Case Digest: Ombudsman v. Apolonio

G.R. No. 165132 : March 7, 2012




Dr. Apolonio served as the Executive Officer of the National Book Development Board (NBDB). In December 2000, NBDB's Governing Board approved the conduct of a Team Building Seminar Workshop for its officers and employees. Prior to the conduct of the workshop, some of the employees/participants approached Dr. Apolonio to ask whether a part of their allowance, instead of spending the entire amount on the seminar, could be given to them as cash. After consulting Rogelio Montealto, then Finance and Administrative Chief of NBDB, about the proposal and the possible legal repercussions of the proposal and concluding the proposal to be legally sound and in the spirit of the yuletide season, Dr. Apolonio approved the request. Thus, after the end of the workshop, SM gift cheques were distributed to the participants in lieu of a portion of their approved allowance.

Nicasio I. Marte, an NBDB Consultant, filed a complaint against Dr. Apolonio and Mr. Montealto before the Ombudsman alleging that Dr. Apolonio and Mr. Montealto committed grave misconduct, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service for the unauthorized purchase and disbursement of the gift cheques. Mr. Marte alleged that the NBDB's Governing Board never authorized the disbursement of the funds for the purchase of the gift cheques and that the purchases were never stated in Dr. Apolonio's liquidation report.

In her response, Dr. Apolonio invoked good faith in the purchase of the gift cheques, having in mind the best welfare of the employees who, in the first place, requested the use of part of the budget for distribution to the employees.

Graft Investigation Officer (GIO) Calderon found Dr. Apolonio and Mr. Montealto guilty of gross misconduct and dishonestly, in addition to the charge of conduct grossly prejudicial to the best interest of the service and recommended that Dr. Apolonio and Mr. Montealto be dismissed from the service. The Acting Ombudsman approved the findings of GIO Calderon, thereby imposing the penalty of removal against Dr. Apolonio. The CA reversed the Ombudsman's decision stating that the Ombudsman does not possess the power to directly impose the penalty of removal against a public official.


(1) Does the Ombudsman have the power to directly impose the penalty of removal from office against public officials?

(2) Do Dr. Apolonio's acts constitute Grave Misconduct?

HELD: Court of Appeals decision is modified.

POLITICAL LAW: Ombudsman's power to impose administrative penalties

The Ombudsman has the power to impose the penalty of removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution of a public officer or employee, in the exercise of its administrative disciplinary authority. The challenge to the Ombudsman's power to impose these penalties, on the allegation that the Constitution only grants it recommendatory powers, had already been rejected.

The Ombudsman has been statutorily granted the right to impose administrative penalties on erring public officials. That the Constitution merely indicated a recommendatory power in the text of Section 13(3), Article XI of the Constitution did not deprive Congress of its plenary legislative power to vest the Ombudsman powers beyond those stated.

Dr. Apolonio's use of the funds to purchase the gift cheques cannot be said to be grave misconduct. Dr. Apolonio's actions were not attended by a willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules. Although the Court agrees that Dr. Apolonio's acts contravene the clear provisions of Section 89 of PD 1445, otherwise known as the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines, such was not attended by a clear intent to violate the law or a flagrant disregard of established rules. Several circumstances militate in favor of this conclusion.

Dr. Apolonio merely responded to the employees clamor to utilize a portion of the workshop budget as a form of Christmas allowance. To ensure that she was not violating any law, Dr. Apolonio even consulted Mr. Montealto, then Finance and Administrative Chief of the NBDB, on the possible legal repercussions of the proposal. Likewise, aside from receiving the same benefit, there is no evidence in the record that Dr. Apolonio unlawfully appropriated in her favor any amount from the approved workshop budget. Therefore, there is no willful intent in Dr. Apolonio's actions.