SC clears PNP official in 2009 chopper scam

MANILA A police official who was sacked for his alleged involvement in irregularities in the purchase of three police helicopters nine years ago has been vindicated after the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' reversal of a resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing him from the service.

In an 18-page En Banc decision dated Sept. 18 penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, the SC ordered the reinstatement of Supt. Ermilando O. Villafuerte to his former position, without loss of seniority rights and with payment of back wages and all benefits accrued as if he had not been illegally dismissed.

Pursuant to Sec. 58 of the 2017 Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, the decision shall be immediately executory.

The Court found in the negative the principal issue for resolution whether there is substantial evidence to find Villafuerte administratively liable. The respondent and several others were dismissed by the Ombudsman for Serious Dishonesty and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service following their alleged involvement in the purchase of the aircrafts from the Manila Aerospace Products Trading (MAPTRA).

Villafuerte was legal officer of the PNP National Headquarters Bids and Awards Committee (NHQ-BAC) Secretariat Division during the procurement process. Investigation showed that the three helicopters, one fully-equipped and two standard helicopters, that were subject of the procurement were not brand-new, contrary to the requirement of the PNP procurement.

The SC added that the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) should not have imputed liability to Villafuerte merely because he drafted the documents.

Villafuerte claimed that his duties and functions as a member of the BAC Secretariat are administrative and ministerial in nature and that he was merely following the instructions of his superiors.

He said it is the Technical Working Group of the NHQ-BAC that has the duty and responsibility to verify whether a proponent is indeed technically, legally, and financially capable to enter into a contract with the PNP.

The Court called an egregious error the PNP-CIDG's imputation, stressing that petitioner cannot judge respondent Villafuerte's actions based on the end result of the document draft. Based on the foregoing, petitioner miserably failed to establish a nexus between the ministerial act of drafting the said documents and a scheme to defraud the Government.

It also found untenable and simply unfair petitioner PNP-CIDG's insistence of holding Villafuerte liable even if it does not contest the CA's finding that the latter's duties as member of the BAC Secretariat are ministerial in nature. Neither can dishonesty or conduct prejudicial to the service be attributed to respondent Villafuerte by the mere fact that he drafted Negotiation Committee Resolution No. 2009-04 recommending the award of the contract to MAPTRA as a sole proprietorship.

The Court found Villafuerte's explanation to have sufficiently clarified the matter that as a mere member of the BAC Secretariat and that he had no compelling reason to evaluate MAPTRA's eligibility all over again while drafting the pertinent documents, especially as such is not even a part of his duties.

All told, the Court is not prepared to punish respondent Villafuerte for merely discharging the ministerial functions of his office as member of the BAC Secretariat, especially when such acts were made pursuant to the instructions of his superiors, the Court said. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency