SC Upholds Dismissal from Service of Three Former Benguet Local Officials
The Supreme Court En Banc on January 24, 2023, dismissed the Joint Petition of Certiorari filed in 2020 by three former officials of the Municipality of Buguias, Benguet assailing the decision of the Court of Appeals which affirmed the ruling of the Office of the Ombudsman finding them guilty of grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service (with one petitioner specifically guilty of serious dishonesty) and dismissing them from government service.
In the case of Anecita C. Suyat, Asano E. Aban, and Marcelino P. Endi v. Court of Appeals, Office of the Ombudsman, and Commission on Audit (G.R. Nos. 251978-80), the Court found that in 2004, the former Benguet municipal officials facilitated the irregular disbursement of
P1,049,992.00 to a contractor/supplier of fungicides and insecticides intended as farming inputs for local farmers.
Based on the findings and accompanying notice of disallowance of the Commission on Audit, the Task Force Abono of the Office of the Ombudsman-Field Investigation Office filed the appropriate administrative case against the petitioners due to their violation of R.A. No. 9184, otherwise known as the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA).
In the Ombudsman’s Decision, petitioners were found to have facilitated the anomalous transaction without proper resort to alternative methods of procurement as provided in the GPRA, even if it was a newly enacted statute at the time.
In a Decision penned by Associate Justice Samuel H. Gaerlan, the Court En Banc found that the lack of the required documentation of the procurement process, the likely intentional omission of dates on the bare documentation available, the blatant reference to brand names of pesticides, the uncannily exact match between the estimated unit costs in the purchase request and the offered quotations of the winning supplier, the overall absence of any prior written approval of the municipal mayor, and other gross anomalies on record had all collectively constituted a stain on the reputation of Philippine public service.
The Court said that it did not matter that the municipality’s bids and awards committee and its functions had been suspended, or that the municipal mayor may have exerted undue pressure or influence on petitioners. Petitioners still failed to discharge their duties as municipal officials and public officers in compliance with the exacting standards required of them. Hence, their dismissal from the service and other attendant penalties were justified.
The Court added that even if petitioners were acquitted alongside the then-municipal mayor in related criminal proceedings before the Sandiganbayan 7th Division, the disposition of their administrative cases still stood, as administrative cases are independent from criminal proceedings, and the dismissal of the latter on grounds of insufficiency of evidence will not preclude the determination of the former.
The Court found that there was enough substantial evidence on record to hold petitioners administratively liable for their transgressions as municipal officials, and these became the basis for the findings of the Ombudsman. Said findings, absent any showing of grave abuse of discretion on the Ombudsman’s part, were considered conclusive upon the Court following standing jurisprudence.
The Supreme Court Public Information Office will upload the decision to the SC website once it receives an official copy from the Office of the Clerk of Court En Banc. (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)