What will happen if public official failed to ascertain that his SALN was accomplished properly, accurately, and in more detail.

The last administrative charge against petitioner is that he failed to declare all his assets in the SALN, of which the Office of the Ombudsman and the Court of Appeals found petitioner guilty. The Court of Appeals made the following findings on this point:

Second, failing to declare all his assets in the SALN. A treasure trove of properties admitted by the petitioner to be owned by him and his wife could not be accounted for in the SALN. The non-declaration of his numerous acquisitions was thus willful. The Ombudsman senses that the unexplained rise in the reported net worth of the petitioner would be more astronomical if he were forthright in his declarations.

x x x x

The Ombudsman has found that there are, indeed, properties not reported in the SALN. The laundry list of undeclared assets include properties acquired in 1979, 1980, 1982, 1988, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999. While the petitioner’s wife claims to be extensively engaged in business, the SALN also did not report the nature and other particulars of these concerns. She signed the 2001 SALN without answering the question: Do you have any business interest and other financial connections including those of your spouse x x x?

It is clear that the SALN does not reflect a true and accurate record of the assets of the petitioner in violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. The addition of the acquisition costs of the unreported assets to the net worth, moreover, will increase it. As dramatized by the Ombudsman’s table, the increase in the net worth could not be explained by the petitioner’s salary alone and, hence should be treated as unexplained wealth.[1][59]

          Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, requires that a public officer file his statement of assets and liabilities under the following circumstances:

SEC. 7. Statement of Assets and Liabilities. – Every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office and, thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of the corresponding Department Head, or in the case of Head of Department or Chief of an independent office, with the Office of the President, a true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities, including a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year: Provided, That public officers assuming office less than two months before the end of the calendar year, may file their first statement or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of said calendar year.

A similar requirement is provided in Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, which reads:

SEC. 8. Statements and Disclosure. – Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

(A) Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Financial Disclosure. – All public officials and employees, except those who serve in an honorary capacity, laborers and casual or temporary workers, shall file under oath their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and the Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and those of their spouses and unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

The two documents shall contain information on the following:

(a)  real property, its improvements, acquisition costs, assessed value and current fair market value;

(b)   personal property and acquisition cost;

(c)    all other assets such as investments, cash on hand or in banks, stocks, bonds, and the like;

(d)   liabilities; and

(e)    all business interests and financial connections.

The documents must be filed:

(a)    within thirty (30) days after assumption of office;

(b)   on or before April 30, of every year thereafter; and

(c)    within thirty (30) days after separation from service.

All public officials and employees required under this section to file the aforestated documents shall also execute within thirty (30) days from the date of their assumption of office, the necessary authority in favor of the Ombudsman to obtain from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue, such documents as may show their liabilities, net worth, and also their business interests and financial connections in previous years, including, if possible the year when they first assumed any office in the government.

          It is undisputed that petitioner has been religiously filing his SALN every year while he was in government service. The allegation of gross misconduct and dishonesty against him is rooted in his purported failure to declare all his assets and business interests in his SALNs.

          Petitioner’s 2002 SALN declared only 13 properties with a total acquisition cost of P9,384,090.25. Petitioner though admitted in the course of these proceedings that he and his wife owned 28 of the 33 real properties identified by the PNP-CIDG, with the clarification that four of those are mere improvements consisting of piggery structures. Hence, petitioner professes ownership by him and his wife of 24 lots, plus the improvements found thereon. He further volunteers the information that he and his wife acquired two more additional properties in Caysio, Sta. Maria, Bulacan, in 2002, thus, bringing the total number of his and his wife’s real property acquisition to 26.

          Petitioner denies he was being dishonest or that he had the deliberate intent to conceal his wealth in his 2002 SALN, although he acknowledges that he failed to pay attention to the details therein. His SALNs are prepared by a family bookkeeper/accountant. Also, his wife has been running their financial affairs, including property acquisitions which form part and parcel of her lending business. Thus, as he was not directly involved in the various transactions relating to the lending business, petitioner failed to keep track of the real property acquisitions by reason thereof.

          Consequently, petitioner’s SALN was not filed in proper form, containing several inaccurate information, such as discrepancies in the year and mode of acquisition of the declared properties, and imprecise descriptions of the said properties since some of the properties were not broken down to their individual titles and, instead, treated as one entry since they are contiguous to one another and to fit all the information in the limited number of spaces provided in the printed SALN form. And these inaccuracies are repeated year after year, since the common practice is copying the entries in the immediately preceding year and just adding any subsequent acquisitions.

xxx

Except for the lot in Pulong Buhangin, Bulacan, which was purchased only in 2003, the afore-quoted declaration of petitioner’s real properties in his 2004 SALN tallies with that in his 2002 SALN. Disregarding the most recent acquisition, the longer and more detailed list of real properties in the 2004 SALN has the same total acquisition cost as the 13 entries in the 2002 SALN, i.e., P9,384,090.25. As additional proof that his 2002 SALN actually includes all his real properties, petitioner points out that the total acquisition cost thereof, P9,384,090.25, is not so far off their 2003 adjusted market value (excluding the real properties in the names of petitioner’s children) of P14,002,109.20 as determined by the PNP-CIDG; the difference can be accounted for by the increase in the value of the real properties through the years.

          In contrast, according to the investigating officers of the PNP-CIDG, “[s]ince Mr. Pleyto did not specify in his SALs the exact location of the real properties he and his own wife own, it would not be too easy for the investigators to ascertain which specifically of these numerous real estate properties acquired by the spouses were or were not declared in his latest statement of assets.”[2][61] Hence, there is no categorical finding by the investigating officers that certain properties were intentionally excluded or concealed by petitioner from his 2002 SALN.

          Much of the difficulty in reconciling the list of real properties in the names of petitioner and his wife vis-à-vis the entries in petitioner’s 2002 SALN is due to the inaccuracies in the latter as previously discussed. Without considering the elucidation offered by petitioner and refusing to concede that inaccuracies were committed in the preparation of the 2002 SALN, the Office of the Ombudsman could not reconcile any of the real properties admittedly owned by petitioner and his wife with the real properties declared in the 2002 SALN. This includes petitioner’s residence inQuezon City, which evidence shows he and his wife acquired in 1977, but was erroneously reported in his 2002 SALN to have been acquired in 1975. Following the ratiocination of the Office of the Ombudsman, then it would appear that petitioner completely falsified his declaration of real properties in his 2002 SALN. However, it must be pointed out that petitioner was originally accused of and found guilty by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Court of Appeals of the relatively less serious charge of excluding or concealing some of his properties.

          Petitioner is charged with gross misconduct and dishonesty for failing to comply with Section 7 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and Section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, requiring the submission of a statement of assets and liabilities by a public officer or employee.

          As for gross misconduct, the adjective is “gross” or serious, important, weighty, momentous, and not trifling; while the noun is “misconduct,” defined as a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by the public officer. The word “misconduct” implies a wrongful intention and not a mere error of judgment. For gross misconduct to exist, there must be reliable evidence showing that the acts complained of were corrupt or inspired by an intention to violate the law, or were in persistent disregard of well-known legal rules.[3][62]

          And as for dishonesty, it is committed by intentionally making a false statement in any material fact, or practicing or attempting to practice any deception or fraud in securing his examination, registration, appointment or promotion. Dishonesty is understood to imply a disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity.[4][63]

          Clear from the foregoing legal definitions of gross misconduct and dishonesty is that intention is an important element in both. Petitioner’s candid admission of his shortcomings in properly and completely filling out his SALN, his endeavor to clarify the entries therein and provide all other necessary information, and his submission of supporting documents as to the acquisition of the real properties in his and his wife’s names, negate any intention on his part to conceal his properties. Furthermore, in view of this Court’s findings that these properties were lawfully acquired, there is simply no justification for petitioner to hide them. Missing the essential element of intent to commit a wrong, this Court cannot declare petitioner guilty of gross misconduct and dishonesty.

          Neither can petitioner’s failure to answer the question, “Do you have any business interest and other financial connections including those of your spouse and unmarried children living in your house hold?” be tantamount to gross misconduct or dishonesty. On the front page of petitioner’s 2002 SALN, it is already clearly stated that his wife is a businesswoman, and it can be logically deduced that she had business interests. Such a statement of his wife’s occupation would be inconsistent with the intention to conceal his and his wife’s business interests. That petitioner and/or his wife had business interests is thus readily apparent on the face of the SALN; it is just that the missing particulars may be subject of an inquiry or investigation.

          An act done in good faith, which constitutes only an error of judgment and for no ulterior motives and/or purposes, does not qualify as gross misconduct, and is merely simple negligence.[5][64] Thus, at most, petitioner is guilty of negligence for having failed to ascertain that his SALN was accomplished properly, accurately, and in more detail.

          Negligence is the omission of the diligence which is required by the nature of the obligation and corresponds with the circumstances of the persons, of the time and of the place.[6][65] In the case of public officials, there is negligence when there is a breach of duty or failure to perform the obligation, and there is gross negligence when a breach of duty is flagrant and palpable.[7][66] Both Section 7 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees require the accomplishment and submission of a true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities. Petitioner was negligent for failing to comply with his duty to provide a detailed list of his assets and business interests in his SALN. He was also negligent in relying on the family bookkeeper/accountant to fill out his SALN and in signing the same without checking or verifying the entries therein. Petitioner’s negligence, though, is only simple and not gross, in the absence of bad faith or the intent to mislead or deceive on his part, and in consideration of the fact that his SALNs actually disclose the full extent of his assets and the fact that he and his wife had other business interests.

          Gross misconduct and dishonesty are serious charges which warrant the removal or dismissal from service of the erring public officer or employee, together with the accessory penalties, such as cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification from reemployment in government service. Hence, a finding that a public officer or employee is administratively liable for such charges must be supported by substantial evidence.

          The quantum of evidence required in administrative cases is substantial evidence. The landmark case Ang Tibay v. Court of Industrial Relations[8][67] laid down the guidelines for quasi-judicial administrative proceedings, including the following:

(4) Not only must there be some evidence to support a finding or conclusion (City of Manila vs. Agustin, G. R. No. 45844, promulgated November 29, 1937, XXXVI 0.G. 1335), but the evidence must be “substantial.” (Washington, Virginia& Maryland Coach Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, 301 U. S.142, 147, 57 S. Ct.648, 650, 81 Law. ed. 965.) 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.” (Appalachian Electric Power v. National Labor Relations Board, 4 Cir., 93 F. 2d 985, 989; National Labor Relations Board v. Thompson Products, 6 Cir., 97 F. 2d 13, 15; Ballston-Stillwater Knitting Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, 2 Cir., 98 F. 2d 758, 760.) * * * The statute provides that ‘the rules of evidence prevailing in courts of law and equity shall not be controlling.’ The obvious purpose of this and similar provisions is to free administrative boards from the compulsion of technical rules so that the mere admission of matter which would be deemed incompetent in judicial proceedings would not invalidate the administrative order. (Interstate Commerce Commission v. Baird, 194 U. S. 25, 44, 24 S. Ct. 563, 568, 48 Law. ed. 860; Interstate Commerce Commission v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., 227 U. S. 88, 93, 33 S. Ct. 185, 187, 57 Law. ed. 431; United States v. Abilene & Southern Ry. Co., 265 U. S. 274, 288, 44 S. Ct. 565, 569, 68 Law. ed. 1016; Tagg Bros. & Moorhead v. United States, 280 U. S. 420, 442, 50 S. Ct. 220, 225, 74 Law. ed. 624.) But this assurance of a desirable flexibility in administrative procedure does not go so far as to justify orders without a basis in evidence having rational probative force. Mere uncorroborated hearsay or rumor does not constitute substantial evidence. (Consolidated Edison Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, 59 S. Ct. 206, 83 Law. ed. No. 4, Adv. Op., p. 131.) “

(5) The decision must be rendered on the evidence presented at the hearing, or at least contained in the record and disclosed to the parties affected. (Interstate Commence Commission vs. L. & N. R. Co., 227U.   S. 88, 33S. Ct. 185, 57 Law. ed. 431.) Only by confining the administrative tribunal to the evidence disclosed to the parties, can the latter be protected in their right to know and meet the case against them. It should not, however, detract from their duty actively to see that the law is enforced, and for that purpose, to use the authorized legal methods of securing evidence and informing itself of facts material and relevant to the controversy. Boards of inquiry may be appointed for the purpose of investigating and determining the facts in any given case, but their report and decision are only advisory. (Section 9, Commonwealth Act No. 103.) x x x. (Emphasis supplied.)

          In the Petition at bar, great, if not absolute, reliance was made by the Office of the Ombudsman on the Complaint of the PNP-CIDG and the attached Joint Affidavit of its investigating officers. Although certain pieces of documentary evidence were also attached to the said Complaint, such as TCTs and tax declarations of the real properties in the names of petitioner, his wife, and his children, and the travel information provided by the BID, these mostly prove facts which were not denied by petitioner, but for which he had credible explanation or qualification. These pieces of evidence may have been sufficient to give rise to a prima facie presumption of unlawfully acquired wealth against petitioner; however, such a presumption is disputable or rebuttable. When petitioner presented evidence in support of his defense, the Office of the Ombudsman proceeded to question and challenge and, ultimately, disregard in totality petitioner’s evidence, despite the fact that the PNP-CIDG no longer presented any evidence to controvert the same.

          Each party in an administrative case must prove his affirmative allegation with substantial evidence – the complainant has to prove the affirmative allegations in his complaint, and the respondent has to prove the affirmative allegations in his affirmative defenses and counterclaims.[9][68] In this case, contrary to the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Court of Appeals, this Court pronounces that substantial evidence sways in favor of the petitioner and against complainant PNP-CIDG.

          While this Court commends the efforts of the PNP-CIDG and the Office of the Ombudsman to hold accountable public officers and employees with unexplained wealth and unlawfully acquired properties, it cannot countenance unsubstantiated charges against a hapless public official just to send a message that the government is serious in its campaign against graft and corruption. No matter how noble the intentions of the PNP-CIDG and the Office of the Ombudsman are in pursuing this administrative case against petitioner, it will do them well to remember that good intentions do not win cases; evidence does.


The last administrative charge against petitioner is that he failed to declare all his assets in the SALN, of which the Office of the Ombudsman and the Court of Appeals found petitioner guilty. The Court of Appeals made the following findings on this point:

 

Second, failing to declare all his assets in the SALN. A treasure trove of properties admitted by the petitioner to be owned by him and his wife could not be accounted for in the SALN. The non-declaration of his numerous acquisitions was thus willful. The Ombudsman senses that the unexplained rise in the reported net worth of the petitioner would be more astronomical if he were forthright in his declarations.

 

x x x x

 

The Ombudsman has found that there are, indeed, properties not reported in the SALN. The laundry list of undeclared assets include properties acquired in 1979, 1980, 1982, 1988, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999. While the petitioner’s wife claims to be extensively engaged in business, the SALN also did not report the nature and other particulars of these concerns. She signed the 2001 SALN without answering the question: Do you have any business interest and other financial connections including those of your spouse x x x?

 

It is clear that the SALN does not reflect a true and accurate record of the assets of the petitioner in violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. The addition of the acquisition costs of the unreported assets to the net worth, moreover, will increase it. As dramatized by the Ombudsman’s table, the increase in the net worth could not be explained by the petitioner’s salary alone and, hence should be treated as unexplained wealth.[1][59]

 

 

          Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, requires that a public officer file his statement of assets and liabilities under the following circumstances:

 

SEC. 7. Statement of Assets and Liabilities. – Every public officer, within thirty days after assuming office and, thereafter, on or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of every calendar year, as well as upon the expiration of his term of office, or upon his resignation or separation from office, shall prepare and file with the office of the corresponding Department Head, or in the case of Head of Department or Chief of an independent office, with the Office of the President, a true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities, including a statement of the amounts and sources of his income, the amounts of his personal and family expenses and the amount of income taxes paid for the next preceding calendar year: Provided, That public officers assuming office less than two months before the end of the calendar year, may file their first statement or before the fifteenth day of April following the close of said calendar year.

 

 

A similar requirement is provided in Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, which reads:

 

SEC. 8. Statements and Disclosure. – Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

 

(A) Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Financial Disclosure. – All public officials and employees, except those who serve in an honorary capacity, laborers and casual or temporary workers, shall file under oath their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and the Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections and those of their spouses and unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.

 

The two documents shall contain information on the following:

 

(a)  real property, its improvements, acquisition costs, assessed value and current fair market value;

 

(b)   personal property and acquisition cost;

 

(c)    all other assets such as investments, cash on hand or in banks, stocks, bonds, and the like;

 

(d)   liabilities; and

 

(e)    all business interests and financial connections.

 

The documents must be filed:

 

(a)    within thirty (30) days after assumption of office;

 

(b)   on or before April 30, of every year thereafter; and

 

(c)    within thirty (30) days after separation from service.

 

All public officials and employees required under this section to file the aforestated documents shall also execute within thirty (30) days from the date of their assumption of office, the necessary authority in favor of the Ombudsman to obtain from all appropriate government agencies, including the Bureau of Internal Revenue, such documents as may show their liabilities, net worth, and also their business interests and financial connections in previous years, including, if possible the year when they first assumed any office in the government.

 

 

          It is undisputed that petitioner has been religiously filing his SALN every year while he was in government service. The allegation of gross misconduct and dishonesty against him is rooted in his purported failure to declare all his assets and business interests in his SALNs.

 

          Petitioner’s 2002 SALN declared only 13 properties with a total acquisition cost of P9,384,090.25. Petitioner though admitted in the course of these proceedings that he and his wife owned 28 of the 33 real properties identified by the PNP-CIDG, with the clarification that four of those are mere improvements consisting of piggery structures. Hence, petitioner professes ownership by him and his wife of 24 lots, plus the improvements found thereon. He further volunteers the information that he and his wife acquired two more additional properties in Caysio, Sta. Maria, Bulacan, in 2002, thus, bringing the total number of his and his wife’s real property acquisition to 26.

 

          Petitioner denies he was being dishonest or that he had the deliberate intent to conceal his wealth in his 2002 SALN, although he acknowledges that he failed to pay attention to the details therein. His SALNs are prepared by a family bookkeeper/accountant. Also, his wife has been running their financial affairs, including property acquisitions which form part and parcel of her lending business. Thus, as he was not directly involved in the various transactions relating to the lending business, petitioner failed to keep track of the real property acquisitions by reason thereof.

 

          Consequently, petitioner’s SALN was not filed in proper form, containing several inaccurate information, such as discrepancies in the year and mode of acquisition of the declared properties, and imprecise descriptions of the said properties since some of the properties were not broken down to their individual titles and, instead, treated as one entry since they are contiguous to one another and to fit all the information in the limited number of spaces provided in the printed SALN form. And these inaccuracies are repeated year after year, since the common practice is copying the entries in the immediately preceding year and just adding any subsequent acquisitions.

 

xxx

         

 

Except for the lot in Pulong Buhangin, Bulacan, which was purchased only in 2003, the afore-quoted declaration of petitioner’s real properties in his 2004 SALN tallies with that in his 2002 SALN. Disregarding the most recent acquisition, the longer and more detailed list of real properties in the 2004 SALN has the same total acquisition cost as the 13 entries in the 2002 SALN, i.e., P9,384,090.25. As additional proof that his 2002 SALN actually includes all his real properties, petitioner points out that the total acquisition cost thereof, P9,384,090.25, is not so far off their 2003 adjusted market value (excluding the real properties in the names of petitioner’s children) of P14,002,109.20 as determined by the PNP-CIDG; the difference can be accounted for by the increase in the value of the real properties through the years.

 

          In contrast, according to the investigating officers of the PNP-CIDG, “[s]ince Mr. Pleyto did not specify in his SALs the exact location of the real properties he and his own wife own, it would not be too easy for the investigators to ascertain which specifically of these numerous real estate properties acquired by the spouses were or were not declared in his latest statement of assets.”[2][61] Hence, there is no categorical finding by the investigating officers that certain properties were intentionally excluded or concealed by petitioner from his 2002 SALN.

 

          Much of the difficulty in reconciling the list of real properties in the names of petitioner and his wife vis-à-vis the entries in petitioner’s 2002 SALN is due to the inaccuracies in the latter as previously discussed. Without considering the elucidation offered by petitioner and refusing to concede that inaccuracies were committed in the preparation of the 2002 SALN, the Office of the Ombudsman could not reconcile any of the real properties admittedly owned by petitioner and his wife with the real properties declared in the 2002 SALN. This includes petitioner’s residence in Quezon City, which evidence shows he and his wife acquired in 1977, but was erroneously reported in his 2002 SALN to have been acquired in 1975. Following the ratiocination of the Office of the Ombudsman, then it would appear that petitioner completely falsified his declaration of real properties in his 2002 SALN. However, it must be pointed out that petitioner was originally accused of and found guilty by the Office of the Ombudsman and the Court of Appeals of the relatively less serious charge of excluding or concealing some of his properties.

 

          Petitioner is charged with gross misconduct and dishonesty for failing to comply with Section 7 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and Section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, requiring the submission of a statement of assets and liabilities by a public officer or employee.

 

          As for gross misconduct, the adjective is “gross” or serious, important, weighty, momentous, and not trifling; while the noun is “misconduct,” defined as a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by the public officer. The word “misconduct” implies a wrongful intention and not a mere error of judgment. For gross misconduct to exist, there must be reliable evidence showing that the acts complained of were corrupt or inspired by an intention to violate the law, or were in persistent disregard of well-known legal rules.[3][62]

 

          And as for dishonesty, it is committed by intentionally making a false statement in any material fact, or practicing or attempting to practice any deception or fraud in securing his examination, registration, appointment or promotion. Dishonesty is understood to imply a disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity.[4][63]

 

          Clear from the foregoing legal definitions of gross misconduct and dishonesty is that intention is an important element in both. Petitioner’s candid admission of his shortcomings in properly and completely filling out his SALN, his endeavor to clarify the entries therein and provide all other necessary information, and his submission of supporting documents as to the acquisition of the real properties in his and his wife’s names, negate any intention on his part to conceal his properties. Furthermore, in view of this Court’s findings that these properties were lawfully acquired, there is simply no justification for petitioner to hide them. Missing the essential element of intent to commit a wrong, this Court cannot declare petitioner guilty of gross misconduct and dishonesty.   

 

          Neither can petitioner’s failure to answer the question, “Do you have any business interest and other financial connections including those of your spouse and unmarried children living in your house hold?” be tantamount to gross misconduct or dishonesty. On the front page of petitioner’s 2002 SALN, it is already clearly stated that his wife is a businesswoman, and it can be logically deduced that she had business interests. Such a statement of his wife’s occupation would be inconsistent with the intention to conceal his and his wife’s business interests. That petitioner and/or his wife had business interests is thus readily apparent on the face of the SALN; it is just that the missing particulars may be subject of an inquiry or investigation.

 

          An act done in good faith, which constitutes only an error of judgment and for no ulterior motives and/or purposes, does not qualify as gross misconduct, and is merely simple negligence.[5][64]Thus, at most, petitioner is guilty of negligence for having failed to ascertain that his SALN was accomplished properly, accurately, and in more detail.

 

          Negligence is the omission of the diligence which is required by the nature of the obligation and corresponds with the circumstances of the persons, of the time and of the place.[6][65] In the case of public officials, there is negligence when there is a breach of duty or failure to perform the obligation, and there is gross negligence when a breach of duty is flagrant and palpable.[7][66] Both Section 7 of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees require the accomplishment and submission of a true, detailed and sworn statement of assets and liabilities. Petitioner was negligent for failing to comply with his duty to provide a detailed list of his assets and business interests in his SALN. He was also negligent in relying on the family bookkeeper/accountant to fill out his SALN and in signing the same without checking or verifying the entries therein. Petitioner’s negligence, though, is only simple and not gross, in the absence of bad faith or the intent to mislead or deceive on his part, and in consideration of the fact that his SALNs actually disclose the full extent of his assets and the fact that he and his wife had other business interests.

 

          Gross misconduct and dishonesty are serious charges which warrant the removal or dismissal from service of the erring public officer or employee, together with the accessory penalties, such as cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification from reemployment in government service. Hence, a finding that a public officer or employee is administratively liable for such charges must be supported by substantial evidence.

 

          The quantum of evidence required in administrative cases is substantial evidence. The landmark case Ang Tibay v. Court of Industrial Relations[8][67] laid down the guidelines for quasi-judicial administrative proceedings, including the following:

 

(4) Not only must there be some evidence to support a finding or conclusion (City of Manila vs. Agustin, G. R. No. 45844, promulgated November 29, 1937, XXXVI 0.G. 1335), but the evidence must be “substantial.” (Washington, Virginia & Maryland Coach Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, 301 U. S. 142, 147, 57 S. Ct. 648, 650, 81 Law. ed. 965.) 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.” (Appalachian Electric Power v. National Labor Relations Board, 4 Cir., 93 F. 2d 985, 989; National Labor Relations Board v. Thompson Products, 6 Cir., 97 F. 2d 13, 15; Ballston-Stillwater Knitting Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, 2 Cir., 98 F. 2d 758, 760.) * * * The statute provides that ‘the rules of evidence prevailing in courts of law and equity shall not be controlling.’ The obvious purpose of this and similar provisions is to free administrative boards from the compulsion of technical rules so that the mere admission of matter which would be deemed incompetent in judicial proceedings would not invalidate the administrative order. (Interstate Commerce Commission v. Baird, 194 U. S. 25, 44, 24 S. Ct. 563, 568, 48 Law. ed. 860; Interstate Commerce Commission v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., 227 U. S. 88, 93, 33 S. Ct. 185, 187, 57 Law. ed. 431; United States v. Abilene & Southern Ry. Co., 265 U. S. 274, 288, 44 S. Ct. 565, 569, 68 Law. ed. 1016; Tagg Bros. & Moorhead v. United States, 280 U. S. 420, 442, 50 S. Ct. 220, 225, 74 Law. ed. 624.) But this assurance of a desirable flexibility in administrative procedure does not go so far as to justify orders without a basis in evidence having rational probative force. Mere uncorroborated hearsay or rumor does not constitute substantial evidence. (Consolidated Edison Co. v. National Labor Relations Board, 59 S. Ct. 206, 83 Law. ed. No. 4, Adv. Op., p. 131.) “

 

(5) The decision must be rendered on the evidence presented at the hearing, or at least contained in the record and disclosed to the parties affected. (Interstate Commence Commission vs. L. & N. R. Co., 227 U. S. 88, 33 S. Ct. 185, 57 Law. ed. 431.) Only by confining the administrative tribunal to the evidence disclosed to the parties, can the latter be protected in their right to know and meet the case against them. It should not, however, detract from their duty actively to see that the law is enforced, and for that purpose, to use the authorized legal methods of securing evidence and informing itself of facts material and relevant to the controversy. Boards of inquiry may be appointed for the purpose of investigating and determining the facts in any given case, but their report and decision are only advisory. (Section 9, Commonwealth Act No. 103.) x x x. (Emphasis supplied.)

 

 

          In the Petition at bar, great, if not absolute, reliance was made by the Office of the Ombudsman on the Complaint of the PNP-CIDG and the attached Joint Affidavit of its investigating officers. Although certain pieces of documentary evidence were also attached to the said Complaint, such as TCTs and tax declarations of the real properties in the names of petitioner, his wife, and his children, and the travel information provided by the BID, these mostly prove facts which were not denied by petitioner, but for which he had credible explanation or qualification. These pieces of evidence may have been sufficient to give rise to a prima facie presumption of unlawfully acquired wealth against petitioner; however, such a presumption is disputable or rebuttable. When petitioner presented evidence in support of his defense, the Office of the Ombudsman proceeded to question and challenge and, ultimately, disregard in totality petitioner’s evidence, despite the fact that the PNP-CIDG no longer presented any evidence to controvert the same.

 

          Each party in an administrative case must prove his affirmative allegation with substantial evidence – the complainant has to prove the affirmative allegations in his complaint, and the respondent has to prove the affirmative allegations in his affirmative defenses and counterclaims.[9][68] In this case, contrary to the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Court of Appeals, this Court pronounces that substantial evidence sways in favor of the petitioner and against complainant PNP-CIDG.

 

          While this Court commends the efforts of the PNP-CIDG and the Office of the Ombudsman to hold accountable public officers and employees with unexplained wealth and unlawfully acquired properties, it cannot countenance unsubstantiated charges against a hapless public official just to send a message that the government is serious in its campaign against graft and corruption. No matter how noble the intentions of the PNP-CIDG and the Office of the Ombudsman are in pursuing this administrative case against petitioner, it will do them well to remember that good intentions do not win cases; evidence does.

http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2007/november2007/169982.htm

 

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About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
This entry was posted in Administrative Law, Anti Graft and Corruption, Definitions, Evidence, SAL-N and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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