CA affirms Masbate's Lanete barred from public office

MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the Office of the Ombudsman's order to perpetually disqualify from public office former Masbate congresswoman and governor Rizalina Seachon Lanete, in connection with administrative charges against her over the pork barrel scam.

The CA 9th Division promulgated its decision on February 26, a copy of which was released to media on Wednesday, March 7.

Associate Justices Mariflor Punzalan Castillo, Danton Bueser, and Henri Jean Paul Inting affirmed the Ombudsman's decision in 2015 that Lanete is guilty of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

The 2015 verdict carried with it the penalty of perpetual disqualification from office. But Lanete was still allowed to run for governor in May 2016 – though she lost – because the ruling was under appeal.

Lanete is out on bail for a P112.29-million plunder case pending before anti-graft court Sandiganbayan over the anomalous use of her Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) from 2007 to 2010 as representative of the 3rd District of Masbate.

She and former Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (APEC) representative Edgar Valdez were the first two pork barrel scam plunder defendants to be granted bail.

Condonation doctrine

Lanete argued before the CA that she should be cleared of the charges due to the condonation doctrine.

The condonation doctrine states that a reelected official should no longer be made accountable for an administrative offense committed during his or her previous term.

The Ombudsman dismissed Lanete in October 2015; the Supreme Court abandoned the condonation doctrine in November 2015.

"Following the ruling of the Supreme Court that the abandonment of the condonation doctrine is prospective in application, the same cannot be applied to the instant case, which, for obvious reasons, has not yet attained finality as of this writing," the CA said.

Lanete also tried to reason out that her alleged offense as congresswoman should have already been disregarded, because in 2010 she was elected governor.

This is the same reasoning that Cebu 3rd District Representative Gwendolyn Garcia used in recent interviews on her dismissal, which had stemmed from an offense when she was still Cebu governor.

But the CA said that if the bodies that elected the official are not "essentially identical," then the doctrine would not apply.

"It was only her constituents in the 3rd District of Masbate who were presumably aware and entitled to forgive any misconduct of Lanete. Contrarily stated, the body politic of the first and second districts of Masbate were in no position to condone Lanete's administrative offenses during the 2010 local elections," the CA said.

NLDC's Sevidal

The Ombudsman also dismissed Emmanuel Alexis Sevidal, director of the now-dissolved National Livelihood Development Corporation (NLDC).

The CA downgraded the charges against Sevidal from gross misconduct to simple misconduct. Sevidal's penalty is now only suspension, from the original dismissal.

As head of an implementing agency, Sevidal "was not shown to have had the disposition to lie, deceive or defraud by substantial evidence," according to the CA.

In Lanete's case, the CA affirmed the findings that "she used her position to gain benefit for herself."

Lanete had tried to argue that her signature was forged, but the CA said that "considering the length of time that the PDAF scheme had been ongoing, it bewilders us to show how Lanete could have been ignorant of the same." – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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