FORMER Cebu governor Gwen Garcia and lawyer Alex Leyson, former Land Transportation Office (LTO) 7 director, invoked the Arias Doctrine in asking the Office of the Ombudsman to clear them of graft charges.

They both failed to convince the anti-graft office that they could not be faulted for the charged offenses when they merely relied “in good faith” on their subordinates.

In arguing that they should not be charged with graft, Garcia and Leyson cited the 1989 case of Amado Arias vs. Sandiganbayan as their defense.

The jurisprudence says a public officer could not be faulted for an offense if he merely relied in good faith on his assistants.

“How could you allege good faith when the documents you signed are deficient?” Deputy Ombudsman for the Visayas Pelagio Apostol told Sun.Star Cebu.

Apostol said it is the “common practice” of public officials facing graft charges to argue that they simply relied on the representation of their subordinates.

“If there are no supporting documents, or if the papers are spurious, you should question the transactions. What is your basis in approving the documents without the supporting papers?” he said.

If the public official failed to check the supporting documents before signing the papers, Apostol said it is presumed the official is the “conspirator, mastermind, or indispensable partner to the modus operandi.”

Leyson and his three subordinates in the LTO 7 were dismissed from service over the alleged illegal release of P20.9 million in public funds in 2005.

For his part, Leyson argued that he could not be expected to examine the details of every transaction he had to sign.

As head of office, Leyson said he had to rely on the regularity and authority of the signatures of his subordinates. Otherwise, he would not finish his day-to-day tasks.

But Assistant Special Prosecutor Anna Isabel Aurellano said Leyson could not use the Supreme Court ruling on the Arias case as an excuse not to exercise prudence.

In Arias’ case, Aurellano pointed out that the former chief auditor of the Rizal engineering district in Pasig City relied in good faith on his subordinates and signed the document with supporting papers attached to it.

“In the case of Leyson, however, he signed 31 checks without disbursement vouchers and any supporting documents,” said Aurellano.

The other respondents are Gonzalo Baybay, LTO 7 supervising transportation regulation officer; Corazon Bascon, LTO Finance and Management Division officer-in-charge; and Marissa Abear Veriña, former assistant cashier.

The ombudsman said the four respondents conspired with Veriña to allegedly “siphon public funds with ease” amounting to P14.4 million and to illegally use another P6.4 million in public funds.

The ombudsman recommended the filing of charges against them for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

In February last year,  Garcia, presently congresswoman of Cebu’s 3rd district, also cited the Arias Doctrine and asked the Ombudsman to overturn its resolution indicting her and seven others for graft charges over the Balili lot purchase.

“Her (Garcia) good faith reliance on her subordinates should not result in criminal liability or be equated to a conspiracy to commit the crimes she is charged for,” Garcia’s pleading read.

But Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales denied Garcia’s pleading for lack of merit, saying the grounds raised are merely “repetitions of the matters that have already been dwelt on in the assailed issuances.”

Morales charged Garcia and other Capitol officials before the Sandiganbayan with graft and technical malversation for the allegedly irregular purchase of the 24.9-hectare Balili beachfront property in Naga City, Cebu.

The respondents have all posted bail.

In the resolution, Morales said the Capitol officials entered into the contract with landowners without any fund specifically appropriated for the purchase in its annual budget for 2008.

The Province bought the Balili lot for P99.6 million and paid P98.9 million.

It later went to court to get back the funds paid for portions of the property that turned out to be submerged in water.