2 law deans support SC decision clearing LGU officials of liability

Published April 15, 2018, 3:26 PM

by Patrick Garcia

By Rey Panaligan

Two prominent lawyers on Sunday backed up the Supreme Court (SC) ruling that clears government officials of liability, criminal or administrative, for signing contracts which later on turned out to be irregular or deficient.


Former law school deans Pacifico A. Agabin and Tranquil S. Salvador III reacted to a recent SC decision that “mere signature (of the head of office or local government unit) in the award of the contract and the contract itself without anything more cannot be considered as a presumption of liability.”

The SC ruling was handed down in the case of former Nueva Ecija Gov. Tomas Joson III who was absolved of liability in three notices of disallowances issued by the Commission on Audit (COA) in 2007 involving P155.03 million that was used for the construction of the Nueva Ecija Friendship Hotel, now named Sierra Madre Suites.

It said that Joson approved the recommendation of the bids and awards committee (BAC) to award the contract to A.V.T. Construction after it had evaluated all the documents submitted by the firm. Based on the recommendation, Joson awarded the contract and signed it in behalf of the provincial government, it added.

“In the present case, other than the mere signature of the petitioner (Joson), no other evidence was presented by the COA to show that petitioner had actual prior knowledge of the ineligibility of A.V.T. Construction,” the SC said.

In absolving Joson, the SC ruled: “The fact that petitioner (Joson) is the head of the procuring entity and the governor of Nueva Ecija does not automatically make him the party ultimately liable for the disallowed amount. He cannot be held liable simply because he was the final approving authority of the transaction in question and that the employees/officers who processed the same were under his supervision.”

“I agree with that decision of the Supreme Court,” Agabin, former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, said.

Agabin said the ruling in the Joson case was a reiteration of decades-old doctrine which grants the presumption of regularity on the approval of projects by heads of agencies or local executives.

Salvador, former law dean of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and president of Quezon City chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, agreed with Agabin’s opinion.

He said the decision was “a sound and reasonable ruling.”

“This has been well established by jurisprudence and was only reiterated in the Joson ruling,” he explained.

“If the sole participation of the head of the local government unit is just to sign the contract and nothing more, then he should not be held liable,” Agabin added.

In the Joson decision, the SC also said that “assuming that petitioner committed a mistake in not ensuring that the eligibility documents were attached to the contract, it is settled that mistakes committed by a public officer are not actionable absent any clear showing that they were motivated by malice or gross negligence amounting to bad faith.”

The SC laid down the doctrine in its 1989 decision which stated:

“We would be setting a bad precedent if a head of office plagued by all too common problems — dishonest or negligent subordinates, overwork, multiple assignments or positions, or plain incompetence — is suddenly swept into a conspiracy conviction simply because he did not personally examine every single detail, painstakingly trace every step from inception, and investigate the motives of every person involved in a transaction before affixing, his signature as the final approving authority.”

This doctrine was reiterated by the SC in 2001, to wit:

“We have consistently held that every person who signs or initials documents in the course of transit through standard operating procedures does not automatically become a conspirator in a crime which transpired at a stage where he had no participation.”