Guilty but off the hook: CA says condonation doctrine applies in Umali’s P15M pork case

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Even though Nueva Ecija Governor Aurelio Umali’s administrative liability was “supported by substantial evidence,” the Court of Appeals (CA) has set aside his dismissal for the misuse of P15-million pork barrel funds on the basis of the condonation doctrine.

In a recent 42-page decision, the CA 7th Division said the Ombudsman’s November 14, 2016 ruling—which found Umali guilty of grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service—”may not be implemented.”

“The administrative misconduct committed by petitioner Aurelio M. Umali is deemed condoned,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas, Jr.

Notably, it was not just Umali who invoked the condonation doctrine. Even the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG), in its comment on his position, took a similar position.

Under the condonation doctrine, a public official is not held liable for misdeeds committed in his previous term if he still gets elected and forgiven by voters afterwards.

The CA acknowledged that the doctrine “is out of touch with the present times” and “irreconcilably inconsistent” with the 1987 Constitution.

But, it said it was still forced to apply the doctrine in Umali’s case because he committed misconduct during his term as 3rd District representative from 2004 to 2007.

This was way before the Supreme Court’s (SC) November 2016 decision to abandon the doctrine prospectively (effective after the said decision’s finality).

In Umali’s case, the CA noted that he got “elected not once but four times from the time when he committed the acts complained of in 2005.”

“We cannot, by virtue of the condonation of the petitioner’s misconduct, disqualify him from running again for public office and,
consequently, remove him from his present office,” the decision read.

The case arose from the diversion of Umali’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) allocations to the ghost projects of Masaganang Ani Para Sa Magsasaka Foundation, Inc. (MAMFI) and Samahan ng mga Manininda ng Prutas sa Gabi Inc. (SMPGI).

The said foundations were allegedly chosen without the benefit of public bidding. They were also allegedly unaccredited and unqualified to take on the projects.

The court noted that Umali did not merely recommend these foundations. He endorsed project proposals that vested the control and even monitoring over the projects up to the selection of beneficiaries in MAMFI and SMPGI.

Meanwhile, the CA said the Department of Agriculture (DA) was practically forced to collaborate with the bogus foundations due to Umali’s project proposals for his allocations.

Umali only now brought the case to the CA, because he was not an elected official at the time the Ombudsman handed its decision.

Only when he won the May 2019 gubernatorial elections did the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) set out to implement the Ombudsman’s order.

This prompted Umali to go to the CA, which on September 9 issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Ombudsman and the DILG. The CA apparently opted to resolve the case quickly afterwards.

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