THE Supreme Court (SC) suspended Cebu City Assistant Prosecutor Mary Ann Castro for six months and a day for wielding “excessive influence” when she asked police to help her brother who complained about a defective vehicle he bought in 2001.

The SC 2nd Division affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA), which found Castro guilty of using her office’s influence to use the Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) “for a purely personal matter.”

“These (Castro’s acts) send the wrong impression that public officials could use and exploit the police force for their personal interests,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Arturo Brion.

Castro, for her part, said her lawyer has yet to receive a copy of the decision. Once they receive the ruling, Castro said she will avail herself of legal remedies, such as filing a motion for reconsideration.

The case stemmed from an administrative complaint filed by businesswoman Emily Rose Ko Lim Chao before the anti-graft office, accusing Castro of violating Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

Background

Chao owns KD Surplus, where Castro’s brother Mariven bought on credit a Fuso Canter. Mariven issued six post-dated checks to Chao as payment, but the checks were dishonored for lack of funds. 

On Sept. 16, 2002, Mariven’s wife Rosefil, accompanied by Prosecutor Castro, brought the vehicle to the surplus car shop yard for appraisal and evaluation. Chao inspected the vehicle and found out that it had a defective engine, as well as a rusty and dilapidated body. Chao, though, refused to accept the vehicle.

Castro left the car shop only to return moments later allegedly on board a Swat vehicle. She signed the guard’s logbook as a witness, and then brought it outside. 

Castro also asked Chao to sign a paper containing a list of the issued checks and told the latter to return the checks. When Chao refused, Castro threatened to file cases against the businesswoman. The prosecutor also reportedly threatened Chao’s staff with lawsuits if they didn’t testify in her favor.

Replying to charges against her before the ombudsman, Castro described Chao’s complaint as a harassment suit. Castro also said the police arrived ahead of her.

In its decision, dated May 6, 2003, the anti-graft office found Castro liable for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and suspended her from service for three months.

Castro filed a motion for reconsideration, but the ombudsman denied it.

Castro filed a petition for review with the CA, which modified the ombudsman’s ruling and found the prosecutor liable for simple misconduct.

The CA said Castro was suspended for abusing her position, not for calling for police assistance.

It said that Castro “used her office’s influence, prestige and ascendancy to use the PNP-Swat for a purely personal matter.” Instead of three months, the CA reduced the suspension to one month and a day.

In the decision, the SC agreed with the ombudsman’s ruling finding Castro guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. 

Her riding in a Swat vehicle and entering a car shop for a personal matter were “haughty and an excessive display” and meant to “project an image of power and influence” to intimidate Chao, the SC said.