CA grants TRO in Umali case, gives Cua a glimmer of hope
posted 26-Sep-2019  ·  
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The camp of suspended Governor Joseph Cua has seen a glimmer of hope for the Catanduanes electorate in the recent decision of the Court of Appeals regarding the case of Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali, who has been perpetually disqualified from holding public office before winning in the 2019 local elections.

In the Sept. 9, 2019 resolution, the CA’s Seventh Division issued a 60-day Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the Ombudsman, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and all persons acting under their authority, regarding the implementation, enforcement and/or execution of the assailed Ombudsman decision dated Nov. 14, 2016.

The then Congressman Umali was found administratively liable for diverting substantial funds from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Program funds to two non-government organizations for his livelihood projects.

Investigation showed that no real purchases were made using the funds, which were supposed to be for the procurement of agricultural implements. Liquid fertilizers bought using the funds were discovered to have been supplied by a company of pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

Based on the findings, the Ombudsman ordered Umali’s dismissal from service and perpetual disqualification from holding public office in 2016.

Umali told the appeals court that he was found administratively liable for acts committed when he was the 3rd district representative of Nueva Ecija but was subsequently elected as provincial governor in the May 2019 election.

He, along with Gov. Cua and several other election winners, were unable to assume office after the DILG, upon the Ombudsman’s direction, issued an advisory mandating that local elective officials who were dismissed or suspended from service should serve the imposed penalty even after the said officials were proclaimed to have won in the last election.

In granting Umali’s petition, Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr., along with Associate Justices Nina Antonio-Valenzuela and Louis Acosta, cited the Supreme Court’s ruling in a case where a publis officer had been duly-elected despite an order of suspension from the Ombudsman.

In Garcia v. Court of Appeals (G.R. No. 185132, April 24, 2009), the High Court emphasized that “the suspension from office of an elective official, whether as a preventive measure or as a penalty, will undeservedly deprive the electorate of the services of the person they have conscientiously chosen and voted into office.”

The CA’s Seventh Division said that, considering that Umali was meted the maximum penalty of dismissal from service and perpetual disqualification to re-enter the government, “it becomes necessary to preserve the status quo, that is, to recognize his election to office, in the meantime, so as to protect the electorate of the Province of Nueva Ecija and the petitioner from any grave or irreparable injury that they may sustain in view of the enforcement of the assailed Ombudsman decision.”

“We also find this action to be more prudent since the instant petition presented several questions of law that are still of unprecedented and novel import,” the appeals court stressed.

Umali’s case, despite the harsher penalty imposed on him, bears many similarities with that of Gov. Cua particularly in that both were ordered to serve their penalties way before the May 2019 elections and both won overwhelmingly.

Looking at this CA resolution as a precedent, the Cua camp argues that if the Nueva Ecija governor was granted the TRO despite his being meted the maximum penalty, then Cua can avail of the same parameters of discourse to seek a similar decision from the Court of Appeals.

“The electorate may not be above the law, but the highly politicized issue of parking lot that was perfectly timed during the election should not overshadow the voice of the democracy,” it added.

Filed sometime in November 2018, the parking lot case against Cua and Bato Mayor Eulogio Rodriguez was acted upon by the Ombudsman, which preventively suspended the two officials in February.

In April, just three months later, a special panel of eight prosecutors found them guilty of the administrative offense, with the governor suspended for a year.

The Cua counsel filed a motion for reconsideration with the Ombudsman shortly thereafter but the anti-graft body has yet to act on it.

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