Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 169013             December 16, 2008
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, represented by its Officer-in-Charge and Undersecretary, RAMON C. BACANI, petitioner,
GODOFREDO G. CUANAN, respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before the Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assailing the Decision1 dated May 16, 2005 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 87499 which set aside Resolution No. 041147 dated October 22, 2004 of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) finding respondent Godofredo G. Cuanan (Cuanan) guilty of sexual harassment and dismissing him from service, and the CA Resolution2 dated July 18, 2005 which denied the Motion for Reconsideration of the Department of Education (DepEd).
The factual background of the case is as follows:
On March 11, 1996, Luzviminda Borja and Juliana Castro, on behalf of their respective minor daughters, Lily Borja and Charo Castro, filed before the Department of Education, Culture and Sports - Regional Office No. III (DECS-RO No. III), Cabanatuan City, two separate administrative complaints3 for Sexual Harassment and Conduct Unbecoming a Public Officer against Cuanan, then Principal of Lawang Kupang Elementary School in San Antonio, Nueva Ecija.
Acting on the complaints, DECS-RO No. III Regional Director Vilma L. Labrador constituted an Investigating Committee, composed of three DepEd officials from the province, to conduct a formal investigation. Following the investigation, the Investigating Committee submitted its Investigation Report4 dated December 14, 1999, finding Cuanan guilty of sexual harassment and recommending his forced resignation without prejudice to benefits. In a Decision5 dated January 28, 2000, Regional Director Labrador concurred in the findings of the Investigating Committee and meted out the penalty of forced resignation to Cuanan without prejudice to benefits.
In an Order6 dated April 13, 2000, then DepEd Secretary Andrew Gonzales affirmed the Decision of Regional Director Labrador. On May 30, 2000, Cuanan filed a Petition for Reconsideration7 thereof, but the same was denied for lack of merit by Secretary Gonzales in a Resolution8 dated June 19, 2000.
Cuanan elevated his case to the CSC. On January 20, 2003, the CSC issued Resolution No. 030069,9 which set aside the June 19, 2000 Resolution of Secretary Gonzales and exonerated Cuanan from the charge of sexual harassment. On January 23, 2003, copies of the resolution were duly sent to the parties, including the DepEd.10 Cuanan received a copy of Resolution No. 030069 on January 31, 2003.11
In a Letter dated February 3, 2003, Cuanan requested his reinstatement as Elementary School Principal I.12 In a 1st Indorsement, the District Supervisor recommended appropriate action.13 In a 2nd Indorsement dated February 4, 2003, Schools Division Superintendent Dioscorides D. Lusung (Superintendent) recommended that Cuanan be reinstated to duty as School Principal of San Antonio District upon finality of the decision of the CSC.14 In a Letter15 dated February 10, 2003, Regional Director Ricardo T. Sibug informed the Superintendent that Cuanan could not be immediately reinstated to the service until an order of implementation was received from the Department Secretary.
Sometime in March 2003, DepEd Undersecretary Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon sent a letter to the CSC requesting a copy of CSC Resolution No. 030069 dated January 20, 2003. In a Letter16 dated March 25, 2003, the CSC informed the DepEd that a copy of the requested resolution was duly sent to it on January 23, 2003. Nonetheless, the CSC sent another copy of the resolution to the DepEd for its reference. The DepEd received said reference copy on March 28, 2003.17
On April 11, 2003, then DepEd Secretary Edilberto C. de Jesus filed a
Petition for Review/Reconsideration18 with the CSC. No copy of the pleading was served upon Cuanan.
On July 29, 2003, Secretary De Jesus filed a Supplemental Petition for Review/Reconsideration19 reiterating the prayer for reversal of the resolution. Again, no copy of the pleading was served upon Cuanan.
Subsequently, pursuant to Division Special Order No. 001 series of 2003 dated June 18, 2003, Cuanan was reinstated to his former position as school principal effective April 30, 2003.20 In Division Special Order No. 285, series of 2003 dated July 8, 2003, Cuanan was directed to return to duty.21 Based thereon, Cuanan requested payment of salaries and his inclusion in the payroll, which the Division School Superintendent of Nueva Ecija duly endorsed on November 7, 2003.22
However, on October 22, 2004, the CSC issued Resolution No. 04114723 setting aside CSC Resolution No. 030069 dated January 20, 2003. It found Cuanan guilty of Sexual Harassment, Grave Misconduct and Conduct Grossly Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service and meted out the penalty of dismissal from the service with forfeiture of retirement benefits, cancellation of his service eligibility, and perpetual disqualification from holding public office. Cuanan received a copy of the Resolution on November 9, 2004.24
Thirteen days later, or on November 22, 2004, Cuanan filed a petition for certiorari25 with the CA seeking to annul Resolution No. 041147, alleging that the CSC should not have entertained the petition for review/reconsideration since the DepEd was not the complainant or the party adversely affected by the resolution; that the petition for review/reconsideration was filed out of time; and that Cuanan was not furnished copies of the pleadings filed by the DepEd in violation of procedural due process.
The DepEd sought the dismissal of the petition on the ground of improper remedy, the mode of review from a decision of the CSC being a petition for review under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court.
On May 16, 2005, the CA rendered a Decision26 granting the petition for certiorari and setting aside CSC Resolution No. 041147 dated October 12, 2004. The CA held that while a motion for reconsideration and a petition for review under Rule 43 were available remedies, Cuanan's recourse to a petition for certiorari was warranted, since the act complained of was patently illegal; that the CSC gravely abused its discretion in granting the petition for review/reconsideration filed by the DepEd without regard for Cuanan's fundamental right to due process, since he was not duly notified of the petition for review/reconsideration, nor was he required by the CSC to file a comment thereon, much less, given a copy of the said petition; that the DepEd failed to establish that the resolution was not yet final and executory when it filed its petition for review/reconsideration.
DepEd filed a Motion for Reconsideration,27 but the CA denied the same in its Resolution28 dated July 18, 2005.
Hence, the present petition on the following grounds:
WITH DUE RESPECT, THE COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED ON A QUESTION OF LAW IN TAKING COGNIZANCE OF THE PETITION IN CA-G.R. SP NO. 87499, THE SAME NOT BEING THE PROPER REMEDY IN ASSAILING CSC RESOLUTION NO. 041147 DATED OCTOBER 22, 2004.
WITH DUE RESPECT, THE COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED ON A QUESTION OF LAW IN ADJUDGING CSC AS HAVING COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION IN ISSUING RESOLUTION NO. 041147 DATED OCTOBER 22, 2004.29
DepEd contends that the CA should have dismissed outright the petition for certiorari because CSC decisions are appealable to the CA by petition for review under Rule 43; that the filing of a motion for reconsideration was a precondition to the filing of a petition for certiorari under Rule 65; that the DepEd, even if not the complainant, may question the resolution of the CSC; that Cuanan failed to prove that the CSC's petition for review/reconsideration was not seasonably filed; that even if Cuanan was not served a copy of the pleadings filed by the DepEd, the CSC was not bound by procedural rules.
Cuanan, on the other hand, contends that the DepEd cannot file a motion for reconsideration from the CSC Resolution exonerating him, since it is not the complainant in the administrative case and therefore not a party adversely affected by the decision therein; that even if DepEd may seek reconsideration of the CSC Resolution, the petition for review/reconsideration was filed out of time; and that Cuanan's right to due process was violated when he was not given a copy of the pleadings filed by the DepEd or given the opportunity to comment thereon.
The Court finds it necessary, before delving on the grounds relied upon by the DepEd in support of the petition, to first resolve the question of whether the DepEd can seek reconsideration of the CSC Resolution exonerating Cuanan.
In a long line of cases, beginning with Civil Service Commission v. Dacoycoy,30 and reiterated in Philippine National Bank v. Garcia, Jr.,31 the Court has maintained that the disciplining authority qualifies as a party adversely affected by the judgment, who can file an appeal of a judgment of exoneration in an administrative case. CSC Resolution No. 02160032 allows the disciplining authority to appeal from a decision exonerating an erring employee, thus:
Section 2. Coverage and Definition of Terms. - x x x (l) PARTY ADVERSELY AFFECTED refers to the respondent against whom a decision in a disciplinary case has been rendered or to the disciplining authority in an appeal from a decision exonerating the said employee. (Emphasis supplied)
Hence, Cuanan's exoneration under CSC Resolution No. 030069 may be subject to a motion for reconsideration by the DepEd which, as the appointing and disciplining authority, is a real party in interest.
Now, as to the merits of DepEd's arguments, the Court finds none.
The remedy of an aggrieved party from a resolution issued by the CSC is to file a petition for review thereof under Rule 4333 of the Rules of Court within fifteen days from notice of the resolution. Recourse to a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 renders the petition dismissible for being the wrong remedy. Nonetheless, there are exceptions to this rule, to wit: (a) when public welfare and the advancement of public policy dictates; (b) when the broader interest of justice so requires; (c) when the writs issued are null and void; or (d) when the questioned order amounts to an oppressive exercise of judicial authority.34 As will be shown forthwith, exception (c) applies to the present case.
Furthermore, while a motion for reconsideration is a condition precedent to the filing of a petition for certiorari, immediate recourse to the extraordinary remedy of certiorari is warranted where the order is a patent nullity, as where the court a quo has no jurisdiction; where petitioner was deprived of due process and there is extreme urgency for relief; where the proceedings in the lower court are a nullity for lack of due process; where the proceeding was ex parte or one in which the petitioner had no opportunity to object.35 These exceptions find application to Cuanan's petition for certiorari in the CA.
At any rate, Cuanan's petition for certiorari before the CA could be treated as a petition for review, the petition having been filed on November 22, 2004, or thirteen (13) days from receipt on November 9, 2004 of CSC Resolution No. 041147, clearly within the 15-day reglementary period for the filing of a petition for review.36 Such move would be in accordance with the liberal spirit pervading the Rules of Court and in the interest of substantial justice.37
Furthermore, CSC Resolution No. 030069 has long become final and executory. It must be noted that the records show that copies of CSC Resolution No. 030069 were duly sent to the parties, including DepEd, on January 23, 2003.38 Cuanan received a copy thereof on January 31, 2003,39 while the DepEd requested a copy sometime in March 2003, or about two months later. Under the Rules of Evidence, it is presumed that official duty has been regularly performed, unless contradicted.40 This presumption includes that of regularity of service of judgments, final orders or resolutions.
Consequently, the burden of proving the irregularity in official conduct -- that is, non-receipt of the duly sent copy of CSC Resolution No. 030069 -- is on the part of the DepEd, which in the present case clearly failed to discharge the same.41 Thus, the presumption stands that CSC Resolution No. 030069 dated January 20, 2003 had already become final and executory when the DepEd filed its Petition for Review/Reconsideration on April 11, 2003, more than two months later.
It is elementary that once judgment has become final and executory, it becomes immutable and can no longer be amended or modified. In Gallardo-Corro v. Gallardo,42 this Court held:
Nothing is more settled in law than that once a judgment attains finality it thereby becomes immutable and unalterable. It may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct what is perceived to be an erroneous conclusion of fact or law, and regardless of whether the modification is attempted to be made by the court rendering it or by the highest court of the land. Just as the losing party has the right to file an appeal within the prescribed period, the winning party also has the correlative right to enjoy the finality of the resolution of his case. The doctrine of finality of judgment is grounded on fundamental considerations of public policy and sound practice, and that, at the risk of occasional errors, the judgments or orders of courts must become final at some definite time fixed by law; otherwise, there would be no end to litigations, thus setting to naught the main role of courts of justice which is to assist in the enforcement of the rule of law and the maintenance of peace and order by settling justiciable controversies with finality.43
Moreover, while it is true that administrative tribunals exercising quasi-judicial functions are free from the rigidity of certain procedural requirements, they are bound by law and practice to observe the fundamental and essential requirements of due process in justiciable cases presented before them.44 The relative freedom of the CSC from the rigidities of procedure cannot be invoked to evade what was clearly emphasized in the landmark case of Ang Tibay v. Court of Industrial Relations:45 that all administrative bodies cannot ignore or disregard the fundamental and essential requirements of due process.
Furthermore, Section 43.A.46 of the Uniform Rules in Administrative Cases in the Civil Service provides:
Section 43.A. Filing of Supplemental Pleadings. - All pleadings filed by the parties with the Commission, shall be copy furnished the other party with proof of service filed with the Commission.
Any supplemental pleading to supply deficiencies in aid of an original pleading but which should not entirely substitute the latter can be filed only upon a favorable action by the Commission on the motion of a party to the case. The said motion should be submitted within five (5) days from receipt of a copy of the original pleading and it is discretionary upon the Commission to allow the same or not or even to consider the averments therein.(Emphasis supplied)
Cuanan undoubtedly was denied procedural due process. He had no opportunity to participate in the proceedings for the petition for review/ reconsideration filed by the DepEd, since no copy of the pleadings filed by the DepEd were served upon him or his counsel; nor was he even required by the CSC to file his comments thereon. Considering that pleadings filed by the DepEd were not served upon Cuanan, they may be treated as mere scraps of paper which should not have merited the attention or consideration of the CSC.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The assailed Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 87499 are AFFIRMED.
MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ
REYNATO S. PUNO
LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
*RENATO C. CORONA
CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
*ADOLFO S. AZCUNA
DANTE O. TINGA
MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO
PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
RUBEN T. REYES
TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
ARTURO D. BRION
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.
REYNATO S. PUNO
* On official leave
1 Penned by Associate Justice Eugenio S. Labitoria and concurred in by Associate Justices Eliezer R. de Los Santos and Arturo D. Brion (now a member of this Court), CA rollo, p. 134.
2 CA rollo, p. 161.
3 CSC records, p. 407-A, 501.
4 Id. at 661.
5 Id. at 638.
6 Id. at 634.
7 Id. at 589.
8 Id. at 640.
9 CA rollo, p. 50.
10 CSC records, p. 1440.
11 CA rollo, p. 49.
12 Id. at 68.
15 Id. at 70.
16 CSC records, p. 1480.
18 CSC records, p. 1482.
19 Id. at 1446.
20 CA rollo, p. 72.
21 Id. at 73.
22 Id. at 76.
23 Id. at 3.
24 Id. at 32.
25 Id. at 2.
26 Supra, note 1.
27 CA rollo, p. 143.
28 Supra, note 2.
29 Rollo, p. 13.
30 366 Phil. 86 (1999).
31 437 Phil. 289 (2002).
32 Published on December 29, 2002, Today.
33 SECTION 1. Scope. - This Rule shall apply to appeals from judgments or final orders of the Court of Tax Appeals and from awards, judgments, final orders or resolutions of or authorized by any quasi-judicial agency in the exercise of its quasi-judicial functions. Among these agencies are the Civil Service Commission, Central Board of Assessment Appeals, Securities and Exchange Commission, Office of the President, Land Registration Authority, Social Security Commission, Civil Aeronautics Board, Bureau of Patents, Trademarks and Technology Transfer, National Electrification Administration, Energy Regulatory Board, National Telecommunications Commission, Department of Agrarian Reform under Republic Act No. 6657, Government Service Insurance System, Employees Compensation Commission, Agricultural Inventions Board, Insurance Commission, Philippine Atomic Energy Commission, Board of Investments, Construction Industry Arbitration Commission, and voluntary arbitrators authorized by law.
x x x x
SECTION 4. Period of appeal. - The appeal shall be taken within fifteen (15) days from notice of the award, judgment, final order or resolution, or from the date of its last publication, if publication is required by law for its effectivity, or of the denial of petitioner's motion for new trial or reconsideration duly filed in accordance with the governing law of the court or agency a quo. Only one (1) motion for reconsideration shall be allowed. Upon proper motion and the payment of the full amount of the docket fee before the expiration of the reglementary period, the Court of Appeals may grant an additional period of fifteen (15) days only within which to file the petition for review. No further extension shall be granted except for the most compelling reason and in no case to exceed fifteen (15) days. (Emphasis supplied)
34 Tanenglian, v. Lorenzo, G.R. No. 173415, March 28, 2008, 550 SCRA 348, 367; AMA Computer College-Santiago City, Inc. v. Nacino, G.R. No. 162739, February 12, 2008, 544 SCRA 502, 509; Hanjin Engineering and Construction Co., Ltd. v. Court of Appeals, ibid; Chua v. Santos, G.R. No. 132467, October 18, 2004, 440 SCRA 365, 374-375; Metropolitan Manila Development Authority v. Jancom Environmental Corporation, 425 Phil. 961, 974 (2002).
35 Aguilar v. Manila Banking Corporation, G.R. No.157911, September 19, 2006, 502 SCRA 354, 373; Tan, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan, 354 Phil. 463, 469-470 (1998); Tan v. Court of Appeals, 341 Phil. 570, 576-577 (1997).
36 See Philippine Journalists, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 166421, September 5, 2006, 501 SCRA 75-87; De los Santos v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 147912, April 26, 2006, 488 SCRA 351, 356.
37 Verde v. Macapagal, G.R. No. 151342, June 23, 2005, 461 SCRA 97, 104; Oaminal v. Castillo, 459 Phil. 542, 556 (2003).
38 Supra note 10.
39 CA rollo, p. 49.
40 Section 3, Rule 131 of the Rules of Court provides:
Sec. 3. Disputable Presumptions. - The following presumptions are satisfactory if uncontradicted, but may be contradicted and overcome by other evidence:
x x x
(m) That official duty has been regularly performed.
41 See Forever Security & General Services v. Flores, G.R. No. 147961, September 7, 2007, 532 SCRA 454, 467; Masagana Concrete Products v. National Labor Relations Commission, 372 Phil. 459, 473 (1999).
42 403 Phil. 498 (2001).
43 Id. at 511.
44 Octava v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 166105, March 22, 2007, 518 SCRA 759, 763; Busuego v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 95326, March 11, 1999, 304 SCRA 473, 480; Adamson & Adamson, Inc. v. Amores, G.R. No. L-58292, July 23, 1987, 152 SCRA 237.
45 69 Phil. 635 (1940).
46 As added by CSC Memorandum Circular No. 2, Series of 2003, dated April 21, 2003; Michael Anthony M. Clemente, Handbook on Offenses, Penalties and Procedure in the URACCS, 2007 Ed., p. 283.
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