CA overturns Ombudsman dismissal order vs Leonardia, 8 others

Merlinda A. Pedrosa

THE Court of Appeals (CA) Visayas Station 18th Division in Cebu City reversed the dismissal order of the Office of the Ombudsman against Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia and eight city executives in the procurement of furniture and fixtures for the Bacolod Government Center worth almost P50 million in 2008.

The 16-page decision promulgated on September 6, 2017 was signed by Associate Justice Germano Francisco Legaspi, and concurred by Executive Justices Gabriel Ingles and Associate Justice Marilyn Lagura-Yap.

The December 2, 2016, joint resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman is modified in that the charges against petitioners Leonardia, Atty. Goldwyn Nifras, Luzviminda Treyes, Nelson Sedillo Sr., Belly Aguillon, Aladino Agbones, and Jaries Ebenizer Encabo are dismissed.

Meanwhile, petitioners Melvin Recabar and Eduardo Ravena were found guilty of simple misconduct instead of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty, and meted the penalty of suspension for a period of three months without pay.

The order stated that petitioners who have retired or who have not been separated from government service shall be reinstated immediately.

Accordingly, the exonerated petitioners are entitled to payment of backwages and all benefits from the time they were dismissed from service, it added.

As for Recabar and Ravena, payment of their backwages and benefits shall commence from the time they have served the aforestated three-month suspension up to the time of their actual reinstatement, the court order said.

Leonardia and his co-respondents Nifras, who was the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) chairperson; Treyes, former city budget officer; Sedillo, head of Department of Public Services ; City Engineer Aguillon; City Engineer Agbones; City Engineer Encabo; former city accountant Ravena; and BAC Secretariat’s Recabar had earlier filed two consolidated petitions for review under Rule 43 of the Rules of Court.

They filed two consolidated petitions to overturn the Ombudsman decision ordering their dismissal from service for the administrative offenses of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty in the procurement of furniture and fixtures for the Bacolod Government Center.

The court said that evidently, there is no showing that the acts, which purportedly transgressed the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Republic Act No. 9184, were tainted with corruption or that petitioners benefitted therefrom.

In fact, it was never claimed that the prices of the procured items were unreasonable. It is also undisputed that all the items subject of the purchase order were delivered. Besides, it was not proven by substantial evidence that petitioners alleged violation of the law was with willful intent. Thus, petitioners cannot be held liable for grave misconduct or gross neglect of duty.

As for the liability of petitioners Recabar and Ravena, considering that there are no mitigating or aggravating circumstances, it is only proper to impose the medium penalty of three months without pay, the court added.

City Legal Officer Joselito Bayatan said in a press conference on Tuesday, September 13, that based on the merits of the case and evidences presented by the Ombudsman and the petitioners, the CA ruled in favor of the petitioners.

He said Leonardia was fully exonerated of the charges of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty, and the previous penalty of dismissal against him by the Ombudsman was completely reversed by the CA based on the merits of the case.

Moreover, the decision emphasized that the condonation/Aguinaldo Doctrine was also still applicable in his defense, notwithstanding the fact that the merits of the case alone were already sufficient to exonerate him, Bayatan added.

He said the mayor co-respondents Nifras, Treyes, Sedillo, Aguillon, Agbones, and Encabo were also fully cleared of the same charges of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty, and the previous penalty of dismissal meted against them by the Ombudsman was also completely reversed by the CA.

In effect, they are re-instated back to their positions and entitled to backwages and other benefits, Bayatan also said.

For his part, Leonardia thanked all those who supported him especially his Grupo Progreso partymates.

Leonardia said the case does not involve dishonesty, only a matter of technicalities.

He said that even before, they already cleared that there was “no overprice, no under delivery” because all goods are accounted for, and there was “no conspiracy, and there was no bad faith.”

Familiaran said this is an answered prayer for the mayor and his co-respondents.

“It’s a vindication and I am happy with the decision of the Court of Appeals,” he added.

Gasataya was represented by his wife Maita at the press conference to show support to the Grupo Progreso.

Nifras said they are happy and thankful to all the people who supported them.

“This is a vindication and a victory. One thing that we learned is that we become stronger, we trusted God, and God never gave up on us. Mayor Leonardia, his wife, and the Grupo Progreso and our officemates never left us," he added.

Aguillon said she was crying because of happiness.

“I am almost 40 years in government service. We are just working in government, but because of politics we are included in the case. I am thankful to the Lord that we are vindicated,” she added.