THE Court of Appeals (CA) has sustained the Ombudsman’s dismissal of Chairmperson Prospero Pichay, Acting Administrator Daniel Landingin, and Acting Deputy Administrator Wilfredo Feleo of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA).
In a 15-page decision penned by Associate Justice Amelita Tolentino and concurred in by Associate Justices Magdangal de Leon and Rodil Zalameda, the CA’s Special Fourth Division denied the petition for review filed by Pichay, which assailed the Ombudsman’s 2011 findings against Pichay and the two LWUA executives.
The LWUA executives’ dismissal was predicated on charges of grave misconduct filed against them in connection with the unlawful disbursement of government funds during their stint in the cited government-owned corporation.
The CA ruled that the Ombudsman did not abuse its discretion when it dismissed Pichay and his co-respondents and imposed upon them accessory penalties of forfeiture of benefits, except leave credits, and disqualification to hold public office.
Pichay and the two other LWUA officials reportedly unlawfully disbursed public funds when LWUA invested in Express Savings Bank without a memorandum of agreement and without any previous authority from the Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
The Office of the Government Corporate Counsel earlier ruled that the cited investment required a prior review by the finance department. Express Savings Bank was bought for P780 million, which is inconsistent with the thrusts and policies of the government.
Then Acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro found substantial evidence to charge Pichay and the two others with grave misconduct when it reached the anti-graft body, prompting Pichay to file a petition for review before the CA.
The CA, however, opined that while it is not bound to rule on administrative cases, it found the elements particular to grave misconduct sufficient.
“All told, the rule is that the findings of fact of administrative bodies, if based on substantial evidence, are controlling on the reviewing authority,” it held.
“It is settled that it is not the appellate court to substitute its own judgment for that of the administrative agency on the sufficiency of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses,” the CA said.