When a final decision says it’s a private monetary obligation, never pay out of public funds. Some learn this the hard way. Take a look at this November 10, 2015 Supreme Court decision in the consolidated cases of Office of the Ombudsman v. Roger F. Borja; Lorna S. Prudente and Damaso T. Ambray v. Roger F. Borja (GR No. 201830 and 201882)
In 1991, two employees of the San Pablo City Water District (SPWD) was dismissed on the basis of an administrative case initiated by Roger Borja as its General Manager. The dismissal was affirmed by the CSC but set aside by the Court of Appeals in a decision that became final in 1996. In the decision, the employees were ordered reinstated and awarded backwages as well as other employee benefits. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that the award cannot be charged to SPCWD in view of the doctrine that where a public officer removes or dismisses another officer wrongfully, he acts outside the scope of his authority and must be held personally liable. SPCWD reinstated and paid the backwages to the employees from SPCWD funds, upon Borja’s approval.
Borja was criminally charged for violation of the Anti Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for causing undue injury to SPCWD funds. The charges were dismissed on the ground that the payments were done in good faith. Still, in 2003, Borja was administratively charged for using public funds to settle a private obligation. In 2007, Borja was held guilty of Conduct Prejudicial to the Service and was suspended for one year. This decision was, however, reversed by the Court of Appeals. It ratiocinated that if Borja can’t be held criminally liable for the payments made in good faith, there is even less reason to hold him administratively liable for the same act.
Whether or not the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing the administrative complaint against Borja.
Yes, the Court of Appeals erred in dismissing the complaint. While there is no concrete description of what specific acts constitute the offense of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service under the civil service laws and rules, it has been jurisprudentially held to pertain to acts that tarnish the image and integrity of the public office, even if it not be related or connected to the public officer’s function.
Borja acted in a manner prejudicial to the best interest of the service. By causing SPCWD to pay the backwages and other benefits due to the employees, Borja placed the office in a financial disadvantage as it was made to pay a liability which did not belong to it. The amount which was almost at 2 million pesos was by no means negligible and in doing so, the integrity of Borja’s position was put into question, and SPCWD was placed in a deleterious financial position.
The dismissal of the criminal case is not a ground for the dismissal of the administrative case. Criminal cases are separate from an administrative case and each must be disposed of according to the facts and the law applicable to each case. In conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service, the only material question is whether the public officer’s acts tarnished the image or integrity of the public office.
To read the complete text of the case, click here.
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