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572 Phil. 6

EN BANC

[ A.M. No. P-05-2004 (Formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 05-2086-P), March 14, 2008 ]

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant, vs. LOURDES F. BERMEJO, COURT STENOGRAPHER II, MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT IN CITIES, PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Respondent.

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

Before this Court is an administrative case for Dishonesty against Lourdes F. Bermejo, Court Stenographer II, stationed at the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

On January 20, 2004, then Court Administrator Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr.[1] received a letter from Consolacion C. Santos, Director IV of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) Regional Office No. 3, San Fernando, Pampanga, referring to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) an undated letter from a "concerned citizen" accusing Bermejo of using another name in taking her Civil Service Eligibility Examination, while another person took the same exam using Bermejo's name. Attached to the letter is a Memorandum dated August 14, 2003 of Nora S. Castro, Chief Personnel Specialist of the same CSC regional office, reporting that upon verification of the pictures attached to the anonymous letter and that of the Picture Seat Plan used during the exam, the person who purportedly impersonated Bermejo and the picture of the person in the seat plan using the name of Bermejo was the same person. The letter also states that because of this impersonation, Bermejo passed the exam and was able to use said eligibility to obtain a permanent appointment as a stenographer at the Puerto Princesa City MTCC. The real Bermejo allegedly also took the same exam under a different name, but failed.

In an Indorsement dated March 15, 2004, Court Administrator Velasco referred the anonymous letter to Bermejo for comment. In her handwritten Comment, Bermejo denied the allegations and said that she went through the proper process to obtain her civil service eligibility. She alleged that the charges were the handiwork of her husband's mistress who had been threatening to have her removed from the service. As regards the photographs attached to the letter, Bermejo said that she had inquired into the identity of the person who allegedly used her name in the exam and found that she was a childhood friend of her husband, but was currently serving sentence for adultery at the Correctional Institute for Women.

Bermejo also explained why she took the test in San Fernando, Pampanga. She allegedly applied to take the exam in Manila since her appointment was set to expire on July 15, 1998. However, she was informed that the next exam was on June 16, 1998. Learning that there was an exam scheduled earlier in San Fernando, she went there to see if she could take the exam there instead. And she did.

Subsequently, on July 16, 2004, Deputy Court Administrator Jose P. Perez directed Bermejo to explain the discrepancy between the picture on her personnel file and the picture of the person who took the examination using her name. According to DCA Perez, records of the OCA and of the CSC showed that Bermejo was not the same person who used Bermejo's name and took the sub-professional examination on May 27, 1998 in San Fernando, Pampanga.

In her reply, Bermejo alleged that she could not explain the discrepancy. She said that she personally took the exam and attached proof of her travel from Palawan to Manila and from Manila to Pampanga, as well as her Application Receipt to take the May 27, 2008 exam in San Fernando, with her name and picture appearing therein.

Bermejo stated that the person she suspected to be behind the case, her husband's mistress, had already passed away. She maintained that she did not know the person in the picture and said she could not find the same person, as the place where the latter allegedly lived had been razed by fire. She said that the only discrepancy she could own up to was that pertaining to her birth date, listed in her Certificate of Eligibility as "May 13, 1965," while her birth certificate indicated "May 13, 1968."

After investigation, the OCA submitted its evaluation and recommendation,[2] stating thus:
EVALUATION: The focal issue here is factual - i.e., whether or not another person actually took the Civil Service Commission Sub-Professional eligibility test at San Fernando, Pampanga on 27 May 1998, using the name Lourdes F. Bermejo. In the affirmative, the corollary legal issue proceeds - i.e., whether or not it constitutes dishonesty as would merit a finding of administrative liability on the part of respondent.

At bar is an anonymous complaint, which respondent suspects is the handiwork of her husband's ["]other woman[."] In evidence is a certified copy of the Seat Plan of the examination concerned. Said document is of public record and indicates that it was duly checked and certified by the room examiner as well as counter-checked by the supervising examiner. The same indubitably bears out a different person appearing to take the exam using the name Lourdes F. Bermejo, whereas the real Lourdes F. Bermejo (whose picture matches the respondent's) is the one seated beside her. Respondent fails to overcome this evidence. Aside from the presumption of regularity in the execution of official documents, respondent in her two letters did not categorically deny the genuineness and due execution of the Seat Plan. Instead, she impliedly admitted the same by her defense that she could not anymore locate the person appearing atop her name.

We note that it took more than five (5) years for the supposed "concerned citizen" to assail the anomaly, and that the alleged motive imputed to complainant probably holds water. However, these, at best, are merely persuasive, circumstantial, and do not suffice to discount an evidence which tend directly to prove the fact in issue.

Coming to the next issue, it is our considered opinion that the circumstances constitute dishonesty, given the following considerations:

1) Respondent's insistent line is that she actually took the exam - which is misleading since she indeed took the same - but she kept mum on that (sic) she let another person use her name in taking the civil service examination;

2) Respondent asserts that the person who purportedly took the exam using the name Lourdes F. Bermejo was her husband's childhood peer who is now allegedly serving sentence for adultery and whose locality of origin was razed by fire. How she was able to figure out the details of said person, when she only supposedly met her briefly during [the] exam that took place more than five years ago, at a far place where respondent was a complete stranger, is suspect;

3) It should be stressed that as a matter of procedure, the room examiners assigned to supervise the conduct of a Civil Service examination closely examine the pictures submitted and affixed on the Picture Seat Plan (CSC Resolution No. 95-3964, Obedencio, Jaime A.). The examiners carefully compare the appearance of each of the examinees with the person in the picture submitted and affixed on the Picture Seat Plan. In cases where the examinee does not look like the person in the picture submitted and attached on (sic) the PSP, the examiner will not allow the said person to take the examination (CSC Resolution No. 95-5195, Taguinay, Ma. Theresa).

Hence, it is clear that somebody else took the CSC exam for respondent Lourdes F. Bermejo. For her to deny it and actually reap the benefits of passing the same, when in fact somebody else took it for her, constitutes dishonesty.

In similar cases, the Honorable Court is consistent in imposing the stern penalty of dismissal, pursuant to Section 23, Rule XIV of the Omnibus Rules Implementing Book V of Executive Order No. 292. [Pls. see: CSC vs. Zenaida T. Sta. Ana, A.M. No. P-03-1696 (April 20, 2003); Cruz and Paitim vs. CSC, G.R. No. 144464 (Nov. 27, 2001); Floria vs. Sunga A.M. No. CA-01-10-PI (Nov. 14, 2001)].

RECOMMENDATION: Respectfully submitted for consideration of the Honorable Court is our recommendation that:
  1. the instant complaint be docketed as a regular administrative matter; and

  2. respondent Lourdes F. Bermejo, (sic) be found guilty of dishonesty and accordingly DISMISSED as Court Stenographer II, MTCC, Puerto Princesa City, with forfeiture of all her retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.
The OCA's recommendation is well-taken.

This Court has had occasion to rule on similar cases in the past. In Civil Service Commission v. Sta. Ana,[3] the Court found, thus:
After a thorough review of the matter, the Court finds that respondent is indeed guilty of dishonesty. An examination of respondent's Personal Data Sheet reveals that her signature and picture on it are different from those in her CAT Application and Picture Seat Plan. Respondent attributes such discrepancy to "unknown persons who may have been committing such anomaly and irregularity in the examination procedure of the CSC." However, this Court agrees with the observation of the executive judge that the irregularity should not be attributed to the CSC which had no motive in tampering with such documents. Even if such irregularity was attributable to error or oversight, respondent did not present any proof that it occurred during the examination and, thus, the CSC officials who supervised the exam enjoyed the presumption of regularity in the performance of their official duty. Besides, for the CSC to commit such a mistake - mixing up the pictures and signatures of examinees - was unlikely due to the strict procedures it follows during civil service examinations. In a similar case, this Court approved the findings of the CSC regarding procedures during examinations:

It should be stressed that as a matter of procedure, the room examiners assigned to supervise the conduct of a Civil Service examination closely examine the pictures submitted and affixed on the Picture Seat Plan (CSC Resolution No. 95-3694, Obedencio, Jaime A.). The examiners carefully compare the appearance of each of the examinees with the person in the picture submitted and affixed on the PSP. In cases where the examinee does not look like the person in the picture submitted and attached on the PSP, the examiner will not allow the said person to take the examination (CSC Resolution No. 95-5195, Taguinay, Ma. Theresa).

Thus, the irregularity in respondent's Personal Data Sheet, CAT Application and Picture Seat Plan cannot be attributed to error on the CSC's part. It is clear that somebody else took the CSC exam for respondent Sta. Ana.

For respondent to claim that she herself took the CSC exam when in fact somebody else took it for her constitutes dishonesty.
On the other hand, in Donato v. Civil Service Commission Regional Office No. 1,[4] Alejandro Donato, Jr. was charged with dishonesty and falsification of public documents for representing himself as Gil Arce and taking the civil service exam under that name. The CSC and the Court of Appeals both found that the picture of Donato appeared on the Picture Seat Plan on top of the name Gil Arce. On the other hand, Arce admitted that he might have mistakenly submitted Donato's picture during the exam. The Court rejected Donato's claim that the case was merely the handiwork of his former principal who allegedly had an axe to grind against him in the face of positive evidence against him and Arce. Accordingly, the Court upheld the dismissal of both Arce and Donato.

In the case at bar, respondent Bermejo attributes the anonymous complaint to her husband's mistress and alleges that the woman whose picture appears with her name on the Seat Plan is her husband's childhood friend. However, she fails to explain how the two, who apparently also live in Palawan, were able to manipulate and influence the CSC personnel in San Fernando, Pampanga in order to come up with the charges against her, or how they were able to coax another person - allegedly her husband's childhood friend - into impersonating her to take the exam. Besides, it seems to us a little too convenient for respondent to pin the blame on persons who are no longer around to defend themselves.

Respondent also fails to refute the documentary evidence against her. It is a settled rule in our jurisdiction that the duly accomplished form of the Civil Service is an official document of the Commission, which, by its very nature, is considered in the same category as that of a public document, admissible in evidence without need of further proof. As an official document, the entries thereof made in the course of official duty are prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein.[5]

Instead, respondent tries to support her arguments with documents of her own. Unfortunately, the evidence she adduces does not negate the veracity of the CSC's Picture Seat Plan. Worse, these documents even strengthen the case against her. The picture in her passport is that of the person whose name in the Seat Plan is indicated as Julieta M. Padrones, who happens to be seated beside the person purportedly named Lourdes F. Bermejo.

It is difficult to believe that respondent could not have noticed that her picture was put on top of a different name and that her name was accompanied by the picture of another person. There was a space provided for the signature of the examinee. Thus, respondent could not have missed that she was signing - if indeed she was signing her own name - the box with a different picture. She proffers no sufficient explanation for this discrepancy.

In Donato, this Court quoted with approval the CSC's findings, to wit:
In the offense of impersonation, there are always two persons involved. The offense cannot prosper without the active participation of both persons (CSC Resolution No. 94-6582). Further, by engaging or colluding with another person to take the test in his behalf and thereafter by claiming the resultant passing rate as his, clinches the case against him. In cases of impersonation, the Commission has consistently rejected claims of good faith, for "it is contrary to human nature that a person will do (impersonation) without the consent of the person being impersonated." (CSC resolution No. 94-0826)[6]
Finally, respondent's allegations fail to controvert the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties of the CSC personnel. The Court has noted in previous cases the procedure followed during the conduct of the Civil Service Exams, as quoted by the OCA in its evaluation.[7] Respondent does not even allege that the CSC Regional Office No. 3 personnel who administered the exam departed from this established procedure or that any irregularity attended the conduct of the exam.

Dishonesty is defined as intentionally making a false statement on any material fact, or practicing or attempting to practice any deception or fraud in securing his examination, appointment or registration.[8] Dishonesty is a serious offense which reflects a person's character and exposes the moral decay which virtually destroys his honor, virtue and integrity. It is a malevolent act that has no place in the judiciary, as no other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness from an employee than a position in the judiciary.[9]

We conclude that there is substantial evidence to hold that respondent committed the act of dishonesty imputed to her. Under the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service,[10] dishonesty is classified as a grave offense punishable by dismissal for the first offense.

WHEREFORE, the foregoing premises considered, respondent LOURDES F. BERMEJO is found GUILTY of dishonesty and DISMISSED from the service, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

SO ORDERED.


Puno, C.J., Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio Morales, Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, Velasco, Jr., Nachura, Reyes, and Leonardo-De Castro, JJ. concur.



[1] Now an Associate Justice of this Court.

[2] Rollo, pp. 1-4.

[3] 450 Phil. 59, 67-68 (2003).

[4] G.R. No. 165788, February 7, 2007, 515 SCRA 48.

[5] Id. at 61-62, citing Maradial v. CSC, CA-G.R. SP No. 40764, September 27, 1996.

[6] Id. at 61. See also Bartolata v. Julaton, A.M. No. P-02-1638, July 6, 2006, 494 SCRA 433; Cruz v. Civil Service Commission, 422 Phil. 236 (2001).

[7] Supra note 1.

[8] Concerned Citizen v. Gabral, A.M. No. P-05-2098, December 15, 2005, 478 SCRA 13, citing Sevilla v. Gocon, 467 Phil. 512 (2004).

[9] Re: Spurious Certificate of Eligibility of Tessie G. Quires, Regional Trial Court, Office of the Clerk of Court, Quezon City, A.M. No. 05-5-268-RTC, May 4, 2006, 489 SCRA 349, 351.

[10] CSC Memorandum Circular No. 19-99.

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