Ombudsman v. Zaldarriaga (G.R. No. 175349; June 22, 2010)


FACTS: Zaldarriaga was the Municipal Treasurer of the Municipality of Lemery, Iloilo. November 16, 1998, the COA conducted an audit examination of the accountabilities of respondents cash and accounts covering the period 1997 to 1998. Based on the audit conducted, the COA auditors prepared a report showing a deficiency of 4.7 million pesos. Respondent was asked to restitute the deficiency but he failed to do so. Subsequenlty, COA filed a Letter-Complaint. respondent contested the findings of the COA auditors alleging that it was inaccurate, incorrect, and devoid of merit. Meanwhile, the Office of the Provincial Treasurer also conducted its own investigation. Its findings did not indicate any shortage but, instead, pointed out that had the mayor, treasurer, and accountant observed COA Rules and Regulations in the proper disbursement of funds, the irregularity would not have been committed. Respondent then sought for the dismissal of the complaint filed against him on the ground that the latest COA report dated May 25, 2000 indicated that there was no shortage. However, the Office of the Ombudsman rendered a decision dismissing respondent from government service for dishonesty. The CA reversed the decision of the latter hence the said petition for review on certiorari.


Did the COA findings that respondent failed to account for the shortage and his unjustified release of cash advances constitute sufficient basis for his dismissal?
HELD: In administrative cases, the quantum of evidence necessary to find an individual administratively liable is substantial evidence. Substantial evidence does not necessarily mean preponderant proof as required in ordinary civil cases, but such kind of relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion or evidence commonly accepted by reasonably prudent men in the conduct of their affairs. The evidence upon which respondents administrative liability would be anchored lacked that degree of certainty required in administrative cases, because the two separate audits conducted by the Commission on Audit yielded conflicting results. Evidence of shortage in respondents cash and accounts, as alleged in the first audit report, is imperative to hold him liable. In this case, the evidence against respondent could not be relied upon, because the second audit report, which was favorable to him, necessarily puts into question the reliability of the initial audit findings. Whether the zero balance as appearing in the second audit report was correct or inadvertently indicated, the credibility and accuracy of the two audit reports were already tarnished. Even in administrative cases, a degree of moral certainty is necessary to support a finding of liability.


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