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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

CA upheld on ₧139-M DPWH case

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THE Supreme Court has affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals which found three employees of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) guilty of simple neglect of duty for their role in the P139-million vehicle repair scam.

In a 12-page decision penned by Associate Justice Samuel Gaerlan, the SC’s First Division denied the petition filed by the Field Investigation Office-Office of the Ombudsman (FIO-OMB) seeking the reversal of the CA decision, which set aside its ruling finding respondent-employees Lucia Rondon, Ronaldo Simbahan and Rolando Cabangon guilty of gross neglect of duty and penalized them with dismissal from the service.

The SC held that the Ombudsman failed to prove that the respondents intentionally approved and issued disbursement vouchers (DVs) to cover for fictitious emergency repairs conducted on DPWH-owned vehicles.

Thus, instead of dismissal from the service, the SC reduced their penalty to three months’ suspension without pay.

“As the appellate court pointed out, the respondents’ lapses can only be attributed to their carelessness and indifference in the discharge of their duties. As such, the CA did not err in finding respondents guilty of simple neglect of duty,” the SC said.

Based on the records, respondents, who were part of the accounting division, have two essential tasks in the emergency repair disbursement process , which is to ensure  that the DVs and the supporting documents thereof are regular on their face and recommending the DVs for funding.

Rondon and Cabangon initialed 41 and 40 DVs, respectively; while respondent Simbahan inquired into the availability of funds for 64 notices of cash allocation (NCA) and signed such notices despite the fact that some of these DVs and NCAs were supported by undated and unnumbered job orders and inspection reports.

The complaint filed by the FIO-OMB charges respondents with gross neglect of duty for failing to discern the badges of fraud in the transactions based on the DVs that they processed.

However, the  CA said these marks of fraud were undiscoverable either from the face of the documents as presented to respondents or by virtue of respondents’ positions within the DPWH and the disbursement process.

Thus, they can only be made accountable for not noticing something that was patent on the face of the documents they were processing: the lack of dates and serial numbers.

In upholding the CA’s decision, the Court held: “This Court is of the considered opinion that the CA correctly found respondents guilty of simple neglect of duty. The CA did not err in holding that badges of fraud were undiscoverable either from the face of the documents as presented to respondents or by virtue of their positions within the DPWH organization and the disbursement process.”

The SC  pointed out that the participation of respondents in the disbursement process sets in only after the emergency repair request has passed through several steps.

The alleged abuses in this procurement and reimbursement process were uncovered sometime between 2001 and 2002  and resulted in the filing of criminal and administrative charges against several DPWH employees and private parties who purportedly provided the automotive repair services.

The scam arose from the “exorbitant, fictitious and repetitive repairs” of 521  DPWH vehicles, some of which were beyond “economic repair.”

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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