CA rejects Junjun Binay’s plea to stop suspension
MANILA — The Court of Appeals (CA) has junked a petition from ousted Makati City Mayor Junjun Binay for the court to stop his suspension, ruling that the case was already moot due to the Ombudsman’s decision dismissing Binay.
In a decision released on Tuesday, the appellate court’s former Sixth Division also dismissed for lack of merit Binay’s bid to hold his father’s political rival, presidential candidate Mar Roxas and several others in contempt for enforcing the Ombudsman’s first suspension order against him on the same day that he secured a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the appellate court.
Binay, who has been frequently seen on the campaign trail supporting the presidential bid of his father, Vice President Jejomar Binay, was first ordered suspended a year ago while under investigation for his role in the alleged overpricing of the P2.3-billion Makati City Hall Building II.
He was forced to step down on July 1, 2015, when he failed to get a TRO from a separate appellate court division to stop a second suspension order from the Ombudsman, this time while under investigation for alleged bid-rigging in the construction of the 10-story Makati Science High School building.
The Ombudsman eventually dismissed Binay in October, finding him liable for grave misconduct and serious dishonesty for his involvement in the City Hall building II project. He was banned from ever holding public office.
In Tuesday’s ruling penned by Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr., the appellate court said that in view of the Ombudsman’s Oct. 9, 2015, decision finding Binay administratively liable and imposing on him the penalty of dismissal, it found Binay’s petition questioning the March 10, 2015 preventive suspension of the Ombudsman “already moot and academic. Its dismissal based on mootness is therefore in order.”
The court also dismissed for lack of merit Binay’s contempt bid against Roxas as the then interior secretary, former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Makati City Mayor Romulo Peña and several police officers for defying the TRO that the appellate court had issued against his suspension.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police had enforced Binay’s first suspension in March 2015, installing Peña as acting mayor a few hours before the Court of Appeals issued a TRO in Binay’s favor.
De Lima at the time issued a legal opinion that the TRO no longer had any effect as Binay’s suspension was already enforced when it was handed down.
The appellate court found none of the respondents liable for contempt.
It said the DILG was merely performing a “ministerial duty” in enforcing Binay’s suspension.
Peña was also spared, as the court ruled that his commitment to his duties as acting city mayor was “not contemptuous.”
“A conduct, to be contumacious, implies willfulness, bad faith or with deliberate intent to cause injustice, which is not the case here,” the court ruled.
The Ombudsman, who was impleaded for contempt for issuing a manifestation on the case, could not be held for indirect contempt as her pleading “merely reflects her legal opinion, contains neither offensive nor derogatory language, and thus, not contumacious,” the court said.
The CA also ruled that De Lima was not at fault for issuing a legal opinion in favor of the suspension order.
“A reading of the legal opinion reveals that it was not so worded as to offend this honorable court. On the contrary, it was couched in courteous language. Besides, the legal opinion made by respondent De Lima is merely persuasive and not controlling,” the court said.
Appellate court proceedings began when Binay sought to cite Morales for grave abuse of discretion for ordering his suspension last year.
He went on to file the contempt case when the local government’s department pushed for his suspension despite the TRO.
The proceedings were put on hold when Morales filed a countersuit in the Supreme Court, seeking a halt to the appellate court hearings, citing the power of the Ombudsman to be spared from court injunctions while undertaking investigations.
The high court rendered a win-win ruling in November. On the one hand, it struck down as unconstitutional the provision of the Ombudsman Act that spared its investigations from court injunctions.
On the other, the high court abandoned the condonation doctrine, which extinguishes an elected official’s administrative liabilities during his or her previous term by virtue of reelection.
Binay’s camp had cited the doctrine in asserting that he should not be held liable for the alleged irregularities in the construction of the City Hall building II, as he had been reelected.
The court’s ruling was, however, prospective, or applicable in future cases, making Binay’s case the last in which the principle could be legally invoked. SFM
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