CASE BrieF NO. 2019-0032


“The willful act of conspiring to circumvent our laws indicate voluntariness.


CASE: Edgardo M. Aguilar vs. Elvira J. Benlot and Samuel L. Cuico [G.R. No. 232806, January 21, 2019]

PONENTE: Associate Justice Jose Reyes, Jr.

SUBJECT:

  1. POLITICAL LAW:
    i. Condonation Doctrine
    ii. Three-term limit
  2. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW:
    i. Misconduct
  3. REMEDIAL LAW:
    i. Liberal interpretation of the rules
    ii. Modes of service and filing of pleadings

FACTS:           Edgardo M. Aguilar (Aguilar) was elected and had served as Punong Barangay of Barangay Bunga, Toledo City, Cebu, for three consecutive terms. In the next Barangay Election (October 2010 Barangay election) he ran and was elected Barangay Kagawad and ranked third. During the same elections, Aguilar’s sister, Emma Aguilar-Arias (Arias), was elected Punong Barangay, while Leonardo Oralde (Oralde) and Emiliana Mancao (Mancao) were elected Barangay Kagawads and ranked first and second, respectively. They took their oaths of office on December 1, 2010.

On December 2, 2010, Arias, Oralde, and Mancao resigned from their respective positions, citing personal reasons and inability to concurrently fulfill official and familial obligations. Their resignations were accepted and approved by the Mayor of Toledo City on the same day. Being third in rank, Aguilar succeeded as Punong Barangay. Five days after, Aguilar was re-elected as President of the Association of Barangay Captains of Toledo City, by which he once more earned a seat in the City Council.

Subsequently, Oralde and Mancao were appointed back as Barangay Kagawads by the Mayor of Toledo City on January 1, 2011. Arias, on the other hand, was hired as an employee of the city government after her resignation.

Convinced that Arias, Oralde, and Mancao resigned from their respective positions to pave the way for Aguilar’s succession as Punong Barangay, Elvira J. Benlot and Samuel L. Cuico filed a Complaintbefore the Ombudsman for violation of Republic Act No. 6713 or The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees and Dereliction of Duty. According to them, the concerted resignations were part of a ruse to enable Aguilar to serve a fourth consecutive term in circumvention of the three-term limit.

During the intervening October 2013 barangay elections, Aguilar was re-elected as Punong Barangay, while Arias and Oralde were re-elected as Barangay Kagawads. Treating this development as a condonation by the electorate of their previous misconduct, the Ombudsman, in a Decision, dismissed the administrative complaint against Arias, Oralde and Aguilar for being moot and academic pursuant to the Aguinaldo Doctrine, also known as the doctrine of condonation. The administrative case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction as against Mancao, who was by then no longer in government service.

On motion by Benlot nd Cuico, the Ombudsman reconsidered its Decision through an Order dated September 30, 2015. It reasoned that Aguilar and Arias could not benefit from the condonation doctrine because they were not re-elected in 2013 to the same positions that they were elected for in the 2010 barangay elections. They were thus found liable for Grave Misconduct and meted the penalty of dismissal from the service, with forfeiture of benefits and perpetual disqualification to hold public office. As regards Oralde, however, the condonation doctrine was viewed as applicable to him, who was elected as Barangay Kagawad and served as such in both the 2010 and 2013 elections.

Aguilar sought a review of his case before the CA, however, it dismissed the petition for failure to allege the date when the September 30, 2015 Order of the Ombudsman was received, as well as for lack of explanation why the petition was neither personally filed before the CA nor personally served to the parties.

In his Motion for Reconsiderationbefore the CA, Aguilar invoked that his counsel’s office messenger ran out of time, so the petitions were mailed, even though the affidavit accompanying the petition averred personal filing and service.

In the exercise of its discretion on procedural defects, the CA did not find the reasons advanced by Aguilar. compelling, The CA declared that personal filing and service would have been more practicable than mailing copies of the petition, considering that the Ombudsman, the CA, and counsels of the parties all have offices in close proximity with each other within Cebu City.

Aggrieved, Aguilar now seeks relief before the Supreme Court, raising three grounds:

ISSUES:

A.       What is the preferred mode in filing or service of pleadings? What is the rule when a party resorts to other modes of service or filing?

B.       Whether Aguilar’s case merits the relaxation of the rules.

C.       Whether Aguilar, Arias, Oralde, and Mancao are guilty of Grave Misconduct.

D.      Whether Aguilar violated the three-term limit.

E.       Whether Aguilar is absolved of administrative liability applying the condonation doctrine?

F.       Whether the Doctrine of Condonation applies only when the public official was elected in the same elective position.

RULING:

A.       This Court has often emphasized that the liberal interpretation of the rules applies only to justifiable causes and meritorious circumstances [Turks Shawarma Company/Gem Zeñarosa, v. Pajaron, 803 Phil. 315, 317 (2017)].  As mandated by Section 11, Rule 13 of the Rules of Court, personal filing and personal service of pleadings remain the preferred mode. In Aberca v. Ver (2012), this Court reiterated Domingo v. Court of Appeals (2010), as follows:

Section 11, Rule 13 of the Rules of Court states:

SEC. 11. Priorities in modes of service and filing. Whenever practicable, the service and filing of pleadings and other papers shall be done personally. Except with respect to papers emanating from the court, a resort to other modes must be accompanied by a written explanation why the service or filing was not done personally. A violation of this Rule may be cause to consider the paper as not filed.

Section 11 is mandatory. In Solar Team Entertainment, Inc. v. Judge Ricafort, the Court held that:

Pursuant x x x to Section 11 of Rule 13, service and filing of pleadings and other papers must, whenever practicable, be done personally; and if made through other modes, the party concerned must provide a written explanation as to why the service or filing was not done personally. x x x

If only to underscore the mandatory nature of this innovation to our set of adjective rules requiring personal service whenever practicable, Section 11 of Rule 13 then gives the court the discretion to consider a pleading or paper as not filed if the other modes of service or filing were resorted to and no written explanation was made as to why personal service was not done in the first place. The exercise of discretion must, necessarily, consider the practicability of personal service, for Section 11 itself begins with the clause “whenever practicable.”

We thus take this opportunity to clarify that under Section 11, Rule 13 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, personal service and filing is the general rule, and resort to other modes of service and filing, the exception. Henceforth, whenever personal service or filing is practicable, in light of the circumstances of time, place and person, personal service or filing is mandatory. Only when personal service or filing is not practicable may resort to other modes be had, which must then be accompanied by a written explanation as to why personal service or filing was not practicable to begin with. In adjudging the plausibility of an explanation, a court shall likewise consider the importance of the subject matter of the case or the issues involved therein, and the prima facie merit of the pleading sought to be expunged for violation of Section 11.

x x x x

B.       The CA should have applied the rules liberally, considering the prima facie merit of the Aguilar’s case.

Here, the CA had judicial notice of the proximity of the counsels’ offices to the CA, to the Ombudsman, and with each other. It could not, thus, be faulted for not finding merit in Aguilar’s belated explanation. Nonetheless, the CA should have also considered the prima facie merit of Aguilar’s case. As it even pointed out in its challenged June 14, 2017 Resolution, citing Pagadora v. Ilao (2011):

“In adjudging the plausibility of an explanation, the court shall consider not only the circumstances, the time and the place but also the importance of the subject matter of the case or the issues involved therein, and the prima facie merit of the pleading involved.”

In the exercise of the CA’s discretion in such matters, it should have viewed Aguilar’s procedural blunder in conjunction with the prima facie merit of the case, disclosing as it does that a relaxation of the rules is warranted.

C.       Aguilar is guilty of Misconduct.

There was conspiracy among the three individuals who resigned and Aguilar. The resignations are peculiar, undertaken as they were on the day immediately following Arias, Oralde, and Mancao’s oaths of office. They wasted no time in filing their resignations and did not even serve a day in the positions they were elected for. Personal reasons were cited, which beg the question why these were not considered before they filed for candidacy and actively campaigned. Then, just barely a month after Aguilar succeeded as Punong Barangay, Oralde and Mancao accepted appointments as Barangay Kagawads in a surprising change of heart and despite personal reasons they invoked in their resignation letters. Even Arias took a contractual position with the city government despite the familial and personal limitations she cited in her resignation letter. The resignations were concerted acts to give way to Aguilar’s appointment and enable him to circumvent the three-term limit. Conspiracy is sufficiently established when the concerted acts show the same purpose or common design and are united in its execution. [People v. Angelio, 683 Phil. 99, 105 (2012)].

Without a doubt, Arias, Oralde, and Mancao acted in concert to circumvent the law and give unwarranted benefit to the Aguilar, to enable the latter to retain power which the law requires of him not to perpetuate. The concerted acts of Aguilar, Arias, Oralde, and Mancao amount to Grave Misconduct. As defined:

Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by the public officer. To warrant dismissal from the service, the misconduct must be grave, serious, important, weighty, momentous, and not trifling. The misconduct must imply wrongful intention and not a mere error of judgment and must also have a direct relation to and be connected with the performance of the public officer’s official duties amounting either to maladministration or willful, intentional neglect, or failure to discharge the duties of the office. In order to differentiate gross misconduct from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule, must be manifest in the former [Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon v. Dionisio, G.R. No. 220700, July 10, 2017].

D.      Aguilar violated the three-term limit.

Calling the Court’s attention to Mayor Abundo, Sr. v. COMELEC (2013), Aguilar argues that, because he was re-elected in 2010 as Barangay Kagawad and merely succeeded as Punong Barangay to fill the vacancy caused by the resignations, his serving a fourth term as Punong Barangay was not a violation of the three-term limit. This line of argument, however, overlooks the fact that Aguilar was made to answer administratively for conspiring to make a mockery of our laws for his own benefit. This was not a disqualification case, to begin with.

Even if we were to consider this Court’s pronouncement that assumption of office by operation of law should not be counted for purposes of the three-term limit rule,this jurisprudential authority is based on the fact that running for an elective position presupposes voluntariness. To be counted as service for a full term for purposes of determining term limits, the elective official must have also been elected to the same position for the same number of times. Assumption of office by operation of law is generally involuntary because the elective official ran for a position different from that which he was subsequently called to serve. Granting that Aguilar was able to serve a fourth term as Punong Barangay, not by virtue of election, but by succession, the willful act of conspiring to circumvent our laws indicate voluntariness. It is as if Aguilar himself had run for the position of Punong Barangay, instead of Barangay Kagawad.

E.       The foregoing issue is nonetheless mooted by the Aguilar’s re-election as Punong Barangay, an event which precludes the imposition of the penalty of dismissal, following the doctrine of condonation. In Ombudsman Carpio Morales v. Court of Appeals (2015), this Court pronounced the abandonment of the doctrine of condonation for having no legal authority in this jurisdiction, but was also explicit that the ruling is prospective in its application.

F.       The Supreme Court had already clarified that the doctrine can be applied to a public officer who was elected to a different position provided that it is shown that the body politic electing the person to another office is the same. It is not necessary for the official to have been re-elected to exactly the same position; what is material is that he was re-elected by the same electorate.


Related CASE BrieFs:

  1. Turks Shawarma Company/Gem Zeñarosa, v. Pajaron, 803 Phil. 315, 317 (2017)
  2. Aberca v. Ver (2012)
  3. Domingo v. Court of Appeals (2010)
  4. Pagadora v. Ilao (2011)
  5. People v. Angelio, 683 Phil. 99, 105 (2012)
  6. Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon v. Dionisio, G.R. No. 220700, July 10, 2017
  7. Mayor Abundo, Sr. v. COMELEC (2013)
  8. Ombudsman Carpio Morales v. Court of Appeals (2015)
  9. Ombudsman Carpio Morales v. Court of Appeals (2015)

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THINGS DECIDED:

  1. Liberal interpretation of the rules applies only to justifiable causes and meritorious circumstances.
  2. Personal service and filing is the general rule, and resort to other modes of service and filing, the exception.
  3. Only when personal service or filing is not practicable may resort to other modes be had, which must then be accompanied by a written explanation as to why personal service or filing was not practicable to begin with. In adjudging the plausibility of an explanation, a court shall likewise consider the importance of the subject matter of the case or the issues involved therein, and the prima facie merit of the pleading sought to be expunged for violation of Section 11 of Rule 13.
  4. Conspiracy is sufficiently established when the concerted acts show the same purpose or common design and are united in its execution.
  5. Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by the public officer. To warrant dismissal from the service, the misconduct must be grave, serious, important, weighty, momentous, and not trifling.
  6. In order to differentiate gross misconduct from simple misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule, must be manifest in the former.
  7. Assumption of office by operation of law is generally involuntary because the elective official ran for a position different from that which he was subsequently called to serve. Granting that Aguilar was able to serve a fourth term as Punong Barangay, not by virtue of election, but by succession, the willful act of conspiring to circumvent our laws indicate voluntariness. It is as if Aguilar himself had run for the position of Punong Barangay, instead of Barangay Kagawad.
  8. In Ombudsman Carpio Morales v. Court of Appeals (2015), this Court pronounced the abandonment of the doctrine of condonation for having no legal authority in this jurisdiction, but was also explicit that the ruling is prospective in its application.
  9. It is not necessary for the official to have been re-elected to exactly the same position; what is material is that he was re-elected by the same electorate.

 ‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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