[ A.M. No. P-18-3842 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 12-3965-P). June 11, 2018 ]
CONSTANCIA BENONG-LINDE, COMPLAINANT, VS. FELADELFA L. LOMANTAS, SOCIAL WELFARE OFFICER II, OFFICE OF THE CLERK OF COURT, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT, TAGBILARAN CITY, BOHOL, RESPONDENT.
D E C I S I O N
DEL CASTILLO, J.:
We resolve a Complaint dated September 22, 2012 filed by Constancia Benong-Linde (complainant) charging Social Welfare Officer II Feladelfa L. Lomantas (respondent), with abuse of authority, dishonesty and conduct unbecoming a court employee, relative to SP Proc. No. 2853, entitled Constancia Benong-Linde v. Archiles B. Linde and Aloha B. Sarzuelo, for custody of minor children pending before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Tagbilaran City, Branch 03.
Complainant averred that minors Mary Arianne Sarzuelo (Mary) and Alec Joriz Sarzuelo (Alec) were born out of wedlock to her son, Archiles B. Linde (Archiles) and his former girlfriend, Aloha Sarzuelo (Aloha). When Archiles and Aloha parted ways, complainant took care of Mary and Alec. Believing that exercising custody over these minor children was in their best interest, complainant filed before the RTC of Tagbilaran City a verified Petition1 for custody docketed as SP Proc. No. 2853. However, in an Order2 dated August 9, 2012, the RTC of Tagbilaran City archived the custody case for failure to personally serve summons upon Archiles who was abroad at the time.
According to complainant, at around 9:00 p.m. on April 30, 2012, respondent went to her house and forced her to house Mary and Alec from their sleep purportedly to enable her (respondent) to conduct a case study on these minors. The respondent also informed her that the success or failure of the case "depended upon the tip of her ballpen". Complainant was surprised at this arrogant outburst as the proceedings for the custody case had yet to commence; moreover, the RTC had not yet directed respondent to conduct a case study.
On September 8, 2012, at around 7:00 a.m., respondent again went to complainant's house and tried to force complainant and her grandchildren to board her car, purportedly as part of her case study. Complainant refused, and told respondent that they would hear mass at 12:00 noon that day, as it was Mary's 12th birthday. However, when complainant and Mary arrived at the church, they were met by respondent and Aloha, who, along with four other persons, got hold of Mary. Complainant then went to the police station near the church to have the incident recorded. Complainant claimed that respondent also repaired to the police station, and therein announced that she had control over the custody case. Complainant then suggested to respondent that Mary be allowed to go home as she (complainant) had planned a birthday party for her; and that after the birthday party Aloha could spend time with Mary. However, Aloha did not agree to this suggestion. All of a sudden, Mercy Sarzuelo (Mercy), Aloha's mother, dragged Mary and forced her inside respondent's car. Complainant tried to go with them, but respondent pushed her out of the car, causing her to fall down on the pavement. Respondent then left with her companions, taking Mary with them. Complainant promptly made a police report of this incident. Later, complainant learned that on September 19, 2012, Aloha, together with Mercy and respondent, went to Mary's school, and asked for the issuance of Mary's card and her Form 137. On said occasion, respondent bragged to Mary's teacher that nobody could file a case against her because she was a court employee.
Respondent denied the charges against her. She claimed: (1) that on the morning of September 8, 2012, she received a text message from Aloha and Mercy informing her that they had arrived at Tagbilaran City from Leyte and that they intended to go to the church where Mary was expected to hear mass, as it was Mary's birthday; (2) that she (respondent) and her daughter were also at the church as they usually hear mass on a Saturday; (3) that outside the church, she saw Mary hugging Aloha while complainant who was nearby appeared to be arguing with Aloha; (4) that she went near them, and when asked about her opinion, she said that the law favors the choice of the minor and since the minor wanted to live with Aloha, the minor's preference should be respected; (5) that complainant was infuriated by her opinion; (6) that desirous of a peaceful resolution of the problem, she advised the parties to repair to the police station to discuss their problem; (7) that after this, Aloha requested her (respondent) to bring them to the Greenwich Plaza Marcela; and (8) that she asked complainant to join them there, but the latter refused. Respondent claimed that on September 19, 2012, she merely accompanied Aloha to Mary's school.(awÞhi(
In her Reply-Affidavit,3 complainant claimed that she was constrained to file the present administrative complaint because she wanted to bring to the attention of the proper authorities respondent's rude behavior as a Social Worker, specifically her uncalled for and officiou s meddling in a pending custody case that was none of her business at all.
The Court, upon recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), resolved4 to refer the matter to the Executive Judge of RTC Tagbilaran City, Bohol for investigation, report and recommendation.
Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Judge
In his Investigation Report5 of June 29, 2016, Investigating Judge Suceso A. Arcamo (Judge Arcamo) of the RTC of Tagbilaran City noted that complainant, in an Affidavit of Desistance6 dated June 1, 2016, had manifested her loss of interest in pursuing the instant administrative case. In the said affidavit, complainant said that she had already forgiven respondent and that she wanted to buy peace as she had been ordained as 3rd Order of the Servants of Mary.
Notwithstanding this Affidavit of Desistance, Judge Arcamo, however, thought it proper to proceed with the investigation given the fact that complainant did not say that the allegations in the complaint were false or made up. In due course, Judge Arcamo made the following findings: (1) that it was improper for respondent, as a social welfare officer, to prematurely intervene in the custody case which had been archived for failure to serve summons; (2) that respondent's behavior and conduct showed bias and partiality to one party i.e. Aloha; and (3) that respondent clearly displayed arrogance in stating that the success or failure of your case depends upon the tip of my ballpen." Hence, Judge Arcamo recommended that respondent be held guilty of simple misconduct and that she be penalized with suspension for one month.
OCA Report and Recommendation7
The OCA agreed in toto with the findings and recommendation of Judge Arcamo thus —
In the instant case, as correctly pointed out by x x x Judge Arcamo, there was no reason for respondent x x x to intervene on behalf of either party since the custody case was archived by the court. It is admitted by respondent x x x that on 8 September 2012, Aloha x x x texted her that she was in Tagbilaran City to see her daughter at the St. Joseph Cathedral. Thus, it can be surmised that there was prior communication between them to meet at the St. Joseph Cathedral and it was not by mere coincidence that respondent x x x witnessed the altercation between complainant x x x and Aloha x x x. Respondent x x x even assisted Aloha x x x in bringing them to Greenwich Plaza Marcela.
Furthermore, respondent x x x went to the extent of using force against complainant x x x. This Office agrees with x x x Judge Arcamo that more weight and credence should be given to the allegations of complaint x x x that she was pushed out of the car by respondent x x x. This was corroborated by the affidavit of a certain Christine S. Zamora, a candle vendor in the church, who saw complaint x x x limping. The incident was also recorded in the police blotter under Entry No. 504 dated 8 September 2012.
Moreover, this Office finds credence in the allegation of arrogance on the part of respondent x x x. Respondent x x x denied that she boasted that the success or failure of the custody case is in the "tip of her ballpen". However, there is a whiff of truth that respondent x x x displayed arrogance when she accompanied Aloha x x x to the San Isidro Elementary School. In the affidavit, Corazon E. Mendez, the teacher-in-charge of Mary x x x, stated that respondent x x x boasted that she could not be refused because she is a Supreme Court employee and going to the school is part of her case study on the custody case of Mary x x x.1âшphi1
Clearly, respondent x x x failed to meet the exacting standards required of employees of the judiciary when she persisted in intervening in the custody case despite its having been archived. Also, respondent['s] arrogance is further shown when she brandished her position and used the name of the Court. The conduct and behavior of respondent x x x are tantamount to misconduct which should not countenanced.8
The OCA recommended that respondent be found guilty of simple misconduct and that she be suspended for a period of one (1) month without pay.9
At the outset, this Court agrees that the OCA has taken the right stance in insisting that the present administrative case must proceed notwithstanding complainant's execution of an Affidavit of Desistance. The filing of the said affidavit by the complainant for alleged loss of interest does not ipso facto result in the termination of the administrative case nor does it render the case mooted.
In Sy v. Binasing,10 we held that —
An affidavit of desistance by a complainant in an administrative case against a member of the judiciary does not divest the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction to investigate the matters alleged in the complaint or otherwise to wield its disciplinary authority because the Court has an interest in the conduct and behavior of its officials and employees and in ensuring the prompt delivery of justice to the people. Its efforts in that direction cannot thus be frustrated by any private arrangement of the parties. Neither can the disciplinary power of this Court be made to depend on a complainant's whims. To rule otherwise would undermine the discipline of court officials and personnel.11
This Court finds the OCA's report and recommendation well-taken, and fully substantiated, and is adopting the same, save for a minor modification in the penalty.
In Judge Yrastorza, Sr. v. Latiza,12 this Court ruled —
Court employees bear the burden of observing exacting standards of ethics and morality. This is the price one pays for the honor of working in the judiciary. Those who are part of the machinery dispensing justice, from the lowliest clerk to the presiding judge, must conduct themselves with utmost decorum and propriety to maintain the public's faith and respect for the judiciary. x x x
We agree with the investigating judge and with the OCA both of whom found respondent guilty of simple misconduct, in displaying improper deportment and reprehensible arrogance by officially meddling in a custody case which had been archived by the court, and in which she was not at all involved in any manner. Stress must be laid on the fact that respondent had not at all received any order from the court directing her to conduct any case study, and with which she had no connection at all.
Under the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, administrative offenses are classified into grave, less grave or light, depending on their gravity or depravity and effects on the government service.
Simple misconduct is a less grave offense punishable by suspension of one month and one day to six months for the first offense and dismissal for the second offense.
By definition, "[s]imple misconduct is a transgression of some established rule of action;"13 an unacceptable behavior that transgresses the established rules of conduct for public officers. "Any act deviating from the procedure laid down by the Rules is misconduct that warrants disciplinary action."14 Misconduct may be considered simple if the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules are not present.15
In the case at bench, we find reprehensible respondent's acts of meddling or intervening in an otherwise archived custody case and in arrogantly flouting that the success of the said case rested upon the "tip of her ballpen." Such a conceited display of self-importance is a failure of circumspection that calls for disciplinary sanction by this Court. "The law does not tolerate misconduct by a civil servant."16 There is hardly any doubt that respondent had acted in such a way that is an assault upon the norm of decency, and diminishes the people's respect for those in the government service, particularly for those employed in the judiciary.
Nevertheless, we find it proper to modify the penalty to be meted out against respondent in view of supervening event.
The Court would have imposed upon respondent the recommended penalty of one month suspension were it not for the fact that she had retired from the government service on September 2, 2017. Hence, we take the view that the appropriate penalty to be meted out against respondent, in lieu of suspension, is, as it ought to be, a fine in an amount equivalent to her salary for one month.
A final word: this Court, in disciplining its employees, does so with the end in view of improving the public service and preserving the public's faith and confidence in the government as "the Constitution stresses that a public office is a public trust and public officers 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. These constitutionally-enshrined principles x x x are not mere rhetorical nourishes or idealistic sentiments. They should be taken as working standards by all in the public service."17
WHEREFORE, respondent Social Welfare Officer II Feladelfa L. Lomantas is found GUILTY of simple misconduct and is FINED in an amount equivalent to her salary for one (1) month. In view of respondent's retirement from the service on September 2, 2017, the Finance Division, Financial Management Office of the Office of the Court Administrator is DIRECTED to deduct the amount corresponding to her one month's salary from the retirement benefits due her.
Let a copy of this Decision be attached to the personnel records of respondent in the Office or the Administrative Services, Office of the Court Administrator.
Leonardo-De Castro,* (Acting Chairperson), Jardeleza, and Gesmundo, JJ.,*** concur.
Tijam, J., on official leave.
* Per Special Order No. 2559 dated May 11, 2018.
*** Per Special Order No. 2560 dated May 11, 2018.
1 Rollo, pp. 11-19.
2 Id. at 23-24.
3 Id. at 113-119.
4 Resolution dated February 17, 2016 ; id. at 192-193.
5 Id. at 195-205.
6 Id. at 212.
7 Id. at 216-222.
8 Id. at 220-221.
9 Id . at 222.
10 563 Phil. 491 (2007).
11 Id. at 494, citing Atty. Pineda v. Judge Pinto, 483 Phil. 243, 252 (2004).
12 462 Phil. 145, 153 (2003).
13 Campos v. Judge Campos, 681 Phil. 247, 254 (2012).
14 Raut-Raut v. Gaputan, 769 Phil. 590, 597 (2015).
15 Samson v. Restrivera, 662 Phil. 45, 61 (2011).
16 Santos v. Rasalan, 544 Phil. 35, 44 (2007).
17 Government Service Insurance System v. Mayordomo, 665 Phil. 131, 151, (2011) citing Civil Service Commission v. Cortez, 474 Phil. 670 (2004).
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