THE Court of Appeals (CA) has exonerated an assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) who was fired from her job for alleged unexplained wealth.
In a 25-page decision, penned by Associate Justice Leoncia Real-Dimagiba and concurred in by Associate Justices Rebecca de Guia-Salvador and Noel Tijam, the CA’s Special Third Division dismissed the complaint, turning down a ruling of the Office of the Ombudsman against Zenaida Chang, assistant commissioner of Financial and Administrative Services in charge of BIR’s budget and procurement.
Records showed that Chang and her husband had only P933,874 in total annual income in 2009.
The couple, however, were able to acquire significant and substantial assets like houses and lots in Felville Subdivision, Goldridge Estate and New Intramuros, and vehicles such as Mercedes Benz and Pajero.
The Ombudsman found Chang guilty of serious dishonesty and gross neglect of duty for acquiring significant assets that were valued much higher vis-à-vis her alleged salary.
It recommended the filing of eight counts of perjury against Chang for falsely declaring her yearly net worth in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth for the years 2000 to 2007.
The anti-graft office also ordered the filing of forfeiture proceedings to recover her alleged ill-gotten assets.
This led Chang to elevate the case to the appelate court.
The CA ruled that “Chang’s endeavor to clarify the entries in her SALN and provide all other necessary information, and her submission of voluminous supporting documents as to the acquisition of the real and personal [pieces of property] in her and her husband’s names, negate any intention on her part to conceal her [pieces of property]or their source of acquisition.”
“In the absence of independent substantial evidence against petitioner Chang, she cannot be held liable for gross neglect of duty, serious dishonesty or any other charge. Accordingly, it was grave error for the Ombudsman to have ordered her dismissal from service, together with all its accessory penalties.”
The appellate court said it adheres “strictly to the Supreme Court’s admonition against the blind adoption of a net-worth-to-income-discrepancy analysis in absolute disregard of petitioner’s documentary evidence and reasonable explanations.”
“Accordingly,” it added, “we hold that the Ombudsman’s decision dismissing petitioner from the service should be reversed, set aside and the complaint must be dismissed.”
On Chang allegedly owning three luxurious houses, the CA said “a close inspection of the photographs submitted by the [Department of Finance] reveals that they are but three different pictures of the same property, taken in different angles.”
It added that “the pieces of evidence on record show that petitioner Chang and her husband slowly acquired their [pieces of property]over a span of 29 years, from 1980 until the instant case was filed against her in 2009.” JOMAR CANLAS