CASE DIGEST: Camarines Norte v. Gonzales

G.R. No. 185740 : July 23, 2013




Gonzales was appointed as the provincial administrator of the Province of Camarines Norte by then Governor Roy A. Padilla, Jr. on April 1, 1991. Her appointment was on a permanent capacity. An administrative case was filed against her for gross insubordination, this was later on captioned as Administrative Case No. 001. After Gonzales submitted her comment, an Ad Hoc Investigation Committee found her guilty of the charges against her, and recommended to Governor Pimentel that she be held administratively liable. On September 30, 1999, Governor Pimentel adopted the Ad Hoc Investigation Committees recommendation and dismissed Gonzales.

On appeal, the CSCmodified Governor Pimentels decision finding Gonzales guilty of insubordination and suspending her for six months. This decision was appealed by Governor Pimentel, which the CSC denied.

The CSC then issued Resolution No. 002245,which directed Gonzales reinstatement. Governor Pimentel reinstated Gonzales as provincial administrator on October 12, 2000, but terminated her services the next day for lack of confidence. He then wrote a letter to the CSC reporting his compliance with its order, and Gonzales subsequent dismissal as a confidential employee.

The CSC responded through Resolution No. 030008,which again directed Gonzales reinstatement as provincial administrator. It clarified that while the Local Government Code of 1991 (Republic Act No. RA 7160) made the provincial administrator position coterminous and highly confidential in nature, this conversion cannot operate to prejudice officials who were already issued permanent appointments as administrators prior to the new laws effectivity. According to the CSC, Gonzales has acquired a vested right to her permanent appointment as provincial administrator and is entitled to continue holding this office despite its subsequent classification as a coterminous position.

Gonzales wrote the CSC alleging that Governor Jesus O. Typoco, Jr., Camarines Nortes incumbent governor, refused to reinstate her. The CSC responded with Resolution No. 061988,which ordered Gonzales reinstatement to the provincial administrator position, or to an equivalent position. Thus, the petitioner, through Governor Typoco, filed a petition for review before the CA, seeking to nullify the CSCs Resolution No. 030008 and Resolution No. 061988.

The CA supported the CSCs ruling. Petitioner sought for reconsideration but the same was denied. Hence, this petition before the SC. In its present petition for review on certiorari, the petitioner argues that the provincial administrator position has been converted into a highly confidential, coterminous position by RA 7160. Hence, Gonzales no longer enjoyed security of tenure to the position she held prior to RA 7160s enactment.

ISSUE: Whether or not Gonzales should be reinstated as the provincial administrator or to an equivalent position

HELD: No. CA decision reversed

Political Law- Congress has reclassified the provincial administrator position as a primarily confidential, non-career position

Congress reclassification of the provincial administrator position in RA 7160 is a valid exercise of legislative power that does not violate Gonzales security of tenure.

Having established that Congress has changed the nature of the provincial administrator position to a primarily confidential employee, the next question to address would be its impact on Gonzales security of tenure. According to the petitioner, Gonzales lost her security of tenure when the provincial administrator position became a primarily confidential position. Gonzales, on the other hand, retorted that the conversion of the position should not be retroactively applied to her, as she is a permanent appointee.

Both the CA and the CSC ruled in favor of the latter, and gave premium to Gonzales original permanent appointment under the old LGC. They posit that Gonzales acquired a vested legal right over her position from the moment she assumed her duties as provincial administrator. Thus, she cannot be removed from office except for cause and after due hearing; otherwise such removal would amount to a violation of her security of tenure.

The arguments presented by the parties and ruled upon by the CA reflect a conceptual entanglement between the nature of the position and an employees right to hold a position. These two concepts are different. The nature of a position may change by law according to the dictates of Congress. The right to hold a position, on the other hand, is a right that enjoys constitutional and statutory guarantee, but may itself change according to the nature of the position.

In the current case, Congress, through RA 7160, did not abolish the provincial administrator position but significantly modified many of its aspects. It is now a primarily confidential position under the non-career service tranche of the civil service. This change could not have been aimed at prejudicing Gonzales, as she was not the only provincial administrator incumbent at the time RA 7160 was enacted. Rather, this change was part of the reform measures that RA 7160 introduced to further empower local governments and decentralize the delivery of public service.

Thus, Gonzales permanent appointment as provincial administrator prior to the enactment of RA 7160 is immaterial to her removal as provincial administrator. For purposes of determining whether Gonzales termination violated her right to security of tenure, the nature of the position she occupied at the time of her removal should be considered, and not merely the nature of her appointment at the time she entered government service.

In echoing the CSC and the CAs conclusion, the dissenting opinion posits the view that security of tenure protects the permanent appointment of a public officer, despite subsequent changes in the nature of his position.

Security of tenure in public office simply means that a public officer or employee shall not be suspended or dismissed except for cause, as provided by law and after due process. It cannot be expanded to grant a right to public office despite a change in the nature of the office held. In other words, the CSC might have been legally correct when it ruled that the petitioner violated Gonzales right to security of tenure when she was removed without sufficient just cause from her position, but the situation had since then been changed.

In fact, Gonzales was reinstated as ordered, but her services were subsequently terminated under the law prevailing at the time of the termination of her service; i.e., she was then already occupying a position that was primarily confidential and had to be dismissed because she no longer enjoyed the trust and confidence of the appointing authority. Thus, Gonzales termination for lack of confidence was lawful. Thus, Gonzales termination for lack of confidence was lawful. She could no longer be reinstated as provincial administrator of Camarines Norte or to any other comparable position. This conclusion, however, is without prejudice to Gonzales entitlement to retirement benefits, leave credits, and future employment in government service.