The Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO) of Leyte operated a Core Shelter Assistance Program (CSAP) that provided construction materials to indigent calamity victims with which to rebuild their homes. The beneficiaries provided the labor needed for construction.
When construction for calamity victims in Sitio Luy-a, Barangay Tinugtogan, was 70% done, the beneficiaries stopped reporting for work for the reason that they had to find food for their families. This worried Lolita Garcia (Garcia), the CSAP Officer-in-Charge, for such construction stoppage could result in the loss of construction materials particularly the cement.
Thus, she sought the help of Cristina Polinio, an officer of the MSWDO in charge of the municipality’s Supplemental Feeding Program (SFP) that rationed food to malnourished children. Polinio told Garcia that the SFP still had sacks of rice and boxes of sardines in its storeroom. And since she had already distributed food to the mother volunteers, what remained could be given to the CSAP beneficiaries.
Garcia and Polinio went to petitioner Arnold James M. Ysidoro, the Leyte Municipal Mayor, to seek his approval. After explaining the situation to him, Ysidoro approved the release and signed the withdrawal slip for four sacks of rice and two boxes of sardines worth P3,396.00 to CSAP. Mayor Ysidoro instructed Garcia and Polinio, however, to consult the accounting department regarding the matter. Elises, the supervising clerk of the Municipal Accountant’s Office, signed the withdrawal slip based on her view that it was an emergency situation justifying the release of the goods. Subsequently, CSAP delivered those goods to its beneficiaries. Afterwards, Garcia reported the matter to the MSWDO and to the municipal auditor as per auditing rules.
Alfredo Doller, former member of the Sangguniang Bayan of Leyte, filed the present complaint against Ysidoro charging him of technical malversation when he approved the distribution of SFP goods to the CSAP beneficiaries.
Ysidoro also claims good faith, believing that the municipality’s poor CSAP beneficiaries were also in urgent need of food. Furthermore, Ysidoro pointed out that the COA Municipal Auditor conducted a comprehensive audit of their municipality in 2001 and found nothing irregular in its transactions.
The Sandiganbayan found Ysidoro guilty beyond reasonable doubt of technical malversation. But, since his action caused no damage or embarrassment to public service, it only fined him P1,698.00 or 50% of the sum misapplied.
Ysidoro’s motion for reconsideration was denied.
Hence, Ysidoro appealed the Sandiganbayan Decision to this Court.
Whether or not good faith is a valid defense in technical malversation.
The crime of technical malversation as penalized under Article 220 of the Revised Penal Code4 has three elements:
a) that the offender is an accountable public officer;
b) that he applies public funds or property under his administration to some public use; and
c) that the public use for which such funds or property were applied is different from the purpose for which they were originally appropriated by law or ordinance.
Ysidoro insists that he acted in good faith since, first, the idea of using the SFP goods for the CSAP beneficiaries came, not from him, but from Garcia and Polinio; and, second, he consulted the accounting department if the goods could be distributed to those beneficiaries. Having no criminal intent, he argues that he cannot be convicted of the crime.
But criminal intent is not an element of technical malversation. The law punishes the act of diverting public property earmarked by law or ordinance for a particular public purpose to another public purpose.
The offense is mala prohibita, meaning that the prohibited act is not inherently immoral but becomes a criminal offense because positive law forbids its commission based on considerations of public policy, order, and convenience. It is the commission of an act as defined by the law, and not the character or effect thereof, that determines whether or not the provision has been violated. Hence, malice or criminal intent is completely irrelevant.
Dura lex sed lex. Ysidoro’s act, no matter how noble or miniscule the amount diverted, constitutes the crime of technical malversation.