Illegal allowances earn La Union water district execs 6 years in jail

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    THE Sandiganbayan has convicted former Metro La Union Water District general manager Felipe Picazo, administrative division manager Virginia Laroco, and cashier Evangelina Flores of violation of Section 3 (e) of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for paying out unauthorized cash allowances totaling P7.25 million.

    All three were meted imprisonment for 6 to 10 years with perpetual disqualification from holding another position in government.

    On top of these, they were also held jointly liable to the MLUWD for actual damages for P7.25 million, equivalent to the amount disbursed.

    Associate Justice Edgardo M. Caldona penned the 31-page Decision promulgated November 29, 2019 that pronounced the defendants guilty of causing injury to the government.

    Associate Justices Efren N. de la Cruz and Geraldine Faith A. Econg concurred.

    Case records showed that the three processed and approved 231 checks paying out cost of living allowances (COLA) to agency officials and employees in 2009 while ignoring previous rulings from the Commission on Audit that such additional cash perks are unlawful because they are already incorporated in the wages and benefits of government personnel.

    In documents submitted during the trial, Laroco and Flores admitted that the COLA checks were released even without supporting documents.

    On August 2, 2011, the Civil Service Commission issued a decision in the administrative charges against Flores and Laroco finding both guilty of gross neglect of duty, gross misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

    They were ordered removed from the posts, stripped of their civil service eligibility, and their retirement benefits forfeited.

    “Truth to tell, the subject funds were merely made to appear as COLA when the actual intention of the accused was simply to bilk the company of its limited public funds for their pure selfish interests,” the Sandiganbayan said.

    While Picazo tried to wiggle free of liability by claiming that he had pre-signed all checks without knowing that they would be processed and released as unauthorized allowances, the court swept aside his argument as self-serving.

    “As general manager of the water company in whose hands ultimately lie the responsibility for its business affairs, the accused should have known or realized that his claim was constitutive of gross inexcusable negligence that nevertheless makes him liable,” the Sandiganbayan pointed out.