SC rules merit not entitlement for vacant government posts

MANILA, Philippines — “The next-in-rank status of a government employee is not a guarantee to one’s fitness to the position aspired for, and the applicant must go through the rigors of a screening and selection process as determined and conducted by a department or agency, subject only to the standards and guidelines set by the Civil Service Commission (CSC),” the Supreme Court (SC) said in a ruling released on Monday.

“This is in keeping with the ideal of promoting through merit rather than entitlement, and thus ensuring that government service is rewarded with the best fit,” the SC added.

This was the ruling of the SC En Banc through the ponencia of Associate Justice Lucas P. Bersamin in the case of Eric N. Estrellado and Jossie M. Borja vs. Karina Constantino David, the Civil Service Commission, Hipolito R. Gaborni and Roberto S. Se.

Voting 13-0, the SC denied the petition for review on certiorari filed by Estrellado and Borja.

The SC affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA) promulgated on Aug. 26, 2008, which effectively upheld the appointment of Gaborni and Se.

Associate Justice Arturo D. Brion was on leave, Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta took no part, and Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa was on official leave.

On Jan. 15, 2004, the Land Transportation Office-Central Office-Selection and Promotion Board (LTO-CO-SPB) recommended to the LTO the appointment of Gaborni and Se to the vacant positions of Transportation Regulation Officer (TRO II) and Administrative Officer (AO IV) within the LTO Law Enforcement Services.

Estrellado, TRO I, and Borja, Records Officer III, who were also applicants to the said positions and in their alleged capacities as next-in-rank employees, filed before the CSC-NCR a petition to declare the LTO-CO-SPB selection procedure null and void, which in turn referred the petition to the LTO Grievance Committee.

The LTO Grievance Committee and, subsequently, the LTO Assistant Secretary both dismissed the petition for lack of merit.

Later, they brought the case to the CSC-NCR which also dismissed the appeal and a subsequent motion for reconsideration (MR).

When brought to the CA by petition for review, Estrellado and Borja asserted that the CSC had erred in sustaining the validity of the selection procedure undertaken by the Land Transportation Office’s Promotion and Selection Board (LTO-PSB).

On Aug. 26, 2008, the CA upheld CSC Resolution No. 06-0252 dated Feb. 10, 2006 and CSC Resolution No. 06-0835 dated May 9, 2006, upholding the promotional appointments of Gaborni and Se.

The CA ruled that Estrellado and Borja’s bare claim of nullity of the selection procedure did not overcome the specific factual findings of the CSC, which emphasized the screening procedure conducted.

Estrellado and Borja then elevated their petition to the SC, citing violation of pertinent laws, including Republic Act No. 7041, or An Act Requiring Regular Publication.

The SC ultimately found no merit in the appeal and that the appointments in question followed the mandate of the law.

Estrellado and Borja argued that the comparative assessment conducted by the LTO-CO-PSB was not the same as screening, insisting that the comparative assessment based on paper qualifications was only for purposes of preliminary ranking; and that the LTO-CO-SPB only made preparations prior to the required examination and interview of the applicants, which was evident in CSC Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 3, Series of 2001.

The SC said that “a reading of CSC MC No. 3, Series of 2001, shows that screening requires no interviews and examinations.”

It added that nowhere in CSC MC No. 3, Series of 2001 or its implementing rules and regulations define in specific terms or criteria the particulars of the screening process, thus each agency or department is empowered to formulate its own screening process subject to the standards and guidelines set by the CSC.

“The CA correctly concluded that the appointing authority exercised the right of choice, freely exercising its best judgment in determining the best-qualified applicants from those who had the necessary qualifications and eligibilities,” the SC said.

Likewise, in citing CSC Resolution No. 04-0835, Estrellado and Borja asserted that the CSC declared therein the need for the interview and written examination as a matter of policy instruction.

However, the SC highlighted that “CSC Resolution No. 04-0835 pertained to the violation of the three-salary grade rule, not to the screening done during the selection process. Estrellado and Borja’s reliance on the Resolution was misplaced because it did not in any way support their claim that screening necessarily included interview and examination. Screening should be viewed as the procedure by which the Personnel Selection Boards (PSBs) undertake to determine the merit and qualification of the applicants to be appointed to the positions applied for.”

The SC found that the LTO had indeed conducted a deep selection process.

The SC was convinced that Se’s appointment should be upheld because he was better qualified than Borja despite the fact that he was not the next in rank or that his promotion would require moving him to six-salary grades higher.

It said that “the CSC fittingly stressed that ‘the three-salary grade limitation should not be the sole basis for the disapproval of an appointment but should be taken as an indicator of possible abuse of discretion in the appointment process.'”

On Estrellado and Borja’s contention that the appointments of Gaborni and Se were illegal or void ab initio because of publication issues, the SC noted that the lapse of the publication was raised for the first time only on appeal.

“To deal at all at this stage with anything that the lower courts or tribunals or offices did not consider and pass upon, and reverse or modify them thereon would essentially be unfair,” the SC said. Perfecto Raymundo Jr./PNA/