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Nacion v. Commission on Audit
G.R. No. 204757 March 17, 2015
On June 27, 2011, a formal charge against petitioner Atty. Janet D. Nacion who was holding the position of Director IV of COA, National Government Sector, was issued by COA Chairperson Ma. Gracia M. Pulido-Tan for acts found to be committed when Nacion was assigned to the Metropolitan Waterworks Sewerage System (MWSS) from October 2001 to September 2003. COA’s investigation of its personnel assigned to MWSS was prompted by a letter from then MWSS Administrator who complained of unrecorded checks and irregularly issued disbursement vouchers that were traced to refer to bonuses and other benefits of the COA MWSS personnel. The allegations against Nacion include receiving benefits/bonuses from MWSS in the total amount of ₱73,542.00 from 1999-2003; availing of the MWSS Housing Project; and availing of the Multi-Purpose Loan Program.
In her Affidavit/Answer to Formal Charge, petitioner Nacion admitted that she availed of the MWSS Housing Project and the Multi-Purpose Loan Program upon an honest belief that she was not prohibited from doing so. However, she denied having received bonuses and benefits from MWSS and argued that the MWSS claims control index and journal vouchers upon which the charge was based were not conclusive proof of her receipt of the benefits, absent payrolls showing her signature. Nevertheless, as a sign of good faith, Nacion offered to restitute the full amount of ₱73,542.00 to save government time and expenses in hearing the case and give up her right over the MWSS lot.
On June 14, 2012, the COA found Nacion guilty of grave misconduct and violation of reasonable rules and regulations, specifically Section 18 of R.A. No. 6758 or the Compensation and Position Classification Act of 1989 which prohibits COA personnel from receiving salaries, honoraria, bonuses, allowances or other emoluments from any government entity, local government unit, government-owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions, except those compensation paid directly by the COA out of its appropriations and contributions. Nacion was ordered to refund the amount of ₱73,542.00 and return the lot which she acquired under the MWSS housing program, in addition to one-year suspension without pay.
Nacion moved to reconsider, but it was denied by the COA. Hence, this petition.
Nacion invokes due process as she argues that the records during her tenure with the MWSS should not have been included by the audit team in its investigations, as no office order covering it was issued by the COA Chairman. She also alleged that the documentary evidence considered by the Fraud Audit and Investigation Office (FAIO) did not constitute substantial evidence to prove the commission of the offenses with which she was charged.
Whether or not there was violation of administrative due process committed by the COA.
No, the Supreme Court finds no violation of Nacion’s right to due process.
In administrative proceedings, the essence of due process is the opportunity to explain one’s side or seek a reconsideration of the action or ruling complained of, and to submit any evidence he may have in support of his defense. The demands of due process are sufficiently met when the parties are given the opportunity to be heard before judgment is rendered.
Contrary to Nacion’s claim that the FAIO acted beyond its jurisdiction and deprived her of the right to due process, the Supreme Court ruled that a separate office order was not necessary for the audit team’s investigation of Nacion’s case since prior to the issuance of the formal charge, the investigations conducted by the team were merely fact-finding. The crucial point was the COA’s observance of the demands of due process prior to its finding or decision that Nacion was administratively liable. It was Nacion who, despite the chance, did not request for such formal investigation, a circumstance which the COA considered as mitigating. In any case, she was still accorded before the COA a reasonable opportunity to present her defenses through her answer to the formal charge and eventually, motion for reconsideration of the COA’s decision.
As to evidence, in administrative cases, the quantum of evidence that is necessary to declare a person administratively liable is mere substantial evidence, or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion. It is settled that the factual findings of administrative bodies are controlling when supported by such substantial evidence. In this case, three separate acts were found to have been committed by Nacion, all sufficient to support the COA’s finding of grave misconduct and violation of reasonable office rules and regulations. Nacion’s receipt of the prohibited benefits and allowances were duly proved by documentary evidence; Nacion’s availment of the housing and car programs was also undisputed as she already admitted it in her Answer.