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[G.R. No. 128559.June 19, 2001]

SECRETARY OF EDUCATION CULTURE & SPORTS vs. CA, et al.

EN BANC

Gentlemen:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of this Court dated JUN 19 2001.

G.R. No. 128559(The Secretary of Education, Culture and Sports, et al., petitioners, vs. Court of Appeals and Erlinda Abenis, et al., respondents.)

G.R. No. 130911(Erlinda Abenis, et al., petitioners, vs. Court of Appeals, et al., respondents.)

For resolution is the motion for reconsideration dated October 25, 2000 of Erlinda Abenis, et al., 1 Private respondents in G.R. No. 128559 and petitioners in G.R. No. 130911. praying for the review of this Court's Decision in these cases in so far as it denied them their back salaries for the period they were not allowed to teach, excluding the 6 months they were suspended for cause.

It will be recalled that movants were public school teachers in the National Capital Region who held "mass actions" sometime in September 1990 at Liwasang Bonifacio, Manila.They were charged by then DECS Secretary Isidro Carino with grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, violation of the Civil Service law and rules, refusal to perform official duty, gross insubordination, conduct prejudicial to the interest of the service and absence without leave.After proper proceedings, the DECS Secretary rendered judgments finding them guilty as charged and dismissing them from the service.

The Secretary's decisions were affirmed by the Merit and System Protection Board.

On appeal, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) found movants guilty only of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.The penalty of dismissal imposed upon each of them was reduced to six (6) months suspension without pay and without payment of back salaries.

Movants elevated the case to the Court of Appeals.In its decision of February 26, 1997, the Court of Appeals affirmed with modification the CSC resolutions, thus:

"WHEREFORE, resolutions of the Civil Service Commission finding the petitioners guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and suspending them for six (6) months are hereby affirmed with the MODIFICATION that petitioners shall be entitled to back salaries for the period they were not allowed to teach, except for the six (6) months during which they were suspended for cause.

SO ORDERED."

Movants then filed with this Court two separate petitions for review on certiorari.In G.R. No. 128559, the Solicitor General assailed the Court of Appeals' award of back salaries to movants, while in G.R. No. 130911, they sought dismissal of the administrative charges, insisting that they were just exercising their constitutional right to assemble peacebly.The two cases were consolidated.

On October 4, 2000, this Court rendered its Decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:

"WHEREFORE, the petition is G.R. No. 128559 is GRANTED; and the petition in G.R. No. 130911 DENIED.The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 39722 is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the award of back salaries in favor of subject public school teachers is hereby DELETED.No pronouncement as to costs."

In their motion for reconsideration, movants limit their concern to that portion of this Court's Decision deleting the award of back salaries corresponding to the period outside the 6 months suspension imposed upon them.They contend that in dismissing them from the service, former Secretary Carino violated their constitutional right to due process, invoking the case of Fabella vs. Court of Appeals. 2 282 SCRA 256 (1997).In this case, petitioners, public school teachers of the Mandaluyong High School, participated in strikes sometime in September and October, 1990.Consequently, then DECS Secretary Carino filed various administrative charges against them.During the hearing, petitioners' counsel objected to the procedure of the investigating committee.As he received no response from the committee, counsel walked out.

Eventually, the DECS investigating committee rendered a decision finding petitioners guilty as charged and ordering their immediate dismissal from the service.

The issue in Fabella3 Supra. is whether or not petitioners therein were accorded due process.This Court held that the organization of various committees formed by the DECS to hear the administrative charges was not in accordance with the provisions of Section 9 of R.A. 4670, or the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers, considering that it did not include "a representative of the local or, in its absence, any existing provincial or national teachers' organization."Petitioners, therefore, were deprived of their constitutional right to due process.

In the instant cases, the DECS Secretary filed administrative charges against movants.They were furnished copies thereof and were allowed five (5) days from notice to submit their answers.Likewise, they were asked if they opt for a formal investigation and were informed of their right to avail of the assistance of counsel of their choice.However, they did not file their answers, hence, they were considered to have waived their right to controvert the charges against them.Nonetheless, investigation committees were created to investigate and hear the charges.The school principals were called to shed light on the inquiry.

The fact that they were not actually heard is imputable to their own acts of shying away from the DECS proceedings.This Court has consistently held that due process does not necessarily mean or require a hearing, but simply an opportunity or right to be heard. 4 Pepsi Cola Distributor of the Philippines, Inc. vs. National Labor Relations Commission, 247 SCRA 386 (1995); Salonga vs. NLRC; 245 SCRA 111 (1996).What the law prohibits is absolute absence of the opportunity to be heard, hence, a party cannot feign denial of due process when he had been afforded the opportunity to present his side. 5 Development Bank of the Philippines vs. Court of Appeals, 302 SCRA 362 (1999).

Significantly, on appeal, the Merit and System Protection Board conducted a formal hearing.Thereafter, upon review of the records, the Civil Service Commission found movants guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.Having gone all the way to the Civil Service Commission, they have no reason to complain that they were deprived of due process.The rulings of this Court in Alipat vs. Court of Appeals, 6 308 SCRA 781 (1999). de la Cruz vs. Court of Appeals, 7 305 SCRA 303 (1999). Jacinto vs. Court of Appeals 8 281 SCRA 657 (1997). and Bangalisan vs. Court of Appeals 9 276 SCRA 619 (1997). are clear that back wages may be awarded only to dismissed public school teachers when they are found fully innocent or completely exculpated of the charges against them.Here, movants were found to have participated in the September 1990 mass actions and refused to obey the return-to-work order of the DECS Secretary.They were, therefore, declared guilty of acts prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

WHEREFORE, the instant motion for reconsideration is DENIED.

Very truly yours,

LUZVIMINDA D. PUNO
Clerk of Court

(Sgd.) MA. LUISA D. VILLARAMA

Asst. Clerk of Court


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