Sunday, April 02, 2006

Rules of procedure in administrative cases against teachers

Newspaper and television news reports in recent weeks have bannered stories of abuse allegedly committed by teachers against helpless schoolchildren. We have, for example, that egregious case of a teacher punishing a Grade 2 student by asking her to swallow pencil shavings.

The Family Code, in several articles, provides for the scope and limitations of teachers’ special parental authority over their students:

Art. 218. The school, its administrators and teachers, or the individual, entity or institution engaged in child care shall have special parental authority and responsibility over the minor child while under their supervision, instruction or custody.
Authority and responsibility shall apply to all authorized activities whether inside or outside the premises of the school, entity or institution.

Art. 219. Those given the authority and responsibility under the preceding Article shall be principally and solidarily liable for damages caused by the acts or omissions of the unemancipated minor. The parents, judicial guardians or the persons exercising substitute parental authority over said minor shall be subsidiarily liable.

The respective liabilities of those referred to in the preceding paragraph shall not apply if it is proved that they exercised the proper diligence required under the particular circumstances.

Art. 220. The parents and those exercising parental authority shall have with the respect to their unemancipated children or wards the following rights and duties:

(1) To keep them in their company, to support, educate and instruct them by right precept and good example, and to provide for their upbringing in keeping with their means;

(2) To give them love and affection, advice and counsel, companionship and understanding;

(3) To provide them with moral and spiritual guidance, inculcate in them honesty, integrity, self-discipline, self-reliance, industry and thrift, stimulate their interest in civic affairs, and inspire in them compliance with the duties of citizenship;

(4) To furnish them with good and wholesome educational materials, supervise their activities, recreation and association with others, protect them from bad company, and prevent them from acquiring habits detrimental to their health, studies and morals;

(5) To represent them in all matters affecting their interests;

(6) To demand from them respect and obedience;

(7) To impose discipline on them as may be required under the circumstances; and

(8) To perform such other duties as are imposed by law upon parents and guardians.
Art. 221. Parents and other persons exercising parental authority shall be civilly liable for the injuries and damages caused by the acts or omissions of their unemancipated children living in their company and under their parental authority subject to the appropriate defenses provided by law.

Art. 233. The person exercising substitute parental authority shall have the same authority over the person of the child as the parents.

In no case shall the school administrator, teacher or individual engaged in child care exercising special parental authority inflict corporal punishment upon the child. (emphasis by boldfacing supplied)

Please take note especially of Article 233 which absolutely prohibits teachers from inflicting physical punishment on their students.

While there are true stories of abuse committed by teachers against their students, still, the Constitutional presumption of innocence applies. As former Senator Rene Saguisag (my fellow alumnus from Rizal High School in Pasig) once said, “It is only by guaranteeing the rights of the most guilty that we can guarantee the rights of the most innocent.”

Thus, charges against a teacher must go through a process where he or she is given the chance to be heard and present exculpatory evidence. In administrative cases against teachers, the Department of Education follows “The DECS Rules of Procedure” under DECS Order N0. 33, s. 1999. Disappointingly, as of this writing, the DepEd does not have a copy of this Order in its website. (But these rules, with some differences, basically follow the rules of procedure laid down by the Civil Service Commission. You can read these rules in the CSC website.)

Basically, however, the DECS Rules observe the following requirements and procedures:

1. A complaint in writing and under oath is filed against a teacher. Anonymous complaints, under certain conditions, may be allowed. For example, the complaint is supported by documentary evidences upon which the truth can be ascertained, even without the presence of a complainant. If the complaint is filed with the DepEd Central Office or with its Regional Offices, the complaint is indorsed to the respective Division Office under which the teacher serves.

2. The complaint must contain a certification against non-forum shopping.

3. A fact-finding or preliminary investigation is conducted to determine whether the complaint is meritorious or not. The investigating officer or committee of the Division submits its Investigation Report to the Regional Office. The report may either recommend the filing of a formal charge against the teacher by the disciplining authority, OR the dismissal of the complaint.

If the complaint is dismissed, the complainant can file a Petition for Review with the Secretary of the DepEd.

4. The formal charge will require the respondent-teacher to submit within a maximum of five days from receipt of the charge to file his answer. In the answer, the teacher must state whether he chooses to exercise his right to a formal investigation.

5. The Division Office concerned creates its investigation committee. The composition of the committee can be challenged under the DECS Rules (or under the Magna Carta for Teachers).

The respondent may be placed under preventive suspension for a maximum of ninety days.

The formal investigation is conducted just like a courtroom trial, and both complainant and respondent are entitled to the services of lawyers. Testimonies of witnesses are under oath, and subject to cross-examination. Documentary evidences are marked and later on formally offered.

After the proceedings, the committee submits to the Regional Office its Formal Investigation Report with its recommendations for either a finding of guilt or innocence. The Regional Office will then hand down its decision on the case. (Please take note that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Formal Investigation Report is an internal document of the DepEd, and there is no denial of due process if the complainant or respondents is not provided with a copy of the said report.)

6. If the teacher-respondent is found guilty, his successive modes of appeal are as follows: (a) motion for reconsideration filed with the Regional Office; (2) appeal to the Secretary of DepEd; and (3) petition for judicial review with the Court of Appeals.

If the teacher-respondent is acquitted, however, the complainant must file a Petition for Review with the Civil Service Commission.