CA overturns Ombudsman decision vs mayor, 8 others

BACOLOD CITY Mayor Evelio Leonardia (2nd from right) holds in a press conference morning of Sept 12, 2017 after the Court of Appeals overturned the decision of the Ombudsman against him and 8 others city officials for the alleged questionable purchase of furniture and fixture for the New Bacolod Government Center in 2008. With him are (from left) Atty. Joselito Bayatan, Councilors Caesar Distrito, Cindy Rojas, Em Ang, Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran, Mrs. Maita Gasataya representing her husband Congressman Greg Gasataya and Councilor Renecito Novero.

BACOLOD City – The Court of Appeals Visayan Station overturned the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman indicting Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia and eight other officials in the alleged irregular acquisition of P49 million worth of furniture and fixture for the Bacolod City Government Center in 2008.

The decision, copies of which were furnished to the media on Sept 12, 2017, was promulgated on Sept 6, 2017 and signed by Associate Justice Germano Francisco D. Legaspi, Associate Justice Marilyn B. Lagura-Yap and Executive Justice Gabriel T. Ingles of the 18th Division of CA-Cebu.

In a press conference at his office here, Leonardia  said he feels vindicated and vindicated as he realized who his real friends are during times of trial.

He also lauded Bacolod City Mayor El Cid Familiaran, whom he described as a statesman, real friend and a party mate who did not attempt at all to “take over the post.”

Aside from Leonardia, the CA also exonerated Atty. Goldwyn Nifras, Luzviminda Treyes. Nelson Sedillo Sr., Belly Aguillon, Eduardo Ravena, Aladino Agbones, Jaries Ebenizer and Melvin Recabar.

The decision cleared Leonardia and group of the charges for grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty.

The CA also reversed the penalty of dismissal meted by the Ombudsman against the mayor and eight others.

The decision also emphasized that the condonation or Aguinaldo doctrine was also applicable in his defense, notwithstanding the fact that the merits of the case alone were already sufficient to exonerate him.

The Aguinaldo doctrine, which was already abrogated by the Supreme Court, extinguishes the administrative liabilities of elected government officials if they are re-elected in office while the case is awaiting decision.

In its decision, the CA stressed that “evidently there is no showing that the acts, which purportedly transgressed the IRR (implementing rules and regulations) of R.A. No. 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act) were tainted with corruption or that petitioners benefitted therefrom.”

“In fact, it was never claimed that prices of the procured items were unreasonable. It is also undisputed that all the items subject of the P.O. (purchase orders) were delivered. Besides, it was not proven by substantial evidence that petitioners’ alleged violation of the law was with the willful intent, Thus petitioners cannot be held liable for grave misconduct or gross neglect of duty.”

The decision also stated that “after a circumspect of the record, we reject the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman relative to the petitioners’ liability for grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty.”

“The petitioners did not manifest any clear intent to violate the law or disregard an established rule when they did not follow the procedure or requiring contract with Comfac Corporation relative to the delivery of the purchased furniture and fixture.”

The decision added: “We see no error in the computation of the liquidated damages against Comfac Corporation for the items it belatedly delivered. There is nothing on the record that would support the ruling of the Office of the Ombudsman that liquidated damages in the amount of P14,152,717.80 should be charged against Comfac  Corporation.”

But it also stated that Ravena and Recabar should be held liable for the administrative offence of simple misconduct for retaining Comfac Corporation’s bidder’s bond and treating it as a performance bond.

“The two cannot invoke good faith as a defense because, being the persons charged with the reception of bonds, they ought to know the rules differentiating the bidders’ bond from a performance bond and their implication, thus their violation of the rules makes them liable for simple misconduct.”

The decision also stated that “petitioners who have not retired or who have not been separated from the government service shall be reinstated immediately and are entitled to back wages and all benefits from the time they were dismissed from service.”

As to Ravena and Recabar, the CA said payment of their back wages and benefits shall commence from the time they served the aforestated-3 month suspension up to the time of their actual reinstatement.”

Leonardia reiterated that “as I have been saying there was no dishonestly here, it was a matter of technicality and procedure.”

Joining the mayor in the press conference where his co accused and his party mates in Grupo Progreso.

Also present were Councilors Em Ang, Caesar Distrito, Cindy Rojas, Dindo Ramos and Renecito Novero as well as his legal counsel Joselito Bayatan.

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