SC upholds Ombudsman’s preventive suspension of Alan Purisima
The Supreme Court has upheld the power of the Ombudsman to issue preventive suspension orders against erring officials of the government.
In a 13-page decision, the high court, through Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, affirmed the six-month preventive suspension without pay imposed in 2014 against then Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan La Madrid Purisima in connection with an allegedly anomalous contract the PNP entered into with a courier service in 2011.
The high court affirmed the 2015 ruling of the Court of Appeals.
SC said the Ombudsman acted within her powers and she was explicitly authorized to issue a preventive suspension order under Sec. 24 of RA 6770 when conditions are met.
“The Ombudsman found that the evidence of guilt against Purisima was strong enough to place him under preventive suspension,” the court said. “Said finding cannot be said to be tainted with grave abuse of discretion as it was based on supporting documentary evidence, none of which were questioned to be inadmissible.”
The court added that the Ombudsman did not violate Purisima’s right to due process nor did she prejudge the case when she issued the preventive suspension order before Purisima was able to file his counter-affidavit for the second complaint.
Citing the case of Lastimosa v. Ombudsman, the SC said the Ombudsman could issue a preventive suspension order prior to the filing of an answer or counter-affidavit, considering that order would serve only as a preventive measure.
“Ultimately, it should be borne in mind that the issuance of a preventive suspension order does not amount to a prejudgment of the merits of the case. Neither is it a demonstration of a public official’s guilt as such pronouncement can be done only after trial on the merits,” the court said.
The court stressed, however, that a case questioning the validity of a preventive suspension would not be mooted by the supervening lifting of the suspension, contrary to the earlier ruling of CA that the petitions would be moot in view of the lapse of the six-month period of preventive suspension.
Citing the case of Ombudsman v. Capulong, the court reiterated that, in the exercise of its expanded judicial power, the court would not be precluded from passing upon the order’s validity so as to determine whether or not grave abuse of discretion attended the issuance of the order.
It held that, since the propriety or impropriety of Purisima’s preventive suspension would essentially determine his entitlement to back salaries during the six-month period therefor, and that despite the lapse of the period of his preventive suspension, there remained some practical value or use in resolving his petition assailing the Ombudsman’s order.
In 2011, PNP entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with WER FAST Documentary Agency, Inc. (WER FAST) to provide courier services to deliver firearms licenses to gun owners – without any public bidding.
In 2014, two complaints were filed against then PNP chief Purisima before the Ombudsman.
The first complaint was filed by a private individual charging him for violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Official and Employees (RA 6713), the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019), An Act Defining and Penalizing the Crime of Plunder (RA 7080), and the Government Procurement Reform Act (RA 9184).
The complaint alleged, among other things, that the MOA was not procured through competitive bidding and was executed before WER FAST obtained its SEC certificate of registration, and that Purisima had close personal ties with WER FAST’s incorporator and high ranking officer.
The second complaint was filed by the Fact-Finding Investigation Bureau (FFIB)-Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices (Moleo) against Purisima and several PNP officers involved in the MOA’s execution and WER FAST’s accreditation as a courier service provider.
Purisima was allegedly administratively liable for approving the recommendation of his subordinate without verifying or checking the records and capability of WER FAST. /atm
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