CA overturns Ombudsman’s dismissal of 2 MIAA execs

CA overturns Ombudsman’s dismissal of 2 MIAA execs

/ 05:46 AM April 03, 2024

PHOTO: Former Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) chief Cesar Chiong STORY: CA overturns Ombudsman’s dismissal of 2 MIAA execs

Former Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) chief Cesar Chiong (File photo by NIÑO JESUS ORBETA / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals (CA) has reversed the Ombudsman’s decision dismissing former Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) chief Cesar Chiong and Assistant General Manager Irene Montalbo from service for alleged abuse of authority and misconduct in the reassignment of more than 200 employees.

In a 13-page decision dated March 21, the CA’s Thirteenth Division granted Chiong and Montalbo’s petition for review, which challenged the Ombudsman’s dismissal order issued in August 2023.


In its ruling, the CA agreed with the petitioners’ argument that the Civil Service Commission (CSC), not the Ombudsman, had jurisdiction over reassigning employees in the civil service.


READ: MIAA chief, assistant GM dismissed from service for abuse of authority, misconduct

READ: Groups alarmed by dismissal of MIAA execs due to anonymous complaint

It cited the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in the case of Reyes Jr. vs Belisario, where the high court emphasized the CSC’s primary authority in issues related to civil service and “specialized knowledge in movements of civil service personnel” over that of the Ombudsman.


“Perusal of the records shows that there was neither a definitive ruling from the CSC that the reassignment was invalid, nor at least a referral of the case to the CSC for such prior determination,” the CA said, adding that at the very least, the Ombudsman should have referred the case to the CSC.

“Consequently, when the Ombudsman assumed jurisdiction over the complaint and proceeded to rule on the case without the prior ruling of the CSC, the assailed decision should be struck down for prematurity and lack of factual and legal bases. On this ground alone, we resolve to grant the instant petition,” the appellate court said.

The CA added that even if the Ombudsman conducted an independent examination of the reassignments from the perspective of grave abuse of authority or oppression, the court still found that the latter’s decision lacked actual basis and substantial support in evidence.


It noted, however, that its finding should “in no way preempt or prejudice the proceedings to be filed with or referred to the CSC, should there be any.”

Anonymous complaint

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by unnamed MIAA officers and employees over Chiong’s reassignment of 285 airport workers less than a year upon his assumption as acting general manager and member of the board of directors of the MIAA in July 2022.

The complainants also questioned Chiong’s designation of Montalbo as assistant general manager, despite the latter’s alleged unsatisfactory rating in a 2020 Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 1 performance review.

The Ombudsman placed Chiong and Montalbo under preventive suspension in an order dated April 28, 2023, which was personally served on May 2, 2023, at their MIAA offices.

Chiong’s suspension came on the heels of a crisis at Naia after an eight-hour power outage hit one of its terminals on Labor Day that year, affecting thousands of passengers and several domestic and international flights.

On New Year’s Day in 2023, the country’s entire airspace shut down after an electricity supply problem caused the air traffic navigation system to go offline.

After receiving the order in May 2023, Chiong and Montalbo filed an urgent motion to lift the preventive suspension.

READ: Business groups told to respect dismissal of MIAA chief, assistant GM

MIAA reassignments

The Ombudsman failed to resolve their motion for more than a month, prompting them to file a petition for certiorari and prohibition before the CA.

On Aug. 1, 2023, the Ombudsman issued an order dismissing the two airport officials for grave abuse of authority and misconduct.

“Barely a month from Chiong’s assumption, he started the reassignment of more or less 285 MIAA employees in less than a year. There were also MIAA employees who were reassigned twice within a one-year period,” the decision read in part.

“Sworn statements gathered from the reassigned employees would reveal that they were neither informed of the reason for their reassignment nor did they have pending administrative complaints,” it noted.

After Chiong’s suspension and dismissal, MIAA Senior Assistant General Manager Bryan Co took over his post until President Marcos officially named Eric Jose Ines as MIAA chief in December 2023.

In their petition filed at the CA, Chiong and Montalbo argued that the Ombudsman’s decision was issued with grave abuse of discretion, grave error of facts and laws, serious irregularities, and despite the total lack of substantial evidence.

‘Exemplary performance’

Named respondents were “anonymous MIAA officials,” the field investigation office of the Office of the Ombudsman, and Ombudsman Samuel Martires.

Several business groups, including the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc., Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, and the Makati Business Club, also appealed to the Ombudsman to reverse its decision, underscoring Chiong’s “exemplary performance.”

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The groups pointed out that both Chiong and Montalbo had exhibited exemplary work as airport managers and made substantial positive changes that helped the MIAA reverse its P3.6 billion in losses in 2020 and 2021 to a net income of P1.9 billion in 2022.

TAGS: Cesar Chiong, Court of Appeals, Irene Montalbo

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