THE Supreme Court has affirmed the dismissal of high-ranking officers of the Philippine National Police involved in the 2009 controversial helicopter purchase.
In a Decision received by the Ombudsman on January 15, 2018, the high tribunal reinstated the Ombudsman’s May 30, 2012 Joint Resolution ordering the dismissal from the service of Police Directors Leocadio Santiago, Jr. and George Piano; P/Senior Superintendents Job Nolan Antonio, Edgar Paatan, Mansue Lukban and Claudio Gaspar, Jr.; Police Chief Superintendents Herold Ubalde and Luis Saligumba; Police Superintendents Ermilando Villafuerte and Roman Loreto; P/Chief Inspector Maria Josefina Recometa; SPO3 Ma. Linda Padojinog, PO3 Avensuel Dy and Non-uniformed Personnel Ruben Gongona.
It will be recalled that in 2012, the Office of the Ombudsman found the said PNP officers guilty of Serious Dishonesty and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service. Aside from their dismissal from the service, the accessory penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office and forfeiture of retirement benefits were likewise meted on them.
Records showed that Ombudsman investigators found that in 2009, the PNP purchased from Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corporation (MAPTRA) two standard Robinson R44 Raven I light police operational helicopters (LPOH) worth P62,672,086.90, and one fully equipped Robinson R44 Raven II LPOH worth P42,312,913.10.
Based on procurement documents, the PNP-approved specifications required the helicopters to be brand-new, air-conditioned and with a minimum of three hours’ endurance. Upon project implementation, however, MAPTRA delivered only one brand new Robinson Raven II LPOH, while the two standard Robinson Raven I were pre-owned by the former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo.
Aggrieved by the 2012 Ombudsman’s dismissal order, Piano filed a petition for review before the Court of Appeals (CA). On 28 May 2014, the CA issued a Decision exonerating Piano from the administrative charges. The matter was then elevated by the Ombudsman to the SC for the reversal of Piano’s exoneration.
In its Decision, the SC found that “the CA erred in exonerating [Piano] of the charge of Serious Dishonesty and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service as found by the Ombudsman.”
“Respondent [Piano] is the Chairman of the PNP Inspection and Acceptance Committee (IAC). The IAC plays a very important role in the procurement process of the agency, since it has the responsibility of inspecting the deliveries to make sure they conform to the quantity and approved technical specifications in the supply contract and the purchase order and to accept or reject the same. Notably, only after the IAC’s final acceptance of the items delivered can be supplier be paid by the PNP,” stated the Decision.
The High Court took note of Piano’s role in the chopper deal when he signed Resolution No. IAC-09-045 claiming that “after inspection and evaluation, the Committee found the said items to be confirming [with] the approved NAPOLCOM specifications and passed the acceptance criteria.”
The PNP’s Weapons Tactics and Communications Division submitted a report disclosing the non-conformity of the delivered helicopters to the approved technical specifications, however, respondent Piano, as IAC Chairman, failed to make further inquiries or validated the lack of compliance and deviation from requirements.
Piano’s act of signing the Resolution No. IAC-09-045 “is a distortion of truth in a matter connected with the performance of his duties,” stated the High Court.
The SC added that “the 1987 Constitution itself underscores that public office is a public trust and that public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people. This imposes upon the SC the responsibility of holding public officers accountable for their blatant disregard of the high standard of ethics, competence, and accountability demanded of them.
Moreover, the high court said those in public service, such as herein respondent P/Director Piano, are thus, cautioned to act in full accordance with this constitutional standard, for this Court will not shirk from its duty of upholding administrative sanctions against erring public servants.