RANKING government officials are expected to exercise diligence when reviewing transactions that involve public funds and should know that they cannot seek refuge beyond the claim of merely performing a ministerial duty.
With this pronouncement, the Sandiganbayan Second Division denied the joint motion for reconsideration filed by two former officials of the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports (DECS) Region 8 seeking reversal of the court’s October 16, 2020 decision that held them guilty of involvement in the anomalous procurement of P24 million worth of books in 1998.
Emilia Aranas, former DECS Region 8 chief accountant, and Ernesto Guiang, budget and finance officer, were sentenced to six to 10 years imprisonment and perpetually disqualified from holding any other public post.
They were held liable for approving the payment of P24 million to supplier Esteem Enterprises for the delivery of textbooks and supplementary printed materials based on falsified documents.
In the assailed decision, the Sandiganbayan sustained the prosecution’s stand that the sub-allotment release orders (Sub-AROs) for P10 million and P14 million were mere fabrications as the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) and the DECS central office confirmed that the SARO numbers have been assigned to other fund releases pertaining to the 1998 Centennial Parade.
Both defendants appealed the decision, insisting they acted on an honest belief that the Sub-AROs were valid because they had no reason to suspect the genuineness of the documents since the signatures on them were familiar to them.
The court, however, noted that DBM and DECS officials testified during trial that no such documents passed through their respective agencies.
“The accused cannot shield themselves from criminal liability on the ground that they merely performed a ministerial duty in affixing their signatures on the disbursement vouchers. As chief accountant of the DECS Regional Office VIII, Aranas was duty bound to verify the authenticity of the sub-AROs, notice of cash allocation and corresponding funding checks. The same applies to accused Guiang, being the chief of Budget and Finance Division,” the Sandiganbayan declared.