Wednesday, August 29, 2018

CA affirms dismissal of PCG official over anomalous cash advances

From the Philippine News Agency (Aug 29): CA affirms dismissal of PCG official over anomalous cash advances

The Court of Appeals (CA) dismissed the petition of a retired Philippine Coast Guard official seeking to reverse the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing him from the service over the anomalous utilization of cash advances totaling to PHP689.9 million.

In a 17-page decision dated July 30 penned by Associate Justice Franchito Diamante and concurred by Associate Justices Maria Elisa Sempio Diy and Jose Reyes Jr.,, the CA’s 4th Division upheld the Nov. 22, 2017 decision of the Ombudsman, which found Rear Admiral Cecil Chen guilty of serious dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service - along with 24 other high-ranking officials of the PCG.

The CA said Chen, as a fleet chief and designated special disbursing officer (SDO), has the responsibility and accountability to oversee the proper disbursement of the Special Cash Advances (SCA) released under his name.

“We have judiciously evaluated the records and hereby find that the questioned decision of the Ombudsman is supported by substantial evidence and well within the bounds of law,” the CA ruled.

The CA said the Ombudsman was correct in ruling that Chen and his co-respondents violated COA Circular 97-002, which required that in the request and release of special cash advances, the PCG should have submitted documents such as an authority of accountable officer issued by the head of the agency and the approved application for bond.

The CA added that Chen failed to show proof that previous special cash advances were fully liquidated before additional cash advances were released under his name.

“Herein petition cannot wash his hands off the irregular and illegal manner by which the public funds were disbursed under the excuse that he merely depended on the PCG personnel to ensure the propriety of the disbursements and the liquidation,” the CA declared.

Likewise, the CA said contrary to Chen’s claim that he did not participate in the procurement process, the documents would show that he was part of the procurement proceedings and not a mere approving authority.

“All told, we hereby uphold the ruling of the OMB (Ombudsman) as it was rendered within the bounds of law and supported by substantial and relevant evidence on record,” the CA pointed out.

The Ombudsman, in the said ruling, meted the penalty of dismissal against the PCG officials or a fine equivalent to the salary for one year for respondents who have already retired or separated from the service.

Chen argued that the Ombudsman erred in concluding that he is liable for the alleged irregular grant of cash advance in his capacity as designated special disbursing officer, despite proof that he simply signed a report of disbursement after it had been certified as true and correct by the PCG’s chief accountant.

He also denied having a hand in the canvass, preparation, purchase and receipt of supplies for the PCG.

Chen claimed that all previous cash advances were liquidated before additional cash advances were given to him, and that the questioned disbursements were valid and duly certified by his subordinates and the chief accountant.

The retired PCG official insisted that he cannot be blamed for relying on the representations of his subordinates and that there was no evidence that he participated in the procurement of supplies and materials, as his role was only to sign the report on disbursements and to approve payments.

The case stemmed from an anonymous complaint received by the Ombudsman about the supposed anomalies in the utilization of PCG funds, particularly with respect to the liquidations of cash advances and the reimbursements of expenses for the year 2014 based on the Audit Observation Memorandum issues by the Commission on Audit (COA) on April 15, 2015.

According to the COA report, PCG’s general ledger showed that cash advances granted to 21 SDOs totaled PHP689,640,806 as of December 31, 2014, with total liquidations of PHP633,612,786.

The cash advances were authorized and recommended by then Vice-Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, Captain Joeven Fabul, Commander John Esplana and accounting head Rogelio Caguioa, in their respective capacities as commandant, deputy chief for comptrollership, internal auditor, and accounting head.

Based on COA’s report, the disbursement vouchers showed that they lacked the required office orders duly designating the respective recipients as SDOs.

Aside from some business establishments not being in the addresses indicated in the sales invoices, cash invoices or officials receipts, COA’s validation of liquidation documents also yielded denials from some of the establishments they located, particularly on the issuances of receipts and invoices.

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