Seares: Court of Appeals didn't rule on core issue of Cebu City mayor Mike Rama's petition, namely, whether Ombudsman erred in preventively suspending Rama, 7 others.

Seares: Court of Appeals didn't rule on core issue of Cebu City mayor Mike Rama's petition, namely, whether Ombudsman erred in preventively suspending Rama, 7 others.

[] CA struck down Rama's petition on "technicalities," which are basic but his lawyers, for whatever reason, didn't follow

[] Preventive suspension is discretionary on Ombudsman, which decides if conditions for its issuance are present, principally on whether evidence of guilt is strong and the suspended official/s could influence or tamper it

THE Court of Appeals (CA) has dismissed the petition filed by suspended Cebu City mayor Michael Rama, his city administrator Collin Rosell and his city assessor Maria Theresa C. Rosell, with five employees in the Assessor's Office.

Rama and the seven others were preventively suspended for six months by the Ombudsman, in an order dated May 8, 2024. The suspension stemmed from a complaint filed by four City Hall assessor's office employees who were reassigned to other offices and their salaries withheld for six to 10 months. Orders from the Civil Service Commission that they be returned to their previous assignment and paid their back wages were allegedly not followed by the said suspended officials and employees.

Rama and company fired off to the CA the petition for certiorari and temporary injunction, contending the Ombudsman erred in suspending them and they must be immediately reinstated.

In a ruling promulgated last Mary 17, 2024 but released for publication on May 22, the CA's Special 10th Division said Rama and his co-respondents failed (a) to file a motion for reconsideration of the Ombudsman's ruling and (b) to submit receipts as proof of mailing of the petition and the original copy of the Ombudsman order. Thus, the CA rejected the petition.

'PARALLEL MOVES.' A lawyer familiar with the mayor's legal fights told me Friday, May 24, 2024, that Rama's lawyers may have filed a motion for recon with the Ombudsman, at the same time filing that petition with the CA. Whatever the reason for the "parallel moves," one already hits them in the face. And it could be a double whammy and strike one after the other.

NOT JUST TECHNICALITIES BUT CONDITIONS PRECEDENT. Those may be just "technicalities" to other but to the court, they are basic requirements ("a condition precedent") that Rama's lawyers were expected to know by heart and follow.

The result is that the court "dumped" or "threw out the window" -- favorite word and phrase among justice news reporters -- the Rama et al. petition. The CA noted that while there are exceptions to the requirement of a "motion for recon," the Rama pleading "failed to allege meritorious grounds" for skipping that.

THOSE WHO JEER AT RAMA DEFEAT OVER THE ISSUE may have overlooked that the CA never got around to resolving it. That is, the court didn't reach the phase where it began looking at whether it must invalidate the ombudsman order of suspension and issue a temporary injunction so that the mayor can re-assume his seat at City Hall.

Still there's a reason for anti-Rama critics to cheer. The Rama et al. petition got stalled, or stuck, or derailed -- and the suspended ones would've to continue staying outside City Hall and looking in.

CORE ISSUE THAT CA DIDN'T TOUCH. The principal issue of the litigation is whether the Ombudsman met the legal conditions for the order of preventive suspension, namely:

* Evidence of guilt is strong;

* Continued stay of the officials in office, "given the gravity of the offense," could influence the witnesses or threaten the "safety and integrity of the records and other evidence."

Under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, preventive suspension is imposed after a valid information has been filed, which requires a finding of probable cause. Under the Ombudsman Act, the suspension is imposed when the two conditions above -- regarding evidence and capacity to influence testimony and evidence -- are met.

WHAT RAMA ET AL. SEEK TO DO is to convince the appellate court that the Ombudsman was mistaken in assessing the case against them on the matter of preventive suspension. They need to show that the Ombudsman erred in appreciating the evidence (not strong) and the threat to the testimony and other evidence (witnesses and records are safe even if they're not suspended).

That can be tough work as the CA tends to trust the discretion of the investigating agency/lower court in its capacity to rate the evidence and evaluate the circumstances.

Here, in the Rama petition before the CA, the court didn't reach that phase, as it dismissed the case because of the unmet "technicalities."

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