April 2009 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.M. No. 2008-12-SC Formerly A.M. No. 08-7-4-SC and A.M. NO. P-08-2510 - IN RE: IMPROPER SOLICATATION OF COURT EMPLOYEES / OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR v. SHEELA R. NOBLEZA
[A.M. NO. 2008-12-SC : April 24, 2009]
(Formerly A.M. No. 08-7-4-SC)
IN RE: IMPROPER SOLICITATION OF COURT EMPLOYEES - ROLANDO H. HERNANDEZ, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT I, LEGAL OFFICE, OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR.
[A.M. NO. P-08-2510 : April 24, 2009]
OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. SHEELA R. NOBLEZA, Court Stenographer, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 23, Manila, Respondent.
In Administrative Matter No. 2008-12-SC, the Legal Office, Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), as the nominal complainant, charged Rolando H. Hernandez, Executive Assistant I, Legal Office, OCA, for dishonesty through improper solicitations from bonding companies accredited by the Court, and unauthorized use of an improvised letterhead of the Court, herein reproduced verbatim, as follows:
Padre Faura, Taft Avenue
The Court Stenographic Reporters Association of the Philippines (COSTRAPHIL) will hold its 5th National Convention on May 5 to 7, 2008 at the Quezon Convention Center, Lucena City as per OCA CIRCULAR NO. 122A-2007 signed by ZENAIDA N. ELEPAÑO, Court Administrator, Supreme Court of the Philippines. This affair aims to bolster the moral and promote unity and camaraderie among court stenographers and to work side by side with the authorities in the judiciary and the City Government towards a competent, effective and honest service to the public.
To realize this goal, may we request for solicitation from your good office to pave our way with this service to the public.
Thank you very much.
Very truly yours,
Office of the Court Administrator
In Administrative Matter No. P-08-2510, the OCA charged Sheela R. Nobleza, Court Stenographer, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 23, Manila for the same offense as the solicitations were made in her behalf.
Per En Banc Resolution dated November 18, 2008, the Court, upon recommendation of the Court Administrator, referred these administrative matters to the Complaints and Investigation Division, Office of Administrative Services of the Court (OAS-SC) for investigation, report and recommendation.
On March 5, 2009, the OAS-SC submitted its Report and Recommendation, portions of which read:
We agree with the Legal Office's initial investigation and findings. Our own investigation also elicits substantial evidence to support the charges of respondents' alleged improper solicitations and unauthorized use of the Court's letterhead. After a review of the records of the case particularly the sworn statements and testimonies of the parties, this Office is convinced that improper and illegal acts are committed by the respondents who conspired with each other in unduly soliciting money from different bonding and surety companies accredited by the Court.
At the outset, a closer look at the functions of the Legal Office, OCA discloses that through its Docketed and Clearance Division, it handles, among others, the monitoring and collection of forfeited surety bonds, and issues certifications to insurance companies engaged in the bonding business.2 Notably, the personnel of the said division where respondent Hernandez is presently assigned is susceptible to some personal interaction with people transacting business with the said office such as bonding companies and employees of the lower courts.
Both respondents admitted that on different dates and occasions, they personally went together and brought solicitation letters to the offices of bonding companies and actually solicited money. It was established that in perpetrating the improper and unauthorized solicitation, two (2) sets of solicitation letters were used. So that the letters would appear to be official and authorized for the said purpose, respondents devised an idea of using an improvised letterhead of the Supreme Court and the Metropolitan Trial Court Stenographers Association (MeTCSA), Manila Chapter. Using the improvised solicitation letters, respondents solicited cash from eight (8) bonding companies namely: Country Bankers Insurance, Sterling Insurance, Philippines Phoenix Surety and Insurance, Far Eastern Surety and Insurance, Prudential Guarantee and Insurance, Malayan Insurance, Paramount Life and General Insurance, and Equitable Insurance. However, only six (6) companies responded to the request who gave an amount that ranges from One Thousand to Two Thousand Pesos (
P1,000.00 - P2,000.00) either in cash or check. Both admitted they actually received the amount solicited.
When respondent Nobleza was asked to explain why she was involved in the improper solicitation from the bonding companies, she contended that soliciting money from any person is allowed so long as the donor has no pending cases before the courts. Pertinent portion of the transcript of the proceedings as quoted hereunder clearly shows this point:
Q: Are you aware of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel?
Q; have you read the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel?
A; Nabasa ko po.
Q: When was that?
A: Nag-attend po pala ako ng Code of Conduct for Court Personnel.
Q; Ano ang pinaka content ng Code of Conduct for Court Personnel? What is required of us as employees of the Judiciary?
A: Huwag pong hihingi ng kapalit sa mga ginagawa n ya.
x x x
Q; At the outset, alam mong mali ang mag-solicit?
A: Hindi po kasi ang alam ko po Ma'am, ang pagkakaalam ko kapag walang kaso sa inyo eh pwedeng mag-solicit.3
Respondent's contention is untenable. She may have already conveniently forgotten OCA Circular No. 4-91 strictly enjoining all personnel of the lower courts under the Administrative supervision of the Office of the Court Administrator from making any form of solicitation for contributions as it is strictly prohibited by law. And consequently, all those who have been found soliciting for and/or receiving contributions, in cash or in kind, from any person, whether or not a litigant or lawyer, will be dealt with severely.4
While respondent Hernandez during the hearing alleged that he just wanted to help Ms. Nobleza through soliciting money from the bonding companies that he knows. Pertinent portion of the transcript of the proceedings as quoted hereunder clearly shows this point:
Q: Sino po ang gumawa ng sulat na yan?
A: Siya po.
Q; Ano po ang nagpag-usapan n yo tungkol sa sulat?
A: Sabi ko nga po ay tutulungan ko s'ya sa abot ng aking makakaya.
Q; Ano 'yung ibig n yong sabihin na "tutulungan n yo s'ya sa abot
ng inyong makakaya"? Ano 'yung specific na gagawin n yo na
pagtulong o ginawa n yong pagtulong?cralawred
A: Lumapit po ako sa mga bonding companies. 5 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary
Both respondents apparently see nothing wrong with asking or soliciting money from bonding companies. This Office, reminds them that such act is highly improper conduct as all forms of solicitations and receipt of contributions, directly or indirectly, are prohibited. That is why, the Court provides the rule against any form of solicitations of gift or other pecuniary or material benefits or receipts of contributions for himself/herself from any person, whether or not a litigant or lawyer, to avoid any suspicion that the major purpose of the donor is to influence the court personnel in performing official duties. Further, it should be emphasized that in improper solicitation, its receipt is not necessary as it is sufficient that the employee demanded money from them.6 Also, the act of respondents in soliciting money using the name of an association and of the Supreme Court itself without its consent cannot be countenanced. Using the name of the Court is strictly for official correspondence, records and similar papers of the court only. Unless authorized by the Court or its offices, n o person shall use the name of the Court for personal gain or advantage.
This Office established how the respondents were able to carry our their plan in raising the money to be used allegedly in a seminar for court stenographers. Respondents' protestation of good faith and inadvertence are simply too incredible to believe and merit credence. With their desire to hide something by finger pointing and accusing one another, unfortunately, it only bolsters and exposes their guilt to the present administrative charges rather than their innocence thereof. This Office found out that the scheme could only have been effected by the respondents themselves who were acting in agreement in the pursuit of their unlawful act. This Office has reached such conclusion primarily on the following: First, Ms. Nobleza asked Mr. Hernandez's help to raise money so she could attend the seminar of the court stenographers. Second, two (2) sets of solicitation letters indicating the same tenor of the request were printed. One letter bears the signature of Ms. Nobleza, and the other letter carries the signature of Mr. Hernandez using the letterhead of the Metropolitan Trial Court Stenographers Association and Supreme Court, respectively so it would appear as official and authorized. Third, respondents actually used the solicitation letters in soliciting money from different bonding companies. The principal role of Mr. Hernandez on their modus operandi is to merely introduce Ms. Nobleza to the employees of the bonding companies since he knows most of them by name while Ms. Nobleza is the one who collects and keeps the proceeds thereof. Although the idea to solicit from bonding companies was denied by Ms. Nobleza, her claim would thus be unlikely, considering that right from the start, she was with Mr. Hernandez when she went to these companies to solicit. Fourth, this Office cannot accept the defense of Ms. Nobleza that she inadvertently used the letterhead of the court stenographers' association neither we believe the excuse of Mr. Hernandez that he only signed the other set of the solicitation letter using the Supreme Court's letterhead but have not read the content thereof.
While the respondents gave their respective accounts, Mr. Hernandez and Ms. Nobleza could not agree as to who made a suggestion to solicit from bonding companies. This Office, however, finds that both respondents cannot be worthy to be trusted in their stories. It was established that Ms. Nobleza has conspired with Mr. Hernandez in perpetrating the improper solicitations from the bonding companies. As defined by the law, a conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it.7
This Office, however, submits that the "conspiracy" per se should not be given its technical meaning in criminal law. Rather, for purpose of administrative proceeding where the quantum of evidence required is substantive evidence and not proof beyond reasonable doubt, it is sufficient that the two respondents by their own respective acts have participated in the realization of the fraudulent and unlawful object and without such collusion the objective could not have been accomplished.8
On the said hearing, Ms. Nobleza was asked whether she was able to attend the convention of court stenographers on May 5 to 7, 2008. She admitted that she did not attend the convention despite the fact that she already had the money to cover the cost and expenses to be incurred for the seminar. And when asked what happened to the money she collected. Ms. Nobleza replied that she used the money for her children. This Office believes that the improper conduct exhibited by Ms. Nobleza aggravated by the fact that she never returned the money and appropriated it instead to personal use clearly constitutes unacceptable conduct for judicial employees, a form of dishonestly and gross misconduct which are grave offenses punishable under Civil Service Rules.
With respect to Mr. Hernandez, this Office also established the evidence to prove that he used the name of the Court and the office where he is presently employed to defraud the public, in general, by taking advantage of the letter to solicit funds purportedly for a convention sponsored by Court Stenographic Reporters Association of the Philippines. This Office could not also rule out the possibility that part and portion of the total collection received were also spent by him for his personal use since according to them they have not planned out to record every amount that comes in and count the total collection they received.
Clearly, substantial evidence exists in this case to hold respondents Hernandez and Nobleza guilty of improper solicitation and use of the letterheads of the Supreme Court and Metropolitan Trial Court Stenographers Association (MeTCSA), Manila Chapter without its consent. Both constitute gross misconduct and dishonesty.ςrαlαω
x x x
In view of the foregoing, this Office respectfully recommends that respondents Mr. Rolando H. Hernandez, Executive Assistant I, Legal Office, Office of the Court Administrator and Ms. Sheela R. Nobleza, Court Stenographer II, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 23, Manila be found liable for Improper Solicitation, Serious Dishonesty and Gross Misconduct and be DISMISSED from office with forfeiture of all benefits except accrued leave credits, if any.
The Court adopts the evaluation and findings of fact and recommendation of the OAS-SC.
Soliciting is prohibited under The Code of Conduct for Court Personnel. Section 2, Canon I thereof provides that "[c]ourt personnel shall not solicit or accept any gift, favor or benefit based on any explicit or implicit understanding that such gift, favor or benefit shall influence their official actions;" while Section 2(e), Canon III states that "Court personnel shall not x x x solicit or accept any gift, loan, gratuity, discount, favor, hospitality or service under circumstances from which it could reasonably be inferred that a major purpose of the donor is to influence the court personnel in performing official duties." Such acts are strictly prohibited to avoid the perception that in exchange for certain favors, court personnel can be influenced to act in favor of a certain party or person. Thus, in Villaros v. Orpiano,9 the Court emphasized that:
Time and time again, we have stressed that the behavior of all employees and officials involved in the administration of justice, from judges to the most junior clerks, is circumscribed with a heavy responsibility. Their conduct must be guided by strict propriety and decorum at all times in order to merit and maintain the public's respect for and trust in the judiciary. Needless to say, all court personnel must conduct themselves in a manner exemplifying integrity, honesty and uprightness.
The respondent's act of demanding money from the complainant hardly meets the foregoing standard. Improper solicitation from litigants is a grave offense that carries an equally grave penalty.10
Again, in De Leon-Dela Cruz v. Recacho,11 the following pronouncement was made:
The Court reiterates its policy not to tolerate or condone any conduct, act or omission that falls short of the exacting norms of public office, especially on the part of those expected to preserve the image of the judiciary. Thus, it will not shirk from its responsibility of imposing discipline upon its employees in order not to diminish the people's faith in our justice system.12
In this case, respondents admittedly solicited money from several bonding companies. Mr. Hernandez immediately acknowledged that his actions constituted a violation of the memorandum circular issued by the Civil Service Commission and apologized for his transgression, but pleaded for compassion, asking the Court to consider his 34 years of service with the Court and his advanced age. As for Ms. Nobleza, she explained that it was her understanding that the prohibition was only against soliciting from persons or parties who had pending cases before the court.
Clearly, respondents committed improper solicitation, an offense which merits a grave penalty. Under Section 52(A) (11) of Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, dismissal is the penalty for improper solicitation at the first offense. Section 58(a) of the same Rule provides that the penalty of dismissal shall carry with it the cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification for reemployment in the government service, unless otherwise provided in the decision.
WHEREFORE, respondents Rolando H. Hernandez, Executive Assistant I, Legal Office, Office of the Court Administrator, and Sheela R. Nobleza, Court Stenographer, Metropolitan Trial Court, Branch 23, Manila are hereby found GUILTY of Improper Solicitation. They are hereby DISMISSED from service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.
1 Rollo, p. 13.
2 Supreme Court Annual Report 2004.
3 TSN, January 7, 2009, p. 149.
4 OCA Circular No. 4-91 Re: Letter-complaint against solicitations for contributions by court personnel.
5 TSN, January 7, 2009, p. 114-115.
6 Villaros v. Orpiano, 459 Phil. 1, 8 (2003).
7 Revised Penal Code, Art. 8.
8 Philippine Airlines, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 159556, May 26, 2005, 459 SCRA 236.
9 Supra note 6.
10 Id. at 6-7.
11 A.M. No. P-06-2122, July 17, 2007, 527 SCRA 622.
12 Id. at 632.