CA affirms dismissal of PhilRice trustees over anomalous car plan
The Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld the Ombudsman’s dismissal of five trustees and a cashier of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) in connection with an employee car plan that was disadvantageous to the government.
In a recent 39-page decision, the CA denied the petitions assailing the Ombudsman’s September 1, 2016 ruling that found the officials guilty of the administrative offense of grave misconduct.
Held liable were PhilRice trustees William Padolina, Johnifer Batara, Fe Laysa, Senen Bacani and Rodolfo Undan, as well as cashier Fe Lumawag.
The Ombudsman questioned the car plan approved from 2008 to 2009 because it allowed 10 employees to obtain personal loans from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) while using PhilRice funds to secure them.
Under the holdout agreement with PNB, PhilRice could not withdraw its bank deposits until the employees’ car loans totaling P15.78 million were paid back in full. Hence, the agency was prevented from using its own funds just to secure personal loans.
Aside from the questionable holdout agreement, PhilRice also adopted a “Car Rental Scheme” in which it paid for the monthly amortization by depositing “rental fees” directly to the PNB accounts of the car plan beneficiaries.
The CA agreed that there was substantial evidence against the PhilRice officers. It said Section 4(2) of the Government Auditing Code of the Philippines provided that public funds shall not be used for private purpose.
For the court, using PhilRice’s bank deposits to guarantee its employee’s private loans constituted corruption. On top of this, the “Car Rental Scheme” violated the public bidding requirement under Section 10, Article IV of the Government Procurement Reform Act.
“It is worthy to state that petitioners, being highranking officer of PhilRice, were expected to exemplify competence and exercise good judgment in upholding the interest of PhilRice,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Walter Ong.
“However, by approving the Car Plan, petitioners clearly failed to perform this essential duty,” it added.
The CA also rejected Padolina’s claim of “functional immunity,” which is granted to officials of international organizations.
Although he also served as International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) deputy director-general, the court said he failed to prove that his approval of the car plan as a PhilRice trustee was related to his research-related duties in the IRRI.
Padolina’s appointment letters did not list his PhilRice stint as part of his official functions. Executive Order Number 1061, series of 1985, also did not require that an IRRI representative be appointed to the PhilRice board.
The court also brushed aside the other trustees’ claim of violation of their right to the speedy disposition of their cases.
It said the trustees merely alleged that the administrative case was pending with the Ombudsman for seven years, without stating what caused the delay and showing why it was unreasonable.
Moreover, the CA swept aside Lumawag’s claim of good faith as she was not privy to the “formulation” of the holdout agreements. It said that given her 26 years of service, she should have been aware that such agreements were “not documents executed in the ordinary course of PhilRice’s operations.”