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CA reverses dismissal of ex-MIAA chief

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The Court of Appeals has overturned and set aside the decision issued by the Office of the Ombudsman in August 2023 dismissing two high-ranking officials of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) in connection with the reassignment of  285 airport employees.

In a 13-page decision written by Associate Justice Eleuterio Bathan, the CA’s Thirteenth Division held that the dismissal of MIAA General Manager Cesar Chiong and Assistant General Manager (AGM) Irene Montalbo by the Ombudsman for grave abuse of authority, misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service lacks “factual basis and substantial support in evidence.”

The case stemmed from the administrative complaint filed by anonymous MIAA officials after Chiong initiated the reassignment of 285 personnel to enhance airport services and efficiency in a matter of less than a year upon his  assumption as acting General Manager and Member of the Board of Directors of MIAA.

The charge also involved the designation of Montalbo by Chiong as acting AGM despite the former’s “unsatisfactory” rating in 2020.

In its order dated April 28, 2023, the OMB placed Chiong and Montalbo under preventive suspension for the duration of the proceedings but not exceeding six months.

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Chiong and Montalbo filed an urgent Motion to lift preventive suspension, along with their respective counter-affidavits and position papers.

When the OMB failed to resolve respondents’ motion for more than a month, they filed before the CA a petition seeking the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or a writ of preliminary injunction to prevent the OMB from implementing the preventive suspension order.

Although the OMB moved for extension of time to file its comment on the motion filed by the petitioners, it issued the assailed decision dated August 1, 2023 and approved on August 4, 2023, which found the two officials guilty of the administrative offense and imposed upon them the penalty of dismissal from the service.

The Ombudsman also ordered the forfeiture of all their retirement benefits and their perpetual disqualification to re-enter government service.

In reversing the Ombudsman’s decision, the CA applied the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of  “Reyes, Jr. v. Belisario”  with regard to the jurisdiction of the OMB and the Civil Service Commission (CSC).   

The CA noted that the jurisdiction of the CSC in matters pertaining to the civil service, such as reassignments, “is well-entrenched in law and jurisprudence. “

In “Reyes, Jr. v. Belisario”, the CA said the High Court upheld the  CSC’s primary jurisdiction,  as the government’s central personnel agency, in movements of civil service personnel over that of the OMB.

“In so ruling, the High Court arrived at a conclusion that a definitive ruling by the CSC on the validity of the reassignments is a prerequisite for the finding by the OMB of any harassment or oppression; absent of which, the OMB’s finding suffers from prematurity,” the CA ruled.

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