G.R. No. 177657 : November 20, 2012

SONIA V. SEVILLE, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON AUDIT, Regional Office VI, Iloilo City, Respondent.


The Commission on Audit (COA) administratively charged 11 officials and employees of the Department of Agriculture (DA) including petitioner Sonia V. Seville (Seville), an Assistant Regional Director for Fisheries, before the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas.
The complaint alleged that, as a result of a special audit of the Post Harvest Component of the Grains Production Enhancement Program of the DA, particularly the construction of Multi-Purpose Drying Pavements (MPDPs) projects in Iloilo it was discovered that she signed a ghost MPDP project in Sto. Rosario, Ajuy, Iloilo, out of the 120 such projects that were subject of the audit. She signed the disbursement voucher, as required by Memorandum Order 104, Series of 1998, in view of the absence of the Regional Director and the Assistant Regional Director for Administration. But she claimed that she acted in good faith, merely relying on the completeness and genuineness of the supporting documents that were shown to her. She admitted, however, not conducting an actual physical inspection of the project since she believed that it was not her responsibility to do so.

The Ombudsman found Seville guilty of grave misconduct and gross dishonesty, resulting in her dismissal from government service with forfeiture of benefits and disqualification from holding public office. The CA upheld the Ombudsman.

ISSUE: Whether or not Seville should be held liable for grave misconduct and gross dishonesty for signing the disbursement voucher?

HELD: Seville should be held liable for simple misconduct only.

POLITICAL LAW: grave misconduct; gross dishonesty

In grave misconduct, the elements of corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of an established rule must be evident. Misconduct, in the administrative sense, is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action. On the other hand, dishonesty is intentionally making a false statement in any material fact or the disposition to lie, cheat, deceive or defraud. Both are considered grave offenses for which the penalty of dismissal is meted even for first time offenders.

While Seville merely substituted for the absent Regional Director at that time, it is not an excuse for lightly shirking from the latter's duties and responsibilities. It was her responsibility when she signed that disbursement voucher for the Regional Director to verify the accuracy and completeness of the supporting documents presented to her. In the discharge of duties, a public officer must use prudence, caution, and attention which careful persons use in the management of their affairs.

The Court finds, however, that Seville cannot be held liable for grave misconduct. Corruption, as an element of grave misconduct, consists in the official or employees act of unlawfully or wrongfully using his position to gain benefit for ones self.

Here, the Court is not convinced that under the circumstances then present, she had depraved motives. Seville signed on the rare happenstance that both the Regional Director and the Assistant Regional Director for Administration were absent. That both signatories were absent when the Sto. Rosario project was presented to her for signature was a coincidence that cannot be imputed to her for she could not have orchestrated that for her gain, absent evidence to the contrary. She is but liable for the lesser offense of simple misconduct since she should have exercised the necessary prudence to ensure that the proper procedure was complied with in the release of government funds.

As for the offense of gross dishonesty, the Court also clears petitioner from liability. Her participation in the release of funds is brought upon by her OIC designation and not spurred by corrupt intent. Her error in judgment cannot be equated with gross dishonesty. The evidence does not prove conscious distortion of the truth or even an inclination to it.