Failure to disclose in SALN wife’s business interests and financial connections constituted simple negligence, not gross misconduct or dishonesty

This is the second time Pleyto’s SALNs are before this Court.  The first time was in G.R. 169982, Pleyto v. Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG).[23]  In that case, the PNP-CIDG filed on July 28, 2003 administrative charges against Pleyto with the Office of the Ombudsman for violating, among others, Section 8 of R.A. 6713 in that he failed to disclose in his 2001 and 2002 SALNs his wife’s business interests and financial connections.

         On June 28, 2004 the Office of the Ombudsman ordered Pleyto dismissed from the service.  He appealed the order to the CA but the latter dismissed his petition and the motion for reconsideration that he subsequently filed.  Pleyto then assailed the CA’s ruling before this Court raising, among others, the following issues: 1) whether or not Pleyto violated Section 8(a) of R.A. 6713; and 2) whether or not Pleyto’s reliance on the Review and Compliance Procedure in the law was unwarranted.

         After threshing out the other issues, this Court found that Pleyto’s failure to disclose his wife’s business interests and financial connections constituted simple negligence, not gross misconduct or dishonesty.  Thus:

         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 household?” 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.  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.  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.  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.[24]

         The above concerns Pleyto’s 2001 and 2002 SALN; the present case, on the other hand, is about his 1999, 2000 and 2001 SALNs but his omissions are identical.  While he said that his wife was a businesswoman, he also did not disclose her business interests and financial connections in his 1999, 2000 and 2001 SALNs.  Since the facts and the issues in the two cases are identical, the judgment in G.R. 169982, the first case, is
conclusive upon this case.

         There is “conclusiveness of judgment” when any right, fact, or matter in issue, directly adjudicated on the merits in a previous action by a competent court or necessarily involved in its determination, is conclusively settled by the judgment in such court and cannot again be litigated between the parties and their privies whether or not the claim, demand, purpose, or subject matter of the two actions is the same.[25]

         Thus, as in G.R. 169982, Pleyto’s failure to declare his wife’s business interest and financial connections does not constitute dishonesty and grave misconduct but only simple negligence, warranting a penalty of forfeiture of the equivalent of six months of his salary from his retirement benefits.[26]

About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
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