esther S. Pagano, for dishonesty, grave misconduct and malversation of public funds through falsification of official documents. Costs against the petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

Endnotes:


1 Penned by Associate Justice Eliezer R. De Los Santos with Associate Justices Godardo A. Jacinto and Bernardo P. Abesamis, concurring. Rollo, pp. 16 - 21.

2 Id. at 39-45.

3 Id. at 99.

4 Id. at 17.

5 Id.

6 Id. at 101.

7 Id. at102.

8 Id. at 103-107.

9 Id. at 108-109.

10 Id. at 118-120.

11 Id. at 40.

12 Id.

13 Id. at 97-98.

14 Id. at 43-44.

15 Id. at 45.

16 Id. at 16-21.

17 Id. at 37-38.

18 Id. at 7.

19 Id. at 128.

20 A.M. No. P-03-1726, 22 July 2004, 434 SCRA 654, 658.

21 Baquerfo v. Sanchez, A.M. No. P-05-1974, 6 April 2005, 455 SCRA 13, 19-20.

22 Tantoy, Sr. v. Abrogar, G.R. No. 156128, 9 May 2005, 458 SCRA 301, 305.

23 Re: (1) Lost Checks Issued to the Late Roderick Roy P. Melliza, Former Clerk II, MCTC, Zaragga, Iloilo and (2) Dropping from the Rolls of Ms. Esther T. Andres, A.M. No. 2005-26-SC, 22 November 2006, 507 SCRA 478, 493.

24 Id. at 498.

25 Supra note 21.

26 Id. at 19-20.

27 JBC No. 013, 22 August 2007.

28 139 Phil. 654 (1969).

29 Adm. Case No. 212-J, 22 November 1974, 61 SCRA 144.

30 350 Phil. 1 (1998).

31 A.M. No. P-87-73, 1 September 1995, 248 SCRA 1.

32 333 Phil. 508 (1996).

33 Supra note 28.

34 Supra note 29 at 145.

35 Supra note 30.

36 Id. at 9.

37 Id.

38 Supra note 31.

39 Id. at 3.

40 Supra note 32.

41 Supra note 28.

42 Supra note 29.

43 Supra note 30.

44 Supra note 31.

45 Supra note 32.

46 Section 47 Disciplinary Jurisdiction. x x x

x x x

(2) The Secretaries and heads of agencies and instrumentalities, provinces, cities and municipalities shall have jurisdiction to investigate and decide matters involving disciplinary action against officers and employees under their jurisdiction. x x x. (Chapter 6, Subtitle A, Title I, Book V.)

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