[A.M. NO. P-05-2069. October 13, 2005]
[Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 03-1734-P]
P/CAPT. ROMEO M. DE GUZMAN, Complainant, v. MARIPI A. APOLONIO, COURT STENOGRAPHER, MTCC-Branch 2, Santiago City, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
In a Complaint1 dated 25 July 2003, P/Capt. Romeo M. de Guzman (De Guzman), Chief of Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of Santiago City, Isabela, alleges that a Criminal Complaint2 for violation of Republic Act No. 30193 (R.A. 3019) had been filed against Maripi A. Apolonio (Maripi). In view of this, De Guzman prays that Maripi be placed under preventive suspension.
The Criminal Complaint states in part:
That on or about 11:00 o'clock in the morning of July 17, 2003, at Santiago City, Philippines and within the preliminary jurisdiction of this Honorable Office, said accused being a public official or employee did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloneously [sic] demanded a cash amount of One Hundred Twenty Thousand Pesos (Php 120,000.00) however, it was reduced to Sixty Thousand Pesos (Php 60,000.00) which she (respondent) directly accepted/received from the complainant, ESPERANZA SAMONTE-SALANGA the supposed amount in a form of a boodle money with four (4) pieces of genuine marked money bearing serial numbers LN927865, CW459149, GZ675765 & DJ082560 during the entrapment operation conducted by the CIDG Santiago City who made the apprehension of the respondent, MARIFE [sic] APOLONIO to the damage and prejudice of herein complainant in the aformentioned [sic] amount.
Contrary to law.4
However, the First Assistant City Prosecutor (the prosecutor), found no sufficient evidence to warrant the indictment of Maripi for violation of R.A. 3019. In a Resolution5 dated 3 September 2003, he downgraded the charge to estafa. Hence, an Information6 for estafa was thereafter filed against Maripi.
The CIDG filed an Appeal7 of the prosecutor's Resolution with the Regional Prosecution Office of Tuguegarao City. Said appeal which was forwarded to the Department of Justice (DOJ), is still pending disposition before it.8
In her Comment9 dated 17 October 2003, Maripi vehemently denies the charges against her. She claims that the money she allegedly received during the entrapment operation from her niece Esperanza Samonte-Salanga (Esperanza) was for the payment of the premium for the surety bond of the latter's brother, Jomel Samonte (Jomel). Jomel had been detained by the Philippine National Police (PNP) on drug charges. Maripi avers that Esperanza did not know of the plan to raise money for Jomel's surety bond and mistakenly believed that the money was to be used for extortion.
Earlier, Lucia Samonte (Lucia), Esperanza's mother and Maripi's sister-in-law, allegedly approached Maripi for advice on what the former can do to secure the release of Jomel. Maripi initially approached the PNP investigator to ascertain the nature of the charges against her nephew Jomel. Subsequently, she and Lucia went to the Office of the City Prosecutor to inquire about the possibility of posting bail for Jomel. Prosecutor Lucky M. Damasena said
that he would recommend
P120,000.00 bail bond for each case or a total of P360,000.00. Maripi then recommended that Lucia raise the money needed for the premium of the surety bond.
Thereafter, Maripi and Lucia agreed to meet on a certain day to go to the Office of the City Prosecutor and talk to an insurance agent who will issue the surety bond. On the appointed day, Esperanza came to know about the money because Lucia had asked her to deliver it to respondent. Thinking that the money would be used for extortion, Esperanza went to the CIDG of Santiago City and an entrapment operation was arranged for the arrest of respondent.
Forming part of the records of the instant case are: (1) an unsigned letter dated 20 July 2003, of a "Concerned Citizen of Santiago City" providing the Court a copy of the newspaper account of the entrapment operation conducted against respondent;10 (2) an unverified letter-complaint dated 21 July 2003, of Jun Samonte together with "Concerned Citizens" Conching Saggala, Endong Samonte, Maritess Corpuz and Nanette Medina relative to the incident subject of De Guzman's complaint against respondent, expressing their fear of a whitewash considering respondent's association with the prosecutors and the judge handling the criminal case against her;11 and (3) a letter dated 31 July 2003, of Jun Samonte informing the Court of the alleged involvement of the Office of the City Prosecutor of Santiago City in the pay-off/fiasco and expressing his fears that respondent will not be criminally charged due to the prosecutors' involvement in the incident.12
It is likewise worth noting that: (1) In Judge Albano-Madrid v. Maripi Apolonio et al.,13 respondent Maripi was found guilty of gambling during office hours and was suspended from office for one month and one day without pay with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar act of misconduct will be dealt with more severely; (2) OCA IPI No. 03-1722 entitled Paul Duque v. Maripi Apolonio et al., has been referred for Investigation, Report and Recommendation to Executive Judge Fe Madrid per Resolution dated 11 October 2004 of the Second Division of the Court; and (3) A.M. No. P-05-1958 (Formerly OCA IPI No. P-04-1771/OCA IPI No. 03-1618-P) entitled Atty. Pacifico Capuchino v. Maripi Apolonio, et al., for "Grave Misconduct and Violation of R.A. 4200 'Anti-Wiretapping Law, '" is pending resolution before the Court.
The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) in its report14 dated 29 July 2005, held that the information at hand is sufficient to hold respondent liable for gross misconduct. It found that there is strong and incontrovertible evidence of Maripi's active involvement in procuring the release of her nephew who was detained on drug charges. The OCA thought it improper for Maripi to make personal inquiries with the PNP and the Office of the City Prosecutor regarding her nephew's cases. The OCA also observed it highly irregular for Maripi to make arrangements for securing a surety bond in the city prosecutor's office. Likewise reprehensible is the fact that all this was done on official time.
The OCA declared that respondent's actuations compromised the integrity of the judiciary in the eyes of the public. Hence, the OCA recommended that Maripi be placed under preventive suspension pending the final outcome of the resolution of the criminal case against her or until further orders from the Court. It also recommended that the instant administrative proceedings be held in abeyance to await the outcome of said criminal case.
The OCA's recommendation is well-taken.
Section 19, Rule II of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service15 empowers the proper disciplining authority to issue upon petition of the complainant or motu proprio, an order of preventive suspension to any subordinate officer or employee pending investigation if the charge involves, among others, grave misconduct. Said provision reads in full, to wit:
SEC. 19. Preventive Suspension. - Upon petition of the complainant or motu proprio, the proper disciplining authority may issue an order of preventive suspension upon service of the Formal Charge, or immediately thereafter to any subordinate officer or employee under his authority pending investigation, if the charge involves:
c. grave misconduct;
d. neglect in the performance of duty; or
e. if there are reasons to believe that the respondent is guilty of the charges which would warrant his removal from the service.
An order of preventive suspension may be issued to temporarily remove the respondent from the scene of his misfeasance or malfeasance and to preclude the possibility of exerting undue influence or pressure on the witnesses against him or tampering of documentary evidence on file with his Office.
In lieu of preventive suspension, for the same purpose, the proper disciplining authority or head of office, may reassign respondent to other unit of the agency during the formal hearings.
The Supreme Court is given by the Constitution the exclusive power over the discipline of lower court judges and court personnel.16 As the charge embodied in the Complaint constitutes either dishonesty or grave misconduct, the Supreme Court as the proper disciplining authority may motu proprio' or at the complainant's behest as in the case at bar, issue an order placing respondent under preventive suspension. Under the circumstances, the Court believes that an order of preventive suspension is warranted. It is worth reiterating that preventive suspension is not a punishment or penalty for misconduct in office but is considered to be a preventive measure.17
Finally, the Court confirms the need to hold the instant administrative proceedings in abeyance pending the outcome of the criminal case filed against Maripi. The disposition of the criminal case will provide basis for determining the administrative liability of respondent.
WHEREFORE, respondent Court Stenographer Maripi A. Apolonio is hereby PREVENTIVELY SUSPENDED for ninety (90) days from notice pursuant to Section 20 of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service. The instant administrative case is HELD IN ABEYANCE to await the outcome of the criminal case.
Puno, J., (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, pp. 40-41.
2 Annex "A" of the Verified Complaint dated 18 July 2003, filed by SPO3 George A. Agustin of the PNP; Rollo, p. 42.
3 Otherwise known as the "Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act."
4 Rollo, p. 42.
5 Dated 21 August 2003; id. at 131-133.
6 Id. at 54.
7 Id. at 95-103; Dated 15 October 2003.
8 Id. at 136.
9 Id. at 44-47.
10 Id. at 7.
11 Id. at 1-3.
12 Id. at 4.
13 445 Phil. 88 (2003).
14 Id. at 139-142.
15 Resolution 99-1936.
16 Judge Reyes v. Delim, 420 Phil. 381, 393 (2001).