January 2011 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.M. No. P-10-2788 : January 18, 2011
OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. CLAUDIO M. LOPEZ, Process Server, Municipal Trial Court, Sudipen, La Union, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
PER CURIAM: chanrob1esvirtwallawlibrary
In an administrative case, the quantum of proof required is only substantial evidence. The dismissal of the criminal case against the respondent in an administrative case is not a ground for the dismissal of the administrative case.
An Information dated 12 January 2004 was filed against respondent Claudio M. Lopez (respondent), Process Server of the Municipal Trial Court of Sudipen, La Union, for violation of Section 11 of Republic Act No. 9165 (RA 9165), otherwise known as the Dangerous Drugs Act, as follows: chanrob1esvirtwallawlibrary
That on or about the 21st day of October 2003, in the Municipality of Sudipen, Province of La Union, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously keep and possess in his custody and control Seven Hundred Ninety Point Six (790.6) grams of dried marijuana fruiting tops, without first securing the necessary permit or authority from the government agency.1cralawredlaw
Consonant with the En Banc Resolution dated 12 March 1981 authorizing the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) to initiate motu proprio the filing of administrative complaint against judges and/or employees of the inferior courts who have been convicted and/or charged before the Sandiganbayan or the courts, the OCA, in its Report dated 17 February 2009,2cralaw recommended the filing of an administrative complaint against respondent for Grave Misconduct and Conduct Unbecoming a Government Employee. The Court, in its Resolution of 18 March 2009,3cralaw approved the OCA's recommendation and required respondent to comment on the complaint.
On 29 April 2009, respondent submitted a one-page answer/comment4cralaw alleging that a criminal case docketed as Criminal Case No. 3064 for violation of RA 9165 was pending before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 34, Balaoan, La Union (RTC-Br. 34) and that from the evidence presented, it was clear that the prosecution failed to prove its case and that the case "might" be dismissed. Respondent prayed that the instant complaint be dismissed.
On 17 June 2009, this Court issued a Resolution5cralaw noting respondent's answer/comment and referred the administrative matter to the OCA for designation of an investigating judge to conduct an investigation.
Judge Ferdinand A. Fe (Investigating Judge), Acting Presiding Judge of the RTC-Br. 34, was designated investigating judge to conduct the investigation and thereafter submit a report and recommendation on the administrative matter.6cralawredlaw
During the investigation, respondent informed the Investigating Judge that he was adopting the demurrer to evidence he earlier filed in Criminal Case No. 3064 and offered the same as evidence in this administrative case. He claimed the prosecution failed to prove its case. But since this is an administrative case, the Investigating Judge was of the view that only substantial evidence is required and not proof beyond reasonable doubt.
From the evidence adduced by the prosecution in the criminal case, the Investigating Judge found that by virtue of a search warrant issued by the presiding judge of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Bannayoyo-Lidlidda-San Emilio, Ilocos Sur, police officers searched the boarding house which respondent rented. Respondent was not in his boarding house when the search team and the barangay officials arrived. The police officers presented the search warrant to respondent's live-in partner, Babes Cañedo (Cañedo). One block of dried marijuana fruiting tops weighing 790.6 grams wrapped in a newspaper and plastic bag was recovered inside the room and under respondent's bed. When respondent arrived, the police officers confronted him but respondent denied ownership of the dried marijuana fruiting tops. Respondent likewise refused to sign the Certification of Orderly Search but Cañedo and Barangay Captain Ronnie A. Guzman and Barangay Kagawad Charito Bayan signed the certification.
The confiscated items were brought to the Sudipen Police Station. After preliminary investigation, respondent was charged with violation of RA 9165.
In his demurrer to evidence which he adopted as evidence in this administrative case, respondent maintained that the presiding judge who issued the search warrant had no territorial jurisdiction over Sudipen, La Union, the place where it was enforced and hence, the items seized by virtue thereof were inadmissible in evidence. He likewise argued that the police officers who enforced the search warrant violated Rule 126 concerning the presence of witnesses and the accused during the search.
The Investigating Judge believed that the issues on the legality of the issuance of the search warrant and violation of Rule 126 should be threshed out in the criminal case and not in the instant administrative case. The Investigating Judge observed that since the place that was searched was the room rented by respondent, the lawful occupant is the respondent and not Erlinda Estrada, the owner of the house. Moreover, the presence of the lawful occupant may be dispensed with if there is any member of his family or in the absence of the latter, two witnesses of sufficient age and discretion residing in the same locality.
From the evidence adduced and the admission of respondent in his demurrer to evidence which he adopted in this administrative case, the Investigating Judge concluded that respondent kept in his custody and control 790.6 grams of dried marijuana fruiting tops without first securing the necessary permit or authority from the appropriate government agency. Respondent's acts constituted flagrant violation of the law and undermined the people's faith in the judiciary.
The Investigating Judge found respondent guilty of Grave Misconduct and Conduct Unbecoming a Government Employee and recommended that respondent be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits, except accrued leave benefits and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government including government-owned or controlled corporations.
The OCA agreed with the findings and conclusions of the Investigating Judge and that the act of respondent fell short of the standards of high moral conduct which court employees are bound to maintain. The OCA likewise found respondent guilty of grave misconduct and conduct unbecoming a court employee and thus recommended that respondent be dismissed from the service.
As correctly pointed out by the Investigating Judge, to sustain a finding of administrative culpability, only substantial evidence is required. The present case is an administrative case, not a criminal case, against respondent. Therefore, the quantum of proof required is only substantial evidence, or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Evidence to support a conviction in a criminal case is not necessary, and the dismissal of the criminal case against the respondent in an administrative case is not a ground for the dismissal of the administrative case. We emphasize the well-settled rule that a criminal case is different from an administrative case and each must be disposed of according to the facts and the law applicable to each case.7cralawredlaw
The evidence showed that respondent is the occupant of the place where the 790.6 grams of dried marijuana fruiting tops were recovered. Respondent did not have the necessary permit or authority from the appropriate government agency to possess the same. This is a flagrant violation of the law and is considered a grave misconduct.
The Court defines misconduct as "a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer."8cralaw The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law, or to disregard established rules, which must be established by substantial evidence. 9cralaw As distinguished from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule, must be manifest in a charge of grave misconduct. Corruption, as an element of grave misconduct, consists in the act of an official or fiduciary person who unlawfully and wrongfully uses his station or character to procure some benefit for himself or for another person, contrary to duty and the rights of others. An act need not be tantamount to a crime for it to be considered as grave misconduct as in fact, crimes involving moral turpitude are treated as a separate ground for dismissal under the Administrative Code. 10cralaw We agree with the findings and recommendation of both the Investigating Judge and the OCA that respondent committed grave misconduct which, under Section 52 (A)(3), Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases, is a grave offense punishable by dismissal even for the first offense.
Once again, we stress that court employees, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, being public servants in an office dispensing justice, should always act with a high degree of professionalism and responsibility. Their conduct must not only be characterized by propriety and decorum, but must also be in accordance with the law and court regulations. No position demands greater moral righteousness and uprightness from its holder than an office in the judiciary. Court employees should be models of uprightness, fairness and honesty to maintain the people's respect and faith in the judiciary. They should avoid any act or conduct that would diminish public trust and confidence in the courts. Indeed, those connected with dispensing justice bear a heavy burden of responsibility.11cralawredlaw
WHEREFORE, we DISMISS respondent Claudio M. Lopez, Process Server of the Muncipal Trial Court of Sudipen, La Union, from the service with FORFEITURE of all benefits, except accrued leave benefits, and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government including government-owned or controlled corporations. This decision is immediately executory.
CORONA, C.J., CARPIO, CARPIO MORALES, VELASCO, JR., NACHURA, LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, BRION, PERALTA, BERSAMIN, DEL CASTILLO, ABAD, VILLARAMA, JR., PEREZ, MENDOZA, and SERENO, JJ.
1 Rollo, p. 12.
2 Id. at 1-2.
3 Id. at 17.
4 Id. at 19.
5 Id. at 21.
6 Id. at 23.
7 Velasco v. Judge Angeles, A.M. No. RTJ-05-1908, 15 August 2007, 530 SCRA 204, 224-225.
8 Arcenio v. Pagorogon, A.M. Nos. MTJ-89-270 and MTJ-92-637, 5 July 1993, 224 SCRA 246, 254.
9 Roque v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 179245, 23 July 2008, 559 SCRA 660; Civil Service Commission v. Ledesma, 508 Phil. 569 (2005).
10 Vertudes v. Buenaflor, G.R. No. 153166, 16 December 2005, 478 SCRA 210, 233-234.
11 Office of the Court Administrator v. Juan, 478 Phil. 823 (2004).