The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that the Court of Appeals (CA) has the power to review and stop the Ombudsman’s administrative orders.
The SC ruling penned by Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe also junked the controversial Aguinaldo condonation doctrine that clears a public official of any administrative liability if he or she is reelected.
The High Court made the precedent-setting ruling in a petition filed by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, who questioned the CA’s temporary restraining order (TRO) that stopped the implementation of the second preventive suspension order she issued against Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr.
With the ruling, the CA was directed by the High Court to resolve Binay’s case based on the merits in light of the supervening event that he was already dismissed from office.
The Ombudsman early this year ordered Binay’s suspension for six months because of his alleged involvement in the anomalous bidding and construction of Makati City Hall Building 2.
The suspension, however, was stopped by the CA, prompting the Ombudsman to elevate the issue to the SC.
Binay had invoked the Aguinaldo condonation doctrine in contesting the Ombudsman’s preventive suspension order.
The Ombudsman later issued a second suspension over a complaint over the allegedly anomalous bidding for and construction of the Makati City Science High School.
Morales eventually ordered Binay’s dismissal over the Makati City Hall Building 2 case, which the mayor also questioned on appeal.
The High Court, however, said the CA should dismiss Binay’s petition questioning the legality of his preventive suspension for being moot because the Ombudsman has already dismissed and perpetually disqualified him from government service in October.
“Considering that the Ombudsman, on October 9, 2015, had already found Binay Jr administratively liable and imposed upon him the penalty of dismissal, which carries the accessory penalty of perpetual disqualification from holding public office, for the present administrative charges against him, the CA petition ought to be dismissed on the ground of mootness,” the SC decision read.
The High Tribunal also struck down as unconstitutional Section 14 of Republic Act (RA) 6770 or the Ombudsman Act.
The section states, “No writ of injunction shall be issued by any court to delay an investigation being conducted by the Ombudsman under this Act, unless there is a prima facie evidence that the subject matter of the investigation is outside the jurisdiction of the Office of the Ombudsman.”
Section 14 further reads, “No court shall hear any appeal or application for remedy against the decision or findings of the Ombudsman, except the Supreme Court, on pure question of law.”
In its decision, the SC said the provision should be declared ineffective because Congress did not consult the High Court when it was approved.
In its petition, the Ombudsman’s office, through the Office of the Solicitor General, insisted that while the CA may have jurisdiction over a petition for certiorari filed by Binay with the appellate court contesting his preventive suspension, it does not have authority to issue any writ of restraint over the Ombudsman’s preventive suspension, under Section 14, Paragraph 1 of RA 6770.
With the ruling, the SC stuck with a previous decision penned by the late Senior Associate Justice Florenz Regalado that all administrative cases handled by the Ombudsman shall be reviewed by the appellate court on issues of “grave abuse of discretion” citing the case of Fabian vs Desierto.
The SC also ruled to strike down the condonation doctrine, which became part of Philippine jurisprudence in 1959 when, in a ruling, it stated that an elected official can be cleared from past administrative liability if he gets reelected.
It clarified, however, that the abandonment of the doctrine would be “prospective,” meaning it would only be applied to future cases.
The court was divided 7-3 on this issue.
“The condonation doctrine is abandoned , but the abandonment is prospective in effect,” the decision read.
The minority, however, believe that the issue of condonation should not be touched since the only issue pending in the SC is the issue on the powers of the CA to review administrative cases ruled on by the Ombudsman.
The Aguinaldo Doctrine was one borrowed from American jurisprudence dating back to 1887.
An article by former University of the Philippines College of Law Dean Pacifico Agabin that was posted on GMA News Online when the SC held oral arguments on the Binay case traced how the doctrine entered local jurisprudence.
“In the Philippines, it goes back to 1959 in the case of Pascual vs. Provincial Board of Nueva Ecija. It was decided on October 31, 1959 where the Supreme Court, citing American cases, ruled: ‘The weight of authority, however, seems to incline to the rule denying the right to remove from office because of misconduct during a prior term, to which we subscribe.’”
The doctrine would later be identified as the Aguinaldo Doctrine after it was used by the SC to justify its ruling on the case of former Cagayan governor Rodolfo Aguinaldo in 1992.
Aguinaldo was ordered removed from office by then Local Government Secretary Luis Santos after the governor–a former Army officer–was linked to the 1987 coup attempt against the first Aquino government.
Aguinaldo, who was found guilty and was removed from office, questioned his ouster.
While his case was pending, he was reelected governor.
Holding that Aguinaldo’s petition before the Supreme Court was meritorious, the court held that “offenses committed, or acts done, during a previous term are generally held not to furnish cause for removal and this is specially true where the Constitution provides that that the penalty in the proceeding for removal shall not extend beyond removal from office, and disqualification from holding office for a term for which the officer was elected or appointed.”
Agabin explained that the underlying theory is that each term is separate from other terms, and that reelection to office operates as a condonation of the officer’s misconduct to the extent of cutting off the right to remove him.
“When people have elected a man to office, it must be assumed that they did this with knowledge of his life and character, and that they disregarded or forgave his fault or misconduct, if he had any.
“It is not for the court, by reason of such fault or misconduct, to practically overrule the will of the people,” he said.