The Court of Appeals has reversed its 2018 decision and instead ordered the reinstatement of Philippine Coast Guard commander Ivan Roldan who had been dismissed for purchasing office supplies and information technology equipment in 2013 without complying with government procurement regulations.
In an amended decision, the CA through Associate Justice Apolinario D. Bruselas Jr. agreed with the argument of Roldan that the emergency purchases were done by the PCG at the height of the international territorial disputes over the West Philippine Sea.
When Office of the Ombudsman ordered his dismissal, Roldan was the deputy commander of Coast Guard Intelligence Force, which was affirmed by the appellate court.
Acting on his motion for reconsideration, the CA noted Roldan’s manifestation that his unit, the CGIF, was tasked to supervise the conduct of intelligence operations in the WPS and that the Department of Foreign Affairs had acknowledged PCG’s efforts and its contributions to the filing of a case against China before the International Arbitral Tribunal where the Philippines eventually won.
Roldan manifested to the appellate court that the CGIF’s task was to monitor the activities affecting the Philippine coasts in Bajo de Masinloc and the Kalayaan Group of Islands.
The appellant argued that the emergency purchases of office supplies and information technology equipment were made without resort to competitive bidding because the situation at that time required the CGIF to be prepared for any contingency and to maintain a high degree of operational readiness to protect the country’s territorial interest.
The CA said that in its 2018 original decision, it held that Republic Act No. 9184, the Government Procurement Reform Act, allows for alternative methods of procurement. But it said, Roldan and his group failed to justify resort to the alternative methods.
It also stated in its decision that it was “unconvinced by Cdr. Roldan’s contention that the purchase of the items using the Special Cash Advances (SCAs) granted to him constituted emergency purchases wherein public bidding could be dispensed with.”
“We also held that Cdr. Roldan’s act of disbursing SCAs beyond the purposes authorized; his issuance of certifications to the effect that his SCAs were used to defray miscellaneous expenses; and his act of certifying that the items purchased using his SCAs were absolutely indispensable and urgent such that their procurement by competitive bidding would have been detrimental to public service, exhibited some form of mental dishonesty,” it said.
“We held that conduct prejudicial to the best interest of service was committed because Cdr. Roldan, together with the other respondents in the proceedings below, violated repeatedly procurement rules and regulations, which tarnished the image and integrity of their office,” the CA added.
However, in reconsideration of its original decision, the appellate court noted that the questioned purchases were brought about by the territorial disputes in the WPS and hence, public bidding, under the circumstances, were not required.
In ruling in favor of Roldan, the CA said: “We again carefully reviewed the arguments presented by Cdr. Roldan and we hold that the subject purchases were actually made under the stress of an emergency.”
“It was not disputed that the West Philippine Sea crisis during the period 2013 to 2015 was indeed a major security issue; that it was during that time that the CGIF was tasked to conduct 24/7 monitoring, surveillance, intelligence gathering, and other significant intelligence operations at West Philippine Sea; and that the CGIF was required to maintain a high degree of operational readiness wherein immediate action was necessary in order to avoid delay or disruption in its operations,” the appellate court said.
While Article I, of R.A. No. 9184 mandates that all acquisition of goods by any branch, department, office, agency, or instrumentality of the government shall be done through competitive bidding, alternative methods of procurement are allowed under RA. No. 9184 which would enable dispensing with the requirement of open, public and competitive bidding, but only in highly exceptional cases.
“Considering that the subject purchases were made under the stress of an emergency wherein immediate action was necessary in order to prevent damage to or loss of life or property and to secure the State’s sovereignty and national territory, we are of the reconsidered opinion that Cdr. Roldan did not violate R.A. No. 9184 or any other procurement rules,” the CA ruled.
“In fine, we find no substantial basis to hold Cdr. Roldan liable for Grave Misconduct and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of Service. Furthermore, no form of mental dishonesty could be attributed to Cdr. Roldan when he certified that the SCA’s were used to defray miscellaneous expenses and that the items purchased were absolutely indispensable and urgent such that their procurement by competitive bidding would have been detrimental to public service,” it said.
The appellate court also pointed out that records are bereft of any proof that Cdr. Roldan’s utilization of his cash advances, which he was able to subsequently fully liquidate, violated any established and definite rule of action, nor was it attended by corruption, willful intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of the rules.
“As a consequence, Cdr. Roldan’s exoneration is in order,” the appellate court declared.
Reports indicated that aside from Roldan, 24 other PCG officers have been dismissed and charged before the Sandiganbayan, in connection with the purchases of supplies and information technology equipment.
The CA’s original decision and its amended version, however, pertained only to Roldan’s case.