A MEDIA person asks me whether her friend, who is a wife of a public-school teacher, could file an administrative case for immorality against her husband (for having an illicit affair with another and for abandoning her and/or for not providing support to her and their children). She also asked whether she could file a case against her husband in the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) to revoke his license.
I said, “Yes to both.”
The relevant facts of the case (all quoted directly or paraphrased from the SC ruling) are as follows:
Rene Puse is a registered professional teacher stationed at S. Aguirre Elementary School, East District, Jose Panganiban, Camarines Norte, while Ligaya Puse is a barangay rural-health midwife assigned at the Municipal Health Office of Jose Panganiban, Camarines Norte.
It appears that on January 10, 1992, Rene married Ligaya at the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Daet, Camarines Norte. He had two children with her, and had a church wedding before respondent found out that petitioner was already married. Ligaya discovered that Rene had previously married a certain Cristina Pablo Puse at the MTC in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, on December 27, 1986. Ligaya, likewise, learned that Rene has already two children with his first wife. Thus, on August 2, 2005, Ligaya filed a letter-complaint with the director of the PRC, National Capital Region, Manila, through the director, the PRC, Lucena City, seeking assistance regarding Rene, against whom she had filed a criminal case for “bigamy” and “abandonment.” Ligaya alleged, among others, that Rene has not been giving her and their children support.
In a letter dated August 16, 2005, the PRC of Lucena City directed Rene to answer the complaint for immorality and dishonorable conduct filed by Ligaya. Per directive, Rene submitted his compliance, dated August 31, 2005, denying the charges against him, and stating, among others, that “[n]a ako ay wala ng balita o komunikasyon sa aking unang asawa at ang paniwala ko ay siya ay patay na at ang aking kasal ay nawala nang saysay.”
After due consideration of the complaint, affidavits, supporting documents and pleadings filed, the Board of Professional Teachers, PRC, Lucena City, found a prima facie case for immorality and dishonorable conduct against Rene. The case was docketed as Adm. Case No. LCN-0016. On February 16, 2007, the Board of Professional Teachers (BPT), PRC, Manila, found Rene administratively liable of the charges and revoked his license as a professional teacher. Rene moved for reconsideration of the decision, but his motion was denied by the BPT per resolution dated July 9, 2007. Rene then filed a petition for review, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 100421, before the Court of Appeals (CA) assailing the resolutions dated February 16, 2007, and July 9, 2007, of the BPT. On March 28, 2008, the CA dismissed Rene’s appeal. On June 30, 2008, the CA denied Rene’s motion for reconsideration for lack of merit. Rene then went to the SC. One of the issues decided by the SC is whether the BPT has jurisdiction to hear and decide the complaint filed by Ligaya against Rene. The relevant portions of the SC decision on the case (all quoted directly or paraphrased from the SC ruling) are as follows:
On the first issue, petitioner Rene argues that the proper forum to hear and decide the complaint was either the Civil-Service Commission (CSC), pursuant to CSC Resolution 991936 (Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service); or the Department of Education (DepEd), pursuant to Republic Act (RA) 4670 (Magna Carta for Public School Teachers). Since the charge was for violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, petitioner contends that the complaint should have been brought before the CSC.
The SC disagreed with the petitioner on this point. It ruled that an administrative case against a public-school teacher may be filed before the BPT-PRC, the DepEd or the CSC, which have concurrent jurisdiction over administrative cases, such as for immoral, unprofessional or dishonorable conduct.
The SC then explained that concurrent jurisdiction is that which is possessed over the same parties or subject matter at the same time by two or more separate tribunals. When the law bestows upon a government body the jurisdiction to hear and decide cases involving specific matters, it is to be presumed that such jurisdiction is exclusive, unless it be proved that another body is, likewise, vested with the same jurisdiction, in which case, both bodies have concurrent jurisdiction over the matter.
The authority to hear and decide administrative cases by the BPT-PRC, the DepEd and the CSC comes from RA 7836, RA 4670 and Presidential Decree (PD) 807, respectively. The SC mentioned Section 23 of RA 7836 as the basis for this authority. Here, the BPT is given the power, after due notice and hearing, to suspend or revoke the certificate of registration of a professional teacher for causes enumerated therein (and one of the causes enumerated is immoral, unprofessional or dishonorable conduct).
Thus, the SC said that if a complaint is filed under RA 7836, the jurisdiction to hear the same falls with the BPT-PRC. However, if the complaint against a public-school teacher is filed with the DepEd, then under Section 9 of RA 4670, or the Magna Carta for Public-School Teachers, the jurisdiction over administrative cases of public-school teachers is lodged with the investigating committee created pursuant to the said section, now being implemented by Section 2, Chapter VII of DECS Order 33, Series of 1999, also known as the DECS Rules of Procedure. A complaint filed under RA 4670 shall be heard by the investigating committee, which is under the DepEd, as emphasized by the SC.
The SC then explained that as to the CSC, under PD 807, also known as the Civil Service Decree of the Philippines, particularly Sections 9(j) and 37(a) thereof, the CSC has the power to hear and decide administrative disciplinary cases instituted directly with it or brought to it on appeal. As the central personnel agency of the government, the CSC has jurisdiction to supervise and discipline all government employees, including those employed in government-owned or -controlled corporations with original charters. Consequently, if civil-service rules and regulations are violated, complaints for said violations may be filed with the CSC. However, where concurrent jurisdiction exists in several tribunals, the body or agency that first takes cognizance of the complaint shall exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of the others. Here, it was the BPT, before which respondent filed the complaint, that acquired jurisdiction over the case and which had the authority to proceed and decide the case to the exclusion of the DepEd and the CSC.
The SC later on explained why there was substantial evidence to show that petitioner was guilty of immoral and dishonorable conduct. While Petitioner claims good faith and maintains that he married respondent with the erroneous belief that his first wife was already deceased, the SC ruled that the issues as to whether petitioner knew his first wife to be dead and whether respondent knew that petitioner was already married have been ruled upon by both the BPT and the CA.
The BPT and the appellate court found untenable petitioner’s belief that his first wife was already dead and that his former marriage was no longer subsisting. For failing to get a court order declaring his first wife presumptively dead, his marriage to respondent was clearly unlawful and immoral.
In the practice of his profession, he, as a licensed professional teacher, is required to strictly adhere to, observe and practice the set of ethical and moral principles, standards and values laid down in the aforesaid code. It is of no moment that he was not yet a teacher when he contracted his second marriage. His good moral character is a continuing requirement which he must possess if he wants to continue practicing his noble profession. In the instant case, he failed to abide by the tenets of morality.
Consequently, it is but stating the obvious to assert that teachers must adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency. There is no dichotomy of morality. A teacher, both in his official and personal conduct, must display exemplary behavior. He must freely and willingly accept restrictions on his conduct that might be viewed irksome by ordinary citizens. In other words, the personal behavior of teachers, in and outside the classroom, must be beyond reproach.
Accordingly, teachers must abide by a standard of personal conduct which not only proscribes the commission of immoral acts, but also prohibits behavior creating a suspicion of immorality because of the harmful impression it might have on the students. Likewise, they must observe a high standard of integrity and honesty.
From the foregoing, it seems obvious that when a teacher engages in extramarital relationship, especially when the parties are both married, such behavior amounts to immorality, justifying his termination from employment.
This column should not be taken as a legal advice applicable to any case as each case, is unique and should be construed in light of the attending circumstances surrounding such particular case.
Lawyer Toni Umali is the current assistant secretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs of the Department of Education (DepEd). He is licensed to practice law not only in the Philippines, but also in the state of California and some federal courts in the US after passing the California State Bar Examinations in 2004. He has served as a legal consultant to several legislators and local chief executives. As education assistant secretary, he was instrumental in the passage of the K to 12 law and the issuance of its implementing rules and regulations. He is also the alternate spokesman of the DepEd.