G.R. No. 204757, March 17, 2015
ATTY. JANET D. NACION, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON AUDIT, MA. GRACIA PULIDO-TAN, JUANITO ESPINO AND HEIDI MENDOZA, Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
The Administrative Case Evaluation Report dated June 21, 2011 of the Fraud Audit and Investigation Office (FAIO), Legal Services Sector (LSS) as well as the Investigation Report submitted by the Team from the FAIO disclosed the following reprehensible actions:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryAttached to the formal charge, which was docketed as Administrative Case No. 2011-002, were investigation reports based on MWSS journal vouchers, disbursement vouchers and claims control index. COA’s investigation of its personnel assigned to MWSS was prompted by its receipt of a letter from then MWSS Administrator Diosdado Jose M. Allado, who complained of unrecorded checks and irregularly issued disbursement vouchers that were traced to refer to bonuses and other benefits of the COA MWSS personnel.7chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
Based thereon and upon the recommendation of the Director, FAIO-LSS, this Office finds sufficient basis to administratively charge you with Grave Misconduct and Violation of Reasonable Office Rules and Regulations which are grounds for administrative action under the Civil Service Law, Rules and Regulations.
- Receiving benefits and/or bonuses from MWSS in the total amount of P73,542.00 from 1999-2003[;]
- Availing of the MWSS Housing Project;chanrobleslaw
- Availing of the Multi-Purpose Loan Program – Car Loan.
WHEREFORE, you are hereby formally charged with the aforementioned offenses and required to submit to the Office of the General Counsel, LSS your answer in writing and under oath, within five (5) days from receipt hereof, x x x.6
Director Nacion did not request for a formal investigation, hence, has saved this Commission from the inconvenience and cost of such proceeding. She also admitted availing both the Housing Project and MPLP Car Loan. Her long years in service [are] also worth considering as she has spent her productive years in the public service. x x x.16In addition to the suspension, Nacion was ordered to refund the amount of P73,542.0017 and return the lot which she acquired under the MWSS housing program. The dispositive portion of the COA decision then reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
WHEREFORE, premises considered, this Commission finds Director Janet D. Nacion GUILTY of Grave Misconduct and Violation of Reasonable Office Rules and Regulations proceeding from the same act of receiving unauthorized allowances and other fringe benefits. Accordingly, she is meted the penalty of one (1) year suspension without pay effective upon receipt of this Decision, immediate refund of the amount of P73,542.00, and return of the lot she obtained under the MWSS Employees Housing Project, with a stern warning that repetition of the same or similar infraction shall be dealt with more severely.Unyielding, Nacion moved to reconsider, but her plea was denied by the COA in a Resolution dated November 5, 2012.19 Hence, this petition.
Let a copy of this Decision form part of the respondent’s personal (201) File in this Commission. The Chief Executive Staff, Office of the Chairperson and the Assistant Commissioner, Administration Sector, shall enforce this Decision and report compliance thereof to the Commission Proper.18
The concept is well-entrenched: grave abuse of discretion exists when there is an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law or to act in contemplation of law as when the judgment rendered is not based on law and evidence but on caprice, whim, and despotism. Not every error in the proceedings, or every erroneous conclusion of law or fact, constitutes grave abuse of discretion. The abuse of discretion to be qualified as “grave” must be so patent or gross as to constitute an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform the duty or to act at all in contemplation of law.20 (Citations omitted)Thus, the Court emphasized in Dycoco v. Court of Appeals21 that “[a]n act of a court or tribunal can only be considered as with grave abuse of discretion when such act is done in a ‘capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.’”22chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
Sec. 2. How commenced. –The power of the COA to discipline its officials then could not be limited by the procedure being insisted upon by Nacion. Neither is the authority of the Chairperson to commence the action through the issuance of the formal charge restricted by the requirement of a prior written complaint. As may be gleaned from the cited provision, a written complaint under oath is demanded only when the administrative case is commenced by a person other than the COA Chairperson.
(1) Administrative proceedings may be commenced against a subordinate official or employee of the Commission by the Chairman motu proprio, or upon sworn, written complaint of any other person. (Sec. 38 [a], PD 807).
x x x x (Emphasis ours)
Sec. 5. Substantial evidence. – In cases filed before administrative or quasi-judicial bodies, a fact may be deemed established if it is supported by substantial evidence, or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion. (Emphasis ours)It is settled that the factual findings of administrative bodies are controlling when supported by such substantial evidence.26 In resolving the present petition, the Court finds no compelling reason to deviate from this general rule. Three separate acts were found to have been committed by Nacion, all sufficient to support the COA’s finding of grave misconduct and violation of reasonable office rules and regulations.
For the receipt of allowances and bonuses amounting to P73,542.00, which she denied receiving for lack of conclusive proof, it must be emphasized that administrative offenses only require substantial, not conclusive, evidence. The MWSS Claims Control Index is used to record payments made to each employee, supplier and other agency internal and external creditors. Its preparation and maintenance are not discretionary upon the agency as COA itself has established the use of it to serve as an effective tool for internal control. The various other recordings that were gathered to support the entries in the index of payment established that allowances and benefits have indeed been extended to Atty. Nacion. It was not a stroke of accident that her name appeared on these documents. Auditors can certainly explain the appearance of specific names in the indices of payment and other documents presented herein. x x x.27Nacion’s availment of the housing and car programs was undisputed. She claimed though to have availed of these benefits upon an honest belief that she was not prohibited from doing so. Her alleged good faith, nonetheless, could not support exoneration. Even her claim that officials from other agencies availed of the same benefits from MWSS could neither qualify as a valid defense nor be treated as a confirmation of good faith. A prohibited act could not be justified by the mere fact that other government officers were doing it, especially since given Nacion’s office and distinctive functions, the other officers might not be similarly situated and covered by similar prohibitions.28chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
Section 18. Additional Compensation of Commission on Audit Personnel and of Other Agencies. – In order to preserve the independence and integrity of the Commission on Audit (COA), its officials and employees are prohibited from receiving salaries, honoraria, bonuses, allowances or other emoluments from any government entity, local government unit, and government-owned and controlled corporations, and government financial institution, except those compensation paid directly by the COA out of its appropriations and contributions.An observance of the prohibition is mandatory given its purpose vis-à-vis the roles which COA personnel are required to perform. Given their mandate to look after compliance with laws and standards in the handling of funds by the government agencies where they are assigned to, COA personnel must prevent any act that may influence them in the discharge of their duties. In the present case, the receipt of the subject benefits and allowances was evidently in violation of the prohibition under the aforequoted Section 18. Nacion should have been wary of her actions and the prohibitions pertinent to her functions, especially as they affected the expenditure of MWSS funds which she was duty-bound to eventually examine.
x x x x
The primary function of an auditor is to prevent irregular, unnecessary, excessive or extravagant expenditures of government funds. To be able properly to perform their constitutional mandate, COA officials need to be insulated from unwarranted influences, so that they can act with independence and integrity. x x x The removal of the temptation and enticement the extra emoluments may provide is designed to be an effective way of vigorously and aggressively enforcing the Constitutional provision mandating the COA to prevent or disallow irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant, or unconscionable expenditures or uses of government funds and properties.Anent her availment of the MWSS housing project, Nacion insists, as an additional defense, that the lot was awarded to her by a private entity that was separate and distinct from MWSS, i.e., the MWSS Corporate Office Multi-Purpose Cooperative Housing Project.32 It is clear, however, that taking into account the rationale for the prohibition upon government auditors against receipt of additional benefits and personal gains, the MWSS Employees Housing Project could not be wholly separated from the MWSS and its officers. If Nacion’s participation in the housing project were to be allowed, then the influence and conflict of interest which the law aims to thwart would hardly be prevented. When it denied Nacion’s motion to reconsider, the COA then correctly explained the following, taking into account the existing structure of the cooperative vis-à-vis the MWSS:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
Stated otherwise, the COA personnel who have nothing to look forward to or expect from their assigned offices in terms of extra benefits, would have no reason to accord special treatment to the latter by closing their eyes to irregular or unlawful expenditures or use of funds or property, or conducting a perfunctory audit. The law realizes that such extra benefits could diminish the personnel’s seriousness and dedication in the pursuit of their assigned tasks, affect their impartiality and provide a continuing temptation to ingratiate themselves to the government entity, local government unit, government-owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions, as the case may be. In the end, they would become ineffective auditors.31 (Citations omitted)
It must be emphasized that the conceptualization of the MWSS Employees Housing Project, the utilization of the MWSS real property as the site of the MWSS housing project, and the guidelines in the implementation of the housing project were all approved by the MWSS Board of Trustees, as evidenced by the minutes of meetings and resolutions issued by the same Board. It is therefore hard to escape the fact that MWSS officials govern the conduct of official affairs of the cooperative. More so, officials of the cooperative are likewise officials of MWSS. Thus, the cooperative’s affairs being controlled by the MWSS, such arrangement makes the cooperative conduit or adjunct of the MWSS. x x x.33WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED for lack of merit.
1Rollo, pp. 3-30.
2 Signed by Chairperson Ma. Gracia M. Pulido Tan, Commissioner Juanito G. Espino, Jr. and Commissioner Heidi L. Mendoza; id. at 32-43.
3 Id. at 44-48.
4 Id. at 33.
5 Id. at 109-110.
7 Id. at 85.
8 Id. at 111-114.
9 Id. at 63.
10 Id. at 111-112.
11 Id. at 112.
12 Id. at 112-113.
13 Id. at 32-43.
14 The Administrative Code of 1987.
15Rollo, p. 40.
16 Id. at 41.
17 Extra Christmas Bonus for CY 2001 - P10,000.00, Mid-Year Bonus for CY 2002 - P26,771.00, Mid-Year Bonus for CY 2003 - P26,771.00, and Anniversary Bonus for CY 2003 - P10,000.00; id. at 33.
18 Id. at 42.
19 Id. at 44-48.
20Arnaldo M. Espinas, Lillian N. Asprer, and Eleanora R. De Jesus v. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 198271, April 1, 2014.
21 G.R. No. 147257, July 31, 2013, 702 SCRA 566.
22 Id. at 580, citing Yu v. Judge Reyes-Carpio, G.R. No. 189207, June 15, 2011, 652 SCRA 341, 348.
23Lacson v. Executive Secretary, G.R. Nos. 165399 and 165475, May 30, 2011, 649 SCRA 142, 155.
24 Rules of Procedure in the Investigation of Administrative Cases against Personnel of the Commission on Audit. Dated April 27, 1976.
25Office of the Ombudsman (Visayas) v. Zaldarriaga, 635 Phil. 361, 367-368 (2010).
26Gonzales III v. Office of the President of the Philippines, G.R. No. 196231, September 4, 2012, 679 SCRA 614, 661.
27Rollo, p. 39.
28See Atty. Villareña v. The Commission on Audit, 455 Phil. 908 (2003).
29 1st P200,000.00 – 0%; Over P200,000.00 – 3%; Over P500,000.00 – 6%.; rollo, p. 38.
30 455 Phil. 908 (2003).
31 Id. at 917-918.
32Rollo, p. 18.
33 Id. at 45-46.