By: Marites Toledo
TECHNICALITY rules over facts on the corruption charges against Liberal Party (LP) Sen. Emmanuel Joel Villanueva.
According to the legal opinion of Senate lawyer Ma. Valentina Cruz, the Office of the Ombudsman has no legal jurisdiction on the Congress, of which the Senate is the upper chamber.
Cruz’s opinion was done in accordance with the request of the Senate Ethics Committee chaired by Sen. Vicente Sotto III after Senate Pres. Aquilino Pimentel III directive the committee to study the dismissal order of the Office of the Ombudsman.
The committee is finding out whether the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman to dismiss Villanueva over P10 Million pork barrel scam is implementable, or not.
The Office of the Ombudsman directed the Senate to dismiss Villanueva from the government service after it found sufficient basis that Villanueva has committed several crimes, including graft and corruption, in releasing P10 Million from his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for highly questionable projects of Aaron Foundation Inc. in 2008.
Villanueva was a congressman representing Citizens Battle Against Corruption (CBAC) party-list when the PDAF scam was happened.
The corruption complaint against Villanueva and four others, including then Department of Agriculture (DA) Sec. Arthur Yap, were filed before the Office of the Ombudsman by then Justice Sec. Leila de Lima few months before the 2016 election.
The Villanueva case was the third batch of P10 Billion PDAF scam linked to businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.
Villanueva filed a motion for reconsideration (MR) at the Office of the Ombudsman.
In a 15-page legal opinion, Cruz strongly argued that “the penalty of dismissal cannot and should not be implemented on both procedural and substantive grounds” by the Senate because the Office of the Ombudsman has no legal power to discipline any member of the Senate as stipulated in the Section 21 of The Ombudsman Act.
The act, or the Republic Act No. 6770, stated that the Ombudsman has disciplinary authority over all elective and appointive government officials except on members of the Congress, judiciary, and officials who can be removed from office by impeachment.
Cruz explained that “Section 21 of RA 6770 and Section 2 Rule III of the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman are very clear and there is no room for interpretation, but only for application. The Office of the Ombudsman has no disciplinary authority over members of Congress. As such, the Office of the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over administrative offenses committed by members of Congress in line with Section 20 of RA 6770.”
Cruz further pointed out that “the Office of the Ombudsman did not have any administrative authority over Villanueva over administrative offenses he may, or may not, have committed during his term as member of the House of Representatives. This is because it was the House of Representatives and only the House of Representatives, which had authority over him over administrative offenses he may, or may not, have committed during his term as congressman.”
The Senate has yet to make its final decision.
Rep. Harry Roque, a former law professor at the College of Law of the University of the Philippines, previously said the burden of implementing the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman is in hands of the Senate.
Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the College of Law of San Beda College, explained that the case against Villanueva was filed when he was the head of the Technical Skills and Education Authority (TESDA), but was finished only when Villanueva is already senator, therefore, the Office of the Ombudsman should be treated by the Senate as a “complaint.”
Therefore, the Senate could still decide and act on Villanueva’s case even RA 6770 prevents the Office of the Ombudsman from disciplining him since he is already a senator, Aquino said.
Villanueva was one of the senators who voted for Aquilino so that the latter would become the senate president despite being the lone member of the PDP-Laban in the Senate.