Aquino ordered to reinstate deputy Ombudsman linked to hostage crisis-A A +A
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
MANILA -- Emilio Gonzales III can go back to his old position as Deputy Ombudsman after the Supreme Court recently backed his contention that he was unceremoniously removed by Malacañang for allegedly bribing a policeman involved in the bloody Manila hostage-taking in August 2010.
The Court also ordered the payment of backwages from the time Gonzales was sacked by President Benigno Aquino III for gross negligence and grave misconduct on March 31, 2011.
Gonzales, however, is still not off the hook because the justices ordered the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate the allegation that he asked for P150,000 from Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza in exchange of a favorable resolution to the policeman's appeal to be reinstated.
The Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) which looked into the bungled hostage rescue scored then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Gonzales for not following the five-day period set to issue a resolution regarding appeals in administrative cases.
In the case of Mendoza, who was accused of extorting a motorist in 2009, the appeal was allegedly left languishing for over nine months from November 2009.
Mendoza then held hostage some 25 bus passengers on August 23, 2010, as eight Hong Kong tourists died of gunshot wounds in the head, neck and other parts of the body after he went berserk.
Speaking for the Court, Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe said failure to immediately act upon a party's request for early resolution of the case cannot be equated to betrayal of public trust, one of the grounds needed to kick out a Deputy Ombudsman and Special Prosecutor.
"Accordingly, the OP's pronouncement of administrative accountability against petitioner and the imposition upon him of the corresponding penalty of dismissal must be reversed and set aside, as of the findings of neglect of duty or misconduct in office do not amount to a betrayal of public trust," the 42-page decision stated.
Records show that Gonzales, who once handled military and other law enforcement agencies, reviewed and denied Mendoza's appeal within nine days from the time the draft resolution was submitted to him on April 27, 2010 until he forwarded his recommendation to Gutierrez.
Clearly, the Court said the release of the final order was no longer in Gonzales' hands.
"The motion for reconsideration thereof remained pending for more than nine months cannot be simply taken as evidence of petitioner's (Gonzales) undue interest in the case considering the lack of any personal grudge, social ties or business affiliation with any of the parties to the case that could have impelled him to act as he did. There was no evidence at all of any bribery that took place, or any corrupt intention or questionable motivation," the Court said.
The Court meanwhile upheld Section 8(2) of the Ombudsman Act (Republic Act 6770), which grants the President the power to remove the Deputy Ombudsman and Special Prosecutor.
The vote was actually 7-7 but Court rules provide that a deadlock shall merit the dismissal of the petition questioning the constitutionality of any law.
In his concurring opinion, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the provision is consistent with the government's system of checks and balances.
"The provision is a narrow form of delegation which empowers the President to remove only two officers in the Office of the Ombudsman i.e. the Deputy Ombudsman and the Special Prosecutor. The proposition that an external disciplinary authority compromises the Ombudsman's independence fails to recognize that the Constitution expressly authorizes Congress to determine the mode of removal of all non-impeachable officers and employees," he said.
Associate Justice Arturo Brion, for his part, said the power to discipline or remove an official of the Office of the Ombudsman should only be lodged with the Ombudsman so as not to affect its independence.
"The Ombudsman can hardly be expected to place her complete trust in subordinate officials who are not as independent as she is, if only because they are subject to pressures and controls external to her Office," he said.
In the same decision, the Court denied the petition of former Special Prosecutor Wendell Sulit to stop Malacañang from probing her involvement in the assailed plea bargain agreement between prosecutors and retired Major General Carlos Garcia, who was accused of amassing P303 million as military comptroller.
"The Court need not touch further upon the substantial matters that are subject of the pending administrative proceeding against petitioner Barreras-Sulit, and are, thus left to the complete and effective resolution of the administrative case before the Office of the President," said the Court.
Sulit earlier said the Palace should not proceed with the investigation because the plea bargain has yet to be upheld by Sandiganbayan, an argument found by the justices as baseless since the anti-graft court had practically approved of the deal.
"The only thing which remains to be done by the Sandiganbayan is to promulgate a judgment imposing the proper sentence on the accused (Garcia) based on his new pleas to lesser offenses (of direct bribery and money laundering)," the decision read.
Bernabe, an Aquino appointee, was joined by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Justices Diosdado Peralta, Mariano del Castillo, Martin Villarama, Jose Mendoza, Bienvenido Reyes and Carpio.
Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. led the dissenters along with Roberto Abad, Lucas Bersamin, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Jose Perez and Brion. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)