Judge Manuel R. Aquino of the Municipal Trial Court of Caba, La Union submitted to the Office of the Court Administrator his "Report/Findings" dated November 16, 1998 recommending that an appropriate disciplinary action be imposed upon Jocelyn Fernandez who holds the position of Stenographer I in his sala. 1
According to complainant Judge, respondent failed to type the draft order in Criminal Case No. 4197, entitled "People of the Philippines v. Jose Runes, Et. Al." then pending in his court despite the instructions given by him on November 4, 1988. When asked to give a written explanation, respondent admitted her failure to accomplish said task with a promise not to commit the same offense, explaining that she had to prepare 18 copies of her daily time record and leave of absence. Respondent did not file any prior leave of absence for November 4 to 6, 1998 as required by law. Previously, respondent was reprimanded by the Clerk of Court for her absence in October of 1993 and by complainant Judge himself for her absences in October of 1996. Complainant Judge further complains that the stenographic notes of respondent were always submitted late and full of errors which caused her very low performance rating. 2
Complainant Judge attached to his report several annexes, to wit: Annex "A," his letter dated November 5, 1998 addressed to respondent asking her to give an explanation for her failure to type the draft order in "People v. Runes" ; Annexes "B" and "B-1," respondent’s explanation dated November 9, 1998, promising not to repeat the same offense; Annex "C", a memorandum of Clerk of Court Isabel D. Marquez reprimanding respondent for playing mahjong on November 8, 1993, a day she absented herself from work, and for being remiss in her duties particularly in drafting her stenographic notes; Annex "D", a memorandum dated November 6, 1996 of complainant Judge reprimanding respondent for her unauthorized absences on October 8 to 11, 1996 and October 18, 1996. 3
On April 2, 2001, this Court issued a Resolution treating said "Report/Findings" submitted by Judge Aquino as a regular administrative matter, and referring to the then Acting Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Bauang, La Union for investigation, report and recommendation. 4
After due investigation, Judge Rose Mary R. Molina-Alim of the Regional Trial Court, Bauang La Union (Branch 33) submitted to the Court Administrator her Report and Recommendation, with the following findings:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
It appears that respondent committed several transgressions, thus:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1) Her failure to comply with the instruction to type the drafted order in Criminal Case No. 41978 entitled, "People of the Philippines v. Jose Runas" on November 4, 1998;
2) For absenting herself from office for the period November 4, 5, 6, 1998 without prior leave of absence as required by law;
3) As early as October, 1993, Ms. Fernandez was again reprimanded by the court for her absence in office for allegedly playing "mahjong" particularly on October 8, 1993, and other transgressions;
4) For absenting herself from October 8 to 11, 1996 and October 18, 1996 without filing prior leave of absence, she was again reprimanded on November 6, 1996;
5) The stenographic notes transcribed by Ms. Fernandez are always full of errors and not transcribed on time despite constant reminders by the clerk of court. 5chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
and conclusion:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
To our mind, respondent is guilty of simple neglect of duty in failing to type the drafted order; gross dishonesty in being absent without any application for leave; serious misconduct in being absent just to play "mahjong." However, considering the prevailing circumstances of this case the respondent’s absences, although unauthorized for not filing the required prior leave of absence, were not "habitual" and "frequent", that her failure to type the drafted order, was committed only once, her absence just to play "mahjong", an isolated case, this investigating Judge finds respondent nevertheless administratively guilty of the above-mentioned infractions. Taking into consideration her plea for understanding and compassion, respondent having practically admitted all her shortcomings, with the promise not to do similar acts again in the future, it is respectfully recommended that respondent be meted out a penalty of suspension for one (1) month without pay, with a stern warning that commission of similar conduct in the future shall be dealt with, more severely. 6 (Emphasis Supplied)
In a Resolution dated May 27, 2002, the Court referred the Report and Recommendation of Judge Alim to the Office of the Court Administrator for evaluation, report and recommendation. 7
In his Memorandum dated October 8, 2002, Deputy Court Administrator Jose P. Perez concurred in the report of the investigating judge, recommending the approval of the findings and recommendation of Judge Alim.
We do not entirely agree with the findings and recommendation of the Deputy Court Administrator.
Respondent had been reprimanded on two occasions. First, she was reprimanded by Clerk of Court Isabel D. Marquez on October 13, 1993 for playing mahjong on a day she absented herself and for submitting her work late and full of errors. 8 Second, respondent was reprimanded two years later or on November 6, 1996 by herein complainant Judge for her absences on October 8 to 11, 1996 and October 18, 1996. She failed to present a medical certificate attesting to her alleged sore eyes on October 8 to 11 and also failed to present a certificate of appearance from the court where she was allegedly required to appear on October 18, 1996. 9
Circular No. 30-91 which quotes the Resolution of the Court En Banc dated February 26, 1991, provides that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
(1) Disciplinary matters involving light offenses as defined under the Civil Service Law (Administrative Code of 1987, and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (Rep. Act. 6713) where the penalty is reprimand, suspension for not more than thirty days, or a fine not exceeding thirty days’ salary, and as classified in Civil Service Resolution No. 30, Series of 1989, shall be acted upon by the appropriate supervisory official of the lower court concerned.
(2) The appropriate supervisory officials are the Presiding Justices/Presiding Judge of the lower collegiate courts and the Executive Judges of the trial courts with respect to the personnel of their respective courts, except those directly under the individual Justices and Judges, in which case, the latter shall be their appropriate supervisory officials. (Emphasis supplied
Section A, Chapter VII of the 1991 Manual for Clerks of Court, which was in effect when said reprimands on respondent were meted out, provides:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"5. . . . The Clerk of Court initiates investigations of erring personnel and recommends appropriate action to the Executive Judge. (Emphasis supplied
Thus, while it is clear that presiding judges have the authority to act upon disciplinary matters involving light offenses, clerks of court only have the duty to initiate investigations of erring personnel and to recommend appropriate action to the Executive Judge.
For this reason, we find the reprimand meted out by Clerk of Court Isabel Marquez dated October 13, 1993 to be improper for lack of authority. This notwithstanding, we find that there is no more need to punish respondent for her misconduct committed ten years ago, in the absence of a showing that she has committed similar offenses after she was given a reprimand by the Clerk of Court, albeit erroneously, for said act.
As to the reprimand imposed by complainant Judge on respondent for her absences in 1996, we find this to be in order only with respect to the October 18, 1996 incident. As to her sick leave of absence on October 8 and 11, 1996 because of sore eyes, a medical certificate is not necessary in case of sick leave of absence for less than five succeeding days. 10 At any rate, considering that respondent had already been reprimanded by complainant Judge, it would not be appropriate that she be penalized anew for the same acts. 11
Hence, there are only two charges against respondent left for resolution of the Court: first, respondent’s failure to type a draft order slue was tasked by complainant Judge to accomplish on November 4, 1998 and second, her alleged unauthorized absences from November 4 to 6, 1998.
As correctly observed by the investigating judge and the Court Administrator, respondent committed a simple neglect of duty in failing to type a draft order which Judge Aquino asked her to finish. We have stated that simple neglect of duty signifies a disregard of a duty resulting from carelessness or indifference. 12 It is considered a less grave offense under Sec. 23 of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292 for which a penalty of suspension for one month and one day to six months shall be imposed for the first offense and dismissal for the second offense. Considering, however, her admission and plea for compassion with a promise not to commit the same acts in the future, a lighter penalty than suspension for one month and one day on respondent would suffice in this case.
Judge Aquino in his complaint, avers:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Per verification from the Court’s Clerk of Court, Ms. Fernandez did not file any prior leave of absence for November 4 to 6, 1998 as required by law." 13 (Emphasis Supplied)
We note that the complaint does not indicate whether the absence of respondent on said dates was meant to be a vacation or due to illness. In either case, the governing rules are found in Rule XVI of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations, to wit:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Sec. 49. Period within which to act on leave application. — Whenever the application for leave of absence, including terminal leave, is not acted upon by the head of agency or his duly authorized representative within five (5) working days after receipt thereof, the application for leave of absence shall be deemed approved.
Sec. 50. Effect of unauthorized leave. — An official/employee who is absent without approved leave shall not be entitled to receive his salary corresponding to the period of his unauthorized leave of absence. It is understood, however, that his absence shall no longer be deducted from his accumulated leave credits, if there is any. (Emphasis supplied
Sec. 51. Application for vacation leave. — All applications for vacation leave of absence for one (1) full day or more shall be submitted on the prescribed form for action by the proper head of agency five (5) days in advance, whenever possible, of the effective date of such leave. (Emphasis supplied
Sec. 52. Approval of vacation leave. — Leave of absence for any reason other than illness of an official or employee or of any member of his immediate family must be contingent upon the needs of the service. Hence the grant of vacation leave shall be at the discretion of the head of department/agency.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Sec. 53. Application for sick leave. — All application for sick leave of absence for one full day or more shall be made on the prescribed form and shall be filed immediately upon employee’s return from such leave. Notice of absence, however should be sent to the immediate supervisor and/or to the agency head. Application for sick leave in excess of five (5) successive days shall be accompanied by a proper medical certificate.
Sick leave may be applied for in advance in cases where the official or employee will undergo medical examination or operation or advised to rest in view of ill health duly supported by a medical certificate.
An ordinary application for sick leave already taken not exceeding five days, the head of department or agency concerned may duly determine whether or not granting of sick leave is proper under the circumstances. In case of doubt, a medical certificate may be required.
Sec. 54. Approval of sick leave. — Sick leave shall be granted only on account of sickness or disability on the part of the employee concerned or of any member of his immediate family.
Based on Section 51, as quoted above, whether or not an application for vacation leave is filed five days in advance, the head of the agency, in this case herein complainant Judge, has the discretion to approve or disapprove the application.
The reason for the requirement that employees applying for vacation leave, whenever possible, must submit in advance their applications to vacation leave, is to enable heads of offices to make the necessary adjustments in the work assignments among the staff so that work may not be hampered or paralyzed. 14 However, it is clear from the above-quoted rules that mere failure to file a leave of absence in advance does not ipso facto render an employee administratively liable. In case the application for vacation leave of absence is filed after the employee reports back to work but disapproved by the head of the agency, then, under Section 50 as quoted above, the employee shall not be entitled to receive his salary corresponding to the period of his unauthorized leave of absence. The unauthorized leave of absence becomes punishable only if the absence is frequent or habitual under Section 23 (q), Rule XIV of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations or detrimental to the service under Section 23 (r) or the official or employee falsified his daily time record under Section 23 (a) or (f) of the same Omnibus Civil Service Rules.
In this case, complainant Judge merely alleged that respondent did not file any prior leave of absence. This, we find insufficient to discipline Respondent
. There is no claim or evidence showing that respondent did not file her leave of absence after reporting for work, or that complainant Judge disapproved her leave of absence, or that her absence was inimical to the interest of public service, or that she falsified her daily time record to cover up her absence. Moreover, the absences of respondent occurred two years apart which can hardly be categorized as frequent or habitual.
Sections 53 and 54 provide for the action to be taken by the agency head in case of application for sick leave. In the present case, it does not appear in the complaint that the absence of herein respondent was due to illness.
Nonetheless, it is well to remind respondent that public office is a public trust. The conduct and behavior of everyone connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, is circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility. 15 As a court employee, it is incumbent upon her to dispose of her duties with utmost responsibility and efficiency. 16 Public officers must be accountable to the people at all times and serve them with the utmost degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency. Indeed, any act which falls short of the exacting standards for public office, especially on the part of those expected to preserve the image of the judiciary, or which diminishes or tends to diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary, shall not be countenanced. 17 This is because the image of a court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work thereat, from the judge to the lowest of its personnel; hence, it becomes the imperative and sacred duty of each and everyone in the court to maintain its good name and standing as a true temple of justice." 18
In sum, we find respondent guilty for simple neglect of duty only for failing to type a draft order. While said offense carries a penalty of one month and one day to six months suspension for the first offense, we take note of her candid admission of her faults and her sincere promise to improve her ways. She explains that she was remiss in her duties because of personal problems that clouded her mind. As aptly observed by DCA Perez," [h]er admission, repentance and sincere promise to reform her life are good signs that she is indeed remorseful for what she did." 19 These circumstances mitigate respondent’s liability. While this Court is duty-bound to sternly wield a corrective hand to discipline its errant employees and to weed on those who are undesirable, this Court also has the discretion to temper the harshness of its judgment with mercy. 20
Pursuant to Section 19, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations 21 a fine of P2,000.00 in stead of suspension for one month is just and reasonable.
WHEREFORE, we find respondent Jocelyn C. Fernandez, Stenographer I, Municipal Trial Court, Caba, La Union GUILTY of simple neglect of duty. She is FINED the amount of Two Thousand Pesos (P2,000.00) with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar offenses in the future shall be dealt with more severely.
Let a copy of herein Resolution be attached to the 201 file of Respondent
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Bellosillo, Quisumbing, Callejo, Sr. and Tinga, JJ.
1. Rollo, pp. 1-2.
2. Rollo, p. 2.
3. Id., at pp. 3-10.
4. Id., at p. 34.
5. Id., at pp. 55-56.
7. Id., at p. 114.
8. Rollo, p. 8.
9. Rollo, pp. 9-10.
10. Section 53, Omnibus Civil Service Rules and Regulations, provides:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Sec. 53. Application for sick leave. — All applications for sick leave of absence for one full day or more shall be made on the prescribed form and shall be filed immediately upon employee’s return from such leave. Notice of absence, however should be sent to the immediate supervisor and/or to the agency head. Application for sick leave in excess of five (5) successive days shall be accompanied by a proper medical certificate. (Emphasis Supplied).
11. Re: Report on the Judicial Audit Conducted in RTC, Br. 82, Odiongan Romblon, A.M. No. 96-8-301-RTC, 292 SCRA 1, 7 (1998).
12. Judge Nery v. Gomolo, A.M. No. P-01-1508, February 7, 2003.
13. Rollo, p. 2.
14. Judge Ortiguerra v. Genota, A.M. No. P-02-1613, July 31, 2002; 385 SCRA 541, 544.
15. Ibay v. Lim, P-99-1309, 340 SCRA 107, 112 (2000).
16. Reyes-Macabeo v. Valle, A.M. No. P-02-1650, April 3, 2003.
17. Reyes-Macabeo v. Valle, A.M. No. P-02-1650, April 3, 2003; Clerk of Court Quidilla v. Armida, A.M. No. P-03-1695, April 21, 2003.
18. Ibay v. Lim, A.M. No. P-99-1309, 340 SCRA 107, 113 (2000).
19. Rollo, p. 120.
20. Reyes-Macabe v. Valle, A.M. No. P-02-1650, April 3, 2003.
21. Sec. 19. The penalty of transfer, or demotion, or fine may be imposed instead of suspension from one (1) month and one (1) day to one (1) year except in case of fine which shall not exceed six (6) months.