SC affirms CA ruling reducing penalty to 3 DPWH employees

Published June 21, 2021, 6:53 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court (SC)

The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld a 2013 Court of Appeals (CA) decision which declared that three Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) employees, who were charged in the P139 million alleged irregularities in vehicle repairs in 2001, were guilty only of simple neglect of duty that warranted their three months suspension without pay.

In 2011 after the administrative charges were filed in 2008 against Lucia S. Rondon, Ronaldo G. Simbahan and Rolando A. Cabangon, the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) found them guilty of gross neglect of duty and ordered their dismissal from the service.

However, on their appeal, the CA reversed the OMB and found them guilty only of simple neglect of duty. The Field Investigation Office (FIO) of the OMB elevated the case to the SC.

The SC decision, written by Associate Justice Samuel H. Gaerlan, denied the petition filed by OMB’s FIO.

While the decision was promulgated on Nov. 10, 2020, it was made public and posted on the SC website only on June 15, 2021.

In affirming the CA’s ruling, the SC said that the OMB failed to prove that the three employees intentionally approved and issued disbursement vouchers (DVs) to cover for the fictitious emergency repairs of DPWH vehicles.

“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.

The duties of Rondon, Simbahan and Cabangon at DPWH’s accounting division were to ensure that the DVs and the supporting documents are regular on their face and recommending the DVs for funding.

In several instances, they signed notices of cash allocation and DVs which were supported by unnumbered and undated job orders and inspection reports for which they were charged for their failure to discern badges of fraud in the transactions.

In finding them guilty of simple neglect of duty, the CA said that badges of fraud were not discoverable on the face of the documents or by virtue of their positions at the DPWH.

Upholding the CA’s decision, the SC said:

“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 Ombudsman failed to prove by substantial evidence that respondents were either consciously and intentionally approving such irregularly supported DVs or being grossly negligent in doing so.

“WHEREFORE, the present petition is DENIED. The February 19, 2013 decision and June 11, 2013 resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 123018 are AFFIRMED.”