TWO incumbent regional directors of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) were saved from having to refund thousands in travel expenses that were earlier disallowed in audit after invoking good faith.
In separate decisions dated December 17 but released only yesterday, the Commission on Audit partially granted the petitions for review filed by DILG Region 4B (Mimaropa) Regional Director Wilhelm M. Suyko and NEDA Region 5 (Bicol) Regional Director Agnes Espinas.
The ruling signed by COA chairman Michael G. Aguinaldo and Commissioners Jose A. Fabia and Roland C. Pondoc upheld the notices of disallowance issued against the two but excused both from the requirement to return the disallowed sum.
Suyko was held liable for P101,052.60 incurred as travel expenses from April 2012 to October 2014 while the disallowance against Espinas involved P26,388.20 spent on travel from February to June 2013.
The two officials charged the sums against the Family/Home Visit Privilege (FHVP) based on the 1995 Civil Service Commission (CSC) resolution No. 99-0258.
The Career Executive Service Board (CESB) issued Resolution No. 815 dated September 10, 2009 authorizing the FHVP stipend for Career Executive Service-level public officials.
This was intended to “humanize the bureaucracy” by allowing said officials who are stationed away from their homes to make family visits on a regular basis.
Government auditors disallowed the cash perks on the ground that the CESB overstepped its authority, noting that the exclusive power to grant allowances and other benefits is with the President of the Philippines under Section 5 of Presidential Decree No. 1597.
The Department of Budget of Management (DBM), by extension, is mandated to provide the criteria and guidelines from the grant of all types of allowances and additional compensation.
In the absence of prior clearance from the Office of the President and the DBM, the COA declared the FHVP stipend illegal.
Espinas and Suyko appealed the COA ruling, invoking honest belief that the CESB resolution was valid, humanitarian and equitable consideration, and absence of proof that there was any fraudulent intention on their part.
The COA Commission Proper relented, declaring that the petitioners are no longer required to refund the amount disallowed based on good faith.
“This Commission considers the defense of good faith invoked by petitioner. He availed of the benefit in the honest belief that he is legally entitled to it. Petitioner need not refund the amount disallowed,” the COA declared.