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Who is responsible for collecting payments due to the GSIS?: PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES v. ANTONIO M. TALAUE

People of the Philippines v. Antonio M. Talaue, G.R. No. 248652, reminds us that the GSIS Act of 1997 punishes the heads of the offices of the national government, as well any employees of these offices who are responsible for collecting payments due to the GSIS but willingly fail or refuse to do so.

Antonio M. Talaue, Efren C. Guiyab and Florante A. Galasinao were the mayor, treasurer, and municipal accountant, respectively, of Sto. Tomas, Isabela. They were accused by the GSIS of failing to remit the GSIS premium contributions of the employees working for the municipality’s government office, which is considered as a criminal act under the R.A. 8291, of the GSIS Act of 1997.

During the trial, the prosecution presented Araceli Santos (Santos) as one of its witnesses. Santos is the Branch Manager of GSIS, Cauayan, Isabela Branch. She found that the municipal government failed to remit the total amount of P22,436,546.10, inclusive of interests, from the period of 01 January 1997 to 31 January 2004. She further stated that the agency head, treasurer, and accountant are in charge of remitting the contributions to the GSIS, and that the Mayor should have received the notices and demand letters and relayed its contents to the mentioned officers accordingly.

Meanwhile, the defense presented accused Galasinao as its witness, who claimed he was not mandated by law to remit the GSIS contributions of the municipal employees. He claimed that the Municipal Treasurer, co-accused Guiyab, was responsible for remitting the GSIS contributions as it is the latter’s duty to manage the municipality’s funds. However, Guiyab had already passed away during the pendency of the case.

Talaue was also presented by the defense as a witness and claimed to have told Guiyab to start paying the GSIS while the case was still ongoing, and that funds were already allocated for this purpose. He also claimed that payments have already been made to the GSIS, and that the parties signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) which was duly approved by the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City, Branch 118. Talaue concluded that he was not criminally liable, as the MOA, which supposedly supersedes all previous agreements, converted the municipality’s obligation to the GSIS as a loan instead of an unpaid obligation. This loan is said to be paid on a scheduled basis and subject to the reconciliation of accounts and data. 

The Sandiganbayan acquitted accused Galasinao based on reasonable doubt, but found Talaue guilty of the crime charged.

The Supreme Court affirmed the Sandiganbayan’s Decision. 

The GSIS Act of 1997 penalizes the heads of the offices of the national government, as well as any employees responsible for the collection of payments due the GSIS, who refuse, fail, or delay said accounts to the GSIS within thirty (30) days from the time they have become due and demandable. 

According to the Supreme Court, a municipal government is still part of the national government, and as the Mayor of Sto. Tomas, Isabela, Talaue is undoubtedly considered the head of office. The task of ensuring the remittance of accounts due the GSIS is, therefore, as much a burden and responsibility of the mayor as it is the burden and responsibility of those personnel who are involved in the collection of premium contributions. Congress purposely included heads of office in the list of those liable in order to create a sense of urgency on their part and deter them from passing the blame to their subordinates. 

Unfortunately, Talaue’s testimony revealed a pattern of passing the buck to the municipal treasurer and contenting himself with repeating his oral instructions to make arrangements with the GSIS. It was only during the pendency of the civil case filed by the GSIS against him, his co-accused, and the municipality, that he instructed the treasurer to pay the municipality’s obligations, albeit in partial amounts. 

Talaue’s failure to take drastic measures to rectify the situation and demand accountability betrays his nonchalance at the treasurer’s apparent lack of sense of urgency in complying with the law which appellant himself is equally, if not primarily, bound to observe. It cannot, therefore, be said that he did not intend to fail in remitting the contributions. His attitude toward the situation and toward the ineptitude of the municipal treasurer was the very recipe for failure.

Moreover, while it may have been through Talaue’s initiative that the GSIS eventually restructured the obligations of the municipality through the MOA, said agreement only finds relevance with respect to the civil liability of the municipality and of the accused.

This makes him guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violating the GSIS Act of 1997, as he and the other employees tasked with collecting the GSIS contributions are responsible for ensuring the premiums are paid and/or sent to the GSIS on time.

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