November 2008 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.M. No. P-08-2542 Formerly A.M. No. 08-1-09-RTC - OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR v. CYRIL JOTIC, ET AL.
[A.M. NO. P-08-2542 : November 28, 2008]
(Formerly A.M. No. 08-1-09-RTC)
OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, v. CYRIL JOTIC, Court Interpreter III, Regional Trial Court, Branch 64, Tarlac City; and JOSELITO R. ESPINOSA, Process Server, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Tarlac City, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
On September 5, 2007, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) received an anonymous complaint1 on the alleged anomalies in the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Tarlac City. According to the informant, certain employees were designated to punch in the Daily Time Records (DTRs) of the personnel of RTC, Tarlac City.
In a Memorandum4 dated January 3, 2008 submitted to the Court, the OCA reported that on November 16, 2007, Court Interpreter Cyril Jotic, RTC, Branch 64; and Process Server Joselito Espinosa, Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC) of the same RTC, both of Tarlac City, made untruthful statements in their respective logbooks when they entered their time of attendance therein.
Quoted hereunder are the pertinent portions of the Memorandum:
On November 16, 2007, the team arrived at RTC, Tarlac City around 8:05 a.m. Immediately, the team noticed that only a few employees were present. The Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC) and the staff room of Br. 63 were still closed. At the ground floor, only Sheriff Antonio Leano Jr., of the OCC was spotted who had not logged in at the [logbook] because the office was closed.
x x x
When the team returned to the OCC, it was already open and only two personnel were present. However, upon inspection of the [logbook] it was discovered that Process Server Joselito Espinosa made a superimposition of 8:05 a.m. over the originally written 7:40 a.m. When asked about the matter he reasoned that his watch was allegedly malfunctioning.
Around 9:00 a.m., the team decided to check again the logbook of RTC, Br. 64. Upon arrival thereat, it was noticed that Court Interpreter Cyril Jotic was writing on the logbook. Upon checking the same, the team found that Jotic logged her time at 7:58 a.m. below the delineation line made by the team. When asked why she logged in the time 7:58 a.m. she explained that she was a bit "rattled" and she really intended to write "8:58 a.m." Based on her declaration, the team wrote the time "8:58 a.m." in the logbook and signed the same. After the correction, Jotic started acting discourteously by slamming the several chairs in the presence of the team before she started working.
x x x
While the team was still in Br. 63, Jotic, accompanied by Atty. Marilyn Martin, Branch Clerk of Court, Br. 64 who was then carrying the logbook, barged in and angrily confronted the team. Jotic, raising her voice insisted that the team made a mistake in indicating her time of arrival. She claimed that she really arrived at 8:28 a.m. and not 8:58 a.m. Jotic rudely accused the team, particularly Atty. George B. Molo, of forcing her to indicate her alleged time of arrival as "8:58 a.m." Atty. Molo clarified that she could give her explanation regarding the matter should the Court require her to do so.
In a Resolution5 of February 13, 2008, the Court directed both Process Server Joselito Espinosa and Court Interpreter III Cyril Jotic to comment on the charge.
In her Comment6 dated April 3, 2008, Court Interpreter III Cyril Jotic states that on November 16, 2007, she arrived at the court at 8:28 a.m. and she was informed by Utility Worker Arsenia Bucad of the presence of an Investigating Team (team) from the Supreme Court conducting a spot inspection. She admitted that she wrote 7:58 a.m. instead of 8:28 a.m. on the logbook because she was "rattled" by the presence of the investigating team.
Respondent Jotic narrates that her attention was called by the team on why she wrote 7:58 a.m. in the logbook when in fact she was not present at that time. She replied, "Ay sorry po sir, nagkamali ako ng sinulat, dapat 8:58 yan." Thereafter, Atty. George Molo (team member) indicated the time "8:58 a.m." as her time of arrival and initialed the said entry. The respondent argues that the team was not present when she made the entry in the logbook because she and her officemates had already signed the logbook when the team returned to their office at about 9:00 a.m.
After the team left RTC Br. 64, Civil Clerk Joy Agnes notified respondent Jotic that the superimposed entry of 8:58 a.m. was improbable, considering that the former arrived later and wrote 8:30 a.m. in the logbook. Branch Clerk of Court Marilyn Martin then decided to accompany respondent Jotic to explain the erroneous entry that the respondent made in the logbook.
The respondent denies that she barged into RTC Br. 63 and angrily confronted the team. She claims that she was "hurt" when the team refused to make the necessary correction because it was the respondent herself who declared that she arrived at 8:58 a.m. She, in turn, accuses the team of rude behavior in dealing with her and the personnel of RTC, Tarlac City.
In his Comment7 dated April 2, 2008, Process Server Joselito Espinosa states that he did not commit dishonesty in indicating his time of arrival in the logbook. He initially entered the time 7:40 a.m. in the logbook based on his watch. He reasons that he made the entry 7:40 a.m. because it was the time indicated in his watch which was malfunctioning at that time. His attention was, however, called by Sheriff Leaño informing him that the correct time was 8:05 a.m. He then superimposed the time 8:05 a.m. over 7:40 a.m. to indicate the correct time of his arrival. To bolster his claim, he attached a copy of the affidavit8 of Sheriff Leaño.
He admits that he made the superimposition, but the same was made in good faith to reflect the true time of his arrival.
Verification from the OCA Leave Division shows that for the period July 2007 to November 2007, both respondents Joselito R. Espinosa and Cyril Jotic had incurred no tardiness, except on November 16, 2007, when the OCA conducted a surprise inspection.
Respondent Jotic admitted in her Comment that she arrived at 8:28 a.m. and wrote 7:58 a.m. in the logbook. Her claim that she was "rattled" by the presence of the team appears illogical and the same deserves scant consideration. The presence of the investigating team might have created a tense atmosphere but it would not have been enough to cause the respondent to lose her composure because the team was there only to investigate the alleged anomalies in RTC, Tarlac City. In the natural order of responses, the presence of the OCA investigating team should have made her enter the correct time in the logbook; it cannot, in any manner, be said that she was consensually impaired in doing so.
The OCA opines that the true reason behind respondent Jotic's uneasy feeling was attributable to the irregularity she committed and her dread of being discovered. Human experience dictates that he who has nothing to hide is the last to quiver in fear. It is not material whether the correct time of the respondent's arrival was 8:28 a.m. or 8:58 a.m. What is of significance is that she intentionally wrote the time 7:58 a.m. when actually she arrived at a much later time. The facts and the evidence, coupled with the respondent's own admission, sufficiently establish her culpability.
Respondent Jotic's act of reflecting an earlier time of arrival on November 16, 2007, when in truth she arrived at a later time, amounts to the falsification of a DTR, which, in this case, happens to be an attendance logbook.
The making of untrue statements in the attendance logbook quite palpably demonstrates a deliberate attempt to conceal or suppress information on her tardiness on said date.
It is also noted that the respondent, knowing fully well that the matter was not yet settled, unyieldingly wrote the time 8:28 a.m. in her DTR and submitted the same to the Leave Division-OCA. This shows respondent Jotic's stubbornness and persistence in having her way, no matter what.
The OCA finds appalling respondent Jotic's attempt to sidetrack the issue by accusing the members of the OCA investigating team of rude behavior. Her accusation lacks substance. Other than the respondent's bare allegation, there is no statement or document on record to suggest that the team members acted rudely in the course of their investigation. Neither is there any proof of any protestation by the personnel of RTC, Tarlac City as to the alleged "improper demeanor" of the team, except that of the respondent alone. On the contrary, it was respondent Jotic who acted discourteously - slamming several chairs in the presence of the team members - because of frustration, having been caught making an untruthful statement in the attendance logbook. Evidently, the respondent wanted to retaliate against the team members, considering that she admitted being "hurt" when the team refused her insistence to correct her entry in the logbook.
With respect to respondent Espinosa, he, too, cannot escape liability. The OCA finds his excuse - a malfunctioning watch - absurd. It is inconceivable that he arrived at 8:05 a.m. because as borne out by the OCA Report, the team arrived at around 8:05 a.m. and only Sheriff Antonio Leaño, Jr., was present but had not yet logged in his attendance on the logbook because the Office of the Clerk of Court was still closed. Respondent Espinosa admitted that his watch was malfunctioning and he only relied on Sheriff Leaño's information that the time of his arrival was 8:05 a.m. This explanation we find contrary to common sense as it projects the sheriff as a timekeeper of some sort. Plain and simple, the respondent put up but a very lame excuse.
The OCA deems it surprising that both the respondents were consistently punctual from July 2007 to November 2007 save when the OCA investigation team conducted a surprise inspection. This circumstance casts doubt on the veracity of their respective time arrival entries in the attendance logbooks.
The OCA then recommended:
x x x
4. That Court Interpreter III Cyril B. Jotic, RTC, Br. 64, Tarlac City be found GUILTY of DISHONESTY and MISCONDUCT and accordingly be meted with the penalty of DISMISSAL from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except leave credits, with perpetual disqualification from re-employment in any government agency, including government-owned and controlled corporation, and with cancellation of civil service eligibility.
5. That Process Server Joselito R. Espinosa be found GUILTY of DISHONESTY and accordingly be meted with the penalty of DISMISSAL from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except leave credits, with perpetual disqualification from re-employment in any government agency, including government-owned and controlled corporation, and with cancellation of civil service eligibility.
6. That Atty. Marilyn M. Martin, Branch Clerk of Court, RTC, Br. 64, be required to explain why no administrative disciplinary action should be taken against her for failing to closely supervise the personnel of RTC, Br. 64, Tarlac City.
The Court agrees with the report of the OCA, except as to the penalty imposed.
The issue in this administrative case boils down to whether or not respondents Cyril B. Jotic and Joselito R. Espinosa were dishonest in not reflecting the correct time in their attendance logbook on November 16, 2007.
The act of making a false statement in the attendance logbook renders an employee liable for dishonesty and falsification. Any willful concealment of fact in the logbook constitutes mental dishonesty amounting to misconduct.
Dishonesty refers to the:
[d]isposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray.9
The respondent should be reminded that dishonesty is a malevolent act that has no place in the judiciary.10
A court employee, being a public servant, must exhibit the highest sense of honesty and integrity. For everyone connected professionally with the judicial institution, the duty is imperative and sacred to build up its eminence as a true and revered temple of justice.11
Republic Act 6713 - the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees - enunciates the State's policy of promoting a high standard of ethics and utmost responsibility in the public service.12 And no other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an employee than the judiciary.13
We have repeatedly emphasized that the conduct of court personnel, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, must always be beyond reproach and must be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility, free from any suspicion that may taint the judiciary. The Court condemns and would never countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice, which would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary.14
In Re: Memorandum dated Sept. 27, 1999 of Ma. Corazon M. Molo, OIC, Office of the Administrative Services, Office of the Court Administrator,15 it was held:
No position demands greater moral righteousness and uprightness from the occupant than the judicial office. Those connected with the dispensation of justice bear a heavy burden of responsibility. Clerks of court, in particular, must be individuals of competence, honesty and probity, charged as they are with safeguarding the integrity of the court and its proceedings. This Court has consistently held that persons involved in the administration of justice ought to live up to the strictest standards of honesty and integrity in the public service. The conduct required of court personnel, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, must always be beyond reproach.
This Court, speaking in Pizarro v. Villegas,16 held that:
We stress that the conduct of even minor employees mirrors the image of the courts they serve; thus, they are required to preserve the judiciary's good name and standing as a true temple of justice x x x.
The Court cannot turn a blind eye to what is plainly a transgression of the law. The slightest breach of duty by, and the slightest irregularity in the conduct of, court officers and employees detract from the dignity of the courts and erode the faith of the people in the judiciary.
Under Section 23,17 Rule XIV of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order 29218 and other Pertinent Civil Service Laws, dishonesty and falsification of public document are considered grave offenses for which the penalty of dismissal is prescribed even for the first offense. Section 9 of said Rule likewise provides that the "penalty of dismissal shall carry with it cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of leave credits and retirement benefits, and the disqualification from re-employment in the government service." This penalty is without prejudice to criminal liability of the respondent.19
The unwavering policy of the Court in the matter of falsification of public documents duly proven to have been committed by government employees, especially those under its administrative supervision, has been the imposition of the maximum administrative penalty. This penalty may seem a bit harsh, but its imposition is not without basis. The raison d'etre for maintaining such severity was succinctly stated in Mirano v. Saavedra,20 where the Court stated:
Public service requires utmost integrity and strictest discipline. A public servant must exhibit at all times the highest sense of honesty and integrity. The administration of justice is a sacred task. By the very nature of their duties and responsibilities, all those involved in it must faithfully adhere to, hold inviolate, and invigorate the principle solemnly enshrined in the 1987 Constitution that a public office is a public trust; and all public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency. The conduct and behavior of everyone connected with an office charged with the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, should be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility. Their conduct, at all times, must not only be characterized by propriety and decorum but, above all else, must be above suspicion. Indeed every employee of the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty.21
On numerous occasions, this Court did not hesitate in imposing such extreme punishment on employees found guilty of grave offenses.22 However, considering the length of service of Court Interpreter III Cyril B. Jotic, which is more than 15 years, and the length of service of Process Server Joselito R. Espinosa, which is more than 21 years, and the fact that this is their first offense, the Court deems it proper to reduce the recommended penalties of the OCA.
Lastly, the irregularities in timekeeping occurred in view of what we consider deficiency on the part of the Branch Clerk of Court, Atty. Marilyn M. Martin, in the supervision of the court personnel of RTC, Branch 64. Had she been fully attentive to her responsibilities as supervisor and had she not neglected to monitor the daily attendance and the presence of the court's employees in their respective work stations, the incidents subject of this administrative matter would not have happened so easily and unchecked.
WHEREFORE, the Court finds Court Interpreter III Cyril B. Jotic, RTC, Br. 64, Tarlac City and Process Server Joselito R. Espinosa GUILTY of DISHONESTY for which they are ordered SUSPENDED for a period of ten (10) months without pay and other benefits with a stern WARNING that a repetition of the same offense will be dealt with more severely.
Clerk of Court Atty. Marilyn M. Martin of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 64, Tarlac City, is ORDERED to SHOW CAUSE within ten (10) days from notice of herein Resolution, why no disciplinary action should be taken against her for her failure to duly supervise the personnel in their branch. Let this administrative matter be given a separate docket number and raffled for assignment to a Justice.
1 Rollo, p. 4.
2 Id. at 8.
3 Id. at 9.
4 Id. at 1-3.
5 Id. at 14.
6 Id. at 19-20.
7 Id. at 15-16.
8 Id. at 17.
9 Re Administrative Case for Dishonesty Against Elizabeth Ting, Court Secretary 1, and Angelita C. Esmerio, Clerk III, Office of the Division Clerk of Court, Third Division, A.M. Nos. 2001-7-SC & 2001-8-SC, July 22, 2005, 464 SCRA 1, 15; Office of the Court Administrator v. Yan, A.M. No. P-98-1281, April 27, 2005, 457 SCRA 389, 397; Alabastro v. Moncada, Sr., A.M. No. P-04-1887, December 16, 2004,447 SCRA 42, 53.
10 Concerned Citizen v. Garbal, Jr., A.M. No. P-05-2098, December 15, 2005, 478 SCRA 13, 25; Corpuz v. Ramiterre, Adm. Matter No. P-04-1779, November 25, 2005, 476 SCRA 108, 122; Concerned Employees v. Generoso, A.M. No. 2004-33-SC, August 24, 2005, 467 SCRA 614, 624.
12 Alawi v. Alauya, 335 Phil. 1096, 1104 (1997).
13 Rabe v. Flores, 338 Phil. 919, 925-926 (1997).
14 Civil Service Commission v. Sta. Ana, 435 Phil. 1, 9 (2002).
15 459 Phil. 973, 984-985 (2003), cited in Report on the Financial Audit Conducted at the Municipal Trial Courts of Bani, Alaminos, and Lingayen, in Pangasinan, A.M. No. 01-2-18-MTC, December 5, 2003, 417 SCRA 106.
16 398 Phil. 837, 844 (2000).
17 Sec. 23. Administrative offenses with its corresponding penalties are classified into grave. Less grave, and light, depending on the gravity of its (sic) nature and effects of said acts on the government service.
The following are grave offense with its corresponding penalties:
(a) Dishonesty (1st offense, Dismissal)
(b) Falsification of official documents (1st offense, Dismissal)
18 Administrative Code of 1987.
19 Civil Service Commission v. Sta. Ana, 450 Phil. 59 (2003).
21 Id., citing Hipolito v. Mergas, 195 SCRA 6 (1991); Sy v. Academia, 198 SCRA 705 (1991).
22 Moner v. Ampatua, A.M. No. SCC-98-3(P), September 3, 1998, 295 SCRA 20; Marasigan v. Buena, A.M. No. 95-1-01-MTCC, January 5, 1998, 284 SCRA 1; Lumiqued v. Exevea, G.R. No. 117565, November 18, 1997, 282 SCRA 125; Re: Financial Audit in RTC, General Santos City, A.M. No. 96-1-25-RTC, April 18, 1997, 271 SCRA 302.