SC: No fuel reimbursement if private vehicle is used


FACTS: Petitioner is the General Manager of Pagsanjan Water District (PAGWAD), a government-owned and controlled corporation. As such, petitioner is duty-bound to represent PAGWAD in several official functions in different locations outside of the office. For this purpose, a service vehicle assigned to the Administrative Division of PAGWAD is being used to service the Office of the General Manager, as no service vehicle is especially assigned to the said office or to the General Manager himself. When the service vehicle is unavailable, PAGWAD is left with no recourse but to hire a private vehicle and pay for a fixed rental fee per trip. Thus, to allegedly save government funds, petitioner opted to use his daughter's private vehicle on several occasions whenever the office service vehicle was unavailable.

On February 11, 2011, an administrative complaint was filed before the Office of the Ombudsman, charging petitioner with dishonesty and misconduct due to, among others, using the funds of PAGWAD to purchase gasoline for his personal private vehicle from March to July 2008, even as he already receives his regular Representation and Transportation Allowance (RATA) to cover the costs of his official travels. Petitioner was allegedly reimbursed gasoline expenses during the said period instead of deducting the cost from his transportation allowance, in violation of of Commission on Audit (COA) Circular No. 96-004.

On November 27, 2013, the Ombudsman rendered a Decision finding petitioner liable for simple misconduct in using government money to refuel a private vehicle and suspended the latter for a period of one month and one day.

Petitioner moved for, but was denied, reconsideration of the Ombudsman's Decision in an Order dated May 29, 2014. Thus, petitioner elevated the case via a petition for review to the CA.

In its assailed Decision, the CA affirmed the Ombudsman's findings that petitioner violated the prohibition on using government funds to refuel a private vehicle. He loaded gasoline to his daughter's vehicle in various amounts from April to July 21, 2008, which he was able to reimburse and without the reimbursement being charged against his transportation allowance. Thus, petitioner received double compensation when he collected his full transportation allowance and the reimbursement for the gasoline expense incurred for the private vehicle. Moreover, petitioner failed to adduce proof that the gasoline procured with public funds was actually solely used for official purposes only.

Petitioner moved for reconsideration, but the CA denied the same in its January 16, 2017 Resolution. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: Whether or not the CA gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in affirming the Ombudsman finding him liable for simple misconduct.

HELD: The Supreme Court DENIED the petition.

At the outset, Section 1 of Rule 65 provides that a party seeking the writ whether for certiorari, prohibition, or mandamus must be able to show that his or her resort to such extraordinary remedy is justified by the absence of an appeal or any plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. Here, no such satisfactory explanation nor allegation was proffered by the petitioner which would justify the resort to the remedy of certiorari. On this ground alone, the petition should be dismissed.In any event, the petition is still dismissible for lack of merit. It is a settled rule that findings of fact of the Office of the Ombudsman are conclusive when supported by substantial evidence and are accorded due respect and weight, especially when, as in this case, they are affirmed by the CA. Here, both the Office of the Ombudsman and the CA are in accord in finding that petitioner indeed used government funds in fueling a private vehicle. Petitioner himself does not deny that PAGWAD paid for the fuel for his vehicle whenever it was being used by officers and employees of the water district. He, however, claims that such practice does not contravene the COA rules and regulations considering that no service vehicle is assigned to him; hence, he is still entitled to receive his RATA.

Petitioner's justification is clearly tangential to the main issue. The Office of the Ombudsman's finding of simple misconduct against the petitioner is anchored on his receipt of reimbursements for the fuel costs of his vehicle even while he was also receiving his RATAThis, as correctly pointed out by the CA, is in palpable violation of Sections and of the COA Circular No. 96-004, which respectively provide: In cases where government vehicles are used in the travel, the officials and employees concerned are not entitled to the transportation expenses. To ensure that government funds and property are used only for official purposes, no reimbursement of the cost of gasoline and oil shall be allowed if a private vehicle is usedHowever, the officials and employees concerned shall be entitled to the reimbursement of the equivalent cost of the customary mode of transportationUnder no circumstances should fuel be issued to privately owned motor vehicles. (Emphasis supplied)
The language of the foregoing COA circular brooks no argument. No reimbursement of the cost of gasoline and oil shall be allowed when a private vehicle is used, and this proscription applies regardless of whether or not a public official or employee is provided with a service vehicle. As correctly observed by the court a quo, petitioner, in effect, received double compensation by receiving his RATA in full and by being reimbursed for his gasoline expenses for his vehicle, which is in contravention of Section 8,  Article IX-B of the Constitution.

[1] Candelaria v. Regional Trial Court, Branch 42, City of San Fernando (Pampanga), G.R. No. 173861, July 14,2014, 730 SCRA 1,6.
[2] Dagan v. Office of the Ombudsman, G.R. No. 184083, November 19, 2013, 709 SCRA 681, 693.