SC balances policy vs right in a court employee’s case

Published November 13, 2021, 2:50 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court (SC) mandates all judiciary officials and employees to adhere strictly to propriety and decorum, and to be above suspicion so as not to diminish the trust of the people in the courts.

On other hand, the Constitution under Section 2 of Article III mandates “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable….”

In a court employee’s case which calls for the balancing of the two interests, which would prevail?

The SC declared: “The Court cannot be the first to run roughshod upon the cherished rights of the people enshrined in the Constitution.”

Case records showed that the Batangas City police responded to a shooting incident on Sept. 11, 2011 in Villa Anita in Barangay Sta. Clara. The policemen set up a “blocking force” in the hopes of cutting off the suspect.

Hermogenes M. Guico Jr., clerk III of the Batangas City regional trial court (RTC), rode on his motorcycle out of Villa Anita and despite being accosted by the policemen, he sped on.

The policemen chased Guico until his motorcycle toppled over. He ran but the policemen caught up on him. He was arrested. He told the policemen he was a government employee.

He was frisked for weapons or illegal items. The search yielded a packet believed to contain methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. Also recovered were two pieces of aluminum foil and two disposable lighters.

The police subjected the content of the packet to examination. The result yielded positive of shabu. Guico also tested positive for shabu use.

On Sept. 23, 2011, Guico was charged with violation of Section 11 (illegal possession) of Republic Act No. 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

In previous decisions, the SC ruled that “an admitted drug user has no place in the ranks of the Judiciary” as it mandated that “all members and employees of the Judiciary are expected to adhere strictly to the laws of the land, one of which is RA 9165 which prohibits the use of dangerous drugs.”

With the filing of the criminal case against Guico, Batangas City Clerk of Court IV Jose C. Corales sent a letter to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), which supervises all trial courts in the country, for instruction on the proper course of action. Corales’ letter was treated as an administrative case.

The Batangas City RTC convicted Guico on Oct. 22, 2014. He was sentenced to a jail term ranging from 12 years and one day to 14 years. He was fined P300,000.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA) acquitted Guico of possession of illegal drugs in a decision handed down on April 22, 2016. He was ordered released.

The CA ruled that the substance seized from Guico was inadmissible in evidence, since he was apprehended and searched without a warrant.

It pointed out that the police’s setting up of “blocking force” to intercept the suspect in a shooting incident bore no relation to Guico’s apprehension, arrest, and search for dangerous drugs, and his flight from the police was erroneously appreciated as guilt.

With the CA’s decision, the SC referred Guico’s case to OCA for evaluation, report and recommendation.

On Jan. 12, 2017, OCA recommended the dismissal of Guico from the service for grave misconduct. It also recommended the cancellation of his eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, and perpetual disqualification from holding public office.

OCA’s recommendations were referred to the SC as a full court to determine if Guico may be held administratively liable for testing positive for use of shabu.

The SC, in a decision written by Associate Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez, ruled: “The Court absolves Guico of any administrative liability in the absence of any incriminating evidence that may be used against him.”

Citing rules of evidence as pointed out in its previous decision, the SC said the rules on evidence “exclude, not only evidence obtained directly from the unlawful search or seizure, but also secondary or derivative evidence originating therefrom.”

It said that Guico’s “positive result for use of methamphetamine hydrochloride may not be used against him, being the indirect result of his illegal arrest, search and seizure.”

“The drug test was premised on his supposed violation of Article II, Section 11 (possession of dangerous drugs) of R.A. No. 9165, for which he was acquitted since the methamphetamine hydrochloride seized therefor was rendered inadmissible,” it said.

The SC also said:

“Given the primacy of the Bill of Rights, with all the more reason should the exclusionary rule benefit Guico in the instant administrative proceedings.

“Thus, the Court cannot agree with the recommendations of the OCA that Guico be declared guilty of grave misconduct and ineligible to receive retirement benefits.

“Lastly, Guico wrote the Court a Letter dated Sept. 28, 2020, manifesting his intention to retire from service, and withdrawing his request for reinstatement.

“Consistent with the Court’s exercise of administrative supervision over court personnel, the Court construes Guico’s Letter as a tender of resignation and hereby accepts the same, with the withdrawal of the request for reinstatement deemed an abandonment thereof. Thus, Guico’s position of Clerk III of the RTC-Batangas City is deemed vacant.

“WHEREFORE, Hermogenes M. Guico, Jr., Clerk III of the Regional Trial Court of Batangas City, is ABSOLVED of any administrative liability, and deemed ELIGIBLE to receive his retirement benefits, but is given a STERN WARNING that further involvement in any misdemeanor will be dealt with more severely.

“Guico’s former position as Clerk III of the Regional Trial Court of Batangas City is declared VACANT. SO ORDERED.”