G. R. No. 132164 - October 19, 2004
CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION, Petitioner, vs. ALLYSON BELAGAN, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
When the credibility of a witness is sought to be impeached by proof of his reputation, it is necessary that the reputation shown should be that which existed before the occurrence of the circumstances out of which the litigation arose,1 or at the time of the trial and prior thereto, but not at a period remote from the commencement of the suit.2 This is because a person of derogatory character or reputation can still change or reform himself.
For our resolution is the petition for review on certiorari of the Court of Appeals Decision3 dated January 8, 1998, in CA-G.R. SP. No. 44180, the dispositive portion of which reads:
The instant case stemmed from two (2) separate complaints filed respectively by Magdalena Gapuz, founder/directress of the "Mother and Child Learning Center," and Ligaya Annawi, a public school teacher at Fort Del Pilar Elementary School, against respondent Dr. Allyson Belagan, Superintendent of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS), all from Baguio City. Magdalena charged respondent with sexual indignities and harassment, while Ligaya accused him of sexual harassment and various malfeasances.
Magdalenas sworn complaint alleges that sometime in March 1994, she filed an application with the DECS Office in Baguio City for a permit to operate a pre-school. One of the requisites for the issuance of the permit was the inspection of the school premises by the DECS Division Office. Since the officer assigned to conduct the inspection was not present, respondent volunteered his services. Sometime in June 1994, respondent and complainant visited the school. In the course of the inspection, while both were descending the stairs of the second floor, respondent suddenly placed his arms around her shoulders and kissed her cheek. Dumbfounded, she muttered, "Sir, is this part of the inspection? Pati ba naman kayo sa DECS wala ng values?" Respondent merely sheepishly smiled. At that time, there were no other people in the area.
Fearful that her application might be jeopardized and that her husband might harm respondent, Magdalena just kept quiet.
Several days later, Magdalena went to the DECS Division Office and asked respondent, "Sir, kumusta yung application ko?" His reply was "Mag-date muna tayo." She declined, explaining that she is married. She then left and reported the matter to DECS Assistant Superintendent Peter Ngabit.
Magdalena never returned to the DECS Division Office to follow up her application. However, she was forced to reveal the incidents to her husband when he asked why the permit has not yet been released. Thereupon, they went to the office of the respondent. He merely denied having a personal relationship with Magdalena.
Thereafter, respondent forwarded to the DECS Regional Director his recommendation to approve Magdalenas application for a permit to operate a pre-school.
Sometime in September 1994, Magdalena read from a local newspaper that certain female employees of the DECS in Baguio City were charging a high-ranking DECS official with sexual harassment. Upon inquiry, she learned that the official being complained of was respondent. She then wrote a letter-complaint for sexual indignities and harassment to former DECS Secretary Ricardo Gloria.
On October 4, 1994, respondent was placed under suspension.
On the part of Ligaya Annawi, she alleged in her complaint that on four separate occasions, respondent touched her breasts, kissed her cheek, touched her groins, embraced her from behind and pulled her close to him, his organ pressing the lower part of her back.
Ligaya also charged respondent with: (1) delaying the payment of the teachers salaries; (2) failing to release the pay differentials of substitute teachers; (3) willfully refusing to release the teachers uniforms, proportionate allowances and productivity pay; and (4) failing to constitute the Selection and Promotion Board, as required by the DECS rules and regulations.
The DECS conducted a joint investigation of the complaints of Magdalena and Ligaya. In his defense, respondent denied their charge of sexual harassment. However, he presented evidence to disprove Ligayas imputation of dereliction of duty.
On January 9, 1995, the DECS Secretary rendered a Joint Decision4 finding respondent guilty of four (4) counts of sexual "indignities or harassments" committed against Ligaya; and two (2) counts of "sexual advances or indignities" against Magdalena. He was ordered dismissed from the service. The dispositive portion of the Joint Decision reads:
Upon appeal, the Civil Service Commission (CSC), on September 23, 1996, promulgated Resolution No. 9662136 affirming the Decision of the DECS Secretary in the case filed by Magdalena but dismissing the complaint of Ligaya. The CSC ruled that respondents transgression against Magdalena constitutes grave misconduct. Thus:
On October 29, 1996, respondent seasonably filed a motion for reconsideration, contending that he has never been charged of any offense in his thirty-seven (37) years of service. By contrast, Magdalena was charged with several offenses before the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Baguio City, thus:
In addition, the following complaints against Magdalena were filed with the Barangay Chairmen of Barangay Gabriela Silang and Barangay Hillside, both in Baguio City:
Respondent claimed that the numerous cases filed against Magdalena cast doubt on her character, integrity, and credibility.
In its Resolution No. 97242310 dated April 11, 1997, the CSC denied respondents motion for reconsideration, holding that:
Respondent then filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for review. As stated earlier, it reversed the CSC Resolutions and dismissed Magdalenas complaint.
The Appellate Court held that Magdalena is an unreliable witness, her character being questionable. Given her aggressiveness and propensity for trouble, "she is not one whom any male would attempt to steal a kiss." In fact, her "record immediately raises an alarm in any one who may cross her path."11 In absolving respondent from the charges, the Appellate Court considered his "unblemished" service record for 37 years.
Unsatisfied, the CSC, through the Solicitor General, filed the instant petition raising the following assignments of error:
In his comment, respondent maintains that Magdalenas derogatory record undermines the verity of her charge and that the Court of Appeals is correct in dismissing it.
The petition is impressed with merit.
The pivotal issue before us is whether complaining witness, Magdalena Gapuz, is credible. This is a question of fact which, as a general rule, is not subject to this Courts review.
It is a rule of long standing that factual findings of the Court of Appeals, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive and binding on the parties and are not reviewable by this Court.13 This Court is, after all, not a trier of facts. One of the exceptions, however, is when the findings of the Court of Appeals are contrary to those of the trial court or a quasi-judicial body, like petitioner herein.14
Here, the Court of Appeals and the CSC are poles apart in their appreciation of Magdalenas derogatory record. While the former considered it of "vital and paramount importance" in determining the truth of her charge, the latter dismissed it as of "minor significance." This contrariety propels us to the elusive area of character and reputation evidence.
Generally, the character of a party is regarded as legally irrelevant in determining a controversy.15 One statutory exception is that relied upon by respondent, i.e., Section 51 (a) 3, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules on Evidence, which we quote here:
It will be readily observed that the above provision pertains only to criminal cases, not to administrative offenses. And even assuming that this technical rule of evidence can be applied here, still, we cannot sustain respondents posture.
Not every good or bad moral character of the offended party may be proved under this provision. Only those which would establish the probability or improbability of the offense charged. This means that the character evidence must be limited to the traits and characteristics involved in the type of offense charged.16 Thus, on a charge of rape - character for chastity, on a charge of assault - character for peaceableness or violence, and on a charge of embezzlement - character for honesty.17 In one rape case, where it was established that the alleged victim was morally loose and apparently uncaring about her chastity, we found the conviction of the accused doubtful.18
In the present administrative case for sexual harassment, respondent did not offer evidence that has a bearing on Magdalenas chastity. What he presented are charges for grave oral defamation, grave threats, unjust vexation, physical injuries, malicious mischief, etc. filed against her. Certainly, these pieces of evidence are inadmissible under the above provision because they do not establish the probability or improbability of the offense charged.
Obviously, in invoking the above provision, what respondent was trying to establish is Magdalenas lack of credibility and not the probability or the improbability of the charge. In this regard, a different provision applies.
Credibility means the disposition and intention to tell the truth in the testimony given. It refers to a persons integrity, and to the fact that he is worthy of belief.19 A witness may be discredited by evidence attacking his general reputation for truth,20 honesty21 or integrity.22 Section 11, Rule 132 of the same Revised Rules on Evidence reads:
Although she is the offended party, Magdalena, by testifying in her own behalf, opened herself to character or reputation attack pursuant to the principle that a party who becomes a witness in his own behalf places himself in the same position as any other witness, and may be impeached by an attack on his character or reputation.23
With the foregoing disquisition, the Court of Appeals is correct in holding that the character or reputation of a complaining witness in a sexual charge is a proper subject of inquiry. This leads us to the ultimate question is Magdalenas derogatory record sufficient to discredit her credibility?
A careful review of the record yields a negative answer.
First, most of the twenty-two (22) cases filed with the MTC of Baguio City relate to acts committed in the 80s, particularly, 1985 and 1986. With respect to the complaints filed with the Chairmen of Barangay Gabriela Silang and Barangay Hillside, the acts complained of took place in 1978 to 1979. In the instant administrative case, the offense was committed in 1994. Surely, those cases and complaints are no longer reliable proofs of Magdalenas character or reputation. The Court of Appeals, therefore, erred in according much weight to such evidence. Settled is the principle that evidence of ones character or reputation must be confined to a time not too remote from the time in question.24 In other words, what is to be determined is the character or reputation of the person at the time of the trial and prior thereto, but not at a period remote from the commencement of the suit.25 Hence, to say that Magdalenas credibility is diminished by proofs of tarnished reputation existing almost a decade ago is unreasonable. It is unfair to presume that a person who has wandered from the path of moral righteousness can never retrace his steps again. Certainly, every person is capable to change or reform.
Second, respondent failed to prove that Magdalena was convicted in any of the criminal cases specified by respondent. The general rule prevailing in a great majority of jurisdictions is that it is not permissible to show that a witness has been arrested or that he has been charged with or prosecuted for a criminal offense, or confined in jail for the purpose of impairing his credibility.26 This view has usually been based upon one or more of the following grounds or theories: (a) that a mere unproven charge against the witness does not logically tend to affect his credibility, (b) that innocent persons are often arrested or accused of a crime, (c) that one accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent until his guilt is legally established, and (d) that a witness may not be impeached or discredited by evidence of particular acts of misconduct.27 Significantly, the same Section 11, Rule 132 of our Revised Rules on Evidence provides that a witness may not be impeached by evidence of particular wrongful acts. Such evidence is rejected because of the confusion of issues and the waste of time that would be involved, and because the witness may not be prepared to expose the falsity of such wrongful acts.28 As it happened in this case, Magdalena was not able to explain or rebut each of the charges against her listed by respondent.
But more than anything else, what convinces us to sustain the Resolution of the CSC is the fact that it is supported by substantial evidence. As aptly pointed out by the Solicitor General, Magdalena testified in a straightforward, candid and spontaneous manner. Her testimony is replete with details, such as the number of times she and respondent inspected the pre-school, the specific part of the stairs where respondent kissed her, and the matter about her transient boarders during summer. Magdalena would not have normally thought about these details if she were not telling the truth. We quote her testimony during the cross-examination conducted by DECS Assistant Secretary Romeo Capinpin and Undersecretary Antonio Nachura, thus:
The above testimony does not stand in isolation. It is corroborated by Peter Ngabit, DECS Assistant Division Superintendent. Ngabit testified that Magdalena reported to him that respondent kissed her and asked her for a "date."
With Magdalenas positive testimony and that of Ngabit, how can we disregard the findings of the DECS and the CSC? Surely, we cannot debunk it simply because of the Court of Appeals outdated characterization of Magdalena as a woman of bad reputation. There are a number of cases where the triers of fact believe the testimony of a witness of bad character31 and refuse to believe one of good character.32 As a matter of fact, even a witness who has been convicted a number of times is worthy of belief, when he testified in a straightforward and convincing manner.33
At this juncture, it bears stressing that more than anybody else, it is the DECS investigating officials who are in a better position to determine whether Magdalena is telling the truth considering that they were able to hear and observe her deportment and manner of testifying.34
In reversing the CSCs Resolutions, the Court of Appeals ruled that "there is ample evidence to show that Magdalena had a motive" in accusing respondent, i.e., to pressure him to issue a permit. This is unconvincing. The record shows that respondent had already issued the permit when Magdalena filed her letter-complaint. Indeed, she had no more reason to charge respondent administratively, except of course to vindicate her honor.
Petitioner prays that we sustain its ruling penalizing respondent for grave misconduct and not merely for disgraceful or immoral conduct which is punishable by suspension for six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year for the first offense.35 Misconduct means intentional wrongdoing or deliberate violation of a rule of law or standard of behavior, especially by a government official.36 To constitute an administrative offense, misconduct should relate to or be connected with the performance of the official functions and duties of a public officer.37 In grave misconduct as distinguished from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of established rule, must be manifest.38 Corruption as an element of grave misconduct consists in the act of an official or fiduciary person who unlawfully and wrongfully uses his station or character to procure some benefit for himself or for another person, contrary to duty and the rights of others.39 This is apparently present in respondents case as it concerns not only a stolen kiss but also a demand for a "date," an unlawful consideration for the issuance of a permit to operate a pre-school. Respondents act clearly constitutes grave misconduct, punishable by dismissal.40
We are, however, not inclined to impose the penalty of dismissal from the service. Respondent has served the government for a period of 37 years, during which, he made a steady ascent from an Elementary Grade School Teacher to Schools Division Superintendent. In devoting the best years of his life to the education department, he received numerous awards.41 This is the first time he is being administratively charged. He is in the edge of retirement. In fact, he had filed his application for retirement when Magdalena filed her complaint. Section 16, Rule XIV, of the Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292 provides:
The mitigating circumstances are enumerated in Section 53, Rule IV, of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service,42 which reads in part:
The following circumstances shall be appreciated:
Conformably with our ruling in a similar case of sexual harassment,43 and respondents length of service, unblemished record in the past and numerous awards,44 the penalty of suspension from office without pay for one (1) year is in order.
While we will not condone the wrongdoing of public officers and employees, however, neither will we negate any move to recognize and remunerate their lengthy service in the government.
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated January 8, 1998 in CA-G.R. SP No. 44180 is REVERSED. The CSC Resolution Nos. 966213 and 972423 are AFFIRMED, subject to the modification that respondent ALLYSON BELAGAN is SUSPENDED from office without pay for ONE (1) YEAR, with full credit of his preventive suspension.
Davide, Jr., Puno, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna*, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, and Garcia, JJ., concur.
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