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411 Phil. 12


[ A.M. No. P-91-642, June 06, 2001 ]




A complaint for immorality against Efren Lauro, Sheriff IV of the Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court of Butuan City, filed by complainant Soledad Lauro, his legal wife, charged respondent with having illicit relations with Nida Escolin Montante.

Respondent, in his comment, denied the charge.  He claimed that it was complainant who had, in fact, been having illicit relations with a certain Opiniano Silva whom she even brought home to live with the family that constrained respondent to leave the conjugal abode.

Complainant, in her reply, denied respondent's allegation and explained that Opiniano was a distant relative by affinity whom she merely allowed to rent a room in their house in order to augment the family income. Complainant averred that her husband instead left their conjugal dwelling because of a complaint she had filed against him before the Butuan City police station relative to a previous relationship with one Cristina Caldoza.  In order to prove the illicit relationship between respondent and Nida Montante, complainant submitted a receipt from Jumilan Marketing Corporation and a Statement of Account of Otis Enterprises, where Nida Montante signed her name as Nida Lauro.  Nida also identified herself in her Voter's Affidavit filed with the Comelec as being Nida Lauro and the spouse of Efren Lauro.

The Court, in its Resolution, dated 22 March 1993, referred the case to Judge Rosarito F. Dabalos of the Butuan Regional Trial Court for investigation, report and recommendation.

In his report, dated 14 January 2000, following his investigation, Judge Dabalos discoursed thusly:

"x x x  However, it is important to evaluate in this case the effect as to the receipt of Jumilan Marketing Corp. (Exhibit A) the statement of Accountant of New Butuan Otis Enterprises Inc. (Exhibit B) for goods taken on credit by Nida S. Montante under a Credit Card in the name of respondent and the COMELEC 'Voter's Affidavit' executed by Nida S. Montante (Exhibit C) wherein it is stated and appeared that Efren Lauro is her husband, which Exhibits bear the name and/or signatures of `Nida Lauro' (Exhibits A-1, B-2 and C-2) and the kind of treatment respondent gave to the child of Nida S. Montante.

"Respondent in his evidence claims that Nida S. Montante is his household help who washed his clothes and prepared his food as complainant had abandoned their conjugal dwelling. Respondent denied that Nida S. Montante is his paramour.

"Respondent in effect admitted that the woman Nida S. Montante is the same woman who lived with him and the same woman whose name appeared and signed Exhibits A, B and C as `Nida Lauro.' The explanations of the respondent on Exhibits A, B and C as to why Nida S. Montante signed them as `Nida Lauro' do not inspire belief.  If it is true that respondent authorized Nida S. Montante to get goods on credit using his credit card from Otis Enterprises Inc., for convenience, why did Nida sign Exhibit B as `Nida Lauro' and not her true name, Nida S. Montante?  On Exhibit A, who caused the name of Nida Lauro to be typewritten on it and why did Nida did not protest but signed it using the name `Nida Lauro.'  With regards to Exhibit C, where Nida S. Montante stated that her husband is Efren Lauro (Exh. C-3) respondent maintain that this was due to inadvertence on the part of Nida S. Montante that Nida S. Montante executed later another Voter's Affidavit (Exhibit 11) where it is stated that her civil status is `widow' and the name of respondent do not appear anymore as her husband.  To the undersigned the execution of Exhibit 11 was only an after thought and a futile attempt to destroy the adverse effect of Exhibit C.  The Voter's Affidavit marked Exhibit C was executed and/or placed under oath on `12/7/86' but this administrative complaint was filed only on November 6, 1991 and the Voter's Affidavit marked Exhibit 11 was executed or placed under oath on a much later date of `1-28-95.'  The behavior of the respondent in giving money to the child of Nida S. Montante and not giving money to his own grandchild, a child of his daughter, Maria Estrella Lauro-Demicillo, indicated that respondent had a special feeling and gave special treatment to Nida S. Montante and the latter's child coupled with the fact that respondent had provided Nida S. Montante with capital so that she can put up her own store.

"Although there is no direct evidence as to any specific immoral acts against the respondent but there are ample circumstantial evidence will show against him.  From the actuations of Nida S. Montante behaving like a wife of the respondent, it can only be concluded that in fact and in reality respondent has been treating considering and living with Nida S. Montante as his wife indulging and enjoying the marital privilege of sex.  Because of these respondent's treatment and actuation, Nida S. Montante is made to believe and feel, and lead her to conclude that she is the wife of respondent.  The actuations of the respondent towards Nida S. Montante and to her child, the actuations of Nida S. Montante behaving like the wife of respondent would not have manifested if they have no romantic but only platonic relationship.

"This case not being a criminal case, it does not need proof beyond reasonable doubt, only preponderance of evidence is sufficient. Every government employee, like Caesar's wife, must be above-suspicion.

"Respondent's attributing acts of immorality and unfaithfulness to the complainant as the former's wife would not justify the behavior and conduct of the respondent.  An employee of the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty."[1]

Judge Dabalos recommended that respondent be suspended for six months with a stern warning that he should forthwith sever any further relationship with Nida Montante.

In its memorandum, dated 11 April 2000, the Office of the Court Administrator, to which office the matter was referred for further evaluation, adopted the findings of Judge Dabalos; it added:

"It must be emphasized that every employee of the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty.  Like any public servant, he must exhibit the highest sense of honesty and integrity not only in the performance of his official duties but in his personal and private dealings with other people, to preserve the court's good name and standing (Paredes vs. Padua, 222 SCRA 881)."

The OCA recommended that the penalty of suspension suggested by Judge Dabalos be increased to one year, without pay, with a similar warning as was also suggested by the investigating judge.

A review of the records of the case would indeed show that respondent had been living with a woman other than his wife.  The woman so represented herself as Nida Lauro in her business dealings and in her Voter's Affidavit,[2] executed on 07 December 1986, where she wrote under the heading "spouse" the name of respondent.  Maria Estrella, one of respondent's children with complainant, testified to confirm that Nida and her father were residing together in one house.  It might not be amiss to say that Nida, whom respondent claimed to be merely his household help, was not presented to deny her illicit relationship with respondent.

Disgraceful and immoral conduct is a grave offense under Rule XIV, Section 23(o), of the Civil Service Rules punishable by suspension for six months and one day to one year for the first offense and dismissal for the second offense.[3] Considering that the instant administrative complaint for immorality against respondent is his first proven offense, the Court deems it appropriate to suspend respondent for six months and one day as above prescribed and as recommended by the Investigating Judge.

It cannot be overstressed that the image of a court of justice is mirrored by the conduct, official and otherwise, of its personnel, from the judge to the lowest of its rank and file, who are all bound to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in both their professional and private actuations.  These norms, it should be kept in mind, are ever so essential in preserving the good name and integrity of the judiciary.[4]

WHEREFORE, the Court, finding Efren Lauro, Sheriff IV of the Regional Trial Court, Office of the Clerk of Court, Butuan City, guilty of immorality, hereby decrees his SUSPENSION for six (6) months and one (1) day, without pay, with a warning that a more severe penalty than herein prescribed will be imposed for any further or like offense.


Melo, (Chairman), Panganiban, Gonzaga-Reyes, and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, pp. 18-20.

[2] Rollo, p. 357.

[3] Ecube-Badel vs. Badel, 273 SCRA 320.

[4] Bucatcat vs. Bucatcat, 323 SCRA 578

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