Sandiganbayan reverses RTC, acquits ex-NIA official for alleged illegal collection of transport allowances

Published December 7, 2021, 7:23 AM

by Jel Santos


The Sandiganbayan has reversed the Quezon City regional trial court (RTC) as it acquitted the former finance manager of the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) of 17 counts of graft.

Acquitted was Virginia R. Atienza who was charged with alleged illegal collection of her transportation allowance of P58,000 for 17 months in 2007 and 2008 even if she had been assigned a government service vehicle.

The prosecution claimed Atienza’s acts violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act in relation to the General Appropriations Act and the Government Accounting and Auditing Manual.

The law and the manual prohibit government officials from collecting transportation allowances if they are issued service vehicles, the prosecution pointed out.

The RTC, which has concurrent jurisdiction with the Sandiganbayan on cases against government officials and employees with Salary Grade 26 and below, found Atienza guilty and sentenced her to a jail term ranging from six to 10 years in each of the graft cases.

Atienza appealed her cases to the Sandiganbayan. In a decision promulgated last Dec. 6, the anti-graft court granted her appeal.

The decision, written by Associate Justice Oscar C. Herrera Jr. and concurred in by Associate Justices Michael Frederick L. Musngi and Bayani H. Jacinto stated:

“Here, from the evidence adduced by the contending parties, it would appear that appellant’s (Atienza) act of receiving the transportation allowances during the periods cited in the informations (criminal charge sheets) filed these cases was indeed borne out of her belief that it is allowed, it being a common practice at the NIA since other ranking officials there were doing the same.

“However, although not tantamount to a violation of Section 3 (e) of RA 3019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), the Court rules that the unauthorized receipt by appellant of the total amount of P58,000, representing transportation allowances covering the periods cited in the seventeen (17) informations filed in these cases, constitutes undue injury or damage to the government. Restitution of said amount is warranted.”

With the ruling, the Sandiganbayan reversed the Oct. 7, 2019 decision of the RTC in the 17 graft cases and ordered the acquittal of Atienza.

But the anti-graft court found her civilly liable and ordered her to return to the government the P58,000 she received with 12 per cent interest annually from the date of its decision.