Friday, December 23, 2011

Court personnel fined for disgraceful and immoral conduct - A.M. No. P-11-3011

A.M. No. P-11-3011

"x x x.

The Issue

The only issue to be resolved is whether respondent Olivia C. Espeleta is guilty of immoral conduct.

The Ruling of the Court

After a careful evaluation of the records of the instant case, the Court finds respondent Olivia C. Espeleta guilty of Disgraceful and Immoral Conduct under Section 46(b)(5), Chapter 7, Subtitle A, Title I, Book V of the Administrative Code of 1987 which, as defined in Section 1 of CSC Resolution No. 100912 dated May 17, 2010 (Revised Rules on the Administrative Offense of Disgraceful and Immoral Conduct), is “an act which violates the basic norm of decency, morality and decorum abhorred and condemned by the society” and “conduct which is willful, flagrant or shameless, and which shows a moral indifference to the opinions of the good and respectable members of the community.”

Respondent's act of maintaining an illicit relationship with a married man comes within the purview of disgraceful and immoral conduct,26 which is classified as a grave offense punishable with suspension from the service for six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year for the first offense, and dismissal for the second offense.27

In Sealana-Abbu vs. Laurenciana-Huraño28 (2007), where two court stenographers engaged in an illicit affair were suspended for one (1) year, the Court emphasized that “(i)t is morally reprehensible for a married man or woman to maintain intimate relations with another person of the opposite sex other than his or her spouse.” In Elape vs. Elape29 (2008), a process server of the RTC was suspended for six (6) months and one (1) day for cohabiting with his mistress, abandoning his family and depriving them of financial support. Another process server was suspended for the same period in Regir vs. Regir30 (2009) for carrying on an illicit relationship with a woman not his wife, with whom he begot a child. Recently, in Babante-Caples vs. Caples31 (2010), a utility worker in the MTC, who had resigned, was nonetheless ordered to pay a fine for maintaining an illicit relationship with a woman not his wife.

As in Babante-Caples, respondent herein was given the opportunity to be heard and refute the charges against her; yet, she chose not to file any comment. Instead, as aptly pointed out by the OCA, respondent rather hastily tendered her resignation on June 11, 2009, just a few days after receipt on June 2, 200932 of the 1st Indorsement specifically requiring her to answer the letter-complaint. That respondent fully intended to run away from accountability for her indiscretions is betrayed by her perfectly-timed departure for the United States of America shortly after her resignation. Respondent's actuations when confronted with the charges against her are, thus, strongly indicative of guilt on her part.

The deposit slips indicating various amounts credited both directly and indirectly to respondent's account indubitably prove the allegation that she had been receiving substantial amounts of money from complainant's husband, in callous disregard of the heartache and financial dislocation of the latter's family. There could thus not be any serious doubt that respondent was indeed in an intimate relationship with Avelino, a married man.

In administrative proceedings, only substantial evidence, i.e., that amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, is required.33 The standard of substantial evidence is satisfied when there is reasonable ground to believe that respondent is responsible for the misconduct complained of, even if such evidence might not be overwhelming or even preponderant.34

"It cannot be overstressed that the image of a court of justice is mirrored in the conduct, official and otherwise, of the personnel who work thereat, from the judge to the lowest of its personnel. Court employees have been enjoined to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in their professional and private conduct in order to preserve the good name and integrity of courts of justice."35 This Court has thus consistently penalized court personnel who had been found wanting of such standards, even if they have precipitately resigned from their positions. Resignation should not be used either as an escape or as an easy way out to evade an administrative liability or an administrative sanction.36

Had respondent not resigned from the service, she would have been suspended for six months and one day in accordance with the prescribed penalty in the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service37, this being her first offense involving immorality. Instead, the Court adopts the OCA's recommended fine in the amount of P50,000.00 not exceeding respondent's six months' salary, which may be deducted from her accrued leave credits, if sufficient.

WHEREFORE, respondent OLIVIA C. ESPELETA is found GUILTY of Disgraceful and Immoral Conduct. In view of her resignation, a FINE in the amount of P50,000.00 is imposed on respondent, to be deducted from her accrued leave credits, if sufficient; otherwise, she isORDERED to pay the amount of the fine directly to this Court.

The Employees Leave Division, Office of Administrative Services of the Office of the Court Administrator, is DIRECTED to compute respondent’s accrued leave credits, if any, and deduct therefrom the amount representing the payment of the fine.

Let a copy of this Decision be filed in the personal record of respondent.