The Court of Appeals has upheld the resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman recommending the indictment of a ranking official of the Philippine Coast Guard for illegal cash advances amounting to P689.6 million.
This came after the CA’s Special 15th Division through Associate Justice Carmelita Salandanan Manahan denied the petition filed by Capt. Christopher Villacorte, who sought to stop his prosecution for alleged involvement in the anomalous use of multi-million-peso cash advances.
The Ombudsman had accused Villacorte and three other ranking PCG officials of violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The Ombudsman also found him together with the coast guard officials administratively liable for dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service and imposed upon them the penalty of dismissal.
In ruling against the petitioner, the appellate court held that Villacorte conspired with retired coast guard chief Vice Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, Capt. Joeven Fabul and PCG Accounting Head Rogelio
Caguioa in deliberately disregarding the conduct of competitive bidding as mandated by law by signing documents that were necessary to ensure the special cash advances.
“Here, it is evidence that there is a flagrant disregard of law. Thus, grave misconduct is present in this case,” the CA said.
The appellate court also agreed with the findings of the Ombudsman that Villacorte is guilty of serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
It noted that the petitioner, as a special disbursing officer, signed documents that were necessary before the special cash advances were effected.
He also certified that these cash advances were necessary and lawful.
“Consequently, these caused serious damage and grave prejudice to the government since the latter was not able to procure the needed properties at the lowest price possible through a competitive bidding. Thus, serious dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service is present in this case,” the appellate court said.
The case stemmed from an anonymous complaint received by the Ombudsman about the supposed anomalies in the use of PCG funds, particularly with respect to the liquidation of cash advances and the reimbursements of expenses for the year 2014 based on the Audit Observation Memorandum issued by the COA on April 15, 2015.
As indicated in the COA report, PCG’s general ledger showed that cash advances granted to 21 special disbursing officers totaled P689,640,806 as of Dec. 31, 2014, with total liquidations of P633,612,786.
The cash advances were authorized and recommended by Isorena, Fabul, and Caguioa, in their respective capacities as commandant, deputy chief for comptrollership and accounting head.
Based on COA’s report, the disbursement vouchers showed that they lacked the required office orders duly designating the respective recipients as SDOs.
Aside from some business establishments not being in the addresses indicated in the sales invoices, cash invoices or officials receipts, COA’s validation of liquidation documents also yielded denials from some of the establishments they located, particularly with respect to the issuances of receipts and invoices.
Villacorte admitted that he was designated as SDO for Coast Guard Education Training with an accountability of P2 million.
He insisted that he complied with rules and regulations on case advances.
He said among the expenses charged to the special cash advance were the training of personnel for West Philippine Sea deployment, exercises with visiting foreign naval and coast guard force and special trainings under the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty.
“The contention of the petitioner is bereft of merit, the training programs are not within the extraordinary circumstances that will justify a resort to the alternative methods of bidding…Furthermore, it must be noted that there is no imminent danger to life or property nor other causes where immediate action is necessary,” the CA said.
Associate Justices Mario Lopez and Gabriel Robeniol concurred with the ruling.
In September, the CA also found coast guard internal auditor Cdr. John B. Esplana liable for serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the interest of the service and imposing upon him the penalty of dismissal from the service for his involvement in the same anomaly.
The CA also affirmed the ruling issued by Ombudsman last year, which found PCG Rear Admiral Cecil Chen, now retired, administratively liable for the same anomaly.