by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com
MANILA – THE Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed the findings of the Commission on Audit (COA) which held former Interior Secretary Cesar Sarino and four other officials “civilly and criminally liable” for the illegal transfer of funds from the DILG to the Office of the President in violation of the constitutional provisions.
Aside from Sarino also held liable were former Undersecretary Andres Sanchez, former Chief Accountant Leonardo D. Regala, former Director Rafael D. Barata and Norma Agbayani, former Chief of the Management Division.
All of the said officials have retired from the service.
“We find no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the COA in rendering the assailed decision. The Constitutional body should even be lauded for its commitment in ensuring that public funds are not spent in a manner not strictly within the intendment of the law,” the Court said in a 44–page decision penned by Associate Justice Dante Tinga.
Court records showed that in 1991, Sarino issued a memorandum for the transfer and remittance to the Office of the President the sum of P300,000 for the operational expense of a newly created task force to implement local autonomy.
To augment the project, an additional cash advance of P300,000 was taken from DILG’s Capability Building Program.
But documents show there was no proper liquidation of the P600,000 cash advance made to one lawyer Hiram Mendoza who was not even an employee either of DILG or the Office of the President.
Resident auditor Iluminada M.V. Fabroa disallowed the disbursements saying the transfer of funds from DILG to the Office of the President violated the General Appropriations Act of 1992 (RA 7180) and held Sarino et al “jointly and severally liable for the amount” and directed them to immediately settle the amount.
The COA upheld the findings of Fabroa. But Sarino justified the transfer, saying it was for a public purpose.
The Court, however, was not convinced as the petitioners failed to cite the specific law and provision which authorizes the transfer of funds.
Congress has given the President, Senate President, House Speaker, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and heads of Constitutional Commissions the “exclusive power” to transfer savings under Sec 25 (5), Art VI of the 1987 Constitution
“The submission that there was a valid transfer of funds within the Executive Department should be rejected as it overlooks the fact that the power and authority to transfer in this case was exercised not by the President but only at the instance of the Deputy Executive Secretary, not the Executive Secretary himself.”
“Even if the DILG Secretary had corroborated the initiative of the Deputy Executive Secretary, it does not even appear that the matter was authorized by the President. More fundamentally, even the President (Ramos) himself could not have validly authorized the transfer under the Constitution,” the Court noted.
The Court also noted that at the time of the questioned transfer there was no savings in the DILG.
Before a transfer is made, there must be savings in the programmed appropriation of the transferring agency and an existing item. The Court found out that there were no savings in the DILG at the time of the questioned transfers.
Thus, it declared that the creation of the task force is inconsistent with the mandate of the law as there was no existing item of appropriation which needed to be augmented.
“It is clear that no valid transfer of the Fund to the Office of the President could have occurred in this case as there was neither allegation nor proof that the amount transferred was savings or that the transfer was for the purpose of augmenting the item to which the transfer was made,” the Court said.
“We find that the use of the transferred funds was not in accordance with the purpose laid down by the Special Provisions of RA 7180 (General Appropriations Act).