CA affirms Ombudsman dismissal of ex-ARMM guv

MANILA-- The Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld the decision of the Office of the Ombudsman dismissing former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Zaldy Ampatuan from government service following a lifestyle check that revealed his unexplained wealth and under-declared assets amounting to PHP70.67 million from 2000 to 2009.

In a 22-page decision dated July 5, 2017 penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting concurred by were Associate Justices Ramon Garcia and Lencia Dimagiba, the CA's Fourteenth Division denied the petition filed by Ampatuan, one the accused in the Maguindanao massacre, seeking the reversal of the Ombudsman's decision and order issued on June 26, 2015 and Sept. 23, 2015.

In upholding the decision of the Ombudsman, the CA did not give credence to Ampatuan's claim that he was not able to file his counter-affidavit due to the negligence of his counsel.

As a result, Ampatuan said he was deprived of due process, thus, should be exempt from the rule that a lawyer's negligence binds the client.

With the foregoing, the contention that petitioner that he was denied due process by reason of his former counsel's gross negligence is clearly bereft of merit, the CA said.

The CA explained that based on the records of the case, the Office of the Ombudsman even gave Ampatuan an opportunity to file his verified position paper in a resolution issued on February 17, 2011.

However, the former governor still failed to comply and instead, through his counsel, filed motions questioning other orders issued by the Ombudsman, in an apparent bid to delay the proceedings.

The CA also dismissed Ampatuan's claim that the Ombudsman erred in finding him guilty of serious dishonesty and grave misconduct, and consequently dismissing him from the service.

In this case, the evidence presented by the respondent (lifestyle check panel) well supports the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman that petitioner did not only fail to disclose all his and his wife's assets but also failed to provide an explanation as to how he and/or his wife acquired assets, the CA stressed.

The June 26, 2015 decision of the Ombudsman found Amputuan guilty of serious dishonesty and grave misconduct and meted him the penalty of dismissal from the service with accessory penalties of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, perpetual disqualification from holding office, and bar from taking civil service examination.

The Sept. 23, 2015 resolution, meanwhile, denied Ampatuan's motion for re-investigation of the decision.

The decision of the Ombudsman stemmed from the joint-affidavit complaint filed in September 2010 by the lifestyle check panel of the Office of the Ombudsman against the then ARMM governor for dishonesty and grave misconduct.

The panel noted that Ampatuan served as assemblyman of the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly prior to 1998 when he was elected as Mayor of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao for three terms from 1998-2007.

Ampatuan, however, did not finish his last term as mayor from 2004-2007 after he ran and won as ARMM Regional Governor on August 2005 and was re-elected in 2008.

The petitioner, according to the Ombudsman, submitted his statement of assets, liabilities and networth (SALN) for the years 2000-2009 where he declared a networth of P6.99 million with no liabilities until it ballooned to a networth of P19.29 million with total assets of P36.49 million and total liabilities of P17.2 million in his 2009 SALN.

Ampatuan also declared the Maguindanao Pawnshop as his only business interest.

However, it was discovered that Ampatuan owns at least 38 houses and lots in Shariff Aguak, Cotabato City, Davao City and Metro Manila amounting to PHP58.48 million that were not declared in his SALN.

The Ombudsman said the total value of acquisition per year by the petitioner with respect to the houses and lots far exceed his annual net.

On the other hand, the Ombudsman said the former ARMM governor and his wife Bai Johaira Midtimbang, who served as municipal mayor of Datu Hoffer, Maguindanao, own a total of 24 vehicles worth at least PHP46.96 million.

It was also discovered that Ampatuan has 26 firearms registered in his named worth PHP6 million and that he went out of the country 16 times in a span of five years.

The Ombudsman said Ampatuan's unexplained wealth and underdeclared assets for the years 2000-2009 amounted to PHP70,671,176.

Source: Philippines News Agency