Palace asks SC to junk Special Prosecutor's plea

by Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 14 2011 08:52 AM | Updated as of Jul 14 2011 04:52 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang asked the Supreme Court (SC) to deny Ombudsman Special Prosecutor Wendell Barreras Sulit's plea seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Office of the President (OP) and the Office of Malacanang Affairs for a 90-day preventive suspension order issued against her in connection with charges for acts and/or omissions constituting graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust.

In a 10-page comment /opposition filed by the palace through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) Tuesday, Malacanang argued that the order was preventive in nature that came with the formal charge against Sulit in connection with the plea bargain deal entered into by the Office of the Ombudsman with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.

"Petitioner Sulit's reliance on this development to bolster her claim of injury deserving of an injunctive writ from the Honorable Court is unavailing," the Palace's comment read.

"To begin with, the preventive suspension imposed by respondent OP upon petitioner Sulit is not a penalty but a mere preventive measure. It is merely intended to enable the disciplining authority to investigate the charges against her.

"[P]etitioner Sulit is not entitled to an injunctive writ. The fact that formal charges have already been filed against her which is a pre-condition to the imposition of the preventive suspension does not automatically translate to injury."

Malacanang stressed Barreras Sulit will have her opportunity to defend herself from the charges.

"[T]he preventive suspension does not mean that petitioner has already been adjudged guilty of the charges filed against her. It does not result in her permanent removal from the position. On the contrary, it is only the beginning, the preliminary step in the administrative investigation against her for the charges filed," the palace's comment read.

"Without any doubt, petitioner Sulit was preventively suspended as a preliminary step to allow respondent OP to investigate the formal charges filed against her for graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust.

"It does not, as yet, result in a decision by respondent OP as to petitioner Sulit's culpability... As such, she suffers no injury."

The Palace argued that the filing of charges against Barreras Sulit is part of "public accountability in public office."

Malacanang further said Barreras Sulit "has no vested right to her position as Special Prosecutor."

Citing Engano v. Court of Appeals, the Palace said: "Public office is a public trust. 'It is not a property within the context of the due process guarantee of the Constitution. There is no such thing as a vested interest in a public office, let alone an absolute right to hold it.'"

The Palace maintained the OP has the exclusive authority to suspend Barreras Sulit by virtue of the Revised Administrative Code of 1987 which state: "The proper disciplining authority may preventively suspend any subordinate officer or employee under his authority pending an investigation, if the charge against such officer or employee involves dishonesty, oppression, or grave misconduct, or neglect in the performance of duty, or if there are reasons to believe that the respondent is guilty of charges which would warrant his removal from the service."

Malacanang further said Republic Act No. 6770 "specially confers on the President the power not only to appoint the Special Prosecutor but also to dismiss her on the same grounds provided for the removal of impeachable officers."

In charging Sulit for the controversial Garcia plea bargain deal, Malacanang said Sulit may be held accountable for (1) entering into a plea bargain deal despite the Sandiganbayan's standing ruling that the prosecution evidence against Garcia "is strong," (2) failing to secure the consent of the offended party -- the state or the Armed Forces of the Philippines, (3) entering into a plea bargain deal seen as "a compromise agreement and grossly disadvantageous to the Republic of the Philippines and the Filipino people," and (4) failing to question the arraignment of Garcia for a lesser offense and agreeing to his subsequent posting of bail.

Under the deal, from a P303-million plunder case, Garcia plead guilty to the lesser offenses of direct bribery and facilitating money laundering and transferred P135.433 million worth of assets to government.

Barreras Sulit sought relief from the high court in April via a petition for certiorari and reiterated her plea last June 17 -- 3 days after Malacanang issued its preventive suspension order -- but failed to secure a TRO thus far.