CASE DIGEST: Miro v. Vda. de Erederos

G.R. Nos. 172532 172544-45 : November 20, 2013

PRIMO C. MIRO, IN HIS CAPACITY AS DEPUTY OMBUDSMAN FOR THE VISAYAS,Petitioner, v. MARILYN MENDOZA VDA. DE EREDEROS, CATALINA ALINGASA and PORFERIO I. MENDOZA,Respondents.


BRION, J.:

FACTS:

Mendoza, Director of the Regional Office VII of the Land Transportation Office, Cebu City (LTO Cebu), Erederos, Mendoza's niece and secretary, Alingasa, LTO clerk, and Peque, Officer-in-Charge, Operation Division of LTO Cebu, were administratively charged with Grave Misconduct before the Deputy Ombudsman by private complainants, namely: Maricar G Huete (Liaison Officer of GCY Parts), Ernesto R Cantillas (Liaison Officer of Isuzu Cebu, Inc.), Leonardo Villaraso (General Manager of TBS Trading), and Romeo C. Climaco (Corporate Secretary of Penta Star).They were likewise charged with criminal complaints for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act."

The administrative and criminal charges arose from the alleged anomalies in the distribution at the LTO Cebu of confirmation certificates, an indispensable requirement in the processing of documents for the registration of motor vehicle with the LTO.

Specifically, the private complainants accused Alingasa of selling the confirmation certificates, supposed to be issued by the LTO free of charge. This scheme allegedly existed upon Mendoza's assumption in office as Regional Director of LTO Cebu. They observed that:

The NBI/Progress report submitted to the LTO Manila also revealed that the confirmation certificates were given to the representatives of car dealers, who were authorized to supply the needed data therein. In the Requisition and Issue Voucher, it was Roque who received the forms. On August 19, 2002, Cantillas executed an Affidavit of Desistance on the ground that he was no longer interested in prosecuting the case.

On September 25, 2002, the Deputy Ombudsman ordered the respondents to file their respective counter-affidavits. The respondents complied with the order and made the required submission.

On December 12, 2002, the case was called for preliminary conference. At the conference, the respondents, thru their counsels, manifested their intention to submit the case for decision on the basis of the evidence on record after the submission of their memoranda/position papers.

In the interim, additional administrative and criminal complaints for the same charges were filed by liason officers of car dealerships against the respondents. These new complaints were consolidated with the complaints already then pending.

In their complaints, the new complainants commonly alleged that they had to payP2,500.00 per pad to Alingasa before they could be issued confirmation certificates by the LTO Cebu. Alingasa would give her collections to Erederos and to Mendoza. When they protested, Erederos and Alingasa pointed to Mendoza as the source of the instructions. They were also told that the confirmation certificates processed during the previous administration would no longer be honored under Mendoza s administration; hence, they had to buy new sets of confirmation certificates to process the registration of their motor vehicles with the LTO.

On January 9, 2004, the Deputy Ombudsman rendered a joint decision on the administrative aspect of the cases filed against the respondents, and a joint resolution on the criminal aspect of the cases.

In its joint decision, the Deputy Ombudsman found Mendoza, Erederos and Alingasa guilty of grave misconduct and imposed the penalty of dismissal from the service. Peque, on the other hand, was only found guilty of simple misconduct and was meted the penalty of reprimand.

The Deputy Ombudsman believed the complainants allegations that Alingasa collectedP2,500.00 for the issuance of confirmation certificates and, thereafter, remitted the collections to Erederos and to Mendoza. He relied largely on the affidavits supporting the respondents guilt. He found the affidavits and the NBI/Progress report strong enough to establish the respondents guilt. The Deputy Ombudsman also explained that while the distribution of confirmation certificates to authorized car dealers is not prohibited, the demand and the collection of payment during their distribution are anomalous.

The respondents separately moved for reconsideration, but the Deputy Ombudsman denied their motions on March 5, 2004.

The respondents separately appealed to the CA to challenge the rulings against them.

On November 22, 2005, the CA granted the respondents petition and reversed the Deputy Ombudsman s joint decision in the administrative aspect. The CA ruled that the Deputy Ombudsman s finding of grave misconduct was not supported by substantial evidence because the affidavits, on which the decision was mainly anchored, were not corroborated by any other documentary evidence. Additionally, the affiants did not appear during the scheduled hearings. The CA also found that the affiants failed to categorically specify that the respondents personally demanded from them the payment ofP2,500.00 -an allegation that the appellate court deemed material in establishing their personal knowledge. Without this allegation of personal knowledge, the CA held that the statements in the affidavits were hearsay and, thus, should not be given any evidentiary weight.

With respect to the assailed Joint Resolution also dated January 9, 2004 (criminal aspect) issued by the public respondent, this Court has no jurisdiction to review the same.

The Deputy Ombudsman moved for the reconsideration of the decision, but the CA denied the motion in its resolution of April 21, 2006. The denial led to the filing of the present petition.

ISSUE: Whether or not the CA committed a reversible error in dismissing the administrative charge against the respondents?

HELD: Court of Appeals decision is affirmed.

The CA committed no reversible error in setting aside the findings and conclusions of the Deputy Ombudsman on the ground that they were not supported by substantial evidence.

POLITICAL LAW: Doctrine of conclusiveness of administrative findings of fact is not absolute

It is well settled that findings of fact by the Office of the Ombudsman are conclusive when supported by substantial evidence.Their factual findings are generally accorded with great weight and respect, if not finality by the courts, by reason of their special knowledge and expertise over matters falling under their jurisdiction.

This rule was reiterated in Cabalit v. Commission on Audit-Region VII,where we held that: When the findings of fact of the Ombudsman are supported by substantial evidence, it should be considered as conclusive. This Court recognizes the expertise and independence of the Ombudsman and will avoid interfering with its findings absent a finding of grave abuse of discretion. Hence, being supported by substantial evidence, we find no reason to disturb the factual findings of the Ombudsman which are affirmed by the CA.

This rule on conclusiveness of factual findings, however, is not an absolute one. Despite the respect given to administrative findings of fact, the CA may resolve factual issues, review and re-evaluate the evidence on record and reverse the administrative agencys findings if not supported by substantial evidence. Thus, when the findings of fact by the administrative or quasi-judicial agencies are not adequately supported by substantial evidence, they shall not be binding upon the courts.

In the present case, the CA found no substantial evidence to support the conclusion that the respondents are guilty of the administrative charges against them. Mere allegation and speculation is not evidence, and is not equivalent to proof.Since the Deputy Ombudsmans findings were found wanting by the CA of substantial evidence, the same shall not bind this Court.

REMEDIAL LAW: Rule 45 petition limited to questions of law

Before proceeding to the merits of the case, this Court deems it necessary to emphasize that a petition for review under Rule 45 is limited only to questions of law. Factual questions are not the proper subject of an appeal by certiorari. This Court will not review facts, as it is not our function to analyze or weigh all over again evidence already considered in the proceedings below. As held in Diokno v. Hon. Cacdac,a re-examination of factual findings is outside the province of a petition for review on certiorari to wit:

It is aphoristic that a re-examination of factual findings cannot be done through a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court because as earlier stated, this Court is not a trier of facts. The Supreme Court is not duty-bound to analyze and weigh again the evidence considered in the proceedings below. This is already outside the province of the instant Petition for Certiorari.

There is a question of law when the doubt or difference arises as to what the law is on a certain set of facts; a question of fact, on the other hand, exists when the doubt or difference arises as to the truth or falsehood of the alleged facts.Unless the case falls under any of the recognized exceptions, we are limited solely to the review of legal questions.

REMEDIAL LAW: Rule 45 petition is limited to errors of the appellate court

Furthermore, the "errors" which we may review in a petition for review on certiorari are those of the CA, and not directly those of the trial court or the quasi-judicial agency, tribunal, or officer which rendered the decision in the first instance.It is imperative that we refrain from conducting further scrutiny of the findings of fact made by trial courts, lest we convert this Court into a trier of facts. As held in Reman Recio v. Heirs of the Spouses Agueda and Maria Altamirano etc. et al., SC review is limited only to the errors of law committed by the appellate court. Under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, jurisdiction is generally limited to the review of errors of law committed by the appellate court. The Supreme Court is not obliged to review all over again the evidence which the parties adduced in the court a quo. Of course, the general rule admits of exceptions, such as where the factual findings of the CA and the trial court are conflicting or contradictory.

POLITICAL LAW: judicial review of decisions of administrative agencies

In Montemayor v. Bundalian,this Court laid down the guidelines for the judicial review of decisions rendered by administrative agencies in the exercise of their quasi-judicial powers, as follows:

First, the burden is on the complainant to prove by substantial evidence the allegations in his complaint. Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, even if other minds equally reasonable might conceivably opine otherwise. Second, in reviewing administrative decisions of the executive branch of the government, the findings of facts made therein are to be respected so long as they are supported by substantial evidence. Hence, it is not for the reviewing court to weigh the conflicting evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, or otherwise substitute its judgment for that of the administrative agency with respect to the sufficiency of evidence.

Third, administrative decisions in matters within the executive jurisdiction can only be set aside on proof of gross abuse of discretion, fraud, or error of law. These principles negate the power of the reviewing court to re-examine the sufficiency of the evidence in an administrative case as if originally instituted therein, and do not authorize the court to receive additional evidence that was not submitted to the administrative agency concerned.

The present petition directly raises, as issue, the propriety of the CA s reversal of the Deputy Ombudsman s decision that found the respondents guilty of grave misconduct. While this issue may be one of law, its resolution also requires us to resolve the underlying issue of whether or not substantial evidence exists to hold the respondents liable for the charge of grave misconduct. The latter question is one of fact, but a review is warranted considering the conflicting findings of fact of the Deputy Ombudsman and of the CA. Accordingly, we now focus on and assess the findings of fact of the Deputy Ombudsman and of the CA for their merits.

We agree with the CA. The findings of fact of the Deputy Ombudsman are not supported by substantial evidence on record.

POLITICAL LAW: quantum of proof in administrative cases

Substantial evidence is defined as such amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It is more than a mere scintilla of evidence.The standard of substantial evidence is satisfied when there is reasonable ground to believe, based on the evidence submitted, that the respondent is responsible for the misconduct complained of. It need not be overwhelming or preponderant, as is required in an ordinary civil case,or evidence beyond reasonable doubt, as is required in criminal cases, but the evidence must be enough for a reasonable mind to support a conclusion.

Section 27 of The Ombudsman Act of 1989provides that:

Findings of fact by the Officer of the Ombudsman when supported by substantial evidence are conclusive. Any order, directive or decision imposing the penalty of public censure or reprimand, suspension of not more than one (1) month's salary shall be final and unappealable.

The only pieces of evidence presented by the complainants to establish the respondents' guilt of the act charged are: (1) their complaint-affidavits and the (2) NBl/Progress report. As correctly found by the CA, these pieces of evidence do not meet the quantum of proof required in administrative cases.

The affidavits show that the complainants lack personal knowledge of the participation of Mendoza and Erederos in the allegedly anomalous act. These affidavits indicate that the complainants have commonly noticed and witnessed the anomalous sale transaction concerning the confirmation certificates. Without going into details, they uniformly allege that to secure the confirmation certificates, an amount ofP2,500.00 would be paid to Alingasa, an L TO personnel, "who will remit her collections to a certain Marilyn Mendoza vda. Erederos, a niece and the Secretary of the Regional Director, Porferio Mendoza."While the payment to Alingasa might be considered based on personal knowledge, the alleged remittance to Erederos and Mendoza -on its face - is hearsay.

Any evidence, whether oral or documentary, is hearsay if its probative value is not based on the personal knowledge of the witness

REMEDIAL LAW: facts based on a witness personal knowledge

It is a basic rule in evidence that a witness can testify only on the facts that he knows of his own Rersonal knowledge, i.e. those which are derived from his own perception.A witness may not testify on what he merely learned, read or heard from others because such testimony is considered hearsay and may not be received as proof of the truth of what he has learned, read or heard.Hearsay evidence is evidence, not of what the witness knows himself but, of what he has heard from others; it is not only limited to oral testimony or statements but likewise applies to written statements, such as affidavits.

The records show that not one of the complainants actually witnessed the transfer of money from Alingasa to Erederos and Mendoza. Nowhere in their affidavits did they specifically allege that they saw Alingasa remit the collections to Erederos. In fact, there is no specific allegation that they saw or witnessed Erederos or Mendoza receive money. That the complainants alleged in the preface of their affidavits that they "noticed and witnessed" the anomalous act complained of does not take their statements out of the coverage of the hearsay evidence rule. Their testimonies are still "evidence not of what the witness knows himself but of what he has heard from others." Mere uncorroborated hearsay or rumor does not constitute substantial evidence.

The affidavits also show that the complainants did not allege any specific act of the respondents. All that the affidavits allege is a description of the allegedly anomalous scheme and the arrangement whereby payments were to be made to Alingasa. There is no averment relating to any "personal demand" for the amount ofP2,500.00.

Based on these considerations, we cannot conclude that the complainants have personal knowledge of Erederos' and Mendoza's participation in the anomalous act. At most, their personal knowledge only extends to the acts of Alingasa who is the recipient of all payments for the processing of confirmation certificates. This situation, however, is affected by the complainants' failure to specify Alingasa's act of personally demandingP2,500.00 -a crucial element in determining her guilt or innocence of the grave misconduct charged.

With respect to Pedroza's allegation in her affidavitthat Alingasa and Erederos categorically told them that it was Mendoza who instructed them to collect theP2,500.00 for the confirmation certificates, we once again draw a distinction between utterances or testimonies that are merely hearsay in character or "non-hearsay," and those that are considered as legal hearsay.

REMEDIAL LAW: distinction between non-hearsay v. legal hearsay

To the former belongs the fact that utterances or statements were made; this class of extrajudicial utterances or statements is offered not s an assertion to prove the truth of the matter asserted, but only as to the fact of the utterance made. The latter class, on the other hand, consists of the truth of the facts asserted in the statement; this kind pertains to extrajudicial utterances and statements that are offered as evidence of the truth of the fact asserted.

The difference between these two classes of utterances lies in the applicability of the rule on exclusion of hearsay evidence. The first class, i.e. the fact that the statement was made, is not covered by the hearsay rule, while the second class, i.e. the truth of the facts asserted in the statement, is covered by the hearsay rule. Pedroza's allegation belongs to the first class; hence, it is inadmissible to prove the truth of the facts asserted in the statement. The following discussion, made m Patula v. People of the Philippinesis particularly instructive:

Moreover, the theory of the hearsay rule is that when a human utterance is offered as evidence of the truth of the fact asserted, the credit of the assertor becomes the basis of inference, and, therefore, the assertion can be received s evidence only when made on the witness stand, subject to the test of cross-examination. However, if an extrajudicial utterance is offered, not as an assertion to prove the matter asserted but without reference to the truth of the matter asserted, the hearsay rule does not apply. For example, in a slander case, if a prosecution witness testifies that he heard the accused say that the complainant was a thief, this testimony is admissible not to prove that the complainant was really a thief, but merely to show that the accused uttered those words. This kind of utterance is hearsay in character but is not legal hearsay. The distinction is, therefore, between (a) the fact that the statement was made, to which the hearsay rule does not apply, and (b) the truth of the facts asserted in the statement, to which the hearsay rule applies.

Failure to identify the affidavits renders them inadmissible under the hearsay evidence rule.

We additionally note that the affidavits were never identified by the complainants. All the allegations contained therein were likewise uncorroborated by evidence, other than the NBI/Progress report.

In Tapiador v. Office of the Ombudsman,we had the occasion to rule on the implications of the affiants' failure to appear during the preliminary investigation and to identify their respective sworn statements, to wit:

A thorough review of the records, however, showed that the subject affidavits of Beck and Terencio were not even identified by the respective affiants during the fact-finding investigation conducted by the BID Resident Ombudsman at the BID office in Manila. Neither did they appear during the preliminary investigation to identify their respective sworn statements despite prior notice before the investigating officer who subsequently dismissed the criminal aspect of the case upon finding that the charge against the petitioner "was not supported by any evidence." Hence, Beck's affidavit is hearsay and inadmissible in evidence. On this basis alone, the Administrative Adjudication Bureau of the Office of the Ombudsman should have dismissed the administrative complaint against the petitioner in the first instance.

For the affiants' failure to identify their sworn statements, and considering the seriousness of the charges filed, their affidavits must not be accepted at face value and should be treated as inadmissible under the hearsay evidence rule.

With regard to the NBI/Progress report submitted by the complainants as corroborating evidence, the same should not be given any weight. Contrary to the Ombudsman's assertions, the report cannot help its case under the circumstances of this case as it is insufficient to serve as substantial basis.

REMEDIAL LAW: double hearsay rule

This quoted portion shows that it was based on complainant Huete's and Cantillas' affidavits. It constitutes double hearsay because the material facts recited were not within the personal knowledge of the officers who conducted the investigation. As held in Africa, et al. v. Caltex Phil. Inc., et al.,reports of investigations made by law enforcement officers or other public officials are hearsay unless they fall within the scope of Section 44, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court, to wit: The first question before Us refers to the admissibility of certain reports on the fire prepared by the Manila Police and Fire Departments and by a certain Captain Tinio of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

There are three requisites for admissibility under the rule just mentioned: (a) that the entry was made by a public officer, or by another person specially enjoined by law to do so; (b) that it was made by the public officer in the performance of his duties, or by such other person in the performance of a duty specially enjoined by law; and (c) that the public officer or other person had sufficient knowledge of the facts by him stated, which must have been acquired by him personally or through official information.

Of the three requisites just stated, only the last need be considered here. Obviously the material facts recited in the reports as to the cause and circumstances of the fire were not within the personal knowledge of the officers who conducted the investigation. Was knowledge of such facts, however, acquired by them through official information?

The reports in question do not constitute an exception to the hearsay rule; the facts stated therein were not acquired by the reporting officers through official information, not having been given by the informants pursuant to any duty to do so.

The NBI/Progress report, having been submitted by the officials in the performance of their duties not on the basis of their own personal observation of the facts reported but merely on the basis of the complainants affidavits, is hearsay. Thus, the Deputy Ombudsman cannot rely on it.

REMEDIAL LAW: Non-applicability of strict technical rules of procedure in administrative or quasi-judicial bodies is not a license to disregard certain fundamental evidentiary rules

While administrative or quasi-judicial bodies, such as the Office of the Ombudsman, are not bound by the technical rules of procedure, this rule cannot be taken as a license to disregard fundamental evidentiary rules; the decision of the administrative agencies and the evidence it relies upon must, at the very least, be substantial. that:

In Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company v. Dumapis,we ruled that:

While it is true that administrative or quasi-judicial bodies like the NLRC are not bound by the technical rules of procedure in the adjudication of cases, this procedural rule should not be construed as a license to disregard certain fundamental evidentiary rules. The evidence presented must at least have a modicum of admissibility for it to have probative value. Not only must there be some evidence to support a finding or conclusion, but the evidence must be substantial. Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.

With a portion of the complainants affidavits and the NBI/Progress report being hearsay evidence, the only question that remains is whether the respondents conduct, based on the evidence on record, amounted to grave misconduct, warranting their dismissal in office.

CRIMINAL LAW: misconduct

Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer.The misconduct is considered as grave if it involves additional elements such as corruption or willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules, which must be proven by substantial evidence; otherwise, the misconduct is only simple. Corruption, as an element of grave misconduct, consists in the act of an official or fiduciary person who unlawfully and wrongfully uses his station or character to procure some benefit for himself or for another person, contrary to duty and the rights of others.

Based on these rulings, the Deputy Ombudsman failed to establish the elements of grave misconduct.To reiterate, no substantial evidence exists to show that Erederos and Mendoza received collected payments from Alingasa Their involvement or complicity in the allegedly anomalous scheme cannot be justified under the affidavits of the complainants and the NBI/Progress report, which are both hearsay.

With respect to Alingasa, in view of the lack of substantial evidence showing that she personally demanded the payment ofP2,500.00 a crucial factor in the wrongdoing alleged we find that the elements of misconduct, simple or grave, to be wanting and unproven.

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