The 18 th Division of the Court of Appeals in Cebu City reversed the decision ofthe Office of the Ombudsman dismissing Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia and six others for the procurement of P50 million furniture and fixtures in 2008, after exonerating them of the administrative case of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty.
Leonardia said it is clear that with or without the Aguinaldo Doctrine, he was exonerated on the merits of the case.
He said this case does not involve dishonesty. This is just matter of technicalities and procedures. There was no overprice, no under-delivery because all goods were all accounted for, there was no conspiracy, and there was no bad faith, he added.
Leonardia emphasized that the Court of Appeals in its decision promulgated on Sept. 6, and signed by Associate Justices Germano Francisco Legaspi and Marilyn Lagura-Yap, and Executive Justice Gabriel Ingles,declared, among other things, that “Evidently, there is no showing that the acts, which purportedly transgressed the IRR of R.A. No. 9184, were tainted with corruption or that petitioners benefitted from them.
“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 orderwere 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,” the decision added.
Earlier, the Ombudsman had also ordered the filing of criminal charges of violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against Leonardia, former Bids and Awards chairman Goldwyn Nifras. former Budget Officer Luzviminda Treyes, the late City Legal Officer Allan Zamora, BAC member Nelson Sedillo Sr., and former members of the Technical Working Group namely, Gliceria Caduhada, Eduardo Ravena, Jaries Encabo, Belly Aguillon and Aladino Agbones, BAC Secretariat head Melvin Recabar and former City Treasurer Annabelle Badajos.
Nifras, Treyes, Sedillo, Aguillon, Agbones and Encabo were also fully cleared by the Court of Appeals of the same charges of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty, and the previous penalty of the dismissal meted them by the Ombudsman was also completely reversed by the CA.
However, Recabar and Ravena were found guilty of simple misconduct only, and not of grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty. As such, their penalty was amended from dismissal to suspension for three months without pay.
After serving the three-month suspension, they will also be reinstated back to their positions and entitled to back wages and other benefits commencing from the time they have served the 3-month suspension up to the time of their actual re-instatement.
“BLESSING IN DISGUISE”
Leonardia said that overall this was a blessing in disguise because he now knows who his friends are.It's is also clear that there are people who cannot win elections and will resort to this.
So many political developments happened because of this case. And because so many speculations were peddled in the grassroots,some people entertained the idea that he will no longer be able to run in the next elections, he said.
But because they won in this critical stage of the case which involved their dismissal, Leonardia said “One thing for sure is that Bing Leonardia will be available in 2019.”
VICTORY OR VIRTUE
City Legal Officer JoselitoBayatan said the decision emphasized that the condonation/Aguinaldo Doctrine was still applicable in his defense, notwithstanding the fact that the merits of the case alone were already sufficient to exonerate Leonardia. This is a victory of virtue, he said.
Bayatan said the criminal case is with the Ombudsman. But with the finding of facts of the CA where there was no grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty, they can somehow use this in the criminal complaint. This will help us a lot in the criminal proceedings, he said.
Bayatan said they will use the Civil Service Commission rules as reference in the reinstatement of the respondents. They will also ask for a certificate of finality from the CA to determine when the decision became final.
Councilor Caesar Distrito said what the mayor's political detractors have done is not only an attack on the administration ofLeonardia but also an attack on the operation of the city.
Distrito said they have always believed from the start that the decision will be favorable because they are on the side of the truth and on what is right, what is legal and justified. This is the justice that the Mayor and eight other officials deserve.
Councilor RenecitoNovero said this is also a victory for the City of Bacolod. This is a verification of the authentic relationship both on the personal and political level, so the mayor discovered who his friends really are.
Councilor Dindo Ramos said he, together with the legal team of the mayor knows that the Ombudsman had findings that there was no bad faith, no injury, and no damage on the part of the government. So they believe that the case will not prosper and the mayor will come out victorious.
Leonardia thanked Bacolod Rep. Greg Gasataya, who was represented by his wife Meita, for their moral support, and Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran, who has proven to be a statesman and a friend, and the GrupoProgreso councilors present, including their supporters.
They are still wondering, however, why this case,that had earlier been “closed and terminated,” was resurrected. So they are entertaining the possibility of unseen hands not only in this case and in the other cases filed against them, Leonardia said.
The matter of damagesis something that their lawyers will continue to study, he added.*CGS
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