The Sandiganbayan Seventh Division has convicted Rex Fusingan Dapitan, formerly the Vice President for Finance, Administration and Resource Generation of Sultan Kudarat State University (SKSU), for using public funds and official working time to attend the wedding of his colleague back in 2010.
He was sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of two years and four months and one day of prision correcional as minimum to six years and one day of prision mayor as maximum for violating Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), otherwise known as Malversation of Public Funds.
The 48-page decision was written by Associate Justice Zaldy Trespeses with the concurrence of Seventh Division Chairperson Ma. Theresa Dolores Gomez-Estoesta and Associate Justice Georgina Hidalgo.
Dapitan was also ordered to pay a fine of P50,625, which is equal to the amount he malversed even though the amount has already been restituted, plus interest of six percent per annum reckoned from the finality of the decision until the amount is fully paid. Dapitan shall also suffer the penalty of perpetual disqualification from holding any public office.
Dapitan prepared a Training Design for the Lakbay Aral of key officials and employees of SKSU to Surigao del Sur State University (SSSU). According to the training design, the Lakbay Aral was for the purpose of enriching the knowledge and understanding of the SKSU’s employees as to how other State Universities and Colleges (SCU) operate.
The training design stated that other expenses aside from transportation cost such as food, accommodation, and other incidental expenses, will be shouldered by the participating employees. After it was approved, Dapitan requested for a cash advance of P70,000 and two travel orders were then issued authorizing a number of employees to participate in the activity.
The Lakbay Aral was conducted on October 27 to 29, 2010, and the 27 participants visited the Tandag and Cantilan Campuses of SSSU and stayed at the Pacific View Resort in Carrascal, Surigao del Sur.
On October 28, they went on a side trip to attend the wedding of co-employees Jessie Joy Paclibar and Meilaflor Arienza, which was also held in the same place. They were not able to visit the Surigao del Norte College of Agriculture and Technology on October 29 allegedly due to bad weather.
Only P50,625 was spent for transportation, food, accommodation and cell phone load, while the excess P19,375 was returned by Dapitan to the university. But after being checked by State Auditor Jose Mercado, it was discovered that the expenses incurred were irregular because the training design was not followed.
Mercado even said that the educational tour was used to facilitate the attendance of the participants in the wedding of their co-employees. On November 9, 2011, a Notice of Disallowance was issued disallowing the amount of P50,625.
The Summary of Expenses showed that the Lakbay Aral fund was used to pay food, accommodation, and other incidental expenses of the participants that were contrary to the provisions of the training design.
The court said in its ruling that the prosecution was able to establish that Dapitan deliberately scheduled Lakbay Aral to coincide with the wedding of his colleagues.
Dapitan claimed that it was only coincidental for the Lakbay Aral and wedding to take place at the same time, but the court found it suspicious how the persons listed in the travel orders were either sponsors or invited guests to the wedding.
“Evidently, accused was motivated by a wrongful intent when he requested the cash advance and approved the disbursement voucher for the release of the funds, knowing fully well that the amount will be used to defray the travel expenses in attending the wedding of his co-employee in Carrascal,” the decision read.
Dapitan likewise contended that there was nothing wrong in scheduling an activity that would coincide with a personal trip as long as the official activity was conducted properly.
Unfortunately for him, the defense failed to prove that the Lakbay Aral was properly carried out based on its true objective since there was no travel report on Lakbay Aral, and Dapitan was unable to submit a liquidation report.
Moreover, Dapitan said he should be exonerated from the charge since he returned the government funds he was accused of personally using. However, the anti-graft court explained that damage is not an element of the crime of malversation.
“It bears stressing that in a case for malversation of public funds, payment or reimbursement is not a defense,” the court said. “At best, such acts of reimbursement may only affect the offender’s civil liability.”