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Estrada v. Escritor (2006) Administrative Matter: Disgraceful and Immoral Conduct Complainant: Alejandro Estrada Respondent: Soledad F. Escritor Ponente: J. Puno Date: 22 June 2006 Case Statement: Soledad stands before the Court invoking her religious freedom and her Jehovah God in a bid to save her family – united without the benefit of legal marriage – and livelihood. The State, on the other hand, seeks to wield its power to regulate her behavior and protect its interest in marriage and family and the integrity of the courts where Soledad is an employee. Facts: Religion Clauses (First Amendment) Establishment Clause (No favored religions/religious groups) Free Exercise Clause (No penalties for religious beliefs) Jurisprudence of separation Strict separation/Strict neutrality (Government Neutrality) o Establishment clause: meant to protect the State from the Church – religious orgs. should never receive aid, direct or indirect, from the State. Benevolent neutrality/Accommodation o Meant to protect the Church from the State – separation must be clearly defined Reasons why the (Philippine) Consti. mandates the Court to make exemptions in cases involving criminal laws of general application (on ground of free exercise) Benevolent neutrality-accommodation is even more pronounced in the Philippines Purpose of accommodation theory (mandatory or permissive): to address the inadvertent burdensome effect that an otherwise facially neutral law would have on religious exercise To protect minority religions from the inevitable effects of majoritarianism Exemption from penal laws on account of religion is not an entirely alien concept – ex. exemption from bigamy charges of Moslem marriages Unlike other rights (ex. life, liberty, and property), religion clauses stated in absolute terms Issues: 1.
1999 – Soledad entered the judiciary, already a widow (since 1998) Started living with Luciano Quilapio, Jr (extramarital, 20 years hence) while her husband was also living w/ another woman o Has a son w/ Quilapio o Member of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) – Soledad claims that the conjugal arrangement is in conformity w/ her religion 28 July 1991 – as proof of her commitment to Quilapio, executed a Declaration of Pledging Faithfulness o This pledge allows members of JW – who had been abandoned by their spouses – to enter into marital relations [w/ other persons] o Recognition that given the circumstances, those executing the pledge are not able to get civil recognition of the subsequent marriage, because of legal impediments Even after her subsisting marriage was dissolved by the death of her husband, Soledad’s partner – Quilapio – still was not capacitated to marry 27 July 2000 –Estrada requested Judge Caoibes, Jr. (Las Pinas RTC, Br. 253) to investigate Soledad – working as a court interpreter – for her live-in arrangement. o Subsequently, she was charged with committing “disgraceful and immoral conduct” under Book V, Title I, Chapter VI Sec. 46(b)(5) of the Revised Administrative Code 4 Aug 2003 – The SC remanded the complaint to the Office of the Court Administrator. o Requested OSG to intervene (Compelling State Interest) Examine sincerity/centrality of claimed religious beliefs/practices Present evidence: compelling state interest Show: means of pursuing state interest least restrictive o TASK OF COURT: determine whether evidence adduced by the State proves its more compelling interest and on that basis, decide if Soledad should be held administratively liable
Should Soledad be found guilty of the administrative charge, “disgraceful and immoral conduct” *for her live-in arrangement with Quilapio, for religious reasons]?
Ruling/Ratio: 1. NO. [Soledad’s conjugal arrangement cannot be penalized – she is entitled to an exemption from the law based on her fundamental right to freedom of religion] Compelling State Interest Test a. Sincerity of religious belief Beyond serious doubt Burden thus shifted to gov’t: it must be able to show that conditions (b) and (c) are sufficiently met b. Presence of compelling state interest OSG failed to show evidence to support this Only contended that the State has a compelling interest to override the respondent’s religious beliefs in order to protect marriage and the family as basic social institutions (Sec. 12, Art. II, Consti.) Carpio: majority opinion condone and accords a semblance of legitimacy to the respondent’s patently unlawful cohabitation and facilitates the circumvention of the Revised Penal Code
Digest Author: Dodot
BUT, the Consti. also holds the right to religious freedom sacred – which is why the State must articulate in specific terms the State interest involved in preventing the exemption, which must be compelling Gov’t must show to what extent its stated objectives will be undermined if a particular exemption Is granted Bellosillo/Vitug concurring opinion (previous decision): to deny the exemption would effectively break up “an otherwise ideal union of two individuals who have managed to stay together as husband and wife” for an extended period of time Charge against Soledad: “conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service” – but no evidence to prove such assertion was ever presented Carpio’s slippery slope argument – nonsequitor: exemption would only apply to JW, not Catholics Unlike JW, Catholics consider cohabitation before marriage immoral JW have standards and procedures which must be followed before cohabitation w/o marriage is given the blessing of the congregation Bill of Rights: designed to protect the minority from the majority Benevolent neutrality allows for accommodation of morality based on religion, provided it does not offend compelling state interest (which was not sufficiently demonstrated) Least restrictive means of pursuing state interest? OSG failed to show evidence to support this court employees, and also to all civil servants: public, far-reaching consequences For court employees in particular: conduct must be characterized by propriety/decorum, but above all else, must be above suspicion Soledad is charged not as a member of JW, but as a court employee Ebraling v. Division Superintendent of Schools (1993) – JW exempted from coerced participation in flag ceremonies of public schools But adultery is a different matter altogether On similar exemption for Moslem (practice of polygamy) SC does not have the legislative power to place JW in the same legal category as Moslems Accordingly, voted that Soledad gulty of immorality and disgraceful conduct, should have been suspended for 6 mos. And 1 day w/o pay – with a warning that continuance of the illicit cohabitation would warrant the penalty of dismissal from service.
Decision: The instant administrative complaint is dismissed. Principles: De Facto Separation
Opinions: Ynares-Santiago (Dissenting): o What is the meaning/standard of “disgraceful and immoral conduct” *for disciplinary cases+? SC has never justified, condoned, or blessed the continuation of an adulterous/illicit relationship Civil Service Law Standard: the offense is complete if respondent intended to perform the condemned act Morality in this view: legal not philosophical Soledad would have been guilty of adultery prior to her husband’s death Now she would still be a coprincipal in the crime of concubinage Thus, acts defined as criminal under penal law have been committed o Noted that the decision would not just be pro hac vice for Soledad, but applicable to all the