MANILA - What message is the Supreme Court (SC) sending out to the over 430,000 elective officials nationwide if the doctrine and policy of condonation of offenses is allowed to continue in administrative proceedings?
This was Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno's question to Solicitor General Florin Hilbay during the latter's interpellation before magistrates of the high court during his presentation of the oral arguments of the Office of the Ombudsman against the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Court of Appeals (CA) on Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin "Junjun" Binay's preventive suspension.
Condonation is one of the grounds cited by Binay in assailing the administrative case against him in connection with the allegedly overpriced P2.7 billion Makati City Hall Building 2.
"Are you saying that these 430,000 officials can commit administrative offenses, they just must ensure that they get reelected and any previous suspension and any investigation or any administrative finding by the [Office of the Ombudsman] will have to stop? Is that the message that we are sending under the condonation doctrine?
"When there is a policy founded on an infirm foundation... juxtaposed with the fact that we have a mandate to deal with graft and corrupt practices by creating an office (Ombudsman), do you think it's time for us to reconsider this condonation policy?" Sereno asked Hilbay.
Hilbay answered in the affirmative and stressed that the Ombudsman has two other pending petitions with the high court asking for the abandonment of the condonation policy.
"It is high time for the honorable court to reconsider that doctrine... it is in contradiction with the public welfare policy of the Constitution," Hilbay said.
The chief magistrate also stressed that condonation cannot apply to a "continuing offense."
"In other words, where a crime or an administrative offense has started in a previous term and finds its way to a succeeding term... condonation cannot lift criminal and administrative liability.
"It's important for this court to deliver the correct message to the 430,000 elective officials," Sereno stressed.
The complaint against Binay involves two checks he signed as payments to Hilmarc's construction in connection with the subject project. Binay's camp has openly admitted to this, but stressed that he was just honoring a contract entered into prior to his term as city mayor.