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TRO stops Ombudsman, DILG from barring Ecija gov from assuming post

MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals has temporarily stopped the implementation of Office of the Ombudsman’s decision issued in 2016 that perpetually disqualified Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali from holding public office after finding him administratively liable for mishandling his pork barrel fund worth P15 million.

In a three-page resolution, the Appeals Court’s 7th Division through Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas, Jr., granted the petition filed by Umali seeking the issuance of a TRO and/or a writ of preliminary injunction to enjoin the secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) from implementing the assailed decision of the Ombudsman pending resolution of his petition for review.

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Umali was found administratively liable for diverting substantial funds from the PDAF and the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Program funds to Masaganang Ani Para sa Magsasaka Foundation. Inc. (MAMFI) and the Samahan ng mga Manininda ng Prutas sa Gabi, Inc. for his livelihood projects.

The funds were supposed to be for the procurement of agricultural implements, but investigation showed that no real purchases was made. It was also discovered that the liquid fertilizers were sourced from Nutrigrowth Philippines, a company owned by pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.

The Ombudsman ordered Umali’s dismissal from service and perpetual disqualification from holding public office in 2016, prompting him to go to the Court of Appeals.

Umali said he was found administratively liable for acts committed when he was a member of Congress as 3rd district representative of Nueva Ecija but was subsequently elected as Provincial Governor in the May 2019 election.

In granting Umali’s petition, the Appeals Court 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.

“Here, 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. Considering that he was meted the maximum penalty of dismissal from service and perpetual disqualification to re-enter the Government, it becomes necessary to preserve the status quo, that is, 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 Appeals Court said.

“We also find this action to be more prudent since the instant petition presented several questions of law that are still of unprecedented and novel import,” it added.

Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Nina G. Antonio Valenzuela  and Louis Acosta. /je

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