Rule on foreign travels of court workers (A.M. No. 99-12-08-SC)

Pursuant to the resolution in A.M. No. 99-12-08-SC dated 6 November 2000, all foreign travels of judges and court personnel, regardless of the number of days, must be with prior permission from the Supreme Court through the Chief Justice and the Chairmen of the Divisions.

1. Judges and court personnel who wish to travel abroad must secure a travel authority from the Office of the Court Administrator. x x x

Corollarily, Section 67 of the Omnibus Rules on Leave provides that any violation of the leave laws, rules or regulations, or any misrepresentation or deception in connection with an application for leave shall be a ground for disciplinary action.

In CONCERNED EMPLOYEES OF THE MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT OF MEYCAUAYAN, BULACAN, Complainants, v. LARIZZA PAGUIO-BACANI, Branch Clerk of Court II, Municipal Trial Court of Meycauayan, Bulacan, Respondent (A.M. NO. P-06-2217, July 30, 2009), the respondent-Clerk of Court was by the Supreme Court reminded of the constitutional provision that a public office is a public trust, and all public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency. Every government employee, especially of the judiciary, should be an example of integrity and proper behavior. Being Branch Clerk of Court, respondent is the role model for all court employees under her supervision, and her position requires competence and efficiency to insure the public’s confidence in the administration of justice.

Anent the issue of falsification of attendance and/or leave records, Section 4, Rule XVII of the Omnibus Rules on Leave provides:
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.
In Office of the Court Administrator v. Balisi, the Supreme Court held that falsification of daily time records − to cover up for absenteeism and/or tardiness − shall constitute gross dishonesty and serious misconduct, which it further reiterated in Administrative Circular No. 14-2002.

Complainants alleged that, on certain occasions, respondent’s staff signed for her in the attendance logbook whenever she was absent. Although complainants failed to categorically specify the dates when such incidents occurred, the investigations of both the Investigating Judge and the OCA revealed that there were discrepancies between the Certification dated September 14, 2005 issued by the Leave Division of the OCA and the DTR submitted by respondent. According to the Certification, respondent rendered service on June 29 and December 12 for the year 2003. On the other hand, respondent denied having rendered service on the dates in question, claiming that June 29, 2003 was a Sunday and a non-working day, and that she was on leave on December 12, 2003. Further, it could not be determined whether respondent submitted the same DTR to the MTC and the OCA.

In light of these findings, the Supreme Court was compelled to believe that respondent indeed made it appear that she rendered service on the dates in question. The discovery of a discrepancy in the attendance records of respondent gave rise to a presumption that the latter falsified her attendance and/or leave records and, therefore, the burden to overcome this presumption fell upon respondent. However, respondent was not able to adequately explain how such discrepancy occurred. She merely denied the contents of said Certification without clarifying how the Leave Division could have issued information different from that of her DTR and the attendance logbook when, in fact, it was respondent’s office which supplied the Leave Division with their attendance and leave records. Moreover, the Court ascribes greater weight to the records of the Leave Division, for its act of certifying the attendance of government employees is considered an official duty performed with regularity, which again, respondent failed to disprove.Under Section 52(A)(1) of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service Commission, respondent’s act of falsifying her DTRs amounts to dishonesty, which carries the extreme penalty of dismissal from the service.

In conjunction with this Rule, violation of reasonable office rules and regulations is classified as a light offense under Section 52(C)(3) of the same Rules which states:

Section 52. Classification of Offenses. – Administrative offenses with corresponding penalties are classified into grave, less grave or light, depending on their gravity or depravity and effects on the government service. x x x x

C. The following are Light Offenses with corresponding penalties: x x x x

3. Violation of reasonable office rules and regulations.

1st Offense – Reprimand
2nd Offense – Suspension 1-30 days
3rd Offense – Dismissal x x x x

The Supreme Court has penalized court employees who have traveled abroad without the requisite authority to travel. In Malayo v. Cruzat, respondent clerk of court was severely reprimanded for conduct unbecoming of a public officer and member of the Judiciary, and suspended for one (1) month without pay for travelling to Hong Kong without the required authority therefor. In Request of Judge Eduardo F. Cartagena, respondent Judge was found guilty of gross misconduct and dismissed from the service when he left for the USA without the knowledge or permission of the Supreme Court. In Reyes v. Bautista, respondent stenographer left the country for Dubai to work overseas without securing the necessary permission for travel, but stated in her leave application that her vacation would be spent in the Philippines; she was, likewise, dismissed from the service for dishonesty, gross neglect of duty and violation of Court administrative circulars.

Also, in previous cases wherein court employees falsified their DTRs, the Court ordered them to pay a fine ranging from ₱2,000.00 to ₱5,000.00, or sentenced them to a suspension ranging from three (3) to six (6) months.

Although dishonesty through falsification of DTRs is punishable by dismissal, such an extreme penalty cannot be inflicted on an errant employee such as herein respondent, especially so in cases where there exist mitigating circumstances which could alleviate her culpability. Respondent has been Branch Clerk of Court for about ten (10) years and this is her first administrative complaint. The OCA recommended that respondent be suspended from the service for one (1) year without pay, with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely.

The conduct of court personnel should be geared towards maintaining the prestige and integrity of the court, for the image of the court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of the men and women who work thereat, from the judge to the least and lowest of its personnel; hence, it becomes the imperative and sacred duty of each and everyone in the court to maintain its good name and standing as a temple of justice.

As a result of the case, respondent Larizza Paguio-Bacani, Branch Clerk of Court II of the Municipal Trial Court of Meycauayan, Bulacan, was found GUILTY of dishonesty through falsification of her Daily Time Records and leaving the country without the requisite travel authority, and was SUSPENDED from the service for one (1) year without pay, with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely. (A.M. NO. P-06-2217, July 30, 2009)