Supreme Court reinstates exec fired by Aquino
The Supreme Court has ordered the reinstatement of Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales III whom President Benigno Aquino fired last year after a dismissed policeman who held a busload of Hong Kong tourists claimed that Gonzales tried to extort P150,000 from him.
Eight Hong Kong tourists, of a total of 25 people taken hostage on the bus, and former police officer Rolando Mendoza were killed in the bloody drama at Manila’s Rizal Park in August 2010.
Eight justices voted to reinstate Gonzales—Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Diosdado Peralta, Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Mendoza, Bienvenido Reyes and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
They said the basis of Gonzales’ ouster—misconduct in office or neglect of duty amounting to betrayal of public trust—was incorrect as the offense was not an “intentional wrongdoing of the grave and serious kind amounting to a betrayal of public trust.”
However, the eight justices referred the case to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to determine if Gonzales was liable for administrative lapses.
Gonzales earlier petitioned the court to declare unconstitutional the power of the President to dismiss the deputy ombudsman but the court was divided on the issue, hence that petition was dismissed.
Six other justices—Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez and Roberto Abad—also voted for reinstatement, agreeing that Gonzales was not guilty of betrayal of public trust. However, they maintained the President’s power to dismiss the Deputy Ombudsman was unconstitutional.
In a separate case, the court majority ordered the continuation of the investigation launched by the Office of the President against Special Prosecutor Wendell Barreras-Sulit for alleged lapses in the plea bargain agreement she entered into with former military comptroller Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, who was earlier charged with amassing ill-gotten wealth.
Sulit had also asked the court to declare unconstitutional the power of the Ombudsman to investigate and dismiss her.
Gonzales was accused of delaying action on a motion for reconsideration filed by Mendoza—a former senior inspector of the Manila Police District—regarding Gonzales’ previous ruling which found him guilty of grave misconduct in 2008.
The delay was cited by Mendoza when he seized the tourists. In the negotiations for their release, Mendoza said Gonzales asked for P150,000 in exchange for a favorable decision.
A review committee chaired by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima found Gonzales culpable of “serious and inexcusable negligence” as well as “injustice and oppression.” President Aquino approved the committee’s findings.
Subsequently, Mr. Aquino and then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez dismissed Gonzales.
The court said that while the Ombudsman’s authority to discipline administratively covers all government officials, except those removable by impeachment, such authority “is by no means exclusive.”
The justices said that Gonzales—as well as Sulit—cannot insist that they should be solely subject to the disciplinary authority of the Ombudsman, pointing out that the law also grants the President power to remove a deputy ombudsman and a special prosecutor.
As for Gonzales’ dismissal, the court majority said it “seriously doubts the correctness” of the Office of the President’s conclusion that the imputed acts amount to gross neglect of duty and betrayal of public trust.
“This is not to say, however, that (Gonzales) is relieved of all liability for his acts showing less than diligent performance of official duties … The court deems it appropriate to refer the case to the Office of the Ombudsman for further investigation of the charges and the imposition of the corresponding administrative sanctions, if any,” they added.
Sulit, on the other hand, declared as premature the filing of administrative charges when she entered into a plea bargain agreement with Garcia.
She said that if the Sandiganbayan, which was hearing the case, would approve the agreement, there would no longer be any cause of complaint against her.
The justices said Sulit’s argument “will not hold water” in relation to the administrative case against her.
“The disciplining authority’s finding of ineptitude, neglect or willfulness on the part of the prosecution, more particularly Sulit … could result in administrative liability, notwithstanding court approval of the plea bargaining agreement entered into,” the justices said.
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