A.M. No. RTJ-15-2438, September 2, 2020,
♦ Decision, Leonen, [J]
♦ Dissenting Opinion, Perlas Bernabe, [J]
♦ Dissenting Opinion, Caguioa, [J]
♦ Dissenting Opinion, J. Reyes, Jr., [J]
♦ Concurring Opinion, Delos Santos, [J]

[ A.M. No. RTJ-15-2438 [Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3681-RTJ], September 02, 2020 ]




I dissent.

Pending administrative cases are not automatically mooted solely by the fact of a respondent-court employee's supervening death. The consequences of administrative misconduct have a persisting and surviving effect on the integrity of public service; hence, once jurisdiction is acquired and the respondent is duly given the opportunity to be heard, the Court should proceed to resolve the case. Accordingly, any administrative liability, if so found to be established based on the facts on record, should be pronounced and remain on public record in order to memorialize the public affront, so as to deter future deleterious conduct by would-be erring public officers.

The long-standing rule — which the ponencia now abandons — is that:

[T]he death of the respondent in an administrative case, as a rule, does not preclude a  finding of administrative liability. The recognized exceptions to this rule are: first, when the respondent has not been heard and continuation of the proceeding would deny him of his right to due process; second, where exceptional circumstances exist in the case leading to equitable and humanitarian considerations; and third, when the kind of penalty imposed or imposable would render the proceedings useless."' (Emphasis and underlining supplied)

The ponencia insists that herein respondent's supervening death should result in the dismissal of the instant administrative case against her, positing that administrative due process requires that the opportunity to be heard must be present in every single stage of the proceedings, including the filing of a motion for reconsideration. The ponencia states that "[administrative proceedings require that the respondent be informed of the charges and be given an opportunity to refute them. Even after judgment is rendered, due process requires that the respondent not only be informed of the judgment but also be given the opportunity to seek reconsideration of that judgment. This, in essence, is the true definition of the opportunity to be heard."2

The position is tenuous.

"In administrative proceedings, [procedural] due process is satisfied when a person is notified of the charge against him and given an opportunity to explain or defend oneself. In such proceedings, the filing of charges and giving reasonable opportunity for the person so charged to answer the accusations against him constitute the minimum requirements of due process."3 Hence, "[t]he essence of [procedural] due process, therefore, as applied to administrative proceedings, is an opportunity to explain one's side, or an opportunity to seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. Thus, a violation of that right occurs when a court or tribunal rules against a party without giving the person the opportunity to be heard."4 In this regard, case law further clarifies that any initial defects in procedural due process — i.e., deprivation of opportunity to be heard — may be cured by the filing of a motion for reconsideration that tackles the merits of the case.5 Otherwise stated, there is a violation of due process if a respondent was not given the opportunity to be heard.

In this case, there was no violation of procedural due process. Records clearly show that respondent failed to file any responsive pleading despite being given multiple opportunities to do so. Since respondent was given several chances to meet the accusations against her from the very beginning, there was no deprivation of due process. Contrary to the ponencia, respondent's inability to move for reconsideration due to her unfortunate supervening death does not erase the fact that due process had already been subserved. To say that due process is only subserved when a respondent is given the opportunity to be heard at every stage of the proceedings, as the ponencia holds, is — in my opinion — a dangerous precedent that may have far-reaching implications. Lack of due process means that the entire proceedings are void; thus, the ponencia's loose statements may be indiscriminately invoked by litigants to nullify any type of proceeding based on one's failure to move for reconsideration despite already being given the chance to explain his side at the onset of the case.

Further, I disagree with the ponencia's parallelism between the legal consequences of death in criminal cases and administrative cases. The ponencia points out that "in criminal cases, cases against the accused are immediately dismissed upon death since the accused can no longer participate in all aspects of proceedings,"6 Thus, since the supervening death of an accused in criminal cases results in the extinguishment of criminal liability and civil liability ex delicto, the same rule should be followed in administrative cases against public officers.

However, it should be stressed that the dismissal of a criminal case (even on appeal) due to the accused's supervening death is not grounded on his inability to participate in all aspects of the proceedings. Rather, the dismissal is predicated on the constitutional presumption of innocence. As case law holds:.

[U]ntil promulgation of final conviction is made, the constitutional mandate of presumption of innocence prevails.7

There is, however, no constitutional presumption of innocence when it comes to administrative cases. The presumption only applies to criminal cases. The rationale therefor is that a person accused of a crime is always pitted against the awesome prosecutorial machinery of the State.8 More importantly, unlike in administrative cases, the accused stands to face grave penalties affecting his own life and liberty when found guilty. Thus, when an average person stands accused for a public offense before a tribunal with the power to take his life or liberty,9 he is afforded the right to be presumed innocent until his guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt.10

In contrast, the purpose of administrative cases against public officials is to exact accountability for the wrongful acts that they have committed in the performance of their official functions. Public office is not property within the protection of the constitutional guarantees of due process of law11 as public office is a privilege burdened with numerous duties and prohibitions.12 Respondents in administrative cases, unlike the accused in criminal cases, will lose neither their liberty nor their property if an adverse decision be rendered against them. Hence, it is simply wrong to create a parallelism between the legal consequences of death in criminal cases to administrative cases.

As a final point, the ponencia discusses the apparent futility in imposing administrative penalties against public officers who have already passed away.13 The ponencia reasons that since a deceased public officer can no longer be punished and pollute the ranks of the judiciary, pending administrative cases are already mooted and hence, should be dismissed.

However, I submit that a finding of administrative liability on the one hand, may be differentiated from the imposition of penalties on the other. While the latter is generally a consequence of the former, exceptional circumstances may justify a finding of liability without necessarily proceeding to impose the penalty therefor. As in this case, it is my view that the Court should have proceeded with the determination of respondent's administrative liability and enter the same in the public record. The constitutional mandate that public office is a public trust demands complete closure and accountability for the wrongdoings committed against public sendee. The failure to recognize this liability by the automatic dismissal of these cases is tantamount to the liability's condonation.

This notwithstanding, the administrative penalties — which are either fines or non-monetary penalties converted to fines — need not be imposed anymore. After all, retribution by punishment is not the sole purpose of administrative proceedings; recognition of the taint to the integrity of the service is restorative justice on its own. Thus, the Court, within the bounds of its constitutional authority to supervise court personnel, may decide not to execute the fine penalty against the erring officer. The reasons for this are two-fold: (7) it would be impracticable to institute a claim during the settlement proceedings which usually involve lengthy litigation and costs; and (2) the punitive aspect of the penalty should be personal to the offender and hence, should no longer bear unintended effects to the bereaved loved ones of the deceased person. Anent the latter, it is discerned that the Court may very well adopt a policy of blotting out the actual court employee's name or using a confidential pseudonym in the published decision if only to avoid further insult to the grieving family. Indeed, the Court can implement these measures to balance the necessity to exact public accountability whilst preserving the humanity of its decisions.

All told, I vote to adopt the findings and recommendation of the Office of the Court Administrator14 (OCA) with respect to the administrative liability of herein respondent for gross ignorance of the law.15 Gross ignorance of the law, which is classified as a serious charge, is punishable by, among others, a penalty of fine in the maximum amount of P40,000.00.16 Notwithstanding respondent's unfortunate death, her administrative liability should remain on public record but the penalty of fine may no longer be imposed.


1 Mercado v. Salcedo, 619 Phil. 3, 33 (2009).

2 See ponencia, p. 9.

3 Ombudsman v. Conti, 806 Phil. 384, 390 (20 I 7).

4 Id. at 389, citing Estrada v. Ombudsman, 751 Phil. 821 (20151

5 '"While we have ruled in the past that the filing of a motion for reconsideration cures the defect in procedural due process because the process of reconsideration is itself an opportunity to be heard, this ruling does not embody an absoluie rule (hat applies in all circumstances. The mere filing of a motion for reconsideration cannot cure the due process defect, especially if the motion was filed precisely to raise the issue of violation of the right to due process and the lack of opportunity to be heard on the merits remained." (See Fontamlla v. COA, 787 Phil. 713, 725 [ 2016 ]; citations omitted)

6 See ponencia, p. 9.

7 Trillanes IV v. Hon. Pimentel, 578 Phil. 1002, 1018 (2008), citing Mangubal v. Sandiganbaycm, 227

8 Phil. 642(1986).

9 See lnacay v. People, 801 Phil. 187, 189 (2016), citing People v. Santocildes, 378 Phil. 943, 949 (1999).

10 See People v. Serzo, Jr., 340 Phil. 660, 675 (1997); citations omitted.

11 See Section 14 (2), Article III of the 1987 Constitution. See also Section 1 (a), Rule 115 of the 2000

12 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure; Section 2, Rule 133 of the Revised Rules on Evidence.

13 Office of the Court Administrator v. Indar, 685 Phil. 272, 290 (2012).

13 Taguinodv. Tomas, 677 Phil. 533, 539 (2011).

14 See ponencia, pp. 17-20.

14 See ponencia, p. 3.

15 As found in the OCA Memorandum dated July 7, 2015, respondent, as a member of the bench, willfully disregarded the laws intended to preserve marriage as an inviolable social institution as it was clear from the records that: (a) complainant and !he Office of the Solicitor Genera! were not furnished a copy of the petition; (b) only the psychologist's report was presented but the psychologist who prepared the same did not testify before the court; and (c) the case was decided with undue haste. Accordingly, the OCA recommended that:

xxx respondent x x x be found GUILTY of gross ignorance of the law for which she would have been DISMISSED FROM SERVICE with forfeiture of-her retirement benefits, except leave credits, if any, and disqualified from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations had she not been previously dismissed from the service in a Decision dated 9 October 2012 in A.M. No. RTJ-12-23 16; x x

16 Sections 8 and 1 1. Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC.

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