Feb 20, 2021 @ 19:31
SC opens ex-Transco chief to possible charges over P883K overpaid separation pay
The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered a former National Transmission Corporation (Transco) legal researcher to return P883,341.63 in overpaid separation benefits, while opening then-president and chief executive officer Arthur Aguilar to the possibility of charges.
In a recent 18-page en banc decision, the SC modified the Commission on Audit’s (COA) May 18, 2017 decision and set aside its pronouncement that Sabdullah Macapodi “need not refund the said amount.”
Macapodi will now be “liable to return the disallowed amount of P883,341.63 via a mode of payment deemed just and proper by the Commission on Audit,” according to the decision on G.R. No. 232199 that was penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting.
He would not be alone in having to return the amount, as Aguilar would remain liable too. However, the members of the board, as well as General Accounting and Financial Reporting division manager Susana Singson and Administrative Department manager Jose Mari Ilagan were now absolved from liability.
The SC also said: “This pronouncement is without prejudice to the institution of the appropriate action against Arthur N. Aguilar, the official responsible for the illegal disbursement.”
Records showed that as the head of the government-owned and controlled corporation (GOCC), Aguilar issued Circular Number 2009-0010 which granted a “length of service multiplier” of 1.5 to be applied in the computation of the length of service for the purpose of determining the separation pay.
This was on top of the 1.5 “basic salary multiplier” already granted under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).
In Macapodi’s case, this meant his salary of P32,662.50 was multiplied by 61 years, even though he actually served for 42.97032 years.
The product of P1,992,412.50 was then multiplied by the basic salary multiplier, leading to the payment of P2,988,618.75 on October 21, 2009.
COA Supervising Auditor Corazon Españo disallowed the excessive pay, noting that if the salary was multiplied by the actual length of service and then by the basic salary multiplier, the proper amount should only be P2,105,277.12.
The SC agreed with the COA that the overpayment of Macapdoi’s separation benefits violated the formula provided by Sections 63 of the EPIRA. It also stressed that the power to fix the benefits of Transco employees rests upon its board as provided by Section 12(c) of the same law.
“Certainly, the Length of Service Multiplier results in excessive benefits and was prescribed without the requisite authority, in direct contravention of the EPIRA,” read the decision.
Unlike the COA, the SC held Macapodi solidarily liable for the disallowed overpayment because of “the basic principle that no one can be unjustly enriched by money mistakenly paid to him.”
It stressed that “a person who receives such erroneous payment has the quasi-contractual obligation to return it because no one shall be unjustly enriched at the expense of another, especially if public funds are at stake.”
The SC said it did not matter that Macapodi was not at fault for the overpayment of his separation benefits.
“That the amount was already released to the employee through no fault of his own does not diminish the payments patent illegality or cure its defect. His obligation to return arose because the payment was a clear mistake. He has no right to retain the amount, irrespective of his good faith in receiving it,” read the decision.
As for the officers, the SC only held Aguilar liable for the illegal disbursement because it was granted through a mere circular that he issued and not a board resolution.
“Inasmuch as Circular No. 2009-0010 directly defied the EPIRA, the issuance thereof was ultra vires and negligent. That the act was unauthorized negates good faith in the performance of duties,” read the decision.
The SC absolved the members of the board of liability because of their lack of participation in Aguilar’s issuance of the circular.
Likewise, Singson and Ilagan were absolved even though they verified that the check was supported by necessary documents and that the expense was necessary, lawful and incurred under direct supervision, respectively.
This was because they “approved the disbursement in the honest belief that it was supported by a valid exercise of corporate powers.”
“According to the nature of their participation, Singson and Ilagan performed their respective duties based on a superior officer’s directive,” read the decision. “Inasmuch as these personnel are public officers, they are presumed to have performed their duties regularly and in good faith.” #