CA clears Cebu's Garcia of grave misconduct in land deal

MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) Special 18th Division in Cebu City cleared former Cebu Governor and now Congresswoman Gwendolyn “Gwen” Garcia of grave misconduct over an allegedly anomalous P98-million purchase of a Cebu estate.

In a decision promulgated Wednesday, April 23, the appellate court said the Ombudsman – which found Garcia administratively liable – "acted whimsically, capriciously, and arbitrarily amounting to lack of jurisdiction" when the case went on despite Garcia's reelection.

Garcia still faces before the Sandiganbayan criminal raps over the land deal.

The Ombudsman found that more than half of the Balili Estate in Naga, Cebu – purchased by the Cebu provincial government in 2008 when Garcia was its chief executive – is under seawater despite it being paid for in part using the province's housing program funds. Garcia was reelected as governor in 2010.

Citing a controversial legal principle known as the Aguinaldo doctrine, the CA said Garcia was effectively absolved of any administrative liability during her previous term when the public reelected her to the gubernatorial post.

"[An] elective official's reelection would mean condonation of any misdeed/misconduct allegedly committed by him/her during his/her immediate previous term. Consequently, making the issue of such misconduct/misdeed moot and academic," the CA ruled.

It added that the Ombudsman "evaded its duty to dismiss the administrative cases" against Garcia "in utter disregard" of settled rulings by Philippine courts.

The Aguinaldo doctrine, as cited by the appellate court, stems from a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, which reversed the dismissal of former Cagayan Governor Rodolfo Aguinaldo on account of his reelection.

"Clear then, the rule is that a public official cannot be removed for administrative misconduct committed during a prior term, since re-election to office operates as a condonation of the officer's previous misconduct to the extent of cutting off the right to remove him therefor," the SC ruled in Aguinaldo's case.

The Aguinaldo doctrine though does not apply to criminal cases against an elected official.

While Garcia is cleared of administrative liability on the basis of being reelected, the 4 other Capitol officials also declared guilty by the Ombudsman over the same land purchase were dismissed from duty as penalty.

These included Provincial Budget Officer Emme Gingoyon, Provincial Appraisal Committee Chairman and Provincial Assessor Anthony Sususco, Provincial Treasurer Roy Salubre, and OIC Provincial Engineer Eulogio Pelayre.

Gingoyon, Sususco, Salubre, and Pelayre were meted the penalty of dismissal by the Ombudsman in the same January 9, 2013 decision that also found then Governor and now Congresswoman Garcia guilty.

The CA decision clearing Garcia of charges was penned by Associate Justice Gabriel Ingles, Chairperson of the CA Special 18th Division in Cebu, and concurred by Associate Justices Ma Luisa Quijano-Padilla and Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob. 

Garcia was elected as representative of the 3rd district of Cebu province in 2013, after a 6-month suspension by President Benigno Aquino III over a separate administrative charge involving the hiring of contractual employees. – Rappler.com