"x x x.
The Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service27 govern the conduct of disciplinary and non-disciplinary proceedings in administrative cases. In Section 3, it provides that, “Administrative investigations shall be conducted without necessarily adhering strictly to the technical rules of procedure and evidence applicable to judicial proceedings.”
In Office of the Court Administrator v. Canque,28 the Court held:
The essence of due process is that a party be afforded a reasonable opportunity to be heard and to present any evidence he may have in support of his defense. Technical rules of procedure and evidence are not strictly applied to administrative proceedings. Thus, administrative due process cannot be fully equated with due process in its strict judicial sense. A formal or trial-type hearing is not required.
The weight of evidence required in administrative investigations is substantial evidence. In Rule 133, Section 5 of the Rules of Court, substantial evidence is defined:
In cases filed before administrative or quasi-judicial bodies, a fact may be deemed established if it is supported by substantial evidence, or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable man might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion.
Consequently, in the hierarchy of evidentiary values, proof beyond reasonable doubt is at the highest level, followed by clear and convincing evidence, then by preponderance of evidence, and lastly by substantial evidence, in that order.29
For these reasons, only substantial evidence is required to find Malunao guilty of the administrative offense. In the hierarchy of evidentiary values, substantial evidence, or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable man might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion, is the lowest standard of proof provided under the Rules of Court. In assessing whether there is substantial evidence in administrative investigations such as this case, the Court is not bound by technical rules of procedure and evidence.
Dela Cruz, in her Sinumpaang Salaysay dated 8 May 2008, claimed that Malunao tried to extort money from her in exchange for a favorable resolution in the case pending before Judge Flor in Branch 28. In the entrapment operation conducted by the NBI, Malunao was arrested when she received ₱15,000.00 from Dela Cruz.
A criminal complaint for robbery with extortion was filed against Malunao with attached supporting documents such as the Complaint Sheet, Sinumpaang Salaysay of Dela Cruz, Affidavit of Arrest, Booking Sheet and Arrest Report, photocopy of the marked money, photos of Malunao entering the house of Dela Cruz and while in the house of Dela Cruz, and photos of the contents of her bag after Malunao received the marked money. As a consequence of this case, Judge Flor filed a criminal complaint against Malunao for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (R.A. No. 3019) and Section 7(d) of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (R.A. No. 6713), which complaint was referred to this Court by the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor and now docketed as A.M. No. P-09-2732.
Malunao, on the other hand, claims that she was framed by Dela Cruz, and that she received ₱15,000.00 as a loan. Malunao, however, did not impute any ill-motive to Dela Cruz on why the latter would frame her.
Malunao has three administrative cases filed against her, aside from the present case, all alleging the same conduct of extortion and solicitation. In Estabillo v. Malunao, docketed as A.M. OCA IPI No. 08-2974-P, Estabillo, in her Affidavit, claims that Malunao, in July 2006, asked money from her in exchange for a favorable decision in a case pending before Judge Flor of Branch 28 where Estabillo was a defendant. Estabillo gave Malunao ₱10,000.00. On November 2007, Estabillo learned that an administrative case was filed against Malunao due to her practice of collecting money from litigants. After Estabillo confronted Malunao, Malunao promised to return the ₱10,000.00. However, the amount remains unpaid, so Estabillo filed the complaint against Malunao in A.M. No. OCA IPI No. 08-2974-P.
In Office of the Court Administrator v. Malunao, docketed as A.M. No. P-07-2324, Malunao was once again being investigated for alleged extortions and solicitations from litigants, which resulted in Malunao’s preventive suspension in the Court’s Resolution dated 18 June 2007.
The third case, Judge Fernando F. Flor v. Malunao (A.M. No. P-09-2732), is an offshoot of this case. Judge Flor of Branch 28 where Malunao is employed as Clerk III filed an administrative complaint against Malunao for soliciting money from Dela Cruz with the promise of a favorable decision from Judge Flor.
To date, none of these three administrative cases against Malunao has finally been resolved by this Court.
Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by the public officer.30 The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules.31 Corruption, as an element of grave misconduct, consists in the act of an official or fiduciary person who unlawfully and wrongfully uses his position or office to procure some benefit for himself or for another person, contrary to duty and the rights of others.32 Section 2, Canon 1 of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel states: “Court personnel shall not solicit or accept any gift, favor or benefit based on any or explicit understanding that such gift, favor or benefit shall influence their official actions.”
In Rule IV, Section 52(A)(11) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, soliciting or accepting, directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value which in the course of an employee’s official duties may affect the functions of his office merits the penalty of dismissal for the first offense. Grave misconduct under Section 52(A)(3) of Rule IV is also punishable by dismissal for the first offense.
In the present case, Malunao solicited ₱35,000.00 and received ₱15,000.00 as first installment from Dela Cruz in exchange for a favorable decision in Civil Case No. 6875 entitled Alay Kapwa Multi-Purpose Cooperative, Inc. v. Engr. Nestor A. Gonzaga and Ernesto Roxas (E.R. Agro-Trading) pending before Judge Flor in Branch 28. Malunao was arrested in an entrapment operation upon receipt of the first installment of ₱15,000.00.
At the time of the solicitation, Malunao was already preventively suspended as Clerk III in Branch 28 by virtue of the Court’s Resolution dated 18 June 2007 in another case, Office of the Court Administrator v. Malunao (A.M. No. P-07-2324), due to allegations of the same conduct of extortion and solicitation. As a consequence of such solicitation from Dela Cruz, Judge Flor also filed a case against Malunao docketed as A.M. No. P-09-2732. In addition, Malunao has a pending administrative case in Estabillo v. Malunao docketed as A.M. OCA IPI No. 08-2974-P, where Estabillo, a defendant in a criminal case pending before Branch 28, alleges that Malunao solicited and received ₱10,000.00 in exchange for a favorable decision.
In the present case, Malunao clearly used her position as Clerk III in Branch 28 to solicit money from Dela Cruz with the promise of a favorable decision. This violation of Section 2, Canon 1 of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel constitutes the offense of grave misconduct meriting the penalty of dismissal. Dela Cruz’s Sinumpaang Salaysay, the joint affidavit of arrest executed by the NBI agents, the Booking Sheet and Arrest Report, photocopy of the marked money, the Complaint Sheet, and the photographs of Malunao entering Dela Cruz’s house, and the contents of Malunao’s bag after receipt of the money, all prove by subsantial evidence the guilt of Malunao for the offense of grave misconduct.
What is more alarming and disconcerting is the fact that Malunao has continued to solicit money from litigants, even after she had been preventively suspended as Clerk III. Malunao has the propensity to abuse a position of public service and is not fit to remain in the civil service.
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