By: Roy Bersales
The Senate, an august body, under the leadership of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III will destroy its own credibility if it intentionally fails to carry out the dismissal order of the Office of the Ombudsman on Senator Emmanuel Joel Villanueva.
According to Atty. Jose Sonny Matula, former executive director of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission, the Senate has the legal power to dismiss Villanueva due to corruption charges.
Matula, also a law professor from the Law School of Manuel L. Quezon University (MLQU), stressed that the Senate has the discretion to suspend and expel its members who are found guilty of committing a crime.
Tapatnews.com took Matula’s view being a law expert and a law professor himself to find out the proper and legal action of the Senate on the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing Villanueva after it found out that he committed crimes, including violation of anti-graft and corruption practices law, in relation to his P10 Million worth of projects in 2008.
The Ombudsman said Villanueva and nine others were guilty of two counts of corruption charges, one count of malversation of public funds, and one count of malversation thru falsification of public documents (Read Tapatnews.com’s similar story published on its online last November 14).
Aside from Villanueva, the other accused are former Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary and now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap, Villanueva’s staff Ronald Samonte, DA employee Delia Ladera, National Agri-business Corporation (NABCOR) representatives Alan Javellana, Romulo Relevo, Ma. Julie Villaralvo-Johnson, Rhodora Mendoza, and Maria Ninez Guanizo, and Aaron Foundation Philippines, Inc. (AFPI) President Alfredo Ronquillo.
Records from the Office of the Ombudsman noted that the P10 Million came from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), popularly known as pork barrel, of Villanueva being the representative of the Citizens Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) to the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2010.
The case being referred to happened in 2008.
The Ombudsman investigated the P10 Million PDAF scam only few months before the 2016 elections—that was after then Justice Sec. Leila de Lima filed charges against Villanueva and several others.
Villanueva was the head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) when De Lima filed the graft and corruption charges.
The charges on Villanueva were described by De Lima as the third batch of the group of people who have supposed to gain huge amount of money on the P10 Billion PDAF linked to PDAF scam of alleged fake non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of businesswoman Janet Napoles.
Matula asserted that the Senate has the discretion to dismiss or suspend any of its members if found guilty of any crime.
Another law expert, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, Dean of the College of Law, has the same legal opinion.
Dean Aquino, however, made it clear that the Senate must treat the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision as a “complaint” and not as an order to the Senate.
The premise of this is that the Office of the Ombudsman being part of the judiciary and the Senate being the other house of the legislative body, the two institutions are on equal footing.
Aquino’s assertion was based on jurisprudence about a judge who committed a crime when he was not yet a judge.
The decision to dismiss him from the service came only when he was already a judge, thus, the Supreme Court concluded that the decision to dismiss the said judge must be properly and legally treated as a “complaint.”
Pimentel told the media that the Senate would wait on the result of the Motion of Reconsideration filed by Villanueva at the Office of the Ombudsman.
Villanueva maintained that he did not gain any amount from the P10 Million PDAF.
He also argued that the Office of the Ombudsman has no legal authority to dismiss him, or any senator, for that matter.
Citing Section 21 of The Ombudsman Act, Matula said the Office of the Ombudsman has no power to discipline the members of Congress and government officials who could be booted out through impeachment.
Only those who elected in the local government units (LGUs) as stipulated in the Ombudsman Act are covered by the power of the Office of the Ombudsman to dismiss from the service.
Dean Aquino said Villanueva was investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman while he was not yet a senator.
However, the decision was done when Villanueva was already a senator.
This means that the Office of the Ombudsman will continue the investigation and make its decision despite the people being investigated for graft and corruption and plunder charges became members of the Congress since there is no law ordering the Office of the Ombudsman to stop conducting investigation on a particular person since the latter is already a senator or a congressman.
The Senate’s credibility is at stake in this dismissal issue on Villanueva if the Senate intentionally fails to act consistent to the public opinion as it would be perceived as a way of coddling a senator who was found guilty of four crimes.
Several days back, Pimentel did not act on the order of the Sandiganbayan to suspend Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito for 90 days over graft charges.
Pimentel told the media that the Senate has no authority to do so since the Senate has no rule about carrying out the suspension order of the Sandiganbayan.
Ejercito only followed the decision of the Sandiganbayan after the Supreme Court stressed that the Sandiganbayan did not abuse its power in suspending Ejercito.
The Supreme Court cited the law that created the Sandiganbayan in siding with the latter’s decision against Ejercito.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has previously said Villanueva and the nine others will be tried by the Sandiganbayan.