CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION vs. ALMOJUELA G.R. No. 194368, April 2, 2013

Fact:

The present administrative case, filed against Desk Officer/ Supervisor SJO2 Almojuela, sprang from the escape of a detention prisoner in the Makati City Jail. A BJMP Investigation Report conducted on the incident concluded that SJO2 Almojuela and the rest of the jail officers on third shift custodial duty all colluded to facilitate Lao’s getaway. SJO2 Almojuela and JO1 Loyola moved for the reconsideration of Director Walit’s decision, which the latter denied for lack of merit in a Joint Resolution dated June 21, 2006. In Administrative Case No. 04-11, CESO IV Director Arturo Walit, the BJMP hearing officer, rendered his decision dated December 13, 2005, finding SJO2 Almojuela guilty of Grave Misconduct and were meted the penalty of dismissal from the service. SJO2 Almojuela then appealed his conviction before the Civil Service Commission (CSC), which affirmed Director Walit’s decision in its Resolution No. 080701. The CSC subsequently denied SJO2 Almojuela’s motion for reconsideration. SJO2 Almojuela’s next recourse was a petition for review before the Court of Appeals. The appellate court partially granted SJO2 Almojuela’s motion for reconsideration, and lowered his liability from grave to simple misconduct. CSC appealed to the SC the decision of the CA. Hence this case.

Issues:

1) Whether the CSC’s petition for review on certiorari should be dismissed as the CSC is not the proper party to appeal the CA’s amended decision;

2) Whether SJO2 Almojuela had been deprived of due process when he was not allowed to present his evidence and witnesses during the BJMP investigation;

Held:

1) No, The CSC is the proper party to raise an appeal against the CA’s amended petition. In the present case, the CSC appeals the CA’s amended decision, which modified the liability the former meted against SJO2 Almojuela from grave misconduct to simple misconduct, and lowered the corresponding penalty from dismissal to three months suspension. Applying the Dacoycoy principles, the CSC has legal personality to appeal the CA’s amended decision as the CA significantly lowered SJO2 Almojuela’s disciplinary sanction and thereby prevented the CSC from imposing the penalty it deemed appropriate to impose on SJO2 Almojuela.

2) No, SJO2 Almojuela was afforded due process in the BJMP investigations. The SC support the CA’s conclusion that SJO2 Almojuela was accorded the right to due process during the BJMP investigation. The essence of due process in administrative proceedings (such as the BJMP investigation) is simply the opportunity to explain one’s side, or an opportunity to seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of. Where a party has been given the opportunity to appeal or seek reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of, defects in procedural due process may be cured. In SJO2 Almojuela’s case, he was informed of the charges against him, and was given the opportunity to refute them in the counter-affidavit and motion for reconsideration he filed before the BJMP hearing officer, in the appeal and motion for reconsideration he filed before the CSC, in his petition for review on certiorari, in his memorandum on appeal, and, finally, in the motion for reconsideration he filed before the CA. In particular, SJO2 Almojuela admitted in his comment that he narrated in his counteraffidavit the circumstances that, to his knowledge, transpired immediately before Lao’s breakout. The Motion for Reconsideration to the CA’s original decision contained the additional piece of evidence that SJO2 Almojuela claimed would have exculpated him from liability: Captain Fermin Enriquez’s testimony during his cross-examination in Criminal Case No. 3320236, filed against SJO2 Almojuela for conniving with or consenting to evasion under Article 223 of the Revised Penal Code. This piece of evidence was reiterated in the comment SJO2 Almojuela filed before this Court. Notably, SJO2 Almojuela repeteadly mentioned ‘other witnesses and other documentary exhibits’ that he would have presented to absolve him from liability,68 but the only piece of evidence he submitted in his Motion for Reconsideration and Comment was Captain Enriquez’s testimony. These circumstances sufficiently convince us that SJO2 Almojuela had been given ample opportunity to present his side, and whatever defects might have intervened during the BJMP investigation have been cured by his subsequent filing of pleadings before the CSC, the CA, and before SC.

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