THE Court of Appeals upheld the suspension of five Commission on Elections executives for their involvement in the botched P690-million ballot secrecy folder contract.

In a resolution, the CA’s Special 15th Division denied the petition filed by the suspended Comelec officials seeking to enjoin the Ombudsman from implementing its July 29, 2010 ruling, meting a six-month preventive suspension on them.

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The CA said it found “no cogent and compelling reason” to issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction prayed for by petitioners Maria Lea Alarkon, Allen Francis Abaya, Maria Norina Casingal, Martin Niedo and Antonio Santella.

Alarkon is the chairperson of the Bids and Awards Committee and the rest are members.

Without giving due course to the petition, the CA ordered respondents – Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, Comelec, and the Field Investigation Office of the Ombudsman represented by lawyer Michael Paul Israel – to file their comment within 10 days from receipt of notice.

Petitioners are then ordered to reply within five days from receipt of respondents’ comment.

The Comelec execs sought refuge before the CA after they were suspended, saying the Ombudsman committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction when it issued the order against them.

The officials also pointed out that the order is “too broad as it also effectively prevented them from discharging their regular and permanent positions in the Comelec, the functions of which are not connected in any manner whatsoever to the charges against them.”

The Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office (FIO) earlier filed an administrative complaint against the officials for violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees; and Dishonesty, Gross Neglect of Duty, Grave Misconduct, and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service.

A separate complaint for graft was also filed against them over the same transaction.

In the complaint, the FIO accused them of favoring supplier OTC Paper Supply by allegedly divulging valuable and confidential information to the company to ensure that it could produce "tailor-fitted" folder design.

The FIO noted that on February 9, 2010, OTC submitted a proposal offering their version of ballot secrecy folders.

BAC members were liable for failing to verify the claim of exclusivity of OTC non-compliance with the Manual of Procedures for Procurement of Goods and Services set by the Government Procurement Reform Act.

The Comelec en banc, in early April, ordered the creation of a three-man panel to investigate why the cost of the 1.8 million ballot secrecy folders reached P380 each.

The panel was headed by Comelec Law Director Ferdinand Rafanan.

In late June, the commission en banc forwarded the panel report to the Office of the Ombudsman.(JCV/Sunnex)