LEGAL NOTE 0113: IMPEACHMENT – TEN CASES WHERE VIOLATIONS OF THE RULES ON SALN (STATEMENT OF ASSETS, LIABILITIES AND NET WORTH) WERE PUNISHED.

 

 

 

CASE 01: JUDGE UYAG P. UZMAN

 

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, COMPLAINANT, VERSUS JUDGE UYAG P. USMAN, PRESIDING JUDGE, SHARI’A CIRCUIT COURT, PAGADIAN CITY, RESPONDENT. (A.M. NO. SCC-08-12 (FORMERLY OCA I.P.I. NO. 08-29-SCC) (19 OCTOBER 2011)

 

MENDOZA, J.:

 

This administrative proceeding stemmed from a letter-complaint dated April 23, 2008 filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, Mindanao, requesting for a lifestyle check on respondent Judge Uyag P. Usman (respondent), Presiding Judge, Shari’a Circuit Court, Pagadian City, in connection with his acquisition of a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) amounting to ?1,526,000.00.

 

In his letter,[1] complainant alleged that respondent acquired a brand new SUV, specifically a Kia Sorento EX, Automatic Transmission and 2.57 CRDI Diesel for ?1,526,000.00; that he paid in cash the total down payment of ?344,200.00; and that the remaining balance was payable in 48 months with a monthly amortization of ?34,844.00 to the Philippine Savings Bank (PS Bank), Ozamis City Branch.    

 

Complainant further averred that respondent had just been recently appointed as a judge and since he assumed his post, he seldom reported for work and could not be located within the court’s premises during office hours. Moreover, he was only receiving a very small take home pay because of his salary and policy loans with the Supreme Court Savings and Loan Association (SCSLA) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), many of which he incurred when he was still a Clerk of Court of the Shari’a Circuit Court in Isabela City, Basilan. Complainant attached photocopies of his pay slips to prove his allegation.

 

Respondent’s financial capability to acquire said vehicle has been questioned because he is the sole bread winner in his family and he has seven (7) children, two (2) of whom were college students at the Medina College School of Nursing, a private school.

 

 

On May 26, 2008, the Office of the Ombudsman forwarded the complaint to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA).  In turn, the OCA, in its Letter dated April 22, 2009, directed respondent to comment on the letter [2] within 10 days from receipt thereof.

 

In his Comment,[3] respondent explained that he acquired the Kia Sorento vehicle in 2008 but it was a second-hand, and not a brand new, vehicle; that he had no intention of buying the said vehicle but his friend, who was a manager of KIA Motors, Pagadian City, convinced him to avail of their lowest down payment promo of ?90,000.00 to own a second-hand demo  unit vehicle; that he was hesitant to avail of the promo but his mother, a U.S. Veteran Pensioner receiving a monthly pension of US$1,056.00, persuaded him to avail of it; that it was his mother who paid the down payment of ?90,000.00 and the monthly installment of more than ?30,000.00; that when his mother got sick, her pensions and savings were used to buy medicines, thus, he defaulted in the payment of the said vehicle for four (4) months; and that PS Bank foreclosed the mortgage on the said vehicle.

 

Respondent denied the allegation that all his seven (7) children depended on him for support. He claimed that only three of his children, all in the elementary level and studying in public schools, were under his care; that his mother financially helped him in the education of his two daughters who were in college; and that his other two children were already married and gainfully employed.

 

Respondent also refuted the charges that he seldom reported for work and could not be located within the court’s premises. He, instead, asserted that there was never a single day that he failed to report for work; that he often arrived ahead of his staff considering that he lived near the court; and that  his conduct as a judge was beyond reproach and this could be attested to by his staff and employees at the Sangguniang Panlunsod ofPagadianCity. To support his claim, respondent submitted the Joint Affidavit of his staff and the affidavit of Mohammad Basher Cader, a member of a religious group inPagadianCity, attesting to his diligence and dedication in the performance of his function as a judge.

 

Respondent bared that, at present, he is receiving a monthly take home pay of more than ?40,000.00 including his salary and allowances plus honorarium from the local government.

 

In its Report[4] dated March 16, 2011, the OCA found the explanation of respondent meritorious.

 

The OCA, however, held respondent liable for violation of Section 8 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6713 otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and of Section 7 of R.A. No. 3019, known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, for failing to file his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for the years 2004-2008. Thus, the OCA recommended that respondent be fined in the amount of ?10,000.00

 

The Court agrees with the finding of the OCA that the charges against respondent were not fully substantiated. The evidence adduced in the case, consisting of documents submitted by respondent are sufficient to prove that it was, indeed, his mother who paid the down payment and the monthly amortizations for the subject vehicle.

 

The Court also agrees with the OCA that respondent is guilty of violating Section 7 of R.A. No. 3019 and Section 8 of R.A. No. 6713.

 

Section 7 of R.A. No. 3019 provides:

 

Sec. 7. Statement of Assets and Liabilities. – Every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office and, thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of the corresponding Department Head, or in the case of a Head of Department or Chief of an independent office, with the Office of the President, a true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities, including a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year: Provided, That public officers assuming office less than two months before the end of the calendar year, may file their first statement on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of the said calendar year.

 

In the same manner, Section 8, R.A. No. 6713 states:

 

SEC. 8. Statements and Disclosure. – Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

 

(A) Statements of Assets and Liabilities and Financial Disclosure. – All public officials and employees, except those who serve in an honorary capacity, laborers and casual or temporary workers, shall file under oath their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and a Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial connections and those of their spouses and unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

 

The two documents shall contain information on the following:

 

(a) real property, its improvements, acquisition costs, assessed value and current fair market value;

 

(b) personal property and acquisition cost;

 

(c) all other assets such as investments, cash on hand or in banks, stocks, bonds, and the like;

 

(d) liabilities, and;

 

(e) all business interests and financial connections.

 

The documents must be filed:

 

(a) within thirty (30) days after assumption of office;

 

(b) on or before April 30, of every year thereafter; and

 

(c) within thirty (30) days after separation from the service.

 

All public officials and employees required under this section to file the aforestated documents shall also execute, within thirty (30) days from the date of their assumption of office, the necessary authority in favor of the Ombudsman to obtain from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue, such documents as may show their assets, liabilities, net worth, and also their business interests and financial connections in previous years, including, if possible, the year when they first assumed any office in the Government.

 

Husband and wife who are both public officials or employees may file the required statements jointly or separately.

 

x x x                          x x x                             x x x

 

From the foregoing, it is imperative that every public official or government employee must make and submit a complete disclosure of his assets, liabilities and net worth in order to suppress any questionable accumulation of wealth.[5]  This serves as the basis of the government and the people in monitoring the income and lifestyle of public officials and employees in compliance with the constitutional policy to eradicate corruption, to promote transparency in government, and to ensure that all government employees and officials lead  just and modest lives,[6]  with the end in view of curtailing and minimizing the opportunities for official corruption and maintaining a standard of honesty in the public service.[7]

 

In the present case, respondent clearly violated the above-quoted laws when he failed to file his  SALN for the years 2004-2008. He gave no explanation either why he failed to file his SALN for five (5) consecutive years. While every office in the government service is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand on moral righteousness and uprightness of an individual than a seat in the Judiciary. Hence, judges are strictly mandated to abide with the law, the Code of Judicial Conduct and with existing administrative policies in order to maintain the faith of our people in the administration of justice.[8]

 

Considering that this is the first offense of the respondent, albeit for five years, the Court shall impose a fine of only Five Thousand Pesos (?5,000.00) with warning.

 

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Uyag P. Usman, Presiding Judge, Shari’a Circuit Court, Pagadian City, GUILTY of violation of Section 7, R.A. No. 3019 and Section 8, R.A. No. 6713 and orders him to pay a FINE of Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00) with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

JOSE CATRALMENDOZA

Associate Justice  

 

WE CONCUR:

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA                     

Associate Justice                                            

 

ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice

 

ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE

Associate Justice   

 

[1] Rollo, pp. 4-6.

 

[2]Id.at 15-16.

 

[3]Id.at 17-20.

 

[4]Id.at 57-62.

 

[5] Ombudsman v. Racho, G.R. No. 185685, January 31, 2011.

 

[6]Floresv. Montemayor, G.R. No. 170146, August 25, 2010, 629 SCRA 178, 199.

 

[7]CaviteCrusade for Good Government v. Cajigal, 422 Phil. 1, 9 (2001).

 

[8] Magarang v. Jardin, Sr., 386 Phil. 273, 284 (2000).

 

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CASE 02: DELSA M. FLORES

 

NARITA RABE, COMPLAINANT VS. DELSA M. FLORES, INTERPRETER III, RTC, BRANCH IV, PANABO, DAVAO, RESPONDENT. (A.M. NO. P-97-1247, 14 MAY 1997)

 

 

PER CURIAM:

 

In an administrative complaint for “Conduct Unbecoming a Government Employee, Acts Prejudicial to the Interest of the Service and Abuse of Authority” dated August 18, 1995, Complainant Narita Rabe, 2 by counsel, charged Respondent Delsa M. Flores, Interpreter III at the Regional Trial Court, Branch IV, Panabo, Davao, as follows: 3

 

(Mrs.)Florestook advantage of her position as a court employee by claiming a stall at the extension of the Public (sic) Market when she is (sic) not a member of our client’s association and was never a party to Civil Case No. 89-23. She herself knows (sic) that the stalls in the said area had already been awarded to our client’s members pursuant to the decision of the court on October 30, 1991. Worse, she took the law into her hands when she destroyed the stall of our client and brought the materials to the police station of Panabo,Davao.

 

After respondent filed her answer, the Court issued a Resolution dated January 17, 1996, absolving her of the charge. In the same resolution, however, the Court required respondent to explain why she should no be administratively dealt with for the following: 4

 

   a)   why she obtained a certification dated June 18, 1991 issued by Atty. Victor R. Ginete, Clerk of Court, same court, that she started performing her duties as (an) interpreter on May 16, 1991 when (1) according to a certification dated June 17, 1991 issued by Mr.  Jose B. Avenido, Municipal Treasurer, Panabo Davao, she was employed in the office of the Municipal Assessor as Assessment Clerk I since February 1, 1990 to June 3, 1991 with her last salary being paid by said office on June 3, 1991; and (2) she took her oath of office before Judge Mariano C. Tupas only on June 17, 1991;

 

   b)   why she did not report said business interest in her sworn statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections, and Identification of Relatives in the Government Service for the years 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994;

 

   c)   why she has not divested herself of her interest in said business within sixty (60) days from her assumption into (sic) office; and

 

   d)   why she has indicated in her DTRs for August 1995 that she worked on August 15-18, 21, 23-25 and 28-31 and fore September, 1995 that she worked for all its twenty one (21) working days when her Contract of Lease with the Municipal Government of Panabo for the market stall in its Section 7 clearly states that she has to personally conduct her business and be present at the stall otherwise the same would be canceled as per its Section 13.

 

Respondent Flores, in a letter dated February 13, 1996, explains that, as stated in the certification of Atty. Ginete, she assumed her job in the Regional Trial Court, Branch IV, Panabo,Davaoon May 16, 1991, in compliance with the directive from this Court for her to start working on the said date. Respondent further states that “even prior to said date (May 16, 1991)” she already reported to the court in order to familiarize herself with the scope of her duties. 5

 

RespondentFloresalso admits that she had received from the municipality a salary for the period May 16 1991  May 31, 1991, notwithstanding her transfer to the judiciary on May 16, 1991.

 

She submits, however, the following justification: 6

 

I admit that I received my last salary in the amount of One Thousand and 80/100 (P1,000.80) Pesos from the Local Government Unit from May 16-31, 1991 but farthest from my mind is the intent to defraud the government. It was my desire all the time to refund the amount the moment my salary is received from the Supreme Court, unfortunately more often than not (the salary) is received three or four months after assumption of office.

 

As we all know the month of May and June is the time we enroll our children in school thus the money I got that month from the Local Government Unit came handy in defraying registration expenses of my four children. The passage of time coupled with some intervening events, made me oblivious of my obligation to refund the money. However, when my attention was called on the day I received the copy of the resolution, I took no time in refunding the same.

 

Respondent alleges that the certification of Municipal Treasurer Jose V. Avenido is inaccurate because it was on January 25, 1990 that she was appointed as Assessment Clerk I. 7 According to respondent, she took her oath on June 17, 1991, simply because it was on that date that she received a copy of her oath form. 8

 

Respondent avers that she did not divulge any business interest in her Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Financial Disclosure for the years 1991-1994 because she “was never engaged in business during said period although I had a stall in the market.” 9

 

Respondent further avers that her Daily Time Record indicated that she held office on August 15, 18, 21, 23 to 25 and 28, 31 and all the working days of September, 1995 “because in truth and in fact . . . (she) did hold office on those days.” This was because her contract of lease with the Municipal Government of Panabo was never implemented as it became the subject of “Civil Case No. 95-53  Panabo Public Market Vendors Assn. Inc. and Pag-ibig Ng Gulayan Ass. Inc. Vs.MunicipalityofPanabo, et. al., for Declaration of Nullity of Mun. Ord. No. XLV, Series of 1994.” 10

 

The Court referred the matter to the Office of the Court Administrator for evaluation, report and recommendation. In its report, the OCA found respondent guilty of dishonesty and failure to report her business interest, and recommended that the penalty of dismissal be imposed on her. The Court finds that the report and recommendation of the OCA is in accord with the evidence and the law. We hold the explanation of respondent unsatisfactory. Respondent’s misconduct is evident from the records.

 

By her own admission, respondent had collected her salary from theMunicipalityofPanabofor the period of May 16-31, 1991, when she was already working at the RTC. She knew that she was no longer entitled to a salary from the municipal government, but she took it just the same. She returned the amount only upon receipt of the Court Resolution dated January 17, 1996, or more than five (5) years later. We cannot countenance the same. Respondent’s conduct is plain dishonesty.

 

Her explanation, as observed earlier, is unsatisfactory. Her overriding need for money from the municipal government, aggravated by the alleged delay in the processing of her initial salary from the Court, does not justify receipt of a salary not due her. We sympathize with respondent’s sad plight of being the sole breadwinner of her family, with her husband and parents to feed and children to send to school. This, however, is not an acceptable excuse for her misconduct. If poverty and pressing financial need could justify stealing, the government would have been bankrupt long ago. A public servant should never expect to become wealthy in government.

 

But there is really more to respondent’s defense of poverty. If respondents was just driven by dire pecuniary need, respondent should have returned the salary she had obtained from the Municipal Government of Panabo as soon as she obtained her salary from the court. However, she returned the money only after receipt of the Court’s Resolution dated January 17, 1996, saying that she forgot all about it. Forgetfulness or failure to remember is never a rational or acceptable explanation.

 

In Macario Flores vs. Nonilon Caniya, Deputy Sheriff, RTC, Imus, Cavite, 11 this Court ruled that a sheriff who failed to issue an official receipt for the money entrusted to him for the purpose of satisfying a judgment debt, “had really wanted to misappropriate the said amount.” Inevitably, he was dismissed from service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and accrued leave credits, with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

 

It is well to stress once again the constitutional declaration that a “public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them  with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.” 12

 

We have repeatedly held that although every office in the government service is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an individual than in the judiciary. Personnel in the judiciary should conduct themselves in such a manner as to be beyond reproach and suspicion, and free from any appearance of impropriety in their personal behavior, not only in the discharge of their official duties but also in their everyday life.

 

They are strictly mandated to maintain good moral character at all times and to observe irreproachable behavior so as not to outrage public decency. 13

 

This Court, in JPDIO vs. Josephine Calaguas, Records Officer, OCC, MTCC,AngelesCity, 14 held:

 

The Court must reiterate that a public office is a public trust. A public servant is expected to exhibit, at all times, the highest degree of honesty and integrity and should be made accountable to all those whom he serves.

 

Respondent’s malfeasance is a clear contravention of the constitutional dictum that the State shall “maintain honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption.” 15

 

Under the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of EO No. 292 known as the “Administrative Code of 1987″ and other pertinent Civil Service Laws, the penalty for dishonesty is dismissal, even for the first offense. 16 Accordingly, for respondent’s dishonesty in receiving and keeping what she was not lawfully entitled to, this Court has the duty to impose on her the penalty prescribed by law: dismissal.

 

Apart from the above finding, we also note the contradiction between the certification issued by Municipal Treasurer Jose Avenido stating that respondent had worked as an assessment clerk in his office up to June 3, 1991, and the certification of Clerk of Court Victor Ginete stating that respondent started working as an interpreter on May 16, 1991. Although specifically asked by the Court to explain this contradiction, respondent could only state that the certification of the treasurer is inaccurate because she assumed her position as Assessment Clerk on January 25, 1990 and not on February 1, 1990 as written in the said certification. Respondent, however, failed to explain the gravamen of the inquiry, i.e., that she was certified to be still connected with the Municipal Government of Panabo on June 3, 1991, notwithstanding her assumption of her post in the Regional Trial Court as early as May 16, 1991. To the mind of the Court, respondent’s inability to explain this discrepancy is consistent with her failure to satisfactorily explain why she knowingly received and kept a salary she was not entitled to. Worse, it may be indicative of a conscious design to hold two positions at the same time.

 

Aside from dishonesty, however, respondents is also guilty of failure to perform her legal obligation to disclose her business interests. Respondent herself admitted that she “had a stall in the market.” The Office of the Court Administrator also found that she had been receiving rental payments from one Rodolfo Luay for the use of the market stall. That respondent had a stall in the market was undoubtedly a business interest which should have been reported in her Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities. Her failure to do so exposes her to administrative sanction.

 

Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6713 provides that it is the “obligation” of an employee to submit a sworn statement, as the “public has a right to know” the employee’s assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interest. Section 11 of the same law prescribes the criminal and administrative penalty for violation of any provision thereof. Paragraph (b) of Section 11 provides that “(b) Any violation hereof proven in a proper administrative proceeding shall sufficient cause for removal or dismissal of a public official or employee, even if no criminal prosecution is instituted against him.”

 

In the present case, the failure of respondent to disclose her business interest which she herself admitted is inexcusable and is a clear violation of Republic Act No. 6713.

 

The respondent’s claim that her contract of lease of a market stall was never implemented because it became the subject of a civil case, fails to convince us. We agree with the finding of the OCA on respondent’s guilt for this separate offense. It is a finding, which further supports its recommendation for respondent’s dismissal, to wit: 17

 

The case respondent is referring to was filed in 1995. This can be seen from the number of the case which is 95-93. Earlier than the filling of the case, respondent was already collecting rentals  as early as February 22, 1991  from one Rodolfo Luay who was operating a business without the necessary license.

 

Respondent should have, therefore, indicated in her “Sworn Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections, and Identification of Relatives in the Government Service” for the years 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 that she had a market stall in the Public market of Panabo,Davao.

 

She admits that she never indicated such in her sworn statements.

 

As this Office had earlier stated in its Memorandum dated November 10, 1995 filed in connection with the instant complaint:

 

Such non-disclosure is punishable with imprisonment not exceeding five (5) years, or a fine not exceeding five thousand (P5,000.00) pesos, or both. But even if no criminal prosecution is instituted against the offender, the offender can be dismissed from the service if the violation is proven. Respondent 201 file speaks for itself.

 

Furthermore, respondent should have divested herself of her interest in said business within sixty (60) days from her assumption into (sic) office. She has not. The penalty for non-disclosure of business interests and non-divestment is the same.

 

In her explanation, respondent maintains the position that she has no business interest, implicitly contending that there is nothing to divulge or divest from. As discussed above, respondent had a business interest. We do not find her administratively liable, however, for failure to divest herself of the said interest. The requirement for public officers, in general, to divest themselves of business interests upon assumption of a public office is prompted by the need to avoid conflict of interests. 18 In the absence of any showing that a business interest will result in a conflict of interest, divestment of the same is unnecessary. In the present case, it seems a bit far-fetched to imagine that there is a conflict of interest because an Interpreter III of the Regional Trial Court has a stall in the market. A court, generally, is not engaged in the regulation of public market, nor does it concern itself with the activities thereof. While respondent may not be compelled to divest herself of her business interest, she had the legal obligation of divulging it.

 

WHEREFORE, in conformity with the recommendations of the Office of the Court Administrator, Interpreter III Delsa M. Flores is hereby DISMISSED from service with FORFEITURE of all retirement benefits and accrued leave credits and with PREJUDICE to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Francisco, Hermosisima, Jr., Panganiban and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.

 

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CASE 03: SALVADOR A. PLEYTO

 

PRESIDENTIAL ANTI-GRAFT COMMISSION (PAGC) AND THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, PETITIONERS, VERSUS SALVADOR A. PLEYTO, RESPONDENT. (G.R. NO. 176058, 23 MARCH 2011)

 

ABAD, J.:

 

This case is about the dismissal of a department undersecretary for failure to declare in his Sworn Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) his wife’s business interests and financial connections.

 

The Facts and the Case

 

On December 19, 2002 the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) received an anonymous letter-complaint[1] from alleged employees of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).  The letter accused DPWH Undersecretary Salvador A. Pleyto of extortion, illicit affairs, and manipulation of DPWH projects.

 

In the course of the PAGC’s investigation, Pleyto submitted his 1999,[2] 2000,[3] and 2001[4] SALNs.  PAGC examined these and observed that, while Pleyto said therein that his wife was a businesswoman, he did not disclose her business interests and financial connections.  Thus, on April 29, 2003 PAGC charged Pleyto before the Office of the President (OP) for violation of Section 8 of Republic Act (R.A.) 6713,[5] also known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees” and Section 7 of R.A. 3019[6] or “The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.”[7]

 

Pleyto claimed that he and his wife had no business interests of any kind and for this reason, he wrote “NONE” under the column “Business Interests and Financial Connections” on his 1999 SALN and left the column blank in his 2000 and 2001 SALNs.[8]  Further, he attributed the mistake to the fact that his SALNs were merely prepared by his wife’s bookkeeper.[9]

 

On July 10, 2003 PAGC found Pleyto guilty as charged and recommended to the OP his dismissal with forfeiture of all government financial benefits and disqualification to re-enter government service.[10]

 

On January 29, 2004 the OP approved the recommendation.[11]  From this, Pleyto filed an Urgent Motion for Reconsideration[12] claiming that: 1) he should first be allowed to avail of the review and compliance procedure in Section 10 of R.A. 6713[13] before he is administratively charged; 2) he indicated “NONE” in the column for financial and business interests because he and his wife had no business interests related to DPWH; and 3) his failure to indicate his wife’s business interests is not punishable under R.A. 3019.

 

On March 2, 2004 PAGC filed its comment,[14] contending that Pleyto’s reliance on the Review and Complicance Procedure was unavailing because the mechanism had not yet been established and, in any case, his SALN was a sworn statement, the contents of which were beyond the corrective guidance of the DPWH Secretary.  Furthermore, his failure to declare his wife’s business interests and financial connections was highly irregular and was a form of dishonesty.

 

On March 11, 2005 Executive Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita ordered PAGC to conduct a reinvestigation of Pleyto’s case.[15]  In compliance, PAGC queried the Department of Trade and Industry of Region III–Bulacan regarding the businesses registered in the name of Miguela Pleyto, his wife.  PAGC found that she operated the following businesses: 1) R.S. Pawnshop, registered since May 19, 1993; 2) M. Pleyto Piggery and Poultry Farm, registered since December 29, 1998; 3) R.S. Pawnshop–Pulong Buhangin Branch, registered since July 24, 2000; and 4) RSP Laundry and Dry Cleaning, registered since July 24, 2001.[16]

 

The PAGC also inquired with the DPWH regarding their Review and Compliance procedure.  The DPWH said that, they merely reminded their officials of the need for them to comply with R.A. 6713 by filing their SALNs on time and that they had no mechanism for reviewing or validating the entries in the SALNs of their more than 19,000 permanent, casual and contractual employees.[17]

 

On February 21, 2006 the PAGC maintained its finding and recommendation respecting Pleyto.[18]  On August 29, 2006 the OP denied Pleyto’s Motion for Reconsideration.[19]  Pleyto raised the matter to the Court of Appeals (CA),[20] which on December 29, 2006 granted Pleyto’s petition and permanently enjoined the PAGC and the OP from implementing their decisions.[21]  This prompted the latter offices to come to this Court on a petition for review.[22]

 

Issues Presented

 

This case presents the following issues:

 

1. Whether or not the CA erred in not finding Pleyto’s failure to indicate his spouse’s business interests in his SALNs a violation of Section 8 of R.A. 6713.

 

2. Whether or not the CA erred in finding that under the Review and Compliance Procedure, Pleyto should have first been allowed to correct the error in his SALNs before being charged for violation of R.A. 6713.

 

The Court’s Rulings

 

This is the second time Pleyto’s SALNs are before this Court.  The first time was in G.R. 169982, Pleyto v. Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG).[23]  In that case, the PNP-CIDG filed on July 28, 2003 administrative charges against Pleyto with the Office of the Ombudsman for violating, among others, Section 8 of R.A. 6713 in that he failed to disclose in his 2001 and 2002 SALNs his wife’s business interests and financial connections.

 

On June 28, 2004 the Office of the Ombudsman ordered Pleyto dismissed from the service.  He appealed the order to the CA but the latter dismissed his petition and the motion for reconsideration that he subsequently filed.  Pleyto then assailed the CA’s ruling before this Court raising, among others, the following issues: 1) whether or not Pleyto violated Section 8(a) of R.A. 6713; and 2) whether or not Pleyto’s reliance on the Review and Compliance Procedure in the law was unwarranted.

 

After threshing out the other issues, this Court found that Pleyto’s failure to disclose his wife’s business interests and financial connections constituted simple negligence, not gross misconduct or dishonesty.  Thus:

 

Neither can petitioner’s failure to answer the question, “Do you have any business interest and other financial connections including those of your spouse and unmarried children living in your household?” be tantamount to gross misconduct or dishonesty.  On the front page of petitioner’s 2002 SALN, it is already clearly stated that his wife is a businesswoman, and it can be logically deduced that she had business interests.  Such a statement of his wife’s occupation would be inconsistent with the intention to conceal his and his wife’s business interests.  That petitioner and/or his wife had business interests is thus readily apparent on the face of the SALN; it is just that the missing particulars may be subject of an inquiry or investigation.

 

An act done in good faith, which constitutes only an error of judgment and for no ulterior motives and/or purposes, does not qualify as gross misconduct, and is merely simple negligence.  Thus, at most, petitioner is guilty of negligence for having failed to ascertain that his SALN was accomplished properly, accurately, and in more detail.

 

Negligence is the omission of the diligence which is required by the nature of the obligation and corresponds with the circumstances of the persons, of the time and of the place.  In the case of public officials, there is negligence when there is a breach of duty or failure to perform the obligation, and there is gross negligence when a breach of duty is flagrant and palpable.  Both Section 7 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees require the accomplishment and submission of a true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities.  Petitioner was negligent for failing to comply with his duty to provide a detailed list of his assets and business interests in his SALN.  He was also negligent in relying on the family bookkeeper/accountant to fill out his SALN and in signing the same without checking or verifying the entries therein.  Petitioner’s negligence, though, is only simple and not gross, in the absence of bad faith or the intent to mislead or deceive on his part, and in consideration of the fact that his SALNs actually disclose the full extent of his assets and the fact that he and his wife had other business interests.

 

Gross misconduct and dishonesty are serious charges which warrant the removal or dismissal from service of the erring public officer or employee, together with the accessory penalties, such as cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification from reemployment in government service.  Hence, a finding that a public officer or employee is administratively liable for such charges must be supported by substantial evidence.[24]

 

The above concerns Pleyto’s 2001 and 2002 SALN; the present case, on the other hand, is about his 1999, 2000 and 2001 SALNs but his omissions are identical.  While he said that his wife was a businesswoman, he also did not disclose her business interests and financial connections in his 1999, 2000 and 2001 SALNs.  Since the facts and the issues in the two cases are identical, the judgment in G.R. 169982, the first case, is conclusive upon this case.

 

There is “conclusiveness of judgment” when any right, fact, or matter in issue, directly adjudicated on the merits in a previous action by a competent court or necessarily involved in its determination, is conclusively settled by the judgment in such court and cannot again be litigated between the parties and their privies whether or not the claim, demand, purpose, or subject matter of the two actions is the same.[25]

 

Thus, as in G.R. 169982, Pleyto’s failure to declare his wife’s business interest and financial connections does not constitute dishonesty and grave misconduct but only simple negligence, warranting a penalty of forfeiture of the equivalent of six months of his salary from his retirement benefits.[26]

 

With regard to the issue concerning compliance with the Review and Compliance Procedure provided in R.A. 6713, this Court already held in G.R. 169982 that such procedure cannot limit the authority of the Ombudsman to conduct administrative investigations.  R.A. 6770, otherwise known as “The Ombudsman Act of 1989,” intended to vest in the Office of the Ombudsman full administrative disciplinary authority.[27]  Here, however, it was the PAGC and the OP, respectively, that conducted the investigation and meted out the penalty of dismissal against Pleyto.  Consequently, the ruling in G.R. 169982 in this respect cannot apply.

 

Actually, nowhere in R.A. 6713 does it say that the Review and Compliance Procedure is a prerequisite to the filing of administrative charges for false declarations or concealments in one’s SALN.  Thus:

 

Section 10. Review and Compliance Procedure. – (a) The designated Committees of both Houses of the Congress shall establish procedures for the review of statements to determine whether said statements which have been submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form. In the event a determination is made that a statement is not so filed, the appropriate Committee shall so inform the reporting individual and direct him to take the necessary corrective action.

 

(b) In order to carry out their responsibilities under this Act, the designated Committees of both Houses of Congress shall have the power within their respective jurisdictions, to render any opinion interpreting this Act, in writing, to persons covered by this Act, subject in each instance to the approval by affirmative vote of the majority of the particular House concerned.

 

The individual to whom an opinion is rendered, and any other individual involved in a similar factual situation, and who, after issuance of the opinion acts in good faith in accordance with it shall not be subject to any sanction provided in this Act.

 

(c) The heads of other offices shall perform the duties stated in subsections (a) and (b) hereof insofar as their respective offices are concerned, subject to the approval of the Secretary of Justice, in the case of the Executive Department and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in the case of the Judicial Department.

 

The provision that gives an impression that the Review and Compliance Procedure is a prerequisite to the filing of an administrative complaint is found in paragraph (b) of Section 10 which states that “The individual to whom an opinion is rendered, and any other individual involved in a similar factual situation, and who, after the issuance of the opinion acts in good faith in accordance with it shall not be subject to any sanction provided in this Act.”  This provision must not, however, be read in isolation.

 

Paragraph (b) concerns the power of the Review and Compliance Committee to interpret the law governing SALNs.  It authorizes the Committee to issue interpretative opinions regarding the filing of SALNs.  Officers and employees affected by such opinions “as well as” all who are similarly situated may be allowed to correct their SALNs according to that opinion.  What the law prohibits is merely the retroactive application of the committee’s opinions.  In no way did the law say that a public officer clearly violating R.A. 6713 must first be notified of any concealed or false information in his SALN and allowed to correct the same before he is administratively charged.

 

Furthermore, the only concern of the Review and Compliance Procedure, as per paragraph (a), is to determine whether the SALNs are complete and in proper form.  This means that the SALN contains all the required data, i.e., the public official answered all the questions and filled in all the blanks in his SALN form.  If it finds that required information has been omitted, the appropriate Committee shall so inform the official who prepared the SALN and direct him to make the necessary correction.     

 

The Court cannot accept the view that the review required of the Committee refers to the substance of what is stated in the SALN, i.e., the truth and accuracy of the answers stated in it, for the following reasons:

 

First.  Assuring the truth and accuracy of the answers in the SALN is the function of the filer’s oath[28] that to the best of his knowledge and information, the data he provides in it constitutes the true statements of his assets, liabilities, net worth, business interests, and financial connections, including those of his spouse and unmarried children below 18 years of age.[29]  Any falsity in the SALN makes him liable for falsification of public documents under Article 172 of the Revised Penal Code.

 

Second.  The law will not require the impossible, namely, that the Committee must ascertain the truth of all the information that the public officer or employee stated or failed to state in his SALNs and remind him of it.  The DPWH affirms this fact in its certification below:

 

This is to certify that this Department issues a memorandum every year reminding its officials and employees to submit their Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Networth (SALN) in compliance with R.A. 6713.  Considering that it has approximately 19,000 permanent employees plus a variable number of casual and contractual employees, the Department does not have the resources to review or validate the entries in all the SALNs.  Officials and employees are assumed to be accountable for the veracity of the entries considering that the SALNs are under oath.[30]

 

Indeed, if the Committee knows the truth about the assets, liabilities, and net worth of its department’s employees, there would be no need for the law to require the latter to file their sworn SALNs yearly.

 

In this case, the PAGC succeeded in discovering the business interest of Pleyto’s wife only after it subpoenaed from the Department of Trade and Industry—Bulacan certified copies of her business interests there.  The Heads of Offices do not have the means to compel production of documents in the hands of other government agencies or third persons.

 

The purpose of R.A. 6713 is “to promote a high standard of ethics in public service.  Public officials and employees shall at all times be accountable to the people and shall discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.”[31]  The law expects public officials to be accountable to the people in the matter of their integrity and competence.  Thus, the Court cannot interpret the Review and Compliance Procedure as transferring such accountability to the Committee.

 

WHEREFORE, the Court GRANTS the petition but finds petitioner Salvador A. Pleyto guilty only of simple negligence and imposes on him the penalty of forfeiture of the equivalent of six months of his salary from his retirement benefits.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

ARTURO D. BRION *                   

Associate Justice                                

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice

 

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN **

Associate Justice

 

ATTESTATION

 

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson, Second Division             

 

CERTIFICATION

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

* Designated as additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, per Special Order 975 dated March 21, 2011.

 

** Designated as additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura, per raffle dated August 3, 2009.

 

[1] Rollo, pp. 83-89.

 

[2]Id.at 92.

 

[3]Id.at 90.

 

[4]Id.at 91.

 

[5] Section 8. Statements and Disclosure. – Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

 

(A) Statements of Assets and Liabilities and Financial Disclosure. – All public officials and employees, except those who serve in an honorary capacity, laborers and casual or temporary workers, shall file under oath their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and a Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and those of their spouses and unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

 

[6] Section 7. Statement of assets and liabilities. Every public officer, within thirty days after the approval of this Act or after assuming office, and within the month of January of every other year thereafter, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of the corresponding Department Head, or in the case of a Head of Department or chief of an independent office, with the Office of the President, or in the case of members of the Congress and the officials and employees thereof, with the Office of the Secretary of the corresponding House, a true detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities, including a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year: Provided, That public officers assuming office less than two months before the end of the calendar year, may file their statements in the following months of January.

 

[7] Rollo, pp. 93-95.

 

[8]Id.at 96-101.

 

[9]Id.at 108-109.

 

[10]Id.at 124-132.

 

[11]Id.at 133-138.

 

[12]Id.at 139-152.

 

[13] Section 10. Review and Compliance Procedure. – (a) The designated Committees of both Houses of the Congress shall establish procedures for the review of statements to determine whether said statements which have been submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form. In the event a determination is made that a statement is not so filed, the appropriate Committee shall so inform the reporting individual and direct him to take the necessary corrective action.

 

(b) In order to carry out their responsibilities under this Act, the designated Committees of both Houses of Congress shall have the power within their respective jurisdictions, to render any opinion interpreting this Act, in writing, to persons covered by this Act, subject in each instance to the approval by affirmative vote of the majority of the particular House concerned.

 

The individual to whom an opinion is rendered, and any other individual involved in a similar factual situation, and who, after issuance of the opinion acts in good faith in accordance with it shall not be subject to any sanction provided in this Act.

 

(c) The heads of other offices shall perform the duties stated in subsections (a) and (b) hereof insofar as their respective offices are concerned, subject to the approval of the Secretary of Justice, in the case of the Executive Department and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in the case of the Judicial Department.

 

[14] Rollo, pp. 153-162.

 

[15]Id.at 163.

 

[16]Id.at 164-172.

 

[17]Id.at 173.

 

[18]Id.at 174.

 

[19]Id.at 175-184.

 

[20]Id.at 185-228.

 

[21]Id.at 60-82.

 

[22]Id.at 32-59.

 

[23] November 23, 2007, 538 SCRA 534.

 

[24]Id.at 586-588.

 

[25] Abelita III v. Doria, G.R. No. 170672, August 14, 2009, 596 SCRA 220, 230.

 

[26] Pleyto v. Philippine National Police-CIDG, supra note 23, at 595-596.

 

[27]Id.at 593.

 

[28] Republic Act 6713 (1989), Sec. 8.

 

[29] Pleyto’s SALN Form, rollo, p. 113.

 

[30] Rollo, p. 173.

 

[31] Republic Act 6713 (1989), Sec. 2.

 

 

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CASE 04: NESTOR S. VALEROSO

 

THE OMBUDSMAN, FACT-FINDING AND INTELLIGENCE BUREAU, OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN, AND PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION AND ADMINISTRATIVE ADJUDICATION BUREAU, OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN, PETITIONERS, VERSUS NESTOR S. VALEROSO, RESPONDENT. (G.R. NO. 167828, 21 APRIL 2007)

 

 

GARCIA, J.:

 

         Assailed and sought to be set aside in this petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court are the following issuances of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 84641, to wit:

 

1.                  Decision[1] dated December 16, 2004 annulling and setting aside petitioner Ombudsman’s Order of June 10, 2004, which placed respondent Nestor S. Valeroso under preventive suspension for six (6) months without pay; and

 

2.                  Resolution[2] dated April 13, 2005 denying petitioners’ motion for reconsideration.

 

         The facts may be briefly stated as follows:

 

         On 16 January 2004, the Fact-Finding and Intelligence Bureau of the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) lodged with OMB’s Preliminary Investigation and Administrative Adjudication Bureau-B (PIAAB-B) a complaint[3] with prayer for preventive suspension against respondent Nestor S. Valeroso in effect charging him criminally with Perjury and administratively with Dishonesty, Falsification of Official Documents and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service.

 

         It was alleged in said complaint that respondent, then occupying the position of Director II at the Bureau of Internal Revenue, failed to disclose his ownership of several properties, as well as certain business interests of his wife, in his sworn Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) from 1995 to 2002, in violation of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

 

         In an Order dated 19 February 2004, the PIAAB-B, by authority of the Ombudsman, directed Valeroso to submit his counter-affidavit. He subsequently did so, and followed it with a supplement thereto. Denying the allegations in the complaint that he had failed to disclose his ownership of the properties listed therein, as well as certain business interests of his wife, Valeroso prayed for the dismissal of the charges and the denial of the prayer for his preventive suspension.

 

         Finding the existence of a strong indicia of guilt on the part [of Valeroso] for administrative offense of Dishonesty, and an unexplained increase in his net worth, the Ombudsman, in an Order[4] dated 10 June 2004, placed respondent under preventive suspension for a period of six (6) months without pay.

 

         On 17 June 2004, respondent filed with the CA a petition for certiorari and prohibition, with a prayer for preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order, thereat docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 84641, seeking to nullify the preventive suspension order against him. Respondent alleged in his petition that the element of strong evidence of guilt was lacking. He also claimed lack of due process since his right to be  informed of the nature of the charges against him was allegedly denied when the Ombudsman changed the basis of the complaint.

 

         In its resolution of 02 July 2004, the appellate court initially dismissed CA-G.R. SP No. 84641 on the ground of prematurity and for being the wrong remedy. The appellate court, however, would later change its mind. Thus, in its Resolution of 21 July 2004, the CA granted respondent Valeroso’s motion for reconsideration and thus reinstated his certiorari petition and even issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the petitioners from implementing the preventive suspension order above adverted to.

 

         Ultimately, in the herein assailed decision of  16 December 2004, the CA, finding that grave abuse of discretion tainted the issuance of the preventive suspension order in question, granted respondent’s petition and accordingly annulled and set aside the said order[5] of preventive suspension, to wit:

 

         WHEREFORE, in the light of the foregoing, the extant Petition is GRANTED.

 

            The Order of the Ombudsman, placing the petitioner (now respondent) under preventive suspension for six (6) months without pay, having been issued with grave abuse of discretion is hereby ANNULLED and SET ASIDE.

 

            No pronouncement as to costs.

 

            SO ORDERED.

 

Explains the CA in its decision:

 

         In the present case, it is clear from the recital of the Complaint and the summary thereof as contained in the assailed Order that the charge was only for the alleged failure to disclose certain properties and not for unexplained wealth or increase in net worth. Consequently, and in view of the above-mentioned rule, [petitioner] Ombudsman could not just arbitrarily expand the original charge of “Dishonesty” for failure to declare certain assets to “Dishonesty” for unexplained wealth or unexplainable increase in net worth.

 

            Secondly, We do not agree with the [petitioner] Ombudsman that the [respondent] was well aware that the charge for failure to disclose certain properties in the Statement of Assets and Liabilities amounted to a charge for ill-gotten wealth. (Words in brackets added.)

 

         In essence, the CA found Valeroso’s claim of denial of due process meritorious since he was being made to answer, not only the alleged non-disclosure of certain properties, but also for unexplained increase in net worth, a charge about which, to the CA, Valeroso was denied the opportunity to explain.

 

         Their motion for reconsideration having been denied by the CA in its equally assailed Resolution of 13 April 2005, petitioners are now with this Court on the basic issue of whether or not the CA had erred in finding that grave abuse of discretion attended the issuance of the subject preventive suspension order. It is petitioners’ posture that, contrary to the conclusion of the appellate court, respondent Valeroso was accorded due process of law, and that there was no infirmity in the issuance of the disputed preventive suspension order.

 

         We GRANT the petition.

 

         We shall first cut through the procedural technicalities with which each party attempts to trip its opponent, and ultimately decide the case on its substantial merits.

 

         There is no dispute as to the power of the Ombudsman to place a public officer charged with an administrative offense under preventive suspension. That power is clearly confined under Section 24 of R.A. No. 6770, otherwise known as the Ombudsman Act of 1989, which reads:

 

         Sec. 24. Preventive Suspension. – The Ombudsman or his Deputy may preventively suspend any officer or employee under his authority pending an investigation, if in his judgment the evidence of guilt is strong, and (a) the charge against such officer or employee involves dishonesty, oppression or grave misconduct or neglect in the performance of duty; (b) the charges would warrant removal from the service; or (c) the respondent’s continued stay in office may prejudice the case filed against him.

 

            The preventive suspension shall continue until the case is terminated by the Office of the Ombudsman but not more than six months, without pay, except when the delay in the disposition of the case by the Office of the Ombudsman is due to the fault, negligence or petition of the respondent, in which case the period of such delay shall not be counted in computing the period of suspension herein provided.

 

         Clear it is from the above that the law sets forth two conditions that must be satisfied to justify the issuance of an order of  preventive suspension pending an investigation, to wit:

 

1.                  The evidence of guilt is strong; and

 

2.                 Either of the following circumstances co-exist with the first requirement:

 

a.         The charge involves dishonesty, oppression or grave misconduct or neglect in the performance of duty;

 

b.         The charge would warrant removal from the service; or

 

c.         The respondent’s continued stay in office may prejudice the case filed against him.

 

         Here, respondent was charged with dishonesty, among other administrative and criminal charges, and the Ombudsman particularly found strong evidence to support said charge on the specified ground of “non-disclosure of assets and business interests.” Questions on the strength of the evidence to support the preventive suspension order are squarely within the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman. On this score, the following pronouncements of this Court in Yasay, Jr. v. Desierto[6] are very much in point:

 

         The rule is that whether the evidence of guilt is strong, as required in Section 24 of R.A. No. 6770, is left to the determination of the Ombudsman by taking into account the evidence before him. In the very words of Section 24, the Ombudsman may preventively suspend a public official pending investigation if “in his judgment” the evidence presented before him tends to show that the official’s guilt is strong and if the further requisites enumerated in Section 24 are present. The Court cannot substitute its own judgment for that of the Ombudsman on this matter, absent clear showing of grave abuse of discretion on the part of respondent Ombudsman.

 

         Moreover, the charge of dishonesty is a grave offense which, if duly proven, merits the penalty of dismissal from the service on commission of the first infraction.[7]

 

         In finding a denial of due process, the CA capitalized on the alleged added ground of “unexplained increase in net worth.” At best, however, the supposedly added ground was a superfluity that should bolster or strengthen the charge of dishonesty rather than a reason to invalidate the preventive suspension order.

 

         For sure, even on the said added ground, respondent cannot even rightfully assert denial of due process or deprivation of the right to be informed of the true nature and cause of the charges against him. This is so because the alleged other ground was brought about by his very own posturing in his counter-affidavit of 24 March  2004 that his combined income [with] his wife is more sufficient to cover the cost of acquiring the properties alleged, erroneously, to have been concealed. Since the issue of sufficiency of income was raised by no less than the respondent himself, he should have been barred from questioning the authority and jurisdiction of the Ombudsman in resolving said issue, what with the familiar rule that a party who has invoked the jurisdiction of a court or tribunal is estopped from challenging that jurisdiction after the court or tribunal had decided the case against him.[8]

 

         Clearly, as the non-disclosure in his SALN of his assets and business interest was understood by respondent himself, such non-disclosure essentially embraced or comprehended concealment of unexplained wealth. No doubt, the provisions of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (R.A. No. 3019, as amended) recited in paragraph 7.0 of respondent’s counter-affidavit refer to no other than the following complementing provisions of Sections 7 and 8 of  the same law which respectively read:

 

         Sec. 7. Statement of Assets and Liabilities. -Every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office, and thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of corresponding Department Head, or in the case of a Head Department or chief of an independent office, with the office of the President, a true, detailed and sworn statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year: Provided, That public officers assuming office less than two months before the end of the calendar year, may file their first statement on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of said calendar year.

 

            Sec. 8. Prima Facie Evidence of and Dismissal Due to Unexplained Wealth. – If in accordance with the provisions of Republic Act Numbered One Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Nine, a public official has been found to have acquired during his incumbency, whether in his name or in the name of other persons, an amount of property and/or money manifestly out of proportion to his salary and to his other lawful income, that fact shall be ground for dismissal or removal. Properties in the name of the spouse and dependents of such public official may be taken into consideration, when their acquisition through legitimate means cannot be satisfactorily shown. Bank deposits in the name of or manifestly excessive expenditures incurred by the public official, his spouse or any of their dependents including but not limited to activities in any club or association or any ostentatious display of wealth including frequent travel abroad of a non-official character by any public official when such activities entail expenses evidently out of proportion to legitimate income, shall likewise be taken into consideration in the enforcement of this Section, notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary. The circumstances hereinabove mentioned shall constitute valid ground for the administrative suspension of the public official concerned for an indefinite period until the investigation of the unexplained wealth is completed.

 

         Section 8 above, speaks of unlawful acquisition of wealth, the evil sought to be suppressed and avoided, and Section 7, which mandates full disclosure of wealth in the SALN, is a means of preventing said evil and is aimed particularly at curtailing and minimizing the opportunities for official corruption and maintaining a standard of honesty in the public service. “Unexplained” matter normally results from “non-disclosure” or concealment of vital facts. SALN, which all public officials and employees are mandated to file, are the means to achieve the policy of accountability of all public officers and employees in the government. By the SALN, the public are able to monitor movement in the fortune of a public official; it is a valid check and balance mechanism to verify undisclosed properties and wealth.

 

         Respondent cannot claim any right against, or damage or injury that he is bound to suffer from, the issuance of the preventive suspension order in question, in the light of the unbending rule that there is no such thing as a vested right or an estate in an office, or even an absolute right to hold it.[9] Public Office is not property but a “public trust or agency.”[10] While due process may be relied upon by public officials to protect their security of tenure which, in a limited sense, is analogous to property, such fundamental right to security of tenure cannot be invoked against a preventive suspension order which is a preventive measure, not imposed as a penalty.[11]

 

         The CA’s reliance on Yangco v. Board of Public Utility Commissioners[12] to prop up its finding of denial of due process is utterly misplaced. The order complained of in Yangco was a final order which disposed of the merits of the complaint in that case. Here, what is at issue is a preventive suspension order, a mere preventive measure during an ongoing administrative investigation.

 

         WHEREFORE, the instant petition is GRANTED and the assailed decision and resolution of the CA are ANNULLED and SET ASIDE.

 

         No pronouncement as to costs.

 

         SO ORDERED.

 

CANCIO C. GARCIA

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

Chairperson

 

ANGELINA SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ

Associate Justice         

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Associate Justice

 

ADOLFO S. AZCUNA

Associate Justice

 

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

 

         Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

 

[1]              Penned by Associate Justice Jose L. Sabio, with Associate Justices Eubulo G. Verzola (now          deceased) and Noel G. Tijam, concurring; Rollo, pp. 8-28.

 

[2]             Id.at  29-31.

 

[3]             Id.at 186-189.

 

[4]             Id.at 210-218.

 

[5]             Id.at 27.

 

[6]              G.R. No. 134495, December 28, 1998, 300 SCRA 494, 505-506.

 

[7]              De Guzman v. DelosSantos, A.M. No. 2002-8-SC, December 18, 2002, 394 SCRA 210.

 

[8]              Arreza v. Diaz, Jr., G.R. No. 133113, Augusto 30, 2001, 364 SCRA 664.

 

[9]               National Land Titles and Deeds Registration Administration v. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 84301, April 7, 1993, 221 SCRA 145.

 

[10]             Cornejo v. Gabriel, 41 Phil. 188, 194 (1920); Section 1, Article 11, 1987 Constitution.

 

[11]             Alonzo v. Capulong, G.R. No. 110590, May 10, 1995, 244 SCRA 80; Yabut v. Ombudsman, G.R. No. 111304, June 17, 1994, 233 SCRA 310; Rios v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 129913, September 26, 1997, 279 SCRA 581, 588.

 

[12]             36 Phil. 116 (1917).

 

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CASE 05: ROSALIO S. GALEOS

 

 

THIRD DIVISION

 

ROSALIO S. GALEOS,

                             Petitioner,

       G.R. Nos. 174730-37
 

 

- versus -

 

 

 

 

 

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES,

                             Respondent.

 

x- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -x

 

     

 

 

 

PAULINO S. ONG,

                             Petitioner,

 

 

 

-versus-

 

 

 

 

 

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES,

                             Respondent.

 

      G.R. Nos. 174845-52

 

       Present:

 

       Carpio Morales, J.,

                  Chairperson,

       brion,

       BERSAMIN,

  VILLARAMA, JR., and

       MENDOZA,* JJ.

 

       Promulgated:

 

       February 9, 2011

     

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DECISION

 

VILLARAMA, JR., J.:

          The consolidated petitions at bar seek to reverse and set aside the Decision[1][1] promulgated on August 18, 2005 by the Sandiganbayan convicting petitioners Paulino S. Ong (Ong) of eight counts and Rosalio S. Galeos  (Galeos) of four counts of falsification of public documents under Article 171, paragraph 4 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended.

          The facts are as follows:

          Ong was appointed Officer-in-Charge (OIC)-Mayor of the Municipalityof Naga, Cebuon April 16, 1986.  He was elected Mayor of the same municipality in 1988 and served as such until 1998.[2][2]

          On June 1, 1994, Ong extended permanent appointments to Galeos and Federico T. Rivera (Rivera) for the positions of Construction and Maintenance Man and Plumber I, respectively, in the Office of the Municipal Engineer.[3][3]  Prior to their permanent appointment, Galeos and Rivera were casual employees of the municipal government.

          In their individual Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) for the year 1993, Galeos answered “No” to the question: “To the best of your knowledge, are you related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or of affinity to anyone working in the government?” while Rivera indicated “n/a” on the space for the list of the names of relatives referred to in the said query.[4][4]  The boxes for “Yes” and “No” to the said query were left in blank by Galeos in his 1994 and 1995 SALN.[5][5]  Rivera in his 1995 SALN answered “No” to the question on relatives in government.[6][6]   In their 1996 SALN, both Galeos and Rivera also did not fill up the boxes indicating their answers to the same query.[7][7]  Ong’s signature appears in all the foregoing documents as the person who administered the oath when Galeos and Rivera executed the foregoing documents.

          In a letter-certification dated June 1, 1994 addressed to Ms. Benita O. Santos, Regional Director, Civil Service Commission (CSC), Regional Office 7, Cebu City, it was attested that:

This is to certify that pursuant to the provisions of R.A. 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, all restrictions/requirements relative to creation of positions, hiring and issuance of appointments, Section 325 on the limitations for personal services in the total/supplemental appropriation of a local government unit; salary rates; abolition and creation of positions, etc.; Section 76, organizational structure and staffing pattern; Section 79 on nepotism; Section 80, posting of vacancy and personnel selection board; Section 81 on compensation, etc. have been duly complied with in the issuance of this appointment.

This is to certify further that the faithful observance of these restrictions/requirements was made in accordance with the requirements of the Civil Service Commission before the appointment was submitted for review and action.[8][8] (Emphasis supplied.)

          The above certification was signed by Ong and HR Officer-Designate Editha C. Garcia.

          On October 1, 1998, the members of the Sangguniang Bayan of Naga, Cebu filed a letter-complaint[9][9] before the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB)-Visayas against Ong (then incumbent Vice-Mayor of Naga), Galeos and Rivera for dishonesty, nepotism, violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and for the crime of falsification of public documents.

          On August 11, 2000, Ombudsman Aniano Desierto approved the recommendation of OIC-Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas that criminal charges be filed against Ong, Galeos and Rivera for falsification of public documents under Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, in connection with the Certification dated June 1, 1994 issued by Ong and the false statements in the 1993, 1995 and 1996 SALN of Rivera and the 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996 SALN of Galeos.[10][10]

          On August 16, 2000, the following Informations[11][11] were filed against the petitioners:


Criminal Case No. 26181

That on or about the 14th day of February, 1994, in the Municipality of Naga, Province of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named [Paulino S. Ong and Rosalio S. Galeos] accused, public officers, being the former Municipal Mayor and Construction and Maintenance Man of the Office of the Municipal Engineer, Municipality of Naga, Cebu, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office, conniving and confederating together and mutually helping with each other, with deliberate intent, with intent to falsify, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously falsify a public document, consisting of a Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities, Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and Identification of Relatives In the Government Service, as of December 31, 1993, filed by accused Rosalio S. Galeos and subscribed and sworn to before accused Paulino S. Ong, wherein accused made it appear therein that they are not related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity thereby making untruthful statements in a narration of facts, when in truth and in fact, accused very well k[n]ew that they are related with each other, since accused Rosalio S. Galeos is related to accused Paulino S. Ong within the fourth degree of consanguinity, the mother of accused Rosalio S. Galeos [being] the sister of the mother of accused Paulino S. Ong. 

CONTRARY TO LAW. (Emphasis supplied.)

Criminal Case No. 26182

That on or about the 15th day of February 1994, in the Municipality of Naga, Province of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named [Paulino S. Ong and Federico T. Rivera] accused, public officers, being the former Municipal Mayor and Plumber I of the Office of the Municipal Engineer, Municipality of Naga, Cebu, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office, conniving and confederating together and mutually helping with each other, with deliberate intent, with intent to falsify, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously falsify a public document, consisting of a Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities, Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and Identification of Relatives In the Government Service as of December 31, 1993, filed by accused Federico T. Rivera and subscribed and sworn to before accused Paulino S. Ong, wherein accused Federico T. Rivera made it appear therein that he has no relatives within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity working in the government, thereby making untruthful statements in a narration of facts, when in truth and in fact, as accused very well knew that they are related with each other, since accused Federico T. Rivera is related to accused Paulino S. Ong within the fourth degree of affinity, the mother of Federico T. Rivera’s wife being the sister of the mother of Paulino S. Ong.

CONTRARY TO LAW. (Emphasis supplied.)


Criminal Case No. 26183

That on or about the 1st day of February, 1996, in the Municipality of Naga, Province of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named [Paulino S. Ong and Rosalio S. Galeos] accused, public officers, being the former Municipal Mayor and Construction and Maintenance Man of the Office of the Municipal Engineer, Municipality of Naga, Cebu, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office, conniving and confederating together and mutually helping with each other, with deliberate intent, with intent to falsify, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously falsify a public document, consisting of a Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities, Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and Identification of Relatives In the Government Service, as of December 31, 1995, filed by accused Rosalio S. Galeos and subscribed and sworn to before accused Paulino S. Ong, wherein accused made it appear therein that they are not related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity thereby making false statements in a narration of facts, when in truth and in fact, as accused very well k[n]ew that they are related with each other, since accused Rosalio S. Galeos is related to accused Paulino S. Ong within the fourth degree of consanguinity, the mother of accused Rosalio S. Galeos being the sister of the mother of accused Paulino S. Ong.

CONTRARY TO LAW. (Emphasis supplied.)

Criminal Case No. 26184

That on or about the 1st day of February 1996, in the Municipality of Naga, Province of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named [Paulino S. Ong and Federico T. Rivera] accused, public officers, being the former Municipal Mayor and Plumber I of the Office of the Municipal Engineer, Municipality of Naga, Cebu, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office, conniving and confederating together and mutually helping with each other, with deliberate intent, with intent to falsify, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously falsify a public document, consisting of a Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities, Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and Identification of Relatives In The Government Service, [a]s of December 31, 1995, filed by accused Federico T. Rivera and subscribed and sworn to before accused Paulino S. Ong, wherein accused Federico T. Rivera made it appear therein that he has no relatives within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity working in the government, thereby making untruthful statements in a narration of facts,  when in truth and in fact, as accused very well knew that they are related with each other, since accused Federico T. Rivera is related to accused Paulino S. Ong within the fourth degree of affinity, the mother of Federico T. Rivera’s wife being the sister of the mother of Paulino S. Ong.

CONTRARY TO LAW. (Emphasis supplied.)

Criminal Case No. 26185

That on or about the 5th day of February 1997, in the Municipality of Naga, Province of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named [Paulino S. Ong and Federico T. Rivera] accused, public officers, being the former Municipal Mayor and Plumber I of the Office of the Municipal Engineer, Municipality of Naga, Cebu, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office, conniving and confederating together and mutually helping with each other, with deliberate intent, with intent to falsify, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously falsify a public document, consisting of a Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities, Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and Identification of Relatives In The Government Service, [a]s of December 31, 1996, filed by accused Federico T. Rivera and subscribed and sworn to before accused Paulino S. Ong, wherein accused Federico T. Rivera made it appear therein that he has no relatives within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity working in the government, thereby making untruthful statements in a narration of facts, when in truth and in fact, as accused very well knew that they are related with each other, since accused Federico T. Rivera is related to accused Paulino S. Ong within the fourth degree of affinity, the mother of Federico T. Rivera’s wife being the sister of the mother of Paulino S. Ong.

CONTRARY TO LAW.  (Emphasis supplied.)

Criminal Case No. 26186

That on or about the 3rd day of March, 1995, in the Municipality of Naga, Province of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named [Paulino S. Ong and Rosalio S. Galeos] accused, public officers, being the former Municipal Mayor and Construction and Maintenance Man of the Office of the Municipal Engineer, Municipality of Naga, Cebu, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office, conniving and confederating together and mutually helping with each other, with deliberate intent, with intent to falsify, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously falsify a public document, consisting of a Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities, Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and Identification of Relatives In the Government Services, as of December 31, 1994, filed by accused Rosalio S. Galeos and subscribed and sworn to before accused Paulino S. Ong, wherein accused made it appear therein that they are not related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity thereby making untruthful statements in a narration of facts, when in truth and in fact, as accused very well k[n]ew that they are related with each other, since accused Rosalio S. Galeos is related to accused Paulino S. Ong, within the fourth degree of consanguinity, the mother of accused Rosalio S. Galeos being the sister of the mother of accused Paulino S. Ong.

CONTRARY TO LAW.  (Emphasis supplied.)

Criminal Case No. 26187

That on or about the 11th day of March, 1997, in the Municipality of Naga, Province of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named [Paulino S. Ong and Rosalio S. Galeos] accused, public officers, being the former Municipal Mayor and Construction and Maintenance Man of the Office of the Municipal Engineer, Municipality of Naga, Cebu, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office, conniving and confederating, together and mutually helping with each other, with deliberate intent, with intent to falsify, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously falsify a public document, consisting of a Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities, Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and Identification of Relatives In the Government Service, as of December 31, 1996, filed by accused Rosalio S. Galeos and subscribed and sworn to before accused Paulino S. Ong, wherein accused made it appear therein that they are not related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity thereby making untruthful statements in a narration of facts, when in truth and in fact, as accused very well k[n]ew that they are related with each other, since accused Rosalio S. Galeos is related to accused Paulino S. Ong within the fourth degree of consanguinity, the mother of accused Rosalio S. Galeos being the sister of the mother of accused Paulino S. Ong.

            CONTRARY TO LAW.   (Emphasis supplied.)

Criminal Case No. 26188

That on or about the 1st day of June, 1994, at the Municipality of Naga, Province of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named accused, a public officer, being the former Mayor of the Municipality of Naga, Cebu, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office, with deliberate intent, with intent to falsify, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously falsify a public document, consisting of a Certification in the form of a letter addressed to Mrs. Benita O. Santos, then Regional Director of the  Civil Service Commission (CSC)-Region VII, Cebu City dated June 1, 1994, a requirement in the approval of an appointment, certifying therein that there was a faithful compliance  of the requirement/restriction provided under the Civil Service Laws and Rules in the appointment of Rosalio S. Galeos, as Construction and Maintenance Man of the Office of the Municipal Engineer, Naga, Cebu, thereby making untruthful statements in a narration of facts, when in truth and in fact as accused very well knew that the appointment of Rosalio S. Galeos was nepotic being made in violation of the  Civil Service Rules and Laws on Nepotism, as Rosalio S. Galeos is related to accused within the fourth degree of consanguinity, since the mother of Rosalio S. Galeos is the sister of the mother of accused, which Certification caused the approval of the appointment of Rosalio S. Galeos, to the detriment of public interest.

CONTRARY TO LAW.  (Emphasis supplied.)

Criminal Case No. 26189

That on or about the 1st day of June, 1994, at the Municipality of Naga, Province of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named accused, a public officer, being the former Mayor of the Municipality of Naga, Cebu, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office, with deliberate intent, with intent to falsify, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously falsify a public document, consisting of a Certification in the form of a letter addressed to Mrs. Benita O. Santos, then Regional Director of the Civil Service Commission (CSC), Region VII, Cebu City, dated June 1, 1994, a requirement in the approval of an appointment, certifying therein that there was a faithful compliance of the requirement/restriction provided under the Civil Service Laws and Rules in the appointment of Federico T. Rivera, a Plumber I of the Office of the Municipal Engineer,  Naga, Cebu, thereby making untruthful statements in a narration of facts, when in truth and in fact as accused very well knew that the appointment of Federico T. Rivera was nepotic being made in violation of the Civil Service Rules and Laws on Nepotism, as Federico T. Rivera is related to accused within the fourth degree of affinity, since the mother of Federico T. Rivera’s wife is the sister of the mother of accused, which certification caused the approval of the appointment of Federico T. Rivera, to the detriment of public interest.

CONTRARY TO LAW.  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Under the Joint Stipulation of Facts submitted to the court a quo, the accused made the following admissions: (1) Ong was the Municipal Mayor of Cebu at all times relevant to these cases; (2) Ong is related to Galeos, within the fourth degree of consanguinity as his mother is the sister of Galeos’ mother, and to Rivera within the fourth degree of affinity as his mother is the sister of the mother of Rivera’s wife; and (3) Galeos and Rivera were employed as Construction and Maintenance Man and Plumber I, respectively, in the Municipal Government of Naga, Cebu at all times relevant to these cases.  Ong likewise admitted the genuineness and due execution of the documentary exhibits presented by the prosecutor (copies of SALNs and Certification dated June 1, 1994) except for Exhibit “H” (Certification dated June 1, 1994 offered by the prosecution as “allegedly supporting the appointment of Rosalio S. Galeos”[12][12]).[13][13] 

          As lone witness for the prosecution, Esperidion R. Canoneo testified that he has been a resident of Pangdan, Naga, Cebusince 1930 and claimed to be friends with Ong, Galeos and Rivera. He knows the mother of Galeos, Pining Suarez or Peñaranda Suarez. But when the prosecutor mentioned “Bining Suarez,” Canoneo stated that Bining Suarez is the mother of Galeos and that Bining Suarez is the same person as “Bernardita Suarez.”  Ong is related to Galeos because Ong’s mother, Conchita Suarez, and Galeos’ mother, Bernardita Suarez, are sisters. As to Rivera, his wife Kensiana,[14][14] is the daughter of Mercedes Suarez who is also a sister of Conchita Suarez. He knew the Suarez sisters because they were the neighbors of his grandmother whom he frequently visited when he was still studying.[15][15]

          Both Galeos and Rivera testified that they only provided the entries in their SALN but did not personally fill up the forms as these were already filled up by “people in the municipal hall” when they signed them.

Galeos, when shown his 1993 SALN,[16][16] confirmed his signature thereon. When he was asked if he understood the question  “To the best of your knowledge, are you related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity to anyone working in the government?” he answered in the negative. He claimed that the “X” mark corresponding to the answer “No” to said question, as well as the other entries in his SALN, were already filled up when he signed it. When shown his SALN for the years 1994, 1995 and 1996, Galeos reiterated that they were already filled up and he was only made to sign them by an employee of the municipal hall whom he only remembers by face.  He also admitted that he carefully read the documents and all the entries therein were explained to him before he affixed his signature on the document. However, when asked whether he understands the term “fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity” stated in the SALNs, he answered in the negative.[17][17]

Rivera testified that he was not aware that his wife was a close relative of the Municipal Mayor because when he asked her, the latter told him that Ong was a distant relative of hers.  Rivera added that it was not Ong who first appointed him as a casual employee but Ong’s predecessor, Mayor Vicente Mendiola.[18][18]

          On the part of Ong, he testified that at the time he was serving as Municipal Mayor of Naga, he did not know that he and Galeos are relatives, as in fact there are several persons with the surname “Galeos” in the municipality.  He signed Galeos’ 1993 SALN when it was presented to him by Galeos at his office.  There were many of them who brought such documents and he would administer their oaths on what were written on their SALN, among them were Galeos and Rivera.  He came to know of the defect in the employment of Galeos when the case was filed by his “political enemy” in the Ombudsman just after he was elected Vice-Mayor in 1998.  As to Rivera, Ong claimed that he knows him as a casual employee of the previous administration.  As successor of the former mayor, he had to re-appoint these casual employees and he delegated this matter to his subordinates.   He maintained that his family was not very close to their other relatives because when he was not yet Mayor, he was doing business in Cebu and Manila. When queried by the court if he had known his relatives while he was campaigning considering that in the provinces even relatives within the 6th and 7th degree are still regarded as close relatives especially among politicians, Ong insisted that his style of campaigning was based only on his performance of duties and that he did not go from house to house.  Ong admitted that he had been a resident of Naga, Cebu since birth.  He could no longer recall those SALN of most of the employees whose oaths he had administered.  He admitted that he was the one who appointed Galeos and Rivera to their permanent positions and signed their official appointment (Civil Service Form No. 33) but he was not aware at that time that he was related to them.  It was only after the filing of the case that he came to know the wife of Rivera. As to the qualifications of these appointees, he no longer inquired about it and their appointments were no longer submitted to the Selection Board. When the appointment forms for Galeos and Rivera were brought to his office, the accompanying documents were attached thereto.   Ong, however, admitted that before the permanent appointment is approved by the CSC, he issues a certification to the effect that all requirements of law and the CSC have been complied with.[19][19]

          OnAugust 18, 2005, the Sandiganbayan promulgated the assailed Decision convicting Ong, Galeos and Rivera, as follows:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered on the following:

In Criminal Case No. 26181, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Paulino S. Ong and Rosalio S. Galeos GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Falsification of Public Document as defined in and penalized by Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code and, there being no modifying circumstances, are hereby sentenced to each suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from TWO (2) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY OF  Prision Correccional medium as the minimum penalty to EIGHT (8) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of Prision Mayor medium as the maximum penalty and to each pay a FINE of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00).

In Criminal Case No. 26182, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Paulino S. Ong and Federico T. Rivera GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Falsification of Public Document as defined in and penalized by Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code and, there being no modifying circumstances, are hereby sentenced to each suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from TWO (2) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY OF Prision Correccional medium as the minimum penalty to EIGHT (8) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of Prision Mayor medium as the maximum penalty and to each pay a FINE of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00).

In Criminal Case No. 26183, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Paulino S. Ong and Rosalio S. Galeos GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Falsification of Public Document as defined in and penalized by Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code and, there being no modifying circumstances, are hereby sentenced to each suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from TWO (2) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY OF Prision Correccional medium as the minimum penalty to EIGHT (8) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of Prision Mayor medium as the maximum penalty and to each pay a FINE of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00).

In Criminal Case No. 26184, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Paulino S. Ong and Federico T. Rivera GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Falsification of Public Document as defined in and penalized by Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code and, there being no modifying circumstances, are hereby sentenced to each suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from TWO (2) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY OF Prision Correccional medium as the minimum penalty to EIGHT (8) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of Prision Mayor medium as the maximum penalty and to each pay a FINE of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00).

In Criminal Case No. 26185, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Paulino S. Ong and Federico T. Rivera GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Falsification of Public Document as defined in and penalized by Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code and, there being no modifying circumstances, are hereby sentenced to each suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from TWO (2) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY OF Prision Correccional medium as the minimum penalty to EIGHT (8) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of Prision Mayor medium as the maximum penalty and to each pay a FINE of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00).

In Criminal Case No. 26186, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Paulino S. Ong and Rosalio S. Galeos GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Falsification of Public Document as defined in and penalized by Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code and, there being no modifying circumstances, are hereby sentenced to each suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from TWO (2) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY OF Prision Correccional  medium as the minimum penalty to EIGHT (8) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of Prision Mayor medium as the maximum penalty and to each pay a FINE of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00).

In Criminal Case No. 26187, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Paulino S. Ong and Rosalio S. Galeos GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Falsification of Public Document as defined in and penalized by Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code and, there being no modifying circumstances, are hereby sentenced to each suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from TWO (2) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS, and ONE (1) DAY OF Prision Correccional medium as the minimum penalty to EIGHT (8) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of Prision Mayor medium as the maximum penalty and to each pay a FINE of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00).

In Criminal Case No. 26188, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Paulino S. Ong NOT GUILTY for Violation of Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code for failure of the Prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt; and

In Criminal Case No. 26189, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Paulino S. Ong GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for Falsification of Public Document as defined in and penalized by Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code and, there being no modifying circumstances, is hereby sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment from TWO (2) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY of Prision Correccional  medium as the minimum penalty to EIGHT (8) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of Prision Mayor medium as the maximum penalty and to pay a FINE of FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P5,000.00).

SO ORDERED.[20][20]

                In its Resolution[21][21] datedAugust 28, 2006, the Sandiganbayan denied the motions for reconsideration of Ong and Galeos.  However, in view of the death of Rivera onAugust 22, 2003 before the promulgation of the decision, the cases (Criminal Case Nos. 26182, 26184 and 26185) against him were dismissed.

                In G.R. Nos. 174730-37, Galeos contends that the Sandiganbayan erred when:

1)      . . . IT HELD THAT THE SUBJECT DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE CONTAINED UNTRUTHFUL STATEMENTS IN A NARRATION OF FACTS.

 

2)      . . . IT DID NOT CONSIDER PETITIONER’S VALID DEFENSE OF GOOD FAITH AND LACK OF INTENT TO COMMIT THE CRIMES IMPUTED.

 

3)      . . . IT GAVE FULL CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONY OF THE SOLE WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION.[22][22]

In support of his assigned errors, Galeos argues that he did not make untruthful or false statements in his SALN since a “statement” requires a positive averment and thus silence or non-disclosure cannot be considered one. And even if they are considered statements, Galeos contends that they were not made in a “narration of facts” and the least they could be considered are “conclusions of law.” He also argues that the prosecution failed to adduce any evidence to support the finding that he was aware of their relationship at the time of the execution of the SALN. With the presence of good faith, Galeos avers that the fourth element of the crime – the perversion of truth in the narration of facts was made with the wrongful intent of injuring a third person – is missing. He also faults the Sandiganbayan for its heavy reliance on the uncorroborated testimony of the prosecution’s sole witness despite the fact that there are aspects in his testimony that do not inspire belief.

On the other hand, in G.R. Nos. 174845-52, Ong argues that the Sandiganbayan erred when:

(a)

. . . IT HELD THAT THE SUBJECT DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE CONTAINED UNTRUTHFUL STATEMENTS IN A NARRATION OF FACTS.

(b)

IN CRIMINAL CASES NOS. 26181-26187, [IT HELD] THAT A PERSON MERELY ADMINISTERING THE OATH IN A DOCUMENT IS GUILTY OF THE CRIME OF FALSIFICATION BY MAKING UNTRUTHFUL STATEMENTS IN A NARRATION OF FACTS.

(c)

. . . IN CRIMINAL CASE NO. 26189, … IT INFER[R]ED, DESPITE THE  COMPLETE ABSENCE OF ANY RELEVANT AND MATERIAL EVIDENCE, THAT RESPONDENT’S EXHIBIT “I” (OR PETITIONER’S EXHIBIT “8”) REFERS TO OR SUPPORTS THE APPOINTMENT OF FEDERICO T. RIVERA.[23][23]

            Ong similarly argues that the subject SALN do not contain any untruthful statements containing a narration of facts and that there was no wrongful intent of injuring a third person at the time of the execution of the documents. He contends that he cannot be held liable for falsification for merely administering the oath in a document since it is not among the legal obligations of an officer administering the oath to certify the truthfulness and/or veracity of the contents of the document. Neither can he be made liable for falsification regarding the letter-certification he issued since there was no evidence adduced that it was made to support Rivera’s appointment.

          In the Joint Memorandum filed by the Ombudsman through the Office of the Special Prosecutor of the Sandiganbayan, it was pointed out that Galeos categorically admitted during his testimony that before affixing his signature on the subject SALN, he carefully read its contents and the entries therein have been explained to him.  Moreover, the admission made by Ong during the pre-trial under the joint stipulation of facts indicated no qualification at all that he became aware of his relationship with Galeos and Rivera only after the execution of the subject documents.  The defense of lack of knowledge of a particular fact in issue, being a state of mind and therefore self-serving, it can be legally assumed that the admission of that particular fact without qualification reckons from the time the imputed act, to which the particular fact relates, was committed.  As to mistaken reliance on the testimony of prosecution witness, the analysis and findings in the assailed decision do not show that such testimony was even taken into consideration in arriving at the conviction of petitioners.[24][24]

          With respect to Ong’s liability as conspirator in the execution of the SALN containing untruthful statements, the Special Prosecutor argues that as a general rule, it is not the duty of the administering officer to ascertain the truth of the statements found in a document.  The reason for this is that the administering officer has no way of knowing if the facts stated therein are indeed truthful.  However, when the facts laid out in the document directly involves the administering officer, then he has an opportunity to know of their truth or falsity.  When an administering officer nevertheless administers the oath despite the false contents of the document, which are known to him to be false, he is liable, not because he violated his duty as an administering officer, but because he participated in the falsification of a document.[25][25]

          After a thorough review, we find the petitions unmeritorious.

Petitioners were charged with falsification of public document under Article 171, paragraph 4 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, which states:

Art. 171. Falsification by public officer, employee or notary or ecclesiastic minister. — The penalty of prision mayor and a fine not to exceed 5,000 pesos shall be imposed upon any public officer, employee, or notary who, taking advantage of his official position, shall falsify a document by committing any of the following acts:

1. Counterfeiting or imitating any handwriting, signature or rubric;

2. Causing it to appear that persons have participated in any act or proceeding when they did not in fact so participate;

3. Attributing to persons who have participated in an act or proceeding statements other than those in fact made by them;

4. Making untruthful statements in a narration of facts;

x x x x (Emphasis and italics supplied.)

          The elements of falsification in the above provision are as follows:

(a)  the offender makes in a public document untruthful statements in a narration of facts;

(b) he has a legal obligation to disclose the truth of the facts narrated by him; and

(c)  the facts narrated by him are absolutely false.[26][26]

In addition to the afore-cited elements, it must also be proven that the public officer or employee had taken advantage of his official position in making the falsification. In falsification of public document, the offender is considered to have taken advantage of his official position when (1) he has the duty to make or prepare or otherwise to intervene in the preparation of a document; or (2) he has the official custody of the document which he falsifies.[27][27]  Likewise, in falsification of public or official documents, it is not necessary that there be present the idea of gain or the intent to injure a third person because in the falsification of a public document, what is punished is the violation of the public faith and the destruction of the truth as therein solemnly proclaimed.[28][28]

Falsification of Public Document

by making untruthful statements

concerning relatives in the

government service

All the elements of falsification of public documents by making untruthful statements have been established by the prosecution.  

Petitioners argue that the statements “they are not related within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity” and “that Section 79 of the Local Government Code has been complied with in the issuance of the appointments” are not a narration of facts but a conclusion of law, as both require the application of the rules on relationship under the law of succession.  Thus, they cite People v. Tugbang[29][29] where it was held that “a statement expressing an erroneous conclusion of law cannot be considered a falsification.” Likewise, in People v. Yanza,[30][30] it was held that when defendant certified that she was eligible for the position, she practically wrote a conclusion of law, which turned out to be incorrect or erroneous; hence, she may not be declared guilty of falsification because the law violated pertains to narration of facts.

We disagree.

A conclusion of law is a determination by a judge or ruling authority regarding the law that applies in a particular case. It is opposed to a finding of fact, which interprets the factual circumstances to which the law is to be applied.[31][31]   A narration of facts is merely an account or description of the particulars of an event or occurrence.[32][32]  We have held that a certification by accused officials in the Statement of Time Elapsed and Work Accomplished qualifies as a narration of facts as contemplated under Article 171 (4) of the Revised Penal Code, as it consisted not only of figures and numbers but also words were used therein giving an account of the status of the flood control project.[33][33]

In this case, the required disclosure or identification of relatives “within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity” in the SALN involves merely a description of such relationship; it does not call for an application of law in a particular set of facts.  On the other hand, Articles 963 to 967 of the Civil Code simply explain the concept of proximity of relationship and what constitute direct and collateral lines in relation to the rules on succession.   The question of whether or not persons are related to each other by consanguinity or affinity within the fourth degree is one of fact. Contrary to petitioners’ assertion, statements concerning relationship may be proved as to its truth or falsity, and thus do not amount to expression of opinion.  When a government employee is required to disclose his relatives in the government service, such information elicited therefore qualifies as a narration of facts contemplated under Article 171 (4) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended.  Further, it bears to stress that the untruthful statements on relationship have no relevance to the employee’s eligibility for the position but pertains rather to prohibition or restriction imposed by law on the appointing power.

Since petitioner Galeos answered “No” to the question in his 1993 SALN if he has relatives in the government service within the fourth degree of consanguinity, he made an untruthful statement therein as in fact he was related to Ong, who was then the municipal mayor, within the fourth degree of consanguinity, he and Ong being first cousins (their mothers are sisters).   As to his 1994, 1995 and 1996 SALN, Galeos left in blank the boxes for the answer to the similar query.  In Dela Cruz v. Mudlong,[34][34] it was held that one is guilty of falsification in the accomplishment of his information and personal data sheet if he withholds material facts which would have affected the approval of his appointment and/or promotion to a government position.   By withholding information on his relative/s in the government service as required in the SALN, Galeos was guilty of falsification considering that the disclosure of such relationship with then Municipal Mayor Ong would have resulted in the disapproval of his permanent appointment pursuant to Article 168 (j) (Appointments), Rule XXII of the Rules and Regulations Implementing the Local Government Code of 1991 (R.A. No. 7160), which provides:

No person shall be appointed in the local government career service if he is related within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to the appointing power or recommending authority.

Section 7 (e), Rule V of the Implementing Rules of Book V, Executive Order No. 292  otherwise known as the Administrative Code of 1987, provides that the CSC shall disapprove the appointment of a person who “has been issued such appointment in violation of existing Civil Service Law, rules and regulations.” Among the prohibited appointments enumerated in CSC Memorandum Circular No. 38, series of 1993 are appointments in the LGUs of persons who are related to the appointing or recommending authority within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity.[35][35]

The Omnibus Rules on Appointments and Other Personnel Actions (CSC Memorandum Circular No. 40, series of 1998 dated December 14, 1998) contain a similar prohibition under Rule XIII, Section 9:

SEC. 9. No appointment in the national, provincial, city or municipal governments or any branch or instrumentality thereof, including government owned or controlled corporations with original charters shall be made in favor of a relative of the appointing or recommending authority, or of the chief of the bureau or office or of the person exercising immediate supervision over the appointee.

Unless otherwise provided by law, the word “relative” and the members of the family referred to are those related within the third degree either of consanguinity or of affinity.

In the local government career service, the prohibition extends to the relatives of the appointing or recommending authority, within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity.

x x x x

The nepotism rule covers all kinds of appointments whether original, promotional, transfer and reemployment regardless of status including casuals and contractuals except consultants. (Emphasis supplied.)

The second element is likewise present. “Legal obligation” means that there is a law requiring the disclosure of the truth of the facts narrated.[36][36]  Permanent employees employed by local government units are required to file the following: (a) sworn statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN); (b) lists of relatives within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity in government service; (c) financial and business interests; and (d) personal data sheets as required by law.[37][37]  A similar requirement is imposed by Section 8 (B) of Republic Act No. 6713 otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, thus:

(B) Identification and disclosure of relatives[38][38].  – It shall be the duty of every public official or employee to identify and disclose to the best of his knowledge and information, his relatives in the Government in the form, manner and frequency prescribed by the Civil Service Commission.

Section 11 of the same law penalizes the violation of the above provision, either with imprisonment or fine, and, in the discretion of the court of competent jurisdiction, disqualification to hold public office.  Such violation if proven in a proper administrative proceeding shall also be sufficient cause for removal or dismissal of a public official or employee, even if no criminal prosecution is instituted against him.     

          The evidence on record clearly showed that Galeos’ negative answer reflected in his SALN is absolutely false.  During the trial, both Ong and Galeos admitted the fact that they are first cousins but denied having knowledge of such relationship at the time the subject documents were executed.  The Sandiganbayan correctly rejected their defense of being unaware that they are related within the fourth degree of consanguinity.  Given the Filipino cultural trait of valuing strong kinship and extended family ties, it was unlikely for Galeos who had been working for several years in the municipal government, not to have known of his close blood relation to Ong who was a prominent public figure having ran and won in the local elections four times (three terms as Mayor and as Vice-Mayor in the 1998 elections), after serving as OIC Mayor of the same municipality in 1986 until 1988. 

The same thing can be said of Ong, whose unbelievable claim that he had no knowledge that a first cousin (Galeos) was working in the municipal government and appointed by him to a permanent position during his incumbency, was correctly disregarded by the Sandiganbayan. It was simply unthinkable that as a resident of Naga,Cebusince birth and a politician at that, he was all the time unaware that he himself appointed to permanent positions the son of his mother’s sister (Galeos) and the husband of his first cousin (Rivera).   Indeed, the reality of local politics and Filipino culture renders his defense of good faith (lack of knowledge of their relationship) unavailing.  Despite his knowledge of the falsity of the statement in the subject SALN, Ong still administered the oath to Galeos and Rivera who made the false statement under oath.  The Sandiganbayan thus did not err in finding that Ong connived with Galeos and Rivera in making it appear in their SALN that they have no relative within the fourth degree of consanguinity/affinity in the government service.

 Conspiracy need not be shown by direct proof of an agreement of the parties to commit the crime,[39][39] as it can be inferred from the acts of the accused which clearly manifest a concurrence of wills, a common intent or design to commit a crime.[40][40]  In this case, Ong administered the oaths to Galeos and Rivera in the subject SALN not just once, but three times, a clear manifestation that he concurred with the making of the untruthful statement therein concerning relatives in the government service.

Falsification by making

untruthful statements

in the Certification re:

compliance with the

prohibition on nepotism

          As chief executive and the proper appointing authority, Ong is deemed to have issued the certification recommending to the CSC approval of Galeos’ appointment although he admitted only the authenticity and due execution of Exhibit “I”.   Since Ong was duty bound to observe the prohibition on nepotistic appointments, his certification stating compliance with Section 79[41][41] of R.A. No. 7160 constitutes a solemn affirmation of the fact that the appointee is not related to him within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity.  Having executed the certification despite his knowledge that he and Rivera were related to each other within the fourth degree of affinity, as in fact Rivera was his cousin-in-law because the mother of Rivera’s wife is the sister of Ong’s mother, Ong was guilty of falsification of public document by making untruthful statement in a narration of facts. He also took advantage of his official position as the appointing authority who, under the Civil Service rules, is required to issue such certification.

          The importance of the certification submitted to the CSC by the proper appointing authority in the local government unit, regarding compliance with the prohibition against nepotism under R.A. No. 7160 cannot be overemphasized.  Under Section 67, Book V, Chapter 10 of the Administrative Code of 1987, a head of office or appointing official who issues an appointment or employs any person in violation of Civil Service Law and Rules or who commits fraud, deceit or intentional misrepresentation of material facts concerning other civil service matters, or anyone who violates, refuses or neglects to comply with any of such provisions or rules, may be held criminally liable.  In Civil Service Commission v. Dacoycoy,[42][42]  we held that mere issuance of appointment in favor of a relative within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity is sufficient to constitute a violation of the law.  Although herein petitioners were prosecuted for the criminal offense of falsification of public document, it becomes obvious that the requirement of disclosure of relationship to the appointing power in the local government units simply aims to ensure strict enforcement of the prohibition against nepotism.

Relevant then is our pronouncement in Dacoycoy:

Nepotism is one pernicious evil impeding the civil service and the efficiency of its personnel.  In Debulgado, we stressed that “[T]the basic purpose or objective of the prohibition against nepotism also strongly indicates that the prohibition was intended to be a comprehensive one.” “The Court was unwilling to restrict and limit the scope of the prohibition which is textually very broad and comprehensive.” If not within the exceptions, it is a form of corruption that must be nipped in the bud or abated whenever or wherever it raises its ugly head. As we said in an earlier case “what we need now is not only to punish the wrongdoers or reward the ‘outstanding’ civil servants, but also to plug the hidden gaps and potholes of corruption as well as to insist on strict compliance with existing legal procedures in order to abate any occasion for graft or circumvention of the law.”[43][43] (Emphasis supplied.)

          The prosecution having established with moral certainty the guilt of petitioners for falsification of public documents under Article 171 (4) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, we find no legal ground to reverse petitioners’ conviction.

          WHEREFORE, the petitions are DENIED.  The Decision dated August 18, 2005 of the Sandiganbayan in Criminal Case Nos. 26181-26187 and 26189 is AFFIRMED.

          With costs against the petitioners.

SO ORDERED.

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

                                                                               Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

Associate Justice

 

 

A T T E S T A T I O N

          I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.                                                 

         CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson, Third Division

 

 

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

          Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

 


 

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CASE 06: ATTY. ANTONIO F. MONTEMAYOR

 

HON. WALDO Q. FLORES, IN HIS CAPACITY AS SENIOR DEPUTY EXECUTIVE SECRETARY IN THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, HON. ARTHUR P. AUTEA, IN HIS CAPACITY AS DEPUTY EXECUTIVE SECRETARY IN THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, AND THE PRESIDENTIAL ANTI-GRAFT COMMISSION (PAGC), PETITIONERS, VERSUS ATTY. ANTONIO F. MONTEMAYOR, RESPONDENT (G.R. NO. 170146, 25 AUGUST 2010)

 

 

VILLARAMA, JR., J.:

 

Before us is a Rule 45 petition assailing the October 19, 2005 Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 84254. The appellate court, in the said decision, had reversed and set aside the March 23, 2004 Decision[2] and May 13, 2004 Resolution[3] of the Office of the President in O.P. Case No. 03-1-581 finding respondent Atty. Antonio F. Montemayor administratively liable as charged and dismissing him from government  service.

 

The facts follow.

 

Respondent Atty. Antonio F. Montemayor was appointed by the President as Regional Director II of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Region IV, inSan Fernando, Pampanga.

 

On January 30, 2003, the Office of the President received a letter from “a concerned citizen” dated January 20, 2003 relating Montemayor’s ostentatious lifestyle which is apparently disproportionate to his income as a public official. The letter was referred to Dario C. Rama, Chairman of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) for appropriate action.[4] The Investigating Office of the PAGC immediately conducted a fact-finding inquiry into the matter and issued subpoenas duces tecum to the responsible personnel of the BIR and the Land Transportation Office (LTO). In compliance with the subpoena, BIR Personnel Division Chief Estelita Datu submitted to the PAGC a copy of Montemayor’s appointment papers along with a certified true copy of the latter’s Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SSAL) for the year 2002. Meanwhile, the LTO, through its Records Section Chief, Ms. Arabelle O. Petilla, furnished the PAGC with a record of vehicles registered to Montemayor, to wit: a 2001 Ford Expedition, a 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser, and a 1983 Mitsubishi Galant.[5] 

 

During the pendency of the investigation, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, a media organization which had previously published an article on the unexplained wealth of certain BIR officials, also submitted to the PAGC copies of Montemayor’s SSAL for the years 1999, 2000 and 2001.[6]  In Montemayor’s 1999 and 2000 SSAL, the PAGC noted that Montemayor declared his ownership over several motor vehicles, but failed to do the same in his 2001 SSAL.[7]

 

On the basis of the said documents, the PAGC issued a Formal Charge[8] against Montemayor on May 19, 2003 for violation of Section 7 of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019[9] in relation to Section 8 (A) of RA No. 6713[10] due to his failure to declare the 2001 Ford Expedition with a value ranging from 1.7 million to 1.9 million pesos, and the 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser with an estimated value of 1 million to 1.2 million pesos in his 2001[11] and 2002[12] SSAL. The charge was docketed as PAGC-ADM-0149-03. On the same date, the PAGC issued an Order[13] directing Montemayor to file his counter-affidavit or verified answer to the formal charge against him within ten (10) days from the receipt of the Order. Montemayor, however, failed to submit his counter-affidavit or verified answer to the formal charge lodged against him.

 

On June 4, 2003, during the preliminary conference, Montemayor, through counsel, moved for the deferment of the administrative proceedings explaining that he has filed a petition for certiorari before the CA[14] questioning the PAGC’s jurisdiction to conduct the administrative investigation against him. The PAGC denied Montemayor’s motion for lack of merit, and instead gave him until June 9, 2003 to submit his counter-affidavit or verified answer.[15] Still, no answer was filed.

 

On June 23, 2003, the CA issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) in CA-G.R. SP No. 77285 enjoining the PAGC from proceeding with the investigation for sixty (60) days.[16] On September 12, 2003, shortly after the expiration of the sixty (60)-day TRO, the PAGC issued a Resolution[17] finding Montemayor administratively liable as charged and recommending to the Office of the President Montemayor’s dismissal from the service.

 

On March 23, 2004, the Office of the President, through Deputy Executive Secretary Arthur P. Autea, issued a Decision adopting in toto the findings and recommendation of the PAGC. The pertinent portion of the Decision reads:

 

After a circumspect study of the case, this Office fully agrees with the recommendation of PAGC and the legal premises as well as the factual findings that hold it together. Respondent failed to disclose in his 2001 and 2002 SSAL high-priced vehicles in breach of the prescription of the relevant provisions of RA No. 3019 in relation to RA No. 6713. He was, to be sure, afforded ample opportunity to explain his failure, but he opted to let the opportunity pass by.

 

WHEREFORE, premises considered, respondent Antonio F. Montemayor is hereby found administratively liable as charged and, as recommended by PAGC, meted the penalty of dismissal from the service, with all accessory penalties.

 

SO ORDERED.[18]

 

Montemayor sought reconsideration of the said decision.[19] This time, he argued that he was denied his right to due process when the PAGC proceeded to investigate his case notwithstanding the pendency of his petition for certiorari before the CA, and its subsequent elevation to the Supreme Court.[20] The motion was eventually denied.[21]

 

Aggrieved, Montemayor brought the matter to the CA via a petition for review[22] under Rule 43 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended.  He made the following assertions: first, that the PAGC exceeded its authority when it recommended that he be dismissed from government service since the power to investigate does not necessarily carry with it the power to impose penalty unless the same was expressly granted; second, that the PAGC grossly violated his right to due process of law when it did not give him the opportunity to present his countervailing evidence to the charges against him; third, that the PAGC cannot validly proceed with the investigation of the charges against him on the basis of an unverified anonymous letter-complaint without any supporting documents attached thereto, contrary to the requirement of Section 4 (c) of Executive Order (EO) No. 12;[23] fourth, that it was an error for the Office of the President to hold him liable for violation of Section 7 of RA No. 3019 and Section 8 (A) of RA No. 6713 since the SSAL should reflect assets and liabilities acquired in the preceding year; and fifth, that the assailed PAGC Resolution was not supported by substantial evidence.

 

As aforesaid, the CA in its assailed Decision dated October 19, 2005, ruled in favor of Montemayor. The CA concluded that Montemayor was deprived of an opportunity to present controverting evidence amounting to a brazen denial of his right to due process.

 

 

Hence, petitioners now appeal the matter before us raising the following issues:

 

I. WHETHER PETITIONER PAGC HAD A CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY TO ACCORD RESPONDENT A “SECOND” OPPORTUNITY TO PRESENT EVIDENCE IN PAGC-ADM-0149-03 AFTER THE EXPIRATION OF THE TRO ISSUED IN CA-G.R. SP NO. 77285.

 

II. WHETHER THE MERE PENDENCY OF CA-G.R. SP NO. 77285 WAS A LEGAL GROUND FOR RESPONDENT’S REFUSAL TO PRESENT EVIDENCE IN [PAGC]-ADM-0149-03.

 

III. WHETHER THE ALLEGED UNDUE HASTE AND APPARENT PRECIPITATION OF PROCEEDINGS IN [PAGC]-ADM-0149-03 HAD RENDERED THE SAME INFIRM.

 

IV. WHETHER RESPONDENT HAD COMMITTED A MAJOR ADMINISTRATIVE INFRACTION WARRANTING DISMISSAL FROM [GOVERNMENT] SERVICE.

 

V. WHETHER THE [OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT’S] DETERMINATION THAT RESPONDENT COMMITTED THE ADMINISTRATIVE OFFENSE CHARGED IS SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE.

 

VI. WHETHER THE PAGC HAD AUTHORITY TO RECOMMEND TO THE PRESIDENT THE PENALTY OF DISMISSAL, FOLLOWING ITS INVESTIGATION INITIATED BY AN ANONYMOUS COMPLAINT, AND DESPITE THE PENDENCY OF ANOTHER INVESTIGATION FOR THE SAME OFFENSE BEFORE THE [OFFICE OF THE] OMBUDSMAN.[24]

 

The issues may be summarized as follows:

 

I. WHETHER RESPONDENT WAS DEPRIVED OF HIS RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS WHEN IT PROCEEDED TO INVESTIGATE HIM ON THE BASIS OF AN ANONYMOUS COMPLAINT, AND ALLEGEDLY WITHOUT ANOPPORTUNITYTO PRESENT EVIDENCE IN HIS DEFENSE;

 

II. WHETHER THE PAGC HAS THE AUTHORITY TO RECOMMEND RESPONDENT’S DISMISSAL FROM THE SERVICE;

 

III. WHETHER THE ASSUMPTION BY THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN OF ITS JURISDICTION TO INVESTIGATE RESPONDENT FOR THE SAME OFFENSE DEPRIVED THE PAGC [WITH ITS JURISDICTION] FROM PROCEEDING WITH ITS INVESTIGATION; AND

 

IV. WHETHER THE PAGC’S RECOMMENDATION WAS SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE.

 

We discuss the first three (3) issues jointly as these involve procedural aspects.

 

The PAGC was created by virtue of EO No. 12, signed on April 16, 2001 to speedily address the problem on corruption and abuses committed in the government, particularly by officials appointed by the President. Under Section 4 (b) of EO No. 12, the PAGC has the power to investigate and hear administrative complaints provided (1) that the official to be investigated must be a presidential appointee in the government or any of its agencies or instrumentalities, and (2) that the said official must be occupying the position of assistant regional director, or an equivalent rank, or higher.[25]

 

Respondent contends that he was deprived of his right to due process when the PAGC proceeded to investigate him on the basis of an anonymous complaint in the absence of any documents supporting the complainant’s assertions.

 

Section 4 (c) of EO No. 12, however, states that the PAGC has the power to give due course to anonymous complaints against presidential appointees if there appears on the face of the complaint or based on the supporting documents attached to the anonymous complaint a probable cause to engender a belief that the allegations may be true.[26] The use of the conjunctive word “or” in the said provision is determinative since it empowers the PAGC to exercise discretion in giving due course to anonymous complaints. Because of the said provision, an anonymous complaint may be given due course even if the same is without supporting documents, so long as it appears from the face of the complaint that there is probable cause. The clear implication of the said provision is intent to empower the PAGC in line with the President’s objective of eradicating corruption among a particular line of government officials, i.e., those directly appointed by her. Absent the conjunctive word “or,” the PAGC’s authority to conduct investigations based on anonymous complaints will be very limited.  It will decimate the said administrative body into a toothless anti-corruption agency and will inevitably undermine the Chief Executive’s disciplinary power.

 

Respondent also assails the PAGC’s decision to proceed with the investigation process without giving him the opportunity to present controverting evidence.

 

The argument is without merit.

 

We find nothing irregular with the PAGC’s decision to proceed with its investigation notwithstanding the pendency of Montemayor’s petition for certiorari before the CA. The filing of a petition for certiorari with the CA did not divest the PAGC of its jurisdiction validly acquired over the case before it.  Elementary is the rule that the mere pendency of a special civil action for certiorari, commenced in relation to a case pending before a lower court or an administrative body such as the PAGC, does not interrupt the course of the latter where there is no writ of injunction restraining it.[27] For as long as no writ of injunction or restraining order is issued in the special civil action for certiorari, no impediment exists, and nothing prevents the PAGC from exercising its jurisdiction and proceeding with the case pending before its office.[28] And even if such injunctive writ or order is issued, the PAGC continues to retain jurisdiction over the principal action[29] until the question on jurisdiction is finally determined.

 

In the case at bar, a sixty (60)-day TRO was issued by the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 77285. However, barely a week after the lapse of the TRO, the PAGC issued its resolution finding Montemayor administratively liable and recommending to the Office of the President his dismissal from government service. The CA believes that there has been “undue haste and apparent precipitation” in the PAGC’s investigation proceedings.[30] It notes with disapproval the fact that it was barely eight (8) days after the TRO had lapsed that the PAGC issued the said resolution and explains that respondent should have been given a second chance to present evidence prior to proceeding with the issuance of the said resolution.[31]

 

We beg to disagree with the appellate court’s observation.

 

First, it must be remembered that the PAGC’s act of issuing the assailed resolution enjoys the presumption of regularity particularly since it was done in the performance of its official duties. Mere surmises and conjectures, absent any proof whatsoever, will not tilt the balance against the presumption, if only to provide constancy in the official acts of authorized government personnel and officials. Simply put, the timing of the issuance of the assailed PAGC resolution by itself cannot be used to discredit, much less nullify, what appears on its face to be a regular performance of the PAGC’s duties.

 

Second, Montemayor’s argument, as well as the CA’s observation that respondent was not afforded a “second” opportunity to present controverting evidence, does not hold water. The essence of due process in administrative proceedings is an opportunity to explain one’s side or an opportunity to seek reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of.[32]  So long as the party is given the opportunity to explain his side, the requirements of due process are satisfactorily complied with.[33]

 

Significantly, the records show that the PAGC issued an order informing Montemayor of the formal charge filed against him and gave him ten (10) days within which to present a counter-affidavit or verified answer.[34]  When the said period lapsed without respondent asking for an extension, the PAGC gave Montemayor a fresh ten (10)-day period to file his answer,[35] but the latter chose to await the decision of the CA in his petition for certiorari.[36] During the preliminary conference, Montemayor was again informed that he is given a new ten (10)-day period, or until June 19, 2003 within which to file his memorandum/position paper as well as supporting evidence with a warning that if he still fails to do so, the complaint shall be deemed submitted for resolution on the basis of available documentary evidence on record.[37] Again, the deadline lapsed without any evidence being presented by Montemayor in his defense.

 

We stress that the PAGC’s findings and recommendations remain as recommendations until finally acted upon by the Office of the President. Montemayor, therefore, had two (2) choices upon the issuance of the PAGC resolution: to move for a reconsideration thereof, or to ask for another opportunity before the Office of the President to present his side particularly since the assailed resolution is merely recommendatory in nature. Having failed to exercise any of these two (2) options, Montemayor cannot now be allowed to seek recourse before this Court for the consequences of his own shortcomings.

 

Desperately, Montemayor contends that the authority of the PAGC to investigate him administratively, as well as the power of the Office of the President to act on the PAGC’s recommendation, had already ceased following the initiation and filing of the administrative and criminal cases against him by the Office of the Ombudsman (Ombudsman).[38] He points out that the Ombudsman is mandated by Section 15, paragraph (1) of RA No. 6770[39] to take over the investigation and prosecution of the charges filed against him.[40]

 

We are still not persuaded.

 

The cases filed against respondent before the Ombudsman were initiated after the Office of the President decided to dismiss Montemayor.[41] More importantly, the proceedings before the PAGC were already finished even prior to the initiation and filing of cases against him by the Ombudsman. In fact, it was the PAGC’s findings and recommendations which served as the basis in the Office of the President’s decision to dismiss Montemayor from government service. Clearly then, the exercise by the Office of the President of its concurrent investigatory and prosecutorial power over Montemayor had already been terminated even before the Ombudsman could take cognizance over the matter. The Ombudsman, therefore, cannot take over a task that is already a fait accompli.

 

 

As to the substantive aspect, i.e., whether the PAGC’s recommendation to dismiss Montemayor from government service is supported by substantial evidence, we find in favor of petitioners.

 

Montemayor’s argument that he did not deliberately omit to declare the 2001 Ford Expedition in his 2001 SSAL and the 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser in his 2001 and 2002 SSAL fails to persuade us. Even if a motor vehicle was acquired through chattel mortgage, it is a government employee’s ethical and legal obligation to declare and include the same in his SSAL. Montemayor cannot wiggle his way out of the mess he has himself created since he knows for a fact that every asset acquired by a civil servant must be declared in the SSAL. The law requires that the SSAL be accomplished truthfully and in detail without distinction as to how the property was acquired. Montemayor, therefore, cannot escape liability by arguing that the ownership of the 2001 Ford Expedition has not yet passed to him on the basis of a lame excuse that the said vehicle was acquired only on installment basis sometime on July 3, 2001.[42]

 

Montemayor also argues that even if ownership of the said vehicle had been transferred to him upon acquisition, the vehicle was sold to another person on December 15, 2002;[43] hence, there is no need to declare it in his 2001 SSAL.  Respondent’s reasoning is anemic and convoluted.  It is evasive of the fact that the said vehicle was not reported in his 2001 SSAL.  Notably, the acquisition value of the 2001 Ford Expedition was P1,599,000.00[44] is significantly greater than the amount declared by Montemayor under “machinery/equipment,” worth P1,321,212.50, acquired by him as of December 31, 2001,[45] and to the P1,251,675.00 worth of “machinery/ equipment” acquired by him as of December 31, 2002.[46]  This belies Montemayor’s claim that the said vehicle has been included among the “machinery/equipment” assets he declared in his 2001 and 2002 SSAL.[47] Neither did Montemayor satisfactorily reflect the P1,000,000.00 that has come to his hands as payment for the alleged sale of his 2001 Ford Expedition in his 2002 SSAL.[48]

 

Respondent apparently fails to understand that the SSAL is not a mere scrap of paper.  The law requires that the SSAL must be accomplished as truthfully, as detailed and as accurately as possible. The filing thereof not later than the first fifteen (15) days of April at the close of every calendar year must not be treated as a simple and trivial routine, but as an obligation that is part and parcel of every civil servant’s duty to the people. It serves as the basis of the government and the people in monitoring the income and lifestyle of officials and employees in the government in compliance with the Constitutional policy to eradicate corruption,[49] promote transparency in government,[50] and ensure that all government employees and officials lead just and modest lives.[51] It is for this reason that the SSAL must be sworn to and is made accessible to the public, subject to reasonable administrative regulations.

 

Montemayor’s repeated and consistent failure to reflect truthfully and adequately all his assets and liabilities in his SSAL betrays his claim of innocence and good faith. Accordingly, we find that the penalty of dismissal from government service, as sanctioned by Section 11 (a) and (b) of RA No. 6713,[52] meted by the Office of the President against him, is proper.

 

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed Decision dated October 19, 2005  of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 84254  is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accordingly, the March 23, 2004 Decision and the May 13, 2004 Resolution of the Office of the President in O.P. Case No. 03-1-581 are REINSTATED and UPHELD. 

 

Respondent Atty. Antonio F. Montemayor is hereby DISMISSED from government service.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

 

MARIALOURDESP. A. SERENO

Associate Justice

 

A T T E S T A T I O N

 

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson, Third Division

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

[1] Rollo, pp. 56-67.  Penned by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang, with Associate Justice (now Presiding Justice) Andres B. Reyes, Jr. and Associate Justice Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa concurring.

 

[2]Id.at 86-91.

 

[3]Id.at 92-93.

 

[4]Id.at 69.

 

[5] CA rollo, pp. 73-74.

 

[6]Id.at 70-72.

 

[7]Id.

 

[8] Rollo, p. 71.

 

[9] Section 7 of RA No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, provides in full:

 

SEC. 7. Statement of Assets and Liabilities. – Every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office and, thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of the corresponding Department Head, or in the case of a Head of Department or Chief of an independent office, with the Office of the President, a true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities, including a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year: Provided, That public officers assuming office less than two months before the end of the calendar year, may file their first statement on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of the said calendar year.

 

[10] Section 8 (A) of RA No. 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, as amended, provides in part:

 

SEC. 8. Statements and Disclosure. – Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, the assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

 

(A) Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Financial Disclosure. – All public officials and employees, except those who serve in an honorary capacity, laborers and casual or temporary workers, shall file under oath their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and a Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and those of their spouses and unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

 

x x x x

 

All public officials and employees required under this section to file the aforestated documents shall also execute within thirty (30) days from the date of their assumption of office, the necessary authority in favor of the Ombudsman, to obtain from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue, such documents as may show their liabilities, net worth, and also their business interests and financial connections in previous years, including, if possible the year when they first assumed any office in the Government.

 

[11] CA rollo, p. 72.

 

[12]Id.at 91-92.

 

[13]Id.at 50-51.

 

[14] Docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 77285. See CA rollo, pp. 53-66.

 

[15] CA rollo, pp. 83-85.

 

[16]Id.at 87.

 

[17] In PAGC-ADM-0149-03.  See rollo, pp. 72-85.

 

[18] Rollo, p. 90.

 

[19] CA rollo, pp. 35-45.

 

[20] Docketed as G.R. No. 160443. The said petition for review on certiorari was eventually dismissed through a minute Resolution dated January 26, 2004.  See rollo, p. 170.

 

[21] Rollo, pp. 92-93.

 

[22] CA rollo, pp. 4-26.

 

[23] Section 4 (c) of EO No. 12, series of 2001, entitled “Creating the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission and Providing for its Powers, Duties and Functions and for Other Purposes,” provides:

 

SECTION 4. Jurisdiction, Powers and Functions. –

 

x x x x

 

(c) Anonymous complaints against a presidential appointee shall not be given due course unless there appears on its face or the supporting documents attached to the anonymous complaint a probable cause to engender a belief that the allegations may be true.

 

[24] Rollo, pp. 233-234.

 

[25] Section 4 (b) of EO No. 12, series of 2001, provides in full:

 

SECTION 4. Jurisdiction, Powers and Functions. –

 

x x x x

 

(b) The Commission, acting as a collegial body, shall have the authority to investigate or hear administrative cases or complaints against all presidential appointees in the government and any of its agencies or instrumentalities (including members of the governing board of any instrumentality, regulatory agency, chartered institution and directors or officers appointed or nominated by the President to government-owned or controlled corporations or corporations where the government has a minority interest or who otherwise represent the interests of the government), occupying the position of assistant regional director, or an equivalent rank, and higher, otherwise classified as Salary Grade “26” and higher, of the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989 (Republic Act No. 6758). In the same manner, the Commission shall have jurisdiction to investigate a non-presidential appointee who may have acted in conspiracy or may have been involved with a presidential appointee or ranking officer mentioned in this subsection. The Commission shall have no jurisdiction over members of the Armed Forces of thePhilippinesand the Philippine National Police.

 

[26] Supra note 23.

 

[27]Santiagov. Vasquez, G.R. Nos. 99289-90, January 27, 1993, 217 SCRA 633, 647.

 

[28]Id.at 647-648.

 

[29]Id.at 648.

 

[30] Rollo, p. 62.

 

[31]Id.at 62-64.

 

[32] Arboleda v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 119509, February 11, 1999, 303 SCRA 38, 45.

 

[33] Calma v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 122787, February 9, 1999, 302 SCRA 682, 689.

 

[34] Rollo, pp. 132-133.

 

[35]Id.at 149-150.

 

[36]Id.at 151-154.

 

[37]Id.at 155-158.

 

[38] Docketed as OMB-C-A-04-0096-C and OMB-C-C-04-0084-C.

 

[39] Paragraph (1) of Section 15 of RA No. 6770, otherwise known as the Ombudsman Act of 1989, provides in part:

 

 SEC. 15. Powers, Functions and Duties. – The Office of the Ombudsman shall have the following powers, functions and duties:

 

(1) Investigate and prosecute on its own or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient. It has primary jurisdiction over cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan and, in the exercise of this primary jurisdiction, it may take over, at any stage, from any investigatory agency of Government, the investigation of such cases;

 

 x x x x

 

[40] Rollo, pp. 182-183.

 

[41]Id.at 204-205.

 

[42]Id.at 109-110 and 127-129.

 

[43]Id.at 110 and 130.

 

[44]Id.at 129.

 

[45] CA rollo, p. 72 and unnumbered reverse page.

 

[46] Supra note 12.

 

[47]Id.at 18.

 

[48] Rollo, p. 130; CA rollo, pp. 91-92.

 

[49] Section 27, Art. II of the 1987 Constitution provides in full:

 

SEC. 27. The State shall maintain honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption.

 

[50] Section 28, Art. II of the 1987 Constitution provides in full:

 

SEC. 28. Subject to reasonable conditions prescribed by law, the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest.

 

[51] Section 1, Art. XI of the 1987 Constitution provides in full:

 

SECTION 1. Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.

 

[52] Section 11 of RA No. 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, as amended, provides in full:

 

SEC. 11. Penalties. – (a) Any public official or employee, regardless of whether or not he holds office or employment in a casual, temporary, holdover, permanent or regular capacity committing any violation of this Act, shall be punished with a fine not exceeding the equivalent of six (6) months salary or suspension not exceeding one (1) year, or removal depending on the gravity of the offense after due notice and hearing by the appropriate body or agency. If the violation is punishable by a heavier penalty under another law, he shall be prosecuted under the latter statute. Violations of Sections 7, 8 or 9 of this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment not exceeding five (5) years, or a fine not exceeding five thousand pesos (P5,000.00) or both, and in the discretion of the court of competent jurisdiction, disqualification to hold public office.

 

(b) Any violation hereof proven in a proper administrative proceeding shall be sufficient cause for removal or dismissal of a public official or employee, even if no criminal prosecution is instituted against him.

 

x x x x

 

=========================================

=========================================

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CASE 07: LIBERATO M. CARABEO

 

LIBERATO M. CARABEO, PETITIONER, VERSUS COURT OF APPEALS, OMBUDSMAN SIMEON B. MARCELO, ASSISTANT OMBUDSMAN PAMO PELAGIO S. APOSTOL, MARGARITO TEVES, IN HIS CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF FINANCE, AND TROY FRANCIS C. PIZARRO, JOEL APOLONIO, REYNALITO L. LAZARO, ISMAEL LEONOR, AND MELCHOR PIOL, IN THEIR CAPACITY AS MEMBERS OF THE PANEL OF INVESTIGATORS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE-REVENUE INTEGRITY PROTECTION SERVICE, RESPONDENTS (G.R. NOS. 178000 AND 178003, 04 DECEMBER 2009)

 

 

CARPIO, J.:

 

The Case

 

This petition for certiorari[1] challenges the Court of Appeals’ 31 October 2006 Joint Decision[2] in CA-G.R. SP Nos. 91607 and 92313 dismissing Liberato M. Carabeo’s  certiorari petition against respondents,  and the 28 March 2007 Resolution[3] denying reconsideration and dismissing the contempt charge against Secretary Margarito Teves (Secretary Teves).

 

The Facts

 

On 8 July 2005, the Department of Finance-Revenue Integrity Protection Service (DOF-RIPS), composed of private respondents Troy Francis Pizarro, Joel Apolonio, Reynalito L. Lazaro, Ismael Leonor, and Melchor Piol, filed a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman against Carabeo, Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Office of the Treasurer of Parañaque City.  The complaint pertinently alleged:

 

4. Based on the records we obtained, CARABEO is currently designated by the BLGF as City Treasurer II x x x.  In September 1981, CARABEO first occupied the position of Revenue Collection Clerk at the Office of the City Treasurer of Parañaque earning an annual gross salary of Eight Thousand Four Hundred Pesos (P8,400.00).  As the present City Treasurer (In-charge of Office) at the City ofParañaque, CARABEO receives an annual gross salary of Two Hundred Ninety One Thousand Thirty Six Pesos (P291,036.00).

 

5. The net worth of CARABEO, based on his Statements of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth (SALNs), from the time he commenced employment at the Parañaque Treasurer’s Office in 1981 has ballooned from P114,900.00 to approximately P7.5 Million in the year 2004.

 

6. Equally noticeable as the drastic increase in his net worth is the steady accumulation of various expensive properties by CARABEO and his spouse ranging from real properties to vehicles to club shares ownership.

 

7. In the last nine years, CARABEO and/or his spouse was able to purchase numerous real properties, including:

 

a. 1,000 sq.m. Residential lot inTagaytayCity;

 

b. 1,500 sq.m. Residential lot also inTagaytayCity;

 

c. Townhouse inCavite; and

 

d.  Three separate parcels of land in Laguna.

 

8. Also, various expensive vehicles were found to be currently owned by CARABEO and/or his spouse, including the following:

 

a. Ford F150 Flareside (WMD-126);

 

b. Mazda Familia (WCL-191);

 

c. Chevrolet Cassia (WSG-781);

 

d. Mitsubishi Lancer (XCW-149);

 

e. Honda CRV (CYN-808).

 

In addition to these vehicles, CARABEO also owned, as of last year, two additional vehicles – a Honda City (WLX-553) and a Nissan Sentra (WSG-869).

 

9. However, CARABEO did not declare most of the foregoing vehicles in his SALNs.  In his SALN for year 2003, CARABEO claimed that he owns only three vehicles GSR, CITY and CASSIA.  In the succeeding year, CARABEO only declared ownership of only one vehicle, a GSR supposed acquired in 2002.

 

10. The records of the Land Transportation Office however belie this declaration of ownership of only three vehicles and later (in year 2004), of only one vehicle, with the LTO certification that CARABEO and/or his spouse owns at least seven vehicles including the expensive Ford F150 and Honda CRV.

 

11. Also, CARABEO and/or his spouse acquired the 1,000 sq.m. Tagaytay property in year 2001 but this substantial property acquisition was not reflected in the SALNs of CARABEO for said year as well as for the subsequent year.

 

12. CARABEO’s failure to disclose his and his spouse’s ownership of the foregoing Tagaytay property and vehicles in the pertinent SALNs amounts to a violation of Section 7 of RA 3019 and Section 8(A) of RA 6713 requiring him to file under oath the true and detailed statement of his assets as well as those of his spouse.

 

13. Punctuating the expensive list of purchases CARABEO and/or his spouse is his recent purchase of a share in the very exclusive The Palms Country Club in Alabang, Muntinlupa. An individual share in this premiere country club is currently priced at Seven Hundred Forty Five Thousand Pesos (P745,000.00) and can only be purchased in cash.

 

14. x x x

 

15. While CARABEO claims in his SALNs to have investments in various businesses (Diosa Properties, Nalpa Trading, L.M. Carabeo Realty, Romilia Enterprises and J’s Appleseed Food Products),  the  information we  gathered on these alleged businesses indicates that these purported investments could not possibly justify the foregoing substantial purchases.

 

x x x x

 

16. Any anticipated claim to the effect that CARABEO’s wife has business undertakings that should explain their acquired wealth cannot also be given credence.  Our inquiry with the BIR further showed  that CARABEO’s spouse, Cynthia, had no tax payments reflected on the Bureau’s records, except for a one-time tax payment of approximately three thousand  pesos (representing capital gains tax for one transaction).  Such information provided by the BIR shows that CARABEO’s spouse had no substantial income that can justify the foregoing property acquisitions.

 

17. It was also discovered in the course of our investigation that, in addition to the foregoing purchases, during the period 1996 to 2004, CARABEO went abroad at least fifteen times (or more than once a year)  x x x .[4]

 

The DOF-RIPS prayed that the Office of the Ombudsman issue an order: (a) filing the appropriate criminal informations against Carabeo for violation of Republic Act (RA) Nos. 3019,[5] 6713,[6] and 1379[7] and the Revised Penal Code; (b) instituting the appropriate administrative cases against Carabeo for the same violations, for dishonesty and grave misconduct; (c) commencing forfeiture proceedings against Carabeo’s unlawfully acquired properties including those illegally obtained in the names of his spouse, children, relatives and agents; and (d) placing Carabeo under preventive suspension pursuant to Section 24 of RA 6770.[8]

 

In an Order dated 26 July 2005 in OMB-C-A-05-0333-G (LSC) and OMB-C-C-05-0337-G(LSC),[9] the Office of the Ombudsman’s Preliminary Investigation and Administrative Adjudication Bureau-A Acting Director, Corazon    DLP.   Tanglao-Dacanay   (Acting  Director  Dacanay),    directed

 

Secretary  Teves  to place  Carabeo under preventive suspension for a period not to exceed six months without pay.  The order likewise directed Carabeo to file his counter-affidavit to the DOF-RIPS’ complaint within ten days from receipt thereof and gave the DOF-RIPS a similar period to file its reply thereto.

 

On 19 September 2005, Ombudsman Simeon V. Marcelo (Ombudsman Marcelo), upon the recommendation of Assistant Ombudsman Pelagio S. Apostol (Assistant Ombudsman Apostol), approved Acting Director Dacanay’s 26 July 2005 Order.[10]

 

Aggrieved, Carabeo filed a petition for certiorari, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 91607, against Ombudsman Marcelo, Assistant Ombudsman Apostol, Secretary Teves, and the members of the DOF-RIPS, alleging that grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction attended the approval of his preventive suspension.

 

On 18 October 2005, the Court of Appeals issued a 60-day Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) enjoining the enforcement of Carabeo’s preventive suspension.[11]

 

Meanwhile, on 10 November 2005, Secretary Teves issued Department Special Order No. 4-05 directing the detail of Carabeo to the DOF’s Bureau of Local Government Finance at the DOF’s Central Office (BLGF-CO).  In his stead, Assistant City Treasurer of Makati, Jesusa E. Cuneta, was designated OIC-City Treasurer of Parañaque.

 

Claiming that his detail to the BLGF-CO violated the TRO issued in CA-G.R. SP No. 91607, Carabeo filed another petition before the Court of Appeals, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 92313, where he prayed, among others, that Secretary Teves be cited for contempt of court.

 

On 19 December 2005, the Court of Appeals granted Carabeo’s request that CA-G.R. SP No. 92313 be consolidated with CA-G.R. SP No. 91607 after holding that both petitions involved the same parties or related questions of fact and law and that the later petition for contempt arose out of Secretary Teves’ alleged violation of the TRO issued in CA-G.R. SP No. 91607.

 

On 31 October 2006, the Court of Appeals rendered a Joint Decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:

 

IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the consolidated petitions are hereby DISMISSED.  No costs.

 

SO ORDERED.[12]

 

Carabeo moved for reconsideration, which the Court of Appeals denied in its Resolution of 28 March 2007.

 

The Ruling of the Court of Appeals

 

In dismissing the petition for certiorari, the Court of Appeals held that a preventive suspension decreed by the Ombudsman by virtue of  his authority under Section 21 of RA 6770, in relation to Section 9 of Administrative Order No. 7, is not meant to be a penalty but a means taken to insure the proper and impartial conduct of an investigation, which did not require prior notice and hearing.

 

The Court of Appeals rejected Carabeo’s contention that he was deprived of due process.  Carabeo wrongfully assumed that the Ombudsman did not consider the evidence he presented when the Ombudsman approved Assistant Ombudsman Apostol’s recommendation to preventively suspend him.  Contrary to Carabeo’s conclusion, however, the order of the Ombudsman to preventively suspend him stemmed from the Ombudsman’s review of the factual findings reached by the investigating prosecutor.

 

The Court of Appeals also ruled that there is no need to publish Executive Order No. 259 (EO 259) before it could be given the force and effect of law because it is merely internal in nature regulating only the personnel of the administrative agency and not the public.

 

On Carabeo’s contempt charge against Secretary Teves, the Court of Appeals classified it as indirect contempt, since it consisted of disobedience of or resistance to a lawful order of a court, under Section 3, Rule 71 of the Rules of Court.  Thus, the contempt charge must be in writing and due process must be observed before the penalty is imposed.

 

In its Resolution of 28 March 2007, the Court of Appeals, aside from denying Carabeo’s motion for reconsideration, ruled that the detail order was in accordance with Section 6 of Rule IV of the Civil Service Rules on Personnel Actions and Policies and CSC Resolution No. 621181 dated 21 September 2002.  Therefore, Secretary Teves, in detailing Carabeo to BLGF-CO, did not commit contempt of court.

 

The Issue

 

The issue in this case is whether the Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in  (1) ruling that the failure to provide implementing rules of EO 259 does not render the same unenforceable; (2) sustaining the preventive suspension imposed by the Ombudsman on Carabeo; and (3) not considering the complaint against Carabeo a violation of Section 10 of RA 6713 which entitles Carabeo to be informed beforehand and to take the necessary corrective action.

 

There is no more dispute on the matter of publication of EO 259 as it was clearly established that it was published in the Official Gazette[13] on 23 February 2004.

 

The Ruling of this Court

 

We dismiss the petition.

 

I. The question on EO 259’s enforceability is immaterial to the validity of the charges against Carabeo.

 

Carabeo impugns the validity of EO 259 for lack of implementing rules and regulations.  Indeed, EO 259 lacks any implementing guidelines.  However, such fact is immaterial and does not affect, in any manner, the validity of the criminal and administrative charges against Carabeo.  While the DOF-RIPS derived from EO 259 its power and authority to gather evidence against DOF officials and employees suspected of graft and corruption, the DOF-RIPS need not be vested with such power in order to validly file criminal and administrative charges against Carabeo.  In fact, any concerned ordinary citizen can file criminal and administrative charges against any corrupt government official or employee if there exists sufficient evidence of culpability.  Hence, the DOF-RIPS, even without EO 259 and whether as subordinates of the Secretary of Finance or as private citizens, can validly  file criminal and administrative charges against Carabeo.

 

At any rate, the Court finds that EO 259 is basically internal in nature needing no implementing rules and regulations in order to be enforceable.  Principally aimed at curbing graft and corruption in the DOF and its attached agencies,[14] EO 259 covers only officers and employees engaged in revenue collection.  DOF-RIPS, which was created by virtue of EO 259, acts as the anti-corruption arm of the DOF that investigates allegations of  corruption in the DOF and its attached agencies, then files the necessary charges against erring officials and employees with the proper government agencies.[15]  EO 259 expressly provides that the DOF-RIPS has the function, among others, “to gather evidence and file the appropriate criminal, civil or administrative complaints against government officials and employees before the appropriate court of law, administrative body, or agency of competent  jurisdiction, and to assist  the prosecuting agency or officer towards the successful prosecution of such cases.”  Simply put, the creation of an internal body in the DOF (RIPS), through EO 259, is but an essential component in the organized and effective collection of evidence against corrupt DOF officials and employees.  The so-called “lifestyle check” pertains to the evidence-gathering process itself because it is through this method that the DOF-RIPS would be able to collect sufficient evidence to indict a suspected DOF official or employee for graft and corruption.  Considering this, the Court finds nothing illegal with the “lifestyle check” as  long as the constitutional and statutory rights of the accused are recognized and respected by the DOF-RIPS.

 

II. The preventive suspension order was legal.

 

Carabeo contends that there must be prior notice and hearing before the Ombudsman may issue a preventive suspension order.

 

The contention is bereft of merit.  Settled is the rule that prior notice and hearing are not required in the issuance of a preventive suspension order, such suspension not being a penalty but only a preliminary step in an administrative investigation.[16]  As held in Nera v. Garcia:[17]

 

In connection with the suspension of petitioner before he could file his answer to the administrative complaint, suffice it to say that the suspension was not a punishment or penalty for the acts of dishonesty and  misconduct in office, but only as a preventive measure. Suspension is a preliminary step in an administrative investigation. If after such investigation, the charges are established and the person investigated is found guilty of acts warranting  his removal, then he is removed or dismissed.  This is the penalty.  There is, therefore, nothing improper in suspending an officer pending his investigation and before the charges against him are heard and be given an opportunity to prove his innocence.

 

Moreover, there is nothing in the law, specifically Section 24 of RA 6770, or The Ombudsman Act of 1989, which requires that notice and hearing precede the preventive suspension of an erring public official.  This provision states:

 

SEC. 24. Preventive Suspension. — The Ombudsman or his Deputy may preventively suspend any officer or employee under his authority pending an investigation, if in his judgment the evidence of guilt is strong, and (a) the charge against such officer or employee involves dishonesty, oppression or grave misconduct or neglect  in the performance of duty; (b) the charges would warrant removal from the service; or (c) the respondent’s continued stay in office may prejudice the case filed against him.

 

While a preventive suspension order may originate from a complaint, the Ombudsman is not required to furnish the respondent with a copy of the complaint prior to ordering a preventive suspension.[18]

 

Carabeo also points out that his counter-affidavit and the evidence presented clearly shows that the complaint filed by the DOF-RIPS was baseless.  Hence, the preventive suspension order had no leg to stand on.

 

Under Section 24 of RA 6770, two requisites must concur to render the preventive suspension order valid. First, there must be a prior determination by the Ombudsman that the evidence of respondent’s guilt is strong. Second, (a) the offense charged must involve dishonesty, oppression,  grave misconduct or neglect in the performance  of duty; (b) the charges would warrant removal from the service; or (c) the respondent’s continued stay in office may prejudice the case filed against him.[19]

 

These requisites are present here.  The Ombudsman justified the issuance of the preventive suspension order in this wise:

 

As can be gleaned  from the evidence on record, the deliberate failure of respondent Carabeo to disclose all of his supposed properties in his SALN, particularly the vehicles which are registered in his name involves dishonesty which, if proven, warrant his corresponding removal from the government service.  The same is true with respect to the 1,000 square meter residential lot located atTagaytayCitywhich he failed to disclose in his SALN for 2001 and 2002, respectively.

 

Contrary to the respondent’s declaration in his SALN for 2003 and 2004 respectively, the LTO-IT System database as of July 7, 2004 issued by Arabele O. Petilla, Chief, Record Section Management Information Division of the Land Transportation Office, x x x disclosed that there are seven motor vehicles registered in his name, x x x

 

As regards the 1,000 square meter residential lot located atTagaytayCity, records from the Office of Engr. Gregorio M. Monreal, City Assessor of Tagaytay disclosed that the same was the subject of a Deed of Absolute Sale between the heirs of Teodoro Ambion and spouses Carabeo dated July 16, 2001.  Records show that respondent only included the said property in his SALN in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

 

Second, being the Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the City Treasurer’s Office of Parañaque, respondent Carabeo’s continued stay thereat may prejudice the outcome of the instant case, he being the head of that particular office, albeit in an Officer-in-Charge capacity.

 

Third, the evidence of guilt against him is strong.  It bears stressing that as the current Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the City Treasurer’s Office of Parañaque receiving only an annual gross salary of P291,036.00, it is highly inconceivable how respondent Carabeo could have legally acquired  all these real and personal properties.  The fact is that complainant has submitted evidence showing that  from 1996 to 2004, respondent Carabeo  traveled abroad fifteen (15) times, as shown by his travel records furnished by the Bureau of Immigration; his 2004 club share purchase at Palm Country Club at Ayala Alabang worth P640,000.00; two (2) lots in Biñan, Laguna and one (1) townhouse in Cavite purchased in 1998 in the total amount of P668,365.00; (3) real properties in Biñan, Laguna and in Tagaytay City, purchased in 1999, 2001 and 2003, respectively, in the total amount of P1,272,960.00.  This is exclusive of the seven (7) vehicles all registered in his name.

 

Fourth, respondent’s unauthorized foreign travels abroad numbering fifteen (15) times between the years 1996 to 2004, indicates that he has financial resources which could not be legally justified relying solely on his declared income.[20]

 

Whether the evidence of guilt is strong is left to the determination of the Ombudsman by taking into account the evidence before him.[21]  In Buenaseda v. Flavier,[22] the Court relevantly pronounced:

 

The import of the Nera decision is that the disciplining authority is given the discretion to decide when the evidence of guilt is strong.  This fact is bolstered by Section 24 of R.A. No. 6770, which expressly left such determination of guilt to the “judgment” of the Ombudsman on the basis of the administrative complaint x x x

 

As aptly stated by the Court of Appeals, the court cannot substitute its own judgment for that of the Ombudsman on the question of whether the evidence of respondent’s guilt is strong warranting the issuance of the preventive suspension order, absent a clear showing of grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Ombudsman.

 

Moreover, Carabeo cannot claim any right against, or damage or injury that he is bound to suffer from the issuance of the preventive suspension order, since there is no vested right to a public office, or even an absolute right to hold it.[23] Public office is not property but a “public trust or agency.”[24] While their right to due process may be relied upon by public officials to protect their security of tenure which, in a limited sense, is analogous to property, such fundamental right to security of tenure cannot be invoked against a preventive suspension order which is a preventive measure, not imposed as a penalty.[25]  An order of preventive suspension is not a demonstration of a public official’s guilt, which can be pronounced only after a trial on the merits.[26]

 

III. Carabeo’s non-disclosure of assets in his SALN constitutes a violation of RA 3019, among others.

 

Carabeo claims that the complaint against him involves a violation of Section 10, RA 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, which entitles him to be informed beforehand of his omission and to take the necessary corrective action.

 

Section 10 of RA 6713 provides:

 

Section 10.  Review of Compliance Procedure. – (a)  The designated Committees of both Houses of the Congress shall establish procedures for the review of statements to determine whether said statements which have been submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form.  In the event a determination is made that a statement is not so filed, the appropriate Committee shall so inform the reporting individual and direct him to take the necessary corrective action.

 

(b) In order to carry out their responsibilities under  this Act, the designated Committees of both Houses of Congress shall have the power within their respective jurisdictions, to render any opinion interpreting this Act, in writing, to persons covered by this Act, subject in each instance to the approval by affirmative vote of the majority of the particular House concerned.

 

The individual to whom an opinion is rendered, and any other individual involved in a similar factual situation, and who, after issuance of the opinion acts in good faith in accordance with it shall not be subject to any sanction provided in this Act.

 

(c) The heads of other offices shall perform the duties stated in subsections (a) and (b) hereof insofar as their respective offices are concerned, subject to the approval of the Secretary of Justice, in the case of the Executive Department and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in the case of the Judicial Department.

 

While Section 10 of RA 6713 indeed allows for corrective measures, Carabeo is charged not only with violation of RA 6713, but also with violation of the Revised Penal Code, RA 1379, and RA 3019, as amended, specifically Sections 7 and 8 thereof, which read:

 

Sec. 7.  Statement of Assets and Liabilities. — Every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office, and thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of  corresponding  Department  Head, or in the case of a Head Department or chief of an independent office, with the Office of the President, a true, detailed and sworn statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year: Provided, That public officers assuming office less than two months before the end of the calendar year, may file their first statement on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of said calendar year.

 

Sec. 8.  Prima Facie Evidence of and Dismissal Due to Unexplained Wealth. — If in accordance with the provisions of Republic Act Numbered One Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Nine, a public official has been found to have acquired during his incumbency, whether in his name or in the name of other persons, an amount of property and/or money manifestly out of proportion to his salary and to his other lawful income, that fact shall be ground for dismissal or removal.  Properties in the name of the spouse and dependents of such public official may be taken into consideration, when their acquisition through legitimate means cannot be satisfactorily shown.  Bank deposits in the name of or manifestly excessive expenditures incurred by the public official, his spouse or any of their dependents including but not limited to activities in any club or association or any ostentatious display of wealth including frequent travel abroad of a non-official character by any public official when such activities entail expenses evidently out of proportion to legitimate income, shall likewise be taken into consideration in the enforcement of this Section, notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary.  The circumstances hereinabove mentioned shall constitute valid ground for the administrative suspension of the public official concerned for an indefinite period until the investigation of the unexplained wealth is completed.

 

In Ombudsman v. Valeroso,[27] the Court explained fully the significance of these provisions, to wit:

 

Section 8 above, speaks of unlawful acquisition of wealth, the evil sought to be suppressed and avoided, and Section 7, which mandates full disclosure of wealth in the SALN, is a means of preventing said evil and is aimed particularly at curtailing and minimizing, the opportunities for official corruption and maintaining a standard of honesty in the public service.  “Unexplained” matter normally results from “non-disclosure” or concealment of vital facts.  SALN, which all public officials and employees are mandated to file, are the means to achieve the policy of accountability of all public officers and employees in  the  government.  By  the SALN, the public are able to monitor movement in the fortune of a public official; it is a valid check and balance mechanism to verify undisclosed properties and wealth.

 

Significantly, Carabeo failed to show any requirement under RA 3019 that prior notice of the non-completion of the SALN and its correction precede the filing of charges for violation of its provisions.  Neither are these measures needed for the charges of dishonesty and grave misconduct, which Carabeo presently faces.

 

Based on the foregoing, the Court of Appeals did not commit grave abuse of discretion in rendering the assailed decision.  Grave abuse of discretion implies such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.[28]  It exists where the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility.[29]  It must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law.[30]  No abuse, much less grave abuse, attended the Court of Appeals’ judgment in these cases.

 

WHEREFORE, we DISMISS the petitions.   Costs against petitioner Liberato M. Carabeo.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

WE CONCUR:

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Associate Justice

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

 

MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO   

Associate Justice

 

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

 

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice

 

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO

Associate Justice

 

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice

 

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

 

MARIANO C.DELCASTILLO

Associate Justice

 

ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

CERTIFICATION

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.

 

REYNATO S. PUNO

Chief Justice

 

[1] Under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.

 

[2] Rollo, pp. 41-65.  Penned by Justice Conrado M. Vasquez, Jr. with Justices Jose C. Mendoza and   Santiago Javier Ranada, concurring.

 

[3]Id.at 67-69.  Penned by Justice Conrado M. Vasquez, Jr. with Justices Jose C. Mendoza and Vicente Q. Roxas, concurring.

 

[4]Id.at 118-121.

 

[5] Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

 

[6] Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

 

[7] Act Declaring Forfeiture of Ill-Gotten Wealth of Public Officers and Employees.

 

[8] Rollo, p. 124.

 

[9] For dishonesty and grave misconduct.

 

[10] Rollo, pp. 99-111.

 

[11]Id.at 161-162.

 

[12]Id.at 64.

 

[13] Vol. 100, No. 8, pp. 1117-1119.

 

[14] Attached agencies such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs, the Bureau of Local Government Finance, Bureau of Treasury, Central Board of Assessment Appeals, the  Insurance Commission, theNationalTaxResearch Center, the Fiscal Incentive Review Board,   and the Privatization and Management Office. (http://www.rips.gov.ph/)

 

[15] http://www.rips.gov.ph/.

 

[16] Lastimosa v. Vasquez,  313 Phil. 358, 375 (1995); Office of the Ombudsman v. Evangelista, G.R. No. 177211, 13 March 2009, 581 SCRA 350.

 

[17] 106 Phil. 1031, 1034 (1960).

 

[18]Id.

 

[19]Id.

 

[20] Rollo , pp. 54-56.

 

[21] Ombudsman v. Valeroso,  G.R. No. 167828, 2 April 2007, 520 SCRA 140, 147; Garcia v. Mojica, 372 Phil. 892, 906 (1999), citing Nera v. Garcia, 106 Phil. 1031 (1960); Lastimosa v. Vasquez, 313 Phil. 358 (1995); Castillo-Co v. Barbers, 353 Phil. 160 (1998).

 

[22] G.R. No. 106719, 21 September 1993, 226 SCRA 645.  See also Yasay, Jr. v. Desierto, 360 Phil. 680 (1998).

 

[23] Ombudsman v. Valeroso,  supra at 150, citing National Land Titles and Deeds Registration Administration v. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 84301, 7 April 1993, 221 SCRA 145.

 

[24]Id., citing Cornejo v. Gabriel, 41 Phil. 188, 194 (1920); Section 1, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution.

 

[25]Id., citing Alonzo v. Capulong, 313 Phil. 776 (1995); Yabut v.Ombudsman, G.R. No. 111304, 17 June 1994, 233 SCRA 310; Rios v. Sandiganbayan, 345 Phil. 85 (1997).

 

[26] Yasay, Jr. v. Desierto , supra at 698.

 

[27] Supra note 21 at 149-150.

 

[28] Domondon v. Sandiganbayan, 384 Phil. 848, 857 (2000).

 

[29]Id.See Balangauan v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 174350, 13 August 2008, 562 SCRA 184, 200- 201.

 

[30]Id.

 

==========================================

==========================================

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CASE 08:  NIETO A. RACHO

 

 

 

                      SECOND DIVISION

 

 

Office of the Ombudsman,

                                                   Petitioner,

 

 

 

 

- versus -

 

 

 

 

Nieto A. Racho,                                          

                                           Respondent.

 

G.R. No. 185685

 

Present:

 

CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

NACHURA,

PERALTA,

ABAD, and

MENDOZA, JJ

 

 

Promulgated:  

January 31, 2011

 

X —————————————————————————————————– X

 

D E C I S I O N

 

MENDOZA, J.:

 

 

          This petition for review on certiorari[44][1] under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court filed by the Office of the Ombudsman (Ombudsman) assails the February 21, 2008 Decision[45][2] and November 20, 2008 Resolution[46][3] of the Court of Appeals-Cebu (CA) in CA-G.R. CEB-SP No. 00694 which reversed and set aside the administrative aspect of the April 1, 2005 Joint Order[47][4] of the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas.

 

The April 1, 2005 Joint Order of the Ombudsman found respondent Nieto A. Racho (Racho) guilty of dishonesty and ordered him dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all benefits and perpetual disqualification from public office.  The assailed CA Decision, however, found Racho guilty of negligence only and reduced the penalty to suspension from office for six months, without pay.

 

From the records, it appears that DYHP Balita Action Team (DYHP), in a letter dated November 9, 2001, reported to Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas, Primo Miro, a concerned citizen’s complaint regarding the alleged unexplained wealth of Racho, then Chief of the Special Investigation Division of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Cebu City.[48][5]  To support the allegation, the complainant attached copies of bank certifications, all issued in June of 1999, by Metrobank Cebu (Tabunok Branch),[49][6] BPI Cebu (Mango Branch),[50][7] and PCI Bank (Magallanes Branch).[51][8]  In total, Racho appeared to have an aggregate bank deposit of P5,798,801.39.

 

          Acting on the letter, the Ombudsman launched a fact-finding investigation and directed the BIR to submit Racho’s Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) from 1995 to 1999.  BIR complied with the order and gave copies of Racho’s SALN.  Soon, the Ombudsman found that Racho did not declare the bank deposits in his SALN, as mentioned in the DYHP’s letter.  Accordingly, the Ombudsman filed a Complaint for Falsification of Public Document under Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code (OMB-V-C-02-0240-E) and Dishonesty (OMB-V-A-02-0214-E) against Racho.

 

          The Ombudsman, in its August 21, 2002Memorandum, adopted the Final Evaluation Report[52][9] of Administrative Officer Elpidio Montecillo as the sworn complaint.  Thereafter, Racho submitted his counter-affidavit attacking the procedural infirmities of the complaint against him.[53][10]  At the scheduled clarificatory hearing, Racho invoked his right to remain silent.  On January 02, 2003, Graft Prosecution Officer (GPO) Pio Dargantes did not give weight to the bank documents because they were mere photocopies.  As a result, he dismissed the complaint for dishonesty (OMB-V-A-02-214-E) due to insufficiency of evidence.[54][11]

 

          On review, Director Virginia Palanca, through a memorandum dated May 30, 2003,[55][12] decreed that Racho’s act of not declaring said bank deposits in his SALN, which were disproportionate to his and his wife’s salaries, constituted falsification and dishonesty. She found Racho guilty of the administrative charges against him and imposed the penalty of dismissal from service with forfeiture of all benefits and perpetual disqualification to hold public office.

 

          Racho moved for reconsideration[56][13] but his motion was denied in an Order dated July 15, 2003.[57][14] 

 

Racho appealed the said order of dismissal to the CA. On January 26, 2004, the CA reversed the Ombudsman’s ruling and ordered the reinvestigation of the case.[58][15]

 

          In compliance with the CA’s decision, the Ombudsman reinvestigated the case. In his Comment,[59][16] Racho denied sole ownership of the bank deposits. In support of his position, he presented the Joint Affidavit[60][17] of his brothers and nephew, particularly Vieto, Dean and Henry Racho, allegedly executed on December 18, 2004. In the joint sworn statement, it was alleged that he and his siblings planned to put up a business and eventually established “Angelsons Lending and Investors, Inc.,” a corporation registered[61][18] with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on April 30, 1999.  To prove their agreement, Racho presented a Special Power of Attorney,[62][19] dated January 28, 1993, wherein his brothers and nephew designated him as the trustee of their investments in the business venture they were intending to put up and authorized him to deposit their money into his questioned bank accounts to defray business-related expenses.  Racho averred that his wife also set up a small business named “Nal Pay Phone Services” registered under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) on April 30, 1999.[63][20] 

 

On January 10, 2005, in its Reinvestigation Report, the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas found no reason to deviate from its previous findings against Racho.[64][21]  Thus, the Reinvestigation Report disposed:

 

          With all the foregoing, undersigned finds no basis to change, modify nor reverse her previous findings that there is probable cause for the crime of FALSIFICATION OF PUBLIC DOCUMENT, defined and penalized under Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code, against respondent Nieto A. Racho for making untruthful statements in a narration of facts in his SALN.  As there are additional facts established during the reinvestigation, re: failure of Mr. Racho to reflect his business connections, then the Information filed against him should be amended to include the same.  Let this Amended Information be returned to the court for further proceedings.

 

            SO RESOLVED.[65][22]

 

 

          Racho filed a motion for reconsideration[66][23] but the Ombudsman denied it in its April 1, 2005 Joint Order.[67][24]

 

Racho elevated the case to the CA by way of a petition for review[68][25] under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court assailing the administrative aspect of the April 1, 2005 Joint Order of the Ombudsman-Visayas.

 

On February 21, 2008, the CA rendered the challenged decision.  Citing Pleyto v. Philippine National Police (PNP)-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG),[69][26] the CA opined that in charges of dishonesty “intention is an important element in its commission.”[70][27]  The CA ruled that Racho “never denied the existence of the bank accounts.  Instead, he undertook to explain that those were not wholly owned by him and endeavored to secure and submit documentary evidence to buttress explanation.  Judging from his conduct, there is want of intent to conceal information.  Intent, as held in the Pleyto case, is essential to constitute dishonesty and without the intent to commit a wrong, the public officer is not dishonest, albeit he is adjudged to be negligent.”[71][28]

 

Accordingly, the decretal portion of the CA decision reads:

 

WHEREFORE, the instant Petition for Review on the administrative aspect of Ombudsman Visayas JOINT ORDER dated April 1, 2005is hereby GRANTED.  The said JOINT ORDER, in so far as it affirmed the petitioner’s guilt for dishonesty and imposed the penalty of dismissal with forfeiture of all benefits and perpetual disqualification to hold office is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE.  Petitioner is adjudged GUILTY of NEGLIGENCE in accomplishing his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN) and is ORDERED to be SUSPENDED FROM OFFICE WITHOUT PAY FOR A PERIOD OF SIX (6) MONTHS.[72][29]

 

          The Ombudsman moved for reconsideration,[73][30] but the CA stood by its decision and denied said motion in its November 20, 2008 Resolution.[74][31]

 

          Hence, this petition.

 

          In its Memorandum,[75][32] the Office of the Ombudsman submits the following:

 

ISSUES

 

I.

 

THE ACTIVE PARTICIPATION OF THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN IN THE INSTANT CASE IS SANCTIONED BY THE MANDATE OF THE OFFICE AS AN “ACTIVIST WATCHMAN.”

 

II

 

THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS’ RELIANCE ON A FICTITIOUS DOCUMENT WHOSE AUTHENTICITY HAS BEEN PUT TO QUESTION IN A SEPARATE CRIMINAL CASE PRESENTS AN EXCEPTION TO THE GENERAL RULE THAT AN APPEAL BY CERTIORARI UNDER RULE 45 SHOULD RAISE ONLY QUESTIONS OF LAW CONSIDERING THAT –

 

THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN FOUND THE SPECIAL POWER OF ATTORNEY AND THE JOINT AFFIDAVIT OFFERED AS EVIDENCE BY RESPONDENT TO BE SPURIOUS, HOWEVER, THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS WITHOUT RULING ON THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE SAME DOCUMENTS, RELIED ON THE SAME TO FIND RESPONDENT GUILTY ONLY OF NEGLIGENCE;

 

AND

 

THE COURT OF APPEALS’ FINDING OF LACK OF INTENT ON THE PART OF RESPONDENT RACHO TO CONCEAL INFORMATION IS NOT BASED ON THE EVIDENCE

 

 

III

 

THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN HAS REPEATEDLY RAISED THE SPURIOUS CHARACTER OF THE JOINT AFFIDAVIT AND SPECIAL POWER OF ATTORNEY BEFORE THE COURT OF APPEALS.  THE COUNTER-AFFIDAVITS COUNTERING ITS AUTHENTICITY WAS SUBMITTED FOR THE FIRST TIME BEFORE THE COURT OF APPEALS, AND NOT BEFORE THIS HONORABLE COURT.

 

IV

 

THE DECISIONS, RESOLUTIONS AND ORDERS OF THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN ARE IMMEDIATELY EXECUTORY EVEN PENDING APPEAL UNDER SECTION 7, RULE III OF THE RULES OF PROCEDURE OF THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN, AS AMENDED; CONSEQUENTLY THE WRIT OF INJUNCTION EARLIER ISSUED SHOULD BE LIFTED.[76][33]

 

          The Ombudsman argues that the CA failed to see the discrepancies on Racho’s Special Power of Attorney itself “such as a statement that the date of registration of the Nal Pay Phone Services was ‘last April 30, 1999,’ when the Special Power of Attorney had been allegedly executed on 28 January 1993.”[77][34]  The Ombudsman insists that these inconsistencies should have alerted the CA to delve more deeply into the case and check if Racho’s explanation through the supposed dubious documents should be given weight at all.[78][35] 

 

THE COURT’S RULING

 

          The Court finds merit in the petition.

As a general rule, only questions of law may be raised in a petition for review on certiorari because the Court is not a trier of facts.[79][36] When supported by substantial evidence, the findings of fact of the CA are conclusive and binding on the parties and are not reviewable by this Court, unless the case falls under any of the following recognized exceptions:

(1)   When the conclusion is a finding grounded entirely on speculation, surmises and conjectures;

 

(2)   When the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible;

 

(3)   Where there is a grave abuse of discretion;

 

(4)   When the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts;

 

(5)   When the findings of fact are conflicting;

 

(6)   When the Court of Appeals, in making its findings, went beyond the issues of the case and the same is contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee;

 

(7)  When the findings are contrary to those of the trial court;

 

(8)  When the findings of fact are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based;

 

(9) When the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioners’ main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondents; and

 

(10) When the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record.[80][37] [Emphasis supplied]

 

Undeniably, the findings of fact of the Ombudsman are different from those of the CA.  Thus, the Court finds it necessary to take a second look at the factual matters surrounding the present case.

 

From the records, it is undisputed that Racho admitted the bank accounts, but explained that the deposits reflected therein were not entirely his.  Racho proffered that some of the money came from his brothers and nephew as part of their contribution to the business that they had planned to put up.  He presented a Special Power of Attorney (SPA), datedJanuary 28, 1993, and Joint Affidavit of his siblings that echoed his explanation.

 

In the appreciation of the said documents, the Ombudsman and the CA took opposing views.  The Ombudsman did not give weight to the SPA due to some questionable entries therein.  The CA, on the other hand, recognized the fact that Racho never denied the existence of the bank accounts and accepted his explanation. Accordingly, the CA decreed that although Racho was remiss in fully declaring the said bank deposits in his SALN, the intent to make a false statement, as would constitute dishonesty, was clearly absent.

 

The pivotal issue in this case, however, is whether or not Racho’s non-disclosure of the bank deposits in his SALN constitutes dishonesty.

 

The Court views it in the affirmative.

 

          Section 7 and Section 8 of Republic Act (R.A.) 3019[81][38] explain the nature and importance of accomplishing a true, detailed and sworn SALN, thus:

 

Sec. 7.  Statement of Assets and Liabilities. — Every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office, and thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of corresponding Department Head, or in the case of a Head Department or chief of an independent office, with the Office of the President, a true, detailed and sworn statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year: Provided, That public officers assuming office less than two months before the end of the calendar year, may file their first statement on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of said calendar year.

 Sec. 8.  Prima Facie Evidence of and Dismissal Due to Unexplained Wealth. — If in accordance with the provisions of Republic Act Numbered One Thousand Three Hundred Seventy-Nine, a public official has been found to have acquired during his incumbency, whether in his name or in the name of other persons, an amount of property and/or money manifestly out of proportion to his salary and to his other lawful income, that fact shall be ground for dismissal or removal.  Properties in the name of the spouse and dependents of such public official may be taken into consideration, when their acquisition through legitimate means cannot be satisfactorily shown.  Bank deposits in the name of or manifestly excessive expenditures incurred by the public official, his spouse or any of their dependents including but not limited to activities in any club or association or any ostentatious display of wealth including frequent travel abroad of a non-official character by any public official when such activities entail expenses evidently out of proportion to legitimate income, shall likewise be taken into consideration in the enforcement of this Section, notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary.  The circumstances hereinabove mentioned shall constitute valid ground for the administrative suspension of the public official concerned for an indefinite period until the investigation of the unexplained wealth is completed.

In the case of Carabeo v. Court of Appeals,[82][39] citing Ombudsman v. Valeroso,[83][40] the Court restated the rationale for the SALN and the evils that it seeks to thwart, to wit:

 

Section 8 above, speaks of unlawful acquisition of wealth, the evil sought to be suppressed and avoided, and Section 7, which mandates full disclosure of wealth in the SALN, is a means of preventing said evil and is aimed particularly at curtailing and minimizing, the opportunities for official corruption and maintaining a standard of honesty in the public service.  “Unexplained” matter normally results from “non-disclosure” or concealment of vital facts.  SALN, which all public officials and employees are mandated to file, are the means to achieve the policy of accountability of all public officers and employees in the government.  By the SALN, the public are able to monitor movement in the fortune of a public official; it is a valid check and balance mechanism to verify undisclosed properties and wealth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complimentary to the above-mentioned provisions, Section 2 of R.A. 1379[84][41] states that “whenever any public officer or employee has acquired during his incumbency an amount of property which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer or employee and to his other lawful income and the income from legitimately acquired property, said property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired.”

 

By mandate of law, every public official or government employee is required to make a complete disclosure of his assets, liabilities and net worth in order to suppress any questionable accumulation of wealth because the latter usually results from non-disclosure of such matters.  Hence, a public official or employee who has acquired money or property manifestly disproportionate to his salary or his other lawful income shall be prima facie presumed to have illegally acquired it.

 

It should be understood that what the law seeks to curtail is “acquisition of unexplained wealth.”  Where the source of the undisclosed wealth can be properly accounted, then it is “explained wealth” which the law does not penalize.

 

In this case, Racho not only failed to disclose his bank accounts containing substantial deposits but he also failed to satisfactorily explain the accumulation of his wealth or even identify the sources of such accumulated wealth.  The documents that Racho presented, like those purportedly showing that his brothers and nephew were financially capable of sending or contributing large amounts of money for their business,[85][42] do not prove that they did contribute or remit money for their supposed joint business venture.
Equally, the Special Power of Attorney[86][43] that was supposedly issued by Vieto, Dido and Henry Racho in favor of Racho onJanuary 28, 1993 to show their business plans, contained a glaringly inconsistent statement that belies the authenticity of the document, to wit:

 

1. To be the Trustee Attorney-in-fact of our investment in ANGELSONS LENDING AND INVESTORS, INC. of whom we are the Stockholders/Investors as well as the NAL PAY PHONE SERVICES, which was registered by the DTI last April 30, 1999 in the name of NIETO RACHO’s wife of whom we are likewise investors. [emphasis supplied]

 

          Definitely, a document that was allegedly executed in 1993 could not contain a statement referring to a future date “registered by the DTI last April 30, 1999.”  This certainly renders the intrinsic and extrinsic value of the SPA questionable.

 

More important, the Joint Affidavits allegedly executed by Racho’s siblings and nephew to corroborate his story were later disowned and denied by his nephew, Henry, and brother, Vieto, as shown by their Counter-Affidavits.[87][44]  Henry averred that he was out of the country at the time of the alleged execution of the Joint Affidavit on December 18, 2004 and he arrived in Manila only on September 16, 2005.  Vieto, on the other hand, denied having signed the Joint Affidavit.  He disclosed that as a left-handed person, he pushes the pen instead of pulling it.  He concluded that the signature on the Joint Affidavit was made by a right-handed person.[88][45]  He likewise included a copy of his passport containing his real signature for comparison.[89][46]

 

Thus, the SPA and Joint Affidavits which should explain the sources of Racho’s wealth are dubious and merit no consideration.

 Although Racho presented the SEC Certificate of Registration of Angelsons,[90][47] the business that he supposedly put up with his relatives, he showed no other document to confirm that the business is actually existing and operating. He likewise tried to show that his wife built a business of her own but he did not bother to explain how the business grew and merely presented a Certificate of Registration of Business Name from the DTI.[91][48]  These documents, however, do not prove that Racho had enough other sources of income to justify the said bank deposits. Ultimately, only P1,167,186.33[92][49] representing his wife’s retirement benefits, was properly accounted for.  Even this money, however, was reduced by his loan payable of P1,000,000.00 as reflected in his 2000 SALN.[93][50] 

 

Dishonesty begins when an individual intentionally makes a false statement in any material fact, or practicing or attempting to practice any deception or fraud in order to secure his examination, registration, appointment or promotion.[94][51]  It is understood to imply the disposition 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.[95][52]  It is a malevolent act that puts serious doubt upon one’s ability to perform his duties with the integrity and uprightness demanded of a public officer or employee.[96][53]  Section 52 (A)(1), Rule IV of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in Civil Service treats dishonesty as  a grave offense the penalty of which is dismissal from the service at the first infraction.[97][54]

 

          Indeed, an honest public servant will have no difficulty in gathering, collating and presenting evidence that will prove his credibility, but a dishonest one will only provide shallow excuses in his explanations. 

 

For these reasons, the Court is of the view that Pleyto v. Philippine National Police (PNP)-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG)[98][55] which the CA cited as basis to exculpate Racho of dishonesty, is not applicable in this case.  In the Pleyto case, the Court recognized Pleyto’s candid admission of his failure to properly and completely fill out his SALN, his vigorous effort to clarify the entries and provide the necessary information and supporting documents to show how he and his wife acquired their properties.[99][56]  The Court found substantial evidence that Pleyto and his wife had lawful sources of income other than Pleyto’s salary as a government official which allowed them to purchase several real properties in their names and travel abroad.[100][57]

 

Unfortunately for Racho, his situation is different.  The Court, thus, holds that the CA erred in finding him guilty of simple neglect of duty only.  As defined, simple neglect of duty is the failure to give proper attention to a task expected from an employee resulting from either carelessness or indifference.[101][58]  In this case, the discrepancies in the statement of Racho’s assets are not the results of mere carelessness.  On the contrary, there is substantial evidence pointing to a conclusion that Racho is guilty of dishonesty because of his unmistakable intent to cover up the true source of his questioned bank deposits.

 

It should be emphasized, however, that mere misdeclaration of the SALN does not automatically amount to dishonesty.  Only when the accumulated wealth becomes manifestly disproportionate to the employee’s income or other sources of income and the public officer/employee fails to properly account or explain his other sources of income, does he become susceptible to dishonesty because when a public officer takes an oath or office, he or she binds himself or herself to faithfully perform the duties of the office and use reasonable skill and diligence, and to act primarily for the benefit of the public.  Thus, in the discharge of duties, a public officer is to use that prudence, caution and attention which careful persons use in the management of their affairs.[102][59]

 

The Court has consistently reminded our public servants that public service demands utmost integrity and discipline. A public servant must display at all times the highest sense of honesty and integrity, for no less than the Constitution mandates the principle that a public office is a public trust; and all public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people and serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency.[103][60]

 

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED.  The February 21, 2008 Decision and November 20, 2008 Resolution of the Court of Appeals-Cebu are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE.  The administrative aspect of the April 1, 2005 Joint Order of the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas is hereby REINSTATED.  

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

                                                                                       Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA    DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

               Associate Justice                                  Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice

 

A T T E S T A T I O N

 

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson, Second Division

 

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 


 

 

CASE 09: NORBERTO V. DOBLADA

 

CONCERNED TAXPAYER, COMPLAINANT, VERSUS NORBERTO V. DOBLADA, JR., SHERIFF IV, BRANCH 155, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, PASIG CITY, RESPONDENT.(A.M. NO. P-99-1342) (FORMERLY OCA IPI NO. 97-344-P, 08 JUNE 2005)

 

 

PER CURIAM:

 

The instant administrative case arose from a letter-complaint dated December 8, 1993 filed by a “concerned taxpayer” with the Office of the Ombudsman, charging Norberto V. Doblada, Jr., Sheriff IV of the Regional Trial Court  (RTC) of Pasig, Branch 155, of having acquired properties during his incumbency as sheriff, the values of which “are manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public employee and to his other lawful income or incomes from legitimately acquired property.”[1]

 

 

 

In an Indorsement dated August 22, 1997, the complaint was referred by the Office of the Ombudsman to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) of this Court.[2]

 

 

 

Upon report and recommendation of the OCA, dated February 8, 1999, this Court issued a Resolution dated March 17, 1999 requiring respondent to comment on the complaint. In the same resolution, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was directed to conduct a discreet investigation of this case and to submit a report within thirty days from notice.[3]

 

 

 

On April 29, 1999, respondent filed his Comment contending that aside from the two parcels of land mentioned in the “Fact-Finding Report” of the Office of the Ombudsman which are registered in the name of his wife, the other real properties mentioned in said report are not actually his properties because they belong to his father, having been registered in the name of the latter. Respondent surmises that the instant complaint may have been politically motivated and may have been instigated by those who did not get his support in past local elections. Respondent claims that a similar anonymous complaint was filed against him in the 1980s wherein he submitted himself for investigation by the NBI.

 

 

 

In a Resolution dated September 20, 1999, respondent was required to inform this Court if he is willing to submit the case for resolution or to elect a formal investigation of the case.[4] On October 22, 1999, respondent submitted his Compliance to the above-cited Resolution, manifesting that he is willing to submit the case for resolution based on records available to this Court.[5]

 

 

 

On March 7, 2000, this Court received a report of the investigation conducted by the NBI, pertinent portions of which read as follows:

 

9.         Analysis of the assets, liabilities, net worth and yearly salary of Subject for the period 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1998 shows that there is prima facie evidence that Subject acquired unexplained wealth (Annexes ‘I’ to ‘I-13’) during his tenure as Court Sheriff in 1995. Increase in salary and increase in liabilities are apparent. However, increase in assets far exceeds increase in salary. Net worth also increased after assumption to office as Deputy Court Sheriff in 1977.

 

 

 

            Subject also failed to submit his sworn statement of assets and liabilities for the years 1975 to 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1997 as said documents were not submitted to the NBI by the Records Control Division of the Supreme Court.

 

 

 

            A court order to secure the income tax returns of Subject NORBERTO DOBLADA, JR. and his spouse, EDITH, who is employed at the Department of Education, Culture and Sports, in Binangonan, as Superintendent would determine whether Subject had other legitimate sources of income.

 

 

 

            Subject has to justify his acquisition of fishpens acquired at P2,500,000.00 in 1993 and Civic Honda at P435,000.00 in 1995 where his legitimate income as Court Sheriff is at P44,652 per annum and P65,496.00 per annum respectively. His earnings as jeepney operator with one unit as reported in 1982 would not suffice further acquisition of wealth such as residential lots 1982-1988 ranging from P8,670 to P125,000.00. Loans from creditors would not be sufficient to cover acquisition of real and personal properties in 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998.

 

 

 

            x x x                             x x x                             x x x

 

 

 

F. AGENT’S FINDINGS

 

 

 

11.       The results of the investigation reveal that there is sufficient evidence to charge Subject for violation of Sec. 2 of RA 1379 (Law of Forfeiture of Ill-Gotten Wealth) and non-compliance with Sec. 8 of RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) for failure to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of the assets and liabilities, net worth and financial business interests for the above-mentioned years during tenure of Subject as Court Sheriff.[6]

 

 

 

 

 

In its Resolution of May 29, 2002, this Court referred the instant case to the OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation.[7]  In compliance therewith, Deputy Court Administrator Christopher O. Lock submitted a report, dated April 29, 2003, with the endorsement of Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., pertinent portions of which read as follows:

 

 

 

A careful examination of the NBI Investigation Report on respondent’s alleged real properties enumerated in the Fact-Finding Report of the Office of the Ombudsman reveals that only one (1) property was found to be registered under respondent’s name and this is as co-owner of an agricultural land along Janosa, Binangonan, Rizal covered by TCT No. 46607. TCT No. M-23480 and TCT No. M-17315 are both registered in the name of respondent’s wife, Edith Doblada while Tax Declaration ARP #28-0032, covering a residential lot along Janosa, Binangonan, Rizal discloses the name Norberto Doblada as the owner. A perusal of respondent’s Sworn Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth filed before this Office however discloses his ownership of several other properties, real and personal which, clearly, contributed to an unimaginable increase of his assets during his incumbency as court sheriff. With this information on hand, it cannot be ignored that such would be a factor in the proper evaluation of the instant administrative case. Respondent, therefore, should be accorded the opportunity to explain the increase of his assets from P6,000 in 1974 to P7 million, more or less, in 1995.

 

 

 

Respondent’s records also disclose that he had not been submitting his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth particularly for the years 1975, 1977 to 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1999 and 2000 as mandated under R.A. 6713.

 

 

 

x x x                             x x x                             x x x

 

 

 

Considering, therefore the gravity of the penalty imposed on a public officer who is found to have violated Sec. 7, R.A. 3019 and Sec. 8, R.A. 6713, respondent should be given the opportunity to explain his failure to submit his Sworn Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth.

 

 

 

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, it is hereby respectfully recommended that respondent Sheriff Norberto Doblada, Jr. be DIRECTED to EXPLAIN within ten (10) days from notice his failure to submit his Sworn Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth for the years 1975, 1977 to 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1999 and 2000, and the significant increase of his assets from P6,000.00 in 1974 to 7 million by 1995.[8]

 

 

 

This Court, in a Resolution dated July 16, 2003, directed respondent to explain in writing his failure to submit his Sworn Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Networth (SAL) for the years 1975, 1977 to 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1999 and 2000, and the significant increase of his assets from P6,000.00 in 1974 to P7,000,000.00 in 1995.[9]

 

 

 

On September 5, 2003, respondent submitted his Explanation[10] contending that contrary to what had been stated in the Court’s Resolution of July 16, 2003, he had been religiously filing his SAL, including the years mentioned in the Resolution when he supposedly failed to file said Statements. He admits that he does not have copies of these Statements and claims that he might have accidentally disposed of the same during the various times that he transferred office. As to the increase of his assets from P6,000.00 in 1974 to P7,000,000.00 in 1995, respondent explains that the significant improvement of his assets was brought about by inheritance and largely, through business ventures which are financed through loans.

 

 

 

On September 24, 2003, this Court issued a resolution referring the instant case to the OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation.[11]

 

 

 

On December 21, 2004, respondent filed a Motion for Early Resolution, alleging that he has complied with the directives of the Court and the case is now ripe for resolution.[12]

 

 

 

In a Memorandum dated February 3, 2005, the OCA submitted a report with the following findings:

 

The determination of whether or not respondent Doblada acquired properties with a valuation manifestly out of proportion to his salary and that of his wife and their additional earnings requires a comparison of the respective values of the properties with the salaries, benefits, other lawful income and additional revenues from legitimately acquired properties or businesses of the said spouses. The deficient and insufficient documents submitted to the OCA cannot serve as bases for such comparison. Absent complete documentation and information on the properties acquired by the spouses Doblada and their respective earnings, we are not ready to state that the allegations in the anonymous letter-complaint dated 8 December 1993 have been shown by sufficient and convincing proof.

 

 

 

However, our evaluation indicates that the incompleteness of the documents, in terms of filings of Statements and of entries therein, is attributable to respondent Doblada. The submitted Statements and information – or incomplete or lack of information – in these Statements fully evince violations of the provisions of the Anti-Graft$and Corrupt Practices Act, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and the CSC rules implementing the said Code. We find that respondent Doblada – as shown by the instances (not merely a single instance) herein discussed – contravened the provisions of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act requiring the submission of a “true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities” (Section 7). As particular example, respondent Doblada excluded from Statements for 1974 and 1976 the real properties he already had during those years and which he claimed he acquired in 1965 in the 1989 Statement he filed. Respondent Doblada violated the provisions of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and the CSC rules implementing the said Code when he did not include information on his business interest in and financial connection with ELXSHAR in the 1989, 1991 and 1993 Statements. The violations are not isolated episodes. They had been repeatedly committed by respondent Doblada as can be culled from the different Statements filed in various years.[13]

 

 

 

…        …        …

 

 

 

and recommendations, to wit:

 

1.  That Sheriff Norberto V. Doblada, Jr., be found administratively liable for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and the CSC rules implementing the provisions of the said Code;  and

 

 

 

2.  That Sheriff Doblada be meted the penalty of removal from the service, with forfeiture of his retirement benefits, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch of the government or any of its agencies or instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations and government financial institutions.[14]

 

 

 

 

          We agree with the OCA.

 

 

 

After a perusal of the records on hand, we find that complainant’s charge against respondent is not sufficiently substantiated. We agree with the observation of the OCA that the evidence presented in the instant case, consisting of the documents submitted by the complainant and those which were compiled by the investigating agent of the NBI, are not adequate to establish complainant’s allegation that respondent had acquired assets which are manifestly out of proportion to his legitimate income.

 

 

 

Moreover, we find no sufficient evidence to prove that respondent failed to file his SAL for the years 1975, 1977 to 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 1999 and 2000. Respondent maintains that he has consistently filed his SAL for the said years. To prove his contention, respondent submitted a copy of a letter dated May 7, 2001 sent by Remegio C. Añosa, Acting Branch Clerk of Court of Branch 155, RTC, Pasig City, stating therein that attached to said letter are the sworn SAL of the staff of RTC Pasig City, Branch 155, including that of respondent’s, for the year 2000. The letter was sent to and duly received by the OCA but the SAL of respondent for 2000 is one of those missing in the files of OCA. On this premise, one cannot readily conclude that respondent failed to file his sworn SAL for the years 1975, 1977 to 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1997, 1999 and 2000 simply because these documents are missing in the files of the OCA. Even in the report of the Court Administrator dated February 3, 2005, there was no categorical statement that respondent failed to file his SAL for the years earlier mentioned. The report of the OCA simply stated that it does not have on its file the subject SAL of respondent.

 

 

 

Nonetheless, we agree with the OCA in finding that respondent is guilty of violating Republic Act Nos. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) for having failed to submit a true, detailed and sworn statement of his assets and liabilities.

 

 

 

 

 

Section 7 of R.A. No. 3019, as amended, provides:

 

 

 

Sec. 7. Statement of Assets and Liabilities. – Every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office and, thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of the corresponding Department Head, or in the case of a Head of Department or Chief of an independent office, with the Office of the President, a true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities, including a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year: Provided, That public officers assuming office less than two months before the end of the calendar year, may file their first statement on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of the said calendar year.

 

 

 

Section 9(b) of the same Act provides:

 

(b) Any public officer violating any of the provisions of Section 7 of this Act shall be punished by a fine of not less than one thousand pesos nor more than five thousand pesos, or by imprisonment not exceeding one year and six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the Court.

 

 

 

The violation of said section proven in a proper administrative proceeding shall be sufficient cause for removal or dismissal of a public officer, even if no criminal prosecution is instituted against him.   mphasis supplied)

 

 

 

In the same manner, Section 8 of R.A. No. 6713 provides:

 

 

 

SEC. 8. Statements and Disclosure. – Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

 

 

 

(A) Statements of Assets and Liabilities and Financial Disclosure. – All public officials and employees, except those who serve in an honorary capacity, laborers and casual or temporary workers, shall file under oath their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and a Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial connections and those of their spouses and unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

 

 

 

The two documents shall contain information on the following:

 

 

 

(a)                             real property, its improvements, acquisition costs, assessed value and current fair market value;

 

(b)                            personal property and acquisition cost;

 

(c)                             all other assets such as investments, cash on hand or in banks, stocks, bonds, and the like;

 

(d)                            liabilities, and;

 

(e)                             all business interests and financial connections.

 

 

 

The documents must be filed:

 

 

 

(a)                within thirty (30) days after assumption of office;

 

(b)               on or before April 30, of every year thereafter; and

 

(c)                within thirty (30) days after separation from the service.

 

 

 

All public officials and employees required under this section to file the aforestated documents shall also execute, within thirty (30) days from the date of their assumption of office, the necessary authority in favor of the Ombudsman to obtain from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue, such documents as may show their assets, liabilities, net worth, and also their business interests and financial connections in previous years, including, if possible, the year when they first assumed any office in the Government.

 

 

 

Husband and wife who are both public officials or employees may file the required statements jointly or separately.

 

 

 

x x x                             x x x                             x x x

 

 

 

Section 11 of R.A. No. 6713 provides for the penalties:

 

SEC. 11. Penalties. – (a) Any public official or employee, regardless of whether or not he holds office or employment in a casual, temporary, holdover, permanent or regular capacity, committing any violation of this Act shall be punished with a fine not exceeding the equivalent of six (6) months’ salary or suspension not exceeding one (1) year, or removal depending on the gravity of the offense after due notice and hearing by the appropriate body or agency. If the violation is punishable by a heavier penalty under another law, he shall be prosecuted under the latter statute. Violations of Sections 7, 8 or 9 of this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment not exceeding five (5) years, or a fine not exceeding five thousand pesos (P5,000.00), or both, and, in the discretion of the court of competent jurisdiction, disqualification to hold public office.

 

 

 

(b) Any violation hereof proven in a proper administrative proceeding shall be sufficient cause for removal or dismissal of a public official or employee, even if no criminal prosecution is instituted against him. (emphasis ours)

 

 

 

x x x                             x x x                             x x x

 

 

 

As to the business interests and financial connections of public officials and employees, Section 1(a)(2), Rule VII of the Rules implementing R.A. No. 6713 states:

 

 

 

(2) The Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections shall contain information on any existing interests in, or any existing connections with, any business enterprises or entities, whether as proprietor, investor, promoter, partner, shareholder, officer, managing director, executive, creditor, lawyer, legal consultant or adviser, financial or business consultant, accountant, auditor, and the like, the names and addresses of the business enterprises or entities, the dates when such interests or connections were established, and such other details as will show the nature of the interests or connections.

 

 

 

In the present case, we find that there are discrepancies, inconsistencies and non-disclosures in the SAL filed by respondent for the years 1974, 1976, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1998, to wit:

 

 

 

1. In his SAL for 1989, respondent indicated therein that he owns a residential lot located in theprovinceofRizalwhich he acquired through inheritance in 1965. Respondent also declared in the same SAL that he owns a house which he inherited in 1967. He also acknowledged therein that he owns a residential lot inBaguioCitywhich he acquired through purchase in 1965. However, in his SAL for the years 1974 and 1976, respondent did not declare ownership of any real property.

 

 

 

2. In his SAL for 1989 and 1993, respondent declared that he owns a house and lot acquired through inheritance in 1965. However, in his SAL for 1991, 1995, 1996 and 1998, he declared that the house and lot he inherited was acquired in 1985.

 

 

 

3. Respondent acknowledged in his SAL for 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1996 that he acquired a house and lot by purchase in 1985. However, he failed to declare said property in his SAL for 1989.

 

4. In his Explanation submitted to the Court on September 5, 2003, respondent contends that one of the reasons why his assets increased significantly from 1974 to 1995 is that he was appointed as company director of ELXSHAR PTY LTD (ELXSHAR), a company based inAustralia. He reasoned out that his appointment was brought about by his daughter’s connections inAustralia, wherein the latter is a resident. However, we agree with the observation of the OCA that nowhere in respondent’s SAL for 1989, 1991 and 1993 did he declare his business and financial connections with ELXSHAR. It was only in his SAL for 1995, 1996 and 1998 that he included his directorship in ELXSHAR as part of his business and financial interests.

 

 

 

5. Respondent also acknowledged in his Explanation that he constructed a two-hectare fish cage in January 1989 by obtaining a loan in the amount of P300,000.00. However, an examination of the SAL of respondent for 1989 and 1991 reveals that he failed to declare either his ownership of or his financial interests in the said fish pens. Respondent also explained that as security for his loan of P300,000.00, obtained in January 1989, he executed a real estate mortgage in favor of the person who loaned him the money. However, his SAL for 1989 does not contain any declaration of a real estate mortgage for the said amount.

 

6. Respondent declared his ownership of a fish pen worth P2,500,000.00 in his SAL for 1995 and 1996. He claims that his ownership of the said fish pen was acquired in 1993. However, a perusal of his SAL for 1993 shows that while respondent declared his being a fish pen operator as part of his business interests, he failed to include said fish pen among his assets. It was only in 1995 that he began to declare the fish pen as part of his assets.

 

 

 

On the basis of the foregoing discrepancies, inconsistencies and omissions, we find respondent guilty of violating Section 7 of R.A. No. 3019 and Section 8 of R.A. No. 6713 for his failure to declare a true and detailed statement of his assets and liabilities for the years 1974, 1976, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1998 and should be meted out the penalty of dismissal from service pursuant to Section 9(b), R.A. No. 3019 and Section 11, R.A. No. 6713.  Furthermore, in Rabe vs. Flores,[15] one of the reasons why the Court dismissed a court employee from the service is her failure to disclose her business interests for a continued period of four years.  In this case, respondent failed to disclose his business interests from 1974 to 1994 or a period of twenty years.

 

 

 

WHEREFORE, respondent Norberto V. Doblada, Jr., Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court of Pasig City, Branch 155, is found GUILTY of violation of Section 7, R.A. No. 3019 and Section 8, R.A. No. 6713 and is DISMISSED from the service, effective immediately, with FORFEITURE of all benefits, except accrued leave credits, if any, with prejudice to his reemployment in any branch or service of the government including government-owned and controlled corporations.

 

 

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

HILARIO G. DAVIDE, JR.

 

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       (On Official Leave)

 

                   REYNATO S. PUNO

 

                      Associate Justice                                            

 

       ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN

 

                      Associate Justice                        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING

 

              Associate Justice

 

    CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO

 

                     Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANGELINA SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ    

 

                      Associate Justice

 

               ANTONIO T. CARPIO

 

                      Associate Justice                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ

 

                 Associate Justice

 

           RENATO C. CORONA                            

 

                   Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONCHITA CARPIO-MORALES

 

                 Associate Justice

 

    ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR.

 

                Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     ADOLFO S. AZCUNA                     

 

           Associate Justice

 

            DANTE O. TINGA

 

               Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MINITA V.CHICO-NAZARIO                CANCIO C. GARCIA

 

           Associate Justice                                   Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*               On Official Leave.

 

[1]               Rollo, p. 5.

 

[2]              Id., p. 26.

 

[3]               Id., p. 31.

 

[4]               Rollo, p. 157.

 

[5]              Id., p. 159.

 

[6]               Rollo, pp. 167-168.

 

[7]              Id., p. 281.

 

[8]               Rollo, pp. 342-343.

 

[9]              Id., p. 345.

 

[10]            Id., p. 361.

 

[11]             Rollo, p. 382.

 

[12]            Id., p. 284.

 

[13]             Rollo, pp. 403-404.

 

[14]            Id., p. 405.

 

[15]             A.M. No. P-97-1247, May 14, 1997, 272 SCRA 415.

 

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CASE 10: LUIS BUNDALIAN

 

EDILLO C. MONTEMAYOR, PETITIONER, VS. LUIS BUNDALIAN, RONALDO B. ZAMORA, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, AND GREGORIO R. VIGILAR, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS AND HIGHWAYS (DPWH), RESPONDENTS. (G.R. NO. 149335, 13 JULY 2003)

 

PUNO, J.:

 

In this petition for review on certiorari, petitioner EDILLO C. MONTEMAYOR assails the Decision of the Court of Appeals, dated April 18, 2001, affirming the decision of the Office of the President in Administrative Order No. 12 ordering petitioner’s dismissal as Regional Director of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for unexplained wealth.

 

Petitioner’s dismissal originated from an unverified letter-complaint, dated July 15, 1995, addressed by private respondent LUIS BUNDALIAN to the Philippine Consulate General inSan Francisco,California,U.S.A.  Private respondent accused petitioner, then OIC-Regional Director, Region III, of the DPWH, of accumulating unexplained wealth, in violation of Section 8 of Republic Act No. 3019.  Private respondent charged that in 1993, petitioner and his wife purchased a house and lot at907 North Bel Aire Drive,Burbank,Los Angeles,California, making a down payment of US$100,000.00.  He further alleged that petitioner’s in-laws who were living inCaliforniahad a poor credit standing due to a number of debts and they could not have purchased such an expensive property for petitioner and his wife.  Private respondent accused petitioner of amassing wealth from lahar funds and other public works projects.

 

Private respondent attached to his letter-complaint the following documents:

 

a) a copy of a Grant Deed, dated May 27, 1993, where spouses David and Judith Tedesco granted the subject property to petitioner and his wife;

 

b) a copy of the Special Power of Attorney (SPA) executed by petitioner and his wife in California appointing petitioner’s sister-in-law Estela D. Fajardo as their attorney-in-fact, to negotiate and execute all documents and requirements to complete the purchase of the subject property; and,

 

c) an excerpt from the newspaper column of Lito A. Catapusan in the Manila Bulletin, entitled “Beatwatch,” where it was reported that a low-ranking, multimillionaire DPWH employee, traveled to Europe and the U.S. with his family, purchased an expensive house in California, appointed a woman through an SPA to manage the subject property and had hidden and unexplained wealth in the Philippines and in the U.S.

 

Accordingly, the letter-complaint and its attached documents were indorsed by the Philippine Consulate General of San Francisco, California, to the Philippine Commission Against Graft and Corruption (PCAGC)[1] for investigation.  Petitioner, represented by counsel, submitted his counter-affidavit before the PCAGC alleging that the real owner of the subject property was his sister-in-law Estela Fajardo.  Petitioner explained that in view of the unstable condition of government service in 1991, his wife inquired from her family in theU.S.about their possible emigration to the States.  They were advised by an immigration lawyer that it would be an advantage if they had real property in the U.S. Fajardo intimated to them that she was interested in buying a house and lot in Burbank, California, but could not do so at that time as there was a provision in her mortgage contract prohibiting her to purchase another property pending full payment of a real estate she earlier acquired in Palmdale, Los Angeles.  Fajardo offered to buy theBurbankproperty and put the title in the names of petitioner and his wife to support their emigration plans and to enable her at the same time to circumvent the prohibition in her mortgage contract.

 

Petitioner likewise pointed out that the charge against him was the subject of similar cases filed before the Ombudsman.[2] He attached to his counter-affidavit the Consolidated Investigation Report[3] of the Ombudsman dismissing similar charges for insufficiency of evidence.

 

From May 29, 1996 until March 13, 1997, the PCAGC conducted its own investigation of the complaint.  While petitioner participated in the proceedings and submitted various pleadings and documents through his counsel, private respondent-complainant could not be located as his Philippine address could not be ascertained.  In the course of the investigation, the PCAGC repeatedly required petitioner to submit his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), Income Tax Returns (ITRs) and Personal Data Sheet.  Petitioner ignored these directives and submitted only his Service Record.  He likewise adduced in evidence the checks allegedly issued by his sister-in-law to pay for the house and lot inBurbank,California. When the PCAGC requested the Deputy Ombudsman forLuzonto furnish it with copies of petitioner’s SALN from 1992-1994, it was informed that petitioner failed to file his SALN for those years.

 

After the investigation, the PCAGC, in its Report to the Office of the President, made the following findings:  Petitioner purchased a house and lot inBurbank,California, for US$195,000.00 (or P3.9M at the exchange rate prevailing in 1993).  The sale was evidenced by a Grant Deed.  The PCAGC concluded that the petitioner could not have been able to afford to buy the property on his annual income of P168,648.00 in 1993 as appearing on his Service Record.  It likewise found petitioner’s explanation as unusual, largely unsubstantiated, unbelievable and self-serving.  The PCAGC noted that instead of adducing evidence, petitioner’s counsel exerted more effort in filing pleadings and motion to dismiss on the ground of forum shopping.  It also took against petitioner his refusal to submit his SALN and ITR despite the undertaking made by his counsel which raised the presumption that evidence willfully suppressed would be adverse if produced.  The PCAGC concluded that as petitioner’s acquisition of the subject property was manifestly out of proportion to his salary, it has been unlawfully acquired.  Thus, it recommended petitioner’s dismissal from service pursuant to Section 8 of R.A. No. 3019.

 

On August 24, 1998, the Office of the President, concurring with the findings and adopting the recommendation of the PCAGC, issued Administrative Order No. 12,[4] ordering petitioner’s dismissal from service with forfeiture of all government benefits.

 

Petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration was denied.  His appeal to the Court of Appeals was likewise dismissed.[5]

 

Hence, this petition for review where petitioner raises the following issues for resolution: first, whether he was denied due process in the investigation before the PCAGC; second, whether his guilt  was proved by  substantial  evidence;  and, third, whether the earlier dismissal of similar cases before the Ombudsman rendered the administrative case before the PCAGC moot and academic.

 

On the issue of due process, petitioner submits that the PCAGC committed infractions of the cardinal rules of administrative due process when it relied on Bundalian’s unverified letter-complaint.  He gripes that his counter-affidavit should have been given more weight as the unverified complaint constitutes hearsay evidence. Moreover, petitioner insists that in ruling against him, the PCAGC failed to respect his right to confront and cross-examine the complainant as the latter never appeared in any of the hearings before the PCAGC nor did he send a representative therein.

 

We find no merit in his contentions.  The essence of due process in administrative proceedings is the opportunity to explain one’s side or seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of.  As long as the parties are given the opportunity to be heard before judgment is rendered, the demands of due process are sufficiently met.[6] In the case at bar, the PCAGC exerted efforts to notify the complainant of the proceedings but his Philippine residence could not be located.[7] Be that as it may, petitioner cannot argue that he was deprived of due process because he failed to confront and cross-examine the complainant. Petitioner voluntarily submitted to the jurisdiction of the PCAGC by participating in the proceedings before it.  He was duly represented by counsel. He filed his counter-affidavit, submitted documentary evidence, attended the hearings, moved for a reconsideration of Administrative Order No. 12 issued by the President and eventually filed his appeal before the Court of Appeals. His active participation in every step of the investigation effectively removed any badge of procedural deficiency, if there was any, and satisfied the due process requirement.  He cannot now be allowed to challenge the procedure adopted by the PCAGC in the investigation.[8]

 

Neither can we sustain petitioner’s contention that the charge against him was unsupported by substantial evidence as it was contained in an unverified complaint.  The lack of verification of the administrative complaint and the non-appearance of the complainant at the investigation did not divest the PCAGC of its authority to investigate the charge of unexplained wealth.  Under Section 3 of Executive Order No. 151 creating the PCAGC, complaints involving graft and corruption may be filed before it in any form or manner against presidential appointees in the executive department.  Indeed, it is not totally uncommon that a government agency is given a wide latitude in the scope and exercise of its investigative powers.  The Ombudsman, under the Constitution, is directed to act on any complaint likewise filed in any form and manner concerning official acts or omissions.  The Court Administrator of this Court investigates and takes cognizance of, not only unverified, but even anonymous complaints filed against court employees or officials for violation of the Code of Ethical Conduct.  This policy has been adopted in line with the serious effort of the government to minimize, if not eradicate, graft and corruption in the service.

 

It is well to remember that in administrative proceedings, technical rules of procedure and evidence are not strictly applied.  Administrative due process cannot be fully equated with due process in its strict judicial sense for it is enough that the party is given the chance to be heard before the case against him is decided.[9] This was afforded to the petitioner in the case at bar.

 

On the second issue, there is a need to lay down the basic principles in administrative investigations.  First, the burden is on the complainant to prove by substantial evidence the allegations in his complaint.[10] Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence.  It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds equally reasonable might conceivably opine otherwise.[11] Second, in reviewing administrative decisions of the executive branch of the government, the findings of facts made therein are to be respected so long as they are supported by substantial evidence.  Hence, it is not for the reviewing court to weigh the conflicting evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, or otherwise substitute its judgment for that of the administrative agency with respect to the sufficiency of evidence.  Third, administrative decisions in matters within the executive jurisdiction can only be set aside on proof of gross abuse of discretion, fraud, or error of law.  These principles negate the power of the reviewing court to re-examine the sufficiency of the evidence in an administrative case as if originally instituted therein, and do not authorize the court to receive additional evidence that was not submitted to the administrative agency concerned.[12]

 

In the case at bar, petitioner admitted that the subject property was in his name.  However, he insisted that it was his sister-in-law Estela Fajardo who paid for the property in installments.  He submitted as proof thereof the checks issued by Fajardo as payment for the amortizations of the property.  His evidence, however, likewise fail to convince us.  First, the record is bereft of evidence to prove the alleged internal arrangement petitioner entered into with Fajardo.  He did not submit her affidavit to the investigating body nor did she testify before it regarding her ownership of theBurbankproperty.  Second, the checks allegedly issued by Fajardo to pay for the monthly amortizations on the property have no evidentiary weight as Fajardo’s mere issuance thereof cannot prove petitioner’s non-ownership of the property.  Fajardo would naturally issue the checks as she was appointed by petitioner as attorney-in-fact and the latter would naturally course through her the payments for theBurbankproperty.  Third, petitioner’s own evidence contradict his position.  We cannot reconcile petitioner’s denial of ownership of the property with the loan statement[13] he adduced showing that he obtained a loan from the World Savings and Loan Association for $195,000.00 on June 23, 1993 to finance the acquisition of the property.  Then, three (3) years later, on May 30, 1996, petitioner and his wife executed a Quitclaim Deed[14] donating the Burbank property to his sisters-in-law Estela and Rose Fajardo allegedly to prove his non-ownership of the property.  It is obvious that the Quitclaim Deed is a mere afterthought, having been executed only after a complaint for unexplained wealth was lodged against petitioner.  Why the Quitclaim Deed included Rose Fajardo when it was only Estela Fajardo who allegedly owned the property was not explained on the record.  Petitioner’s evidence failed to clarify the issue as it produced, rather than settled, more questions.

 

Petitioner admitted that the Grant Deed over the property was in his name.  He never denied the existence and due execution of the Grant Deed and the Special Power of Attorney he conferred to Estela Fajardo with respect to the acquisition of theBurbankproperty.  With these admissions, the burden of proof was shifted to petitioner to prove non-ownership of the property.  He cannot now ask this Court to remand the case to the PCAGC for reception of additional evidence as, in the absence of any errors of law, it is not within the Court’s power to do so.  He had every opportunity to adduce his evidence before the PCAGC.

 

Lastly, we cannot sustain petitioner’s stance that the dismissal of similar charges against him before the Ombudsman rendered the administrative case against him before the PCAGC moot and academic.  To be sure, the decision of the Ombudsman does not operate as res judicata in the PCAGC case subject of this review.  The doctrine of res judicata applies only to judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings, not to the exercise of administrative powers.[15] Petitioner was investigated by the Ombudsman for his possible criminal liability for the acquisition of theBurbankproperty in violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Revised Penal Code.  For the same alleged misconduct, petitioner, as a presidential appointee, was investigated by the PCAGC by virtue of the administrative power and control of the President over him.  As the PCAGC’s investigation of petitioner was administrative in nature, the doctrine of res judicata finds no application in the case at bar.

 

Thus, we find that the Court of Appeals correctly sustained petitioner’s dismissal from service as the complaint and its supporting documents established that he acquired a property whose value is disproportionate to his income in the government service, unless he has other sources of income which he failed to reveal.  His liability was proved by substantial evidence.

 

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the petition is DISMISSED.  No costs.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

Panganiban, Sandoval-Gutierrez,Corona, and Carpio Morales, JJ., concur.

 

[1] Created under Executive Order No. 151, dated January 11, 1994, by then President Fidel V. Ramos and was subsequently abolished by his successor, former President Joseph Estrada through E.O. 253, dated July 18, 2000.

 

[2] OMB-0-94-1172, OMB-0-94-1329 and OMB-0-94-1560.

 

[3] Rollo at 162-173.

 

[4]Id.at 54-60.

 

[5] Decision, dated April 18, 2001;  Penned by Associate Justice Fermin A. Martin, Jr. and concurred in by Associate Justices Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos and Mercedes Gozo-Dadole;  Rollo at 41-50.

 

[6] Umali vs. Guingona, Jr., 305 SCRA 533 (2000);  Audion Electric Co., Inc. vs. NLRC, 308 SCRA 340 (2000).

 

[7] See Letter of PCAGC Chairman Dario Rama to the Solicitor General, dated April 4, 2002; Rollo at 90.

 

[8] Emin vs. Chairman Corazon Alma de Leon, G.R. No. 139794, February 27, 2002.

 

[9] Ocampo vs. Office of the Ombudsman, 322 SCRA 17 (2000).

 

[10] Lorena vs. Encomienda, 302 SCRA 632 (1999); Cortez vs. Agcaoili, 294 SCRA 423 (1998).

 

[11] Enrique vs. Court of Appeals, 229 SCRA 180 (1994).

 

[12] Ramos vs. Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 55 SCRA 330 (1974).

 

[13] See Supplement to the Petition; Rollo at 74.

 

[14]Id.at 75-78.

 

[15] Dinsay vs. Cioco, 264 SCRA 703 (1996).

 

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CASE 11:  LIBERATOR M. CARABEO

 

 

 

SECOND DIVISION

 

 

LIBERATO M. CARABEO,                     G.R. Nos. 190580-81

                             Petitioner,

                                                                    Present:

                                                                     CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

          – versus –                                              NACHURA,

  PERALTA,

  ABAD, and

  MENDOZA, JJ.

THE HONORABLE SANDIGANBAYAN

(FOURTH DIVISION) and PEOPLE       Promulgated:

OF THE PHILIPPINES,

                             Respondents.                     February 21, 2011

x ————————————————————————————— x

 

DECISION

 

ABAD, J.:

 

 

These cases pertain to a) the authority of Heads of Offices to investigate erring public officers and employees and file charges against them before the Office of the Ombudsman and b) the scope of the responsibility of such Heads of Offices to examine the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) of their subordinates and require them to correct formal errors in them.

 

The Facts and the Case

 

Pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 259, investigators of the Department of Finance (DOF) Revenue Integrity Protection Service (RIPS) made lifestyles check of DOF officials and employees.  As a result of these investigations, the DOF charged petitioner Liberato Carabeo, Parañaque City Treasurer, before the Office of the Ombudsman for violations of Section7 inrelation to Section 8 of Republic Act (R.A.) 3019 and Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code.  The informations filed with the Sandiganbayan totaled eight in all.  These, in essence, accused Carabeo of failing to disclose several items in his sworn SALN filed over the years. 

 

Two informations, docketed as Criminal Cases SB-09-CRM-0034 and 0039, were raffled to the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division.  They charged Carabeo with failing to disclose personal properties consisting of three motor vehicles, misdeclaring the acquisition cost of a real property in Laguna, and falsely declaring his net worth in his SALN for 2003. 

 

At the pre-trial of these cases, Carabeo submitted his Pre-Trial Brief, proposing the following issues for trial:

 

1.         Whether or not the accused was allowed to previously exercise his right to be informed beforehand and to take the necessary corrective action on questions concerning his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN, for brevity), as provided under Section 10 of Republic Act No. 6713 before the instant charges were filed against him;

 

2.         Whether or not the accused committed the crime of falsification of Public Documents under Paragraph 4, Article 171, Revised Penal Code, as amended;

 

3.         Whether or not the accused committed a violation of Section 7, Republic Act No. 3019, as amended, in relation to Section 8, Republic Act. No. 6713; and

 

4.         Whether or not the filing of the instant case is premature in the light of the pending Petition for Certiorari before the Supreme Court entitled: “Liberato M. Carabeo, vs. Court of Appeals, Simeon V. Marcelo, et al., (docketed as “G.R. No. 178000”), questioning: (1) the legality, validity and constitutionality of Executive Order 259, upon which the present charges arose; and (2) whether the accused’s right to be informed “beforehand” and to take the “necessary corrective action” on questions regarding his SALN, as clearly mandated under Section 10 of RA 6713, was blatantly disregarded and set aside during the course of the investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman.[104][1]  

 

But the Pre-Trial Order of the Sandiganbayan dated August 14, 2009[105][2] did not include the issues as crafted by Carabeo.  This prompted him to seek on September 1, 2009 the correction of the pre-trial order to include such issues. 

 

On September 15, 2009 the Fourth Division issued a Resolution, stating that the issues in the pre-trial order already covered Carabeo’s second and third proposed issues.  As to the first and fourth issues, the Sandiganbayan said that Carabeo’s head office’s review was irrelevant and cannot bar the Office of the Ombudsman from conducting an independent investigation of his alleged offenses.  Carabeo filed a motion for reconsideration with respect to his first and fourth issues but the Sandiganbayan denied this on October 29, 2009, hence, this special civil action of certiorari.

 

The Issues Presented

 

          The petition presents the following issues:

 

1.       Whether or not the Sandiganbayan may hear the criminal action against Carabeo pending this Court’s resolution of his petition to annul E.O. 259 under which the DOF-RIPS’ filed the pertinent complaint against him before the Office of the Ombudsman; and

 

2.       Whether or not the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion in excluding from the trial his proposed issues 1 and 4.

 

The Court’s Rulings

 

One.  Carabeo claims that the Office of the Ombudsman prematurely filed the criminal cases against him considering that a question was pending before this Court in G.R. 178000 concerning the validity of E.O. 259, which authorized the conduct of lifestyles check on official and employees of the executive department. 

 

But such issue has since been rendered moot and academic when the Court held on December 4, 2009 that the validity of E.O. 259 is immaterial to the question of the propriety of the charges filed against Carabeo.  Indeed, the Court pointed out that any concerned citizen may file charges of corruption or illegal conduct against any government official or employee if the evidence warrants.  Thus, the DOF-RIPS investigators were within their right to charge Carabeo before the Office of the Ombudsman regarding his case with or without E.O. 259.[106][3]

 

Two.  Carabeo asserts that he was entitled to be informed of any error in his SALN and given the opportunity to correct the same pursuant to Section 10 of R.A. 6713, which provides:

 

Section 10. Review and Compliance Procedure. – (a) The designated Committees of both Houses of the Congress shall establish procedures for the review of statements to determine whether said statements have been submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form.  In the event a determination is made that a statement is not so filed, the appropriate Committee shall so inform the reporting individual and direct him to take the necessary corrective action.

 

(b)        In order to carry out their responsibilities under this Act, the designated Committees of both houses of the Congress shall have the power within their respective jurisdictions, to render any opinion interpreting this Act, in writing, to persons covered by this Act, subject in each instance to the approval of the affirmative vote of the majority of the particular House concerned.

 

The individual to whom the opinion is rendered, and any other individual involved in a similar factual situation, and who, after issuance of the opinion acts in good faith in accordance with it shall not be subject to any sanction provided in this Act.

 

(c)        The heads of other offices shall perform the duties stated in subsections (a) and (b) hereof insofar as their respective offices are concerned, subject to the approval of the Secretary of Justice, in the case of the Executive Department and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in the case of the Judicial Department.

 

Carabeo claims that his head office, the DOF, should have alerted him on the deficiency in his SALN and given him the chance to correct the same before any charge is filed against him in connection with the same.  But, the Sandiganbayan, citing Pleyto v. Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG),[107][4] held that the review of the SALN by the head of office is irrelevant and cannot bar the Office of the Ombudsman from conducting an independent investigation for criminal violations committed by the public official or employee.

 

Carabeo contends, however, that the head of office has a mandatory obligation to inform him of defects in his SALN and give him the chance to correct the same.  Further, he cannot be subjected to any sanction until such obligation has been complied with.  Carabeo points out that Pleyto could not apply to him because the authority that reviewed the SALN in Pleyto was not the head of office.  Although the respondents involved in that case were employees of the Department of Public Works and Highways, it was the Philippine National Police that investigated and filed the complaints against them.  Carabeo points out that, in his case, it was the DOF-RIPS, headed by the Secretary of Finance, which filed the complaints against him with the Office of the Ombudsman.  As city treasurer, Carabeo reports to the Bureau of Local Government Finance under the Secretary of Finance.   

 

But what Carabeo fails to grasp is that it was eventually the Office of the Ombudsman, not the DOF-RIPS, that filed the criminal cases against him before the Sandiganbayan.  That office is vested with the sole power to investigate and prosecute, motu proprio or on complaint of any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office, or agency when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient.[108][5]  The Office of the Ombudsman could file the informations subject of these cases without any help from the DOF-RIPS.

 

True, Section 10 of R.A. 6713 provides that when the head of office finds the SALN of a subordinate incomplete or not in the proper form such head of office must call the subordinate’s attention to such omission and give him the chance to rectify the same.  But this procedure is an internal office matter.  Whether or not the head of office has taken such step with respect to a particular subordinate cannot bar the Office of the Ombudsman from investigating the latter.[109][6]  Its power to investigate and prosecute erring government officials cannot be made dependent on the prior action of another office.  To hold otherwise would be to diminish its constitutionally guarded independence.

 

Further, Carabeo’s reliance on his supposed right to notice regarding errors in his SALNs and to be told to correct the same is misplaced.  The notice and correction referred to in Section 10 are intended merely to ensure that SALNs are “submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form.”  Obviously, these refer to formal defects in the SALNs.  The charges against Carabeo, however, are for falsification of the assets side of his SALNs and for declaring a false net worth.  These are substantive, not formal defects.  Indeed, while the Court said in Pleyto that heads of offices have the duty to review their subordinates’ SALNs, it would be absurd to require such heads to run a check on the truth of what the SALNs state and require their subordinates to correct whatever lies these contain.  The responsibility for truth in those SALNs belongs to the subordinates who prepared them, not to the heads of their offices.

 

Thus, the Sandiganbayan did not gravely abuse its discretion in excluding from its pre-trial order the first and fourth issues that Carabeo proposed. 

 

WHEREFORE, the Court DISMISSES the petition and AFFIRMS the Resolutions of the Fourth Division of the Sandiganbayan in Criminal Cases SB-09-CRM-0034 and 0039 dated September 15, 2009 and October 29, 2009.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

ROBERTO A. ABAD

                                                              Associate Justice

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA       DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

                  Associate Justice                                    Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

ATTESTATION

 

          I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

                                                      ANTONIO T. CARPIO

                                                   Associate Justice

                                Chairperson, Second Division                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

          Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

 

 

 

                                                             RENATO C. CORONA

                                                            Chief Justice

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


*       Designated additional member per Special Order No. 944-A datedFebruary 9, 2011.

[1][1]   Rollo (G.R. Nos. 174730-35), pp. 51-73. Penned by Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta (now a Member of this Court) and concurred in by Associate Justices Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro (also now a Member of this Court) and Efren N. Dela Cruz.

[2][2]   TSN,May 9, 2002, pp. 41-42, 62.

[3][3]   Exhibits “J” and “K”, folder of exhibits.

[4][4]   Exhibits “A” and “B”, id.

[5][5]   Exhibits “C” and “F”, id.

[6][6]   Exhibit “D”, id.

[7][7]   Exhibits “E” and “G”, id.

[8][8]   Exhibit “I”, id.

[9][9]   Records, Vol. I, pp. 13-16.

[10][10]        Id. at 5-12.

[11][11]         Separate folders.

[12][12]         Records, Vol. 1, p. 181.

[13][13]        Id. at 202-204.

[14][14]         “Quinciana” in some parts of the TSN.

[15][15]         TSN,May 3, 2001, pp. 11-18.

[16][16]         Exhibit “A,” folder of exhibits.

[17][17]         TSN,May 9, 2002, pp. 22-32.

[18][18]        Id. at 12-19.

[19][19]        Id. at 33, 42-47, 50-59, 64-72.

[20][20]         Rollo (G.R. Nos. 174730-37), pp. 69-72.

[21][21]        Id. at 94-98.

[22][22]        Id. at 25.

[23][23]         Rollo (G.R. Nos. 174845-52), p. 18.

[24][24]         Rollo (G.R. Nos. 174730-37), pp. 192-193, 203-207.

[25][25]        Id. at 199-201.

[26][26]         Fullero v. People, G.R. No. 170583, September 12, 2007, 533 SCRA 97, 114, citing Santos v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. Nos. 71523-25, December 8, 2000, 347 SCRA 386, 424.

[27][27]         Id., citing  Luis B. Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Criminal Law (14th Edition, Revised 1998), BOOK TWO, ARTS. 114-367, p. 216, People v. Uy, 101 Phil. 159, 163 (1957) and United States v. Inosanto, 20 Phil. 376, 378 (1911); Adaza v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 154886,July 28, 2005, 464 SCRA 460, 478-479.

[28][28]         Regidor, Jr. v. People, G.R. Nos. 166086-92, February 13, 2009, 579 SCRA 244, 263, citing Lastrilla v. Granda, G.R. No. 160257, January 31, 2006, 481 SCRA 324, 345, Lumancas v. Intas, G.R. No. 133472, December 5, 2000, 347 SCRA 22, 33-34, further citing People v. Po Giok To, 96 Phil. 913, 918 (1955).

[29][29]         G.R. No. 76212,April 26, 1991, 196 SCRA 341, 350.

[30][30]         107 Phil. 888, 890-891 (1960).

[32][32]         Bartolo v. Sandiganbayan, Second Division, G.R. No. 172123,April 16, 2009, 585 SCRA 387, 394.

[33][33]        Id.

[34][34]         Adm. Matter No. P-985,July 31, 1978, 84 SCRA 280.

[35][35]         VII (Prohibitions on Appointments), 2(b).

[36][36]         Luis B. Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Book Two, (17th Edition, Rev. 2008), p. 223.

[37][37]         Art. 175, Rule XXII, Rules and Regulations Implementing the Local Government Code of 1991.

[38][38]         Sec. 3. x x x

                x x x x

                (k) “Relatives” refers to any and all persons related to a public official or employee within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, including bilas, inso and balae.

[39][39]         People v. Herida, G.R. No. 127158,March 5, 2001, 353 SCRA 650, 659.

[40][40]         People v. Lenantud, G.R. No. 128629,February 22, 2001, 352 SCRA 549, 563.

[41][41]         Sec. 79. Limitation on Appointments. – No person shall be appointed in the career service of the local government if he is related within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to the appointing or recommending authority.

[42][42]         G.R. No. 135805,April 29, 1999, 306 SCRA 425, 435.

[43][43]        Id. at 438-439.

[44][1] Rollo, pp. 12-47.

[45][2]Id. at 49-61. Penned by Associate Justice Franchito N. Diamante with Associate Justice Isaias P. Dicdican and Associate Justice Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla, concurring.

[46][3]Id. at 64-64b.

[47][4] CA rollo, pp. 46-51.

[48][5] Rollo, p. 74.

[49][6] CA rollo, p. 98.

[50][7]Id. at 99.

[51][8]Id. at 100.

[52][9]  Id. at 104-105.

[53][10]Id. at 113-118.

[54][11]Id. at 106-108.

[55][12]Id. at 119-126.

[56][13]Id. at 127-135.

[57][14]Id. at 138-143.

[58][15]Id. at  144.

[59][16]Id. at 145-147.

[60][17] Rollo, pp. 97-99.

[61][18] CA rollo, pp. 156-171.

[62][19] Rollo, pp. 100-101.

[63][20] CA rollo, pp. 172-185.

[64][21] Rollo, pp. 80-96.

[65][22]Id. at  96.

[66][23] CA rollo, pp. 52-66.

[67][24]Id. at 46-51.

[68][25]Id. at 13-45.

[69][26] G.R. No. 169982,November 23, 2007, 538 SCRA 534.

[70][27] Rollo, p. 58.

[71][28]Id. at 58-58a.

[72][29]Id. at 60.

[73][30]Id. at 125-149.

[74][31]Id. at 64-64b.

[75][32]Id. at 268-299.

[76][33]Id. at 280-281.

[77][34]Id. at 33.

[78][35]Id. at 34.

[79][36] Office of the Ombudsman v. Lazaro-Baldazo, G.R. No. 170815,February 2, 2007, 514 SCRA 141, 144.

[80][37] Heirs of Jose Lim v. Juliet Villa Lim, G.R. No. 172690,March 03, 2010.

[81][38] Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

[82][39] G.R. Nos. 178000 and 178003,December 04, 2009, 607 SCRA 394, 412.

[83][40] G.R. No. 167828,April 02, 2007, 520 SCRA 140, 149-150.

[84][41] An Act Declaring Forfeiture in Favor of the State any Property Found to have been Unlawfully Acquired by any Public Officer or Employee and Providing for the Proceedings therefor.

[85][42] CA rollo, pp. 187-194; 200-209; 212.

[86][43] Rollo, pp. 100-101.

[87][44]Id. at 115-116; pp. 122-123.

[88][45]Id. at 122.

[89][46]Id. at 124.

[90][47] CA rollo, pp. 156-171.

[91][48]Id. at  172-186.

[92][49]Id. at 195-199.

[93][50]Id. at 79.

[94][51] Pleyto v. PNP-CIDG, G.R. No. 169982,November 23, 2007, 538 SCRA 534, 586.

[95][52] Ampong v. Civil Service Commission, CSC-Regional Office No. 11, G.R. No. 167916, August 26, 2008, 563 SCRA 293, 307.

[96][53] Civil Service Commission v. Sta. Ana, 435 Phil. 1, 12 (2002).

[97][54] De Guzman v. Delos Santos, 442 Phil. 428, 440 (2002).

[98][55] G.R. No. 169982,November 23, 2007, 538 SCRA 534.

[99][56]Id. at 586.

[100][57]Id. at 594.

[101][58] Galero v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 151121,July 21, 2008, 559 SCRA 11, 22.

[102][59] Atty. Salumbides, et. al. v. Office of the Ombudsman, et. al., G.R. No. 180917,April 23, 2010.

[103][60] Bascos, Jr. v. Taganahan, G.R. No. 180666,February 18, 2009, 579 SCRA 653, 680.

[104][1]  Rollo, pp. 29-30.

[105][2] Id. at 36-47.

[106][3]  Carabeo v. Court of Appeals, G.R. Nos. 178000 and 178003, December 4, 2009, 607 SCRA 394, 405.

[107][4]  G.R. No. 169982, November 23, 2007, 538 SCRA 534.

[108][5]  Vergara v. Ombudsman, G.R. No. 174567, March 12, 2009, 580 SCRA 693, 708.

[109][6]  Pleyto v. PNP-CIDG, supra note 4, at 592.