We agree with the common finding of the Ombudsman and the CA that, in the aftermath of the aborted transaction, petitioner still failed to return the amount she accepted. As aptly stated by the Ombudsman, if petitioner was persistent in returning the amount of P50,000 until the preliminary investigation of the estafa case on September 18, 2003, there would have been no need for the parties’ agreement that petitioner be given until February 28, 2003 to pay said amount including interest. Indeed, petitioner’s belated attempt to return the amount was intended to avoid possible sanctions and impelled solely by the filing of the estafacase against her.
For reneging on her promise to return aforesaid amount, petitioner is guilty of conduct unbecoming a public officer. In Joson v. Macapagal, we have also ruled that the respondents therein were guilty of conduct unbecoming of government employees when they reneged on their promise to have pertinent documents notarized and submitted to the Government Service Insurance System after the complainant’s rights over the subject property were transferred to the sister of one of the respondents. Recently, in Assistant Special Prosecutor III Rohermia J. Jamsani-Rodriguez v. Justices Gregory S. Ong, et al., we said that unbecoming conduct means improper performance and applies to a broader range of transgressions of rules not only of social behavior but of ethical practice or logical procedure or prescribed method.
This Court has too often declared that any act that falls short of the exacting standards for public office shall not be countenanced. The Constitution categorically declares as follows:
SECTION 1. Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.
Petitioner should have complied with her promise to return the amount to respondent after failing to accomplish the task she had willingly accepted. However, she waited until respondent sued her for estafa, thus reinforcing the latter’s suspicion that petitioner misappropriated her money. Although the element of deceit was not proven in the criminal case respondent filed against the petitioner, it is clear that by her actuations, petitioner violated basic social and ethical norms in her private dealings. Even if unrelated to her duties as a public officer, petitioner’s transgression could erode the public’s trust in government employees, moreso because she holds a high position in the service.
As to the penalty, we reprimanded the respondents in Joson and imposed a fine in Jamsani-Rodriguez. Under the circumstances of this case, a fine of P15,000 in lieu of the three months suspension is proper. In imposing said fine, we have considered as a mitigating circumstance petitioner’s 37 years of public service and the fact that this is the first charge against her. Section 53 of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service provides that mitigating circumstances such as length of service shall be considered. And since petitioner has earlier agreed to return the amount of P50,000 including interest, we find it proper to order her to comply with said agreement. Eventually, the parties may even find time to rekindle their friendship.