[G.R. NO. 166116 : March 31, 2006]
OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN, Petitioner, v. FLORENTINA SANTOS, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This is a Petition for Review of the decision dated June 22, 2004 and resolution dated November 23, 2004 of the Court of Appeals, which reversed the decision of the Ombudsman finding respondent guilty of dishonesty, violation of Sec. 4 (c) of Republic Act No. (R.A.) 67131 and grave misconduct, and penalizing her with dismissal from the service with forfeiture of benefits equivalent to twelve (12) months salary and temporary disqualification for re-employment in the government service for one (1) year.
This case arose from a complaint filed by Estrelita L. Gumabon, Teacher III, Lagro Elementary School, against the school Principal, respondent Florentina A. Santos, before the Office of the Ombudsman on September 29, 1997. The complaint alleged that respondent falsified her daily time record as her entries therein did not match the entries of the school's security guard in their logbook. In particular, on August 20, 1997, respondent indicated in her daily time record that she reported for work at Lagro Elementary School the whole day, but she actually went to Golden Child Montessori Dela Costa III Annex at 9:00 a.m., and later at 11:30 a.m. to its Carissa II Annex. She left the premises of said school around one in the afternoon. The complaint also pointed out that respondent was one of the owners/incorporators of Golden Child Montessori and held the position of President/Chairman of the Board. It was further alleged that respondent exhibited rude and oppressive behavior not only to the teachers and personnel of Lagro Elementary School, but also to the parents of their pupils.2 In a supplemental complaint dated April 1, 1998, Gumabon also charged respondent with taking several pieces of galvanized iron sheets used in the construction and repair of some rooms and toilets at Lagro Elementary School. Respondent allegedly ordered one Jose Sabalilag to take the galvanized iron sheets and deliver them to her house, and even asked school janitress Pia Amparo to accompany Sabalilag to show him the direction to respondent's house.3
Answering the charges, respondent explained that it was her daily routine upon arrival at the school to inspect its outer premises before entering the school grounds, to see if the school fence is clean and garbage-free. The security guard only logs in the time of respondent's entry into the school grounds as her arrival time. As regards the incident on August 20, 1997, respondent stated that she sought permission from Mrs. Paz T. Quejada, District Supervisor, School District X, to attend an activity at Golden Child Montessori. She said that Mrs. Quejada did not object to her request. Respondent also admitted being an owner/incorporator of Golden Child Montessori, but argued that it did not violate any existing law. She denied all the other allegations in the complaint. With respect to the taking of the galvanized iron sheets, respondent explained that they were excess materials from the construction projects in the school and they were sold to her by the project contractor at cost.4
Hearings were conducted before Graft Investigation Officer Joselito P. Fangon at the Administrative Adjudication Bureau, Office of the Ombudsman.
Gumabon appeared to identify her affidavit, as well as the affidavits of her witnesses, and the documentary evidence consisting of the photocopy of respondent's daily time record for the months of February, March and August 1997,5 copy of the logbook of security guard Willy Casauay,6 copy of the memo issued by respondent to the Principals of the various annexes of Golden Child Montessori,7 the letters of several parents of Lagro Elementary School pupils complaining about the attitude of respondent towards them, and the copy of the police receipt showing that the police recovered several galvanized iron sheets from Jose Sabalilag.
Hermelina de Vera, former Principal of Golden Child Montessori Dela Costa III Annex, testified that respondent attended the Linggo ng Wika celebration at their campus in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan on August 20, 1997. Respondent arrived at said campus around nine in the morning.8
Zaida Zayde, Corporate Secretary and Principal of Golden Child Montessori Dela Costa II Annex, testified that respondent is also one of the incorporators of said school, and that respondent handles its finances, signs checks, keeps bank accounts, and issues and signs memoranda for and in behalf of the school. She also stated that she and respondent visited the Dela Costa III Annex of Golden Child Montessori during the Linggo ng Wika celebration.9
Juan S. Gambol, Police Inspector, Lagro Police Station, stated that on February 13, 1998, Gumabon reported the alleged missing pieces of galvanized iron at Lagro Elementary School. They recovered around 40 pieces of galvanized iron sheets from Jose Sabalilag on February 23, 1998 and issued a receipt therefor.10
Jeorgia Loperez, one of the incorporators of Golden Child Montessori, testified that respondent is the President and Chairman of the Golden Child Montessori, and that she handles the finances, keeps the bank account, signs checks and issues memoranda for and in behalf of the school.11
Fructuosa C. Gavilan, Grade School Teacher, Lagro Elementary School, testified that respondent has the habit of scolding her even in front of other people. She also testified to an incident where she was marked absent despite being present, albeit late on the particular date.12
Sophia Amparo, Janitress at Lagro Elementary School, testified that on February 10, 1998, she was instructed by respondent to bring to the latter's house several pieces of galvanized iron sheets.13
Didith Sacueza testified that she used to sell food to the teachers at the Lagro Elementary School. She said that she had an agreement with respondent that she would be allowed to sell food in the school but she was required to give a certain amount to the school. Then, one day, without any notice, Sacueza was refused entry into the school. The guard informed her that it was the Principal's order. She wrote respondent asking why she was no longer allowed to sell food in the school, but she did not get any response.14
Vicente Cue, Security Guard at Lagro Elementary School, testified that on September 5, 1999, his wife made an emergency call at the school but respondent refused to give the call to him.15
Willy Casauay, also a Security Guard at Lagro Elementary School, testified that a certain Jose Sabalilag went to the Lagro Elementary School and, upon instruction of respondent, took several pieces of galvanized iron sheets. Accompanied by Pia Amparo, Sabalilag brought the same to respondent's residence. The incident was noted in his logbook.16
Jose Sabalilag, Benedict Guantero and Erlinda Dela Rosa, on the other hand, testified for respondent.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Jose Sabalilag stated that sometime in February 1998, he was tasked to renovate a comfort room at Lagro Elementary School. He used about forty (40) pieces of galvanized iron sheets for the construction. There was an excess of about eight (8) pieces of galvanized iron sheets which respondent ordered to be taken to her house. He also said that he removed around forty-one (41) pieces of used galvanized iron sheets which he took to their storage (bodega), but which he also returned to the school the next day upon instruction of a Commission on Audit (COA) personnel. While they were unloading the returned materials, Gumabon arrived, took some pictures, and reported the incident to the police. Gumabon also made him sign an affidavit stating that respondent was the one who ordered the taking of the galvanized iron sheets.17
Benedict Guantero, an employee of the COA, testified that respondent sought his advice concerning the salvageable materials taken from two (2) school toilets which underwent renovation.18
Erlinda Dela Rosa, former Officer-in-Charge of Golden Child Montessori, testified that Golden Child Montessori and its branches were being managed by their respective Principals. She also testified that the payment of rentals for the school, the payment of salaries of teachers and financial management of the school were undertaken by the respective administrators.19
On July 23, 2001, the Office of the Ombudsman rendered a decision finding respondent guilty of dishonesty, violation of Sec. 4 (c) of R.A. 6713 and grave misconduct. It imposed upon respondent the penalty of dismissal from service with forfeiture of benefits equivalent to twelve (12) months salary and temporary disqualification for re-employment in the government for one (1) year from the finality of said decision.20
The Court of Appeals, however, reversed and set aside the decision of the Ombudsman and ordered the dismissal of the complaint. It held that the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman were not supported by substantial evidence.21
Hence, this petition. Petitioner raised the following arguments:
1. Contrary to the appellate court a quo's [sic] ruling, the extant evidence on record constitutes more than substantial evidence to establish the administrative guilt of respondent.
2. Findings of fact of an administrative agency are generally accorded not only respect but at times finality.22
The petition is impressed with merit.
Administrative proceedings are governed by the "substantial evidence rule." A finding of guilt in an administrative case would have to be sustained for as long as it is supported by substantial evidence that the respondent has committed acts stated in the complaint or formal charge. As defined, substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind may accept as adequate to support a conclusion.23
A reading of the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman and a thorough examination of the records of this case show sufficient evidence to prove respondent's administrative liability. In its decision, the Office of the Ombudsman, through Graft Investigation Officer Joselito P. Fangon, cites the pieces of evidence that support its ruling. It discussed its findings thus:
Respondent FLORENTINA A. SANTOS stands administratively charged with, among others, the falsification of her Form 48; of being one of the Owners/Incorporators of a private school; of having oppressed and harassed school teachers and employees; and of theft of school property.
With respect to the first charge, the complainant adduced as evidence the Daily Time Record (Civil Service Form No. 48) of respondent SANTOS for the month of August 1997 (Exhibit B, p. 0191, Records). Marked as Exhibit "B-1" (supra.) is the entry for August 20, 1997 showing that respondent SANTOS reported for work at Lagro Elementary School, Quezon City, at 6:45 in the morning and departed at 7:15 in the evening. Likewise adduced as evidence is the testimony of Hermelina de Vera x x x x
On the basis of the foregoing, it has been substantially established that respondent SANTOS actually reported for work at the Lagro Elementary School in Quezon City. However, evidence shows that said respondent, instead of rendering the required number of hours of work, went to a private school (to attend a school function) in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan. It is therefore clear that the respondent deliberately made it appear that she reported for work on 20 August 1997, when in truth, she attended a private function and was physically absent from school. The respondent's act of punching her Daily Time Record constitutes Dishonesty for making it appear that she was present for work when in fact she was absent therefrom.
As against these, the respondent failed to present any evidence to counter the same, and as such, her guilt has been adequately shown.
As to the charge against respondent of being an Owner/Incorporator of the Golden Child Montessori School, we find the evidence to be inadequate to establish any administrative liability.
Although the evidence tend to prove that the respondent is an Owner/Incorporator of the said school, still, the complainant failed to show any conflict of interest on the part of the respondent. Moreover, no evidence was presented to show that being an Owner/Incorporator of a private school amounts to a violation of any law. Verily, the charge against respondent on this score should be dismissed.
On the charge of Oppression/Harassment, witness VICENTE CUE testified that on 8 September 1997, his wife made an emergency call at Lagro Elementary School where he works as a Security Guard. However, despite his presence thereat, respondent SANTOS refused to give the call to him. On cross-examination, the testimony of witness CUE was not rebutted by any evidence.
Hence, it has been fairly established that the respondent committed an oppressive act against Vicente Cue. Her actuations definitely runs [sic] counter to the established norms of conduct and ethical standards for public officials who, "must act with justice and shall not discriminate against anyone". Moreover, her action violates the standard of personal conduct, which mandates all civil servants to "respect the rights of others, and to refrain from doing acts contrary to good morals and customs". Accordingly, respondent SANTOS appears to be liable for violation of Republic Act No. 6713.
The respondent was also accused of having misappropriated government property. On this point, Sophia Amparo, janitress, Lagro Elementary School, testified x x x x
It is clear from the foregoing that at the instance of the respondent, several galvanized iron sheets which appear to be the property of the government were taken out of Lagro Elementary School and delivered to the residence of the respondent.
The respondent then presented her witnesses, namely: JOSE SABALILAG and BENEDICT GUANTERO, to rebut the allegation of theft, however, the same proved insufficient to counter the evidence against her.
x x x
It is therefore clear from the testimony of JOSE SABALILAG that at least eight (8) galvanized iron sheets (which were purportedly new) were taken by the respondent and which remain unaccounted for. This bolsters the finding that the respondent was responsible for having taken several galvanized iron sheets which were government property.
With respect to BENEDICT GUANTERO, a witness for the respondent, the basis for his testimony, which is a purported Affidavit was not formally offered as evidence in the present case. Hence, the allegations therein can not be possibly considered in the resolution of the instant case.
All told, it has been substantially established that the respondent took government property for her own personal benefit which constitutes Grave Misconduct, and for which the respondent may be held liable. (citations omitted)24
As a general rule, factual findings of administrative bodies are accorded great respect by this Court. We do not see any reason to depart from this policy, except as regards respondent's liability for holding the position of President/Chairman of the Board of Golden Child Montessori and managing the affairs of said school. Contrary to the Ombudsman's ruling that such act does not violate any provision of law, Section 7 (b) (2) of R.A. 6713 prohibits all public officials and employees from engaging in the private practice of their profession, thus:
SECTION 7. Prohibited Acts and Transactions. ' In addition to acts and omissions of public officials and employees now prescribed in the Constitution and existing laws, the following shall constitute prohibited acts and transactions of any public official and employee and are hereby declared to be unlawful:
x x x
(b) Outside employment and other activities related thereto. - Public officials and employees during their incumbency shall not:
(1) Own, control, manage or accept employment as officer, employee, consultant, counsel, broker, agent, trustee or nominee in any private enterprise regulated, supervised or licensed by their office unless expressly allowed by law;
(2) Engage in the private practice of their profession unless authorized by the Constitution or law, provided, that such practice will not conflict or tend to conflict with their official functions; or
(3) Recommend any person to any position in a private enterprise which has a regular or pending official transaction with their office.
These prohibitions shall continue to apply for a period of one (1) year after resignation, retirement, or separation from public office, except in the case of subparagraph (b) (2) above, but the professional concerned cannot practice his profession in connection with any matter before the office he used to be with, in which case the one-year prohibition shall likewise apply.
The rule is that all public officers and employees are prohibited from engaging in the private practice of their profession. The exception is when such private practice is authorized by the Constitution or law. However, even if it is allowed by law or the Constitution, private practice of profession is still proscribed when such practice will conflict or tends to conflict with the official functions of the employee concerned. Indeed, public servants are expected to devote their undivided attention to their public duties, to give the tax payers the competent and excellent service that they deserve. In fact, Section 4 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees enjoins said officials and employees to always uphold public interest over and above personal interest. By actively participating in the management of Golden Child Montessori, a private school, while serving as Principal of Lagro Elementary School, a government school, respondent has transgressed the provisions of Section 7 (b) (2) of R.A. 6713.
We affirm all the other findings of the Office of the Ombudsman. The testimonial and documentary evidence contained in the records constitutes substantial evidence to prove the administrative liability of respondent, as discussed by the Ombudsman.
We now go to the penalty. Section 11 of R.A. 6713 provides that violations of Section 7 of said law shall be punishable with imprisonment not exceeding five (5) years, or a fine not exceeding five thousand pesos (
P5,000), or both, and, in the discretion of the court, disqualification to hold public office. Hence, we deem it appropriate to impose a fine of five thousand pesos ( P5,000) upon respondent in addition to the penalty imposed upon her by the Office of the Ombudsman.
IN VIEW WHEREOF, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed decision and resolution of the Court of Appeals are SET ASIDE. The decision of the Office of the Ombudsman in OMB-ADM-0-98-0307 dated July 23, 2001 is REINSTATED with MODIFICATION that an additional FINE of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (
P5,000.00) is imposed upon respondent.
1 Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
2 Original Records, pp. 2-5.
3 Original Records, pp. 39-41.
4 Original Records, pp. 33-35.
5 Exh. "B."
6 Exh. "C."
7 Exh. "F."
8 TSN, December 11, 1997, pp. 8-29; Exh. "Z," Original Records, pp. 214-215.
9 TSN, December 11, 1997, pp. 31-50; Exh. "Y-1," Original Records, p. 216; Exh. "Y-2," Original Records, p. 217; Exh. "E," Original Records, p. 218; Exh. "AA," Original Records, p. 219; Exh. "F," Original Records, pp. 220-223.
10 TSN, March 24, 1999, pp. 3-12; Exh. "T," Original Records, p. 187; Exh. "T-1," Original Records, p. 188; Exh. "S," Original Records, p. 189.
11 TSN, April 21, 1999, pp. 5-8; Exh. "Y-2," Original Records, p. 217.
12 TSN, April 21, 1999, pp. 9-13.
13 TSN, June 24, 1999, pp. 4-10; Exh. "U," Original Records, p. 190.
14 TSN, July 15, 1999, pp. 4-16.
15 TSN, August 11, 1999, pp. 4-11.
16 TSN, August 25, 1999, pp. 4-11.
17 TSN, January 20, 2000, pp. 3-20.
18 TSN, January 27, 2000, pp. 3-7.
19 TSN, March 6, 2000, pp. 5-12.
20 Rollo, pp. 79-99.
21 Rollo, pp. 60-73.
22 Rollo, pp. 39-40.
23 Velasquez v. Hernandez, G.R. No. 150732, August 31, 2004, 437 SCRA 357.
24 Rollo, pp. 84-98.