Philippine judiciary

CA sides with De Lima, tells Ombudsman to act on complaint vs Aguirre, Guevarra

Jairo Bolledo

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CA sides with De Lima, tells Ombudsman to act on complaint vs Aguirre, Guevarra

FREED. Former senator Leila de Lima at the Rappler headquarters on November 23, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The complaints are lodged against former justice secretaries Vitaliano Aguirre II and Menardo Guevarra for 'illegally admitting' criminals already convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude into the state's witness protection program

MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals (CA) sided with former senator Leila de Lima in her complaints against erstwhile Department of Justice (DOJ) secretaries Vitaliano Aguirre II and Menardo Guevarra, and ordered the Office of the Ombudsman to act on the complaints.

In a decision dated November 21, the CA’s Special 17th Division granted De Lima’s petition asking the appellate court to review the Ombudsman decision that junked her complaints against her successors. The CA voided the Ombudsman’s decision for lack of due process and ordered the office to act on the complaints again.

De Lima’s complaints are criminal and administrative in nature, and concern the government’s use of convicted criminals as state witnesses.

“WHEREFORE, the Petition is GRANTED. The Notices dated 21 May 2019 and 18 September 2020 of the Office of the Ombudsman in IC-OC-18-2003 are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. This case is REMANDED to the Office of the Ombudsman for appropriate action,” the decision penned by Associate Justice Raymond Reynold Lauigan read. Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr., the division’s acting chairperson, and Associate Justice Eleuterio Bathan had concurred in the decision.

In hearing De Lima’s case, the CA said the former senator’s petition actually has merits, adding that the appellate court cannot “subscribe” on the Ombudsman’s pronouncements in junking De Lima’s complaints. The appellate court added that it found the Ombudsman to have committed grave abuse of discretion when it dismissed the complaints “based on inapplicable exceptions.”

“As can be gleaned from the foregoing disquisition, there was no valid reason for the Ombudsman to have refused to conduct an investigation on the administrative charges filed by petitioner against respondent. Its unjustified refusal is contrary to its mandate under the law, and cannot be tolerated,” the CA said.

It added: “In dismissing the administrative complaint outright based on inapplicable exceptions under Section 20 of Republic Act (RA) No. No. 6770, the Ombudsman clearly deviated from its own rules of procedure, which is a violation of procedural due process.”

This was De Lima’s latest legal victory following her release from detention after securing bail on November 13. De Lima was detained for more than six years due to three drug charges filed against her under the time of former president Rodrigo Duterte.

Two of the cases were already junked, and De Lima only faces one remaining drug charge — the one where the court granted her temporary freedom.

What happened before

De Lima sought the CA’s help by filing a petition for review to ask the appellate court look into the Ombudsman’s notice dated May 21, 2019, which dismissed De Lima’s complaint against her successors.

On October 29, 2018, De Lima filed a complaint with the Ombudsman against Aguirre and Guevarra for “illegally admitting” criminals already convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude into the state’s witness protection program.

By allowing convicted criminals to be part of the program, De Lima alleged that Aguirre violated section 10(f) of Republic Act (RA) No. 6981 or Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act, committed felony of dereliction of duty in the prosecution of offenses, penalized under article 208 of the Revised Penal Code, and section 3(e) of the Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Guevarra was also charged for the same alleged violations.

On top of these, De Lima also filed an administrative complaint against Guevarra for grave misconduct and gross negligence “for the continuing failure of the DOJ to prosecute the convicted felons.” However, the Ombudsman junked both the criminal and administrative complaints. Thus, De Lima sought the appellate court’s help. —

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.