Political Law

Arsenio Lumiqued vs Apolonio Exevea

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G.R. No. 117565 – 282 SCRA 125 (89 SCAD 151) – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Due Process; Administrative Bodies – Assistance by Counsel

Law on Public Officers – Right to Due Process – Public Office is Not a Property

Arsenio Lumiqued was the Regional Director of DAR-CAR. He was charged by Jeannette Zamudio, the Regional Cashier, for dishonesty due to questionable gas expenses under his office. It was alleged that he was falsifying gas receipts for reimbursements and that he had an unliquidated cash advance worth P116,000.00. Zamudio also complained that she was unjustly removed by Lumiqued two weeks after she filed the two complaints. The issue was referred to the DOJ. Committee hearings on the complaints were conducted on July 3 and 10, 1992, but Lumiqued was not assisted by counsel. On the second hearing date, he moved for its resetting to July 17, 1992, to enable him to employ the services of counsel. The committee granted the motion, but neither Lumiqued nor his counsel appeared on the date he himself had chosen, so the committee deemed the case submitted for resolution. The Investigating Committee recommended the dismissal  of Lumiqued. DOJ Sec Drilon adopted the recommendation. Fidel Ramos issued AO 52 dismissing Lumiqued.

Lumiqued appealed averring that his right to due process was violated as well as his right to security of tenure.

ISSUE: Does the due process clause encompass the right to be assisted by counsel during an administrative inquiry?

HELD: No. The right to counsel, which cannot be waived unless the waiver is in writing and in the presence of counsel, is a right afforded a suspect or an accused during custodial investigation. It is not an absolute right and may, thus, be invoked or rejected in a criminal proceeding and, with more reason, in an administrative inquiry. In the case at bar, Lumiqued invoked the right of an accused in criminal proceedings to have competent and independent counsel of his own choice. Lumiqued, however, was not accused of any crime. The investigation conducted by the committee was for the purpose of determining if he could be held administratively liable under the law for the complaints filed against him.  The right to counsel is not indispensable to due process unless required by the Constitution or the law.

“. . . There is nothing in the Constitution that says that a party in a non-criminal proceeding is entitled to be represented by counsel and that, without such representation, he shall not be bound by such proceedings. The assistance of lawyers, while desirable, is not indispensable. The legal profession was not engrafted in the due process clause such that without the participation of its members, the safeguard is deemed ignored or violated. The ordinary citizen is not that helpless that he cannot validly act at all except only with a lawyer at his side.”

In administrative proceedings, the essence of due process is simply the opportunity to explain one’s side. Whatever irregularity attended the proceedings conducted by the committee was cured by Lumiqued’s appeal and his subsequent filing of motions for reconsideration.

The Supreme Court also emphasized that the constitutional provision on due process safeguards life, liberty and property. Public office is a public trust. It is not a property guaranteed of due process. But when the dispute concerns one’ constitutional right to security of tenure, however, public office is deemed analogous to property in a limited sense; hence, the right to due process could rightfully be invoked. Nonetheless, the right to security of tenure is not absolute especially when it was proven, as in this case, that the public officer (Lumiqued) did not live up to the Constitutional precept i.e., that all public officers and employees must serve with responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency.

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