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As I See It
Curious case of Agnes Raguinan, teacher

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:45:00 02/27/2009

Filed Under: Judiciary (system of justice), Legal issues, Justice & Rights

What?s going on in the Supreme Court? It supposed to be the highest court in the land that corrects errors of lower courts and dispenses justice without fear or favor. Of late, however, this image of an incorruptible court has been tarnished. The case of retired Associate Justice Ruben Reyes is just one case in point.

Reyes was found guilty of grave misconduct by the en banc and fined P500,000, to be deducted from his retirement benefits, for leaking an unpromulgated and confidential decision on the citizenship of Negros Oriental province?s Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong.

There are other cases that shake the faith of the ordinary citizen on the integrity and objectivity of the tribunal. A common complaint is the dismissal by the SC of appealed cases through minute resolutions, without any explanation why they were dismissed despite a constitutional provision mandating that all decisions and resolutions of the courts be justified by the facts and the law.

The case of a public school teacher who was unjustly dismissed from the service and forfeited all retirement benefits, after having served the public for 30 years as teacher and principal, has come to my attention. She is Agnes Raguinan, principal of the Manaoag (Pangasinan) National High School.

What was her fault? Nothing. She just applied, in 1999, for the position of principal of the high school when it became vacant as a result of the retirement of the incumbent. Being a resident of Manaoag, Raguinan believed she had the edge for the position because of Republic Act 8190 and Civil Service Qualification Standards which grant priority to candidates for appointment who are residents of the municipality or city where the school is located.

It turned out, however, that there were other aspirants to the position, among them Rosalino T. Agpalo Jr. who was eventually appointed principal.

Believing that the selection process was not fair and transparent, Raguinan questioned the same before the Civil Service Commission (CSC) field office in Urdaneta, Pangasinan. The mayor of Manaoag also sought an injunction and later a declaration of nullity of the appointment of Agpalo for violations of pertinent laws and rules.

Thinking that Raguinan was the root of his predicament, Agpalo hatched a plan to strike back at her. She looked into her records and fished for evidence against her.

In 2001, notwithstanding that the selection process and appointment of the principal had already been completed a year earlier, Juliana Laoag, schools division superintendent of Pangasinan II, in the guise of verifying Raguinan?s application, asked the president of Pangasinan State University for a certification on Raguinan?s alleged master?s degree in education as reflected in her transcript of records at the Baguio Central University. The Pangasinan State University replied that Raguinan was not a graduate of the university. Agpalo and Laoag then filed a complaint with the CSC, accusing Raguinan of grave misconduct, dishonesty, and falsification of public documents. The CSC dismissed her and ordered the forfeiture of her retirement benefits.

Raguinan questioned her dismissal on the grounds of: (1) lack of jurisdiction of the CSC to dismiss her; (2) no substantial evidence to prove that she was guilty of dishonesty and falsification of public documents.

The CSC and the Court of Appeals admitted that the CSC had no jurisdiction to hear and decide administrative cases against teachers. The authority is with an investigation committee composed of a superintendent and supervisor of the Department of Education where the school is located and a representative of the teachers pursuant to Republic Act 4670, the Magna Carta for Public School Teachers.

However, the CSC and Court of Appeals pointed out that Raguinan waived her right to question the jurisdiction because she allegedly failed to assert such jurisdictional issue before the CSC and was therefore guilty of estoppel by laches. Laches is a failure or neglect for an unreasonable and unexplained length of time to do that which, by exercising due diligence, could or should have been done earlier.

The records of the case show, however, that when Raguinan filed her counter-affidavit against the complaint before the CSC regional office at San Fernando, Pampanga, she already questioned the CSC jurisdiction. While the case was on appeal at the CSC, Raguinan also questioned its jurisdiction. Hence, it is clear, that Raguinan had questioned the CSC jurisdiction within the prescribed period and had not been negligent in asserting her right.

The unkindest cut is that when Raguinan appealed to the Supreme Court, her appeal was dismissed with a one-page resolution: ?Denied for lack of merit.?

When she inquired at the Supreme Court, she was not furnished an alleged en banc resolution except the word ?denied.? A check with the Internet revealed that there is no publication of such resolution contrary to normal practice of publishing all resolutions and decisions of the Supreme Court on the Internet.

What Raguinan saw was merely information that she should get her copy from the complainant. Why from the complainant? Why not from the Supreme Court itself?

This is strange because the Constitution states: ?No decision shall be rendered without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.?

Was that minute resolution really a decision of the Court en banc? Or was it the work of an employee? Shouldn?t Chief Justice Reynato Puno order an investigation as this case casts doubt on the disposition of justice in the highest court of the land?

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