SC punishes court researcher due to 'poor grammar'


In a letter to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) dated 30 July 2004, the Hon. Rommel O. Baybay, Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 132, Makati City, requested that his Court Legal Researcher II, Christopher Bernard N. Ibangga, be dropped from the rolls. Ibangga obtained an "UNSATISFACTORY" performance rating with a total point score of 13 for the rating period from 1 January to 30 June 2004.

In support of the said request and attached thereto was a Notice dated 01 July 2004 sent by Branch Clerk of Court Mariano B. Tomas and noted by Judge Baybay informing Ibangga of his performance rating and citing the following reasons therefore:

[1] You have been very slow in doing the works assigned to you.
[2] Your works have been unsatisfactorily done due to poor English grammar and composition.
[3] Against the advice of the Honorable Rommel O. Baybay, Presiding Judge of this branch, you just ceased reporting for work starting 6 April 2004 and came back only on 31 May 2004 after receiving a copy of the 1st (E)ndorsement dated 28 May 2004 of the Office of Administrative Services, Supreme Court, Manila, stating, among others, that your temporary appointment has been changed to permanent effective 7 April 2004 pursuant to the Honorable Court’s approval on 13 May 2004.
[4] You have not demonstrated any willingness to help your officemates who are saddled with voluminous work, in whatever manner you can.

Also attached to Judge Baybay’s request was a letter dated 9 July 2004 from Ibangga to Judge Sixto Marella, Jr., Executive Judge of the Makati City RTC requesting a transfer to another office citing a difference in opinion with Judge Baybay. In the said letter, Ibangga claims that Judge Baybay made it known that he was not inclined to recommend Ibangga’s change of status to permanent. Ibangga claims this was because Judge Baybay wanted a certain "John," who served as his legal researcher while still a judge of the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC), to take the position. We note that this allegation was not refuted by Judge Baybay. Ibangga further stated that on 5 April 2004, Judge Baybay told him to start looking for another job. This prompted Ibangga, a working student and the breadwinner of his family, to leave the court and seek employment elsewhere. Ibangga claims Judge Baybay used this incident to file an administrative case against him.

Finally, in the same letter, Ibangga avers that when he received notice from the OCA on 26 May 2004 that he was given a permanent appointment, he reported for work but found himself deprived of a work station, and any work assignments.

Meanwhile, on 21 July 2004, Judge Baybay filed an Affidavit-Complaint for Gross Insubordination and Absence Without Leave (from 6 April 2004 to 28 May 2004) against Mr. Ibangga, which is the subject of another OCA investigation docketed as OCA IPI No. 04-1974-P. A copy of this Affidavit-Complaint was also attached to the request.

The OCA report indicated that Mr. Ibangga’s appointment as Court Legal Researcher II in the RTC, Branch 132, Makati City, on 8 April 2003 was temporary in nature. His status was changed to permanent effective 7 April 2004. Under Civil Service rules, the first six months of service following a permanent appointment shall be probationary in nature, and the probationer may be dropped from the service for unsatisfactory conduct or want of capacity anytime before the expiration of the probationary period.

The OCA further reported that Ibangga filed a protest questioning his "Unsatisfactory" rating. However, upon due deliberation, the OCA Performance Evaluation Review Committee (PERC) in its Resolution dated 05 October 2004, resolved to dismiss the protest for lack of merit and retain the "Unsatisfactory" rating given to Ibangga for the period for the first half of 2004.

The OCA thus recommended that Ibangga be dropped from the rolls for obtaining an "Unsatisfactory" performance rating during his probationary period without prejudice to the outcome of OCA IPI No. 04-1974-P, and that his position as Court Legal Researcher II in the RTC, Branch 132, Makati City, be declared vacant. "However, his separation from the service shall not result in the forfeiture of any benefits he may be entitled to under existing laws nor disqualifying him from reemployment in the government."

This Court will not ordinarily disturb findings of fact of administrative agencies like the OCA. It is axiomatic that in their exercise of adjudicative functions, they are not bound by strict rules of evidence and of procedure. When confronted with conflicting versions of factual matters, it is for them in the exercise of discretion to determine which party deserves credence on the basis of evidence received.However, as the landmark case of Ang Tibay v. Court of Industrial Relations has pointed out, there are "cardinal primary rights which must be respected" in such proceedings. Not the least among them are those which refer to the evidence required to support a decision. Thus:

(3) "While the duty to deliberate does not impose the obligation to decide right, it does imply a necessity which cannot be disregarded, namely, that of having something to support [the] decision. A decision with absolutely nothing to support it is a nullity, a place when directly attached." . . .

(4) 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."

Readily apparent from the thin records of this case is that there is very little to substantiate the allegations in Judge Baybay’s complaint save for the OCA’s two-page report and recommendation. Indeed, aside from the said report, the records contain only Judge Baybay’s letter-request and its accompanying annexes. Nothing is heard from Mr. Ibangga except indirectly, in his letter to Judge Marella requesting a transfer, which, as stated earlier, was attached by Judge Baybay to his letter-request.

We are well aware that the deliberation by the OCA PERC which resolved to retain the "unsatisfactory" rating is accorded a prima facie presumption of regularity. However, even in administrative proceedings, there remains a quantum of proof necessary before this Court can reasonably accept a conclusion – especially one that would lead to the deprivation of one’s livelihood.

Even if we were to accept the OCA finding that nothing irregular attended the rating of Ibangga as "unsatisfactory," still, for humanitarian reasons, we find it too harsh to sustain its recommendation to dismiss him from the service for being "slow" in performing the work assigned to him, and because his works were "unsatisfactory" as a result of his poor English, and for not demonstrating "any willingness to help his officemates in whatever manner he could." At the very least, such broad, subjective statements should have been substantiated by specific instances of his alleged deficiencies.

Ibangga, the breadwinner of his family, is a working student – a manifestation of his sincere desire to improve his lot. Moreover, we are not unaware of the pressures attendant to being a self-supporting student in his final year in law school. Thus, we believe that a suspension for six months without pay is appropriate. It is hoped that this incident will serve as a learning experience for him, as an aspiring member of the bench and bar, to strive always for the highest standards in the performance of ones duties.

ALL THE FOREGOING CONSIDERED, Christopher Bernard N. Ibangga is SUSPENDED from office without salary and other benefits for six (6) months, with the STERN WARNING that one more transgression will merit dismissal from the service.