The Court of Appeals has allowed Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia to pursue her gubernatorial bid in the elections today.
In a 23-page decision promulgated May 10, the CA reversed a ruling of the Office of the Ombudsman in 2017 ordering Garcia’s dismissal from service and perpetual disqualification from holding public office over the provincial government’s alleged anomalous purchase of a property when she was governor in 2012.
The appellate court granted the petition of Garcia seeking to overturn the Ombudsman resolution finding her guilty of grave misconduct.
Voting 3-2, the CA’s special division of five magistrates ruled that the anti-graft office committed grave abuse of discretion and violated Garcia’s right to a speedy disposition of her case.
The CA stressed that the ombudsman took two and a half years to resolve the case against Garcia.
“A delay of 2 1/2 years is highly unreasonable and unjustifiable most especially in the light of the [Ombudsman’s] mandate to prioritize cases filed against a high ranking official [like Garcia],” read the ruling penned by Associate Justice Dorothy Montejo-Gonzaga.
The complaint against Garcia and 10 other provincial officials was filed on Dec. 7, 2012 by current Gov. Hilario Davide III and two others over Garcia’s “unilateral decision” to start the filling of the mangrove and submerged portions of the Balili property without provincial board’s approval.
The case was docketed on June 6, 2013, and the filing of the pleadings was extended until June 2015. It took the Ombudsman until December 2017 to resolve the case.
The appellate court also stressed that Garcia was liable for only simple misconduct, which carries a penalty of six months suspension, and not grave misconduct.
It explained that Garcia’s entering into contracts with ABF Construction without PB authority “constitutes simple misconduct” because the Ombudsman “failed to present substantial evidence to prove that her act was deliberate and done to procure some benefit for herself or for another person.”
The CA ruled that the Ombudsman also erred in ruling that Garcia could not invoke the condonation doctrine in her case.
It stressed that while the Supreme Court has abandoned the condonation doctrine in the 2015 case of former Makati City Mayor Junjun Binay, the said ruling “has to be applied prospectively.”
The CA explained that the administrative liability of Garcia during her term as governor from 2010 to 2013 was condoned by her election as congresswoman in 2013.
Associate Justices Edgardo delos Santos and Edward Contreras concurred in this ruling.
The two dissenters were Associate Justice Pamela Ann Abella Maxino and Marilyn Lagura-Yap.
In the assailed Ombudsman ruling, Garcia was found guilty of grave misconduct for entering into a contract with ABF Construction for the provincial government’s housing and seaport projects without authority from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.
Investigation showed that 19.67 hectares of the property in Barangay Tiga-an, Naga, Cebu were submerged in water and not suitable for human settlement and the construction of an international seaport.
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