In the case at bar, the Sandiganbayan granted the demurrer to evidence on the ground that the prosecution failed to prove that the government suffered any damage from private respondent’s non-liquidation of the subject cash advance because it was later shown, as admitted by the prosecution’s witness, that private respondent liquidated the same albeit belatedly.
Sections 89 and 128 of P.D. No. 1445 provide—
SECTION 89. Limitations on Cash Advance. — No cash advance shall be given unless for a legally authorized specific purpose. A cash advance shall be reported on and liquidated as soon as the purpose for which it was given has been served. No additional cash advance shall be allowed to any official or employee unless the previous cash advance given to him is first settled or a proper accounting thereof is made.
SECTION 128. Penal Provision. — Any violation of the provisions of Sections 67, 68, 89, 106, and 108 of this Code or any regulation issued by the Commission [on Audit] implementing these sections, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand pesos or by imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months, or both such fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court. (Emphasis supplied.)
On the other hand, COA Circular No. 90-331 or the “Rules and Regulations on the Granting, Utilization and Liquidation of Cash Advances” which implemented Section 89 of P.D. No. 1445 pertinently provided–
5. LIQUIDATION OF CASH ADVANCES
5.1 The AO (Accountable Officer) shall liquidate his cash advance as follows:
5.1.1 Salaries, Wages, etc. – within 5 days after each 15 day/ end of the month pay period.
5.1.2 Petty Operating Expenses and Field Operating Expenses – within 20 days after the end of the year; subject to replenishment during the year.
5.1.3 Foreign Travel – within 60 days after return to the Philippines.
Failure of the AO to liquidate his cash advance within the prescribed period shall constitute a valid cause for the withholding of his salary.
x x x x
5.7 When a cash advance is no longer needed or has not been used for a period of two (2) months, it must be returned to or deposited immediately with the collecting officer.
5.8 All cash advances shall be fully liquidated at the end of each year. Except for petty cash fund, the AO shall refund any unexpended balance to the Cashier/Collecting Officer who will issue the necessary official receipt.
x x x x
9. DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE COA AUDITOR
x x x x
9.6 Upon failure of the AO to liquidate his cash advance within one month for AOs within the station and three months for AOs outside the station from date of grant of the cash advance, the Auditor shall issue a letter demanding liquidation or explanation for non-liquidation.
9.7 If 30 days have elapsed after the demand letter is served and no liquidation or explanation is received, or the explanation received is not satisfactory, the Auditor shall advise the head of the agency to cause or order the withholding of the payment of any money due the AO. The amount withheld shall be applied to his (AO’s) accountability. The AO shall likewise be held criminally liable for failure to settle his accounts. (Emphasis supplied.)
As can be seen, contrary to the findings of the Sandiganbayan, actual damage to the government arising from the non-liquidation of the cash advance is not an essential element of the offense punished under the second sentence of Section 89 of P.D. No. 1445 as implemented by COA Circular No. 90-331. Instead, the mere failure to timely liquidate the cash advance is the gravamen of the offense. Verily, the law seeks to compel the accountable officer, by penal provision, to promptly render an account of the funds which he has received by reason of his office.
Nonetheless, even if the Sandiganbayan proceeded from an erroneous interpretation of the law and its implementing rules, the error committed was an error of judgment and not of jurisdiction. Petitioner failed to establish that the dismissal order was tainted with grave abuse of discretion such as the denial of the prosecution’s right to due process or the conduct of a sham trial. In fine, the error committed by the Sandiganbayan is of such a nature that can no longer be rectified on appeal by the prosecution because it would place the accused in double jeopardy.