CA junks Ombud’s simple negligence ruling against former Daanbantayan Mayor Corro

By: Norman V. Mendoza November 29,2019 - 07:00 AM

Former Daanbantayan Mayor Augusto Corro is cleared of simple negligence by Court of Appeals. | CDN file photo

CEBU CITY, Philippines — The Court of Appeals has completely exonerated Corro on the Ombudsman’s previous finding on him for simple negligence.

The Office of the Ombudsman in its May 25, 2017 Joint Resolution found former Daanbantayan, Cebu Mayor Augusto Corro guilty of simple negligence for the non-release of financial aid to his constituents whose houses were destroyed by supertyphoon Yolanda. 

Corro was meted a two-month penalty, but since he was no longer in government service, the penalty was converted to a fine amounting to his two months’ salary.

Also ordered suspended was Heide Aplece, Social Welfare Officer III of the Municipal Social Welfare Development Office.

The Ombudsman said Corro “flip-flopped on the qualified beneficiaries of the Emergency Shelter Assistance, a financial assistance fund from the Department of Social Welfare and Developmment released to victims of supertyphoon Yolanda.”  

Complaint

The complaint was filed by Barangay Tapilon resident, Renato Benatiro, who was disqualified from the shelter assistance as his house was declared to be situated in an unsafe zone. 

Under the ESA program, the municipality received P425,870,000.00 — P30,000 for each resident whose house was completely destroyed and P10,000 each for partially destroyed houses. 

In his counter-affidavit, Corro said that he had only suspended the release of ESA in areas near shorelines pending the technical determination of unsafe zones. 

“If it is true that the municipality merely withheld the ESA of those residing near the shorelines pending proper identification of its danger/unsafe zones, the remarks appearing next to complainant’s name on the list, as well as that of the others, should have been ‘for verification’ and not a categorical and unqualified ‘unsafe zone,'” the Office of the Ombudsman said.

 No probable cause

The Ombudsman, however, said there was no probable cause to charge Corro with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act as his acts did not establish the presence of manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.  

But in the recent Decision of the Court of Appeals penned by Justice Edgardo Delos Santos, chairperson of the 18th Division of the Court of Appeals, the Court found merit to the appeal of Augusto Corro that he was not guilty of simple negligence in the performance of his function.

40 meter No-Build Zone policy

Corro said that he merely temporarily adopted the the 40 meter No-Build Zone policy of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Recovery and Rehabilitation (OPARR) as the basis in classifying areas near the seashore of Daanbantayan, Cebu as “danger/unsafe zone” for purposes of implementing the ESA of the DSWD.

He said this was because of the absence of a Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), multi-hazard maps and technical personnel.

In its October 30, 2019 Decision, the Court of Appeals found that, contrary to the Ombudsman’s ruling, the action of then Mayor Corro was even in accordance of the guidelines set by DSWD for the implementation of the ESA project.  

The Court said that it agreed that it would be simply unjust to hold Mayor Corro liable for conducting a reassessment or re-evaluation of the qualifications or eligibility of the beneficiaries included in the original master list if the sole purpose thereof was just to conform with the guidelines.  

Lack of guidelines

It was not his fault that an earlier guidelines were not made available to the LGUs.

The complainant Benatiro failed to establish by the required quantum of proof for administrative cases on his allegations that Mayor Corro utilized OPARR’s 40-meter No Build Zone Policy to  purposely exclude him and other alleged non-supporters from the final list of beneficiaries for political reasons only.

Corro has in his favor as a then public official the presumption of regularity in the performance of his official duties.

The Court declared that complainant had not shown any prima facie evidence to support his claim that there was failure on the part of Corro to give proper attention to a task expected of him that would signify a disregard of a duty resulting from carelessness or indifference.  

In fact, then Mayor Corro was even heedful enough to look for an alternative reference, in the absence of a CLUP, in their determination of the safe and unsafe zones of his town.  

The Court said that Mayor Corro’s reliance on OPARR’s “40-meter No Build Zone Policy” was not completely implausible for it was, in fact, implemented specifically in response to or based on the hazards of possible storm surges.  

Also Mayor Corro as an engineer by profession before being elected as head of Daanbantayan, inferred that structures lying at the beachfront were likewise located on unsafe zones susceptible to storm surges.  

Corro’s judgement

Thus, the Court said that it agreed on the good judgement of Corro in excluding families whose houses were standing on the beachfront as beneficiaries, on the ground that their houses were located on unsafe zones.

The hazard maps submitted by DENR-7-MGB (Mines and Geosciences Bureau) Director Loreto Alburo submitted was intended for hazards on highlands. 

So the Court said it is not hard to see Mayor Corro’s logic that beachfronts are unsafe, if not the unsafest, from storm surges and which was why he insisted and still used the OPARR’S 40-meter No Build Zone Policy in determining the “SAFE ZONES”. 

Considering that the whole country was indeed taken unprepared for the hazards and the magnitude of damages brought by Typhoon Yolanda, there was still at that time, no ready basis for the LGUs in determining the zones that are safe and unsafe from storm surges.

Exonerated

The Court concluded “that Benatiro failed, as well, to establish that Mayor Corro was negligent in his duties as the then Mayor in distributing the ESA Fund. 

On the contrary, the Court said that Mayor Corro merely exercised his sound discretion as the chief executive and gave proper attention to a task expected of him based on the spirit of the guidelines.”

The Court of Appeals vacated and set aside the Ombudsman’s Joint Resolution finding Corro administratively guilty of Simple Negligence. 

Consequently, the Court of Appeals exonerated Corro from all administrative charges against him./dbs

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