MANILA - The Court of Appeals (CA) nullified the order of the Ombudsman placing the 26 police officers in Davao City under preventive suspension for failing to curb summary executions in the city.

In a 12-page decision penned by Associate Justice Mario Lopez, the CA's Former Special 16th Division granted the petition filed by the police officers who had been suspended on the mere basis of a "raw" crime statistics made by a fact-finding team of the Office of the Ombudsman.

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The appellate court found grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Ombudsman in issuing its January 11 resolution without a clear set of standard of efficiency against which actual performance of government servants must be rated.

The Ombudsman ordered a 60-day preventive suspension of 26 high-ranking police officials assigned in Davao Region from 2005 to 2008 stemming from a complaint filed before the Office of the Tanodbayan (predecessor of the Ombudsman) by a group called "Davao City Deserves Good Governance Movement."

"If that would serve as an acceptable standard, there will be no reason for the Ombudsman not to place all other police officers in regions where crime rates are higher than in Davao City. This is absurd and contrary to the required evidence to sustain a preventive suspension," the CA ruled.

It added: "Clearly, the Ombudsman gravely abused its discretion when it failed to take into account the entire evidentiary bases necessary for the imposition of preventive suspension."

Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Magdangal De Leon and Franchito Diamante.

Covered by the earlier suspension order were Police Senior Superintendents Catalino Cuy and Jaime Morente; Police Chief Inspectors Mattew Baccay, Filmore Escobal, Leandro Felonia, Marvin Manuel Pepino, Ranulfo Cabanog, Vicente Danao, Napoleon Eguia, Alden Delvo, Joseph Sepulchre, Dionisio Abude, Juel Neil Salcedo, Joselito Loriza and Joel Neil Rojo; Police Superintendents Harry Espela, Michael John Dubria, and Rommil Mitra; Police Senior Inspectors Antonio Alberio and Arnulfo Mahinay; Police Inspectors Maximo Atuel and Rolly Tropico.

The CA said the Ombudsman failed to take into consideration the actions taken by the respondents in order to address the series of killings in the province allegedly committed by the so-called Davao Death Squad.

The appellate court also said that the anti-graft body failed to specifically indicate what action the police officers should have taken, or did not take, in connection with the summary executions.

On the other hand, the respondents were able to sufficiently prove that they implemented various programs for crime prevention, including the establishment of checkpoints and tapping more civilian volunteers.

The CA further noted that the Davao City Police Office was even recognized as the Best City Police in the entire country in 2008, which contradicts the claim of negligence by the Ombudsman.

Prior to the suspension order, the Ombudsman received a letter-complaint last April 2009 from the "Davao Deserves Good Government" seeking investigation into the summary executions of more than 800 persons in Davao City.

Acting on the letter, the Ombudsman immediately formed a fact-finding team to look in to the veracity of the complaint.

It claimed that there were a total of 720 summary killings that were recorded from 2005 to 2008. Out of 720 cases, 399 have remained unresolved until now. (JCV/Sunnex)