A. M. No. CA-02-15-P - June 3, 2004
RE: AC No. 04-AM-2002 (JOSEJINA FRIA v. GEMILIANA DE LOS ANGELES)
D E C I S I O N
CARPIO MORALES, J.:
Court of Appeals (CA) stenographer Josejina Fria (complainant), by a January 9, 2002 complaint-affidavit1 filed on February 5, 2002, charged her co-stenographer Gemiliana De los Angeles (respondent) with grave misconduct arising from the loss of money kept in the drawer of complainants table in the office.
Complainant and respondent were in 2001 both assigned to the staff of CA Associate Justice Marina Buzon.
As Atty. Amelia Alado, also a member of the staff of Justice Buzon, took a leave of absence for six months starting November 2001, she authorized complainant to receive her salary and other benefits during her absence.2 Complainant would then wait for Atty. Alados instructions on what to do with the amounts received.3
As of December 20, 2001, complainant had in her custody the amount of
The drawer could be opened, however, by any key which could fit.4 Complainant had even borrowed before a key of Gertrude Remolacio, also an officemate, to open the drawer.5 In fact a paper clip or the bread knife that lies around the office could be used to open it.6
Before complainant kept her and Atty. Alados monies inside the drawer, she, at around 10:00 a.m. of December 20, 2001, counted them7 within the view of everyone in their office at the mezzanine including respondent who also occupied a table thereat. The counting done, complainant filled up bank deposit slips reflecting the amounts she was to deposit for the account of Atty. Alado and for her own account. She then inserted the two envelopes containing the monies and the respective deposit slips in a logbook which she placed inside the drawer and locked it.8
Also in the morning of December 20, 2001, respondent made several phone calls to her friends from whom she was requesting to borrow money.9 She also asked Atty. Joy Reyala, a former officemate who twice paid their office a visit that day, first during merienda time in the afternoon and second around 5:00 p.m., if she could borrow money from her,10 to which Atty. Reyala replied "Tingnan natin."
On December 20, 2001, around 5:30 p.m., complainant left the office ahead of respondent and Atty. Reyala, both of whom were to attend a party at the Pasay City Legal Office later that night.11 In the meantime, Atty. Reyala left Justice Buzons office and repaired to another building of the CA, leaving respondent in the mezzanine.12 After about an hour Atty. Reyala returned to the mezzanine following which she and respondent left for the party at Pasay.
On their way to the party, respondent asked Atty. Reyala if she knew someone selling second-hand cellular phones, she having intended to buy one for her daughter.13
Around 11:00 a.m. of the following day, December 21, 2001, respondent advised her officemates to get ready to leave for the lunch which Justice Buzon was hosting at the Holiday Inn. Complainant thereupon stepped out of the office and repaired to the comfort room, but as she observed that not all her officemates seemed to be ready to leave, she returned to the mezzanine where she saw respondent alone.
Around 2:30 p.m. also of December 21, 2001, the office staff returned from lunch upon which exchange of gifts took place, lasting up to 4:30 p.m.
Around 5:30 p.m., complainant, together with Atty. Clara Javier, also an officemate, left the office to attend the 6:00 p.m. mass at Ermita Church,14 leaving the gifts she received and other stuff personal with the guard then manning the guardhouse at the CA main entrance.
After the mass, complainant, together with Atty. Javier, returned to the CA premises to pick up the stuff she had left at the guardhouse. She having remembered that she was to deposit Atty. Alados money, and Atty. Javier having agreed to do the depositing on the 26th of December,15 the two went up their office to get the monies from complainants drawer.
When complainant opened her drawer, she discovered that the brown envelope containing Atty. Alados money was missing.16 She and Atty. Javier thus searched for the envelope until 10:00 p.m. but failed to find the same.17
As respondent reported only on January 7, 2002 (a Tuesday) following the holidays, complainant accused her of stealing the money.18 To the accusation, respondent replied: "Bakit ako." After complainant had told her so many things, respondent replied: "Kung alam mo lang tuyong-tuyo ang Pasko namin. Wala akong pera, maawa ka."
Complainant thus filed the complaint at bar.
In her complaint-affidavit, complainant alleged, inter alia, as follows:
By Order19 of February 12, 2002, then CA Presiding Justice Ma. Alicia Austria Martinez20 designated Atty. Elisa B. Pilar-Longalong, CA Assistant Clerk of Court, to conduct an investigation on the complaint-affidavit and to submit a report and recommendation within thirty (30) days after the termination of the investigation.
On February 15, 2002, Atty. Longalong sent respondent the following memorandum:21
In her counter-affidavit22 filed on February 18, 2002, respondent denied the charge against her. Regarding the fact that on December 21, 2001 she no longer pursued her request to borrow money the day before, respondent declared that on December 20, 2001, she received a letter23 from her husbands sister Maria Roth from the USA "which was addressed to me but I knew it was for my husband as it has been customary that his sister-in-law sent money to him twice a year, once mostly on Christmas."
Respondent later requested, by motion dated February 17, 2002, for an extension of time to file further affidavits and supporting documentary evidence and manifested her desire for a formal investigation, which was granted by Order of February 19, 2002.
An investigation was thus conducted.
NBI POLYGRAPH EXAMINATION
In a related move, the NBI subjected respondent to polygraph examination, and while complainant was scheduled to also take the polygraph examination, she did not show up on the date rescheduled (on her request) for the purpose.
Polygraph Report No. 2002-11124 states that respondents polygrams "revealed that there were no specific reactions indicative of deception to pertinent questions relevant to instant investigation on th[e]s[e] questions," to wit:
COURT OF APPEALS REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
In her October 2, 200225 Report to CA Presiding Justice Cancio C. Garcia, Atty. Longalong gave the following pertinent observations.
Presiding Justice Garcia, by letter26 of October 22, 2002 to Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., signifying his full accord with Atty. Longalongs Report and Recommendation, adopted them as his.
THIS COURTS FINDINGS
In administrative proceedings, the complainant has the burden of proving, by substantial evidence, the allegations in the complaint.27
Rule 133, Section 5 of the Revised Rules on Evidence defines "substantial evidence" as "that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion."
The evidence complainant proffered in support of her complaint is clearly circumstantial.
Section 4, Rule 133 of the Revised Rules on Evidence provides for the requisites for circumstantial evidence to be considered sufficient, to wit:
In the case at bar, complainant established two circumstances viz: 1) prior to the incident, respondent was in dire need of money; and 2) respondent was left alone in the office in the late afternoon of December 20, 2001, and was seen alone in the mezzanine between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon of December 21, 2001.
For the third requisite to seal the circumstantial evidence against respondent, it is essential that the circumstantial evidence presented must constitute an unbroken chain which leads one to a fair and reasonable conclusion pointing to the person being accused, to the exclusion of others, as the guilty person.28
Though administrative proceedings are not strictly bound by formal rules on evidence, the liberality of procedure in administrative actions is still subject to the limitations imposed by the fundamental requirement of due process,29 especially if the charge, as in the case at bar, if found to be true, also warrants her indictment criminally.
The circumstances proven by complainant do not completely discount the possibility that, other than respondent, there could be another who could have stolen the money. As testified by complainant herself, the drawer of her table could be opened by a paperclip, the bread knife that lies around in the office, or any key, like that of an officemates, that fits. Besides, aside from complainant and respondent, three officemates had a key to the main door. The possibility of others going inside the office at odd hours has not thus been ruled out.
Complainants finding it improbable for anyone of her officemates to return to the office after everyone had left does not convince. "The improbable . . . is not always the untrue." "The most improbable things are sometimes true, and the most probable things do not happen."30
The fact is that complainant failed to prove that the only possible occasions that the money was stolen were the two instances that respondent was left or seen alone in the mezzanine.
Complainant thus failed to discharge the quantum of evidence substantial evidence to fault respondent. Her complaint must thus fail. This leaves it unnecessary to dwell on respondents evidence. Suffice it to state that the result of the polygraph examination respondent took is in her favor, and her explanation why she no longer pressed for her request to borrow money from her friends and/or officemates is plausible.
WHEREFORE, the administrative complaint against respondent, Gemiliana de los Angeles, is hereby DISMISSED for insufficiency of evidence.
Davide, Jr., Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, and Tinga, JJ., concur.
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