Supreme Court fires Palace cameraman for unsolicited knee touch on female colleague

The Supreme Court fired and disqualified from ever joining government service a cameraman of Radio Television Malacañang (RTVM) over an incident in 2012 where a female colleague felt harassed because of unsolicited physical contact.

The Supreme Court Second Division reinstated an earlier decision of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) finding longtime cameraman Vergel Tabasa guilty of simple misconduct. The victim had filed a complaint for sexual harassment or grave misconduct for an unsolicited tickle on the knee.

The Supreme Court forfeited Tabasa's benefits including retirement, except accrued leave/terminal benefits and personal contribution in the Government Insurance System, and perpetually disqualified him from government service.

"Unsolicited physical contact, even if done in jest, has no place in the workplace, especially in government service," said the Second Division in a decision dated February 26, but released to media only on June 22.

It was signed by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting, with concurrences from Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, and Associate Justices Andres Reyes Jr (retired) and Ramon Paul Hernando.


What happened?

The female colleague, a contractual staff of RTVM, filed an internal complaint against Tabasa in June 2013 over an incident that happened inside their offices in December 2012.

"Sometime on December 28, 2012, at noon time, she was seated in a sofa of the Engineering Office watching Eat Bulaga when Tabasa suddenly sat beside her and cornered her," said Supreme Court records.

"Tabasa then tickled her right knee much to her shock and humiliation. Despite her protestations, Tabasa also held her causing her to hit her left elbow in the nearby cabinet when she freed herself from Tabasa," said the records.

The female colleague said she cried and told the incident to her workmates but instead of apologizing, Tabasa "taunted her and with a smirk uttered the following 'Oh Umiyak ka daw' (I was told you cried?)."

The RTVM held Tabasa guilty for simple misconduct, and dismissed him from service, a decision affirmed by the CSC in March 2016.

What's the ruling?

The CSC took into consideration that it was Tabasa's second simple misconduct offense, the first one being over a verbal altercation with another colleague.

Tabasa elevated it to the Court of Appeals (CA) and argued that his length of service is a mitigating circumstance. Tabasa has been with the RTVM since 1987.

The CA upheld the finding of guilt for simple misconduct, but sided sided with Tabasa on the length of service argument and reduced the penalty to only a 6-month suspension without pay and benefits.

In reversing the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court decided Tabasa's length of service is not a mitigating circumstance but an aggravating circumstance because "his seniority emboldened him to commit unsolicited advances."

The RTVM appealed the CA decision to the Supreme Court.

"Even though Tabasa could have the best intentions in making a moment lighthearted with [colleague] while watching a noontime television show, the latter's reception of the joke was clearly resistive. For obvious reasons, [colleague] cold not be faulted for her own perception of decency and decorum exacting upon employees in the government service," said the Supreme Court.

"The touching of knee was clearly unsolicited and uncalled for and Tabasa does not have any right to do so...Veritably, Tabasa not only demonstrated his moral depravity and lack of respect towards female co-employees, but also his unprofessionalism in his interactions with his colleagues," said the Supreme Court.

As to whether it is simple or grave misconduct, the Supreme Court said it could not review the factual findings of the CSC and CA because rules on certiorari state only questions of law may be raised in their level. As such, the Supreme Court said it "finds no cogent reason to depart" from the earlier finding of guilt for simple misconduct. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.