Saturday, August 8, 2015

Where defenses of good faith, lack of intent, and ignorance of law not appreciated in administrative case

MACARIO CATIPON, JR. VS. JEROME JAPSON, G.R. No. 191787, June 22, 2015

“x x x.

We likewise affirm the CA’s pronouncement that petitioner was negligent in filling up his CSPE application form and in failing to verify beforehand the specific requirements for the CSPE examination. Petitioner’s claim of good faith and absence of deliberate intent or willful desire to defy or disregard the rules relative to the CSPE is not a defense as to exonerate him from the charge of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service; under our legal system, ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith.⁠8  Moreover, petitioner – as mere applicant for acceptance into the professional service through the CSPE – cannot expect to be served on a silver platter; the obligation to know what is required for the examination falls on him, and not the CSC or his colleagues in office. As aptly ruled by the appellate court:

In Bacaya⁠9  v. Ramos, the Supreme Court found respondent judge guilty of both negligence and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service when he issued an arrest warrant despite the deletion of the penalty of imprisonment imposed on an accused in a particular criminal case. Respondent judge in the said case claimed that the issuance of the warrant was a mistake, done in good faith and that it has been a practice in his office for the Clerk of Court to study motions and that he would simply sign the prepared order. The Supreme Court rejected his defense and stated that negligence is the failure to observe such care as a reasonably prudent and careful person would use under ordinary circumstances. An act of the will is necessary&r deliberate intent to exist; such is not necessary in an act of negligence.

Here, petitioner failed to verify the requirements before filing his application to take the CSPE exam. He simply relied on his prior knowledge of the rules, particularly, that he could substitute his deficiency in Military Science with the length of his government service. He cannot lay blame on the personnel head of the SSS-Bangued, Abra, who allegedly did not inform him of the pertinent rules contained in Civil Service Memorandum Circular No. 42, Series of 1991. For, [if] he were truly a reasonably prudent and careful person, petitioner himself should have verified from the CSC the requirements imposed on prospective examinees. In so doing, he would certainly have been informed of the new CSC policy disallowing substitution of one’s length of government service for academic deficiencies. Neither should petitioner have relied on an unnamed Civil Service employee’s advice since it was not shown that the latter was authorized to give information regarding the examination nor that said employee was competent and capable of giving correct information. His failure to verify the actual CSPE requirements which a reasonably prudent and careful person would have done constitutes negligence. Though his failure was not a deliberate act of the will, such is not necessary in an act of negligence and, as in Bacaya, negligence is not inconsistent with a finding of guilt for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.10 

The corresponding penalty for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service may be imposed upon an erring public officer as long as the questioned act or conduct taints the image and integrity of the office; and the act need not be related to or connected with the public officer’s official functions. Under our civil service laws, there is no concrete description of what specific acts constitute conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, but the following acts or omissions have been treated as such: misappropriation of public funds; abandonment of office; failure to report back to work without prior notice; failure to safekeep public records and property; making false entries in public documents; falsification of court orders; a judge’s act of brandishing a gun, and threatening the complainants during a traffic altercation; a court interpreter’s participation in the execution of a document conveying complainant’s property which resulted in a quarrel in the latter’s family; selling fake Unified Vehicular Volume Program exemption cards to his officemates during office hours; a CA employee’s forging of receipts to avoid her private contractual obligations; a Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) employee’s act of repeatedly changing his IP address, which caused network problems within his office and allowed him to gain access to the entire GSIS network, thus putting the system in a vulnerable state of security;11  a public prosecutor’s act of signing a motion to dismiss that was not prepared by him, but by a judge;⁠12  and a teacher’s act of directly selling a book to her students in violation of the Code of Ethics for Professional Teachers.13  In petitioner’s case, his act of making false entries in his CSPE application undoubtedly constitutes conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service; the absence of a willful or deliberate intent to falsify or make dishonest entries in his application is immaterial, for conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service “may or may not be characterized by corruption or a willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules.”14 

Finally, the Court cannot consider petitioner’s plea that “in the interest of justice and in the spirit of the policy which promotes and preserves civil service eligibility,” his career service professional eligibility should not be revoked. The act of using a fake or spurious civil service eligibility for one’s benefit not only amounts to violation of the civil service examinations or CSPE; it also results in prejudice to the government and the public in general. It is a transgression of the law which has no place in the public service.15  “Assumption of public office is impressed with the paramount public interest that requires the highest standards of ethical conduct. A person aspiring for public office must observe honesty, candor, and faithful compliance with the law. Nothing less is expected.”16 

X x x.”