Petitioners were charged with falsification of public document under Article 171, paragraph 4 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, which states:
Art. 171. Falsification by public officer, employee or notary or ecclesiastic minister. — The penalty of prision mayor and a fine not to exceed 5,000 pesos shall be imposed upon any public officer, employee, or notary who, taking advantage of his official position, shall falsify a document by committing any of the following acts:
1. Counterfeiting or imitating any handwriting, signature or rubric;
2. Causing it to appear that persons have participated in any act or proceeding when they did not in fact so participate;
3. Attributing to persons who have participated in an act or proceeding statements other than those in fact made by them;
4. Making untruthful statements in a narration of facts;
x x x x (Emphasis and italics supplied.)
The elements of falsification in the above provision are as follows:
(a) the offender makes in a public document untruthful statements in a narration of facts;
(b) he has a legal obligation to disclose the truth of the facts narrated by him; and
(c) the facts narrated by him are absolutely false.
In addition to the afore-cited elements, it must also be proven that the public officer or employee had taken advantage of his official position in making the falsification. In falsification of public document, the offender is considered to have taken advantage of his official position when (1) he has the duty to make or prepare or otherwise to intervene in the preparation of a document; or (2) he has the official custody of the document which he falsifies. Likewise, in falsification of public or official documents, it is not necessary that there be present the idea of gain or the intent to injure a third person because in the falsification of a public document, what is punished is the violation of the public faith and the destruction of the truth as therein solemnly proclaimed.
Falsification of Public Document
by making untruthful statements
concerning relatives in the
All the elements of falsification of public documents by making untruthful statements have been established by the prosecution.
Petitioners argue that the statements “they are not related within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity” and “that Section 79 of the Local Government Code has been complied with in the issuance of the appointments” are not a narration of facts but a conclusion of law, as both require the application of the rules on relationship under the law of succession. Thus, they cite People v. Tugbang where it was held that “a statement expressing an erroneous conclusion of law cannot be considered a falsification.” Likewise, in People v. Yanza, it was held that when defendant certified that she was eligible for the position, she practically wrote a conclusion of law, which turned out to be incorrect or erroneous; hence, she may not be declared guilty of falsification because the law violated pertains to narration of facts.
A conclusion of law is a determination by a judge or ruling authority regarding the law that applies in a particular case. It is opposed to a finding of fact, which interprets the factual circumstances to which the law is to be applied. A narration of facts is merely an account or description of the particulars of an event or occurrence. We have held that a certification by accused officials in the Statement of Time Elapsed and Work Accomplished qualifies as a narration of facts as contemplated under Article 171 (4) of the Revised Penal Code, as it consisted not only of figures and numbers but also words were used therein giving an account of the status of the flood control project.
In this case, the required disclosure or identification of relatives “within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity” in the SALN involves merely a description of such relationship; it does not call for an application of law in a particular set of facts. On the other hand, Articles 963 to 967 of the Civil Code simply explain the concept of proximity of relationship and what constitute direct and collateral lines in relation to the rules on succession. The question of whether or not persons are related to each other by consanguinity or affinity within the fourth degree is one of fact. Contrary to petitioners’ assertion, statements concerning relationship may be proved as to its truth or falsity, and thus do not amount to expression of opinion. When a government employee is required to disclose his relatives in the government service, such information elicited therefore qualifies as a narration of facts contemplated under Article 171 (4) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended. Further, it bears to stress that the untruthful statements on relationship have no relevance to the employee’s eligibility for the position but pertains rather to prohibition or restriction imposed by law on the appointing power.
Since petitioner Galeos answered “No” to the question in his 1993 SALN if he has relatives in the government service within the fourth degree of consanguinity, he made an untruthful statement therein as in fact he was related to Ong, who was then the municipal mayor, within the fourth degree of consanguinity, he and Ong being first cousins (their mothers are sisters). As to his 1994, 1995 and 1996 SALN, Galeos left in blank the boxes for the answer to the similar query. In Dela Cruz v. Mudlong, it was held that one is guilty of falsification in the accomplishment of his information and personal data sheet if he withholds material facts which would have affected the approval of his appointment and/or promotion to a government position. By withholding information on his relative/s in the government service as required in the SALN, Galeos was guilty of falsification considering that the disclosure of such relationship with then Municipal Mayor Ong would have resulted in the disapproval of his permanent appointment pursuant to Article 168 (j) (Appointments), Rule XXII of the Rules and Regulations Implementing the Local Government Code of 1991 (R.A. No. 7160), which provides:
No person shall be appointed in the local government career service if he is related within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to the appointing power or recommending authority.
Section 7 (e), Rule V of the Implementing Rules of Book V, Executive Order No. 292 otherwise known as the Administrative Code of 1987, provides that the CSC shall disapprove the appointment of a person who “has been issued such appointment in violation of existing Civil Service Law, rules and regulations.” Among the prohibited appointments enumerated in CSC Memorandum Circular No. 38, series of 1993 are appointments in the LGUs of persons who are related to the appointing or recommending authority within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity.
The Omnibus Rules on Appointments and Other Personnel Actions (CSC Memorandum Circular No. 40, series of 1998 dated December 14, 1998) contain a similar prohibition under Rule XIII, Section 9:
SEC. 9. No appointment in the national, provincial, city or municipal governments or any branch or instrumentality thereof, including government owned or controlled corporations with original charters shall be made in favor of a relative of the appointing or recommending authority, or of the chief of the bureau or office or of the person exercising immediate supervision over the appointee.
Unless otherwise provided by law, the word “relative” and the members of the family referred to are those related within the third degree either of consanguinity or of affinity.
In the local government career service, the prohibition extends to the relatives of the appointing or recommending authority, within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity.
x x x x
The nepotism rule covers all kinds of appointments whether original, promotional, transfer and reemployment regardless of status including casuals and contractuals except consultants. (Emphasis supplied.)
The second element is likewise present. “Legal obligation” means that there is a law requiring the disclosure of the truth of the facts narrated. Permanent employees employed by local government units are required to file the following: (a) sworn statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN); (b) lists of relatives within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity in government service; (c) financial and business interests; and (d) personal data sheets as required by law. A similar requirement is imposed by Section 8 (B) of Republic Act No. 6713 otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, thus:
(B) Identification and disclosure of relatives. – It shall be the duty of every public official or employee to identify and disclose to the best of his knowledge and information, his relatives in the Government in the form, manner and frequency prescribed by the Civil Service Commission.
Section 11 of the same law penalizes the violation of the above provision, either with imprisonment or fine, and, in the discretion of the court of competent jurisdiction, disqualification to hold public office. Such violation if proven in a proper administrative proceeding shall also be sufficient cause for removal or dismissal of a public official or employee, even if no criminal prosecution is instituted against him.
The evidence on record clearly showed that Galeos’ negative answer reflected in his SALN is absolutely false. During the trial, both Ong and Galeos admitted the fact that they are first cousins but denied having knowledge of such relationship at the time the subject documents were executed. The Sandiganbayan correctly rejected their defense of being unaware that they are related within the fourth degree of consanguinity. Given the Filipino cultural trait of valuing strong kinship and extended family ties, it was unlikely for Galeos who had been working for several years in the municipal government, not to have known of his close blood relation to Ong who was a prominent public figure having ran and won in the local elections four times (three terms as Mayor and as Vice-Mayor in the 1998 elections), after serving as OIC Mayor of the same municipality in 1986 until 1988.
The same thing can be said of Ong, whose unbelievable claim that he had no knowledge that a first cousin (Galeos) was working in the municipal government and appointed by him to a permanent position during his incumbency, was correctly disregarded by the Sandiganbayan. It was simply unthinkable that as a resident of Naga,Cebusince birth and a politician at that, he was all the time unaware that he himself appointed to permanent positions the son of his mother’s sister (Galeos) and the husband of his first cousin (Rivera). Indeed, the reality of local politics and Filipino culture renders his defense of good faith (lack of knowledge of their relationship) unavailing. Despite his knowledge of the falsity of the statement in the subject SALN, Ong still administered the oath to Galeos and Rivera who made the false statement under oath. The Sandiganbayan thus did not err in finding that Ong connived with Galeos and Rivera in making it appear in their SALN that they have no relative within the fourth degree of consanguinity/affinity in the government service.
Conspiracy need not be shown by direct proof of an agreement of the parties to commit the crime, as it can be inferred from the acts of the accused which clearly manifest a concurrence of wills, a common intent or design to commit a crime. In this case, Ong administered the oaths to Galeos and Rivera in the subject SALN not just once, but three times, a clear manifestation that he concurred with the making of the untruthful statement therein concerning relatives in the government service.
Falsification by making
in the Certification re:
compliance with the
prohibition on nepotism
As chief executive and the proper appointing authority, Ong is deemed to have issued the certification recommending to the CSC approval of Galeos’ appointment although he admitted only the authenticity and due execution of Exhibit “I”. Since Ong was duty bound to observe the prohibition on nepotistic appointments, his certification stating compliance with Section 79 of R.A. No. 7160 constitutes a solemn affirmation of the fact that the appointee is not related to him within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity. Having executed the certification despite his knowledge that he and Rivera were related to each other within the fourth degree of affinity, as in fact Rivera was his cousin-in-law because the mother of Rivera’s wife is the sister of Ong’s mother, Ong was guilty of falsification of public document by making untruthful statement in a narration of facts. He also took advantage of his official position as the appointing authority who, under the Civil Service rules, is required to issue such certification.
The importance of the certification submitted to the CSC by the proper appointing authority in the local government unit, regarding compliance with the prohibition against nepotism under R.A. No. 7160 cannot be overemphasized. Under Section 67, Book V, Chapter 10 of the Administrative Code of 1987, a head of office or appointing official who issues an appointment or employs any person in violation of Civil Service Law and Rules or who commits fraud, deceit or intentional misrepresentation of material facts concerning other civil service matters, or anyone who violates, refuses or neglects to comply with any of such provisions or rules, may be held criminally liable. In Civil Service Commission v. Dacoycoy, we held that mere issuance of appointment in favor of a relative within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity is sufficient to constitute a violation of the law. Although herein petitioners were prosecuted for the criminal offense of falsification of public document, it becomes obvious that the requirement of disclosure of relationship to the appointing power in the local government units simply aims to ensure strict enforcement of the prohibition against nepotism.
Relevant then is our pronouncement in Dacoycoy:
Nepotism is one pernicious evil impeding the civil service and the efficiency of its personnel. In Debulgado, we stressed that “[T]the basic purpose or objective of the prohibition against nepotism also strongly indicates that the prohibition was intended to be a comprehensive one.” “The Court was unwilling to restrict and limit the scope of the prohibition which is textually very broad and comprehensive.” If not within the exceptions, it is a form of corruption that must be nipped in the bud or abated whenever or wherever it raises its ugly head. As we said in an earlier case “what we need now is not only to punish the wrongdoers or reward the ‘outstanding’ civil servants, but also to plug the hidden gaps and potholes of corruption as well as to insist on strict compliance with existing legal procedures in order to abate any occasion for graft or circumvention of the law.” (Emphasis supplied.)
The prosecution having established with moral certainty the guilt of petitioners for falsification of public documents under Article 171 (4) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, we find no legal ground to reverse petitioners’ conviction.