CASE DIGEST: Ombudsman v. Dechavez

G.R. No. 176702 : November 13, 2013




Dechavez was the president of the Negros State College of Agriculture (NSCA) from 2001 until his retirement on April 9, 2006. On May 5, 2002, a Sunday, Dechavez and his wife, Amelia M. Dechavez (Mrs. Dechavez), used the college service Suzuki Vitara to go to Pontevedra, Negros Occidental. Dechavez drove the vehicle himself. On their way back to the NSCA, they figured in a vehicular accident in Himamaylan City, resulting in minor injuries to the occupants and damage to the vehicle.

To support his claim for insurance, Dechavez executed an affidavit before the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). The GSIS subsequently granted Dechavez's claims amounting toP308,000.00, while the NSCA shoulderedP71,000.00 as its share in the vehicle's depreciation expense.

On November 11 2002, twenty (20) faculty and staff members of the NSCA (complainants) asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct an audit investigation of NSCAs expenditures in the May 5, 2002 vehicular accident. The COA dismissed the complaint for lack of merit.

The complainants then sought recourse with the Ombudsman, Visayas, through a verified complaint charging Dechavez with Dishonesty under Section 46(b)(l), Chapter 6, Tile I of the Administrative Code of 1987.

The Ombudsman dismissed Dechavez from the service with all accessory penalties after finding him guilty. The Ombudsman ruled that the complainants sufficiently established their allegations, while Dechavez's defenses had been successfully rebutted. On appeal however, CA reversed Ombudsmans decision, stating that Dechavez sufficiently proved that he was on an official trip when the accident happened.

ISSUE: Whether or not the CA erred in reversing the decision of the Ombudsman

HELD: Yes. Ombudsman decision reinstated

Remedial Law - The rule that the Court will not disturb the CA' s findings of fact is not an absolute rule that admits of no exceptions. A notable exception is the presence of conflict of findings of fact between or among the tribunals' rulings on questions of fact.

Remedial Law - quantum of evidence required in administrative proceedings

In administrative cases, substantial evidence is required to support any findings. Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind may accept as adequate to support a conclusion. The requirement is satisfied where there is reasonable ground to believe that the petitioner is guilty of the act or omission complained of, even if the evidence might not be overwhelming."

Examination of the records shows that the Ombudsman's findings and appreciation of the presented evidence are more in accord with reason and common experience so that it successfully proved, by the required quantum of evidence, Dechavez's dishonesty.

Dechavez had been dishonest when he made the claim that he went on official business. The dishonesty, of course, did not arise simply from the nature of the trip, but from the claim for insurance that brought the spouses a substantial sum. First, Dechavez alleged that the trip was urgent, and there were no drivers available; hence, he drove the vehicle himself. He added that the fact that the trip ticket was accomplished on May 5, 2002, a Sunday, and that it was typewritten, are not material as he was not prohibited from driving the car himself.

The fact alone that the ticket, for a trip that was allegedly urgent, was typewritten already speaks volumes about the integrity of this piece of evidence. The court agrees with the Ombudsman, based on common experience and probability, that had the trip really been urgent and had the trip ticket been accomplished on the date of the trip, May 5, 2002, it would have been handwritten. The trip ticket, however, was typewritten, indicating that it had been prepared ahead of time, or thereafter, not on that Sunday immediately before leaving on an urgent trip. In fact, if it had been prepared ahead of time, then the trip could not have been urgent as there was advance planning involved.

In other words, if the trip ticket had been prepared ahead of time, the trip should have been scheduled ahead of time, and necessary arrangements should have been made for the availability of a driver. Therefore, it was unlikely that Dechavez would have known that no driver would be available for him on the date of the trip.

If Dechavez thought that there was nothing wrong in driving the vehicle himself, why would he indicate that the reason he drove the vehicle himself was that there were no available drivers, and that it was urgent? Finally, if indeed it was true that Dechavez used to perform his extension service or confer with the NSCA's linkages during weekends, how come the trip became urgent and the driver had not been assigned beforehand?

Finally we find that Mrs. Dechavez was not on official business on May 5, 2002; in fact, she was not teaching at that time. We note in this regard that the parties presented two (2) conflicting instructor's summer teaching loads for 2002: the first one, dated April 1, 2002, which did not include Mrs. Dechavez, while the other, an undated one, included Mrs. Dechavez's name. Curiously, the same person who prepared both documents, Mr. Cuizon, failed to explain why there were two (2) versions of the same document. Considering the highly irregular and undated nature of the list that contained the name of Mrs. Dechavez, we again concur with the Ombudsman's reading that while we can presume that the undated list had been prepared before the start of the summer classes, we can also presume that the other list had been prepared subsequently to conveniently suit the defense of the respondent.

Political Law - retirement from service during the pendency of an administrative case does not render the case moot and academic
As early as 1975, we have upheld the rule that the jurisdiction that was ours at the time of the filing of the administrative complaint was not lost by the mere fact that the respondent public official had ceased to be in office during the pendency of his case. The Court retains its jurisdiction either to pronounce the respondent official innocent of the charges or declare him guilty thereof. A contrary rule would be fraught with injustices and pregnant with dreadful and dangerous implications."