[G.R. NO. 155831 : February 18, 2008]
MA. LOURDES T. DOMINGO, Petitioner, v. ROGELIO I. RAYALA, Respondent.
[G.R. NO. 155840 : February 18, 2008]
ROGELIO I. RAYALA, Petitioner, v. OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT; RONALDO V. ZAMORA, in his capacity as Executive Secretary; ROY V. SENERES, in his capacity as Chairman of the National Labor Relations Commission (in lieu of RAUL T. AQUINO, in his capacity as Acting Chairman of the National labor Relations Commission); and MA. LOURDES T. DOMINGO, Respondents.
[G.R. NO. 158700 : February 18, 2008]
The REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, represented by the OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT; and ALBERTO G. ROMULO, in his capacity as Executive Secretary, Petitioners, v. ROGELIO I. RAYALA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Sexual harassment is an imposition of misplaced "superiority" which is enough to dampen an employee's spirit and her capacity for advancement. It affects her sense of judgment; it changes her life.1
Before this Court are three Petitions for Review on Certiorari assailing the October 18, 2002 Resolution of the CA's Former Ninth Division2 in CA-G.R. SP No. 61026. The Resolution modified the December 14, 2001 Decision3 of the Court of Appeals' Eleventh Division, which had affirmed the Decision of the Office of the President (OP) dismissing from the service then National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Chairman Rogelio I. Rayala (Rayala) for disgraceful and immoral conduct.
All three petitions stem from the same factual antecedents.
On November 16, 1998, Ma. Lourdes T. Domingo (Domingo), then Stenographic Reporter III at the NLRC, filed a Complaint for sexual harassment against Rayala before Secretary Bienvenido Laguesma of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
To support the Complaint, Domingo executed an Affidavit narrating the incidences of sexual harassment complained of, thus:
After the last incident narrated, Domingo filed for leave of absence and asked to be immediately transferred. Thereafter, she filed the Complaint for sexual harassment on the basis of Administrative Order No. 250, the Rules and Regulations Implementing RA 7877 in the Department of Labor and Employment.
Upon receipt of the Complaint, the DOLE Secretary referred the Complaint to the OP, Rayala being a presidential appointee. The OP, through then Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, ordered Secretary Laguesma to investigate the allegations in the Complaint and create a committee for such purpose. On December 4, 1998, Secretary Laguesma issued Administrative Order (AO) No. 280, Series of 1998,5 constituting a Committee on Decorum and Investigation (Committee) in accordance with Republic Act (RA) 7877, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995.6
The Committee heard the parties and received their respective evidence. On March 2, 2000, the Committee submitted its report and recommendation to Secretary Laguesma. It found Rayala guilty of the offense charged and recommended the imposition of the minimum penalty provided under AO 250, which it erroneously stated as suspension for six (6) months.
The following day, Secretary Laguesma submitted a copy of the Committee Report and Recommendation to the OP, but with the recommendation that the penalty should be suspension for six (6) months and one (1) day, in accordance with AO 250.
On May 8, 2000, the OP, through Executive Secretary Zamora, issued AO 119,7 the pertinent portions of which read:
Rayala filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which the OP denied in a Resolution8 dated May 24, 2000. He then filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for Temporary Restraining Order under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules on Civil Procedure before this Court on June 14, 2000.9 However, the same was dismissed in a Resolution dated June 26, 2000 for disregarding the hierarchy of courts.10 Rayala filed a Motion for
Reconsideration11 on August 15, 2000. In its Resolution12 dated September 4, 2000, the Court recalled its June 26 Resolution and referred the petition to the Court of Appeals (CA) for appropriate action.
The CA rendered its Decision13 on December 14, 2001. It held that there was sufficient evidence on record to create moral certainty that Rayala committed the acts he was charged with. It said:
It also held that Rayala's dismissal was proper. The CA pointed out that Rayala was dismissed for disgraceful and immoral conduct in violation of RA 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. It held that the OP was correct in concluding that Rayala's acts violated RA 6713:
Thus, it dismissed the petition, to wit:
Rayala timely filed a Motion for Reconsideration. Justices Vasquez and Tolentino voted to affirm the December 14 Decision. However, Justice Reyes dissented mainly because AO 250 states that the penalty imposable is suspension for six (6) months and one (1) day.16 Pursuant to the internal rules of the CA, a Special Division of Five was constituted.17 In its October 18, 2002 Resolution, the CA modified its earlier Decision:
Domingo filed a Petition for Review18 before this Court, which we denied in our February 19, 2003 Resolution for having a defective verification. She filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which the Court granted; hence, the petition was reinstated.
Rayala likewise filed a Petition for Review19 with this Court essentially arguing that he is not guilty of any act of sexual harassment.
Meanwhile, the Republic filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the CA's October 18, 2002 Resolution. The CA denied the same in its June 3, 2003 Resolution, the dispositive portion of which reads:
The Republic then filed its own Petition for Review.20
On June 28, 2004, the Court directed the consolidation of the three (3) petitions.
G.R. No. 155831
Domingo assails the CA's resolution modifying the penalty imposed by the Office of the President. She raises this issue:
She argues that the power to remove Rayala, a presidential appointee, is lodged with the President who has control of the entire Executive Department, its bureaus and offices. The OP's decision was arrived at after affording Rayala due process. Hence, his dismissal from the service is a prerogative that is entirely with the President.22
As to the applicability of AO No. 250, she argues that the same was not intended to cover cases against presidential appointees. AO No. 250 refers only to the instances wherein the DOLE Secretary is the disciplining authority, and thus, the AO does not circumscribe the power of the President to dismiss an erring presidential appointee.
G.R. No. 155840
In his petition, Rayala raises the following issues:
Invoking Aquino v. Acosta,24 Rayala argues that the case is the definitive ruling on what constitutes sexual harassment. Thus, he posits that for sexual harassment to exist under RA 7877, there must be: (a) demand, request, or requirement of a sexual favor; (b) the same is made a pre-condition to hiring, re-employment, or continued employment; or (c) the denial thereof results in discrimination against the employee.
Rayala asserts that Domingo has failed to allege and establish any sexual favor, demand, or request from petitioner in exchange for her continued employment or for her promotion. According to Rayala, the acts imputed to him are without malice or ulterior motive. It was merely Domingo's perception of malice in his alleged acts - a "product of her own imagination"25 - that led her to file the sexual harassment complaint.
Likewise, Rayala assails the OP's interpretation, as upheld by the CA, that RA 7877 is malum prohibitum such that the defense of absence of malice is unavailing. He argues that sexual harassment is considered an offense against a particular person, not against society as a whole. Thus, he claims that intent is an essential element of the offense because the law requires as a conditio sine qua non that a sexual favor be first sought by the offender in order to achieve certain specific results. Sexual harassment is committed with the perpetrator's deliberate intent to commit the offense.26
Rayala next argues that AO 250 expands the acts proscribed in RA 7877. In particular, he assails the definition of the forms of sexual harassment:
He posits that these acts alone without corresponding demand, request, or requirement do not constitute sexual harassment as contemplated by the law.28 He alleges that the rule-making power granted to the employer in Section 4(a) of RA 7877 is limited only to procedural matters. The law did not delegate to the employer the power to promulgate rules which would provide other or additional forms of sexual harassment, or to come up with its own definition of sexual harassment.29
G.R. No. 158700
The Republic raises this issue:
The Republic argues that Rayala's acts constitute sexual harassment under AO 250. His acts constitute unwelcome or improper gestures of affection and are acts or conduct of a sexual nature, which are generally annoying or offensive to the victim.31
It also contends that there is no legal basis for the CA's reduction of the penalty imposed by the OP. Rayala's dismissal is valid and warranted under the circumstances. The power to remove the NLRC Chairman solely rests upon the President, limited only by the requirements under the law and the due process clause.
The Republic further claims that, although AO 250 provides only a one (1) year suspension, it will not prevent the OP from validly imposing the penalty of dismissal on Rayala. It argues that even though Rayala is a presidential appointee, he is still subject to the Civil Service Law. Under the Civil Service Law, disgraceful and immoral conduct, the acts imputed to Rayala, constitute grave misconduct punishable by dismissal from the service.32 The Republic adds that Rayala's position is invested with public trust and his acts violated that trust; thus, he should be dismissed from the service.
This argument, according to the Republic, is also supported by Article 215 of the Labor Code, which states that the Chairman of the NLRC holds office until he reaches the age of 65 only during good behavior.33 Since Rayala's security of tenure is conditioned upon his good behavior, he may be removed from office if it is proven that he has failed to live up to this standard.
All the issues raised in these three cases can be summed up in two ultimate questions, namely:
Initially, however, we must resolve a procedural issue raised by Rayala. He accuses the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), as counsel for the Republic, of forum shopping because it filed a motion for reconsideration of the decision in CA-G.R. SP No. 61026 and then filed a comment in G.R. No. 155840 before this Court.
We do not agree.
Forum shopping is an act of a party, against whom an adverse judgment or order has been rendered in one forum, of seeking and possibly securing a favorable opinion in another forum, other than by appeal or special civil action for certiorari.34 It consists of filing multiple suits involving the same parties for the same cause of action, either simultaneously or successively, for the purpose of obtaining a favorable judgment.35
There is forum shopping when the following elements concur: (1) identity of the parties or, at least, of the parties who represent the same interest in both actions; (2) identity of the rights asserted and relief prayed for, as the latter is founded on the same set of facts; and (3) identity of the two preceding particulars such that any judgment rendered in the other action will amount to res judicata in the action under consideration or will constitute litis pendentia.36
Reviewing the antecedents of these consolidated cases, we note that the CA rendered the assailed Resolution on October 18, 2002. The Republic filed its Motion for Reconsideration on November 22, 2002. On the other hand, Rayala filed his petition before this Court on November 21, 2002. While the Republic's Motion for Reconsideration was pending resolution before the CA, on December 2, 2002, it was directed by this Court to file its Comment on Rayala's petition, which it submitted on June 16, 2003.
When the CA denied the Motion for Reconsideration, the Republic filed its own Petition for Review with this Court on July 3, 2003. It cited in its "Certification and Verification of a Non-Forum Shopping" (sic), that there was a case involving the same facts pending before this Court denominated as G.R. No. 155840. With respect to Domingo's petition, the same had already been dismissed on February 19, 2003. Domingo's petition was reinstated on June 16, 2003 but the resolution was received by the OSG only on July 25, 2003, or after it had filed its own petition.37
Based on the foregoing, it cannot be said that the OSG is guilty of forum shopping. We must point out that it was Rayala who filed the petition in the CA, with the Republic as the adverse party. Rayala himself filed a motion for reconsideration of the CA's December 21, 2001 Decision, which led to a more favorable ruling, i.e., the lowering of the penalty from dismissal to one-year suspension. The parties adversely affected by this ruling (Domingo and the Republic) had the right to question the same on motion for reconsideration. But Domingo directly filed a Petition for Review with this Court, as did Rayala. When the Republic opted to file a motion for reconsideration, it was merely exercising a right. That Rayala and Domingo had by then already filed cases before the SC did not take away this right. Thus, when this Court directed the Republic to file its Comment on Rayala's petition, it had to comply, even if it had an unresolved motion for reconsideration with the CA, lest it be cited for contempt.
Accordingly, it cannot be said that the OSG "file[d] multiple suits involving the same parties for the same cause of action, either simultaneously or successively, for the purpose of obtaining a favorable judgment."
We now proceed to discuss the substantive issues.
It is noteworthy that the five CA Justices who deliberated on the case were unanimous in upholding the findings of the Committee and the OP. They found the assessment made by the Committee and the OP to be a "meticulous and dispassionate analysis of the testimonies of the complainant (Domingo), the respondent (Rayala), and their respective witnesses." 38 They differed only on the appropriate imposable penalty.
That Rayala committed the acts complained of - and was guilty of sexual harassment - is, therefore, the common factual finding of not just one, but three independent bodies: the Committee, the OP and the CA. It should be remembered that when supported by substantial evidence, factual findings made by quasi-judicial and administrative bodies are accorded great respect and even finality by the courts.39 The principle, therefore, dictates that such findings should bind us.40
Indeed, we find no reason to deviate from this rule. There appears no valid ground for this Court to review the factual findings of the CA, the OP, and the Investigating Committee. These findings are now conclusive on the Court. And quite significantly, Rayala himself admits to having committed some of the acts imputed to him.
He insists, however, that these acts do not constitute sexual harassment, because Domingo did not allege in her complaint that there was a demand, request, or requirement of a sexual favor as a condition for her continued employment or for her promotion to a higher position.41 Rayala urges us to apply to his case our ruling in Aquino v. Acosta.42
We find respondent's insistence unconvincing.
Basic in the law of public officers is the three-fold liability rule, which states that the wrongful acts or omissions of a public officer may give rise to civil, criminal and administrative liability. An action for each can proceed independently of the others.43 This rule applies with full force to sexual harassment.
The law penalizing sexual harassment in our jurisdiction is RA 7877. Section 3 thereof defines work-related sexual harassment in this wise:
This section, in relation to Section 7 on penalties, defines the criminal aspect of the unlawful act of sexual harassment. The same section, in relation to Section 6, authorizes the institution of an independent civil action for damages and other affirmative relief.
Section 4, also in relation to Section 3, governs the procedure for administrative cases, viz.:
The CA, thus, correctly ruled that Rayala's culpability is not to be determined solely on the basis of Section 3, RA 7877, because he is charged with the administrative offense, not the criminal infraction, of sexual harassment.44 It should be enough that the CA, along with the Investigating Committee and the Office of the President, found substantial evidence to support the administrative charge.
Yet, even if we were to test Rayala's acts strictly by the standards set in Section 3, RA 7877, he would still be administratively liable. It is true that this provision calls for a "demand, request or requirement of a sexual favor." But it is not necessary that the demand, request or requirement of a sexual favor be articulated in a categorical oral or written statement. It may be discerned, with equal certitude, from the acts of the offender. Holding and squeezing Domingo's shoulders, running his fingers across her neck and tickling her ear, having inappropriate conversations with her, giving her money allegedly for school expenses with a promise of future privileges, and making statements with unmistakable sexual overtones - all these acts of Rayala resound with deafening clarity the unspoken request for a sexual favor.
Likewise, contrary to Rayala's claim, it is not essential that the demand, request or requirement be made as a condition for continued employment or for promotion to a higher position. It is enough that the respondent's acts result in creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the employee.45 That the acts of Rayala generated an intimidating and hostile environment for Domingo is clearly shown by the common factual finding of the Investigating Committee, the OP and the CA that Domingo reported the matter to an officemate and, after the last incident, filed for a leave of absence and requested transfer to another unit.
Rayala's invocation of Aquino v. Acosta46 is misplaced, because the factual setting in that case is different from that in the case at bench. In Aquino, Atty. Susan Aquino, Chief of the Legal and Technical Staff of the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA), charged then CTA Presiding Judge (now Presiding Justice) Ernesto Acosta of sexual harassment. She complained of several incidents when Judge Acosta allegedly kissed her, embraced her, and put his arm around her shoulder. The case was referred to CA Justice Josefina G. Salonga for investigation. In her report, Justice Salonga found that "the complainant failed to show by convincing evidence that the acts of Judge Acosta in greeting her with a kiss on the cheek, in a `beso-beso' fashion, were carried out with lustful and lascivious desires or were motivated by malice or ill motive. It is clear from the circumstances that most of the kissing incidents were done on festive and special occasions," and they "took place in the presence of other people and the same was by reason of the exaltation or happiness of the moment." Thus, Justice Salonga concluded:
This Court agreed with Justice Salonga, and Judge Acosta was exonerated.
To repeat, this factual milieu in Aquino does not obtain in the case at bench. While in Aquino, the Court interpreted the acts (of Judge Acosta) as casual gestures of friendship and camaraderie, done during festive or special occasions and with other people present, in the instant case, Rayala's acts of holding and squeezing Domingo's shoulders, running his fingers across her neck and tickling her ear, and the inappropriate comments, were all made in the confines of Rayala's office when no other members of his staff were around. More importantly, and a circumstance absent in Aquino, Rayala's acts, as already adverted to above, produced a hostile work environment for Domingo, as shown by her having reported the matter to an officemate and, after the last incident, filing for a leave of absence and requesting transfer to another unit.
Rayala also argues that AO 250 does not apply to him. First, he argues that AO 250 does not cover the NLRC, which, at the time of the incident, was under the DOLE only for purposes of program and policy coordination. Second, he posits that even assuming AO 250 is applicable to the NLRC, he is not within its coverage because he is a presidential appointee.
We find, however, that the question of whether or not AO 250 covers Rayala is of no real consequence. The events of this case unmistakably show that the administrative charges against Rayala were for violation of RA 7877; that the OP properly assumed jurisdiction over the administrative case; that the participation of the DOLE, through the Committee created by the Secretary, was limited to initiating the investigation process, reception of evidence of the parties, preparation of the investigation report, and recommending the appropriate action to be taken by the OP. AO 250 had never really been applied to Rayala. If it was used at all, it was to serve merely as an auxiliary procedural guide to aid the Committee in the orderly conduct of the investigation.
Next, Rayala alleges that the CA erred in holding that sexual harassment is an offense malum prohibitum. He argues that intent is an essential element in sexual harassment, and since the acts imputed to him were done allegedly without malice, he should be absolved of the charges against him.
We reiterate that what is before us is an administrative case for sexual harassment. Thus, whether the crime of sexual harassment is malum in se or malum prohibitum is immaterial.
We also reject Rayala's allegations that the charges were filed because of a conspiracy to get him out of office and thus constitute merely political harassment. A conspiracy must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. His bare assertions cannot stand against the evidence presented by Domingo. As we have already ruled, the acts imputed to Rayala have been proven as fact. Moreover, he has not proven any ill motive on the part of Domingo and her witnesses which would be ample reason for her to conjure stories about him. On the contrary, ill motive is belied by the fact that Domingo and her witnesses - all employees of the NLRC at that time - stood to lose their jobs or suffer unpleasant consequences for coming forward and charging their boss with sexual harassment.
Furthermore, Rayala decries the alleged violation of his right to due process. He accuses the Committee on Decorum of railroading his trial for violation of RA 7877. He also scored the OP's decision finding him guilty of "disgraceful and immoral conduct" under the Revised Administrative Code and not for violation of RA 7877. Considering that he was not tried for "disgraceful and immoral conduct," he argues that the verdict is a "sham and total nullity."
We hold that Rayala was properly accorded due process. In previous cases, this Court held that:
The records of the case indicate that Rayala was afforded all these procedural due process safeguards. Although in the beginning he questioned the authority of the Committee to try him,49 he appeared, personally and with counsel, and participated in the proceedings.
On the other point raised, this Court has held that, even in criminal cases, the designation of the offense is not controlling, thus:
It is noteworthy that under AO 250, sexual harassment amounts to disgraceful and immoral conduct.51 Thus, any finding of liability for sexual harassment may also be the basis of culpability for disgraceful and immoral conduct.
With the foregoing disquisitions affirming the finding that Rayala committed sexual harassment, we now determine the proper penalty to be imposed.
Rayala attacks the penalty imposed by the OP. He alleges that under the pertinent Civil Service Rules, disgraceful and immoral conduct is punishable by suspension for a period of six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year. He also argues that since he is charged administratively, aggravating or mitigating circumstances cannot be appreciated for purposes of imposing the penalty.
Under AO 250, the penalty for the first offense is suspension for six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year, while the penalty for the second offense is dismissal.52 On the other hand, Section 22(o), Rule XVI of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of the Administrative Code of 198753 and Section 52 A(15) of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service54 both provide that the first offense of disgraceful and immoral conduct is punishable by suspension of six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year. A second offense is punishable by dismissal.
Under the Labor Code, the Chairman of the NLRC shall hold office during good behavior until he or she reaches the age of sixty-five, unless sooner removed for cause as provided by law or becomes incapacitated to discharge the duties of the office.55
In this case, it is the President of the Philippines, as the proper disciplining authority, who would determine whether there is a valid cause for the removal of Rayala as NLRC Chairman. This power, however, is qualified by the phrase "for cause as provided by law." Thus, when the President found that Rayala was indeed guilty of disgraceful and immoral conduct, the Chief Executive did not have unfettered discretion to impose a penalty other than the penalty provided by law for such offense. As cited above, the imposable penalty for the first offense of either the administrative offense of sexual harassment or for disgraceful and immoral conduct is suspension of six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year. Accordingly, it was error for the Office of the President to impose upon Rayala the penalty of dismissal from the service, a penalty which can only be imposed upon commission of a second offense.
Even if the OP properly considered the fact that Rayala took advantage of his high government position, it still could not validly dismiss him from the service. Under the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service,56 taking undue advantage of a subordinate may be considered as an aggravating circumstance57 and where only aggravating and no mitigating circumstances are present, the maximum penalty shall be imposed.58 Hence, the maximum penalty that can be imposed on Rayala is suspension for one (1) year.
Rayala holds the exalted position of NLRC Chairman, with the rank equivalent to a CA Justice. Thus, it is not unavailing that rigid standards of conduct may be demanded of him. In Talens-Dabon v. Judge Arceo,59 this Court, in upholding the liability of therein respondent Judge, said:
In yet another case, this Court declared:
It is incumbent upon the head of office to set an example on how his employees should conduct themselves in public office, so that they may work efficiently in a healthy working atmosphere. Courtesy demands that he should set a good example.61
Rayala has thrown every argument in the book in a vain effort to effect his exoneration. He even puts Domingo's character in question and casts doubt on the morality of the former President who ordered, albeit erroneously, his dismissal from the service. Unfortunately for him, these are not significant factors in the disposition of the case. It is his character that is in question here and sadly, the inquiry showed that he has been found wanting.
WHEREFORE, the foregoing premises considered, the October 18, 2002 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 61026 is AFFIRMED. Consequently, the petitions in G.R. NOS. 155831, 155840, and 158700 are DENIED. No pronouncement as to costs.
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