Carpio, Sereno suggest revisiting condonation doctrine

Buena Bernal
Carpio, Sereno suggest revisiting condonation doctrine
Binay's lawyer argues that voters' actual knowledge of the alleged misdeeds of a public official is not required for the application of the condonation doctrine

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – The top two officials of the Supreme Court (SC) already expressed initial support for proposals seeking to revisit the controversial and pre-1987 Constitution doctrine absolving reelectionists of misdeeds in a previous term. 

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Tuesday, April 21, suggested a review of the so-called condonation doctrine.

The disputed doctrine absolves an official of administrative liability committed while he or she was in office, once he or she is re-elected.

“We should probably revisit it,” said Carpio during the 2nd round of oral arguments on the high-profile case of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales against Makati Mayor Erwin Jejomar “Junjun” Binay Jr.

Likewise, Sereno reiterated how condonation will “wreak havoc on our Constitutional framework.” She added that the doctrine goes against many Constitutional and statutory provisions on public accountability.

Carpio also cited the anti-corruption stance of the 1987 Constitution. The condonation doctrine is based on a Supreme Court ruling issued prior to the present Charter.

Mayor Binay cites this doctrine in assailing the Ombudsman-ordered 6-month suspension against him. 

The same sentiment as Carpio’s was expressed by Sereno during the first day of oral arguments.

“It is important that this court deliver the correct message to 430,000 officials… We’re basically saying that these 430,000 officials can commit administrative offenses ranging from simple misconduct all the way to serious misconduct, and dishonesty. They just have to ensure that they get re-elected and any preventive suspension or any investigation or an administrative finding by the Ombudsman will have to stop,” said Sereno.

“Is that the message that is going to be delivered if we continue with the condonation doctrine?” Sereno asked.

Penal vs preventive

Representing Binay, lawyer Sandra Marie Olaso-Coronel argued before the SC that the Ombudsman-ordered suspension against Binay was penal and not only preventive in character.

This is in contrast to the Ombudsman’s stand that the suspension of Binay was merely a preventive measure. (READ: Binay reelection not an argument vs suspension – Ombudsman)

An official is suspended by the Ombudsman in administrative cases pending investigation to prevent him from using his power to frustrate the proceedings, like hiding or destroying evidence or threatening or bribing witnesses. The court does this in criminal cases.

The Ombudsman said the measure is meant for the anti-corruption body to secure documentary evidence and ensure that no tampering occurs.

Morales had explained Binay cannot invoke the doctrine in challenging his suspension, as the suspension is not a penalty resulting from the determination of guilt. The doctrine condones an official from guilt in administrative cases.

Coronel, however, insisted before the SC bench that Binay’s suspension was a penalty. The suspension deprived Binay of his ability to perform his duty to his electorate, argued lawyer Claro Certeza, who is also representing Binay before the SC. 

In questioning Coronel, Carpio stressed that the Ombudsman’s power to suspend officials as contemplated by law is preventive.

“You’re twisting our decisions,” said Carpio, when Coronel kept insisting that the power in question is penal. 

Actual knowledge not needed?

In arguing for the need to revisit the doctrine, Morales had earlier stressed how such is based on an assumption that people are aware of an official’s illegal acts at the time they cast their votes to re-elect the errant leader. (READ: Mayor Binay’s reelection argument based on assumption – Ombudsman)

Coronel, however, argued before the SC that voters’ actual knowledge of the alleged misdeeds of a public official is not required for the application of condonation doctrine.

The doctrine has been applied in many cases where there is no such determination of the voters’ actual knowledge of the supposed illegal acts, she said.

She added that there is no doubt on the applicability of the Pascual case in Binay’s suspension. The doctrine of condonation was first cited in the 1959 case of Pascual v Provincial Board of Nueva Ecija.

Re-elected in 2013, the Makati chief executive is being investigated by the Ombudsman for criminal complaints of malversation, graft and violation of the procurement law over the allegedly overpriced construction of a Makati city hall building.

His suspension is linked to administrative charges of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service over the same deal. – Rappler.com

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