December 2008 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.M. No. CA-08-23-P Formerly A.M. OCA IPI No. 05-79-CA-P - JANETTE P. GABATIN v. MARILOU M. QUIRINO
[A.M. NO. CA-08-23-P : December 16, 2008]
(Formerly A.M. OCA IPI No. 05-79-CA-P)
JANETTE P. GABATIN, Complainant, v. MARILOU M. QUIRINO, Court Stenographer IV, Court of Appeals, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
For our Decision is the administrative complaint1 dated February 28, 2005 filed by Janette P. Gabatin (Complainant) against Marilou M. Quirino (Respondent)2 for conduct unbecoming a court employee. We referred the case to the Court of Appeals (CA) for investigation and report3 upon recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA).4 The case was raffled to CA Justice Sesinando E. Villon (Justice Villon).
THE ANTECEDENT FACTS
In 2004, the complainant acquired a passenger-type jeepney which she wanted to use as a public utility jeepney (PUJ). To do this, she needed to license and register the vehicle as a public utility vehicle (PUV).
Sometime in August 2004, the complainant was introduced by one "Josie" to the respondent who was then employed at the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 210, Mandaluyong City. The respondent informed the complainant that she was engaged in securing PUV franchises for a fee and offered complainant her services. The complainant accepted the offer.
On September 13, 2004, during office hours, the complainant met the respondent in a restaurant in Mandaluyong City where she handed to the respondent
P50,000.00 in cash as initial payment for securing a PUV franchise, P500.00 for notarization, and the papers required for the processing of the franchise application. The respondent issued to the complainant an acknowledgment receipt dated September 13, 2004,5 as well as a Deed of Absolute Sale.6 The respondent promised to secure for the complainant her PUV franchise in one month's time after which the complainant was to pay the balance of P20,000.00 for the completed transaction.
On October 5, and 13, 2004, the complainant followed up on the progress of the transaction, but the respondent told her on both occasions that the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) had not scheduled a hearing on the matter and that the franchise was not yet available.
On October 15, 2004, the complainant went to see the respondent at her place of work to get her money back because of respondent's failure to secure a franchise as agreed. Instead of returning the money, the respondent requested the complainant to enter into another agreement, i.e., to "re-contract," with her. Under the "re-contract," the respondent would have another month or until November 17, 2004 to secure the franchise. The complainant acceded to the respondent's request. Accordingly, respondent issued another acknowledgment receipt dated October 15, 2004.7
On November 17, 2004, the complainant asked the respondent if she had secured the franchise; the latter replied in the negative. Again, the respondent requested a "re-contract," this time up to the end of November. She also informed the complainant that there was already an "update" on the franchise. The complainant again acceded to the request.
Thereafter, the complainant consistently prodded the respondent to comply with her commitment to secure the promised franchise, but all for naught. Despite repeated demands, the respondent failed to secure the franchise; neither did she return the money the complainant gave her. This prompted the complainant to hire the services of a lawyer who sent the respondent a letter dated December 29, 20048 demanding the delivery of the PUJ franchise or the return the amount of
P50,000.00 plus interest and damages, within three (3) days from receipt of the letter.
In reply,9 respondent told the lawyer that the complainant's money was still intact but asked for time to return it. Notwithstanding the extension given, the respondent failed to return the money.
The complainant alleged that the respondent took advantage of her ignorance (as she was a mere high school graduate) in convincing her that she (the respondent) could secure a franchise for her. Until the day she filed the complaint (or about seven  months from the time she paid the respondent), the latter had not shown any result even in terms of documents filed to secure the franchise. The complainant even refused, despite repeated demands, to return the complainant's money. The complainant argued that this refusal alone already constituted serious misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a court personnel. She further argued that the misrepresentations, alibis and other evasive tactics the respondent used to avoid returning her money, are actionable wrongs.
The complainant also bewailed the run-around that the respondent gave her by failing to disclose to her that she (the respondent) had transferred to the CA. She claimed that had she not made a search of the respondent's whereabouts, she could not have known that respondent had transferred to the CA.
In her Comment dated March 23, 2005,10 the respondent denied the accusations against her, specifically the charge that she took advantage of the complainant's ignorance. She countered that she did not represent to the complainant that she had the capacity to secure a PUV franchise and that she had not dealt with the complainant or with any other persons during office hours to pursue a "sideline."
The respondent admitted that "Josie," a common friend introduced her to the complainant sometime in 2004. At this meeting, she told the complainant that: she was securing a franchise with the LTFRB for her three (3) units of passenger jeepneys; she and her husband applied for an extension of the validity of the certificate of public convenience for one of their units with Plate No. NSF-173; and that this franchise was the subject of the respondent's transaction with the complainant.
The respondent also admitted receipt of
P50,000.00 from the complainant to be used in securing a franchise for the latter's passenger jeepney. The amount was to cover the processing fee, attorney's fee, surveys and LTFRB hearings. She claimed that: the complainant agreed to the condition that if no franchise was issued in her favor after one month, she had the option to get her money back; the sale of the franchise would be considered null and void, revoked or cancelled; and that she did not assure complainant that she could secure the franchise. She admitted that she accepted the complainant's request to buy her existing franchise.
The respondent denied that she had refused to return complainant's money, but admitted that she had asked for time to do this as she had used part of the money for the franchise application, publication, service, filing fees and related expenses. On the allegation that the complainant had difficulty looking for her, the respondent explained that she had instructed her former officemates at the Mandaluyong RTC to give her telephone number to whoever would look for her.
The complainant disputed the respondent's allegations in a Reply dated April 11, 2005.11 She insisted that the respondent had no intention of returning her money, stressing that no return had been made up to that time. She suspected that respondent had used the money for a purpose other than what they agreed upon. The complainant drew particular attention to the respondent's evasiveness; the respondent even told her at one time that she would be transferring to Baguio and not to the CA.
The complainant (assisted by counsel) and the respondent (by herself) appeared before the investigating officer, Justice Villon at the hearing on June 26, 2006. The complainant's counsel manifested that she was submitting the case for resolution on the basis of the pleading already filed together with the documents or annexes attached to the complaint.12 The respondent likewise manifested her willingness to submit the case for resolution without further presentation of evidence and her intent to submit a memorandum.13 Significantly, the respondent again admitted that she received the amount of
P50,000.00 from the complainant.
When it appeared at the hearing of June 27, 2006 that the parties would not present additional evidence, Justice Villon required them to submit their respective memoranda within five (5) days, with the case thereafter deemed submitted for resolution.
The complainant filed her memorandum14 on July 3, 2006 and at the same time informed the Investigating Justice that the respondent had not returned the
P50,000.00 nor delivered the franchise to her. The respondent failed to submit any memorandum.
REPORT OF THE INVESTIGATING JUSTICE
Justice Villon submitted a Report and Recommendation dated July 11, 2006.
Based on his appreciation of the case, particularly the acts complained of, Justice Villon concluded that the respondent had been remiss in her duty as a court employee. He noted that the respondent failed to devote her time exclusively to her official duties because she had often dealt with the complainant during office hours on the transaction complained of. He also noted that the complainant had made frequent calls to the respondent to verify the status of the franchise, with the two entering into at least two (2) "re-contracts" to give the respondent time to obtain the promised franchise. These activities, the Investigating Justice observed, are not part of the duties of a court employee and their conduct during office hours is the practice this Court "abhorred" in Luz C. Adajar v. Teresita O. Develos, et al.15
The report also found the respondent at fault when she failed to return the
P50,000.00 she received from the complainant after she failed to secure the franchise she committed to deliver. While this is unjustifiable and cannot be countenanced, the Investigating Justice also observed that the recovery of the amount is appropriate in a criminal or civil proceeding, not in an administrative case.
Justice Villon recommended that the respondent be held liable for simple misconduct with the corresponding penalty of suspension for one month. Justice Villon considered as mitigating the complainant's admission that she received the
P50,000.00 from complainant; her commitment to return the money on installment basis; her apparent lack of malice or bad faith in dealing with the complainant; and the fact that this is her first offense.
THE COURT'S RULING
We find it clear from the records that respondent violated Section 1 of Canon IV of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel.16 This Section provides:
Court personnel shall at all times perform official duties properly and with diligence. They shall commit themselves exclusively to the business and responsibilities of their office during working hours. [underscoring supplied]
As Justice Villon found, the respondent must have spent several hours of official time dealing with the complainant from their first encounter during office hours sometime in August 2004, to their meetings at the respondent's workplace (RTC, Branch 210, Mandaluyong City, later at the CA. In these private meetings during official time, the respondent placed her personal interest over the interest of her office. This could not have but resulted in prejudice to public service, specifically, to service to the RTC and later to the CA.
While the respondent's personal liability with the complainant can only be fully ascertained and resolved in an appropriate criminal or civil proceeding, we agree with the Investigating Justice that the respondent's handling of the entire affair had not been exemplary. We are convinced that the respondent gave the complainant a "run-around" instead of being forthright with her in explaining her failure to secure the promised franchise. The best examples, to our mind, were the respondent's dissembling excuses and her failure to inform the complainant that she had already transferred to the CA. Thus, aside from violating Section 1, Canon IV of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel,17 the respondent also exhibited conduct unbecoming a court personnel. As we held in Zenaida C. Gutierrez, et al. v. Rodolfo Quitalig:18
Employees of the judiciary x x x should be living examples of uprightness not only in the performance of official duties but also in their personal and private dealings with other people so as to preserve at all times the good name and standing of the courts in the community. The image of the court, as being a true temple of justice, is aptly mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work thereat, from the judge to the least and lowliest of its personnel.
The respondent's acts fell short of these exacting standards expected of public officials and employees. Every public servant, it is well to remind the respondent, is enjoined to uphold public interest over and above personal interest at all times.19 For her transgressions as a member of the civil service, respondent must be made to suffer the appropriate sanction.
We find Justice Villon's recommendation to hold the respondent liable for simple misconduct to be in order. Simple misconduct is a less grave offense under Section 56 B (2) of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service,20 which carries a penalty for the first offense of suspension of one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months. Instead of the one month penalty that Justice Villon recommended, however, we believe and so hold that a two-month suspension is more appropriate under the circumstances. While the respondent is a first offender who readily admitted her receipt of the sum paid to her, she is as well an employee of the Judiciary who conducted her private transactions within court premises during office hours, thus placing the court in a negative light. Because of this effect, she cannot have the benefit of the minimum of the imposable penalty, although the penalty must still be within the lower half of the range to take the mitigating circumstances into account.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, MARILOU M. QUIRINO, whose real name is WENNIE M. QUIRINO, is hereby held liable for SIMPLE MISCONDUCT. Accordingly, she is SUSPENDED from the service for TWO (2) MONTHS WITHOUT PAY with a stern warning that a repetition of the same offense shall be dealt with more severely.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-5.
2 Whose real name is Wennie M. Quirino per Letter dated May 8, 2006 of Investigating Justice Sesinando E. Villon, id., pp. 125-126.
3 Resolution dated December 14, 2005; id., p. 81.
4 Id., p. 80.
5 Annex "B," Complaint; id., pp. 7-8.
6 Annex "C"; id., p. 9.
7 Annex "D"; id., p. 11.
8 Annex "E"; id., p. 12.
9 Annex "F"; id., pp. 13-15.
10 Id., pp. 20-24.
11 Id., pp. 71-73.
12 TSN of June 26, 2006, p. 9; id., p. 136.
13 Id., p. 138.
14 Rollo, pp. 102-109.
16 A.M. No. 03-06-13-SC, promulgated April 13, 2004; took effect June 1, 2004.
18 448 Phil. 469 (2003).
19 Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, Republic Act No. 6713, Section 4 (a).
20 Civil Service Commission Circular No. 19, s. 1999.