CA affirms guilty verdict vs special prosecutor

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THE Court of Appeals (CA) upheld the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision finding former Special State Prosecutor Wendell Barreras-Sulit administratively liable for her failure to conclude the reinvestigation of a criminal case filed before her within a reasonable time.

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In a nine-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Florito Macalino and concurred in by Associate Justices Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla and Nina Antonino-Valenzuela, the CA’s Special 10th Division denied Sulit’s petition as it affirmed the Ombudsman decision dated October 8, 2014.

The case stemmed from the dismissal of the graft charges against former Manila Mayor Gemiliano “Mel” Lopez, Jr. before the Sandiganbayan.

The Fact-Finding and Investigation Bureau created a panel of investigators to look into the circumstances surrounding the matter.

It was learned that Sulit started handling the case on October 8, 1997 but purportedly failed to reinvestigate the same despite the pending Order of Reinvestigation. The same caused the dismissal of Lopez’s case.

According to the Ombudsman, Sulit’s failure to conclude the reinvestigation within a reasonable period prompted the Sandiganbayan Third Division to dismiss the case on constitutional ground and recommended that disciplinary action be initiated against her and another state prosecutor, Special Prosecution Officer II Tamayo.

The Ombudsman’s Board found Sulit guilty of simple neglect of duty and was penalized with fine equivalent to one month’s salary, payable to the anti-graft office, prompting her to elevate the case to the appellate court.

In its May 25, 2016 ruling released to the media just recently, the CA held that the Ombudsman was right when it rendered its decision against Sulit.

“Based on the foregoing discussion, the Office of the Ombudsman did not act with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in rendering the assailed decision finding petitioner guilty of simple neglect of duty,” the CA ruled.

“Having said that, we do not find necessity to still discuss the other issues raised in this petition,” it added.

Meanwhile, the CA has ordered the reinstatement of several police officers who were dismissed from the service in connection with the allegedly anomalous purchase of police coastal crafts (PCCs) worth P4.54 million in 2009.

In a 22-page decision penned by Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda and concurred in by Associate Justice Sesinando Villon and Pedro Corales, the CA’s 11th Division granted the petition filed by Chief Supt. Asher Dolina, Chief Supt. Ferdinand Yuzon, Senior Supt. Thomas Abellar and Police Supt. Rico Payonga.

Records of the case showed that a disbursement voucher was issued in July 2010 for the payment of coastal crafts worth more than P4.54 million.

However, it appeared that the payment was allegedly made despite the noted defects on the police coastal crafts and before the issuance of the notice of termination. Criminal and administrative charges were eventually filed against the respondents, leading to their dismissal from the service.

The anti-graft office, led by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, also found out that the purchase of the rubber boats did not go through public bidding and the boats were also certified to have passed the acceptance criteria despite “glaring defects.”

In its ruling, the appeals court found no reason to adjudge the petitioners guilty of grave misconduct.

“In this regard, petitioners, who have been in the police service for at least thirty (30) years, most of whom are decorated members of the police force, in their bid to provide swift, adequate and reliable services to the people during a state of calamity and thereafter, could not be said to have committed grave misconduct imputed against them,” the appellate court pointed out.

“Consequently, the penalty of dismissal meted by the Office of the Ombudsman must be strucked down.”

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