Court of Appeals affirms guilty verdict vs ex-Coast Guard official

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 29 2018 09:02 PM

MANILA - The Court of Appeals (CA) has junked a petition that retired Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Rear Admiral Cecil Chen filed to seek the reversal of the Office of the Ombudsman's 2017 findings holding him liable for P689.6 million in cash advances.

In a decision penned by Associate Justice Franchito Diamante, the appellate court's 4th Division affirmed the assailed November 22, 2017 Ombudsman ruling that found Chen guilty of serious dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. 

He was held liable along with 24 other PCG officials over questions raised in connection with the liquidation of the cash advances as of December 31, 2014.

As a high-ranking official and special disbursing officer, Chen was responsible and accountable for the proper disbursement of the special cash advances (SCA) released under his name and, along with other respondents, violated Commission on Audit rules, the court said. 

“We have judiciously evaluated the records and hereby find that the questioned decision of the Ombudsman is supported by substantial evidence and well within the bounds of law. The settled rule provides that factual findings of the Office of the Ombudsman are conclusive when supported by substantial evidence," the ruling read. 

The appellate court also said Chen failed to present proof that previous SCAs were fully liquidated before new cash advances were released under his name. 

“Herein petitioner cannot wash his hands off the irregular and illegal manner by which the public funds were disbursed under the excuse that he merely depended on the PCG personnel to ensure the propriety of the disbursements and the liquidation.” 

The CA also said Chen was no mere approving authority since he was part of the procurement proceedings. 

“[C]ontrary to the claim of petitioner that he did not participate in the procurement process, the documents submitted by the respondent proved otherwise. The Abstract of Canvass from three bona fide suppliers and the certification that the purchases fell under emergency procurement belie petitioner's innocence or lack of knowledge on the irregularity of the procurement process," the court said. 

"Upon perusal, the petitioner's signatures appearing in several Abstract of Canvass Sheets signify that he was part of the procurement proceedings and not a mere approving authority,” it said. 

The COA report stated that when it conducted document validation, business establishments indicated were not found in their supposed addresses on sales invoices, cash invoices or official receipts. The validation process also yielded denials from several of the stated establishments with respect to the issuances of receipts and invoices. 

In his defense, Chen explained he merely signed a disbursement report after the PCG chief accountant certified it as "true and correct." He also denied having a hand in the canvass, preparation, purchase and receipt of the supplies.

In its ruling, the Ombudsman ordered the dismissal of the PCG officials or a fine equivalent to a one-year salary of respondents who have already retired or were separated from the service.