• Ex-ambassador appeals ruling in malverse raps

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    Former Ambassador Masaranga Umpa is appealing to the Sandiganbayan’s First Division to reconsider its ruling convicting him for three counts of malversation.

    The anti-graft court found him guilty on the ground that he, through negligence, allowed others to take and misappropriate the amount of $95,856.08

    “Wherefore, in view of the foregoing, it is respectfully prayed of this Honorable Court that its decision dated 02 March 2015 be reconsidered and a new one be implemented exonerating Accused Masaranga R. Umpa in SB12-CRM-0246-0278,” the 44-page Motion for Reconsideration filed last March 13 read.

    Umpa, a former Philippine Ambassador to Nigeria from 1996 to 2008, was accused of permitting another person through negligence to misappropriate Assistance to Nationals (ATN) Stand-by-Funds in 2007.

    As head of a post in the Department of Foreign Affairs and head of the team that monitored and negotiated the rescue and repatriation of 25 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who were kidnapped in Warri and Port Harcourt, Delta State in Nigeria on January 20, 2007, he was entrusted with the ATN funds to finance the costs related to the rescue and repariation.

    Umpa, 74, opened his appeal with an expression of gratitude toward the court, which recommended the commutation of the penalty.

    “First and foremost, Accused is grateful for the recommendation of this Honorable Court to the Chief Executive, through the Department of Justice, for the commutation of the penalty, if not pardon of the Accused, in these cases on the ground that this Honorable Court found the penalty for the Accused was too harsh and excessive considering the circumstances,” he said.

    Despite the recommendation, however, according to Umpa, he is constrained to file the appeal as he believes that the cases deserve a second look.

    “Thus, since the Head of Post, the Accused herein, did not see any notation as to the illegality and impropriety of the entries in the vouchers, he had no reason to suspect that the said transaction was in any way illegal or erroneous considering that it already passed the Finance Officer and the Administrative Officer, he had all the reasons to sign the vouchers,” the appeal argued in part.

    Umpa was referring to the cash vouchers (CVs) that were used to liquidate the expenses incurred.

    The court has said that had he taken time to review the supporting documents before signing/approving the subject CVs, he could have noted that the vouchers were not signed by the payee/creditor and also supported by official receipts or if supported by such, they were either unofficial or unnumbered receipts or unofficial provisional receipts and cash receipts.

    But the defense argued, “The fact that the said vouchers reached accused Umpa without any notation that would make the same irregular, there was already a presumption of regularity, considering that they were equally accountable officers and primarily responsible officers.”

    Umpa noted that the Disbursing Officer and Administrative Officer were with him during the operation so there was no reason for him to question the transactions.

    The former envoy said it was impossible for him to go through and examine every detail of every transaction citing his “heavy workload” and the “extraordinary circumstances” that attended the operation in Nigeria that required immediate action to ensure the safety of the 25 held captive.

    “Likewise, accused was also hard-pressed attending meetings with the Nigerian Government officials including the Nigerian President Obasanjo, Nigerian political leaders, private individuals, certain members of the diplomatic community, Nigerian military, police officials, representatives of employers of the 25 Filipino seafarers who were held captive and the media, not to mention the Philippine media and the Philippine government officials, including President Gloria Arroyo, who were religiously asking for updates regarding the situation in Nigeria,” the defense said.

    “In other words, Accused had no time to go through every detail and inspect every document that goes through him whether the same was illegal or valid transactions,” it added.

    As a result, he was left with no other choice but to rely heavily on his officers and the notations that they would indicate in relation to the legality and validity of such transactions, his appeal read.

    On the questioned vouchers, Umpa said it would be “very costly, impractical and dangerous” for him to travel by land to Warri and Port Hartcourt, “both of which were crawling with rebels and were approximately 500 kilometers away from the Philippine Embassy, just to check each and every bill, receipt and document allegedly issued in those areas.”

    He pointed out that the Finance Officer and the Administrative Officer should have been charged if it were true that the transactions were erroneous on ground that they were the ones primarily responsible.

    In the 27-page decision promulgated March 2, the anti-graft court sentenced Upma to an indeterminate penalty of 10 to 17 years in prison and meted him perpetual disqualification to hold public office and other accessory penalties provided by law.

    He was ordered to indemnify the Department of Foreign Affairs the total malversed amount of about P3.75 million “with legal interest from the finality of this decision until the same is fully paid, and to pay the cost.”

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