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It's final: Senate will not dismiss Joel Villanueva

MANILA, Philippines – Saved by his colleagues.

The Senate on Monday, December 5, voted to adopt the legal opinion of the Senate counsel against the Ombudsman’s dismissal order on Senator Joel Villanueva.

Senate Majority Vicente Sotto III, chairman of the committee on rules, proposed the adoption of the legal opinion, emphasizing that Congress has the power to discipline its own members.

“After careful and meticulous study of arguments and recommendations rendered by Senate legal counsel, as chairman of committee on rules, may I move that this August chamber adopt the opinion and recommendation of the Senate legal office in its entirety," Sotto motioned on the floor.

No senator opposed the measure. After Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III declared it adopted, the senators paused for a short break to congratulate the beaming Villanueva.

Senate legal counsel Maria Valentina Cruz, in her 15-page opinion, said that while the Ombudsman has disciplinary authority over all elective and appointive government official, the law exempts impeachable officials, members of Congress, and the Judiciary.

“The Office of the Ombudsman has no disciplinary authority over members of Congress. As such, the Office of the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over administrative offenses committed by members of Congress in line with Section 20 of Republic Act 6770,” the document said, referring to the Ombudsman's charter.

Sotto, citing the opinion, said the penalties imposed on Villanueva – expulsion – cannot and should not be implemented by the Senate because the conditions of the expulsion are not present in Senate rules.

“Can the Ombudsman order the Senate or Senate President to implement penalties imposed upon Senator Villanueva? It cannot do so, Mr President,” he said.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales had ordered Villanueva’s dismissal from public service over the alleged misuse of P10 million of his pork barrel allocation in 2008.

He was at that time a member of the House of Representatives and sectoral representative of the Citizen’s Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) party list. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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