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692 Phil. 617


[ G.R. No. 179677, August 15, 2012 ]




This is a petition for review on certiorari assailing the Decision[1] dated May 28, 2007 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 93898 denying the petition filed by petitioner Romeo M. Montallana and the Resolution[2] dated September 17, 2007 denying petitioner's motion for reconsideration.

The factual and procedural antecedents are as follows:

In the early hours of August 18, 2001, fire struck and engulfed the Manor Hotel in Kamias Road, Quezon City, claiming the lives of seventy-four people and seriously injuring several others.

To determine the officials and persons responsible for this tragedy, an investigation was conducted by the Fact-Finding & Intelligence Bureau (FFIB) of the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB). The FFIB found that the fire that consumed the Manor Hotel was attributable to the hotel's faulty electrical wiring systems. It concluded that, had it not been for the gross negligence of the public officials of the local government of Quezon City, who were in charge in the licensing operations of the Manor Hotel, the incident would not have happened.

Consequently, a formal complaint was filed against petitioner, with several other public officials, before the Administrative Adjudication Bureau of the OMB, for Grave Misconduct, Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Sendee and Gross Negligence docketed as OMB-ADM-0-01-0376 (OMB-0-01-0659) and for Violation of Section 4, Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6713, docketed as OMB-ADM-O-Oi-0390 (OMB-0-01-0679).

The complaint alleged, among other things, that:

  1. From 1995 up to 2000, the Electrical Division, Engineering Department did not conduct an annual inspection of the electrical systems of Manor Hotel.

  2. The Electrical Division does not even have a copy of the electrical plans and specifications of Manor Hotel as required under Rule II, of the Rules Implementing the Building Code.

  3. There was an unreadable Certificate of Inspection No. 90-11814 which was made as an attachment to the application of Manor Hotel for business/mayor's permit for 2001.

  4. The Annual Notice of Electrical Inspection dated February 15, 2001 conducted by Gerardo R. Villasenor, Electrical Inspector, concurred by Engr. Rodel A. Mesa and petitioner, shows that Manor Hotel has only 89 air-conditioning units at the time of inspection disclosing a great disparity as to the true electrical load of the Manor Hotel at the time of the incident.

  5. The Electrical Division likewise negligently or deliberately failed to indicate in its report that as of September 25, 2000, four (4) electrical meters of the Manor Hotel were disconnected by MERALCO due to jumper connections.[3]

Pending investigation, petitioner and his co-respondents were preventively suspended. On September 24, 2001, petitioner filed his Counter-Affidavit.[4] On February 20, 2002, petitioner filed his Consolidated Memorandum.[5]

For his part, petitioner raised the following defenses:

  1. [D]uring his incumbency as Chief of the Electrical Division, the mandatory electrical inspections were regularly conducted and made annually by the assigned inspector(s) in all business establishments within the jurisdiction of Quezon City, including the Manor Hotel.

  2. For year 2000, Electrical Inspector Villasenor inspected the electrical systems of Manor Hotel and submitted to him the Notice of Annual Inspection  dated  February  15,  2001 with  No. 01-00896,  with  a Certification by Edgardo M. Merida, a licensed electrical contractor, to the effect that the electrical installations and equipments at the hotel were inspected and tested by the latter and found to be in safe condition. He (Montallana) signed and approved the same based on the facts set forth therein, relying in good faith on the correctness of the entries made by his inspectors.

  3. The requested official records which could prove that mandatory annual electrical inspection were conducted at the Manor Hotel from 1995 to 2000 cannot be produced as these could have been lost due to frequent transfers of office and lack of storage rooms or were among those damaged by the fire that razed the Quezon City Hall main building sometime in August 1998.

  4. Assuming there was misrepresentation as to the true electrical status of the Manor Hotel on the latest inspection conducted six (6) months prior to the subject fire incident, as a superior officer, he cannot be held liable for the acts of his subordinates as he only based his approval on their reports.[6]

On June 17, 2003, the Investigating Panel of the OMB rendered a Decision[7] finding petitioner liable for Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service and Gross Neglect of Duty and meted upon him the penalty of dismissal from the service with all its accessory penalties, the decretal portion on which reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, we rule and so hold as follows:

1). OMB-ADM-0-01-0376:

a). x x x x

b). x x x x


x x x x

The  Honorable  Mayor  of Quezon  City, and  the  Honorable

Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government are hereby directed to implement this DECISION upon finality thereof and in accordance with law.


On July 26, 2004, the Office of the Special Prosecutor of the OMB issued a Memorandum[9] which modified .the Joint Decision insofar as petitioner and the other respondents are concerned. In the said Memorandum, petitioner was also found guilty of gross negligence and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. It was also stated therein that since petitioner was already separated from the service due to his retirement, the benefits he received by virtue thereof must be returned to the government as declared in the Affidavit of Undertaking which he executed before his retirement. The said Memorandum was approved by then Ombudsman Simeon V. Marcelo on November 26, 2004.

Aggrieved, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration.[10] On March 2, 2006, the Office of the Special Prosecutor issued a Memorandum[11] denying the motion. The said Memorandum was approved by then Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas Navarro-Gutierrez on March 13, 2006,[12] the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, there having been no cogent and convincing arguments and pieces of evidence to set aside the assailed Memorandum, the undersigned prosecution officers respectfully recommend that the motions for reconsideration filed by herein accused be DENIED for utter lack of merit. It is further recommended that findings and recommendation contained in the Memorandum dated 26 July 2004 be AFFIRMED in toto.[13]

Not satisfied, petitioner sought recourse before the CA, docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 93898. On May 28, 2007, the CA rendered a Decision[14] denying the petition, the decretal portion of which reads:

In light of the foregoing, the instant petition is hereby DENIED. The Joint Decision dated June 17, 2003 and Memorandum dated July 26, 2004 of the Office of Ombudsman, in so far as herein petitioner is concerned, is AFFIRMED.


In ruling against petitioner, the CA ratiocinated that between petitioner's unsubstantiated denials of the irregularities made in the electrical inspection of the Manor Hotel and the categorical findings of the investigators, there is no room for a contrary conclusion that petitioner is indeed administratively liable for his negligence.  The CA held that petitioner cannot attribute the fault to his subordinates. As head of office and the final approving authority of the Electrical Division, it behooves petitioner to see to it that his subordinate engineers and inspectors are performing their respective duties effectively. Petitioner should have made appropriate measures that can verify the veracity of their reports.

Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration,[16] but it was denied in the Resolution[17] dated September 17, 2007.

Hence, the petition assigning the following errors:




Petitioner maintains that prior to the incident at the Manor Hotel, the Electrical Division, Engineering Department of Quezon City conducted an electrical inspection on the electrical systems and load of the said hotel. The inspection was conducted by Electrical Inspectors Gerardo Villasenor and Edgardo Merida, which caused the issuance of the Notice of Annual Inspection[19] dated February 15, 2001 to the owner of Manor Hotel. The notice bore the signature of the two inspectors, who both certified that the electrical installations and equipment at the Manor Hotel were inspected and tested by them and found to be in safe condition. Petitioner then affixed his signature thereon signifying his approval of the reports made by his subordinates.

Petitioner insists that he signed the Notice of Annual Inspection in good faith. His act of signing the notice is incidental to his function as Acting Chief of the Electrical Division. By affixing his signature on the notice, petitioner relied in good faith on the correctness of the entries made therein by his subordinates. Petitioner contends that his reliance on the veracity of the report and entries made in the said notice is not constitutive of gross negligence.

Petitioner also posits that the Ombudsman and CA erred in concluding that no annual electrical inspections were conducted on the Manor Hotel prior to 2001. Petitioner submits that his failure to present copies of prior notice of inspection reports made on the Manor Hotel was due to the fact that the hotel was constructed and completed prior to the creation of the Electrical Division; it was only in 1996 that he became the Officer-in-Charge of the Electrical Division; that most of the records of the Electrical Division were lost or destroyed when a fire razed the 5th floor of the Quezon City Hall and when the Office of the Electrical Division was transferred several times to different parts of the Quezon City Hall.

Based on the foregoing, petitioner argues that he could not be held administratively liable based on the principle of command responsibility.

On its part, respondent maintains that the evidence presented before the Ombudsman showed that petitioner failed to live up to the exacting demands of public office. Petitioner was unmindful and indifferent of his duties and responsibilities. The negligent acts of petitioner clearly show that he failed to perform his official duties with the highest degree of responsibility and integrity, which eventually contributed to the tragic incident.

The petition is bereft of merit.

Gross neglect of duty or gross negligence refers to negligence characterized by the want of even slight care, acting or omitting to act in a situation where there is a duty to act, not inadvertently but willfully and intentionally, with a conscious indifference to consequences, insofar as other persons may be affected. It is-the omission of that care which even inattentive and thoughtless men never fail to give to their own property. In cases involving public officials, there is gross negligence when a breach of duty is flagrant and palpable.[20]

True, this Court has held in several cases that in the absence of substantial evidence of gross negligence of the petitioner, administrative liability could not be based on the principle of command responsibility.[21] However, in the case at bar, the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman, as affirmed by the CA, clearly establish the negligence of petitioner in the performance of his duties as head of the Electrical Division.

Among the duties and responsibilities attached to the Electrical Division of Quezon City is to conduct annual inspection of existing electrical installations within the jurisdiction of Quezon City. Section 3 (B) of Ordinance No. SP-33, S-92, or the Ordinance Creating an Electrical Division Under the Engineering Department of Quezon City and Providing for its Personnel Requirements, Duties and Functions, as well as Appropriating the Necessary Funds Therefor,[22] provides that:

Section 3. The Electrical Division shall have the following duties and functions:

  1. Formulate, evaluate and supervise the electrical aspects of the construction projects undertaken by the city;
  2. Inspect the electrical installations of the newly constructed structures in the City and undertake annual inspections of existing electrical installations;
  3. Evaluate and process applications for wiring permits and electrical certificates; and
  4. Perform other related functions as may be required by the practice of Electrical Engineering as per requirements of the Philippine Electrical Code, the R.A. 184 and other related laws arid ordinances.[23]

Thus, it was incumbent on petitioner as head of the Electrical Division to see to it that proper annual inspections are conducted on the existing electrical installations in Quezon City. Records would disclose that the charges against petitioner were supported by the evidence on record. It has been sufficiently established by the FFIB and concurred to by the Ombudsman as well as the CA that:

1. Records of the Business Permit & License Office revealed that Manor Hotel was issued a Certificate of Electrical Inspection only on its first year of operation in 1991. Manor Hotel was able to secure its business permits for years 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001, without the necessary requirements for obtaining the same such as a Certificate of Electrical Inspection. Thus, for these years, there was no electrical inspection conducted. Further, the hotel did not apply and secure a business permit for year 1996, 1997, 1998 and it has no business permit at the time of the incident. Since there was no application for a business permit, there was likewise no referral for an electrical inspection to the Electrical Division, which is a Standard Operating Procedure in processing applications for business permits. Thus, for these years, there can be no electrical inspection conducted.

2.  The logbook presented reflected an entry that in 1998, Manor Hotel obtained wiring/electrical permit and Certificate of Electrical Inspection, but it was not clear therefrom if the inspection was indeed conducted as Manor Hotel did not secure a business permit for that year, too.

3. The Electrical Division does not have a copy of the approved electrical plans and specifications of the Manor Hotel, supposedly to be on active file, as required under Rule II, 3.2.2,4 of the Rules Implementing the Building Code. Such plan is a vital document which must come in handy for the Electrical Division as it is a guide necessary in carrying out electrical inspections of any establishment or building. The excuse that the Electrical  Division  did  not  exist  yet  at  the  time  of  the construction/completion of the Manor Hotel, is lame. Petitioner, being the Chief thereat, should have taken initiatives to secure a copy for his file to aid him in determining the veracity of the reports submitted to him by his subordinates. Absent such plan and specifications, it weakens his defense that inspections were done accordingly.

4. The Notice of Annual Inspection dated February 15, 2001 does not per se prove that an inspection was indeed conducted. If it were so, the excess on the electrical load and the jumper connections would have been discovered that could have prevented the incident, the proximate cause of which was the electrical overload.

5. The Answer of Manuel S. Baduria, Sr. - Fire Marshall I stated that the fire was caused by electrical ignition and that it was not his duty to regulate/inspect the installation of electrical wirings in buildings and establishments as it is incumbent upon the Electrical Division to conduct the same.

6. The Answer of Alfredo Macapugay - City Engineer and concurrent Local Building Official of Quezon City stated that if there was any negligence committed, it should be solely directed against the Electrical Division of Quezon City as it is their direct responsibility to conduct the annual  inspection  of the  electrical  installations  of all  the  business establishments within the city.

7. The Answer of Engr. Rodel A. Mesa, Inspector Engineer II, Electrical Division, confirmed that the Notice of Annual Inspection dated February 15, 2001 did not pass through the normal channel and was processed and issued without his knowledge and recommendation. He stressed that the payment of fees corresponding to the electrical loads and the issuance of the Certificate were all done in the same day, April 16, 2001 and was presented to him for his initial only on April 17, 2001, after it was already issued. Such incident is not an isolated case as there were other instances that the annual notice did not pass through him for reasons known only to his colleagues. He tried to convey such practice to his superior (referring to petitioner) but no positive action was taken thereon.

8. The Electrical Report No. 08-29-01 of Engr. David R. Aoanan, Chief. Electrical Section, National Bureau of Investigation, established that the overuse of electrical gadgets and appliances within the hotel caused the overloading of the electrical installation which ignited the ceiling of the stockroom of the third floor of the hotel.

9.  The Notice of Annual Inspection dated February 15, 2001 does not categorically prove that the inspection was conducted considering that it contains misrepresentations as to the true electrical status of Manor Hotel.

10. Petitioner made conflicting statements about his hand in the approval and signing of such Notice. In this petition and in the Consolidated Memorandum he stated that he signed and approved the Notice of Annual Inspection while in his Motion for Reconsideration he stated that he did not sign nor initial said Notice, but it was Engr. Rodel A. Mesa who did so. This only shows that petitioner was not sure as to his stand as to whether an inspection was conducted.

11. While denying his participation in the Notice of Annual Inspection dated February 15, 2001, petitioner nevertheless used this Notice as his only proof that inspection were regularly conducted.[24]

The purpose of administrative proceedings is mainly to protect the public service, based on the time-honored principle that a public office is a public trust.[25]  From the foregoing, petitioner's negligence in the performance of his duties as a public servant was well established. In administrative proceedings, the quantum of proof necessary for a finding of guilt is substantial evidence, i.e., that amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.[26]

Suffice it to state that in this jurisdiction the well-settled rule is that the findings of fact of administrative bodies, if based on substantial evidence, are controlling on the reviewing authority. It is settled that it is not for the appellate court to substitute its own judgment for that of the administrative agency on the sufficiency of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses. Administrative decisions on matters within their jurisdiction are entitled to respect and can only be set aside on proof of grave abuse of discretion, fraud or error of law.[27]  Consequently, the CA correctly affirmed the conclusion of the Office of the Ombudsman.

Moreover, the issue of whether petitioner's guilt on the administrative charges against him is supported by substantial evidence is factual in nature, the determination of which is beyond the ambit of this Court.  The task of this Court in an appeal by petition for review on certiorari as a jurisdictional matter is limited to reviewing errors of law that might have been committed by the CA.[28] The Supreme Court cannot be tasked to go over the proofs presented by the petitioner in the proceedings below and analyze, assess and weigh them to ascertain if the court a quo and the appellate court were correct in their appreciation of the evidence.[29] This Court has time and again refrained from interfering with the Ombudsman's exercise of its constitutionally mandated investigatory and prosecutory powers. This is in recognition of the Office of the Ombudsman's independence and initiative in prosecuting or dismissing a complaint filed before it.[30] More so, in the case at bar, where the CA affirmed the factual findings and conclusion of the Office of the Ombudsman. Although there are exceptions to this rule, none of which exists in the present case.

It is worth to reiterate that, a public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.[31] As a public servant, petitioner is tasked to provide efficient, competent, and proper service to the public. Public officials and employees are under obligation to perform the duties of their offices honestly, faithfully, and to the best of their ability.[32] In the case at bar, petitioner miserably failed to perform his duties as a public servant.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED. The Decision dated May 28, 2007 and the Resolution dated September 17, 2007 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 93898 are AFFIRMED.


Velasco, Jr., (Chairperson),  Abad, Mendoza, and Reyes,* JJ., concur.

* Designated Acting Member in lieu of Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas Bemabe, per Special Order No. 1283 dated August 8, 2012.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Marlene Gonzalez-Sison, with Associate Justices Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. and Vicente S. E. Veloso, concurring; rollo, pp. 34-50.

[2] Id. at 51.

[3] CA Decision, rollo, pp. 36-37.

[4] Rollo, pp. 87-89.

[5] Id. at 97-115.

[6] Id. at 37-38.

[7] Id. at 116-191.

[8] Id. at 184-186. (Emphasis supplied.)

[9] Id. at 192-227.

[10] Id. at 229-233.

[11] Id. at 234-264.

[12] CA rollo, p. 187.

[13] Rollo, p. 264.

[14] Id. at 34-50.

[15] Id. at 49-50.

[16] Id. at 289-300.

[17] Id. at 51.

[18] Id. at 21.

[19] Id. at 93.

[20] Civil Service Commission v. Rabang, G.R. No. 167763, March 14, 2008, 548 SCRA 541, 547.

[21] De Jesus v. Guerrero III, G.R. No. 171491, September 4, 2009, 598 SCRA 340, 353; Principe v. Fact-finding & Intelligence Bureau, G.R. No. 145973, January 23, 2002, 374 SCRA 460, 468.

[22] Enacted on November 26, 1992 and approved on January 26, 1993.

[23] Emphasis supplied.

[24] Rollo, pp. 45-48.

[25] De Jesus v. Guerrero III, supra note 21.

[26] Id. at 350.

[27] Medina v. Commission on Audit (COA), G.R. No. 176478, February 4, 2008, 543 SCRA 684, 697- 698.

[28] Bacsasar v. Civil Service Commission, G.R. No. 180853, January 20,2009, 576 SCRA 787, 794.

[29] Medina v. Commission on Audit, supra note 27, at 698.

[30] Akchav. Pasion, G.R.No. 164506, January 19, 2010, 610 SCRA 288, 294.

[31] Contstitution, Art. XI, Sec. 1.

[32] Narvosa-Kompoiifl v. Josue, A.M. No. 2004-09-SC, June 30, 2004, 433 SCRA 284, 288.

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