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A.M. No. 2009-04-SC - Complaint of Atty. Wilhelmina D. Geronga againts Mr. Ross C. Romero, driver, shuttle bus no. 5 for reckless driving

A.M. No. 2009-04-SC - Complaint of Atty. Wilhelmina D. Geronga againts Mr. Ross C. Romero, driver, shuttle bus no. 5 for reckless driving

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[A.M. NO. 2009-04-SC : September 4, 2009]

Re: COMPLAINT of Atty. WILHELMINA D. GERONGA Against Mr. ROSS C. ROMERO, Driver, Shuttle Bus No. 5, for Reckless Driving

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

This administrative matter arose from a letter-complaint dated January 15, 2009 filed with the Supreme Court (SC) Shuttle Bus Committee by Atty. Wilhelmina D. Geronga, Chief of Office, Legal Division, Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), against Ross C. Romero, Driver, Shuttle Bus No. 5, for Reckless Driving.

Atty. Geronga alleged:

I am a regular rider of Shuttle Bus No. 5 and I have on many occassion witnessed the reckless driving of Ross.

Yesterday afternoon, January 14, 2009, before I completely alighted from the shuttle bus, it immediately accelerated. My left foot was already on the pavement while my right foot was still on the last step (stairs) of the bus with my hands holding tightly a portion of the bus to support my descent (I was facing the south side while the bus was northbound). If not for my presence of mind and my luck that I was able to balance my body, I would have fallen and hit the back of my head on the pavement. The driver did not even bother to stop and check if I was alright.

Atty. Geronga added that other riders of Shuttle Bus No. 5 have their own stories of Romero's reckless driving, and that she was filing the complaint before other employees would sustain physical harm.

In its Memorandum dated January 16, 2009, Atty. Carina M. Cunanan, Chairperson, SC Shuttle Bus Committee, directed Romero to submit his explanation on Atty. Geronga's letter-complaint within three (3) days from receipt thereof.

In his Comment dated January 19, 2009, Romero expressed his apologies to Atty. Geronga for whatever infraction he had committed against the latter. He claimed that "upon reaching her (Atty. Geronga) destination, she alighted the bus, to the best of my knowledge, unharmed. After checking the right side mirror and ascertaining that Atty. Geronga was already out of the bus, I slowly drove forward." He added that he was surprised by the call of the bus coordinator, Alma Cortez, so he stopped the bus. He averred that he wanted to check on Atty. Geronga, but was allegedly reassured by Cortez that Atty. Geronga was fine. He narrated that he did not see whether Atty. Geronga was still holding on to the bus when he drove forward; neither did he see if the pavement she stepped on was uneven. He also said that if he only knew that she was still there, he would not have driven the bus forward. He assured the committee and the bus riders that that kind of incident would not happen again.

In her letter of even date, Atty. Geronga declared that Romero's statement was contrary to the text message that he had sent to her on that very same day the incident took place. The text message reads:

Gud pm atty. I m vry sori po abt kanina dko npo nkita kc nung nsa stribo kau ng pinto. Pcnsya npo nsaktan po b kau.

Atty. Geronga alleged that several instances had occurred in the past when Romero would start accelerating the bus even if she was still standing on the stairs and about to take a step to go down from the bus.

The complaint, together with Romero's explanation and Atty. Geronga's opposition (treated as reply), was endorsed to the Complaint and Investigation Division, Office of the Administrative Services (CID-OAS), this office, for appropriate action.

The OAS, which has the initiatory authority to discipline a shuttle bus driver,1 issued a Memorandum dated January 23, 2009 requesting Alma Cortez, assigned Coordinator, and Cherrylyn F. Pasco, assigned Assistant Coordinator of Shuttle Bus No. 5 to appear before the OAS on January 30 and January 29, 2009, respectively. The OAS also required Romero to submit his rejoinder to the above reply.

In his letter (treated as a rejoinder) dated February 11, 2009, Romero stated that he never intended the incident to happen. He claimed that he was always careful and was never reckless in his driving, and that he always saw to it that his passengers would arrive safely in their destinations. However, in that particular incident, he admitted that he drove the bus without noticing that Atty. Geronga was still holding on to the side portion of the bus. He reiterated his plea for understanding and once again apologized to her. He vowed that he would remain very cautious in his driving to ensure the safety of his passengers. A portion of his letter reads:

Noong araw ng aksidente, sa hindi pong inaasahang pangyayari ay napatakbo ko po ang bus ng di namalayan na si Atty. Wilhelmina Geronga ay nakahawak pa sa pintuan ng bus. Tulad po ng dati ay naunang bumababa po si Atty. Vicky na kasunod po si Atty. Geronga. Akin pa pong napansin na natigilan si Atty. Vicky sa pagtawid patungo ng sidewalk dahil sa isang motorsiklo na pilit na sumiksik sa kanang bahagi ng aming bus. Pagkalipas po ng ilang sandali ay aking dahan-dahang inabante ang bus at bigla po akong sinabihan ng aming bus coordinator na si Ma'am Alma na nasa gilid pa daw po ng bus si Atty. Geronga. Akin pong agarang pinigil ang bus. Hindi ko po napansin na si Atty. Geronga ay nasa gilid po pala ng aming bus. Inantabayan ko na lamang po na siya ay nakalapit kay Atty. Vicky at maayos na makalakad pauwi. Hindi ko na po nagawang bumaba at lapitan si Atty. Geronga upang matiyak na siya ay nasa ayos dahil na rin sa pinaghalong kaba at kahihiyan sa naganap na aksidente. Sinabihan na lamang po ako ni Ma'am Alma na tumuloy na po sa biyahe dahil maayos na pong nakatawid sina Atty. Geronga.

x x x           x x x           x x x

Nais ko rin pong bigyang linaw na akin pong kinikilala ang naganap na aksidente at ako po ay patuloy na humihingi ng paumanhin. Hindi ko po intension na ipagwalang-bahala o itatwa ang nangyari. xxx

In its Memorandum dated March 3, 2009 addressed to the Chief Justice through Atty. Ma. Luisa D. Villarama, Atty. Candelaria, Deputy Clerk of Court and Chief Administrative Officer of the Court, summarizes the testimony of Cortez and Pasco, as follows:

xxx. Ms. Cortez stated that she blurted in surprise when Mr. Romero started driving the bus because she clearly saw that Atty. Geronga was right down the bus holding the corner portion of the door. She further testified that Mr. Romero stopped the bus at a distance which she approximately stated as around ten (10) meters from where Atty. Geronga got off. She recalled that it was her reaction which prompted Mr. Romero to stop the bus. She stated that Ms. Cherilyn Pasco, HRMO II, Leave Division, the designated Assistant Coordinator of Shuttle Bus No. 5, this Office, from the view at her seat saw that Atty. Geronga and Atty. Vicky Ignacio, another passenger who alighted ahead of Atty. Geronga, were already talking to each other. When that information was relayed to her, she then assented to proceed with their trip. However, she disclaimed Mr. Romero's assertion that it was her who assured him that Atty. Geronga was already all right.

On the other hand, Ms. Pasco narrated that she was asleep when the incident happened, and was awakened by the sudden reaction of Ms. Cortez. She stated that she immediately looked down towards the door and saw Atty. Geronga was still right there. She guessed something must have happened that is why Mr. Romero stopped the bus. However, she claimed that shortly thereafter the bus also departed since Ms. Cortez gave her consent to Mr. Romero to leave. In recalling what exactly happened, Ms. Pasco positively stated that she recalled seeing Atty. Geronga's hand holding the bus.

Ms. Pasco also mentioned experiences of other passengers whom she claimed had been nearly caught by the closing door of the shuttle bus. She stated that if not for the timely call by the coordinators of Mr. Romero's attention, passengers would have been injured by the door. In fact, she stated that just before that day, there was a similar incident.

On the allegation that the right foot of Atty. Geronga was still at the last door step of the bus, Ms. Pasco opined that it seemed to her to be impossible since if that was the case, she would really have completely fallen, but just as it was, this did not happen.

In a preliminary conference held on February 24, 2004, the investigating officer informed both parties that the purpose of the said conference was to determine if Atty. Geronga was willing to have the case settled. It was likewise emphasized that the withdrawal of the complaint would not necessarily result in the cessation of the administrative disciplinary action against the erring employee.

In the said conference, Atty. Geronga declared that in three (3) different instances, Romero personally approached her, but she told him that her compassion toward him did not necessarily mean that she would be withdrawing the complaint. As nothing more was added to what they had already stated in their pleadings, the case was submitted for evaluation.

After a thorough evaluation, the OCA gives credence to the allegations of Atty. Geronga, who was not motivated by any ill motive and who would not have lodged the said complaint if she had not been through what she believed was a perilous situation for her. The OCA also recommended the immediate termination from employment of Romero, a casual employee. It also informed the Court that Romero had a pending administrative case docketed as A.M. 2008-24-SC for engaging in a fist fight with Edilberto Idulsa, also a shuttle bus driver of the SC.

After our own evaluation of the record, and taking into account the report and recommendation submitted by the OCA, the court is convinced that Romero failed to observe due diligence as a driver and, thus, deserves to be administratively sanctioned.

Administrative Circular No. 30-2004, Prescribing the Rules and Regulations on the Operation of the Supreme Court Shuttle Buses, states:

Sec. 10. Duties of bus driver. - The bus driver shall have the following duties:

x x x

(7) To perform and discharge their duties with utmost courtesy to the bus riders, their fellow motorist, traffic enforcers and the general public; avoid any act of recklessness which may unnecessarily put in danger not only their respective buses, but more importantly, the lives and limbs of passengers, and to avoid any act of impropriety which may tarnish the image of the court.

Romero, as a professional driver, is expected to be well-aware of his responsibilities to his passengers. His primordial concern is their safety. He should ensure the safety of his passengers while they are boarding the bus, during the trip, and when they are alighting from the bus.

The sworn statement of Alma Cortez, who was on the front seat nearest the door of the bus, confirmed Romero's negligent act, which was complained of by Atty. Geronga. Cortez testified that she saw Atty. Geronga's hand still holding on to the side portion of the bus when Romero accelerated the said bus. Cortes recounted the incident, thus:

Atty. Taw

Q Halimbawa dito, heto ang door ng bus, Saan kayo nakaupo?cralawred

A Eto ang door, dito ang driver. Dito po kami nakaupo. (Witness pointing their seat location at the 1st row, right side of the shuttle bus which is near the door) Dito ako, dito si Cherry sa may bintana.

Q Saan ang babaan ng bus?cralawred

A Dito po ang babaan. Ang door ng shuttle ay salamin, siyempre nakatingin ako sa salamin at nakita ko pa ang kamay ni Atty. Geronga na talagang nakahawak pa sa body ng shuttle tapos umandar na kaya ako naman ay napasigaw. Syempre medyo malayo na ang natakbo naming parang malapit-lapit pa din pero parang nakatakbo na ng ilang metro.

Q Nakakapit pa si Atty. Geronga sa may pinto?cralawred

A Opo. Nakita ko po nakahawak pa siya sa body ng shuttle.

Q Pero in-alleged kasi ni Atty. Geronga na talagang hindi pa siya completely nakakababa.

A Ang nakita ko lang talaga ay nakahawak pa siya sa body ng shuttle. Yun lang po ang nakita ko sa salamin kasi makikita mo sa salamin.

x x x           x x x           x x x

Q Napasigaw ka?cralawred

A Opo kaya huminto ang shuttle.

Q Di ba napasigaw ka? Bago 'yun, nakaandar na ba ang bus noon?cralawred

A Opo. Umandar na pero huminto.

Q Gaano kalayo na from Atty. Geronga?cralawred

A Siguro po ganito . . . dito po kasi siya bumababa kanto po 'yan dito naman Tandang Sora. Bago pa po dumating ng Tandang Sora Avenue, dito banda. Kasi kapag umandar hindi naman kaagad nakakahinto.

Q Mga ilang metro?cralawred

A Mga 15 metro.

Q Malayo na?cralawred

A Kasi nga po syempre hindi naman kaagad nakaka-break para huminto. Pero nakikita pa po naming si Atty. Geronga kasi sabi ni Cherry lumingon daw siya nakita nya si Atty. Geronga na nag-uusap sila ni Atty. Vicki.2

Likewise, the above testimony of Cortez that the bus had already run a considerable distance from where Atty. Geronga alighted negate the claim of Romero that he slowly drove the bus forward after Atty. Geronga alighted. Cherrylyn Pasco also confirmed the occurrence of the startling incident when she testified that she was awakened from slumber by the shout of Cortez, who saw the bus move when Atty. Geronga had not completely alighted from the bus.3

Moreover, even the letters dated February 11, 2009 and May 19, 2009 of Romero did not at all mention any precaution or due care that he exercised when Atty. Geronga was getting off the shuttle bus, specifically during the incident complained of, although he claimed that he always saw to it that his passengers had safely boarded and disembarked from the bus. Romero even admitted that he did not notice that Atty. Geronga was still holding on to the door of the bus.

We agree with the OAS that even assuming that the position of Atty. Geronga could not be seen through the rear view mirror above the driver's seat, it can be safely concluded that he too did not check or look at the right side mirror, which should have given him a view of where Atty. Geronga was situated. Romero's failure to do so showed his wanton disregard of the physical safety of his passenger. We have once said:

A man must use common sense, and exercise due reflection in all his acts; it is his duty to be cautious, careful, and prudent, if not from instinct, then through fear of incurring punishment. He is responsible for such results as anyone might foresee and for acts which no one would have performed except through culpable abandon. Otherwise his own person, rights and property, all those of his fellow-beings, would ever be exposed to all manner of danger and injury.4

The Court also takes into consideration the testimony of Pasco regarding the experiences of other passengers who she claimed, were nearly caught by the closing of the door of the shuttle bus, if not for their constant, timely calls to catch the attention of Romero. In fact, Pasco claimed that on January 27, 2009 (a day before she gave her testimony), a similar incident took place.5

Indeed, Romero's gross negligence in driving the shuttle bus is evident. Gross negligence has been defined as the want or absence of even slight care or diligence as to amount to a reckless disregard of the safety of persons or property. It evinces a thoughtless disregard of consequences without exerting any effort to avoid them.6 ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

In A.M. No. 2008-13-SC,7 the Court ruled that "a government employee holding a casual or temporary employment cannot be terminated within a period of his employment except for cause." We sustain the recommendation of the OAS that there is a sufficient cause to terminate Romero's employment, his gross recklessness in driving the shuttle bus having been established by substantial evidence. Moreover, the presence of mitigating circumstances, such as his length of service or this being his first offense, should not be taken into account considering that the paramount concern in this case is the need to safeguard the lives and limbs of the shuttle bus passengers. Incidentally, it appears that Romero is the respondent in another case docketed as A.M. No. 2008-24-SC.

WHEREFORE, Ross C. Romero, Driver, Shuttle Bus No. 5 of this Court is ordered TERMINATED from the service, effective immediately without prejudice to the outcome of A.M. No. 2008-24-SC.

SO ORDERED.


Endnotes:


1 Sec. 12 of Administrative Circular No. 30-2004

Sec. 12. Disciplinary Authority. - The Office of the Administrative Services has the initiatory authority to discipline shuttle bus drivers. It may recommend to the Court early termination or non-renewal of their appointment or the imposition of other disciplinary sanction.

2 Sworn Statement of Alma O. Cortez dated January 30, 2009, pp. 3-4.

3 Sworn Statement of Cherrylyn Pasco dated January 28, 2009, pp. 3-4.

4 Abueva v. Prople, G.R. No. 134387, September 27, 2002, 390 SCRA 62, 73, citing People v. De los Santos, G.R. No. 131588, 355 SCRA 415, 430.

5 Sworn Statement of Cherrylyn Pasco dated January 28, 2009, pp. 5-6.

6 Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation v. Chrysler Philippines Labor Union, G.R. No. 148738, June 29, 2004, 433 SCRA 206, 219-220.

7 A.M. No. 2008-13-SC, November 19, 2008.

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