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The Supreme Court has ordered the reinstatement of Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales III, saying Malacañang had no valid reason to sack him in connection with the disastrous Aug. 23, 2010 Manila hostage crisis that resulted in the deaths of eight foreign tourists. In a 50-page consolidated resolution promulgated on Sept. 4 but released to the media only on Sept. 25, the Supreme Court said the findings that Gonzales allegedly delayed the resolution of the extortion case of the hostage-taker, dismissed policeman Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza, were not sufficient for Malacañang to remove him from office. "Even if there was inordinate delay in the resolution of P/S Insp. Mendoza's motion and an unexplained failure on petitioner's part to supervise his subordinates in its prompt disposition, the same cannot be considered a vicious and malevolent act warranting his removal for betrayal of public trust. More so because the neglect imputed upon petitioner appears to be an isolated case," the high court said. Through the ruling, the high court has effectively set aside a Malacañang memorandum removing Gonzales from office for allegedly sitting on the pending case of Mendoza and demanding P150,000 from him. "WHEREFORE, in G.R. No. 196231, the decision of the Office of the President in OP Case No. 10-J-460 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Petitioner Emilio A. Gonzales III is ordered REINSTATED with payment of back wages corresponding to the period of suspension effective immediately," the high court said in a ruling penned by SC Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe. Bernabe is one of the three appointees of President Benigno Aquino III to the Supreme Court, along with Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno and Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes. SC's ruling Mendoza was dismissed from the police force in 2009 for allegedly extorting money from a traffic violator in 2006. His case was under review by the Office of the Ombudsman at the time of the hostage-taking incident. In its ruling, the Supreme Court acknowledged that while the President's power to remove a deputy Ombudsman is "implied from his power to appoint," it does not "diminish the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman. "The independence which the Office of the Ombudsman is vested with was intended to free it from political considerations in pursuing its constitutional mandate to be a protector of the people. What the Constitution secures for the Office of the Ombudsman is, essentially, political independence," the court said. The court, however, said the President can remove a deputy Ombudsman on two grounds:
- that the removal of the Deputy Ombudsman must be for any of the grounds provided for the removal of the Ombudsman, which is through impeachment, and;
- that there must be observance of due process.