SC affirms dismissal as LWUA chairman, filing of criminal charges vs Rep. Pichay

Supreme Court (SC)

The Supreme Court (SC) has denied the petitions of Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero A. Pichay Jr. on his dismissal and criminal indictment when he was chairman of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) from 2008 to 2011.

Affirmed by the SC in a resolution made public last Jan. 14 was Pichay’s dismissal as LWUA chairman and the filing of the criminal charges against him in connection with the P780 million alleged unlawful investment of water agency in the Express Savings Bank, Inc. (ESBI) in 2009.

In 2013 and 2014, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the order of the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) which dismissed Pichay as LWUA chairman. He challenged the CA decision before the SC.

In 2016 and 2017, the Sandiganbayan affirmed the OMB’s findings to indict Pichay for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Manual of Regulations for Banks (MORB). He also elevated the case to the SC which consolidated his two petitions.

Pichay would have wanted the SC to nullify the administrative and criminal charges filed against him on LWUA’s purchase of 445,377 ESBI shares, the water agency’s deposit of P300 Million, and advance payment for subscription in the anticipated increase in capital stock of ESBI in the amount of P400 Million.

The SC did not give credence to Pichay’s allegation that his right to due process was violated when the OMB ordered his dismissal from LWUA.

On his Sandiganbayan case, Pichay claimed that the charges should be dismissed on the ground of violation of his right to speedy disposition of the case.

But the SC said there was no unreasonable delay in the disposition of Pichay’s case.

“Considering the nature of the transaction involved, which also included different personalities who owned the ESBI shares that were bought by LWUA, the time taken by the Ombudsman in deciding the case cannot be said to be unreasonable. In all, Pichay failed to show any other causes that contributed to the delay in the disposition of his case,” the SC said.

Also, Pichay argued that the complaint filed against him did not allege on the required Presidential approval under Administrative Order No. 59 and the approval of the Monetary Board (MB) under the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas-MORB, thus, he could not be held administratively guilty for these acts.

The SC said: “Poring over the documents made available before this Court, it cannot be said that Pichay was deprived of an opportunity to raise his defenses on the charges laid down against him. Contrary to the claims of Pichay, he was apprised of, and was given the opportunity to controvert, the allegation pertaining to the absence of prior approval of the President under A.O. No. 59 and the Monetary Board under the MORB.”

“Pichay cannot conveniently close his eyes on these allegations and nitpick which among the allegations he would choose to answer and thereafter cry violation of due process. He was given a copy of the position paper and had the time to browse all of its contents before submitting his own position paper. As such, he had the opportunity to controvert all of the allegations therein, and was given the opportunity to be heard,” the SC also said.

Thus, it said that based on the evidence, Pichay committed “flagrant disregard of the rules” in obtaining ESBI shares.

It also pointed that Pichay allowed the purchase of ESBI despite the absence of approval by the MB as required by the banking laws and regulations.

“Ultimately, the absence of the requisite MB approval resulted in losses on the part of the government in the total amount of P780 Million. This amount could have been used for other endeavors to help local water utilities,” the SC stressed.

Pichay also challenged his perpetual disqualification for re-employment in government as ordered by the OMB as an accessory penalty under the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (RRACCS).

The SC said there was nothing from the provisions of AO Order No. 47 that would prevent the application of the RRACCS.

“Under the RRACS, the penalty of dismissal shall carry with it cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, perpetual disqualification from holding public office and bar from taking civil service examinations,” it stressed.

The SC ruled:

“WHEREFORE, the consolidated petitions are DENIED. The Decision dated October 23, 2013 and the Resolution dated February 24, 2014 rendered by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 127341, subject of the petition in G.R. No. 211515, and the Resolutions dated October 18, 2016 and November 17, 2017 rendered by the Sandiganbayan in SB-16-CRM-0425, SB-16-CRM-0426, SB-16-CRM-0427, and SB-16-CRM-0432, subject of the petition in G.R. No. 236288 are AFFIRMED. SO ORDERED."