Negros Oriental governor sues Ombudsman officials for graft

MANILA, Philippines – As the Supreme Court tries to draw a clear line on what cases fall under the Office of the Ombudsman and Department of Justice (DOJ), a governor files a graft complaint against Ombudsman officials before the justice department.

Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo went to the DOJ on Wednesday, March 29, and lodged a graft complaint against officials of the Ombudsman Visayas Office, accusing them of being partial when the office dismissed him twice for corruption charges.

Degamo has been ordered arrested by the Sandiganbayan for graft and malversation charges but is free by virtue of a P1.1-million bail he posted on January 27.

His charges stemmed from an issue in 2012 when Degamo still proceeded to fund P143-million worth of infrastructure projects despite the Special Allotment and Release Orders (SAROs) being withdrawn for non-compliance with guidelines. The Commission on Audit (COA) also issued a notice of disallowance against the funding.

Complaint

Degamo, when he posted bail in January, reiterated to media the temporary restraining orders (TROs) he secured twice from the Court of Appeals (CA).

This is why he’s suing the Ombudsman officials for graft. The officials include: 

The Ombudsman dismissed Degamo twice, the first time in May 2016 for the criminal charges, and again in December 2016, for the administrative charges. In both instances, the CA overturned the dismissals.

The criminal charges prospered and are pending before the anti-graft court.

According to Degamo, however, the administrative charges should have never been filed because of the Aguinaldo doctrine. Under the doctrine, the administrative offenses of an elected official are already deemed forgiven when the public decides to reelect him or her for another term.

But in November 2015, the SC killed the doctrine to prevent its abuse. In the SC decision, they said that the ruling is not retroactive and therefore could be applied to future cases only.

Degamo, however, insists that the Aguinaldo doctrine can still be applied to him because the offense happened in 2012.

“It is indisputable that the alleged act was committed on June 2012, and despite the fact that complainant was reelected twice in the 2013 and 2016 elections, and despite the fact that the abandonment of the condonation doctrine was only in November 2015, applicable prospectively, respondents, still dismissed complainant from office twice based on the same facts,” Degamo said in his complaint.

Degamo also said that when the CA overturned his dismissal in February, the appelate court said: "It appears therefore that the petitioner has a clear and unmistakable right that needs to be protected. The Supreme Court itself emphasized the prospective character of the abandonment of the condonation (Aguinaldo doctrine)."

Degamo said in February that the CA should prevail over the Ombudsman.

Jurisdiction

Degamo said Ombudsman officials violated Section 3(e) of the graft law when they acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith, and gross inexcusable negligence when they did not apply to Degamo the Aguinaldo doctrine and proceeded to charge him administratively. 

“Respondents either cannot discern what is meant by a prospective application, or simply chose to willfully ignore, violate and disregard the said Supreme Court pronouncement in the case of the complainant,” Degamo said in his complaint-affidavit.

Section 3(e) of the graft law has a fourth element, which is “causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government.”

On that issue, Degamo said that because of his supposed unfair dismissal, he suffered “injury” that cannot be quantified.

Degamo cited the CA’s favorable ruling which said: “The injury to petitioner by virtue of his dismissal will not be susceptible to any mathematical computation and cannot be adequately compensated in damages because what is involved is not just anything or something but petitioner’s right to property – public office, which he acquired through the voice of the people who voted for him.”

The question is – does the DOJ have jurisdiction over the case?

RA 10660 or the Sandiganbayan law says it is the anti-graft court which has jurisdiction over graft complaints, which is Degamo’s complaint. The Ombudsman law also states that any cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan falls within the primary jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.

The Sandiganbayan law also lists the following as criteria for their jurisdiction: "City and provincial prosecutors and their assistants, and officials and prosecutors in the Office of the Ombudsman and special prosecutor."

A memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed by the DOJ and Ombudsman in 2012 affirmed these rules and said the Ombudsman has jurisdiction over cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan.

"If, upon the filing of a complaint, the prosecution office of the DOJ determines that the same is for a crime falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, it shall advise the complainant to file it directly with the OMB," a provision in the MOA said.

The Office of the Ombudsman has yet to comment as of posting time. – 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.

image