CASE DIGEST: City of General Santos v. COA

G.R. No. 199439 : April 22, 2014




Then mayor of General Santos City, Pedro B. Acharon, Jr., issued Executive Order No. 40, series of 2008, creating management teams pursuant to its organization development program. This was patterned after Executive Order No. 366 dated October 4, 2004 entitled Directing a Strategic Review of the Operations and Organizations of the Executive Branch and Providing Options and Incentives for Government Employees who may be Affected by the Rationalization of the Functions and Agencies of the Executive Branch and its implementing rules and regulations.

Mayor Pedro B. Acharon, Jr. declared the citys byword of Total Quality Service in his state of the city address in 2005. This was followed by the conduct of a process and practice review for each department, section, and unit of the local government. The product was an organization development masterplan adopted as Executive Order No. 13, series of 2009. This was followed by Resolution No. 004, series of 2009, requesting for the mayors support for GenSan SERVES, an early retirement program to be proposed to the Sangguniang Panlungsod.

Consequently, Ordinance No. 08, series of 2009, was passed together with its implementing rules and regulations, designed to entice those employees who were unproductive due to health reasons to avail of the incentives being offered therein by way of early retirement package.

This contextual background in the passing of Ordinance No. 08, series of 2009, was not contested by respondent Commission on Audit.

The ordinance, as amended, provides that qualified employees below sixty (60) years of age but not less than fifty (50) years and sickly employees below fifty (50) years of age but not less than forty (40) years may avail of the incentives under the program. In other words, the ordinance provides for separation benefits for sickly employees who have not yet reached retirement age.

In a letter dated February 10, 2010, the citys audit team leader, through its supervising auditor, sent a query on the legality of the ordinance to respondent Commission on Audits director for Regional Office No. XII, Cotabato City.

In his second indorsement dated March 15, 2010, respondent Commissions regional director agreed that the grant lacked legal basis and was contrary to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) Act. He forwarded the matter to respondent Commissions Office of General Counsel, Legal Services Sector, for a more authoritative opinion.

The Office of General Counsel issued COA-LSS Opinion No. 2010021 on March 25, 2010. The opinion explained that Ordinance No. 08, series of 2009, partakes of a supplementary retirement benefit plan. In its view, Section 28, paragraph (b) of Commonwealth Act No. 186, as amended, prohibits government agencies from establishing supplementary retirement or pension plans from the time the Government Service Insurance System charter took effect while those plans already existing when the charter was enacted were declared abolished.

In fine, since Ordinance No. 08 is in the nature of an ERP [Early Retirement Program] of the City Government of General Santos, a law authorizing the same is a requisite for its validity. In the absence, however, of such law, the nullity of Ordinance No. 08 becomes a necessary consequence.

Petitioner city, through then mayor, Pedro B. Acharon, Jr., filed a letter-reconsideration dated June 7, 2010. They followed through with two letters addressed to respondent Commissions chairman dated July 26, 2010 and October 6, 2010, respectively, for the reconsideration of COA-LSS Opinion No. 2010-021.20

Respondent Commission on Audit treated these letters as an appeal. On January 20, 2011, it rendered its decision denying the appeal and affirming COA-LSS Opinion No. 2010-021.21 It also denied reconsideration by resolution.

ISSUE: Whether respondent Commission on Audit committed grave abuse of discretion when it considered Ordinance No. 08, Series of 2009, in the nature of an early retirement program requiring a law for its validity.

HELD: This court has consistently held that findings of administrative agencies are generally respected, unless found to have been tainted with unfairness that amounted to grave abuse of discretion:

REMEDIAL LAW: decision of administrative agencies; grave abuse of discretion

It is the general policy of the Court to sustain the decisions of administrative authorities, especially one which is constitutionally-created not only on the basis of the doctrine of separation of powers but also for their presumed expertise in the laws they are entrusted to enforce. Findings of administrative agencies are accorded not only respect but also finality when the decision and order are not tainted with unfairness or arbitrariness that would amount to grave abuse of discretion. It is only when the COA has acted without or in excess of jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, that this Court entertains a petition questioning its rulings.

There is grave abuse of discretion when there is an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law or to act in contemplation of law as when the judgment rendered is not based on law and evidence but on caprice, whim and despotism.

We have ruled that not every error in the proceedings, or every erroneous conclusion of law or fact, constitutes grave abuse of discretion. Grave abuse of discretion has been defined as follows:

By grave abuse of discretion is meant such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. Mere abuse of discretion is not enough. It must be grave abuse of discretion as when the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility, and must be so patent and so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law.

POLITICAL LAW: local government code

Designing and implementing a local government units own organizational structure and staffing pattern also implies the power to revise and reorganize. Without such power, local governments will lose the ability to adjust to the needs of its constituents. Effective and efficient governmental services especially at the local government level require rational and deliberate changes planned and executed in good faith from time to time.

This was implied in Province of Negros Occidental v. Commissioners, Commission on Audit. In that case, this court declared as valid the ordinance passed by the province granting and releasing hospitalization and health care insurance benefits to its officials and employees. This court held that Section 2 of Administrative Order No. 10354 requiring the Presidents prior approval before the grant of any allowance or benefit is applicable only to offices under the executive branch. Section 2 does not mention local government units, thus, the prohibition does not apply to them. This court then referred to the policy of local autonomy as follows:

Thus, consistent with the state policy of local autonomy as guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution, under Section 25, Article II and Section 2, Article X, and the Local Government Code of 1991, we declare that the grant and release of the hospitalization and health care insurance benefits given to petitioners officials and employees were validly enacted through an ordinance passed by petitioners Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

Local autonomy allows an interpretation of Sections 76 and 16 as granting petitioner city the authority to create its organization development program.

Petitioner citys vision in 2005 of Total Quality Service for the improvement of the quality of services delivered by the city to the delight of its internal and external customers58 is a matter within its discretion. It then conducted a process and practice review for each and every unit within the city, resulting in the formulation of an organization development masterplan adopted as Executive Order No. 13, series of 2009.

Resolution No. 004, series of 2009, was later passed requesting for the mayors support for GenSan SERVES. The third preambular clause states that in order to transform the bureaucracy into an effective and results oriented structure, redounding to improved governance, there is a need to entice employees aged 50-59 years old, to retire earlier than age 65 for them to enjoy their retirement while they are still healthy. Consequently, Ordinance No. 08, series of 2009, was passed creating the GenSan SERVES program.