[A.M. NO. P-06-2249 : October 8, 2008]
JUDGE PLACIDO C. MARQUEZ and ATTY. LYN L. LLAMASARES, Petitioners, v. LUCILA C. PACARIEM, Stenographer, Regional Trial Court, Branch 23, Manila, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO - DE CASTRO, J.:
Before us is the administrative complaint filed by petitioners Judge Placido C. Marquez (Judge Marquez) and Atty. Lyn L. Llamasares (Atty. Llamasares), former Presiding Judge and former Branch Clerk of Court, respectively, of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 40, Manila charging respondent Lucila C. Pacariem, former Stenographer III of the said RTC and now Stenographer detailed at RTC, Branch 23, Manila, with gross neglect of duty, gross inefficiency, gross insubordination, and gross misconduct.
This controversy arose from petitioners' voluminous Complaint1 dated November 14, 2005 with the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) detailing the numerous infractions that respondent allegedly committed while working as a court stenographer under the control and supervision of herein petitioners. Petitioners insist that respondent's actions constitute gross acts inimical to her continued employment in the government, particularly in the judicial department.
Petitioners assert that respondent repeatedly committed numerous grammatical and typographical errors in her typewritten work despite constant reminders. Furthermore, she constantly failed to follow corrections in the drafts which usually required three to five revisions before they are finalized. In support of these allegations, petitioners attached to their Complaint two hundred fifty-four (254) pages worth of error-filled output allegedly made by respondent.2
Petitioners also complain that respondent failed to submit the transcript of stenographic notes (TSN) of forty-five cases3 within twenty (20) days from the time the notes were taken as required under Administrative Circular No. 24-90, which became effective on August 1, 1990. The pertinent portion of the said circular states:
2. (a) All stenographers are required to transcribe all stenographic notes and to attach the transcripts to the record of the case not later than twenty (20) days from the time the notes are taken." (Italics supplied)
In five (5) cases, respondent purportedly did not submit to petitioner Atty. Llamasares the stenographic notes she had taken immediately at the close of the particular sessions when they were taken, as required under Section 17, Rule 136 of the Rules of Court, which reads in part:
It shall be the duty of the stenographer who has attended a session of a court to either in the morning or in the afternoon, to deliver to the clerk of court, immediately at the close of such morning or afternoon session, all the notes he has taken, to be attached to the record of the case; and it shall likewise be the duty of the clerk to demand that the stenographer comply with said duty. xxx (Italics supplied)
It is also alleged that respondent misled Atty. Llamasares to sign certifications dated January 6 and July 2, 2004 which declared that respondent had no pending stenographic notes to be transcribed as of said dates. Furthermore, for failure to timely file her application for sick leave on July 5, 2004 and special leave on August 10, 2004, respondent is also accused of violating Sections 21, 53, and 54 of Civil Service Commission (CSC) Memorandum Circular No.41 (Series of 1998), to wit:
Section 21. The special leave privileges are subject to the following conditions:
22.214.171.124. That the official/employee may be granted a maximum of three (3) days within a calendar year of any or combination of special leave privileges of his choice which he would opt to avail;
126.96.36.199. That such privileges shall be non-cumulative and non-commutative;
188.8.131.52. That the official/employee shall submit the application for the said leave privileges for at least one (1) week prior to availment except on emergency cases; andcralawlibrary
184.108.40.206. Special leave privilege may be availed of by the official/employee when the occasion is personal to him and that of his immediate family.
Section 53. All applications for sick leave of absence for one (1) full day or more shall be made on the prescribed form and shall be filed immediately upon employee's return from such leave. Notice of absence, however, should be sent to the immediate supervisor and/or the agency head. Application for sick leave in excess of five (5) successive days shall be accompanied by a proper medical certificate.
Sick leave may be applied for in advance in cases where the official or employee will undergo medical examination or operation or advised to rest in view of ill health duly supported by a medical certificate.
In ordinary application for sick leave already taken not exceeding five (5) days, the head of department or agency concerned may duly determine whether or not granting of sick leave is proper under the circumstances. In case of doubt, a medical certificate may be required.
Section 54. Sick leave shall be granted only on account of sickness or disability on the part of the employee concerned or of any member of his immediate family.
Approval of sick leave, whether with pay or without pay, is mandatory provided proof of sickness or disability is attached to the application in accordance with the applicable requirements. Unreasonable delay in the approval thereof or non-approval without justifiable reason shall be a ground for appropriate sanction against the official concerned.4 (Italics supplied)
In addition to the foregoing, petitioners accuse respondent of "loafing," or spending an unseemly amount of time outside of the office during office hours, as revealed in the court's Logbook of Permission Slips covering the period August 27, 2003 to March 28, 2005. From the said Logbook, it can be gleaned that respondent often left the office purportedly to go to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), the Supreme Court (SC), the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and other government offices. Petitioners allege that she falsified entries in the said Logbook. In some instances, she did not indicate in the same Logbook her purpose for leaving the office during office hours and, in ten (10) instances, she registered in the Logbook of Daily Attendance of Court Personnel a time of arrival that is different from the one noted by the court's Officer-in-Charge. The same document also discloses that she allegedly went to this Court on July 9, September 28, October 25, December 14, 2004, February 11 & 14, and March 2 & 28, 2005 but an inquiry with the SC Judicial Staff Officer, Security Division revealed that her name did not appear in the SC Logbook on the said dates.5
Petitioners also allege that respondent obtained a rating of "Unsatisfactory" for her work performance during the periods of January 1 - June 30, 2004, July 1 - December 31, 2004, and January 1' April 5, 2005.6 The last rating period was abbreviated because respondent was transferred to Branch 23 pursuant to the Order of the Executive Judge of Manila RTC dated April 1, 2005. Respondent was informed in writing of her "Unsatisfactory" performance rating for the period January 1-June 30, 2004 and was sufficiently warned that a subsequent "Unsatisfactory" rating would result in her separation from service pursuant to OCA Circular No. 37-2002 dated 31 July 2002 in connection with Section 2.2 (a), Rule XII of CSC Memorandum Circular No. 40, Series of 1998. In connection with the said CSC Memorandum, respondent was sufficiently warned that her failure to improve performance within the remaining period shall warrant her separation from service. Respondent filed a protest of her "Unsatisfactory" performance rating for January 1 - June 30, 2004 and for July 1 - December 31, 2004 with the OCA-Performance Evaluation Review Committee (PERC). However, petitioners point out that a previous Joint Protest co-filed by herein respondent with regard to her "Unsatisfactory" performance ratings from January-June 2002 also given by petitioner Judge Marquez was dismissed per OCA-PERC Resolution dated September 12, 2003.7
Lastly, petitioners aver that respondent had a pending administrative case for gross misconduct filed by her former officemate at Branch 40, Rey C. Mutia. This case was subsequently resolved by this Court's Third Division in a Resolution8 promulgated on July 11, 2006, the dispositive portion of which declared:
WHEREFORE, we find Lucila C. Pacariem GUILTY of conduct unbecoming a court employee and impose on her a FINE of P2,000, with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely.9
Respondent filed a Comment10 dated February 7, 2006 wherein she alleges that petitioners' Complaint was filed in reaction to the Joint Protest which she co-filed with reference to the "Unsatisfactory" performance ratings she received in 2002 from Judge Marquez and to the Reply she made in response to the series of Memoranda issued to her by petitioner Atty. Llamasares. In both documents, she claims that she had been discriminated against in her performance ratings. She also asserts the fact that she had obtained consistent "Very Satisfactory" performance ratings when she was in the service of previous judges, namely, Judges Felicidad Varangdang-Villalon, Felipe G. Pacquing, and Herminia Pasamba. Even Judge Antonio M. Eugenio, Jr., to whose court she was transferred from her previous position in Judge Marquez's court, allegedly gave her a "Very Satisfactory" rating.
Respondent admits that she does commit mistakes in the performance of her job but she protests that petitioners magnified even her trivial errors. She argues that the drafts presented as evidence were really meant for correction and that corrections are normal because of the court's heavy workload and due to petitioner Judge Marquez's work method where, for instance, he allegedly sometimes changes the contents of what he dictated in open court after it is reduced into writing. She maintains that she never neglected her duties and that she has no pending stenographic notes as indicated by the Certification issued by petitioner Atty. Llamasares herself.
Furthermore, respondent denies that she ever engaged in loafing. Whenever she went out during office hours, these travels were made to the SC, GSIS, Court of Appeals (CA) and the LBP for "important matters" like filing a loan, transmitting a TSN to the CA, or to encash checks. In explaining her non-registration in the SC Logbook, she avers that she usually goes to the SC through the CA, where her "kumare" would accompany her to the SC which results in her entry without being asked to register by the SC guards. She takes issue with the fact that petitioners seem to be monitoring her every move which included the time of her arrival and departure from the office. She also insists that the alleged difference of a few minutes between her actual time of arrival and her logbook entry which petitioners attribute to bad faith on her part is merely the result of non-synchronicity of watches used by the parties.
Respondent also points to the fact that several other employees of RTC, Branch 40, Manila had transferred or resigned under petitioners' term.
In response to the supposed violations of the 20-day period for transcription of stenographic notes, she refers to her Answer11 dated March 14, 2005 to the Memorandum of petitioner Atty. Llamasares dated February 28, 2005 involving the same issue, wherein she admits not being able to submit TSNs within the 20-day period due to heavy workload. However, respondent claims that no party or lawyer ever complained that she was not able to submit any transcript when requested and that there was never an instance when Judge Marquez was not able to decide a case due to non-transcription or delayed transcription of stenographic notes on her part.
In its Report dated July 28, 2006,12 the OCA noted that respondent was rated "Unsatisfactory" for two consecutive rating periods covering January 1' June 30 and July 1 - December 31, 2004 based mostly on the same acts enumerated in petitioners' Complaint. Furthermore, the OCA foresees a similar rating for the first semester of 2005 had it been not for her transfer to another court on April 1, 2005. At the time the report was released, respondent's Protest regarding her performance ratings has not yet been resolved by the PERC of RTC Manila. In the same report, the OCA found meritorious the allegations of loafing and falsification of the court attendance logbook against respondent but found no merit in the other charges. Thus, the OCA made the following recommendations:
1. That the instant complaint be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative case;
2. That respondent stenographer, Lucila C. Pacariem, be found GUILTY of inefficiency, loafing and inaccuracies in her entries on the logbook as to time of arrival, for which she should be penalized with SUSPENSION FROM SERVICE for a period of ONE YEAR without pay;
3. The rest of the charges be DISMISSED for lack of merit. (Underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary
Thereafter, the Court, through its Second Division, issued a Resolution13 dated September 25, 2006, ordering the redocketing of the present case as a regular administrative matter and requiring the parties to manifest to the Court whether they are willing to submit the matter for decision/resolution on the basis of the pleadings filed, within ten days from notice.
Petitioner Atty. Llamasares, for herself and petitioner Judge Marquez, filed a Manifestation14 dated November 7, 2006 expressing their willingness to submit to a decision/resolution based on the pleadings. Respondent in turn filed her Manifestation15 dated November 6, 2006 asking instead for a hearing on the matter and calling the attention of the Court to her Protest of the performance ratings that she received in 2004 and the first quarter of 2005 pending before the PERC of RTC Manila and to her Motion for Reconsideration to this Court's Second Division Resolution, finding her guilty of conduct unbecoming of a court employee.
In a Resolution16 dated March 7, 2007, the Court's First Division ordered Judge Felixberto T. Olalia, RTC, Branch 8, Manila to submit a report on the status of respondent's Protest within thirty (30) days from notice. Judge Olalia responded in a Letter17 dated May 15, 2007 that the records of respondent's Protest were indorsed on March 8, 2007 to the Office of the Executive Judge, RTC Manila which referred the same to Judge Cielito N. Mindaro-Grulla, 1st Vice-Executive Judge, RTC Manila.
In an Order dated November 20, 2007, the RTC Manila's Office of the 1st Vice Executive Judge denied respondent's Motion for Reconsideration of the order dismissing her protest of the two consecutive "Unsatisfactory" performance ratings for the periods January - June 2004 and July - December 2004 given to her by Judge Marquez. In the November 20, 2007 Order, it was held that (1) respondent [protestant] failed to prove her allegations of bad faith or prejudice on the part of Judge Marquez in giving her the "Unsatisfactory" ratings complained of and (2) Judge Marquez's ratings of respondent enjoyed the legal presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties.18
After a thorough review of the records, the Court finds that this case can already be decided based on the pleadings filed by the parties.
The issue to be resolved here is whether or not respondent is guilty of the charges alleged in the Complaint. In this regard, we find the recommendations of the OCA well-taken.
With respect to the charge of gross inefficiency or neglect of duty, the Complaint essentially relies on the same acts upon which petitioner Judge Marquez's "Unsatisfactory" performance ratings of respondent for 2004 were based. Petitioners have adequately shown that such low performance ratings were warranted in view of the error-filled output that respondent appear to have consistently produced during said period. While it may be true that respondent is only human and may commit mistakes, there is simply no excuse for making the same mistakes repeatedly in her drafts despite her superiors constantly calling her attention to correct them.
This Court cannot turn a blind eye to respondent's well-documented lapses in typing/encoding decisions and orders of petitioner Judge Marquez despite the apparent leniency of other judges in rating respondent's past performance. Judge Marquez was not bound by the performance ratings given to respondent by her previous superiors and had the discretion to give the rating that he believed she deserved.
We do not find credence in respondent's assertion that petitioners were merely "magnifying" her errors and were motivated by ill-will or prejudice in filing the Complaint against her. As the Office of the 1st Vice Executive Judge of the RTC Manila correctly found in its November 20, 2007 Order, respondent failed to prove that her low performance ratings were due to evident bad faith on the part of Judge Marquez or were arbitrarily given to her.
Quite apart from the poor quality of her work, respondent admits that she has not been able to faithfully follow the twenty-day period for completion and submission of the TSN provided under Administrative Circular No. 24-90. She claims that the delay is due to heavy workload and further asserts in her defense that her delay in submission of transcripts has not caused any prejudice to Judge Marquez, the counsels or the litigants.
This Court has repeatedly ruled that failure to submit TSNs within the period prescribed under Administrative Circular No. 24-90 constitutes gross neglect of duty.19 As a stenographer, respondent should bear in mind that "the performance of her duty is essential to the prompt and proper administration of justice, and her inaction hampers the administration of justice and erodes public faith in the judiciary."20 In her defense, respondent cites the certification issued by petitioner Atty. Llamasares on January 6 and July 2, 2004 that she (respondent) had no pending stenographic notes as of the said dates. Atty. Llamasares, on the other hand, claims that she was misled by respondent to issue such certification. Notwithstanding the contradicting claims of the parties, it is undisputed that respondent indeed repeatedly failed to submit TSNs within the period prescribed. The circumstances that (a) respondent appears to have submitted all the transcripts enumerated in the Complaint, albeit beyond the period mandated, and (b) there appears to be no proof that any party or counsel has complained about the delay in respondents' submission of transcripts do not exonerate respondent for her non-compliance with Administrative Circular No. 24-90. This Court need not wait for respondent's laxity in her duties to in fact impede the administration of justice before we impose sanctions for her admitted violation of said circular.
We likewise find merit in the charge of loafing, which is defined under the Civil Service Rules as "frequent unauthorized absences from duty during regular hours"21 and, in the case at bar, is closely connected with the charge of dishonesty, as presented in sufficient and painstaking detail by petitioners. Petitioners presented the Logbook of Permission Slips that reflected the numerous times that respondent was out of the office during work hours for the period August 27, 2003 to March 28, 2005.
The same documents, among others, showed that she went out of the office on July 9, September 28, October 25, and December 14, 2004, February 11 & 14, and March 2 & 28, 2005, purportedly to go to this Court. However, an inquiry made by petitioners with the SC Chief Judicial Staff Officer, Security Division, revealed that respondent's name did not appear in the Logbook of the Court on these dates. We are unconvinced by respondent's explanation that her name was not reflected in the Court's Logbook because she usually entered through the CA where she would be accompanied to this Court by her kumare, a CA employee, thereby excusing respondent from registering with the Court's security personnel. The Court's security personnel maintain a strict policy of inspecting outsiders going into its premises, which respondent could not have escaped. In fact, such an explanation would only compound her predicament as she did not disclose such fact in her permission slips and, if true, she would then likewise be admitting to flouting the security policies of this Court. An inference of loafing on the part of her kumare can also be logically deduced from respondent's explanation.
Moreover, petitioners pointed out that in some instances respondent did not even state in the Logbook of Permission Slips her purpose for leaving the office during regular hours. She also entered false information in the Logbook of Daily Attendance of Court Personnel as can be gleaned from the substantial discrepancies between respondent's Logbook entries and those noted by the Officer-In-Charge as to respondent's time of arrival in the office on November 12 & 19, 2003, December 28, 2004, and March 8, 2005, which cannot be deemed as inconsequential as respondent sees them.
It must be stressed that all judicial employees must devote their official time to government service. They must exercise at all times a high degree of professionalism and responsibility, as service in the judiciary is not only a duty; it is a mission.22 To inspire public respect for the justice system, court officials and employees are at all times behooved to strictly observe official time.22 Strict observance of official time is mandatory lest the dignity of the justice system be compromised.24 Thus, Section 1, Canon IV of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel mandates that the same shall commit themselves exclusively to the business and responsibilities of their office during working hours.25
In the case at bar, we find that respondent has failed to live up to the standard of efficiency and professionalism that the judiciary demands from its court personnel. Furthermore, by writing false and inaccurate entries in her former office's Logbook of Permission Slips and Logbook of Daily Attendance of Court Personnel, respondent likewise failed to meet the standard of honesty.
In the Complaint, respondent is also accused of delayed filing of her application for sick leave on July 5, 2004 and special leave on August 10, 2004, in violation of Sections 21, 53, and 54 of CSC Memorandum Circular No. 41 (Series of 1998). In denying this, respondent claims to have notified petitioner Clerk of Court by phone of her absences on those two occasions and that she in fact filed her applications therefore but both petitioners did not approve and sign them.26 On this matter, we adopt the finding of the OCA that although respondent's leave applications appear to have been filed after the period prescribed in the rules, there might have been an attempt on respondent's part to file her leave applications immediately but she was prevented by petitioners in view of the apparent strained relations among them. We agree with the OCA that respondent is not liable for this charge and the other remaining charges in the Complaint.
Having determined the liabilities of respondent, we come now to the imposition of the appropriate penalty for her acts.
It is on record that petitioner Judge Marquez had given respondent two (2) consecutive "Unsatisfactory" performance ratings in 2004. Under OCA Circular No. 37-2002, quoting Section 2.2(a), Rule XII of CSC Memorandum Circular No. 40 (s.1998):
An official or employee who is given two (2) consecutive UNSATISFACTORY ratings may be dropped from the rolls after due notice. Notice shall mean that the officer or employee concerned is informed in writing of his/her unsatisfactory performance for a semester and is sufficiently warned that a succeeding unsatisfactory performance shall warrant his separation from the service. Such notice shall be given not later than 30 days from the end of the semester and shall contain sufficient information which shall enable the employee to prepare an explanation. (Italics supplied)
Furthermore, Section 5, Rule IX, Book V of Executive Order No. 292, provides that "an employee who expresses dissatisfaction with the rating given him may appeal through the established Grievance Procedure of the Department or Agency within fifteen (15) days after receipt of his copy of his performance rating."
In its Report, the OCA appears to have refrained from recommending the highest penalty of dismissal considering that respondent's Protest of her performance ratings for 2004 was still pending. It is undisputed that respondent has already availed of the grievance procedure prescribed and was undoubtedly provided with due process and consideration albeit with an undesired result, since respondent's Protest was dismissed.
In this regard, the law on the matter gives us the option of meting out the penalty of dismissal on the respondent. In fact, in the past, this Court has dropped from the rolls a stenographer who was likewise given two (2) consecutive "Unsatisfactory" ratings by her superior for delay in transcribing stenographic notes and her failure to transcribe notes properly.27
However, this Court, in other cases, has mitigated the imposable penalty for humanitarian reasons. In such cases, we also considered length of service in the judiciary; the respondent's acknowledgement of his/her infractions and feelings of remorse; and family circumstances, among others, in determining the proper penalty. We have also ruled that where the penalty less punitive would suffice, whatever missteps may be committed by labor ought not be visited with a consequence so severe. It is not only because of the law's concern for the workingman. There is, in addition, his family to consider. Unemployment brings untold hardships and sorrows on those dependent on wage-earner.28 In the present case, apart from respondent's long service in the government (since 1975), it appears on record that she was given a "Very Satisfactory" rating by Judge Antonio M. Eugenio, Jr., to whose court she was transferred after her stint in Judge Marquez's court.29 We are inclined to give respondent the benefit of the doubt and construe her subsequent favorable performance rating as an indication of improvement in the discharge of her duties.
Having said the foregoing, we are accepting the OCA's recommendation of imposing a penalty of one (1) year suspension without pay on respondent for inefficiency/neglect of duty, loafing and making false/inaccurate entries in the office Logbook.
On a final note, the Court sternly reminds respondent that her long years in public service should not be used as a justification for laxity nor a cover for mediocrity but rather the same entails the expectation that she will continually adhere to the highest standards of professionalism, integrity and efficiency in the discharge of her official duties.
WHEREFORE, we find that Ms. Lucila C. Pacariem is guilty of inefficiency/neglect of duty, loafing and making false/inaccurate entries in the office Logbook for which we impose the penalty of SUSPENSION FROM SERVICE for a period of ONE (1) YEAR without pay, with a stern warning that repetition of the same or similar acts will warrant a more severe penalty.
The other charges in the Complaint are dismissed for lack of merit.
1 Rollo, pp. 4-505.
2 Id., at pp. 49-303.
3 Id., at pp. 8-10.
4 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court, pp. 751 and 755.
5 Rollo, p. 480.
6 Id., at pp. 491-494.
7 Id., at pp. 500-505.
8 Id., at pp. 571-580.
9 Id., at p. 579.
10 Id., at pp. 510-527.
11 Id., at pp. 520-527.
12 Id., at pp. 561-567.
13 Id., at p. 583.
14 Id., at p. 585.
15 Id., at pp. 586-601.
16 Id., at p. 603.
17 Id., at p. 604.
18 Id., at pp. 622-623.
19 Judge Francisco Ibay v. Virginia Lim, A.M. No. P-99-1309, September 11, 2000, 340 SCRA 1070; Judge Felipe Banzon v. Ruby Hechanova, A.M. No. P-04-1765, April 8, 2008.
20 Judge Felipe Banzon v. Ruby Hechanova, supra note 19.
21 Section 22, Rule XIV, Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292.
22 Re: Findings of Irregularity on the Bundy Cards of Personnel of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 26 and Municipal Trial Court, Medina, Misamis Oriental, A.M. No. 04-11-671-RTC, October 14, 2005, 473 SCRA 1.
23 Re: Habitual Absenteeism of Mr. Fernando P. Pascual, A.M. No. 2005-16-SC, September 22, 2005, 470 SCRA 569; Re: Habitual Tardiness of Ma. Socorro E. Arnaez, Court Stenographer II, RTC, Br. 18, Cebu City, A.M. No. P-04-1867, September 23, 2005, 470 SCRA 604.
24 Office of the Court Administrator v. Mr. Francisco P. Baguio, Intepreter III, RTC, Br. 13, Cebu City, A.M. No. P-04-1880, March 18, 2005, 453 SCRA 595.
25 A.M. No. 03-06-13-SC, promulgated on April 13, 2004.
26 Id., at pp. 522-523.
27 Re: Dropping for the Roll of Ms. Lolita B. Batadlan, Court Stenographer III, Regional Trial Court of Surallah, South Cotabato, Branch 26, A.M. No. 06-2-125-RTC, April 13, 2007. In this case, the complainant judge based his unfavorable ratings on the stenographer's delay in transcribing stenographic notes and her failure to transcribe notes properly (her transcripts were riddled with errors and were difficult to understand).
28 Re: Habitual Absenteeism of Mr. Fernando P. Pascual, A.M. No.2005-16-SC, September 22, 2005, 470 SCRA 569.
29 Letter dated November 9, 2005 of then Court Administrator and Chairman of the Selection and Promotion Board (Lower Courts) Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. to Judge Marquez, Rollo, p. 517.