by BusinessMirror - November 5, 2015
The Court of Appeals (CA) has junked an Ombudsman decision to dismiss from the service a reputable Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) official allegedly for “unexplained wealth.”
In a 28-page ruling, Associate Justice Francisco P. Acosta of the CA’s Twelfth Division, nullified the Ombudsman decision dated January 14, 2005, and the supplemental order dated January 28, 2005, after Internal Revenue Assistant Commissioner Edwin Abella filed an instant petition with the appellate court.
Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Magdangal de Leon and Angelita Gacutan.
Accordingly, the CA decision ordered Abella to be reinstated to his former position with payment of the corresponding back wages and other emoluments from the time of dismissal.
Records of the case showed that Abella’s declared net worth has modestly grown steadily from P3.8 million in 1999 to P4.3 million in 2000, P4.6 million in 2001 and P8.4 million in 2002.
In an administrative complaint, the Department of Finance’s Revenue Integrity Protection Service (DOF-RIPS) said Abella allegedly owns a pasture land known as Strike Eagle Farm in Norzagaray, Bulacan, which he allegedly purchased for P250,000 when the price was actually P2 million.
Aside from this, the DOF-RIPS indicated that Abella undervalued his appliances and other personal effects.
The DOF-RIPS subsequently secured the dismissal of Abella after it claimed that his wealth was allegedly disproportionate with his earnings as a public official. In jumping to this conclusion, Abella’s accusers merely compared the annual increase in his net worth vis-à-vis his salary as assistant commissioner without looking at his income tax returns where other sources of income were properly declared, sufficient in amount to back up the increases in his net worth.
In its January 14, 2005, ruling, the Ombudsman said that there was substantial evidence that Abella committed dishonesty for “acquiring vast amounts of money and/or properties manifestly out of proportion to his salary and/or other lawful means.”
According to the Ombudsman, Abella did not declare in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) the full value of his son’s vehicle and properties he owned in Quezon City, Bulacan and Pangasinan.
Abella filed a motion for reconsideration, but the Ombudsman denied it in an order dated June 11, 2011, prompting him to elevate his case to the CA.
In its decision, the CA said that it found satisfaction in Abella’s explanation that his SALN was in order and that specifically “he had no legal duty to include in his SALN the full value of his son’s vehicle considering that at that time, Merrick, his son, was already more than 18 years old.”
Under Section 8 of Republic Act 6713, the CA said, “a government employee is only required to record in his SALN the assets of his unmarried children under 18 years of age.”
“Evidently, Merrick is not within the purview of the said legal provision,” the CA said.
“In the essence therefore, considering that this court finds no substantial proof to support the imputation that the petitioner received income from unlawful source/s and had
unlawfully acquired properties, we find no reason to hold the petitioner guilty for dishonesty,” the CA said.
In exonerating Abella, the court explained that “dishonesty is committed by intentionally making false statement in any material fact, or practicing or attempting to practice any deception or fraud in securing his examination, registration, appointment or promotion.”
The CA said: “It is understood to imply a disposition to lie, cheat, deceive or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity. It can thus be inferred therefrom that intention is an important element in dishonesty—this was not substantially proven in this case.”
In clearing Abella, the Court further said: “Significantly, we find that the records on hand do not support the Ombudsman’s stance that the petitioner led an excessive and extravagant lifestyle. By general definition, the word ‘immodest’ refers to the person’s lack of ‘humility and decency.’
“And in the legal parlance, this allegation particularly connotes a person’s act of living beyond his means or living a life which is inappropriate to his position and income. This is evidently not the situation in this case. In the first place, the petitioner’s sources of income, as well as his acquired properties were, as above-discussed, properly accounted, thus not inappropriate.
“It should be understood that what the law seeks to curtail is ‘acquisition of unexplained wealth.’ Hence, where the sources of wealth were properly accounted, then it is ‘explained wealth’ which the law does not penalize.”