The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals that overturned the resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing a police superintendent involved in the alleged anomalous purchase of three helicopters by the Philippine National Police in 2009 from the Manila Aerospace Products Trading.
In an en banc decision, the SC through Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, ordered the reinstatement of P/Supt. Ermilando O. Villafuerte to his former position without loss of seniority rights and with payment of backwages and all benefits which would have accrued as if he had not been illegally dismissed, in compliance with the 2017 Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service.
The SC ruling is immediately executory.
In ruling against the Ombudsman, the SC found no sufficient basis to hold Villafuerte administratively liable.
Villafuerte and several others were dismissed by the Ombudsman for serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service following their alleged involvement in the chopper purchase anomaly.
In its petition, the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group accused Villafuerte of liability on the simple fact that the award of the contract to MAPTRA was made through the documents that he drafted.
However, Villafuerte argued that his duties and functions as a member of the BAC Secretariat are merely administrative and ministerial in nature and that he was merely following the instructions of his superiors. He claimed that it is the Technical Working Group of the NHQ-BAC that has the duty and responsibility to verify whether a proponent is indeed technically, legally, and financially capable to enter into a contract with the PNP.
The high court descrbied as an “egregious error” the PNP-CIDG’s imputation, saying the “petitioner cannot judge respondent Villafuerte’s actions based on the end result of the document draft.”
“Based on the foregoing, petitioner miserably failed to establish a nexus between the ministerial act of drafting the said documents and a scheme to defraud the government,” the SC said.
The tribunal found “untenable and simply unfair” petitioner PNP-CIDG’s insistence of holding Villafuerte liable even if it does not contest the CA’s finding that the latter’s duties as member of the BAC Secretariat are ministerial in nature.
It added that neither can dishonesty or conduct prejudicial to the service be attributed to Villafuerte by the mere fact that he drafted Negotiation Committee Resolution No. 2009-04 recommending the award of the contract to MAPTRA as a sole proprietorship.
In dismissing the petition, the high court found Villafuerte’s explanation to have sufficiently clarified the matter that as a mere member of the BAC Secretariat, he had no compelling reason to evaluate MAPTRA’s eligibility all over again while drafting the pertinent documents, especially as such is not even a part of his duties.
“All told, the Court is not prepared to punish respondent Villafuerte for merely discharging the ministerial functions of his office as Member of the BAC Secretariat, especially when such acts were made pursuant to the instructions of his superiors,” the SC ruled.
Because of this, the 15-member bench reminded the Ombudsman to be more circumspect in its own pursuit of justice.
“To stubbornly pursue baseless cases against public officers not only places an unnecessary burden upon their person, but also ultimately hampers the effective dispensation of government functions due to the unique positions that they occupy,” the high court said.
The SC also said that the CA “has a concomitant responsibility to ensure that, in case of exoneration, such a decision must perforce be immediately executory, notwithstanding an appeal that may be lodged by the Ombudsman with the Court. The Court finds such rule necessary to fulfil the interests of justice and fairness, given that not only the livelihoods of our public servants are at stake, but likewise the efficient operations of government as a whole.”
The case stemmed from the infamous “chopper scam” that involved the procurement of second-hand light police operational helicopters (LPOHs) for use of the PNP.
Villafuerte was Legal Officer of the National Headquarters Bids and Awards Committee (NHQ-BAC) Secretariat Division during the procurement process.
Investigation showed that the three helicopters, one fully-equipped and two standard helicopters that were subject of the procurement were not brand new contrary to the requirement of the PNP procurement.