MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) has issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the implementation of an Ombudsman decision to keep Nueva Ecija Governor Aurelio Umali from assuming office.
The Ombudsman had issued the order in 2016, after it found Umali liable for mishandling his pork barrel fund amounting to P15 million when he was a Nueva Ecija congressman.
Umali was elected governor in May 2019.
In a 3-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas, Jr, the 7th Division held that in a case where a public officer had been duly elected despite an order of suspension from the Ombudsman, the Supreme Court had stressed the importance of maintaining the status quo so as not to deprive the electorate of the services of the person they voted into office.
“Considering that he was meted the maximum penalty of dismissal from service and perpetual disqualification to reenter the government, it becomes necessary to preserve the status quo, that is, to recognize his election to office, in the meantime, so as to protect the electorate of the Province of Nueva Ecija and the petitioner from any grave or irreparable injury that they may sustain in view of the enforcement of the assailed Ombudsman decision,” the CA said.
“We also find this action to be more prudent since the instant petition presented several questions of law that are still of unprecedented and novel import,” the appellate court added.
Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Nina G. Antonio Valenzuela and Louis Acosta.
In 2016, the Ombudsman found Umali administratively liable for diverting substantial funds from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Program funds to Masaganing Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation. Incorporated (MAMFI) and the Samahan ng mga Manininda ng Prutas sa Gabi, Incorporated to implement his livelihood projects.
Based on the investigation, the projects were not implemented. The liquid fertilizers for the bogus projects were sourced from Nutrigrowth Philippines, a company owned by pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles.
In line with this, the Ombudsman ordered Umali’s dismissal from service and perpetual disqualification from holding public office in 2016.
In his petition granted by the CA, Umali said he was found administratively liable for acts committed when he was a congressman but he was later elected as Nueva Ecija governor.
He filed the petition after the DILG, upon the Ombudsman’s direction, issued a regional advisory mandating that local elective officials who were dismissed from the service should serve the imposed penalty even after they were proclaimed as winners in the last election.