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NFA cashier gets jail time, fined for losing P10-M public funds to robbers

The Sandiganbayan has sentenced a National Food Authority (NFA) cashier to 10 years imprisonment and ordered her to pay P10 million in fines for losing over P10 million of public funds to robbers.

In a 19-page decision dated March 1, the anti-graft court convicted Maria Theresa Gutierrez, Cashier III of NFA-North District Office (NFA-NDO), of malversation of public funds under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code.

Gutierrez’s camp has acknowledged that the P10,105,187.25 placed inside the peerless boxes were lost following a robbery incident at the NFA-NDO on June 1, 2008.

The Sandiganbyan said Gutierrez admitted to placing almost P10 million of NFA-NDO in Valenzuela City's sales or cash-on-hand inside peerless boxes stored in a wooden cabinet inside the Cashier's Office, with only P790,772.25 of the said amount kept inside the safety vault.

"She stipulated (admitted) that as Cashier III and by the nature of her official functions, she is considered an accountable officer," the Sandiganbayan said.

It added that Gutierrez testified that she is responsible for the safekeeping of these public funds until they are deposited to a bank.

Although Gutierrez, who has worked many years with NFA-NDO, had never lost collection money before, she "failed to observe the same standards days prior to June 1, 2008."

Cash in carton boxes

The Sandiganbayan cited that said that instead of keeping all the money collections inside the safety vault at the end of the day, the accused kept most of them in peerless carton boxes which she placed inside a wooden cabinet in the Cashier's Office.

Specifically, Gutierrez placed the collection or cash payments the NFA-NDO received on May 30, 2008 amounting to P9,390,834.00 inside peerless boxes.

“Since it was then a Friday and the accused was well aware that Saturdays and Sundays were non-banking days, she should have also realized that her act would mean leaving such huge cash money not in a safety vault, as required, for three nights and two days. In doing so, she was undoubtedly neglectful,” the Sandiganbayan said.

“The negligence of the accused becomes more obvious when we take into account that what was placed inside the vault was merely the partial collection for May 31 , 2008, in the amount of P790,772.25.”

The anti-graft court also ruled that Gutierrez failed to explain why she did not keep the Friday collections inside the vault but instead chose to do so in less-secured boxes.

It also cited the testimony of Commission on Audit resident auditor Narcisa Joaquin, who told the court that only one fourth of the vault, opened by the accused on June 1, 2008 or the day of the robbery, was occupied with coins and the petty cash box.

Accused's defense

Gutierrez, in her defense, argued that the circumstances were beyond her control and that she actually exercised the necessary precautions to secure the NFA cash collections.

She said that the lone safety vault provided by her office could not accommodate the volume of cash collections, which practically tripled in April 2008 due to a rice crisis.

She also said that because of the sudden substantial increase in her daily collection, she resorted to storing them in peerless boxes that were kept inside a locked cabinet in the Cashier's Office located at the far end of the office building where only few personnel had access.

Further, Gutierrez said that the building was being guarded by private security personnel overnight, and that she verbally requested for an additional vault from her supervisor but none was provided.

The Sandiganbayan, however, dismissed her defense as self-serving and lacking in credence.

“Aside from her bare assertions, she did not present supporting evidence. Nowhere in her evidence are the keys to the cabinet and the office. If they were in her custody, as she claims, then she could have produced them in evidence. The fact that she did not present or account for them raises doubt on their existence and, ultimately, on the truth of her allegation,” the court said.

“While the evidence on record does not show that the accused misappropriated the public funds for her personal use or benefit, the evidence points to the conclusion that the loss of the money collections to armed robbers was through her negligence.”

The anti-graft court said Gutierrez should have pursued from her supervisors or the management the putting up of appropriate safety measures to address the sudden increase in collections, rather than deciding for herself to keep them in carton boxes inside a cabinet in her office.

“Even if she had nothing to do directly with the robbery, the practice that she had adopted for weeks, in carelessly keeping millions of cash in carton boxes inside a wooden cabinet overnight or over the weekend, practically facilitated the planning and commission of robbery by a criminal mind who had knowledge of the routine practiced by her,” the Sandiganbayan said.

“Accused Maria Theresa G. Gutierrez is hereby found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of malversation of public funds under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended,” the court ruled.

Aside from jail time and fine, Gutierrez was also slapped with a penalty of perpetual special disqualification from public office. —KBK, GMA Integrated News