[A.M. NO. P-02-1564 : November 23, 2004]
CONCERNED EMPLOYEE, Complainant, v. GLENDA ESPIRITU MAYOR, Court Stenographer, RTC, Branch 72, Olongapo City, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This administrative matter concerns a court employee called to task for her sexual liaisons with a married man. While the recommended sanction merits affirmance, the story behind this case contains previously unappreciated nuances which deserve full consideration and discussion.
Respondent Glenda E. Mayor secured a temporary appointment in 1990 as Court Stenographer III of Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 72, Olongapo City.1 On 29 October 1998, a letter addressed to then Court Administrator Alfredo Benipayo adverted to several immoral activities, characterized by promiscuous sexual behavior, on the part of respondent. The letter-writer also alleged that respondent had been unable to pass her Civil Service Eligibility Exams and noted that "her boss the famous Judge E. Ubadias, has been exhausting all possibilities lately so Glenda Mayor can extend and renew her appointment. [The letter-writer is] just curious and wondering about the preference given to Glenda Mayor by Judge Ubiadias because the former has a bad reputation in the entire Hall of Justice."2 The letter was signed by a "Concerned Employee," whose true identity has never been revealed.
The letter was referred to then RTC Executive Judge Leopoldo T. Calderon, Jr.3 of Olongapo City for Discreet Investigation and Report. On 30 April 1999, Judge Calderon submitted his findings in a Report. The Report stated that on 19 May 1998, respondent filed a complaint for parental recognition and support of her child, Glen Hzelle Joseph E. Mayor, with the Olongapo RTC presided by Judge Calderon himself against Neslie L. LeaÃ±o, a married policeman. In her complaint, respondent alleged that she was single, and that her child was born on 14 May 1997, "after a short courtship during which [respondent] was made to believe that [LeaÃ±o] was single."4 The Report further stated that on 3 February 1999, respondent and LeaÃ±o submitted a compromise agreement, wherein LeaÃ±o admitted paternity of the child and promised to provide support for the child. The compromise agreement formed the basis of a Decision which has since become final.5 The Report also noted that respondent testified during the hearing on her action for support that she and LeaÃ±o had sexual trysts on several occasions, beginning in February of 1996.6 The Report concluded that incontrovertible evidence established that respondent had "indulged in an illegal and immoral sexual relationship with a married man, openly, and in an (sic) scandalous manner." Judge Calderon recommended that respondent's temporary appointment should not be renewed after its lapse.7 No reference was made in the Report as to the other allegations adverted to in the anonymous letter.
Upon recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), the case was redocketed as a regular administrative matter, and respondent was required to comment on the anonymous letter. In her Comment, respondent admitted having filed the complaint for recognition and support against LeaÃ±o. However, she denied the other allegations in the anonymous letter. She also averred that she passed the Stenographer's Examination given by the Civil Service Regional Office of Pampanga on 16 September 2000, as a result of which her employment status was subsequently changed from temporary to permanent on 26 February 2001.8
The administrative matter was referred to RTC Olongapo Executive Judge Eliodoro G. Ubiadias9 for appropriate investigation and report. Judge Ubadias issued a Memorandum directing all personnel of the RTC-Olongapo City to submit via a sealed envelope their respective comments on the complaint filed against Mayor. As reported by Judge Ubadias, none of the employees of Branch 72 submitted any report or comment in response to the Memorandum. On the other hand, the employees of Branches 73 and 74 reported to Judge Ubiadas that not one of them had written the anonymous letter. Judge Ubiadas concluded that the charges posed against respondent were unsubstantiated, and consequently recommended the dismissal of the complaint.10
Judge Ubiadas' report was submitted to the OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation. On 3 October 2003, the OCA, through Deputy Court Administrator (DCA) Jose P. Perez, issued a Memorandum, wherein it was recommended that respondent be found guilty of disgraceful and immoral conduct and that she be suspended for six (6) months without pay with warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future would be dealt with more severely.11 The OCA conceded that there was no subsequent substantiation of the allegations in the letter-complaint. However, as it was undisputed that respondent had given birth to a child out of wedlock, such finding alone was sufficient ground to warrant the imposition of an administrative sanction against the respondent for disgraceful and immoral conduct, the OCA noted.12 Also cited was the previous conclusion of the late Judge Calderon that respondent had engaged in an illegal and immoral sexual relationship with a married man, openly and in a scandalous manner.
The bar of morality to which judicial employees should adhere to is quite high, and with good reason. The words of wisdom of Justice MuÃ±oz-Palma bear repeating:
. . . The image of a court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work thereat, from the judge to the least and lowest of its personnelâ€•hence, it becomes the imperative sacred duty of each and everyone in the court to maintain its good name and standing as a true temple of justice.13
At the same time, the Court's "imperative sacred duty" does not warrant any rush to judgment, regardless of the rank of the employee or the gravity of the charges. Due caution must especially be observed in cases such as this, where the complainant has not been openly identified and where the accusations are particularly vituperative in nature. Gossip regarding one's sexual proclivities is rarely flattering to its subject, and often demeaning. Unsubstantiated charges as to sexual misconduct, especially those made from behind the convenient cloak of anonymity, deserve immediate and emphatic rebuke from this Court, lest we engender an atmosphere of sexual McCarthyism.
Administrative penalties must be supported by substantial evidence for the imposition thereof.14 The constitutional imperative is that due process must always be observed.15 Unquestionably, respondent has been informed of the charges against her and afforded the opportunity to respond thereto. The question that remains is whether the evidence presented warrants the imposition of an administrative penalty.
As correctly found by DCA Perez, most of the allegations stated in the anonymous letter-complaint were unsubstantiated. Thus, they were correctly disregarded. What becomes clear though from the facts is that respondent, a single woman, engaged in sexual relations with a married man, resulting in a child born out of wedlock. Respondent admitted just as much in her complaint for parental recognition and support filed on 19 May 1998, her admissions therein verified under oath. Moreover, the illicit liaison occurred during her employment with the judiciary. For this reason, the DCA recommends that respondent be found guilty of disgraceful and immoral conduct and suspended for six months.16 In support of the recommendation, he cited jurisprudence.17
However, we seriously disagree with the OCA's suggestion that the fact alone that respondent had given birth to a child out of wedlock is sufficient to warrant sanction for disgraceful and immoral conduct. Such a proposition would neither make nor operate as the general rule, but would come into play only when the basic fact is conjoined with other circumstances. For example, there is a wealth of jurisprudence, pertinent to disbarment cases, ruling that the mere fact of sexual relations between two unmarried adults is not sufficient to warrant administrative sanction for such illicit behavior.18 In such cases, it was held that to be the basis of a disciplinary action, the act must not merely be immoral; it must be "grossly immoral"â€•"it must be so corrupt and false as to constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree."19
In one of these cases, Ui v. Atty. Bonifacio,20 the respondent female lawyer actually cohabited with, bore the children of, and contracted a foreign marriage with a man whose previous marriage was still subsisting. However, when respondent eventually learned about her paramour's subsisting valid marriage, she left him as a result.21 Notwithstanding, a complaint for disbarment was filed against the lawyer by the legal wife of her lover. The Court found the sanction of reprimand appropriate due to respondent's attachment of an intercalated Marriage Certificate to the record of the case in an attempt to foist the mistaken belief that her first child was born after her Hawaii marriage.22 However, the fact of the illicit affair itself was not adjudged as cause for administrative sanction, albeit the Court reserved comment on the moral quandaries the situation presented. The following disquisition of Justice Sabino de Leon in the Ui case illustrates the dichotomy between the difficult ethical questions posed in that case and the appropriate legal standards governing the proper sanction:
Simple as the facts of the case may sound, the effects of the actuations of respondent are not only far from simple, they will have a rippling effect on how the standard norms of our legal practitioners should be defined. Perhaps morality in our liberal society today is a far cry from what it used to be before. This permissiveness notwithstanding, lawyers, as keepers of public faith, are burdened with a higher degree of social responsibility and thus must handle their personal affairs with greater caution. The facts of this case lead us to believe that perhaps respondent would not have found herself in such a compromising situation had she exercised prudence and been more vigilant in finding out more about Carlos Ui's personal background prior to her intimate involvement with him.
Surely, circumstances existed which should have at least aroused respondent's suspicion that something was amiss in her relationship with Carlos Ui, and moved her to ask probing questions. For instance, respondent admitted that she knew that Carlos Ui had children with a woman from Amoy, China, yet it appeared that she never exerted the slightest effort to find out if Carlos Ui and this woman were indeed unmarried. Also, despite their marriage in 1987, Carlos Ui never lived with respondent and their first child, a circumstance that is simply incomprehensible considering respondent's allegation that Carlos Ui was very open in courting her.
All these taken together leads to the inescapable conclusion that respondent was imprudent in managing her personal affairs. However, the fact remains that her relationship with Carlos Ui, clothed as it was with what respondent believed was a valid marriage, cannot be considered immoral. For immorality connotes conduct that shows indifference to the moral norms of society and the opinion of good and respectable members of the community. Moreover, for such conduct to warrant disciplinary action, the same must be "grossly immoral," that is, it must be so corrupt and false as to constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree.
We have held that "a member of the Bar and officer of the court is not only required to refrain from adulterous relationships . . . but must also so behave himself as to avoid scandalizing the public by creating the belief that he is flouting those moral standards." Respondent's act of immediately distancing herself from Carlos Ui upon discovering his true civil status belies just that alleged moral indifference and proves that she had no intention of flaunting the law and the high moral standard of the legal profession. Complainant's bare assertions to the contrary deserve no credit. After all, the burden of proof rests upon the complainant, and the Court will exercise its disciplinary powers only if she establishes her case by clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence. This, herein complainant miserably failed to do. (Emphasis supplied)23
Our landmark ruling in Estrada v. Escritor24 emphasizes that in determining whether the acts complained of constitute "disgraceful and immoral behavior" under the Civil Service Laws, the distinction between public and secular morality on the one hand, and religious morality, on the other should be kept in mind.25 The distinction between public and secular morality as expressed albeit not exclusively in the law, on the one hand, and religious morality, on the other, is important because the jurisdiction of the Court extends only to public and secular morality.26 Thus, government action, including its proscription of immorality as expressed in criminal law like concubinage, must have a secular purpose.27
Thus, any judicial pronouncement that an activity constitutes "disgraceful and immoral" behavior under the contemplation of the Civil Service law must satisfy the test that such conduct is regulated on account of the concerns of public and secular morality. Such judicial declarations cannot be mere effectuations of personal bias, notably those colored by particular religious mores. Nor would the demand be satisfied by the haphazard invocation of "cultural" values, without a convincing demonstration that these cultural biases have since been recognized and given accord within the realm of public policy. The Constitution and the statutes of the land would serve as especially authoritative sources of recognition, since they are irrefutable as to what the public policy is. At the same time, the constitutional protections afforded under the Bill of Rights should be observed, to the extent that they protect behavior that may be frowned upon by the majority.
Under these tests, we can draw two conclusions arising from the fact that a single woman gives birth out of wedlock.
If the father of the child is himself unmarried, the woman is not ordinarily administratively liable for disgraceful and immoral conduct. The situation may not be desirable, and may cause complications in the life of both mother and child, but it does not give cause for administrative sanction. There is no law penalizing such an unmarried mother under those circumstances by reason of her sexual conduct, or for that matter, proscribing the consensual sexual activity between two unmarried persons. Neither does the sexual behavior among single persons contravene any fundamental state policy as contained in the Constitution, a document that accommodates various belief systems irrespective of dogmatic origins.
On the other hand, if the father of the child born out of wedlock is himself married to a woman other than the mother, then there could be cause for administrative sanction against either the father or mother. In this case, the "disgraceful and immoral conduct" consists of having extra-marital relations with a married person. Even if not all forms of extra-marital relations are punishable under penal law, the sanctity of marriage is constitutionally recognized28 and likewise affirmed by our statutes as a special contract of permanent union.29 Accordingly, the Court has had little qualms with penalizing judicial employees for their dalliances with married persons or for their own betrayals of the marital vow of fidelity.
Thus, respondent's possible sanction arises not from her having had a child out of wedlock, but from her sexual relations with a married man. That respondent and Neslie LeaÃ±o engaged in extra-marital trysts is uncontroverted, admitted by respondent herself in her verified complaint for parental recognition and support filed on 19 May 1998. Moreover, the illicit liaison occurred during her employment with the judiciary. These circumstances were considered by the OCA in arriving at its recommendation.
However, the facts are not actually as clear-cut as they seem, and the OCA failed to appreciate the entire picture. Respondent's admission is qualified by what ostensibly is a valid defenseâ€•that she was not aware that LeaÏo, her paramour, was a married man. This is evidenced by an allegation to that effect in her Complaint, which was verified and under oath.30 Respondent testified under oath in open court during the hearing on her Petition that she learned that LeaÃ±o was married only after she became pregnant in 1997:
Q: And when did you come to know for the first time that the defendant is married?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A: When I was on the family way and he told me and keep [sic] on telling me that they were just living-in and having one child.31
Had respondent indeed not known that LeaÃ±o was married when they commenced their relationship, such lack of awareness may constitute a valid defense for her actions. It is not beyond belief that she would not have known of LeaÃ±o's existing marriage.
The legal effect of such ignorance deserves due consideration, if only for intellectual clarity. The act of having sexual relations with a married person, or of married persons having sexual relations outside their marriage is considered "disgraceful and immoral" conduct because such manifests deliberate disregard by the actor of the marital vows protected by the Constitution and our laws. The perversion is especially egregious if committed by judicial personnel, those persons specifically tasked with the administration of justice and the laws of the land. However, the malevolent intent that normally characterizes the act is not present when the employee is unaware that his/her sexual partner is actually married. This lack of awareness may extenuate the cause for the penalty, as it did in the aforementioned Ui case.
However, the evidence on record also reveals that even after respondent learned of LeaÃ±o's marital state, she still, at least on one occasion, had a sexual encounter with him. In the proceedings on her Petition for support, she testified as follows:
Court (to witness [Mayor])
Q: When was your last intercourse (sic) with [LeaÃ±o]?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A: I can no longer remember the date but it was May, this May 1998.32
Significantly, this admitted encounter in May of 1998 occurred about one year after respondent's child was born on 14 May 1997. Thus, while respondent may have been truthful in asserting that she had not known LeaÃ±o was married when they commenced their affair, or when LeaÃ±o had impregnated her, the fact remains that even long after respondent knew LeaÃ±o was married, she still consented to indulge in sexual congress with him.
Had respondent desisted from continuing her affair with LeaÃ±o after learning he was married, this would have exhibited not only prudence on her part, but also a willingness to respect a legal institution safeguarded by our laws and the Constitution. Yet her persistence in maintaining sexual relations with LeaÃ±o after that revelation instead manifests a willful subversion of the legal order, a disposition we are unwilling to condone, even if avowed in the name of love. The Court, like all well-meaning persons, has no desire to dash romantic fancies, yet in the exercise of its duty, is all too willing when necessary to raise the wall that tears Pyramus and Thisbe asunder.
The conclusion of the OCA that respondent is guilty of disgraceful and immoral conduct is correct, albeit for the reasons we do not share.
WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Glenda E. Mayor, Court Stenographer III, RTC, Branch 72, Olongapo City, GUILTY of Disgraceful and Immoral Conduct and orders that she be SUSPENDED for six (6) months without pay with WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar offense in the future shall be dealt with more severely.
Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, p. 70. Her appointment was consistently renewed until she passed the Stenographer's Examination given by the Pampanga Civil Service Regional Office in 2000, after which she was accorded permanent status on 26 February 2001.
2 Rollo, p. 85.
3 Then Presiding Judge of RTC, Branch 75, Olongapo City.
4 Rollo, p. 4.
5 Id. at 2.
6 Id. at 2.
8 Rollo, p. 70.
9 Presiding Judge of RTC, Branch 72, Olongapo City, the same sala wherein Mayor was employed. The former RTC Olongapo City Executive Judge Leopoldo Calderon, Jr. died in the interim. See Rollo, p. 95.
10 Vide Report and Recommendation dated 22 July 2003 by Judge E. Ubadias, p. 2.
11 Vide Memorandum dated 3 October 2003, p.2.
15 See Section 1, Article III, Const.
16 Section 23(o), Rule XIV of the Administrative Code of 1987 (Implementing Rules) classifies "disgraceful and immoral conduct" as a grave offense, punishable with six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year suspension for the first offense, and dismissal for the second offense.
17 Cited in particular was Kee v. Calingin, A.M. No. P-02-1663, 29 July 2003, 407 SCRA 325.
18 See e.g., Soberano v. Villanueva, 116 Phil. 1208, 1211-1212 (1962); Reyes v. Wong, A.C. No. 547, 29 January 1975, 63 SCRA 667, 673-674 (Per editors of SCRA, inadvertently omitted in SCRA vol. 62); Radaza v. Tejano, 193 Phil. 433, 437-438 (1981); MontaÃ±a v. Ruado, A.C. No. 507, 24 February 1975, 62 SCRA 382; Arciga v. Maniwang, A.C. No. 1608, 14 August 1981, 106 SCRA 591, 596; and Ui v. Atty. Bonifacio, 388 Phil. 691, 707-708 (2000).
19 See e.g., Soberano v. Villanueva, supra note 18, at 1211-1212; Reyes v. Wong, supra note 18 at 673-674; and Arciga v. Maniwang, supra note 18 at 596.
21 Id. at 704.
22 Id. at 707-708. The dispositive portion of the Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, the complaint for disbarment against respondent Atty. Iris L. Bonifacio, for alleged immorality, is hereby DISMISSED.
However, respondent is hereby REPRIMANDED for attaching to her Answer a photocopy of her Marriage Certificate, with an altered or intercalated date thereof, with a STERN WARNING that a more severe sanction will be imposed on her for any repetition of the same or similar offense in the future. (Id., at 708.)
25 Id. at 180.
26 Id. at 183.
27 Id. at 181.
28 See Section 2, Art. XV, Const.
29 See Art. 1, Family Code.
30 In her complaint in Civil Case No. 201-0-98, Mayor stated: "Plaintiff is the mother of the above-named minor with the defendant Neslie L. LeaÃ±o. The minor plaintiff was born on May 14, 1997 after a short courtship during which the ad litem guardian was made to believe that defendant is single;" Rollo, p. 4.
31 TSN in Civil Case No. 201-0-98 dated 7 August 1998, p. 15, vide Rollo, p. 41.
32 TSN in Civil Case No. 201-0-98 dated 31 July 1998, vide Rollo, p. 20.