Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 168309             January 29, 2008
OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN, petitioner,
MARIAN D. TORRES and MARICAR D. TORRES, respondents.
D E C I S I O N
This is a petition1 for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court filed by petitioner Office of the Ombudsman seeking the reversal of the Decision2 dated January 6, 2004 and the Resolution3 dated May 27, 2005 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP No. 69749.
The case arose from an administrative complaint for Dishonesty, Grave Misconduct, and Falsification of Official Document filed before the Office of the Ombudsman (docketed as OMB-ADM-0-00-0926) by then Barangay Chairman Romancito L. Santos of Concepcion, Malabon, against Edilberto Torres (Edilberto), Maricar D. Torres (Maricar), and Marian D. Torres (Marian), then Municipal Councilor, Legislative Staff Assistant, and Messenger, respectively, of the Sangguniang Bayan of Malabon. Maricar and Marian are daughters of Edilberto.
Maricar was appointed as Legislative Staff Assistant on February 16, 1995, while Marian was appointed as Messenger on May 24, 1996. At the time of their public employment, they were both enrolled as full-time regular college students – Maricar, as a full-time student at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and Marian as a dentistry-proper student at the College of Dentistry of Centro Escolar University. During the period subject of this case, they were able to collect their respective salaries by submitting Daily Time Records (DTR) indicating that they reported for work every working day, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
After due proceedings held in the Office of the Ombudsman, Graft Investigation Officer (GIO) Moreno F. Generoso, in the Decision4 dated November 9, 2001, found Maricar and Marian administratively guilty of Dishonesty and Falsification of Official Document and recommended the imposition of the penalty of dismissal from the service. The charge against Edilberto was dismissed, having become moot and academic in view of his re-election on May 14, 2001 in accordance with the ruling in Aguinaldo v. Santos5 that "a public official cannot be removed for administrative misconduct committed during a prior term, since his re-election to office operates as a condonation of the officer’s previous misconduct to the extent of cutting off the right to remove him therefor." Upon recommendation of Deputy Special Prosecutor Robert E. Kallos, Ombudsman Aniano A. Desierto affirmed the findings of GIO Generoso but tempered the penalty to one (1) year suspension from service without pay.
Aggrieved, Maricar and Marian went to the CA via a petition6 for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.
In a Decision dated January 6, 2004, the CA granted the petition. While affirming the findings of fact of the Office of the Ombudsman, the CA set aside the finding of administrative guilt against Maricar and Marian ratiocinating in this wise:
It is undisputed that petitioners are confidential employees of their father. As such, the task they were required to perform, is upon the instance of their father, and the time they were required to report may be intermittent. To our mind, the false entries they made in their daily time records on the specific dates contained therein, had been made with no malice or deliberate intent so as to constitute falsification. The entries made may not be absolutely false, they may even be considered as having been made with a color of truth, not a downright and willful falsehood which taken singly constitutes falsification of public documents. As Cuello Calon stated: "La mera inexactud no es bastante para integrar este delito." In the present case, the daily time records have already served their purpose. They have not caused any damage to the government or third person because under the facts obtaining, petitioners may be said to have rendered service in the interest of the public, with proper permission from their superior.
It may be true that a daily time record is an official document. It is not falsified if it does not pervert its avowed purpose as when it does not cause damage to the government. It may be different in the case of a public document with continuing interest affecting the public welfare, which is naturally damaged if that document is falsified when the truth is necessary for the safeguard and protection of that general interest. The keeping and submission of daily time records within the context of petitioners’ employment, should be taken only for the sake of administrative procedural convenience or as a matter of practice, but not for reason of strict legal obligation.
Assuming that petitioners are under strict legal obligation to keep and submit daily time records, still we are disposed to the view that the alleged false entries do not constitute falsification for having been made with no malice or deliberate intent.
The following pronouncement in the case of Lecaroz vs. Sandiganbayan may serve as a guidepost, to wit: "[I]f what is proven is mere judgmental error on the part of the person committing the act, no malice or criminal intent can be rightfully imputed to him. x x x. Ordinarily, evil intent must unite with an unlawful act for a crime to exist. Actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea. There can be no crime when the criminal mind is wanting. As a general rule, ignorance or mistake as to particular facts, honest and real, will exempt the doer from felonious responsibility. The exception of course is neglect in the discharge of duty or indifference to consequences, which is equivalent to criminal intent, for in this instance, the element of malicious intent is supplied by the element of negligence and imprudence. In the instant case, there are clear manifestations of good faith and lack of criminal intent on the part of petitioners."
As a final note, there may be some suspicions as to the real intention of private complainant in instituting the action before public respondent, caution should be taken to prevent the development of circumstances that might inevitably impair the image of the public office. Private complainant is a government official himself, as such he should avoid so far as reasonably possible, a situation which would normally tend to arouse any reasonable suspicion that he is utilizing his official position for personal gain or advantage to the prejudice of party litigants or the public in general. For "there may be occasion then where the needs of the collectivity that is the government may collide with his private interest as an individual."
In closing, it must be borne in mind that the evident purpose of requiring government employees to keep a daily time record is to show their attendance in office to work and to be paid accordingly. Closely adhering to the policy of no work no pay, a daily time record is primarily, if not solely, intended to prevent damage or loss to the government as would result in instances where it pays an employee for no work done. The integrity of the daily time record as an official document, however, remains untarnished if the damage sought to be prevented has not been produced. The obligation to make entries in the daily time records of employees in the government service is a matter of administrative procedural convenience in the computation of salary for a given period, characteristically, not an outright and strict measure of professional discipline, efficiency, dedication, honesty and competence. The insignificant transgression by petitioners, if ever it is one, would not tilt the scales of justice against them, for courts must always be, as they are, the repositories of fairness and justice.7
Petitioner moved to reconsider the reversal of its Decision by the CA, but the motion was denied in the CA Resolution dated May 27, 2005. Hence, this petition based on the following grounds:
THE FILLING-UP OF ENTRIES IN THE OFFICIAL DAILY TIME RECORDS (DTRs) IS NOT A MATTER OF ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURAL CONVENIENCE, BUT RATHER REQUIRED BY CIVIL SERVICE LAW TO ENSURE THAT THE PROPER LENGTH OF WORK-TIME IS OBSERVED BY PUBLIC OFFICIALS AND EMPLOYEES, INCLUDING CONFIDENTIAL EMPLOYEES LIKE HEREIN PRIVATE RESPONDENTS. THE FALSIFICATION OF DTRs WOULD RENDER THE AUTHORS THEREOF ADMINISTRATIVELY LIABLE FOR DISHONESTY AND GRAVE MISCONDUCT FOR THE DAMAGING FALSE NARRATION AND THE COLLECTION OF FULL COMPENSATION FOR INEXISTENT WORK.
THE ELEMENT OF DAMAGE TO THE GOVERNMENT IS NOT A REQUISITE FOR ONE TO BE HELD ADMINISTRATIVELY LIABLE FOR DISHONESTY AND MISCONDUCT. ASSUMING IT IS FOR ARGUMENT’S SAKE, DAMAGE WAS CAUSED THE GOVERNMENT WHEN PRIVATE RESPONDENTS FALSIFIED THEIR DAILY TIME RECORDS IN ORDER TO COLLECT THEIR SALARIES.
THE ELEMENT OF INTENT OR MALICE APPLIES TO CRIMINAL PROSECUTION, NOT TO AN OFFENSE OF DISHONESTY AND MISCONDUCT.8
Petitioner’s first submission is that the filling-up of entries in the official DTR is not a matter of administrative procedural convenience but is a requirement by Civil Service Law to ensure that the proper length of work-time is observed by all public officials and employees, including confidential employees such as respondents. It argues that DTRs, being representations of the compensable working hours rendered by a public servant, ensure that the taxpaying public is not shortchanged. To bolster this position, petitioner cited Rule XVII on Government Office Hours of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292 and Other Pertinent Civil Service Laws, to wit:
SECTION 1. It shall be the duty of each head of department or agency to require all officers and employees under him to strictly observe the prescribed office hours. When the head of office, in the exercise of discretion allows government officials and employees to leave the office during the office hours and not for official business, but to attend socials/events/functions and/or wakes/interments, the same shall be reflected in their time cards and charged to their leave credits.
SEC. 2. Each head of department or agency shall require a daily time record of attendance of all the officers and employees under him including those serving in the field or on the water, to be kept in the proper form and, whenever possible, registered in the bundy clock.
Service "in the field" shall refer to service rendered outside the office proper and service "on the water" shall refer to service rendered on board a vessel which is the usual place of work.
SEC. 3. Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs of agencies who are appointed by the President, officers who rank higher than these chiefs and assistant chiefs in the three branches of government, and other presidential appointees need not punch in the bundy clock, but attendance and all absences of such officers must be recorded.
SEC. 4. Falsification or irregularities in the keeping of time records will render the guilty officer or employee administratively liable without prejudice to criminal prosecution as the circumstances warrant.
SEC. 5. Officers and employees of all departments and agencies except those covered by special laws shall render not less than eight hours of work a day for five days a week or a total of forty hours a week, exclusive of time for lunch. As a general rule, such hours shall be from eight o’clock in the morning to twelve o’clock noon and from one o’clock to five o’clock in the afternoon on all days except Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays.
SEC. 6. Flexible working hours may be allowed subject to the discretion of the head of department or agency. In no case shall the weekly working hours be reduced in the event the department or agency adopts the flexi-time schedule in reporting for work.
SEC. 7. In the exigency of the service, or when necessary by the nature of the work of a particular agency and upon representations with the Commission by the department heads concerned, requests for the rescheduling or shifting of work schedule of a particular agency for a number of working days less than the required five days may be allowed provided that government officials and employees render a total of forty hours a week and provided further that the public is assured of core working hours of eight in the morning to five in the afternoon continuously for the duration of the entire workweek.
SEC. 8. Officers and employees who have incurred tardiness and undertime regardless of minutes per day exceeding [at least] ten times a month for two (2) consecutive months or for 2 months in a semester shall be subject to disciplinary action.9
Petitioner posits that, by reason of the above provisions, making false entries in the DTRs should not be treated in a cavalier fashion, but rather with a modicum of sacredness because the DTR mirrors the fundamental maxim of transparency, good governance, public accountability, and integrity in the public service pursuant to the constitutional precept that "public office is a public trust." Consequently, the officer or employee who falsifies time records should incur administrative liability.
On its second and third submissions, petitioner assailed the position of the CA that respondents cannot be held guilty of falsification because they did not cause any damage to the government and there was no intent or malice on their part when they made the false entries in their respective DTRs during the questioned period of service. According to petitioner, respondents were not criminally prosecuted for falsification under the Revised Penal Code, but were being held administratively accountable for dishonesty, grave misconduct, and falsification of official documents; thus, the elements of damage and intent or malice are not prerequisites. It further claimed that for this purpose, only substantial evidence is required, and this had been strongly established. Petitioner also argued that, even if the element of damage is mandatory, respondents had caused damage to the government when they received their full salaries for work not actually rendered.
In their Comment,10 respondents claimed that the CA correctly dismissed the administrative charges against them as the integrity of their DTRs had remained untarnished and that they acted in good faith in making the entries in their DTRs. They said that the CA clearly elaborated the legal basis for its ruling in their favor. They even argued that the administrative charges lodged by Romancito Santos were based on mere conjectures and conclusions of fact, such that it was not impossible for college students to work eight (8) hours a day and attend classes. They further claimed that petitioner failed to prove that they actually attended their classes which they were enrolled in.
Respondents also argued that petitioner erred in not having dismissed outright the administrative charges against them because, at the time the complaint was filed, the charges had already prescribed under Section 20 (5) of Republic Act No. 6770 (The Ombudsman Act of 1989), to wit:
(5) The complaint was filed after one year from the occurrence of the act or omission complained of.
They said that the acts complained of occurred in 1996 to 1997, while the case was filed only on February 2000, or after the lapse of more or less three (3) years.
Respondent Maricar also asseverated that the doctrine laid down in Aguinaldo v. Santos11 should also apply to her considering that she was elected as City Councilor of Malabon City in the 2004 elections. She also claimed that the instant case adversely affected their lives, particularly in her case, for while she graduated from the University of the East College of Law in 2004, she was only able to take the bar examinations in 2005 due to the pendency of the administrative case against her. She also cited the fact that the criminal case involving the same set of facts was dismissed, insinuating that, as a result of this, the administrative case should have likewise been dismissed.
The petition is impressed with merit.
At the outset, it must be stressed that this is an administrative case for dishonesty, grave misconduct, and falsification of official document. To sustain a finding of administrative culpability only substantial evidence is required, not overwhelming or preponderant, and very much less than proof beyond reasonable doubt as required in criminal cases.12 Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.
The following facts are borne out by the records: (1) Maricar was appointed as Legislative Staff Assistant in the Office of then Councilor of Malabon, Edilberto Torres, on February 16, 1995;13 (2) Marian was appointed as Messenger in the same office on May 24, 1996;14 (3) at the time of Maricar’s appointment to and employment in her position (1995-1997), she was a full-time regular college student at UST;15 (4) at the time of Marian’s appointment and employment as messenger in her father’s office (1996-2000), she was a full-time regular dentistry-proper student at the College of Dentistry of Centro Escolar University;16 (5) during the employment of respondents in government service, they submitted DTRs indicating that they religiously reported for work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during work days;17 (6) by reason thereof, respondents collected their full salaries during the entire time of their employment in their respective positions;18 and, (7) these all occurred with the full knowledge and consent of their father.19
It is also worthy to note that the factual finding made by petitioner, i.e., that respondents made false entries in their respective DTRs for the period subject of this case, was affirmed by the CA in the assailed Decision dated January 6, 2004.20
On the basis of these established facts, petitioner was correct in holding respondents administratively guilty of dishonesty and falsification of official document. Dishonesty is defined as the "disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness, lack of integrity."21 Falsification of an official document, as an administrative offense, is knowingly making false statements in official or public documents. Both are grave offenses under the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, which carry with it the penalty of dismissal on the first offense.22
Falsification of DTRs amounts to dishonesty.23 The evident purpose of requiring government employees to keep a time record is to show their attendance in office to work and to be paid accordingly. Closely adhering to the policy of no work-no pay, a DTR is primarily, if not solely, intended to prevent damage or loss to the government as would result in instances where it pays an employee for no work done.24
Respondents’ claim of good faith, which implies a sincere intent not to do any falsehood or to seek any undue advantage, cannot be believed. This Court pronounced –
Good faith, here understood, is an intangible and abstract quality with no technical meaning or statutory definition, and it encompasses, among other things, an honest belief, the absence of malice and the absence of design to defraud or to seek an unconscionable advantage. An individual’s personal good faith is a concept of his own mind and, therefore, may not conclusively be determined by his protestations alone. It implies honesty of intention, and freedom from knowledge of circumstances which ought to put the holder upon inquiry. The essence of good faith lies in an honest belief in the validity of one’s right, ignorance of a superior claim, and absence of intention to overreach another. x x x25
In this case, respondents knew fully well that the entries they made in their respective DTRs were false considering that it was physically impossible for them to have reported for full work days when during those times they were actually attending their regular classes, which undoubtedly would take up most of the daytime hours of the weekdays. With this knowledge, respondents did not bother to correct the DTR entries to honestly reflect their attendance at their workplace and the actual work they performed. Worse, they repeatedly did this for a long period of time, consequently allowing them to collect their full salaries for the entire duration of their public employment as staff members of their father.
Respondents’ protestations that petitioner failed to prove their actual attendance in their regular classes and thus, suggest that they may not have been attending their classes, is preposterous and incredible, simply because this is not in accord with the natural course of things. The voluminous documentary evidence subpoenaed by petitioner from UST and Centro Escolar University showing the schedule of classes of respondents during the questioned period, along with the certificates of matriculation painstakingly perused by GIO Generoso, strongly militates against this claim. It would be the height of absurdity on the part of respondents to voluntarily enroll in their respective courses, pay school fees, and not attend classes but instead report for work. Even if this was remotely possible, such a situation would be irreconcilable with the respondents having graduated from their respective courses.
Without doubt, the scrutiny of the numerous school documents, the DTRs submitted, and the payrolls from the office of the then Municipal Accountant of Malabon overwhelmingly revealed that the classes in which respondents enrolled for several school years were in stark conflict with the time entries in the DTRs, and several payroll sheets showed that respondents collected their full salaries corresponding to the DTR entries. These findings of fact made by petitioner, being supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive;26 more so that the finding of false entries in the DTRs was affirmed by the CA.
Thus, the CA gravely erred when it exonerated respondents from administrative guilt based on the findings of fact of petitioner which it even affirmed. The jurisprudence27 adopted by the appellate court in laying the legal basis for its ruling does not apply to the instant case because said cases pertain to criminal liability for Falsification of Public Document under the Revised Penal Code. The element of damage need not be proved to hold respondents administratively liable.
But it cannot even be said that no damage was suffered by the government. When respondents collected their salaries on the basis of falsified DTRs, they caused injury to the government. The falsification of one’s DTR to cover up one’s absences or tardiness automatically results in financial losses to the government because it enables the employee concerned to be paid salaries and to earn leave credits for services which were never rendered. Undeniably, the falsification of a DTR foists a fraud involving government funds.28
Likewise, the existence of malice or criminal intent is not a prerequisite to declare the respondents administratively culpable. What is merely required is a showing that they made entries in their respective DTRs knowing fully well that they were false. This was evident in the many documents viewed and reviewed by petitioner through GIO Generoso.
On the issue of prescription, we agree with petitioner’s contention that the Office of the Ombudsman is given by R.A. No. 6770 a wide range of discretion whether or not to proceed with an investigation of administrative offenses even beyond the expiration of one (1) year from the commission of the offense.29
Likewise, the dismissal of the criminal case involving the same set of facts cannot benefit respondents to cause the dismissal of the administrative charges against them. As we held in Tecson v. Sandiganbayan30 --
[I]t is a basic principle of the law on public officers that a public official or employee is under a three-fold responsibility for violation of a duty or for a wrongful act or omission. This simply means that a public officer may be held civilly, criminally, and administratively liable for a wrongful doing. Thus, if such violation or wrongful act results in damages to an individual, the public officer may be held civilly liable to reimburse the injured party. If the law violated attaches a penal sanction, the erring officer may be punished criminally. Finally, such violation may also lead to suspension, removal from office, or other administrative sanctions. This administrative liability is separate and distinct from the penal and civil liabilities. x x x
Hence, there was no impropriety committed by petitioner when it conducted the administrative investigation which led to the finding of guilt against respondents.
As regards the applicability of Aguinaldo, our pronouncement therein is clear that condonation of an administrative offense takes place only when the public official is re-elected despite the pendency of an administrative case against him. In the case of Maricar, prior to her election as Councilor of now Malabon City, she held an appointive, not an elective, position, i.e., Legislative Staff Assistant, appointed by her very own father, then Councilor Edilberto Torres.
As mentioned above, falsification of a DTR (an official document) amounts to dishonesty. Thus, respondents should be held administratively liable. While dismissal was originally recommended for imposition on respondents, the penalty was eventually tempered to suspension of one (1) year without pay.
We agree with the imposition of the lower penalty considering that respondents’ public employment with the then Sangguniang Bayan of Malabon, even while they were regular college students, was of a confidential character, and the arrangement was with the full knowledge and consent of their father who appointed them to their positions.
While this Court recognizes the relative laxity given to confidential employees in terms of adjusted or flexible working hours, substantial non-attendance at work as blatant and glaring as in the case of respondents cannot be countenanced. Collecting full salaries for work practically not rendered is simply, downright reprehensible. Inevitably, this leads to the erosion of the public’s faith in and respect for the government.
WHEREFORE, the Decision dated January 6, 2004 and the Resolution dated May 27, 2005 of the Court of Appeals are REVERSED and SET ASIDE, and the Decision of the Office of the Ombudsman dated November 9, 2001 is REINSTATED.
ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ
*RENATO C. CORONA
RUBEN T. REYES
A T T E S T A T I O N
I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
Chairperson, Third Division
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
REYNATO S. PUNO
* In lieu of Associate Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario per Special Order No. 484 dated January 11, 2008.
1 Rollo, pp. 10-37.
2 Id. at 39-45.
3 Id. at 48-52.
4 Id. at 219-232.
5 G.R. No. 94115, August 21, 1992, 212 SCRA 768, 773.
6 Rollo, pp. 181-197.
7 Id. at 42-44.
8 Id. at 17-18.
9 Id. at 22-23.
10 Id. at 169-180.
11 Supra note 5.
12 Apolinario v. Flores, G.R. No. 152780, January 22, 2007, 512 SCRA 113, 119; Resngit-Marquez v. Judge Llamas, Jr., 434 Phil. 184, 203 (2002), Mariano v. Roxas, 434 Phil. 742, 749 (2002), and Liguid v. Camano, Jr., 435 Phil. 695, 706 (2002).
13 Finding of fact of petitioner and not denied (therefore, admitted) by respondents.
20 The Court of Appeals stated, "We may agree with the findings of fact made by public respondent, but the inference made in relation to the offense committed that will merit suspension from service is manifestly mistaken." Rollo, pp. 41-42. (Emphasis supplied)
21 Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th Ed. (1990).
22 CSC Resolution No. 991936 (1999), Rule IV, Section 52 (A) (1) & (6).
23 Re: Falsification of Daily Time Records of Maria Fe P. Brooks, A.M. No. P-05-2086, October 20, 2005, 473 SCRA 483, 488; Administrative Circular No. 2-99 (Re: Strict Observance of Working Hours and Disciplinary Action for Absenteeism and Tardiness ), item II, 15 January 1999, viz.:
Absenteeism and tardiness, even if such do not qualify as "habitual" or "frequent" under Civil Service Commission Memorandum Circular No. 04, Series of 1991, shall be dealt with severely, and any falsification of time records to cover up for such absenteeism and/or tardiness shall constitute gross dishonesty or serious misconduct. (Emphasis supplied)
24 Beradio v. Court of Appeals, 191 Phil. 153, 168 (1981).
25 PNB v. De Jesus, 458 Phil. 454, 459-460 (2003).
26 R.A. No. 6770, Section 27, 5th paragraph.
27 Beradio v. Court of Appeals, supra note 24; Lecaroz v. Sandiganbayan, 364 Phil. 890 (1999).
28 Flores v. Layosa, G.R. No. 154714, August 12, 2004, 436 SCRA 337, 353.
29 Section 20. Exceptions. – The Office of the Ombudsman MAY not conduct the necessary investigation of any administrative act or omission complained of if it believes that:
x x x x
(5) The complaint was filed after one (1) year from the occurrence of the act or omission complained of. (Emphasis supplied)
30 376 Phil. 191, 198-199 (1999).
The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation