AN honest mistake does not a criminal offense make.
The Sandiganbayan has acquitted former Commission on Higher Education (CHED)-Regional Office 4B (MIMAROPA) director Maria Rita C. Ortiz of a graft charge filed against her in 2012 for alleged fraudulent issuance of a provisional permit for a private school to offer a BS Nursing (BSN) course.
In a 26-page decision penned by Associate Justice Michael Frederick L. Musngi, the anti-graft court’s Second Division said Ortiz committed an honest mistake on the belief that she had been given the authority to issue a provisional permit to Saint Anthony College of Science and Technology (SACST) for first and second year levels of BSN in 2004.
“Good faith is a valid defense in a prosecution for violation of Section 3 (j) of RA 3019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act). It is the opposite of fraud and its absence should be established by convincing evidence,” the court said.
Associate Justices Oscar C. Herrera Jr. and Lorifel Lacap Pahimna concurred.
Ortiz, testifying in her own defense, said she received a memorandum from then CHED acting Executive Director Julito Vitriolo stating that the Regional Quality Assessment Team favorably recommended the issuance of the permit in favor of the tertiary school.
Prosecutors had alleged that Ortiz released the provisional permit even if she was aware beforehand that the CHED Commission En Banc had earlier issued Resolution No. 238-2004 which disapproved SACST’s application for a BSN Program for school year 2004-2005.
However, the court received testimonies that regional directors do not sit in the en banc meetings of CHED unless by prior requirement to do so which lent support to Ortiz’s contention that she had no way to know that SACST’s application had already been turned down.
Vitriolo, also testifying for the defense, clarified that disapproval of a school’s application is “not written in stone” as there was still an appeals process and applicant schools simply have to comply with the submission of required documents.
He further explained that those schools that are confirmed by regional directors and favorably recommended by the Regional Quality Assessment Team are issued provisional permits as what happened to two other schools in Central Visayas.
In the case of Saint Anthony College, the CHED eventually approve the release of government recognition for its B.S. Nursing program on February 11, 2008 and those students who enrolled under the provisional permit were able to take the Nursing Board licensure examinations.
“The prosecution clearly failed to prove that accused committed the crime charged beyond reasonable doubt,” the Sandiganbayan said.