[A.M. NO. P-05-2086. October 20, 2005]
(Formerly OCA IPI No. 05-9-583-RTC)
RE: FALSIFICATION OF DAILY TIME RECORDS OF MARIA FE P. BROOKS, COURT INTERPRETER, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, QUEZON CITY, BRANCH 69, and ANDRIA FORTEZA-CRISOSTOMO, CLERK III, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, MANILA, BRANCH 39.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
The instant administrative matter has its roots in the 1st Indorsement dated April 6, 2005 of Assistant Court Administrator Antonio M. Dujua, referring to Atty. Perseveranda L. Ricon, Clerk of Court V, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Manila, Branch 39, for comment the photocopies of the October 2003 Daily Time Records of Maria Fe P. Brooks and Andria Forteza-Crisostomo which appeared to have been tampered.
In her Comment (by way of a 2nd Indorsement dated April 26, 2005), Atty. Ricon stated, thus:
It is Standard Operating Procedure in our office that at the end of each month, staffs will submit to the undersigned their respective DTRs. Undersigned would check if what was stated in the DTR tallied with the Log Book where the staffs log their arrivals and departures. If it does, then the undersigned affixes her signature to each DTR. The same was done in this particular month of October 2003, and after which the undersigned instructed her Utility Worker, Mr. Eduardo Flores, to submit the same to the Leave Section. When undersigned affixed her signature in the DTR of Ms. Brooks and Ms. Crisostomo, there were no erasures or tampering so to speak except that of Ms. Brooks where I put my initial below the first line of arrival since it did not tally with the Log Book and so with the succeeding entries (please refer to the Log Book for the month of October 2003 hereto attached, where the erasures or alleged tampering on Ms. Brooks' DTR tallied with the entries therein, meaning there was no tampering or change of entries in the Log Book and the DTR). The DTRs were clean and I was surprised to see the attached xerox copies of the DTR of Ms. Crisostomo where there are legible erasures and tampering done. I presumed that the erasures/tampering were done after I had signed said DTRs.
The respective explanations of Andria Forteza-Crisostomo and Maria Fe Brooks were, likewise, attached to the said Comment.
Andria Forteza-Crisostomo admitted having made some alterations on her October 2003 Daily Time Record. She explained that at that time, she was in her first trimester of pregnancy, which made her body weak due to the heavy workload she was handling. Her travel to and from Bulacan gave her great stress, and she was afraid that she might get suspended from the office if she would thrice be marked tardy in one month. She was apprehensive about losing her job since her family was dependent on her. She sincerely apologized for what she did and manifested that she would accept whatever punishment would be meted against her. She also vowed never to do such act or other similar acts again.
For her part, Maria Fe P. Brooks acknowledged the changes of entries made in her daily time record, particularly on October 1, 3, and 8, 2003. She explained that she was scheduled to transfer to her new workstation at the RTC of Quezon City, Branch 69 on October 14, 2003. Thus, the day before, she was very busy winding up her workload which could not be left undone. When she presented her daily time record to the Branch Clerk of Court for signature, she was made to double check if the entries tallied with the attendance logbook of the office. After doing so, she found out that some of the entries made were erroneous and proceeded to correct the same by using correction fluid. She stressed that these corrections were made known to the Branch Clerk of Court before she affixed her signature on the bottom portion of her daily time record. She further averred that the erasures were made in good faith, without any slightest interest of dishonesty, and only to reflect the true and correct entries.
In its Report dated September 7, 2005, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) made the following evaluation and recommendation:
EVALUATION: Andria Forteza-Crisostomo admitted having falsified her Daily Time Record for the month of October 2003. Under the Civil Service Rules, falsification of an official document such as the Daily Time Record is considered a grave offense and penalized with dismissal from the service for the first offense. Moreover, under item II of Administrative Circular No. 2-99 issued on 15 January 1999, Re: Strict Observance of Working Hours and Disciplinary Action for Absenteeism and Tardiness
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 the Court explained in Mirano v. Saavedra, A.M. No. P-89-383, August 4, 1993:
Public service requires utmost integrity and strictest discipline. A public servant must exhibit at all times the highest sense of honesty and integrity. The administration of justice is a sacred task. By the very nature of their duties and responsibilities, all those involved in it must faithfully adhere to hold inviolate, and invigorate the principle [of solemnity] enshrined in the 1987 Constitution that a public office is a public trust; and all public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency. The conduct and behavior of everyone connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility. Their conduct, at all times, must not only be characterized by propriety and decorum, but above all else, must be above suspicion. Indeed, every employee of the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty.
In several instances, the Court refrained from imposing the extreme penalty of dismissal where the erring employees have not been previously charged administratively. Prior to this, Andria Forteza-Crisostomo has not been charged with an administrative offense. It was also noted that she readily acknowledged her offense, offered her most sincere apologies and promises to reform her ways. These factors may be considered to mitigate the penalty that may be imposed on her.
Anent the matter concerning Maria Fe Brooks, Atty. Ricon stated in her comment that "there was no tampering or change of entries in the Log Book and the DTR." Thus, the case against Maria Fe Brooks should be dismissed.
In Reyes-Domingo v. Morales, we merely imposed a penalty of fine to a Branch Clerk of Court who was found guilty of dishonesty in not reflecting the correct time in his Daily Time Record. We perceive no cogent reason why we cannot take the same benevolent stance in this case.
RECOMMENDATION: Respectfully submitted for the consideration of the Honorable Court that:
1) The case against Maria Fe Brooks be DISMISSED:
2) This be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative matter against Andria Forteza-Crisostomo, Clerk III, RTC, Branch 39, Manila; and as a regular administrative matter;
3) Andria Forteza-Crisostomo be SUSPENDED for three (3) months without pay with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar offense will warrant a more severe penalty.
The findings of the OCA are well-taken.
The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (Republic Act No. 6713) enunciates the state's policy of promoting a high standard of ethics and utmost responsibility in the public service. And no other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an employee than in the Judiciary.1 We have repeatedly emphasized that the conduct of court personnel, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, must always be beyond reproach and must be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility as to let them be free from any suspicion that may taint the judiciary. The Court condemns and would never countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice, which would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary.2
Falsification of daily time records amounts to dishonesty; dishonesty, being in the nature of a grave offense, carries the extreme penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification for reemployment in government service.3 Indeed, dishonesty has no place in the Judiciary.4 However, such an extreme penalty cannot be inflicted on an erring employee, especially so in cases where there exist mitigating circumstances which could alleviate his or her culpability.5 In this case, since respondent Andria Forteza-Crisostomo readily acknowledged her offense, apologized and promised to reform her ways, and considering further that this is her first offense, the Court finds that the penalty of three months' suspension from the service will suffice.6
WHEREFORE, finding the explanation of Maria Fe P. Brooks satisfactory, the complaint against her is DISMISSED.
Respondent Andria Forteza-Crisostomo is found GUILTY of falsification of official document and dishonesty. She is hereby SUSPENDED for three (3) months without pay, and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely.
Puno, J., (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, and Tinga, JJ., concur.
Chico-Nazario, J., on leave.
* On leave.
1 Civil Service Commission v. Sta. Ana, A.M. No. OCA-01-5, 1 August 2002, 386 SCRA 1.
3 Office of the Court Administrator v. Magno, A.M. No. P-00-1419, 17 October 2001, 367 SCRA 312.
4 Cabanatan v. Molina, A.M. No. P-01-1520, 21 November 2001, 370 SCRA 16.
5 Office of the Court Administrator v. Sirios, A.M. No. P-02-1659, 28 August 2003, 410 SCRA 35.