2 Singer P7,850 P15,700 P4,450 P8,900 P6,800
4 16" 3,800 15,200 1,200 4,800 10,400
3 Molodione 3,675 11,025 1,850 5,550 5,475
2 Xylophone 1,750 3,500 560 1,120 2,380
2 Makita 8,837.50 17,675 8,500 17,200 475
19008 3 ¼
in. 82 mm
1 Makita 16,900 16,900 7,330 7,330 9,570
Total P80,000 P44,900 P35,100
In its letter 5 to the Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas, the COA recommended the filing of both criminal and administrative cases against the persons liable therefor, including petitioner for his approval of the RIV for the assailed purchase and signing of the check in payment therefor. This complaint was docketed as OMB-Visayas-Crim.-94-0836.
In his counter-affidavit, 6 petitioner alleged that the aforesaid documents were previously reviewed by his subordinates. He approved them only upon the certification and representation of the said subordinates that; everything was in order. Accordingly, his approval was purely a ministerial act.
In her Resolution of 20 March 1997, 7 Virginia Palanca Santiago, Graft Investigation Officer III of the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas, rejected petitioner’s defense because had he carefully scrutinized the documents he would have discovered that the purchases were made without competitive public bidding and the magnitude of the amount involved would prevent a reasonable mind from accepting the claim that petitioner was merely careless or negligent in the performance of his functions.
Santiago gave credence to COA’s detailed report which clearly showed an overpriced value of the supplies and materials purchased, to the great disadvantage of the government. Had the proper bidding procedure been observed, no such damage would have occurred. Moreover, petitioner’s co-respondents did not dispute the charge of overpricing. Their main defense was that the purchase was emergency in nature. The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas, however, ruled that emergency purchases could only refer to those which were urgent such that failure to make them would endanger the lives of the students. It held that the doubtful purchase did not qualify as an emergency purchase.
Accordingly, Santiago recommended that petitioner and his co-respondents be indicted for violation of Section 3(g) of R.A. No. 3019, as amended, for entering into a contract or transaction manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the Government.
The Resolution was recommended for approval by Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas, Arturo C. Mojica. Ombudsman Aniano A. Desierto approved the Resolution on 21 June 1997.
In an Information 8 filed with the Sandiganbayan and docketed as SB Criminal Case No. 23785, 9 petitioner and two other co-respondents were charged with the aforementioned offense allegedly committed as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
That on or about the 21st day of October, 1992, at Tacloban City, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, above-named accused, all public officers, having been appointed and qualified as such public positions above-mentioned, in such capacity and committing the offense in relation to office, conniving and confederating together and mutually helping with each other, with deliberate intent, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously enter into a transaction or contract for and in behalf of Lalawigan National High School, Lalawigan, Borongan, Eastern Samar, for the purchase of the following:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
2 pcs. Singer Sewing Machine 15,700.00
4 pcs. 16" Hitachi Union Ceiling Fan 15,200.00
3 pcs. Meodione 11,025.00
2 pcs. Xylophone 3,500.00
2 pcs. Makita Elect. Planor Model No. 17,675.00
19008 3 ¼ in. 82 mm
1 pc. Makita Elect. Circular Saw Model 16,900.00
No. 5601 N 160 mm
in the total amount of P80,000.00, Philippine Currency, with Fairchild Marketing and Construction, based at Tacloban City, without following the procedures of competitive public bidding as required by law, which transaction was manifestly and grossly disadvantageous to the government, particularly the Lalawigan National High School, as the value of above-mentioned items were overpriced in the total amount of P35,100.00, Philippine Currency, to the damage and prejudice of the governments. 10
Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsiderations 11 of the Resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas. He insisted that his act of approving the RIV arose from the need of the requesting school, and matters pertaining to the price and mode of purchase were not yet considered at that stage. It was only after the approval of the RIV that these matters were deliberated upon, not by him, but by the officials of the requesting school. As to the check, he asserted that the supporting documents had been acted upon and approved by his subordinates and the concerned school officials, and since there was no indication of any patent irregularity, he signed the check. Finally, petitioner assailed the finding of conspiracy since there was no direct proof therefor other than a mere allegation imputing the same.
In the Order of 5 March 1998, 12 the Office of the Special Prosecutor recommended that petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration be dismissed for lack of merit. The Ombudsman approved the recommendation on 22 May 1998.
Petitioner then filed the instant petition. In the meantime, the proceeding before the Sandiganbayan continued. Upon arraignment on 24 August 1998, petitioner’s co-accused pleaded not guilty to the offense charged. On 2 September 1998, petitioner filed a motion to reset the scheduled, hearing on 17 and 18 September citing the pendency of the instant petition. The Sandiganbayan denied petitioner’s motion as well as his subsequent motion for reconsideration. Consequently, he filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court claiming that the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion in denying his motions. That action, entitled Tirol v. Sandiganbayan and docketed as G.R. No. 135913, was decided on 4 November 1999 adversely against petitioner.
In the instant petition, petitioner seeks the reversal of the assailed Resolution and Order of the Office of the Ombudsman, which, according to him, erred in concluding that he was culpably liable for alleged overpricing of the questioned purchase of supplies and materials. He argues that the acts directly resulting in the overprice were committed by the following officials: (1) co-respondent Conchita C. Devora, Principal 1, who approved the transaction, countersigned the checks and requisitioned the items; (2) co-respondent Maria A. Alvero, Bookkeeper who affixed her signature in the voucher; and (3) Salome G. Germana, designated Storekeeper, who signed Box No. 4 of the voucher. His participation was limited to signing the RIV at the check as a matter of routine. Moreover, the RIV did not involve the determination of the price of the supplies and materials to be purchased, and his signing the check was done in compliance with the DECS policy which limited the signing authority of the principal Conchita C. Devora, to checks not exceeding P50,000. In such case the signing authority was vested in him as the DECS Regional Director.
In maintaining his innocence, petitioner asserts that the presumption of regularity in the performance of public functions by public officers should apply in his favor. He had no ground to doubt the preparation, processing and verification of his subordinates prior to his act of approving the RIV and signing the check. His position required the signing of voluminous documents and it would be unreasonably cumbersome if he were to scrutinize every document that required his signature.
In support of his arguments, petitioner cites the cases of Arias v. Sandiganbayan 13 and Magsuci v. Sandiganbayan, 14 where this Court held that heads of office may rely to a reasonable extent on their subordinates and on the good faith of those who prepare bids, purchase supplies or enter into negotiations. He likewise disputes the allegation of conspiracy for the acts imputed against him were functions discharged in the performance of his official duty. He did not overstep or exceed said functions. For conspiracy to exist, it is essential that there must be a conscious design to commit an offense.
In the Comment for the public respondent, the Office of the Solicitor General contends that conspiracy need not be proved by direct evidence; it may be established by circumstantial evidence. It avers that what prevails in the instant case is a conspiracy of silence and inaction. Petitioner should have been vigilant in protecting the interest of the government. The magnitude of the amount involved should have cautioned him to verify the truthfulness of the documents presented for his signature. Petitioner ignored this telling warning and in so doing he was guilty of negligence. His reliance on his subordinates is no excuse, otherwise his position would be a mere rubber stamp for the said subordinates.
As a final argument, the Office of the Solicitor General asseverates that it is beyond the ambit of this Court’s authority to review the power of the Ombudsman in prosecuting or dismissing a complaint filed before it. The Ombudsman is constitutionally mandated to investigate and prosecute matters falling within his jurisdiction.
In his Reply petitioner states that the nature of the petition does not involve a review of the factual finding of the Office of the Ombudsman but rather its conclusion based on undisputed facts. The issue is a question of law and may, therefore, be reviewed by this Court.
A meticulous review and re-evaluation of the pleadings in this case, as well as G.R. No. 135913 leads this Court to a conclusion unfavorable to petitioner.
Petitioner is indicted for violation of Section 3(g) of R.A. No. 3019, which provides:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
SECTION 3. Corrupt Practices of Public Officers. — In addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1. Rollo, 52- 59.
2. Id., 67-69.
3. Also known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
4. Rollo, 29-49.
5. Rollo, 27.
6. Id., 50-51.
7. Supra note 1.
8. Rollo, 60-61.
9. Entitled, People of the Philippines v. Victoriano B. Tirol, Jr., Director III of the Department of Culture, Education and Sports, Region VIII now designated at DECS, (Region V, Legaspi City), Conchita C. Devora, Secondary School Principal I, Maria A. Alvero, Bookkeeper, all of Lalawigan National High School, Lalawigan, Borongan, Eastern Samar.
10. Rollo, 60-61.
11. Id., 63-66.
12. Supra note 2.
13. 180 SCRA 309 .
14. 240 SCRA 13 .
15. Presidential Decree No. 1861, Section 4; Republic v. Asuncion, 231 SCRA 211, 228 ; Subido, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan, 266 SCRA 379, 387, 388 .
16. Ramos v. Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of the P.I., 19 SCRA 289, 292 ; Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Court of Appeals, 298 SCRA 83, 91 ; Dela Torre v. Pepsi Cola Products Phils., Inc., 298 SCRA 363, 373 .
17. Supra note 13.
18. Supra note 14.
19. Ocampo IV v. Ombudsman, 225 SCRA 725, 730 ; Cruz, Jr. v. People, 233 SCRA 439, 459 ; Paredes, Jr. v. Sandiganbayan, 252 SCRA 641, 659-660 ; Alba v. Nitorreda, 254 SCRA 753, 765 .
20. Ocampo v. Ombudsman, supra note 19.
21. 192 SCRA 183, 188-189 . See also Venus v. Desierto, 298 SCRA 196, 214-215 .
22. 295 SCRA 470 .
23. Tirol v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 135913, 4 November 1999.
24. See for example Santiago v. COMELEC, 270 SCRA 106, 134-135 .
25. Supra note 23.
26. Lim Tanhu v. Remolete, 66 SCRA 425 ; Ledesma Overseas Shipping Corp. v. Avelino, 82 SCRA 396 ; RUBEN AGPALO, LEGAL ETHICS [Fourth ed., 1989], 124-125.