• Dismissing teachers over immorality

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    The school where I teach is currently facing a controversy. Two of the teachers serving in our faculty who are both married were discovered to be having an illicit affair. The witnesses include parents of our students, students, peers in the faculty and even the security guards. When they were called for an administrative investigation, they asserted that it is none of the school’s business as whatever they have is a purely private decision and a consensual adult business beyond the school’s arms. They were consequently terminated from the school. We are curious, are they not correct in their assertion that what they have is a purely private matter?

    Sincerely yours,
    Tonia

    Dear Tonia,
    The case of Jose Santos Jr. vs NLRC, et al. (GR No. 115795, March 8, 1998) penned by the former Associate Justice Flerida Ruth Pineda-Romero can enlighten you in your situation. It clearly stated:

    “The crux of the controversy is whether the illicit relationship between the petitioner and Mrs. Martin could be considered immoral as to constitute just cause to terminate an employee under Article 282 of the Labor Code.

    We have consistently held that in order to constitute a valid dismissal, two requisites must concur: (a) the dismissal must be for any of the causes expressed in Art. 282 of the Labor Code, and (b) the employee must be accorded due process, basic of which are the opportunity to be heard and defend himself.

    Under Article 282 of the Labor Code, as amended, the following are deemed just causes to terminate an employee:

    ‘(a) Serious misconduct or willful disobedience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or representative in connection with his work;

    (b) Gross and habitual neglect by the employee of his duties:

    (c) Fraud or willful breach by the employee of the trust reposed in him by his employer or duly authorized representative;

    (d) Commission of a crime or offense by the employee against the person of his employer or any immediate member of his family or his duly authorize representative; and

    (e) Other causes analogous to the foregoing.’

    Moreover, it is provided inter alia under Section 94 of the Manual of Regulations for Private Schools:

    ‘Sec. 94. Causes of Terminating Employment. In addition to the just cases enumerated in the Labor Code, the employment of school personnel, including faculty, may be terminated for any of the following causes:

    xxx xxx xxx

    E. Disgraceful or immoral conduct.’

    Private respondent, in justifying the termination of the petitioner, contends that being a teacher, he “must live up to the high moral standards required of his position.” In other words, it asserts that its purpose in dismissing the petitioner was to preserve the respect of the community towards the teachers and to strengthen the educational system.

    On the other hand, petitioner merely argues that the alleged illicit relationship was not substantially proven by convincing evidence by the private respondent as to justify his dismissal.

    On the outset, it must be stressed that to constitute immorality, the circumstances of each particular case must be holistically considered and evaluated in light of the prevailing norms of conduct and applicable laws. American jurisprudence has defined immorality as a course of conduct which offends the morals of the community and is a bad example to the youth whose ideals a teacher is supposed to foster and to elevate, the same including sexual misconduct. Thus, in petitioner’s case, the gravity and seriousness of the charges against him stem from his being a married man and at the same time a teacher.

    We cannot overemphasize that having an extra-marital affair is an affront to the sanctity of marriage, which is a basic institution of society. Even our Family Code provides that husband and wife must live together, observe mutual love, respect and fidelity. This is rooted in the fact that both our Constitution and our laws cherish the validity of marriage and unity of the family. Our laws, in implementing this constitutional edict on marriage and the family underscore their permanence, inviolability and solidarity.

    As a teacher, petitioner serves as an example to his pupils, especially during their formative years18 and stands in loco parentis to them. To stress their importance in our society, teachers are given substitute and special parental authority under our laws.

    Consequently, it is but stating the obvious to assert that teachers must adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency. There is no dichotomy of morality. A teacher, both in his official and personal conduct, must display exemplary behavior. He must freely and willingly accept restrictions on his conduct that might be viewed irksome by ordinary citizens. In other words, the personal behavior of teachers, in and outside the classroom, must be beyond reproach.

    Accordingly, teachers must abide by a standard of personal conduct which not only proscribes the commission of immoral acts, but also prohibits behavior creating a suspicion of immorality because of the harmful impression it might have on the students. Likewise, they must observe a high standard of integrity and honesty.

    From the foregoing, it seems obvious that when a teacher engages in extra-marital relationship, especially when the parties are both married, such behavior amounts to immorality, justifying his termination from employment.” (Emphasis supplied)

    Evidently, the termination of your co-teachers is valid based on the above-stated grounds. For as long as they were duly apprised of the case/s against them, and that they were afforded due process relative to the termination of their employment, they were validly terminated. Infidelity is a form of immorality. Besides, they should know that as teachers, their actions outside the school must be beyond reproach. Hence, their assertion that their decision is already beyond school concerns, and is a mere private matter cannot be given credence as palpably shown in the abovementioned decision.

    Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.

    We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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