SC dispenses justice through transparency, accountability in gov’t

By Perfecto T. Raymundo Jr.

MANILA, July 21 (PNA) — Guided by its mission — “To Superintend the Administration of Justice” — the Supreme Court (SC) has dispensed justice through the government’s policy of transparency and accountability.

In line with this, the SC upheld the ruling of the Commission on Audit (COA) disallowing the unauthorized allowances granted to an official of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) last July 18.

In an en banc decision, the SC ruled that the COA was right when it disallowed the allowance worth more than P130,000 allotted to Atty. Salvador Camanian Jr., the Assistant Government Corporate Counsel, when he was designated as in-house counsel of Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD).

Camanian was detailed as in-house counsel of MCWD, Cebu City, by the then Government Corporate Counsel (GGC) Agnes Devanadera.

The MCWD Board of Directors issued resolutions in 1996 and 2006 approving the grant of allowances to Camanian.

However, in 2007, COA Auditor Deborah Montejo issued a Notice of Disallowance on Camanian’s allowances for 2005 and 2006 totalling P138,752.

Montejo ruled that OGCC lawyers “are not entitled to additional compensation/allowances unless they are assigned/designated as corporate officers in concurrent capacity in the agency to which they are assigned and with the approval of the GCC.”

Upon appeal, the disallowance notice was upheld by the COA Legal Services Sector (LSS).

This prompted Camanian to elevate his case to the SC.In dismissing Camanian’s petition, the SC en banc, through Clerk of Court Atty. Enriqueta E. Vida, said that the COA correctly disallowed his allowances, adding that it found “no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the agency.”

Likewise, the SC upheld last July 7 the case of technical malversation filed against a former town mayor of Leyte province for illegal distribution of food to typhoon victims in his town.

The amount of government fund involved in the case was P3,396, which was diverted to poor calamity victims who were beneficiaries of a reconstruction project in Leyte.

The SC held liable former Mayor Arnold James Ysidoro of Leyte, Leyte for the illegal distribution of food to the calamity victims which was originally intended for the malnourished children in the town.

The SC affirmed its Nov. 14, 2012 ruling entitled “Arnold James Ysidoro vs. People of the Philippines” which was written by now retired Associate Justice Roberto Abad.

Abad reached the compulsory retirement age of 70 years last May 22.

Ysidoro made such distribution of food based on the recommendation of the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office and with the assistance of the Core Shelter Assistance Program which supervised the construction of houses for the victims of the typhoon.

The distribution of food was aimed so as not to delay the construction of the houses because the poor beneficiaries of the program were then busy in the search for food for their respective families.

Ysidoro argued that his action was legal because the money used to buy the food came from savings of the Supplemental Feeding Program of the local government and that the victims of the calamity were already hungry.

However, the SC said that even if the mayor had a noble desire in his decision and even if the government fund involved in the case was not that much, it can still be considered as “technical malversation.”

Under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), illegal diversion of a fund intended for a program or a service to another project will be held criminally liable.

The SC added that even if such action of the mayor was not “immoral,” it can still be considered as a “criminal offense” pursuant to the existing “public policy.”

At the same time, the SC also affirmed the decision of the Sandiganbayan that a fine should be imposed against the mayor in the amount of P1,698, which was half of the amount of food illegally distributed to the calamity victims.

On the other hand, the SC upheld last July 1 the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 10354, or the “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law” (RH Law), except for some of its provisions.

This after the SC denied the six motions for reconsideration (MRs) filed by some of the petitioners and intervenors in the case.

According to SC Public Information Office (PIO) Chief and Spokesman Atty. Theodore O. Te, the Court denied all the MRs filed by The Filipino Catholic Voices for Reproductive Health Inc., Pro-life Philippines, Joan De Venecia, Philippine Alliance of XSeminarians, former Sen. Francisco Tatad and his wife Maria Fenny, and Task Force for Family and Life Visayas.

Te said that the Court maintained its April 8, 2014 decision declaring as unconstitutional the following provisions of R.A. No. 10354:

* Section 7 (Access to Family Planning) which states that the hospitals being run by religious groups are not required to provide a modern family planning method, but the said hospitals should refer their patient to another health facility.

* Section 7 (b) which states that minors who have suffered miscarriage are allowed to have access on modern family planning methods without written consent from their parents or guardians.

* Section 17 (Pro Bono Services for Indigent Women) which urges private and non-government reproductive healthcare service providers such as gynecologists and obstetricians to render 48 hours each year of free reproductive health service (from the giving of information or education up to medical services) to poor patients, especially to pregnant teenagers.

The 48-hour yearly pro-bono service will be included as a pre-requisite for accreditation with the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth).

Likewise, some parts of Section 23 pertaining to Prohibited Acts under the RH Law, including Section 23-A-1 which prohibits any health care service provider to withhold information or limit the dissemination of information about reproductive health or deliberate giving of incorrect information about the RH program and services.

Also, Section 23-A-2-i which prohibits the refusal by the health care service provider to conduct legal and medically-safe reproductive health procedure to any individual who is of legal age due to lack of consent of his wife;

However, in instances where a married couple do not agree with each other, the decision to undergo medical procedure shall prevail.

* Section 23-a-3 (part of the prohibited acts) which prohibits the refusal to provide health care services or information because of marital status, gender, age, religion or work of an individual.

However, the RH Law respects the health care service provider who will refuse to give RH service based on his ethical or religious beliefs.

Nevertheless, the said health care service provider should refer the individual to another health worker in the same health facility or to a health worker who can easily be reached.

Moreover, the SC upheld last June 23 the ruling of the Office of the Ombudsman charging several former Makati City officials for graft and malversation stemming from the local government’s acquisition of supposed overpriced hospital equipment in 2001.

In an en banc decision, the SC ruled that the Ombudsman was right when it ordered the indictment of Supply Officer Conrado Pamintuan and Administrative Officer Jaime de los Reyes in connection with the P35.106-million malversation case, among others, filed against them.

The same Ombudsman ruling had cleared former Makati City Mayor Elenita Binay.

De los Reyes and Pamintuan were charged along with former City Administrator Nicanor Santiago Jr., General Services Department head Ernesto Aspillaga, Supply and Property Department office chief Rudolfo Fernandez, storekeepers Eduardo de Guzman and Nestor Bulos, clerk Lilia Nonato and inspector Ligaya Ibay.

Records showed that they made it appear that the hospital beds and cabinets supplied by the Apollo Medical were manufactured by New Jersey-based UGM Medisys, a company which was found to be non-existent.

The Ombudsman said that Pamintuan and De los Reyes should have followed the procurement process when public bidding was dispensed with.

It added that they should have checked the price of the items, among others.

This prompted Pamintuan and De los Reyes to elevate their case to the SC. However, the SC said that they “failed to show that the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of discretion in finding probable cause to indict them.”

“As correctly found by the Ombudsman, the facts of the case are sufficient to engender a well-founded belief that the crimes were committed and that petitioners are probably guilty thereof,” the SC said.

Last April 30, 2014, the SC lifted the penalty of disqualification to hold public office it imposed on retired SC Associate Justice Ruben Reyes in connection with the leak of an unpromulgated decision in 2009.

In an en banc resolution signed by Clerk of Court Atty. Enriqueta E. Vidal, the SC granted the motion for reconsideration (MR) filed by Reyes, who was suspended for an indefinite period of time from the practice of law.

The suspension of Reyes arose from the allegations linking him with the “leak” of his decision upholding the disqualification of Negros Oriental Rep. Jocelyn Limkaichong.

An investigating body, headed by then Senior Associate Justice Leonardo Quisumbing, was designated to investigate how Reyes’ unsigned decision was prematurely released.

The SC found Reyes guilty of gross misconduct for violating Rules 1.01 and 1.02 of Canon 1 of the Code of Conduct of Professional Responsibility on Feb. 24, 2009.

Reyes, the first SC associate justice to be suspended from the practice of law, reached the compulsory retirement age of 70 on Jan. 3, 2009.

He vehemently denied that he deliberately leaked the SC’s decision that he wrote upholding the disqualification of Limkaichong for not being a natural-born Filipino citizen.

The SC denied Reyes’ plea to dismiss the case and instead imposed the penalty against him.

This prompted Reyes to file his MR. He pleaded that he wanted to live a normal life as a retiree from the Judiciary for his personal health and peace of mind and that of his family.

Because of this, the SC showed Reyes compassion as more than five years had already passed since he was disqualified “to hold any office or employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.”

In the ruling, the SC said that Reyes “has taken full responsibility for his misdemeanor and expresses deep remorse for the consequences.”

“Wherefore…the letter dated December 5, 2013, which the Court treats as a motion for reconsideration of the Court’s resolution dated April 16, 2013, is granted. Accordingly, the disqualification to hold any office or employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government…imposed on him in the decision dated February 24, 2009, is lifted,” the SC said. (PNA)