Thursday, September 30, 2010

Court stenographer dismissed for grave misconduct, deceit.

In the recent case of ESCALONA vs. PADILLO, En Banc & Per Curiam, A.M. No.P-10-2785, Sept. 21, 2010, the Philippine Supreme Court found respondent Consolacion S. Padillo, a Court Stenographer, GUILTY of GRAVE MISCONDUCT. Accordingly, her retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, were FORFEITED. Her civil service eligibility was CANCELLED and she was PERPETUALLY DISQUALIFIED for reemployment in any branch of the government or any of its agencies or instrumentalities, including government-owned and controlled corporations. This decision was immediately executory.

Complainant Lourdes S. Escalona (Escalona) filed on 22 January 2007 a complaint charging respondent Consolacion S. Padillo (Padillo), Court Stenographer III of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Branch 260, Parañaque City with Grave Misconduct. Escalona claimed that she approached Jun Limcaco (Limcaco), the president of their homeowners’ association, regarding her problem with Loresette Dalit (Dalit). Limcaco referred her to Padillo to help facilitate the filing of a case against Dalit. Padillo allegedly promised to prepare the necessary documents and asked for P20,000 purportedly as payment for the prosecutor. Escalona requested that the amount be reduced to P15,000. Padillo received the P15,000 at the Little Quiapo Branch Better Living Subdivision. Thereafter, Escalona received a text message from Padillo informing her that the prosecutor was not amenable to the reduced amount of P15,000. After two weeks, Escalona gave the balance of P5,000 to Padillo allegedly for the service of the warrant of arrest. Escalona was also asked to submit a barangay clearance and to first take an oath before Prosecutor Antonio Arquiza, Jr. and later before Prosecutor Napoleon Ramolete. However, subsequent verification from the Prosecutor’s Office showed no record of a case filed against Dalit. Escalona confronted Padillo who promised to return to her the money. Padillo reneged on her promise. Hence, this complaint.

The Court Administrator, in his Memorandum dated 8 December 2009, found Padillo guilty of grave misconduct for soliciting money from Escalona in exchange for facilitating the filing of a case against Dalit. Padillo’s act of soliciting money from Escalona is an offense which merited the grave penalty of dismissal from the service. However, considering that Padillo tendered her resignation on 18 February 2007, a month after the complaint was filed but did not and had not filed any claim relative to the benefits due her, the Court Administrator recommended that all benefits due her, except accrued leave credits, be forfeited and that she be disqualified from reemployment in any branch of the government or any of its instrumentalities, including government-owned and controlled corporations.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court Administrator that the Court could no longer impose the penalty of dismissal from the service because Padillo resigned a month after the filing of the administrative complaint. However, her resignation did not render the complaint against her moot. Resignation is not and should not be a convenient way or strategy to evade administrative liability when a court employee is facing administrative sanction.

There was no doubt that Padillo received from Escalona P20,000 purportedly “for fiscal & judge” and “for warrant officer” and this amount was “intended to facilitate” the case against Dalit. This was shown in the receipt signed by Padillo herself.

Section 2, Canon 1 of the Code of Conduct of Court Personnel provides that “(C)ourt personnel shall not solicit or accept any gift, favor or benefit based on any explicit or implicit understanding that such gift, favor or benefit shall influence their official actions.” Section 52 (A)(11) of Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service also provides that dismissal is the penalty for improper solicitation even if it is 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 of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification from reemployment in the government service.

Escalona submitted an Affidavit of Desistance alleging that the P20,000 was “refunded” to her and this she “voluntarily accepted” in the presence of Florante Gaerlan, Interpreter of RTC, Branch 119, Pasay City and Erlinda Dineros, Interpreter of RTC, Branch 260, Parañaque City. However, even Escalona’s affidavit of desistance will not absolve Padillo from administrative liability. The Court has always held that the withdrawal of the complaint or the desistance of a complainant does not warrant the dismissal of an administrative complaint. This Court has an interest in the conduct and behavior of its officials and employees and in ensuring at all times the proper delivery of justice to the people. No affidavit of desistance can divest this Court of its jurisdiction under Section 6, Article VIII of the Constitution to investigate and decide complaints against erring officials and employees of the judiciary. The issue in an administrative case is not whether the complainant has a cause of action against the respondent, but whether the employee has breached the norms and standards of the courts. 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. The people, whose faith and confidence in their government and its instrumentalities need to be maintained, should not be made to depend upon the whims and caprices of complainants who, in a real sense, are only witnesses. Administrative actions are not made to depend upon the will of every complainant who may, for one reason or another, condone a detestable act. Such unilateral act does not bind this Court on a matter relating to its disciplinary power.