A CLOSE vote by a special division of five justices of the Sandiganbayan resulted in the acquittal of four former officials of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) in multiple graft charges concerning alleged anomalous vehicle insurance deals signed in 2000 and 2001.
Voting 3-2, the Special Second Division said that evidence presented by government prosecutors fell short of the required proof beyond reasonable doubt to establish the guilt of retired PhilHealth senior vice president Reynaldo N. Dalma, vice president Gregorio C. Rulloda, and administrative officers Joseph O. Vergara, and Maribeth R. Sincuya.
Based on the charges filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2014, the defendants were accused of favoring BF General Insurance Company Inc. (BGICI), which was awarded the comprehensive insurance coverage for PhilHealth’s fleet of service vehicles for the sum of P722,774.
Also charged were former PHIC Administrative Services Department manager Nadya R. Castillo (nine counts) and building supervisor Victor B. Sia (one count).
Prosecutors said the defendants violated the Government Accounting and Auditing Manual that prohibits insurance of government property with a private insurance firm and Republic Act 656 that requires all government vehicles be insured with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).
The majority ruling penned by Associate Justice Michael Frederick L. Musngi with the concurrence of Associate Justices Bayani H. Jacinto and Maryanne E. Corpus-Mañalac said the prosecution failed to prove a key element of the criminal offense – the actions of the accused public officials were attended by manifest partiality, evident bad faith, or gross inexcusable negligence.
Taking the contrary view were Associate Justices Oscar C. Herrera Jr. and Ronald B. Moreno.
The majority noted that at the time the BCIGI was awarded the contract, the question of whether the GSIS is accorded exclusivity in the insurance coverage of assets of government agencies was still unresolved.
Under these circumstances, the court said the defendants could not be faulted if the contract was awarded to BGICI considering that the latter submitted the lowest bid.
In addition, the court noted that the same officials made an effort to clarify the issue of coverage to avoid transgressing on any law.
“Prosecution witness (state auditor Yolanda) Umali even admitted before the Court that there were efforts made by the officers of PhilHealth to legally construe the law to be applied regarding the transactions by making diligent efforts to clarify with COA (Commission on Audit),” the court added.
In his dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Herrera noted there was no ambiguity in the applicable rules since the Government Accounting and Auditing Manual was already in place in 1991 as well as Administrative Order No. 141 both requiring that insurance of government assets must be under the General Insurance Fund of the GSIS.
“As pubic officers holding responsible positions in PhilHealth, the four accused knew or ought to have known the prohibition, as is it clearly spelled out in the law and related issuances. Very clearly, they acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or excusable (sic) negligence when they caused the release of funds in payment of the insurance premiums to BGICI,” he pointed out.