THE Sandiganbayan First Division upheld the 2018 decision of the Ligao City, Albay Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 14 convicting a former official of the National Food Authority (NFA) of malversation of public funds or property.
In a 16-page resolution issued on July 9, the anti-graft court also affirmed the sentence of 17 to 19 years imprisonment against Maria Concepcion Serrano and lifetime disqualification from holding another government post. She was also fined P5.14 million in civil liability.
The case stemmed from the discovery by the NFA-Ligao City of shortages in stock of palay (unmilled rice), rice, certified seeds imported sugar and “darak” (rice bran) under the defendant’s custody as senior grains operator/warehouse supervisor from 1997 to 2003.
Associate Justices Efren N. de la Cruz, Geraldine Faith A. Econg and Edgardo M. Caldona denied Serrano’s appeal seeking reversal of her conviction claiming lack of proof to support the fourth element of the crime of malversation – the she misappropriated the public property for herself or allowed another person to do it.
She argued that none of the witnesses had personal knowledge of the computations of her alleged accountability.
She also raised questions on the procedure, noting that the audit of the stocks in her custody was not done by the Commission on Audit but by the NFA. The defense claimed the while the COA affirmed the validity of the NFA’s findings, such a pronouncement cannot be taken as a substitute for an actual COA audit.
“Serrano’s contentions are without merit. Firstly, the audit or stock examination conducted by the NFA-Albay … was proven to be regular, complete and thorough. Secondly, it has been consistently ruled by the Supreme Court that a COA report is not a ore-requisite to the determination of liability in cases of malversation,” the Sandiganbayan said.
It pointed out that as warehouse supervisor, Serrano had overall control over the warehouse operations, including the issuance of warehouse stock receipts (WSRs) and warehouse stock issues (WSIs) pertaining to the stocks that are received and released.
On the Serrano’s contention that the dilapidated condition of the warehouse and its location made it susceptible to robbery/pilferage and pest infestation, the court upheld the RTC finding that the final computation of liability already took into consideration possible loss from unavoidable circumstances under “tolerable allowance or TOLA.”
“Accused appellant did not dispute or appeal the TOLA computation; instead, she received and signed the same. Having established that the warehouse amounting to P5,138,880.55 was in her custody…it was incumbent upon her to produce the same upon demand…failing in which, the presumption of malversation arises,” the Sandiganbayan said.