Republic of the Philippines
A.M. No. P-06-2186 July 3, 2012
(Formerly A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 05-2256-P)
FILOMENA B. CONSOLACION, Complainant,
LYDIA S. GAMBITO, Court Stenographer, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Binalonan, Pangasinan, Respondent.
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A.M. No. P-12-3026
(Formerly A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 05-2081-P)
JUDGE EMMA S. INES-PARAJAS, Complainant,
LYDIA S. GAMBITO, Court Stenographer, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Binalonan, Pangasinan, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This disposition concerns the consolidated report of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), contained in its November 4, 2011 Memorandum,1 finding that respondent Lydia S. Gambito (Gambito) had committed acts constituting three (3) counts of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
The factual and procedural antecedents appear in the November 4, 2011 Memorandum of the OCA as follows:
A.M. No. P-06-2186
In an Affidavit-Complaint dated July 25, 2005, which was filed with the OCA on August 1, 2005, complainant Filomena B. Consolacion charged respondent Ms. Lydia S. Gambito, a court stenographer at the Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Binalonan-Laoac, Pangasinan, with "misrepresentation and unlawful acts." Complainant alleged that sometime in November 2002, respondent came to her house and convinced her to buy her (respondent’s) "claimed tricycle," which she described as, "Honda (Make), KB503-022-019947E (Motor No.), KB503-022-19947 (Chassis No.), MC-AR-8213 (Plate No.)," for ₱ 65,000.00. Respondent allegedly needed the money for her son’s "deployment for work abroad." As she wanted to help respondent and the latter’s son, she agreed to buy the said tricycle after respondent promised her that she [respondent] would present to her [complainant] the documents evidencing her ownership of the tricycle. Respondent allegedly assured her that the said tricycle was not encumbered. She handed to respondent the amount of ₱ 65,000.00 after they executed a "Deed of Sale of a Motorized Tricycle," and respondent thereafter delivered and transferred "her possession of the tricycle." Allegedly, respondent also promised her to deliver the "Original Certificate of Registration" of the tricycle" on or before January 31, 2003." Respondent, however, failed to make good her promise and, despite demands, she failed to deliver the said document. Complainant further claimed that her repeated efforts to meet with respondent at the latter’s place of work was in vain, as respondent was always not around every time she would go there.
Complainant claimed that on July 14, 2005, "a Branch Manager of the PR Bank" in Urdaneta City, together with "a couple of policemen," came to her house and "took possession and control of the tricycle [she] bought from [respondent] "on the claimed ground that the said bank already owned it via foreclosure of the "Chattel Mortgage" supposedly executed by [respondent] over the tricycle." She insisted that respondent never informed her "about her [respondent’s] mortgage transaction with said PR Bank." In fact, she claimed that had respondent told her at the beginning that the tricycle had been mortgaged, she would not have bought it despite respondent’s "financial plea."
In her Comment dated January 30, 2006, respondent alleged that when her son applied for work abroad, she borrowed money for her son’s placement fee from relatives and friends, including complainant to whom she gave the tricycle as a "security," assuring her "that her money [would] be returned after two months" following the arrival of her son abroad, "or deliver to her the certificate of registration also within that period." However, the recruitment agency failed to send her son abroad, and they were unable to get back the money they paid to the said agency, as its manager could no longer be found and the person who recruited her son had already died. She claimed to have suffered "trauma caused by the money taken away from [them] by the recruiter." Consequently, she "suffered complicated illness (sic), spending much for medications up to the present and causing [her] to be financially handicapped most of the time." She also claimed that it was not her intention "not to settle [her] obligation," but since she is the only breadwinner of her family, her meager salary is insufficient to meet all the needs of her family, as well as the payment of her obligations. She also informed the Court that there was "an ongoing conciliation with [complainant]," and if the latter would be amenable, she would pay her "installment term until [her] obligation will be fully paid."
In a Resolution dated June 28, 2006, the Court re-docketed the complaint against respondent as a regular administrative matter, and referred the same to the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Urdaneta City, Pangasinan for investigation, report and recommendation.
In her Report dated February 9, 2011, Executive Judge Tita Rodriguez Villarin, Regional Trial Court, Urdaneta City, Pangasinan, gave the following account, without any evaluation or the required recommendation, thus:
On January 17, 2007, complainant testified before then Executive Judge Rodolfo G. Nabor. Her testimony is summarized as follows: In November 2002, respondent went to her house and offered to sell respondent’s Honda motorcycle, colored red, with plate number MC-AR-8213. Respondent executed a Deed of Sale notarized by Atty. Garcia (Exhibit "A"). Respondent promised to deliver to the complainant the original certificate of registration of the motorcycle (Exhibit "B"-promissory note). Complainant paid the whole amount of the consideration of the sale. The motorcycle was delivered to the complainant. Respondent did not make good her promise to deliver the certificate of registration despite demands. On July 14, 2005, the manager of PR Bank, Urdaneta City and two armed men went to complainant’s house and took the motorcycle. According to the PR Bank Manager, the motorcycle was mortgaged and the same was foreclosed. On verification, she found out that there was a chattel mortgage executed by respondent (Exhibit "C"). The motorcycle was brought to the police station and the incident was entered in the police blotter (Exhibit "D"). When the motorcycle was taken, she suffered damage because she paid Php65, 000.00 to buy said tricycle. She also lost daily income from the tricycle. She gathered the necessary documents and brought them to the Office of the Prosecutor. Thereat, she executed an affidavit-complaint (Exhibit "E"), which was the one submitted to the Court Administrator.
After complainant testified, this case was scheduled several times but were postponed on motion of the respondent because she has no lawyer and she was sick. The Court noted respondent was really very sick. She was so slim and always coughing.
On September 17, 2010, both respondent and complainant appeared and jointly manifested (that) they agreed to the withdrawal of the complaint.
In her affidavit of withdrawal executed before Prosecutor Francisville Asuncion, complainant Consolacion stated (that) she is withdrawing her complaint against respondent because they have already settled their differences.
On October 29, 2010, respondent submitted a letter informing the Court (that) she is not anymore presenting evidence because of the withdrawal of the complaint.
Indeed, in her Affidavit of Withdrawal of Complaint dated September 17, 2010, complainant declared that she and respondent have "already settled [their] differences" and that she is "no longer interested to pursue said case against the respondent." She thus requests "that the said administrative case be dismissed."2
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A.M. OCA IPI No. 05-2081-P
In her letter dated November 16, 2004, complainant Judge Emma S. Ines-Parajas, then Presiding Judge of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Binalonan-Laoac, Pangasinan (now Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 50, Tayug, Pangasinan), complained to the Court Administrator that she "discovered the [following] misdeeds" of respondent Ms. Lydia Gambito, a court stenographer of the said first level court, thus:
1. Respondent allegedly agreed to facilitate the issuance of a certificate of title in favor of Norma Billamanca for a fee of Php10,000.00, assuring Ms. Billamanca that complainant judge could help "facilitate the processing of the papers." Respondent was even asking for an additional amount of ₱ 3,000.00 from Ms. Billamanca "to be paid to [complainant judge]." The latter claimed that respondent admitted to her in the presence of court stenographer Cristeta Magat on October 29, 2004 that she used her [complainant judge’s] name "to exact money from Ms. Billamanca."
2. Complainant judge claimed that in the third week of October 2004, Lolita Erum of Balangobong, Binalonan, Pangasinan complained to her that respondent "offered to help post" the bail for her husband, Virgilio Erum, "who [was] an accused in a case pending before MTCC, Urdaneta City," and "received the amount of ₱ 9,000.00" from Ms. Erum, but "no bail was posted." Respondent reportedly "refused to return the amount despite several demands."
3. The sister of Aboy Abellera of Capas, Binalonan, Pangasinan, who is an accused in Criminal Case No. 7480, also complained that respondent received ₱ 10,000.00 "from the former for his bail." However, "no bail was posted and the accused is still languishing in jail."
4. Peter Grey filed a complaint for sum of money against respondent before the Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Binalonan-Laoac, Pangasinan, which arose from the failure of respondent to pay her debt to Mr. Grey.
5. Jose Fiesta of Bued, Binalonan, Pangasinan reported to complainant judge that respondent and her son failed to pay the rental of the house owned by Mr. Fiesta for the month of August 2004 as well as the electric bills for the duration of their stay at the said house.
6. Similarly, Federico Fernandez of Yakal St., Villa Pozorrubio, Pozzorubio, Pangasinan also complained that respondent rented his house in Villa Pozzorubio after she left the house of Mr. Fiesta, but failed to pay her obligation of ₱ 13,837.00 "representing unpaid rentals and unpaid loans."
7. Nancy Esguerra of Ipil St., Villa Pozorrubio also complained that the son of respondent "committed estafa against her and that [respondent] denied that she knew the whereabouts of her son."
8. In 2003, respondent allegedly collected the amount of ₱ 2,000.00 from the mother of Eduardo Dapreza of Sitio Orno, Sta. Maria Norte, Binalonan, Pangasinan, who is an accused in Criminal Case No. 7388, "as bail because a warrant of arrest has been issued against him." However, complainant judge pointed out that "the record of the case does not show that a warrant of arrest was issued against the accused, the case being covered by the Rules on Summary Procedure."
Complainant judge also reported that respondent "was often absent without filing [an] application for leave in advance." She, thus, recommended "that pending investigation of the foregoing cases, [respondent] be suspended to prevent her from further using her position in [her] Court to exact money from other persons."
In her letter-comment dated June 4, 2005, respondent explained that her transaction with Ms. Billamanca involved two cases, an ejectment and a petition for issuance of lost title, for which she would spend ₱ 15,000.00. Instead of paying the said amount in full, Ms. Billamanca gave her "payment in installment." "The first was ₱ 3,000.00, then after a month, ₱ 2,000.00 then after several weeks, she gave ₱ 2,000.00 and a bracelet worth ₱ 1,800.00." She further explained that "the ₱ 15,000.00 was supposed to be used for publication, filing fee and Sheriff’s fee," but since the full amount was not given, the cases were not filed in Court.
She admitted "the allegations in paragraph 2, with the justification that Mrs. Lolita Erum handed [her] in installment the amount of ₱ 9,000.00 supposedly for the bond of her husband with nine (9) cases. First, she gave ₱ 1,000.00, after several weeks, she gave ₱ 5,000.00." After several days, ₱ 2,000.00." She explained that as "the bailbond Surety Company did not accept [the said amount] and because [she] need[ed] medication and her daughter who is in college need[ed] money to buy her books, [she] used the money."
She likewise admitted the existence of a civil case for sum of money against her. She explained that the money she borrowed from the plaintiff was used by her son who applied for work abroad, but he was a victim of illegal recruitment. She claimed that they could no longer get back the money from the recruiter because the latter is already dead.
She branded the complaint of Mrs. Esguerra against her son to be "baseless, fabricated and lies." She also denied the allegation of Mrs. Fiesta as "[they] even sold [their] refrigerator" to enable them to pay their obligation to him.
Finally, she "vehemently den[ied] that she has not been filing her application for leave of absence, the truth [being] that [she] was sick during those times and [she] was not able to file [her] leave beforehand." She claimed to have filed her "leave," attaching thereto her medical certificate, when she returned to work.
In a Resolution dated February 15, 2006, the Court referred this administrative matter "to the Executive Judge of Urdaneta City, Pangasinan for investigation, report and recommendation within sixty (60) days from receipt of the records," and "suspend[ed] respondent pending investigation of the case."
There being no compliance with the February 15, 2006 Resolution more than four (4) years after its issuance, the Court, in a Resolution dated December 13, 2010, required the Executive Judge, Regional Trial Court, Urdaneta City, Pangasinan, to submit a status report on this matter within ten (10) days from notice.
In her report dated February 9, 2011, Executive Judge Tita Rodriguez Villarin, Regional Trial Court, Urdaneta City, Pangasinan, gave the following account, thus:
Records show that complainant Judge Parajas started her testimony on June 7, 2006 before then Judge Rodrigo G. Nabor (now retired). Thereafter, Judge Parajas did not anymore return to continue her testimony.
The testimony of Judge Parajas is summarized as follows: (S)he was the Presiding Judge of MCTC, Binalonan-Laoac, Pangasinan when she filed the instant complaint. About the second week of October 2004, she was informed of a confrontation between respondent Gambito and one Norma Billamanca of Santiago, Binalonan, Pangasinan. She summoned said Ms. Billamanca to her Court. Ms. Billamanca admitted that she contracted the services of respondent Gambito for the issuance of new transfer certificate of title for the amount of ₱ 10,000.00; and that respondent told Ms. Billamanca (that) Judge Parajas could help facilitate the processing for the issuance of new transfer certificate of title because Judge Parajas knows people at the Registry of Deeds. After Ms. Billamanca left the Court, Judge Parajas confronted respondent regarding what Ms. Billamanca said. Respondent cried and admitted she used the name of Judge Parajas to exact money from Ms. Billamanca. During the confrontation and admission of respondent, one of the stenographers of the court, Ms. Cristeta Magas, was present.
Records show that Peter Grey, the plaintiff in Civil Case No. 611 for sum of money against respondent, gave his testimony on July 5, 2006 before then Executive Judge Rodrigo Nabor. However, the transcript of proceedings is not attached to the records. An order was issued on December 15, 2010 requiring the stenographers who took down the proceedings to submit their transcripts. But to date no transcript of the testimony of Peter Grey was submitted.
On August 17, 2006, Norma Billamanca appeared before then Executive Judge Nabor, but she refused to testify, per order dated August 17, 2006. Thereafter, this case was set several times but the same were postponed because the witnesses of complainant did not appear despite notice, and respondent was always sick and had no lawyer to assist her. The Court noted that indeed respondent was very sick. She was so slim and coughing hard.
On October 29, 2010, the respondent appeared and submitted a letter informing the Court she is not anymore presenting evidence. When asked in open Court, respondent manifested that she is still sickly, that she could not afford a lawyer, that she could even hardly provide for her fare in going to court, and that she will accept the decision of the Court.3 [Emphases supplied]
On November 4, 2011, the OCA submitted its Memorandum containing the consolidated report on the complaints. It found Gambito to have committed acts constituting three (3) counts of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and recommended that she be dismissed from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits. The recommendation reads:
PREMISES CONSIDERED, we respectfully recommend that:
1. OCA IPI No. 05-2081-P be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative matter;
2. These two (2) administrative matters be CONSOLIDATED; and
3. Ms. Lydia S. Gambito, Court Stenographer, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Binalonan-Laoac, Pangasinan, be ADJUDGED GUILTY of three (3) counts of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and be DISMISSED from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, with prejudice to re-employment in any government office, including government-owned and controlled corporations.4
Although the witnesses did not appear during the investigation and some of the testimonies of those who did were not completed, the OCA assessed the cases against Gambito because of her admissions 1) that she entered into a "transaction" with Norma Billamanca (Billamanca) to facilitate two (2) cases for which the latter agreed to give her ₱ 15,000.00 supposedly to be spent for publication, filing fee and sheriff’s fee; and 2) that she received on different occasions from Billamanca payment in installment amounting to ₱ 7,000.00 and a bracelet valued at ₱ 1,800.00, but the cases were not filed in court because Billamanca failed to give her the full amount of ₱ 15,000.00. Gambito likewise failed to refute in her letter-comment the allegation of Judge Emma S. Ines-Parajas (Judge Ines-Parajas) that she admitted to the latter, in the presence of another court stenographer, that she used the complainant-judge’s name to exact money from Billamanca. The OCA stated that such failure was considered as an implied admission.
Furthermore, the OCA found that Gambito took advantage of her position as a court employee as she used the name of the complainant-judge to exact money from unsuspecting and hapless individuals. The OCA also stated that Gambito failed to live up to the high ethical standards required of court employees thereby prejudicing the best interest of the administration of justice. Gambito violated Section 52, paragraph A(20), Rule IV of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, which refers to conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and which is classified as a grave offense punishable with dismissal on the second offense.
Considering that Gambito committed on different occasions and under different circumstances three (3) separate unlawful acts, all constituting conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, the OCA recommended that the extreme penalty of dismissal be imposed on her.
WHETHER OR NOT RESPONDENT GAMBINO IS ADMINSTRIVELY LIABLE FOR CONDUCT PREJUDICIAL TO THE BEST INTEREST OF THE SERVICE AND, IF SO, WHETHER OR NOT HER OFFENSE WARRANTS THE PENALTY OF DISMISSAL FROM THE SERVICE.
The Court’s Ruling
The Court finds the evaluation and assessment of OCA to be well-taken.
The rules do not provide a definition of, or enumeration of the acts constituting, conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. In Ito v. De Vera,5 the Court held that conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service refers to acts or omissions that violate the norm of public accountability and diminish - or tend to diminish - the people’s faith in the Judiciary.6
In Largo v. Court of Appeals,7 it was stated that if an employee’s questioned conduct tarnished the image and integrity of his public office, he was liable for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. The basis for his liability was Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. The Code, particularly its Section 4(c), commands that public officials and employees shall at all times respect the rights of others, and shall refrain from doing acts contrary to public safety and public interest.8
In the case at bench, Gambito’s misrepresentation regarding the ownership and actual status of the tricycle which she sold to Filomena B. Consolacion (Consolacion) for ₱ 65,000.00 unquestionably undermined the people’s faith in the Judiciary. Gambito, a long time court stenographer, took advantage of her being a court employee and her friendship with Consolacion when she induced the latter to buy the tricycle and promised her that she would give her the documents proving ownership of the tricycle with the assurance that it was not encumbered.
For her misrepresentation and assurance, Consolacion trusted her and immediately gave her the amount of ₱ 65,000.00. Consolacion claimed that she was sincere in helping Gambito’s son and was disappointed when she failed to present the Original Certificate of Registration of the subject tricycle, despite several demands. What was even more painful for Consolacion was the fact that there was a chattel mortgage constituted on the tricycle and that it had already been foreclosed.
In her Comment,9 Gambito explained that the money she received from Consolacion was used to pay her son’s placement fee. She gave the tricycle as security with the assurance that the money would be returned after two (2) months from her son’s arrival from abroad or upon the delivery of the certificate of registration. She was not able to return the money because her son became a victim of an illegal recruiter and she could not get the money back because the recruiter had passed away. What she did not disclose, however, was that the tricycle was already the subject of an earlier chattel mortgage in favor of PR Bank, Urdaneta City.
Doubtless, Gambito’s unethical transactions and lack of forthrightness affected the Judiciary of which she was a part. As a court employee, she was expected to act in conformity with the strict standard required of all public officers and employees. In San Jose, Jr. v. Camurongan,10 the Court held that the strictest standards have always been valued in judicial service. Verily, everyone involved in the dispensation of justice, from the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk, is expected to live up to the strictest norm of competence, honesty and integrity in the public service.11 Although Consolacion later withdrew her complaint, it does not help Gambito’s cause as these late recantations are viewed by the Court with disfavor.
The Court stresses that the conduct of every court personnel must be beyond reproach and free from suspicion that may cause to sully the image of the Judiciary. They must totally avoid any impression of impropriety, misdeed or misdemeanor not only in the performance of their official duties but also in conducting themselves outside or beyond the duties and functions of their office. Court personnel are enjoined to conduct themselves toward maintaining the prestige and integrity of the Judiciary for the very image of the latter is necessarily mirrored in their conduct, both official and otherwise. They must not forget that they are an integral part of that organ of the government sacredly tasked in dispensing justice. Their conduct and behavior, therefore, should not only be circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility but at all times be defined by propriety and decorum, and above all else beyond any suspicion.12
Another point against Gambito was her transaction with Billamanca. She admitted in her letter-comment,13 dated June 14, 2005, that she facilitated two (2) cases (ejectment case and petition for the issuance of lost title) for the amount of ₱ 15,000.00, which was supposed to be used for publication, filing fee and sheriff’s fee. She explained that the cases were not filed in court because Billamanca failed to give her the full amount of ₱ 15,000.00. The amount given was only ₱ 7,000.00, delivered in installments.
Gambito likewise confessed that she received in installments the amount of ₱ 9,000.00 from Lolita Erum (Erum), which was supposed to be for the bail of the latter’s husband who had nine (9) pending cases, and that she used the money to buy her medicines and the college books of her daughter.
Indeed, Gambito’s unauthorized transactions with Villamanca and Erum constitute conduct grossly prejudicial to the interest of the service. Under the Civil Service Law and its implementing rules, dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service are grave offenses punishable by dismissal from the service.14
Under Section 52(A)(11) of Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, dismissal is the penalty for improper solicitation for the first offense. Section 58(a) of the same Rule provides that the penalty of dismissal shall carry with it the cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture or retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification for reemployment in the government service, unless otherwise provided in the decision.15
Time and again, this Court has emphasized the heavy burden and responsibility of court personnel. They have been constantly reminded that any impression of impropriety, misdeed or negligence in the performance of their official functions must be avoided. Thus, the Court does not hesitate to condemn and sanction such improper conduct, act or omission of those involved in the administration of justice that violates the norm of public accountability and diminishes or tends to diminish the faith of the public in the Judiciary.16
WHEREFORE, Lydia S. Gambito, Court Stenographer, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Binalonan-Laoac, Pangasinan, is hereby found GUILTY of three (3) counts of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, and is hereby DISMISSED from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, with prejudice to re-employment in any government office, including government-owned and controlled corporations.
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Senior Associate Justice
PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.*
|TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
|ARTURO D. BRION
|DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
|(On official leave)
LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
|MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
|ROBERTO A. ABAD
|MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ*
|JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA
|MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO
|BIENVENIDO L. REYES
ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
* No part.
1 Rollo (A.M. No. P-06-286), pp. 90-98; (A.M. No. P-12-3026), pp. 135-143.
2 Rollo (A.M. No. P-06-2186), pp. 90-91.
3 Id. at 94-96.
4 Id. at 90-98.
5 A.M. No. P-01-1478, December 13, 2006, 511 SCRA 1, 11-12.
6 Toledo v. Perez, A.M. Nos. P-03-1677 and P-07-2317, July 15, 2009, 593 SCRA 5, 11-12.
7 G.R. No. 177244, November 20, 2007, 537 SCRA 721, 732.
8 Id. at 733.
9 Rollo (A.M. No. P-06-2186), pp. 10-11.
10 522 Phil. 80, 83 2006).
11 Toledo v. Perez, supra note 6.
12 Hernando v. Bengson, A.M. No. P-09-2686, March 28, 2011, 646 SCRA 439.
13 Rollo (A.M. No. P-12-3026), pp. 20-21.
14 Civil Service Commission v. Cortez, G.R. No. 155732, June 3, 2004, 430 SCRA 593, 602.
15 Villaros v. Orpiano, 459 Phil. 1, 8 (2003).
16 Ito v. De Vera, supra note 5 at 11.
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