GOVERNMENT officials who may have had the best intentions in moving funds will still have to be punished for violating the law, the Supreme Court said in its ruling on a case that has similarities to the transfer of funds under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
The High Court stressed that good faith does not excuse an official who juggles government funds or property from one public purpose to another.
The SC issued this verdict on November 14, 2012, affirming a Sandiganbayan ruling on February 8, 2010 that found Leyte Mayor Arnold James Ysidoro guilty beyond reasonable doubt of technical malversation for diverting the use of four sacks of rice and two box of sardines worth P3,390 for malnourished children.
“It is the commission of an act as defined by the law, and not the character or effect thereof, that determines whether or not the provision has been violated. Hence, malice or criminal intent is completely irrelevant,” the SC ruled.
“Dura lex sed lex. [The law may be harsh but it is the law]. Ysidoro’s act, no matter how noble or miniscule the amount diverted, constitutes the crime of technical malversation,” it said.
Malacañang officials had claimed that President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad wanted to spur economic growth when they implemented the DAP, which the SC declared illegal last week. The High Court said the President had no power to transfer funds or declare as savings money intended for projects that have not been finished.
If the SC ruling on Ysodoro’s case is applied on the DAP, Aquino and Abad must restore at least half of the P140 billion released through the acceleration program.
In the case of Ysidoro, the High Court ruled that the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan was right when it held that Ysidoro used public property for a purpose other than that for which it has been appropriated by law or ordinance.
Ysidoro was charged with illegal diversion of food.
The Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO) of Leyte, Leyte, operated a Core Shelter Assistance Program (CSAP) that provided construction materials to indigent calamity victims with which to rebuild their homes. The beneficiaries provided the labor needed for construction.
On June 15, 2001 when construction for calamity victims in Sitio Luy-a, Barangay Tinugtogan, was 70 percent done, the beneficiaries stopped reporting for work because they had to find food for their families.
This worried Lolita Garcia, the CSAP officer-in-charge. Thus, she sought the help of Cristina Polinio, an officer of the MSWDO who was in charge of the municipality’s Supplemental Feeding Program (SFP) that rationed food to malnourished children.
Polinio told Garcia that the SFP still had sacks of rice and boxes of sardines in its storeroom. Garcia and Polinio went to Ysidoro, who approved the release of the food even if it was allotted for Leyte’s malnourished children.
In its ruling, the SC said the law punishes “the act of diverting public property earmarked by law or ordinance for a particular public purpose to another public purpose.”
“The offense is mala prohibita, meaning that the prohibited act is not inherently immoral but becomes a criminal offense because positive law forbids its commission based on considerations of public policy, order and convenience,” the tribunal said.
But since Ysidoro’s action caused no damage or embarrassment to public service, he was fined P1,698.00 or 50 percent of the sum misapplied.