BACOLOD CITY—The Court of Appeals has granted Mayor Evelio R. Leonardia a temporary restraining order against the Office of the Ombudsman, which had ordered his dismissal for grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty over a P49-million procurement of office furniture and fixtures in 2008.
“We are thankful that the Court of Appeals saw our side and granted us a TRO that will now give us more time to make our case even as we continue serving our people,” the mayor said in a statement.
Leonardia said getting the TRO “is good news, but our journey has just begun: our quest for justice, our fight for what is right, our search for validation of our brand of public service.”
He stressed that even in the Ombudsman’s resolution ordering his dismissal from public service along with eight other Bacolod City officials, it was clear that “no money was stolen, all goods were fully delivered, there was no overprice, no conspiracy and no bad faith.”
Along with Leonardia, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales had directed the dismissal of then-secretary to the mayor Goldwyn Nifras; city budget officer Luzviminda Treyes; department of public services head Nelson Sedillo Sr.; city engineers Belly Aguillon, Aladino Agbones and Jaries Ebenizer Encabo; city accountant Eduardo Ravena, and city treasurer Annabelle Badajos.
The complainant, the Ombudsman’s Public Assistance and Corruption Prevention Office in the Visayas, said the Bacolod officials committed bidding irregularities over the 2008 procurement of office furniture and fixtures awarded to Comfac Corp., of which the city government paid P49.06 million.
Leonardia said he would deal with the merits of the Ombudsman’s case in the proper forum, even as he pleaded his points to the city’s residents and the public in his statement.
He said in granting the TRO, the CA said “the abandonment of the condonation doctrine should not have a retroactive effect, as to prejudice petitioner for the acts he committed when said doctrine was still recognized.”
“Petitioner’s reliance on the defense of condonation prior to its abandonment should be respected,” the mayor added, quoting the CA decision.
“It seems that in the prospective abandonment of the condonation doctrine, the reckoning point should be the day when the administrative infraction was allegedly committed,” the appeals court added.
In the instant case, the CA said, “this would be the day when petitioner Leonardia signed the Purchase Order and other documents in 2008. Thus, petitioner has a clear and unmistakable right to the injunctive relief sought.”
Leonardia stressed that after 2008, “we were elected mayor in 2010, congressman in 2013, and mayor again for a fifth term in 2016.”
The CA also ruled that Leonardia’s right to remain in office as the duly elected mayor of Bacolod City “should be protected during the pendency of the proceedings so as not to disenfranchise the people who voted for him.”
“Indeed, it is more prudent for this Court to preserve the status quo to avoid not only irreparable injury and damage, but also complications that would arise if the 2 December 2016 Joint Resolution of the Office of the Ombudsman would be implemented,” the CA concluded.
The mayor said: “Surely, a political career that has just been given an overwhelming vote of 120,231 by our people again and again, cannot and should not end with doubts over its integrity.”
Leonardia said he accepted the TRO “with gratitude—and a resolve to get to the bottom of these issues not just to clear our names, but to show our people and the future generations that the right and the good will always draw favor from Justice.”
He thanked the people of Bacolod “for their unstinting trust and confidence, for standing by me and the rest of their public officials in this case. Their overwhelming show of support is such a big source of inspiration. We too will never waver in our quest for a better Bacolod for all of us.”
The Ombudsman had meted Leonardia and the other accused the accessory penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office, forfeiture of retirement benefits, cancellation of civil service eligibility and barred from taking the civil service examination.
“In case any of the respondents are no longer in the service, the penalty is convertible to a fine equivalent to respondent’s one-year salary,” the Ombudsman’s decision read. With Rio N. Araja