A.M. No. CA-05-20-P September 9, 2005
Callejo, Sr., J. En Banc
Melchor Lagua was found guilty of homicide. Lagua, who was then detained at the Bureau of Prisons National Penitentiary filed a Very Urgent Petition for Bail. The appellate court issued a Resolution directing him to post a bond. Lagua’s bond was approved, and the appellate court also directed the issuance of an order of release in favor of Lagua. The resolution was then brought to the Office of the Division Clerk of Court, Atty. Maria Isabel M. Pattugalan-Madarang, for promulgation.
The respondent, Cielito Salud, Clerk IV, Mailing Section of the Judicial Records Division, Court of Appeals, went to the National Penitentiary to serve the resolution and order of release in the Lagua case. The respondent left the prison compound at around 2:30 p.m.
In the meantime, Atty. Madarang received a telephone call from a certain Melissa Melchor, who introduced herself as Lagua’s relative. The caller asked her how much more they had to give to facilitate Lagua’s provisional liberty. The caller also told Atty. Madarang that they had sought the help of a certain Rhodora Valdez of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasig, where the criminal case originated. Atty. Madarang then called the said court and asked to speak to Ms. Valdez, pretending to be Lagua’s relative.
Atty. Madarang secured Salud’s mobile phone number from Ms. Cecil Secarro, the Acting Chief of the Mailing Section and started texting him. She represented herself as Arlyn, Lagua’s relative. While she was in the office, she texted Salud for his whereabouts and he replied, that he was on his way back to Quezon City. That was before 4 p.m., adding that his deliveries were ok.
Atty. Madarang personally called up the Bureau of Prisons for the exact time the Order of Release was delivered and when accused appellant Lagua was released and learned that the Order of Release was received at 9:15 A.M. and that Lagua was released between 5-5:30 P.M. of November 7, 2003.
On November 11, 2003, Atty. Madarang brought Salud, accompanied by Ms. Secarro to Justice Magtolis. Out of the confrontation, we discovered that Salud did not properly serve the copies of the Resolution and Order of Release upon the accused-appellant and his counsel. He gave them to a certain Art, allegedly Lagua’s relative who he claimed approached him at the Bureau of Prisons in the morning of November 7, 2003. He told Justice Magtolis that he gave these documents to Art, who promised to take care of them, even before he could deliver the copy addressed to the Director of Prisons. He never mentioned that this Art was connected with the office of accused-appellant’s counsel.
Justice Magtolis lodged the complaint against the respondent in a Letter dated November 14, 2003, containing, among others, the following allegations:
The delivery of resolutions/orders to unauthorized persons and "complete strangers" who promised to "take care thereof" constitutes not only neglect of duty but also conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. Staying for the whole day within the vicinity of the National Bilibid Prisons to the point of failing to fulfill his other duties for the day constitutes inefficiency and incompetence in the performance of official duties. On the other hand, the use of my name and that of our Division Clerk of Court to illegally solicit financial or material benefit from parties with pending cases before this Court is illegal per se.
Justice Magtolis requested that Cielito Salud be subjected to an administrative investigation and disciplinary action.
In an Investigation Report, Atty. Longalong found that the respondent was guilty as charged; that he is also liable for having financial or material interest in an official transaction considering his undue interest in the service of the order of release and actual release of Lagua to the point of staying almost the whole day in the Bureau of Prisons and the aborted "deal" as can be concluded from the phone call of Melissa Melchor to Atty. Madarang and subsequent exchange of text messages with Atty. Madarang disguising as Lagua’s relative. …
Whether or not the exchange of text messages between Atty. Madarang and herein respondent is admissible as evidence in an administrative case.
On the charge of inefficiency, the respondent is clearly administratively liable. After serving Lagua’s copy of the resolution and order of release to the prison Director, he should have immediately returned to his station or served the other resolutions and documents for personal service. As an officer of the court, the respondent plays an essential part in the administration of justice. He is required to live up to the stringent standards of his office, and his conduct must, at all times, be above reproach and suspicion. He must steer clear of any act which would tend to undermine his integrity, or erode somehow the people’s faith and trust in the courts.
To determine the credibility and probative weight of the testimony of a witness, such testimony must be considered in its entirety and not in truncated parts. To determine which contradicting statements of a witness is to prevail as to the truth, the other evidence received must be considered. Thus, while it is true that there is no direct evidence that the respondent received any money to "facilitate" the release of detained Lagua, the following circumstances must be taken as contrary to the respondent’s plea of innocence:
First. The respondent admitted that he was the sender of the first three text messages in Atty. Madarang’s cellphone: "bkit, C rhodora to"; "CNO KAMAGANAK AT ANONG PANGALAN MO"; and "SINO K KC NAGHIWALAY N KAMI."
As pointed out by the Investigating Officer, the respondent’s claim of "joking around" ("nakipaglokohan") with an unknown sender of a text message by replying thereto is contrary to a normal person’s reaction. This is made even more apparent by the fact that the respondent even admitted that he called Atty. Madarang twice, and when asked why, gave a vague answer, and, when further questioned, even broke down in tears.
The respondent’s claim that the admission of the text messages as evidence against him constitutes a violation of his right to privacy is unavailing. Text messages have been classified as "ephemeral electronic communication" under Section 1(k), Rule 2 of the Rules on Electronic Evidence, and "shall be proven by the testimony of a person who was a party to the same or has personal knowledge thereof." Any question as to the admissibility of such messages is now moot and academic, as the respondent himself, as well as his counsel, already admitted that he was the sender of the first three messages on Atty. Madarang’s cell phone.
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, respondent Cielito M. Salud is found GUILTY of inefficiency and gross misconduct. He is SUSPENDED for a period of One (1) Year and Six (6) Months, effective immediately. He is further DIRECTED to inform the Court as to the date of his receipt of this Decision to determine when his suspension shall have taken effect.
The Office of the Court Administrator is also DIRECTED to conduct a discreet investigation on the possible involvement of Rhodora Valdez (Utility Worker), and other personnel of the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City, Branch 163.