SC acquits former Laguna mayor of malversation raps

January 22, 2016 10:40 am 

By Perfecto T. Paymundo

MANILA, Jan. 21 (PNA) — The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that withholding salaries of government employees to liquidate cash advance is allowed under the rules of the Commission on Audit (COA).

The SC's First Division ruling was made public on Thursday.

The SC rendered its ruling as it acquitted the Mayor of Sta. Cruz, Laguna of the crime of malversation of public funds who was convicted by the Sandiganbayan who liquidated his cash advance by salary deduction.

Mayor Domingo Panganiban, in November 2013 was convicted and sentenced to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of 10-12 years, minimum to 17-18 years, maximum.

The case arose from a cash advance of Php 500,000 made by Panganiban in May 2006 for a planned travel to South Australia from June to July 2006 to research and study the town's sustainable environmental projects.

However, for undisclosed reason, the travel did not push through.

This prompted Panganiban to ask the town accountant if he could liquidate said cash advance through salary deduction by withholding his salaries to which the said accountant agreed.

When his term expired in 2007, Panganiban had a remaining unliquidated amount of Php 256,000.

When asked by the COA to explain the unliquidated amount, he apprised the COA of the arrangement to have the cash advance liquidated by salary deduction.

Thus, from his terminal pay when his term as mayor expired, he had fully paid the said unliquidated amount of Php 256,000.

However, despite the said liquidation arrangement, the Ombudsman still found probable cause to charge him in an information with malversation of public funds which, when filed and heard by the Sandiganbayan, the latter court found Panganiban guilty of said offense and sentenced him to suffer said penalty of imprisonment of 10-12 years, minimum, to 17-18 years, maximum.

Panganiban, through his lawyers, Romulo Macalintal and Edgardo Carlo Vistan, appealed the Sandiganbayan decision to the SC which was raffled to the First Division.

The SC's First Division said that withholding of salaries of employees to liquidate a cash advance is an allowed practice under the rules of the COA.

During the hearing of his case at the Sandiganbayan, Panganiban's lawyers obtained the testimony of the Regional Director of COA who admitted that liquidation of cash advances through salary deduction or by installment under an agreement between the public official and the municipality has long been allowed and respected by the COA.

The COA official even admitted during said hearing that no particular case has been filed by COA against any official liquidating such cash advances under such agreement.

"The practice of liquidated cash advances by means thereof being one that is allowed, the withholding of petitioner's salaries continued until the expiration of his term of office," the SC said.

"To the mind of the Court, the confluence of these circumstances serves to negate the factual and legal bases for Petitioner's liability for failure to render accounts, even if it was this correct charge which was made against him," it added.

The SC noted that the cash advance has been fully paid long before his arraignment before the Sandiganbayan because the remaining balance was satisfied through his terminal leave pay.

It also found good faith as a valid defense of Panganiban as he relied on said COA practice of allowing liquidation of cash advance by salary deduction and his full liquidation thereof under such agreement ultimately negated any criminal intent on his part and ultimately translated into good faith he interposed as a defense.

Concurring in the ruling were Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. Aranal Sereno and Associate Justices Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Lucas P. Bersamin and Estrella M. Perlas-Bernabe. (PNA)

RMA/PTR

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