Criminal charges of usurpation of functions were filed on Wednesday against an official who served as officer in charge (OIC) of the Office of the Administrator of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) last year.
Randy Escolango, the SBMA deputy administrator for legal affairs, also faces administrative charges before the Ombudsman filed on Tuesday by the same complainants, two anti-corruption groups.
The complaint for 18 counts of usurpation was signed by Carlo Batalla, secretary general of Citizens’ Crime Watch-Sumbungan ng Bayan and Diego Magpantay, head of the Anti-Graft and Corruption Task Force.
In their 10-page criminal complaint, Batalla and Magpantay detailed several of Escolango’s acts, among them the issuance of office orders appointing officials or designating functions to employees and declaring null and void office orders and memoranda issued by SBMA Chairman Martin Diño.
“The issuance of the subject office orders and memoranda are an exercise of discretionary functions which pertain only to a duly appointed SBMA administrator if not the head of the agency who is the Chairman, and not to a mere OIC,” the complaint alleged.
The acts of Escolango, the complainants said, violated the very basic principle “that the power and authority to appoint, designate and reassign employees reside in the Head of the Agency.”
“The power to appoint resides exclusively in the appointing authority and is not deemed delegated to one who is merely an OIC,” they argued.
In filing the charges, Batalla and Magpantay said the SBMA head is the SBMA Chairman, citing Executive Order 340, series of 2004, “Section 2. Powers and Duties of SBMA chairman which states that the “SBMA Chairman shall be the head of the agency …”
Escolango was designated OIC of the Office of the SBMA Administrator in a memorandum issued on October 19, 2016 by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea. Escolango was replaced in late December.
Escolango, in the short time as OIC, made several key personnel movements. On October 27, 2016, he signed Office Order No. 2016-10-002, Series of 2016 designating lawyers Michael Quintos, Teophanie Christy Reutotar, and Anna Rosario Reyes as OICs, Office of the Deputy Administrator for Legal Affairs, Legal Department, and Contracts and Documentation Division-Legal Department, respectively.
In Office Order No. 2016-10-003, Series of 2016, Escolango revoked all previous orders providing for the reassignment or detailing of some personnel in the Office of the Administrator and CEO.
On November 8, 2016, the respondent issued another office order (No. 2016-11-005, Series of 2016 designating lawyers Ruel John Kabigting and Lilia Elizabeth Hinanay-Escusa as focal and technical officers for the SBMA.
On November 24, 2016, Escolango issued Office Order No. 2016-11-007, Series of 2016 designating Ramon Agregado as special disbursing officer. On the same day, he designated Antonietta Sanqui as OIC, Office of the Senior Administrator for Support Services in lieu of Agregado.
On November 25, Escolango designated Jamelle Camba as special disbursing officer.
On November 29, 2016, he issued a memorandum informing all SBMA departments and offices that all office orders and memoranda issued by Diño were void and should not be implemented.
On December 2, 2016, in another memorandum addressed to all SBMA departments and offices, Escolango said the members of the transition and audit team named in the chairman’s memorandum dated November 14, 2016, “had no authority to conduct investigation/s, direct the production of documents, conduct interviews and take or cause to take depositions of personnel.”
Complainants Batalla and Magpantay argued that “even assuming for the sake of argument that the office of the SBMA Administrator has the power to appoint officials or designate functions to employees,” an OIC of the Office of the SBMA Administrator “surely is without authority to discharge the power to appoint or designate.”
An OIC “enjoys limited powers, which are confined to functions of administration and ensuring that the office continues its usual activities,” they said. The OIC “may not be deemed to possess the power to appoint employees,” they argued, “as the same involves the exercise of discretion which is beyond the power of an OIC.”
They cited the case of Aytona vs Castillo, et al. in which the Supreme Court ruled that a “designated Officer-in-Charge is considered merely as a caretaker of the office while the regular incumbent is on leave of absence. An OIC, therefore, does not possess the power to appoint, and if he does, such act is null and void ab initio.”
Exigency of service
Sought for comment, Escolango told The Manila Times he never appointed the employees as claimed by Batalla and Magpantay.
“I don’t know where they got their basis for the complaint,” he said.
Escolango, who said he had yet to receive a copy of the complaint, stressed that his authority was spelled out in a memorandum issued by Medialdea on October 19 last year.
“I was mandated by the Office of the President to act as OIC administrator and I only did what I was tasked to do,” he said.
Escolango’s designation was “in the exigency of service” and was meant to ensure “uninterrupted delivery of public service,” a copy of the memorandum stated.
“Had I not acted according to the duties of an OIC administrator, the day-to-day operations of SBMA would be hampered and this would have caused a huge negative impact on our investors and employees,” the SBMA official said.
WITH PATRICK ROXAS