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SC reinstates Deputy Ombudsman sacked over Manila hostage crisis

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. 
  The grounds for impeachment of a public official are culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.   "Petitioner Gonzales may not be removed from office where the questioned acts, falling short of constitutional standards, do not constitute betrayal of public trust," the high court said.   The Supreme Court said that the findings of Gonzales' neglect of duty or misconduct in office did not amount to betrayal of public trust. Manila hostage crisis   On Aug. 23, 2010, Mendoza held hostage a busload of tourists from Hong Kong to protest his dismissal from service and the supposed delay in the resolution of his case. He was killed after an 11-hour standoff, which also resulted in the deaths of eight of his hostages — an incident that strained the relationship between the Philippines and China.   In March last year, Malacañang dismissed Gonzales from service for gross neglect of duty and misconduct in office in connection with his alleged failure to act on Mendoza's appeal for nine months. Gonzales was then-Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other law Enforcement Offices.   While speaking with Gonzales over the phone at the height of the hostage-taking crisis, Mendoza berated Gonzales for allegedly demanding P150,000 from him in exchange for the settlement of his case. Investigators at the time looked into the possibility that the alleged cash demand could have fueled Mendoza's anger, leading him to shoot his hostages.    Gonzales had denied the accusation and said he was merely "framed up." He also questioned Aquino’s authority to order his dismissal.    Gonzales said the power to exercise administrative discipline over him is "lodged exclusively" with his boss, then-Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned from office in May 2011. Gutierrez's resignation came a few days before she was to be tried by the Senate impeachment court for betrayal of public trust, among other charges.   Gonzales also denied sitting on Mendoza's extortion case, saying he should not be blamed for the delay. He noted that it only took him nine days to act on Mendoza's motion for reconsideration appealing his dismissal from service. — KBK/RSJ/YA, GMA News