The Court of Appeals (CA) Nineteenth Division gave a new lease of life to three elected provincial officials and an executive assistant of the Provincial Government of Bohol serving a nine-month suspension without pay ordered by the Ombudsman.
The CA granted the application for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) filed by suspended Vice Governor Dionisio Balite, the Vice Mayors of Maribojoc and Loay – Jose Veloso and Brigido Imboy and Executive Assistant IV Cesar Tomas Lopez.
The TRO was anchored on a 56-year old condonation doctrine popularly known as the Aguinaldo doctrine that has been used by elected officials to protect them from alleged administrative offenses.
The doctrine of condonation provides that re-election extinguishes the administrative liability of a public official.
The CA resolution promulgated on May 25, 2017 directed the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) not to implement an Ombudsman decision imposing a nine-month suspension order without pay against them.
NOTHING TO RESTRAIN
However, the November 24, 2015 suspension order approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on January 16, 2017 has been implemented by DILG Bohol Provincial Director Ma. Loisella Lucino upon orders by DILG Regional Director Atty. Rene Burdeos.
Burdeos in a text message to the Chronicle yesterday afternoon, when asked if the suspended officials can take back their seats tomorrow presently occupied by their next-in-rank successors replied: “We sent copy of TRO to Central Office and requested for guidance, Tnks good a.m.”
Board Member Vencenzio Arcamo now sits as acting vice governor, municipal councilors Abraw Arocha and Atty. Lahar Ayuban for vice mayors Veloso of Maribojoc and Imboy of Loay respectively.
The CA, in granting the TRO agreed with the petitioner’s argument that the old condonation doctrine which the Supreme Court (SC) abandoned is still applicable to the suspended officials.
In maintaining their right to a TRO, petitioners through their counsel Atty. Teodoro Lagang of the Villas, Lagang and Tumanda Law Offices emphasized the “age-old adage which absolves incumbent elective officials misconduct committed during their previous term, otherwise known as the doctrine of condonation.”
However, the condonation doctrine “will not apply” to Provincial Administrator Alfonso Damalerio and former Board Member Felix Uy since “there is no showing that they were re-elected in the 2010 elections to any elective positions after the supposed infraction was committed during their previous term”, according to the CA resolution.
Under the condonation doctrine, an administrative offense committed by an elected official are considered forgiven when the electorate decides to re-elect him or her for another term.
However, the SC en banc, voting 7-3 decided on November 10, 2015 in the Jejomar Erwin Binay, Jr. and CA 6th Division vs Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales case to strike down the condonation doctrine which was abused by elected officials facing administrative cases.
But the SC also ruled that the abandonment of the condonation doctrine is prospective in nature and only applicable to future cases.
The TRO good for sixty days recognized “a clear and an unmistakable right” of the suspended officials to “remain in their office” pending the resolution of their motion for reconsideration (MR) filed before the Ombudsman.
The seven-page CA resolution penned by Associate Justice Geraldine C. Fiel-Macaraig also pointed out that the suspension of an elective official whether as a preventive measure or penalty will deprive the electorate of the services of the person they have chosen and voted into office.
The DILG proceeded with the implementation of the Ombudsman decision and issued a notice to assume to their next-in-rank successors after denying an appeal from the respondent officials to put off their suspension pending resolution of their motion for reconsideration by the Ombudsman.
In denying the petition of the officials to defer the implementation of the suspension order, the DILG referred to memorandum circular no. 01 series of 2006 of the Ombudsman that the filing of a motion for reconsideration or a petition for review does not delay decisions, orders or resolutions of the Ombudsman.
Balite, Veloso, Imboy and Lopez were re-elected as Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) members when the alleged administrative offenses were committed in 2006 and 2009 but Damalerio and Uy opted not to run for re-election.
Balite, Veloso, Uy and Imboy, members of the 2006 SP were found liable for conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service in relation to the procurement of one unit hydraulic excavator (backhoe) with breaker in 2006 and Lopez, Damalerio and Imboy for the procurement of 26 units of heavy equipment in 2009, according to the Ombudsman.
The CA sustained the assertion of Balite that his re-election as a member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) in 2004 to 2007 and re-elected to the same position in 2010-2013 and 2013 to 2016 elections and as Vice Governor last May 2016 is a condonation of his alleged misconduct in 2006 and 2009.
Veloso was an SP member for nine years and is currently the incumbent Vice Mayor of Maribojoc while Imboy was an ex-officio member of the SP representing the Philippine Councilors League of the Philippines (PCL), Bohol Chapter in 2004 to 2010, elected as a regular SP member from 2010-2016 and is the incumbent Vice Mayor of Loay.
Lopez was also a regular SP member in the years 2007 to 2016 and is now the Executive Assistant IV at the Office of the Governor but Damalerio and Uy did not run for re-election but were appointed to positions in the provincial government.
The basis for the filing of the criminal and administrative cases against the members of the 2006 SP members was in connection with the passage of resolution on July 10, 2006 authorizing former Governor Erico Aumentado to open a letter of credit (LC) with the Philippine National Bank for the purchase of one unit brand new backhoe with breaker and debit all opening and negotiation charges against the account of the province.
Section 42.5 of Memorandum Order No. 119 of September 18, 2003 issued by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo states that “no procuring entity shall be allowed to issue a letter of credit in favor of a Philippine entity or to any of the latter’s foreign manufacturers or suppliers with respect to any procurement”.
On April 28, 2009, Damalerio, Lopez and Imboy were among the members of the 2009 SP passed a resolution similar to the 2006 SP resolution authorizing Aumentado to open an LC with the Land Bank of the Philippines for the purchase of 26 units of heavy equipment and debit opening and negotiation charges to the account of the province.
This time, Arroyo issued an amended Memorandum Order 2013-2006 allowing the use of LC as a mode of payment but the cost of the opening and negotiation charges shall be borne by the winning bidder.
But in their rejoinder to the complaint, the SP members claimed they were under pressure from Aumentado to pass the resolution for the opening of the LC on 2006 while then Vice Governor Julius Herrera who was then acting governor in 2009 pushed them into granting his request for an LC.
However, the Ombudsman rebuked the SP members that “it is their responsibility before passing the resolution to ascertain if doing so does not contravene any provision of law.”
The complaint against then Governor Aumentado was not pursued by the Ombudsman in view of his death on December 25, 2012.
The CA resolution penned by Associate Justice Fiel-Macaraig was concurred by Associate Justices Edgardo L. Delos Santos and Edward B. Contreras. (Chito M. Visarra)