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FIRST DIVISION

G. R. No. 148445 - February 16, 2004

ABELARDO V. SEVILLA, Petitioner, vs. LORMA F. GOCON, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

PANGANIBAN, J.:

For his failure to observe and promote a high standard of ethics, petitioner may be held liable for violation of the Ethical Standards Law and administratively sanctioned therefor.

The Case

Before the Court is a Petition for Review1 under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, seeking to set aside the November 17, 2000 Decision2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-GR SP No. 57369. The dispositive part of the Decision reads:

"WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED for lack of merit. We affirm the Resolutions of the Civil Service Commission. Costs against petitioners." 3

The Civil Service Commission Resolution,4 upheld by the CA, had disposed as follows:

"WHEREFORE, Abelardo V. Sevilla and Godofredo M. Limbo are hereby found guilty of Dishonesty. Accordingly, they are meted out the penalty of dismissal from the service with all its accessory penalties.

"Let a copy of this Resolution be furnished the Office of the Ombudsman for whatever criminal action it may take under the premises."5

The Facts

The CA summarized the facts in this manner:

"The present controversy has its origin in the complaint filed by Lorma F. Gocon on October 14, 1997 with the Civil Service Commission (CSC) charging Abelardo V. Sevilla and Godofredo M. Limbo of falsification of official document, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

"Limbo filed his Comments on the complaint on November 17, 1997. Sevilla filed his Answer on December 4, 1997.

"The facts as found by the CSC are as follows:

As appearing from the records, Gocon, Guidance Counselor III, was designated as Chairman of the Values Education Department in 1989. On the other hand, Limbo was a former Head Teacher III in the Practical Arts Department [of the Quezon National High School in Lucena City].

Records reveal that Respondent Sevilla, in a letter dated December 9, 1993 to the Regional Director, Department of Budget and Management, requested for the reclassification of eight (8) items of Secondary Head Teacher III to Secondary Head Teacher VI. Apparently, said request contains super impositions/erasures, specifically item 7, wherein the Practical Arts Department was replaced to Values Department with Godofredo Limbo as the alleged Secondary Head Teacher (Head Teacher III) thereof with 28 teachers under his supervision when in truth he was the Head Teacher of the Practical Arts Department which was later merged with the Home Economics Department. By virtue of this representation, Limbo was issued an appointment as Head Teacher VI for Values Education on November 16, 1994.

On October 25, 1996, Respondent Sevilla, in his capacity as Principal IV, requested the Office of the Regional Director, DECS Region IV, for the upgrading of Gocons position of Guidance Counselor III to Head Teacher VI for Values Education. In said request, Sevilla represented as follows:

This request is being made so that the Values Education Department of Quezon National High School will have its own Head Teacher. This Department has been supervised for almost eight (8) years since the implementation of the New Secondary Education Curriculum by the incumbent Chairman. In this connection, the undersigned would like to strongly recommend that Values Education Department be given a regular Head Teacher Position for the following reasons:

x x x

On March 25, 1997, Assistant Secretary Josefina Nisperos of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports denied the aforesaid request.

Sometime in May, 1997, Gocon discovered that Limbo was appointed as Head Teacher VI for Values Education on November 16, 1994. When asked about said appointment, Sevilla explained to Gocon that Limbo was temporarily designated as Head Teacher for Values Education so that all Head Teacher items would be reclassified by DECS Regional Office IV.

Dissatisfied with the explanation of Sevilla, Gocon filed a complaint and requested the intercession of the then DECS Secretary Ricardo T. Gloria regarding the matter.

In a letter dated June 20, 1997 to the Regional Director, DECS Region IV, Sevilla explained as follows:

Mr. Godofredo Limbo the Vocational Dept. Head III was one of those Head Teacher III whose item was upgraded to Head Teacher VI in 1994. The undersigned acceded to the suggestion of Mr. Leovigildo Arellano, Chief, Management Division, DECS to temporarily designate Mr. Limbos item as Values item for purposes of upgrading the item or else the upgrading of all the Head Teacher III item to Head Teacher VI could not be favorably acted upon and approved.

However, in a First Indorsement dated July 15, 1997 to the Director IV, DECS Region IV, Leovigildo Arellano, Chief, Management Division, DECS claimed among others, as follows:

I strongly deny the allegation of Mr. Sevilla that I suggested to him to temporarily designate Mr. Limbos appointment item as Values item" I do not know personally Mr. Sevilla, hence, I have no reason to make such suggestion to him knowing that such act is a clear falsification of public documents. And I do not remember having met him.

In their Memorandum, Limbo acknowledged that he was the one who made alterations in the December 9, 1993 request for reclassification. He stressed, however, that he initialed all the corrections he made to show that he was in good faith in doing so and that he acted upon the suggestion of Monina Belen, as staff of Leovigildo Arellano at the DECS Management Division.

"In her complaint with the CSC, complainant imputes upon Sevilla: 1) the act of misrepresentation amounting to dishonesty and falsification of official document for representing to the DECS in the letter dated December 9, 1993 that Limbo was Head Teacher III for the Values Education Department and was supervising 28 Values Education teachers when in fact he was appointed Head Teacher for Practical Arts (Boys) and was performing the function of such position; 2) grave misconduct for allowing Limbo to use the item for Head Teacher VI and claiming that he acceded to the suggestion of Mr. Arellano for the temporary use of the said item who denied having done so; and 3) conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service for concealing Limbos appointment deceiving complainant into thinking that she was being recommended for Head Teacher VI and causing resentment to faculty members of QNHS; and upon Limbo the act of dishonesty and grave misconduct for conniving with Sevilla in representing himself as Head Teacher for Values Education and knowingly and deliberately accepting his appointment as Head Teacher VI knowing that he was not qualified for the position and for allowing complainant to continue acting as Chairman of the Values Education Department despite his appointment.

"Complainant likewise filed a complaint with the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon for violation of the Anti-Graft Law and Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code for falsification of official documents. Criminal Case No. 98-757 for falsification of official documents was filed against Sevilla and Limbo with the Regional Trial Court, Branch 53, Lucena City which however dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction on October 20, 1999.

"In the CSC case, respondents Sevilla and Limbo were formally charged on February 11, 1998 by the Civil Service Commission Regional Office No. IV of falsification of official documents, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

"Hearings were conducted and the parties presented their respective evidence. Thereafter, complainant and respondents filed their respective memoranda on December 16, 1998 and December 15, 1998.

"Meanwhile, in his letter to Gocon dated May 12, 1998, Sevilla relieved Gocon as Chairman of the Values Education Department.

"On November 17, 1999, the CSC issued Resolution No. 992559, to wit:

WHEREFORE, Abelardo V. Sevilla and Godofredo M. Limbo are hereby found guilty of Dishonesty. Accordingly, they are meted out the penalty of dismissal from the service with all its accessory penalties.

concluding that Sevillas knowledge of the alterations in the December 9, 1993 request for reclassification of eight (8) Head Teacher III positions to Head Teacher VI can be inferred from his letter dated June 20, 1997 and hence, Sevilla made a misrepresentation of fact in his letter dated October 25, 1996 when he requested for the upgrading of complainants position to Head Teacher VI."6

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

The CA found that Godofredo Limbo himself had made the alterations in the letter-request dated December 9, 1993, specifying that he was Head Teacher III of the Values Department. It also found that petitioner had "agreed to the idea of letting x x x Limbo use the item for values education in order to facilitate the approval of the upgrading of Head Teacher III items to Head Teacher VI. Petitioner Sevilla allowed x x x Limbo to misrepresent himself to be qualified to head the Values Department." Hence, the appellate court faulted petitioner for having committed an act of dishonesty.

The CA also found that the appointment of Limbo as Head Teacher VI for values education had been concealed by him and petitioner from respondent and the rest of the Quezon National High School (QNHS) faculty members. It thus ruled that "[n]o logical conclusion can be deduced from the above circumstances other than that they were part of the dishonesty committed by [petitioner]."

Hence, this Petition.7

Issues

In his appeal, petitioner raises the following issues:

"May Petitioner Abelardo V. Sevilla who reached the compulsory age of retirement on December 31, 1999 be legally deprived of his retirement benefits, pensions and gratuities as a consequence of the CSC Resolution, affirmed by the decision of the Court of Appeals promulgated about one year after such compulsory retirement, more particularly on November 17, 2000?

"May a person be denied his retirement benefits, pensions and gratuities under the phrase accessory penalty in an administrative hearing by the Civil Service Commission as the central personnel agency of the government, in the absence of a criminal conviction of any crime under the [R]evised Penal Code [or] a Special Law?"8

In the main, these are the issues: (1) whether the acts/omissions of petitioner amounted to dishonesty; and (2) whether the penalty of dismissal from the service with all its accessory penalties was properly imposed on him.

The Courts Ruling

The Petition is partly meritorious.

First Issue:

Dishonesty

Up front, petitioner questions the penalty of dismissal imposed on him, considering that he had already reached the compulsory retirement age of 65 before the finality of the judgment. In any event, he also questions the bases for finding him guilty of dishonesty.

The facts of this case are settled. Petitioner was the principal of QNHS. He sent a letter dated December 9, 19939 to the regional director of the Department of Budget and Management, requesting the reclassification of the following eight (8) items -- from Secondary School Head Teacher III (SSHT III) to Secondary School Head Teacher VI (SSHT VI):

Department SSHT III

1. Social Studies Dept. - Rosalinda de Mesa

2. PHEM Dept. - Concepcion Alcantara

3. Science Dept. - Lourdes Rondilla

4. English Dept. - Leonida Mascardo

5. Filipino Dept. - Portal Rivera

6. Home Economics Dept. - Lourdes Norada

7. Practical Arts Dept. - Godofredo Limbo

8. Mathematics Dept. - Angelita Paleracio

This request could not be acted upon immediately, because the new secondary school curriculum had merged the Practical Arts Department with the Home Economics Department and created a new Values Education Department.10 When informed of this matter, Limbo altered petitioners December 9, 1993 letter by, among others, crossing out "Practical Arts" and intercalating in its place "Values Education." Such alteration resulted in the reclassification of the eight items, with Limbo issued an appointment as "Head Teacher VI (Values Education)." Having seen the appointment papers,11 petitioner knew of the reclassification. Yet he allowed the former to continue performing the functions of head teacher for the Practical Arts Department. Since no one informed respondent of the matter, she unsuspectingly continued the functions she was already performing as chairman of the Values Education Department.

Do these facts constitute sufficient basis to find petitioner guilty of dishonesty?

Dishonesty is "[i]ntentionally making a false statement in any material fact, or practicing or attempting to practice any deception or fraud in securing his examination, registration, appointment or promotion."12 In Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation v. Rilloraza,13 dishonesty was understood to imply a "[d]isposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity."

As found by the CA, it was Limbo who had made the alterations in the December 9, 1993 letter of petitioner, who never represented him to anyone as the head teacher of the Values Education Department. The records show that the item of Limbo was reclassified from Head Teacher III (Practical Arts) to Head Teacher VI (Values Education), without petitioner misrepresenting the former as the one performing the functions of head teacher of the Values Education Department.

Although Limbo was appointed as Head Teacher VI (Values Education), after his previous item had been reclassified as such, he continued performing the functions of head teacher of the Practical Arts Department. Hence, there was no misrepresentation of him as the head teacher of Practical Arts (Boys).

The above circumstances, however do not totally absolve petitioner from liability. The meat of the anguished Complaint of respondent was the concealment from her and the entire school of Limbos appointment as Head Teacher VI for Values Education, while she continued performing the functions of that position. The fact of his appointment was relevant to the performance, not only of his duties and those of petitioner, but also of her own.

Ordinarily, no one would assume the heavy duties and responsibilities of a position without receiving, or at least expecting to receive in the future, the corresponding compensation therefor. Good faith demanded that petitioner should have revealed Limbos appointment to respondent. It was improper for him to expect her to continue performing the functions of a values education head teacher, when someone else had already been appointed to that position and was receiving the corresponding salary.

Being the principal, petitioner may be faulted for having failed to act promptly to change the unfair situation. Thus, he is administratively liable for his omission which, however, did not amount to dishonesty, as he had made no false statement. On his part, no deliberate intent to mislead, deceive or defraud can be read from the circumstances of this case.

As a public school principal, petitioner is bound by a high standard of work ethic. "The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (RA 6713), enunciates inter alia, the State policy of promoting a high standard of ethics and utmost responsibility in the public service. Section 4 of the Code commands that (p)ublic officials and employees at all times respect the rights of others, and refrain from doing acts contrary to law, good morals, good customs, public policy, public order, public safety and public interest."14

By his omissions, petitioner failed to live up to such standard. His failure to inform respondent of Limbos appointment and to promptly remedy the resulting prejudice against her may be characterized as conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service, since such conduct affected not only her but also all the other faculty members of QNHS.

Penalty

Conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service is penalized under Section 22(t) of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292 and Other Pertinent Civil Service Laws by suspension for six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year for the first offense. Having reached the compulsory age of retirement during the pendency of this case, petitioner is no longer in the government service. Thus, it would be more appropriate to impose on him a fine equivalent to his salary for six (6) months, instead of a suspension. This penalty is allowed under Section 1915 of the same Rules.

Considering that the Court does not find petitioner guilty of dishonesty, further discussion of its corresponding penalty of dismissal becomes moot.

With the foregoing ruling, which reduced his penalty from dismissal from service to a fine, it would no longer be necessary to pass upon the second issue.

WHEREFORE, the Petition is hereby partly GRANTED, and the assailed Decision MODIFIED. Petitioner is found guilty of conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service and is FINED in an amount equivalent to his salary for six (6) months, to be deducted from his retirement benefits. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.



Endnotes:

1 Rollo, pp. 3-31.

2 Id., pp. 97-111. Special Former Sixth Division, composed of JJ. Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez (chairman and ponente), Oswaldo D. Agcaoili and Eriberto U. Rosario Jr. (members).

3 Assailed CA Decision, p. 15; rollo, p. 111.

4 Penned by Commissioner Thelma P. Gaminde and concurred in by Chairperson Corazon Alma G. de Leon. Commissioner Jose F. Erestain Jr. "did not participate."

5 CSC Resolution No. 992559 dated November 17, 1999, p. 10; rollo, p. 64.

6 Assailed CA Decision, pp. 1-6; rollo, pp. 97-102.

7 This case was deemed submitted for decision on March 18, 2002, upon the Courts receipt of respondents Memorandum, signed by Atty. Fabiola B. Villa. Petitioners Memorandum, signed by Atty. Romeo A. Dato, was received by this Court on February 15, 2002.

8 Petitioners Memorandum, p. 6; rollo, p. 221.

9 CA rollo, p. 161.

10 In Quezon National High School, the functions of the head of the Values Education Department were being performed by Complainant Lorma Gocon, Guidance Counselor III, who had been designated as chairman of the Values Education Department.

11 Annex "B" of the Complaint; CA rollo, p. 142.

12 Aquino v. The Gen. Mgr. of the GSIS, 130 Phil. 488, 492, January 31, 1968, per Reyes, J.

13 412 Phil. 118, 133, June 25, 2001, per De Leon Jr., J.

14 Alawi v. Alauya, 268 SCRA 628, 637, February 24, 1997, per Narvasa, CJ.

15 "SEC. 19. The penalty of transfer, or demotion, or fine may be imposed instead of suspension from one month and one day to one year except in case of fine which shall not exceed six months."




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per Reyes, J.

13 412 Phil. 118, 133, June 25, 2001, per De Leon Jr., J.

14 Alawi v. Alauya, 268 SCRA 628, 637, February 24, 1997, per Narvasa, CJ.

15 "SEC. 19. The penalty of transfer, or demotion, or fine may be imposed instead of suspension from one month and one day to one year except in case of fine which shall not exceed six months."




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