Salumbides v. Ombudsman (G.R. No. 180917; April 23, 2010)


FACTS: Salumbides and Glenda were appointed as Municipal Legal Officer/Administrator and Municipal Budget Officer, respectively, of Tagkawayan, Quezon. On May 13, 2002, herein respondentsRicardo Agon, Ramon Villasanta, Elmer Dizon, Salvador Adul and Agnes Fabian,all members of the Sangguniang Bayan of Tagkawayan, filed with the Office of the Ombudsman a complaintagainst Salumbides and Glenda (hereafter petitioners), the mayor, Coleta, Jason and Aquino. The administrative aspect of the case charged petitioners et al. with Dishonesty, Grave Misconduct, Gross Neglect of Duty, Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service, and violation of the Commission on Audit (COA) Rules and the Local Government Code. The Office of the Ombudsman denied the prayer to place petitioners et al. under preventive suspension pending investigation. By Order dated February 1, 2005, approved on April 11, 2005, it denied the motion for reconsideration but dropped the mayor and Coleta, both elective officials, as respondents in the administrative case, the 2004 elections having mooted the case. The Office of the Ombudsman approved the September 9, 2005 Memorandum absolving Jason and Aquino, and finding petitioners guilty of Simple Neglect of Duty.

ISSUE: Is the doctrine of condonation applicable in this case?

NOTE: The doctrine of condonation has been abandoned by the Supreme Court. Please see the case of Morales v. CA (G.R. Nos. 217126-27) and Poe-Llamanzares v. Comelec.

HELD: The reelection to office operates as a condonation of the officers previous misconductto the extent of cutting off the right to remove him therefor.The Court should never remove a public officer for acts done prior to his present term of office.To do otherwise would be to deprive the people of their right to elect their officers.When the people elected a man to office, it must be assumed that they did this with knowledge of his life and character, and that they disregarded or forgave his faults or misconduct, if he had been guilty of any.It is not for the court, by reason of such faults or misconduct, to practically overrule the will of the people.Contrary to petitioners asseveration, the non-application of the condonation doctrine to appointive officials does not violate the right to equal protection of the law.The electorates condonation of the previous administrative infractions of the reelected official cannot be extended to that of the reappointed coterminous employees, the underlying basis of the rule being to uphold the will of the people expressed through the ballot.In other words, there is neither subversion of the sovereign will nor disenfranchisement of the electorate to speak of, in the case of reappointed coterminous employees.It is the will of the populace, not the whim of one person who happens to be the appointing authority, that could extinguish an administrative liability.Since petitioners hold appointive positions, they cannot claim the mandate of the electorate.The people cannot be charged with the presumption of full knowledge of the life and character of each and every probable appointee of the elective official ahead of the latters actual reelection.
Moreover, as correctly observed by respondents, the lack of conspiracy cannot be appreciated in favor of petitioners who were found guilty of simple neglect of duty, for if they conspired to act negligently, their infraction becomes intentional. There can hardly be conspiracy to commit negligence. Petitioners fell short of the reasonable diligence required of them, for failing to exercise due care and prudence in ascertaining the legal requirements and fiscal soundness of the projects before stamping their imprimatur and giving their advice to their superior.The appellate court correctly ruled that as municipal legal officer, petitioner Salumbides failed to uphold the law and provide a sound legal assistance and support to the mayor in carrying out the delivery of basic services and provisions of adequate facilities when he advised the mayor to proceed with the construction of the subject projects without prior competitive bidding. As pointed out by the Office of the Solicitor General, to absolve Salumbides is tantamount to allowing with impunity the giving of erroneous or illegal advice, when by law he is precisely tasked to advise the mayor on matters related to upholding the rule of law. Indeed, a legal officer who renders a legal opinion on a course of action without any legal basis becomes no different from a lay person who may approve the same because it appears justified.

As regards petitioner Glenda, the appellate court held that the improper use of government funds upon the direction of the mayor and prior advice by the municipal legal officer did not relieve her of liability for willingly cooperating rather than registering her written objection as municipal budget officer. Aside from the lack of competitive bidding, the appellate court, pointing to the improper itemization of the expense, held that the funding for the projects should have been taken from the capital outlays that refer to the appropriations for the purchase of goods and services, the benefits of which extend beyond the fiscal year and which add to the assets of the local government unit.It added that current operating expenditures like MOOE/RMF refer to appropriations for the purchase of goods and services for the conduct of normal local government operations within the fiscal year. DENIED.