November 2005 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.M. No. P-93-808 - Court Employees of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Ramon Magsaysay, Zamboanga del Sur v. Earla C. Sy, Court Stenographer I, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Ramon Magsaysay, Zamboanga del Sur.
[A.M. NO. P-93-808 November 25, 2005]
COURT EMPLOYEES OF THE MUNICIPAL CIRCUIT TRIAL COURT, RAMON MAGSAYSAY, ZAMBOANGA DEL SUR, Complainants, v. EARLA C. SY, COURT STENOGRAPHER I, MUNICIPAL CIRCUIT TRIAL COURT, RAMON MAGSAYSAY, ZAMBOANGA DEL SUR, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
The instant administrative matter refers to the charges of discourtesy, inefficiency, immorality and forgery against Earla C. Sy, Court Stenographer I, Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC), Ramon Magsaysay, Zamboanga del Sur. The charges are contained in a Letter-Complaint1 dated February 15, 1993 signed by Veronica A. Jatico, Rogelio C. Casinto, Lorna W. Gonzales, Shirlando R. Pepito and Henry T. Langam, all court employees of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Ramon Magsaysay, Zamboanga Del Sur, to wit:
That one of our co-employees named Earla C. Sy, Court Stenographer I, has caused so much trouble/nuisance in our office for so long because of her notorious habit of backbiting not only her co-employees but as well as her superiors; disrespectful and discourteous to her superiors such as leaving the office during office hours without permission; a loud speaker/talkative in the office causing disturbance in the concentration of our works, also an inefficient worker in the performance of her duties, most often our flower vase. It is also of common or public knowledge that she is a married woman with the habit of having illicit affairs with different men even married ones, the daring type, giving a bad image to our office for not making disciplinary measures; and also falsifying official documents by forging signatures.
That corrective measures of reprimanding and warning her by our Presiding Judge has already been made several times, but to no avail. That she is notoriously undesirable and nuisance staff in the office.
That for the good of public service and to restore peace and harmony in the office, as well as trust of the general public in the good image of the judiciary, we strongly request immediate action/investigation appropriate to our petition.2
The respondent denied the charges in her Comment3 dated June 2, 1993. Contrary to the allegations against her, she is one of the most courteous and respectful personnel of the said court, the "silent type" of person when in the office. The respondent also claimed that the allegation of the complainants that she is having illicit affairs with different men was made only to malign her sincerity and trustworthiness. Moreover, during her stay in the MCTC in Ramon Magsaysay, she was never reprimanded nor warned by the Presiding Judge therein. She thus prayed that the case against her be dismissed for being unfounded, and that the complainants be reprimanded for filing a baseless complaint against her.
The case was referred to Executive Judge Camilo E. Tamin, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 23, Molave, Zamboanga del Sur, for investigation, report and recommendation. However, in a Letter4 dated June 7, 1993 addressed to then Deputy Court Administrator Juanito A. Bernad, the complainants pleaded for the inhibition of Executive Judge Tamin in the investigation for the following reasons:
That last May 18, 1993, at around 1:30 p.m., we the undersigned went to the Office of Judge Tamin at RTC Branch 23, Molave, to talk to him personally after knowing that Earla C. Sy, our co-employee, the defendant herein, was already reporting to his office.
Our intention of going to his office at that time was on our [own] volition to explain our side why it happened that we wrote our complaint to the higher authorities in Manila, but instead of giving us the chance to expand further, all [that] he said was that, he is not interested as to what happened in our office, except that, for the exigency of the judicial service, he needs additional stenographer. And that if there will be an investigation to be conducted by the higher authorities regarding this matter, he (Judge Tamin) will refrain from giving sides or comment.
That thereafter, Judge Tamin issued Administrative Order No. 93-001, detailing Mrs. Earla Sy as stenographer in his sala RTC Branch 23, Molave, Zamboanga del Sur. (Xerox copy hereto attached, dated May 19, 1993), just as what he had told us during that time, that he will either detail or absorb her in his office; so that how can he act fairly when he had already promised her that he will absorb her in his office.
The case was thereafter referred to Judge Franklyn A. Villegas, RTC, Branch 19, Pagadian City, for investigation, report and recommendation.
The specific charges against the respondent were summarized by Judge Villegas as follows:
1. Disrespectful and Discourteous to Superiors
Complainant Veronica A. Jatico alleged that in 1986, during the incumbency of Judge Delfin E. Agbu respondent Earla Sy was always reprimanded [for] her talkativeness and would grumble once out of the chamber and would display her anger by talking against the judge. She averred that sometimes she would talk back to the judge in an angry manner [Affidavit of Veronica Jatico, dated July 19, 1993]. Furthermore, on December 17, 1992, she informed Judge Veronica Dondiego of the immoral acts of Earla Sy as being rumored around. Acting upon such information, Judge Dondiego advised/reprimanded Earla Sy about the matter but instead of listening, Earla Sy right away stood up and told Judge Dondiego that she has no right to reprimand her on her private life, adding that the Judge can only reprimand her on matters pertaining to her office and she (Earla) enjoyed her affairs and don't mind what other people would say about her.
Complainant Lorna W. Gonzales and Rogelio Casinto stated in their respective affidavits that many times Earla was reprimanded by their Clerk of Court but would talk back showing no respect and would leave the office without asking permission from her immediate superior. This is also corroborated by complainant Henry T. Langam as shown in his affidavit.
The record is bereft of any evidence tending to show inefficiency on the part of respondent Earla Sy, except a statement by complainant Veronica A. Jatico saying that "sometime during the tenure of Judge Agbu in the year 1986, this Earla was always reprimanded by Judge Agbu because of her talkativeness and her inefficiency in typing by saying 'Earla, ayaw pagsigi ug tabi, kon wala kay trabaho, pagractice ug type' (meaning, Earla do not keep on talking, if you have no work to do, hone your typing skills).
3. Immorality, by having affairs with different men, even married ones.
Complainant Veronica A. Jatico stated in her affidavit that "on August 12, 1998, during the vigil service of the late Democrito Baidiango, this Earla was present and at about 9:00 o'clock more or less, Earla approached me requesting me that she will sleep in my house that night. That at about 11:00 o'clock, I told Earla that I will go ahead of her and at about 11:30 o'clock more or less, Earla came up to my bedroom at the second storey of the house I rented. She called for me and then I told her that the door was not locked, so she opened it. And then, I went out of my bedroom and told her that her beddings is just right at the floor of the sala because I have only one bedroom. And at this juncture, I noticed and saw Candido Adolfo Jr. was with her. They were talking, so that I cannot wait for Candido Adolfo Jr. to go home, so that I go to bed to sleep. Then when I woke up at about 2:00 o'clock dawn more or less, I opened the door of my bedroom purposely to check Earla and there I saw Earla and Candido Adolfo Jr. lying together side by side. And then I concluded that Earla is really doing illicit affairs because I thought before the tsismis were only hearsay. I saw the two of them Earla and Candido, because there was a mercury light coming from the Zamsureco post beside my house and that our window is also made of glass [Affidavit of Veronica A. Jatico, page 2]. That after Candido Adolfo Jr. got married. [I] saw again Earla always going to the house of Tessie, our MCTC Aide because her brother Rosalio Campo, Jr. has just arrived from Malaysia. She again was seen flirting with - Rosalio Campo, Jr. There was one instance when after while lying for a nap/siesta, my husband Dominador peeped at the floor of the kitchen of our house which was underneath the bedroom of Rosalio Campo, Jr., and there Dominador saw Rosalio Campo, Jr. and Earla lying together in one bed embracing and facing each other.
And again, I saw Earla flirting with the DILG personnel in the name of Engr. Victor Atanacio. They were seen most often in public places, in the terminal, in the DILG office, in the court hall and sometimes in the Judge['s] chamber talking intimately. This is during noontime, between 12:00 to 1:00 o'clock, more or less.
And lately in the year 1991, Earla was again seen in a public place flirting with the Chief of Police Alvin Morales. They were always talking in the PNP Office, in the court hall, and in the Judge['s] Chamber and under the mango tree in front of the municipal building during office hours talking like love birds without minding what other people would say giving bad impression to the public being a married [woman] which [gives] bad image to our office judiciary. [Id.]
In the Sworn Statement of Lorna W. Gonzales [page 2], she said that she saw Earla with some men on a degree of intimacy higher than just mere friends, such as with Dr. Baltazar Arbis in 1986; Bert Demoni of the PNP in 1986; Mr. Jemuel Dagaraeg of Allied Bank Molave in 1987-91; Candido Adolfo, Jr., an SP Member of Ramon Magsaysay in 1987-1988; Mr. Rosalio Campo, Jr. in 1989; Engr. Victor Atanacio, a former DILG employee of R.M. Zamboanga del Sur; and the latest with PNP Chief of Police of R.M., Zamboanga del Sur, Alvin Morales.
Edilberto Baguio stated that "few days after election, I came to submit the minutes of my election returns in the office of the COMELEC Registrar. That was 12:30 noon when I arrived in the Office of the Election Registrar which is adjacent to the Court's Session Hall and when I looked at the Session Hall, I saw the Chief of Police, Alvin Morales and Earla Sy. Sitting together in the Court room, the man embracing the girl and kissing Earla on the cheek.
4. Forgery, by forging the signature of Alvin Morales, Chief of Police of Ramon Magsaysay, Zamboanga del Sur.
Mrs. Abita M. Antolihao in her Sworn Statement, dated June 24, 1993, that she is an Accounting Clerk II in the Municipal Treasurer's Office of Ramon Magsaysay, Zamboanga del Sur, responsible for the issuance of business permits. She declared that she saw Earla Sy [affix] the signature of the Chief of Police, Alvin Morales on a Police Clearance which is one of the requirements for the issuance of a business permit.
Erlinda Tangub alleged in her Sworn Statement [dated June 24, 1993] that on February 8, 1993, she saw with her own eyes when Earla put the signature of our Chief of Police, Alvin Morales, by forging his signature on the Police Clearance of June Flores [Exhibit "I"]. This incident happened in - the Municipal Treasurer's Office.5
The respondent testified that she was appointed as stenographer of the 10th MCTC of Ramon Magsaysay-Midsalip-Sominot on December 13, 1983, presided by Judge Agbu. When the former retired, Judge Diosdado Arriesgado took over in an acting capacity, and Judge Veronica Dondiego later took over.
At first, her relationship with Judge Dondiego was very good, as they were neighbors in Molave. They even used to go to court together, along with Lorna Gonzales who also resided there. Her relationship with Judge Dondiego turned sour when Gonzales started telling the Judge about comments on the latter's apparel as "baduy." She denied making such comments when the Judge confronted her about it. After the incident, she was alienated and was no longer given any work to do at the office. She then reported the matter to Judge Tamin, who detailed her at his sala. The propriety of the detail order was raised by Judge Dondiego before the Court, which, was however, affirmed.
The respondent further testified that Judge Dondiego was most probably the one behind the filing of the administrative complaint against her. According to the respondent, Gonzales and Tessie Barbajo told her this much when she approached them so that the case against her could be withdrawn. She said that Judge Dondiego even wrote a letter to the Investigating Judge on the issues raised in the complaint.
In his Report and Recommendation6 dated November 27, 2003, the Investigating Judge made the following findings:
Considering that forgery, as one of the causes of action, is rooted [in] the Revised Penal Code, under Article 172, Falsification by private individual and use of falsified documents, the Court deems it of paramount importance to proceed with caution and to determine the guilt of the respondent not merely based on substantial or preponderance of evidence but with evidence proving the guilt of the respondent beyond reasonable doubt.'
In the case at bench, witnesses Abita M. Antolihao and Erlinda Tangub made testimonies that they saw respondent Earla Sy [sign] a public document and a police clearance of one Jane Flores, above the name of the Chief of Police, making it appear that it was the Chief of Police who signed the same. On the part of Abita M. Antolihao, however, she did not state the exact date the falsification was committed nor for whose use and credit the document was intended for.
The said document, Exhibit "J", was never shown to Alvin Morales for him to be confronted with it and to elicit from him whether or not the signature as appearing therein is his or not. This the Court has considered a pivotal issue considering that indeed there seems to exist a conglomeration of complainants to involve the Acting Presiding Judge, Hon. Veronica Dondiego as the shadowy figure behind the complaint as against one respondent, whose influence over these persons may be considered a primordial motivating factor which is difficult to deny, as may be deduced from the letter she sent the investigating judge.
To say the least therefore, with ill motives, there is created a cloud of doubt as to the truthfulness of the averments of these witnesses who, as shown by their Sworn Statements, have hated and resented the presence of Earla Sy in their midst because of her conceived misbehavior and conducts improper for a court employee.
The Court finds that the evidence at hand failed to prove beyond peradventure of doubt the complaint of forgery against the respondent, Earla Sy.
On the charge of immorality, this Court has not come across any rock hard evidence that Earla Sy has sexual relationships with any men other than her husband. While there were several persons named and alleged to be having an illicit affair with the respondent yet not one witness has seen the respondent in actual sexual congress with another man. At most, these witnesses have seen Earla being kissed on the cheek or was embraced. To an unprejudiced mind, these acts could be harmless and could not be constitutive of an immoral act. Moreover, the so called love letters and notes of Earla Sy and her paramour could not be admitted in evidence considering that it would violate the right of the respondent against self-incrimination and her right to her own personal effects, considering that the same were illegally obtained and without the consent of the owner.
To the mind of this investigating judge, the accusation that one has an amorous and illicit relationship with another, must be proven by clear and convincing evidence other than conjectures and speculations brought about by merely seeing the two (2) subject persons together very often. In the case at bench, the evidence so far adduced would show that the respondent has been kissed, embraced, was talking intimately with someone and was even seen lying together with a man in sleep. However, these are not conclusive evidence that the respondent committed acts of immorality. Hence, the accusation of immorality against her must necessarily fail.
It must be noted though that by definition, immoral conduct [is] "that conduct which is willful, flagrant or shameless, and which shows a moral indifference to the opinion of the good and respectable member of the community."
Finally, as to the complaint for being disrespectful and discourteous to superiors, the respondent failed to disprove the allegations of complainants, namely: Veronica A. Jatico, Lorna W. Gonzales and Henry T. Langam. In fact, her attitude could very well be gleaned in her Counter Affidavit itself when she declared in paragraph 8 thereof that: "x x x the truth of the matter is that no less than the very Judge herself has been engaged in a close relationship with a young man, her driver who happens to be the son of the apartment owner she's renting. There was even a time in such affair resulted to a public scandal when she and her driver had a quarrel wherein she was stoned by the latter shouting highly scandalous words for which reason she transferred to another house."
These unfounded and uncalled for statements bespeaks of a person who knows little or no respect towards her superior. Such irresponsible declarations only prove the complainants' allegations that the respondent indeed respects no one in the court where she belongs and thus, deserves the Court's disciplinary action.
Such deportment shown by respondent was totally unbecoming for an employee who forms part of the judicial service. The respondent's conduct exhibits failure on her part to discharge her duties with the required degree of professionalism, to respect at all times the rights of others and to refrain from acts contrary to good morals and good customs demanded by Republic Act No. 6713, which inter alia, enumerates the state policy of promoting a high standard of ethics and utmost responsibilities in the public service.
With regards to the charge of inefficiency, nothing in the record would show or prove such allegation; hence, it has to be discarded. Even the serious charge that the respondent loafs during office hours has not been sufficiently established by concrete proofs.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the undersigned investigating judge has found respondent Earla Sy administratively liable to a light offense of being discourteous to her superiors and her co-employees.
The undersigned most respectfully recommends that the respondent be meted with a FINE of TWO THOUSAND PESOS (Php 2,000.00), with a stern warning that a repetition of the same shall be dealt with more severely.
The Office of the Court Administrator echoed the findings of the Investigating Judge and recommended that, for being disrespectful to
P2,000.00 fine be imposed against her with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar act in the future shall be dealt with more severely. The OCA likewise recommended the dismissal of the other charges against the respondent.7
The Court agrees with the foregoing findings, but finds that the evidence against the respondent shows that her actuations consist of conduct unbecoming for an employee of the Judiciary. Admittedly, it was not conclusively proven that she had illicit affairs with men other than her husband, as no one actually saw her having sexual intercourse with any one of them. However, immorality is not based alone on illicit sexual intercourse. It is "not confined to sexual matters, but includes conducts inconsistent with rectitude, or indicative of corruption, indecency, depravity, and dissoluteness; or is willful, flagrant or shameless conduct showing moral indifference to opinions of respectable members of the community, and as an inconsiderate attitude toward good order and public welfare."8
Veronica Jatico testified that the respondent slept at her house one night in 1988 and saw her lying on the makeshift beddings with Candido Adolfo, Jr., who was still single at the time.9 When their presiding judge was not around, the respondent would go into the chambers during lunch hour, close the doors and stay there for a long time with Chief of Police Alvin
Morales.10 The respondent was also seen kissing the Chief of Police.11 Lorna Gonzales testified that she saw the respondent with other men and that the respondent herself told her about her relationships with them.12 Shirlando Pepito testified that he saw the respondent with the Chief of Police Alvin Morales many times, talking to each other in public as if "almost kissing each other."13 They even went inside the judge's chambers together, with Morales' arm around the respondent, and would close the doors afterwards, with only the two of them inside.14 Those who were in the courtroom would go outside in shame.15 Henry Langam testified that people had asked him if the respondent had "already transferred her office to the Office of the Chief of Police", or whether the two were husband and wife.16 Dominador Jatico testified that he saw the respondent sleeping with another man at his house.17
The respondent failed to refute these charges. Her general denial of the serious allegations against her cannot stand against the positive and detailed account of the witnesses.
The Court further notes that the respondent admitted that she owned the letters and the entries in a 1991 calendar/diary which the complainants submitted in evidence, albeit insistent that they were inadmissible under the exclusionary rule.18 The love letters19 meant for Candido Adolfo, Jr. were given by the latter to Veronica Jatico. These letters, in the respondent's own handwriting, were written sometime in 1988 and were given to Adolfo, Jr. before he got married in 1988.20
Clearly then, the respondent's conduct falls short of the stringent standards required of court employees.
Indeed, there is some indication that bad blood existed between Judge Veronica Dondiego and the respondent. The charges may have been initiated through the prodding of the Judge herself, considering that she asked all the questions in the affidavits of the complainants and even wrote a letter to the Investigating Judge regarding the complaint against the respondent. However, the foregoing testimonies taken together, and the fact that the respondent failed to categorically refute each one of the serious allegations, constrains the Court to rule that she, for her comportment in the community,
is guilty of improper behavior.21 Even the Investigating Judge himself in his Report stated "the evidence so far adduced would show that the respondent has been kissed, embraced, was talking intimately with someone and was even seen lying together with a man in sleep." Even more glaring is the fact that the respondent failed to present her husband to disprove the testimony of the complainants.
It must be stressed that while every office in the government is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an individual that is part of the Judiciary.22 Indeed, the image of a court of justice is mirrored in the conduct of the personnel who work thereat, from the judge to the lowest of its personnel. Court employees are enjoined to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in their professional and private conduct in order to preserve the good name and integrity of the courts of justice.23 The conduct of court personnel must be free from any whiff of impropriety, not only with respect to their duties in the judicial branch, but also to their behavior outside the court as private individuals. There is no dichotomy of morality; a court employee is also judged by his or her private morals.24
Court personnel, from the lowliest employee to the clerk of court or any position lower than that of a judge or justice, are involved in the dispensation of justice, and parties seeking redress from the courts for grievances look upon them as part of the Judiciary. They serve as sentinels of justice, and any act of impropriety on their part immeasurably affect the honor and dignity of the Judiciary and the people's confidence in it. Thus, any conduct which tends to diminish the image of the Judiciary cannot be countenanced.25
The Court notes that the respondent has not been previously charged administratively and has been employed in the Judiciary since December 13, 1983. Considering these, plus the fact that the acts subject of the complaint were committed more than 10 years ago, the Court holds that the respondent should be meted a
P5,000.00 fine for her improper conduct.
WHEREFORE, respondent Earla C. Sy is found GUILTY of conduct unbecoming a court employee and is hereby FINED Five Thousand Pesos (
P5,000.00). She is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of a similar act in the future shall be dealt with more severely.
1 Rollo, pp. 24-25.
2 Id. at 24.
3 Id. at 32-35.
4 Id. at 48-49.
5 Id. at 424-426.
6 Id. at 422-430.
7 Report and Recommendation dated July 13, 2005.
8 Alfonso v. Juanson, A.M. No. RTJ-92-904, December 7, 1993, 228 SCRA 239, citing BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY, 6th ed., 1990, p. 751.
9 TSN, January 26, 1994, pp. 23-24.
10 TSN, January 26, 1994, pp. 32, 43.
11 Id. at 43-45.
12 TSN, March 4, 1994, pp. 31-33.
13 TSN, March 7, 1994, pp. 4-6.
14 Id. at 10-14.
15 Id. at 14.
16 Id. at 25.
17 The pertinent portion of the tsn follows:
Q How come that you remember that particular month and year, date and time?cralawlibrary
A I remember the month sir because I saw it myself personally and therefore I cannot forget.
Q Will you please tell us Mr. Witness what really was that act that you saw?cralawlibrary
A They were sleeping together and they were facing each other and the man embraced the woman, and before going out the woman was placed on the lap of the man.
Q For how long did they do that?cralawlibrary
A Not so long because she has to go back to [the] office.
Q In your estimate Mr. Witness, about thirty (30) minutes?cralawlibrary
A [Maybe] fifteen (15) minutes, sir.
Q And all through that time you were peeping through the hole?cralawlibrary
A No, sir. Sometimes I stand up from the hole I was peeping and there were times I went back to observe again in order to find out whether they were really having sexual intercourse but they were not because the man keeps on looking at the floor of the second floor. What I saw was that they were just embracing each other and the other woman placed herself on the lap of the man.
Q And that was the only thing that you saw?cralawlibrary
A That is all. (tsn, September 29, 1994, pp. 21-22)
18 Rollo, pp. 139-140. One of the entries in the calendar (exhibit "I-J," rollo, p. 113) reads:
My world turns upside-down upon knowing that my most beloved had left for Zamboanga. I thought he d never [leave] me but now he deserted me[.] [M]y heart [sank] like a stone thrown in the depths. Foolish me to love somebody whom I just taken for granted but its better to have [loved] and lost than never to have [loved] at all. Anyway, we have shared our last goodbyes'
19 Rollo, pp. 100-105.
20 Id. at 98.
21 See Meneses v. Zaragosa, A.M. No. P-04-1768, February 11, 2004, 422 SCRA 434, where the Court held the respondent's unsubstantiated disavowal of the charges against him cannot stand against the positive and detailed account of the complainant and her witness. See also Mendoza v. Buo-Rivera, A.M. No. P-04-1784, April 28, 2004, 428 SCRA 72, where the Court made a similar ruling, stating that the respondent therein did not present any evidence to rebut the more important charges against her, and that the lone testimony of a witness who had no personal knowledge on the events leading to the administrative matter cannot overcome the positive testimonies of the witnesses.
22 Gamboa v. Gamboa, A.M. No. P-04-1836, July 30, 2004, 435 SCRA 436.
23 Bucatcat v. Bucatcat, A.M. No. P-93-985, January 28, 2000, 323 SCRA 578.
24 Burgos v. Aquino, A.M. No. P-94-1081, October 25, 1995, 249 SCRA 504.
25 Associate Justice Delilah Vidallon-Magtolis v. Cielito M. Salud, A.M. No. CA-05-20-P, September 9, 2005, citing the code of conduct for court personnel (A.M. No. 03-06-13-SC) which took effect on June 1, 2004.