CA upholds dismissal of ex-Coast Guard officer over cash advances

MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) upheld the Office of the Ombudsman's ruling which found former Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commander John Esplana liable for the irregular release and use of P689.6-million worth of cash advances in 2014.

Associate Justice Zenaida Galapate Laguilles of the CA Special 16th Division denied Esplana's petition to reverse the Ombudsman resolution which found him guilty, along with 24 other officials. The Ombudsman dismissed them for serious dishonesty, grave misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the interest of service.

In his petition, Esplana said that he had no power "to approve, authorize, or recommend disbursement" of funds, which include cash advances. He argued that his functions were primarily on "internal control" which are "advisory in nature."

Esplana also claimed that the disbursement vouchers that were signed were complete with supporting documents, and that he had no custody of the funds and the properties.

But the appellate court said that it was Esplana's duty to ensure all PCG assets and resources are accounted for. The CA also said that Esplana signed the vouchers and cash advances despite noncompliance with the rules of the disbursing officer.

"In other words, his function serves the purpose of check and balance. Esplana was a high-ranking PCG official at that time… Esplana's acts of affixing his signature on the subject disbursement vouchers are not empty formalities. His responsibility involved ensuring that every transaction is compliant with the law he is mandated to follow," Laguilles said in her 17-page decision.

The cash advance mess stemmed from a complaint submitted to the Ombudsman, particularly with the liquidation of cash advances and reimbursements using fake receipts based on the 2014 Commission on Audit report.

In its 2017 report, the COA said that the PCG continued to be gripped by corruption controversies, despite past irregularities remaining unsolved. –