CASE DIGEST: Dimapilis-Baldoz v. COA

G.R. No. 199114 : July 16, 2013

ROSALINDA DIMAPILIS-BALDOZ, IN HER CAPACITY AS THEN ADMINISTRATOR OF THE PHILIPPINE OVERSEAS EMPLOYMENT ADMINISTRATION (POEA), Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON AUDIT, REPRESENTED BY CHAIRMAN REYNALDO A. VILLAR AND COMMISSIONER JUANITO G. ESPINO, JR., Respondent.

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

FACTS:

Labrador was the former Chief of the POEAs Employment Services Regulation Division (ESRD). On May 2, 1997, then Labor Secretary Leonardo A. Quisumbing (Quisumbing) ordered his dismissal from service as he was found to have bribed a certain Madoline Villapando, an overseas Filipino worker, in the amount ofP6,200.00 in order to expedite the issuance of her overseas employment certificate.

Aside from the foregoing administrative proceedings, a criminal case for direct bribery was instituted against Labrador in view of the same infraction. Consequently, on August 31, 1999, the Sandiganbayan (SB) promulgated a Decision,convicting him of the aforementioned crime. Labrador applied and was subsequently granted probation which then suspended te execution proceedings.

The SB, however, withheld the approval of the recommendation that the probation be terminated and Labrador be discharged from its legal effects and, instead, issued a Resolution stating that Labradors application for probation was, in fact, erroneously granted due to his previous appeal from his judgment of conviction, in violation of Section 4 of the Probation Law.

Almost a year later, or on February 7, 2005, COA State Auditor IV, Crescencia L. Escurel, issued an Audit Observation Memorandum which contained her audit observations on the various expenditures of the POEA pertaining to the payment of salaries and benefits to Labrador for the period covering August 31, 1999 to March 15, 2004. Consequently, it ordered Dimapilis-Baldoz, among other POEA employees, personally liable for the salaries and other benefits unduly received by Labrador in the amount ofP1,740,124.08, paid through various checks issued from August 1999 to March 15, 2004.

ISSUES: Whether or not grave abuse of discretion attended the COAs disallowance in this case.

Whether or not Dimapilis may be held liable for the salaries paid to Labrador


HELD: No.

Political Law- COA has the authority to rule on the legality of the disbursement of government funds.


COAs exercise of its general audit power is among the constitutional mechanisms that gives life to the check and balance system inherent in our form of government. Furthermore, it has also been declared that the COA is endowed with enough latitude to determine, prevent, and disallow irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant or unconscionable expenditures of government funds.

Pursuant to its mandate, the COA disallowed the disbursements pertaining to the personnel benefits paid to Labrador, reasoning that the latter should have stopped reporting for work as early as June 28, 2000 when the denial of his appeal from the SBs August 31, 1999 Decision rendered his conviction for the crime of direct bribery final and executory, notwithstanding the grant of his application for probation. In this regard, it opines that the period of disallowance should be reckoned from May 3, 2000 which is the date the SBs August 31, 1999 Decision had become final and executory.

Significant to the determination of the appropriate period of the disallowance is the undisputed fact that, pursuant to an order issued by then Labor Secretary Quisumbing, Labrador had already been made to suffer the administrative penalty of dismissal from service on May 2, 1997, which was long before the SB convicted him of direct bribery on August 31, 1999. As a matter of law, a department secretarys decision confirming the removal of an officer under his authority is immediately executory, even pending further remedy by the dismissed public officer.

Applying these principles to the case at bar, no grave abuse of discretion can be attributed to the COA in fixing the reckoning point of the period of disallowance at May 3, 2000, since records are bereft of any showing that it had any knowledge of Labradors prior dismissal on May 2, 1997. To hold otherwise would be simply antithetical to the concept of grave abuse of discretion, much less countenance a speculative endeavor.

Remedial Law- presumption of good faith

It is a standing rule that every public official is entitled to the presumption of good faith in the discharge of official duties, such that, in the absence of any proof that a public officer has acted with malice or bad faith, he should not be charged with personal liability for damages that may result from the performance of an official duty

While admitting that Labrador did indeed continue to report for work despite the SBs August 31, 1999 Decision convicting him of direct bribery, these antecedents show that she merely acted in good faith and lawfully exercised her duties when she approved the payment of Labradors salaries, wages, and other personnel benefits for the period beginning August 31, 1999 to March 2, 2004.

To elucidate, while the COA correctly affirmed the disallowance of the salaries and benefits which Labrador unduly received when he continued to hold office despite his conviction, the liability for refund cannot be imposed upon Dimapilis-Baldoz because she had no knowledge or any reasonable indication that the payment of salaries to Labrador was actually improper. Two important incidents impel this conclusion: first, Labradors 201 File with the POEA was without any record of the SB case; and second, Dimapilis-Baldoz was only apprised of his conviction when her office was furnished a copy of the SBs March 2, 2004 Resolution which ordered the revocation of Labradors probation. In addition, Dimapilis-Baldozs good faith is further strengthened by the fact that she lost no time in issuing the Separation Order as soon as she was apprised of Labradors situation. Thus, absent any proof to the contrary, it cannot be gainsaid that Dimapilis-Baldoz's approval was spurred only by the honest belief that the payment of salaries disbursed to Labrador was due and owing to him.

COA ruling affirmed with modification as to the personal liability of Dimapilis.

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