2 dismissed, 1 suspended in assessor’s office case PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 February 2016 11:04

Two City Government workers have been ordered dismissed while another has been slapped with a 6-month suspension with no pay for grave misconduct relative to a 2014 transaction found to be contrary to civil service law.

Ordered dismissed were Engr. Vicente Pascua, Local Assessment Operation Officer II and head of the Appraisal Division and Arnold Santos, Administrative Aide II. Ordered suspended from office for 6 months and 1 day without pay was Engr. Eduard Zon Estandian, Local Assessment Operation Officer I. The 3 are employees of the City Assessor’s Office.

The case stemmed from a transaction on January 22, 2014 when, according to records, Estandian and Santos, obliged the directives of their then Chief of Appraisal Division, Pascua, “by presenting to spouses Isabela Galvez and Carmelita Galvez the prepared FAAS (Field Appraisal and Assessment Sheet) with a high tax assessment of P90,000 per year for their building situated in Sampaguita Road, Guiwan and demanded and received the amount of P15,000 in return of lowering the tax liability of P10,000 per year.”

Mayor Beng Climaco said the decision on the administrative complaint against the three is based on the findings and recommendations of the investigating committee which were duly supported by the evidence on record and recommendations in accordance with the law. The committee was chaired by Atty. Alexander Elias with Dr. Mario Arriola and Jane Bascar, Ph.D. as members.

In the case of Pascua, the committee stated that “it is clear from the testimonies of the four witnesses that responded illegally procured money from the spouses. Respondent’s assertion that the statements of Engr. Estandian and Mr. Santos are highly doubtful and hearsay cannot be given credence, as these witnesses have personal knowledge on the illegal transaction in question.” The committee also agreed with the prosecution’s assertion “that respondent’s defense is anchored on mere denials”. “It is settled that denial and alibi cannot  prevail over witness’ positive identification of the accused.

The committee also asserted that misconduct is the wrongful act of a public servant which is contrary to law, order, public policy, rule or regulation, committed while in office which is injurious to the image of the public service or the rights of another person. In the instant case, the committee said, “it is clear that illegal act of respondent has all the elements which elevates his misconduct as grave. There is no corruption as he unlawfully and wrongfully used his position or office to procure some benefit for himself and contrary to his duty and the rights of the property owner. “The act of demanding and receiving the amount of P15,000 as a condition in lowering the tax liabilities of a real property owner constitute a wilful intent to violate rules on assessment of taxes. Responded disregarded established rules by receiving P15,000 knowingly that they have no authority to receive payment relative to real properties as this function is with the City Treasurer’s Office.”

The committee also stressed that in coming up with the decision, it is guided by the principle that administrative discipline is not primarily concerned with the infliction of penalty to erring public officers and employees “but the improvement of the public service and the preservation of the public’s faith and confidence in government”.

In the case of Santos, the committee said that his argument of obedience in following the orders of his superiors is flimsy as no subordinate is compelled to obey illegal orders.    “Respondent in his long years of service is aware that their task is merely to appraise and assess real property and demanding and receiving any amount from property owners is not within their authority and therefore illegal. The fact that respondent has no technical know-how in the computation of taxes is of no moment, for it is the act of demanding and receiving money in consideration of lowering the tax liability of the property owner that violates established office policies.”

On Santos’ assertion that the prosecution failed to present any witness, the committee said that “the sworn statements of witnesses incorporated in prosecution’s position paper are enough substantial evidence to prove respondent’s participation in the illegal scheme.”

Mayor Climaco affirmed the committee’s findings that Santos is guilty of grave misconduct and imposed upon him the penalty of dismissal from service.

For Estandian, the committee after the appreciation of all evidences found him administratively liable for grave misconduct and likewise recommended dismissal from service.

Estandian invoked his right to be protected as a whistleblower for exposing the “the highly deplorable extortion scheme perpetrated by the (then) Chief of Appraisal Division Engr. Vicente Pascua against the taxpayers of the city but the committee said the respondent does not fall within the definition of term whistleblower as he participated in the scheme by allowing himself to be an instrument thereof. “Clearly, respondent did not refuse to participate in the misconduct as he admitted that he followed the orders of his superior.”

Estandian also argued that he should be protected under Witness Protection Program however the committee said he failed to show that he is subject to threats, a requisite for its application. “It is to be noted that respondent was free to testify in any matter that relates to this case.”

It was also the view of the committee that “if only the respondent did his job, first, by not allowing himself to be an instrument of corruption, second, by advising property owner (Galvez couple) to observe protocol and question the propriety of the assessment before the proper forum, third, by immediately calling the attention of his subordinate (Mr. Santos) and finally, by reporting immediately on the very same day to the department head concerning this matter, then the couple would not have paid anything over and above what is required of them.”

After due consideration of the committee’s resolution, Mayor Climaco said Estandian is guilty of directly or indirectly having material interest in any transaction requiring the approval of his office for which he should be meted the penalty of suspension of 6 months and 1 day from office without pay, “in consideration of the fact that it was Engr. Estandian who brought the anomalies at the City Assessor’s Office to the attention of the City Assessor and the City Mayor, which action serves as a mitigating circumstance to reduce his liability.”

The mayor in her decision also ordered the City Assessor to stop all negotiations to lower the tax liability of real property owners. “This means that the initial appraisal should be correct and final and should leave no room for negotiations or “haggling” to lower the owner’s tax liability.”

Any employee who is found to violate the policy will be subjected to criminal/administrative prosecution, the mayor added.