The Court of Appeals (CA) has issued a temporary restraining order enjoining the Office of the Ombudsman from implementing its 2016 decision preventing Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali from assuming his post in connection with the alleged mishandling by the latter of his P15 million pork barrel fund as a congressman.
In a three-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas, Jr., the CA’s Seventh Division granted the petition of Umali for the TRO pending resolution of his petition for review of the case.
The Ombudsman found Umali administratively liable for diverting money from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Program funds to the Masaganing Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation. Inc. (MAMFI) and the Samahan ng mga Manininda ng Prutas sa Gabi, Inc. (SMPGI) for his livelihood projects.
The MAMFI and SMPGI claimed the funds were used to procure agricultural implements but it was discovered during an investigation that there were no real purchases made as all the liquid fertilizers were supposedly sourced from Nutrigrowth Philippines, a company owned by pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
The Ombudsman ordered Umali’s dismissal from the service and perpetual disqualification from holding public office in 2016.
In his petition before the CA, Umali argued that he was found administratively liable for acts committed when he was a member of Congress as representative of the 3rd District of Nueva Ecija; he was subsequently elected as provincial governor in the May 2019 election.
The administrative charge against Umali stemmed from the Department of Interior and Local Government’s issuance of a regional advisory mandating that local elective officials who were dismissed from service should serve the imposed penalty even after the said officials were proclaimed to have won in the last election.
The CA in granting the petition of Umali held that in a case where a public officer had been duly-elected despite an order of suspension from the Ombudsman, the Supreme Court emphasized the importance of maintaining the status quo so as not to deprive the electorate of the services of the person they have voted into office.
The CA said there is no dispute that the petitioner was duly-elected as the governor of the province of Nueva Ecija even after he was found administratively liable by the Ombudsman.
It held 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 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.
The CA ruling was concurred by Associate Justices Nina G. Antonio Valenzuela and Louis Acosta.