It may have come a little too late, but the Court of Appeals’ decision overturning the nine-month suspension meted by the Ombudsman against Vice Governor Dionisio Balite and three other officials is still a vindication of sorts.
In a 17-page decision promulgated on June 28, 2018, the Special 18th Division of the CA in Cebu City reversed the suspension order of the Ombudsman against Balite, former provincial board members Jose Veloso, Brigido Imboy and Cesar Tomas Lopez.
The same ruling however upheld the suspension of former provincial board members Felix Uy and Alfonso Damalerio II.
The appellate court’s ruling came more than a month after Balite, Veloso, Imboy, Lopez and Damalerio finished serving their nine-month suspension which ended on May 13, 2018.
Veloso and Imboy are currently the vice mayor of Maribojoc and Loay, respectively; while Lopez and Damalerio are currently serving in appointive positions of the provincial government as Executive Assistant and Provincial Administrator, respectively.
Balite was ordered suspended by the Ombudsman after having been found guilty of the administrative offense of “conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service” when he and other provincial lawmakers signed two resolutions in the procurement of heavy equipment worth P274,000 back in 2006 and in 2009, during the time of then Governor EricoAumentado.
Other provincial board members who also signed the said resolutions were also meted with the suspension, namely, Concepcion Lim and Godofreda Tirol, including three former members of the bids and awards committee (BAC) Laura Sarabosing-Boloyos, Felix Mejorada and Abraham Clarin.
It may be recalled that the resolutions authorized then Gov. Aumentado to purchase 27 heavy equipment units, on two separate occasions, using letters of credit issued in favor of Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Philippine National Bank (PNB).
At that time, government auditing rules prohibited such mode of transaction, but which is now allowed under new state accounting guidelines.
The Ombudsman found the lawmakers guilty of conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service in a decision dated November 24, 2015.
In said ruling, the Ombudsman cited a Commission on Audit (COA) memorandum circular stating that the opening of letters of credit for the purchase of heavy equipment was contrary to Section 42.5 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 9184, otherwise known as the “Government Procurement Reform Act.”
After the Ombudsman junked their motions for reconsideration, Balite and the other former lawmakers filed on May 5, 2017 a Petition for Certiorari, and subsequently on October 20, 2017 a Petition for Review at the CA.
SAVED BY CONDONATION DOCTRINE
Balite, Veloso, Imboy and Lopez, who were all re-elected during the 2010 and 2013 elections were deemed to have been forgiven of their administrative offenses, according to the CA ruling.
“Their respective re-elections as vice governor, SP member and vice mayor, operated as a condonation of their previous faults, if any,” the CA said.
The condonation doctrine refers to a situation whereby an elected official cannot be removed for misconduct committed during a prior term as his re-election operates as a condonation of his previous misconduct.
According to the CA, while it may be true that the condonation doctrine has been abandoned by the Supreme Court in its ruling in Morales vs. Court of Appeals and Binay, Jr., the said case however emphasized that the abandonment of the doctrine is prospective in application.
In the case of Balite, Veloso, Imboy and Lopez, the CA said that the “determinative time element in applying the condonation doctrine should be the time when the infraction was allegedly committed or when the contract was perfected.”
“In this case, this would be the day when petitioners (Balite, et al) passed resolutions authorizing then Governor Aumentado to open an LC with the PNB for the procurement of heavy equipment,” the ruling explained.
According to the CA, Balite, Imboy, Veloso and Lopez have “sufficiently established their right to remain in their post” in view of their re-election to their positions in 2010.
However, in the case of Uy and Damalerio, the condonation doctrine will not apply since they were not re-elected in the 2010 elections.