SC sacks Davao immigration officer who claims extortion is the ‘system of government’

The Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed an immigration officer accused of extortion who was even quoted as saying: “Yes, my dear, that’s the system of government. It’s the system—am I going to pretend to be clean?”

In a recent 21-page decision, the SC 3rd Division reinstated the Ombudsman’s November 5, 2008 decision to dismiss Maria Rowena Regalado for grave misconduct and violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officers and Employees.

The SC set aside the Court of Appeals’ (CA) July 19, 2013 amended decision, which affirmed Regalado’s guilt of the serious administrative offenses but reduced her penalty to just a 1-year suspension order.

Regalado, of the Bureau of Immigration’s Davao office, was accused of demanding a P50,000 “accreditation fee” from St. Martha’s Day Care Center and Tutorial Center, Inc. in exchanging for accrediting the school to accept foreign students in 2007.

She claimed to have reduced the fee to P10,000 but then asked for an unspecified honorarium. She told the school owner Carmelita Doromal to put the honorarium in an unmarked envelope and say it contained additional documents should anyone ask.

Regalado, however, expressed shock that Doromal gave a P1,500 honorarium and said it should be at least P30,000 because it would also go to her boss. This prompted Doromal to ask if it was under-the-table, leading Regalado to spout the infamous quote.

The SC decision, penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, called out Regalado for her “audacity and depravity” in not only admitting to her corruption but also “besmirching the entire government.”

It said the CA erred when it lessened Regalado’s penalty on the grounds of “good work performance” and affidavits by other schools attesting to her satisfactory services.

“This Court is, quite frankly, baffled by how solicited statements of support from supposedly satisfied clients could operate to erode the liability of one such as respondent,” read the decision.

The SC explained the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service did not provide for mitigating circumstances that would lighten the penalty, and said serious offenses like grave misconduct already warrant dismissal even if it was just the first offense.

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