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A.M. No. P-06-2273 Formerly OCA-I.P.I. No. 06-2435-P - JUDGE REBECCA R. MARIANO v. MARISSA R. MONDALA, Court Legal Researcher II, Regional Trial Court, Branch 136 REYES, Makati City

A.M. No. P-06-2273 Formerly OCA-I.P.I. No. 06-2435-P - JUDGE REBECCA R. MARIANO v. MARISSA R. MONDALA, Court Legal Researcher II, Regional Trial Court, Branch 136 REYES, Makati City

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[A.M. NO. P-06-2273 : October 24, 2008]
[Formerly OCA-I.P.I. No. 06-2435-P]

JUDGE REBECCA R. MARIANO, Complainant, v. MARISSA R. MONDALA, Court Legal Researcher II, Regional Trial Court, Branch 136 REYES, Makati City, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

This is an administrative complaint against respondent Marissa Mondala (respondent), Court Legal Researcher II of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati City, Branch 136 for violation of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel.

The instant case stemmed from a missive dated 24 August 25 2008 written by complainant Judge Rebecca R. Mariano (complainant) addressed to Judge Sixto C. Marella, Jr., (Judge Marella, Jr.), Executive Judge of RTC of Makati City, requesting the transfer of respondent to the Office of the Clerk of Court for habitual tardiness, absenteeism and due to an incident on 22 August 2005 which caused an air of animosity among her staff. Thereafter on 26 August 2005, Judge Sixto Marella, Jr. issued a Memorandum to respondent informing her that she was detailed to the Office of the Clerk of Court, RTC of Makati City and directing her to report to Atty. Engracio M. Escasinas, Jr.1

Respondent, for her part, submitted a letter dated 31 August 2005 to detail what allegedly had actually transpired during the said incident on 22 August 2005.2

Subsequently, Judge Marella, Jr. issued a 1st Indorsement for appropriate action on respondent's letter. Then, complainant issued a 2nd Indorsement, 3 charging respondent with violation of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel, specifically: (1) insubordination and gross disrespect towards the judge; (2) habitual tardiness and absenteeism; and (3) inefficiency and neglect of duty. Thereafter, complainant requested the OCA for this 2nd Indorsement to be treated as an administrative complaint against respondent.4

The new Executive Judge Winlove M. Dumayas (Judge Dumayas) conducted an investigation on the matter. Complainant presented herself as well as the following as witnesses: Atty. Teodorico L. Diaz, Ryan Jesus R. Mariano, Gerry P. Lagera, Jr., Teodorico A. Duran, Dwight Dichoso, Manuela A.T. Mayor, Marilyn Begantinos-Bercasio, Felomena Isidro and Atty. Gwyn Gareth Mariano.

The evidence for complainant showed that on 22 August 2005, complainant asked respondent regarding the status of a case as it was due soon. When respondent replied that she was still working on it, complainant told her off that she could not finish her tasks on time due to her frequent disappearances from the office.5

Afterwards, complainant went inside the chambers and respondent, with a case folder in hand, followed her. Respondent then banged the case files on the table and shouted out loud that complainant had been unfair to her and demanded to know why she was being monitored.

Complainant replied that her actions were due to respondent's tardiness, frequent disappearances during official time and the information that she had been extorting money from litigants allegedly to be given to the complainant and to the prosecutor. Moreover, news had reached complainant that respondent was seen by some people talking to clients or lawyers outside the court. Complainant also pointed out to respondent that even her co-workers had expressed their dislike for her and in fact, they had all signed for her transfer.6

The incident occurred in the presence of complainant's visitors, Manuela A.T. Mayor and Teodorico Duran. Atty. Teodorico Diaz also entered the chambers to pacify respondent. And even outside the chambers, respondent continued her tirade against complainant.

As proof of respondent's frequent tardiness and absenteeism, complainant presented her daily time record. And it was shown that respondent had been late 13 times in February 2005, 18 times in March 2005, 12 times in April 2005, 10 times in May 2005, 11 times (plus four (4) absences) in June 2005, 13 times in July 2005 and 11 times in August 2005.7

Dwight Dichoso also testified that he was frequently asked to pitch in as court interpreter whenever respondent was late or absent during hearings requiring the services of an interpreter.8

To prove that respondent frequently left the office without permission or official reason, her co-workers Gerry Lagera and Ryan Jesus R. Mariano testified that they had seen her at 1:30 p.m., on 19 August 2005, a working day, walking toward J.P. Rizal.9

As proof that respondent had asked money from litigants, Marilyn Begantinos-Bercasio testified that respondent had told her that if she wanted to have a favorable decision in her case, she should give respondent P40,000.00, to be given to complainant and the assistant city prosecutor. However, as she did not have such amount, Ms. Begantinos-Bercasio decided to just await the court decision.10 Likewise, Atty. Gwyn Gareth Mariano testified that respondent had approached him offering assistance in two (2) cases he was handling one in which respondent had assured him that she could secure the denial of the motion of the opposing party for the price of P200,000.00, and the other in which respondent had intimated that she could facilitate the denial of the prosecution's documentary exhibits for a fee of P50,000.00. Atty. Mariano, however, declined respondent's offer.11

After respondent was detailed to the Office of the Clerk of Court, she allegedly continued to harass complainant by giving out her residential address to one of the litigants before her sala, well aware that she was not supposed to. She also allegedly held on to a particular decision without the knowledge of complainant and even while fully aware that said decision had been included in the monthly report prepared for and submitted to the Supreme Court. Upon her transfer to the Office of the Clerk of Court, respondent reported to the Supreme Court that complainant had falsified her monthly report and for which infraction, complainant was meted out a fine.

Complainant clarified that her request for respondent's transfer was not motivated by ill will but was the result of respondent's behavior, including her habitual tardiness and absenteeism. Complainant averred that respondent had ceased to be an effective and efficient worker and as such, she prayed for her dismissal from service.

For her defense, respondent testified on her behalf and presented the following as witnesses: Jadi Hatab, 12 Tessie P. Clavejo, 13 Venus L. Florida and Myrna Dacapio. The testimony of Maricor Viegan was dispensed with being merely corroborative of Dacapio's testimony.

Respondent admitted that an altercation did occur between her and complainant but countered that it was complainant who started it by scolding her in the presence of around three (3) other court personnel. Respondent also confirmed that the confrontation in the chambers took place in the presence of a female visitor and that the shouting had prompted the Branch Clerk of Court to come inside the chambers and help address the situation. Respondent, however, asserted that the affidavit Manuela A.T. Mayor had executed should not be given credence for being partial and biased as she allegedly had a close relationship with complainant.14

Respondent likewise alleged that the affidavit executed by her co-workers was a ceremonial act done to appease complainant.

Respondent refuted complainant's allegations of inefficiency by attaching several decisions she had drafted and which bore complainant's corrections.15 Respondent also refuted the allegations of her habitual tardiness and absenteeism by presenting her daily time record. In addition, she contended that the charge that she had asked or demanded money from litigants on behalf of the complainant and the city prosecutor is totally false.

Respondent presented Jadi Hatab to attest to her good character based on his personal experience and relationship with respondent.

After hearing both complainant and respondent and their respective witnesses, as well as going over the documentary evidence submitted by the parties, the Investigating Judge found that all the charges imputed to respondent had been substantiated. As such, he recommended that respondent be meted out the penalty of suspension for a period of one (1) year without pay.

The Court adopts the findings and conclusions of the Investigating Judge but finds the penalty too lenient in light of the circumstances.

As to the charge of insubordination and gross disrespect for the complainant, the Court agrees that indeed, the altercation between complainant and respondent has been established by evidence. Complainant pertinently testified as follows:

Q: Madam witness, you claim in your Affidavit that the respondent is disrespectful to you specially on August 22, 2005, the date of the incident, correct?cralawred

A: Yes.

Q: Ma'am, prior to the date of the incident, how was your relationship with the respondent?cralawred

A: We have bad blood relationship.

Q: Would you tell exactly the period that you have bad relationship with respondent prior to the incident happened?

x x x

A: I first reported to Makati City Hall in 2001, since then the respondent acted as my interpreter but she had not been doing her job. Every now and then I would remind her, do not be late and perform your duty but her action did not change until she voluntarily applied as the [sic] legal researcher. She knows very well, that I am not wanting [sic] her to be appoint as legal researcher because of her past action but she warned me that being ahh' what do called it, ah.. an employee Ahh' next in rank, she could be appointed due to the resignation of my former legal researcher. In short, there is no voluntariness on my part in appointing her because of her' well, of her action, of not doing her job, her performance.

x x x

A: Well, the bad relationship sometime in 2002 or 2003 after I have observed your performance in the office.16

Respondent, on the other hand, on cross-examination testified as follows:

Q: So at any rate, you tell Judge Mariano, "bakit mo ko mino-monitor?"

A: On that incident happened?cralawred

Q: Yes, you asked this right? Why would [sic] asked your boss this kind of question?cralawred

A: I would say that I was a victim that time and any reasonable man would do the same when you are confronted with any accusation, which was no basis at all. Do not compare that to any person who would accused [sic] you of anything because we were surprise by that accusation, you know.

x x x

Q: Did it not occur to you to defer asking Judge [sic] in the presence of this person or wait for a time for you to visit her in her room?cralawred

A: Honestly, the presence of that visitor who listened [in] her presence, give me more reason to do that way, to ask and clear myself with Judge Mariano [sic].

Q: Why [sic] the presence of that visitor compel you to do that way?cralawred

A: As I said earlier, I don't want that person to leave the office with that idea stuck on her mind.

Q: And why, this person is important to you?cralawred

A: Of course.

Q: Why?cralawred

A: I don't have any control over her. How can I defend myself if she is already outside of the building. How can I ever de[f]end myself if she is already out and saying those things she witnesses.

x x x

A: I had that conversation with Judge Mariano, I had (to) explain myself, right then and there before that person leave for me not to go or exert any more effort of explaining, that's what I m trying to prevent.

Q: What are you trying to prevent?cralawred

A: Explaining myself because I have no control with the action of that person, if she would be in the outside of the office, di ba? She's just a visitor eh.17

The Court finds reprehensible respondent's verbal assault on her superior, the complainant, inside the latter's chambers and worse, in the presence of a guest of the latter. It should be stressed that shouting at one another in the workplace and during office hours is arrant discourtesy and disrespect not only towards co-workers, but to the court as well.18 Respondent and all court personnel for that matter should be reminded that the image of the judiciary is mirrored in the kind of conduct, official or otherwise, which the personnel within its employ display, from the judge to the lowliest clerk. Any fighting or misunderstanding becomes a disgraceful sight reflecting adversely on the good image of the judiciary. Professionalism, respect for the rights of others, good manners and right conduct are expected of all judicial officers and employees. Thus, all employees are required to preserve the judiciary's good name and standing as a true temple of justice.19

The Court also agrees with the Investigating Judge's finding that respondent exploited her position to obtain monetary concessions from lawyers and litigants.20 Respondent likewise used her position and her access to court records to make it appear that complainant had falsified the report of cases she submitted to the Supreme Court on top of the many false accusations and allegations she had leveled against complainant in her desire to get even with her. In this regard, respondent testified as follows:

Q: Apparently, at this point you have no desire whatsoever to protect Judge Mariano, is that right, yes or no?cralawred

A: I am not under obligation to protect her na because this is [sic] a proceedings against me not the proceedings against her. Had it been Judge Mariano (who) was charge(d) maybe I will protect her.

Q: When [did] this desire of yours to protect Judge Mariano's ceased?cralawred

A: When she turned against me.

Q: And when was that?cralawred

A: When she issued that memorandum to Executive Judge Marella.

Q: In your explanation, because Judge Mariano turned against you, you have to do something against her and you were able to do so, is that right?cralawred

A: That is incorrect. I have to do something to protect myself and if in the process, she would be hurt I cannot control it, because she was the one who started this.

Q: And her being hurt it's just a consequence of your desire to protect yourself?cralawred

A: Yes, Ma'am.

Q: And this includes hurting her son, her family and as a judge and as staff in the Court, you don't care as long as you protect yourself, is that right?

x x x

Q: And you do not care if you also hurt her reputation as a person or as a judge, is that right Ma'am?cralawred

A: Yes, sir' (interrupted)

Q: And you do not care if you hurt her family, her husband, her son just to protect yourself, is that right, Ma'am?cralawred

A: That's correct.

Q: And you don't care if you hurt the staff as to protect yourself?cralawred

A: For your satisfaction, yes, Ma'am. But please let us not forget that I am the first one who is the victim here, the first who was hurt, my family was hurt. I was humiliated here in Court, judge(d) by the employees here and hated mostly by others because of this incident. So if you are saying that because I had said this statement to Judge Mariano, she was hurt, her husband was hurt, her staff was hurt, I was the very first person who was hurt Ma'am.

Q: Okay. And so because you were hurt, you have (been) victimized, you have to hurt Judge Mariano back, Yes or No?cralawred

A: I am just protecting myself, Ma'am.21

Q: The other reason why you (were) so hurt by Judge Mariano's actions is because you thought of yourself so close to Judge Mariano.

A: Not actually, I was hurt because of that memorandum coming from Judge Marella [,Jr.] citing all those grounds and asking me to report immediately to Atty. Escaseñas [sic] or the Clerk of Court. My hatred if you say so become.. my hate from Judge Mariano' interrupted'

Q: You hate Judge Mariano?

Atty. Ambrocio: You had to teach her a lesson.

A: Because it was damaging on my part, di ba? We are assisting our Judge and yet we employees of this Court cannot receive justice from our own house.22

Q: That you wanted to take revenge? You wanted to embarrass her?cralawred

A: No, Ma'am. It is contain(ed) in the proper perspective.

Q: And what is contained in the proper perspective?cralawred

A: Because as you know, Ma'am, I got angry with Judge Mariano right after the incident she refused to talk to me, she refused to recognize me, my existence, then after that I was blocked with [a] memorandum coming from Judge Marella, Jr. ordering me of my transfer to the OCC. I was surprised because I was not given the chance by Judge Mariano to explain myself, she did not issue me a memorandum according to her against certain rules. And another order finding my explanation unsatisfied [sic] that would be the basis had she done that to transfer to Judge Marella, Jr. those things she did not do, that's why I m [sic] felt so angry at that time.

Q: So, you are so angry, what did you want to Judge Mariano [sic]?cralawred

A: To make things in the proper perspective. Because I should not be treated that way. I should be given some courtesy at least as an employee.

Atty. Ambrocio:

Q: You did not give Judge Mariano any courtesy when you confronted her in front of her visitor?cralawred

A: I had been courteous with Judge Mariano.

Q: You called that being courteous, a subordinate asking a judge "Bakit mo ko minomonitor ng ganito?"

A: Because she was accusing me, that was still a reply nga, "ang sabi kasi n ya eh, binabantayan ko mga kilos mo"for anybody who is in her right mind, would reply that, the same what I have done, "Bakit mo ko minomonitor di ba?" "Sa kanya nanggaling 'yon eh, hindi sa akin." 23

The foregoing clearly shows that respondent's act and utterances constitute discourtesy, insubordination and disrespect towards her superior.

With regard to the charge of habitual tardiness and absenteeism, the policy to be followed is found in Section II of Administrative Circular No. 2-99 entitled "Strict Observance of Working Hours and Disciplinary Action for Absenteesim and Tardiness" which states:

II. Absenteeism and tardiness, even if such do not qualify as "habitual" or "frequent" under Civil Service Commission Memorandum Circular No. 04, Series of 1991, shall be dealt with severely, and any falsification of daily time records to cover up for such absenteeism and/or tardiness shall constitute gross dishonesty or serious misconduct.

As found by the Investigating Judge, respondent is culpable of frequent absenteeism and tardiness, as well as falsification of her Daily Time Record. Complainant presented sufficient proof that respondent had been late for 13 times in February 2005, 18 times in March 2005, 12 times in April 2005, 10 times in May 2005, 11 times plus four (4) absences in June 2005 and 13 times in July 2005. Respondent did not submit her Daily Time Record for the month of August 2005 which shows that she had been late 11 times. Respondent was likewise shown to have no

reservations about making false statements in the Daily Time

Record as she has done so for years.24 By her habitual tardiness and absenteeism respondent has caused inefficiency in the public service.

Unauthorized absences are punishable by suspension of six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year for the first offense, and the penalty of dismissal for the second offense with the degree of absenteeism and tardiness which would merit the supreme penalty of dismissal characterized as frequent, habitual and unauthorized.25

As to the charge of inefficiency and neglect of duty, the Court concurs with the Investigating Judge's declaration that respondent has been remiss in her duties as legal researcher. Indeed, she has shown herself to be less than zealous in the performance of the duties of her office which demands utmost dedication and efficiency.

Considering that respondent has been found guilty of all the three charges, the Court finds that the recommended penalty of suspension for one (1) year without pay as insufficient. Especially egregious is the finding that respondent had exploited her position as an officer of the court to obtain monetary concessions from lawyers and litigants. Her activities have compromised the integrity of the judicial system. Appropriately, her dismissal from the service will excise a cancerous blight that has stained the work force of the judiciary.

WHEREFORE, Marissa Mondala is found GUILTY of INSUBORDINATION, HABITUAL TARDINESS, INSUBORDINATION and INEFFICIENCY AND NEGLECT OF DUTY and is hereby DISMISSED from the service, with forfeiture of all benefits and privileges except accrued leave credits, if any, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or agency of the government, including government-owned and controlled corporations.

SO ORDERED.


Endnotes:


* On Official Leave.

** Acting Chief Justice.

1 Rollo, p. 9.

2 Id. at 11-14.

3 Id. at 15-22. The OCA was furnished with copies of both indorsements.

4 Id. at 4.

5 Id. at 16.

6 Id. at 16.

7 Id. at 177-181.

8 Id. at 182.

9 Id. at 27; Pinagsanib na Sinumpaang Salaysay.

10 Id. at 216.

11 Id. at 200-201.

12 Id. at 135-136.

13 Id. at 133-134.

14 Id. at 30-31.

15 Id. at 63-126.

16 TSN, 23 March 2007, pp. 17-20.

17 TSN, 24 September 2007, pp. 16-18, 20.

18 Aquino v. Israel, A.M. No. P-04-1800, 25 March 2004, 426 SCRA 266, 267.

19 Casanova, Jr. v. Cajayon, 448 Phil. 573, 582 (2003).

20 Report of the Investigating Judge, p. 18.

21 TSN, 23 November 2007, pp. 13 - 16.

22 TSN, 11 October 2007, pp. 25-26.

23 TSN, 24 September 2007, pp. 34-35.

24 Report of the Investigating Judge, p. 29.

25 Reyes-Macabeo v. Valle, 448 Phil. 583, 590 (2003).

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