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357 Phil. 842

EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 112371, October 07, 1998 ]

AIDA DOMINGO, PETITIONER, VS. COMMISSION ON AUDIT, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

PURISIMA, J.:

This is an original petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court seeking to nullify Decision No. 93-3081 of respondent Commission on Audit.

The antecedent facts that matter are, as follows:

On March 23, 1987, petitioner Aida Domingo was appointed by the President as Regional Director, Region V of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and she assumed office as such.

Several government vehicles were thereafter endorsed to her office for the use of the personnel of the entire Region V of DSWD, including a Toyota Land Cruiser Jeep, a Kaiser Cargo Truck, a Trailer Jeep, a Willy’s Army Rebuilt Jeep, and a Nissan Double Cab.

On November 14, 1989, Regional Auditor Manuel Cañares sent a communication to the petitioner informing her that post-audit reports on the DSWD Regional Office disbursement accounts showed that officials provided with government vehicles were still collecting transportation allowances. The said Auditor then requested the petitioner, in her capacity as Regional Director, to instruct all persons concerned to cease from collecting the transportation allowances in question.

However, despite the assignment to her of a vehicle for her official use, the petitioner asserted entitlement to a commutable transportation allowance and collected a total amount of P48, 600.00 as transportation allowance for the period from July 1, 1988 to December 31, 1990.

Petitioner asked for reconsideration of the auditor’s directive; contending that she should only be disallowed to claim transportation allowance on the days she actually used a government vehicle. According to petitioner, she already refunded P1,600.00 for the thirty two (32) days she actually utilized a government vehicle.

But on May 18, 1990, the auditor denied petitioner’s motion for reconsideration, and issued to petitioner CSB No. 92-003-101, dated July 8, 1992, with the following notation:
"A special audit of your TA account was disallowed in accordance with COA Decision No. 1745 dated February 26, 1991 by the Commission proper less payment made under OR No. 7714009 dated December 6, 1990 - P1,600.00."
On August 8, 1992, the petitioner appealed the auditor’s action to the Commission on Audit, which handed down its decision of August 25, 1993, finding petitioner’s appeal devoid of merit.

Respondent Commission based its aforesaid decision on an earlier COA decision No. 1745, dated February 26, 1991, wherein it was held that a government official assigned a vehicle for his/her official use, is not entitled to collect transportation allowance whether or not he/she actually used such vehicle.

Undaunted, petitioner found her way to this court via the present petition, posing the issue of whether or not a commutable transportation allowance may still be claimed by a government official provided with a government vehicle, for the days the official did not actually use the vehicle.

The provision of law in point is found in Section 28 of Republic Act 6688, otherwise known as the General Appropriations Act of 1989, to wit:
Section 28. Representation and Transportation Allowances - x x x "The transportation allowance herein authorized shall not be granted to officials who are assigned a government vehicle or - use government motor transportation, except as may be approved by the President of the Philippines. Unless otherwise provided by law, no amount appropriated in this Act shall be used to pay for representation and/or transportation allowances, whether commutable or reimbursable, which exceed the rates authorized under this Section. Previous administrative authorization not consistent with the rates and conditions herein specified shall no longer be valid and payment shall not be allowed."
The General Appropriations Acts of 1988, 1990 and 1991 provide:
"The transportation allowance herein authorized shall not be granted to officials who are assigned a government vehicle or use a government motor transportation, except as may be approved by the President of the Philippines." (GAA 1988)

"The transportation allowance herein authorized shall not be granted to officials who are assigned a government vehicle or use government transportation, except as may be approved by the President of the Philippines." (GAA 1990)

"The transportation allowance herein authorized shall not be granted to officials who are assigned a government vehicle or use government motor transportation." (GAA 1991)
The aforesaid provision in the General Appropriations Law is based on Presidential Decree 733 and Commission on Audit Circular No. 75-6 dated November 7, 1975, regulating the use of government vehicles, aircrafts and watercrafts. Portion of said circular, reads:
"VI. Prohibition Against Use of Government Vehicles by Officials provided with transportation allowance - "No official who has been furnished motor corporation allowance by any government corporations or other office shall be allowed to use motor vehicle transportation operated and maintained from funds appropriated in the abovecited Decree. (Sec. 14, P.D. 733)."
In the case of Bustamante vs. Commissioner on Audit, 216 SCRA 134, decided by this Court on November 27, 1992, COA also disallowed the claim for transportation allowance of the legal counsel of National Power Corporation because he was already issued a government vehicle. Involving the circular aforementioned and almost the same facts as in this case, it was therein held that COA Circular No. 75-6 is categorical in prohibiting the use of government vehicles by officials receiving transportation allowance and in stressing that the use of government motor vehicle and claim for transportation allowance are mutually exclusive and incompatible.

The issue need no longer be belabored for no less than this Court ruled in the aforesaid case that a government official, to whom a motor vehicle has been assigned, cannot, at the same time, claim transportation allowance.

Furthermore, it is an elementary rule that when the law speaks in clear and categorical language, there is no need, in the absence of legislative intent to the contrary, for any interpretation. Words and phrases used in a statute should be given their plain, ordinary, and common usage meaning.[1]

In the case under consideration, it must be noted that the provisions of law referred to in the General Appropriations Acts of 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991, utilized the word "assigned" and not "used." Webster’s Dictionary defines the word "assign" as "to transfer (property) to another in trust." Had legislative intent been that government officials issued an official vehicle could still collect transportation allowance if they do not actually use subject vehicle, the word "use" instead of "assign" should have been employed.

As correctly pointed out by the Solicitor General, there are two instances when transportation allowance cannot be granted to a government official, as when a government official is assigned a vehicle, and when a government official uses government transportation facilities. It is undeniable that several government vehicles were issued to the Regional Office of DSWD in Region V. That the vehicles thereat were issued not to petitioner herself, as Regional Director, but to the Regional Office itself, is of no moment. What is important and decisive is that such vehicles were intended primarily for the official use of subject office and its officials and employees. As maintained by the Solicitor General, whether or not the herein petitioner used the vehicle assigned to her office, is not an issue, as it is undeniable that she could have used the said vehicle whenever she wanted to since it was assigned to her office.

In the case of Ursua vs. Court of Appeals, 256 SCRA 147, it was held that there is a valid presumption that undesirable consequences were never intended by a legislative measure and a construction of which the statute is fairly susceptible is favored which will avoid objectionable, mischievous, indefensible, wrongful, evil, and injurious consequences. It is abundantly clear that the evil sought to be remedied by the legislative prohibition is the collection of additional transportation allowance despite the availability of free transportation supplied by a government motor vehicle assigned to the office.

WHEREFORE, the appealed decision of the Commission on Audit is hereby AFFIRMED. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Panganiban, Martinez and Quisumbing, JJ., concur.
Narvasa, C.J. and Mendoza, J., on official leave.


[1] Mustang Lumber Inc. vs. CA, 257 SCRA 430.

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