Monday, March 30, 2015

MORALITY PLAY: Pre-marital relations as ground for Dismissal

By Obiter07

In LEUS vs ST. SCHOLASTICA'S COLLEGE, et al G.R. No. 187226, January 28, 2015, we see how a school’s strict moral standards do not necessarily justify the dismissal of an employee. In this case, the petitioner was hired by a Catholic school as part of its non-teaching personnel. She engaged in pre-marital sexual relations and got pregnant. When the school discovered the pregnancy, the Directress advised her to resign. She refused. The Directress then directed her to explain why she should not be dismissed for “engaging in pre-marital sexual relations and getting pregnant as a result thereof, which amounts to serious misconduct and conduct unbecoming of an employee of a Catholic school.”

In response, she explained “that her pregnancy out of wedlock does not amount to serious misconduct or conduct unbecoming of an employee.” She stated that she was not aware of any policy that this constituted serious misconduct and, thus, a ground for dismissal. She asked for a copy of the school’s policy and guidelines.

The Directress informed her that the school follows the 1992 Manual of Regulations for Private Schools (1992 MRPS); that Section 94(e) of the 1992 MRPS cites “disgraceful or immoral conduct” as a ground for dismissal in addition to the just causes for termination of employment provided under Article 282 of the Labor Code.”

She responded, through counsel, that “pre-marital sex between two consenting adults without legal impediment to marry each other who later on married each other does not fall within the contemplation of “disgraceful or immoral conduct” and “serious misconduct” of the Manual of Regulations for Private Schools and the Labor Code of the Philippines.” They argued that petitioner being a bad example to the students was “speculative and is more imaginary than real.”

The school, now also through counsel, “maintained that pre-marital sexual relations, even if between two consenting adults without legal impediment to marry, is considered a disgraceful and immoral conduct or a serious misconduct xxx.” And that the school “has the right to uphold the teaching of the Catholic Church xxx.” They further asserted that the petitioner’s indiscretion is further aggravated by the fact that she is the Assistant to the Director of the Lay Apostolate and Community Outreach Directorate, a position of responsibility that the students look up to as role model.” She was asked to explain why she should not be dismissed.”

The petitioner advised the school that she was adopting her counsel’s letter as her written explanation. She was thereafter terminated by the school on the ground of serious misconduct, stating that “pre-marital sexual relations between two consenting adults with no impediment to marry, even if they subsequently married, amounts to immoral conduct.”

Petitioner filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with the NLRC which was dismissed, with the Labor Arbiter and the Commission ruling against her.  This was likewise upheld by the Court of Appeals.

The need for proof that pre-marital sex and
pregnancy out of wedlock are disgraceful or immoral

The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the CA. However, it did uphold the validity of the 1992 MRPS, specifically Section 94 as having been validly issued by the Secretary of Education pursuant to BP 232.

The Court then focused on the validity of the dismissal which “hinges on the determination of whether pregnancy out of wedlock by an employee of a catholic educational institution is a cause for the termination of her employment.  But the Court resolved this “from a strictly neutral and secular point of view – the relationship between SSCW as employer and the petitioner as an employee, the causes provided for by law in the termination of such relationship, and the evidence on record.”

Her dismissal was based on “pre-marital sexual relations and, consequently, pregnancy out of wedlock.”  This was to be assessed as to whether the same constitutes a valid ground for dismissal pursuant to Section 94(e) of the 1992 MRPS which provides that:

“Sec. 94. Causes of Terminating Employment – In addition to the just causes enumerated in the Labor Code, the employment of school personnel, including faculty, may be terminated for any of the following causes:
x x x x
e. Disgraceful or immoral conduct;
x x x x”

The Court found no substantial evidence to support the previous conclusion arrived at by the labor tribunals that she engaged in “disgraceful and immoral conduct.” Without more, pregnancy out of wedlock “is not enough to characterize the petitioner’s conduct as disgraceful or immoral. There must be substantial evidence to establish that pre-marital sexual relations and, consequently, pregnancy out of wedlock, are indeed considered disgraceful or immoral.”

Determining disgraceful and
immoral conduct

The Court held that “the determination of whether a conduct is disgraceful or immoral involves a two-step process: first, a consideration of the totality of the circumstances surrounding the conduct; and second, an assessment of the said circumstances vis-à-vis the prevailing norms of conduct, i.e., what the society generally considers moral and respectable.”  It further stated that her employment by a Catholic school “per se does not absolutely determine whether her pregnancy out of wedlock is disgraceful or immoral. There is still a necessity to determine whether the petitioner’s pregnancy out of wedlock is considered disgraceful or immoral in accordance with the prevailing norms of conduct.”

Interestingly, the Court made a distinction between public and secular morality versus religious morality. The distinction “is important because the jurisdiction of the Court extends only to public and secular morality. As cited by the Court:

The morality referred to in the law is public and necessarily secular, not religious x x x. Religious teachings as expressed in public debate may influence the civil public order but public moral disputes may be resolved only on grounds articulable in secular terms. Otherwise, if government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. xxx Succinctly put, a law could be religious or Kantian or Aquinian or utilitarian in its deepest roots, but it must have an articulable and discernible secular purpose and justification to pass scrutiny of the religion clauses. x x x.”

Extramarital relations with between unmarried persons
is not disgraceful and immoral

Under these tests, two things may be concluded from the fact that an unmarried woman gives birth out of wedlock with respect to administrative cases: (i) if the father of the child is single, then the woman is not ordinarily liable for disgraceful and immoral conduct and (ii) if the father is married to someone else, then, then there is a cause for administrative sanction against either of them. The “disgraceful and immoral conduct” consists of having extramarital relations with a married person. “The sanctity of marriage is constitutionally recognized and likewise affirmed by our statutes as a special contract of permanent union.”

When the law refers to morality – it is public
and secular morality, not religious morality

The Court, applying those doctrines to the case, stated that that “the right of an employee to security of tenure is protected by the Constitution. Perfunctorily, a regular employee may not be dismissed unless for cause provided under the Labor Code and other relevant laws, in this case, the 1992 MRPS. As stated above, when the law refers to morality, it necessarily pertains to public and secular morality and not religious morality. Thus, the proscription against “disgraceful or immoral conduct” under Section 94(e) of the 1992 MRPS, which is made as a cause for dismissal, must necessarily refer to public and secular morality. Accordingly, in order for a conduct to be considered as disgraceful or immoral, it must be “‘detrimental (or dangerous) to those conditions upon which depend the existence and progress of human society’ and not because the conduct is proscribed by the beliefs of one religion or the other.”

The Court did “not find any circumstance” xxx “to conclude that the petitioner committed a disgraceful or immoral conduct. It bears stressing that the petitioner and her boyfriend, at the time they conceived a child, had no legal impediment to marry. Indeed, even prior to her dismissal, the petitioner married her boyfriend, the father of her child. As the Court has previously held, “there is no law which penalizes an unmarried mother by reason of her sexual conduct or proscribes the consensual sexual activity between two unmarried persons; that neither does such situation contravene any fundamental state policy enshrined in the Constitution.”

Her conduct “viewed against the prevailing norms of conduct,” xxx “cannot be considered as disgraceful or immoral; such conduct is not denounced by public and secular morality. It may be an unusual arrangement, but it certainly is not disgraceful or immoral within the contemplation of the law. To stress, pre-marital sexual relations between two consenting adults who have no impediment to marry each other, and, consequently, conceiving a child out of wedlock, gauged from a purely public and secular view of morality, does not amount to a disgraceful or immoral conduct under Section 94(e) of the 1992 MRPS.”

Contrary to the labor tribunals’ declarations, the Court also found that the school “failed to adduce substantial evidence to prove that the petitioner conduct caused grave scandal to the school and its students.”  Since she was only a non-teaching personnel; her interaction with the students is minimal.

In termination cases, “the burden of proving that the dismissal of the employees was for a valid and authorized cause rests on the employer.”  However, there was no valid ground for dismissal as her “conduct is not considered by law as disgraceful or immoral.” As admitted, the school at the time did not have “any policy or rule against an employee who engages in pre-marital sexual relations and conceives a child as a result thereof.”  With no basis in law or in its policy and rules, the dismissal was “despotic and arbitrary and, thus, not a valid exercise of management prerogative.”  The Court awarded her “separation pay, in lieu of actual reinstatement, full backwages and attorney’s fees, but not to moral and exemplary damages.”

The moral of the story appears to be that even for a Catholic school, secular and not religious standards will prevail.  This highlights another separation, not of Church and State, but between Church and Court, at least when it comes to norms of conduct.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

TEACHING BAD (Yes, a Teacher Can Be Held Liable For Humiliating A Student)

By Siesta-friendly

When teachers are the bullies, it is not bullying, it is ABUSE …
and should not be tolerated!

Recently, a high school senior committed suicide after being allegedly “bullied” by his teacher.

Nothing can match the heartbreak knowing that someone has hurt a child.  The devastation is unspeakable when the hurt child loses his life as a result. 

After reading insensitive and condemnatory online comments against the student and his family for considering filing charges against his teacher, we have to say that “condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance” [unknown origin].  But we digress.

Based on Merriam-Webster online, “bully” is defined as -

Bully    :  [noun] one habitually cruel to others who are weaker
              :[verb] to frighten, hurt, or threaten (a smaller or weaker person)
            : [verb] to cause (someone) to do something by making threats or insults or by using

Thus, a teacher who humiliates, insults, threatens, or hurts a student is a bully; not to mention someone who is acting in abuse of his/her authority.

then we have a COMMON GROUND to establish a LEARNING RELATIONSHIP.
- Dale Knepper

It is distressing that despite the 25th anniversary this year of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), those in society who are given the custody and care of children are still lacking much in awareness, sensitivity and concern that, as the CRC’s Preamble states, children are “entitled to special care and assistance”, should be raised in an “atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”, and, “by reason of [their] physical and mental immaturity, [need] special safeguards and care”.

And we are not exactly lacking in laws, rules and regulations made especially for the welfare of children and specifically applicable to teachers (and schools) regarding their roles towards their students: the Constitution, the Family Code, the Civil Code, the Anti-Bullying Act, and DepEd Order No. 40 s. 2012.

that others can see their way out of the dark.

 1987 Constitution

The 1987 Constitution specifically provides, under Section 3 (2) of Article XIV (EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, ARTS, CULTURE AND SPORTS), that all educational institutions shall “foster love of humanity, respect for human rights, … strengthen ethical and spiritual values, develop moral character and personal discipline“.

Bullying, as specifically addressed in the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013, includes causing emotional damage and distress.

Anti-Bullying Act of 2013

“materially and substantially disrupting the education process or the orderly operation of a school; such as, but not limited to, the following:


a.      Any act that causes damage to a victim’s psyche and/or emotional well-being;
b.      Any slanderous statement or accusation that causes the victim undue emotional distress like directing foul language or profanity at the target, name-calling, tormenting and commenting negatively on victim’s looks, clothes and body; and


Complaints of bullying and other acts shall be within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DepEd or the private school and shall not be brought for amicable settlement before the Barangay, subject to existing laws, rules and regulations. Complaints for acts covered by other laws shall be referred to the appropriate authorities. (Section 10.A)

While defining child abuse to include psychological abuse and emotional maltreatment, DepEd Order No. 40 s. 2012 also considers causing mental or emotional suffering as violence committed on a child.

DepEd Child Protection Policy

Under Sec. 3.I, “[C]hild abuse refers to the maltreatment of a child, whether habitual or not, which includes any of the following:

1)      psychological or physical abuse, neglect, cruelty, sexual abuse and emotional maltreatment;
2)      any act by deeds or words which debases, degrades or demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being;


In addition, Section 3.L states that “[v]iolence against children committed in schools refers to a single act or a series of acts committed by school administrators, academic and non-academic personnel against a child, which result in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological harm or suffering, or other abuses including threats of such acts, battery, assault, coercion, harassment or arbitrary deprivation of liberty. It includes, but is not limited to, the following acts:

3.      Psychological violence refers to acts or omissions causing or likely to cause mental or emotional suffering of the child, such as but not limited to intimidation, harassment, stalking, damage to property, public ridicule or humiliation, deduction or threat of deduction from grade or merit as a form of punishment, and repeated verbal abuse.
4.      Other acts of violence of a physical, sexual or psychological nature that are prejudicial to the best interest of the child.“

We note that Sec. 3.P sets the following guidelines for educators -

Positive and Non-Violent Discipline of Children - is a way of thinking and a holistic, constructive and pro-active approach to teaching that helps children develop appropriate thinking and behavior in the short and long-term and fosters self-discipline.  It is based on the fundamental principle that children are full human beings with basic human rights.  Positive discipline begins with setting the long-term goals or impacts that teachers want to have on their students’ adult lives, and using everyday situations and challenges as opportunities to teach life-long skills and values to students

While Sec. 8 emphasizes the “Duties and Responsibilities of School Personnel” as follows:

“Article 218 of the Family Code of the Philippines provides the following responsibilities of school administrators, teachers, academic and non- academic and other personnel:

  1. Exercise special parental authority and responsibility over the child while under their supervision, instruction and custody. Authority and responsibility shall apply to all authorized activities whether inside or outside the premises of the school, entity or institution.
Articles 220 and 233 of the Family Code of the Philippines, Presidential Decree No. 603, and other related laws enumerated the following duties and responsibilities of the abovementioned persons and personnel over the children under their supervision, instruction and custody:
  1. Keep them in their company and support, educate and instruct them by right precept and good example;
  2. Give them love and affection, advice and counsel, companionship and understanding;
  3. Enhance, protect, preserve and maintain their physical and mental health at all times;
  4. 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. Represent them in all matters affecting their interests;
  6. Inculcate the value of respect and obedience;
  7. Practice positive and non-violent discipline, as may be required under the circumstances; provided, that in no case shall corporal punishment be inflicted upon them;
  8. Perform such other duties as are imposed by law upon them, as substitute parents or guardians; and
  9. School personnel shall also strictly comply with the school’s child protection policy.“
Finally, under Section 20, “[a] complaint for child abuse, violence, exploitation or discrimination in a private school shall be filed with the School Head/Chief Executive Officer and shall be acted upon pursuant to the school’s rules of procedures on administrative cases. The penalty shall be that which is provided by the rules of the school, subject to the requirements of due process. The administrative case shall be without prejudice to any civil or criminal case that may be filed.” [emphasis supplied]

The best part of teaching is that it matters.
The hardest part of teaching is that every moment matters, every day.

– Todd Whitaker

Family Code

The Ant-Bullying Act and DepEd Order No. 40 s. 2012 cited above are specifically applicable to primary and secondary school students, regardless of age.

The following Family Code (E.O. 209) provisions on Parental Authority apply to unemancipated minors –

“Art. 220. The parents and those exercising parental authority shall have with the respect to their unemancipated children on 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. (316a)”

Those exercising parental authority include teachers pursuant to Art. 218 and 233 –

“Art. 218. The school, its administrators and teachers, or the individual, entity or institution engaged in child are 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. (349a)


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 of individual engaged in child care exercising special parental authority inflict corporal punishment upon the child. (n)”
the power to lift someone from the depths of darkness,
or rip them to shreds.
- Kate Walton

Civil Code

But even without legal provisions focused solely on the welfare of students and minors, our laws recognize that there are certain acts, though not deemed criminal, are actionable nonetheless because they have caused damage.  Some of these are acts are called quasi-delicts and are covered by the Civil Code -

“Article 2176.  Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done.  Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called a quasi-delict and is governed by the provisions of this Chapter.”

Children have distinct needs and rights; and because of their age and immaturity, children need special protection.  We have the laws to protect children and their human rights.  We need to make sure everyone in society – especially those with parental authority over children – knows and observes them and are appropriately punished for breaking them.  We adults should know better and need to step up.