Gutierrez midnight deal hit
MANILA, Philippines—Former Ombudsman Merceditas “Merci” Gutierrez had ordered the reinstatement of a dismissed Bureau of Customs official shortly before her resignation took effect.
Gutierrez, in a resolution signed on May 4, granted the motion for reconsideration filed by Customs police chief Jose Yuchongco which sought to overturn his dismissal from public service for failure to disclose his properties in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
Gutierrez’s resignation took effect on May 6.
The Office of the Ombudsman earlier ordered Yuchongco’s dismissal after finding him guilty of grave misconduct and dishonesty.
The agency faulted Yuchongco for not disclosing his ownership of a house and lot in Batangas, farmland in Batangas province, Hillsborough property, a house and lot in Parañaque City, lotto winnings worth P3.3 million and agricultural land in Oas town, Albay province.
Yuchongco contended that the properties were not in his name and that he was delayed in declaring them for various reasons, including concerns for his safety, in the case of his lotto winnings.
He also contested his dismissal in the Court of Appeals, but the latter dismissed his plea on the ground that he resorted to an improper mode of appeal.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño described Gutierrez’s act as a midnight deal.
“The best thing to do now is for the next Ombudsman to reverse the reinstatement of Yuchongco,” said Casiño.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said Gutierrez should have not made any major act in her office after she handed her resignation letter on April 29 since this could have been better handled by her successor.
“There was no need to rush it, especially since the Court of Appeals denied his (Yuchongco’s) plea,” said Colmenares in an interview.
Colmenares, a member of the House prosecution team in the aborted impeachment trial of Gutierrez in the Senate, said that with all eyes on all her actions, Gutierrez should have acted with more “delicadeza” (propriety).
Error of judgment
In a May 4 joint order, Gutierrez said Yuchongco’s late declaration of several of his assets “was merely an error of judgment and misapprehension of what should and should not be included in his SALN.”
She cited a Supreme Court ruling in which a public works official was cleared of liability over his failure to declare assets in his SALN because there was no intention on his part to hide his assets.
Gutierrez said that in Yuchongco’s case, he exerted efforts to fix the inaccuracies in his SALN.
“In like manner, we view the erroneous statements or misstatements in his SALNs not sufficient manifestation of intent to commit a crime or intent to commit administrative infractions,” she said.
She said that in the complaint of dishonesty against Yuchongco, it should have been shown that the erroneous entries on his SALN were made with the intent to lie, cheat, deceive or defraud. But the complainant had failed to do this, she said.
As for the grave misconduct allegation against the customs police chief, Gutierrez said Yuchongco’s erroneous SALN declarations could not be considered absolute false declarations.
“The inaccuracies in respondent’s SALNs were made out of unintentional oversight and excusable negligence,” she said.
There was neither enough evidence to show Yuchongco’s willful and malicious intent to make late declarations in his SALN, she added.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer tried to get a comment from Acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro on the ruling reinstating Yuchongco, but staff members said his office was still tracing the background of the case.
Asked about insinuations that the ruling was a midnight resolution, Gutierrez’s daughter, lawyer Margarita Gutierrez, said that was not true.
“The former Ombudsman did what was required and justified based on the evidence. We ask everyone to look first into the facts of the case before making any judgment,” she said.
Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima will let a unit of his department act on the order from the Office of the Ombudsman reinstating Yuchongco but only after determining “if there is really such an order.”
Officials at the Department of Finance’s Office of the Secretary said the department had not officially received the order from the Ombudsman although it got hold of a document that purports to be such an order.
In any case, they said the DoF-Revenue Integrity Protection Service, which filed the complaint against Yuchongco, shall take the necessary steps if there was an order.
The DoF had admitted “receiving” the order last Tuesday, but later backtracked when asked whether Yuchongco would be reinstated. With a report from Ronnel W. Domingo
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